We finally left Las Palmas marina 57 days after our early arrival. We had had good times and made many friends especially Nick and Fiona Rawbone. But the time had come for us to begin our first Atlantic Ocean crossing. Matt and Gav had joined us in Las Palmas and at 11:45 after the obligatory team photo we slipped our berth and headed out the marina towards the start line. The ARC and marina laid on a memorable send off with bands marching up and down the pontoons and hundreds of well wishes waving us off, we felt like real celebrities.
As expected we had a great start at the committee boat end and just look at the size of the committee boat, making sure we staying clear of their anchor lines. For a few hours we were ahead of boats much faster than our Kindred Spirit but we did remind ourselves it’s a Rally not a Race!
We settled into sailing with the wind behaving as forecast light ENE and increasing in the acceleration zone. It wasn’t long before we had 3 reefs in the main and 2 in the genoa and still sailing at 6-8 knots. The watch system was a little haphazard on the first night to ensure Gav and Matt settled into the boat. The night was dark with no visible moon. It was amazing to think we started rally just a few hours earlier and as night arrived we could see just 4 yachts.
At the skippers briefing we had been told about the expected weather conditions across the different sea area as there are lots of skippers who want different outcomes from the rally (or race in the racing class). We had opted for the less wind and more comfortable southerly route taking us south along the African coast with the intention of turning west just before we reach Cape Verde.
Mondays breakfast was a crew selection of cereal, fruit, roll, fruit juice and coffee. This was to be the standard breakfast for the crossing with occasional bacon sandwich when spirits are waning. After a brief encounter with a dolphin Gavin decided to set up the fishing rod and was determined to be the first crew to catch a fish. Monday 20th was our first experience of the SSB ARC radio net where we can identify the position and the weather other ARC yachts are experiencing across the rally zone and to share any problem, solutions or achievements with fellow yachts. The first full day was good sailing weather and general boat stuff, our evening meal was a beef stew made in our pressure cooker. The pressure cooker and pump top thermos flask are 2 new additions to KS kitchen and things I would not be without. All thanks to the suggestion and thermos donation from NoStress, Nick and Fiona.
On Monday night we moved to a single watch system due to light winds and Vera took over steering as she is exceptionally good at holding a wind angle. But by 4am the wind had increased to 12-15kts so we added a 3rd reef but once again the wind dropped to almost nothing and full main replaced the reef.
Our days quickly set into a routine of breakfast 8-9am (UTC) the boat checks and rods out until 11 when we have coffee and biscuits. At 11:55 we gather round the SSB to listen to the ARC net until 12:45. We then have lunch which is normally a sandwich or wrap followed by fruit. We try to have quiet time in the afternoon to either read or catch up on sleep. At 4pm we have tea and cake. The cakes/biscuits were made by Alice who made sufficient to last 3 weeks. Dinner is 6-6:30. Then after dinner a couple of rounds of Pop Master and general quiz with the watch pattern starting at 9pm.
As for the sailing we had 2 days of good NE-E -SE winds but as we had chosen the southern route the light and sometimes non-existent winds emerged thanks to high pressure system just above us. Each day we downloaded a weather grib file either via SSB or via Iridium Go (satellite phone system). This was also the best way to communicate with home. We can call, send and receive basic text only emails and these were checked at least once daily. It was after lunch on Tuesday 21st 15:30 that we decided to use the engine. The use of an engine is allowed in Rally section provided we declare time and distance travelled. We decided that we needed to get to the area of winds further south as soon as possible.
After 3 days at sea we had used our sails in most combination, even seeing the outing of our cruising chute. We seem to have lots of wind in the middle of the night and almost none in the day. We had waved goodbye to Las Palmas surrounded by yachts of varied sizes, ages and from different nationalities but now we’re alone with only a fleeting glance of one other yacht and a strange looking fishing vessel with no AIS.
1 week after the start and we finally had a decent steady NE breeze of 6kts that promised to blow us towards the Caribbean. The recent light winds and motor sailing tried the captain and crew endurance. We had caught no fish and had a temperamental generator, all topped off with an estimated arrival time to St Lucia Jan 2018!! Then Sat 25th Nov our fortunes changed we managed to land 2 fish one on standard boat rod and the other on Joanna’s crabbing line. Both fish were Boninto and tasted lovely. Then at 1700 the trade wind finally filled in from N/NE. The previous 3 evenings we had motor sailed, so to cruise along in near silence was heaven for those both on and off watch. We spend most of the days alone but Saturday night the only other ship in our Atlantic was on a direct course with us. As the tanker was 200m long I decided to alter course to ensure a 1.8 mile passing gap. This did make my watch more interesting and passed quickly.
As there are 4 adults living on a 43ft yacht cleanliness and hygiene are important and once every 4-5 days we had showers. This was made possible mainly by having a water maker and generator (now behaving) to ensure we are enough battery to run the equipment especially important for navigation and communication equipment. Other days we had stand up sponge downs and rinsed our own clothes. After a week it became obvious that although we could generate plenty of power with both wind generator and solar we need more storage capacity. So additional batteries are on the shopping list in St Lucia. This means that each evening we run the generator for 30 mins to help cover the SSB usage and boil a couple of kettles etc.
On Sunday 3rd Dec it had been 2 weeks since we started the ARC. This week has seen team KS get into a routine of watches and meals. Meal and coffee breaks are notable events that break up the day. We had our last fresh meat on Saturday 2nd Dec and I cannot praise enough the excellent meat that the recommended butcher in Las Palmas delivered to us vacuum packed and frozen. This meant moving to ham, cheese, tinned meats accompanied with tortilla de papas, rice, pasta etc. The good news was that we still had fresh onions and apple to stave off scurvy.
