St Helena to Brazil

As I sailed west from Saint Helena it took most of the day for the winds to stabilize.   Even though it is a relatively small island, it seems to have a substantial effect on the wind even after you are 10 or 20 miles off.  There were times when the boat speed would go from 3kts, to 6kts, and back to three without even changing sail.   I think I was thankful for the lighter winds which would prove to be the exception for the rest of the passage where for almost half of the trip I had too much wind to even carry the mainsail with three reefs, so I was down to just a few square meters of Jib for quite a while, running 4 to 5 knots down 8 to 12 foot seas.  It’s kind of funny how tender this Alberg 30 is.  Even with no sail up at all, if you are running down wind with a 30kt blow, you will be probably be making over 4kts already.  Now this might sound great to someone who hasn’t tried it, however, when you average 4kts running in a 3.5 meter swell, you end up surfing down each wave at around 8kts and then slow down to 2kts on the back side so your speed is erratic and on the occasionally breaking wave you get pushed faster than 10kts, way too fast for the wind vane to control your steering, leaving you no option other than to slow down even further.  Another factor on this passage that affected my progress was the endless procession of squalls (very small storms).  And most of them did not pack too much of a punch however I was getting several everyday so you either had to stay reefed with minimal sail, or constantly adjust the sails every time one of these squalls hit you.  On many occasions I could look out at the horizon and see five or six individual squalls, which is fine as long as you avoid direct contact, your winds stays more or less consistent.  Speaking of consistency, as much as I’m prepared to complain about the conditions, they were basically very consistent!  I think over 90% of the time the wind was from the SE (or at least somewhere between East and South East.  And I think it was between 15 and 30kts for about 85% of the time.  It wasn’t until the last four to five days that I started to get any real moderation with wind speeds under 15kts and seas around 2.5 meters or less.  There was cloud cover most of the time making solar charging difficult so I didn’t even bother using the Engel refrigerator at all in order to save power.  In fact I probably could have done the entire passage without using the engine to generate electricity but I did run it for about 2 or 3 hours to give the batteries a little boost.  Overall I think it was a good passage.  In the sense of, uneventful, plenty of wind and waves but almost all from behind making the sailing fairly easy even if extremely rolly.  I think I was even more fed up with the big swells and rolling motion of the boat considering that the anchorage at St. Helena didn’t really provide any protection, so essentially for about 2 months straight (South Africa to St Helena to Brazil) I had to be hanging on unless I was sitting down.

I departed Saint Helena on July 5th at 1PM with 1919 Nautical Miles between me and Salvador, Brazil.  In less than 48 hours from the start I had been “pooped” where a breaking wave filled the cockpit with water, and as close to being knocked down on my side as I have ever been,  I think the official definition of “knocked down” is when the boat is over 90 degrees from vertical, so literally on her side.  I’m not sure how far over we went that second night but it must have been around 70 degrees’ from vertical, I was in a deep sleep and would have been knocked out of bed if it weren’t for the lee-cloth (netting) that holds me in place, things that have never moved before went flying across the cabin, and a nice little wall of water came inside after it completely filled the cockpit.  Moments later the emergency bilge pump came on, not exactly unexpected as quite a bit of water made it inside, but not enough to be concerned about.  I mostly remember feeling startled and angry.  Even though I couldn’t think of any good reason to be scared, considering that within just a few seconds the boat was back to vertical, and about one minute later all the water was pumped and drained out.  By some act of god, my computer didn’t even get wet (but don’t worry it will later).  Looking back at my actual log entry I wrote “4AM, My God, knocked down and pooped, was going 5.4kts with triple reefed main sail only.  Now down to bare poles and still making 4.2kts”.   The next log entry was at 9AM “Sailing with bare poles (so no sails up at all), winds ESE 30+kts, boat speed 4.8kts, 210 miles down, 1715 miles to go, and a squall sneaking up on me…”  At that point I was contemplating how I was going to slow the boat down for when the squall arrived.   Either string some very long warps (ropes) off of the stern for drag, heave to, or maybe use this opportunity to try out my sea anchor.  In the end the squall was brief enough and I simply continued to ride it out with no sail up.  I think that was as rough as it got on the entire passage.  Only a few days later on July 8th, I was re-reading James Baldwin’s Book “Across Islands and Oceans” and found a quote I really like;

