Crossing the Atlantic without the trade winds!
YES WE DID IT1 Carsten and I crossed the Atlantic – in slowmotion – 25.5 days
1.- 1st leg
It’s Sunday morning, November 6, 2016. I haven’t slept a wink since 2 a.m. I’ve been lying here and speculating on exactly what it is we’ve gotten ourselves into. Crossing the Atlantic, just us two – is this for real? “Only a fool fears not the ocean” as the old saying goes. We are aware that it is not undangerous, this adventure we’ve begun on. We’ve prepared as well as we can and Capri is as seaworthy as we can make her, but one thing is rational thought, another are the emotions that come forth with such a project.
Gunstart (Rally start) is at 1 p.m. We still have some preparations to finish and some safety checks to make before we can sail. We are both excited and tense and a bit stressed – it is a BIG DAY for us – my stomach is tied in knots and it hurts. This is still unreal for me – that we gotten this far and now are starting the great adventure we’ve dreamed about the past many years. The good-bye party in the marina has already started with music at 10 a.m. Jesus, time flies and it’s now noon. We’ve decided to sail at noon because it takes a half hour to get to the starting line.
We’re 75 boats going to start, only 5 of us are double-handing, the rest have crew of 5-6 or even more. A few of the big boats have many and professional sailing crews on board, they are true racing boats. Carsten and I are not racers and will try to get in the back end of the pack in order to avoid the worst of the confusion around the starting line. I hate when the racers come even within a few meters of Capri. They think there is plenty of water, while I’m “shitting little green pigs” because I am so afraid we’ll collide.
The past few days, we’ve been worried about the weather since the forecasts have said that we will be sailing in gale force winds this first day. Shit, last weeks weather would have been perfect for a run to Cape Verde – 10-12 knots from the Northeast, but we’ve had to wait for the rally start and now we risk sailing in conditions we normally wouldn’t. I’ve been in a bad mood the last couple of days and pissed that we joined the ARC+ and are unable to decide ourselves when we sail and when we don’t.
Bah – at the skippers briefing yesterday the ARC meteorologist told us that a low pressure would pass to the north Saturday night and we could expect little to no wind for the start, although what wind there was would be from the southwest. That was good news and as usual, Vinni and Carsten were going to sail with the wind right in their noses. The ARC+ people told us that everyone must start with sailpower or else there would be a 3 hour penalty. We are allowed to use our engines as much as we please, but we have to keep track of the hours and we’ll be penalized for that when reach the finishing line. The elapsed time is also corrected for the boats handicap rating (generally size of boat and amount of sail). It’s a complicated equation and really doesn’t interest us as we really don’t care if we come in first or last as along as we come in safe and sound. Well that was our standpoint when we started, but it changed along the way when we could see on the net where the other boats were – I guess we all have a bit of the competition gene in us.
12 o’clock – Carsten and I give each other a high-five and a kiss – it’s happening now and we wish each other a good and safe trip. I steer Capri out, the neighboring boats are blowing their fog horns and wishing us a safe journey and “see you in the Caribbean!”
WOW – as we glide out the main channel I’m overwhelmed by the music and all the people that are standing on the breakwater, blowing horns, cheering and waving. A lot are cheering “go Capri” – they are Danes living here, danish sailors from other boats and the ARC personnel all wishing us a safe journey. I keep getting tears in my eyes and I’m constantly having to dry them.
God I feel small and insignificant, sailing here betwixt all these other ARC+ boats. I think Capri is one of only six boats smaller than 42 feet. On all the other boats I can see 4-6 crew smartly jumping around in their new crew uniforms while here on Capri there is only Vinni and Carsten in their humble Capri polos. The dark thoughts come unbidden – are we really capable of doing this alone? I’m wearing my nerves on my sleeve.
Countdown – we hear the cannon fire and out rolls our genua. We’ve already hoisted our mainsail and we surge across the starting line. Christ – all these boats around us and not all of them are abiding by the collision regulations – assholes! But fortunately there is little wind, only about 6 knots. Even so, we come awfully close to each other.
Our meteorologist advised us to stay to the east so we don’t get caught in the windholes that typically form behind the islands. We follow his advice and along with 15 other boats head eastwards hoping to find more wind. The wind dies even further and now we’re only moving at 3 knots. Carsten has gone below to sleep. I can see the main fleet that is sailing along the coast and speeding right along. Have they found some of the acceleration winds that come off the high mountains, despite the fact that Chris had said there would be none today?
A few hours later, the main fleet has sailed from us and most of the boats that had gone east have turned to starboard to get closer to the coast. I wake Carsten, explain the situation and say we should do the same. He agrees so we turn to starboard and quickly find out there is also no wind here. We’re a couple of amateurs and we still haven’t figured out that the rest of the fleet has started their “iron jenny” – AKA their engines.
10 hours later we can’t see any ARC+ boats – not even on the AIS. We’re totally alone – so much for safety in numbers.
The wind keeps dropping during the night and is now at 0.0 knots – so absolutely no wind. How the hell can that happen. We’re drifting along on the current making about 1 knot and rolling around in 2 meter high swells – it is not comfortable sailing. The sails are flapping like curtains hanging in front of an open window and making a hellish noise. Not only that but the flapping is wearing on our rig as the boom and sails flap from side to side. Bad as it sounds in the cockpit – down below it sounds as if Capri is being torn apart. It is almost impossible to sleep.
Despite our using both a boombrake and a gybe preventer, the flapping sails slam the boom back and forth – the noise is horrible. Sometimes it is so violent that Capri jerks around. We’re using our spinnaker pole to pole our genua out to windward so we can sail wing-on-wing. The pole is made fast with a bridle that prevents the genua from gybing. Capri’s ride up one side of the swells and down the other pitch the genua and pole from side to side. Our forestay, sheet cars and clamps are taking a terrible beating. Never have Carsten and I abused our sails and Capris rig like this. The noises cut deep into my heart – I’m sorry Capri. I can’t sleep and lie in the seabunk looking up through the hatch and try to close out the terrible noises – hoping that the rig and sails can stand this load. Shit what a horrible sail.
This first day I curse the day we joined the ARC+. If we weren’t a part of the ARC, then we would simply have started our engine and sailed directly toward Cape Verde and avoided this beating Capri to death. Later I’d learn that the engine wasn’t an option on the leg between Cape Verde and the Caribbean.
Days mileage: 87nm – with a good trade wind we would have made at least 150nm
It’s afternoon and we’ve begun to get some wind – 14-15 knots from the east. We’re so happy to have gotten wind that we decide not to reef the sails for the night, time to make some mileage. On ARC’s webpage we can see that all the other boats are 80-120nm in front of us and further south.
Carsten has the dog watch and already after 1 hours sleep, he calls me up. In the moonlight we can see a squall coming so we need to reef our mainsail and do it in a hurry. It’s not easy to do out here in the middle of the Atlantic.
So how hard can it be? Back home in the Baltic, we just turn up into the wind and take in a reef. Not possible here due to the high swells and waves. Here we have to reef with the wind coming in from the back. One of us slacks out on the boom brake and the preventer while the other one uses a winch to crank the boom into center position, then the brake and the preventer are tightened again and we hope it all holds steady until we have reefed the sail.
Of course all this is much more difficult to do in the dark. Even with the use of headlamps and flashlights it is difficult to see what we are doing. Chris from the ARC had told us during a double-handing session to make sure we have marked all our lines for 1st, 2nd and 3rd reefs in a way that we can see and feel in the dark. We’ve done that and therefore we managed to put a 2nd reef in the mainsail before the squall hit us with gale force winds and lots of rain.
