Blog 2 - Crossing the Atlantic Ocean
Foxy Lady log 11.01.2017 "Donald Trump takes office today in the United States so we remove ourselves from civilization and set off for the high seas. Three weeks on the ocean... Hopefully the world still exists when we arrive on the other side. At 1900 local time we cast off the mooring lines and leave Santa Cruz Marina (Tenerife) and set a course towards Cape Verde, the only possible stop on our way to the Caribbean. Hopefully we don't have to stop there. The boat is topped up with fresh fruits, veggies, canned food, drinking water, diesel, beer, rum and whiskey. We feel good with a healthy portion of excitement."
Sitting in the cockpit and enjoying our first sundowner Rick and me look at each other and are both struck with the exact same feeling. After years of dreaming and preparations the moment is finally here, we are actually going to cross the Atlantic Ocean! I can't recall the amount of times we said that exact phrase in the days leading up to our departure and now we are sitting here with a beer in our hands while Tenerife's Mount Teide slowly fades at our stern. If all goes well its three weeks with just the two off us on the Foxy Lady.
I am confident enough to say that the both of us are pretty decent sailors. We've been sailing countless day and weekend trips the past 10 years and Rick has left Holland in July of last year and has been cruising the meditteranean for almost six months. We're comfortable around the boat in different kinds of weather, we're used to sailing the sometimes very choppy North Sea, and we follow the basic rules of sailing. You go where and when the wind takes you. This sometimes means that you have to wait for a good weather window, like we experienced when we crossed the English Channel. We hoped for a lovely sail around the southeast English coast, but an unexpected (and different from previous forecasts) change in weather got us stuck in Lowestoft for the better part of a week and we had to return home to get back to work. That being said, crossing an ocean is a different kind of cooky as we would say it in dutch. Even though we had a nice practice run from Portugal to the Canarian Islands, our experience with longer trips like this was non-existing. So how do you prepare yourselves and a boat for an undertaking like this? Thats the same question we asked ourselves when we first started dreaming of circumnavigating the world.
In Ricks blog about the Foxy Lady, you can read all that has been done to turn the Lady into a worthy ocean cruiser. In this blog I will try to give an insight on how we experienced the crossing and provide a more detailed explenation of the choises we made with regard to our route, time of departure and destination. In the years leading up to our journey we have talked with everyone we knew who had (ocean) sailing experience, seen countless video's of people who have been doing the same thing and pretty much read everything we could. One of our favorite references is Jimmy Cornell's World Cruising Routes. "The principal aim of this book is to provide essential information on winds, currents, regional and seasonal weather for planning a safe passage...". The start of Cornell's introduction pretty much summarizes the information we used for our crossing. The two main considerations for our planned leave at the end of december were the conditions on the ocean itself and the hurricane season in the Caribbean Sea. The hurricane season in the Caribbean in theory last about six months from June to November. So the ideal time to cruise the Caribbean is from December to April. Most of the sailors leaving the Canaries do so in the second part of November whether it is by themselves or in organized rallys, like the ARC and Jimmy Cornell's Atlantic and Caribbean Odyssey. A November departure however wasn't an option because Rick was still making his way back from the Meditteranean and I still had work until half december, the later was 'probably' the main reason ;). Our actual departure date, 11 January 2017, was 2 weeks later then planned. After a rig inspection, we do this periodically and before every big crossing, we found a sprung wire in the port middle stay. Allthough it maybe was a minor damage, we decided it was time to replace the rigging. With a long journey still ahead of us and good facilities around we did not want to take any risks. So we decided to spend Christmas and New Years Eve on Lanzarote while we waited for our rigging to arrive from Tenerife.
Foxy Lady Log 28.12.2016 "Alltough a bit later then we hoped, what do you expect between Christmas and New Years, we help change out the rig. The rigger was impressed, because we change out the entire rigging in 1,5 hour. Mirror mirror on the wall, who has the shiniest rig of them all ?!"
Allright there we go we have a travel date, but what about our destination and what about routing ? We have never been to the Carribean and didn't really know much about the islands. However, we did know someone living on Saint Martin, so why not take that as our destination. And even though the south to north route along the Windward and Leeward islands of the Caribean probably is the more prefered and most sailed route we did read about lots of people making their way from north to south and then leave their boats in Grenada or Trinidad and Tobago for the hurricane season. After some research we thought that probably only Antigua was a bit harder to reach, having to tack our way up there, but the rest of the islands should be nice sails, so Saint Martin it was !
Our plan was to first follow part of the traditional trade wind route, which means you take a SSW course towards the Cape Verde Islands for about 1000 miles and not go west until you have well reached the stable NE trade winds. This way the Cape Verdes are a possible stop in case of an emergency. With the both of us having no crossing experience, we felt that this precautionary measure was a sensible one to take. In our preperations for the atlantic crossing we often discussed if we shouldn't get more crew. Approximately three weeks on the ocean is not nothing. What if someone gets sick ? Isn't it too long and too tirering to do all the shifts with just the two of us? At first we really felt that we should atleast look for a third person and if possible even a fourth. But then again, if none of our friends are able to join, are we going to take someone we don't know? Even though we love getting to know new people, we allready spoke to someone who had bad experiences with that and without having the opportunity to take someone along for a week or two and then decide if its a good match or not we decided to just do it with the two of us.
We allready established in earlier trips that the both of us like longer watches in stead of splitting them up in to shorter, but more, watches. So i took the 10pm-4am watch and Rick the 4am-10am watch and if we were tired we both slept another hour or so during the day. As expected the watches felt fine and after a couple of days on sea we felt right at home. With good sailing conditions forecasted we decided that we wouldn't make a stop in Cape Verde.
