First trade winds of many - Gran Canaria to Mindelo, Cape Verde’s
The day before departure (2022-12-16)
Different to all of the more recent passages, the day before departure was the one that felt more stressful.
Normally we are at anchor, but we had been in the marina in Las Palmas for the last 10 days on an annoying berth position (the very first at the pontoon entrance) waiting for a final piece of equipment to be installed ahead of our departure.
Of course on the days just before we were supposed to leave the marina a breeze had decided to start blowing persistently from the north.
Usually this would not be an issue except we were the first boat from that direction, meaning we weren’t sheltered by a neighbouring boat making the exiting manoeuvre a bit more challenging, the fact that the marineros would not be available for most of the day due to understaff issues was playing up on our mind, making us a bit nervous about the situation.
We removed the port side spring mooring lines and the starboard side stern mooring line that wasn’t doing anything at that point. We kindly asked our neighbour yacht if they could assist protecting their boat if needed and waited for a gap in the breeze to cast our lines. All went smoothly and in the end we didn’t needed any of their assistance.
That cleared our spirits fast!
As we exited the marina we passed in front of our Aussie friends that will depart early January on a rally and waived them goodbye. This year had been full of farewells, but always with the certainty we would meet again somewhere else.
While passing the marina breakwater I stowed the fenders, mooring lines and in no time we opened the Jib.
The day would give us a sweet downwind sail with quite a few gybe manoeuvres as we tried to stay in the acceleration zones in order to get to the south of the island during daylight.
A catamaran left on our tail, but despite having both mainsail and headsail out he didn’t managed to keep up with us. We were only doing 5 to 6 knots SOG (speed over ground) using just the Jib so we were quite surprised for not seeing him overtake us and disappear into the horizon.
With no pesky swell to annoy our sail we had a fun morning, despite having to furl the Jib for each gybe to overcome the Solent sail.
We lost the wind mid afternoon after passing the area that was clearly marked as a big acceleration zone, the landscape clearly confirmed that this spot can be notoriously windy given the huge windmill park that has been built there. Probably the biggest we have ever seen.
We motored the last few miles and not long after we were anchoring near Puerto Passito Blanco in the south of Gran Canaria, right next to our friend JP, we had met in Porto Santo and then again in Madeira.
We settled in for the night after a quick visit from our friend.
Day 1 (2022-12-17)
As per our usual, we woke up just in time for the sunrise. We had a great night sleep at anchor in the south of the island and we were ready to start our journey.
We got up and prepared the morning coffee with our usual morning routine in mind, read the news, download the latest weather and the following five days forecast. That’s when we realised we had ran out of internet during the night, we had probably downloaded one too many Netflix episodes. Crikey, that was a small problem.
We searched for a free Wi-Fi network without success but then we noticed our friend JP had just jumped on his dinghy probably heading out for breakfast in town, a quick shout to him and he kindly let us use his Wi-Fi to download the weather. Another round of best wishes, goodbyes and a potential hint we might see each other again in the Cape Verde’s just before February and within 30 minutes we were lifting anchor getting ready to set course Southwest.
As per his precise words, there was no wind for at least two hours. He had explained that this anchorage was right between the two acceleration zones that run on each side of the island and when the forecast was of light winds usually that meant a big wind shadow that extended south of the island for a reasonably long distance.
We motored for two hours at 1800RPMs, roughly doing 6.5 knots SOG, after all that we decided we should take the opportunity to set up the new whisker pole for the very first time. We reduced the speed a little bit and the two of us went to the foredeck to prepare things.
It was nice to see how much Ella has grown as a sailor dog, staying in the cockpit without a fuss. How much as she calmed down in the last five years never ceases to amaze me.
We fussed around the pole and it’s lines probably for thirty minutes but by the time we were ok with the set up we were sailing with our Jib poled to starboard doing an amazing of 2.5 knots without flapping, flogging or collapsing of the sail even when we rolled. Sure, the insanely low speed was disappointing, but not much could be expected with true winds of 7 knots.
We decided to take the opportunity to reintroduce ourselves to the use of (Heidi) the Hydrovane, the last time we had used it was in 2019 in the Mediterranean on our first sail of that season (the constant fiddling the erratic winds angles of the Mediterranean demanded made us stop using it). For a while it seemed the Hydrovane was making us wonder quite a bit as to why we bought it, but a little bit of persistence, a quick read of the instructions to refresh our memory on where should the pendulum face and we were back on controlling this great piece of equipment.
