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Wild Song
from the UK to the south Atlantic Ocean
Storming along
October 12, 2011, 12:00 am

I'm now getting some of the fastest sailing since leaving Lisbon. The southerly wind is creeping ever more into the south east and so I am just cracked off the wind sailing with the yankee, staysail and one reef in the main and getting consistent speeds well over six knots. Of course, it makes life a bit of balancing act down below because, at times, the sea is quite lumpy. Then we'll have a few hours where we ride gently over it, then a bit of banging and crashing and so it goes on. So, good progress and although I'm not yet halfway to Salvador it feels much closer because this last leg seems certain to go much faster than the first. The days when I rejoiced when the log went over 3 knots seems a lifetime away but I guess it was only three days. Ventilation is a problem. It really does get quite hot and stuffy below decks because there's so much spray flying the all the hatches have to be closed. For survival I have a superb little fan (Caframo) which uses hardly any power and shifts a lot of air and I find I am spending quite a lot of time in my bunk, reading. Two things to look out for: I'm getting quite close the St Peter and St Paul rocks which sit out here in the middle of the Atlantic for no good reason. Certainly not big enough for habitation but big enough to be a damned nuisance for early navigators. And since I'm about a day away from crossing the equator, I must keep an eye out for King Neptune who, I gather, pays a visit to those crossing for the first time, which includes me. People often ask what I do all day: this morning I completely stripped down the lavatory (heads) and replaced the pump and all the valves. So there.

It's all behind me now
October 10, 2011, 12:00 am

I have hesitated for nearly 24 hours before writing this, but I am now confident enough to say that the doldrums are behind me. I got the first hint yesterday afternoon (Sunday) when a sickly, oily flat sea started to ripple to the slightest of southerly breezes. The doldrums have done this to me before: they try to seduce you into thinking they have forgotten all about you, then they turn and bite. Anyway, the wind is now in the south, where it should be, and a gentle force 3/4 which this remarkable boat is responding to with almost 6 knots to windward. This southerly wind, if it obeys the rules, will gradually shift over the next few days as I approach the equator, and it will move into the south east. These will be the proper south east trades which should waft me to Brazil. It has all come as a bit of a shock to the system. This time yesterday I was wed to the wheel, motoring under engine without instruments or autopilot which have all failed, thinking there might be days of this ahead of me. And now the ocean has come alive again, and the boat with it. The doldrums are not a nice place - don't go there. This is better and the air is fresher. Of course, life is now being lived on the slant. This is the first time we have been on the wind since leaving Falmouth and all those grabs which worked well for a downwind roll aren't quite so useful, and new tricks are having to be learned. Still, life is better for being underway so no complaints. It might be bread baking day.

The bread!
October 6, 2011, 12:00 am

That''s it! Game over. I'm not playing any longer. All the bread I bought in Cape Verde has gone mouldy and life without bread is pretty miserable. At the moment I'm cutting off the grey crusts and toasting the inner bits, but the mould is advancing to the core of the loaf before my eyes; and anyway, with the cabin temperature never dipping below 80, even at night, the last thing I need is a nice, hot grill roaring away. So spirits should be low this morning but theyr'e not - we've made fantastic progress this last 24 hours and I sail on with renewed faith that I might actually see Brazil this side of Christmas. I'm 400 miles south of Cape Verde which has, so far, given an average day's run of an uninspiring 77 miles. I had two good days to start with, the NE trades persisting. Then, about eight o'clock one night, things changed. Sheet lighting filled the sky and the wind filled in, never above force 5 but from all directions. Rain fell, though not heavy, and was much appreciated as it got the caked salt from the decks. I took the obligatory outdoor shower while it lasted and it was refreshingly cool.These conditions persisted most of the night and were followed by a day of slopping along at 2/3knots in fluky winds. The next night it rained for several hours followed by a remarkable clearance yesterday morning to blue sky and crystal clear visibily ( I'm assuming because there's no actually anything to focus on). But most remarkable was the change in the sky from a vista of wild, towering, dark cumulonimbus, with sheet lighting at night and Wagnerian in the dusk, to those fluffy, friendly cotton wool balls so characteristic of a trade wind sky. So, I am cautiously daring to wonder if that was my taste of the doldrums and they're now behind me. I have read various accounts: some get through them in 24 hours, others in 5 days. My fingers are tightly crossed. Got caught out in the galley the other night. On an extended passage I generally cook up a feast in the pressure cooker, enough to last two nights. This I did with a bit of salami bought in Mindelo (which tasted like dead dog) and some veg, etc. The first night it was quite tasty, but when I opened it on the second day it had turned to a mass of mould. It would be quite easy to turn rotten yourself, out here. I took it as a warning. Cheese sandwich with the last of the bread for lunch. 550 miles to the equator which, like everyone who has done this passage I plan to cross at 25W. In the end it always seems to be nearer 28. We'll see.

