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Atlantic Challenge Yacht begins fifth stage of its journey!

Monday 23rd February 2015

We have arrived! Nassau, The Bahamas after 1,200 miles at sea. Civilization greets us. The Island was visible from many miles away lighting up the horizon for several hours before we finally got here. Most islands have looked like tiny mirages, tempting us along the way but this was certainly different. The fact that Nassau is a city and the island is built up is pretty obvious from a great distance.

Our main problem this morning has been the depth, or lack of, around the marina. We had to be towed after running aground just off the first pontoon. The Marina seemed totally unprepared for our arrival despite our emails and previous contact with all details. Third time lucky we are now moored up and have begun the glorious task of giving the boat a total face lift inside and out. We are earning our new title of “scrubbers” as all the sails, the dinghy, the lockers and decks have to be hosed and washed down.

Below decks it is also full on action washing and scrubbing down every surface, cleaning the fridge and cool boxes as well as emptying every locker and bunk. Although we have a further two full days here we need to be packed and ready for the off so that there is little to do in our final hours before departure. Not until all tasks have been completed will we have permission for shore leave to seek out the shower block – heaven awaits!!!

It has been an amazing journey with plenty of ups and downs, peaks and troughs and that’s just the waves. We have been spotted in t-shirts and shorts caked in sun crème and also looking like a dishevelled group of firemen in full wet gear donning the yellow peaked caps as we were pounded by waves in the early hours of several mornings’ sail. We have sailed both under power and carried by the wind. We have experienced force 7 seas as well as mill pond effects. We have had sea-sickness and yet also good laughs along the way.

As we plan to take leave of our bunks, we are all beginning to talk of what we have missed as far as home comforts are concerned. It is certainly going to take a few days adjustment when we get back. Hopefully a couple of days in Nassau will acclimatise us to life ashore again and give us further good memories to take home with us.

Sunday 22nd February 2015

Our short stay in The Turks and Caicos Islands saw two crew members jump ship and literally take flight. The locals told us that nothing was open as no cruise ships were in and that there was a storm brewing ahead of us. However a few of us braved it into town to sample the delights of a good meal and spontaneous music making with a local man.

Another two nights and a full day at sea. We have developed the hip movements that would make a “Come Dancing” Champion jealous – and that’s just in order to stand up!

We’ve seen dolphins, schools of flying fish and this morning a beautiful rainbow just after sun rise. The weather has been wet and windy with a steady force 6-7 but we have held an average of 9 knots under sail. Standing at the helm at midnight with the waves coming over the bow, being barraged by walls of spray does give you an exuberant feeling of invincibility. The power of mother – nature is certainly something to be respected. The sea has provided a show of fairy lights of phosphorescence and streaks like glow sticks alongside the ship at night, making up for the lack of stars.

We have now made it to Cat Island and Smith’s Bay resort where we can allegedly use facilities. We are all looking forward to a few hours ashore, preferably not dressed in full wet gear.


Saturday 21st February 2015

We arrived at our destination of grand Turks a small island that is part of Turks and caicos, we just missed customs so where not able to go ashore till the morning after mike and Darren had done customs so we all hit are bunks for a full night’s sleep. Once we got ashore we found the island was really quite small and only seems to come alive when the cruise ships come in which there was none of but we did manage to get a lift from a local in to town to have a look around and find somewhere for some lunch. We were due back on the boat at 1500 to set sail again before the wind got to strong safer to be at sea we have had to do a little bit of motor sailing overnight but soon got the sails back up and with a lot of water over the deck everyone is pleased the wind has died of a bit and the sun has come out again. We are looking forward to a quick overnight stop tomorrow night and then the last push to Nasser.


Thursday 19th February 2015

Yesterday was the wettest day so far. Full wet gear required on deck as there is nowhere to dry clothes on board. What looked like a shower turned into about 6 hours of constant rain, heavy at times. Several exclamations of “This wasn’t in the brochure!” ensued. We knew we had held course so maybe they’d sold us the wrong holiday destination. Still what’s a bit of dampness now we are all hardened sailors?

