Passage Log – Mindelo to Forte De France, Martinique
Author's apology/excuse: some of the English is really quite shocking with tenses jumbled up all over the place. The conditions are my excuse. It would take me ages to correct and so I have decided to publish and be dammed! Also problems with uploading photos, so a bit threadbare!
|Another Atlantic Passage Maker|
Thursday 8th December 2016
After the frustrations of yesterday we finally got of the marina berth at about 1300 GMT and then had to wait for half an hour to fuel up whilst a vast American yacht filled her tanks.
Earlier we said goodbye to Terry and Fiona on Sisu a Rival 38 who will be heading for Antigua in a week or so and perhaps therefore we’ll see them again. We also said goodbye to Nico on board his lovely Colin Archer ketch. He very kindly helped us with our lines. He will be heading for Grenada in a few days. After fuelling up we motored into the harbour and said goodbye to Neil and Michael on board their very sturdy aluminium sloop Miveria. They will be heading for Barbados in a few days so there is a possibility we may see them again too.
We set the Genoa to start with until we were out in the Canal da Sao Vincente but once again we were lucky and the acceleration zone was pretty muted. 15 knots or so only so we soon set the jib to windward with our new expensive spinnaker pole, alongside the Genoa to leeward sheeted to the main boom.
Our trade wind sailing experience had begun. Next planned stop is some 2000 miles west at Forte de France, Martinique. We started off making a good six knots. IF we are able to keep up that sort of speed we’ll be in in time for Christmas!
Mick made a late sandwich lunch around 1600 and as we were eating it I saw three whales off to port about 500 metres away. Of course, by the time we had got the cameras out they had gone.
As evening fell the wind eased and at the time of writing our speed was down to 4-5 knots. Our heading is south of west being the best compromise between comfort (with the swell nearly behind us and our desired heading of about 280. The wind is due to veer more to the west over the coming days and therefore we expect to make a better course then.
Mick’s taking the first 6 hour watch from 2000 to 0200.
Needless to say, I got hardly any sleep. The wind decided to die and back pushing us south and with the existing swell produced a horrible rolling motion once again.
Friday 9th December
Up at 0200. The changed wind necessitated a sail change to Genoa only so we could head more west. We assumed the wind would veer back enabling us to run west under twin head sails. It did for 10 minutes during which time we hoisted the jib and got it down again and for the remainder of my watch we sailed under Genoa only expecting the wind to veer back.
At around 0500 a commercial vessel the Baltic Pioneer crossed us from the south. His CPA was less than a mike and so I called him up on the radio and he made the necessary course change to give us a wider berth. At around the same time a German yacht Lady Sunshine began to overhaul us from the east and to the north. She was most probably out of Mindelo too.
Just after dawn at around 0730 GMT we were visited by a large pod of Dolphins including babies who played chicken in the bow wave for a good 15 minutes. I got the video camera out and may have captured some action – we’ll see!
Once Mick came on watch at 0800 we hoisted the main in an effort to keep up and then an hour or so later we hoisted the jib too and so for the first time Arctic Smoke was running under 3 sails. This was moderately successful for a few hours and we kept Lady Sunshine in sight but we were once again being pushed further south under that sail plan and therefore after a couple of hours I dropped the jib at around 1300 and got back on a more westerly course.
Later in the afternoon we heard radio traffic between a Frenchman and the German Lady Sunshine. We deduced the German was the interesting Trimaran we saw in Mindelo with two un-stayed rotating masts and wrap around sails. Mick had chatted to him in the Loos and discovered he was familiar with Elizabethan 33s. Apparently, some were made in France. He and Lady Sunshine had quite a chat on Channel 16 and when they had finished another German boat we could see off to starboard then chatted to Lady Sunshine. Being reserved British types we didn’t join in!
The day passed without incident and we continued to make reasonable progress at 5-6 k on a magnetic heading of around 290 which meant we were more or less heading for Martinique on a great circle route at 274 degrees true.
Mick was feeling a little queasy so I fixed a late lunch of boiled eggs and cooked dinner – pork stew and we ate around 1830 in the cockpit. I had the first off-watch again at 2000 and this time got a good sleep.
Saturday 10th December
Up at 0200 to find things much the same under a bright moonlight sky. Our course was almost directly into the moon. Our GPS unit is predicting arrival on the 23rd December but we’ll be very fortunate if we are able to maintain our speed over the rest of the passage in order to achieve that.
An uneventful night under the still very bright moon and continued to average about 5 k in the right direction. Lady Sunshine left our AIS screen. The other German boat to the north of us disappeared at nightfall and we therefore assumed she didn’t turn her lights on (she never appeared on our AIS screen and therefore presumably was not transmitting).
I had a catch-up sleep when I came of watch and then Mick cooked an excellent brunch omelette, slightly spoilt by being dowsed in orange squash when the boat took an unexpected lurch to port!
After breakfast we heard Lady Sunshine on the VHF again looking for someone to talk to so after a while we called her up and had a pleasant chat (on channel 8). She apparently broke her steering vane rudder and had to put into Mindelo for repairs. She’s almost 2 metres longer than Arctic Smoke so we weren’t too sore that they had overhauled us overnight.
We played with the video cameras again in the afternoon. Goodness knows whether any of it will be worth viewing. The same scenery day after day does not make for compulsive viewing and if there was anything really exciting happening we would probably both be too busy to take pictures!
