The "Marlin" set course for the Azores
4721 nautical miles to Flensburg is written on our table in the kitchen. As the crow flies, as the English say, as the crow flies. In reality, of course, a few hundred miles are added, because the "Marlin" cannot fly over islands or sail directly against the wind.
On May 31, one day before the official start of the hurricane season in the Caribbean, the time has finally come. The rig has been repaired, the lockers are full, tons of vegetables and eggs have been taken on board, and the obligatory banana tree dangles in the pulpit. There are five of us on board, Micha, the girls and I as well as Micha's adult son Julian, who has already accompanied us on the way from Suriname to Trinidad.
The plan is non-stop to the Azores, arriving before the first knockout round of the World Cup. After weeks of waiting, we are in such a hurry to finally get away from the unloved Montegobay in Jamaica that, with the sunset behind us, we sail towards the evening. The twilight in the tropics is short, very short, so that when we set the large we hardly have any more daylight. When we reach the cape, which has annoyed us several times with extremely unpleasant waves and cross seas, it is pitch black.
The "Marlin" throws herself into the sea high up in the wind. We left the hatches ajar. In the forepeak and in the saloon. Great. Too much cloth on it, reefing in between, then down again, mopping up salt water, drying, peeling off the laundry. When the toilet overflows with fine scents, my stove is off. Suppressing a few tears, I crouch miserably in the companionway, my stomach rebels at every wave, and suddenly this whole Atlantic crossing seems to be the purest madness. I sent me to bed without further ado, and when I wake up after three hours of comatose sleep, the cap waves are over, the seasickness attack too, and I'm fine again.
Photo gallery: Marlin Transatlantic
We sail close to the wind, high on the wind, once across the canal between Jamaica and Cuba, doing as much east as we can. Only 20 miles off the Cuban coast does the wind leave us, the ship's diesel has to run. Here, between Kub and Jamaica, there is a trade wind, sometimes more, sometimes less strong from the east. On the south coast of Cuba, with a bit of luck, you can take advantage of the katabatic winds, but the engine always has to run. Until suddenly a loud beep indicates that the Yanmar is overheating. Broken impeller.
No problem, we think, a replacement is on board. But the newly installed impeller also gives up its ghost 15 minutes later. And now? More than 2500 nautical miles ahead of the bow. Sure, we're a sailboat, we'd get over there somehow, even without a machine. But it's already late in the season. The idea of bobbing around in the horse's breadth when there is calm while the first tropical storm is brewing somewhere south of us makes you nervous.
A stopover is the order of the day, we laboriously cross each other mile by mile up the Cuban south coast and through the Winward Passage into the Atlantic. Great Exuma / Bahamas is the name of the new destination. On June 5th, after passing through the reef, the anchor drops under sail on the sheltered anchorage behind Stocking Island in front of the island's capital, Georgetown. Labor Day, Pentecost, postponed mail schedules and bad weather give us a one-week dream vacation in the Bahamas. Beach, hermit crabs, surfing, hiking, then finally the supplied impeller can be installed and we are ready to go again.
This time we're doing it right. We run out in the morning, shortly after sunrise, with a cup of coffee in hand. Not on Friday the 13th of course, but on Saturday. Once again the fresh supplies are replenished, a whole day with sunshine and 15 knots of wind from the southeast lies ahead of us. A good start.
The "Marlin" made up 159 miles on the first day - and slipped seamlessly into a weak wind area. With full gear we are bobbing north of the Bahamas in the Atlantic as the sky darkens. Just a little tropical squall? All hands on deck, 1st reef, no 2nd reef, the wind suddenly turns north-west, a few minutes later we are wet to the skin.
Alternating strong winds and calm
The squall turns out to be a front that passes over us that night. Behind the front, as always, calm. With changing winds we continue towards Bermuda, Etmale from 80 to 100 nautical miles don't exactly make the sailor's heart beat faster, but our fishing luck begins.
A sea bream weighing 18 kilograms bites our bait. Then a decent eight-kilo tuna. There is fresh fish until you drop and canned tuna for the bilge. Everyday life on board is getting used to School, for the children: 1x1 and spelling, for Julian Seglerlatein. What is a sheet, what is a halyard, which line is used for what, where is port and where is starboard and which sails do I set in which wind?
Good conditions, because the changeable winds require a lot of maneuvers. In between we turn on the system, let our legs dangle over the railing and enjoy pure sailing. The land is far away, the blue of the ocean very close. Deep blue, deep relaxation. The miles ahead of the bow are so many that no one likes to calculate the day of arrival.
