We weren’t long in the Canaries before that ocean crossing came knocking, it swept in fast, bounding up the lane, tapping on the doors, whistling through the window pane. Crossing was the only option for us, we had made it all the way down south, sailing in hops and dashes, working hard through endless miles of open water. Miranda had enjoyed it,she loved the excitement of coming into a new place, she understood the trade sailors make, enduring the hardship for the beauty, arriving back safely, heads full of star filled nights, mouths dry and stomachs empty. By the time we reached the Canaries Miranda had become a seasoned adventurer, I started to sleep better on passage, trusting her to read the elements, she knew when Coconut was running wild, or when Coconut was wallowing, she could feel when the boat drifted off course just by the changing sounds, by the swinging pitch, or by the flapping sails. She could tweak the wind vane or hand steer a line for three hours straight, I’d sometimes hear her singing on the wheel, or whispering to the wind, it felt like perhaps this trip was starting to spread it’s wings.
Madeira had been left back down and belly up, snoring beneath the stars, her steep hillside walls wake-side, faintly glowing and slowly burning, blinking and glistening in the dark. We ran out into a frantic sea, taking crashing white horses on the beam, spray leaping over the rails. I furled up our genoa, plugging in Little Coconut’s trusty cutter sail, we marched off into the night, into the last gasps of a dying breeze. The front which had kept us at bay for a week, whose heavy paws had wrapped up the whole island, it was moving off, our window down to the Canaries appeared. In reality it was more of a trap door, one to climb through slowly, one to squeeze out of gently, out through that unchanging corridor of hours, three on three off all the way to Tenerife.
The island seemed almost fragile at first, a delicate sill on the horizon peering up in silent grey shadows like it had been placed there by hand, painted with a brush, or blown in with the clouds. It floated on the water, weightlessly, slowly gaining stature with our approach. As we got close it was as if the rock suddenly dropped roots, sending heavy anchors crashing straight to the seabed, rearing up all rugged and full of teeth, peaks of volcanic stone rose high, touching the clouds. We sailed in like a piece of drift wood, somehow finding our way back onto the beach, all salt covered and tattered from life afloat.
It was mid December, Little Coconut was parked up at Santa Cruz, sitting snugly in a marina full of travelling boats. Miranda had just come back from the market, bags full of freshly baked bread, salad, cheese and salami. ‘ Lunch,’ she said smiling, looking up at me from the long swaying finger pontoon. I was crouching over the rails, paint brush in hand, touching up patches of surface rust. We ate outside by the wheel all huddled close, breaking off great strips of bread, we ate with no idea what day of the week it was, our working lives dropped on the floor somewhere far away, shed like reels of old snake skin, it was perfect. There was plenty to keep us busy, we were slowly sharpening the axe, getting ready for an ocean crossing. A vague plan had been laid down, it was centred around our new recruit, brought in especially for the Atlantic. He was a wise old hand, not the prettiest crew member you’ve ever seen, not the steadiest on his feet, but the best none the less. The old man was coming back, Coconut’s very own boomerang, back for another run, back across another ocean. Dad’s idea of a good holiday is getting rolled around a floating can for three weeks, catching fish and surfing two thousand miles of desert road. Three weeks of watches, three weeks of pasta rice pasta rice pasta rice, three weeks of water chiming on steel, of changing sails, of shitting in a bucket, three weeks of ebbs and flows, stops and starts, broken sleeps and salty sheets. I was so happy to have Dad with us for another crossing, with dad comes many things, one thing for certain, fish!!! We hadn’t caught one all trip, we needed him for this alone, our luck would change with Dad, the fish would come in. How would Miranda cope with two mad hatters on the boat, she struggles at times with one. Dad’s ticket was booked up for early January, he was flying into the Cape Verde Islands, 900 miles south, right down in the heartland of the trades. If Columbus thought it best to leave from Cape Verde that was good enough for me and with this in mind Miranda and I got ready for our first Christmas together at sea.
Shopping for big stints out deep is an imprecise art aboard Little Coconut full of rough on the spot calculations and optimistic predictions. Just like that jungle book song we start proceedings with the bare necessities, peppered crackers, canned tomatoes and bottled water. This combination won’t fail, it is tried and tested, if gas bottles get taken by ravenous waves, or if Coconut’s 30 quid car boot sale cooker stops working you can still eat and drink. Be prepared for some cold stares whilst standing in the check out queue, ‘nutter alert,,,, ‘ they’ll whisper, ‘ look,,, he’s got three trolleys full of bottled water and one full of canned food,,,,, what’s the game,,,, when’s the hard rain a comin.’ Fear not, these ingredients are the bones of your supplies, 100 quid tops, enough sustenance for a good run across the pond. From the bones you work out, grabbing toilet roll and baby wipes, pasta and rice, a couple of spare tooth brushes for the sins, and maybe some shower gel if your feeling fancy. Then you hit the fresh section, cabbages and onions last the longest. A cabbage will go a good 40 days no worries, best pick a mean looking one, one which carries some weight, rough on the hands, ugly on the eyes. After this bag some fresh tomatoes, greener the better, throw in a load of oranges and lemons then wander over and load up with eggs. A cat once told me you turn over an egg every 24 hours and it will last six months, ain’t nothing better than eggs for breakfast. Near the egg section you’ll probably spot some bread, this will then jog the mind and a few bags of flour and some yeast will be added to the shop. Last thing, rock over to the spices and load up with different jars, Moroccan seasoning for the hot pot, Italian herbs for your spaghetti, Mexican burrito mix,,,,,, go mental, throw in bottles of soy sauce and cooking oil, salt and pepper, dried chillies, lemon juice, whatever stands out. When you feel enough is enough roll down to the checkout grabbing some corned beef and canned fish on route, making one last minute dash for powdered milk, corn flakes, oats, tea and coffee,,,, that’s your lot, done and dusted in half an hour tops, hand over the credit card praying you manage to snag some fresh tuna. Miranda somehow managed to sneak in a bag of treats, not really in the spirit of a pilgrimage but what what can you do, her longing blue eyes too much, chocolate, biscuits, wine, Christmas stockings, honey, all the good stuff, that came with us to, we were bagged up and got ready for the off. My last minutes checks on Little Coconut all stemmed from the big three, floatation, direction and momentum, follow these down the wire and you’ll end up tinkering with a shit load of stuff. We paid up at the marina and left lunch time, sailing down the coast on a cloudy downcast afternoon. It had been sunny for two weeks straight, on the day we leave in come the clouds, rolling thick and walking heavy, pushing us south.