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Many sailors dream that one day they will cross this ocean in a sailing boat….. few actually succeed. To convert a dream into a project then a plan involves more than then just dreaming harder. One can buy a ticket on one of the charter boats and be a passenger either active or passive but to prepare and sail our own boat with only family for crew was our dream.

We left Gran Canary on a blustery Sunday afternoon and headed south to find the trade winds and we had been advised that the trade winds were likely to be much further south than in previous years. We did have the option of sailing straight towards our destination 2700 miles away but this would mean sailing into head winds for many days without knowing whether the wind would eventually turn. Only a few of the 250 boats that left that day took the northerly route and most of them eventually turned south battered and bruised. The problem with heading south was that the winds were light and the sea was choppy. The going was slow but comfortable and a routine was established on-board for the night watches , meal preparation and everything necessary to keep the boat running 24hrs per day. We caught fish on demand…. Each time we put a rod in the water we caught a fish. We caught three wahoo (10-12 kilos each), tuna (10 kilos) and a couple of other fish. When we caught a fish we stopped fishing because we had 2-3 days food and no freezer on-board.

Some cruisers never catch fish but after several seasons of instruction from our fishing mentor, Julien our luck changed. The better we got the “luckier” we became, rather like most things in life. There are no big secrets but just a series of routines applied systematically. If anybody wants more information just send us an e-mail.

Initially we took two rods to fish but we only ever used one because we used our hydro generator which is a turbine that is dragged behind the boat to produce electricity. The turbine produced enough power with our three flexible solar panels for all our electrical needs except for the autopilot which runs on 24v and not on 12v. We ran the motor which has a 24v alternator for 1 hour per day and the fridge was closed at night and substituted by the navigation lights.

So we sailed down to 20°north and found no trade winds and we kept sailing south to the Cape Verde islands which are another 360 miles further south. We were crawling along at 3-5 knots and had been overtaken by many of the cruisers who resorted to using their motor and planned to stop at the Cape Verde islands to re-fuel. We did not have the luxury of large quantities of fuel and we had enough to charge the batteries and 1 day motoring. To stop at the islands would have diminished our crossing which would no longer be Gran Canary- St Lucia…. The choice from the weather charts was to head further south down to 12° north (120 miles) through a windless zone or head west into head winds for a couple of days. We choose the later and sailed north west into a deepening depression.

The boat was fast and the weather got worse and worse. The waves were not the long atlantic rollers that we were expecting but 5-6 meter wind driven storm waves. Wind speeds were in the mid-thirties which is not that challenging in coastal waters but in the open ocean  with 1900 miles to go the conditions became difficult. The cars attaching the sail battens to the mast unscrewed themselves and after 24 hours and down to the third reef we were taking a beating. Food preparation stopped and became a piece of cheese in a tortilla for those members of the crew still eating . It got worse during the night as we discovered a large water leak(salt water) , the floor boards were floating and we could not locate the leak. The crew took turns at pumping and after several hours the water had significantly receded.  At the height of the storm large waves were breaking into the cockpit and exiting through the cockpit drains. We were two on watch at a time strapped in with life jackets and harnesses.  The final batten cars gave up and we dropped the main sail. With only a small piece of jib and a howling gale we could not tack the boat through the wind so we started the motor to push the bow through the wind and promptly collided with a submerged object which stopped the motor.

To sum up we now have no main sail, no motor ,we had torn both sides of the lazy bag and ripped off the lazy jacks on one side, half the crew is sick from hours of pumping inside a yacht which was bouncing of six meter waves and the other two crew members have no prospect of any sleep or hot food for the next twenty four hours. The weather forecast predicted another three days of similar weather. It was time to head south…. We sailed (limped) south for 24 hours and found calmer weather. The waves diminished and we were able to dive under the boat to cut away the debris of our collision which was round the rudder and drive shaft. We re-attached the bat cars on the mast and after a day relaxing ( flat calm) the wind returned. Was this the trade winds?????