As an aside, this time we were two to do this – before we got to the Caribbean, both Carsten and I had learned how to do this single-handed, in the dark.
Our genua is much easier to reef as it only needs to be rolled in until we have reefed it to the right point and lock it in.
It’s now morning and Carsten totally knackered after a 4 hour dogwatch where he met another 4 squalls. He’s tired, wet and cold. Capri has handled the squalls fine with the 2nd reef in. We promise each other that from now on we’ll go to 2nd reef every day before dark. Remember, we’re far south here. Night means 11 hours of darkness – no midnight twilight and light nights like we’re used to from up north. If there moon is out or the skies are clear, you have a chance to spot the dark and fearsome squalls. If it is dark or overcast, you haven’t a chance and therefore you must have to take it as it comes. That’s why it is necessary to reef in time. Several of the boats in the fleet have split their mainsails while under “attack” by a sudden squall. Squalls are nothing to toy with, get I wrong and you’ll end up with major damage to the boat.
What do we watch for besides squalls when we’re on duty? Other boats and our sail trim, naturally. Whales and floating containers can’t be seen, so you’re just out of luck if you hit one. This thought strikes me frequently as Capri shoots through the dark making 7-9 knots. I try to convince myself that since I can do nothing to prevent it, I might as well just forget it and sit and enjoy the unbelievably beautiful starry skies there are out here.
What happens for everyone when they are at sea and in hard weather? Things break on the boat and almost everyone has the experience of having the toilet break down. Not to be different – ours goes on the second day – shit! (literally). Fortunately it is the intake side that has crapped (!) out not the output side – so we can still flush using the fresh water from our shower. Thank god we have a good watermaker that can keep us supplied with fresh water. The alternative is using a bucket. We know how that works – that what we used to do on our first boat, the 22 foot Pappaguy.
Days mileage – 135nm – things are looking up
Good wind, 16-20 knots ENE and a comfortable wind for wing-on-wing sailing for us. Our genua is poled out to one side and our mainsail is set to the other side. The winds freshen as evening approaches and the wave become choppy with whitecaps on most of them. Having gotten smarter, we reef before it gets dark. I go below to sleep when I hear Carsten calling me and saying, I need to come on deck immediately. There are squalls coming and Capri is running much too fast, 9.5 knots, for these heavy seas. Especially at night, this speed and squalls are a deadly combination. We put the 3rd reef in the mainsail, this is our storm reef, which is really meant for use in heavy storms. I never thought that we have to use it, but now we do. I still feel the ride is rather violent so we decide to take our genua completely in and run with only our mainsail in its 3 reef. Even with this little sail, Capri is still flying and making 7-8 knots, but now she feels like a “happy boat” and the ride is much more comfortable, despite winds of 28-30 knots and 4 (14 feet) meter high chop. We want to get safely into the harbor, not necessarily first in the harbor. We’re cruisers, not racers – we have lots of time.
Days mileage – 162nm
Like yesterday we experienced 16-18 knot winds from the east. We got a little relief from the swells, they were now down to 7-10 feet and the ride was actually quite comfortable. The wind freshen again during my nightwatch to 28-30 knots but fortunately the swells stayed the same. Carsten was below in the seabunk and thinking – what the hell is going on – is she sailing Capri under the waves? When Capri is making 8.5 knots, the sounds of the water rushing past the hull are loud down below. It sounds like going through a car wash and staying inside the car. Or like someone has turned a high-pressure cleaner on the outside of the hull. Carsten looks up into the cockpit to see if I need help. Apparently things are not as critical as they sounds since he sees me sitting clipped in with my lifelines and enjoying the stars with a cup of tea in my hand – where after he turns back in and goes to sleep.
Days mileage – 170 nm
Still good winds at 16-18 knots, ENE and 7-10 foot swells, again it freshens for the night, with the winds reaching 24-25 knots. I’m thinking these winds are taking us too far west – we want to get to Cape Verde – not to Cuba. In the middle of the dog watch I wake Carsten so we can gybe and go over on the other tack. He is not pleased at the thought of having to go on deck in the middle of the night and gybing the spinnaker pole to the other side in 25 knot winds and 10 foot waves. My answer is that , yes, I think it is necessary – not that I think it going to be fun, but things can’t be different. And he has to be one to go – “Unfortunately” my arms are too short to do this ( :-)).
Reefing either the mainsail or the genua are things we now can do alone. We have also learned how to gybe the boat alone (try asking one of your sailor friends how many of them are willing to gybe a 40 boat alone in 25+ knots and 10-15 swells), but gybing the spinnaker pole requires 2 persons – one on deck and one in the cockpit. Carsten has to be the one to go on deck – the spinnaker pole is so long that I can’t reach the end of it, even when it is pulled all the way in to our forestay, to move the pole and the bridle over to the other tack (side of the forestay).
It’s a stressful ½ hour for the both of us while Carsten, with a headlamp, fumbles around on the foredeck. He does have a jackline (lifeline) keeping attached to the boat. It’s difficult for me to see in the dark what he is doing or if he is still on the boat or hanging out over the railing. Every now and then I hear “shit” or Damn it” (then I know he is all right), as he gets caught in the jackline or the bridle or the preventer. I hear him curse and say – “there’s too much goddamn line on this deck, no way to work up here”. Finally he gets the spinnaker pole over on the other side and bridle attached to the clamp there and comes back in the cockpit and now we can begin to gybe the mainsail. As time goes on, we get better at this and we can do it in 20 minutes or less – the first time it took an hour. Tough to win races when it takes a hour to gybe the boat.
Days mileage – 170nm
The past 4 days we haven’t seen a ship or a boat on the sea nor on our chartplotter. During my dog watch, 2 ARC+ boats pop up on my screen. Yep we are not alone and we won’t be the last ones entering the harbor because we’re sailing the pants off both of them as we quickly leave them behind. Late at night, an English boat shows up and he’s catching us. I keep a good eye on him and he’s making 12-14 knots – easy.
Morning comes and Carsten relieves me. He’s curious when I tell him we’ll shortly be passed by another boat. Since it’s past 8 a.m. Carsten thinks it’s OK to call him on the VHF and find out just what the hell he is. Turns out he’s a 62 foot Oyster – OK at 62 footer – no way we can take him on.
He’s also single-handing – WOW – respect. We ask him how he manages to single-hand such a big boat and he laughs saying he’s got so many automatic systems that it only requires 2 fingers and remember “the shit weather hits a big boat like mine much later than it hits a 40 footer like yours”. Squalls are not a problem, I reef before I got to bed, set all the alarms and the radar and the AIS tell me if anything is up. I also have an alarm that tells me if any of the alarms I’ve set malfunction. So I sleep 6-8 hours each night.
That’s how the rich do it (the boat cost somewhere around 2 mio USD), while we poor folks fight to keep our eyes open all night (sigh).
Nice guy though, As he passed Capri he took a lot of video footage of her (and us) showing her in the high swells. 2 hours after we reached Mindelo, Cape Verde he came by in his dinghy and gave us a USB stick with all the videos. Thank you Hans – wherever you are.
11:30 a.m. – LAND HO!!!!!! Cape Verde appears on the horizon and here we come. 12:50 and we cross the finish line. WE DID IT! So far so good – 905 nm in just short of 6 days.
Days mileage – 176nm (Capri has never sailed so fast before – a great sail that day)
Our first leg didn’t live up to our expectations. We never caught the trade winds, had no “soft” long Atlantic swells, instead we got shifting winds and heavy chop which meant we had to be strapped in the entire time. Even during the daylight hours – we had the jacklines on.
