Friday, December 31, 2010

We're not alone

Passage to Barbados, day 3. Within hours of the end of day 2 John spotted sails behind us and quickly got on the VHF to make contact. VHF radio has a range that is essentially line-of-sight. The boat was Saba, one we didn't know. They left the Cape Verde islands about when we did, but they're headed to Martinique. We agreed to call them again after we got weather from Herb since they don't have SSB radio, but by then they were out of range. Besides Saba, we know of five other boats in our vicinity, but we haven't seen any of them. It's a big ocean.

All is well aboard Solstice. Little dog Märzen is still limping, but seems OK otherwise. Our end-of-day position at 1500 UTC was 14°36.797'N, 030°29.875'W. The wind isn't letting us go straight to Barbados, so although our total distance was 148 nm (6.167 kn avg), our way-made-good was only 129 nm (5.375 kn avg). Not bad, but we hope to do better.

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Trouble with SailMail

Passage to Barbados, day 2. We continue to have difficulties connecting with SailMail, and when we do connect, the transfer rate is very slow. As a result, we are not picking up our inbound messages right now, not even the grib files that show the weather forecast. If you need to contact us urgently, please put URGENT in the subject. Otherwise, we'll have a lot of catching up to do when we get a fast connection.

Fortunately, our contact with Herb (South Bound II, 12,359 USB, 1930 UTC check-in) has been excellent, and his forecasts are better than grib files anyway. We also continue to connect with the Rum Runners Net (8131 USB, 1000 UTC), so we hear what weather those ahead of us are having and keep track of our friends' progress. Both of these radio contacts get our position, and we continue to send position reports to YOTREPS, but we don't know if the problem with those position reports has been worked out. We aren't the only ones who had problems.

All is well aboard Solstice (and Orinoco), but the little dog hurt her foot, so we're babying her even more than usual. Our end of day 2 (1500 UTC) position was 14°58.885'N, 028°18.879'W. Our average speed was 5,33 knots, but we only made 117 straight line nautical miles.

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Fresh mahi-mahi restocked

Passage to Barbados, day 1. John caught another mahi-mahi on his 9 o'clock watch yesterday morning. That was preceded by a small something yummy that we ate the next before and a small mahi-mahi that he let go. He still has a hand line out, but it's catch and release until he gets a wahoo. We need to eat some of the other provisions we stocked.

End of day 1 (1500 UTC 12/29/10) we were at 15°26.544'N, 026°21.572'W. We netted 117 nautical miles in a straight line, but we had some course changes along the way. At the end we were heading west.

All is well aboard Solstice, and we heard Orinoco on the net this morning, and he's fine too.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Beyond Cape Verde

Passage to Barbados, day 0. We left the fuel dock at Mindelo at 1440 UTC Tuesday with about 15 knots of easterly wind and higher gusts in the channel between the islands. That was a nice, fast ride. Unfortunately, the winds have eased considerably now so that we're probably only averaging around 4.5 knots. We're also heading south of southwest right now, so it's probably time to jibe pretty soon. When we talked with Herb earlier, though, he said there's more wind further south. The seas are pretty lumpy, so we aren't having a very comfortable ride.

Jinja and Alua left ahead of us. Free Spirit and Avocette are leaving Wednesday.

All is well aboard Solstice. Our position at 0240 UTC on Dec. 29 is 16o23'N and 025o51'W. (There's no degree symbol in SailMail.)

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Monday, December 27, 2010

A mahi-mahi Christmas

Tomorrow we continue our Atlantic crossing, heading to Barbados and then on to Grenada. Our week in Mindelo has been spent working on the boat, doing laundry by hand, and visiting with friends. Although we’ve wandered around town a bit looking for the best grocery stores, we haven’t done anything touristy.

Christmas eve the crews of several boats went out on the town. It was fun to meet new people, some of whom (Alua, Free Spirit, and Connect 4) we had heard on the Rum Runners Net, this year’s informal transatlantic crossing short-wave radio group. Christmas evening John cooked more of the mahi-mahi, and we took it over to Avocette of Portsmouth to share with Chris and Roy. Just before we headed to Avocette, our Israeli friends, Liat and Assaf, arrived on Jinja, so we had them over for dinner last night with their friends Noam and Yosephina, and we’re now out of mahi-mahi until John catches some more.

Today we’ll top off our provisions, give the boat a little wash-down, and do our official check-out. In the morning we’ll top off the water and fuel, and then we’re off. Several other boats are planning to leave about the same time, so we’ll have company out there. We’re looking forward to our first sail in the trade winds, and they look good for at least the first week. Daily updates will continue when we’re underway, assuming we don’t use too much time and get locked out of SailMail. Our Yotreps position reporting quit working just before we reached Mindelo, but that seems to be squared away again now. Just in case, we’ll add our position to the end of our blog posts.

P.S.: John heard Orinoco on the net this morning, and all is well with Jim.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Arrived at Mindelo

We arrived at Mindelo, Cape Verde, yesterday, but I had neither Sailmail or Internet, so couldn't post an update. It was lovely to make landfall on the solstice. As we motored through the anchorage here on our way to the marina, we passed close enough to our friend Jim on Orinoco to say hello. Then we moored right next to our new friends Mike and Linda on Aquila. This morning both of those boats left to continue their passage, but we'll listen for them on the SSB (short-wave) radio. Last night we gave Jim his long-postponed mahi-mahi dinner (promised in Costa Rica in early 2008) and then we all went next door for drinks on Aquila. Jim gave us tips on reefing while sailing downwind, and John gave Mike and Linda a short course in filleting mahi-mahi.

We made two trips yesterday to check in, but immigration wasn't open either time, so we accomplished that this morning. Our friends Chris and Roy on Avocette of Portsmouth also came into the marina yesterday, so we'll be getting together with them, if not today then for sure on Christmas. Liat and Assaf on Jinja are somewhere in the Cape Verde islands, so we're hoping to see them too.

All is well aboard Solstice and friends' boats. Daily posts will resume when we set sail again next week. Happy holidays to you all.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Passage to Mindelo: Day 7

The stats for day 7 are the same as day 6: 133.2 miles, 5.55 knots average. Maybe that's because we had the same light wind conditions and motor-sailed almost the whole time. When we use the SSB radio, we have to turn the engine off, but then our speed has been less than 4 knots, not good enough to get to Mindelo before dark tomorrow, so we turn the engine back on. (Now on day 8 we finally have enough wind to keep the engine off again.)

Besides checking in with Herb for weather in the evening, we use the SSB to check in with the Rum Runners Net, an informal radio network of English-speaking cruisers crossing the Atlantic to the Caribbean. Our friends on Orinoco and Aquila are on the net, and that's how we keep up with them. We've also met a couple of the other boats but really haven't gotten acquainted yet. One boat, Stardust, is from Portland. They're circumnavigating but didn't seem too interested in getting to know us since they're cruising with people they've known for many miles now.

One difference today was that the dolphins were back. I'm pretty sure they were different ones because I think I'd recognize the wounds on one from the other day.

All is well aboard Solstice, but we're definitely looking forward to landfall tomorrow--on the solstice--and catching up with friends on Orinoco, Aquila, and Avocette, who is arriving on the 22nd.

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Passage to Mindelo: Day 6

If we're able to post this, I'll be relieved. Last night when we were trying to get new grib files, Sailmail refused our connection request. We hope whatever caused that will be cleared today. It's a reminder, though, not to worry if you don't hear from us for a few days.

Last night we were able to sail much of the time, but this morning the wind really slacked, and what remains of it is too variable to use, so the motor is back on. We expect it to continue this way through the night, but we have hopes for a little wind tomorrow. We're about two days out from Mindelo at our current pace.

This morning before dawn John landed another mahi-mahi, quite a big one this time. It was a relief because his old jig was lost, and it was a proven fish killer in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Mediterranean. Perhaps that pilot whale took it after all. Whatever, it's good to know that the new jig works too.

All is well aboard Solstice, and we're having pizza tonight despite the fresh fish.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Passage to Mindelo: Day 5

We're finally actually pointing toward Mindelo again after almost three days of sailing south. Last night Herb advised us to go even further south--or even east--and we tried all night, but it was very slow. What little wind we had was directly behind us and not doing us any good since we aren't configured for true downwind sailing. Finally, this morning we decided to sail for awhile at 90 degrees off the wind. That took us west of south (yay!), but it was fast, and when the wind eased even more, we set a track west for a waypoint near Mindelo. That's been working out fine so far, and we can always turn south again if necessary.

Yesterday after the dolphin show, a pod of pilot whales came by. I was just as glad that they didn't get too close. And this morning we saw a big turtle. (John saw one yesterday too, but I was busy at the time.) Other than what I've reported, most of the sea life we've seen has been ships. We've been surprised how much traffic there is along the African coast. Meridian 18 west is almost like a highway, and the ships seem to move in convoys. (They probably don't, but it looks like it.) Now that we've turned, we expect to less traffic.

Yesterday was a slow day: only 109.5 nautical miles (4.56 knots average), but that's in a straight line, and we did turn.

