Thursday, January 17, 2019

Atlantic passage

I always remembered a conversation I had many years ago with an old salt who had sailed the 7 seas and he told me that the east to west passage across north Atlantic was the easiest of them all. When he did it, he said he flew wing-on-wing and never touched the canvas for 2 weeks.

Well Judy and I were hoping that would be the case for us. However we didn't get off to a good start. As soon as we departed from Mindelo, Cape Verde, we were immersed in some pretty strong wind and waves as we passed between 2 of the islands and that was not so bad other than in all that excitement we discovered a serious problem in the rigging that necessitated an emergency stop on the back side of the most western island of Cape Verde.

Problem fixed, we were off to seek the conveyor belt trade winds to carry us across.

Long after those imperious mountain peaks of the Cape Verdes dissolved like ghosts into the Sahara induced haze, we knew it would be the last land we would see for 20 or more days.

This passage was typical in that after a few days we settled into an indolent rhythm where the desultory days blend one into the other and it would matter not if the voyage was 10 or 30 days or if it was Sunday or Wednesday or if it was the 1st or the 15th of the month.

Sea cat's berth

However we were diligent in our routine of watches. We do 3 hours on and 3 hours off during the night and every 18 minutes, a 360° visual regardless day or night. The other relentless event is our cat Chanty's demand to be let out each morning for her "walk around the block" to fetch her breakfast that without fail is waiting on deck. It's those flying fish accompanied by an occasional squid that make their fateful last nocturnal flights.

Morning catch

Most of our idle time is spent on such things as reading, watching DVDs occasionally, playing Scrabble, and writing and ruminating. However the lonely lazy days were made more interesting in a few delightful ways, mostly involving, what else? Fish.

Once, our languid aura was broken by the frantic tolling of the bell on the fishing rod and it was all hands on deck, including Chanty. It was a big Mahi Mahi. These ubiquitous pelagic roamers are one of the fastest growing fish in the sea. As we watched the vivid iridescent hues of blues and greens of its skin dissolve into a lackluster grey before our eyes as it expired on board, there is a certain measure of guilty regret of the sacrifice not to mention we, sadly, quite likely snatched it from its travelling mate.

An ocean rainbow

The latter fact was made evident one night when we were on deck awash with spreader lights. There we saw in the deep blackness a pair swimming tight formation right alongside like sleek escorts for the lumbering mothership. And again in the morning, the same thing, maybe the same ones?

If Chanty could talk, this would be her tale:
"We were given a start one night as I was being held in Dad's arms in the companionway while he was doing his 360° visual check, when a flying fish whizzed by my face like a ballistic missile, ricocheted off the inside of the dodger, and crash landed inside the boat, leaving a tracer of scales. I dispatched him at once."
Flying fish shrapnel

In another chance sighting as we were slowly sailing along, I saw a fin sticking out of the water. A sunfish? They are known to lay on the surface. No. This one was moving and then I saw the corresponding tail following. It was a big shark, and judging the space between the dorsal and tail, I would estimate his overall size to be maybe 4 metres or more.

Well along, we were given notice, with rafts of gilded seaweed, that we had entered the Sargasso Sea. The sea was a palate of royal colours as the opulent gold was in a perfect compatible contrast with the rich aqua marine of the deep ocean. Its presence lasted for days and frustrated any attempts of trailing a fishing line.

Golden sargasso seaweed

Twice we were visited by pods of breaching pilot whales. In one pod, there were about a dozen that included a wee one swimming in unison with mom as though attached while another fellow, like a black submarine, maybe 5 metres long, cruised right along beside us barely moving a muscle.

A pod of pilots

After several days, our loneliness was interrupted when Judy spotted another ship. As we focused on the blip on the horizon, there is a mustering of inquisitive thoughts like, who are they? Where are they going? It is easy to conjure up romantic thoughts of adventurous itinerant mariners heading to exotic ports, that is, until the modern tech of AIS gives the pragmatic answer. It was a Japanese fishing vessel about as far away from home as it could get.

When the lambent light of twilight gave way to night, most nights were sailed in a blanket of darkness. The moon being elsewhere would leave us in the care of brilliant stars, from the North Star to the Southern Cross. It is those nights in this vast remoteness that you realize just how utterly alone and remote you are. It isn't a scary isolation, but a privileged tranquil peace that very few people ever experience. It is a rare and precious opportunity for reflection and contemplation.
"The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails."  by William Arthur Ward
As far as the sailing conditions were concerned, our expectations inspired by that old salty sailor's experience were not met.

