Voyage to Madeira, Canary Islands, Transatlantic Passage | Distant Shores Sailing Newsletters

Voyage to Madeira, Canary Islands, Transatlantic Passage

January 2008

Voyage to Madeira, Canary Islands, Transatlantic Passage

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Hello Everyone,

In our December 2007 newsletter we finished off as we were waiting for the fog to clear in Caiscais (near Lisbon), Portugal, to begin our passage to the Canary Islands. There is a lot of ship traffic along this part of the Portuguese coast and although we have radar and AIS (Automatic Identification System), we don't feel it is prudent to head out in poor conditions. The radar and AIS are tools we use for safety en route.

It was nearly 4 p.m. by the time the fog horns stopped and the visibility started to improve so we cast off the docklines. It was December 5th and our destination was Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, in the Canary Islands. The high pressure system that had hovered over us for most of the voyage was still in place so once again we had exceptionally light winds so had to begin the passage by motoring, but by the 3rd day the wind finally picked up and we were able to set up our new downwind rig and sail wing and wing by poling out the self-tacking jib. We have a Selden carbon fibre spinnaker pole on Distant Shores which is so light to handle and manage at sea. To our delight we were able to make 5 kts of speed with only 7-8 knots of apparant wind and sailed happily through the afternoon and most of the night.

However as the wind increased it shifted, giving us a better course to Madeira rather than the Canary Islands. Since we had had to do so much motoring since we'd left England on November 25th, we decided to just keep sailing and make an unplanned stop in Madeira. We had visited the semi-tropical Portuguese island of Madeira in 1991 and had loved it so much we had ended up spending 6 weeks exploring and hiking this lush mountainous island so it was not a difficult decision and Gord was keen since he had never been there before. This is the beauty of electronic navigation with our Raymarine E120 plotter and Navionics Platinum charts not only do we have detailed charts of all harbours so we can safely change our plans, the Platinum charts include written pilot guides and aerial photos of many harbours. Fabulous tools!

The weather was constantly getting warmer and on the morning of December 8, just before we made landfall in Madeira's main port of Funchal, we were finally able to dress in shorts and enjoy the warmth of the sunshine. The marina in Funchal is not large and usually visiting yachts are required to raft against the quay but since we were arriving so late in the season several local yachts were already hauled out and the harbourmaster was able to give us a slip to tie up in on one of the floating pontoons. This meant we didn't have to worry about the tides or scramble up a barnacle encrusted wall. Another nice thing was that we got to meet a lot of the local sailors who were all big fans of the Distant Shores TV series which airs in Madeira on Travel Channel and Sailing Channel. They recognized us right away and in welcome presented us with their club burgee and a bottle of Madeira wine. They also called the local newspaper which did a story about our voyage and subsequently we had many Madeiran fans come down to the marina for a tour of our new boat.

We spent a few days in Funchal rediscovering the town which was so beautifully decorated for the Christmas season and at night was ablaze with some of the most amazing Christmas decorations we have ever seen. Each evening there were concerts by the waterfront and stalls set up where we could sample foods. The shops are wonderful and we all got a lot of Christmas shopping done here! Gord would soon be heading home in time for Christmas and was looking forward to a relaxing holiday season with Sue and the rest of his family. It had been a cold strenuous voyage south from England and we had appreciated Gord's dedication and input throughout the trip.

From Madeira we made a fast 2-day passage south to Gran Canaria, sailing all the way, and arrived at the Muelle Deportivo de Las Palmas, the main marina in Las Palmas, on December 13. Here we began preparations for our upcoming transatlantic passage and did a crew change.

Joining us on the next leg of the voyage from the Canary Islands to Antigua in the Caribbean, would be Wayne and Angie Attwood of Plymouth, England, who flew in from Turkey. Wayne and Angie have been cruising in the Mediterranean for the last 2 years aboard their Warrior 37, Hitrapia. Wayne and Angie have been considering doing a transatlantic passage aboard their own boat in 2009 so were enthusiastic about getting some experience with us aboard Distant Shores to see how what it would be like and to help them plan better for a safe voyage to the Caribbean aboard Hitrapia. At this time the longest passage they had undertaken was 3 days from Malta to the Ionian Islands in Greece. This was to be Paul and my 4th transatlantic passage and we were looking forward to a comfortable passage with the new boat.

We had a few delays waiting for additional equipment to be shipped in and after doing the installations, making a few more improvements to the rig, and provisioning the boat we set off on Christmas Eve with brisk winds and a good forcast. However the next day the steering system started to make a terrible screeching sound so we altered course and pulled in to the most western island in the Canaries, El Hierro, to investigate the problem. Paul and Wayne pulled everything apart while Angie and I prepared a roast Christmas dinner and discovered that it was just a rudder bearing that needed a little oil so was easily dealt with.

After a good night's sleep we started out again for Antigua across the Atlantic, and here I'll hand over the newsletter to Paul to give you the details of the passage.

Transatlantic Lessons

Which Route to Take?
Old time advice is to “head south until the butter melts” then point the bows to the Caribbean. Nowadays with margarine and other spreads this can be tricky ;-) A more reasonable strategy is to head south-west from the Canary Islands until you pick up the trade winds and choose a latitude to head along. The reason for all this is that you are quite likely to encounter head winds or calms around the Canaries and you want to save time and fuel by getting to the favourable winds as soon as possible. Our choice was for the traditional “Southern Route” where we sailed south to roughly 19 degrees North and 30 degrees West (19N 30W) then headed west along 18-19 degrees latitude.

