01h00 in the morning.
Time to relieve Cathy who comes to help me to go up on the deck to take my watch.
If the awakening is difficult, it is quickly forgotten by the spectacle offered by the sky at sea. I wouldn't miss for anything in the world this nocturnal and solitary rendezvous with the starry sky and the waves, sometimes laden with bioluminescent phytoplankton, which glide over the hull of Estrella.
The air is humid and still relatively mild, the sky a deep black sprinkled with stars, where we can clearly see the alignment of Venus, Jupiter and Mars, all animated by a festival of shooting stars.
A real show I tell you.
We are entering our fifth day of sailing.
The crushing heat of Saint Barth, where we stopped before starting the crossing, seems far away. And we think with pleasure about the warm welcome of Richard, Christophe's friend, whom we tried to shanghai until the last evening over a drink at the Select. It was a close call. Maybe next year!
Life on board is slowly settling down and we are discovering with happiness the navigation with a reduced crew.
We are four on board for this first part of the return home.
Christophe Lebas, an ocean racer with an impressive pedigree, notably from La Solitaire du Figaro, one of the most demanding single-handed races.
A geo troublemaker, he is deeply involved in the boat and solves Estrella's many problems one by one. He never ceased to impress us with his ingenuity and his ability to analyze and repair with the poor means at hand, from mechanics to electronics, not forgetting the comfort fiddling, all with a well heeled boat...
Ah, and we can say that he really knows his stuff in weather analysis...
Marc Fiorese, former pro rugby player in the first division of the Stade Rochelais and electrical engineer. In professional transition, he came to find in this crossing a human but also a personal adventure, to learn to let go and to give himself time for introspection.
And for that, a transatlantic crossing is a good school. It is not always easy when you have to accept unforeseen technical, weather and human events and adapt to a sometimes hostile environment that can put your body to a severe test. Difficult displacements, seasickness which he will eventually get rid of after a few days, forgetting his expectations to embrace the moment, trying to disconnect himself from his earthly world and let himself be carried by the unforeseen events of sailing...
Little by little, he became more at ease and, as a good centurion, after a week he would do his push-ups at the front of the boat to keep in shape!
Cathy, a pillar of Estrella who knows where everything is and makes life on board so pleasant. She is the only one to make the complete loop. Present since the departure from La Rochelle on November 11, she will only have left the boat for three weeks, swapping the marina of Le Marin in Martinique for Didier's house in Petit Bourg in Guadeloupe. Woofing mission at our friend Didier's, producer of organic turmeric whose production we bring back under sail. From the de-digging to the rinsing of the rhizomes in the river, through the transformation into flakes and the drying, she will have assisted to a good part of the production. An adventure within an adventure as we like them and that we will have to tell you about by the way....
And I, Olivia, am delighted to be able to participate in the return of Estrella to her home port of La Rochelle, after several months spent in the West Indies trying, with Cathy, to make the project shine, to welcome the sailors, to lay the foundations for next year and to try, as best we can, to take care of our star.
These moments of night watch alone on the deck are the opportunity to start reviewing the past year, to analyze the failures, the successes, the difficulties, the path taken and to try to digest all that to better prepare the next one. Because as you can imagine, this is only the beginning!
But we have to take advantage of the moment and of this highly symbolic navigation for Estrella Lab which is taking the way of the house!
So I watch with admiration the sunrise that I share with Marc, who has come to take over. And I'm having trouble getting back to my seat, stunned by what's going on around us.
It's been almost seven days since we left Saint Barth, covering almost 12,000 miles, which is a little more than half the way.
Life on board has slowly settled down to the rhythm of the watches, the tinkering and the incredible dishes that Cathy concocts for us.
All this is punctuated by events that are often very cool, sometimes much less so.
Like last Sunday, a day with ideal conditions to take out the spinnaker.
It's always a bit magical to see the spinnaker fill up with wind and make 3 knots as if nothing had happened. We marvel like kids in front of this bright blue spread out on 190m2. We let ourselves be lulled by the new rhythm that it sets, soft and regular, and we sit down, happy to offer ourselves a sunny lunch under spinnaker.
