Archives for posts with tag: EpicVoyage

Here are a little series of videos that I recorded on my phone during the Atlantic crossing.  A couple of things I should note:

  1. There is some very annoying sound interference from the wind blowing on the phone’s microphone.  I’m sorry for that.  If you crank it (NappropriateFW) you can make out at least half of what I’m saying.
  2. The commentary isn’t all that interesting, especially after reading the full post below.
  3. My beard looks like a furry brillo pad because I hadn’t shaved since leaving the Canary Islands on November 22nd.  I was glad to shave it clean when I made it to land.  I thought Andrew was going to be with me in the not shaving stint, but his whiskers bothered him so much he couldn’t sleep.  He shaved about a week into the crossing.
  4. You may have trouble playing the videos.  On my machine, some media playing programs only play the audio track.  This might be a codec problem, but I’m not sure how to solve it.

Video one, 12/25

Video two, 12/29

Video three, 12/31

Video four, 01/03/10


The plotted route on our paper chart. The intervals between points is 12 hours except for the first dozen or so on the right side.

Tocayo and her crew made it across the Atlantic in 19 days.  We were lucky to have moderate, following seas and steady wind for most of the journey.  It was only in the beginning that we had to use the motor to search for wind.  We motored one more time near the end of the voyage in an attempt to stop the rocking in some light winds.  In total we used only around 16 engine hours, a very low figure for an Atlantic crossing.  In fact, the whole time we were out in the ocean went so smoothly that I’m sorry there’s nothing more exciting to relate.  Here’s the gory and slightly boring details anyway.

We left from Marina Mindelo on the island of Sao Vicente in Cape Verde.  We like to think that our crossing of the Atlantic really started from the African continent.  We left Dahkla to stop in Cape Verde along the way across the ocean.  Of course if we count our layover in Cape Verde, we’d probably set a record for the slowest crossing in history.

Before we left the marina, we met a few folks with whom we would be in contact on the open seas.  The first and most important were a very kindly Swedish couple, Christer and Ulla.  We had a few exchanges about our rudder “repair” and the slow pace of bureaucracy in Cape Verde before we found out that they had a satellite phone.  We arranged to call each other as we went across.  Christer also had a SSB radio on board with which he could download weather forecasts.  They sailed on their boat Circe a day before us and we never closed the gap.

We called them a few times to get this weather information and to tell each other our positions et cetera.  Christer graciously agreed to call us after we found how many minutes it cost us to call him.  (There was no way to recharge while afloat and we needed to reserve our time in case of emergency)  So, every day at sundown, he would give us a call and relate the information.  We were also getting weather forecasts from Adam Troy, the chamalist, which we’d share with Christer.  We “celebrated” Christmas and New Year’s with Christer and Ulla over the phone.  We were sorry that our course was diverted to Barbados, because we were all looking forward to buying Christer a beer in Tobago, their landfall destination.

At one point, when the forecast indicated we’d have no winds (and high swells) for four days, Christer actually offered to give us some of his water to ensure we’d be all right for the longer duration of the crossing.  That’s a tremendously magnanimous offer- he would have had to either stop or turn back to meet us, in the middle of the vast, rolling ocean, to try and transfer bulky, heavy items from one bobbing, pitching boat to another.  Fortunately, the predicted absence of wind never happened.

The other people that we met in Mindelo were a Dutch family on a boat named Jonathan A.  They were headed to Suriname, another our possible destinations when we set off.  Amazingly, we managed to raise them on the VHF even when they were over 100 nautical miles away.  That’s many times farther away than VHF is supposed to work ship to ship.

On Christmas Eve we heard music being played over the VHF.   We called for the boat responsible after they signed off with Christmas wishes.  It turned out to be a French boat that was also way out of range.  Somehow a tenuous connection had been made.  Yet another boat overheard us talking to the “musicians” and they called us up afterward.  This other boat, Morgan, was very close to us for several days.  We shared weather information with them while we stayed in range.  At one point they were only 16 sea miles away!  Imagine being that close to another boat, totally by chance, a thousand miles away from any land.

