Whilst sailing from Cowes to Gran Canaria and then taking part in the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers would not appear to be a huge challenge for a lot of people, for Natasha Lambert, it is a different story that started when she was 9 years old with getting afloat, through many challenges of increasing difficulty and has continued to grow since culminating in this epic challenge.
Natasha has – Quadriplegic Athetoid Cerebral Palsy – which means, in order to sail her boat, it has to be adapted for the “Sip and Puff” technology that allows her to control the vessel. With the boat for this challenge, a Nautitech Open 46 called Blown Away being considerably bigger than her Mini Transat, the work took longer than envisaged. This work also included adaptations to accommodate Natasha being able to live aboard for 4 weeks continuously by the fitting of a ceiling-mounted hoist track throughout the owner’s cabin, saloon and cockpit area as well as fitting a treadmill below the cockpit table for her daily physiotherapy routine, although its use was not always possible because of the boat movement.
The challenge to cross the Atlantic for Natasha Lambert was sadly postponed last year as her boat was not quite ready for the trip. It did look like this was going to be postponed again due to Covid19, however, we got the news from the marinas that we were allowed back to the boats and work commenced in earnest… We also had confirmation from the World Cruising Club that the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) would be able to go ahead. Good news for the team!
Work progressed well with sea trials as well and the team were able to plan their delivery trip to Gran Canaria to commence on the 1st of August 2020.
The crew assembled on Friday the 31st of July and final provisioning was taken care of. After a briefing and a good night’s sleep, the crew were all up early on the 1st of August and ready for the off!
The first part of this voyage would be short day sails which allowed the team the opportunity to visit different French Ports on their way whilst watching the weather for the best time to start the longest leg of this trip direct to Gibraltar.
The next few days saw Blown Away leave Cherbourg on the 3rd of August and do day sails, stopping overnight at Granville, L`Aber Wrac`h, Saint-Quay, Roscoff, and arriving in Brest on the 7th of August. These day sails allowed the crew time to practise manoeuvring the boat and getting used to the electronics needed on board.
All this went very well, and after looking at the weather, it was decided that they would leave Brest on the 9th of August and head directly for Gibraltar, heading about 80 miles offshore to avoid the shelf at Biscay. The crew settled well into a watch system for the journey and taking in their stride the night sailing. Storms were noticed around Biscay, all of which were sailed around. For a few on board this would be their first time offshore and experiencing the North Atlantic. A long 4m swell appeared at first to be quite awesome, but Blown Away took this in her stride and was not bothered at all. With the boat taking this well within her capabilities, the novices on the crew grew to accept this as nothing out of the ordinary.
Whilst offshore it was discovered that the satellite comms was not working properly and that the hydro generator did not appear to produce the power expected. These were addressed and resolved.
16th of August saw the crew arrive in Gibraltar after 1008 miles continuous sailing (the longest single leg the crew had done so far) where they put in at La Linea marina. The marina was very welcoming and it was a pleasure to see that they were easily able to accommodate sailors with disabilities. The pontoons and ramps were all wide enough. Just a short walk and the crew were able to enjoy a tour around Gibraltar and meet with the Barberry Apes.
In Gibraltar there was a crew change for the last leg of this journey to Gran Canaria. Then the crew departed Gibraltar on the 23rd of August arriving in Gran Canaria on the 29th of August. Once there and the boat was cleaned down, the crew flew back to UK whilst the family enjoyed a couple of days relaxing before returning home.
Having spoken with the family since their return they say that there were no low points throughout the whole journey, in fact, the whole team settled well into a routine. There were a lot of new experiences and a lot of learning, all of which they took in their stride.
The next leg is the Challenge itself… The team will be flying back to Gran Canaria early in November to re-join Blown Away and do the final preparing for the ARC which departs on the 22nd of November.
Natasha, is undertaking this challenge to raise much needed funds for 3 charities; the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust, Cowes RNLI and the MissIsle School of Sip Puff Sailing. The aim is to raise £30,000 to share equally between the 3 charities. You can help with our efforts by clicking here to donate… All your donations, no matter what size, are hugely appreciated.