Ocean Crossing before I was 30 - what could possibly go wrong?

Ocean Crossing before I was 30 - what could possibly go wrong?


In my 20's I graduated Fashion School, did really well in Australia Fashion Awards, got a fashion industry job quickly and got valuable industry experience.... but once that education was done, I just wanted to go traveling and see the world.  I wanted to work in the rag trade overseas.

I worked hard and saved hard.  I had a job doing computer pattern-making during the day and then went home and did manual pattern-making on my bedroom floor at night for extra dollars.  A round the world ticket for a young person in Australia is not cheap, because being "down under" is a LONG WAY from anywhere I wanted to go.

Once I left home I worked in some incredible places and went on some amazing adventures, but my most reckless adventure was setting sail in a tiny boat across the ocean from South Africa to the Caribbean.  Here is a photo of our tiny boat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

I have inherited this habit of recklessness from my father.  We have a saying in Australia ....."she'll be right mate", it just means everything will be ok.... without even giving any thought of what might go wrong.  No common sense perhaps?  or downright crazy?

Our little sail across the ocean was "alright thanks mate", but it sure wasn't without some scary moments.

The day we sailed around the infamous Cape of Good Hope, I stupidly got my 2 little fingers stuck in winch - squashed between the rope that held the sail, so the full force of the wind in the sails was on my little fingers.  My "Mr Careful" (now my husband) calmly took the pressure off the sail, released my fingers and told me all was fine - despite the fact that they were mangled into a rope shape, they were indeed fine.  I still threw up!  

Here is a photo of the treacherous Cape of Good Hope, at the southern tip of Africa.

We waited about 6 weeks in Cape Town before we found a weather window that we thought would give us enough time to get far enough away from Cape Town to miss that nasty weather it is famous for.... It is not called the "Cape of Storms" for nothing.  If you haven't heard about the strong winds at the Southern tip of Africa, google images of Cape Town wind, and you will get photos like this....

We finally threw off the ropes and motored out of the harbour, I will never forget how I felt that day.... sick at the craziness of what we were doing, but wanting to go anyway.  We got away ok and after about 2 days at sea, that Cape of Storms lived up to its name and we spent 2 days in a massive storm, with huge seas and strong winds.  We were in survival mode.  Looking back through the log book every entry says, "seas dropping, wind steady" and then  4 hours later "still rolly sea, but sea dropping".  Later again, "not comfortable on board, being thrown around heaps.  I just got thrown onto the stove - lucky it wasn't on".  And so it went on and on, with our wishful thinking "seas dropping" but all the while we were steering the boat looking backwards so that you could see the waves coming and surf down them.  The next day my entry in the log book says "Sea calm but rolly, storm is over, washed & dried everything, eaten now.  We just need sleep".

Sleep was definitely the most craved thing as we took turns to stay up all night steering the boat and keeping a look out for ships.  We had one close call with a ship.  "Mr Careful" spotted it and told me to get on the radio and make sure they had seen us on their radar.  So I call up "Big Ship Big Ship, this is the sailing vessel Miroba, do you see us, over", they come back saying yes they have seen us and they are coming in for a closer look.  I report that back to my Captain who says "How do you know you were talking to THAT ship" since perhaps I was talking to another ship that was just over the horizon out of view.  SO I had to get back on the radio and ask again.  Yes they are coming in for a closer look they said.... Well our engine wasn't working (it had broken down in that big storm), there was no wind, so we were sitting still in the middle of the ocean like sitting ducks.  This enormous container ship came towards us at 40 knots speed, and we couldn't move if we wanted to.

It was terrifying even though they passed 100 yards off, because with a vessel THAT BIG coming towards us at THAT SPEED, it looked like they were heading straight for us.  As they passed, all 10 of their crew members came on deck to wave and shout WOOHOOO at us.  Exhilarating, the first other humans we had seen in a week.  Here is a photo of that "big ship".

But my scariest mid-ocean moment was a close encounter with a whale.

So it was the middle of the night and my husband was coming onto shift.  We had a cup of tea together in the cockpit before I went off to sleep.  It was an incredibly clear night, no clouds, the moon was almost full.  We really couldnt see anything outside the cockpit, but I suddenly saw that the surface of the water right next to the boat looked weird.  Next thing there was a very loud blow of air and a strong fishy smell.  A whale had surfaced right next to us.  

Someone in the previous port had told us that if there are whales around, you should put on your depth sounder and they pick up those signals and stay away from you.  We got such a fright the 2 of us dived to go down below and turn on the depth sounder, but we were both wearing harnesses attached at the back of the boat, so we both just stopped dead in our tracks.  It was chaos, a bit like a comedy skit I suppose.

I don't know if that whale was sleeping and we just missed him, or if he saw us and came in closer to investigate, but my legs were like jelly and my hands shook for 1/2 hour.  If we had have hit him we would have sunk quickly.  Not a pleasant thought.

Best not to think of the "what if's" when you are 2000 miles from the nearest land.

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1 comment

The most wonderful, yet also fearsome description of traveling by sea! I’m sending it on to anyone who has ever loved the ocean, lived near it, or wished to do so! Send more—you’re off to a good start for a book with pictures. Could be a block-buster!

Love, Lila

Lila Youngs

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