<-- Previous: Saltimbanque and the Celts
-- looking back at 14 months at sea --
A few weeks have gone by since we landed after 14 months at sea, from the 15th of May 2011 to the 20th of July 2012. Saltimbanque is back to “coastal” navigation mode – meaning 4 backpacks and many tin cans lighter… and 5cm higher on the water! The crew is back with the family and getting used to stationary land again – even if a little piece of us remains floating somewhere on the long Atlantic swell forever… It’s time to look back and reflect about our trip!

Saltimbanque sailed 13 134 M during this trip …

- Some numbers to start with
- Let's talk technical
- Cultural bites
- The "must-see" of the trip
- Some more general thoughts
- ... and a conclusion
Some numbers to start with (can’t change an engineer…)
Our playground stretched between 51°50’ and 4°50’ North (that’s 47°, more than a quarter of the distance between the Poles) and from 4°20’ East to 64°50’ West (that’s 69°10’ sailed across the ocean).

Saltimbanque travelled 13 134M from Stad-aan-het-Haringvliet to Concarneau: that’s 24 324 km at an average speed of 4,75 nœuds ( = 8,8 km/h). If you prefer, one hour on the plane is replaced by nearly 4 days at sea! Sailing is NOT for people in a hurry…

So we took our time – exactly 432 days away from home – from which 215 when we have been actually sailing. In average we have been sailing 27% of the time.
We spent:
- 16 nights away from the boat (in a bed, a tent or a hammock)
- 132 nights at a berth
- 137 nights at the anchor
- 53 nights on a buoy
- 92 full nights at sea!

And this took us through 4 continents, 17 countries, 63 islands: all together 154 stops! (48 at a pontoon, 38 on a buoy, 81 at the anchor… and don’t try to check our calculation it doesn’t add up because sometimes we stopped both at the pontoon and at the anchor on the same spot). We picked up the anchor 109 times - that’s about 2,7km of chain to lift with our bare hands :o)

Our anchor (here ready in Dakar) dragged only in Suriname and Tortola, always on soft mud grounds.
And of course we went through 49 immigration offices! Although “office” is a big word in some cases… Some of them are quite official (Dakar and Bequia), but we have also seen passports being stamped in tourism offices (Martinique), in a container (Statia), in a residential house with a small garden (Barbuda) – and even on the trunk of a car! (Flores). All in all we got (only…) 18 new stamps on our passport.

Such a trip is not as expensive as one might think comparing with life ashore: the cost of the boat and the preparation work excluded we spent (without restraining ourselves) 14 800 euros in 14 months (roughly 50% for food, 25% for berthing and immigration fees, 15% for the various reparations and work on the boat – and 10% for the rest, transportation, souvenirs, drinks…).

Mahi mahi, looks like an odd fish, but actually one of the most common in the Atlantic !
Of course we got a little help from the sea to improve our diet! All in all the fish we caught and ate (meaning the ones that didn’t break away tearing our lines apart nor the beautiful swordfish) are 11 mackerels, 8 mahi-mahis (the biggest being 87cm long), 5 tunas, 4 garfishes, 4 bonitos, 3 jackfishes, 2 Spanish mackerels… and ½ kingfish! With the speargun we shot about ten little tropical fish. And last but not least, the shellfish: 9 lobsters, 4 lambis, 1 spider crab, 3 buckets of winkles and 3 more full of clams and cockles.
In summary, it has been a great trip, forever remembered in our hearts… and our hard drives, which contain the pages of this website as well as 18 942 pictures and movies!!!! Some countries have triggered our cameras more than others, but in average we shot 44 pictures per day!

Let’s talk technical
The boat : being one of the smallest yachts around the Atlantic this year our Brise de Mer 28 has attracted some surprised looks from the other sailors.
Yet sailing on a small boat never came as a problem to us – rather the opposite! Of course a light-weight can bear less canvas in the gusts and we had to maneuver a lot, but it’s so easy to maneuver! And it’s a pleasure to squeeze in a crowded harbor or drop the anchor just next to the beach, ahead of the rental catamarans! No equipment was too heavy for us – nor too expensive to repair… Yet we never felt in danger on the Atlantic loop (maybe more extreme conditions would require something bigger…). It has been a bit like spending a year in a tent (compared to the camping-car-like comfort of the bigger yachts), but nothing frustrating under the tropics!
Saltimbanque anchored very close to the beach, ahead of the charter catamarans in Salt Wistle Bay (Grenadines)

