RTW – The Atlantic Crossing

This is the tale of our Atlantic crossing.   We set off on Saturday 21st December 2013 weighing anchor at Mindelo, Sao Vicente at 1000hrs, we sailed 2075nm across the Atlantic under Yankee alone and arrived in Martinique at 2200hrs on 6th January 2014 having taken 16½ days for the passage.   Our actual route can be viewed at http://blog.mailasail.com/oceanrainbow

 Day 1     16.43.511N 027.07.386W

We had a rollicking start to the trip, surfing at 10 knots in 30 knot winds and then we stopped!   We had strayed into the wind shadow from the Cape Verde islands where we found ourselves in mountainous seas with no forward momentum – very uncomfortable and just grateful we had stowed everything securely, including the Christmas tree!  We had to motorsail for a couple of hours and then it was back to pure sailing as the winds picked up to 25 knots.    We had an uneventful night but Jon and Hecla, who started at the same time have now disappeared off our radar screen.    Hopefully our courses will cross again at some stage before Martinique!    We picked up another yacht on our AIS the next morning as they passed within half a mile of our stern, but despite a number of attempts to contact them no one answered the radio!  Another case of crew listening to ipods and not the VHF?   One of the aim’s of this passage across the Atlantic in breaking new ground – is to catch fish!!! The first attempt had zero result. We sailed 110nm in first 24 hrs, all well on Ocean Rainbow.

Day 2     16.35.075N 029.33.829W

Seas are flattening out a bit but still rather lumpy…progress improving with 140 nm sailed in last 24 hours using only the Yankee.  Winds have remained around 20 knots from NE.  Hecla came up on the radio this morning so nice to be back in contact.   Claire busy icing the Christmas cake, while James plotted the Great Circle route for our navigation!  All well on Ocean Rainbow.

Christmas Eve    16.45.873N 031.49.173W

It’s about time for a few statistics for the yachties amongst you so here goes:   We had a total of 2075 nm to travel from Cape Verde islands to Martinique, we have now sailed a total of 391nm in 3 days; and of that 130nm was covered in the last 24 hour period.   We are steering a course of 282 degrees.   The winds continue north easterly now that we are clear of the Cabo Verde Archipelago and wind speed is ranging between 13 and 25 knots.  The seas are lumpy which is slowing progress and is also making life challenging for the chef!    The skies have been overcast with not so much sun and our solar panels are not charging as well as we would like, so we are conserving power as much as possible (i.e. chart plotter only turned on periodically, AIS only on at night etc).   Luckily we have plenty of butane gas so the gastronomic feasts planned for the next 48 hours will not be compromised … just not sure we will be sitting at a properly laid table in these seas.    Tragedy of the Day – James hooked a big Mahi Mahi and got him as far as the bathing platform before the line broke and he took our best lure away with him, leaving a dejected Skipper.

Day 4 – Christmas Day    16.52.31N 034.17.7W

Today James hooked another Mahi Mahi but didn’t manage to land it again the lure was lost!   Score so far:  Fish 2; James 0   However, things brightened up the with the most delicious Christmas Lunch – we’re considering making Prince’s tinned Turkey Roll stuffed with pate and covered with bacon the Courtshort Christmas meal of choice from now on!   The rest of the day was spent bouncing around a very bumpy Atlantic Ocean, the fish were given the afternoon off!   Another highlight – Father Christmas found us and we opened our stockings at tea time while munching on Christmas Cake and Mincemeat shortbread with the obligatory brandy butter!  No reindeer came to visit which was a shame as we have enough to share.

Day 5     17.02.553N 036.37.990W

We are now over a quarter of the way across the Atlantic – Yahoo!  Only another 1400nm to go!!   It has rained the last two nights but the sun is shining once again.   Other than that it is still very bumpy and the most comfortable place on the boat for the chef to prepare meals is sitting on her bottom on the galley floor!

Day 6     17.18.025N 039.01.666W

We had such a huge Christmas lunch we couldn’t fit in the ‘figgy pudding’ so we pigged out on that today!   The Jessie May Trust Christmas Puds really are delicious – if anyone from JMT is reading this please pass our thanks to Chris and the whole team.   We are still in touch with Hecla which is great but now Jon seems to be behind us.  We reckon it’s because we have a deal that the first one in to Martinique cooks dinner!   We also set up a side bet yesterday, the first one to catch and land a fish buys the first round of drinks!   We think we’re on to a winner there although James is going to try out a different technique to land the fish if there is a next time – it’s called patience!    The seas are still rolly and we have had a couple of squalls pass through with no warning but as the only sail we are using is the Yankee we are under control.   We sailed 140nm today and our average speed is creeping up (5.8kts)……we are eating up the miles with only 1270 to go.

