Unfinished business………….

Posted January 25th, 2012 by Nick and filed in Uncategorized

Crossing the Atlantic was unfinished business for me. Ten years ago I sailed to the Canary Islands and didn’t get any further. I had promised myself that I would one day return and finish what I started.
Sailing a yacht across the Atlantic Ocean is not such a big deal. Ask anyone, read any books or articles on the subject, I did and as a result was looking forward to 25-30 days of perfect force 4 winds from behind with the long Atlantic swell gently rocking the boat as we fly along at hull speed. Long days relaxing in the cockpit under the fantastic sun shade that Mel created, watching the Dolphins dance around the bow and waiting for dinner to snap at our hook.
We had sorted Borne out accordingly. In La Gomera, Mel used our sewing machine and material that we brought from the UK to make a sun cover that uses fibreglass rods to create a curved cover over the entire cockpit and hatch area allowing us to lounge on the cockpit cushions out of the burning sun. I rigged a perfectly balanced downwind rig comprising two matched genoas, one roller furling and the other hanked onto an inner forestay, both supported by poles hinged together and hung from a halyard allowing the whole rig to move from side to side without transferring the forces to the mast and causing the yacht to roll. I knew I would have a lot of time on my hands so I left a few small jobs inside the boat to do on the way.

Unfortunately, 2011/12 was not destined to be an average year………………..

We left a little later than we were planning as we had decided to stay and celebrate Christmas in the Marina in La Gomera.
Borne was already well stocked and ready to go so late in the afternoon on Boxing day we slipped our lines and left the Canary islands. The wind was nonexistent and we motored for ten and a half hours through the first night. The next day the wind rose with the sun and the swell started to build.
Mel and I were sick.
For the first few days the wind blew from the East, the sky was cloudy and the rain showers frequent. At this stage the worst thing was the swell which was very confused. There had been some big storms out in the Atlantic over the preceding days and the resultant swell from these was hitting the swell coming from the East North East with the wind and creating very large messy seas.
On the 30th of December the wind picked up to force 6 to 7 and stayed that way for the next 6 days without moderating. The messy seas were making Borne roll terribly and we sailed very conservatively, putting up just enough canvas to keep us going at 4-5 knots. I have an entry scribbled roughly in the log book (which Mel originally thought must be a record of bodily functions) at 00.04 hrs on Jan 1st that says “My new year resolution….Fly more!”.
By the 3rd Jan the Waves had become a bit more ordered but every hour or so we would be hit by a large rogue wave from the side which would sweep over the boat and meant that we had to keep the hatches closed most of the time.
On the 5th we had our first electrical storm. There was lightning all around and I switched off all the electrics and put out EPIRB emergency satellite beacon and our handheld GPS/VHF in the oven to protect it in case of a strike. A full lightning strike on a wooden boat like Borne would probably sink us, hopefully giving us just enough time to retrieve our electrics from the oven and grab our emergency bags before taking to the life raft.
During the whole crossing it was really only the threat of lightning that scared me. I knew Borne was strong enough to handle any sea conditions we would encounter but if Thor decided to use us for target practice then there was nothing we could do about it.
Mel got over her sea sickness after a couple of days but I was sick as a dog for the first 8 days and often felt queasy whenever the conditions were bad after. The problem was the motion created by the huge waves.
To try to give you a sense of what it was like for us to sail across the ocean I could use the analogy of being inside a washing machine but that’s not really what the motion is like.
Imagine taking your bathroom (or the smallest room in your house) which is probably the same size as the inside of Borne. Now imagine that this room is balanced on a seesaw and then constantly rocked all the way from side to side. Now imagine being inside and trying to cook or read or stand up or, God forbid, go for a dump while your whole world is violently rocking through 70-90 degrees (except its actually worse as you are also pitching forwards and backwards). Now imagine all of that is happening constantly for 27 days. Imagine if you will the wind howling…..and I do mean howling…outside and the noise of the boat and the waves sometimes almost deafening. Imagine trying to sleep, except that you can’t really because when you are on watch you are awakened by an alarm every 20 minutes and you have to open the hatch and look around (ducking every now and then as a wave comes over). Eventually you get into a sort of rhythm with the waves and learn to swing around the inside of the cabin from handhold to handhold like a monkey in a zoo except every now and then you hear a sound like a train approaching and the boat lurches very violently as a rogue wave breaks over the top.
On the 6th we caught our first fish, a big eye tuna. This is considered one of the very best fish to eat raw as sashimi and we ate most of him raw, marinated in Kikkoman soy sauce and wasabi. We ate until we could eat no more. Mel also marinated some in teriyaki sauce and fried it lightly and served it with a cold rice salad with pineapple, sweet corn and cashew nuts…..delicious. Mel reckoned it to be the best fish we have caught on passage.
The 7th was a sad day. We lost Sid the Squid, my favourite lure. Sid and I go back a long way as fishing partners and he has always been fearless, taking tuna, barracuda, bass, Dorado…in fact I believed nothing was too tough for Sid but on this sad day I went in to the cockpit to find the line slack and Sid was gone. I bet he put up a good fight or maybe it was just time for him to break free.
On the 9th we had real trade winds. Perfect. We rigged up our two head sails for the first and last time and experienced for almost 24 hrs what most people claim to experience for the whole crossing.

