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