Atlantic Crossing – Day 12

Blogger: Mariel
Date: 22-Feb-2020
Location: MIDDLE of the Atlantic, past halfway.
Total to Date: 1541nm
24 Hour Run: 136nm (another good run under reefed mainsail only)

HALFWAY! What even is half way? Half of the total estimated distance? The mid-point of the Atlantic Ocean? Half of the time we think it might take to cross? None is perfect, but Gill did some calculations early on and drew a pencil line down the middle of the chart on the navigation table – longitude 37 degrees, 15 minutes became the halfway point we were aiming for. We placed bets on the date and time we thought we’d cross it on day 2 – JD, G and I all picked times on Sunday 23rd, and IJ on Monday 24th Feb – JD was closest at almost exactly 24 hours out, and has chosen a bag of dried mango and the rest of the bag of figs we were given by a shopkeeper in La Palma as his prize.

Half way is a funny thing. Something we have been aiming for for what seems like a long time, but it passed in the early hours of this morning, with no ribbon to cut through or horns to blow, just G and J quietly celebrating on deck as I stirred in my sleep (or, actually, hearing Gill berating John for missing the photo of the precise longitude – IJ and I are enjoying these light-hearted domestics)

This morning when my alarm went off at 6.40am for my first watch of the day, I was momentarily surprised that I still had to get up for watches – surely we were done now?! But no, life aboard continues with watches, flying fish and looking out for the elusive whales (JnG heard some unusual splashes accompanied by a very strong smell of fish last night, so we think they must be nearby).

This morning did feel special though – the first properly pink sky to enjoy by myself as the sun rose, then I took the second reef out of the mainsail by myself (while JnG looked on), and spotted a couple of dolphins just off the bow as I stood at the mast. As I crept back up the starboard deck, I found a large and rather stiff flying fish that had leapt aboard during the night and flapped itself to death. We briefly debated whether it became breakfast or a hopefully more tempting piece of bait at the end of John’s line and quickly opted for the latter.

Gill made us all a tropical punch to celebrate the half way point with breakfast, and we shared a tot of rum with Neptune. For lunch, we opened the second pack of special ham given to us as part of our leaving present from Marina Lanzarote by JJ – thank you 🙂

Anyway, this was supposed to be a post reflecting on the first half, so here goes…

Gill asked me a couple of days ago if this journey had been everything I had expected so far. I had had very few expectations, so really, nothing is as expected, but there have been a few surprises.

EIGHT THINGS I DID NOT EXPECT FROM THE FIRST HALF OF AN ATLANTIC CROSSING

1) The damned queasiness.
I mean, really?! I haven’t ever felt seasick before, but I guess I haven’t spent much time below deck in the past, or in these big rolling seas. Anyway, despite the reassurances that it would pass after a couple of days, or that spending more time below deck doing short jobs would help, the constant low-level queasiness does not seem to be abating. Last night, having managed to prepare dhal, rice and roasted vegetables (one or two ingredients at a time with ever-shortening lie downs in between), I got up on deck, took a couple of mouthfuls and had to pass my bowl to Irish John to hold onto and stare forward at the horizon swallowing furiously while Gill tried to unfasten the bucket I had tied to the guard rail after my shower earlier in the morning. Back to square one (although I still have yet to actually be sick, and soon recovered enough to be able to almost finish my food).

2) Enhanced sense of smell.
No one told me that suddenly everything would smell so strongly. Is this how a dog feels? I’m assuming this is because there are actually so few smells out here in the middle of the ocean, that our sense of smell is heightened. But it certainly doesn’t help the queasiness. The smell of gas below deck when the kettle goes on. The eucalyptus hand wash. Raw onion as I chop it up on deck to pass down to Gill. Taking deep breaths of fresh air has its hazards out here.

3) Change of taste.
Now I love my food. Some have suggested that my spirit animal might be a gannet. But all the foods I usually love have lost their appeal – bread, tea, the chocolate digestives discovered in Spain with Ben, even marmite for goodness sake!! All I really want to eat is oranges, crackers and hard boiled eggs, but before I set off I was advised that seasickness is usually due to being hungry, tired or cold, so I keep eating as much as I can(and take a lot of naps).

4) How long it takes to do the simplest thing (including writing about the simplest things).
Tasks that take mere minutes on dry land now take so much longer. For this, I will use the example of taking a shower. Yesterday, the seas had calmed sufficiently for me (but no one else) to risk a shower on the aft deck (only the second of the voyage, and boy did I need it). In truth, we could argue that this task has actually taken days, because most mornings I have woken up and felt the motion of the boat whilst considering if it felt smooth enough to manage a shower yet. You know those dreams you have when you need a wee but can’t find an appropriate place or get no relief? (Pretty sure that’s not just me…?!) Well a couple of days ago I had a ‘needing a swim’ dream, in which I walked to a beautiful beach with crystal clear, calm water and desperately wanted to get in for a swim and to be immersed in water, but kept getting distracted by people on the beach or couldn’t find my way to the water and never made it in.

Anyway, yesterday morning seemed promising. I had eaten breakfast on deck, and then lain in the sun at the back of the cockpit feeling the motion of the boat for a while. The sun was warm and the breeze not too strong. I didn’t need to hold on to anything – a good sign. After 20 minutes or so, I sat up and watched the waves, practising sitting with no hands. Still ok. I asked the rest of the crew what they thought. Irish John said he probably wouldn’t try. Hmm. Gill asked where I would safely sit/stand. I assessed my options. She was right that last time’s seat in the corner was less stable, but maybe I could wedge myself between the hatch and the lazarette? I clipped on and crawled out over the deck, sat myself in the proposed position and mimed washing my hair. Seemed stable enough. Now to prepare myself. Go below deck. Ask John to pass down the solar shower (unfortunately not full, after too many days of 3m waves). Fill it from the tap and pass it back up. Stumble back to my berth and dig out my bikini and sarong. Bounce down into the heads and try to change whilst bracing myself with as many limbs as possible. Delve into the cupboard for the long forgotten soap. Locate the non-life jacket harness in the locker in the forepeak (don’t want a life jacket exploding when you throw the bucket of water over yourself) and work out how to put it on over a sarong. Clamber back up on deck, past the helm and clip on to the line at the back. Ask for the solar shower to be passed back. Figure out where to hang it. Bring back the end of the main sheet, tie a bowline in it to hang the solar shower from, then tie it to the back stay. Move to the starboard corner seat. Wedge myself in between the dam buoy and the fishing rod. Untie the bucket, loop the line around my wrist and consider whether to drop it forward or aft of the fishing line. Opt for aft. Pull up the first bucket of water. Test the temperature – not too cold. Throw it over my head. It barely seems to touch my sides, and I haul up another bucket, and this time pour it slowly down my front and back. Notice that the shampoo is sliding down the deck. Clamber down off the seat and crawl up up stow the bottle between some rigging. Back to the seat for another bucket. Notice that the box of soap is now sliding towards me too. Repeat to stow. Dowse myself in another couple of buckets. Time for soap, shampoo and fresh water. Tie the bucket back on to the rail. Move into previously tested wedged seated position. Reach for the swinging solar shower and test it. So far so good. Attempt to lather up in soap mixed with salt water. Run fresh water through my hair to try to make the shampoo more effective. Rub it into my itching scalp. Rinse off time. The solar shower is swinging all over the place, and as I hold the shower attachment over my head the bag swings away and the nozzle comes off. Argh! Precious fresh water flowing freely over the deck, and not over me! Catch the bag and turn off the tap. Reattach the hose. Turn on the tap. Tube comes off again, and I resort to holding the bag with one hand and trying to rinse my hair and body furiously with the other. Shuffle back up the deck to reach for my sarong to start drying off. Manage to half wrap myself in it around the harness whilst falling back into the cockpit. Unclip myself and drip back below deck. Locate the last pair of clean pants and attempt to dry myself and get dressed in the heads without accumulating too many new bruises. Unfortunately, I have no clean clothes to put on, and now that I am clean, can smell how they are not. But washing myself has already taken 45 minutes and I am due on watch in 15, so laundry will have to wait for another day. Climb back on deck and take 5 minutes to recover lying in the sun and warming up again. When I open my eyes again, the aft deck is dry and I clip on to climb out again to bring back the solar shower, recoil the main sheet around the winch, and report to Irish John to take over watch duty. And there we go. What at home would take me 10 minutes has taken a full hour, plus significant planning time. So no, we don’t ever get bored.

5) If anything is going to go wrong, it will happen at night time.
My science brain is struggling with this. There must be a reason. Perhaps we don’t notice the early warning signs in the darkness? Perhaps the weather is more unpredictable at night? But neither explains with the shaft brake would go in the middle of the night, sending the vibrations of the turning propeller through the boat til morning, or why Paul would fall to pieces only in darkness. A hypothesis requiring more observation.

6) How little I’ve wanted external noise or stimulation.
Ben asked a few days ago how I was getting on with the Desert Island Discs I chose before we left, but in truth, I only listened to them for the first time yesterday. On watch, I want to have my ears open to the noises of the sea, the wind and the sails, especially at night. In the day time, listening to music feels a little like turning on a boom box in a library, or having headphones in whilst walking through a forest full of bird song. The seascape is so devoid of human activity that I don’t want to interrupt it any more than we already are. But I listened to them yesterday, and again this afternoon while I’ve been writing this post, and so far I’m happy with my choices.

7) The stars.
I was eagerly anticipating night watches in awe of the night sky, but to be honest, I have realised how fortunate I am to have grown up where I did. Yes, the night sky out here is amazing, and on dark moonless nights there are hundreds of thousands of stars. But not really more than I have seen from our back door at home. Maybe the context of trees around makes the night sky more impressive there, whereas here, everything is epicly vast already.

