Sunday, 29 September 2013

Bashing onwards to Antigua (19 April 2013)

It was a grey, unfriendly morning, but it was time to get to sea if we were to catch Antigua Classics.

Deshaies to English Harbour is further than many of the inter-island passages, meaning a 0700 start to be sure of arriving in daylight. The wind was still blowing, but - as we'd discovered - Deshaies seemed to be an almost permanently windy anchorage. It was tempting to wait another day, but we'd signed out with immigration the night before...

A damp arrival
I hauled up the anchor and Natalie steered Limbo out past the other boats. I went on deck to get the main up. I didn't hesitate to put a couple of reefs in, until we knew what the conditions were like; the trip was likely to be hard on the wind all the way.  We unfurled the genoa and heeled over as we headed out of the sheltered bay. We would be in the lee of the island for a few miles, out of the worst of the sea, but our Doyle guide told us to expect more wind until we were clear of the coast.

We headed north past the green, craggy shore. We had about force six with stronger gusts which heeled Limbo right over, more than I was comfortable with. It was rough, bucking right into the waves. If it hadn't been for our book's promise of less wind in a couple of miles, we would probably have turned back. Natalie hung on to the tiller while, safety harness clipped on, I climbed up onto the cabin roof to pull down the third reef. Now we were more under control, but the boat was sagging down to leeward, away from our course. Motor sailing was the way forward, and I put the engine on with fairly low revs to keep us pointing up into the wind.

Further out, we found no less wind but bigger waves of probably 2.5 to 3 metres. Sailing home, I couldn't help thinking, could involve days of this as we headed up to Bermuda.. But we were making progress, and would be there that evening, and we could cope.

The 42 mile trip was a long slog of torrential rain, scudding grey skies and 30 knot squalls, followed by calm periods which left Limbo rolling around awkwardly in  the lumpy seas. We got cold, too cold, and wet. Antigua was visible in the gloom a few miles out, looking like an island somewhere off Scotland rather than in the Caribbean. A big, 65 foot Oyster passed us, going to windward under engine and staysail alone; she clearly didn't much like the conditions either. It was a relief to get the sails down in the flatter water outside the entrance to English Harbour and head into shelter. We put the kettle on.

Freeman's Bay, English Harbour, on a much nicer day.

Antigua was a place close to my heart. I had fond memories of the island from my previous trip, spending several weeks living and working aboard the 75 foot ketch La Cautiva before helping to sail her back to England where university awaited. It was one of the places I'd always pictured going back to, and now Limbo was anchored here, in Freeman's Bay.

The anchorage was crowded, and it took a few tries to find a space with swinging room. A big superyacht dock has taken over much of the anchoring space, but nothing much else had changed. The grey buildings of Nelson's Dockyard still stood sentinel, unspoilt though much-visited, the green, forested hill behind the harbour still rose steeply to Shirley Heights, and the waves still broke on the reef to the east of the narrow entrance. This was the place where, more than anywhere else, I thought we have done this.   

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Sell, sail or ship?

We were in Deshaies for two further grey days, the wind howling, and not feeling much like the early start for Antigua.

Not before time, we started to think about our plans for the next few months in more detail. Not having arrived in the Caribbean until mid February meant we would have a scant twelve weeks in the islands, at most, until it was time to get north and up to Bermuda.  The rule of thumb is to be out by mid-May, to arrive in Bermuda by June. It didn't seem like nearly long enough: not only to see what we wanted to see, but to find the energy for another long - and this time more challenging - ocean passage. The winds are far less predictable on the route home in both strength and direction, with a higher probability of both calms and gales. The more I read about the route, the less appealing it seemed.  Without the capacity to carry much fuel, we could be sitting out there for a very long time, and water supplies were going to become an issue (on my return trip in 1999 on La Cautiva, a 75 foot steel yawl, we had to motor virtually all the way to the Azores).  Feeling that we'd earned our ocean stripes, the motivation was lacking.

Our first thought, on arrival in Barbados, had been to extend our time in the islands by sailing into the summer. This wasn't possible without missing the weather deadline for heading back to Europe, but maybe we could sell Limbo in the islands instead? I wondered if Solent weekends were ever going to be the same again, and - after all - we were going to have plenty to sort out on our return without looking after a boat (jobs and somewhere to live not being the least of our worries..). With that in mind, we had loosely decided to sail north before heading back south to see the islands we'd missed beyond Saint Lucia (Grenada, the Tobago Cays and the Grenadines providing some of the best anchorages in the Caribbean). Then, down in Trinidad and safely away from the hurricane belt, we could, perhaps, lay up Limbo and put her up for sale.

As time went by, the flaws in this plan became more and more apparent. Firstly, we didn't really want to sell. Abandoning Limbo to a corner of a humid boatyard was deeply unappealing. Secondly, not only are boat prices in the Caribbean at rock bottom in general, but I had started to realise that there was virtually no market at all for a boat of Limbo's size. An advert in Caribbean Compass for a 30 footer on sale at $3000 US, with free yard time thrown in, drove the point home. I emailed a couple of brokers who had zero interest, one stating they were only interested in boats worth at least $40,000. Maybe there was an expat in the BVI who'd like a boat for weekend sailing? Then I realised the BVI's entire population was about 25,000, and Limbo - lovely though she is - was not going to impress an offshore corporate banker on a tax free salary. Finally, the cost of yard storage and haul-out was much higher than I'd imagined. We were looking at £200 to £250 a month just to keep Limbo somewhere, with no idea of how long that might be for.