By contrast, we only saw six ships the whole time we were on the high seas.  We only counted the ones that we saw when we were out of sight of land, but most of the ships were sighted near the beginning and end of the trip.  I saw one ship, but Andrew wrecked me in the ship-sighting competition.  He saw all of the other ones, including one that was barely visible at night, but which was confirmed by radar.  Erik apparently has some sort of ship-obscuring cataracts; he missed ships on his shift that Andrew would then pick out.

Our shifts were three hours each and they continued around the clock.  Every day from noon until 3 was a shared shift where we were all supposed to be on watch.  At 3 each day we’d clean inside the boat (wiping down the floors and cleaning the heads).  Then, at 4 p.m. we’d have tea time.  This took the place of happy hours that we used to have when we had alcohol on board.  We would make tea for everyone and sip it while hanging out together and listening to the BBC or VOA on the shortwave radio.

Cooking was done by rotating teams of two people.  We’d always try to have dinner made and eaten before sunset.  We washed our dishes off the back of the boat with saltwater.  Even though we would be tied on while we did that, we tried to make sure we got that squared away before dark, as well.

Cooking was occasionally made difficult by the rocking motions of the boat.  I have totally overcome any motion sickness I once felt.  So, I was fine even belowdeck for extended periods.  Trying to arrange ingredients for cooking on a pitching, rolling counter top was the real challenge.  We had a lot of cans and jars which would slide around while you were waiting to add them to the meal.  Still, that was a pretty minor nuisance – most of our meals turned out wonderfully.  We had fresh tuna for the first few days after we left, fresh vegetables for almost two weeks and lots of yummy combinations of preserved foods.

We made Southwest chili, pesto tuna ziti, pizza from scratch, curries and stir-fries.  I even baked bread twice.  Andrew blessed it for shabbat and it made for some damn fine pb and j’s.  Thanks to our stocking up in the Cash and Carry in Lanzarote, we had Golden Grahams, Cheerios and Fitness cereals for the entire trip.  We also had dried apricots, mixed nuts and granola bars to snack on.  We went overboard with the provisioning and ended up with lots of jars and cans left over.  At least we knew we wouldn’t go hungry even if we had been delayed as feared.

In the steady tradewinds we had plenty of opportunities to experiment with sail combinations.  We started out sailing wing-on-wing, which we had practiced on the trip from Morocco to Cape Verde.  Then, when it became annoying trying to keep the boat on the narrow range of angles that wouldn’t collapse the jib or cause the main the flap violently, we brought out the gennaker.

The gennaker was the real champ of the crossing.  Most of the way we had winds that were light enough (read <15 knots) to be able to fly her.  The boat has an incredibly smooth ride under the gennaker.  There was little of the rocking that plagues so many Atlantic traversers; she just pulled us along like we were a kid’s red wagon.  Erik said that it made him happy just to see it up.  She was beautiful, too, in her gaudy green and soothing, bellied shape.

I would usually be the one to go forward and attach the tack, halyard and sheet as well as lifting the sock.  The whole sail has a nylon tube that slips over it, the sock, and this is raised or lowered by a separate string attached to a fiberglass ring on the end of the tube.  It’s a great system when it works because you can easily unfurl the sail and it all packs away nicely when you bring the sock back down.  However, the sock doesn’t always work exactly as you’d like, and then it was a real bitch.  The cord that you have to pull to get it up or down is of a small diameter that cuts into your hands.  As the mouth of the sock is traveling up the length of the sail, it also pulls the cord with each gust of wind.  I would have to put all my weight on it sometimes to stop myself from being flung overboard.

That was the only concern we had with the gennaker, either.  At one point Erik noticed that it was ripped.  Luckily it wasn’t ripped in the main fabric surface of the sail, but rather a layer of reinforcement in the corner.  Still, we were worried about it and took the sail down.  I spent hours sewing the reinforcement patch back on using whipping twine (not the proper thread) and a 99 cent sewing kit needle (not the proper tool).  Finally, after straining my back leaning over the sewing, poking my finger various times with the needle and sweating the whole time in the stuffiness of the cabin, she was ready to fly again.  I attached all the lines, hauled up the sock and she unfurled to her glorious fullness.  Then the sewing I did ripped right out.

