Friday, December 30, 2005

We`ve arrived

At about 0400 boat time I noticed a faint smudge of light dead ahead - the telltale sign of civilisation. It was a welcome sight. The rest of my watch passed pretty quickly with the excitement of seeing landfall. We had one of the best night`s sailing with a strong NE wind and at times we seemed to be racing toward the land.

We dropped sails at about 1000 and motored in to Le Marin. It`s beautiful. They say you can smell the land and I THINK I did - it smelt of mammals (but that could have been Nick!) Seeing Kika at anchor she looks none the worse for wear, but she has acquired an alarming number of molluscs on her bottom!

Final entry before landfall

Unless disaster strikes we will be in Martinique around noon local time tomorrow (Friday 30th).

At 14.30 (ship's time, Thurs) we celebrated less than 100miles to go with the remains of the chocolate which Ellen managed to save from my cooking experiments.

At 14.45 (ship's time, Thurs) we switched from our small scale "North Atlantic Western Part" chart to our larger scale "Caribbean Sea" chart. Martinique has expanded from the size of a cherry stone to the size of a cherry tomato. The small scale chart covers Brazil to Greenland and we've been painstakingly plotting our progress across the Atlantic on it. It also bares witness to a couple of meals which launched themselves from the galley onto the chart table. Early tomorrow we'll switch to our "Southern Martinique" chart.

Celebrations aside it's been a hard fought last 120 miles. It's as though some malevolent force is testing our resolve. "Let's drop the wind and see what they do. Ha Ha! Great! They've just put up full sail. Let's send in a squall and make it quick so they don't have time to react. They got through that one now let's change wind direction. They've gybed so let's change it back! What? Full sails again? Send in another squall! Cooking? How about some nasty cross-swell to send the boat rolling ..." and so on. I decided the only way to deal with the worst of the weather was to welcome the approach of the black rain bearing squall clouds as the chance for a good shower. Although I think even for me two showers a day is probably adequate - four is excessive and with six I'm in danger of dissolving/becoming clean [Ellen's note].

The timing of our landfall is perfect; we're down to our last kitchen roll. Conditions on Kika would have started to deteriorate rapidly without this essential piece of equipment.

Position at 16.20 UTC: 14deg 19'N, 59deg 04'W
Daily distance run: 98nm; cumulative distance: 2860:
Engine hours: 0
Distance to go: ~ 108nm
Conditions: N/NE/E/SE 6-35 knots,
moderate/rough sea, 1011 millibars

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Slow progress in light winds

My early morning watch was quite hectic yesterday, involving some bread baking, a radio call and a squall all at the same time. The squall began almost without warning, and conditions soon made it difficult to reef the sails. Poor Nick was in a deep sleep and had to be roused for assistance. Not a nice wakeup call. The squall meant I neglected my dough and this may have had something to do with it not rising sufficiently. As a result, our breakfast loaf was quite 'dense' but delicious nonetheless.

The winds gradually tailed off yesterday, and we both got sick of Kika wallowing in the waves so we decided some serious sail faff was in order. Firstly we took the main down (it's been up for so long that most of the sail ties had been appropriated for other jobs and we had to have a hunt round for them) and tried with the 2 genoas but the pole-less one kept collapsing, so we decided to drop them both, and re-hoist our small genoa only on the furling gear. This worked ok but we weren't getting much speed and we both knew what these light winds really called for ......the cruising chute! So we hoisted that and sailed beautifully for about 6 hours until my watch time was hailed by another squall. Again, this picked up very quickly and sent the chute out of control. We managed to drop it in the nick of time but only with both of us using all our strength.

Other notable events of yesterday include my hat blowing off in a gust of wind (and although man/hat overboard drill quickly ensued, we could only watch as it sank to an irretrievable depth) and my first shark sighting. It wasn't a particularly large shark but it still felt menacing. It slipped out of sight very quickly and soundlessly, not at all like a dolphin which likes you to know it's there and is unmistakable by it's breathing.

So, it looks like we should make landfall on Friday noonish. We're hoping to arrive in daylight as the entry is quite tricky. The buoyage system is different from Europe in that as you enter an estuary, the green are to port and red are to starboard (at home, you have the reversed buoys on your way OUT of the estuary which makes sense as you have just set off on your journey and are probably more alert than if you've been crossing an ocean for a month!) What a nightmare!

Our decorations are looking pretty sad. The balloons are a bit deflated and the paper chains keep coming unstuck. The blutak can't cope with the rolling!

Position at 15.50 UTC: 15deg 06'N, 57deg 25'W
Daily distance run: 125nm; cumulative distance: 2762:
Engine hours: 0
Distance to go: ~ 206nm
Conditions: NE 6-10 knots, moderate sea, 1011 millibars

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Light winds

The wind has been steadily dropping through the day. We're still making steady progress at 4-5 knots, but compared to the wind we've had over the last week, it feels like we're becalmed. Fortunately the seas have moderated as well, so the wind doesn't get knocked out of the sails too often, but even so from time to time the rig slams in a nerve edging way in the swell. It's satisfying to be sailing under full sails again, I think it's the first time we've run all day without reefing since we were becalmed off the Cape Verde Islands.

We saw our second ship in 24hours today. It's a major event after a week of unbroken sea on the horizon. We were a little worried as the sea-me which detects ships radar wasn't picking anything up, so we called the boat up with, "BIG SHIP, BIG SHIP this is the sailing vessel Kika, Kika OVER". Amazingly he responded. We asked how we showed up on his radar and he told us to "standby while I switch it on"! Slightly worrying. He'd come from Trinidad and was bound for Poland. We must be getting close to the Caribbean then.

We put the clock back another hour, so we're now on UTC-3. The radio nets stay at the same time UTC, so start earlier for us. It takes a few days to get used to the new relative time for everything and we need to loose another hour to be insync with Caribbean time.

With the calmer conditions we thought that we'd have more luck fishing, but the line was out at first light and brought back in at dusk, without a single bite.

I've taken the floor up again to continue my creak eradication programme. I've tackled most of the creaks which sound like a canon ball splitting timbers, but with the decreased noise level a new set of creaks have been revealed. I guess in the heat/humidity panels have expanded causing the creaking.

Position at 15.30 UTC: 14deg 47'N, 55deg 23'W
Daily distance run: 145nm; cumulative distance: 2637:
Engine hours: 0
Distance to go: ~ 319nm
Conditions: NE 10-15 knots, moderate sea, 1012 millibars

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Boxing Day less than 500 miles to go

We are rapidly approaching 3 weeks at sea, and the time has really flown by. Once again, we have had good winds for the last 24 hours and we are currently running with 2 reefs in the mainsail and 2 genoas. We're doing a good 6 knots but it's a big, sloppy sea out there, and we're rolling around somewhat. Nick spent some time today taking up some of Kika's floor as the panels tend to creak quite loudly when we roll, and they can seriously impede sleep! Fortunately, we seem to have silenced all other irritating noises for now. The big seas make it a challenge to keep on the correct course. I hand-helmed for a couple of hours the other day, and afterwards it really felt like I'd done a major workout. George the wind-vane is struggling to keep a direct course in these conditions too, and, more worryingly, the bolts securing him to the stern seem to work loose periodically. Regular checks are necessary as to loose George would be a disaster. We find it astonishing that we have seen so few vessels, particularly since the Cape Verdes. I saw one ship a long way off last night and that was the first in over a week!

We are getting very excited about making landfall, and looking at the forecast, the winds are set to continue so we should be there for New Year! The boats that we have got to know on our twice daily radio check-ins are heading to a variety of Caribbean islands but we're hoping there will be one or two whose names are familiar to us in Martinique. There is a strong sense of camaraderie within the group, even though we have actually never met most of the people involved.

It's been a beautiful sunny day out here on the Atlantic, and there's been a good breeze to keep us from sweltering. We've been trying to catch a fish for 2 days now without success. We are assuming that in conditions like these, the fish are well below the disturbed surface, and our lure just doesn't reach deep enough. Our fresh provisions are getting very thin on the ground, although the eggs have lasted well. Pedro the ham has been a great success especially since he seems to get tastier with every carving session. Breakfast this morning was melon and Pedro. Delicious!

Cooking while underway is a major operation. NOTHING can be left out of cupboards for long or else it'll soon be flying across the galley and the heat and smells involved are guaranteed to bring on latent sea-sickness! It is also imperative that you hold on to something constantly otherwise it's you who's thrown across the galley as happened to me on Christmas eve. I've got a couple of fantastic bruises and I shan't be doing that again.

Position at 16.05 UTC: 14deg 51'N, 52deg 51'W
Daily distance run: 143nm; cumulative distance: 2492:
Engine hours: 0
Distance to go: ~ 470nm
Conditions: NE 20-25 knots, moderate/rough sea, 1012 millibars

Monday, December 26, 2005

Christmas day in the Atlantic

The forecast promised easing conditions today and we were looking forward to a slower, but steadier Christmas day. In fact it was one of the windiest days so far with a sustained 25knots of wind, gusting to 30+knots. We reduced sail accordingly, three reefs in the main and a small genoa peeking out from the furls. Even with this much reduced sail we shot along at 6+knots.

