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February 14, 1995

ATLANTIC LEG - Lagos (Portugal) to Miami (Florida, US)

Oct 1994 - February 1995

"Our life is frittered away by detail... Simplify, simplify." - Thoreau

A Todos Mis Amigos! from Miami - where a bigger contrast from our last 4 months on the Atlantic Ocean cannot be imagined.

Jason and I pedaled away from the Algarve coastal town of Lagos on 13th October. I remember a magical brilliance in the cool morning sunrise; a small crowd of waving friends and disbelieving strangers along the quay; fishermen hoisting their catches off to market; a knot as large as a 'monkey fist' in my belly.

As the golden sandstone cliffs gradually sank under a choppy, blue horizon, the knot unravelled and our spirits soared as we realised that three years of planning was over: no more talking, pleading and borrowing. Our entire world was enclosed in a small wooden boat called 'Moksha' and the adventure - the first pedal powered voyage from Europe to the USA - became real.

But it was also our first time at sea and 4,500 nautical miles of pitiless ocean lay ahead. The knot came back, double thickness. The human mind seems infinitely adaptable. Within a week we had survived our first heavy sea and had settled comfortably into a routine that changed little in four months. During daylight we chose 2 hour pedalling shifts, switching to a 4 hour rota at night, and this continued non-stop for 500nm until we made landfall in Madeira (Day 15). we hastily fixed a cracked skeg and our salt-ridden video camera, and squeezed in a school visit before striking out Southwest once again bound for the Northeast Trades.

4,000nm is an unimaginable distance when one is travelling at 2 knots, so we learned to look forward to closer, more tangible goals. Until Day 111, we never pedalled towards Florida, we pedaled towards porridge at 8.00am; towards a cup of tea at 10.30; towards the next break.

By day 55 we had reached the mid-Atlantic Ridge and were suffering badly from salt sores, chronic tiredness and the mental stresses which build under confinement made worse by constant motion. Imagine a funfair ride which becomes irritating and ultimately nightmarish as it refuses to stop to let you off in order to maintain a positive outlook we opted to avoid depressing fatigues by both sleeping for 8 -10 hours every 10 days and leave the boat to drift. The happy expectation of this treat was only undermined for the one who's turn it was to crawl into the rear cabin to sleep among bags full of rotting garbage, the stench of which overwhelmed even our own after the second month at sea.

In other respects we approached the mental challenge very differently. Jason chose to confine and focus himself on daily activities, as if he were on land. However, in contrast to the distractions and influences of normal life, he found that our simple routine and isolation released time to thoroughly concentrate on doing each project well, whether it was cooking, writing, making repairs or just thinking. 'He did each single thing as if he did nothing else' (Dickens), discovering a near-meditative and altogether happier condition than my own.

I too benefited from the 'wilderness experience', but as navigator my prime concern was always daily progress towards land, however distant. Being focused on the present may avoid anxiety, but one cannot just 'be' for too long in a wooden box with dwindling food whilst floating on water 3 miles deep. My moods were therefore closely related to the weather. Sometimes we would be unable to pedal for days on end because of strong Westerlies, forcing us to throw out a sea anchor to check our backward drift. Other days were spent surfing down large waves with crests breaking over the deck, while the rudder was carefully steered to avoid broaching and capsizing the boat.

A capsize never occurred, though one particularly vicious wave punched Moksha onto her roof and threw me overboard. A whale also gave us a fright one night by using our hull as a backscratcher. Whichever Guardian Angel was with us then also gave us the perfect Christmas present in the shape of the US Cable Ship Charles L. Brown, which we found all but gift wrapped and waiting for us on Christmas morning. It was a brief and unforgettable fairy-tale to share turkey dinner (with stuffing, of course) and wine with friendly faces on Christmas Day. 2.000 miles from land. We expected mutton granules and water.

One month later near the Bahamas, we were again shocked out of our dull monotony by the sight of Kenny Brown in a borrowed plane. His air-dropped note promised food, beer and a warm welcome on the small British dependency of Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands, only 33nm away. Despite a near fatal collision with the reef, we found ourselves stepping out of solitary hard labour onto a tropical paradise on Day 97 of the voyage. We left Provo, reluctantly, on 3rd February with fresh food, a donation from the KSV/Arby's restaurant chain and fond memories of the wonderful islanders.

The final 600nm to Miami were among the most difficult. There was a desperate battle against strong winds threatening to blow us onto Cuba, and later we sweated through hot, humid days devoid of wind over the Great Bahama Bank. The final, crucial days approaching land were ideal, and we covered a record 73 miles crossing the Gulf Stream and on to Biscayne Bay, Florida. On February 17th (Day 111) the US Coastguard kindly escorted us the final 8 miles to the Miami Yacht Club, though we have since pedalled up the Intercoastal Waterway to Fort Lauderdale, where Moksha is now proudly displayed at local events. The sale of T-shirts and names on the boat/newsletter for $20 a piece keeps us afloat.

The American people have been overwhelmingly generous and enthusiastic towards our accomplishment and the remaining journey ahead. A commercial sponsor is still urgently needed as we are only a quarter of the way round the world, in debt, and with a Pacific crossing to finance next year. Still, to have travelled 80 West from Greenwich entirely by human power is a tremendous achievement in itself. By the time you read Newsletter 3 this Fall we will have cycled a further 3,500 miles across the continent to San Francisco at 122 West. 'Too Late To Stop Now' as the song goes, so saddle up you varmints and... Westward Ho!

- Steve Smith

Posted at 4:52 AM