You have to picture one of these slow afternoons, in a post-lunch torpor stemming from our nightshifts rotations and the salty sun of the Atlantic Ocean.
This time however, we stood upright atop of the superior deck's canopy. Holding onto the mast's haubans and a pair of National Geographic binoculars gifted by colleagues before our departure. What we're looking for on the horizon is the "Lituanica" a 6 by 2m embarkation that briefly appeared on our AIS (the boat's proximity scanner) half an hour ago. Lituanica was going about 2 knots (about 4km/h), which in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, was not a good sign. A boat going at that speed under this perfect weather conditions is most probably drifting away.
"I see it" were the words of our captain, Francesco, pointing at a white dot oscillating on the horizon. Aware of the boat's position from the AIS, we were looking for it visually, increasing or chances on our Catamaran's highest observation point. At this height and with the fairly calm see, our vision ranged no further than 13nM (about 28km). There were supposed to be largely sufficient to spot the Lituanica but it had remained hidden to our sight, behind larger waves.
This was Francesco's second encounter with a "phantom vessel" out of the 4 Atlantic crossing he had done so far. Last one remained a mystery, a sailboat free of its inhabitants with a broken mast... Approaching these kind of vessel sometimes meant dead bodies and tragic sea stories. That justified the crew's tension from the call of Lituanica's spotting.
2 miles to go, the white dot gains in details and finally stops hiding behind waves. We approach it carefully. Calls via our VHF (our radio system) remain unanswered: "Lituanica, Lituanica, Lituanica, this is Catamaran Happy Ending, do you copy?" Only silence, not even a radio-fry indicating a communication attempt. Not a good sign.
"If there is a body, we won't take it aboard." Francesco announces. The perspective of carrying a dead body aboard for the rest of the trip is not enchanting, our captain has cut short.
Less than a mile now. We can distinguish two white extremities with a darker portion in the middle, no mast. "They must have broken their mast", supposes Antonin, " I think I see the sail in the water". The boat keeps getting bigger an excitement mixes itself with apprehension.
Less than 500m, Antoine carefully looks at the binocular: "Seems like there is someone aboard, near the middle, a bit on the left-hand side." There is someone indeed! Almost at the same time, the VHF awakes.
"Happy Ending, this is ***** Lituanica, do you copy?" A collective exhalation welcomes this call, someone is aboard and that someone is alive. The perspective of dead bodies takes a step back.
Our first answer does not go through, the VHF lights up again: "Happy Ending, ///// this is /// rowing boat Lituanica, do you copy?" "Say what ?!" A rowing boat ?? In the middle of the Atlantic?
And it is indeed, we're now close enough to distinguish the details of the vessel. A 6 by 2 green rowing boat covered with sponsors stickers with a small Lithuanian flag waving at its back. Aboard, a man tanned by the sun waves at us. His hands covered with bandages.
We exchange over the VHF: "Rowing boat Lituanica, we were rerouting toward your position as we didn't receive any answer from the VHF, are you alright? Do you need assistance?"
"I'm alright guys, no need to worry!"
"Jee! Where are you coming from like that?"
"I've started 79 days ago from Spain, tomorrow will be my 80thiest day at sea! Headed towards Miami, still 40 days to go!"
Needless to say our jaws dropped hearing about it.
"I'm attempting to break a world record, Atlantic crossing on a rowing boat without assistance!"
"Guess we can't offer you a beer then!"
"Drink it for me! Safe winds to you!"
We're still in awe for the rest of the day, thinking about the conditions which one must bear to lift such an heroic feat. Our crossing is the apex of comfort in comparison. In any ways, a great story for the day and filled-up inspiration tanks for the future !
If you wish to follow Lituanica’s adventures head towards its instagram page:
Aurimas has access to internet via satellite and would be thrilled to receive cheers-up!