Travels with S/Y Thetis


Thetis only

2005: Capo Verde to Barbados

This web page contains the logs of the fourth leg of a transatlantic sailing trip that I took with S/Y Thetis together with my friend Manos Castrinakis. The logs cover a period of 19 days of sailing from Mindelo on the island of São Vicente of the Cape Verde Archipelago to Bridgetown on the island of Barbados in the Caribbean. The logs are illustrated with maps and photographs, and also include some historical and geographical descriptions of the places visited as well as several links to other related web sites.

Map of E Atlantic with route
Route from Capo Verde to Barbados

Wednesday February 2, 2005 Day 26

Map of Cape Verde We slept very soundly: no watches, no noise, no waves. Mindelo, Cape Verde is one of the best harbors in this side of the Atlantic, almost landlocked. As soon as I was up, around 8 AM, I heard a voice. A local had come rowing in a patched up inflatable. He spoke to me in a language with recognizable French and Portuguese words called Crioulo. I gathered that his name was Umberto and that he wanted to secure his services to us for the duration of our stay: boat service ashore, dinghy watch, shopping, etc. I had a hard time getting rid of him so as to attend to the serious business of making and then enjoying my morning cup of Turkish coffee.

I uncovered the dinghy and then covered the mainsail. Around 9, after Manos got up, we launched the dinghy. It needed to be re-inflated. It had not been used since the start of the trip in Samos. We then lowered the outboard. As soon as I pulled its cord it came to life — a pleasant surprise. We gathered the ship’s papers and our passports and after locking the cabin (the Atlantic Islands Cruising Guide advises that there can be a petty theft problem here), we set out to seek the authorities. First we headed for the small “marina.” It consists of a single floating dock from where the charter/yacht repair company boatsCV operates. The company is owned by a German expatriate, Kai Brossmann. We wanted to inquire about repairing our stanchion. At the dock we met a young man who spoke French. He told us that Kai will come to Thetis with a dinghy, inspect our requirements, and give us an estimate. However, we could not leave our dinghy at the floating dock although there was plenty of room available. We were not sure whether they could repair the stanchion or not.

Thetis in Mindelo
Thetis in Mindelo
Courtesy of Manos Castrinakis

We took our dinghy to the small pier in front of the Club Nautico. We were immediately met by Umberto, who seems to be in charge of a sizable cadre of “dinghy watchers.” He took our line and secured it. He also took our trash bag and helped us step ashore across the half submerged pier. We went, right away, to the office of Policia Maritima. The official there was polite and efficient but extremely serious. He gave us some forms to fill in, not too bad or too onerous. He then transcribed our answers to a large ledger and typed them into a computer. He asked for a crew list. When I gave him an already printed one he actually cracked a smile. At the end he gave us a printed paper with the rules of the harbor. I, as the skipper, had to sign that I received it. He kept one of our ship’s documents and explained that we will get it back before our departure and after paying a fee of 500 escudos (100 CVE = €0.9).

Old House in Mindelo

After clearing the boat, we walked to the commercial port is search for the Policia de Fronteira where they stamp the passports. It is within a security area but the guard told us to come back at 2 because it was now, 11:30, closed. We walked back to town. On the way, we were greeted, in Greek, by a seaman. It seems that there are a number of Cape Verdean seamen who serve on Greek merchant ships. The local people are of mixed West African and European ancestry. They are handsome with dark complexions. All the people we interacted with were very polite and friendly but the appearance of poverty and underemployment is everywhere.

Manos went to a bank to change euros to escudos while I went in pursuit of fresh bread. After a lot of asking I got some bread, not particularly very good, but I also found a fabulous market the Mercado Municipal: lots of fruits and vegetables, corn, and other dried goods. No meat. I went into a mini-market. The food selection was very limited and expensive. There is, however, local wine and fresh goat cheese.

I met Manos, as we had prearranged, at the Club Nautico. This is really more a bar/snack bar then a yachting club. It has a WC (not extremely clean) and showers (cold). They also do laundry (it takes 24 hours). We had a beer and a light lunch and then returned to Thetis. The wind had shifted and she had drifted uncomfortably close to a US ketch, the S/Y Scaramouch. We re-anchored at a location further from other boats that allowed us to let out 50 m of chain.

It was almost 2 PM, time to go for the passport control. We loaded our laundry in the dinghy and motored to the pier. Umberto was there. He took our laundry and 2000 CVE. He promised to have it back by tomorrow afternoon. He also handed us a book with testimonials on his services to various visiting yachts. At the Policia de Fronteira the official was again polite and serious. He duly stamped our passports with both entry and exit stamps so that we do not have to come here again.

Across from the Post Office We walked again to the town. We found an Internet café but the terminals were closed. Since our GSM phones did not work here this was the only way to check and send email or see the weather. No Navtex reception since we left the Canaries either. So, we will have to come back tomorrow. We then looked for the Post Office to get stamps and to try making some phone calls. In the Post Office we met with another middle-aged gentleman, Pedro, who spoke rather good Greek. He was very helpful with the clerks who only spoke Crioulo and Portuguese. Manos made a few calls but I could not get through to either Washington or Greece. As we were leaving the P.O., Pedro very shyly asked us for a “loan” of 1000 CVE; he promised to repay us tomorrow.

Thetis in the Marina We walked to the boatsCV dock. The French speaking young man, Caesar, told us that in order to do the repairs we should bring Thetis to the “marina.” So, we went aboard and relocated Thetis. Now instead of being anchored off for free we were in the secure “marina” for €24/day. Kai came, looked at the repairs we were in need of (stanchion, halyard, and the non-working fluorescent fixture). He told us that yes, he could repair the stanchion and retrieve the halyard from inside the mast. He removed the fixture and promised that he would try to repair it. They will start working on the boat first thing in the morning. All this sounded very good and much more promising then we expected.

I took a warm shower in the boat but Manos went to the Club Nautico and had a cold one. I walked back to the Internet café but their computer lines were down. Back on the boat I called Alice with the Iridium phone.

After dark we went looking for the Sodata restaurant which was highly recommended by the Atlantic Islands Cruising Guide. We did find it but it is closed on Wednesdays. On the way back we saw a second floor restaurant, Nella’s, that looked attractive. We were the only customers and were served by three very attractive and attentive young ladies. I had a very good salad with the local goat cheese followed by a delicious dish of calamari, sepia, and dried beans while Manos had a very good fish soup.