The trouble was we were still in the convergence area of the two acceleration zones and the wind direction was a bit erratic. The windvane was doing its job fine but the circumstances made us look like drunk sailors…
For the entire day we waited and waited for the winds to fill closer to what was suggested by the forecast.
It didn’t happened but we did managed to increase our SOG to 3 to 3.5 knots.
We should have prepared the Asymmetrical Spinnaker, it would have been the perfect day to play with it together with the new pole, but we didn’t so we had to suck up the low speeds we were doing.
By dinner time we decided to motor for a little bit and see if we could catch up with the program and maybe get into a bit more wind. In a couple of hours the wind finally filled in a bit more between 10-15 knots allowing us to go back to sailing and now do 4.5 to 5.5 knots SOG, occasionally 6 knots.
In the distance we could see maybe two sail boat tricolour lights reasonably far behind us and seems like there might have been a sailboat ahead of us roughly 15 nautical miles (seen on radar).
One thing we seemed to have forgotten was how quiet and peaceful it is sailing with a windvane.
We settled in for the night.
I had a one hour sleep after dinner, until 10pm. Stayed on watch until 2am, when John woke up deciding tonight he was going to do the middle of the night watch. John stayed on until 5am when I took over.
During his watch the wind finally filled in to 14-15 knots occasionally gusting all the way up to 20 knots, improving our speed to 6+ but also increasing the rolling a bit.
The 24h run for this day was 111 nautical miles.
We are 4 to 5 hours behind our slowest planning.
Day 2 (2022-12-18)
After what we felt was a reasonably cold night, we were feeling the usual washed out of the first night of a long passage. Slightly grumpy from the lack of sleep we felt annoyed by the increased sea state and by the wind direction that was putting us on a heading as if we were going to Suriname instead of the Cape Verde’s. As in our true style for long time we tried to squeeze the lemon and keep the Jib poled despite sailing nearly on a beam reach.
After several checks of the recorded forecast and a bit of debate we finally decided to release the Jib from the pole and trim it to a beam reach, this would allow us to point more to our destination and less across the Atlantic. We were of course paying the price for not having the mainsail hoisted, rolling a bit more than we would normally do and rounding a bit too. But this should be a temporary set up, and hoped that after lunch we would be again sailing downwind.
We had set up the pole with and extra Jib sheet to the original ones which allowed us to pole and unpole the Jib on this tack without having to go forward to release and adjust the sheets.
There was one thing lifting our morning mood. Because we had used the Hydrovane most of the night and had turned the inverter into Low Power mode the battery bank was at 75% capacity (not forgetting that we have 2 freezers and 1 fridge on). Another overcast day seemed to be on the cards but we should get enough solar to recover most of that.
The day passed by and the wind never turned to the direction forecasted, but it did however nearly died off at the end of the day as expected.
For two days now we had accepted the consequences of our sail choices (not using the Asymmetrical Spinnaker on the first day when the winds were extremely light and not hoisting the mainsail on the second when we were sailing on a beam reach) we were now significantly behind schedule even on our slowest model…, we could only hope we could catch up during the night while we motored through the pocket of no wind.
In the meantime after dinner an AIS target started showing up and disappearing on the chartplotter but the radar wasn’t catching it. Reason for some concern as it was right on our path some 10 nautical miles away. Eventually the target stayed long enough to get some detailed info regarding his heading, SOG, even name and size.
Surprise, surprise it was only 16ft long and and 3ft wide?? It’s name was "City of Liverpool".
Made me wonder if it was one of these Transat rowing boats, the swell and construction materials would justify not showing up on the radar at such small size and I wondered if it was the radar target ahead of us the previous night.
After all, we were not doing breath taking speeds on this passage.
Contrary to the previous night the sky was completely clear and all the stars right there mesmerising, if only we didn’t had the noise of the engine and autopilot to disturb.
At least it wasn’t as cold as the night before and maybe because of that yesterday the beauty of the sky didn’t grab my attention. Today as I looked to the starts I could say I was daydreaming of celestial navigation and how cool that could be. Maybe yet another hobby to keep me entertained.
