17 Nov - South to Cape Verde

Escapade of Rame
Richard & Julie Farrington
Mon 20 Nov 2017 23:25
16:53N 25W

We left La Gomera on Saturday morning.  Our destination was Porto Grande and the capital city Mindelo on the island of Sao Vicente in the Cape Verde islands, some 800 miles to the south west, but first we had to make a 40 mile detour and retrace our steps to the Marina San Miguel in southern Tenerife, where a replacement furling line for the genoa roller reefing gear awaited us.  In the three years we have owned the boat, this line has parted three times, most recently on the way into La Gomera and after some trial and error we eventually traced the problem to the way in which the line leads off the roller drum and back along the side of the boat.  The first block it reaches determines the rough direction of load, because the way the line actually winds itself on and off the drum makes quite a difference too – and that is surprisingly random, given the high cost of Harken roller furling gear and the legendary attention to detail at Oyster.  On other systems, not to mention my ‘bottom of the range’ fishing reel, there is a guide to ensure even distribution.  Not here, but now I have made some significant adjustment to the position of the first block on the side deck, I am hoping for better things…

There was no wind for the first two hours, so we motored.  Then the breeze filled in from the south west, so we hoisted the spinnaker and made good progress for about 12 miles.  Then the wind died and we dropped the kite.  As we did so, the swell changed direction from our starboard quarter to the bow and the boat began to pitch violently.  We were both on the foredeck still, and almost washed overboard by a huge ‘goffer’ which washed right over the boat and a few minutes later, the wind was a south easterly force six – on the nose!  We clawed our way along the south coast of Tenerife and reached the sanctuary of San Miguel around 3pm.  A couple of hours later, we had installed the new furling line and replaced the line that controls the spinnaker pole at the mast for good measure.  So, at 5pm we departed San Miguel and headed for Cape Verde.  A couple of miles out, we came across a solo Italian sailor in a 23 foot ‘Star’ class Olympic keelboat, doing the same passage as ourselves.  Sobering to contrast his austere living conditions and proximity to the water with our 25 tonne behemoth…  Clearly he was mad – but also very plucky!

The mad Italian

The first night at sea was uneventful, except that we noticed that we were in company with a group of yachts we had seen in Santa Cruz de Tenerife a few days earlier – part of a much bigger Transatlantic rally run by the legendary Jimmy Cornell (who founded the ARC, sold it and made a fortune) known as ‘The Odyssey’.  Whilst some boats would sail direct to Barbados from Tenerife, a more select group were following the same route as ourselves.  Over the next few days we stayed in surprisingly close company with a couple of them, in particular an Allures 45 called ‘A Capella of Belfast’.  Obviously, it was a race.

By dawn on Remembrance Sunday we were five miles ahead of them, the wind was on the beam and the boat was flying.  We did not hoist the spinnaker as the relative wind was a bit far forward of the beam for the autopilot to steer with that huge sail to balance.  Overnight we take it down anyway as it can be a bit of a handful for two of us if the weather changes and the sail tries to take charge, but the ‘night steaming’ mode of mainsail out on one side and the genoa ‘poled out’ on the other is less efficient in winds up to about 20 knots from anywhere aft of the beam.  By lunchtime the wind had backed into the north east enough for the spinnaker to work, so we hoisted it and extended our lead over the Irish.  But by mid-afternoon, I needed a rest as much as the autopilot so we dropped it and reverted to ‘white sails’.  That turned into a bit of a drama; the spinnaker rig on Escapade is brilliant as we have a huge sock which we can pull down over the sail from the top in order to ‘snuff it’.  But this time, once the sail was ‘snuffed’, the line controlling the snuffer got tangled up with something up the mast so as we lowered the sail, so it started to ‘unsnuff’.  The controlling sheet departed overboard so we could not control the sail.  I turned the boat into wind until Julie could recover the sheet with a boathook.  We then proceeded to drop the sail as I would do with a full racing crew… it got a bit wet, but we did not use it to catch fish and the two of us had the whole thing back in its snuffer, untangled, bagged ready to go within an hour.  Long enough for the Irish to draw level.

