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Leg 5: Atlantic Crossing East to West


Preliminaries

 

The Atlantic crossing, east to west, had always been at the very heart of the whole voyage.


Never mind that by the time we would set out across the Atlantic we would already have sailed well over 2,500 nautical miles or that once across we would at some point have to sail a further 4,500NM to get back home. No, without doubt the 2,100 mile leg from the Cape Verdes to Barbados was The Big One.


The world’s second largest ocean after the Pacific, at 41,100,000 square miles the Atlantic covers one fifth of Earth’s surface. It holds some 74 million cubic miles of water and has the world’s largest drainage area with many of the world’s greatest rivers pouring into it.


When the trade winds are blowing as they should – strong and from the east – with the North Equatorial Current setting west at up to 1.5 knots, once one has departed from the Cape Verdes the nearest land is to all intents and purposes over 2,000NM away on the other side. With depths of up to 5,000 metres under the keel for much of the way across a sense of one’s insignificance in the great world order could not help but creep in as we set out in our little craft with Imray-Iolaire Chart 100 – The North Atlantic – confidently folded out on Gulliver G’s chart table.

 

Route

 

Back in Mindelo much of the discussion amongst cruisers had focussed on routeing. This perhaps sounds a little peculiar as one might suppose that, starting in the east, a vessel should simply follow a great circle route (the most direct route) to wherever it is one wants to get to on the west side.

Setting out from the Canaries a direct route cannot be sailed as a vessel must first head south to get into the trade winds before turning west, but as the Cape Verdes are slap in the middle of the trade wind belt it is perfectly feasible to sail the most direct course from there to the Caribbean – but that is not necessarily the best approach.


Most of the discussion about routeing focussed on how far south one should go on the way across. The general consensus was that the lower the latitude for crossing the less the potential of encountering confused seas emanating from storms many hundreds of miles up north – but go too far south and one will not only have to head north again on the other side but could risk dropping out of the trades and into calms.


For us the decision was pretty easy: we wanted to sail to Barbados and would round her southern end at 13°N. Setting out from Mindelo at a little under 17°N we decided to bear SW until we hit 13°N and then sail the rest of the way across on that latitude.

 

Rig

 

After route, rig was the next most discussed item on the agenda. Trade wind sailing involves sailing downwind which makes for very efficient sailing in terms of getting plenty of speed out of the boat (assuming that there is sufficient wind!) without being overly concerned about sail trim, but it also makes the boat roll.

            

The rolling is caused by waves and swell, which will always be present except for in conditions of dead calm.

            

Much of the discussion around rig focussed on how to reduce rolling.

            

The conclusion that I rapidly came to was that no-one has a clue; most likely because it is simply not possible!

            

Some people felt that twin poled-out head sails should reduce rolling, others that they would make it worse. Some intended to use a reefed main and full poled-out genoa, the idea being that having a bit of main up would help to balance the boat.

            

Orkestern had come up with some complex (or so it sounded to me) arrangement involving the main, a storm jib on the inner forestay and genoa on the outer, which was supposed to somehow funnel the wind in such a way as to keep the boat more level.

            

For me the decisions on rig were greatly simplified by two considerations: (i) I couldn’t be fagged with rigging up some special system which may or may not work and (ii) once underway, I did not want to be faced with an arrangement which might actually require me to do anything too arduous, in particular, going forward in the middle of the night.

            

From the forecast we got before we left Mindelo it was evident that the trades were nicely settled, that the winds would be a touch light for the first few days and then strengthening again but that for the foreseeable future they would be blowing from almost directly behind us: NE as we sailed SW to 13° and then E for the rest of the way across.

            

So it was that on the afternoon of 3rd January 2012 we unfurled the jib and off we went. More or less.

            

The one thing that was missing from our rigging gear was a single-piece spinnaker pole. We had a light-weight telescopic pole, but I was concerned that it would not be strong enough, so we used Gulliver G’s long boom to ‘pole out’ the jib, running the jib sheet through a block on the end of the boom (we did not use main sail at all on the crossing). The telescopic pole was added into the rig later, as I will explain below; to our surprise it worked very well.