Starting out, it took us about 3 days to break free of the clutches of tangled wind and confused seas that the lees of the Cape Verde islands produce when the winds eventually became relatively constant in direction and strength.

Before leaving, the forecast we had for the first week suggested we should head SW before turning west for a straight shot across.

We were in daily contact with Adam back home who was constantly consulting online weather forecasting and routing us. He warned of a 5-day calm that was forecast to develop on our plotted course and suggested we drop more south to avoid it. So we extended our SW trajectory to 12° north and then turned west. That was just about the time that the butter melted.

Well it turned out the weather feeds from Adam, our land based router, paid off. We only had about 10 hours of faint winds in which we motored as we skirted that particular calm area,. After that it was back to downwind sailing but not exactly constant. At times it was wing-on-wing with a poled out genoa on portside and poled out staysail on the other. Then other times, it was just genoa, Sometimes it was down to a wisp of 5 to 10 knots and at times 25 plus.

Then about 4 days from arrival, we hit light and variable winds that had us ghosting on frequent sail changes and adjustments combined with motor sailing.

Where's the wind?

The majority of days were sunny. There were only a couple of days that had the sun play hide and seek with a myriad of clouds that polka dotted the sky. Once we had a light rain shower, a welcomed chance to towel off the salty decks.

On the morning of the 21st day and after about 2,200 nautical miles covered, we rounded the southern point of Martinique (Caribbean) and into the big bay at La Marin in the lee of the verdant tropical hills. When we dropped the hook, a kind of hush fell over us and it was as though our reliable ship Sea Turtle fell into a sound sleep in - what seemed strange - calm and peaceful waters.

Even though this passage wasn't a sleepy trade wind run as had by that old salt we talked with, it had its delightful moments and left us with yet another feeling of accomplishment.

Passage from Cape Verde to Caribbean Dec 27 to Jan 17
N14°25.625' W060°53.385' Jan 17 Martinique (La Marin)

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Don't forget to look up!

T'was the season to cross the North Atlantic from east to west. It was mid-December and a good many, such as the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers participants, had already left, most having made their departure from the Canary Islands, and a few, like us, who made one last stop at the Cape Verde Islands.

Judy and I were in no particular hurry to leave on this passage to the Caribbean as the later in December, or even January, is typically the better time to cross.

So while in Mindelo of Sao Vicente Island, the second largest town of the Cape Verde Islands, we matched the pace of a slow clock while doing some last little boat jobs, topping up with provisions, and chatting with other sailors doing the same.

Colourful sailfish sculpture

It was interesting to meet the newbies to sailing and hear their nervous excitement as they prepared for their imminent departure for their first ocean crossing. As Judy and I have made numerous major passages, we were happy to assuage their worries, letting them know that this was historically one of the easiest crossings as the predictable and steady trade winds should usher them right along.

So, being as prepared as we could and with a forecast showing steady winds for the next week, we headed out.

Now there is a worthy adage, Don't forget to look up, and from experience we can say that a lapse in that exercise could cause the careless sailor problems, if not disaster.

One such incident occurred as we were leaving Borneo for Malaysia when for a period we had to beat into some pretty heavy wind and seas. Sea Turtle was taking a pounding that built an anxious tension in me and on the boat. I happened to look up and what I saw made me gasp! At the top fitting on our backstay I saw strands in the cable separating, signalling an imminent catastrophic failure. Immediate action saved the day but if I had not been cognizant of the importance of looking up, the outcome would have been much worse.

And so it was again while we were making our departure that exited us into a channel between two mountainous islands. We began with a fully deployed genoa, but as the winds accelerated in the gap, it required some furling. Just as I was about to do so, I looked up and noticed something peculiar near the top of the aluminum furling foil that is around the forestay. It was a dark spot on the shiny foil that shouldn't have been there. The foil is made in sections and they are joined with tiny set screws when installed with the rigging, making it as though it is one long continuous unit.

I quickly deduced that the upper joint had come loose and was separating with the top section of the foil slipping up to expose the dark connector backing inside.

At this point, the winds had whipped up to 30 knots and we were surfing the steep waves. I had to furl. However if the upper portion of the foil had slipped up the connector backing enough, the upper section wouldn't rotate with the lower, prohibiting furling.

Well I had no choice but to try. It held! I got a few wraps, wiped my brow, and continued.

