Squall spotting!

Leaving Ascension was not my favorite thing to do - I wanted to stay longer but then I may have never left! However, we had a hot and fairly uneventful eight day 1200 miles and eight day sail to the jewel in Brazil’s crown, the archipelago of Fernando de Noronho - famed for its surf and having the best beach in Brazil.

Our radar had stopped working so the key to this journey was squall spotting. We did an admirable job except one night when we missed it completely and were hit with sudden 30 knot winds and heavy rain with the full main up and the genoa out! Ouchh! We managed to control that - get the first reef in, drop the furled code zero to the deck, furl the genoa, get the main fully reefed, staysail out. Done!

Squally skies

Squally skies

Matt is in his element when the going gets rough - anything under 15 knots and he gets ants in his pants, code zero up, code zero down, genoa poled out, genoa pole in, engine on, engine off, and so it goes on. But when it’s 30-40 knots he’s all over it and rather than it being uncomfortable, it seems like his happy spot - he’s amazing at the helm!

Meanwhile, we spent most of our waking hours lolling around like seals trying to cope with the heat, (good thing we had a freezer full of ice blocks and air con if we really couldn’t cope), and being entertained by the daily Gobow quiz, and whatever wildlife or ships crossed our paths.

We had couple of terns hanging with us for a few hours mid journey, chasing the flying fish. We decided flying fish are quite smart as they seem to stop flying when the birds are hovering! Mind you, the one that managed to fly through the tiny window and straight into the head (toilet bowl) may not have been that smart. We also found a tiny stowaway - the cutest little crab that had somehow got into a shower.

Finally the day came we were going to arrive at Fernando. About three hours off anchoring we were joined by the famous spinner dolphins, local to this area. Spinner, because they jump high and do a 360! They were amazing - the length of time they stayed with us was extraordinary, but of course the minute I went down to do something was when they did their spinning! Oh well - it was wonderful to watch them for so long and the number of babies was incredible.

And then we were there - Fernando de Noronha. It is truly spectacular, with idyllic beaches, the best surf in Brazil, great walks, amazing food and jaw-dropping sunsets. The only negative is that it’s a rolly old anchorage and apparently we have timed it at its worst!

After checking in with Immigration and Customs and paying sizeable fees for landing and entering the National Park, we were ready to explore. I was excited to find my Spanish is useful and the Brazilian officials and I can make ourselves understood with the Spanish – Portuguese conversation!

Our first afternoon and night were spent exploring the headland above the harbour and at the best bar of the journey yet; the Bar de Maio – full of Brazilian life, music and fun. It is everything a bar could be with stupendous views to top it off.

North to Ascension

We made the decision to continue from St Helena to Ascension Island rather than carry on with the World ARC to Salvador. There were many reasons for this. For me there were three key reasons; first it was a shorter route to the north of Brazil and meant we could much better break the journey up en route - great for those that get seasick; second, and probably more importantly, we could fly to Brazil’s Salvador any time we liked, but not so to Ascension Island where there are no commercial flights; third, Salvador held no appeal whatsoever, it’s a city and why would someone like me trade that for an unknown remote island? Meanwhile from a sailing perspective, Matt liked the route as it avoided the few hundred miles of sailing against the wind up the coast of Brazil and gave us good downwind sailing north. Not going to argue with that!

As it turned out we weren’t the only ones thinking this way. Mad Monkey (UK mono with Mark, Helen and son Josh), Cayuse (USA cat with Hal, Marsha, Hayley and Matt), Smoke and Roses (USA cat with Dan and Agnes), and Aurora Polaris (Norwegian mono with Tjere, Pia, Helen and Martin), all of whom had also stopped in Namibia, made the same decision. We were now five, and we named ourselves the Gobows (greyed out bunch of wanderers). This, because the WARC had greyed us out on their tracker!!

Happy to have had longer in St Helena than we would have had if we carried on with the WARC , I was still sad to leave. However, we set sail on our 700NM, five day journey in light winds and under quite dramatic grey skies. This was soon to turn to a beautiful day and stunning sunset, where I managed to get a couple of pics of Cayusse as they literally ‘sailed off into the sunset!’

Cayuse sail into the sunset….

Cayuse sail into the sunset….

With a downwind sail, we had planned to use the spinnaker, which we’d had mended in St Helena, but found that it had been rolled upside down. Unwilling to risk putting it up, we put out the Code Zero instead. This was going terribly smoothly until late afternoon when we heard something PIIING, then THUDDD!

On deck right by the mast, we found two halves of a bolt that had sheared off. Using my zoom lens I took shots of all the bolts on the mast and spreaders, but we couldn’t pin it down. That was the end of us using the Code Zero - too risky not knowing exactly what was happening up the mast!

The bolt from that ‘PING-THUD!’

The bolt from that ‘PING-THUD!’

