15 January 2015

Atlantic Crossing Dec 2014 - 2015

Report from Cap'n Buck

..... So we are in Port Le Marin, Martinique, Caribbean - arrived Monday 12 Jan 0915H!    Great to be here, can hardly believe it after all our planning.  With one additional crew member to assist us, Amanda Wilson from New Zealand our fantastic helmswoman, we have had amazing sailing from Gibraltar to Rabat, Rabat to Madeira, Madeira to Lanzarote, Lanzarote - Tenerife, Tenerife to Las Palmas Gran Canaria, an unscheduled stopover in Cape Verde 6 days later.  We sailed 100 miles past there and had a hopeless forecast, so went back to Cape Verde for Christmas. Departed CV again 28 Dec and here we are.

The crossing was boisterous to say the least. Mostly winds of 25 - 35 knots with squalls to 40 plus on a regular basis. As the wind increased so did the sea state of course so at times we had 5 to 6 metre seas with a cross swell to add to it all, one from the NE and one from the E. When they joined up, which was very fequently, they caused a break that caught us occasionally stern-on and tried to tip us over. Like a mini broach I guess but Matelot always rcovered quickly so we were never in any real danger. Once when Amanda was on the helm and yours truly was asleep in the quarter berth (starboard aft cabin) we sort of fell off a wave and I was thrown across the berth and opened up a cut over my right eye which bled profusely but otherwise only left a bit of bruising. Otherwise we were injury free apart form the odd bruise suffered by everyone on board.

SY Matelot performed mgnificently throughout and the hydrovane was a marvel, only occasionally telling us that we were over canvassed, usually around the 35 knot region!  As we were already down to three reefs in the main and an almost completely rolled up genny winged out on the spinnaker boom, we didn't have much to take in!  At that stage we usually rolled up the genny completely and saw out the squall which was mostly fairly shortlived (30 miniutes or less).  All we were glad of was that we were going with it not against it. 

It was a memorable trip but we are happy to leave the Atlantic behind now and head for the Blue Pacific. We saw very little sun on the crossing so subsequently had to run the motor on numerous occasions to charge the batteries. No problem there as we carried extra 150 litres of fuel as well as the main tank which has the same again. We only used about half of the main tank in the end so had plenty in reserve if we had needed it.  We did have a twelve hour period where we motored through lack of wind. This in effect meant that we had less than 10 knots which is not enough to sail in with the huge seas which always take a long time to dissipate once the wind has dropped.
Dolphins all around us...

Our rig was the traditional main out one side, with double preventer, plus the genny poled out the opposite side. I had set up the spin. boom so that it was independently stayed, topping lift, aft brace and forward brace.  Then I fitted a snatch block inside the topping lift at the outer end of the boom through which the sheet for the genny was led from the clew through the block back to the winch aft.  That minimised chafe on the sheet and meant we could roll up the genny to any extent necessary while the boom stayed where it was. Worked a treat. We had set up the boat with prod and snuffer for the spinnaker but never had a chance to use it because of the wind strength. Pippy has a habit of saying no when it is blowing over 20 knots with gusts to 35, and I for one am very glad of that habit!

There were a number of mishaps en route by other boats who left about the same time who all said they had very rough crossing.  One single handed woman whom we had met on various occasions tragically lost her boat 150 miles SW of the Cape Verdes only a few days ago and has been picked up by a ship.   Problem with her rudder we understand but that is all we know.  Another 30 footer with an Irishman and his German wife also crossed at the same time as us and had all sorts of problems, especially with weed around their rudder. He had to get into the water twice to cut away the weed. Thank goodness we didn't have it as bad as that although we did have problems and had to use the boat hook to clear the hydrovane rudder of weed on many occasions. 

Had fun cooking this!
It also made fishing difficult although having said that, we did land two very good mahimahi, one about 20kg (84cm). We lived off them for days! The very first time I put out the line we lost the whole contraption, lock, stock and barrel. Some denizen of the deep snapped the 150 lb mono-filament line at the boat where it was attached, as if it was a bit of cotton.  Fortunately I had divided the line in two so we lived to fish another day. We also lost a swordfish which we got to the boat then it broke off, and what I think was a tuna but it broke off before we got it close.  Incidentally the mahimahi we did land had weed in its mouth and we suspect it took the lure with the weed on it!

