Saturday, 16 June 2018

Bermuda to Sao Miguel (Part two of two – a whale of a time)

Log of the Island Spirit MMSI 235113215

Saturday 19th May 2018
0442: 37° 42.0”N 57° 00.1”W Hove to
I’m stationary in mid Atlantic. Been here hove to since midnight, when I finally gave in to fatigue.
It all went to hell in a handcart sometime late yesterday afternoon, an hour or two before sunset. Georgina had the helm in rough seas and 20 knots wind on a broad reach. I’d taken in the pole earlier and lashed it onto the pulpit, still clipped on the mast for possible future need.

Hove to Mid Atlantic - pole lashed onto pulput
I was in the cockpit gazing out to starboard, when this huge lump of water rose up out of a breaking wave, about 50 feet away. It was then I saw the great flukes of a diving whale, and thanked the gods it was no closer to me. But suddenly the boat gave an enormous judder, and the next thing I knew, I was fighting to stay in the cockpit as a powerful washover flooded in from starboard. Though totally disorientated I was in no doubt she was close to being beam-ended, and I hung on for grim death waiting for her to right herself. When she did it took several minutes for the cockpit to drain out. It was then I began to take stock of what just happened.

There clearly had been a second whale, probably making violent contact on the port side while diving. It was only gradually that the extent of damage became clear. Firstly, Georgina was down, so my immediate task was to take the wheel and get back downwind, with no opportunity to check the rest of the boat. It quickly became apparent that she wasn’t handling properly. The forestay seemed excessively slack and the genoa had taken on a strange shape. Then I saw the missing sliders and a small tear down the luff of the main; the luff had lost its tension and the lazy jack on the starboard side was flapping loose on the wind. Standing up on the stern for a better look, I banged my head on something in the bimini.
It was my radar antenna, broken off its post and dangling there by its cable. It was then I noticed that the dinghy had filled with water and was only slowly draining through the open bung; the weight of water had caused the outer rear sling to pull itself free of the transom. I was about to lose the dinghy, so I wheeled over to take her upwind, and quickly sheeted in to heave to. Now I had time to see to the essentials and check for further problems.
My biggest concern at this point was the state of the rigging, but first I got some extra lashings around the dinghy. I also needed to get that radar dome out of the bimini before it did any more damage. It was too rough and dangerous to manhandle the heavy beast inboard, so I chopped the cable and jettisoned it, watching sadly as it floated away. While up there I saw why the bimini frame had been vibrating so madly since the whale strike; three blades were missing from the wind turbine. Nothing to be done about that yet, a job for later. By now it was getting dark, and the boat was pointing west on the northerly wind, making 3 knots in the wrong direction. I managed to tack her over and point her east-ish, so at least what progress we made was the way I wanted to go.
I’d shipped a lot of water down into the saloon, and spent the next two hours baling out with hand pump and bucket. Then, too exhausted to eat, I collapsed into my (sopping wet) bed, and slept through until now.

So here we are, about to get going again. I’ve just noticed the saloon table top is grinning at me like Mutley; and I realise it has been crushed by the wood cladding around the post that supports the mast step. A shocking discovery; and explains why all the rigging has gone slack.

The mast and it’s supporting stanchion has dropped by about 5 cm. This is confirmed when I notice the unnatural shape of the coach roof. “Shit!” plus a string of less savoury expletives cascade from my mouth.
Georgina is still out of action, receiving no data from the fluxgate compass. I can only assume water got into the control box and is corrupting the contacts inside.
It is now calm, with little wind; have I wandered into the Azores High, or it has wandered into me? Either way, I need to make ground north, or I could be drifting here for days.

1130: 37° 50.3”N 56° 56.5”W Co 030 Sp 6
Close hauled into an easterly breeze. Overcast and raining. I calculate there’s a low to the south of me, so I’m heading north to pick up more favourable (but probably rougher) conditions.

1345: 38° 00.1”N 56° 57.1”W Co 030 Sp 6
Frustrated and worried. Have managed to balance the sails to let her sail herself with the wheel lashed. But the rig is giving me real concern now. The lee shrouds are slack as a witches tit, rattling around on the chain plates. The mast leans awkwardly to leeward, and the forestay flops around dangerously, making the genny shiver and quake.
I’ve also spent the last hours trying to analyse what happened to allow the mast to drop like that. The most worrying explanation is that the keel has moved. I just can’t think of anything else, and that yawning gap in the saloon table is getting bigger. I would like to tighten down on the shrouds and backstay, but worry that this will increase downward forces on the keel. I keep re-reading the instructions on my EPIRB, and wondering if I should take it up into the cockpit with me. If the keel drops off, we’ll capsize immediately, and that’s game over. If the mast comes down, it’s survivable if help arrives with a few hours. Nothing on AIS, though.

1800: 38° 15.0”N 56° 55.8W Co 030 Sp 5
Wind still easterly at 20 knots. I realise on our current heading we could reach Halifax, NS in about 10 days. But the weather up there is likely to be stormy and dangerous, so I quickly discard that idea.

2205: 38° 26.9”N 56° 44.0”W Co 040 Sp 4
Blessed oblivion of sleep. Spirit holding on and steering herself.

Sunday 20th May 2018
0230: 38° 36.0”N 56° 28.5”W Co 045 Sp 3.8

0730: 38° 41.3”N 56° 10.0W Co 090 Sp 3
Massive creaking noises from somewhere deep in the hull. Under the wrecked table. Afraid to touch anything to investigate. After all, why would I want to know if I’m about to die? Ignorance is bliss.

1110: 38° 44.6”N 55° 45.2”W Co 090 Sp 6.5
Water pissing through the saloon hatch. It leaked a little before, but the distorted coach roof has made it much worse. Bedding and clothes soaking wet.

1320: 38° 45.0”N 55° 26.7”W Co 090 Sp 6.5
AIS is playing up, constant error messages and beeping alarms.

1815: 38° 35.4”N 54° 49.5”W Co 150 Sp 6.5
Self-steering no longer viable. I need to revert to hand-steering.

2100: 38° 35.7”N 54° 25.2”W Hove to.
Had enough of the vibrations from the asymmetric wind turbine, so I’ve tethered it. Noticed a couple of bolts have shaken out of the gantry, and one of the sprayhood struts have snapped. Poor old girl’s falling apart.
The good news is that the wind and current are in our favour – despite being hove to we’re making around 2 knots eastward.
With having to heave to so often, I calculate it’ll take at least two weeks to reach Horta, the nearest port where I can get repairs done.
For the first time since I commissioned Island Spirit back in Greece, I feel alone and scared.

Mon 21st May 2018
1415: 38° 50.2”N 53° 09.3”W Hove to.
Hand steering all morning and needed a break for food.
1240 miles to Horta – 11 more days if I can average 5 knots (in the right direction).

1915: 38° 50.1”N 52° 38.5”W Hove to
Horrible afternoon, winds gusting 35 knots, monstrous sea. Knackered! Going to bed.

Tuesday 22nd May 2018
0835: 38° 54.6”N 52° 20.3”W Hove to
Woke up to a cold drizzle, wind now reduced to 10 knots. During last night’s gale the mainsheet shackle failed, sheet pulled all the way through the block and hanging in the water, boom flapping out to leeward. All fixed now, including temporary repair to vang line and re-securing of lazy jacks. Also, on going forward, discovered genny pole adrift from it’s lashing on the pulpit, and somehow had become unclipped from the mast. Lucky not to lose it; found it wedged between shrouds and coach roof. Must have made hell of a racket, but obviously lost the cacophony of the storm. Also, relashed the danforth anchor, which also looked in danger of breaking loose.
About to get underway - planning a close reach, port tack.

1105: 38° 53.6”N 52° 09.2”W Co 090 Sp 5.5
Once again the old girl’s sailing herself with a bungy strap on the wheel, though not always reliable and needs watching.
First sunshine in three days, and morale improving. Autopilot still out of action - although now receiving fluxgate data, the compass itself remains unstable.
That north wind is cccccold; wearing salopette, seaboots, and Musto jacket.

1408: 38° 55.1”N 51° 52.1”W Co 090 Sp 4.8

2100: 38° 46.3”N 51° 06.5”W Hove to
1050 miles to go. Only made 74 miles today; not good. Started rationing drinking water to 1 litre per day.

Wednesday 23rd May 2018
0620: 38° 34.8”N 51° 00.7”W Hove to
Just an aside, Dear Reader, you’re probably wondering why my log entries so often find me hove to, rather than getting on with it. The truth is, the only time I get to update the log is WHEN I’m hove to. The rest of the time I’m on the wheel. So trust me, I want this horrible passage over with as quickly as possible, but I do need food and rest from time to time.
Right now the wind is from 120°, so I can’t proceed east until it veers more southerly, hopefully in the next couple of hours.
Made another alarming discovery last night; the engine bilge was full of water. Investigation found the stern gland badly leaking when engine running. Baled out 5 buckets of water, and managed vent the leaky gland by giving it a couple of firm squeezes. Air had got into the cooling jacket after the last haul out. I was sure I saw to it then, but obviously not diligently enough. Silly mistake I won’t make again.
This morning I also repaired the mainsheet clutch-block that has been playing up since the aforementioned failure of the shackle. Replaced a broken split-pin with a nut and bolt, and that seems to have done the trick.
While it’s relatively calm I’m going to put two cans of fuel into the tank – that should top it up to 80 litres once more.
Fluxgate compass still duff – hunting drunkenly around the compass card.