The night shifts started at 8pm with me taking the first watch until 11pm and then again at 3am. Today we are running a 4h watch scheme to see how we feel.
On the change of shift at 11pm wind had been back for a while so we poled the Jib out once again and turned the motor off, this time we kept the autopilot. When I came back on watch at 3am the moon was just rising. It was just a thin sliver, very much like Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland.
Spent the entire night keeping an eye on an AIS target that kept showing up and disappearing, a small 33ft with very sketchy AIS signal despite the close proximity. The annoyance was that he was often in our path, we were going a bit faster than him which meant we needed to keep an eye on their position despite his ghosting condition
Maybe due to the pre-departure stress of getting the whisker pole parts sorted in what took ages, the fact we ended up barely seeing the Canaries except La Graciosa, Lanzarote and the coastline of Fuerteventura, the mind set was just of general annoyance, not the usual excitement and pleasure.
This passage was feeling very much like ticking a box on the greater plan of things.
Hopefully tomorrow the mind set is better.
The 24h run for this day was 132 nautical miles.
We still are 5 to 6 hours behind our slowest planning.
Day 3 (2022-12-19)
With the first light we returned to the Hydrovane. We also managed to actually see the ghosting yacht to our starboard already out of our way. Its name was "Fishcake" and they called us on the VHF radio asking if we were the yacht with a dog on board. We had a small chat before getting back to our routines.
We also saw something we hoping not to cross with, a few fishing apparatus. In this case with reasonably good size flags and floaters, while John is sure he saw one during the night not so visible.
Had to do some adjustments to the whisker pole position during the morning due to the brand new lines still adjusting tension.
A couple of hours later we spent a good hour preparing to pole the boom for the Solent sail. We did a few tests none to our satisfaction until we reached a set up that we think we can use. Not whiling to try it out again due to the significant change of course needed we let it to a later time when the wind direction has already changed.
Again the day was of lighter winds than expected which meant our speed was quite low with the occasional roll in the big swells. Yes, the swell had not only changed direction from NE to NW but also had changed size, it was now around 3 metres probably on 12 seconds or a bit more.
Despite all the annoyances it was a really comfortable sail, but very much to our surprise we had barely seen any wild life.
No fish, no dolphins, barely any bird even. Quite bizarre.
Around 5pm the wind finally turned dead downwind for the sailing angle we wanted so we got the opportunity to try out poling the Solent sail on the boom. It took us two attempts, the first revealed that the angle of the downwind sheet would chafe on the boom preventer so we had to furl the Solent sail and re-run the sheet. The second attempt showed some potential, a bit more fiddling and we were successfully poling the two head sails, even if timidly.
We kept the two sails poled for a short while and until after sunset when the wind decided to pick up more than we felt comfortable for the night with such a recent experience. As we started furling the Solent sail the true winds were now blowing 21 knots nearly 22. We corrected the autopilot to 175 AWA (Apparent Wind Angle) from port side and that allowed us a more comfortable ride for the early hours of the night.
By 8 pm when John went to sleep we noticed a sailing yacht we had been checking on AIS for a few hours was going to be in a potential course collision with us shortly. The wind angle would give us no choice besides to keep our course or turn towards him and make his life more difficult potentially, we were the standing vessel and they were the overtaking vessel in this situation so we kept our course (within the possible of the wind mode of the autopilot) and a very close eye on his position. The chartplotter CPA kept giving us numbers anything from 0.5 nautical miles to 2 nautical miles with an occasional moment where it was just feet distance. The name of this yacht was slightly funny, it was called "Hull no1"
It seemed reasonably clear if we both kept whatever we were doing we would clear each other without stress, although given the swell we could only see his navigation lights occasionally. Hence the reason of my new wishlist item: a tricolour light up the mast. This experience and our experience way back in 2019 sailing the coast of Sicily and passing in the middle of the Rolex fleet prove to me that the standard navigations light in the pushpits/pullpits are useless when sailing offshore.
John didn’t managed to stay sleeping with the new rolling caused by the increased speed on the existing swell so we switched watches and I went to sleep until midnight while he stayed on watch. The winds kept blowing close to 18 which finally allowed us the speeds we had hoped fore and we were finally keeping pace with our planning, hopefully by morning the following day we would have even recovered some lost miles.
The 24h run for this day was 130 nautical miles.
We still are 5 hours behind our slowest planning.