Tropical Atlantic and its lagoons (here in Tobago Cayes), the perfect playground of our little Saltimbanque
We must admit that Saltimbanque is a very good boat for that size. Very sea-worthy, never broaching, very well balanced and comfortable when running downwinds thanks to a wide backboard. Only once has a wave come into the cockpit and to the main cabin. Maybe did we sail a little bit more cautiously than others: for example we changed our route to avoid a low coming from the Azores- which we might have faced with a bigger ship.

The only structural issue with the Brise de Mer 28 is the sliding door over the hatchway where bigger waves breaking on the side can penetrate and soak up the feet of the unfortunate crew member who is having a nap on the lee bunk… the deep cockpit is also a bit slow to empty when filled by a wave… otherwise the boat is just perfect and we love it even more than before. No reason to change – except for a bigger and better-isolated ship if we start thinking about colder waters… but as long as we stay in the Atlantic we’re sailing on Saltimbanque !
The equipement :

Our way of life may seem a bit rough sometimes as we’re sticking to the motto: “No fridge, no toilet, no windlass: no problem!”. The simpler the better. But this isn’t a race boat, we took care of our entertainment: music, books, 2 laptops, games, music instruments, a kitesurf, a speargun and snorkeling gears…

We would not leave (/live!) again without:
- Our satellite phone (Iridium) to be always in contact with the shore in case of emergency, reassure our families and receive weather charts
- Bob, our favorite windvane steering day and night, in the sun and rain, without a break nor power as soon as 5kts of wind… Bob we love you!!!
- The MerVeille (radar detector), warning us when cargo ships approach (and using up virtually no power)
- A solar panel: 50W has been just enough and we are proud to have used only a clean and free energy source for power
- A sunshade: you can’t survive the tropics without it!
- The battery jumper cable taken from the old 205 car – just great to troubleshoot many electrical problems (of course a good multimeter is essential)
- The Plexiglas door closing the hatchway when it’s raining, allowing to keep watching from the dry inside :o)
- One (or more) small front sails on the flying forestay to hold a course closer to the wind in a stronger breeze
- Special tissues for diesel, soaking up only the oil and not the water: very useful to clean and fill up without a drop out.
- A small outboard for the dinghy as we quickly end up using it as a car on certain anchorages! A protective cover to prevent the UV from burning the plastic is also essential – judging by the difference of color and pitiful state of our cover after 7 months under the tropics :oS
- A steamcooker, a large and deep pan and a heat diffuser: no need for an oven to bake a bread, a cake or a pie!
- A MP3 player filled with audiobooks (preferably long historical chronicles or series of stories from the glorious Royal Navy) to keep us awake during the night watches.

And if we were to leave again we would also take:
- An antenna to amplify wireless signals – wifi at home :o)
- An AIS receptor: it looks useful, especially to cross the Channel on a foggy night… but we’d choose one with a separate screen – keeping the laptop on all the time is out of question!

And if we had more space on a bigger boat: bikes, a windmill, another forestay with a furled gib, a propeller extractor, a strong fishing reel and a landing net :o)

We wanted to have the boat in a perfect shape before leaving so as to make the most of the one year trip. Other crews who have more time before them can leave before and have some work done on the way (the Canarias, Dakar or Carriacou among others offer some facilities).

The preparation work has been well done (see the very first articles on the topic), except that we could have changed the helm-ring before the departure to avoid some stress in Tenerife. Same with the gaz cooker that kept us waiting in Madeira. One thing is certain: never ever have parts sent over by mail – or be patient! Our friends Ster Vraz had to wait for a full month before their dinghy cleared the customs in the Canarias!!!
We did have the boat dry-docked once in Pointe-a-Pitre to paint the antifouling anew. But besides this, most of the maintenance work was based on silicone (to keep the hatches waterproof) – silicone cannot resist very long the tropical sun – on thread and needle (sails… and clothes!) and on many inspections and checks (rigging…). And then about the engine… on a sailing yacht this engine seems to be THE critical part, always up for some new trick. But we have been surprised (compared to our holidays cruises before) by the little number of incidents this time: maybe the good maintenance, regular checks and oil changes and anti-bacteria product dropping did something there? One experience: always plan the maintenance work on the engine in places where you can find spare parts… because when you touch them, screws and bolts can break! And then you’re happy that your engine is of a very common brand that everyone knows and stores parts for…
Dry docked in Pointe-a-Pitre
Finally some things do break… for some of them we had spare parts with us (fuel separator filter, regulator for the solar panel, many slides and screws for the rigging, pressure regulator for the gas, antifouling paint, some good rope for the windvane, battery-operated VHF and GPS…). Most of the spare parts did find a use in the end… and some others we had to find on the spot.

