To become an ocean sailor

I have learnt that the big transformation is happening when you come in contact with the stuff you don’t know that you don’t know. Zero consciousness before you enter a new ”land” and suddenly are aware of things you had no clue about before. 

For me, this happened when I (and my husband) to my surprise became ocean sailors and liveaboards. With that decision came new experiences that have given us access to a much bigger arena in life — the oceans, not only the Baltic sea. The capacity to sail day and night for weeks in a row. 

We were at a point in life that a lot felt like a peak — we lived very well in a big apartment in the city of Stockholm, we both run and enjoyed our own businesses, in good health we had 6-7 weeks of every summer for sailing in the Baltic – since the last 21 years. We had friends who sailed to Scotland back and forth during one summer and others who easily made a night jump from our favourite islands, Christiansø to Gotland. Just like that. We thought they were very brave. That was not for us we justified — we sailed only daytime from harbour to harbour or anchor-spot. Once we wanted to see the North sea-going through the Kiel channel. As the western wind blow very strongly and our motor was very weak we turned around halfway and at that point, we said that Baltic is good enough for us. 

What I can see now is that the curiosity and lust for exploring something new weren’t present to a high degree. Actually, we were content and very busy. So busy that existence helped me fall, not only once but twice one summer, so we just had to cool down and be still and recover me — and with that getting time to talk about the future. We realized that we didn’t have a compelling plan for the future, more than more of the same. When that sank in we quickly realized it was time for new challenges. As my husband was close to retirement I understood that if we should sail further out in the world it has to happen quite soon. I had to let go of my fear of not being able to cover my costs while living onboard. We both decided to trust that life is meant for exploring more and more of our own capacity to serve and be a contribution to the world. After that everything went fast and it didn’t take long before we had decided to sell our apartment and buy a new yacht built for sailing on the oceans. 

To count as an ocean sailor you have to make a crossing. To become a full member in Ocean Cruising Club, OCC, one has to sail a minimum 1500 nm non-stop. For us in the Nordic countries, the Atlantic crossing is the most obvious one. Every year hundreds of yachts leave Canarias for the West Indies in December – January when the trading winds is to our favour. After the crossing, you have the right to wear red trousers.

Our first crossing – Atlantic
It took us one year to make the shift to living aboard and another year to complete our work and life in Stockholm. And further six months to sail down to Canarias. 

I had so many thoughts and questions before our first crossing. How about if something happened with us or with the boat? What can happen? How big is the risqué? Is it irresponsible to sail only the two of us? Shall we join ARC as it is our first passage? Shall we take on a crew? How to calculate the food and how to keep it fresh? Will I be able to cook when it is rolling a lot? What exactly is a squall that people say will come? And how is it to be in 3-4 meters waves? Will I be seasick? Will I be able to sleep? And so on…

The scariest thing I think was to let go of land (being far away from) and with that the possibilities to get help in urgency. A life raft is, of course, something — but who wants to jump into it and hang out in the middle of a big rough sea? 

Already on our first small trip right out in the Atlantic — from Cascais to Porto Santos in Portugal, three days and nights — we got the feeling that we will make it. The captain said he could have gone on and on. And I felt it was ok as well.

Months later came the big day after many weeks of preparation in Las Palmas. Food was precooked, all lockers were filled. Extra water, extra diesel, extra everything! We got help to place the AIS-mob correctly in our Ocean spinlock deck wests. The last thing we purchased was a Hypalon dinghy. The only thing I didn’t found was pepper spray. A friend said I gonna find it at St Martin. In case someone should come and border us in the Karibien –  we checked Noonsite reports carefully. Our boat neighbour and I joked about (to reduce the anxiety) how we should handle over some money in a fish-nets and ask them to please leave us, in case it happened. All this tension! 

Boats were leaving almost every day and every time, we could both see and hear that something big was about to happen. Foghorn howl, people were standing waving on the pontoons. Impossible to miss. I still remember the feeling strongly the morning it was our turn. 

Friends came to the diesel-ponton — we did top up the last — big hugs and helping hands. Waving hands from the other side. Yes, off we went! Now it was for real. Three weeks or so waited in front of us before we should see land next time. 

Rest is history. Of course, we made it. It was bumpy. Waves got higher and higher. Squalls were coming on us as well. A steady wind from the back the whole time. I did take seasick plastic, so I didn’t get seasick. I cooked and I slept. It was a huge feeling to drop the anchor in St Anne bay at Martinique. We stayed there for days before we slowly took the new dinghy and cleared us in on the other side of Atlantic. Now we knew. Now we had our own experience. We made it!

We left 21 Dec — made a stop at Mindelo, Cap Verde, three nights — left again 1 January and arrived at Martinique on 15 January 2020. 2108 nm + 887 to Cap Verde. 

The journey continues and with that a new passage: Pacific
In our case we had decided from the beginning that we should sail as far away first (=New Zealand) and from there slowly take us back to Europe via South Africa and Karibien again. 