Day 4 (2022-12-20)
By morning the wind had picked up a bit more and eventually it started gusting nearly 25 knots. The sea picked up immediately with waves from the same direction of the wind, northeast, but still keeping the rolling 3 meters swell coming from NW. Quite uncomfortable.
We decided to reef the poled Jib and that immediately improved the motion, it no longer felt we were surfing between waves and swell so fast.
Around 9.15 am I suddenly heard a blow super close to our port stern, as I glanced to that side expecting to see a naughty wave hitting the stern quarter I was surprised seeing a huge fin on what it look a super long black body. Was that a dolphin? No way, it’s too big.
An Orca (insert heart rushing in this split second, maybe even a moment of nausea). A second sighting cleared the doubt between those two options, it definitely wasn’t any of them but just what was it?
In the water next to us we could see an extremely long shade of white and dark grey to black but with the somehow heavy seas we couldn’t quite tell it’s shape. There was at least three of them and has they gently surfaced to breath we could exclude them being Pilot Whales because the head shape was completely wrong, it looked long. The position of the blow hole and the hump at that spot and the position of the dorsal fin were also wrong for Pilot Whales.
The only one that came to mind that could fit all these details was a Minke whale.
They were nearly has big as our boat, for sure at least 10 metres and so majestic swimming next to us, crossing our bow or following us. They seemed to be all over the place playing with us, such gentle giants, while we surfed the swell clumsy and erratically when compared.
They stayed with us for nearly one hour, never managing to get a clear sighting.
Still just bloody amazing to see such animals so close to us.
Ella of course was going bonkers, why couldn’t she just join them?
The wind and seas persisted strongish, we were doing much better speeds but it was a bit uncomfortable. The reefed Jib definitely helped and eventually we got used to that new motion or maybe the wind had already settled a bit and so did the sea state. It was a life jacket and tether kind of a day.
John went to have a snooze down below.
Interestingly enough throughout this entire sail whenever we go down below it feels extremely comfortable motion wise, it seems that being in the cockpit our other senses get more in the way of motion perception.
While John rested it felt we had dropped speed again and that the winds had settled on gusts below 20 knots and mean wind around 15. Instead of surfing and catching speed when going over waves we were now dropping speed when rolling. Such a fine line it is.
For quite a while I went back and forward with the decision of shaking the reef on the Jib or not, eventually I noticed John had half woken to change position or something and I took the opportunity to with his help shake the reef from the poled Jib. I could have easily done it by myself but being the first time I know that both would appreciate being part of the process. Learning and experiencing it together despite being such an easy task.
We immediately picked up a bit more speed again and John tried to rest a bit longer.
When he returned to the cockpit I took the chance to do the same myself but I simply slept on the cockpit sunbed side. A couple of hours later I woke and it was just about time for dinner and to restart the night watches. We settled for 3h watches for the entire night.
Close to 2am the wind picked up to 25 knots and it was time to reef the poled Jib again, by now we were able to do it with much more confidence than the previous time.
By 5am the wind had picked up further, to nearly 30 knots but most importantly the waves from NW quadrant had picked up significantly whilst the ocean swell from NE caused by a low pressure system in north had only reduced quite a bit. This combination made for a reasonably uncomfortable motion. We handed a second reef to the sail
The 24h run for this day was 140 nautical miles.
We still are 4 hours behind our slowest planning.
Day 5 (2022-12-21)
The entire morning was marked by moments when it felt maybe the wind and waves had settled a bit only to be proven wrong shortly after. This meant the day was spent putting a 2nd reef and then at any opportunity removing it to pick up some speed.
We ran the autopilot the entire day at great cost on the batteries.
By mid day I noticed we hadn’t seen any AIS target for a while now and when zooming out the chartplotter to see the African coast, where a few days earlier I had noticed I could see a lot of cargo movement, there was not a single target to be seen. That made me wonder were we that far away, had our antenna stopped working?
It was a really uncomfortable day, probably one of the high moments was when a call came on the VHF from yacht "Lamplighter", whom we had spoken the day before when noticing his AIS target done 30 nautical miles south of us. At that time we had tried for a radio check just to find out how clear could he hear us at that distance.
We had also asked if he had a weather update which he did albeit incorrect.
As I picked up the VHF to reply to him I feared to hear the reply. What if it was help request?
