12/12/2012, Atlantic Ocean
Seneca a 1st??? century Roman scholar said quality counts and to achieving anything first you must have a plan.
After a brief visit to the Southampton Boat Show I realised we had bought a tug. My beautiful streamline and sleek looking machine with masses of German engineering was designed to take German tourists on lazy holidays around the Adriatic and Greek Islands. It was safe and secure and built for reliability not for crossing an ocean! What I desired was a Bentley, what I had was a stately Rolls Canhardly (rolls down hills can hardly get up 'em). When I bought it, as is normal when acquiring a secondhand boat, it came fully equipped with everything down to the bedlinen and knives and forks. It had previously been the property of a Croatian Marina owner, he had registered it as a charter boat to get round the local tax rules but had used it as his personal yacht. As such it had all the safety features for a party of ten with all the knobs on. It seems I was the beneficiary of East European gerrymandering. However, I could console myself in that the Germans had learned something after the Bismark and my baby was virtually unsinkable. Or at least that is what I told Lizzie.
Yachts come in all shapes and sizes and are designed for the a specific market. All I needed to do was to put a bit of British flair into a Tutonic bathtub, rather like Maclaren do with Mercedes. Ron Dennis was not available so I called upon a lot of other people to help and advise me on what to do. Furthermore, I wanted something that would allow us the freedom to roam the Caribbean unhinded by variables such as water quality and electricity restrictions, with hot and cold running water at all times. I wanted to turn on a sixpence and keep cool when the weather was tropical and have ice-cold beer on tap. Otherwise what was the point.
It was like remodeling a Victorian townhouse with all the new features and creature comforts without changing the outside appearance within Westminster Council guidelines. Not easily achievable so seldom undertaken without costing lots of money. Fortunately I had Neil on hand and he would, as it turn out, relish the undertaking. Unfortunately like all remodeling not everything goes to plan.
Keith started the ball rolling by taking Royal Yachting Association (RYA) navigation, competent crew and day skipper courses with his best friend and fellow Sheffield United supporter Steph (like many others he help us by helping Keith go through a difficult learning curve). The enormity of the task slowly began to sink in as I attended lectures and seminars about intercontinental travel by sea. Fortunately, we came across the World Cruising Club which was founded 25 years ago to help yachtsman travel around the world. I signed us up for the Atlantic section (ARC), Canaries to the Caribbean but increased the specification on my new equipment to be world standard. The safety features are a little more demanding, having an SSB radio on board becomes mandatory. So we thought let's go world standard.
SSB stands for Single Side Band and uses special frequencies to communicate over large distances (halfway around the world). With the added advantage of being able to send email by radio at no extra cost a real bonus. However, user needs a license obtained after taking a test. What seemed like a formality turned into a nightmare 4 days for Keith and I. Sharing a twin room to replicate life at sea and reduce costs we spent 8 hours a day learning in a classroom and a further 7 hours at night and early in the morning trying to keep up. Frequencies and method statements don't seem to stick so well in the brain after you have had your first SAGA holiday. We convinced ourselves it was our teacher, Bob Smith of Yachtcom, only to find out later that he and his lovely wife Claire run the best courses in Europe and many superyacht owners insist on having their crews attend their classes. Thankfully we passed and can now pollute the airwaves with our chatter and email messages, hopefully in code.
The next important factor after being able to communicate whilst isolated at sea is health of the crew. We attended a couple of great lectures by Ian Hardy, though only calling himself a pharmacist, seems to specialise in health and treatments at sea. He gives very colourful hands-on demonstrations including how to apply an Epi- pen into a tennis ball (great if you want to make pass at Annette, I suppose)! Even the doctors present were impressed with his teaching style. Many ARC participants end up buying his offshore first aid kits and "The Ship Masters Guide to Medicine at Sea". I now think all young people should have compulsory first aid lessons. Both Keith and I became aware of what simple things that anyone can do that might reduce trauma or even save a life. Later Keith signed up for a 4 day course but was too ill to attend... a case of medic heal thy self.
