First taste of the Atlantic: from Gibraltar to Madeira








October 13 to 25 

We left Aguadulce on the south coast of Spain and had a magnificent sunset and a brilliant dolphin escort for our last truly Mediterranean leg to Gibraltar, sailing just the two of us. Our Mediterranean chapter was wonderful, visiting so many beautiful places. However, we were looking forward to finally getting the conditions that the Princess was designed for; wind, wind and more wind please! 

All hands on deck (and in lockers, and up the mast, etc etc)
The Princess was about to make a transition from being the floating home for two people to an Atlantic going boat with a crew of five (soon to be six). John arrived first the day after we arrived in Gibraltar (having kindly rescheduled his flight so that he didn’t have to sit on his luggage and wait for a day) closely followed by Simon’s brother, Roger, and my friend Florence, who flew in from France.

All hands on deck to venture into the Atlantic

We treated our new crew, John, Roger and Florence to a week of getting to know the boat in Gibraltar (otherwise known as  a week of boat jobs). What can I say? Our crew were amazing. Not only did everyone get stuck in without hesitation, repetition or deviation, they  got me and Simon ship shape and organised as well. It took us all together a few days to get through the long list of jobs which had been  steadily evolving  and by the end of the week, I walked past the boat coming back from the shower block without recognising her.

Gone was the rusty old bike on the stern (albeit still travelling with us in the Lazarette) and the life raft had not only been restored to its place on the stern and given new and secure steel straps but many little attentions to detail had readied the boat for sea. The deck light worked!  The rigging had all been checked, jam cleats and blocks serviced, dodgy lines replaced, etc, etc, etc. After many a trip to the chandlery and a fair few evenings in the local bars and restaurants hob nobbing with some salty sea dogs and teasing our friend Chris who was just a couple of boats up from us along the pontoon, finally we were ready to go. 

A big, big thank you to our amazing crew for helping to get the Princess ready to venture out into the Atlantic.


Flo goes up the mast

Gibraltar to Porto Santo 

Over 800 nautical miles over five days of navigation, with more than three quarters of the distance sailed, reaching speeds of 8 knots or more with some long periods of constant wind, perfect for sailing with all three sails up, this was a pretty fabulous start to the Atlantic adventure.

It was truly the beginning of a different chapter for us. The Princess was about to finally get the conditions that made all the boat jobs worthwhile.

We left in autumnal weather, having consulted ; weather apps, the pilot, a guide to crossing the Gibraltar straits, our trusty routing software Sailgrib and thanks to Simon’s time chatting at the bar, many local sailors who had been through the Gibraltar straits lots of times. The tips from the bar locals were to hug the coast, keeping well out of the shipping channel until 60 nautical miles after Tarifa, a famous windsurfing spot notorious for headwinds and  choppy water before turning south. We were warned of outfalls around the Tarifa point (which was nostalgic, reminding us of rounding Portland Bill) and promised champagne sailing once we had rounded the peninsula. The bar room tips were spot on!

Leaving Gibraltar 3 hours after High Water, we rounded Tarifa point in good time and  found ourselves speeding through flat waters on the other side with tide behind us. We all wrapped up warm and settled in for our split watches (taking it in turns to be responsible for sailing the boat). What luxury! Instead of a sleepless night with podcasts, I had the pleasure of company for two hours with Simon, two hours with my friend Florence and then a full 6 hours to sleep or relax as I wished! It certainly took the strain out of the distance sailing for me!

With the exception of Simon and Roger, this was the longest time that all of us  had ever been at sea and our first time working together as a crew. I found that time seems to behave differently when you are at sea. Our introduction to the Atlantic was a sweet one… a force 3 to 4 wind seemed to blow almost constantly (although there were slight lapses when we had to put the engine on) and for the first time, I saw what our Oyster 55 had been built for. The wind came forward of the bow for a day and a half and we were beating constantly in winds ranging between 15 and 25 knots. We reflected on how a lighter boat would go faster but would slam continuously. The Princess was a sweet ride. It was possible to sleep (albeit with lee cloths up for the first time) and cook and walk around the deck without clinging on for dear life. Life on board was really comfortable.

The conditions got warmer, apart from the occasional squall which showed up clearly on radar. The clouds started to remind me of the pictures of sailing books written about the Atlantic. The swell of the ocean became large and gentle, very unlike the short, sharp waves that can result from sudden storms or local winds in the Mediterranean. And the boat responded as if meeting an old friend. To be honest, my memories of this trip are of the  boat having sailed herself. She was so well balanced and tracked beautifully through the waves. This at last, was what she had been made for and we felt happy to have taken our ocean going boat out of the Mediterranean marinas at last!

We started to see and even receive visitors from the Atlantic that were new to me.

There were the familiar gannets and seagulls that I had seen on my many trips across the English channel, but there were also new birds, shearwaters, terns and some LBJs as John calls them (little, brown jobs), a couple of which landed on and in the boat for a short while. John and Roger installed the fishing lines and had a couple of near misses with what seemed to be gigantic fish. Tantalizing but for this trip, the fish kept their distance and chewed off a lure or two…

When I finally spotted land it was with mixed emotions. On the one hand, pride and excitement to have made our longest trip so far, mixed with the satisfaction of a long sail which had been a success and on which we had had our first taste of working together as a crew. On the other hand, there is also a little disappointment that the leg is over. At first I thought that sailing would be the hard work to get from one place to another. Infact, when you live on a boat, life at sea is the relaxing, exciting bit that you work so hard for when you are at land.

We looked forward to exploring that land nonetheless…