But now what were we to do? We couldn't continue our passage as it was. The fix would require going up the mast but it was unimaginable to do that while pitching in open ocean seas with one hand holding tiny screws, the other the driver, reaching a way out while being whipped around like a rag doll. And fighting back up the channel in those waves and wind to return to the safety and calm of Mindelo's port was really out of the question.

Fortunately we weren't too far along that we couldn't get around to the back side of the next island, Santo Antao, and out of the churning blue for some degree of protection in the lee of the towering cliffs. We know there was a village in a slight indentation in the coastline where hopefully we could anchor and deal with it there.

We arrived and anchored in a blanket of darkness in a deep open roadstead, relieved that there was only a slight swell that rolled in.

In the morning, we woke to a stunning scene worthy of a King Kong setting. A spectacular canyon cradled a village that seemed lost and detached from the world outside. The only access was a narrow gravel road that switchbacked up into the clouds and over the top of the steep mountains to the other side. Their challenging ocean access reminded one of Pitcairn. No pier, just a ramp.

Mountainous profile

Vivid rudimentary village

The seas here were quite calm so up I went and fixed it quickly without too much trouble. It struck me though how the loss of a couple of wee screws could be so critical...

Critical repairs

...but more importantly it was a sobering reminder of the old and wise adage, Don't forget to look up!

Unplanned anchorage:
N16°57.323' W025°18.716' Dec 26 Santo Antao Island (Tarrafal)

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Cape Verde rest stop


As we approached the first islands of Cape Verde, the early morning sun was making its presence, showing us, in profile, just how mountainous these islands are. We soon rounded the point and headed in to a large bay where Mindelo, the second largest town of the islands is nestled on the slopes.

We could see masts poking up behind the breakwater making the anchorage obvious so we headed there past junk freighters and fishboats. We anchored between the marina and a half submerged wreck lying on its side, returning to the elements from which it came, the sight of which was a realization of how apt the term "keeled over" was (N16°53.016' W024°59.595').

We shared the anchorage with about 25 other sailboats, most of them like us making this their last rest stop before the jump across the pond. This was Sao Vicente, 1 of the 10 islands that make up this African nation of Cape Verde.

Check in was friendly and easy at Immigration and Police, both a short walk away from where we left the dinghy securely at the marina. As we strolled around, we could see that here had a more "African" feel compared to the Canaries.

In the past if you asked us what we would expect Cape Verde to be like, we would have thought verdant landscape, as in "verde" as in "green". However, the arid climate has left a landscape void of greenery. Did the authors of the name want to conceal the fact that their land was lacking vegetation so they used an antonym as did those who named Greenland. A totally reasonable approach, considering alternatives such as "Cape Browness" or "Cape Dusty" which would not work in tourist promotions. Well as it turned out there are some areas of the Islands that contrast what we saw with forests and streams in spectacular surroundings. Unfortunately we missed those parts.

Minute dust particles in the air are blown across from the deserts of western Africa and on the way collect moisture creating a pervading haze over the islands, reducing visibility at times to a few miles or less. Those conditions don't seem to leave dust on deck any more than the busy traffic of any town would. In any event, there is a rugged beauty to behold.

Many hazy days

This country with a relatively recent gain of independence is making great strides at improving conditions for its people. With endeavours such as encouraging tourism, capitalizing on their strong fishing industry, making education mandatory, and other promotions, it has lifted their standard of living well above the rest of most of the African nations.

Locally made boats

They also proudly produce a national liquor as strong as paint stripper made from nearly all of the sugarcane called Grogue. We tried this neat but it was much better in our cappuccino. The other local sampling was their national dish called Cachupa which is similar to a delicious stew. These 2 delights were enjoyed 1 evening at an excellent restaurant bar while listening to a couple of talents play and sing Cape Verdean songs.

Over all we found Cape Verdeans to be very pleasant and happy and it was not uncommon to see striking beauty in their dark features.

Of interest to yachties, the word was to be a little more vigilant about protecting against boat theft but other than that we felt safe. Basic supermarket provisioning is available and the local open markets provide a good selection of produce, as well as several sidewalk vendors lining the streets with their supply. The fish market is a bustling affair with a prodigious amount of large pelagic fish such as Tuna, Wahoo, etc.

To market, to market

Catch for sale

We were pleasantly surprised to be able to get our spare propane tank filled quickly and easily even though it is an American fitting and the tank is out of date by European law. The last available fill up for us was when we were in Gibraltar and it cost us over $100 CAD. Here is was about $11 CAD!

Now with the bottom scrubbed and provisions topped up we are ready to make the jump to cross the pond. Oh yes, also with a prudent weather forecast check and our respects paid to the Sea and Wind for a safe passage.

See you on the other side!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

CAPE VERDE is calling

Preceding the departure of a passage, there is always a certain measure of healthy trepidation that swells up in a sailor's blood regardless of the amount of courage that runs through the veins. Prudent weather analysis helps to quell that uneasiness, however, the sailor with any amount of distant sailing under his keel has learned that the sea, and its accomplice the wind, can conspire to teach a lesson to those who pass through their domain with a lack of respect for their potential powers.

And so, once again, after a close watch on forecasts and to assuage the sea and wind with a tithing of respect in exchange for safe passage, we left Canary Islands in the early afternoon under sunny skies.

Next morning's sunrise

It was a comparatively short passage of 8 days that took us south, brushing the shoulder of west Africa past Dakar and the shores of west Sahara to the Cape Verde Islands.

Even though we were about 80 NM off the coast, the Sahara reminded us how close we were with a faint terrestrial scent that wafted over the waves and broke the monotony of the night watch. A mysterious foreign scent that conjured images of bygone years of a silhouette of a chain of camels in a ghostly caravan trekking along the ridges of those endless and great barren desert dunes of the Sahara.

And today, that same age-old broad band of dunes now lay as just one major obstacle for those desperately fleeing pitiable conditions of regions in the south on their attempted journey to asylum in the dreamland of the north.

More than once I have been alerted by an earthy scent that landfall, not yet within sight, was imminent. For the ancient sailor, this sense was just one of their "aids to navigation". Obviously today a full advantage should be taken of our modern advancements for marine safety, however as a result, I think to some degree, the modern day mariner allows the atrophy of his instincts and replaces intuition with tech dependency. And that is a shame.

Having said that, we have embraced yet another system. To those unfamiliar with the Garmin InReach system, it is a satellite communication allowing SOS, texting, and emails and is well worth considering. We had Adam Wanczura, an associate member of Bluewater Cruising Association back home act as our weather guru sifting through weather data over the internet and who kept us up to date through this new system with what to expect along the way. It worked great. Thank you Adam! (Link: https://www.bluewatercruising.org/)

For passages, it is just Judy and me aboard. There are only a few welcomed exceptions to that and one is our friend the moon. He showed up in a majestic profile with a radiance that was more than adequate to spread a carpet of diamond sparkles over the waves ahead ushering us to a new land.

Another was a pod of unusually small dolphins. What was usual though was their gay cavorting in Sea Turtle's bow waves.

And yet on another occasion, this time at night after the moon abandoned us to chase the sun over the horizon and left us in an inky darkness, they came like a naval attack in a bio-illuminate spectacle. I only took notice because while on my night watch and when I went up to do my regular groggy 360° visual, I had to do a second take at a bizarre sight that I couldn't at first comprehend.

It was as though there was a rapid fire of silver bullets streaking across our bow and out into a black starboard oblivion. Adding to that surreal display were curious trails of light from things zipping erratically through the water, occasionally breaking the surface and barely missing our bow.

Were we under attack? Was I hallucinating? Was I not awake yet or so tired I was seeing things? I've read stories of sailors so deprived of sleep that they enter another dimension of reality.

Well fortunately this weird sight had the effect of jarring me quickly and fully awake faster than the strongest triple shot of Moroccan espresso.

What I was truly seeing were not errant torpedoes but those small exuberant dolphins and they came to not only play in our bow waves of phosphorescence but for a midnight snack. The bullets were actually flying fish not having such a gay old time. Not only were they also jarred awake from their aquatic slumber but this behemoth was roaring at them. And to make a bad night worse, they were being hunted.

As they catapulted themselves into flight in that blacker than black night, light from our various running lights was being reflected back from their large eyes, made even larger because of their predicament, which led their frantic trajectory with a bio-luminescence trailing in their slipstream.

Chanty, our cat, knowing that out on deck was a fish left from the night's encounter, was meowing like an addict needing a fix in the waking hours of the morning wanting out to get it. Relenting, we leashed her up and took her out. Now normally when she sees one, she dashes at it like a toad's tongue to a tick, but this time, she just halted dumbstruck as though glued to the combing, and when we looked out to see what it was, we saw dozens of flying fish who had closed their final flight plan on Sea Turtle's deck. Our reconnaissance and cleanup yielded 91 fish and 1 squid and a whole lot of scales. Of those, Chanty had her pick of the litter.

