Cruising Notes


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Website of sailing yacht Tokomaru2's circumnavigation of the world

Crew: Nick Thomas and Liz Vernon

 Atlantic crossing   November/December 2001

After the solitude and peace of Graciosa,  we experienced the full turismo of Lanzarote, Fuertaventura, and Gran Canaria.  Fuertaventura was the most interesting – a barren landscape where holiday developments are lush oases of green, with well-watered palms, hibiscus, bourgainvillea, etc.  But you can walk to empty beaches, and in the south, we found Grande Tarajal, a nice ordinary Spanish town, with real shops and normal daily life going on.  Here was a place to stock up our food lockers for the weeks to come.


Our passage to the Cape Verde Islands was excellent – constant wind from the right direction and comfortable seas.  We began to see flying fish as we moved into warm tropical waters.  After 7 days, the craggy volcanic cones of Sao Vicente and the mountains of Santo Antao made a dramatic landfall as we sailed between the islands in the morning sun.   We anchored in the port of Mindelo on Sao Vicente.  The people here are very poor.  Plenty of fine young men are on the beach to mind the dinghy, fetch water or diesel etc They are friendly and helpful, courteous and dignified, though something in their faces makes you feel uneasy.  It is sad to think they may have no prospects other than servicing yachts.  Two years ago we visited the islands of Sal, Boa Vista and Santiago where we had experienced a more optimistic atmosphere.  There is a youthful energy about a nation where the average age is 23! 


The younger kids are especially lively and we encountered plenty of them in Faja d’Agua on Brava, a tiny island in the south west of the archipelago, and our most spectacular anchorage so far.   After a boisterous night’s sail we encountered huge swells surging round the island.  It was an act of faith to turn in towards the rocks where the sea boiled and foamed, but we knew that somewhere in there was a safe anchorage.  Nick held his nerve, as ever, and sure enough, a gap opened in the rocks and we could see the curve of a beach, a few houses, a fringe of palms.  Gradually the sea calmed  and soon we were tucked up out of the swell in a corner of this beautiful bay.  The surf pounded and sucked at the stony beach, but we hardly rolled at all.  As soon as we put the dinghy in the water, half a dozen small boys swam out and sat in it.  They were a cheerful, cheeky bunch and we got to know them quite well.  They are obsessed with fishing and the bay teams with fish.  A big tuna boat anchors in the bay in the afternoon.  Local guys fetch the tuna in open boats, and they net a load of sardines, kept in a fish cage overnight, for the next day’s bait.  As soon as school is out,  boys are swarming all over the big boat dangling bits of string and catching little fish.  They call over to us in delight: ‘Look Lisa!’  and the tolerant fishermen encourage them.  The young girls, incidentally, are never seen playing in the water.  They are on the beach helping their mothers gut fish, or back home cleaning corn and rice, minding the baby etc.


You soon feel part of the community in a small remote island.  One evening ashore a guy with a big wide smile approached us and through a torrent of creole we caught the word ‘cachupa’ (local bean stew) and understood we were invited to his home.  But we had earlier arranged with someone else to prepare us some fish.  This we ate with babies and chickens at our feet, and the popular ‘Morna’ music in the background.   


There are no shops at Faja d’Agua, but ever-helpful local people provided bread, bananas, paw-paw, fish and eggs for which we traded pens and fishing gear. To get ashore we had to row the dinghy to a mooring buoy and swim the rest, carrying dry clothes in the canoe bag.  It was too rough to land the dinghy.  (The other yacht in the bay was French and they did this with two young children!)   We left Brava on Saturday afternoon, 24 November.  Our deadline for Barbados (2000 miles away) was 17 December as Tom (Liz’s son) and friend Dan were joining us.  Still well reefed down from our sail to Brava, we sped west into the setting sun.  We assumed the strong gusty wind was something to do with the high island, and that things would calm down.  We pictured ourselves in days to come being wafted across the Atlantic on the trade winds with the spinnaker set.  That’s how it was last time.


This year was different.  For the first week we had winds of 25 – 30 knots (gusting higher) day and night without a break.  Discomfort aside, it was impressive.  The skies were honed to the clearest blue by this fierce, cutting wind and the high breaking crests of the waves gleamed brilliant turquoise in the sun.  Once a school of dolphins came leaping down through the big swells, straight for our bow wave.  Tokomaru was surging and plunging along, but we clipped on safety harnesses and crawled onto the fore-deck.  Watching them leaping around just for the fun of it is balm to the shattered nerves.  For a few moments you forget the scary night watches and all the frustrated cursing just trying to make a cup of tea.


Halfway across things started to break.  First the wind-steering gear and then the cable connecting the wheel to the rudder snapped, (at night of course). Exhausted, we hove to (stopped) and went to sleep.  The next day, miraculously, the wind dropped to 15-20 knots.  After mending the steering cable (with epoxy glue!) Nick repaired the wind steering, and with both of us hanging off the back of the boat, we managed to reattach it.  Just before dark, we set off again.  The epoxy held, the wind steering worked.  Perhaps the second half would be easy.


But the whole of the second week we were in some kind of front which brought rough, confused seas and constant squalls.  Squalls are scary, as the rain hisses towards the boat, flattening the sea and bringing a stronger wind (over 35 knots).  The boat takes off at great speed, - very exciting, but you wonder what will break next.  At dawn or sunset an impressive sight is the squalls in the distance (which aren’t coming our way!)  -  huge dark columns of rain marching along the horizon, back-lit by the sun.  In those squally days and nights we lost the wind indicator from the top of the mast, and the water generator which we tow behind.  Expensive damage, but not serious.



The last night at sea we hurtled towards the glow of Barbados with the smallest reefed sail possible in perhaps the worst squalls of the passage.  By morning (12 December) we were 2 miles off the island, and were soon sailing into quieter waters on the leeward side.  It wasn’t long before we had cleared customs, immigration etc and were lazily swimming in the luxurious warm turquoise waters of the Caribbean.  I reckon we’d earned it. 


Many yachts which crossed in those weeks had suffered damage:  ripped sails, broken rudders, lost steering gear.  We like wind, - It’s better than calms which are demoralising and wearing in a different way.  But strong winds and stronger squalls for over two weeks take their toll – on the crew even more than the boat.  Nick is not too phased by it all, but I am not ready for another ocean just yet.  We plan to stay in the Caribbean for a year, explore some more islands and maybe spend some time as land tourists in South America. The idea of sailing around the world is on hold for a bit!


We were well in time for Tom and Dan’s flight into Barbados, time enough in fact to get Tom on the case for buying replacement parts to bring out.  Having whizzed across the Atlantic and got there first, we managed to miss them at the airport and they had to spend the first night in a hotel.  By 7.30 next morning they had already borrowed kayaks and paddled through the anchorage to find us.  They had a great time, including getting their PADI diving certificates and masterminding a great Christmas barbecue on the beach to which about 17 other yachts (half the anchorage) came.  It was very international and a great success.   They left on New Years Day.


Now we must put our fun in the sun on hold and see to fixing the damage from the passage.  Danny went to the top of the mast to fix the new wind instrument, but we still have to stay in Barbados waiting for some other parts.  Then it's Tobago and Trinidad, if we can remember how to sail after a month at anchor.


Sorry this is so long.  Hope all is well with you.


HAPPY NEW YEAR  from Liz and Nick

Website © Nick Thomas and Liz Vernon 2008