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27: A Directional Challenge
12/23/2011, Atlantic Ocean

At the start of the "Magellan Net" the controller calls for priority traffic. They don't usually expect a reply, so Janie of Tsolo was taken aback when I piped up with the problem of our lost rudder. The response from other crews was encouraging, and the consensus was that we should deploy a drogue astern to steer the boat. Fatty of Wild Card even came up with detailed instructions on ways to improvise one. We were asked to radio in every two hours with an update, in case we needed further help.

Adapting their ideas to suit Egret, we made a drogue incorporating a bridle from the stern mooring cleats, a long warp, a kedge anchor, four fenders and some chain. Also attached to the anchor were two long lines lead to port and starboard through snatch blocks at the mid- ships mooring cleats, then back to cockpit winches. These lines could be adjusted to maintain a straight course, and also, by pulling hard on one or the other, to tack or gybe. The next problem was to get Egret to sail downwind, as sailing boats have a natural tendency to round up into wind. The best she would do with a small headsail set was to sail on a beam reach, but eventually we got her to bear away to about 120 degrees off the wind by setting a staysail to leeward and a small area of genoa hauled out to windward.

The wind and sea state had been building all day making working on deck quite demanding, but we had everything under control by the time we reported in to the evening net. John, of Mary Anne II, announced that they were sailing towards us to assist if required. Exhaustion helped us to sleep tolerably well during our off watches that night, and it was a huge relief to see a sail appear over the horizon early next morning. Mary Anne II stayed in close proximity for the next 48 hours as winds continued unabated at 24 to 30 knots with confused 4m high waves. We had been heading WNW, but the grib files suggested that the weather would be kinder further south, so on the second morning we succeeded, at the third attempt, in gybing and heading off to the SSW. Sweden Yachts are good sea boats and ride well to the seas, our cockpit was almost dry and the motion down below tolerable, so we were content to sit it out and rest until conditions improved. We were more concerned about conditions on Mary Anne II, especially as John had told us that green seas were regularly sweeping her decks and they had to keep changing between sailing and heaving to, to keep down to our speed. Eventually we persuaded him that, as other boats were nearby, it would be safe for them to leave us and continue on their way. We are very grateful to John and Julia for their sacrifice in standing by for so long.

During the morning net, Peter, of Norna, told us that he had sought the advice of "Herb" - the legendary Atlantic weather forecaster - on our behalf, and received the advice that we should head south, a huge relief and confirmation of our tactics. Several boats astern had asked if we needed anything, so we had asked for more diesel, just in case we had to do a lot of motoring later. Firstly Awaroa kindly diverted to pass close by us, then Tsolo, but in both cases we had to abort a transfer due to the conditions. One bit of good news though was that on further examining the steering system we had detected a small amount of "feel" through the wheel. This could only mean that there was still a piece of the rudder intact, which would greatly assist steering once the weather calmed down. By the 6th morning, wind and sea conditions had eased sufficiently for us to set up two small headsails poled out, and, at long last, we were able to point the bows directly at the Caribbean, 1,200 miles away.

12/24/2011 | Hazel and Godfrey
Glad you're still safe. We're watching your progress with fingers crossed. Happy Christmas.
12/26/2011 | John Entwistle
Fantastic improvisation - hope that yo get to celebrate New Year with a Rum or Whisky Mac in Barbados
We are all following your progress
Happy Christmas
12/26/2011 | Roy Burnham

Not a note but a question. I have not read all your blogs but you refer to Megellan Net. Is that 8122 at 0800UTC? I am a friend of Joyce Moon and we both wish you well in completing your voyage to the Caribbean. I am wintering on Ile de Re (Saint Martin) and hope to move south in the spring and across December 2012.
12/26/2011 | Roger Nelson
following the blog with interest..sounds a bit hairy..when you make it to the Cayman islands I'll teach y to kite surf..much safer
12/27/2011 | Dave & Sue Ellis
Just got back from Christmas with Sue's family (and we thought that was a bit challenging). Shocked to hear about your problems but glad to hear that you are making good progress. Bloody well done with the jury steering and hang in there, it can't be far now.
12/28/2011 | Brian Dandridge
Have been tracking your progress every step of the way along with many other members of the Club. Wishing you all the best at this time of the year and look forward to reading that you have made a safe landfall and are able to start effecting proper repairs. Well done in keeping us all informed of your progress. Must have been a "challenging" time.
12/28/2011 | Peter
Well done and good luck for the rest of the leg. We are thinking of you. Peter and Veronica.
12/30/2011 | Dorothy
Oh my goodness! I am SO relieved to hear that you're making good headway now! I'm all a-blubber!! You must be exhausted. So pleased to hear that you have such practical support all around you. Big hugs from us both. Lots of love J&D xx

