The Atlantic Ocean
2220NM from Cape Verde to Barbados
8 Guest Trainee Voyage Crew
15 Professional Crew
When Captain Chris Rose introduces us to the ship he warns us about learning to live at sea, "ocean passages take life back to its simplest form, sleeping eating and working." He tells us that it can take a few days to get into the rhythm of the sea and working in a watch system. It's true, it does, but once with the sway of the ship, once you move subconsciously to the rock of the waves, the adventure really begins.
Leaving the island of Sal early Sunday afternoon, the voyage crew were instantly greeted by a pod of pilot whales as they begin to settle in to their watches. With very little but blue water as far as the eye can see for the coming weeks, it will be moments like these amongst the simplicity and similarity of day to day that makes an ocean crossing unique. For some, it will not be their first, whilst others are experiencing tall ship sailing for the first time, but what we share is a passion for adventure and respect of the natural world. And as we begin our journey west across the North Atlantic, it becomes evident that the next 2000 miles are going to be something far greater than merely a sailing adventure at sea." - Crew member on Blue Clipper.
Farewell Cape Verde
On the 9th December we left the port of Palmeira on the baron landscape of Sal. All hand's on deck and it wasn't long before the schooner, main, standing jib and the storm jib were raised. Suddenly, we were flying along at 6 knots on a broad reach in the steady north easterly winds and it is here we first settled into our watches and to a routine that would stay with us for over 2 weeks. Blue Clipper will become our home as we make our way across the blue Atlantic ocean, to arrive in the Caribbean, hopefully just in time for Christmas!
We give a nod to the highest peak of Santo Antoa in the Cape Verde Islands as our last connection to land disappeared from view. Not once was there any feeling of uncertainty, there was absolutely nowhere else I could think of being at this moment and absolutely nowhere else I would rather be, looking forward to a life at sea! As we bid Cape Verde farewell, we are joined by a pod of dolphins who cheerfully send us on our way across the Atlantic ocean.
Three Masted Schooner - Blue Clipper
Three masted schooner Blue Clipper was originally commissioned as a gentleman's yacht and is Scandinavian in her design. The only Classic Sailing ship whose "working crew" area including the galley is completely separate to the shared saloon area and guest accommodation. There is a sort of masculine yacht like charm to the interior and the saloon is a lovely area to sit, spacious and comfortable, with an area for tea, coffee, bar area and a sink.
The intrigue of who else will be on board seems ages away. The hopes for expectation that we would be an international crew is well met. We are eleven nationalities (twelve if you allow the Cornish their longed for separation), from Norway to Aus, the States to Croatia, a whole load of places in between and from the village just down the road, drawn together with the common aim of sailing our beautiful Blue Clipper home to the other side of the Atlantic.
Isolated on our own little blue planet our days are filled with literally learning the ropes, routine maintenance - the obvious whipping and splicing, sewing and mending, oiling and painting as well was the slightly odd washing and individually wrapping 650 eggs to make them keep better - and achieving the best course that balances speed, direction and comfort." - Graeme - Guest Voyage Crew
The Rhythm of the Ocean
Finally, after a few days I have found my sea legs and stumbling around like a flat footed drunk less and less. Sleeping for a few hours here and there is now feeling quite normal and I find my bunk is often calling me as an excuse to get out of the heat of the afternoon sun. My muscles started to feel the ache of constant contraction as you learn the sway of the ship, so a light work out and some yoga on deck helps get the blood flow back!
Today as I lay soundly asleep, the main topsail needed attention - head to wind we turned and down came the main. As the topsail came down, it rips. Kate a volunteer onboard and chief expert sail repairer quickly gets to work.
Now the ship is rolling around much more with just the schooner and the stay sail up, she feels less balanced and the art of the bunk cocoon to prevent rolling out of bed is high on the topic of conversation.
Vegetable curry for lunch, so far we have had seafood jambalaya, beef strogonoff, sausages and mash and plenty of fruit, freshly baked break and cakes daily, everyone now has a healthy tan to their faces, but for me it's just a red nose as standard!
A Plastic Problem
This morning we had sailed 446nm since Sunday and a whopping 158nm in the last 24 hours, by this rate we will be in Barbados for Christmas. Water depth, 5000m! Top speed so far 9.9 knots.
