St. Helena to French Guiana - Days 15 - 17

shiptrak 98
shiptrak 98

Day 15

Miles to go: 1,520

Two weeks at sea, a little more than half way to French Guiana and we're still hovering about 70nm south of the Equator. The moon has waxed to a yellow three-quarter grapefruit and its glow far outshines the stars. The night was lovely, punctuated by a few sprinkles and a quick downpour or two, which we've recently come to expect.

We have seen precious little marine life other than flying fish. We had a wonderful dolphin send- off  when we left St. Helena, as you'll remember, but that's been about it. Birds have been in limited quantity as well, though we see a few every day. There's a greater shearwater (or perhaps several, but they all look alike) that likes to land just off our stern and do his fishing in our wake. A tiny, energetic petrel (I think it's a Wilson's storm petrel; David disagrees), a little larger than a robin, skirts within inches of the ocean's surface, dipping,  darting and momentarily hovering and tires us out just watching his acrobatic feats.

Then there are red-footed boobies that soar over and around the boat in big swoops and squawk as they pass. They're large birds, like geese, and good divers. They tuck their feet and wings in tightly against their bodies and look like bullets as they plunge at breakneck speeds into the sea. We watched one yesterday that was quite successful catching several fish for breakfast.

On the other hand, despite the success of the birds,  we have not fished at all. We used to fish regularly, but haven't bothered to toss a line out since the Indian Ocean. The thought of the blood and gore on the deck isn't pleasant and the requisite clean-up is always a hassle. Besides, we've got plenty of food aboard. I know it sounds mamby-pamby, but after watching the life color seep out of the last dorado we caught, we have no heart for fishing. Yes, we enjoy eating fish and know how they're caught and killed. Still, killing them at our own hand seems different. Not necessarily logical, just how it is. Maybe that will change at some point.

One flying fish in the scuppers this morning. Our passage total is 12, a far cry from our all-time record of 20+ in one night.

Day 16 

Miles to go: 1,374

Milestone: Crossing the Line

Despite the fact we've done it before, crossing the Equator is still a momentous occasion and Neptune, of course, required his due as we entered the North Atlantic Ocean and the northern hemisphere. It was my off-watch and I was napping, but David dutifully woke me and I grabbed the camera to capture the moment digitally. We tend to cross the Equator after dark for some reason, which is a shame since you can't see the shimmering yellow demarcation line very well in the dark. Only once have we crossed in the daylight hours. We've never figured out how the line stays in place nor who is responsible for its upkeep.

I need to buy myself one of those sun hats with flaps that fold down covering neck and ears. They're not very stylish, but they're certainly practical. The morning and late afternoon sun rays miss the bimini and beat down relentlessly, frying us in the cockpit. I've taken to wearing a towel or a long-sleeved shirt over my head. I tie the shirt sleeves or towel ends under my chin...anything that extends down long enough to cover my neck, ears and the side of my face. Talk about a fashion statement.

We're just a couple hundred miles north of the Brazilian islands of Fernando de Naronha. We'd talked about stopping there, but were discouraged by the costs involved. We were in touch with three boats that had stopped within the past year and all concurred on the expenses...~$100/day in anchoring and port fees plus a daily parks fee. Additionally, Americans need a Brazilian visa in advance at $160/pp. A day's stay is around $500, a week's stay totaled over $1000...a bit too rich for our budget.

The day was skies, big puffy clouds, warm temps, fine breezes...the stuff sailing dreams are made of.

'Crossing the Line Lasagne' was our celebratory dinner.

Two flying fish in the scuppers today...14 total.

Day 17 

Miles to go: 1,214

Hard for us to believe, but we've got better winds right here at the Equator than we've  had for quite awhile and the forecast looks like they'll continue for a few days. It was a boisterous night punctuated with the usual sprinkles and the day continued in suit with brisk winds and clear sunny skies alternating with sneaky cloudbursts. Typically, we'd be in the doldrums now, doing 50 mile days. Instead we're zipping along at 7 knots in the right direction and chocking up some of our best mileage days thus far on the passage. We're thinking those tots of rum to Neptune are paying off.