Thursday February 3, 2005 Day 27

The Mindelo Fish Market It was a quiet and restful night. The “marina” has a gate that opens with a combination lock. This keeps the dock almost deserted during the night. In the morning I went for another exploratory walk, heading towards the fish-market. On the way I found the Shell gas station that sells Diesel fuel and Camping Gaz. It is very easy to reach by dinghy. The fish-market is fabulous. It is packed with any conceivable fish and bustling with people shopping. I could not, however, although I looked, find any butcher shop. Not clear where or if people buy meat.

When I returned to Thetis Manos was busy writing a long e-mail to our friends. Caesar from boatsCV had already dismantled the lifelines, removed the stanchion, and emptied the dish cabinet underneath the stanchion’s base. Now he was waiting for Kai to come inspect and decide what the next step would be because there was no easy access to the actual stanchion’s base.

Manos and I siphoned 2 jerry cans of Diesel into the fuel tank. We then removed the half used Camping Gaz canister and topped up the genset with gasoline. We placed the empty cans and canister into the dinghy and motored across the bay to the Shell station. No sooner had we landed than we were surrounded by boys, 8-10 years old, vying for who would carry our cans to the station. All together we got 44 L of Diesel, which is all we had consumed coming from Las Palmas. We topped up the gasoline can and replaced the Camping Gaz canister with a full one.

Kai was already on Thetis when we returned with the filled cans. He and I decided that the best approach would be to cut off a piece of the dish cabinet’s inner lining to get access to the deck underneath so that the stanchion can be bolted properly. While Kai and Caesar started work Manos and I took my iBook computer to the Internet café to send and check our e-mail. But first we ordered lunch. It was a slow affair but the grilled tuna was very tasty when it arrived and the cold beer did quench our thirst. They very graciously allowed me to connect my computer to their Ethernet but there was no signal. Manos had noticed yesterday another Internet café, so now we headed that way. They even had their own iBook. Again they allowed me to connect mine to their Ethernet network. In addition to e-mail I also checked the weather along our Atlantic route. It looks good for the next week: 15-20 knots NE all the way but weakening further west. There is a heavy storm with very rough seas but it is way N. On the way back we got our laundry from Umberto.

Governor's Palace
The Governor’s Palace in Mindelo

By the time we got back to Thetis the stanchion and the life-lines were already installed and Caesar was hoisted up the mast working on the topping-lift halyard that had disappeared inside the mast. He had also brought a new fluorescent light fixture, not a direct replacement to ours but similar. Unfortunately it did not work either. He promised to bring another one tomorrow. To my amazement he also told me that they do carry replacement blades (Thetis’ were damaged in Gibraltar) for the wind generator. He will be here with these before 9.

Next to Thetis now was docked the beautiful US flagged 55' J-boat, the S/Y Sequoyah. We met the friendly crew: the American owner/skipper Jeff Mueller, his sister, an Austrian lady sailor, and 3 British crewmen. They are also heading to Barbados. The evening was rather windy and gusty. We were told that this is the Hamadam, an easterly wind from Africa that often brings very bad dust and frequently blows for 5-10 days. Before dark we raised the dinghy on the deck.

For dinner we went back to Nella’s. We met there a retired seaman, quite intoxicated. He invited himself and sat at our table. He spoke good English but we had a very hard time understanding him because he also had a speech impediment. The owner of the restaurant, an engaging Frenchman, and the waitresses kept asking us if the seaman was bothering us. The owner did tell us where to find a butcher store.

Friday February 4, 2005 Day 28

This morning was a mad race against time so that we could depart by noon and not be charged €24 for an extra day at the marina, as we were threatened by the unfriendly attendant. I woke up at 6 and started picking up inside the cabin, I then lashed the dinghy on the deck and covered it. By the time Manos got up and had his breakfast it was time to take care of the outside errands.

First we stopped at the Policia Maritima to pay the 500 CVE fee and retrieve the boat document, a job that I thought would only take a few minutes. Ha! After we filled out a new form, they took us to a new office: the Capitaneria do Puerto. There a middle aged lady looked at the form and typed its information, very slowly, into a computer. She then slowly went across the room to an enormous file cabinet and rummaged until she found Thetis’ document. Then she walked back to her desk and typed some more to her computer. Finally, ¾ hour later, she printed 3-4 copies of a paper which she very methodically stamped. She then led us to another office where we paid the famous fee. A receipt was issued and duly stamped. This had to be taken back to the Policia Maritima and an entry was made in the large ledger. At last we were given back our document plus one of the printouts. On it in red capital letter was printed: THETIS. Underneath, it stated that she was allowed to depart from Cape Verde and go to Barbados, having complied with all the rules and regulations and that no fines or fees were owed.

A House After we finished with the authorities we set out to find the butcher that the French owner of Nella’s restaurant had marked for us on the map. But first, we had to stop at a bank and change some money. There was a long line today being Friday. Things here in Cape Verde are rather expensive and we have been spending more then we thought. Finding the butcher looked doubtful, for a while, since we ended up walking in a completely residential middle class neighborhood with no stores but perseverance and faith helped. We passed a school. The children were all in costumes rehearsing for the upcoming Carnival, which starts on Monday. Eventually we found the butcher. Here we faced a severe communications problem. Fortunately a French speaking customer came to our rescue. We ended up buying a pork roast and some ground beef.

Carnival
Children preparing for the Carnival

Our next stop was going to be a supermarket. We had seen one at the center of the town but since we were already closer to the marina we headed that way to first unload and then put the meat in the refrigerator. We were also anxious to see what progress Caesar had made with the light fixture and wind generator blades, and most important we wanted the boatsCV bill. It was good that we went back to the boat because on the way we stumbled onto an even larger supermarket. We were able to finish most of our provision shopping there, and a young man put all our purchases into a cart and brought them to the boat. The wind generator blades were already replaced and a new fixture, which worked, had been installed but Caesar had left and there was no bill.

