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…………!