St Helena to Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

1700+ nautical miles from St Helena to the islands of Fernando de Noronha off the coast of Brazil. Here are posts recorded along the way.

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Flying the spinnaker most of the time. Having to remember protection from sunburn. Lots of lazy time. Since Tahawus got a 290 mile head start leaving two days before us, we don’t feel like we’re racing, so we are more laid back than if we were watching them on AIS. Fabulous blue ocean. Empty except for flying fish (one almost flopped onto Nora tonight) and occasional birds. All quite pleasant. Just wish we had been able to buy fresh produce in St Helena, as we are already down to nearly nothing.

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A whole world to ourselves, it seems. Endless ocean. No sign of other humans. On we march, hour after hour, day after day, and each mile looks the same. Another thousand to go, the chart tells us.

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At last it is warm at night (and hot in the daytime). Like our joyous nights in the Pacific, one can lounge in the cockpit and feast upon the stars. Tonight we had the tiniest sliver of moon following the sun down — a welcome sign that more moon is to come each night. Venus is so bright it casts a dancing reflection on the water. By the end of my watch the Milky Way is risen and glowing.

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Our attempts at fishing have been sad. The first day out we hooked a beautiful little tuna, and had it gaffed, yet it still wiggled clear of both the hook and the gaff, and we lost it. I’m sure by then it was dying, so it was a lose-lose situation. Fishing was very quiet for the next several days, which I took as our punishment for wasting a good fish. As the water got warmer (from 55 degrees off Namibia to 79 degrees with 750 miles still to go) we saw more action. Which is to say we had one get off the hook before we ever saw it, and we lost two lures. Lose-lose, again. Very frustrating.

We might have stopped fishing at this point, but we are low on food. We need to get it right. Today we hooked a big one. We snuffed the spinnaker to slow the boat down. We eased the drag on the reel to prevent breaking the line. The fish had taken almost all the line before we got things under control…spent a long and arduous time grinding it in. A mahi-mahi, at long last! Big, beautiful, and still fighting as we got it up to the boat and gaffed it. And CRAP, we lost it (and our lure) again!

We were one unhappy crew. But Liam rigged another lure, and though it was late in the day, we tried again. And as the sun was going down we got another strike. A small tuna, with beautiful cobalt blue streaks. In comparison to the mahi-mahi it looked puny, but we got it aboard and we got it filleted, and it’s going to provide us with two meals.

It was getting dark is we finished filleting on the transom steps. We cleaned up the mess, and got the gear away, and got the spinnaker flying again, and at the same time did our radio net check-in, all quite efficiently and effectively. We must be a seasoned crew. Anyway, though I still feel bad about the fish lost, I’m happy about our one success, and food in the fridge!

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All day I have not so much as touched a line. Spinnaker flying, we are rolling along under the hot sun. We made an easy 177 miles noon-to-noon. I’ve eaten and napped and read, occasionally glancing at the chart plotter to confirm there is still no sign of another craft within AIS range.

I did do one little thing this morning — I deployed our new hydrogenerator propeller. About four days ago our last prop lost a blade. As a result we have had to run an engine nearly 3 hours per day to charge the batteries. But I had kept one of the old broken propellers in our “trophy collection” of bits and pieces that have failed along the way. And I spent a day wondering if it would be possible to graft a blade from that old prop onto the newly broken prop…

It took a day to find the old prop, and only then did I realize that it’s blades were smaller. But it would at least be in the ballpark. Worth a try. And as Liam pointed out, we could trim down the other blades to match. So out came the epoxy, and we cut the blade off the old prop and epoxy-tacked it on to the newer one. Then (next day) a proper layer of epoxy. Then fiberglass tabs front and back to add to its strength. A little shaping, including trimming the other blades, and ready to go. We tried it, and it seemed to work, but it had more vibration than I had hoped. Decided to take it back off and add fiberglass tabs to the other two blades to try to keep them from breaking (since that’s how these props keep failing). A final coat of epoxy last night, and today we deployed. It was quite a work of art, I think, for something improvised at sea!

It worked for half a day…then the grafted blade disappeared. Apparently the epoxy doesn’t bond well with the plastic of the prop, and the blade managed to work its way out of the fiberglass sandwich. Crap. Back to running the engine again. With our fridge and freezer, plus all the electronics, we use a lot of electricity. Maybe in another day or so we will empty the freezer and thus remove one of the big draws. Too bad that our work of art isn’t functional; into the trophy collection it goes.

