One Man, One Boat, 4000 Miles!!!

Tropic 4 Cancer Trans Atlantic challenge is an expedition to sail single-handed 4000 miles across the Atlantic, from the western seaboard of Africa to Antigua. The route follows a defined course along the Tropic of Cancer, which is a circle of latitude running around the Earth at approximately 23 degrees north, and which marks the most northerly position at which the sun may appear directly overhead. Find Out More

The Reckoning

Posted on December 3rd, 2013

It is done!!! Total crossing time from Gibraltar to Antigua: 26 days 15 hours 30 mins. No records broken – but neither am I, and barring a few little bits, nor is Haskapa!!!

The overriding emotion I feel is relief! Relief at having made it here safely; relief at being back with the family; relief that I’ve done it; and relief that I no longer have to sleep in a bed that I need to re-inflate every two hours!!!! Antigua is as lovely as I remember it being, and now sitting in a beautiful cottage by the shore overlooking Monserrat, I’ve had a chance to see beyond the relief and to properly appreciate what’s happened.

The last 48 hours of the crossing were hard mentally, but relatively straightforward in terms of the sailing. The weather was kind to me, and a wind shift to the south east gave me a straight forward run into Antigua. The challenge was to balance my impatience to arrive with the sensible need to arrive in daylight. This meant for the last 24 hours in particular, maintaining a steady pace was more important than speed itself. As my cousin Patrick perfectly summarised: ‘ ..the last mile is always the longest, but slowly slowly gets you there’.

The arrival itself was low key, like my departures have been, and that was perfect. Given that it was only 0800 hrs local time, things were only just waking up at the Catamaran Club in Falmouth Harbour when Haskapa & I gently found our way into our mooring, cheered on by Liz & the kids. Everyone was extraordinarily helpful, and the transition back into reality was soft, warm and gentle. There followed a couple of hours of admin and stuff (immigration, customs, etc), before we had the great privilege of meeting Agnes Meeker.

Agnes has done some amazing things in the last few years to establish the St Johns Hospice here in Antigua. The Island had no palliative care provision prior to the establishment of this 11 bed hospice. Despite the enormous wealth of some of the visitors to this beautiful Island, Antigua is not a rich country, and all the cost of running the hospice comes from donations and fund raising activities. Agnes is a bundle of positive energy, and she organised for ABS TV to come down and conduct an interview about Tropic 4 Cancer!

Part of the original concept for the Tropic 4 Cancer expedition was the establishment of a link to a cancer organisation in the countries visited, and I’m fully committed to retaining this element in the crossing I’ve just completed. So the relationship with St Johns Hospice is only just beginning, and we will visit them on Friday.

Now with slightly more perspective on the crossing itself, I feel a great sense of pride in the achievement of sailing across an ocean solo. It wasn’t quite the route I’d planned, but it still stands up as a proper crossing. I’m satisfied with what I’ve done!

What is more, I feel total satisfaction in how I sailed. Haskapa is an amazing little yacht, and was everything I hoped for and more. Her performance is extraordinary, and even though I used only part of her full potential, was hugely rewarding to sail and provided some fantastically exhilarating moments. Although she is a race boat, I sailed her as a sailor, not a racer, and this was sometimes akin to driving a sports car around in second gear! But it meant that I didn’t put her in a hedge or a ditch!!!

In deciding to undertake the crossing independently of any organised event, I put myself in the position of needing to be totally self-reliant. I had no race or event company with a duty of care or a liability to cover, and to whom I could turn in the event of trouble. This meant that sailing carefully and sensibly was more critical than sailing fast! I fully acknowledge that the extra stresses of racing to some extent counters the additional support one gets as part of an organised event – but the risk ratios are different. For me, there was no ‘I’ve had enough’ or ‘I need a bit of help’ button, and only an immediate life threatening emergency could warrant triggering any kind of request for help.

I put trust in my skills and instinct to respond to whatever situations I found myself in, and feel that I sailed in a seamanlike way at all times. It wasn’t always fast, but it was safe, and protected me and Haskapa. In the context of what I set out to do, this was critical.

