South Atlantic Passage

In 2013 we crossed the Atlantic, 5500+ miles from Cape Town, South Africa, to Chaguaramas, Trinidad, with rest stops in Walvis Bay, Namibia to receive needed windvane repair parts, and in St. Helena, which is a territory of Great Britain in the South Atlantic. The following is our offshore log of this long passage, 2 months end-to-end, with 34 days at sea between St Helena and Trinidad, our longest passage ever.

February 24 - 3323 S - 01742 E

Dave and I finally extricated ourselves from the many charms of Cape Town. This morning I had 200 Rand left to spend - just over $20. A final run to the mall, and I had a baguette, baguette sandwich, two small quiches, two apple strudel, and a bottle of red wine. Beluga Free, Promesa and Marnie arrived to cast us off, but the bridge was opening and they tossed lines, no time for a proper goodbye.

In Table Bay we were treated to a final postcard-perfect view of Cape Town and Table Mountain. Spectacular. We are having nice sailing conditions, as forecast.

Five hours out the Monitor windvane broke! No easy fix, we need a pipe welded or more likely a replacement part. So instead of heading to St Helena, 12 days away, we are bound for Luderitz or Walvis Bay in Namibia, several days up the coast, where we hope to find a welder or have a part shipped in. Meanwhile the autopilot is handling the steering (hand steering at sea is cause for mutiny aboard Baraka). We just don't want to ask it to work non-stop all the way across to Central America.

The detour is no problem, gives us a chance to see a bit more of Africa. Besides, I made a flag, just in case...

All is well.

February 25 - 3141 S - 01622 E - Magnetic Anomoly

Good sailing day, 140+ miles. This morning the wind died, now we are motoring. We are headed to Nambia. Dave is convinced the windvane part is best replaced, and we can arrange for the part to be flown in.

This morning we had an hour of high drama - the autopilot stopped working! Hand-steering, oh no! On our chart is a warning: Local Magnetic Anomoly, with deviations up to 5 degrees E is reported to exist between 70 and 130 miles NW of Cape Columbine. Yikes! Would we have to hand steer for a whole day??? Further research revealed a 6-pack of beer had tipped against the fluxgate compass. Shifted the beer, and the autopilot again behaves perfectly. Whew, bullet dodged. Further testing showed that South African beer cans are ferrous!

All is well.

February 27 - 2859 S - 01509 E

Light winds, rolling along under sail. We are tempted to motor, but still seem to be managing better than 4 knots (about a brisk walking pace). Easy slow trip, we are halfway to Walvis Bay, Namibia. Jan's brother Rolfe has been in contact with Scanmar and helped expedite the shipment of the needed windvane parts to Walvis Bay, arriving just a few days after we do.

All is well.

February 28 - 26.29S 014.35E - Chilly

The temp has plummeted to 66 F! cool air carried north from Antarctica by the Benguela current, which also brings some night fog patches. To our tropically-thinned blood this equates to dang chilly. Dave has been wearing thermal socks under his down slippers, and we both layer up for even daytime watches. Winds are forecast to pick up today, but so far remain light, so we are sailing slowly, a gentle rolling sashay. At this rate we will arrive at Walvis on the 2nd, still 2 days away. We are passing Luderitz now, well offshore in a shipping lane. Freighters pass every few hours, all revealing themselves on our AIS. Namibia was once a German protectorate, South West Africa. In 1908 diamonds were discovered, and are still mined and dredged for today. Because of this, we are restricted to only 2 ports.

Both of us have been listening to Simon Winchester's excellent "Krakatoa", courtesy of our home library. I downloaded the audiobook before we left Cape Town. Really interesting, especially personal to us after anchoring for several days in the shattered crater of the volcano.

March 1 - 24.11 S 14.13 E - rowdy night

As was forecast, winds dead astern filled in to 30 knots, with corresponding seas. The cockpit stayed dry, good thing, because Dave spent much of the evening out there babysitting the autopilot, which could not hold the downwind course in big seas, allowing main or poled-out-jib to backwind when a wave shoved the stern to either side. We put the 3rd reef in, then gibed the main to starboard, same side as jib, and the autopilot could handle that. By morning winds had moderated under 20, and we are again wing-on-wing running downwind. If we were starting over, knowing just how much downwind sailing we've done, I'd have invested in a second pole and second smaller foresail, so the nose could pull the our boat better.

It was cold overnight with wind-chill. We layered up, adding gloves and hats, but it was still too chilly to spend continuous night watch outside. Fortunately, there was no shipping this far in. The radar is displaying a warning message about low battery. Dave has the replacement and will fix that in Walvis Bay.

We'll arrive Walvis during the night, hoping for clear skies and moonlight. All is well.

March 2 - Walvis Bay, anchor down

Arrived Walvis Bay, Namibia, at daybreak. Easy entrance. We are anchored in front of the yacht club. All is well.

