We were all around the console discussing and encouraging each other. We still had 320 nautical miles to the eastern lighthouse of Sao Miguel when it was slowly beginning to dawn. I felt like we had arrived, but I was wrong. The feelings you have when you are at the crack of dawn, in the middle of the ocean, are simply incredible.
Tuesday, August 19
We had to deal with the morning thunderstorm so we didn't remove any piece of the awning. Spyros and the co-driver Norberto were at the helm. I was lying on the stern couch desperately trying to sleep. Unfortunately, my efforts were in vain.
The storm was coming from the south so I opened the north window of the awning. I nodded my head to the Corsair handrail and, as the strokes were hitting my face, I was keeping my eyes closed. And while I was mad with myself for not being able to sleep, without realizing it, I fell into half-hour lethargy despite the constant pounding of rain.
My head may have been soaked, but this short nap gave me the energy I needed in order to continue.
We traveled through a clear winter landscape wearing diving masks.
The landscape may have been depressing but the heavy rain kept the wind fallen so we were able to go faster.
After two hours, the storm overtook us and we removed all the tents. We hanged ourselves behind the engines and placed the 21.5 " Suzuki propellers pitch. Due to this pair of propellers being one left-handed and the other right-handed, we put the connector on the left-hand engine again and turned it back on again.
I knew then that our fuel consumption would be much better.
But the wind was getting stronger. The problem, however, was not so much the weather as the direction of the waves. While we were several miles more than halfway through, the waves were hitting directly our bow.
The sea was angry again and the bad news was that once again, we would have the weather against us, something very rare for these coordinates.
The reason was that a new low barometer system was pushing the “high” of the Azores and had fallen so low that it almost touched the northern islands of the cluster. As it was fatal, west winds were coming and the expected calm waters never came.
Of course, we knew in advance about this newly formed low barometer and that’s why we decided to start the day before. We knew this was our last chance and we had to catch the low barometric before settling over the islands. In the next days it would move to east, giving strong west winds.
No matter how much I was furious with our bad luck, nothing was going to change. At least we caught it before going lower and heading east. Because then we would have to go through it.
It was certain that during the rest of the trip we would be luffing constantly, a fact which increased our anxiety since we were already very exhausted. At the same time our autonomy was limited. Of course, moving forward was a one-way solution.
There were still 250 nautical miles left and the clock ticked at eleven. We were close to the 20th meridian while the big waves did not allow us to travel directly to our destination. With a small boat it is not possible to keep the course you have drawn on the map. Sometimes we were pulling to 290 degrees and sometimes to 260. We were all paying attention not to steer more in one direction or another. That itself can increase the anxiety and make you incredibly tired.
Our strength began to abandon us. The certainty that the second day we would have an easy navigation and so we could rest, turned out to be a summer night's dream.
We had to use whatever strength was left in order to continue to run with more than 25 knots to keep fuel consumption close to 3 liters per mile.
Our eyes were hurting and we could hardly keep them open. Our biggest problem was that last night no one was able to rest.
This was my biggest fear from the beginning of the trip: how would we ever be able to rest in the ocean so that we could continue fresh the next day?
Spiros was at the wheel so I was trying to capture the image of the ocean well in my mind.
I remember the swells. These silent waves were huge and had a lovely blue color.
The sight of the deep blue ‘’mountains-sea’’ was the most imposing thing I've ever encountered at sea.
And just to see these spectacular waves it takes a lot of courage. However, I was so stunned that I insisted on observing them very carefully to get used to their awful appearance...
Each one of them was stretching for hundreds of meters and all together formed perfectly periodic "mountain ranges" that ran at a steady pace. My eyes may have been lost into a vast blue desert but I felt life everywhere around me. The ocean was alive. I don't know why, but these beautiful silent waves resembled a series of white horses galloping towards our bow at a timid and proud pace.
At some point the wavelength increased and the distance between these aquatic "mountains" exceeded twenty meters. Our bow was now on the back of each wave and immediately began to climb up to the next chest. It was definitely a wonderful ride. Even the numerous smaller waves that formed on the big swells offered us a spectacular sight. At least now, the waves that formed on the big swells did not exceed 1.5 meters, and their peaks were rarely broken.
We were travelling perfectly perpendicular to this ripple with the Corsair hull going pretty well without taking off as it never lost its waters. To do this we had to keep our speed above 25 knots. And of course at this speed no one could really get any rest at all.
