Commodore sails the Atlantic
Much of what follows was written during the solo three-hour night watches – that probably explains a lot.
Back in summer last year, I was contacted by a couple – Alan and Avryl Broadbridge - who I had sailed with from Sicily to Ibiza in 2015. They had contacted me then after meeting Brian Hawkesworth in Corfu and he'd said if they were ever looking for crew he might be able to help via GSA. Then they had a Jeaneau 425 and were making their way to join the Atlantic Rally Crossing plus (ARC+) to sail to the Caribbean. Now they were back in the UK and had bought another boat – an Island Packet 485 – and were planning to make their way from Southampton to once again join the ARC+. Was I interested in joining them for a leg of the trip?
For one reason and another, I couldn't commit myself but kept in contact with them. As things became clearer, I got back in touch with Alan with the idea that I might join the two of them on a delivery trip to Portugal. Unfortunately, they already had crew lined up. If everything worked out with this crew, they would be returning to sail from Gran Canaria to St Lucia via Cap Verde Islands.
For various reasons, the couple were to withdraw and Alan got back in touch asking if I would like to do the ARC+. To be honest, this wasn’t what I had in mind as I had always thought exploring a coastline immeasurably preferable to long distance sailing. All the same, when would I ever get a similar opportunity again? Here I was, knocking on 70 years of age and for how long could I even contemplate such an experience? After some serious discussion with Andrea, I said yes.
Shortly afterwards, Alan and Avryl invited us to dinner. During the evening, Andrea asked what they intended to do after the ARC+? “Oh, we’re doing the World ARC.”
Andrea looked at me and very directly said “No” so, even if the thought occurred to me, I knew just where the limits were.
That evening, Alan said he’d been in conversation with a Swedish guy called Gordon Ishammar. Gordon was to join Alan and Avryl to move the boat from Portugal to Gran Canaria and, if it worked out, he would be the fourth member of the crew. Fortunately, this try-out did work.
Gordon and I arrived in Gran Canaria within minutes of each other and Alan picked us up in a hire car and , twenty minutes later, we boarded Island Wanderer and were presented with a jobs list.
After a cup of coffee, Gordon and I started with our jobs. Alan and Avryl also had jobs and these often took them away from the boat. Just as often, Gordon and I hit snags with our jobs and would have to retire to the Sailors Bar to consider how to overcome these issues. Thus progress was maintained (sort of).
Within this programme we had to attend seminars:
Weather - “there is a wind acceleration zone off the airport.... enter it at you peril.”
First aid - “ hurt yourself or get sick there’s no hope of help getting to you so you just hope the rest of the crew can make you comfortable.”
Sextant - “ you’ve tried on land and failed miserably, if your GPS fails you have no hope of finding Cap Verde.. you sail on until you hit America.”
I was wondering why I came?
There was also the social scene:
Sundowners - couple of glasses of beer and some snacks sponsored by a boat provisioning business (any room for an Iberian ham aboard?)
Fancy dress - officially themed as “Once upon a time...” but actually whatever you fancy and I opted for “what I was wearing when told it was fancy dress night”.
Last night party (actually last but one night but it was free beer so who is going to argue?)
The last night itself was spent quietly, enjoying a restaurant meal kindly provided to Gordon and me by Alan and Avryl .
The Main Event (Part 1)
There was still jobs to do, and the list was no shorter after a sail around the bay to try out downwind sailing, etc. but, inevitably 1300 hours drew nearer an, with it, the start of the 2019 ARC+.
We were waved off by an enthusiastic crowd of, literally, dozens (made up mainly of those doing the ARC which was due to sail to the Caribbean in a single leg a couple of weeks later).
Lots of silly grins and “See you in Cap Verde” amongst “rival” boats, some pretence of timing a run to the start line (only six minutes late so no minimum three-hour penalty for jumping the gun) and we were off. 862 nautical miles to go!
I should tell you about kitting out a boat for ocean sailing (and from what I saw around the marina this is not by any means unique to Island Wanderer)...
If it beeps, have it.
If you can have a device that can show you the same information in the yacht saloon as in the cockpit then have it.
Always, but always, carry a spare (and another in case you use the first).
If it involves excessive lengths of string, have it. And you need two so each side of the boat is kitted with a primary and spare. Double up again if it involves turning blocks and again if shackles are required, and again if they are soft shackles. And spare blocks and shackles.
The bigger the boat, the more nooks and crannies to put stuff in, so buy more spares.
This rather unfairly belittles the effort required to prepare a yacht for a voyage of 860 miles before even thinking of the main crossing which is in excess of 2000 miles. Technology makes you feel less alone even if your neighbour is 10 miles away and out of sight.
Even if it’s operation doesn’t always go smoothly, it is reassuring that technology gets you weather forecast updates when you are hundreds of miles from nearest land (and the casual availability of internet that we enjoy on land).
And as for the spares, when you are a thousand miles from land, it's down to you to sort out any eventuality.
But I get ahead of myself... we have only just crossed the start line. For some reason, the organiser of the event had introduced a waypoint (a position point which, by some of that clever technology, they could tell whether we had looped around or not). The problem was they had not mentioned this waypoint at the skippers briefing the day before and it was only by chance that Alan checked his phone to see if still in range of normal usage and then his seeing an email from the organisers.
That clever technology on board showed we were by no means unique in missing the change. We were fortunate that we did not have to deviate too much to make the mark. Others appeared to miss it completely.
At least one boat had gear failure shortly after the start and had to return to the marina. In the light of the safety inspections and the work we that knew had taken place on this specific boat, it was a surprise, and also a reminder how easily things could go wrong This yacht was to rejoin the rally a couple of days later.
