Ahoy landlubbers!

Two weeks into our passage, we have over 700nm remaining. Here’s a brief summary of the trip so far:

Direct route – Cape Verde to Caribbean – 2080nm
Actual route – 2310nm
Distance sailed – 1587nm
Remaining miles – 720nm

The grib files last week showed a few days of stronger winds, but those didn’t eventuate. Consistently light NE winds kept our spinny hauling us along at a steady pace, fast enough to crack over 100nm each day, and we’ve not had to motor at all over the past seven days.

Our food situation is fine and we still have veggies and meat in the fridge. I ate the last red apple today, but I still have some Grannies. Our main meal each day is eaten mid afternoon, now that the clocks are changed to Caribbean time and the sun disappears around 4.30pm. With our chocolate supply gone, a bowl of cold chocolate custard is a sweet alternative.

We’ve watched movies, listened to podcasts, eaten and slept. Sitting down so long isn’t good for anyone, and my bum is numb, so I’ll be glad to reach land and stretch my legs. Fishing out here hasn’t produced anything except sargassum weed. Although, we did catch a pathetically small dolphin fish, not much bigger than the lure. I rather think the hook snagged the fish, than the fish attempting to eat the lure.

With the spinny doing the bulk of the work over the past two weeks, the sheath on the tack line chaffed through. Skipper cut that section off and re-rigged. Besides a ‘wine-glass’ dilemma where our spinny wrapped itself around our forestay, we’ve also lost a couple of split rings where sheets have ripped them away from their clevis pins. Out here, small problems are better than big ones.

The only other mishap of any consequence was a freshly fizzed bottle of Sodastream spraying soda over the galley. It happened fast – a large wave, the boat lurched, a lid-less bottle of fizz, a Sodastream maker, and a bottle of sweet sticky cordial – all moving at the same time, and me, with only two hands! At least it was just water. Good job I’m more careful when cooking…

We had some wonderful downpours during the early part of the week. The mass of water rinsed the rigging and deck, and filled the buckets, supplementing our supply of water. The weather forecast shows settling conditions with slightly stronger winds, so we are hoping to have a good sail for the remainder of our trip. Our ETA is probably 2nd December at this stage.

Ally & Wayne

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Follow our progress here – https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/SV_BlueHeeler [end]

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Ahoy!

If you’ve been following our GPS Tracking, you’ve probably read my daily updates, so I won’t repeat much of what I’ve already written. However, after one week of sailing, now entering our seventh night offshore, here’s a brief summary of the trip so far:

Direct route – Cape Verde to Caribbean – 2080nm
Actual route – 2230nm
Distance sailed – 770nm
Remaining miles – 1460nm

Each morning and night we download a fresh PredictWind grib file and consider our options. Six weather models provide route information and from our experience, ECMWF, Spire, PWE and UKMO are most accurate. Where the routes agree, we follow somewhere in the middle. So far, the predictions are reasonably accurate.

Looking back on our ocean crossings, this voyage is our third longest to date. Although we sailed thousands of miles across the Indian Ocean, our longest passage was no more than 1200nm as we sailed from islands to atolls as we crossed. Our longest passage to date was 3800nm, 28 days, St Helena to Martinique (2015); and 2800nm, 21 days from Caribbean to Azores (2017).

So what do we do out here? A lot of sitting, for sure, and laying down to rest. Not so much exercise but simple stretches and some time standing help blood return to numb parts of the body. While everything is fine we can relax, but out here we must also be ready for any unwelcome problems.

I’m reading a book, but it has little story to keep me interested. It’s good to send me to sleep though. Some of my favourite podcasts – BBC’s History Hour, ABC’s Nightlife, BBC’s The Documentary, plus a new one I’ve recently downloaded, the ABC’s ‘Stuff the British Stole’, which looks at how 19th century British Empire ‘acquired’ cultural artifacts and natural wealth from it’s colonies and rivals. Skipper spends his time checking instruments, analysing graphs, making sure we have full batteries, runs the watermaker, kills fish and opens jars for me.