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Leaving the Cape Verdes, late afternoon on Tuesday 3rd January 2012.


On Passage

 

We had decided to await a good forecast before departing Mindelo.


A few boats left on Boxing Day. I am not sure why because to us the wind forecast on PassageWeather.com was showing more green (F6/7) than we like to see and the swell forecast did not look good at 4-5m, but they had decided on Boxing Day and off they went. When we caught up with the news on the other side we learnt that those boats going on Boxing Day had indeed experienced strong winds and high seas and had taken a bit of a battering as a result.


All of the boats which left Mindelo at the same time as us reported similar conditions to us – light winds with moderate swell to begin with followed by steady and stable trades (mainly F5) for the remaining 80% of the crossing. Peculiarly, the swell mainly came from the N or NW (as forecast), which emphasises the fact that swell is often attributable to things going on hundreds or thousands of miles away, such as winter storms up north, rather than local conditions. Of course, the trades create waves which kick-up cross-seas as they meet the swell, all of which perpetuates the ship’s rolling motion.

 

Early days

 

For the first couple of days the winds were very light and progress was frustratingly slow. Gulliver G would wallow in the swell, the jib spilling as we rolled to windward and then filling again with a loud bang which would make Gulliver G shudder from stem to stern as we came back to leeward.


On the afternoon of 4th January I wrote: “Horribly frustrating lack of wind. Tempted to get chute up but will only have to get it down in a few hours’ time for dark. I so wish we could have a decent F5. Having the sail fill and spill like this can’t be good for the rig.”


Fortunately the wind did then pick up a little, the bright sunny afternoon giving way to a fiery sunset, which in turn led to a beautiful moonlit night as Kate and I played iTouch Scrabble in the cockpit.


At 0700 the next morning the wind had again dropped. I wrote: “Jib furled. So much for the ‘Christmas winds’ – we are becalmed; though still rolling around plenty with everything creaking. A couple of times during the night we got up a fair clip but now nothing. Going to bed; will bob around for a bit and see what develops.”


My R&R did not last too long. At 0828 I wrote: “Bit of wind back! Hope it stays with us! Jib unfurled. Dawn as drab and grey as any in the English Channel (perhaps a bit warmer, though!). Cuppa tea will cheer me up – that and the wind behaving as if we were in the trades.”


By late afternoon on 5th January the wind had picked up to F3/4, the rolling had gone down and we were starting to make tracks again: “From a grey and frustrating morning the afternoon is more like a lazy summer’s afternoon back home: Kate asleep below, the saloon drenched in the soft honey glow of shaded sunlight reflected off varnished teak and mahogany, me reclined in the cockpit with a book as Gulliver G bears us ever southwards and westwards…”.


By early morning on the 6th January we were creaming along under full jib. The swell had picked up to 2-3m, but mainly from behind and we surfed down the larger seas. During that day the jib kept up with its business of spilling the wind and then filling with a juddering bang. By early evening I decided that something had to be done, so I rolled in 1½ reefs and then sheeted in hard (bearing in mind that the jib sheet ran through a block on the end of the boom which was far out to port). I thought that sheeting in hard might ‘force’ a better sail shape but it made things worse. I eased the sheet and Gulliver G promptly became much more balanced, running smoothly downwind with the Aries not having to exert too much effort rather than trying to round up to the wind as she had done with the sail in tight.


Whilst reducing sail had improved matters, it is not really what one wants to do when running downwind and I lamented our lack of a proper spinnaker pole.

 

13°N

 

During the first few days the wind had more easterly in it than we had expected. As we had set out from Mindelo on a starboard tack and had no intentions of changing tack we’d found ourselves sailing more WSW than SW.


With no waypoints until we got to Barbados, in my mind hitting 13°N became an increasingly important milestone.


By the early hours of 9th January we were getting tantalisingly close. As dawn broke I took over the helm from Aries – the first and last time I did any helming on the crossing – so as to steer the most direct downwind course to 13°N.


