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..!)

While crossing the Atlantic could be described as a simple matter of keeping the boat heading in the right direction at a reasonable speed and eating, drinking and sleeping enough, it’s hard to ignore the fact that you’re hundreds of miles from land and are pretty much on your own if anything happens.  This inevitably lends an edge of anxiety to the experience.  And yet, we had no disasters and few traumatic incidents.  Life was generally quite pleasant.
We came very close to not going – we’re very glad we did!  In short, it was all manageable.

Leaving Mindelo
We left Mindelo in the afternoon on the 28th of January, with the guys from Lochmarin giving us a good send-off.  We were straight out into the rough and windy channel between Sao Vicente and Santa Antao, but knew that the seas would improve once we were away from the islands.  We were just getting clear of the channel that night when the wind dropped and went round to the north.  This wasn’t meant to happen! We spent an unpleasant few hours bobbing about, going nowhere.  I worried that the forecast of light winds had overstated things, and that this is what we’d get for a few days – which would have been nightmarish.  Fortunately the wind came back in the morning, and I concluded that we’d just been in the wind shadow of Santo Antao.  

Quite a long way to go
The first few days were unsettled and tiring, with several sail changes, as we tried to get used to the watch routine again.  We’d left with a less-than-ideal forecast (but you could wait for ever!) and it took a while before we were in proper trade wind conditions. 

Our usual trade wind rig
We could have picked up other forecasts on our SSB receiver, but were lucky in that friends on Lochmarin and a friend ashore kept us up to date with expected weather, both via SSB transmissions and via email to our Yellowbrick.  Amorosa (a Sadler 25) and Tari Tari left a couple of days after us, and we got news of their progress too. 

Light weather sailing under cruising chute..
...and heavier conditions.
Small boat, big sea..
Our days settled into a routine. The nights were mostly starry (we crossed at a time of little moon), but it was never really dark: you could always see the horizon.  The phosphorescence in the water could be spectacular.  Night watches were spent listening to the iPod, which we’d loaded up with plenty of BBC podcasts.  They really helped to pass the time.

Another beautiful sunset

Dawn came quickly, and the heat would build shortly after sunrise.  The day always seemed easier, mainly because you could see what the weather was doing, and I tended to sleep better when it was light.  We’d still keep watch, but in a more relaxed way, and often we’d both be up.  Plenty of time was spent just watching the waves, but food preparation could take a while (the simplest meal is a bit of a challenge when there’s no flat surface to put things on..non-slip matting came into its own here!).  

A bird's eye view
We found that time seemed to speed up as we went across until the days were passing quite quickly.  It would be an exaggeration to say we could have gone on forever, as we were looking forward to arrival, but we became used to the conditions and were quite happy out there.  The sun rose behind us each morning and set ahead, quickly sinking below the horizon.

Once the wind had set in, we made quite good progress, and were pleased with some 130+mile runs.  We plotted the position on the chart once a day, which was infrequent enough to show a noticeable distance from the last plot..

Half way! (Although there seems to be some navigational disagreement).
Arrival was fantastic.  Barbados isn’t visible until you’re fairly close, as it’s low-lying, and it was really exciting to finally make out its hump-backed outline when we were about thirty miles out, a couple of hours after dawn.  

Barbados! The island is just visible in the background
The last few hours were windy, and fast.  We had 2.5 metre seas, which built as we came into shallower water off the north end of the island.  As we came closer we could see the detail of the land: it seemed very green and lush after days of looking at blue water and sky.  We got the poles and running gear down, which was quite a messy  exercise, and continued under genoa alone.  

We headed south on a reach past the jetty of the cement works and towards Port Saint Charles marina.  The masts of some extremely large yachts became apparent.  We furled the genoa and motored in to the arrival dock.  Without really taking in that we’d arrived, I went to clear customs and immigration. There was a bit of a wait, but I didn’t care.  Before long we were signed in and had filled our water tanks.  Timing was just right: we’d got in at 1500 and were out just over an hour later, giving us time to get down to the anchorage at Carlisle Bay before dark.  

Finally at rest: clearing in, Port St Charles
We shamelessly motored down the coast (after all, we’d sailed the whole of the Atlantic without using the engine) , admiring some impressive beach-front properties, and as we passed the cruise-ship dock saw a familiar yacht heading towards us: it was Lochmarin, and they’d taken the trouble to up-anchor to greet us!  It was a fantastic welcome, and we motored alongside them as the sun set. 

Lochmarin greeting us

We dropped anchor at 1815 on 15 February, off the wide white beach of Carlisle Bay.  Within half an hour we were aboard Lochmarin drinking cold beer and rum.  We had hot showers and ate flying fish sandwiches.  It took a while to sink in that we’d sailed across the Atlantic, and done it the hard way: on a 26-foot, 35-year-old boat with just the two of us.  It was very good to have arrived!

At anchor, Carlisle Bay.
Finally enjoying that rum!


  1. Welcome to the Caribbean!

    Very sorry I didn't stay in Martinique long enough to meet you...

  2. An absolute great read!!
    Well done!!

  3. Brilliant post and wonderful photos, glad you had such an enriching and interesting experience! And I'm pleased to see that navigating wasn't too much of a pain for you!

  4. Really enjoyed reading this! Thanks for posting and for the great resources!

  5. Hi
    I am planning a very similar voyage to you in my colvic 26 'Blue Mover'. One of my main concerns is that we will be unable to stop in French or Spanish ports since we are struggling to find anyone who will insure us in such a small boat. How did you overcome this?

    1. Hi, sorry for the delay!

      We were insured through Pantaenius, who covered us up to and including Madeira and the Canaries.

      They have a reputation for being flexible with smaller or more unusual boats/small crews (others turned their noses up) and are highly recommended. I think it was about £400 total for the extended area cover. We weren't insured for the transatlantic - we planned to reinsure in the Caribbean, although I can't remember now if we actually did this..!

      I don't recall anyone actually checking our insurance documents, although some marinas do.

      Good luck!

  6. Yorkshire guy living in the woods of Florida,close to the Suwannee river & feeling the urge to get a sail boat,loved reading your post,well done the two of you.
    Cheers Frank

    1. Thank you! I will finish this blog one day and plan to add some technical info too..