Atlantic Crossing Day by Day

Day One (December 29)

We left Las Palmas without incident. The southerly component of the wind meant that as soon as we cleared the marina breakwater, we were beating into a short and sloppy chop. This was a bit uncomfortable and some of the crew were feeling a bit sick. Once they stopped playing on their devices things started to improve. After clearing the harbor channel and the anchorage full of drilling vessels, we motor sailed with the main only which was comfortable. By the afternoon, the wind had shifted to the stern and it was time to start sailing! We rigged the whisker pole on the starboard side and the boom on the port side to accommodate our twin headsails. This took some time to get the ropes in the correct places and to eliminate potential chafe points. We ended up having to furl the two sails a few times to make adjustments but just after sunset we had a configuration we were happy with for the night. Chafe watch is going to be a big thing on Vesna for the next few weeks.

Dinner: Tuscan sausage and corona bean casserole

Day One Overnight: Vesna is flying along beautifully. While the conditions are perfect for dead downwind, we need to make south to avoid a big calm spot that looks likely to appear in a week or so. We will adjust course following a weather update in the morning.

Day Two (December 30)

Can the conditions be like this every day please? Today was close to perfect. We continue to sail downwind (240) in 15-20 kts with two headsails and very mild seas. We’re hoping that this heading will take us far enough south to avoid getting becalmed next weekend. The crew are happy although due to cloud cover and shading by the sails, we were unable to get a full charge on the batteries by nightfall which means no computer time for the boys. Saw a massive pod of dolphins which entertained us for about half an hour as they passed us by. We have three boats, Otoka, Avanti, and Rosie Skye, in visual range keeping us company.

Lunch: Tuna, corn, and chickpea salad
Dinner: Penne with green beans, pesto, and bacon

Day Three (December 31)

We turned south today and sailed on a beam reach for most of the day. While this is a fast point of sail, the 2 m waves meant it was quite uncomfortable for the crew. Consequently, there was no fancy New Year’s Eve dinner – just baked beans cooked by Jack. It’s now 1 am on the first of January and I have just started my watch. The swells have started to reduce so Jack and I are about to enjoy a belated New Year’s celebration with a bottle of Moet chilling for the occasion.

Lunch: veggies and hummus
Dinner: Baked beans

Day Four (January 1)

Another day of fast but uncomfortable sailing as we continue to head south. Ideally, we want to be below 20 N in the next two days. By the afternoon everyone was tired of the conditions, so we turned downwind again and had a comfortable afternoon with some more interesting food. We were also appalled to find a cockroach on board today! The presence of this cockroach raises so many questions. Was he a loner? Did he bring his friends and family onboard? Even worse, was he a she who may have left her progeny on Vesna? Only time will tell I suppose but I am certainly sleeping a little less easy with the thought of a possible cockroach invasion at sea. (Addendum: No more cockroaches were found on Vesna!)
So far during our crossing, there has been no big blue, only the big grey – skies and sea. The sun is a big milky white marble in the sky. We are shrouded by Saharan dust and clouds. Not at all like you see in people’s photographs and certainly not great for charging our batteries. Here’s hoping for some blue skies soon.
I am bone crushingly tired! I think that I am sleeping, or trying to sleep, for about 18 hours a day. Whenever I do anything I need to rest – going to the bathroom, being on watch, showering (I needed to sleep for 3 hours after this!), cooking dinner, even reading my book. Supposedly the fatigue goes away after day three at sea…… Not sure what is going on with me.

Lunch: Chorizo and avocado
Dinner: Corn and zucchini chowder

Day Five (January 2)

We have turned downwind again!! It is amazing the difference this makes to the comfort of the boat and the happiness of the crew. We are all very excited to be heading directly towards our destination, even though it is still over 2000 nm away.
Before we left Las Palmas, I packed an esky full of frozen meat. Today we opened the esky and now have about 10 kg of defrosted meat to eat before it all goes off. This means lots of meat for both lunch and dinner for the next few days, much to the delight of the boys. We also decided to start fishing today and caught a small tuna that made some good sushi. Life is good! Our bellies are full and we are making good progress.

Lunch: Pork tenderloin (almost 2 kg worth!) and salad
Dinner: Mexican style chicken with black beans and rice and tuna sushi and seared tuna. Jack and I are so full. The kids just keep on eating.

