Sailing faster than I ever did before: training on Volvo Ocean 65

I arrived in Antigua two days before the training started on Sisi. It gave me the opportunity to relax a bit, enjoy the local scenery, and to go and have a look at the boat.

She was in port, but no crew was on board. She looked sexy, and breathed "speed". It was the first time I saw a Volvo Ocean racer from close by, in "real life"... It was a special feeling, as I followed the Volvo Ocean race for years, and had always meshmerized how it would feel to sail on one of these stallions, the "top of the top, of the open ocean racers"...


We had a Whatsapp chat group with the whole crew, active already some weeks before the regatta. We exchanged some pleasantries before, and coordinated some logistics (transport, lodging, etc..), so we had breakfast with some of the "amateur" crew, a day before the actual training started, and together went to see Sisi.

This time, the crew was on board preparing the ship. I have to say, I rarely stepped on a boat which was clearly so well maintained. Sure, she was completely stripped and refurbished 18 months ago, but in the mean time, she did many regattas and several ocean crossing. And still, there was hardly any scratch I could see. All rigging looked super well laid out, orderly, well labeled,... She looked like "new". Her hull shone in the morning sun. Later on, I learned the crew dove in the water every morning, to scrub her hull, to avoid any growth - as growth slows down the boat. She was a beauty.


The evening before the first training day, I wrote this:

I have a confession to make.
I’ve done a lot of real crazy stuff in my life. I’ve done four expeditions to the world’s most remote locations. For a decade, I lead a UN team which was the first in, last out, in any emergency, anywhere in the world.
Where I am at now, in sailing, I don’t get the least bit worried to plan and execute a transocean passage even with a boat or crew I don’t know. Or to take a novice crew out sailing, teaching them the art of sailing, in the end being, as the skipper, responsible for their safety.
But tonight, I realized, as of tomorrow, I will be sailing on one of the fastest, most aggressive monohull sailing boats in the world, competing against some of the best in the sailing world.
One of our competitors is Charlie Enright, who just won the last year’s Volvo Ocean race, one of the most challenging and high-stake around-the-globe races… He was actually having breakfast at the table next to us, this morning, BTW. Almost felt like Bono from U2 was sitting on the next table. Or president Obama… Pip Hare and Bouwe Bekking, two other notorious global ocean racers are also around, and will be competing in the same regatta..
And I have to confess, I am nervous, like I have not been for a long long long time. I guess this is how we grow and keep on learning, right? Raising the bar, facing the abyss, and… just jump..
But this is really crazy shit. I gotta be nuts. Even at the age of 63.

When the morning of the first of 3 training days came, we were all hyped up. Apart from the six professional crew, we were with 11 amateur sailors, mostly from Europe and North America. Some of the "amateurs" were hardcore regatta sailors. Some, like me, were more cruising sailors. Some had sailed on Sisi before, and others were less experienced. The ages varied from 18 to 70. I was the 2nd oldest on board. Some were physically very fit, built like athletes, others were, well, like me: not built or trained like an athlete, but nevertheless knew how to move on a boat :-)...

Needless to say, we were all excited the first morning, ready for our initial briefing by Gerwin, the skipper and Ollie, the boat captain. Both were part of Sisi's permanent crew and part of the contingent of 6 professional sailors onboard.


From the first moment onboard, it was clear these guys knew how to handle a large and diverse amateur crew. Gerwin and Ollie gave a basic safety briefing, and an overview of the boat, and its operation. As Gerwin said: this is not an overly complex boat, in terms of "systems": most of its operations were "manual". The only electrical pump-driven hydraulic system was the kanting of the keel, which could swing 40° sideways, but all the rest (such as the winches) were manual. There was not even an auto-pilot on Sisi. But boy, there were a lot of "ropes" on this boat - the running rigging to hoist and trim the many sails she could fly.

There were basically two "modes" we would sail in: One mode was "maneuvering" - where all crew is on deck, each with a specific task or "position". "Maneuvering" was the mode when changing sails (dropping or hoisting), while tacking or jybing (changing wind direction).
The second mode was "passage" mode, when we would sail longer straight lines, with only 5 crew on deck, while the others were off duty. Watches were run with a 3 hours on and 6 hours off cycle. When "off duty", you were resting, eating or "hiking" (sitting on the rail, to help balancing the boat).
Even when "off duty", "all hands on deck" could be called, when we were preparing a maneuver or changing sails. At that call, you had a few minutes to drop whatever you were doing, or crawl out of your bunk, to get on deck and take your maneuvering position. - which later on proved to be one of my personal challenges, as, even when trying to rest, my subconscience was always listing to a call for "all hands on deck".

When maneuvering, each of the 17 crew had their specific position (or "task"). One at the helm, several crew on the bow, 6 "grinders" who worked on the pedestrals - the "coffee grinders" which controlled several of the massive winches, someone controlling "the pit" (which controlled which line was grinded by the pedestrals), two controlling the main sheet (powering the main sail), and the "runners".


I was part of the 4-person "runners" team - and yep, after I was assigned my task as "runner", I had to ask what "a runner" does... Well, the 30m tall carbon mast, is kept up with several cables, or "stays": The forward stays, or "forestays", keep the mast up straight, forward - and were also used to hold the fore-sails. There were two fixed side stays, and two back-stays, running to aft of the boat. The back-stays put pressure on the mast, counter balancing the pressure all sails put on the mast, which push forward. So the backstays are the only "things" which avoid the mast from collapsing forward. And dependent if we got the wind from starboard or port side (from the right or the left of the boat), the left or right running backstays, had to be tensioned up, or released. That was the task of the "runners", including me.

So every time the boat tacked or jybed, one backstay had to have its tension released, while the other backstay had to be tensioned up. And that had to happen quickly, as the boat could not tack or jybe unless the tension was ready, otherwise the mast would collapse under the forward pressure of the sails. So, to put it simply, the speed in which the "runners" did their task, determined the speed the boat could maneuver.

As "a runner", I was part of a team of four: When we tacked or jybed, Sheila would, at the right time, release the tension on one backstay, while Dan, Alessandro ("Ale") and me, would tension up the other backstay, which would become the "active" backstay. The tension on the backstay was about 2.5 tons of pressure when sailing downwind, and between 3 to 5 tons of pressure when running upwind. The faster the runners could tension up the backstays, the faster a maneuver could be done, as no tack or jybe could be done unless if the right tension was applied to the back stays.

So here is the scenario: We would be sailing in "full hiking mode", with 5 crew on the helm and sheets, and the rest of the crew sitting upwind, on the rail, on the side of the boat. The helmsperson would call "prepare to tack!", and all 11 hiking crew would jump, crawl or scramble to their assigned maneuvering positions. Quite a challenge, as most of the time, Sisi heals 30° to 35°. And as she is very wide, getting up from my hiking position on the rail, it looked like I was somewhat looking down into an abyss, downwind of the boat: Ale, Dan and I, had to, as quickly as possible, crawl to our winch, which controlled the backstay. But as the boat was always healing that much, it felt like crawling down a 5-6 meters slope through a hurdle of ropes and obstacles, with little to hold on to, and while all other crew crawled to their maneuvering positions too.


During the first training day, it looked a bit like "organized chaos". And I have to admit, we, the runners, were often slow in tensioning up our backstay. But during the 2nd training day, we got the hang of it: When the call "prepare to tack" or "prepare to jybe" came, Dan, who is a professional sailor and a 1000% more agile then me, would "fly" over to the winch for the backstay, and prepare the backstay line on the winch, ready for Ale to grind, and me to pull in the backstay rope by hand, while I was watching a small display, which measured the tension on the backstay (or the other way around: I would grind and Ale would watch the display). During the maneuver, Sheila would release the pressure on her backstay, and Dan, Ale and me would tension up the active backstay.

To read the tension on the backstay, we had to monitor a small display, measuring the tension, which we could only see while looking in-between the legs of the crew grinding on the 2nd pedestral. I have never spent that much time, on my belly, looking between the legs of two other men, who were grinding on the second pedestral. So I got quite "intimate" with the inner legs of Erik and Ed, "manning" the 2nd pedestral - who - as time went by - proved to be great people and became good friends.

So, during the training, and during the regatta: this small display, between the legs of Erik and Ed, became "my life" for my stay on Sisi: on the bottom left and right of the display, are the numbers for the backstay pressure. Getting that number to the right value was my sole purpose in life while on Sisi - well, at least during maneuvers, apart from also running my watches...

As I said: the first day, it was a bit like "organized" chaos, but by the 2nd day, we got the hang of it, and hi-fived amongst the runners, when we tensioned up the backstays well in time, allowing the boat to do a fast maneuver. While maneuvering this boat, in full speed mode, it was quite a sight, to see 17 people all working together, each with a specific task, all depending on each other.

We had two days of "full-on" training, which showed the real power of Sisi. We were often sailing at speeds matching or going faster than wind speed, something which is really rare on boats I had sailed so far in my 20-odd years of sailing. She was fast... The speed was exhilarating. The view off the back of the boat as Sisi was racing through the water, on her massive sails, was... special. "Hiking", sitting on the rail, while you see the fluorescent keel kanted below your feet, and the water rushing by at that speed, was... special.
And even more special was when I was given the helm of Sisi, with the orders like "Oh, take it easy, keep her speed below 10.5 knots", which was close to the fastest I had ever sailed before. And that was "relaxed cruising mode" for Sisi...

At the end of each of the first two training days, I was exhausted. But happy. My initial "nervousness" made way to pure excitement.

The third day, we had our final briefing, and the fourth day, we were starting the three days and three nights regatta. Which proved to be quite a challenge for me.

More in the next posts.

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My love affair in Antigua

Sisi is Austrian-Italian. Dark-skinned. Slender and tall. Her body shape is dazzling. People get excited just looking at her features. She always attracts attention wherever she goes.

Named after the legendary young Austrian empress, she lives up to a reputation of passion and adventure. And love.

And we were with 17 to share our love with her, for a week, in Antigua, February this year.


Sisi is a VO65 - a 65 foot full-bred Volvo Ocean sailing racer. She races under the brand "The Austrian Ocean Race Project Powered by Team Genova", thus showing her Austrian-Italian pedigree. As far as non-foiling monohull open ocean sailing boats go, she is amongst the fastest boats in the world. Less than a dozen of VO65's were ever built.

For those rather unfamiliar with "open ocean" sail racing, "the Ocean Race" is probably the most prestigious and challenging around-the-globe sailing team races. It is held every three or four years since 1973. Originally named "the Whitbread Round the World Race", in 2001 it became the "Volvo Ocean Race" and in 2019 it was renamed "The Ocean Race".

Pre-2014, the fastest open ocean racers were VO70's - 70 ft boats, which were found to be structurally rather unsafe. So, after many issues with VO70's, as of 2014, the around-the-globe race was held with new single-design 65 foot boats, the VO65's. "Single design" meant that all boats participating in the "Volvo Ocean Race" had, up to the slightest details, the exact same features, systems, hardware, and sails which levels the sailing competition to the skills of the sailors, rather than the features of the boat. People told me that even the slightest details, like the bags holding cups above the stove, were uniform and standardized.

In the past, Sisi did the two around-the-globe Volvo Ocean races - last was the 2017-2018 campaign, when she sailed under the brand "Vestas - 11th Hour Racing", with the infamous Charlie Enright as skipper and Simon Fisher as navigator. After each campaign, the boats are stripped to the bone and totally rebuilt.

Sisi was fully refurbished/rebuilt in Genova 2 years ago, to make her ready for the 2022-2023 Ocean race, and she was re-launched about 18 months ago. Sisi was the Austrian/Italian entry in the 2022-2023 Ocean Race participating in the European legs.

She is a full carbon boat featuring a carbon hull, boom, mast and rigging. She is 65ft, with a mast of 30 meters, weighing only 12.5 tons (empty). She has a 4.8m keel, which kants up to 40° sideways. She has a 1000 litre ballast tank (pumped between forward and aft tanks) and 2x800 litre side ballast tanks.


The VO65 record stands at 38 knots boat speed, with their 24 hour record in open ocean standing at 601 nautical miles, averaging 25 knots. So they are at par with the 100ft Supermaxi's (like "Comanche") - which has the current world record for non-foiling monohulls at 618 nm in 24 hours, making VO65's on par with the much larger Supermaxi's, as the fastest non-foiling open ocean monohulls in the world.

So how did I get to know Sisi? Well, via an internet site. And no - not the kind of sites one links up with Russian or Thai girls. The other kind of websites... :-)
I was looking to charter a performance cruiser for this summer, and someone pointed me to a website of a company which could help me in this endeavour. Exploring their website, I saw they also marketed crew positions on high performance boats, like Sisi, for different regattas.

And that is how I got to know Sisi, back in January this year: Sisi had crew spots available for the RORC Caribbean600 (C600) regatta, starting and ending in Antigua, in February. I did a background check, and found the C600, to be one of the world's top regattas, in the same class as e.g. the UK Fastnet race and the Sydney-Hobart race. As in the 600 (nautical) miles of the race, the C600 regatta rounds many different islands, the race is reputed to be a very challenging regatta, with loads of maneuvering, and often challenging winds and open ocean wave activity...

Sisi would sail in the C600 with 11 amateur crew - like me, and 6 professional crew of which three - including the skipper - are part of Sisi's permanent crew. All professional crew, were... well... professional sailors: a young and fit bunch who sail these kinds of boats and do off-shore regattas for a living.

I did not hesitate a moment to apply as crew on Sisi for the C600, which was about 6 weeks before the event. My application was accepted in 24 hours, and we were a go.

Little did I know what Sisi had in mind for me... And how she would test me to my limits...

More in the following posts.

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Sailing across the Atlantic - the 2023 version

This blog is mostly a cut and paste from my microblogs published during our transatlantic passage. Apologies for the typoes.
Some of the blogs are hard-core sailing bits, and some are.. well... witness to our minds drifting off into absurdness....
We will go from -almost- a transat sailing tutorial, to a story of stolen ladies' underwear, smoking mushroom soup and sea weed, to tracking the International Space Station, and locking up our 15 sailing trainees - all 18 years old - who did not want to adhere to the minimum boat's dress code of wearing at least a thong...

Enjoy, though!

