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ATLANTIC PASSAGE FROM GRAN CANARIES TO BARBADOS


November 29, 2009

After much consideration, we decided to make Barbados our destination. Although the island is the closest of the Caribbean chain the deciding factor was the fact that getting to Barbados from any of the Windward island is difficult because it involves serious windward work in rough open ocean. If we wanted to visit Barbados, the best approach was from the Canary Islands.

We left Gran Canaries Sunday morn with Djarrka and Grace. Very fluky winds to the end of the island of Las Palmas and rough seas. We needed to make water and the rough seas were just causing the watermaker to cavitate and suck in air so we stopped the boat for a couple of hours to make some water.  As a result, by morning Grace and Djarrka were 27 miles in front of us experiencing good winds, while the wind in our location just petered out!  We maintained our "MADlantic" radio net twice a day to report our positions and conditions. It wasn't long before we had 20 regulars checking into the net!


Atlantic Day 2
Lumpy seas,  wind dead on our stern but keeping us buzzing along at a good 6 knots, surfing off waves and seeing 10.1 knots. We know we are moving at hull speed when Ascension makes a peculiar noise that we have labelled as her "happy hum." We are not sure if it's vibration from the rudder or the hull but the sound is very distinct.

Had a few squalls last night but today it is sunny and bright. We are trying to fish but I am secretly hoping we don't catch anything until we have eaten thru some of our food stores first! A whale spouted beside the boat, then took off (thankfully). Just reading and sleeping the hours away. It is quite hot during the day with sunshine and fluffy clouds.

Late in the day we got a strike on the fishing line. Then lots of activity behind the boat. Gord reeled in our catch only to discover that a shark had beaten us to supper and left only the head on the line!

By Day 7 of our Atlantic Crossing we had had good winds, Ascension sliding down the waves and making really good time, 15 to 20 knots of wind dead astern, double reefed main and poled-out jenny.  We have not seen another boat or ship or anything for 4 days now but we will need to be on the lookout for an abandoned yacht that is drifting with no lights. According to it's last recorded position and taking into account drift from current and wind, it could possible be right on our courseline sometime tomorrow night.

Beside the beautiful fish head we caught, we have snagged several tuna and maui maui, unfortunately all too small to keep. We have been experimenting with our lures to prove/disprove the ditty: YELLOW GREEN MAUI MACHINE; RED & BLACK, WAHOO ATTACH.

Djarrka and Grace were now 28 miles away experiencing much better winds that what we had. The squalls and rain we were getting just seemed to suck all the wind out of the air. Our run today, 159 nm.

Day 9 Jammed Roller Furling

Today is Dec 7 (midnight) and I am on watch. After several hours of impenetrable darkness, around 2 am, the huge orange balloon of a moon floated upward, breaking through the ghostly blanket of clouds as it mingled with the twinkling speckles in the black sky. There has been no one in sight for days.  We are scooching along, for us a good speed covering an average of 150 km/day. And we are halfway....Yay!! only 1500 miles to go. At times it is very rolly because the wind is coming right up the keester. There are plenty of rain squalls at night bringing strong winds from strange directions so if we see a black ominous weather system on radar we try to change course to divert around it.

We have been having a few problems, the worst of which is our jammed roller furling. We are not sure of the cause but it sticks with the sail half in, half out and won't budge. That means that when we need our full foresail to keep up our speed we can't get it all the way out. Worse is when we are hit by strong winds and need to bring in sail or gybe the pole. Gord does not really want to go up the mast in the rolly seas of the Atlantic Ocean!!!

It's squally so Main up, Main down, foresail out, foresail in (or an attempt!). The rest of the time the wind was only 7-8 knots so we headed south in search of more wind.

And then there is the watermaker (again and again!) We have spent thousands on parts for that dang thing and it is always giving us grief. Unfortunately we cannot do without water, so we persevere. The problem now is that it won't make water because of the turbulence at the water intake at the bottom of the boat creating bubbles that just get air in the system. We even tried to heave-to on a day when the waves were very moderate, but nada... the membrane is just sucking air and destroying itself.

I did buy some emergency 5 gallon bottles of water so we have enough to drink. Showering will have to be sparse. The temps by 10 am are already in the 80's F (28C). And we still have a long way south to go.

We caught 2 Maui Maui, at the same time, one on each line (of different lengths)! So it's been a fish feast onboard.

159 nm run.

Day 10

During our routine morning net, we decided to break the boredom and put a question out to everyone. You know you're a cruiser when....

Fantastic answers came from nearly every boat. Some examples:

You know you're a cruiser when....

(Djarrka) ...you stop to pick up any shiny object to add to your collection of spare parts stored in the bilge.

              ...when 2 guys walking together comment on "nice bottom" they are comparing antifouiling

(Grace) ...the nearest place to empty your trash is 1700 miles away

            ...you can cook 3 course meals in 1 pot

(Feel Free) ..your paid crew gives you a T-shirt to use for a rag and you put it in your wardrobe.