The wind died away somewhat in the later afternoon and therefore so did our speed. However it backed further north and increased around 1715 and we are once again making 5+ knots. The GPS is now predicting arrival in the early hours of Christmas eve!
The evening was so pleasant we had cocktails in the cockpit (very weak rum punch).
Mick’s on cooking duty tonight and a mince hash is brewing in the pressure cooker and very good it smells too!
It tasted good as well!
After dinner Mick had a snooze until it was time for his watch at 2000.
I slept pretty well for most of my time off.
Sunday 11th December 2016
I did though become aware that the wind had increased and that the boat was behaving in a more lively fashion, then at around 1315 I was woken properly by water splashing over my feet. The hatch in the cabin roof was open and it had come in through there. I noticed that Mick was helming by hand and he confirmed that Angus was unable to cope with the latest gust that had hit us. After a brief chat we agreed it was time to reef so I got togged up and went on deck to do just that. Unfortunately the topping lift (the bit of string that holds the main boom up when the sail is not doing so) had come adrift so when I lowered the mainsail to reef the boom dropped. This was potentially a tricky situation because it meant we could not lower or reef the mainsail without the boom dropping into the sea! In the current conditions whilst we were really carrying too much canvas we could get away with it by easing the main fully out to spill the wind out of it. Should the wind increase significantly however we would have a more serious situation to deal with.
Back with the main therefore and a think about what to do. I had spare halyards running to the top of the mast and so we should be able to make use of one of those as a temporary topping lift. However that would require re-routing the halyard and the likelihood of doing that successfully in the dark seemed pretty remote. We therefore eased the main right off and reefed the Genoa and the boat seemed to be reasonably comfortable and on a reasonable course and we so decided to leave things like that until daylight (or unless things got worse) when we can see what we’re doing.
The upside of the situation is that we’re making good progress at around 6 knots.
At the change of Watch at 0800 we rigged the spare halyard as a topping lift without too much difficulty. The lead is not great but it works and it will hopefully get us to Martinique. In the daylight it was also possible to see what had happened. The shackle holding the topping lift block (pulley) to the top of the mast had either come undone or had broken – the line itself was OK. Thank goodness it had not happened when I was in the middle of reefing with my full weight on the boom!
Another balmy evening in the cockpit deserved a beer. Unfortunately, we’re not over impressed with the Cape Verde beer and we have now finished all our San Miguel .
I cooked dinner – Cheritzo Hot Pot. It was pretty good. After that I rang Sharon on the Sat phone borrowed from Richard. Unfortunately one of the Matriarch’s of our family – Aunty Cordell – died whilst we were in the Cape Verde and so Sharon’s busy helping out with the funeral arrangements. No other bad news thankfully. Aunty has been a major figure in the family for many years and will be sorely missed.
Noon position = 16 40 N, 31 12 W
Monday 12th December
On Watch at 0200 as usual and again the moon is incredibly bright. Almost a full moon too.
We’ve been making pretty good progress for a little boat. Noon to noon averages over the last two days have been around 130 and as at 0230 this morning our previous noon position was already 80 miles behind us. We’ve been sailing under twin head sails. since lunch time yesterday after the wind veered more to the West. Whilst we’re making good speed we are having to sail south of our ideal heading. We’re hoping the wind will veer further west but if it doesn’t within the next 12 hours or so we may go back to main and Genoa and head north of our desired heading. With the wind as it is, that heading either results in the jib backing under the current rig or with the Genoa being blanketed by the mainsail.
We kept the twin head sails. for the rest of the night but it proved to be an uncomfortable one for Mick trying to sleep in the for-peak. The wind backed a little and increased significantly shortly after he retired forcing us further south once more. I therefore adjusted Angus to sail us closer to the wind but that had the result of the jib backing frequently and when it snapped back it caused a lot of vibration (not readily apparent from the cockpit but it was from the for-peak as I learnt later). Not something the boat should sustain for long periods. We were in any case over canvassed and I was on the verge of calling Mick up to reduce sail several times but never did. We were sailing extremely fast for Arctic Smoke – I often saw 7k + on the speedometer and it was exhilarating sailing. Mick popped his head up at about 0630 to complain about the rough ride and so I headed back down wind more which eased things. Nevertheless at the change of Watch at 0800 we doused the jib and carried on under just the Genoa enabling us to head towards the wind a little and north of west to get back on course of around 280 magnetic.
We continued like that for the rest of the day with the only change being to sheet the Genoa to the main boom when the wind veered a little so allowing us to sail more downwind. This had the benefit of putting the now significant swell more behind us and thus reducing the rolling.
Ah, yes the rolling. Probably the most significant feature of this passage. When the swell is from behind the rolling is for the most part consistent and reasonably predictable. You can’t put anything down on a flat surface and expect it to remain there but at least you can sort of predict where it’s going to go and make allowances (such as keeping one’s cup of tea in one’s hand). However, the further from the stern the swell is the more unpredictable it becomes and that’s when stuff, particular drinks and us get thrown in all directions. Sleep becomes near impossible!