0950: Tank topped up, good to go. Wind slowly coming round.
Just had radio contact with MV Singelgrach and got a wind forecast: S-SW, 15kts until 27th. South is good for self-steering. SW is also good, but means I’m slaved to the helm. I also reported the problems I’d been having, and my worries about the mast and keel. She offered assistance, but there’s not much they can do except take me off – not an option while there’s a good chance of making Horta. I just wanted someone to know what happened in case I don’t. So many boats just disappear without explanation.

1100: 38° 38.9”N 51° 02.1”W About to get going close hauled on a north-easterly heading, hoping wind continues to veer as forecast. Been a hard morning’s work (had to bale out more water from the bilge, as wel)l. So I’m banking on getting her balanced for self-steering.

1130: Just as I was getting going a yacht appeared out of nowhere and passed close astern. S/Y Team Brunel, a research vessel off to the ice fields. Exchanged greetings.

1200: Gosh, it’s getting pretty crowded. Tanker MV Frio passed a mile to starboard. Encouraging to see so much shipping about.
Another lovely day; a few fluffy clouds, wispy cirrus higher up, plenty of sunshine.  Wind SE at 15 knots. sailing close hauled with helm tied off – she’s holding it well; giving me time to write this, gaze out at the sparkling sea, and even nip below to make a cuppa. Feeling strangely elated after recent troubles.

1604: 38° 45.7”N 50° 29.4”W Co 100 Sp 5.5
Smashing jarringly in to an increasingly lumpy sea. Container vessel Zeeland Washington sighted.

2022: 38° 42.1”N 50° 00.0”W Co 150 Sp 5.5
1000 miles to Horta!
Been steering all day with wheel lashed. Very good, but now wind has shifted south west; I have three choices: 1. Carry on as we are and accept making ground south, 2. Heave to facing east and let wind carry us north east at a knot or two, 3. Hand steer a broad reach overnight. Decisions…
I’ll decide after dinner (tinned food now; Campbells “Sirloin Steak with Hearty Vegetables” with powdered mash.

2228: 38° 36.4”N 49° 48.7”W Hove to
Remaining here overnight, making 3 kts to the north east – not bad, eh?

Thursday 24th May 2018
0726: 38° 43.6”N 49° 20.0”W Hove to
All change! A hooley blew up in the night, still raging, 25 gusting 30. Apart from the 30° heel to port and occasional knockdown wave, it’s quite comfortable really. made 23 miles in the right direction overnight, so not so bad. With a tail wind I’ll be prisoner of the helm once I get going, so need to make sure I’m bodily prepared. Meanwhile, back to bed as daylight approaches.

1030: 38° 44.4”N 49° 09.8”W Hove to
MV Nalinee Naree passed close by. Called for a forecast: Wind South west F6 to 7, seas high, 4 metres (as now) for next 24 hours at least. So do I risk sailing downwind in this, or wait, hove to, drifting slowly east but adding days to my passage?
Made 94 miles in past 24 hours.
I’m safe now as long as she continues to hold together. The wind itself is manageable to sail, but the swell is formidable, risking loss of control and broach. With my rig compromised as it is, that could be fatal. I’m tempted to try it anyway because action is preferable to sitting in the saloon, reading, sleeping, and eating my dwindling food supplies and drinking my precious water.
I keep thinking about my children, and my grandchildren, two of whom I’ve never met. I’ve thought a lot about my girls since that whale strike, and I’m desperate to be with them once again, and not perish out here alone on a wild and unforgiving ocean.
So common sense prevails. I’ll carry out an inventory of supplies and figure how best to eke them out for another couple of weeks. I could be hove to for days, but, as I keep reminding myself, I’m still making way in right direction, albeit at a crawl.
Time for some reflection. Is it possible to be bored and scared witless at the same time? I keep fighting rising panic, but there’s nothing more I can do, and worry won’t solve anything. I’m mightily disappointed that the Great Adventure is going so badly down the pan. Because, Dear Reader, there’s an elephant in the room. Have you spotted it yet?
When I get to Horta I’ll need to haul out and get a full survey done. Whatever the problems are, it’s not going to be cheap to make the boat seaworthy once more. It will cost thousands of euros and will take weeks.
So I’m seriously looking at cutting my losses, hand her over to a broker to sell, and fly home to a more conventional, more sedentary life. With the state of my finances I have little choice.

1515: 38° 47.0”N 48° 54.3”W Hove to
960 miles to go
Huge morale booster this afternoon. Found a packet of chocky biscuits I’d forgotten about.

1900: Still hove to; no sign of weather easing. Wind SW 25, 20 foot waves. Getting kind of used to all the noises: wind roaring in the sails, the howl of the rigging, thunderclap waves assaulting the exposed weather hull, water sloshing the saloon windows, gurgling and gushing beneath the hull, Creaking of the weather chainplates and clacking of the lee shrouds, and a host of anonymous cracks and rattles from all around. And all happening at a tempo that suggests racing along at ten knots, instead of held almost stationary flattened to the wavetops.
Contemplating Chunky Soup with mash again tonight. Simple as that sounds, cooking anything is fraught with difficulty at this steep angle, with the cooker well past it’s gimble limits, and every so often a demolition  ball wave knocks us down and judders the boat horribly.
Another couple of hours till sunset, then I’ll eat and sleep. If I had any rum left, I’d get blathered.
How do I feel, Dear Reader? Anxious, frustrated, sad, depressed even. Like an idiot for ever embarking on this mad enterprise. And bored.

Friday 25th May 2018
0940: 38° 44.0”N 47° 44.2”W Hove to
900 miles to go
Slept well. Current veered in the night, so we’ve made some ground to the south, but happily, more to the east. Wind eased for a while but now increasing once more. A mere 21 kts right now. Sky sullen grey with low cloud and rain, heavy at times. Sea remains big and formidable.
Breakfast now, then decision time.

1117: Looking at the sea and wind, risk of getting underway remains high, given my dodgy rig. Sitting tight for now, hoping for a change soon.

1200: Hurrah. Wind shift. Right, here we go. Full foul-weather gear, 5 pre-rolled ciggies & lighter in plastic bag, apple in pocket, bottle of water, piss bucket. Hope to get some miles in today, hand-steering.

1805: 38° 40.4”N 47°02.0”W Co 090 Sp 6
Just managed to tie off the wheel after a strenuous afternoon’s steering. Wind now north at 16 knots, so on a close reach – perfect. 30 miles in past five hours, not bad.
Very cold now in this north wind.

2230: 38° 40.3”N 46° 24,5”W Co 100 Sp 7.5

Saturday 26th May 2018
0220: 38° 43.3”N 45° 48.0”W Co 110 Sp 7.5

0615: 38° 48.6”N 45° 19.7”W Co 110 Sp 5.5

0920: 38° 49.3”N 45° 04.6”W Hove to
Wind NE 5 knots – useless!
Taking the opportunity of calm seas and wall to wall sunshine to clean the boat and fix a few breakages. Then I’ll motor east for a few hours until the wind veers back to SSE, then I can sail.

1155: 38° 53.0”N 44° 51.1”W Co 080 Sp 5.5
Motorsailing. All chores completed.

1450: 38° 56.4”N 44° 28.6”W Co 080 Sp 6.5
Engine off, sailing close reach. Beautiful day, calm sea, little cloud. Wind 10 kts SSE. Feeling positive.

1830: 39° 00.1”N 44° 05.5”W Co 09-0 Sp 4.8
Wind died in past 4 hours, now from south at 8 kts. Current helping to push us along. Sky milky; looks like a blow coming. Very tired; didn’t sleep much last night.
Made 140 miles today. 735 miles to go.

2000: Motoring. Trying to keep mainsail filled to stop the loose mast wobbling.

2130: 39° 02.6”N 43° 50.6”W Adrift
Stopped engine. Now drifting becalmed on an oily sea, not a breath. And just when I was getting my mojo back. My wobbly mast is, well… wobbling. Really uncomfortable. Come back wind! I’ve got to sleep, wracked with fatigue. Then I’ll eat and think about what to do next.

Sunday 27th May 2018
0550: 39° 1-.5”N 43° 54.5”W Becalmed
Called MV Brotonne Bridge for forecast; Wind to pick up in next 6 hours, SSW 10-15, then SW 18 later. Very encouraging, hope it happens. 20 litres of drinking water remaining. Food also getting low; hope I don’t have to break into my emergency (2 year old) tins of spam – hate then stuff.
I’ve drifted 4 miles west and 8 miles north – not good. Will need to get motoring after breakfast, despite the shaky mast.