Lady Selling Papayas
Lady Selling Papayas
Courtesy of Manos Castrinakis

We stowed the provisions but no one came with the bill. So, we left and walked to the center of the town. We wanted to go to the Mercado Municipal, the fresh produce market, but first we had to stop again at a bank. We had already run out of escudos. Also, Manos wanted to draw on his Greek Visa card and get €1000, anticipating the boatsCV bill. The bank was crowded. Instead of waiting with Manos I took all the escudos that we had and proceeded to the Mercado Municipal. It was fortunate that I did so because I got there just 10 minutes before closing time. It was a good thing that Cape Verde runs on a rather flexible time and that the market ladies were more eager to sell then go home because Manos caught up with me with the money and we quickly finished our shopping. Laden with boat bags full of fruits and vegetables, we started on our way back. On the way our old friend Pedro came and told us that he had not forgotten about our loan to him but he will be bringing back the money later in the afternoon. Poor man! Manos told me to go ahead. He wanted to stop for a last time at the Club Nautico for a quick cold shower.

I walked to the boat with half of the bags. Caesar was waiting for us with the bill. It was less than I expected, considering the speed and the quality of the work, a very reasonable €378. I was very satisfied but I had no money to pay him. I told him that Manos should be back in about 10 minutes. I stowed the provisions and prepared the boat for departure. An hour went by but there was no sign of Manos. Caesar had already gone home for lunch. I worried and was about to go looking for Manos when he arrived. He had his shower, then a cup of coffee, then he walked to the Post Office and mailed a card, then to a store and bought two CD’s with Cape Verdean music…

We dispatched a young boy to go and find Caesar so that we could pay the bill and leave. Eventually Caesar did come and Manos paid the bill, plus we gave him a well deserved €50 tip and all our spare escudos. Now we were really ready to depart. We said goodbye to our American neighbors and agreed to listen on the VHF channel 73 when they overtake us in a few days.

We departed from Mindelo, São Vicente at 1430 despite the 30 knot gusts. We stopped in the middle of the calm harbor to remove the fenders and docking lines and stow them. We also removed the anchor from the bow and stowed it in the chain locker. We then headed out, starting our Transatlantic passage of 2050 miles. When we cleared the harbor we opened about 10% of the headsail and turned off the motor. The wind in the São Vicente - Santo Antão channel was fierce, gusting well into the 40’s and raising large and very confused seas.

Once we left the channel and were on the lee of Santo Antão the waves were smaller but although we stayed 7 nM south of the island the wind was now gusting over 55 knots. Despite the tiny amount of headsail we were making 6-7 knots with the wind almost at our stern. We had to tack 30° left and right of our course just to keep the sail happy and full.

By evening time, we were well clear of the island the wind had subsided to 25 knots, gusting to 35. Much more civilized than earlier. The waves though were still large, we estimated them to be 7-8 m high. They towered behind us but Thetis was behaving very well.

I finished the Beaufort book. What a remarkable and versatile man Beaufort was! I must find and read his Karamania, where he writes about his exploration of the East Aegean and the Anatolian Coast. I started a new book, a Greek translation of Joseph Pitton’s Voyage to Crete and the Islands of the Archipelago, in which he describes in the form of letters to the French foreign minister his trip in 1700-1702. He gives special emphasis to the flora.

For dinner we made a cheese fondue from a package that Manos had brought from Belgium. It was not bad but the fresh bread we had bought from Mindelo was too soft and had no character. I took the first 8-11, watch. It was totally uneventful but the motion of the boat was corkscrew-like and uncomfortable.

Saturday February 5, 2005 Day 29

Nothing happened during the night. While the night was not cold, the large and uneven waves made for an uncomfortable ride. Manos had trouble sleeping. All morning we were continuously being tumbled. Manos, not having slept well during the night, kept falling asleep and complaining how the waves kept him awake.

By 1430 we had made 130 nM, not bad for our first day! I sent our position to Nikos and Corinna with the Iridium and received a weather forecast from Corinna: low 15-20 knots NE winds for the next 2 days. Here we actually have 25-30 and large seas. Every so often a large wave breaks and the boat is drenched, but the wind is less and steadier than yesterday’s fierce gusts.

Before sunset we raised the mainsail but left it on the 3rd reef. We had to roll in the headsail because it shielded the mainsail and made it bang. Our speed ranged from 3.7 to 7.2 knots.

For dinner I made a ragú with the chopped meat, carrots, onions, garlic, tomato, and wine. We ate half of this with spaghetti and kept the other half for a lasagna. Manos took the first watch since he had trouble sleeping anyways. I slept soundly. During this time Manos saw a distant red light that soon disappeared. There was nothing on the radar.

Sunday February 6, 2005 Day 30

It was an uneventful night. During my off watch I slept very well. Even Manos admitted to having slept. We will see if he manages to stay awake a good part of the day. The wind is now down to 15 knots NE and the waves are smaller and much more regular. After Manos woke up we removed one reef from the mainsail.

The new wind-generator blades seem to be making a big difference in its generating capacity because in the past 48 hours we have consumed only 44 Ah without running the engine while keeping on the refrigerator, running the instruments, autopilot, the tricolor navigational light, cabin lights, etc.

There is not much to do but read and listen to music. There are occasional sail adjustments and conversations with Manos. The morning was overcast but by the afternoon the sky cleared and it was very pleasant. The cabin temperature reached 26°C (79°F) with 48% relative humidity and pressure of 1012 mB. We removed the last reef from the sail.

The forecast we received from Corinna calls, for the next 2 days, for 15-20 knot NE wind, exactly what we have. So far so good. I spoke with Alice on the Iridium phone. Later I took a hot shower and changed my bed sheets. I felt very good.

Manos, however, keeps falling asleep. He wakes up for about half an hour and then he fades for 2-3. But he must have rested because in the evening he rallied and prepared a potato salad with tuna and canned corn, one of his favorites. We ate this along with a ready-made dish of dolmadakia (stuffed vine leaves) which Manos had bought in Athens. The potato salad was good but I cannot say the same thing for the dolmadakia.

Right after dinner the sky filled with ominous black clouds and the wind became gusty. We took in a reef but the wind kept increasing and veering E. It was gusting up to the 40s. The waves by then were rather large and once in a while threw us off course. Yiakoumis, our autopilot, had trouble steering. We had to steer 20° off our course to prevent any unwanted gybes. We set the autopilot to use its “wind mode” and keep us 135° either to port or to starboard downwind. This way even if we were to occasionally be thrown off by a wave we would not gybe. But we had to stay vigilant. I took the first watch.