It has been a hugely challenging undertaking, and I’ve loved and hated it equally!! As I mentioned in an earlier post, there was a stress from the sheer significance of what I was trying to do that sat like a millstone. No longer carrying that around feels good!

The support that I’ve received has been overwhelming – both in terms of donations and encouragement. I cannot ever properly thank all those who gave up money and time to support the Tropic4Cancer project. I am enormously grateful, and knowing that the funds are being used responsibly and legitimately by Sobell House and Sail4Cancer to benefit those affected by cancer and terminal illness is the positive legacy for Mum I was hoping for when I started out on this.

The companies who sponsored me show just how much good there is in the commercial world. The marine industry has been amazing, and continues to reach out to help and support in an amazing way. Our title sponsor Haskapa have been brilliant. Evie, Simon, Logie, Liam and the rest of the team have given freely and asked little in return. Nick Smith and the team at Salterns Marina gave us the foundation upon which to build. Charlie and Samantha at Ocean Safety were amazing and I’m so grateful for their support – but even more grateful that I didn’t need to use the kit they provided!!! Others who gave so generously without question: Ian & Timi at Greenhouse Graphics; Jon at Rupture Seal (so glad didn’t need to use these either!!); Sandra and the team in Ocean Village Gibraltar (plus Sarah in the Balearics); Carsten & Nikki from Atlantic Campaigns, without whom La Gomera would have been much harder! Good luck with the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge; Mark & Callum at Equip-me; Nick and the team at Yellow Brick – just brilliant!!; Dr Matt Ladbrook at Sentinel Consulting – the on call Doc who was thankfully never troubled!!!; Mark House for creating and managing the excellent Tropic4Cancer website; Marina Johnston at Clearline Communications, who handles the PR and Media – awesome job!; and thank you to all the team within the Expertise Consultancy Group for their patience, support and understanding whilst I’ve taken this on.

Thank you too goes to both Sobell House and Sail4Cancer. Both organisations placed trust in me to undertake the Tropic4Cancer trip without doubt or censure, and have given me much support and encouragement. Thank you to Kevin, Astrid, Neale, Diane and Lindsay at Sobell House, and to Andy, Graham, Lizette, Cathy and Julie at Sail4Cancer, for having faith!!!

Thank you also to all my family and extended family for all their support. Obviously everyone was touched by what happened to Mum, and their response has been fantastic.

And of course thank you to Liz, who has had the tough job of trying to maintain a regular routine for the kids at home, whilst also dealing with a husband crashing & banging his way around an Ocean and bit of land in it!

So, we will now enjoy a few days relaxing here in Antigua before returning to the UK to brave winter and the festive season. Haskapa will stay longer, and is now seriously up for sale. The commitment to use some proceeds from the sale to support cancer organisations is absolute, and whatever surplus I get will go to St John’s Hospice here in Antigua. If a buyer is not found before the spring here in the Caribbean, I will bring her back to Europe for sale.

There are now very few ‘must do ‘challenges left on my list, which is quite pleasing in itself. I’ve never wanted to look back and think ‘if only…’! In her last few months, Mum and I talked a bit about life and what it is all about. Life is for living, and whilst we cannot run around like turbo nutters every minute of every day, it is important to seize moments before it is too late and one is unable to do so.

Well, that’s all folks! It’s been emotional…………!



Day 30 – Arrival into Antigua

Posted on December 3rd, 2013

2006-07-18 03.47.37And so after 29 days at sea (21 days from La Gomera), Richard arrived in Antigua at 07:45 local time (11:45 GMT), to a small group of family (and some new friends!!). The day was then spent berthing, clearing customs, doing TV interviews and relaxing back on dry land.

Richard will follow up with a full report on the last day and a bit at sea, but for now he is pleased to be here, pleased to sleep in a bed that doesn’t throw him out, pleased to not have to get up every two hours to trim the sails / look out for ships, pleased to not have to sit on the bucking-bronco-bucket, and most of all pleased to have time to relax with his family!!

Thank you so much to everyone who has followed Richard’s journey. Here are some photos of his arrival!

