Back in early 2001 we had bought a small sailboat, learnt how to sail, also how to navigate, quit our jobs (mine was Head Designer for Billabong South Africa), provisioned and set sail out of Cape Town South Africa on a mission to sail to the Caribbean. Here is a photo of me sitting on the floor of our tiny apartment, varnishing tin food (to prevent them rusting on the boat before we could eat them)
Surely this idea was the sort of crazy thing that only someone in their 20's would think of doing. To be honest, we didn't embark on this adventure lightly. We did do our homework. We both did the courses, we could both navigate, and we both did our skippers tickets.... I was only the 2nd woman in the South African city of Port Elizabeth to get my license.
We did a few deliveries with other skippers down the treacherous coast of South Africa before we left, so we felt we could handle it. One such journey was with this crazy South African guy who had already circumnavigated and he needed his boat taken to Cape Town to sell it. He had no charts, no life raft, no cooking facilities - it was quite an eye opener. (Don't worry, we took our charts and life raft with us)
So we are sitting in the last port on the Coastline before you strike out to round the Southern tip of Africa to sail to Cape Town. We were waiting for a weather window, but the crazy captain was in a hurry. He went off to get a weather fax and came back with it. He says, "well there is a gale coming, but its from the East, so it will be behind us, so I am going.... who is coming?". The 2 boys raised their hands and then the skipper looked at me.... "well, ABSOLUTELY... you are not leaving me behind just because I am a girl". Quite frankly in South Africa, the thought of catching a bus home on my own was more scarey.
That journey was memorable to say the least. We took turns on the helm all night. It was a big heavy steel boat, and we were screaming down these massive swells. The wind was blowing spray sideways and we were getting dumpy waves in the cockpit. While I was helming out there all by myself in the middle of the night (the boys asleep below, with all the hatches closed) I wasn't scared, I was just holding on for dear life. Keeping that boat on course down those waves took every bit of my strength. There was no self steering. I remember the weather building and Justin poking his head out the companionway and screaming across to me... "You ok Babe?" ha ha. "Yep, I'm ok; cold and wet with a sore body, but I'm ok".
He was probably just checking to see if I was still there! There are never any photos of us in those sorts of conditions!
When we got to Cape Town the skipper told us, don't worry, when you set sail on your own circumnavigation, you will never see conditions like that anywhere else in the world.... comforting. Here is Justin on our tiny little boat in Cape Town. We waited there for 3 weeks for a weather window to safely sail away from South Africa on.
Here is our tiny boat in the middle of the Atlantic.
Here is a map outlining our ocean crossing, so you can understand how massive it was. I remember when we arrived at St.Helena (a tiny speck of an island in the middle of nowhere) 16 days after leaving Cape Town and we felt like we had conquered the world! However, our chart table was only small, so our chart of the ocean was folded in half. When we arrived in St.Helena at the far left of the chart, we turned the chart over and saw how far we still had to go.... GULP.
Here is a photo of a close call we had with a really big tanker. In the middle of the ocean with that much water around you, you really don't want them coming that close to you.... but these guys had heard a woman's voice on the radio, and they were coming in for a closer look.
This is the only photo of me helming in the middle of the ocean. You can see that I am wearing a harness. I was well strapped in, and we were in quite big sea conditions, but certainly not one of those big storms.
The storms & that big ship were actually not the scariest moments of our ocean crossing. Last weekend I created a little 3 minute video of myself telling a story about my scariest moment at sea. Click here to watch it.
One love x