Closing the circle

In Voyages on 02/05/2013 at 12:59

0420 Dakar to Gran Canaria

On December 4th 2009 Helena started her first Ocean crossing from Gran Canaria. Now, over three years later, she’s made it!!! Now Helena, and Rolf, can honestly and proudly say they joined the ranks of world circumnavigators, a sailing feat first achieved in 1522 by the Magellan-Elcano expedition.

Here are their daily updates.

Sunday 21 April

Local time: 21.00 Position: 27.41N 15.25W, Course 022, speed 5.5 kts, True Wind speed variable from variable

Tonight is the night.

We are in front of Gran Canaria and you know what? I have been there before… This means that tonight, in about 28 miles or 5 hours, and after 44 months I will have finally made it. I have sailed around the world. Well, as long as nothing goes terribly wrong in the last 28 miles of course. This means that this was also the very last passage with Helena, not only for Bart and Marga, but also for myself…

I hope to sell Helena here in Gran Canaria, so that Boukje and I can start building up a different life again with our son and therefore this will most likely be the final stop after 3,5 years and for Marga and Bart the last 2 months. Normally I end the passage with an overview of everything we didn’t tell you all during the trip. Things like masts falling overboard, steering systems failing completely or other similar minor mechanical problems (see website for wrap-up of the Indian Ocean). This time it is a little bit different. The reason is simply that nothing went wrong. Everything is still in one piece! Well, unless you count filter- and oil changes and other regular maintenance of course. Well, yesterday we did bend the little bowsprit a little, but that is easily fixed and does not interfere in any way with the daily activities on board. The fuel we got in Dakar was pretty damn bad, so we’ve been doing filter changes along the way, but that was also no big deal anyway. We also had a slight problem with the battery charging from the engine, but that was also a matter of a replacement on Ascension island and will likely be under warranty anyway. Even this last one was not really relevant though since we did not need the engine anyway and therefore the problem wasn’t really applicable.

I have been working towards the arrival today for the last couple of years and I am happy to say that it was an impressive time. I have spent some amazing times in different areas of the world, the best of those times of course with Boukje. I am arriving with mixed feelings now. Sad to leave this life with Helena, but also very excited about the new start with Boukje and our son in progress. FYI, he is due at the end of may, so it was a tight call with our arival here! Bart and Marga have probably been some of the best crew I have ever had on board and I cannot thank them enough for their loyalty, tolerance (yeah, that’s definitely needed with me) and efforts to help me get to where we are today.

As said, this is the last update, not just for this trip, but probably permanently as well. Thank you all for reading all my nonsense for the last couple of years and fair winds to you all!

Saturday 20 April

Local time: 19.00 Position: 25.40N 16.28W, Course 027, VMG 5.1 kts, speed 5.1 kts, True Wind speed variable from variable

The depression is passing over us now so we are having light winds, which are shifting continuously around us. We did manage to spend a few hours without the engine, sailing with 13 knots winds on a very calm ocean and even doing 7 knots! Yes, we had a good day. We did a sail change to have the normal genoa back instead of the small jib for close hauled sailing and we even ran with the halfwinder for a few hours!

We have been so busy with all this today that we completely forgot about the time and now we are late for the cooking. That means a somewhat later dinner tonight, but that’s ok. We have only 150 miles to go to Gran Canaria, so it looks very promising for our arrival tomorrow night!!! The wind is going to stay variable and that means that we can use the engine to keep up the speed and get our asses over there. We cannot believe how lucky we are with this depression coming in like this. We anticipated a very very rough and hard passage which could take us about 2 weeks or even more, but now it looks like we have another pleasure cruise with only a few days of hardship.

Friday 19 April

Local time: 20.30 Position: 23.45N 17.33W, Course 033, VMG 6.5 kts, speed 6.5 kts, True Wind speed 15 knots from West-Northwest

Now WE are kicking ass! We’re making good speed (with occasionally 7.5 kts) directly for the Canary Islands. We are still motor sailing although we could sail on this wind quite nicely. This is because we need the speed to make sure we can arrive during the light winds. It seems that on Monday the wind system here is organising again, so that would mean strong winds against us if we do not make it in time to Gran Canaria. It all looks good for our arrival though so if all goes well, we should be arriving somewhere in the night of Sunday to Monday.

