Cruis­ing Log

Yachting Monthly - - VIEW FROM THE HELM -

Read­ers share their ex­pe­ri­ences: • Cross­ing the At­lantic in the days be­fore GPS • Sail­ing the Chan­nel for the first time • Cruis­ing through the Baltic • A tough de­liv­ery from the So­lent to the Clyde

Lau­rel Cooper looks back to a first At­lantic cross­ing be­fore the days of mass ral­lies and easy nav­i­ga­tion.

The At­lantic Rally for Cruis­ers (ARC) started in 1986, but we did the first of our At­lantic cross­ings in 1981. After five years ex­plor­ing the Mediter­ranean end to end we had learnt to trust our stoutly built 58ft steel ketch Fare Well; and to trust each other to get out of trou­ble. That sum­mer, we cruised Greek wa­ters, the Adri­atic, Si­cily and Tu­nisia.

In those days, we had very little by way of ‘mod­ern’ tech­nol­ogy. For nav­i­ga­tion we had a sex­tant, binoc­u­lars, a gyro com­pass and a hand­bear­ing com­pass, pa­per charts, pi­lot books, an anemome­ter and a through­hull log. We had a VHF ra­dio but not a long range ra­dio. We also had radar and an au­topi­lot. Com­mu­ni­ca­tions home from shore was by snail mail, or pay-phone us­ing a kilo of coins. For weather fore­casts at sea, we called pass­ing ships. We had no com­puter, no elec­tronic charts, and no smart­phones. We did not use Decca or Lo­ran; GPS was only rolled out in the mid-1980s, and it was years be­fore it be­come af­ford­able for the av­er­age yacht.

Our sea­man­ship skills were good and for first aid, as an ex-naval of­fi­cer Bill had done the Ship Cap­tain’s Paramed­i­cal course, and was al­lowed to carry an ap­pro­pri­ate medicine chest, con­tain­ing mor­phine, to be kept locked at all times. I had done a Red Cross first aid course and we car­ried a Ship Cap­tain’s Med­i­cal Guide, which even told you how to am­pu­tate a limb. We were one of the first yachts of our size to have a fridge-freezer on board, but for wash­ing we re­lied on laun­drettes ashore.

We ar­rived in Gi­bral­tar at the end of Septem­ber, and Bill as ex-Royal Navy was given a berth in the Dock­yard, courtesy of QHM Gi­bral­tar. On one evening we had a huge curry party, en­ter­tain­ing three Ad­mi­rals in our cock­pit. The Navy af­forded use­ful fa­cil­i­ties like den­tal check­ups, nec­es­sary jabs and stores. The ship’s cat Nel­son was in­oc­u­lated against ra­bies, and we re­ceived the glad news that my brother Tony and his Chi­nese wife Shu­man would come with us, both ex­pe­ri­enced sailors. A fifth crew­man, David, the son of the QHM, joined us too. After his par­ents’ help and kind­ness we took him gladly. He was 18 and knew it all, but we’d had one of those our­selves and could cope. All credit to him, he spent the cross­ing learn­ing that he didn’t.

Once we set off, the wind was al­most al­ways astern or off the quar­ter, rang­ing from light airs to Force 7, so we used the two genoas goosewinged; or one of them sheeted to the main­boom. Some days we rolled a lot, and on a cou­ple of days we had nasty rain­squalls and strong winds.

Leav­ing on 2 Novem­ber, it took us 23 days from Santa Cruz on Tener­ife to Bridgetown, Bar­ba­dos. We ran the en­gines for a few hours a day to keep the bat­ter­ies charged. The best day’s run was 134 miles and the worst was 81. Bill ob­served the Merid­ian Pas­sage ev­ery day ex­cept one, which was over­cast.

We sur­vived with little dam­age to our­selves, suf­fer­ing just one bad headache and a pulled shoul­der. We had the usual wear and tear to sheets, booms and rig­ging, one trip up the mast to un­jam the roller-reef­ing and two re­pairs to the genoas. The log packed up half way, so we streamed the old Walker log astern. The Au­topi­lot chick­ened out above Force 6, and the con­cen­tra­tion needed to hand steer meant re­duced watches of 30 min­utes.

Then, as now, morale on board was so im­por­tant. We

Fare Well was solidly built and well-suited to liv­ing aboard

Lau­rel lis­tens to the lat­est walk­man while helm­ing

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