Crossing the Atlantic Ocean on the Catalac 900 – S/V Horizons

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by Jeff & Diane Curran

We were making good progress, averaging 90 miles but after 5 days the wind died and we were then faced with the prospect of grossly exceeding our ETA at Barbados. The last thing we wanted to happen was for our girls back in the UK to become worried because were unable to contact them or let them know in any way that we were ok (in fact, this became the greatest concern during the trip). In hindsight we should have invested in a SAT-phone for such an eventuality.

Actually, we set off with a five day weather forecast and with only VHF aboard, called up the occasional passing ship for an up to date forecast.

We deployed the Cruising Shute, something we thought would never be needed for this passage, particularly as the Trade Winds should have been firmly set for the time of year. At one stage it flew for nearly two and a half days continuously. This was contrary to our plans as we had always intended to shorten sail before sunset. In all, we had the cruising chute up for 13 days although not continually. We purposely bent on the working jib before setting off.

The usual pattern was for the winds to increase before lunch and start to die off before sunset which caused us no end of grief in the tropical heat as the sail plan was often changing and it often became frustrating as we saw the day’s average speed steadily drop off. When there was actually wind, the normal sail plan was jib and main or partly furled mainsail (we favoured a working Jib to a Genoa).

Luckily for us, we had SCRABBLE aboard which often saw us through these times when the weather couldn’t quite make up it’s mind.

Within a couple of days, the bread which we had purchased was mouldy and within a week and a half all the fresh vegetables had seen better days, Cape Verde isn’t the best place in the world to victual for an Ocean Crossing, much of the fruit and vegetables are well below par of the supermarket produce in European Countries. There wasn’t any part baked vacuum sealed bread or bread mix either which would have helped us on our way; instead we purchased packets of what looked like ship’s biscuits which on trying were hard as nails and even after soaking for a few hours still had a consistency of chewing cardboard.

But we got by, it was amusing with what we tried to concoct in order to make the dishes more appetising – eggs kept well, we decided early on that it was pointless trying to use the refrigerator as it used up too much energy, the priority was for keeping the power available for the autopilot and chart plotter .

On a few occasions we ran the engines – when there was absolutely no wind. The concern was that with 2 x 10hp Volvo sail drives and 50 ltr tanks for each and a reserve of 65 ltrs in jerry cans, e should have enough fuel available for any conditions we may encounter for when we reached landfall.

Thankfully, as we reached the three quarters stage, the wind steadied and became less of a problem, unlike the autopilot which had a tendency to overheat and needed to be closely monitored. When this happened, we hand steered for a few hours at a time using the cockpit steering position (the autopilot is attached to the wheel situated in the saloon).

Apart from the ritual of SCRABBLE our daily routine was to remove the flying fish from the deck which had landed aboard overnight; little did we know that this was Barbados’ national dish. We couldn’t eat them anyway because they were the size of sardines and rigour mortis had invariably set in. Di however, had rigged a fishing line consisting of a long length of chordage and a safety pin fashioned to resemble a fish hook (it never worked, she got the idea from a sea survival manual). Even when she purchased the real McCoy in Barbados for the next passage, it too never caught a sausage!

There were two occasions when rain clouds appeared, so fully prepared, naked and all soaped up we waited in anticipation for the expected downpour. It somehow avoided us, leaving us to use up our valuable supply of water to rinse off but boy we did smell a whole lot better. Seriously though, health and hygiene is a high priority and bird baths with the aid of baby wipes were an important part of our daily routine.

It took us 29 days to reach Barbados, and feeling very tired but elated we tied up before lunch in the Careenage having been beckoned to a berth by a person we assumed was a member of the port staff. He appeared very efficient and proceeded to fleece us of 25 euros before we were informed by someone else that clear Customs and Immigration and not under any circumstances land where we were.

Setting off again, for the trip to the port which was another mile or two away, we then were required to wait another 3 hours for the Customs officials to return to their offices after they had finished inspecting a ship at nchor – by this time we were thoroughly tired.

Our second visit to the careenage was more of a success and we spent 3 days bows to in an unofficial berth which cost us nothing and was reserved for commercial vessels, We were introduced to the Harbour Master who was most helpful and arranged for us to tie up in the inner harbour in what is actually a new development for visiting yachts situated in the centre of town. Apart from the initial bad experience, we found the Barbadians to be a lovely and helpful bunch of people and we would love to return.We spent just over a week in Barbados before clearing out and crossing to Bequia a further 100 miles to the West and into the Caribbean Sea. After the Atlantic, the Caribbean was like sailing on a lake with winds abaft the beam and boat speeds of about 5 to 6 knots (even with a fouled bottom).

On reflection, the crossing was well worth the effort, sailing the Caribbean is truly wonderful and as we rest here in Grenada with Horizons ashore in Spice Island Marine receiving some TLC we are getting to know the Grenadian people, fellow live aboard sailors and look forward to the sailing season in late November.


By Rick

Owner of a Catalac 8M and Catamaransite webmaster.

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