Day Six (January 3)

Today we had a six-hour Pride and Prejudice marathon and spent time learning the countries of the world. It was a lazy, easy, relaxing day as we continue make our way west. The wind tends to build overnight so we reef in the sails at night and let them out during the day. Our sail plan is about as simple as that right now. Swells have started to come in from the north which is making the boat a bit rolly but aside from being annoying and occasionally sending things flying about the cabin, no one is feeling sick at the moment.
Our watermaker is currently producing water that is a bit salty. It is perfectly safe to drink but it doesn’t taste great, meaning that the crew does not drink as much and tend to get dehydrated which leads to headaches. We still have one full tank of filtered drinking water from Las Palmas so our plan tomorrow is to empty the partially full, somewhat salty tank and fill it using the water maker (the water quality improves the more you run the watermaker so ours is currently suffering from lack of use) in the hope that it starts to produce lovely tasting, sweet fresh water again soon. (Addendum: the watermaker never really got any better but we stopped tasting the difference eventually)
Unfortunately, the Lindt chocolate balls (pistachio are my favourite) are nearly all gone and the fresh provisions aren’t faring too well either. We’re just about out of fresh fruit and I think the carrots will be gone tomorrow. I can’t really complain though. We have eaten very well so far and there is still a lot of food on board to choose from.
The boat is covered in Saharan dust. It is sticking to the salt spray and making little dust stalactites. It’s disgusting. While I don’t want a squall, a nice gentle shower would be welcomed right now, the boat really needs a clean.

Lunch: Corn and zucchini fritters with Russian salad
Dinner: Spaghetti Bolognese

Day Seven (January 4)

We have sailed 1000 nm! Having a cherry beer to celebrate.
The watermaker was on a lot today and the water quality is improving. Water tastes good again! We made some small adjustments to our rigging and added some fairleads as well. The wind is projected to increase tomorrow and remain quite strong for the next week. As such, we wanted to make sure that any potential chafe points or problem areas were addressed while the wind was still relatively light.

Lunch: Guacamole, apple, salad, and corn chips
Dinner: chicken curry with boat made naan bread

Day Eight (January 5)

Another day of sailing dead downwind. The wind is starting to pick up (25 kts), so we are heavily reefed to avoid putting too much strain on the boat in the big following seas. I’ll admit, it is very tempting to go fast (we reached 12.8 kts surfing down waves today) because this middle section of the crossing is a bit tedious and the faster we go the sooner we will be in Barbados. The wind is predicted to stay strong and the seas are predicted to keep building pretty much until we are done with our crossing so I am cooking madly today in case this is the last chance I get.

Breakfast: Ham and cheese toasties
Lunch: Beef tacos
Dinner: Bacon, caramelized onion, and sweet potato frittata

Day Nine (January 6)

We’re calling today our halfway mark. From here on in we’re getting closer to land, not farther from it. Feels good! Still sailing dead downwind with our twin genoas and we continue to cover at least 150 nm a day. There were some signs this afternoon (high cirrocumulus clouds and no more dust in the air) that indicate we can start expecting squall activity to pick up so we now have the radar on overnight to keep track of storms that might try to sneak up on us. The kids are doing great, watching lots of TV, keeping watch, eating, and reading. Ivy made a countdown calendar today. All going well we are optimistically predicting a January 16th arrival in Barbados. We ate the last of the fresh meat tonight. We’re onto the canned stuff unless Jack can catch us some fish!
Lunch: Canary Potatoes
Dinner: Chinese style pork loin with rice

Day Ten (January 7)

Rolly today. We changed from dead downwind to a slight port tack and forgot to close some windows on the port side which made for some fun cleaning up in the swell. We caught our first mahi mahi! Vesna is flying along. I feel sick and am going to bed.

Lunch: Tuna Mornay Pie
Dinner: Freshly caught mahi mahi (not for me!)

Day Eleven (January  8)

It is very windy with big, relentless waves to match. We have the tiniest amount of sail out and are still managing to average over 7 kts. The boat is vastly uncomfortable, and we spend most of our time lying around. However, to put our discomfort into some perspective, we chatted with The Grey Escape this evening. They are a crew of four rowing from La Gomera to Antigua and if they make it, they will break the record for the oldest crew to row across the Atlantic. It will take them nearly two months!!!
A large dark grey shape was lurking in the waves behind the boat today for about half an hour. I really, really, really wanted it to be a nice friendly bany whale but it didn’t move like a mammal, have the body shape of a whale, nor did it come up to breathe once in the time we watched it. We figured it must be a shark. Maybe it heard about my awesome ceviche? But seriously, getting stalked by a shark? The conditions today are bad enough without sharks to worry about. Do sharks actually stalk sailboats? (addendum: I googled it when we arrived and, yes, they do!)