“The sea, especially in its moments of fury, demand first your attention, then your endurance, and finally your patience and acceptance.  If you lack this capacity, the sea will soon find you out and make it known to you that the shore is where you should make your home”   -James Baldwin

I’m not sure if the sea was letting me know that I should make my home on land, but it was certainly making implications.  That same day I managed to get a “free shower” from one of the passing squalls and also started my new hobby/experiment, sending messages in bottles!  A few days later I spotted another sailboat.  Of course it was Dharma Bum, having left one day after me from Saint Helena but quickly caught up to me being in a 40ft Catamaran.  I would later pass him when the winds got very light, only to be passed again later.  One thing that I should mention is that the problems I had on the passage too Saint Helena from the worn bushings in the Norvane wind vane seems to be fixed.  It’s quite a mission trying to get the machine shop on a tiny island to machine new custom bushings but it did get done and seems to have the wind vane working much better, but not quite good as new as there are a few other worn parts that still need replaced.  Another piece of equipment worth mentioning is the Furuno Radar.  After well over two years of getting the “run-around” from furuno, trying to get them to correct the faulty radar alarm, they finally sent me a new display unit in South Africa.  I am very sad to report that the ‘glitch’ or ‘fault’ is still there.  If you want more info on the radar read ‘equipment reviews’ on my website.  My friends with the same unit and similar models all still suffer the same problems (alarm doesn’t go off as it should when a ship approaches), I did however learn a little trick that makes it work a little better, it’s too complicated to explain here but if anyone has a furuno radar with the faulty alarm problem email me and I’ll explain.  Overall very little things on the boat broke or needed repair, the only other piece of equipment that caused concern was the play in the rudder, I even noticed this at Saint Helena but without much of a haul-out facility I opted to wait until Brazil to deal with it.  By the way you CAN get your boat out of the water in Saint Hellena and I heard that it was not very expensive; they just haul you out using a crane.  The big deterrent however is that sea conditions with a large swell breaking and no proper harbor make the hole process very daunting at best.

July 11th, Fishing Day.  So feeling a little low on protein plus enticed by reports from other yachts on the same passage I was finally ready to do a little fishing.  People kept reporting an abundance of nice meal-sized dorado (mahi mahi), nearly on demand.  So I spent some extra time and set up a new hand line with a new bungee I acquired just for this purpose, added the new stainless mustad hook, a simple pink squid lure, a few expensive swivels, and you’re more or less ready to go.  Within 5 Minutes I had a small dorado!!  I wasn’t even prepared with the gaff or anything so he just hung on the line for a few minutes.  Finally I was ready and he was still hanging on tight so everything was looking good.  But as fate would have it, just as I got him up to the boat he got off the hook!   No problem, I put the gear back out and again, within 10 minutes or so, except this time I didn’t get the fish, the fish got ALL my gear!   Seems that the new line I used to secure it to the boat doesn’t hold a knot very well!   So very depressing.  After a stiff drink (my first one on this passage) to drown my sorrows, I rigged up another jury-rig hand-line now that my nice rig is no more.  I used the same type of lure and hook and now the thing has been out there all day with no more hits!  I’ve heard that these Dorado run in pairs, maybe I just got the local male and female that have been hanging out under my boat.  Well I’ve still got another hour or so before dark so I’m not giving up, surely there is a fish dinner in my near future :-).

July 13th, Friday the 13th.  Wow there simply isn’t a lot to report on this trip.  The only thing of note is that it has been especially rolly, nearly enough to drive you mad.  It’s the kind of rolly where not only can you never set anything down, you also have to hold on constantly unless you are in the bunk.  So now try to imagine making coffee, when you need one hand to hold on, and nothing can be set down except on the stove.  I was going to give a play by play explanation of how difficult a simple task like that can be but you can probably just use your imagination.