In other words – it was difficult to have a “life” on board. We went watch on watch, only saw each other occasionally unless it was passing to get to the seabunk, which meant it was rather lonely. Our appetites were also small, not because of seasickness, but rather because it was difficult to prepare or to eat food (it is hard to eat when you have to hang on to the boat with one hand at all times). This despite the fact that we had made plenty of food before we left so it only needed to be heated – not prepared. Eating with one hand, a spoon from a doggie bowl all while trying to hang on to a sheet line with the other while the boat is gyrating requires a gymnast. Both of us ate less and faster than normal. Neither of us read any books and I didn’t do any knitting.
Sunbathing? The first 5 days we were in “full battle dress”, my Scottish bikini consisting of heavy weather waterproof pants and foul weather jacket and boots. God am I tired of wearing that. I never thought I would need it in the tropics and under a trade wind passage – but this is Vinni and Carsten sailing – so Vinni and Carsten weather.
We’re in agreement that if this continues all the way over the Atlantic, it may be more than we want and once again we think about taking a crew on board. But we decide that we’ll do this double-handed – others have done it and so can we.
Mindelo, Cape Verde
We spent the rest of Saturday cleaning Capri inside and out, so she looks like herself again. Unbelievable how dirty she has gotten under this passage. And yes – we also need a bath and some real food and some wine. Thereafter straight under the covers for a much deserved long sleep. We skip the welcome reception – let the others do that – we much too tired.
Docking at Mindelo was much more confusing that it should have been. 3 times while we were coming we got instruction to dock a different place. The confusion is rampant and Carsten finally yells at the hopeless and confused ARC employee.
Of course we also have to make a Mediterranean landing, which I hate, having to back in to the dock and get a line ashore from each side at the stern (this part is ok) then the guy on the dock passes you a line that he has hauled up from the water. It is attached ot athe harbor bed out in the middle somewhere. This line is the yukkiest thing you can imagine, slime covered and filled with barnacles (so you can rip your hands bloody when you handle it). This is the line you then run up front with and attach to you bow clamps.
I didn’t manage to make it all the way up to the bows past the shrouds and the jerry cans without the line landing on the boat and now our newly cleaned Capri is filthy with slime and mud and yuk and I don’t know what else. So Sunday morning we can start cleaning her again and after a couple of hours she shines. Clothes washing is next. Unfortunately (Ha,ha,ha) there is no laudramat here – only a laundry service (oh poor us), so we give 2 huge sacks to the local service who collect and deliver right on the harbor. All from day to day – the laundry is washed dried and folded – all this and it is cheaper than going to a laudramat at home and now we don’t have to waste a half a day looking at a washing machine.
Monday we go on a guided tour with 40 other sailors to the next island over – San Antao. One hour with the ferry and then a bustour and a fantastic hours hike up a green valley. What unbelievable mountains. Worth every penny it cost.
That evening there is the prize-giving. When we arrived, the ARC personnel we really impressed that we had not started our engine. Only 5 of the 75 boats had gone the distance without using their engines. So we could figure out that even though we came in about halfway down the pack, we’d still have a good finish. Carsten has worked on it and thinks we have a good shot at 3rd place. So since he’s the skipper, he decides that we’re going dressed in our SV Capri red polo shirts and white pants. All the other crews come in uniforms to these arrangements.
I try to talk Carsten down. I’m afraid he’ll be truly disappointed if we don’t get a medal now that he’s convinced himself we’re going to get 3rd.
It all starts with some drinks and spirits are high everywhere – it is a really good evening. The boats are divided into 4 classes – the Multihulls – they come up first – the other 3 classes are by handicap (a complicated system but size and amount of sail area have a lot to do with it). Class A is first after the multi’s and it is won by a 12.5 meter Pogo which is a true racing boat, more like a big surfboard with a huge amount of sail – this Pogo also has a full racing crew (no watch on watch for them). Class B (bigger than 45 feet) is won by a Performance Hansa (racing boat) also with a full racing crew. Finally they got to Class C (our class). They announce 3 place and unfortunately it didn’t go to us. I look at Carsten to see if he looks disappointed – he not showing anything on his face. Neither did 2nd place. We look at each other and say OK, we didn’t sail to try for a medal, but to get here safely which we did.
Finally we hear – “First place in Class C goes to a boat that beat almost everybody – finishing ahead of 72 other boats and losing out only to the winners of Class B by 16 minutes and Class A by 9 hours – she’s a Danish boat – CAPRI!
Hey! Wait a second – that’s us! Everyone is shouting “Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole” and clapping. We run up to the front and when Carsten lifts me up and kisses me, I wrap my legs around him and the crowd goes wild with everyone clapping and shouting even louder. They can easily see how surprised and happy we are. All the others have crews of 5-6 or more and we’re just us two. I fight to keep back the tears. The pictures speak for themselves. We’re proud of the medal and it hangs on our salon wall between our ships clocks. Not bad for a couple of amateurs like us and Thank you Capri for one hell of a run.
We spend Tuesday getting Capri ready for the 2nd leg – crossing the Atlantic. We’d broken 2 sail battens on that run, fortunately we could get replacement in Mindelo. We did some shopping and in the evening had a couple of drinks with some English sailors, Phil and Hattie (who took 2nd place just behind us)
Wednesday the 16th of november 2016 1:00 p.m The starting gun sounds and all the boats race for the start line. Capri has a bad start – but it is not her fault that the crew has made an error judging the wind direction. From looking at the weather projections and charts we thought we would be sailing on a broad reach almost dead downwind. So we rigged Capri for sailing wing-on-wing, which was the wrong thing to do.
Now what – the wind is from forward and sometimes on just a reach. The wind is rushing between two islands and constantly changing direction and speed. Everyone else has rigged for a reach and is busy sailing us behind while we begin the task of rerigging Capri for a reach.
Shit, shit, shit – I readily admit that I’m a fighter and a terrible loser and seeing the sterns of all those boats charging ahead and leaving us behind, challenges my competitive gene and that isn’t healthy for my mental well-being. I get extremely stressed and hysterical and, according to Carsten, someone he’d rather not be around. We’re last again – shit.
But after we’ve rerigged the sails, Capri surges ahead and we start gaining. After a few hours we’ve caught the main fleet, despite their flying either gennakers or parasailers. We have a huge gennaker, but only fly it when we are both on deck – it is much too big for one person to handle single-handed. So the gennaker stays packed away the first few days until our patience is worn down and we screw up our courage.
The start from Cape Verde has no grand music or party atmosphere – it is a normal racing start. Everyone is terribly frustrated because almost none of us can find the starting boat or line. The ARC people never got the countdown going and suddenly they’re on the VHF saying the start went fine – only thereafter do they manage to fire off the cannon. Not terribly professional – and the ARC should be, they’ve been doing this for many years.
We’ve now come out of the zone between the islands, the acceleration winds that exist there have died away. Later in the evening, the wind dies even further and now we only have 5-6 knots, which means we can now look forward to the same type of sailing we had the first day of the first leg – flapping sails, noisy rig and no forward motion – crap, crap, crap – not again!
I can’t sleep, this type of sailing really wears on the rig and sails. I don’t find it fun and that is without talking about how uncomfortable the ride is. Many of the boats have chosen to use their engines and soon they have disappeared from our AIS screen.
This is unbelieveably stressful for me, I get almost hysterical and angry over the situation when it dawns on me that the grib files and weather prognoses we downloaded say this will last for the next 4 days. My mood is black and I have lost my appetite even though Carsten tries to cheer me up with homemade pasta and spaghettisauce.
I have the dog watch. I’m sour and angry and I find no joy in the carpet of stars overhead.
