“Following the light of the Sun, we left the Old World.” — Christopher Columbus
Crossing the Atlantic PART ONE (Read Part Two)
Day 1 - Friday, 8 February 2019
We made some wonderful friends in Cape Verde. It was difficult to say goodbye to Alexa and Alain. But once we hit the open water again, it felt like heaven.
It was Maik’s 42nd Birthday, but he’s not big on birthday celebrations so we kept it low key. There is nothing he would rather do on his birthday than to sail. The sun felt great, and we both talked about how free it felt to be back at sea.
I took an early-afternoon nap and woke up to choppy waters. Maik had begun cooking dinner. I made a salad while he was working on peeling some potatoes.
We both began to feel queasy. I refused to take seasickness medicine. I’m determined to beat this!
We tried to eat. I only nibbled at the baked potatoes, which delighted Cap’n Jack and Scout because they gobbled up all my leftovers. Maik went down to rest before the night shift.
I felt queasy then fine, queasy then fine. There were no colors in the sunset. Just a grey sky and silvery water.
Out of nowhere, an enormous dolphin jumped completely out of the water. His entire body was airborne, and he did a complete flip before making a huge saltwater splash right into the cockpit. It happened too quickly to get the camera.
A few more large dolphins showed up, but they were clearly fishing and not playing. They looked black against the silver water. They were so big i wondered if they could be pilot whales, but their mouths and noses looked more like dolphins. I tried to get video and photos but it was too dark and grey.
I continued to battle the queasiness and finally emptied my belly just before the end of the shift. It was violent but brief. I immediately began to try to drink some water. The first few sips came back out, but I didn’t give up. I was mad! Damn you seasickness!!!!!
But I still refused the medicine and finally began to hold down sips of water. I began to feel a little better around 20:00 when Maik came up for his shift. I went below and almost immediately fell asleep.
Day 2 - Saturday, 9 February 2019
33 nm - 13:20 hours at sea
When I returned to the cockpit for my midnight to 04:00 shift, I was feeling a bit better. I tried to nibble on some crackers and was able to eat most of an apple. I knew it would take a while to get back into a sea rhythm so I continued to fight without the aid of any harsh medicine and made it through the night.
In the morning, I took over again at 08:00 and ate an orange and some more crackers. But after about 30 minutes I found myself over the side of the rail again. Still, I refused to take medicine.
When Maik took over again at 10:30, I went below and rested and was already feeling better, but not quite 100 percent. It was a long, hot day and I just continued to rest and hydrate and focused on getting back into our routine at sea.
Day 3 - Sunday, 10 February 2019
105 nm - 37:20 hours at sea
My night shift was long and boring. I tried to watch a movie on my laptop (the 1970s version of A Star is Born). This helped to pass the time, and I was fortunate the seas were calm and steady.
In the morning it was foggy. Everything was silver and grey. There was no color and no wind. I read a book for a couple hours and then took shower on the deck.
The conditions were slow and calm, but I like it like that. We were only averaging about 2.5 knots. Maik wants more wind, but I’m ok. Even with no wind, there are still constant swells in the Atlantic. These waves cause a lot of side-to-side motion. I was queasy at times, but nothing major. Still, I took no medicine and was able to fight off the seasickness using nothing but hydration and pure will.
Day 4 - Monday, 11 February 2019
176 nm - 60:48 hours at sea
We enjoyed another relaxing day. The sun was bright and hot. It was a perfect day to bask in the sunshine with a good book and work on eliminating all tan lines.
A huge school of dolphins showed up to play with us. We believe there were at least 40 of them. It was incredible and Maik was able to hang over the bow and get some cool underwater video.
Maik has been studying celestial navigation and worked with the sextant, taking a reading at high noon. He was off by 40 miles. He will need more practice, but on this passage we have nothing but time.
There was still no color in the sunset, which disappointed me and intrigued me, but more dolphins played with us as day turned to night.
