The Atlantic Crossing

Well this will be a short piece as there was really nothing extraordinary happening. The days dissolved into one big feeling that transformed from excitement to boredom as the days just flew by. The hardest part was certainly the last 400 nautical miles, like I use to say “the end is far even more so towards the end.”

We started out with some strong winds that gradually came down to around 20 knots during the first 24 hours. That wind stayed with us in strength and direction almost unchanged until we reached the shores of French Guyana. It was February and the Tradewinds where in full force blowing a sustained 20 knots (TWS) which is my favorite windspeed when going downwind. On the downside that amount of wind kicks up considerable swell which makes the boat roll from side to side, making it uncomfortable below. We were mostly up on deck and I was very happy to have stood by my initial idea that I had from the beginning of the planning: No more than three people on board. It has showed that we all three could find a comfortable spot to sit even on a small boat of 36 feet. A fourth person would have had to sit in an uncomfortable position or stay down below. In the night two of us slept on the salon sofas which were converted into two comfortable sea berths with lee-cloth. The third one was on watch. Again a fourth person would have to sleep in the aft cabin, which would be uncomfortable in the sea state we had. Or sleep on the floor and be in the way for people going into the toilet, kitchen etc.

The 3 of us ran a 4 hour rotation meaning we had 4 hours watch duty and then had 8 hours off watch. We rotated the shifts so that everyone had evening, night and morning shifts and after a few days some of us had favorite times to be awake and we would exchange shifts for comfort which worked very well. After 48 hours we were away from any shipping traffic and with both AIS and in some situations radar during the night we would take naps of up to thirty minutes even when on watch. This worked very well without us getting overly exhausted. We did not see a single ship by eye on the whole passage.

We did only very few sail changes for example when a northerly swell would come in and make the ride uncomfortable. Or to shift the sails when the wind veered a bit or we wanted a different angle to the waves. We had our downwind setup with poled out foresail and mainsail going wing on wing on the whole time.

It is remarkable that we had not a single issue. No chafed lines, no damage in sails, no problems with electricity, no squalls, no close encounters with any traffic, no issues with the wind pilot. We had good connections for email via radio and pactor to get weather forecasts and also good contacts via SSB voice radio with Geir on Ocean Viking who was some 1000 nautical miles away heading towards Fernando de Noronha in Brazil.

Mahi Mahi turned into a classic Cevice with the addition of fresh mango. Honestly Nadine did most of the cooking otherwise as she has the best stomach to be down below in the rolly seas. Danke Nadine!!

The most disturbing thing was Alfonso, a white land bird that landed on deck and traveled with us for three days shitting all over the place and constantly trying to get down into the boat. Alexandra and I had murderous thoughts but Nadine was very protective of the feathered friend. On one of the days we caught a Mahi Mahi of decent size and made a classic Cevice and added fresh mango. 

The days melted together and around day seven I got bored and I had enough of the rocking. There was nothing to do not even weather routing it was just the same – day after day. I really looked forward to arrive and as the coast came closer the spirits skyrocketed.

On crossing of the continental shelf of South America we had some strange contacts with Venezuelan fishing vessel. One of them crossing our bow with no more than 20 meters distance towing two lines. The guys were standing on the deck and waving and shouting at us in a welcoming way, but the captain came out to look if his lines are ok. They have done this dangerously close maneuver on purpose but on what purpose remains a mistery to us.

Spying for land after 11 days at sea

The winds calm down to 15 knots just as we forecasted. Knowing that already coming across the Atlantic, we routed to a destination further east so we could now change course  directly to our destination Illes de Salut, going harder onto the wind and producing better speeds.

A few hours later the wind died down further and we start the engine. It is late in the day when we finally see land.

Fitz Roy at anchor in the Baje de Cocotiers on Ile Royal, French Guyana

From the logbook:

Land ho! The sun is just above the horizon, shining from behind a low hanging cloud. The sky is filled with the typical trade wind clouds that are glowing in different tones of orange. On the horizon the three islands of Ile de St. Joseph, Ile de Diable and Ile Royale are now clearly visible. I take a deep breath, trying to smell the land but the wind coming from the sea. As usual in the Tropics night falls very quickly, the air is warm and soft. 

After 11 days at sea we reach French Guyana. We could not have wished for a better passage, constant wind no issues, mostly sunshine, none of the feared squalls. Fitz Roy was on his best behavior, giving us zero problems and fast he was, producing an average speed of 6.9 knots which is extraordinary for such a small boat. TheWindpilothas steered the boat over 1843 nautical miles without a glitch. The engine was runing a total of only 1.5h, tanks still full of diesel and we had fresh foods, vegies and fruits all the way across!

22:00 we come around the south side of Ile de St. Joseph in complete darkness. How is it that we always arrive in the dark on this trip? At least we are experts on the radar by now, I can actually identify a small mooring buoy on the radar from hundreds of meters away if the water is calm. We drop the anchor on the outer limit of the anchorage in 5 meters of water.

Finally the boat stands still and we can walk without bracing our self’s. We made it from one continent to another, Africa to America, probably the most iconic ocean passage in the world. What I feel is a mix of relieve and accomplishment. To be honest I did actually not really enjoy the last few days and looked very much forward to arriving. I also feel happy and light and really curious how this tropical island paradise will look! We’re simple people, we have a beer and go to sleep.

Fun on the Iles du Salut after Arriving