Bunched together inside the tent room, we were cruising with 5 knots burning 2 lts per mile. This way we earned increased mileage while having a few hours to rest. We put on the thermal camera and the radar.
One of us was on the steering wheel and one was exclusively watching the screens. The other two were trying to sleep with no success. Perhaps, subconsciously, none of us wanted to be absent from the group's effort.
We were all exhausted but thankfully the ocean was offering us its finer face, apparently as payback for the first very difficult day.
It was very dark since heavy clouds blocked the starlight reaching the sea. With such bad visibility we felt we were amid a vast lake. I opened the side window, put my head out and tried to see something, anything. No luck. Complete darkness! Sky and sea blurred into a continuous black scape. No discernible horizon!
The lateral red lantern barely lighted a square meter making the black night even more scary. The realization that we were in the middle of the ocean filled us with unknown feelings.
But I longed to live, to experience this night out at the sea.
It is truly marvelous to be out there at night. It may be frightening at times but it's unbelievably exciting at the same time. We felt like "castaways", a tiny dot in the ocean which showed us clearly our "true" measure!
I have spent many nights in the Aegean sea and the Mediterranean but the loneliness of the ocean is like no other. None of my past experiences could compare with these moments. I tried to block my inevitable fears out of my mind, fears which were enhanced not only by the dark and mysterious seascape, but also by the various tales local fishermen had narrated to us.
That night I felt full of sentiments like never before. Mixed, beautiful and magical, but full of awe and insecurity. I intensively tried to overcome that part of myself counseling caution which made me feel rather uncomfortable, choosing instead the desire to feel with all my senses the mysterious power and allure emanating from the dark ocean.
It was calm everywhere but the ocean was present. This complete silence was in the end too loud. I could clearly listen to its breathing.
I sat on the bow of the Corsair, far from the glowing console’s instruments that blinded me and I intentionally tried to overcome myself and free all my senses. Eventually I visualized something surely not real, but I was sure that a few meters away I could see the sea surface.
I was left speechless when I realised that the sea surface seemed to be several meters above us.
I sprung to the opposite window, I opened it and after a while I saw exactly the same picture. I was feeling fine so there was no chance of having hallucinations.
We seemed to be within a great black hole surrounded by the ocean whose surface seemed to be five or six meters higher.
It was impossible to believe what I was clearly seeing. Then Cris tapped on the shoulder and whispered: "I know what you are thinking. I see the exact same thing". Confused I looked at him and closed the window.
"The ocean 's playing with my mind", I thought, and strange feelings filled my soul. The wild night, the cold, the ocean's breathing transported me to a strange, fantastic world of magic. It took several hours to get used to the loneliness of the sea. Every now and then I put my head out of the tent room trying to discern any sounds coming from the dark, motionless ocean. Searching into the pitch-black night to define what exactly the ocean was telling me silently, with no voice. But I felt it strongly, I heard it clearly.
Ocean has too many sounds impossible to de-crypt them all!
It was three o’clock in the morning, local time. Time for me and Cris to do our shift. Spiros and Noberto were trying to sleep on the sundeck.
Cris took the wheel and I sat on the co-pilot's seat and put on the little light of the console. I took our bearings, noted our speed and fuel consumption. We were doing 6 knots and burning 15 lts per hour. Our bearings was N 38oo 25’ W 17o 36'.
On 6 knots it was difficult to maintain our course in view of the strong currents. But we couldn't increase our speed. as fuel consumption would also increase. At 03:15 I calculated our distance from Sao Miguel's east lighthouse. It was 350 nautical miles away.
Although my job was to closely monitor the radar and thermal camera's screens, I took pen and paper and began calculations again. We started off with 2.625 lts of fuel. We had eight fix cans, one portable 100 lt can and ten 30lit ones attached on the right and left of the console. Due to the bad weather we faced on the first day, we changed our initial plans and burned the fuels in the sundeck deposits first. In this way, and taking into account our speed, Corsair’s hull would be able to face the high waves coming violently on our starboard bow more efficiently and, according to our tests, fuel consumption would vary very little.
