Around the Atlantic crossing the Atlantic, La Palma to Tobago

It took us 19 amazing dats to cross the Atlantic.

19 days magnificent 360° horizon; spectacular sunsets and sunrises. Hand steering the whole way. Calculating our position by sextant. New dimension of time, day of the week and date. The importance to find a reason to celebrate each day.

26°20.540 N/21°11.360 W, second day at sea

Second day at seaIt’s our second day at sea and are having a great time! The weather is nice, warm and sunny. The wind is about 15 to 20 kts which gives a very gentle breeze if you sail downwind. Life on board is starting to get into a rhythm. We do 4 hr. watches from 7 pm to 7 am having 2 of us on deck all time. During the day you can do what you like, steer, sleep, read or whatever else like tweaking the sails or practice with the sextant. We’re hand steering all the time. It’s fun surfing downwind! It makes you feel one with the boat, the wind and the waves. That’s what sailing is all about, that’s what sailing makes it so very special. The only time we use the autopilot is when run the engine to charge the batteries while we’re having diner. Every day after lunch we do a boat check and a daily cleaning of the galley, heads and cockpit.

We cook in turns and the one who’s cooking also does the dishes so whatever mess you make, you clean it yourself. To prevent dehydration we all have our own water bottle that we have to drink each day. So far everything works okay although the windex decided to go his own way. Most of the time it gives a random direction. Instead we now sail on the wind vane at the top of the mast.

It’s really nice and peaceful and we very much enjoy the sailing. The motion, the sound of the water and the boat. Last night we saw another yacht going the same direction (of course), and a freighter that was going East. Apart from an occasional boat, we only see dolphins, not that many so far, but it is always fun to see them. In a week or so we’ll have to try and catch some fish. By then the fresh meat will have run out or gotten off. Well, we’ll see, we have plenty of other food.

23°55.585 N/23°07.216 W, energy

The log reads 428.6 Nm so it’s fair to say we’re well underway. We’re steering 210° heading for the trade winds, doing about 160 nm per day. The weather is still very fine and also the nights go good too. We all enjoy the present Marc bought me: a manual espresso maker. We decided to change the watch system it to a 3 hr. schedule with 2 hrs. overlap, the 1st and the last one. The 2nd hr., you’re on your own. That way we all get to sleep at least an hour extra.

This morning we had some bad luck with the gennaker. We were thinking of dropping it when we’d finished our coffee when a gust ripped it. We managed to get it down and it seemed not badly damaged. Luckily we have a spare and also the spinnaker Marc brought. I learned an important lesson though: when you start thinking of something, you should do it right away! Then the gennoa didn’t want to furl in. The leading eye the rigger fixed in Puerto Calero was gone for some reason. This time Marc went up the mast and with a little slack in the halyard it works fine again. Later we all used the shower I installed. It works really fine and is very refreshing even though the water is quite warm. Showering with salt water is something you have to get used to though. The first few times it itches after a while.

This afternoon I wasn’t feeling too well. A good sleep helped a lot. Marc in the meantime did a sighting and worked out a position. After some (re)calculations a loud YES!! sounded, he plotting matched the GPS. When I woke up I took a sighting too but I didn’t get to do the calculations. We decided to do daily sightings for practice and use them to navigate. It’s real fun once you get the hang of it.

20°24.230N/26°20.046W, back in time

Nautical mapYesterday we set the ships clock an hour back so the first watch, mine, was an hour longer. The watch system is working real fine! One hour extra sleep does make a difference. Taking sightings is going better too. Yesterday Marc and I did took two sightings and plotted our position. We came as close as 8 nm compared with the GPS. On the ocean that’s very accurate! Rutger also took some sightings and his plotting was very accurate too! In the meantime, our average speed has gone up to 7.5 kts. That’s good for over 180 Nm in 24 hrs.!

We haven’t seen any ARC yachts yet. The ARC started 3 days after we left. I guess most of them aren’t fast enough to catch up our head start. We did see two whales though. Jur spotted them as they were cruising about 200 m behind us. Rutger tried to film them but on the camera you can’t really see them. We also get to see a lot of stars at night. Most of the time it’s very clear. The good thing is that you can steer pointing at a star. That’s way better then looking at the compass the whole time. With help of ‘Stellarium’ on my laptop we now know where Betelgeuse, Rigel, Aldebaran and Capella are. I could steer at Sirius for quite a while last night. And of the planets, Jupiter is always there.

Last night Marc also saw a huge freighter or containership coming at us with over 20 kts. They also saw us according to the sea-me. They had to give way but didn’t seem to do so. So Marc called Jur and me on deck to get ready to gibe. Then they sort of stopped but still holding course and gave me 5 flashes, meaning: alert, wake up!! We gibed. They’d probably misinterpreted our radar reflection. On their radar we might have looked like a freighter because the strong pulse of our Sea-Me reflector. As a freighter we should have given way but, we didn’t because as a sailing yacht they should give way. We tried to show them we’re a sailing yacht by shining our searchlight at the sails. They then seemed to understand. No longer on a collision course they went full throttle and passed us.