Monday February 7, 2005 Day 31

There was no improvement of the situation during the night. It was quite rough and uncomfortable. After sunrise we lowered the mainsail. While doing so, one of the plastic slides broke because of the flapping. We replaced it right away. We opened 15% of the headsail and continued zigzagging ±30° to keep the wind from being completely at our stern. We passed 30°W longitude and set back our clock to UTC-2.

Sequoyah Crossing with Thetis
S/Y Sequoyah Crossing with Thetis

The strong wind and large seas continued through the day. In the early afternoon we were overtaken by the US J boat S/Y Sequoyah that we had met in Mindelo. I saw a mast NE of us and it slowly took shape. She was being tossed like a cork in the waves. Seeing her we realized how much we, a smaller, boat, must have been tossed. We spoke with them on the VHF, as we had prearranged, and took photographs of each other. Maybe we will meet in Barbados. They will, of course, arrive days before we do.

Thetis from S/Y Sequoyah
Thetis from S/Y Sequoyah

Courtesy of Jeff Mueller

Thetis from S/Y Sequoyah

Courtesy of Oli Byles

We received our daily forecast from Corinna: 15-20 knots veering E, no gale. Despite the wild motion of the boat, I started cooking the pork roast that we had bought in Mindelo. Cooking would have been impossible without the strap. After braising the roast, I deglazed the pan with red wine and added a can of whole tomatoes, garlic, salt, pepper, and some tomato paste. I then let it simmer for a few hours until the meat was tender. I also made some rice pilaf to go with it and served it for dinner with a bottle of red Portuguese wine. Even Manos ate some.

Shortly after sunset I saw a ship 2 nM away on an opposing course. This has been a very crowded day here in the Atlantic. We were moving much better with the headsail alone then we did with the mainsail. Also we did not have to constantly deal with the boom preventer line and we could easily adjust the sail’s size. Manos took the first watch while I slept. There was an occasional drizzle and lots of wave and wind-related noises.

Tuesday February 8, 2005 Day 32

It was another uneventful night save for the noises, especially while changing course. We have now established a pattern: we change course, by a controlled gybe, by about 50° whenever our cross tack error (deviation from our ideal course to Barbados) goes over 1.4 nM, which happens almost every 2-3 hours. This gives us a course that deviates as little as possible but keeps the sail free from gybing. Once we execute the maneuver we set the autopilot to its “wind mode” rather than to the GPS mode. Once in a while, either the autopilot has difficulty maintaining a fixed angle to the wind, or during the maneuver we make a mistake. When that happens the autopilot sends an alarm signal to the alarm loudspeaker, which make a noise to raise the dead.

During my 5-8 morning watch I prepared dough for fresh bread. I used a mixture for a whole grain bread that Manos had brought from Belgium. After letting it rise for about 3 hours I baked it in the oven. The bread was much better than the ones I have been making with the commercial flour from Greece.

The day was cloudy with occasional drizzles. The wind was anywhere from 10 to 35 knots from the E but the waves were much smaller and more regular than yesterday’s. In the afternoon the sky partially cleared. We ran the genset and the water-maker for 2 hours, thus filling the water tanks and recharging the batteries.

By sundown low dark clouds filled the horizon. We encountered several squalls but they were not too violent.

For dinner I made omelets with a little of the ragú sauce and Parmezan cheese. We had to finish the oranges we bought in Mindelo because several had already spoiled. The bananas that we had bought completely green are now almost ripe. I took the first watch and Manos retired to his cabin. But around 10 PM, 1 hour before his watch, he emerged. Since he could not fall asleep he figured that he might as well relieve me. This was very kind of him because I was very sleepy. I am, however, very worried that he is not getting enough really restful sleep during the night and that the catnaps he takes during the day are not sufficient.

Wednesday February 9, 2005 Day 33

I relieved Manos at midnight and he relieved me at 0245 until 0545. The wind was down to 10-15 knots, still from the E, and the waves were small. The sky was broken and some stars were visible. The sunrise was lovely and dramatic with the partially clouded sky.

I have been amazed in the past few days by the waves and their effect on Thetis. By Mediterranean standards these waves are enormous, at least 6-8 m (19-26 ft) high. As they approach the stern they look like mountains, but the boat simply rises and then gently falls down like a cork, ready for the next wave. No noise, no strain. This is because these ocean waves have long wavelengths, much longer than the length of the boat, and not the short lengths of the choppy Mediterranean waves. It is only the occasional, much smaller, cross-waves that foam and brake. Whenever one of these breaks directly on Thetis’ side it feels as if a very powerful horse has kicked us and the cockpit gets sprayed. This happens rather rarely.

I began to notice that the headsail sheet lines are rubbing on the fore-stay and getting frayed. This concerned me, so we went to the deck and attached protective plastic hoses to the forestay and tied plastic bags to the foot of the stays near the traveler. I hope this will prevent any fraying of the headsail sheet lines.

The sky cleared more and Thetis was bathed by lovely sunshine. While enjoying reading in the cockpit I noticed that the bracket, which holds the Navtex antenna, had gotten loose. To tighten it I had to climb up the radar post. Because I needed both hands, I used the kitchen belt to hold me while Manos handed me the tools and loctite (a chemical that locks threads) and also tried to support me. Not a pleasant job but considering the size of the waves a lot easier than I expected. I also tightened one of the starboard stays that had gotten loose.

As the day progressed the weather improved and by the afternoon it was delightful. Lots of sunshine and manageable waves. For a while we even lost the wind and had to motor but after a few miles the wind was back with us at 15-25 knots ESE, favoring the port tack i.e. heading towards the NE.

We received a new forecast from Corinna, via the Iridium. We will have 15-20 easterly winds but weakening as we progress W. In the past few days we average 130 nM/day. Not bad for a boat the size of Thetis.

For dinner Manos made borscht using cabbage, beats, onions, tomatoes, and fresh coriander. The later I had bought thinking that it was parsley! The soup was very good, and best of all there was not only plenty but we had enough left over for another meal.

Manos took the first watch, 8-10, we take the first watch on alternate evenings. We have been experimenting with our watch system. At the beginning of the trip we used 3-hour night watches staring right after dinner. But I found the first watch too trying so we modified our system. Now we have 8-10, 10-1, 1-4, and 4-7.