Weather Forecasting Options
Before we set sail from the Canary Islands we had access to the internet from The Sailors' Bar on the waterfront in the Las Palmas marina in Gran Canaria, so we were able to get a 1-week forecast to cover the first week of the trip to just past the Cape Verde Islands which are south of the Canary Islands. We used Windfinder and Weatheronline to get detailed wind predictions.

At sea we used our Icom 802 Marine SSB to speak with other sailors at sea on the Westbound Cruisers net on 8188 USB at 1300 UTC to receive and share weather information, and also to speak with Herb Hilgenberg on 12,359 USB at 2000 UTC who gives incredibly detailed forecasts from his home in Burlington Ontario Canada to sailors around the Atlantic. Alas Herb was on a well-deserved vacation for the first part of our trip so we did not pick him up until Day 13. We also gave position reports and passed messages home through the Mississauga Maritime Net, a Ham radio net that meets daily on 14,122.5 at 1230 UTC, so were in touch with the world although physically isolated at sea.

Miles Run
Our daily runs were quite impressive especially at the start of the trip when we had good winds. Unfortunately we ran out of wind with just 700 miles left to go and slowed down a lot. We were conserving our remaining fuel for the landfall. Here is the table of our 24-hour runs. Note: Our log shows more miles run than this – the table is just of miles made good from point to point over each 24-hour period. The actual track we travelled is longer.

Day 1 – 163 nm
Day 2 – 167 nm
Day 3 – 172 nm
Day 4 – 148 nm
Day 5 – 142 nm
Day 6 – 160 nm
Day 7 – 165 nm
Day 8 – 164 nm
Day 9 – 143 nm
Day 10 – 139 nm
Day 11 – 150 nm
Day 12 – 129 nm – Calms begin – Winds astern less than 10 knots for a week
Day 13 – 125 nm – Spoke to Herb – SouthBound II
Day 14 – 121 nm
Day 15 – 124 nm
Day 16 – 91 nm
Day 17 – 115 nm
Day 18 – 80 nm – Arrived in the Caribbean at English Harbour, Antigua

We finished in just under 18 days and were all quite proud of “Distant Shores” - she did a great job!!

Sailing Rig
Part of the reason we wanted to have the two roller furling sails on “Distant Shores” was so we could run twin headsails when we sailed downwind. My plan was to pole the smaller jib up to the windward side using our downwind pole, and to use the genoa to the leeward side held. Since we just carry one pole, I planned to put a block on the end of the main boom and use it as a second pole. The main boom can be pushed out to the spreaders and held forward with a preventer. I am happy to report that this rig works quite well with the wind astern. We set this up in the trade-winds and used it for most of the Atlantic crossing. We flew it day and night for days on end. There were a number of light wind days when we could fly this in the rolly conditions we had when you would not have been able to fly a spinnaker. And because it was so well tied off we didn't worry about it at night as we would with a spinnaker, which requires more tending to. In the event that the wind piped up and we wanted to reef, a single person on watch could easily roll away some of the genoa. In the event that the wind came around to the beam we could roll the self-tacking job away and just leave the pole out in position. This meant that whoever was on watch could handle the operation all by themselves even at night and didn't have to venture up to the fore-deck.

In 50,000 miles of sailing Sheryl and I have always sailed with just the 2 of us on board. This is the first major passage that we have done with 4 people on board to share the watches and it made a big difference. Having the extra sleep was wonderful and it was great to have the company as well. We did a system of 3 hours on watch during most of the day and 2-hour watches from midnight to 6. Wayne and Angie took watch together so we divided the day into three watch teams.
0000-0200 – Sheryl
0200-0400 – Paul
0400-0600 – Wayne & Angie
0600-0900 – Sheryl
0900-1200 – Paul
1200-1500 – Wayne & Angie
1500-1800 – Sheryl
1800-2100 – Paul
2100-0000 – Wayne & Angie
When you sail with just two people on board there is a real battle to get enough sleep. After your watch you quickly hop into bed and it seems you have just fallen asleep when its your watch again, especially in the wee hours. In bad weather you may be awakened to help with a sail change and lose even more sleep. We always found we slept on our off-watches, even during the day just to try to catch up making it lonely for the person on watch. Short-handed passage-making can be a bit of an endurance test, and although we got into the rhythm of long passages it was always a huge relief to get ashore and have a true sleep at the end. This passage was completely different! Although it was still tough to wake up for my 0200 midnight watch, I then had a 5 hour sleep until 0900 to recover and was able to get up then and enjoy the day and the company aboard.

Crew Choices
We had a wonderful passage with Wayne and Angie as extra crew. If you plan to pick up crew for a long passage I can't stress how important it is to carefully choose compatible crewmembers. It can be a long time on a boat trapped with people you may not get along with! Wayne and Angie were perfect and we all got along great. On the last day Angie said she was almost hoping to just continue sailing rather than make landfall since she was having such a nice time. They were both so considerate, cheerful, helpful, and experienced that it was a joy to have them on board. This, our 4th transatlantic passage, was a pleasure rather than an endurance test. We ate well, slept well, spoiled ourselves with luxurious showers thanks to our Schenker watermaker, enjoyed lots of laughs and storytelling, and all had a wonderful time learning what a safe comfortable boat our new Southerly 42RST is for long-distance passage-making.

We hope the New Year is off to a good start for you and that fair winds and smooth seas are in store!

Sheryl and Paul Shard
Aboard SV Distant Shores
Leverick Bay
British Virgin Islands
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