Prelude

Back in May 2023, Lana, my oldest daughter and I started talking about going sailing together. At that point, Lana was planning a 6 months' backpacking trip, starting in November. So we thought: "Why not doing a transatlantic trip together?". After all, Lana had sailed, with our family, for a couple of seasons on summer charter trips, so she "knew" what it is to live on a yacht for a month, knew the basics of sailing, and understood what it means to live in "close quarters", on a boat...
So, in June, I published a post on several Facebook groups:

Daughter-father sailing combo looking for crewing positions in the next season’s transatlantic (Southern EU to Caribbean), preferably leaving early/mid November.
Lana holds a Master in psychology, sailed dinghies from an early age and spent 5 summer holidays on a yacht (Caribbean, Seychelles, Greece) when she was a bit younger. Feels confident as “competent crew” or to keep watch. This transat leg would be the start of a longer globetrotter’s trip. She loves sailing, feels comfortable on the water and likes adventures.
Peter recently retired from the UN working in telecoms/IT, and now spends 50% of his time on yachts. Very fit and has skippered yachts for 20 years in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean, North/South Europe. He is an RYA Offshore Yachtmaster, holds an RYA Powerboat instructor’s certificate and is a licensed ham operator. Peter has 35,000 Nm under his keel with 3 transatlantic and 2 part-Pacific crossing as crew/first mate. Last year’s crossing was as first mate on a 72ft Jongert 2200S racing cruiser, sailing from Gibraltar via Las Palmas and Cabo Verdes to Barbados, part of which was sailed with only 2 people. He was responsible for setting up the watch schedule, coordinate the provisioning, weather routing, passage planning and comms.
Beyond watch keeping/sailing, both are eager to share all boat chores (including cooking, cleaning,,..), contribute to the common trip costs (fuel, mooring fees, food,..) and pay for their transport to/from the boat. We speak Dutch, French and English and get along with people easily.
Videos of past sailing on Instagram (@theroadtothehorizon) or Youtube (@petercasier).
Please PM if interested.


In a week, I got about 5 responses. Some interesting, some not. One contact stood out: Dee and Ian, a pilot/flight attendant couple living in the UK, had a 45 foot Lagoon catamaran, which they bought two years ago. "Sturdeee" (yep, with 3 "e"'s!), was a sailing vessel of about 4-5 years old. Ian and Dee had been working for the past two years, preparing the boat to fulfill their dream of sailing across the Atlantic and cruising the Caribbean - and possibly further on.

Two days after our initial contact, I had a chat with them. It felt "right" from the first call. While not fulltime sailors, they had thought things through, and seemed to have prepared the boat and their trip well: there was a water maker onboard, satellite communications, and Ian, being a pilot, had a solid approach for safety onboard. A day later, they had a chat with Lana, who also felt good about "the partnership". I told Ian and Dee "we have a deal": Lana and me could contribute as crew, plus with my previous transat crossings, I could contribute to the preparations, weather routing, etc.... From my end, I could also learn, as I had never sailed a catamaran yacht before, so I would also learn and extend my experience.

We agreed we would meet up in Las Palmas, late October, and sail with Sturdeee in the "ARC" (the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers), a yearly organized "migration" of a large number of cruisers from the Canaries to the Caribbean. Actually, we would participate in the "ARC+", a slightly smaller rally than the ARC, of +- 100 boats which would sail from Las Palmas to Cape Verde (with a short stop-over in Mindelo), and then onwards to Grenada. I had done the ARC back in 2006 with a 57ft Beneteau. "Lady Providence" would have it that I would meet up Mark, the skipper of our ARC 2006 boat, in Las Palmas, where he was crewing on a boat, also part of the ARC+ -, yet another renewal of old friendships, which continues even for future adventures.

Change of plans


Late August, Ian called me. They had been sailing Sturdeee from the UK down to Portugal, but were delayed in their crossing to the Canaries, due to some weather issues, and were changing their crew. I suggested I would join them in Faro, South Portugal, early September, to help in the crossing to the Canaries.

So said, so done. I packed my bags and on September 11th, I flew to Faro, and joined Ian, Dee and Nigel (our fourth crew as Lana could not join for this leg) for the crossing to Lanzarote in the Canaries. I would then leave the boat, and re-join Sturdeee, with Lana, late October in Las Palmas for the crossing. We had a good weather window to leave the next morning, Sept 12th. There was not much wind in the forecast, but we had to move the boat South, as North Atlantic depressions were coming in regularly and furiously.

Date: 12-September-2023
Position: Faro, Portugal

I have sailed on quite a few boats, with an equal number of different skippers and crew, and I have learned that "first impressions" of both boat and crew, tell me 90% of the boat and how she is "managed". And impressed I was, with Sturdeee! The boat looked new and shiny, very well organized and super tidy. I told Dee, it felt like stepping into an Airbnb apartment: even the bunks were nicely set out with a duvet and towels arranged as one would see, when stepping into a hotel room.

You would be surprised on how many boats I have cast off for an ocean passage without a proper briefing and safety run-through. I guess, a lot of that goes back to Ian being an airline pilot and Dee being a flight attendant: well organized, systematic, risk adverse,... All of that gave me "a good and fuzzy" feeling, in anticipation for Lana to join us for the next leg: Las Palmas to Cabo Verdes and Grenada. That "good and fuzzy" feeling, and the good first impressions continued to dominate my feeling up to today.

As predicted, in the first hours of this trip, we did not have much wind. But that is ok: there is a lot of cargo traffic coming in and out of the Gibraltar straight, so running under engine makes it easier to dodge these sea monsters. This was my 3rd crossing of this stretch of water, and I have to say: I never saw cargo traffic this dense. It was a continuous "thriller in slow motion": deciding how we would dodge the traffic: "ok, this vessel, we will cross astern of them, which will give us time to cross over the bow of the next vessel, then we can run a bit more westerly, and cross astern of that vessel, depending on what this sailing vessel ahead of us, and that fishing trawler will do"... Our AIS plotter was full of "targets". It was... eh.. a bit intense. Ian ran his shift with Nigel, I ran my shift with Dee - 4 hours on and four hours off. I stayed on deck for some extra shifts, to assist Ian and Nigel, as the traffic was really dense.

As we set off in little wind, motoring South/South-West, we passed through an area notorious for orcas attacking sail boats over the past years, so we kept a good "orca watch". No orcas were seen, though we had several pods of dolphins joining us on our bow - always a good sign. I love dolphins. Having a pod joining a sailboat, and playing around the bow is a sign, which never grows old. I love how they play, interact with each other, and swim on their side to look at the boat and its crew waving at them.

I did not tell Ian at the time, but this Gibraltar crossing was much more busy than the previous occasions I crossed this maritime stretch, making it a very busy and intense first 24 hours aboard Sturdeee... Until... Until... Until our navigation screen seemed to be cleared by cargo vessels, as the wind picked up, and we raised the sails, and finally... we could enjoy this sail, as we should, during an ocean passage...

And at that moment, I pushed the pause-button, as we glided into another "mode of passage". The "mode of passage" that sailors dream of, and non-sailors think of, as "this is how sailing is like, should be like, every day"....
There was "a new moon" (which means: "there was no moon"), so the sky at night was super-super dark. There seemed to be little humidity in the air, so the stars were clear and present in the thousands... Eh... let me correct that: ...."in the millions." Some stars were so bright, they reflected on the water. It was the first time in many years where I could see the Milky Way so clearly, as I leaned over backwards, from the helming position, and looked up to gaze at the sky. This... was sailing at its best... These were the moments, all of the hard work Ian and Dee put into this boat for the past two years, preparing this passage, paid off... These were the moments for all to enjoy. We saw shooting stars rushing over our bow, we saw the International Space Station (ISS) passing right overhead, at a speed of 28,000 km/h, stars raising in the East and setting in the West, with the wind in our face, realizing, we were far away from land, and on our own. Ian, Dee, Nigel and myself, were on our own, with nobody and nothing around us, apart from the occasional cargo or fishing vessel we could see...

The daytime watches were equally enjoyable. As we got into the open ocean, the water turned into a bright blue colour, with a steady and moderate swell. As predicted, the wind was rather light, so we raised and dropped sails, dependent on the wind, motoring in between lulls. But we had plenty of company: dolphins visited us every day. One pod consisted of hundreds of dolphins, jumping the waves, flipping up side down as they swam from the horizon towards Sturdeee. We saw whales spouting on several occasions, and one time, saw a swordfish jumping out of the water, as it was chasing its breakfast. One morning, we saw a cuttlefish had landed in front of the helming position during the night, and had died a un-notorious death on deck. Still a mystery to me, how a cuttlefish could jump up and land on a platform, 3 meters above the water, but I guess this is one of the ocean's secrets...

And that, is what I started to realize: no matter how many times one sails across oceans or in the open sea: this part of the world, the oceans, are still -and should remain- untamed. And, protected. And while sailing these oceans, I, as a more seasoned sailor, need to continue to remind myself, to be aware, I am a "guest" of these untamed areas of the world, show respect and enjoy every single occasion I venture into these waters. Realizing that only few people have the privilege to experience this: being in the middle of nowhere, on a boat, with three other people I have never met before.

A passage in time and space, which I had the privilege to share with Dee, my watch mate, with Ian and Nigel, and a passage as a prelude for our next step, to Cabo Verdes, and then the great 2-3 weeks adventure sailing across the Atlantic.

No matter, how many times I sail on the open oceans, I continue to be amazed by the open space, how small we are: a small speck on the ocean, a small speck in the universe. And I continue to be grateful of the opportunity to experience this unique moment; with three other people I did not know, prior to our longer passage.

This passage was heaven. And I was looking forward to experience our next steps, to sail Sturdeee onto Grenada. I could not wait!

Lanzarote


Date: 16-September-2023
Position: Lanzarote, Canary Islands

We safely arrived in the marina, in Lanzarote, just before midnight. We did a short "ship-shape" - converting the boat "open ocean passage" to "marina mode" - after all, a yacht is like a lady: she wants to look pretty when "on show", on shore. We had a few anchor/mooring drinks and the next day, cleaned the boat, did a short provisioning run, walked around the marina, had great Indian food dinner, and I left the boat on Sept 18th, flying back to Rome.

I would not see Sturdeee for a month, until I joined her, and Ian + Dee, in Las Palmas late October.
When I left the boat, I gave a hug to Nigel, our 4th crew member, who I got to like a lot, not knowing, at that point, he would not join us for the transatlantic. In the weeks following our passage from Faro, Nigel told the team he needed more experience before he felt ready for a longer ocean crossing, and I can not blame him. I would miss his wicked humour and smile, though!

In the mean time, Ian identified a fifth crew member, Michelle from South Africa: a seasoned sailor, skipper and RYA yachtmaster instructor. Michelle would join us in Las Palmas, for the actual transat crossing. With the five of us, we had a solid crew contingent. And just as I felt a bond with Nigel, I would find an equal bond with Michelle as we would share many watches together. This also meant, this would be my first crossing with a "couple" (Ian and Dee), and my first crossing with three ladies (Dee, Michelle and Lana) on board, "outweighing" the male component of Ian and me. And that turned out to be a good thing!

Back on board!


Date: 23-October-2023
Position: Las Palmas, Canary Islands

After a little more than a month, I am back on board of Sturdeee, in the marina of Las Palmas, where I spent a week back in 2006, about a month in 2021, and a week or so last year… So most of it is déjà vu, but a nice déjà vu!

As we are preparing the passage in Las Palmas, our crew starts to arrive. So we have Ian (the skipper), Dee (his partner), and myself. Michelle will arrive on the Oct 28th…

On Oct 24th, one (to me) very special crew member arrived in Las Palmas: My oldest daughter Lana.

This transatlantic will be the first step of a 6 months’ backpacking trip for Lana, taking her through Central and South America and Japan.

While our family at the time, sailed quite a bit in Greece, Caribbean and Seychelles 2004-2008, Lana was still young then. So it will be her first sailing since more or less 15 years, and her first open ocean passage.

So, after a crew dinner last night, today was Lana’s first (re-)induction into sailing. Today’s “training programme” was about weather/wind predictions, her safety gear, standing and running rigging (with all associated gear like winches, cleats and clutches), and knots, loads of knots…

And she absorbed it all like a charm.

Today was also the day the ARC+ offices/events opened up here in Las Palmas marina, where we are. – This year, we do this ocean crossing as part of an organized cruisers’ event, called the “ARC+”. “ARC” stands for “Atlantic Rally for Cruisers”. There is one crossing, called “ARC” leaving late November which sails with about 150 boats from Las Palmas to Saint Lucia. We are part of the “ARC+”, which sails about 100 boats from Las Palmas to Cape Verde - where the ARC+ does some events for 5-6 days - and then sails from Cape Verde to Grenada in the Caribbean.

So… as the song goes: “The heat is on!”

Date: 25-October-2023
Position: Las Palmas, Canary Islands


On Sturdeee, our boat, safety comes first. Today was the day where we fitted Lana’s “PFD”. “PFD”= “Personal Flotation Device” - or “life jacket” in landlubber terms.

I do think only young ladies make PFDs look that good.

Lana’s PFD is a top-of-the-line Spinlock 6D 170N deckvest, with a MOB1 (“Man Over Board”) intra-fitted.

What does that mean? Well, “Spinlock” is - in my humble opinion - the best PFD on the market. It is a “170N” - or “170 Newton”, which defines the flotation force. So this lifejacket can keep a person afloat with full-weather gear. It inflates automatically, when a person hits the water. (my own PFD is a heavier “Spinlock 275N”, as I do some heavy weather sailing with “heavy weather gear and boots”, and I am heavier than Lana, so I need more “flotation-power”).

With it, goes a “tether” or “lifeline”, which clips onto the PFD on one end, and is clipped onto the boat on the other end. Our tethers have “quick release” levers, allowing us to detach from the boat fast, if we would go over-board, but are dragged under water by the boat, in fear of drowning.

Lana’s PFD (like mine) is fitted with an Ocean Signal MOB1 device, which is activated automatically, and transmits a “Man Over Board” AIS (“Automated Identification System”) signal automatically to all vessels in a 5-10 Nmile range (the VHF radio range). Beyond that, on Sturdeee, for night sailing, we also use a satellite “MOB” (“Man Over Board”) device (manually activated), which transmits a satellite MOB signal to a coastal rescue station of choice, in our case, Falmouth in the UK. So we are well covered.

Date: 26-October-2023
Position: Las Palmas, Canary Islands

Part of the preparation of an ocean passage is “provisioning”: buying food, drinks, etc…

Dee had already done one provisioning run, and today, we did another provisioning run, partially to buy some of the longer term storage food stuff (milk, soda, canned stuff) and non-food stuff (toilet paper, kitchen paper towels, etc…). We also bought fresh food stuff for the meals we want to pre-cook and freeze for the passage. So we ended up with a €400 provisioning run, and as of tomorrow, we will start our 2-3 days cook-out to pre-cook a lot of the meals for the passage.

Looking at the menus, Dee has planned and pulled together, we will have quite a gourmet passage! Meanwhile check out the blog of Dee and Ian on: https://www.ourodyssey.co.uk/

Las Palmas: Gas bottles, push-up bras, and more


Date: 27-October-2023
Position: Las Palmas, Canary Islands

While Michelle is still to join the boat in a few day, the ARC+ group is starting to take shape: 95 boats and about 400 crew are preparing to cross the Atlantic. This rally is well organized and structured. In the run-up of us leaving next week, there are a number of social events (sunset drinks, day trips,...) set up. All skippers and crew are assembled in a couple of Whatsapp groups. I could not resist to put up some spicy jokes in that group:
General announcement to the ARC+ fleet>
During the drink tonight we have learned many ARC+ sailors have problems to get non-Spanish gas bottles refilled.

