On 18 December 2019 I untied the lines at La Restinga in El Hierro and set sail on a 3000 nautical mile journey across the Atlantic to Martinique. I published a daily update on the following seas website. Below are those updates complete with my onboard commentary of the trip.
Continuing the story of my solo Atlantic crossing this article picks up my progress in the third and final week of the passage. Those who watch until the end of the video are in for a treat.
Day 15 – Atlantic in 2020
January 1, 2020 3:50 PM
I was asleep when the clock struck 12. Both UTC and in my current timezone. I was up 9 minutes later though having adjust the sails. I didn’t spot any fireworks or flares.
I started watching Scorsese’s ‘The Irishman’ which is probably why I fell asleep. I used to like a lot of Scorsese’s work, but over the years his films have become increasingly dull and old-hat.
I also finished Moneyland. That was a slog at the end. The author, a journalist, writes more like a historian, but continues the journalistic trend of repeating the same content over and over. I won’t be reading any of his other works.
For my daytime reading I’ve now started ‘Children of Cape Horn’ about Rosie Swale’s journey around cape horn and back in the 1970s on a 30′ Catamaran with her husband and two kids. The trip was paid for by a series in the Daily Mail, often accompanied by a naked/topless shots of her to ensure the articles would be published. Her writing and quality of language is a standard above Alayne Main’s in ‘A sailing Promise’, I suppose I’ll soon find out if the journey is equally as good.
Look her up, she’s an interesting character(also Irish), whose biographical events include being on trial for poisoning her husband, and running marathons in the Arctic Circle.
Back to the sailing, I’ve had some good winds the past couple of days and made excellent progress. I’m expecting more the same tomorrow, but come the weekend I be becalmed again.
Day 16 – 999 miles to go
January 2, 2020 2:41 PM
I’m not keen on writing, which might be odd for someone who earns a living from journalism, but thought that if I were to write, this might make an open paragraph for start of day 16.
999nm to go read the screen of the handheld GPS as I shoved another handful of honey roasted cashews into my mouth. It was day 16 of the journey, the morning seas had been building while the anemometer danced around between 10-17knts, and swung from 169 degrees port, to 169 degrees starboard, seemingly on the whim of Neptune himself. ‘To what end?’ I thought, knowing that lighter winds were on the way and by the weekend I’d be becalmed again. I scanned the basket for my next savoury snack. In little over an hour I’d be trying my hand at a curried rice recipe I picked up during a summer sailing in Portugal, but in the meantime I needed my elevenses.
999nm to go, I glanced at the screen again, just as short steep wave caught the starboard quarter rolling the boat 10 degrees, enough to excite the accelerometer in the gps unit into rotating the screen briefly. 666nm, I wonder if it’s trying to tell me something?
Day 17 – Anyone for Ice Cream?
January 3, 2020 3:49 PM
(Diana) Shore based support in Sofia, tells me that there are strong winds predicted starting Tuesday. After a frustratingly slow but comfortable day today, I’m keen to see what the weather brings. Today I’m looking at a 24 hour distance of 80nm. An average would normally be in the region of 120nm. I’ve even had 156nm days (Madeira to Lanzarote) in the past.
In anticipation of the stronger winds, I took advantage of calm and swapped my genoa sail for one half the size. My furling system used to reef the sail (i.e. make it smaller in stronger winds), doesn’t seem to be holding, so at least with the smaller sail area I won’t have to worry about it.
That took me about 1:30 mins in the baking sun, after which Alex and Angie of Two Flower (en route to South America) asked me to travel and give them ice cream. They know I have a freezer, but unfortunately I don’t have any ice cream.
As hot as it has been, the sun has spent a good portion of its time hiding behind clouds, and denying me of some much needed solar charging.
My equipment has also stopped displaying ‘true wind’ for some strange reason. True wind is usually calculated from heading, and speed through water using the paddle wheel on the depth sounder. Actually speed over ground would give a better indication of true wind speed, but that’s another matter. My depth sounder, paddle wheel, and now my temperature gauge (the water is 11c which seems fair too cold) are all working, so no idea why it’s not being shown. Obviously it’s super quick and easy to work it out, but several alarms are based on having a true wind speed and indication.
Oh well. I sailed to Greece without any wind or depth indication at all so it’s not a problem.
The sun sets in about an hour. I’m on GMT -3 now. The days are slowly getting a little longer.
870nm to go. As vessel STI Notting Hill passes me some 22nm away. What an unfortunate name.
Day 18 – what kind of day has it been?
January 4, 2020 4:52 PM
Diana said that I’m one of the most patient people she knows, except when sailing. I don’t know about patient more apathetic. When it comes to sailing however, she is correct.