However, we were now confident of being up to speed on the basic necessities and we moved forward on to the boy's toys and how to fit all our kit into our tub. Items on the list 32" LEDTV, upgrade stereo with ondeck speakers both attached to ships computer for full multimedia experience. Take out ice-cream tub side fridge and replace with diesel generator (sounds odd but it just fitted in it's place). We made room for a full sized fridge-freezer by sacrificing the double bunk room (who sleeps in a bunk these days anyway, unless you're under ten and like to crawl into small spaces). The bunk room still had space for a watermaker (we now know that this is the most essential piece of kit on an Atlantic crossing apart from sails, of course) as well as ducting for the aircon unit that conveniently slipped in under the seats in the salon. We also found room for the inverter (which takes any incoming electrical current and upgrades it to 220V to run our domestic appliances on a ring main). We ditched the couple of "house batteries" for 5 super-duper AGM longlife ones. We took out the old oven and replaced it with a new microwave oven with lots of buttons. We didn't neglect the outside either. By designing a stainless steel arch frame off the back (which looks like the downforce wing on an F1 car that Jeremy C would gush about) we were able to support all manner of gadgets from aerials to a radar scanner and UV panels to a wind-charger, and that it just the top bit. The sides have convenient ladder type bars which have brackets for fishing gear and scuba bottles etc. I won't go to bore you any more other than to say we did leave enough room for the essential safety gear that nobody is interested in except when you have an emergency. We did however, double up on such items as navigation equipment and communications systems including handheld YHF radio's and ultimately but almost too late a satellite phone.
You've guessed it. All this stuff in a very confined space with different lead times and most items being ordered via London source from another country ordered over the internet and delivered via Rob Francis at Algarve Freight Centre (who were our saviors many times) to Vilamoura in Portugal was no mean feat. With Neil fitting out everything and coordinating local suppliers we nearly pulled it off! Despite our best efforts we were not able to meet our first, second or even our third agreed finishing date. The trials of the Summer of 2012 will not be reported here but will remain with me for some time to come.
However, we did reach Las Palmas 6 days before the official start date of the ARC on 25th November. This final part will be posted soon.
12/10/2012, Atlantic Ocean
We've now had two weeks at sea and have just come through a fairly frustrating weekend wind and weather wise. Whoever said that the sun always shines in the Caribbean was wrong, it's been more like an English autumn day here: grey, constant drizzle and not as much wind as we'd have liked.
The good news is that whilst the rain hasn't yet stopped, the wind has come round slightly in our favour and with our Parasailor up and flying (now with the addition of a couple of home made patches after we sustained a few minor rips from the rigging) we have made better progress today. To maximise our speed we have taken the decision to fly the Parasailor through the night and hope we avoid the worst of any squalls.
The biggest excitement, if you can call it that, came at about 1:30AM this morning. Gary and Neil on watch and a boat spotted on the starboard side. Thanks to our onboard AIS system (essentially a tracking device that picks up any other AIS enabled boats) they were able to identify its course (straight towards us) and speed. Judging distances on land at night is difficult enough, at sea with the waves in the way and rain reducing visibility distances it becomes an almost impossible challenge. The rest of the crew were awoken therefore by the sound of shouting on deck - turns out that the other yacht (also part of the ARC) had continued to sail straight towards us forcing us to drastically alter course with them about 30 feet away. We believe that their entire crew had been asleep (whether deliberately or not we don't know), but thankfully any contact was avoided and having clearly woken up they then altered their course and slipped off into the rain. Crazy though that with an whole ocean to play in they come within spitting distance of us!
The rain eased this afternoon just in time for us to catch a fish - a real treat having not hooked one for most of the week and enjoy crew drinks on deck to celebrate crossing the 2000 mile mark. We now have 900 miles to go and if we can achieve our aim of 6.5 knots an hour for the remainder of the distance will arrive in St Lucia late on Sunday afternoon.
