We arrived safety on our Atlantic Ocean crossing on December 23. The total time was 21 days and 21 hours to make 2750 miles or so. That gave us the pathetic average speed of 5.2 knots, but to be fair the average wind speed was only about 9 knots, so I can’t really be ashamed. Compared to the awesome 6.9 knots or so we averaged crossing the Pacific, Slick is a little embarrassed. Then again, I haven’t really met anyone that did much better.

Our departure was delayed an hour because Matthew had a filling fall out during our horribly-underdone, last-meal paella. That is a different story though. So we departed and things started out OK, however, the wind didn’t cooperate so we ended up motoring quite a bit. We decided to make a quick stop in the morning in La Restinga on El Hierro. This beautiful little port provided a top-up of fuel and we were off. It was a bit of a shame though as the town is adorable and very isolated in some rugged volcanic country. I would have liked to spend a few days there.

As we headed out we had quite nice wind and made decent progress for our first night out. It was cold though but at least the wind was OK. As the first few days went by though the wind became more and more fluky and we found ourselves motoring more than we liked. The first GRIB we downloaded showed a developing trough that was going to be a problem. Thankfully I had a friend, Norm from the CYC, who was monitoring the weather for us and keeping us well informed even without the GRIBs. Basically, we had to get south, and fast, to avoid the trough which was taking on cyclonic action. Could this be the after-season hurricane every December-crosser fears? Well it certainly had the potential to be and so in prudence I took the safe route to the south of the low.

As the trough developed though we were not quite fast enough to get ahead and south of it. We ended up on the southern tip and for about a 24 hour period had winds that peaked around 44 knots and some large waves, even some distant lighting and a lot of rain. Slick handled all that well and the trough took on cyclonic form, eventually dieing off and leaving a stalled low in the middle of the ocean. That stalled low came to dominate our crossing, and prevent us from having any wind on its southern side. My conservatism cost us six days of being becalmed. Then again, the alternative could have been way worse. We motored, and motor sailed, and drifted and came up with ridiculous rigs like Heidi the Giant Asym on the bow-sprit, the 142% genny poled out to windward and the mainsail double reefed to not shadow the claptrap at the front of the boat. This gave us 5 knots of speed in 8-10 knots dead down wind. More if the wind blew a little more. It became our favorite rig as it gave the best VMG to our destination.

The wind would fill in and then die, teasing us. We motored more and finally ran out of fuel, save for the last five gallons we kept in reserve, just in case something unthinkable happened. We had a lot of counter current too. The charts and pilots say we should have had anywhere from a half to two knots of current in our favor. We averaged a half against us. The nights were long as we drifted, our slowest day was only 86 miles. I guess I complain too much because in the Pacific I met people who were excited to average only 4 knots.

Then, all at once, the current shifted in our favor and the wind filled in for good. We made 125 miles, then 150 miles then closed out the trip with two nearly 180 mile days as we approached Barbados. In fact, we slowed down a lot as we came nearer to land, just so we would be piloting in the daylight. I secretly think that Slick could have had a 200 mile day, if we had just pushed it a little.

But we didn’t. We didn’t push it not because we were running out of sea room, but because I had noticed a week or so before the the center bulkhead, forward of the chart locker, was pushing through the cabin top-side. Every creak in the wood as I slept gave me a little scare that something serious was about to break. Slick, after 30,000 miles at sea, and some of it very rough, was finally showing her Flexiteau or Benditoy roots. I didn’t want to push the old lady for fear she would trip and break her hip, or something else. In addition my mainsail was slowly shredding itself. A batten tried to get lost again, slug stitching chafed and broke free and the first reef clew tore out. Other than that though we really didn’t have much break. However, the now maligned cabin wood gave me cause enough for concern. In fact, at the beginning of the trip a fiddle for the book case wouldn’t fit as it used to, it just fell out. Now, it fits again. Things move when you slam off waves, especially when motoring. Strangely, when she sailed she groaned less, and part of me was actually happy for the low winds.

