We planned to leave Santa Cruz, Tenerife on 4th December and sail to Cape Verde. A few days before our planned departure, the forecast showed the Azores High strengthening in the north. The Azores High, also known as North Atlantic High/Anticyclone or the Bermuda-Azores High, is a large subtropical semi-permanent centre of high atmospheric pressure typically found south of the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean. There were 30 knots of wind (sustained), with higher gusts. In addition, leaving Santa Cruz for Cape Verde means sailing in the acceleration zone between Tenerife and Gran Canaria, as well as the acceleration zone typically found off the south-east coast of Tenerife. Add in two separate swells and it would have made for an uncomfortable start to our passage. These conditions continued for the next 10 days, so we waited it out until we had fairer winds. Below are snapshots of the forecast for when we wanted to leave on the 4th. This was also when there was a cold snap in the UK and there was lots of snowfall...
In the meantime, we needed to get malaria tablets for when we go to Suriname. We went to several 'centros de salud', which is the equivalent of going to see the GP. We finally found the 'Centro de Vacunacion Internacional' (Centre for International Medicine). We walked about a mile to get there. It was a huge old building with two ladies sitting behind the reception. In our best Spanish, we asked to see a doctor who could give us a prescription for malaria tablets. One of the ladies answered in Spanish and asked if we had an appointment. We didn't. She tutted a little under her breath and after a few moments, she told us to take a seat. A couple of minutes later, the same lady showed us the way to the doctor's office and we sat down. She started speaking in perfect English and asked us where we were travelling to, what vaccinations we had already etc. We started laughing to ourselves as this lady was the doctor. She was really helpful and sent us in the right direction to collect our medication. Mattis also got a tetanus booster at the centre.
On the other days, we re-bedded all of the portlights, took out the sliding door from the heads, painted the bilges and got the majority of our jobs done. We also visited a couple of places on the island, including Icod de los Vinos, where there is a famous dragon tree that is over 800 years old, and a black sandy beach in San Marcos.
When wind conditions were back down to 15-20 knots, we left Santa Cruz on the 14th December and set course for the island of Sao Vicente, Cape Verde. This was an 850 mile passage and we planned for it to take us about a week.
We averaged 120-130 miles a day and we had one day where we were becalmed, so we switched on the engine and motored. It was funny to see on our GPS tracker (InReach MapShare) how we were doing. When we used our wind steering system, the Hydrovane, our course was straight as an arrow. When we motored and hand steered, you could see our course curve in a banana shape, especially during our night watches. Below is our passage from Tenerife to Cape Verde.
We saw many extraordinary things on this passage; dolphins (these were much smaller than the previous pods we'd seen before), flying fish flying in groups of ten or twenty escaping from predatory fish. One morning when the sun had risen, we looked over our deck and ten flying fish had landed on it overnight. We sailed this passage on a new moon and the dark nights were lit up with stars. The shooting stars and light trails they left behind were astounding and we always looked forward to seeing the next one. I made many wishes :)
Most nights we saw phosphorescence glowing beneath us as we were gliding through the water. One night, Mattis was on watch and he called me to come and have a look at the dark water beneath us. You could see the sparkling from our boat, but then all of a sudden you could see green flashes further away from us. It was almost as if there were networks of sparks that shot out green fingers of light. They were dolphins triggering the phosphorescence .
We kept an eye on star constellations that we recognised. As they slowly moved from one side of the horizon to the other, we roughly knew what time it was. I loved looking at the constellation Orion and Mattis kept an eye on Polaris, the North Star, keeping it over our starboard quarter for the passage.
With two more days to go before we approached Cape Verde, we said to each other 'why haven't we been fishing yet?'. So we got out our fishing line and threw it over the stern. When we were in Portugal back in August/September time, we met Frank, an English fisherman. Frank is such an interesting guy who fished for a living for decades and was very generous with his knowledge. Frank has had programmes made about his fishing for the BBC and worked alongside the likes of Gordon Ramsey.
Word quickly got out and lots of people were asking Frank questions about fishing....what is the best kind of gear to use, which lures, how heavy should the line be, what is the best way to kill a fish?.... So, Frank held a 'fishing masterclass' on the pontoon one afternoon and everyone brought what gear they had. We had a fishing rod and a few lures, and that was about it. Following Frank's advice, we bought some skirted lures, a plastic yoyo, some monofilament line, and 15 feet of shock cord. Frank gave us some of his braided line to complete our outfit.