Life aboard is good and never boring. We'd hoped to make a sizable dent in the new website update, but publishing issues just before we left were not ironed out, making us leery of progressing too far until we get them sorted out. Sigh!  My French review is probably as good as it's going to get. I keep trying to pick up a few new words each day, but until I have to use them in an actual conversation, who knows if I'll actually remember them. I won't be having any philosophical discussions with anyone, but I think we'll be able to order our croissants and cafes au lait okay.

As we get closer and closer to French Guiana, I've been reading my Lonely Planet South America like a novel. The section on the Guianas is short, but quite informative, though nearly 15 years old.

Lonely Planet

I also did some research on line before we left Luderitz. Tony W. from California asked exactly where in French Guiana we were heading. St. Laurent du Maroni, is a small river port about 15 nm up, not surprisingly, the Rivière Maroni. Recent Noonsite and fellow cruiser reports indicate a small, new, friendly marina has been established there and it's a convenient base for yachties. It sits on the Suriname border which is across the river.

The highlights of French Guiana for visitors? French Guiana was established back in the 17th century and became a penal colony in the 19th century. You probably remember reading or watching the ordeals of Papillon (Henri Charriere) and wrongfully imprisoned Captain Dreyfus. They were incarcerated at Iles Salut which can be visited by boat, so that's on the list. We'd certainly like to visit Cayenne, described as "one of the loveliest capital cities in South America". The rain forest areas in the Guianas are considered some of the best and most pristine in the world, so they will obviously warrant some consideration. There'll be no lack of things to see and do. In fact, the "creepy" Camp de la Transportation in St. Laurent, available for tours, was the intake center for prisoners and that'll be right at our doorstep. So much to plan and there are two other Guianas to consider, too!

Two flying fish this morning...16 total now.

Days 18-20 ... long passage, huh?

Lüderitz to St. Helena - Days 9 & 10

days 9 & 10
days 9 & 10

Day 9  

Miles to go: 426

Ever since David saw the green flash the other night, we've been sitting on deck at sunset trying to capture a green flash on video. We've even changed the time zone to Atlantic/St. Helena time (UTC-Coordinated Universal Time), and gained an hour, so that I'm up at sunset. So far, no luck on the flash, but we keep on trying.

It's Prime Meridian Day today ... another of those imaginary, longitudinal lines where east meets west. We crossed the line around Noon and we entered the Western Hemisphere once again. Cups hasn't been in the Western waters since our little foray to New Zealand's Chatham Islands back in 2011 at the other side of the Hemisphere.  At that time, a storm had us back and forth across the International Dateline about six times trying to get back to mainland New Zealand and the Eastern Hemisphere. Today, however as we crossed longitude 000E to 000W, there was no drama. We just floated across with no fanfare or trials whatsoever. I took a video of the GPS during the crucial seconds and we'll celebrate with cookies or a chocolate bar for tonight's dessert.

Wind? There is none.

Day 10

Miles to go: 368

Sometimes there are light winds and sometimes, like now, there's absolutely no wind...none at all. It was a long, dark, boring, windless night following a windless day. The sails are flapping and flogging...beating themselves up looking for just a light breeze to fill them, but to no avail. The rigging is clanking and banging. By noon, we'd racked up a dismal total of 58 miles to the good for the entire 24-hour period.

Why not motor, you ask? Well, you can't motor across an entire ocean and conserving fuel is always a major consideration. "Patience", says the captain, "patience. The wind will come." Just after noon, we hauled in the jib, shut down the autopilot and drifted on an ocean flat enough to see my reflection. A long period, ever-present, southwest swell was the only thing to provide any momentum, and at that we moved less than a knot an hour, in the wrong direction. We drifted and chatted, drifted and chatted. We luxuriated in the warm sunshine. Neither of us was tired enough to nap. Around 1530, the wind gen creaked and began to turn, ever so slowly. The flag fluttered and came alive. The mainsail flapped a different tune and began to fill. 5 knots, 8 knots, 10 knots ...we let out the jib and we were off again.

Be careful what you wish for. The wind continued to freshen. Just before dark, we put a reef in the main...just in case. David could see a band of ominous black clouds on the horizon, and the jib we'd so happily let out a few hours before, was hastily reefed, as we met a nasty squall line head-on. We bounced and bumped our way through the squalls for an hour or so, then settled in for a boisterous night. What a shot to our earlier in the day complacency. Yowza!

A full moon rose. The wind backed and steadied at 20-25 knots and we charged ahead. St. Helena, here we come!

