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Crossing the Atlantic
Stephanie Ferguson and her family are sailing around the world on their catamaran sailboat.

By Stephanie Ferguson, age 14
Posted Saturday, November 26, 2005

We were one thousand miles away from land in any direction, surrounded by nothing but water, and no company but the creatures of the sea.

Crossing the Atlantic and Sailing around the world has always been a dream of my family?s, and on Saturday, August 18th, 2001, we set out to make it a reality. On this beautiful August evening, we sailed out from Miami into the sunset, leaving our home in Miami Beach and our friends and family in the U. S. Although it seemed so sudden, it did not all happen at once.

Crossing the Atlantic takes a lot of preparation, determination, skill, and some luck. There was more preparation than anything else. The first step we took was searching for the perfect boat, which took three years. Then it took a year to prepare it for the trip; repairs, replacements, etc. During this time, my parents also worked very hard to save enough money to last us for four years of traveling. We also hired meteorologists to watch out for us and warn us of tropical storms or other harmful weather. We also had to wait and watch for a good weather window. With the help of the weather service, we chose a course first to Rhode Island, which is the closest point to jump off to Spain, where we would wait until the weather was just right. Hurricane Aaron came in the middle of this and made it all interesting, and made the waiting more important. This all took a lot of scheduling and planning, but the truth is, a sailor never keeps a schedule, because if he tries, he might rush himself into a bad weather situation, and might not make it at all. One should always be flexible when trip planning, and leave the schedule to the weather.

On our trip North to Rhode Island, we made a few stops along the way, for provisions, water, fuel, and rest. Our first stop was Charleston, South Carolina, on August 20, 2001, where we stayed for a couple of days. It is a cute town, where we visited Fort Sumter, some museums, and rested. On the 23rd, we ran up to Beaufort North Carolina, a small town surrounded by islands of sea grass, pines, and wild horses. Then on the 29th, we sighted the buoy of Montauk Point, Long Island, and sailed into Narragasset bay, to tie up at the Herreschoff Marine Museum at Bristol, Rhode Island, a tiny town on the outskirts of Newport. Soon after we were assigned a mooring at the New York Yacht Club in the heart of bustling Newport, and stayed a few more days waiting at the mouth of the Naragasset bay for just the right weather to leave on our crossing to the Azores

On the eighth of September, we began a frightening but exciting game of Simon Says, Simon being our weather service. They gave us the go ahead to leave Newport, expecting at least 5 days of good weather. It was exhilarating sailing with good winds, and making good time and everyone was very happy about finally leaving, when, 24 hours out of Rhode Island, the service called with an emergency. They called on the Sat Phone and said that Hurricane Gabriel had turned, was gaining speed heading right for us, and that we should abort and run back to port. We quickly agreed, and plotted a course to the nearest port, which was Nantucket, as we had been working Northeast. We sat in Nantucket, while we watched another hurricane, Felix move right across the path we would have been on, and approach the Azores, our destination. The waiting was getting worse, with the hurricanes like little bees swarming a beehive, and it seemed impossible to get the honey.

We moved the boat to Martha?s Vineyard, where we had friends, and could occupy our time waiting with more diversions, but we were still determined. We kept our eyes on the weather and kept in contact with our weather service. One windy afternoon, on September 21st, we had a narrow weather window, possibly the last chance to leave before the fall storms set into the North Atlantic. So we loaded up on fuel one last time, and set off out Buzzards Bay. However, fate was not done with us yet. Heavy winds and sea right on the nose forced us back again to Nantucket one more time. At dawn the next day, we set out for good, seizing the opportunity, accepting the bad weather we were going to face, and took it as a challenge. As we feared, more hurricanes did come, and much more bad weather. At the direction of the weather experts, we zigzagged all the way to the Azores dodging one storm after another.

Despite all the difficulties, it was an amazing trip, and we had some really great days of weather. We were one thousand miles away from land in any direction, surrounded by nothing but water, and no company but the creatures of the sea. My watch was from 9 p.m. to midnight, but I loved to begin at 8:00 so that I could watch the amazing sunsets. Afterwards, I would watch the sky get dark, the moon rise and change from red to glowing silver. I enjoyed spotting the brilliant constellations that filled the sky, as I watched for boats on the horizon of the wide dark ocean. Some nights, when it was so calm that you could see your reflection in the water if you peered over the side, the reflecting moonbeams appeared to be long silver strokes of paint on what could have been a painted ocean.

For three hours I was sailing on my own, this boat across the Atlantic Ocean. I was ecstatic, and reveled in the responsibility and pressure of being such an integral part of the crew as to have watches. This was because I just loved the sailing, and loved the Ocean. However, when you have not slept enough, exhausted and grumpy, the most enjoyable thing can become more of a chore than a pleasure.

Then sleep began to be a real issue. During my watches, it got harder and harder to keep my eyes open as the days went by. I could not enjoy the atmosphere, and could not even day dream, or at least think deep thoughts like I like to do when I am alone. Even during the day, it got to the point where I could no longer read play cards, or even want to talk to anybody. All I wanted to do was sleep. Just when I was getting really bad, after 9 days at sea, we sighted the Portuguese Azores Islands, and everything was OK again.

On Sept 30, 2001, we landed at Flores, a flower covered dream in the middle of the Ocean. We spent three weeks in the volcanic chain of the Azores, calling on Flores, Horta, and Punta Del Gado do Sao Miguel. We could have spent years. It was a little creepy to be told that we were the last boat expected till spring, and ?What were you doing out there in that bad weather anyway?? We left for Spain on October 20th and arrived in El Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain, a city near Cadiz, on the 25th of October. It was an AMAZING trip.

Crossing the Atlantic Ocean is something that few people do, especially in the fall. Some say it is too dangerous, other?s that is too risky or just plain ridiculous. But I know one thing for sure. It is a unique experience, and for most that do it, a once in a lifetime achievement. (We still need to go back!) I had a terrific time, and I am happy I could share it with you.

 
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