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I finished reading The Covenant — quite an accomplishment for this infrequent reader. I knew that the mixture of peoples in South Africa was complex, but the book made it apparent that they are even more complex than I knew. Some of the description of Apartheid was appalling. Again, I knew that Apartheid was ugly, but it was even uglier than I knew. Interesting that the book was written before Nelson Mandela was freed. Michener ends with a description of several possible scenarios for the future coarse of South Africa, most of them much more bleak than what has actually come to pass. Again I am struck by what a great man Mandela was, to bring about such a huge transition in a mostly peaceful and orderly way.

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The sailing is peaceful and pleasant, which leads to thoughts about the next boat and/or the next time around. Would it be a catamaran? I’d like to spend some time sailing a monohull now, to do my comparative analysis. But probably I would go for a multihull. And although I like the sailing qualities of trimarans, I would probably again choose a catamaran for practical cruising. Possibly even this same boat, or its 48-foot big brother. I’m intrigued, though, with the James Wharram catamaran designs…simple…Polynesianesque…and I find some of them beautiful. And being out of the mainstream, maybe more affordable.

There is boat-as-vehicle and there is boat-as-home, and a spectrum in between. Currently I am more in the former camp. My home is ashore in Maine; my boat is how I’m getting from here to there (or is it here to here, for a circumnavigation!?). If there is a next time I could see leaning more toward boat-as-home. Of course, Hallie might not like these ideas, but that reality need not intrude on this reverie. I could see living aboard in a place that we like, until our visas run out and we have to move on. Maybe from French Polynesia we would head north to Hawaii instead of continuing westward, and then to the Pacific Northwest. I’d like to visit Denmark and Norway…maybe Iceland…go back to Reunion…see more of Africa…revisit Tuvalu…explore New Zealand. That doesn’t make sense as an itinerary, but the point is to live in these places long enough to get to know them, rather than just spend a few days and move on.

So many things to do in this short life…

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We are 8 or 9 days into our passage. Hard to remember exactly, without counting up the X’s on the chart plotter that mark our position each noon. Here’s what today was like, in much more detail than usual…

I awake shortly after 7. Nora had taken over from Liam at 7, but Liam is still hanging out chatting. I make my rounds, checking for anything wrong on the boat. We have our big spinnaker up. It’s a bit unusual to fly it all night, but the winds have been light and steady. Liam reports that the wind briefly went up to 20 knots on his watch, and he was about to wake me up to bring the sail down, but the wind eased again and it has remained light. I find two flying fish dead on the deck. They have so many tiny bones that we don’t bother trying to eat them. I threw 3 overboard during my watch last night, two of them alive and kicking, but I didn’t notice the third in time.

I set out our trolling line, and tell the universe I don’t want another tuna, I want mahi-mahi.

Liam goes below for some rest. Nora offers toast, made from an excellent loaf baked by Liam, and I accept. It is Nora’s day to cook, but preparing anything for breakfast is optional. She cuts our last apple into thirds, for a special savor-it-because-there-ain’t-no-more treat.

I dig out our spare outboard propeller, with the idea that maybe we could connect it to the hydrogenerator to make some electricity. But in the meantime our batteries are very low, so we start an engine. We run it in neutral just to charge batteries (because putting it in gear would likely collapse our spinnaker, and also we are trying to stretch our limited supply of fuel).

At 8am it is time for the radio net. That’s another reason to be running the engine, since transmitting on the radio draws a lot of current. We connect with Maggie and On Verra, reporting our positions and sharing that nothing of particular note has happened overnight. We do not hear Tahawus, which is a little disappointing since we like to compare our position to theirs. We’ve been gaining on them roughly 9 miles per day. They’re still about 230 miles ahead of us (their initial head start was about 290 miles). Our update will have to wait for the evening net.

While the engine is running we should make some fresh water. Our tank is low after Nora and Liam took showers yesterday. Making water draws even more current than the radio; we do it only when the engine is running. It is also a noisy operation, sometimes driving us out of the pilot house, to the cockpit. It takes an hour of noise to make six gallons.

Though cloudy initially, blue skies win out, and it isn’t long before the heat is intense in the sun. Time to put up our awnings, to provide some shade in the cockpit. It’s delightful to sit in the shade and stare at the bright blue ocean. Easy sailing. Beautiful emptiness. I scan the horizon, half expecting to see a sail. Not likely!

