Rolex Transatlantic 2005: Sailing on Soundings Again

Aboard Sariyah June 5 - 49 58N 009 16W, 157 miles to The Lizard

It's been a world of fog and heavy rain for the past two days as we've been approaching the coast of England. The visibility is nil, which means constant attention to the radar is required. "We could quite easily cross the finish line in this," says Sariyah's mate, Steve. I hope not. I haven't raced 3,200 miles across the North Atlantic to cross a finish line I can't see. Luckily enough we have two finish lines, one at The Lizard, the farthest southwest point of land in England, then The Needles, a rock formation off the west coast of the Isle of Wight. Chances are that at least one will be visible, but we're talking about England, so maybe not. We've just come on soundings, which means that we're finally starting to see depths that aren't miles deep. The sea conditions have changed a bit, smaller waves, and the color of the water this morning is turquoise. Peter Harken describes it as "puke green," and Dave Guinan has dubbed it "Cadillac green." We're ghosting along at 10.5 knots in a failing breeze with the gennaker poled out, a full main, a mizzen staysail, and a full mizzen. All of us who are on watch this morning, and there are a few not sitting in the warmth and shelter of the pilothouse. George is driving, as he has been since early yesterday evening. For a while yesterday, skipper Tim had us hand steering in the rain, and two-thirds of my watch stood out there getting dumped on during last night's 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. watch before he relented and turned the autopilot on. Those of us who had avoided the wheel to that point looked smug; the others, who hadn't, just looked wet. Another interesting occurrence last night at 8 p.m. was the Queen Mary 2, looming out of the murk about a half-mile off our starboard bow. It looked as if the bridge crew had altered course slightly to give the big liner's passengers a chance to see the mighty Sariyah, 14 days at sea and heading for England. We could see camera flashes popping off as the 1,100-foot liner slid past our starboard side at 25 knots. Tim had a brief conversation with a watch officer via the VHF radio, and she informed him that the QM 2 was westbound for Manhattan with an ETA of June 9. The Queen Mary 2 is a true liner-that is, it was built to cross the North Atlantic, not just cruise the placid waters of the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. The new Queen Mary is the latest (and maybe the last) of an illustrious list of ocean liners that have crossed the North Atlantic between Europe and New York-ships with names like Britannic, Carpathia, Ille de France, Nieuw Amsterdam, Queen Elizabeth, Normandie, and the S.S. United States, the final holder of the Blue Riband, given to the passenger liner with the fastest time between The Lizard and Ambrose Light. Time is compressing now. We're nearing the end of a very long race and, if we're lucky, we'll be tied up at Yacht Haven marina in Cowes sometime Tuesday afternoon. It seems as if we only left New York behind a few days ago, but it's been two weeks. For many of us aboard Sariyah it's our first Transatlantic crossing, and it's been a beauty. Despite the fact that it seemed to take us forever to put America behind us, we've made pretty good time. In the last 10 days or so we've rarely seen boatspeed under 10 knots. The seas have been as kind as the breeze; I'd say the largest we saw were, at the most, 10 feet high. We all expected to be colder as well, but the lowest the temperature has gone was maybe 55 degrees. In all, it's been a benign passage. Sure, we've blown up a few sails, but we haven't broken anything else, nor have we hurt anybody. (Note to Neptune/Poseidon, et al: this is not a challenge, we remain humbled by your capacity to crush us like a bug). It's been a great race when all you're worrying about is making your flight out of Gatwick. We've just passed a small sloop sailing wing-and-wing, headed east. It was moving along at about four and-a-half knots with the crew sleeping below. We tried them on the VHF for a while when they were nothing but a blip on the radar screen, but it wasn't until we actually saw them and blasted our big horn when they came on deck to see what was sailing by. They must not have been impressed, because even after seeing us they didn't respond to our radio call. In all probability they were coming from the Azores after a passage from either the Caribbean or the Med. There's been a slow increase in the amount of traffic we're seeing, which will most likely explode when we get in the Channel. It'll be nice to see more traffic, but even better to see some green grass and trees. Of course the talk on the boat is all about beer and cocktails, and how many of each everyone's looking forward to consuming. Our steward, Alex, has already phoned in an order and there'll be a few cases of cold beer waiting for us on the dock in Cowes, which will come in handy if everything's closed when we get in. Our current ETA at The Lizard is 2 a.m. Monday. I'll post some words about that finish early Monday U.S. East Coast time. Keep your fingers crossed that we'll actually see something when we cross. From The Lizard, it's 142 miles to our finish off the Needles. Oh, and by the way, we're in third place, four and-a-half hours out of second. Keep sending us good thoughts.