Monday, 24 December 2012

Nics Diary Part 9 Atlantic Crossing

Nics Diary – Part 9 – The Atlantic Crossing

Thought I would write a wee diary of the adventures of a 16 day ocean crossing. Something to amuse myself with, if nothing else!

Day 1 - 5.12 – 3pm – 2150 miles to go!
So finally we are off!! After weeks of preparing e.g. new crew, rotas and massive shopping lists, it feels like such a relief to finally be doing our crossing. We left the Cape Verdes approximately 1 ½ hrs ago and the sun is shining, and the swell is much calmer than we thought it may be. A lot of boats (at least 10 diverted from the ARC plus others), have been coming into the marina over the last few days. Some had no masts, and others had their sails torn to shreds. So as you can imagine, we were all a little anxious as to how it was out here. But fingers crossed, it appears to be fine. My first watch is 12-3am, so hopefully things will remain calm until then. I am about to settle into the 3rd 50 shades book, then a little rest, before James cooks us some homemade burgers for dinner. All good xx

Day 2 - 6.12 – 5pm
Well, so far (be careful what you wish for) we have been pretty disappointed with the trade winds. Last night we were totally becalmed for a little while, and we heard other yachts on the radio saying the same. We are hoping that as we progress further, the winds may pick up a little, if not we should have enough fuel to motor half of the way (cheats I know). My night watch was pretty uneventful, except for the same clunk noise reappearing (Nics Diary – Part 7). Our first worry was that the welded steering plate was broken again. It turned out to just be loose – so problem easily solved. Today I have amused myself preparing stewed steak (or is it Cape Verde dog meat?) for dinner, and making some banana (Cape Verde - 1 day old mushy ones) and white chocolate cookies – yummy! Then we will probably have a movie night. We often sit down together after dinner and watch a wee movie. It gives us all a chance to relax and think of something else, other than sailing.

I struggled to sleep last night (pretty normal for the first night), and thought I would fill you in on what it feels like when trying to sleep. You lie in the unconscious position to prevent yourself rolling over. You are aware of your skeleton and rib cage etc being quite rigid, but all of your muscles and organs swish swosh around and inside of you. I always tell myself ‘rock a bye baby, on the tree top’ and try not to think ‘damn rollercoaster’. Anyway, now that I should be getting a little more used to it, I should hopefully sleep tonight.

Has my nephew been born yet?? Today is the 6th and I am waiting a sat phone message to say all is well, and then I will have a wee glass of wine to celebrate.

My birthday is in 2 days, and my only wish is for Stevie to bake and decorate a cake for me. I think it will be a whole day of entertainment watching him juggle flour, scales etc (you need to be an octopus to cook on a boat). Apparently he has never baked a cake before. I am hoping I can persuade him to wear my apron so that I really can have a good giggle.

Day 3 - 7.12 – 5pm
I got up during the night last night, on Stevies watch, as I couldn't sleep. Still no wind, but we had the jib poled out with our new super dooper pole, that prevents the sail flogging on the swell and in light winds. One large swell came, and there was a thud. I assumed that something downstairs had fallen, but found nothing. A couple of mins later Stevie noticed that the jib had dropped a foot. Not good news. We rolled it away, as it was too dark to investigate. A whole night of worrying what had broken. Either the jib was torn, the shackle or rope had broken (we have spares of all 3), or the drum at the top of the jib had broken meaning we could bypass the furling and use it like a hanked on sail.

James posing with our new pole behind

 Stevie and I decided to unfurl the jib this morning to have a better look and the damn thing fell straight into the water – Emergency stop, and shout up all crew to help pull it back onto the deck before we got it mangled in the propeller. Iona then went up the mast to investigate, and luckily it was the shackle that had broken, and the noise I heard was it bouncing off the deck. Problem easily solved, and thanks Iona.

Iona up our 60ft mast mid-atlantic!

Still poor wind (8-12kts wind and 5kts speed), but James cheered us all up by catching another dorado – well done!! Dorados – colorful  tasty fish. When we catch them they are a turquoise-green colour. When we pull them onto the deck they change colour to white-yellow, and when they are killed, again they change to a navy blue-black colour. Magnificent to watch the colour changes, a little sad to kill them – but they are a delicious tender white meat!

Another dorado - where's all the tuna gone!
Another messy massacre!

Day 4 - 8.12 6am
Happy Birthday to me - thanks for my pressies mum xx and for all my sat phone messages everyone!! xx
Well I hope it is a happy birthday as we have major battery failure!! (Problem 3: and hopefully the last for a while). Stevie has been doing an unbelievable amount of calculations, as we are considering diverting to Brazil. The batteries for our housekeeping are failing (not the ones to start the engine – they are fine). They are no longer holding their charge for longer than a couple of hours. Also, still no wind!! From what I gather, if we motor too long then we are frying them more– and without any wind, what choice do we have. At the end of the day, they are pretty dead anyway.

