Well this is it 2208 miles between Praia in the Cape Verde Islands and an estimated 18 days to cross with fair winds. On the morning of the 2nd December after provisioning the boat we refuelled and filled the water tanks and sailed out of Praia harbour at 12.00 noon. The tanker delivering the water pumped at a high pressure and unknowingly blew apart one of the valves in the boat’s water system. This could have been disastrous and mean total loss of water if we had only found out later in the journey, however the bilge pump started running whenever the fresh water pump was switched on, giving us the vital clue and the burst pipe was located and plugged with only the loss of a few gallons of water and as things turned out we had plenty for the journey, little did we know that we would encounter many other challenges along the way.
Riding the trades – goose winged
The key resources to manage on a journey like this apart from food and water are fuel and battery charge/electrical consumption with the latter, as it happened proving the most difficult.
So, we left Praia around noon that day and set a course south of the island of Fogo in fairly light winds. During the night we cleared the island of Brava and our last sight of land before the Caribbean. Night watches were set up as 4 hours on and eight hours off where possible and we rotated these so that each person’s watch moved on four hours each day, the least popular being the 12 to 4 period. Gill and I shared the cooking and Sim was Chief Washerupper, a system which worked quite well and provided some excellent meals given the difficulty of cooking in a rolling and pitching galley. We were always conscious of the burn and scalding risks but no one was seriously hurt.
Gill always seemed to attract the hazards – squalls, collision risks with tankers and others, bits breaking etc The second night out she had to avoid a tanker and the third night we had even more company with several ships and yachts around us, including a phantom ship emerging out of a rainstorm which hadn’t been picked up on the radar. It’s unusual to see so many other vessels out in the Atlantic, most people report making a crossing without any sightings at all, but not us.
The Ancient Mariner – alive and well
Food is an important part of any crossing and one of the highlights of the day – Gill had made sure that we were well provisioned with 500 tons of food (exaggeration!) and we managed to cook lunches and dinners every night apart from the last. Attempts at bread making haven’t been too successful. Sim’s first loaf would have made an excellent third anchor and Gill’s was fine once the carbon was chipped off. Message from skipper “must improve bread making skills”. I blame the oven (Gill)!!! (Foote note – it turned out the bread mix we were using was duff so I owe a big public apology to Sim and Gill).
On 5th December, a skipper’s haircut was well overdue, so Gill set about the hazardous task of wielding scissors around the ears. Fortunately, both the haircut and the ears came out well. Sim and Mike then had a sea water sluice down using our new collapsible bucket, whereas Gill had a hot freshwater shower and hair wash, so much for equality!
A rough cut
The next major event was catching our first fish (Mike had taken some stick for his several failed attempts on the way to the Cape Verdes) when he pulled in a sizeable Mahi Mahi which provided us with a delicious dinner and the following day, Sim also caught one. This proved a useful supplement to our frozen stores.
One of the problems which started to emerge was the gradual dropping of our battery charge despite inputs from our main engine and water turbine generator. The most likely explanation for this was the almost incessant use of the fridge and freezer which use sea water as the means of cooling. Temperatures in this part of the world are, of course, much higher resulting in longer running of the fridge and freezer. The problem eased when the winds picked up after half way and the water turbine was then giving us a good charge 24 hours per day. It turned out that the belt driven engine generator was coming off its mount because of the constant vibration and heavy weather and we were lucky it didn’t part company from the engine at sea, causing major damage.
Back in Weymouth we realised that buying flags for every country we intended to visit was going to be a very expensive exercise, so Gill suggested buying material and making our own. The first of these is the Antiguan flag, which has proved to be a work of art and commercially must be worth several hundred pounds! (see photos). Even the Antiguans have been impressed!
And the finished article
We broke our “no drinking underway” rule briefly to celebrate mid-way with a beer for the boys and a grogue (Cape Verde rum) for Gill. Sim nearly wept when his full glass went flying across the cockpit but Mike magnanimously shared his glass to restore crew morale.
During the second part of the crossing wind speeds increased to Force 5 to 6 which made watch keeping more challenging. With only one person on watch for each four hour period during the night a lot of responsibility is placed on watch keepers meaning that Mike forfeited a fair amount of sleep helping out during difficult situations and sometimes sleeping in the main cabin ready for action, on one occasion responding to Gill’s urgent cries for help in his birthday suit – not a pretty sight!
A few days later investigation of strange graunching noises from the stern revealed that the bolts for the self-steering system had sheared leaving open bolt holes for water to come in. Fortunately the holes were only half an inch diameter so we were not at risk of sinking and the bilge pump coped quite well. We had to remove the Hydrovane rudder off its shaft to avoid further damage to our stern so Sim heroically volunteered to go over the stern (strapped on of course) and into the sea to do the necessary work of removing the hydrovane rudder. Mike noticed another squall bearing down on us while we worked to make the hydrovane safe. No sooner had we recovered Sim and the rudder back on board than the storm struck and we experienced gusts of 50+mph wind. Pleased with our success and having plugged the holes and with the wind eased we got back underway for Mike’s watch only to lose the Genoa over the side after it had broken loose from the halyard. Sim was called again and the two recovered the sail and lashed it safely to the rail, continuing with reefed main and staysail.
Our troubles were not over – on the penultimate day of our trip we noticed more graunching noises coming from our back up Autohelm self-steering gear which we found to be very hot and on the point of failure. We shut it down and went onto 2 hour watches to manually steer the boat for the last 150 miles. No one had much sleep that night and dinner was abandoned for the first time in favour of biscuits and peanuts – the joys of long distance sailing.
As dawn broke on the 18th December there was Antigua, a sight for very sore eyes, and much relief for all on board, it has been quite an experience but we had triumphed and brought both boat and crew safely to Antigua after a voyage of less than 16 days despite weather and mechanical failures.