Tracking Your Message in a Bottle

For centuries, sailors have written messages, corked them in glass bottles, and tossed them into the open ocean.  Drifting around the ocean gyres for years, the bottles are rarely found washed up on the shore.  Nevertheless, we were not able to dismiss the romantic idea of writing our own messages and tossing them into the ocean as we crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Cape Verde to Barbados.

Where will the ocean currents take the bottles and when will they be found?  Usually, these questions will never be answered.  But these bottles are special – they were tied to  Marine Instruments MSi satellite GPS buoys!  Graciously donated by the innovative team at Marine Instruments, the MSi buoys transmit the location of the bottles to Iridium satellites every day.  We are now able to track the bottles on a map as they drift across the ocean and place bets on where and when they may be found!

Each of the kids wrote messages, corked them into bottles, and tied them to three individual MSi drifters.  Other friends also contributed messages that were included in the bottles.  The drift path of the buoys are influenced by the ocean currents and winds.  The bottles were each deployed one-day apart with a spacing of 2.5° Longitude (146 miles at 14° Latitude, or 234 km).  The deployment locations were:

Buoy A:  15.0°N, 30.0°W
Buoy D:  14.0°N, 32.5°W
Buoy E:  13.5°N, 35.0°W

We wish to express sincere gratitude to the team at Marine Instrument for donating the buoys and providing the position telemetry service, and to Nortek Data Services for developing and hosting the website that tracks and displays the real-time map.

Click on the photo below to view a movie of Buoy A deployment!


Buoy D Deployment


Buoy E Deployment


Full Cruising World (Dec 2017) publication message in a bottle.


Click on map to view real-time buoy tracking!

Passage to Barbados: Day 15

Day 15: 23 November 2016

Most of our last full day at sea was spent contemplating our arrival the next morning. After crossing so many miles, over so many days, it was a bit surreal to understand that land might (should!) appear over the horizon and that we would be in a new continent, new island group, and with new people.

After a morning of slalom-skiing around rain clouds with shifty winds, the winds finally settled down and we began our final run to Barbados. We slowed down a little, trying to average about 5 knots, so that we could arrive near the island at sun rise the following morning (concluding our 15th day at sea).

The first confirmation that we received that we were generally in the right area of Barbados was a hail on the VHF radio by a local fisherman. He was delighted to see another boat nearby and gave us a very friendly welcome to Barbados! It was fun to chat with the fisherman in English, and his cheerful Bajan accent and overly friendly attitude was a wonderful hint to the fun times we hoped would be ahead.

As dusk set, we were about 60 miles away from Barbados. When darkness came, and our eyes adjusted to the light, we were able to see a faint glow of light in the clouds ahead of us. This was the first true sign that our GPS’s had worked and we had found land!

At around 8 AM the next morning (24 Nov), we pulled around the south side of the islands, avoiding the shoals and swift currents. Shortly thereafter, we received a lovely greeting by a welcome committee on pontoon boat sent from the Barbados 50 rally. They escorted us into the customs/immigration dock and took our dock lines. We had officially crossed the Atlantic Ocean, and we had much to be thankful for on the morning of US Thanksgiving!

B50-arrival- Laridae.jpg

Laridae Arrival in Barbados (Photo Credit: Cornell Sailing)

Passage to Barbados: Day 14

Day 14: 22 November 2016

The rain and crazy wind shifts from the previous night continued into the morning of Day 14. The trend in the weather (comical for some, less so for others) was for Eric’s night watch to get the squalls, and Robyn’s night watch to get the settled weather. This finally changed! As Robyn came on watch at 10 AM, the weather decided to throw her more confused wind patterns, and plenty of rain.

The prevailing Easterly winds turned to come from the South, and then the Southwest. With our downwind running sails up, we were forced to follow the wind shift, and, for a while, we were sailing back towards Cape Verde! We released the spinnaker pole from the genoa, hoisted the mainsail, gybed over, sheeted in and began to close-reach back towards the Northeast – and fortunately in the general direction of Barbados!

Along with the crazy wind shifts came the rain. Buckets-full dumped on the deck and on the crew (Robyn and Angela). There was enough rain (freshwater shall not be wasted!) that the shampoo came out and the crew took advantage of the plentiful, and rather warm, rain.

While most of the passage had been text-book perfect, we had the distinct feeling that the ocean was going to make us work for our safe arrival to Barbados. We were up for the challenge and worked together to get the boat moving away from the squall line and back towards clearer skies and more consistent winds. It took us several hours to work our way out of the rain and fluky winds, but finally we found the trade winds again and started to make good tracks towards Barbados.

