Half way to paradise

Ananda's blog
Keith and Stella Myerson
Wed 19 Jan 2011 18:53

20:34N 38:22W

Tuesday 18th January 2011

We’re half way there. To Barbados, that is. How does it feel?

Well, bumpy, for a start. The wind’s blowing a near-gale here, down in the tropics. ‘Ananda’ is taking it all in her stride. The waves are big - as each one approaches from behind and towers up above her stern, she accelerates forwards, lifting herself up, and the wave hisses past, spray sparkling in the sunshine. And the rolling? Certainly nothing like when we made the passage over 30 years ago, on ‘Coot’, a narrow yacht that could rock ‘n roll for England. We’re getting used to the motion now, although it took nearly a week before our appetites returned to normal.

So what is there out here? To our left- the sea. If you go a little further, there’s the Amazon, about 1250 miles away. Almost straight ahead is Barbados, also 1250 miles away. And to our right, there’s a lot more ocean, with some pretty bad weather up north, judging by the size of the cross-swell that still manages to reach us down here, miles away, causing all that rolling.

Was it her?

Just before noon, 9 days ago, we finally set off from San Sebastian, Gomera. Despite the strong winds in the harbour, these quickly fell away as we cleared land, and we were faced with headwinds – albeit light, but quite the opposite of what we had expected! We passed a pod of shortfin pilot whales, lazily basking on the surface and then diving with arched backs, and sailed as best we could.

Whilst on starb’d tack, we were approached on port by a lightweight fast French racing boat. At the very last moment, they skilfully tacked to clear us, and then put in a second tack back to skim our stern. The girl on this boat looked the image of Dame Ellen McArthur. ‘Nice boat’ she shouted - was it actually her? They left us standing, of course, and raced off, quickly disappearing over the horizon.

On our way

The first few days were pretty tiring time for us both. Not surprising, really, as preparations for the voyage are so demanding. There are ships provisions to consider and a month’s supply of food to purchase, transport and stow. Deck gear needs checking, and any worn ropes or blocks need servicing or replacing. Safety lines must be rigged, the dinghy lashed down securely, and the mast climbed to check all the rigging and fastenings. Everything mechanical or electrical needs checking and servicing – engine, generator, refrigeration, water-maker, navigation equipment and communications gear. Fuel and water – a ton of each - must be shipped, and the backlog of repairs (always a feature of boating) dealt with as best as possible.

Add to that the washing and cleaning (inside and outside), arrangements to be made for the next port-of call, last-minute contact with family and friends, plus our aching muscles from our recent mammoth hike down the mountains of La Gomera, and you can understand why sleep was a priority for us.

Not many ships out here. But there are some. A week ago, one cargo ship, ‘Stellar Stream’, passed close by our stern, bound for Liverpool – her estimated time of arrival (ETA) was 19th Jan – only 1 week later! It makes us realise just how leisurely our speeds really are. At one point, 2 ships passed close by, ‘Cattleya’ 2miles in front and ‘Saga’ simultaneously 3 miles behind us. This was close enough, as, with our downwind sailing rig, we are unable to manoeuvre more than a few degrees either way.

So we always need to keep a look-out, and we are now trying a routine of longer night watches. Lit brightly by the waxing moon for most of the night now, night watches are less intimidating. Indeed, experienced cruisers Janine and Terry on ‘Chrisdata’ always plan their ocean passages to coincide with a full moon.

According to weather forecasts, we’ve at least a couple more days of these strong winds. In one squall last night, it blew 40 knots over the stern, quite a wild ride. To receive these forecasts, I write out the code for the co-ordinates of the area we are sailing into and the weather information we require on a computer. These I incorporate into an email to be sent to ‘saildocs’, an automated service which provides Grib files* by return mail. Fire up the satphone, send it off, and abracadabra - the data arrives back by return!

*Gridded binary data files. These computer generated files give predictions of wind strength and direction, barometric pressure and precipitation for up to 7 days, though with decreasing accuracy as the time period extends.


So how shall we celebrate the half way mark? Certainly not another party. We arranged one a few nights ago at 21 degrees north and 30 west, and sent out the invites. Nobody came! Usual time worn excuses about transport problems, etc, I suppose. So it will have to be chocolate – Peter Appleton’s Famous Grouse whisky truffle bar - thanks Pete! 

And how do we spend our time?

Firstly, there are the regular exercise classes held daily in the cockpit. Today, for example, we went for a run around Alfriston, Littlington and West Dean, dropping in at the tea gardens on the way home.

Then there’s shower time: with the luxury of a water maker, we can enjoy daily showers.

There are books, of course, books that, in a page or two, transport us far away from the rolling crashing seas to other distant times and places.

There’s music, with variety no problem in this age of the iPod. I’ve even got the guitar out on a couple of occasions. And for a real blast, there are films too! With a good selection on board, some evenings we wonder off to the flicks.

So there’s plenty of places to go, people to meet, good times to be had. No problems with maintaining our sanity out here…