Canaries to Cape Verdes


Along with Annie Mae and myself we were taking on two new crew members for the next leg to the Cape Verdes. We picked up Ellie in Santa Cruz de La Palma and after sailing back to La Gomera we met Jack in San Sebastien and after more stocking up with water and food we were ready to leave. The date was 26th Nov. and we were due to meet Finn in Praia on 11th Dec, so that gave us 15 days for what in reasonable conditions should be a 6 or 7 day passage. Great............ that leaves 8 or 9 days exploring the Cape Verdes.

Since I have no capability of getting weather forecasts on board, my last thing to do before any passage is to get a 7 day forecast. So off to the Wifi cafe with Jack's computer to discover................................... very little wind for the the whole period of the coming 7 days. Not good for my longest passage to date, around 800 miles.
What to do ? If we wait for 7 days we would have no guarantee of any more wind and then have little time to get there. Holly Mae carries enough fuel for around 400M.
So I decided we'd have to set off and take what came. I wasn't very happy about it but felt it was the only option. Keeping up with schedules of meeting crew in certain places on particular dates because of their flights has been a constant difficulty and I have felt unable to take advantage of the best winds.

So we set off in the afternoon and had 3 hrs before sunset. We started off with a SE F3-4 which allowed us to lay a course directly for Ihla do Sal, but this only lasted a few hours. By the following morning the wind was in the south F1-2 and our speed was down to around 1K. It continued to vary between SSE and SSW for the rest of the day but picked up a little in strength and we were under full sail including tops'l and jib tops'l, but unfortunately the direction did not allow the use of the assymetric. We tacked to take advantage of the wind shifts and in our first 24 hrs did quite well to cover just over 100M. The second day we continued to tack into adverse winds and made only 71M. By the 3rd morning we were totally becalmed and rolling uncomfortably in the swell. The slamming of the boom ripped the rope grommet out of the clew on the mainsail so we dropped all sail and motored. I had to ration the use of the motor to eke out the fuel supplies.

To compensate for our frustrations we were visited by 2 whales ( about 25 to 30ft long ) who came within a boats length from us. It's always a beautiful sight.......... majestic and impressive. They were checking us out and obviously found us both unthreatening and unappetising, and so went on their way.
And after our 4 hrs motoring I had repaired the mainsail clew and we had enough breeze to sail again. The breeze only lasted 'til the early afternoon when we were becalmed again. Headsails came down and on went the motor. This time our compensation was in the form of our first catch of the trip. Jack had a good size spanish mackerel which was in the pan pretty quickly. Mmmmmm delicious ! By 10 in the evening the breeze was back, this time from the NE. Yes........... is this the return of the trade winds ?

No it wasn't. It was all gone by 3 in the morning and the motor was on again ! Only 50M on the 3rd day and too much motoring. I was concerned for our fuel supplies. The following morning was grey with a good F4-5 wind, BUT it was coming from the SW. And with rain ! By midday the wind had lightened and veered and the rain stopped. At 13.15 we entered the tropics and celebrated with Bloody Marys all round. An hour later the wind deserted us again, but between all the periods of stopping and starting with the motor there was more excitement when Jack caught a Dorado. A stunning bright yellow green colour, and within an hour the long awaited tuna came along. With more fish than we could eat, Jack had to put the rod away.

We were at this stage seeing so little other shipping or yachts that with the monitor steering us we'd all eat together down below and follow this with a game of cards.
If we were motoring we had no self steering and so we'd just cut the motor for our mealtime. Annie Mae, Jack and myself all gourged ourselves on the tuna which was fantastic. Ellie who eats no fish or meat missed out, although I'm sure she wouldn't see it this way, and it was to turn out to our great advantage later !

It's hard to remember it's midwinter when it's so warm, but the early sunsets were giving us 11 hour days and 13 hour nights, and those of us who were not on watch hit the sack quite early after cards and washing up. Those on watch usually had the treat of spectacular starry nights, shooting stars, phosphoresence, occasional night visits from dolphins and some other strange light flashes which lit up the whole sky. The best explanation we could come up with was distant lightening, but we were hearing no thunder and we saw this on totally clear nights. Sometimes though it was misty, dark and very clammy and we could see nothing. Not even the distinction between sea and sky.

I was pretty pleased to have got into a rhythmn with sleep. The passage was long enough and usually calm enough to allow refreshing sleep. My previous longer passages had been with stronger winds and too much adrenalin to allow sleep so that I had to wait until arriving to give in to delayed exhaustion. With good sleep long passages become achievable............... the limiting factor then becomes water and food.

The following day our progress was much improved. Winds between the SE and NE allowed us to cover over 100M although this did include 5 hrs motoring. This isn't normally a great accomplishment for Holly Mae, but this time we were encouraged. Added to that we had a great fish stew at lunchtime with the tuna bones and in the evening dorado, tuna and rice! Life was looking up. Or was it? Within 10 mins of eating Annie Mae had a strange tingling in her mouth. I went up on watch and was feeling a bit strange myself. Itchy hands, and was my sight quite normal? I ignored it until Jack came up and joined me. "Are you feeling OK? " he asked. "Mmmmm, well I'm not sure", I replied. Very quickly I was sure, and we realised that it had something to do with the fish as Ellie was the only one feeling fine. I went back down below and collapsed onto my knees as my legs gave way. A fever quickly joined the other symptoms and the three of us took to our bunks. Poor Ellie had to look after the three of us, do an all night watch on her own, whilst a couple of hundred miles off the coast of African and possibly out of VHF contact with any ships. And who knows, maybe come down in the morning to three dead shipmates ? At least it was a quiet night with light winds and a starry sky.

In the morning we were all much improved and convalesing on a bright sunny morning with no wind. But what a great morning for wildlife ! We were being escorted by 3 stripey fish keeping station just ahead of the stem (maybe pilot fish) who stayed with us for 2 or 3 days. And we saw several turtles and some unidentified serpents not to mention a locust resting on the mains'l. It was just as well that we had some distractions for the trip as we had only made 40 miles over the last 24hrs., But what the hell? We were still alive and to make a virtue out of being becalmed on a glassy Atlantic ocean, we swam and had soap down showers on deck. Bloody marvellous ! After motoring for the afternoon we stopped for supper, dropped the mains'l and decided to drift all night, whilst we all took to our bunks at the same time. A good day for recuperation but only 28M covered ! We'd been at sea for a week and not even covered 500 M. But slow and frustrating though it had been, there was some progress and we were now within 300M of our destination. We were also now entering the period beyond our last weather forecast, so now anything could happen.

Anything didn't happen. We hove to for the night and when we woke up we were 2M nearer the Cape Verdes. A breeze sprang up.........and after 45 mins, when we had progressed another 2M, it died away again. I checked the fuel gauge, we still had 2/3 of a tank so we started the motor. We stopped for lunch and a swim in flat calm again. We could not afford to motor for days on end and after so many periods of motoring we fell into the pattern of allowing ourselves two four hour periods a day. The self steering doesn't work without wind so we each took a 1 hour 'trick' at the helm. At a slow engine speed this would move us 35 to 40 miles a day nearer our destination. It was good for morale, and who knows we may eventually motor out of the vast calm patch and find some wind. Day 8 another 46M.

On the 9th day, with just around 200M to go, the wind was back in the NE and started around midnight with a F2-3. We were moving under sail.........and could lay a course direct for Palmeira on the Ilha do Sal. Thoughout the day the breeze gradually strengthened and we had our first decent progress for days, by sunset there was a little over 100M left. We could hope then to be at Palmeira by sunset tomorrow........................ maybe. BUT Cape Verde is an African country, not very much money and the Pilot book says thet navigational lights are not to be relied upon............... do not attempt night time entry !!! So if the wind holds............ maybe there in time. If it strengthens................ should be there safely. If it dies away we may arrive just after dark and have to heave to for the night 10 miles out............ not a very attractive prospect. Well, what could we do but keep going through the night and assess our chances in the morning.

The wind held through the night and at sunrise had increased to NNE F4-5. We were running off 6M or better each hour with aroud 65 to go. We were getting excited as arrival that day seemed probable now. Land Ahoy !!! At 11.30, Jack was the first to spot Mte Grande, a hazy but distinct view of the volcanic cone on the North of the island. 30M to go.................... the wind still holding and feeling set in for the day. A couple of gybes off the north of the island, around the NW corner, and the final 10M down the west coast. The last few miles done at a steady 7K or more, saw us around the breakwater and entering the anchorage before 4pm. A couple of hours before sunset. And there to greet us was Greyhound, a 63ft 3 masted lugger from Fowey, with Marcus, Freya and their charter guests. So we anchored close by. Two cornish boats flying St Piran's flag in African waters.

It had taken us 10 days averaging around 75M per day. Of which we managed to sail 530M and motor 200M. Added to that were some 100+M thanks to the current pushing us along. We still had half a tank of fuel and plenty of water and food. By the time we arrived we'd have been quite happy to carry on. Although progress had been slow and at times frustrating, it was a quiet trip with a plenty of interest. The fishing had been good although I have to say that there'd been little interest in carrying on after the poisoning scare. It seems likely that it was Scombroid toxin from spoiled fish................... we have no refrigeration and keeping fish for 24hrs in that heat was obviously too much.