Departed Saldanha bay South Africa, May 30th 2PM.

I don’t know why it’s always so hard to leave on a major passage.  You might think by now that I would be used to it.  Sometimes I think it’s just the endless preparations, maybe it’s just pre-trip anxiety or the ‘jitters’.  Maybe it’s the flashbacks to the not so great times in prior passages.   I’m sure a part of it is knowing that your boats not ‘perfect’.  “Ah hah” you say, “You’r leaving and your boats not perfect!?”.  Well as some of you must know, no boat is ever perfectly ready.  All you can do is hope she is ready enough.  If I made a list of all the pre-departure things I didn’t get around to doing you would be amazed.  And possibly even more amazed if I made a list of all the things I DID do.   But enough philosophising on passages and preparedness and lets get on with the story of this one.  

I actually felt as well prepared as I ever do seeing how I’ve put off leaving South Africa for nearly two months longer than I initially intended.  All of the mandatory to-do things were marked off of the list and the boat was stuffed with water, fuel, food, etc…   Salsa had been in a Marina in Hout Bay (the southern suburbs of Cape Town) for around three months by now and it was getting way to cold to bare.  The first weather window was to get me to Saldanha bay, about 60 miles north of Hout Bay and Cape Town.  All the experts tell you that the best time to depart South Africa to cross the Atlantic is in the summer (December through March) but they also note that you can leave any time of the year and I guess they are more or less right.  With no cyclones in the South Atlantic year round the actual ‘safety issues’ are relatively small any time of the year.    However I learned from personal observations the two major reasons why it’s much better to do it in the summer.  Firstly, you generally get South Easterlies around Cape Town in the summer, exactly what you want when heading North-West.   Secondly, its warmer pleasant weather!   Now in the summer, at least what I experienced sometime in May, the predominant wind around Cape Town eventually shifts to the North West.  And now your faced with waiting for a weather window with the odd Southerly to get you out of there.  Thankfully, once you get a few hundred miles north of Cape Town, the odds of encountering more southerlies goes up substantially as does the temperature.  And somewhere around 500 to 1000 miles out, they are the prevailing winds.  Thats good news for me, seeing that as I write this I am 425 miles out of Cape Town, with no headwinds predicted, sounds like I did well orchestrating my escape considering the time of year, I guess we’ll both know how well I did by the time you read the end of this passage report.

So after a few days of final provisioning and recovering from a little bit of a cold, saying sad goodbyes to new friends, it was time to go.  The forecast was for a building SE wind and I was willing to motor out of the harbor and the bay for a few hours in order to get offshore before dark to avoid the majority of the shipping lanes and fishing traffic around here.  In reality I got a later start than I hoped and didn’t leave the Saldanha Bay Yacht Club until around 2pm (a very friendly accommodating club with great facilities in a tiny boring town).  My arrival into open water was even further delayed by motoring into a 4-5 meter swell until I was well clear of the bay and able to bare off to the North West, at least the wind was cooperating.   At some time around 4 or 5 PM I was off shore saying my final goodbyes on the phone and downloading one final weather forecast as the Southerly breeze picked up just enough fill the sails and get me moving NW at around 4kts.  I would have been sailing much earlier but I really needed at least 10kts of wind to keep the sails from luffing in the big swell.  I remembered all the dolphins, seals, and birds I noticed on the way into the harbor on a windless sunny day just a few days back, but this time there were just a few birds and plenty of clouds at first.  Eventually the dolphins didn’t let me down, and they came out in numbers, at least 100 I would estimate.  The ones with the grey backs and white bellies, not very big, but very entertaining, doing back flips, and breaching the water everywhere,  with the sunset for a backdrop,  a nice send off!

