Heading south, the African West Coast

The weather has been unusual the last weeks with occasional southerly winds. At the moment it is looking good but not for much longer. Next week the wind on the rhumbline to Mindelo will become very light and eventually die down. The Acores high pressure system is being pushed south and extends to an area between the Canaries and Cap Verde. To find better wind we’re routing an unusual course, hugging the African west coast, sailing about 50 nautical miles offshore along Western Sahara and Mauritania. On day 4 we are supposed to be off Cape Blanc in Mauritania when the wind is forecasted to decrease for a while. We will then turn south west to catch the easterlies out to the Cap Verde Islands. Some people think it’s dangerous so close to the coast but out there we did not find any local fishing boats and no pirates either.

The route of Fitz Roy from Lanzarote to Cap Verde

Leaving Europe

We left Porto Calero at around 10 pm and motored away from the coast. After an hour the wind filled in and we set the sails heading due south. Not long and I start to hear a knocking sound on the outside of the hull. It becomes louder fast. I quickly open the doors to the engine room and there it is. The shaft that is spinning free when under sail has come loose where it is connected to the transmission. The shaft coupling is hanging from one last and very loose bolt. The other three bolts I find in the bilge. Nadine slams the gears into revers, the spinning stops but the drag is even stronger. Luckily I am able to push the shaft forward and manage to attach a second bolt and subsequently all four. It quickly dawns on me that the mechanic did not tighten the bolts when we realigned the shaft at all. It’s a pity as it was a good mechanic, that day we were in a hurry to get back into the water as the travel lift was booked after us, we have straight out forgotten to tighten these bolts correctly. 

Transmission to shaft coupling that came off just after leaving Lanzarote

For a moment I consider turning back. It’s the middle of the night. I’m not sure how much attention to give the problem. Next stop is Mindelo where service is sparse and spare parts take months to be flown in. We continue through the night and I call a friend in Switzerland in the morning. He’s not only a skilled mechanic and sailor but also a person who would always tell me that it’s not that bad and that I should just continue and not worry. After 12 minutes on the satphone I’m convinced. For another day I check the bolts regularly as I had no torque wrench on board to tighten them correctly but all seems fine and I regain confidence in my fix after another day.

Windholes and Engine troubles

Day 4, as expected the wind dies down and we start to motor for approximately 6 hours. We are motoring south in a flat sea just inshore of the big boys shipping routes to Cape Town and Brazil, a warship appears on the horizon and closes in rapidly. They match our speed once alongside and call us on the radio for a routine check. I guess they were probably as surprised to see as us. They asked if we had any problems or want to go ashore. I reply with “no problems, we’re just here in search of better wind, destination Mindelo, no intention of stopping in Mauritania”.

That was it, I jinxed it. Three hours later a bit after sunset I realize that we suddenly had no cooling water exiting the exhaust. Again it takes only a minute do identify – the raw water pump broke again just as it did a year ago in Sardinia. The girls are asleep and I curse quietly. The wind comes back and I set the sails. Peter the wind pilot is steering and we are making respectable speed towards Mindelo.

No engine means no power generation in case the solar does not keep up and on top of that sitting tight in case the wind quits. I get on the SSB radio and report my misery to Geir on Ocean Viking who just left the Canaries and motored straight into the high pressure area. I wonder who is more pissed, Geir motoring for days on end without any wind or me not motoring for the rest of this passage. I shoot off an email to the Marina and the Joint Rescue Coordination Center in Mindelo to let them know about our situation, stating clearly that all is well and we do not need assistance at this point.

Still in high spirits

Whatever we’re sailing along in high spirits for another day or two. Two days north of Cabo Verde we encounter some incredible lightning storms in the distance. The flashes are below the horizon so that we only see the awe inspiring reflections in the nightsky. 

The day that we are supposed to make landfall we sail into some rain cells with extended areas of complete calm. The sails flap as the boat rolls in old seas of a good two meters. Complete misery onboard. We brace ourselves for 30 minutes then the wind comes back for 30 minutes, we roll out the sails and progress some 5 miles just to get hit by the next rain cloud sucking up the wind. Again we roll in all the sails and wait to be tossed around. The fishing line that we towed behind the boat gets caught in the rudder, I have to dive but am afraid that the rocking boat will knock me out. Undecided I wait around in the cockpit. We’re 30 nautical miles north of Mindelo the gray clouds are hanging low, occasional rain. For the next 6 hours we play the game and slowly but surely every hope that we make it in during daylight diminishes. 

Aproaching Mindelo in the dark under sail

As night falls the wind picks up and we start sailing again. Miraculously the fishing line has untangled itself from the rudder. We have a good 18 knots of wind on the beam just as forecasted. Also forecasted is the fact, that the wind will stay with us during the night which we have to trust as we certainly want to avoid being adrift in the channel between the islands with all its currents and rocky shores. We have all sails up and Nadine is pushing Fitz Roy along the north coast whilst I take a nap. But I can’t really relax. I’m worried how strong the wind will be in the entrance to the Mindelo bay. Worst case would be no wind but the straight between St. Antao and San Vincente is feared for strong winds and rough seas. The high surrounding mountains funnel the wind and a 15 knot wind at sea gets up to 35 with ease. The high jagged mountains of the north coast are standing dark against the illuminated sky. We’re closing in on Mindelo. There’s thunder and lightning over the island and we hope it won’t come closer. The wind stays with us constant in speed all the way into the anchorage. With AIS and Radar we tack trough the anchored boats and the many half sunken wrecks that litter the bay. We drop anchor under sail, it sets right away, tomorrow we will go into the marina. It’s just after midnight we crack a beer, actually one of the rare and valued IPAs we have on board. Then go to sleep.

Gorgeous group picture after arriving around midnight

Flags on fleek, Mindelo Anchorage

Drop it like it’s (a rusty anchor)

We dropped anchor under sail as we had no working engine cooling when arriving to Mindelo in the middle of the night. We slept until 11 o’clock the next day and it was so goooooood. We had a quick breaky and prepared to go into the Marina. I knew we can run the engine without over heating for 10 minutes to do a docking maneuver. So we upped anchor under sail and tacked three times to get up close to the Marina. People where sticking their heads out when we approached the marina with all sails out it was blowing a good 20 knots. Alexandra was on the winch at the main, Nadine had the genoa reefing line ready and on the mark we winched in all the sails in an epic grind, started the engine, drove up to the pontoon, turned the boat 180° using the bow thruster and the beloved prop walk in the back to perform a “turn on the plate” subsequently docking med stile in a perfect continuous motion straight out of the playbook. It took only two minutes and the engine was of again. We literally had people coming to the dock to congratulate us. The mechanic was already standing by to have a look, he would become the worst mechanic I had aboard in… ever. I told him to come back the next day as we had a big mess down below. But instead of cleaning, we went straight to the floating bar, it was 11am and we would be sitting there until well after midnight, drinking beer and having fun with all the new folks. Finally some people our age!

The Floating Bar at Marina Mindelo

Fitz Roy docked at Marina Mindelo