A Week at Sea

There are two routes to take across the Atlantic Ocean if you’re crossing east to west: the direct and the indirect route. Either you sail south until you hit the trade winds (usually about 150 NM north of Cape Verde) and turn west to the Caribbean, or you make an in-between stop at the Cape Verdes. We decided to take the indirect route for several reasons: the two ‘legs’ of the passage will be cut short, we can re-stock on the Cape Verdes and we can have a change of crew.

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So after getting Scehawk ready-as-she’ll-ever-be, picking up my mom in Las Palmas and filling up with fuel, we set off for the first leg of the Atlantic crossing! The route was 900 nautical miles and would take us along the coast of Africa (not that we could see it) to the Cape Verde Island of Sao Vicente. We had heard it could take 4-8 days, depending on if the trade winds are strong or absent.

We had been trying to get our old satellite phone working, which was kind of a nightmare (or an interesting technical problem depending on the way you look at it). The satellite phone works in the middle of the ocean, and can also dial up the internet like it’s 1999. This was the tricky part, getting the computer to communicate with the sat modem. I won’t get into detail about it, but we had to stay an extra day in Las Palmas and still didn’t figure it out. Calling and texting (old school without T9!) works fine though. We felt pretty bad about not being able to download weather, as we already promised our crew we would be hooked up with internet for the crossing. Things just don’t always go according to plan!

So on the 30th of November, a day later than planned, we set sail to the Cape Verdes. We had little wind the first two days, which was a bit boring but also great to get into the watch schedule and explain some things about watch keeping to my mom. We divided up the night into 2, 4, 4 and 2 hours: 21:00 to 23:00, 23:00 to 03:00, 03:00 to 07:00 and 07:00 to 09:00. Eelke took the evening and sunrise shifts, where Thomas and I rotated the longer night- and dog watch.

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The first days on the engine were quite peaceful, we saw a pod of dolphins in the middle of the night surrounded by bioluminescence and the water was so flat we could even see them playing underneath the water surface. The moon was in the phase just before full moon and when it rose it was so bright it cast shadows on the sails. During the day we stopped the engine for a few hours to go for a swim in 4000 meter deep water and we just read books and chilled most of the day.

The wind only really picked up on the third day. We could finally shut off the engine, ahh the silence. Well, sailing actually isn’t silent at all.. The waves were building and we were heading directly downwind, causing the boat to roll from side to side all the time. The waves were different in direction and height, so every wave caused a different motion on the boat. Some waves were so powerful they slammed us off-course and we had to keep our attention focused on the wind vane all the time. The wind and boat get so loud we had to scream at each other to make ourselves heard. Sleeping in a loud, rocking boat is pretty difficult so we had a few sleepless nights before getting so tired we could sleep through it all.

From the third day all the way through the last we only saw one or two boats. One fishing boat, who was very far off the coast, caused a little scare during Thomas’ watch. Imagine being all alone on the ocean, and encountering this one little boat that is heading directly towards your boat. Even when we changed course, it changed too and it just headed directly for us. Thomas couldn’t shake the feeling that this could be a dangerous situation, and as it approached we were all awake. It passed just right behind us.. It turned out to be a fishing boat with a huge net who was so kind to pass behind us to avoid us getting tangled up in his net.

We were getting into the rhythm of the ocean and after a few days we had developed a daily routine. We would all be up around 9:00, have breakfast and do the dishes of the previous day in the cockpit. It takes three to do dishes at sea! One washes the dishes in salt water, one rinses off with fresh water and one dries and puts the dishes back in the galley (kitchen). We would have a bucket shower every second day, washing ourselves with salt water and rinsing off with fresh as well. At 12:00, I would plot our position on our paper chart to look at the progress. Afterwards, we would bake some toast (tosti’s!) for lunch and have an afternoon of reading, napping, listening to podcasts and considering dinner options. Around sundown we would get a bit more social and have drinks, play a game and cook dinner afterwards. After dinner Thomas and I tried to get some sleep before our night watches started. Usually one of us would sleep on the couch in the saloon (living room) to be able to get up quickly if my mother needed some help with the sails, wind vane or the helm. At the end of each shift, the one ending its shift would make tea for the one getting up and we would shortly discuss possible sail changes during the night. If its necessary to do a sail change or change course during the night, we only do so if there are two people awake.

The sailing was pretty nice, but because we were heading dead downwind with our sails set on either sides of the boat, wing on wing, we had to gybe every time we got a bit off-course. Apart from this minor inconvenience (who cares about gybing twice a day when you’ve got nothing else to do?) we were making great progress and even slowed down the last (sixth) night. We got a big scare when we got closer to our goal of Mindelo. We didn’t see any land. We came closer and closer, still no land. When we were only 6 miles away, we got really worried that our maps were wrong or the islands had vanished into the ocean. There was a thick yellow fog covering everything and it was not until we got 2 miles towards our goal (3,5 km!) that we could see the steep mountains rise from the sea. What a relief, we made it! Cape Verde was covered by thick sahara dust, but it was still there!

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Seven days and six sunsets and sunrises at sea, three sailors, three showers, hundreds of dolphins, a shark (supposedly), a turtle, a tuna, a beautiful full moon and many flying fish later we arrived at Marina Mindelo!

 

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