On day two the South Easterlies were stronger than foretasted and I was down to the third reef in the main.  I hate it when the wind gets so strong that I have to douse the mainsail completely and resort to furling the headsail up to the size of a storm jib.  The problem is, that with no main sail up, the boat rolls like crazy, just like it’s doing right now.  I believe the forecast was for wind speeds around 18kts, not bad for down wind, but I’m getting more like 25 to 30, feeling a lot like the Indian Ocean passage.  As I write this on day four out, it is still the same, but to the credit of the sea, only one wave has managed to find it’s way into the cabin, and even that one missed the computer and me mostly so I’m not really in a position to complain even though I just might.   On some level it’s comforting to know good friends of mine on Darma Bum III are just about 50 miles away from me as they left the same day but out of Hout Bay.  Even though they are not big fans of chatting on the Radio we are doing two check-ins a day to exchange our positions and sometimes discus weather.  As far as I know there are no other boats on this passage at the time, with most of the fleet having left long ago.

In spite of the rough seas it has been gradually warming up, the weather in Cape town was around 65F in the day and closer to 50F at night.  At the moment I’m getting more like 65F at night and close to 70F in the day, and each day its getting warmer.  I started out with a t-shirt, sweater, jeans (on top of pajamas) socks, shoes, a warm hat, and a jacket, and most of that on while sleeping in a sleeping bag!   Last night I was down to just Jeans and a T-shirt and sleeping under a normal blanket, and today I’ve only worn my socks half of the day, I can’t wait until I can change into shorts, maybe in a week?  I had nice sun and was getting reasonable solar power as well until today where it has been around 75% cloud cover, so even though I rarely run the engine to charge the batteries I might have to in a few days as I still have an entire chicken and big peice of pork in the fridge.  Back in Hout Bay during the summer I was able to run the fridge all the time with no power issues as the fridge didn’t have to work hard considering how cold it was plus nice long sunny days.  Now that it’s slightly warmer I’m wishing I didn’t provision with so many perishables so I could have turned it off sooner.  Also the new AIS I installed has been GREAT.  Even though the power consumption (about 0.6ah) isn’t much less than the radar on watchman mode, at least i’ts  nice to have a reliable alarm for all of the larger ships, plus knowing there course, speed, name, etc…  After four days out I’ve only had one (semi) close call with a fishing boat, I’m not sure why the Radar alarm didn’t go off, as I did replace the faulty Furuno display with a new one but I’m still not sure if it’s working correctly  or not, again, I should know by the time I get to St. Helena and if not, by Brazil for sure.

I feel there’s not a lot of interesting things to discuss thus far on the passage and that might be why I’ve waited until day 4 to start writing.  I’ve been consistently sailing at about 5kts, sometimes as slow as 4 or as fast as 6 but I’m finding my pace now at about 5kts, going any faster and I start surfing down the big swells and the Norvane begins to loose control.  At the moment I have about the equivalent of a working jib poled out running almost dead down wind, but I’ve had it furled so small in the last few days to where I had only about four or five feet of sail unrolled, just to keep the boat somewhat balanced, I’m told by my friends on Darma Bum and the weather people that I’m getting 25kts or so but It’s feeling more like 30-35 to me, could be the sea-state making it seem worse that it is.  But right now the swell and the wind are down slightly, maybe 20 to 25kts and seas 3 to 4 meters, with a forecast to go down even further maybe to 0kts of wind in the next two days but I’m staying optimistic, hoping for at least enough wind to keep sailing.  I feel I’m nearly far enough north to stop worrying about getting the effects of the next low pressure front coming through and for sure I have enough sea-room (150+ miles) offshore to deal with a head wind.  Shipping traffic is still noticeable with one or two ships a day but the AIS is picking them up flawlessly and they are getting less and less frequent.  So the point is if we run out of steam in day or two I could probably deal with drifting for a while.  I think that’s it for this entry, more to come soon.

June 10, 11AM, 20.36S, 000.59E Course, 306 True, Speed over ground; 4.4kts. 478 Miles to St. Helena, traveled about 1260 so far.  Winds, ESE 20-25, Squally, overcast, seas 3.5meters.