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And finally …. a big thank you today goes to; Laura & Scott Evans & Family, J Major, Damon, Chrissie & Taylor Clark, Jonathan & Alice Evans & Family, Will Bentley, Jo & Tim Ponting & family, Ashley & Leigh Aspin & Family, Dr Edward Walton, Mary & David Bebo, Kate & Russell Myers, Sharon Davies and Lorna Angier!. Thank you all so much for your very kind donations!!

 



Day 29 – Bubble & Pipsqueaks

Posted on December 1st, 2013

imageAs I approach civilisation, I’m already seeing more signs of life with aircraft and ships. And the fantastic sight of the Frigate bird. These are not the most beautiful of creatures, but they look great to me!! They range far out to sea for food, then return to Barbuda, the sister island of Antigua, where there is a huge colony of them. It means that I’m getting close!!

Soon this little Hakapa shaped bubble that I’ve been living in will nudge up against normal, everyday reality. I’ve been in the bubble pretty much since leaving the UK nearly 2 months ago, and it’s been quite pressurised.

This project, driven by the desire to do something positive, has been a year in the planning, and encompasses a concept dreamt up mid ocean 8 years ago, and a lifelong ambition. Those are big rocks to carry, and it will be with some relief that I’m able to put that burden aside.

And when i arrive in Antigua, the bubble will pop and in will rush all the noise and energy of my two children, who will be there to greet me. I can’t wait!! I’ve missed the family a massive amount, although a couple of squabbles down the track that will no doubt change!!

Most of what happened in the bubble will disappear, like the bubble itself. That’s not a bad thing, as it is not normal life, and I couldn’t and wouldn’t choose to live like this! Yes, memories will remain, and these updates will serve as a record of what went on. But they too are not reflective of who I am in everyday life. I am normally far more reserved with my thoughts, and whilst far from being introvert, normally choose not to share my life quite so openly!!

It maybe too early to fully assess what impact this journey has had on me. Life changing? Probably not. Life defining? Maybe. Life enhancing? Absolutely! I’ve always appreciated and understood what I have in my life, and I will value these even more. I may also be able to be less reserved with some of my emotions. This does not mean I’m going to run around with my heart on my sleeve, whoohooing and boohooing everywhere – I’m British and I’m a bloke, so that’s just not going to happen!

But I may give myself the time and space to process emotions more. This will be true of both good and bad. I know that I don’t spend much time kicking through the debris of things that haven’t worked out – I’ve never seen the point – either rebuild or move on!! But I now understand better that some things do need proper reconciliation (or ‘closure’ to use the clumsy but apt Americanism).

I think I will also have learnt to enjoy achievements better. In the past I’ve been so eager to rush onto the next challenge, that I’ve normally not celebrated what I’ve just achieved. I will definitely celebrate this journey properly, and before planning anything else!!! Although I have been thinking about a little trip to……….!!!

Hopefully the next update will be to say that I’ve arrived. Not prepared to say exactly when that might be, but Monday seems likely!!

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Today’s thank you goes to; Yvonne & Terry Willcocks, Nick Collinson, Longparish Ladies (for their Tea Party), Patrick & Fiona Angier, Margaret & Mike Shaw, Darren Shaw, Sue Wall and Caroline, Matt, Emily, Archie & Jemima Baugh. Thank you all so much for your very kind donations!!



Day 28 – Do the Math!!

Posted on November 30th, 2013

Onboard Haskapa, it’s all about numbers:
screen dump
Speed
VMG
Max speed
Average speed
Distance travelled
Distance left
Daily distance
Average daily distance
Course
Bearing
Lat & long
Wind speed
Wind direction
Wave height
Wave direction
Time
Date
Journey time
Number of meatballs in the pasta
etc, etc

But, it boils down to just one number right now. To reach Antigua mid afternoon (local time) on Monday, when you’re watching the early evening news (or reruns of Top Gear on Dave!), I need to average 5 knots directly towards the final waypoint.

Frustratingly, I cannot sail directly towards Antigua at the moment, as the wind has shifted, and will continue to do so. So this means it’s all about VMG – velocity made good!!! >5knots VMG = good … < 5knots VMG = bad!!

It’s very stressful!!!!