At 0640, having re-engaged the Aries, I was able to enter in the logbook: “13°N 35°W. A Key position has been reached!!! It is now due west for just under 1,500NM to clear the S tip of Barbados! Wooo-hoooo!!”.


Sail change

 

The wind promptly dropped to F3 pushing F4. Still riding the euphoria of our earlier milestone I unleashed The Beast just before midday, use of the cruising chute pushing our SOG up to 5.75kts.


Our progress remained so good during the afternoon and evening that I decided to chance it and leave the chute up overnight – something which, having heard many a midnight chute or spinnaker horror story, I had long sworn never to do.


Getting the chute down in the dark proved less hassle than it could have done, but by that point I was supposed to be asleep and was very tired, my radiant mood of hours earlier extinguished with the last glows of the departing sun, as the 2222 log entry amply illustrates: “We got the chute down and the jib back out an hour ago as the wind kept picking up. Now rolling like mad, jib filling and spilling. One moment the wind is a good F4, the next nout. Where are the trades? Also, switched to gas bought in CVs at bargain price (€4); transpires to be of inferior quality to the stuff sent to Europe – weak, yellow flame which leaves black soot on the pots.”


By 0330 on 10th January things had not improved much: “This has been a frustrating few hours due to lack of decent wind. Batteries are almost depleted for the first time since Marina Rubicon as the wind gen has barely spun in 24 hours. Every time I think that the wind is picking up it promptly drops off again. At least the direction is constant.”


By midday I had started the engine for the first time since leaving the CVs in order to charge the batteries. It would only get going with one decompression lever up and the salt water pump leaked heavily. The engine would not idle and after a while once more dumped a load of oil out through the ‘oil seal’ on the crank shaft. I noted in the log that we might have to sail into Carlisle Bay, Barbados “… if we ever get enough wind.”


A few hours later, the engine was shut down – or ground to a halt, I am not sure which – the gas seemed to be working better and, after our hottest day so far with the temperature well into the mid-30’s, everything seemed much better.


At 2030 I noted in the log: “Lovely, warm evening. We sat star-gazing in the cockpit for a while – the sky simply bejewelled with stars and Venus casting a carpet of light over the sea, until the near full moon came up, blood orange, and stole the show.”


0718, 11th January: “Another day, another beautiful dawn at 13°N. Much warmer and sunnier now that we are well and truly clear of the harmattan. Cleared 22 flying fish from the decks this morning!”


Everything was going well, but I was still not happy about our jib. It had retained a tendency to spill and fill, too much of it was rolled away and even then the set of the sail was far from perfect, with us wandering a touch north when we wanted to be sailing due west.


In my optimistic mood and the wind a mere F3, I decided that maybe I should give the telescopic pole a go. 


At 1644 on 11th January I wrote: “Done what I should have done ages ago – poled out the jib’s clew with the telescopic pole so that the jib sheet runs straight back through a block on the end of the boom still, but what was the lazy sheet now runs through the jaw on the pole, is held up by the spinnaker pole topping lift, and then leads down to a forward cleat. So far this appears to be giving much better speed (over 4kts in 7kts of wind), a much better angle to the wind (heading more S again) and, above all, greatly reduces the extent to which the jib collapses as we roll off a wave – to almost nothing – so we lose very little speed and, best of all, the rig does not get snapped taut with an alarming twang and shudder when the jib fills.”


With the jib finally properly poled out the 12th January passed without incident.


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The jib worked much better once properly poled out.

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Not your standard poling-out arrangement, but sometimes you have to make do with what you’ve got and…. 

it worked!


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Spot the ship.

Friday the thirteenth

 

On the morning of Friday 13th January Kate ended her watch by getting sploshed by a massive wave and waking me with a loud yelp. 


Whilst not wildly superstitious I have always felt a little uneasy about Fridays which fall on the 13th of the month and greeted the day with a degree of caution.