1810: 39° 07.5”N 42° 56.1”W Hove to.
Just stopped to eat and rest after a long day at the helm. That weather forecast was spot on. Started sailing around 1030 in 10 knots, broad reach but wishing I could use the pole to run downwind. That of course is impossible without Georgina to hold course while I rig it. Dangerous to even try.
Wind came up to 18 kts around 4 – wish I could have steered for longer, but hunger calls and I’m shattered.
Because of drifting on a windless ocean overnight I only made 60 miles since yesterday. If I can manage 100 miles a day from here on I’ll make Horta by next Saturday. Um… we’ll see.

2230: Tanker MV Salamina - called for a forecast: “Low to the north tracking north east.”
Okay, I can do DIY Wind. I would expect the wind to shift northwards behind the depression. So in preparation I’ve moved the preventer to the starboard side ready for a port tack downwind with the genny furled. Right now the wind is from 280 13 kts.

Monday 28th May 2018
0003: Having a cuppa, then we’re off.

0330: 39° 15.6”N 42° 27.6”W Co 070 Sp 7.5
Yeah, flying alright, but not on the ideal heading, that would be 110, but you can’t have everything. Still, it’s a respite because she’s steering herself once more. The strong and gusty norwester is giving us an exhilarating, if somewhat bumpy, ride, but if she loses it things’ll happen quickly. So it’s tea in the saloon, fully togged up and listening for trouble. Seems days since I slept.
660 miles to go.

0800: 39° 15.7”N 42° 29.9”W Hove to.
Zonked out till morning. Needed it. Time to get going again.

1435: 39° 13.4”N 41° 42.3”W Co Co 090 Sp 6
Just spent a frustrating hour trying to get sails balanced for self-steering. It’s a close reach where she’s usually quite happy. But since the mast dropped the sails just don’t sit right – ‘course, the rips and missing sliders don’t help.
On a happier note, just had a dolphin visitation, big pod that stayed 20 minutes or so. 38 miles so far today and hope to keep going overnight.
620 miles to go.

1752: 39° 15.9”N 41° 21.4”W Co 060 Sp 4.5
Woke up after a deep and comfortable sleep below to find us still sailing quite happily… and to starboard, a huge grey container ship, MV Royal Klipper, a dutchman, very smart, very modern, very close!

2210: 39° 21.4”N 40° 58.0”W Co 060 Sp 4.8
Sailing close hauled. Going to bed – fingers crossed.

Tuesday 29th May 2018
0230: 39° 30.2”N 40° 1”W Co 070 Sp 6
Doddle, this. Cup of cocoa and back to bed. Cold now, brrrr.

0735: 39° 31.6”N 40° 07.9”W Co 110 Sp 4
The Wind Gods have looked kindly upon us – the winded shifted NNE, moving us gradually onto the heading we need as I slept. Of course, it will move east and then southeast, but then I’ll just tack and carry on. Just 540 miles to go.

1342: 39° 22.7”N 39° 47.8W Co 110 Sp 3.6
Motoring directly into wind since 1230, waiting for it to swing SE. Put another 20l diesel in the tank this morning. Still have 60l in reserve. Sky overcast, sea moderate with usual swell.

1650: 39° 23.8”N 39° 33.6W Co 090 Sp 6
Sailing again, engine off

2210: 39° 31.9”N 39° 05.7”W Co 070 Sp 5.2
Close hauled. Very lively.

Wednesday 30th May 2018
0813: 39° 43.3”N 37° 59.2”W Hove to.
Rough but useful night’s sailing. Called Dole Europa for forecast: S to SSW 18 to 25 kts over next few days.

0925: Underway again, easterly, quite fast. Huddled below as waves crash over the bow into the cockpit. She seems to be holding course well, but my, what a ride. Water pissing through the saloon hatch, everything wet. At least another day of this. Wind direction perfect, but a little less of it would be welcome.

1314: 39° 42.2”N 37° 33.4”W Co 110 Sp 5
Wind perfect now, less strain on the rig. 420 miles to go.

1738: 39° 33.9”N 37° 05.0”W Co 160 Sp 6
Wind no longer suitable for self-steering. Going to hand steer, heading due east, until I get tired.

2133: 39° 27.4”N 36° 36.8”W Co 120 Sp 7
Great sailing! She’s self steering again on a lively close reach. Couple of nasty squalls this afternoon. Saw another yacht heading west, but too busy on wheel to call her.

Thursday 31st May 2018
0600: 39° 27.8”N 36° -6.7”W Hove to
Hove to late last night, ate, and dropped into bed. Moved 15 more miles east during the night. Charging batteries now, breakfast, then another full day at the wheel. Squalls gone, clear sky, big moon.

1200: 39° 22.9”N 35° 29.3”W Hove to
Only 4 hours at the wheel, but so exhausting; had to stop for a rest. Waiting for wind and heavy sea to ease a little. Frustrating, since we were averaging 8 knots (peaking at 10.3). Be nice to sail downwind, but I’m already further north than I want to be – my destination lies 323 miles to the ESE.
1430: Decision to heave to was the right one. 30+ knots wind and raging sea, waves like houses, lashing rain, boat heeled far over with water slopping over the leeward saloon windows. I tacked before heaving to, to leave us pointing east. So making 3 knots in the right direction. I could just sit here and let the storm push us the rest of the way (in about 6 more days). Plenty to read – wish I could say the same about food and water. No ships about, so no forecast.

1545: AIS alarm woke me up. MV Verad, 3 miles east and heading right for me. Called on VHF. Yes, he sees me – I’m not to worry. Yes, he has a weather forecast for me: Strengthening winds overnight and tomorrow morning, perhaps easing in the afternoon. Bugger! Took a picture as she passed close by (not very good due to conditions).

1952: 39° 19.1”N 34° 54.2”W Hove to
Wow! Moved 40 miles east since noon – that’s about 5 knots. Not bad, eh? Back to the book.

Friday 1st June
0705: 39° 24.7”N 34° 00.3”W Hove to

0900: Wind easing, getting underway.

1040: 39° 27.6”N 33° 46.5”W Co 120 Sp 7
Wind from south at 19 knots. Sea heavy, Island Spirit doing okay, me, hopeful for journey’s end with 247 miles to go – I usually enjoy the passage more than the arrival. This time, not! Water tank nearly empty, 10 litres of drinking water left.

1214: 39° 24.4”N 33° 27.6”W Co 120 Sp 6.5

1953: 39° 15.9”N 32° 32.9”W Co 120 Sp 6.5

Saturday 2nd June 2018
0326: 39° 14.9”N 31° 24.0”W Co 100 Sp 5.5
Been up all night due to proximity of land and risk of fishing vessels. The sweeping loom of Flores lighthouse visible to the north. Making due east right now but will ease further south in the morning. The island of Faial (my destination) lies 135 miles ESE. In buoyant spirits.

0825: 39° 11.9”N 30° 48.3”W Co 120 Sp 4.8
109 miles to go. Managed to coax her closer up wind, but still; not enough south. Good enough for now, reckon I’ll get with 20 miles before I need to motor upwind. Porridge for breakfast, with honey and cinnamon. Yum yum!

1020: Wind eased back to 12 knots, still southerly. Sky pretty choatic with multiple cloud types at various levels, a few scant blue patches. Sea moderate with residual 2m swell. Many cape petrels skimming the waves, a few vessels around on AIS, none visual. Occasional babble of Portuguese on VHF.

1620: 39° 06.9”N 30° 06.4”W Co 115 Sp 4.2
80- miles to go – just want it over now.

2055: 39° 03.7”N 29° 43.3”W Co 110 Sp 4.5
Slow going. Still heading too high, but we’ll tackle that in the morning. 63 miles to go. With luck I’ll be in the marina tomorrow night.

Sunday 3rd June 2018
0440: 38° 54.8”N 29° 00.6”W Co 130 Sp 5
Wind shifted slightly, now SSW 17 kts. If it continues to veer I could sail all the way, but unlikely it will swing quickly enough. Intention now is to tack when I’m 10 miles north of the island and work my way anti-clockwise around the coast (Horta is on the southeast corner of Faial). An alternative, and much shorter route, is the Faial Canal, the narrow channel between Faial and Pico. A tempting shortcut, but with adverse winds funnelling through, short choppy waves, and rip tides around the headlands, it could put too much workload on my wobbly rig, I think not.

0830: 38° 44.6”N 28° 44.8”W Co 235 Sp 4
Unbelievable! After 2 weeks broken, the fluxgate compass decides to come back on line. Georgina now at the helm, steering us for the rugged lava flows at the western tip of Faial. Motor-sailing right now, but who knows what we might get closer to shore.

1200: 38° 33.0”N 28° 54.2”W Co 120 Sp 5
So much easier tacking with Georgina at the helm. 14 miles to the marina – looking forward to my first shower in a month and a slap-up dinner in a nice restaurant.

1630: Docked at Reception Quay in Horta Marina. Berthed right ahead of me, Norsa, my Welsh friends from Antigiua. And there to meet me on the jetty is Norman himself, who gives me a big hug, causing me almost to well up. “Get yerself booked in, old chap,” he growls, “then come aboard for a beer or two.”