8) There’s still wildlife!
I wasn’t sure that we would still be seeing dolphins or birds this far from land, but sure enough, two dolphins this morning, and large white birds (flying like shearwaters but we’re not sure if they are white?) this afternoon. We haven’t seen petrels for two or three days now, but they have been replaced fluttering close over the water with flying fish in abundance. If there are this many flying fish, how many other fish must be down there just visible below the surface? (Unfortunately, not interested in the fishing line).

In truth, this is probably harder than I anticipated it being. And all my usual techniques to make life easier are not possible here – going for a walk, a swim in the sea, cooking, eating, talking to friends or family. But every night watch I pinch myself and am amazed that I am here, on a boat bobbing around in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, and marvel at how I got here from a fairly ordinary life.

At this half way point, we’d all like to send out huge thanks to our brilliant shore support:
Jenny and Emma (JnG’s daughters) for their daily updates, and spirit raising poems and quizzes from Jenny
Jack (and Fizzy) for the daily weather reports and routing advice (and sailing trivia questions)
Wendy, Robert and Terri for being on standby as our ship’s doctors – we are pleased to report nothing other than queasiness, bruises and a stubbed toe so far. All of our families for supporting and encouraging us on these wild adventures.
And to you, our readers! Sharing our journey gives us reason to reflect each day and helps to prevent them all blurring into one big blue mass. Thank you everyone who has commented – Jenny relays them to us in her emails each day.

So off we go for another half the Atlantic, which may or may not take longer than the first half. The wind is dropping, but we can finally take the reefs out and maybe even use more than just the main sail!

G, IJ, M and J

Use https://www.noforeignland.com/boat/4717902794063872 with SHOW JOURNEY to track our progress.

Atlantic Crossing – Day 11

Blogger: John
Date: 21-Feb-2020
Location: Middle of the Atlantic, just a few miles from halfway. Total to Date: 1401nm
24 Hour Run: 134nm (another good run under headsail only)

Today’s post is for daughter Emma who said how much she enjoys the minutiae of our daily lives. It talks about this morning’s watch handover from Mariel to me. This went much more smoothly than the previous one when we gybed and the shaft brake rope broke again!!

Tweet tweet. Tweet, tweet. My phone starts to play its wake up call. I roll over, switch it off and see that it is 0440, almost time for my next two hour night watch.

I spend another three minutes snuggled in bed all the while listening to the boat. We’re swishing so we’re still cracking on. It’s not too rocky. All the better for getting dressed. No unusual noises. Good.

I reach for the light, the one that doesn’t shine a light into the saloon and get in Gill’s eyes but is always hard to find in the dark. Off to the heads. Trip over the pig’s leg (now somewhat decimated) and have a pee, wash my face and swill some mouthwash.

Now for dressing. Not too bad today. T-shirt, walking shirt, jumper, long trousers, salopettes, sailing jacket, socks, shoes and lifejacket. [Yes, we really are in the tropics now!]. I make it up on deck with 5 minutes to go before 0500. Perfect. It’s almost automatic now. Bounce through the boat. Not rocky is still rocky.

There’s Mariel wrapped in her blanket with her Grannie’s(?) white wooly hat on. “Good morning”. “Good morning”.
“Not too rocky this morning”?
“It was but it’s better now the wind has got up a bit”.

I climb the companionway steps, clip on and sit down.

Mariel starts her handover. We’re not able to make 265 degrees as the wind has come round further to the south. 280 degrees is the best we can do for now. We might need to gybe later. For now just make sure we don’t do so accidentally. Sky is clear now but clouds earlier. No ships (of course). No malfunctions to report. Wind has increased from 13-17 knots to 18-25 knots apparent. Take care not to gybe when the wind drops or a wave hits. Log entry completed. Do I have everything I need! Mariel, like Gilly, has a knack of knowing where everything is, even if I haven’t. Comforting and infuriating at the same time.

I thank her, she climbs down the steps, we untangle our lifelines and she unclips. “Sleep well”. “Thank you. Have a good watch”. And she is gone. I’m on my own for a couple of hours. I look around, check the course, check the stars, check Paul, give him a couple of tweaks. Speed 5 knots plus so IJ will be pleased. Note we are on a nice broad starboard reach. I settle down to write this blog post. I look up at the tricolour navigation light arching back and forth across the stars. It’s almost morning now and my favourites have set. No Orion or Sirius until tomorrow’s early evening watch. The ocean swishes past me.

G, IJ, M and J

Use https://www.noforeignland.com/boat/4717902794063872 with SHOW JOURNEY to track our progress.

Atlantic Crossing – Day 10

Blogger: John
Date: 20-Feb-2020
Location: Middle of the Atlantic, 140 miles to halfway.
Total to Date: 1258nm
24 Hour Run: 150nm (yet another new 24 hour record – with three reefs in the mainsail!!)

Just four items of note today, two of them pretty significant.

#1: Mariel does dinner.