We are happy to inform that Lana and Dee, part of our 15 crew of 18-23 year old female sailing trainees on our yacht, have, so far, had a 100% success rate to get any bottles refilled, due to their natural charm, combined with high heels, push-up bras and short skirts. Rumour has it, that they even had water bottles filled with cooking gas.

So if anyone has problems to refill gas bottles, we are now happy to announce that SV Sturdeee is now offering this service to other boats. The going rate for this service, is now 10 camels per gas bottle, though due to the expected raise in demand, the service rate might go up to 10 camels and 10 goats.

For details, please see Ian, the skipper of SV Sturdeee.

To my surprise some of the other crew/skippers thought I was serious (little did they know), and offered all kinds of compensations for our ladies to refill their gas bottles... In my next life, I will make a business out of that, I think!

Date: 28-October-2023
Position: Las Palmas, Canary Islands

My ashes are stored next to garbage bin on the boat.

"My ashes",... but it is not what you think. There are no plans to cremate me (yet) :slight_smile:

My only vice in life is that I smoke.
On a boat I am really careful where I smoke, so it does not bother other people (I hate other’s people smoke too). But we also agreed that I would store the ashes of my cigarettes in a recycled container, so it is not put in the general trash container and start smelling.

So, “my ashes” now have their dedicated place, in this container, on our boat

ARC+ starts!


Date: 29-October-2023
Position: Las Palmas, Canary Islands

Lana and I are the only Belgian sailors in this year’s ARC+…

The “ARC” or “Transatlantic Rally for Cruisers” is the annually organised group of boats that cross the Atlantic starting at a given date. They sail from Las Palmas to Saint Lucia. This year, there are about 160 boats and 1,000 crew in the ARC. Since a few years back, they also organize an “ARC+”, a slightly smaller group - this year 100 boats, 400 crew - which leaves 2-3 weeks earlier than the ARC, and has a stop-over in Cape Verde before sailing to Grenada.

We are part of the ARC+ this year.

And today’s flag parade was the official opening ceremony. Lana and I had the honour of carrying the Belgian flag.
And I know many of you are not sailors… But an ocean crossing is a major “thing”. A transatlantic crossing is, for many people, their first open ocean crossing (after sailing for years in Europe…). Las Palmas is a key stop for many, before hopping over the ocean, and particularly the marina we are in, Las Palmas, is for many the starting point. So there are a massive amount of boats here (ARC, ARC+ or non-ARC boats), ready to cross the Atlantic.

So I can hardly describe the overall feeling on the pontoons of this marina, from all boats, and all crew, before most of them endeavour on their first-ever ocean crossing.

And to add to the hype of it all, within the ARC and ARC+, there are a lot of social events, learning webinars, safety checks, etc… to ensure all boats are ready to cross the ocean in a safe way.

So do I need to add anything more, to say that the overall feeling in this marina, is that of “anticipation”, spread between “excitement” and slight “oh what did I get myself into now?”

Oh, and the ARC organizers told us today, they would not be able to handle more Belgians than Lana and me. We’re building up quite a reputation in the fleet here! :slight_smile:


Date: 29-October-2023
Position: Las Palmas, Canary Islands
Subject: "The Pretty Officer!"

Our skipper (Ian) and partner (Dee) are certified hilarious.

Dee has a Tshirt saying “pretty officer” on her sleeve - a tongue-in-cheek for the nautical term of “Petty Officer”.

She is also the shortest and lightest (and loudest) of our crew, so up the mast she went yesterday, to put “noodles” on the shrouds, to protect the main sail from friction with the spreaders when sailing downwind.

Date: 30-October-2023
Position: Las Palmas, Canary Islands
Subject: "Food, food, food"

One week to go before we leave and our food prep is starting!
The crew is starting to pre-cook some meals, vacuum seal and freeze them, so it is easier to prepare food while on passage.
Today, the spaghetti sauce and spice pumpkin soup (with meat balls), were sealed and frozen! Oh, and meet Michelle, our 5th crew member (in the picture on the right) who arrived some days ago!

Getting serious!


Date: 30-October-2023
Position: Las Palmas, Canary Islands


We have 6 days to go before we leave Las Palmas, so as of now, the weather predictions for our crossing, start to come in.
While mainland Europe and the North Atlantic have been battered by storm after storm over the past weeks, it looks like we are just south of all this nastiness…
The predictions for our passage look good. We will start on Sunday Nov 5th at noon, and will, if all goes well, have a 5-6 day passage to Mindelo in Cape Verde.
For the sailors amongst you: Distance is 900Nm. No motoring predicted. Predicted average SOG 6.9 kts, min wind speed 14 kts, max wind 25 kts, avg wind 16 kts. Max gust 26 kts. TWA from ± 160° port to 180° aft. Max CAPE = 61 (so, not much chance for thunderstorms), rain max 02 mm/hr (so not much rain). 2-3 m waves from starboard aft.
So, as of now, we’re going to analyze the weather daily and see if anything changes… Based on the predictions, we will decide the route we will take. While the whole ARC+ fleet will sail in the same direction, there are still some choices to be made how exactly we will sail off the coast of the Canaries (avoiding acceleration zones and wind shadows from the islands), and if we will take an easterly or more westerly course on our way to Mindelo... On the latter: at that moment in time, we did not realize yet, that the choice of staying closer to the African coast or stay further west would determine the difference between 25 kts and 35 kts of wind...


The ARC/ARC+ in which we are participating is very well organized and packed with events. For the next days, they have introductory webinars on just about anything one needs to know for ocean passages and passage planning.
Attended a few today, inbetween dinner cooking and the crew working on replacing the batteries of the boat
Our ship’s batteries were 5 years old, so it was time to replace them. In came (I think) 6 or 7 pieces of 140 Ah (I think) ship’s batteries, which the skipper and Lana fitted.

Last safety inspection by the ARC+ staff (“the Yellow Shirts") are done, with Ian, our skipper
The ARC/ARC+ has strict safety rules, and each boat is inspected individually. We had a thorough check a few days ago. We needed to tweak some minor things today, and now have a clean “bill-of-health”.
Safety wise, we are ready. Still 3 days more minor work to be done (last minute provisioning of fresh food, filling up emergency fuel canisters and backup fresh water bladders,…), and we are done. Ready to leave on Sunday at noon.

On the topic of communications:
It was only a year ago, when I read first reports of someone using Starlink for a transat satellite communications, and now I see dozens of boat with a Starlink dish, only on our dock!
Starlink gives a high bandwidth internet connection at a reasonable price (about US$2/Gigabyte), from most places in the world right now. So many cruisers use it now. And so do we.
So, if everything goes well, we should be able to use whatsapp or Facebook while on the ocean, and be able to download weather forecasts fast. Quite a luxery, but also an extra safety measure for us!
Beyond that, we also have a small Iridium Go satellite device which allows us to make calls, send SMS, send text emails and download weather data, as a backup.


Man overboard and where did we store that instant soup?


Date: 30-October-2023
Position: Las Palmas, Canary Islands

Well, more like “man under board”…

One of the last minute things we needed to get done: get some sea weed and growth off the little paddle wheel on our keel, which measures the speed of our boat through the water.
Sure we track our “actual speed” via satellite, but we also need to measure how fast we move, over a carpet of water, which moves, in mass, by itself.
And that little paddlewheel, in all boats, gets stuck with growth.
So today, in went a diver for 5 minutes to clear the little wheel.

But then again, Dee dived deep into the boat's bilges to check "where we stored those instant soups again?"

Off we go!


Date: 5-November-2023
Position: Las Palmas, Canary Islands

Finally.. we left Las Palmas, on the start of the ARC+, on the start of our transatlantic passage

To state we were eager to leave Las Palmas, is an understatement. To say we were eager to get going: absolutely! To say we were slightly anxious: honestly, sure!

We left Las Palmas marina with 95 other boats, and 400 other crew. Nobody knew what was ahead of us. For most of the crews, this was their first ocean passage. For most, this was the first pace into a dream of cruising around the world.

As we navigated out of Las Palmas, I was excited. But I knew what was in ahead of us. According to the weather predictions, it was going to be a rough first couple of days, and then, hopefully, some weeks of tradewind sailing. But the first days were going to be rough...

First hours. This girl. And her first time!


Date: 5-Nov-2023
Position: Off Las Palmas, Canary Islands

This is Lana. My oldest daughter. Her and Hannah, my oldest, are my pride.

Lana is joining me on this transatlantic trip. She used to sail with us in summers, when she was younger (Greece, Caribbean, Indian Ocean), but that was a long time ago. She also sailed dinghies.

So last night, her first night on the boat off the dock, her first time to sail at night, and the first time she was on the ocean,… She did very well. Not squeezy, happy, excited, curious. She found sailing “logical” and fun.
And to be honest, i love sharing my watches with her, as she is a good set of 2nd eyes (“do you see that cargo ship on our port stern yet?”, a good conscience check (“What do you think this vessel will do?”), and just good company…

I loved it, and so did she.

We had a light and slow start from the ARC+ but ended up towards to the end of the fleet, sailing mostly easterly, as we wanted to avoid the acceleration zone next to Gran Canarias, and the “no wind” zone south of Gran Canaria.
And it worked: by evening, we were “screaaaaamingly along fast”, while many were becalmed in the wind shades of Gran Canaria: we clocked over 10 kts boat speed, catching up with everyone.

Sailing and life is good.

Rock and roll!


Date: 6-Nov-2023
Position: Off Las Palmas, Canary Islands

As predicted, winds (and waves) picked up today, and will continue until tomorrow evening.

In the weather prediction software we used, winds closer to the African coast were to be stronger, so we opted to stay on the Western side of the ARC+ fleet.

And our choice proved to be the right one: on Sturdeee, we are not racing but aim for crew comfort and boat safety. We had “only” up to 25 kts of wind today, chasing our boat speed up to 9-10 kts. The Eastern part of the fleet had 30+kts of wind... Not our idea of fun!

Sturdeee handles the wind and waves well. A catamaran like Sturdeee sails downwind with far less rolling and pitching than a monohull.

It is still pretty sporty sailing though!

Big waves


Date: 7-Nov-2023
Position: On the way to Cape Verde

Our helming position is on the flight deck, about 4 meters above the horizon.

50% of the waves today come up higher than the horizon. This means 50% of the waves must be higher than 4 meters.

Sturdeee handles waves at this angle really well

Glad to be on this boat! And with this crew!

Humor, getting into the grove, and "That’s what she said!"


Date: 7-Nov-2023
Position: On the way to Cape Verde

We have a “That’s what she said” rage on Sturdeee.
It is a “tongue in cheek” thing where someone, while doing anything on the boat, would say something, and at any random time and on any random topic, and someone would add “ That’s what she said”.

Which often turns out to be hilarious (and addictive) most of the times.

It often starts with the classics:

Someone is trying to fit a bolt, and says “it needs to be bigger”
And of course someone answers: “That’s what she said!”

Or another classic where we might patch up a bended piece of metal. And dares to utter “It is the wrong angle”
Followed of course from someone on the other side of the saloon answering: “ That’s what she said!”

There are also variations:
We are tightening a screw. And someone dares to say:
“It needs to be tighter”
“ That’s what she said!”
“Nono, hat’s what HE said!”

In the end, you can add it to just about anything:

It is not hot enough
“That’s what she said!”

Can you do that again?
“That’s what she said!”

Ooooh I will make myself a cup of soup.
“That’s what she said!”

What's that?
“That’s what she said!”

Nono, to starboard
That’s what she said

Let’s try this again, shall we?
“That’s what she said!”

:slight_smile:

Anyways, it is blowing 20 kts, we’re smoking at 7.5 kts wing-on-wing triple reefed. Boat moves a bit but is stable. Dee and Michelle are on watch, and it is time to start my watch.
Il est six heures, Paris s’élève.

Signed
Peter Pan

Aliens and clad dressed girls

Date: 8-Nov-2023
Position: On the way to Cape Verde

We have an ARC+ whatsapp chat, and there were comments on a very bright light beaming across the sky last night.

Soneone commented: “Saw it. It looked like a shooting star but 5 times the size and the light that came from it, was big. We saw the light first and I thought owhh lightning then I saw this big bright ball and the tail of light after it. I’m guessing space junk falling back to earth or the aliens have come back”

To which I answered:
I want me a nice alien as I feel lonely. All nice to have good company on Sturdeee, but we agreed after 2 days passage, we need to meet other people.

No luck on VHF. Nobody wants to talk to me on VHF, except Bluemoona and Moyfrid. Not even on cha 72 VHF ARC+ net at 10:00 and 21:00z.
Can only talk on VHF to the Sturdeee bow cabin crew, the 15 sailing trainees (all female 18-21 yrs old), which we had to lock up in bow cabin as punishment, due to too little clothing worn on deck yesterday. Skipper’s rules dictate to at least wear panties on deck.
So we talk to them on cha 72 VHF every morning at 10:00GMT. They will be released, pending good behaviour, tomorrow.

Signed: Peter Pan


Sounds and things

Date: 9-Nov-2023
Position: On the way to Cape Verde

… or maybe it is just a bit of lack of sleep.

I had this on every ocean passage.

Sometimes the boat makes a random noise which resembles something else. It freaks me out sometimes.

It might be a squeek from the goose neck (where the mast connects to the boom), which resembles the high pitched tone of a lady’s voice.
Or the sink gurggles, with a hiss, resembling someone saying “Shhht!”
Just now on the aft deck a wave hit the stern and the deck drain made a deep sound, like someone saying “Whaaaat?!’”
Freaky

I need more sleep.
Thats what she said!

Peter Pan

Jesus

Date: 9-Nov-2023
Position: On the way to Cape Verde

Jesus is showing me the way!
A sign of God!
Unfortunately, we’re not going THAT way…

There are hoses and hoses!

Date: 9-Nov-2023
Position: On the way to Cape Verde

When i suggested to buy some hoses which we could slice and put over sheets and guardrails to protect them from shafing, i did not expect someone to bring me a hose from their last colonoscopy….

About cats

Date: 9-Nov-2023
Position: On the way to Cape Verde

Sturdeee is a catamaran: a boat with two hulls and a horizontal platform between them.
“Catamaran” or “cat”., as sailors call it.
And she has the traits of a cat. I mean "a feline".

