It’s already been over 2 weeks since we made it to the Caribbean. Our Atlantic crossing took us roughly 20 days from Mindelo, Cape Verde to Barbados. We set off at a similar time to another 8 or so boats that we were in contact with and we experienced a variety of different weather and sailing conditions along the way.
The direct route would have been around 2030 nautical miles, and our route was 2147 nautical miles averaging only 4.5 knots. So an extra 117 miles, which isn’t bad, and would only take roughly 1 day to sail.
The first days
We set off on the 2nd of December at the same time as sailing vessel Extress, having spent some weeks in Mindelo marina waiting for a good weather window and doing boat jobs.
For the first day or so while leaving the shelter of the island we had relatively calm seas, light-ish winds and we could see the odd spot of rain. The light winds lead to the occasional spot of motoring, but this was a wonderful light and easy start to the crossing.
We started on a broad reach to get away from the island before setting up our twin headsails on day 2 with the plan of following the wind all the way to Barbados.
Come day 3, sailing was easy, we were not needing to touch the sails and the sunsets were beautiful.
One thing we did notice early on was that twin head sails and following the wind was leading to us staying quite north, which we suspected was going to end up being a bad idea as the forecast said there would be more wind in the South, and many of the other boats that left at the same time as us headed further south right away. But we really wanted to sail with the twin headsails.
We knew the other boats were further south as we were all messaging each other via our various satellite messengers, and we then plotted their points daily as we went.
As you can see, right at the start as the wind curved around the island we (the black line) got pushed very far north, vs Extress who left moments before us (the green line) stayed much further south on their broad reach.
Day 2 onwards
The whole of the first week was very in line with the first few days. Lighter winds, occasional motoring in no-wind spots, and lots of time to relax and have some fun on and in the flat seas.
We ended up in the water most days during these flatter times and did lots of more interesting cooking, as well as other boaty jobs and shenanigans aboard.
The dips in the sea included dragging behind the boat on a rope or holding onto the steps while we were sailing. Very cool as with a snorkeling mask on you could see fishes swimming in the shadow of the boat near the rudder.
Day 13 onwards
Nearing the third week the swell had started building a little, and the wind was becoming a more consistent higher average (approx 15kts), and sometimes gusty (up to around 30 knots). But still no squalls at this point.
We were still trying to push our twin headsail setup to take us further south, and unfortunately, we think this is what caused us to tear our Ghoster sail. It backwinded, and caught its edge on one of the mast steps on the opposite side, before filling with wind again and tearing a seam.
We didn’t want to try to take both headsails down from the furler in the high seas so decided to leave them furled and switch to a different sail setup (mainsail and a gib) for the rest of the crossing. We ended up with the main always having 1 or 2 reefs in it.
The sail change and continued building of swell and wind lead to some slightly less comfortable sailing compared to the first weeks.
Needless to say, meals started getting simpler, we spent less time in the water, and generally, we were starting to look forward to reaching the other side.
At least now being on a broad reach again, we could more easily change our course to either chase the wind, or head directly to our destination.
The squalls begin
We didn’t get a single squall until we were 3 days out from Barbados, and fortunately, our first squall came during daytime, we saw it coming from miles away and were thus very prepared. This also happened to be the biggest squall of our crossing.
We reduced our sails to a double-reefed main and no jib and steered away from the center of the squall as much as possible. We saw a prolonged period of 40 knots of wind and some rain for around 20 minutes before we could get back on course and put a little more sail out. It was an interesting experience and we stayed very alert for the duration but Hannah Penn handled it perfectly.
This first squall also allowed us to experiment with spotting squalls on a radar. We got all the dials set up so that we could see the squall on screen, and track its progress and thought this might be useful at night, but we didn’t end up using the radar much as we decided to just mostly sail with a fully reefed main overnight and the autopilot in wind vane mode and a high wind alarm set up. We figured that we should be able to weather most of the squalls in this way, and had the high wind alarm setup in case we got a bigger one and needed to re-evaluate.
Also at night, the squalls were easy to see without even looking out of the windows. We track our speed-over-ground and also course over the ground in an app called SailGrib WR which displays lovely charts. While on night watch it was always easy to see a squall coming as there would be a wind shift and increase in our speed long before the squall actually reached you.
Below you can see speed over ground increasing over the course of 7 minutes, but long before this, there was a big wind shift 20-30 minutes before, which is where the wind is sucked toward a distant squall, meaning we change our heading a little to stay at a constant wind angle for our sail set up.
It was very nice to see lights from land on our final night sail and also head in behind the shelter of Barbados to find flat seas. But not before some quite steep seas on the approach to Barbados as the ocean got shallower.
We wanted to arrive during daylight and found that we didn’t need to adjust the course or speed much to achieve this. We were approaching the island at 7am, around the corner and approaching the anchorage at 2pm, and checking into customs at 5pm, although we did have to go back at 9am the following day to finish our check-in as one of the key customs officers had gone home!
We spent some time walking on land, it was great, and had a delicious meal on shore, the rest of Barbados exploration is for future blog posts. Stay tuned!…