On 1st April 2019 Sam, Olivier and I left Mindelo to start our Atlantic crossing. We estimated the 2178 NM journey would take us 20 days. As we waved goodbye to land, the huge task we were taking on started to dawn on us.
For the first four days we sailed on a broad reach, where the wind was coming from a North Easterly direction, placing it at roughly 130 degrees to the boat. This meant we had both the genoa and main sail out on a starboard tack. Predominately steady winds of 10-20 knots meant we made good progress. However the swell was also coming from the North East meaning we were not sailing with the waves but instead had them hitting side on to the boat, making it a fairly unpleasant ride.
The first few nights were incredible as we had a waning moon so there was hardly any light pollution from it. The star displays and phosphorescence along the side of the boat were absolutely breathtaking. Sam and Olivier were lucky enough to experience a phosphorescence display given off by dolphins as they zipped around the boat during their watches. This is something very few people will ever experience in the purest form as we did. However, during the night watches in particular we would experience squalls. These are short bursts of high wind and rain which are hard to detect in the dark. This rather ruins the tranquility of the night, but they weren’t anything to worry about too much as we were always prepared for them.
We had the fishing line out for most of the journey, initially with a large lure and three smaller ones attached. However we obviously hooked a huge fish on day three which after struggling on the line for a while bit through our line and took with it two of the four lures that were out. At this point we decided to change lures and started using Stella, the name we affectionately gave to our squid lure. She worked an absolute dream and on day four we caught our first Mahi Mahi. The boys did well to get it on board and filet it, before Sam cooked it beautifully for our first meal since we left Mindelo that had any form of meat or fish. One evening as Olivier was pulling in the line after an unsuccessful day of fishing something bit. He reeled it in and got it on board for us all to see. It was the strangest of fish, it was long and thin, almost eel like and had some huge gnashers. We swiftly returned that fish to the sea.
By day five the wind had come round further to the East and we were able to adjust our sail plan accordingly. We poled out the genoa and started goose winging almost dead down wind. Now we were going with the waves and therefore had a more comfy ride. When squalls came through and the wind would pick up we would reef the sails and hand steer if necessary. Before and after these squalls sometimes the wind would die off completely or come from a strange direction which would require one of us to be on the helm, however other than this Marvin steered exceptionally well for the bulk of the crossing. If a wind shift took place we would just have to head slightly further north or south to remain sailing dead down wind as this was the sail plan we were on. Sam was able to receive some weather reports from his father and also download weather files through our satellite phone. This allowed us to have an idea as to whether there was going to be a sustained wind shift and we would need to change the sails or not. Fortunately we were lucky and rarely had to make any drastic sail changes.
Throughout the crossing we spent most of the days reading books, discussing various topics, playing scrabble or card games and thinking about food. The further though the crossing we progressed the better the weather got and the more hours a day we were able to enjoy sunbathing, much to my delight. During the nights we wore our full oilys (weatherproof gear), mainly due to the damp in the cockpit and partially due to needing to keep warm. For the boys however as the journey went on, they required less clothing at night to keep them warm.
The middle section of the crossing was certainly the most testing in terms of the weather we experienced. Firstly the days were overcast and occasionally rainy which dampened our spirits. But the much more testing part of the weather was the conveyor belt of squalls we were hit with during the nights. One evening Sam counted 12 squalls come through. This means that the rest of the crew are unable to get much rest, whilst the person on watch gets drenched and has to hand steer.
Keeping produce fresh was quite the challenge on the crossing. The fruit and veg we had brought from Mindelo was not of a particularly high quality. This meant that a lot of it started to turn mouldy within the first few days. We had the majority of fruit and veg hung up in nets in the saloon as this was what fellow sailors had suggested. On most of the other boats we saw they had their fruit nets hanging at the back of the boat, yet this was not an option for us so we did our best by rigging up a net in the saloon. We quickly realised that the fruit and veg wasn’t going to last and therefore we moved it all into the fridge. After playing some fridge jenga I managed to get it all to fit and daily thereafter I would rotate the produce and check for what was the least healthy looking. This would then form the basis of the discussion as to what would be made for our next meal.
