Snow Leopard
Sat 20 Dec 2008 20:40

The trans-Atlantic crossing


Well, we made it, and after a week in St. Lucia, relaxing, partying and repairing I can now sit down and write about the experience.


The 10 days leading up to the start saw more yachts and their crew gather in Las Palmas. Some boats were frantically sorting things out right up to the depart, but I must say Snow Leopard was pretty well sorted which enabled us to enjoy the atmosphere and meet some really nice people.

About to leave Las Palmas.The team in tropical crew shirts: Martin, Me, Lucy, Bill and Keith



The start was mayhem. The ‘racing’ division started 20 minutes before the main fleet. The start was, for the technically minded, run under International Collision Regulations and not the Racing Rules. This allowed us to keep our engines running which was just as well and a significant number of boats did not have a clue what was going on. We had to drive out of more than one collision situation. Once started we very quickly pulled away from the majority of the fleet. We overtook our main multihull protagonist, ‘Papillon’ after about 20 minutes and then we settled into the rest of the day and first night with only the large 60+ ft. yachts for company


Sailing away from the fleet at the start


We changed from the Code 0 genniker to the spinnaker and really set off with a vengeance and just 3 hours after the start clocked a new fastest speed for the boat of 20 knots!

Concentrated sailing after the start- it didn’t last long!

That first night we settled into the routine of dropping the spinnaker and using the Code 0 genniker. It is not quite for quick but is much easier to sail with in the dark.


On the first night we were surrounded by other boats, but by morning most had disappeared and from then on if we saw one boat a day if we were lucky.


Over the next few days we settled into the routine of watch-keeping -3hours on and 3 off at night and 4 on – 4 off during daylight. As only Martin had sailed on Snow Leopard before it took a while for them to get to know the boat.


Winds were already frustratingly light and we continued to head more south then west to seek better winds. This was the pattern of the next few days as we made out way down to just west of the Cape Verde Islands. The one advantage was that the weather warmed up considerably and night watches only required t-shirt and shorts (plus the obligatory life-jacket after dark).


Marine life stepped in to entertain us. We had one huge pod of Striped Dolphin keep us company for hours, and at night the first flying fish came aboard. These proved to be dangerous later on when Keith got hit three times by kamikazi flying fish in the middle of the night!









Our first flying fish on board

For the first week the wind remained frustratingly light and from the east making it very difficult for us to sail directly downwind towards St. Lucia, but the daily position reports from all 225 boats in the ARC race indicated that we were still doing quite well towards the front of the fleet.


Life on board had settled down to a routine of watch-keeping, sleeping and eating with a few special moments to keep us amused. One was Keith’s first attempt at bread-making (with a little help from Lucy). Here is the proud man with the result of his endeavours




Fishing started to take on more importance, but at the speed we were travelling only sea monsters would take our bait of lurid fluorescent orange plastic squid – and they did, three times! Unfortunately they snapped the line and disappeared most of our fishing tackle. So we were reduced to a reel of light rope with a lure tied onto it and that did the trick. We landed a decent sized fish, we think it is a Whahoo (if anyone knows better please tell us). It was expertly filleted by James and we enjoyed Whahoo sushi marinated in lime juice for lunch and large fillets in a teriyaki sauce for dinner




On the 5th day we finally got some decent breeze with 20knots from the NNE. With one reef in the main and the spinnaker we did a 24-hour run of 240 miles –an average speed of 10 knots!


However this did not last long and we spent the next few days searching for wind and trying to avoid squalls. We were not very successful at either. Our track over these days looks like that taken by a crazed skipper meandering all over the mid-Atlantic (which may have a ring of truth to it) and we got caught in an enormous rain storm which lasted for about two hours


Radar picture at centre of torrential rain storm – red means heavy, heavy rain!


Otherwise we continued with very gentle sailing, occasionally motoring at night when there was no wind (we don’t carry that much fuel so we had to be judicious with our motoring.)


Gentle sailing at sunset


Finally, after yet another boat of rain squalls we got into some decent settled trade winds about 500 miles east of St. Lucia and really began to make fast progress, hitting a new maximum of 20.8 knots, claimed by Bill as he was on watch, but he had little to do with it as the boat was on auto pilot at the time (as it was for 99% of the crossing) 


Our fastest speed yet – 20.8 knots


With all this speed something had to give and it was the outer end of the bowsprit holding the asymmetric spinnaker. A weld gave way and tore the stainless steel end cap.

Hurried repairs, by Bill using all his rigging repair experience and we were soon on our way again

Running repairs to the spinnaker bowsprit

We could almost smell St. Lucia, but we were going to arrive in the middle of the night. The weather had one last pop at us with a 38knot squall as traversed the gap between St. Lucia and Martinique. Then it was around the tip of Pidgeon Island to the finishing line in Rodney Bay. We finished at 07.20 GMT (03.20 local time)


We downed sails and motored into the lagoon and our marina berth. We were given a rapturous welcome even at that time in the morning. We were presented with rum punches and a big basket of fruit. It may have been a slow crossing in 17 days (we were anticipating 12 -14 days), but we were still 13th boat to finish, beaten by big 60 -80 ft boats, and we were the first multihull by nearly 24 hours!


Well done to all the crew






























Our night-time arrival in St.Lucia








A tired, dishevelled, but happy crew


A rum-bustuous welcome from Joe of the St. Lucia Tourist Board



Next day after a few hours sleep, with all formalities completed we were ready to enjoy the hospitality of St. Lucia and also welcome in the other boats as they finished.


View from our masthead


Local marine fruit seller!