An hour after Carsten has taken over the watch, I get called on deck. A shackle that holds the genua to the forestay has fallen off and Carsten has to go on deck in the dark with a new shackle and make the genua fast again. We had checked all our splitters and shackles before we left Mindelo, but this type of sailing is enormously wearing on the gear and rig. It is said that a trip across the Atlantic wears as much on your boat and rig as sailing 10 years of normal recreational sailing in Denmark. We reverse all our sheets and halyards and check everything on the boat each day before dark if the weather allows us to go on deck.
All the boats that have a short-wave radio meet on a net each morning at 11:00 a.m. give their position and weather situation and let the rest know if there have been any problems the 24 hours. Nice to have this type of contact since there are only a few boats visible on our AIS screens.
This morning we saw 8-10 whale spouts – just the spouts, we didn’t see the whales. The thoughts fly through my head about how dangerous it can be to get too close to the whales who swim in flocks. I often also think about what will happen if we hit a whale sleeping on the surface. They lie just in or under the surface and are impossible to see. I shudder at the carnage if one of them hits our rudder or keel.
The worst thing that can happen, of course, is that Capri starts leaking or loses her keel or rudder.
I look at our liferaft, hanging on our railing and in my head I begin to walk through the steps necessary to launch it and get up in it. Losing your rudder is a serious problem – you have to try to jury-rig a new one. Some have managed this with a spinnaker pole and a cabinet door or by tying backpacks on the end of a couple of warps. Neither solution is particularly effective, but boats suing these have managed to make it to shore – indeed some over a thousand miles. I hope to god it doesn’t happen to us.
Days mileage: 100nm (better than our first days 87nm))
Still light winds and we’re sailing wing-on wing
Time for a shower, after only 1.5 days you begin to feel scrungy. My hair is just hanging there and my skin is fatty from the salty air – just like Capri’s sides. Below everything has a slightly fatty feel to it. We wash our hands constantly but it doesn’t help – as soon as we touch anything, the wheel, the sides the railing – you hands feel slippery again. Damn it Vinni – you might as well get used this – tis is life on the ocean. Yeah – Ok, I know, but the very salty water and air on the Atlantic makes everything feel like it has a thin layer of fat or oil on it.
It’s 10:00 a.m. and time for breakfast – yoghurt with an apple and a few almonds in it and some musli on top. Lunch is typically some fruit and dinner is at 6:00 p.m. promptly – because it gets dark at 7 and the watch changes at 8. No alcohol despite thinking that a glass of wine would taste awfully good. We both expect to lose some weight on this crossing – we both gained the past 6 months. A sundowner and a half bottle of wine each puts the kilos right on. Liqorice doesn’t help either. This lifestyle is far from how we lived back in Denmark. But its difficult to avoid when you’re offered a glass – and the first social contacts in the sailing world are frequently over a drink. And you meet the nicest sailors from other countries over a glass – but one glass usually leads to another (sigh).
The wind gets up during the evening and changes direction. Both Carsten and I are now able to gybe the boat alone while the other one is asleep. When we’re sailing poled out and wing-on-wing, we still need to wake the other one to perform this complicated procedure. We’ve seen other boats that have installed 2 spinnaker poles on the mast, which makes it much easier to haul in the genua from one side and get it out the other. We’re discussing if this as a good solution for us – and buying it when we get to the US where all boat parts are cheaper.
This is the first time I’ve reefed the mainsail and the genua because of light winds – normally it is done because of heavy winds. But with the high swells, the rig is rammed from side to side if we have too much sail up. We’ve learned that a smaller sail area is better and easier on the sails and rig – even though it is the opposite of what one normally would do. In light winds you’d normally try to fly as much sail as possible.
Carsten got the fright of the journey when he had the dog watch last night – He saw a green light out to starboard, in the water and close to Capri. This is out in the middle of rthe ocean – nothing out here – a light could mean a liferaft or a person in a lifevest. What if it was a body floating in a lifevest? We’ve heard that 2 boats from the ARC have gone down. It turned out to be a marker for a fishing net (at 4 kilometer deep water). Later we heard a fisherman giving a sailboat hell for sailing into one of his net markers. He was pissed as hell. Good thing Carsten managed to sail around it.
Days mileage: 136nm
Our mood sours as we see the weather forecast on the grib file we have downloaded. No wind the next 4 days – god damn it! – here we are in the trade winds belt where the trades should be giving us 15-20 knot winds and an easy passage. We downloaded gribfiles with the isobars on it and we’re now beginning to get nervous for what might be in store for us. An enormous low pressure at the equator ahs sent a low pressure trough up to us and with the water temperature still around 26 C, all the ingredients are there for a tropical depression to form which will then become a hurricane.
Yeah – right.
ARC’s weather forecast has yet to even mention this- what the hell is going on – I mean we pay a lot of money for their weather forecasts?
So what can we do except download gribfile 3-4 times a day in order to keep up developments. For now, we in luck. Little or no wind forecast for the next 4 days, but out here that situation can change very quickly. Strange – it seems as if this low pressure is following us west, the exact opposite of what we experience up north in Denmark. Mette Hundahl (author of Meteorology and Oceanography for Ships Officers) (my bible) helped me understand what was going on.
Just like with squalls that move from east to west and 80% of them turn towards the north the further west you go. That’s why most of those who sail across the Atlantic sail on a starboard tack in the daytime and a port tack in the evening and night. That way you can easily just turn towards the south when the squalls come. But all this apparently isn’t true where Vinni and Carsten sail (yeah we just have to be different). Here the squalls come from the SE, heading NW and come right in over us. Everyone who has crossed the “pond” says that squalls come between 3 and 5 a.m. in the dog watch and you should be very aware of them. Because it is us, the squalls are coming at all times of the day and night (sigh).
All day the winds have been steady at 8-10 knots and Carsten has slaved in the galley and now invited me below for a candlelight dinner. The menu consists of ground sirloin steak with fried onions and hash browns, served on a plate and not in a doggie bowl. We’re actually going to eat with knives and forks and he has put some music on the stereo – all to help pep up my mood. I’m a bit worried, however, because out on the horizon I can glimpse dark clouds – a line of squalls on the way in. No way, says Carsten. The ARC weather forecast has said there will be no squall activity this evening/night. I don’t want to disappoint Carsten so I go below to have a good dinner.
A great dinner that I have problems enjoying because I’m nervous and I hurry through it, doing it and Carsten no justice. I have the evening watch and I ask Carsten to go up and look at the skyline while I dress in my “Scottish Bikini” (full foul weather battle dress). I’ve just managed to get my pants on when I hear Carsten call for help while he fights to get Capri back under control. Both the forsail and the mainsail are in irons, but have been prevented from gybing by the gybe preventers. That’s what happens when you get surprised by a squall that can show up anytime. Never trust the ocean – be prepared at all times.
I can see 3 boats on my AIS, one of them passes about 500 meters in front of us just as we are hit by another squall. I’d seen this one coming so I had rolled in the foresail and reefed the main down to the 3 reef in time. Capri rides this out perfectly scooting along at 8.5 knots. I can’t see a damned thing because of the rain, but decide that I don’t need to call Carsten – I can handle this alone.
But suddenly our AIS goes dead and I can’t see ther other with my eyes because of the rain. I call Carsten who appears on deck immediately. We’re both a bit confused because we’ve never heard of AIS not functioning because of heavy rain. I’m steering and trying to keep a sharp watch, but getting more and more nervous. A few minutes ago I could see the other boat just off to starboard and now I can see literally nothing through the curtain of heavy rain. Capri is making 2-3 knots more than the other boats and I’m worried we’ll end up ramming one of them. Carsten tries to call the closest one on the VHF but to our surprise – the VHF doesn’t work either.
What the hell?
