Our Atlantic Crossing
Nov. 09, 2016
We departed Mindelo Marina by 8:40am Cape Verdies time and immediately changed all time pieces on board the boat to Barbados time (3 hours earlier). The objective behind this decision is to set our shift schedules and keep the same time slot for the entire passage, making it easier for us to adjust to specific sleep patterns. I (Cathy) had the 7-11 shift (am&pm), since most meal preparation would be my responsibility. Robert followed with the 11-3 shift, then Steve, our friend and crew took up the last four hours between 3-7, again both am and pm.
Day 1 - We had light winds to start with but, fortunately for us, that didn't last. Before long, we had 20-25 knots of wind gusting to just over 30 and we're making way at an average of 8.3 knots. If we could keep this up, we would make our arrival in Barbados in just over 10 days! That would be a little optimistic, however, after 24 hours of strong comfortable sailing with reasonable waves had us put in just over 212 knotical miles. Good start!
Day 2 - The seas were building a little more which forced a choice of comfort over speed so we reduced our sails and logged 197 nautical miles. Shifts seemed to click away and our Hallberg Rassy was quite comfortable with the higher winds and bigger seas. Our AIS antenna is placed low on our boat which means our line of site for targets is usually less than 12 miles for small crafts and about 25 for ships. The Raymarine dome is also low which results in roughly the same range. This means we should only have to worry about traffic that is 12-18 miles around us. We noticed that over the last couple of days some vessels in the rally were heading more south than west compared to us. BnG seemed to be doing well and leading most of the Barbados 50 fleet. The exception was the Trimaran that was about 8 miles due south of us, although he could have a tougher time with the big waves. Robert wanted to make the most of the winds we had early in the passage, knowing very well that there could be lighter winds ahead. We used a good friend as a land based weather contact, Gary Black, to help guide us during our crossing. With high speed internet at his fingertips he had a lot more information than we did. We choose not to fish this early in the passage because putting the lines out is never a problem, but bringing them in with a 20lb Tuna is. Landing and cleaning in higher winds and seas pose a threat to the safety of the crew. We needed to find our grove first.
Day 3 - Watching the wind drop from 25 to 15 knots today meant that our dreams of a 10 day passage was very unlikely. We logged 147 miles in the last 24 hour period. For a boat our size that is pretty disappointing. There was the odd squall that would set off the radar alarm and get everyone's attention, but other than that we were basically alone now on the chart plotter screen. Settling in we ate most meals together and carried on a backgammon championship for the crossing. Robert seems to always win like he is cheating or something, but it's impossible to cheat when we're using the iPad app. I figure he must have threatened it with a swim or something. Someone just can’t win that many games!
Day 4 - All our wonderful wind was now dropping to a gentle breeze. With 6-10 knots of light winds in big seas it means one thing, preserve our sails. We motored and set the main as a flopper stopper for comfort. It was also Roberts Birthday. So instead of violent rocking and little ground covered, Robert thought it was best to motor through this area of high pressure. Nobody really knows how long they last, but getting to the other side is more important than trying to figure them out. We ate well, watched TV and just relaxed.
Day 5-7 - More of the same. Motoring at 1,350 Rpms and making 6.3 knots was as good as we needed. Sipping away at 4 litres/hour of diesel ensured that we could motor the rest of the way should we need to. Robert refuses to have flopping sails. More on that later. Game of Thrones and the series Ulitmate Force kept those on watch entertained while others slept or read. We had so much food we decided that we really didn't need to fish (no room in fridge or freezer for it). We received a message on our Satellite phone from Steves wife, Sue asking us why we had not left Mindelo when all the other boats had? To our surprise the Rally Organizers had let us fall through the cracks on their Rally Tracking. So we messaged them to ask if they had been receiving our daily location plots. It took quite a while before hearing back, but then the response was “no where are you?” We discovered that they had not been receiving our Spot notices and did not bother to worry about it. Robert knows what he is doing he will be fine. Huh? We then set up our Satellite phone to submit our positions to the Rally organizers so they could safely track us going forward. It did annoy us somewhat that they had lost track of us for over 5 days and didn’t give it much thought. We tried to join the SSB net when we could but it seemed hard to get the right frequency to get all the boats with a clear broadcast. Lots of relaying messages and positions kept it interesting. Everyone was looking for wind. We nicknamed the wind “Waldo”.
Day 8 - Wind ho! We had a bit more than the gentle breeze we got use to over the last 3 days and decided to try to pole out the genoa and keep the main as a flopper stopper. That seemed to work for awhile. We managed 5.7 to 6.2 and sometimes more if we could get in front of a squall. Onward to Barbados and getting Robert there for his flight back to Canada to close our Cottage for winter. Foolish or otherwise, we had booked his flight before leaving Cape Verde, and we were scheduled sailing.
