Captain's Blog - Atlantic Crossing : from Scotland to the Caribbean!

Posted on Nov 30, 2015 by | Tags: Atlantic Crossing, Sailing, Caribbean, British Virgin Islands

We arrived in Antigua on November 24, 2015 after a successful passage from our summer base in Scotland. We covered a total distance of 5700 nautical miles in seven weeks at an average speed of 6.92 knots.

Less than two months ago, we left the beautiful Scotland shores and sailed towards Ireland. We passed the Mull of Kintyre that was loyal to its reputation: strong currents and hard waves! We spent a night in Bangor and got the next favourable tide to continue our journey South. Our second halt was in Dun Laoghaire, close to Dublin. Again, no time to visit our dear Irish friends, the weather forecast, combined with the tides imposed a tough schedule to the boat and it’s crew. We had an important meeting with the Irish Sea at it’s best: choppy sea, bumpy route and lots of current (not often in the right direction…)! We tacked between Ireland and Whales several times, making very little progress against a robust Southerly breeze. When we finally cleared Carnsore Point, we eased our sheets and accelerated towards our next destination: Kinsale, Ireland. On the last 30 miles of this leg, we were surrounded by a multitude of dolphins welcoming us to the Celtic Sea. 

Kinsale is a marvellous little town, with a great marine tradition. We were well received by the local marina and spent a few days finalizing the preparation of our next navigation challenge: the crossing of the Bay of Biscay…

We left Kinsale on October 13 with a fair weather forecast for the next five days. Our goal was to go directly to Lisbon, Portugal. The first three days, we got light and variable winds and could set a direct course towards our target. But the weather changed when we were 400 nautical miles away from the closest shore. We had to go through bad weather in an area that has a reputation for fierce storms. The boat handled very well the traitorous waves of the Bay of Biscay and the crew demonstrated courage, discipline and calm despite the severity of the conditions. The two trampolines of our catamaran were damaged by the constant attack of the sea and I had to make the decision to change course and stop in Vigo, Spain to repair them. It was very dangerous to walk on the forward deck with these two big open holes. 

We spent five days in Vigo to repair the little list of breakdowns caused by the difficult passage of the Bay of Biscay. Interestingly, the Transat Jacques Vabre started at that time and we sailed in the same waters and weather conditions of the racing fleet of this world class sailing event. Half of the fleet had to abandon the race because of major breakdowns caused in the Bay of Biscay. Some multihulls capsized, lost their mast or had major structural damages. When we realized that we sailed in the same conditions, we were very proud of our Curanta Cridhe: What a solid vessel!

We left Vigo on October 22. Already the weather was much better than what we experienced in Scotland and Ireland: Blue sky, sunshine and we could wear shorts for the first time of the delivery! I decided to change my initial itinerary and make a stop in Madeira. We were literally charmed by this beautiful Island, rich of history and culture. We rented a car and visited this volcanic island, climbed it’s tallest mountains, enjoyed Funchal and it’s food, wines and local products. After few days of rest, we set sail for the Canary Islands.

Our original plan was to stop in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. After several phone calls, I realized that the biggest marinas were full due to the imminent departure of the ARC. So we sailed towards Santa Cruz de La Palma, a smaller island West of Tenerife. This was a good decision as we were off the beaten track while still getting (almost) everything we needed in order to complete the preparation of the boat and the crew for the big next leg across the Atlantic Ocean. Because we were early in the season, we had to expect very light winds with a small probability of a late hurricane. Not very good for crossing an ocean… But we had to be in Antigua for an important Charter Yacht Show early December. Usually, the crossing season starts at the beginning of December, right after the Hurricane Season. So having a good weather forecast was critical. 