As days have passed Mariel’s reaction to the swinging cooker gimbals has gradually decreased. Yesterday was a great day. Not only did she eat and serve dinner but she also managed to prepare it too. First the garlic was chopped, lie down, open some anchovies, lie down, open the olives, lie down, cook and finally serve to a well earned round of applause. Delicious it was too. Whilst we are talking of Mariel here’s a shout out for her aunt Penny who is reliving her own Atlantic crossing of 40 years ago.

#2: The BFWE (maybe you can work it out)

The wind and waves continued to build last night so much so that Gill and I both felt that the two reefs we had been sailing with for the past few days was insufficient. IJ concurred and we decided Reef 3 needed to go in for the first time ever as apparent downwind winds exceeded 30 knots. We were flying through the night at more than 8 knots with hardly any sail. JD was on watch and for the third night in a row this is when things went to pot. I was watching the big rollers sweeping under us from the starboard quarter (back right) when I glanced to port. All I could see was an enormous wall of white water. I couldn’t see the sky above me. It was the BFWE. Apparently I squeaked something before we were lifted up on the mass of white and thrown to port. Crash. We gybed. That’s why you rig a preventer and boom brake. There followed several minutes of controlled hecticness. Mariel was clinging to her berth with all four limbs pressed against a solid object rather like a floating game of twister, occasionally levitating from her bed all the while listening for shouts of ‘screwdriver’ and turning off the now boiling kettle. Great work M! Self steering off, gybe back, fight her back on course and finally reset Paul. More great team work. We continued to fly along now with two people sharing watches. Very dark, no moon, the ocean hurtling beneath us. By morning things had calmed down a bit but a record 150 miles covered much of it under a tiny triple reefed mainsail only shows what conditions were like last night. And if you hadn’t guessed by now BFWE stands for Biggest ****ing Wave Ever!

#3: This morning as rosy fingered dawn emerged IJ noticed that a batten had popped out of the sail as we gybed last night. That needs sorting. As I stepped out onto the deck a wave washed in and with it the first flying fish of the trip. Not a large one at around 10cm but a sign of warmer water to come. The Js were up at the mast and Gilly skillfully took us slightly into the wind with Mariel manning the sheets. Another task accomplished though the top batten holder will need replacing in Martinique.

#4: We completed a full walk around the deck identifying things that needed doing. Some done, some left for later. Another job well done.

Th rest of the day has been spent recounting last night’s exploits, sleeping with M doing more than her fair share and watching the ocean.

G, IJ, M and J

Use https://www.noforeignland.com/boat/4717902794063872 with SHOW JOURNEY to track our progress.

Atlantic Crossing – Day 9

Blogger: John
Date: 19-Feb-2020
Location: Past 1/3 of the way to the Caribbean, getting on for halfway. Total to Date: 1113nm
24 Hour Run: 149nm (another new 24 hour record – so close to the magical 150)

Well, it’s been an interesting day today. For the first time talk in the cockpit has moved to ‘the end’. Last night we passed the 1,000 mile point and in another two or three days we should pass halfway. Debate today has been whether we should make landfall in very poor, very beautiful Dominica or in chic French, Martinique. Do we need to be broken back into civilisation gently or not? Current consensus is for Martinique as a good meal, easy living and a bit of culture are high on the list of desirables. It’s also easy to get flights from there for IJ and myself. But the thing that really swung it for IJ was that the tourist guide says that Martinique is the place for ‘lying on the beach. Speedo wearing grandpas abound here..’!

Back on board and it’s another lively day. We’re pretty used to apparent downwind speeds of 25+ knots now with occasional waves jumping up and slapping the unprepared on the back. It’s still not warm though especially at night when foul weather gear remains de rigeur. [Ah, just passed another magic number …1,111 miles].

Spurred on by Mariel’s nocturnal blog post yesterday I was just beginning my effort at 10.30pm when I heard an ominous grinding noise as we rolled from side to side. Oh no, not the rudder! But no, the improvised shaft brake had lived up to its name and had indeed ‘braked’. The prop shaft went a-spinning with nasty resultant vibrations. This is a pretty harsh environment. Everything is tested and things do break. Too dark (no moon now) to effect a repair until daylight I spent an uneasy night. That was the time of course that the winds picked up, the waves built and we flew along regularly sailing at 8 knots and once briefly hitting 10 knots as we surfed down one of the ever building waves. [I’m sitting typing this now in the nav station with one foot braced against the galley side]. Anyway morning arrived and we had a plan. We needed to slow the boat so I could refix that shaft brake. First we hauled in the heavily reefed mainsail but this had no effect so we turned into the waves whilst I quickly made the repair. Great teamwork and in a few minutes we were off again bowling along at 6.5 to 7 knots.

It’s been pretty hard to prepare meals for the last couple of days (you never have enough appendages to stop things from flying around) but soups and homemade bread have been excellent from Gill and Mariel. We are expecting a few more days of these conditions according to our ace ‘weather router’ Jack on Carpe Diem over in Colombia, Central America. Thanks Jack, great info on alternative routes.