On the 10th we were hit by a white squall…..!
Let me explain. A normal squall is a black squall and you get these all the time, mostly at night it seems. You see them coming towards you from the horizon (except at night of course) and they look mean, a very black cloud bank reaching from high up right down to the sea. You normally have some time to prepare and reduce sail and when it hits you get a rain shower and the wind picks up a notch of two normally up to 35 knots. They are actually scary looking but not that bad, a bit like a big mean Rottweiler with no teeth.
A white squall on the other hand has fangs. We were sailing happily along but there were some storms on the horizon around us. The air was suddenly oppressive and then the wind stopped, just stopped dead. I called to Mel and we dropped all the sails immediately and I started the engine. 30 seconds later it hit us. A wall of solid wall of rain and 45 knts of wind (that’s a force 9 severe gale). We could see it coming across the water like a white curtain, very menacing. The visibility dropped to 50 meters or less and the sea was first battered flat by the onslaught and then crazy pyramid waves built up all around. I held us head on into the wind on the motor as the waves built so quickly and I didn’t know how bad it was going to be and I wanted to be ready for any nasty rogue waves. I wore my snowboarding goggles (brought along for such an eventuality) as without them you could not look at the rain. There was so much water in the air at the height of the storm that I had to bow my head and put my hand in front of my nose to be able to breath, it was almost like being under the sea. In the end I became comfortable that the worst was behind us and I set the auto pilot to drive while I went below to dry and warm up.
The storm stayed with us all of the day but by midnight the wind dropped enough to allow us to put up a little sail and continue on our way.
The next few days we had very light winds with the odd squall.
On the 13th the wind picked up again and we had force 5 to force 7 for the rest of the crossing except for the odd squall taking it a bit higher.
Also on the 13th we were visited by what we think was Orcas (killer whales). They were the same size as the boat and for an hour or so they would sit 100 meters behind us then race towards us on one side and cross just under the boat and then race away on the other side only to repeat this again and again. It felt like they were checking us out with a well practiced routine. It made us nervous as there are instances of these huge creatures sinking boats but luckily they decided we were not worth the effort.

On the 16th we heard a radio message from one of the rowing teams crossing the ocean as part of the Atlantic Challenge. The rowers had left from La Gomera and we had seen the boats off on the 5th December and before that had partied with them at a fancy dress. One of the boats, Row to recovery, was manned by six ex service personnel with various disabilities as a result of injuries sustained in action. I had jokingly promised them that we would try to bump into them on the high seas and sort them out with some ice cold beers. These were the lads we now heard on the radio. We put the fridge on and started to chill the six pack that Mel had bought in Gomera for exactly this eventuality. We checked the AIS (automatic identity system) on our plotter and they showed up about 8 miles away so we changed direction and went visiting. The guys are awesome, the boat they were on was tiny even by our standards and there were six of them on board (not small lads). We were almost on top of them before we actually saw them as they were so low in the water and the waves were quite large. They have had a hard time of it as their water maker had broken down and when we saw them they were sitting at a para anchor trying to repair their rudder. Even in these circumstances they were cheerful and made us feel like they were glad to see us. The beers were cold and ready to go but being gentlemen they refused to take them as it would have been a breach of rules and would be considered outside assistance.
Great guys and an awesome coincidence to bump into them like that. As I write this I am checking the web site and see that they are safe and sound in Barbados. Well done lads!