Settled into the voyage, we tend to stay awake during the day, with two x four hour watches at night, providing enough sleep. To stay awake while on watch, I listen to podcasts, watch movies or TV series, with my Bluetooth headphones so as not to disturb skipper below. Away from the noise of the outside world is a welcome break. We’ve no idea what’s happening in the world right now.

Sailing in light conditions is relaxing, but we can’t be complacent regarding the weather. The cruising chute has flown since Monday – the longest run we’ve done I think – and we haven’t had to motor at all (only to charge the batteries and operate watermaker). The forecast for the next few days shows increasing, but not excessive, wind. This will improve our daily mileage and our ETA.

This passage has taken us from latitude 17 degrees at Cale Verde to under 12 degrees, and our destination, Martinique, is at 14 degrees. Our meandering course looks like a dog’s hind leg as we pursue wind to blow us to the Caribbean.

Tomorrow is our 39th wedding anniversary, maybe we’ll do something special!

Ally & Wayne

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Follow our progress here – https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/SV_BlueHeeler

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The Cape Verde archipelago of ten islands is over 800nm south of the Canary Islands and 350nm from the west coast of Africa. It’s not too much of a detour from the trade winds to the Caribbean. Mindelo is our only stop in Cape Verde giving us just enough time to rest a few days, do some laundry, fill our propane tank, and provision with fresh groceries for our next passage.

City of Mindelo, Sao Vicente, Cape Verde

Our first stop is to clear in with Immigration and the Maritime Police. The Immigration Office is located just outside the main entrance to the port. At 9am, it was busy with yachties so we waited 30 minutes for our turn, chatting to a German crew while we waited. Typical for many island nations is paperwork to complete upon arrival. After completing our details on the Immigration form, then presenting our vaccination certificates and passports for stamping, we were directed to the Maritime Police around the corner of the same building. Same information, but a different form completed and our boat registration handed over to the officials. This isn’t usual as we normally keep hold of our boat registration and have never had to release it.

Sport Fishing Club welcomes sailors to tie up and have a beer
Mindelo Marina Floating Bar and access for dinghies

To get ashore, the Sport Fishing Club charges one Euro to land your dinghy, but free if you buy a beer. Same at the marina, but it’s four Euros to land the dinghy for the day. The marina is generally more convenient.

Outside the marina, entrepreneurial fellows are eager to help you with a taxi ride or anything else you may need. Each day Umberto or Joseph offered their services, each keen to assist visiting sailors and make some coin. They’ll no doubt have their hands full when the many ARC Rally yachts arrive in a few days.

Outside the marina

Next, internet. A small tourist booth in the Parque Nhô Roque across the road from the marina suggested we walk one block over and try the Fragate Central supermarket to buy a SIM card. The large blue building was easy to find, but the CV Movil booth inside the store had run out of SIM cards, so we were redirected two streets north to the CV Telecom building. Before long we had 9Gb of data to use during our stay for around €15.

The Mercado de Vegetais has a good selection of veggies and fruit

Next, groceries. After six nights at sea, we bought some fresh bread and treats from the Fragate Central supermarket, then returned to the Floating Bar at the marina for lunch. Grocery prices are in line with Europe, except for special items which are quite expensive. Opposite the Enacol plant is the Mercado de Vegetais. There’s a good selection of fresh veggies and fruit, and some meat. Closer to the marina is the Mercado Municipal.

Fish market

Further along the main road along the waterfront is the Fish Market for those that can’t actually catch any fish (me!). At most supermarkets I found frozen chicken pieces and fresh cuts of pork from the butcher at the back of the Fragate Supermarket. The Floating Bar at the marina has a good selection of food and drinks; the WiFi is a little slow as sailors all sit with their iPads and smart gadgets catching up on news with loved ones, streaming, or downloading apps.

Large orange building to the right is Enacol for propane. To the left near the white one tonner is the laundry.