Most of the issues have been electrical: a rusting cable breaks in the engine, the electrical board outside is not waterproof and the alarm goes on when you turn the key, the battery-isolator dies (and you don’t have a spare part), the navigation lights flicker and die (to be replaced: first the light bulb on the masthead, then the cable through the mast, and finally the connection at the foot of the mast). And of course the solar panel regulator can have a short-circuit, and the batteries get tired and need changing… and that’s why we are in no hurry to change our good old paper charts for another piece of electronics ;o)

The list above may seem long but we have been rather lucky actually. Nothing big failed during any crossing. Most of the maintenance and repairs was just normal wearing and tearing to be expected over such a long trip (sails, paints, varnish…). It’s only a bit frustrating when everything happens at the same time!!

YUMMY, this home made squid looks sooo good !!
This has kept us well busy – and fed! When sorting the various bags and stocks after arriving we found no less than 12 unused mackerel lines that we bought before leaving Europe. Useless!!! As soon as you leave Spain, you can forget about your small fishing rod and little hooks. The rule is simple: BIG! Big line, big hooks (the shinier the better), strong reels (or Harken 32 winches, it works too). But for the lure, no point in paying a BIG price! After losing most of our nice plastic squids we resorted to home-made colored pieces of rope lures. And it works very well! The trick is in the eye: you paint a little white dot and a little black dot in the middle – and the amorous look gets any mahi-mahi hooked. In the Caribbean the fishing is less successful though. But then on the way back home, it’s tuna-time!
Use it and throw it :

To wrap up here’s a list of everything that has not survived 14 months at sea: 2 cameras, 1 MP3 player, 2 pairs of walking shoes, 3 “waterproof” wristwatches, 1 pair of flippers, 1 swimming goggles, 1 swimming suit, 2 oilskins vests, 1 oilskin trousers, 1 pair of rubber shoes, 3 pairs of sandals, 1 knife, 1 heat diffuser, 2 shorts, 1 trekking trousers, 2 starting cable for the outboard, 1 solar shower, 1 pullie, 1 bucket, 5 pens used up to write in the logbook… and countless zips on our clothes!!!
Cultural bites
The world is beautiful !!! The endless infinity of the sea, the profusion of life on land and under the water, the incredible variety of shapes and colors displayed by the earth… the nuances of climate, the continuity of the landscapes, the subtle differences from one island to the next cannot be perceived by the tourist dropped from the plane into a new world – then quickly brought back to his own. From stop to stop we saw Europe turn tropical and South America reach into the Caribbean. We have been struck by the sudden changes in conditions when passing some geographical milestones – the tropics, the capes Finisterre and White, the turning point of the crossing back, out of the trade winds…
Vegetation also changes. Cactus appeared in Madeira and followed us all the way down the African coast to the ocean gate; on the other side coconut palms were waiting. We have enjoyed many diverse sorts of landscapes, high green islands lost in the clouds (next to other islands not high enough and burned by the sun), flat thick forests around long winding brown rivers, turquoise lagoons fringed by a couple of palm trees standing on a white beach, intense green fields shining under the grey sky – and of course all the blues of the sea, from purple to green, and all the orange and pink of the sky when the sun rises or sets on the sea…
Sunset in Barbuda...