Day 5 - Tuesday, 12 February 2019
270 nm - 84:49 hours at sea
During my night shift I noticed that the sky was as black as I’ve ever seen it. There were a few sprinklings of stars but they were not as bright and spectacular as usual. We still did not have much wind, but it was beginning to strengthen a little.
The 04:00 to 08:00 shift was rough. I couldn’t sleep. The pups and I and all the items in the cabin were rattling around all night. The wind was gusty and the waves choppy. By 08:00, we made a shift of all sails to the port side and took a westerly course to try and pick up some of the tradewinds. It worked, but now we were on a heavy tilt. The sea had become a bit angry. But at least we were now making 5 to 5.5 knots which seemed to make Maik happy.
I rested and relaxed most of the day and started a new book “A Dog’s Journey”
The entire day was rocky and uncomfortable, but I still refused to take seasick medicine and focused on hydration. My plan was working and my sea legs felt strong.
Day 6 - Wednesday, 13 February 2019
376 nm - 108:49 hours at sea
During my night shift a little petrel flew into the cockpit. It startled me when it slapped me right in the back of the head and then got stuck in the corner of the cockpit floor and couldn’t fly away. The commotion woke Maik, and he came up and helped her. He put my shoe out for her and she climbed on board and then Maik lifted her into the air and she flew away. It was so sweet.
I finished my book and began re-reading one of my all-time favorites, “The Corpse Had a Familiar Face,” by my favorite journalist, Edna Buchanan. It was a gorgeous day so I took another deck shower. We had made it about a third of the way at this point. On a map it looks like we are right in the middle of the Atlantic.
Maik made paella with canned tuna. It was pretty good but maybe better with just the veggies. Maik has been taking readings with the Sexton each day and with practice has gotten much more accurate with his readings.
Day 7 - Thursday, 14 February 2019
477 nm - 133:04 hours at sea
After an unsuccessful four-hour battle to sleep, I took over my shift at midnight. During Maik’s shift the wind and waves had picked up and it felt like we were back in the Bay of Biscay as the boat rocked in all directions. At one point, I could hear Maik on the deck bringing down the main sail. I was awake so I got up and helped. It was a struggle as we fought the heavy gusts of wind and the rocking boat.
The shift was long and uncomfortable. After four hours of just holding on and counting the minutes, I was finally able to make a bed in the floor of the cabin between the two bunks and get some sleep. Maik was also struggling to sleep during his “off“ watches.
In the morning we realized we had just been spoiled by the many days of calm weather. We were out of practice for heavy conditions. It’s always a bit easier to deal with the wind and waves and constant rocking in the light of day. In the black of night, it can be grueling.
I realized that it was Valentine’s Day. It’s an American holiday that Maik despises because of the commercialism. In the first few years we were together he refused to celebrate it or acknowledge it in any way. In more recent years, as I began to Americanize him and he rubbed off his European influence on me, we began a tradition of going to the Waffle House for Valentines. This is Maik’s all-time favorite American restaurant.
They have a cool valentine party each year at select Waffle Houses so we began dressing up and going there every February 14. It was always fun and goofy for us. Of course we can’t go this year, and with good reason—no Waffle Houses in the middle of the Atlantic.
I decided to try and make some Waffle House-style hash browns. It took a while but it was really good and Maik loved it!
I was wishing we had some meat on board. I’m craving a steak or hamburger, but we couldn’t get any meat in Cape Verde. It was too expensive, and it didn’t look good. Plus we don’t have a lot of refrigeration.
Today we ran out of fresh vegetables so now we resort to cans. We still have some fresh fruit — apples and oranges. And plenty of potatoes.
I spent some time cleaning and reorganizing the main cabin and cleared the dog’s bunk to make room for the humans on this heavy tilt to starboard.
Day 8 - Friday, 15 February 2019
577 nm - 158 hours at sea
The moon was amazingly bright! It was straight above us and looked like a huge lightbulb casting a magnificent glow into the cockpit.
