The last westerly degree
01 July 2008 | En Route to Formentera, Balearic Islands, Med
The last westerly degree!
Lat: 37° 20.0'N
Lon: 001° 00.0'W
This adventure began as a dream more than five years ago. It was one of those late night thoughts, a glimpse, a spur of the moment thought blurted out after a trip to the boat show or a day boating somewhere in Ontario. "What do you think about sailing for a year with the kids?". The first thoughts immediately dismissed the idea. "The kids are too young", "What about our jobs?", "What about our friends", "NO WAY - maybe a month!". These were just a few of the initial responses to the question "Can we do it?".
Then we slowly put the wheels in motion. I use the term we lightly, only because in its infancy, the TRIP as I have so generically named the folder in my computer where I save all the pictures so far (over 2000 and counting in the first three months!), had not been accepted by the rest of the MacKenzie family.
So I started working on the kids. Connor and Jennifer quickly jumped on the bandwagon, I'm sure not realizing that the trip included a year of home schooling with two of the worst "home room" teachers ever (mom and dad). But before long, we had really started the snow ball rolling, gaining strength and momentum, and after sailing aboard our Beneteau 323 with friend Darryl for a couple of summers, the idea was getting closer to becoming a reality.
One of the key turning points, the TSN turning point (for those hockey fans out there reading this blog!) was when we finally decided to charter a catamaran in the British Virgin Islands with brother Bruce Walker and family. I'd already been to one of the largest boat shows in the US in Annapolis and test sailed what would become our new home, the Lagoon 440, but Ziggy and the kids had never seen the newly designed cruising catamaran, only having experienced life aboard a 32' monohull.
So we arrive in the BVI late one December evening, headed from the airport to the quaint Nanny Cay Marina and walked anxiously down the Dock B and onto "Dreamweaver", the Fountaine Pajot Bahia 42 that would be our vacation "home away from home" for the next ten days.
The deal was almost done. The vessel was huge, spacious, well laid out with room for kids to hide and areas where adults can be kids, and interact, and on, and on. As we awoke the next morning, checked out with the great charter management group at Catamaran Charters, we backed Dreamweaver out of her berth and motored slowly out of the marina and into the Sir Francis Drake channel in light winds and under a perfect, hot, sunny BVI day. I will never forget that moment - with thoughts of how amazing this "trip" could be if only we could put it together, and of course, getting the support of Ziggy, my incredibly talented and very intense wife. So as I sat at the helm of the FP Bahia 42 and watched as my wife stepped carefully back towards me from the forward trampolines where everyone else was enjoying the morning, I did not know what to expect. The last comments from Ziggy were "Maybe we can do a month away - MAYBE TWO months". She only had two words "I'M IN". And from that moment on, this TRIP was a go!
I hope I haven't lost any readers. I'm writing this blog as I stand watch in possibly the most beautiful night of our entire trip so far. And that's saying something. I have sailed Windancer IV more than 4,500 nautical miles from Nanny Cay in the BVi, to St. John and St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, to Simpson's Bay on the Dutch side of St. Maarten and Marigot on the French side of the St. Martin (the same island but with dual citizenships!) to Antigua for the end of Antigua Race week and where we joined the ARC Europe rally group in Jolly Harbour, to St. Georges, Bermuda through a force 11 storm (one level below hurricane force winds), and across the big leg, the North Atlantic Ocean to the Azorean Islands of Faial(Horta), Terrceria and San Miguel, before being joined by Ziggy, Connor and Jennifer for the final crossing to Lagos, Portugal and the end of the rally across the Atlantic and the real beginning of our family adventure.
Since arriving in mainland Europe, we have visited the both Spain and Gibraltar, traveling back and forth on foot, bicycle and by car at the easiest border crossing imaginable, trekked thought the Gibraltar caves prepared for use in WWII as a military hospital and joyfully chatted with, fed and scolded the famous Gibraltar apes after enjoying authentic English Fish and Chips in the old town square.