Lunch: Tinned tomato soup
Dinner: Mahi mahi ceviche and baked beans for the kids

Day Twelve (January 9)

Jack made me an espresso coffee with sweetened condensed milk this morning and it tasted amazing. How did I not know about this sooner? Fortunately, I have enough condensed milk on board for one or two of these cups of this deliciousness for each of us every day until we arrive.
It feels like we have been at sea forever. Our last morning in Las Palmas saying goodbye to friends seems like a distant memory.
How big are the waves? My eye height is about 2m from the sea surface and when I stand on the back of the boat, many of the waves we see are double my eye height. Some well beyond this, like apartment buildings. They march onwards, relentless. Some are like gently undulating hills while others resemble sheer rocky cliff faces. Vesna handles them all with ease, surfing down their faces and then slowly falling off their backs.
We now have less than 1000nm to go, the wind has eased and is currently just below 20 kts, and we continue to fly along at about 7 kts. There are a lot of squalls about and the forecast suggests we will be dodging them all night. I just want some rain to clean the boat. It’s amazing how quickly we seem to adapt to the conditions – what is hell one day becomes a manageable inconvenience the next.

Lunch: Saucisson, cheese, green apples, crackers, and chocolate
Dinner: Two-minute noodles with egg, cabbage, baby corn, and crispy fried onions.

Day Thirteen (January 10)

Vesna got a drenching overnight and is now nice and clean. I hope that is the end of the Saharan dust for a while! We took a more southerly course today to better position us for some strong winds and big seas that expected on Sunday and Monday. The new course is bumpy and more uncomfortable, so I spent most the day relaxing and reading. Jack filled the main fuel tanks from the jerry cans stored on deck to lower our center of gravity and then rearranged our remaining food stores so that ivy could have her bed back. We have sailed almost 2000 nm (we’ll officially pass this milestone sometime overnight) and the end is in sight!

Lunch: Turkey sandwiches
Dinner: Meatballs with mashed potatoes and gravy

Day Fourteen (January 11)

We saw whales! There were at least two whales following up for about half an hour this afternoon. I estimate that they were about 10 m long. No idea what type, possibly minke whales, although I think that they were a bit dark skinned to be minkes.
As I write, we have about 650 nm to go. Everyone is starting to get excited about the prospect of seeing land and, even better, being on land, going swimming, not having everything moving around, going to a restaurant to eat, you get the drift. Unfortunately, the next few days are forecast to be very windy (over 30 kts at times) with a big swell from the North Atlantic, so these expected conditions are tempering our excitement somewhat right now. Today, Jack and I spent some time looking at ways to secure the boat to make sure we don’t have any unexpected issues so close to home when the weather hits us tomorrow. We repositioned the genoa furling line to improve the angle of the line when it enters the furler drum to reduce the risk of chafe and we have rigged a preventer for the furler so that we don’t end up with two full sails out in tomorrow’s conditions if the furling line were to have a problem. This is probably overkill but we have a lot of time on our hands to think about, and plan for, the coming weather.
The wind is very variable at the moment and the seas are big, it feels like we are reefing or letting out more sail every five minutes to try and get the boat comfortable. Unfortunately, the squalls (which are everywhere and never ending) have produced some annoying chop and cross seas so there is not really a comfortable sailing position on Vesna right now.

Lunch: Tomato salad, cucumbers, hummus and corn chips
Dinner: Pesto pasta with bacon

Day Fifteen (January 12)

The new day brings a new boat motion. The winds are producing a sizable swell that we are running with, while a north Atlantic storm has produced a swell which is quartering us on the starboard stern so the boat moves like an off kilter rocking horse. Every time we experience a new boat motion, I am sick for a day or so while I get accustomed to it, and today is no exception. I have spent most of the day in bed and Jack has been on cooking duty.
The weather is not quite as bad as we had expected. We have fairly consistent 25-27 kt winds and are heavily reefed for the conditions. Vesna is going slowly as a result but she still mages to surf down the big waves at over 13kts. We made one change to the sail configuration today to alleviate any potential chafe points on the lines but other than that we have left the boat alone to do her thing.
Ivy and Tayla spoke on the VHF for almost an hour today. We all enjoyed listening into their game of would you rather……

Have blue skin or purple skin?
Kiss a toad or have it pee on you?
Get chased by tiny elephants or tiny lions?