So two months later we stood stand by in Shelter Bay marina to pass out through Panama channel for Pacific. This time we were not worried at all for the passage to Marquesas — actually we did look forward to it. The only difference was the longer distance and with that, to bring more food. We were lucky to get the tip about Panama Mercado — a huge Mercado where they sold fresh (and not fridged) fruit and vegetables. Perfect! Best so far — be sure to go there — it is worth the cab drive. Information about the coronavirus had been activated the last days, but as we had our zarpe — international clearance to Marquesas — we decided to go wave by wave. After a month on the sea it must be over anyway we thought. 

If Atlantic was our first very important virgin trip, with Pacific came the decision, or rather the consequences, to go all the way around the world. Many passages would follow. 
What happened after a week or so on the Pacific was that we got the message via our iridium satellite mail, that French Polynesia closed their borders. Sailors on the way should go directly to Papeete and then fly home. This was a quite chocking message out there and we frenetically tried to get some more information with the help of friends on land. We soon realized that all countries were closed. 

At that moment we started to look more wildly on the world and asked ourselves — why don’t we go north to Hawaii instead? We measured — distance was almost the same. Easy – we can do that! There and then I felt how we had in-bodied being ocean sailors! Looking for openings and solutions, not fearing what it should take. We can sail on oceans. 

This passage anyway ended up in Marquesas — you can read about the whole trip — my Pacific reflections here. It was a marvellous tour — I just loved being out there. 

We left Panama 17 Mars and arrived at Hiva Oa, Marquesas Islands 18 April 2020.
4030 nm in 32 days. 

The third passage to New Zealand
Now we have done our third long passage — from Bora bora at the Society Islands to Opua in New Zealand. We are one of few boats that, after very long waiting, has got permission to enter for refit and repair. The feeling of confidence is still with us. We have more experience, it is easier and goes quicker to prepare. With this passage came other questions. Every water is new before it is entered. About this one, we had heard that the last third part should be tough. End of trading winds with the wind in the back. Welcome to sailing in between low pressures, adjusting the sails more often, even tacking against the wind and sea. 2100 nm the bird way, much longer in the reality. We got to the test the boat and us in 46 knots, the most so far. We closed everything as big waves rushed over the boat over and over again. We sailed on the genua with all three reeves enrolled. From Kermadec Islands (south of Tonga) we most rightly had to tackle against the wind and sea. And then the wind decreased significantly. We counted hours and litre diesel — do we dare to start the motor already out here? No, not yet. Luckily wind soon came back. (Even if you carry extra diesel you can never have so much that you can motor the whole way. We have 600 l — that’s enough for around five days including running the generator to get water and electricity.)

As you know they have strict regulations on bio food in New Zealand – they will border us directly when we enter to check that we are not bringing any meat, chicken, fish, fruit, vegetables, eggs or dairy with us. In my understanding, we are not allowed to bring any food at all. That’s tricky as it is hard to say exactly how many days the journey will take.  I asked if I could keep a canard for having as dinner our first night in Opua (to celebrate achieving our goal after 1,5 years sailing). No, no avian foods are allowed sorry, our agent responded…. It turned out well in the end. To my disappointment, they didn’t come aboard to look at my empty and well-cleaned fridges, freezer and cupboards. And after covid test, our agent had organized a food deliverance, so of course, we could make a celebration dinner with some very tasty wine from New Zealand – a present from our agent. 

I and my captain are looking at each other and we both know that being an ocean sailor means being prepared to change, to have patience and accept even the slow rides as well as the tough ones. To trust that we are taken care of as well. 

17 November to 7 December 2020- 21 days and 2591 nm from Bora bora. (+ 6 days and 166 nm from Papeete)

The beauty with ocean sailing is that you are surrounded by the most brilliant existence all the time. Ok, I hide in the cockpit or saloon when it is rough weather but soon I am up looking at the horizon — feeling tranquil with a lot of space and freedom. Witnessing the sun, the stares and the moon coming and going in the shades of the clouds. Feeling grateful over the message I receive of how Ok it is to just be. Getting remembered that the sun is always there, even when not visible. We as sailors are part of the big play going on out here. Riding on the waves, getting moved by the wind, getting power from the sun to our selves and our solar panels. We dip down and up — we are part of the big, big blue ocean. It is just a very great feeling. Enjoy, is all there is!

Sun and salt from Anna Eriksson at s/y Vista, an Amel supermaramu 2000 redline

Opua, 13 december 2020

4 svar på ”To become an ocean sailor”

  1. Vilket fantastiskt berättande och blogg, Anna! Snart är vi där (kastar loss i juni) och jag känner sååå igen alla tankar och känslor inför, så som du beskriver… 😊

    Ha det bäst och fortsatt safe winds!

    Kram, Anki på Lazy 🐸

  2. Vilken härlig och inspirerande reflektion kring ert äventyr. Så roligt och lärorikt att läsa och få förmånen att ta del av. Otroligt häftigt med de beskrivningarna från de olika passagen.
    Gott Nytt 2021 och önskar er en fortsatt fin färd – våg för våg.
    Hälsningar Annika på S/y Matilda

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