The fleet soon spread out as some stood on towards Africa (sounds good doesn't it … “stood on towards Africa” where better winds were expected, some tried to sail to the shortest distance and others couldn’t make their minds up. We opted for not making our minds up.
Having the rally at this time of year is because it is the time when the traditional trade winds establish themselves. The trades mean downwind sailing - somewhat easier than extended beating to windward! Tradition has it that you “sail south until the butter melts and then turn right”.
Downwind sailing brings its own issues. For those who are not sailors I should explain that this is primarily to do with unexpected wind gusts getting the wrong side of a sail. The foresail is directly fixed to the boat at its top and one point of its triangular shape. The third loose corner is controlled by a “sheet” - a rope from the sail back to the boat. If wind gets behind this non-fixed edge it will “collapse” and flog. We try to control this non-fixed point of the sail by means of a pole with its inboard end attached to the mast. The outer end is fixed by means of lines led to the bow and stern and they are brought to the cockpit so we can adjust them. Then there are other lines to support the weight of the pole, to extend its length (to cope with larger or smaller fore sails) and to raise or lower its inboard height. I have simplified this a bit and left out the “normal” lines and how they are used - a dark art, maybe, but we haven’t reached the end of our problems.
When we come to the mainsail and the boom we are concerned about a powered swing across the boat - the dreaded gybe! Gybes can severely damage the yachts rig, not to mention any people who get in the way. To stop the mainsail gybing we add a “preventer”. This is a line from the outer end of the boom, taken to a point near the bow then brought back to the cockpit area so it can be adjusted to best effect.
Wind is not constant in strength or direction. This a can be amplified by the rocking and rolling of the boat as swell and waves pass under it. Downwind sailing tends to experience more swell effects. On the first night out all these things came together and we, or, more accurately, I, broke a mainsail preventer.
“Preventer” is something of a misnomer. “Limiter” might be better as it infers that prevention is not guaranteed and the arrangement might be pushed beyond that limit. We were sailing with an auto-helm setting that, in theory, follows the wind and so should not allow wind to get on the wrong side of the mainsail but there is an inevitable delay between a wind gust arriving and the auto-helm responding. In a split second we went from my wondering if, in fact, we should be increasing the sail area to me taking manual control of the helm to prevent a second reverse gybe and calling crew from their berths to re-rig the preventer. Apart from the broken rope (1 cm or so thick!) there was no damage. The skipper slept through the lot.
We settled into a rhythm. Avryl provided us with evening meals, I did lunches and we all scavenged for breakfast when we got up. Night watches were three hours on and the rest of a 12 hour night off. There was a notional watch pattern during the day but really it was committee sailing. Foredeck work was almost exclusively Gordon and me, with him leading as he is somewhat more committed to racing and therefore to constant tweaking than me.
The boats that had gone further east lost out and at one point we found ourselves 29th out of 98 in the daily position reports. We subsequently slipped down the order a bit, regained a couple of places and then the wind died. For a long time, we had been working on a Friday evening arrival but suddenly it looked more like Saturday. No amount of sail tweaking, including resorting to the cruising chute, helped. Island Wanderer is a heavy cruiser and light winds are not her friend. We are currently doing about 4-5 knots - our best daily run averaged a little over 6.5 knots.
Yesterday we saw dolphins and today the others saw the turtle while I slaved over sandwich making - it had gone before I got to the cockpit. We also found our first flying fish on the deck this morning.
Although the rally has 98 boats in it we have only seen three others since Monday evening (it’s now Thursday) and each of those were just vague shapes in the distance.
Today is a special day - my 70th birthday - but I haven’t been excused any duties. I was, however, given a card, gift, a cake and a three person “harmony” of Happy Birthday To You. I emailed Andrea to thank her for the birthday card I’d brought with me.
Gentle winds meant that we could all eat in the cockpit - nibbles, small beer, chilli. Lovely birthday rounded off by starlit night, calm seas but the prospect of arriving in Mindello on Cap Verde on Saturday rather than Friday is a little frustrating. Hey, ho!
I’ve just come off watch. First time I’ve had the “sociable” time of 2000 - 2300 but it’s been quite frustrating . Firstly the wind backed meaning I had to steer below our desired course to stop the gybe. Then wind speed dropped to as low as 4 knots meaning that the swell was emptying the sail of any wind every now and again and when the sail refills it kind of “slaps” (which doesn’t do the sail any good) and progress is hesitant. Towards the end of watch the wind started to improve so that, occasionally, I actually made the course. Hope it continues to improve for Alan B.
I hope to have a better night's sleep tonight. I am sharing the forepeak double berth with the spare sails. Last night, I (rather bad-temperedly and half-asleep) told Andrea off for fidgeting in bed and then fully woke to realise I had left her at home and was being disturbed by the spare genoa as the boat rolled on the swell. Tonight, I have rearranged the storage so that the sails are the downhill side of the berth and I can lean against them.
174 miles to go.
I was woken up a few hours later by periods of banging. “Slaps” had become more violent - often like gunshots when it was the genoa and general crashes when it was the mainsail - and more often. Alan had completed his watch and Gordon was now on deck. I went up top.
Gordon said, “ Good morning, you're up early”.
“I wondered if you needed any help?”
“No, it’s just the wind has gone down to 10 knots and it’s not always filling the sail. In Sweden we call it ‘catching the wind’.”
“OK, call me if you need me.”
As I went back to bed I thought, “Those gunshot cracks sound more like ‘shooting the breeze’ to me.”
The trouble with this “downwind sailing” is its rigidity. We’ve got the main and genoa goose winged – and it is not easy to alter anything. All my UK water and Mediterranean island-hopping experience calls out for a flexible rig so that I can sail a broad reach, undertake a controlled gybe and broad reach on the other tack. Repeating this tactic with shorter legs is like sailing down a funnel to our destination.
