Crossing an Ocean – We did it!

January 20 – February 11 2021; 6778 nm and 696 days after departure from La Rochelle.

What can I say? WE ARE SO DAMN PROUD!

We sailed 3023 nm in 21 days and 7 hours. Not bad at all, isn’t it? That was an average speed of 5,6 knots,(which is pretty fast for our Altimate), we caught 4 fish (two MahiMahi, which we ate and two Barracudas which we let free because of potential ciguatera risk) and I read 6 books. The engine was running for 31,5 hours, 10,5 for finding the wind after leaving Las Palmas, 1 hour for anchoring in the bay of Saint George’s Grenada and the rest to support the batteries when running the water maker. Apart from about one hour, where we tried to sail butterfly (that means the main sail is on one side and the Genoa on the other side), we only used the Genoa to take us over the ocean. Sometimes reefed often completely open. We tacked (changing the Genoa from one side to the other) exactly 4 times until we reached our anchorage. Pretty easy 😁!

butterfly sails

Looking back it was a very nice and almost calm trip. Once we got into the routine of our daily boat life and the different sleeping rhythms, crossing the ocean was quite relaxing and enjoyable. There’s nothing but pure nature, water and waves, sun, clouds and often magically, wonderful, amazing starry skies (A pity we couldn’t get pictures of the sky with our camera). Ok, fair enough, after a while you don’t appreciate the beauty of your surrounding anymore as you get so used to it. But then you’re already a week further and you’re looking forward to reaching half time point. And once you passed that it’s just a piece of cake as you can already start to slowly count down the time to your destination.

I guess we were also pretty lucky with the weather. The wind was fairly steady around 20 knots (up to 30 in gusts) and we didn’t have much squalls. Squalls are small weather cells which do come with a shift of wind direction, significant increase of wind strength (+10-15 knots) and massive rain, result into hectic reefing and close monitoring, but usually gone again after 30-45 min, no fun at night. What was a bit annoying was the fact that the boat was shaking and rolling the whole time. Yes, of course it’s normal but just before passing the half time point it really got intense. The wind increased and with it the waves got higher. That additionally developed wind waves and the mixture created a rather uncomfortable long lasting very rolly movement. We always had to carefully watch where we placed our feet, make sure we were in a safe position and we always needed to hold tight to not fall or hurt ourselves. These motions definitely built up our sense of balance. Sometimes it looked surly funny when we tried to use the food pump, holding a pot underneath the tap to catch the water and trying to keep balance on one foot all at the same time. Just carrying the coffee mug outside to the cockpit could be a challenge. It was not always possible to place it on the floor/table without holding it. So we had to be fast to get up the stairs, find a safe place to sit on the bench, grab the coffee, and all that, of course, without spilling it 😁. After some bruises and trials where to place us safely we became professional secured “hold tight cruisers”!

Norbert sleeping at night in salon with the lee cloth


Sleeping was also an issue with the waves shaking us like hell. Soon we figured, a 5 hour watch change for us was perfect. El Capitano went to bed early at around 7pm, we switched at around midnight and again after 5 hours. The rest of the day we slept or napped as we liked. For us a comfortable solution. Well, until the waves started to shake us even in our sleeps. Result – we could not sleep and therefore we were very tired. After a couple of days with only poor sleep we decided to move into the saloon and sleep there. At first with a lee cloth to keep us from falling off the bench, but again we did not sleep very well like this. Then we remembered that we still had the board to increase the salon sofa size to a small double bed. That was our solution for a better sleep. The bed was a little bigger, we couldn’t fall out and somehow it felt more steady. In the centre of the boat the shaking was a little smoother and the noises were also less than in the back of the boat.

our salon including our new bed solution, cosy isn’t it? ok I should have made the bed before taking the picture but …I didn’t, sorry. in the lower right corner is El Capitanos arm, even while sitting he’s holding himself to the sink