Final thought:I am writing this on my son's old Apple Powerbook G4 and thinking, with gratitude, of the late Steve Jobs.

Heading south
October 2, 2011, 12:00 am

I left Cape Verde, Mindelo, yesterday mid morning and almost 24 hours later I am abeam the southernmost of these little volcanic islands, Ilha Brava. Two thousand miles ahead to Salvador and a somehwat daunting passage through the unpredictable doldrums. But so far it's been a fair wind all the way from Falmouth and if I have to put in a bit of extra work there's nothing to complain about. Cabin temperature is almost 30C just after breakfast and there's just enough spray to keep to port closed, so stuffy below. I have resigned myself to being a heap of blubbery sweat for the next three weeks. I'm sailing due south rather than the 210 course to the tip of Brazil; when the trade winds give out in the next couple of days, there are likely to be southerlies and so I want to make as much easting as I can. At the moment 180 degrees and a very comfortable 6.6 knots with main, yankee and staysail. I got into a bit of trouble with the lightweight genoa yesterday; my stupid fault for winching the luff too tight so the slice got jammed in the spinnaker block. That took nearly two hours to sort - a big headsail I couldn't drop in a rising wind with no refuge for 2,000 miles. It concentrates the mind. Incidentally, while this drama was being played out on the foredeck, the anchor managed to let itself go. Don't ask me how. There's no a bit of a rip near the foot of that useful sail so I'm trying to pluck up the enthusiasm to get out the needles and get to work. I think the fridge might have to go off soon; it is now having to work so hard that it is putting quite a strain on the batteries. No matter, Mindelo had little fresh produce other than fruit or veg. I couldn't find any cheese, ham or salami. The masthead light I thought I'd fixed in Lanzarote is on the blink - ah, the relaxing voyaging life.

Cape Verde - a complete blackout
September 29, 2011, 5:18 pm

I caught my first sight of Cape Verde, St Antione Island, at about five in the afternoon. The sun was low. I expected that shortly after sunset it's lighthouse would confirm its position. But nothing showed. It was soon pitch black(no moon) and still no lighthouse, and this was supposed to have a fifteen mile range. I plodded on in failing stern wind and started to motor, confident of my position due to GPS. Nevertheless, I was unnerved. It was like coming back from Brittant and finding thry'd shut off the Lizard.
The next thing to avoid was a hundred feet high lump of rock right in the middle of the. harbour, Mindelo. This was supposed to have a 15 mile range. That too was not working. It was a calm night, and warm, and so I plodded on with frantic GpS plotting and radar assistance. The Autohelm, which has been troublesome, decidedd to play the game, which helped. Anyway, I found the anchorage, and slept till I could come alongside the marina the following morning.
I first refuelled and then asked the girl if there was any chance of some help into the berth - bows to, stern bouy, and lots of wind blowing. No sooner mentioned than three lads appear, the ten year old takes command of the bow lines, one is waiting on the shore, and the other is zooming in a rib to make ready the stern line. Top class service, for which a tip was given but not expected.
This really is a top class marina in one of the Atlantic's out of the way places. It's safe, it's honest, it's clean and there's all you could wish for. Service always comes with a beaming smile. Some of our UK marinas should come here and see what Kai Brossman, a German, has achieved out of nothing.
For the record, 8 1/2 days from Lanzarote to Mindelo giving an average of 4.8. knots. It felt slower than that.