Early this morning Rutger spotted a – empty – horse shoe, probably lost by a yacht ahead of us. So we might have been caught up by some faster ARC yachts after all.

18°00.742N/29°06.394W, one third

Today we hit the 900 Nm meaning we have covered about one third of the distance to Tobago. In 3 days or so, we’ll have our midway party. Jur has already definitely won the beard competition. I had a shave this morning. Marc and Rutger are still in the competition but Marc should better quit and have a shave too, it’s not making him prettier.

All the maneuverings with the gennaker and poling in and out the gennoa are going very smooth by now. At sunset the ‘Elandsgracht’, a Dutch coaster crossed us. She was giving way but passed us close by to call us over the radio. I didn’t get the message at first but when I asked to repeat it, they told us there were 6 ARC yachts ahead of us and they wished us a safe trip. Nice!

Just before dinner we took a sighting could of Jupiter, Wega, Denheb, Polaris and Capella, .. our first planet and star sight. It’s good I brought the book on how to do star calculations. The pro forma sheets we have showed different calculations and we couldn’t figure it out without the book. Tonight we had our last dinner with fresh lettuce and meat. The mince and the chicken had gone off and we had to dump it. The burgers were still okay but won’t last too long either. So, as of tomorrow we’ll be on tinned meat and hopefully fresh fish.

16°27.418N/31°30.746W, 1000 Nm

1000nmToday we hit the 1000 nm milestone. For Jur, Rutger and me the first time we sailed such a distance on the same trip. To celebrate this I backed pancakes with bacon which we ate with honey. One thing I learned from the books and articles I read preparing my trip was to find something to celebrate each day to keep up the spirit and it really works!

Today we also had to start fishing, the last pack of burgers had gone off and we let them go… It didn’t take too long before the rattle started going but unfortunately the fish let go, it must have seen the burgers. That happened a few times today so we ended up eating a delicious spaghetti carbonare, cooked by Rutger. Jur, had some more luck with the fish. When he went to the foredeck for a shower he came back with a flying fish that had landed on deck.

Rutger and Marc played a game: I see, I see what you don’t see and the collar is … After an hour or so they finally decided that this wasn’t the best game to play on a boat mid Atlantic. Anyway, the weather is great and at night the skies are crystal clear full of stars, the wind is okay too, slowly backing to NE. On to our way to the next milestone to celebrate: the half way passage.


14°27.664N/35°55.519W, half way

If the wind stays like this we’ll be half way by dinner tonight! By then we´ll be 8 full days at sea. That would be about as fast as when Marc did the crossing 5 years ago. Since last night we were following a yacht. That was really nice, we could steer at his stern light :-). Early this morning we overtook her. Mala came from the Cape Verdies and was heading for Barbados. We talked a while over the vhf. She wasn’t going that fast, sailing only her mainsail but they found it more comfortable that way.

Anyway, we set the other gennoa to goose wing with the first gennoa. With the full mainsail too, she sails more steady and with good speed. We actually have more sail now then with the spinnaker but this is more robust and easier to trim. I’m glad I have rigged all these lines and sheets so we can fly whatever sail combination we want.

Yesterday we finally caught two dolphin fish. After losing the fish several times, two stayed on the hook. Rutger professionally killed them and put them in the fridge. It was my turn to cook. Because we usually eat in the dark I thought it better to filet them right away otherwise it would have been a spitty meal losing all the bones. Marc wasn’t that excited at first about eating the fish but when it came to it he really liked it, as we all did by the way. I cooked it with onions, spring onions, garlic and mushrooms, served with rice and a fresh cucumber/tomato salad; it was a great meal! Tonight Marc’s gonna cook. To celebrate the half way milestone he’ll make hutspot. Oh well, with the champagne, I got for the occasion, it’ll be another great meal!

Half way
Half way

14°12.250N/39°53.924W, warmer and warmer

Sailing AtlanticToday we crossed the 37½° longitude, meaning I had to set the ships clock back an hour again. We are not only getting further West every day, we’re getting further South too, and that we really noticed. Just North of the 14th parallel, we’re in tropical waters now. During the day the temperature gets around 31°C and at night it doesn’t really cool off much. It stays at a very nice 25°C. The water too is about 25°C so every day we have a nice and warmish (salty) shower on the foredeck.

When we left the Canaries, I had to put on a sweater and my shoes at night. Now just a T-shirt is more than enough. This night, during my watch, some dark clouds came over and it started raining, not very hard, but enough to get wet. However as, soon as the rain stopped and even before the clouds were gone, the warm wind had dried my shirt in no time.