The plan was to catch a fish for Christmas lunch. At first light the line was out. Our line has had 100% success to date; deployed twice and caught two fish, even though we've only landed one. I'm blaming the conditions for our lack of success today; the seas were big and our speed meant the lure skimmed along the surface most of the time. By mid-day we admitted defeat and moved to plan B - frankfurter stew. Red wine in the sauce helped make the stew surprisingly tasty. Making it was a different matter with lids and ingredients escaping from what I supposed were secure resting places and hurling themselves across the boat.

After lunch conditions moderated, to the extent that we shook out the reefs and ran under full sail, making around 5.5knots.

Then at 18.00 utc Radio Kika took to the airwaves, with a slight delay while we frantically searched for Ellen's mouth organ. It had lodged itself in an inaccessible corner under the chart table. The airwaves buzzed with festive spirit as Free Spirit treated us to a nautical twelve days of Christmas and we responded with Jingle Bells on the mouth-organ, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer on trumpet and a special nautical version of "We Three Kings".

With the calm conditions we treated ourselves to a Christmas DVD. The wine must have added to the feeling of unreality as we flipped between watching the animated movie and watch keeping across the vastness of the Atlantic.

VB: thanks for the Christmas cake it went down a treat.

The wind increased as the sun-set and we're currently hurtling along with double reefed main and much reduced head-sail. The good news is that the latest forecast indicates the trade winds are set to stay for the next few days so we might just make Martinique for New Year.

We recorded our best daily run of 155miles today. It's exciting to sit on the foredeck, feel the power in the sails and listen to the roaring of the bow wave especially as we surf down one of the larger waves.

For those that are struggling with the yesterday's joke, try this:

Why does Father Christmas have 3 gardens? Hoe, Hoe, Hoe!

Merry Christmas.

Position at 15.20 UTC: 14deg 52'N, 50deg 20'W
Daily distance run: 155nm; cumulative distance: 2349:
Engine hours: 0
Distance to go: ~ 613nm
Conditions: NE 20-25 knots, moderate/rough sea, 1013 millibars

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Eve

We had gusty winds throughout early Saturday morning, and this involved quite a lot of sail faffing throughout my watch. It also meant that Nick was up and down during his off-watch, so I managed to give him an extra hour and a half in bed. The sea was pretty big with a wave height of 3 metres at times. This could have been due to the fact that we went over a sea mount yesterday - literally a mountain under the sea which causes rougher conditions. The depth dropped from 3000 metres to 500 metres. So the day was spent as most days are, watching, cooking (Nick baked some really nice bread) and listening to some cheesy christmas tunes. Later on in the day, my christmas eve treat came in the form of a cockpit shower and during this we saw 2 Tropic Birds - exotic looking specimens with long, white pointed tail feathers. They were skwawking at each other and making such a racket.

For a while now, the wind has been consistently good in terms of direction and speed for us, but is forecast to reduce tomorrow and pick up again on Monday/Tuesday. It feels like we're eating up the miles and the boat literally seems to be loving the adventure!

Thought you might like to hear an outline of our Christmas Day. It will go like this: 8am wake Nick, make cuppa, open prezzies. 0900 check in and listen to festive Christmas morning net. 0930 Ellen goes to sleep, Nick embarks on dinner (catching fish). 1300 Ellen gets up and helps with the dinner preparations - peeling potatoes, opening the tin of peas etc. Open a bottle of wine. 1500 Eat dinner & finish off with delicious cake! Practise performance. 1800 Perform Christmas medley to Free Spirit. Rest of evening to be spent playing with new toys from Father Christmas and keeping a watch!
Harmonica Practice
Harmonica Practice
Lastly, a question for you all. Why does Father Christmas have 3 gardens? Ho, Ho, Ho!

Merry Christmas

Position at 15.10 UTC: 15deg 01'N, 47deg 45'W
Daily distance run: 140nm; cumulative distance: 2194:
Engine hours: 0
Distance to go: ~ 773nm
Conditions: NE 15-20 knots, moderate/rough sea, 1014 millibars

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Less than a 1000 miles to go

As I write this entry, its a starry cloudless night and Kika is speeding her way west at 6.5 knots. At present the moon rises around midnight, so on nights like tonight I get to see a myriad of stars; on overcast nights, the darkness is so complete my eyes get tired trying to penetrate the night. The sea-me is quiet tonight, indicating there aren't any boats with radar out there, so I just need to worry about rowers, other yachts and ships without radar.

The wind eased off in the early hours of yesterday night, leaving the sails slamming in the swell (just as I was trying to sleep). It picked up again before dawn so Ellen could sleep and has stayed with us ever since.

We haven't touched the sails today, other than some chafe prevention - a tea-towel tied on the guard rail where the genoa sheet crosses. We've been sailing along comfortably at 5 - 7 knots. The sail configuration feels well balanced, so we're leaving well alone. We're accepting that we'll steer off our compass course as the wind changes direction in squalls. The deviation will only be brief, for once the squall passes, the wind vane will steer us back on track.

The decision of the day was whether to shake out our single reef in the main or continue under the first reef. I was about to take the reef out when we were hit by a brief squall. The decision was taken out of my hands; the reef stayed in.

A tour around the deck this morning produced two flying fish which had been out of the water for too long to revive. I'm sure the sound of one of them flapping on deck penetrated my sleep and I imagined parts of the rig about to collapse.

We mourned the loss of one of our solar showers today. We'd recently refilled it in the torrential rain of a few days ago and were looking forward to using it. We thought it was snugly stowed under the spray hood, but I think must have escaped during one of the more violet rolls in the night. Our water monitor, Ellen, thinks we can spare enough water for a Christmas eve shower and I could certainly do with one.

Kika's starting to show signs of the impending festivities in the saloon. We have two paper chains, an attempt at tinsel around the mast support (silver foil), two mouse balloons (a purchasing error - they have ears and when hung upside down look a little like udders.)

The chart shows some sea-mounts which we'll have to negotiation tomorrow. The charted depth changes from 2500m to 500m and 650m over the mounts, which can produce a choppy sea. On the trip to the Canaries we steered clear of some sea mounts we'd noticed, but Freespirit maintained their course and suffered from a bumpy night as they sailed over them. Based on that experience I think we'll try to avoid the mounts.

In preparation for Christmas I came up with the inspired idea of taking some of our canned fruit and covering them in chocolate. We both thought it was so good that we didn't need to save the unmelted pre-bought chocolates for Christmas day and decided to eat them before they too melted. I tested the idea today with a can of pineapple slices and a packet of diary milk. After slaving away in a hot roller coaster of a galley I duly produced chocolate covered canned pineapples and Ellen's verdict - "I like pineapple and I like chocolate, but I think the two should be kept separate", I wonder if Jamie Oliver suffered from such a critical taster when he was starting out. Undeterred I'm going to try coating the fruit cocktail can's contents tomorrow and perhaps presoak the fruit in some some alcohol for added festive flavour.

We've been rehearsing some Christmas entertainment, for "Radio Kika" - broadcasting to selected boats on Christmas day.

We heard on the radio net this morning that Iolanthe finally left Santa Cruz today for La Gomera. They were unluckily on a pontoon that collapsed in tropical storm Delta. They ended up sandwiched between the quay and all the other boats, as one by one the finger pontoons gave way and the wind pushed them onto Iolanthe. Since then they've been repairing the damage; their wind vane steering was bent out of recognition, their hull suffered from delamination and I think they had problems with their rig. Even with all this damage to put right Don still spared the time to advise us on our broken gate valve. We feel very lucky we picked a pontoon that more or less stayed together and happy that Iolanthe is finally able to set-off.

The forecast is good until Sunday, when there'll start to be a gradual decrease in the strength of the trade wind. It's too early to say if we'll still make a pre-New Year arrival in the Caribbean.

We've been discussing options for Christmas dinner. One option is dependant on us catching another fish. Reports abound of delicious fish meals on the radio net so we remain optimistic. Since we caught our dolphin fish we've learnt that they are also known as Mahi-Mahi and Dorado. Failing fish we might have to resort to some dish based around soya mince.

Position at 15.45 UTC: 15deg 16'N, 45deg 16'W
Daily distance run: 140nm; cumulative distance: 2054:
Engine hours: 0
Distance to go: ~ 913nm
Conditions: NE 15-20 knots, moderate/rough sea, 1014 millibars

Friday, December 23, 2005

Best day's run so far

Despite the squalls and big waves, the last 24 hours have been quite exciting. We are getting close to passing the 1000 miles to go mark and every day more boats from our net are arriving in the Caribbean. AND, it's Christmas! We spent some time decorating the saloon today with paper chains made from old magazines. They look great! I shall never spend good money on paper chain kits again! Kika is still speeding along and the engine remains surplus to requirements at the moment. The towing generator is proving very efficient, along with the solar panel, so we don't even need to run the engine to recharge the batteries.