What spares did you forget?
September 26, 2011, 12:00 am

OK, guess what I left out of the mountain of spares I collected before this trip. On a boat with so many mechanical add-ons the list was considerable. But one thing has been forgotten, and I don't blame myself too much because I have never seen it listed in any of the countless manuals that advise on ocean cruising. I've got all the filters, the glands, the drive belts, the fuses. BUT I HAVEN'T GOT ANY BUTTONS. I have a particular pair of faded navy blue shorts which suit me perfectly. An ideal garment for a time and a place such as this. But the button has popped off and is not be seen anywhere. Doubtless it is travelling the full 4,000 metres which the chart shows to be the distance to the seabed from here. So I am going to have to remove a button from another pair of trousers, and I have decided that the victim will be a pair of long, white trousers which I had reserved for wearing when smartness is required in Brazil. The pilot books warn that immigration and harbour officials will not see you if you are improperly dressed - shorts and T shirt will not do. Nevertheless, I have snipped the button from the back pocket to repair my much loved shorts. If I am deported on arrival, that will be the reason why.

Easy going
September 26, 2011, 12:00 am

I haven't touched a winch handle in three days. Don't let anyone tell you that trade wind sailing is hard work.The wind is in the NE and has been ever since I left Portugal. I am heading a bit west of south so it is nicely on the quarter, but not forward enough to set the mainsail, which would give a bit more speed. So, we roll along between four and five knots; the wind shifts fifteen degrees and I adjust the Monitor vane, then twelve hours later it shifts back again and I repeat the operation. That's it. Still 250 miles to go to Cape Verde and I would have liked to have been in on Wednesday evening (night arrival is tricky because of unmarked wrecks) but it looks more like Thursday morning now. I downloaded a GRIB from Mailasail's excellent weather service which shows fresher winds for tomorrow. No doubt I shall end up arriving just as dusk has fallen and will spend the night hove to. That's usually how cruising works out.

I've dusted off the sextant, by the way. Not only does it provide good intellectual interest, it can take me up to an hour a time to do the arithmetic and so it helps to pass the time. This morning's position line was only fifteen miles away from our GPS position, which was pleasing. Of course, there's always the chance the GPS is wrong. (With grateful thanks to the late Mary Blewitt and the very much alive Tom Cunliffe for their books on this subject which have helped me enormously to remember the practices I first tried over 30 years ago in a dreary evening class somewhere in the City of London). Cabbage for lunch - it's beginning to look tired, as am I.

The first one!
September 24, 2011, 12:00 am

The first flying fish was found on deck this morning. It was a miserable little scrap of a thing; even a hungry cat wouldn't give it a second look. But it's a bit of a milestone- certainly my first. We are now just above 23 North and after a day's hesitation the trade winds are back and blowing warmly from the NE, nothing much above force 4. At last, I've found a downwind rig that suits us. I've tried out the high-cut yankee on a pole, but it is a bit small and we waddle along at 4 knots. I'm no Ellen Macarthur, but that is not enough. This morning, after an idle night, I set our multicoloured furling genoa on a pole. It's probably twice the size of the yankee and over 5 knots is now the average, and gives a nice idle roll to the boat. If I can carry that all the way to the doldrums I'll be happy because it's a nice and easily managed rig. The heat is not yet oppressive. Any deck work leaves your dripping in sweat, but below the breeze feels cool, certainly at night. To someone used to UK cruising, it makes a change not to fear getting out of your bunk in the middle of the night. There has been little wild life. We saw a whale way back off Portugal, but little since: no dolphins or seabirds. I did see a little fish swimming along with the self-steering paddle the other morning- striped, like a tiger. I am now on cabbage alert having discovered some rot this morning. About four to five days to Cape Verde if the wind holds.