The upside of down-wind sailing is that it’s much drier than when sailing into the wind. Much less water gets on the boat and therefore into it. And of course, there’s no pitching. Never having undertaken a long passage close hauled (although I think the passage from Madeira to the Azores last year with Tony was on a close reach). I’m not absolutely sure which is the more comfortable but I suspect three weeks of rolling may be better than three weeks of constant heeling, pitching and soaking!
Why am I doing this?
We both felt very knackered today and spent most of our off-watch time in our bunks trying to catch up on lost sleep. I’m off-watch shortly and will hold the 0200 – 0800 watch again. I hope I get some good sleep before then.
Noon position = 16 03.8 N, 33 21.7 W
Noon to noon = 131 NM
Tuesday 13th December 2016
Did I mention the rolling? Oh yes so I did. Well it’s worse than that. I was going to write that I didn’t get a wink of sleep for six hours due to the bloody rolling but that’s not true because remember dreaming that I was sailing in a North Sea estuary somewhere with others and we gave up our night time passage in search of a comfortable anchorage because the rolling was so bad! No anchorage out here though!
I had a brief chat with Mick around 0100 to share my discomfort and he very kindly didn’t wake me at 0200 and I “slept” in until 0245. On rising and with a very bright full moon, I decided it was worth trying a change of sail plan in an effort to reduce the rolling. We reefed the Genoa and set the jib. It helps a little – that is until we get hit by a cross swell and then the dancing starts again along with the banging and clattering and squeaking and groaning and swearing. We found a point of sailing that managed to keep both the sails from backing for 99% of the time and gave us a reasonable heading, if still a little south of our preferred one. A further benefit was that our speed increased to 6 knots .
When I said one of the benefits of down wind sailing is that you don’t get wet, I was wrong. This afternoon I was dozing in my bunk while Mick was doing some washing in the cockpit thinking I should really do some washing too, when a bloody great wave landed in the cockpit, ruined Mick’s rinse cycle and bounced down the companion way and over the galley top and into my bed! I was not amused – until that is I looked into the cockpit and saw a large drowned rat surrounded by buckets and bowls of newly washed clothes swilling around in salty sea water swearing his head off!
I pointed out that as the man on watch it was his own fault for not reefing earlier and I that thanks to his negligence I now had a rather damp bed. Given that it’s usually Mick complaining that I don’t reef early enough It was rather enjoyable to make the observation.
The wind was up to 20+ knots, we were running at 6.5 – 7 knots and we had the reefed Genoa and number one jib set as twin running sails. Wash-day conditions were a little challenging! The Genoa was already reefed down smaller than the jib. The Genoa can easily be reefed from the cockpit by pulling on bits of string that roll it up around the stay. The jib on the other hand is hanked on to the emergency fore-stay and its size can only be reduced by replacing it with a smaller sail. That requires a trip up to the fore-deck in conditions that are inevitably going to be a bit lively.
Anyway that was what was now required and I therefore set about doing just that. It wasn’t too bad actually given we were sailing down wind. I only got a few minor splashes in the process. Within 20 minutes the sail change was made and things had calmed down somewhat allowing Mick to rescue his washing. By this time because he had got completely soaked in what had been a set of new clean dry clothes, he had stripped down to his undies. The scene was perfect for videoing but for some reason he would not let me get the camera out!
The rest of the day passed without significant incident. I managed to dry my bedding out as much as possible after a dose of salt water. I cooked a tuna/potato bake in the oven to make a change from pressure cooker stews and took the first off watch which we started at 2100 GMT rather than 2000 as we had been previously. Our gradual progress westwards required the change in order to align the 12 hours of darkness evenly across out two watches.
Yet again I found it difficult to sleep due to the boat’s rolling!
Noon position = 15 51.4 N, 35 42.2 W
Noon to Noon = 138
Wednesday 14th December 2016
Mick called me at 0300. The wind had apparently been up and down during his watch requiring the Genoa to be rolled in and out. Over all we were still making good progress with average speeds at 5 knots plus and an ETA of 23/12.
We continued to make good progress during my watch with the wind more up than down and the Genoa usually reefed to the same size as the small jib. Course over ground around 280.
Lunch was sardine tortillas made by Mick.
A succession of moderate squalls blow through from the East during the course of the afternoon dumping water in the cockpit and requiring a succession of adjustments to the amount of reefing on the Genoa. The strongest arrived just as we were having afternoon tea and with the boat speed surging to over 7 knots I had to abandon my tea to reef the Genoa. Before I managed to the boat surged again this time to 9.5 knots albeit only for a few seconds. That’s a record for Arctic Smoke – well in excess of her hull speed so we must have been planing. Once reefed down things became more civilised and I was able to finish my tea.
The wind remained fresh for most of the time for the rest of the afternoon and we continued westwards at between 4.5 – 6.5 knots under a 50% Genoa and the small jib. The seas were often quite large (up to 4 metres) but mostly from behind and so the rolling was for the most part slower and therefore more comfortable.
Dinner was simple fare – curried beans on dried toast again cooked by Mick.
Noon position = 15 41.4 N, 38 01.8 W
Noon to noon = 122 NM
Distance to go at noon = 1317
Thursday 15th December 2016
On Watch at 0300. Mick reported that he had just reefed further and that with the sails the same size the boat was better behaved and that Angus was not having to work so hard. The wind was up and down a little during my watch but we maintained an average speed of 5.5 knots without me having to touch anything. The wind had veered further west earlier in the night and we were therefore now heading a little north of our desired heading. We would have to gybe to address that and at this stage of the crossing it’s not worth the effort. With the Genoa sheeted to leeward on the main boom which cannot be set further forwards than the shrouds, the wind gets round the back of it easily whereas the jib is set to windward on the pole which is forward of the shrouds and will therefore hold its wind much more easily.