All is well aboard Solstice, and by the way, we're officially in the tropics having crossed the Tropic of Cancer on day 3.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Passge to Mindelo: Day 4

We just had a visit and show by a group of 50 or more spotted Atlantic dolphins. They arrived quite suddenly. John spotted one on the starboard side just as I noticed a bubble circle on the port, and then they were all around us with more racing in from the distance. At one point I counted 12 in our bow wake, but a minute later there must have been 20 or so. Meanwhile, along the sides and off a little ways, a trio was practicing high jumps for their debut at Sea World. We thought the show was over and were heading back to the cockpit when a soloist performed the finale: a series of two 3+-meter jumps with twists and somersaults in the air. Spectacular!

On to the mundane: our 24-hour distance for day 4 was 133 nautical miles, all in a line heading south. That's a decent average speed of more than 5.5 knots, but it was two-thirds motor-sailing. Herb, our weather router, told us last night to continue along the 18W meridian to 18N latitude before we turn west. This is disappointing since it adds miles to the passage, and we're now looking at 8 days or total since a calm is expected over the weekend.

All is well aboard Solstice (and Orinoco too).

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Passage to Mindelo: Day 3

In the past 24 hours we covered 122 nautical miles measuring in a straight line. That's an average speed of a little better than 5 knots (but we really went a little farther and faster because we had a course change as explained below). Most of that has been motor-sailing because the wind is light and still from the southwest.

While dining on fresh mahi-mahi in the cockpit yesterday evening we spotted a whale on the horizon. It was our first confirmed sighting in a couple of years. It was too far away to tell for sure, but judging from the blow and the silhouette, we think it was a sperm whale. This morning a pilot whale was investigating John's jig. Smarter than a mahi-mahi, it didn't linger. Also, we've discovered what we suppose are jellyfish that are new to us. We only see them at night when they look like beach-ball-sized flashes in our wake.

At the end of day 2 we were heading straight for Mindelo on a bearing of 230 degrees. However, last night we were successful in connecting with our weather guru, Herb of South Bound II. We couldn't hear everything he said very clearly, but we did get that there's a little weather system between us and Mindelo. Boats on the other side of it are getting nice sailing with northwest winds. Herb advised us to head straight south until Friday evening, so that's what we're doing. But I hope he changes his mind tonight and lets us go west. The grib files are totally wrong about the wind direction now, so we have to trust Herb.

We learned on the Rum Runners Net this morning that lots of boats are headed to Mindelo. It was news to us since, as I mentioned before, we were isolated from other cruisers in Las Palmas. I don't know how long they're all staying, but most of them will beat us there. I sure hope the marina saves our reservations.

All is well aboard Solstice, but we'd really like to turn the motor off and still get to Mindelo before Christmas.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Passage to Mindelo: Day 2

Day 2 ended with some excitement as John caught a keeper mahi-mahi just as I was doing the end-of-day log entry. Our dinner plans have changed; we can have pizza anytime, but not fresh fish.

Our stats for day 2 were also good: 135 nautical miles for an average speed of 5.625 knots. Unfortunately for day 3's prospects, most of that speed was early in the 24-hour period when we sailed for hours at better than 7 knots. Now the wind has changed, as predicted, and we're motoring with the main sail up into 10-knot winds from the southwest. If the forecast remains accurate, we'll be sailing again in a few hours, though.

Clouds obscured the meteor shower last night that had been so spectacular the night before. We were able to hear Herb on South Bound II briefly as he talked with a nearby boat, but then the signal faded. We did discover, though, that he heard us try to check in the first night, so he knows we're here and is ready to talk with us. This morning John checked in with the Rum Runners Net for the first time. It's an informal group of boats crossing the Atlantic, all equipped with single side band (SSB) radios. We could hear our friends Jim on Orinoco and Linda on Aquila, and they're also motor-sailing and are fine. We haven't been able to get a grib-file update since last night, but no real weather is expected in our area.

All is fine aboard Solstice, and we're eating well tonight!

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Passage to Mindelo: Day 1

The forecasts were good, and we had hoped to leave Las Palmas on Saturday for Mindelo, Cape Verde. Alas, we still had way too much to do, so we planned on Sunday. By Saturday afternoon, all the major chores were done and the provisions loaded on board, albeit not yet stowed, so I decided it was time to build our route in the chart plotter. Until then we had only looked at the big picture. But as I zoomed in on Mindelo's island (Sao Vicente), I wasn't getting the detail I expected. Could it be? Indeed. We didn't have charts for the Cape Verde Islands. So we postponed our departure until Monday and enjoyed an evening out at Sailors Bar chatting with other cruisers.