I did just that, Dear Reader, and got thoroughly smashed.

Follow Island Spirit’s diagnosis and repair programme in the next posting, as well as a flavour of this wonderful island.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Bermuda to Sao Miguel (Part one of two – a prelude to disaster)

Log of the Island Spirit MMSI 235113215 
Monday 14th May 2018
All times GMT

1414 Departed St George’s Harbour

1500 Position: 32° 24.6”N 64° 36.5”W Course 065°M Sp 4.2 kts

It’s a beautiful sunny morning with a (too) gentle breeze WNW. Running with wind over port quarter, reefed main (with preventer) and full genoa bellying out like a Wagnerian goddess in late pregnancy. Funny incident just after leaving the channel; a tropic bird thought to make advances to my wind-turbine, not sure whether hostile or amorous, but it hovered in front of it for a good few seconds before squawking in frustration and flying off.

Last of Bermuda
So, Dear Reader, how was Bermuda? I hear you ask.

Quite pleasant, for a brief stay. Apart from the stinging prices, the place is strangely short on character. Though the permanent residents seem quite quirky and outgoing, I was disappointed with the uninteresting neatness of the place, and the lack of engaging wildlife; few birds (except sparrows and ducks), hardly a seabird anywhere. Night time brings out a cacophony of whistling treefrogs, their rhythmic shrieking ringing out across the water from the shrubbery above town. Lord knows what they eat, for there’s a noticeable lack of insect life; No mozzies, which is good, no butterflies, which is bad. I found myself longing for the suspect smells of the Antilles; heaven forbid the faint whiff of an open sewer or an indolent down-and-out begging a dollar for food. No folks, Bermuda is squeaky clean; pristine villas amid well-kept lawns and resplendent flora, quaint, tidy shops lining unlittered streets, buildings smartly liveried in pastel shades, and the ubiquitous dazzling white roofs, frequently re-rendered and cleaned to ensure no drop of rain water is wasted. The churches – of which there are many – are particularly splendid; spectacular blinding white edifices standing imperiously amid perfectly landscaped graveyards crowded with glorious subtropical blooms. 

My navigation plan is to head out on 065°M (050°T) for about 300 miles, to around 38°N, then take the Great Circle route to the Azores. The wind currently, is a bit moody; at times I’m barely making 3 knots. I expect it to back SW over the next few hours so I can wear round onto starboard tack, and hopefully maintain that for the rest of the passage. 

This morning’s weather forecast mentioned the first of the season’s disturbances possibly developing into a tropical cyclone off Cuba. Very early, and hopefully it will fizzle out. Or at least, not track north.

I’ve improvised the two awning side panels to act as dodgers on the after guardrails in order to mitigate the worst washovers later on when it will get rough. Must get some proper ones made in UK, with Island Spirit painted on them.

1900: 32° 34.4”N 64° 24.2”W Co 070 Sp3.5

Sailing “goosewinged”, main slightly by the lee with a preventer. Lack of wind and slow rolling making genoa irritable. Going to suffer it a few more hours in hope of better wind. Not much choice, really, unless I head up north – reluctant to take the longer, windier route. Gambling my decision is the right one – only time will tell. Four hours till sunset, sky clear wall to wall. Lost sight of Bermuda.

Thinking about my sailplan. Really it needs the pole out, but I’m loth to rig it with night coming on and no certainty about the wind. It should be backing and increasing, but no sign of that yet. If no change by sunset I’ll head north on a broad reach; at least that’ll give me overnight peace. Could have wished for a better start.

An hour later: I’ve had enough of the turbulent genny, so now heading 040°, making 4.5 kts on a very pleasant broad reach. Now I can relax. I can always make up my eastward progress when the wind gets back into line.

2225: 32° 49.2”N 64° 16.8”W Co 050 Sp 3.8

Tuesday 15th May 2018

0342: 33° 03.0”N 64° 12.0”W Co 055 Sp 4

1025: 33° 32.1”N 63° 59.2”W Co 070 Sp 4

Thinking about rigging the pole.

1250: Decided in the end, rather than faffing about with the pole on a rolling deck, to go “Clipper”. If the technicalities of sailing don’t interest you, Dear Reader, feel free to skip this next section.

So, engine on, roll away the genoa, turn upwind and drop the mains’l. Up to the mast (harnessed of course) stow the mains’l. Fasten a roller block to the end of the boom, unreeve the starboard genny sheet and feed it through the block on the boom, then re-reeve it through the traveller, deck roller, and back to the winch. Position the boom out to starboard, almost touching the shroud, haul taut the preventer to keep it there. Haul out the genny until clew is a half metre from the block and secure it there. Job done. 

Four knots; hardly seems worth the effort, I think, watching that great big sail fanned out to leeward as I eat my breakfast. Problem is, my genoa is just too big and heavy for these light and troublesome winds. When the boat rolls on the swell gravity takes charge and the sail collapses, filling again with a judder and jerks the boom upwards. I realise too late I should have slackened off the vang line; a bad nip at that angle has caused it to chafe and fail. Not enough rope remaining to repair it, and no spare of the right size. No big deal really. Annoyed with myself though.

The wind remains stubbornly in the west, so continuing on 030°. To much north for too little east but can’t be helped. Will defer any further decisions till this afternoon.

Just visited by a solitary booby, first bird since yesterday’s tropic bird. Just swooped low and close then continued northward as if beckoning me to follow. A sign, perhaps.

1505: 33° 47.6”N 63° 49.6”W Co 040 Sp 4.5

Wind picked up a bit, genny staying mostly filled.

1902: 34° 04.9”N 63° 44.1”W Co 030 Sp 5 (all these courses are Magnetic – for True, subtract 20°)

Wind continues to pick up, but I’m still trundling northwards.

2100: Hey! Feeling pretty chuffed with myself. Just finished rigging the pole on the port side ready to take the genoa sheet when I change tack, which eventually I must. The wind has picked up considerably, bellying out the genny tight as a drum and tugging us along at 6 knots. This has allowed me 20° to starboard, so at last I’m making ground to the east.

Very pleasant afternoon; sunny with friendly seas. Although the Atlantic swell remains formidable, it’s become long and lazy, swaying us gently as we cream through an empty blue ocean.

Made only 90 miles on day one, but hoping for 120 today. Still about 1900 miles to go, so early days yet.

2317: 34° 22.0”N 63° 30.4”W Co 072 Sp 5.5

Goosewinged, with genoa poled out. Yippie!

Wednesday 16th May 2018

0248: 34° 35.6”N 63° 13.4”W Co 080 Sp 6.5

We’re flying!

1000: 34° 55.8”N 62° 31.6”W Co 080 Sp 5.5

Woke up feeling tired after a pitchy night. Now in the Trade Winds proper, and that sweet strip of ocean between the risky calms of the Azores High and gale-ridden low pressure systems to the north. Trick is to stay in a sweet zone that constantly moves, swells and shrinks from day to day. Running goosewinged before 16 knots of wind, full genny on pole and two-reefed main. Despite slight asymmetry of rig, Georgina behaving like an angel, rudder gain at 2.

Sea is moderate to rough, breaking waves and long, 10-foot rollers marching up from astern in battalions. Sky partly cloudy with scattered cumulus and bands of higher cirrus to the east through which the morning sun radiates a hazy warmth. Feeling decidedly cooler this morning; need to break out the salopette and seaboots soon.

One small niggle: with the sails splayed out ahead like a giant butterfly, the solar panel is totally blocked from the forenoon sunshine. But post-meridian, we should get a good blast till sunset (clouds permitting).

Having porridge for breakfast.

1415: 34° 58.4”N 62° 08.8”W Co 070 Sp 3.8

Wind dropped again. jinking north 10° to keep speed up.

110 miles since yesterday, 200 miles from Bermuda, roughly 1750 miles to Azores.

May need to change sailplan again and head further north. We’ll see.

2155: 35° 20.9”N 61° 44.3W Co 055 Sp 4.8

Feeling sleepy.

Thursday 17th May 2018

0452: 35° 46.4”N 61° 23.4”W Co 055 Sp 5.2

AIS Collision alarm woke me up. Sailing vessel ‘Johanna’ overtook to port. She’s doing 5.7 knots, so long vigil until she’s clear. She’s wearing a steaming light, so assume she motoring. Strange.

0942: 36° 05.5”N 61° 01.1”W Co 075 Sp 6.5 (Variation now 18°, so subtract that to get True)

Made 120 miles today. Johanna called and exchanged pleasantries. They had a problem with their rig last night and decided to wait for daylight before fixing it. They’re now pulling ahead of me at around 7.5 knots, so I’ll lose sight of them sometime today.

Another 300 miles or so and I’ll pick up the northern route Great Circle to Flores, the westernmost island of the Azores archipelago. Hoping the wind moves around with me, or else I’ll need a new sailplan. I note the Johanna has her pole out to starboard. Mine is out to port.

1800: 36° 36.5”N 60° 13.4”W Co 080 Sp 5

A fine afternoon’s sailing, warm, sunny, not too rough, log speed touching 8 knots at times. Wind eased off a little now. Johanna still in sight, hull down on the horizon; she’s half a knot faster.