Day 9 - More of the same as you cross the Atlantic days seem to flow into each other and just pass on by. Weather was getting a little warmer which made the interior a little more warm and not as fresh smelling. It's at this point that clothes start to stand up waiting for you to put them back on every 4-6 hours. Mandatory showers were taken and when the tide ran with us and the waves laid down we ran the AC whenever the generator was running, to try and cool and dry out the inside of the boat. It's at this point most sailors are counting down the days rather than counting them up. Robert on the other hand describes land fall as an end to a good thing. God only knows how many days at sea he would have to put in before he started looking for land.
Day 10 - For some excitement we thought we would try to fly the spinnaker. This usually has me (Cathy) in a bundle of nerves. It's HHHUUUUGGGEEEE!!!!!!!! Until you see it you might think "ya sure”, but this sail is the king of all sails. It's referred to as a blister. When the boat is rolling its not smart to put this sail out. With one metre seas at the moment we wern’t rolling too bad, so up it went. It was up for about 4 hours and the wind just kept dropping and dropping. When it went down to 6 knots and our boat was doing 3.4, we determined the possibility of getting to Barbados on time was questionable. We took down the spinnaker just before dinner and started to motor, again. When Robert came up for his shift we saw SY Kerpa, another Barbados50 boat on the AIS screen just south of us about 6 miles away. We motored though the night and only ended up 6 miles ahead of them. We contacted them on the VHS radio and chatted for a bit. They had a crew member that had put her head through the microwave door in the night. She was fine, but no more microwaving for them. They said they had not been motoring. That didn’t add up to us. Later we talked with his wife and she let the cat out of the bag. All through the rally we have been the boat to beat. In the beginning they all thought we would be slow due to the weight of our boat. We proved that weight was not a factor in Ocean going cruising boats. Moreover, it's advantage is comfort. Well when two sailboats are going the same direction, it typically becomes a race. During the day Kerpa would come from behind to catch up and pass and then through the night we would catch and pass them. We had only half our Genoa out on a pole and a third of our Main out. Our boom vang was getting tired and making noises like it was going to come apart any second. We just had to hope it didn’t.
Day 11 - They are ahead, then we are, then they are. Looking for squalls to provide any kind of wind, well, it was keeping us entertained. Without it, we would be just having another day at sea.
Day 12 - In the push to get ahead SY Kerpa put up their spinnaker. So we put up ours, the race was on! It was a good thing for us to do because it had gotten a little wet when taking it down last time. The material is so thin that it will not take mold very well from being wet. This would give it a chance to dry, and for us to pick up speed! After about two hours the wind started to pick up 14-16 knots true. The only issue with higher wind comes the waves. We have already had an experience twisting (candy caning) our spinnaker and had no desire for a repeat performance. We left it as long as we could thinking that the wind might just die down again. Just before dark the decision was made. We would rather get it down in daylight than in the dark or in front of a squall. It wouldn't come down. What was going wrong? Steve and I pulled on the doucer as hard as we could and it finally came down. It was like a game of tug of war. It wanted to stay out. When it was finally packed away, we set the pole out as we have for the past number of miles and let out half of the Genoa. Just as the sun was setting, we started to get an ugly swell from the north. It made for a very rocky night. With our cupboards stocks depleting throughout the passage, we now had stuff flopping about. We got out our small 1kg flour bags to take up the empty space and also put towels around clanging glasses. Twice the refrigerator door came open and its contents went everywhere. Laugh or cry? It was a tough choice, but we had to laugh because there was nothing we could do now but clean up the mess! We took out big Tupperware bins and divided the fridge into four sections. It would take two people to open the fridge door to make sure things didn’t come flying out. Steve was starting to not feel all that well. It was warm inside the cabin, and the rocky rolling was making it hard to take. We all wanted to open windows, but at sea you just don’t. One good boarding wave could spell disaster. Sleeping in the cockpit is the only option if you want fresh air. We were within 24 hours of landfall.
Day 13 - Another day spent watching the Chartplotter to see where Kerpa was. I asked Steve what he thought of the Atlantic Crossing and he said that he thought it would have been different. I asked, "different how?” “Well,” he said “ it was kind of boring.” “Yes”, I replied, "it can be!” It can be described as camping on the water. You definitely have to entertain yourself. Having iPads and a flat screen TV sure does help. Just before dark we lost Kerpa on the AIS, but we had him on radar. We noticed an increase in speed. He was definitely motoring! He was in front of us by about 6 miles and decided that he was keeping the lead. He had his son on board and being the first monohull to arrive would be a memory that they would have for a lifetime. We had an arrival time of 9am at our current speed and decided that we would just carry on. We didn’t see any good in getting there before customs came on shift, and the Barbados Rally Control crew was there to help you in. At 9pm the night before we reported our latest and last position and notified Rally Control our planned arrival time. They had asked boats to contact them 12 hrs prior to arrival to assist with lines and clearances. BnG crossed the Atlantic successfully with no breakages or failures other than a weak boom vang and arrived in Barbados in time for Roberts flight back to Canada. Eastern Caribbean here we come!