Sunday, February 7, 2016

Crossing the Atlantic with 1 Sail and 20 Bimbos …and… OUR CIRCLE IS COMPLETE!

 2 February 2016

Rally boats departing Tenerife, BeBe on right.
All the ‘last minute’ things prepping BeBe for the Atlantic crossing were completed a couple of weeks  before the scheduled rally departure date.  Bill and our new crew member, Andrew, dropped the sails to remove a meter or so of the halyards to make sure there was no chafe.  They replaced the small lines attaching the heads of the sails to the halyards; nothing was wrong with the old lines but best to have new lines in place just before a long ocean crossing.  BeBe was as ready as she would ever be.  All that remained was for me to hit the supermarket for as many loaves of Bimbo as possible and to buy massive quantities of fresh produce at the very last minute in order to have the freshest possible at moment of departure. 

We did set the dual headsails but 90% of
the passage was under poled genoa only.

We have no idea what is in Bimbo breads (and do not want to know).  That stuff lasts for what seems like forever!  By the time I got to the supermarket the day before departure the supermarket shelves were nearly empty of Bimbo breads.  Seems like everyone knows this particular brand lasts for weeks (or months) and it was the brand purchased by all the sailors.  We ended up with 12 loaves of breads, plus 2 packages of hamburger buns and 4 packages of hot dog buns and 2 par-baked baguettes – all Bimbo brand and all with expiration dates well past our anticipated date of arrival.  About half-way through the crossing, Bill commented that someday he should write a book and entitle it, “How to Cross the Atlantic with 1 Sail and 20 Bimbos.”  Hence, the title of this blog posting.

Bill’s comment was based on the fact that the only sail we used most of the crossing was the genoa – poled out to port 90% of the time.  Take note that it is mandatory to have at least one spinnaker pole to cross this ocean unless you plan to gybe back and forth.  The wind was consistently from 180 degrees (directly astern) up to 150 degrees off starboard stern.  That wind angle requires a pole. 

The Atlantic Odyssey II rally departed Santa Cruz, Tenerife at noon UTC on Saturday, 9 January.  Jimmy Cornell had advised us at the skippers’ meeting the previous afternoon that he did not recommend taking either the rhumb line route which traditionally is the route used in January or the slightly longer ‘cautionary’ route to 20N 30W before turning westward.  Both of those routes normally used in January were not advisable this year because of a large tropical LOW which at the time of our rally departure was situated WSW of the Canary Islands.  He stressed that for liability reasons he was unable to provide any specific advice as to routing but he strongly suggested that we all head straight towards Mindelo, Cape Verde, before turning westward once reading the trade winds – the traditional ‘safe’ route.  Most skippers took Jimmy’s advice, I think.  We know of only 2 boats that opted to try the ‘cautionary’ route to 20N 30W – Jacqueline and ViVa – and both managed to avoid the increasing storm.  Lucky them!  ViVa later diverted farther southward while Jacqueline continued toward 20N 30W.  Jacqueline shaved at least 200 nautical miles off the total passage by going this route.  We took the longer route totaling 2960 NM.

Because that tropical LOW developed into Tropical Storm Alex and then increased to Hurricane Alex!   How about that!!  We had waited to cross in January rather than November because traditionally January is the better month for weather.  Jimmy Cornell was the founder of the ARC which has departed from the Canary Islands annually in mid-November for about 40 years.  He said that he never wanted the ARC to depart that early in the year; he has always felt that November is too early to cross the Atlantic.  It is possible for a late-season hurricane to develop in November.  Plus, the trade winds are rarely established in November; the trades usually do not fill in until after Christmas.  These reasons traditionally make January the better weather time for crossing.  But the ARC departs in November because so many people want to be in the Caribbean before Christmas.  However, due to our changing climate, this particular year a hurricane developed in January!  There have been recorded hurricanes (or, at least one) in January.  But this phenomenon is very, very rare. 

That LOW just west of BeBe is the one that turned
into Hurricane Alex.
Those 2 boats were very lucky Alex stopped tracking ESE and then began to move northward toward the Azores.   I had checked before we departed Tenerife and saw that the LOW was predicted to follow the exact path that Alex did track; but the hurricane could just as easily have continued another 100NM to ESE before making that stop and change of direction.  Both boats arrived safely and never encountered any heavy weather, so no harm done; but it was rather ballsy in our opinions to chance possible intersection with a growing storm.  We instead opted to head straight toward Mindelo, Cape Verde.  After being sucked up into that storm in the Bay of Bengal in early 2011 and spending 5 days circling the eye, we were taking absolutely no chances of going anywhere near the tropical LOW, much less near a hurricane.