The night was fairly clear, with plenty of stars but an occasional drizzle.

Thursday February 10, 2005 Day 34

The night was again uneventful and quite pleasant in fact.

In the morning I prepared another loaf of bread, using regular flour this time. The floorboard in front of the bathroom got loose and I made a temporary fix but it will need larger screws. We ran the genset for 2 hours and the water-maker for ¾ of an hour. The wind was 10-20 knots E. We were sailing with 25% of the headsail on a zig-zag course.

In the afternoon the sky became overcast and everything turned gray. Fortunately this did not last; soon the sky cleared and once again we were bathed with glorious sunshine. The temperature inside the cabin rose to 28°C (82°F) and we soaked up the much-needed sun while reading in the cockpit.

The late afternoon found us sailing fast with 50% of the headsail. The waves were smaller than they had been for days now, while the wind continued at 10-20 knots E.

Lasagna prepared on Thetis I started preparing, to the sound of Mahler, the lasagna that Manos and I had been talking about since the Canaries. Yes we are crazy to cook such complicated and fussy food, but then again we have plenty of time. The trick, of course, is balancing against the motion of the waves while cutting. Every task, even the most simple, becomes an acrobatic ballet. I warmed the ragú which I had made days ago and made a thick béchamel sauce. Manos arranged the dish with three layers of pasta, meat, cheese (freshly ground Parmezan), and sauce. Then we put it into the oven to cook.

Both of us had a nice ouzo in the cockpit while we watched the lovely sunset; the lasagna was cooking, emanating wonderful smells. When it was ready we propped it on top of the gimbaled stove to let it repose. We then ate it along with a red Portuguese wine to the magnificent sound of Berlioz’s Requiem. Satisfied with the food and wine, and while the great music was still playing, we went out to the cockpit and watched the new moon setting and then the myriads of stars in the perfectly dark sky. How can one get a better sky than being more than 800 nM from the nearest land? Here we were in the middle of this vast ocean inside a puny plastic bubble propelled by just the wind in as perilous and precarious a situation as possible but perfectly content. An escape? Yes, of course, but what a wonderful escape this is!

Friday February 11, 2005 Day 35

There were no problems during the night. Things were quiet. The wind died and we had to start the motor. We only had to run it for ¾ hr until we found the wind again but at least we recharged the batteries. We continued gybing ±40° because of the tail wind.

In the early morning hours we encountered a series of mild squalls that brought gusts and rain. We had to get out the hatch covers and close the companionway to keep the rain from entering the cabin.

Today Manos seems better. He claims to have slept well for a change but he still takes long catnaps during the day. I am still not sure if he rests adequately.

Now that we have been at sea for almost a week and with at least one more week to go I feel that we have been inside Thetis, afloat in this ocean forever. All of the past is like a dream and we will continue in this afloat state forever because we have no origin nor a destination. Time has ceased! Another strange thing: when I am inside the cabin very often Thetis is very quiet and moves very smoothly, just bobbing up and down, and I feel that we have slowed down but when I look at the instruments we are making more than 6 knots. Other times there are many noises: bangs, cracks, groans, etc. Then I feel that we are racing at a great speed, yet we are actually crawling at less than 4 knots. Every morning we find 2-3 flying fish on deck. Not enough for a meal. These flying fish are in the water all around us. They really look more like birds and sometimes they fly in groups like a flock.

During the day we had more squalls and rain, sometimes heavy. We had to close the companionway several times. When we did so Thetis felt like Noah’s Ark.

In the afternoon we ran the genset and the water-maker for ¾ hr. The afternoon was nice with the sun finally shining on us. The wind was 10-15 knots east. Manos slept most of the day.

For dinner we ate the rest of the lasagna along with a packaged pre-prepared meal of rice and lentils “Indian Style.” This was marginally better than airline food. Manos took the first watch from 8-10. By that time there were lots of large waves. One wave broke and drenched Manos, who at that time was in the cockpit. At the same time water entered my cabin from the open port. It not only woke me up but also wet my bedding. We immediately reduced the headsail to 15%.

Saturday February 12, 2005 Day 36

Days go by in a wonderful flow of time continuum. Here in the ocean one senses that both time and space are infinite, extending in all directions, but we only live at this unique and precise point of time and space, the present. Clouds come, drop some rain, raise some gusts, and then go away. Thetis glides on. Save for the indications on the instruments and the log that I keep both in the handwritten log book and with marks on the charts, we could be, for all I can tell by my senses, going in any direction east or west, north or south, or even in circles. The same goes for the time. The clock says time is moving forward but one senses that if it moved backward it might feel the same way. This ocean experience is something totally new for me. Manos is, of course, a great help, even vital, but I can imagine how solitude could have magnified this experience. It is during these solitary times like now at 4 AM when Manos is sleeping in his cabin that I really sense the intensity of this oceanic experience. It is very intense indeed, far, far from boredom. Here we are more than a week out from Cape Verde with more than a week to go and I am almost regretting our forthcoming arrival. I just want this trip to go on and on so that I can savor it. Savor its elation and its discomfort. And there is plenty of discomfort. Every action here in this constantly moving platform is an acrobatic act far from smooth and graceful. In fact it is rather awkward, and I have enough bruises to attest to this. Nothing is simple here, everything is very physical. Just going in and out of the cabin or going to the bathroom takes effort and balance. All movements are perilous. One misstep and you fall. But it is also so beautiful.

Squall In the early afternoon we passed the half-way point to Barbados. We had no time to celebrate because we were hit by a series of squalls packing winds up to 55 knots. As soon a squall went past us and the sun returned another squall arrived. We had large seas and it was very uncomfortable. I am very worried about Manos. He naps continuously and appears to lack appetite and shows an inexplicable apathy to our surroundings. We had a most glorious sunset but despite my glowing description and my rush to take my camera he just sat inside the main cabin nodding. Could this be an indication of a physical problem or is he sleep deprived, not really sleeping at night when he is off watch? I do not know.

For dinner I started to prepare the pork roast with spaghetti but somehow I lost my balance and half of the sauce was spilled on the rug. Here in addition to the belt strap you need 4 hands just to cope. More would be preferable. I became very frustrated. Despite it all, the dinner was good. I took the 8-10 watch. We had squalls and more squalls.

Sunday February 13, 2005 Day 37

As I was getting ready to go to bed at 3 AM, after Manos relieved me, a very bad squall hit us. Yakoumis (the autopilot) completely lost control and the boat broached (the boat was turned on her side exposed to the waves). Fortunately I jumped to the cockpit and took the tiller while Manos handled the sheets and we were able to regain control and get Thetis back on her course without any damages. These squalls not only pack vicious gusts but steer the ocean into cross waves, resulting in very confused and uncomfortable seas. Thetis was being tossed in almost all directions. Later when the time for my watch came I noticed that the autopilot bracket on the tiller had been bent and that it had scraped the teak on the cockpit. I fixed the bracket as best as I could but it will need the services of a machine shop. I was miffed with Manos for not noticing during his watch and I did let him know how I felt, which most likely was a rather unfair thing to do. Could it be that I am so attuned with Thetis that I cannot understand how someone would not immediately notice a bent bracket or a frayed line? Yet how could I ask for a better companion than dear Manos, with whom I share so many things?

Later I prepared a fresh bread using the second of the mixes that Manos had brought from Belgium. Most of the day was overcast but with patches of sunshine. The seas were still large but the wind was seldom over 30 knots ENE. I was concerned about the running lines fraying, particularly the port sheet to the headsail. With Manos’ help I rearranged the plastic covers on the forestay.

In the afternoon I tried calling Alice with the Iridium phone but she was out and I left a message. We received a weather report from Corinna. A large weather system in the north has caused the large seas we are experiencing and we should expect them to last for another day. They will then weaken as we move west. We have already come 1200 nM from Cape Verde. We ran the genset and the water-maker. I filled several empty bottles with 3 liters of freshly made water “just in case.” I then took a very pleasant hot shower. What a great treat this is in the middle of the Atlantic!

For dinner we had leftover borsht, which was good, supplemented by commercial stuffed cabbage leaves, which were bad. Manos took the 8-10 watch. Blissfully there were fewer squalls than yesterday.

Monday February 14, 2005 Day 38

Today is Manos’ 60th birthday.

We still have large seas but less than yesterday. The boat, however, is moving with a wild corkscrew motion. In the early morning hours we had some light drizzle. But, after daybreak we watched a lovely sunrise. Manos took pictures. After the sun rose we were presented with a glorious sunshine but the sea was still rough. We even sunbathed for a while.

Later the wind decreased but not the waves. We increased the headsail to 75% so that the boat would have enough power to handle the waves. Unfortunately though after a couple of hours the sail began to bang. We rigged the spinnaker pole which allowed us to open the full genoa. Manos is very good with rigging the pole. This procedure is rather tricky and it is almost impossible, at least in Thetis, for one person do it alone. After we set the pole, the sail was happy for a while and we kept on moving with good speed.

In the early afternoon we ran the genset and water-maker. We also advanced the clock to UTC - 3 since we passed the 45° meridian (the time changes every 15° of longitude). A tanker, a real tanker, on an opposite course passed 2 nM away from us. This was the first sign of humans that we had seen for over a week.

In the evening the wind lessened and we had to remove the pole and roll in the headsail. We wanted to raise the mainsail but first we had to replace the plastic slide that broke a few days ago while we were lowering it. The slide was the 3rd down from the top of the sail. To replace it we had to first raise the sail then lower it slowly while removing the slides from their groove on the mast. So, we headed upwind with the Yakoumis (the autopilot) steering, Manos handling the halyard and I removing the slides. I said that the waves were less but now heading upwind their true strength was apparent. The boat was rolling wildly. Holding on to the mast while working with the slides was quite a challenge. Eventually I removed all the slides from the mast and reached the broken one. Manos handed me the tools and I replaced it. Then while Manos pulled on the halyard I inserted each slide into the groove. I also removed all the reefs. Several times during this maneuver Manos had to take over from Yakoumis and steer the boat. Thank goodness that he is very good at holding the boat upwind. After raising the mainsail we trimmed it all the way out and rigged a preventer line with a block to hold it there. Now we were making 4.5-5 knots.

I finished reading Taxidi stin Kriti ke tis Nisous tou Archipelagous and started reading Reese Palley’s Unlikely Passages. It reads very easily and it is full of good advice on long distance sailing. I agree with most of it, especially his life philosophy, the philosophy of a sailor. For me this trip is an affirmation of what I have been suspecting about long range trips all along. I love it! Were it not for my family, especially Alice, I could easily go on past Panama into the Pacific for a circumnavigation, even single handed. I doubt that I could ever get another crew as convivial as Manos. Maybe I could hire crew. Maybe I could get a larger boat. But all this is a dream and it will not happen. And yes sweet Thetis is great.

For dinner Manos prepared a ratatouille with all our remaining vegetables: eggplant, peppers, onions, potatoes, etc. This we ate along with slices of the pork roast. I took the first watch. Time goes very slowly on this watch and I am usually very sleepy. But Thetis was now moving faster than she was two hours ago. She was making more than 5 knots.

Tuesday February 15, 2005 Day 39

Manos roused me from deep sleep. I was in the middle of the most elaborate Indian wedding feast! Thetis was moving at a nice 6 knot clip with the full mainsail. We are still, as we have been for days now, gybing around our straight downwind course, not letting our XTE exceed 1.5 nM. We just passed the mark of 700 nM from Barbados.

Later the wind decreased, but we were still moving. Our electrical consumption was fairly high. We had consumed 90 Ah since we last charged the batteries. This was so because the apparent wind was too low for the wind generator to work efficiently. We ran the genset for 2 hours, which brought the batteries to -35 a-hours.

In the afternoon the wind was down to 5-10 knots ENE and Thetis was moving at 4 knots, and by the evening our speed was even less. We ran the motor for 1 hr to recharge the batteries. I started reading the 3rd of Dorothy Dennett’s Nikolò book Race of Scorpions, which takes place mostly on Cyprus.

For dinner we made a dish of baked small macaroni. We really wanted to make a Greek yiouvetsi but we did not find any orzo in Cape Verde so we settled for the small macaroni. For the dish I made the sauce with chopped left over pork roast meat, onions, tomatoes, hot peppers, garlic, and wine. Manos assembled the dish, topping it with freshly grated cheese, and baked it for an hour. We ate it along with a red wine from Cape Verde. It was quite good. We started a new watch system: 8-10, 10-1, 1-4, 4-6, and 6-8. This promises to distribute sleep more equitably. Manos took the first watch. The night was nice and uneventful.

