First of all, this (Nov – March) is the perfect time of the year to sail across the big pond. Thousands of sail ships used the consistent trade winds on their Triangle-Trade- Route in the past, as many Skippers on their modern sailing yachts do today.
Mainly British, Spanish, French and Dutch ships loaded manufactured goods, traded them for slaves in Africa who were then brought as workers to cane sugar plantations in Caribean Colonies and the ships, filled with sugar and rum, returned back to Europe. Nowadays sport sailors gather in certain ports preparing for the big trip. Gibraltar, or La Linea de Conception, the cheap harbour on the Spanish side, is an important stop for boats coming from the Mediterranean. Some boats head straight down the African coast after a last stop in Porto, Portugal. Most sailing vessels though stop again in the very busy Marina de Las Palmas the Gran Canaria which is also the start port of the famous ARC every year. In this Ralley, hundreds of boats cross the ocean together around mid Nov. To be in the Caribeans by Christmas. Some skippers plan another landing on the islands of Cape Verde. The tradewinds are supposed to be more steady down there, especially in the fist part of the season.
Before we hit the ocean, we have to put some thought in Preparation and Provision:
The time, an ocean-crossing will take, can only be estimated. No-one can give you a guarantee for perfect winds, a smooth sail and that no serious problems occur. Depending on the speed our boat is capable of averageing, we plan to be on the open sea for 28 to 32 days heading straight to Cuba.
What do we need for this time?
Water! Running out of drinking water would be the worst that could hapen. So we fill up all three holding tanks, two 20L jerry cans tied onto the deck and 6x 8L water bottles from the Hiperdino supermarket in Las Palmas.
Food is personally my biggest concern cause I´m always hungry and might not catch enough fish for a whole month. Meals which are easy and fast to make are the best for cooking in a moving kitchen. We bought loads of packaged stuff like couscous, pasta, rice and lentils because it will last long and feed us once the fresh vegetables are finished.
Gas for cooking is another important component. Uncooked potatoes taste ok, but noodles, rice and beans stay somewhat dry and crunchy. Just to make sure Terry buys a third gas bottle.
Fuel storage capacity is also limiting factor. Hoping for wind all the way, we will have to use the engine if there is none and to load the batteries once a while. Four additional 20L jerry cans sit on the deck as our last fuel reserve.
“Preparation is one half of life” (F.Gertig)
Despite having stored plenty provision aboard, we still have to use it wisely and cant afford to waste anything! For this, we put some practical thoughts together in the list below:
Some strategies to save water, food and gas:
- Using hand sanitizer instead of water to wash hands
- Paper plates dont have to be washed but go overboard
- Waiting until there are a lot of dishes to wash together
- Everyone uses his own cup many times before washing
- Eating straight out of the pan or share a bowl
- Wiping out bowls with paper towls
- Hair and dishes can be washed in saltwater
On Friday (leaving on this day of the week means “bad luck” in sailor terms), 3 months and 10 days after we left home, the sails are ready to be set, provision is stored abboard and the whole crew is looking forward to hit open Atlantic Ocean waters.
The first hours, almost no wind, we have to motor. A slight breeze picks up and we are sailing along nicely, northern winds behind us, as we loose sight of Gran Canaria.
Common Sense is heading South towards Cape Verde in order to find the easterly trade winds, which are supposed to be most consistent around this time of the year. Contacting Carol, our Captains whife, on the satelite phone is a great help from the mainland. She tells us everything we need to know about the weather, suggests the exact course once she got our GPS position and provides our families with the latest news. Thank you very much 🙂
According to the forecast we need to go SW and will catch the trades at longitude 30°. As we slowly turn away from the African continent, the sea becomes rougher. Wind blows with gales up to 47 knots and a big waves (approximately 3-5m) push us around in the tiny vessel floating upon the bursting liquid. Carol explains, the freezing winds to be the end of a storm coming down from Europe. “I hate this bloody cold”, our Australian Sailor swears. “Who wouldn´t want to be here right now!?”, he adds ironically. “I wouldn´t”, is what I think to my self quietly. A terrible headache and an obviously sensible stomach force me to sleep an awfull lot between my watches. It really sucks to not be able to freely do what I want. No cooking, no reading, no interest in conversation – just ginger tea and sleep.
Six days after leaving the islands we feel warm air blowing throufh the salted hair. The hydrovane which steers the boat by a set angle to the wind, starts to push us more and more westwards. Leaning back in the cockpit, the sun is shining and the sea calming down, we all know: “This must be the beginning of the trades!”
Usefull Information for sailing communication:
Ocean weather – surprisingly unpredictable – beautifull
The weather is changing and there is no other choice but to cope with it. We experience conditions from 2 to 47 knots of wind, flat lake like surfaces and huge waves crashing onto the boat. No calm waters to hide in, no workshop to get breakage repaired nor a chandlery for ordering spare parts.