Meal times was something that we all looked forward too, as well as something we all had to agree upon. This was tricky at times, however it was interesting to hear everyones different ideas and at times to experiment with food that we were not used too. During the journey we made a host of different meals – we made pizzas on ready made bases, fish tacos with a tomato salsa and cabbage slaw, breaded fish cakes with leaks in soy sauce, baked camembert with bread and carrot sticks, meat and cheese platter with fresh bread, chorizo stew, almond and apple cake and veggie burritos. By day 15 we had to start delving into the cupboard full of tins which were not particularly delicious but filling food nonetheless. We managed exceptionally well to get though three quarters of the voyage without having to use tins and we ate very well considering we were in the middle of an ocean.
On day ten, I celebrated my birthday. I was fortunate to have some cards from home, a video made by my girly friends and a present from Sam to enjoy opening/watching on the day. Olivier also made me a cake and the boys had candles and sang me happy birthday which was very sweet (if a bit out of tune). I had a great day, and certainly a memorable birthday. This was incidentally also our half way point. We enjoyed a bottle of cava as a double celebration and of course we toasted Neptune for keeping us safe and hoping he would continue to do so. We also wrote a message in the bottle and flung it over board in the hope it makes it somewhere and we hear from the recipient (unlikely of course).
Throughout the crossing we passed through multiple time zones, in total a 4 hour time change. Instead of trying to work out when we had passed into a new time zone we decided to change the clocks accordingly to keep the sun rise and set at roughly 7am and 7pm respectively. On three days we changed the clocks back at 12 noon, which meant that the days dragged even longer. We decided that upon arrival we could deal with a 1 hour time difference fairly easily and this was a far better option than to elongate the days. We didn’t just time watch, there was also the mile counter that we could monitor and clock off the miles on. However, we tried exceptionally hard to avoid looking and having one daily check where we would work out the 24 hour mileage covered. This tended to make us feel much happier as we covered over 100 NM everyday of the voyage.
We were lucky enough to have a satellite phone which we loaded with minutes. This allowed us to send and receive emails from family. Checking our emails was an event on board, we checked them every other day and getting updates from home was like a little piece of gold dust. What is usually mundane information that people would not share with one another became the only touch on ‘real life’ that we had. It was exciting to be able to tell people about what we had been up too as well as updating Farkwar (a website that plotted our position each day during the voyage – https://farkwar.com/boats/north-star)
We were extremely lucky that our voyage went relatively smoothly with nothing too major breaking. With the sails in one position for days on end you are inevitably going to get some chaffing. The main sail had a small section that needed to be patched up half way through the voyage due to it rubbing on the inner forestay. With the genoa poled out for the majority of the voyage we had both an aft and fore guy to keep it in place and prevent it rubbing on the forestays. This guy chaffed through two thirds of the way through the voyage. However it was a simple fix of re rigging the pole with a new rope. The ever testing Marvin chaffed through his lines a couple of times. However we certainly can’t complain as between the three of us we only hand steered for about 9 hours during the whole 18 day voyage. Early on we had an issue with one of the hobs of our new oven and then on day 16 the whole glass front door of our oven exploded across the saloon. Fortunately it was made with safety glass and no one was hurt.
On 19th April 2019, Sam, Olivier and I rounded the northern tip of St Lucia and entered Rodney Bay where we anchored up and had a bottle of champagne to celebrate completing our Atlantic crossing. We are all filled with immense pride in what we have achieved, and are hugely grateful for the opportunity of a lifetime. It’s certainly not an experience I am ever going to forget. For now it is onto exploring the Caribbean, relaxing, soaking up the sun and enjoying some rum punch.
The video with the highlights of our crossing is on YouTube – https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=PKUCstU7a_E