So this is DAY 12 and the only the second time I’ve sat down to write about this passage other than some very brief notes to serve as reminders  I feel like my last big trip report covering the Indian Ocean crossing was a bit winy and depressing so I’m trying to keep this upbeat (or at least less gloomy) even though many aspects of this passage are very similar to rough conditions I had back in the Indian Ocean and Mozambique channel.  On a positive note, the next day after the last entry (Day 5) turned out to be a great day.  The winds and swells subsided quite a bit and I was able to put up enough of the main sail to counter the constant rolling motion of the boat and still maintain speeds around 4 to 5kts.  Uncharacteristically of myself, I even ran the engine (in neutral) for an hour to charge the batteries a bit.  The small Engel refrigerator, the AIS radio, the Radar at night, the computer watching movies, all these things were taking there toll so I ran the engine to bring the voltage up a bit.  By mid day the sun was shining and things were really warming up, just enough for me take the clippers and deal with some much needed personal hygiene.  I think it had been nearly two months since I last shaved or cut my hair, I should have taken before and after pictures but I managed to get my head and face clean shaven and felt a whole lot better.  Normally I get a shower every day or at least every other day on passages but it’s been so cold and I’ve been so inactive that I didn’t get my first full-on proper shower until day 5, just after my shaving, quite a moral booster even though the water is still very cold!  At first I Thought about describing this day 5 out to sea as ‘the perfect day’ but later decided to just describe it as ‘great’ being that with more thought on the subject, even a cold day in the tropics can be much better than this, it was however, the warmest day I’ve had in a month or two.

The rest of the passage from day 6 through to now, (day 12) has been moderate to strong winds but at least it is always from behind, spending almost all the time running or on a broad reach.  At times I got down to storm-size jib alone, and still making 4+kts.  I also realized that I should have been able to go faster but the Norvane Windvane simply wasn’t handling the conditions very well, at first I was blaming it on the huge swell and later after closer inspection I decided it was just the vane getting old and sloppy.  I see several points on the vane where there was no play or slop before and now there is plenty.  So I endeavored to see what I could do but without the specific spare parts I needed there was were very little options.  One good thing did come from the close inspection of the steering gear, it was mis-aligned!  One of the teeth that control the servo-pendulum (thing that provides power to turn the rudder and steer the boat) was out of alignment by one tooth on the gear.  This fix was very easy now that the gear has all this ‘slop or play’ I was able to finesse it back into position whereas (I think) when it was new you had to take to pieces.  I still notice that windvane starts to loose control of the boat at speeds around 4.5 to 5kts where as in the past I remember it doing much better, when I would average 5kts to 5.5kts and not get too concerned until I was getting closer to 6.  I’m still not sure if this is the vane working poorly or just the conditions, I’ll decide later.  I don’t want to write an entire blog about the windvane but since it has been a source of grief recently I also noticed two more issues.  I’m trying keep my speed down to about 4kts so that the windvane can cope well enough not to jybe or broach the boat on these large waves, and sometimes she just looses control, typically a big waves come along and gets me surfing at around 8 or 9 kts (even though my average speed might be under 4) and then as the boat starts slipping sideways down the wave (only slightly) its catches the servo paddle and pushes it the wrong way, encouraging the boat to go even more off course, this is bad.  The wind at the same time is blowing on the wind paddle fighting the wave action and three times so far it has ‘dislocated’ the steering rod basically locking the vane in one direction and causing the boat to jibe or stall or heave too, depending on the sail configuration.  I might right more details on this on the windvane review on the website for those interested, but lest move on for now.

I’ve been eating like a maniac!  I think I honestly gained about 3 or 4 pounds in the last two weeks!   Firstly I can’t help myself but to eat all the sweets (chocolate) and the potato chips early on, no self discipline I guess.  Secondly because I’ve been trying hard to eat through the perishable food before it spoils and allow myself to turn off the fridge to save power, on day 7 or 8 I ran the motor again (for 2.5 hours) to charge the batteries.  So that’s a total of 8 hours in 12 days, not soo bad, but I still hate doing it, somehow it makes me feel guilty as I know I could just cut back on power usage instead.  Normally I would be getting by just fine but it’s this overcast weather nearly everyday plus the running of the AIS 24 hours a day (consumes 0.54 amp hours) that is getting my batteries down.  Now that I’m well beyond the fishing fleet I’ve left the radar off for days preferring the AIS (but thats another story all in itself).

