Gwendolyn tips to a regular rock. Without shifting myself I rise to face sparkling waves then recline to squint straight at sunlight which bores wet brightness into my cooking flesh. The full main and staysail catch a gentle but steady wind, herding the boat and short surrounding waves towards the Caribbean. In the pale sky there are occasional fluffy clouds like the opening credits to The Simpsons. Apart from them and Gwen there is only sea stretching in every direction, hypnotic as ever, rippling in undulations of every tone from blinding sparkles to deep blue shadow.
I thought I’d write now, while we’re still out here and a couple of days from our destination. Out here is something I never want to forget, somewhere I will dream of being in years to come and not be able to reach.
We’ve been here for over a fortnight now. After new years celebrations with boat folk in Mindelo we only had to survive hangovers and stock up a little to be ready to depart. On some days there was only Harmattan mist opposite Sao Vincente, but on our last day there the island of Santo Antao appeared, looming in the stunning sunshine. We waved as Mattis and Mo sailed past to their own Atlantic adventure, picked up some water from the marina, hoisted our triple-reefed mainsail and left.
That evening cloud blew over Gwen and got stuck there for a week. Our first few days were windy and wet with the air whistling and squealing through our rigging like a deflating lilo. We progressed faster than we could have ever hoped, averaging 6 or 7 knots even with hardly any sail up, heeled over and bearing the bashes of the sea. Hatches were squeezed tightly shut but the odd wave still managed to catapult itself down the anchor chain pipe or breach a coach roof porthole.
We changed our night watch habits after only one night. As we were unlikely to run into much in the open expanse of the Atlantic we started sleeping on watch, waking to a regular alarm to look around the boat and check the AIS before returning back to an aft bunk bed. Within a week we were able to stay awake all day.
For a few days the sea became more regular, its waves coming from dead behind, just as high but less aggressively positioned, racing past us so that it felt like our own world was in slow motion. I enjoyed Richard’s balletic movements as he washed up or made bread, hanging from a post, pausing in a wave-top pose, sliding to the other edge of the galley, up and down. The stories we told each other changed from tales of overnight injuries to interesting facts from podcasts we’d listened to – a report on organic farming from Rich, the life and inventions of Hedy Lamarr from me. By night gusts brought bursts of drizzle and acceleration as stars peered through a thin film of cloud like headlights in fog.
One evening a pod of pilot whales, the first cetaceans we’d seen for nearly a week, surfed the grey Artex textured waves around us. Later in our journey we’d be joined by dolphins in this sunset sea-life slot, the only time of day we see anything but ubiquitous flying fish, yellow seaweed and occasional petrels who glide and dart as close to the waves as the fish who spring from them.
We relaxed into our routine and chilled easily with each other, packing ourselves into comfy corners together to conspire about our lives beyond this and enjoy our perceptions within it. At the half way mark we celebrated. I coloured in Rich’s Gwen tattoo with acrylic paint and we treated ourselves to tinned fruit and biscuits, pouring some out in thanks to the sea gods and giggling at our good fortune.
Over the week or so since then the wind, waves and weather have eased, more sail has gone up and more sunscreen has been slapped on. One day Rich brought the jib down as one of its seams was starting to come loose. Wedged in to each other between the cockpit seats to counteract the movement of the boat, we held it between us, stitching from either side in heavy white thread until it was thoroughly repaired. A few days later we made similar repairs to a couple of loose seams on the main, this time working on the side decking in the burning sunshine with the gaff lowered between us.
Other than this there has been little work. We cook, wash up, empty the heads and take danger showers on the foredeck, scooping up buckets of seawater and throwing them over ourselves with elated shudders. We’ve eaten incredibly well, tearing through stocks built up on two continents. Rich has buried himself in research for future projects and then the Outlander novels. I have read him the rest of Treasure Island, learned to make bread and finished a novel and three series of Breaking Bad. We’ve played a Cape Verdian form of mankala whose name I forget and plenty of card games, chewing time through our holiday like the best tourists.
Most of my spare hours, however, have been spent up here in the cockpit, eyes caught in the glittering sea, body swaying like a drunken dancer, trying to capture all this bare beauty on some internal tape to play back when life is too dry or static or inside out. I can’t, I can only enjoy what I have now. After Gwen there will be new adventures but for today there is only her, Rich and a world of blue and my heart is swamped with the lot of it.