Many times, in order to see the next waves, I stood on my toes, stretching my neck as far as I could. Inside the Rib we do not see the sea from above. We become one with her, we are within her, beneath the surface of the waves, constantly striving to see the horizon.
Despite my tiredness, I kept observing everything around me. My attention was drawn to the amazing blue sky that was in a magical contrast to the amazing deep blue of the ocean.
What was truly something out of fairy tale was the unparalleled white formations scattered across the sky. Millions of small, whitish clouds were stretching out where my eyes were, at all four points of the horizon.
Lined up in a row, with very short distances between them, they almost rested on the sea surface. Their underside was perfectly flat and parallel to the ocean. It was amazing that each cloud had its own distinct form. Some even had a purely human appearance, like statues at various postures. I spent enough time admiring these beautiful figures that had flooded the horizon and somehow kept us company.
Shortly before sunset, the sea calmed down quite a bit, so we stopped to pour the last 400 liters we carried in the red plastic tanks. We deliberately left them for the end so that we could calculate exactly our final autonomy. We installed the 23΄΄ of pitch propellers and started the calculations again. I was full of joy. Now I was almost certain that the fuel was enough for us to reach the destination.
It took us about an hour to fuel up and we quickly re-entered our rotation. We were now running with 32 knots to cover as many miles as possible before the dense darkness fell.
As the sun sank into the sea, the whole horizon lighted up with its finest colors. Right in front of our bow was one of the most enchanting images of the ocean, which changed little by little as the purple sun slowly dipped until it completely disappeared from our field of vision.
We admired one of the most exciting sunsets, but the performance was stolen by the scattered clouds that nestled in the purple horizon and gave an unusually imposing look to this magical setting.
Being lighter of fuel and with the wind calming down, Corsair was flying as if it was freed from its chains, galloping towards Sao Miguel and was now clearly showing its speedy character. I felt like I was being asked to push the throttles forward but I didn't do it as I continued to calculate our consumption.
We still had 65 nautical miles to the Sao Miguel lighthouse when we found ourselves in absolute darkness. We were approaching the 24th meridian, we were one meridian away.
In the ocean, those miles may be very few, but they seemed endless. None of us had the strength to continue. We felt total exhaustion.
The body couldn’t afford a second consecutive night without sleep. Our whole body was in pain and our eyes were really suffering. It was a true torture. We felt as if we didn’t have eyes anymore, that’s how intense the pain was. I don't really know what kept us upright. I felt like all my senses had left me.
We may have had the first day the difficult weather against us and the stress of conserving our fuel, but now we had to fight with ourselves, and that was the toughest fight we had to give yet. We had to go beyond ourselves, beyond our limits. It was an unforgettable feeling. Without any trace of strength you have to keep fighting! All we were looking for was to "pack" down and close our eyes. We were even seriously thinking of dropping our floating anchor and falling asleep, just as we were with our waterproof clothes. That would be the ultimate bliss for all of us. But we had to keep going. We were trying to find even a little bit of strength, though that seemed impossible.
We were holding against our legs with great difficulty and our eyes were closed for most of the time, only opening from time to time. Spiros looked focused on the GPS and thermal camera screens, but I was wondering if he had his eyes open.
I was trying to talk to him constantly, but even that was very tiring. I was thinking if we had to travel to 6 knots like we did the night before, but that meant we would reach our destination the day after. None of us wanted such an outcome. I lowered the speed and we were now traveling at 23 knots. Our insecurity was great. I was standing a little in front of the console so that the light instruments would not blind me. My right hand was stretched backwards so that I could reach the steering wheel. That way I felt better as I could see more clearly in front of our bow.
I literally measured every mile and kept asking Spiros to keep me informed of the rest miles. Another 58...
This short distance seemed like the biggest trip of my life. I was sure that I would collapse at any moment. I still can't comprehend what was that invisible force that kept me upright and finally allowed me to cover those last miles.
My right hand continued to hold the steering wheel tightly, with the fingers of the other hand holding my eyelids looking like they were made by iron.
I was feeling them so heavy. But even so there were times when I caught myself sleeping. I was trying to talk to myself all the time and to think about all our many months of effort in preparation for this journey. In reality, I was trying to fool myself to stay awake.