Thankfully with further adjustments to Angus we were able to steer a good heading without the need to gybe. The rest of the day continues to be windy with wind speeds around the high teens and low twenties all day. At the upper end the sail plan was at its limits with the boat rounding up in the highest gusts and backing either the Genoa or jib. Thankfully this only occurred occasionally and we were able to proceed without the need to change down to the storm jib. Despite the higher winds our speed dropped a little because of the need to reduce sail to keep the boat manageable.
The seas are now quite high perhaps 4-5 metres and with something of a cross swell. This makes for pretty uncomfortable sailing with the boat going into a rapid rolling action every 30 seconds to a few minutes. In between times it's reasonably OK but when she gets the shakes it's bloody horrid.
I cooked dinner of potatoes onions and tinned ham and it went down well.
Noon position = 15 34.53 N, 40 20.22 W
Noon to noon = 134 NM
Distance to go at noon = 1204
Nearer by 113
Friday 16th December 2016
I was up again at 0300 as usual after a not very good night's sleep as the rolling described above continued and as it did for the whole of my Watch. We seem to be catching 3 swells at present, one from the South East, one behind us and one from the North East. To be frank we've both had enough of the vicious rolling it's producing and it's affects on our sleep. When Mick dragged himself out of bed this morning at 0800 he protested that 'it wasn't him what did it and he really should not be subject to this cruel and demeaning punishment'!
During my Watch Angus occasionally required a little help to recover from the Genoa backing during a particularly strong gust and/or viscous cross swell but apart from that he performed his task well. The good news is we continue to make good progress and a Christmas Eve/Christmas Day arrival remains a possibility. Whether we'll be in any state to celebrate if we do arrive that early is of course another matter entirely!
A nasty shock this morning. We discovered stowaways in Pasito Blanco in the form of Cockroaches and had eliminated a number then and shortly after leaving but had seen none since leaving Mindelo. This morning however I saw one on my bunk of all places. I got the little blighter but our optimistic theory that the remainder had died of sea sickness now looks dis-proven!
The rolling of the boat continues to dominate our lives especially when preparing the food in the galley or using the loo. Both activities can end in disaster. This morning I made some tea that I was really looking forward. It was all made and poured and standing in the anti-spill tray on top of the gimballed stove when the boat gave a violent lurch to starboard and the whole bloody lot was all over the galley sole (and my bare feet). Whilst in the middle of writing this the boat took a similar lurch and because I had forgotten to put the stove back on the gimbals after cleaning it, the kettle came flying off onto the Galley floor and broke the handle off. We can probably glue it back on in the morning but no tea tonight! On the Loo front there have fortunately been only minor incidents so far!
Mick cooked an excellent Pork Curry using the 2nd half of the tin from yesterday and we enjoyed that in the Cockpit with a can of beer.
During the day I received a reply from my Yellowbrick message to circumnavigator Chris (and a previous owner of Arctic Smoke whom I met along with his circumnavigator wife Lorraine last June in the Azores on their return home to Lowestoft) enquiring about the weather ahead. “ENE 20 to 25 kts incr 25-30 on Sun for a while. Martinique 15-20 kts nxt 10 days”. Not bad – a bit more than we have had to date although the 30k if it materialises may make life a bit more difficult and would require a reduction in sail.
Noon position = 15 46.8N, 42 43.0 W
Noon to noon = 140 NM
Distance to go at noon = 1055
Nearer by 136 NM
Saturday 17th December
The first half of my off-Watch was characterised by the viscous rolling already described and I got little sleep as a result. Then things calmed down and (as I write we are hit by a sudden gust and the boat goes careering off to starboard backing the jib and I have to go up to help Angus get us back on course) I was able to get some sleep.
On commencing my Watch things remain broadly the same. The wind though seems to back north of east and so I make a slight adjustment to Angus to hold our heading of approximately 290 magnetic.
We have seen no ships or other yachts for about 4 days now. Indeed the only sign of life out here apart from us is an occasional bird. We saw what we think were Swallows yesterday and at tonight's change of Watch for the second night running, we are joined by a mysterious black bird who circled low above us as Mick handed over the ship to me.
I really would like a hot drink and think I may try and use the broken kettle in a little while.
Thanks to Bob Darby who gave me a CD with the entire series on it, I am getting through my Watches by listening to “The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy” (which helpfully has emblazoned across its front cover in big friendly letters, the phrase “Don't Panic”). I now need to copy a further instalment or 2 onto my phone. Then I'll address the kettle. A coffee whilst listening to the Hitch-hikers Guide.. with the boat pushing along at 5-6 knots seems pretty appealing right now.
That worked out OK and the rest of the Watch passed without major incident – just the need to help Angus out in the occasional strong gusts that hit us. We continue to make good progress and a Christmas Eve arrival is still on the cards.