Somehow the days went by quite fast. Apart from the normal daily life, like cooking, cleaning the dishes, baking bread, checking the sail, wind vane … we loved napping, reading books, listening to podcasts or just watching the waves and hoping to see some dolphins. Not only the night watches but especially the ham radio calls at certain times gave us a welcoming structure for the day. There is e.g. a so called “intermar net” call everyday at 10 am UTC. If I remember right Norbert was able to listen and talk with the guys up to around half time point. Even when it was not possible anymore to actually communicate with them via radio, they were still following and sending us very informative weather reports via email to our winlink account. El Capitano on the other side send every morning our position report, which a lot of you guys followed very eagerly, we heard after our arrival 😊. We very much appreciated that so many of you were interested in our progress of the crossing. It feels good on a big ocean knowing that people are caring. Thank you!

we were listening to the intermar net, still wearing jumpers – it was still at the beginning of our crossing


Maybe around 800 nm before arrival we were able to receive the American SSCA/KPK radio net. They welcomed us and offered their help if needed and also escorted us until we set our anchor here in Grenada. One day Norbert didn’t call because he was asleep. The next day he radioed, they were already missing us and a bit worried, because they didn’t here anything. What a great feeling to know we were looked after! Though the best part for me was the possibility to keep in contact with the family and some friends via winlink email. Writing emails and of course receiving them really kept me going through my night watches. In fact I was looking forward to it. Often I needed 2 hours just writing them, due to checking and sometimes adjusting the sail as well as the wind vane but also because our keypad is a nightmare. I know I’m a terribly slow typer but this keypad is just useless. I hardly typed one word right… but then again it didn’t matter as time was not an issue😉. Of course it was even better to receive emails. News and support from the far away world. That was always entertaining but also sometimes soothing. I do not know what causes it but somehow, when it is getting dark, sometimes the see looks more dangerous, the waves are much higher and the whole night appears more unfriendly than in day light. Then it’s time to read an email coming from family or from some dear sailor friends who already crossed the ocean a couple of times. They knew exactly how we felt and what it was like being on the big ocean in a nutshell compared to the size of it.They told us in advance what would happen, that made us feel more comfortable and confident. Fortunately I did not have such frightening thoughts often, so most of the time I could enjoy the mails as entertaining ones. 😊

our first fish, a 2,5 kg MahiMahi just in time for our half time point party

After finishing the emails the real fun part started. It was not like just pushing the send button, no! I had to transmit the emails via ham radio in combination with a pactor modem. Yeah! So I had to activate the ham radio and pactor. Then I needed to find a station not in Europe (don’t ask me why) which was free and happy to transmit our mails. That felt a bit like being in an old movie. Earphones plugged in switching the channels and listening to find a free station. Fortunately I had help from the computer finding stations which were possible to use. Still somedays it took an hour to find a station to send (and receive) emails, sometimes it only took minutes. However it was always exciting and fun. Often, by the time I was ready 3 hours of my watch had already passed. Some more checking and additionally watching a movie or reading a book (not very often as I got easily very tired) and my watch was done.

half time!!!! it doesn’t look shaky at all, but it was

Our first goal, reaching the half time point felt really good. We planned and had our little half way celebration. A beautiful MahiMahi was so kind to hold on tight to our lure, so that we eventually got a fish aboard. Perfectly in time for our party😁. We dressed up nicely, made a delicious ceviche from the willing MahiMahi and treated us with a cold (though non alcoholic) beer. Caribbean music and some flowers made us dancing around and enjoying our little party. Ok, we were not really dancing as it was already so shaky but still we had a lot of fun and only around 1500nm to go.

sargassum seaweed

The next days went by as the days before. Soon after our successful bite, we caught our last dolphin. The trouble was that slowly, my guess was due to the increasingly warmer water, there was a loooooot of sargassum seaweed floating at the surface. Since then, it was not possible to fish anymore. We tried but we only caught the weed and even lost a lure. So we decided not to bother to fish anymore, which was a pity. It was a bummer! I was pretty annoyed, but what could we do? Of course it was not really important as we had enough food aboard (and still have). The only bigger issue we had on our trip was the fact that we lost a screw on our wind vane. And as we did not have a spare (M12) screw in our spare part department we could just hope that the vane would hold on with only one side fixed. It did for around another week. It was at my watch (of course in the middle of the night) when I saw, that the part where the screw was missing was almost broken and very loose. For safety and reachable reasons I had to wake up poor El Capitano and interrupt his sweet dreams. He was fast awake and checked on the problem. It turned out to be a fatigue breakage. In the middle of the night we (I meant to say Norbert) couldn’t do much to get it going again. Fortunately we could use our electrical autopilot, which also did a very good job despite the big waves and the strong winds. (Yesterday we talked to an English boat owner who did the crossing as well. Their autopilot was not strong enough in the big waves and they had to hand-steer almost the whole way. OMG!) El Capitano, or better El Mecánico found a solution within the next day to get our wind vane going again. I was (and am) very proud of my crew! Some more adjustments here and there and after two days it worked as trusting as before. (The autopilot would have done the same job, but we saved a lot of power not using it.)