We’ve had a bit of a sort out today so the dripping oranges and mangoes from the hanging nets have been eaten. Not so many water bottles in evidence now either as each time we finish drinking one it is cut up into little strips and stored away for later disposal. Peelings and paper go overboard and tins crushed.

That’s it for today. All good aboard wild riding Mehalah.

M, G, IJ, and J

Use https://www.noforeignland.com/boat/4717902794063872 with SHOW JOURNEY to track our progress.

Atlantic Crossing – Day 8

Blogger: Mariel
Date: 18-Feb-2020
Location: 250 miles north west of the Cape Verde islands
Total to Date: 961nm
24 Hour Run: 145nm (new 24 hour record)

04.05, night watch

It strikes me that sailing across an ocean is a very different type of long distance journey to my usual walking or cycling. When I walk or cycle, I stop each night. Every time I go to ‘bed’ (lay out my sleeping mat and bivvy bag on a beach, in a field or behind a wall), it is in a different place to where I woke up, a new view and often in a different habitat. The environment changes gradually as I travel through it, and round each corner is a change of perspective. When I am tired or just fancy a break, I can stop, sit down, enjoy the view, take a nap.

Sailing, on the other hand, is relentless. Nothing stops just because it is dark. The wind still blows, the waves rise up behind us, nothing ever stops moving as we hurtle through the darkness at 7 knots. Even in sleep, at least one hand, foot or other appendage is used to brace ourselves against the rocking and rolling of the boat. The sea changes colour through the day, from black to grey to pale blue to deep blue with aquamarine and back to grey again, but it is always there, in every direction, and waves upon waves upon waves.

When I was cycling around Malta last spring, there was one day of very strong winds. I pushed my bike along, at times barely able to keep myself upright let alone a heavily laden bicycle. By late afternoon, seeking shelter behind the remnants of a wall, with the wind whipping through my hair and the noise in my ears driving me wild, I found a small B&B on Booking.com for less than £20, cycled back up the road and checked in. Oh the relief! A hot shower, a giant and very comfy bed, and peace and quiet as the wind blew outside for the night.

This evening, as my 7-9pm watch began, Gill came to join me on deck as the sky grew darker, not just from the setting sun, but also from rather ominous looking grey clouds rising up behind us. We watched as the stars came out, and then disappeared again, and tried to work out how the moving shades of grey in the sky correlated with the wind and waves, as the boat was knocked sideways and water splashed into the cockpit. Half an hour later and the wind and waves seemed slightly calmer and the clouds less threatening, but Gill stayed with me until my watch ended, just in case.

When I came up for my second night watch (3-5am), conditions were much the same, but the wind has moved around to the east so we are heading almost directly west. The clouds are coming and going, and now obscuring the rising crescent moon. Irish John stayed out in the cockpit with me for the first hour, trying to sleep, as his berth in the forepeak bounces him all over the place, but despite being dressed for a sail in the English channel rather than the tropics, he was too cold (and the seat too narrow), and he retreated down below.

I’ve just seen 27 knots of apparent wind on one of our many instruments. Together with the 7 knots we are sailing downwind, we are easily in over 30 knots of wind with no signs of it abating any time soon.

But there’s no Booking.com out here in the Atlantic ocean. We are in it for the long haul.

M, G, IJ, and J
With lots of love to everyone sending fair winds in our direction x

Use https://www.noforeignland.com/boat/4717902794063872 with SHOW JOURNEY to track our progress.

Atlantic Crossing – Day 7

Blogger: John and Mariel
Time: 15:00, 16-Feb-2020
Location: 250 miles north north west of the Cape Verde islands Total to Date: 822 nm
24 Hour Run: 143 nm

Just a quick blog today as we are being thrown all over the place in 30 knots winds and 4-5m waves. All very beautiful and good for the distance covered but hard to stop the computer flying off the nav station!

Big news is that yesterday evening Mariel spotted a whale jumping out just below the horizon. No idea what species but a good first spot. Dolphins at night again. The moon is getting smaller.

M would like to know if anyone has any questions for her. If so post them as comments to her blog and Jenny will pick them up for us (thanks Jen!).

Big news from the noise abatement is that biggest noise (the one we had on passage from Portugal Jack) has been cured at least temporarily. However given all the other crashes and bangs going on there’s plenty still to go at.

According to Jack we’re in for an even bumpier ride tomorrow but spirits are high and food is still being cooked (and kept down). Getting dressed for night watch or indeed doing anything much is pretty tricky at present.

G, IJ, J and M

Use https://www.noforeignland.com/boat/4717902794063872 with SHOW JOURNEY to track our progress.

Atlantic Crossing – Day 6

Blogger: John
Time: 15:00, 16-Feb-2020
Location: 300 miles north of the Cape Verde islands
Total to Date: 673 nm
Daily Run (25 hours!): 153 nm (best so far!)