Tomorrow is going to be quite busy. We have to rehearse our Christmas performance for our friends on Free Spirit (and anyone else who cares to listen) and we are going to have a clamp down on squeaks and knocks. Every day, something new seems to be rolling around the cupboards - it's almost like all the tins and jars are taking it in turn to be very annoying. Often, you find the smallest thing can make the most irritating noise, such as an empty plastic egg box or books in the bookshelf. Curiously, both Nick and I have given up sleeping in the stern. He sleeps in the saloon and strangely, I find it most comfortable in the bow!

Another day with no sign of any other vessels, and not much wildlife either, just the odd flying fish. It's been lovely and sunny though so we're not complaining.

Position at 15.10 UTC: 15deg 20'N, 42deg 48'W
Daily distance run: 147nm; cumulative distance: 1914:
Engine hours: 0
Distance to go: ~ 1053nm

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Trade wind sailing

It's been an exhilarating and wild day's sailing under clear skies. The trade winds have reestablished themselves and we're well within them. The sea is still lumpy, but the wind has been consistent 18-25 knots and we've been making a good 6+knots under double reefed main and reefed twin head sails. It's great to be making good progress under sail again.

We crossed the 40deg west line today at 10am (ships time). Ed and Ellen who we met in Santa Cruz and shared much of their hard-won experience with us, gave us a leaving present with strict instructions not to open it until we'd crossed 40deg W. It's a DVD of their first sailing trip - over 20 years ago - we watched the first few sections in which they meet, build their boat, sail to the Bahamas and are just about to set for the Virgin Islands. It's a great present and we plan to watch the rest when we're at anchor in Martinique.
Ed & Ellen in Tenerife
Ed & Ellen in Tenerife

I've been keeping busy fixing odds and ends. One of the jobs on the never ending to-do list was to solve the intermittent problems with the wind instrument. The torrential rain over the last few days seems to have finally killed it - the inside face is covered with condensation making the dial barely readable. I've been putting off looking into the problem as I was concerned that the mast-head cable from the wind-dial might have been damaged when the inner forestay was fitted. Replacing the
cable would be time-consuming and difficult. Also we'd been content to use the mast-head wind indicator. Unfortunately the bimini now obscures our view of the mast-head so the ostrich approach to problem solving couldn't be sustained. Fortunately Kika's inventory included a spare wind instrument. It turned out the fault lay with the instrument and not with the cabling. It was straight-forward to swap the two. We have a working wind instrument once again - just hope the skies remain clear to give
the sealant a chance to cure.

While I was fiddling with wind instrument wiring I heared a buzzing sound which I hadn't registered before. New noises worry me. I want to find out what's making them otherwise I lie awake at night imagining any number of horrors. Normally I discover that the sound of the mast fracturing is in-fact a loose cabbage crashing around in a locker. This time I imagined the electronic autopilot's mptor spinning furiously out of control, which would be strange as the wind-vane steers us. Instead the noise turned out to be the buzz of the wind/water generator's dump resistors. The buzzing sound is a little like the fizzing you hear from high-voltage power-lines on a rainy day. It turned out that the batteries were approaching full charge and the regulator was diverting battery charging current to the dump resistors. We've had the water generator out for a few days and it looks as though it's managed to fully recharge the batteries. This means given decent winds there is no need to run the engine simply to recharge.

We've been having difficulty sending email. It turns out for some frequencies the mail software isn't tuning the transmission frequency correctly. We have a work around of using a more limited set of frequencies we know work and we'll wait until Martinique to download the latest software. In the meantime if we carefully choose the time and station we have no problem connecting.

At 37.5W we passed into another time-zone (utc-3), but we're still acclimatising to our previous change so will probably keep our current ship's time until after Christmas.

Tomorrow we plan to put up Christmas decorations in earnest, although first we'll have to make them out of silver foil and coloured paper - just like being back at school....

Position at 14.40 UTC: 15deg 26'N, 40deg 13'W
Daily distance run: 135nm; cumulative distance: 1767:
Engine hours: 0
Distance to go: ~ 1200nm
Conditions: NE 15-20 knots, rough sea, 1012 millibars

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Squally days

Monday night began calm and Ellen was looking forward to a quiet watch, before long however Nick was woken by the violet motion of the boat and got up to find Ellen struggling to reduce sail.

The majority of the day was overcast and wet, with the skies clearing later in the afternoon, the squally conditions left a large lumpy sea.

Highlight of the day was Nick's scrumptious Shepherds Pie. Soya mince marinated in the remains of yesterday's red wine with a drop of Lea and Perins. Nothing from starboard locker insight.

11.45 utc Nick notes: The skies are now clear and the moon has yet to rise; the only light is from the 1000s of stars. We're making good progress at around 5.5 knots, on a lumpy sea, giving a slightly wild exhilarating ride; its great to hear the roar of Kika's bow wave making determined westerly progress. I've just spent an hour re-jigging the foresail rig; our new extendable pole snapped. No harm done and now it's clear that the pole was undersized for the job. Our single pole is holding out the windward genoa with the leeward genoa now unsupported. It appears to be working well, if anything the sails have a better shape then when they were both poled-out.

Position at 14.40 UTC: 15deg 36'N, 37deg 57'W
Daily distance run: 121nm; cumulative distance: 1632:
Engine hours: 0
Distance to go: ~ 1331nm
Conditions: NE 15 knots, rough sea, 1012 millibars

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Half way point reached

At 10.00utc Monday we passed our half way point, 1476 nautical miles to go and distance covered 1479 nautical miles. We celebrated by opening a box of chocolates we'd bought for Christmas and bottle of wine. Unfortunately half the box had melted, which we ate trying to guess the chocolate from the constituent parts. We're saving the unmelted portion for Christmas, which no doubt they will have melted by then. Before we left, we decided that we wouldn't touch our wine and beer stash on the way across - its hard enough making your way across the rolling deck to the mast to reef the main when sober. A couple of glasses of wine therefore had a more powerful effect then usual and trips out of the cockpit were tackled with great caution.

Sunday/Monday night we must have sailed through a shoal of flying fish as the deck was littered with bodies in the morning. You hear flapping periodically but they tend to slip under things and can prove difficult to find on a dark night. Winds were fairly light from midnight onwards and at times the sails were flogging in the swell.

During the Monday/Tuesday evening the winds increased to around 15-20knots with gusts up-to 30-35knots. It feels as though we might have finally found the trades, although with the wind direction varying from the N through to E and the strength varying, a large proportion of the day and night have been spent altering course and changing or reefing and unreefing sails. At one stage during a squall in the night we were making 9.5knots, before we managed to reduce sail and bring Kika back under control.

Up until now we've been sending emails via a station in Belgium. However as we move W it becomes harder to get a good connection with Belgium and we've been experimenting with stations in Nova Scotia (Canada), Florida and Panama. The end result is that it takes us longer to find a station and frequency that works. I'm sure the propagation will improve the further W we head.

Position at 14.20 UTC(local noon):15deg 29 N 35deg 51 W
Daily distance run: 105nm; cumulative distance: 1511:
Engine hours: 5
Distance to go: ~ 1453nm
Conditions: NE 15 knots, moderate sea, 1011 millibars

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Washing in the rain

Since we arrived at the latitude of the Cape Verdes we've had blue skies with a blazing hot sun. However, yesterday and today we've had some significant cloud cover which came as a welcome break from the relentless heat of the past week. With a limited supply of fresh water on Kika, we've been rationing the showers. So rather than dreading the ominous black cloud we noticed heading our way this afternoon, we were looking forward to a refreshing shower. We reefed the main in anticipation of
some strong squally winds.

Initially the wind died, while the rain arrived in abundance. We showered and felt wonderfully clean - properly clean for the first time since leaving Tenerife. Then we plugged up the deck drains and laundered our washing, giving them a final rinse in the reservoir of water which had filled the reefed main. We then filled-up the solar showers. Then the wind arrived, but from the West, building a short uncomfortably choppy sea. We decided to hove-to, (a method for riding out adverse weather) and sheltered from the rain down-below - the temperature was more reminiscent of an English channel crossing in April than tropical sailing. It was as though we'd decided to pause our trip for a few hours to listen to the clattering of the rain and howling of the wind while we were snug in the saloon. Eventually the squall passed leaving a flat sea with no wind.

We've been listening to Herb on the SSB, he produces forecasts and routing advice for boats crossing the Atlantic. There are a few boats close to us who have logged on with Herb and we've been acting on his advice to them. Tonight he recommended that a boat at a similar latitiude to us should head north to 16degN to avoid an area of vicious squally weather. So we're deviating slightly from our rhumb line and heading to 16deg N.

Flying fish are becoming more numerous with 5-10 jumping and "flying" out of the water together. We suspect they're being chased by some tasty sizeable fish and the line would have been out, but for the hectic weather and sailing.

