In the week prior to setting off from the small harbour of Brava, Cape Verdes for Brazil our watermaker started producing increasingly salty water. Not a good sign. I did what I could to diagnose the source of the problem, and came down to two possibilities: the seals on the membrane that prevent brine from flowing into the product water have deteriorated, or the membrane itself has been damaged (possible If there were hydrocarbons in any of the sea water we have used, always a small risk). We have a reasonable range of spares for the watermaker, but we have neither of these items. Something we will remedy in future.
|Our helpers in Brava, Cha and John, with the kid goat
So, in addition to the normal final provisioning of fresh vegetables and protein we needed to fill one of our tanks completely with fresh water from ashore, by jerry can. We also bought 70l of mineral water as a backup, and decided to have only saltwater showers until we were well over halfway (in fact we did so the whole way … saltwater showers are fine). We do have a small handheld emergency watermaker in our abandon-ship barrels, but it takes one hour of hand pumping to make 1 liter of water: fine in a liferaft but not my idea of entertainment on a normal passage.
Our final provisioning of protein came in the form of a kid goat we bought, which was slaughtered and butchered for us the night before we departed. Definitely fresh meat.
We set off just after midday on Saturday 10th May, and knew it would be a slow passage. The wind should gradually reduce from normal NE trade winds in the Cape Verdes to flat calm in the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ, the doldrums), then SE trade winds after crossing the equator. Currents make the passage a little more complicated, and our chosen route after much poring over pilot charts and sailing directions was to head almost straight south to cross the ITCZ at 26W, then turn SW on a close reach to 7S 30W, then ease off onto a reach (probably a beam reach because of the current) to go W to our chosen landfall of Cabedelo, Brazil. That was the theory.
We had a few hours of lovely trade wind sailing before the wind started to moderate. And moderate, and moderate, and moderate. By dawn the next morning we were in a flat calm in gentle seas.
We are moving along at between 1.5 and 2.5kts, with a true wind speed of 5-6kts and our gennaker and full main poled out wing on wing. This is the equivalent of travelling across the Atlantic Ocean at walking speed. The air temperature is getting warm and humid. The sea is fairly flat, with a swell of perhaps 50cm, but with so little wind even this small swell rolls Otra Vida enough to be disrupting.
|North Atlantic sunset
Our towed water turbine doesn’t produce any electricity below about 3kts, so that is now out of the water, and obviously our windgen is producing nothing either. That leaves our solar panel array, which doesn’t produce enough alone to keep up with our usage, therefore the engine is on at present for a couple of hours to charge the batteries and to give us the sense of at least a little progress.
Because we have potentially several hundred miles of flat calms in the ITCZ area we don’t want to use the engine more than a minimum at this stage. We have enough fuel for 600nm, so have a buffer of maybe 200nm beyond the ITCZ – moderate but not huge.
In preparation for possible thunderstorms in the ITCZ we got out our Faraday cage today (a simply constructed aluminium box with a ground wire) and put a two handheld GPS units, a PLB, a personal AIS and a handheld VHF in it. Hopefully this is an unnecessary precaution.
We finished the goat today. Boned legs stuffed with the loin, with garlic and Herbes de Provence, vacuum packed and slow cooked at about 68C for a few hours, then seared in butter. Served with Otra Vida passage demi-glace, boiled potatoes and the last of our fresh green beans. Nice.
Otra Vida Passage Demi-Glace
This isn’t even close to a real demi-glace (in fact it is technically a veloute) but when you are on passage and don’t have a convenient supply of veal bones and 8+ hours of spare gas to make a reduced veal stock this delivers a sauce that is acceptable for passage food.
- Rough chop one onion and one carrot. Add dried thyme, white pepper, parsley, and 1 bay leaf. Sweat in butter.
- Deglaze with cognac. At this point add whatever alcohol you need for the final sauce, e.g. red wine, madeira, port. Pedro Ximinez is a favourite of ours for lamb/goat/duck and gives a rich sweetness to the sauce.
- Boil off the alcohol, then add a cup of water and one Doble Caldo stock cube.
- If you have any meat juices e.g. from roasting you can also add them. Be careful about adding fat – pour the juices into a beaker and skim off the fat first.
- Simmer for 10 minutes.
- Mix in some xanthan to get the desired consistency and simmer a little more. You could use other thickeners instead, e.g. roux, cornflour. I prefer the texture of xanthan.
- Strain the sauce and discard the veggies and herbs. Then strain the sauce again through a very fine sieve or muslin. Bring the sauce to the boil, and whisk in a teaspoon or two of butter.
- Check and adjust the seasoning. Note that stock cubes are dreadfully salty, and sometimes you will be using salted butter on passage, so don’t add any salt at all until the very end.
That´s better … in the last 24 hours we have covered 139nm. Gentle trade wind sailing, breeze on the port aft quarter about 12kts true, gennaker up, a warm breeze in the cockpit, t-shirt temperatures on the night watch. A tropical wave is passing over us, just a slightly more cloudy sky, too early in its development to have thunderstorms.
Otra Vida is 9 degrees north of the equator. As children we were taught about the Coriolis effect, and how you could see water swirling down a plughole anticlockwise in the northern hemisphere, clockwise in the south and straight down at the equator. When we cross the equator I intend to check this out (using seawater, not freshwater, of course).