We left it like that on the assumption that the remaining seams of the reinforcement patch would hold.  They did hold up to the extraordinary pressure of the huge sail.  There is so much power in the sail that the tack (where the bottom of the sail attaches at the front) ripped off the plastic housing of the forward navigational lights.  We didn’t discover this until we neared land and needed the nav lights again.  While we were out at sea we just had one light at the top of the mast on -there was no one around anyway.

There weren’t that many creatures around either.  The most numerous animal that we saw were flying fish.  A few jumped on board and died on the deck.  We saw many, many more flying around on the surface of the large, slowly rolling swells.  They are capable of some really amazing flights.  I’m sure that I saw individuals go 100 yards on a single flight.  We’d often see groups of 25 or 30 fish leave the water en masse to plunge into the face of some wave, looking like a spattering of machine gun fire into the water.  We also saw dolphins a few times.  They are everyone’s favorite.  There were pilot whales in the beginning, but we never saw any of the larger whales out there.  I admit to humming what I thought might be the come hither call of the whale on a few night watches, but it was to no avail.

I was surprised to see birds nearly the whole time.  We’d see large gull-like birds and these small brown birds that flitted low to the surface of the water.  I guess that they are fine hundreds of miles from land because they can just float on the surface of the water.  It makes you wonder about those stories of sailors seeing birds and knowing that land was nearby.

We didn’t see a lot of animals but we did see a lot of Nature.  The wide expanse of the ocean is pure wilderness – there’s nothing man-made around for hundreds of miles.  We were sailing west into the sunset the whole time.  They would paint the sky and clouds with a beautiful palette of hues and shades each evening.  Then night would set in.  Before the moon rose, the darkness was intense.  The stars in that darkest period of the night shone with undiluted brilliance.  You could see the Milky Way clearly and shooting stars were common.  Orion would slowly creep around from behind us (East) to set in front of us in the morning, while the Big Dipper would stay to starboard.   At some point the moon would rise, at times orange and heavy and at other times silvery and luminescent.  The light from the moon was nearly bright enough to read by because it was full or nearly so the whole time.

Perhaps our greatest accomplishment on the crossing (besides not getting on each others’ nerves) was our water conservation.  Tocayo carries three water tanks with over 30 gallons each.  For the first two weeks of the trip, we only used one of the tanks.  It was only in the last handful of days that we had to switch to the next tank.  We guess that the big savings in water came from washing the dishes with saltwater.  We also took showers using a large bottle of water – 1.5 liters.  Surprisingly, it was entirely satisfactory in getting us clean and unsalty.

We only took  a few showers in those 19 days.  One of the times we all showered was after we attempted to swim around the boat.  Our Kiwi skipper, Joe, had told us that this was something of a tradition among those that cross the Atlantic – you have to do a lap around the boat in the middle of the ocean.  We waited until we were very far away from land, really out there in the middle of the ocean, and there were only light winds.  Unfortunately, the boat was still pushed along by the wind and the waves.  All three of us swam mightily along the starboard side but couldn’t quite make it around.  I felt I was doing pretty well as I made headway against the boat.  Erik and Andrew were back on board when I went for obvious safety reasons.  As I pulled up to the bow, I could see it beside me as I turned my head for breath.  It sliced and chomped through the water like something out of a sawmill.  I still had some reserves of energy, but there was no way I could risk trying to swim in front of and then around the boat.  I let the boat drift forward and caught the safety line dragging in the water.  I guess you could call it a disappointment, but we did go swimming in the middle of the Atlantic.  And the whole idea of doing a lap was just the mad idea of an incompetent Kiwi skipper.

When we finally approached land, we were happy but not ecstatic.  We didn’t jump from the boat to kiss the land or anything like that.  We had actually slowed down the last few days to ensure we’d arrive in the morning.  We really felt comfortable in the daily routine on board Tocayo.  I wouldn’t want to hop on another boat and cross another ocean, but it comfortable and beautiful out there on the high seas.  That pretty much sums up the whole crossing: comfortable and beautiful.

Tocayo and her fearless crew made it across the Atlantic in 19 days to make landfall in Barbados.  Andrew, Erik and I are all safe and happy to be back to civilization.  More details on the Atlantic crossing to follow.

