March 2015 Logs
Tuesday, March 31st, Prickly Bay, Grenada
Well, for any doubters out there we can now vouch for the proposition that the earth is round. We were bobbing around in this very spot a few short years ago, having arrived from the northwest. Two days ago we arrived from the southeast. So there you have it, proof positive. We don’t complete our circumnavigation till we cross our outbound track somewhere in the Bahamas but we’re definitely now in familiar territory.
Cape Town, South Africa
Our last update found us firmly secured (with many stout lines) to a dock at the Royal Cape Yacht Club in Cape Town, South Africa. Cape Town was a great stop for us. The city is breathtakingly beautiful and lots of fun. Our local friends, Werner & Kristina, outdid themselves in the hospitality department. In the span of a month they took us to all the major local landmarks as well as some of the minor ones. We careened from spot to spot in their trusty convertible, gawking at the amazing scenery. Table Mountain towers above the City. The clouds that tumble off of its summit are mesmerizing to watch. South of the City the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula is striking with its sheer cliffs stretching straight out of the ocean. East of Cape Town the vineyards begin. A fair number of hours can easily be squandered in these neighborhoods. And squander we did. From beach picnics to dinners out, from hiking to city walks we thoroughly enjoyed our visit.
Just when you’re thinking this cruising business is a holiday we do have to mention our project list. With 5,550 miles of sailing to be done before we reached the Caribbean we had to be sure that the boat was fully operational. Cape Town is very much a sailor’s town so parts and services were just minutes away. The ailing shroud was replaced and the rig was tuned, the sails were given an inspection, long desired electronics changes were made by a local electronics guru, the whisker pole was tuned up, the watermaker was serviced, the bottom was cleaned and the zincs changed, chafe guard was added to a variety of lines, the engine was serviced and the list goes on. The chandlery at the Yacht Club was very good and they were able to help with all our needs.
All was not drudgery at the Yacht Club however. On Wednesday nights and weekends the locals went out racing. From our prime viewing area in the cockpit we could watch the boats heading out and back in. That alone was a show. The boat handling skills of these sailors from the home of the “Cape Doctor” (a very frequent howling wind) were very impressive. The joke amongst the cruising boats was that the South Africans didn’t leave the bar until the wind was over thirty knots. That is no doubt untrue but in the month we spent at the club, racing was canceled only once and that was because the wind was over fifty knots. The crews all looked a bit disappointed as they headed back in.
Passage to St Helena
By early February our “to-do” list was as complete as we could make it and our visas were due to expire momentarily. On February 11th we and a cast of thousands (read: about a half dozen) left the Royal Cape Yacht Club headed for either Namibia or St. Helena. The long awaited good weather window had arrived and no one wanted to miss it. We had decided early on that we would skip Namibia so it was towards St. Helena, 1,795 miles away, that we pointed our bow.
The passage from Cape Town to St. Helena is known to be a pleasant one. Once you get out of the clutches of the South African weather patterns and enter the southeast trades the going should be good. And good it was. This was probably our most pleasant passage from a weather perspective. After one day of strong wind as we left Cape Town the wind settled to a lovely 15-18 knots apparent. Of the twelve days to St. Helena we had light wind for only three days and even then it was enough to sail.
The passage did present a few equipment issues however. Early in the passage our main halyard got jammed in the sheave at the top of the mast while we were taking a reef out. This necessitated a trip up the mast for Roger. It’s a job that is never fun while at sea. Unfortunately he was unable to free the halyard and had to tie it out of the way and use the spare halyard instead. Several days later, during his daily rounds Roger discovered that the genoa furling line was chafing. The furling drum had been adjusted while we were in Cape Town and the change took its toll pretty quickly on the line. Roger performed surgery and the line lived to see another day. One night during one of my shifts I heard a thunk. It came from the neighborhood of the wheel and upon inspection I discovered that one of the three hose clamps that fasten the wind vane hub to the wheel had sheared. Naturally the vane was in use at the time. The captain was rousted and the hose clamp was replaced. All was well again, although the vision of the boat sailing along without a wheel for several minutes was rather unsettling. The last glitch involved the main sail. We had it examined and cleaned in Cape Town but apparently they missed a small item, namely the leach line. It had come undone from the top of the sail and was slowly creeping down. Slowly, that is, until Roger tried to tighten it and it started to gather up in his hands. Argh. Take the sail down, haul the sewing machine on deck, re-thread line using a plumbing snake. Stitch. You get the picture. Not fun. Happily that was the last of our equipment episodes.
All in all this was a great passage. Despite the kinks we had a good trip with lovely weather. I read a ton of books. Thank goodness for Kindle. One of the high points of this voyage was crossing back into the western hemisphere. It’s the small things that strike you sometimes.
We arrived at Jamestown, St. Helena on February 23rd, twelve days after leaving Cape Town. Amazingly, our friends on Three Ships were still there and came along with their dinghy to help us tie up to one of the not-so-user-friendly moorings. They were leaving for Ascension the following morning but it was nice to see them ever so briefly.