South, but slowly
September 23, 2011, 12:00 am

The GPS has just clicked over and it is now just under 600 miles to Cape Verde. At this rate, it's going to be a long slog. We are doing 1.8 knots, and have been for the last eight hours. Very frustrating after some speeds yesterday edging over 7 knots, and in complete comfort. I've dowloaded a GRIB file which tells me it should be blowing 20 knots, and the Navtex agrees, but there's no wind, so there. The calendar is already sitting heavy on my shoulder and I keep doing calculations as to how slowly I can sail and still get the boat to Brazil and be back by early November. I might have to forgoe my stop at Cape Verde, but since it's on the route I'll wait and see before making any decisions. I have been singlehanded since Lanzarote and it took a couple of days to adjust. It wasn't so much their help that I missed, but Ant and Chris' good humour. Although things should be quiet, there's always something to do. There was an intermittent cable of the autopilot this morning, for example, and I fixed that. But the one thing I have found to be a complete waste of time is getting sails up and down like a man gone crazy only to collapse in a heap of sweat having gained less than half a knot. The day before yesterday I had every sail out of the locker in pursuit of the ideal downwind rig, but all the dancing around didn't seem to make much difference. For excitement, a Russian cargo ship passed astern of us last night, bound for somewhere on the African coast. AIS is a most wonderful bit of kit. Without it I would have sworn he was coming straight for us, but the AIS (aisWatchmate- Vespermarine) held doggedly to its view that we would pass clear and so it proved to be. Sails slatting now, wind gone again. Not too hot yet, but very sticky, and cloudy. Bring back the trade winds, soon! Toasted cheese for lunch, I think.

A Word about Lanzarote
September 22, 2011, 12:00 am

And that word is 'odd'. We moored in Puerto Calero, a brash, modern marina where you suspect they care rather more about the food and clothing franchises than they do about the boats. However, although we made a dawn Sunday arrival there was a lad to meet us, give us diesel, drive me to the marina office (otherwise a 15 minute walk along the mole) and be ready to take our lines as we headed into the berth. But it is so often the details that make or break these places: the wifi wasn't working, no one knew where you could buy propane, and I got three different lots of advice on where the get an EU exit stamp on my passport - which I never achieved despite much driving around the island. That all said, it was 22 EU per night, so no real complaints. I cannot see why anyone would choose this place as a holiday destination. It is a volcanic island, arid and free from vegetation. You might as well spend your holiday on an ash tip. The lava fields, which cover thousands of acres are, however, spectacular, making this the ideal place for a geography field trip, but not a holiday. I left midday on Tuesday. The wind wsas very light from the north east but freshened as I cleared the southern tip of the island. I then made my way down the coast of Fuertaventura which I didn't shake off till the following morning. I hadn't watched the course sufficiently in the night and by morning I was pretty close to Gran Canaria, where the wind freshened as it often does on the coastal strip. From there I set a course for Cape Verde - 950 miles. PS You get gas from a filling station some 15 miles from the marina. No propane so I bought butane. Thank God for that box of universal gas fittings I carry.

In Shock
September 19, 2011, 11:45 am

We are reeling after arriving in Puetro Calero from Morocco. After the crazy hubbub of Essaioria were are in a land of polished brass bollards and manhole covers, designer label shops and thirty restaurants in just one marina.This cruising is a crazy business.
By the way, it was a lovely downwind sail all the way. Average speed of 6.4 knots. I'm getting to like this tradewind stuff.

A Perfect Night at Sea
September 16, 2011, 12:00 am

I doubt you could have a better night's sailing than this. We are thirty miles off the Moroccan coast, bound for Lanzarote 200 miles ahead. The wind is fair and mild, blowing gently and wafting us along at a full seven knots, and the sea is flat. There is not a cloud in the sky so every star in the universe is shining down on us, the milky way is as vivid as a shimmering slash across the sky. Before dusk we saw our first whale, a pilot whale the book told us; then dolphins joined us for half an hour of fun. To the east, above the distant and unseen hills of Africa, the moon has just risen. We glide easily through the water with all these things as our companions.

A Perfect Night at Sea
September 16, 2011, 12:00 am

I doubt you could have a better night's sailing than this. We are thirty miles off the Moroccan coast, bound for Lanzarote 200 miles ahead. The wind is fair and mild, blowing gently and wafting us along at a full seven knots, and the sea is flat. There is not a cloud in the sky so every star in the universe is shining down on us, the milky way is little a shimmering slash across the sky. Before dusk we saw our first whale, a pilot whale the book told us; then dolphins joined us for half an hour of fun. To the east, above the distant and unseen hills of Africa, the moon has just risen. We glide easily through the water with all these things as our companions.