I had also the option to alter my course to the Arquipelago de Cabo Verde if something bad happened to us such as very heavy weather, running out of fuel or a breakdown of our water maker. Fortunately, nothing of that nature happened. We could rely on a strong boat with two good engines, a reliable generator and efficient water maker. When you plan such a passage, preparation of all boat systems is a key factor. Fortunately, I had the time and the budget to do a great boat preparation thanks to the unconditional support from the owners of Curanta Cridhe. And it paid off during the delivery. Anne did a fantastic job in the food preparation and management throughout this voyage. We had no shortage of anything. I was very thrifty regarding the fuel consumption, forcing the crew to trim and trim the sails in light air instead of cranking up the engines. We accepted to make 3 and 4 knots sailing instead of 8 knots motoring, but in the end, we were very happy to have fuel to run the water maker and generator at all times. We even had the luxury to run under engines for the last day as the wind was dying and our desire for a big fresh salad and a cold beer was growing bigger and bigger…

Christopher Columbus did his first Trans-Atlantic passage in 21 days and we all wanted to beat this time despite the very light wind conditions we had. The second day, a fresh Northerly breeze picked up and we were so happy to make great progress. By the end of the day, it was blowing 20 knots and I decided to bring the spinnaker down for the night. For some obscure reason, the spinnaker sock refused to come down. It was blocked at the top of the mast and the only solution was to send a crew member up there to investigate. The night was falling quickly and we had a big swell that would have made this manoeuvre quite dangerous. I made the decision to keep the spi flying for the night and postpone the investigation till the next morning. It was the most stressful night of this delivery. The boat was running dead downwind with surfs at 16-17 knots. We had between 18 and 22 knots of wind all night long with gusts of up to 25 knots. The autopilot did an amazing job, steering like a pro in these difficult conditions. I did not sleep at all, expecting a disaster at any moment but the boat and the crew managed the situation perfectly. The next morning the wind went down to 15 knots and we successfully brought the spinnaker down for an inspection. No damage to the sail… I was happy and relieved.

It is logic to suspect that heavy weather will cause the most important damages to your sails. However, this crossing proved the opposite. It was the absence of wind or very light air, combined with a big swell that caused the most important damages to our sails and rig. A boom banging on the rig because of the swell can create damages to the mainsail as well as all the running rigging. A few  days after our wild night under spinnaker, the wind dropped down again and we were struggling, trying to fly the big parasailor spinnaker in light air. The lack of wind combined with a strong northerly swell made the spinnaker collapse and it got caught in the spreaders. Several strings that hold the kite got stuck and we  desperately tried our best to bring the sail down without damaging it.  But we had to admit the sail needed repairs in 3 locations when we finally inspected it on deck. It took us 24 hours 

to repair the spinnaker. Thanks to Owen Sails, we had a complete sail maker repair kit on-board.  We took advantage of this situation to sail straight South on a beam reach, using our main sail with the genoa, in order to reach the 20th parallel where we were supposed to get decent Trade Winds. Once we reached 20 degrees of Latitude, the spinnaker was repaired and we proudly hoisted it for the next five consecutive days and nights. The repair still holds today and we crossed the ocean in 17 days thanks to this great downwind sail.

We crossed a Low Pressure Disturbance loaded with white squalls in which we encountered winds of up to 47 knots. During two days and two nights we were impressed by these squalls attacking us regularly. We were watching them on the radar forming and disappearing as if by magic. Thunderstorms, lightning, intense tropical rain, and then dead calms in between. The temperature inside the cabin was going up. The electricity demand from our fridges and freezers was increasing drastically. Our generator was running for four hours instead of two when we were in Ireland. The nights were less cool and the sun more burning day after day as we were making our progress South West. We finally escaped from the Low Pressure Disturbance and we got very light winds from the North East, between 5 and 12 knots. Again, the spinnaker was a precious asset to us and prevented me from starting the engines. 

This week, we are working hard to prepare Curanta Cridhe for the coming Antigua Yacht Charter Show. From December 4 to 10, 2015 we’ll introduce this amazing sailing vessel to the charter industry. We’ll be available for charter in the beautiful waters of the British Virgin Islands this winter and in Newport, R.I. sailing the New England Coast of the USA next summer. 

If you need any further information regarding our charter schedule, please feel free to contact me.

Thierry Simon. 

Association of Scottish Yacht Charterers

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