The wind always rose 5 knots or so as the sun went down and dropped a little with the sunrise so the nights were the hardest. We tended to reduce sail at night down to a 3rd reef in the main and a small genoa so that we could handle pretty much anything and I wouldn’t have to go on deck at nights to reef.
With the clouds and no moon, some of the nights were so dark that the only warning we would get of an approaching squall is when the rain started and we would put in the washboard (door) and close the hatch. Hiding down below for the duration and trusting Borne to sail on alone and get us through. This would normally happen at least a couple of times a night.
It’s difficult to describe the feeling of being locked in a small boat that is steering itself and blindly racing through the middle of the Atlantic Ocean at night, pushed by a fierce wind and every now and then being picked up and surfing down the face of a huge breaking wave. Inside, you first hear the wave approaching, a cross between a roar and a rumble and then the boat tilts as the wave rises behind it and you experience an almost weightless sensation like skating along on a carpet of bubbles. Then you roll over and go back to sleep. Try it some time….its fun 
To cut a long story short (only joking, I like long stories) here are the facts and figures are:
We made it in 27 days which was exactly what I predicted.
Average daily mileage was 100 nautical miles.
Average speed of about 4 knots. We could have pushed it up to around 5 knots but this would have involved a lot more effort that I was willing and a lot more risk of boat damage etc.
We used 120 litres of water from our tanks for washing and cooking and 60 litres of bottled water for drinking.
We drank 40 litres of orange, apple and mixed juice.
We splashed 20 litres of milk on our cornflakes and Alpen.
We ate instant packet meals on 19 days and Mel cooked fish or omelette or pasta on the other days.
We caught a Big eye tuna, Dorado and a Wahoo. We did not put a line out unless we wanted to eat fish and we caught something whenever we put a line out. We would have fished much more but the motion made it almost impossible to clean and filet the fish properly.
Wind speed was almost always more than force 5 and very often gale force.
We ran the engine for 40 hrs using about 40 litres of diesel, mostly to charge the batteries.
We read about 30 books between us.
We washed once a week….and we still like each other!
Borne behaved impeccably.
We had no breakages but we heard of many people coming across who had blown sails, broken forestay, lost rudders etc so Borne did really well and proved how tough she is.
We were pooped twice by following waves but they were BIG and the cockpit drained quick enough.
We rolled heavily but Borne is 7 tons and draws 190 cm, with a full keel so it could have been so much worse in a modern round bilge boat.
We did not broach even in the worst conditions. As soon as a wave pushed us off line the steering would quickly correct it.
The Windpilot self steering that I bought as a seized up mess and bodged to fit worked faultlessly. Huge respect to the designer.
The engine was reluctant to start a couple of times, not surprising given the motion, but always ran faultlessly once started.
We hand steered for no more than 2 hours on the whole crossing.
At 29 feet we are the second smallest yacht of about 100 in Prickly Bay.
We still love sailing and cruising on a boat but will think very carefully before the next long ocean voyage.
So on the 22nd of January we arrived at Prickly Bay in Grenada……….in the Caribbean.

To be continued……..


Posted December 25th, 2011 by Nick and filed in Uncategorized

PC250019, originally uploaded by melandnick.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Christmas day (today) is our last full day in Gomera…The weather has been perfect, and there has been a BBQ for all the people in the marina to attend. We decided it would be a good idea to postpone our leaving until after the BBQ, and we made the right decision (thanks to Nick).

Although we’ve been in Gomera for longer than intended, we’ve passed the time well and have made many good friends and had many good times (some of which have ended with very bad hangovers)! Most recently we’ve gotten to know Lesley and Andy from Glasgow, and Sonia and Jim from Edinburgh all of whom we have spent time with during our last week in Europe.

Today we made our last calls to our parents before leaving, and said a temporary goodbye, as it will be nearly a month before we speak to them again. The support and love from our families and friends for what we’re doing is incredible, and we feel so very lucky to have such love and good wishes bestowed upon us for this leg of our journey. It really does mean a lot, especially at Christmas time.

