Raising our flag: Atlantic Rally for Cruisers 2005    
Atlantic Ocean 2005 EUROPE 2005
Depart Puerto Mogan, Gran Canaria 4th December 2005
Detour via Sao Vicente, Cape Verdes 12th December 2005
Arrive Rodney Bay, St Lucia 31st December 2005
Passage duration 27 (long) days
Distance sailed 3000 nautical miles

Day 1: 4th December 2005


After weeks of waiting, today was going to be the day we finally set off. We spent the morning panic purchasing more food and drink, including a case of beer (we needed it after the day we had yesterday) and cast off our lines. Before the Big Event though we had to stop at the dock to fuel up. With only twenty minutes until the dock closed for lunch we were cutting it fine. We made it though and took our time to fill up. Behind us a man in a small, sporty motor boat was huffing and puffing, and shrugging his shoulders in a way only the Spanish know how to, annoyed at us for taking our time. Little did he know that we were not off on some Sunday jaunt, we were about to embark on an ocean crossing. Today was not going to be his day.

We left the harbour at Puerto Mogan and immediately found ourselves sailing along in lovely breezy conditions with the sun beaming down on us. We watched Gran Canaria disappear into the distance and we felt happy and relieved to be on our way at last.

DAY 2-4: 5th - 7th December 2005

The first two days out from Canaries gave us perfect weather. We went at only moderate speeds (4.3 knots) but the seas were calm, the skies clear and the living was easy. Then on Tuesday evening, although the fair winds continued a steep cross sea developed. The boat rolled heavily and at times was thrown sideways. We didn't sleep well and cooking was difficult. The sail emptied and filled again with such force that the boat shuddered, so we repeatedly reconfigured the sail plan attempting to give drive but without the slack that allowed slamming. The shackle holding our cruising chute to the top of the mast failed (had to get it down quickly), our GPS crashed (it's working now but we got out and tested our spare just in case!) and our auto pilot failed (poor wiring now fixed).

The seas have now evened and we are making good progress south to 20N22W to avoid a weather system which is approaching - looks like we will make it in time to avoid the bad stuff. This and our first shower today have boosted moral immeasurably. We report in to a "net" of other boats each day and share weather info and positions. John (Mark's Dad) is also supplying very helpful weather advice. We are now technically in the tropics but it looks and feels more like the English Channel! Flying past Cape Verdes on Tues next week if all goes well and then we will shape our course for the Caribbean.

Sailing off across the ocean

3000 miles of ocean ahead

DAY 5-8: 8th - 11th December 2005

Tomorrow we will arrive in Mindelo on Sao Vicente, Cape Verdes. Our first landfall outside of Europe. Our quest for fair winds has brought us closer to these islands than we ever thought and after eight nights at sea an overnight stop to rest is hard to resist. It's been quite a week. Log entries have been a bit scarce we admit, but by way of explanation we've been busy getting into the swing of things and even busier amassing our tales of the high seas. In our last entry we mentioned some of the problems we had run into on Wednesday - cruising chute halyard block broke, auto pilot etc. The problems unfortunately didn't stop there. On Thursday at dawn we managed to hit a submerged object, we think a whale or shark. It was pretty scary, and while sharks circled the boat, we kept ourselves busy checking all the lockers thoroughly for any damage to the hull. The only visible damage was to the small paddle wheel which sits on the bottom of the boat and tells us our speed - on removing it we found it was bent and unfortunately beyond repair. Seeing as the wind is taking us past the Verdes we feel it wise to stop and inspect the hull underwater before continuing. While there we also plan to fix the cruising chute block as we have to go up the mast. We plan to back at sea in time for the trade winds to kick in on Tuesday.

Friday and Saturday we sailed in lighter winds, using the engine for periods. The weather felt warm and tropical for the first time and we lounged in the cockpit catching some sun. We sailed SW resisting the temptation to turn west toward our destination as we knew a weather system approached to block our path. Today (Sunday) we struggled against light headwinds and the weather was more overcast and looked squally. We also found our first flying fish on deck and had the company of 5 or 6 dolphins for about half an hour as the sun set.