The first event of my watch, though, was a positive. The AIS picked up our first ship since Mindelo – at almost the exact half-way point of our passage! I radioed up Spring Hawk, had a chat with the deck officer and got some weather information. The 48-hour forecast was E-NE F5/6 with a swell of 3-4m in the same direction. They did not have a longer term forecast, but their synoptic charts showed that the pressure should remain high and steady for at least the next week or so. 


The second event had the makings of a disaster: the gas regulator packed up.


After running out of gas on the way to the Madeiras we had made damn sure that we had enough gas on board for the Atlantic crossing, buying two new gas bottles in Mindelo where the little Camping Gaz butane bottles that we use were only €12 for a new, full bottle (compared to around £60 in the UK) and it was just €4 to exchange an empty bottle for a full one (around £20 in England). This gave us three spare bottles and one nearly full when we left the CVs.


Much though I cursed Shell for sending the low-grade gas to Africa, it should nonetheless have still burnt.


So, when the cooker would not light, even after I tried switching gas bottles, I figured that the problem must be the regulator.


I thought back to Arrecife. To the chandlery with the half dozen butane regulators hanging off a rack. To the price tag of €14.50 which had made me think, ‘I must get one of these as a spare. Rather than carry it around now, I’ll buy one when we come back for that new anchor.’


Of course, when we next visited the chandlery I completely forgot about this plan and consequently here we were in the middle of the Atlantic with three and a half bottles of gas and no spare regulator to screw onto any of them such that we might be able to exploit the vapours which swirled within.

We reconciled ourselves to the situation. We had managed without gas before and we would do so again. There was plenty of nosh on board which could be eaten without being cooked first. Biscuits, for example. And anyway, it was a lot hotter down here at 13°N than it had been on the way to the Madeiras.


By mid-afternoon I was getting the shakes and a headache had moved in. Classic tea withdrawal symptoms.


I had a biscuit, but it is not the same without a hot steaming mug of Yorkshire tea…


I could take it no more. I forced some seizing wire into the regulator and twanged it around. For good measure, I squirted in some WD40. I fitted the regulator back to the bottle and went to light the stove.


It worked, by Jove! It worked!


OK, the flames were about a foot high for the first second or two, but before long I had the kettle on.


After that scare, the regulator did keep working the rest of the way across, needing only the odd twang with the seizing wire (I refrained from using any more WD40 on it).

 

Speeding west

 

By the 14th January the wind was blowing a good F6 from ENE. At 0334 I wrote: “Rough on the one hand, SOG >6kts on the other…”.

And at 0826: “A lot of water over the decks. Just went out for a smoke and a massive wave promptly broke over the cockpit and down the hatch – though not as big as the one which broke at 0600, which even managed to put a good bit of water in the pan on the stove. Fortunately we have lots of paper towel. Now it is raining hard.”


The 1200 UTC fix showed our best run yet – 142NM in 24 hours, giving an average SOG over 24 hours of 6kts! This deserved lots of block capitals and exclamation marks in the log book, which I had to better for the 1200 UTC fix on 15th January –

 

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We were now crunching through the miles, with just 710NM to go. Our record of 151.5NM was not about to be broken, but our daily run would remain comfortably in the 130NM range for the last five days of the crossing, making us as fast as or faster than a number of larger boats we knew.

 

More Ships

 

In the early hours of 16th January with still over 600NM to go we were surprised to sight 4 ships in two hours. A look at the Admiralty routeing chart confirmed that we were at the convergence of a north-south shipping route (New York to Rio de Janero) and an east-west route (Freetown to Curaçao). 


The ship which had spoken to in the mid-Atlantic had also been following a charted route.

            

This shows that ships do tend to stick closely to well established routes between the major ports.

            

We had bought our Olympic-sized routeing chart when doing our Yachtmaster Ocean because we thought it might be handy for the wind roses.

Whilst the chart is good for average wind information (based on decades’ worth of ships’ observations reported back to the British Admiralty), it transpired that such information is widely available – and is included on the back of Chart 100. However, having a routeing chart aboard is very useful for being able to ascertain where one is most likely to encounter shipping.


