The Big Trip

On Thursday 17th February 2022 we left Mindelo for Barbados. We were 1 of 4 boats who left on the same day. Two of them left for Martinique and the other to Grenada.

We left on quite a windy day (normal for Mindelo). My mum was already in her bed a little sick from the waves. We just put the mainsail up and were doing about 5 knots but my dad wanted to go faster so he called me out to put the jib up. So my dad told me to hold the jib sheet and to gradually let it go but clumsy me forgot to close the jib sheet cleat. I suddenly lost control of the sheet and the jib unwrapped itself fully. The jib wrapped itself over the whisker pole line making it get tangled. 

It took us two hours to untangle the jib with me at the helm, my dad getting hit by the jib sheets and my mum trying to help him. We thought that we needed to go back to Mindelo and leave on another date but that wasn’t the case. So we carried on with our trip thinking that this was the worst thing that could have happened to us. From now on, the only theoretical weakness in our system was that we only had one auto-helm, but then it was brand new and it wasn’t going to fail… right?

We started with the wind in beam reach (from the side) and the waves from the side as well making it a bit rough but after 3 days the winds and waves changed from the back (which is normal for an Trans-Atlantic crossing to the Caribbean) making it more comfortable. We had a lovely couple of days in the sun dancing, singing and sun bathing. In the night the stars would shine bright like little Christmas lights. We had all the time in the world to think. The highlight was when we started catching fish because we finally had something to do. I am not a big fan of fishing myself but when you are stuck in the middle of the Atlantic you want some action. By day 6 we started getting a little bored, not knowing what to do. We caught 4 mahi mahi’s on the trip and even spend some time thinking that Barbados wasn’t such a good idea for us so on day 6 we changed our minds, deciding that it would be better to go to Martinique. 

But unfortunately, on day 7 at around 14:00 GMT our auto-helm broke down. We could still reset it but it needed constant attention. So my dad spent all his night resetting the auto-helm. On that night a flying fish also hit him on the back of his head causing him to have a mild headache. When my mum and I heard of the story we couldn’t stop laughing. It reminded us of Karin’s story about how she got “the scare of her life” when a flying fish flew in her blanket whilst she was on the night shift. They had crossed two weeks earlier than us.

This worked for a day until, at 2:00 GMT when the auto-helm fully broke down. You couldn’t reset it or do anything. We tried cleaning the contacts, it worked for a few times but then it broke again saving us some time. However, after some time, that didn’t work too. This only meant one thing: we had at least 6 days at the helm. My mum also tried holding the helm but had some kind of fear and couldn’t do it. Meaning that my dad and I had to steer Mistress for the remaining journey. We decided to take 3 hour shifts each, which meant that we were always on our shift at the same time of day. I found it quite tiring as I’ve never went so long without 8-hours sleep and I don’t drink coffee. By day 13 I felt like I had no more energy. I was on shift from 00:00 to 3:00, 6:00 to 9:00, 12:00 to 15:00 and 18:00 to 21:00. After a couple of days my body had gotten used to the timetable and I started doing it automatically. It got boring to stay concentrated at the helm for 3 hours, however, looking back, it was one of the nicest experiences of the trip. At night the sky was filled up with stars making you feel like the microscopic object that you are in the universe and in the day the sun shined on the water making the peak of the wave appear baby blue. 

We had enough fruit to last us up to day 10. We brought apples and oranges as they don’t go bad easily. Whenever we’re at sea we don’t feel the need to eat so much. In fact I only want to eat fruit. We ate 3 of the mahi mahi’s we caught releasing the last (the biggest one) because we had too much food. Before the trip my mum cooked eggs and meatballs that lasted us a week. We also brought some cake deserts from the bakery in Mindelo but it wasn’t such a good idea because we were always full. By the end of the trip, we had no fresh produce left so my mum would cook rice pudding. As for the water situation, we had bottled water from the Cape Verdes – which is not as bad as they say – therefore we only spent half of the water in the tanks (around 150 Litres or 50 gallons).

By the end of the trip we were all sick to death of flying fish. They’re the most annoying things on the ocean. At night they jump onto the boat and smell ridiculous, you can not go by a dead flying fish without noticing it. They look like sardines with wings, “flying” in order to escape their predators. Sometimes they glide in the most inconvenient places; for example one ended up inside the saloon on the last day. I woke up for my night shift and a half asleep Andra told her parents that it smelled fishy making my mum check for those devils. We found it inside still wondering how it got there. If you haven’t got any food on an Atlantic crossing to the Caribbean don’t worry as food will fly to you! I even came up with the saying “I can’t stand these flying sardines!” because to their uncanny resemblance to them.

We reached the north of Martinique on day 14 at night therefore we decided to go to the south and arrive there next day. It was 6:00 GMT+4 when we arrived in the capital (Fort-de-France) and knew there was a marina over there but, because it didn’t suit our needs, we decided to go to Le Marin. When we got to Le Marin, I called the VHF several times but the marina didn’t answer. Then I had the bright idea of calling in French and they finally answered.

We went inside of the marina. There I saw a massive Romanian flag staring at me. I tried to tell my parents but they just didn’t believe me - telling me that I’m dreaming because there is no way that can be possible. Romania is on the other side of the ocean as well as this Romanians are not “born sailors”. My parents looked again seeing the colossal flag for the first time. They were shocked. So we steered towards that boat and asked the person onboard in our language: “Are you Romanian?”.

“Can’t you see the flag?” He replied in Romanian to our surprise.