How the heck would we be able to get to him with this sea state now that we were well south if him by at least 30 nautical miles?
Luckily all he wanted was a radio check and to know if anyone had a weather update (guessing that given how incorrect his previous update was being a 33ft vessel he wanted to know how much more pain would he be in).
We couldn’t hear him very well and we also didn’t had an update for him but knowing there was someone out there going through the same comforted I guess.
The day carried on very uncomfortable.
During my off watch for the second time a flying fish flew into my seat, as I got hit by it I woke up, understanding what it was I looked for it, grabbed it and gave it to Ella (she eats the dead flying fish we find around the boat on passage as a snack). This fish was still alive, Ella looked at me and at the fish with such expression of puzzlement that it was hilarious.
Our Millennial dog was afraid of the alive fish and although understanding it was delicious food she could quite know what to do. Retreating to her sleeping bed and laying down looking at her snack still flickering occasionally trying to touch it with her paw trying to figure out what to do.
Eventually the fished finished dying and she happily ate it.
The 24h run for this day was 146 nautical miles.
We still are 2 hours behind our planning.
The butter still hasn’t melted, well at least for me. I left wearing two thermals long sleeve shirts, a knit jacket a wind breaker and my offshore foullies. I’ve managed to drop one of the thermals and the knot jacket but that’s all.
John on the other hand during the day has already been able to wear shorts or just some light weather track pants and T-shirt.
Day 6 (2022-12-22)
The morning started with us shaking the 2nd reef around 7am followed by the repeated process to shake the 1st reef at 7.30 am. Sea state had reduced considerably allowing us to do this although still blowing into the mid 20’s occasionally.
Around 10am we were surrounded by a huge pod of dolphins swimming super fast all around us, showing off their social and hunting skills. Hundreds of flying fish flying everywhere trying to escape them we could only guess.
Ella already had quite a few the day before at breakfast and again at night.
Midday the sea state had picked up again but the not the winds. It was around this time too that the Mindelo AIS land station showed up on the chartplotter at some 160 nautical miles away. That was a bit of relief knowing that AIS was still working! And then it disappeared again!
Also saw my first turtle at sea. John sees them often, as for me not even when wearing glasses but this time I saw it and it was huge!
With full Jib flying on the pole, we were now making decent progress although still behind our passage planning schedule.
When the time came for the night watches John was quite exhausted from the rolly on the previous nights and was having trouble staying on watch, so I picked up most of the night watch on a stint of 5h.
By morning when the time came to check the daily run and how long was still missing for our arrival we came to the conclusion we were just a few hours behind our planning.
The 24h run for this day was 141 nautical miles.
Day 7 (2022-12-23)
With John fully refreshed (within possible of another night at sea) the spirits were high, however as the morning progressed the winds that had already lightened up a bit in the night kept lightening even further to the point we were back at very slow progress around 4knots, almost as slow as in the first days when we were figuring out the whisker pole set up. Slowly, slowly we saw our ETA extend further or to be more correctly not progressing at the normal pace.
After many false bites on the lures we trailed for a few days we finally got the prize, a beautiful Mahi Mahi.
Unfortunately the second one must have been much bigger as it took Alfred our trusty lure!
By lunch time we decided it was time to start the engine so we could arrive still with daylight, otherwise we would have to literally take the sail down and maybe even hove to and wait for daylight the next day to come before entering the harbour.
It was a tough decision because we were still making progress albeit a slow one. In the end that was the right decision for us, we motored for some hours.
The first sighting of land was a different experience from our usual. For really longtime we couldn’t tell if what we were seeing was just a weird cloud formation or the contour of the island of St Antão. It looked so high and surrounded by mist. Eventually we did came to the conclusion it was an island but it would take a couple of hours until we could see the contour of St Vincent island, the one we were actually going to.
By the time we were approaching the island and then the harbour it was well into the late afternoon, when we finally dropped anchor unfortunately the check in services were already closed for Xmas.
Entering the harbour was quite a spectacule for the senses. The town very much looking like a slum from the distance, a few sunken big cargo or fishing boats, quite a few derelict looking cargo boats at anchor and strong winds.
In the end our journey was 849 nautical miles covered in 6 days and 8 hours.
***In the spirit of sharing our dreams and experiences we have shared this blog post in the NOFOREIGNLAND.COMwebsite sailors community.