Dolphin bank offshore Mauritania
Puffins and terns have been flying around Saltimbanque all the way, while we left the seagulls behind in Europe to play with Caribbean frigates and pelicans. Yellow-necked gannets from the Channel sent us to great their big grey cousins of the Northern Caribbean. Dolphins have been faithful friends, though each group sticking to their own territory: a few big bands in the Channel and in Galicia up to Mauritania, then much less in the western Atlantic and until the Azores – there swim the bigger stuff (whales, sperm whales…). As for the crawling and running things: goats beat all the records of popularity (closely followed by chicken and way before the cows, specialist of the rainy grey countries North of the Azores). A couple of South American monkeys have travelled up the Antilles, while other funny furry stuff (sloth, agouti, mygale spiders…) stayed on the mainland. All in all the coast offers less variety in fauna than flora.
Likewise the sorts of fruits and vegetables are interesting: apples, pears, peaches, apricots and all the other European fruits disappeared as soon as the Canarias to be replaced by mangoes, bananas and coconuts (the latter only in the Antilles) and other local specialties. Vegetables are more equally spread: not a single market without cabbage, pumpkin and eggplants. Potatoes are either normal or sweet, cucumbers look rather like gherkins and zucchinis can have any shape or taste (sometimes very bad!). Nowhere have we seen rice fields, yet rice is one of the basic dish pretty much everywhere (just as Chinese shops are everywhere), sometimes though second to locally-grown beans.
Since Madeira, we could find unusual fruits and vegies on the market places.
And to wash it all down, vine (North of Madeira) and sugarcane (South of Madeira) are grown on every land (even in very dry and volcanic stones…). Admittedly we have seen only (sometimes very) Christian lands - except for Muslim Senegal and very diverse Suriname. Suriname is a true melting-pot and Dakar is still African for all her French history. But all the other places we saw were European, or of clear European heritage and influence – young or old, Portuguese, English or French. One qualification to the statement: in the Antilles, the further up North you sail, the more obvious the influence of the USA and the Latino immigration from poorer Central America.

Sailing around the world is like flying in orbit around the planet, it is floating without ties and without restraint: free to see the beauty of the world and go on. Having no tie to the outside world also means that it is difficult to go beyond the surface of things in the places where we stay so little time – certainly true in our experience of a rather quick trip. Contacts with locals have been for us often limited to officials and shop keepers. From the balcony of our travelling home we watch the beach, the outskirts of the real world, but never take part. Because we don’t need any transportation or accommodation we are free to go wherever the water runs, in the most remote corners of unknown archipelagos. Sometimes we take a bus to go where other tourists don’t. Sometimes we climb up to the summits. Then we meet some “real people” whose smiles and generosity make rare and precious memories. But more often than not we scarcely scratch the surface before sailing off again and never stay long enough to develop real ties with land people. This is why if we leave for a longer journey we will try and build the trip around some kind of project to give another dimension to our stops.

8 inside Saltimbanque in Mindelo, for a nice dinner with our friends from Traou Mad, Ster Vraz and Cupidon
Nevertheless we were not lonely! With the other sailors we felt like a big happy family. In Portugal we started meeting a few crews, then from Madeira on it never stopped: yachts meet each other, sail off and meet again from one anchorage to the next. At sea it’s easier to meet people, it reminds us of a big international campus where students coming from everywhere instantly become friends as they share the same identity. Since seasons dictate the timing of an Atlantic loop, no need of a rendezvous to be sure and find our fellow sailors again. At the anchorage we share stories, gossip and practical tips during endless nights in one another’s cockpit. What we have seen from “Atlantic Year 2011-2012” was composed mainly from French crews (note: from Brittany! Only the odd couple of yachts actually come from the Mediterranean). In second position came the British, closely followed by the Scandinavians (including the Dutch). Then some German, some Canadians (mostly Quebeckers) and Belgians, one Itlaian, one Spaniard, one Austrian, one Uruguayan, one Israeli… where are the children of the Portuguese Great Discoverers? As for the Spanish maritime tradition, it seems to have sunk along with the Invincible Armada…
Despite our nationality we did belong to a few minorities: the small (and cute ;o) ), the young – and the women! On our route we have met or heard of 3 yachts smaller than Saltimbanque (the famous Swede Irving on his 4.5m, one Cognac called “Vent de Soleil” of 7.3m and 3 young Norwegians sailing on 7.5m long Kronprincess). Then came Saltimbanque. The average age of our friends also surprised us: most of the crews were composed of (sometimes very) young pensioners. We met a good number of French families (taking advantage of the excellent distance schooling system for the kids). Young professional in sabbatical (or even worse: with no return ticket) can be counted on two hands (and maybe the feet if you consider crews from Britain or Scandinavia where taking a gap year after university is common practice).