Decisions become more grave on the wide ocean and we are happy to sail under an experienced Captain with a somewhat defensive sailing attitude. Our young enthusiastic spirit aboard always spreads excitement once we get going really fast. 7-8 knots are possible for the Catalina 42mk Yacht when the wind is around 25 knots, the sails balanced and trimmed well. We usually take in some sail area before it gets dark and prepare the boat to stay on a course for the night. Climbing around in the front of the boat, having ones lifevest clipped onto tight lifelines, can always become necessary but should be avoided in the dark, especially when the sea is rough. In the daytime all of us run around barefoot on the foredeck. We tighten the pulley- boombreak and pole out the Genoa or the big assymetric Spinaker to spread our sails like a butterfly. “Goose-winging” straight down wind and sailing “Broad – Reach” are our main sets of sails since the wind mostly blows from behind us.
Everything over board!
It is a weird feeling to start throwing the trash just over the railings. This is not what we learned from our parents. We were used to recycle it in the sepperated trashcan, in the water. We dont have the space on the boat to unnecessarily save stinking trash and there is no need for it. If you think about it, it really depends what kind of trash it is. Some things decompose very quickly but others dont. This is what we throw in the water:
Everything except plastic! (degradeable stuff like food leftover, paper, metal-cans, glas, aluminum foil..)
Work to do on a Sailboat:
-Setting sails (Depending on the wind angle to our wanted course and the wind strength we haul out the In-mast-mainsail and pole out the Frontsail-Genoa or the Spinaker)
-Keeping the boat on course (A hydrovane selfsteering mechanism safes a lot of energy because it only needs wind to work. We have to handsteer or use the autopilot when the wind is too weak)
-Watchkeeping during the night (we start at 21:00 and everybody does 3 hours. after 3 days we switch the shifts so nobody has to get up for the “graveyard-shift” from 3:00-6:00 all the time)
-Looking out for other boats and obstacles (once we sighted a boat we usually turn on the AIS to check on the chartplotter which direction it´s going, at what speed and how close we´ll get)
-Repairing and maintainance (there is always something to do, e.g. splicing ropes, taping cuts in the Spinaker, cleaning plugged valves of the wastetank..)
-Cooking (We have a lot of time to experiment with the food we got. Pancakes, Cous Cous and baked beanz are favorites. Cheesecake baking and Preparing Tea & Coffee is also a good way to let time go by)
-Washing (Dishes and our bodys get a seawater wash, but clothes have to be rinsed in freshwater)
-Reading, Reading, Reading
-Left wing vs. right wing discussions about the world
-Lerning a language (Spanish)
-Making music (with the guitar we got from the church in Gibraltar)
-Working out (Press-ups, Pull-ups, Dips etc.)
-Looking at the star formations (Polar star, Cassiopeia, Oreon etc.)
-Practicing to tye usefull knots
-Experimenting with craszy haircuts (Shaving, dreading..)
-Building a drying rack for fruits (Drying takes forever because of the moist and salty air on sea)
-Watching movies from Terrys huge library (Pirates of the Caribean!!!!)
-Fishing (Feeding skarks with Terrys lures)
-Trying to predict the weather by looking at the sky
-Whale watching (and Dolphins 😉
-Listening to music and audiobooks (Iggy Pop, Kangaroo Manifest)
-Sending off Peace-Bottle-Ships 😀
-Snacking salted prezels, dates, figs and nuts
-Growing a beard..
Sailing in the open water is far more than just gaining sailing experience. It is also about facing yourself, thinking about many aspects of life and adapting to a meditative state away from all societal distraction.
There are good and bad days. Some make you go insane:
So far we had consistent, warm winds (15-25kn) and a moderate swell all the way. Suddenly the trade winds stop. Wind decreases to almost nothing and turns around in all directions.The smooth Atlantic swell calms down and the surface soon looks like a lake on a hot summer day. Its time for skinny dipping! The boat moves so slow that it is almost possible to keep up swimmimg (One always underestimates the speed of a moving vessel!) Our hope of reaching land soon seems to drown in the bright blue. Waiting for at least a very slight breeze to push us anywhere becomes really tiring. Lets pull out all the sail we got and get going! Its Spinaker time 🙂 At least the constantly shaking kitchen (on a boat galley) where cooking used to be a challenge, changes into a comfortable laboratory area for wild experimenting with ingredients we have left. All sorts of pan-baked breads, cous cous, currys, Auflauf, and cheese cakes are the result of hard research work.
Carol informs us that we are sitting right in the middle of a windless field which is created by a big storm patch further up north of the US- coast.
Starting to evaluate our resources, we figure out that we are slowly running out of food. Everything is taking longer than exspected. We had to stay a lot further south for good winds and still have to make all the way back up north to Cuba. Craving for some fresh vegetables, fruits and icecold beers, our Captain decides to head straight westwards, past Anguilla, to the next proper provisioning harbour of the British Virgin Island: “Road Town, Tortola”
So far we sailed 3024 nautical miles from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria to Tortola.