We are safe and well, and Egret is making steady but slow progress towards the Caribbean. The next instalment will be uploaded shortly, and in the meantime we are posting regular position updates on the map.

12/23/2011 | pam
Greg and I are thinking about you and hoping you are safe and sound.
12/23/2011 | Pam
Greg and I are thinking about you and hoping you are safe and sound
12/26/2011 | Gary
Leaving Lanzarote around 10th Jan hopefully catch up with you in the caribbean. I'll keep a look out for your rudder enroute! Safe landing the otherside. Gary & Denise
26: Atlantic Adventure

Like most dinghy sailors, I used to have fun sailing my boat without a rudder. One could learn a lot about the optimum set of the sails, heel and fore and aft trim in order to keep a straight course as well as to tack and to gybe. Doing it for real in a 39ft. yacht weighing 9 tons in mid Atlantic at night with a force 7 wind and 4m waves was an experience we could have done without.

We departed Mindelo in the Cape Verde Islands at 1500 on Tuesday 6th December. and shot through the acceleration zone between Sao Vicente and Santo Antao in 30 knots of wind, then continued 50 miles south before turning west in order to avoid the islands' huge wind shadow. By midday the next morning we were heading directly towards Barbados, 1,950 nautical miles away, with full main and the cruising chute set under a blue sky with a few puffy clouds; we were in the trade-winds. In the evening, whilst swapping the chute for a poled out genoa, a large pod of dolphins came alongside and started performing some extraordinary antics, leaping vertically out of their water and gyrating on their tail before dropping back in with a big splash.

As usual, we took part in the evening "Magellan Net" over the SSB radio, an informal "sked" hosted by Fatty, an entertaining US yachting writer, whom we'd first met in Lanzarote. Any boat can report their position and talk about the important matters of the day, such as the quantity and size fish caught - the Kiwis being particularly competitive in this field. The morning net is more formal, with a role call of all boats at sea, each giving their position, course, distance to go and wind and sea state. We are in contact with about 25 boats strung out across the Atlantic, with a few arrived in the Caribbean and a dozen still in the Canaries or Cape Verdes. It is very comforting to hear so many friendly voices over the air waves when you're alone in mid ocean.

On the 4th day, with freshening winds, we decided it was time to try our new trade-wind rig. This comprised the genoa poled out on one side and our new, extra wide staysail, hanked onto the inner forestay and poled out the other. I'd approached several sailmakers with the idea of a "downwind staysail" and none had heard of one, but my old friend Dick Batt was keen to have a go and made a beautiful job of making it in blue and white striped storm spinnaker cloth. We were delighted to find that the arrangement worked perfectly, and Egret flew down the rhumb line, rock steady, at about 7 knots. Everything became much quieter and more comfortable down below as well. That evening we celebrated 1,500 miles to go to Barbados.

The joy of surfing down waves under a full moon ended abruptly with a sickening graunching noise from beneath and the flogging of sails above as Egret careered off course. We thought at first that the autopilot had malfunctioned, but we couldn't get her back under control with the wheel so we hurriedly furled the sails and lay a-hull to assess the situation. Our next theory was that the linkage between the rudder shaft and wheel had failed, but when the emergency tiller fitted to the top of the shaft couldn't steer either, we knew the problem was below the waterline. Concerned that the force required to break the rudder could also have damaged the hull, we checked the bilge for water and inspected the area where the shaft penetrates the hull and were relieved to find nothing untoward. By now it was daybreak, so we decided to have breakfast and a rest until 0900, when we would be able to report our predicament to the "Magellan Net".