Once clear of these routes we did not see any more ships until we arrived at Barbados.

 

The last few days

 

The conditions remained rough to very rough, with a trip to the cockpit more often than not involving a drenching.

            

At 0354 on 18th January I wrote in the log: “Fun & games: just had F7 blowing, with heavy rain, for 15 minutes or so, accompanied by big seas, so battened the hatches and relaxed a’ bunk as GG raced along under full jib. Then the wind stopped and the sail flogged as we wallowed: the spinnaker topping lift’s snap shackle had opened so that the pole dangled uselessly. Had to go forward to reset it. At least here such a task, performed in swim wear as opposed to foulies, is reasonably pleasant! Wind back to F5 now. This is about as much excitement as we have had since The Day of the Gas.”

            

Despite the rough and windy conditions, the weather had been getting decidedly hotter as we bore further west. At times, particularly at night when the rough conditions made sitting out in the cockpit too wet an experience and it was easier to stay down below, it was almost uncomfortably hot. But, we were not complaining. Being able to live in swim wear is much easier than being wrapped up in 10 layers of thermals as is the norm back in the UK.

            

The rolling remained at a bearable level as we closed Barbados.

            

At 2000 on 18th January I wrote: “The odd wave gets us beam-on and breaks into the cockpit, but Gulliver G, as for the last couple of weeks, remains fairly upright. Movement is occasionally jerky when punched by waves, but not too rolly.”

            

BY mid-afternoon on 19th January, with around 150NM to go, the winds had dropped to F3/4 but the sea state was still moderate, making for challenging conditions: “These final miles are proving as frustrating as the first few hundred, my irritation doubtless amplified by our proximity to our destination and preference for a daylight arrival tomorrow. Seas are lumpy and wind is light so that even with the pole the jib will collapse to some extent as we fall to starboard off a wave. Other than a couple of nights ago when the topping lift came undone, this is the first time that the jib has gone through the spill ‘n’ fill routine in about ten days. And just when we are so close! Grrrrr… As we have got further west we have had more rainy squalls (and now virtually no flying fish). As I write a heavier mass of cumulus is heading our way. Maybe this will bring stronger winds with it.”

            

Soon the wind was blowing at F4/5 again, though whether the cumulus had anything to do with it I am not sure. The weather forecasting principles which hold good in European waters simply do not apply in the tropics.

            

Gulliver G’s speed increased and at 0235 on 20th January I was able to note: “SOG 6kts; dist. to go 85NM – equivalent to Gosport to Cherbourg! Let’s hope this progress can be maintained. Raining again.”

            

After 10 days of staying almost bang on the same course we found that we had to bear a little north to head for the south tip of Barbados. How nice it would have been to have sailed straight there without adjusting the Aries at all!

            

All the way across the Atlantic we had seen quite a number of small black birds which appeared to be sea based, being thousands of miles from land. About fifty miles out of Barbados we started seeing some land-based birds – large white creatures which circled and dived for fish near Gulliver G.

            

By midday on Friday 20th January we had only 34NM left until we reached our waypoint off Barbados, at 13°N 29°30’W. It was becoming touch-and-go as to whether we would arrive in daylight.

            

At 1400 I noted: “Still no sign of land…”

            

And at 1530: “16.5NM to go; still can’t see land!”

            

Then, a mere minute later, at 1531, Kate shouted –

 

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At half five we got the engine started, with the usual struggle involving decompression levers and what-not, then proceeded to floor it towards Carlisle Bay as a gorgeous red sunset illuminated our arrival before leaving us to anchor in the dark.

            

At 1930 the hook was down, the engine stalled. We cracked open a couple of cold beers and toasted our achievement: 18 days without a drink. Actually, make that two achievements, for we had also just sailed across the Atlantic!

 

Time and Log Keeping

 

The passage took us through four time zones.