The third option was to ship Limbo back. While we were in Guadeloupe I found out there was a ship going from the BVIs in late May, but this seemed too early. We still wouldn't be able to see the southern Caribbean as planned, and it would be a huge expense, around 5000 Euros, which had never been in the budget.  There was also a sailing to Palma in June, and I thought of spending the summer heading back to Biscay through the French canals. But, while this would buy us some time, the cost of getting from the Med to the UK was going to be an issue, having spent so much on returning Limbo to Europe.

Maybe we should sail back after all? It would be a shame not to complete the circuit, and arriving in home waters, flags flying, would be fantastic.  But we kept coming back to the fact that we just didn't feel prepared. On a 35 footer, yes, but it felt as if it could be asking too much of a very small boat (and her crew...).

There was no clear answer, and we went round in circles. We tried to put the problem to the back of our minds, and looked forward instead to the next island.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Passing through Guadeloupe (15th and 16th April)

Guadeloupe sunset

Guadeloupe is a hilly, green, butterfly-shaped island, with lots of coastline to explore and excellent hiking. We didn't have time to see as much as we wanted, in a hurry to get to Antigua in time for Classics Week, but found fantastic snorkelling at Pigeon Island and a relaxed, pleasant anchorage at Deshaies in the north.

Guadeloupe is less than 10 miles of open water away from the Saintes. Natalie saw a whale breaching in the choppy waters (I managed to miss it every time) and we then had a relaxed sail mostly in the calmer lee of the island. A classic yacht approached and overhauled us, and I managed to get some good pictures as they passed close by. Later, the wind dropped and our engine went on.

Troubadour passes us, en route to Antigua.

Pigeon Island is two-thirds of the way up the coast, a little islet less than a mile from the mainland shore. We arrived shortly before sunset and anchored off a slightly touristy area with several dive shops and restaurants, spotting a turtle as we did so.

Jacques Cousteau once described Pigeon Island as one of the world's top dive sites, guaranteeing - you might assume - that it would be instantly spoilt. Luckily, we found it was well managed, if inevitably quite crowded. We took the dinghy across in the morning and tied to one of several mooring buoys (anchoring isn't permitted for obvious reasons). The snorkelling was on a different level to anything we'd seen so far: superb visibility, abundant coral, an interesting underwater landscape and no shortage of fish. There were plenty of jellyfish too, but they were the none-stinging kind.  It's a shame that our underwater camera had given up by this stage..

We had lunch back on board before packing up the dinghy and setting off up the coast. A couple of hours later we were anchored in Deshaies, an attractive anchorage with, for once, no rolling. Our fastest turnaround ever! Ashore, landing via a smart dinghy dock, we found a small town with several restaurants and bars, and (this being France) a good small supermarket.

Deshaies, late afternoon.

We fancied eating out for a change that evening, and (after a particularly good sunset) took our chances with a pizza place one road back from the waterfront. We sat outside on the terrace and enjoyed p'tit punches (white rum, lime juice and sugar - they left the bottle with us!) and were delighted to see musicians turn up. An ancient local was the most energetic dancer to a mixture of local Zouk and reggae, some of the best music we heard on the trip.

The anchorage had been calm that day, but it wasn't to last. Deshaies is a naturally windy place, the bay funnelling air down from the hills, and in the night we were woken by disconcertingly strong gusts whistling through the rigging. We tried to sleep, hoping it wouldn't last..

Limbo, Deshaies sunset

Friday, 2 August 2013

The Saintes (10 - 14 April)

For the first time, our route north offered a choice beyond just sailing down the lee of the next island. Four small island groups lie between Dominica and Guadeloupe (see map). Should we take the well-trodden route to the Saintes, just 18 miles away, or head for the small, less visited island of Marie Galante further to the east?  If the latter, we could sail on to Iles de la Petit Terre, then La Desirade, leaving a good but long reach to Antigua.

The Caribbean trade winds blow quite consistently from the north east, with some fluctuation either side. This generally makes heading anywhere to the east of north an uncomfortable proposition: into the wind and the sea. The route towards La Desirade would mean three legs to windward, assuming we could land on Iles de la Petit Terre, which are only really accessible in settled weather. It was these two tiny islands which were the real draw, Marie Galante and La Desirade sounding interesting but not unmissable.

Approaching the islands

As ever, the wind made the decision for us. I was keen on getting off the beaten track if we could, but we set off from Prince Rupert Bay unsure of our destination. We would see what it was like when we were out of the sheltering lee of Dominica. We found a reasonable if rather lumpy beam sea, and a force four to five wind which had more than enough north in it to make Marie Galante a real thrash to windward. The track was beaten for a reason, and the Saintes it was. We eased sheets very slightly, and stormed along at 6 knots.