We are now crossing the Atlantic, and hope to be able to post positions on the map every couple of days. However this will depend on getting a connection over the SSB radio.

We've been struggling with internet access recently, so apologies for erratic text and photo postings and also for any lost e-mails.

I've just uploaded blog 22 which, all being well, will be posted in the correct chronological position.

12/19/2011 | Dorothy
Thinking of you as we decorate our tree with lots of bits of Christmas that you have given us over the years! Hope you're getting a good supply of those cupcakes Patrick!! Guess there's not a lot of time for gin at the moment! Take care, love lots from J&Dxx
25. Preparing for the Atlantic

We raised the anchor in a perfect calm, but as soon as we reached open water off the western end of Sao Nicolau, the wind gusted up to 26 knots from the north-east. The chart warns that some areas around the Cape Verdes are inadequately charted, so we had a moment's panic when we sailed into an area of breaking seas half way across to Sao Vicente. Fearing a shoal, we turned sharply to starboard towards what we hoped would be, and fortunately was, deeper water. It was a relief to be able to bear away a couple of hours later into the straits between the Sao Vicente and Santo Antão. We passed inside Isla Dos Passaros, a high rock, reminiscent of the Fastnet, which has a monumental flight of steps leading to a fort and lighthouse; and headed into Baia de Porto Grande.

We anchored amongst the throng of yachts preparing to cross the Atlantic. First impressions of the harbour weren't the best as we looked around at the semi-derelict ships at anchor or beached along the shore. However the port of Mindelo appeared to be in good shape and was always busy with the comings and goings of merchant ships, inter-island ferries and the occasional cruise ship. There was plenty of space in the anchorage and holding was good - so long as you managed to avoid dropping the anchor on a piece of debris. Dinghies could be left on the beach or, more securely, at the nearby marina for a small fee. The wind howled down from the hills and across the bay almost continuously, although, ultimately, protection is adequate in winds from most directions. More of a problem was the brown dust that blew across from the Sahara Desert, the density varying from day to day. Apart from creating an almost perpetual haze, it settled on all surfaces and worked its way into the strands of the ropes and every crevice, making everything on the boat dirty. The marina berths were almost all full, but it actually looked more uncomfortable there than at anchor, with yachts yanking at their warps and a continuous din of rattling pontoon connections and halyards flapping against metal masts.

Mindelo was developed in the 19th century by the British East India Company as a coaling station for steam-ships. The Royal Mail Steam Packet Company took over in the second half of the century, but after the end of the steam age the fortunes of the island collapsed. Today, the Governor's House - since renamed the Palacio do Povo (People's Palace) - remains as a striking example of Indian influenced architecture, its pink and white facade maintained in an excellent state of repair. There are many other fine buildings in the town which exhibit an intriguing mix of British detailing with a Portuguese flair for colour. Many of the once elegant properties are now sadly succumbing for want of money for maintenance, with collapsed balconies, crumbling render, rotting windows and peeling paintwork. The Portuguese love to erect sculptures in their towns, and Mindelo is no exception. The largest one is of an eagle perched on top of a crudely sculpted pile of rocks, located on a roundabout on the waterfront. A stirring, modernist sculpture representing eager workers is cut out like a stencil through a triangular wall outside dock gates. A lovely statue of a women filling a bucket from a tap stands in a niche under the steps of a church. It is on the edge of a pretty square where groups of people sit on low walls, waiting for something to happen or just chatting to pass the time of day. Perhaps the most historically interesting sculpture is a small but elegant column which commemorates the first flight across the South Atlantic to Brazil in 1922 by the Portuguese aviators Gougo Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral in a British Fairey biplane. Finally, there was a temporary display of models of turtles, sharks and dolphins planted on poles just off the beach - part of a campaign in support of these endangered species.

