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Natasha's Atlantic Challenge

by Tony Reeve 1 Oct 2020 12:51 PDT
Natasha's challenge © Tony Reeve

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 nine 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 owners 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, also we had confirmation from 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 1 August this year.

Crew assembled on Friday 31 July and final provisioning taken care of, after a briefing and a good night's sleep, the crew were all up early on 1 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 3 August and do day sails stopping overnight at Granville, L'Aber Wrac'h, Saint-Quay, Roscoff, and arriving in Brest on 7 August. This allowed the team the opportunity to visit different ports of France on their way whilst watching the weather for the best time to start the longest leg of the trip direct to Gibraltar. All this went very well, and after looking at the weather, it was decided that they would leave Brest on 9 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 and off Biscay, all of which were sailed around. For a few on board this would be their first time offshore and experiencing the North Atlantic, so 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.

16 August saw us arrive in Gibraltar after 1008 miles continuous (the longest single leg we have done) where we put in at La Linea marina. The marina was very welcoming and it was a pleasure to see that they were easily ably 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. We departed Gibraltar on 23 August arriving in Gran Canaria on 29 August. Once there and the boat cleaned down, the crew flew back to UK whilst the family enjoyed a couple of days relaxing before returning.

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.

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 22 November.

Natasha, is undertaking this challenge to raise much needed funds for three charities; the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust, 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 in this by going to Natasha's website and clicking on the Virgin Money giving link. All your donations, no matter what size, are hugely appreciated.

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