Firstly. Happy New Year!
I still haven’t got round to writing up our log or what happened on the crossing, but here’s a bit of a brain dump about things that did work for us for anyone that’s considering doing the crossing themselves. The post after this will be what didn’t work for us.
Foodwise we ate pretty well on the crossing and only had to start getting a bit creative towards the end of the trip.
Before our departure Trina made up batches of chilli, curry and stews and vacuum packed them which I really recommend doing. The machine we bought off amazon wasn’t expensive (Aicok vacuum sealer), and reheating one pot meals whilst on passage made life much easier. We wish we had made more to be honest. We found that if we could reduce the amount of effort required to carry out tasks life onboard improved immensely. However small and insignificant all those little time saving tasks seem now, it was a different story whilst on passage.
90% of the granny smiths, oranges (half unripened half ripened), potatoes, garlic and onions lasted the entire trip. We finished the last of the granny smiths 35 days later.
We bought multi-packs of ice lollies which we were just about able to freeze or semi-freeze up against the fridge element which was a luxury.
We bought a few pre-made tortillas and could have done with more. They’re great for lunches, slap it in a frying pan and turn once, bit of mayo and bosh! you’re done.
Dino own brand cookies are superb, could have done with more.
We bought lots of multi-packs of juice, the tiny lunch box juices which were great. Loads of cans of soft drinks, coke, sprite, lemon fanta.
Bacon lasted for ages and was a great buy, as well as a large Spanish style cumberland sausage.
I’m a big fan of pate on buttered toastados, which is like small ready made packets of toast.
We bought lots of packets of part-baked baguettes which I’d definitely recommend.
Finally, some days we just couldn’t be bothered to cook up anything even vaguely extravagant as the rolling made life so difficult. When this happened we turned to good old super noodles, which I actually quite like so it was no hardship.
Drinks and Water
The advice the ARC give is that we should carry 4ltrs of water per person per day. We bought 120 bottles of water in 2ltr bottles, and a few more. The water in our main tanks smelt a bit when we left the Canaries, so we refilled in Mindelo after reading the water there was good, but as we were leaving I ran the water and it came out brown for a good 20 seconds. We just used the tanks for tea and washing up, and then just for washing up when the water started smelling of eggs. Keeping things simple meant having contaminated water didn’t matter – we’d have had an entirely different experience crossing to St Lucia with half of our water rations smelling like eggy farts.
When we left Mindelo we restocked on bottled water so we actually had 120 bottles once again (and more) for the 18 day crossing from Cape Verdes to St Lucia. This was way more than what we needed, so it really wasn’t a problem that our water tanks were contaminated. Towards the end of the trip we started using the bottled water for showering in the cockpit. We arrived with 80 2ltr bottles leftover. We must have thrown in a few more multi-packs for good measure in the Canaries, and the same in Cape Verdes as I’m not sure how we ended up with more water than we had calculated we’d need for the entire crossing!
I think we probably used 2.5ltrs of water a day between the two of us, though Trina doesn’t drink that much and I’d have a couple of cans of soft drinks a day and small juice, so maybe we did drink 4ltrs of fluids between us a day, but I think it all depends on the individual.
We would recommend finding a way to store one of the opened water bottles down below that’s always to hand. They were forever sliding off the seats and sliding around the floor which drove me mad.
Booze wise, we ran out of beer, sad times. We bought one crate of tropical beer, could have done with two. We also bought a load of cheap fizz and red wine. Trina premixed white russians (minus the milk) and another cocktail which was great, as come sundown we could just throw in a mixer in and we were done. Basically, anything you can do before you leave to make your life easier the better on a small boat. It sounds silly when I write this, but all these small things really improved life onboard as we simply didn’t have enough hands to measure out spirits, hold glasses and grab mixers and keep upright at the same time. I know some people prefer to run a dry boat, but we don’t. A drink as the sun went down from the cockpit or the bow was the highlight of the day/trip for me, and with our watch systems this was the time of the day when we were both fully awake, chatting and able to enjoy eachother’s company. The rest of the time one of us would be catching up on sleep or feeling a bit groggy.
The Hydrovane worked very well after we fixed the backing pad. We still have a slight issue where it’s not quite square to the boat. Trina might disagree with me a bit on this but I was pretty happy with it’s performance.
Getting the spare part kit which includes a new vane cover is essential. Ours started chaffing on the wind gen supports so we put a bit of sail repair tape on that. Had it torn completely we had a spare.
