The photo above is looking up at Bob from somewhere in the depths of the South Atlantic Ocean.
We’ve made it from one side of the Atlantic to the other. Woohoo! Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a reasonable chunk of Atlantic lying between us and Bermuda that we’ll be tackling over the coming months, but it still feels like a major achievement to cross such a huge swathe of ocean. We’re currently in the Caribbean and working our way north, from Martinique to Nevis, where Alex will be the best man for his best friend’s wedding. I can’t think of anything better after almost two months at sea than a week of celebrations with good friends.
Day 11 at sea. Perhaps another 7 to go.
We finally made it out of the doldrums five days ago after a frustrating time trying to escape. Every day we worked hard to make it far enough North to find the wind, and every day that wind eluded us. We used up as much diesel as I dare without running the tank dry. The days were slow, grey, rainy and depressing and our daily runs were likewise: we made just 60 miles for two days in a row, then 42 the day after that.
Finally our luck changed and we picked up a nice force 3 breeze, North Easterly, which built and has stayed between 4 and 6 ever since (about 25 knots at times, which is fairly breezy). The mainsail is double-reefed, reducing it’s size to about 40% of it’s full compliment, and with just a sliver of headsail set as well we have averaged 150 miles per day over the last four days, which might be a record for this old lady.
There’s not much out here. We’ve stayed about 350 miles offshore to avoid the wicked currents that are often produced by the outflow of the Amazon river. Millions of gallons of fresh water dumping into the Atlantic can make things difficult closer in, generating rough seas, strong currents and turning the surface of the sea a muddy brown colour even 200 miles out. Or so I’ve heard.
Doldrums – also known as the Intertropical Convergence Zone, or ITCZ – is an area near the equator where the winds of the two hemispheres meet. It is characterised by long periods of little or no wind interspersed with rain squalls and sometimes thunder.
We have an estimated two weeks to go before we make port again and we have just twelve hours of fuel left in the tank. Nominally. We don’t accurately know how much fuel is left because the fuel gauge has never worked, but I keep a running total of how many hours the engine has run for and conservatively estimate that a full tank will give us 80 hours of run-time. Having used just 2 hours all the way from Cape Town until two days before Fernando De Noronha we then burned through 43 hours to get there.
Those 43 hours got us through the doldrums, but then we stopped for four days in Fernando and the doldrums moved north, overtaking us and forcing us to cross them again.
When we left Fernando the forecast was for two days of light winds or no wind and then we’d pick up the northern hemisphere trade winds and be on our merry way, but unfortunately that hasn’t materialised. Two days of chug chug chugging and I’ve just downloaded a weather forecast which predicts……. another two days of no wind. I’ll run the engine for those 12 hours and then, if there is indeed no wind, I’ll shut it down and we’ll just have to Bob for a bit and wait for the breeze.
On the table in our saloon is a map of the world. We bought it at the beginning of the voyage so that we could keep track of all the places we have been and plan where to go in the future. It’s a Pacific-centred map, so the middle is somewhere around the international date line and the Atlantic Ocean occupies the extreme edges to the right and the left.
For the last few years we’ve looked at that map and thought ‘once we get to the Atlantic we’re practically home. The Atlantic is such a small ocean.’ But it’s really not. We’ve been fooling ourselves. We had to cut the middle bit of the Atlantic off so that the map would fit onto our table, but we’d conveniently forgotten that fact so that it would look like we had less far to go than we actually did.
We left Cape Town one month ago, on March 13th, and today we crossed the half-way point to the Caribbean. We stopped in St. Helena for 4 days and planned to sail directly from there to Fernando De Noronha, an island that lies about 200 miles off the horn of Brazil. But the winds didn’t cooperate and we were forced to the North. We found ourselves passing Ascension Island so we thought ‘why not?’ And pulled in there for a few days for another short rest. Sarah is going to write about those islands in a later blog, but for now I’ll just say that both St. Helena and Ascension were great stops. Fascinating places.
Day 10 at sea, and we’re speeding along at 6 knots heading North by East. Which would be really good, except that we don’t want to be going North by East, we want to be going West North West. Our destination, as it seems to be about 90% of the time, is almost directly down-wind of us and although there is a decent 15 knot breeze, if we try to sail deep down wind it is not enough to keep Bob’s sails full as she rolls back and forth in her characteristically violent fashion.
I suppose I can’t really complain. The first 6 days of this passage were glorious. Calm seas and a gentle wind just aft of the beam propelled us along beautifully. It was like tobogganing on a never-ending slope of powder snow. The cold Benguela current which runs north up the west coast of Africa kept things chilly. Hats and coats stayed on for a few days. But it also gave us clear skies and steady winds, with no squalls or thunderstorms or any of the other nasties that are common in the tropics, and become more-so the further west one travels across any of the world’s oceans.
1150 miles out from Cape Town, with nearly 600 remaining to St. Helena. When we get there we hope to have 3 or 4 days of rest and sight-seeing and then we have to push on towards Brazil. Fingers are crossed that the wind either picks up or shifts one way or another. I’m also hoping we can buy some green food in St. Helena. We’re starting to get low now and it’s a long way to Brazil eating canned and dried stuff!