The wind is very steady between 15 and 29 kts and coming just North of East. On a course over ground of 260°, it’s a dead downwind sail. During the day we have the two gennoa’s goose winged and the full mainsail. The two gennoa’s sail like a spinnaker but are more robust and more easy to trim. At night we drop one gennoa and pole out the remaining one. That gives us a window of about 30°-35° angle to sail. That’s works really great. Sometimes the wind picks up a bit more and the usually shifts a bit. Than the waves come from a different angle and that can give a very sporty course to steer. Like last night, after a while I decided to trip the genoa from the pole and go to a more comfortable beam reach. Later Marc and Jur also were awake and we gibed. By now, these kind of maneuverings are a piece of cake, even at night.

Today Rutger made an inventory of our remaining food and drink supplies. With about 8 or 9 more days to go we’re fine on everything, on bread we’re more the fine, with still have 18 left. We could have gotten some more bottled water though. With the water in the tanks we are fine. That is, as long as it stays in the tanks. When I went down to take a nap before my evening watch, Marc was doing the dishes and then he called me. There wasn’t coming water out of the tap? The starboard tank was still fine when I checked the other day. When I checked again, it turned out that the hose of the nanometer had come off. Normally the pump stops when the pressure is on again but when the hose with the nanometer is gone, the pressure never gets up and the pump doesn’t stop…. pumping all that was left in the tank into the bilge. So we lost about 60 liters. Luckily I had two separate water tanks and the remaining port tank was still full. Also I had just cleaned all the filters today, including the one of the bilge pump so pumping the bilge was done in no time. Anyway, we’re still fine on everything and if it comes to it, we also have the water maker.

14°17.939N/46°25.904W, miles and waves

Today we’ll clock the 2000Nm. We’re 13 days at sea now so we’re doing just over 150 Nm a day. That would leave us another 5 – 6 days to get to Tobago, so next Wednesday or Tuesday we should be very close. Saturday Clare, Marc’s wife, and Elisabeth, Jur’s girlfriend will fly in. Monday Kitty, my girlfriend, will then come over from Curacao so our timing is very good.

Taking sights every day helps us keeping track on time and dates, otherwise I wouldn’t have known … At sea there are just three times… it’s getting light so it must be around 6 am, it’s getting dark, that means 6 pm and when you’re starting to get hungry it means lunch time. But in reality time has no meaning or function, seemed to have lost all purpose. Except for twice a day when we did our sightings. To calculate your position you have to note the exact time of your sight and you’d have to look for the tables on the rich date. Apart from that we couldn’t care less what time or day it was. Also distance is getting a new dimension. A trip of over a 100 Nm used to be a real trip! Crossing the channel is about a 100 Nm. Now, that feels more like a daysail

Another thing is the constant motion of the boat. 24 hrs. a day, nonstop, the waves are there. Everything you do has to be synchronized with the motion of the boat. If not, well, you’ll bump your head, knee or whatever or, you gonna spill whatever you have in your hands. I remembered last time I was at sea for 5 or 6 days, I really had to get used to the steady ground again. I actually felt landsick the first few hours. I wonder what it’ll be like when we get to Tobago.

Miles and Waves
Miles and Waves

Thursday December 8th, arrived at Scarborough and dropped the anchor!!

TobagoWe didn’t make it in daylight, just.. It was one hour after sunset but with the help of the almost full moon and the coastguard vessel TTS Humming Bird stationed in the harbor, we had no problem to find a good spot to drop the anchor, actually only about 2 boat lengths away from the Humming Bird 🙂

The last 2 days we had very light winds so we motor sailed to get some decent speed. Except from Wednesday when the wind picked up and we set the gennaker, the one I got from Marc. All our calls for wind were granted at the same time and build up to 30 kts…. I was down in the saloon, plotting my sights when the boat heeled, Rutger could barely hold her. Then Marc took over the helm but he couldn’t hold her either. When I came on deck to help dropping the gennaker, it was too late, so we ripped the storm gennaker too. We could get it in though and it can easily be fixed again.

Jur was the first one to spot the contours of Tobago against the clouds. Finally, after 19 days at sea, there was land again. I put Vangelis on the stereo and we all felt a bit like Columbus and his crew. After we dropped the anchor, we launched the dinghy to get ashore and have dinner and another drink to celebrate! Stepping on the pontoon was very weird though, it didn’t move!! We all walked like we already had drunk too much. It was very hard to walk straight. The place was what you expected, lots of people, lots of cars and little ‘restaurants’ with very loud music We ended up in the Tobago version of KFC and had fried chicken and fries. That was a good starter but later we had a pizza as well. By that time, most of the hectic was over and only a few bars were still open. We had a last rum and coke and went back to the boat for a good night sleep!