I’m writing this blog sitting in A B Sea’s cockpit as the sun rises over the small Italian island of Ponza, surrounded by yachts and the colourful little harbour that is coming to life for another pleasant day. It has been a week and a day since we left Puerto Marina de las Salinas in Spain and I realise that I’m already feeling more confident than when we began our sailing adventure. I also realise that sailing is something that will always hold lessons for even the most seasoned sailors, but for me, as a sailing newbie, I do feel I am beginning to incorporate the training we had in Gibraltar, as the days glide by.
This is in part just being put into the situation hands-on, but it is largely due to having experienced crew with Baz and myself – Mike and Elaine – who have a collective sailing experience of at least 40 years. Under Mike’s calm, patient and dryly humorous supervision, I’m gradually settling into the sense that, given more practice, I do have the potential to be a competent partner to Baz, who bravely took on the role of captain, out of necessity as well as possessing natural leadership skills.
When seasickness threatened each time I went down below the first couple of days out of harbour, I was restricted in my ability to be a decent hostess and create food for our guests. Luckily Baz had already cooked three large meals that could be split into 6 dinners, but Elaine, who I’d only just met, gracefully stepped in and filled my place. She put together some delicious lunches, prepped dinners and washed dishes pretty much on her own until my sea legs eventually decided to step back on board! She’s even helped with a galley reorganisation so food and utensils are much more ergonomically stored. Elaine and Mike live on their own yacht in Turkey and so I was happy to learn from her own galley know-how. All in all, she’s a bloody legend.
The main thing I had to do when I had seasickness, apart from take a tablet, was kick my guilt voice into touch each time it tried to berate me for letting the side down! As I said, the seasickness eventually settled and by day three I managed to rustle up food for everyone again. Now, Elaine and I have fallen into a relaxed routine of shared food prep. It can be hard to slot into another female’s kitchen and working practices, but I reckon we’re doing pretty well together.
While Baz and I did make two 10 hour trips to and from the Balearic Islands-Spain, we hadn’t completed any overnight passages. That’s something we now have under our belt, making one 2-night passage and several one-night passages as we’re hopping from mainland Spain to the Greek island of Kefalonia. We hopped from Mar Menor to Mallorca, then Mallorca to Menorca, then Menorca to Sardinia, and as I write this, our last passage was from Sardinia to Italy just off the bay of Naples.
Overnight passages mean all meals have to be prepared under sail (or motor – which has been largely the case so far due to unfavourable winds). That in itself has been an experience. So has sleeping in shifts. The first two nights, I chose to sleep on deck rather than go below, which was actually comfy once I had enough clothes and a blanket to cover me. Once I got back on my seafaring feet, I chose to sleep in Barry’s aft cabin when it was my turn to rest. Despite the noise of the engine, it is actually a comfortable place to be rocked to sleep. We always have blankets in the cockpit though, for anyone who wants to doze at night time when they’re not on watch.
Baz and I are both stoked to have the auto pilot working now, it’s certainly made for a more relaxed passage.
I was really nervous about doing my night watch, in case something happened and I didn’t know what to do. Baz and I took it in turns to do a ‘formal’ night watch, to get into practice for when we’re on our own and I settled down once I realised I’d never be on my own at night. Mike stays on deck during the night passages and managed to stay awake as support for the first couple of nights, with an hour doze here and there. Elaine is often up on deck at night time too.
Where’s that boat suddenly come from?
The first night though, we had the headsail catching the wind and I was at helm (while the auto pilot did its thing). It was just before dawn and while we were still miles away from land, I was on extra alert for fishing or other small vessels that don’t show up on AIS on the Raymarine chart plotter.
Appearing suddenly out of the dark, almost directly in front of us, I spotted what looked like the lit up bow of what could be a fishing boat. How had I not seen it? Perhaps it had turned on lights when it had heard us approaching. I checked the plotter and the only boat on AIS was miles away in a different direction. I was scared that if I had to avoid this boat, with a sail up, I’d somehow get us into trouble.
Baz was asleep on the seating in front of me, Mike was taking his hour doze and so I asked Elaine if she knew what it was. By the time she’d moved from her port aft seat to my side of A B Sea to see what it was, Mike and Baz were awake.
Mike jumped up to look at the AIS and Baz jumped up to see what we were looking at. Both blokes checked the AIS while I told them I’d looked at that already.
“I know what that is,” said Baz.
“What?” I asked, wondering how long we had before we had to turn before we hit it.
“It’s the moon.”
I shuffled over to the starboard side and looked at what had been a boat. It now definitely looked like a crescent moon. In the time it had taken for Baz to look at it from when I’d first spotted it, it had risen in the sky enough to show the definite outline of the ‘hidden’ part of the moon being gently backlit by the now rising sun.
Did I feel like a bloody fool? Yes.
Was I glad it had turned out to be the moon and not a fishing vessel, even if it did make me look like a bloody fool? Yes.
Did we all have a good laugh about it? Despite the fact that everyone was now awake … yes!
After a bit of friendly bantering from the men, we all settled back to our positions and I got on with watch.
Lesson learned. Things aren’t always what they appear. Distances are deceptive. Check twice and think it through before panicking.
After I’d had that mistaken lunar identity, I oddly settled into feeling more confident on watch at night. I’m actually enjoying night times now, they’re so peaceful and the stars are incredibly bright in the inky black sky.
There’s something to be said for this sailing lark.