March 6 - windvane parts

The windvane parts arrived from California in less than a week, directly to the yacht club, no bribes, duty or drama necessary. What a contrast to South Africa and Mauritius, where agents had to be hired and gods invoked! Dave reassembled the vane on the workbench, and as soon as we get a calm day, will reinstall it on the stern. It is chock full of bearings that want to spring into the briny deep, so a flat day is needed. We are enjoying Walvis Bay, though have to be on our toes, as the locals will happily take advantage of the stupid white tourist. Six young men were overly helpful at the ATM. The taxi driver boosted his fare tenfold from the agreed-to price. A store clerk took my 200 bill and rang up change for 100. None of this is scary, but it pays to be alert.

Walvis is on the "skeleton coast", due to the number of fog-assisted shipwrecks. The port is busy with container ships and even a few cruise liners. Around are giant sand dunes, as far as we can see - an arid desert. In the anchorage a crowd of smelly seals have taken over a catamaran, camped all over the decks. Glad we have a canoe stern they can't climb! The south end of the bay opens into a huge estuary, full of birdlife. Lovely flamingos stroll the dinghy landing.

Namibia woodarvings.


March 7 - desert tour

This morning it was calm enough to reinstall the windvane. We still need to top up diesel and clear out, then we will be good to go.

We wanted to see a small slice of Namibia, and signed up for a half-day quad cycle tour into the Namib desert. Fanie du Preez has been doing this for 13 years, and gives a terrific tour, a combination of history, geology, anthropology and adventure. We learned to slide the cycles down steep dunes, then rode to see middens with human remains, springbok and a jackal, plus fog-drinking beetles. Fun day. Makes us wish we could spend longer here.

Flamingos line the yacht club beach.

We sign up for a fun quad cycle tour into the desert.

Fossilized human footprint is 2000 years old.

Desert dwellers still live today with this fruit as their main staple.

The drifting sands expose ancient burials.

This skull without seams may predate Homo Sapiens.

Springbok herd hangs around an oasis. Water is just a few meters below.

We practice controlled slides down the dunes.

More practice. No one crashes.

Pottery cooking pot at a midden.

Dutch East Indies coin found on the midden.

Great desert adventure!

Back in the bay, seals have trashed this nice catamaran.

March 10 - Underway to St Helena

After a week's hiatus in Walvis Bay to repair the windvane, we are again underway to St Helena, under cloudy skies in lumpy seas, beam reach, vane steering, yay! The Benguela current means we bundle up in layers. Should be an easy trip, though we may burn through more fuel than we like. St Helena is 1200+ miles away, 9 or 10 days. Passing the spit buoy, we saw huge seal colonies on Pelican Point, a black line on the beach stretching for miles.

One leaving-port issue is how to burn through our last few Namibian dollars. We overestimated the cost of fuel so enjoyed a final dinner at Anchors on the beach. Even then, I still had $100 Namibian dollars - about $11. We made a last run to the beach where I bought a 3' carved wooden giraffe from Mario. Dave shakes his head - where will I stow the thing? He's just worried I will displace some tools.

During the night the boat developed a mystery thump. Every noise warrants investigation. We both searched during the night, no joy. With daybreak I could see the source. The mainsheet traveller track had worked loose on the port end - bolts backing out a quarter inch, and was thumping on the cabin top. I removed a ceiling panel in the galley to access the nuts and tightened them. When Dave wakes up we will do it again, one inside, one outside. All is well.

March 11 - 21.43S 010.29E - slow going

We have settled into the offshore routines, now getting enough rest and starting to eat more normally. Winds are a bit light, so we sail a few hours, then motor for a few. Winds still somewhat on the beam as we lurch along. We have crossed the current, and the air is warmer.

Last night sailing under cloud cover, with no moon or even starlight, we could have been in a black velvet box. Hanging over the stern to check the vane I noticed our wake - a milky way of luminescence, trailing far behind, with bright sparks firing and dying. Lovely.

March 12 - 21 S 008 E

Good sailing. Every so often the wind lags and we motor a few hours, then it fills back in and we shut the engine down. We are heeled to starboard, steadily coursing along, now making better than 6 knots, almost a third of the way to St Helena.

There are a small rash of boat issues - a pin fell out of the jib tack shackle, easy fix as Dave noticed it immediately. The lower bilge pump is on a lot - on this angle the pickup doesn't empty the bilge, and the next roll turns the pump on again, recirculating the same slosh. Dave spent the morning troubleshooting a new Pactor problem - it locks up Airmail when he transmits, which requires a reboot. Still don't have the root cause, but he discovered that shutting down the GPS, then transmitting, seems to avoid the lockup. Weird problem, new since Walvis.

Today is the funeral mass in Seattle for my beloved Aunt Dodie. She and Uncle Carson were big influences in our lives, including helping to spawn an interest in sailing. I am sorry not to be there to remember and honor her.

We are comfortable and making good time. All is well.