(Argonaut) ...you haven't purchased a book in 6 years but you've read over 100

(Sojourner) ...you purchase your wine in tetrapacks

                ....when a bottle of 2 Buck Chuck costs too much.

(Ascension)...on the rare occasion that you want to wear your shoes, you don't have any socks because your wine bottles are wearing them all

Day 12

My body and bones ache thru and thru from the constant movement and being tossed around like a fish on the dock! I am really ready to get to port....6 more days to go if all continues to go well! We are now 850 miles from the Barbados and still have enough wind to keep us moving along well but the confused seas with their cross swell makes sailing very uncomfortable and some days we feel we might go insane. We are both sleep deprived because we have to constantly deal with squalls that march past, bringing strong winds and sometimes rain, lasting for only a short while but causing us to have to deal with taking down the sail, or at least reefing it, then putting it out again when the squall has passed. This takes 2 of us as a result of the problems we are having with the roller furling jamming. Of course, most of these are in the middle of the night when it is impossible to see anything as Gord clampers around on the foredeck. There is half moon but it doesn't come up til 3 am.

We had a slight heart stopping situation one morn. I had only had about 1 hour's sleep after being on watch for the past 5 hours. It was 8 am and Gord woke me with "we have a big problem." He had the entire boat ripped apart, floorboards out, lockers emptied, etc and was holding an alternator belt. He said " the alternator belt broke and the spare is way too small". It took me a minute to realize the impact of this.

First obviously, the engine will not run without an alternator belt. But this means we cannot charge the batteries. Without batteries we have no computer for our navigation, no GPS, no auto-helm, no depth sounder or wind instruments, no frig or freezer, no watermaker (or pump to access any water we currently have), no navigation lights, no VHF or HF raidio so no communication, no emails, no weather info, no way to turn on the solenoid to get propane. And, we couldn't even flush the toilet (which is electric).

So I drug myself from the grips of Morpheus and although sleepy, managed to help Gord locate the bag of proper spare belts....crisis averted and a huge sigh of relief. Amazing that your life can be balanced on such a fine line, dependant upon a little belt to tip the scales of survival!! Of course, this all happened in the middle of a squall right when it was Gord's turn to be net control on our MADlantic radio net, so 20 people were waiting to check in.

Dec 12
Only 704 miles to go! The winds have abated a bit and the seas are flatter so the ride is much more enjoyable today. And the sky a clear blue, no squalls! We saw a Tropic bird this morn, my favorite with its long flowing white split tail. Haven't seen one of these since the Pacific. Other than the flocks of flying fish scurrying from our path, we have not seen much in the way of sea life. We caught another big Maui Maui today so had a fish feast for lunch. We are certainly eating well aboard. With the lack of exercise and the amount of food being consumed, I am putting on the pounds!

One of the members in our fleet had some problems with his steering. The gear box seized and he is only half way to the Caribbean. He is about 600 miles behind us so other than verbal support there was not much we could do. Luckily he spent the entire night disassembling the gears and managed to do a repair and is again on his way. Another boat was rammed by Killer Whales (there have been cases where whales have sunk yachts) and that must have been terrifying. Again, fortunately there was no damage.

The stars at night are amazing, the blanket of twinkles so dense, it makes me feel so small. It's thought provoking knowing you are looking into the past because so many of the stars are no longer there. I always look forward to the middle of the night when the big yellow moon floats its way upward, diminishing in size as it pushes its way through the putty skyline of clouds and settles among the stars.

We are trying to figure out what to do about the time change. There is a 4 hour difference when we get to Barbados! Our cruiser net comes on at 8:30 in the morn GMT which means if we want to continue with the net it will be at 4:30 am! NOT.. Grace, Djarrka and Ascension will get in first and we are the ones who organized the net in the first place so perhaps the 20+ boats behind us will have to get themselves reorganized to do it. Even now it does not get light until 10 am because we haven't changed our clocks.

Dec 14
It is 3:30 am right now (I am on watch) and it's 27 deg. C so very comfortable with t-shirt and shorts. Tonight was a major meteor shower so I enjoyed part of the show. We are gliding along, sailing is wonderful tonight. Boats that left 1 day behind us have very light wind and will be becalmed staring tomorrow. They will have to just bounce around out there until some wind fills in, who knows how many days that will be. No one can carry enough fuel to motor all that way. We have managed to stay just in front of the high pressure system so we will have wind al the way to the Canaries. We have been diverting our course to avoid some weather cells and many convergence zones. 500 miles to go!

Dec 15
I awoke to grey clouds and rain, Gord behind the wheel in his raingear, looking miserable. So we had squalls this morn but as the day progressed the clouds disappeared and the squalls lessoned. 380 miles to go! All our wind instruments have quit working but that is small in the scheme of things. Gord had to do a sewing repair on deck replacing broken sail slides the other day, then today a repair on the main clew. But everything is holding together well and we are anxious to see land.

Dec 17

Landfall 19 days! The lights of the island of Barbados sparkled in the darkness. As we approached, the night lifted and dawn's misty light revealed the rugged profile of the low rocky shoreline.

                             
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