We continue trying and after about 10 minutes we get contact. He yells that he’s in the middle of a squall and has his hands full but he will turn to starboard when the conditions allow. We can’t turn to port without a violent gybe that might bring down our mast. We’ve never heard that rain can be so heavy that AIS and VHF signals can penetrate it. No one has ever discussed this – not even on our Long Range Radio Certificate training has this been mentioned.
We got through this violent squall without any damage to Capri. Right after a squall it almost feels like you are in a vacuum, no wind or if there is any it is circling around Capri so she is impossible to steer, the sails fly around the mast – what is going on? Meanwhile the swells are tossing Capri around like a rubber ducky – all together very uncomfortable. Finally we decide to start our “ironjenny” – the engine and penalty points be damned.
Days mileage – 130nm
I awaken to the sound of another squall at 7 a.m., get dressed and go up top to find Carsten tuckered out after a long and hard night. I see the sky getting lighter behind us, but, but, but I am sadly mistaken. The lighter skies I see coming aren’t a patch of clearing up – but another line of squalls – this time an impenetrable wall of rain. These are low stratus clouds that bring so much rain the first hour that I literally can’t see a thing – not even the front end of the boat, but we have a 16 knot wind right in our faces. It feels like someone has turned a high-pressure water cleaner on me. Carsten is standing comfortably dry under the sprayhood videoing me. There is so much water I’m not sure if I’m over or under the ocean surface.
An hour later, the wind has gone, but not the rain. I can begin to see something. Fortunately for us because just as I’ve dried the water from my eyes I see a whale diving 200 years in front of Capri. He swings his mighty tail up in the air and dives straight down. I all happened so quickly I didn’t get a chance to see what kind of whale it was. Carsten is pissed later when I tell him because he didn’t get to see it (sleeping) and I never got the chance to wake him – it all happened so quickly that it was all over before I realized what it was.
We have never experienced rain like this – it kept raining (pouring) for over 12 hours and we got a half inch of rain per hour! My teacup was our measuring instrument.
I now know that my “Scottish bikini” isn’t up to that kind of rain. I’m soaked right inot my skin and have ot ask Carsten to take over the watch after only 3 hours so I can get out of my wet clothes, get dry, have a cup of tea and get warm under our down comforter. There is wet underwear and t-shirts hanging everywhere in the salon, because I have to change clothes completely after each watch before climbing into my soaked sailing gear. Getting up in the middle of the night for your watch can be pretty crappy, but having to crawl into wet foul weather gear on top of that is just too much. It’s no fun climbing up into the darkness and hearing that it is still raining cats and dogs, and certainly not what I expected to experience sailing across the “pond”. Finally I give up and begin borrowing Carsten foulies, which are 5 times too large for me – but they do keep me dry and warm so despite looking like a clown – I do it.
The wind keeps falling – even as the rain let’s up.
Days mileage: 130nm
After having slept a couple of hours after my dog watch with no wind, flapping sails and the sound of our rigging being shaken apart, it hurts all the way deep in my heart that we’re treating Capri this way. Not to mention how much we are wearing on our sails and rig and wires – it is driving me crazy, this shitty sailing. If it doesn’t change soon, if we don’t get some wind, I’ll be one of those sailors who have crossed the Atlantic that say it is the one of the crappiest times they’ve had in their lives and will never do it again. I really hope I don’t become one of those because then we’ll never make it out into the pacific.
We’ve just received the days weather forecast from ARC and despite the fact that their forecast have not yet matched what we are experiencing I’m relieved when the meteorologists say that the low pressure trough we are in will not develop into a tropical depression, storm or hurricane. They expect the low pressure to fill up over the next 4 days and thereafter disappear. After that we’ll get some of the winds that should come with a high pressure area that is lying by the African coast. But the next four days – no winds. The mood aboard Capri is dark and at a low point.
We download a new gribfile that show there should be some wind further south so we start the engine and go south only to find that there is no wind down there either. On our AIS we can see that the other boats are all using their engines – this Rally will end as a race between those who have the largest diesel tanks. We’ve begun to fill our tank from the jerry cans we have on deck.
We experience an endless series of squalls, not so strong, but they mean we constantly have to be on the alert and the light winds mean we have to constantly be trimming the sails and adjusting our course in order to keep the wind in our sails. Frequently we have to change our sailplan. This is hard work in light winds and 8-10 foot swells.
We’ve been becalmed for many hours now. There are no waves and the swells have died down to almost nothing. The ocean surface is almost flat and it is completely calm. Not even the sails are making any noise – they are just hanging there – no flapping. It is fascinating to experience this – it only lasts for a few more hours. There are no ships anywhere and we are completely alone in the middle of the ocean. I’m only missing a full moon or a carpet of stars above Capri’s mast then this would be a storybook. Impressive experience – but still a fearsome experience.
Days mileage: 138nm
11:00 o’clock and all the ARC boats are calling out their positions on the short-wave. Everyone is complaining about no wind an dwindling fuel supplies. Is anyone in a critical situation – the net controller asks. One of the boats has been so creative that they called a passing freighter and purchased a couple of hundred liters of diesel from them. Out here – everyone helps everyone else – no matter what the cost. 100 liters is a drop in the proverbial bucket for at big freighter – but still. Some ARC boats have 1000 liter tanks and are churning out the miles making 6-8 knots while the rest of us with small tanks are lying ahull and waiting for the winds.
Our spirits aboard Capri are low. With gallows humor we try to convince ourselves that we are practicing sailing in the pacific- specifically the leg out to Galapagos where we’ll have to cross the calm belt at the equator not to mention the 4 week trip to the Marquesas islands. If we can handle this trip, which looks like it is going to last 3 weeks or more – then we can handle the pacific. But we’ve already decided that we have to find space for at least 100 more liters of diesel.
On our way down along Europe’s coast we also had lousy weather – real Vinni and Carsten weather. Frequently we joked about ending up sailing across the Atlantic and never catching the trade winds – but that was a joke, not a wish from my side. Of course we’ll find the trades, everyone else does.
Day’s mileage: 97nm
I’ve just gotten up again after my dog watch, because I couldn’t sleep the first couple of hours due to all the noise and jerking in the boat when the sails and rig jerk because of the swells. I’m getting very tired of this. Only 2 hours of sleep and then waking up to no wind. Carsten looks tired and a bit defeated. He’s just downloaded a new grib file – no wind the next 4-5 days. The mood on board is now cleared frustrated but perhaps also the beginnings of depression.
Unbelievable that we’ve been sailing on the Atlantic for a week with no wind. The ARC weather forecast promised that the low pressure system would disappear days ago and now our grib file is showing that the low pressure system is simply following us westover. What the hell is going on? Normally low pressure systems move from west to east, not east to west – but apparently everything is opposite when Vinni and Carsten are crossing the pond.
After 7 days of virtually becalmed weather, we’ve moved at a snails pace and are only 1/4 of the way over – we should be halfway by now. I’m beginning to realize that we probably won’t make the finish line before the rally ends – will we make it over in time to celebrate Christmas with Carsten’s daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren? I’m reaching my limit and tears begin to run down my cheeks. Carsten tries to brace me and cheer me up – but I’m getting really depressed. I’ve never heard of anyone experiencing weather like this when they cross – typical Vinni and Carsten abnormal weather.
We’ve read and been told that when you cross the atlantic, you sail south of Las Palmas for a couple of days, turn to starboard, set your sails wing-on-wing and then you don’t need to touch them for the next couple of weeks until you sail into Rodney Bay on St. Lucia. You’ll have lots of time to read books, knit and anything else you can think of – most claim they get bored on the crossing because there’s nothing to do.