DAY 9-10: 12th - 13th December 2005

The Cape Verdes made for a spectacular landfall. Grey/brown mountains rising sheer from the ocean. No vegetation, just rock and sand. We anchored in the busy but large anchorage in Mindelo on Monday at 1000 near several boats that we have met in previous ports or met virtually over the SSB net. A happy discovery was that checking into the country through customs etc was not required as we did not intend to go ashore. I got into the murky water straight away, nervous of what damage I might find in addition to the bent speed meter. Thorough checking revealed a few black rub marks and an area of flaked paint but nothing more. Much more happy we had a beer and enjoyed the prospect of a few jobs on the boat and the treat of a full night's sleep. The surrounding yachts were extremely friendly and helpful - like good friends even though we had met only briefly or not at all. They took our rubbish ashore and did some shopping for us. We slept for 12 hours uninterrupted and woke feeling fresh and ready.

Departing at 1100 on Tuesday into a fair breeze and much refreshed Nat baked a lemon drizzle cake to celebrate (baking supplies now refreshed by Joan from Growl Tiger). Also Nat made up our bed on the larger bunk on the starboard side surrounded by a "tent" of light fabrics to make for a darker and more separate sleeping area. We emerged from our pit-stop almost alongside Kika and seem set to travel near them for much of the way. After good breeze yesterday the breeze died last night and left us for the first time in the situation common to voyaging sailors over the centuries - the heat, frustration and noise of light winds. The sails crash from side to side making the boat shake and waking you from sleep. The boat moves at only 3 knots and you try not to divide 2200 miles into 3 miles per hour. However the wind has just picked up from the NE and the boat is moving again, the sails are steady and it's bliss! We are now positioned well for the trades when they kick in, which they will soon, and we are looking forward to some glorious trade wind sailing over to the Caribbean.

Arriving in Mindelo, Cape Verdes

       Arriving in the Verdes

DAY 11-12: 14th - 15th December 2005

Now three days out from the Cape Verdes the trade wind continue to evade us and the forecasts suggest we must wait a little longer. We are making steady but slow progress; a mixture of slow motoring (to conserve fuel) and ghosting along under poled out sails. Thankfully the sea has calmed down which reduces the rolling and crashing mentioned earlier and allows us to make the best of what wind there is. Today - 15th Dec - we sailed almost silently downwind at 3 knots with a great spread of sail to catch any small gust and our wind steering gently keeping the boat on track. The heat and gentle rolling make us feel sleepy and we doze on deck under the bimini. Night watches in shorts at last! 1879M to go.

DAY 13-15: 16th - 18th December 2005

The last few days have followed a similar pattern. The winds have been light and, convinced I can squeeze another knot of speed out of the boat, I spent a few hours each morning changing the sail configuration. This serves as a morning workout. Up goes the mainsail, fit preventer, rig genoa pole, decide mainsail should be on other side, gybe mainsail, re-rig pole to other side and on and on. The boat speed remains the same but sails now flap and slam and so I return the sails to their original setting and slump in the cockpit realising my energy would have been better spent hanging the dinghy oars over the side and pulling on them. The rest of the day generally goes well, I read and do some simple maintenance, Nat cooks some fantastic food for us and writes some emails and the evenings are spent chatting to Kika and watching the full moon track across the night sky.