But, hey, I’m a newcomer to ocean sailing so what do I know?
Some crew reported rain this morning but I was washing up and it had stopped before I got on deck. Hardly qualifies as rain but there’s some hope of wind under the clouds. There’s no hope for the two flying fish I threw off the side deck.
We’re only doing around 5 knots so it’s going to be tomorrow before we get to Mindello. Hope I haven’t tempted fate as I have just looked at the local chart and pilot to study the way in to the marina.
It’s now 2000 and I am starting my last night watch of this leg. Everyone else is turning in for now – you sleep when you can when underway. We’ve all been talking about these last few miles but I can’t help thinking that from here to Mindello is 60 miles. If I was crossing the Channel, I’d be thinking I was starting out, not nearly there.
Wind is better but we are running under genoa and staysail. This is much more comfortable (and controllable) than with the main. Every now and again we get a bit of swell under us and we have rock and roll, then it settles to a nice rhythm again.
We can see several boats converging on Mindello. Actually we have seen little of them but the navigational box of tricks is showing four off to the starboard side, a couple in front and others coming up behind. Some of these, we think will get there before us as they are theoretically faster designs and we aren’t sure why they aren’t well in front of us.
I’ve been reading a book from the 1950’s called “Small Boats Big Seas”. It’s a collection of extracts from the works of pioneering small boat sailors - not all doom and gloom by any means but I was reflecting on the number of them who seem to have said to their wives, “I’m just going to sail around the world in an ill-prepared boat. See you in three years or so. Bye.” When I got the chance of doing this trip I know Andrea would have preferred me not to have come but she’s been supportive throughout and I think I am a lot more appreciative of that support than many of those pioneers were of their families.
Using the on board facilities, it’s been good to email Andrea (especially on my birthday) and to hear from her. That is even if she’s said she is continuing to work on maxing out the credit cards before I get back.
On board, we’ve noticed how much later the sun is setting as we have travelled 800 miles southwards. The first night it was at 1810, tonight it was 1920.
It’s also getting warmer. I know I am sheltered from the breeze but, at 2040 l am wearing just a t-shirt under the obligatory life jacket and harness and shorts.
I should perhaps mention that I break off from writing these notes at the end of each sentence and have a good look around. I don't have to steer – my friend Otto Helm (auto-helm, get it?) does that.
The moon hasn’t yet risen and the light cloud cover hides the stars. I can hear our wake and catch the odd flash of its foam reflected from our navigational lights. I can see a solitary red light a little over two miles from us. It’s the port light of Sapphire II of London - I know this courtesy of the magic box.
The wind dropped overnight which meant that the sea was uncomfortable and sleep patchy. We mustered as Saturday dawn was starting to show. We gradually converted from downwind sailing to a configuration more recognisable to UK waters for the run-in to Mindello . “Close quarters” sailing, however, was nothing like the Solent - “There’s a boat two miles away that’s converging with me - shall I alter course?”
I was also surprised that, listening to the radio, so many skippers seemed to struggle so much more than the average flotilla skipper when it came to complying with “berthing master” instructions. I think that perhaps the wide open spaces of ocean sailing over-writes earlier experiences of sailing.
I often claim to know the first pub from every marina along the south coast but Mindello on the island of St. Vincent in the Cap Verde Isles was a unique experience. The first bar is one that floats and is attached to the pontoons inside the security gates – can't get handier than that!
Provisional results on the website put us about around 35th out of 98 boats after handicap - not bad when the handicap included allowance for a cruising chute that we used only once and then not for very long.
Mindello. Cap Verde
Sunday and, despite chiming of church bells, we were put to work. Alan B wasn’t happy about the “good” mainsail being laid on the spreaders - he is soon to sail around the world with these sails, so why shouldn’t he be concerned about wear 'n' tear? So we swapped it for the spare which was just as well as we found unsuspected wear when we got the “good” main down.
We also swapped the high cut genoa for an older sail that is fuller and , we hope, should serve us better for downwind sailing on the next leg.
After a very welcome shower, we went to the informal welcome party - rum punch and local politician speeches plus local band. Then we, plus a crew from a Swedish yacht called Caventina owned by friends of Alan and Avryl, went for dinner. Very sociable but I do wish they did not feel it necessary to apologise for talking in Swedish when addressing each other within my hearing - it’s my problem, not theirs.
Gordon and I went for a stroll after the meal, stopping off for an Americano and whisky. Making our way back to the boat we met some very friendly local girls who just wanted a chat, have a drink with us, etc. but struggled with the concept that I had a date with a sail bag. Gordon’s two new friends were more forthright, as was his response, and the girls eventually gave up on us.
After our work day yesterday, today is going to be more cultural. This morning, there is a tour around the island providing by the ARC+ organisers. The Portuguese colonial origins of the town of Mindello can be readily seen in the architecture, as can the fact that this is not a rich country. As soon as you go one street back from the front you are aware that there is not a lot of money around.
We caught the bus to do the tour. It was concerning as we went up the single track road to the top of the mountain (774 meters) that there was a brake warning light. It was even more concerning that it still showed as we came down.
On this “cultural” trip we learned that the population of Capo Verde islands was so skewed towards the the young that schools are run on a shift system and it was comparatively recent that it got its own universities instead of sending students to Portugal. We saw one of these “universities” and it looked like a very small institution – how lucky we are to have the education opportunities we enjoy!
Coming down off the mountain, we saw sand dunes where all the sand came from the Sahara, 500 miles or so to our east.
Gordon and I walked around town in the afternoon, leaving Alan and Avryl to play with the boats toilet system. You can't get away from the mundane, even in the Cap Verde Islands.
