Erica sailed with Maiden for most of the previous world tour and is, happily for us, returning to her rigging/crew role. During her time away from Maiden she continued to push herself in the sport, completing a menteeship with the Magenta Project and competing in shorthanded distance racing at an international level.
With 8+ years of experience in the industry, Erica has worked as deckhand, mate, and captain and sailed 45,000 offshore miles including crossing the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. Sailing on a number of different types of yacht in different positions makes her a great team player on Maiden.
The holidays are renowned for schedules swarming with plans and to-do lists, but I find the following months to be even harder. My pre-existing goals blend with plans for the coming year in a fitful mess of lists and notes.
This year we were working hard to get Maiden ready for her first passage of this tour, and a long one at that – we departed Dubai, UAE bound for Palma, Mallorca via the Suez Canal. This is a huge passage for most people; for some of our crew this is the first time they’ve been on an overnight passage at all. I felt an added anxiety from having a new crew to train and to work with, on top of the preparations to go offshore.
In contrast to our light wind training sessions in Dubai, our passage began with strong headwinds gusting 37 knots with a rough sea state. Most of the crew were quite ill for the first couple of days. Their tenacity was impressive however as all were keen to participate in manoeuvres despite having far less gusto than normal.
For several days afterwards the wind moderated with some remaining sea state. This was a good opportunity to build helming skills with my watch partners. When we steer offshore, we have no trees or buildings on the horizon to watch, so how do we know when we’re going straight? How do we keep from over-correcting? The answer depends on the weather and it’s most challenging at night. I like to line up the rigging with stars if there are any. It is easy to oversteer if you only watch the course display on the mast, so we worked on combining horizon targets and steering less overall so that corrections were minimal.
It felt terrific to helm the mighty Maiden again, but my smile broke to a grin when, after only a brief lesson, my watch partner Alesea did a great job holding course in a moderate sea state on her first ever night watch.
I am particularly proud to see Junella and Alesea getting this rare opportunity to learn every position on an offshore boat at the age of 21. You know Maiden is a special program when you feel even more excited for your peers than you do for yourself.
Those days of optimal training conditions also gave us some time to catch up on rest and boat work. This was well placed as they were followed by another night of heavy winds. 40 knot gusts on our beam tossed up a rough sea state which was compounded by a nearby continental ledge. The waning moon rising later each night kept us from seeing our own bow. At the height of the gale, I actually chuckled because the sight of our vessel flying the staysail only, getting thrown and bounced from crest to trough like a cork, waves splashing over us like a personal affront – it looked more to me like an animation from a film than reality. During that wild night none of the crew were sick, and we were spat out the next morning exhausted but triumphant. Despite the flurry of preparations and my building anxiety about this trip, and despite the difficulties we have already encountered, I have to say that the morale of this terrific crew is beginning to ease my post-holiday blues. Seeing what we have already achieved in our first week at sea, I now feel confident we can handle what’s to come. This is just the beginning of a fantastic adventure together.