Next, propane. Propane cylinders are virtually impossible to fill in the UK and Europe. Back in March we installed extra solar panels, increasing our input to 775W. It’s no exaggeration to say how the extra energy has extended the life of our gas. Previously a 9kg bottle of propane would usually last between 2-3 months. Before leaving the UK, we replaced two cylinders with two new 7.5kg Safefill bottles and we’ve been using gas from one bottle since May – almost six months! To get the most out of solar energy, I cook with an induction hot plate when we have plenty of energy, and have cooked on our Cobb many times over summer while at anchor. Having cylinders filled in Mindelo at the Enacol building south of the marina is an easy walk and a ten minute wait. No problems.

Street life, Mindelo

Finally, laundry. There’s a handful of places that can do laundry (Umberto’s mum can do it too). Two blocks east of Enacol, is the Lavomatic laundry that opens from 8am every day. It’s self service, but the friendly staff will manage your laundry so you don’t have to wait, giving you time to buy veggies from the Mercado de Vegetais across the road.

Paying for any of the items above – SIM card, groceries, laundry – can be made in Euros and change will be given in local Escudos. I brought enough Euros with me so had no need to use credit cards while here, but I did notice they weren’t accepted at many places. There’s a bank outside the marina where local currency can be withdrawn.

Don’t get in his way otherwise you’ll have to deal with Enamar!

The heavily laden fuel vessel ‘Enamar’ cuts a route from the eastern bank, north of the wreck, and across to the ships thirsty for fuel. Our first night here had the skipper shaking his fists at us to move north. Once a spot opened up in the anchorage, we moved well out of its way and anchored closer to the marina.

Mindelo Marina

The annual ARC Rally are on their way south from Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. In a few days, the Mindelo Marina and anchorage will be over-flowing with boats as they descend upon this small city. The marina evicted many yachts to make room for those arriving, so boats are squeezing into the already-tight anchorage. Raised voices, shaking fists, and potential boating disasters good enough to view on YouTube’s ‘Sailor’s Fails’, as boats scramble for their piece of wet real estate. Some insist on having anchor floats to identify where their anchor is. But in my opinion, these floats cause more problems than not by taking up precious anchoring space. One boat preparing to anchor, motored alongside us, dropped his anchor and float at our beam, so that when the wind shifted our boat drifted over his float which has a big red ‘don’t anchor here’ logo. Rather than re-anchor, his buddy dived down and kindly removed the offending float before it tangled around our prop, or was mysteriously detached overnight.  Meanwhile, one boat over also with a float above his anchor managed to attract a 39 footer in it’s tenticle. The crew took some time to free the offending float from the boat’s propeller before offending another boat by anchoring too close. The anchorage is tight with unknown debris on the bottom, so a little common sense and general cruising courtesy can go a long way.

During our stay, we had a pleasant drop of rain overnight – we hadn’t expected the rain so it was a good reason to scrub the deck the next morning to finish the job and remove months of filth and dust. We haven’t been to a marina in months; in fact Lisbon was the last marina we’ve stayed at.

The Mindelo people we met were friendly and a ‘Bom Dia’ and ‘Obrigada’ is welcomed with a smile. Tourism is a growing industry in the Cape Verde islands and although Mindelo isn’t the star attraction for many tourists, for sailors it has the facilities we need to continue us our passage. As one of the most stable countries in Africa, economically and politically, our brief stopover was a restful break and we stocked the fridge with meat and veggies.

Tonight, we’re catching up for a beer with an Aussie guy we first met in Monserrat in 2016, and no doubt share some interesting stories. In a day or so this place will be swarming with sailors from the rally, so we will clear out on Friday to leave Saturday and get a jump on the rally boats. By the time you read this, we shall be many miles from Mindelo, well on our way on a 2100nm passage across the Atlantic to the Caribbean.

At least we should be! Follow our GPS track here.