Once I stayed with a lady and she was babysitting her daughter’s cat. We were sitting on the sofa and the cat did not like it. She wanted attention. She jumped up on a stool which had a vase with flowers on it, and started pushing the vase a bit. Each time looking if we were paying attention now…
For a minute or two, she was challenging us, until the vase, with the flowers, was pushed down the stool, scattered on the floor, but not before smashing some wine bottles stacked in the floor.
RED wine bottles. WHITE wall, STONE tiles. A mess. The cat had our attention now, and dashed off into a dark corner, hiding while we were cleaning up for an hour.

Sturdeee is a cat. She wants attention, and has streaks.

Talk to your watchmate how steady the foresail is, and within seconds, she will flap the sail.

Lose attention, and look at the sky, and she’ll have waves smashing her side, splashing the deck with a bang.

She would sail very very quiet for a while, up to the point, you think “are we slowing down?” and before you know it, she will pick up a wave and start screaming down the surf at 11 kts, up to the point where Bob, the autopilot loses his breath.

And if violence does not help to get your attention, she will start making very faint sweet noises, typically around the goose neck. High pitched noises, almost like meowing.

Yep, Sturdeee is a cat. And she has not made up her mind yet if she likes me or not.

But like with any cat: if I pretend not to pay attention to her, she will end up cuddling next to me.

PS: sorry for the typies/typoes (hint to "Allo-allo!"). It is 6AM, pitch dark, blowing 24 knots and the cat is bucking.

The Edge

Date: 10-Nov-2023
Position: On the way to Cape Verde

Sailing is a constant balancing on the edge of excitement and being kinda worried… Not "badly worried", but more like "...being alert".

Last night was one of them. At least for me. Our (Lana and me) shift was from 20:00 to midnight. It was a dark night. No moon yet. Dark clouds moving over which we could only see approaching as they covered raising Jupiter. (Jupiter was that bright, it reflected in the water).

Wind was a constant 22-25 knots gusting to 29 knots. We were sailing at an 172° angle to the wind (pretty much sailing dead down wind - in “goose wing” or “wing-on-wing” with main sail and genoa triple reefed on different tacks). Surfing up and down the waves, the boat speed would vary between 5 knots (going up a wave) and 9-10 knots (surfing down the waves).

I reckon I am a pretty seasoned sailor and don't get worried easily, but at a certain moment, I went like: “Hmm, this feels like a lotta wind.”

But then I realized:
On Sturdeee we are helming from the flightdeck, about 4 m above the water, the sensation of wind is very different from sailing down in a more sheltered cockpit from a mono-hull (as I did so far).
And looking at the figures on the screen, the apparent wind was "only" 19-20 kts, which is lower than rough winds I sailed before. It was only because we were sitting that high, on the flight deck, 4m above the water, we got the wrong impression of the wind speed....

That was the moment, Lana and I smiled, leaned back and starting looking at the stars.

Sailing on the edge of life, we often are.

Here is a picture of a gorgeous sunrise today, combining a waning moon and Venus. And we saw the ISS flying by too!

Lost and found

10-Nov-2023
Position: On the way to Cape Verde

Lost and found: Skipper at stern off boat looking at the wide horizon with rod in hand.
If he is yours, please send us a message. :-)

Ode to the skipper

Date: 10-Nov-2023
Position: Between the Canaries and Cape Verde

Ian is the owner and skipper of Sturdeee.
Both Michelle and I have skippered yachts before. Both of us understand the pressure on a skipper, any skipper, the more for Ian, as this is not a day sailing cocktail cruise, but an open ocean passage.

Thus the skipper’s ordeal, as for any skipper, is to worry about crew, ship, practical issues, administrative issues, sailing plans, arrival documents…, while we, the crew, concentrate on "just" sailing, cooking and resting...

The skipper's worries vary from “when do we switch the fridges off to conserve electricity?”, to “when should we run the generators to top off the batteries?”, "should we gybe the foresail now so we can run more stable wing on wing, or wait for another hour?”… "How is our cooking gas consumption?”, “what is the bang we heard in the aft locker?”, “Is the leech now shafing or what?”, “I hope we arrive during the day time, so we don't have to negotiate that tricky harbour entrance at night”…

Loads of pressure and sleepless nights!

So let’s raise our glasses (of non-alcoholic beers for the moment) to our skipper (and all skippers in the ARC+ fleet)!
Cheers, Ian!

Extract from our daily update to ARC+ chat

Date: 10-Nov-2023
Position: 19°07N 23°13W

In close and good company of Moana and Giramondo since days.

Yesterday up to late afternoon we had some very significant waves, but it is calmer now.
Wind 16-22 kts - 043 TWD. Back to wing-on-wing foresail and mainsail, still both triple reefed.

Contemplating to shake out a reef of the main, but never done this before, on this boat, while sailing downwind.

A bit worred about the sail will bag up and battons getting stuck/bend on the lazy jacks.

Anyways, good progress still at 6-7 kts BTS.
Last 24 hrs was great. about 160 Nm with max surfing speed of 16 kts, according to the electronic log.

Had pancakes for breakfast yesterday, followed by sandwiches for lunch, chili con carne for dinner. and a massive bowl of instant noodles mixed with instant soup (ever tried that? Njammie graveyard watch snack!)

All good on Sturdeee. We’re running the watermaker at this moment.

Three cheers for skipper Ian who is keeping us safe ! And pretty officer Dee for most of the cooking, and watchmates Lana and Michelle.

PS: we let the 15 sail trainees (all female between 18-23 yrs) out of the port sail locker. Unfortunately they insist to wear clothing very sparingly, despite many warnings that this would attract too many other boats to come sailing close to us. We locked them up again.
Sturdeee now on CTS (“Course to Sun”)

Doing naughty things

Date: 10-Nov-2023
Position: Between the Canaries and Cape Verde

Today we all participated well-willingly in naughty things: we shook out 2 reefs of the mainsail while sailing downwind.

Normally, raising or dropping the mainsail, taking in or shaking out reefs in the mainsail, is done the safest when going upwind, as it de-powers the mainsail.

But while on a downwind passage as we are, it is a pain to put the boat against the wind: genoa needs to be furled, we need to go upwind (and against the waves) under engine, shake out the reefs while the boat is rocking up the waves…. etc…

So we were naughty: Ian came on deck and said “Rrrright, let’s shake out some reefs.” We discussed with all crew how to go about it. Ian allocated roles for each of us and off we went:
Ian at the helm and at winches of the halyard and mainsheet (all located on the same corner of the flightdeck). Michelle controlled the boom preventers and checked the mainsail (does it get stuck on the shrouds? Which reefing line is stuck? Are the battons free from the lazy jacks?..) Lana fed the reefing lines from the cockpit. Dee was at the mast, feeding the reefing lines. I sat aft of the mast, pulling the main halyard up, so Ian could take in the slack from the cockpit (which is also an easy way to check the tension in the halyard).

And BANG! Job done. We are now running wing on wings under full genoa, 1st reef main at 166° AWA 15kts wind, at 6.4 kts boat speed.

Life is good. About 1 day to Mindelo, Cabo Verde.

High as a kite!

Date: 10-Nov-2023
Position: Between the Canaries and Cape Verde

And… we’re now flying the kite! Or call it a spinnaker. Or a gennaker. Or a Parasailor…
Lighter wind = light sail. A power house, this Parasailor, she is... And for many sailors, like any spinnaker, a source of cursing.

Fast sailing at the moment!

Land Ahoy!

Date: 11-Nov-2023
Position: Approaching Cape Verde

There is land in front of us. We know, as we can see it on the charts: 13 Nm ahead is Cabo Verde.
And we know it is there, as we can pick up 3G phone signals.

But we can not see it yet... Just like last year, the visibility is very poor: the air is filled with fine Sahara dust.
Last night was "heavy": not much sleep. Wind dropped to 14 kts in the afternoon so we flew the kite, but had to drop it in the dark around 22:00 as the breeze picked up to 18-19-20-21 kts.
After that we sailed on a small foresail only and snail-paced thru the night.
At sunrise it was all hands on deck to raise the kite again but around 11:00 we dropped it as the wind was falling to 6-7 knots. At times, the boat, through its momentum and pushed by the waves coming from aft, ran over the spinnaker. Not healthy...
We are now motoring towards Mindelo on the island of Sao Vicente… ETA in 3-4 hours. Though just a few miles off the islands, we still can hardly distinguish any shape of the islands.

Looking forward to a cold beer, and a good rest.

Arrived in Mindelo

Date: 11-Nov-2023
Position: Mindelo

We arrived in Mindelo, Cape Verde, around 15:00 local time. All good. We did a perfect mooring in the marina!
Beer time!

Cleaning!

Date: 12-Nov-2023
Position: Mindelo, Cape Verde

After a crew dinner and some liquid last night after arrival, we had a good night’s sleep.
Today it was boat cleaning day: cleaning the galley, deck, washing off all the salt from the stainless steel etc. Dee just went up the mast for a rig inspection.

And we are now ready to enjoy the island!
Picture of Michelle — “Born to clean”.

Weather predictions for our next passage

Date: 16-Nov-2023
Position: Mindelo, Cape Verde

Ok, we are getting ready to leave tomorrow (Friday) at noon.

We have been watching the weather predictions since we arrived in Mindelo. – We use several applications which not only predict wind (speed/directions), waves (directions, height, period), rain, lightning, etc… but also calculate the best routing, based on the parameters of our boat (how fast she sails at different angles), and our preferences (e.g. what wave angles to avoid etc…)

As we come closer to the start of our leg Mindelo-St Georges (Grenada), the predictions become more precise. We now have pretty reliable prediction models up to Nov 27-28th, and rough predictions up to the end of our trip.

Synopsis: (with input from Mats)

Week 1: Make progress West as much as possible (course WSW). Don’t go further south than 12° N
Week 2: Beginning week 2 decide if we stay around 12° N or go further south. Seems best to start to go SSW to 10°N - so we can dive under the vacuum building up further west (to be confirmed when we have more accurate weather reports).
As of Nov 28th, wind is filling in to 15-20kts ENE.
This will be a 2300 Nm passage. 16-17 days - minimum wind 8 kts max 20 kts, gusts max 21 kts waves max 3 meters.

So… in summary it looks like “an easier passage”. First week a bit light winds. 2nd week need to decide to go further south or stay north. As of end 2nd week, wind fills in and should be a good sail in mostly 15 (up to 20 kts) kts to Grenada…

Last preparations


Date: 16-Nov-2023
Position: Mindelo, Cape Verde

Almost all boat systems are checked. Still need to make some minor sail repairs.
Food is mostly pre-cooked and in the freezer.
Today, the last provisions are bought, and we should be ready.

Tonight, we have the ARC+ skippers briefing, our own crew briefing, a good meal, and we should be ready.
Our watch schedule for our passage to Grenada is ready:
3 hour watches, rotating over 3 days. (4th day is rhe same as day 1), including motherwatches for dinner. At night, we have dual watches with one watch leader and a backup, during the day we have single watches....

Lost, found but never returned...

Date: 16-Nov-2023
Position: Mindelo, Cape Verde


Extract from the ARC+ group chat on Whatsapp...

... Sorry.. I could not resist.

One step beyond

Date: 16-Nov-2023
Position: Mindelo, Cape Verde

I am sitting on the flightdeck of Sturdeee, in the marina of Mindelo, Cape Verde.
It is close to midnight.
The crew went to sleep.

I am sitting here, thinking. Meshmerizing. Contemplating.
Tomorrow around 10 AM we cast off, and will sail for 16-17 days over the Atlantic, in the middle of nowhere.
We will leave with 100 boats together. Some have done this passage before, most have not. All will experience a passage of a life time. Sailing in the middle of nowhere.

We wish all sailors a good and safe passage. And wish they will enjoy being in the middle of the “nothing”.

Enjoy it all, everyone!
Enjoy the moment…

------
My message shared with our fellow ARC+ members:

Can I share something deeply personal with you all? I lead the UN fast intervention team for 10 years. Wars, flooding, earthquakes,… was “our business” I was the expedition leader for 2 Antarctic expeditions. And this is my 9th ocean passage. My message, before we start the work (or project, or passage), sailing or expeditions alike, to my team members (or fellow crew) was always the same:

It will be tough. You will lack sleep. The environment will be harsh. You might get sick or highly uncomfortable. You will at times, come to thoughts of “why did I decide to do this?”

But unless, in the midst of the hard times, you stop for a moment, and look around you, and take in “where you are and the extra-ordinary thing you are doing at that very moment”, it will be all over before you know it. And when it is over, unless you stopped to enjoy the pain and hardship, for ever you will regret you did not enjoy that moment of extra-ordinarity. Doing that with the few other people in the world who are also privileged to share this adventure and experience this. (in our case: sailing an ocean)…

So… enjoy the moment, no matter how tough it is, enjoy the extra ordinary adventure all of us are embarking on.

Signed: Peter Pan.


Re-start in Mindelo

date: 18-Nov-2023
Position: Mindelo, Cape Verde

Noon on Friday 100 boats of our fleet started the leg from Mindelo to Grenada.
Have a safe passage everyone!

Our first 24 hours to Grenada

Date: 18-Nov-2023
Position: Off Mindelo, Cape Verde

We left Mindelo for our leg to Grenada, with 100 other boats, now 24 hours ago.

We had a very nice run with 15-20 kts in the acceleration zone between the two islands of Sao Vicente and Sao Anton. Pretty interesting with 100 boats all zigzagging between each other within 5-10 miles…

As soon as we came out of the straight between the two islands, the fleet dispersed. Some went pretty west, while we sailed SW to SSW, as we wanted to avoid the wind shadow of Sao Anton (which stretches out for 50-100 miles). A lot of other boats followed the same course as us, so it was a pretty busy night with still a dozen boats quite close to us (some passing only 500m from us). One boat was like a 100m from us.

But we are all monitoring the AIS (the automatic identification system) on our navigation screen, and everyone monitors the radio. So several times per hour we called other boats close to us on the VHF radio, to discuss how we would cross: “Will you cross our bow, or our stern? Or would you prefer we pass you on starboard or port?”. All very civilized and done in an amicable way.

So we sailed with white sails, wing on wing (full genoa and single reefed mainsail) for quite a while. Very nice course, good wind angle, good speed…

Towards the late afternoon, the swell picked up a bit, and gradually the wind became more frickle. Our main challenge was to keep the sails happy (keep them from flapping, caused by the waves coming in from an angle, and rocking the boat, thus deflating and re-inflating the sails with a bang). Flapping can cause sail and rigging damage (or at least wear and tear).

And as the wind was slowly dropping to 11-10-9 knots, each watch team was struggling with sail configurations: wing on wing, both sails on same tack, gybe the whole lot, gybe again… In the end we took another reef in the main sail so it would not have that much force when it flapped (there is not much we can do about the flapping: it is just the deflating and re-inflating of the sail as the boat rocks a bit left-right as the waves hit from either side of aft - depending on our tack. But it surely is not "nice to hear", that banging of the sail.).

