New Year’s Party on Deck – Boom, Batten, Boom !
Updated: Mar 9
As always there is something to tell!
We enjoyed Las Palmas, its busy port, accessible anchorage and an interesting old and new town. Despite its attractions we set off pretty soon.
Nine hundred miles south lie the Cape Verde islands, which provided a refreshing difference with its African feel. Palmeira, on Sal, was fun. It’s a small fishing port, scruffy and lively. The most joyous Cape Verde music in the port entertained us all day long. We’d love to be back to feel its rich and intoxicating vibes again.
Pete took me on the worst walk ever: five hours, sun beating at us, with no tree in sight, no place to rest or hide. A parched stony soil strewn by rubbish all along on a busy asphalt road. We arrived at some little port, with abandoned ships and a crater on a hilltop, now a salt plain. We stopped for a picnic. In return I torture him with some dubious local restaurants cuisine a few times!
The next stop was on Brava, which was one of the most memorable places we visited so far and a definite highlight of our 6 months cruise. Approaching Brava, heavily reefed in 25 knots of wind, amidst a very rough sea, we spotted a small open boat that suddenly disappeared in the trough of the waves. I could not believe my eyes when among the glistering seas I spotted yet another one - with two men, fishing. I wondered how anyone could go out in such a small boat in those seas, but Brava boatmen were in demand in the past by American whalers from New Bedford, renowned for their boat handling skills. We could see why.
Around a headland, still some way off, we anchored, relieved, in the totally flat calm Tantum Bay, Some 300 metres high cliffs surrounded us, with a barely visible village perched up on a ridge top. A steep pebble beach was awash with swell, on its upper part nearly 30 boats were laid up. We were amazed by their thin planking, basic oars lashings and ingenuity of their ‘fridges’.
I spent days totally absorbed observing the hardships of the fisherman's life in Tantum Bay. The sense of remoteness and authenticity was overwhelming, a palpable beauty of the simple and harsh fisherman’s existence. They laboured hard from dawn till dusk with rudimentary nets and simple techniques, trolling, casting nets, rowing, diving, pulling, but catching some big fish. On return, at least five men were needed to haul out the boat on a stoney beach. In scorching sunshine, heavily loaded with a fish in the buckets on their heads, the men would steadily climb a precarious zig zag path, struggling up to the village. And so did we, sweating, panting, resting - without any load. Everything they needed (fuel, water, nets, tools, outboards) had to be transported on their backs and heads. The parched barren land with some abandoned terraces in the distance could give no sustenance. No man could easily survive here alone.
Our Atlantic crossing started with a blast, we flew along, with a force 6 NE wind occasionally gusting to force 7 in frequent squalls. We did just over 1000 miles in the first 7 days. On Christmas day Kokachin clocked 4000 miles and on NY Eve 5000. All was looking good until Pete got a high temperature following my special Christmas lunch and was in bed, indisposed. What a shock. I was dismayed and then worried to say the least, when I discovered that we only had 5 valid paracetamols on board - all other boxes were 2 or 5 years out of date and the new medicines I bought in Las Palmas - were of no use. So I plied him with teas, essential oils, massages, cool compresses and sweet talks - while most of the time he just slept. I held a fort for a day, very worried, 1000 miles away from our destination. By the next day Pete was out of bed, his temperature back to normal, panic over - all my quackery worked.
We decided to celebrate NY when I got up for my watch at 1am. A continuous whooshing sound woke me up, I felt the boat flying along so I got up to see what was going on. As we were sailing very fast I asked Pete to reef. Ever so accommodating, he said: “Of course”. Once on deck he said: “The batten broke”. I screamed in disbelief: “Batten broke!?” Repeating it a few times.
Linda: Last NYE we danced to the Band Aid music till dawn. This NY party started on deck at daylight with Pete clambering over the deck, back rail and davits to lash the sail. No band and no aid, we were on our own. To say I was scared does it no justice. With us both clipped on to the boat, I held onto his body, not sure why or what I would do while he was precariously hanging onto nothing to tie up, madly banging sail bundle. An occasional look at the sea to absorb the reality of the situation provided no respite as the force 6 was blowing, and a big swell and seas (persistent for the whole crossing) were with us. The boat was rolling like mad with aft quarter seas, but below one could not feel much of it. I was sliding in the cockpit with nothing to stop me, or to hold onto, tiller banging around, trying to steer with handy billy, safety harnesses tripping us… Pandemonium. Pete meanwhile jumped over, under, across and wherever - seemingly understanding what was going on, bringing it all under control. We worked on it all day, utterly exhausted and disheartened when one thing after another kept going wrong. To the very end I could not relax as I continuously worried about some other disaster befalling us. Once below, Pete said: “Things like this happen. This was nothing as bad as when losing a rudder in force 10 off Staten Island on China Moon”. I did not want to know! On arrival I hugged Pete then the Wind Vane - they brought us across safely!
Neptune: Rewinding the film we think the batten probably broke earlier on in the night after an involuntary gybe. At dawn we discovered that the top sheeted batten on the main sail was badly bent (not in 2 pieces yet) which meant we could not remove it from the sail. We tied out the broken batten to the next panel down. This caused a big strain on the sail as when we restarted sailing, some tabs ripped out. It was much too rough at sea to attempt a repair so we lowered the sail. However in the process the main sheet wiped out the wind-vane!
The thought of hand steering for the next week prompted me to quickly repair a wind-vane. A few hours later it was steering us again and it worked well to the very end. We carried on under foresail alone with not much loss in speed, but more rolling. Only 850 miles to go. From then on the wind eased a bit but it still gave us a good run of 100-120 miles a day. We arrived in Tobago, Charlotteville after 15.5 days at 1am in the morning.
It was disappointing to finally make it across and find a dishearteningly few Happy New Year messages. I would love to hear from you and I sincerely mean it. Please write to me however short it might be.
Thank you to all you who got in touch. Apologies for not responding yet. As expected, finding a signal, WiFi, suitable time and location is proving a challenge.
Vibrant Tobago Regards!