Stage 1: IJmuiden - Gomera
“Sailor fulfils boyhood dream”, the headline of the Zwolse Courant reads these days. This morning on 13 July 2002 the press is also present. Our sailing from Schokkerhaven 07.45 hours is live on the radio and tonight we will be on every hourly news update on RTV Oost. The people of Salland curious about yachtsmen; it must be the silly season.
There is little wind and we reach Seaport Marina Ijmuiden using the engine where we moor at 16.45 hours. Anjès, the children and the in-laws come onboard this night to say their last goodbyes. Aat, the chef, has rented a room in the Holiday Inn for all the temporary crewmates with lady friends. It is very enjoyable but too much back and forth comings and goings and logistical fuss. The farewell dinner in the Admirals bar is in many ways lavish. Speeches from befriended skippers, embraces, presents and more speeches.
I want to set sail the next morning at 10.00 hours. The wind is a North wind and in our time in the West Indian Company we would not want to waste an hour of it. As the hour of departure approaches there are still more people coming onboard to bid us farewell. Family; friends; old acquaintances, new acquaintances and total strangers who appear to belong to my crewmates crowd the quay. Many want to take a quick look inside and because it is the captains birthday the day after tomorrow a bottle of champagne is opened by somebody and presents suddenly appear, which naturally have to be opened now. When it is past ten and there are twenty two people in the cockpit kissing exuberantly; crying and making videos without making any attempt to leave, the captain realizes that his authority is being called into question and he gives the order to cast off.
At DST (Dutch Summer Time) 10.15 hours we hoist the sails amongst the piers and we then dash past the zuiderhoofd at full sail where the last of our farewell bidders run along with us.
Despite the warning of a Beaufort 6 from the north, it is more a good 5 and the Breeze is really enjoying herself. When all the endless GSM contact with loved ones, for as long as we are in range, is finally behind us, we are really on our own. I notify the Dutch coastguard of our departure and our expected time of arrival in Porto. Ben, who is the fifth member, will come debark there. Such a notification is a safety precaution, which I know is a standard procedure for the English coastguard but on this side of the North sea they always act sort of unaccustomed to it. My request to notify the Portuguese authorities on our time of arrival is only listened to. Apparently they have to think about it. Three hours later the Breeze is again contacted by the coastguard. They want to hear the name of the ship spelt out; to know my international call sign and an onshore contact address. They honour our request and in all seriousness the on duty coastguard informs us that for them “it only becomes fun when something goes wrong”. Our cockpit roared with laughter. It appears that they have decided to make us a project and if I would, when passing, notify the Dover Coastguard and later at Quessant.
Aat begins to talk about the snacks that he wants to prepare without in a little while. He has built up a formidable reputation as a ship’s cook on our trips to England these past years and aside from that he is a burgundian pur sang. His nautical qualities actually do not go much further than that he once had an administrative function by the sea scouts. In any case nobody has ever caught him behind the ship’s wheel. But we forgive him on that point because of his good humour. And because he just sold his business he signed on for the whole Atlantic voyage. Ben is also at home in the galley. Two months ago on the North sea at wind-force 6 he made an excellent bouillabaisse from fresh ingredients. Ben now only has a weeks time to sail with us. He has been asked along to provide extra manpower for the Channel and the Gulf of Biskaje.
Hans I only know a couple of months. He won first prize in a reorganization and a copper handshake and then applied for the post of navigator on the Breeze. He too signed up for the whole Atlantic sailing. He knows ten times more about software than the skipper (which is not very difficult) and he really earned the nickname high-tech Hans by getting the new electronic chart system up and running.
Then we have Tjalko, who is crisp new Master of scienes, who after the punishing study tempo from the past months is now under the illusion that he will be able to relax a little bit onboard with his father. Aat’s previously mentioned skill does not only have its advantages. My crockery was already disapproved of before the journey started. Fagel-like (famous Dutch Cook)sets of pots with see through lids that just barely fit in my cupboards were brought onboard. Also a twenty piece knife and cleaver set in an aluminum case came onboard, where it from then on wherever it was placed got in the way. But worst of all was the half a pig that also had to come along. Do you not think it’s a bit big? I began tactfully. But a meal schedule of two weeks seemed to be based on a considerable supply of pig meat that we could not do without. Thus Miss Piggy came to be hanging on the handrail in the galley something that did not appeal to me from the start. Even the oil lamp had to be moved because of her wild swings. Now that the first night at sea has come it appears that the skipper has been much to accommodating. I sleep on the couch on the leeward side because in the prowok in the captain’s cabin in this weather is a bit too turbulent. When I gaze up halfway through the midnight watch I see the extensive weight of miss Piggy on the razor-sharp meat-hook on which she hangs making violent swings past the cabin roof. First a swipe to the starboard side and then with the next wave a swipe to the port side where I am lying. Half asleep, I see the headlines in the newspapers: skipper ripped open by a flying pig. I get up and take the hook of the already half worn through mahogany wood and repatriate Miss Piggy without having to listen any further to the chef’s mutters.
