November 28-December 13 2021
We made it. Having departed La Gomera November 28 , 16:30 we arrived English Harbour, Antigua December 13 , 14:30.
15 days and 2766 miles later we are happy to site Antigua and finally be on land. Some friends have told me I am crazy to be doing this . Obviously I don’t agree 🧐 but to put our journey in perspective let me back up to La Gomera and introduce you to a team of 4 US Veterans ( Paul, Hupp, William and Cameron) I met before we departed.
These guys were getting ready to row, yes row, across the Atlantic Ocean. Competing in the “Atlantic Challenge” with 35 other ”row boats” in a race from La Gomera to Antigua. They are rowing to raise awareness and donations for veterans organizations, along with an international field raising awareness for worthy causes around the globe. I found this extremely humbling and put a different perspective on my journey .
On our crossing we had persistant strong winds and seas ( force 5-6 with squalls bringing 30 and low 40 knot gusts) that lasted all the way to our finish in Antigua. Those crossing in the ARC just ahead of us experienced similar conditions.
We were forced to cancel our planned mid ocean swim. The weather was warm but the seas did not allow for much autopilot time so watches especially at night were tiring.
Daniella was unable to join us for the crossing staying in Berlin to help with her mother’s death. We were 5 for this crossing, myself, friends Larry Heifetz and Jim Simon, Karola our fantastic chef (Daniella’s friend) and Fabian.
At the start we were a pretty inexperienced, weak team. One of our members had several health issues and there was concern if he was going to be fit enough for the trip. He finally pulled through and besides providing nonstop humor was a fantastic member of the team.
Our watch consisted of Jim, Larry and myself pulling 3 hour shifts ;Fabian pulled watch with both Larry and Jim for the first week. Meanwhile Karola kept us well fed and the boat tidy. As we settled into a routine Jim and Larry became comfortable with their watch alone and Fabian switched to pulling a daily 4 hour watch from 12-4am.
The biggest challenge of 2 weeks at sea is dealing with sleep disruption and missing that all important REM sleep. To deal with this after the first week we implemented a rotating watch where each night one person got a full nights sleep helping keep up with REM . This made a huge difference and was a definite moral booster. As a team we were much sharper with our new watch schedule.
Lack of sleep is a challenge that all crews face on long passages and I think is probably a major contributor to judgement errors and accidents especially when the weather turns rough.
Near our trip’s end I asked Jim and Larry what was the best part of the trip for them. Surprising me they both thought it was the way we had moved from an inexperienced team to a highly functional harmonious team. A credit to Fabian and the leadership on the boat.
Here is a brief excerpt Larry kindly shared from his personal Journal:
“Jim, Ross and I were on watch every 3 hours. Jim started 9 to 12, then Ross, 12-3, then myself 3-6, and so on for the forseeable future. Fabian backed up Jim and myself, so he got the short end of the deal. With all of our sailing experience we were not prepared for the addition of confused seas, large waves, and high winds, making steering a downwind course very difficult. The boat tends to turn one way in a trough and another way on a peak, but that varies with the direction of the wave! Ross is pretty good at it, but it has taken me a long time to finally get the rhythm of it down. Unfortunately, in conditions like that, the autopilot just can’t cut it, so we are hand steering for 3 hours straight, with some help from Fabian as well as Karola, who just loves it! So that’s our schedule, 3 hours on and 6 hours off. Sleep whenever you want, but don’t be late for your watch!
Even though this is a pretty plush and solid boat, it still feels like a tiny speck in this vast ocean. We really do depend on each other at all times in order to stay safe and sound. It’s taken me all of this time to be able to sit and write these notes today. Forget all of my low carb and fasting drills. It’s pasta, bread and cereal, plus ice cream and cookies whenever we want. The trick is to stay hydrated all the time, and that requires a conscious effort.”
Other highlights for me:
-The incredibly beautiful clear cobalt blue waters of the Atlantic. Not once did we see a vestige of pollution.
-Total lack of civilization: We saw only 2 boats a freighter and a tanker at night and 4 other boats on AIS only. Not 1 plane or contrail.
-Spectacular, brillant stars as everyone who has crossed an ocean will attest to.
The routine of watches ,sleeping, reading and eating were interrupted only by daily squalls and catching fish. We caught enough Mahi to cause Karola to call a temporary halt to fishing. She was tired of cleaning fish and some of us wanted something other than fresh Mahi for dinner. That said the mahi were some of the best tasting fish I have ever had.
Fabian shared his friend Manfred’s tip for killing the fish; alcohol…We hold the fish upside down and pour alcohol on it’s gills, on Infinity we used Moonshine picked up in Gattlingberg Tenn last summer. It kills the fish quickly and humanely . A good use for the Moonshine as we were a dry boat except for a glass of wine to celebrate our midpoint on the passage.
The morning of December 13th we site Antigua and within a few hours are entering English Harbour gliding past the famed ”Pillars of Hercules” to our mooring at Nelson’s Dockyard.
English Harbour, so named when the British navy, under Admiral Horatio Nelson, established it as the English Naval Caribbean base in the late 1700’s. After a period of disrepair it has since been restored and today flourishes as a UNESCO historic site, National Park and popular yachting center. Entry to Antigua was friendly and routine with the COVID requirements of complete crew vaccination, negative rapid test prior to arriving and a mandatory COVID test on arrival becoming routine.
After a few days to get our legs back and explore English and Falmouth harbours I flew back to Tahoe to be greeted with more snow than the west has seen in years. We return to Antigua for New Years and to join the Oyster World Rally 2022-2023 beginning January 9 2022.
Wishing you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and fantastic New Year.