We set off from Mindelo on December 1st, under fair skies and a moderate swell. By the time we left Santo Antoa the last island of Cap Vert behind, Opsimath was in the middle of a fleet of about 7 sailboats beginning their crossing. Among them, Tusatilla, a 36 foot Hallberg Rassy navigated by a solo Scottsman named Alan. He was our neighbor in Mindelo marina, and incidentally, a “friend of a friend” of Peter’s little bruvva, Dave Richards. Small world.
Around sunset, we heard a VHF exchange between a couple of vessels in the “fleet”, which ended in a round of “good nights” shared by all. Happy to feel part of the company, we imagined that we might be crossing “together” with these other boats, even in a very loose sense.
But by morning, we’d left those guys way behind. Soon they were out of sight and off the radar. As we were using the services of a pro router, Michel Meulet of Searout, we had our daily sea and weather report and no idea where the other boats were going.
We think most cruisers head farther south to the 15th parallel before turning westward, but we were headed due west on the 16th.
Day 2: We’d set the jennaker and mainsail in butterfly formation to get the most from the following winds: main sail out port side and lashed to a cleat; Genoa out starboard held in place by the whisker pole. (Aside from bringing in a bit of sail from time to time in strong winds, the sails stayed that way for about 12 days, without much tending). On day 12, we broke put our new job, and mounted it opposite the jennaker, in butterfly formation, as you can see below. Worked great.
In the night of the 2nd to third, Peter spotted the Seiko Maru 52, a large Japanese fishing factory. Then, in the wee hours of the morning, a sailboat by the name of Danton showed up on our AIS screen. The name was familiar, though we’d never crossed the ship before; the name was scrawled on a sticky note above our captain’s table that dated back to our winter berth in Foleux. While we were putting the solar panels on Opsimath, Peter had a big problem soldering wires together. A really sweet guy from the boat next door noticed his “struggle” and came to the rescue. A professional electrician and passionate sailor, he brought all the necessary equipment and did the soldering for us. Very kind. We got to talking about future sailing plans, and he told us to look out for Danton, the boat of the “kid” of his old family friends. The young man had the same general plans as us.
Anyway, we stuck the sticky note on the wall and I saw it so many times, I’d forgotten about it. But when Peter said a boat named Danton was on our radar, it rang a big bell. We got on the VHF and called them to say hi. I guess we didn’t have the story straight, I couldn’t remember what relationship he had to the guy who wrote the note, etc. He was confused, probably wondering who these idiots were, what on earth they were talking about, and how they thought they knew him. We said good bye without any real satisfaction: could it be another boat with the same name? Finally, he called back. He’d put two and two together, figured out who must have told us about him, and we had a good laugh. Again, very small world, and lots of fun to find these chance connections in the middle of the ocean!
We hoped Danton might be going our way, but he turned south a couple hours later to head for Grenada.
And then we were two: Me, and Peter.
On a typical day, with winds between 17 and 22 knots and a moderate to heavy swell, we let the autopilot do the steering for 20 to 22 hours a day. Our biggest problem was our battery charge, a problem we hoped we’d licked with the Victron Deep Gel batteries that Peter installed in Grand Canaria with his ex BIL Jean Marc. The autopilot requires a lot of battery power, and if we were to do another long sail, we’d have to find a real solution (wind vane or Hydrovane ?).
At night, Peter chose to sleep in the cockpit and no amount of coaxing could convince him otherwise. So he covered the night shifts, though he occasionally let me go to sleep up there until he woke up to replace me. He says he slept 2 to 3 hours a night, though I hope it was more, so that’s how we worked it. I would have been glad to take turns, but that was what he was comfortable with.
In the daytime, we read, listen to music or an audiobook, chat (oddly enough, we still find things to chat about!), cook, and we have tried to fish, with astounding failure rates. The Atlantic is full of our lost Rapala lures, and a bit of our pride. I believe our fishing line is far too lightweight (25k monofilament). Everytime we get a bite, it snaps clean through, and we kiss another 25€ lure goodbye. We hoped to be fishing all the way across – to pass the time, to learn a new skill, have some good fishing stories and to eat our catch. But by day 8 or so we gave up and put away the gear. Opsimath 0-Fish 10 or 15.
