Things I learnt about ocean sailing…

  1. How hot it gets below deck. I think I sweated more in the last five weeks than I did in my life up to departure. With 22 bodies (sun-tanned bodies), a galley churning out bread, cakes and excellent meals all day, not to mention a generator running most days for power – it gets ridiculously hot even in cooler latitudes like the UK. Let’s not even talk about equator temperatures. We basically lived on the sun terrace above deck or in the sauna below deck.
  2. Ocean helming (driving) definitely has more things to think about than coastal, primarily because of the bigger waves. Trying to keep the wind angle just right for the highest speed, remembering to bear away (i.e. turn away from the wind) on the tops of waves to avoid the boat slamming down into the next trough, keeping an eye on wind shifts, trying to keep to our course… concentration is definitely required. No talking to the man at the helm!
  3. All the wildlife. So many flying fish in their flights above the waves, sometimes coming aboard and ending up in our frying pan. A large yellow-fin tuna following our boat for a day. Frigate birds, petrels, gannets and other bird life abound (small birds taking refuge on our yacht for a time). We passed a sea turtle at high speed – just enough to recognise it and then it was left behind. Regular dolphins in shallower waters. The occasional spout from a whale, but we didn’t get to see the whales themselves.
  4. The stars. Not only do they make night helming much simpler (I spent one night watch just keeping the entirety of Scorpius right in front of me), but you see so many stars, clouds, galaxies, meteors and satellites. Of course sometimes you have nothing but cloud and driving by the compass is the only way to keep on course (unless you are Gaëtan and draw on decades of ocean experience to just drive in pitch black by feel!).
  5. How quickly the wind shifts under clouds. You don’t tend to get that effect on land, but in the ocean if you see a cloud coming you are in for some changing winds for a time. Small clouds just give small shifts (in direction and speed) but big clouds can give – as well as rain showers – dramatically changing conditions. We went from 5 knots to 35 knots in less than 30 seconds. One gorgeous morning watch we went under three separate front systems – winds changing by 180 degrees, tacking every few minutes just to keep on course for Punta.
  6. How good a shower, a drink and a huge breakfast feels after 33 days of essentially not washing… glad all the future legs are – in theory – shorter than this one!

Punta del Este is a great place, but most of all the yacht club and mayor’s office have been so welcoming! This is definitely the low season for Punta (population goes from 200k to 1 million from January to Easter) so we are a big attraction. With the huge welcome BBQ the other day, a free tourist day yesterday, and the welcome we have all time at the yacht club, I doubt many places will beat this stopover.

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