The day saw three significant events (apart from dinner) the first of which was that we had a visitor. During the late afternoon I was reading in the cockpit while Mick had his afternoon nap. Around 1500 GMT (noon-ish local time) I put my book down and stood up to scan the horizon (we had still not seen a soul for days) and turned to look forward to find a white bird perched on the mainsheet not two feet away staring at me. I'm not sure what he was but Grandpa Tim (and/or anyone else), perhaps you can identify him from the photo and advise via the comment function at the bottom of this post. He looked like a young white Heron to me but I am no expert. He also looked a bit knackered and was probably exhausted and took the opportunity to have a rest. He stayed on the mainsheet for about half an hour and then shortly after Mick appeared he took off and continuously circled the boat before briefly landing again for short periods. Then he was off for good and appeared to be heading East against the strong wind. I hope he made it but somehow doubt it.
Event two was that after dinner we got hit by a large wave whilst the hatchway in the Saloon was still open and my bedding got soaked.
Event three was that shortly after Mick commenced his Watch at 2100 GMT the wind gusted to 20k plus and we were hit by another large wave that filled the cockpit and soaked Mick. I had just got to sleep and was woken by the roar of the boat careering down the wave and heading up into the wind quickly followed by a string of spluttering expletives from the cockpit. I enquired as to Mick's health and safety from the safety of my slightly damp bunk and received a reply which meant that at least I wouldn't have to go through the motions of searching the Atlantic for him. We then had a brief discussion and given that the wind was now frequently in excess of 20 knots, agreed that a further reduction of sail would now be prudent. Mick therefore rolled away half of the remaining Genoa leaving it half the size of the small jib alongside it and that settled things down. Best of all I didn't have to leave my bunk.
Noon to noon = 137 NM
Distance to go at noon = 916
Nearer by 137 NM
Despite my damp bunk and the continued rolling (although despite the higher wind it's not as bad as before) I managed to get some sleep during my off-Watch.
On getting out in the cockpit to relieve Mick, it was evident that the wind had maintained it's intensity and was blowing around/more than 25 knots. The boat's wind measurement instrument that had not not worked properly since our departure from Pasito Blanco was recording a consistent 20k – with a 5k boat speed added on that would equal 25 k, however it hardly indicates any increase on that even when it is evident from ones own senses that there's an increase in the speed of the wind. The fact that we are also consistently recording boat speed in the region of 6 k despite a quarter less sail area than previously also suggests the wind is now often blowing in excess of 25 k.
Shortly after commencing my watch I needed to go to the loo! Normally when Mick's in the fore-peak, I'll shut and bolt the sliding door between the loo and the fore-peak for both our sakes and then switch on the light in the loo. However, on this occasion the conditions were such that there was a possibility of bad broach (when the boat goes running off across the wind out of control) which could in turn render me incapable. If that did happen Mick would not thank me for locking him in the fore-peak with his only way being through the hatch in the coach-roof! I therefore decided to leave the door open. Suffice to say there were no disasters of any sort.
Minutes later however we were hit by a large wave on the side of the boat which knocked us off course and across the wind backing the now smaller Genoa. Angus could not cope and I had to go out and help him get the boat back on track. That was the only time in 4 hours he needed help and given the conditions that's pretty good. Typing this down below the conditions are not too bad, despite the increase in wind and waves the boat's motion is for the most part, more comfortable than on earlier occasions. The rapid, jerky rolling has all but gone. The noise of advancing waves can be a little disconcerting though. One's never sure whether a particular roar is going to end in a crash as the wave slams and breaks against the boat or whether it will pass harmlessly by, which the great majority do.
However, some do not! Later around 1030 GMT, after I had had my morning sleep, I decided to make a simple breakfast of muesli and Ovaltine for us both. I had just handed Mick his in the cockpit. My bowl of muesli minus the milk was on the worktop on a non-slip mat and I was just adding the boiling water to my cup when I heard roar developing from port. I just managed to secure the kettle back on the stove but still had half a cup of Ovaltine in my hand when the boat was flung violently to starboard and I was flung across it ending up on the chart table with hot Ovaltine spraying over everything including me. I dropped the cup which broke on the floor. My muesli was also sprayed across the worktop. Luckily I suffered no serious burns, and after clearing up Ovaltine from every conceivable surface and the shattered cup from the floor, was able to scrape my muesli back into the bowl, make another drink and complete my breakfast. Suffice to say I was now looking pretty disgusting.
During the course of the day the wind continued to blow pretty hard – around the forecast 30 k we reckoned and the seas from our perspective seemed quite mountainous at times and they also remained pretty confused with two cross swells from each quarter in addition to the main swell from behind us, more or less from the same direction as the wind. Sometimes the wind would back into the North East however, causing the maintenance of our course to make the boat's behaviour more uncomfortable than the Mate was happy with (i.e. when we took the bigger swells on the quarter which caused the boat to broach across the wind from time to time).
With the conditions being less than pleasant we decided to shorten the Watch periods over night to 3 hours rather than the usual 6. However whilst the occasional broach was disconcerting the overall motion of the boat was much quieter with the violent rocking from side to side of the past now all but absent and when it does occur it's for much shorter periods.
Mick served up a very passable tinned stew on rice which we ate in the cockpit marvelling at the mountains of water queuing up behind us. Just before dinner we had our first AIS contact for more than six days and it turned out to be the 12 Metre American yacht “Merry Sixty”. We tried a number of times to hail her on the VHF without reply. We assumed she was being single-handed and the skipper was off watch.
Mick took the first short watch commencing at 2130 GMT and I took the second. Conditions moderated slightly during this period. I also witnessed an extraordinary sight – a rainbow by moonlight. I had never thought such a thing possible. It was understandably feint but clearly there and I could see the whole arch commencing in the ocean to our south and ending in the ocean to our north. ETA remains Christmas Eve as long as we don't end up being pushed to far south by the swell!
Noon position = 15 19.6 N, 47 26.8 W
Noon to noon = 137 NM
Distance to go at noon = 779
Nearer by 137 NM
Monday 19th December 2016
Mick was on Watch again at 0330 and I headed off to my bunk. An hour or so later I became aware of some commotion outside and felt my legs getting wet. I was about to shout out to Mick to put the wash boards in when I noticed he had just got one in. The commotion continued and the boat lent over further and I figured he was probably busy and somehow managed to drift back to sleep. Mick woke me at 0700 GMT for my next Watch and reported that I'd slept through a 34 knot squall at 0530 that lasted 5 minutes or so! The 34 knots was recorded on the dodgy manometer and was therefore probably more. However, Mick noticed that since the squall, the instrument was providing much more convincing readings. The sea state moderated a little during the course of the night allowing me to make a slight adjustment to Angus to head us a little further northwards towards our desired heading of 286 magnetic for Martinique. The wind also eased a little over all, but we are still getting gusts in the mid 20 knots. No sign of anyone else since the American “Merry Sixty” passed us.
Correction at 1030 GMT – we are still getting gusts in the high 20 ks and occasional 30 ks. The jib has backed once during this period but even then Angus was able to get the boat back on course on his own. The motion down below is very peaceful compared with a few days ago. The rolling is quite gentle most of the time. I'm off Watch at 1100 and am quite looking forward to a morning nap whilst being gently rocked to the land of nod! As I write this with an hour and 20 minutes until noon GMT, we have already covered a 138 miles since our noon position of yesterday. We may be on course for a record today!
And it was – 144!
The large seas and strong winds continued during the afternoon but despite the conditions Mick set to baking bread. We hope to post a moving video of his efforts so keep an eye open for updates! At the time of writing we have not actually sampled the results but they look very impressive. After that I made a brunch of scrambled eggs and pan bread. There were some complaints that the bread was not fully cooked in the middle however.
We returned to our 6 hour Watch system for the overnight and as usual Mick took the first stint. I slept so, so.
Noon position = 14 53.4 N, 49 54.4 W
Noon to noon = 144 NM
Distance to go at noon = 635
Tuesday 20th December 2016
I woke up just before 0300 and made us both some Ovaltine before taking over the Watch. The wind and sea both remained much the same with the boat running under the No2 Jib and a heavily reefed Genoa. Rolling remained significant but not the worst we had had.
The most disturbing report from Mick was that he had sampled the bread he made yesterday and was very disappointed. Little taste and too dense. We did buy two types of flour so next time we'll try the other one. He also thought a little more salt may help. Notwithstanding his report I was still taken with the idea of bread and marmalade with fresh coffee for breakfast and despite having broken the caffeteire
I was pretty knackered on Watch and dozed a lot. Apparently, after a lively spell, Mick came out to check on me noticed I was asleep and concluded that things couldn't have been that bad and left me to it! Nothing of any note occurred during my Watch therefore!
I was very glad to climb back into bed at about 0930 GMT and slept until noon.
Once up I set to fixing coffee with Mick's rolls and Marmalade. I made the coffee in the tea pot and just let the grains settle. The rolls were a little disappointing but with plenty of marmalade breakfast was enjoyable enough for me to have seconds!
I spent the afternoon reading and dodging spray in the cockpit (remember my earlier comments about down wind sailing being dry – what a fool) and writing up the blog at the chart table.
Of slight concern today is the state of the batteries – it has been pretty overcast today and at the present rate they may not get fully charged before we lose the sun for the day. However, we did eventually get enough sun to replenish the batteries.
Mick cooked a Corned Beef, tinned Pork and vegetable curry which was very good – we consumed it with a beer in the cockpit.
The wind has been up and down all day between 13 and 22 knots necessitating frequent changes to the amount of furling on the Genoa. Now, at 2100 GMT just as we are starting the night Watch system it's in the mid teens and we have three quarters of the Genoa out. The seas have reduced and are at the lowest for many days but unfortunately we still have a significant cross swell which when it hits 'just right' will send Arctic Smoke off into a series of jerky rolls. We are continuing to average about 5.5 knots and the wind has veered a little allowing us to head more directly to Martinique. ETA at our Way Point at the beginning of the St Lucia channel separating the two islands is late afternoon on the 23/12. That however, relies upon our current speed of 6.5 knots, more realistically therefore our arrival is more likely to be on Christmas Eve.
Now I'm off to bed until 0300 GMT.
Noon position = 14 32.4 N, 52 12.04 W
Noon to noon = 136 NM
Distance to go at noon = 561
Nearer by 134 NM
Wednesday 21st December 2016
Another so, so sleep. Mick woke me at 0300 with reports of variable wind strength – 15-20 knots from the ENE/E and mysterious flashes from the bow navigation light even with the fuse removed!