The focal point for the crews preparing to cross the Atlantic was the floating bar at the marina, where drinks, snacks and the all important wifi were available. We spent quite a bit of time there trying to send out our Christmas messages, with limited success. We met up a couple of times for drinks with New Zealanders Chris and Irene of "Cuttyhunk" on each other's yachts, and had a meal ashore with John and Julia of "Mary Anne II" and Mac and Lynne of "Morwenna". Supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables were readily available from street vendors and the Mercado Municipal. There were also a good baker and a couple of adequate supermarkets. After one week, we were loaded with stores, had done all our checks and were ready to depart. However, the wind was now up in the 20 to 30 knot range, so we remained on tenterhooks for two more days until at last the prognosis looked good to set off on our first big ocean crossing.

12/06/2011 | Pam
By the time you read this message, you should be in Barbados. I hope you had a great journey. It is good to know that you will have the support of other sailors on your trans Atlantic sail. I am enjoying your blog very much.
12/07/2011 | Katja from NUBIA
Hi, Amanda and Patrick,
are you already on Barbados or still on the Cap Verdes? Actually I´n in Germany. Mike´s heading for the Cap Verdes, probably arriving on Saturday. I hope you´re fine.

Best regards Katja from NUBIA
12/08/2011 | Hazel and Godfrey
We're watching your blog. Fingers crossed for your safe arrival in Barbados and a very Happy Christmas when you get there.
24. A Taste of Africa

When the Cape Verde Islands were discovered in the 15th century they were green, but drought, deforestation and the rapacious appetite of goats has rendered many of them almost devoid of vegetation. Portuguese colonists exploited the islands using slave labour from African, and they subsequently became a major hub of the slave trade. Pirates also made their base there, and Francis Drake, pirate by Royal Appointment, called there to take on water during his circumnavigation in 1578, not resisting the opportunity to pillage the stores of an unlucky Portuguese merchant ship. The Cape Verdeans are now a handsome mix of African and Portuguese who gained independence in 1975 and have a democratic government and good level of education.

Our first port of call was the crowded anchorage of Palmeira on the Ilha do Sal (named after its natural resource of salt). As we landed at the quayside small boys rushed to help tie up our dinghy in the hope of receiving a tip, fisherman were landing their catch or mending nets nearby, and all the while local music was being played at full volume from the ever busy bar. Whenever we asked for directions, there would be a cry of "Jennifer!" and the proprietress of a small trinket shop would appear with a beaming smile and lead or direct us in very good English. We bought a CD compilation of the world renowned Cape Verdean music from her shop.

On our second day, we walked inland along a wind-swept, dusty road across a flat, bleak landscape, from which a few extinct volcanic cones protrude into the haze. The capital Espargos is a bustling small town with a presentable mix of old colonial style and modern buildings. Whilst sitting at a pavement cafe, a crocodile of school children in smart uniforms walked past, and there were groups of older students carrying lap-tops and books. After lunch we got a lift back to Palmeira in one of the ubiquitous "Aluguers". A cross between a bus and a taxi, these battered minibuses and utility vehicles take people wherever they want to go and pick up extra passengers along the way. Our driver seemed to know everybody, and we shared with a fruit seller along with his barrow and a well-dressed matronly woman.

We stayed a couple of nights at Palmeira, then moved down the coast to Baie da Mordeira, described as "very beautiful" in the pilot book. In practice it was somewhat bleak, with a beach of coarse sand and stone backed by a litter-strewn dirt track. Nevertheless we got the swim we'd been seeking, and afterwards sat with Peter and Anita from the Dutch boat "Friends" and Wim and Rita from the Belgian "Laissez Faire", whilst their children played nearby.

We set off after supper the next evening and arrived off Porto do Tarrafal on Sao Nicolau the following morning. This proved to be an elegant town with some fine 19th century buildings, a broad tree-lined avenue and wide squares. There were a couple of good modern buildings too, but unfortunately the tourism developers had done there worst, and there wasn't a vista without a stark, unfinished concrete shell despoiling it. We sought out the Delegaceo Maritima and checked in and out at the same time. The charming young officer told us that his father had lived in England whilst fourteen uncles lived in Holland. The terrain inland is dramatically mountainous, rising steeply into the clouds and indented by deep ravines. It would have been good to explore the island further, but we were both suffering from a severe bout of food poisoning so decided to move on from this rather exposed anchorage.

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