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Don't cross the Atlantic

Updated: May 5

I have just returned from one of the most beautiful experiences of my life, a dream I've had for many years: crossing the Atlantic Ocean by sail. Aboard the wonderful Grayhound, it was the most exciting adventure I've ever undertaken — an unforgettable voyage of highs and lows, treasures and storms, light and darkness, smiles and tears. Surrounded only by salt water for 21 days, a family of 15 strangers and one ship made the journey from the Caribbean to the Azores. For me, this was much more than a sailing trip; it was a profound rite of passage into the depths of being human.


Welcome aboard!


All hands on deck, except from Fram's hand, holding the camera up in the mast


There are many traditions that practice different rites of passages to mark a specific transformation in life, for example the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Many of these initiations include physiological and physical stress factors such as fasting, sleep deprivation and exposure, which can also turn into quite painful experiences. The reason for that is that feeling pain during the initiation rite evokes a hyper-plastic pivotal mental state, which is unpleasant but enables us to radically reimagine our place in the world, and therefore, grow as individuals and - hopefully - become better humans in service of our communities.


No wonder there are no rites of passage where you have to sit on your warm couch watching TV or sleep in a cozy kingsize bed covered by a 1000 thread count bedding. No, no. People go to the forest alone to fast, they dance under the moon for four days straight or meditate in a dark cave for 21 days - to name a few. It seems that what most of these sacred ancient initiations have in common is exactly the elements of discomfort, solitude, endurance, and resilience.


Sounds familiar?



All these four aspects I found at sea during my first Atlantic crossing aboard the Grayhound, which makes me dare to call this experience not just a sailing voyage or a mere trip, but a very powerful rite of passage.


A true initiation guided by the ocean, where one can face deep fears, reach mental and physical exhaustion, expand all perspectives and consciousness and therefore, connect with a very pure, magnificent yet simple feeling of being alive on this Planet.




3:45am on a random day in the mid Atlantic:


"Good morning Raíssa! It's time to get up. It is windy, raining heavily, dark, cold and miserable outside".


I make some noise to confirm that I got the message.


Fortunately there is no "snooze" button option.


I count down from 10 to 0 in my head, gathering courage to leave the warmth of my bed and put on my wet boots, wet socks, wet pants, pullovers, rain jacket, life vest, headlamp, and hat.


Slowly I move, one hand holding onto the boat, the other trying to put toothpaste on the toothbrush.


On a boat you can not take ANY step for granted, and simple actions such as brushing the teeth or pooping, can become a well thought mission. This emphasizes simplicity and serves as a mindful exercise, making us aware of things we often overlook during the hustle and bustle of life on land and in the cities."

We've been sailing against the wind for days straight, and it feels like being in a rollercoaster inside a washing machine. Especially at the bow - where I sleep, the movement is in-ten-se. There, it gets so rough that there are moments when my body is thrown from side to side, taking brief involuntary flights, and if I'm not careful, I can definitely get injured.


With clothes on and teeth cleaned, I head outside towards the tiller to meet the team from the other watch.


"Good morning!" we say amidst total darkness.

Some start talking to you, others remain silent, just nodding and smiling.


I confess that witnessing smiles amidst discomfort is crucial.


"Stop complaining: smile." - the ocean whispers


It has been days of constant rain.


Water everywhere: around, above, below, in the boots, in the bed, in the hair.


Nothing dries now.


I discovered that the main challenge was not being wet, but the desire to be dry.

Buddha already advised: desire = suffering.


Time to practice equanimity, another Buddhist teaching that we can find at sea: "No matter if it's comfortable or uncomfortable, wet or dry, cold or hot, just treat every situation without judgment, with no attachment, accept what is, because it will soon change anyway" — I kept reminding myself.


Change is the only constant, at sea and everywhere.




More smiles during the tough days


The proof of constant change was evident, written in the logbook. Just a few days before the wet, windy party, we were searching for wind for days under the dry sun.


We left Guadeloupe — an island in the Caribbean — on the 18th of March with 1.5 tons of fresh water, plenty of food, and a very good spirit aboard. Our destination: Horta, Azores.