First 3 hours of my Watch notable for a succession of squalls with 30 k plus winds, so kept busy adjusting the size of the Genoa to suit. Tried to anticipate from the clouds building behind us but often got it wrong and thinking the danger had passed unfurled the Genoa only to get hit by another one and have to wind it back in again. Thankfully none were bad enough to require replacing the jib with the storm jib but I did contemplate it a couple of times. Can hear the wind building as I write so back up to check things out. Another squall but not excessive so no adjustments required.
Was very glad when 0900 GMT arrived and I was able to handover to Mick and catch up on some sleep.
Up at 1200 to a familiar scene but for the moment quieter with no squalls in the offing. Mick reported that there had been a number during his three hour stint.
Well, the afternoon wasn't too bad – the wind and sea moderated some and it was possible to sit in the cockpit and read without getting soaked.
I cooked dinner (during which I may well have ruined the pressure cooker by forgetting to put water in it before putting it on the heat. I hope it's possible to buy a new safety valve which is what seems to have been damaged.
The end is now in sight (figuratively) and we'll both be very pleased to get quality rest without worrying about the conditions/boat etc. ETA remains Christmas Eve.
Noon position = 14 22.4 N, 54 34.5 W
Noon to noon = 140 NM
Distance to go at noon = 363
Nearer by 138 NM
Thursday 22nd December 2016
The night brought renewed vigour of both wind and sea. Mick reported that his Watch had been the most exciting night Watch he had ever taken with squalls of around 30 k and boat speeds surging to over 7 k at times. When I took over we were sailing at a sedate 5k in winds of around 15k. It was too dark to see the sea but it still felt pretty lumpy. After 3 hours things livened up again and we were back to winds gusting to 30 k and the boat surging to 7 k as before. Exciting is one word for it and I can think of others too! The one bonus over the previous night for me (Mick had not been so fortunate) was that the wind never fell below about 15 k and therefore even under significantly reduced sail the boat managed to maintain around 5 knots. That meant there was no need to increase the sail area in the 'lulls' and therefore no need to frantically reduce it again when the squalls arrived. Angus our self steering gear coped remarkably well throughout only occasionally needing help to get the boat square on to the waves.
For the second night in a row both Mick and I have been treated to the most puzzling light show from our bow navigation light. This is on the front of the boat with green showing to starboard and red to port. When sailing it is switched off because we have one on top of the mast; it's only usually used under power. Mick first noticed it flashing away last night and assumed an electrical fault and so removed the fuse. However it continued to flash away. He then thought there must be a short with another circuit and so was a bit concerned about the risk of fire. We kept an eye and nose on things and apart from the light show nothing unusual occurred. Strangely the flashing seemed to increase at higher speeds and equally strangely we sometimes observed white flashes.
The phenomenon continued tonight. Mick's latest theory is that it's caused by phosphorescence being reflected off the LED units on the bulb and back out through external coloured lenses. Will we ever really figure it out? Suffice to say that the experience of hurtling down waves with spray flying everywhere and with a crazy red and green light show up front was most surreal. Disney – eat your heart out – this ride's for free (well maybe not).
Daylight and I'm off for three hours.
Back up at 0900 (Eastern Caribbean Time (ECT); GMT-4) and the scene is much the same, windy and wavey (but at least the sun is breaking through now and again). Later in the day the wind eased and veered to south of east forcing us north of our preferred heading. We therefore decided to jibe and revert to the traditional rig of mainsail and Genoa. That took an hour and a half. Then we discussed whether it was such a good rig given that every night for the last few nights we had strong winds and if that happened again we would have to reef the mainsail. A bit of a chore at night. Then the mainsail split (it's my old one don't forget). So we had to change back to the twin headsail rig but this time with the Genoa sheeted on the boom on starboard and the jib poled out to port. That enabled us to aim more or less directly for the St Lucia channel. ETA there early Christmas Eve morning – the day after tomorrow!!
All that activity was quite knackering – I must have spent about three hours up on the foredeck messing about with various bits of string while Mick took care of things at the cockpit end. It was 1830 (ECT) and dark by the time we had finished. We decided to have a quick supper of tinned stew and fish and start 5 hour Watches at 2000. We had supper in the cockpit and soon realised we were the destination for a significant number of flying fish. One hit Mick on the back of the head before falling back into the sea but a number found their way into the cockpit. Some I was able to rescue and throw back but others got into the narrow well where the rudder shaft comes through the cockpit sole and putting ones fingers down there risked getting one's fingers chopped off so there they will remain until we get into port! We must have sailed through a very extensive shoal of them because we could here them smacking against the side of the boat for some considerable minutes whilst we ate.
We ran the engine for an hour and a half to charge the batteries because it had been over-cast all day and they had received little charge.
The day had been cloudy almost all day and whilst the cooler temperature was appreciated it meant we got very little charge in the batteries and therefore had to run the engine for 1.5 hours in the evening to charge them.
Noon position = 14 28.7 N, 57 00.4 W
Noon to noon = 143 NM
Distance to go at noon = 221
Nearer by 142 NM
Friday 23rd December 2016
Being so done-in I probably had the best few hours sleep of the passage. I woke at 0100 to slightly disappointing news from Mick which was that we had only been able to average around 4 knots and stay on course during his Watch. The problem was that if we unfurled more Genoa Angus could not hold the course due to the additional weather helm and we would head too far south.