March 13 - 20.1 S 005.5 E

Rolling along, motor-sailing when the wind lags but mostly sailing, beam reach in 8-10 knots of wind, 700 miles to go to St Helena. All is well.

March 15 - 18.5S 001.4E

Ghosting along, now with the spinnaker up, winds 8-10 knots, vane steering. Dave just put a 2nd reef in the main to reduce its blanket effect on the spinnaker. 460 miles to go to St Helena, still 3-4 more days at this rate, although stronger winds are coming in another 2 days. Each day the winds go light, then pick up a bit overnight. All is well.

March 16 - 18.4S 000.2W

Today we crossed the Prime Meridian and are back in the Western hemisphere for the first time in almost 5 years! Making slow easy progress in 10 knots of wind, with spinnaker and reefed main both on the port side, which feels very strange after heeling to starboard for years. To gibe the spinnaker we douse it in its sock, then pass it in front of the forestay, rerunning its single sheet, then lift the sock. To gibe the main we release the downhaul preventer and the foreguy, tighten the boom brake, haul the mainsheet in and bring the traveler across, then reset all on the new side. Takes two to gibe the spinnaker, but only one to gibe the main. With the wind aft, we are making slight zigzags to keep the sails working. A fishing boat passed within a few miles - first ship we've seen in several days. Three days to go to St Helena.

Dave wrestles with the radio - we are still using the Maputo station in Mozambique, on the far side of Africa, and most attempts to connect fail. Propagation is best very early morning. Next station will be Trinidad, too far from us now.

The to-fix-in-next-port list is fairly short, and items trivial, a reflection of low wear and tear on this easy passage. All is well.

March 17 - 17.3S 002.1W

Wing-on-wing with poled out jib in very light air, dead astern, vane steering. The sails slat and flog as we drift slowly along. We are supposed to have better winds by now according to buoyweather and the gribs. They are overdue. The good news is that we've used very little fuel. As long as we are making 3 knots or better, we try to sail.

It is flat enough to cook, a batch of scones this morning, and tonight a chicken casserole. Dave is troubleshooting the Signet SmartPack instruments which are confused about wind speed, boat speed and wind direction, giving misinformation. He spent the afternoon cleaning connections and recalibrating, but they are still goobered. Dave has a spare unit he may swap in, but that one had a problem with the depth reading. We depend on the instruments to optimize sail trim, so it is annoying not to have them working, though not at all critical.

All is well.

March 18 - 16.5S 003.4W

130 miles to go, we will arrive tomorrow at St Helena during the day. Winds filled in nicely, we are wing-on-wing with poled-out jib, quite comfortable and making good time. The bananas we bought in Walvis are still green. Long-life bananas? Usually they go from green to overripe in a day. Dave is playing rummykub on the iPad, honing his skills so he can win next time we play each other. All is well.

March 19 - St Helena

During the night as we approached St Helena, seas became extremely lumpy due to the sharp rise of the island from a 3 mile depth. Rounding the corner, we were blasted by winds coming over the island, then in the lee found relative calm. We grabbed a pair of buoys, one for the bow, the other behind to help hold us into the waves and minimize roll. Dave worked fore and aft in the dinghy to secure our buoy lines, and we are snuggly set. Once we were settled in, we called the ferry for a ride to town for formalities. Easy clearance, then off to the bank to swap dollars for pounds (no ATM here). Quite a few boats we know are already here, and more arriving in a few days.

St Helena is a British territory, famous as where Napolean was imprisoned after Elba was found too close to his supporters, and where he died. The streets (2) of Jamestown are lined with shops built centuries ago, tall windows, wavy glass, boot scrapers on the steps, a bit of old Britain when the sun never set upon the empire. For us it is a welcome rest stop, about 1/3 of the way across the Atlantic.

Landfall! St Helena hoves into view.

Jamestown lies in a cleft.

St Helena's claim to fame is the last stop for Napolean,

imprisioned here in his final years.

The British kept him well.

Empty grave - after his death, he was dug up and transported back to France.

Impressive distillery awaits the new airport and tourism.

Jacob's Ladder rises 699 steps above town.

Moorings have been installed to encourage visitors.

The ferry landing is exciting in a surge.

March 30 - Underway!

On Tuesday we saw dozens of pallets, loaded shoulder-high with bags of potatoes, unloaded from the RMS St Helena. Thursday morning they hit the stores. Promesa, who caught the 7 am ferry scored a rationed kilo (small double handful), but we rode the 9 am ferry in, to find the stores already sold out until the next delivery, 5 weeks away! Dave calls it the St Helena Potato Famine. We did find eggs, cheeses, meats, bread, tomatoes and lovely mandarins, and a local lettuce, so we are stocked. This morning we untied from the stern buoy, stowed the outboard and dinghy, ran the pole out to port, and got the boat settled for passage. Midday we cast off and motored away. What a nice stop! We feel rested, and enjoyed meeting the friendly Saints.