Let's get there ... Arrival in St. Helena at last!

Lüderitz to St. Helena - Days 5 & 6

days 5 - 6
days 5 - 6

Day 5

Miles to go: 840

Yet another gloomy, raw morning after a moonless, starless night. What's up with that? The sky is grey. The sea is grey. Blah, blah, blah! A maniacal wind god got his kicks playing with the wind velocity during the night. First it was 20 knots of wind, then 4 knots, then 20, then 7, then 25 ... all in quick succession, over and over and over. We'd wonder if we should think about reefing, then we wondered if we should get out the oars and help move us along. We're now about 20 degrees off course and thinking about poling out as the wind shifts more southeasterly. I'm sure as soon as we set out the pole, the wind will shift back again. And this was supposed to be a fast trip. matter, I guess. We'll get there when we get there.

We've met only a few ships, mostly several miles off. A few Chinese fishing vessels were in our path hauling nets, but they were well clear before we passed on through.

We've settled into a routine. Three hours on, three hours off. During the days, we spend a few hours together, eating meals, chatting, talking about new book ideas and where we'll head after the Guianas. Otherwise, we nap and read and write and prepare meals and clean up. On passages, I cook and David cleans up. I consider this a vacation. We have our little daily rituals. David makes his tour of the deck each morning. So far, no major issues to report (thank, Neptune) which is somewhat incredible. I've packed away the Namibian courtesy flag and dug out the St. Helena and Q flags. I try to wipe down the cockpit daily...residual Luderitz sand, salt, and errant crew crumbs mount up if I don't stay on top of it.

We're ready for St. Helena, but still 840 miles to go. And just in case I haven't stressed it enough, it's still cold!

Day 6

Miles to go: 745

What in Neptune's name was I thinking? No major issues, I said. Doing well with power because of solar, wind and prop, I bragged. Am I freakin' crazy to have said that out loud? Written it down and actually shared it with you? Even thought the thought  it in the first place?

Shortly after posting that last blog, we rigged the pole ... which promptly collapsed and bent into a very neat 90 degree angle rendering it much less useable. It's currently lashed, rather artistically, to the mast pulpit, awaiting the captain's verdict as to what will be done. No matter, there is no wind anyway. The erratic S/SE winds calmed to a constant 5-7 knots max. Overcast skies (no solar), no wind gen output and minimal prop gen output, have all contributed to "load shedding" aboard. Bah!

We're eating lots of oranges this trip. On my last shop at OK Grocery ( it's not great, but it's OK?) in Luderitz, they had a special on oranges ... 6 kg (that's about 13# worth) for less than $3! What a deal! But that's quite a crop of oranges and it required a separate trip to the dinghy to haul them (and hanging a separate hammock to contain them all aboard). David was surprised at the volume purchase. "Scurvy", I replied ...enough said.

Now, why did that topic come up today? Well, eating oranges, at the moment, is the bright spot of the day! The skies are still grey. We've seen no whales, dolphins or Krakens. The only sea life we've seen are two stiff, dried-out, smelly squid on deck. There have been no gorgeous sunrises or sunsets ...nary a one. There is no wind to speak of and we're moving at glacial speed...not even fast enough to fish. There's no extra power, so laptop usage has been curtailed. Quite honestly, I'm getting a bit cranky. David woke from his off-watch nap and could smell the  foul humor in the air. It was that palpable.

David has been pondering the pole situation. This is not a new problem. He's worked on the whisker pole several times since Australia, usually resulting in the pole becoming useful, albeit shorter, for some indeterminate period of time, and then breaking again. We need a new pole, and it's on the wish list, but was not in the budget in Cape Town after all of our other repairs and purchases. This time he aims to remove the extension altogether (it's the weakest point) and we'll use it as a mini-whisker with a reefed foresail...better than no pole at all. That was his project this afternoon and he worked assiduously at it with good results. I marvel at his sure-footedness as he works on the deck while the boat is rocking and rolling. I'm always amazed at his solutions and how well they work out. We now have a mini-whisker, about 5m long and it seems to be working just fine.

Miracle of miracles, the sun appeared late this afternoon, as did a pod of whales. It wasn't actually warm, but it was warm-er. I soaked it up and my blue funk evaporated. David saw a green flash. Things are looking up.

Passage Days 7 & 8 coming up1