Terre de Haut and the anchorage
The Saintes is a cluster of islands offering several anchorages and some interesting walking, all in a very small package. Reluctant to start the engine, and enjoying a great sail in the flatter water between Le Bourg and the jagged rocks of Les Augustins, we didn't get the sails down until the last minute. Dolphins approached us before we picked up a mooring off Terre de Haut towards the end of the afternoon (see map). This bay has strictly delineated anchoring and mooring areas, but the anchoring areas are a token concession, being further out and in deeper water.  There weren't too many free buoys, and we ended up moored a fair way from shore. We were approached for payment within minutes of arriving. The slight swell wouldn't let Limbo sit quietly, but the sense of arrival made up for that, and we enjoyed our new surroundings.

The schooner 'Lilly Bolero' approaching from Guadeloupe

We had another rocky night, often disturbed by the large metal pick-up loop on the mooring buoy scraping against the hull. In the morning we watched carefully for any departures, and soon got another buoy close up to the shore by a small beach, where it was more sheltered.

We headed into town to explore. Some of the smaller cruise ships visit the Saintes (few places, it seems, are immune) and the town was horribly crowded. Fortunately the cruise shipper is a plain-dwelling creature and very easily avoided by heading uphill, however slight the incline. We followed the road out of town past the beach, then onwards as it wound towards the summit of the island. It was hot going, several goats and the lizards our only companions. A large iguana dashed across the path in front of us.

Lunch stop

An old fort building sits at the top of the peak, and we climbed a rusty ladder for a better view, across to Dominica to the south and to Guadeloupe just a few miles away to the north. The shades of the reefs below were startling.

Hilltop Fort

Commenting to Natalie on the absence of any black people, she replied, 'yes, it's great, isn't it?'. Had I inadvertently become engaged to a closet racist?  It transpired she'd thought I'd said
'bike people', meaning moped riders (mopeds are for hire all over the island, but there were none up here). Which was a relief.

Summit view
We continued down to a small beach by the Pain au Sucre, a distinctive mound of rock which forms one side of a small bay. It was an appealing anchorage, and we decided to move there once we'd finished in town. Terre de Haut is a pastel-coloured place full of T-shirt shops, delicatessens and restaurants, but has a pleasant, holiday atmosphere. It could be in the south of France somewhere. Our Chris Doyle sailing guide had promised cheap set menus, but we couldn't find any for less than 20 Euros, so we gave up and bought a pizza to cook on board.

Limbo and the sailing cruise ship Royal Clipper

We needed to catch up on email, and we had a frustrating day finding a connection. I'd thought we could access one from the boat, using our booster, but after getting back from town it didn't work so we headed back in.  We ended up paying to use an internet cafe. In the end, we achieved very little. One of the downsides of cruising is that it can sometimes take ages to accomplish the simplest task. We bought some fresh fish and a baguette.

Pain au Sucre anchorage. 

After three nights off Terre de Haut, it was time for somewhere quieter. We motored the couple of miles to Pain au Sucre and, after a couple of attempts, found a reasonable space not too close to the other yachts or to the reef. It was a lovely anchorage, with some interesting snorkelling around the reef close to shore. We saw a lion fish, a striking brown and white-striped creature with feathery fins: a venomous, invasive species with no natural predators, apparently introduced by thoughtless aquarium owners in Florida. We found out later that several islands hold 'lionfish derbys', with prizes for the most kills. Also disconcerting was the wreck of a catamaran washed up on the rocks, its engine block still lying on the seabed.

We spent a couple of days lazing on board, with a walk up another hill for the views across the anchorage. We deployed, for the first time, our inflatable kayak (an ebay purchase). Shamefully, we hadn't got around to unpacking it until now. I did wish we'd chosen a slightly smaller, quicker to inflate model, but it was great fun. We were a bit jealous of those with boats big enough to store rigid kayaks on deck, to nonchalantly throw into the water whenever required.


We felt slightly isolated at Pain au Sucre. There were several other yachts there, mostly French and American, but nobody really talked to us (and we were bad at approaching them). It had been a while since we'd had an evening with other cruisers, and our friends were scattered far and wide across the island chain at this stage.

One evening I was excited to see a gleaming gaff ketch approach and anchor near us. She was the Thendara, built in the 1930s, and looked stunning. Limbo was in good company: we were also heading for Antigua Classics, starting in just a few days.

Thendara, 1936


Saturday, 27 July 2013

Wildlife of the Caribbean

Wildlife spotting is one of the many pleasures of sailing and hiking in the Caribbean.  We often didn't know exactly what we were looking at (and, in spite of searching in several places, never found a good wildlife guidebook), but - whatever it was - there was a lot of it.

We often saw pelicans diving for fish or sitting, statue-like, on moored boats.

We were delighted to see turtles regularly. They would often appear near the boat in various anchorages, staying for half a minute or so before diving down.

We think this is a green sea turtle, about two feet long.
I've no idea what this is..

We saw several of these large, fat caterpillars in Martinique and on other islands.  They're a good 10-15 cm long and feed on frangipani.

Not exactly wildlife..but I liked the photos.


Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Prince Rupert Bay, Dominica (5th to 9th April)

We were nearing the end of our time in Roseau. Sara and Phil on Lochmarin were about to head south to the Grenadines, and it was almost time to say goodbye. Before doing so, we spent a day out with them at the Champagne Reef near Soufriere. We packed our snorkelling gear, flagged down a passing bus and enjoyed the sunny ride along the coast road.

