Crossing the Atlantic

SSB schedule 



The 2nd leg passage from Cape Verde to St Lucia was quite different from the passage down to the Cape Verde. After strong winds just after the start in the acceleration zone between the islands of Sao Vicente and San Antao it settled down to a NE wind virtually the whole way. We had a period of almost 4 hrs on the first night where we seemed to fall into a hole with mountainous seas and no wind from all over the place- it brought to mind something out of Greek mythology Charybidis maybe – as Poseidon vented his fury on us, but we eventually managed to escape and make progress. We could see from the AIS that this happened to other boats too while others creamed by unscathed quite close by. Some minor squalls meant we had to reef, there was another night with frustrating holes and calms, otherwise we were lucky to have a good wind most of the way. Mostly we sailed with poled out Yankee and main with preventer. Not the most efficient rig for our cutter as the forward lowers mean the pole can’t go out square so you can’t even deploy the whole Yankee and the aft lowers mean you can’t let the main out far enough. We really should have set twin headsails but not having practised the manoeuvre were reluctant to commit ourselves. Our main problem was not being able to sail far enough down wind, with fluctuations in wind strength the wind vane steering had to be set for about 150 to 120 deg, so our course zig zags along the rhumb line as we gybed. We did try setting the cruising chute (with refurbished snuffer) a couple of times but this was not v successful, if you had it powered up enough to drive through the swell it was only just on the edge of control. Then it got wrapped round the fore stay and took an hour to unravel!

Did we roll – yes of course, downwind in a big swell you will roll whatever sails you set, but actually not as bad as expected . It is though a bit frustrating when everything in the galley had gone flying yet again as the boat made an unexpected lurch. What did we do before the dead frog stuff was invented? Occasionally a cross swell would slap the quarter and cascade into the cockpit soaking anyone at the helm if any one was there (though this can happen in the Kyles of Bute) and maybe going through the pilot cabin window open to the cockpit and giving the off watch crew a rude awakening. However we managed to cook and bake bread and even some cookies the whole way. The fresh food just about lasted, though we only had onions and limes left. We ate some lentils, but very few tins.

The other difference to the first leg was that the fleet spread out really quickly! By the first morning everyone was out of sight and almost out of VHF range too. On the way to Cape Verde we got some freak VHF reception so we could speak over much longer distances than should have been possible. However our SSB installed the year before but almost completely untried seemed to work fine, so Steve had volunteered to be a net controller for this leg and faithfully took part in the twice daily schedule. They all had a lot of fun with it. Steve set up a Nautical Trivia quiz for the other boats via SSB which folk seemed to enjoy. What we didn’t realise until later was that apart from the boats that came up on the SSB schedule, there were others listening in to the chat and everything who had receive only sets. We did also use the SSB to send and receive emails to Rally control and to download weather grib files. The Sat phone was kept in reserve, we received a few texts and good wishes from friends and tried to send to another’s boat.

Steve also tried to take some sun sights with the sextant. Occasionally our noon latitude from the sextant was only 10 miles out. All a bit of an anachronism when you have your position by GPS of course.

It was a shame that the brand new Raymarine speed/log instrument stopped working as we left Mindelo. To judge distance we were just counting down the miles to the waypoint at the North end of St Lucia from the GPS. This does lend itself to various celebrations – 1000 miles to go, 500, 250 100 etc.

The other equipment not working was the diesel generator and of course the watermaker as it needed 240V. In the end we had enough battery charging from the wind vane and the towed charger, both working really well, so we did not have to start the engine at all. Though we were fairly economical with power usage, turning off anything non essential (echosounder, chart plotter screen). Occasionally when we were going fast and had too much power I turned up the fridge. Of course the towed charger was slowing us down a little but as we used it the whole way we didn’t really notice. We did find though that it was best to slow right down to deploy it or the line got so many kinks – this meant taking in all sail as we made 2-3 knots under bare poles, and you also had to slow down to get it in. We were careful with the water usage especially as we have no working gauge on the tanks. We used seawater for rinsing and a little in cooking. In the end we had only used part of one of the 2 tanks and there was also all the emergency water in cans and bottles. It was a shame we couldn’t use the watermaker as with it I felt we could have sailed on forever not limited by time if we could replenish the tank very few days.

Most of the other kit seemed to work Ok. We were very pleased with the Hydrovane self steering. The Bimini made by Owen sails of Oban is very good, Steve especially needs the shade.

Other boats were not so fortunate. At least 3 had rudder problems, 2 had broken fore stays (luckily the masts stayed up), and a couple had jammed or broken headsail furling gear.

We got rid of as much packaging as possible before we set off, of course. Food waste was collected in a pot, chopped up small and thrown overboard. Tins etc were washed out in seawater and squashed and stored, there were not many bottles being a dry ship. Other stuff was carefully washed in seawater and cut up small, so when we got to St Lucia we had one small bag which didn’t smell, and a small bag of recycling.

Not that much to see. Flying fish of course, mostly the ones we found on deck were too small to eat. A large one that landed on the cockpit I managed to throw back before it expired. A few birds, and dolphins came to play one evening. There was an awful out of seaweed in the water, not sure if this was because we were in the (favourable) equatorial current. A lot of boats complained about the weed getting round the rudder, the self steering or the water generators that deploy just behind the boat, this didn’t seem to happen to our water generator which towed on 35m of line or our rudders.

The last 200 to 300 miles it got much warmer, but also significantly wetter. I was able to grab my shampoo and have a nice fresh water wash during one squall. We were very pleased that St Lucia appeared ahead just where is was supposed to be – you do wonder after so many days at sea seeing nothing at all …. We were pleased that the wind held up, even increased as we sailed round the top of the island, round Pigeon Island and on to the finish, so that we could complete the passage under sail with no engine hours. I’m not sure about the competitive aspect of the ARC, with the rally control sending daily position reports it was difficult not to get sucked into it, although we were all definitely cruisers some took it more seriously than others. It did serve to concentrate the mind on making progress as did reports in the books we’ve read of the mileage made by others in small boats. Our daily miles made good varied between 110 and nearly 150 – remember this was miles made toward the destination as we were going on the GPS. In the end, taking into account the handicaps and engine hours (which were penalised heavily in this year of good winds) we were 5th in our class (the middle one, mind you a lot of the smaller boats beat us).

Mostly our watch system of 3 hours on 3 hours off during the hours of darkness with more casual arrangements during the day worked OK. towards the end as we closed on St Lucia we did have a couple of nights were neither got much sleep as the variable wind meant we needed to gybe a few times and both were needed on deck. We did arrive still talking to each other and we did enjoy ourselves.

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