We spent a week in St. Helena enjoying the company of the friendly locals (“the Saints”) and getting to know the history of this quirky little place. St. Helena is most famous for being the site of Napoleon’s exile. He died here several years after his arrival. St. Helena is also famous amongst yachties for being a stepping stone on the way across the Atlantic. The notorious rollers which occasionally wreak havoc with the tiny waterfront greeted us on the day of our first landing. There is no easy dinghy landing here and most visitors use the ferry service that operates regularly through the new mooring field. You alight from the ferry with the aid of ropes hanging from an arch above the quay. Very interesting indeed.
On our first full day in town we celebrated Roger’s birthday with lunch out. Over the next week we ate out one more time and decided that we preferred to cook on the boat. Happily there was a terrific fish market in town and we ate fresh tuna and wahoo for days on end.
One day we got together with the crews of four other boats and took an island tour with Robert. Robert was all heart and cute as a button. He was a bit difficult to understand at times but he obviously loved his home and, at 79 years old, was still eager to show it off. After a discussion of the wrecks in the harbor we moved on to the local distillery, Napoleon’s house, Napoleon’s tomb (he’s actually back in France now), the much anticipated airport (set to open soonish), Defunct flax mills, you name it, we saw it. St. Helena is a beautiful place. We wonder what the airport will bring.
After a week of touring and girding our loins we were ready to tackle the passage to Grenada
Passage to Grenada
We jokingly call this “The Forgotten Passage”. We (perhaps the royal we) spent ages sweating and stressing about the Indian Ocean and the rounding of South Africa and completely ignored the fact that we had to cross a giant ocean a few months later. We really didn’t leave any energy to stress about the Atlantic and then, suddenly, the passage was staring us in the face. Sure, everyone says the trip up the Atlantic, from South Africa to the Caribbean, is a very pleasant one but still, it’s 5,550 miles with few options for stopping or repairs. Hmmm… should we have been stressing?
It turns out that it would have been wasted stress. The passage from St. Helena to Prickly Bay, Grenada, all 3,770 miles of it, was pretty much a breeze.
We left St. Helena at mid-day on the 2nd of March. The weather was beautiful if a little light on wind. We set the sails wing on wing and ghosted along, happy to be underway. In the evening the moon was approaching full and the seas were pleasant. This lovely state of affairs continued for eleven days and then we reached the ITCZ. The ITCZ is the one hitch in this crossing. If it weren’t for this area of doldrums and squalliness on either side of the equator there would be few complaints about this passage. It took us three and a half days of motoring to cross it and find the northeast trades. Interestingly, in one of the squall-free moments we saw a sailboat appear behind us on the horizon. The odds of meeting another sailboat in the middle of an ocean are extremely slim. After a brief chat on the VHF we discovered it was the Neutrogena entry in a double-handed around the world race. They were headed for the finish line in Barcelona where the race had started ON NEW YEAR’S EVE!!! They said they lost a little time when they had to pull into New Zealand for a day to make a repair. This circumnavigation thing takes some of us longer than others.
Once we were through the ITCZ things improved. The wind, now out of the northeast instead of the southeast, was strong and we moved well. The beautiful clear skies of the early part of the passage never returned completely. At first the squalls continued off and on day and night, and then they became night time events only. They were never very strong or long lasting, just frequent enough that we had to keep well reefed in anticipation. During the entire trip we never saw more than low 30’s in wind speed. No complaints there. Instead there was something new to gripe about. Sargasso weed. I have absolutely nothing against seaweed until it starts to interfere with the operation of our Monitor wind vane. Our tireless self-steering device is led astray by seaweed. It was a sad state of affairs. On some shifts there would be no clearing of the paddle required and on others you might have to clear it twelve times. The clearing involved standing on the stern, popping the paddle up, and then re-engaging it. No simple task in the middle of a squall when you’re moving quite smartly. On one day there was so much weed that we had to use the autopilot instead of the vane. We could hear it slurping down the battery power from several feet away. At one point we were in a “patch” so dense and large that the boat’s forward progress (with the engine on) was almost at a standstill. I’d have to say that the Sargasso “issue” was the most trying of the trip.
People often ask us how we spend 24/7 together in such a small space. Generally we laugh this off, saying it’s not a problem, but I must relate one rather unfortunate inter-personal incident on this passage. Towards the end of the voyage the Captain refused to arise for his midnight to three shift. I believe the phrase was “I’m not getting up.” Forty-five minutes later, when he was upright, the First Mate threatened that in the future she would be doing her wake-up call armed with an ice pick. So, there you have it, a less than romantic confession by this cruising couple. But really, it’s generally not a problem…
On a positive note this passage saw absolutely no equipment failures. During almost a month at sea nothing broke. Shocking really. But in a good way.
In the early morning of the 29th of March we made landfall in Prickly Bay. We released the last bit of Sargasso from the vane and sighed with relief. We were glad that the “Forgotten Passage” was now complete