We passed Puerto Rico but with too broad a berth to get a sighting. With it raining anyway it was worth a miss! We are in the North Atlantic and there is very little traffic at all. We have seen a total of three cruise liners and a smaller vessel way off, all at night. Other than that there’s little chance of bumping into a neighbour here. Makes the Solent look like the M25 on a Friday evening in comparison.

During the day we had a brief visitation by a pod of dolphins. They were very small so could have been porpoise but either way caused some excitement. A head count of up to five of them dipped and danced across our bows for a good five minutes or so. Makes you feel like we have the blessing of the sea with us.

Although we had made great progress with a predicted early landfall perhaps early afternoon today, a drop in wind speed and direction brought our speed right down. Further complications arose as the engine developed a problem. Although Monkey-Mike (Captain) and Darren (First Mate) were able to fix it, the time it took and reverting to sail power meant we lost a few hours wallowing at about 2 knots.

Our new predicted arrival time in the Turks and Caicos Islands is now late evening. As long as there are showers and loos that don’t threaten to spill their contents on your feet we shall be happy!
The sun is making an appearance and the sea is a little calmer. Sickness has abated aboard so we should have a good seafaring day today aboard Challenger 2, awaiting the first shout of “Land Ahoy!”

Tuesday 17th February 2015

We’ve hit the high seas of the North Atlantic and it’s all going swell! Several of the crew succumbed to sickness early on – they call it sea sickness because it comes in waves…

Our initial few hours saw the approach of dark clouds and waterproofs were donned ready for the tropical downpour. Fortunately it doesn’t last too long here but the skies remained overcast for the rest of the day and night.

Shortly after the rain a whale (or perhaps two) was spotted on the starboard bow about quarter of a mile away. It leaped out of the water a couple of times and its wake and air blows could be tracked as it made its way along the boat and eventually disappeared behind us. What a thrill to have had that wonderful sight, people pay a lot of money for the privilege and there we were being honoured by the presence of such an incredible creature. Hopefully it was caught on video although trying to aim the camera at the time was not easy.

We are all on a rota of 3 hours on 6 off, day and night as we make our way toward the Turks and Caicos Islands. Sleep patterns – what are they? Grabbing 40 winks as and when seems to be the best policy although some of the crew seem to have moulded their bodies to their bunks quite well and claim to be getting a decent kip.

Being at the helm is building our biceps and triceps as Challenger 2 dances though the waves not always gracefully but certainly with style. We have made excellent progress in the last 24 hours and are likely to make the next port much earlier than expected. Our average speed has been approximately 9 knots with an average wind speed of 19 knots. As I write we are passing Puerto Rico to our port side although we are too far off and with an overcast sky unfortunately cannot catch a glimpse of the land mass.

Sunday 15th February 2015

The Bitter End, Virgin Gorda – lived up to its name and turned out to be a single row of sailing rentals, a couple of shops and bars and an exclusive resort. We decided the resort itself consisted of a collection of upgraded garden sheds –jealous? Not us! After all we have a luxury yacht to hang out on and can move on when we feel bored.

The good thing was we all found the local showers and spruced ourselves up, well we were clean at least, to go to Saba Rock restaurant in the evening. Almost smelling of roses, this was a treat to ourselves as it was Valentine’s Day after all. That said, the food on board has been very good.

After a night anchored off shore we moved up the coast of Virgn Gorda to Bath Bay where most of us went ashore to a lovely beach. Masks and snorkels came in useful as the area was littered with large bolders, small caves and the water was incredibly clear. The sun beat down and despite our now slightly weathered looks sun burn was a danger.

