Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Cape Verde here we come

We had a fantastic last week in Las Palmas. We were joined by Jenny ( Colin's daughter) , and my wife Bridget as temporary crew members, together with Louise Cook and Nick Orr our new crew mates for crossing the Atlantic.

Louise set a about provisioning the boat with her customary energy and expertise while the skipper skived off taking his lady wife for a drive and a walk up the Caldera of Gran Canarias huge volcanic mountain and off to the Hotel Parador for lunch.

The whole ARC circus sprang into action. Lectures in the day were followed by sundowners and parties at night. Of particular note were those by Chris Tibbs a sailor and meteorologist who recommended a new way of emergency steering if the rudder failed, by using the sea anchor drogue, attached by lines to the spinnaker pole attached horizontally across the stern.  If you pull the drogue to port the boat turns to starboard and vice versa. He also suggested an excellent downwind rig combination using the main and poled out genoa on the other side. The trick is fixing the pole in a rigid position using fore and aft pole down lines which can all be controlled from the cockpit and then rolling the genoa in and out as desired. We tried it out today in 25 knot winds and it worked well.

In the evenings the organisers laid on some great parties. The farewell party for the ARC+ and the hello party for the main ARC going direct to St Lucia in two weeks time were arranged on the same night. The Canary islanders arranged traditional dancing which we all joined in followed by a truly spectacular musical show with drag artists , gymnasts and dancers in fantastic costumes mesmerising the sailors .  Kikas crew rose to the occasion dancing the night away in their Kika tea shirts with other sailors shouting, "Kika, we want to be in your crew!".

Almost ready to go

and a brave face or two at the sad goodbyes

but we are away on a cheerful note

On Sunday  10th  November our long awaited departure day arrived  . We slipped our lines at 11.30 am with the crew singing "Good-bye don't cry" accompanied by the skipper scratching away on the fiddle,  waved off by Bridget and Jenny together with Dave Gozzard from Noth Wales who is sailing with the main ARC in Gozzwos a very fast √Član 46. Clive and Judith escorted us to the main harbour entrance in their dinghy and we arrived at the start line between the Cathedral on the landward side and a big red tug acting as the committee boat as the start line. Despite the fact that we are sailing thousands of miles there was a lot of jostling for position on the line and Kika did not disgrace herself going across the line in good order towards the beginning of the fleet. The crew were warned that things could only go downhill from there as she is a medium to heavy displacement boat , comparatively small to many in the fleet. Nevertheless she seemed to keep up with some larger boats as we set off into the wind acceleration zone towards the South of the island.  As the canaries receded into the distance, we all felt we had enjoyed our time with the islanders who are cheerfull, laugh with you and help you when you try out poor Spanish and definitely know how to party at night.
jockeying for position before the start....

....and they're off....Kika flying across the start line

On the afternoon of Sunday 10th November we roared down the wind acceleration zone to the South of Gran Canaria feeling a little queasy in 25 knot winds. We set up the downwind rig of a poled out genoa, took in one reef in the main and settled down for the night. No one slept well because of the rolling of the boat and it being our first night at sea.  I managed to get an email connection on the SSB and found out to our surprise that we were fourth over the line at Las Palmas out of 50 boats and got an official mention in rally dispatches. Not bad for an old girl like Kika. Colin had an eventfull watch with two ships on collision courses who he had to call up on the radio, one of whom only changed course at the last moment!

Huge delight as we commence the 850 mile leg to Cape Verde. Almost first over the line.  Not a competitive bone in his body!

On  Monday 11 November we continued to make good progress in the favourable Canary current and clocked up over 140 miles for our first day at sea. We have been unable to get the Aries wind vane to work properly and looking at it this morning,  a small pin appears to have sheared just above the gearing. We tuned into the SSB radio net and heard a number of other boats, but for some reason the transmission seems to have gone on the blink and we could not contact them. Our SSB radio text link is also not making contact with shore stations so we are unable to get weather reports. The other issue is the Duogen generator which is still not charging despite a new regulator, so we are having to run the engine a bit at night to charge the batteries. Just as well she's a sailing boat and can just keep going despite all the snags. We saw our friends Clive and Caroline in Lady Caroline on the AIS and spoke to them up on the VHF radio. They passed us in light airs as a catamaran should but this evening the wind picked up and Kika is running downwind at a steady 6 knots with about a knot of additional canary current in our favour. The sea state is much calmer and despite our lack of contact with the outside world, we are quite content . Made some soda bread under Louise's expert eye and we dined on roast pork. The crew are going to put on weight !
Tuesday 12th November . We're making steady progress , nearly 300 miles over 2 days.  Had a good look at the Duogen with the voltmeter,it does seem to be charging. Worked out how much by switching the batteries off, taking the fuse out of the solar panels and monitoring 3 amps of charge on the battery monitor. 