2257: 36° 47.3”N 59°48.4”W Co 085 Sp 4.5

Friday 17th May 2018

0600: 37° 03.5”N 59° 06.9”W Co 075 Sp 6

1000: 37° 18.3”N 58° 40.9”W Co 075 Sp 7

Uncomfortable night. Awoke tired with backache.

Everything is damp up top from heavy dew, even the two comfort seats which I stowed under the sprayhood last night. Need to start bringing them below at night.

The sea this morning is dark steely blue with breaking waves in 18-20 knots wind, still up our chuff. Swell giving us wild and unpredictable lurches, hence the discomfort last night and probably caused the backache. Still, the increased wind is welcome.

Again, the sun rises behind the main, so no solar panel till past noon. Sky fairly clear with wispy cirrus waiting to be consumed by the heat of the day. Though it’s getting gradually cooler; wore clothes today: shorts, T-shirt and lightweight fleece. Will try to keep feet naked until toes tingle – better grip when moving around.

A bit of chaffing on genny sheet where it comes through the pole – not unexpected. So now I’ve hung a block on the end of the pole and run the sheet through that. A bit unconventional, but it works.

No vessels in sight, or on AIS. A few perished flying fish on deck this morning, and beginning to see Cape Petrels, a sure sign of more temperate climes.

1400: 37° 33.0”N 58° 12.6”W Co 080 Sp 7.5

The sea has become angry and dangerous. Just spent an hour re-securing the dinghy after a big wave moved it, causing it the chafe against the gantry. Wedged in a couple of fenders to keep it clear of sharp corners.

The big swells are giving Georgina a few problems, especially when we go surfing, up to ten knots on the crest then dropping back to five in the troughs. When this happens the genny collapses then snaps taut with an almighty crack that shudders through the bones of the boat – heard out of context you’d swear it was a thunderclap directly overhead.

Still bright and sunny, making good progress, 140 miles today. I wanted wind, and I’ve got it, and now I could wish for a gentler passage. Be careful what you wish for, eh?

1921: 37° 45.8”N 57° 34.1”W Co 080 Sp 7

Hard day at the office; sea rough and horrible today. Wanted to make less ground to the north but my sailplan needed revision. First attempt I lost control of the genoa trying to furl it away. Poor Georgina lost it totally and went round in circles while I wrestled the main sheets. Eventually got the genny furled amid much horrendous flogging; came close to shredding it.

Next up, had to change the pole to the starboard side. Unclipped from the mast to clear the short forestay, nearly had it clipped back on when she rolled heavily, and I dropped the bloody thing 6 foot to the deck in order to save myself. Luckily no damage, and eventually got it rigged and hauled out. Decided to move it forward to use less sail; to give more symmetry with the main. Now I’m not happy with the lateral angle of the pole; it should be horizontal, but the shortened sail pulls it too high. I need to slide it further up the mast to compensate, but that will have to wait until tomorrow. I’m knackered and hungry.

Georgina struggling to keep her downwind with all this sea smacking our behind; twice now she’s backed the genoa. New sailplan not such a good idea. Need to think.

2034: Okay, plan B. Furled away the genny, and now cruising comfortably on main only, making 5 to 6 knots. Left the pole out in case things improve tomorrow. Looking forward to a restful night.

Saturday 19th May 2018

0442: 37° 42.0”N 57° 00.1”W Hove to

Find out in the next post why I’m stationary in mid Atlantic, and how a whale nearly did for me. A hair-raising tale to follow. 

Friday, 11 May 2018

Island Spirit: Solo Atlantic Crossing

Log of the Island Spirit MMSI 235113215

Jolly Harbour Marina, Antigua, West Indies

Wednesday 25th April 2018

Well, this is it, my biggest challenge yet.

I arrived here in Antigua a week ago, following two weeks languishing in Fort du France (Martinique) and before that, a couple of days in Bequia. The last five days I’ve been feverishly preparing to cross: stocking up with dried and tinned food (plus 80 litres of bottled water), stowing the dinghy on the foredeck (deflated), servicing the engine, sorting out a couple of compass glitches (new lamp on the steering compass and a compass swing to resolve a fluxgate issue), servicing the autopilot, and fixing a million things that have broken over the past year. All that remains is to store up with fresh meat, fruit and veg, and pre-cook loads of stews, casseroles, and bolognaise sauces to stow in little portion-pots in the fridge, fill up with fuel and water, and keep an eye on the Atlantic weather. There are a couple of nasty-looking lows up there at present, which I hope will fizzle out over the next few days; I leave on Tuesday (1st May) with the option of north to Bermuda, or straight to the Azores. The latter is horrendously long for a single-hander but will shorten the overall passage time by possibly a week. The wind conditions in situ will determine which I choose.

My biggest fear is the performance of the autopilot in heavy weather. Time and again during my island hopping it’s failed to cope, causing me endless hours of hand-steering, unrelieved discomfort, and exhausting sleep-deprivation. With the prospect of two or three weeks of near-gale winds in heavy seas, I’m obviously a little apprehensive. (I’m the only lone sailor I know that doesn’t have a wind-vane self-steering rig for ocean crossing, something I’ll be aiming to rectify in Europe.

When I’ve saved a few pennies.)

Still, I have a couple of plans in mind should I encounter the worst. First, I plan to use a trailing kedge anchor on a long rope and swivel to help prevent accidental broaching in heavy following seas, and if I become too exhausted or unable to leave the wheel to eat, I’ll simply heave to for a couple of hours.

Tuesday, May 1 2018

1300: Slipped from marina dock then spent an hour drifting and circling near the fuel dock, waiting for a Swedish yacht to fill up and leave, and shrugging helplessly to the small group of friends gathered there to see me off. It transpired that the fuelling crew were late back from lunch.

Finally got alongside and fuelled up, then almost tearful goodbyes from my new-found friends: Lewis, a fellow single-hander who works in the City of London financial district, a pleasant young man with his long-keel, 32 ft sloop in whom he plans to follow in my wake when his essential repairs are completed; Pete and Sue, an engagingly homely couple of live-aboards from Cheshire, Norman and Sara from South Wales who’ve already sailed their yacht, Norsa, around the world and seem ready to do it all again. Must also mention Ex-naval officer Adrian and wife, Sam, running a yacht delivery business while living aboard their own beautiful sloop, Neva, who helped me fix my steering compass and make a lovely cup of tea from their coveted store of PG Tips. Finally, Canadians Scott & Beverley, who kindly donated their leftover dry provisions before leaving their boat, Rose Lee, and flying home. Lovely people all, who became firm friends over the short, fortnight break in Jolly Harbour Marina.

1400: Dropped anchor outside the harbour in order to play with my sails, and make final adjustments to Georgina, my sometimes-wayward autopilot. Got out my storm trysail (first time out of it’s bag) and hoisted it on the spinnaker halliard. The rig worked fine, once up, but proved awkward to handle on deck in a stiff breeze. Dread having to deploy it in heavy weather – just hope I get plenty of warning, should the weather-gods take unkindly to us.

1600: Departed for Bermuda running before an Easterly Force 4-5, fully reefed main and three quarters of genoa giving us a bouncy 6.5 knots in a choppy sea. It’s a lovely sunny evening and right now I’m feeling pretty good.

Sailing a broad reach with compass heading 005° (350°T, allowing for Variation) until we clear the island reefs, then I plan to come round to 020° to make Bermuda while keeping east of any bad weather from the US coast.

1830: 17° 15’N 61° 50’W, Course 020°M Speed 6.7kts.

Sunset: Close reach under 18 kts of wind. Georgina behaving herself, although a little graunchy at times in a 2m beam swell and choppy cross-sea.

2000: 17° 27’N 61° 59’W Course 027°M Sp 7 kts.

Close reach with 17 kts wind, rolling heavily from a long but weighty beam swell. A full (ish) yellow moon rising behind ominous-looking cumulous clouds. Possible squalls coming my way.

Wednesday, May 2 2018.

0600: 18° 26.5’N 62° 11.4’W

Feeling tired and dispirited due to my diligent half-hourly wake-ups to check for shipping. After clearing Barbuda, however, with nothing but open ocean for the next 950 miles, reverted to hourly intervals. By 4am I was thoroughly bushed, and, relying entirely on AIS to keep me warned of any impending collision, I slept fitfully through till 6.

As presaged by those heavy clouds from the east, it was indeed a squally, squally night, but as the sun came up on a clear sky, my spirits were lifted by a flock of terns swooping and chirruping around us, diving gracefully into the rolling breakers to catch their morning feed.

1000: 18° 48.7’N 62° 11.4’W Co 020°M Sp 5

Beam Reach, with slightly reduced wind. Choppy seas on a long, westerly swell. Partly cloudy.

1410: 19° 12.7N 62° 14.5’W Co 020°M Sp 7

Mostly fine sailing so far. Weather warm and balmy with 15 kts of wind, but the heavy seas make an uncomfortable ride in the confusion of swells. Haven’t touched the wheel or the sails since yesterday afternoon. Well done, Georgina, though I wish you wouldn’t use so much wheel.

