We now have less than 1000nm to go!
When I woke up a call came on the VHF from a boat we’d spoken to en route from Mindelo. I’m going to refer to them as our neighbours in the blog. We didn’t think we’d hear from them again as they’re bigger and fast than us, and left us for dust about a week ago. They’ve had a crap time. The wife has broken her collarbone after being tossed around the boat, and the skipper was thrown into the binnacle (steering post column) and has done some serious internal damage to his insides, and wasn’t able to eat or drink for 5 days! Despite all this they sound in good spirits. They’ve reduced sail to avoid having to reef at night, we’ll be in daily contact with them should they need us.
You could be forgiven to think this crossing is a tad dangerous as all we’ve heard about are injuries, man overboards, lost rudders, lost masts, people hitting whales, but at least to some degree these risks are our own, and our fate isn’t sealed by the likes of others.
We’ve sailed very conservatively on this trip, sometimes over-cautiously perhaps, but we still bowl along at a respectable speed. If we take it too easily we may cover 110nm a day, if we push Excalibur we might hit 126nm a day, and if we set the sails and forget about them we seem to do 120nm which is absolutely fine in my eyes. Saying that it’ll be tempting to push a little more once we can smell the rum!
I’m writing this a day late. The days are speeding by and I can barely remember what happened 48 hours ago.
We’ve been having daily chats with our new neighbours. They’re in good spirits and are coping well despite their injuries. We can see them in the distance, and in the night we were less than 1/2 a mile away, which meant we had to keep more regular watches.
I put the fishing rod out today and used our biggest lure ‘Mandy’ (she’s a big one!). At sundown the reel starting zipping and whizzing, but as soon as I started to reel the sucker in the line snapped.
Trina made a 4 or 5 bean chilli which took great strength as we’re still rolling like fucking crazy.
We watched a pod of about 15 dolphins from the bow at sunset. One guy jumped out of the water about 6ft high and landed on his side. Let’s call him special eddy.
Unfortunately the waves are coming from the north and the winds coming from the east so the boat yaws from side to side, which backs one of the twin head sails. The force of the wind pushing the back of the sail rights the boat in the end, but when the wind fills the sail it makes an almighty bang and you can feel the rigging vibrate whilst in bed. It’s an awful noise, and gives me sleepless nights.
Today started with our daily call with our injured neighbours. Rolling with another yacht and having daily calls adds a bit of variation to the day, and gives us something to watch on what would have been an otherwise empty screen on the chartplotter.
We have so much bottled water on board still, and food for that matter. We could probably have done this trip twice and not wanted for anything, except beer. We only have 4 beers left. In a futile bid to jettison some weight I had a wash in the cockpit with 6 bottles of water. It’s been my first proper wash since leaving Cape Verde 11 days ago (If you don’t include wet wipe baths to keep the scrot rot at bay).
Throughout the trip we’ve had daily presents to open, courtesy of Ben and Jo as mentioned earlier. They’re a daily surprise and have been warmly received. In fact the presents have been bloody amazing, and so are Ben and Jo. Today for example, after having a wash we opened a present to reveal Christmas pants. It’s like they read our minds! Timed to perfection! 6 days from St Lucia, hmm let’s see, Tim and Trina will probably want a wash and will be in need of fresh underwear. Legends! There’s been lots of other noteworthy presents. I can’t list them all right now at 5am. The other one that sticks out was the M&S can of chicken curry and naan bread. Once again it came at just the right time. Spain doesn’t do curry sauce, and if we did find a jar it was very expensive, so we’ve been hankering for a curry for a while. This M&S curry came at just the right time, easy to cook and tasted delicious.
We caught another fish at sundown, and then the line broke, along with 4 ring holes in the rod.
Trina did the washing up. By the time she was done she was exhausted and dripping with sweat, having had to constantly brace herself against the rolling motion of the boat. Everything’s hard work these days.
