Nightwatches with the milky way above you can be fantastic. Orion and Sirius, or the moon, are leading the way. Dark cloudy nights with high waves and gusty winds, however, may make it difficult for two tired nightwatch sailors to set the right sails and to find the best route. Faced with a black sea and a black sky, they have to rely solely on instrumental navigation with monitors and displays. In the morning after such a challenging nightwatch, they look back to the east, watch the rising sun and count the miles they made to the west.
We are getting used to flying fishes that hit our boat. We consider them too small to eat. If they don’t themselves jump back into the sea we put them there. But we were quite astonished when five small squids (Tintenfische) simultaneously hit our boat. Probably they mistook Orinoco or our fishing lures for a predator like a Mahi Mahi or a Tuna. One squid landed next to the kitchen inside the boat. As it didn’t land inside the cooking pan, we also put it back into the ocean.
We have seven sails on board. Two of them we hope to never need: the storm jibe (Sturmfock) and the Trisail (Try-Segel). Both are very small, but strong. They are red, as in conditions above eight Beaufort visibility decreases. We did set these sails in light weather conditions as a part of our security training. Normally, there are no storms in this part of the Atlantic in winter. Even if, good weather predictions are available and would allow us to change our route to avoid storms. Nevertheless, it feels good to be prepared even for the most unlikely event.
After eating tuna steaks every other day the last week, the crew was quite happy that the two big game enthusiasts on board caught two Mahi Mahis (Goldmakrele). It’s meat is firm, white and highly acclaimed by cooks. We also seem to be quite lucky with the weather. Good winds are predicted by our friend Alex, who is sending weather forecasts, and by our own downloaded weather grib files. Additionally, the captain of the freighter Sun Bird, on it’s way from the East Coast US to the Capverdian Islands, predicted fair winds on our way to the Caribbean Islands. It was the first and only ship so far we saw in our crossing.
Halfway on our route to Barbedos, and sailing in light and moderate wind and wave conditions, some repairs have to be made. In especially, our main GPS system is troubling us. We lose GPS signals from time to time, and we are not happy to realize that our GPS position output was not always accurate. Luckily, we have sailors on board who know how to use a screwdriver and how to read the repair and maintenance manuals of our extensive electronic marine equipment. This includes two plotters with for additional displays, integrated radar, AIS, navtex, VHF radio, speed and wind measurement – we even measure sea temperature. Just in case - like now - we have several backup navigational GPS devices, including three waterproof rugged ipads and iphones with navionics charts, as well as two robust garmin handheld devices equipped with garmin charts. Thus, we will not completely have to rely on the sextant one crew member brought with him 😉
Sailing with a free flying gennaker, enjoying the sun and good music – that’s what you expect when sailing the trade winds (Passatwinde). Our very big (110 square meter) but very light and thin gennaker pushes us forward in light wind conditions. With 7 to 12 knots of wind, it’s easy sailing. With 13 to 16 knots, it’s sport, demanding a fully concentrated helmsman (Steuermann). Above that, it’s a fight. Many gennakers have been blown to pieces in gusty situations. To avoid this, we set the sail only at daylight and take it down when the wind gets stronger.
In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, 1000 miles away from the Canary Islands, 600 miles away from the Capeverdian Islands and 1500 miles away from Barbados (our next destination point), not many birds visit our sailing yacht Orinoco. We saw three species and, with our wildlife photographic equipment on board, could get a shot of one bird. It seems to be a sea swallow (Seeschwalbe). It was obviously attracted by our fishing lines, but, luckily, did not attack our lures (Köder).
Watching dolphins, reading books and viewing downloaded netflix videos – that’ what we thought the transatlantic passage would offer. However, the reality is otherwise: 24 hours a day the course and security of the ship has to be managed, in the nighttime by two people. Jibing (Halsen) and reefing (Reffen) is work for three people, and for more in bad weather conditions. Navigation has to be planed and weather data to be obtained and discussed. Fresh food has to be prepared, toilets to be cleaned. Repairs have to be done (our saloon table was broken by a falling crewmember in high waves, thank’s to God no harm to the sailor). And skipper Fred’s theoretical and practical security briefings and workshops every day are mandatory. The passage is demanding, but nevertheless great fun and for most of us a once in a lifetime event.
After one third of our travel, with a speed average of 6,6 knots, we reached the point of no return. At this point, sailing to the Cape Verde Islands would have been well possible. After this point, it is a one way route. The North East Trade Wind, that also helped Columbus - and about 1500 sailing yachts each year - to reach the Caribbean Islands, will push as westwards. So will the current and waves. Sailing back is not a valid option anymore.
Where is the wind? That’s the question Orinoco crew has when talking to the navigator. To answer it, we use satellite eMail weather advice from our dear friend Alex and satellite downloaded weather data from predictwind.com. At this moment, we hope to avoid the blue low wind area by not steering a direct course.