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We sailed steadily west for the next few days under genoa and spinnaker making progress and the water leak although still not located was under control. We have a 120 litre/minute whale gusher mobile manual pump that could outstrip the water intake. We stripped the entire interior of the boat over the following five days without locating the leak. We eventually sealed off the gas locker on the skirt of the boat with rags and although this did not stop the leak it was reduced to about 150 litres/day from 400-500litres initially.  We then proceeded to tear the spinnaker sock,drop the spinnaker overboard having got the sock jammed at the top of the mast, lose part of the bimini top and damage the goose neck on the boom that the main sail was now completely out of action. So we sailed for two weeks without a main sail even crossing the finish line in St Lucia under jib alone. We sailed through three days of squalls as we approached our destination and during one bad night we took down the sails and closed the hatches and watched the radar from inside the boat. The boat was still sailing at seven knots down the waves under bare poles. The final few days was relaxing text book trade wind sailing and we finished after 24 days at sea with a large repair list and big smiles from the crew.

We were awarded the Kyprys trophy for our crossing by the ARC which included a large cheque to help with the repairs. We think this trophy was sponsored by Stephen King (horror novelist)………

We spent 10 days in St Lucia where it rained constantly and we are now in Martinique for the New Year celebrations before leaving for Panama.

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Having arrived in St Lucia on the 16th December , we spent a couple of weeks repairing the boat. The principal issues were the water leak that we still had not located and repairing the mast goose neck  fitting ( aluminium hinge support screwed to the mast that support the boom). The constant movement of the boom  over thousands of miles had allowed the stainless steel pin that holds the boom to the mast to bore its way through the goose neck fitting. Only a few millimeters of aluminium remained and a catastrophic failure was certain if the boom was not immobilized. This is why we had to sail for fourteen days without a mainsail. To mend the fitting the we took off the boom , main sail, lazy bag and lazy jacks and a local workshop took two days to undo the sixteen screws holding the fitting to the mast. The screws have been in place for twenty years and were “welded” to the mast. The aluminium fitting was mig welded and new Teflon rings were fitted to reduce the friction. The boom was then re-mounted and the ripped lazy bag was sent off for repair.

We then set about repairing the lazy jacks which had snapped during a hurried reefing session in the atlantic . I had made a temporary repair by going up the mast in mid ocean and now we needed to replace and repair the damaged lines. We located the leak that had been evading detection for the last two weeks of our crossing in one of those eureka moments. The gas locker on the swim platform on the stern of the boat has a vent hole to allow any gas to escape if it leaks from the gas bottles or any water entering the locker. The vent is placed close to the floor of the locker as butane is heavier than air. We unscrewed the external cowl that covers the vent  and pushed a piece of wire through the hole from the outside of the boat to the inside of the locker. The wire did not appear in the locker…….? The vent for the locker had been drilled too low and was below the floor of the locker and now vented directly into the swim platform. Every wave that hit the cowl/vent was filling the swim platform and waves washing over the swim deck where entering the gas locker through its non watertight door. The swim platform is an enclosed empty  space of about 500 litres and this we believe was full of water for half of our crossing. Each time the boat rolled (every 6 seconds) water was squirted from the swim platform in to the boat. We managed to reduce the leak during our crossing by sealing the gas locker doors . The old vent was plugged and a new vent was made at the correct height. We replaced the old electric bilge pump with a new system and replaced the teak deck  on the swim platform that we had ripped off to try and locate the leak. We re-worked the 220 volt system to bypass the 24 volts system and rewired the gps vhf link that went into screaming alarm mode every time we used the vhf radio.

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During this time the weather in St Lucia was bad with wind and rain for the best part of 10 days. We attended a couple of parties organized by the ARC which were not attended to the same extent as the leaving parties in the Gran Canaries due to the sprawled out arrival times of the fleet in the carribean. The sea was not it usual turquoise blue but a muddy green from the remnants of the hurricane that had hit the island during November. We did hire a fast motor boat and visit the north of the island were we saw the Pitons(steep volcanic mountains ) and a smoking volcano.

We attended the prize giving organized by the ARC and were pleasantly surprised to have been awarded the Kapry’s prize for our crossing. This prize is given to the boat which broke the greatest number of things on their boat and still made it across the ‘pond’. There were several boats which broke their booms, autopilots etc and there was one boat which lost its mast but did not reach St Lucia. The reason that we think that we received  this prize was that not only did we experience many breakages but we were effectively sinking with a significant unidentified water leak for 1900 miles.

The determination and endurance of the small crew to keeping pumping and continually search(by stripping the inside of the boat) for the water leak over two weeks probably swayed the judges in  our favour. The benefit of the prize was a 400 dollar cheque which paid for several of the repairs.