When night falls, we have our “sundowner” drink, with a toast as the sun disappears into the horizon. After that, a more or less acrobatic meal ensues, depending on the sea conditions. There’s a whole lot of spillage as plates and cups slip and slide in every direction. It was amusing at first, but as I finish up this post, day 15, I’m over it.
I cook a lot on board, though I think Peter might prefer baked beans cold from a tin or instant cup o’soup! (Note from Peter: Cooking in these conditions requires skill, dexterity and balance. Quite how Sara manages to produce a hot meal in these circumtances is a mystery). But he’ll just have to suffer along! Homemade bread and all.. it really helps to pass the time and keeps my mind and hands busy.
December 5th, we had a beautiful sailing day, ideal wind and swell conditions, while on the 6th, the wind and sea whipped up and Peter spent most of the night at the helm. The next two days we battled with a lot of swell, crossing our path at an uncomfortable angle. Peter modified our course in the night of the 7th, heading more slightly south to have the swell at our backs, which significantly improved comfort.
Oddly enough, on the 8th, as Peter was at the helm dealing with a lot if nasty criss-crossing swell, he spied… an enormous oil tanker! It was only a couple of kilometers away and we hadn’t noticed it. We’d turned the AIS off the night before, and they hadn’t tried to contact us on VHF, so it wasn’t a close call, but it was certainly a reminder to keep up vigilance!
To keep track of time, our galley clock is set to UTC. We note the time of sunrise and sunset as we go, and it’s a lot of fun to see the day moving forward.
On average, we’re traveling at about 7 knots, and have covered about 150 nautical miles a day. We were hoping to cover 125 nm per day, so we’re pretty pleased to be looking at a 15 day crossing.
Day 10, we covered a whopping 160nm in 24 hours, thanks to very strong and steady night winds. Unfortunately, these were accompanied by radically choppy seas, so the ride was very uncomfortable. They say the trade winds and their signature smooth seas have moved back by a good month, and late December / early January is now be the best time to cross.
We had a couple of other encounters ters. First, a sailboat named Indigo that showed up on our AIS. We were excited and searched the horizon for a hours before getting a visual. Of course, we immediately wanted to call on the VHF to say “Hi!”, but we played it cool (not easy!). It wasn’t long before Indigo called us, probably just as happy as we were to encounter another boat. They were German, and heading from Tenerife to Martinique. They’d been out about 16 days and reported they were having their coffee and cake. Before nightfall, we called them back on the VHF to wish them a good night and safe travels, and they answered immediately. It gets lonely out there! Hearing from other boats and messages from loved ones on the iridium really bring a lot of joy!
We also had a visit from a couple of beautiful dolphins, the only marine life we saw in 15 days of crossing, aside from flying fish. Crazy, isn’t it?
Getting up in the morning is the hardest part for me. I’m never exactly a morning person, but the relentlessness of the boat’s movement makes sleep difficult and wake ups stiff. We had really heavy swells today, and winds up to 26 knots or on day 11, which was the strongest we had.
Towards day 12 Peter started to grow tired of the crossing and was ready to be there. I kept myself pretty happy and busy, but by day 12 or 13, I felt the same.
So, was the crossing as enjoyable as we’d expected? I think the jury is no longer out on that one. These long crossings are not the best part of sailing, and Opsimath lacks comfort: cushioned cockpit seating, for one. But what we kept in mind was that when we got there, we’d be able to enjoy shorter sails, warm water and exploring the Caribbean from the relative comfort of our floating home. It’s a pretty great way to travel!
To make this very long story short, we got there, arriving in Pointe à Pitre, Guadaloupe about 3am on December 16th. Very tired, but happy with our achievement, happy to be there and happy it was over. More to come on “Gwada”, which is a very cool place!