With less than 200 miles remaining, the kids started a massive home-schooling-cram-session. They decided that they wanted to finish all of their November work before they arrived in Barbados, so that they could have the remainder of the month to explore the island. This meant that they would need to do double-quantities each day. They really pulled together, focused (most of the challenge of our homeschooling) and got to work!

The daily run was 123 miles. We anticipate arriving in Barbados mid-day on Thursday, 24 November. Barbados is on the same time zone as Halifax, Nova Scotia (1 hour later than US Eastern Time).

Passage to Barbados: Day 13

Day 13: 21 November 2016

Because the winds were so consistent, still about 18-20 knots from the East, we spent the day focused on food and games. Angela and the kids made up Boat Bingo cards and prizes. The prizes were Marzipan figures of marine life (turtles, sea horses, crabs, etc) that the kids made themselves from a sheet of Marzipan. Angela laid down plastic wrap on the table, asked the kids to wash their hands three times (!), and let them have fun with food.

Meanwhile, Angela prepared the best homemade pizza that has ever been served on Laridae or enjoyed in the mid-Atlantic. The crust was made from scratch and topped with tomato paste, real mozzarella cheese, green olives, and fire roasted red peppers. It was enjoyed by all and there were no leftovers.

We enjoyed playing Boat Bingo in the cockpit during cocktail hour. Prizes were awarded for a variety of reasons (we don’t take Boat Bingo too seriously).

The evening was concluded with another outstanding meal prepared by Chef Angela – Indian Curry. This curry was not from cans; Angela prepared it from scratch with a variety of fresh ingredients — very impressive, considering we have been away from the produce market for 13 days!

Overnight, the pleasant sailing slowly came to an end as we moved into a region of more active squalls. The winds within the squall were not too intense; sometimes increasing from about 20 knots to 25 knots. However, the change of direction was surprising. The wind would quickly change over 90 degrees! Our steady Easterly winds would sometimes veer to come from the SW. If you reviewed our tracker map (on the Find Us! section of our website), you may see some squiggly steering as we kept the boat going through the variable conditions. Our normal night watch actives, watching the stars and listening to podcasts, was interrupted by the need to actually sail the boat.

Despite the crazy end to the day, we managed a decent daily run of 142 miles. Now that we are within about 250 miles of Barbados, we are hoping to arrive mid-day on Thursday, 24 November (American Thanksgiving!).

Passage to Barbados: Day 12

Day 12: 20 November 2016

Our twelfth day at sea was characterized by, yet again, another perfect day of sailing! We enjoyed trade winds of about 20 knots from the East. For Laridae, 20 knots seems to be an ideal wind speed. There is enough wind to keep the sails fully powered up and sail at a comfortable 6 knots, yet the seas do not become too large.

At lunch time, we passed an important milestone of only 500 miles remaining to Barbados. This represents about four days of sailing remaining, and also puts us within motoring range (if necessary for any reason).

Anneka and Dorian spent some time preparing a mini church service for us. This included some songs, played joyously on guitar by Anneka, and a reading that Anneka composed independently.

“We are almost in Barbados and maybe tonight, before you go to bed, or when you are doing a night watch, say ‘Thank You’ to God for helping us get this far. He has already given us so much, and most of it we don’t even think about it. Say ‘Thank You’ for getting us this far, because this is a place that is the most special and unexplored in the world, and us kids got here before we were even teenagers! The life out in the ocean helps us live. The micro plankton gives off 50% of the Earth’s oxygen. Say ‘Thank You’ for helping us get this far, and pray that we will enjoy the rest of the trip.”

Her words were wise, eloquent, humble, and even include a mini biological oceanography lecture! 🙂

We continued to celebrate the day with seawater showers (buckets full of water dumped on our heads) and a few litres of freshwater to rinse off the salt. Wow, it felt great!

The day concluded with one of the nicest nights of sailing that we have enjoyed. We were gently surfing down the (for once!) organized Atlantic swell, with the Orion constellation brilliantly lit directly behind us, white Venus and red Mars twinkling ahead of us, and the rest of the night sky occasionally interrupted with glowing shooting stars.

We used the favourable winds to tally up 146 miles.

Passage to Barbados: Day 11

Day 11: 19 November 2016

After the light winds, lumpy seas, and low distance run of Day 10, we were pleased to welcome the return of the traditional trade winds. Dawn brought 15-18 knot winds from the East. They slowly increased to a steady 20 knots. Laridae enjoyed being fully powered up and carved a nice wake through the waves.

