I left Mindelo just as a dust storm from Africa reduced visibility in the Cape Verde islands to less than 5 miles. While Santo Antão was not visible it wasn’t especially difficult to avoid running into it. Three cheers for the hand-held GPS!
This was it… the long leg… 1400 nautical miles of open ocean before I get to see land (at Fernando de Noronha), and another 240 after that before I can set foot on mainland Brazil.
Was I nervous?
A little… Since childhood I have had a healthy respect for the sea, especially as it almost took my life on three occasions, two of which occurred on the same day while playing in the surf at my local beach.
I know the sea can get nasty, but I have done everything I can to play safe. Time to roll the dice now and hope for the best. Luck plays a large part in this sort of venture and I’m expecting my due for the crossing.
Not that I think it’s particularly dangerous to sail across the Atlantic, but if you happen to have a run of bad luck things can get messy. As an example, one yacht taking part in the Soleil Rally sank on route this year after hitting a semi-submerged obstacle, but then, some people get hit by lightening playing golf… others win the lottery! I just hope to sit happily between these too extremes of fortune.
I note that some armchair sailors are interested in the “how to” of crossing an ocean in a small yacht. I know this from perusing the statistics of my web site and to them I say…
It’s no different from shorter trips, you just take it day by day and before you know it weeks have passed and you find you have crossed an ocean.
I set my mainsail with two reefs in Mindelo, tied the boom to starboard, set a whisker pole on the stay-sail (to port) and left the jib unfurled. I sailed in this goose-winged configuration for 15 days. The only adjustment necessary was the occasional 5 degree course correction on the wind vane (accomplished by pulling a string leading back into the cabin). This kept Eileen nice and steady in the 15 to 25 knot trade winds where I averaged 75 miles a day just sitting around doing nothing.
The best run was 105 nautical miles and the worse 63 in a 24 hour period. I could have gone faster but every sail change is a potential risk and what’s the hurry anyway?
Until reaching the equator, the weather was fabulously consistent. Trade wind sailing at its best. Yes the waves can appear intimidating but it doesn’t take long to grow accustomed to them. Waves are fine no matter how large… unless they start to break!
Technically, my crossing was elementary. A Yarmouth 23 is a sturdy boat, and Eileen of Avoca handled the conditions admirably. The other long distance sailors I have met in my travels all agree that “size matters not” (except for some reason to insurance companies). Small can be exceptionally seaworthy, it’s just that you tend to be a little slower than the rest of the cruising set.
While my boat was obviously in her element, it took me a little while longer to settle in. I spent the first two days feeling I had blocked sinuses or perhaps a head cold. This apparently is my version of getting sea sick of late. Luckily it does not impair my sailing in any way, I just need to get acclimatised.
At noon each day (GMT -1 for my ships clock), I logged my position and the distance traveled, then set about killing time. No fishing this trip because I’d heard enough horror stories of people falling overboard paying too much attention to their catch, so in the tradition set on route to Cape Verde, I stared at my favourite water stains on the ceiling linings and daydreamed!
The passage of days were marked by numerous momentous events such as eating the last slice of fresh bread, pining over that final piece of cheddar cheese, boiling the last egg and snacking on my penultimate doughnut… Rather exciting don’t you think?
More lengthy periods of time were denoted by the need to take a shower… something that I obviously enjoyed thoroughly (see photo). I had 10 liters of desalinated water reserved for this, the rest of my 100L supply was strictly for drinking. Not that I used very much, even upon reaching the equator the temperature remained under 30 degrees Celsius. I was expecting it to be far warmer.
By contacting the occasional passing ship I was able to keep tabs on the weather but this wasn’t strictly necessary. The winds are markedly consistent at this time of year (January), and the periodic squalls within the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (also called the doldrums), are not as severe as I had previously been led to believe. By day 17 Fernando de Noronha was within sight and my Atlantic crossing drew rapidly to a close.
After 17 days at sea I found myself reluctant to make landfall. How odd, I’d never have imagined feeling this way, but because Eileen felt so safe and cozy on route, I simply didn’t want the journey to end. I adored passing lazy days listening to the orchestra of sailing sounds. The creaking of ropes and leather, the trickle of water against the hull counterpointed by the slap of the mainsail or the growl of a passing wave. I felt completely safe and was loath to leave my floating cocoon.
While I now can boast of having completed a solo Atlantic crossing in a tiny boat, I’ll let you all in on a big secret…
Despite the cocoon analogy, crossing an ocean alone delivers no metamorphosis of the soul, or life altering catharsis. Not that I really expected it to, I’m not the spiritually receptive type, but “hope springs eternal” does it not? Well, no great surprise then that I didn’t “find myself” while at sea “a la Moitissier”. Perhaps the whole venture needs to be significantly more difficult, in which case, I’ll pass… 😉
I now understand how thousands of small yachts with retired crews and a high number of solo navigators, (some in boats smaller than mine), accomplish the same feat annually (though many choose not to advertise the fact). Yes, you can be unlucky and yes, help is a long way away if things go wrong, but it’s clear that by following the trade winds at the right time of year it’s possible to cross an ocean on just about anything that floats. Dare I say even a 10 year old could do it? Just equip the yacht with a Playstation and point it in the right direction!
I remain an ardent subscriber to “The hardest thing about sailing solo across an ocean is earning the money to buy your boat” school of thought, but I’ll happily accept accolades for the accomplishment regardless of whether or not it is truly merited.
I know that the real credit belongs to Eileen of Avoca….. My gallant fiery Irish belle!