We were in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria on the 6th January 2023 just about to set out across the Atlantic Ocean to Grenada with the Viking Explorers group. Our crew was 5 people, my wife, Ingrid, son Jonathan, daughter Joanna and Jeff an experienced sailor friend who we met last year. Five Atlantic Virgins who had sailed (with varying degrees of experience) but never an Atlantic Ocean passage.
This was the beginning of our Atlantic Adventure. With a sailing distance of 930 nm to Mindelo, Cape Verde (7 days) and 2,200 nm to Grenada (17 days). This makes a total of 3,130 nm and 24 days (for those used to kilometres, it is 5,321 km).
In the end it took us 23 days to sail the 3,193 miles.
Though this was the beginning of the rally that consisted of 25 boats, the preparations and planning started several years before. Good planning, we think, is the key to success.
It may sound strange, but it took us 2 years to choose our boat and then 3-1/2 years of sailing and planning. As sailing virgins, in the beginning we knew next to nothing about anything nautical and needed to read, learn, listen, practice and understand everything from theory to the practicalities of sailing. This is something that you never learn in a lifetime, but you hope to learn enough to cope with most situations.
You may ask why we are doing this as we have no real experience and it has never been a life-long dream or objective. The answer is simple; we love to travel and experience life - this seemed a great way to do both at a pace of our choosing. We are challenged with what we need to learn and do and there is never a dull moment (I sometimes wish we had some dull moments). What a way to spend one’s retirement!
The planning is split into 3 major areas:
1. On the water sailing experience in different conditions.
2. Understanding our boat- what it needs, how to maintain and look after her so that she can give consistent performance under tough conditions.
3. Food planning for 5 people for a month.
We have been sailing with Ocean Deva for 3-1/2 years now. From the first days when we knew almost nothing about sailing to being able to sail across an ocean requires a huge learning curve.
We knew we needed to spend the time practicing and learning and this is a reason why we organised our itinerary to sail from The Netherlands to the Mediterranean Sea with different people to join us at different stages. Our blogs for the last few years have summarised our journey and sailing learning experiences.
Though we know we still have a huge amount to learn, we know that this comes step by step through spending time sailing and asking advice from sailors who we know and respect. It is also a case of knowing what you don’t know or don’t understand so intelligent questions can be asked.
It is good to be a part of the Viking Explorers as this is a group of like-minded sailors who are happy to share their experiences and knowledge.
Our last items for the boat included the fitting of the Storm Sails - which we hope never have to use, a check of the rigging, new gas ampoules for the life vests and a haircut !
The boat requirements are mainly regarding the power needs; i.e the amount of power required to run the navigation system, autopilot, the lights, communications, electric winches, the water maker and bread maker balanced against the power generation for the batteries from the solar panels, hydro generator and engine.
Our past blogs show a little of the struggle we have had and I do not think we have successfully found the best combinations yet.
Boat power choice is key to running “off grid” and as green as possible. 50 solar panels would be more than sufficient, but where do we put them and what would the boat look like ? And still, if it is cloudy, winter time with a low sun, or there is a shadow of the mast or sail on a solar panel then this also significantly reduces their power output.
I think I could write a book on this topic by now, but sufficient to say what we have done.
We started with a 400 watt panel on the back of the boat. In long discussions with the company Hydrovane, we worked out the optimum positioning with respect to the height of our panel and the position of the to be installed Hydrovane (The Hydrovane consists of a small sail that steers the boat based on wind direction and requires no electricity to operate it; a sort of mechanical autopilot). What nobody ever considered was that the sail of the Hydrovane system, on the left side of the boat, casts a shadow on the solar panels when travelling from east to west ! Consequently, the power that the Hydrovane saves through wind steering is much less than the reduction in power output of the solar panel with a shadow on it.
In addition to this, we have not had a lot of success with the Hydrovane and its steering capabilities - we still have something to learn here.
Adding a water maker and bread maker are 2 more power hungry items that the solar panel can not fully support. We therefore added a Pod 600 from Watt&Sea – this is a hydrogenator that should generate up to 600 watts of power – a great solution for night time and addition to our day time solar power. Unfortunately, due to a poor installation location, it produces less than 30% of the power expected – when it is not further slowed by ocean weed and marine growth. This has turned out to be an expensive gadget that has disappointed me greatly.
In Funchal we added 3 more solar panels for an additional 356 watts – a great addition to our large panel, but still insufficient for our needs.
In the end, to support our water making, bread making and our fridges and freezers for all of our food we ran the engine for 2-3 hours every day to top up our batteries after the power of the sun was lost.
How do you plan food for 5 people for an indeterminate period away from land ? It is easy to plan for 2, as we know what we eat, but when you ask your crew what they want to eat and how much do they eat, what kind of snacks, cookies, and "in betweens" – well it starts to get very vague and people actually eat about 2 times as much as they say they do.
“What do you like to drink ?”
“Oh water is fine”
But when they see the orange juice you have planned for yourself, then suddenly water is no longer fine.
We had an inkling that this may be the case, so we did stock up on many items. Furthermore we stocked up on many items that we knew were expensive in the Caribbean and/or could not be (easily) found.
We actually started stocking up on these items about 6 months before we set sail, slowly filling gaps in our under-floor areas, not being sure exactly how much we would be able to stow.
Coffee for example is about €20 - €25/pack in the Carribean compared to €5 back in Europe. Getting things like olive oil and good wine is difficult, so we stocked up on these items, as well as on basic but essential dry food items such as rice, pasta, flower and oats.
The final purchase was all the fresh fruit and vegetables to keep us going for as long as possible. We filled hanging nets with apples, lemons and oranges whilst the passions fruit and avocados were wrapped in stockings and tied to the inside of the spray hood and bimini. In the “cooler boat areas we stored potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes and garlic.
All the fruit and veg had to be washed and dried to reduce the chance of cockroaches finding their way on board through eggs and in any cardboard or paper packaging, then packed away and/or hung in special hammocks - that were especially made by Ingrid and Joanna.
It was quite a shock to see all the boxes of fresh food and have to find a space to put them all, but somehow, we managed. Throughout the journey we ate the items as they became ripe and fortunately little got wasted, even if we had to eat avocados for several days on end.
To keep track of all this, Ingrid made a inventory list to make sure that we knew where everything was stored.
The potatoes & onions lasted through to the end and remained for a few additional days. In hindsight the quality of fresh produce supplied in Las Palmas was excellent and overall well chosen.
The plan for cooking was to share the load and each person was pre-warned to let us know what needed to be bought for 1 dish that they would cook repeated up to 4 times during the 6 weeks of our time together. Unfortunately for us, this concept fell apart and Ingrid did almost all of the cooking for the duration of the trip. Fortunately, we had pre-prepared a number of dishes and frozen them, so cooking was not always from scratch. However, cooking on a moving boat in
rough conditions is a challenge at any time and Ingrid did a fantastic job with a smile every day.
We have learnt a good lesson here and the concept of a signed contract for visitors, which was recommended (thank you George Rizzo from Yacht Hotel -Taormina Moorings), is no longer such a bad idea !
With the boat in great condition and both girls enjoying a hair cut, we were all ready to slip our mooring lines and head off into the "Blue Waters" of the Atlantic Ocean.
Our departure from Las Palmas is on the following blog, Part 2