We’re all looking forward to the rum&cokes, gin&tonics and lots of beers and tapas when we arrive. Also, if any of you readers is interested, be welcome to join into the round-the-world finish party!!! We have quite a booze supply still on board and we can finish it all! 🙂

This morning there was a pod of dolphins around the ship again! I personally slept through this, since I had been awake almost the entire night with some captain stuff, but Bart and Marga have been enjoying the sight of these playful animals a lot. I just had a good morning sleep for a change so I am seeing the world through some waking eyes again today.

If the current forecast works out for tomorrow, we can put up the lightwind sails one last time so that we can dry them properly before storing them for the long term again.

Thursday 18 April

Local time: 19.00 Position: 22.11N 18.51W, Course 051, VMG 4.2 kts, speed 4.8 kts, True Wind speed 14 knots from North

Some more of the ass kicking but not as much as the past few days though. The wind is slightly less around 16 knots and therefore the seas are a bit calmer now. A welcome relief! On top of that we are really surprised and happy about the new weather forecasts… It seems that the wind is dying out tomorrow and the part of this trip which was supposed to be the roughest, seems to be dissolving into a low pressure system with variable winds of low strength. This means that we may be able to motor directly towards the Canary Islands from tomorrow afternoon without beating against the strong winds. Ok, ok, I can hear you thinking… Indeed, we don’t like the proper sailing that much! We are officially sissies and we’re proud of it!!!

In the mean time we’re sleep deprived and looking forward to al the pleasantries of calm seas and low winds like oorlam, being able to move on board, sleeping and sharing good times.

All in all, we may be arriving on Gran Canaria on Sunday or Monday, IF this forecast works out.

Wednesday 17 April

Local time: 19.30 Position: 20.45N 18.09W, Course 302, VMG 1.4 kts, speed 5.2 kts,True Wind speed 17 knots from North

Ass kicking continues! We’ve been having more of the rough seas and this morning it seemed to calm down, so we started to do some refueling from the drums we carry on deck. Of course, while we were busy with the fuel, the wind picked up again, so we ended up with a whobbly fueling operation while heaving to. We succeeded anyway, despite the seas, wind and a crappy pump which takes more than half an hour to pump 60 liters of fuel.

In the mean time we noted that we have made some relatively good progress. We have 450 miles to go, but tonight we will not make any of these. We’re heading west again to get a bit farther away from land, so we can make another tack afterwards like the one we did last night. With a bit of luck, that may bring us far enough north to reach Dakhla where we may or may not stop for shelter, fuel or simply rest.

We’re trying hard to get through our meat supply so this afternoon it was chicken avocado sandwiches and tonight some steaks again. No matter what the circumstances are, Helena remains a 5-star restaurant at all times! You may have heard something about “extreme ironing” (look it up in google/youtube!) but extreme 5-star cooking should be something for the world to start working on…

Tuesday 16 April

Local time: 20.00 Position: 19.58N 18.24W, Course 036, VMG 3.5 kts, speed 3.7 kts,True Wind speed 21 knots from North

We’re getting our asses kicked!!! It’s rough and we’re now officially fighting the elements. Nothing dangerous though, just uncomfortable and very wet. There is a big swell coming from the northwest and the windwaves are very high and coming from the north, making this a very bumpy ride. We are still motorsailing since there is no way we can make any kind of progress on the sails alone, with the waves, wind and current trying to push us south.

A highlight of today was just a few minutes ago, when we made the first tack since Australia! Wow! I have mentioned many times before that sailing around the world is for sissies, but now we’re starting to feel a bit more like proper sailors (except for the motoring bit of course). We are now back on a northeasterly course, which means that our VMG is a lot more positive now. This does not mean a lot though since we will have to tack again well before we get close to Mauritania, due to a large area of shallow waters and sand banks. So far it looks like the next tack should be happening tomorrow again.

If the wind forecast shows more beneficial winds in a few days from now, we may seek shelter in nouadhibou (Mauritania) to wait for this. Otherwise, we will just battle on until we reach either Dakhla in Western Sahara or the Canary Islands.

Monday 15 April

Local time: 18.30 Position: 18.31N 17.04W, Course 294, VMG 1.4 kts, speed 4.9 kts,True Wind speed 17 knots from North

For the first time along the way around the world, we are sad that we cannot use the engine to go directly where we want to go to… The wind has picked up to around 18 knots and this causes the swell to be too steep for us to break through. Therefore we are now officially on the first close hauled leg. We are still using the engine to make sure we can stay high enough to the wind to have some kind of progress. We cannot go ease any further because that we will end up with even worse winds.

