We've decided to give Praia a pass, the capital of Cape Verdes on the island to our left on the image, and to go directly to Mindelo a further 100nm to the NW. We'll have to get to Praia eventually to pick up packages or, she says hopefully, figure out some other way to have them transferred to us elsewhere. Praia's crime rate does not appeal and to stop there, clear in AND wrestle our parcels from Customs might take a couple of days, whereas we think a stop of two or three hours in daylight is about right for a harbour known for thefts and robberies.
By midday tomorrow we expect to be tucked in at Marina Mindelo where friends on Wakanui await us, they having arrived yesterday, also from St. Helena.
This has been a remarkable passage, one of the very best we've ever made! It's the second longest, for one thing. We haven't done 2,650nm in a single go since 2012, Mexico to French Polynesia. Even more incredible, our friends Frik and Petro on Sisu are 3 days behind us, also headed to Mindelo, but from Walvis Bay, Namibia, not from St. Helena. Their passage will cover and astounding 3,500nm without a stop. Even more remarkable than the length of Sisu's passage is the fact that it's their very FIRST ocean passage on a new catamaran they bought in December, their first boat!!! What gumption, eh!? Go Sisu!! Since leaving sweet little St. Helena on 25 February, we've caught half a dozen mahi mahis (a real treat), crossed the Atlantic ITCZ/doldrums without suffering a single squall or T-storm (unheard of), sailed in stealth mode off the pirate infested West African Coast (no lights, no VHF traffic, no AIS for Mersoleil; no AIS, no VHF and high tech radar jamming equipment on the big ships), re-entered the Northern Hemisphere crossing the EQ for the 4th time, barreled along at up to 9kts over the ground in the NE trade winds, and have been showered with a fine red dust from the harmattan of the Sahara Desert more then 500 miles away! It's been quite a ride.
Believe it or not, Mersoleil has just passed through the Atlantic Ocean ITCZ, the doldrums, without encountering a single squall or thunderstorm! Incredible. We're grinning ear to ear in disbelief! We're about 175nm off the shore of Liberia on the West Coast of Africa. All systems on board are working fine and we still have fresh vegetables, although they're getting pretty close to their consume-by dates, their sell-by dates passing into history long ago.
Sensitive to the current danger of piracy along the West African Coast, although they favour tankers and cargo ships over little prizes like us, we've implemented silent running at night, lights out and AIS off, to avoid attracting unwanted attention, and have honed our watchkeeping standards accordingly. It would be a shame to run into the one ship we might pass at night just because we're hiding out here! This passage will be the longest we've made since we sailed from Mexico to French Polynesia in 2012, a trip of 2,800nm. This one will be around 2,200. It looks like Mersoleil will wash up on the shores of the Cape Verde Islands on about March 12 or 13. In the headlights we see the Cape Verdes, the Canaries, Madeira, Morocco, the Balearics (Spain's Mallorca, Minorca, et al), Greece, Turkey and possibly Cyprus, but the order in which we visit them will be ruled to a great degree by Schengen Area limitations, all yet to be worked out, and will take place over either one year or two years. At this moment, after such a delightful run through the ITCZ, we're thinking, "Why not two?!"
Six days into this long passage we can only report that we're having a ball! Mersoleil departed St. Helena as promised on Saturday, Feb 25, and we've enjoyed fine weather, plenty of fish, and a one-size-fits-all sail plan.
We'll not win any races but in all other respects each day has been ideal! Our average so far is only 113nm per day, well below our normal 150nm average, but the winds are dead behind us and Mersoleil prefers almost any other point of sail! We turned over the engine in James Bay at 0730, shut it off at 0930 that morning, and have not heard its noisy drone again except to escape the Net Marks, see below. At 1030 on that first day a loud snap on the starboard deck indicated weight on the fishing handline there. (We let out a line attached to a deck cleat by rubber snubber - to take the shock - and raise the plastic reel up to the rail with a couple of twists on a covered copper wire. When a fish takes the lure we're alerted by the sound of the reel pulling out of the loosely twisted wire and smacking down on the deck.) Another smack immediately after the first indicated a second guest on the port lure! The watch stander, either one of us but this time it was me, yells, "Fish!" From that point, we specialize in our jobs. I reel them in by hand, Robbie provides landing net services and dispatches the fish to the astral world as rapidly as possible. While he did this on starboard. I went over to port, gathered in the next one and we repeated the process, then lowered the fish cutting board, which is more than a meter long and is stowed under the cushion at the helm, down into the galley and I thanked heaven that I'd sent all our knifes out for professional sharpening in Cape Town.
