Sailing the Atlantic (2002)

Mid-Atlantic on FengI recently re-found my email journal from when I sailed across the Atlantic in December 2002 and thought I’d reproduce it here for posterity. There are photos too so I’ll try and get those sorted as well.

The Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) has been running since 1986. Up to 225 yachts cross together from the Canary Islands to the St Lucia in the Caribbean during December of each year. The distance is about 2700 nautical miles and can take anywhere between 11 days and 3 weeks. See for more details.

I joined yacht Feng with my brother Pete (skipper), Jim (owner), Naomi (cook) and Richard (sail man). Feng is a Nautor Swan 48 and when we did the race she was a practically brand new boat fitted with all the latest technology. One of my duties was sat comms and that meant emailing out regular situation reports to friends and family. It is these emails which I have shown below plus some more at the end edited from personal emails to Susie.

25/11/2002 0950 UTC 26°19’N 16°35’W
We got a good start yesterday (in top 30 out of 240) but have lost sight with others now. We were escorted out of GC area by school of dolphins playing in bow wave – this is good luck. A vicious wind shift then took place with 30-40 knot SW winds and resulted in our 1st ‘situation’ – one of our sails in the water in its bag. Got sail back but lost bag! Had uncomfortable night in big seas and strong wind but improving now.

27/11/02 1030 UTC 24°22’N 21°37’W
As I sit and write this we are lurching wildly in a big swell and trying to find some wind. We have had some good spells but currently slopping around in 8-10 knots. Tried using our cruising chute yesterday and discovered several tears from our adventures on day1! Quickly mended with the magic spinnaker tape and up she went – pity we can only use this with a bit more wind. Got the first email from race HQ yesterday with boat positions and I have been busy trying to plot them up in Excel – assuming I’ve got my chart the right way up we not doing too badly! You can check the positions on and go to positions tab on left.

This morning we discovered a hitchhiker on board. A lovely black and white speckled pigeon had landed on deck and was taking a nap. We have given it water (it was very thirsty) and tried it on biscuits and croissant but to no avail. Trouble is, the further we go, the further it gets from land! We did discuss option of pigeon pie for dinner but don’t think it would feed 5! It is ringed – pale blue, 2002, 244536 – mean anything to anybody?

Then, as if re-enacting some Noah’s ark scenario a large school of dolphins came hurtling toward us and played around for 30 mins, leaping into the air and diving under the boat. Think we were too slow for them – they like to swim fast!

Seeing anything at all out here is an event, be it another boat or some kind of creature! At night we leave a trail of sparkling phosphorescent plankton in our wake, really beautiful! We had a half moon last night but it was still incredibly bright, the stars are amazingly bright too when the moon is not around.

We ran our water maker yesterday so now have full water tanks again … might treat ourselves with a shower later. Mine and Pete’s cabin is smelling a bit fruity but that might just be the oranges stored under the floorboards! Rich is displaying his mastery with the sails – trying every possible combination but am concerned with his fondness for herbal tea. Naomi is providing constant cups of tea and bananas whilst teaching us Japanese. Pete has just asked that I mention his excellent navigation! Typical Hughes!! He did manage to get us on top of the Endeavour Sea Mount yesterday (but this could have been luck). It rises from the sea floor 2750 metres to just 250m below sea level.

28/11/02 2030 UTC 22°37’N 25°39’W
And things were going so well …! The wind picked up yesterday and we set a downwind course with sails goose-winged and the genoa poled out using the spinnaker boom to stop it slapping around. Carried on like this for 24 hours, wind picking up 25 knots this afternoon and we had some impressive sleigh rides down big waves! Top speed clocked was 9.43 knots. This course would send us straight to St Lucia. This afternoon, the wind shifted a bit and we decided to change the sail setup … that’s when things went wrong! The bit that holds the spinnaker boom to the mast failed catastrophically, narrowly missing Richard’s head as it sent the pole crashing down, and so we are now left with no means to pole out our genoa (useful in downwind sailing) or fly our kite (spinnaker) – this seriously limits our sail plan options and means we will be slower. A one knot reduction in speed over the next 14 days will mean another 2 days on our arrival! Apologies for sailing jargon.

