Crossing the Atlantic

At the start

Wave, wave, wave, wind, wave, wave, wind, wind, wave, prepare dough for baguettes, wash the dishes, bake, eat, wash the dishes, read, wave, wave, wind, spherical noise from the radio, wave, wave, wind, sleep, keep watch, wave, wave, wind, wind, wave, wave, adjust the sails, wave, wave, wind, wind.

There isn’t much to do. The ARC+ field has pulled apart. The plotter shows a 20 nm radius and there are no AIS symbols of other ships. That means on the one hand free passage, on the other hand nobody is near by and thus nobody can be called for a chat. The daily radio broadcasts via short wave were mostly limited to position and weather reports – and spherical noise. We connected the iPad to our plotter, that way we could see the plotter display everywhere. During the night watch this allowed us to lie outside on the padded couch instead of sitting at the uncomfortable helm station. If the sail fluttered we could hear it from the couch and we were also quickly up at the helm station or for a look around. (A cushion for the seat at the helmstation is on my to-do list of sewing jobs.)

We were lucky with the wind. In the beginning there was again a lot of wind, but we were able to set the red Parasailor. That meant sailing downwind without manoeuvres. Gradually the wind did ease. It blew between 9 and 17 knots, during the day up to 12/14 knots, at night 16/17. The direction also remained fairly constant. All in all typical trade wind. 

Sometimes there were periods when the wind was constantly turning 10°-20°, that meant that we had to make sure that the Parasailor didn’t collapse. We had set the autopilot  to “No Drift”, thus the ship didn’t follow all the wind shifts. You just have to make sure that the angle to the wind is not too small.

Mathias had registered at the ARC+ as Net Controller for the daily radio broadcasts. This role rotates and the task of the Net Controller is to bring some structure in the daily radio rounds on short wave. But Mathias‘ main goal was to learn how to set up DSC on the short wave for routine calls. DSC is something like SMS by radio. If we run our radio in DSC watch mode day and night, we can receive a DSC call on a routine frequency to our ship’s MMSI (211254740). The DSC message contains a frequency on which the actual call should take place. This is the only way to communicate spontaneously with others without having to set fixed times and frequencies in advance. The procedure is a bit tedious at the beginning, but in Saint Lucia in the port we finally managed it. So, all friends with an SSB system, try it out.☺

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On the third day we changed sails. Instead of the red one, the blue, larger Parasailor was set. We had to shorten the spi-halyard (the attachment line on which the sail is pulled up) by one meter, because the upper end of the cover was abraded. It can probably be shortened one more time, but then we need a new one. We have a spare halyard, but we used it as port sheet for the Parasailor. It is long enough that this sheet can also be led to the helm station. 

Our sister ship (the second Neel 51 Trimaran) has bad luck with his Spi-halyard. On the first leg it went into the mast. This time it broke and they had to fish the Parasailor out of the water. They sailed for quite a while only with jib and genoa. Then one of the crew climbed into the mast and repaired the halyard. They took the Parasailor down for the night to avoid risking another rescue in the dark. Thus they drove quite far behind us in the field of the other ships. We were quite far ahead, which has the clear disadvantage that there is hardly anyone nearby.

The fifth day at sea was Mathias birthday. Since I usually took over the watch between midnight and 1 o’clock, there was a cake for Mathias at 0:00 UTC. I had bought quark in Las Palmas and had taken it with me, so Mathias got his favourite Quarktorte, even though he always claims that I never prepare it for him. 😉 We called our son, who has his birthday on the same day, at a more humane time by satellite phone.

Apart from the flying fish, which we had to collect regularly from the deck, we twice caught a fish. It was a very small fish and much of it went overboard as food for larger fish. But the fillet was quite tasty. The second fish was only slightly bigger and we preferred to throw it back into the water and hoped it would survive.

In the middle of the Atlantic you can also meet fishing boats. We saw one night on the AIS one with a Japanese name (what are they doing in the Atlantic?). Since we can’t make any great course changes with our Parasailor, Mathias radioed them. It took a while before anyone even answered on the radio. A sailboat has right of way, but even if the voice from the radio promised in broken English to watch out for us, it continued on collision course. We rather changed our course a little to have enough distance during the encounter.