Until then…

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From the lush island of Madeira, we sailed Blue Heeler 270nm over two nights, to drop anchor at the rugged landscape at Lanzarote, one of seven islands that make up the Canary Islands. With 20-25kn on a beam reach for most of the trip, conditions were lively and rest didn’t come easy. We were glad to stop and catch up on sleep. With no Schengen time left, we decided we’ll navigate the islands as a ‘vessel in transit’, stopping only to anchor and sleep, and take in the scenery along the way.

The swell in the anchorage outside the marina at Lanzarote rocked the boat so that by the next evening, we headed into the sunset for an overnight sail to the south coast of Gran Canaria, bypassing the island of Fuerteventura.

Sunset in the Canary Islands

This time of year at the Canary Islands, marinas are full with boats from Europe. The outer anchorages are churned up by jet skis and various other forms of tourist water activities such as parasailing, speed-boat thrills and odd-looking pedal boats with slides. The volcanic islands are steep with little protection; anchorages are typically exposed to the swell and can be quite uncomfortable with an onshore breeze. Literally hundreds of boats are en route to the Caribbean this season; either on their own like us, or part of an organised rally. The terrain is devoid of colour and from sea-level the hotels and apartments don’t improve the view.

Morocco and Western Sahara are only 50nm to the east of the Canaries – a ten-hour sail for a typical yacht. Scattered across these waters of north-west Africa, unseaworthy wooden vessels crammed with asylum seekers – men, women and infants – attempt the crossing, fighting currents, winds, ships, hunger and thirst. Each year, thousands of asylum seekers from Africa attempt the passage – hundreds die – as they seek a chance of a better life. During our transit, persistent distress PAN-PAN alerts blare from the VHF asking boats to keep a lookout for vessels with “indeterminate number of passengers” or similar distress messages. A small wooden raft floating by during our transit is a sobering reminder of how fortunate we are.

Tenerife’s Mount Teide – elevation over 3,700m
The colourful Punta Roja on the east coast of Tenerife
A colourful end – Tenerife

The weather forecast for our passage predicted a week of 15-20kn NE winds – typical for the west coast of Northern Africa. The wind shadow to the south of Tenerife took some time to break free from, but eventually we found enough wind to sail. Our destination: to reach Mindelo on the island of Sao Vicente in the Cape Verde islands in seven days.

Sailing an average of 130nm each day, doesn’t take into account the gybes and course corrections along the way. For the most part, the wind was from behind so we winged the sails for the downwind run, gybing as needed.

Three hourly watches to begin, but relaxed as we settled into the trip. Eating meals when we’re hungry, one meal a day plus snacks; and sailing for comfort, not speed, so the other can get some sleep. Prior to departure, iPads are filled with podcasts, movies, and documentaries, and everything is properly stowed. A niggling knocking, an annoying squeak or chink from a bottle every few seconds can drive a tired crew crazy, so lockers are padded with anything to avoid any maddening tap-tap-tapping in the wee hours.

While offshore we have only our IridiumGo to communicate with the outside world, other than our VHF and SSB that is. Each day we download a weather grib using both PredictWind and Weather4D, and update our progress on the GPS tracking.  With so many yachts and catamarans in the Canaries, we didn’t see or hear another sailboat on our entire passage.

Sun going down on another day

The moon didn’t join us on this passage. Only the twinkling stars, the sparkling bioluminescence and the on-board gadgets emit any light. The eastern horizon lightens from around 5am, extinguishing the starlight as the sun rises by 6am. Navigation lights are switched off, night-views on our charts and instruments are reverted back to daylight settings and we prepare for a new day. (FYI The new IOS 15 has a new feature called Smart Invert (Settings/Accessibility/Per-App Settings). This is particularly useful for apps that are too bright at night and have no ‘dark mode’, such as Navionics Boating app).

By the fourth day, we’d settled into a routine and even managed to feel rested. Sleep comes easier after three days, which also means it’s easier to stay awake longer. We extend watches to four hours or as we need. I even read a couple of books – a pleasant change from social media and the internet.