Afternoon tea today was coupled with a talk from the resident scientist onboard, Luenna. From the Arctic to the Caribbean, Luenna has been onboard Blue Clipper gathering samples for her thesis on the density of micro-plastics in our oceans. Circumnavigating the north Atlantic with Blue Clipper has provided a unique opportunity to gather information on micro-plastic concentrations across a vast location. A study of this scale has not yet been achieved using the same method of measurement. The results, I fear will be all to predictable as Luenna details just how much plastic they had found in Svalbard, one of the worlds most northernmost inhabited areas.
What Luenna is trying to get across to the world is that your habits can make a difference, her talk has inspired me to try that much harder at reducing my single use plastic consumption when I return back home.
Not long after this talk and back on deck, I pointed to a plastic bottle off our starboard side, quietly bobbing its way across our ocean a little upwind of our course. A poignant reminder of plastic debris in our oceans.
A Square Rigger Route
Blue Clipper is beginning to feel like our own floating island, where friendships are formed and everyone learns how to relax, switching off from the commitments of home. At this point we are almost there, (900nm to go!) and after our latest gybe, our bows point directly at Barbados. If we continue at 6 knots per day we might get there in time for Christmas!
We are on a square rigger route, following the trade winds, but we have no square sails. Our downwind point of sail cannot be as true as a brig, the fore and aft rig of Blue Clipper takes a hammering in the swell and puts a lot of strain on the rig and the risk of unintended gibes increases. Rather than running directly downwind, we gybe at headings of approximately 280 and 230 degrees, increasing the distance sailed, but with infinitely more comfort.
Whales, Dolphins and Flying Fish
Flying fish are EVERYWHERE! Occasionally, one will mistakenly leap onto deck, buzzing its wings with panic they resist help from the crew, but with a throw of arms and a launch into the air they are quickly returned to their salty home. Occasionally, we miss the panicked buzz and find them lifeless and dried out on the deck, with sadness we return them to the delights of the larger fish, an easy dinner for them. Flying into the saloon one day, one hits a crew member on the leg, right next to the seafood jambalaya!
In the middle of the Atlantic we steer by the stars, west to the Caribbean. Out of our cabin port holes, we capture glimpses of natures wild aquarium as our view plunges between ocean and clear skies above. We witness all the shades of blue and silver reflections of the moonlit waves. With the sunset, starry night skies switch to shooting flecks of bioluminescence, like stardust speeding past our cabin portholes.
In the middle of the Atlantic, friendships are formed as we share stories from our 'other' lives, we all have moments where we think of home as our journey continues west. We laugh, chat, reflect and make bets on our arrival date. We mark our course, counting down the miles with mixed emotions of an adventure coming to an inevitable end and a new one beginning amongst the Caribbean islands. We take turns on the helm, repair sails and maintain our self sufficient floating island home.
In the middle of the Atlantic we adjust our sails and turn our stern through the wind to point our bows at paradise once more. We work with the elements, wonder at the expanse of our ocean and what mysteries our little blue planet still guards, deep below the waves. We are rewarded daily with playful dolphins jumping in our bow wave and whales hunting tuna and chasing flying fish.
In the middle of the Atlantic we climb higher up the rigging each day and capture moments in our minds of epic sunsets waving the day goodnight. As darkness falls, we count the shooting stars, lose count and start all over again.
In the middle of the Atlantic we learn to enjoy the simple pleasures. We eat well, sleep well, work our watches and enjoy the rocking of the ocean as the Atlantic cradles us to sleep ready for a new day in the middle of the Atlantic.
By Me (Becky)
We are often rewarded with pods of dolphins offering a display to an eager and awaiting audience, but also minke, pilot and a beaked whale have been spotted! I am learning to grab sleep when I can and the full 8 hours of slumber that I am so used to back home now feels like a distant memory.
It is difficult to gain perspective on the size of the ocean, the world, or even to understand the 'blue planet' nickname to our earthly home, until you sail across it. If you hop on a plane, you are quickly delivered to your destination in a matter of hours - but to sail across just some of our blue planet gives a sense of perspective not readily achieved by gazing at maps of the world or air travel.
Sailing is one of the oldest modes of transport and although we have all the modern gadgets and technology onboard for safety, we are travelling fundamentally using the elements and we are at the mercy of the wind, the sea and our own skill.