I used to travel quite regularly for business to Singapore, which sits almost on the equator, but somehow never found the time to observe water in the hotel room sink – perhaps too much time sampling addictive street food at hawker stalls and hunting for the legendary SPGs. Singapore : what a strange place – super-luxury business hotels, a mix of interesting cultures, and as Webb Chiles describes it “an unusually logical city” “not given to laughter, especially at itself”. I certainly felt safe there, but am not sure I ever felt alive. On board Otra Vida, out here in the Atlantic ocean hundreds of miles from land I feel both safe and alive.
In between scanning the horizon for boats I am reading “Capital in the 21st Century”. The book is a magisterial compendium of data-based insights on growth, capital, income and inequality over the last two centuries, engagingly written by a very smart French economist. It covers so much ground that any quick summary will fail to do it justice. For anyone interested in history, economics and politics it surely is a must-read. His extrapolations into the future are not pleasant reading, and his suggestions for action seem well founded, reasonable, and sadly unlikely to come to fruition. My understanding of economics is too limited to be able to challenge his view, so I am looking forward to researching some intelligent critiques when I have internet access again. At first glance it seems to me that he has lifted the veil on capitalism and provided solid and congruent data that confirms the core premise of Occupy a few years ago – that capitalism is (in general) good at creating wealth, but lousy at distributing it. My friends on the right are not going to be happy about this book, not at all.
The night is windless and warm, some 200nm north of the equator, and Otra Vida´s engine is pushing us south at 4.5kts, the slow speed being to conserve fuel. First thing I did this morning on my 4am watch was a saltwater shower on deck. The water temperature here is 29C, and a shower in the pre-dawn darkness is pleasant and refreshing.
This area of the ocean is called the Sargasso Sea, so named for the amount of Sargasso seaweed found here, ranging from individual plants to rafts as large as tennis courts. It´s tough stuff and apparently gets caught on our rudder. It took a little while for us to work out why we were going so slow, and now we put the engine in reverse every couple of hours to let the seaweed drop off.
The hitchhiking bird that joined us a day out from the Cape Verdes is still perched on the dinghy. It would seem our friend is with us for the journey.
We reached the half way point today : a half way cocktail to celebrate, our first alcohol since leaving the Cape Verdes. We now have about another week to Cabedelo based on the forecast winds, and about 90nm to the equator. The swell from the South Atlantic is noticeable already.
Our mainsail, hoisted to stabilise the boat in the swell while motoring, split at a seam overnight between the second and third reef points. We now have a triple-reefed mainsail for the rest of the journey. The sail is getting weak after 5 years and lots of sun in the Med and the Caribbean – Maret will repair it in Brazil and check and reinforce other seams as needed. I hope it will be possible to patch this one together through the next year or so in the Caribbean, but for sure before setting off into the Pacific we will have a new mainsail made.
I also noticed that the AIS targets via our VHF radio were fewer than from our dedicated AIS transceiver. It took me just minutes to alter the data connections for our AIS navigation instrument to use the AIS transceiver. It means that the main VHF aerial (or much more likely the coaxial cable) has a leak and has corroded. Eight days into the passage and this is only the second item added to the to-do list.
|Speeding across the equator
|We crossed the equator around noon. To celebrate, as it is the first crossing on a boat for both of us, we offered generous glugs of Havana Club to Neptune, and made “equator cocktails” based on the longstanding nautical tradition: rum and seawater. I added some ice, lime and a sprig of Sargasso seaweed. The result was truly disgusting – not too much of a surprise. We each managed a few mouthfuls, and the rest went over the side. The nausea took a little longer to pass. I´ll wager you won´t see that mixture on cocktail menus anytime soon.
Checked the swirl of seawater in the sink. It seems to go straight down the plughole with no appreciable swirl either way, perhaps because the movement of the boat is more than the weak Coriolis force.
|Don´t try this at home…
The cabin temperature is 32C, humidity 88%. It’s a month from mid-winter here.
The South Atlantic trade winds arrived early this morning, bringing easy beam reach sailing with the gennaker up, 6+kts boat speed plus the 1kt or so favourable current. It looks like we will make Cabedelo on Saturday, subject to the forecast being correct.
Our visiting bird has departed after 10 days of riding on Otra Vida´s dinghy. After preening its feathers it did a final grandiose swooping circle around the boat before heading off to its next destination. All that´s left now is the shit to be cleaned up. Brings to mind a few executives I have known.
Out here on the ocean the idea of ownership, of possession, of accumulation seems so irrelevant. The human pretensions of permanence and control are seen for what they are. How can you own the ocean? The sky? The clouds? The questions are literally meaningless. One can choose to experience the journey, or one can choose to endure the journey and focus only on the destination. The sea and sky are benignly indifferent whatever the choice, but I think there is a qualitative difference in the experience. Out here the journey is enough: the perpetual present moment, every second the same panorama of sea and sky, every second different. The journey really is the destination. Sure, it´s a cliché, but that doesn’t stop it being true. There is a purity and a peace that blossoms on passage, a cleansing of the mind. Perspective comes easily. I like passage life.
The SE trades are giving us a speedy and comfortable beam reach to Cabedelo. Dawn is just
|Winter scene on our approach to Cabedelo
breaking, and in 3 hours we will be tied up to a dock, in a new country, on a new continent. Our traditional landfall bottle of cava is chilling in the fridge along with trout eggs which are becoming something of a tradition too. The air temperature is 28C. Not bad for winter.
What a lovely passage this has been.
Total distance: 1569nm. Average speed: 4.7kts. Freshwater used: about 130 litres. Fish caught: 0 (again).