With an (ex) tropical storm set to swing past Madeira it was definitely time to leave. The swell had started to enter the marina and it was getting a bit lively. We spent a few days buying food, generously discounted wines and basically filling the boat up. For once we felt prepared and ready to leave, if not a bit apprehensive about our biggest passage to date - especially after the crossing to Porto Santo... Still the boat had had plenty of work and new bits to make her better prepared for passage making - and we could bail out at the Canaries if we needed to.
All geared up, everything stowed and in full on passage mode, we set about leaving. Only for the engine not to start. Out came "Marine Diesel Engines" chapter 2, "Trouble Shooting" with greasy thumb prints from the last time we had a few issues. We narrowed it down to the solenoid, starter or start battery - the only one we'd not replaced in Portugal. 2 trips in a taxi to the top of the hill, it turns out you can't buy a car battery in Madeira without taking the old one to be recycled, and we had a working engine. Phew!
We set off deep into the wind shadow of the island hoping to pick up the wind on the eastern side, and for the first 6 hours we motor sailed, by sunset we had just enough wind to sail and we were off, on a bouncy ride towards the Canaries. Those first two days we basically slept, ate and kept watch, it takes a while to get used to being confined to 18 square meters or less. We scooted past the eastern side of La Palma, to the north of Hierro in what we hoped would be a clever routing to keep us in the wind for longer. Still not fully accustomed to being at sea it was more than a little tempting to stop and have a good look at these islands. We resisted the sirens call and pressed on, ever further south.
Video: sailing through the Canary Islands at sunset.
It was a welcome novelty to be doing night watches without wearing every item of clothing that we owned. Definitely what we signed up for! As the Canaries slipped over the horizon the seas settled down to a long languid swell from the North East, looking back behind the boat the sea would open up into a gentle rolling valley of deep ocean blue. Life on board became easier, nothing as far as the eye could sea - and no ships within 30 miles. Occasionally one would pop up on our AIS (ship locations over the radio) screen, and maybe it would be close enough to see the loom of lights at night. Under these conditions we kept a slightly more relaxed watch - making sure to check the horizon every 20 minutes at least . By the third day at sea we were well into the routine. Breakfast and the person who had done the 4am - 8am watch would sleep a bit more, the other would keep watch with a book in the cockpit. Adjust the solar panels and keep an eye on the new tow generator. The next major event of the morning, deciding what to have for lunch, then lunch. More reading of books, maybe watch a film, then by mid afternoon the person doing the 8pm-12am and 4am - 8am watches would have a nap. Dinner and washing up done before sunset and then night watches, napping in the cockpit, reading, taking a look around. After sun set we'd set the towing generator, that way the fridge and the autopilot could work all night. What luxury we live in! A highlight of the night watches, watching the ghostly shape of dolphins marked out by the phosphorescence in the sea.
After recording some decent daily mileage for the first few days the wind started to go light. The sea became smoother and smoother. We marvelled in the fact that we were at home, but also in the middle of no where. As long as the sails were filled we didn't mind only doing 2 or 3 knots - the boat was perfectly behaved and lounging in the sun reading a book was not exactly a hardship. We did occasionally think about what it would be like at home - standing on a quay waiting for the ferry, pitch black at 6am in the sleet or rain. Yeah - drifting about the Atlantic in 23°C is no hardship at all. To add to the enjoyment not only was John not seasick - he was able to basically function as a normal person above or below decks.
Midway through the passage with barely enough wind to fill the sails we started to see what looked like old fishing floats, or large pieces of rubbish. Staring through the binoculars we couldn't make out what it was, so we decided to turn on the motor and have a closer look. It turned out to be a sleeping turtle, floating in the sun. After waking it up, we were given an incredibly indignant look from the turtle as it dived to safety(photo included). We'll know better next time. For the next day we passed hundreds of sleeping turtles visible in the glassy smooth seas. In one 4 hour watch we made a good 3 miles by the log, and when the sails started to flog, we did turn on the engine for 2 or 3 hours to find a little breeze. By nightfall we were sailing again, slowly but that was OK.
Day 6 of the crossing we'd passed out of the light "patch" and the breeze had started to fill in again. It was nice to have had the slow days to relax and recharge. The new whisker pole that we bought from the rigger in Quinta Do Lorde came into it's own. The #2 jib was poled out and the main set back as far as it would go. Surprisingly like this we didn't roll as much as expected - life was still comfortable on board. The daily runs started to pick back up from a low of 57miles to 90, 105, 111. Much better. John managed to finish reading "Capital in the 21st Century" a book he's been "reading" for 5 years.
The closer we got to the Cape Verde islands we started to hear more boats on the radio, see more sailing boats on AIS and things started to feel a little crowded when a french boat radioed asking for a wind reading as their anemometer was dead. (15knots NNE in case you were wondering). During the last 2 days at sea we were wondering of we'd need to slow the boat down, so we could enter port in the daylight. There were various reports on the internet about lights not working at Palmeira, our destination. For the final night at sea we stood full watches - nervous about fishing boats around the island, and as it turns out didn't see a thing other than kamikaze flying fish throwing themselves into the cockpit.
By 9am with the island of Sal clearly visible we saw two other masts on the horizon, one coming from the east one from the west. Ellie turned off the autopilot, the race was on. After 10 days of being very casual with the sail trim, every bit of speed was trimmed from the sails. The westerly boat was gaining on us, but come the self declared finish line - we still had a comfortable margin, in fact we were in, anchored and enjoying out anchor dram before they popped their nose around the breakwater.
We'd anchored in 4m of water that was clear enough to still see the bottom, on a different continent, 9 days 23 hours and 1052(1950km) nautical miles since leaving (by GPS, the log was 908 miles.). We averaged 4.4 knots(8.1km/h), our worst days run was 52 miles our best 112, and just 9 hours of motoring.