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  • Writer's picturetheblacksprayhood

Ano novo supernova

Updated: Jan 4, 2022

“the ghost ship that had appeared on our AIS and appeared to be directly on top of our boat, even when zoomed in. I looked around - it was morning with perfect visibility, there was not a boat in sight.”

Happy New Year everyone, we wish peace, love, happiness and new adventures (however that looks for you) to you and your loved ones in 2022!

We’ve had the most enjoyable passage yet sailing due south from Gran Canaria to the island of São Vicente, Cape Verde, one of fourteen islands which make up the archipelago. It’s a distance of 847 nautical miles and our longest passage to date. The winds have been very light which has been a good challenge for us in moving the boat without using the engine. It has also meant calm seas, which makes for a gentle rocking motion which helps you sleep, rather than the rolling, jarring and even shuddering you get in big waves - this always feels and sounds much worse when you are below trying to sleep than up in the cockpit and able to see what’s going on. Heading south and the light winds has also meant the temperatures have increased. We’ve been able to wear shorts and T-shirts and to sunbathe a little.

With these light winds, which are even more pronounced when you are sailing downwind, you have a few options. One is to sail further off the wind in a zig zag pattern. This increases the distance you travel, but you may get an increased wind speed by being further off the wind. If the wind is too light it won’t fill the sails and they tend to flap and bang. We decided to go for the goosewing technique that we have used before, where the headsail is forced out on the opposite side with a pole and the mainsail is eased out and held in place with a preventer line to stop the boom swinging back and knocking you on the head, which killed a sailor crossing in the Atlantic Rally Cruise this year. You then end up with an outstretched wing shape. This stops one sail stealing wind from the other in front of it. This worked really well - even with 5-8 knots of wind, we were able to move along at a speed of 4 knots. We also eventually tried out our cruising chute for the first time. The cruising chute is a bit like a hot air balloon or parachute. It is a big light sail that you can use in very light winds to get your boat moving. It can also only be used downwind. It can quickly get out of control if the wind picks up so we waited for a day when the wind was very light and it wasn’t forecasted to be any stronger. We were a little nervous about trying it. In the end we needn’t have worried. In those calm conditions it got our boat moving and was very peaceful and quiet as there was no banging or flapping as you can get with the other sails when the wind drops too light. Not to mention beautiful. Bringing it down, which we did before nightfall was a little more tricky, it may have partially dropped in the water! But we managed to get it onboard and down the hatch in the bow cabin. We will have to dry it out when we get to Cape Verde. It is made of very light fabric which can quickly inflate and try to fly off in the wind, so we can’t just leave it out on the deck to dry.

Of course we had our usual humbling reminder that you have to be on top of everything and be constantly problem solving on a boat. This time it was the electronics. Before we left England, we had new batteries installed, new solar panels, and a solar panel arch fitted to the back for the solar panels to catch the sunlight. We have an app that helps us to monitor our battery levels. However, to be honest we have been pretty blasé about our power usage as we haven’t had any issues so far, even during our six day passage from La Línea near Gibraltar to Porto Santo, Madeira. On Tuesday morning we woke up to find that our batteries had been drained. We had to switch to our reserve batteries to start the engine to quickly charge them. Otherwise we could have waited for the sun to come up to charge them more slowly. Draining the batteries is not good for them and will shorten their lifespan. As the afternoon wore on we realised that our goosewing sailing technique combined with the angle we were sailing at meant we were in shade from the middle of the afternoon. This might have been stopping the batteries from fully charging from this time onwards. We also realised that one of our biggest energy users - the fridge-freezer was on constantly. It should turn off once it gets cold enough to conserve energy but it was staying on all the time - it meant our stuff was nice and cold but it was rapidly draining our power consumption once the solar panels stopped charging at their highest rate from mid afternoon. The solution was to set alarms to manually turn the fridge on and off for 15 minutes in every hour and turn it off completely at night. We decided to rely just on our AIS and not use the radar at night, as this is also a huge energy drainer. For lights, we charged our solar light and just used that at night. Obviously we still need all our instruments and navigation lights on through the night, which is something you don’t use at night when anchoring so you use less power. The person on watch keeps a close eye on the battery levels, but so far these strict measures seem to have worked. When we get to Cape Verde we’ll have to get someone to look at our fridge and our battery set up as well.

One day we had two problems to solve. One was the ghost ship that had appeared on our AIS and appeared to be directly on top of our boat, even when zoomed in. I looked around - it was morning with perfect visibility, there was not a boat in sight. We were all alone in the blue. Luciano turned the chart plotter off and on again. It disappeared for a while and then reappeared. We checked the unique call sign of the boat - it wasn’t ours, so we weren’t somehow transmitting ourselves. The only other AIS devices are the man overboard alarms we have inside our life jackets. It turned out that Luciano had accidentally triggered his. Interesting that it appears as a boat and not as a man overboard, so I don’t think it would alert other ships to rescue us! Another issue we had was our satellite device which we use for tracking and more importantly, downloading our weather information stopped working and we couldn’t turn it off. We had to wait for the battery to drain which took until the evening. We then plugged it in but it still wouldn’t turn on. We removed the battery, put it back in and charged it up and then it started working again. Little issues like this don’t seem like a big deal on land but when you are unable to google how to troubleshoot or look to Youtube for helpful videos and you are relying on these things for your safety, things take on a greater significance. Especially when being added to your ongoing mental checklist of expensive things that have gone wrong.

In general though, this has been a very relaxing passage and we’ve experienced some amazing sights. For the first three days there were still quite a few ships going up and down the African coast. After that we rarely saw another ship on the AIS and not at all by sight. There were lots of dolphins, one pod swam around our boat and then as they departed did a mass tail slapping as they swam away. On another day, we saw a huge pod swimming like a bunch of jet skis, constantly leaping out of the water as they swam. We’ve had some amazing sunrises and sunsets. One of the loveliest was on Christmas Day. After the sun set, the whole sky and sea behind were bathed in a warm pink glow. The clear skies have meant we’ve been treated to a glowing orb gently dipping beyond the horizon and disappearing every evening. At night we’ve been seeing phosphorescent algae lighting up the pitch black water. In the sky we’ve been enveloped in a blanket of stars reaching almost from the horizon in every direction. We’ve also seen the most incredible moon rises. The first one we saw was on Christmas Night at midnight. A huge orange bowl shape appeared behind us on the horizon. I couldn’t work out what it was at first, but as it rose high into the night sky, it whitened and shrank. Every night it rose later, becoming crescent shaped over the days in the early hours. One night I popped my head out to start my second night shift and saw what looked like an illuminous orange boat floating on the water. It wasn’t until it rose into the sky that I could work out that it was the moon again.

On New Years Eve we changed our night shift pattern slightly so that we could spend from 11.00pm-midnight together in the cockpit to welcome in 2022. We were still on Canary Islands time even though we were now much closer to Cape Verde. From 11.00pm we heard calls of “Happy New Year” coming over the VHF radio that every ship listens into. They must have been coming from Spain. At midnight, there were more of the same and one person imitated firework noises. We reflected on what an amazing start to the year it was - this passage has been how we had imagined sailing would be! As we looked up into the night sky, a bright shooting star fell through the atmosphere before us. An hour later there were more calls of “happy new year” over the radio, this time from Africa. We may have been alone bobbing along in the Atlantic on our little boat, but it didn’t feel like it. We felt a profound sense of gratitude for each other, hard as it has been these last few months, we wouldn’t have made it this far without the other.

This week's Vlog.

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