The Anchorage, Mindelo
This would be our first real ocean crossing, and it was difficult to feel anything but excitement in the lead up. Up until this point we had done 3000 miles spread over 5 months, now we were about to embark on over 2000 miles non-stop. Mindelo in Cape Verde was full of yachts preparing and the air was alive with a festival like buzz. This buzz heightened as the forecast improved and more and more boats started heading for the horizon. Talk was centered around the weather and which fishing lures would work best. We teamed up with some of the other yachts in the anchorage with the plan to sail out together the following day. Having spent the last few evenings enjoying farewell drinks with fellow cruisers, we enjoyed the luxury of our last full nights sleep, safe in the knowledge that we were fully stocked with food, water etc. and had given Florence a full check over.
Out of the shelter of the harbour, the wind acceleration zones between the islands quickly kicked up a sea and gave us gusts of 30knots. As waves crashed into our side and the wind howled in the rigging, we were thankful of the extra reefs we had put in before leaving the quiet bay. We watched a catamaran just ahead of us broach out and began to wonder what was in store for us out there.
Once out of the acceleration zone, the wind dropped dramatically. We were able to keep a course away from the wind shadow created by the islands, allowing us to catch up with some of the yachts who had set off earlier in the day. We enjoyed our first evening at sea, sailing in the company of around 10 other yachts, each with the sole purpose of following the ever retreating horizon, west into the setting sun.
With different destinations and fickle wind directions, the group soon dispersed and we were out of sight of land and people. We decided that we were prepared to put up with the boat rolling in order to sail a more direct (and therefore shorter) course, so we poled out the genoa. This took some getting used to and we both suffered big bruises from being thrown from our seats/across the boat. Matt was so tired one night he forgot to do up the lee-cloth, designed to hold him into bed, and promptly got thrown with a crash onto the floor.
A few days in, our bodies started to grow accustomed to the interrupted sleep and movement of the boat. We fell into a routine and were finally able to start enjoying our surroundings. Travelling across an ocean at 6 knots allows you to not only appreciate it’s vastness but the unique beauty and solitude that comes from being out of sight of land or people for days on end. The need for one of us to be on watch at all times meant that we spent much of our time alone on deck reflecting on life, whilst watching the vast view of blue upon blue. Night watches were the most solitary and the feeling of being alone on an ocean, beneath a clear night sky, watching the shooting stars is one that will never leave us.
Before setting off, a friend had told us tales of being able to eat flying fish which land on the deck in the night. We thought he was exaggerating so were excited to find several waiting for us after a night watch. Not all of them were large enough to eat and the variety of their size and wing types were amazing. Although fiddly to prepare, they are delicious fried in a bread crumbs (flying fish fingers). They seem to be attracted to the light of the boat, which meant that maneuvers in the night with the deck lights on meant risking being hit by a flying fish, and wearing a head torch was ill advised!
It was 3 days at sea before we felt ready to put out the new, stronger fishing line we had purchased in Cape Verde. Within an hour, we had a huge bite which snatched the line to it’s end and made huge leaps into the air as we reeled him in. It was a two person job to get him on board and we broke the rod in the process but we had a 4ft/1.2m Mahi-Mahi (Dolphin Fish/Dorado) which filled our cockpit and would feed us for days. The Mahi-Mahi is a brightly coloured tropical fish, found offshore which shines a brilliant blue/green in the water and changes colour when brought on board. They are very good to eat and we started the ‘how many different ways can you cook a fish challenge’.
Days passed with no sign of any other boats or people in the world, then out of nowhere a yacht appeared above the waves, heading SW and on a collision course with us. Luckily they were also on deck, keeping watch and waved excitedly as we passed within shouting distance of each other. We called them on the radio to say hello but they either did not have it on, did not speak English or just did not want to talk to us. A reminder that even with other boats around, you are on your own.
By now we were mid-Atlantic, over 1000 miles from the nearest land. Not the best place to be when you make the discovery that all sailors dread, salt water inside the boat. It was coming in slowly but we had around 60 liters in the bilge and could not see where it was coming from. Not a lot of water but not something you wish to ignore so far from help. We quickly eliminated several possible sources and set about emptying the contents of our lazerette (aft locker). There we found more water and the source of the problem, a small hole the size of a pin head in the lower end of the hatch drain pipe. This would not usually be underwater, but was being continually submerged by the waves slapping our stern. It is sobering to see how much water can make its way through a nearly undetectable hole. Some sealant and a bandage of self amalgamating tape provided a fix strong enough to hold until we reached sheltered enough water to change the pipe.