Day 7     16.50.430N 041.10.325W

Moving about the boat has been an extreme challenge recently.   We set our sights a mere 10 feet ahead and lunge from hand hold to hand hold, then we take deep breaths and repeat the action until we reach our destination.  Climbing the companionway has always been hard, as our steps are steep but the positioning of the lower washboard in its place has added to the obstacle course!   The height of the waves behind us and the foam coming off the top – resembling bubble bath in a jacuzzi – has convinced us that a washboard is a sensible precaution.     Preparation of last night’s supper included a flying cutlery drawer (which luckily didn’t dump its contents all over the saloon), green pepper projectiles (which did go all over the saloon) and some rapid modifications to our stowage security – more bungees!!  All now well.  Winds have been up to 30 knots so that has improved our daily run rate, the rain has stopped and the sun is shining once again.

Day 8     17.10.055N 043.17.356W

At 10am we reached the half-way point exactly 8 days after setting out from Mindelo.   Under sunny skies and with sparkling seas, we offered a libation to Neptune from the foredeck with due ceremony.   The tragedy of yesterday was the fishing!   The score is now Fish 5 – James 0.   A question for you: what is the most boring, frustrating and costly sport after golf?   James now reckons it’s fishing!    It won’t be long before we can stop fishing due to lack of lures!!   We now have lighter winds and there has been evidence of the gentle Atlantic roll but we are still experiencing choppy seas and gusts which is preventing us from putting up the Cruising Chute or Parasailor.   Whoever described this trip as a ‘milk run’ needs their head examining!  118 nm today otherwise, all well on Ocean Rainbow.

Day 9     16.45.118N 045.07.531W

Sunday turned out to be an eventful day. After a sunny start and with the wind dropping, we decided to hoist the Cruising Chute; but whilst adjusting it, Claire got her wrist trapped between the spinnaker sheet & guard rail.  At first we thought that something had been broken, but very fortunately it seems to be a case of severe bruising – from wrist to forearm.  After first aid, painkillers and arnica, Claire retired to a bunk but was later sufficiently recovered to advise James on cooking supper: Chilli con Carne without rice (rice considered too technical) but with the newly baked bread (from Claire’s morning baking session).  We also managed to fatally damage the spinnaker pole as one of the sheets (we think) caught on the “jaw release” tie and pulled the whole thing apart at both ends – springs and bolts went over the side!!  Still, we did not really want to pole out the Yankee, anyway!  Other than that James lost another lure: Fish 6 – James 0. …..but hope has not been totally vanquished and another ‘killer lure’ was sent out to battle.  Result so far – zilch.  We talked to a cargo ship in the middle of the night (8 miles distant) and this morning, as dawn broke Hecla reappeared on our AIS – after a 1000 miles of sailing we were about a mile apart!  So far, so good on the Atlantic passage.

Day 10   16.43.451N 047.13.600W

Another day in a very empty ocean, sun and wind much as the day before.  Slightly heavier rain overnight but come the dawn, come the sun…Claire is back on cooking duties so James will not starve to death, especially as there was no fishing done yesterday – simply too busy doing not a lot!!  We did spend some time experimenting with the stay sail, in the absence of being able to pole out the Yankee, but really to no advantage.  We continue to cruise along averaging around 5 knots, 119nm today, and we are still close to our Great Circle Route but definitely heading more towards the south west the further we proceed….800 nm to go.  No sign of scurvy or cabin fever, as we trog along merrily.

Day 11 – New Year’s eve      16.41.444N 049.09-260W

The preparations for our New Year’s Eve party were not extensive this year, but at 1130 pm, to the strains of the “Blue Danube” Claire was woken for her watch!!!  Dancing a Viennese waltz in mid Atlantic is a challenge but sharing a half-bottle of champagne helped. More favourite music followed & the waves danced along with us. Later on, although we did not have fireworks, we were treated to a spectacular display of lightning off our starboard bow.  After putting the iPad & chart plotter in the oven (in case we were hit by a bolt), we were spectators.  We continue to make slow progress with winds just above what is safe to fly the Cruising Chute or Parasailor, but too little to drive us fast through the lumpy seas…where are the smooth Atlantic rollers, we ask ourselves?  Daily average mileage remains about 112 nm per day.

Day 12   16.07.317N 051.12.181W

Happy New Year to one and all and may we wish you every success and happiness for 2014.   Our start to the year has been marked by an auspicious occasion.    Sadly not the successful entrapment of a fish but perhaps even better!   With Claire’s right wrist out of action, James (in addition to his role as chief breadwinner) has taken on the role of chief breadmaker!   Following instructions to the letter and kneading the bread to perfection, he was patient enough to leave the loaves to prove undisturbed for an hour and the result was spectacular.    We’ll post a photo on the website just as soon as we hit terra firma!    We can also confirm that the loaf we started tastes delicious – it was only great strength of character that prevented us scoffing the whole lot in one go!     Ocean Rainbow continues to cover the miles in her normal steady fashion, 121 nm today – we only have another 570 to go!   The winds have been ranging between 15 – 25 knots with the occasional stronger gust and, according to the weather forecast we downloaded via satphone, we can expect more of this for another couple of days.

