The race against the clock

We are less than 24h out from Grenada and the squalls have taken their toll on our sleep and bid for a strong position in the rally. It’s really a hassle with unpredictable squalls that are far more frequent at night than at day (when you can also add the visual impression to your guess/analysis of which ones are likely to bring too strong winds). Let’s say that we’ve practiced and refined our reefing techniques quite well and that the bed rest has been short for many of us.

We’ve had fairly strong winds for a few days and Wednesday night was rough with some squalls that brought winds of 18-20 m/s. We had taken a second and a third reef in the mainsail so we would be just fine in tailwinds up to 20+ m/s. By the end of the night though the base wind died and was down to 5-6 m/s in between the squalls, which made us move frustratingly slow. Hanna was just about to bring some more hands up on deck to take out a reef when another squall line approached. It brought a wind shift from 5 to 20 m/s in 2 min, with heavy rain – so Hanna got company anyways as we all woke up, but we decided to keep the three reefs until the morning.

Now the winds have calmed down considerably. We’ve given up on a strong position but we are still chasing every little gust of wind and now struggling to make it into St George’s before 14:00 tomorrow. That’s when the immigration office closes and without clearance we don’t think we will be allowed to step off the boat until Sunday morning… Given that, we just had to run the parasailor last night even though it meant reefing and hoisting at least once an hour when another squall approached. We are likely to opt for the same setup tonight. The kids are not so fond of the late afternoon arrival and are coming up with all sorts of creative ideas on how to get the boat to go faster 🙂

We’ve just enjoyed the last sunset on foredeck for this crossing and milestone of the adventure. Dance stop with water hose showers to the beats of the Tortuga song. We’re almost in the Caribbean, 130 NM to go – tomorrow we’ll have rum punch and champagne!

Celebrations and squalls

Night watch day 13 (Wednesday morning)

Distance sailed from Las Palmas: 2510 NM
Distance sailed from Cape Verde: 1710 NM
Distance to Grenada: 490 NM
Fish caught: 1

Picking up at Friday’s catch of fish we had Mahi mahi (guldmakrill) for dinner! We probably all agree that the catch, landing and cleaning were more fascinating than the dinner itself, but still, we caught a fish! And we entered the weekend with a sundowner and snacks on foredeck knowing that the day after we would pass the halfway mark.
We celebrated 1100nm to go with a chocolate cake with canned strawberries and ice cream, followed up by a nice sirloin steak for dinner!

As we get further west the Atlantic crossing is expected to bring more of squalls, small isolated rain and wind cells. They build up quite quickly behind us on the radar and we spent the day on Saturday trying to learn how to read how they move and judge how close we can be and still avoid the strong winds. As we are flying the parasailor we are quite cautious about not pushing the limit as it gets really hard to wrestle down the sail in 12+ m/s. All this resulted in frequent sail changes and not much rest for the crew, especially since Hanna has been down with migraine for three days (she’s back on her feet again) and we wish to be three people on reefing the sail in those conditions. We however managed to celebrate the first advent with gingerbread and blue cheese.

We have had stronger winds the last days (9-11m/s) which has given us good speed during the days but typically the winds have picked up just a little too much or a squall showed up which have forced us to fly only a reefed mainsail at night, which slows us down considerably making us move up and down like a yo-yo in the standings. But a trade off we had to make to allow the reduced crew some night rest and have energy left to entertain the kids during the days. They have been a bit more frustrated and bored the last days. It is also getting really hot which takes energy out of us all. Hence, the kids were happy when we said they were allowed to sit on the sugarscoops, tied in properly with harnesses, and have the breaking waves shower over their legs and cool them down.

Another highlight during the last days was sighting a whale swimming only 50-100 m away from the boat! Another bucket to tick off! We had seen a pilot whale before, which is more like a large dolphin, but this was a “real whale” of perhaps 15m that was blowing out air as it swam by us! Apart from a huge pod of dolphins one of the first days and the flying fish that jump along all the way we have seen much fewer sea animals than we had expected really. Surprised perhaps that there have been birds flying all the way.

Even with our slow nights we think we are still in the race for a good position amongst the multihulls (with the corrected times for yacht handicaps not visible in the YB races app) so we are really trying to make good speed. We have started calculating our expected arrival time, which most likely will be at some point on Saturday. We were really hoping to fly the parasailor throughout this night but then a squall showed up and the wind average surpassed the limit we had put up so here we are on a reefed main again.

It’s a bit of mixed feelings that we are now down to 1/4 and less than 100h to go. On one hand we are all looking forward to make landfall and the following celebrations, swims, fresh vegs etc. but at the same time it’s a unique bubble being out here on the vast Atlantic, a once (or first ;-)) in a lifetime experience that we make sure to appreciate throughout the highs and lows that the days bring.