Too much drink was put away the night before and everybody is feeling a bit hung over. Personally I am not able to keep anything down for twenty-four hours and it is clear that it is taking a bit longer than normal this time round. The next morning sees the sky turn from gray to clear blue. The wind direction in northeast and has eased off to a Beaufort 4. The spinnaker is hoisted and we pass Dover around 10.00. The breakfast dishes a la carte are brought on deck, some of us are washing themselves, the video is recording and the favourite CDs appear. The English south coast is just as I know her, wide blue waters on a summers day. Although there is one personal drama that we have to face. Hans is seriously caffeine-depending and of all things it appears that the coffee has not been taken onboard. The ship’s chef takes full responsibility for this and searches all the cupboards, then all the storage spaces under the seats and finally empties his own bunk to also search through the long term supplies found within. But it is all in vain. If required, we say, Hans could talk about this setback. He does for days on end as it later turns out.
Today is 16 July and it is my birthday. This is mine umpteenth birthday that I have celebrated in the English Channel. And even though in the previous years I was sailing with totally different crew members than now, I have misgivings concerning the creativity of this crew. And (sure enough) indeed, when I wake up the cabin is fully decorated in the most spectacular/accustomed way, with signal flags. And indeed we all appear to be jolly good fellows again. And typical/indeed, the skipper gets an adult magazine as a present and because of the amount of interest does not even get to look at it that first day.
Electronics and ambivalence
Just for this journey a notebook has been brought on board and a new electronic charting system has been procured. It is a vector system, taken from the professional shipping and according to the supplier it is the best. It is indeed amazing to think that this one simple CD-ROM contains all the sea charts from the whole world. From the Ketelmeer, with my own favourite anchorage berth, to the Bay of Martinique and everything else that you can possibly think of. The system further indicates the heading, the speed through the water, the speed over the ground, the depths, it plots the position on the chart every hour, it keeps a logbook itself, it indicates the direction of the current on the chart as well as the tide, it estimates the expected time of arrival and you only have to place the cursor on any buoy or lighthouse to access a submenu which will show you the precise lighting characteristic. But it was mainly the possibility of while underway downloading a weather chart of any area you wanted via the weather wizard and the iridium telephone that would then be projected over the sea chart that made us decide to purchase it.
Only I forgot that it can take a very long time before new software is properly installed. And that it also keeps getting stuck. And as with all bought products there is also the accompanying manual. And if there is one thing that I hate, it is manuals.
Until the English Channel we could get along like in the past with the old existing chart plotter. But now we really have to start using the new system. Grumbling myself and Hans wrestle(…) with the instructions at the chart table. When I have with considerable difficulty made a series of waypoints they suddenly disappear again for completely unknown reasons. Before our departure it was also the electronics that was causing us problems. First it was not installed on time by the supplier. Then an outside antenna that did not make a good connection. And and in addition to this there was sometimes no GPS-signal anymore. The problem was as it eventually turned out to be: that the power from the NMEA interface was connected to the marine telephoneVHF and if this was unexpectedly turned-off, nothing worked. The consequence of this was searching for days. This is what sailing can degenerate into. At such moments I have conservations a conversation in my head with my grandfather, who thought me how to sail. “Well… we postponed the sailing trip journey because the NMEA interface was not fully functioning”. All he had was a compass in a box. And a barge pole to check the depth (of the water).
Luckily today we have chef. At a new low point from our fumblings he informs us that sailing is such a healthy sport. Especially outside! (He’s right and) that’s why we decide to go up on deck.
At UTC 17.10 hours on 17 July, we pass Ille Quessant. The wind drops off to 10 knots. The spinnaker is hoisted. Most people associate the Gulf of Biskaje with storms, but in July, there is statistically seen mainly weak wind. Quessant remains long after in view. During my watch at night in my bunk it begins to pick up. I take too long a time to decide whether or not I should go up on deck and take in the spinnaker. At 02.30 hours when the decision is no longer in my hands it turns out to be a really difficult job. The couvering slurf refuses halfway and the line is also caught in between the rigging and the cross-trees. We complete the job but I won’t be sleeping anymore this night.