There has been quite a breeze blowing since we got here but during the night it gusted up enough to wake me a number of times. There’s also been a fair bit of cloud about and this morning it is grey across the board. The weather has been something of a surprise as I’d expected warm like a winter break in say, Tenerife. It has been shorts and t-shirt, and it was hot the day we changed the sails, but last evening it really was too cold to sit out in.
The wind does make the boats surge on their stern to moorings. This pulls at the pontoons and they are only anchored, rather than with piles, and walking to and from the shore is not easy.
After engine checks, and steering gear “just to be sure”, while Avryl and Gordon went veg shopping, lunch rolled around. The clouds had cleared away but wind remained strong. Gordon and I went to Cafe Mindello where the two A’s had been recommended for Wi-Fi. Both of us managed to phone home for free – I had phoned Andrea as we approached Andrea as we approached Mindello, little realising the call cost me nigh on £30!
Heard, via VHF, Songster just arriving. Informal welcoming party being gathered for this boat arriving three days behind most of fleet - must be a story to that!
Tonight was prize giving. We didn’t win anything but it turns out that we beat Caventina by 22 minutes so we had bragging rights. There was a buffet meal but it was like vultures descending. The drumming bands were a bit much so Gordon and I went into town.
We went to the bar where we had been on the night we arrived in Mindello. There were a couple of guys playing guitars and one of them sang in a heartfelt way. A third guy joined them and they repeated the set we had already heard. It was very atmospheric and largely local but we eventually decided to move on.
When we moved on, we went to Cafe Mindello again. There was also music playing here. While there, a couple of girls came in and were dancing to the, not so local, music. Various ARC+ crew members joined in with varying degrees of success - none were any good but some were embarrassing. We watched and had a plate of mixed sausages and another little beer. Pleasant evening.
Island Wanderer is an Island Packet 485. It has a long keel with the propeller mounted in it rather than on an s-drive or a separate skeg. That makes for directional stability but it doesn’t like going astern. She is definitely built for cruising rather than racing. She has in-mast furling for the main and furling staysail, genoa and cruising chute. Alan and Avryl are, as mentioned earlier, planning to circumnavigate the world in her, and she looks well suits to the job.
This morning, we have cleaned in and out, topped up water and done one or two little jobs that presented themselves. Alan has worked out a watch pattern for the next leg. Unlike Gran Canaria where another couple of days prep seemed essential, here we seem to be filling in time.
One thing I’ve noticed with the Rally is the number of families with quite young children. These range from babies (youngest is 17 months) to toddlers and right through school age. I was told children had “home-schooling” while underway – suppose it's one way of keeping them occupied.
I am also surprised by how old some of the sailors are. Grey haired ladies with flashes of pink to “keep young”, old men with white bowed legs showing below shorts. I feel youthful! I don’t suppose as many younger adults have the time or money at their disposal for this type of event. There are entrance fees and wear and tear of the boats, not to mention initial outlay. One thing is for certain... there’s a lot of money in this marina. But the one thing commonly shared is the love of sailing.
The Main Event (Part 2)
It’s time to go. We’ve been busy doing all the usual things preparing for sea and we’re fairly ready, apart from shoreside jobs which crew have gone to do, with time to spare. I’m waiting here in case I can get a support dinghy to put a slip line to the bow mooring buoy. We are concerned about he tension that has been on the line where it’s tied to the buoy — the strong wing blowing onto the bow will have tightened it considerably.
Last night we had drinks on Caventina before going to the Nautilus restaurant opposite the marina. The setting is good with an open courtyard but everything else was rubbish. Service as slow - we were getting impatient even before the menus ere brought to us, the steak was fairly tasteless, the chips were cold.
But what of Mindello itself? Several people were quite dismissive of it but I thought it OK. Would I want to come here for a holiday? I doubt it, but my heart would not sink if my route were to bring me here again.
One thing I have meaning to mention is that Cap Verde has two seasons. For 9 months it is the windy season and for the three months it’s the wet season (only the wet season has not been wet on this island for three years).
We now have a slip on the bow so we are in control of our own departure! One of the other yachts, Charis, has gone despite it not being official start for here hours or so.. he’s had enough of hanging around and has decided to take the minimum three hours penalty for crossing the line early.
After what seemed an interminable wait on the dock, we got out to the start line. Opting for the port end of the line turned out good and we crossed the line at full speed, under full main and genoa, within seconds of the gun. The photo is us just after the line and was given to us later.
Broad reaching at first, we cleared Mindello bay and then turned onto a run, polling out the genoa as we did. After the boisterous start, this flattened the boat. The first objective is to sail south-westwards and clear the wind shadow from St Antao island - this we hope to do by dusk and then we can turn more westwards for the little matter of a couple of thousand miles (or so).
The stars! Oh, the stars!
Saw my first (living) flying fish this morning. I say “saw” but actually it was some water disturbance, some blurs and some splashes. They didn’t seem to get up high enough to land on the boat but Gordon found five while on deck patrol this morning.
At 1330 we completed 24 hours since the start from Mindello. We’ve done 147 miles - better than feared after slow going last night but we need more and the forecast is suggesting light winds. We’ll see.
I was on the 0200-0500 watch last night, again tonight and the next two nights. We have dinner around 1900, clear up and then I can get to bed for five hours, maybe reading for a short while before putting the lights out. Tonight I got to sleep much quicker than last night - must be establishing the routine after Mindello. We’re working single person watches and there is a kind of magic being up for three hours alone. Check out the stars, look for phosphorescence, maybe play a little music on the headphones (but only through one ear so I can still hear the boat), catch up with the diary, read a bit and, between times, check the instruments to tell me who is around, how far away, etc., and do a visual check. Then it’s back to bed for two or three hours.
After that, get up , breakfast, personal chores (probably having shower today, do a bit of washing), discuss weather forecast and sails, etc. have lunch and, before you know it, we’re starting again.