Finally we have met only 3 other boats with an exclusively feminine crew… The small size of Saltimbanque sometimes attracted other sailors’ attention – but his captain being a woman never failed to bring (not always friendly) comments from almost everyone: officials, locals and sailors. From the Portuguese harbor masters (“No man onboard is not normal” “No man onboard, good luck!”) to the kids of a friend-boat convinced that we were waiting for our daddy to cross – not forgetting the boat boys in Canouan demanding to speak to our husbands…

However famous some female sailors have become, the word “captain” (in French) is only masculine. Even on that topic – we have been constantly moaning about it during the trip and our friends have had enough of our feminist campaigns – suffice to say: “Girls can sail as well!”
The “must see” of the trip
Every trip is unique, every stop is different and this is not our intention to judge and rank. Yet we loved some places so much that we can only recommend them to anyone sailing around the Atlantic!
Camariñas in Galicia, a tiny friendly marina – or a windy anchorage (wind is funneled in the ria). Nice people, quiet town, beautiful treks along the coast next to Cabo Vilan.
Camariñas, Cabo Vilan

Porto Santo, firt anchorage with wuch blue water
Porto Santo in Madeira, the first island on our way, the first beach with turquoise water where we can jump from the boat – one thing is certain: we have well and truly left!
La Graciosa in the Canarias… a grain of sand, a piece of dust preserved from tourism and intact for the few yachts anchored there, a few basic houses looking like Africa on this beach of an island: “here you take off your shoes and forget the rest of the world”.
La Graciosa and the anchorage facing the volcanos

Palmeira's main square
Palmeira in the Cape Verdes. No beautiful landscape, no breathtaking view on the dry wind-beaten island of Sal. Only what makes the place so unique: the Cape-Verdeans… Life is easy in this little fishing village without criminality. People (and children) are lovely. Nothing to fear – except maybe the treacherous “pontche” served for 30 cents in Arminda’s bar (and some men when they have abused it…). Here we have memories of guitar-nights, of grilled skewers sold on the street, and of internet connection on the main square next to the local youngsters. Some sailors never leave…
The Devil’s islands, in French Guyana. The ruins of what used to be the toughest detention center are disappearing under the lush vegetation of South America. Monkeys, agoutis… and thousands of coconuts!
Iles du Salut, the coconut trees have definitively eaten the jail

Saltimbanque, anchored alone, facing the coconut trees
Englishman Bay, Tobago. Yes, a lonely anchorage facing a beautiful white sand beach fringed with palm trees – it still exist in the Antilles! A little rolly at times, but so beautiful!!
Union in the Grenadines. The whole archipelago is a constant wonder: turquoise water lagoon with turtles and stingrays and thousands of fish… but Union seduced us even more by it inland, the little hills, the wild coast, the friendly people – and the delicious lambi dishes!
The magnificent anchorage of Clifton

Barbuda, a surrealistic pink beach
Barbuda, for its 15km long pink sand beach – so quiet that we lived practically naked for 24 hours!
The British Virgin Islands: the paradisiac beaches and fantastic granite blocks of the Baths, Salt Island and its colors, Indian Rocks for the best snorkeling ever… how to be surprised again after three months in the Antilles!
Magical moments in the waters of the Virgin Islands...

Florès, lagoa das Patas
Florès in the Azores... Florès is a miracle, a little rock so well placed in the middle of the ocean, isolated (150M of the next big island), swept by the waves and the winter storms. Bright green and volcanic chaos, 3000 inhabitants welcoming you like a friend… and after 3 weeks at sea we’re ready to love passionately the first land we see anyways :o)
Crookhaven in Ireland. Last big love-story of the trip, at the westernmost point of Ireland, facing the Fastnet. A little fjord of rock makes a typical shelter all in grey. Many sailors remember fondly having an Irish coffee at O’ Sullivan and looking out of the window to the cold…
Crookhaven, at the very end of Ireland
Some more general thoughts…
No disrespect meant, but sailing around the Atlantic in a year is no holiday!! Of course we won’t complaint, we’ve had a great time, being free from everything and everyone. But we’ve had some rough times too. It is just another way of life. No one expects nothing from you: you don’t have any reason to get up in the morning but yourself and your plans. The relationship to the world and to others is quite different, completely independent. More important, nature can be your enemy: will the boat stay at the anchor and not drag it in the gusts? Will this big low coming up swallow us in a huge swell? The forestay is a bit slack – is it not slacker than before? Why is the solar panel not working? Why is the engine broken – again…?