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Today’s thank you goes to; Mrs Airey, Sarah Blocksidge & Bodyzone24, Dr Pollack, A Melrose, Louise Worsley, Doerte Steinhoff, Mike & Margaret Shaw and Jane Burt & Family. Thank you all so much for your very kind donations !



Day 27 – Bedlam

Posted on November 29th, 2013

cabinThe last few days have been very hard work & extremely tiring for a number of reasons.

Firstly the weather, for 2 days the wind blew strongly, which made for good progress but is tough to live in. This was followed yesterday by a hugely frustrating day of inconsistent wind strength & direction. Massive clouds simply hoovered up the wind, and I was left slopping around in nothing. Then it would suddenly fill in at 20 knots, and we’d go zooming off again. Maddening!!

Secondly, it is really stressful!! As I get closer to Antigua, so the consequence of failure makes me ultra cautious of pushing too hard and breaking something (else!).

Thirdly, the wear & tear continues. This has affected my sleep, as my bed has been behaving badly!! I have a couple of air beds that I use. I developed a slow puncture in #1 bed very early on and gets flat in 2 hours, so have mainly been using #2. This has suddenly acquired a huge gut, and now resembles a blimp (internal structure seems to have split!). So I have one bed with too much air, and one with not enough!! The problem with #2 is that it’s like trying to go sleep on a space hopper. I kind of drape myself over it, but the bumpy motion of the waves is exaggerated by the bed – slightly behind the boat’s movement – so that I end up gyrating like a loony! #1 is just uncomfortable. As a result I have not had much sleep!! Hopefully I’ve fixed #1′s puncture now! The blimp is joining the white spinnaker in the naughty corner.

I’ve also broken my wireless router which means email access is limited. The inverter has stopped working properly, so I tried to wire the router in more directly. Now I’m not that competent with electrics, but I know enough. I’m confident that when a piece of electrical kit goes pop and starts producing smoke, it probably means it is kaput. I’ve got a backup! I can run emails through the Yellow Brick tracker – which is the most amazing bit of kit – and shows you my position on the website. Highly recommend one if you’re doing any sort of remote travel, event, or simply want to let people know where you are!! Thank you to Nick and the team for your support.

The VHF antenna has also suddenly adopted a horizontal position at the top of the mast – the result of a very nasty squall we had. It looks a bit odd, but is still working!

Less than 500 miles to go now. Must hurry up and get there before anything else breaks!

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Today’s thank you goes to Arthur Phillips, Michael Austin, Anthony Harnden, Steve & Laura Davies & Family, Susie Pollard, Robert & Robyn Dawson & Family and Mr M Lacey. Thank you all so much for your very kind donations!



Thank you!

Posted on November 28th, 2013

Today is also dedicated to Richard’s brother Tim Mayon-White and sister Amanda Rowland and their families. We’re all thinking of you and your wonderful mum on this tough day. Thank you for your donations and your fantastic support in Richard’s challenge.



Day 26 – “To Mum”.

Posted on November 28th, 2013

Today would have been Mum’s birthday.

This journey was always all about Mum and what happened to her. I started out from Gibraltar exactly 2 years after she died, and ideally I wanted to finish the crossing on her Birthday, today. But that was always going to be difficult to achieve.

Since I was a boy, I’ve wanted to undertake a solo ocean crossing, inspired by reading about Knox Johnson, Chichester and others. Now with a family and other commitments, I had pretty much ruled out having the time to do so. Mum’s illness changed that, and gave me the drive and determination to make something good out of a horrid situation.

Mum was an incredibly intelligent person, caring and thoughtful. She was quite traditional in some of her thinking, but was liberal and progressive too. She was also an advocate of a healthy lifestyle, and as a Doctor treating diabetes promoted many aspects of a proper balanced diet many years before they became mainstream. She was also a passionate anti-smoker, and that she should have been affected by lung cancer is the cruellest and most bitter of ironies.

We all miss Mum, and being able to share with her what is happening in our lives. For me personally, this time on-board ‘Haskapa’ has given me the time to process what happened to Mum. I now realise that did not allow myself to grieve at the time, and I have found myself feeling incredibly raw emotionally as I now deal with her death and what it means.