With only 700 miles remaining until we reach Barbados, we passed the important 2/3rds-of-the-way-there threshold. We celebrated with a breakfast of really good crispy-fried bacon and potatoes. Later in the day, we were treated to a brief show of dolphins surfing in the waves. There were about five, fairly small, dolphins that swam with us, surfing in the waves, and frequently darting backwards. We presume that that were chasing flying fish for dinner, or just sport. We have seen many very tiny (5-7 cm) flying fish darting through the air, and occasionally landing on deck.

The return of the solid trade winds improved our daily run to 147 miles.

Passage to Barbados: Day 10

Day 10: 18 November 2016

The dark clouds, sometimes associated with rain and gusty winds, seem to be more prevalent during night watch. We can see the rain clouds well on radar, and under the light of the bright moon. On Eric’s night watch of Day 10, an unusually large and dark cloud was tracking directly for Laridae. As the cloud got closer, Eric battened down the hatches to keep rain and salty waves out of the beds. Closer still, Eric reduced sail in an effort to get ahead of the possibly gusty winds. Shortly thereafter, Eric covered up the companion way and put on his rain jacket (Gasp! The first time he has worn that jacket since Falmouth, England!). There he sat – hatches battened, sails reefed, door closed, raincoat on – ready for the worst the squall would offer. And he sat, and sat, and sat. The cloud passed along side and brought no rain or wind.

During the light of day, we were delighted to see schools of fish swimming along side the boat as we sailed at about 5 knots. The fish were about 40-50 cm long and had bright green highlights. Quickly, we deployed the fishing gear, but the only thing that we caught were some nice underwater images of the fish schools with the GoPro.

Have you ever heard a fact that made your head explode? Here is a fact from Day 10: our head exploded! Shortly after Eliana showed Eric that she knew how to flush the head (toilet) all by her self, Eric noticed that it felt a bit clogged. He pumped a few more times to try to push the clog through the system, but the back-pressure grew stronger. In an effort to clear the clog, Eric unscrewed a part of the toilet and — boom! – the contents from all of the toilet plumbing exploded all over the head… and Eric! It took one second to make the mistake of unscrewing that part, and the better part of two hours of Eric and Angela’s work to clean up the $#!tty mess sloshing back and forth in the waves and 30 deg heat. Finally, we fixed clogged toilet and the head is cleaner than it has been in a long time!

Shortly before dark, the light wind became even lighter and we made the decision to gybe and make some tracks to the south. We sailed in light and variable winds, with particularly lumpy seas, all night. Our daily run for Day 10 was only 114 miles.

Passage to Barbados: Day 9

Day 9: 17 November 2016

After motoring since 1 AM, the wind finally filled in at about 11 AM with a steady 12 knots from the ENE.  We were glad to turn the hot, noisy engine off and resume great trade wind sailing.

We deployed the fishing gear again, and finally caught something — a large clump of the omnipresent Sargasum seaweed. Clumps of the Sargasum float all around the Atlantic and tend to converge in large mats in the centre of the Atlantic Gyre; an area known as the Sargasso Sea.  Thankfully, we will not be passing through that area of large seeweed mats (too far to our North), but we do get to see small clumps of the seewead every day.  

After pooping on our deck all night, the White Ibis finally departed for distant shores.  We enjoyed having the bird’s company, but we were more pleased when Robyn graciously offered to bring a bucket and scrub brush on deck to clean off the mess!

During the day, we passed the imaginary longitudinal line of the 45 deg West meridian.  Since we started this journey in the UK, home of the Prime Meridian (0 deg) in Greenwich, we figured that we have already sailed 1/8 of the way around the world!

As dusk approached, we retrieved the fishing gear and redeployed the hydro-generator.  The boat took an unexpected roll and Eric accidentally dropped the kitchen scissors, cheerfully referred to as the “Bone Cutters” in our family, overboard!  We were sad to see these be lost because they worked very well, and also because they were a gift from Angela’s brother, Joey, for our wedding 17 years ago.

Never letting an opportunity to teach math be lost, we worked with Anneka and Dorian to calculate how long it would take the scissors to sink to the bottom of the ocean.  Assuming a sink rate of about 10 cm/s, and that we were in 6000 m of water (3.7 miles deep!), we calculated that the scissors wouldn’t reach the bottom until the time that we were eating lunch the next day, 17 hours later!

We continued to have peaceful sailing the rest of the day and logged a total distance run of 136 miles.