I’d also buy some spare bolts that bolt the Hydrovane to the hull, and have a torque wrench as we met a sailor whose bolts sheared twice. Had ours sheared we would have been in trouble. I’m going to get some spare bolts even if this is an extremely rare event.
We ran twin headsails for the majority of the trip. So we had a regular furling genoa out one side poled out with a spinnaker pole, and on the other side we used a large jib hanked on to a detachable inner forestay, and used the boom to pole it out.
The jib was a beat up old hanky that came with the boat, it worked fine until towards the end when one of the punched holes disintegrated. We then just took off that particular hank off the forestay which was fine.
If I did it again I’d have a second spinnaker pole as the boom just can’t go far enough forwards to keep the jib out enough. The result was that the jib would back every so often, until the boat turned and the wind would then fill the jib with a bang and keep you awake all bloody night. I don’t think this would have happened as much if we had had two poles extended out.
We had days when the rolling was so bad all we could do was eat super noodles and lie on our backs reading or watching a film down below. Everything was a struggle, and this could be down to running with twin head sails, but also due to wind and waves coming from different directions. Some days were worse than others.
Another boat told us they had tried running two genoas off a twin grooved furling system with two spinnaker poles, but they bent both poles a few times when the wind picked up, as there’s no gap between the sails to release the wind as the boat yawed from side to side. Other boats we’d spoken to raved about the twin grooved furlers.
For a few days I had a genoa one side and a storm jib the other as we were expecting some weather. The high winds never came. Our daily mileage wasn’t affected by running a small storm jib and the rolling wasn’t any worse which was interesting. Our genoa is brand new from North Sails, but I wouldn’t get hung up too much with what you put up the other side as our old hanky and a storm jib did just fine.
We hit one patch of no wind, and used the cruising chute for a few days in the daytime. Having never used it much before we spent ages untangling the lines which kept us busy. A lot of people had ‘Code zeros’ which I’ve just discovered are essentially cruising chutes with a furling system that sits in front of your furling genoa. That would have been amazing to have had, as we only put the cruising chute up when we were both awake and ready to go.
We’d often not make any changes to our sail plan until 2/3pm after we’d both had a good sleep. Sitting on a course going a bit off our rhum line for a few hours never seemed to affect our VMG overall.
We spoke to a lot of people who sailed double handed, and listened to how they organised their watches. Everyone we spoke to did things differently, so I don’t think there’s one watch that fits all.
Our watches started around 11pm. So a usual watch plan for us looked like..
11pm Trina on watch. Tim asleep.
3am Tim on watch. Trina asleep.
7am Tim sometimes managed to sleep, but if the sun came up I couldn’t sleep and would stay up. Otherwise Tim asleep. Trina on watch.
10am Tim awake. I couldn’t sleep any more than 3 hours. Trina asleep.
2pm We were both awake. Sometimes one of us would take another nap for an hour or two. We were both a bit groggy until 6pm in time for 7pm sundowners.
At the beginning of the trip the watch system didn’t work so well for me, and at the end it wasn’t working so well for Trina.
Some people did 3 hours shifts, which I guess we’ll try at some point, but personally it took me a while to get to sleep in the first place so I can’t imagine sleeping for such a short amount of time.
At night whilst on watch we’d sleep down below for 20 minutes at a time some nights. Being the slowest boat on the ocean had the benefit that we were unlikely to run anyone down. For the most part people would be overtaking us. The AIS transponder wasn’t essential, but it did mean people out of sight would radio us up at times for a chat.
We have a Garmin InReach, Iridium 9555 and a RedPort optimiser to broadcast the Sat phone signal over wifi to be able to write emails and get weather updates on our phone or laptop.
We bought our airtime from GTC (Global Telesat Communications). We were hugely disappointed with GTC as we spent days at sea trying to get weather and emails, only to get a failed message saying the call was ended at the other end. We spent £300 on air time and managed to receive a pitiful amount of emails and weather updates. Also when we did manage to send emails, recipients would get 10 of the same emails. This meant we were wasting other boats airtime as they had to download 10 of our emails at a time. If this wasn’t annoying enough, when we ran out of airtime after sending 3 emails and getting a weather update, we were told the only airtime we could buy was £150 as they had run out of £75. The whole experience was hugely frustrating. We had to rely on our friend Ollie back home to try and work it out with the Sat phone company on our behalf. Without Ollie we probably wouldn’t have been able to use the Sat phone at all.