Now we have a broad reach, the quartering seas giving the boat a corkscrew motion, but we are making 6+ knots, can't complain! All is well.

March 31 - Day 2

Steady winds on a starboard broad reach, some lurching around but not too bad, occasional squalls but not much wind punch in them. 100 miles out from St Helena, we are starting to settle into the passage routine. Dave orders a buoyweather passage report daily, which forecasts wind speed and direction and sea state, every 6 hours for 5 days along the path in front of us. All looks good, more of the same, except the seas will shift from behind us to on the nose - NW - for a few days, even though the SSE trade wind direction holds very constant. Good tool, we can plan our sail strategy. He also has a twice daily net with cruisers underway, and we get additional information on conditions that way. So far everyone seems to be having a good trip. All is well.

April 1 - Day 3

Baraka position 12 41 S, 009 02 W. Broad reaching in 10 knots, not fast, but steady. Dave has back pain, wrenched at St Helena while being jerked in the dinghy tied to the stern, as he replaced a missing bolt on the windvane. With the boat rolling it has little chance to mend.

This morning the generator wouldn't start, and he spent the day troubleshooting, finally finding a split cable to the starter, the copper wire inside green and crumbly with oxidation. It was on the back of the generator, hard to reach while pitching around at sea. He will splice in another piece for the repair.

Dave spends 2 days in a rolling sea troubleshooting the genset.

The culprit - an exploded wire.

April 2 - Genset fixed

Baraka position 11 03 S, 010 41 W. Same easy conditions, day after day.

Yippee! Dave managed to fix the genset, and it is running sweetly again. I wanted to blame the burst wire to the starter on The Rat Bastard (who wrought damage aboard for 3 weeks back in Malaysia) but Dave suspects simple chafe. Dave had pulled a muscle in his lower back while at St Helena, and 2 days bent over the genset on a pitching boat was agony for him. Today he is feeling better and seems on the mend. All is well.

Closeup of the culprit....

and the elegant solution.

April 3 - 10 11 S 11 44 W - rolling along

Little to report, haven't touched the sails in days, vane steering perfectly. Bigger quartering seas today, occasionally knocking our butt sideways. The next wave hits us on the beam and rolls us way over, then the vane straightens us out again. 5 minutes later we get the next set. Dave noticed chafe on the working jib sheet and eased the worn spot off the block. I added more dyenma chafe sleeving to the jib sheets where they go through the pole. We found the sleeving at Southern Ropes in Cape Town and I wish I'd bought more. One potato went renegade, caught before ruining the whole bag. We still have good fruits and veg, but now they are getting daily inspection. Via email we heard that one singlehander we know ran out of all supplies, heard a luxury yacht on the radio and arranged an at-sea rendezvous to restock his larder! Still not sure whether we will stop at Ascension, 200 miles away. We are now in passage mode and it's hard to interrupt and resume. And it looks like we'd be arriving after dark tomorrow. All is well.

April 5 - Passing Ascension

Baraka at 8 23 S 014 24 W. No change - good steady conditions. Each day we make about a degree northing and 1.8 degrees westing. Baraka is 23 passage days from Cape Town, about 2400 miles as the crow flies, though we did more miles, 2660, by jogging over to Namibia. 25+ days more to reach Trinidad, 3070 miles.

We have opted to pass by Ascension, abeam right now, visible only 20 miles away. Ceor Mor reports lots of turtles in the anchorage, plus piranha-like black fish, one of which took a chomp out of them! Good internet, good cheeseburgers, friendly but pricey clearance. Despite these attractions, we felt the stop would break our passage rhythm, cost us several days, and be hard on Dave's achy back, hefting the dinghy and outboard, and making a surf landing. We are both inclined to carry on.

Boat is holding up well and not working hard. Forecast is more of the same for 3 days, then the winds go lighter. Expect those will become spinnaker days. Yesterday we started noticing Portuguese Man-of-wars sailing by, brightly purple and pink. On our first Atlantic crossing 22 years ago, Dave was stung by one. Nasty buggers!

All is well.

April 6 - Planning for the ITCZ

Still good conditions. 6 45 S 16 57 W. We are off our rhumb line, 23 miles north, to keep the sails full wing-on-wing, in anticipation of the winds clocking back more east. On a passage this long, we don't care too much about holding our course. Ceol Mor, a family with 2 boys, is only 6 miles away, so we have company via the VHF radio. They reported that seeing the turtles come ashore to lay eggs at Ascension was a life-changing experience, but that the dicey landing at the quay was dangerous. Local boats are picked by by a crane, crew aboard, and swung well outside the surfline. Cruisers must bring their dinghies to the cement wall. We regret missing the turtles, but not the landing. I remind myself, you can't go everywhere, everywhere you go.

At 6 degrees south we are feeling the heat, back in the land (or water anyway) of sticky sweat.