A mid-Atlantic full rainbow, left side.
We were plagued with frequent inability to obtain weather reports and emails during this crossing.  Even using both Winlink and Sailmail there were many days when we could connect with neither.  Bill pulled only one weatherfax file and that was for Tuesday, 12 January.  It verified that the LOW was still following the prediction we had seen on 9 January on  So we felt safely east of the storm.  Still…we were shocked when on 15 January we received a weather report from rally control stating that the LOW was now the first hurricane of 2016 and was named Alex.  In January!!!   Thankfully, Hurricane Alex was headed away from us at this time.

A mid-Atlantic full rainbow, right side.

We continued south toward Mindelo, postponing the decision whether to stop or not until we got there.  We did not need fuel and had no equipment failures or medical issues, so why stop if the trade winds had filled in by the time we got down there?  The passage between Tenerife and Cape Verdes seemed to take forever.  It was a very slow passage and I think we averaged only about 135NM daily.  Our slowest times…ever.

One day out of Mindelo we experienced wind squalls for the first time.  These were strange.  They were light gray and did not show up on radar at all.  These contained no rain but were packed with strong winds.  We could see these during daylight but had no idea where they were after dark since these were undetectable by radar.  We were lucky and had no bad experiences with these wind squalls, but 2 other boats were caught in a few.  Amakora got hit by several, the highest winds being gusts of 69 knots!  Kandiba saw 44 knots.  We never saw anything over 30 knots gusts and were very glad to leave those behind us.

Cape Verde westernmost island, 10 miles distant.

We sailed within 10 NM north of Mindelo in the Cape Verdes and found the westerly trade winds.   The 3 of us immediately decided to keep on trucking.  We were into the rhythm of the passage watches and saw no reason to stop.  Bill joked that we should stop for African pizza and beer but I said instead we could have Caribbean pizza and beer in a couple of weeks. 

Seaweed dinner.  Better catch a fish on the next cast!

As we finally changed course headed west, Andrew started trolling our first fishing line.  There was so much seaweed floating in large clumps which fouled the fishing line and lure that this effort was soon abandoned.  Others reported on the VHF radio that they were catching fish but we did not have the right kind of gear to weight the lures down low enough in the water to avoid all that floating seaweed.

Andrew with the only mahi-mahi caught across the
entire ocean.  Big enough for 1 meal for 3 people.

A few days later Andrew caught a small mahi-mahi.  It was the perfect size for dinner for the 3 of us.  The next day he caught a much larger mahi-mahi but it managed to spit the lure just as it came up to the boat and Bill was unable to reach it with the gaff in time.  That one would have fed all 3 of us both lunch and dinner for at least 3 days!  What a shame he got away!  The next day the same lure caught a small tuna but it also managed to spit the lure before being gaffed.  We were really liking this particular lure!  It was one that was designed to dive 15 feet and it avoided most of the seaweed and the fish seemed to like it.  

Put out the line; reel it in because fouled with seaweed.
That got old quickly.

Unfortunately, soon after something really large took that lure.  Awwwhhh….it was our favorite!  We had no more lures that would dive deep enough to avoid the seaweed and we had no weights to keep the line deep enough down, so that was the end of our fishing.  We are going to search for another of those type lures in Martinique; I saved the package and want to find on identical one.

A synopsis of our Atlantic crossing is short and simple:  way too much motion but needed only 1 sail and those 20 Bimbos.

We ate hearty meals on passage.  Meatloaf, mashed
potatoes with demi-glace gravy and steamed
broccoli was a typical meal.
We experienced no squalls; in fact, no rain whatsoever.  The nearest rain shower across the entire ocean tracked 7 NM north of us. And how we would have enjoyed having that fresh water rinse to wash off some of the heavy slimy salt which covered the entire boat!
The typical daily weather forecast from rally control included statements such as:
“24 hour forecast weakening cold front in a line south of XX and west of XX.  NE to E winds 20 to 25 KT.  Seas 9 to 11 ft in mixed N-NE and SE swell.  48 hour forecast E of a line from XX to XX winds 20 KT or less.  Seas 10 ft. in mixed N and S swell.”