But then, without warning and for no apparent reason, it rips along its entire length! Sad spectacle which comes to taint this day however well begun.
But we decide not to let this hard blow destroy the morale of the troops. We start to know how to tame them since two years, and we will find a solution to make it repair or replace it if the surgery is not possible!
Then we bring it back on board gently, we store it correctly and we move on.
Well, I do not hide you that we went to bed a little bit earlier than usual this evening...
And the life of the deckchair resumes its course. Fishing (of sargassum mainly), tinkering, reading, cooking, observing physalies, these strange beings that live three in symbiosis, floating on the surface of the water. A kind of bubble, float, translucent, bordered by a pink crest, in which there would be like a blue anemone, and under which would drag between 10 and 50 meters of filaments. Another question to add to the list of things to understand when we arrive on land.
And here we hear "Sea bream! Dorado!"
At the end of the line, a magnificent corifene dorado that Marc and Christophe manage to bring aboard. The very first one from Estrella! They killed it with a little shot of rum in the mouth, a rather effective technique transmitted by Isa in Guadeloupe.
Marc sets about lifting the fillets, which we hasten to taste for lunch, marinated in olive oil, lime and coarse salt. You can hardly do more fresh. A delight.
The one we called Martine regaled us for four meals, in tartar, in tataki with roasted sesame seeds and in stew, under the expert hand of Cathy. We did not leave a crumb of it.
We discover with pleasure the navigation in reduced crew and we say to ourselves that, finally, with four it is not bad too.
For the moment, the conditions are relatively easy and we should soon get out of the calms that have accompanied us for more than 24 hours.
We, well Christophe, take advantage of having the boat flat to do some work while waiting for the wind which should return soon. And make us resume a more sustained rhythm of navigation.
And there are some odds and ends!
The engine of the pilot who let us down, repaired by re-using the carbon brushes of an old alternator that Christophe had recovered in Saint Barth.
The idea was to dismantle it in order to extract the diodes for our engine alternator...
Between the diagnosis, the reflection, the dismantling, etc., we spent a lot of time, during which Marc valiantly took the helm.
Then the next day, it's our angle sensor that gets involved! This time, he managed to get the sensor working again by using a long piece of my office extension cord... In terms of system D, we're not bad, and even if he would have preferred to do something else, I can tell you that we're very happy to have Christophe on board! Forty years of experience and solitaire which expresses itself... It's beautiful and it's precious!
The good thing about transatlantic sailing is that nature has the art of making us forget the troubles. A small school of dolphins that celebrate the boat and it starts again!
And the night of May 15 to 16, a gift that we will remember for a long time: MOON SPARK!
What an incredible opportunity to see this from the middle of the Atlantic! Perfect visibility, shooting stars, bio luminescent plankton in the waves that caress the hull, we can see the main sail and the pretty Estrella Lab flocking on the lazy bag.
We don't know where to look anymore. Everywhere our eyes turn, it is beautiful.
We offer ourselves a sip of old rum
each one under the eclipse to seal the moment and we say to ourselves that just for that, it is worth crossing the Atlantic.
Then, after a last agitated night, land in sight!
Only some miles before the return to the civilization, always in a sustained wind which carries us to more than 9 knots since 05 am.
It's time to open our eyes and nostrils to appreciate the landing even if, once again, the weather is not really with us. The sky is covered with tarpaulin and we are accompanied by a light rain...
The visibility is bad, the Pico volcano under the clouds but we can still guess the coast and this impressive rock planted at the entrance of the port of Horta.
It smells the arrival and the aperitif at the legendary Peter Café!
No place in the port, we put ourselves at anchor.
If we are exactly on time for the return flight of Marc, we will unfortunately not be able to toast all together at Peter.
We take out the dinghy and it is under a beating rain that we make our farewells, a little sad not to be able to land all together, but we shall make up for it in La Rochelle!
Christophe takes Marc ashore, they go to the harbour master's office, we will have a place at the pontoon this evening!
They still manage to have a beer at Peter's place before the cab for the airport arrives, closing this beautiful stage covered in 12 days, 17 hours and 18 minutes!
Bravo l'équipe !
Time to rest, tidy up and tinker before welcoming the new crew for the second stage!