When Lana and I came on watch at 8:30 this morning, the wind had dropped to a 7-8 kts whisper. Ian and Michelle had taken down the main during the night, as the flapping was just too nasty. At that point we were sailing on a single reefed genoa only, at a mere 2-3 knots of boat speed. Most of the gain we had built up in the first 24 hours was lost in just a few hours. But as usual, cruising transatlantic is a compromise between speed, crew comfort, protecting the boat from wear and tear, and overall, the "state of the crew". …

We could have raised our big parasailor kite last night, but Ian made the right call that the crew was just too tired after the hectic first 24 hours since the re-start in Mindelo. So we only raised the kite around 9 AM this morning. And it has been flying realllllly stable in 10-13 kts of wind, steady direction, with the boat cruising along nicely at 6 knots at the moment…

The swell is very light at the moment, coming straight from behind, so there is quasi no noise from the sails anymore, while sailing under the parasailor (compared to the constant banging of the mainsail and genoa last night). Passage cruising now resembles cocktail cruising. I think at this moment, we have the best sail since we stepped on Sturdeee.

Kudos to Ian and Dee. They have been up (or at least not been able to sleep much) since we left Mindelo… At least the rest of us had some shut-eye.

My watch just ended and I am going off for a 4 hours sleep.

PS: weather conditions show winds like we have at the moment 10-13 knots with light seas, for the next two days. We’re in good shape. Our planned wind/wave routing turned out to be the right choice.

Peter Pan.

Steaming along

Date: 19-Nov-2023
Position: Off Cape Verde

I think we are the yacht sailing the most southern route of the entire ARC+ fleet (well, with one more yacht which is this far South). Seems we are making the right choices, as most of the rest of the fleet is now coming South too. Each ARC+ boat has a small YB satellite tracking device which uploads the boat's position to a central server. So several times per day, we can see our own progress compared to the rest of the fleet. Pretty neat.

Good steady wind. Late night the wind fell a bit to 8 kts TWS, but picked up again as soon as the sun came up. We are now cruising at 6 knots boat speed in 14 knots of wind (125° AWA angle). We have been sailing on the Parasailor kite since yesterday morning. Quite stable. Not a lot rolling.

After a slow first night, we are catching up nicely with the rest of the fleet. Last night, under the Parasailor wing, we were passing all boats in our neighbourhood.

Winds are expected to stay the same as today for the next 2-3 days. We are now going on a slightly more westerly course, as planned: 235°-240° COG.

Crew is feeling good. A bit tired as we are getting into the rhythm of ocean passage. The weather has been gorgeous - around 28°C.
This is what sailing is all about.

Today Lana and I had motherwatch ("cooking and galley cleaning duty")and made a chicken masala, stir fried veggies and potatoes mashed with carrots. Njam.

All is good on Sturdeee.

Our position versus the rest of the fleet

Date: 19-Nov-2023
Position: Between Cape Verde and Grenada

As in the first leg, we keep a course which is not according to the rest of the fleet. At this moment, we are keeping the 2nd most southern track of the whole fleet. But we persist: we are convinced we're on the right track. Mats, in our "shore team", giving us remote support, agrees. We continue keeping this southern route, basta!
By the way, also in the leg from Las Palmas to Mindelo, we kept a track which was very different from the rest of the fleet. At that time, we kept a more westerly track, while most other yachts were staying closer to the African coast. A decision which turned out to be the right one: As we had seen in the predictions, and turned out to be true in "actual life": all yachts more east of us, had very rough seas and winds up to 30-35 kts, while we kept cruising at about 25 kts - with occasional gust of 30 kts. During that passage, there were so many reports coming in from the other yachts, on the Whatsapp chat, of damage (spinnakers blown out, crash jybes, etc..), while we were happily cruising along. So I have no "second doubts" about my ability to find the best routing. Even though that routing might be different from 99% of the rest of the fleet. ---- Later in the passage, it would show, we made the right choice!

Progress

Date: 19-Nov-2023
Position: Between Cape Verde and Grenada

We have done about 270Nm in 2.5 days. Quite respectable, knowing we sail very conservatively, keeping the boat and crew happy!

Business case for single-use spinnakers

Date: 20-Nov-2023
Position: Between Cape Verde and Grenada

I hate spinnakers.

Those light sail power chutes are an endless source of problems on sailing yachts.

Several ARC boats had issues with their spinnakers already on leg 1 to Mindelo.

A friend had their spin wrapping around their genoa, making both unusable for most of leg 1.

When I saw the shreads of David’s spin, at the dock in Mindelo, I sat on the bow of Sturdeee crying

But then I had a bright idea: “single use spinnakers”!

Biodegradable spinnakers which you hoist and never lower: you just cut halyard, sheets and tack line, and let go.

We can make it a sustainable business by using recycled materials.
Like using lace underwear. I am happy to offer my collection of ladies' lace underwear for trials of single-use spinnakers.
Through the years I collected loads of red, black, pink ladies underwear. This would make it a nice recognizable brand mark for our spinnakers: many different small patches of a wide variety of colours. And smells. Some would be very very VERY small patches, indeed. In Mindelo, I bribed the local ladies doing the ships' laundry, to give me the nicest lace ones. - Sorry Laura! - So, I am prepared for this business case, and pitch in!...

Is lace biodegradable? I know it needs to be washed at 30°. But is lace biodegradable?

What would be a good brand name for single use spinnakers, made from recycled lace underwear?

“One night with you”?
“Yes, but once only! “?
“Spinning thongs”?
“The Thong Thing”
“Thongs are in the air, everywhere I look around”?
“Give thongs a chance”?
“Thongs Go Kiting”?
“Spin-a-thong”?

I think I need to cut down on coffee. :slight_smile:

Peter Pan.
UPDATE: the name and byline suggested by Audrey:
“Spin-a-thong - "Disposable spinnakers which can get you through every crack in the wind"



Official letter of complaint

Date: 20-Nov-2023
Position: Between Cape Verde and Grenada

Dear ARC organizers.
This is an anonymous letter of complaint from an ARC+ sailor.

We understand that many ARC sailors now have internet onboard thanks to Starlink.
We also understand many sailors like the social contact while underway in a transat passage, which explains the very active chat groups of ARC+ sailors this year.

However, I need to inform you that some chat groups are highly inappropriate. Or at least very distracting. Albeit highly entertaining.

Some examples of the most active online chat groups during this ARC+:

//Help, how do I tell my husband I don't like sailing?
//How to distract your kids from boredom during passage?
//Is cup-a-soup mushroom soup snortable?
//Pole dancing at the mast, while underway
//Transat Tinder Group

The most popular chat group seems to be:

//“Between the sheets” - run by a group called “the naughty ARC+ sailors”.

The latter is the most distracting group as it includes multiple instances of sexting.
My complaint is that the picture of “A.N. sailing between the sheets on vessel H.” was a portrait picture taken in landscape mode. As I turned my head to see more details, I also turned my tiller by accident and crash-jybed

As such I found myself with a tiller in one hand, intimate parts (in picture) of A.N. on sailing vessel H (in close-up) in my other hand and reminants of my vang in my lap.

I think "A.N. on vessel H" owes me a new vang!.... And a more detailed picture.

Thank you for your consideration.

Peter Pan
PS: my pictures are always sent in portait mode.

Grab it!

Date: 21-Nov-2023
Position: Between Cape Verde and Grenada

Ian fishing off the stern, shouting to Dee:
“Grab the gaff, get ready!

… and then it starts:

Dee: “I wont grab anything until I see something”

And then.... the whole crew answers in chorus: “That’s what she said!”

Mayday, mayday...

Date: 21-Nov-2023
Position: Between Cape Verde and Grenada

(This post was not part of my actual passage log. At that time, I did not feel it was appropriate to publish this, in order not to alarm family and friends from the vessel involved in this incident)

On Nov 21st at 15:46, we received this message on the ARC+ Whatsapp group:

We knew Lotta and Henrik, the owners of "Hilma", and their crew, very well. In Las Palmas, they were moored on the same dock, 10 meters from us. We had several chats and laughs. As each of the other ARC+ boats, they were eager to do the transat passage, and then realize their life-long dream to sail in the Caribbean and onwards.
On the dock in Mindelo, we talked quite a bit, and we got to know them better. You know, while sailing, you encounter a lot of people. And some, one really connects to, as they are truly nice, sweet and loving human beings.

No need to say that Lotta's message sent shivvers along my spine. Dismasting in the middle of the Atlantic, is a major emergency. People can get hurt during or after the incident, and, depending on the damage, the boat can be a total-loss and could lead to an "abandon ship".

What happened in the next hours, bears witness on the camadery amongst cruisers - the more in a fleet like the ARC+ -, and the role of "the ARC+ Rally Control", which coordinates the rescue efforts.

As the majority of the ARC+ fleet had Starlink internet connectivity, and each of the boats in the fleet had a YB satellite tracking device on board, it was relatively easy to see which ARC+ boat was in the vicinity of Hilma. Within a few hours, three other ARC+ boats were next to Hilma, ready to assist as the situation became clearer: while Hilma had a new rigging and inspected the standing rigging in Las Palmas, one of the shrouds got disconnected from the chain plates, leaving the mast unsupported. The mast got disconnected and collapsed. Luckily, no-one got hurt in the incident, but now, Hilma was left with the dilemma "what to do next".
Hilma's crew decided to motor back to Mindelo, but they did not have enough fuel to motor 4-5 days back. So three other ARC+ boats transferred diesel canisters to Hilma. (Picture above was shared on the Whatsapp group by one of the ARC+ vessels standing by Hilma).

After a few hours, Hilma's crew turned their bow 180° and started motoring back to Mindelo. Throughout, they kept in contact with the rest of the fleet. I had a couple of whatsapp exchanges with Lotta as they progressed slowly back to Mindelo, against the prevailing winds and currents.

They had a tough ride, but made it safely to Mindelo, and after a couple days of rest, two crew would motor Hilma back to the Canaries, where the boat would be refitted over the next year, making her ready for another transat crossing in the 2024-2025 season.

Needless to say we were all shaken up by this incident, realizing what happened to Hilma, could happen to any of us: One moment, you sail happily and relaxed, and the next moment, you have a major incident, fighting for survival.

In hindsight, this was the only major incident during our crossing. While this was a major incident, and we all felt bonded and felt for Hilma's crew, I also realize that in this crossing, we were lucky, this was the only major incident which occurred. I remember our 2006 crossing, where we had at least 5 major incidents, including two ships abandoned (if I remember well), and three major incidents, including one near "loss-of-life".

In the mean time, Hilma is being refitted in the Canaries, and I hope we will meet up with Lotta and Henrik again in the next season.

As I told Lana: sometimes, the worse things happen to the nicest of people. It is hard to rationalize why this happened to them, but there might be a reason, an explanation, though at the time of the incident, it is hard to explain why "destiny" decided it was not right for Hilma to complete this transat. We wish Henrik and Lotta the very best of luck in their next crossing. And may they realize their dreams, after all, albeit, with one year of delay.

Letter of complaint (2)

Date: 22-Nov-2023
Position: Between Cape Verde and Grenada

TO: ARC+ labour union.

Dear ARCers,
This is Peter Pan on Sturdeee (yes, it is with 3 'e’s, but only Ian will get that joke!).

I have just slept 3 hours after a stretch consisting of one 4.5hr shift followed by 3 hours shut eye (ok ok, they let me sleep with my safety harness on, on the aft deck), followed by another short 9 hour shift.

I am not allowed to do more shifts, although I paid good money for those shifts.

It is not fair.

It is that, and the fact that cooking in a galley which feels like living in a freezer, at a temperature of minus 5°C, because of the aircon going full blast…
Surely that must constitute a sub-standard working condition for any crew! We demand to be drenched with sweat while working in the galley, even when cooking a kettle of warm water, as outlined in the “Working guidelines for gratis crew" - a.k.a "Sea Slaves on high seas” by the ILO (the International Labour Organization").

We also want to object to the fact we can not even get a tan because of the solid flightdeck roof at our helming position.

We do appreciate the opportunity given on Sturdeee that, between watches, we can cook, clean, declog heads, do weather forecasts, talk to imaginary people floating past our boat at 3 AM..., But still, we are bored.

Next thing I know, they won't let me cook 3 warm meals per day for the crew anymore....

Or drink less than 20 cups of coffee per day!


What day is this? Whining Wednesday?

Date: 22-Nov-2023
Position: Between Cape Verde and Grenada

I am not sure what day this is. I only know the time in the watch schedule. It is day 3 of our 3-days rotating watch schedule.

My wristwatch says it is Nov 22nd. And a Wednesday.

Pre-departure, we have agreed that whining on this boat is only allowed on Wednesdays. That’s why we call it “Whining Wednesdays”.

Seriously, kindof, I am sure many of you millions of people reading this passage microblog every hour, are more interested in the sailing progress of SV Sturdeee (yes with 3 'e’s, but that is a joke that only Ian gets), rather than reading Peter Pan’s bad jokes. But that does not bother me.

By the way, I don’t think my jokes are bad, as the rest of the crew thinks. I think they are spirited and mild. And they come kinda natural to me.
If you like my jokes, like my body or like my cooking, let me know by email. And what you’d like more or less on for this microblog.

I tell you what, let me start by giving a sailing update. “Even though we are on a catamaran” (the latter is one of my jokes. You see? I am witty, and deep, but like with any witty humor, the audience needs to think for 5 seconds and then burst into laughter. And re-read it. Or re-watch it… Like Monty Python. I think my humor is like Monty Python. “Biggus Dickus???”... “Even though we are on a catamaran”

Ok. back to business, how is the sailing going on Sturdeee (yes with 3 'e’s, but that is a joke that only Ian gets).

Well, - now I am serious as i never joke about sailing -, well most of the time, I don't.
We opted from the beginning (and i am serious), for a safe passage, without risks to boat and crew and without discomfort etc…
On Sturdeee (Yes with… anyway…), we have limited downwind sailing options: we have the parasailor kit, and we have white sails which we can sail wing-on-wing or both on same tack.
BUT Sturdeee (Yes with… anyway…) is limited on the wave angles it can ride: she reallllly does not like waves hitting her at a broad angle. She bangs, jumps at each wave and the white sails suffer from flapping with waves from the broad side. And when on Parasailor, the sail goes left right like a wild horse, with broad waves.

So, within those limitations, some boat-imposed and some self-imposed, we are doing pretty well, following the motto “if you are not as fast as the others, try to do something completely different”).

And we did. For days, we were the most southern boat in the ARC+ fleet. We avoided the Sao Anton windshadow, the Togo wind shadow, and scooted between layers of disturbed air, often sailing happily while others were already motoring.

