March 2004
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Atlantic Crossing

In Gibraltar, we waited for a weather window to cross the Atlantic.  We had covered a lot of ground – and ocean – in the last 16 months.  Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Maylaysia, Thailand, Maldives, Indian Ocean, up the Red Sea to Eritrea, Sudan, Egypt, the Suez Canal and to the Med.  Then, Cyprus, Turkey, Greece and north to Croatia and Venice.  Around the boot of Italy to Rome, Barcelona, Valencia and then Gibraltar.  Just one ocean to cross and we could look forward to a season of simple cruising where we might only cover 1000 miles in 6 months. 

We were looking forward to the relaxing time we would have crossing the Atlantic.  With so much traffic and navigational obstacles during the past 18 months, an open ocean voyage with trade winds and long open ocean swells was just what we needed.  Nothing to do, no touring, no people, no places to be, and last but not least, no boat projects.  Simply eating, reading, and sleeping.  The heady feeling of wind in the sails and a warm tropical island a mere 3700 miles away was just what we needed.

The weather stayed bad.  We had reservations to fly from Trinidad to Los Angeles on December 17.  That was the last day where we could use our free airline miles.  We hate trying to meet a schedule but we still had time so we were not worried.  The NOAA forecast was showing huge seas.  No need to get beat up early in the game.  The weather got worse and we watched the 2003 Bluewater Rally boats depart.  Most returned licking their wounds.  We decided to just wait it out.  A couple of days later we had our window.

Starting with a bang, we were launched out the Straits of Gibraltar in gale force winds, and large lumpy seas.  The funnel effect of the straits increase the winds 2-4 times.  Strong currents can also make things exciting.  And, there were heaps of big ships to work around and to top it of it was cold.  Sound good so far? 

Sea Witch handled it quite well and we were off.  Then, just as quickly as we started off it shut down and we found ourselves motoring in rolly polly seas on the way to the Canary Islands.  The seas flattened out as we got around the corner of Africa.  We knew we needed to get south of the Canaries to find wind so we settled down for about 6 days of motoring.

Our time spent in the Mediterranean would best be described by the word motoring rather than sailing.  We’d found little to no wind and the occasional blow almost always was from the wrong direction.  But, oh well, what the heck, diesel was only $5 a gallon.  Fill’er Up!  So, we were looking forward to good trade winds.

We motored most of the way to the Canaries.  We had reduced visibility for the first few days with the air full of dust and sand coming off of Africa.   By the 4th night, things had cleared up and we had beautiful skies and a very bright moon.  Jeff went down to wakeup Gail for her watch.  We both went into the cockpit for the turnover and Gail said it seemed very dark out.   The moon was gone.  Total lunar eclipse.  What a surprise!

We made a short stops at Gran Canaria and then La Gomera for some provisioning, fuel and a nice break with friends before we made the big leap across the Atlantic.  In Gran Canaria, the 2003 ARC boats were ramping up in full force for their Atlantic crossing.  There was a general feeling of excitement all around the docks as they prepared their boats.  Many were just beginning their adventure and this would be their first off shore passage.  It was fun to watch, remembering how exciting it was for us the first time. With 217 boats entered, we were very happy to be leaving a week ahead of them

On a beautiful sunny day with a perfect breeze for our spinnaker we left the Canaries for our last ocean passage in our first circumnavigation. We kicked back, went into relaxed mode, and were enjoying the gentle pull of our biggest spinnaker when Heartsong III gave us a call on the radio announcing 40 plus knots of wind on its way.  Heartsong III had left a couple of hours behind us and was being plastered.  Down came the spinnaker and up when a staysail.  Strong winds showed up for a few hours and then, wham, the wind was gone again. 

Before leaving Gibraltar Sea Witch, Heartsong III, and Poppy 1 started a radio net called the Rum Line.  Our little group grew, and before we new it we had a good group of about 10 boats. We were all sizes, different nationalities, and headed for different locations. We checked in twice a day with each other giving location and wind conditions hoping someone had found some wind. 