The reef is one of those 'must see' attractions much frequented by cruise-shippers, so I was ready to be entirely unimpressed. The reef was pretty dead, accessed off a pebbly beach, and the 'champagne' effect, caused by volcanic gases bubbling up through the sea floor, could be easily and cheaply achieved anywhere by hiring a flatulent 10-year old to swim beneath you. Perhaps I was getting a bit jaded?  On the plus side, there were some large and interesting fish, and we spotted a couple of evil-looking, if small, moray eels. We had a great lunch at a roadside restaurant shack, and chatted to a forthcoming local lady who now lived in the UK. She wasn't enjoying it, missing the weather and the friendly people of Dominica.  It was all too easy to see her point of view.  

Roseau had been great, but it was time to move on.  We waved goodbye to Phil and Sara, who had shared so much with us, hoping that we would see them again sometime, somewhere.  We headed for Prince Rupert Bay, at the north of the island. We tried to sail, but the lee of Dominica is a big windshadow. We were on a dead run, the wind gusting and shifting unpredictably, so - after one anxious moment too many - we ended up motoring.

Prince Rupert Bay and Portsmouth, Limbo on the far left.

Friday, 14 June 2013

The Boiling Lake (3 April)

The Boiling Lake hike in Dominica had been on the list of things I wanted to do since I was last there, years ago.  After our fantastic trip to Victoria Falls with SeaCat, he was the obvious choice to guide us. 

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Stop Press: Coming Home!

We are in the US Virgin Islands, having rushed up here at fairly short notice.  With the hurricane season fast approaching, and feeling that we weren't ready for another long ocean passage just yet, we've decided the best option is to bring Limbo back on a ship. I'll write about how we made that decision in much more detail when I get time. The organisation has been interesting...

In the meantime, we're about to enjoy one last evening with our friends on Amorosa before Limbo is loaded on the MV Fagelgracht tomorrow.  The trip isn't quite over for us: we're looking forward to a few days sailing with Oliver and Carlotta on Troskala before flying back to the UK.

Don't stop reading - there are more instalments to come!

We can't quite believe it's nearly over.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Roseau, Dominica (29 March to 4 April)

The passage to Dominica wasn’t the most relaxing of sails.  We got away at 8.30 and waved goodbye to the guys on Spirit of Argo.  The wind was fluky in the lee of Martinique, in strength and direction, but it was calm and we sailed as much as we could.  We took some photos of a larger boat which passed close by as we came near the north end of the island.  We were becalmed for a while and started the engine, but we could see a line in the water ahead where there was definitely more wind.  Passing it, we heeled well over. Getting up on deck to put the third reef in was slightly dramatic, but with less sail we felt much more under control.  Even so, we were still beating straight into a gusty force 5 to 6, with a beam swell.  Not exactly the sailing you dream about. Fortunately, as is common, the wind came round to the east a bit more as we got further out, and the last few hours heading towards Scotts Head on the south end of Dominica were a fast beam reach – much better!  We had some strong gusts off the hills as we approached, then the wind died almost completely in the lee of the island.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Martinique (17 to 29 March)

French Caribbean!
We’d been hoping to make Saint Anne our first port of call in Martinique, following recommendations from a couple of people.  It’s just round the corner from the big yachting centre of Marin, in the south east of the island, and promised a pleasant beach anchorage with an attractive village ashore.  Sadly the weather had other ideas: as we came out of the lee of Pigeon Island at the beginning of the 25 mile passage, we quickly decided it would be too much of a slog against the wind and the waves. We could have done it, but it just didn’t seem worth the discomfort.  Contrary to the popular image of Caribbean sailing, it can be really quite rough and windy between the islands. Fortunately most of the passages are day sails, and it’s great to be able to see your destination when you set off (on a clear day, at least).  We were only a few miles out from Saint Lucia when the genoa suddenly unrolled, pulling open the snap shackle holding the tack.  The furling line is a bit stiff and came off the cleat somehow.  Rather than messing around on the foredeck, the best option seemed to be to furl it in and continue under main and engine towards our Plan B destination, Grande Anse, a little way up the west coast.  So much for what Don Street describes as one of the finest sails in the Caribbean!

Sunday, 24 March 2013

One month in the Caribbean: Barbados and Saint Lucia


Near Port St Charles, on the west coast
Barbados was the ideal place to rest up after the crossing.  We lay at anchor in Carlisle Bay with just a handful of other boats.  Apart from the moronic jetskiers who came from the cruise ships most afternoons and treated the yachts as a kind of obstacle course (is any other ‘sport’ so inherently anti-social?), we were undisturbed.  More pleasant were the race horses swimming around the anchorage in the mornings, along with the occasional turtle.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Some technical notes on the Atlantic crossing

Some more detailed notes on weather, routing, the boat and our equipment:


Conditions when we left were quite light, with a big low pressure system sitting over the north Atlantic replacing the Azores high.  The result was quite unsettled winds for a while, with a couple of days of only 10-15 knots.  The sea is the problem, as the waves don’t diminish as quickly as the wind does.  It’s horrible bobbing about with the sails slatting and refusing to fill. For the most part we managed to keep moving reasonably well, and the cruising chute and light genoa helped with this.  After 7 days or so it felt as if the tradewinds had established themselves properly again, and from then on it was much steadier: the wind was generally between force 4 and 5 and from the east or north-east, with 2 metre waves – sometimes more, sometimes less.  The wind strength did vary regularly, meaning lots of sail changes.