There were still 35 nautical miles and while under other circumstances we would be cheering and screaming with joy, no one was shaking from his post. We were all obviously overwhelmed by the humongous effort.
I continued to do various things to keep me from falling asleep at the wheel. Another ten miles I whispered and then we'll stop for coffee. I dedicated these miles to all of the team who helped us with all their souls. I owe them, after all. I had to overcome myself only for those people who I was sure were staying up late with us and were much more anxious than us. To Peter who worked hard for many months, Kostas, Carlos, Pedro and so many others. Then I continued with the people who supported us and the good friends who were constantly sending us messages and encouraging us with their warm words. It was like listening to their exhortations. I clenched my teeth and gained strength from their words.
And just so, I managed to be 25 nautical miles away from Sao Miguel.
I lowered the speed, left the steering wheel, and quickly pulled out the utensils for our coffee. And while I was looking for the glasses, laughter overtook me when I noticed that my friends' heads were down and facing the deck. "We did it"... I exclaimed and tried to wake them up from lethargy. We will stay here as long as we want and will admire the enchanting sky that shines across the ocean with its shining stars!
The picture was magical. The hassle of the previous hours had been erased from my memory. In front of this magical image, I immediately forgot about the difficult times we had.
Inside the black cloudy sky the brightness of the constellations was almost blinding. You may not need any instruments on such a night when you have such obvious driver signs! I saw Ursa Major like I've never seen it before. I thought I would reach out and touch it.
It was lying, a few meters above the dark surface of the ocean, and was clearly showing me the Polar Star. I was refusing to take my eyes off her. I stared at her wanting to imprison her forever in my memory. I wanted to carry this image inside me forever, to keep it alive, without ever letting it fade from time. I do not know for how long I had my eyes high, I didn’t care about time anymore. I had convinced myself that we had reached our destination.
I may have been in the worst situation I have ever been but I was living my best time in the ocean. And really, that was the most beautiful night of my life.
For nights like these, all the miles in the world are worth it.
Meanwhile, the lighthouse of Sao Miguel kept toying with us. The course was set; I no longer had to focus on my compass. I turned our bow to mark the lighthouse and we started again for the last 25 miles.
I couldn't resist, and every now and then I glanced to my right, to the magnificent Ursa Major...
At long last, the joy within me enchanted me and it helped me with my efforts to put aside the untold fatigue I felt.
Insecurity, however, continued to exist. Not for the fuel, of course, that I no longer bothered with. Even if the engines suddenly went out. I knew very well that at this distance, around the island, there are many whales, and now I was really scared of an unexpected encounter. Maybe my concerns were heightened due to a story a Portuguese fisherman told us when we were trapped in Cascais. A few years ago he told me that a large whale was rapidly emerging from the deep in order to come to the surface to breathe. But as soon as she got to the surface, she lifted herself up and unknowingly sank a sailboat that happened to be there. Four people drowned that night and were never found.
I was trying to think positive and insisted on keeping my head in front of the console. The sea was smooth, like a mirror. But on its surface, there were innumerable small black surfaces that foretold the coming waves. It was the shadows of the waves born by the bright light of the constellations. Knowing this, I was able to control the waterline and always keep it perpendicular to the surface of the sea, simply by doing small, corrective handling of the steering wheel.
Suddenly, we were able to smell the land. In the thick darkness, like a huge shadow, the imposing massif of Sao Miguel popped up.
We were a breath away from the coast. We slowed down a lot because we knew nothing about the dangers in those waters. While we were out in the open ocean, we wondered when we would see the so much desirable land, and now that we were so close to it, a different kind of worry hit us, almost worse than we felt before.
Rocks and reefs were continuously gnawing at our minds. With agony painted in our faces, it took us more than an hour to cover the last miles while we kept our distance from the shores. It was only when we encountered the first harbor and came into a straight line towards the lighthouse that we turned our bow and headed there.
We got in and tied up on a big Fisherman’s boat. It must have been two to three o'clock after midnight.
The humidity was unbearable. Everything was dripping and the inflatable pillows were soaked. It was impossible to sleep in these conditions. On the other hand, we could not stay awake for a second more.
We threw the tents on top of the pillows and fell into a deep sleep, in the same position as we traveled for so many hours. With neoprene boots, and our life jacketrs...
Some tears of joy escaped and rolled in our face, sealing our absolute happiness which had no other way to be expressed...
The miles passed and stayed behind us...