1852 miles to go and we’re sailing OK after another flat patch last evening. Little more than the current 6 or so knots would help. Sometimes I am getting my wish, sometimes not. If we don’t average 6.25 knots ( and we are currently below that average) our time in Saint Lucia will be limited before flying home.
For most of today, we flew the cruising chute - which Gordon calls the “Genekar” and pronounces it “Yenekar” - and made decent progress. Our second day mileage was 156, we’d like 160 so weren’t too disappointed.
During the day I saw my first real flying fish display. I couldn’t help wonder whether they were a flock or a school? Or did their group status change when out of the water? Later we saw some again, but this time they seem to be being chased by some dolphins.
Sent an email home to Andrea. It really is clever even if the technology enabling me to send the message is not cheap. Calls are £5/minute so it obviously makes sense to send an “I’m fine” email rather than making a voice call that might be an expensive chat with an answering machine at home.
Furling the cruising chute proved to be difficult. The furling works “top-down” in that, as the gear is rotated it first of all gathers the top and squeezes the air out of the sail. As furling progresses, the bottom starts to be drawn in. Tonight , the bottom had just started when, for some reason, maybe a gust or twist in the wind, the remaining middle bulge of sail got twisted around the gear and couldn’t be shifted. In the end, we lowered the whole thing to the deck, untangled the twist and the furling done so far, launched the sail as we would without furling or a “snuffer”, and then re-furled without problem.
From initially deciding it was time to bring the chute in for the night to getting back to the cockpit took an hour. Everything takes so long on a deck that rocks and rolls.
As we drank our beer (one small can per day at “beer o'clock”), the sun was setting. A few small clouds on the horizon stopped the glare. Gradually the clouds were silhouetted by a warm, red glow.... and then it was night.
The story goes that, in Edwardian days, a guest was talking to a paid crew, “What’s this yacht like to windward?”
“But sir, gentlemen do not sail to windward.”
The inference is, of course, beating (i.e. “sailing to windward”) is hard work.
Let me tell you, downwind sailing is none too easy either. We are “goose-winged” again.
As the swell lifts the stern and one side of the boat, passes along its length and goes on its merry way past the other side and bow of the boat. This introduces quite impressive changes in the wind experienced by the boat. This apparent wind can swing through 90 degrees, especially if the true wind speed is low.
This swing can get behind a sail, causing it (as mentioned before) to loose drive. The other sail still has drive and this puts more effort on one side than the other, causing the boat to start to turn away from that sail in emphasis of the swell-induced rolling.. A steering correction is applied and power is returned to the previously backed sail. Meanwhile the non-backed sail spills some wind because of the roll, and can easily become backed itself so that the process reverses. After two or three oscillations, the swell has passed and we can try to re-establish our course.
There is a lot of swell in the Atlantic and, during the watch I have just come off, wind was very light for a large part of it – a lot of “rock and roll”.
This afternoon we got a VHF call from Luci di Mare, a Halberg-Rassey, who were have issues with the goose-neck. They wanted to know if we had any split pins as, best we could gather, they had got a bolt to replace a Clevis bolt but could not get a nut on it, something to do with length, shape of the neck itself.
We reduced sail for them to catch up under power two hours or so later, and then transferred several sizes of pins by putting them in an empty water bottle which we floated on a long line that they caught with their boat hook.... rather exciting in an otherwise flat day. They gave us thumbs up for the gift and then they sailed away, faster than us in the light winds. It made us realise how hard we’d had to work to get in front of so many others and how quickly position can be lost. Still, we will have bragging rights/brownie points for helping others at sea (and maybe a time allowance!).
Sunset tonight was dramatic with lots of deep reds and dark clouds. As the sun set, wind picked up a bit to what, for us is the magic 15 knots.
When I look up from my berth, there is a hatch. Through it, at night, two eyes watch me and, occasionally, the left hand eye winks at me. It is red and the other is green. Normally you would not see these eyes but, on Island Wanderer, there are various radar and aerial domes and they catch reflections of our mast head navigation light - the tricolour. The winking is when one of the sails moves just enough to obscure the reflection.
We expect to make our first clock adjustment tomorrow.
Aeroplanes stick to schedules. From a sailor’s point of view, this is contrary to the romance of the sea in that we view the trip as something that takes as long as it takes. Forget the romance of the sea, I don’t want to miss that plane. It’s one thing to delay a return because of being storm bound in Greece (as happened a year ago) but quite something else to missing a flight home because of not keeping up with the schedule. Ever since setting out we have struggled, gradually slipping further and further behind the target.
This morning, realising that we were now c.100 nautical miles down and a prospect of loosing even more ground in continuing light winds, we decided to “hoist the iron genoa” - so much more acceptable than deciding to use the engine. Even if winds picked up later we wouldn’t be able to sail if winds return unless we pick up the pace right now. So, we are just getting on with it and hope we will be able to sail if and when the wind comes back. As the saying goes, “Bums”.
As we ate dinner tonight, we heard a radio relay from a yacht south of us. If we understood correctly, someone on another yacht further south again had collapsed and was not showing any signs of life. Makes other issues insignificant.
When I came on watch tonight, Gordon said that later radio traffic confirmed the death, it was probably the skipper as remaining crew didn’t know satellite phone, etc. passwords. The crew were intending to continue to St Lucia as, although it was nearer, it would be hard work against wind and current to return to Cap Verde. The yacht that had been doing radio relay from the limited range VHF transmissions was going to “shepherd” the yacht and crew.