Dave is plotting the ITCZ, with email data from Jan's brother Rolfe. The ITCZ (InterTropical Convergence Zone) is the belt of turbulent conditions where the northern and southern Atlantic ocean weather systems collide. North, the winds and currents move in a huge clockwise circle, south the opposite. The ITCZ wavers as a line from Africa to South America, usually between 2 to 5 degrees north latitude, a belt of squalls and often lightning. Still a week away, but we are hoping for enough info to shorten our passage through. It can take from 2 to 5 days to cross. When we hit the ITCZ, we will turn north, and hope it is on its swing south. If it is still heading north, we intend to work west along its south edge until it swings south. We can plan all we want, but it will still take a bit of luck.

All is well.

April 7 - Fat Albert Day

6 18 S 18 6 W. Winds lighter, single digit. We rolled up the jib and stowed the pole, then dragged Fat Albert, our asymmetrical spinnaker, forward. We have the ATN collar and sock, a sweet system. The collar goes over the furled jib on the forestay and connects to the tack. The sock makes the sail easy to raise and douse. Winds are so light we are only making about 4 knots with it, 100 mile days. Same conditions forecast for 2 days, then we will have a little more wind again. Fuel tanks are still full, life is easy, no complaints.

I'm listening to Laura Hillenbrand's excellent non-fiction WWII account, "Unbroken", about a bomber crew adrift in the Pacific in a liferaft, probably not a great theme for us while on passage, but riveting all the same. My Dad was a young WWII Navy pilot, and her detailed descriptions of airfields and life on Pacific atoll bases give me a glimpse into his life back then.

All is well.

Portuguese man-of-war sails by.

Fat Albert keeps us moving in light airs.

April 8 - Halfway from Cape Town to Trinidad

5 56 S 19 41 W. We are midpoint, halfway between Cape Town and Trinidad as the crow flies, 2700 miles each way, though we will clock more than that zig-zagging. Light winds, forecast one more day, then tomorrow should pick up a bit. We are averaging only 3 1/2 knots - you can walk faster! We are making less than 100 mile days, but are content with that. We have too far to go to burn fuel. Seas are fairly flat, spinnaker pulling, vane steering.

Yesterday Dave heard a bolt hit the deck, from the new mainsail's batten cars. We lowered the sail and tightened all 4 sets, 8 bolts on each bat-car. Sailmaker should have caught that, but no harm. All is well.

April 9 - a little drama

We've been flying the spinnaker the past few days, in mere zephyrs of wind, making poor time - yesterday only 55 miles, an all-time record low for Baraka. With the wind clocking astern we decided to run a sheet from the tack through the pole end, to position the sail more in front of the boat. This worked ok all night, then this morning in even lighter airs, the spinnaker hourglassed on the forestay, 2 full wraps on the upper half. We worked for an hour and managed to get it free without damage. Glad Dave didn't have to go aloft to cut it. We flew it sans pole much of the day, then doused it before approaching rain squalls. The squalls were disappointing, still no wind! Poled out jib again, wing-on-wing, we are making only 3 knots. We seem to have fallen into a hole, but all is well.

April 10 - westward ho

5 29S 22 43W. The winds have returned, a little lighter than we would like, but we are moving again. We are 80 miles off our rhumbline and getting further, heading west rather than NW, to keep the sails working. The forecast is for the winds to clock a little more SE which will turn us back closer to the rhumbline. Doesn't matter much - on a passage this long we just need to keep moving generally forward. Hot now - we rigged an extra fan, and spend more time in the cockpit trying to catch the breeze. The boats on the net report a flurry of small problems, broken halyards, bent poles, but nothing serious. All is well.

April 11 - the rookery

Tonight I woke to the cacophony of cawing birds. They hitchhike all over the boat, on the outboard, bimini, boom gallows, even the windvane paddle, where Dave thinks they affect our heading! We will stink of guano, but they can't be shooed away. Possibly starlings. Would they be this far offshore? We are 600 miles from the nearest land.

Still sailing westward. Our track behind since Ascension is an undulating snake. Appears inefficient, but Dave calculated it only cost us 26 miles in the first 400. All is well.

Several dozen birds park overnight.

Depositing guano for Dave to clean.

April 12 - good sailing

Baraka is at 4 35 S 27 35 W, haven't touched the sails for days. The wind is clocking a bit more south, curving our track, giving us a better heading NW on a broad reach. Very nice winds, steady 15-18, with maybe a little favorable current, so we are making 6 knots. Birds come each night to perch on the boom gallows and paint the dodger windows. All is well.

April 13 - motoring in squalls

Baraka is motoring, bashing against 10-12 knots of NW wind! We had enjoyed a nice broad reach until mid-afternoon, when a large squall came over and sat on us. Plenty of wind, but pushing us sideways, 90 degrees off our course. After a couple hours we elected to motorsail north, trying to get away from the cell back to the forecasted ESE winds. Maybe this close to the equator we will get what we get, never mind the forecast. 4 01 S 29 18 W. All is well.