We’ve experienced nothing like that yet. All our watches are filled with sailplan changes, reefing, letting out reefs, rain and trying hard to keep up – we’ve not been bored yet. Try as I might – it’s getting more and more difficult to keep my spirits up.
Shit (no wind) rarely happens alone. Carsten has just been down filling out our logbook, comes up and tells me that the GPS position is no longer being shown on either our VHF nor our Shortwave radios. Shit, shit, shit – I look at our chartplotter and can tell him that the chartplotter is still showing the GPS position. I begin to fear that the autopilot or the chartplotter will go down – I almost don’t dare to think it. Such a situation would be unreal for me – having to calculate our positon using our sextant and a pocket calculator and hand-steering the rest of the way (over 1000nm) across the Atlantic. With only two of us, watch on watch hand steering for 4 hours at a time would be physically exhausting. Fortunately, both the chartplotter and the autopilot continue to function.
My patience is exhausted and I suggest to Carsten that we break our rule about there having to be two persons awake when we fly the gennaker. We’re going nowhere and I’m ready to try handling the gennaker single-handed during the daytime – even if Carsten is below sleeping. He agrees – so up goes that enormous sail. It gives us 1-2 knots more speed than sailing wing-on-wing. It’s doing fine in the light winds, the problem comes when the wind drops below 8 knots and the swells are big. That combination means the wind can’t keep the sail ful as the boat slides down the side of the swells and it collapses. Unbelievably irritating and hard on the rig (again) when it catches the wind and fills out again. Not only does it stress the rigging but also me – it almost hurts me physically to think how we’re abusing Capri. Carsten keeps trying to cheer me up – but it is also affecting him.
Midnight and my dogwatch is starting. There are squalls all around us just waiting for their chance to swoop down and hit us. All around, lightning is blitzing. The thunder is far away, but the lightning seems to be right on top of us. I’m not at all comfortable with this – it is like being in the middle of a fireworks display.
We brought a couple of car jumper cables with us. I hang them on our shrouds and let the other end dangle I the water as a lightning rod if we get hit. I’ve packed our mobile telephones and satellite telephone in aluminum foil and put them in the oven – they should survive a strike in there. Lightning strikes on boats are rare – but with our luck with the weather – we’d better try to be safe than sorry.
But the damned jumper cables aren’t long enough and don’t stay down in the water. Every time Capri bobs up and down, they pop out of the water, and hit the side of the boat. It makes a horrible noise down below. I take them off before they wake Carsten and he goes bananas. Surprisingly, the lightning stops when Carsten comes up and takes his watch.
Day’s mileage: 91nm
Still no wind, only 6-8 knots and 2+ meter swells. The sail from Cape Verde has been disappointing to say the least. I’m irritated, angry, desperate, depressed and feel the situation is completely out of my control.
Carsten tries to pep me up by serving fresh baked rolls for breakfast – he’s great, I love for all he does, but it didn’t help very much with my mood.
We pour the 4th jerry can of diesel into the tank. The 5th, and last, we’ll save for charging batteries and not for propulsion. Why are we using the engine to charge our batteries when we have two excellent solar panels on our targa bar? This low pressure system has also meant that the skies have been filled with low-hanging stratus clouds so the panels aren’t receiving enough sunshine to fully charge our batteries. Coupled with the fact we’re using our autopilot and not our windvane (there’s not enough wind for the windvane to work) and it means we are burning electricity like mad and not charging it all back up again.
Days mileage: 83 nm
The day starts with a little sunshine so I decide it is wash day and start washing t-shirt and sheets. Apparently we’re going to be at sea for many more weeks. Carsten suddenly decides that the head needs a good clean and goes at it.
The weather forecast is unchanged.
Later Carsten says to me that I should think long and hard about if I have the mental stamina to cross the pacific. I’m hurt that he would ask. Because that means he question my robustness. I do my best to hang on in this situation and explain that I can handle lying still and being becalmed for a week or two – it is the abuse of our rig and Capri that is depressing me.
While we’re talking about it, I realize that I’m feeling truly pressured by the fact that we are in a Rally. I’m convinced that if we weren’t in the Rally then I wouldn’t care how long it took us to get across. I also realize that Carsten is sick and tired of hearing me complain – he’s also feeling down and doesn’t enough surplus energy anymore to listen to all my crap. I become very conscious of what I say and I try to keep my complaints to myself so he can concentrate on our sailing.
Days mileage: 105nm (with some help from the engine)
Still no wind, only 8-9 knots and I’ve gone below to take a nap. I’ve just fallen asleep when I hear a loud crash and think – shit, did one of our shrouds break? Only to hear Carsten yell – Vinni the gennaker is in the water – get up here on the double. I’m not the only one on this boat that can curse like a seaman – Mr. Breuning also has a way with words.
I jump out of the seabunk and wearing only my lifevest and lifeline (sexy, sexy Vinni – Carsten says later). That makes me think that, well there are only dolphins to watch us so perhaps the mast could be a proper stripper pole? Note to self – why not?
Back to the situation at hand. We have to save our gennaker. The crash I heard was the halyard holding the gennaker up breaking – apparently it chafed enough that it finally broke. We figured out why later. We mounted a bow platform on Capri and that means that when we hoist the gennaker, the line is attached further forward and therefore the halyard doesn’t go completely up to the top – it stop before getting there – so as the gennaker works in the wind – the halyard gets chafed. We need either mount it where it was or lengthen the line at the bottom – live and learn. We do manage to collect the gennaker up from the water and fortunately it was not damaged.
But now we’re missing a halyard and that means we can’t use the gennaker in the light winds, but will have to wing-on-wing and therefore slower.
Days mileage: 81nm
It has now been 11 days without the trade winds and the crew is beginning to show signs of wear. We’re lying here and just rocking in 5-7 knot winds – not enough to move Capri. We’ve completely given up even thinking about reaching the finish line before the Rally ends. We’re seriously wondering if we’ll make St Lucia before Christmas. Our spirits almost can’t get any lower.
But after he’s had a good nap – Carsten gets up and is in a great mood and tells me about his fantastic dogwatch. He had a very special experience and he understands what other circumnavigators have experienced and tried to describe. I sit and get excited wondering about what this great experience is he has had.
I was sitting and enjoying the millions of stars and lost in my thoughts, he said, when suddenly he realized he was hearing the sea singing.
My first reaction is that either he’s been smoking some funny weed (which we don’t have on board) or else he’s losing it completely or else this is all one big joke designed to cheer me up – but he means it seriously. He’s convinced he heard the sea singing to him.
He tells me again that he heard the sea singing and – jesus I just can’t hold it in any longer and begin laughing out loud and asking him if he could explain it in more detail – did it sound like Clapton? Michael Jackson? The Stones? No, it was a male choir, he said. I really begin thinking that he is losing it, but he insists that he heard it. And, he says, it has been described in several books by circumnavigators and other sailors and perhaps I should try listening next time I had the dog watch.
Ok, I promise him – but I’ve never heard of the ocean singing and I’ve never read about it either.
Days mileage: 92nm
Flapping sails and uncomfortable rolling in the swells. 12 days without any real wind – unbelievable – I’ve never read or heard of anyone experiencing this on an Atlantic crossing. We’re getting more and more impatient, despite the fact that today we’ll reach the halfway mark and therefore should be happy and motivated.
We decide that despite the swells and that we’re in the middle (literally) of the ocean – Carsten should climb up the mast and rig a new halyard so we can fly the gennaker again. Neither Carsten nor I are particularly excited about him going up the mast.
Carsten dons the climbing harness, two safety lines, a helmet and attaches a lifeline to one of the shrouds to prevent him from swinging like a pendulum when he gets to the top. Up he goes (we have an electric winch I use to hoist him). He does fine and manages rather quickly to snake a new halyard down through the mast. He comes down in high spirits despite a lot of balck and blue bruises and numerous scrapes.