Here we are bobbing across the southern part of the north Atlantic, close to the equator where it is stifling hot some days and others less so, this is a brilliant route for a sun tan (or burn if your ginger)!
Our Floating World
On watch we wait positively for our turn on the helm, complete the hourly log with enthusiasm counting the hours to our turn to sleep. It's true that being at sea leaves a lot of time for self reflection, but with so many interesting people onboard and friendships forming it is easy for a few days to pass in a blink. My daily log turned into a hasty record, a place to scribble down my thoughts at moments of calm. For the first time I began to think about my time beyond this ship, wondering how loved ones are getting on at home on the run up to Christmas. There is no other places I could imagine myself right now, but the lack of communication with anyone else beyond our floating island suddenly echoes the remoteness of where we are.
At this time, on the stern of the ship, I have stolen some time to a have a moment. Not many stars tonight and a gentle breeze means we begin to wonder if we will in fact make it to the Caribbean in time for Christmas. To locate that all important WIFI to contact home and check in on the world we left behind.
We had been slightly hopeful of making the Caribbean by Christmas, but gybing out way down the northeast trades has added considerably to our distance travelled so we are still over 200 nm from making landfall in Martinique. Christmas Day at sea is now a certainty
Ships always need care and the daily routines of sailing and maintaining Blue Clipper continue. Sail plans have been reviewed, changed, tried and changed again. There is always at least one of the crew working aloft maintaining the rig or supporting the voyage crew climb to the spreaders for the first time. Empty cans have been solemnly compacted, but somehow never in time to the deck music - windows have been washes, sun sights taken, sails repaired and mosquito nets made for the hatches.
It hasn't all been work. A fishing line has been run astern (and studiously ignored by the fish,) various forms of keep fit, judo and yoga take place throughout the day, guitars have been strummed, UNO has become very serious and chat has increasingly turned to rum cocktails and cold beers.
Preparations for Christmas are well in hand. The main saloon has been decorated with tinsel and fairy lights for several days. Invitations to the pub quiz have been sent out, details of the festivities for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day have been posted, the chef has been beavering away producing interesting smells and appetising concoctions in the galley and fancy and formal dress has been put on notice.
So, our Christmas will be spent sailing on our sumptuous deep ocean dark blue circle of water, glazes with white icing waves, fringed with French lace fair weather clouds and appropriately flecked with sargassum the nursery bed of the ocean and home to many infant species; a reminder of where all our thoughts will regularly drift over the next few days we think f our homes, our loved ones and the traditions our ocean adventure has separated us from this year" By Graeme - Guest Voyage Crew on Christmas Eve
After 15 days at sea with nothing but ocean, stars, sunsets and sunrises, on Christmas day we sail just 9NM north of Barbados. Mobiles chirped into action and the remoteness of the Atlantic vanishes. I can't help but feel sad that this part of the journey is coming to an end, but our first stop will be Martinique on Boxing day which will be a different kind of adventure altogether. Civilization is quickly becoming larger and we begin to make out houses on the land again. An unusual Christmas gift.
Christmas spirit is definitely in full force, but undeniably some are missing home and taking the opportunity to connect digitally at last to loved ones all around the world. By now, we are all one big happy ships family and as the Captain toasted to our life without borders for everyone onboard this Blue Clipper voyage at last nights Christmas Eve dinner, I can't help feel that the digital world has come to invade our simple existence. Connecting to the digital world suddenly makes you realise that others have a life beyond this ship, our own Blue Clipper world is no longer our own. Blue Clipper has safely delivered us across the Atlantic, we all feel a kinship to this ship now and no doubt she will always have a place in everyone's hearts who shared this adventure with her. A love affair with Blue Clipper has undoubtedly begun, she's a wonderful ship and the atmosphere onboard exudes serenity and happiness.
After 18 days at sea, with sadness and elation we dropped anchor in Marin harbour on Martinique. For many of the crew, having completed their first ocean crossing, there was a great sense of achievement but there was also some sadness that that part of our adventure had ended. The orb of open ocean inhabited only by Blue Clipper and her crew was no over, but there was a quintessentially French Caribbean island waiting to be explored.
By Graeme - Guest Voyage Crew
Stay tuned for the next adventure, Blue Clipper in the Caribbean!
For more log entries from the trip and our course across the Atlantic, take a look at the ship's log here: