With his feet back on dry land, Jonty Pearce reflects on the differences between coastal and offshore sailing
As a coastal cruiser, I’d always believed that the landfall and arrival were more important to me than the time spent at sea getting there.
Don’t get me wrong – I love the sailing, planning, pilotage and navigation of all of the passages I’ve done, but to be honest they were probably more a means to an end to me than a pure enjoyment of the journey.
My ‘long passage’ history is somewhat short; the first thrilling time I was out of sight of land was when crossing Cardigan Bay en route to Bardsey Island in our 22’ E-boat.
Since then we have circumnavigated Anglesey, crossed over to Ireland, and headed south to the Isles of Scilly from our Pembrokeshire base.
Charter trips have also seen visits to St Kilda, Shetland to Orkney, and the Lofoten Islands, but to dedicated passage makers it is all tame stuff.
A recent jaunt was in a different personal league – crossing of the Atlantic from west to east as part of a crew returning a friend’s Beneteau 473 after his Caribbean exploits.
My leg was the 2330 NM section between Antigua and the Azores; true blue water sailing with the mid-point being slightly more than ‘out of sight of land’ – at least 1000 miles in reality.
How would I cope?
As a ‘dyed in the wool’ coastal cruiser would I fall to my knees in terror at the isolation or relish the self-sufficiency inherent in such a trip?
Would I anticipate the Azorean landfall with yearning or, less likely, be reluctant for the passage to end?
To my surprise, it was the latter.
When it actually dawned on me that, with four days left to run, our 20 day passage would actually finish, I did not want to arrive; I wanted to turn round and go back, to keep on sailing forever.
The lure of the ocean had seduced me; the hiss of the hull scything through the water, the whoosh of the passing waves, and the perpetual motion of the ship’s writhings became the norm.
What was our purpose? To sail onwards. Why? Because it’s there.
The responsibilities and tribulations of shore-based life were forgotten and unreal; our own reality had become a little boat-shaped chart plotter icon in the middle of a vast empty intercontinental space.
Our communication with the outside world was limited to occasional messages received on the sat phone, and welcome weather updates from Chris Tibbs.
With comms now at full working order, Jonty Pearce shares his adventure crossing the Atlantic from Antigua to The Azores
Following months of maintenance work, Jonty Pearce swaps yachts for a luxury cruise
We posted a twice weekly Mailasail blog to keep our loved ones reassured, but any world news events would pass us by.
Our daily routine fell into a reassuring pattern. Night watch, sleep, breakfast, ablute, wash-up, cook, eat, watch the sails, read, watch the horizon.
To fill our time we turned to celestial navigation and sextant study and practice – the clear night skies slowly swivelled above us while Polaris lay reassuringly to port.
The wind vane steered us, only occasionally resting when we motored through calms, or ran the engine to top up a badly behaved battery bank or to provide enough power for the watermaker.
Sail trimming and course changes became an issue of note, while a passing ship on the horizon became a major point of discussion.
At one point we left the sails and the Hydrovane untouched for four whole days while El Arranque forged her own way across the sea.
Day after day, the pattern was the same, and I loved it.
I’d never really understood Bernard Moitessier’s decision to abandon the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race when he was in with a real chance to win.
I do now. For him, the spectre of publicity, family, and the hustle of shore life had seemed overwhelmingly alien to a man and boat so at one with the sea – the need to simply carry on became imperative.
At last I can understand and empathise with his reasoning. I too, wanted to sail on without an end.
But life isn’t like that. Family, community responsibilities, and shortage of stores build up to draw us back to land.
I am writing this on a cramped return flight amid the hubbub of humanity, and the contrast of being sardine packed amongst my fellow brethren and the solitude, space, and quiet of my Atlantic odyssey is deafening.
But now I know that, for me, the passage outweighs the arrival, and that the ocean will draw me back.