Thanks for all news from home and festive emails - keeps us smiling!
12/08/2012, Atlantic Ocean
Another few days on board and we're all well and truly into the daily routine, so much so that on arrival the temptation to get up every three hours during the night might be too much to resist.
It's been a reasonably relaxed few days but despite the relaxation there are always little jobs to be done and new excitements and challenges.
Provisioning and water are our first key balancing act. At the start of the voyage we divided up all our dried and tinned supplies into three weeks worth of food - helps resist the temptation to eat all our favourite chocolate biscuits at once! Fresh fruit and veg are hung in nets off the stern of the boat. As we approach the end of week two we are now all but out of fresh fruit and veg and our nets hold only a few drying oranges and half a cabbage. Dried & tinned food and frozen meat remain, but as the temperatures rise and the effectiveness of our fridge and freezer decreases, the need to eat it increases. Fresh fish is a true delicacy but, with the exception of a few tiny flying fish that did land on our deck the other night (too small to make a meal of though), we have had no luck catching one since our mini haul a few days ago.
Whilst we carry 120 litres of bottled water, essential to an easier voyage is our water maker - capable of producing around 60 litres an hour we aim to run it for 3 hours a day (it can only run when our on-board generator is also running) meaning that tasks we take for granted at home such as washing our hands or filling up a mug with water are still possible at sea - we even managed a shower on deck (albeit a cold one).
We have now well and truly crossed the half way point and are approaching the 1,000 miles to go mark (1,200 as I write). Our steady progress up to this point though was thwarted as we feared by a trough created by a nearby low pressure area. Having hung on to the wind for longer than we thought we might we were finally forced to switch on the engines at 5PM yesterday and motor through the night. This is allowed by ARC rules though there is a time penalty that we will have to incur for it (equivalent to the number of hours we run the engine for); arriving on time to see friends and family in St. Lucia is a more important goal though. Having picked up a slightly stronger breeze again this morning we are now back under sail and expect the winds to pick up again and swing round in our favour by Monday.
One treat that we were rewarded with whilst under engine last night was the most phenomenal starlit night we've seen since setting sail. The sort of sky that only those who are lucky enough to be many miles from any man made light source are able to see. The stars that we are used to just seeing when at home were as bright as the moon and millions more surrounded them. Phosphorescence surrounded the boat too making it seem like we were surrounded completely by stars.
This morning our biggest sighting for the last week - another ARC yacht, Enya, who we caught during the night. They appeared over the horizon in the early hours and by 11AM we were only half a mile away, close enough to for radio contact and the opportunity to manouvre closer to one another for some photos, snaps to be exchanged once we both arrive in St. Lucia. We had a brief sighting of dolphins too but sadly they were not in a playful mood.
And so we sail on, the 1000 mile marker and return of the wind both feel like major milestones for us all, we can then properly start the countdown to arrival time.
12/07/2012, Atlantic Ocean
Part 2: Christopher Columbus sailed with his brother Bartholmew and created the trade routes we still use to this day. He sailed out from Seville via Cadiz, to take on water, via the Canaries to the New World. After achieving their goal in 1492 they returned to Europe as heroes. They completed this feat a further three times and started the Spanish expansion West. They weren't the first to cross the Atlantic but were made famous because they created the trading routes. Incidently, they passed by St Lucia on one voyage and their navigator came up with this name.
Some eighty odd years later an Englishman from nearby Plymouth rose to fame from being a shipwright to be the first Englishman to circum-navigate the globe. After proving his seamanship in clashes with the Spanish in the Caribbean he commissioned (his patron was a Mr Hatton of Hatton Garden fame whose coat of arms includes a deer - hence the name change) and built his ship, The Pelican, (with his brother's help as designer and shipwright). After receiving papers from QEI, Drake set out with a small fleet of ships commissioned with the task of disrupting the Spanish trade and finding new colonies with which to trade. His success laid the foundations of the British as a force as a sea-faring nation and beginning of our trade throughout the world. The design of the Golden Hinde with it's revolutionary "fighting tops" - sort of enlarged crows-nests on each mast allowed Drake's crew to get the upper-hand when approaching other boats. A few years later, this new design along with poor tactics by the Spanish caused the Armada to be easily repelled and ultimately decimated. Thus providing the opportunity for British to look forward to the start of building trade links and developing the Commonwealth.