This morning I was faced with being becalmed again. Worse than that the new grib files I downloaded showed wind speeds falling to just 1 knt, and remaining low for two days. Rather than bob about in the ocean for two days I decided to see what I could do. There was 8knts of wind oddly dead on the nose. Thats enough to sail in but not if you ever want to reach your upwind destination. As you start moving through it, the apparent wind moves further forward and you’re forced to bear off until your tacking angles are so wide you are essentially travelling backwards.
Still, undeterred, I raised the sails, put them away again, raised the spinnaker trying to force it to windward, pulled it down again, raised the sails again a couple more times, then took down the genoa, and the put the old one back on. By the time I’d done all that the wind had shifted slightly and I was able to sail on a course just 60 degrees off my desired destination.
The wind built a little throughout the day, and I found the boat beating hard at over 6.5 knts into short choppy waves just 2 seconds apart, each one pounding the underside of the hull with enough force to make the toilet seat jump. Think hitting speed bumps at 35mph. It was like sailing the Med again.
The wind direction has shifted again and I’m now on a beam reach and on my correct bearing. The waves are still small and steep and frequent making it uncomfortable unless I slow down. Do you think I slowed down?
At some point the wind should move behind me and all will be right in the world again.
My battery bank had started causing some issues recently. It appeared I had a bad cell, and I was annoyed that I was unable to do a proper sea trial of the installation before setting off. Head down into the locker for an hour, whilst beating at 5-6knts, and I found it was just a slightly loose connection. Tightened it up, and everything seems ok again. On a similar note, I also managed to restore my true wind reading. So it’s been a day of fixing things mostly.
Still 830nm to go
Day 19 – Started on the dog food
January 5, 2020 5:54 PM
Today on the ocean started with me doing some filter changes on the engine and setting up a temporary diesel tank. It has been cloudy most of the days recently with the sun only really blazing for a couple of hours a day. As a result the batteries were nearly depleted so I had to carry out this work at sunrise, to get some engine charging in, before I could continue sailing.
The wind has been fickle. My morning update from shore-based support said that it would be shifting during the day. By the time I’d read all the messages it had already shifted three times. Unfortunately the strength varied. When it was good 15-20knts proper trade wind stuff, I was able to fly along at over 6 knts, when it was poor, it was as low as 6 knts, and so the boat crawled along helplessly slowly.
I’ve still got some frozen beef and chicken, but decided to see what culinary delights await me for when i start on the tinned food proper. The ‘Hot Chicken Curry’ wasn’t at all hot, but it actually tasted okay. Add a couple of ingredients and it’s a decent meal. There’s an Irish stew that I’ll probably have with some gnocci, and many tins of tuna and other goodies
In ‘Children of Cape Horn’ Rosie often mentions how they had no money and ate rice with oxo cubes, baked beans with bread she made that was so dense it would sink to the bottom of the ocean, and curry made from cupasoup packets. Despite the slow journey I don’t think I’ll be going hungry any time soon.
A former crew member of mine, Moana (@moana-sets-sail or something like that) starts her journey today. She’s crossing the Atlantic on a French boat. It already seems she has her work cut out for her as one of the crew members has injured their arm thus limiting the tasks they can perform.
Fair winds, no doubt we’ll meet up in the Caribbean for some Ti’punch.
730nm to go.
Day 20 – Brownies and beer
January 6, 2020 3:42 PM
I wonder if I’ve set a record for the most becalmed days at sea in the Atlantic Ocean outside of the Azores. I remember some friends s/v Susan Anne telling me they had one of the slowest crossings of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) when they participated in 2018. A total of 26 or 27 days I think.
I also remember another Lagoon owner, this time a 440, telling me that they arrived first in St Lucia of all the ARC boats when they did their crossing. A day or two before they saw a guy with a boat load of ‘Jerry cans’ and bought all 22 of them off him. They motored the whole 2700nm.
Day 20 should have been my penultimate day, but again last night, this morning, and most of the afternoon I was becalmed. I left the spinnaker up and watched as it flapped around lifelessly before sinking into the ocean, only to rise again a moment later, and repeat the whole process. Still this moved me along for 50nm.
More importantly it proved ample to time make chocolate brownies, yum! And finish reading Children of Cape Horn. I enjoyed the adventure, though it seems at bit rushed towards the end, and the last chapter ends abruptly. Nothing is mentioned of their reception back in the UK, nor what becomes of them in the weeks/months/years after the voyage.
It’s been searing hot today, the sun relentlessly beating down on the 850w of solar panels on Jade, and providing a nice consistent charge for once. The wind has picked up a little and I’m moving along nicely now. Probably time for a bit of a tidy up and then a beer for sunset.