We've used the engine intermittently today, to make headway between the squalls. Wish we hadn't talked about not using the engine yesterday - it was too tempting for fate to resist.

Position at 14.23 UTC (local noon): 15deg 02'N 34deg 11'W.
Daily distance run: 121nm; cumulative distance: 1406:
Engine hours: ~0
Distance to go: ~ 1549nm
Conditions: NE 5-10 knots, slight sea, 1011 millibars

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Ellen's sealegs arrive

The engine is a marvellous thing but undoubtedly smelly, noisy, hot and greedy! For all these reasons, we have tried to strictly limit its use and it's been very peaceful on board. Early yesterday morning, although the wind was light and our speed sometimes negligible, we soldiered on under sail until the wind picked up later in the day, hence the lowest daily run. We have been sailing along nicely all day, mindful of the rhumb line to Martinique, and checking George the wind-vane for any deviation. He can slyly steer us in the wrong direction for hours if the wind changes.

Last night was a much better watch for me, not least because it began with a delicious pasta dish courtesy of Skipper Nick in which he'd had the excellent idea of adding some Pedro to the sauce (Pedro is our spanish cured ham complete with his trotter). Fortunately, my stomach seemed amenable to the idea of food for the first time in days, and I haven't stopped since.

Boat time has now been altered to UT-2hours to correspond with our westerly route. As a result, both Nick and I have done watches of 7 hours each throughout the night (I'm yawning as I write!) It is now 0835 UT and we are sailing at 5+k with a NE wind of about 12k.

Position at 14.15 UTC: 15deg 06'N 32deg 10'W.
Daily distance run: ~90nm; cumulative distance: 1285:
Engine hours: 0
Distance to go: ~ 1670nm
Conditions: N 12 knots, slight sea, 1011 millibars

Friday, December 16, 2005

Good sailing in light winds

We've been sailing since midnight Thursday. We had a comfortable night sailing on a beam-reach with full main and genoa, making around 4knots. This morning we substituted the genoa for the cruising chute to increase our speed in the light winds. Inevitably the wind veered to the NE and down came the cruising-chute exchanged for our twin-poled-out head-sails rig.
elusive trade winds
elusive trade winds

Other than sail changes we've been calculating distance remaining to Martinique. We're making good westerly progress and since we've crossed 30degW longitude we've moved to a new chart which includes the Caribbean. We've drawn a rhumb line
(a straight line) and calculated distance. Reassuringly the chart and GPS agree: 268deg true to Martinique, 1780 nautical miles at 13.55 today. The magnetic variation is 17deg W at our present longitude, so we're steering 285deg magnetic; as the magnetic variation is west its added to the true bearing - if we got this wrong we'd be 34deg out and probably end up in Brazil!

We'll definitely have Christmas aboard, but we're still hoping to arrive in 2005, although if the winds don't pick up soon, its going to be a close call.

We're in touch with Freespirit daily, they started a couple of days before us but put into the Cape Verdes for some minor repairs. Their pit stop cost them dearly as we've sneaked ahead of them, but we're both hoping to arrive before New Year.

Ellen's sea-sickness appears to be subsiding, but her appetite has vanished. I made some chocolate crispies this morning to try to coax her stomach back to normal service, but with only limited success - the crispies turned out on the soggy side of the crisp and they failed to restore her interest in food.

Position at 13.55 UTC: 15deg 12'N 30deg 23'W.
Daily distance run: ~115nm; cumulative distance: 1195:
Engine hours: 10
Distance to go: ~ 1780nm
Conditions: NE 10 knots, slight sea, 1010 millibars

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Flying fish spotting

I spoke too soon yesterday - the wind died in the evening and by 23.00 we were only managing 1.5knots under sail. The lack of wind to fill the sails means they flog in the slight swell, which in turn makes the rig vibrate and sleep difficult. So we gave in and started motoring. Periodically, throughout the day, the wind has teased us by increasing in strength at which point we dutifully hoist the sails and kill the engine only for it to disappear a few minutes later. The wind is only set to re-appear on Sunday, but we're hoping for some light winds tomorrow to enable us to conserve our diesel.

The big news today is that Ellen's sea-legs appear to have returned. Hopefully we can confirm tomorrow.

With the engine running, the foredeck is the quietest part of the boat. So we found ourselves looking out over the still sea this afternoon. Occasionally we'd see a flying-fish jump out of the water and fly for around 100m before returning to the sea. We initially mistook them for small birds such is their ability to glide over the waves.

One of the challenges of significant motoring is how to top-up the fuel tank without causing a major international pollution incident. I've tried various systems of funnels and spouts but the rolling of the boat combined with the weight of the diesel can has always meant a portion of the diesel has escaped from the fuel tank. Back in northern Spain I spotted Pieter on Orion with a cunning syphon tube - there's an end-fitting which contains a ball-bearing and acts as a non-return valve. You jiggle the tube in the diesel can, the tube fills with fuel until the diesel starts syphoning into the fuel tank. Its a simple invention that's a joy to use. Ours arrived on Kika via a combination of e-commerce and parent post (reliable and cost-effective).

It's now 1am on a warm night with a cool breeze, the engine is off, we're making 4knots under sail and dolphins have joined us. This is more like it.

Position at 14.00 UTC: 15deg 45'N 28deg 33'W.
Daily distance run: ~115nm; cumulative distance: 1080:
Engine hours: 15
Distance to go: ~ 1620nm
Conditions: NE 5 knots, slight sea,
1009 millibars

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Head south until the butter melts

"Head south until the butter melts" is the standard advice for when to turn west for the Caribbean. It's certainly hot enough to melt the butter and today we stopped heading SW and are now heading W for the Caribbean. Unfortunately the promised trade winds have yet to materialise. We're currently in 5-10knots of SE wind, the trade winds should give us 15-20knots of NE wind. So we're doing our best to sail and making around 3.5knots.

We just listened to our afternoon radio net and all the boats within 200 miles are reporting similar conditions and most appear less patient and are motoring. It seems a shame to shatter the peace by putting the engine on all for another 2 knots of boat speed. So it doesn't look like we'll win any awards for a fast passage to the Caribbean, but the conditions are currently quite pleasant.

Wind-vane self steering suffers from one problem - if the wind changes direction so does your course. This morning we had an E wind and set a course W for the Caribbean. A hour or so later we checked the course and discovered we were heading NW. The wind had veered to the SE and George had obediently followed it round. Felt like we were heading back on ourselves - good job we're not racing.

Ellen is feeling a little better today, but is still suffering from seasickness. Our plan is to revert to seasickness drugs on Friday if her sea-legs have failed to materialise.

Position at 14.50 UTC: 16deg 37'N 26deg 57'W.
Daily distance run: ~130nm; cumulative distance: 965:
Engine hours: 0
Distance to go: ~ 1735nm
Conditions: SE 8-10knots, slight sea,
1010 millibars

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Off Cape Verdes

It's been a long day which started for me at 2.30am. Normally I take the watch from 6pm to midnight and Ellen continues from midnight through to 6am. I awoke at 2.30 to the sound of the engine stopping. I assumed that Ellen had decided there was enough wind to sail and as I was awake I thought I'd see if she needed a hand. I emerged to find Ellen mildly flustered - she hadn't touched the engine - it stopped by itself. Hmmm, thoughts of expensive problems started running through my mind and no chance of sleep without some attempt to trace the problem.

After much investigation I discovered that the fuel pipe feeding the primary fuel filter was blocked. The fix was to blow down the diesel fuel gauge pipe to dislodge the blockage. By 7.30 all was running smoothly again, although the engine wasn't needed as a fresh SE wind had started blowing. Around mid-day the wind backed to the NE and further sail faff ensued to construct our downwind rig. Since then the wind direction has stayed constant, but the strength has varied from 10 - 25knots, requiring reefs in the genoas and main. George, our windvane steering, seems to struggle keeping a straight course above 6.5knots. The course yaws unacceptably which causes a ridiculous amount of rolling. Having said that we don't do a lot better ourselves when we hand-steer.

Kika's first flying fish jumped/flew into the cockpit last night. To make amends for yesterday's fish butchery, Ellen managed to pick it up and pop it back in the water before too much damage was done.

We both noticed a pleasant sweet smell in the cockpit and when we saw the outer Cape Verde Islands this afternoon I assumed it was the "smell of land". Sadly it turned out to be a sun tan lotion bottle which had spewed its contents into the cockpit drains. L'eau de Kika cockpit now consists of "Sahara tested" Piz Buin lotion, diesel, dodgy Portuguese fishing killing fire water, scaly fish remains - A close analogy would be a filling station by the sea with attached pharmacy, used as a meeting point for the local alcoholics.

Ellen's sea-legs have still to arrive. We have a theory that the Avomine Ellen took for the first 3 days suppressed her acclimatisation. Saturday was Ellen's first Avomine free day and as the sea was smooth all was well. Sunday was choppy and she's been sick ever since. Today is the third day of sickness, we're hoping that her sea legs will arrive at any time, but we are both a bit concerned in case this doesn't happen.