Cinnamon rolls

Distance sailed from La Rochelle: 3339 NM
Distance sailed from Cape Verde: 912 NM
Distance to Grenada: 1304 NM
Fish caught: 0

The half moon lights up the night so that there’s contrast between sea and sky, which is nice although it takes away some of the wonder of the stars. We’re quite happy with our rotating watch schedule where we split the night in 2,5h watches (the first one in the evening is 3,5h). With the light winds we’ve had during this passage we haven’t had any sail changes that required extra hands on deck at night yet.

Wednesday lunch the wind decreased to 2-3m/s which is not enough to fill the sail and also competition wise it pays off to use the engines which we did for a couple of hours. But before that we ticked off another bucket list item and had a swim in the calm sea!

Since Wednesday evening we’re sailing again and making decent speed towards Grenada, hopefully the wind will increase yet a few knots the coming days. We have the ARC-catamaran Navillus right behind us on the same course, keeping us on our toes with trimming and we are happy with how well Tortuga performs. The updates of the standings of the whole fleet every 4h is a highlight and we are fiddling with the correction factors in an excel sheet which tells us we’re doing quite OK.

Otherwise the days pass by. We had one failed attempt with cinnamon roll dough in the bread machine, but yesterday Harriet and Hanna made the dough manually filling the boat with delicious smells of fresh baked rolls! We e-mail with friends back home, manage some laundry, make bread and yoghurt, fixed a leaking pipe, make Christmas drawings, play some guitar and got an Atlantic quiz sent from one of our Norwegian buddy boats.

We’ve passed 1/3 and have started planning for our halfway party! Hopefully with some nice winds the second half will be faster! Still no fish… Arggh!

Take care!

Pilot whales and entangled birds

Distance sailed: 640 NM
Distance to Grenada: 1560 NM
Fish caught: 0 (WTF!?)

Monday gave us decent winds around 7-9m/s and we averaged 6,5-7kn, still with calm seas. Yesterday the wind died down to 4-6m/s again making Tortuga roll slowly forwards in 4-5kn with the parasailor. At least for the time being we have decided to sail as long as we do more than ~3,5kn.
Quite a few boats in the fleet have opted for heading far south to catch more wind, however, according to the forecast the difference is not more than 1-2m/s so our analysis is that it won’t make sense for us to add that extra distance, especially since we sail well in dead downwind. It’s a lottery really. Hopefully the trade winds will kick in on Thursday or Friday to boost the speed again. We’ve completed 1/4 of the distance and with the same average speed the passage would take us 17 days, we’re hoping for a bit less.

The temperature rises steadily. We don’t have an air thermometer but it’s humid and warm and with little wind to cool us down we stay in the shade of the cockpit. We charge the batteries a short while every evening (I.e. turning the engines on in neutral) which allows us to run the AC for a couple of hours during the night.

The water temperature is 28,5 degrees, we are really longing to take a dip. It probably would’ve been possible yesterday for the adults, but not really for the kids without taking down the sails so we decided to wait. But we definitely will take a swim at some point during the crossing! If we catch fish we will need to slow down the boat so now we’re even more eager to succeed in that! Catch fish and celebrate with a swim!!
On that topic the frustration is growing… we’ve tried all different tactics and lures but still we only manage to get birds tangled in the line…

Everyone is happy onboard! We do a lot of schooling, playing games, listening to audiobooks, trimming sails and fishing rods, cooking. The highlight of yesterday was a pilot whale that came by to say hi! The low was discovering that a lot of our fruit and vegetables are already going bad even though we’ve followed all the advice on how to store them to last long. So, we’re enjoying what we have whilst it’s still fresh and nice but there probably won’t be a lot of fresh stuff left the last week, We’re putting our hope in apples, cabbage and tomatoes.

So the days go by although we’re all a bit confused about time. We are crossing 4 time zones during the passage and have set all clocks to Grenada time. Then we have a daily schedule for watches and meals that move 15min every day to optimise the use of daylight as we travel west. By the time we arrive we will be back to normal times but today we’ll have breakfast at 5 am and dinner at 3.30 pm 🙂

Routing strategy uncertain

We’re progressing, but slowly, in very light winds today after a nice first day’s sail yesterday.

The start of our second leg from Mindelo went much better than that of our first from Las Palmas where we had technical problems that delayed us.

The weather systems are out of balance (in case anyone hadn’t noticed). There are a couple of low pressure systems north of the direct ARC+ route from Mindelo, Cape Verde, to George Town, Grenada, resulting in very light winds en direct route. Our original plan was to go south to 12 degrees north and then head west but having done the math we’ve changed our minds and are going to go slightly closer to the direct route for now as it is a 150-200 NM shorter route with only slightly weaker winds. But it’s very difficult to judge so our routing strategy remains very uncertain.

We’re all well and enjoying our experience although Kajsa has been feeling a bit off for a few days but is better now.