We checked our emails today, and had an email from the ARC yesterday to us and Aquila asking to keep a lookout for a non ARC boat, a 50ft catamaran that’s overdue in the Caribbean. Their last reported position was in our area. There’s no one else out there but us and our neighbours.
I did my normal 3-7am shift last night. Dawn came and instead of going to bed I stayed up to watch the sunrise, and enjoyed seeing the inside of the boat fill up with a golden glow from the morning sun. My body thought it was time to get up, and forgot I’d only had 4 hours sleep. So I skipped my 2nd nap and stayed up.
Not much happened in the day. We chatted to our neighbours who are about 5 miles away. Watched TV, listened to podcasts and dozed off here and there.
Come 6pm we put the engine on as I was eager to make our daily target. We’ve written a down a countdown of how many miles we should have left at 7pm each day in order to make the closing party on Saturday.
All our fishing action has happened at sundown, so this time we wanted to be ready and sat in the cockpit with a bottle of wine at sundown. We’ve taken the top half of the rod off and Trina has taken nearly all the braid off and filled the reel with nylon.
Around 6:30pm we opened a bottle of wine whilst I was hand steering and sat chatting, when behind Trina’s shoulder I saw a whale’s dorsal fin about 15ft from the boat. The only words I could get out was ‘WOAH WOAH’…..’WHALES’. It looked like a killer whale. Trina jumped up and we were on high alert! We then started seeing gigantic whales just below the surface surf down waves from behind us, down the side of the boat, and then under it. Some swam upside down (we think), a huge white shape would glide down the waves and under the boat. We swapped over and I climbed the mast a few steps up, or stood on the boom for a better vantage point. Trina pointed out a whale in the distance. I then saw it come down a wave from behind us and shoot past at maybe 30mph. The speed at which he shot past was incredible. It’s just not normal to see a living creature so big move so fast.
Some whales came down in pairs and then I saw what looked like a fin whale hanging out under the surface, slowly disappearing as we moved away.
We then saw two fin whales (I presume) together heading back the other way with their fins visible above the water, back to where we came from. They circled around the back of us, and started surfacing to reveal the tops of their heads, creating a bow wave. I thought at this point I saw blood in the waves and wondered if they were hunting the other whales and we were caught up in the middle of it. Seeing them surface like a Russian submarine and then dive was exhilarating and a bit scary to watch at the same time. I didn’t fancy losing a rudder to one of these whales like we heard had happened to one of the other ARC boats.
The grand finale for me was whilst I was letting our neighbours know there were whales about over the radio. As I was talking I saw one whale come out of the water on our starboard side next to the cockpit, about 40ft away, his head fully out of the water with what looked like a big sleek long smile on his face.
This picture isn’t my own (I only saw it’s head), but this is what the whale looked like.
Then they were gone. Needless to say we didn’t catch any fish after that.
We later saw our first bird of paradise (like a seagull with a long tail) circle around us and fly over the fishing lure. We shouted at him to fuck off every time he looked like he was about to dive for our squid lure. He did dive once and eventually buggered off. No bird stew for me tonight.
I haven’t written any blog entries for the last few days as nothing’s really happened. In the night, occasionally shouts of C*NT! can be heard as I’m thrown across the boat whilst trying to find something in the dark. There’s also been a bad smell, mostly at night like a rotting squirrel lingering in the air. I really don’t know what’s wrong with me. I need some fresh food. Anyhow the combined effect of strange smells and things flying across the room at night must be what it’s like to live with a poltergeist. Poor Trina.
We’ve caught 3 fish recently and have thrown them back in. The dorado eludes us, and I don’t fancy eating these brown tuna-looking fish.
Tonight’s my last night shift. It’s 4am St Lucia time. We’ve finally changed the time on our watches from Cape Verde time which we’ve kept across the Atlantic until now. So 8pm became 5pm, which meant we’re both practically asleep by 9pm St Lucia time. I’m not sure how we’ll stay awake at the closing party tomorrow night.
