crosses the Atlantic
Ms. Smith in her gear:
When youre alone, you wear a survival suit to keep
warm and a harness locked into the safety line around the boat.
Because if youre there for a four-hour shift and you fall
over at the beginning of it, nobodys going to know youre
gone until the end, and then theres no way anybody could
How did you spend your summer vacation? Jennifer Smith didnt
kick back at the beach, she spent her vacation sailing from Newfoundland
to the Azores Islands.
Ms. Smith, a Term 7 undergraduate engineering student, crewed
last July on a 38-foot yacht from Manuels, Newfoundland, across
the Atlantic Ocean to the Azores Islands the halfway
point for transatlantic travel between Europe and the North
America. The 1,130 mile transatlantic voyage took eight days
and nights. She then sailed for two weeks from island to island
before flying home to St. Johns to return in time for school.
From an avid
sailing family, Ms. Smith explained how her exciting trip came
about. We used to sail a fair bit in the summers, as a
family, but Id never done anything open sea. Its
just a totally different experience.
The engineering student travelled with her father, Harold Smith,
who had crewed a transatlantic voyage once previously and dreamed
of taking his own boat across. Joining them were friends Peter
Crocker, John Small, and Billy Goodyear, who had varying degrees
of experience sailing.
Jennifer Smith and
her father, Harold Smith, keep the tradition alive in Horta,
Faial, Azores, where the wall outside the yacht club is decorated
with the logos of all the yachts that make it there, for luck.
So what was it like being the only female on the boat?
A couple of guys were joking around, saying Youre
going to be the only woman on the boat, I guess youll be
doing all the cooking and cleaning, Ms. Smith reported.
But I was like, No way, thats what Billys
Ms. Smith told of how her father supported her one night when
a crew member tried to make an issue of her gender by insisting
she go below during rough seas. Dads really good
with that, so he drew the line, she said. I mean,
I knew the boat better than they did; I pretty much grew up on
Otherwise, she said, it was happy sails for the duration. The
weather was pretty good. We had two days with confused seas,
and one of our crew members got tossed and threw his back out.
He didnt move for two days. But then it got better: we
went from survival suits to swimsuits.
First sight of land:
Flores, the Azores.
As a result
of the injury, Ms. Smith explained, the crew had to manage the
boat in two-hour shifts, tied on for safety and alone in the
dark. I liked that a lot, actually. Youre there in
the pitch black with no light whatsoever and all the stars, and
in the trail behind the boat theres phosphorescence, so
it sparkles. It was wild, Ive never seen anything like
In addition to the spectacular scenery waiting in the Azores,
Ms. Smith said the journey itself held many visual treats. We
saw pothead whales, porpoise and dolphins, and turtles,
she related. You stand on the boat and you look around
and its water for six nautical miles in all directions.
So what did she learn from her amazing experience?
Theres one thing I didnt realize: when youre
sailing coastal, you always have a forecast: you know the wind,
the waves, what its going to be like for the next few days.
But theres no forecast for the middle of the Atlantic.
Ms. Smith explained how a Burlington, Ontario, native named Herb
Hilgenberg volunteers his time to collect and disseminate information
to boats in mid-Atlantic. Hes this retired guy who
searches the Web to find the latest weather information. Every
night he tells everybody where to go and if bad weathers
coming he routes them a different way. Hes awesome.
so named for the sense Mr. Smith has that his father and grandfather
always travel with him.
A sailing enthusiast
threatened by a violent storm during a trip to
the Virgin Islands in 1982, Hilgenberg devotes his retirement
to using ham radio to brief mariners crossing the Atlantic. He
is licensed by Industry Canada, and communicates with an average
of 50 vessels per day, seven days a week. His detailed and accurate
forecasts have earned the trust of mariners throughout the world.
In addition to her happy memories and renewed sense of her own
abilities, Ms. Smith got an unexpected benefit from her journey.
She became eligible for membership in the international organization,
Ocean Cruising Club (OCC) a right reserved solely for
those few who skipper or crew a cross-Atlantic sail of 1,000
miles or more, non-stop, port-to-port, in a sailing yacht of
less than seventy feet. There are just over 1500 members internationally.
As for the future, Ms. Smith said she plans to keep up with her
sailing after she finishes her engineering education. I
cant wait to have my own boat, she said. Itll
be the first thing I buy when I finish school and get out working.