The sun’s shining, I’ve got a nice big beer in front of me, and the table isn’t moving. Not even a tiny bit. Nor is the waiter throwing water over me, so this can mean only one thing – I’ve arrived!
The faint blurry thing that looked like land yesterday afternoon gradually came into focus and by 5.30 I could clearly see buildings, and soon a lighthouse came into view which looked just like the one in the picture in my pilot book for the harbour entrance at Les Sables d’Olonne. The strange thing is that it didn’t feel any different to a normal landfall after a pleasant little day sail down the coast, which surprised me. I’d really expected to be leaping about with excitement or falling on my knees and giving thanks to Neptune for my safe passage so it almost felt like a bit of an anti-climax to be so nonchalant about it.
However I wasn’t there yet, and the wind and swell had picked up considerably which was going to make life difficult for getting the boat ready to enter the harbour. First I had to furl up the genoa, but I’ve found this is not easy in anything more than a stiff breeze, so in the F6 that was blowing by now it was quite a game. However I did eventually manage to get it mostly rolled up.
Next came the moment of truth – would the engine start, and more importantly, continue to run until I was safely docked? It certainly burst into life as normal so I engaged the autopilot and brought us heading up into the wind to furl the main sail. This was a little tricky as the sail is pretty big and by now we were rolling around quite crazily, but after a brief struggle with some rather lively canvas and my usual entanglement in all the flailing ropes I finally got it under control.
As I turned the boat to head into the harbour we started to get the waves hitting us from the side, and with no sails Odyssey rolled from side to side more than ever. The engine was clearly not happy about this and started hesitating every now and then, so I guess what little fuel remained in the tank was sloshing around so much that it was getting harder for the pump to slurp it up.
The next half mile was a little nerve-racking as each time the boat rolled the engine would falter, and I expected it to finally give out at any minute. There wasn’t really anything I could do about it so just gritted my teeth and kept us on as steady a course as I could hoping that it would hold out. My backup plan if it failed was to quickly let out some of the genoa and let the following wind carry us into the harbour, where I could furl the sail again and hope to drift gently in the general direction of the fuel pontoon which was just inside the entrance.
Luckily it didn’t come to this and soon enough we were in the shelter of the harbour, upon which the engine was a lot happier and ran smoothly again. Phew! That was a huge relief, and before long I was tied up safely right next to a lovely big sign saying ‘DIESEL’.
My right foot was the first to touch France at exactly 18:55 local time, making my total journey time from Fort Lauderdale 37 days, 19 hours and 35 minutes, during which I covered a distance of 4,111 miles. I actually found walking a little strange and stumbled and shuffled my way into the harbour-master’s office gradually finding out how to make my legs work again.
I soon had my tank full of fuel again and was given a nice easy berth in the marina so all that remained was to hit the shower to rinse off a month of Atlantic salt before meeting Reg at the station. We returned to the boat and cracked open the bottle of champagne my father gave me before I left Florida, which was swiftly followed by a very pleasant bottle of St Emilion.
So it’s all over now and somehow I made it across the pond. It hasn’t really sunk in yet and it still feels as though I’ve just arrived in France after a normal Channel crossing from England, but I’ve got a log to prove it so I guess I must have done it. It’s hard to sum up how I feel about it but it’s a mixture of relief to have arrived tinged with a strange feeling of nostalgia for the ocean life.
I genuinely enjoyed all of it, including the rough stuff and the frustrating days of calm, with the only downside being the constant motion and interrupted sleep. I can’t say for sure whether I’d want to do it again, certainly not for a while, but there are other oceans out there and I now know I’ve got a boat which can do it so who knows what the future holds.
Meanwhile I now intend to have a pleasant cruise home to England with Reg via the lovely Brittany coast, sampling the local wine, cheese and crepes on the way and aiming to be back in Poole by the end of September.
Right, I’ve nearly finished my beer so it’s time to go and do some tidying up. I’ve discovered that after 5 weeks at sea everything on board that is made of metal has gone rusty, and everything else is covered in mildew, so there’s lots to do.
On the other hand it is very pleasant here watching the world go by, and the sun’s warm and the beer cold, so I might just sit here for a while yet 🙂