by Sven and Sabine Seren continued from page 1
Atlantic Crossing with a Catalac 10M Part 2
Our Atlantic crossing could now begin. Ahead of us were about 1800 nautical miles until French Guiana where we wanted to make for the Îles du Salut which are a group of small islands of volcanic origin about 11 km off the coast of French Guiana in the Atlantic Ocean.
The first day under sail was dominated by local wind effects from the Cape Verde islands. On the second day the conditions were more constant and we had during the day most of the time force 4 to 5 from north to northeast. During the night the wind freshened up but seldom exceeded force 6. Again, we had the main sail in the first reef most of the time which enabled a comfortable and relaxed sailing and relief for the autopilot as the course of the vessel was very stable in a gust and / or a bigger wave. We had the Genoa again fixed with the Spinnaker boom and sailed most of the time in a two sail butterfly configuration. Our average mileage for a day was around 120 to 150 nm while we sailed completely relaxed in trade winds. Then, the wind decreased and felt temporarily even under 10 kt and so our average mileage fell to 100 nm, however, the wave height decreased as well and the movements of the boat was very smooth. Days passed by reading and listening to audio books. We spent most of the time inside the boat to take advantage of the shade, as temperatures were quite high outside in the sun. As waves were with 2 m quite moderate we could open the upper large windows featured in the Catalac family of boats and enjoyed remarkably good ventilation which maintained comfortable temperatures in the boat.
We did not use a fixed watch system, the one who was tired could sleep and it seldom occurred that we both were tired at the same time. The one on watch did a sharp lookout every 30 minutes or in shorter intervals depending on the conditions and controlled the course and the sails. There was not much to do as our autopilot did a very good job all the time and our additional inside mounted combo-instrument, showing wind direction and speed and the speed of the boat through the water, is easily readable even from the sofa and so one glance was enough to check if the boat still goes well or if the wind veered. Unfortunately we did not observe many dolphins on the Atlantic crossing, however, a lot of flying fish. All in all we found at least 20 of them dead on deck or even in the dinghy.
We often sailed through large schools of them and they tried to escape from our bow waves. It was awesome watching them flying for long distances over the waves. Our daily milage continued to be only 100 nm in light winds, but we already had one third of the distance behind us. In the coming night the wind increased again and we put the first reef back in the main sail. Every day we submitted our position via HAM radio and so our position could be found in the internet. In addition, we requested and downloaded a GRIB file with contained the weather forecast for the next 3 days in a wide range around our current position. We could also email our family and friends and even update our blog on the internet using the HAM Winlink Network. Even though one cannot alter the weather it is good to know that nothing bad will come ahead. When more wind was forecasted, especially for the night, we reefed sails immediately at dusk to have a stress free night. But eventually, with the low wind of the last few days we sailed under full sails. Our main boom was secured at all times with a jibe preventer to prevent the boom to come over in a gust with veering wind or larger waves. The wind then increased again up to force 6. As it got dark we made an unforeseen jibe but thanks to the jibe preventer nothing further happened. We just brought the boat back on course.
The wind increased further and veered also and the sky darkened significantly and we were sailing into a squall. As the wind was quite inconstant in force and direction and changed direction up to 30 degrees we steered Felix by hand. In the meanwhile the wind did not fall below 25 kn and we started the autopilot again. But again we missed our course. This was totally unusual as our autopilot managed already much worse conditions without having any problems. As I was seasick again, Sven could not steer and check for the problem with the autopilot at the same time. So he had to steer some hours by hand until the sky brightened up again and conditions improved. But even then the autopilot was not able to keep the boat on course. Sven checked the system and found out very quickly that the servo pump could move the hydraulic cylinder and thus the rudder only in one direction and so it was obvious why we could not keep course. Further investigation revealed that one of the two steering relays for the electric servo pump was stuck. But Sven managed it to make it work again and about 8 hours after the unintentional jibe he could go to sleep. In the meanwhile I felt better again and could do the next watch. We still had more than 1000 nm to go and all our senses were now focused on the autopilot as we really hoped that we would have no more problems with it.
We left the second reef in the mainsail to ease the load on the autopilot and still made daily distances of 120 nm. The wind was still between 20 and 30 kt and we reefed the Genoa to the same size of the reefed mainsail. So the sailing areas were of a similar size and thus the boat was well balanced. After a full day without problems we started to trust our autopilot again and relaxed more and more. About 800 nm away from the South American Coast we had our first rain shower. This was very pleasant as we hadn’t enoyed a fresh water shower since Gran Canaria and of course by this time everything was covered by a soapy film of salt. As it rained,, the boat cooled down significantly in the inside. Right before dawn the wind increased for a short time but stabilized to force 4 to 5 after sunrise. Before midday, it was mostly cloudy and one could not face the sun. At the late afternoon the sky cleared up a little bit and one could see sometimes the blue sky. With sunset heavy clouds rose up again and the wind increased. However, the little sunlight we received was sufficient to charge our batteriesvia the new solar panels. We consumed about 100 Ah of energy per day (measured with our Philippi Battery Monitor) with a permanently running autopilot and our two refrigerators (we have a separate one for beverages) and all other electrical loads. We never had to use the engines for battery charging as we also a wind generator which made a smaller contribution to the electrical power generation during the night time. Meanwhile, we left more than the half of the distance behind us and the autopilot worked perfectly again which made us quite relaxed. Besides the glitch in the auto pilot, no other damage or problem occurred. We adjusted the Genoa sheet sometimes a bit to distribute the friction and thus the wear at the snatch block. We have noticed that Felix, at least when fully equipped and thus heavy, is not very sensitive to sail and rig tuning. Fine tuning of the main sail is more or less unnecessary with wind from astern, one adjusts the sails in a way that distributes pressure on the rig so it’s equally distributed and thus local load is minimized and with it wear.
Our Felix turned out to be quite stable and reacted very well in all situations and thus he is very easy to handle, particularly for a small crew or even single handed. The best part, of course, is that we always have our spacious home with us. From the “living room” on our couch we can look directly outside and not feel claustrophobic or being in a cave as one might feel at least in some mono hulls. The weather conditions were then pretty mediocre but still good and we made good way again. It still had about 30 kt during the night time and during the daytime 20 kt of wind. Sometimes we had a rain shower but this was not connected to a weather change. Two third of the distance laid already behind us and we started to calculate the date and time of our arriving and we came to the result that we should reach the islands before noon in daylight. However, when sailing, things change … and so it was.The northerly current in front of the South American Coast was much stronger as expected. We calculated with 1-2 kt as we read in the pilot charts. But actually we had over 3 kt. So we were set to north continually and thus more and more away from our destination, the Îles du Salut . We had to go closer and closer to the wind until our course ended up hard to the wind to head in the right direction. Unfortunately, we were welcomed by a huge thundercloud and it rained for hours in the early morning with a strong wind with over 30 kt and lightning in our close vicinity. Our Felix made his way bravely with over 6 kt trough water and waves. However, with over 3 kt current against us we made only little way towards our destination and so we decided that it made no sense to fight on against wind and wave for more than 50 nm. Besides, I was seasick again and so we changed course to north along the coast. In the very next moment the movements of the vessel were smooth again and one could hardly feel the strong wind.