We were exactly in the middle of our journey, 380 nautical miles separating us from Ponta Delgada, capital of Sao Miguel. We burnt 800 lts of fuel in the first 200 miles and 660 lts of fuel in the next 200 miles. So, total consumption: 1,440 lts for 400 miles. We had only 1,185 lts left for the next 380 miles. If we continue burning 3.3 lts per mile, as we did just before dusk, it was certain we would come short. We had to reduce our fuel burning to an average of 3 lts per mile, to turn the odds on our favor.
Of course this was possible due to the fact that the boat would become even lighter and the proper propeller changes would further reduce fuel consumption. All these of course under ideal conditions.
But we knew, according to our observations, that we had covered 10% more miles than needed due to inevitable deviations from our course. Another possibility was encountering bad weather again. So it was very unlikely for our fuel supply to last out.
My only hope was fair weather for the next day, while I calculated that if we were able to decrease our fuel consumption to 2.3 lts per mile even for the last 100 nautical miles, we would be able to achieve an average of 3 lts per mile for the next 380 nautical miles.
My anxiety rose again rapidly, realising it was touch and go whether we’d reach our destination before we ran out of fuels and that would be feasible only under certain circumstances. I shuddered at the thought of even a simple "four" on our bow this night. Then we couldn't do 6 knots and of course not 26. This wouldn't reduce our fuel consumption, on the contrary it would increase it. So, I thanked God for the great night he gave us and prayed to keep it that way till dawn.
The night seemed endless. We were confronting ocean's empty vastness. The clouds slowly dissolved and a pale little moon rose above our stern.
Its feeble light was enough to erase the mysterious illusions of the dark night.
The great "hole" we were in disappeared and the bow-shaped all-white veil hanging a few meters off our bow, without ever reaching it, went away.
My eyes scanned the horizon.
Now we were able to reach for any ship crossing our course and so felt more secure. I first felt the waves hitting our left side and then saw the lights of a big ship far off. This alerted us for good, but its presence in the loneliness of the ocean was also the best company we could have.
It was five o' clock already and I woke up Spiros and Noberto. It was their turn to take over the steering wheel.
I tried to sleep with no success. I was exhausted but could not sleep. I looked at Cris sleeping with jealousy. As I was fighting my thoughts, a big wave went over our bow and flooded the deck. We jumped up fully awake at once. Our sleeping bags were dripping and the water level was too high in the deck. In utter confusion we tried to save whatever we could and then heard Spiros shouting "The boat spins around like crazy! I can't keep our course!".
Apparently we were caught in strong circular currents overtaking us because we were moving too slow. We increased our speed at once trying to free ourselves from the current. Simultaneously we removed the drain plugs and started all pumps. The water was so much that we used buckets trying to remove it the soonest possible. I took half an hour of hard labor to clear the deck and put dry clothes on.
We all huddled around the controls
We tried to maintain a course approximately 25 miles north of the 38th parallel, something very difficult under our current speed. I took bearings and it was disheartening.
Our progress was minimal. All night's travel would barely exceed 40 nautical miles. We were moving between the 17th and 18th meridian for the whole night.
All in all we had travelled nine meridians and had seven more to reach our destination. I had already put the boat's watch one our behind Lisbon time, since we passed 15o longitude.
We need the exact zone hour in order to be able to define our bearings. A mistake of a few minutes was enough to put us tens of miles off course.
It needed great effort to keep my eyes open, but I felt sheer happiness rising inside me. Somehow I felt we' ve done it. But I chose to ignore the feeling, as we had a lot of sea yet to cross. Of one thing though I was certain. The first light of the day would signal the final countdown.
We waited stoically for dawn. We forced ourselves to be disciplined and patient. Besides, we could do nothing more at this given moment.