HARD TRAVELIN': Mac's Atlantic Crossing Part 2

This is Isbjorn crewmember Kevin 'Mac' McMahan's second installment about his trans-Atlantic with us, taken from his blog hardtravelin.net. Mac is on a solo, round-the-world by land and sea journey, and one of his 'rules' was to cross at least one ocean by sailboat...

Mac will claim not to be a sailor, but after what he's been through from Bermuda-Azores, and what he's about to go through to get to Scotland, he'll have some saltwater running through his veins for sure! Honestly, Mac truly evolved as a sailor over the course of our 12-day crossing, and I can now count on him as an integral member of the crew. He's going to be our foredeck leader for the next leg!

If you missed his Part 1, click here.

Atlantic Crossing 2

by Kevin 'Mac' McMahan

Isbjorn sailed across the Atlantic as part of the ARC Europe, which is one of several annual sailboat rallies organized by World Cruising Club. The ARC Europe begins in the British Virgin Islands and proceeds to Bermuda, where I joined the boat, then on to the Azores, where we are now as I post this, and finally concluding in Portugal or England. There are some 25 sailboats entered this year. Since Isbjorn is ultimately headed north to Oban, Scotland, and then Scandinavia, we will separate from the rally in the Azores to proceed north on our own. You can see Oban’s location on the map below. That’s where I separate from Isbjorn, to continue east bound till I get back to the ranch.

Some of the boats entered in the ARC Europe, including Isbjorn, are racing [note from Andy - we won Class B!]. Others are entered just for the camaraderie of sailing with friends and fellow sailors, and for the added safety of having an organized group of boats taking note of each other’s progress and well being. When one of the boats in the ARC broke a rudder mid-way thru the passage, a couple of the other boats stayed back with them to help them get safely to a port. However, even though we were with an organized group of 25 boats, once we were a couple of days out from Bermuda we almost never actually saw any of the other boats, because…it’s a BIG ocean.

Sea life spotted along the way included:

  • 1 pilot whale
  • Maybe 8 or 10 humpback whales, a couple of whom swam along-side the boat.
  • 1 shark
  • Dozens & dozens of dolphin, almost every day. They are really fast & they like to race the boat.
  • Some sort of sea bird that lives out in the middle of the ocean, swooping along between the waves hunting for something that I never saw one of them catch. Tough life.
  • Portuguese Man-of-War - stinging jelly fish that float in the water by the hundreds.
  • Sea turtles that like to eat the jelly fish.

The strongest winds we saw peaked at 44 knots, with 34 knots sustained over several hours, which are really strong, creating 15 to 18 foot swells. That is classified as a gale. It was a big weather system on a small boat in the middle of the night, and I enjoyed the adrenaline-charged thrill of being at the helm on night-watch during part of this. It was a “Lieutenant Dan” storm, if you remember Forrest Gump.  As reported previously- an ocean is a damned awesome thing, y’all.

Navigation was electronic. While we planned our overall route and plotted our position updates on traditional nautical charts, the captain made his navigation decisions based on weather & GPS navigation apps on an Ipad, which are amazing tools, and the way to go in my humble opinion.

No, we didn’t use celestial navigation on this passage, but Andy is an expert at celestial navigation, and the passage from Tortola to Bermuda (just before I joined the boat) had been an all-celestial training passage. If we had lost all electronic capacity, we would have found our way by the same methods mariners have navigated with for hundreds of years.

The galley was open round the clock for crew to make food or grab snacks. The boat is well-stocked with fruit & trail-mix & snack bars & candy & sandwich fixings and more. At breakfast, you make your own eggs or cereal or hot oatmeal, and at lunch you make your own sandwich or leftovers. If another crew member is hungry, you make them one too. Every evening Mia makes a full dinner for the entire crew. It's something you really look forward to, as Mia is an excellent cook. A couple of days she even baked fresh bread, which we ate hot right out of the oven, and she baked special “anniversary cookies” when Thane & Brenda celebrated their 37th anniversary at sea. The crew take turns washing up the dishes after dinner every evening. We grind & brew our own excellent coffee whenever desired. Andy & Mia are coffee aficionados, and they have their own coffee brand, 0-Dark-Thirty, facilitated by a friend in the coffee business. Their hand-cranked grinder will get you woken you up even before the coffee is brewed.

There was no alcohol consumed at sea, but I’m OK now.

Read more about Mac's round-the-world by land & sea adventure at hardtravelin.net.