Passage to Barbados: Day 5

Day 5: 13 November 2016

We are getting used to sailing in the trade winds. We still haven’t changed the sail set since the morning of Day 2. We have only adjusted the sails in and out a small bit to change the location of chafe points. The winds and seas were slightly calmer than yesterday; about 15-20 knots during the day, and 10-15 knots at night.

We deployed Eliana’s drifter buoy and messages at 13.3N, 35W. Shortly after deploying her buoy, we were treated to a small pod of Pilot Whales. The whales were surfing in the residual swell and having a great time. They swam with us for about 5 minutes before returning, presumably, to their regular routine of feeding, playing, feeding, playing, etc.

We enjoyed a quite day of watching the waves, listening to podcasts (Stuff You Should Know: Maggots – Good for healing wounds, turns out… Anneka’s choice!), and eating good food. We’ve been storing away some of the best treats for this specific Atlantic crossing. The treat today – Trader Joe’s Chipotle Black Bean Dip – specially imported from the Hingham, MA, store on Eric’s last trip to the USA before departing on Laridae.

For those in the know, you’ll understand why we love this black bean dip. For those unfamiliar with the delicacy, you should understand that the dip inspired a heated debate between Anneka and Dorian about the pros and cons of residing in the USA (essentially dip vs Trump).

We celebrated the approaching milestone of getting 1/3 of the way across the Atlantic with, wait for it… showers! It was calm enough on the deck to take a seawater bath (seawater buckets dumped over our heads) and rinse with a very small quantity of fresh water. This was a real joy with the warm seawater (about 28 deg C), warm air, and calms seas. We carry about 200 gallons of fresh water on board (no watermaker) and we anticipate that we will be able to complete the 15-18 day passage with only using 100 gallons among the 3 adults and 3 kids. Yes, we ration fresh water carefully!

The daily run in the lighter conditions was 148 miles.

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Passage to Barbados: Day 4

Day 4: 12 November 2016

Day 4 dawned to find a substantially more organized sea state, smaller waves, and about 15-20 knot winds from the ENE. This was the perfect combination for ideal trade wind sailing. The motion on the boat was much more comfortable, yet we were able to continue to sail quickly in our intended direction.

We used the more comfortable motion as an opportunity to catch up on school work and cook lots of great food. In an effort to get ahead of the mold race, we cooked a large batch of french toast for breakfast. For lunch, we enjoyed a chilled pasta salad with loads of fresh tomatoes. Dinner was highlighted with a large serving of “Bryan’s Famous Burritos” (named after Eric’s grad school roommate’s simple, but awesome recipe), with toppings of freshly chopped tomatoes and spicy salsa.

Dorian’s drifter with his message in the bottle was deployed 2.5 degrees (about 242 km) WSW of the previous drifter at a position of 14N, 32.5W. We plan to deploy Eliana’s drifter tomorrow at a location 2.5 degrees away from Dorian’s drifter in an experiment to see how differently the three drifters move when deployed closely, but equally spaced away from each other.

Another passage milestone was crossed and celebrated today as we reached the 25% completed mark (525 miles sailed, 1575 miles to go).

We did something else unusual today – we turned! From the onset, we decided to not take a direct sailing route (along the rhumbline) from Cape Verde to Barbados. Rather, we first sailed a little south of the direct route. We made this decision for several reasons. First, the winds and seas at the beginning of the passage were such that it was a safer and more comfortable ride to sail an angle a little south of the direct route. Second, we anticipated the strong NE winds would veer to the more traditional ENE and then East trade winds as we worked our way further south and west. Third, the trade winds are typically a little more consistent south of the direct route. Finally, being a little closer to the equator can be a good plan if there was to be any hint of a late-season tropical depression. The circulation around a low (strong winds) are weaker towards the equator.

Because of these reasons, we picked an arbitrary waypoint at a location 13N, 35W. This waypoint is approximately 1/3 of the distance westward from Cape Verde to Barbados, and at the same latitude as Barbados. As we were approaching within about 50 miles of this waypoint, the winds, seas, and weather forecast (a good forecast) indicated that we were sufficiently south enough and we could turn to the right about 20 degrees and sail a direct route Westward to Barbados. We are happy to corroborate our (numerous) GPS system and sail directly towards the setting sun!

So, if you look at our PredictWind or Spot Tracker maps, you should notice that we turned today. A very exciting activity, indeed. Please note, however, that we didn’t have to adjust the sails much — these are the trade winds, of course – where adjusting the sails is a rare occurrence. We have been sailing with the same set (genoa polled to starboard, staysail polled to port) since the morning of Day 2.

On a less sarcastic note, the astute observer may notice that the battery voltage on our Spot Tracker map may show a low voltage warning, and eventually die out. We only have a few spare batteries for this tracker (AAA Lithium batteries are difficult to find around here). However, not to worry, we are well and the PredictWind tracking map will continue to work as the Iridium GO is connected directly to the boat batteries which are in good condition and can be recharged with the sun, wind, water, and engine!

The daily run total was 150 miles. The weather forecast is favourable with continued 15 knot winds from the East for several more days.

Passage to Barbados: Day 3

Day 3: 11 November 2016

Our third full day at sea began with continued brisk trade winds of 25-30 knots and a slightly more organized sea. The swell was running at times higher than 3 m, and this contributed to continued good surfing conditions. The kids, unfazed by the powerful wind and waves, invented a new game called “Surf’s Up!”. When they would see a particularly large wave coming from astern, they would yell “Surf’s Up” if they thought that the boat would start surfing at over 11 knots.

So far, the boat and equipment has been holding out well in the powerful conditions. The only loss sustained, thus far, has been an overboard solar shower. One of our 20 litre solar showers, previously lashed to the stern deck, was washed overboard during the night. When we found the remaining handle, still lashed in place, but sans water reservoir, Dorian proclaimed “One shower down, two to go!” Clearly, he is not optimistic that the other two solar showers will remain on deck as well.

The White Ibis that landed on deck yesterday stayed with us throughout the night. We treated it to a breakfast of partially-dried flying fish – fresh off the decks. We first fed it the very small (10 cm) fish and it immediately gulped it down. We thought that the larger fish (25 cm) might be too big for a one-bite-meal, so we graciously cut it up into little bite-sized portions and tossed it on the deck near the bird. After about 10 minutes of staring at the fish-bits suspiciously (we suppose the bird doesn’t normally receive such excellent service), it approached cautiously. With GoPro in hand, and the kids focused intently, the bird stretched out its long neck towards the new meal and promptly regurgitated the first fish onto the deck. Now, the deck was covered in fish bits, partially digested fish, and of course, plenty of bird poop from the previous night. Unimpressed by our culinary skills, the White Ibis took off for its next meal and it has not returned.

In tribute to the many flying fish we have found on deck, and as part of his continuing Language Arts program, Dorian composed a short poem titled “One Last Flight”:

— One Last Flight —
by Dorian Siegel

I fly through the water and the air.
I jump often here and there.
I hope not be ‘meal of the day’.
Instead, I land on Laridae.

Anneka added to the poem with the following versus:

As a flying fish I am the prey.
So when I land on Laridae,
I think it safe, but its not,
Because the decks are really hot!
Then a boy comes up to say
“Here little guy, I’ll save the day!”
He puts me in a plastic bag,
Then throws me into a wave.
Oh no! A shark!
I jump back on, it’s safer here.
But I guess that was my one last flight.

As part of our continued physical oceanography projects, we deployed the first of our “messages in the bottle drifters”. Anneka and her friends wrote a series of messages and we put them into a glass wine bottle and tied it to a GPS drifter with Iridium tracking telemetry. At mid-day, in position 15N, 30W, we turned the drifter on and tossed it into the sea. The position of the messages in the bottle will be reported every hour for the next several years. We look forward to tracking the position of the bottle, and hopefully, one day, receiving a reply from the lucky beachcomber who finds the bottle.

We have two more drifters, one for Dorian and one for Eliana, that we will be deploying over the next two days. The goal is to deploy each drifter about 200 km apart, and watch the different paths that they take across the ocean. We will post a blog with the real-time tracking map as soon as it is ready.

Our total miles run for Day 3 was 160.

Passage to Barbados: Day 2

Day 2: 10 November 2016

Our first full day at sea, after reaching the trade winds, was a fierce initiation to a long ocean passage. The trade winds blew briskly from the NE at 25 knots, gusting frequently to 30. The seas were a little confused with 2 m wind-waves from the ENE on top of a 2 m swell from the NNE. When the wave patterns were separate, the ride was pretty nice. But when they intermingled (which was frequently), we saw nearly 4 m waves that would kick the boat around a bit. Neither the wind, nor the waves, were overpowering for Laridae… it just meant that the crew needed to hold on tightly to get around the boat.

The combination of the wind and waves provided for very good sailing conditions. We were sailing under poled out staysail to leeward and poled out (reefed) genoa to windward. We were typically seeing 8 knots speed over ground, and up to 12.8 knots while surfing the swell.

Sadly, our friends William and Jade on the boat White Ibis suffered some minor gear failures on the first day and decided to turn around to Mindelo to get things repaired before continuing across the Atlantic. However, we were treated to a special visitor – a White Ibis (or some type of small, white Heron-type-bird) decided to take a rest on the boat. Possibly blown too far downwind from shore, and not able to make headway against the 25 knot headwinds, the bird took several attempts at a landing on Laridae.

After a few near-misses at landing on a perch near the rapidly spinning wind generator (phew, for us and the bird!), the bird found a flat landing pad on one of the solar panels. However, the bird’s feet were not able to get a grip on the smooth, glass surface of the solar panel, so it started a very funny ‘running man’ dance impression while it tried to stay put on the panel despite the rolling motion and the persistent winds. Eventually, the bird found a calmer refuge downwind of the dodger on the coachroof of the deck. This was a great place for the bird, and a great viewing angle for us! The kids named the bird Jade after our friend on White Ibis. However, they threatened to change the name to William (also on White Ibis), if the bird started to poop on the deck. The Ibis stayed with us all day and throughout the night.

In a continous attempt to win the ‘Bread War’ (us consuming the 10 loaves before the mould consumed the loaves), we made bread-crust-pizza for lunch. These were a big hit for everyone, and allowed us to bring the count to 2 loaves us, 0 loaves mould.

To prevent scurvy, and boost the blood sugar in the afternoon, we serve cold/juicy/fizzy cocktails each day. Our tradition is to squeeze a lime wedge in each cup. Therefore, prior to departure, we stocked up on 18 fresh limes at the local fruit market. The limes looked great – they were large, unripe, and dark green. However, as they have started to ripen, they are turning yellow. Perhaps we purchased lemons!?!? At sea (and without a resupply of limes), if life has served us lemons, we will make lemon aid!

On a funnier citrus note, Eliana cracked us up with one of her four-year-old-tantrum-demands. She loves eating the oranges that we purchased (yes, they are oranges!). She asked if she could have another orange, so we asked Robyn (our friend and trusty crew) to pass an orange from the fruit hammock in the cockpit. Eliana was in a mood to test authority and said in a very firm voice, “I am not eating the orange if Robyn has touched it.” So Angela, holding the orange that Robyn passed down, replied, “Ok, than I’ll eat it.” A slightly frustrated Eliana, eyeing the juicy orange, compromised by proclaiming “OK, I’ll eat the orange, but Mummy needs to TOUCH IT A LOT!”

The bright spot of night watch was the huge Beaver Moon that will grace us for most of this passage. It light up the sky and allowed us to see the waves and adjust the sails without a flashlight. The only benefit of the moon setting at about 4 AM was the darker skies allowed us to see several shooting stars from the meteor shower.

The brisk winds and frequent surfing allowed us to tally up a total daily run of 168 miles (7 knot average speed)!

Passage to Barbados: Day 1

Day 1: 9 November 2016

After 18 months of working towards the Atlantic Ocean crossing, we finished all of the major items on our “to-do” list about 2 hours before the Farewell Party at Marina Mindelo in Cape Verde. We are not sure if that is just luck or attentive project management, but we are sure that it was the result of many, many hours of diligent and determined efforts by all members of the Siegel family!

Departure day dawned early with frantic internet scans to see who won the US Presidential election. Upon hearing of the results, Dorian asked if we were going to arrive back in Canada “before the wall was finished being built.” We weren’t sure which border he was referring to, but we assured him that everything would be okay.

The last few moments of time onshore were spent at the bakery picking up a few extra loaves of fresh bread (are 10 loaves enough?) and at the marina cafe spending the last bits of our local currency, escudos, while enjoying heaps of their amazing banana and Nutella crepes. The docks were abuzz with excitement as 33 boats in the Barbados 50 rally were preparing for departure. We said our final goodbyes and gave the many see-you-in-Barbados hugs to friends before jumping on Laridae and slipping the dock lines around 10 am.

Our exit from the harbour was swift as we were able to turn off the engine immediately and enjoy sailing downwind in the São Vicente Canal (the channel between São Vicente and Santo Antão). The channel funnelled the typical 15-20 knot trade winds into a brisk 25-30 knot hoot that allowed us to quickly clear the islands.

Other than the active sail handling exercises, we had a mellow Day 1 as we all attempted to work into our passage routines. The kids took a nap during the day, Angela cooked a delicious vegetable and ginger fried rice, and the evening concluded with a snuggled-up family reading from Harry Potter (book 3). Fortunately for all, everyone’s sea legs came quickly and we were all feeling well enough to enjoy “Cocktail Hour” (consisting of mocktails!) and a great dinner.

However, there was no way to escape the wind shadow and disruptions that the two large (and tall!) islands have on the steady trade winds. After blasting out of the São Vicente Canal with NE winds, we were met with calm winds and very confused seas. A short while later, we picked up about 15 knots of winds from the north for about 30 minutes, then the winds went calm again before picking up from the south at 15 knots. This lasted, again, for about 30 minutes before another period of calm and then another wind shift to NE winds, and then SE, and then NE again! We did a lot of gybes during this period.

The long extent of oscillating winds in the lee of the islands is (we think) caused by Von Karmen Vortices. This is the same reason that flags wave on a flag pole. You should Google it (we can’t at sea!). Eventually, about 60 miles away from the island (3 diameters for the physical oceanographers), the NE trade winds finally kicked in with a steady 20 knots. At dawn on Day 2, we set the downwind sails (genoa poled out to windward, staysail poled out to leeward) and started the downwind run to Barbados.

The total straight-line distance from Mindelo to Barbados is 2020 miles. This is a strategic departure location because it means that, just a few hours after departure, we were able to celebrate the important milestone of “only 1999 miles left!” The 24-hour total run was 130 miles.

Passage to Cape Verde: Day 6

Day 6: 17 October 2016

After sailing much of last night in slowly diminishing winds, we reluctantly turned the motor on at 0230 and started the final leg of the passage to the town of Mindelo, on the island of Sao Vicente, in the Cape Verde Island group. At dawn, we were again surrounded with glassy calm conditions.

Shortly after breakfast, we started seeing more flying fish. We have reported about seeing “loads” of flying fish on previous days, but now we really mean “LOADS” of flying fish. We would frequently see ten or more fish shoot out of the water ahead of the boat and fly in all directions trying to escape prey (or being run over!). The fish would be so close to the boat that we could make out the various colours in their shimmery skin. We would see big flying fish (maybe 25 cm long) and very small (baby?) flying fish (about 10 cm long). And then the dolphins came! They played in our bow wake for about ten minutes before journeying off to give another boat a post-breakfast show.

This was the first truly hot day of the passage. The sun was out in full force. The winds were about 5 knots from behind and we were motoring at about 5 knots, so there was no breeze over the deck or down below. The engine was like a hot furnace in the centre of the boat. It was about 30 deg C below with about 75% humidity – sticky and hot.

To beat the heat, we enjoyed cold foods; cereal with cold milk for breakfast and triple-decker club sandwiches (sliced chicken and cheese on the bottom layer, ripe avocado and crispy-fried chorizo on the top layer). We also served cold gazpacho soup – very refreshing! The cold, fruity cocktails were double-tall this afternoon!

The kids focused on a lot of school work so that they could spend more time exploring ashore upon arrival. Angela, creative as always with incredible teaching methods, designed a way to teach Dorian and Anneka’s math lessons with colourful artwork projects. They called the project “Art Math.” Angela was heard to exclaim “this is my kind of art”, and Anneka replied “this is my kind of math!”

At 1430 this afternoon, after 12 hours of motoring, we calculated that we could reach the shores of Mindelo at sunrise (17 hours later) if we were able to keep up an average speed of about 4 knots. Since we have been enjoying a 0.5 to 0.75 knot current in our favour, we only needed to keep a boat speed of about 3.5 knots. We knew that this was possible despite the light winds, so we very happily turned off the motor and begun our final (slow) sail to Mindelo. With the motor off and the winds crossing the deck and filtering below, we were relieved of some of the heat and excited with the prospect of making landfall the next morning.

At the time of writing, we are 23 miles from land and look forward to arriving shortly after breakfast tomorrow, making this 800 mile passage in about 6.5 days. The daily run for Day 3 was 117 miles (again).