All sorts of cliches come to mind but I’m not going to use them. I didn’t know the skipper, his crew or his family but it is so sad for all of us. Here we all are, us on Island Wanderer, the yacht doing the relay work, anyone listening in but powerless to help and the crew of the yacht who have lost their skipper. We are all doing something we love and it is something we acknowledge carries a risk which we do our best to manage. We might even, if we are honest with ourselves, admit we are doing something that implies a selfishness in us when we leave family and friends at home. We are in this encapsulated environment where sailing seems to be the be all and end all, but we are reminded that the life, and death, of the wider world cannot be left behind.
This changing of clock time has thrown me. After leaving UK, I had to add an hour to my time. Then we went back to home time, I think, as we’ve crossed into a new zone. The ship’s clock is set to UTC (GMT for traditionalists) but I’ve lost track of the relationship between local time and UTC!
It’s not been helped by the fact that my watch decided to pack up despite my giving it a new battery before I came away. My travelling alarm has also decided not to co-operate and that leaves me with an iPad and a phone - on both of which I can’t manually adjust the time so I need to find a city whose time matches our zone. If it’s 0300 in London and 2200 in New York, name me a city that’s using our mid-Atlantic ships time!
Also, We have rotated our individual watch times so that no one individual has to suffer the “worst” watch times for all the trip and so I've lost the habit of “2 till 5”. And.. this evenings “beer o’clock” was at 1730 as a compromise between what was 6pm the day before yesterday and what is 6pm now.
If I’m confused, I bet you are as well.
Before going to bed this evening, I checked out how long would elapse before I was due on watch, then I set a timer. The first thing I asked Gordon, who precedes me on the rota, when I got up was “have I got the right time?”. I had.
Only problem is that I now do not know how long I have left before my watch ends - I think it’s an hour but, sitting here on your own, it is surprisingly easy to loose track of how long has passed.
1400 miles to go.
Hope we can sail tomorrow. The wind has picked up a little and is getting towards what we need as being reliable, hope it continues just a couple of knots more.
Wind upwards of 15 knots has meant that we are under cruising chute and half genoa - any more genoa and the chute gets backed. We’re doing 7+ knots (surfing down a wave got us over 10knots for a brief time). Some swell but you can’t have everything ideal.
Cracked it! If I set my phone to Grytviken in the South Georgia Islands it gives me ships time. Now, if I could find a way of turning off the alarm when I’ve set it to wake me for my watch, I’d be really happy.
There I was dreaming away that someone is trying to phone me when I realised it was the alarm. I quickly found the phone but then had to find my glasses to read how to turn it off. And it’s getting louder. It says “swipe right” but that didn't stop it. In desperation, I powered down the phone.
Still, I have also added Grytviken on the iPad world clock, so I can still tell the time but I still can’t the iPad use the alarm clock feature as the main clock is still set to some place in Europe. Technologically Challenged, that’s me!
The wind slackened again in the afternoon and we tried various things. Firstly, we tried cruising chute on its own as the genoa seemed to be creating dead air that kept sucking in the chute and then collapsing it. It didn’t speed us up, or particularly slow us down as we traded sail area for efficiency.
We also tried chute plus main on a broad reach - the boat came alive but, unfortunately, it was going the wrong way so the VMG (velocity made good) towards our destination was no better than other methods.
Tomorrow, we are planning to pole out the chute where the genoa has been, to keep the mainsail and see if that is better. Forecast is for light winds again. Meanwhile we are back on main + staysail + poled out genoa for the overnight watches. We are doing around 6 knots - not fast enough. Rock and roll.
I am learning my 24 times table. 6 knots times 24 hours is easy enough (144 miles) but we targeted 160 miles per day that requires me to know 6.5 times 24 is 156 miles so 6.5 knots average is not quite enough - I haven’t got on to hundredths of a knot yet. It turns out that I am not unique in this as both Gordon and Avryl have admitted doing the same. Alan wasn’t in the conversation to ask him so he remains a closed book on this subject. The trivia of a long distance passage, eh?
Anyway, the box of tricks says we have 1253 miles to go. Now if we continued at our present rate (5.3 knots), how long will it take? The plotter reflects every minor change of speed and so presently varies forecast arrival between the fourth and sixth of December . So 1253 miles divided by 5.3 knots is....? Wait for it...a very long time..
Still we have stars tonight and, drinking my coffee, I notice some reasonable phosphorescence sparkling in the water.,
The plotter tells me that a 108 metre-long ship is crossing ahead of us. It’s “Mini Star” and it’s really close (at its nearest, it will be 18.8 miles away in just over five minutes and then cross and leave us behind) so I better keep my wits about me. It’s the first commercial vessel I’ve seen on the plotter since leaving Mindello. It’s destination is given as “Orders” which basically means it will keep going on its course until someone decides where they would actually like it to be but, for now, Europe seems a reasonable stab at things.
Later.. wind has picked up to 18 knots and we are doing 7.5 knots VMG. That’s more like it!
The thing about this long distance sailing is how relentless it is. Everything is constantly moving. You can’t have a full cup of coffee because it would slop over as the boat moved. You have to wedge yourself to do anything requiring two hands - ever tried one handed sandwich making when all ingredients are making positive moves to jump off the kitchen table onto the floor (or maybe, even, on to the wall on the opposite side of the room)? Does your living room have handholds all over the place and can you walk around the room without use them?
Is your first thought when you wake up to turn over in bed (and you will wake up because you need your wits about you when the bed not only slopes but moves as well) “How fast are we going?”. The answer, of course, if you can hear sails slapping is not fast enough but if you can hear water rushing past it’s OK. And you will wonder if all the other creaks, groans and rattles are going to stop you going back to sleep - they are always there, even on a well-found boat like Island Wanderer.
And you can’t order in a takeaway when you are in the middle of the Atlantic, so you can’t have a night off from one-handed cooking.
Relentless can get you down, and we’re not half way across yet. Perhaps I will have a shower today - I’ll have to sit down to do it, of course, because the shower room keeps moving about and have you ever tried to one-handedly get shampoo out of a bottle, apply to your head, scrub around and wash the soap off?