Looking back at my log, The first day I reported that the rolling was starting to settle down was on July 17, at 7PM “567 Miles to go. Wind 15kts, Boat Speed 4kts. After sailing through squalls all day and much work reefing and unreefing the sails it seems that everything is starting to settle down just as the sun is setting, and it is looking like it’s going to be a very clear night.  The motion of the boat has become more tolerable, and with clear skies and no moon the stars are truly amazing.”  The next day something else happened that was very cool.  Firstly, I caught a large tuna, and they day before I had small dorado for dinner.  I still wasn’t running the refrigerator to save power and I didn’t want to waste the tuna, so I ate about 1/4 of it (as much as I possibly could) and the rest of it I preserved in jars using my pressure cooker.  This works great by the way and is less trouble than you would think.  It also provides a way to be sure that you have fish available to eat every day (for free) without using a refrigerator or resorting to drying fish.  SO, after all this ‘fish processing’ I look out behind the boat and for the first time ever, I see an odd fin break the water (not a dolphin-like fin) I was thinking more like a shark following the boat.  I crawled to the back of the boat and stood up for a better look and I couldn’t believe it, a large marlin, probably over 6ft long was following me just about 10ft behind the boat!  He only stuck around for about 10 minutes or so until I guess he got bored.  Speaking of fish, I also had another small fish (maybe 1ft long or less) following me for days.  Every time I would through something overboard (like bread) he would rush over and check it out, but never ate anything I offered, and then rush back to Salsa’s side and just follow along, day after day!

Things kept getting better as I got closer to Brazil.  More and more sun meant more and more power on board to use and no need to run the engine, there was even one or two cloudless days during the approach.  It was also getting plenty warm and taking showers outside was actually comfortable for the first time in months!

The final approach went very smooth, there was quite a bit of shipping running north and south along the coast but with the new AIS it was no problem avoiding collisions, and on the last night I could see the lights from Salvador well over 50 miles away as a bright glow to the west.  By early morning a few lights and beacons started to show up and then by 8AM I had a large pod of dolphins escorting me in for several hours, how cool!  By 2PM on July 25th I was moored at the Terminal Nautico Marina in down town Salvador with two other friends that had arrived days before me.  Normally I do everything I can to avoid marinas, mostly to avoid the fees, however there have been a lot of armed robberies on the yachts that are anchored nearby the yacht club (like 3 in the last 2 months or so) so I decided that for about $15USD a day I would come into the marina a few days in order to clear in with the officials, top off fresh water and food, check out the night-life in town very briefly, and then I headed over to a safer anchorage across the bay on an Island called “Itaparica”, and it’s very nice here.  I’ll update again later with info about brazil but just want to get this passage report out for now.

The passage took exactly 20 days after sailing a total distance of 1962 miles, averaging about 100 miles per day or 4.1kts.  That was sailing very conservatively and I probably could have shaved many days off of the passage if I wanted to but I was more interested in taking it easy.  I don’t ever remember arriving as well rested as I did after crossing the South Atlantic, especially after the moderated winds during the last few days and the new AIS allowed me to sleep nearly all night every night without fear of collision with shipping traffic.  In fact, some friends mentioned that with all the post arrival partying that I haven’t been as rested / relaxed since the actual arrival, and I think they may be right, at least here on Itaparica there is so little to do I’m now catching up on sleep and work.  The Windvane did a great job once again and did not need any repairs.  Essentially I got plenty of sleep.  As for now the only plans are to relax and do some maintenance on Salsa here in the Salvador area for the next few weeks.  There are a few rivers you can sail up for several miles to check out a few isolated villages and get away from the city and the tourism.  Other than that I hope to be in Colombia or Panama by December (Finishing the circumnavigation!)  so that leaves several months to work my way around the NE coast of South America.  As always, hope this update finds everybody well!  -Kirk

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