Due to the lack of wind at the beginning, we sailed not more than 100 miles in three days.

"Will we ever get there?" the mind starts wondering.


It was hot. We were slowly adapting to that new way of living. We had no more sight of land. I got my period and a lot of cramps. Some people were a bit seasick. Some got sunburnt. Some were over-excited. Some stayed quieter.


Good idea to heave to (a maneuver to "park" the boat while out at sea) and go for a swim.


Below us: a few thousand meters of depths and mysteries.

We are just a sand grain within an immense liquid desert.


Swimming in the deepest public swimming pool of the world


The realization that now it was just us, this ship, and ... us: has sunk in.


Except from some of the crew that were already aboard, most people didn't know each other before. 15 strangers from 10 different nationalities, confined on a wooden ship.


Once you start sailing, there is no escape.

Survival is priority.

Collaboration is a must.


Good humor and love in the details were key secret elements.

And oh my god: Grayhound has so much love everywhere! I was already so in love with this ship and those people.


Together we would spend weeks surrounded by nothing but blue - that sometimes turned gray, or pitch black. Very quickly we turned from strangers to a family, relying on each other to save water, navigate, entertain ourselves, fix stuff, stay healthy, and remain safe. When you go to sleep, you literally trust your life to those on watch, who were strangers just a few days ago and now hold the tiller with 15 lives in their hands.


What a practical way to build trust - in others and in our own selves.


Adam during one of his night watches


20th of March, Equinox, sun declination 0º: positioned directly over the equator.


A good day for Filémon — our wonderful captain — to ask me to draw the scale of the chart we would use for navigation. We were ready to cover the screen of our GPS with a big tape and trust our discipline and commitment to follow a dead reckoning as precise as possible.


For me, this was one of the best tasks of our routine.


The idea of not relying solely on technology inspires us to push laziness aside and challenge our brains, reaffirming our ability to think for ourselves and work as a team to determine where we are and how to continue our journey.


Malcom and I drawing the first chart we used as a base for our dead reckoning


"Ready?" - someone holding a bottle would ask another person holding a watch.


"Go!" - you shout when the first knot appears.


The chronometer would run while a bottle flows in the water, tied to a long rope of 37 meters between two single knots. When your finger touches the second knot, you say "Stop!" and the person holding the watch tells you how many seconds passed.


This is how we measured our speed, inspired by the old system of Chip Logs.


If we know our average speed for the last hour, the course steered, and the last estimated position, we know the distance covered and can plot the current estimated position on the chart.


Together with dead reckoning, we also practiced Celestial Navigation with Filémon: a dream I had for a long time, specially after studying at Enkhuizener Zeevaartschool and having had the best navigation teacher ever.


Almost every day aboard, or whenever the sun was out, we would take sun sights, do massive calculations, and draw lines of position on the chart to correct our dead reckoning — which inevitably, after a few days, would end up a few miles away from where we probably were, due to under- or overestimation of speed, leeway or set (wind or current drift), or other factors.



Dead reckoning and Lines of Position from sun sights: where are we?


For some, all of this might seem outdated and a waste of time, but for others (like me), it is pure wisdom, great fun, and a path to a more ancestral future. A future where we rely less on machines and give more importance to our own hands, eyes, thoughts, and intuition. Navigating without modern instruments is definitely a way to tune our antennas and reawaken all our senses, connecting us much more to ourselves, to the ship and nature.


"At sea, it doesn't matter who you are, but you must know where you are."

Between sextants and calculations


We knew our estimated latitude and longitude, but still, you are just this tiny dot in the middle of a giant body of water.


You become nothing.


Steering and watching the sun rise


The feeling of loneliness is inevitable.

Humility arrises.


We were so far from everything and everyone—no sight of land for weeks, no sight of other humans. Just water and one radio call to a french catamaran that crossed our path once during the night. It was just us and us, the sea, and sometimes a bird or two, maybe some dolphins here and there.