It was a really nice night shift. I spent almost the entire time chatting with friends and family through the satellite tracker. I’m so grateful to have this communication system on board!!! However, Maik told me I can’t do that every night. We must remember the device is mainly for emergencies. Also it beeps once every time you send a message and twice every time you receive one. This makes it tough for the person trying to sleep.
I love our morning routine. The pups usually wake up about 30 minutes before me, just as the sun is rising. They join Maik in the cockpit and then go straight to their mat on the deck to take care of business. Maik gives them a treat and then they come down and play and wrestle on the bed for about 15 or 20 minutes. This wakes me up, of course, and I just love the sounds of them playing and getting some exercise. As I awaken they cuddle up with me, first in the bunk and then in the cockpit for my entire morning shift, while I relax and read if the conditions allow. It’s so sweet.
Maik sleeps a few hours and then he joins us for breakfast and to start the day.
We saw our first ship in a week—an illegal fishing boat coming right at us. It moved out of our way just in time. It’s always a bit strange to go for days and days without seeing any other ships or humans. When we do have a sighting, it just reminds us how the Atlantic is so huge and expansive.
I started my sixth book today, “The Old Man and the Sea.” I think this is the 10th time I’ve read it but it’s been 15 years since I read it last. With just 20 pages in I could already remember why I love it so much.
Day 9 - Saturday, 16 February 2019
676 nm - 181 hours at sea
I didn’t get much sleep before my midnight watch. I woke up to 17 knot winds and 6 knot speed. During the night we hit the halfway mark of this passage. We are now closer to America than Africa with 700 miles to go to Ihle Fernando de Noronha.
It was another perfect day of fantastic 84F sunny weather and tradewinds sailing. We averaged 5.1 knots which is great speed for Seefalke. We closed part of the canopy although I wanted to suntan a little more. But Maik reminded me that we are close to the equator, and I need to be careful. We listened to music and talked about how much we would love to have an ice cream cone!
I went into the stern bilge and pulled out some big jugs of water as our tank supply is getting low. We dodged some offshore buoys during the day. I know all this doesn’t sound too exciting, but some days at sea are just simple and boring. So boring that a simple task of crawling into the bilge is the highlight of the day.
I was missing the spectacular sunsets I’m so used to seeing st sea. Maik explained to me why we haven’t seen much color ...
At low latitudes, the sun sets perpendicular to the horizon, while at higher latitudes, the sun can set at a more oblique angle, allowing it to remain close to the horizon after sunset for a longer period of time.
The further south you travel, the further and quicker the sun will dip below the horizon at night. Eventually, once you get to the tropics, Polaris is on the horizon, and the sun sets directly down below the horizon. Since it has very little movement horizontally with respect to the horizon, it quickly leaves the horizon behind after sunset, making for a very quick twilight. Then, as you proceed southward from the equator, the effect is reversed. Twilights become longer and longer.
Day 10 - Sunday, 17 February 2019
802 nm - 205 hours at sea
It was another uneventful day at sea. I began reading “The Gulf.” This is the last book I brought on board to read for pleasure. If I finish it before we make landfall, I’ll have to start reading maintenance and equipment manuals. We relaxed and showered, but the seas were too choppy to cook much. Maik was a little seasick. But I was fine. Still no medicine for me.
Day 11 - Monday, 18 February 2019
913 nm - 229 hours at sea
It was another long hot day as we got closer to the Equator! It was 35C which is 95F. I spent most of the day making sausages and hashbrowns which tasted good but didn’t help to overcome the intense heat.
We listened to music and danced in the cockpit for a while and continued to cruise along at a nice pace. But we were getting close to the doldrums, which would slow us down and also make the blazing heat even more intense.
There are still colorless sunsets, but incredibly bright moon lights.
We got a little rain in the evening which cooled things off a bit.
Maik woke me up in the night to see a huge petrel hanging out on our mast. He would circle overhead and then rest on the mast and just come along for the ride for a while. He hung out with Maik for most of his shift.