Day five – out came the fishing gear. Neither of us are fishing enthusiasts and prefer to have chips with our fish; anyway, we have some fishing gear on board and every couple of years we drag out our dwindling cache of lures and lines in an attempt to live off the bounty of the ocean. As luck would have it, five minutes after casting my only decent lure, a plastic crate floated by snagging the bloody lure and ripping it off! My second attempt attracted a large fish that came in so fast and also took off with the lure. Not quite discouraged, I fixed a lure I’d crafted this year from an old Colgate toothpaste tube. I even drew eyes with a Sharpie for effect. I still have that lure…

Land Ho!

On the seventh day, after six nights at sea, our ETA was still on track for a lunchtime arrival. The wind became lighter – between 10-12kn – so we hoisted the spinny for the final 25nm to Mindelo; about five hours away. Both of us had had enough sleep so for the final few hours of the passage, we had our traditional end-of-passage feed of toast, bacon and eggs, ran the watermaker and filled the water tanks, while also indulging in a seawater scrub followed by a freshwater rinse in the warm sunshine – one of sailing life’s pleasures, particularly when the water and outside temperature is around 26degC.

A quick tidy up below; boat papers, crew lists, passports and proof of vaccination for arrival are set aside. The yellow Q flag is hoisted reminding me to buy a CV flag upon arrival in Mindelo. The port office and immigration is closed on weekends so we’d have to check in on Monday.

Porto Grande, Mindelo, Sao Vicente, Cape Verde

To the west, Tope de Coroa, a 1,979m peak of Ilha de Santo Antao the NW island of the archipelago, is shrouded in haze. To our east, Ilha de Sao Vicente is separated from Ilha de Santo Antao by Canal de Sao Vicente, a deep channel, about seven miles wide. Porto Grande is the principal port in the Cape Verdes and the city of Mindelo is on the eastern side of the harbour.

Looking east towards marina at Mindelo

As we entered Porto Grande, the main port is to the north, the small marina ahead and to the east, and about thirty yachts of various nationalities and various states of dilapidation are anchored in sand east of a derelict vessel ‘Iron Bull’. To the south of the boats anchored is the hull of a wreck about 25m long. Three small black balls indicate its danger, but the wreck is fairly obvious. From the east coast to the main port, the vessel ‘Enamar’ transits between anchored boats and the wreck so anchor as far north as possible!

Anchored north of the wreck

It wasn’t long after we anchored that a smiling face appeared offering bags of mint, lettuce, and a tuna of indeterminate freshness from his paddle-board. I returned a smile, and thanked him, but not today. All I needed was a good sleep.

Up early on Sunday morning (still used to getting up early for watch), I noticed a large ketch that had been towed in with engine failure the night before and anchored north of us had shifted. At 8am, and with no one else apparently awake, we were unable to rouse the crew of the vessel by VHF. Wayne dinghied across to alert them they were about to crash into a crew-less yacht anchored behind them and ahead of us. It took some banging on their hull to get them out of bed. The alarmed captain and crew came out in their jarmies, as the ketch began to bump into the smaller yacht. The captain, in his panic, decided to light a flare which immediately fizzled out in a puff of smoke. Wayne suggested calling a Pan-Pan might get a better response…

Meanwhile, from our bow I was watching the ketch drag towards us. If we didn’t move our boat soon, he’d be on top of our anchor then we’d be trapped. I waved Wayne back to Blue Heeler and we set about raising our anchor. Motoring forward, our bow just metres from the stern of the stricken ketch. We re-anchored nearby and the ketch was where we had been just minutes before. During this kerfuffle, others in dinghies came by to assist, including guys from the dive shop who managed to secure the vessel to the hulk of the Iron Bull and stop the ketch dragging.

Welcome to Mindelo!

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Sailing the world is full of surprises and often find ourselves in a place we had no intention to visit. Madeira is one such island – a surprising little gem in the big Atlantic.