            

The Cape Verdes are in Zone +1, which means that local time is one hour behind UTC (which used to be known as GMT – Greenwich Mean Time). As we moved from one zone to another, +1, +2, +3 and +4, we would have to put our clock back by an hour, meaning that we gained a total of 3 hours on the way across (only 3 hours as we started in zone +1).

            

For position fixing we used a simple hand-held GPS, our chartplotter having died leaving A Coruna. Whilst we would note our GPS position in the log book several times a day – useful to ensure that one is not deviating too far from one’s course – we would only plot a fix on Chart 100 every 24 hours.

            

The chart covers such a large area that doing more regular plots would be quite pointless as they would only show that one had not gone very far in the grand scheme of things!

            

So as to be able to calculate our true day’s run and the remaining distance to cover, throughout the voyage we took our main daily fix at 1200 UTC every day, which in practise meant that our ‘noon’ fix was at 1100 local time to begin with, then at 1000 once we were in zone +2, and so on.

            

This is a different approach to the traditional fix based on a sextant-derived noon sight, but it makes assessing one’s progress very straightforward! The chart below shows our distance covered, noon-to-noon UTC. Superimposed over the columns is the average wind force for the 24 hour period represented by the corresponding column. The Beaufort scale does not normally feature decimal places, but as each wind force covers a range of wind strength (e.g. F5 is 17 – 21 knots) and the wind varies over the course of each 24-hour period, for the purposes of the chart I have estimated average wind force from our log entries.


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Life on board

 

One of the most difficult aspects of an Atlantic crossing, most sailors will agree, is the rolling.


The motion is constant.


If you put something down on a table, a second later it will have been flung across the cabin. Tipping dinner from the pan into bowls requires strategy, speed and agility. The rolling is in many respects more challenging to deal with than being heeled over when close-hauled or on a reach. At least when heeled one can simply place things – pans, plates, books, for example – on the low side of the horizontal plane so that they will rest against the vertical.

When rolling everything constantly moves to and fro.


For many people this leads an added complication: sea-sickness.


The first time I went out on a large yacht, at the age of 17, the Ocean Youth Club’s 72‘ ketch, Lady Beaverbrook, I felt so ill for the first few hours that I thought that stepping off dry land was possibly the biggest mistake I’d made in my life. After years of dreaming about going sailing on a yacht, rather than just pottering around in dinghies, there I was and I just wanted to be air-lifted off. Then I got my sea-legs and never looked back.


I still sometimes find that the first few hours of a passage I can feel a touch off colour and will pop a pill, after which I will be fine for the rest of the passage. But whilst I am lucky enough not to suffer particularly from seasickness nowadays, those first few hours aboard the Lady Beaverbrook left a lasting impression of how horrible it can feel.


It has therefore been something of a surprise to me just how many ocean cruisers we have met who suffer sea-sickness to really quite a debilitating degree, such that they can do very little on passage in terms of cooking, reading and so on. I admire their determination in pressing on with their ocean sailing.


Kate suffers a little bit from sea-sickness, but as the passage across the Atlantic went on she improved to the point where she was able to read quite a lot. The one thing she was never able to do, which was a great frustration to her, was to cook.


Back home Kate is the chef, not because we are terribly old fashioned but because she loves to cook and to try out new concoctions, whereas if it were left to me dinners would alternate between pizza and pasta.


On the Atlantic crossing, as soon as Kate tried to cook she would feel decidedly queasy.

 

Cooking

 

A ritual developed for dinner where Kate would sit in the companion-way and give instructions and I would do the cooking. All of our meals were one or two pot and all involved using the pressure cooker.

            

A pressure cooker – a good one – carries enormous benefits on a yacht. Most importantly, it reduces the amount of water and gas required for cooking.

            

For many cruisers a fundamental issue is stocking up on and storing meat. We did not carry any meat as Kate is vegetarian and I was quite happy to go without for 2½ weeks. This simplified matters greatly.

            

Before leaving Mindelo we bought a good stock of fresh fruit and veg and found that most of it lasted well in our wicker ‘Basket of Plenty’. Cucumbers, we have found everywhere, last for at least a couple of weeks if kept in the fridge. We also bought a lot of cheese.

