“I guess this is it. As we leave Palma, we are faced with at least two weeks of beautifully vast ocean.
You will probably see the snow, some might go skiing, others will get stuck on public transport. You will celebrate Christmas, eat loads of sweets, make new resolutions, then you will get drunk and forget about them.
Whatever you do, I wish you to feel great, to feel happy, to feel content.
A huge hug from the Atlantic!
I will see you on the other side.”

Day Thirteen – 14th December, Wednesday, La Palma

Moon over the sea

A reversed exclamation mark appears in the distance, a clear sign that we are approaching Spanish territories.

I woke up with Celentano’s Azzurro in my head, which is utterly strange. I came out of my cabin humming it. I can hardly think of something more out of context right now.
The moon light is almost as bright as day light. I can see La Palma as a little mountain standing against the horizon line.

Most of the time not spent staring at the GPS screen or at the open sea, is used to look at the stars. I see four shooting stars in short sequence. Then my eyes are caught by what I think might be Sirius, a bright flickering star, white and red, just above the sea line.
I most definitely need to work on my knowledge of astronomy.

We land at Tazacorte, a small leisure port on the west coast of La Palma. Fishermen in tiny boats come in and out of the marina. We look at each other and rise one hand in sign of acknowledgement and respect.

Fisherman going out at sea

Fisherman going out at sea – Tazacorte

It is a very short stop. We are only here to stock up on food and water for the long haul across the Atlantic ocean. We get off the boat and jump on a taxi to the closest town.
On our way back to the boat we see nothing but banana fields on both sides of the road. I love bananas. Sometimes I think I am the living proof of the very close relationship between Homo Sapiens and apes. I can easily eat two or three bananas a day. Unfortunately they don’t last very long on boats. One simple solution would be to dry them (I know, not the same taste) or to bake some scrumptious Banana Bread (I found a nice little recipe here). Either ways it is good energy food to get one through the hard weather days.

Back in Tazacorte, the taxi driver tells us banana plantation is the main economic drive of La Palma, mainly for export to Portugal and UK. I can’t help thinking colonialism never really ended, it has just taken another form. Multinational fruit companies control 75% of the international banana trade and they do that by creating vast monoculture areas in countries with small or poor economies.
Large-scale monocultures are often disastrous for local communities.
Small farmers are put out of jobs and the unbalanced economic dependency created forces the local population to rely entirely on importing food from other places, leading to higher prices and increased carbon footprint.
The monoculture production methods can also destroy an entire ecosystems. 97% of internationally traded bananas come from one single variety. The lack of genetic variety makes plants highly susceptible to pests, fungi and diseases, leading to an even wider use of chemical pesticides.
(For more information: Food is Power or Bananalink)

Banana Plantation - La Palma

Banana Plantation – La Palma

We’re off.
Everybody rushes to their phones for the last few interactions with the outside world.

One last text

One last text

To my friends on Facebook I write:
“I guess this is it. As we leave Palma, we are faced with at least two weeks of beautifully vast ocean.
You will probably see the snow, some might go skiing, others will get stuck on public transport, you will celebrate Christmas, eat loads of sweets, make new resolutions, then you will get drunk and forget about them.
Whatever you do, I wish you to feel great, to feel happy, to feel content.
A huge hug from the Atlantic! I will see you on the other side.”


Day Fourteen – 15th December, Thursday, West of La Palma

I realise how well adjusted I am to the navigation. I can do anything from reading to working on my computer, from eating to staring at the instruments without feeling any discomfort. I can walk around the boat almost without noticing my body doing all the necessary balance adjustment to keep me up right.
I also realised how I am slowly getting adjusted to the captain manners (or should I say lack of them?). It is at times funny to see him getting all wind up and crossed at people for things he actually did himself. I am still trying to understand whether he does it because he cannot admit his own mistakes or whether he is simply unable to see the realty of it.
I am sure we give him plenty of reasons to get crossed, but he does like to overreact and to make a scene for every little thing. “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players” – said a famous English man. This boat is most definitely the captain’s stage.


With one fluid movement the moon has overtaken us, tracing a perfect arc in the sky from stern to bow; a straight line that leaves no doubts to the course we are bound to.
As we bounce along at a steady 7 knots of speed, wide three-meter swells coming from north-west meet broken waves heading south-west, right under the keel. The captain softly snores on the sofa and I try to keep my eyes busy enough not to shut completely. None of us could care less about how choppy the ride is right now.

The moon is still sitting high ahead of us while a stripe of deep orange rises from behind the clouds.
The cabin smells of fried butter. Someone has decided to make a French sandwich, only minutes after bursting into the usual rant about kitchen untidiness.
Still one hour and twenty minutes to the end of the watch. I am really looking forward to lie down in my cabin.

Fresh tuna apéro.
The fish line at the back of the boat seems to have worked just fine this morning and we are rewarded with tuna à la Tahitienne (raw fish, with lemon, a few herbs, vinaigrette and a bit of coconut milk). Very delicate and tasty.
It is also very nice to see confirmed the simple fact that the sea (or nature) can provide.

With Ben and Estelle
With Ben and Estelle

I just finished my first washing up with sea water at the back of the boat. I think I managed to use less than 0.5l of fresh water to wash a pot and plates/cutlery for 4 people.
I have to admit it is quite a satisfying feeling, especially when I think of how much water we normally waste in our houses.
When something is so easily and readily available, it’s hard to remind ourselves about its scarcity.