By coincidence or was it fate, Lizzie and I moved into London Bankside in October 2009. We had a welcome house party on the replica of the Golden Hinde and my fascination with sailing the Atlantic began. I had a 45 foot sailing boat, a yearning to learn to sail to my limits and a vivid imagination. Surely what heroes could do 4 or 5 centuries before with wood, tar, hemp and basic navigation aids ordinary blokes like me could do with the help of modern materials and satellite navigation. The only constant being the obstacle itself and the weather.
In Drake's day even the cabin boys were hand-picked for their abilities to do all the task need to keep a boat at sea. Rules were enforced rigorously and the men were hard and fearless. My task was easy after I chose a brother to partner me the rest would fall in to place. I have four brothers, Andy the eldest ran away to sea (well the Isle of Man) nearly 50 years ago has become accustom to large ferries and cruise liners and was a non-starter on account that Brenda probably wouldn't let him go. Glynn, number 4 out of 5 had commitments at home bring up his two children who are his pride and joy, would also not make my list. That left Peter; my youngest brother, who has served with distinction in the navy most notably saving Hong Kong from hordes of boat people before taking up life as a security consultant and underwater expert in his spare time and Keith; soon to be retired, never sailed before with a dodgie back and on medication for pain relief. After much thought I chose Keith. After losing his life long partner and soul mate, the lovely Rita, in a tragic accident in Cancun a year or so earlier, I hoped this would provide him with a new purpose and give him a challenge to help heal his loss. Peter would have other life chances and would not begrudge his brother an opportunity like this. Having a brother as part of your team seems to work for my heroes and Keith would do me just fine. The next two picked themselves. My new (to be then) son-in-law Dan, knows a bit about being on water after many years rowing on the Thames and since he works in advertising must be good with communication, right! Neil, my handyman friend, who looks after our home in Portugal and the boat in Vilamoura Marina would install all the new equipment so was an obvious choice also. Though Neil has never owned a boat he has been around them for many years building or replacing parts for others. He too is semi-retired and is always talking about his past exploits I thought this would add to his list and verify his "Moby Dick" stories. We four would make up the bulk of the team of five (80%) and we would find the final person to compliment our skills and fill in any gaps nearer the departure time. NB: Pareto defined the 80:20 rule as common in nature. I often quote these figure and everyone just seems to believe me so this might be a good time for you to check me out and look this up under Pareto Effect.
Our first tasks were to define what we would need to refit the boat and bring it up to date. Then gain any skills or qualifications required to complete the task whilst installing the equipment and gaining extra experience whilst using it. Our target was to have everything ready by mid 2012.
How we progressed and who helped us is covered in my next instalment.
12/05/2012, Atlantic Ocean
Well, the big news from the middle of the Atlantic is that we have caught a fish, three fish in fact - On Monday, just as we were contemplating how to make a dinner from half a dozen potatoes and a tin of green beans we hooked a nice sized dorado. Today we have had even more luck, another dorado and a small tuna so fresh fish again (it really does taste different when it is on your plate only an hour after being caught).
The other sight that we have been treated to over the last 48 hours is that of flying fish - for those that haven't ever seen one of these fish they really do fly, leaping out of the water and skimming a metre or so above the waves, tiny wings flapping - they can travel several hundred metres in the air before having to dive back down under water. We're awaiting the moment when one of them decides that our deck looks like a homely place to visit, they haven't fallen for our disguise yet though!
Other than that life on board remains reasonably relaxed - Gary is writing a history of how we came to do this trip (being posted in chapters on the blog) and often during the day it's a case of getting as much rest as possible so that the 3AM alarm call for your watch isn't too painful.