Small sample of flying fleet

Now I didn't need to be hit on the head with a boom to deduce that just maybe we were finally in waters that could have some catchable fish of the humanly edible type (sampling flying fish is not an option given their smell that only another fish would find delectable), so I dragged a line and lure. Well it wasn't 10 minutes before the bell on the end of the rod was a dingin' and the line was spoolin' out faster than shite off a shiny shovel.

As I wrestled the rod, I could see the whopper jumping and fighting which eventually got positive results for him and the "big one got away" from me. I think it was a Wahoo. One for the fish, zero for the fisherman.

So right away, out went the line for another try. And again, in just a few short minutes I got another hit. With Chanty encouraging me with her excited meows, I landed the fish, a nice Mahi Mahi, successfully. One for the fish, one for the fisherman.

One for the fisherman

We had a variety of weather and sea conditions along the way. The first day we ran downwind in brisk 30-knot winds flying a poled-out staysail to port and a poled-out genoa furled to a third on starboard as steep short waves kicked us along. After that, the winds died down; we gradually unfurled the genoa and continued all the rest of the way downwind enduring a sloppy roll for much of it and in a sea that transformed from short waves to long swells.

Converging on Cape Verde

So after we left an almost straight track of 892 NM (1,652 km), we pulled into the large bay of Porto Grande on the morning of the 8th day. We anchored in front of Mindelo, the capitol of the Cape Verde Island of Sao Vicente.

Passage from Canary Islands to Cape Verde Dec 11 to Dec 19
N16°53.016' W024°59.595' Dec 19 Sao Vicente (Porto Grande, Mindelo)

Monday, December 10, 2018

Gran Canaria

The harbour at Las Palmas on the island of Gran Canaria to the west would take us about 11 hours to sail there from our anchorage at Fuerteventura, so we chose to get up early in the morning rather than doing an overnighter. We pulled anchor at 03:15 and headed out and had a great sail, arriving at 14:00 at Las Palmas, the northern tip of Gran Canaria of the Canary Islands (November 26th).

We planned our arrival after the last of the ARC Atlantic Rally boats had left leaving the rest of us with some space. Even though, there were still a lot of boats in the marina and in the adjacent anchorage where stern flags of countries from all over flew.

Swinging room was a concern because the anchorage was relatively deep, and in the calm, we couldn't determine where anchors lay. So we found a nice protected spot in behind the breakwater where we dropped the hook then ran a stern line to a large boulder on the breakwater, keeping us nice and secure in one spot (N28°07.788' W015°25.503').

On shore, we found lots of well equipped shops and services catering to the mariners, local, and transient alike. As you may have noticed in previous photos, our faded and patched sail cover told the tale of years of weather and wear. So we took advantage of the services of a sail loft here that did a quick job making a new one for us. It turned out great and looks so much better!

Spiffy cover

Jordan spent some time repairing the toe rail after our disastrous encounter with the Beast (fishboat) back at the end of November (see posting entitled Beauty and the Beast). Excellent job - can't even tell now!

Battered toe rail and bent chainplates

Beauty restored

We spent a day on a mountainous road trip of the island with a rental car. With map in hand, we traversed the numerous winding mountain roads through sleepy peaceful villages. Jordan was in his glory hitting the curves.

Small portion of the map

A Shangri-La setting

A cute village

Three famous landmarks include the La Fortaleza - a fortress - the last holdout where the Canarian aborigines eventually surrendered to invaders way back in 1483. This imposing natural structure can be hiked through.

La Fortaleza

Another, the Roque Nublo at 1,813 m was created 4.5 million years ago by volcanic eruption and the "hardening off of burning clouds following its formation and latter cooling off".

Roque Nublo

And finally the Pico de las Nieves where we made it all the way up to what is claimed as the highest point of the island at 1,949 m for amazing views of the roads and villages far below. Or is it the second highest as others claim?

Pico de las Nieves

Our next destination is the Cape Verde Islands, 800 nautical miles to the southwest where we expect to spend about a week before departing on our crossing of the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean. We have been experimenting with our Garmin InReach Explorer+, a relatively new product and service that allows us to communicate during the passage and have family and friends watch our progress. We are leaving December 11th from Gran Canaria.

By clicking on the website URL...
https://us0-share.inreach.garmin.com/seaturtleiv
...you can check our voyage. Don't forget to zoom in.