The next day there is again moderately chilly and we see our first dolphins at 11.45 hours. It is the first time for Tjalko and Hans and their excitement is understandable. Dolphins are not fishes. They are mammals and they are very intelligent. Their brains have a lot of similarities with ours. A group of about six or seven swim a long with us. Sometimes they disappear for a bit only to then reappear diving out of wave behind the ship and to swim under us. They are playing with us. They seem to find sticking a few decimeters in front of or under the prow the best. As if they are making use of the backwash from the prow to use even less energy. They hardly ever make any swimming movements, it is as if they have jet power. As suddenly as they appeared they also just as sudden disappear.
The wind remains just enough to ensure we make progress, but it is too little to replenish the power that we have used with the propeller shaft generator. To conserve power we steer the ship manually. On 19 July the wind is totally gone. We start the engine, engage the automatic pilot and because it is warm we all take a shower on deck. Feeling clean and with clean cloths our mood becomes exuberant. So simple can it be to be happy. The notion of day and night begins to fade. Watch duty establishes the rhythm of ship life. On moonlight nights with variable winds deep conservationsconversations take place in the tubcockpit. We talk about the meaning of life, the existence of God, the infinity of the universe and such like. Also various social problems are discussed and solved. Unfortunately we forget to take notes.
As we approach Finistere on the Spanish coast there is less and less wind and less and less visibility. We are using the engine and the radar is on. Every now and again we locate a ship. It is very strange to see the moon above but not to be able to see anything around us because of the mist. During the day it looks as if it will clear up but a little bit later on it is again zero visibility. At 10.45 hours on 20 July we pass the first Spanish buoy. But although we are close to land we never get to see the Spanish coast. Aat is starting to believe that Spain just like the Dutch St. Nicholas who is supposed to live there does not exist. On 21 July we reach Leixos, the port city of Porto. We head for the coast and expect any minute to see the sun break through.
But it remains misty until the habour. At UTC 16.10 hours we moor the ship.
We bring (to) Ben to the taxi with destination airport, we do some shopping and take in some of the sights of Leixos, get some diesel onboard and by UTC 13.30 hours we set sail. The sky is blue, the wind is behind usback-stay, about Beaufort 4. The spinnaker is also up. La Gomera on the Canary islands is heading 210°, distance 880 miles. Tjalko begins to fix the new fishing line reel to the stern chair. Aat back home bought up the whole world in fishing lines, lead and artificial bait, but none of us are real fishermen. What Aat actually should have bought first was a manual. The biggest artificial bait in the box is so big that we think it is most likely used to catch giant tuna or marlins. We therefore begin with the small bait. Around evening time Tjalko has a bite. It turns out to be a bonito, a small fish resembling a tuna that is beautifully silver coloured and looks very streamlined. And as civilized as we are and so used to seeing our fish in vacuum packed packaging in the supermarket not one of us will dare to commit murder. We use the excuse that the meal for today is already as good as prepared, we take a photo of the beast and then throw back overboard.
As it becomes night we take in the spinnaker as the wind is beginning to pick up. The next morning at about 06.00 hours there are a splendid amount of dolphins around the ship. Bit by bit there becomes a need for a weather forecast from Bracknell. The forecast that the Marina Porto Atlantico provided us yesterday, was only for a day ahead. We again tackle the electronics and consult via the iridium telephone the supplier. He has in the meantime had a night to sleep on our questions. The last error display by the computer is finally, after much telephoning, solved (“socket error 11004”. What has this to do with sailing?!) and a weather chart suddenly comes in at the beginning of the evening.
Our jubilation on our victory over the electronics is very short and gives way to dejection when we begin to study the weather chart. Everywhere on the ocean in the direction we are heading and moreover, not far from here there are storms. Beaufort 10 and along the edges of the chart even 11! We can hardly believe it and begin again to interpret the chart. The Isobars are not lying so very close together. And the barometer that we monitor every 2 hours is rising but not extremely. But this weather forecast is exactly right for the weather we have been experiencing for the past hours. The meter indicates 20 knots but the wind is gradually picking up. According to the chart there is not only a lot of wind in the South, but also here, where we are now, in a couple of hours it is going to blow considerably harder, this is what the animation on the computer screen indicates. What are we to do? The information is again carefully gone through. Would they instead of using the Beaufort scale be indicating it in knots? That assumption is rebutted pretty quick. So we must make a choice, whether to continue sailing or not. The Breeze is not afraid, but we do not have to go searching for bad storms. We decide to find a habour! Sines lies at 115° and is not even 80 miles from here.