To my young children, who barely got to know her, Mum is ‘Granny in the Sky’. They think of her as a star, which is linked to a version of the circle of life that stemmed from fending off awkward questions from our very bright and inquisitive daughter:

‘Daddy, where do babies come from?’
‘Mummy’s tummy’
‘Was I always in Mummy’s tummy then?’
‘Errr….no.’
‘Where was I before that then?’
‘Ummmm…..well, you were a twinkle in my eye!’
‘Like a twinkle star?’
‘Err….yup, that’s exactly right…..!’

And so for her, we all start and finish as stars, which is okay as a belief system for a little girl.

And it works for for me too. Sailing along under starlit skies each night, I also like the idea that Mum is a star, looking down at me bobbing around in the ocean.

To Mum.

And to all Mums.



Day 25 – Careful What You Wish For!!

Posted on November 27th, 2013

FoodHaving tempted fate with the go faster haircuts, etc, the wind duly arrived – with attitude!! I’ve now got 20-25knts, with a bit more in the squally clouds, and a very confused sea state!! Having been playing with big sails on Monday, I’ve now only got tiny scraps of sail up, and we’re still bombing along!!

It’s hilarious how quickly one adjusts to relative speeds. With the stronger winds, Haskapa has been doing 10 knot plus surfs down waves, and suddenly speeds of 5 and 6 knots seem pedestrian! Yet only two day ago, reaching 4 knots was a major achievement, and the thought of 6 knots as ridiculous as winning the lottery.

 

With the increase in speed also comes the hope of arrival dates in Antigua. This is a very dangerous game emotionally, so I have to be very careful to manage my expectations. But it is impossible to avoid the extrapolation of daily mileages into arrival times. All I’m going to commit to in public is that, all things being equal, I should arrive next week!!!!!

The other adjustment that needs to take place is for the change in the motion. Having had a few days of quite smooth sea states, the bumpy stuff takes getting used to again!! It is also harder on me and the boat in terms of wear & tear. I spent a bit of time yesterday patching sails, which are showing the miles that they’ve now sailed. Equally, my hands in particular are a mess. Cuts don’t really heal properly, and the skin is all flakey!! Both Haskapa & I are starting to look a little ragged!

I did manage to treat myself to a hot shower though, by capturing rainwater from the squalls. The downside was that in order to catch the water, I had to endure two cold showers!!! It was lovely to feel really clean for the first time in days!

I’m now well and truly in to my fourth rotation of the menu, and it’s just starting to get a bit dull. The excitement of counting the number of meatballs in the pasta has really lost its shine! It’s fascinating how much my taste buds crave interesting tastes – I’ve got curries, chillies and sweet & sour meals, an these are far more appealing than the more bland meals of pasta and sauce. This leads on to another emotionally tricky game – planning the first meals that I’ll eat in Antigua!! There are quite a few more boil in the bag meals to get through before I can really let myself go on that game!!

Anyway, I’ll just keep banging out the daily routine until one day, hopefully soon, someone tells me to stop!

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Today’s thank you goes to Chrissie Cooper, Lorna & Bobby Angier, Pippa Milton & Family, Matt & Jo Lambert & Family and Philip Norris. Thank you all so much for your very kind donations!



Day 24 – Changing Gears!

Posted on November 26th, 2013

chocciesHaskapa and I got all turbo nutter again yesterday afternoon!! Perhaps frustrated by a slow day on Sunday, and this ongoing niggle that I should push the boat harder, we decided to give it a bit of welly!!

Unsurprisingly, the result was a lot of crash bang wallop! Over the space of about 4 hours, the sequence of events went like this:
Light winds in morning
Set big blue spinnaker, plus full main
Huge line of squalls approaches
Set off downwind at Mach 2
Total wipeout
Break kicker (again – of more in a mo)
Genoa up
Wind drops
White spinnaker up (groans all round)
Inevitable spinnaker wrap (to be fair was driver error – was trying to select different playlist on iPod & had multitasking issues!)
Genoa back up, plus flying jib (just because!)
Lunch break!
Wind drops again
White spinnaker back up
Another line of squalls
Manage to hold it together for 1 hour @ average of 8knts
Another big wipe out
Genoa & flying jib up again
Wind drops
White spinnaker back up
Line of squalls approaches
Etc etc

It was a lot of fun, but hard on both me & the boat! The kicker mast fixing broke again, as mentioned. When he used titanic sized rivets to put it back on, Handy Andy said that they’d never come out again – and he was right!! Instead the fixing shattered, leaving just the bits where it’s riveted! I’ve now rigged up a ball of knitting to hold it in place!

