Our longest passage to date: Gran Canaria to the Cape Verdes
When we left Gran Canaria we had trouble picking up the anchor. Somehow the line of our anchor buoy got itself wrapped around the anchor and the chain and even the carabiner that attaches the line to the anchor had managed to clip itself back onto the anchor chain again. Have you ever as a child put your elbows into the sleeves of a shirt first, getting yourself stuck? That.
They say the Canary Islands can be some kind of ‘sailor velcro’; apparently it’s not uncommon for sailors to go there and never sail on.
I wasn’t tempted in any way to stay there, I was longing for more adventure and new places! I wanted to see more! But I couldn’t help but wonder if this was supposed to be an omen of some kind. A warning, maybe, feeding into my nervousness about leaving.
Fortunately it only took about 15 minutes of fumbling and a pair of pliers to get everything sorted and working again.
We briefly moored for refuelling and filled the watertanks and off we went!
It didn’t take too long to get into the ‘groove’ of sailing again. Not before long we were flying at 9 knots.
That first night we also learned a valuable lesson (or rather, experienced first hand): chafe and wear and tear are your biggest enemies, especially on longer passages.
About an hour after my night watch started I noticed that one side of our lazyjack system had dropped to the deck – our own fault for leaving them up while sailing, as we normally do take them down (and will in the future!).
In that same watch I noticed a couple of halyards flying loose above the foredeck. For the second time I had to wake Rene up so I could go check it out (as a safety measure we never leave the cockpit when we are alone and I wore full safety gear as I inspected it).
It turned out that the piece of rope they were supposed to be attached to had worn through.
A couple of nights later, after sailing solely and successfully with the parasailor for a day or two, Rene got his chance to ‘get even’ on me by waking me up after one of the lines of the parasailor had suddenly chafed through. The sail was flapping and flying, but Rene managed to wrestle the chute down to the deck and secure it.
The rest of the journey we used our ‘regular’ sails again, sometimes with the genua poled out sailing wing-on-wing when the winds permitted it.
We had great winds the entire trip; we read that often people end up having to motor a large portion of the way because of light winds or no wind at all. We’re very fortunate that we didn’t have to use the engine at all really, except for a couple of hours on the first day to get away from Gran Canaria and last day to make sure we’d get to Mindelo well before sunset.
It also didn’t take long for the seas to build. Before we set sail I tried to imagine how big ocean swell and large following seas would look and feel like. The trouble is that it doesn’t translate well onto photographs or even video, making it hard to get an honest idea beforehand without coming across material about scary, heavy storms (bad idea…).
When our video comes out, I don’t think it’ll be able to truly convey our experiences. Plus I didn’t film a whole lot when things got ‘interesting’. That is kind of the problem with vlogging for me: when something happens, like lines chafing through or finding water in the bilge, we’re busy fixing those problems, not running to grab a camera and filming the whole thing. I have a new appreciation for those on youtube who can actually pull that off!
So, by default, our videos are a pretty dishonest, non representative way of sharing our actual experiences unfortunately.
So how DOES it feel to sail with big waves? Well, first thing to know is that with following waves and wind from behind the experience is rather slow and relatively smooth. We weren’t beating into the waves in an aggressive way, rather surfing with them, being lifted up and propelled forward by them. The entire landscape around us was a constantly moving, ever changing barrage of hills and valleys. So much so that I occasionally felt I needed a little break inside from the sensory overload. Sometimes the waves would crest, especially in the last 48 hours, which had the biggest seas and posed the largest challenge. Those cresting waves would have the most amazing colours; the deep navy water would rise up and turn in a vivid, transparant turquoise capped with white curls before collapsing upon itself. At night, I could see the cresting white of waves all around me gently glowing from the bioluminescent algae.
Sometimes we’d see a wave coming, rising so high we lost visual of the horizon or any view behind us, and we’d fear it would crest and crash into our cockpit. It didn’t happen.
The wave would instead lift us up butt first and push us forward again while rolling underneath us.
After a while this movement becomes the new normal and life goes on aboard. We humans are surprisingly adaptable beings. We slept, ate, cooked, washed the dishes, baked bread and made pancakes. The kids played with their toys, played Minecraft and watched movies. The school materials stayed in their cupboard for the duration of the passage – much to the delight of our kids teaching was something I couldn’t quite do.
But the movement was not always like that. The last 48 hours proved to be a little more…. well, a little MORE in every way. More wind, more waves, higher waves and more waves coming from different directions.
This chaotic pattern tossed us around quite a bit, with waves sometimes even coming from the sides and splashing against the hull. Although our comfort level suffered, we never felt unsafe. Blue Pearl was doing great and our overall speed was more than we could have hoped for.
On our penultimate evening I noticed water on the floorboards inside. At first I thought I’d left a hatch open, but kneeling down I could hear water sloshing around in the bilge. I tasted it; it was salty. We removed the floorboards and turned on the pump to get the water out. An hour later, there was water again. Rene got in his troubleshooting mode and began his search to find out where the water had come from. Later at night he had located its source: an aft thru hull had begun leaking with every wave after the clamp on it had broken, letting seawater inside. Rene fixed it, pumped the last bit of the water out and saw that no new water was coming in. Another problem solved!
We usually do six hour night watches; Rene from 20:00 – 02:00, me from 02:00 – 08:00. I’d sleep a little before my watch and again in the morning after Rene has woken up. This system works for us, the longer watches make it so we actually can get some decent hours of sleep and deep sleep in, making it more sustainable for us on longer passages.
Crossing from the Canaries to Cape Verdes we encountered little to no other boats. Those we did see were 3 or 4 big tankers and we only spotted them on the AIS about 15 miles away. So these watches were actually the easiest watches we did so far! We could suffice with looking around and on the AIS once every 20-30 minutes, mostly looking for squalls on the radar, binge watching series or looking at the stars in between.
On that last night however, the chaotic seas and the situation with the thru hull the night before, meant we decided to go for a 3 hour system. Rene went to sleep first as he was very tired. I woke him at midnight and went to bed until Rene woke me at 03:00. Rene was up for the 06:00 – 09:00 watch and then I took over again until noonish.
This system was way more taxing on us, breaking up the night into smaller fragments, making the night seem so much longer and we were thankful we only had to do this for the one night.
Because the next day, we saw land!
The last couple of hours were filled with anticipation – and lots of flying fish.
As a bonus, we found that we had a little stowaway; a small black bird (later determined to possibly be a Bulwers Petrel) had found its way into our dinghy and was hiding in a corner.
As soon as we moored in the marina of Mindelo, after merely 6 days!, we took the bird and examined it to make sure it didn’t have a broken wing or leg. He seemed fine, but was very weak. The kids prepared a little box for him to rest in, gave him water and tuna from a can.
They were thrilled to have this little buddy with us for a bit!
That night, after we got back from a celebratory we-made-it-to-the-Cape-Verdes!-dinner, the girls found the box empty. It seemed their care and efforts had paid off; the bird had rested enough and regained enough energy to fly away again.
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