The downwind rig. Steady trade winds drive us onward.

We're all settling down to the rhythm of life at sea, sleeping better, our bodies compensate naturally to the roll of the boat and we have good appetites. Nick cooked up a delicious stew this evening and we eat dinner just before the sun goes down at 6pm. Spoke to Clive on the satellite phone who told us we were lying 8th in the cruising fleet ; amazing news for an old girl like Kika whose handicap shows she's the third slowest in the fleet. Our SSB radio still won't transmit on voice but we can hear the other boats who are on the radio net in the morning, hopefully we should continue to get steady 15 knot North Easterly trade winds all the way down to the Cape Verde Islands and possibly arrive on Saturday.

Wednesday.  We took sextant sites in the morning and all agreed on the Suns altitude. Doing the maths at sea was considerably harder, especially when there's an app on the i pad which gives an instant position line, but were getting there with the aid of Tom Cunliffes excellent book which simplifies the the subject.
We finally got the SSB radio to transmit and Nick acted as network controller in the morning taking positions off about 5 Yachts. Later in the day there was a distress message from a yacht well to the North of us. They had activated their EPIRB (emergency distress beacon) . As we were well South there were two other yachts  to the North asked to standby by Las Palmas who were coordinating the operation. Fortunately we heard later that it was a false alarm and all was well on Babella. In the evening the wind got up to just over 20 knots. As the forecast was good we decided against reefing the main, which turned out well as we had a stonking run overnight running well over 6 knots with Kika enjoying herself in the ocean swell
Atlantic swell

Nick able to helm with his eyes shut!

Thursday.The big decision of the morning was to gybe and head west on starboard tack, joining the rest of the fleet. So far our strategy of staying east where the wind was strongest on the GRIB files seems to have paid off and Kika, despite her small size and heavy displacement loves a good force 5-6 with a comfortable motion that looks after her crew. Flying fish arrived on the deck overnight and we watch petrels flicking over the crest of the waves. 
At 10am we were approximately 300 miles from Mindelo which means that with luck we should arrive there Saturday am. Hurrah!
Louise has got us all organised to sing a song called "I'll play the posh sailor , nay no never, no more " to the tune of the wild rover when we get into port. During the night the  Raymarine chart plotter packed up downstairs and we are having difficulty maintaining charge on the house batteries. Life must have been a lot simpler before modern electronics wormed their way onto sailing boats.
Friday . We made steady progress Westward and on the morning SSB radio net we were able to hear the rest of the fleet much better. Louise and I finally worked out how to do the calculations for the astro nav and got an accurate position line for our sextant site 3 days ago!  Maybe we will speed up a bit next time. 
The skippers attempts at tying a flying fish to the line and attracting big predators were spectacularly unsuccessful , oddly Colin did not seem at all surprised by this zero score

During the night the wind eased and I got Colin and Nick up with the intention of launching the parasail. Unfortunately the furling line for the genoa was firmly wedged in the roller and we had to spend a couple of hours dismantling the roller, to retrieve a rather mangled line which will require replacement in Mindelo.  By that time the wind had disappeared completely and we had to motor for one and a half hours, the only motoring we did all the way. We woke up to a glorious landfall on Saturday morning steaming in on a broad reach to see the  volcanic Island of Santo Antoa which went from red to brown in the morning light.

Six days at sea and still smiling!

Just as we could see the finishing line on the Island of Sao Vicente the wind dropped, so we hauled up the parasail and eventually got up speed to cross the line at 12. 12 local time and enter the beautiful harbour of Mindelo basking in sunshine with an azure blue sea surrounding a number of rusty looking tramp steamers anchored in the bay.

Approaching the finish, relief and joy

Mindelo bay 

We were guided to our berth by the ARC team where we met lots of old friends on the quayside asking us "  what took you so long? ". Nevertheless as our neighbour Simon in a Hanse 38 put it. For a Morris Minor of the yacht world Kika had put in a very creditable performance.

Photo before going ashore for a shower and a beer

After a shower, shave and new clothes , we piled into the Waterside Bar for a large beer and toasted our arrival. We were very happy, and after a supper in the local cultural centre to the accompaniment of a troupe of dancers and children on the drums we had a whisky nightcap and tumbled into our berths where we slept like babies.

