Cape Verde Islands

November 24, 2008

At sea. We dropped our lines this morning at 0715 hours and set sail towards the Cape Verde Islands (details later). Right now - 1430 UTM we are at N28 29' W 014 20' on course for a waypoint at N 18 30' W 024 00'. All well on board

 

November 24, 2008

Yesterday we had wound up a day of sightseeing with a trip to the Irish bar on the marina waterfront. Here I ate the sailor's traditional "last meal on land" comprising of a pint of Guinness with an order of apple crumble and custard. When we returned to DoodleBug, I checked e-mails and downloaded a customized commercial weather forecast and routing. We were stunned and boggled upon our first reading, as the recommended route headed northwest from Lanzarote for three days, before turning south for another three days. We would be close hauled for much of the trip. On Friday we would be close hauled into a forecast 22 knots followed by two days of headwinds. The route was gutsy and detailed and by "gutsy", I mean that it took us out into the Atlantic in the face of a series of depressions in order to pick up wind, until we were to run south to avoid a "significant" storm system. I sent a note to the forecaster asking for clarification on a couple of points and suggesting an alternative route. Because of the time difference, I did not expect a reply before we left today.

This morning I was up at 0500, downloading the latest weather info and reviewing our options. I believed that the forecast we had received was designed for the ARC and yet we were leaving from a more easterly departure point, as well as a day behind the ARC. They would have a near two day lead on us, as well as a day of strong winds to give them a good send off. I felt that their "gutsy" routing was much higher risk for us, as we would likely be caught by the easterly moving depression. Although we faced the risk of light winds heading southwest towards the Cape Verde Islands, I determined that the more conservative routing gave us far more options in case things went haywire. If we had to motor in very light winds, we had the opportunity to put in at the Cape Verdes to refuel. If the trade winds were disrupted by the depression to the north, they would rebuild sooner at the latitude of the Cape Verdes. This is where we decided to head.

We dropped our lines at Puerto Calero at 0715 hours and motor-sailed in light winds for the next two hours, clearing the southern tip of Lanzarote and jogging west between Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, until we reached

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the channel between the latter and Gran Canaria. Here we picked up some wind and went to full sail. By noon we had also rigged the mizzen staysail and were sailing with poled Genoa, mizzen and main as well as the staysail. The winds remained stubbornly light from near the stern and we were averaging 5 knots over the ground - not great but certainly better than burning diesel fuel.

As we approached our first night at sea, we had lots of shipping in the channel off Gran Canaria but great visibility. I am on watch and writing this at 0200 hours and this has been a wonderful first night at sea, since I have followed Annette and then Joyce on watch. My official watch only runs until Chris takes over at 0400 hours. What a luxury! The sky had been heavily overcast all day (no sextant shots possible!) but finally cleared to reveal glittering stars. It is still cool at night at 69.8F but I expect this to warm as we head southwest on a bearing of 229 degrees towards the Cape Verde Islands. At the rate we are sailing at the moment, this leg will take about 8 days.

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November 25, 2008

This morning we downloaded a revised weather forecast from the commercial forecasting service and this indicated a slight shift in course towards the African Coast. We anticipate light winds today, followed by at least three good days of winds. As we left the loom of Gran Canaria in our wake, so too did we leave the shipping and the ocean emptied itself of freighters and ferries. We did see a couple of empty bulk carriers heading south along the coast and these warned us that we were probably entering a north-south coastal shipping conduit. The morning sail was such a difference from yesterday's overcast gloom. The sun was now shining brightly and we sailed under poled Genoa, winged main and mizzen, managing to eke around 5 knots out of light winds from behind. By noon the winds died and we began to motor sail. Joyce and I repaired to the foredeck to take a noon-sight of the sun with the sextant. Of course we could see no sun using the sextant, although the object in question was clearly shining its radiance upon us as we struggled to work out what was wrong with the device that had worked so brilliantly at the marina a week before. Joyce suggested that I may have too many filters in front of the solar input and this turned out to be the case. The ghostly green orb of the "less filtered" sun now bobbed along the horizon as we each took altitude measurements. Unfortunately our joint computations put us some 16 miles in error and after reviewing the various books on celestial navigation that we each owned, we determined that the fault must be "operator error". We will try again tomorrow.

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We motor sailed the remainder of the day and into the night, in anticipation of a forecast increase in wind strength that never arrived. About an hour before sunset we were visited by a pod of perhaps 30 "spotted" dolphins that played around our bow wave for some half hour or so, before disappearing on their mysterious submarine errands. This is always exciting for Annette and me. We are not jaded by the past five years experience of dolphin visits and find their playful exuberance as refreshing as the first time.

Night watch showed a picture of an empty sea with the radar at a 12 mile setting and we lay with pillows on the mizzen deck, counting shooting stars and satellites and staring in awe at the sprawl of the milky way cast across the night sky.

 

November 26, 2008

At 0130 hours UTM we are at N 25 36.6' W 016 33.7', heading at 230 M and on course for the Cape Verde Islands. All well on board.

 

November 26, 2008

Our third day at sea arrived and departed without the promised wind. All day long the wind whispered in the range of 3 to 7 knots from behind and we motored stoically onwards. Our dolphin friends visited us in the early morning and again in the afternoon. Same pod or a different one? We cannot tell, although I am sure that they can. The latest forecast again promises better winds for "tomorrow" and this promise is wearing thin. The measured air pressure where we are, is nowhere close to the forecast values and neither is the forecast wind speed. The 218 vessels of the ARC rally were dispatched to the north of us. The GRIB files show nothing but storms or calms in that direction. Of course we don't have the promised winds either but if the forecast is that much in error, what do they have in store?

As we have moved south, the days have become progressively warmer and today the temperature peaked at 80.4F Now that is more like it! Joyce sported a bikini, as a protest against the snowy British weather she left behind and around noon today, we made our second attempt to get a latitude by using the sextant. Today we were much more successful and produced a value that was a scant 2 miles difference from the GPS version. A difference of 5 miles is usually quite acceptable at sea when using a sextant, because when you are five miles from your destination, you can look out of the cockpit and see it - unless of course you are fog-bound. In celebration for this breakthrough, the captain ordered the ship's cook to break out the ice cream bars in the mid-afternoon. We continued the debauchery by toasting Chris' retirement with a bottle of champagne. The latter had been rolling around inside the fridge, trying to demolish the other contents of the fridge by it's superior mass.

In spite of our champagne supper, Joyce managed to remember that we had an agreed appointment to try to contact a friend of hers by SSB radio. We tried two HAM frequencies as well as two commercial Marine frequencies but no contact was heard. We are 2,000 miles from her friend and the radio is probably not up to it's optimum performance anyway; I have always suspected the grounding for this radio. Sat phones are much more reliable.

2130 hours on 11/26/2008 finds us at N23 53.9' W 018 15.1'. We are about 560 miles north east of the Cape Verde Islands.

 

November 27, 2008

Last night was the first night that I noticed phosphorescence in the water. There has been no moon and DoodleBug left a long milky wake, dimly glowing in the dark waters. This mysterious path of light was punctuated by random, sharp and brighter flashes of light, as if miniature flash bulbs were popping just under the surface. The night watches have seemed warmer and we are tempted to linger as we count satellites. There has been no moon to diminish the display of stars and we lie across the mizzen deck, with a pillow for our heads and watch the show. There were almost no ships passing but the radar showed a veritable swarm of small contacts. They were yacht sized and moved at near our speed and in the same direction. I spotted a single red light of what I believed was a yacht's tri-color and hailed the vessel on the VHF. There was no response. Were these the ARC cruisers we were seeing? I scanned thru the VHF channels but there was silence throughout.

In the wee hours of the morning the wind picked up slightly and we were under sail with poled Genoa, winged main and mizzen but the wind remained fickle and we would slow to 3 knots and then speed up to 6 knots for a few minutes. There was an eight foot, long period swell from behind, that reminded us of the low pressure system prowling around somewhere north of us.

0715 hours gave us a "miles run" in the previous 24 hours of 151 NM. We achieved 137 miles on "day one" plus an additional 155 miles on "day two". Despite the fickle winds, the miles have been piling up and we are making good progress. One of my radar targets, that I had identified as a "yacht", showed as a faint white triangle of sails on the horizon, lit by the first rays of the rising sun. I hailed the vessel and got a response from Doug on SV "Christine". Doug left Tenerife several days ago, single-handing his 60 foot vessel and bound for Brazil. He is carrying vast quantities of diesel fuel aboard, in order to motor past the obstacle of the equatorial doldrums but all this has been in vain after the head gasket blew on his engine. Thus he has been drifting for the past three days, making barely one knot over the ground and without the means the get an updated weather forecast. We chatted at length, since Annette and I have developed a great deal of respect for singlehanders and understand the mental stress and loneliness they must endure.

Later that morning we heard yachts hailing each other using code numbers such as "ARC 172". They sounded sorta abrupt and I suppose that these were the vessels that would not talk to us, as we passed them last night. Apparently not all of the ARC vessels were routed to the north as we had been informed.

We celebrated Thanksgiving with pan fried steaks, red wine reduction sauce, rice pilaf with cashews and a salad. Desert was a Christmas cake that Chris' best friend had baked for us and Chris had hand carried. Of course the cake was supposed to be for Christmas but we can't expect Brits to understand the demands of celebrating an American Thanksgiving. The cake was superb as was the dinner. We felt badly about not inviting Doug but

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suspected that he was busy trying to coax some speed from his sails in the freshening winds. An hour before sunset, we were visited by the largest pod of dolphins we have ever seen. They must have numbered in the hundreds and they entertained us for the next hour. They leapt from the water turning somersaults, they tail walked, slapping at the water and they jumped in all directions. It was worse than a three ring circus trying to take in all of the action. The dolphins were "spotted" and had a noticeable pink underbelly.

An evening check of the weather prediction entrails indicates winds in the 15 to 17 knot range for at least the next 72 hours. We passed this intelligence on to a grateful Doug, who is making for the easterly island of Ilha do Sal, whilst we are heading for the more westerly Sao Vicente. If the forecast holds true we should arrive sometime on Sunday.

At 2100 hours UTM on 11/27/2008, our position was N 22 19.7' W 019 49'

 

November 28, 2008

As we headed into the night, the wind was gusting in the range of 15 to 22 knots and we had been sailing in "Wind Vane" mode on the autopilot, holding the wind at 60 degrees behind the port beam, with poled Genoa, winged main and winged mizzen. This combo was giving us up to 8 knots over the ground but as the wind veered, we were wandering further and further from our rhumb line course. Then too, the waves were building and the wind driven waves were running at 60 degrees from the northerly swell. This witches brew was producing waves in the 10 to 12 foot range as they combined their efforts. The stern of DoodleBug would be smacked to the side, while the autopilot, set to the fastest response, strove to drag us back on course. Although uncomfortable at times, we were making good progress and would have delayed making sail changes until daylight. That is, until Joyce noticed another yacht that was directly in our path. My watch followed Joyce's and I used the opportunity of extra skilled labor to make the sail change we had been procrastinating about. We derigged the port pole and moved the Genoa over to the leeward side, as we came back onto the rhumb line course. I always say that this is "real" sailing, when you mess around on the foredeck in the small hours of the morning, struggling to move without tripping over your safety line - that insists on jamming under every available obstacle. You do this, surrounded by black heaving waters, the waves hissing by and the wind tugging at your clothing. The stars would have been swirling around our heads as the deck pitched, except that it was overcast and we couldn't see any. We enjoy the moment as fifteen minutes later we are back in the womb of the cockpit, with it's hard dodger and bimini cover to insulate us from the elements. Actually the Amel's solid steel rail gives a great feeling of security when going forward and Joyce marveled at how dry the side decks were.

We hailed the yacht we had been approaching and spoke to SV Aisha (??) bound for Antigua. Around dawn, Aisha called us to note that a third yacht lay a few miles on our port side but we had already been tracking both on our radar. The newcomer was ARC participant "Twice Eleven" and bound for the multiple parties scheduled in St. Lucia.

The day was partially overcast and cool at a maximum temperature reached of 74.8F. We hailed another yacht that we passed in the heavy seas but received no response from the mystery vessel. Instead we found ourselves speaking to ARC participant "The Sith II" and they too are bound for St. Lucia and already beyond our radar. In these conditions of rough seas, the radar shows nothing but random scatter from the waves within at least two miles of our location. The small yacht echoes are often not visible beyond six miles, so there is only a narrow range where we can pick up the radar echo of a sailing vessel. Thus we need to monitor our radar carefully to avoid mid-ocean collisions. The concept that you can just set a collision alarm on the radar and go to bed, is often just not feasible out in the real world.

At 0200 hours on 11/29/2008 our position is N 19 51' W 022 19'. We are 234 miles from the island of Sao Vicente.

 

November 29, 2008

We had been running through the night with an "unpoled" Genoa and naturally the wind had shifted slightly so that it was closer to directly astern. We first tried reefing the Genoa, in order to control its tendency to oscillate, partially collapsing against the rigging and this worked for a while but the now smaller Genoa was also partially masked by the mainsail. The next measure was to head off slightly and an autopilot setting that was 10 degrees above our rhumb line course, provided a temporary respite. By 0330 hours the winds had dropped in strength and we returned to our previous sail configuration of Genoa poled and winged to port, with the mainsail and mizzen sail set out to starboard. This allowed a return to the rhumb line course and held for the remainder of the day, as the winds continued to lighten.

The dawn light show of colors in the sky also revealed a deck with three flying fish and a squid; all very dead and 

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dried out but proof that we were in the tropics. The explosive eruption of showers of very live flying fish provided the breakfast entertainment. The guide book claimed that this area is rife with cetaceous life and our whale watching efforts were finally rewarded when we passed through a reasonably large pod of what looked like "miniature whales". We identified these as Risso's dolphins although our identification cheat sheet is light on examples.

Today was more sunny than yesterday and so became "laundry day". As Annette and Joyce strung drying clothes all over the mizzen deck, Chris took pictures and Ed hoped that no other vessels came close enough to see.

Yesterday we ran an additional 161 miles in the 24 hour period since we left Lanzarote, to add to the 146 miles from Day 4. As I write this we are 93 miles from Sao Vicente and should arrive late Sunday afternoon, hopefully before dusk. Our position at 0145 hours on 11/30/2008 is N18 04' W 023 56'.

 

November 30, 2008

Arrived 1608 hours UTM at Porto Grande, Ilha Sao Vicente. Position N 16 53.1' W 024 59.7' All well on board.

Dawn found us with a sky beginning to cloud over and smothering our African sunrise. A freighter overtook us and passed down our starboard side, obviously bound for the same destination as ourselves. This is the first vessel we have seen in days, that was not another sailing vessel. When we crossed the Pacific in 2004 we saw three sails at sea in 11 months. This past week we have seen up to three sails simultaneously.

The wind has been erratic but we have sailed just off a dead run for the most part. The wind speed has built from 11 knots to 22 knots before dropping again and has swung back and forth some 20 degrees. We had the Genoa poled to port with the main and mizzen winged on the starboard side and used the "wind vane" mode on the autopilot to hold us to a relatively constant wind angle. We had a steep 8 foot roller from behind that would slide under our stern and try to push us off course but now we could see the hazy and dim outlines of steep sided islands on the horizon before us. Just before noon we were overtaken by the cruise ship "Costa Romantica" and on the VHF, their captain rolled the "R" and prolonged the "aa" when he called for the harbor pilot. Probably an ex-Spanish gigolo.

Even though we now had 100% cloud cover, the cockpit temperature hovered around 79F (26C). We followed along the wild volcanic outline of Sao Vicente before turning behind a headland and dropping anchor in the Porto Grande harbor at 1608 UTM. Position N 16 53.1' W 024 59.7' Landfall!

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Of course the ship's cook wanted to eat ashore, so we cleared and stowed the poles and preventers, before dragging the dinghy out of the stern locker and inflating it. We then landed on a shallow beach and were immediately met by local entrepreneur "Aringo". He offered to mind our dinghy whilst we were ashore and we swiftly negotiated the quoted price down from five euros to two euros for this vital service. We wandered around the town but most places were closed up. A young French couple recommended a place that would be open but we found it did not serve food until 1900 hours local time and hungry sailors were not about to wait that long. We finished up at the "Club Nautica" right across the street from where we had landed the dinghy and ordered beer while perusing the menu. I asked the very pretty Africa waitress ( if Brad and Angelina can adopt, why can't I?) how the fish burger with egg tasted and she assured me it was good. Annette, Joyce and Chris stayed with the boring ol' cheeseburgers. The fish / egg burger was pretty good and my experience was only spoiled when Joyce found a green caterpillar crawling across her cheeseburger (photo to be posted later). The waitress commented

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that it probably came from the lettuce and wandered away unimpressed. We assured Joyce that the caterpillar looked pretty healthy and a whole caterpillar was much better than half a caterpillar anyway but she did not seem convinced. The adventure continues.

 

December 1, 2008

This morning we wandered over to the Harbor Police to check in and meet the authorities. They disdained our crew list and insisted that I use their form. I then filled in every single detail that was already on the printed 

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crew list I had offered. Doncha' love bureaucrats? The Harbor Police held on to our USA boat registration and we are to collect it upon our departure. Next stop was immigration, where our passports were meticulously stamped, both into Sao Vicente and out again. Our next scheduled stop was the tourist information office. We found it immediately and the young man explained that there was no information, "It is private". I looked at the sign above his booth and asked if this was because the "i" was broken in "information". He seemed puzzled but expanded upon his original statement by indicating that he had leased the booth from the municipality. Nevertheless he did provide information, as to the location of ATMs. Annette and I then wasted the next hour touring five banks and discovering that none would provide cash on my ATM. "Call your bank" was the message but I know this one. It does no good whatsoever to call the USA bank; you just keep truckin' until you find the correct flavor of ATM. Next stop was the trawler harbor, where it was reputed that we could obtain diesel. The proprietor of the pump was absent but we did confirm that this was a "cash only" operation. We needed to exchange US dollars for Cape Verde Escudos and by now the banks were closed. The currency exchange office proposed a rate of 70 CVE to the dollar but Yahoo's site had given a rate of 86. No thanks! We found a restaurant attached to a hotel that accepted credit cards, so we gave our cook the night off and fed the crew pizzas, that were actually reasonably good and would rate near the top of an ex-patriot pizza list.

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December 2, 2008

Chris and Joyce caught the morning ferry to visit the nearby island of Santo Antao, leaving poor Ed and Annette to wrap up boat chores. Not much really but while Ed serviced the engine and transmission, Annette made the pilgrimage to the Bank to change some dollars. She arrived back at DoodleBug just as I was finishing up and yes, the bank rate was 82. Annette had meanwhile discovered that the trawler harbor would not sell us diesel, even on a good day, but that the closer Shell station would. We made two trips in the dinghy with Jerry jugs and

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replenished the 200 liters of fuel we had used on the trip here from Lanzarote. Of course whilst I was schlepping the diesel, Annette was beachcombing and her haul included a dead snake, plus an amazing quantity and variety of bones from various animals and birds - non-human as far as we could tell. The diesel cost considerably more than previous intelligence had indicated and we were back to being escudo broke again. Back to the bank. Two hours later we had exchanged another 100 bucks worth of dollars. The bank experience was quite interesting. They had a numbered ticket system but it was obvious that this did not work as advertised. This was an Africanized version and people would wander up the counter without a ticket and BS the cashier. This almost always worked. The wait time for rule adherents was 3 hours but after an hour, the cashier just waved at us and nobody objected to the fact that we were "out of turn". We returned to the Harbor Police to collect our exit papers and boat registration. Our documents from yesterday could not be found and it was a heart stopping 20 minutes before our USA original registration was discovered. Of course I had to regenerate the yesterday's missing documents but after perhaps an hour, we were officially cleared out for Bequia. We leave tomorrow morning and will head southwest for the first couple of days to dodge a low pressure system that is building to the west.