Wednesday February 16, 2005 Day 40

I slept well but we are moving slowly. In the morning I started preparing to bake another bread. We also ran the genset to recharge the depleted batteries. Manos slept all morning. The bread turned out rather well.

In the afternoon I had a very refreshing hot shower. What a luxury this is under way in the middle of nowhere. I spoke with Corinna on the Iridium phone. She is doing such a great job advising us on the weather. Unfortunately it looks that we are in for the dreaded calms. We will have either low or no wind for the next 2 days but after that we should get back the easterly trade winds.

Manos slept most of the afternoon but in the evening he rallied and made a lentil soup. Very tasty. I took the first watch. During that time I ran the motor to charge the batteries and make some fresh water. It was a lovely night with the half moon. The wind now came from the ESE at 5-15 knots and Thetis is making 3.5 to 4.5 knots with the full mainsail.

Thursday February 17, 2005 Day 41

The night was beautiful although we were crawling at about 4 knots. We were 470 nM from our destination and I was sorely tempted to start the motor. Later the wind backed to SE and we sailed for 2 hours at 4.5 knots. Then the wind weakened down to 8 knots, which resulted in a boat speed of 3.5 knots or less. I made some calculations. In order to arrive in Bridgetown, Barbados by Sunday afternoon we will need an average speed of 5.6 knots and for a Monday afternoon arrival a speed of 4.3. At our present speed we will not make it until Tuesday. But according to Corinna’s forecast we will only be in this low wind area for 30 hours and we have enough fuel to motor for almost 60 hours. So, we might as well motor until we find the wind again. With these thought I started the motor and we motor-sailed at the low, fuel-efficient 2000 RPM.

Manos Under the Tent The tropical sun was very strong, brutal almost. We could not sit in the cockpit for more than a few minutes at a time, but by midday the cabin was not comfortable either, having reached a temperature of 29°C (84°F). We could not put up the tent unless we lowered the mainsail which we did not want to do since it gave us at least an extra knot at the present low RPM. Manos had the brilliant idea to string a line below the boom from the mast to the back stay and use it to fold the tent over it thusly shading one side of the boat. It worked very well and we were able to have lunch and enjoy reading in the cockpit.

In the afternoon the wind increased to 12 knots SE and we were able to open 80% of the headsail and turn off the motor. Now we were sailing, making better than 6 knots. In the evening the wind veered S but we kept on sailing.

For dinner we made rice with leftover sauce from the endless pork roast augmented with a can of mushrooms. The wind speed though dropped down to 2 knots and we started the engine again. Manos took the first watch. When my turn came at 10 there was some wind and I even managed to sail for an hour but then it dropped again. Back to the engine. It started to drizzle.

Friday February 18, 2005 Day 42

Sunrise There was no change in the weather during the night; it was calm and there was no wind, just the drone of the engine. The sunrise was fantastic. My watch was to end at 6 but I was so drawn by the day break and the colors that I did not wake up Manos to replace me. I just sat in the cockpit admiring the view while Manos slept. His capacity for sleep is amazing. What a gift! I on the other hand am a bundle of nerves and energy. Just the hint of color change excites me and I cannot go to to sleep lest I miss something.

I reviewed our speed and the remaining distance. We now were 340 nM from Bridgetown and 1750 nM from Cape Verde but it was still not clear whether our landfall would be on Sunday afternoon or on Monday morning. It all depends, of course, on the wind. Corinna’s forecast calls for almost no wind for today but it also calls for the wind to freshen by tomorrow. We do not have enough fuel to motor all the way but more than enough to keep the motor on until tomorrow and still have a good safety margin.

As if the beautiful sunrise was not enough there was another miracle. Whales! Real whales! Three small whales, 2-3 m (6-10 ft) long, came and swam lazily around Thetis for a few minutes. Then slowly they went away. I almost could not believe my own eyes.

We have been at sea now for two weeks. It is amazing but it is also hard to describe the total ocean experience. First of all there is the constant motion. Even now when it is very calm there is still a 1-2 m (3-6 ft) gentle swell so that the boat is always moving up and down. The first few days of this were hard, I was full of bruises, but the body adapts quickly. The muscles are always working, compensating for the motion. Even when one does nothing the muscles are still working. Several of the ocean crossing narratives that I have read hint that after a few days at sea one undergoes some sort of adaptive transformation. I had not put too much credence to this but now I find that it is true. Two weeks at sea and I do not feel even a trace of boredom. There is always something that needs to be done, always something to observe. All of one’s senses are amplified. There is an elevated awareness of your environment i.e. the boat and the ocean. Everything becomes much more vivid: colors, tastes, smells etc. You notice details in everything that normally you ignore. I am not sure why this is so. Maybe it is the subconscious awareness that you are totally isolated and your very survival depends on you. You are hundreds of miles away from any help and because of the wind and current you cannot turn back. You must rely on your sails because there is not enough fuel. Resources have to be husbanded: food, water, fuel etc. All that stands between you and the ocean is the integrity of your boat and this integrity relies on your vigilance and ingenuity to prevent and repair the inevitable deterioration of lines being frayed and metal fatigued by the constant and relentless motion. It is up to you to watch everything. Cover lines where they rub, replace them when frayed, tighten screws before they get loose, fix, fix, fix. The sails need adjustments. Water needs to be made, batteries to be charged, food must be cooked, bread made, etc. Maybe it is the air, the purest and freshest that you will ever breathe. Maybe it is the clarity and the darkness during the night, the purest darkness you will ever have. Maybe it is the vastness of space, sky, and the sea. Maybe it is the potential danger of the enormous forces that nature can unleash and that your puny little boat has to somehow withstand, if you are to make it. This marvel of thousands of years of technological evolution that makes your passage possible with the comforts of refrigeration, hot water, lights, an oven, dry bed, etc. is actually very fragile. It is your planning and spare parts and your improvisations that hold it together. Most likely it is a combination of all of the above that causes this sensual amplification. Whatever it is, the sum total is a wonderful experience and a heightened mental state that is next to impossible to describe. Most of the times in our lives our experiences fall short of our expectations. Fortunately, at least for me, this ocean passage has exceeded my already high expectations. I have been dreaming and planning an ocean passage, under sail and with my own boat, since my early teens. Being able to realize this dream now in my declining years is almost a miracle but to have it exceed my expectations is a boon beyond anything I had dared wish for. Poseidon, or whatever your name is, I am grateful.