We steer the ship manually and get her ready for bad weather. Check hatches, seal the air-catchers, ready the cutterjib, likewise stormjib, check the stop-valves, get everything inside sea ready and make sure everybody is hooked-up to their life line. Everything changes not long after the heading change. From sluggish with an aft wind on automatic pilot, we are now steering a beast of a ship. A bit more clause hole than half wind with two reefs in the mainsail and half of the genoa and she races through it. Instead of Sines, Cascaï is also within sailing distance. That is indeed more northerly and a little bit windward, but 30 miles closer than Sines. It becomes an enervating leg. The wind gradually becomes stronger to remain somewhere above the 30 knots, the Breeze seethes and gusts. The waves are steep and are coming at us a little bit head on. And because of this we are lifted up, every time at full speed, about a meter of three. On the crest of the wave she seems to be hesitant. Will she go down into the next lee or will she decide to leave the water to remain forever weightless? Every time again we have the feeling that that might just happen. When it gets dark no one wants bunk down. Everybody stares impressed into the night and at the dark sea on which we leave behind a broad white foamy wake after the bow wave has passed with a wild roaring under the lee. This high with the wind in your face, the roaring in your ears and the vibrations of the rudder under your feet goes on for hours. At the wheel you can find a great balance by placing your weight against the luff spokes for every wave that makes the ship lean.
When after eight hours of sailing we are so close to the Portuguese coast that we can make out the lights of the houses, the wind, caused by the venturi effect, further increases only for it to suddenly fall away in the lee of the cliffs.
At UTC 00.30 hours we moor the Breeze in Cascaïs. We hang our cloths out to dry and make a (long)farmers night of it. When we poke our heads outside the following morning we see scenes of high summer. A marina under a burning sun and a totally clear blue sky that carries the sounds from the distant beach. Nobody here appears to have heard anything of a storm.
After breakfast we again thoroughly study the weather chart. Somewhere we find a submenu of a submenu where the units that the wind-force is given in can be programmed to choice. The received forecast was not programmed in the Beaufort scale or not with wind speed in knots but in meters per second. The wind-force ten that we thought we had in front at the bow was in reality a Beaufort 6. Sailing on would have been more calmer than the heading change we made.
(Not everything) Knowing everything doesn,t makes you happy, the chef called out yesterday when we per se wanted a weather forecast. Maybe not, but the alleged information from yesterday did cause us to go into raptures.
For the second time we leave Portugal. From Cascaïs to our destination La Gomera is now about 800 miles on heading 210°. Bracknell gives us a plausible weather forecast resembling a Beaufort 5 or 6 from the north. A backstay wind, what can stop us now? The girls are leaving tomorrow for the same destination by plane. We are expecting to see them standing on the pier with flags waving.
As we sail out it is scorching hot. Factor 15 is smeared on. Everybody searches for a place in the sun and Helma (the automatic pilot) is activated. When a wind comes we set and trim the sails carefully. We make a watch schema and begin keeping the logbook again. When after awhile the wind begins to pick up, we put the first reef in the mainsail while in our shorts. The computer lets us know that at this speed we will reach our first waypoint, northeast of Tenerife, within four days. Our lives are well-organized. Chef makes a simple lunch and the first dolphins appear. The wind gradually becomes stronger and the waves become higher. The blue-black sea with the whitecaps in the full sunlight looks spectacular. We enjoy it and make enough video recordings of it. At around noon we are about fifty miles from the coast.
The waves have built up steadily and in the meantime are again at least three meters high. Other than just beautiful it again begins to gradually become also a little bit worrying. It becomes clear that we must steer manually in order to avoid the breakers coming up at the quarterdeck. Every now again despite this precaution a breaker breaks over into the tubcockpit. It then appears that Bracknell really got it wrong with their weather forecast when the real wind, at 14.00 hours, no longer comes under 36 knots. Thus, a full Beaufort 8, with frequent gale burst of up to 42 knots. The Transat boys probably wouldn’t lose any sleep over this but this cruiser with its cupboards full with teapots, table cloths and a porcelain habour service is rattling in her seams. The log is no longer kept under the ten mile but the mood is still in such a way that the new speedrecords are greeted with cheers. Twelve knots! Thirteen knots! The skipper tempers this euphoria somewhat by telling everybody to hook-up to the lifelines.