April 14 - painted ship on a painted sea

Dead calm, we are motoring NW under clear skies. Only signs of life are the flying fish that scatter like buckshot when we approach, a few seabirds, and Portuguese men-of-war sailing by. Plus one fishing boat this morning, 9 miles off. Had a glorious sunrise, spectacular anvil and thunderhead clouds to the NE, but they have now dissipated. We are burning through fuel, happy to have saved it for now, though we still have over 2000 miles to go. 02 19 S 30 04 W at 1700 UTC. All is well.

Anvil clouds at sunrise.

Sky view in calm weather.

April 15 - ghosting along

After 2 days of motoring, a NNE breeze came up, enough to give us 3.5 - 4 knots, so we are taking it. We passed a line of squalls last night, but today are ghosting along under mostly sunny skies, though around us every so often a cloud explodes like a Bikini bomb test, pushing roiling cauliflower clouds high, and dumping rain. So far none of these have been close. We think we are just south of the ITCZ, and are heading west until it shifts northward, when we plan to follow it up. Baraka is at 1 04 S 31 27 W. All is well.

Squalls shaping up ahead.

Thunderhead billows skyward.

More thunderheads form around us.

Up sails, douse sails, lots of exercise.

April 16 - Equator Day!

Baraka is at 00 28 N 32 48 W, first time in the northern hemisphere since Singapore. We crossed the equator this morning, under clear skies, motoring. By late afternoon we got a light breeze from the NNE, and are beating NW in comfortable seas, very pleasant. Last night we had squalls and a large - 36 miles across - rain system, but nothing over 22 knots of wind.

And the best news, we seem to have scooted under the ITCZ, or rather it scooted S over us, a relative non-event. Looking back we could see an angry sky and double rainbows! I'd like to credit Dave with excellent planning, but in our case we had a stroke of luck. Very helpful having my brother Rolfe email us its location, derived from his viewing NOAA wxfax PYAE11 on the internet, a file too big for us to receive by radio. So we are roughly back on course, now starting to think about whether to make landfall at Trinidad or Tobago.

This crossing is a diaspora - the boats with which we have been cruising in company and sharing landfalls since SE Asia are now branching away, headed for Barbados, Grenada, the Azores, Brazil, Mexico. We are unlikely to cruise with them again, and feel a little melancholic that we didn't have a chance for a proper farewell. One thing we have learned is that good friendships can endure distance. We will stay in touch, and somehow see many of these good people again.

April 17 - NE trades

During the night the winds filled in enough to shut down the engine. Now we have steady 15+ knots just aft of the beam, very pleasant sailing, making good time though there is a slight counter current. A few squalls around us. It is hot. We sit under fans or in the cockpit, drinking fluids, too hot to lay down except at night. The decks burn our bare feet. When we have to close up for a squall, the boat is a sauna, but today no squalls hit us. As we prepared the boat for the night (jib pole up, main reefed), we were greeted by a pod of several hundred dolphins. They entertained us with their 10 foot leaps, spyhopping and tail splashes. (01 09 N 34 10 W, less than 1700 miles to go.

All is well.

April 18 - starry nights

Dave enjoys looking up at the Milky Way on starlit nights, a bright swath across the night sky, especially luminescent with no moon. Each night our faithful Southern Cross is dipping slowly to the horizon, and the Big Dipper is steadily rising, marking our northward progress. Right now the moon is waxing, visible the first half of the night. Tonight the AIS showed a freighter, which crossed our bow only 4 miles off, headed to Brazil or the Guyanas, first ship we've seen in a week. Baked lemon-poppy seed scones on my night watch - too hot during the day to heat the oven! Easy sailing, a sedate 4.5 knots. Dave says we have half our fuel left. 02d 14 N 36d 18W, a little less than 1600 miles to go, all is well.

April 19 - Squall Alley

All day we flew the Fat Albert as thick squall lines marched past on either side, a dozen miles distant. Late afternoon one closed behind us so we pulled the spinnaker down and put the jib out. This squall hit with wind - quickly 32 knots. Dave winched the furling jib back in, and we got a good deluge from the rain. On this afternoon's net, we learned that the ITCZ had snuck back over us again! all the way to 3 degrees north, which explains our squally day. Right now the boat is closed up - all ports shut tightly, and is a hot sauna. Soon we will open up again, unfurl the jib and carry on. 02d 31 N 37d 33 W - all damp but well.

April 20 - 1440 miles to go

Dave spent yesterday evening pulling the fuel lift pump off the engine to inspect the diaphram. Looks perfect. He suspects the engine of "making oil", which can happen if fuel makes it into the oil. Don't know if we have a problem, but he used the opportunity to do an oil change. Unfortunately we were becalmed, and he had to do all this while the boat was rolling beam to the swells. Then the wind slowly filled in. Today the squalls are gone, 10-12 knots just ahead of the beam, very pleasant sailing. The next few days we will be passing the mighty Amazon, but don't expect any effect this far offshore. All is well.