Position at 14.10 UTC: 17deg 52'N 25deg 25'W.
Daily distance run: 100nm; cumulative distance: 835:
Engine hours: 9.5
Distance to go: ~ 1865nm
Conditions: NE 10-25knots, moderate sea,
1011 millibars in

Monday, December 12, 2005

Fishing in calm conditions

After yesterday's stormy weather, the weather has been perfect - for motor boats - for those of us with sails it's been a little frustrating - but at least we can enjoy the sun while trying to coax as much speed as possible out of the light winds.

We've spent the day, making between 0.5 - 3knots under twin headsails and main. Finally giving-in to the lack of wind and starting the engine around 6pm. We can't motor all the way to the Caribbean, but hear on the SSB that there's more wind further south, so that's were we're heading - hope to find these elusive trade-winds

While rigging the poles for the twin headsails we noticed some sizable TASTY looking fish swimming with us off the bows. The fishing line was out as soon as the sails were set.

We took advantage of the calm conditions to fix one of the "lazy jacks". "Lazy jacks" are lines which help to keep the mainsail under control when the main is lowered. One "lazy jack" had become untied and involved a trip 1/4 up the mast to refasten it. Even in today's calm conditions the rolling of the boat made it difficult to hang on and made for some interesting acrobatics and language, it was eventually fixed. Just as I was about to head up the mast we had to drop everything for fish drill. Fish drill should be - clear the cockpit of cushions, sheets and other lines, untie the gaff and prepare the alcohol to pour in the fish's gills to stun it. In the event, its me panicking and Ellen getting upset at the death of a beautiful fish. The result is that we have to spend the next few hours clearing up the mess. However it was worth it; once filleted and fried, Ellen declared it delicious and forgave my brutality. For the record our catch was a dolphin fish (don't panic - we didn't eat a dolphin), length about 1.25 feet.

Of more concern is the loss of Ellen's sea-legs during yesterday's rough seas. We'd hoped normal service would resume today, but we're still anxiously awaiting their return.. The current prescription is lots of water and rest. Fingers crossed for their return tomorrow.

As of local noon today (13.30 UTC):
Position: 19deg 01'N 24deg 07'W.
Daily distance run: 110nm; cumulative distance: 735:
Engine hours: 12
Distance to go: ~ 1965nm
Conditions: NE 5-8knots, slight sea with swell from NW,
1011 millibars steady

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Becalmed followed by headwind

As predicted yesterday, the wind continued to die through the day and despite trying to coax as much speed as possible out of Kika, wtrh the cruising shoot, by 19.00, we were making less than 1.5knots and decided it was time to use the engine. We motored through the windless night into a smooth sea.

At our watch change, 6am, the wind had started to blow gently from the SW so we set full sail and headed west on port tack. We tacked after lunch and are currently heading S into a 15-20knot SW with reduced headsail and reefed main, still making 5.5-6knots into a short lumpy sea. We're really glad we sorted out the spray hood, its saving us a soaking as we beat in the lumping seas. The head winds should only last until midnight when then wind should back to the north and we can start making SW progress again and at least the batteries are back up to 100% charge.

On the radio net this morning, Blue Iguana, an English boat we met in Santa Cruz reported that they'd gone swimming while they were becalmed. As soon as they got back into the boat they saw the unmistakable fin of a shark circling their boat!

Position at local noon (13.21 UTC): 20deg 09'N 22deg 45'W.
Daily distance run: 105nm; cumulative distance: 625: Engine hours: 10
Distance to go: ~ 2075nm
Conditions: SW 15-29knots, moderate/rough sea, 1009 millibars steady.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Beautiful day slower progress

It's a beautiful hot, sunny, cloudless day out here. Unfortunately the wind has dropped so rather than making a good 5.5 - 6 knots we're making a more leisurely 4 knots. On the other hand the swell has dropped away so it's possible to sail reasonably well with the little wind there is.

We ran the engine for the first time since leaving Santa Cruz this morning to recharge the batteries so they didn't drop below the magic 50% charged state. It's impressive watching the battery monitor as it shows the engine pumping 100Amps into the battery bank. The combined wind generator and solar panel have been charging the batteries at a measly 2-3Amps net after nav equipment takes its energy toll and during the night the nav lights and lack of solar panel discharges at around 5Amps. The other great consumer is the SSB radio, which when transmitting can use up to 30Amps. Getting this blog entry off the boat can use up all the energy we produce in a day! When we pick up the trade winds off the Cape Verdes, we'll start to use the water generator, which combined with the solar panel should cope with our energy demands without resorting to the engine.

As ever it was a great relief when we stopped the engine and peace again returned to Kika; just the lapping of the waves and the sound of the cabbage rolling around in the locker.

We're currently reaching into a light NW wind. Changing from the twin headsail rig to a more traditional main and genoa configuration took the best part of an hour. It's amazing the infrastructure required to support the downwind rig; with two poles and associated uphauls, foreguys, gooseneck uphaul and downhaul and preventor. Changing all this on a rolling foredeck means we've used up most of our sail changing energy for the day and although we'd probably make more progress replacing the genoa with the cruising-shoot, it doesn't seem worth the bother of an extra 0.5-1knot when we're expecting head-winds tonight and it would only be up for a few hours anyway. Ellen MacArthur's round-the-world record is safe.

Ellen had a dolphin visit during her night watch. Reports abound of other boats catching amazing fish, so I assume we're surrounded by wildlife, just haven't seen any yet.

Position at local noon (13.17 UTC): 21deg 06'N 21deg 04'W.
Daily distance run: 125nm; cumulative distance: 520: Engine hours: 2
Distance to go: ~ 2180nm
Conditions: NW 8-12knots, slight sea, 1010 millibars falling.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Halfway to Cape Verde

Sunny day out here on the Atlantic. We are gradually getting into the rhythm of our watch system and are adjusting to life on board. Nick is cooking some bacon as we speak and I am managing to write this while sitting below.

The winds have been really favourable so far and we have made good speed but judging from the weather this morning, that is about to change with light winds from the south west meaning we may have to do some tacking but we'll see. Once again, I have seen many shooting stars and the night skies have been fabulous.

I'm finding the 12-6 watches are going ok. The off-watch berth is in the stern cabin so the on-watch can come below and potter around (sickness permitting). I've been passing the time by listening to the iPod, reading and exercising as well as a
little looking out now and again! Mostly I sit up in the cockpit which is now much more pleasant since we had the mainsail adapted to enable us to keep the spayhood up while underway.

I had scheduled a chat with Nat on Freespirit at 0330 and it was great to have that to look forward to - good practice for my radio confidence too! As far as wildlife is concerned, we've seen nothing. Hopefully it's all to come.

Position at local noon (13.10 UTC): 22deg 36'N 19deg 38'W.
Daily distance run: 145nm; cumulative distance: 395:
Engine hours: 0
Distance to go: ~ 2305nm

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Good winds lumpy seas

All well onboard, if a little roly. Still trying to match sleep patterns to our watch system. Clear night, but currently overcast.

We're making as much south-westerly progress as we can before we head into an area of high-pressure and possibly suffer from light SW head winds (probably Sat).
lighter winds predicted
lighter winds predicted

We've been able to use the Sea-me alarm for the first-time in the trip. It sounds an alarm if it detects any radar in the area. It's reassuring having it but doesn't mean we can be any less vigilant; there's a Atlantic rowing race in our area and other craft without radar.
Position at local noon (13.05 UTC): 24deg 39'N 18deg 28'W.
Daily distance run: 135nm; Engine hours: 0
Distance to go: ~ 2450nm
Conditions: ENE 15-20knots, NE 3metre swell, 1016 millibars steady.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

First day on Passage

Despite two false starts, our friends still managed to give us an enthusiastic send-off and we reciprocated by performing an unintentional 360° pirouette much to the amusement of the assembled gathering. Other Rival owners confirm that going astern in a straight line is a feat few have mastered and certainly one we've yet to conquer.

We set off at 2pm Tuesday 6th, into a decent 15knot ENE breeze. The Islands in the Canaries have regions, typically around the north and south coasts where the wind can be accelerated by as much as 10-15knots. So we conservatively set sail with two reefs in the main and a half-furled genoa, in preparation for the worst excesses of the acceleration zone and made a good 5.5knots in the fresh breeze.

Hurricane Epsilon caused us some last minute doubts, its currently over 700n miles away. Since we were hit by Delta, we've been tracking Epsilon's progress - the predictions have been consistently showing it heading SSW/SW over the next few days and disappearing early next week.

It feels great to be finally off - effectively we're been preparing ourselves and Kika for the crossing for over 6 months. The excitement is also mixed with some trepidation about the enormity of the distance and the time at sea. Despite our recent set-backs we feel confident in Kika and in the knowledge that we could have fixed the problems at sea had we needed to.

George II, our trusty wind-vane self steering, has been doing most of the work since the start, freeing us up for sail faff, cooking and reading. All watches have gone to plan and Ellen's anti-seasickness drugs have been working as advertised.