In average we have been sailing roughly a third of the time. Allowing some time to sleep, then the rest is equally split between visits/grocery shopping/ nights with friends and maintenance / repairs / website. No time to get bored! But any issue is quickly dissolved in the blue tropical water :o) In a nutshell we could say that at sea there is more stress while on shore there is more pressure

As we are slowly getting used to stationary land again we become aware of the gap between those two lifestyles: one free in the nature, the other involved deep into the human world. Here nothing has changed really during our year away, yet for us nothing is completely the same. We know now what freedom means, we know that another way of life exists and that we can always set the sails again. Now we can choose to live on land! But little seeds of a dream could well grow into some other project one day…
… and a conclusion
In this blog we have told through many long pages about our experience. Every trip is unique and we are not trying to speak any general truth. Our goal has been to share with our families and friends and keep a written trace for ourselves to remember in the future. Yet if you found the information useful or the stories entertaining we are delighted – we have been reading and dreaming about so many stories of others that we are happy to share a little dream. (Here we must think about all the messages and comments on the Iridium and the blog – thank you, it’s such a warm feeling to hear from the land after many days at sea :oD

Last but not least, THIS IS NO EXPLOIT. We are no heroes. Crossing the Atlantic is not so difficult when the boat and the crew are well prepared – the weather can be much tougher off-season in the Channel or the Mediterranean! It’s just a little longer ;o) The most difficult thing is to take the decision, step out of one’s comfort zone and protected every-day life and jump into the unknown of the travel… but the other option is to think all the time “I wish I had done it…” – regret seemed worse!

Now, close this computer and go get your boat ready… and see you in the Tuamotu in a few years maybe!
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Your messages:

pierrot - 19/08/2012 08:39:46
merci pour ce site, j'ai l'impression moi aussi d'être (un peu) parti... bravo à vous

mum - 18/08/2012 12:28:36
mème après vous avoir retrouvées ,l'émotion est immense !je ne trouve aucun mot pour évoquer cet épilogue ,je le ressens ,partagée entre joie admiration,nostalgie aussi surtout un grand MERCI de l'avoir fait et nous avec vous !

Geneviève - 15/08/2012 18:28:31
bonjour à vous deux, vous êtes de retour à la case départ mais il s'agit d'un nouveau départ, rien ne sera plus comme avant ! merci pour ce magnifique site. J'ai ri en regardant les graphiques histogramme, cela me rappellait Trxxxx ! J'ai hâte de revoir Camille, vais-je te reconnaître toute bronzée et blondie !

Francois - 15/08/2012 08:53:44
Bravo les filles pour ce voyage exemplaire et ce site qui est une véritable mine d'informations pour ceux qui voudraient suivre vos traces et tous les autres!

Sylvia - 14/08/2012 22:23:07
Very well written :-) I loved the surprising facts of your statistics!
Congratulations girls on this personal world wonder you created in your lives!!!

farfa ThB - 14/08/2012 20:45:32
Ah !! La belle conclusion (Tuamotus..etc... )
Merci de ce blog exceptionnel; et aussi d'avoir montré qu'un 28 pieds est parfait :-).

Dick - 14/08/2012 00:23:56
Very inspiring, you've come fulltime circle. Congrats! Dick

Lisenn et Julien sur Ster Vraz - 13/08/2012 17:18:14
Beau bilan les filles! Quelle année quand même... Le rendez-vous est pris pour dans quelques années pour les eaux turquoise... et tout à l'heure autour d'un verre ;)

Eric et Sandrine (Traou Mad/Jingle) - 12/08/2012 21:46:13
Excellente conclusion les filles et puis... on se dit 18h à l'apéro aux Tuamotus... ou plus tôt à notre bord si le cœur vous en dit ...

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