Then along comes a big breaker, which we can’t possibly avoid and which half flattens us. I am lying in the water on my back against the railing on the leeward side. Hooked-up to the lifeline. We soon recover from the fright. Aat is crowing with delight. His trust in the skipper knows no bounds. Tjalko jokes that he thinks he’s a dangerous fool. We adjust the sail sheathing and also fix the cabindoor. Tjalko is steering routinely and I go to put on something dry. Just as I am wobbling on one leg trying to put on a dry pair of underwear the ship is again flattened. When she straightens up I feel that we are no longer on course. Dad! The rudder is broken. That is his first reaction from out the cockpit. I hastily go up on deck and we take in the genoa in order to face the wind so that we can take the waves sideways at the top instead of aft. What in the name of God has happened? Luckily the Breeze seems to be a trustworthy ship again on this new course. She goes up and down the waves like a rubber duck. The first thing that we now want to know is whether we suffered hull damage and if we are letting in water. There is a substantial amount in the storage space. This morning there was already a quarter of a bucket in her. But it now appears to be much more and it is splashing about awfully. Is the water level rising or not? To sink or not to sink, that’s the question. The water at first glance does not appear to be rising rapidly. Hans goes inside to check on the engine room because that is the lowest point. We notice that the ships tiller turns without any resistance. A missing rudder blade seems improbable. Last winter I took it upon myself to treat it with glass roof and a layer of epoxy. It is rock solid. A break in the rudder cable seems equally improbable. That was inspected before the trip and found to be as good as new. After some digging around in the storage space we eventually find the emergency tiller. When we attach it we again feel pressure on the rudder. It is still attached. Thank god! This clearly clamscalms us down. Now a decision must really be made. Continue sailing? Like a lame duck, but in the desired direction? Thus, still seven hundred miles? Or once again turning back to a Portuguese harbour? This way we will never get to where we want to go. Nevertheless we decide for the last one. The girls will just have to get rid of the flags. In the meanwhile it also appears that the steering cable is loose. For a moment I consider repairing it. But I know to well how unreachable everything is under the tubcockpit’s floor. Small chance. We go back and cross the shipping lanes once again. Now using the emergency helm stick. The thing is unhandy short but with the reaping hook as extension it is possible to set out some sail and steer 80 degrees into the wind and with a high wave to steer somewhat into it. We establish that we are in radio range and notify Lisboa port authorities of our position, heading and speed and that we are a “hampered vessel”. Not long after a merchant vessel looms right in front of us, not more than a mile away from us. Visibility is very poor because of the whipped up water. He has apparently not followed our ship to shore radio contact. I hail him on the radio and he immediately changes course by definitely 60 degrees. “Thank you sir” I call relieved through the (marine phone)VHF (I assume they don’t have any ladies onboard) “Ok Breeze” comes the quasi nonchalance from the other side.
In the knowledge that his nautical assistance at this moment is minimal, Aat has confined himself to the galley, for his own expertise, the preparation of dishes on inclines. As an appetizer he suggests meatballs and praises once more his own butcher in Balkbrug. Outside on deck I have begun to realize that Helma just has to work. The automatic pilot takes over at the quadrant and there is nothing wrong with that. When, after a couple of hours we are closer to the coast the wind and the waves die down a bit. We can, because of this, stand down a bit further and dare to surrender the rudder to her again. I go for the second time today to put on some dry clothes.
After eight hours of sailing we enter Sines. When we dismantle the steering the next morning we find that the inch thick chain in the steeringwheelpillar is broken.
Sines is a backwater town. The local water sport shop only sells pots of paint and pieces of rope. They direct us for a new chain to the motorbike shop. They don’t have any chain in our size there. They give us a totally different type including cog on the assumption that we are going rebuild our wheel work. I call the yacht dealer in Holland. In the meantime it is Friday afternoon. A blunt lady patches me through to what she calls the technical man. When the problem is explained it appears that this man did not know that a chain was part of the wheel work. He has only been working here for one year. The real technical man is on vacation and will not be back until the middle of August. Would he be so kind to provide us with the telephone number of the shipgear company? He wouldn’t know. He is on his own today. He does not have it.
I decided then and there not to buy any future ship from this dealer. I feel better after I make that decision. I then call the French dealer. They are more friendly. Indeed very friendly. He speaks English and knows exactly over which part of the wheel work I am talking about and gives me the telephone numbers of the shipgear company in both France and Portugal and moreover the name of the senior sales representative in the firm.