We spent hours looking at the Grib files hoping to find wind.  Our ham radio access – Airmail/Winlink - gave us the ability to download larger grib files and Jeff became the weatherman reading off customized information to each boat for their particular location.  Everyone was searching for a breeze but the forecast was bleak.

Wind was slight and far away.  The diesel was burning quickly and we were tossing coins to decide if we should divert to the Cape Verde Islands for fuel, or stay on a course for Trinidad and hope the wind gods would smile on us one more time.  The seas were glassy with barely a 2-knot breeze, which is certainly not enough to move a 44,000-pound boat.

Everyone in the fleet was changing sails to take advantage of any little bit of wind.  While it stayed light, we all got enough wind to at least keep moving.  The wind filled in for the second week and average 10-15 behind us.  We were all moving at moderate paces but nothing like a good tradewind passage.  The event for days to come would be boat aerobics.

The start of week 3 brought stronger breezes.  A day or two later we had a strong cross swell which made sleep almost impossible.  Wind, no wind, squalls, and confused seas. Sail changes, pole up, and pole down, boom out, and lines forming a cat’s cradle all over the decks.  We tried every sail combination we could think of.  So much for that nice relaxing passage we were looking forward too. 

While Jeff closely examined the weather he found disturbing some circular activity in the central Caribbean Sea.  We were heading south to Trinidad but Heartsong III was hoping to make Florida.  We sent them the Grib file.  (Airmail allowed us to connect boat to boat without burdening the Sailmail system with large files.)  The next morning, they decided to head for Trinidad.  A bit of good news for us since we could help them celebrate the completion of their circumnavigation.  2 days later, the weather service forecast Odett and then Peter.  The storms moved well north of us but right across what would have been Heartsong’s route.  Heartsong had made a good decision.

The last 6 days into Trinidad were mostly very uncomfortable with some sporadic good sailing.  We did get the spinnaker up one evening during Jeff’s watch and Gail was able to keep it up until morning.  With a full moon, we had a nice night.  Unfortunately, much of the last 6 days was rolly seas and a strong cross-swell.  Constant boat aerobics.  We kept trying different sail combinations and points of sail to keep the boat from rolling but nothing worked.  We stuffed many pillows around ourselves trying to wedge into the bunk and get some sleep.  It didn’t work.  But, we made a safe landfall and anchored in a beautiful bay.  The next morning, we were warmly welcomed by the folks at Crews Inn marina.  It was nice not to be rocking.   2900 miles from the Canaries and 22 days.  Not the wonderful tradewind passage we had hoped for but nothing worse than a week of discomfort. 

We were in Trinidad.  Home of steel drums and the biggest Carnival celebration in the Caribbean.  The Marina had a Christmas party that night where we were treated to a buffet and danced to pan music until we collapsed into a restful slumber. 

After settling Sea Witch in we flew to the States for our annual holiday visit.  As usual six weeks went by terribly fast while visiting family and friends.  We returned to Trinidad just in time to experience some of their festivities during Carnival Season.  Bright elegant costumes were on parade along with pan bands and calypso music.

Some boat projects have been completed and contractors rounded up to work on Sea Witch in July when we return to Trinidad for hurricane season.  Our website - www.sailsafely.com - has been updated with almost 200 new pictures and we are finishing this newsletter.  We are meeting heaps of new people and making new friends, but sure miss all the old ones!  Congratulations to Heartsong III, Poppy I and Nighthawk for finishing their circumnavigations.

And here we are once again waiting for a weather window.   We are heading north up the island chain of the Eastern Caribbean to see what they have to offer for the next few months. Our schedule includes scuba diving, anchoring in some beautiful bays and doing absolutely nothing!  We’ll report on all of that later.

 
Jeff & Gail Casher
Sea Witch