1600: Haven’t quite got my sea-legs, or into the ‘cruising groove’ yet, so spirits sagging occasionally and not eating well. Taking it a day at a time. Made 150 miles today.

The sea is a boiling tableau of iron blue, hung with vast orange patches of floating sargasso, sometimes in long, ugly streaks, often huge islands of the stuff. I fancy catching a fish and look longingly at my rod. But fishing is definitely out of the question with all this floating weed to snag my gear.

No seabirds now, but earlier came on deck to frantic squealing as a huge flock of dark grey, unidentified birds (sleek and tern-like) dived into the hidden bounty beneath the boat.

An hour later, and the sky to the northeast is now streaked with mares tails; change is coming, and already I see a dark mass of towering cumulous gathering from windward. It’ll be several more hours before we feel its influence, and anyway, I’m as reefed as I can be and all secured below. Barometer remains steady at 1022mb, so any disturbances, however wet and violent, are likely to be brief.

1947: 19° 46.0’N 62° 20.0’W Co 202°M Sp 6.5 kts.

Thursday May 3 2018

0001: 20° 12.9’N 62° 21.6’W Co 202° Sp 7.5

Georgina struggling to steer in heavy squalls. I don’t intervene, however; I need to know she can handle whatever the central Atlantic throws our way over the next month. She’s oversteering badly, and I’m worried she might tack and heave us to, or worse, broach and cause an uncontrolled jibe. Watching her carefully and thinking about that sea-anchor rig, among other options. Now it comes down to it, I’m hugely reluctant to deploy that heavy anchor, with all its attendant drag, not to mention the undue strain on the quarter-cleats.

0600: 20° 50.8’N 62° 22.1’W Co 202 Sp 7

There’s another yacht just a few miles ahead of me. I spotted her earlier on AIS, Avocet, American MMSI number. She’s a sloop, like me, but bigger, around 45ft, with a similar sailplan; two reefs and shortened genny. I’m slowly overhauling her as she crosses my bow right to left. I’ll pass clear to her starboard.

At about two hundred yards abeam I think about calling her, but my VHF is off to save power, and she may not appreciate being forced to transmit for the same reason. So I leave the radio off. (Chagrined to learn later that she was calling me, eager to exchange greetings.)

1030: 21° 21.5’N 62° 27.8’W Co 015 Sp 7

Avocet still in sight, but dropping slowly astern.

1100: 21° 25.4’N 62° 28.3’W Co 015 Sp 6

Wind veers to the southeast, so now on a very broad reach. Gave out a little on both sheets. Luckily (or cleverly, smarmy git!) I was ready with a preventer on the main boom, and quickly knotted it on. The change wasn’t entirely unexpected.

1425: 21° 46.8’N 62° 32.6’W Co 005 (ish) Sp 6

Avocet has disappeared into a squall, who’s influence is affecting us with 30 knot gusts in its northern acceleration zone. Georgina decided she’s had enough, and suddenly disengages her clutch, causing us to slew to windward and heave to. I Heave in the mainsheets and ware round back on course, but five minutes later, it happens again. I get out the 3mm Alan-key and tightened up the clutch, then set Georgina to wind-vane mode. Seems okay now but need to watch our course. She still oversteers quite alarmingly, not very encouraging for the long passage northeast after Bermuda.

1800: 22° 10.7’N 62° 40.9’W Co 010 Sp 7

My first cooked meal: beef stew. Lovely. Feeling much more alive and optimistic tonight – in the groove at last. I could easily steer northeast now, and miss Bermuda; three weeks or more at sea no longer seems daunting. Still, I’ve never been to Bermuda, and my curiosity wins out in the end.

2110: 22°33.9’N 62° 48.9’W Co 010 Sp 6.8

No shipping about, AIS alarm set for collision warning at 12 minutes, and so to bed.

Friday May 4 2018

0225: 23° 10.4’N 62° 58.8’W Co 010 Sp 8

Woken up by high winds, the boat’s motion is rough and jerky due to our excessive speed, slewing and lurching like a fairground ride. Gave a long withering scowl at the clouds scudding across a gibbous moon, and went back to bed.

0910: 23° 56.4’N 63° 13.2’W Co 010 Sp 7.5

Got out the Autopilot handbook to see if I could ameliorate Georgina’s erratic steering. Rudder gain seems to be the key, so tried reducing it from its default 5, to 2. Ah! This works. Much better. Short, gentle wheel movements, and less lurching about. Should have thought of this before… like three years ago? Duh. Feel such a dickhead.

540 miles to Bermuda.

1247: 24° 22.0’N 63° 20.5’W Co 010 Sp 7

The main saloon hatch is leaking badly, splashing me rudely awake from my afternoon snooze. Need to see if I can fix it in Bermuda. Meanwhile I stuff a towel between the hatch and the sunblind.

1700: 24° 52.9’N 63° 28.0’W Co 010 Sp 8

25 knot winds caused by a heavy squall creeping up from starboard. Upped rudder gain to 3 to give Georgina more scope to recover from a big gust.

The westerly swell has increased significantly over the last two hours, now 8 to 10ft with an obdurate cross sea knocking the bow brutally to windward. Georgina has coped so far (with her captain’s new-found competence); whether she manages in higher winds/seas remains to be seen.

Tonight’s dinner is baked potato with bolognaise sauce and grated cheese. I’ve been dry since Antigua but would dearly relish a tot of rum before dinner. I won’t risk it though, not in these changeable conditions.

Have been naked for four days, but that won’t last much longer; already the nights are feeling cooler.

All in All, feeling pretty good; spending most of the time just reading and sleeping in the saloon (too wet in the cockpit).

A big tanker crossed my wake yesterday, but apart from that, I’ve seen no vessels since leaving Avocet behind. The ocean seems vast and empty, which fills me with a great feeling of tranquillity, at peace with the world, and at once, somehow removed from it.

Looking at the Idaho potatoes swinging in the net under the bimini, a thought occurs to me. They are obviously GM (genetically modified), which is banned throughout Europe. Each potato is of the same shape and size, perfect for baking. There are no blemishes or knobbly bits, no indents to make peeling awkward. In short, they are perfect; they could have been machine manufactured. And they will last far longer than conventional, or ’organicaly’ produced tubers. The only problem is, they lack the solid, earthy flavour of our home-grown varieties, and this is disappointing. So please don’t let this genetic perfection taint our Albion shores, tempting supermarket retailers and customers to cheaper, more convenient products and drive our valiant potato farmers out of business.

2000: 25° 15.0’N 63° 33.4’W Co 010 Sp 7.5

And so to bed.

Saturday May 5 2018

0555: 26° 20.0’N 63° 53.5’W Co 010 Sp 7

A good night’s sleep (yup, slept right through the night), waking up to a clear dawn, Georgina keeping us effortlessly on course. I want to marry her. I lavish her with endless praise and apologise frequently for my erstwhile lack of regard to her needs. RTFM, you old fool!

1110: 26° 52.5’N 64° 03.6’W Co 101 Sp 6.5

Barometer risen to 1024mb in past four hours. We’re nearing the western edge of the Azores High.

1300: 27° 02.7’N 64° 05.9’W Co 010 Sp 6

The sky is virtually cloudless, wind down to around 14 knots, but the sea remains wickedly roistering, impetuous, even. It just took me twenty painstaking minutes to construct a simple cheese, ham & tomato sandwich, trying to balance and hold on while stopping the half-built sandwich from flying into the sink. I probably used up more energy in the process of making it, than my body received from it.

Last night I noticed my starboard navigation light was out. It irritates the hell out of me when something doesn’t work, especially when it’s too rough to go forward and fix it, if that’s even possible – no way to tell until I’ve investigated the problem. The consequence is that vessels approaching my starboard bow at night will not see me. Of course, any major vessel out here must have AIS, so will see me, and even most yachts carry it these days. So the risk is minimal for now. The problem will arise when I get close to Bermuda, which I calculate will be early Monday evening, with the much greater density of shipping. Not to mention entering St Georges harbour at night. I could manage to go up to the foredeck of course. In a real emergency. But a duff nav light in an empty ocean just doesn’t cut it.

1856: 27° 39.2’N 64° 16.4’W Co 010 Sp 6.5

With such a clear sky I was hoping to see the Green Flash at sunset, but alas, as the sun approached the western horizon, a band of distant cloud moved in and pissed on its parade. Had a pre-dinner tot tonight (It’s Saturday Night, after all), which went straight to my head. Enjoyed the chicken stew all the more for it, though.

2325: 28° 06.4’N 63° 24.1W Co 013 Sp 6.5

Starry, starry night! Flipped back the bimini to just lie on my back and gaze up into the spangled heavens. Sea now slightly calmer.