After yesterday’s full and varied celebrations today has been primarily a day of recovery. I’m sitting on the port cockpit cushions looking aft watching 3-4m Atlantic swells rolling towards me. They course beneath us gently lifting us up and then dropping us down again with that characteristic downwind swishing noise. It’s magnificent. And through it all I also watch Paul, the Aries steering gear, poorly counterweight tied to his bright yellow vane. Flipping and flopping from side to side he steers us better than any of us can hand steer her (except for super IJ of course) for mile after mile after mile. If you don’t know how he works try Googling this amazing piece of British engineering. I can also see the two solar panels mounted on the aft guard rails. We’ve had good sunny weather so far meaning that they have produced sufficient electrickery to meet all our onboard needs. Just now though the sun has gone down s no more amps today. But the batteries are full so all is good.

Last night we cracked on again as the wind strengthened and the waves built. Reef the main, reef the yankee, reef the yankee again, reef the main and finally furl the yankee completely and bowl along at 7 knots with the main prevented out, a nasty sea rolling in on our port quarter. We’re still sailing heavily reefed now but we’ve gybed to give us a more comfortable ride and to gain some westing. So we’re now heading away from the Cape Verde islands our last possibility of a landfall this side of the Atlantic.

As a result partly of the freshening conditions we recorded a daily record day’s mileage of 153 nautical miles. But this is where time starts to do your head in. We put the clocks back yesterday which meant that my nominal 3 hour watch turned into 4. It also means that our daily run of 153 miles was actually covered in 25 hours rather than 24. It’s light an hour earlier too.

Jobs today have included a redesign of Gill’s bed (port side saloon). She kept falling out of her lee cloth so Jack’s brown paper parcel for delivery to Colombia (all legit honest guv) has now made her berth twice as wide as before. One happy skipper. Meanwhile IJ andI have been on a squeak reduction blitz with moderate success. Still left to do is to tighten one of the starboard side stays that hold up the mast but that’s under tension at present so will have to wait for another day. Lunch today? Ratatouille courtesy of M and G.

No ships, no ships, no ships (though a few on AIS), no fishing, no f, no f (too rolly), no whales, no w, no w (boo), no Flying fish, no ff, no ff (too far north still). Several petrels.

Use https://www.noforeignland.com/boat/4717902794063872 with SHOW JOURNEY to track our progress.

Atlantic Crossing – Day 5

Blogger: Mariel
Time: Various, 15-Feb-2020
Location: Further south in the sea between the Canaries and Cape Verdes Total to Date: 534 nm
24 Hour Run: 140 nm (best so far!)

Friday 14th, 23.44, night watch
We are steaming along at 6.3-6.8 knots, with an average of 10 knots of wind on the port beam, bearing 190 degrees – just west of south. The moon is yet to rise, and way up above are Orion and his friends. Along the horizon I can see no stars, hidden in a dusty haze. Whereas previous nights have felt damp with dew, tonight the wind is dry and dusty, carrying with it the Sahara and a fine orange coating of dust which will only be visible come morning. You can smell it in the air – my nose has blocked up as if on an airplane with recycled air. We are heading due south as fast as we can, to avoid an area of high pressure coming in from the north which would leave us only 0-10 knots of wind according to Jack, who is sending us daily forecasts. We need to be south of 15 degrees by the 22nd Feb – around 100 miles south per day, if we can.
The wind has moved around 20 degrees or so since I’ve been on watch (45 minutes) – we were heading south (or just west of south – 180ish degrees), and now above 200 degrees.
There is some phosphorescence, but nothing like last night’s blooms which showed the breaking waves in the distance.

Saturday 15th, 07.15 (first watch of the day)
The start of my next watch. This is supposedly the first of the 3 hour day watches (7-10am), but it feels very much like the start of another night watch. It is still dark. The half moon is glowing almost directly above. Right now, I can barely discern a difference in the colour of the sky on the east and west horizons.
We have travelled to nearly 23 degrees W, but are still on GMT – time to change the clock. Perhaps today will be the day?
Conditions still much the same as my midnight watch – average 10-12 knots of wind on the port beam, moving 6 knots, heading SSW – average 200-220 degrees.
JnG put a reef in the mainsail at 4am when the wind reached 17+ knots and we were speeding along at 8 knots. I woke up as Gill called John to help her put in the reef, and came up on deck to sit in the cockpit in case they needed anything or something went wrong when they were both at the mast. I woke up again around 5.30am, when JD thought that Irish John had called, but had actually been woken up the sound of dolphins playing and calling just off the port beam. I could hear their squeaks and clicks from my berth, but thought by the time I had put on any clothes they’d likely be gone. JD said he thought there might have been a whale nearby during his nightwatch, as there was a strong smell of fish. I’m keeping my nose open for this tell-tale sign, as I am yet to see one (despite spending 10 days cycling around Shetland in search of orcas with two friends a few years ago. They were there, but each time we had pedalled as fast as we could to where they had been sighted, we had missed them).
By now it is 7.25am, and there is a definite lightness to the sky in the east. Almost time to switch from night rations (a row of dairy milk chocolate smuggled on board this otherwise sugar free boat by Irish John – THANK YOU!), to breakfast (an orange, and a very ripe avocado from the ‘eat today net’ above my bed, on crackers.
We have done 50 nm since my last watch, and our lat and long are converging. I estimate that we will have passed equal lat and long by night fall (maybe 22 40′?)
Almost in the tropics! Gill says that when we reach the Tropic of Cancer (23N), she will make us a tropical punch to celebrate – the last two sweet and fragrant passion fruit from La Palma are out of bounds until then.