The mind becomes wild sometimes when nothing else distracts you. It reminds me of the 11-day Vipassana Christof and I did at the beginning of the year, meditating for 10 hours daily. Somehow, I found many similarities between crossing the Atlantic and doing a Vipassana, but in our case on the ship, the meditation was a bit more active, let's say...


Ship healing during our days sailing upwind


Our world was our ship. A few wooden beams separated us from the boundless sea, marking the fragile line between life and death. If those beams failed, we likely would too.

It may sound dramatic, but it is somehow true.


I know the possibility of death exists everywhere, but in the middle of the sea, it becomes more apparent. This possibility is actually remarkably useful, as it prompts self-reliance, immediacy, and communal effort - my favorite Burning Man principles.


Even when tired, cleaning toilets in rough seas, washing dirty rags on deck with salt water, or washing dishes together in the rain were some of my favorite tasks during this voyage. We took care of one another, offering a cup of tea or a hug when times were tough, sharing a smile at each encounter, and lending a hand whenever needed.


I found out that boatlife is a school to learn how to serve, share and give: all pillars of love.


The need for communal effort to thrive at sea, to feel less uncomfortable, safer, and healthier, serves as inspiration for life on land. I imagine how life could be in my hometown, São Paulo, if people could be just a little more like that with one another every day."


Washing dishes on deck, under the rain or sun


Among the big family of 15 members, the ones I spent most time with were the members of my watch. We were six: the outgoing Anthony, also known as rinossauros; the straightforward Fram; the sweet Floriane; the funny Alan; Christof; and me.


Together, we laughed and cried, steered the ship and navigated, discussed about love, life, and dreams, played games, and told jokes to stay awake. We enjoyed cookies under the stars and smoked cigarettes in the pouring rain to keep ourselves warm.


We experienced moments of fear, adrenaline, and intense focus during storms.

We enjoyed moments of pure joy and bliss, appreciating sunrises or the beauty of strong winds painting the sea white.


We also shared moments of silence and awe, admiring a sky full of stars and a sea blanketed with glowing plankton.


A privilege, I would say, to witness daily the ever-changing power of nature.


Christof, Fram, Floriane, Anthony, Alan and I. And an empty bowl of cheese & jam


At some point, I found myself asking: What day is it today?


Does it even matter?


The classic notion of time seemed to vanish.

The only future that mattered was the one provided by the Weather Radio Fax, which offered charts and weather forecasts.


Beyond that, our main focus was about being present and following our 4-hour watch system: similar to having 4 days in one single day.


We had the watch from 8pm to midnight, 4am to 8am, and noon to 4pm, which meant we couldn't sleep for more than 3.5 hours at a time. However, Captain Filémon wisely created a schedule where, every three days, two of us would get a night off. This allowed us to skip the 4am to 8am watch and sleep in.


This adjustment made a significant difference. After two days of little sleep, being wet and exhausted, knowing you could sleep from midnight until breakfast was pure bliss.


Stinky wet clothes and me


Enough about the lack of sleep, constant dampness, and discomfort.

I just wanted to add some realistic depth to the otherwise idyllic narrative we were living. Without it, the story might seem too optimistic, filled with magic sunsets, rainbows, and dolphins.


But let me be clear: this ocean passage was pure magic for me.


I believe everyone who is ready to embrace the challenges that come with it should experience this at least once in a lifetime.


The energy aboard was truly beautiful. Grayhound had the most incredible vibes of any ship I've ever been on.


By the way, Grayhound Ventures is a replica of a three-master UK Customs Lugger originally built in 1776. Launched in 2012, she has since operated as a passenger and cargo ship. Four years ago, swedes artists Wille Christiani and Oskar Heijl purchased the vessel with the intention of touring with their show Toqqortat along the Greenland coast. This initial idea evolved into a vision of offering environmentally friendly adventures and cargo delivery to benefit coastal communities worldwide. It is the first time we enter a ship with so many people that we feel inspired by, and that also a carries a culture aligned with our Pirate Ethos.


Smells like a good love story of collaboration between Grayhound and Piratas do Amor?

I am sure we can do some really fun stuff together.


A strong beast


Speaking of fun, we had an incredible amount of it during the journey.