This evening we had our last sundowner on the bow at sunset, then later opened a bottle of wine with star constellations on the label and sat in the cockpit under a full moon. We listened to a playlist of Irish drinking songs and stared up at the night sky. The moon’s so bright it’s like a planetary torch in the sky, illuminating all the clouds, sea and Excalibur.
There were a few dark black rain clouds around us, dumping rain, blurring the distinction between sea and sky. A few of them got us, so up went the golf umbrella and we hid under it with our drinks. In fact as I’m writing this, another has come over and I’ve just battened down the hatches and hidden inside.
Thank god for twin headsails. No reefing needs to be done. I don’t have to wake Trina to reduce the mainsail, and no worries about gybing. This is the beauty of twin headsails. One furling genoa and one hanked on jib. We heard from another boat that they bent two spinnaker poles using a twin groove furling system, as when the wind picks up one sail gets overpowered and there’s no gap between the sails for the wind to spill like there is with our setup. If that makes sense.
Anyhow we’re 37nm from St Lucia now. We both agreed we could have gone on for a few more days. The trip doesn’t feel long enough, and feels like it’s over before it’s begun. Apart from the rolling the trip’s been a doddle. We’ve had 10-20kts from behind much of the way, and no squalls until the last couple of days from St Lucia. I’d recommend to everyone to set off from Mindelo. We don’t regret having to stop off there, and wished we could have stayed for longer. Also stopping off at Cape Verde gives you a chance to repack the boat after finding out what doesn’t work on the way down from the Canaries. Finally it breaks the trip into two. So I feel the crossing only took 19 days instead of the combined 27 from the Canaries.
In the morning I was greeted with a sunrise and rainbows as Trina slept, and saw the hills of St Lucia in the distance for the first time.
The wind completely died so I started packing up our downwind rig. I was racing against time to get the jib down before a big dark rain cloud arrived. I didn’t make it back to the cockpit in time and stood in the cockpit as the torrential rain came pouring down, shouting down to Trina to keep the hatch closed at the top of my voice.
We motored along for a while, drinking cocktails and listening to our arrival music playlist.
The wind came back and we sailed around Pigeon Island under genoa (I should have had the main up to beat to the finishing line).
We arrived 27 days and 3039 nautical miles (with our little detour) later from the Canaries.
Injured neighbours update
We’ve since spoken to them. They went to Martinique and straight to hospital. Martinique is of course French so I’m guessing they made use of their E111 (whilst it’s still possible).
There wasn’t anything the doctors could do with a broken collarbone as the body had healed itself by the time they got in.
The skipper though had a really really lucky escape with his internal injuries, it turned out to be quite serious and he made it to hospital in the nick of time. We felt on reflection that we should have really pushed for them to take some antibiotics off us to prevent septicemia. We would never have forgiven ourselves if the skipper had passed away on route, knowing we had drugs on board that could have saved his life. The skipper assured us he was fine, but the symptoms he had to endure were not.
Our advice would be first to get a Garmin InReach or a YellowBrick tracker as well as a Sat phone if your budget allows, or if not just the tracker. Our sat phone was unreliable and that seems to be a common complaint among other people we’ve met. The trackers on the other hand such as our Garmin has been much more reliable. We’ve always been able to communicate with people back home, and it’s been our lifeline when the sat phone failed, which was more times than I care to mention.
(I’ve highlighted this as I think it’s a handy bit of info for anyone looking to do an offshore passage)
Drugs wise, Trina found Superdrug to be the cheapest place to buy supplies from. Boots wanted around £350 for the prescription drugs we wanted to take, whereas Superdrug only charged £55 for the same stuff.
We have nothing but admiration and respect for new friends for what they’ve been through, and we hope to see them here in the Caribbean or back in the UK.
I’ve already written a post of our arrival, so I’ll leave this blog post here.