            

We had a different dish every night, most consisting of a starch base such as rice, pasta, potato (tinned or packet mash) or couscous and then some combination of beans, lentils or other vegetables and spices.

            

The fact that we ate very well was borne out by the distinct absence of the rippling six-pack which I had been convinced I would be sporting by the time we got across.

            

We did not consume any alcohol on the way across, partly because we have never drunk when sailing (though it is a different matter once the hook is dug in!) and saw no reason to change now and partly because we probably drink somewhat in excess of the government health guidelines normally and it was a good opportunity to detox for a bit. We mainly drank water, tea, the odd cocoa and plenty of fruit juice. For me, tea was particularly important. British tea-drinking sailors should ensure that they stock up with lots of tea before leaving the UK as it is very difficult to get decent tea in anywhere outside the UK (apart, perhaps, from India, China and some Commonwealth countries).

            

We packed lots of sweets and chocolate bars, which can be a great morale booster when on the graveyard watch.

 

Watches and safety

 

Crossing the Atlantic we maintained the same watch system which we had used on previous passages – four hours on, four off over 12 hours, with no watch system during the day when one or both of us would often be in the cockpit.

            

We would alternate between who had two watches and who had one, with watches running 2000 – 0000, 0000 – 0400 and 0400 – 0800.

            

We have met many experienced Atlantic sailors, particularly single-handers, who simply go to bed at night and get a good eight hours sleep or so.

            

I am very much of the school of thought that, in open ocean, the risk of making a serious mistake through tiredness is far greater than the risk of crashing into anything or being run down by a ship, so entirely agree with the notion of sleeping through the night, particularly if the AIS is set to sound an alarm if it picks up any transmissions.

            

As there were two of us on board it seemed sensible to keep maintain watches and, indeed, on two separate nights we did see large stationary brightly lit objects which were neither on the chart or transmitting any AIS. They may have been weather buoys – there was no answer when I tried radioing them up, so we assumed them to be un-manned. We did not need to alter course, but it was a shock to see them out in the middle of nowhere.

            

To begin with we were both very vigilant about keeping watch, but as the nights slipped by we became rather more relaxed, watching movies or napping on our watches and just taking the odd look out every twenty minutes or so.

            

In the cockpit at night we would wear life jackets and with harnesses and clip on. We did not bother with life jackets in the cockpit during the day unless it was rough, but at night the risk of tripping or becoming disorientated and falling over board is clearly much higher.

            

We would definitely never, ever, go forward from the cockpit whether by day or night without clipping on. This is not a difficult discipline to maintain: the thought of falling over board and seeing the boat sail off is pretty scary. With the sail poled out, the seacocks for our engine-which-didn’t-work shut and the boat charging along at six knots, it would have been very difficult for whoever was left on board to effect a rescue – particularly if they were asleep at the time!

            

Filippa and Martin on Orkestern told us about some Swedes that they met who had been swimming off the boat on passage, jumping into the sea and then grabbing a buoy that was trailing behind the boat. One of them missed the buoy and it took the others four hours to find him. An hour later and it would have been dark. As Martin said, if the chap had died he would have been first in line for a Darwin Award.

 

Clothing

 

Along with our Musto HPX foulies and Dubarry boots, we have so many the fleeces, thermals, woollen jumpers and ski socks aboard Gulliver G that we could probably head for the Arctic next.

            

Coming across the Atlantic all we needed was the lightest of clothing most of the time. Setting out from the Cape Verdes, we still generally wore fleeces on night watch but by the time we were mid-Atlantic it was so hot, right through the night, that swim wear was all that was needed, with perhaps a light shirt during the day if the sun seemed on the strong side.

 

Water

 

Without a water-maker on board we had to make our tanks last. So, bathing involved using a bucket of sea water and a jug. So long as one uses plenty of shower gel and shampoo, salt water showers work very well as the soap dissolves the salt. The great thing about being in the tropics is that the sea water is very warm!