After all that, I’ve gone back to the default position of being super conservative. The real difficulty is predicting what wind is under these clouds. I normally err on the side of caution, but on a number of occasions have found the there is no wind at all under the cloud, so have just ended up drifting even more slowly having reduced sail!!

Hey ho!! Anyway, the day ended with a fantastic find of more chocolate stashed in a food box, complete with a lovely ‘have a happy day’ card made by daughter!!

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Today’s thank you’s go to; Pat & Joy O’Keeffe, Claire Nash (& Longparish Playgroup), Bill Hiorns, Mary Miller, Patrick Milston and Mr E Upton. Thank you all so much for your very kind donations!!



Day 23 – Daily Routine!

Posted on November 25th, 2013

cabin

The time onboard Haskapa is still kept at GMT, mainly because it helps me coordinate timings with things back in the UK. But now that I’m so far west, the daily routine really revolves around sunrise and sunset.

As I’m not racing, and because for me it’s a marathon not a sprint, I tend to run the boat differently during the day and during the night! At sunrise, I first get the solar panels aligned to catch the first rays of sun in order to recharge the batteries, then normally recharge my own batteries with breakfast! I then set the boat up for the day, which normally means adding more sail area, and once I’m happy that Haskapa’s going the right way at the optimum speed, I do a morning check over the boat.

Next up is the daily updates, and I email these through and in return get the weather, an update from Liz, all your comments, and any other correspondence. I then usually spend up to an hour reading these, drafting responses, and looking at course strategy based on the weather report.

Once the ‘office work’ is complete, I normally take over steering the boat for a couple of hours to give the batteries more chance to fully recharge. Then it’s lunch and more steering!!

I normally steer for 4-6 hours per day, depending on the weather and sea state, only putting the auto helm back on to give myself a break or sort out sails. The afternoon ends with my exercise routine, and a phone call home!!

Just before sunset, I eat supper and then set the boat up for the night. This normally means reducing sail area, in particular if I’ve been sailing under spinnaker. Although this has an affect on speed, it means that there is less likelihood of me needing to totter up to the foredeck in the darkness!!

The routine for the night will basically see me checking on things every two hours or so, and involves a check of the sail trim, course, a good look around for other vessels, a check on position and a check on the AIS system – which indicates if there is any commercial shipping in the area. Then back to my pit for some more shut eye. If the weather demands, I may be up on deck for any amount of time during the night – whether it be changing sails, or steering through squalls.

I’m definitely tired, but I’m managing to avoid getting too sleep deprived – but when the wind is very light, like Saturday night’s flat calm, sleep suffers, as its impossible to set the boat up to steer itself, so I end up popping up and down from the cabin like a yo-yo!!

I’m now less that 1000 miles from Antigua, which is an important psychological barrier to get through – at the very least, there are only 3 digit numbers left to run!!! However, I’m now into the really hard period of managing expectations around arrival dates. The weather forecast is not unhelpful for the next couple of days, but there are more light patches predicted for next weekend, which may see me slow right down again tantalising close to the finish!! So I’m trying very hard to stick to the routine, and not to get excited about the arrival.

The slow pace and almost flat calm yesterday did allow me to really look at what was in the ocean around me. There is much more seaweed  here, and obvious plankton and other small organisms. Although there were a few larger items of rubbish (mainly polyprop rope/netting) some of which had been colonised by weed, there was no sign visibly, nor in the net, of any small particles of plastic.

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Today’s “thank you” goes to; John Dobson, John & Annabel O’Keeffe, Mrs J Tarrant, Latifah Alsaid, Roy McCafferty and Laura & David Wearn & Family. Thank you all so much for your very kind donations!