After the sun rose on the horizon and Manos got up we lowered the useless mainsail and put up the tent. Later a school of about 8 dolphins came and played for a while with our bow wave. The rest of the day was a lazy affair under the tent. We had been spoiled by two weeks of uninterrupted sailing, after that the drone of the engine seems particularly annoying. There was no wind all day.

In the evening we transferred 2 cans of fuel to the tank. For dinner we made spaghetti with tuna, olives, garlic, capers, and Parmezan cheese. With it we had a white Cape Verde wine. I took the first watch. The sky and the sea were well illuminated by the moon, very pleasant.

Dolphins

Saturday February 19, 2005 Day 43

The night was uneventful. In the morning I made dough for bread using the last of our flour. I estimate that we will arrive in Bridgetown tomorrow afternoon, provided that we can maintain our present speed of 6 knots and that we do get the forecasted wind.

Later in the morning the wind was about 11 knots ENE. We rigged the pole and opened the genoa. This allowed us to reduce the engine RPM to 1700 and still maintain the boat speed of 6 knots. We also put up the tent, which made the cockpit very pleasant. We had our lunch there and read but we still had no better wind. It was quite warm. We received an updated forecast from Corinna. The wind will strengthen during the night and will be 20 knots tomorrow.

Eventually at around 4 PM the wind started to strengthen. First 13 knots and later 18 NE. We immediately took down the tent and removed the pole. We raised the mainsail and finally stopped the engine. Bliss! Our speed was still a wonderful 5.4-6.3 knots. At this rate we will make landfall by tomorrow afternoon and still avoid the need for another fuel transfusion.

For dinner Manos baked potatoes in the oven and also made a tuna salad with onions, capers, and mustard. The night was pleasant but a little rougher than yesterday. The wind was up and we were comfortably sailing. Manos took the first watch.

Sunday February 20, 2005 Day 44

We had another beautiful sunrise. This is the last for this passage. In the morning we were already ahead of my estimated distance for a late afternoon arrival; in fact we were just 50 M from Barbados and 60 from Bridgetown. Also we had to change our clock to Caribbean time of UTC - 4.

I reduced the headsail which was flapping once in a while. Our speed in the morning was a more sedate 6 knots instead of the 6.8 - 7.2 that we did in the early morning hours. We also ran the genset for an hour.

I was glad that we had made it so far but also somewhat sad that the passage was almost over. On top of that I was getting my usual jitters as we were approaching a new and unknown harbor. I face new harbors with a mixture of pleasure and apprehension. I started making a check list of things that we must do once we arrive.

I had purchased 3 cruising guides for the Caribbean (Caribbean Marinas & Services, Sailors Guide to the Windward Islands, and A Cruising Guide to the Caribbean), a part of the world which I have never visited before. Now reviewing the practical information on Barbados that a sailor needs before a landfall to a new destination, I find that only my dated (1993) Atlantic Crossing Guide is of any use.

When we were about 40 nM from our waypoint a few miles off South Point, the southernmost tip of Barbados, we were hit by a line of squalls which brought us rain, gusts over 30 knots, etc. We took a reef on the mainsail because the autopilot had trouble keeping our course. By the time we were 15 nM from South Point the sky had turned totally gray and there was practically no visibility. We turned on the radar and we could see the shore on the screen. It may as well have been one of those night arrivals that I was hoping to avoid. The only positive thing about this arrival was that we were still sailing fast.

We turned on our GSM telephones and to our relief they both acquired a signal. Following the instructions in the Atlantic Crossing Guide we hailed Bridgetown Harbor Control on the VHF channel 16. They responded instantly and advised us to proceed and contact them again when we were at the harbor entrance. We could see a very large cruise ship in the harbor. After we contacted them again, we were told to enter the Bridgetown harbor and moor side-to by the cruise ship’s stern. As we were entering the harbor we saw a large motor cruiser, a small ship actually, and on her was a helicopter, a small, 45 ft. motor cruiser, and a 35 ft sailboat! I wish I could have photographed her but the wind at the time was 20 knots and there was some nasty swell entering the harbor which kept me rather busy driving Thetis. We slowly approached behind the cruise ship, where a waving port official was waiting for us. But I could not see more then one bollard where we could secure our lines, and the concrete quay was twice as tall as Thetis, not to mention the nasty swell. The space was clearly not suitable for a small sailboat but for a large ship. After several passes the official directed us to tie alongside a tug boat. We did so with his help. A second official had joined him and he too helped with our lines. The time was 1420.

I did not, however, like the situation one bit. We were bobbing up and down wildly along a large steel tug towering over us, with its black tire fenders threatening to mar our hull. Our lines were being stretched to near their snapping point and our fenders were flattened. We put extra spring lines and I left Manos on the boat, with the engine running, while I went ashore with our passports to clear customs. One of the two officials spoke some Greek and walked with me to the customs office some distance away. It felt kind of strange walking on terra firma after 16 days at sea. The customs officials were friendly and formalities were blissfully quick. With the help of our Greek speaking port officer we cast off without any mishap. He sure appreciated my offer to him of a small bottle of ouzo. At first he refused it but after I explained that it was from my island he gladly took it.

We got away from the treacherous commercial harbor and motored S for about a mile to Carlisle Bay [13° 05.3' N 59° 36.7' W] where most of the visiting sailboats anchor. We dropped our anchor in 5 m over sand and let out 50 m of chain. We had finally arrived. We had crossed the Atlantic! It took us exactly 16 days and 2096.7 sea miles.

We launched the dinghy but were too tired to go ashore. This will have to wait for tomorrow. Manos fell asleep but I cooked some pasta with a garlic and olive oil sauce and Parmezan cheese. I also opened a special Boutari Grand Reserve red wine that I had bought in Greece just for this occasion and had a celebratory dinner in the cockpit watching the lights of Bridgetown. It was a magical moment.

Sunset at Carlisle Bay, Barbados
Sunset at Carlisle Bay, Barbados
Courtesy of Manos Castrinakis