If one eats those hearty meals and wants to maintain
physique, exercise is required.  100 push-ups.
Perfect form.

Don't know how he was able to maintain perfect
form push-ups on that rolling deck, but he did.

We still do not understand how swell can come from both north and south at the same time, but it does.  When converging swell would occur at our stern, BeBe would slide down those 3-meter turbulent swells at a 45-degree angle.  The trusty Autohelm ST7001+ autopilot handled it beautifully and recovered quickly to keep us on course.  We occasionally switched to the chain drive as a precautionary measure – to allow the linear drive to cool off.  The linear drive always worked perfectly but we did not want to over-task it.  The chain drive did not steer as easily and effectively as the linear drive in the heavier stern waves.

Having a third crew member aboard is really the only way to go.  We now strongly recommend having a minimum of 3 crew members for ocean crossings.  Those extra hands do come in handy.  Bill and I could have easily handled the crossing with just the 2 of us but it was nice to have Andrew’s assistance which allowed each person more sleep.  Having 1 additional person aboard required no additional work for meals or housekeeping and Andrew was a big help.  Having that crew member be of the same nationality, in our case all Texans from the same general area of Texas, contributed to the congeniality on board.

First glimpse of Martinique, a most welcome sight.
The first rally boat to arrive in Le Marin was Jacqueline on 28 January, one of the boats which had taken a more direct course rather than go so far to Cape Verdes.  The captain said they were about 195 miles NW of Cape Verde when they turned westward.  The following day 3 Amels arrived near the same time.  The first to arrive that day was Kandiba, an Amel 55 owned by friends Hassan and Zehrya who were accompanied by their niece Fatma and darling little dog Carlos Santana.  Next was BeBe and minutes behind us was ViVa.  BeBe and ViVa are sister-ships, Amel Super Maramu 2000 model.  There also was another Amel Super Maramu that arrived at the same time but that boat was not part of the Atlantic Odyssey rally.  Three identical Amels arriving at the same time kind of filled up the fairway near the fuel dock where boats are instructed to drift until the captainerie (marineros) arrive to assist docking each boat.

BeBe arriving Martinique near rally finish line.

Arrival at Le Marin completes the circle for us.  Our longest passage was 3,024.2 NM between Galapagos Islands and Hiva Oa, Marquesas.  That one took 19 days and 23 hours.  Crossing the Atlantic from Tenerife to Martinique was the second longest passage at 2,960 NM and took 20 days 5 hours.  The Atlantic took 6 hours longer and covered 64.2 fewer miles. 

Judy, Bill and Andrew with welcoming rum punch
on dock at arrival Martinique.
Over the past 9 years 9 months we have sailed a total of 34,989 nautical miles around the world.  That number does not include tacking back and forth as all sailboats do; it is the point-to-point miles of our sailing destinations.  We did not keep records of actual miles sailed but rather focused on the distances between anchorages or ports.  BeBe was transported aboard a cargo ship through the Somali pirates and Arab Spring violence during early 2011 for a total of 3,866 NM.  (We later sailed back south and farther east in the Med, so at least 500 of those miles transported were later sailed by us anyway.)  Including that transported distance, the total BeBe has covered is 38,855 nautical miles (plus all that tacking and gybing).  I have not yet counted all the countries visited but guess the total is around 53 or 56 or so.  We know this is not a mariner’s definition for a circumnavigation but we truly do not care what anyone wants to calls our round-the-world adventure.  Call it whatever you like: we have circled the world -- mostly via boat and a minor distance via airplane.  It has been a fantastic 10 years!

Time to relax and enjoy.  Rum punch was delightful.
Judy drank 4, and she never drinks rum punch.

And now very pleased to be back in the Caribbean where we will relax and enjoy the cruising life for several more years.  No plans and happy to have no plans for a change.


  1. Wow, so many miles and countries in the past decade ... congratulations and enjoy "no plans" in the Caribbean for a while!

  2. Congrats! One day we hope to be half the sailors you are :)

    We hope we cross paths in the Caribbean within the next couple of years. So glad to have you safely back on this side of the pond.

    Best wishes,

    Mark and Cindy
    s/v Cream Puff


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