Crossing the Atlantic
Planning an Atlantic crossing from the Canaries to the Caribbean is relatively simple. Wait until Christmas, head south for Cape Verde until you find the trade wind, then turn right and head directly for the Caribbean. This is what most people do today and this is the advice you get in most cruising guides and pilot books.
It helps a lot if you can download GRIB-file wind forecasts on your way. You can then fine-tune your course to get the best possible sailing conditions. The wind forecast above shows the weather situation when we left Gran Canaria on the 9:th of January. As you see, there is a depression west of our planned route giving southerly winds. To avoid southerly winds we kept our course well east and continued south in relatively weak winds (blue or green colors).
Five days later we were close to Cape Verde and the depression had moved up north enough to let us turn right and head for Martinique. This was a nice feeling. We knew that we were now in the trade wind and that we could count on this stable wind to continue for the rest of the voyage.
The GRIB-file above shows what the wind forecasts looked like for the rest of the journey. Very stable easterly Trade winds.
In order to download GRIB-files you need wireless access to E-mail. This can be done through satellite (Inmarsat, Iridium etc.) which is expensive or by shortwave radio which is less expensive. Sailmail, using marine SSB frequencies, costs around 150 €/year. Winlink, which uses HAM frequencies, is free to use if you have a HAM (radioamatör) license.
To use Winlink you need a HAM radio installation and a modem. PACTOR modems are very good but you can also use a simple soundcard with your PC to do the same job but slower. On Bird of Passage I use an ICOM 706 MKII HAM radio with a Signalink USB soundcard as a modem. During our Atlantic crossing I downloaded GRIB files almost every day, usually 5-10 kB in size with a 3 day forecast. A file like that downloads in 5-15 minutes depending on radio conditions. Most of the time I connected to a Winlink station in Switzerland (HB9AK) but as we came closer to the US i also used American stations (NOIA).
It's not easy to explain what it feels like to be in the middle of the Atlantic. I think that most sailors would tell you how beautiful it is. The sun downs for example, are fantastic. Many evenings as the sun came down we took our cameras outside and tried to catch the beautiful light.
If you are lucky, you might even see the Green Flash. A rare optical phenomena that creates a short glimpse of green light, just a second or so after the sun disappears below the horizon. We were happy enough to see it twice on our crossing and both times I tried to catch it with my camera.
Unfortunately, none of the images above show what it really looks like. You have to be very lucky to press the button exactly when the flash is at it's maximum. Still, if you look closely, you can see some sort of greenish light on the horizon in the middle of each picture.
Once the sun is down, darkness comes quickly when you are only 20 degrees above the equator. Our home in Scandinavia on latitude 60 usually has an hour or more of dusk before it gets completely dark.
Dark nights are beautiful with millions of bright stars above. When the moon is up there is more light and if there were any other boats around, you could probably spot them even if they were relatively far away. We often had our anchor light in the top of the mast turned on. This made it possible to see the Windex and as you see on this picture the wind is from behind.
Bird of Passage is our first boat with electronic navigation. Our primary tool is an Ipad with built in GPS and charts from Navionics. We also have OpenCPN on one of our laptops and finally we also have Navionics charts in our Simrad navigator/autopilot. The Simrad system has one internal and one external GPS reciever.
Twenty years ago on Lynx, we had only log, compass and sextant. Most of the time the log and compass were enough, but some times I used the sextant to take heights and calculate our position. A lot of job with complex calculations involving various data that you had to find in books with thousands of tables.
I still have the sextant but my tables are now outdated. Instead, I have purchased an Ipad app (ezSights) with all the tables built in and also a calculator that does the mathematical work automatically. We tried it for the first time on our Atlantic crossing and it proved to be simple to use and accurate, giving positions that were only a few miles away from our GPS readings.
Many sailors catch fish during their voyages. Fresh fish makes a nice dinner after days of canned food. On our Atlantic crossing we pulled a line with a plastic squid after us and caught several Dolphins. A beautiful fish with excellent meat.
Flying fish is even easier to catch, you pick them in the morning. It seems they can't see your boat during the dark hours and once in a while some unlucky creature happens to land on your deck and gets stuck there. They are very beautiful and taste well but you need many to make a dinner. Good for tapas though.
Bird of Passage has two tanks, 400 litres each, for fresh water. With four persons on board on a 20 day voyage this means 10 litres per person per day. That's not much if you take in to account the water needed for cooking, dishes and personal hygiene but you can live comfortably if you use sea water instead when possible.
We used our aft deck as a sea water shower. If you finish off by pouring one or two litres of fresh water over your head you get rid of most of the salt and feel fine afterwords.
Sailing across the Atlantic may seem adventurous but what about rowing ? On day on our crossing Dan said he saw something ahead of us. We hadn't seen a single boat for twoo weeks so this was exiting. As we approached we understood it had to be a relatively small boat, without rig !
We changed our course to come as close as possible and then saw it was one of the row boats participating in the
Tallisker Whiskey Atlantic Challange from La Gomera (Canaries) to Antigua (West Indies). As we passed by we changed a few words with the crew and understood they were originally a crew of four but that two of them had been picked up by a support vessel for various reasons. The remaining two were now continuing alone and planned to finish the race within a few weeks.
According to the race website there were 15 boats this year with a crew of one, two or four. The fastest crews row across in 40 days but some need more than 70 to finish. I wonder what the odds are to run into a rowing boat in the middle of the Atlantic ?
There are not many birds in the middle of the Atlantic. We did see a lot of Storm Petrel (Sv;Stormsvala) while we sailed south along the African coast, but when we turned west and headed for the Caribbean they vanished. It was not until the last days of our journey that we saw birds again and this time it was the Brown Booby (Sv:Brun sula).
Sailing to Panama
After we returned to Grenada we spent two weeks of preparations on land before Bird of Passage was in the water.
Main job was to clean the bottom and put on new anti fouling.
Another job was to mount two new line clutches, one on each side, for preventers and downhaul. I also mounted a new transducer for the Simrad NSS-7 MFD which makes it possible to use it as a fish sounder.
Living in a boat on a boatyard is not as comfortable as when the boat is in the water. It is often noisy and dusty because of all boat jobs going on close to you and you need to climbe a ladder to enter your boat. On the other hand, it's easy to get in contact with your neighbours, they are all in the same situation as you, stuck on land.
One evening, the boatyard organized a food party. Local people and people from the boats meet and have a nice time together with lots of food and drinks. Tove took the opportunity to bye a new T-shirt.
Now and then, a group of goats managed to get inside the boatyard area. They were hungry and seemed to like the flowers in the plantations. The boat yard guard was not happy and chased them out through the main gate. Over and over again.
Every monday taxidriver Shademan runs a free tour from Prickly Bay Marina to Waterland, a well sorted boat chandlery in St. Georges, the capitol of Grenada. I took the picture above with Shademan and his old bus on the parking lot outside Waterland.
St. Georges is not a big city and the harbour is even smaller. In spite of that, big cruising ships come in frequently and their passengers fill up the town. Many visit the old fort where political leader Maurice Bishop was executed by radical members of his party. This event triggered the American invasion of Grenada in 1983.
In mid December, our oldest son Martin arrived to sail with us to Panama. We had some great days in Prickly bay and met many good friends like Tomas and Fredrik but Martin only had four weeks leave from his job so we had to set off for Panama.
A last picture from Grenada, the Spice Island. We had a great time there.
We left Prickly Bay the 19:th of December, spent Christmas at sea and arrived to Shelter Bay marina in Colon, Panama, seven days later. Martin did a great job. On this picture he is strapped with the safety line, just returning from some job on the fore deck.
Marine toilets seem to be a never ending problem for many sailors. One of the problems you have to deal with is the growth of limestone inside the outlet hose. Limestone slowly builds up until it blocks the hose totally. Only way to get it clean is to remove the hose and bend it over and over again so that the limestone inside cracks and falls out. It is easier to this when the boat is not moving up and down in high seas...
Venezuela is not considered safe everywhere and there has been pirate attacks so we decided to keep a "safe" distance to the Venezuelan coast. Columbia is safer but seas along the Columbian coast have a reputation of being rough so we kept the distance to Columbia as well. This gave as a route that started out in north westerly direction and then turned to west and finaly south west, 1200 NM from Grenada to Colon.
As usual I used my HAM radio to download GRIB weather forecasts every day so we could take advantage of what was coming. We had good winds, relatively strong, 10-15 m/s from behind and the sea was quite rough sometimes. On the other hand, we made good speed. 170 NM/day average with a maximum of 213 NM the last day. The fastest week for Bird of Passage so far.
We arrived to Shelter Bay Marina on the 26:th of December and then spent three more weeks together with Martin in Panama. We sailed east along the Caribbean coast, visited Portobello and Puerto Lindo. We also made exiting trips to Panama City and Colon with taxi and bus before Martin had to return to his job in Sweden. A great time and you can read more about it in The Log Book from 2017