Today (Sun 18th) was a bit different. In the morning I only wasted one hour on the sails rather than the three spent on previous two days (you can't say I don't catch on fast!). Then I was relaxing in the cockpit looking at the increasingly overcast and moody sky when Nat emerged with the first loaf of home made bread. It was delicious. We devoured half immediately with tea and jam, then Nat served the remainder with home made houmous, olives and tomato for lunch. After lunch the wind died down and we began motoring in gentle rain. During the afternoon the engine, which had sounded a little unhappy since Cape Verdes, spluttered a few times then lost power. I suspected the fuel filters were blocked. Luckily I had done this job a number of times before and managed it without pouring hot diesel over the rolling boat. The fine filter was very clogged and I suspect we got bad fuel in Cape Verdes. We felt relieved when the engine burst into life and willingly pushed us onward for the afternoon.

Shortly before nightfall it started to rain harder, and harder. Initially quite fun we started to get a sinking feeling as it became absolutely torrential. This felt like a squall - a small but sometimes violent thundery storm. Sure enough before long the wind turned around to blow in our face and got up to almost gale force bringing a really choppy sea. The boat stopped and just crashed around in this demented sea for a while. Thing were flying everywhere down below. We ran off to the south and after an hour of madness the wind eased and we could carry on. As things settled down and Nat, now tired, went to bed, I checked the Radar for other squalls and to my horror saw a line of violent activity running for 20 miles north-south right across our path. This looked just as bad as the last one and with no way to run south like before. Nat got up, we prepared for the worst and ....nothing happened. The clouds seem to dissolve, or part in front of us, and we passed through with no problem. Nat thinks it's good karma because we saved a flying fish which had landed in the cockpit earlier. So now it will hopefully be a quiet night so that we can get some sleep and a nice breeze so we can speed along before any other squalls can form.

DAY 16-17: 19th - 20th December 2005

The word was out - "area of bad squalls with 50 knots of wind south of 14N, go north to 16N to avoid". We were at 14deg52mins north after slowly working our way south for the last week in search of wind. Not a welcome weather report! But neither would a 50 knot squall be welcome. We dutifully turned the boat northwest on Monday morning. We have often felt that weather reports simply supply us with things to fear. The more weather information we get the more things we have to worry about and run away from. As a result we either sit in port or run around the ocean in a deranged way looking worried. But can we ignore warnings from reputable sources? Can we go to sea without seeking a forecast? These and other questions may be answered in time. In the event the trip north was very pleasant; with the wind on the beam (side) Free Spirit felt comfortable and fast for the first time in a week. Happy, we munched our way through another few kilos of mini chocolate bars; my current favourites are lion bars and twirls (all time favourite is still Picnics but haven't got mini version so not included here), Nat's favourite is Twix although she seems to be moving onto KitKats (I like those and there aren't many so I need to watch this carefully).

Our approach to squalls is very different now. We learn this stuff fast. Unaware we sailed directly into the centre of the first squall wearing smiles and no trousers. Now we watch the sky and radar carefully, keep the boat ready for rough weather and change course to avoid suspicious areas. The one we couldn't avoid found us on Tuesday at dawn well reefed, waterproofed and directing affairs from inside. Nat specialises in lightning strike preparation. Any flicker of light in the atmosphere within 100miles sends her racing down below and encasing important electronic equipment in the pressure cooker or oven (this is supposed to protect it from the high voltages if we did get hit). I fear it is only a matter of time before we get baked handheld radio or a GPS stew. As if to signify this increased level of seamanship my beard has come of age although I suspect I look more like a religious figure born around this time than any great mariner I can recall. After the squall on Tuesday morning the wind filled in properly for the first time since Cape Verdes and we have had 15-20 knots from northeast ever since, (closer to 20-25 on Wednesday morning). Free Spirit has come alive racing through the waves and the tow generator is giving us enough power to run the boat with care without using the engine to charge the batteries. Our new and successful sail configuration keeps the boat balanced and allows us to easily increase the sail area from the cockpit. We are running double reefed mainsail and poled out staysail on the downwind side and poled out genoa on the windward side. We are sailing on a broad reach around 130deg to the wind.

Fresh food on the boat has been masterminded by Nat and is lasting well. This is our 17th morning at sea from the Canaries and we are still eating fresh fruit salad for breakfast.