08.08
The sea has gradually gained definition, from murky black, to greys, and now crisp with a hint of blue. The horizon is once more a sharp line, this morning unobscured by large waves, or by the dusty haze of last night that blurred sea and sky and made spotting potentially oncoming ships feel almost impossible.
The pale sun has just appeared above the haze, one finger above the horizon. The air smells once more of the sea, rather than the dust of the Sahara. I’ve been sat behind the helm, looking out over the ocean, feeling utterly content.

08.25
A giant pod of dolphins! Maybe 60 or more! I saw them leaping towards us from the south and called Gill up to look at them with me. A couple of them leapt right up into the air before they all splashed simultaneously and turned around away from us – perhaps they were fishing? What a treat.

09.53 – 489nm
Almost the end of my watch. The wind and sea have risen – we now have 15 knots of wind on the port beam and are averaging 7 knots through the water, with growing waves pushing us sideways and occasionally throwing spray into the cockpit. JD is about to relieve me and I’ll head below for another hour of sleep before our tropics party – now only 3.5 nm away.

13.07 (the first one)
I was woken from my nap only 10 minutes in with a countdown to the Tropic of Cancer – hurrah! We celebrated with fruit punch squeezed, chopped and pulped by Gill, and then I retreated back to bed. I must have been more tired than I thought, because I wasn’t woken again ’til 12.30, by a crash as the book shelf collapsed onto what is usually Gill’s bunk, and a call to put in a reef in the yankee as the wind reached 20 knots.

13.13 (the second one)
Yes, that’s right folks, we have turned the clocks back and had an extended lunch party to celebrate entering the tropics, changing timezone, and our imminent arrival at equal lat and long. We all put on our best tropical gear (the John’s in Hawaiian shirts, Gill in her dress from Martinique, and me in the tshirt I made from material I bought in Mozambique 10 years ago). Gill prepared canapes (bitesize wraps filled with all sorts of goodies), and after we had eaten, JD got out his bluetooth speaker and now we are riding 3m waves to Dire Straits, feeling as though we are in anything but. Now he has selected one of his sailing-to-a-desert-island discs – Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, which makes Gill want to throw herself overboard, but John loves because he actually knows the words…!
The waves are starting to shrink again. We have had a very atmospheric ride with music blaring out over this epic seascape otherwise devoid of human life, with bright blue waves rising up behind us and carrying us ever further southwest. As the peaks rise up, the sun shines through like stained glass.

14.15
We have passed equal lat and long! 22 38.016N/W. Quite enough excitement for one day.

Wildlife notes – lots of sea birds today, and of different kinds. Jenny, can you let us know how to distinguish between shearwaters and petrels please? I saw one as dawn broke that looked like bat fluttering and dipping over the water – think this might mean petrel. There was also one later than appeared white, definitely on the underside.

Spirits very high and mild madness starting to set in – plenty of laughter.

Use https://www.noforeignland.com/boat/4717902794063872 with SHOW JOURNEY to track our progress.

Atlantic Crossing – Day 3

Blogger: John
Time: 16.10, 14-Feb-2020
Location: Somewhere else in the sea between the Canaries and Cape Verdes Total to Date: 380nm
24 Hour Run: 119 nm

We’re into a bit of a routine now. Our watch system has changed so we are now all doing solo watches. 3 hours in the day, 2 at night. This gives us quite a bit more off time – time to sleep or even manage a bodywash. IJ and M (aka Neptune and The Mermaid) both managed near naked aft deck seawater washes today – they told me it was warm enough. But I voted for similar in the aft heads where the pig’s trotter stuck out menacingly over the washbasin.

Early this morning after a few hours of magnificent phosphorescence as Atlantic rollers coursed beneath our hull the standard cry of ‘no ships, no ships, no ships, no fish, no fish, no fish’ was replaced by ‘there’s a ship!’ the first in three days. An old rusty fishing vessel it failed to respond to our call so as we were barely moving anyhow the engine came on and we motored around it. No sign of anyone on board. Perhaps they were all asleep heading to or from their fishing ground. Gilly, there really is no need to panic, it’s just a fishing boat not an African pirate vessel.

Later in the afternoon it was dolphin time – M’s first big pod. Dark black 30 or 40 of them cavorted around some 50m from the boat. Unfortunately this time they didn’t come to play with us. So we had to be content with 2 shearwaters (what type?), another man-of-war jellyfish and a smalll dead moth.