Day 12 - Tuesday, 19 February 2019
1016 nm - 254 hours at sea
For the third night in a row, Scout joined me for the night watch. She mostly slept but she was cuddled up right next to me. It’s so sweet, and I love having the company on those long night watches.
We officially surpassed all former time and distance records today.
As Maik was pulling in a bucket of water to clean up the bow from Scout and Cap’n Jack’s morning business he noticed some of Seefalke’s orange paint was peeling on the starboard side of the hull. A closer look showed a LOT of paint was peeling. We could see some scraping marks on the water line and realized that perhaps when we had the hull scrubbed in Cape Verde, the guy may have been too aggressive.
Maik asked one of his work colleagues to call ahead to the Cabedelo marina to see if they had a crane. It looks like we’ll get her sandblasted and painted when we get to Brazil.
Maik considered painting her a different color, but I talked him out of it. Seefalke’s bright orange color is part of her character and personality!
It continued to be sweltering hot as we headed directly toward the equator. Maik and I both spent most days in nothing but our underpants. In the cockpit we had a little breeze but not much as the doldrums were taking its toll on our bodies and on our progress through the water.
We talked all day, fighting the heat and boredom. We kept saying, “it’s a long story but we have time... “ This reminded me of when I sat the Wimbledon Queue for eight hours trying to get tickets into the All-England Club in London. You can READ MY STORY about that experience if you want.
Just as we were talking about how bored we were, a squall that had been trailing us all day jumped up on us. That’ll teach us.
We hustled to get the main sail down and pull in the Genoa. We struggled a little as rain poured and enormous waves swept us from side to side. It had been broiling hot all day so both of us were in nothing but our underpants as we got back on course with the 6 bf conditions.
It was a little too much excitement for me, but it cooled us down and our salt encrusted deck and gear definitely needed a fresh water bath. We were able to use the rain water to clean our bodies, which needed a good rinsing after sitting in puddles of our own sweat all day.
Day 13 - Wednesday, 20 February 2019
1116 nm - 278 hours at sea
“All my life I feel I’ve been chasing the sun, and at last I feel I am going to catch it.” — Christopher Columbus
I woke up with just three hours to go before we would get to the Equator. We prepared our Neptune-style ceremonial proceedings.
This included us getting into full costume as we took turns playing the part of Neptune (we have hilarious video that we will share later). The procedure was that we would each ask Neptune for permission to pass across the Equator and into the Southern Hemisphere. We each had to answer three questions about the Equator. Then we had to make a sacrifice. Maik sacrificed piece of fresh fruit, and I sacrificed a fresh vegetable.
The Seadogs also participated. It was hilarious. Maik would ask them questions in which the right answer was always “yes.” He would ask the question and then say, “If the answer is yes, eat this treat. If the answer is no, reject this treat.” Cap’n Jack and Scout passed with flying colors! But they weren’t too happy when a treat was thrown overboard as their sacrifice to Neptune.
Next, we made our Equatorial vows (basically to respect the sea and its creatures and keep our crew safe on the passage). Lastly, we needed to take a dip in the Equatorial waters. We wanted to jump in, but the swells were too high, making this dangerous. So Maik dumped a bucket of sea water on me and the pups. Then I dumped a bucket on him. It was goofy and cool! And that cool water felt amazing on this blazing hot day as we sat directly on the Equator.
Later, Maik lifted me up the main mast to rethread the courtesy flag line through the block. It was cool to be up there while underway. Fortunately, the seas were calm. I suffered some minor rope burn on my thighs and arms on the way down.
We barely had any wind all day and it was HOT—brutally hot with nowhere to escape for relief. I was feeling dizzy and had a headache and Maik thought I may be suffering from a bit of heat stroke.
We kept dousing ourselves with seawater to cool off. I would have loved to jump in and swim a little but there was just enough swell to make it dangerous.
Day 14 - Thursday, 21 February 2019
1205 nm - 301 hours at sea
On this night there was a bright moon with a red glowing ring around it. Night watches have been calm and peaceful and cool with just short patches of rain—a nice break from the sweltering heat of the day.
