As we enter the closing stages of this Transatlantic crossing Quokka is powering through the ocean toward our final destination of white sandy beaches, rum shacks and palm trees in St Lucia. She surges through the Atlantic swell with grace and confidence knowing that a well-earned rest in the tranquil waters of a Caribbean lagoon awaits her in two days time.
Today the sun is burning high in the blue sky with the cumulus (fluffy white) clouds clinging to the horizon whilst the 5 metre Atlantic swell glistens under the intense heat of the Caribbean sun. There are good days out here and there are bad days. Today is one of those good days and we are continuing to take miles out of our competitors as we are surging forward at speeds hitting 13 knots under our tiny fractional kite and a reefed main. It feels like we are living in the brochure now!
There are few luxuries out here on the oceans waves but the ones we do have are real treats and the things we take for granted in life provide great pleasures out here. I have just taken my 2nd shower of the voyage and am now clean shaven, smelling like roses again and donning a clean pair of boxer shorts. Does life get any better?
Another day of treats came last week when we hit the half way stage, which was also the last time I had a shave and a shower. It felt like Christmas Day and came with many of the emotions associated with it. First came the present, a 20lb tuna, which the crew could feast on for the rest of the day. The weather was glorious and morale high. However there were the sulks as miles were lost, tantrums as the squalls hit, niggles as tiredness set in and ultimately the much celebrated and long awaited lunch was over cooked! Luckily the left overs were not wasted and the tuna steak evening meal was divine. Finally the badly executed kite hoist under the darkness of a moonless night was my cue to go to bed, tired and pouting after a top day on the water.
Seamus is my fishing buddy on board. In Gran Canaria we visited a local fishing shop on the edge of the city where the staff’s knowledge and expertise was most welcome as we gazed in bewilderment at the vast array of tackle, lures and kit. We carefully selected 5 new lures, under the recommendation of the helpful staff and noted all the techniques and top tips which would surely land us our feasts.
Like Sam and Peter, Seamus joined Quokka in the UK at the start of our 7,000 mile adventure. Totally unknown to me but recommended by a mutual friend in Ireland Seamus was destined for Malta, a third of the planned adventure. Much to his girlfriends displeasure he is still with us (I suspect I am not on the Christmas card list). Seamus has all the charm of an Irish man with the boyish looks and cheeky smile that makes him fit in extremely well with everyone. Sharing my complete respect for the oceans we have similar principles and ideas about the environment that surrounds us and only take what we feel is necessary without being greedy. It is a healthy way of being, providing a complete and rounded experience.
In the summer Seamus is a beach guard but his trade is as a joiner. He has been a huge asset to the team and whilst quiet and unassuming he has a gentle but fun humour that certainly makes me laugh at the most unexpected moments. A man with a half glass full attitude to life Seamus is now, as I type, guiding Quokka over the 5 metres Atlantic swell with confidence in his new found skill as a very competent downwind helmsman. As we caught our last fish to celebrate the 1000 mile to go stage he quietly and simply said “thanks – but sorry” as he took the priest to its head to quickly and painlessly put it out of its misery.
Another great character on board is Ben, an officer with the Met Police, who has recently found himself loving sailing on board Quokka. I first met Ben in Antigua earlier this year when he arrived at our crew villa with the five female teammates he had travelled with. His opening words to me were “I have no idea if I am going to like racing, I think I might get bored and by the way I get grumpy when hungry!” “What have we got here?” I thought to myself! However, full of energy and enthusiasm Ben excelled on board and was an instrumental part of our victorious team in Antigua. Maybe it was a one off for him I thought, but after a few beers at my birthday party in London he signed up for the Fastnet Race and then after a few beers at a Deep Blue party at the Royal Ocean Racing Club he signed up for this Transatlantic Race. I guess he quite likes racing with us then!
Ben has a methodical approach to everything with an inquiring mind, as you would expect. He likes to understand the finer details and you can see him quietly thinking each and every process through to ensure they are well executed. Needless to say, he very seldom makes a mistake and is a natural leader. Like so many of the team, he has a wicked sense of humour and likes to see the funny side of life. His helming skills have improved massively and so long as we keep feeding him he is not grumpy!
Finally for today I must mention Richard, one of life’s quirky but most interesting people. Richard breezed into our lives in Gibraltar as an unknown to all of us with no connections or recommendations, he just had a trust in his instinct that we would be an ok team to join and likewise we had no idea what to expect.
Richard is one of life’s colourful characters, a man with a great sense of humour who always has a hilarious story to tell and who is always demanding to be told stories given his genuine interest in people and the world! He wears his Australian outback hat that has travelled the world with him for the past 10 years and that only comes off when the weather threatens to relieve him of ownership! Full of enthusiasm and bundles of energy Richard is always there to get stuck in whatever the task, be it cleaning the bilges, trimming the sails or helming. He throws himself (sometimes literally) at everything he does making him one of our most interesting and fun crew members who continually keeps us entertained!
St Lucia is just 479 miles away now. All tactical cards have been played and yachts are racing toward the finish line coming from all angles spanning 400 miles of latitude. It is now a drag race to the finish with Scarlet Oyster, who have sailed a perfect race, leading the charge with an unassailable lead. However, 3rd place is still up for grabs and we are sailing our hearts out. Whilst we are not pushing beyond the realms of sanity (as in shorter offshore races) the pace is picking up, just like at the end of a marathon, as we are all pacing ourselves in the hope we have a little in reserve for the final push to the finish without breaking.
By the time we have finished the final stretch will have been the equivalent of a Fastnet race (600Nm’s) at full intensity in downwind conditions of 20 – 25 knots which keeps us on the edge day and night. We cannot stop focusing, we cannot take our eye off the ball for fear of showing weakness to our rivals or wiping out! We are aiming for 3rd on the water, one more boat to take, and then it will be a long wait to see if the smaller boats have done enough to push us of the podium on corrected time. At least we will be sat in a rum shack somewhere, after a good night sleep in an air conditioned hotel room, drinking cocktails and sharing stories of the good times!