On our travels, my wife Lella and I enjoyed many a pontoon-side comparison of cruising lifestyles with other long-range voyagers. One thing that surprised us, however, was some of the attitudes towards ocean passages. Many people didn’t especially relish them and others positively hated them — dreaded them, in fact. For them, the landfall was far preferable to the voyage. From day one of setting out on an ocean crossing, they counted the days to reach their destination.
They feared the possibility of heavy weather and made their passages as hurriedly as possible to reduce the chances of being exposed to it. Any single extra day at sea was a further risk. When they were caught in bad weather, they were wet, seasick and miserably unhappy.
We were mystified. Though the time spent at the destination, pottering about, meeting other cruisers and getting to know the locals, may run into weeks or even months, ultimately, long-range voyaging means crossing oceans. On the other hand, some of the boats were small, the cruising budget was low and out of a two-handed crew one was usually a sailor and the other was just a very willing partner.
We enjoyed the long passages in our 43-foot steel cutter-sloop, Jackella. For me, personally, they were the most enjoyable and satisfying part of voyaging. I found them relaxing: little outside interference, time to think, plenty of time to read, a gentle routine of watch keeping and free time (something I never get on land), no noises from traffic or concrete mixers, no pollution, very little danger of being run down by a bus or being stuck in the Underground, wonderful night skies, glorious sunsets and the anticipation of arriving at and exploring a new destination.
Some of the globe-girdlers told us that in fair weather on a long passage they were bored. Admittedly, a lot of pleasure and interest has been taken away by the arrival of GPS. Taking sights, plotting lines of position (LOPs) on a plotting sheet, working out the noon position, and taking star sights with LOPs that intersected in a small triangle — tremendously satisfying stuff.
At 1800 every day we had happy hour. We sat in the cockpit with clean shirts and our drinks — usually rum punch. Meals were always at about the same times and taken together, other than breakfast. In our spare time, we played scrabble, chess, backgammon or did crosswords; we read or listened to music or watched sky and the sea.
Pleasant meals are part of the enjoyment of a passage. We hardly ever ate out of tins. We baked our bread in a pressure cooker, used as an oven without the pressure valve. We nearly always had fresh bread, and there are few things more stimulating to the appetite than the smell of freshly-baked bread.
We had a special routine at weekends. On Saturday afternoons we spruced up: a sponge-down with fresh water, a clean shirt for me and a skirt for Lella. She cooked a special meal (no matter what the weather was doing); we opened a bottle of good wine. There were chocolates and sweets as desert. In settled weather and lonely stretches of ocean (away from shipping lanes) we watched a film on the video player — making sure to check every 10 minutes for traffic.
And Sunday was definitely Sunday. Lella’s morning lie-in was a bit longer than usual. I gave myself (while she slept) a full English breakfast — the only thing missing was the Sunday papers.
It was this gentle, weekly routine that kept the miles slipping happily by.
Jack Gush is a sailor and freelance writer currently based in Spain. He and his wife, Lella, have spent years voyaging aboard their 20-ton steel cutter, Jackella, which they recently sold.