Our Diary News from Canary Islands & Atlantic Crossing
THE day dawned over La Gomera with apprehension; the relaxed attitude of our first departure from Las Palmas three days earlier had disappeared.… We quickly visited the local internet café and collected the latest 7 day forecast and took it back to the boat collecting the crew from PDM on the way (they were a couple who were leaving for Barbados at the same time). The forecast looked good and the two boats gave each other the confidence to go.

Our forced stay in La Gomera, to repair a couple of mast slides and to change our mainsail for the old one, was so pleasant. The island is very relaxed, picturesque and sunny - Las Palmas always seemed to have a cloud over it. It was also lovely to catch up with ANNA again - we had been following her all the way from Lisbon, often just one or two days behind! But now our paths were to divide again; ANNA was staying in Europe.

By 11 am 13 Jan we had run out of things to do and we left, motoring past the rowing boats, with their crews loading supplies. They would be leaving a week later to row the Atlantic, how must they be feeling? We had a lovely send off by ANNA and other boats; ahead we could see PDM and we called her on the VHF to wish her well. The wind was a light headwind so we motored past the island in order to pick up the stronger breeze forecast. Things were going well and we were now feeling relaxed. This only lasted an hour or so - our jib losing its tension put an end to that! Luckily the seas were smooth as a trip up the mast was needed in order to replace a broken welded ring by a shackle. This took an hour or so - leaving PDM to disappear over the horizon; our short cruise-in-company had ended. We had a visit from a pod of dolphins and a pilot whale which lifted our spirits. The sail problem was soon behind us as we close-reached south to pass the last land fall, a small island called Hierro. We passed this in the early hours and then there was nothing but open ocean for the next 2400 miles.

We then sailed south west for 7 days, mostly broad reaching in light and variable winds, often raising the cruising chute by day and reefing the main and jib at night. Although the wind was around 10 knots during the day it blew up to 18+ knots at night. We found that we quickly settled into a routine. We had decided to keep a diurnal sleep pattern and this meant two six hour watches at night; Christine taking the 2am to 8am watch and Keith taking the 8pm to 2 am shift. This worked really well for us - mainly as we weren't hand-steering and the weather was settled so we could nap during our watch. We set a timer going so we always had a look around every 45-60 minutes. (Our last sighting of a ship was two days out and we didn't see any other vessel for nineteen days!!). At the morning change over we would "wake up" the boat; alter the sail plan if necessary, shake out reefs and fix anything broken. (Chafe was a constant problem and swapping sheets end-over-end and putting new tape on chafe points became a daily chore.) Our watches then started after our main meal in the evening…..the highlight of the day! We found that the inactivity reduced our appetite and one meal a day was sufficient supplemented by snacks. We baked our own bread and cakes and had fresh meat, fruit and veg most of the way across.

Our first flying fish on deck was after 7 days out and a 18 knot wind had set in from the north east……the trade winds! We had also reached our planned latitude of 19 degrees so we gybed and headed west towards our destination, Antigua.

This wind stayed with us for 6 days, shifting from NE to E and sometimes SE during this time. Trade wind sailing was not the "set the sails and forget them" experience we had heard about - although gybing more than once a day was unusual. We then had 5 days of very light winds (under 10 knots) which was frustrating as our average speed dropped considerably.

When we were 3 to 4 days from Antigua the seas started to build, rain squalls and stronger winds became commonplace. The winds got up to 25-30 knots at times, which was giving us fast sailing but the boat was rolling more and we were starting to look forward to our arrival. We also started to see more dolphins and birds. On the 23rd day we spotted our land fall thirty miles away. Unfortunately our timing was not good and our arrival into English Harbour was going to be at night, but with a full moon. After 23 days and 15 hours the last 100 yards was the most nerve wracking! Entry into the anchorage was easy, but the bay was jammed packed with boats. We spotted a space and dropped anchor, albeit a bit close to a catamaran from the Hamble, we apologised and agreed to move in the morning. This we did and after four attempts (the holding is not brilliant in parts) we are now fixed firmly and are having two weeks holiday!!!!

English Harbour is an 18th Century naval dockyard, famous as Nelsons first shore-based command. Very picturesque with a white palm fringed beach and warm turquoise blue water. The weather has been changeable with lots of sun interspersed with showers and a nice cooling breeze. We are slowly joining in with the cruising community here - there is lots to see and the water is warm and clear. The rum punch goes down smoothly! There are mainly US and UK boats all of which are very friendly and sundowners in company are a way of life. (Refrigeration for cold beers and wine is a constant problem!) Most people spend their time at anchor so power and water are the main concern. Our watermaker failed on the crossing and we are now waiting for a spare part (although we didn't actually run out of water and had enough for regular showers). Once this is solved we will be self sufficient again!

Some odd jobs still need to be done - this, interspersed with social activity, is how we are spending our time. Our travel plans from here are still loose but North to the Virgin Islands is the general direction.

All-in-all, the crossing was easier than we'd expected - mainly tedious at times! We've had harder sails across the English Channel! We read lots of books and usually managed a game of crib with our sundowners! When the seas were large one tended to be lurched around the cabin - resulting in impressive bruising, the occasional burn (while trying to get something out of a hot oven), and Keith suffered a nasty cut to his eyebrow one day when the pole fell on him!

Statistics: Total journey 2548 miles; time taken 23 days 15 hours (average only 106 miles per day); engine hours 62.9 mainly for battery charging (average 2.5 hours per day); fuel used approximately 120 litres