Disclaimer: this contains sailing jargon. I have made best efforts to keep it to a minimum – even I get bored of reading about what the wind was doing on a certain patch of the planet at a certain time in the past – but, in an account of sailing across an ocean, some jargon is liable to creep in once or twice.
If there was one passage we wanted to go well during our first 3000 nautical miles (Nm) since departing Portland Harbour, it was this one. As the sun set on Las Palmas, Gran Canaria we motored out into the Atlantic Ocean with 865Nm between us and Mindelo, Sao Vincente of the Cape Verde Islands. The first leg of two in our voyage across to the Caribbean. With a boat full to the rafters of food, and as much fuel and water as we could possibly carry, the promise of good weather found us only cautiously optimistic.
Indeed our experience with weather up to that point had been disappointing, and therefore so had been the sailing. The prevailing northerly winds, nortadas, that blow sailboats down the Portuguese coast had eluded us; the calm conditions predicted for our crossing of the Gibraltar Straits proved to be spectacularly wrong; and just at the time we needed to be leaving Morocco to get to the Canaries, a low pressure system over Madeira had swung the wind right around to point into our nonplussed faces for three long, hard days.
Not that, we acknowledge, one shouldn’t always be prepared for the worst. Prevailing winds are based on probability and forecasts are only predictions, but having planned our itinerary according to such probability, and diligently checking the forecasts in the build up to any passage, we were beginning to feel somewhat unlucky come the Canary Islands.
As such, then, I was a little nervous as the lights of Las Palmas disappeared into the distance. Having completed a transatlantic sail last year, I knew how hard life could become in light and variable winds, and that was with a crew of three and an autopilot. Now, with just the two of us (sin autopilot) embarking on our longest passage yet, it was important we got the best conditions.
Sitting now in the Cape Verdes, I’m happy to report, firstly that I have a cold beer next to me, and secondly that the passage down here was an absolute belter. We spent six days and seven nights ogling at speeds we didn’t know our little 32-footer was capable of – sometimes surfing down waves at up to 12 knots – and all but bumped into Mindelo, such was our surprise at arriving a full two days earlier than expected.
You might wonder, understandably, what we’re doing in this archipelago you’ve likely never heard of. Didn’t I say we were the crossing the Atlantic Ocean? Well, yes, we are. But, whilst Columbus initially set straight over the Atlantic for the new world, on the third of his four transatlantics he established a route with a pitstop here in Mindelo. Although this adds on roughly 250Nm, it becomes possible to nip over to the Caribbean earlier in the year, safe in the knowledge that you are out of reach of any late-season hurricanes.
Given that sipping on rum punches in Antigua in plenty of time for Christmas is something of a priority, the extra mileage was a no-brainer. I suppose Columbus might have been more preoccupied with discovering new lands than he was with Christmas or rum punch on his first couple of crossings, but given recent political events he might have reconsidered his priorities before sailing off to find America. (You may have digested the news of President Trump by now, but we are still reeling from it having been at sea as the news broke. Plans for four years of ocean bobbing living off fish and rainwater as of his inauguration in January, are currently in the making. Applications welcome.)
2100Nm of open water now lie between us and English Harbour, Antigua. We are grateful to be joined by my step-dad, Pat, who is taking time away from Hindon Fencing to help us cross the pond. We hope he enjoys his debut sailing experience but, seasick or not, James and I are looking forward to not doing our usual six hour watches for a while!
With him, Pat has brought out to us a brand new Simrad TP32 autopilot, for which we extend much gratitude to Riversmeet Leisure Centre of Gillingham, Dorset for helping to fund this vital piece of equipment. Upon hearing of our travels they offered their support and we gladly accepted, and we can now rest assured that when the winds die off in the Atlantic Ocean, as they assuredly will at points over the three week journey, we can put forward our fourth crew member to steer the boat. That might sound lazy, but having to each steer a third of the way across an ocean would be a sure fire way of exhausting any crew.
Time here in Mindelo, then, has been productive and Blue Eye looks in smart shape to take on the second leg. The weather forecast, typically, does not look so smart, with light and variable winds forecast for the next week. Nonetheless, as many of the other boaters here who we have met whilst waiting for the Trade Winds, we feel we should start making progress and as such will be departing Sunday 20th November. We have a lot of fuel so we’re confident the rum punches are only three weeks away.