Late afternoon we took to the seas again although only briefly and moved on to Jost Van Dyke and its sister island Little Jost Van Dyke (someone with imagination named that obviously). Named after a Dutchman but best known as the birthplace of Dr. John Lettsom who went to London and founded the London Medical Society and the Royal Humane Society. For most of us however, it was Foxie’s bar that provided the highlight. This bar is apparently world renowned, well it is now we have been there! A great opportunity to try a variety of rum punches and dance the night away if that’s your thing.

A few sore heads this morning but a quick breakfast was following by ‘sweating’ the main sail and we are off for our big adventure which will see us headed toward the The Turks and Caicos Islands. Bye bye British Virgin Islands and ‘sails up’ for a 60 hour non-stop challenge. This is the first time most of us will have been at sea for an extended period so it will be interesting.

Saturday 14th February 2015

Apparently it is Valentine’s Day well, who’d have thought. Here we are a boat load of the great unwashed arriving at Virgin Gorda which is apparently full of the rich and famous. I’m sure we will attract a crowd! The most ‘romantic’ thing that has happened so far was to pass Necker Island just as the sun rose. A fiery red ball of light literally popped over the horizon as we viewed Richard’s place.

We had spent yesterday on Anguilla. Not a lot there but as usual very friendly people and a great place to totally chill. A couple of us made it into ‘town’ whilst the rest of us took it easy on the beach.
An overnight sail was actually mainly motoring as the wind was directly behind us and decided not to cooperate and fill the sails. A few tactless gybes took place but we were engine powered most of the way.
We are about to go ashore now (11am) to explore Virgin Gorda. The scenery is quite spectacular with high lush green hills and a string of islands around. Anyone fancy Mosquito Island for a quick bite? Apparently Richard has bought that too!

Friday 13th February 2015

Six of the crew met at Gatwick early on Tuesday 10th ready for our flight to Antigua.  Instantly recognisable in our fantastic bright blue Atlantic Challenge jackets we saw each other straight away and headed inside for check-in.

A smooth flight landed us safely in Antigua late afternoon and greeted by a blast of heat, so hot even the locals were complaining! A hair-raising taxi ride to Jolly Harbour ensued.  Many of us thinking that death would greet us before we even set sail. On arrival at the boat, we chose our bunks for the voyage and headed off for a cold one and dinner in Antigua.

Wednesday we all took instructions and were lead through the crew drill and procedures. Our first bit of ‘work’ was to prepare the boat for the sea by getting the Yankee and Staysail ready. We had part of the day free to wander and enjoy Antigua and the blessing of a warm shower in the marina.
Setting sail was really exciting and we were all keen to get out to sea. Hauling up the mainsail was a real team effort made easier by good instruction and humour. Wednesday was Meg’s birthday so we had even more to celebrate. Cake and candles in the wind!

The watches divided the night and for most of us was the first time we had taken the helm. Steering by the stars with the beautiful rising half-moon, such a joy. Amazing to see the milky-way and shooting stars, although the late watch got a sudden tropical downpour and a completely different experience!

We arrived at a civilised time in St. Maarten’s and following breakfast and a good tidy up were ready for shore leave. Local buses were a cheap and easy way to get around. The highlight was to stand by the fence at the end of Princess Julianna airport as the big jets took off and be sand blasted on the beach. What an adrenaline rush! Sounds weird but apparently this is the done thing, as can be seen on You Tube. Some of us tried local cuisine including goat curry which was full of bones but quite tasty.

The American cruise ships dominated the skyline at Phillipsburg spilling out their contents supplying plenty of entertainment for the people watchers amongst us. Although St. Maarten is half French and half Dutch the European flavour was lost amongst the tourist trap of the main street which offered some of the best duty-free prices in the Caribbean, taken advantage of by many.

A night anchored out in Simpson’s bay, never mind the rock we were really rolling! Great for testing the design of the bunks.

Thursday morning we are getting ship shape again with team effort cleaning and other duties. We shall be sailing to Anguilla to spot a few more beaches whilst ‘gliding’ across a gleaming dark turquoise sea.

Grace and Sharon 13/02/2015