On the up side, Percy (the pigeon) finally left for good after several brief sorties and has not been seen again. Just as well because he was making a mess of the deck. Have seen lots of other flying things today too – sea birds (petrels and shearwaters we think) and also my first flying fish! They are incredible, the one I saw was airborne for what seemed like 10 seconds! Also good is the food – bacon lettuce tomato sandwiches for lunch and tonight a curry is being prepared. A big dinner is essential to keep you going through the night watches. we are running a staggered watch from 8pm to 8am, tonight I am on 8-10, sleep till 12, on 12-4, 4-6 on standby (kipping in the cockpit ready for action!) and then sleep again! It sounds complicated but is essential to have a good lookout for shipping and other yachts. There area few trawlers out here we have seen so far. Also, we sail through the night but under reduced sail as a precaution. Someone asked if we stopped at night … er no!

30/11/02 2000 UTC 21°11’N 032°09’W
Today we passed the 1000 mile mark – that means just another 1700 to go to St Lucia! ETA 11th December. Also, we crossed a time zone so put the ships clocks back 1 hour. Celebrated with afternoon tea and cakes on deck – very English/Japanese! this means dinner is 1 hour later tonight 🙁 we have 2 more time zones to cross – 45°W and 60°W.

Last night we caught a fish …well, it caught itself really. A flying fish jumped on deck in the night where we found it this morning. We resisted the urge to cook it up for breakfast despite our books recommendation that the bones turn green. As I speak Rich has just come down to report being hit in the back by another flying fish whilst at the helm, revenge perhaps. They can leave the water at 30mph and are quite hard and pointy! Ouch!

Weather today has been mixed, some stormy squalls occurring which mess around with the wind but bring a welcome cool shower in the heat of the day. Winds look favourable for next few days according to our charts and reports coming in by satellite. Ever onwards!

Some of you may wish to picture the scene, Pete and Rich are up top as it gets dark battling with roller coaster waves, missile fish and squalls, Naomi is harnessed to the galley (literally!) preparing another splendid dinner and I am wedged in the nav station – a corner of the boat with all the computer, radio and GPS equipment. At night we operate under red light (so as to preserve our night vision) so the whole thing resembles some kind of military HQ. there are certainly no G&T’s on the poop deck … we are a dry boat apart from medicinal whiskey which has not yet been resorted to! It will make the rum in St L taste so much better!

02/12/2002 2000 UTC 19°39’N 37°58’W
According to the GPS we are now just a few miles away from the half way point! This warrants a special dinner and entertainments as yet unknown! We were listening on the radio net to another boat who had celebrated with champagne and freshly caught marlin (60lb)! Alas, our meagre catch of flying fish will not do the job. Jon, we are going too fast to use the trolling device you gave me, our rods and line are not up to it and even if we caught something we would probably lose it at the speed we are doing (7 knots).

The weather gets warmer, it is almost too hot at midday to sit in the sun, and the sea temp is 79F. Stormy looking clouds puff up around us all day but produce nothing until night time when we get the odd squally shower, often heavy. the wind is strong and constant at 15 to 25 knots (F5-6), occasionally 30 although forecast to reduce from tomorrow evening as we move away from the high pressure system which drives the trade winds.

One of the things that we were looking forward to was getting daily position reports of the other boats by satellite from race HQ in Cowes. However, after 9 days we have had just 3 and one of those was corrupt. Another message today tells us that they are having technical difficulties! So, I hope you have been able to track us on the website, if not, get your atlas out, draw a line between the Canaries and Caribbean and we are smack in the middle!

We have been sitting in the cockpit listening to the beautiful south as the sun goes down discussing what we are most looking forward to. The main things seem to be the first sight of land followed closely by a cold beer (and who says all men are shallow!). I am also looking forward to being still again! although, as any of you who have been at sea will know, we will have land-sickness for the first few days – where it feels like the land is moving beneath your feet!