On our way to Cape Verde we threw the line over the stern, and within about twenty minutes I could see flicking in the water. We had a our first fish! By the time we got our bucket untied and started hauling in, the fish had got away. A few minutes later we tried again and same thing happened. Third time, I kept my steely eyes on the line and Mattis caught our first fish! A mahi mahi. We'd never seen one before and it was a beautiful looking thing, glistening in the sunshine, green and yellow. It was a fairly small one, but a perfect size for the two of us.
By day six, we were mostly eating apples, oranges, soup, boiled eggs, bran flakes, muesli and chocolate, so fish would be a welcome change. Just as Mattis was filleting the mahi mahi, I led the line back out, and a couple of minutes later we had another fish on the hook! I could see it was much bigger and it was shimmering bright blue. I hauled it in. Bringing it over the side was a challenge, but I managed it. We put it straight into the bucket and as soon as we saw it, we thought we'd release it. Firstly, neither of us wanted to kill such a magnificent creature, and secondly it was way too much for us to eat. We carefully released it and that was that, we didn't fish for the rest of the day. I was reading our fishing book and it explains that mahi mahi are naturally blue in the water, but when they get excited or stressed they turn a mixture of green, yellow and brown. I never would have thought that, as you always see green/yellow mahi mahi in photos.
On the morning of the seventh day, we raised Sao Vicente through the haze. About an hour from shore, I was at the tiller and Mattis was on the foredeck. All of a sudden there was a huge surge from underneath, which sent me to the other side of the cockpit (we're always clipped on). Mattis shouts from the foredeck, 'Did you see that whale fluke?'! It must have come very close to us, it had probably just come up for air, and the displaced water caused us to heel.
We arrived in Mindelo, Sao Vicente safe and sound and anchored in the area just south-east of the marina. Anchorages are wonderful floating communities and there were lots of boats from France and Scandinavia and the UK. We hopped in our dinghy and rowed to the floating bar at the marina, where you can park it and pay €4 for the day. Cape Verde to me is like Africa on an island. Having been to Zimbabwe and South Africa a few times, there's a distinct feeling of Africa, but so much of Portugal too. Portuguese is the native language here, so it was time to brush up on what we'd learnt a few months ago. We went to the customs and immigration offices just before they shut at 4pm and had our ships papers checked and passports stamped.
On our first day, we had glorious heat and sunshine but for about a week after that the skies were covered in a haze. This haze is called harmattan, and it is the sand and dust that is brought over from the Sahara, usually in December.
Christmas morning we were rowing to the floating bar. One of the other boats in the anchorage stopped us and told us to be careful as they had intruders on their boat at 0430 that morning. They said that they heard people boarding their boat, so they quickly got their torches out and started yelling as loud as they could. The intruders quickly scampered and the owners were not harmed.
We reached the floating bar at the marina and met our friends: people who we caught up with from other countries and people we'd spoken to on the VHF on passage here. We all brought a dish each and had Christmas lunch together. All of us are heading across the Atlantic from here, to different countries. Many to the Caribbean, but also lots to Brazil, French Guiana and Suriname.
Day out exploring the island of Sao Vicente, Cape Verde
Mattis and I hired a guide for the day with Anne and Stefan of S/Y Zanzibar, a German couple we'd met. We learned just a few of the interesting facts about this island and Cape Verde...
Our Time in Cape Verde
This trip was hard in terms of sleeping, or lack of. The past couple of passages, we had found a rhythm of letting each other sleep when we needed it, and it worked really well. On this passage we really struggled, both staying up too long when there was no need. We arrived in Cape Verde much more exhausted and grumpy than before, and it took us a good three days to catch up on sleep.
We've decided to work out a watch system for the next passage (the BIG one) and stick to it. Crossing the Atlantic will take us at least two weeks and we want it to be the best one yet - it's only once you get to cross an ocean for the first time. From books and conversations it seems if we both get too tired, the best thing to do is heave to and both have a good rest before continuing. Proper watches and getting decent rest every few hours seems like the way to go. The table below is the watch system we are going to stick to:
The plan is to leave Mindelo, Cape Verde on Saturday 6th January. We have our minds set now on going to French Guiana, which is approximately 1800 nautical miles from here.
Follow us on our GPS tracker across the Atlantic, it's nice to know people are keeping an eye on us...