Boat speed for 24hrs to 0700 this morning was 5.3 knots average, with 1273 miles to go.











The bearded man

The bearded sailor

DAY 18-24: 21st - 27th December 2005

Very pleased with the arrival of our, long awaited, trade winds on 20th Dec we pressed on as fast as we could, making the most of the breeze. On the 22nd December we passed halfway between Cape Verdes and St. Lucia with “only” 1074M to go. Free Spirit made great progress and we enjoyed eating up 130 miles each day. However, with this wind came larger waves and our new pace sent Free Spirit surfing down the front of them, sometimes reaching speeds in excess of 8 knots (our average is 5!) It was wild and exhilarating. Moving around the boat though became exhausting and sleep difficult. We had now moved our sleeping quarters to the port side bunk in the saloon, using the lee cloth to ensure we didn't fall out. Now some weeks out of the Canaries - and with that full night's sleep in Cape Verdes a dim memory - we started to feel tired. Really tired.

Although during the day we often had either clear skies or limited cloud, as the evening approached large banks of dark threatening cloud appeared around us making the night very dark and holding the threat of squalls again. Mixed with our fatigue these unfriendly nights made the night watches a source of dread, especially for Nat. These days, 21st-24th were the worst of the trip and we had to dig our heels in and get through it. Nat worked valiantly to make wholesome food for us throughout and I took over as much of the night watch as I could.

Then on Christmas Day the nights started to clear to reveal a canopy of stars once more. Night watches became pleasant once more and this raised our spirits. Also on Christmas Day we had a special "SSB concert" with Nick and Ellen on Kika (now 100 miles in front). This was very funny and festive!

The waves became very large around this time. Large but long so not dangerous. It was fascinating to look behind the boat watching the tow generator rope running horizontally out of the water across the chasm between waves to plunge into the steep face of the next wave like a tightrope between hills. Then as this wall of water got closer and began to tower above us the boat would rise up and we would find ourselves safely on the top. With Christmas behind us we began to think of our landfall and our wish to make it on New Year's Eve. The seas dropped again on the 27th and we set more sail again and pressed on, determined to make it in 2005.

Tired but happy mid Atlantic

Tired but happy mid Atlantic



Taken by Charlie mid Atlantic

  Large seas mid Atlantic

DAY 25-27: 28th - 30th December 2005

Although the weather forecast was excellent on 28th we started to enter yet another area of disturbed weather. The wind became more changeable requiring much more attention to the sails. Dawn on 29th found us in a "jungle" of squalls. These heavy clouds with torrential rain and strong winds surrounded us. The radar showed us the worst of these and we managed to dodge a couple but they had us cornered. Watching the curtain of warm rain and strong wind racing across the sea toward us we prepared the boat, sealed ourselves inside and watched the strange moonscape of rain flattened waves through the windows. The weather steadily improved throughout the day and sunbathing in the cockpit resumed. It was hot. We had settled trades by the evening which continued through today (30th Dec) giving wonderful sailing conditions. This allowed us to spend the afternoon checking the boat over and preparing for our arrival. In the evening we sat under stars eating veggie spag bol with red wine and feeling very pleased with ourselves; our Caribbean landfall was imminent.

Squally weather chasing us

Another squall ahead

DAY 28: 31st December 2005

It is 0800UT and 0400 local time. We are 10M north of St Lucia. It's still dark and we are sailing slowly to time our final approach with the first daylight. ETA the marina approx 0730. Our welcoming committee Margaret and Rodger arrived yesterday afternoon so we are looking forward to seeing them very soon. Happy New Year to you all and I think we are up for a celebration later :-) Bring on the rum!




Arrived 0730 local time (1130ut) on New Years Eve at Rodney Bay on St Lucia. Met Nat's parents - Margaret and Rodger - and proceeded to celebrate our arrival and New Year. Saw New Year from their balcony high above Rodney Bay.

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