April 21 - current boost! and more squalls

Spent another night dodging squalls. They tend to return at night, as the air cools. Moisture condenses into clouds, then the cooler night air sends them towering to become thunderheads, which collapse into squalls. So we can expect them at night in these hot climes. The radar is great at showing their size, speed and path. If they come close we have a fire drill, shortening sail and closing hatches.

Today we had lovely sailing, nice breeze aft the beam. Our happy news if that we may have found the favorable current that runs NW along the coast of Brazil, giving us a full knot of speed over our knotmeter reading. At dusk the squalls returned, becalming us in choppy seas. We are again reluctantly motoring, hoping for the return of the trades. Yin and yang.

April 22 - in the doldrums

We are making slow progress these past few days. Discouraging. Winds are light or fickle, especially on the backside of a squall line. We make a lot of sail changes, pole up and down, spinnaker up and down, trying to eke a bit of motion out of the wind. Dave is reluctant to spend our dwindling fuel when we still have 1150 miles to go. So we bob and roll, sails flogging and slatting. This is the hard part of a passage, when there is little we can do but wait for wind. Forecast is for several more days of the same. Que sera sera. 4d 18N 42d 47W.

A squall parks on us, shown on our radar.

This horseshoe shape has passed over us.

April 23 - stalled

The spinnaker is filling and collapsing with each roll of the swell. We made only 90 miles yesterday, and part of that thanks to some current. For several hours we have been parked between 2 large black squalls, which may have sucked away our breeze. Forecast is for several more days of the same. I remind myself that these passages are the price of admission to some wonderful places and experiences. We have 70 gallons of diesel left, a range of 350 miles, but still almost 1100 miles to go. All is well.

April 24 - Better!

Baraka is sailing! poled out jib and reefed main, broad reach, still light winds, 10-12, but we are happily moving forward on our rhumb line, more or less, though Dave has us still working a bit west looking for current.

I asked Dave his favorite piece of boat equipment on passage. Although the Monitor windvane ranks high, and a watermaker is nice to have, the radio gets his vote. Because it works so well, we have twice daily contact with other boats underway, weather reporting, BBC news, and email. We can post to the blog and position report, and stay in contact with family. We can handle insurance and some finance issues, order boat parts, and contact a marina at the next landfall. There are emergency channels if we need them. Dave can pull the headlines and a short synopsis of news from our hometown paper. There is no internet via browser access, so it has its limits, and transmission is achingly slow (remember 56kb modems?), but we feel lucky to have this rich array of services. We use both winlink (free Ham service) and Sailmail (subscription). Having both gives us redundancy when one or the other is down, due to equipment or propagation issues. My brother Rolfe set up and documented our Icom radio and Pactor modem as a bon-voyage gift to us back in 2006. Thanks, Rolfe!

4d 55N 45d 23 W. About 1000 miles to go. All is much better!

April 25 - the last tomato

5d 16 N 47d 06 W, 935 miles to go. 10-12 knots on broad reach with comfortable motion, vane steering. Still slow progress, 100 mile days, but moving along. The other boats out here, mostly east of us, are motoring or becalmed. On the radio net, Dave mentioned we have one tomato left and another boat offered $1000 for it.

We are enjoying about a half knot favorable current. Dave marked a line on our chart plotter where the seasonal pilot charts show the edge of the current, still a bit ahead of us, so we can expect more. We rolled up the jib and set the spinnaker again. With this much practice we are mastering the many steps, and can go from poled jib to spinnaker in about a half hour. All is well.


The Last Tomato is jettisoned. Sigh.

April 26 - gnarly seas

When I woke Dave at 4am for his watch, we doused Fat Albert. A squall was approaching. By the time we had the sail bagged and below, the squall had dissipated. With the wind freshening to 17-18 knots, we left it down and unfurled the jib. By midday we had choppy seas, a swell from a storm far to the north at 40N 40W, combining with wind waves and the NW current, giving an uncomfortable ride. The boat has a nasty snap-roll every 5 seconds. Every few minutes a larger series skews the stern sideways. These are top-ramen and granola-bar seas, with gorilla swing transits of the cabin. Pulling on a pair of shorts risks a backward somersault. This underlines how benign the seas have been since South Africa! We've been lucky.

But good sailing, we are making better than 5 knots on a broad bouncy reach, and the winds are forecast to continue. 6d 9N 49d 19W, all is well.

April 27 - the view never changes

Seas slightly better today, or maybe we have gotten used to it. 06d 50N 50d 45 W, 700 miles to go. We'd talked about stopping in French Guyana, but the winds look better offshore, and are passing it by. Dave and I recount the debris floating by, a shoe, 2 dead fish, a plastic bottle, a short 2 by 4. There is the rare bird and even rarer ship. Just sky and water and clouds. We probably have good muscle tone from the constant rolling, though zero aerobic stamina. Each day is much the same in our watery prison, yet we are surprisingly content, so long as we are moving forward and the audiobooks hold up. All is well.

