Rewind! We found some pictures from the crossing preparations.
Here’s mum making up a batch of stew ready to be vacuum packed, and dad the chief taster checking up on the quality.
Few victualing pictures
4am nightshift. I saw a shooting star, and had one wave crash next to me whilst sitting at the back of the cockpit. The wave gave a thunderous roar and a good smash against the hull giving me a good fright. It’s been too windy today to effect a repair on the Hydrovane. 20-25kts and a 3-4m swell. These are the largest waves we’ve seen so far on the trip. Arthur the autopilot has struggled today. Trina’s done a lot of hand steering today. Each time I come on shift the conditions ease a little and I’m able to to put Arthur to work. God bless Arthur. I can’t imagine hand steering for 8 days!
5-10pm is our prime time me and Trina time. It’s a time when we’re both fully awake. We had our sundowners and both confessed we don’t actually like sailing. It’s hard bloody work, and bloody uncomfortable at that. I can’t imagine sitting on the sofa at home and thinking ‘I could take a piss, but I can’t be bothered to take my clothes off” or ‘god I’ve love a cup of tea, but it’s too much bloody hassle boiling the kettle’ or ‘I think I’ll skip dinner and eat a cereal bar tonight’ because that’s what’s going on here! We’re on a runaway train, with two scraps of headsail out and no way to get off. Every movement is an effort, so it’s easier to wedge yourself in and wait for things to ease. We’re 350nm from Cape Verde now (about 2 + bit days). Ben told us the ARC have marked us as ‘Retired’ on the yellow brick tracker, which is a bit upsetting to hear as we’re anything but retired!
I’ve got 2 hours left before I retire to bed. I’m hungry 🙁
Nothing much to write about. We’ve spent most of our time below, sat on our backs watching films on the laptop or sleeping. We have to keep attending to Arthur the autopilot who screams like a baby when the waves get too big or the wind changes direction. The autopilot beeps to tell you it can’t keep us on course, so one of us has to go up and hand steer until we’re back on track, and then reset the autopilot. The autopilot cutting out is a small price to pay though. Hand steering for this amount of time would be hellish. I’ve tried slowing Excalibur down by reducing sail, but we’re still trundling along too fast. We’ll end up in Mindelo in the dark at this rate. Something the pilot books discourage you from doing. We also have another challenge, we don’t have any charts for Cape Verde. The chartplotter shows a crude outline of the islands which is fairly accurate, but there’s no detailed information such as depths, lights, rocks etc. All we can see is orange for land, white for deep sea, and blue for not so deep sea 🙁
Abandoned vessels – Extreme caution is recommended when navigating in Mindelo Harbour. There are several abandoned vessels in the area in various states of disrepair.
Cruisers have commented that a night entry here can be difficult as there are many unchartered wrecks and abandoned vessels, plus the navigation lights are impossible to distinguish from the ones on shore and those of the anchored ships in the bay. A chart plotter is practically essential. Marina Mindelo have reported that a clear landmark to spot at night is the bright white/red ferry called ARMAS moored to the end of the commercial part of the harbour. They recommend keeping it clear to port and enter the marina or anchorage area at moderate speed as many of the anchored yachts do not use anchor lights.
No log for today. From memory there wasn’t much to report. It was too bumpy to make any repairs and as we got closer to Cape Verde it seemed sensible to wait and do the job properly in the marina.
I remember we were storming along with just a scrap of twin headsails out.
Ben & Jo gave us a bag of advent presents just before we left. So everyday we have a little package wrapped up with a clue in a resealable bag to save them from getting damp. I have to hand it to them, the resealable bag was a nice touch, the handwritten notes were above and beyond, and the presents themselves were genius. Today’s present was a handheld mister!
Again no log.
We approached Cape Verde as the sun began to set. I spent a lot of time thinking about what we should do if we arrived at night. I first thought it would be best to heave-to and wait for sunrise, but the conditions were kind and we had some waypoints from Dave to go on. There were some notes of warning about katabatic winds (strong winds that come hurtling down mountains with no warning), and a phenomenon called the Harmattan, strong winds carrying dust from the Sahara which reduces your visibility dramatically. Seeing as we were coming in at night we didn’t have to worry about the Harmattan, and I hoped katabatic winds would be something that happened as the land cooled before nighttime.
We spotted a string of lights from one of the islands to starboard, and continued between the islands on a course to a waypoint just outside the bay.
Trina called me up as I was having a 30 minute nap. The shoreline along Mindelo is busy with many lights, but there was a large black gap and Trina couldn’t make out if it was a big rock. When we looked closer it was indeed a big ol’ unlit rock. I sat on the bow with a can of coke as we motored along, watching the black dark rock to make sure we weren’t on a collision course. Without any charts it was a challenge, but two boats to our port were also heading for the marina for reference. The boat ahead disappeared into a myriad of lights, so I called up the guy behind us. A lot of confusion ensued.
The guy in front asked if we wanted him to turn around and come back for us.
Then someone else came on the radio who didn’t identify himself ‘Our uncle won’t come out’
We thought this was the marina who we’d spoken to on email. So we tried to confirm if he was from the marina, supposing his uncle was the guy who’d normally guide boats in.
Long story cut short, the guy on the radio was the yacht behind us, a German guy who’s anchor wouldn’t come out, spoke very little English and also didn’t have any charts of Cape Verde. The guy in front by this time had gone, and then the German overtook us.
We stuck to our waypoint and crept in, watching the other boat as we passed large tankers and such.
The rest is history, the marina answered our radio call and shone a torch on our berth.
They said hello to Trina, but ignored me, took our lines and then one person pulled Excalibur down the pontoon with little care, whilst I pulled the stern line the opposite way to slow the boat down as Trina did her best to keep the fenders from popping up and scratching Excalibur’s sides along the pontoon. They buggered off and that was our introduction to Cape Verde.