And we’re off! Watch us on the new SPOT page (see right)

Our stay in Sal was quite pleasant.  Especially because we met a Dutch couple, Floortje and Jelle, who are sailing around the world in the next four years.  They are friendly, funny and best of all, younger than most of the other boaters we meet.  We are usually by far the youngest boat crew around, with the majority of our fellow boaters being retired.  We got to talking with them and soon were having beers in the cockpit of Tocayo.  Their boat, Libis, is beautiful and well-built, but a tad cozy to entertain in.  We were also having problems with the outboard motor for our dinghy.  So, we were delighted to have them bring some beers over to the previously dry boat.  (We’ve decided that the dry rule doesn’t apply while we’re in port.)

They have no set plans for further on, but they started telling us of their plans for the Atlantic crossing.  They are going to Suriname, since that is one of the only places in the world outside of Holland that one can go and still speak Dutch.  Furthermore, the course from Cape Verde to Suriname puts one on a better point of sail (hopefully).  Without running so far downwind, the boat is more stable and less likely to jibe.  Whether going that far South will actually result in an angle to the wind that is more comfortable will still depend on the winds themselves. The distance from Cape Verde to Suriname is also some 200 miles less than to Barbados.

With all these reasons and the gravy on top of seeing two new countries (which we would probably never go to otherwise), we have decided that we will also head for Suriname.  I’m excited for the shortened crossing, getting to see the rainforest and river, the culinary delights of Suriname’s cultural melange and the supposedly hyperpygian stature of the women there.  Plus, heading down there doesn’t just add two more countries to the list of places that Tocayo has taken us to, it adds a whole new continent!

On the other hand, I wish it didn’t necessairly add so much time on to the rest of the trip.  After we hit land in Suriname, we will have to work our way up from far farther South.  (Just 5 degrees from the equator!)  That means I won’t be back in the U.S. until later and it possibly disrupts meeting up with my peeps in the Caribbean.  Of course, only time (and tides and wind and currents) will tell where we end up and when.

So, that is the news on the course correction.  As for the rest of time here in Cape Verde, it has been very pleasant.  We hopped over to Sao Nicalau where we hiked down the amazing central valley of the island.  At the end of the hike we came into Ribeira Brava, the island’s capital, where we saw a religious procession in honor of the saint himself.  Old St. Nick himself.  Oddly enough, in Holland,  St. Nick (and his band of 6-8 “Black Petes”) competes in popularity with Santa Claus.  Our new Dutch friend was telling me all about it as I was trying to tell her about David Sedaris’ hilarious (possibly not entirely accurate) story of their tradition.

We spent the night at anchor on Sao Nicalau and then set off for the large island of Sao Vicente.  We had a terrific bout of wind with us the whole way and some pretty intense sailing for a day trip.  We got doused by waves that crashed just so against the gunwales more than once.

Coming into Sao Vicente was a treat even after the usual marina VHF confusion.  We were relieved that there actually is a marina here, for one.  It’s the product of the inspiration and dedication of a German named Kai who has lived out here for over 15 years.  It’s very nicely done, too.  The setting, in Mindelo’s huge circular bay is tremendous in itself.  Each evening we watch the sun go down behind the mountains across the watery expanse.

Mindelo is a cool city.  The second largest town in Cape Verde has a relaxed atmosphere, but enough commerce and commotion to remind you that it has reached a critical mass.  We found a cool little cafe/bar that has become our usual haunt fro morning coffees and late night beers.   On the recommendation of a local we went to Achote, where our grilled fish was accompanied by live music.

The streets here are paved in cobblestones and many former colonial buildings still exist, in somewhat good repair.  There are shops here selling an amazing array of pricey merchandise, from flat screen TVs to scooters.  It’s very easy to forget you’re in Africa when you see it all.  The police have (nice) uniforms, there’s no trash in the streets, and the people are well-dressed in European style.  Everyone is quite friendly and hearing the sounds of Portuguese being spoken among them is enchanting.  My Spanish gets me by as long as I speak slowly (and they do too!).  Their money, the (other?) escudo,  features a number of pictures of sailboats on it because of their long connection to the sea.   So, we feel right at home in this place.

We’ve been hanging out with the Dutch folks and plan on hiking with them tomorrow around San Antao, the greenest of the islands.   It’s only a short sail away, but we’ll be taking the ferry over.   It’s possible to do too much sailing, you know.