Next on my list of noteworthy topics to write about, the sink (yes it has been a bit boring out here when the sink is the most interesting subject).  So late at night (bad things always happen at night by the way), I get sick of the gurgling noise that the sink makes.  It’s from the boat rolling around something like 45′ and forcing sea water up the drain into the sink, and then on the other roll, it sucks it back down making a disturbing noise.  The solution is simple, shut the sea-cock valve and shut it off.  Now this is an old stiff valve so I don’t like messing with it too much as you never know when it is going to break and send the entire ocean into your boat via your newly created hole.  So I give it about a half a turn (enough to quiet it up but still lets the sink drain slowly) and then the unthinkable, water starts pouring in.  To make matters worse this is not a very accessible area under the sink where I reach the valve, and since I’m prepared for a long passage that whole area is packed with food, Nice.  So like a mad man I’m pulling out all of the food (while water gushes in) and trying to see what happened.  I think I got VERY lucky, turned out the valve was fine,  However the hose that connects it to the bottom of the sink broke off of the sink and that’s where the water was coming in from.  All I had to do was turn the valve completely off, run the bilge pump a few seconds and at least the sinking problem was averted.  But now I have no sink, well I do but if I put anything in it, it just falls through the drain, onto the food in storage below it, neat.   I won’t go into the details but will suffice it to say I consider it a small miracle that I actually HAD a spare drain for the sink, amazing.  More amazing yet, the next day (was waiting for light) when I installed it, it fit, more or less, re-using a few parts from the old drain.  AND without easy access to any of the wrenches or glues I needed, in didn’t even leak when I was done, WOW, I still can’t believe it.  Still I plan to try and track down a new drain (they seem to be an international standard at any hardware store) and replace ALL the parts and use the proper glues to prevent future leaks.

The only other noteworthy system failure on the boat besides the windvane and the sink, would be the ignition switch,  I think I’ve repaired and replaced that thing in three different countries.  The lesson here, waterproof your engine control panel, or better yet, I wish I had simply re-located mine to inside the boat, rather than the incredibly stupid current location, low in the cockpit (a place that likes to get covered in water on occasion).  I’ve gotten very good at jump-starting the engine using a screw driver on the starter solenoid, but I still aspire to fix the ignition switch again once again in St. Helena as it is a lot faster to start the motor with the switch rather than accessing the engine, getting your screwdriver out (two screw drivers if you want to use the glow plugs!), etc….

I got a very nice message from Holger on Darma Bum during our SSB radio chats, he said “Welcome to the tropics”  At first I thought it was a joke as it didn’t feel like the tropics at all.  But then I realized that technically, he was correct! We had finally crossed the latitude officially placing us in the tropics.  That brings up another funny coincidence.  We both left South Africa on the same day but from different ports about 60 miles apart.  and had been sailing at 50 or so miles apart for several days, when all of the sudden, I here a familiar voice on the VHF radio, Holger asking “Salsa is that you ahead of me?”.  He was about a mile behind me, but on a more westerly course and I was on a more northerly course, amazing how close we passed!  The last (hardly) noteworthy subject.  There was a flying fish on deck, the first in a LONG LONG time, probably the first since Madagascar or Mozambique, maybe this really is the tropics,  Yesterday I was down to nothing but a pair of shorts on during the day, even
though it is cooler today…   Either way things are certainly warming up, and I’m grateful for that.

I arrived in St. Helena around 9AM on day 18.  I very nearly finished the passage in 17 days however I would have arrived just after dark and even though this is a wide open anchorage with few or no hazards I opted to heave to (basically stopping the boat) around 5pm the night before so I would arrive in the morning with daylight.  Alltogether I covered about 1755 nautical miles so averaged  just over 4kts, and would have done much better had the seas and the windvane cooperated a little better.  Most of the guides and reports from other boats suggest you can see the island from about 50 miles away but I didn’t get a glimpse of the island until closer to 30 miles possibly due to poor visibility, I was looking for it!  I also had ran the engine for about 11 hours on the passage for charging the batteries, something I rarely do however being winter time with short days plus mostly cloudy skies the solar panels simply wern’t keeping up with my power demands.