We could sing loud, we could be weird. We could act silly or serious, and we could cry out of both happiness and sadness. We could be ourselves without any masks - maybe just some costumes or funky pirate clothes to play.



Pirate name ceremony when crossing the one thousand miles line


Life was unfolding naturally aboard.

And I never got bored.


We caught two big Mahi Mahi's.

We broke stuff.

We fixed stuff, including a radio antena and the generator.

We reefed sails. We put them up and down. We tacked and jibed.

We collected rain water.

We washed clothes, we dried them.


Laundry time

We opened a hair salon.

Also, a sewing workshop.

And even a hospital: where our doctor Marie performed a small operation, removing a piece of aluminum from my nail after it was accidentally pierced while I was boiling water.


We celebrated birthdays: I turned 34, and Fram turned 33.

We held a friendly competition to see which of the two new handmade buckets, crafted by Malcolm and Christof, would perform better.


We also had a ceremony when we crossed the invisible line of 1,000 miles in the middle of the Atlantic, during which we received our pirate names. I was no longer Raíssa; instead, I became 9 Fingers - the Cattle Fighter.


Random activities in the middle of the ocean


And when words could not convey our feelings and thoughts, the sounds of guitars, trumpet, accordion, violin, and flutes would fill the air.


Listening to the crew make music while steering the ship under the stars brought me to tears of love, gratitude, and joy.


You can feel an immense amount of love when out at sea, let me tell you.


Music, music and more music.


And last but not least: we ate - a lot and very well.

No fasting, no hotdogs nor astronaut powder food - contrary to what many think.

Cheers to our amazing cook, Isabel, who prepared delicious, nourishing, vegetarian, colorful meals with love every day.


Isabel and her agile techniques to cook at sea, and the whole group eating in the pilot house


All of that took place over 21 days and approximately 2,800 miles.


While we haven't yet crossed the entire Atlantic Ocean — we still need to continue our journey from the Azores to Passaia, Spain — it's already been quite an adventure and, as I mentioned earlier, a proper rite of passage.


As with any rite of passage, reaching the other side brings change and transformation.

A transformation that arises precisely because of the discomfort, the isolation, the fears to confront, the lack of privacy, the constant exposure to the elements, the endless movement, and the need for presence. All ingredients that enhance the flavor of life.


A shift in perspective occurs when you leave your safe harbor.


It revealed how our usual comforts, like a daily warm shower in our land-based home, can become numbing. What once felt pleasurable, like the safety of a roof and walls, can distance us from our instincts and intuition.


Suddenly, cold, salty bucket showers on deck become invigorating.

Rainy days can inspire gratitude.

Blisters on our hands symbolize a life lived away from the laptop.


Fearful dark nights can become opportunities to reclaim our inner strength.

Disconnecting from modern amenities—like internet, supermarkets, and shops—reawakens our sense of self-reliance and communal effort.


Solitude and isolation strengthen the bond with ourselves and nature.


The need for survival in this hostile environment reinforces the choice for love over fear.

Land ahoy!


On the 7th of April we took our final sun sights and spotted land.


We anchored at 9 pm in the harbor of Horta, with brand new faces shaped by 21 days of wind and bright, joyful eyes carrying pride and gratitude.


An ocean passage that served as a training ground for our small community of 15 members, helping us shift from the old, subconscious but ingrained egocentric and selfish societal patterns to a more collaborative, ecocentric, and love-centered way of living.


So yes, please, contrary to this text's title: cross the Atlantic.


Perhaps not literally the ocean called Atlantic, but cross your own ocean — venturing beyond the dangers of the comfort zone, discovering what lies beyond the horizons of your existence and expanding the reality you perceive each day.


Every discomfort of this rite of passage is definitely worth tasting.


Stay tuned for more about the next crossing aboard Grayhound to Passaia!


With love and salty hugs,

Raíssa



We left our mark in the famous harbor full of ship's paintings in Horta, Faial - Azores



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How fun!! An Atlantic crossing is still on my bucket list....Namaste! Bill

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Woooow!!!!

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