Our worst night was after about 6 days.  Thundery clouds built up and we had dramatic forked lightning in all directions around the boat.  In a word, scary.  Most of it was several miles away, but the gap between the flash and the thunder was occasionally short enough to be quite worrying, particularly when the mast makes a perfect target.  We put the handheld GPS and the VHF in the oven in case we got struck (Faraday’s cage..) but this felt pretty futile.  I spent the night watching the bolts hit the water and worrying.  In the morning we had two hours of force 7 or 8 squalls, which we handled fine with very little jib up, but it wasn’t much fun.

Other than this incident, I was surprised how few squalls we saw.  Apparently January is a dryer month than December or November.  There were a few threatening clouds (especially at night, when it’s hard to tell how dark they are), but they often turned out to have little wind under them.  We got some extremely heavy rain a couple of times, and a few showers, but we didn’t see any classic line squalls bearing down on us. 

The seas weren’t very regular much of the time, and were usually on the beam or quarter rather than from behind, and Limbo’s motion could be quite extreme as we rolled our way across them.  If you were parachuted in to ocean conditions it would be very unpleasant, but we’d had plenty of time to get used to routinely much bigger waves than you’d happily sail on in the Solent or the channel.  I’m not talking about underlying long swells, but sometimes quite steep waves with breaking crests.  Limbo has proved to be an excellent sea boat: she bobs over the sea with aplomb, and refuses to hurtle down wave fronts.  Instead she sits back as they pass underneath.  We were happy leaving the forehatch open most of the time.  We occasionally had water on the deck, but never got solid water in the cockpit (although occasionally a hissing wave would creep up and give Limbo a slap, throwing spray over us).

It got gradually warmer as we went, and after a few days we’d finally reached that happy state of keeping watch in shorts and t-shirts.  The temperature was well into the high twenties, and little less at night, but the breeze meant that it wasn’t oppressive.  It was sunny most of the time, with blue skies and classic trade wind cumulus.  We didn’t have any permanent shelter from the sun, but a towel pegged to the sprayhood gave us some very welcome shade in the afternoons.

While it's true that there's not much you can do about the weather once you’re out there, you still really want to know what's going to happen over the next few days: forecasts are very useful to plan sail changes (should you leave all that sail up overnight or not?) and just for reassurance.  As mentioned, we got regular updates from friends ashore and afloat, which was sufficient, but information would also have been available via our SSB receiver. It would have been even better to receive proper GRIB files via satphone.


We stocked up with nearly everything in the Canaries, apart from fresh goods.  In Mindelo we found most of the fruit and vegetables we wanted in the market.  We resorted to the supermarket for oranges, which had been refrigerated, so didn’t keep well and were starting to go mouldy in just a few days (they were very good though, and we managed to only throw out a few).  We washed everything before it came aboard, but there were still maggots in our aubergines...  We kept fruit and vegetables in a hanging net and in a plastic mesh crate, wrapped in brown paper.

We took lots of potatoes, and they kept well, but we hardly used them: rice or pasta is much less hassle at sea.  Cabbage kept excellently, as did onions.  Eggs were fine, turned occasionally to stop them getting stale.

With the exception of corned beef and hot dogs, canned meat (but not fish) was hard to find anywhere outside the UK; you can’t get things like tinned mince or stewing steak.  Even on a boat of Limbo’s size, it would have been good to have stocked up.  Tinned tuna was very useful, as were tinned chick peas, sweetcorn and tomatoes.   UHT yoghurts were easy to find and quite good.  Chorizo was good, keeping well out of the fridge. 

We were well supplied with crispbreads and crackers, but there’s no real substitute for proper bread.  You can get tasteless white loaves which will keep for a couple of weeks, but baking is pretty easy, and we made three or four loaves on passage.  Rising time is minimal in the heat. Natalie also made some banana bread when they inevitably all ripened at once.

Breakfast was usually cornflakes, but we also ate a lot of porridge (we don’t usually – but it was great when you were hungry after a long night watch).

It was hard to find healthy snacks in the Canaries, particularly as they like lots of salt.  We tried not to, but ate lots of crisps and peanuts on watch…

We have a small fridge which was great for cheese, butter, leftover food and - mainly - cold drinks.  A can of something cold and fizzy was a real treat.  It’s too small to keep more than one or two meals' worth of meat or fish in it, so no good for having fresh meat on passage except at the start. 
High-sided plastic bowls were really useful to ensure the contents didn’t end up everywhere.  We didn’t have a rigid menu plan, although we were starting to run out of inspiration towards the end!


We carried around 250 litres of water, as well as a few litres of cans, fruit juice and UHT milk (which seems to taste better than I remember it used to!).  This was spread between two flexible tanks (one under the floor and one fitted in the quarter berth when we were in the Canaries) and jerry cans, which were in the cockpit and the cockpit locker.  I checked our actual tank capacity in the Canaries and found it was quite a bit less than the boat particulars stated – so definitely a worthwhile exercise!   A healthy ration is reckoned to be around 4.5 litres per person per day, but a ‘survivable’ one around 2.5 litres, so we had more than enough for safety.   We could have carried more jerrycans on deck, but I don’t like obstructing the way forward or carrying weight too far above the waterline.   

