Crossing the Atlantic
14 December 2012 | From Ilha Do Sal to St. Marteen
Nadire, wind, sun, clouds, rain, and the big ocean
We left our first and only African harbor Sal Island on December 1st, 2012 and started sailing west. The weather was cloudy and cool, wind 20-25 knots from the northeast with gusts of 28 knots. The seas were confused and the boat was rolling much more than in our previous crossings. It became an adventure to cook, eat, go to the toilet, and even to sleep. When our bruises were too many to count, we stopped moving about the boat unless absolutely necessary and started to lie down as much as possible. Keyif was sailing downwind happily with two reefs in the main and half genoa out on the pole. Our boatsped was a steady 7-8 knots and our autopilot was handling it very well. We still had not completely figured the Windpilot out. Double handers we had met told us we had to keep a regular watch schedule, but we were a little lax, we were scanning the horizon once every hour and when the weather was strong, checking the radar and the AIS from the cabin, without bothering to go out into the cockpit. The weather was cool, cold even, cloudy and not very pleasant outside.
We saw our first ship in our first night, as we boarded San Antonio, the last of the Cape Verde Islands. Then we were alone in the ocean for two days, with flying fish and seabirds to accompany us. One night we woke up to the strong smell of fish in the cabin, to find a big flying fish flapping on the cabin floor, caught and threw her back into mother ocean immediately! Just like our sailing friends on the westbound net mentioned, after 4 days of leaving Sal, the sun came up, the wind and the seas moderated, and we began to have the famous trade wind sailing conditions that we had read so much about. Just when we had enjoyed the cockpit for a day, the wind changed again, came from all directions, even straight from the nose, it rained, and rained again, and gave us a confused day with some sail handling. Half way across, trade winds came back, Keyif was happy once more, averaging 7,5 knots of boat speed with her mainsail and genoa. We had a routine by now, in the mornings we would run the engine to feed the hungry batteries that the autopilot, navigation system and radar were draining, and have an espresso in the meantime, then we would drink Turkish tea and have huge breakfasts of Turkish pastries, bacon and eggs, and justifying ourselves that we needed to eat well and be strong just in case we run into some nasty weather! If the seas were not so rough, Selim would play with the Windpilot, trying to tame it, and I would write emails or read. We would each have a siesta every afternoon, and watch a movie after dinner before we went to bed. One of us was supposed to wake up on the hour every hour for the first half and the other the next half of the night. However, as a coincidence the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers had a delayed start from Las Palmas, and were now crossing our path from north to south, so listening to their net on the SSB, we knew there were many boats around us, and we had to be more careful. It was good in a way, we did not feel lonely, but bad, because we saw at least one boat every night, so could not have the restful watches we had planned. Througout the voyage, we saw 4 ships and 6 sailboats, a possible record for such a route. Towards the end, the wind picked up again, as if to say 'you need to see how it can be here in the ocean' and began to blow 30-35 knots from the northeast. Rain followed us, naturally, with confused seas again. Although never as bad as when we first started from Sal, the waves were big, and hit the boat from all sides. Keyif took it all very well under 2nd reef in the main and staysail, surfing at 15-16 (once even 19 !!) knots down the waves, and we, trusting her, and her autopilot, cooked and ate and slept inside, going out only when she needed a reef.
Nadire wanted very much to get weather advice from the famous Herb Hilgenberg on Southbound II, considering it an important part of the ritual of the Atlantic crossing. We did not actually need Herb's advice, since our dear friends Hakan Erim, Mehmet Turel and Yavuz Sarioglu in Turkey and Cristian Couette in France were regularly providing us with excellent up to date weather information and Christian with also advice on which route to take. Herb, who has been providing free weather information for all sailors all over the Atlantic Ocean for more than 20 years is the weather guru of curisers. Talking to Herb had become an obsession with Nadire and she was trying every night. Actually the whole procedure is pretty queer. Every night at 20:00 UTC Herb transmits on a certain frequency. All who wish to speak to him turn their radios on and begin shouting Southbound Twoooo Southbound Twooo at the same time. The frequency is filled with anxious voices calling Herb, as if in a secret prayer ritual, pleeeasee hear us oh Herb... Then if you give him your position, and route, he tells you exactly how the weather will be and what you should do for the next three days. All he wants in return is to learn how thw weather is where you are. He is seriously amazing, and it is an awesome thing he is doing, reassuring to hear his calm relaxed voice in the middle of the ocean. A little bit like palm reading, only much closer to truth. In any case, just three days before landfall, a little less than 500 miles to the finish, Nadire finally got an answer to her Southbound Twoo, this is Keyif, please bless us too, prayers and got to talk to her guru, and Selim could take a deep breath.
Our final two days were spent in the cockpit, under the sun, watching the puffy clouds go by, as Keyif raced west before the ever lessening wind. As the wind died, we contemplated on raising the gennaker, the Parasailor, and finally decided on the steel sails, for the last 20 hours of the trip. Last day out we had a wahoo on the hook for the two of us, and a one meter dorado good for 8, that came to St. Marteen with us for a celebration dinner with the Davidson family.
As we left Sal, we had envisioned a typical trade wind sailing passage with hot weather, moderate winds, sunny skies, to sit in the cockpit and read and write and also watch the starry sky at night, well it did not quite happen that way. However, we cannot complain, we had a very fast, very easy and comfortable passage, for a two person crew we rested well, ate maybe too well, slept well enough, and sometimes too much, had time to think, talk and make plans. The weather was cool, the wind pretty strong, which was a blessing that allowed us to have 170 mile days without and problems of health, breaking gear, or accidents. Thanks to the strong Furuno autopilot we did not touch the wheel for 2300 miles, whatever the boat speed. We crossed the ocean, the truth is, the ocean let us cross, and we loved her. Even though we know this was probably the easiest passage of our lives, we still built a lot of trust in ourselves as sailors and in our boat as well. She is a fast one, likes to go fast. She draws only 1,05 meters of water, has two small rudderblades on starboard and port, a hard chine hull and is wide, when she is slow, she is sluggish between the waves. When she has power, she surfs on top of them. She is also a relatively dry boat even though she has an open and big cockpit. We had water in the cockpit only twice from the Black Sea to here. Of course, there was the time when we left the kitchen hatch open so the captain could breathe as he cooked, and a naughty wave gave him a small shower, but that does not count....
So, 2300 miles, 14 days and 8 hours after hoisting anchor from Sal we anchored in Simpson Bay in St. Marteen, drinking champagne in the cockpit and swaying slightly in the wind. It is a beautiful evening in the Caribbean...