There I’ve got that off my chest so I guess I will get up and wobble across to the galley and make myself, and whoever is on watch this morning, half cups of coffee.
“Good morning Avryl, tea or coffee? ”.
The 7.5 VMG held for the rest of the night and through most of the morning. We recorded 160 miles in the 24 hours run - best yet - but sure as eggs is what I put in the lunchtime omelette, the wind was dropping. As it started easing in the morning, we had our customary argument with the cruising chute but got it out in the end but, by lunchtime, there was no alternative but to start the engine.
By the evening, we had decided to try sailing again hoping that the wind would return as it had the night before. It was something of a forlorn hope as the only manageable sailing was to go north of the desired course and then we were only making 5.5 knots VMG.
There was some discussion about whether we could have a beer o’clock as if we had been at home and another as if still in Mindello and one for ships time but one person held out against it - unfortunately this person was the skipper.
In the end, our one and only beer o’clock came as the sun was setting. Once again, it was spectacular. A thin veil of cloud aloud the sun to shine through giving the veil a tinge of pink while we could see the disk of the sun going behind the horizon. The first time, I think, we have actually seen it set rather than having evening cloud in the way.
We haven’t had a moon since the leg to Cap Verde and I’d just asked if anyone knew when the new moon was due, we’d had time to discuss almanac sources when Avryl said, “There it is!”. Sure enough, there was a thin sliver of moon, a laid-back dish shape, but we could also see the unlit portion. It wasn’t with us for long but it was nice to spot it.
Wind continued to be poor for what we wanted until deep into the third dark watch when it picked up so that we weren’t sloughing around so much. Direction was still not ideal but the wind was still there in the morning.
After morning roll call on the SBS radio, where all the fleet that have such radios are asked to provide their position and current wind, we launched the cruising chute. Between these two events, we crossed the half way point in that there were 1042 miles to go to our destination waypoint. Next “landmark” is the 1000 miles to go. These figures are somewhat notional as we find it impossible to sail straight at the waypoint.
It is said that sailing is long periods of boredom interspersed with panic. Well we were pretty bored with progress when the shackle on the bowsprit to which the cruising chute is attached decided to part company with us. Avryl and I were on deck, discussing sail plans, when suddenly the foot of the chute went up in the air. Its departure was arrested by the furling line under the pulpit. Panic! I grabbed a harness (never go on deck without one) and a couple of lengths of line while Avryl called for assistance. I had no idea how long the furling line or pulpit were going to hold. Gordon and I tried to get the line through furling gear but it was moving around just out of reach.
We quickly decided to drop all the sail onto the deck - not easy to so when your biggest sail is full of wind. It seems a contradiction but, even in these light winds, there is so much power in the chute. It can lift one of us off the deck but propelling several tonnes of yacht requires even more. Anyway, we got it down, fitted another shackle and planned how to get it back up. The sail was just a pile on the deck, mixed up with the furling gear halyard and we had no real way of knowing if there were any twists in it - we’d got to take the sail up on the halyard but be ready for a quick drop back if there were any problems.
In the event, it went pretty smoothly. Lunch, followed by an afternoon nap was called for. Lunch included fresh bread baked on board by Avryl, but no beer as a reward to hard working crew.
Later, Alan conceded there might be a reward but, under questioning, he admitted any such reward would come out of our daily allowance. He’s a hard man, is Alan.
Welcome to Nuuk time! It’s in Greenland.
For once, we have favourable wind and we are making 6-7 knots consistently. Alan was saying that the conditions so far are so different to when he and Avryl did ARC+ previously. That was in Weoghi, the boat I first sailed with them. Winds were stronger and very favourable, it didn’t matter what you did with the sails the boat just creamed along. It was quite noisy and conversation was not easy. It was, he said, quite boring (as opposed to what we’ve been experiencing?).
We have decided that our skipper is obsessed with beer and he is projecting this obsession on to his crew. He seems to be returning to the subject more and more. Tonight, in a VHF chat with Luce di Marre, he was asking if their skipper had problems with his crew pestering him for beer. The most innocent of our remarks are being met its “No, you can’t have beer”.
Eventually, we could stand it no more and we conceded that beer o’clock could be half hour earlier than usual as there had been a time zone change and it seemed unfair to make him wait 25 hours since the previous “session” of one 33cl can per person.
Alan’s recollections of the above may, I concede differ slightly from mine.
When I started sailing, preparations for sea included putting the spray hood down so as to reduce windage of the yacht. It was only put up if conditions dictated.
Leaving the hood up became a matter of course when we got used to the one yacht in our club, Ocean Flame III, having a fixed screen with a foldable top, the back edge of which provided a cockpit wide handhold.
Sailing in the Med brought biminis with the spray hood only put down if ventilation was required.
Tonight there was a shower but there was no dashing to put on our waterproofs but, instead, we dropped the side screens and carried on with our beers otherwise uninterrupted.
How times change?
2335 UTC, 2035 ships time.... sailing on a broad reach in 12 knots of wind from south, warm, 808 miles to go.
This was not to last. During the course of my watch, the wind died down and, when Alan came to relieve me, we had to start the engine up again.
Come the morning, there was some wind, again from the south, so we decided to try main plus cruising chute.
As we were getting everything squared away from setting the sails, I noticed there as significant fraying in the middle of the genoa furling line.. We eventually twigged this was where the line entered the roller furling drum when we had had a reef in the genoa a couple of days ago. The last block before the drum was mounted too high and the line was fouling part of the casing.