Worst case scenario, we hand steer (no auto pilot, and no electronic GPS at night), however, we do have a hand help GPS, that runs on batteries, and we can charge it during the day with solar (unfortunately we may lose the fridge). Really it could be far worse. As I said to Stevie ‘If we had been struck by lightning we would be really in trouble so we are fine’. (conclusion -destination is still planned for Caribbean – solar will keep us going in day light and we will run the engine when required at night – until the batteries totally fail??).

Day 5 - 9.12 4pm
Yesterday turned out to be a fab birthday (after we got over the battery drama) and the sun finally came out! We had pink champagne and a dorado feast for lunch, followed by punch and TWO cakes (made by Stevie and Iona). (Between me and you, I think Stevie really enjoyed baking and hand decorating his first ever cake (although he denies it)).  He refused to wear the pinny though, as it was quite hot. Then we had a curry feast for dinner, and also decorated the boat for xmas.

The look of concentration!!

Wonderful job - it even tasted yummy too!

Santa surfed out back the whole way - he had a ball!

Dinner alfresco on my birthday
Iona made a sticky toffee cake which we had with custard - my favourite - yummy!

I bought everyone advent calendars, so we have been enjoying them too.

Hello to little Oscar, I look forward to seeing the photos when I reach civilization  and congrats to both Zoe and my big bro xx

Yesterday I asked my mum to text Steve, our weather man, and tell him we need wind - and today it came. Thanks Steve!! We are finally sailing the great Ocean. It feels a relief to be making some proper progress. The batteries are holding in there, and (touch wood) there have been no further dramas & of course, we have beautiful sunshine!! This is more like what I signed up for!!

Day 7 - 11.12 9pm – 1270 miles to go!
So last night at around 4am on my watch we started to see an average of 17 knots of wind, and we have been flying along since. Just now we are seeing an average of 20kts and we are a little anxious, as if it increases to 25kts during the night then we will all have to get up, and work in the dark, on a rolly deck to remove the pole from the jib and reduce the genoa (big sail at front). Let’s hope it doesn't increase anymore. We are seeing between 7-8kts of speed, and this is a bit of a problem, as we need to run the engine (with revs) every few hours during the night because of our crap batteries. This means that we will fly along even faster, and this can become a little dangerous. I don’t think Stevie will be sleeping tonight.

The swell got a little large!

Yesterday we caught a 3rd dorado. We tried to gently remove the hook and put it back as we are a little dorado’ed out, and would really like a tuna (also I am tired of cooking something different for Stevie, as he claims not to like dorado). Anyway, the poor big guy died, so once again it has been fish soup for lunch, probably another fish pie, paella, and anything else we can come up with. It’s quite funny as all we seem to do is eat food that needs to be eaten NOW. E.g. just now we are trying to ‘think bread’ (as well as fish) as it has expired and we still have 3 massive loafs. Also, more bananas and other fresh fruit have been past their best, so we have been making different desserts etc. It has been very adventurous with regards to food and what needs to be eaten.

We haven’t seen any boats for days. Occasionally we call over the radio ‘Is there anybody out there??’, and we have had no reply. We really are in the middle of nowhere!

Part of our daily routine now involves removing dead flying fish from the deck each morning. Obviously the wee things don’t have very good night vision. They are beautifully turquoise coloured fish, which fly about a foot above the ocean, and we guess, at around 20 mph. They vary from around 1-10 inches long. James has been hit twice in the chest by them, and I now lie down on a night shift, with my hood up, as I recon it would really hurt if one of these slapped you in the face, never mind the fright!

We have had a few starry, starry nights, which are made even more beautiful by the phosphorescence glowing in the wake of the boat. Unsure where the moon is these days though?

We are planning a half way pirate party. (Depends on the weather, as drinking punch is not recommended in rough seas!!). We have been collecting our biodegradable (over board) rubbish, and are planning to build a little sail boat out of empty beer cans, and paper plates etc, and to launch it for our big party! We have pirate hats, and are also planning on baking pirate cupcakes and decorate ginger bread men. Things you do to amuse yourself!

I had a ‘stitch and bitch’ session with Iona yesterday. A what? Basically I repaired 3 items of clothing, (it’s like having a whole new wardrobe again) and we sat and bitched. Mostly about the weather, but Stevies smelly feet were also mentioned!!

All in all, we are having a fab time. I am really surprised not to be bored yet, although some proper exercise would be good. I am also really happy to say that I appear to have gotten over my knock down fright. There were a few times after that incident, that I was really unsure that I would be able to continue. It really scared the crap out of me. Anyway, let’s not think about that just now- as I hear the wind pipe up outside!! Time for some rest xx

Day 9 – 13.12 – 1pm – 1075 miles to go – half way – yippee yippee yippee!!!
Stevie was wondering - did the world end yesterday? Will we be arriving in the Caribbean, for it not to be there anymore?