            

Some people have a salt water tap down below for pots and pans, but we do not have one plumbed in and were satisfied that, so long as we did not have the tap running full blast, we would have ample fresh water for washing up.

            

When we got to Barbados we found that our main tank, which holds 160 litres, was still a third full. With another 70 litres under the floor-boards we were not at risk of running out of water, and we still had plenty of 5 litre bottles of drinking water left.

            

In principle the water in the main tank, which goes through a filter, should be fine for drinking, but on passage I have found it good practise to keep drinking water separate as that way it is easy to keep track of how much drinking water is left and it is easier to pour water from a bottle into a glass than it is to top up the tank at sea.

            

Gulliver G has a pressurised water system, because that’s what had been installed when we bought her. Many sailors prefer foot-pumps, alleging that pressurised systems induce people to use too much water. On the contrary, we have found that whilst a manual pump will spurt water out in quite large volumes the pressurised system allows one to run the tap at little more than a trickle which enables one to wash up using very little water.

 

Entertainment

 

After the motion, the biggest challenge for most people on a trans-Atlantic passage is dealing with boredom. There is no doubt that people who are into books fare far better than those who are not.

            

Before setting out I had spoken to an English chap who had helped crew a Swedish boat across the Atlantic. He’d only taken one book along and all the books on the boat were Swedish. After he’d read his book for the third time he moved on to instruction manuals, eventually trying out a book in Swedish with a dictionary to hand!


This story made an impression on us. Before we set out from the UK we loaded Gulliver G with books, grateful for the additional book cases which I had fitted during the preparations. We also have a Kindle with a few thousand books on it.


Kate and I both relished this unusual opportunity for almost unlimited reading.

            

It is also good to have lots of music. My 160GB iPod was almost full, but unfortunately it stopped working two days out of Mindelo. I thought it had had its chips, but it started working again a few months later.

            

Fortunately we had another iPod and lots of music on my iPhone and Kate’s iTouch.

            

I am aware that this is starting to sound like product placement, but what I would love for doing the trip again is an iPad – ideal for watching movies and playing games (Kate is very much into games which she downloads onto her iTouch).

            

We watched movies on the iTouch, which is a bit of a small screen. We have now inherited a few hundred more movies and on the way back home, in calm conditions, I will probably watch some of them on my MacBook Pro – but I am a bit precious getting it out on passage!

            

For the first week of the passage it became a pleasant ritual to have afternoon tea and a biscuit in the cockpit after which we would play a couple of games of scrabble on the iTouch as the sun went down, at which Kate would invariably beat me. Then the seas became moderate or rough for the last week and a half and the cockpit was generally too damp to use the iTouch.

 

Reflections

 

Ocean sailing is very different to coastal sailing. On the one hand, we did less sail handling and helming for the whole 2,100NM than we would typically do on a Sunday sojourn along the Solent. On the other, we had to (as with shorter passages) adjust the way we live to fit the environment – an environment constantly in motion.

            

The ocean sailor must be entirely self-sufficient, able to keep calm and deal with any emergencies which arise and not be freaked by the realisation that the nearest land is hundreds or thousands of miles away and all that stands between you and Davy Jones is an inch or less of fibreglass.

            

We met a boat who hand steered for the last two days of their crossing after the electric auto pilot broke; we heard of another boat who lost their rudder mid-ocean and steered across using drogues. The ocean is not the place for the sorts of people one hears on the VHF every weekend in Solent issuing a mayday because their batteries are flat or they’ve ripped a sail. Indeed, the Solent isn’t the place for those types either, but there we are!

            

One of the things that surprised us the most was that whilst the direction of the trade winds was consistently from the E or NE the strength often varied, sometimes being very light but at other times being much stronger than we had expected (which was very good for our speed).

            

If we came across again the top two things that we would do differently would be to have a proper pole for the jib and to have more films with a good device to watch them on.

            

So, would we do it again?

            

Most definitely!

 

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Kate, Geoff and Gulliver G mid-Atlantic.


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