We’re going to do as much home schooling as possible during the crossing so that the kids can enjoy time off in the Caribbean once we get there. Other than that, the children are busy playing games and drawing/painting pictures. The adults are trying to get some rest in between watches.

The fishing lines are out and we’re hoping for more luck than we’ve had so far.

Please keep your fingers and toes crossed for fair winds, calm seas and lots of fish!

Squid, Kajsas birthday and only 200 NM to go

I’ve (Nicholas) just sat myself down for the first time during my night shift after fighting a big squid on one of our rods. I’m really surprised by how strong it was and the very different behaviour it had compared to other fish. Hanna wasn’t too impressed though, so it went back into the sea once I managed to get the hook out. We’ll share photos once we get WiFi.

We’ve had very relaxed sailing for a day or two now and only have 200 NM to go. The wind has been giving us 8-16 knots, the sun has been shining and the sea temperature has reached 26 degrees. We will hopefully make landfall in Mindelo, Cape Verde, some time around lunch on Saturday.

Tomorrow Friday 12 November is Kajsa’s birthday and we’re all gearing up for celebration onboard! If you want to get a birthday message to Kajsa, her father Per-Arne and our common neighbour at Berglärkan Malin know how to reach us at sea.
Kajsa will be up in 15 minutes to take over after my shift so I need to log off to practice my singing now…

Parasailing down waves at 16.8 knots

Update day 3 (after 56h at sea)
Distance sailed from Las Palmas: 390 NM
Distance to Mindelo: 490 NM
Fish caught: 0 (!)

In the morning after the first night the fleet had spread out considerably and we found ourselves in the second half. The winds were still quite strong during the day (14-18m/s N) but we flew the parasailor in a stable manner and caught up with many of the boats ahead of us.

Wobbly sea state but only Liv and Hanna were a little sea sick. We were happy to have prepared a lot of food so we could serve a nice pulled pork for dinner.

Entering the second night the forecast indicated moderate winds and we decided to leave the Parasailor up. However around 22pm the wind was climbing upwards and all four adults were called on deck to help taking the sail down. It’s not preferred to do at night as it requires 1 or 2 crew on foredeck, but it went smoothly. The rest of the night we sailed with two reefs in the main to avoid having to make another sail change during the night. We are following the same schedule as our last crossing with 2,5h watches from 22-08.

Now the sea has begun to calm down just as the winds (10m/s) so we are cruising at around 7kn flying the parasailor and everyone is starting to settle in into the passage rythm. We can see 6-7 other boats on the AIS-plotter and some of them visually on the horizon. Sea sickness starting to fade away for everyone and we are moving away from the “resting phase” into games, cooking, reading and schooling.

Unfortunately a large wind hole seems to be spreading out ahead of us the coming days so we’ll have to see what speeds we can make. At some point we might have to turn the engines on. It is allowed but giving us some punishment in the competition (lower factors in calm winds than if you run the engine in stronger winds).

Going into the third night we’re planning on leaving the Parasailor up again. This time we hope to keep it up all night.

First night at sea off Western Sahara

Everyone is asleep except me (Nicholas). Watch keeping at night can be good time for reflection.

As you might have seen on our Instagram account @sailing.tortuga, we only just made it to the starting line due to last minute technical problems. The wind vane just stopped working this morning and had to be changed. Thanks to Juan Carlos and his team at Rolnautic in Las Palmas we made it! It would have been absolutely unbearable for us if we had missed the start of the rally after so much work and preparation.

Many thanks also to Hanna’s and Kajsa’s parents as well as the Samuelsson’s from Berglärkan for all the support and wonderful company during the past week!

It’s a little windy tonight for my taste but our Tortuga and her crew of all ages are managing well. We’ve got 28-38 knots (14-19 m/s) of wind and 2-4 meter waves coming from behind. We’re doing 6-12 knots and perhaps 7 knots on average depending on how we surf down waves. We’ve got a conservative sail setting and are maximising comfort over speed.

Extra comfort and pleasure is sailing with 76 other ARC+ boats. Their lights on the horizon all around and voices that come up on the radio to check how things are going make all the difference.

The night sky is clear. It’s fascinating how the stars become much more visible to the naked eye with no light pollution nearby. The first time I saw it I was blown away. Beautiful!

We’re so thankful to be on our way to Cape Verde!

Only one week to go – Atlantic Rally for Cruisers!

Preparations are well under way in Las Palmas for our Atlantic crossing via Cape Verde. The start is at 12:45 on Sunday 7th November outside Las Palmas and we expect to make landfall in Mindelo, Cape Verde, between 12-14 November. The rally restarts from Mindelo on Friday 19 November and we expect to make landfall in Grenada between 1-6 December.

We’ve been doing our best to keep friends and family up to date via our Instagram account @sailing.tortuga but will start using this channel more for our Atlantic crossing as satellite data is expensive and Instagram is data hungry.

Stay tuned!