Today we have lots of wind (up to F8 38 knots) and we are surfing some big waves, at an average of 7.5 kts speed. We were hoping to have our half way party, but unfortunately it’s too rough to drink much, but we will be having one wee beer! I have spent my watch (9am-12) trying to take a good video to show you all the fun we are having in the big waves.

Unfortunately we haven’t seen the sun for a few days, and we have had the odd shower. No more starry starry nights! Also, movie nights have become a thing of the past.

Last night on my watch I saw another sailing boat. It is the first in around 7 days. I said ‘hi’ on the radio, and also I wanted to make sure they had seen us, as they were coming up from behind (sometimes you forget there are other boats out there, as you haven’t seen one for so long).

Day 11 - 15.12 – 850 miles to go!
Well since the wind came on day 7, it has done nothing but slowly increase, and cause some pretty crazy seas. Unfortunately it has been too wet outside to sit (rain and a lot of spray), and too hot and humid downstairs. We are covered in bruises from slipping all over the place. One pot meals were all I could manage, and the uncomfortable circumstances were beginning to take their toll on my patience!! The wind originally came from the west, but turned round almost 90 degrees to the south over time. Some of the swell was mountainous, the rest a little smaller. The 2 different wind directions produced some messy swell, that gave the boat a big knock on the back corner, and splashed all over the cockpit, and making it a pretty bumpy ride. Also, little creepies (as I called them) - breaking bits at the top of the mountainous swell that would spray over the back and helped to give the boat a good clean.

Last night the lightening started, and my knock down fear returned. A massive dark rain cloud passed behind us, and seemed to draw 20 knots of wind towards it (onto the nose of the boat, from the west). This is completely the opposite direction from where it had been coming from, so the swell turned really weird, producing small waves on the top, in completely the opposite direction. As a result, at 18,000 revs, we were hardly moving forward (usually we would get around 5-6 knots from these revs.) As the night went on, the swell completely calmed, the lightning storms stayed in the distance, and eventually the stars came out. Relief. Today we have sun, and are planning our half way party (although a little late!!). Everyone appears to be getting along fine, and we are all happy to be making gingerbread men today!

One of the things I really enjoy about sailing was that even though you are stuck on the same boat, in the same massive ocean, with the same people day after day – no 2 watches are the same!! Sometimes there are stars, dark clouds, big moon, no moon, rain (too cold), sun (too hot), big swells, becalmed, no wind, too much etc. Weird how it’s never the same, although everything else is!!

Day 12 – 16.12 – 4pm
Yesterday evening the wind and swell slowly started again. We made our ginger bread men, an army of pirate cupcakes, and by the time of pouring the filling into our quiche, the swell had become a little crazy, resulting in it pouring out everywhere. However, it still cooked well in the oven. We came to the conclusion that there should be a Baking Scale instead of a Beaufort scale – with 1 = Fine and calm, bake anything you like especially runny quiches! To 10 = Wild and swelly, not advised to attempt to juggle flour, sieves, and scales etc. High risk of scalding from oven. Guaranteed to make a big mess with the quiche filling!
We decided to abandon the build and launch of our little raft; however, today we are becalmed (again), so it looks good for our raft. Also, we are having a little punch again. We have come to the conclusion that Cape Verde Fanta is full of illegal (in the UK) E additives and preservatives. It is fluorescent in colour, and a lot of the locals seemed to prefer it to beer in the pub. We have been adding it to our punch, and I would definitely say it adds to the kick!

I don't ever remember making ginger bread men in my life - it was fun!

An army of pirate cup cakes!!

And of course we all dressed up for the occasion!
Captain Stevie building our wee raft

The big launch

James and Stevie both went for a mid atlantic swim

We did a stock take the other day, and I am really pleased to say that we are not going to run out of anything that I didn’t predict, and we still have quite a variety of meals to cook. We even still have some fresh food (potatoes, carrots etc). Also our tank and drinking water supply is doing well. The rod is out today though, and we are still hoping for yellow fin tuna! Failing that, it’s Morrisons ham roast – yummy (thanks again Has)!

Day 14 – 18.12 – 4pm
Well in the last 36 hours or so, the wind has completely turned 360 degrees (we think we must have been passing the centre of a high pressure area??). It has been good to change and use all points of sail, and for most of the day yesterday we were close hauled, gliding along at 7-8 knots all day. The boat cut beautifully through the water, like a hot knife cutting through butter. Speaking of which, it is actually true that you head south until the butter melts, then turn west to head for the Caribbean. Not just is the butter melting, but so are our advent calendars!!