I undid the clamp for the block, moved it down for a better angle and, after considering several alternatives, we decided to reverse the existing line (the part from the damage onwards was longer than damage to drum length), run it without most of the line blocks so we could tie on another length without the knot getting stuck on an intermediate block. This all took time - everything does when you have to move around a sloping deck, fix and remix your harness to appropriate points, send for tools, shout back the cockpit for slack line, etc., but we got it done just in time for someone to say, “I don’t like the look of that cloud.!”
It was an advancing squall. Sail was shortened, bimini side panels lowered as we attempted, with some success, to navigate using radar to avoid the worst of the squall.
By the time we cleared the squall, it was lunchtime. By the time we’d cleared from that, the sun was out and we were in winds too light for a decent sail.
689 miles to go.
At around 1700, we passed - tremble, tremble - the devil’s mileage. 666 miles to go. It doesn’t seem far.... the South Coast sailor should imagine themselves at The Needles and crossing to Cherbourg. When at the entrance to Cherbourg, turn round and sail back to The Needles. Do this a further four times, then sail once more to Cherbourg and you have reached your destination. Nothing to it really.
We saw lightening shortly after dark. Radar showed rain 32 miles to the south-west. We kept an eye on it but the squall dissipated before getting anywhere near us. There were no squalls on the plotter when I returned to the cockpit for my watch.
WHAT THE.....? TORCH , QUICK, BLOODY HELL, THE GENOA’S IN THE WATER. “HELP PLEASE, WE’VE LOST THE GENOA!”
Half hour later, the genoa is on the foredeck, tied down. The halyard and the top furling swivel have parted company but we don’t know if we still have the halyard at the top of the mast. Someone will have to go up top tomorrow in the light.
Well, that was an eventful night!
We continued under power and mainsail. At one point a freak wave came over the boat and through hatches. First I really knew was a curse from Gordon in the next cabin as water came in from the hatch immediately above his berth. I realised what I’d only been half aware of, established I was not wet and went back to sleep.
Later it became most uncomfortable in the forepeak as seas became confused due to a change in wind direction. I moved to the saloon and went back to sleep.
Waking up before the sun was above the horizon, I joined Avryl for a cuppa. For the first time this trip, I saw the sun rise over the horizon, outlining the few clouds in the east in an otherwise clear sky.
The genoa is bundled on the foredeck. It looks from the cockpit that the halyard itself has frayed through. This would probably mean that the halyard has disappeared into the mast and will not be recoverable at sea.
The forecast for tomorrow is strengthening winds from north-east and a building so we are going to have to do some thinking. I’m wondering about dropping the chute and using that halyard - it’s more important to have a furling genoa than a furling cruising chute - but I don’t know what the halyard arrangement is like up the mast in terms of how it leads, etc.
Alan decided against using the chute halyard as he didn’t like the way the lead was slightly off-set from the genoa foil. We tidied the sail up and tied it down on the aft deck. Remember the days of folding a genoa underway after a headsail change? It doesn’t get easier.
So, it’s night watch again and, sitting in the cockpit all alone, I can ponder the questions of life. These range from the mundane e.g. when I can see so many stars and there must be planets orbiting many of them then how can anyone think we humans are the only intelligent life in the universe? Some may think that there is considerable evidence that we do not rank as intelligent but that’s another question.
Other questions are deeply philosophical e.g. if weed grows in the cracks between the paving blocks on the driveway at my home then how does it get to the mid- Atlantic to float around in patches?
Along the way, and as a variation on a well known question, we may also ponder whether there would be spectacular sunsets if we were not here, sailing across the ocean, to see them?
We may also ask whether our genoa is a sentient being? Finding that fraying its furling line did not let it stop working, did it fray the halyard to make certain it could have a rest?
Finally, does a three hour watch without companionship make you talk a load of rubbish?
Alan had an engineering business until retirement and likes to work out precise answers to questions before starting to implement (I'm more of an empiricist i.e. “suck-it-and-see”).
Avryl organises everything – ordering stores, hiding them away, remembering where they are. Gordon and I soon learnt not to ask Alan if we needed anything and I think we maybe know more about storage on Island Wanderer than he does.
Gordon is my prime companion in crime when it comes to winding up Alan about beer but he does have other characteristics. He is very definite on any sailing question - his catchphrase is “ Eeeze the sheet. Eeeze the sheet. Eeeze the sheet!” Usually this is shouted from the bow of the boat to those in the cockpit - he can’t always see they are doing exactly that and so throws in another repetition for luck. He likes to take charge in any sailing activity and, usually, I let him because he does generally know what he is talking about and two people arguing about whose way is best when on a foredeck, rising and falling in the swell and trying to set a three to four metre extending pole for the genoa is not ideal.
During beer o’clock this evening we crossed the 500 miles to go mark.
It’s Alan’s birthday tomorrow. Gordon and I are hoping for extra beer to celebrate. Some hope!
2nd December and birthday boy decided we should lower the cruising chute and attach its halyard to the genoa furling top gear, run it up (with a lowering line) to the masthead and study the lead through the binoculars. Oh, and we now have a swell of around to 2 metres.
By this process, it’s decided that we can fly the genoa so Gordon and I go on the back deck and rearrange the genoa into a kind of sausage with the tack and head leading and the clew at the rear. Three sail ties keep the sausage together and the four of us drag, lift and curse this thing along the side deck to the bow. There we reattach the sail to the furling gear and the sheets to the clew, then winch the sail up and set it. This takes an hour and all is fine until some bright spark decides we should gybe the main and then set the genoa out on the pole. This is all in that swell plus a couple of showers thrown in.
At coffee time (actually we opted for fruit juice), we remain civil enough to give Alan his card and present. The card is a sketch/cartoon of Alan considering where to put more lines and blocks and also thinking about us being given extra beer to celebrate his birthday. This poor substitute for a card, by yours truly, was given because Gordon and I failed to find any cards in Cap Verde.