Mindelo, Cape Verde Day 1
We’d had about 4 hours sleep when we were awoken by the marina staff who told us we needed to move our boat off the waiting pontoon. Whilst getting ready to move the boat, a guy came up and stood there watching us.
He stood there silently till I said good morning and asked how he was.
“My wife’s been shot”
“What in Mindelo?!!?” I heard it could be a bit dodgy here…
“No back home”
“Is she ok?”
“Don’t know, happens in her line of work”
“Oh is she in the police force?”
“No she’s a whore! ……….I told her this would happen. What boat is it?” pointing to Excalibur.
We left the crazy weird bloke on the pontoon and moved as soon as we could.
Mindelo has a totally different vibe to anywhere else we’ve been before. It feels like the wild west, crusty old sailors with hairy backs work on their huge metal sailing tanks. Hippie old ladies with leather skin walk around the marina with their dogs following behind.
The place reminds me of the bar scene in Star Wars IV, you half expect to have a brawl with someone at the bar who’s got a death sentence on 12 systems.
We spoke to the chandlery on site and were told they’d get some epoxy kits from the warehouse and to come back at 2pm. After that we made a beeline to to the immigration office and checked in and out of the country to save time. We bumped into some Swedish friends of ours who’d been down to Senegal and were just leaving for Barbados.
2pm came and the epoxy was there waiting for us. They only had small kits so we took two.
The problem with the backing pad on the hydrovane was that each bolt had its own backing pad on the lower bracket. One bolt was in one locker, and the other was in another. Trina cut a hole in the small bulk head that separates the starboard cockpit locker to the small stern locker. She cut out one large backing pad from one of the remaining washboards and used that to cover both bolts, which would spread the load on the lower bracket evenly.
Meanwhile I took all our washing to a launderette through town. Mindelo buzzes with activity. Women carrying massive baskets full of veg on their heads through the market. Fish markets buzzing with people. Kids playing football in the street. The place has its own style.
I left the washing and on the way back found a shop to get some more water. I walked back with a young kid pushing a rickety old trolley with our water back to the marina. That’s how they do things.
I went back to the chandlery to get just one more pot of epoxy. The chandlery is the smallest chandlery I’ve ever seen. All their stock is in a warehouse off site. This is a place where lines of eager sailors line up in anticipation of that vital part they need to fix their boat and head off to the Caribbean or wherever. I felt one guy’s frustration and pain as he exchanged words with someone on the phone about a part for his steering.
Back at the boat Trina was busy smoothing off the inside of the hull. I grabbed a couple of cocktails from the bar to quench our thirst and then went back to the launderette. On the way back I needed cash which turned out to be a bit of a mission as 2 cash points had run out of cash. I took out what I thought was £20 and nearly paid £200 for our washing. Our stop was so short I didn’t know what I was getting or what the exchange rate was at the time.
When I got back Trina was pissed as a fart. The cockpit was full of all our tools, scales, cups, stirrers, and fibreglass matting. The cocktail had sent Trina into a dizzy spin and was crazy strong. Under LED lamp we rushed to get the backing pads epoxied on. I mixed the epoxy and Trina built up the layers of fibreglass and matting until the job was done.
That night we had a bit of a walk around, had a few drinks and checked out a restaurant that a lady from the supermarket had recommended us. Advice was to be careful walking around Mindelo at night, we didn’t feel unsafe but it was quiet. I hate to think how many people have been put off places like Mindelo by reading reports of safety issues in and around Cape Verde. I wouldn’t have gone out of choice, but as the owner of the restaurant told us, each island is different and has its own culture. So I’m learning that you can’t judge an entire country based on isolated incidents of robbery and theft.
Mindelo, Cape Verde Day 2
One thing I’ve remembered is that the epoxy we bought was slow setting stuff, something cruisers would be best to stock up on. Back home we normally use the fast setting epoxy, but that would have cured too quickly to work with in these temperatures.
We spent the day prepping and trying to get the sat phone working. We updated the firmware and that seemed to do the trick.
We met another ARC boat that had a pretty tough time and stopped in Cape Verde to get some work done. They’d had one man overboard, and one chap medevaced by helicopter after being struck by the boom. They were leaving at 6pm as they also didn’t have any charts for Cape Verdes, so we decided to leave at the same time.
It seems not uncommon to end up in Cape Verde without charts. We overheard another boat in the bar who’d been in a similar situation.
One good tip is to join the Cruising Association. They do a phone app which works offline and gives you lots of information, and reader comments on countries/marinas etc. We used that on the way down to read up on Cape Verde. Trina also thinks we’ve made up our membership in marina discounts by way of being a member of the CA. I thought I’d made a mistake to begin with as it’s not cheap, but it’s worked out over time.
We were still messing around come 6pm and left at 7 as it got dark. The water I filled the tanks up with came out brown for a while whilst running the taps, but it was too late to do anything about it.
Aquila hadn’t left their pontoon so we headed out alone, 40 hours after arrival with one fixed Hydrovane.
I felt pretty uneasy heading out with no charts. We followed our previous track as far as we could, and took the now lit rock to starboard. Once we got into deeper water between the islands I half expected some of these katabatic winds we’d heard about. Our Swedish friends had a taste of them coming to Mindelo, 40-45 knots which I’ve never experienced on Excalibur.
The night was actually very peaceful, other than my paranoia that it’d all go to shit at some point. Trina went to bed and we motored around the island and out to sea. I watched a red light thinking it was another boat for sometime, until it became clear it was a house on the hillside. What joker would do such a thing!
We watched out for Aquila on the AIS but nothing showed up.