Yesterday was by far the best day of sailing, also the first time for a long while that we had dolphins, and lots of them, cruising along beside the boat – beautiful!

Sleep still varies from day to day, with an average of 5 hrs a night – sometimes it is so hot that Stevie and I sleep in shifts in the bed. Apparently when people arrive, they have a good few beers, and then sleep for around 24 hours – sounds good to me!

We just caught another Dorado – the biggest yet! Fresh meat – yummy – I was dreading having to use tins of chicken curry etc (yuck). Instead it looks like fish curry tonight, fish chowder soup, and maybe fishcakes tomorrow night. Stevie is finally starting to accept that fresh fish is ok (so long as I try to disguise the flavour in curry etc).

It took both boys to land this monster!
Home made dorado fish fingers (for Stevie) and mushy peas!

Day 17 – 21.12 – 1pm – 78 miles to go!! 15 hours until we safely drop anchor and breathe a sigh of relief!!
Can’t believe it’s our last day! Although it has been a long time, it really has passed quite quickly – and I am really surprised I have not been bored! Today I have a busy day, updating and minimising this blog, painting my nails for xmas, and I have more stitching and bitching to do as the strap of my dress broke. Hectic life, this life at sea!! Unfortunately we will be arriving around 2-3am, and we have a severe lack of booze to celebrate (plenty of red wine, but the boys aren’t too keen on it). We are going to drop anchor in Falmouth harbour, Antigua. We plan to move to the marina in the morning, where we hope to find a supermarket for some supplies for xmas, then going for a late lunch, and some well-deserved drinks. The next plan is to sleep until we waken (hopefully we don’t miss xmas!!)

Yesterday we got a little bit carried away (drunk) with another punch. We are unsure why this one was so potent, as it contained the same alcohol as the rest of them. All we can assume is the cola mixer (cape verde), was full of hyper active E numbers – nothing to do with the alcohol. We started drinking around 1pm and all 3 of us passed out around 5pm. Luckily Iona doesn’t drink so she held the fort for a couple of hours (thanks Iona).

Last night I enjoyed my last 2 night shifts. I was lucky as I had the best shift (9pm-12 and 9am-12 UTC). We have now passed through 4 time zones, so sunrise is around 9.30am (UTC) = 5.30am ‘real time’. This morning the sunrise was beautiful. We have also been planet spotting, and have identified Mars and Jupiter. 3 boats have been spotted recently – more than we have seen all journey!

The day before yesterday I read about the weather and had a wee lesson from Stevie– different types of scary clouds etc. We also discussed the different weather fronts that we have witnesses on our journey:
Day 7-10 = strong wind, big swell, and a little rain – conclusion = we were passing the edge of an area of low pressure

Day 11-12 = Lightening and calmer seas – conclusion = we passed through an occlusion zone

Day 13-14 = Poor wind (turning 360 degrees over 24 hours), hot & humid – conclusion = we passed through the middle of a high pressure area.

This is what we think – we could be wrong – but I would like to believe that I have learnt something useful from my experience of an ocean crossing!

As it is our last day I would like to take the opportunity to say a few thanks:

Firstly, to our wonderful Crazy Diamond: You never fail us, you are tough as old boots, and I have so much faith in you. Thanks for keeping us all safe and coping with all conditions! Secondly, to Steve our weather man: Your updates were appreciated. Sorry it was such a busy time of year. My mum: for keeping everyone up to date on our progress. Our wonderful crew members, Iona and James. Iona I would like to thank for your motivation and creativity in cooking and baking. I would have struggled without you. And James, for being keen and eager to learn. I think you motivated us all to open the odd textbook, and I am sure Stevie has very much enjoyed your company.  You are both welcome back anytime! And of course, last but not least, my dearly beloved Captain Stevie. Well done on your first ocean crossing. You had some pretty difficult decisions to make, little sleep, and 3 big problems to solve in our first 3 days. Well done for keeping us all safe and coping so well!!

Well that’s about all from me, merry xmas to everyone and thanks for reading. All my love, second in command, Admiral Nic xx

Edit by steven , overall we covered 2300nm in 16.5 days, not the fastest crossing, but we arrived safe and well , we averaged 139.5 miles per day, An average of 5.8 kn.


  1. Hi! Nice to read!
    We will do the same in januari 2014. We leave august from the netherlands.

    Have a good time.


  2. Steve,

    Thanks for your blog. My wife and I have had a Gib Sea 43 2001 since 2006, also coming out of Charter at that time. We are currently in the DR, and planning a trip to the Bahamas. Would love to talk with you more. If interested, please send your e-mail or skype id to me at Thanks in advance. Don


Thanks for your interest!

Nic n Steve.