04/12/02 1930 UTC 17°08’N 43°05’W
Unfortunately, the weather forecasts we get out here all the way from the UK are a lot more reliable than the ones you get for the UK from the UK! The wind is dropping gradually and our boat speed drops accordingly. we (well Richard) have managed to jury rig the broken spinnaker pole so we are now goose-necked, main sail out one side, genoa out the other – looks pretty but feels slow. We have just had visual contact with Femme Fatale about 6 miles to our southeast. We called them up on the vhf for a chat and like us, they are anticipating crossing the 1000 mile to go barrier in the early hours of the morning. Our last celebration (the half way mark) was assisted by Kylie Minogue (not in person alas) and a bottle of Laphroaig whiskey. One boat has reported that they are having a hot tub party tonight – not quite sure how they will manage that but sounds good!

We have been at sea for 10 days now and much of our fresh fruit and veg is running out. Just apples, oranges, onions, cabbage, potatoes and a few tomatoes left. This leaves us something of a quandary about tomorrows BLT’s … we need to substitute the lettuce with something but what? We have some dried Japanese seaweed (ugh!) but I think shredded cabbage might just work.

We had a film screening of the Great Escape this afternoon on the built-in DVD / flat screen TV! We also have a Nagamichi 6 CD changer to amuse us which can play to the cabin or cockpit on Bose speakers! All a bit different from the days of old but we had a good old sea-faring lunch to make up for it – boiled cabbage and corned beef!

Might try some fishing tomorrow if the light winds persist. Another boat reported seeing a pod of minke whales today … hope we see some too.

06/12/02 1900 UTC 15°20’N 49°01’W
As I write this some of the first boats will be arriving in St Lucia and sipping rum. We still have some 700 miles to go but the end is now in sight and we have had a sweepstake on when we will arrive – favoured times are late on the 10th / early hours of 11th. Our position looks pretty good too … well up in our group and about 50th in the field as a whole.

The weather has been funny today, just about every kind of cloud is in the sky! we have had better winds than expected and last night were ploughing along (or ‘hooning’ – a new word invented by us we think) at up to 11 knots with a following wind and waves – quite exhilarating especially at night under a starry sky. Today we are seeing long lines of dark cloud – squall lines – which give increased winds and rain. These can be favorable if the winds push you in the right direction so we keep a good lookout for them. In between them though is clear blue sky and baking hot sunshine so an occasional soaking does not go amiss.

When the wind drops we could of course use our engine but this would incur penalties and our time would be adjusted. It is frustrating waiting for the wind to fill in but there will be a certain satisfaction in knowing we got all the way across an ocean using wind power alone.

Chaffing is a problem the long-distance sailor has to deal with … the wear and tear on ropes which are under constant pressure for long stretches of time. Today we had to cut the end off one our sheets which had almost worn through. If this had snapped in the night it would be quite exciting so we try and keep a check on things during the day.

By the way, you may be wondering what Feng means. I am informed by our Japanese contingent that it is the name of a Japanese mythical bird which creates the wind when it flaps its wings. So there!

Also, a little correction to the last email – I said goose-necked when I of course meant to say goose-winged.

Apologies to anyone who has tried to email us – we have been unable to collect internet mail, just messages from the race organisers, so will find an internet cafe in St L and try and get some pics posted.

09/12/02 1300 UTC 14°22’N 57°40’W
The end is nigh … this time tomorrow we will be scanning the horizon for signs of land. St Lucia is 191 miles away and we are still trucking along at 8 knots in a strong NE wind (F5). Not much to report over last few days. We did have another dolphin visitation yesterday morning. There is something special about dolphins – perhaps because they are so intelligent we feel a link with them. The way they play around the boat with such ease, just watching them is quite uplifting. Our dolphin identification chart leads us to believe they are Atlantic spotted dolphins … which is handy as they are most definitely spotty and, last time I looked, we were in the Atlantic ocean.

It is getting very hot and the moment the sun comes up you can feel its evil rays burning. Naturally we are exposing our bodies to it as much as possible for that essential winter tan. Naomi has discovered an ingenious way to make our warm juice cartons a bit more exciting – put them in the freezer (yes, we have a freezer!) and instant sorbet! Very refreshing.

I have to say, I am getting a bit fed up of the constant rocking and rolling of the boat – caused mainly by the irregular swell and the fact that we are sailing dead downwind. Getting up to get ready for a watch at night is particularly funny, trying to get trousers on whilst hopping on one foot, half asleep, in the dark, and holding on for dear life. Simple tasks become quite taxing. As if that’s not enough we have also to contend with flying fish which seem intent on suicide. One flew into the cockpit the other day, bounced off my lap, narrowly missed my dinner plate and landed on Richard’s hat – which is now very smelly.