But still, we had challenges. Two or three nights ago (I am sorry as I do lose track of when it was, and I am serious now), Lana and I had a very tough shift, as we tried to keep the parasailor inflated with winds just under 8 knots (true wind), avoiding deflating, collapsing, or Sturdeee (Yes with 3 "e"s…, anyway…) running over its own spinnaker. We tried different wind angles, different trimming, and different wave angles, as we did NOT want to drop the parasailor wing (which takes a while to raise and to drop). According to the predictions, the wind WAS TO increase… It was a 3 hour battle in the middle of the night. Which paid off: the wind increased and we took off again in 10 kts by sunrise. Happily ever after.

I remember the day, we took it down in the evening, I think, as the wind died again, and raised it again in the morning. I don’t know when it was, but like for 2-3 days now, we ran the kite continuously. I think it was yesterday, we dropped it at 6 knots TWS, but this time did not un-rig the rigging of the kite (2x sheets and 2x guys or tacklines) but left all on deck, including the kite snaked up on the foredeck.

As soon as the wind picked up again, the kite went up again - the crew is getting really proficient in that exercise, by now: Lana is at the winches, Ian at the helm and in command while Dee and Michelle are at the snuffer control lines, and I just sit there and watch, and hug the spinnaker before we let it fly. Being my usual pretty self. Usually, I also give her (the kite) a kiss while she flies off. The best way to keep a female “some-kinda” happy, is to leave the door of the golden cage open. So before letting the kite to fly, at will, we make pretty damned sure she will want to fold into the snuffer bag again, after flying freely. So I give her a fly-away kiss before opening the cage and let her fly. Women!

And she loves flying. “High as a kite, Sturdeee (Yes with… anyway…) flies, we will call this part of the passage: "High as kite, she flies"... (re-reading this after publishing, I do realize I should drink less coffee!)

I have never flown a Parasailor before (nor have I ever sailed a cat before. And only had my first like full sex when I was in my very late teens or early twenties though I had my first cigarette at the age of 6, as I was an early starter on that, I have to confess, but that is besides the issue now.).

What was I talking about? Oh yeah, the Parasailor kit: I am impressed. this is a massive thing, taking a lot of power, with a rather complex structure (unlike normal gennakers or symmetrical spinnakers) it has a horizontal hole in it, with some real alien-weird winglet thingie, held together with thin strings. But on Sturdeee with 3 eee’s, this sail is a work horse.

The main sail, is a pain in the backside, though… But I will tell you later.

For those tuning in late, this is Peter Pan, aboard Sturdeee (Yes with 3 "e"s… anyway…), a 45ft Lagoon 450F catamaran, sailing at this moment between Cape Verde and the spice island of Grenada.

From Portuguese language'd Cesaria music lovers in Cape Verde to hula-hula girls in the Caribbean, we go.

I am on me weee to the Caribbean, man!

PS: did I tell you this is Whining Wednesday? The only day we are allowed to whine on this boat? that is wHine. "WINE" we do every day, every hour of the day.
Joke-- this is a dry boat. And I hope it stays that way. I hate wet boats.

Peace!

We have a cunning plan

Date: 23-Nov-2023
Position: Between Cape Verde and Grenada

That’s what Blackadder said…: “We’ve got a cunning plan”.

About 4 days ago we saw that some complex weather systems were developing both North and South of our possible route.

These systems would include unstable winds, squalls and also a high probability of lightning - every sailor's nightmare.

So we developed a cunning plan to scoop south up to 12°N and stay on that lattitude which kept us away from both systems. but rather narrowly from the southern disturbed system.

As we approached the troubled area two nights ago, we could see why there was turbulence in the area: the water was 34°C Incredibly warm!

So throughout the night we could feel the warm humid air and see clouds being “born” all around us. One moment we had clear skies behind us and 30 minutes later new dark clouds were formed.

That night we could also see lightning further south, in the troubled area. Lighting scares the shit out of me, btw...
Winds went a few knots up and down as the clouds passed over us, but we sailed good. And fast.

The next night, last night, we had the same, but the lightning now moved towards us (the north) and passed probably about 50 Nm in front of us.
It started at our 9 o’clock and moved to our twelve and the 2 o’oclock.

But it was at least 50 Nmiles away (about 100 km).

So we scooted -over two nights- inbetween two systems which merges in-front of us.

Good (cunning) planning kept us well and safe. But it was a cunning plan! And “I love it when a good plan comes together” (from the A-team)

I should really cut down on the coffee, Lana says.

Picture shows some of the newly born clouds just passing over us. The light is not the sun but the moon light

Foiling Lagoons

Date: 24-Nov-2023
Position: Between Cape Verde and Grenada

I have to say, Dee, it was a great idea to stick the ironing plank in the water on one side and the large floorboard on the other side.
>
I honestly never seen a Lagoon catamaran foiling.

“To let: Foiling apartment, 4 floors, 360° ocean view, inhouse chef, and inhouse maintenance slave specialized in holding the watermaker’s inlet tube under water for 18 hours straight”.

All joking aside: We are flyinggggg! 16-20 kts wind. boat speed 8-10 kts.

The wind is grabbing my eyeballs. Will need to look for my skiing goggles like they use in the America’s Cup as the boat speed is stretching my face.

I should really cut down on the coffee, Lana says.



Sailing is a compromise

Date: 25-Nov-2023
Position: Between Cape Verde and Grenada

Sailing in open ocean is a compromise between boat speed, wind angles, speed of approach to one’s destination, protecting gear (rigging and sails), crew comfort and energy etc…

I learned on a catamaran also the angle of the waves is a major factor. Sturdeee (with 3 "e"'s but that is only a joke Ian will get) does not like waves coming onto her side. The more so in light winds.

And after a really fast run yesterday and today, in the afternoon and evening, the wind dropped to 12-11-10 kts and as predicted, on top of the waves coming from the wind direction, a second set of waves came in from the north. That made Sturdeee (with 3 "e"'s but that is only a joke Ian will get) rock left-right a lot, making the parasail swing violently due to the mast swinging.

We all did what we could to keep the sail filled, and to find a compromise between all the factors mentioned before.

But around 21:00, the wind dropped to 7-8 knots, and we just could not keep the parasail filled anymore.

I felt guilty to wake up the crew to drop the parasail, but we had no choice. we knew the wind would be flaky for the hours to come and with the cross swell, we would have to struggle through the night.

We will see in the morning what we will do. Hopefully the wind will pick up by then.

But at this moment, we are motoring. #dah
Peter

We are the first “connected Transat flotilla”

Date: 26-Nov-2023
Position: Between Cape Verde and Grenada

This ARC+ fleet we are participating in, is the first time EVER that an flotilla crosses the Atlantic, while a large number of the participants, is live chatting via the internet.
This year in Jan 2023 (or was it late Dec 2022?) was the first time some sailors experimented with Starlink in a transat and reported it was working (though starlink had not released the service yet officially)…

On the boats I crossed the Atlantic with in 2021 and 2022 we had already full internet but lower bandwidth with us (we tested the very first prototypes of the Skylink and new Iridium Go Exec at that time, with the Iridium technical team.)

But…. back then, even though fully connected on the boat, we were alone on the ocean: hardly any other sailor had internet connectivity on the ocean, so we had nobody to talk to, except our friends and family onshore.

And look at us now!? using the new generation satellite systems like Starlink, chatting away on whatsapp and telegram with routing info, position reports, fishing tips, jokes, and enhancing safety for all.

Pictures of the kids having thsnksgiving or doing home work. Videos of issues on boats, screens of data…

And the better for safety. When a vessel in our fleet dismasted some days ago, the whole fleet was alerted by them in minutes. About an hour later, two other boats were already next to them, transferring extra fuel, with two more to follow. Three nights ago, we had lightning sorms in the hood, and we kept each other informed, life, of where the storm went.

I love this… This will go down in the history books as the first flotilla crossing while chatting on whatsapp !

Sailing will never be the same again…

Still on white sails and still rocking

Date: 26-Nov-2023
Position: Between Cape Verde and Grenada

We have been on white sails (main sail and genoa) since… eh… I can not remember. Days and nights kinda flow into each other. I think we doused the Parasailor 2 nights ago. Then motored for the night as winds were too light and sea was too rocky (we had two swells colliding, one from the north and one from northeast). Then yesterday morning, we raised the white sails, and have been on those since then.

Sea state is still confused, with the two swells creating a rocky sea, and a rocky Sturdeee (with 3 "e"'s but that is only a joke Ian will get). We have a 2nd reef in main and no reef (or sometimes single reef) in genoa. We run both sails on the same tack or wing on wing dependent on the wind direction and waves direction.

We expect the cross swell from the North to die down later this afternoon.

Winds are still pretty strong. At this moment 14-20 kts… So even if the cross swell dies, we might not raise the Parasailor wing, as 20kts is a bit on the limit of that sail. And according to the predictions, we should have 17-18 kts sustained with gusts 20-21 kts all the way to Grenada…

But at this moment, we are not complaining. The sails seem happy, not much flapping, and we seem pretty much on course for Grenada. The cross swell does slam the sides of the hull from time to time: with a loud bang, almost like we hit something in the water. Quite noisy in the cabins, but most of us sleep through that now. We got used to the noises on a cat. But Sturdeee is moving a bit jerky left-right a bit… When cooking or washing up, or taking a shower (yes, we do shower), we have to lean against a wall or cupboard, so we can keep our balance.
Fast sailing, though… 7kts is a decent cruising speed.

Have a nice day everyone!



Adopt-a-Peter programme

Date: 26-Nov-2023
Position: Between Cape Verde and Grenada

Lana, my daughter, offered me up for adoption on the ARC+ whatsapp group

Mark - now on "Risque Business", our skipper in the 2006 transat, answered: “I have adopted him before it’s someone else’s turn now!”

So, the Sturdeee’s “Adopt-a-Peter” campaign has now started.
Bidding starts at 10 camels.

Do i hear 10 camels? 10 camels from Audrey…. !

Do i hear 11 camels? 11 camels from Laura!

Do I hear 12 camels? 12 camels?

Crunching the numbers while sailing

Date: 26-Nov-2023
Position: Between Cape Verde and Grenada

And you thought sailing was easy? Just raise a sail, and blast off? :slight_smile: Ah, it is not that easy, but not really complicated once you get the hang of it…

Here is an overview of the numbers we are crunching while on passage, numbers which are also displayed on our main navigation display at the helm station.

You see a little individual squares with a “title” and a number.

Going from the top:

TWS = True Wind Speed: the actual wind speed
TWA = True Wind Angle: the angle in which the wind “meets the boat” with 0° being in front and 180° being in the back - with a little arrow indicating if the wind hits from port or starboard

Below that are two figures related to TWS and TWA, but take into account the boat is moving in a certain direction at a certain speed: So: actually sitting on a boat, what is the speed and angle you can feel the wind from. You can imagine if the wind is 10 knots from behind, and the boat moves at 5 knots forward, you will feel the wind as “apparently” 5 knots (10-5=5). So: Apparent Wind Speed (AWS)= 5 knots
Likewise if you move, the angle the wind appears to hit you, while moving, is different than when you stand still - AWA or Apparent Wind Angle is the angle of the wind while moving.

“Boat Speed” or BTS is the speed the boat is moving through the water (measured by a small paddle wheel at the bottom of the boat).
“SOG” or “Speed Over Ground” is the speed the boat moves over the earth, taking into account boat speed, currents, tide, leeway etc... E.g. if your boat moves at 5 knots (BTS) over water, but you have 1 knot current against you, your SOG is 4 knots...

HDG or "Heading" is the direction the boat is pointing to.
COG or "Course over Ground" is the direction the boat is actually moving to, taking into account tide, current, leeway etc And on a cat like Sturdeee, those two can differ a lot: a cat like Sturdeee has a very shallow keel, so the difference between HDG and COG can easily differ 20°-30°...

"WPT BRG" and "WPT DIST" is the bearing towards our destination (or waypoint we have put in) and distance to it.

TTD or Time To Destination is the hours left to sail to our destination, at the current speed (SOG) and VMG (see below)

VMG CSE (“Velocity Made Good”) is a bit more complicated to explain at 11 PM, but it is basically the speed you are approaching your destination. Rare are the occasions you can sail straight to your destination, as you might approach your destination at an angle, dependent on wind angle, wave angle,.. So "VMG" is a key figure we keep an eye on, as we might sail at 10 kts, but only make 1-2 kts of speed towards our destination.

"POS": is our absolute position, in latitude/longitude GPS coordinates

"Depth" is depth / or rather not when on an open ocean: When we are moving fast in a swell and an ocean of 5,000 m deep, our sensor often miss-reads the depth.

One figure is missing on the overview display: "TWD" or "True Wind Direction", the actual direction the wind comes from, which we read on another display.

Happy now? Now you know how to sail!

Chat extract (NSFW)

Date: 27-Nov-2023
Position: Between Cape Verde and Grenada

Extract from the ARC+ Whatsapp group chat while under way:

Peter: Lana, honey, can you please tell me where you put the coffee?
Audrey is typing….
Moaied is typing…
Peter: Lana, I promise to let you out of the front sail locker if you'd just tell me where you’ve been hiding the coffee?
Audrey: ARC+ most patient daughter award goes to Lana.
Peter: Audrey,... WOMAN! I thought you were on my side?!?
Moaied is typing…
Audrey: Maybe Sturdeeeeeee should trawl Peter’s witty jokes to catch their fish
Peter: Audrey, relaying message from Lana: “Audrey, I already told you several times: DO NOT ENCOURAGE HIM… If he really lets go of his limited self-inhibitions and social self-restrictions and subconscious suppressions, he will be his usual nuts, and nobody wants that, right?”
Peter: PS: actual fact: Lana holds a bachelor and a masters in psychology… I am not kidding you. But here I am kidding: That is why I am only allowed in a social environment when she is around so she can properly warn and safeguard the others.
Moaied is typing…
Audrey: Like I said, most patient daughter award.
Lana: Thanks for the recognition! This is definitely the biggest challenge in patience that life has thrown at me. One tip: never let your dad convince you to go on a boat trip for more than 1 day.
Moaied is typing…
Mark: I can save a dried flying fish for you Peter if you want to smoke it with your instant soup mushrooms. Did Lana really know what she was taking on ?
Peter: Mark, at this point, lacking coffee, I am open for experimenting with any stimulant. Cup-a-soup mushroom flavour is now finished. Cup-a-soup onion flavour seems slightly milder.
Audrey is typing….
Mark is typing….
Lana is typing…
Moaied is typing…
Mark: Lana, perhaps pack some Valium next time. You could always take it yourself if it doesn’t work on dad.
Lana: We’ve been slowly going through my secret drug stash, but nothing seems to work… Anyone up for adopting a crazy sailor? Ready for pickup in the middle of the Atlantic...
Mark: I have adopted him before. It’s someone else’s turn now!
Nick: I bid 20 goats
Peter: I found the coffee.
Lana: Oh, no. Here we go...
Moaied is typing…

Follow the sun

Date: 27-Nov-2023
Position: Between Cape Verde and Grenada



Follow, follow the sun
And which way the wind blows

When this day is done
Breath, breath in the air

Set your intentions
Dream with care
Tomorrow is a new day for everyone
A brand new moon, brand new sun

So follow, follow the sun
The direction of the birds
The direction of love

Xavier Rudd

Sucking and blowing in the birthplace of clouds

Date: 27-Nov-2023
Position: Between Cape Verde and Grenada

Gradually we’ve come to the trade wind zone. The real trade winds which have been carrying sailing ships across the Atlantic ocean East-West since Columbus' times: more steady North-Easterlies in the belt 14° down to 10° North… A belt which has become more narrow over the years.