We are leaving now tomorrow (Boxing Day), and the boat is at last finished. The interior has been fitted with extra storage, rigging has been checked, wind-vane and engine serviced, bilged cleaned, supplies stored, and numerous other jobs completed, so at last we’re ready to go.

Finally before we go, we’d like to say a big thank you to Marina La Gomera, which is without doubt the friendliest marina we’ve visited on our trip expertly managed by Jose and his team. We would strongly recommend La Gomera as a last port of call before a trans-atlantic crossing.

We send lots of love and best wishes for 2012 to all of our friends and family from home and to those we’ve met along the way. We will post again in about a month from the sunny Caribbean.

Mel & Nick

One week to go

Posted December 11th, 2011 by Nick and filed in Uncategorized

PC050380, originally uploaded by melandnick.

Over the last couple of weeks Marina La Gomera has been a hive of activity!

Last weekend the 17 Talisker Atlantic Challenge rowing boats left the harbour having been delayed for 1 day due to high winds. Nick and I were lucky enough to see them off in style on a 1930s schooner, Soteria skippered by Captain Chris with his crew Alice and Misha.

I still cannot begin to imagine what it must be like to row 2800(ish) miles across the Atlantic in such small craft, seeing them set off into the open sea that morning was really quite something! I wish them all the best of luck and our thoughts will be with them over the next month or two, especially Andrew (rowing single handed, see picture) and the Atlantic Four and Row to Recovery who we got to know best out of the group. I also wanted to give a big shout out to the all girl team ‘Row for Freedom’ who have caught the boys up now despite a two day delay starting – Come on Girls! We had a great evening with the crews at a fancy dress party in town here a few weeks ago, the pictures on our flickr page are quite amusing! You can find out more about this event, the teams and the charities they are raising money for at http://www.taliskerwhiskyatlanticchallenge.com/.
As for us, we are now working everyday getting the list of jobs to be done finished before we depart. The jobs include things like fixing a foot activated water pump to the tap (replacing the electric one we have currently – idea being we will use much less water this way), building some extra cupboards behind the sink to store all the food we will take with us, scrubbing the hull below the waterline to remove weed and creatures that will slow us down, cleaning out the bilge etc, etc.

All this work is keeping our minds occupied on the prep so we are not really considering the month long journey across the ocean ahead of us. When I think about it, I feel very excited, but also a little apprehensive that the crossing will be relaxing without too much drama along the way. We’ve been keeping a watchful eye on the progress of the ARC boats this year who left Gran Canaria on 20th November (we’re classed as SNARCs (So Not ARCs)), and they seem to have had a much better year than last. We hope this bodes well for our crossing as the tradewinds should be well set in by the time we leave.

We had another Marina BBQ on Friday joined by lots of new faces from around the marina including our friends Stuart and Steph and Robert and Anna who we met initially in Porto. Robert and Anna have been here for a month, and left yesterday for the Caribbean via Cape Verdes so we hope to see them again on the other side.

Last but now least, we have discovered the best steak restaurant ever (recommended to us by several other yachties) and we’ve decided to make this the venue for our last meal on terra firma before we leave. Between that and the prospect of the Caribbean waiting for us we’re working extra hard to get our jobs finished so we can go!

That’s all for now, we’ll post again before we go.

Mel x

PS – You can find all of our photos from the trip so far at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/melandnick

La Gomera

Posted November 17th, 2011 by Nick and filed in Uncategorized

Mum & Nick Sangria Night, originally uploaded by melandnick.

It’s been six weeks since we arrived in La Gomera, and in that time, it’s become home for us. We have spent our time making friends, having BBQs, and in Nick’s case, spearing lots of fish for dinner!

This is the first harbour we’ve been to where nearly everyone we’ve met is crossing the Atlantic. We’re all taking slightly different routes, many visiting the Cape Verdes, Gambia, and Senegal before heading west. What is surprising is the lack of British sailors making the crossing, the vast majority being Dutch or French, with a few other northern Europeans too. Meeting these varied people, some younger than ourselves (and on smaller boats) has left us feeling more inspired, motivated and confident than ever before about our voyage to come.