The senior sales representative appears to be after some phoning around on a airplane. The telephones are put back on the chargers for the next round. The shipgear company has two agents in Lisbon. Via a lot Portuguese speaking answering machines and after the siesta we eventually get them on the line. The first agent speaks no more languages than his answering machine. The second is a very friendly lady who says that she has the chain in stock. Hurray! Just to make sure we relay again all the exact measurements. She has it. Hurray!
Aat en Hans rent a car and leave for Lisbon. The Tagusok is beautiful and so is the lady we were talking to on the telephone. But it turns out that she does not have the wheel chain. She does have a lot of anchor chains. What worth is a woman’s beauty to a man if she does not understand him?
Aat and Hans begin a comprehensive tour of the harbour area with the broken, oily chain in a newspaper, which they fold open everywhere. They find a yacht dealer who tells them that it is not their type of ship and a shipgearcompany that says it is not their type of fitting. Because both of them point to each other a temperamental Latin argument starts up between them.
The rented car is useful. Ship yards become technical firms. Evening falls. The crew look for a hotel. The receptionist takes in the accoutrements of the two disheveled men in their short trousers and their black hands in a disapproving frown. It does not get better when the credit card from Aat is refused by the machine. Also onboard we are not happy with these reported developments. Tomorrow and the day after tomorrow the whole of Southern Europe will be closed and most assuredly this God deserted corner of the world.
When I go to dinner that night in Sines with Tjalko the title of a book “the rise and fall of the Roman Empire” pops into my mind in a remarkable manner, a book from Toinbee that I must have read at least twenty years ago.
The next day Aat and Hans unexpectedly arrive back on board looking cheerful. In a corner of the harbour of Lisbon they found a marginal small company that did not mind doing odd jobs on Saturdays. A sort of blacksmith who had a small work place in a container. He has welded the chain to the best of his abilities and this land lover thinks that the whole thing is again storm proof. I am not immediately happy and would like to take some time to think about it, but I do not have any brilliant brain storms. We put the thing back in place. The skipper still has his doubts. At UTC 17.00 hours we leave Portugal for the third time.
We sail close to the coast until we get to Cabo de Sao Vicente. If the blacksmith was telling tales we could always go into Lagos. But around midnight we must cross the traffic separation system and we definitely leave European waters. The wind gradually increases to between twenty-six and thirty knots. We can handle it, but because the wind has been coming north by northeast for days there is a strong swell. We are sailing almost before the wind and we feed the mainsail with a second reef and the genoa (jib) half rolled out from the boom.
By the end of the morning I discover water in the ship. It’s a little shocking, however, the chance of a leakage is minimal. One of the stopcocks appears to have been only half closed earlier this morning and the toilet had been splashing over the rim for awhile. We pump the ship empty, take out the drink stocks that is kept in the bilge, mop the rest up, dry everything and stow it away again. The skipper is not happy with the crew’s casualness. After the stop in Sines he is again a bit under the weather and he feels more responsible in these unknown waters. The next day the wind is just as strong but the waves and breakers appear to have become a little less strong. Aat and myself have the day watch and we see the sunrise. When we are both, at 08.00 hours just before the changing of the watch, standing inside at the chart table another breaker suddenly breaks again into the tubcockpit. The partitions are open, but the deck of the bridge() appears to be just high enough. That evening Tjalko becomes suddenly ill. He has not said anything for hours, feels sickly, vomits and has a terrible headache. I take over his watch and his next one when he appears to be deep in sleep. Radio Lisboa up to now could still be heard but is now definitely too far away. I listen attentively to the occasional radio traffic. What coastguard stations does the African coast have? Do they even have radio stations? Was this not previously called the barbarian coast? Would our Gods be victorious over their Gods?
I attempt to stop being so somber. An El Niño year. Wind-force seven. Tjalko (is) sick. He was the most all round crewmember and I feel as if we are undermanned now. The top cabin hatch has suddenly green water above it. It bends in from the pressure and does appear to be not? made from Lexaan but from see through kitchen foil. Anjès calls out that I am sailing to deeply. I jump awake and was taking a nap in the tubcockpit.
The next day Tjalko slowly gets better. The weather conditions do not change too much. We set out a third reef in the mainsail and take the (jib) genoa out of the boom in order to make the rolling of the Breeze a little less. We can now cruise with the wind aftok, and have pressure from the side and we are lying easier. Aat bakes his first bread. It tastes really good.