I can see the tracks from my previous transatlantic trips (2006, 2021, 2022) cross our current tracks… This is the transatlantic highway from November until somewhere April or May, after which, this area becomes the birthplace of tropical storms and hurricanes from June until November again.

This highway is also the road most yachts (ARC, ARC+ and others) follow to cross to the Caribbean and Brazil (onwards to South America)…

It is the cradle of clouds. The place where clouds are born. During the day, we have a mild cloud cover, right now. But during the night as the dew point raises, the high water temperature saturates the air, and clouds form.

Since 2-3 nights, in the early night, we can see clear skies behind us, and within 30 minutes several clouds might have formed. Right there, on the spot.... An hour later,they might already have turned into saturated dark forms, which start to shed their moisture in form of drizzle or light rain. We can even see those light showers on the radar, and track them, as we would track other vessels…

These clouds follow the same winds, which we also follow while sailing. We all go the same direction: Westerly mostly… And as you can understand, while going West, these clouds become larger, more saturated and will eventually shed rain. The further West, the more rain we will get, and potentially, the more squalls we will get.

Squalls are local micro weather systems, which change the wind direction, wind strength and sea state.

There are two kinds of clouds important to distinguish for sailors: we need to observe if they are “suckers” or “blowers”.

SUCKERS: are clouds which are building. They are sucking up energy to build up. They suck up wind towards them and then upwards into the cloud itself. So, looking from above the cloud, you would see air sucked up to the center. So when a SUCKER comes in behind you, sailing downwind, it will reduce the wind strength, as it sucks wind the opposite direction. You might have 15 kts of wind, but the clouds sucks air at 5 kts towards them, so just in front of the cloud, you will see your wind speed drop to 10 kts.

Once a SUCKER passes you, it will amplify the downwind speed: now it will amplify your normal 15 kts with its 5 kts and you will get 20 kts of wind, until the SUCKER is further away, and wind reduces again to its usual, in this example, 15 kts of wind.

BLOWERS do the opposite: they are more saturated and looking from above, blow energy (wind, rain,…) outwards, 360° around them. BLOWERS are stronger than SUCKERS. BLOWERS can amplify or reduce the wind by 10-15-20 kts, depending how large, strong and saturated they are.

So if a BLOWER comes in from behind you, it will amplify your usual wind, say 15 kts, with another 10 kts, creating a wind gust of 25 kts. Soon after the wind increase, you will feel the rain. And under the cloud, you might be in a full shower, but with little wind. As the cloud passes, the rain decreases, and the cloud will reduce your wind. A cloud generating 10 kts will reduce your normal wind of 15 kts to “only 5 knots” after it passes.

And then you have the play and gamble with clouds that pass you on the side. They will not only change windspeed but also wind direction. By a LOT, at times. In low winds, and strong clouds, the wind can change 90° or even 180°.

But we are in quite strong and stable winds at the moment. We have been running in 14-17/18 kts for 30 hours now. Cruising along.

Last night (picture) was the 3rd night in a row where we saw clouds being born in this cradle of moisture and wind (and hurricanes later in the season).

It is fascinating. Nature is fascinating. Sailing is fascinating.

Oooh, I love this shit!

Happy where I am

Date: 27-Nov-2023
Position: Between Cape Verde and Grenada

This is my place. Wind in my hair, salt on my skin. Shorts and Tshirt, bare foot. In the middle of nowhere.
While still, thanks to Starlink, connected to my friends, family and loved ones,… in the middle of nowhere. Looking at the skies, sea. Looking at the fish jumping around, the occasional dolphins spotted. Some sea birds hovering effortless over the waves, shaving off the top of the waves looking for prey. A school of mackerel followed us for hours yesterday. Right next to the boat. I mean, right there. I could almost touch them…

This is my happy place. The more as this year, as I can share this adventure with Lana, my oldest.

Sailing is a continuous thriller in slow motion

Date: 28-Nov-2023>
Position: Between Cape Verde and Grenada

Many non-sailors think of sailing as pretty relaxing, laid back, with the motion of the waves rocking you to sleep.

Don’t het me wrong, in many ways it is. But for me, it is mostly a thriller in slow motion, where the thriller might run over several hours.

First of all, there is “traffic”: in neighbourhouds slightly more populated with cargo vessels, fishing boats, ferries and other sailing vessels, anticipating “what the others will do” and ensuring we keep a safe distance is a thriller by itself.

Especially with cargo traffic, which we pick up on our navigation system up to 30 Nmiles away. As of then, the navigation system calculates what the “CPA” or "closest point of approach" is. If it is closer than one mile, we are already on the edge of our seat as of the time we spot that ship.

Even more so, if there are several vessels on our path within the next hours.
And even more so when we are in busy shipping lanes like Gibraltar a couple of weeks ago, where we could see 10-20 cargo ships in our range.

Add some fishing vessels (which have very erratic courses often), and some sailing boats, and you have a thriller lasting hours, which beats any Hitchcock thriller movie.

Beyond traffic, there is the weather. Is that rain cloud coming towards us, or can we skim past it? Is that lightning in our path? Will the wind turn another 10° so we can no longer keep our spinnaker up? Will the wind increase? Should I reef? Or will the wind drop the moment I reef?

And it goes on, even when not sailing: approaches to ports and planning how to enter marinas is particularly stressful.

And even when not moving: Is my anchor well set? Is my neighbour’s anchor not dragging? Will the wind turn so that those rocks will be on my lee side?

And it goes on and on.

Don’t choose sailing as a hobby, thinking you will relax. You won’t. Even if most hardened sailors look like me: bronzed handsome devils, moving slowly (with a pint in one hand and a pipe in the other), speaking slowly and articulate in a low voice. Don’t be mislead: we’re all adrenaline junkies, living, not watching, real-live thrillers, just for the thrill of it.

The rhythm of life on Sturdeee

(i always found that is a weird word with a weird spelling "rhythm")
Date: 28-Nov-2023
Position: Between Cape Verde and Grenada

It is a strange rhythm our life has, here on Sturdeee (that is with 3 eee’s but only Ian will understand that joke), on the middle of the ocean…

We basically have 3 hour “watches” or “shifts” at the helm. During the day time, those are “single watches” - watches run by a single person. During night time, we run dual watches: watches run with two people. And those watches rotate every day, so not everyone has the same watch every day.

– Well except Dee who has one single 3-hour watch every afternoon.
To be honest, I can not remember why we agreed to do that. I think it had something to do, as Dee is often in the kitchen, or helping the people preparing the meals, looking for “where are the tins with tomatoe paste?” or “where did the whipped cream go?”. "Is the caviar stored in the closet with Ian’s socks or is it under the boxes with sugar?"

Back to being serious: the dual watches are Ian and Dee, Michelle and me, Lana and me.
Yep, I got myself an extra watch per day (and paid dear money for it, too!), as we don’t have a 6th person on board, to team up with Michelle.

So our watches rotate over a 3 days cycle: the 4th day is the same schedule as the 1st day.

Apart from everyone then having the pleasure for the “diamond watches” (sunset and sunrise), the other days they have the “oven watches” (noon and afternoon) or the graveyard shifts (those "get up at 02:45 to stumble to the loo - or “head”, do your thing, grab your gear, stumble up the stairs, stumble to the kitchen - or “galley”, and in a desperate move grab the coffee can, and brew that blessed drink that wakes one up.
For me, coffee kind of wakes me up real fast. Also because I brew a mean pot of coffee. I also brought my own French coffee press, and my own coffee cup (and started off this trip with my own Italian coffee too. But those two tins of Illy coffee were gone in the first 5 days, so I am now living on Spanish coffee… Nothing against the Spanish. One of my dearest friends is Spanish, but,… compare Italian coffee with Spanish coffee, is like comparing Greek and Italian olives. Or Austrian and Italian wine. Or Pizzaland junk with real Napolitano pizza. Or Swiss gruyere cheese junk with Italian Parmiggiano.

Where was I - oh… yeah. watches…!
Oh yeah, so after coffee, you drag yourself to the aft saloon, put your safety harness on, and drag yourself up another set of stairs, to the deck level, yet another set of stairs to the flight deck, and throw yourself on the bench behind the helm (which can sit 6 people easily, or 15 children).
I have done those dreaded stairs so many times, that my iPhone keeps on reminding me, I am doing extra ordinary exercises, by doing 356 stairs per day.
That’s what you get, when you live on a cat which has 4 floors: the cabins (-1), galley saloon and cockpit (0), deck (1), helm station or flight bridge or fly bridge (2), and roof of fly bridge (3)… That is a lotta stairs! Also makes it difficult to trace people: “Where did Ian go?” - also knowing that each floor is bigger than my apartment in Rome. And that excludes the lockers (with generator, engines, sails, ropes, fenders), each bigger than my bedroom in Rome.

Where was I - oh… yeah. watches…!
Apart from that watch rotations, we also have “mother watches”: every day, two people prepare dinner (and clean dishes). Ian and Dee, Michelle and me (this is the official version, but Michelle likes to cook herself, and cleans her kitchen while she cooks, leaving me helplessly sitting in a corner, sulking while sucking my thumb, and Lana and me, though most of the time, Lana chases me out of the kitchen with a “Shooo…, dad!”… She did let me clean the dishes, on the first montherwatch, but now insists she cleans the dishes herself.

Somewhere I get the impression that people try to avoid me on this boat, right? Now that I think of it… When I come on the fly bridge, often the watch leader is sitting at the helm in one corner, and I am only allowed to sit on the other side of the sofa -dixit- helm bench.
When I come in the cockpit, which has one large sofa-like bed, and a U-shaped bench, which can sit 15 people or 30 children, I feel like I am given the evil eye, until I sit, where I sit now. On the edge of the sofa bed, with one foot on the stairs going to the deck.

I still think people on Sturdeee (yep with 3 e's, but that is a joke only Ian will get), like me. As Ian said this morning: “We all love you. Eh, let me correct that: we all tolerate you”. That really made my day: to finally have found a boat which tolerates me.

As I have been put up for adoption by other boats in the ARC+ fleet by Lana, it is rumoured that Ian has put in a bid for my adoption, and Dee has secretly signed the adoption papers. Maybe I will finally have found a home for my restless heart and tremendously funny jokes.

Where was I - oh watches…
Oh, no, that part was almost finished.
In short version: we have watches at all kinds of odd hours, for all kinds of odd tasks, waking up at all times of day and night, here on Sturdeee (yep, with 3 "e"'s), my adopted new home. So, days and nights, and even weeks all melt together into one pot of sea, wind angles and barber haulers.

Can you now see why sometimes my alarm goes off, 15 minutes before my watch, and I can not remember where I am anymore? And what all that racket is around me?

Signing off is Peter Pan, flying high on Starship Sturdeee (that is with 3 eee’s but only Ian understands that jokeee - "echo-echo-echo")

Business proposal: 1-900-Dial-a-Sailor

Date: 28-Nov-2023
Position: Between Cape Verde and Grenada

Now that Internet access at sea becomes common place, I have a new business proposal I am working out:

A "pay-per-call" line via whatsapp, for people at sea, who would like to “meet” other people. Like a "Tinder-for-sailors".

Also open for lonely hearts on shore, who are dreaming to meet a sun-dried handsome sailor online (“sun-dried” is not the right word, is it? I mean “bronzed”), or online-meet that exquisite bow-babe (a common nickname for a tanned long-legged, long haired (long "head"-hair only) babe which normally hangs out in the sun on the bow of a catamaran, with a trampoline rope square imprint on her bum.

Online video calls would be triple priced.

The service would be called "1-900-Dial-a-Sailor" or "1-900-dial-a-Sailorine" to meet the female contingent and gender balance of our service.

Now I am thinking: that name sounds a bit dull. Who can think of a better name?

Send in your proposals now.

Sailing update

Date: 29-Nov-2023
Position: Between Cape Verde and Grenada

So we ran white sails only for a while. The same tack as yesterday, until the early night (apart from half an hour in the afternoon where Ian had to change course a bit to avoid a Chinese fishing vessel who did not seem to care about anyone and just steered at random, without AIS).

As of last night we then went to wing on wing, surfing the waves which started to come from a decent angle again (after 3 days of confusing cross swell).

And just after sun raise yesterday, we dropped the white sails to go back to our parasailor wing.

Winds were steady 12-14 kts until the afternoon where we struggled a bit in winds of 9 then 8 then 7 knots (TWS). Add to that a 30° windshift and you combine light winds with confused seas.

Ian and I were on watch then. Together we jybed the parasailor wing to get a better wave angle and then the wind picked up slowly, as the sun is setting.

It is now 01:00 AM. Michelle and I are on watch, in a waning gibbous moon (just after full moon) and we have a steady 13-14 kts wind.

Seas are quite calm. The moon is very bright, lightening up the seas around us. I am sitting on the flight deck on the port side and can watch the cruising chute (parasailor) right in front of me, lit up by the moon (see picture).

Aurigine, a 33ft French boat is about 10 Nm behind us. They don't have radar, and we promised skipper Jean-Jacques we would let him know if we sea any squall popping up on radar behind him. They are a crew if three, not in the ARC+ but following our fleet as an extra safety measure. Nice guys. I spoke to them several times today. They will cruise the the Caribbean for the season and then head back to France via Bermuda and the Azores - The North Atlantic West-East highway - at the end of the season...

Ok. Back to my watxh now: we are constantly looking behind us to check for clouds or squalls…

Wish us luck, as we have the parasailor up. Squalls not allowed!

Peter Sailor Pan woot-woot!

Sailors’ superstitions

Date: 29-Nov-2023
Position: Between Cape Verde and Grenada

Through my work with the UN in poorer countries, I have learned that people living close to nature, people whose well-being is more exposed or vulnerable to nature’s caprices, tend to be more religious or superstitious.

No surprise this also counts for sailors which are well exposed to nature’s whims.

Some of it has some historical and factual background. E.g. many sailors think bananas in a boat bring bad luck. Apparently there is a factual background - which I need to look up - that bananas emit a gas which makes other fruits and veggies near them, mature and rot faster.