I relate this in detail but once. In fact, the entire ritual right down to cleaning up the blood spattered all over the deck and much of me was repeated at 1430 and we now have the fillets of FOUR beautiful mahi mahi in the freezer! Two more brave but wee volunteers were landed a day or two later, but we lectured them on playing in traffic and threw them back, giving them time to grow up.
It was sunny, and dry, and quiet all day that first day as the poled out genoa drew us along at a leisurely 5kts over the ground. Idyllic. We have never changed the sails, not even once! It looks now as if we'll keep the pole out till the winds ease below 9kts tomorrow afternoon. At that time we'll be entering the shifty breezes that precede the doldrums. We'll fly a conventional sail plan with main and genoa until the squalls or the lack of wind force us to reduce sail and turn on the engine.
Fish in the Atlantic Ocean seem to be generally more ambitious than their Pacific Ocean cousins. Using the same lures (I build my own) that attracted 20kg mahi mahi and mackerel in the Pacific, 6" squid, yesterday one black and purple, one Mexican flag colors, we're landing 3kg fish here. Almost all of the passage thus far has been same same. A twelve hour period of excitement on Friday brought all hands on deck with our watch skills on high alert as Mersoleil threaded through a huge commercial fishing field with no less than 57 AIS Net Marks - and those are just the ones that lit up our instruments! We only see the close ones! After much deliberation, we finally furled the genoa and motored due west for three hours just to get out of them! As far as we could tell, the area cluttered with nets is bounded by 10-11S and 10-11W. If you're sailing there in the near future, BEWARE! Last night I spent an amusing watch battling with some pelagic birds for possession of the boom, they with wings and tenacity, me with a retractable steel tape measure and tenacity. It was fun for a while and ultimately I won. Or maybe the contest was called for daylight and will resume tonight with extra innings.
Today as we pass by Ascension Island to our west we've had better wind - in 12-16kts of breeze we're doing around 7kts over the ground. Remember, we have very little sail out, but it's been working so well we can think of no reason to change! Not yet anyway. At this pace, we'll reach Praia, Cabos Verdes later than planned (as if that mattered), probably on the 15th.
All is well and the water is getting warmer every day!
St. Helena has a quaint charm that is completely unique to anyplace else we have been. It's only been 14 months since their airport was completed and opened. Can you believe it!? Until the beginning of 2018 if you wanted to visit this place, you'd have had to book an 8-day passage on a ship from merry olde England. Now THAT is splendid isolation like we've seen it nowhere else! Today planes arrive from Johannesburg, one on Tuesday and one on Saturday, bringing tourists, nearly all of them Saints, for so the locals call themselves, who have relocated elsewhere and are coming home for a visit. Besides returning Saints, the only visitors to St. Helena seem to be a few brave and hardy British expats and visiting yachties who come to St. Helena at the rate of about 280 yachts each year. Most of those, the yachts, visit during the months of January, February and March. We are number 86 for 2019 and have been here for the past ten days in the company of about 8 other vessels, including Explorer, Wakanui, XE, Egalite, Capensis, Peristera, and since yesterday, Farr Flyer and Balakcil.
Not one of us has dropped a dinghy in the water, the preferred, indeed the only, way to reach shore being via the St. Helena Ferry Service. Since taking the ferry is a highlight of one's stopover, I'll add pictures when I can of the ferry, the landing steps with manropes dangling above as from a gallows, and the rollers that wash the steps sending the little ferry boat first up above the landing then crashing down a meter or two below it. Each ferry passenger chooses his favoured moment as the boat rises and falls, crashes into the concrete steps then washes away, for a death defying leap of a meter or more from ferry to shore or the reverse. Parcels and backppacks are handed across to anyone who'll have them while each passenger times his leap, then all the belongings are sorted after the people have arrived safely on the landing or on the ferry, eggs receiving particular attention in hopes they'll arrive unbroken on the moored yacht to which they belong. "This one has eggs!" "Eggs, got it!" I've taken lots of pictures. When we reach acceptable Internet (that will NOT be at St. Helena) I'll post some of those pictures here.
James Hearn and his family left St. Helena in 2012 in their own sailboat, Bavaria 38 Carpe Diem, and circumnavigated until their December 2017 return. Now James operates St. Helena Yacht Services during the week, assiting arriving boats with moorning lines and answering all the typical questions. Where do we go to clear in? What about trash? Where is the bank, the grocery store, the nearest beer? James is a font of helpful information. A cruiser himself he understands all our needs, and his contact with sailors like us keeps him connected to the cruising lifestyle that he, Hannah and their 3 kids enjoyed so much. (St. Helena Yacht Services, VHF 16, except on weekends.) Freight services are better here than at, for isntances, Hiva Oa, in the Marquesas. The Aranui III arrived at Hiva Oa once every three months in 2012 when we were there, whereas the St. Helena makes a run to and from Cape Town once every three weeks. (More anon about Aranui III and Hiva Oa, believe it or not!) When Mersoleil pulled in to James Bay on Valentines Day, the Captain of the departing island freighter, St. Helena, bid a fond VHF farewell to Port Control, offered his thanks for the Saints' hospitality, and announced, "I guess I'll see you again in June." We thought St. Helena must receive only three freighters per year, but further inquiry revealed that the Captain on board must be going on leave, probably three months on/three months off, and HIS next visit will be in June. The St. Helena, however, will be back in three weeks time with additional onions, carrots, toilet paper, batteries and more. As we strolled from the landing steps into town on the afternoon of our arrival, big burly blue-shirted Allen bemoaned the absence of potatoes, "That's two in a row with no potatoes, we have yellow onlions, red onions, pickling onions, but no potatoes. Again!" St. Helena is almost entirely rock, rising some 423m to Diana's Peak, one of several high points on this steep and mountainous island. Many steep, narrow valleys run down to the sea, too, and one of them on the leeward northwest coast has grown into the bustling village of Jamestown, crowded into the narrowing upper reaches of the valley as it climbs up from the sea. There are many shops, at least half a dozen selling groceries, an abundance of tea rooms, some small hotels, the tourism office, and other amenities one might find in any small town. At the bootom of the town is the sea, the local fresh water swimming pool, the wharf facilities, and Jacob's Ladder, an unbelievably steeply inclined stairway of 700 concrete steps that connects the residential community of Ladder Hill with Jamestown. More photos coming, I promise.
No we did not. Are you kidding!? It made me dizzy just looking down from the top! Neither of us has recovered from the sealegs with which we arrived. For an open roadstead anchorage, the James Bay mooring field is really quite comfortable, but we experience enough rolling and movement on the boat to keep us hopelessly wobbly every single time we go ashore. Climb 700 stairs? Not a chance.
Unlike many of the isolated islands we have called upon, St. Helena appears to have no poverty, though life is simple. All the roads are paved and the British government ensures that things move along smoothly here, posting her officials in a warm sunny climate and keeping many of the Saints employed productively.
Everyone in St. Helena is friendly and welcoming, something we often gauge by observing how many locals greet us before we speak to them. St. Helena scores very high on the 'Initiates Greetings' scale, and what little interaction we've had with locals apart from James was warm and pleasant. Virtually everyone is British or of British extraction some number of generations back. The Brits found this island uninhabited, so colonizing it was a simple matter of adding people and gun emplacements, which they did beginning in the 1500 or 1600s. There is little of historical note here except the existence of a couple of houses where Napoleon was stored, far enough from Europe to keep him out of further trouble. We did not pay ten pounds to enter either house. An old house is an old house and we know he's gone now.
On the wall in the tea room (formerly the bar and we're sorry it's evolved into tea room) of the Consulate Hotel is a huge collection of likenesses of the former General Bonaparte, on his rearing horse, standing with hand in vest, in bust or profile. His uniformed statue presides outdoors on the balcony above the street beckoning guests inside. Elderly British proprietress, Hazel, offers wifi service there, three pounds thirty for half an hour, during which one can just manage to log in and open email before the time expires, and she sells excellent tea and coffee along with a mouth-watering selection of delicious cakes under glass domes. It's impossible to go into the Consulate and indulge only in the Internet. Also fixtures at the Consulate Hotel are Nigil, Sheila and Geoffrey, three friends of many years who spend their leisurely afternoons at the bar with white wine, ice and conversation. Nigel and Geoffrey, both Saints, grew up together on the island. Sheila, Nigil's wife, is British. They spend six months on St. Helena and six months at home 45 minutes outside London. The three became Robbie's local political commentators and interpreters and he spent two or three happy afternoons in their company analyzing the ongoing Supreme Court case in which a local was accused of attempted rape and found guilty despite his Sainthood.
Robbie and I have completed all the TTDs on our St. Helena list, a simple litany, really, of refuel, tighten screws, replace consumable parts here and there and change the oil. NOTHING compared to the list with which we pulled into Cape Town reflecting the lack of autopilot, radar and sails! We're ready to leave and will do so early on Monday morning, destined for the Cabos Verdes Islands, about 2,200nm away. We'll begin by heading NW toward Ascension Island, though we'll not stop there, then will turn more directly N and motor across the doldrums. Sailing at average speeds and motoring about 140nm per day when there's no wind, we'll probably arrive in Praia on about March 13th. There's no hurry and we anticipate an easy trip in the general company of Wakanui, who left here four hours ago and are now about 25nm away (we're doing VHF radio tests to find ut how far our radio range will reach), and Sisu who left Walvis Bay, Namibia, the day before yesterday bound directly for Praia, their first ever blue water passage at the end of which we have offered to provide the champagne. 3,200nm on a first passage! Go Sisu!!! We've made plans to dine this evening with Jerry and Carmel, Farr Flyer, at the new Mantis Hotel dining room, and will burden the Ferry Service, who normally ends the day with a six o'clock run, with a late return to Mersoleil. (They'll charge more than the usual one pound per passenger each way.) Tomorrow we'll laze around doing nothing, or nearly that, and in the wee hours of Monday we'll slip the lines and put charming St. Helena in the rearview mirror.
Oh! I almost forgot. From the small world department, the 'more anon' I promised above.... When we arrived in the Republic of Seychelles last April, there was an interesting white ship anchored in the Victoria outer harbour with a helicopter perched on the stern platform. We thought it might be a reasearch ship. We don't often look up the ships we pass, but we Googled this one, the MRII, online and discovered it to be the refitted Aranui III! Que milagro! We hadn't noticed it looked familiar, just wondered what it was! This is the very ship that nearly ran us down in the dawn's early light on a May morning in 2012 while we were at anchor in Hiva Oa! In another blast from that same past, the couple on SY XE mentioned to us on the ferry the morning after they arrived at St. Helena, "Mersoleil! We crossed the Pacific Ocean in 2012 with a boat named Mersoleil!" Of course, it was us and we had a good laugh at that, too!
Robbie just yelled "LAND HO!" from the cockpit at the exact moment I sat down to write this note and advise you that, well, land is ho! We've spoken to the nice gentleman on St. Helena Radio and informed him that we expect to arrive in Jamestown Bay at 1600 hours this afternoon.
It's St. Huh LEE nuh, by the way, not the St. HELL uh nuh we've always assumed. Locals always rule in regard to name pronunciations we reckon.
This has been quite a jolly passage, growing warmer each day, always plenty of wind to sail - until just now when the breezes have eased to under 10kts and we will motor to make the anchorage in bright daylight. The sweet little mahi mahi was delicious and our only catch of the trip, but I'm grateful not to have had to stare another grumpy barracouda in the face and sacrifice an animal that we would not eat. (It's very difficult to throw a barracouda back alive, they're so hard to handle without inviting a deep puncture wound.) I can't remember how much I admitted to you of the challenges we faced in the Indian Ocean and Mozambique Channel, but suffice it to comment here that the autopilot works like a charm; we have ample fuel for the passage, having motored only a few hours since departing Cape Town on 2nd February; the very fancy iCOM M605 VHF radio and remote mic that Robbie and I installed in Cape Town produced 5x5 comms with a ship 30nm away; our new Ullman Sails have no tears in them; the radar works; not a single jerry can has burst its restraints and run about on deck in the midde of the night; not a drop of water has found its way into the cabin, not even off dripping clothes, because no clothes ever dripped; and nothing has even flown across the cabin of its own volition, a commonplace on most passages. We have rolled left and right, left and right, much more than we like, for it interferes with sweet dreams, but on a 100% dead downwind passage, that's to be expected unless one nearly doubles the distance by gybing repeatedly to take the swell at a more comfortable angle. We did that for a while, then experimentd with alternative sail configurations, finally landing upon one with a poled-out genoa and furled main that enabled us to minimize the roll and make better progress. Either that or we just got used to the rolling! It does leave one more exhausted than one might expect.
So we'll spend a little time at St. HelEEna, visit the place where General Bonaparte was imprisoned for six years, socialize with Wakanui friends, Nadine, Rowen, Melia and Harvey (Rowen recovering in hospital from boat repair injuries sustained more a week ago) and await the arrival of SY Sisu, bringing Frik and Petro to the conclusion of their first ever offshore passage. We're as excited as they are and will have the bubbly ready to pop when Sisu sails into the anchorage.
Gosh! I feel like we're completing our OWN inaugural passage! It IS our first passage in the Atlantic Ocean, it's been easy and uneventful and we're ready to celebrate! Thank you for following our adventures and joining the fun! Happy Valentines Day!
What a delightful passage from Cape Town to St. Helena! We're about 270nm from Jamestown Harbour and are beginning to watch our speed closely, monitoring the likelihood of the required arrival by daylight. We don't arrive in unknown places in the dark, will stand off till daylight if necessary,and at the end of a long passage we'd REALLY rather not postpone dropping the hook! Generously sacrificing her life for our dinner, the smallest mahi mahi I have even seen chomped down on our lure last night. She'll provide two generous portions, but I've got the tackle back in the water today hoping to attract some of her older relatives. Yesterday's discussion over coffee was about learning to sail. Why does it seem as if we breezed across the South Pacific under constantly azure skies, with no crises, no equipment breakages, and no question more complex than whether to use the spinnaker or the genoa? Did we know more then than we know today so answers were ready for whatever situation might arise (whereas today they are not)? Our conclusion was that, no, we did not know more then. In fact, we knew so very little about what we were doing that we didn't even recognize the challenges when they presented and, neophytes that we were, we just blundered along with a healthy dose of God's protection, some good luck and a well-built vessel that was only 2 years old. Good grief, how much we have learned! And how fortunate we were to come unscathed through some idiotic sailing.
We no longer take the chances we used to take, for example, and we don't put Mersoleil through the torture that she used to endure, and probably still could, but now we know better! We don't sail into questionable weather, we reduce sail long before the winds put excessive stress on our rig, and we're long past beaching our dinghy in pounding surf - heck, we stay on board instead and figure we'll visit that little beachfront bar tomorrow! All this reflection was occasioned yesterday while we extended the whisker pole to the third click, it's longest extension, to fly the genny as big and flat as possible ahead of us while we ran downwind at an angle of 170 degrees. We never tried this before and, to be truthful, have rarely used our pole effectively. Yesterday we tweaked the foreguie, after guie, topping lift and the inboard end of the pole a hundred times before we were satisfied that it could take the strain of the wind in the sail without snapping in half at the middle. Like a flying buttress directs the weight of the roof of the cathedral safely to the ground so the walls will not collapse under its weight, the whisker pole delivers all the weight of the filled sail and the heaving lines straight back to the mast and down to the keel of the boat. Have we ever done this right before? Darned if I know. Probably not! So.... what have we learned in nearly eight years at sea? We're beginning to realize how very little we know, how very much there IS to know about this sport, and how lucky we have been to be protected time and time again from our own idiotic mistakes! Quite humbling! Yesterday, too, we crossed the Prime Meridian for the very first time! More exciting even than an equatorial crossing, something we've accomplished numerous times, we have just entered the Western Hemisphere again at the front door having left through the back on our last trip to Fiji in 2015! Now that is indeed something to celebrate!
OK! It's day six of our passage from Cape Town to St. Helena and we have survived the icky bit, the first days when one wants nothing more than to sleep and can't do it even when time is available. Ew! Now we're in the breezing along stage! Mersoleil left Cape Town in the late afternoon last Saturday, moving right into a cold damp night with near shore fog, prompting us to learn how to use our new VHF radio to operate the fog horn. For the first few days we had nice brisk winds, 15-25kts mostly, and lots of gybing practice, so while distance made good is nothing to brag about, we covered a fair amount of water and got pretty accomplished at bringing the boom across with full sail and no drama.
The wind will dust our stern for nearly this entire passage, and when the breeze dropped this morning to less than 9kts we set the pole and are now, one can hardly say running, poking along might be more to the point, wing and wing, with the main to port and the genoa to starboard. We always hope a w/w sail plan will stop the rolling in dead downwind conditions. Note to self - It does not. But it's amusing to look up at our lovely new sails spread out against the sky and there's little one can do to tweak the rigging once it's all set up, so we're settled in for a leisurely afternoon, or day, or few days, or possibly a week.
St. Helena is less than 1000nm away, we've gobbled up almost half the distance and are having a grand time.
Nights grow warmer as each day passes. So far, I've worn the same clothes every day, (there's a prize at the end of the passage for having the least laundry) but last night I never felt chilled and tonight I'll have to scale down by one layer. Here at 26 degrees S it's too warm in the sun for any of the long and fleecy garments we've been wearing so a new wardrobe plan is evolving.
To learn more about our passage, check out www.yit.nz/yacht/mersoleil. We don't post daily updates, but unless we're tired or in crisis we get some bit of news up there every couple of days while on passage so our family will understand we still live..
We send our love and beg for news from your end. We've plenty of time to read!
On Saturday afternoon, the 2nd of February, we pried ourselves away from Cape Town, the lovely V&A Marina and five kind friends waving goodbye at the dock. Our visit to South AFrica was another highlight of Mersoleil's cruising career and we have much to share with you about South Africa when time allows. About the dear people we met and with whom we shared our time, about her version of the English language, about her cuisine, about the differences among "now." "now now," and "just now," the superior marine services we received and, too, about her struggle to recover from a long sad tradition of hateful relations among her own people, one that seems struggling to survive. It will be at least another week before we reach St. Helena, and we're already well on our way on one of the easiest passages we've enjoyed in years. The trade winds do not disappoint, as usual, though I do wonder how they can manage to be always directly at our back or on the nose. We're making huge gybes avery hundred miles or so swinging about 80 degrees to keep the wind on one quarter or the other. If .we did the obvious thing, sailed straight on with the wind directly behind, we'd be wallowing like a piggy in the mud and everything inside would fly about causing an awful mess.
It was not time to leave South Africa, and we depart sad to go, but it is time to begin making our way to the Mediterranean if we want to enjoy summertime there! Life is very very good and we are grateful.
Christmas in South Africa
Until this year we knew Kevin Butcher and Suzanne Hedley only as other yachties, fun, enjoyable folks who live on the water like we do, visiting the islands and the peoples who live at sea level around the world. But they have a secret life, as some cruisers do, we do not, on land at their South African home outside Cape Town and their riverside getaway, Tides River Lodge, some twenty miles up the Breede River from the south coast.
Robbie and I spent Christmas 2018 with Suzanne and Butch, their family and friends, some 22 in all, at the river, enjoying delightful South African holiday traditions and cuisine.
Six hours' drive from Cape Town we descended 2000 feet from the rich farmlands of the Cape Fold Mountain valleys to the arid coastal plateau and eventually nearly to sea level where the Breede River rises and falls with the tides while the sea lies a further 30km down river. There was some doubt as we bumped and skidded along 47km of dirt road between the N2 and the lodge whether our little RentaCheapie Toyota, barely a few inches off the ground, would be up to the task of returning us to higher ground at the end of our stay and we resolved to be among the earliest vehicles to depart in case assistance was needed in pushing our little buggy up some of the steeper inclines.
Walking, swimming, eating, drinking, reading, socializing with new friends, bird watching and afternoon-napping filled several happy days at the lodge where our group filled all bedrooms in the four cozy homes on the property. The rustic locale did not prevent us laying out an elaborate candlelight Christmas feast as you can see below and we'll not soon forget Christmas 2018.
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