We rotated between the two tanks, the idea being that if one burst we wouldn’t lose all our supplies, and kept the jerrycans for last as they were the most secure.  We aimed to use the vast majority of our water for drinking. We had an alcohol gel by the sink for handwashing, and washing up was done in sea water, which worked fine.  We had quite regular washes in the cockpit using sea water, but with a fresh water rinse using a garden sprayer, which was effective but used very little water.   I found that shaving could easily be done with half a mug of hot water.  We didn’t go as far as cleaning teeth in saltwater.  We kept a rough check on how much we were using, but had plenty left at the end of the passage (at least 60 litres).


Our cooker runs off Camping Gaz cylinders.  We had no problems at all getting hold of replacements all the way down through the Cape Verdes (in fact, in Mindelo we got new cylinders at about £5 each!).  A cylinder usually lasts us 24 days, although we used less on the crossing as we weren’t heating water for washing up.  We have a pressure cooker which we used for a few things to save gas (mainly stews and potatoes). Small pressure cookers seem hard to find in the UK - we bought it in Lisbon.


We opted to go without a Satphone, mainly for cost reasons, but also because we liked the idea of an automatic tracker device rather than manually sending messages each day.  We carry a Yellowbrick YB3 transmitter which, save a few glitches, was great – it kept our position updated automatically on the web for people at home (except for 12 hours when it failed to update..) and let us send and receive short text messages.   The battery lasts for weeks.  A reliable friend ashore sent us daily forecasts (thanks Rob!) and we were able to let friends on Lochmarin know that we’d heard their radio forecast information and position updates on our SSB receiver (a Sony worldband radio).  It was great to know that people were keeping an eye on us and, hopefully, not worrying...


Where were the dolphins?  After being followed by scores of the creatures on our way down through Spain and Portugal, we had only two brief sightings all the way across – pretty disappointing!  

We saw seabirds most of the way across.  Tropic Birds, with their white plumage and forked tails, were particular favourites.  We also saw Storm Petrels and, closer to arrival, the large and pterodactyl-like Frigate Birds.  No whales – not necessarily a bad thing, as some people we know of managed to hit one this year – fortunately without damage!


We use as little power as possible on passage: all our lights, including our tricolour, are LED (with good LED nav lights available, there doesn’t seem much excuse for ‘running dark’ to save power) and we have a very low power AIS receiver - a Vesper Watchmate - which is highly recommended, and incorporates an excellent anchor watch feature.  The AIS displays GPS information so lets us turn our chartplotter off when away from the coast.  

We kept a continuous watch on VHF channel 16 and also kept our echosounder/log running.  We have a small Waeco Coolfreeze fridge, which – while very efficient – was by far the most power hungry piece of equipment.  We think it’s well worthwhile as it let us keep milk, cheese and leftovers safely and have cold drinks.  We have two 30W flexible solar panels (one permanently fixed to the hatch garage, the other movable), which do a lot to help, but we still had to run the engine for about an hour to an hour and a half a day to keep it all running via our two 100Ah batteries. We replaced both of these in the Canaries, finding that the old batteries were refusing to hold much charge after a year or two of use.


Well, we tried..we can only conclude that there’s either more skill or more luck involved than people let on, but can’t decide which...  Friends on Amorosa found the packaging from one of their lures was more successful than the contents!  Our tally on this trip to date is one mackerel off Weymouth.   A final tally of 26 flying fish landing on deck at night during the passage (three came straight into the cockpit, which could be alarming) but we never had enough at once to make cooking them worthwhile.  We reflected on how extraordinarily unlucky a flying fish must be to hit a yacht.  We saw them all the way across, and it was great to watch them flitting across the waves.


Natalie got through a few books, but I read far less than I expected.  We have two Kindles (absolutely ideal, although I was fairly reluctant at first) and carried several paperbacks as well.  Our iPod was very well stocked up with Radio 4 podcasts, Desert Island Discs (!) and the News Quiz being particular favourites.  With music, these kept us going through the night watches.   One pair of headphones gave up, but we had three – and a second iPod too – the consequences of being without nightwatch listening being unthinkable! 


We ran a rotating watch system of three hours on/off from 1800 to 0600, then four hours in the day.  In practice, we stayed up for most of the day after the first few days.  Whoever was coming off watch at lunch or supper time made that meal.  It’s hard to get enough sleep with just two of you, and we felt tired much of the time.    

Gear Problems

Our only gear problem (albeit a potentially very serious one…) was with the rig.  I’m not sure when the damage happened, but about half way across I inspected everything and noticed several broken strands at the deck end of the starboard lower shroud.  Not a good discovery.  However, our spares kit included some bulldog clamps for exactly this eventuality (he wrote smugly), and I used them to fix a wire strop from the chainplate to above the damaged area, which made a strong repair.  Limbo’s rig is 8 years old, so should be well within its expected lifespan, but - ideally – it would have been a good idea to replace it before we left, if just for peace of mind. 
Otherwise, there was some wear to the genoa stitching at the foot where it rubbed against the pulpit.  I tried to put some sail repair tape on it (the overpriced stuff seen in most UK chandlers) and it wouldn’t stick... 