Friday, 1 November 2013

More from Gran Canaria

Kika and its crew have slipped into leisurely Island life.  Over breakfast while our minds are fresh we learn a few new Spanish words to try out later with variable results. Later we try and fix a few things around the boat.We've tried our hand at fibreglass repair. Our friends James and Debs Hedger came to visit for a week.
James built his own boat when we were at Medical School together so under his expert tutelage our damaged anchor locker lid is now as good as new. Still getting the hang of getting a good colour match for any repair , so there's a long way to go before
the job looks professional.
Craftsmen (Bodgers) engaged in a careful restoration.

The economy here is interesting, officially the unemployment rate is 42%, however there's a large cash related tourist economy that never goes anywhere near the taxman, and the figure is not real. The port is busy ,however Las Palmas handling charges for a shipping container are around €89 while most other big ports do it for€55 . The unions are resistant to change so its likely the big companies will pull out, wait for the port to go bust and then come back when it's under new hard nosed management. That's how Capitalism works!

Oil and gas have also been discovered off the coast, so the local company DISA is sub contracting the job out to BP. The papers are full of the Gulf of Mexico disaster and the widely held view that BP can't be trusted.

We visited the beautiful mountainous interior of the Island with James and Debs. The height of the old volcano means that rain gets precipitated on the north of the island and trees can grow in the rich volcanic soil. At altitude Eucalyptus and every kind of conifer thrive. Periodically foresters and the fire service selectively thin the trees, then strip off the lower branches from the remaining trees, removing the brushwood. Finally they start a controlled burn which doesn't kill the trees but gets rid of the undergrowth and is good for the soil. Hey presto in 9 months time the forest floor is brimming with new plants and wildlife. Descending to the coast there are large plantations of banana trees all under plastic to keep moisture in and protect them from the wind which is bad in winter. Nothing really grows at sea level without irrigation all of which comes from desalination plants so farming here isn't easy.

After so much time at sea level it's a joy to walk above the clouds

James and Debs

One carelessly discarded fag!

Jon and James in a desperate attempt to dampen down the undergrowth ahead of the advancing flames!

Too short with the shutter delay! 

Perfectly composed group at the Parador for lunch.

Colin and me decided to do a diving course. The first practical session was in the salty local swimming pool. We both managed to get large quantities of salt water into our nose sinuses eyes and throats. After we had spent the evening spluttering and draining clear fluids from our noses, Colin opined that we should have left underwater to the fishes. However with Jose and Gorkas encouragement things improved and together with our Australian friend and fellow trainee Heather our final dive was at 22metres where we spent nearly an hour talking to large shoals of fishes on a reef. We're just swotting up about Nitrogen narcosis and the bends and if we pass on Monday we can go diving in the Caribean and Pacific clutching our PADI certificates.
Colin and Jon. Perfecting the dance routine

The water was full of life

Fish out of water!  With fellow trainee Heather.

We live in a little boating community on our pontoon. Suzanne from Germany on a cruiser racer called Micadue and Bjorn from Norway with a Hallberg Rassy.  We knocked up a corn beef hash one night all cheap and cheerful, and were rewarded with two posh dinners on Suzanne's Micadue with top hole grilled grouper fish along with wine from her families vineyard.

Dining aboard Kika

Suzanne's response to our corn beef hash

The detail!

The trip back to Bjorns boat was more eventful . Colin took a giant leap onto the stern grabbed hold of the bathing ladder which deployed downwards into the drink along with Colin. It took some time for Colin's head to emerge which was causing a modicum of concern , but Colin explained that as an apprentice diver he was merely taking time to equalise the pressure in his ears. Bjorn revived us with a Norwegian spirit drink called Aquavite drunk when you have put your anchor down . If you don't drink the " anchor toast" Viking legend has it your anchor might slip in the night. Bjorn explained that we could drink at least two toasts as Colin was heavier than his anchor.

Whoops, where's Colin?

Every day more ARC boats arrive including Clive And Judith on Sephina. Our crewmate James has secured a place on another ARC+boat where his engineering skills are already proving invaluable to the skipper so he will beat us to the Caribean in an aluminium cruiser racer where he even has his own cabin!  Dining out is cheap and we have managed to inveigle our way in to the posh Club Nautico which is a great place to chill out and have dinner with a load of Canarians dressed up to the nines. Clive approves! In one weeks time we will be on a hectic schedule of inspections, briefings, visits from home, provisioning and parties that make the ARC what it is . So the next blog will probably come from the Cape Verde Islands after things have calmed down at sea.