The Great Atlantic Challenge

The Great Atlantic Challenge
Paul Newham

Last November I took part in the annual ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) rally, accompanying my cousin, Jonathan Paull, on his Island packet 440 yacht Seraphina of Chichester. The primary intention was to raise funds for a mothers’ milk facility in the Neo Natal Intensive Care Unit at Shaare Zedek Medical Centre in Jerusalem in memory of his late mother, Ruth, who was cared for at the hospital during the last three months of her life. We succeeded in this challenge; sailing from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands to Rodney Bay, St. Lucia in the Caribbean in 19 days, covering a total distance of some 2,800 nautical miles. We were in a flotilla of some 200 yachts comprised of three classes; cruisers (our class), racers and multi-hulled vessels. Of a total of 143 cruisers, we finished in 30th place and received a prize at the closing ceremony.
Jonathan recruited two additional crew members; Ole, a Norwegian, and Rene, a Swiss. They enabled us to keep Shabbat as best as we could in the circumstances. Both were experienced ocean sailors and, additionally, Rene was an excellent cook.

During the week prior to departure from Las Palmas, there was frantic activity in the marina. Each yacht had to undergo a safety check. In most cases the checks revealed several deficiencies that had to be remedied before departure. Then there was provisioning for the trip. Jonathan had decreed that our yacht was to be meat-free, so we would subsist on fish, pasta, vegetables and fruit. We bought in pre-packed frozen salmon and tuna steaks, sufficient for twelve days. In addition, we loaded numerous cans and jars of fish, vegetables, lentils, chickpeas etc, as well as a selection of dried foods. Also, there were enormous amounts of fruit and fresh vegetables, much of which was hung in netting in the saloon to extend their life in the tropical climate. About 20% rotted in the tropical heat during the voyage and was thrown overboard. About 200 bottles of mineral water were packed into every nook and cranny. Although we had a water maker that could generate 60 litres of drinking water per hour from seawater, we had to allow for the possibility that the unit would fail at any time during the trip and therefore needed a backup supply. In the event, the water maker performed faultlessly.
On departure date, 22nd November, there was a flurry of activity as each yacht slipped its mooring lines and moved out of the marina and into the open water, under engine power, to the applause of hundreds of spectators who lined the waterside. As zero hour approached, the sails were raised and we were off. We first sailed due south from Las Palmas, following the shoreline of Gran Canaria. We kept on this course overnight to bring us out of the wind shadow zone of the Canary Islands, and then changed to a south-westerly course, following the direction that the trade winds were blowing. By the second day, the flotilla had spread out such that only one or two other yachts were still visible within our five mile horizon. This remained the case for the rest of the voyage, and on several days there were no vessels visible either visually, on radar or on AIS (Automatic Identification System), although we could communicate over short wave radio (SSB – Single Sideband).
Our world for much of those 19 days was a rolling platform in which the great Atlantic swells caused the yacht to roll from side to side, making it very difficult to perform any activities, such as dressing, washing, preparing meals, and even sleeping. I suffered from a bad case of seasickness during the first day. However, by the next morning I had recovered and suffered no repeat episodes.
A watch system was set up so that each crew member was at the helm for three hours during daylight hours. During the night, it was two hours on and six hours off. The autopilot was running for much of the time. This meant that the man on watch was free to look out for other boats and obstructions in the water or make adjustments to the course. It also meant that it was possible to study the night sky, which was a nightly spectacular of extraordinary clarity and visibility, owing to the complete lack of light pollution. The Milky Way was clearly visible and, as we moved to ever lower latitudes, the southern constellations began to appear. Towards the end of the voyage the Southern Cross became visible just before dawn, together with the two Magellanic Clouds.
During daylight hours we watched the rolling waves approaching from astern, each gently raising the yacht to its full height, which could be several metres, before depositing her gently into the next trough. The upward motion was imperceptible from the cockpit, but the deep chasm-like trough, following on from the wave, was an awesome sight. A pod of dolphins was seen on one late afternoon, leaping out of the sea all around us and following the bows of the yacht as she continued her onward journey.
On the first Friday of the voyage, just as the sun was about to set, we caught our one and only fish from the trailing fishing line. On hauling it in we discovered it was a mahi-mahi, or dolphin fish, which is kosher. Rene gutted and filleted it and we had it for our Saturday night supper.

We were at sea for two Shabbatot and Kiddush was made in the cockpit before our meal was served. We also lit Chanukah candles, using the gimballed cooker to provide a stable surface for the chanukiah.
The voyage was entirely comprised of down-wind sailing. This meant that the mainsail was let out as far as possible. The jib was held out by a spinnaker pole on the opposite side, in goosewing configuration. On several days the wind was very light and we were able to raise the asymmetric spinnaker on which the emblem of Shaare Zedek was emblazoned.

As we approached the halfway point, the course became more westerly, again following the path of the trade winds. We were now deep in the tropics and squalls became a nightly concern. In most cases a dark cloud approaching us from behind at night would herald a sudden increase in wind speed and a change in its direction, which required a course change to avoid an unintentional gybe. This was only for a few seconds before the easterly trade wind resumed. Two days before landfall, however, an enormous squall hit us, with gale force winds, and the dreaded gybe happened, resulting in damage to the yacht’s standing rigging and the spinnaker pole was torn from its mast track. Several other yachts also suffered damage from the same squall. Nevertheless, we were still able to continue sailing, albeit with the loss of the jib, and a small loss of speed.
On the final morning, 11th December, at first light we could make out the peaks of St. Lucia in the mist. As we approached the island the VHF radio burst into life as the rally officials directed us into Rodney Bay. We had done the ARC and, almost as important, we had raised more than £30,000 for a worthy cause!

The crew: l-r Ole, Paul, Jonathan, Rene


En route (credit: O.W Saarstad)

The Shaare Zedek emblem on the spinnaker (credit: O.W Saastad)

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