This is a big issue, and is deeply linked to the general seaworthiness and suitability of the boat (a fact which can be overlooked in favour of an emphasis on more bits of gear).  While small, Limbo is a very stable, strongly-built boat with a well-protected cockpit, which meant we felt safe in rough conditions.

We always wore lifejackets/ harnesses when on watch at night; not because we were about to be thrown out of the cockpit, but because the temptation is to hurry on deck to sort out a problem quickly.  If you’re already wearing a harness, you will clip on.  We also have stand-alone (none life-jacket) harnesses which are more comfortable to wear when it’s hot, but didn’t use them.
For emergencies, we carry a liferaft and EPIRB satellite beacon, in addition to our Yellowbrick transmitter.  Limbo has two independent bilge pumps, one operable from inside.  The VHF and flares seem unlikely to be helpful in mid-ocean, but you never know. We have a comprehensive first aid kit, which we haven’t used, except for very minor injuries. A knife is accessible in the cockpit at all times for any rope-related incidents.  

Sail Plan

We opted for twin headsails and no main, which worked well.  This has the serious advantage of accidental gybes not being a problem (and we've heard of three boats which gybed accidentally this year - on two this exploded the preventer block, the other was dismasted).  In addition, Limbo isn’t particularly balanced going downwind unless the main is reefed well down – she gets weather helm – and I thought rolling away the genoa would be much easier than reefing the main when the wind got up. 

We had the roller genoa to leeward, poled out with the main boom (this was held independently of the sail, with the mainsheet as an after guy and a three-part tackle vang as a foreguy – attached to a webbing strop around the sailcover then clipped forward to the shroud chainplate). The genoa sheet ran through a block at the end of the boom.  The second sail was hanked on to our removable inner forestay (a proper Seasure lever arrangement installed at expense, but well worth it) and poled out with the spinnaker pole, with a foreguy through a block attached to the forward cleat and an afterguy through another block attached to a stanchion near the cockpit.  This is the system described by Anne Hammick in the excellent ‘Ocean Cruising on a Budget’ and gave a stable and easily-handled set-up.

We mostly had a No.2 sized sail up along with the genoa, but swapped this for a lighter genoa or a cruising chute when the wind dropped below force 4 or so (I never worked out which was more effective), or the storm jib when it was particularly strong.  The No. 2 and the light genoa were cheap purchases from ebay.  When the wind increased we furled the genoa until it was slightly smaller than the No.2, then – if it increased further  -dropped the No.2 and replaced it with the storm jib.  We found that the motion (i.e rolling) was much better if we could keep two headsails up, although if the wind was really strong could simply keep going with a scrap of genoa.  It’s all downwind, so not too much of a problem. 

The wind strength varied between about force 3 and force 6, with a couple of squalls up to around force 8.  We wanted to keep the boat moving well, and changed sails quite frequently.  This involved a bit of scrambling around on the foredeck, which could be interesting.  We mostly played it safe, by taking the harder-to-handle cruising chute or drifter down at night, but there were still a couple of hurried changes in the dark when a particularly black cloud loomed over us!


We both suffer at times, but neither of us was actually sick during the passage.  We took Stugeron on and off, which worked well, and on the whole seasickness wasn’t an issue.  Occasionally we felt queasy, particularly when cooking, but not severely. 


We weren’t going to press Limbo very hard, but equally on a passage of this distance an extra half knot of average speed, for us, makes a difference of 1 1/2 to 2 days.  We changed sails regularly to keep the boat moving properly, and were pleased to see 24-hour runs of over 130 miles on occasion (with a little help from the equatorial current!).  We averaged 4.6 knots, or 111M per day, which is a good speed for a little boat.


We steered for a total of about an hour during the 18 days, the rest being taken care of by Wilhelm, our Windpilot Pacific Light.  A good windvane steering system is definitely the way to go on a small (or short-handed) boat, being highly reliable and using no electricity.  It’s probably the most important piece of equipment we carry (as well as being the most expensive!).  With only two on board, the failure of automatic steering on a long passage would be highly inconvenient, to say the least.  An electronic autopilot would be extremely power-hungry – there’s no way we could have kept it going with our set-up – and I’d want at least one independent back-up system if relying on an electronic pilot.


Really not very complicated!  The north end of Barbados is 264 degrees true from Mindelo and 2010 miles away.  There’s up to 20 degrees of variation to think about when applying this to a compass course.  The wind was occasionally too far north to make our course under twin headsails (when the apparent wind was more than about 50 degrees off the stern, the windward sail collapsed), but as we went across it became more consistently easterly.  We tried not to worry about a few degrees off either way, although the wind varied enough to make windvane course adjustments quite frequent.  We plotted a Great Circle course on our chart, (the Imray Atlantic planning chart), which is a Gnomic projection or equivalent) and tried to stick to this, but in practice the wind direction had the upper hand.  At this latitude the difference between the Great Circle and Rhumb-line is minimal, and the GPS will give the Great Circle course anyway.


