Amazing trades

Ocean Navigator|July/August 2020

Amazing trades
A perfect passage from Cape Town to Barbados is a magical end to a circumnavigation
ELLEN MASSEY LEONARD

Earlier in this series, I reflected on some of the toughest times in my 13 years of ocean voyaging. Happily, however, there have been far more wonderful moments than bad ones in that time; this is probably obvious, or I would have stopped voyaging!

It’s hard to pick my favorite moment ever. Was it my first ocean crossing, when I discovered that the reality of my childhood dream was even better than my expectation of it? Was it meandering through the beautiful South Pacific islands? Or voyaging through the wilderness waters of Alaska? Or maybe it’s been making friends with so many of my fellow sailors from around the world.

In keeping with this series, though, I thought about my best passages ever. The one that came immediately to mind was crossing the Atlantic in April 2010.

My husband, Seth, and I made this crossing at the end of our global circumnavigation, so we were coming from South Africa. Considering that this passage came almost on the heels of one of our most difficult passages ever (see “Worst weather challenges,” September/October 2019, Issue 257), it was doubly welcome. The first two legs of our Atlantic crossing were fine but not our best ever. We left Cape Town at the end of February for the British overseas territory of St. Helena island, an extinct volcano known for being the site of Napoleon’s exile. We covered the 1,700 miles in 15 days, not especially fast but quite comfortable. The cloudy skies throughout the passage were a bit of a drain on both our spirits and our battery bank (the solar panels had trouble keeping up), but we certainly couldn’t complain after the high winds and seas we’d had en route to Cape Town.

After a perfect idyll of a week hiking all over St. Helena — a week that was yet another of my favorite moments in my voyaging — we set off for Ascension Island, 700 nautical miles to the northwest and part of the same territory. Unlike our cool, overcast, sedate and steady passage from Cape Town, this one brought hot and humid tropical conditions, worsened by hatches battened down in the face of constant rain squalls. It felt like we were in the Intertropical Convergence Zone (“the doldrums”) already, despite the fact that the weather charts showed it further north and west. Seth and I were both pleased when the red volcanic cone of Ascension appeared above the horizon.

First impressions change

At first glance, Ascension seems a barren, desolate place with little to recommend it. A tiny village huddles on the leeward shore where swells break clean over the jetty and the red and black igneous rock has yet to be covered in much vegetation. The impression was only strengthened upon going ashore, after we had overcome the treacherous jetty. The dusty 600-person town was almost silent in the hot stillness, and the tiny store had — understandably, considering the remoteness of the place — only a couple of wilted cabbages in the produce bins. Our hearts sank, thinking of the month-long ocean crossing ahead of us with no fresh fruit or vegetables even to start off with. Adding insult to injury was the £60 entry fee, especially as we’re not really the sort to care that much about rare passport stamps.

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July/August 2020