Atlantic Ocean Crossing by Jason Grout
With a sudden phone call on Christmas Eve of 2005, unbeknown to me, my life was about to change. I was presented with an opportunity that I wasn't too sure how to take as my career in the yachting industry had taken a back seat, but how often is one presented with a 7000nm sail on a new build.
Keeping in regular contact with Mark and the proceedings at Matrix Yachts in Cape Town, I almost felt I knew the boat already, the constant updates of pictures did help me achieve a much clearer picture in my mind. But nothing could prepare me to find myself standing onboard "Zingara", Matrix Yachts hull number two.
The sheer volume of what had been achieved with 76 feet of length and 38 feet on her beam was nothing short of breathtaking. This was going to be my home for the next month at sea.
With time running out to make the Miami Boat Show, I knew this was going to be an interesting sail. For starters, most of the crew of five on board were complete amateurs, having never left the country and asking where and when we anchor at night.
When the time came to leave Cape Town on a cold and windy afternoon, the waterfront was lined with friends, family and strangers to watch us as we glided out of the harbor. What greeted us on the other side of the breakwater was an increase in wind speed that none of us were expecting, the excitement took hold immediately and the main sail was being extracted from the in boom furling while with a push of a button the jib was out and before we knew it Robben Island was quickly becoming a spec on the horizon. As the daylight faded and the temperatures dropped, the swells began to pick up on our aft starboard quarter, and we all know how hair raising surfing down a 16 foot swell at 18 knots can be, but not on this boat. The weather helm is minimal and tracking is so precise that our white knuckled fists clutching to the wheel slowly started to get their color back as we started to relax, even when the speeds left the teens and entered the twenty's.
After a few days into the voyage, the seas hadn't subsided much and the winds were holding steady, even with only a few hours sleep, everyone was always well rested then it dawned on me that due to the clearance of four feet on the bridge deck, there was no slamming at all and having been on many catamarans, this has always been an issue and cause for concern to most people traveling on them or considering buying one.
It was after five days when the wind began to pick up to 26 knots true, up until then, the 3000 square foot code zero and full main sail was making certain our speeds were not dropping much below 15 or 16 knots. On this day we saw our speeds holding above 20 knots with a top speed of 22.6 knots. The only sound was the wind whistling through the shrouds and the sea stays cutting through the water- with of course the shouts and cheering from the 5 of us on board as we watched everything from the fly bridge, fine tuning and adjusting, while the carbon rig was not showing any signs of being under excess stress.
On our approach to St. Helena in the dark, we were guided in by the leading lights and a school of dolphins leaving their phosphorescent trails, only to remember it was Sunday and we hadn't changed our watches. It was 4am local time and everything was closed, so 3 hours later, we hit the proverbial road, not feeling too refreshed about seeing land as one usually does after being at sea for a length of time. But then again, it is the open water that fuels us. With the main and code zero in full flight, we were making great speed again, but unfortunately it was short lived. The wind died and we were forced to motor, the prospect of traveling at 10 knots had us scrambling for the fishing rods and hand lines which were thrown in the water as soon as we had argued over which lures would get the most fish. We were all right, before long there was part of a large mahi fillet on the barbeque with tuna sushi starters.
As a precaution, and because it was the last stop for a while, we pulled into Ascension to top up with the fuel we had used, which at 3 gallons an hour at 2000 rpm wasn't much, but seeing land again is always something to look forward to. The conditions were not in our favor. The swell that was running would have made a surfer excited and we weren't there to surf. We needed to anchor and refuel with a 200 foot length of hose that was lowered 20 feet down off an outcrop of rocks and retrieved via the tender.
Due to the 4 foot draft, and some very skillful movements, the anchor was dropped as close to the beach as possible without being caught by the surge rolling in and landing us high and dry. A few spinnaker lines were also used to secure us to surrounding mooring balls to stop us moving forward and before long we had the diesel flowing on board. Three hours later we were gone.
The next waypoint was pretty much a straight line to Trinidad, but on the way was the equator. None of us needed any reminding that we were near the single digit latitude degrees with the muggy, blistering heat accompanied with no wind where sleep becomes an effort and not much is had by any. The air is so still and thick it is almost claustrophobic.
But as we started approaching the coast of Brazil, the winds started and so did the squalls and thunder showers- our speeds were back to normal and so was our sleep, we had finally left the ocean area with heat equivalent to that of the Sahara. We were also able to pick up four knots of current which lasted for days and kept our daily average at around 250 nm.
We breezed past the green waters of the Amazon and the prospect of being in Grenada in a few days had everyone very eager to get there, we had also run out of a lot of our creature comfort stores so we had already figured where to do the shopping before we arrived. Two days before we arrived in Grenada though, the wind became more fickle than me at a rum sale in a liquor store, one minute it was gusting then nothing, sails flapping like a wounded duck. It didn't take long for Mark to join me with all the commotion and figured maybe I should do it more often when I want someone to talk to! Unfortunately the wind whipped the water into that all too familiar washing machine effect which led to a very bumpy ride but it didn't alter our speed too much and we kept trucking along through the torrents of rain accompanying the squalls. Just before Grenada, the bad weather vanished and the conditions were perfect.
Our stop in Granada lasted all of four hours due a calm sea and consistent breeze that beckoned us.
A straight line across the Caribbean Sea from Grenada had us pass through the Mona Passage between Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic, the conditions were definitely in our favor, with the winds steady and on our beam. As a result the entire leg, through to the end of the Mona Passage, took only 48 hours. I still could not believe the distance traveled, it seemed so quick, and it was, two nights sleep and we had passed the whole island chain and now had Dominican Republic on our left.
The conditions in the Bahama Channel were quiet different. The wind was directly on our nose, the swell short and steep at around 10 feet and the increasing wind had them snapping off on top to make it that much more uncomfortable and visually intimidating. After getting beaten up bad for over 36 hours, with the jarring of our teeth and no sleep for nearly two days, caution finally gave way to valor and we were forced to seek out an anchorage off of Cuba for a few hours to give the boat and our weary bodies a rest. As the anchor took hold in the calm lee of the island, there were bodies sleeping almost where they were previously standing.
It was all systems go after we were rested up and knew that Miami was about a day away. The remainder of the Bahama Bank was beautiful and calm, the deep blue water was replaced with turquoise as we cut over the bank and could see the sand and coral speeding past below us.
It was a strange feeling knowing it was our last night on this voyage that at one stage we were counting down the days, and the next we want it to continue, but just before sunrise, the bright city lights of Miami confirmed our journey had come to an end.
With a total of 29 days, 6821 nm from the docks at Cape Town to the marina in Miami had everyone smiling from ear to ear with an immense sense of satisfaction and I have yet to hear of a cruising sail boat to have done it faster. The bar has been set.