Seeing the Sea Through Young Eyes

An intrepid 13-year-old girl shares her experience of crossing the Atlantic and cruising the Med with her family.

If you were to hear about a Canadian family with young children cruising across the North Atlantic, exploring the Mediterranean, spending the winter in Turkey, and crossing the Atlantic again to the Caribbean, what would you think? Are they adventurous? Brave? Stupid? Or maybe even crazy? These are the emotions that went through my mind when I first learned that we would be doing this aboard our Island Packet 44, End Game. Quite honestly, I was a bit scared.

Off and on, while on this crossing with my parents and 10-year-old brother, Quinn, this fear came back to me. There’s something different about looking in every direction around you and seeing nothing but waves of water stretching out to the horizon and beyond, with no interruptions of land.

There’s a totally different twist on the feeling of fear when you see a large vessel in the water very close to you. Imagine our adrenaline-surge when we were hove to in 33 knots of wind and 10 foot seas and saw both the red and green navigation lights of a cargo ship right in front of us.

Happily, though, fear wasn’t the most frequent emotion. We had awesome dolphin performances and whale sightings, spectacular shows of phytoplankton which light up the water when disturbed in the boat’s wake at night, and breathtaking displays of stars that just aren’t the same as backyard camping. They light up the entire sky, and you can see the incredible detail of the Milky Way streaked like paint across the sky. The shooting stars were spectacular, too. They reminded me of animations that you would see in a cartoon.

We were extremely grateful for the fifth crewmember we took on, Kathleen, who not only was quick to lend a hand but also was an avid cook and had enough commitment to deal with a pitching boat, a flaming stove and boiling pots of water to cook up a gourmet meal.

One of the best feelings was when we saw land again after 18 days at sea. Being on land means more than just everything being still, though that is a big part of it. Imagine our delight when we had enough fresh water to take a shower again! It’s almost an entirely new state of mind.

Our first destination, Flores in the Azores islands, was a big change from our life on the East Coast. It included steep hiking paths, extinct volcanoes, cliffs that dropped sharply to the waves, banana plants and black rocky beaches with crashing waves that sent salt spraying into the air. The town was full of contrasts, with modern buildings built adjacent to ancient stone houses that dated back to the 18th century.

In our next destination, Faial, also in the Azores islands, we stayed in a marina located in a quaint little town called Horta. Here we visited the Capelinhos lighthouse, which was buried in ash from an eruption in 1957, and on an adjacent island, Pico, we toured volcanic lava tunnels deep below the surface. Seeing the ash-buried buildings on Faial and the tunnels carved by molten lava on Pico were lessons on the power of the earth and how it was formed.

One of the unexpected delights in Horta (located on Faial) was that we met many other cruisers who had their own stories to share. You meet so many different people while cruising. They all have unique stories, but they are all the same in their love of sailing and exploring new lands and cultures.

After we said goodbye to our newfound friends and set sail from Horta, it was another 8 days to the mainland, which seemed like a quick, easy crossing for us. We also had better weather and were able to make good time.

One of the first towns we arrived at in Portugal was Lagos, a large town laden with palm trees, quaint side streets and tourists. A special treat was waiting for me there – one of my best friends from New York happened to be in England at the time, and she came down with her mom to visit us. Of course, we spent time snorkeling and playing alongside the cliffs and caves in Lagos, but also it was a good chance to reconnect with my life and my friends from home.

After that, we were hopping from anchorage to anchorage in Spain. Although we stopped every night, we were trying to make quick progress to Turkey, so we weren’t getting off onto land and it was beginning to feel like a long crossing. During one of my 3-hour night shifts on the passage to Ibiza, in the Balearic Islands, the wind picked up to 25 knots, with the waves an 8-foot chop pounding straight onto our bow. We hove to until the wind died a bit and we backtracked to an anchorage to wait the storm out. Unfortunately, we found ourselves next to a beach strewn with trash and dilapidated shacks.

Four days later, we arrived in Ibiza, which was gorgeous, with pure, white sand beaches and water as clear as tinted blue glass that was perfect for snorkeling, paddle boarding, kayaking and swimming. We did it all.

The other Balearic Islands were all unique. Mallorca, the biggest island, was filled with restaurants, cafés and tourist shops, although the side streets were less packed than the waterfront. Menorca, our final Balearic visit, ended our time in Spain.

We arrived in Menorca on Saturday, August 23, 2014. It had been two months and nine days since we set sail from New York. We cannot describe the feeling of accomplishment we felt when, after years of planning this trip, we were finally where we wanted to be: sailing in the Mediterranean.

Hawna Black is currently spending the winter in Turkey with her parents, Lisa and Gary, and her brother, Quinn, aboard their Island Packet 44, End Game.

Black family approaches Azores
Spotting Flores after 18 days on the ocean calls for a picture of celebration!
Black family sailing in Portugal
My friend, brother and me playing on the bow as we sail along the coast of Portugal from Lagos to Vilamoura.
Black family cruising Portugal
My brother and me paddleboarding and kayaking under cliffs and through the caves that line the coast of Lagos, Portugal