Our passage time was around 20 days for the whole trip from Las Palmas, but of course in the end we decided to stop over in Cape Verdes en route and back-tracked a bit to do that, so don't have an accurate log of the direct mileage travelled. Around 2150 miles for the Cape Verde to Martinique plus another 800 miles approx to Cape Verde from Canaries. Total therefore 2950 miles plus our back-tracking to Cape Verde.

Right now we are looking at continuing on as far as Puerto Rico in the north, then across to the ABC islands off the Venezuala Coast before continuing on to Panama. It is a bit of a daunting though after such a boisterous passage so we will look at all options open to us over the next few days and weeks and go from there.

Pippy's Contribution

We left Las Palmas, Gran Canaria on 16 December with Richard, myself and Amanda Wilson on board and were immediately in good wind for a fast passage.  It was our plan to sail non-stop to the Caribbean, but 6 days later when we passed close to the Cape Verde Islands, we received a weather forecast which was not great for the next 3-5 days. We then decided to turn around and spend Christmas at Mindelo, Cape Verde and wait for better wind, so sailed 150 miles back to there.  We enjoyed Mindelo - very African and interesting for a short time - and nice to spend Christmas with friends on other boats, then departed there on 28 December for the remainder of our crossing.

It was a very challenging passage with big winds and seas, but was enormously satisfying experience for all three of us on board.  The ocean was powerful and beautiful and we were often visited by dolphins.  Friends just ahead of us on another yacht saw Minke whales close by too, but we did not.  We spent a good deal of the time fishing and were successful in landing two delicious Mahi Mahi which kept us fed for quite a few days and even provided the makings for a huge fish pie on arrival here to share with friends.  

We all got on very well on the crossing, mostly sleeping, eating and going on watch.  The time flew by. During the day 7am-7pm, Amanda and Richard did 4 hour watches.  Pippy took care of all the communications (via satphone), weather information, cooking food and keeping the galley running, and making water via the watermaker. (Mostly fresh drinking water as we were drinking a lot of fluids - no alchohol and did not miss it.).  At night this all changed and we shared 3 hour watches.  Most nights the moon on the water was breathtakingly beautiful - a blessing to have the moonlight and very good visibility. Because we had some high winds, we often had to hand steer through the squalls so sometimes it was pretty full on.  For three nights we changed to rolling two hour watches because the weather was so extreme it was too exhausting to be on watch for longer than two hours.  That was much harder, especially during the squalls of torrential rain which we were often doused with when visibility was very limited.  After a few days of that we were all pretty exhausted but fortunately the weather eased up on us a little and we were able to go back to 3 hours and more uninterrupted sleep.  
Quite an achievement getting these date and orange scones made....

What I really loved was the afternoon sleep I was able to have most days - crashed out for 1-2-3 hours doing catchup and waking up feeling so refreshed.  Both Amanda and I thought we would get a few projects done on passage, but it was mostly impossible although Amanda did get some knitting done showing great determination. Anything not tied down got thrown around the saloon.  Preparing food was a huge challenge and the clipped-on-to-the-stove pressure cooker came into its own, doing many of our meals. Once or twice I tried to use the oven but it was difficult to get hot things in and out with it rocking backwards and forwards on the gimble so violently. The date and orange scones came out okay despite the rocking!  
We did eat well though it was hard to get food from bowl to mouth without losing it!  Drinks were even harder - often travelling vertically out of the mug.  We mostly just drank water from our water bottles.

Now we are coming to terms with being in the Caribbean. The temperature is deliciously warm, and sunny, but we have already had quite a lot of rain which is such a luxury after years of sailing in the Med where it never rains and the boat got very dirty.  Now the boat has been washed down several times and so have we.

All is well with us.  The saloon smells of tropical fruit and fresh vanilla pods.  We are slowly getting over our tiredness and starting to move on again.

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