There is the superstition, to which I subscribe, and which is also followed on Sturdeee (yep with 3 "e"'s), about "whistling". No whistling on Sturdeee. - The belief is that whistling brings bad/strong winds.

And then, amongst sailors there is the “Don’t jynx it” superstition: we can not say aloud that things are going fine... All too often we would say “Oh, we have really nice steady winds now”, and the next minute, we’d get a 30 degree windshift with the nice breeze dropping off to almost nothing.
Or we’d say: “The boat is really steady now” and before you know it, we get hit by a nasty odd wave from the side rocking the boat and slamming the sails.
So we try to avoid talking loudly about things going well. We might hint about them, point to the display showing how steady the winds are..... But we don’t talk about good things aloud.

Or we counter-jynx it. Having a good fast run on the light sails, we might say: “this is a shitty day. With a shitty course” and then wink.
That is ok. As long as we don't say "good things" aloud, it is ok...

And winking is ok!

So, right now, we are having shitty sail in a shitty night. wink-wink

Red colours shines white in red light

Date: 29-Nov-2023
Position: Between Cape Verde and Grenada

At 3:00 AM, while on watch with Michelle, I craved for baked beans in tomatoe sauce and sausages (one of my comfort foods).

Under a red headtorch (we run a dark ship at night, so we can see stuff on the sea around us, so only red lights are allowed), I went through all cans in the bilge compartments, and found a couple of cans which said “baked beans”, but they looked like white beans. Or in a white sauce…

I put on my other glasses (people my age have glasses to see afar and glasses to read). The can said “baked beans with tomatoe sauce”. And I go like... “but it is white sause?!?!”.

And then, the eureka moment: red colours show white in a red light… #Dah.

Night sailing

Date: 30-Nov-2023
Position: Between Cape Verde and Grenada

The difference between sailing with a moon and without a moon, at night, is like… day and night. Almost literally.

No moon:
(either “new moon” or the moon has not come up yet, or has already set).

Advantage: the sky is really dark, so the stars are very bright. One can often see the Milky Way clearly. Some stars or planets (like Jupiter or Venus, sometimes Capella,…) can shine sooo bright, they actually reflect in the water. Also a good time to spot satellites, the ISS (International Space Station) shooting by, planes flying over, or shooting stars.
(BTW on one of the first night watches after leaving Las Palmas, Michelle and Dee saw a massive flash with a long trail which literally lit up the whole sky. Kinda looked like a shooting star, but they said the entire sky was lit up, as if it was a flair, or a close-by lightning, but it was not… Still trying to figure out what it was. Our theory was that it was a piece of space junk burning in the atmosphere).

Also the advantage of “no moon” is that you can spot vessels’ navigation lights from very far away. We regularly spot sailing vessels’ lights from 6-7 Nmiles (if they run nav lights on the top of their mast, and not on their bow), and cargo vessels steaming lights from 15 Nmiles away.

I suffer from glaucoma, so my eye sight is very sensitive to light contrasts, which gives me the supernatural powers to see things at night, that others don’t… Seriously, my record is seeing cargo vessels at 30Nmiles, on a clear and dark night. I would not be able to see the actual lights yet, but I'd see a glow in a certain spot at the horizon, indicating “there is something there”.
Pretty cool: 30 Nm is 54 km… Spotting a small light 54 km away…

Back to the topic. Where was I - ah ok, moon, no moon.

DISADVANTAGE of no moon: it is dark. I mean real dark. Luckily on Sturdeee (Yep, that is with 3 "e"'s), we run our nav lights on top of the masts, so they shine down on the sails a bit, but on the past two Atlantic passages, we ran our boat’n navlights on the bow… In those cases, you can not even see your sails at night, and need to shine red or white light on them, from your head torch.
DISADVANTAGE is also, you have no orientation at all. You have no reference points, other than the stars. You lose track of where you. you lose track of the horizon (sometimes I mis-took a setting star (you know that stars raise and set, just like the sun and moon, right?), shining a white-reddish dim colour, just like the tri-colour navlight of a sailing boat, about “two fingers above the horizon”, thinking "OMG there is sailing vessel close by"… Simply because I can not see the horizon. And can not see that it must be a star setting.

Also when we see a vessel on AIS, and we try to spot it on the horizon, often I find myself looking into the skies, way above the horizon, looking for a vessel, rather than AT the horizon. Because you simply can not distinguish sky and sea and loose track of the horizon..

CHAPTER 2: And then there was light
When “the moon is out”, especially when it is a full moon, eh… sailing is another experience. A full (or even half moon) is really bright. Like someone turns on a massive flood light. I mean, it is “MASSIVE”. Often people come on deck for their night watch, thinking we have the decklights on, or something.
Of course it is not as bright as daylight, but you can see pretty far, you can see the whole boat and its sails, up to the point that often you don’t need a red light head torch.
And… a full moon in a cloudless sky, on the open ocean, is really something to experience. The contrasts… The way the moon reflects on the water… It is something special.
And under moonlight, you are much more aware of your neighbourhood. It is less trippy (“thinking one floats on a slowly rocking ship, in a void of nothing-ness”) than when there is no moon.
It is also easier to walk around on deck, often without the need of a flashlight.

DISADVANTAGE: it is much more difficult to spot other vessels, as there is less contrast around. And the stars are fainter.

Picture: full moon setting two days ago… (against a canvas of slightly lit skies, of a raising sun gloom)

"Twelve" is the magic number

Date: 1-Dec-2023
Position: Between Cape Verde and Grenada

We have been staying around 12°N for a few days. Those yachts north of us had regular squalls of 30+ knots and times of very little wind. We have been happily sailing on the Parasailor wing for days. We saw squalls passing, north and south of us, but it seemed 12°N was the magic number.

Following the waves, we ventured a bit off to the North, found it too calm there and under white sails, went further south again, but just a bit. Up to 12°N again...

At night we could see we were sailing between two different weather systems as the skies were distinctively different left and right of us.

We continued south a bit until we were, once again the most southern vessel of our fleet. Not by intension to earn that title, but to avoid more turbulent weather systems...
Via whatsapp, reports came in of damages: mostly spinnakers blown out and such due to squalls.

Today, we were that much south it looked like we were heading to Trinidad, but we went sharper into the wind when the waves allowed us, and found a course now heading almost straight to Grenada.

Happy sailing!

Storm

Date: 2-Dec-2023
Position: Between Cape Verde and Grenada

Well, at this latitude in the Atlantic, you don’t really get "storms" this time of the year. They keep that for the Caribbean hurricane season (June to November)

Squalls (local small weather systems mostly generated by a cluster of clouds) do occur, but usually a bit further North, say 14°N and up. This is the first time in my four transatlantic crossings, I have seen that many squalls down at 12°N.

It started about 5-6 nights ago. Most of the ARC+ fleet reported darker clouds and distant lightning. As we went further west, many other boats reported more frequent and heavier squalls, spells of higher wind combined with rain at times. Or lightning.

Squalls seem to happen mostly during evening or night times…

We have been able to dodge the squalls for the past nights. But close to sunset today, the sky behind us looked threatening. Already that early in the evening, the whole horizon was covered with dense low clouds.

We decided to choose for safety, as usual, and dropped the parasailor wing (which can only fly up to 20 kts of wind), and go on white sails only: full genoa and 2nd reef in the main.

A right decision as when Michelle and I started our 18:00 watch, we already picked up rain clouds on the radar. By 20:00 we were hit by our first squall, and the radar filled up with small cloud cells behind us, approaching us.

As we tracked the path and size of the squalls, flying towards us, it was clear we were going to be hit by some big ones. Around 20:30, one cell hit us with increasing wind: 20-21-23-24 knots and counting. We started furling the foresail and continued until we had all but a handkerchief sized genoa left. As the wind increased, we re-ran the genoa sheet into the cars on the sunroof (normally the genoa sheets run aft, tuned with a barber hauler).

Wind continued to increase to 31 kts. I have to say, here in the flybridge, 4 m above the water, we have a great view, but it also gets breezy. At 40 kts of wind, the sleeves of my rainjacket not only started to flap in the wind, but started to vibrate (“Brzzzzrrrzz”). Not an assuring sound.

Wind went down a bit to 25 kts and then picked up again. Ian also came on deck, so together, the three of us held on to the seats of our pants.

Gradually the squalls passed and by the time Lana came in deck for her watch, the sky behind us cleared up and wind eased to 11 kts.

Right now, at 4 AM, we are back at 18-19 kts steady wind. I can see clouds but too small for squalls.

We live to fight another day. Or to sail another day :slight_smile:

PS: Sturdeee did well in this heavy wind. Cheers to her!
Picture: squall cloud forming two evenings ago.

Typoes

Date: 2-Dec-2023
Position: Between Cape Verde and Grenada

People have been writing to me, asking why there are so many typoes on my little scribblings. And don’t I have a spell checker?

Well most of these microblogs are typed on my phone while sitting on deck (mind you, not when I am a watch lead but most of the time when I am 2nd watch or sitting on deck during my off time). So the boat moves, and I don’t have fingers made for a mini screen keyboard. Editing on a phone is a pain, and I can not be bothered spell checking…

I think the micro-blogposts might turn out like pieces of authentic antique you find in scrapshops: nicely made (I hope) but full of scratches and rust spots from previous decades. But cute to look at and touch.
A bit like me, really!

Sailing update - Storm part 2

Date: 2-Dec-2023
Position: Between Cape Verde and Grenada

Well, "Squalls part 2" rather

After being hit by a couple of squalls last night, just as I was coming off watch, and Ian came on, we could see a large squall system moving towards us on the radar. Oh, and another one, and another one, popped up on the radar, though visually, it looked like one massive grey blurb moving to us.

Even though my watch was over, I thought it’d be better to stay on deck for a while, to see what the squall would do. We could see the squall visually. Monitoring the size and density on radar, we can track its movement (speed, direction) but we can not see how much wind increase it would give.

And we were hit. Boy, were we hit!.... Winds up to 32 kts at the front of the cell. We reefed the genoa to the size of a handkerchief, put the engines on, just in case. We reduced the apparent wind a bit by throttling the engines, and eased the steering by throttling one engine more than the other, as Sturdeee can not sail on her main sail only (or with a very small genoa out), as she tends to turn into the wind…

It was tense. I controlled the genoa sheet manually, as with its reduced size, and sheeted through the cars on the deck in front of our flight deck, we had trouble to keep the genoa inflated: The cars on the deck are so close to the mast, that with wind from aft, we have trouble to keep the quadruple reefed genoa inflated. Flapping sails tear up easily, certainly in this kind of violent wind. While I was doing that, Ian controlled the steering and the engine throttles, calling out the apparent wind angles and apparent wind speed. It was tense.

And after the wind increased in front of the squall -- it was a clear example of a "blower", with the cloud front releasing energy (wind)---, then came the heavy rain at the center of the squall.
If you have ever experienced a "white-out", where a mere wall of rain approaches your boat, you know what I am talking about: You can see a white wall of rain approaching with no visibility beyond that. It is just a wall of violence approaching. But, from experience, I know that once we passed the front of the squall, and enter the center, winds ease off. And towards the end of the center, winds tend to die - as the squall is a blower, exhaling its energy, which counteracts with the prevailing tradewinds. So after the squall, the wind died to almost zero...

But then came another squall, and another rain squall… It lasted for about 2 hours. At that moment, it looked like there was no end to it. Although Ian and me were sitting on the flightdeck, with a solid roof above our heads, the rains were so dense, they soaked us. I had my Goretex rain jacket on, but Ian had come on deck in T-shirt, and he was drenched to the bone. Dee popped out her head from the cockpit, one floor below the flight deck, asking "Are you guys ok?", and we answered "yes, just make sure all hatches and rain covers are closed", but the rain had come in almost horizontally, and most things in the aft cockpit were absolutely soaked. Dee had to close the sliding door between the aft cockpit and the galley/saloon, just to keep the water gushing in, out of the saloon area

The picture of Ian and me in this post was taken right after the squall fronts had passed and the sun came out again. Can you see the relief on our faces? By that time, I done about 12 hours of watches non-stop, and I was exhausted. But happy that we did well: We had reefed in time. We had seen the squalls coming. And as they say in Flemish: Ian controlled the boat "as cool as a frog": no panic, clear coordination with his crew. I could clearly see how him being an airline pilot, contributed to him being a good skipper. After the squalls passed, we hi-fived on a job well done and I crashed in my bunk. Apart from the one instance we were under spinnaker in 20+ knots on the passage between the Canaries and Cape Verde, this had been the most intense few hours in our passage, on Sturdeee.

Close!

Date: 3-Dec-2023
Position: Approaching Grenada, just went between Tobago and Barbados.

A short update to say: 55 Nm to go.

Lovely sail yesterday and last night. Wind did not come from the direction which was predicted, but the sunset was lovely.

Our course a bit far north of Grenada, but we will put in a jybe when the time comes.

ETA in Grenada is this evening.

Land ho!

Date: 3-Dec-2023
Position: Approaching Grenada from the north

We just spotted Carriacou and Grenada on the horizon. Coming in fast and furious on our Parasailor wing.

Picture taken by our neighbouring boat, Aurijin, this morning, just as we raised our wing. You can actually see me on the bow. Thanks for the picture, Jean-Jacques!

Back on land

Date: 3-Dec-2023
Position: Port St Louis, Grenada

We moored up, just after sunset, on the superyacht jetty in Port St.Louis marina, in St.Georges, Grenada.

The ARC+ crew was ready to receive us, helped us with the mooring lines, and had a rum punch ready.

Great to be on land again, with such a warm welcome. We did a short run over the boat to secure everything, and off to the marina bar/restaurant.

The bar was full of yachties who just arrived too, so I do not have to explain that the mood was that of a celebration of everyone’s accomplishments. There was plenty of food and rum-sours had by all. As Lana wrote on her blog: "I have never seen so many happy and drunk sailors in my life, all celebrating their individual and common accomplishments of crossing the Atlantic".

Picture: Lana and me on the dock, just after we arrived…

Looking back

Date: 4-Dec-2023
Position: Port St Louis, Grenada

I helped sailing Sturdeee from South Portugal to the Canaries, via Cape Verde to Grenada, roughly a 3,500 Nmiles or 6,300 km voyage.

When we arrived in Grenada, it was the end of Ian and Dee's challenge to cross the Atlantic, and the start of their Caribbean adventure, and beyond. I was glad, with Lana and Michelle, to have contributed to Ian and Dee's dream (picture of Sturdeee and its transat crew in its final mooring in Port St.Louis Grenada.)

But this blog is also a tribute to Lana, an exceptional young woman, who, just like her younger sister Hannah, is "the apple my eye", as they say in Flemish... Lana not only took this sailing challenge heads-on, persisted in her challenge, but also "survived" in putting up with her crazy dad in close quarters for almost 2 months. Not a small feat!

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