Tuesday 9 December 2014

Our First Week at Sea and Diversion to Cap Verde

First week on route to St Lucia - 24 November to 1 December

Day 1 - Monday

The Start
We arrived at the start line with 30 minutes to spare and hoisted the sails in 20 knots of wind. We had agreed that we would reef the sails from the outset as we were expecting strong winds as the wind accelerated along the coast. Good decision as we were soon in 30 knot winds and everyone in good spirits as we bowled along at 8 knots.

Sarah keeping a look out
Andy and I navigating through the mass of boats

The sea was a little lumpy but we expected better conditions and lighter winds as we cleared South of Gran Canaria. The 30 knot winds however continued until 1am in the morning when we hit the wind shadow caused by Gran Canaria and we drifted aimlessly for about 4 hours until the wind once again picked up. I was not part of the watch system for the first couple of days so that I would always be on hand for any tricky manoeuvres which we had a lot of. The consequence was that I had little sleep for the first 24 hours so very tired. The waves were frequent and steep and were not all coming from one direction which made the boat motion ragged.

Checked the engine bilge and we had no water coming in

Day 2 – Tuesday

Winds were around 25 knots but were constantly changing which meant we were never on course for long. We had decided previously that we would not worry about direction for the first couple of days but concentrate on getting the boat sailing well and the crew working together. By the end of day 2 we had the boat sailing along although the lumpy conditions left over from the storm made sleeping difficult. I slept for 12 hours without being woken which I really needed – I had not realised quite how tired I had become.

Sarah cooked chicken and mushroom which in the unpredictable and difficult motion of the boat it was a horrible experience for her. Not the best introduction to cooking on board!

Day 3 - Wednesday

Into Day 3 we set the Hydrovane to steer the boat and it all worked very well. We know adopted a 5 person shift pattern that Sarah had worked out so it meant that everyone would get more sleep as we settled into our routine.

This was the first day that we found water in the bilge – 1 litre which we traced back to a leak in the rudder. Only a slight concern at the time since the water leak from the rudder appeared as one small drop every minute or so – we could live with that.
Pasta for dinner because the sea made it impossible to cook anything better!

Day 4 -Thursday

We found 4 litres of water in the bilge and the leak was still small but increasing. We took advice from the boat builder via email about the cause and his advice was to head to a safe port and get the rudder bearings checked. We had our first crew conference and decided that we would continue and monitor the amount of water, partly because of a new storm developing over the Canaries would have made going back very difficult, if not impossible.

Sarah suggested that we head for Cap Verde which meant we could continue to monitor the problem with an option (and our only option) to go into Cap Verde 500 miles south if the problem did get worse. We discussed the fact leaks only get worse and never better but we had no option other than to go to Cap Verde in any case because of the weather. We also started to discuss our contingency plans to have ready in case the leak worsened further.

Weather continued to be overcast and not very warm so we had to wear jackets for much of the time. The sea was also a challenge as waves came from different direction causing the boat to rock side to side as the waves hit us. The sea continued to build as the storm had moved further South which created a heavy swell.

A pod of 15 dolphins joined us at dusk as we were preparing dinner, swimming alongside and playfully jumping out of the water to show off. Dolphins are meant to be a sign of good luck, however on this occasion I am not sure they were for us. It was a 20 minute peaceful and still moment

We ate one of our prepared meals that night – a Boeuf bourgignon for dinner (prepared by Catherine the week before departure) which did wonders for crew morale.

Day 4 - Friday

A check on the bilge showed we had taken on 8 litres of water in the past 24 hours so it was getting worse. We had no doubt that we needed to get to Cap Verde as quickly as possible and we emailed the ARC organisers to inform them of our predicament. The stress levels rose visibly on the boat as we now had to consider contingency plans for pumping out large volumes of water if the leak worsened or we encountered structural damage caused by the waves on the rudder.

We devised two methods of pumping out large volumes of water should the worse happen. One involved connecting the water intake from the generator directly into the engine bilge and the other diverting the manual bilge pump into the engine compartment. Grab Bag was reviewed and finalised, AIS personal monitors were checked,

The crew were brilliant and took it in their stride – we all slept with life jackets close at hand and monitored the leak every 6 hours. We also set up a twice daily update with the ARC in case we did need urgent assistance. Spirits were generally as upbeat as possible, although everyone was mentally strained and exhausted.

Martin losing a fish after a long fight!
So despite a high level of stress, Andy and Martin took to fishing in the afternoon and nearly caught a fish - it took them half an hour to lose it!

Day 5 - Saturday

Catherine reading in 4m swell
While the swell was now over 4 metres the waves were much less steep and the leak went down to four litres over the last 24 hours. It meant that the water leak had been worsened by the steep waves and the forecast was for the waves to lessen over the next couple of days. Still we had 300 miles to go but the crew were much more relaxed now. We had our first really enjoyable day sailing in the trade winds with some good sunshine. Catherine sat at the back reading the newspaper while listening to music almost oblivious to the huge swell coming in behind. 

Andy on fishing duties
Andy and Martin set up the fishing rod and caught the first of the two fish – a mackerel which 3 hours later had been cooked as part of dinner. This was followed by a lamb stew that Martin prepared. It was much warmer now we were further south and we were in tee shirt and shorts overnight.

First squall experience in the middle of the night, wind suddenly increased from 15 knots to 30 with driving rain. Catherine and Sarah were on watch and coped with it without any fuss – although they did look like drowned rabbits! We continued to be hit with 5-6 squalls each night over the next two days.

Andy was fishing off the back of the boat with his legs over the side when he saw a shark in the water which he pointed out to me. I have never seen anyone jump up so quickly! He also blamed the shark for losing yet another fish off the line together with the lure. The other crew were sceptical that it was a shark but we know what we saw!

Day 6 - Sunday

Catherine's first fish
Waves now abating as the storm over the Canaries moved North and the leak stabilised to 4 litres a day. Catherine took over the fishing rod and caught a good size Mahi Mahi which was served as part of dinner three hours later. Again a very relaxed day and we further enjoyed some good sailing in pleasant conditions.

Catherine decided that Pizza would be a good option for dinner and made the dough for the Pizza base. She prepared individual Pizzas to order giving a range of options that Pizza Express would have been proud of. This was prepared in fairly rocky seas which made standing up a challenge let alone cooking 5 individual pizzas.

Day 7 Monday

We motored over night for a few hours so that we would reach Sao Vincente in daylight. The last thing we needed was to come into an unknown marina in the dark when we did not have detailed charts for the area. We had to rely on the Pilot book to guide us in together with the GPS to give us an exact position. Another good day sail although we motored through light winds to maintain a day light arrival.

Arrived at 6pm with much relief. Now we just needed to sort out how we fixed the boat. But first we had a good few beers and found a very nice restaurant where we could relax and have some good food. 

All we have to do now is get the boat fixed!