Oilskins and functional underwear are brought out again
About 60 miles northeast of Bermuda we hit the second front, with winds of 20 knots, gusts of up to 25 and cold air from the north. Oilskins and functional underwear have now finally found their place on the hook next to the companionway. The "Marlin" yaws down the crests of the waves only at halfway, the wind from astern, everything wobbles, pushes, slides from port to starboard and back again.
We try in vain to press the pillows over our ears at night in order to be able to sleep better. But who wants to complain - the boats that set out across the Atlantic five weeks ago had to weather winds of 30 knots and more several times. The door is closed, thick blankets and hot tea are distributed in the deckhouse, "Ice Age" is running on the laptop.
Encounter with a ghost ship
The next morning it continues to blow at 25 knots. The sky is overcast, all hatches tight. Suddenly Micham Horizont sees another sailing boat. "Look there, at 2 o'clock, that's another sailing boat. They didn't set sails, or am I wrong?"
A look through the binoculars confirms the impression, as does the speed at which we are approaching the point on the horizon. "Come on, let's fall off and see what's wrong, maybe need the help!" We're heading for the ship. And with every nautical mile we get closer, we get more nervous.
A ketch, floating in the middle of the Atlantic, the Genu pulled out, the large salvaged, the mizzen mast beats uncontrollably in the swell. We call on channel 16, send signals with the side horn, no reaction. The "Elusive", home port New York, floats on the water without a leader, no trace of the crew, the companionway is closed.
What to do? Where is the crew? It continues to blow and it would be dangerous to investigate the sea. We contact the sea rescue center in Bremen by satellite telephone and receive a callback from the American Coast Guard 15 minutes later. An old case, it says succinctly, the crew recovered in May, the yacht left to its fate.
And now? A seaworthy yacht is drifting less than a hundred meters away from us and has weathered any weather for four weeks without hesitation. Shall we hide them? To go on board? A heated discussion ensues, but it quickly becomes clear that our own crew cannot do without anyone. Julian's experience is not enough to sail the "Elusive" to the Azores. I am needed to look after the children, and the "Marlin" with all her technology needs the skipper.
We don't want to go back to Bermuda, our goal is Europe this year. In addition, the weather forbids any further exploration of the abandoned ship. And so, with a heavy heart, we resume our course for the Azores. The fate of the drifting yacht occupies us for days.
"Marlin" is gaining momentum
Meanwhile, the "Marlin" sails on, mile by mile, a mountain festival, another sea bream, the Azores high moves and pulls us on its back into the highway. 15 Koten Raumschots, full equipment set, we take off. Improve our Etmale, from 120 to 150, the wind increases. The "Marlin" rushes along with her new Rolly Tasker sails, and when the GPS shows an average of over 8 knots, we become ambitious.
200 miles are there, right? The autopilot is disengaged, we move the rudder by hand and take every wave with us. Speed frenzy. Dolphins jump out of the crests of the waves and race. We'll take the helm all night. In the morning the wind eases, just a few knots less, and already we don't reach the magical limit.
We need more sails, so we set the jib to the genoa, the "Marlin" accelerates, and under cutter sails we reach our 201-mile Etmal at 12 o'clock. Afterwards there will be reefing and celebrations. Pea soup and fresh bread, from now on the autopilot can run again, because after all we are still a family crew. We don't have to race across the Atlantic, but flying instead of sailing once in three weeks is indescribable.
For how much longer?
From now on every morning it is: "When are we there?" Julian's brother and a friend are coming to the Azores on July 6th, can we? Of course, because the high continues to play along, we have left the back and are now sailing with a steady westerly wind towards the first Azores island. On the morning of July 4th, the island of Flores comes into view. The sun is shining, dolphins are with us again, even two orcas are lazily pulling past on the port side. The temptation to turn away and lie in the harbor in the afternoon is great, but we hold out, 130 miles to go. The wind falls asleep overnight, of course, and now and then fat Emma, our ship's diesel engine, helps out.
Faial hides deep in a cloud cover in the morning. But no sooner have we come within five miles than the cloud cover clears and reveals the view. Lava ash and a half-buried lighthouse in the north of the islands, bizarre rocks, screeching sea birds, schools of dolphins, offshore peninsulas with craters and again and again green meadows and fields.
Back in Europe
How different is the landfall on an Atlantic island, how much more exciting and varied than the eternal beaches and palm trees. The children dance with the dolphins on the bow, chocolate ice cream and cold beer are close enough to touch. We salvage the sails, clean up and anchor in the traditional port of Hortan. We are in Europe after exactly 21 days. The floor wobbles under our feet, Julian and the children storm the first ice cream parlor while Mich takes care of the clearance formalities. Sailing is great, but the tried and tested saying is always valid: the best is still "the drink on the other side of the ocean".