That was the last of the journal emails. We arrived at Rodney Bay marina, St Lucia in late morning on December 10th after being at sea for 16 days. The following entires have been edited from personal emails sent to Susie.

10/12/02 1830 UTC 14°4.5’N, 60°57’W (Rodney Bay, St Lucia)
It is very very hot but windy, palm trees and lovely blue water, the finsh was amazing, really exciting and now we are all just relaxing and getting some rest before the first round of parties tonight. Lots of boats still to come in. I have found an internet cafe where it is $EC10 for 30 minutes so will try and do some emailing and pic uploads later. Right now I want to lie down!

11/12/02 2300 UTC 14°4.5’N, 60°57’W (Rodney Bay, St Lucia)
Have had a few technical probs with pics … will have to wait until tomnorrow. Just been on the beach watching the sunset … beautiful. Very chilled out now, have found some great rum for 5 quid a bottle … will bring some back. Right, must go, others are champing at the bit for food.

12/12/02 0830 UTC 14°4.5’N, 60°57’W (Rodney Bay, St Lucia)
Hellooooo …. it is 4.15 am and have just got back after leading a skinny dipping expedition to the beach!

15/12/02 2300 UTC 14°4.5’N, 60°57’W (Rodney Bay, St Lucia)
Naomi’s birthday dinner was great, really good restaurant and the best food I’ve had since we got here. I had conch chowder and grilled red snapper with garlic mash and a rather vile looking blue cocktail! Naomi had got all dressed up and had a good time. We went on to the bar near the marina where people were throwing each other into the pool! We met a few friends from Northern Child who we kind of raced across with and drank till 4am! Turned down the offer to go back to someone’s place for a smoke!

We have booked up for a mountain bike tour tomorrow taking in a waterfall swim and rainforest! Cool – this is just the kind of thing I wanted to do. Jim has just left for Connecticut now so we have decided to have a party! I am designing invites for drinks on Feng for tomorrow evening!

Have had a brill beachy day. The ARC had a beach party with bbq, volleyball, dingy racing and naturally rum punch. it was hot hot hot but we played volleyball like demons and it was great fun! When you got too hot you just ran into the sea! We are now back on the boat drinking rum, I have been learning knots, it is still hot hot hot sweat is dripping down my back nice. We are eating on board tonight, all agree we have had enough of eating out. M-biking tomorrow, early night I think.

16/12/02 2030 UTC 14°4.5’N, 60°57’W (Rodney Bay, St Lucia)
Today we went mountain biking in the rainforest with George of the Jungle! He was quite a character but lots of fun and biking was really easy. Didn’t see any monkeys or anything too spectacular but it was nice to get out and see other bits of the island. Lots of tree ferns and palms and things, no snakes thankfully. So tonight is the Feng party – we have filled the fridge / freezer with beer, have G&T and Naomi and Rich are off getting food for nibbles.

17/12/02 1830 UTC 14°4.5’N, 60°57’W (Rodney Bay, St Lucia)
Oh my god … had the worst hangover ever this morning! The party went VERY well … everyone thought it was really cool, we had a huge tub of iced beers, rum punch and Naomi did loads of nibbles on big silver trays … all looked very posh. We stayed till the booze ran out then I got dragged off to the bar for more! Such a lovely bunch of people here, really really nice genuine and friendly people.

Rich has got a job on another boat – Liara – as a deckhand with Ross (skipper) and the owner (sells tyres in the UK) and his kids Liam and Lara (hence Liara). The yacht is absolutley stunning, 65ft luxury racing yacht. Think it has more square footage than my flat! A lot of people are heading off for other islands now and lots going home.

2 thoughts on “Sailing the Atlantic (2002)

  1. Bro,
    Nice to hear all the narrative again. Brings back fond memories.
    Just got KILIFI back from Honduras. One day I will need crew to get her across the Atlantic – up for it?

  2. Love reading these logs. I’ll be crossing the Atlantic in 2 years, but first I practice on Lake Michigan and Huron. Thanks

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