While sailing we had a scheduled radio net every day with the Gobows. We decided before we set sail that we would do a daily trivia quiz as well for a bit of fun. Each boat gave out tow or three questions, and 20 minutes later we re-grouped to give our answers. It was a load of fun and broke the afternoon up nicely while we racked our brains for good questions and for the answers. Try some questions:

  1. How many stripes on the US flag and what do they represent?

  2. What is the name of the furthest town from the sea in UK?

  3. What are the colours of the Azores courtesy flag?

  4. What are the four lobes of the brain?

  5. What is the name of the person that invented the flushing toilet?

  6. Colombus discovered Grenada in 1848; what did he name it?

  7. What are the rodents on Devils Island called?

  8. What is the name of the first island Napoleon was prisoner on, before he was moved to St Helena?

  9. How many flags has Texas been ruled under, and what are they?

  10. What is the name of the star closest to earth excluding the sun?

  11. What are the names of the two egg-laying mammals?

  12. Name four capital cities beginning with W.

Ok - you get the idea. We had a lot of fun over that each day!

Final hours to Ascension - we had to motor!

Final hours to Ascension - we had to motor!

As it got hotter, the winds got messier for the next couple of days with 30-40° angle changes happening in seconds - but it kept us on our toes. I wasn’t on my toes enough though the next day, wrapping the spinnaker pole around the staysail line!! Good one Syd - that’s the end of poleing out for the rest of the journey! It’s going to be interesting to see what we can do with that on Ascension Island.

Our last few hours at sea we lost the wind altogether and had to motor. We could see Ascension in the distance as it got dark, and made our way in at midnight, me up at the bow using the spotlight to ensure we avoided the unlit fishing boats and large pipeline that Hal on Cayuse had warned us was there. Being a speedy cat with downwind sailing they had made it in daylight so we were lucky to have their warnings and help getting in.

Nearly there!

Nearly there!

Sunset over Ascension as we come in - position as per the chart pic to the left

Sunset over Ascension as we come in - position as per the chart pic to the left

On waking this morning after a short sleep, this is what we saw………..

Ascension you look fascinating!

First sights of Ascension the morning after our midnight arrival

First sights of Ascension the morning after our midnight arrival


A Drama a Day: Onward to St Helena

From Walvis bay it was a mainly downwind eight-day sail of 1250 nm to St Helena Island – a British territory famous for Napoleon Bonaparte’s imprisonment, and Jonathan the tortoise – the world’s oldest living animal. There was only one thing on my mind though - whale sharks. It was the season and I couldn’t wait to see them and swim with them!

Meanwhile we had to get there. We left Namibia in the morning fog, escorted by a lone dolphin, and motor-sailed most of the day, very happy to see flying fish again, which we hadn’t seen since we hit Africa. In the evening the wind came up suddenly to 20-25 knots and we were off at a pace. I was doing the nasty night shift - from 2am to 8am. But I liked that better than short three-hour watches by far. It meant I could actually get some sleep. I managed to keep myself in fairly good form until just before I finished my shift when once again I fed the fish. But it wasn’t bad and nothing at all like I’d been used to.

This seemed to be the journey of mishaps. We can’t really complain as we hadn’t had too much happen to date, but as they say, ‘when it rains, it pours.’

The next day we had our first little mishap - furling in the genoa, the furling line snapped. There was one heck of a rush for us to get the sail down and keep it out of the water while the wind whipped around us at about 20 knots. Sore hands from that one!

Next mishap; (fortunately while I was asleep) a rogue wave hit us broadside and managed to kill the chartplotter. It went haywire and Matt had to reset the whole system so we lost all our data from the journey so far. Bummer to say the least.

Third mishap - not for us, but for the three flying fish and one squid that landed on our deck in the night. Sad but true - most nights we have unwanted ‘road-kill,’ and there’s not much we can do about it!

Fourth mishap - us again - the winds had eased to 15-17 knots so we had the genoa poled out and were cruising downwind nicely. Suddenly the pole track simply snapped. Boom done, that was that - no more poleing out for a bit.

Fifth mishap - the generator overheated! Seriously, this was becoming silly. We got it cooled down though so all is good.

Sixth mishap - we pulled out the beautiful pink spinnaker (did I mention I chose that colour) and were getting it ready to put up, when we found a rip in it! Nothing too dramatic but it wasn’t going up until I’d done some sewing.

Seventh mishap - this was a good one. We decided to get the spinnaker up after my repairs, only to find after the checking it had had in Cape Town it had a rope the wrong way. Total disaster - one shredded spinnaker in the water and the two of us exhausted having had a mighty old time trying to keep it from wrapping round the keel or anywhere else. We managed to get it out and then both just sat there on the bow getting our breath back, and I must say, enjoying the beautiful day that it had become.

Well fortunately that was it for our trip of mishaps!! We got the code zero out, after the spinnaker was thrown into the skippers cabin in disgrace, and it went up like a charm and sailed us along beautifully. In the end though, our final few hours into St Helena were under motor.

What an amazing sight St Helena was as we got closer and closer, huge looming cliffs reaching up from a beautiful sea, a whale shark to greet us, and then a stunning anchorage. Hoisting the flag and coming into the island I think we lost the plot, music up loud and silly photos ensued. Once safely anchored in a really beautiful spot - good for swimming too - Customs and Immigration officials came out to the boat to clear us. As soon as we could we radioed the ferry, which is a good little local system plying back and forward from the anchorage to shore, and went in to celebrate with our friends. It seems we weren’t the only ones in a bit of a silly mood, were we Aurora Polaris! I think we were all glad to complete that little leg of the journey!