Lastly, I’ll give a short report on Saint Helena as I have now been here over 2 weeks and plan to depart in one or two days.  First off I didn’t find this place very special other than the fact that it does cut the Atlantic passage in half so one isn’t required to spend over a month at sea without supplies.  Secondly, other than the anchorage and the dinghy landing situation, this place didn’t seem as bad as others had reported.  There are a few walks and reasonably priced tours on the island to keep you busy for a few days.  People seem generally friendly and helpful even though the machine shop that was making the new bushing for the windvane were very slow and would have me waiting hours at a time for them to show up and pick up/deliver the parts and a few times never even showed up.  Part of the problem might be lack of communication, there is no cell phone network on the island.  The prices of everything was actually reasonable considering how remote it is here.  The currency is the Saint Helena Pound, which is locked to British pound (about 1.6 USD to one Pound).  Internet was very high, at 6.5 pounds per hour at least you can use it on the boat in the anchorage via wifi.  Prepared food for me was mostly fast food on the street, there are a few small stalls where you can get burgers or sandwiches for around 2 pounds, or you can get meat-pies at the grocery store for about 1 pound.  I think a meal in a restaurant was still only about 3 or 4 pounds.  Fruit is very limited but I did find bananas, oranges, and grapefruit (25/30 pence each), plus you can normally find potatoes, onions, carrots, cabbage, lettuce, not a huge selection and all at about 50% to 100% more than it would have cost in South Africa or the U.S.  There were a lot of bargains with non-perishable items that were just expired and if you provision well in South Africa I think the prices here are manageable.  Beers in the pubs and restaurants were about 1.5 to 2 pounds and only slightly cheaper in the store.  Wine and liquor is probably double or triple the price as South Africa, and cigarettes are about 4.5 pounds a pack, so I gave all of those high-duty items a miss mostly just going for fresh foods and a few snacks.  I feel the biggest deterrent here is the anchorage.  It’s basically rolly all the time and sometimes extremely rolly (worse than on the passage) as the ocean swell wraps around the island to get you on the beam, not to mention the very gusty winds coming over the island.  Next issue is the dinghy landing at the steps on the jetty.   The first few days everything was OK but the last week it has been nearly impossible to leave your dinghy at the jetty.  It seems that you can always drop someone off or pick someone up but with the swell so big and breaking so close to the jetty it’s simply not safe to leave the dinghy there, if you have a kayak, you can get in anytime if you just pull it up onto the wharf.  Generally people tie the dinghys to small ladder on the jetty and then you must put out a stern anchor to keep it from washing into the cement wall.  Problem there is that the bottom is totally rocky and foul so about 50% of the time your anchor will be stuck, OR worse, my anchor line got stuck under a rock and then when the swell lifts the dinghy your anchor pulls the thing underwater, Sadly I lost my best snorkel and mask that happened to be in the dinghy at the time, I brought them along so I could dive on my anchor and try to pull it loose from the rocks.  Others had less problems but no one found it easy.  One other option, weekdays from 9AM to 6PM there is a decent ferry service where they will pick you up and return you to your boat for 1.5 pounds round trip per person, this is your best option when the swell is big from the SW.  Lastly, the fees seemed reasonable.  The harbor fee for sailboats is 35 pounds and covers you for up to one month.  And the immigration fee is free for less than 3 days or 12 pounds per person for three weeks, plus the longer you stay the less you pay per week.  Several other yachts liked it enough to stay 3 or 4 weeks but I would not have stayed longer than one had it not been for getting the windvane repaired.

So today is July 4th, and while some of you in the US might be celebrating I can tell you it doesn’t mean squat here!  I doubt anyone will even mention it.  And I’m planning to clear out with the officials today and sail sometime tomorrow for Salvador Brazil.  Should take around 20 days so don’t expect to here from me until around the end of July.  Hopefully some of my spot-check position reports will go up on the website so that people tracking me will know where I am.  As always, hope this update finds everybody well! -Kirk

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