Foxy Lady log 14.01.2017 "We retrieve a weather forecast. There is a low pressure front at about 20°N, 40°W that causes some windless areas on the ocean. The front is moving north around the 18th of January. After that it should be stable trade winds of about 15-20 knots. We decide to stay a little longer on our SSW course, so we don't become becalmed too long, untill we are at 20°N and then set course directly to Saint Martin..."
Contrary to the more traditional trade wind route we also looked at a direct route as an alternative. The chance of having favorable winds towards the end of your journey is smaller and you might encounter some westerlies but it is also considerably shorter than the traditional route. During the extra time we spend on Lanzarote we continued monitoring the forecasts to see what the weather would do closer towards the Caribbean to see if a direct route would be an option. Because of the front, we ended up doing a little bit more southing then we hoped. We turned west at 19°N, 27°W and stayed at 19°N for the rest of the trip. After retrieving another forecast a week and a half later we saw that the front went a little less north, and more west then expected. We could go more south and keep at least a few knots of wind or sit it out for a day or so. We had a choise to make and we made it !
Foxy Lady log 26.01.2017 "We float west with 1.5 knots. We took in the sails and turned everything off except the anchorlight and fridge to save and charge the batteries as much as we can... In the afternoon we spot two whales... We had to stray off course for a little bit in the beginning, but after getting their attention they did not want to leave us alone. They spend another three hours playing around the Lady. Allthough not too big, probably around 6 meters, we are exstatic. What an amzing creatures ! We make beautiful underwater footage."
Before setting off for our crossing I wondered about two things mainly. Swell and squals. The swell was much shorter and rocky then i would've thought. I would've imagined the period of the Atlantic swell to be much larger. The same thing can be said of the squals. It's not like i feared them, but i was very aware of them after reading all these stories about them. In the end we have been lucky maybe, but the first 2 weeks we didn't had any squals and had amazing sailing weather for most of the time with a frisk breeze and clear blue sky's accompanying them. The last week we did got hit by some. Most of the times there was only a little increase in wind, but we've seen some heavier ones, where the wind direction changed 90 to 120 degrees with wind gusts above 50 knots. However, as soon as we started to get squalls we went into the night allready well reefed on the main, so turning in the poled out jib and adjust course to keep the winds in the back while riding out the squall was enough to sit them out for the 30 minutes to an hour they took. It is amazing how fast you adjust to your surroundings and the weather, where with the first squall you're tensed, alert and constantly checking every gauge you can lay your eyes on, later on its almost like you're on auto pilot, adjusting the sails and course without even thinking to much about it anymore.
Foxy Lady Log 22.01.2017 "This morning at 3am Rem sounds the alarm. An unexpected wind gust turns the boat into the wind, almost tipping us. Luckily he manages to release the gennaker sheet in time. Together we pull the snuffer down and take down the gennaker. We find out that the port sheet got lose from the flapping of the sail and is stuck under the boat. Go to bed Vos, we'll have a look at it tomorrow. In the afternoon Rick loses the Rock, Paper, Scissors and goes in the water. After 8 dives or so he manages to clear the sheet from the prop. No knifes needed !"
Was the entire trip uneventful ? I envy the people who can say yes to this question. My answer would be: "offcourse not". We encountered some setbacks along the way. Rick got a bit too enthousiastic and was struck with a little case of heatstroke after some serious butt tanning. Not bad enough to ruin our halfway party though! We celebrated with a coctail and some nice tapas. We both had the runs three days before we arrived, so maybe we did eat something that was off. We had some cans in the bildges that didn't seem to like the rocking and swaying of the boat to much and decided to just open up. And we maybe got a bit overconfident with flying the gennaker and did not stuck with our normal rule of not having it up at night. We were about halfway and had low winds and really stable weather without squals or anything for the past 3 days. So we decided to go with it after some rocky nights and keep the gennaker up during the night. Lesson learned...
Just as i can't recall the amount of times we said: "We are actually going to cross the Atlantic", i can't recall the amount of times we said how amazingly fast the days were going. We were filling our days with reading, listening to music, catching and cleaning fish, cooking, spotting whales, and greeting our dolphin friends who came to say hello almost every day right before sundowner time. It wasn't until about two days before arrival we really started to count the miles and getting a bit nervous. The first hurdle of our circumnavigation was almost at the end, and what a start of the trip.
Foxy Lady log 02.02.2017 "Arrival Saint Martin !! After 22 days at sea we smell and see LAAAAANNNNDDDD ! We drop anchor in Marigot Bay on the French side, take a first swim in the Caribean Sea and open a bottle of Champagne. We just did it! Our friends and family are also happy to hear from us. Apparantly our messages with the sattelite phone never arrived... We call our friend Janneke who takes us to Grand Case (a little town at the NW side of the island) and have an amazing meal at a local place called Lollo's. After dinner we go for some salsa dancing in Calmos, a lovely place right at the beach. What a great first night !!"
Distance - 2910 Nm.
Duration - 22 days.
Average Speed - 5.51 Kn.
Maximum Wind Speed - 41.6 Kn. (Apparent. Wind Angle ~150 degrees. Boat speed was ~12 knots)
Fish cought - 6
Whales spotted- 2
Dolphins spotted - unlimited 🙂
Number of times we had to get in the water to remove lines from the prop - 1
Written by Remco Vos.