Day 13   15.25.271N 053.14.714W

Day 13 started as a red-letter day with cockpit showers for us both – squeaky clean hair & fragrant bodies!  The wind has continued to push us along averaging just over 5 knots but without a spinnaker pole we are unable to sail a direct line to Martinique and are having to jibe downwind.  Never mind, we are progressing.  Thanks to Claire’s acute hearing a near calamity was averted when she heard water gushing out under the sink.  We quickly turned off the water pump and found an inlet hose to the main water filter had come adrift and our fresh water was gushing out into the bilges (eventually).  Luckily we caught the problem right at the beginning; it was daylight and the problem was soon fixed.  We then had to dry everything off, re-pack and re-stow the affected lockers!!  All well though now.  Also we took the opportunity to defrost and re-stow the fridge, so all in all – a good “admin” day.  Now around 440 nm to go…the excitement is mounting!

Day 14   15.40.906N 055.26.117W

Variable and somewhat lighter winds slowed our progress a bit, plus having to sort out the “detached hose” problem, defrosting the fridge and Claire has been off-colour.  However, the following morning the colour has returned to her cheeks and she is on the mend.  Thus last night was a long night on watch for James but thankfully Ocean Rainbow sailed brilliantly and gave us no issues.  The wind returned and we were bowling along at 6-7 knots.  The Atlantic is ever changing and the seas remain a looming presence every time one looks backwards, we love the way these massive waves simply roll under Ocean Rainbow and head off into the distance.  We are surrounded by rainbows created by the squalls that pass by every so often; the rain lasts 5-10 mins then within another 10 mins the cockpit is dry and we watch the black clouds again disappearing into the distance.  Challenging sailing!

Day 15   15.11.113N 057.40.110W

Correction to yesterday’s blog….not every wave goes under Ocean Rainbow’s stern!!  Whilst adjusting Humphrey, a gi-huge wave hit Ocean Rainbow’s stern and gave James an impromptu shower.  Luckily we had the washboard in as we had 8 ins of water in the cockpit; however it soon drained away and we continued on, with squall after squall advancing from the east.  We shortened sail and even so were pushed along at 7-9 knots at times.  With the darkness came even stronger winds with gusts at 45 knots +, however the huge benefit of night sailing is you cannot see the waves coming…and Claire got her turn for a dousing as well!!  We had more rain throughout the night but at dawn it cleared up and we are sailing on with a bright sunny morning and abated winds.  We did 133nm and now have 190nm to go, with a recognisable eta at Martinique of Mon night/Tues morning.

Day 16   14.29.422N 059.48.057W

Nearly there…at 12 noon on Mon 6th Jan, we have 60nm to go, so eta at midnight if the winds hold up. This last 24 hours comprised of more of the same: 20-25 kt winds, the odd rain shower and no fish in our part of the Atlantic!  We continue to sail with just a Yankee up and with no spinnaker pole, we are jibing downwind through 40 degrees, but as we are averaging over 5 knots, we are happy with this (conservative) sail plan.  The high point of the day was Jimmy’s Bakery producing two more loaves of bread even better than the first batch, we had a Ploughman’s lunch but without the beer!!  Claire managed to drop an egg but luckily it smashed on a mat which was soon cleaned and dried off using Jimmy’s Wonderscrub service…….is he a saint or what???

14.23.994N 060.36.426W

Land sighted at 2030hrs!! Martinique is on the horizon…..

We’ve Made It!   14.25.709N 060.53.494W

After 2075 nm, 16.5 days at sea, averaging over 5kts and with a daily runrate of around 125 miles.   Over the whole passage, we had about 0.5 knots of current with us as evidenced by our trip (log reading) which read 1865 nm against the GPS reading of 2075 – a difference of 210 nm.  We have survived 45 knot winds, massive seas and seriously lumpy waves…and we are still talking to each other – morale is high.

Impressions: vast, empty ocean; enormous waves; beautiful starry nights; spectacular clouds; scary squalls and even more scary lightning; lunatic behaviour of flying fish; an ever changing seascape.

Just existing day-to-day in such rolly condition is a huge effort and every little chore takes twice as long and requires more strength than on dry land.  We have been in a continuous state of motion, even when asleep!!  As we are Ocean-crossing virgins, we did not know what to expect but we have not been disappointed by the challenge.  Ocean Rainbow has been outstanding and has never given us cause for concern, Humphrey Hydrovane has been awesome and Victor Volvo has charged our batteries when more than just solar power was required…..and we have done the whole crossing using just our Yankee foresail.   And, of course, Claire sailed the last week with a broken wrist!

Next Steps:  Slap up celebration dinner with Jon (who arrived 12 hours earlier) and chill out big time!

Day 17 – our final anchorage 14.27.889N 060.52.472W

We weighed anchor at St Anne’s (0830 local time) and then spent another hour trying to set our anchor in the crowded anchorage near the marina and town of Le Marin.   This is now our location for the next few days at least.    Totally brilliant feeling to have made it across the Atlantic Ocean and to now find ourselves sitting amongst palm trees!   Just off to get a Rum Punch!