Monday, December 28, 2009

Atlantic Crossing

We timed our crossing to coincide with the end of hurricane season in the Atlantic.  We had calculated that the 2711 mile trip would take us 21 days at an average speed of 5.5 knots.  This was our 3rd big ocean crossing (already having done the Pacific and the Indian Oceans) so we were not at all nervous.  In fact, we were looking forward to the trip.

The first 2 days were light winds and we struggled to keep the spinnaker full.  This was not unexpected.  The seasonal winds didn’t really kick in until around Cape Verde which was 500 miles south of us so we just concentrated on going south for a couple days before we turned west.    After only 2 days, the winds picked up and we had ideal conditions for  almost 2 weeks.  We had moderate winds (15 – 20 knots) from a consistent direction (north east), no squalls and only 6 foot swells (which is about as small as you will get in the Atlantic).
We saw lots of dolphins.  A large pod would show up every couple of days and swim with us for 10 – 20 minutes.  My favourite part is when they can be seen coming from some distance away at high speed, jumping over the waves.  They look like the cavalry coming to the rescue.

We also had a few flying fish end up on the deck each night.  Usually we can hear them when they hit the deck and they frantically flip about, I assume trying to launch themselves back into the water.  This tends to leave a lot of scales and slime on the deck but it also alerts us to their presence so we can often flip them back in the water while they are still alive.  Unfortunately, sometimes we don’t hear them and only find them days later hidden in behind some fuel jugs or lines on the deck rotting away and stinking up a storm.

We only saw one whale and very few ships on this trip.  We saw a couple of freighters in the first two days when we were within 200 miles of the Canary Islands and then no more until we approached the Barbados 19 days later.  On day 8, we passed a “tall ship” and Stephen called them up on the VHF radio for a little chat which was the highlight of our day.

In the past, we have lost a lot of weight on our passages due to difficult sailing.  This trip, we gained weight.  I had prepared lots of things in advance like chili, and pasta sauce and curries.  Plus, the trip was so smooth, I did some baking on the way and we ate really well.  After 2 weeks, we were thinking “this is way too easy… Anybody could do this”.  I think we jinxed ourselves.

On day 15, the winds rose, the skies clouded over, squalls came at us from several directions.  We would get the swell from one side and the wind driven waves from the other, which created an extreme rocking motion.  Cans in the cupboard and books on the shelves banged back and forth.  We had to stuff towels and socks etc. in the cupboards to stop the noise and potential damage.  This went on for 5 days and was particularly troublesome at night because you can’t see the squalls coming.  If it is a really big squall, it will show up on radar but a small squall sometimes doesn’t show up and so you get a few surprises. During the night, the squalls often brought rain which blew horizontally through the cock-pit and we would get soaked.  (The photo below is what a squall looks like.  The next photo is what a nice day at sea looks like.)

After a couple days, the waves and the swell had increased up to 10 - 15 feet so we could no longer sail our course.  We had to head off course by at least 20 degrees and then tack back and forth along our path which added many extra miles to the crossing.  In the end though, we completed the crossing in 19 days and 8 hours which was less than the 21 days we had estimated so we were pleased. 

We arrived in Barbados in the late afternoon and checked in through customs, immigration and quarantine in the commercial port of Bridgetown. After completing all the formalities, we left the port and dropped anchor in Carlisle Bay just before dark.  We were too tired to inflate the dinghy and lower it into the water in order to go to shore so we spent our first night in Barbados watching the sunset from the cockpit, sipping a glass of wine, while we listened to the reggae music coming from a beach bar on shore.   I think we are going to like it here.


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