The only positive experience I’ve heard to date has been a boat using the Iridium GO!
The Redport Optimiser worked fine and was easy to set up. We bought it as it was much cheaper than the same box Mailasail sell.
Garmin InReach was a lifesaver. At first we bought it just for tracking and as a easy way to text. It soon became apparent when the Sat phone wasn’t working just how valuable it was. We were able to communicate at ease with friends back home when we had problems with the Hydrovane and Sat phone. The Garmin is always on, unlike the Sat phone which we’d turn on once every few days to try and get emails and weather. You can text on the InReach device or from your phone via bluetooth. My phone stopped working on the crossing, and Trina’s phone wouldn’t connect, so being able to message directly from the device was a winner. I think the YellowBrick doesn’t have the functionality to message from the device, so I’m happy we had the InReach.
We met other boats on the way who had Sat phones that didn’t work properly and also a couple who had pretty nasty injuries and a Sat phone that didn’t work. I think it’s essential to have something like the InReach as well as a Sat phone, just because it always worked. The couple who had sustained injuries on the crossing highlighted to me just how important working comms are.
We were really happy with the tools we have onboard. The Bosch cordless angle grinder and wood saw have been essential for the trip. Some day we’ll splash out and get the cordless drill too. They all use the same batteries, they’re small and compact and do the job. We’ve used them on so many occasions I’ve lost track. On the way to Mindelo we were cutting up our washboards and beveling the edges to replace the Hydrovane backing pad. Had we’d been in the middle of the Atlantic we could have done our repairs at sea, but being close to land we decided to stop off and make a proper repair instead.
We’ve also used a corded oscillating multi-tool with saw bit many times. Bosch do a cordless one too. Maybe we’ll get one next year 🙂
All our gear is stored in small tool bags that stack up nicely in lockers.
The Halfords advanced socket set has also been super handy on the trip, along with an addition from Trina which I was first dubious about, the Magnusson Ratcheting Screwdriver from Screwfix. We use this all the time and there’s a button to pivot the end at 90 degrees to get into hard to reach places.
I’m still in love with the Barebones LED lantern. It may not appear that special on the face of it, but we use it a lot. I lose torches all the time, but as the lantern has a carabiner, it’s always hanging up and therefore always to hand and never gets lost.
The best rivet gun I’ve found is the Faithful heavy duty long arm riveter. I’ve been through them all and this is the best one. It’ll handle all sizes of monel rivets.
Only used once, but the sealey 30pc tap and dye set worked first time and I’m glad we have that onboard.
…and whilst this is not a tool, the Caframo Sirocco fans were a life saver. We have one in above the nav table and one in the forepeak. The one above the nav table is ok, but would have better been placed in the saloon closer to the seating as they’re not amazingly strong. But the fan in the forepeak was awesome. We mostly slept in the forepeak off watch, which was challenging at times, but possible if you wedged yourself in well. Our dinghy was tied down on top of the forepeak hatch, and we had a cover on the saloon hatch, which also kept the boat cool in daytime.
I also bought a cheap USB fan off amazon keynice electric car fan and its actually more powerful than the Caframo. Caframo fans cost £100+, these amazon fans are like £16, so great when you’re in a marina and power consumption isn’t an issue. Right now it’s crazy hot in the marina and we need all the fans we can get.
Solar. Wind gen and fuel
This is a hard topic to talk about as our battery monitor wasn’t really working all too well. We charged our batteries every time the voltage dropped below 12.5v. The 200Ws of solar would charge our batteries by mid morning. We never had any issues with the way they were fixed to the pushpit.
The wind gen didn’t work properly and it didn’t matter given we had solar and would run the engine for an hour or two throughout the night.
We took 120ltrs of diesel in jerry cans, four in the cockpit lockers, and two down wedged in the heads. Our tanks hold around 65ltrs. We used 40ltrs from the Canaries to Cape Verdes, and had plenty leftover by the time we got to St Lucia, 36 hours of fuel left.
If I could do the whole trip differently from the start I would have sailed to Northern Spain, landing in Gijon and worked west along the northern coast as we heard it’s quieter and less developed.