I played around with Angus' settings and sailed slightly by the lee (meaning that the wind, rather than being directly behind us was blowing slightly from the side of the boat on which the main boom. is set. Normally it would be from the opposite side but we had just spend 3 hours changing from one side to the other and it was dark! This enabled us to set more Genoa and hold our course and therefore to go a little faster. In the morning if the wind remains light we'll set the bigger jib which will in turn enable us to carry more Genoa!
Unfortunately our ETA has now slipped back to lunch time on Christmas Eve and we will still have 30 miles to travel beyond the weigh-point to get into Forte De France. We really do not want to go any slower!
At the change of Watch we replaced the small jib with the bigger one which enabled us to set more Genoa. As a result our speed increased back to 5-6 k and we were still able to hold our course for the St Lucia channel between the two islands. ETA there now back to Christmas Eve morning around dawn. We will still have another 30 miles to go after that so it will be lunch time (local) before we get in to Forte De France. We are both hoping it turns out to be a reasonably flat anchorage because we have had enough of the bloody rolling! Mick commented that the thing he was looking forward too most was being able to put a drink down and not find out it was spilt on the other side of the cabin/cockpit seconds later.
We're hoping we'll be able to find somewhere to eat on Christmas day but we may have to manage on the boat in which case getting in early enough to top stores tomorrow will be a big plus.
At around 1130 local time a sail came into view on the horizon on our starboard bow in roughly the position the yacht that overtook us last night was last seen. It's pretty unlikely that any yacht in our sort of position would be doing anything else than heading for one of the Caribbean islands at the end of an Atlantic crossing and we therefore summarised that with our now increased sail area and slightly higher speed, we were now catching him up again.
Discussion then turned to her possible identity and it seemed at least possible that it might be Lionel in Aristophanes who left two days before us. His sailing strategy was to tack down wind because he did not have twin head sails. It's possible therefore that over the course of the crossing we may have slowly caught him up. We should find out within 24 hours! The yacht, whoever she is, overtook us last night when we were running slowly under reduced sail area.
1510 local time approximately … a huge wave hit the boat on the starboard beam and poured through the open saloon window. Miraculously the deluge seemed to miss the nav station and all the electronic equipment and also the two berths one either side of the saloon but the centre of the saloon was knee deep in sea water. I made my across to the window to close it and saw another breaking wave heading for us, I just managed to get the clasps over the turn-buckles and had started to tighten them when the next wave hit. More water poured in as the boat was thrown onto her beam ends. Looking through the window I saw another wave on its way. One of the clasps had come lose and I would have to loosen the other to get them both on. I was in a quandary. I needed to get the boat head onto the waves to avoid being turned over but if I didn't do that quickly enough even more water would poor in the un-secured window and we might be at risk from sinking from that. I cursed the designer of the windows – how stupid to have windows that opened anyway. I decided to have one last go at securing the window and hoped that Arctic Smoke could look after herself when the wave hit. I just failed to secure the window before the third wave hit and more water deluged in. Water was everywhere and the boat was feeling very sluggish. I felt like I was going to feint but the question found its way to my consciousness – how come the window was open? Chris and I re-bedded all the windows in Pasito Blanco – they weren't opening ones then! And then I woke up :)
It was 1515 local time; the sun was out and a gentle breeze blowing. There was still something of a swell and the boat was therefore still rolling but no breakers about to engulf us from starboard.
We changed the rig just before dark to Genoa only boomed out to port. This enabled us to lay a better course for the St Lucia Channel and make between 4 & 5 knots which would get us to the channel about 0300 local time (0700 GMT).
Supper was very basic baked beans and lentils. It did the job. With the coming hours after midnight likely to be quite busy as we navigate through the St Lucia Channel, we suspended our previous watch system and Mick took time off first for a couple of hours from 1830 local time.
Noon position = 14 26.565 N, 59 01.940 W
Noon to noon = 119 NM
Distance to go (to St Lucia Channel) at noon = 103
Nearer by 118 NM
Saturday 24th December 2016
Just after midnight and the loom of lights on Martin visible.
0930 Now well into the St Lucia Channel.
Our batteries are now no longer lasting the night despite getting fully charged. Consumption is up significantly and we put this down to the much warmer temperature making the fridge work much harder.
0840 Now on final approach to Martinique. Close hauled in fresh wind and flat water (for the first time of the whole passage) under Genoa alone – a nice change after all the rolling.
1055 Anchor down Forte De France. Beers out. Phew – passage over.
Postscript: neither Chris nor Lionel here. Turns out the former in St Annes and the Latter in Marin – right next door to each other. We will probably sail down and visit them in a couple of days. Forte De France early closing on Saturday afternoon so town dead but we were able to shop for Christmas dinner. Christmas day: Relaxing morning. Rain-shower showers in the cockpit, followed by first relaxing breakfast for two weeks – Lovely.
Christmas day swim to come followed by a late Christmas dinner.
Boat repairs/maintenance tomorrow.
Invited new arrival Arvin, a single hander for Christmas dinner and had a most enjoyable evening.
Oh yes, that bar of soap. It stayed put through the entire passage even as everything else that was not screwed down decided to move house.
Invited new arrival Arvin, a single hander for Christmas dinner and had a most enjoyable evening.
Oh yes, that bar of soap. It stayed put through the entire passage even as everything else that was not screwed down decided to move house.