Looking for Trade Winds - The Nth Atlantic

Trip Start Apr 04, 2008
Trip End Jul 03, 2009

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Flag of Barbados  ,
Sunday, December 21, 2008

After clearing customs and immigration, we paid for our night at the marina fuel wharf and cast off our lines ready for our voyage across the North Atlantic, our destination, Barbados. Our first day out was very calm and we enjoyed a sunny day with flat seas. We lost sight of land before nightfall and settled into our night watch routine.

We decided that Matt was the biggest night owl, so he could have first watch from 8pm until 11pm, then Tom would take over after a few hours sleep and go through until 2am. Then My watch until 5am, when Dad took over while the rest of us slept. Being novices at this, Matt and Dad had a quick rundown of the navigation equipment and the procedure to follow if anything happened that they weren't sure about....Wake Pete!!

After a beautiful first day we awoke to strengthening winds and an overcast sky. Looks like the dream weather was over! During the morning the wind built until it was blowing 25knots out of the North East. This was right on the back corner, which was good, so we could run along with the wind and building swell. By night 2, we had 3 metre seas and a lively ride down the waves. Good thing everyone was feeling well and no sea sickness.
We had 4 days of this weather as we made our way South, with a little bit of West in our course. By day 5 we had 5 metre swell and were surfing many of the swells with speeds up to 14 knots.

Keeping North West of the Cape Verde Islands we turned left some 200 nautical miles from them and started to make our way down to the 15th Latitude. The weather was already starting to warm up as we left the Northern Hemisphere winter behind us. We had mixed winds, mostly light (around the 10 to 15 knot range) for the next 12 days. There were a couple of days we motored in calm conditions, where the ocean was like glass.
The light winds allowed us to run with the spinnaker up for 5 days and enjoy catching several good sized Dorado and a Tuna and one Wahoo. At one stage we must have run through a school of Dorado, because we hooked up two at the same time. This was a first for us and the boys were all very excited. See the photos.

It was lazy days aboard Bella Vita as we settled into a routine of cooking and washing dishes, reading books, playing the odd board game. We had a couple of marathon games of Monopoly. Dad claimed the job of chief dish washer, which gained him his nick name as "Dish Rat".

We often had visits from various ocean birds. Some would circle intently, looking at the small yacht in the middle of the ocean, while others would desperately try to land on Bella as she bobbed and swayed on the waves. One night during a rain squall I popped my head outside to see a dozen or so white birds sitting in my sail cover and on the cabin roof. Not that this was so uncommon, but these guys where no ocean birds. They appeared to be small wading type birds, like you would see walking around a mangrove swamp. We guessed they were migrating from a European winter to somewhere warmer the other side of the Atlantic.
The next morning while hoisting a second headsail to get a little more speed I disturbed them and they all flew off into the West. I guess they just needed a rest and Bella was the closest Island. A few hours later, to my surprise a little head popped out of the sail cover and as he looked around he quickly realised that the rest of his flock had flown the coop and he was left alone. We felt quite sorry for this little guy and he quickly became part of the crew as he jouined us in the cockpit and at one stage even climbed through the hatch and found a comfy place on the captain's bed. We named the little guy Stanley and figured he was comming with us all the way to Barbados. After several days of much needed rest (I think it was a very calm day and he decided he could fly quicker) he left us and headed west into the setting sun.

With regular sail changes and the odd day of motoring we gradually edged our way across the Atlantic looking for the trade winds that Christopher Columbus found a few hundred years before us. These elusive winds failed to materialise giving us a very slow passage. We had several large squalls, which invariable had strong winds and drenching rain. These mostly appeared in our Mid Atlantic section and would form out of heavily overcast skies and dump massive amounts of rain on us. They were mostly short lived, lasting only 15 to 30 minutes.

You're never really alone out on the ocean. Although other yachts and ships are few and far between the marine life is amazing. We probably had a dozen days where dolphins played with us for hours at a time. We even had a visit from some pilot whales as they cut across the Atlantic. During one dolphin episode Tom lowered himself off the fore beam and was hanging down, skimming across the water just centimetres from the dolphins. He actually managed to touch one, which gave him and the dolphin a fright. The dolphin slapped his tail and splashed us all in fright as he took off at lightenng speed. They are amazing as they weave back and forth across the bows and roll over to look at us talking to them. You can even hear their high pitched squeaks as they try to communicate with us.

The up side of a slow passage was a very comfortable one, and with a freezer full of fish and many books read and quite few beers drunk we finally started counting the days until landfall. It was the last 2 days, when we calculated time of arrival that the wind started to come in. We needed to pace ourselves so we would arrive during daylight hours. (It's too difficult arriving at islands you are unfamiliar with in the middle of the night.) So after calculating our speed to arrive at first light on the 20th December, the wind came up and we had to reef sails heavily trying to slow us down. With a great breeze on our tail we crept slowly around the Northern tip of Barbados in the dark and arrived at Port St. Charles bright and early on the morning of the 20th December.

Although we had a rather long passage (19 days) we all enjoyed it immensley. Its funny, I was almost reluctant to reach land because sailing the ocean is so peaceful and there's no hassle with other boats, marinas, anchoring etc... You're just on your own out there with the ocean.... and you should see the stars....never seen them brighter. I even looked south in the early hours of the morning and could see our Southern Cross very low in the sky.
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