We're currently heading SSW towards the Cape Verdes, where we hope to pick up the NE trades to blow us across to the Caribbean. We're making around 5knots with full main, and twin poled out head sails from a Easterly 10knot wind.

Position at local noon (13.00 12s UTC), N26° 43' W017° 07'

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Third time lucky

The omens are looking good - the repair to the stern valve is sound, we're transformed Kika from workshop back into cruising yacht, I had hot shower for the first time since the storm and hurricane Epsilon is set to decrease into a tropical storm and track south-westerly. We still have the rapidly ripening bananas onboard, but we're not leaving on a Friday.

Assuming all goes well today and we finally set off for the Caribbean, a good way to track our progress is through the map. Information on using the map is available is here.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Back in Tenerife

With the new starter motor in place, and unanticipated extra organisation time we felt well prepared for the long passage ahead. We departed on Saturday morning to blaring fog horns and enthusiatic waving from friends. The excitement of finally being off dissipated any sadness at departing from the friends we'd made during our stay in Santa Cruz. We set a course south to take us to the trade winds which will blow us across to the Caribbean. I opened the log book and with great excitment, titled the passage "Santa Cruz to Martinique!".

After three hours of making a good 4-5 knots under sail, the wind died and we decided we'd motor until we cleared the Canaries. I went to check the engine and discovered water flooding into the bilge. There was no immediate concern; with the bilge pump on the water level was decreasing, but water was still leaking in at a disturbing rate. Eventually I traced the leak to the exhaust sea-cock in the stern locker. The top of the valve had broken. With the engine running, exhaust cooling water was flooding into the bilge. Stopping the engine, reduced the flow, but water still flooded-in whenever the exhaust outlet was submerged by a passing wave. Fortuitiously, some benign force had compelled me to buy some hugely expensive self-amalgamating rubber tape in Lanzarote and wrapping the tape around the broken valve stemmed the flow of water and allowed us to run the engine without flooding the boat.

Disappointed, but glad that again Kika had chosen an opportune time to reveal a problem, we turned back for Santa Cruz. Nigel Calder, our oft refered to ship maintenance guru, says:
...despite their widespread use, gate and globe valves have no place on boats. Most are made of brass and will dezinicify in time, falling apart... widespread problems have occured due to the use of brass as opposed to bronze ... with a brass valve the zinc will dissolve leaving a soft porous casting often identifiable by its redish hue.
The failed part has a redish hue...

The collective wisdom of Ed and Don concurred that body of fitting is still in good shape and that the valve isn't really necessary so a quick solution would be to seal the hole left by the valve, rather than wait until the chandleries open on Monday, and hope to get lucky finding a compatible replacement.

So I spent Sunday, removing the broken thread from the valve body, extracting the gate, cleaning the body, cutting a wooden bung to fit, soaking the bung in epoxy resin, liberally applying resin to the inside of the valve and bashing the bung home. We're waiting for 24 hours to allow the epoxy to fully cure, before testing the repair. So if all's well we'll set off again Tuesday morning. In the meantime I'll see if the chandleries of Santa-Cruz can provide a replacement as a back-up.

Other more superstitious sailors seem to think we've invited trouble, first by leaving on a Friday and the starter motor dies, then horror of horrors, leaving with bananas on board and the exhaust sea-cock disintegrates. I'm still holding out against this tide of superstition and think we've been lucky the problems have shown themselves before we were a long way out; although both problems could have been fixed on the go, it wouldn't have been as much fun. The lesson I've learnt in these false-starts is to heed the wise words of Nigel Calder rather than assume all is well - if in doubt sort it out.

So now the sail cover is back on, we're plugged into shore power, the presurised water is on and Kika is transformed from self-sufficient world cruiser into a floating mobile workshop/home.

Mark and Nat on Freespirit set off on Sunday, so will be a couple of days ahead of us, we'll have to sail well and hope for favourable winds to catch them up, but hope we can talk on the SSB. We're also part of a cruising net in which boats on passage check-in daily at 9.00UTC. It's becoming a little embarrassing broadcasting our imminent departure, only to have to retract it the following day.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Leaving Tenerife

Friday 2nd December and we had planned to leave for the Caribbean today. We've been here for two weeks now, the longest stretch in one place, and though we like it and we've achieved a lot, it really feels like time's up. So, Kika's bottom has been scrubbed clean in preparation for a smooth, speedy voyage, the water and deisel tanks are full with extra jerry cans stowed.
About to clean the bottom
Preparing to clean the bottom

We completed a fresh food shop yesterday to add to our stores, and today we made a final trip to the supermarket to buy a whole cured ham, complete with trotter. It should provide us with meat every day until next christmas! We filled the forecabin (bedroom) with sails and made up the off-watch bunk. I have never been so prepared for a passage as I was earlier today, we've even turned off the water pressure and moved our toothbrushes to the galley to use the fresh water hand pump. Bring it on! So, we were both standing in the cockpit ready to fire up the engine with smiles of anticipation and excitement at the prospect of the voyage. Nick turned the key and we heard a sound which can only be described as wrong! Neither of us spoke, we just waited the 20 long seconds the glow plugs need, and tried again....same thing. It was clear from the screeching sound that once again it was the starter motor (see La Coruña), only this time the problem was more serious than a loose bolt. Some of you reading this may already have realised why this has happened and for those of you who haven't, I have a warning for you; if you do decide to go on a voyage of any length, you should never, ever embark on a Friday. This superstition is really ingrained and taken very seriously to the extent that most cruisers will not even entertain the idea and look at you like you're crazy when you suggest it (can be tricky when you struggle to keep track of the days - you know how it is, you took your watch off back in Falmouth to avoid the tan lines and now the weeks just turn into a nebulous, if pleasant, blob of days!) If you think this is a load of stuff and nonsense , you may be right, but even the least superstitious person (such as Nick) is usually so affected by the strength of feeling this arouses that they compromise by leaving as planned BUT dropping anchor somewhere before the day is out, and then leaving the anchorage after midnight! Anyway, it's now 6 in the evening and the boat looks like a workshop. I'm snuggling up to the sails in the bow, the saloon is a no-go area, full of tools and wood panels from the engine compartment, and Nick is up to his pits in metal and oil. The spare starter motor (thank heaven for the spare starter motor) was in the stern cabin under the off-watch bunk right at the very back so things in the stern are pretty upsidedown too, and leaving seems a long way off. I'm quite frustrated - what are you supposed to do with all that excess adrenaline? - but it is yet another step on the steep learning curve I'm currently experiencing. Life, in general is pretty unpredictable but this sailing lark is ridiculous! One day you can't leave because tropical storm Delta is fast approaching, next day you can't leave because the swell's too big, the day after there's no wind at all, and the day after that is Friday and you can't leave because...... Like we NEED another reason not to leave!

Nick seems to be taking this set-back much better than I, in fact I think he may be enjoying this period of intimacy with the engine - I'm sure I just heard him whistling!!

Sounds like the new starter motor shall soon be installed and ready for trials. We are shortly going out into town with some fellow cruisers, Ed and Ellen. They have been living this crazy life for many years now and are full of words of wisdom, but as I sit squashed in the bow, a prisoner of the detritus of an engine repair, the BEST and most pertinent advice they have given us is this: (adopt New York accent now) 'It takes two people to do a job, one to do the job and the other to keep out the goddam way!' Guess which is my role?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Tropical Storm Delta

The storm hit us and Tenerife last night around 8pm.
The strength of the wind was incredible, with the gusts filling the air with debris. The deafening noise of the wind was frightening. I wasn't watching the wind speed indicator but other people clocked 65-75knots of wind in the harbour. We survived with only the loss of the barbeque lid - we stupidly forgot to take it in, despite spending most of the day preparing Kika. Other people haven't fared as well, with many of the finger pontoons breaking away and boats bashing against each other during the night. The prefab shower block was blown 10m; so cockpit showers from now on. We feel really lucky that we picked a pontoon that didn't significantly break up.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Storm bound in Tenerife

We've been working hard provisioning and completing boat preparations in anticipation that we'd leave for the Caribbean as soon as we could. On Wednesday when the canvas work was well underway, it looked as though everything would be ready to leave by today (Sunday). The good news is that we're ready to leave - the bad news is that weather isn't. Tropical storm Delta is heading our way, meaning that even if we decided to leave now, we'd be suffering from strong, if not gale force, head-winds in a couple of days as we sail south down the coast of Africa towards the Cape Verdes.

Storm Delta
Storm Delta

So we've decided to stay put, along with the majority of the yachts here, until trade winds re-establish themselves - probably towards the end of next week. As we're leaving later than we'd planned, we're considering heading straight for Martinique rather than stopping in the Cape Verdes.

Atlantic preparations

Kika now has a bimini (a cockpit sun shade). Despite our bimini maker, Miguel's, lack of English and my infamous Spench, we somehow managed to communicate successfully and we're pleased with the final result. Completing the bimini means we've ticked-off all the major items on the to-do list, which is a great weight off my mind - now I can concentrate on studying the weather for the crossing to the Caribbean.