Such is life on an Atlantic crossing. You have the time and inclination to ponder the important questions.

Lunch: Baked beans for the kids, eggs with ham and sauerkraut for Jack and I
Dinner: Pasta pomodoro with chorizo

Day Sixteen (January 13)

Last night the propeller started making a clunking sound. We haven’t been using the propeller for propulsion, but the transmission has been in neutral for the entire passage so the propeller has been spinning along for the entire journey. Normally this produces a whirring sound that increases in pitch as you surf down a wave (and is a good indication of how fast you are travelling) but last night it stopped whirring and started clunking. The clunking sound could be caused by a mechanical failure of some part of the sail drive or it could be indicating that there is something wrapped around the propeller, unbalancing it. Based on the fact that the clunking sound coincided with the first appearance of Sargasso weed on the sea surface, we’re hoping that there is just some weed wrapped around the prop which can be easily fixed in a few days as we enter coastal waters. The major downside of this is that we have been using the engine to heat water for showers, so for the time being it will be cold water showers on Vesna. I’m guessing this will mean that the kids will avoid showers so it will also result in a stinky Vesna. (Addendum: the kids did stop showering but didn’t smell too bad. It was weed on the propeller and it shook itself loose before we arrived)
Last night a flying fish found his way inside the boat and started flopping around on the saloon floor. This is no small feat considering that the washboard is in the doorway and most of our hatches are closed. It is not our first experience with the tenacity of flying fish, we found one under our oven a few years ago. Fortunately, last night’s flying fish was rescued by Jack who threw him back into the sea. We are just left with scales all over the cabin and cockpit.
The waves today are the biggest that I have ever seen. Of course, this is probably more a reflection of my relative inexperience offshore, but still, they are big – regularly over 4m and filling our bellies with that horrible (or if you are the kids, wonderful) weightless feeling as we fall off the back of them. When the waves are big, strong wind is an advantage because it prevents the boat being overpowered by the waves. We continue to cruise along, heavily reefed at about 6 kts in 23 kts of wind.

Lunch: Chicken noodle soup
Dinner: Pumpkin and chickpea curry

Day Seventeen (January 14)

The days seem to get longer the closer we get to Barbados. Conversations have switched now to arrival times, what we will eat when we get there, and the jobs that will need doing when we arrive. We discovered today that one of our seats in the saloon has broken. It is the bench that you brace against when preparing food in the kitchen and it has braced us one too many times on this trip. It will be one of the first fixes when we arrive.
There is a good chance we will arrive tomorrow alongside Avanti and Otoka. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that we will make it before dark, we would need to average over 8 kts for the next 24 hours to achieve that. Prudence suggests we slow down tomorrow so that we can anchor in the daylight but no one is keen on this idea – everyone just wants to be finished.

Lunch: Tuna wraps
Dinner: Baked Beans

Day Eighteen (January 15)

The last day and the worst day. We had been travelling along fast in big winds and big seas. Today the wind reduced to about 15 kts but the swell was still large so we couldn’t keep the sails full. It was rolly, the sails were snatching, we were slow, and there were squalls. Everyone was in a bad mood, we just wanted to arrive, but we were travelling slower than at any other point of the trip. I had an image of our arrival into Barbados. It would be daylight, there would be happy faces, blues skies, palm trees, and a sandy beach to anchor off. Instead, we had a grumpy crew, darkness, cold, clouds, squalls, and a rocky bottom. It was rather anticlimactic really. The kids were asleep and Jack and I spent an hour or so cleaning away lines and getting the boat sorted. We celebrated with a glass of water in the cockpit at 3 am.
While it was a bad day, I need to put this in perspective – the worst thing that happened on Vesna during our Atlantic crossing was coffee spilt on the nav table. I also broke two bowls. We had some challenging conditions out there, but Vesna and her crew more than rose to the occasion. I am so proud of the kids for their enthusiasm and positivity. I am so proud of our captain for his steadfastness.
Anyway, I digress. After Jack checked us in (OK, we did this on Thursday morning so we are technically into day 19 now), we dinghied over to our friends on Otoka to savour our achievement. I cried when I set foot on land. Declan and Reuben were appalled and embarrassed to be near me.

Lunch: Tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches
Dinner: Kids had two-minute noodles adults didn’t eat, we were too grumpy

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