Thurs 14th December
We had waited out the last week for a calm weather window, and it seemed to be looking better. Today was still a bit blustery with residual swell from the north, but we decided to get going at least as far as the south of Tenerife. We had farewell drinks the night before aboard neighbouring boat, SV Liloe, and said goodbye (for now). R cooked up a kilo of goat meat (€4.50) from the Dino supermarket. After topping up a gas bottle and checking out from the marina and from Spanish territory (half an hour of form filling at the maritime police office), we motored down the coast from Santa Cruz with just the staysail set as it was still blowing 15-18 knots, and too lumpy to set the running sail booms or the main. We rounded the Red Mountain a little after dark and sought the anchorage – to find Alicea there before us! Her crew G & A had bad news – the autopilot arm had sheared off the steering quadrant (an alloy casting), which would be a challenge to replace. There was too much swell for boat-visiting so we settled down to some leftover takeway curry, and turned in. We gave Alisea a wave as they motored into San Miguel early next morning.
The Red Mountain, Tenerife
So we sailed on a Friday about 8:15, a little after dawn, having set up the running sail booms. Distance to go: 802 miles. Mount Teide on Tenerife casts a big wind shadow, so it was some time before we picked up the northerly breeze and could set the twin headsails, making 5-6 knots. But soon it had faded, leaving us rolling heavily in the swell, so the engine came on to keep speed up. The wind picked up I the afternoon, then blew light overnight. We started on the goat casserole for dinner. Two yachts kept pace but gradually went ahead, and we were passed by just two ships on this day. We were also joined by a group of dolphins swimming round the boat – seemed to be hunting more than playing.
111 NM sailed in the first 24 hours. After a very slow night, the engine went on at 05:00, but we still only made 4 knots in the lumpy sea, and must have had some unfavourable current. A freighter trundled across our path – CPA too close for comfort so R took avoiding action. In the afternoon the sea calmed more but wind was still too weak to sail. Dinner was Spag Bol, then we settled again to 3-hour night watches: J 8-11pm & 2-5 am; R 11 -2am & 5-8 am. This pattern gave us enough rest and worked well. R set up twin head sails for motor sailing.
573 miles to go (128 in 24 hours). Wind still light but from NE, making 6 knots under engine and headsails. The wind gradually increased until finally we could turn off the engine at 12:30, sailing about 4.5- 5 knots, wind 7-9 k behind. We were in touch (using the Inreach device) with SV Fortino, already in Cape Verde, and got a message to expect 25 knot winds ahead. But for a while the wind speed decreased and our speed with it. R put up the main with a single reef. We had some rain showers (some torrential), then the wind increased as predicted. 2nd and 3rd reefs were taken in, and the twin headsails were furled. Goat curry for dinner.
It was a wild night sail with wind mostly 20-25 knots behind us but the Hydrovane just about coped with keeping her on course. On J’s watch 2-5 am saw red light to westward – probably another yacht. The light crept closer so J adjusted the Hydrovane to avoid it. Eventually the other yacht speeded up and went off ahead to the West, showing a white light.
456 miles to go (117 sailed). The sea was still lumpy with some larger waves, and despite the decreasing latitude it was cloudy and cold – we needed coats! Ambition II was making 4.5 – 5 knots all day, and we rested when possible, being tired from the night before. A lone Shearwater was seen (generally there were no birds around, except very occasionally a storm petrel). We had the last of the Goat That Keeps Giving for lunch! We ploughed on to the SW with winds varying 17- 25 knots. Another wild ride night but with stars showing through some gaps, and some calmer periods. Phosphorescence was spectacular in our wake! R had tried sleeping in the pilot berth and propped up in the saloon, to avoid getting thrown about, but in the end we both slept better in front cabin in spite of the noise and plunging motion!
340 miles to go (116 sailed). Quite big waves and swell from the NE. R got a weather forecast from the Inreach: wind ENE 14-18k. It was sunny for a change. Groups of flying fish (shoals or flocks?) were seen in the air around us, flying upwind to escape some predator, but none landed on deck. All day sailing trade wind – style about 5k with blue skies and small white fluffy clouds. R had a go at fishing but of course, no luck! Other spare time was spent reading up on the Cape Verdes and checking tidal streams for Mindelo. Last of the mince with a can of red beans for dinner. Cans from now on! It was a fairly smooth start to the night, with stars visible through thin cloud (we saw little of the moon this trip, it rose at dawn and set with the sun for most of the passage). The Plough at this latitude is below the horizon for much of the time, and we were beginning to see unfamiliar constellations in the South. R heard dolphins round the boat in the darkness.
Giving the Hydrovane a helping hand
220 miles to go (120 sailed). The wind increased in the early hours to 20-25 knots. The sky was hazy with dust from the Sahara. The swell built too, but largely from behind, with only a few waves tipping the boat over. We had a weather message from Jon W – wind due to increase Thurs – Fri.
At noon the Hydrovane was struggling to cope, gradually sending us off course to the south. R hand-steered for 20 mins, adjusting wheel and vane until the motion became more comfortable and the boat was back on course, with the wheel lashed at about 45 degees. Max speed so far – 11 knots down the face of a wave (18 ton surf board?). J lost her best Tilley hat overboard when trying to look over the hood – gusts very strong at 30 knots or more. But the wind moderated about 4.30pm to 16-19 knots NE, boat speed 5-7 knots. Some waves were still high but well spaced apart, so the boat was generally steady. The sky ahead had a greyish yellowish appearance with the sun veiled in faint mist- like Sahara sand. During the evening, the sea gradually reduced. Overnight we had a variable amount of wind so we were constantly adjusting the Hydrovane. Just one distant light was seen – a yacht or fishing boat, which gradually got ahead, then our courses diverged.
A welcome, if dusty, dawn at sea
79 miles to go (131 sailed). Wind and waves moderate but overhead a hazy sun with cumulous clouds. Later the sun was brighter between clouds but with a dust haze low down. We ran the engine out of gear for half an hour to charge batteries (solar panels not keeping up due to cloud cover). Wind generally around 20 knots, boat speed 4-5 knots, Two cargo vessels seen late in the day, one heading for Mindelo, the other NE. With a strong NE wind, which can funnel between the islands, we were not happy about going into Mindelo while the opposing NE going spring tide was running. At our current rate of progress we would be entering the strait before midnight, too soon for comfort. So we hove – to about 25 miles from our destination, and let the boat drift at 1-2 knots to the south for about 90 minutes. Actually the wind moderated and when we resumed our course the mainsail banged about in the swell – so we dropped the main and set the running sails again, which was more comfortable. The island lights gradually loomed out of the murk on either side, then we spotted the Ilheu dos Passaros lighthouse, our guide into Mindelo harbour. After passing between this rocky islet and the shore, the running sails were furled and we worked through the anchored ships by staysail alone, and just started the engine to come into the yacht anchorage at about 03:00.
Mindelo anchorage in a harmattan
We slept well after a celebratory glass of wine, and rose next day to prepare for going into the marina, only to find a full Harmattan blowing, and the town hardly visible through the sandy haze! With the running booms lowered, courtesy and Q flags raised, and ropes and fenders prepared, R called up the marina on VHF to request a dinghy to assist. A dinghy appeared, and we followed it in, one of the Marineros coming aboard to help get our bow ropes onto a buoy. The stern was swung round to the pontoon and made fast, all the lines under high tension with rubber snubbers at the stern, because the pontoon and all the boats were heaving in the swell! Now all we had to do was check into the marina, immigration and police departments, before settling into this African city for Christmas…