Arrival at the Canary Islandon January 20, 2014
Let’s just cut to the chase and say that we really didn’t know what we had got ourselves into for this journey. It’s as simple as that. From a ship nearly running over us to waves the size of buildings throwing us and our little boat around for 24 hours! It was a week where we again learnt that there is no reward without hardship.
The dream has been to depart from mainland Africa and arrive a few months later on mainland USA. We didn’t understand why most people have avoided the Africa to Canary Islands section. It’s clear to Vasti and me now after spending 13 days, 500km of slogging away against unfavourable rowing conditions and overcoming storms that locals say they haven’t seen in years.
Samir Benjoulloun, our friend from Agadir Marina in Morocco reported the worst damage his marina has seen in decades. 12 pontoons and three structural pillars destroyed by the storm that Vasti and I believe taught us what we have been missing. Experience. Samir is surprised we didn’t require, or even request an evacuation this last week.
The sea was very angry but reached its peak Thursday. The swell from the North West was advertised at 7 meters and the winds at a gusting 50 knots in exactly the opposite direction! This Thursday Vasti and I awoke at 4 am as usual to a sea that was frothing and agitated like we had never seen. In the darkness you could still see the white foam around us from breaking waves. We didn’t think it could get worse. It did. Waves in the early morning were dramatically breaking entirely over our boat. The afternoon though held the true test. Locked inside our little box cabin we could often visually make out waves about to hit us but normally sound would give it away first. The thunderous rumble of breaking waves is deafening.
Vasti and I lay down at one point to try “de stress”. I heard a huge rumble coming towards us and made her brace for serious impact. The boat shook, the window darkened and we bounced around the cabin. We both laughed nervously but both aware of what our little boat was enduring. No less than ten seconds had passed when we heard another thunderous sound, similar but louder than the one before. I warned Vasti to hold on even tighter this time.
Our boat was smashed, rolled onto its side and then washed dozens of meters to one side. The wave had obviously broken just before us and the foam wall had engulfed us entirely. We were in shock. I was worried for Vasti and my safety right then, as I had not before on this journey. The adventure was ‘real’ now and promptly had us both don life jackets, our GPS rescue beacons and clothing that would keep us warm in open seas!
It was only till the following morning that Vasti and I got to see the brutality of the storm. Our parachute anchor (water anchor), that for us is the most crucial piece of equipment in a storm, had been ripped apart by the ferocity of the ocean. I have always said this in my other journeys; “you will never win against the sea”. The fact is she doesn’t even know she is wrestling with you.
But with trauma does come some happiness. The guys from Dion Wired and Imtech Satellite Communication in Cape Town had been hard at work to make our satellite phone operational all week. The miracle is they had it done the morning right after the storm. It was emotional for me to see Vasti chatting to her parents. They needed the chat as much as Vasti did. This satellite set up, specifically designed for our boat is what will bring the articles and pictures to you from middle of the Atlantic.
The fact that a giant cargo ship, over 300m in length, nearly ran us over now pales into the insignificant category after such a wild week. The captain of this passing ship, via UHF radio, was quite blasé about his near miss though. While I shone a led flashing light in their direction, Vasti chatted to him. Vasti’s main concern was whether he had actually seen us while passing so close by, especially that it was at night. His response was candid, brief and in a heavy Spanish accent.
“We are good sailors, do not worry. Sleep well.”
We arrived safely in Lanzarote, the most easterly Canary Island, on Saturday night. Had a pizza and a beer for dinner and then slept for 12 hours. We plan to row down the islands and hopefully make it to open ocean again by early this week. Remember to enter the ‘Take me to New York’ competition to join us at the finish in the Big Apple. We have a long way to go but fortunately a long way with a tad more experience.