670nm to go
Day 21 – Have wind will travel
January 7, 2020 5:38 PM
A short and late update today as I’ve been waiting for wind. Nothing for most of the day, then eventually it came, hopefully it will stay with me now for the next 4-5 days. The prediction is for it to increase and for the seas to get larger. There is already a good sized swell partially pushing me along then rudely rushing past when the boat can’t keep up.
Having read all of my non-fiction I was left with little do whilst waiting for the wind to arrive. I opted to eat more brownies, which then saw me nap almost instantaneously. I checked in with a few fellow sailors to see how they are progressing. s/v Two Flower has 500nm to go to their destination in South America. The race is on.
570nm to go
Day 22 – Trade wind sailing Really moving along now.
January 8, 2020 4:37 PM
There’s consistent wind and some big waves pushing me to Martinique. Well actually they are pushing me to St. Lucia but close enough. Not much to report today. Just typical trade wind sailing, set the sails then there’s no need to touch them again. A big difference from the days when I was gybing, changing sail plan, raising and dousing the spinnaker. Today was mostly spent sorting out some files on the computer and treating myself to a shave. Fairly routine stuff. Hopefully i have another 3-4 uneventful days. Still got half a tray full of brownie to get through. Will have to do some exercise once i get to land.
440nm to go.
Day 23 – Tributes and sacrifices in wartime
January 9, 2020 5:46 PM
Sailors often hear all kinds of strange things when out at sea. Sirens calling, people talking to them, and so on. So far I’ve heard birds that turned out to be the squeaking of some blocks. Dolphins that were noise from the rudders. And gun fire leading me to believe that my two hulls are engaged in Battle. Each time a wave goes under the boat hitting the surfaces of hulls there is an orchestra of machine gun fire, a volley of artillery, missiles launched, and bombs dropped. It’s all very impressive if loud, from inside the boat. Earlier whilst tending to one of the sails my sunglasses fell off and bounced on the deck. They were then quickly snatched by Neptune. My favourite pair too. Hopefully the sacrifice wasn’t in vein, and they were collateral in exchange for safe passage. Speaking of the passage, the weather is set in now and will remain mostly unchanged.
I had a good 140nm day yesterday and should have similar progress in the upcoming 24 hours. In entertainment news, I saw The Mercy. A bio pic of Donald Crowhurst’s Golden Globe around the world yacht race. It’s a pretty weak film despite Colin Firth and Rachael Weiz, but the scenes in his first few days/weeks at sea are something all boaters will recognise.
Just ticked down to 299nm to go.
P.S. I ate all the brownie.
Day 24 – Neptune strikes again
January 10, 2020 7:12 PM
The weather shows no signs of letting up as the wind whistles through the rigging like a whaling banshee, and the waves relentlessly pound the hulls. But progress is good. I had the tail end of two waves deposit their contents in the cockpit today. The first on the starboard side which also claimed a full 20l jug of water that I keep for emergency use in the life raft (oddly the empty jug wasn’t moved at all). The second on the port side where I like to sit and read. Since that’s wet the entertainment will be indoors tonight. I’ve now finished ‘Darkplaces’ Typically dark twisted Gillian Flynn. It will probably be remade into a Netflix series like ‘Sharp Objects’.
Now it’s on to something new. Back to the journey, and in-spite of, because of the weather I’m now less than 150nm from landfall. It’s still unclear if it will be a daytime or and evening arrival, but it’s definitely getting closer.
Day 25 – Land-ho!
January 11, 2020 9:48 PM
I’ve done it. Sailed 2700nm to complete a solo Atlantic crossing. The day started as every other on the ocean this week. 3m plus waves and 30knt gusts of wind. Fortunately this morning when I woke, I only had 100nm to go. My trip average speed was 4.8knts so far but the past two days had seen me averaging over 6.2knts, which made a big difference to my daily progress. Today was no different. I pressed on in bid to get to Martinique before dark. Unfortunately that wasn’t quite possible.
The sun set when I was about an hour away, leaving me to negotiate the entrance, and enter the anchorage in darkness with questionable charts for reference. I had limited diesel supplies, so opted to sail up to the anchorage. It was a fun challenge especially in the stronger winds. But I made it. Dropped anchor like a boss somewhere close to 8pm and cracked open a nice cold beer. I’m currently in St. Anne, Martinique, The wind is light and the water is calm and still. It seems it doesn’t take any time at all to get used to the boat not moving around underneath me. I’m sure I’ll sleep well tonight and try to officially check in tomorrow.