We moved 23 degrees west and had noticed the sun setting later and rising later so to fit in with this change we moved our eating and watch times accordingly as we moved west. This gradual shift will help us accustom our body clocks for St Lucia time as they are 4 hours behind GMT.
The weather since the right hand turn at 5pm on 25/1/17 was a good steady breeze ranging from 8-20knts and from the expected direction NE, E & ESE. This has meant downwind sailing & although this is not a problem for KS, Vera (Hydrovane) did struggle at times with the wind behind 180 degrees accompanied by a large Atlantic swell. We used main and genoa from fully out to 3 reefs in main and 2 in the genoa and often with the genoa poled out, classic downwind sailing. But we always reef down at night to ensure comfortable safe overnight passages. Gavin caught another fish on Thursday 30th November, a small Mahi Mahi that was cooked by Gav and hungrily eaten for lunch that day.
On Sunday 3rd Dec we passed the imaginary centre of the Atlantic crossing 38 degrees west and opened the gift from friends Bill and Sandy Tremlett. Bill has previously crossed the Atlantic with Chris & Mavis Hornsey & Ian Corney on a Sigma 41. The gift was a CD of Hancock’s half hour episode to help fill the hours and hours of downwind sailing, thank you.
Saturday 9th December marked our 3rd week at sea. The days as I have previously described are sail-eat-sleep repeat. These days and nights are punctuated by exciting events like spotting a yacht on AIS or even better a mast in the distance. We have also been visited by flying fish and each morning walk the decks to remove the fish that didn’t make the leap over KS after dark. During one early morning watch an energetic flying fish jumped the rails and hit matt square on the back before slithering into the cockpit subsequently losing an eye that was never found. Gavin has continued his success with another catch a large Wahoo and Tuna both that we set free as it was too big for us to eat and I didn’t fancy all the fridge contents smelling of fish.
We did spend a lot of time reading, doing crosswords, puzzles and much to our delight Matt decided to learn the ukulele! Geoff and Matt also took sexant sights. Fortunately, he picked it up quite quick which is more any other crew member. At the end of each day after dinner we review the position reports and talk about yachts that may be close by or watching the progress of our friends. This is followed by a couple of rounds of Pop Master and general quiz. I am the quizmaster as the men are very competitive, I have a custom-built spreadsheet and will declare the winner at the end of the ARC.
As I mentioned the SSB and iridium go are the methods used to download weather data. The ARC net is also an excellent way of hearing first-hand the weather in different areas of the course. Wednesday 6th December was the first ARC net chat where other yachts mentioned experiencing squalls. These are shorts lived but sudden rain downpours with excessive wind increase with wind being directly proportional to rain. We checked out with radar on Wednesday 7th as there was lots of dense clouds around and although we did identify a squall this one was not on our track. At 1am on Friday 8th Matt was just handing the helm over to Geoff and I was just officially going off watch when we were hit by a squall. First it went calm and light then the torrential rain and then wind up to and possibly more than 30knts all within 2 minutes.
The wind lasted just 5 mins and the rain for 15 minutes. This was long enough for Matt and Geoff to be sodden but not significant enough to arouse Gav from his bunk. Luckily, we had reefed KS down to 3 reefs before dark due to known increase in wind strength and possibility of squalls. Above decks KS handled the wind well, below decks I did a double check for safety stowage especially heavy items as we were tossed around. The squall ended as suddenly as it had started, with light winds, in fact as it was dark Geoff did 2 360⁰ turns due to lack of steerage and orientation. The wind eventually came back and did build to the expected 20-24knts so we kept the reefs in and continued towards the Caribbean at 7-8knts.
The only significant equipment failure we have encountered is with our cockpit chart plotter. We originally thought the problem was connected to the SSB usage but as the days have progressed it is obviously a fault with the touch screen of the Raymarine a98 ‘touch screen only’ plotter in the cockpit that is < 2 years old. The data is correct, but the touch screen becomes unusable and erratic. We have contacted a specialist in St Lucia as it is still under warranty and are hopeful for a repair / replacement before ARC Panama Jan 2018. This excessive erratic behaviour may also account for some of the unexpected power consumption at times overnight. We are fortunate to have a second chart plotter below decks.
We had hoped to finish on Wednesday 13th Dec but on the Sunday 10th the wind strength reduced and so did our speed. We still managed 3-4knts and did finally give the cruising a full day run but this was not the 6-7knts we had been making recently. We did motor a little of the final few days but with over 250 miles to go we couldn’t afford the diesel to motor all the way to the finish in Rodney Bay. The recent night sails have been slow and given us an opportunity to watch the sky at night. And although we are not sure of the name of many constellations we have been amazed by the sheer number of shooting stars seen each night.
As our distance to go reduced to < 200miles then <100miles we started making plans about what we most miss and would eat or drink on arrival. The night before our probable arrival night we had the traditional KS dinner of Frey Bentos Pies with potato and Veg. The crew assure me Fray Bentos pies have never tasted so good.
We Finally crossed the line on Thursday 14th Dec at 02:00 local time after 25 days at sea.
We celebrated with the traditional arrival beer followed by a bottle of Bollinger Champagn kindly given to us by Dave and Lee.
The Atlantic crossing has been an amazing experience, the sunsets and sunrise always memorise, the night sky is indescribably full of stars and dolphins always may us happy. Kindred Spirit, her crew and equipment coped well with a variety of weather and living conditions. We now look forward to a few days on dry land before cruising the Caribbean further.