April 28 - lurching along

Last night at watch change, Dave and I discussed the combination of big seas from the storm up north with the shoaling Guyana shelf, and decided to head slightly more offshore, edging to the 2000 meter line, to be more comfortable. We rolled up the jib and set the staysail as the winds built into the low 20s. Dave spent his watch tweaking the foresails, trying to keep our forward momentum. Today the seas are peaking, slapping us on the beam and sending spray high. Should start laying down a bit now.

Too lumpy to cook. I make fresh yoghurt each week. We have the Easy-yo packets, mixed with water, that sit overnight in a thermos of boiled water. Voila! yummy yoghurt. Hope I can find these in the Americas.

We still have a small adverse current slowing our progress. A single bird returned and hitch-hiked all night on the stern. 600 miles to go, another 5 or 6 days at this rate. 7d 40N 52d 11W. All well.

April 29 - cantering down the home stretch

Wish it were a full gallop. Best we can do is about 5 knots. Plenty of wind, but it feels like we are dragging something, going a little slower than we'd expect in these conditions. Maybe that's just our impatience. The current comes and goes, seas still lumpy. Starting to look like landfall on May 3 or 4, 450 miles to go. Yippie-ki-yi-yo! As friend Kris says, don't spare the ponies!

Shared the last mandarin this morning. Tonight we'll have the final bit of cabbage, then the veg bin is officially empty. 8d 33N 54d 32W All is well.

April 30 - Flyin!

Sweet! last night we enjoyed 2 knot favorable current. Today winds are lighter and current dropping off, but we are still making ok time. We are not only out of veg (having jettisoned The Last Tomato), Dave reports he is on the last NY Times crossword on the iPad. And I'm on the final set of logic puzzles. No worries, we still have quite a few episodes of Downton Abbey. It's a measure of how easy this passage has been, that these are the most noteworthy issues. 325 miles to go, forecast favorable. 9d 30 N 56d 30 W, all is well.

May 1 - 200 miles to go

Winds a bit lighter, we are wing-on-wing and rolling like a drunken sailor. Ironic, as we never drink alcohol at sea! We are both heartily tired of the constant motion and ready to have this long passage over. Starting to see a few more ships now - freighters and fishing boats. Dave has routed us through the shoals at the NE corner of Trinidad, then across the top to the Bocas de (mouth of the) Dragon, a series of entrance channels. Right now we plan to take Huevos. We are also starting to look at tides and currents. The channel currents are tidal, so they would be with us early morning and against us through the afternoon on the 3rd. Too soon to gauge our arrival time, though we are hoping for a daylight landfall. 10d 02N 58d 30 W, all is well.

May 2 - final approach

Winds went light this morning, dropping our speed under 3 knots. As we want a daytime landfall tomorrow, Dave cranked on the iron wind. Tomorrow is Friday and we hope to complete our clearance without overtime charges. At this point we have plenty of fuel, and hear that it's only $1 a gallon at the pump in Trinidad, a far cry from the $10 we paid last year at Cocos Keeling! A dark cloud briefly covered us, first rain in a long time, except for a few rinses in squalls. We have a happy 1 knot favorable current. Small fish are leaping all around us, and shorebirds swoop over them. More ships now too. Land is near. 10d 41 N 60d 12 W, all is well.

May 3 - Landfall Trinidad!

At dusk yesterday we approached the NE corner of Trinidad. Offshore gas platforms belched great gouts of flame, giving us the impression we were entering the gates of Hades. A dozen ships convened to make the turn, most on AIS. I called one, a mile and a half away, to tell him I was slowing so he'd pass in front of me. Dave and I both noticed the powerful land smells now, a melange of tree bark, loamy soil and fecund vegetation. We motored across the top of Trinidad in OMG Flat! water, passed by a cigarette boat and the high-speed ferry to Tobago. The land is green and steeply hilly, not as pretty as the Marquesas, but still a most welcome sight after 34 days since St Helena. By the time I woke this morning Dave had most of the offshore gear stowed, and fenders and mooring lines ready. We slid up to the customs dock and after a quick and painless $9 clearance, walked next door to Crews Inn to get our slip assignment. Now, just a few short hours later, we stowed sails and lines, have enjoyed a great seafood lunch, hit the cash machine, had an air conditioning unit installed, and power to the boat, bought a sim card for the phone, and have 2 loads in the wash. Yow. Priscilla is here, and Susie and Tom provided helpful orientation.

The long passage from South Africa is finally over, nearly 5500 miles, with only 2 stops in Namibia and St Helena, 51 passage days since the end of February. The boat is lying still, with a green skirt high up the starboard side showing how we have been heeled over. All is better than well!

Trinidad hoves into view, with powerful land smells.

We motor through Bocas del Dragons.

Copyright 2013. All Rights Reserved.

previous journal home next journal