Ha! He says – I didn’t even get seasick!
Later I hear him telling other sailors – that when you’re 18 meters up while at sea and the mast is swinging several meters in each direction you realize just how much you love your mast (you cling to it with both arms and legs all the way up and all the way down- “love my mast!”) my comment to him as he was going up as – “Enjoy the view”
We fly the gennaker again and gain 2 knots of speed.
At dinner we celebrate that we’re halfways across “the pond” with a little sip of white wine – just a sip – the rest is given to King Neptune. We’re and alcohol-free boat when we sail – but we get our revenge when we reach harbor or are at anchor
Day’s mileage: 106nm
We’re beginning to see a bit more wind – occasionally the aerometer sneaks up to 10-11 knots – but only for a short spell, then it falls back again.
But my god! It’s wonderful to get some speed back in Capri – when the wind picks up we fly along at 5-6 knots.
The warm winds out here don’t have the same power that the cold winds back home in the north have. A saior we met in <Portugal told us this – he had experienced it when he crossed the Atlantic, but we didn’t really believe him – now that we’re here we can see he is right – we make a knot less here in the warm climate than we did back in the Baltic with the same wind.
We’re still hopoing for more wind – but our gribs are saying no way.
Days mileage: 106nm
The grib say we’ll get 14-16 knot winds from the east, but we only have 7-10 from the east south east. Christ do we want more wind. We can hear on the shortwave that those boats that have gotten on the front end of the low pressure trough have 18-20 knots winds – damn! Wish it was us – we’re in the middle of the trough.
I’ve just woken, it 11:45 p.m and I can hear Carsten coming down the companionway and I think – Oh please let him decide to give me just an hour more of sleep – I’m so tired.
But no – he puts the kettle on the stove to make tea for me so in a few minutes he’ll wake me. I try to make like I’m hard asleep. He rubs my shoulder and says, “Vinni, time to get up – your watch now”
“NO, I say – I won’t – go wake someone else!”
He laughs and says – wake someone else? There’s only two of us and I’m standing here so I’m already awake and you’re lying there so there is no one else to wake.
Crap, crap, crap – I drag my carcass out of the bunk – my body is completely dead. Am I able to take my watch – is it safe to let me take a watch?
It helps when I get up top and see the millions of stars and get some fresh air.
Days mileage: 97nm
Our 15th day at sea and the miracle happens – wind. The gribs have promised us 15-20 knots and we get it. Capri surges ahead making 5.5 to 7.5 knots. We feel free again – wonderful to be really sailing again. We can feel it in Capri also – she’s enjoying putting some water behind her – she’s a “happy boat”.
If the winds hod and the gribs say – the we might actually make the finish line before they stop taking times. We’ll be last, but that doesn’t matter. As long as we made it safely over – but a DNF (did not finish) is not what we want nor does Capri deserve such a stigma.
Days mileage: 150nm
Many sailors lose 8-10 pounds on their Atlantic passage. After 16 days at sea, Carsten says he’s lost close to 14 pounds. All that during only 2 weeks. Sounds like a lot and perhaps it is only 10 pounds. I’ve lost 8 pounds and that was certainly needed. Yep – it is healthy with no alcohol and only 2 meals a day with fruit as snacks. Unfortunately this lifestyle won’t continue when we reach harbor.
But, but, but – not everything is positive – I seriously concerned about my hairloss. It might sound strange that I should be concerned about my hair out here in the middle of the ocean, but I lost a lot of hair out here. I think perhaps 1/3 of it. That’s surprising and I have no idea why. Back home I washed, dried my hair, used a flat iron and hairspray daily including a dye job every 6 weeks which is hard on hair. Now my hair has gone grey, which I expected (fortunately the sun whitens it a bit). Perhaps it is a reaction to my extreme change of lifestyle (it was a huge decision for me to quit everything back home and go adventuring in these unknown and not completely safe waters. Now I let my hair be as it pleases. But I am concerned, my thick beautiful hair has always been a part of me and my personality. It will probably grow out again.
But for now let’s enjoy the wind and wonderful sailing – yes indeed things are looking up.
Days mileage: 163nm
The gods had decided to have some fun with us. Just as we’d begun to be happy about finally having some wind, it died down and now we only have 12 knots. We can see that the first boats are beginning to arrive in Rodney Bay. The biggest ones arrived 2 days ago – as did the boats with much bigger diesel tanks than Capri has.
Days mileage: 145nm
Carsten is hoisting the gennaker, I’m at the helm and I can see that the halyard is wound round the mast at the top. I call out and let know what’s happening – but he doesn’t think it will be a problem. Our experience at sea tells us that problems seldom solve themselves and rarely become smaller – rather they generally get bigger and cascade into a number of other problems. Our “safety at sea” officer (otherwise known as me) is not completely happy with this and notes that it would probably be a good idea to take the gennaker down a little earlier today in case we run into problems. Carsten agrees.
It gers dark out here at around 6 p.m. so at 4 p.m. we start getting the gennaker down – only to discover we have a huge problem. We can douse the gennaker with its sock but we can get the gennaker down – the halyard is somehow stuck at the top of the mast. Carsten debates with himself if we should just let the damned thing stay up there until we get into harbour in a few days.
“No way,” says the safety at sea officer – “dear skipper – get yourself up to the top of the mast to see what the problem is”
I hear the word “FUCK” from out front.
Carsten dons his climbing harness and in 10 foot swells goes up the mast. No matter what he tries, the halyard stay stuck – it apparently chafed and slipped over the edge of the block wheel and is now almost permanently wedged in there. While he’s working on this, Carsten is being swung all around the mast by the pendulum of the mast (4-6 meters (15-20 feet) each way) and on one of the swings he hits out TV antenna, breaking that off. I see it come down and land in the water – well no big catastrophe – we don’t watch TV anyway.
Finally Carsten gives up and yells down – “ I’m gonna cut the sucker off and let it fall into the water.” A tough decision since a new gennaker costs $3-4ooo US. But there are no other alternatives, so we can only hope the gennaker survives the fall and subsequent bath. I turn off the engine so there is no chance of the gennaker getting wrapped around our propeller. We tried that once on our earlier boat, Amica, where we got a gennaker sheet wrapped around our propeller and Carsten had to don diving equipment and go under.
I hear a sound like a pistol shot and the gennaker floats down and into the water alongside Capri. I don’t have time to concentrate on the sail since I have to get Carsten down in a hurry. “Get me down and as fast as you can” he yells from up top. As I’m lowering him I can see the sail floating in under Capri. Shit, I think – let’s hope it doesn’t wrap around the keel or rudder. We’re moving with the ocean current and if the sail fills with water and wraps around our rudder we can end up with mega problems – bent rudder shaft or worse loss of the entire rudder.
Fortunately the sail comes out the other side and we’re able to haul it back on deck – it doesn’t seem to be damaged – so we’ve saved a ton of money for a new one. It needs to be hauled up and dried, but that will have to wait until we reach Rodney Bay.
Meanwhile the wind has died completely and we’re lying ahull, rocking with the swells.
Days mileage: 104nm
During the evening and night we abandon all hope of reaching Rodney Bay before they stop timing us. The past 15 hours we’ve had no wind and we’ve been drifting on the Atlantic current making only a couple of knots. Damn – we really don’t care if we finish last but a DNF galls us.
Surprisingly, this end of reaching Rodney Bay in time gives me a great sense of relief. – Now we can quit worrying about ARC+ and try enjoying our Atlantic trip and the fact that soon (hopefully) we’ll be in the Caribbean where our adventure will begin for real. I realize that it is only now I understand how stressed I’ve been over being in this Rally.
