We spent a week before the off from Las Palmas, really quite hard work all the last minute preparations. The ARC safety check went without a hitch. Then we decided on contingency planning. What if – even down to what would we eat if the cooker/gas system broke down. A length of gas pipe was bought just in case – we had three propane, and two butane bottles and two of each regulators!
Thursday morning and a quick engine start up all fine except the engine really laboured under load in gear tied to the dock. I stripped the fuel filters bled the system twice but no joy. Thankfully Terry from Kimbalina (another HR42 same age as Asterie) was diving under his hull so took a quick look at our prop. Covered in barnicals. Next day another diver went under and scraped them off – engine revs restored.
Mr HR turned up – checked steering rig and explained why there is a seacock in the forecabin – under the bunks there is a water tight compartment and that seacock lets the water into the bilge after repairing the hull damage – look out whales!
Admiral insurance turned up – Spectra watermakers – lewmar – rigger went up the mast and checked out the whole mast spars and even the split pins on the lifelines.
We then had our number ARC 206 – we went to some of the lectures, Andy and Gary lept into the pool and did the climb into a liferaft, part of the safety brief! Then a flare demo.
We signed up to be a radio net controller for our group A on SSB radio. More about that later.
Sunday morning early start counted the beers – 600 cans – ran the water maker fiddled about until the marina started to look a bit empty. Tried to remember where we'd left the notes from the skippers brief and let the lines go, heart in mouth – we're off!
What a fantastic send off – two bands, one marched down the jetty – then out of the marina to wall to wall people on the harbour.
Over the start line at one minute past one GMT, light winds flat sea so full sail, then no wind then 8 knots so up with the cruising chute – what a great start – then looking at the yachts in front on their ear took it down again. 30 knot gusts toward the evening guess which way? Oh yes – to windward!
Saw two or three yachts turn back, one with a broken backstay poor sod.
Anyway settled into sailing – living on board at sea and into the first night.
After clearing las palmas the island soon was out of sight so only a few lights from other yachts – time to look at the grib files and listen to herb in Canada on the squeak SSB radio. No wind – go South – tropical storm to the west – great!
We decided to sail not motor, so lots of other boats slipped over the horizon, as we stopped in the water at 2 am one night flat calm drifting around in a circle, we got a visit from a dozen dolphins, I sat in awe of these wonderful creatures, alone on deck watching them surface in the starlit flat sea and hearing the breathing, the first sign they where there.
Anyway gentle drift toward Africa – away from st lucia the eta read april 4th 2006 – a little depressing. Then the wind picked up and so did the swell – we really weren't prepared for the mess the sea was in – close to the coast the swell was bouncing back off the shore, then cross waves confused the whole mess. Sails? What to do? Main out poled out genny, boom in the water – reef main slow down, stuck in swell sails flap, cross wave comes sideways BIG roll, like rail to rail, try and cook or sleep in that and it's 30 degrees in the cabin.
A good mate emailed a suggesting of a twizzle rig – so we rolled in the main and stuck up the second spare headsail – this helped no end, the boat picked up speed and the rolling eased as we could stay on top of the swell, actually getting somewhere at last.
Still looking at grib files (wind arrows downloaded from the states by sat phone email) and considering the weather forecast from the ARC office – tropical storm moving away, OK still track south to Cape Verde Isles turn right when the butter melts!
Then we did the radio net on the SSB – 4C 4149 khz to read the weather forecast and do a roll call of all the group A yachts to record their position and report back by email to the ARC office, wow did that take some work and 20 amps every time the transmit button was pressed.
Reports of pirates, a sinking boat, another tropical storm, big roll, gusty winds or none. Not like in the brochure!
Anyway, on with the sailing another bumpy night looking at the bloom of Cape Verde slip off the port quarter, heading at last for St Lucia.
Power management – six batteries don't last long with 7 amp draw – 12 with the fridge on, so warm beer was the order of the day when the fridge went off! Checking the red, green, grey blobs on these batteries became a chore at least twice or three times a day.
The wind gen worked fine , but needs wind, the towing gen worked fine, 6 amps at 5 knots then 10 at 6 knots. Sat at 2.5 knots not a lot going in.
Time to run the engine to charge the batteries, turn on the fridge and run the water maker, 10 gallons an hour seems a lot but a 750 litre tank needle takes forever to move back up the scale! Showers, hot water, luxury!