We nearly had another rudder incident when a particularly strong gust of wind jolted it out of position, a block has now been fixed around it to prevent any more shifting.
The other concern that we have at the moment is that we're going to lose our wind - forecasts suggest that as of Friday we may have a few calm days. To minimize the risk of this happening we're heading further south than we perhaps originally planned as believe that is where the winds will be at their strongest, we have the Parasailor as a good backup we hope too, keep your fingers crossed for wind though.
As we head west the days and nights are warming up and often at the start of the night and before the moon comes out we've had phosphorescence in the waves, glowing brightly as the boat churns up the water.
Many thanks for all your emails, has been brilliant to get them all.
12/05/2012, Atlantic Ocean
We are approaching the mid way point in our journey to cross the Atlantic. I didn't just set out 8 days ago I think it must go back to when I was a child. Those day trips to the seaside with lots of other Working Mens Club coaches racing towards Skegness or Cleethorpes with a lucky bag of goodies and a ten bob note to last the day. Of course we spend the money by lunch time and the rest of the day (after a bread and bun fight in a swanky lunchtime hotel dining room) on the beach looking out to sea. The romance of the sea was brought home to me by shanty songs and thoughts of distant paradise islands.
That dream has turned into a reality for me along with many others. Except we all fly off to paradise now in a few hours by EasyJet. The sense of adventure was missing. As I contemplated retirement and having enjoyed learning to sail dinghies with Lizzie 30+ years before, the thought of buying a yacht came to mind. So in 2009 we bought a boat. Unfortunately this was about the same time that Lizzie was becoming more in demand, as a management guru, and instead of sailing and working on the boat together we entered the world of short weekends and communicating by email. Like ships that pass in the night we seemed to be going in different direction, but after 39 years of marriage we are still very much on the same wave length.
Lizzie is now reaching great heights and after one of her books "5 Ways to Think Like a Leader" reached best selling status at airports around the world, I knew I had to up my own game and set myself some new goals. My golf game has been improving since my buddies and I augmented the GMAC challenge (Gary, Mike, Andreas and Crispin) and working with Troy, General Manager at the Golden Hinde, to help them get charitable status and move to a sustainable business has helped fill a void. Then after the pleasure of working on plans for Alexis and Dan's marriage last year I had the time and resources to surmount a serious challenge of my own. However, we would need to set up and equip a cruising yacht for an ocean crossing and I would need a team who were willing and and possibly foolhardy enough to come along with me.
To be continued...
12/03/2012, Atlantic Ocean
At sea for just under a week now and we've hit our first milestone - 2000 miles to go to St. Lucia.
After the adventures of the first few days we've had a slightly more relaxed weekend and start to the week. Our aim has been to head to a waypoint of 20N, 30W to pick up the southerly trade winds, a slightly longer route distance wise but one that should reward us with more consistent winds and currents. As such and as we are now approaching this point, miles that had been lost to other boats heading due west from Las Palmas are slowly being regained and our distance covered/24 hours is increasing daily.
The big focus for the last 48 hours has been on catching a fish - we've managed to hook two baby dorados but at only a foot or so long each they went back in to grow a little more. Four times we've hooked bigger fish, but each time have lost them on the reel in - one with the line snapping (with a 32KG breaking point it must have been quite a fish).
Beyond our attempts at deep sea fishing we've hoisted the parasailor again but caught up in the wind and halyards it sustained a couple of tears - now repaired and stowed away again we await a calmer day to try again.
All else is well on board and the crew all fine - wildlife and other human contact remains sparse - a reminder of how far we are from everyone, but we were passed by a 130ft yacht early on Monday.
Our plan over the next few days is to head to a new way point of 16N, 40W - Chris Tibbs, our meteorologist on dry ground and member of the ARC team has notified us that a low is developing that will affect winds to the north of this waypoint - best to keep south therefore.