Over the last six weeks we’ve made many friends who have come and gone, some we’ve become good friends with who we hope to meet up with again in the Caribbean. Meeting people in this environment is unlike anything we would experience at home in ‘normal’ life. At home, it can take weeks, or sometimes months to get to know someone, or another couple well enough to want to share a meal with them at your house. Here, this is concentrated sometimes into only a few hours because we all share the pleasures, challenges and dangers of living on a boat, and as a consequence have instant empathy. There is a strong sense of community among the sailors. Everyday we see sailors from one boat assisting another, everyone seems to have a unique skill that can help their neighbour and at least once a week there is a spontaneous BBQ with some of us bringing in a catch to share with the group.

There are so many people we can’t mention them all, but one group were quite exceptional. A troupe of five Norwegian circus performers travelling together on a boat the same size as ours. They created a show which they performed in Norway before they left, and as they travel to different places they are modifying it and will return with the finished show at the end of their journey. They brought their boat in Greece without knowing how to sail. They managed to get to the Canary Islands, where they were finally taught how to sail a boat! There are a few shots on Flickr of the performance they gave on Gomera which was very entertaining!

We also want to mention Chris and Fabio. Chris is sailing single handed on a Contessa 32, and took us out for several fun filled fishing & spear fishing expeditions, usually returning empty handed. Chris is back in London working right now, but we hope to see him back here before we leave. Fabio is a wonderful Italian who cooked us a fantastic fish pasta on our boat (a chef for the night – luxury)!

Nick is loving it here; the other day he went to one of the larger boats and borrowed their inflatable and outboard motor, then went out hunting with 2 other guys (French and Dutch) and came back with more fish than we could eat. That evening, the three couples and the owner of the inflatable had the most amazing BBQ/sushi and we still had enough fish in the fridge for the next couple of days!

I went hiking last week in the green and mountainous interior of Gomera, which was beautiful, if a little hard work, but I’m keen to go again a few times before we leave (thanks Danielle for the suggestion)!

Other than socialising and having fun, I’ve been working on making us a bimini sunshade, and we’ve finally fixed our fuel tank leak with loads of help from Martin, who’s sailing with his wife Danielle on their steel yacht Lola with their kitten Luna. They left here today heading for the Cape Verdes. We’ve really enjoyed their company over the last couple of weeks and have promised to meet them somewhere, somehow in the future!

The only bad thing to say is that regrettably our no.1 dinghy (fortunately we have two) was stolen whilst we were away for two days visiting friends in Tenerife. This left us feeling pretty angry for a few days, especially as theft of this type is considered unheard of in Gomera. The sad truth is that it was probably another sailor that stole it, but we don’t intend to let it change our attitudes to other people, although we may be a bit more careful to secure our possessions in future.

Last but by no means least, we had the pleasure of my Mum’s company for 5 days. It was so lovely to see her, and we’re so grateful for the effort it took for her to come here to see us! The picture above is Mum and Nick having fun on our Sangria night 

There’s so much more but to write everything would take all night! We will post more often in future so we don’t have to try to cram six weeks into one post again!

Love to everyone, Mel x

Sailing in the mountains…….

Posted October 19th, 2011 by Nick and filed in Uncategorized

Barracuda, originally uploaded by melandnick.

Oh Dear!
As usual I have left it too long between posts.
It seems like we have been here for months, can it really have only been two weeks since we arrived on these magical shores?
Something has changed now we are in the Canaries.
It’s not an easily definable thing but to me it feels like the whole trip has stepped up a gear.
In the run up to our departure from England I had always explained to Mel that the main draw for me was the people we would meet along the way. I figure that anyone who gives up a “normal” life with jobs, houses, cars etc, takes all of their possessions, wraps them up in a floaty thing called a boat and then places everything including themselves at the mercy of the very rawest of elements MUST be quite interesting really.
On the way down here we have been fortunate to meet some great people but with a few exceptions they were not heading across the Atlantic.
It seems that nearly everyone we meet now is heading to the Caribbean, many with stops in Senegal, Gambia and the Cape Verdi’s.