Sunday May 6 2018

0336: 28° 30.7’N 64° 28.6’W Co 013 Sp 5.5

Lights of the cruise ship Anthem of the Seas clearly visible at 16 miles to starboard, obviously en route from Hamilton to St John’s, which she will probably reach by Tuesday morning and disgorge her hordes of Newlyweds, Overfeds, and Nearlydeads onto the beaches and shopping malls of Antigua. If that sounds cynical, then it’s supposed to be. I hate cruise ships for what they do to local environments, and how little they contribute to struggling island populations. Enclosed and cosseted holiday resorts are also off my Christmas Card list. End of rant. Back to bed.

0640: 28° 48.0’N 64° 31.5’W Co 015 Sp 5.5

Pressure slowly rising, now 1026. High cirrus clouds with underlying fluffy cumulus to the east confirms the influence of the Azores High. Sea continues to slacken, the wind dropping. 220 miles to go, hope I don’t lose the wind in the last day of passage.

I usually like a cooked breakfast on Sunday mornings (Eggs, bacon, beans, and toast), but eying the cooker swinging wildly on its gimbals, I thought better of it, promising myself a postponed Full English in St Georges. Instead, I settled for porridge laced with ground cinnamon and nutmeg, then liberally drizzled with honey. Delightful!

Feeling settled and at peace with the Universe. Atlantic Crossing? Bring it on. Coffee now, then back to my reading. Currently it’s: “We need to Talk About Kevin”, not really my kind of novel, but recommended by Lewis, and I’m finding it a surprisingly compelling read. Just wondering why Franklin never replies to her letters. Thinking he must have died, horribly, probably, at the hands of his sociopathic son. (That’s not a spoiler, I haven’t got halfway through the book yet. Just seems obvious.)

While I’ve been writing, a thin layer of cirrus and alto cumulus has moved in to cover half the sky, continuing to encroach westward. So not much expected from the solar panel today. I’ve tied back the vane of the wind generator to stop it spinning around and stalling, so at least I’ve got a constant, if paltry, charge going into the batteries.

Note on Power Management: Continuous use of autopilot takes a heavy toll on the batteries, plus the fridge, which is on all day7, but turned off at night (to make way for the nav lights). Instruments, chartplotters, VHF radio And AIS also use significant, if not excessive power. I run the engine for one hour mornings and evenings to keep the batteries charged, but on a good, sunny and windy day, I may sometimes manage with one hour a day.

1020: 29° 09.8’N 64° 34.5’W Co018 Sp 6

200 miles to go. Going to try fishing. A traditional Sunday pastime.

1525: 29° 39.5’N 64° 36.4’W Co 025 Sp 5.5

Fishing trawl out with a spoon lure. No enquiries yet, but maybe towards dusk???

Wind shifted slightly to the south this afternoon, so changed course to 025°M. There’s a ship on AIS 20 miles ahead, heading for Florida. It’s CPA is 15 miles, so I doubt I’ll catch a glimpse of her. Otherwise, just a lazy Sunday afternoon.

1935: 30° 04.2’N 64° 35.8’W Co 025 Sp 5.2

The Blue Ocean seemed barren today. No birds, no whale spouts, no dolphins or leaping mahi mahi, not even the odd flying fish. I know the two-mile column beneath festoons with trillions of creatures, but none grace me with their presence. Like intrepid fishermen since time began, I wind in my redundant lure and hope for better luck tomorrow.

With my Kindle on charge, I’ve little to do but sit on the leeward quarter of the cockpit, contemplating the sugarscoop stern three feet below. It is almost constantly awash, because the boat sits too deep at the back end. It’s a problem I’ve tried to mitigate by moving half my spare fuel (60l) to the forepeak. That still leaves the three heavy batteries, which I can do nothing about, and another 60l of diesel which I will gradually transfer to the main tank as the voyage progresses. The one redeeming thought: less chance of pitchpoling should a storm come my way.


Monday May 6 2018

0043: 30° 33.9’N 64° 33.8’W Co 026 Sp 6.5

Thank heavens the wind picked up; thought I was going to stall, becalmed, on the final day (which would have made it NOT the final day).

0844: 31° 20.4’N 64° 19.0’W Co 045 Sp 7

Wind now gusting F7 from SSE. Increased swell making this sailplan uncomfortable and difficult. Need to think through my options. Best not to rush into a solution only to regret it later.

1010: 31° 33.0’N 64° 24.8’W Co 000 Sp 4.8

So, that didn’t last long. The wind dropped back again but remains SSE. Here’s the problem.

My ideal course for St Georges puts the wind directly astern. I don’t want to make ground to the east in case the wind shifts westerly, leaving me with a long beat back. So I’ve decided to roll away the genny and proceed on mainsail only: just wish I’d shaken out a reef yesterday when it was relatively calm. Still, making 5.5 knots now, and smack on course for an early evening ETA. My only slight niggle is that pesky nav light, that comes on intermittently, but is mostly out. Hopefully not too many harbour movements at night.

1400: 31° 52.1’N 64° 30.1’W Co 000 Sp 5.5

30 miles to go, and I make my obligatory call to Bermuda Radio. No reply.

1840: 32° 11.8’N 64° 37.5’W Co 015 Sp 4.5

11 miles to go, under engine and mainsail due to little wind. In contact with Bermuda Radio, who are monitoring my progress and will give me clearance to enter the channel after I’ve dropped the mainsail. All very procedural and ordered after the low-tech anarchy of the Antilles. Not sure which I prefer.

2200: Berthed alongside St Georges Town Wharf after clearing customs at the customs dock. All fairly painless and straightforward really.

Two Belgian guys from the yacht ahead of me took my berthing lines. I can manage alone, but was glad to stand on the (rolling) jetty and speak to someone apart from myself and Georgina (who rarely responds to my conversational gambits). They seemed incredulous that I was making the passage home alone; kept glancing down into the boat to see if I had a crew member hiding below. It surely isn’t that unusual these days?

Tuesday May 7 2018

It seems I can’t berth alongside, since all the berths are booked up by the ARC boats heading home to Europe. So I go out and drop anchor 100 metres offshore, and spend half the day getting my dinghy assembled and inflated. The upside of this is, no mooring fees, saving myself about $42 per day. It means I can stay here as long as I like. Mm, need to think about that.

Friday May 11 2018
Still at anchor in St Georges. Planning to leave tomorrow, destination, Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, the easterly island of the Azores Archipelago. I'll be taking the 'middle route', 055°T to 38° then 070°T, total distance 1900NM, taking between 12 and 16 days, depending on the wind. This is the big one folks. I'll post again on the other side.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Log of the Island Spirit (MMSI 235113215)– Carriacou to Martinique

End of a long, hot summer.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria have all but wiped out some of the northerly islands but left us largely unscathed; with only four precautionary moves into the mangrove lagoon to avoid the easterly swells, we’ve been fortunate to have escaped the worst of this season’s unusually high-category storms.
My final week here turned gloriously convivial with the arrival of my old buddy, Jamie, from Maine, and his friend, Sadie; memorable days and evenings at Off The Hook, invariably ending with me climbing unsteadily into my dinghy to motor round the bay in pitch darkness searching for my boat. The one exception was when I spent a night up at Jamie’s hillside house, grateful for the cooler air, and for once not to wake up in a pool of sweat.
Me, Jamie & Curtis at Off de Hook

Sadie & Me
Now, dear Reader, after a languid nine months in Carriacou, the time has come to move on.

Tuesday 28 November 2017
0800 – Tyrell Bay
Hauled up anchor and motored out into the offing, passing close to my friend, Hutch’s boat to exchange shouted good-byes and hopes for fair winds.
A lovely sunny morning with a brisk easterly breeze saw me around the west side of Union Island. It then became quite blustery, with boisterous seas and winds gusting 20 knots; I was thankful to have shortened sail early on before it became tricky. I’d intended to hit Admiralty Bay (Bequia) before nightfall, but with the wind and current against me, it quickly became clear I wouldn’t make it. In fact, owing to an awkward wind-direction, I had to sail well past my destination, with the lights of Port Elizabeth twinkling teasingly on the starboard beam and those of Kingstown (St Vincent) ahead, before I could tack with any hope of making the bay.

It was well after eight before I got into the lee of Bequia and started the engine for my final run in to the anchorage. It was a moonless night and I spent the first hour slipping between closely-moored boats, trying to find safe anchorage. Patchy sea-grass made anchoring difficult in the dark; it took three attempts to find firm holding ground, and by the time she held fast, I was splattered from head to toe with silt and weed thrown up by the chain.

I took a shower in the cockpit, dithering in the cool breeze as I hurried to dry off and get below into the warm. (eighteen months in the tropics makes one kinda thin-blooded, yanoo.). Afterwards, skipping supper, I flopped into my bunk, sleeping soundly till the morning sun poured scorchingly through my cabin window.

Wednesday 29 November 2017
0800 – Admiralty Bay, Bequia
Admiralty Bay, Bequia
A hurriedly-cooked full-English, then lowered the dinghy and motored ashore to clear into SVG (St Vincent & the Grenadines). Lunchtime found me at one of my favourite bars, The Whaleboner, and I whiled away the afternoon chatting to a nice couple; bare-boaters on vacation from Florida. They left as dusk began to descend, and I myself wanted to get back aboard while I could still find my boat.
But as luck would have it, paying my bill at the bar, I got chatting to a fellow single-hander; a loquacious Englishman called Greg. Two hours later I clambered into the dinghy and motored out into the pitch-dark bay. Fortunately, I’d anchored fairly close to shore, so came home with little difficulty.