Then again, not everyone around us had such light winds. My friend Cress, from the yacht Conversations, left a day before us, on the tail of a big blow that mashed up Tenerefe. He had fantastic winds and even after making the detour to avoid the trough was far enough ahead that he only experienced two or three days of becalming. While another boat left the day after us, Scope, and they didn’t get as much headway on the low as we did and ended up spending a week beating into the wind as well as another week becalmed in permanent electrical storms. Still another boat wound up losing their stick in a knockdown as a result of timing. What a difference a day makes. A day too long in port or a day too soon.

We found clever ways to not kill each other. Twenty one days of blue water sailing could make one a little nuts. I found my crew was taking on my idiosyncrasies. Mathew would yell at the stove and Sean the rig. I always yell at inanimate objects, so this was nothing new to me, but seeing someone else do it was a little weird. More things got names and Sean took to seeing and drawing faces on everything. But we had a few constructive releases as well. We took one hour and made a swim call, somewhere in the middle of the ocean. This was a refreshing adventure, complete with a blow-up swim toy. It quickly became the punishment dinghy. Mathew also had a few cooking experiments including a solar oven that failed to make brownies but produced the best bread ever made on Slick. He also made kimchi and grew sprouts. We also all learned how to make yogurt.

Then their was the interaction with the sea-life. We caught a decent amount of mahi-mahi. At first they were small and we returned them to grow some more, but as we progressed further through the Atlantic the ones we caught had grown up into the perfect lunch. The fishing though culminated in the landing of a 60 pound bill-fish on the last day. We would have thrown it back but it was badly injured so we thought we might as well keep it. It took me an hour to steak and filet it and now the 18 inch bill hangs as a trophy from Slick, a warning to all other billies to stay away from Jim Gentry and friends. We don’t want them and they don’t want us. Matthew salted some of the fish too, as another experiment. It seemed to turn out well. He took it all home. The fauna of the sea caused us a great deal of strife too. The sargasm weed frequently clogged the fishing tackle and even gave Martin a grass skirt every few hours. This became annoying.

The most amazing interaction with nature in the sea though came in the form of visits every few days by a small pod of whales. They only came when we were going fast and it was a little rough and sometimes only one would show up. In fact only once did we see more than one at a time. The whales would swim along with Slick, under Slick, behind Slick and next to Slick. They rarely blew but would show their bellies and fins. At first we were unsure if this was some form of aggression for the graceful, school-bus-sized behemoths or if they were just playing. They never gave us as much as a nudge and would stick around for hours at a time. I think they really wanted to just tease us as we have hundreds of photos and hundreds of minutes of video of the moment just after the whale would breach, so really there is nothing in the media but open ocean. Still, having such an intimate interaction, regularly, with the amazing creatures was easily one of the highlights of the trip.

The landing was also kind of nice. We anchored in the lee of Barbados and when all the officials showed up we tied up to the customs dock. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming and even a bit flirtatious. For us it was nice to talk to someone else, even if briefly. In the Atlantic, we only saw 5 other boats the whole time and only one hailed us. The strangest part was just walking on solid ground, that is always an odd feeling for the first five minutes or so.

In the end, even though it was a long ride, and we landed in Barbados instead of St. Lucia and Mathew missed his flight, it was a pretty good trip. When I compare it to the big Pacific crossing, from Galapagos to Marquesas, it was not as fast, but neither were the conditions. The trades never really filled in and we had counter current. During the time in the Pacific we had perfect trades consistently and plenty of current always in our favor. Both passages were memorable, just for different reasons. I guess my advice for anyone crossing the Atlantic in December would be to go to Cape Verde first. I think you would get more Pacific like conditions, plus it is 800 miles shorter.

Finally I would like to say some thank yous. First to my brother Sean and friend Matthew for coming out to help with the crossing, Also, I really appreciate the daily effort by Norm to take care of the weather and watch a larger information set than what was available to us, and then convey it, along with sports scores, via the message box. Thank you to all those who followed the trip on the spottrak map and enjoyed the twitter updates. I was amazed by the number of views. And finally Slick, I could not have crossed the Atlantic without her wiggly transom.

Mathew has flown home now. I get another visitor for the three days only and then in a week my brother flies home too. So I will be alone again. We are actually in St. Lucia but I will save all that for next time. Only 2500 miles or so back to Boston, and I could practically day-sail all of it!