Hans becomes very handy with the electronic chart system. For hours on end he sits in the office working through the submenu’s of submenu’s and calls out to us when he has discovered something new. It appears that the whole ocean floor can be called up as a sort three dimensional mountainous landscape. As if we were fishes we can swim around the underwater mountains when the animation rotates and zooms in on it. And this all on one CD- ROM. Monsieur Cousteau would have had to sharpen his pencil endlessly for this.
We make great progress. In the afternoon Aat wants to make a bet with us. How many miles do you think we will have sailed in the next twenty-four hours? It does not appear to be a very exciting game to us. But Aat keeps insisting. He passes out blank pieces of paper and wants us to write down the number of miles. We give in just to be rid of his nagging. He then suddenly wants to make the bet more interesting and money enters the equation. When all the bits of paper have been handed in it turns out that he has not lost his contractor’s tricks. He has put down a low number and we get the sneaky suspicion that he will cast out the drift anchors tonight in order to reduce speed.
Twenty-fours hours later it seems that we have sailed one hundred and ninety-sevenhundred seventy-nine miles. The skipper is the closest to it.
We receive the first emails from friends with reactions to our sailing reports. In the afternoon the sea becomes more restless. We are approaching sea mount Dacia. This has a depth of passage of eighty-six meters. This is enough for the Breeze to be sure, but this causes turbulent waters because elsewhere it is two thousand meters. We gybe to keep some distance. In spite of the cruising off we are rolling crazily. The waves are still three meters high and are coming in aft from the side. A lot of stuff inside that on many other trips behaved themselves are now banging around. We stow away again the crockery, wrap the glasses and the bottle wrack up in towels, but half an hour later the racket is back. The rigging also has to put up with a lot. It grinds and crashes. In my cabin at the front I cannot get to sleep. So now and then I haul the sheets and hallyards a bit to limit the fraying. The ship sways endlessly to and fro. Every fourth second we brace our right leg and then our left leg. The watches seem endless. I have to check the logbook to find out what day it is again.
Finally, on 1 August, the sixth day after leaving Sines, we sight land. At UTC 10.00 hours we see the steep contours of Grand Canary. Shortly afterwards to the West, Tenerife as well. The Pico al Teide is 3,800 meters high. We sail in between both volcanoes. It causes a considerable draftdraught?. The Breeze seems to gain new lease on life with wind-force eight. We do too. We take photos and make videos of each other and call out to each other everything we see, we call home, get wet from the spray, put on a favourite CD and the four of us sing along loudly over the wind. In the euphoria I notify Tenerife Traffic Centre that we are here. But Gomera is another island further on. Only at 19.00 hours have we docked.
Gomera is just stone. For more than a thousand meters it rises out of the sea that is three and a half kilometers deep here. The inhabitants have hacked of a piece of a mountain in order to make a harbour. Not a hundred meters beside the marina the split cliff rises up high and is a cross section view of the volcano. The many layers have the same pattern. They consist of underneath heavy basalt, changing over to lighter stone and then finally very porous stone that with earlier eruptions floated on top like foam. On top of that another layer composed like that and another one and another one. With in between a piece of time. The time does not appear to have any thickness, but she can still be seen in spite of this. We from the low lying countries stand there staring at it bewilderingly. Except Aat. A month ago he was still building roads. “Bims” he calls out for every porous stone type that he sees; great building material!
We clean the ship from top to bottom and go and pick up the girls. Hans has rented a house for himself and his wife in the mountains for a week. Aat leave the next day by airplane. We meet my colleague and sailing buddy Flip and his girlfriend Mira who have a house here. They show us around, which makes things easy for us. In the days that follow we also make a number of mountain walks with them. The islands appears to have a thousand faces. There are still some little villages on the most steep and out of the way places in the mountains. People do not only live in these villages but they also seem procreate because they have been living here for thousands of years. More than one hundred thousand terraces have been built through all these centuries by piling more than one hundred thousand square stones on top of each other. And all this in order to collect the scarce water that falls from the sky so that they can cultivate amongst others mangos and papajas. Nevertheless the poverty was so great that in the 1950s a mass exodus to Venezuela took place.
The first written source on these islands dates back to the Romans. They were, just like us amazed that people lived here. This was mainly because the people had no ships here never mind a shipbuilding tradition.
At the summit of the volcano is the Garajonay national park that is protected by Unesco. So devoid and barren the volcano is on the outside, so lush and green it is on the inside. We also takes walks around the volcano and on the west side of the island, all very good for the calf muscles. High up in the clouds we discuss with our friends the meaning of life, the existence of God and the infinity of the universe.