All day just blistering HOT. I went into the stern bilge and retrieved several 8 liter bottles of water as we were working our way through our generous supply. We continuously doused ourselves and the pups with cool sea water and just tried to find any relief possible. We mostly just relaxed and hydrated. It’s difficult to exert too much energy in this heat.
I worked on a couple articles while Maik worked on coordinating a big project. As we approach land we have to start thinking about the reality of working again.
As the day began to fade and the air became cooler—well, tolerable—we noticed some active storm cells in the area. Maik checked the weather on our IridiumGo and we battened down the hatches and got storm ready. We took in all the sails, cranked the motor and got ready for some squalls.
This is the doldrums...blazing heat all day with barely any wind and then tropical thunderstorms all night.
Maik did a great job of dodging the storm cells as we rerouted as best we could to outrun them. The clouds and sky looked magnificent even though they were so angry. At one point we were completely surrounded by the storm cells. We got some rain and rocky seas, but it was manageable.
Day 15 - Friday, 22 February 2019
1299 nm - 325 hours at sea
By the time I took over my night watch at midnight, the seas and the skies had calmed. It was nice and breezy and the rain had cooled things off a bit. Maik was able to avoid the heavy storms and keep us out of harm’s way.
I thought of the famous quote, “The good seaman weathers the storm he cannot avoid and avoids the storm he cannot weather.”
Maik is a good seaman.
Scout and I settled in for our night watch as we continued to stay on alert for any more squalls or leftover thunderstorm activity.
In the morning the wind had picked up to 15-20 knots and it appeared we had made our way through the doldrums and were back in the trade winds.
But in the afternoon, even with the steady wind, it was HOT! We were melting! I wish I could effectively describe the intensity of the heat. I love hot weather and love to stay outside in it. I can play a three-hour tennis match in 90-degree weather and 100 percent humidity and be sweaty but just fine.
This heat was overwhelming. It was like sitting in s sauna for 10 hours a day with the sun shining directly on your face at about 10 feet away. Walking on the deck scalded the bottoms of our feet, even while wearing shoes. We have no air conditioning onboard and no ice. Our water was lukewarm, but wet. Only the seawater was relatively cool, at least in comparison with everything else.
It was unbearable even for someone like me who loves the heat and the sun.
When it’s too hot for Michelle, it’s too hot! That’s all I have to say about that.
As we got closer to land, the sunsets began to reveal brilliant shades of color again.
Later in the evening there was another batch of thunderstorms. This is the tropics. Extreme heat all day then thunderstorms at night. Maik left me alone to deal with it. I was not too happy about it but realized it was my turn.
I could see the batch of storm cells ahead of us. We didn’t try to maneuver around them this time because there was nowhere to go. The only option was to plow straight through them.
The sun had already set and everything became black just as we entered into what seemed like a dark cave. It was eerie.
We got a little rain, but the anticipation ended up being much more scary than the reality. All was calm on the other side.
Day 16 - Saturday, 23 February 2019
1391 nm - 350 hours at sea
When I came up for the midnight shift there was a sweet little petrel sitting on one of the fenders near the cockpit. But when Scout joined me for the night watch, she promptly chased it away.
The little bird made a circle around the boat and came right back to her perch. I wouldn’t let Scout chase it this time, but my little guard dog stayed on alert the rest of the night, loyally protecting me.
At about 06:00, after 15 straight days at sea, we saw land!
Around 10:20 we arrived into the bay of Ihla Fernando de Noronha, a remote island about 200 miles off the coast of Brazil. After sailing 1,430 miles and 360 hours, we dropped anchor in a cove surrounded by plush green mountains and vibrant rainforest. It reminded us of Jurassic Park.
We were excited about our accomplishment and about the opportunity to explore this beautiful island. But Mother Nature had a different plan for us.
Maik never felt quite right about this anchorage and even refused to have our celebratory champagne after our longest passage ever.
Always trust the gut of a sailor. . .