Imagine, dear Reader, sitting in the cockpit under the sparkling stars, drinking a restful cup of tea and listening to the wind, when your ears are suddenly accosted by a blast of Van Morrison from a nearby American-crewed catamaran. Personally, I quite enjoyed the music, in my tranquil and semi-inebriated state, but not so the French cat moored close astern of the American music-lovers. After an hour or so, they’d had enough, and a tirade of Gallic protestations floated over the water. When this had no effect, they resorted to sounding off a hand-held foghorn; one of those gas-powered ones, the forlorn wail of which is the very epitome of despair and disapproval. The Americans, however, failed to hear this vexatious outpouring above their booming speakers, now churning out fifties rock & roll. Then, in a lull between tracks, someone popped a head out to see what the noise was about. The music then switched to an old Edith Piaf song accompanied by an accordion, reducing the French boat to a fuming silence. Very soon, however, all was quiet once more. A little later, I turned in below.

Thursday 30 November 2017
0600 – Admiralty Bay
Hauled up anchor at first light. Horrible sea again between Bequia and St Vincent, with lashing rain and fierce squalls all the way across. But getting into the lee of the Island two hours later, the wind dropped, the water flattened, and, as I motored up against the prevailing current, I realised I wasn’t going to get far; I certainly wouldn’t make St Lucia before nightfall. Eventually, after much fruitless deliberation, I dropped into Cumberland Bay, where a kind, local chap took my warping line ashore and tied it to a palm tree. I was now anchored in 12m of steeply-shelving sand with my stern secured ashore; a beautiful, densely forested arbour with a scattering of shanty buildings along a narrow strip of shingle, all of which I could scarcely make out through the torrential sheets of rain that started almost as soon as I was secured. It was mid-afternoon when the downpour suddenly ceased, so, with tendrils of mist rising from the tree-clad hills, and a watery sun making a faltering appearance through thinning clouds, I lowered the dinghy and went ashore to forage for supper.
Cumberland Bay: Rasterman Jo, bottom left. Island Spirit, far centre shot.
Of the six quirky, ramshackle restaurants, I finally settled for Mojito’s on the north side of the bay. I was the only customer, and they quickly produced a dinner-table complete with cloth and a chair, and bade me seated. While waiting for my grilled tuna, I sat and chatted with Joseph Rasterman and a few of his buddies; all a bit oddly dressed and fierce-looking, but friendly, with ready banter and good humour, helped along with beer. And, dear Reader, the famous Vincie Mountain Tea, which, I have to report, is great for getting up one’s appetite.
Sunset approaches in Cumberland Bay

Friday 1st December 2017
0500 – Cumberland Bay
Woke up and cooked a hasty beans-on-toast, hoping for an early departure at first light. As I ate, I realised I had stupidly hoisted the dinghy last night, so would need to lower it again to untie myself from shore. I needn’t have worried however, for through the morning gloom appeared a guy in a kayak, who waited patiently alongside until I was ready to slip. So promptly at six, with the dawn light looming over the hills, I chugged out into the offing once more, motoring on a calm, windless sea with a single-reefed main and the headsail furled away.

Gradually the wind began to pick up, and by eight I was skipping along nicely with a shortened genny and engine off. I knew it was going to be a rough and bouncy crossing once I cleared the north tip of St Vincent; it always is. The Doyle’s Cruising Guide warns that the St Vincent Channel northbound is “not for the faint-hearted”. Last time I’d done it was with brother-in-law Nigel, and on that occasion, we’d made a little extra ground to the west before hitting open water, and had ended up very tightly close-hauled, battering into waves on a short, choppy sea.

This time, therefore, I decided to hug the coast, and give myself a broader wind-angle. By the time I realised this was a mistake, it was too late. Yes, I had a good beam reach while nicely pointed to St Lucia, allowing for considerable leeway. The problem was not the wind, dear Reader, but that awful Atlantic swell that was now quartering the boat and making for a most uncomfortable ride. Worse still, the autopilot couldn’t cope, and I found myself hand-steering most of six-hour crossing. At least if I’d been close-hauled, I would have been able to balance the sails and tie off the helm. On a beam-reach in these seas, that was no longer an option.
The Pitons, Saint Lucia
At last I came under the lee of the mighty Pitons, and a couple of boats raced out to offer me moorings at nearby Soufriere. Not interested, I told them, I’m heading for Rodney Bay. They gave me their habitual stare of disbelief that anyone could think of passing by such a wonderful opportunity, before roaring off to find their next victim.
Don't need no mooring, man.
The wind off the east coast of St Lucia is quite unpredictable, ranging between zero and twenty knots, so that, while making reasonable progress, one has continually to adjust for trim and watch out for sudden gusts. Passing the port of Castries, I strayed rather too close under the massive bow of the Cunard cruise ship Queen Mary 2, at anchor and disgorging passengers into a flotilla of liberty boats. I passed safely by, however, and marvelling at her anchor chain, (individual links as big as beer-barrels) decided to give them a courtesy call on the radio by way of apology.
The response was immediate: “Island Spirit, this is Queen Mary 2, please be advised I am at anchor and unable to manoeuvre.”
Gosh, who knew?
Queen Mary 2, off Castries, Saint Lucia
It was almost five by the time I tied up in Rodney Bay Marina, too late to avoid the EC$100 overtime charge at Customs & Immigration. Ouch!

This marina is the destination of the ARC transatlantic race, and just now is when they begin to arrive. I am therefore under notice that I may have to move berth if they need it for an ARC participant, who always get priority over us mere cruising rabble.

On Saturday morning I took the bus to Castries and met up with my old friend, John Morris, a passenger on the Cruise ship, Columbus, and only in the port for six hours. We haven’t seen one another for more than a year, so caught up over drinks and lunch. 
Lunch with John Morris in Castries
Afterwards, he hopped on a boat to rejoin his ship while I tootled off shopping for fresh fruit and veg – bought loads of stuff I didn’t really need – not used so much abundance, I guess.
Getting onboard later, I was accosted by the Norwegian crew of an ARC arrival opposite my pontoon, and got invited on their boat for a drink. I accepted, of course, with the caveat that I was tired and couldn’t stay long.
“That’s okay,” their skipper said, “We are going into the village to eat, soon.”
However, sleeping in my cabin later, I was woken by a slurring Scandinavian on the pontoon calling “Mike, are you awake?”
“I am now,” I called back. I checked the time. It was 3am.

So, I was hijacked onto their boat once again; a Viking breakfast of beer and strong rum. Eventually I realised just how drunk these people now were, and after a polite interval, managed to extricate myself from their senseless ramblings and crawl back to bed. This morning they were all very apologetic, miserably hungover, but being good Norsemen, went straight back on the booze.

I went ashore for a quiet full-English in one of the Marina’s many eating-shacks, and was once more accosted by ARC finishers, celebrating their safe arrival. This pair, a Spaniard and a Brit (a garrulous Manchunian), had been drinking all night, and now were breakfasting on the bottle of complimentary 60% rum given to each participating vessel. Despite their impaired condition, I found their company pleasant and not at all invasive.

I spent the remainder of the weekend resting, getting my laundry done, and chatting with strangers at the bar, as one does in these places.

On Tuesday morning I chugged out to the anchorage in the bay, and remained quietly onboard overnight.

Wednesday 6th December 2017
0800 - Rodney Bay
Weighed anchor and headed north for Martinique. Clearing the headland, I careened into a fifteen to twenty-knot easterly, and the roller-coaster over-falls north of St Lucia, with a single-reefed main and three-quarter genoa on a close reach. Once again, sea conditions precluded use of the autopilot, so hand-steered most of the five-hour crossing. It was quite a nice sail, however, despite a couple of nasty squalls, and I made Port du Marin anchorage in good time to get ashore, clear customs, and fetch up at a bar for a cold beer.

Here I sit now, passing the days reading and writing, shopping ashore, and popping across to the Marina occasionally for an Internet “fix”. Whilst here, I’ll be changing my four (almost expired) batteries, for two spanking-new 160 AH AGM’s, which will need a little bit of carpentry down below to make them fit the space. The cost of this upgrade is fearsome, but I have little choice in the matter, and here is the cheapest place in the Caribbean to buy them. I’m also investing in a new anchor-chain to replace the pile of rust presently in the chain-locker.

Whist here I’ve learned the wonderful news that I have a new Granddaughter. That makes ten grandchildren so far: five boys, and five girls. All very symmetrical. So, Congratulations to daughter Stephanie, proud father, Anthony, and young Bailey who now has the sister he always wanted. 
Oh, and the other reason I’m here in Martinique: my friends Pamela and Steve are coming here at the end of this month to join me for a three-week cruise of the Grenadines. So I’ve got lots of cleaning and repairing to do over Christmas. No rest… eh?

That’s all for now, dear Reader. Hope you’ve enjoyed my ramblings. More to follow soon.