The ships in the marina are mainly ships owned by the locals. The about forty ships that are not from here are inhabited by a colourful collection of yachties. They form a village in themselves.
We meet Leo, who is in his sixties and who built his own ship, a forty-five footer. The previous one he built sank as a result of a explosion. He has already been five years underway with this ship and makes his living by every now and again buying an almost wreck of a ship and giving it a new coat of paint and then selling it on. His own ship has three (unsteady looking) unstayed? masts that used to make their living as lampposts. There is a lot of triplex used throughout his ship and the engine room is like one big box of mechano where no mechanic will ever want to carry out repairs. But as long as Leo moves around in there himself and solders all the loose wires back together, everything works and he keeps sailing. Leo jokes about yacht architects and Hiswa novelties. One problem is that most of his lady friends cannot put up with being onboard for very long. His most recent lady friend saw him fall overboard in the Gulf of Biskaje and because he never made a ladder on the outside of the hull, rescuing him was touch and go. This lady is now also talking about a house onshore.
onboard with Leo we meet Nick, a young British man with twenty-eight footer who is now “with Laura”. She got of a small ship a couple of months ago and got onboard with him. Nick soon has to go to England to work for a couple of months. Laura is not going with him to the rain. Nick jokes that she will probably while he is gone work herself up to a bigger ship. Looking at Laura it seems that I cannot in the least discount that possibility. Sven is also colourful. He has the smallest sailing boat in the harbour, but to compensate this he always wears a tie. Sven hears sounds that we do not hear and was already at his birth the victim of a conspiracy. He had chip implanted in him by both the KGB and the CIA in order to influence him. Very few people ever understood Sven, so he left Denmark and is now sailing around the world. Since his futtock shroud broke and has been repaired with blind rivets, the others are attempting to change his mind. But a successful round the world sailing trip in a boat of four meters seventy-five will guarantee eternal fame in Denmark. When Achilles was given the choice by the Gods of a long life but to die anonymously or to die young but a hero, he choose the latter. And it is not probable that Achilles was at that time receiving treatment.
Most of the other yachties are pensionada’s; there are those who have sold their business and other whole or semi wealthy people. Unlike Fabio, an Italian soap actor. When I meet him in the shower area and asks him if he also lives onboard he replies almost apologetically “We are working people”. This immediately forms a bond, because I was slowly starting to feel something of an outsider without a lamppost on my ship, without an implant and without a fortune. We dine back and forth and him and his wife Margherita also appear to be planning to cross over in December to the Caribbean.
Before that we first go home for a couple of months. Cut the grass, put out the old papers, pay-off the mortgage and other exceptionally conventional things.
Our departure from Gomera on 23 August, is sun-drenched and dispirited. The Breeze remains behind in a distant strange harbour and we will not see her for three and a half months. We leave her behind meticulously and with apprehension. All moorings are double checked in the eventuality that one frays through or becomes loose. Everywhere there are steel tension springs or rubber extenders and at every belaying pin and clamps pieces of slang along the lines. All fenders are hanging alongside. The ocean swells can come in viciously with southern storms.
A couple of years ago whole piers were battered loose from there grounding anchors. We are leaving reluctantly. Berto is the only harbour master that speaks considerable English. I note his telephone number in my mobile phone. Something to take with us from here to there. A virtual transitional object.
The day we are leaving is sweltering hot. The floating concrete piers are almost to hot to walk on in your bare feet. I still have the Marina San Sebastian de la Gomera in the soles of my feet when we land in Schiphol.
The time I spend back home I try to in every way and for as long as possible hold on to the ship’s way of life. I do not shave the first days and I walk around in my bare feet until the time arrives that the first patients come. I read as professional literature exclusively Ocean Passages of the World and the Atlantic Crossing Guide. When a credible civil functioning still further obliges me to walk in that life there remains ultimately one form of resistance over. Going outside without wearing a jacket. Stop the forever shortening days with wishful thinking. Pretending you are still in the tropics and living onboard. People begin to notice my strange behaviour by October and by November friends who I meet in the street begin to ask questions out of concern. I (regularly)ever deny that I am cold, say that it is only for a short distance that I (do not) need to cycle and I even one time said that I did not notice that it had started raining. I live in a divided world. One leg here and one over there. Who am I actually? A gentleman or an adventurer? A taxpayer or a sailor of the seas? Do I want to try to be a local notable or am I deep down in my heart just a rebel? Both together seems to me to be impossible. Has anyone ever heard of part time explorers?
I think it is about time that I left again.