We’d definitely recommend going via the Cape Verdes.  Apart from being a really interesting place, stopping in Mindelo cut the distance by around 700 miles: getting on for a week on passage for a boat of Limbo’s size.  It also means that you’re straight out into the trade winds, rather than having to hunt south.  We found that it felt all downhill after the half-way mark, and the days passed surprisingly quickly; but still, we were very pleased to get in after 18 days, and an extra week would have made a substantial difference, both psychologically and in terms of carrying enough stores and water.  Heading for Barbados cuts a day off the trip, apart from being a very pleasant island which you won't be able to visit later on (as it's 90 miles to windward!).

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Across the Atlantic in a 26-foot yacht

Read some more technical notes on our crossing here.

We crossed the Atlantic from Mindelo to Barbados in 18 days and 1 hour.  

Limbo going well
It’s hard to know how to sum up the experience.  The fact we’re here in the Caribbean still seems quite surreal (even after nearly a month..I can only apologise for the delay in posting this. Perhaps 'island time' has something to do with it..!)

Monday, 28 January 2013

Crossing the Atlantic

We’re leaving for Barbados, 2010M to the west.   We’d be happy to do it in 20 days, but we’re expecting some light winds later in the week so it won’t be a record passage.
It’s nice to know we’ll have some company: Amorosa (tracking site on the links to the right!) and Tari Tari are leaving on Tuesday (and should do about the same speed) and Lochmarin is heading across a day or two later (but will overtake us quickly, being more than twice the size!). We’re hoping to keep in touch via VHF where we can.

We'll put a few updates on our tracker site as we go across:

We’re really excited to be doing this, and looking forward to a rum in three weeks or so!

Washing fruit and veg before stowing them away

Cabo Verde

We’ve had a fantastic time in the Cape Verdes.  We were nearly put off coming to Mindelo after hearing various horror stories of muggings and theft, but It’s all been very hassle-free.  If you’re anchored off, as we are, you can pay a few euros a day to leave a dinghy in the marina, so there are no worries about it disappearing, and we’ve had no qualms about coming back to the boat after dark.  The people seem universally friendly, and used to visitors in the best possible way: you’re not ignored, but neither do you feel out of place.  The only downside has been the extremely windy and sometimes rolly anchorage.  The channel between Sao Vicente and Santo Antao form an acceleration zone which, combined with katabatic winds from the hills above Mindelo, has sent regular gusts of 40 knots or even more across the anchorage.   Combined with some swell coming in, it hasn’t made for quiet nights.  Fortunately the holding for the anchor seems to be very good, but we’ve got pretty wet going ashore in the inflatable!

Limbo anchored off Mindelo

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Passage to Cabo Verde

We're in Mindelo! It felt disconcerting leaving Gran Tarajal after so long in the harbour, and it was a windy day, so it was good to have a few hours in the lee of Fuerteventura to get used to things in slightly gentler conditions.  The passage plan to Mindelo was about the simplest possible: leave the harbour, steer 224 degrees for about 890 Miles, then turn left for Mindelo breakwater!

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

At sea

We're leaving for Mindelo later today.  You can follow our progress below, and see what sort of weather we have at!

Here's hoping for a nice sail..

Monday, 7 January 2013

Going Tropical...

We had a great Christmas here in Gran Tarajal.  I think the picture below sums up the atmosphere!

Christmas tortilla!
It’s taken a while to decide on our next step.  The bad weather we experienced on the way to Madeira had caused some trepidation about undertaking still longer passages, so we were seriously considering cruising the Canaries until spring before heading to the Azores and homewards.  But I can all too easily imagine looking back and regretting not going further.  In terms of conditions, we should have done the hardest part now.  If we continue along the established Atlantic route, now we’re so far south, there’s every chance that we’ll have downwind passages with much steadier winds and seas. That’s the theory, anyway!

The Canaries - interesting as they are - don’t really provide great cruising.  There aren’t many good anchorages, meaning lots of time in marinas.  It’s warm, but not properly hot - the temperature is pleasant but it still gets quite chilly in the evenings (a state of affairs which is clearly unacceptable).  Even more critically, the Canaries just don’t feel exotic.  Limbo, I think, yearns for flying fish, white-sand beaches, tropical rain (in moderation), reggae and coconut trees. Perhaps even some limbo.

So, we’ve decided to continue to the Cape Verdes and – all being well – on across the Atlantic.  This has meant several days of relatively hectic preparation to get the boat ready.  My main job was installing a new water tank to give us enough capacity for the transatlantic.  Natalie’s been making a companionway flap to keep heavy rain out without needing the washboards and sewing a Cape Verdes courtesy flag!   We’ve also got some new blocks and sheets to set up a proper downwind rig.  And we've done huge amounts of grocery shopping, not counting on being able to get much except fruit and vegetables in Mindelo.

Sewing a rain flap for the companionway
Chaos below as we stock up..stowage for long passages is not easy on a 26 footer!
The passage to the Cape Verdes is around 900 miles, which we’d hope to do in 8 or 9 days.  As time is getting on we’re only planning to spend a few days in Mindelo (depending, as always, on how we feel. After all, we thought we were going to stay in Gran Tarajal for about 4 days and we’ve been here 3 weeks!).  Hopefully we’ll be off in a couple of days - watch this space!