Unfortunately, the Rally has taken a fair chunk of my enjoyment of sailing across. If we hadn’t been in the Rally, I probably wouldn’t have cared how long it took us to get across. After all, we’re not in a critical situation – we have plenty of food and our watermaker is making water flawlessly.
We’re both more relaxed now and enjoying the sailing (lack of of wind despite).
Day mileage: 104nm
Carsten wakes me after only 2 hours of sleep. He’s been reading a mail from one of our friends in Denmark who writes that he can’t understand our defeatist attitude – He’s been reading the ARC website and that says that the Rally doesn’t stop until 3 p.m. Tuesday – not Monday. We expect to cross the finish line at midnight tonight so we’ll be in in plenty of time. Carsten has now checked our ARC handbook and that also says Tuesday. Only our sailing instruction given to us at the start says Monday – misprint?
Our friend has also written to ARC and he’s attached a mail from them saying that the timing of the Rally ends Tuesday – so we’re back in the game.
The mistake is ARC fault and they try to use the weather and lack of wind as an excuse to extend the deadline – Ok – let them, since now we’ll avoid getting a DNF, even though we might be the last boat to cross the line before they stop taking the times. We’ll be happy with last (after all – we won the 1st leg)
We have wonderful wind – 15+ knots and Capri is riding gracefully on the waves and ploughing ahead towards St. Lucia. A bit like a horse that can sense the barn – she seems to know that we’re almost there. We sit in the cockpit and enjoy this beautiful sail.
Late last night we saw 2 other ARC boats on our AIS – otherwise we’ve been completely alone at sea for 10 days – no sailboats or freighters only water. Through the daily updates on the shortwave , we’ve known that there were a couple of boats 30-40 nm from us – but they stayed invisible –even at night when it might have been possible to spot their masttop lights.
Strange to totally alone for 10 days – and rare – when was the last time you were completely alone for 10 days? Out here we’ve only seen dolphins, water, sky and squalls (lots of squalls – sigh), lightning and sunrises and sunsets (some very beautiful rises and sets).
4:36 p.m. – LAND HO!!!!! We can just see Matinique low on the horizon and relief and joy flood through my body, tears roll down my cheeks – WOW – we’ve crossed the Atlantic – just us two and Capri.
It will be another 3-4 hours before I can see ST. Lucia is the mist. We still have a couple of hours sailing before we round the northern end of the island and enter Rodney Bay and cross the finishing line.
We round the headland, and see the Flashing yellow light that marks the finishing line, but there is supposed to be a flashing white light marking the other end of the line – and we can’t spot that so there is general confusion. Carsten is talking with the referee boat on the VHF and he is really terrible at explaining things to us. He says just keep sailing towards the yellow lights and we’ll be fine. When we’re almost at his boat we see a faint white light off to one side – no wonder we couldn’t spot this – it is almost non-existent. We don’t want ot cross the line incorrectly – then we’d get a DNF for sure.
I sail directly towards the yellow light with my heart in my throat because it looks like I’m going to ram it with 7 knots. When we do finally spot the white light I turn and we’re across!
After we crossed a little dinghy comes sailing around us with a photographer taking pictures. And naturally we want to have a copy (after all – we may end up only crossing the Atlantic once). Uuuuuhhhh – later we find our they only cost $80 US each – highway robbery in broad daylight! But we buy a couple anyway. Welcome to the Caribbean and Caribbean price levels. Get used to it.
Days mileage: 56nm
YES! High Five and a big KISS – WE DID IT! Vinni and Carsten crossed the Atlantic – a total of 3615 nm. In slow-motion perhaps at 25 days and 8 hours (both legs) and we did alone – just us two. We double-handed the crossing. As one old salt told us – remember – when you double-hand – it means you’re single-handing half the time.
He’s right about that – whenever we weren’t on watch we were sleeping so the other person was single-handing.
Thank you Capri for bringing us safely across.
It’s 9:00 p.m. as we enter the harbor. First we hear some Arc people standing on the pier ad shouting – “Welcome Capri – well done” and further in we’re met by our sailing friends from Dragoer, who beat us in – they’re waving Danish flags and blowing fog horns and suddenly we hear lots of other boats blowing their horns and shouting “Welcome – well done”.
I can’t hold the tears in any longer, I throw my arms around Carstens neck and cry. Our English sailor friends, Hattie and Phil come running down the pier to welcome us and suddenly all my weariness from 25 days at sea alone disappears. We tie Capri up, the ARC people are there with a welcome Rum Punch, at huge basket of fruit and a bottle of rum. The Champagne we put in the fridge will have to wait until tomorrow.
An hour later, Vinni and Carsten are sleeping in each others arms after an adventure that beats them all despite it lasting 5 days more than planned.
Have I been too long at sea? After 3 hours of sleep I wake , ready to stand my watch and look up through the forward hatch. To my great consternation, I see we are about to sail aground – the coast is right in front of us and we’re also going to ram a boat right alongside us.
I shake Carsten awake and scream at him – “you fell asleep on your watch – wake up! We’re going aground and we’re going to ram a boat. Turn to starboard. Turn to starboard!” Carsten rises and looks out the hatch to see just what the hell the crazy woman is screaming about.
“Vinni, he says. Of course I’m sleeping – we’re in a harbor. We’re not at sea any more” Normally I don’t walk in my sleep – but I suppose this is a lot like that. We’ve laughed a lot about it and half the other boats have heard the story. They laughed themselves silly also.
The 2nd legs didn’t meet our expectations. We never caught the trade winds and our crossing was far from what we have read and heard about.
But after getting our feet back on the ground (literally) here in the Caribbean, I’ve reached the conclusion that our crossing was, in a sense, perfect. We were never in any critical situations and our success criteria has always been to cross without damage to ourselves or to Capri – which we did. The pressure of the Rally was something we put on ourselves (Myself) and was primarily do to my very active competitive gene. It spoiled part of the adventure.
We still think that choosing to sail double-handed was the right decision. We’ve only met one boat that had extra crew (they were family) that had a positive experience with bringing crew. The rest spoke of bad attitudes and cross words etc between crew and skipper. Most of them said they would forego taking on crew in the future. When we were in Las Palmas not a day went by without some young woman, man or couple coming by Capri, knocking and asking if we were looking for crew to cross with.
Double-handing means single-handing most of the time as the saying goes. It can get lonely – especially late at night. You have to like yourself and like being alone with yourself – otherwise it won’t work. During your watches you end up talking with yourself, which is a bit unusual, you solve virtually all the world’s problems – sometimes many times over. Many of the sailors we have met who have crossed have admitted that they can’t take passage-making. They admit they are “harbor sailors” and they won’t be going further west (across the pacific).
Would I do it again? Absolutely and I’m still ready to go through the Panama Canal in February 2018 so we won’t be seeing Denmark for the first few years.
And thank you all for your mails and thanks to all those who follow us on svcapri.wordpress.com
One thought on “Vinni’s Crossing the Atlantic”
Hi Carsten and Vinni. I really enjoyed Vinni’s, perspective on your sail across the Atlantic. Your individual stories are a “Tail of Two Sailors”. I have to admit I enjoyed “both” versions. Phil, (I only knew you as Phillip, not Carsten) you were always an adventurer. We ran a Road Rallye, in my old “59 Ford and hitchhiked to the Grand Canyon, together. Do you remember those little adventures? They pale in comparison to what you and Vinni, have done. I admire you both. I’ll pray for smooth seas and the wind at your backs. Have fun and if you’re ever “Out West”, come see us in Arizona, I never left. Fondly, Roger Stalter