Weather is good on the whole, sunny days and clear nights but with the odd squall or two every day and big swells (5 metres or so) for the last couple of days - it should get steadily warmer as we head further west.
Thanks for all emails so far, they do help fill the hours when we get news from home (even if just with the latest news & sporting results) - do keep sending them to email@example.com
P.s. for those interested the below list out for each day our total miles to St. Lucia, miles covered that day and average speed.
Wednesday 28th Nov 2578.99 miles 70 miles 4.6 knots Thursday 29th Nov 2508.56 miles 119 miles 3.0 knots Friday 30th Nov 2389.81 miles 145 miles 5.0 knots Saturday 1st Dec 2244.76 miles 153 miles 6.3 knots Sunday 2nd Dec 2092.47 miles 160 miles 6.6 knots Monday 3rd Dec 1932.00 miles TBC miles 6.7 knots
11/30/2012, Atlantic Ocean
It's been a tiring, somewhat problematic but good first few days at sea.
Having all found our sea legs we've had various challenges to address.
Firstly, we discovered that we were taking on water into the bilge - approx 12 buckets every few hours and noticeably more than the odd bit of sea spray etc. The hunt around the boat led us to a small leak by the rudder. Shane and Neil have duly patched it up and we seem to now be OK.
Yesterday afternoon we had the Parasailor flying (effectively a large spinnaker but with a vent to help funnel the wind). The boat levels beautifully with it and at about 60 foot high it is quite a sight when hoisted. Getting the Parasailor in again was more of a challenge (especially after it slipped one of its blocks) and required Shane, Neil & Dan all up on the bow, harnessed on and pulling it in - all slightly hairy.
Last night was the calmest we've had so far, other than a little rain and the odd squall or two we had fair sailing made better by the appearance of a pod of dolphins alongside us for 20 mins or so at 1AM.
This morning we almost had a disaster when our rudder slipped, thankfully as we were on autopilot at the time it self locked itself before it had the chance to disconnect completely and we were able to lift it and lock it tightly in place. Having done that it's been a reasonably quiet day today - we've managed to get the water maker running and have made 5 gallons of water. The swell has increased again and as such we are rolling about more than we did yesterday - this makes cooking an interesting challenge and we have already had both part of a chicken curry and spag bol emptied over the galley floor.
Making good progress over all though and now heading more west than south.
Next update soon.
11/28/2012, Atlantic Ocean, 150NM SW of Gran Canaria
Well, we are at sea!
Not a huge amount to say from the first 24 hours so will keep it brief.
We set sail at 11:30AM Tuesday morning, 30 mins later than expected after a final equipment test through up a few battery/electrical problems. Thanks to Jon Crouch (a good man to know in Gran Canaria), we were able to resolve the majority of the issues reasonably quickly.
We sailed out and across the start line into fairly big seas. 5 metre swells and the boat pitching and tossing. This weather has been fairly consistent ever sine with a few bursts of sunshine and a few showers. Despite a bit of sea sickness the crew are settling into their watch patterns and Shane is doing a great job of skippering the boat and making sure little problems (e.g. water in the bilge today) are sorted out.
We've seen a few other boats on the horizon and a big tanker passed us by, no sign of any fish or sea birds yet however.
Our planned course is to head SW to Cape Verde at which point we'll hopefully pick up the trade winds for our journey west.
Thanks for all emails so far, they have been received and will be replied to ASAP.
Thinking of you all at home.
11/25/2012, Las Palmas, Gran Canaria
A final update from Las Palmas before the delayed start on Tuesday - only the second time in 27 years that they've run a second start!
Blog updates will be made on www.sailblogs.com/member/canapesia. These will automatically post to the Atlantic Sail 2012 Facebook page, not our personal pages (keep an eye out for the SailBlogs links). We won't however see any comments so if you want to get in touch (and we'd love to hear from you), do send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org (no attachments though).
If you'd like to track us (position posted every 4 hours) then visit www.worldcruising.com/arc/eventfleetviewer.aspx
See you on the other side!
The Canapesia crew.