Light winds again, so up with the chute big blue with silver stars – great sight in the sunset, ran all night at 5/6 knots then next day, then the wind dropped at midnight – stopped dead in the water again, down with the chute again as it wrapped itself around the radar!
Time to give in and stick the engine into gear, must hunt the wind to the south as it felt pretty lonely at the back of the pack! Lots of other boats had engined for two days so where 150 to 250 miles in front. Reports came in of boats that went west having been bashed by the storm, with no wind, motoring toward us from the north toward cape verde to refuel! We thought about an at sea auction as we still had full tanks, fuel and water!
Daily routine – sail changes, cooking, washing up making water, radio net, emails weather forecasts and grib download, navigation – well head west! But great circle route was the way to go. The computer stayed on and gave us a pretty line to stay close to, worked a treat in the end just over 3,000 miles. Oh and have to confess sextant still a little dusty! Nice Garmin man and his GPS 12 by the helm gave us a position to blob onto the chart! A pencil line is about 10 miles wide!
Most of the trip seems to merge into one – night and day – some easy some hard work, sadly one day we split the second headsail – right down the middle, makes a nice sun awning. Then the sheet broke in a gust with the chute up, quite a bang and flap but down came the beast and back to the main out with a poled out headsail.
Everything worked perfectly on Asterie, including the fishing, but not the sleeping, the dreaded roll would shake you out of slumber every 10 minutes as she yawed her stern then did four or five big rolls sideways.
Now and again we had a magic carpet ride in hot sunshine, surfing down the waves square to the stern, 10 knots fantastic, that's what it was supposed to be.
Night watches and real time became strange, difficult to adjust to your watch finishing at 10 am, still in the dark!
Food, - well plenty of fresh meat to start with vacume packed by the supermarket in Las Palmas, pasta in a packet cheezy stuff but easy when it was too bumpy two litres of water, lid on pot serve and eat!
Fish – easy to catch dorado, pretty fish, enough for four in a pie with mash pots. Canary pots lasted all the way in nets as did all the food we hung up even if the smelly spanish hot sausage which sliced ended up in most dishes, almost miss the stuff now! Worked well with eggs making a big omelette.
Comms – well the sat phone was fantastic, never missed a beat, the aerial sang to us on the pole aft, always singing like a mermaid locking onto the satelite. VHF was mostly out of range but now and again we'd talk to other yachts, the ssb was fantastic Herb I mentioned earlier is a Canadian weather router talking to all the yachts advising on weather old technology but it works if a bit squeak and pop now and again.
Steering, we had lots of time to sort out the Aries wind vane steering – always helmed better than we could but tricky to set up, wouldn't steer very well dead downwind, so we took off the vane and rigged the tiller pilot to the top, which steered to compass not wind so had to be adjusted more than flipper the vane.
Met up with About Time – and over took him – very satisfying as he is potentially a lighter and faster boat – and he'd told us he'd leave us in his wake, sorry Eamon had to mention that! Imagine an Ocean that Big and we are in sight of our mate!
Lots of routine stuff for the next few days then we thought we'd better put a nav light on at night as we were a bit naughty like a lot of other boats and ran dark at night, we saw a couple of ships so popped it on till they slipped away.
Saw a couple of whales drift lazily by and a couple of turtles, then reports of an angry whale off the coast of St Lucia – great – two more tropical storms past, now a bl**dy whale. What do you do to avoid a whale I wonder!
We had a couple of squalls – big wet – one cloudy day – very confused sea most of the time thanks to the storms to the north making a mess of the Atlantic. One wave hit us so hard on the beam one night I thought a band and shudder that hard had to be a whale or container, must confess to pumping the bilge for a while but no need.
Few miles to go – Andy and I had various reasons to celibrate on night watch, a new star, another 100 miles gone on the log, any excuse for that Drambuie moment. One night Andy turned to me and said – "reckon we ought to look out the front?" oops – so content watching shooting stars it's easy to forget where you are and what you are doing!
Last morning – 5 am – no wind – 100 miles off St Lucia – sod it on with the engine, then a big lump of a mountain appeared at 1500 hours, first land we'd seen in 24 days! Then the depth sounder came on – blimey we've only got 200 metres of water
– rounded St Lucia (we hoped) over the line and into Rodney bay Marina, Cindy did a massive leap from the jetty joined by Megan and Lizzie, tears – made it – Sailed the Atlantic!
Ian Grant, 'Asterie', St. Lucia - January 2006