We liked Muros and Baiona. Once you’ve visited one Ria we felt the others were not too disimilar. The Atlantic Islands Salvora, Ons and Cies were great and thoroughly recommend visiting them. I think that felt like our last true holiday experience as you’re anchored off an Island and it’s lovely and quiet.
Visiting Lisbon was fun and the marina in Nazare was dirty and cheap, but the town was worth exploring.
I quite liked Lagos, it had a different vibe from everywhere else. It had a bit of seaside tat, but also a hippie vibe and some good restaurants and bars.
I wish we could have visited Madeira, Lanzarote or Morocco, but weather and time prevented us from doing so.
We departed Falmouth mid August. I wish we could have left in June but we simply couldn’t afford to do so, and boat preps took some time to complete.
Mindelo in Cape Verdes was a unexpected gem for us. We wish we could have stayed longer. We wouldn’t have been able to get to the Canaries to do the ARC+ which stops off in Cape Verdes (assuming they stop off at Mindelo), as it leaves a few weeks before the regular ARC rally. Stopping off at Cape Verdes breaks up your trip, and gives you time to sort out any niggles or repack the boat like we did.
We took lots and lots of tea towels and wet wipes which were a blessing.
We got a few rolls of non skid matting and put it on all the surfaces which we bought from cheap Chinese shops. They didn’t always stop drinks tipping over, but they did a good job of keeping things in place on passage.
We charged our laptops with a little cigarette lighter inverter from amazon. I definitely recommend getting a BESTEK inverter. Cheap and did the job.
We bought a UV-proof golf umbrella for some reason before we left. In the day I’d open it up and cover the main companionway to keep the sun out of the cabin. We’ve also found it pretty handy here in St Lucia as there’s torrential downpours here.
Also we were very fortunate to have an advent present each day to open, courtesy of Ben & Jo and my parents. They were a bit of fun and gave us something to look forward to each day. So one day we’d get a game, some sweets, Christmas pants, or a can of M&S curry for example.
Finally. We’ve had a fantastic welcome here, and over a week on we’re still being congratulated by fellow sailors for arriving in a small boat. I think we both feel we’ve had a bit more praise than we could possibly deserve. Granted it’s becoming more unusual for boats of our size joining the ARC, but there’s absolutely no reason why more smaller boats shouldn’t consider taking on the trip. We don’t feel we’ve done anything that special. We set the sails, pointed west and off we went. Never once did we feel unsafe. A few times I cursed myself on the darkest of nights, telling myself how utterly stupid we were, risking our lives when we could be back home safe and sound, especially when we heard of boats loosing masts and rudders or crew falling overboard. But in reality I was letting my insecurities get the better of me, in reality we both felt quite safe, Excalibur’s long keel and deep cockpit meant we were nice and safe.
Having already done the trip as crew, we already had an understanding of what life would be like on the crossing. Sometimes the trip felt like we’d just hopped on the M40, whacked on cruise control and were twiddling our thumbs. However there were a few moments like when we had whales surround us that made the entire trip worthwhile. On their own, the trips that make up where we are now seem pretty easy, it’s only when I add up all the parts of the trip up do I think ‘oh crikey we’ve come along way!’
I think on reflection the biggest challenge hasn’t been the trip itself, but instead has been acquiring the skills and knowledge to prepare the boat for the trip. There seems to be a recurring process when carrying out repairs or installs for the first time which involves:
- Speaking to lots of people in the trade, collating all their conflicting opinions and being none the wiser.
- Scouring forums for more conflicting opinions, and trying to make sense of it all.
- Taking the plunge and making your own mind up on the best approach to carry out a task.
- Discover you’re missing the right tools or supplies.
- Wait for tools/supplies to arrive or make multiple trips to the chandlery and wonder where the hell the weekends gone as all you’ve done is start 3 jobs, drilled 2 holes, made a mess and nothing’s close to being finished.
- Complete the task and realise you’ve messed up somehow.
- Redo said task and think you’ve sussed it.
- Realise it’s not perfect, but you’re buggered if you’re going to do it again as you’ve got a list of other important jobs, and whilst this isn’t perfect, it’s at least doing the job.
- Stand back and make a promise to yourself that one day you’ll go back to said task and make it good.
- Have some happy bugger tell you how you should have done the job. He’s been watching you, but has only just come over now to impart his wisdom.
The above process takes more work, more patience, more blood sweat and tears than the act of sailing itself. I look back now and wonder what all the fuss was back in Falmouth 🙂