Bimini in place
Bimini in place

Originally we'd planned to complete everything before leaving Southampton, then before we headed across Biscay, then before we headed to the Canaries... In the event we left Southampton with most of the new equipment only partially installed and a couple of the instruments which were working well when we bought Kika, waiting to be reconnected. It didn´t help that I read A Voyage for Madmen soon after we set off and felt a little like Donald Crowhurst setting off with cable runs everywhere, but nothing connected. Talking to other boats it appears to be a common theme - there comes a time when you have to leave and providing the boat is sea-worthy, all other jobs are postponed until the next opportunity.

Here's a record of what we've been up-to:
What?Completed where?
New stoveSouthampton
Detachable inner-forestay for storm jibSouthampton
Inserted insulators in the backstay for the SSBSouthampton
Additional batteries with a series regulator for the engine start batterySouthampton
New high-output (140A) alternator with 'smart' regulatorSouthampton
Battery monitor, and the rewiring required for the battery monitor shuntSouthampton
New circuit breaker panel covering radar, heater, VHF & radio, SSB, Sea-me and inverterFalmouth
Duogen wind/water generatorDartmouth
SSB radio and modemFalmouth
Wind-vane self-steeringCorme
Cockpit archGibraltar
Solar panelGraciosa
Twin head-sail, trade-wind rigTenerife

Thanks to all those who have helped out along the way.

Re-wired battery compartment
Re-wired battery compartment

On-going maintenance

Before we left Gibraltar I noticed that the sea-cocks under the sink were leaking - not significantly - in fact more of a weep than a leak, but still something to be concerned about. So not having time to fully investigate I tightened them and the leak stopped. When I finally got round to inspecting the sea-cocks again in Lanzarote I discovered my lack of experience had meant I'd overtightened them and now they wouldn't budge. They were stuck open. I had visions of requiring the boat to be hauled out of the water or at the minimum spending many hours diving under the boat trying to free them. Fortunately Mark regularly services his sea-cocks and and helped me out. A days work resulted in two smoothly running, leak-free sea-cocks, without a trip under or out of the the water.

As a friend of Mark's said, cruising is about fixing your boat in exotic locations - we're looking forward to the exotic locations.

Winch overhaul
Winch overhaul

As well as boat maintenance, Ellen has been busy working out how much pasta, cans of tomatoes and plasters we need to sustain us, before we arrive to sample to the delicacies on offer in the Caribbean. Apart from a final trip to the market for fresh fruit and veg, we're ready to go and Ellen´s confident we won´t have to resort to some of my more desparate concoctions.

Small proportion of Quartermaster Ellen´s stores
Small proportion of Quartermaster Ellen´s stores

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


We had become quite comfortable at Marina Rubicon in Lanzarote having got to know the bar staff in Cafe del Mar, enjoyed the extensive laundry facilities and the range of decent restaurants just a stone´s throw away from the boat. We appreciated the friendly, secure atmosphere. It was really 'nice', so nice that we were disinclined to leave if the weather was less than perfect. Well, as you know, it's never perfect, so for a while it looked like that was our new address: Pontoon 10E, Marina Rubicon, Rubicon Street, Lanzagrotty! Our near neighbours, Free Spirit however, were due to reconnoitre with their fellow Arc-ists in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria and we were due.....well nowhere really, but had decided to avoid the crowds and head to Santa Cruz, Tenerife, which looked interesting and a likely place for provisioning and last minute preps before the big leap south. We arrived on Tuesday after a difficult 24 hour passage from Lanzarote during which both of us had felt, and been, sick. We had set off into a big sea, and we never got chance to acclimatise. I had planned to practise some ideas for passing the time during the Atlantic crossing, but found myself once again incapacitated by nausea which could only be alleviated by lying horizontally somewhere (anywhere) on the boat. Not conducive to star-gazing or practising my French (just 2 of the many things in store for us on the crossing.) So once again Neptune pooped on my plans - not too encouraging for the passage to come but I have faith that the sea-leg fairy shall visit before day 3 of the big passage is over, just like she did over Biscay.

First sight of Tenerife

So, we reached landfall and suddenly realised how thirsty we had both been to see greenery! We drank in the view of the green jagged mountains whose misty summits suggested a level of moisture we had really missed. I had no idea Tenerife was so beautiful! Did you know Spain's highest mountain is on Tenerife? Pico Del Teide (3,718m) It's snow-capped and we have discussed climbing (or something) to the summit just to get some feeling of festive spirit as I seem to be perpetually stuck in July! Santa Cruz is not 'nice' but I like it. It's hard to say why because it's busy ( the Arc rally may not be leaving from here but unbeknown to us, 2 other large rallies are), its not cheap, the facilities are pretty awful (3 washers though - top loaders!), we have no finger pontoon (ie we have to climb onto the pulpit to get aboard), and we are about 10m away from the ferry terminal BUT we are fitting into life in Santa Cruz. In Marina Rubicon, life was fitted around us. Its existence relied on and was governed by people like us, whereas you get the feeling that, despite the hordes of cruisers, this is what life is really like in Sta Cruz. It's the Real McCoy, and here, the Real McCoy happens to be pretty pleasant. As we had hoped, there are some serious chandleries and sailmakers where we can get our sails and bimini sorted.

Explaining bimini requirements in fluent ´Spench´

There are also plenty of independent cruisers like us who are eager to swap ideas and knowledge, so, it should be a good departure point for the next leg - Canaries to the Cape Verdes (about 1000 nautical miles).

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Guest Entry: Jenny and Brian in Lanzarote (3rd-10th Nov)

When Nick and Ellen reported that they were heading for Isla Graciosa off the northern end of Lanzarote we decided it was time to book a trip out. At that stage somewhere near the middle of the east coast seemed the best spot. There was a hint that they would be going down to Arrecife so we booked for a week in Costa Teguise.

Before we left the UK Kika had gone down to Marina Rubicon at Playa Blanca, right at the Southern tip of the island! Thanks to a regular bus service and Nick's hire car we were able to visit them on three separate occasions. The first, by bus, laden with two rucksacs containing all the numerous items brought out for boat and crew. The photo hardly gives credit to the luggage we carried that day!
The hats were part of the luggage

Nick and Ellen were very good at ensuring we didn't suffer from boredom while aboard. A special treat was the premier viewing of the unique video "Adventures in Kika - Spain to Canaries" presented to Jenny for her birthday. Not everyone is given a dedicated video and great amusement was had by all.
Enjoying the video
Enjoying the video

Other tasks awaited us. Jenny checked over the medical kit and helped inspect and repair a spare foresail. Brian learnt how to dismantle a winch among other jobs including supplying Nick with a range of items as he worked up the mast. We were able to sample the cuisine on board and even without a steamed puddding it was delicious.

We met Ian and Liz, who were both on a flying visit from the UK, and whose stay on Kika overlapped by a few hours. Ellen, Ian and Nick drove up to Costa Teguise and we all had dinner at Restaurante Acatife, a memorable restaurant in a beautiful old house in Teguise, the town inland from the resort, and the former capital of Lanzarote.

On other days we had a trip to the Sunday market at Teguise and joined vast crowds milling round the stalls and watching a display of folk dancing, the participants in national costume. Sunday market dancers
Folk dancers in Teguise

We also went on the grand tour of both the north and south of the island seeing many sights, the green lagoon, camel riders, volcanos and caves and vast fields of lava solidified into many weird and wonderful shapes. We had the opportunity to hold warm lava in our hands, observe a bush burning from heat coming up from below, and watch a bucket of water turned rapidly into a steam fountain. We were intrigued by the black cultivated fields and the little walls to protect the grape vines. We also experienced the amazing achitecture of the influential artist and planner Cesar Manrique and visited the volcanic grotto of Jameos del Agua, where we saw the tiny albino crabs in their subterranean lake and saw how the volcanic activity in the area is being monitored. Apparently the Canary islands are overdue for some more eruptions.
Lanzarote landscape
Parque Nacional de Timanfaya

It was our first visit to Lanzarote so could not visualize the volcanic nature of the landscape. Had we been expecting a green and pleasant land there would have been some disappointment but the amazing views of lava fields with the occasional 'oasis' provided a memorable experience. The sun shone, most of the time, and temperatures reached 32 deg C. Manchester was cold and wet on both departure and arrival back.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Guest entry: Ian in Lanzarote (2nd-6th Nov)

When I last saw Nick & Ellen during Kika sea trials in Dartmouth harbour back in August they made encouraging noises about visiting them enroute and ever since then I’ve been conjuring up images of island hopping in a tropical paradise, diving into crystal clear waters to swim ashore to that pure white sandy beach where you can rest in the shade of its palm fringes whilst being served fresh local cocktails by happy smiling locals…ah what it is to dream. Do dreams come true I wonder? Not for me, it seems, as here I am arriving in package holiday heaven - LANZAROTE. In all honesty, of the wonderful places I’ve read about in the blog during the first 3 months of this trip Lanzagrotty would be my last choice as a place to visit. I’m sorry to all those Lanzarote fans out there. My taste is not everyone’s taste – and if you like volcanic ash, sprawling resorts of white holiday apartments, speaking English, tattoos, chips and other British people on holiday then it’s perfect. Clearly Nick and Ellen thought it important to go there! We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they knew flights were cheap and that it would be easy to welcome family and friends aboard. They had at least changed out of their shell-suits by the time I arrived!!