the broken part of the wind vane

Our next milestone was the “only 1000 nm to go” point. After that goal the days went by in a blink (almost). A few dolphins said hello here and there, the wind stayed steady most of the time and suddenly we only had less than 300 nm to sail. That was the start we slowly got extremely excited. I do not know why but suddenly we couldn’t wait to arrive anymore. We counted, it felt like every single mile. In my night watch before the last one, I got really upset because for a couple of hours the wind decreased. We were so slow that we only made like 2,5 to 3,5 knots. I was calculating, that with this pace we would need instead of two days, 4 days to arrive. Horror! Imagine that! I couldn’t stand it! I was complaining in my mails and trying to get in contact with the goddess of wind, begging her to send the wind back. Surprisingly enough it helped. The wind got stronger again and Altimate could catch up her speed like before. What a relief.

the longed-for land in sight

The best morning of this trip was definitely the last one. A beautiful sun rise and the knowledge that we will soon be able to see land and ARRIVE was just a spectacular feeling. And then we spotted it, tiny but we could see it, yayayayayay. Grenada with its belonging islands. I can very much recommend this feeling, it is a very nice one 😉. The last 50 miles were of course very exciting. A little bit of fishing as the seagrass suddenly disappeared (though we could only get two in, unfortunately barracudas, which we let go because of the possibility of fish poisoning ciguatera), watching the island come closer, seeing some boats including other humans and finally sailing down the westside of the beautiful island, made the last part very entertaining. Thursday 11.Feb. 2021 local time 3:30 pm we set anchor at the quarantine anchorage area in front of St. George’s, Grenada

the proud Altimate crew

Since yesterday, Monday, after another neg. Covid test and cleared customs we are officially checked in to Grenada. Now we are free to explore the island! Yeah!

15 thoughts on “Crossing an Ocean – We did it!

  1. Angelika Schwickrath

    Herzlichen Glückwunsch ihr Beiden, dass habt ihr ja hervorragend gemeistert und könnt zu recht stolz auf euch sein, genießt die Insel. Liebe Grüße Angelika

    Like

  2. Juanita van Tonder

    You made it!! Congratulations Sabine and Norbert. It was so interesting to finally read your blog on the crossing. I was thinking of you so often and loved checking on your progress every few days and seeing the little dots carry further and further across the Atlantic. Have a wonderful time exploring Granada and being back on terra firma. Sending lots of love 💗

    Like

  3. Laurence Abney

    A fantastic story and journey. What an achievement, La Rochelle seems so long ago and I recall our conversations about crossings the Atlantic Ocean.

    Like

      1. All good here as well … not been at La Rochelle since … Aug 2020 … for a short trip …. we hope to have open borders between BE & Fr … in some months from now … and have some beers & catch up with Patrick, Lynn, Helmut & Joaquina …. Need to wait … 🙂 Take care & kind regards. 😉 ….

        Like

  4. Eamon Crosbie

    Well done guys. Sabine, Your mail was a great read and you both can be very proud of your achievements. Sounds like you guys always had things under control and well done Norbert for fixing the windvane. I followed you every day from the time you left Las Palmas and I always looked at the wind files to see what conditions you were experiencing. It must be nice to not be rolling heavily these days. You are now, I guess, enjoying a well deserved relaxing time on Grenada . Congratulations again and I’m looking forward to following your continuing blogs. Safe travels and stay healthy. Eamon s/v Pamela

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s