During our time at Madeira, the weather was stable enough that we could anchor outside the Port and the town of Funchal. Some days though, a southerly swell would roll in, causing uncomfortable conditions. Fortunately those days weren’t accompanied by strong winds, so as long as we could handle the roll and didn’t fall out of bed, we didn’t have too much bother and didn’t notice any boats dragging anchor. The Port charges a small fee for boats anchored – we paid 6.50 Euros per night. The Port office is a twenty minute walk from the Marina; all the way around the main wharf and the office at the very end. Not very convenient so I imagine many yachts keep their dosh and skip town without paying.

The main city of Funchal is bustling with tourists; cruise-liners appear regularly at the docks. Some are so big, yet so quiet as they slip alongside the wharf without even a ripple to stir us from sleep. They are amazing to see up close, particularly from the deck of a 12m boat.

Funchal has delightfully cool streetscapes; passing by the Municipal Garden of Funchal with its playful nymphs and pigeons, the streets are lined with cafes and eateries; the centuries old Gothic Funchal Cathedral stands in the centre of the city; vendors sell hot roasted chestnuts in brown paper bags or sweet smelling tropical fruit from covered stands.

For views of the city and harbour, a chairlift conveys tourists up the hill to Monte. From here, a popular tourist attraction is the Wicker Sled Ride – the “Carreiros of Funchal“. It’s fun to watch as they push and ride the sleds down the hill – 30 Euros for a short thrill.

Madeira is famous for hiking and there are hundreds of graded walks around the mountains and forests. The bus system is fairly good for getting around, although to see more of the island, a car is probably the best bet. Madeira is an island at the top of a dormant volcano, that rises almost six kilometres from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. The “Pico Ruivo” is the highest peak in Madeira with 1862 meters of altitude, followed by “Pico do Areeiro” and “Pico das Torres”. We didn’t walk any difficult hikes during our time in Madeira; these days we seem to operate better at sea-level!

Catching the number 56 bus, we had views of the peaks as we rode over the island to the small town of Santana. After a snack lunch, we visited the thatched triangle typical Madeiran houses on display, sampled some potent Madeira punch then hopped on the number 103 bus which took us around the eastern side of the island, passing through many tunnels along the way.

Typical houses in Madeira

Famous Portuguese footballer, Cristiano Ronaldo was born in Funchal, Madeira in 1985. Considered the World’s best footballer (it says so on his statue), his achievements are enthusiastically celebrated across Madeira – the International Airport on the south coast changed its name in 2017 to honour him; along the waterfront, the CR7 Museum is entirely dedicated to this famous lad from Madeira.

Madeira’s International Airport is considered one of the world’s most dangerous airports due to its location and construction. When we sailed to Funchal, we watched as planes circled then land along this alleged perilous runway.

The Nun’s Valley hike was an enjoyable day out. With the end of daylight savings not until the end of October, the sun doesn’t rise until almost 8:15am. Our plan to catch the number 81 bus to the Eira do Serrado hike at 9am had us getting up in the dark. It was worth it to beat the crowds.

Narrow, windy, steep roads reminded us of Reunion Island. To ride the bus here is a thrill in itself. Not as hard-core as the bus drivers in Nepal, but the guy driving bus number 81 certainly had a lead-foot and took each corner at full speed.

The ride up the hill didn’t last long (thankfully), and we were up at Eira do Serrado by 9.45am. The lookout over the village of Curral da Freiras is spectacular and the walk down to the village took only an hour or so.

In the quiet village a few cafes are open for tourists – the La Perla restaurant overlooking the valley was inexpensive and we enjoyed a cheap and cheerful lunch. From Curral da Freiras, the number 81 bus carried us back to town by 2pm. An easy day hiking and back in time to go for a swim (did I mention we’ve swum more times in the past two weeks than in the past four years!).

Madeira has been a nice surprise on our travels and has a lot to offer for those interested in hiking, eating and a temperate climate. But now we are heading south to continue our passage across the Atlantic.

Until next time…

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