06 - And they're off!
It's a strange return to the last time we crossed the North Atlantic, when we left a sunny New York two years ago, heading for St John's, the Azores and Lizard Point. This time there's no sunshine, but the outlook is the same. In Alan's words, "we've had the weather forecast from hell."
A large depression is tracking across Canada, with a gale warning issued, and the likelihood of 35 knot winds. The best we can hope for is to stay ahead of it. On the plus side, we've been told there's no ice worth speaking of to worry us. We may see a few icebergs, but all the sea ice has gone.
The highlight of our preparations for the coming voyage is undoubtedly being "screeched", initiated as honorary Newfoundlanders. The master of ceremonies is a gentleman clad in heavy duty fishermen's waterproofs, brandishing an oar. In order to achieve our exalted status, we have to do a number of Newfie things, including reciting something in Newfie-ese (if there is such a thing), and singing part of a traditional Newfie song. The screech itself - a fearsome rum designed to elicit a hoarse response on downing a glass in one - isn't too bad an experience. Not compared to eating a dried whole capelin, fins and all, or kissing Gertrude, a large dead fish. Finally, each of us goes down on one knee to be dubbed honorary Newfoundlanders, the oar brought down regally on each shoulder.
On Sunday morning the boat is fuelled up with two tonnes of diesel, ready for the first leg to Nanortalik. Boat and crew are blessed for the coming voyage by Egbert's friend Father Christopher, and then it's time to go. Press and supporters board the whale-watching tour ship Scademia to see us off in style. At 1342 local, 1512 GMT, Egbert's daughter Rebecca drops the flag to start the clock, and we blast past Scademia out of the harbour.
We're glad to be finally on our way, but mindful too that this is the first time we're out in the boat and Steve Lloyd isn't with us. He's made a full recovery since his heart attack last year, but Alan, Jan and I will miss his cheery good humour. Still, we know we have a worthy replacement in our new crew man, Newfoundlander Egbert Walters.
So Jolly Sailor is on her way. The sea's bumpy,but we're making a good 18 knots, and we're hopeful of staying ahead of the bad weather. There is in fact someone keeping an eye on us as we head north-east. The research vessel Oceanus, belonging to the world-famous Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (discoverers of the Titanic wreck) are heading out from St John's on the same course, and they've said they'll keep a friendly eye out for us on their radar screen.
Next stop, Greenland.
© 2003 Clive Tully
Update transmitted by Stratos Iridium satellite phone.
Egbert's daughter Rebecca drops the flag to start the clock: