Atlantic Virgins, Part 3: Across the Atlantic Ocean
Cape Verde, from what we saw it was simple but safe and quite well organised. An excellent little waterside bar made for a meeting point and a venue for the Viking Explorers Party when everyone had arrived.
We were able to stock up on bread, fresh fruit and vegetables, cooking gas and diesel for the boat – ready for the next leg of our journey, without anyone wanting to get off and fly home (yet).
Mindelo, Cape Verde to Port Louis, Grenada
This section, the single longest passage we have made was 2,200 nautical miles and should have taken about 14-16 days. Due to some unforeseen weather, (thank you Predict Wind) the journey took a little longer than expected.
We can divide this journey into 3 main sections of weather.
The beginning was the same as the majority of the journey from Las Palmas, a fresh breeze and rolly, rough sea conditions making cooking, eating and living quite difficult. Fortunately, the temperature was slowly increasing and the sea boots were replaced by boat shoes and night watches did not always require a coat.
We continued to catch Mahe Mahe throughout the passage; some being caught by myself and some by Jonathan. These made for great lunch and dinner opportunities for those who liked fish and a meat treat for those who did not. We also continued to clear the flying fish off the deck every morning.
We noted a lot of Sargasso weed in the water, often it was the only thing our fishing lures caught. The weed also caught on the rudder of our auto pilot and the hydro generator turbine. The weed caused added drag, prevented the hydro generator from generating electricity and the auto pilot from steering efficiently.
After a few days out and with the wind strength decreasing, we were looking for the optimum wind to get us to our destination. The weather forecast predicted a drop in wind to the point of a "big hole" developping with no wind at all. We headed south of our planned line to keep in what we thought was the windy area.
Unfortunately the big windless hole did catch up with us and there were times we had zero wind – all we could do in this case was to turn the engine on. It was quite amazing to see a completely flat sea, oily in appearance without the smallest ripple on the surface. It was an ultramarine blue, crystal clear and 5,000metres deep. Of course, we had to stop at some point and have a swim in the middle of the ocean. It was warm, refreshing and exhilarating.
We avoided the weed as they had their own eco system of fish, crabs, and Portuguese men of war. Jellyfish that look like a pink plastic bag with 10metres of tentacles below that can poison a swimmer. We also had a few dolphin visits, but shorter in duration and not so many dolphins on each occasion.
This was also the moment when we passed our half way point across the ocean - a good moment to stop and celebrate our success to get to this far. It was our only concession where alcohol was allowed to be consumed during our voyage.
After about 3 days the wind slowly picked up. Initially we used the FFR during the day and the Genoa and Mainsail at night. As the wind further picked up we put away the FFR and polled out the Genoa for our down wind sailing setup. With the earlier problems of an accidental gybe, we were extra vigilant on the preventer tensions to make sure this would not happen again.
The wind was steady with a more easterly direction than forecasted, but with a few gybes, we could keep to the path that we wanted. The sailing was not so fast, but it was much more comfortable and finally, I found time to relax and enjoy reading a book. The others also found time to relax and enjoy moments of solitude in this vast ocean. Occasionally we passed other members of the viking group, giving rise to photo opportunities.
Ocean Deva as seen from the passing yacht "Paxi"
We also saw a pod of whales one morning for a few minutes. They looked big and black, but there was no time to find a camera for a photo to help with possible identification - maybe pilot whales, but this is only a guess. We also had some dolphins come by and play at the front of our boat. They are always welcome and put a smile on everyones face.
Everything seemed to be going well until........... the 12v alternator warning light came on and the engine began to overheat! This happened just after I had made some water to fill the tanks and I was just charging the service batteries to their capacity.
Initially we were not sure what was going on; maybe some weed entered our water cooling system or something serious was going on – time to investigate. After a little time, we found that the 12v alternator belt had been shredded as it rubbed across a bolt that was not correctly tightened after the engine was re-installed in Funchal, Madeira.
Without the 12v alternator belt, we could not cool the engine and could not make 12 or 24 volts to charge the 12v starter battery or the 24v service batteries. We were about 5 days out from our destination at this point and so some strong measures needed to be put in place immediately.
Fortunately, I had filled the water tanks with fresh water so we had sufficient for the rest of our journey – though we did need to be careful. The toilets were switched from fresh water to sea water, the freezer was turned off and the second fridge was disconnected. Any un necessary power usage was stopped and we rested on the solar charge to keep the batteries as topped up as possible. Interestingly, the solar power does not charge the 12v battery and it is not possible to use a 24v battery to start a 12v starter motor. With other 12v battery banks run in parallel to create a 24v system, any battery could be used to start the starter motor. Something to investigate for the future as a solution needs to be available in a "just in case" situation.
Our precautionary measures did the trick for the water and electric requirements, but we also needed to find a solution to put the engine on and enter the marina in Grenada. I did have a spare alternator belt, supplied by Yanmar in Gibraltar, but I found out that it was the wrong design and would not fit - I will not make that mistake again !
Yanmar in Funchal, who re-installed the engine suggested a nylon stocking as the best solution to allow the engine to turn the cooling water pump. We thought that this is good in theory, but needed something more robust for a longer chance of survival.
We initially tried a sail tie, sewn to the right size by Ingrid and her Sailrite sewing machine. This lasted about 5 minutes before it started to fall apart.
The next modification was to use a length of rubber garden hose, stitched to a sail tie. After several attempts to get this to the right length, it seemed to work well with the 12v alternator and cooling system – only we did not know for how long it would last.
We sailed for 5 days without using the engine for battery charging or making water until we came to the marina of Grenada. We were met by a pre-arranged rib, just in case our system did not work for long enough. The engine was turned on and we managed to motor 30 minutes to our berthing spot without any assistance – the sewing and engineering team were successful in their project.
All we need to do now is to order new parts (and backup) from Yanmar – so we are yet again stuck in a marina without a working engine. We will have 2 belts of each type and a replacement water cooling pipe that was damaged in the process. Hopefully we will never again need the backup.
Arrival in Port St Louis was quite an emotional moment for us. Marie from Greyhound came out to welcome us in her dinghy and all the already arrived Vikings (we came in 8th) were at our mooring spot with horns, cheers and clapping to welcome us in and congratulate us for the success of our journey.
And Marie's video of our arrival:
With tears in our eyes and hugs from our friends, we had actually done it – we had sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, safely and as a family affair. The years of planning had paid off and 2 mishaps out of our control was not bad going for the Atlantic Virgins who are no longer Atlantic Virgins.
Viking organisation and support was excellent throughout the complete journey. It gave us the peace of mind that if there was an issue with our engine, then we would not be on our own and in any danger.
The following are some official photos from the VE photographer: