Day Four – November 12th
Though I had about eleven months to prepare myself for this trans-Atlantic voyage, when it came down to those last few hours of land time, it was difficult to remain calm. Having very little sailing experience, and spending four weeks at sea on a 72 foot sailboat with mostly complete strangers would be difficult to prepare for in my own hometown, but preparing for all of this in a foreign country just added to the never before experienced medley of emotions…excitement, stress, wonder, amazement, fear… My feelings about this upcoming adventure seemed to change every five minutes.
The adventure began long before I stepped foot on the Sea Dragon. When I arrived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, I worked my way through customs and baggage claim in a sleep deprived daze that came from spending over 24 hours traveling to my final destination. I had been warned that taxi drivers in Brazil often overcharge tourists and was excited to share a taxi with Michael, a friend I had made while waiting for our flight in Charlotte. Unfortunately, Michael was nowhere to be found. I was on my own.
The taxi driver spoke no English, and I had only learned one Portuguese word: “obrigada” – thank you, but somehow I managed to arrive at the Golden Tulip on Copacabana Beach, where I was to meet Stiv Wilson for the first time. Stiv and I hit it off right away. We went for a dip at Copacabana Beach, followed by beers, a stroll through the local market, beers, dinner at a local buffet, and more beers. Yep, Stiv and I would get along just fine. That was the extent of our Rio explorations, as we were off to Ilha Grande the next morning.
While waiting for the ferry to take me to Ilha Grande, looking out at the boats and islands in the distance, it dawned on me that I had seen this view before. For several years, I had a photo of a tropical paradise on my computer screen at work. I never knew where the photo was taken, but I had it there to inspire me to work hard so that one day I might find myself in a similar tropical paradise. That day had finally arrived. There I was standing at the same place that photo had been taken, staring at the same view I had longed to see with my own eyes for so many years. Later, we sailed in to Angra dos Reis – a cobblestoned tropical paradise even more beautiful than the last.
Spirits were high as we sailed out of the harbor, and I was thrilled to be the one steering the boat, just barely avoiding an unmarked rock, as well as a fishing boat that did not have its lights on. As the land disappeared behind us however, the reality of 30 days at sea began to hit us all in different ways. During our first night at sea, we passed about ten oil rigs. One crew member shared with me that she couldn’t help fantasizing about being dropped off at one of the rigs, being rescued by helicopter and taken home. Yes, it did not take long for us all to realize that a trans-Atlantic voyage is not quite as romantic as it may seem.
It is now day four on the Sea Dragon. I would have loved to blog each day, but even simple tasks become great feats when on a sailboat…including sitting in front of a computer screen. These first few days have been difficult for all of us. The weather has been unexpectedly rough, causing most of the crew to get sick. I was one of the lucky few, managing to avoid feeding the fish, though I still get dizzy if I stay below too long. Showering, making a cup of tea, walking, thinking clearly…everything is difficult on a sailboat!
Day Five – November 13th
Boat chores are split up between us in three different watches. My watch (the “Rolex Watch”) is made up of Stiv, Bonnie, Rich, and myself. Our most recent watch was from 10pm to 2am. When the watch before ours wakes us up, it is time to bundle up, put on our foul weather gear, then our life jackets and climb up on deck. At night, we always harness ourselves in, as the weather can be quite wet and windy. During that time, we are responsible for keeping watch – looking out for other boats (of which we have not seen any since those oil rigs early on), keeping an hourly log showing our latitude & longitude, barometer pressure, wind speed, weather conditions, etc, and pulling in the trawl as necessary. As we watch the stars, and phosphorescence sparkle past the boat, we discuss topics like our first experience with death, the top three things we want to do before we die, relationships, dreams for the future, ghost stories…it’s clear that by the end of this journey, I’ll know my fellow crew members better than some of my best friends!
The next watch from 2am to 6am (the “Surf Watch”) is pro-surfers Mary and James, and videographer Jody. The 2 to 6 watch is one of my favorites. Though it usually is uncomfortably cold, wet and windy, it is incredible to watch the stars disappear as the sun comes up (if you’re lucky enough to have clear skies). Anna, Marcus, Mike & Chelsea make up the “Bay Watch” from 6am to 12pm. They are responsible for cleaning the heads, scrubbing the walls and floors, and making lunch. Then from 12 to 6, I am back on watch again – responsible for making dinner and cleaning the deck. The “Surf Watch” is back on from 6 to 10, and the watches continue to rotate this way for the duration of the trip.
I have much more to say, but unfortunately I can only sit at a computer screen for a short amount of time before needing to get up on deck for a breath of fresh air. It’s that time again, so I’ll have to complete these thoughts later…
Day Eight – November 16th
One full week at sea, and I still haven’t managed to post a single blog. Just two days into our voyage, the boat’s computer caught a virus…causing all of us to have to email or blog on one shared computer. Finding a time when you are well rested, inspired, and able to sit in front of a computer screen for an extended period of time without getting sick – all while no one else is already on the computer - is difficult to do! Though many are now able to post and send photos thru Bluetooth, unfortunately I do not have Bluetooth, so here I am once again, typing on my own computer wondering if I will ever find the time to retype all of this on the single shared computer while everyone else is sleeping.
When you’re on a 72 foot sailboat in the middle of the South Atlantic with three full weeks still ahead of you, you make do with what you can. For example, when the smell of fresh bread wafts through the galley as everyone waits several hours in eager anticipation for the bread maker to do its thing, only to discover that (for the third time in a row), something has gone terribly wrong, you pick off the edible bits, thrilled to have a single crumb of warm fresh bread. Or, when strong winds rip the stitching right out of your sail, for several days you take turns sitting up on deck with a needle and thread, hand stitching the whole thing back together. Yes, we’ve had a bit of a difficult start… yet as the barometer climbs we keep being promised calm seas ahead…
Day Nine – November 17th
After several failed attempts (one involving catching a trash can lid!), we’ve now managed to catch three fish. My watch was on dinner duty last night, so Stiv and I were thrilled to prepare fresh sushi for all – straight from the South Atlantic! Seven years ago, I was a sushi chef for about a week. Those sushi making skills came in handy as I rolled up fresh tuna, dorado, mango, carrot, and cucumber into delicious rolls. To celebrate our first week at sea, we completed the meal with Dale’s chocolate pudding, freshly baked brownies, and a bottle of wine split between the thirteen of us. Believe it or not, food on the Sea Dragon has been absolutely delicious! Fu Yung soup, potato frittata, mango salsa over fried pork with mashed potatoes, lentil soup…we’ve been eating very well, though I’ve just been warned that we’re down to our last jar of peanut butter…
Our research is coming along very well, though the foul weather has caused us to have to trawl every sixty miles – instead of every fifty as we had originally planned. We’ve now pulled up twelve trawls and plastic has been found in every one. We still are at least 500 miles from the major accumulation zone, where we expect to find much more plastic as well as calmer seas and blue skies (hopefully!), but we expect to hit wind speed of 34 knots before we get there!
It is raining today, so after being on watch from 2am to 6am, I am thrilled to be able to stay indoors until I am back on watch this evening from 6pm to 10pm.