We officially turned to leave Las Palmas at 1435 Monday (2:35 p.m.). The first 12 hours we motor-sailed because we want to get as far south as possible before the forecast southerlies arrive. I turned the engine off just before 0200 this morning, and we've been sailing fast ever since. Our first 24 hours we covered 141 nautical miles at an average speed of 5.875 knots. That's pretty fast for us, and we're averaging over 6 knots now. The seas started at a meter or less, but have grown a bit lately. John caught one small mahi-mahi right away and let it go, and he just caught another, also too small to keep, but that was technically day 2.

All is well aboard Solstice, and we now have charts.

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

I started to write a post about Las Palmas almost a week ago, but then John wrote his thrilling tale, and that was pretty much the most exciting thing that has happened here. This stop has been all about getting the boat ready to cross the Atlantic, and that has meant that we’ve done a lot of waiting: w in line at the chandlery to find out what on our list they had—or didn’t have, waiting for vendors to show up at the boat, waiting for a part shipped from the States to arrive and clear customs. The vendors don't make fixed appointments, or if they do, they're late. Sadly, that has meant that we haven’t explored Gran Canaria except to find big supermarkets for provisions. On our major shopping expedition yesterday, we did see the old town of Las Palmas from the freeway, and the cathedral looked impressive.

We did get a lot done, though. Besides fixing the head, John fixed the generator (after the part arrived), and we had the tri-color light on top of our mast replaced. The socket for the top light bulb was loose, so the connection broke in rough seas. We have alternate navigation lights, but they’re at deck level and simply not visible at any distance in seas over a meter. The life raft and EPIRB were also due for re-certification, so we got that taken care of. John also got new glasses. He’d been holding his old frames together with tape for a year or more, but it was the need for a new prescription that drove him to take care of this, finally. Märzen got her nails trimmed and new supplies of treats and special dog food and stuff we can only find at a vet's office. And, of course, there were the mundane boat chores.

We had been hoping to meet lots of other cruisers here, but that hasn’t happened either. We’re on a dock with mostly local boats or foreign boats that are here long term. Our next-door neighbors, for example, are spending the whole winter here. They’re very nice people from the Alsace region of France, and we’ve exchanged names but very few words because of the language barrier. German is our shared language. Also on our dock is a nice Swedish couple and a boat being delivered to New Zealand by a British skipper and crew. We’ve had drinks a couple of time with James, Joe and Ju and have enjoyed their company, but once they finish their repairs and leave here, they’ll be hurrying to make up lost time.

Fortunately, we were also able to reconnect with some people we met in Gibraltar. Moira was crew on Avocette, a boat we’ve become friendly with and saw again in Madeira. Now she’s on Salt Dragon. Lucky for us she got her new skipper, Shane, to bring her by on the dinghy before they took off on their crossing. We’ll try to find her again on the other side, and she’s on Facebook, so that will make it easier. Also through Facebook, we were able to connect with Liat and Assaf on Jinja. We only met this young Israeli couple briefly in Gibraltar, but we hit it off, so we were glad to catch them here. John even had them over for quesadillas since we found some reasonably priced flour tortillas. They left Friday for Cape Verde, and we have tentative plans to see them again around Christmas.

Meanwhile, our friends in La Palma (Jim on Orinoco and Mike, Linda, and little boat dog Lucy on Aquila) left for St. Lucia yesterday. I got Linda started with a blog while we were in La Palma, and she plans to update it daily. Here’s a link for anyone who’s interested in following another boat across the Atlantic. Mark and Kimberly of Swanya, who we met in Cartagena over the winter, are waiting in La Gomera for a better weather window. A system is approaching this week that will be a hassle to those on the transatlantic passage, but it shouldn’t inconvenience us as much.

And tomorrow we too are making our get-away to Cape Verde. (We had thought we would leave today, but then realized that we don't have charts, so we're waiting for the chandleries to open tomorrow.) We won’t be exploring all of the islands. Without a water-maker, I’m reluctant to add a lot of time to our crossing. The quality of the water in Cape Verde has been reported as questionable, but we’re going to a marina in Mindelo (the only marina in the country, so far) that is owned and run by some Germans, and I’m pretty sure the water will be fine. Our hope is to rendezvous with Avocette and Jinja there for Christmas. It looks like we should arrive on the solstice unless we get no wind or adverse wind and have to motor.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Another Gripping Cruising Tale

Yesterday was head rebuild day. One must take it all apart and scrape out the scale that accumulates and restricts the proper functioning of the head. So I'm standing on the swim step banging a couple two-foot sections of hose together to dislodge the scale and one of the hoses slips from my grip. I have no replacement hose and the chandlery won't be open for two more days and we are in 25 feet of water.

First thought was Shit!
Second thought was Sinking!
Third thought was DIVE!

I whipped off my glasses and jumped in after the sinking hose. I managed to grab the hose and got back on board.

The head is back together and functioning like new. Oh the glamor of cruising.