Welcome to Morocco
September 15, 2011, 10:36 am

Exactly three days to do 340 miles, so not bad. We are in the busiest, most chaotic harbour you could imagine where men throw freshly caught sharks to each other, and heavily clothed women sit on the harbour wall gutting fish. This is Essaioura, and a friendly spot.Everyone wants a little 'tip' but they're very well mannered about it. At the moment we have a lad who says he is now the boat's guard - fifteen quid for 24 hours, which is expensive when you consider that we have just eaten a salad lunch for little over a quid.
It was an easy passge, mostly; fresh on the first day, dead behind us, and we rattled off the miles under reefed main and poled out yankee. The next two days were much quieter and there was much sail trimming resorting, eventually, to our lightweight genoa which is a lovely sail we hadn't set before. We are very impressed with the light airs performance given that we averaged 115 miles a day over the three days.
There's not much here that you would describe as yachting 'facilities'. The guard says he can get water, but we don't much fancy it. And the public lavatories made us thankful for our own holding tank.
But the food looks terrific, and cheap, and everyone wants to help. No sooner were we alongside than three people offered to take us to immigration, customs etc. All, these admdinstrative visits, some in buildings straight out of the movie, Casablanca, took over an hour, but they were all charming.
We are alongside a vast red ship, size of a tug.The captian says it's the local lifeboat. He asked us if we had any beer. He said his religion didn't allow him any alcohol, unless it was iin a small tin. He was a very happy man when we handed a can over.

Getting south,fast
September 12, 2011, 12:00 am

We spent last night in our final European anchorage just to the east of Cape St Vincent, the headland which we rounded in a spiritied way with a strong following wind and building seas, but in glorious sunshine. Since we have no instruments except the GPS (as previously described), it was Chris' task to swing the lead as we crept into shelter. It worked, after thirty years of being unused!' It didn't even need servicing. The strong wind prevailed through the night, contrary to its usual practice of dying away by midnight leading to a calm morning. So we awoke to a F4 northerly and were underway by nine. It made for a good following wind start and an easy 6.5knots on a course to a Moroccan harbour 350 miles away. The wind was cold, though, and Chris and Ant wore sweaters. It was a perfect day's sail made even better towards the end when the setting sun on the starboard beam was mirrored by the rising moon on the port side. At the time of writing (2300) we are making a very easy 7 knots and the chill air has gone to leave a warm night. If I have one complaint about my crew it is that they did far too much shopping. The foc'sle is like a greengrocer's shop, and Ant bought enough ingredients for lunch to last halfway round the world. Does anybody know any good recipes for this glut of kidney beans I have taken on as cargo? Is there such a thing as a 'good' recipe for the damned things? Incidentally, we are greatly enjoying having no instruments to watch. We gauge the wind by the feel of it on the backs of our necks, and its speed by watching to surface of the sea. If it weren't for the fact that without instruments the autopilot won't function, I'd ditch 'em. When there's wind, the excellent Monitor steers for us, of course. More when we are closer to Morocco.

South again, at last
September 10, 2011, 12:00 am

A perfect night - flat seas, fair wind, stars and a huge moon. It's good to be heading south again. Libby remains at work while, together with Chris and Ant, I head south. As I write, Cape St Vincent is sixty miles ahead and we should be round it by breakfast time, then I have an anchorage in mind before the crossing to Morocco. First few days are always difficult, getting to know the boat again and getting to know each other. All made much easier this time due to the easy going weather. We lost quite a bit of the mast electrics on our way south across Biscay, but thanks to Ant's willingness to climb all are again working. But the instruments keep blowing their fuse and the wiring is so complex I don't know where to start. But, having sailed all day now with no wind speed indicator and such like, I find I don't miss then. We still have the GPS, and a spare, so I'm not too bothered. The only snag is that the autopilot doesn't work so it will be hand steering when under engine. It's now 2100 and the other two are asleep after a hefty beef stew supper. I shall get my head down for six hours starting midnight. Apart from a minor glitch or two, it's been a good start to the secong leg especially as the weather has now cleared from the dull, damp rain that fell on Cascais Marina all morning, prompting a fellow yacht to remark, 'This is just like being in Scotland!" Before coming out I've been reading Edward Allcard's 'Passage Singlehanded', published in 1950. Oh, it was so simpler then. No autopilot, he simply hove to when he wanted a sleep. He wouldn't be wondering where the next Raymarine man was to be found.