Suddenly the watermaker starts banging rapidly. Nora and I both recognize the new sound — we heard it before when we sprang a leak in the salt water supply line. I jump below to shut off the supply valve. We open up various lockers to see how much water is in the bottom; sure enough, the joint that came open before has opened again. I get a bucket and a small towel to start wiping up the water. I look at Nora’s face and laugh — how much she does NOT want to do this is written all over it! She says, I didn’t know I was that transparent…and she joins in with another towel. At least we caught the problem quickly this time; much less clean-up than the first time.

We rummage through our plumbing supplies and find a combination of fittings that will be more secure. We trim off the worn end of one of the hoses; we find a hose clamp that has a wider grip. It all goes together easily, and we give the watermaker a test run. All good. But the lockers are going to stay open all day, drying out.

After a while Liam is up; he and I brainstorm how we can get some use out of the hydrogenerator. I’m leaning toward attaching the outboard prop to the hub of the old prop (with all its blades broken off). Liam is leaning toward cutting new blades from some steel bookends, and fitting them into a hub. We have two old broken hubs available, so we decide to each try our own ideas. Maybe one of them will actually work…

Our mechanical engineering projects keep us busy until a pasta salad appears for lunch. Delicious. Also with a savor-it-while-you-can flavor, as it contains our last bits of celery and carrot. Midday also brings an assessment of the past 24 hour run, from a waypoint we set the previous noon. 165 nautical miles — a respectable run in spite of the mostly light wind.

In the afternoon I get my prop-on-prop graft assembled, and we try deploying it. Amazingly it starts working with minimal shakes and vibration. It doesn’t generate much power though — maybe 4 amps. Still, that could mean running the engine twice a day rather than three times. Liam continues with his project, which will require several small batches of epoxy, and thus at least another day.

Mid-afternoon I’m feeling awfully hot, and I spend some time sitting and doing absolutely nothing. I need a shower, both because I’m getting stinky and because I will feel much better after. But I want to wait until the sun is lower. No point in just getting heated right back up again. So I sit. “Don’t just do something,” said Buddha, “Sit.” Or something like that. But this isn’t meditation, it is the opposite — unconsciousness.

When I judge the sun low enough I come out of my coma, and grab a towel and soap and a bucket. I sit on the somewhat-private transom steps and pour a bucket of salt water over my head. The water temperature is up to a pleasant 81 degrees. Then a little soap, a salt water rinse, and then a fresh water rinse. And drying in the sun and breeze. Life is good again. I ask Nora to put on some music, and am delighted with her choice of The Band, followed by an even better Clapton Unplugged. Now, as we like to say on this boat, it “hardly sucks at all!”

Dinner is ready. Cabbage salad, sautéed butternut squash, and a surprisingly good frozen pizza. We are working toward emptying the freezer, so we can shut off that current draw. There’s still one more frozen pizza in it. Probably everything else could survive in the fridge.

As the sun is setting we bring in our fishing line (no action today), bring down the cockpit awnings, and tune in for the evening radio net. Connections are marginal; hard to make out what anyone says; but we do get the positions for Maggie and Tahawus. We’ve knocked another 10 miles or so off of Tahawus’ lead.

Liam heads to bed. Nora and I sit in the cockpit for a while staring at the sky. A crescent moon is close to Venus, very pretty in the twilight. We pick out several satellites. She sees a fleeting shooting star. I could sit in the cool and stare at the sky for the 3+ hours until my watch, but I should get some sleep before I am on duty, so I turn in.

With the quiet conditions I sleep through until my alarm goes off at 10:53. Time to unhurriedly report for duty by 11. Nora briefs me on what the wind has been doing (not much), no ships, no nothing. She turns in, and I have the world to myself. When the sailing is peaceful, I love to be alone on my 11pm to 3am watch. When conditions are hairy, the watch can be terrifying, but that seems half a world away now.

The batteries are low, so time to start an engine before I use the radio to check for Sailmail. Although the Africa station is now 3,000+ miles away, at this time of night it connects on the first try. I transmit a long email asking Hallie to post an entry to my blog, and several short emails about when/where we will make connections with upcoming crew. We’re working out the details now for the Caribbean and Bahamas. It is wonderful to be able to send emails at sea, even though we sometimes spend hours in frustration, trying to get an adequate connection via the radio. We’ve learned what frequency and what time works well for the Africa station, but we will be gradually losing that. Next up will be a station in Trinidad, and we will probably go through a learning curve working with it.

The wind goes even lighter, and shifts direction 30 degrees. Normally we would consider motoring at this point, but we have limited fuel given our battery charging situation, so we will just sail slowly. I adjust the sheets, with a silent apology to Nora for grinding the winch directly over her head. It will wake her up, but she will go right back to sleep.

Batteries charged, emails sent, engine off, I settle in to writing a blog post about what this day was like. And before I can even finish it, Liam appears and my watch is over. Now in my berth, finishing the post. Time for sleep for about 4 hours, and do it again. I could repeat days like today…happily…for weeks on end.

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This is our last night at sea; we should arrive around dusk tomorrow. It has been a wonderful day. Clear, with a steady breeze. We were entertained by a bird that hovered in front of us, watching until we would scare up a “flock” of flying fish, and then he’d swoop in and try to catch one. We saw him succeed several times. We also had a bird land on the back of the boat, but he was off again after a few seconds. And we had a bird go after our fishing lure, but luckily he did not get hooked, and he gave it up.

Tonight we had two ships pass close by, on their way toward Europe/Gibraltar. One was on a collision course with us, and with our spinnaker up I was limited in what I could do to get out of the way. I gave him a call on the radio, and he changed course 30 degrees to pass behind us, thankfully. I also saw two airplanes. We must be approaching civilization!

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Yesterday Liam deployed the hydrogenerator propeller that he had improvised from bookends. It worked well — very quiet and smooth, generating about the same power as my outboard prop concoction. But this morning it didn’t seem to be generating much, so I pulled it up for inspection. The blades had all bent backward! So we are back to using my solution. But it is no longer a big concern, as we approach our destination and we still have some fuel in reserve.

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Nora won the bet as to how far off we would be when we spotted Fernando de Noronha. Liam and I each owe her a drink. We were surprised by how high the land was, and especially by one prominent phallic peak that turns out to be a focal point from nearly everywhere on the island.

We arrived as the sun was getting low. We anchored and all jumped in for a quick refreshing swim; then watched the sunset. We had opened a bottle of wine and were about to have a simple pasta dinner, when we heard James and Ruy from Blue Wind approaching in their dinghy. We welcomed them aboard (they had never been aboard No Regrets!), and shortly after we heard the Tahawus crew approaching. We opened another bottle of wine. We’ve never had so many guests aboard in our little cabin! A nice welcome, and always fun to connect with James and Ruy. Ruy says he needs to go with us to see the authorities in the morning, because they speak no English (and we speak no Portuguese).

Eleven and a half days at sea on this most pleasant of passages. Hard to believe we are in Brazil. Hard to believe that Nora and Liam have sailed 6,000 miles with me. We are a seasoned crew now, and it’s a little sad that our thoughts are turning to flights home (for Liam) or to other parts of South America (for Nora) or from the USA to our next stop at Cabedelo on the mainland (for Hallie coming to visit me!!). But first we need to enjoy being here for three days, and then two nights from here to Cabedelo.

Brazil! West side of the Atlantic! Only 3 time zones east of home!

The spinnaker that I carried as checked baggage to Mauritius saw lots of action!
The spinnaker that I carried as checked baggage to Mauritius saw lots of action!
Wind chart covering St Helena in lower right to the Fernando de Noronha area in upper left. Steady light winds directly behind us all the way.
Wind chart covering St Helena in lower right to the Fernando de Noronha area in upper left. Steady light winds directly behind us all the way.
A far cry from battling around the African Cape!
A far cry from battling around the African Cape!
Preparing to graft a blade cut from another broken prop.
Preparing to graft a blade cut from another broken prop.
When the graft failed, Liam goes for manufacturing new blades from bookends.
When the graft failed, Liam goes for manufacturing new blades from bookends.
Zeke goes for employing the services of a spare outboard prop.
Zeke goes for employing the services of a spare outboard prop.
Our collection of hydrogenerator propeller improvisations
Our collection of hydrogenerator propeller improvisations
Of course you have to be there to appreciate the beautiful dusk, but an attempt to show the moon and Venus
Of course you have to be there to appreciate the beautiful dusk, but an attempt to show the moon and Venus
This guy entertained us for quite some time with his fishing strategy
This guy entertained us for quite some time with his fishing strategy
Swooping in on two flying fish -- look carefully
Swooping in on two flying fish — look carefully
Another common activity
Another common activity

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Approaching Fernando de Noronha
Approaching Fernando de Noronha

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Ahhhhh, it's been 4 months sailing; first time in the water!
Ahhhhh, it’s been 4 months sailing; first time in the water!

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