The weather in our first week allowed for smooth sailing, the second week however was full of squalls. The gradient wind and sea state increased with several torrential rain squalls each night/day which brought over 30knots of wind for around half an hour each time. This made sleeping on your off watch difficult and meant that our time on deck was spent looking out for the next squall, reducing sail area and closing all the hatches before they hit. A big change from spotting shooting stars and pondering life. The sleep deprivation quickly had an effect on our ability to be positive and think clearly, and made for a couple of pretty miserable days onboard.
We were finally caught out by a squall at 5am on the penultimate night. The conditions during the last 24 hours had been calmer but we were hit by a huge wind shift, torrential rain and a wind increase from 16 to 48knots (before the instruments could no longer be seen for the rain). Despite having completely furled the genoa, we only had one reef in the main. Unfortunately we gybed and the force of this broke first the preventer, and then the boom. The big positive from the breakage was how it was dealt with. Despite the circumstances, 5am with very strong winds and massive seas, there was no stress/blame/shouting at all. We worked well as a team, took the time to think clearly despite the pressure of the situation, defined a plan to harness the boom safely and carried it out to the extent that there was absolutely no other damage and no one even came close to being hurt. On reflection, breaking the boom was a lesson in not being lulled into a false sense of security by gentle night time breezes.
Our final night sailing into St Lucia was again full of squalls, most of it was spent running under bare poles i.e. no sails up what so ever. We even considered dropping the spray hood to further reduce windage as we were still doing 5 knots with massive and breaking seas. Not the way we had envisaged arriving in the Caribbean – full foul weather gear, torrential rain squalls with winds consistently over 40 knots – but once we were close to land we were able to unfurl a small amount of genoa (approx the size of a mirror dinghy jib) and reach around Pigeon Island into Rodney Bay just after dawn. Our crossing time was 14 days 22 hours despite slowing down on the last day to avoid arriving in the dark, a very respectable time for a boat of our size. In the bay the water was flat and the wind lighter but the rain persisted. After the bucking bronco of the Atlantic it felt like Florence was on the hard, we dropped the anchor, set the anchor alarm and went to bed.
So would we do it again? Straight after we arrived – no! In the future? Yes, but with the understanding that the Atlantic or any other ocean is no pond and a tough ocean crossing is likely to push you to your limits of patience and sanity. It will however also leave you with some awe-inspiring memories that can only be gained by crossing an ocean on a small boat.
Miles since last blog: 2037
Total Miles so far: 5055
VIDEO OF OUR ATLANTIC CROSSING TO FOLLOW… (spending too much time enjoying the Caribbean and not enough time video editing!)
10 thoughts on “The Highs and Lows of an Atlantic Crossing”
Wow! Amy and Matt this is so incredible to read! What a story, I’m so glad you’re both safe and having a good time! Take care, please keep writing, it’s a delight to read! Emma&Sam
Enjoying your blogs. Have fun 🙂
What a fantastic crossing! I am hugely impressed with your time, and really pleased to read that you worked well as a team in the face of the inevitable adversities that come with offshore sailing. Congratulations on making it to the Caribbean! I hope that we make it there one day 🙂 Kate
It was a challenge but the caribbean is worth it. In time we will forget the bad bits. You will make it, you are half way there as you have a boat!
Well done Amy and Matt, so please you made it safely across the Atlantic. We are really learning from your experiences. Time to relax and enjoy the Caribbean.
Bernice and Geoff
Well done! Congratulations to you both for what you have done so far. Your blogs are great and Harvey is following you too. Can’t wait for the next video!
Wow fancy meeting people mid Atlantic and then not managing to have a chat with them, how awful is that. I imagine your baptism of fire coming into land at St lucia island must have been very daunting but I bet the first sle.e.e.e.p at anchor must have been long, deep and very satisfying. Well done to you both, love your blog, keep it coming.
Matt, what a life experience. First time you do something is always a learning experience. In later life you will really appreciate what you have both achieved.
All the best in you future adventures.
Many congratulations to you both. You have done brilliantly and should be very proud of yourselves. It’s great to see the photos of Florence. Enjoy the Caribbean.
Thank you. Florence is now back up to 100% after the crossing and is enjoying the warm water and watching the turtles swiming around her at anchor. She does a fantastic job of looking after us.