If you're coming to this Blog for the First Time
August 27, 2011, 11:23 am

I've been drawing a few people's attention to this blog so I thought I would post a recap of the voyage so far, and what lies ahead.
'Wild Song' left Falmouth UK six weeks ago and Libby and I sailed her to Portugal where she now sits in a Lisbon marina. It wasn't the smoothest of passages, and there were lots of niggles on the way, and we fell short of our planned destination, which was Madeira.
No matter. We shall be on our way again soon and this time I will have two crew: Ant, who is veteran of Ranulph Fiennes' Transglobe Expedition, and Chris who is hugely competent and adventurous sailor. The next leg (fingers crossed) will take us to Cape Verde via Morocco and the Canaries. From Cape Verde I plan be on my own for the 2,000 miles to Brazil, where I hope to be by the beginning of November. The first leg will then be over.
The big plan is to keep heading south almost to Cape Horn and then onwards into the Pacific Ocean.
So, look for updates from 10th September onwards, and thanks for reading so far.

Portugal! What a surprise
July 26, 2011, 7:04 am, Lisbon

Sorry there has been no recent update but the laptop fried itself somewhere in the middle of Biscay and never recovered - and just when I was feeling proud of myself for having configured it to talk to the satphone.
It was a fair crossing of Biscay, but with a rougher sea than seemed reasonable. The wind was mostly in the NW 4/5 so no real complaints. The diesel spillage (a leak from the cabin heater) continued to be troublesome so after a few days, and not being far from Spain, we decided to put in to get it cleaned up, and to top up with fuel. We had a good tip from some OCC friends in Falmouth - Sada is a much more convenient stop than La Corruna and so it proved to be. It's a nice marina in a small town with lots of marine services if you need them, a tidy marina with a good supermarket, and easy access in all weather. We strongly recommend it for a stopover if bound south and don't want the hassle of a big harbour.
The forecast was for wind from the north, or NE, and we rounded Finisterre in fine weather and under engine to make progress. Soon we were under a poled -out yankee and one reef in the main in building seas. Then, things started to 'drop off'. We'd had a diesel leak, and a computer fry, and now all the masthead lights started to die. None of these things are important in themselves but little niggles start to add up to bigger problems. We were getting weather forecast by Navtex from both Spain and Portugal now and although the wind was staying in the northern quarter, they were forecast to increase to 6/7. Then all the instruments failed. Again, I'm quite happy to sail without instruments and we had a battery-powered GPS in case the main GPS failed as well (and there's always the sextant) but we were tired too, and the forecasts seemed to underestimate the wind strengths.
Since Lisbon was only 150 miles and a broad reach away, we decided to make a run for it and get ourselves sorted. We had a wild night in building seas, down to the third reef in the main now and a scrap of yankee. Closing the shore in fading light (with no paper chart but a pilot book and an Imray chart on the ipad) the wind grew stronger and was up to gale force by the time we were south of Cabo Raso, but later discovered this to be a diurnal effect as it seemed to blow strongly ever evening we were there.
Anyway, we are now enjoying life in a Lisbon marina and getting things sorted.
Stay tuned.

A somewhat troubled start
July 10, 2011, 12:00 am, Off Ushant

The first few hours of any long voyage has a tension to them, and in our case it showed. On my way out of Falmouth, I was hooted at by the St Mawes ferry who thought I hadn't seen him (which I hadn't) and then by a dive boat who also thought I hadn't seen him (again, which I hadn't); Which is strange because I was certain my eyes were forward all the time. But the worst discovery was a nasty, dribbling diesel leakage from the Reflexs heater heading in the direction of the best cabin upholstery. There followed the usual ten minutes of bad temper from me, and much patience from Libby. We dropped past the Manacles and anchored off for half an hour off Coverack to sort things out and clean up. It certainly took the shine off departure morning. But the winds was not strong, the sea was flattening all the time, and as I write it is glorious sunny afternoon, a deep blue sea, and a distant glimpse of Ushant this morning, now faded. It takes time to get into a routine and we are working at it. The forecasts are good for Biscay. At the moment the wind is light but filling the sails and driving us along at 3/4 knots. That will. Time for tea, I think.

And another picture
July 8, 2011, 5:43 am

Another taken in St Mawes

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