By dawn on Tuesday, they were four miles ahead. There was a strange twist in the spinnaker pole tripping line, so despite planning to hoist the kite at first light, we faffed about for an hour taking the fitting off the end of the pole and re-running the whole thing.  But once we hoisted the sail, the boat took off.  The wind was quite strong and the waves quite large, so the autopilot struggled to maintain a straight course.  I took over the steering for much of the day and revelled in the conditions.  By lunchtime we had drawn level, and by dusk we were ten miles ahead.  We had flying fish, a turtle and an increasingly exotic collection of seabirds to look at.  At dusk, two flying fish came into the cockpit as we sat there.  We mused on the hours that Malters and I had spent trying to catch a blessed fish in the Cies Islands a couple of months ago: here, without any effort at all on our part, the things came inboard and presented themselves for the cooking pot.  They do have a reputation for being rather bony though, so we chucked them back to fly another day.  A migrating housemartin came to visit; he insisted on trying to cling onto the mainsail which was a futile plan and I fear he met a watery end within an hour or so of darkness falling.  We dropped the kite without incident and set about holding onto our lead overnight.  Julie did rather better than me; she is on watch from 8pm to midnight and again from 4am to 8am.  During the ‘Middle Watch’, the wind died and I gybed back and forth trying to keep the relative wind above ten knots without disappearing off to Africa in the process.

A small flying fish.  Note the huge wingspan!


Migrating housemartin attempting to land on the mainsail.

This cycle set the pattern for the next few days.  Great spinnaker runs during the day; consolidation under ‘white sails’ overnight with the wind generally dropping off around dusk, getting quite shifty in the ‘Middle’ and gradually filling in from the east around dawn.  Julie made a splendid coffee cake to mark my birthday (slightly late, but mainly aimed at sustaining morale on passage) and a hearty lentil soup for the night watches.  We bought industrial quantities of frozen chicken in Lanzarote and cooked some of it on this passage: clearly it came from a very mature capon and is as tough as old boots… plenty of curries and casseroles on the Atlantic crossing, methinks! 

Who said spinnakers were hard work?  Sheet and helm to hand, instruments visible, luff perfect…

The rhythm of longer passages is a gentle one: we run the generator for a couple of hours in the morning to recharge the batteries and allow the watermaker to refill the tanks.  Julie, who does most of the dark hours sailing, gets up around 11am and we are usually both awake and sharing the adventure through until about 9pm when I get some kip before the ‘Middle watch’.  The sun sets around 6.30pm and we drop the spinnaker and set up for night sailing at that point – lifejackets and safety harnesses, a big 24v torch on deck, the masthead ‘tricolour’ on , red lighting in the galley and all the instruments dimmed as far as Mr Raymarine allows.  I send the 1800 position report over the satellite to the blog (with apologies for the Cloudesley Shovell-style Longitude error) cook the evening meal during my 4pm to 8pm watch and we eat together at around the watch change.  We saw no fishing vessels and very few ships.  Watchkeeping could therefore accommodate some Kindle reading and Ipod listening: we both enjoyed Alan Bennett’s ‘Untold Stories’ in particular.  No moon, a couple of quite cloudy nights when it was pitch black, a couple when the sky was so clear you could see every star in the Milky Way – or so it seemed.  When I come on watch, Orion is lying on his bed in the east; by the time I go off watch at 4am he’s overhead and stood up, ready to fire his arrows.  Night watches in shorts and a T shirt - great stuff!

By Thursday morning, we had a realistic chance of getting into Porto Grande before midnight.  Despite depositing significant quantities of Saharan dust all over the boat (I even took the RNSA burgee down for a dhobey) the wind never filled in for the day and although we flew the spinnaker as normal, with just ten knots of breeze our boat speed never stayed over six knots for long and our ETA gradually slipped right.  By the time I came on watch at midnight, we had 25 miles to run, but the wind was so light that we had to zigzag downwind to keep the speed up.  We were helped by the current that runs from north to south through the islands and by some favourable tidal stream for the first few hours, so by the time Julie came on watch at just after 4am, we had just five miles to run and we were both focused on pilotage. We passed between Sao Vincente (relatively heavily populated and with the lights of Porto Grande and Mindelo clearly visible) and Santo Antao (very few lights but a huge landmass which you could ‘feel’ as much as see). 

The pilot book is not particularly encouraging.  Their equivalent of Trinity House is not well funded and most lights are defective; magnetic variation is around 9o, tidal streams are strong and unpredictable, fishing markers are poorly marked, fishing boats carry no lights and the harbour is poorly charted with wrecks strewn everywhere.  Read it too carefully and you would stay in the pub rather than go to sea, but we felt that a night entry was worth the risk.  There were several large ships in there – so how difficult could it be?  In short, it was a piece of cake.  The depths were exactly as marked on the chart; the lights conformed to the pilot book and the paper chart (but not the Navionics electronic charts, curiously) and we felt our way into the anchorage where around thirty yachts were lying peacefully, without incident.  We dropped anchor in 6m of water and celebrated our longest passage under sail together – 800 miles without using the engine – with a fine dram of Ardbeg whisky which we had bought last year on a memorable visit to Islay.  Sleep was deep and very satisfying!   Oh – I almost forgot, A Capella of Belfast got in around six hours later – RESULT!

The anchorage at Porto Grande, Cape Verde Islands