While in Puerto Calero we had a great evening drinking champagne sangria and getting to know Angela (an Italian conceptual artist) and Massimo (a professional super yacht skipper). They had both been on board “Bernard” the catamaran that had passed us on the way down from Portugal.
While in Calero we also came across a boat…44’ long….steel….nice lines….professionally built in 1985…..well equipped….10,000 Euros asking price….Yes, that’s what I said, 10,000 Euros!
Unfortunately, though she ticked nearly all of the boxes in our “next boat that will last us for life” list she needed a lot of structural work to the deck etc and was too much for us to take on at the moment.
Thanks to my oldest friend, Nick and our new friends, Bryan and Dorothy on “Caitlin of Argyll” for talking some sense into us.
We met Bryan and Dorothy in Marina Rubicon, Playa Blanca. We had hired a car for the day and drove to the Marina knowing that Marco was staying on a boat there and we wanted to offer him a lift to his next destination. When we got to this huge, new marina we realised that we didn’t even know the name of the boat he was on.
After a fruitless visit to the marina office I walked down a pontoon to look at the boats and was challenged by a voice from one of them asking in a suspicious tone if they could help me. As usual I was looking pretty scruffy but after explaining that we had a boat in another marina and were looking for a friend we started chatting about steel boats.
They turned out to be the right people to ask as within a few minutes they had invited Mel and I on board and were offering drinks and showing us around their IMACULATE Van De Stadt 42 which they had built themselves from scratch, keeping a very detailed photo log of the build. As we only had the car for the day and wanted to do some sightseeing we cut the visit short and promised to stop by on the way West.
On the way back to the car we decided to look down one of the other pontoons in the hope of finding Marco and there he was, just a few boats along, greeting us with his usual infectious smile.
Next day we left Calero and made the short hop round the coast to Rubicon and dropped anchor outside the marina entrance.
We popped in on the dinghy and grabbed a bite to eat before seeing Bryan and Dorothy only to have to cut the visit short when a strong wind blew up making me feel very nervous for Borne.
Once back on board we felt a bit happier though the wind howled all night. We were glad to have invested in a bigger anchor and new chain before we left the UK.
Next day we picked up Marco and headed out, cutting between Lanzarote and Fuerteventura and aiming for the South of Gran Canaria.
As usual we had a line out and sailing along the North coast of Fuerteventura we had a bite, we were in quite strong winds and seas and hove to as I struggled to pull in the Barracuda (see pic above).
I took huge fillets from him and Mel worked her usual genius and baked him to perfection.
After a good sail we made it Gran Canaria and anchored off a very exclusive timeshare development called Anfi del Mar where we relaxed on the white sand beach for the afternoon before getting a good night’s sleep and heading on to La Gomera.
Next day was when the real fun started. Mel stayed cosy down below as Marco and I did battle with the fury that is the acceleration zone.
Imagine a fast flowing river with big rocks in it. The water will boil and surge around the rocks, speeding up as it tries to force its way between them.
Now imagine that the river is the Atlantic Canary current flowing down the coast of Africa and the rocks are the Canary Islands….get the idea?
The wind also works in exactly the same way. The phenomenon really needs to be seen to be believed as you venture out in mild winds and flat water only to see a line in front of you, and I really do mean a line, with flat water on one side and waves and white water on the other.
We had a wild ride. The wind was near gale force and the waves were as big as any I have ever seen. We were sailing in valleys and mountains. The tops of the waves were breaking and the wind was blowing spray away in horizontal streaks. Every now and then a wave would hit us and Marco and I would be drenched and we would hear Mel down below chuckling away. The bigger the drenching we got, the more hilarious Mel (sitting cosy and dry on the main bunk) found it.
When we were hit by a big wave that was breaking there would be a moment of almost weightlessness and the feeling of being supported by bubbles as Borne laid over. Once on her side she has quite a flat shape and the feeling of surfing SIDEWAYS down the face of a wave in a 7 ton yacht is a truly unique feeling.
We arrived in San Sebastian marina in the early hours after another acceleration zone with Mel sleeping through it and waking up only after we had parked the boat.
I think that Mel now knows that Borne is stronger than we are and will look after us and I know that Mel is pretty much fearless.
The only problem we had was that while we were ploughing through the waves we took a lot of water through the anchor chain pipe and this ended up in the front cabin, soaking everything and destroying some of our books. It’s an easy thing to sort though and we are glad that we now know about it.
La Gomera has been great. The marina is the cheapest we have stayed in and is full of sailors preparing to head onwards.
Its late here now so I will finish and write a bit about Gomera and the people we have met in the next post.
I promise not to leave it so long.