Arrived 16.35 local time! - Atlantic Update

Mike and Liz Downing
Tue 16 Dec 2008 03:37
We made it, and in time for Christmas! - arriving in St Lucia on 16th December after 23 days at sea.

The windless zone ahead of us closed to some degree, but we still had 3 days with hardly a breath of air. The good part of it was that the weather was fantastic if you like hot weather (and I do) - not a cloud in the sky and the sea was so blue. Each evening we had fantastic sunsets and equally fantastic sun rises the next morning. We used the engine a couple of nights to try and find wind when we didn't want to play with the sails (with one of us trying to sleep below), but at that stage we still had over a 1000 miles to go and we didn't want to use too much fuel too soon. So we decided to switch off the engine and sit it out until the wind returned.

It did return, but was still light and it got to the point where instead of trying to avoid squalls/black clouds we were chasing them to find wind! We hadn't had any squalls by the middle of the second week when Liz called me up from my sleep to say that it looked like our first squall was coming up from behind. I checked on the radar and it was clear that we were going to be hit - it was all over the screen and about to engulf us. We had both genoas up and poled out (one is 582 sq ft and the other 485 sq ft) and we could have just rolled them to reduce sail, but if this was the big one (and others had experienced 40+kt winds in squalls) I decided I could get the poles down and get one sail away completely, reef the other and be well prepared for a great sleigh ride for as long as it took to pass. We did all that just as it started to rain - so good timing. The rain came with a vengeance, but no wind, absolutely no wind at all. Even the wind that we had had disappeared. So we got very wet and we had no wind at all for several hours. That was our first and really our only significant rainfall throughout the passage. We had a few showers later, but they were all over in a few minutes. Some boats further north had continuous rain for days on end, so we consider ourselves to be very lucky.

Shortly afterwards we were close hauled in a light north westerly for a day. Not what we expected from a trade wind route. Consistent trade winds finally arrived at the beginning of the last week and we really started to sail. The winds still went light on occasions, but it was much more around the 12 to 18kts and Aurora B sailed well, mostly with just the 2 genoas poled out and making 140 to 170 miles per day. We were starting to catch up time and revised our ETA for this Christmas! The seas were quite rolly with foaming tops at times, but never threatening and you did get used to the motion. With good winds you have more time, and can even take it easy (we are getting older!). With the third week having much better winds, we hardly used the engine again and finished with just over 210 litres of fuel still in the tank (420 litres when full). The rhumb line distance from Las Palmas to St Lucia is 2,700 miles. With the route that we took, going south west to find the wind, our log showed 3061 sea miles (approximately 3520 land miles).

The adjusted ARC time, taking account of handicap and the number of engine hours used (for which you are penalised), put us in 101st position in the cruising division of 147 boats. Considering there was just the 2 of us and we took the long route, and found a huge wind hole, we didn't think that was too bad. While frustrating at times due to the lack of wind, we did have fantastic weather and it was a good crossing.

The wildlife on the crossing was mixed. We saw very few birds, but after Peter the petrel we did see another very close up - a second hitchhiker! It was a white egret this time. He only stayed a couple of hours, but he was completely unafraid and marched round the deck as though he owned the place, inspecting the boat and everything on it as he went. He went round the front of the windscreen and couldn't make out why he couldn't peck Liz who was the other side. He did give us the opportunity in conversation with other yachts to announce that 'the egret has landed'!

We didn't see any turtles or whales this time and didn't see any more dolphins.

We arrived in St Lucia in time for the last round of ARC parties, and to see in the boats following us, before the Christmas celebrations started. Christmas day was a great day spent at a beach barbecue with a group from the ARC and the St Lucia Yacht Club. We managed to swim in the sea on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Years Day - a first for both of us. We're really pleased to be here!

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