I know it’s not my kind of place because every time I tell anyone who knows me where I’m going they give me an odd look and ask why! Well we know why… it’s a last chance to catch up with Nick and Ellen, our intrepid adventurers, before they skip European shores for distant tropical lands with crystal clear waters, palm-fringed white sandy beaches, and potent rum cocktails!! Bah humbug…

Anyway with Kika berthed in the very upmarket Marina Rubicon on the south of the island it was surreal to wander up to the harbour edge and spot Nick waving from the deck. This is 3 months, and several thousand miles since I was last aboard, and yet it doesn’t seem that long. I’m sure for Nick and Ellen it seems like they have crammed loads in during that time, but for us normal people those months have just flown by with not much more than our routines…it is refreshing and hopefully inspiring to see friends making better use of their time!!

On board I am honoured by boat turmoil as efforts have been focused on clearing the stern of the boat so I can have my very own cabin. This leaves the main cabin free for extensive partying, frequent meals, and the now extensive Kika library of books about how to plan, navigate, survive, drink, cook, eat, vomit, sleep, wake, talk, fish, nurse, operate, wash, toilet and clean whilst at sea. Add to this the collection of 1st hand accounts of others doing all these things, and several ‘weather’ forecasting manuals and it begins to look like they’ll have no time for sailing and I haven’t even mentioned the front cabin crammed with the non-nautical books either. Lucky for Nick and Ellen I’ve bought a couple more to add to the collection.

We toasted my arrival (Wednesday) with cold beer on deck and spent the evening catching up – firstly over cocktails at ‘Café del Mar’ and then over steaks at Lani’s, pleasant settings overlooking the marina. No Spanish was necessary – English or German essential though! Easily led astray by hosts that seem to have learned how to mix their drinks, I was plied with beer, then rum cocktail, and finally red wine before slotting into my tube-like bunk in the stern that night.

Thursday was a beautiful morning – blue sky, nice breeze, and warm – so Nick and I headed along the coast on foot to Playa Blanca, the local beach resort in search of decent provisions whilst Ellen tended to general boat maintenance! Finding fresh food of any description on the island though is not easy. Not a lot can grow on the sides of volcanoes. The supermarkets invariably have 2 or 3 aisles of alcohol and slightly less for food. Once you eliminate the crisps and biscuits there is about 6ft of shelf space devoted to cans of fish and olive oil and not much else. After extensive reconnaissance we eventually located the only Fruiteria in town – and satisfied our cravings by buying some of most green things they had.

Back on Kika the ‘Boat Maintenance Manual’ lay open on the plumbing page as Ellen had spent the morning dismantling the heads at my end of the boat. Everyone need be reassured that the problem was not of my making! Apparently there was already a leak from the pump, honest guv! Emerging from the stern with beads of sweat on her forehead and sporting a pair of rubber gloves was a very satisfied Ellen. ‘I think I’ve done it’ she said. And I can indeed confirm the improvement in pump action from then on!

Pimientos de padron for lunch and then a relaxing afternoon on deck reading whilst Nick figured out how to connect the gas barbecue fitted to the back of the boat so we could christen it that evening. We were joined by those other salty seadogs, Mark and Nat from Free Spirit, who just happened to be moored on the next pontoon along. What a pleasant evening it was – the BBQ was a treat whilst it was alight…the only trouble being that it kept going out! The ensuing BBQ faff to relight it could so easily have ended with our sausages, ribs and veggie kebabs in the marina - but we managed to serve them, and great they tasted too, washed down with plenty of a surprisingly drinkable Vino de Lanzarote!

With Nick’s parents – Jenny and Brian - due on the boat on Friday we spent a hilarious Friday morning editing a short video that Nick and Ellen had made over the weeks for Jenny’s birthday. From making toast, to navigating, to dolphin watching, to trumpeting and fridge cleaning, there are a lot of choice comic moments, most of them unplanned by the presenters. I’m told there are many more episodes to come and given the editing skills acquired that morning we can all eagerly await our own personalised video to land on the doormat!!

We met Jenny and Brian on the path to Playa Blanca and relieved them of some very heavy bags – which it turned out contained several more essential books. I thought I also glimpsed a boxed set of Desperate Housewives DVD’s too but I suspect that was just my mind playing tricks…one wonders whether our sea farers will have their own homemade Desperado DVD collection by the time they reach the other side of the Atlantic anyway – episodes including Desperado for water, Desperado for sleep, Desperado for decent conversation, Desperado for Nick to stop practicing the bl***y trumpet…the collection should be extensive.

Friday night was curry night on Kika. It’s one thing to cook a curry at home and stink the kitchen out for a day or so. It’s another thing to cook one on board knowing you’ll have to live with the smell for days to come in all quarters. Never the less it was my hosts’ enthusiastic request and who am I but a menial galley slave to argue. Later on, stuffed full, and reeking of garlic, Nick and I headed out to see if we’d be cool enough to get into Mojitos – the local salsa joint – whilst Ellen relaxed onboard. Yep you guessed it…we didn’t get in! Yeah ok don’t be so smug, it was actually closed - so we ended up back at our usual haunt of Café del Mar drinking large measures of Cuban rum and coke and watching a very drunk blonde trying to flaunt her way into a job.Keep still: First haircut of trip
Keep still: First haircut of trip

With the weather practically blowing a gale, and with Jenny and Brian staying in the north of the island, we’d decided to hire a car for a couple of days. Saturday, our local island specialist and tour guide Ellen, presented a programme of sights that included a volcano park, a substantial lunch (quel surprise), and some caves with a secret twist. Volcano park promised more than it delivered – a couple of geysers on top of a windswept hill, a restaurant with a BBQ pit that cooks on the open earth’s crust, and thousands of people. The showman poured a bucket of water down a drain hole, the crowd counts “1, 2, 3” in their native tongue and the earth obliges with a huge spurt of hot water to a collective gasp and the sound of hundreds of cameras clicking. It would be magical if it were less of a circus and more of geology. The views here in the west of the island are amazing though – brown and barren for as far as you can see, with the earth itself made up of huge lumps of larva.

Next stop was lunch of course. Tapas at the highly-recommended ‘El Chopadero’, a vineyard in the centre of the island. Pimientos de padron, tortilla, dates wrapped in bacon, local cheese, albondigas and prawns in garlic. Delicious and washed down with some more great wine. I won’t mention the garlic Ellen!

Then onwards and northwards to the much anticipated ‘Cuevas de los Verdes’. These spectacular caves are underground tubes carved out of the earth by molten lava flows. They are huge and it was much more interesting than any of us sceptics expected! Our guide was a happy chap dressed in a ridiculous stripey green suit, who spoke pretty good English and spent much of his time singing ‘cuidado la cabeza’ to the group as we stepped our way under some very low ceilings. It was an entertaining tour and the last stop had the crowd gasping as the secret of the caves was revealed. We could tell you – but we pledged our loyalty there and then in front of a hundred witnesses. SSShhhhh…you’ll have to go there!!

Final stop of the day was dinner in the old town Teguise after collecting Jenny and Brian from their apartment at Costa Teguise. At last some semblance of history, dinner was great in an old converted house in the centre of the town. It seemed we were the only people eating, but then it was well away from the resorts of the coast and the weather was pretty chilly. The food was plentiful, the setting picturesque and we amused ourselves by trying to extract dirt on Nick from his parents to his embarrassment. meal out
meal out

Back in Marina Rubicon all of us were too full to sit comfortably below deck so we made one last ditch effort at Mojitos – still closed – and ended up at Mollie’s Taverna, the Irish bar round the corner where a terrible pub singer was banging out very poor versions of Dire Straits, Bruce Springsteen and similar. We tolerated him long enough to down a rum and coke (with a hint of onion – yuk!) and then wandered back to our favourite watering hole – Café del Mar – for a nightcap.

Sunday was changeover day on Kika – I was giving up my bunk to Liz who was arriving lunchtime. As seems to be our habit we threw together a sumptuous lunch - mango tabouleh, Cuban black beans, green salad, chicken curry, and rice – and ate too much one last time. And then it was time to say goodbye. I can highly recommend a trip on Kika if you ever get the chance. We never stopped laughing (nor eating!) those few days and it was a very entertaining and relaxing. We even warmed to Lanzarote! I hope it was the same for my hosts and I wish them safe passage to those distant tropical lands with crystal clear waters, palm-fringed white sandy beaches, and potent rum cocktails!! Perhaps I’ll see them there…!!