OCC Forums

So what's it like to cross an Ocean?


By Nigel.Studdart - 28 Mar 2019

Some thoughts for first timers crossing the Atlantic.

So what's it like on the open ocean? For those of you who have not experienced this its hard to describe but let me have a go.
The first few days are always a little uneasy as you settle into the boat and the boat settles in to you. You bump into stuff get a few bruises and generally find out where you fit!
The ocean seems troubled and uneasy and not quite in a rhythm .
You're eating patterns are a little off and you feel somewhat unsettled. We always set off with a good forecast so this is not a problem of the weather.
It is your body and soul adapting to a different life , a different way of being.
You go to check your phone and realise there is no internet. What is happening in the world? Does it matter?. Bad news will wait and good news will find you.
The first night is always a bit daunting for new crew, sailing into blackness and the unfamiliar sounds of the ocean as waves cross or follow astern.
We don't leave anywhere into a headwind!.
Sleep comes and you feel weary, your body and muscles have been moving and adapting to new situations, new tensions. You wake feeling like only a few minutes have passed as your fellow watch leader hands you a cuppa and says 10 minutes on deck for the watch.
You're on 4- 8 and will see your first dawn at sea today.
The light creeps up from a grey aura until suddenly it is bright sun . Unknowingly you have found your place in the cockpit, wedged and settled a little salt spray on your face. You remove some gear as the sun comes up and its warm, nope its hot, warm breezes wash over your skin
After three days your body has acclimatised and now moves with the ocean and the boat.
The ocean swells creep up astern and then gently lift and move the boat forward.
A gentle roll a swoosh of surf as you crest a wave and slide down the other side.
You feel surrounded by nature and without knowing it probably better than you have in years.
Each day is governed by the weather, by what you will eat, by the fish you catch and by the companionship of those you're with. You live in the moment and its so different to life ashore its profound. Days move forward and nights as we cross.
You start to notice the procession of stars across the sky and how they change as we wend our way. You sense when something needs tuning in the sails or your fellow crew.
Mealtimes are shared and become a focus.
You grow closer to each other and the ocean.
You start to look forward to a night watch and seeing the stars and moon arc through the mast as you watch. A phosphorescent trail streams from the yacht behind. Soon we are celebrating half way and soon your feeling a little excited for landfall and sad that it marks the end of a passage.
You learn to shoot the sun and plot your position from the stars. You meet our fellow travellers as they spout alongside... You cope with reefing in a blow and are so proud of what you have become an ocean sailor with the confidence to cross oceans afloat.
Your first Ocean voyage is so very special and its something you will never forget. It is a gem in a lifetime and a time to unplug and engage with the world spiritually and emotionally whatever you're beliefs in a way that is so hard to do with the clutter of life ashore .
Landfall approaches;
A strange bird perhaps an odd fragrance on the breeze, some cross swells. A cloud high, detached and isolated on the horizon. Suddenly under the cloud you see a grey shadow of a mountain. We are on Soundings.
Land Ho rings across the deck.
A wahoo snags the line astern, fresh fish on the grill with some lime and hot sauce.
You pick up local radio on FM. Reggae floods the cockpit.
You spin a portable radio and the dipole tells you you're on course....
Ok so you have a GPS, but why not enjoy the skills off seamanship and navigation & DF it!
You make port together , clear in and then head for the first rum punch, quaffed and enjoyed, a second sits before you, ice glinting in the sun.
Hug and enjoy the feeling of ground beneath you feet as you look back at the yacht riding at anchor and new lifelong friends around you.
Honour tradition and Salute Neptune with a tot of rum in the sea and a tot of Pusser's Rum or Mountgay for each at sunset with a fire engine chaser of iced water on the stern as we toast absent friends and those at sea.
Morning comes and its great to be ashore and get some fresh salads, meet new people and share stories.
Reggae and calypso at Shirley heights as we dance to the rhythm of the steel drums. The bustle of St Johns and the market. The language of the West Indies as we slow to a new pace....
Shared stories at happy hour. Paw Paw and Plantains, Ugly fruit and Custard Apple ice cream..
A part of you though is sad the voyage is over.
The same part is already thinking of the next voyage, yearning for the open ocean and freedom, which is our birthright. The crossing between Islands first North to the the Virgin Islands and then south to the Grenadines and onwards too Columbia, the San Blas and Panama.
Great ports and great passages, new horizons and seas to cross.
The sea now runs in your veins and if it is for you, then you will never truly be parted again. You plan the next voyage and wonder how many more you can enjoy in your lifetime.
You are closer to natural rhythms of life than you will ever be ashore.You have returned to the womb of the Earth and been reborn an Ocean Sailor. Be proud, be happy and as a bonus you will be fitter and possible leaner than before... , your metabolic rate is running at optimum you have breathed in clean air and freed your mind of clutter and chaos..
An ocean crossing is a very special thing to do and one you will never forget. Its not always easy but its always exceptional.
By simoncurrin - 1 Apr 2019

That's a lovely description of an ocean adventure.
By Nigel.Studdart - 3 Apr 2019

Thanks Simon,

A little rose tinted spectacles I must admit but this year will be my 18th Atlantic and each has been an exceptional experience with great shipmates.I wanted to capture the essence of the feeling of being at sea on the open ocean and sense of accomplishment on arrival .

Especially heading to the Caribbean, coming back can be a little more lively and bring other challenges.

Having said that I cant think of one trip either way I would have missed.


By DariaBlackwell - 3 Apr 2019

Lovely description, Nigel. Spot on for a tradewinds crossing.
By zgriswold - 3 Apr 2019

Hi Nigel - That's really nice reading, thank you.
By Nigel.Studdart - 4 Apr 2019

Thanks everyone, thought it might add some balance to hurricane recollections as a contrast.

My first transatlantic was on a yacht with no engine from the Canaries to Antigua and I made the mistake of sailing into the Azores high. I will never forget launching the fibreglass row boat mid ocean, connecting it with a chain cantenary and a short line to the boat and rowing back to some zephyrs in a flat calm. We made about 1.5 knots under oars for six hours with a 39ft concrete boat. Got some blister but also tremendous satisfaction when the wind filled in. Of course as we had very little forecast equipment it could have filled in anyway and I may have been rowing in the wrong direction...

I definitely arrived leaner and fitter after that trip.