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This paragraph contains a comment by Mathias, he has once again proven to be a debugger:The „R“ in ARC+ stands for „Rally“, and so the race control sent every day at 12:00 UTC a list with the positions of all ships, and how far away they were from the finish. That was right up my alley, I could follow what our rivals were doing, who was threatening to overtake or who could still be overtaken. Among other things, there was also a column VMG24 in this list. VMG stands for Velocity Made Good, and the 24 stands for the fact that this is a value averaged over the last 24 hours. Normally VMG means the component of the velocity vector towards the wind, but in this context it was the velocity towards the destination (and in any case not the boat velocity, which is usually not exactly towards the destination, because of tacking and so on). With this number one could estimate much better how the other ships performed in comparison to oneself. A ship in the vicinity with a higher VMG24 threatened to overtake us, while a ship in front of us with a smaller VMG24 might be overtaken by us soon. Super! I could calculate again! Making forecasts, etc. My favourite occupation. However – my calculations did not match the figures in the list. So I started to calculate the VMG24 myself from two position lists that were 24 hours apart. The results were different from the official ones. I therefore informed the race control, who first said: „No, everything is correct, this is the average value over the last 6 positions of the ship“, but VMG is mathematically seen a linear function, and only the first and the last position are relevant, all positions in between are canceled because of linearity. So I wrote to the support of Yellow Bricks Tracker, they also replied: „No, everything is correct, we’ve been doing this for 10 years, very experienced sailors have programmed it, it’s correct“, average over 6 positions, etc. etc… But, not two hours later, a new e-mail comes from Yellow Bricks: „Uh, so, we looked again, and our VMG24 is in reality a VMG16, so only averaged over 16 hours“. That meant after 10 years of using the algorithm, they had to wait for little Mathias to find the error… ☺But no hard feelings against Yellow Bricks, their support is great! We got our track from Hamburg to Las Palmas added by them. Very nice!

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Friends on the horizon: the Zan

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Towards the end of the crossing we got more unstable weather. First we drove with the big Parasailor through a squall, which luckily brought only wind up to about 20 knots. Then the wind dropped to 4 knots and then to 2 knots. Mathias turned on the engine, which woke me up and I quickly got dressed, when I saw that the lower edge of the sail next to us was dragging through the water. Deck light on, with safety belt and helmet on deck. In a wind of 2 knots you can even recover a 283 m2 sail on your own. I still had to lead the salvage line around a cleat, but then the job was done quite fast. Just, in this night both of us got little sleep. The calm wind continued and as we knew thanks to the radio contact that most of the ships around us were also under motor, we allowed ourselves the penalty miles and motored.

We used this time to swap the spi-halyard after all. The halyard was abraded on approx. 2 m. Now we replaced it with the spare one. We attached the new halyard to the old one with tape and sewing thread and then pulled it carefully through the mast.

The calm wind offered the opportunity to stop the ship and take care of the Watt&Sea hydrogenerator. It had displaced itself at an angle and no longer supplied electricity. A fishing net, which had got caught in the propeller, had got lost again in the squall. Without the power charge from the hydrogenerator we were a little short in supply. There are some clouds in the sky and the sail shades one side of the solar cells. If the autopilot, AIS and radar run 24 h a day on electricity, it can become scarce. Of course the batteries  can be charged by the machine, but we don’t like to do that and it costs diesel.   

When we stopped, we tied a line between the two outer hulls and Mathias went into the water, connected to the ship by another line, to swim over from the outer hull to the middle hull. Directly from board we cannot reach the hydrogenerator, as the dinghy is in the way, we would have to climb through under it. The Watt&Sea was quickly repaired.

Then there was the task how to get Mathias back on board. The bathing ladder on the outer hull proved to be too short and the up and down movement too violent to climb up even in the light swell (<1m wave). Our emergency rope ladder attached to the central hull was not helpful either, as it had no counter-support and Mathias legs simply got under the bridge between the two hulls and he could not pull himself up. In the end we brought the spi-halyard to the back and I pulled him back on board.

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Later another ARC+ ship showed us a photo of it’s hydrogenerator with bite traces of a shark. Good thing Mathias hadn’t seen this before his bathing action!

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After the night with little sleep and all the actions the wind refreshed again and Mathias wanted to set the spinnaker late in the afternoon, in about 18 knots of wind. That was when his crew went on strike. I wanted to sail somehow calmer, with not quite as much sail area. So we only set the main sail and the genoa. We had to sail a more southerly course and at night a lot of additional steering was necessary. This mutiniy night is well to be seen on the satellite tracker, it is a small hook in southerly direction, some days before reaching Saint Lucia…

The next day the wind strength and direction were right again and we set the red Parasailor. The ship sails much calmer with these sails, which was good because I was not feeling so well for the last two days. 

Only shortly before the finishing line we took the Parasailor down and set only the Genoa, the last stretch into Rodney Bay you have to sail beating against the wind. Since we arrived around 4 o’clock in the morning and it was still dark, we used the engine to help us and didn’t unpack the mainsail for the last mile.

At crossing the finishing line we had used 12 days and 19 hours for the trip.

In the bay we anchored and went to sleep. Next morning after a good breakfast we prepared everything, took out the fenders and drove into the marina.

Like all other participants of the ARC+, we were warmly welcomed and received a small gift basket from the tourism authority.

It’s a good feeling to have mastered the crossing.

It was very nice to see the other comrades-in-arms again, who arrived one after the other in the course of the next days.

We remembered the customs procedure in St. Lucia from an earlier holiday here as difficult and tedious. You have to fill out a form with three carbon copies and then go through three different stations. This time Mathias was forewarned and tried to be especially nice to the officials. When asked how much cash we had with us, it was not quite clear whether it was perhaps too little. Tourism is a main source of income for St. Lucia. Mathias said that he preferred to pay with credit cards. Whereupon the lady of the immigration authority began a conversation about security of chip cards. There she had caught the right conversational partner. 😉 She made the following suggestion to increase the security of the cards: If a gangster forces you at gun point to enter your PIN number at the ATM, there should be a security/panic pin that you can use instead of the correct one. This panic pin should lead to the card simply being withdrawn from the machine and everything being blocked. Mathias praised her for the good idea and suggested that she apply for a patent. Anyway, he had an easy time in the immigration office, he told the next official about our daughter’s friend who came from St. Lucia and with the third he even tried to make some remarks about football….

Exploring the island:

However, we did not stay until the award ceremony because Mathias had booked a flight to Hamburg. On Sunday, 8.12. we went on to Martinique. The island is only 25 nm away and the crossing was fast. Here we lie at anchor until at least Christmas and enjoy the Caribbean flair.

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There is a list of results for the rally. According to it we came in third place in the Multihulls category. But what does that mean? Second place went to a ship whose skipper died during the crossing. Among the participants who arrived later is a crew consisting of parents and two small children, some of the ships had experienced regatta sailors on board. The winning ship has no dinghy to save weight. Why do such ships have to be ranked at all, how can these individual human achievements be compared? Everyone feels like a winner anyway, who has mastered the distance and the great task and you are happy for all the others who also arrive well.

We hope to meet many of our new found friends often on the oceans of the world.

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Dieser Beitrag hat 2 Kommentare

  1. Congrats about your accomplishments and both creating a great Blog + crossing! I always look forward to the next one!
    When you have time, you might want read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_longitude
    and dive deeper in history during nightly hours. Many related stories and books go back to early 1600s. It is amazing what we assume normal today without considering our rich scientific history! Have safe travels, and hope to see you on US East Coast = Hilton Head Island (https://www.hiltonheadislandsc.gov/ourisland/history.cfm) in near future.
    Cheers, Hans

  2. thank you very much for this beautiful blog and congratulations for sharing your experience
    we will continue to follow your trip

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