This does mean that the ride is a little less bumpy now and we hope that it will stay that way. Hopefully the wind will shift a little bit in our favour tonight (according to the forecast that should be the case) so that we can make a bit more miles in the right direction. We plan to go on engine alone whenever the wind drops below 15 knots, so we can build up the miles more efficiently.

There is a lot of shipping in the area, all coming along the African coast. This means that we have to keep listening on the radio (VHF) but that is also a bit annoying since some of the people on the big ships are dealing with some serious adolescence issues and make animal sounds, burping sounds and lots of other very silly remarks throughout the night. Now, this seams like it is just something to laugh about, but since we must listen to this safety channel at all times, we are also forced to listen to this stuff. At times it does drive us crazy.

Bart is in the galley now making risotto with springbok fillet after Marga sliced some nice pieces this afternoon for a springbok carpaccio which was accompanied by caprese salad.

Sunday 14 April

Local time: 20.20 Position: 17.04N 17.25W, Course 025, VMG 4.3 kts, speed 4.7 kts,True Wind speed 16 knots from North

We’re happy that we have been able to do some motoring!!! Yeah, I know how it sounds, but since we had light winds today, we were able to use the engine to go directly towards where we need to be. As far north as possible! Every mile we can make like this will take 2 miles of our entire plan, so we have now saved up a lot of miles. We are still motoring, but this time we are beating against the strong winds. The wind is slightly northwest and to our east is the shoreline of Mauritania. If we start sailing now, we either go further away from the Canaries by going completely west or we will run into Mauritania, which is where we do not want to be. We expect a windshift tomorrow early in the morning, so we can start sailing northwest as soon as this happens.

We heaved to again today to replace some lightbulbs for the navigation lights and to wash the cockpit windows. This last bit was very necessary, because we have collected a layer of fine sahara dust over the entire ship. The skies are colored red from this dust and it is really everywhere. Last night we noticed that we could not see anything through the windows, not even our own bow. Therefore we had to stick our heads out of the side of the cockpit and you will understand that that is simply too much work. So we decided to put up with a little window cleaning.

Another problem which is haunting us is that we had a meat supply for 4 people on board and we are sailing with only 3. Therefore we are trying very hard to chew through it. This afternoon we improvised a very very nice steak tartare with beautiful french bread (yeah, the french influence in Dakar is at least good for something eh:) and this evening we had my specialty of Fillet steak.

Saturday 13 April

Local time: 20.00 Position: 15.06N 17.31W, Course 357, VMG 6.1 kts, speed 6.1 kts,True Wind speed 12 knots from Northwest

We are underway again! We have spent a few good days of resting… eh, well, not really, but maybe just a bit. You see, we were in Dakar to get fuel and supplies for the next leg. Now, it took us a full day to do our clearance and figure out how to get our hands on some fuel. Then we had to be on shore early in the morning next day to be in time for the payment of the fuel, because otherwise we could not get it. Since the fuel is in the main commercial port, we had to get in line with all the other ships that were waiting for fuel and the next day the fuel ship would arrive and spend 2 days of filling up the tanks for the fuel station. Anyway, long story short, we got our fuel at about 00.30 which was indeed after midnight. So by the time we were back at anchor it was 03.30 and then we had to experiment with different portions of rum in cokes. This caused a hangover in the morning and then we had many other boat jobs to do. This went on throughout our stay in Dakar, so you can imagine that we are quite happy to be back underway so we can get our well deserved rest…

We also have been lucky enough to find another captain who had an identical satellite phone and who was willing to temporarily exchange phones. This means that we have a satphone connection again to send out these emails!!! (note the length of this email 🙂 Many thanks for the delivery skipper of Lola who we will owe a couple of beers in the Canaries when they arrive.

As mentioned we are underway again and are looking at about 800 miles distance between us and the Canary islands. Normally this is not so bad and we would easily cover that distance in less than a week. However, since the winds are all coming FROM the canary islands, we will have to beat against it. So, we have got 1400 litres of diesel fuel on board and we have done all we can to enable us to sail as close hauled as possible. This involves sailchanges, rerouting the sheets and moving some stuff around. From now on there will be an additional piece of information which is VMG or Velocity Made Good. This is a sailing term which basically tells you how fast we are getting closer to our destination. Right now we have light winds and we are motor sailing in such a way that we are heading directly for the Canaries, therefore it is the same as our speed. This will be significantly less along the way because we will be moving more and more sideways to our destination, which means that we’re not getting closer at the same speed anymore. For more info on VMG punch it into Google and you should be able to find out all about it. Since the VMG is going to be the most important piece of information from now on, we have decided to include it in our updates.

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