I love sitting on top of the boat, just under the boom.
The sun hits me from port side while a gentle north-easterly breeze cools my body down.
Very much like when I am driving a car, I can use my backside to feel what happens with the boat. She negotiates her way through a slow wide swell that crosses white crested waves coming from the north east.
There is nothing apart from clouds and waves for as far as my eyes can see. There is not a single trace of planes in the sky or noise of engines in the distance.
Even though in the back of my mind I know this isn’t quite true, right now the ocean feels pure and untouched.

Frantic start of the night watch. The wind keeps swinging around and so does the captain’s mood.
He has calmed down a little now, the captain that is. The wind keeps changing direction and strength. We turned one engine on to give a little consistency to the apparent wind.
I don’t know what the captain says about me when I am not around, but I have the impression he is picking a lot more on the rest of the crew rather than me lately. I guess the bar was set fairly high for Benoit. They sailed together before, so the captain is expecting more from him. Estelle gets picked up quite simply because she is a woman. The captain has more than once proudly shown his unsubtle misogyny.
Estelle, poor thing, has not been well all day and she still had to get a good measure of abuse from him.

No ships, no planes, no birds.
Everything that might be out there is under the sea surface rather than above it.

I was thinking about the captain’s methods when the film Whiplash came to mind. Considering that one way or another I am still learning things. Does the end justify the means? How much of that learning comes from his throwing me into situations where I need to improvise or learn quickly and how much comes from my inquisitive attitude, my curiosity and my willingness to prove myself?

And what should I make of the way he treats Estelle? I think as a captain I would start investigating the reasons why she is still unwell rather than criticising her.
Is it just sea sickness or could it be something more serious? Could her situation deteriorate and if it does what are the options? We are in the middle of the ocean, far from immediate help and with no medics on board after all.
Is it something she’s eaten? Could the rest of the crew be at risk?
Is it not the responsibility of a captain to ensure the well being of its crew?
Is it not just basic human nature to be sympathetic and care for each other?

Day Fifteen – 16th December, Friday, Atlantic Ocean

“Putain de vent!” shouts the captain while we try to jibe. The wind is on a run and keeps shifting from side to side.
Being the only person out here with him, I am inevitably on the receiving hand of his frustration.
Now the tricky part is trying to transform negative stress into positive one.
Negative stress is the type of stress that makes you feel inadeguate, it makes you panic and in the end it disables you. Positive stress, on the other hand, is the one that rock climbers experience (or many extreme sport athletes), the type of stress that keeps you focused, that allows you to push your limits, the one that makes you grow and excites you.
So while I get the usual amount of abuse from a negatively stressed captain, I can either choose to take it personally (which would make me feel inadequate and afraid of making mistakes) or I can decide that it’s his liver that is going to come out worse. In the end I am living a new and exciting experience and I get the opportunity to learn things fast in a real scenario. Sure I have to take some verbal abuse in the process but, as long as I don’t let it get under my skin, I can profit from the situation and grow in the process.
It took me two weeks to figure this out, but then again I am a bit slow sometimes.

Funny I still haven’t used the expression: “it is not all plain sailing”.
With the captain’s attitude it is far from it. I understand the wind swinging behind the boat is not ideal but getting pissed off at something you can’t control and then taking it on whoever happens to be around you won’t make it any better.
Surely we are not the most experienced crew, but we do our best and we are fully supportive. I personally didn’t know a thing about sailing but I’ve gone through one and a half sailing manuals in a week, learning expressions in both English and French, sticking my nose whenever something was on, so that I could learn and do it by myself the next time. At no point in the journey I had to be told or shown twice how to do something.
Surely a bit of changeable wind is a pain to deal with, especially on a long journey, but if you can’t emotionally deal with it after 40 years on the sea, then you are probably in the wrong job.
If the captain’s mood would only swing as many times as the wind does, we would all have a much better time on the boat.


My Quart is over. The captain tells me I can go to sleep. I tell him I will stay a few minutes longer to enjoy the morning light. There are scattered clouds over the horizon and the sun rays penetrate through the gaps forming beautiful light curtains.
“There will be another sunrise tomorrow you can watch.” he replies.
“Yes, but they are never the same” I answer, “and one doesn’t get to see them like that when on land.”
In my mind I think we should never forget this very simple fact or stop appreciating it. No two sunrises are ever the same.
The moment we stop being surprised, the moment we forget the feeling of wonder, we lose the very essence of being human.

“He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.”

Albert Einstein
Light curtains over the sea
Light curtains over the sea

The engine is turned on again. I wake up. Suddenly I feel a weight on my chest. Saudade. Am I missing home? What home could I possibly be missing? I don’t have one. Then I realise: people are my home. My people, my friend, my loved ones. Not being able to communicate with them, that is what I miss.
So I try to dig deep inside me and pull out the strength that comes with the knowledge and the memory of their love.
Then the ending of The consequences of love comes to mind and everything feels fine again.

“Una cosa sola è certa, io lo so. Ogni tanto, in cima a un palo della luce, in mezzo a una distesa di neve, contro un vento gelido e tagliente, Dino Giuffré si ferma, la malinconia lo aggredisce e allora si mette a pensare. E pensa che io, Titta Di Girolamo, sono il suo migliore amico.”

Le Consequenze dell’Amore

We are gybing. The captain gives me the wrong line from the Chariot (Traveller) to pull. The boom swings, the line shoots off and it almost takes my fingers with it. I am quick enough to let go of the line rather than holding onto it. I get away with a bit of skin missing. I am very lucky.
He doesn’t even bother apologising.

We begin another Quart. The engines are off again. The wind direction seems a little more stable and reliable at the moment but we are still only using the mainsail.
It is incredibly dark out here as swathes of clouds cut across the sky and the moon is yet to rise. Venus seems to be the only thing visible above the horizon and we are chasing it head on.


To be continued…