Sailing wise it’s been varied. Slopping around one minute with sails flogging threatening to bring the mast down and cracking on in flat seas at over 6 knots the next. We’re making really good progress at present in a great direction with more of the same predicted for the next few days (thanks Jack). Not without issues of course as Reefing Line 1 had to be shortened due some chafe and then its shackle fell off at the outboard end and had to be replaced as we rolled around. We’ve also run an additional preventer line which significantly reduces the time taken to gybe.

Choir practice continues with “In the morning I’ll be dancing naked on Mehalah” as well as the old favourites from the previous crossing such as Sloop John B and the Mingulay Boat Song.

Just now it’s 15.59 and my watch starts in one minute so it’s bye for now. Oh yes, we’re having some laughs too – IJ has just appeared with a shark model made from coloured clothes pegs and singing the Baby Shark Song (except none of us can remember the tune).

Happy Valentines Day to all our admirers.

Use https://www.noforeignland.com/boat/4717902794063872 with SHOW JOURNEY to track our progress.

Jenny: P=6, O=5, C=9, M=3, U=2, H=7. Correct?

Atlantic Crossing – Day 3

Blogger: Mariel
Time: 17.30, 13-Feb-2020
Location: Somewhere in the sea between the Canaries and Cape Verdes Total Distance Travelled: 278 nautical miles (24 hour run, 107 nm)

Today has been the first day that anyone has done anything but stand watch and sleep… or in Gill’s case, navigate, cook, clean, stow, repair torn lee cloths etc etc… This is largely thanks to Paul, who after his initial accident on our first night is more than proving his worth as our very valuable 5th crew member. He has not been adjusted in nearly 20 hours now, and is faithfully steering us southwest towards Martinique. We are on a broad reach, port tack, with a reefed main and heavily reefed yankee, and are powering through the waves at 5-6 knots.

With all this talk of Paul, we thought it was about time to formally (or perhaps, informally) introduce ourselves as the rest of the crew, as readers of neither blog know all four of us. So here we go:

Gill – Skipper, Navigator, Choir Leader
Sailing her home to the Caribbean to escape Brexit (oops – the B word! The first drinks in Martinique are on Gill) Signature dish: Fruit Cake
Beverage of choice: Tea with a teaspoon of milk
Spirit Vegetable: Swiss Chard

John D – First Mate, Ship’s Engineer
When diagnosed with prostate cancer, John set himself a goal to buy a new boat and sail it across the Atlantic when he recovered – this is the fulfillment of that goal! Signature dish: The Famous Omelette
Beverage of choice: Mine’s a licorice
Spirit Vegetable: Aubergine

Irish John – Crew
Discovered by Gill and John on his boat in the Spanish rias last summer, (young, energetic) experienced sailor John has a score to settle with the Atlantic, having got a third of the way across nearly 40 years ago (surely not that long?!) before being summoned back to Southampton.
Signature dish: To be determined (opportunities to sample the usual steak are limited on board)
Beverage of choice: Tea or coffee, black, with a minimum of two sugars (actually gin and tonic, but again, unavailable on board) Spirit vegetable: Onion (prefers growing garlic)
N.B. All comments in brackets are edits by Irish John himself

Mariel – Crew
Never having stepped on to a sail boat before May last year, inexperienced but enthusiastic sailor-to-be Mariel was found by Gill and John on crewbay.com, seeking a crewing position across the Atlantic. She plans to learn as much about sailing and looking after boats as possible whilst crewing around the Caribbean, before sailing back to Europe to buy a boat of her own to live on. Signature dish: Flapjack
Beverage of choice: Any number of herbal or non-herbal teas, or a cold ice tea from the fridge Spirit Vegetable: Carrot

Last but by no means least, Paul – Aries wind steering.
Bought second hand and taken entirely to pieces by John, Hugh and our friend the Spanish fabricator, and put back together by John and Mariel, Paul maintains our course to the wind with a bright yellow piece of plywood, a small rudder and some nifty engineering and pieces of string attached to the wheel, meaning that we do not have to hand-steer the whole way. Paul is named after a friend of Gill and John’s who died after prostate cancer but who just kept going on and on against all the odds. He was quite touched when we told him that our steering gear was to be named after him.

That’s all for today. Wildlife sightings: a Portuguese Man O’War jellyfish, and a rather lost hawk moth at dusk last night (just after blog was sent). No ships no ships no ships, no fish no fish no fish (despite the lure being changed, and to the tune of “pan-pan pan-pan pan-pan, all ships all ships all ships” from our now quiet friend on Tenerife radio)

PS. What is all this spirit vegetable nonsense, and how can I find out what mine is, I hear you ask? Just search “Farmbelly spirit vegetable quiz” in your search engine of choice and take the quiz, written by Mariel’s friend Michelle.

Adios amigos! M, J, G and IJ.

Use https://www.noforeignland.com/boat/4717902794063872 with SHOW JOURNEY to track our progress.