We spent this past Sunday night in what appeared to be a posh, upscale marina (staying there only because all others in the area were full) and after negotiating the nightly berthing fee down from 680 euros (equal to approx CND$ 1,100 for the night), we enjoyed watching the finals of the EURO 2008 soccer match, where Germany was unfortunately defeated by Spain (Connor proudly wore the German jersey he received while visiting family in Hamburg). We had been seriously warned by many sailing friends and acquaintances that this south coast of Spain is knows as a "Cruisers Gauntlet", meaning few to no anchorages, ridiculously expensive marinas "if they have space", which they usually don't, and serious weather concerns with active gale warnings constantly in effect and all this to see a "concrete jungle" of hotels and crammed beaches full of drunken British tourists.
That description pretty much summarizes out experience, except for one incredible surprise - the weather! After enjoying our day in Puerto Jose Banus marina, we completed a final provisioning at the local department/grocery store (that's a whole other blog to describe that experience) we motor sailed along the southern coast of Spain in what can only be described as PERFECT conditions. Not perfect if you're a racing sailor on a schedule, but perfect for us. The sea was as calm as the calmest day on Mary Lake in Muskoka, like a millpond, not a ripple. And no wind, which is fine for me seeing that the winds were forecast to be "On the nose", in other words we were planning on motoring into them in any case.
Our plan was to motor sail to Cabo Gata, a small anchorage recommended by the owner and crew of the Spanish boat, Kalliope III, as a good stop to assess the weather for the passage around the Gata point. So after a 24 hour motor sail to Cabo Gata, we decided the conditions were too good to stop, and we are now into our second overnight of what will be a 350 nm passage over approximately 54 hours. Both Connor and Jenny totally agreed with Ziggy and I that we should continue along, and that is how I'm sitting here, o the bridge in pitch black conditions, not a breath of wind, still waters, a warn night in front of me, the glow of Cartagena to my port (left) side and a freighter just passing 2 mn away on my starboard (right) side [thank goodness for radar - that's our eyes at night!].
We were blessed with 12-15 knot of SE winds this afternoon that allowed us to give the diesel engines a break and pushed Windancer IV along a brisk 8+ knots. Night fell and the wind disappeared, and I find myself in awe of the night. A sea of endless stars in the sky above, the perfect sunset into the Spanish foothills over a cloudless horizon, and dolphin sightings that simply cannot be explained. The trip has brought countless dolphin sightings, always welcome and incredibly uplifting and entertaining, but nothing like the one this afternoon. Dolphin are naturally friendly and playful creatures that swim together in pods, groups of a few dozens or more dolphins that "live (swim) together" as a family.
Dolphin sightings can be anything from a lone dolphin who hears the boat engine running and swims over for a short frolic in our bow wake, to an entire pods of 25 or more dolphins all swimming and playing, bobbing and weaving in the water usually at the front of the boat. Other times we can see several pods swimming quietly in the distance, obviously uninterested in putting on a show for the passing sailors. But today was the BIG KAHUNA, we spotted several dolphins swimming quickly towards us, and before we know it, dozens of beautiful, graceful nimble aquatic mammals were jumping and putting on the best show ever. But then we looked around the boat, and almost as far as the eye could see, were more pods that it appears had joined together as one giant armada of dolphin slowly making their way east along the Spanish coast. There is no way my words can explain the elation you feel when you are in the middle of something like this. And for the first time ever we could clearly hear the dolphin talking to each other, like a scene from Flipper - I'm speechless just thinking about it. And last night as I stood watch, more dolphins were jumping next to the boat - even at night!
So back to my watch, motor sailing at 0200, and I've run out of words to describe these perfect conditions. We have traveled more than 4,500 nautical miles thus far, a distance equal to one quarter the distance around the earth. And over the next month or so, after bidding farewell to the Walker clan (the three bears) and brother Dan and family, Windancer IV will sail towards the Italian coast in hopes of showing the family the Pisa and it famous leaning tower, Rome and the coliseum and Cinque Terre (the famous "5 cities" on the Mediterranean coast before turning the corner on this leg of the journey and heading out of the Med, back through the Balearic Islands, Gibraltar and a chance to see North Africa and the Moroccan cities of Tangier and Casablanca.
Location on a sailing vessel is expressed in terms of Latitude and Longitude. Our current position is 37° 28.062'N and 000° 43.968'W. It's a meaningful moment when we leave the Western Hemisphere; pass the imaginary line into the Eastern Hemisphere, far from home but heading towards new worlds and new adventure. In about six hours, that's where we'll be.