sailing - crossing the Atlantic

Published: May 29th 2013
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I switched to another boat in Mindelo. It was a 40’ sloop from the 1970’s, very old and not really maintained. I found out that as long as you have some kind of sail and can point the boat, the wind will pretty much blow you across and you will hit the Caribbean no matter what. It’s one of the easiest ocean crossings in the world. It’s just a matter of how fast you want to get across. If you want a nice and calm easy sail and not too fast, stay between the 12th and 14th parallel. If you want a faster and rougher ride, go anywhere between 15th and 17th. Below the 12th, you risk not having much wind and be stuck at sea for too long, unless you have ample supplies. Above 18th, you might run into violent storms. The boat I was on was a total piece of crap and we went from the 14th to the 17th and then back down to the 16th and it still took a bit longer than usual: 16 days and 18 hours. The maximum speed it could go was 7.8 knots and we sailed mostly around 6-7 knots. We maxxed around 8.5 when the boat was surfing on waves at one point.

I sailed with a French family of 3 and the 10 year old had a pet monkey that they bought on Santiago, Cape Verde. It was a 1½ month old green monkey (Chlorocebus sabaeus) and we had to change its diapers everyday. Apparently, the western islands of Cape Verde are infested with these monkeys that were introduced from Africa and which behave like an invasive species. There are programs to exterminate them entirely from Cape Verde but when they come across female babies, they keep them to sell to tourists (as females are less aggressive).

We left Mindelo on Dec 27 at 9:30am. As we passed through the islands, the wind was 25 knots with gusts of up to 35 and there were very large swells, but once we passed the islands, the wind was under 20 knots. The winds varied between 15 to 25 knots for the whole trip except toward the end, and the weather was mostly cloudy and rainy. The Captain radioed everyday and we saw other boats but no one responded probably because they didn’t understand French. Finally, on Day 5, we got a response in French but they didn’t have more updated weather forecast. We got another response on Day 9 from an English boat and they told us to be careful as there was a race of 200 rowboats around somewhere and it was nighttime and pitch black.

We caught a lot of dorados and one tuna. I de-finned and gutted one of them. It was amazing how the dorado’s colour of bright shiny yellow would begin to fade as soon as it started dying. Good thing we caught fish because there wasn't quite enough food on board. We had raw dorado with lemon, vinegar, oil and herbs and it was so delicious. The most exciting part of the trip was the 6-meter whale that kept going around us and under us. It was dark grey with a white belly and a very small pointy dorsal fin.

The winds reduced speed as we neared the Caribbean and the last 4-5 days saw us sailing 5-6 knots, even down to 4 sometimes. We did a mix of motoring and sailing to get to Guadeloupe.

Over 200 sailboats and over 1200 people cross the Atlantic with ARC every year. This plus all the individual sailboats crossing, I would estimate that about 1000 boats sail east to west across the Atlantic every year with about 5000 people involved (more if you include west to east), but I wonder how many among them can say that they sailed across the Atlantic with a baby monkey? I heard from the family later that the authorities in Guadeloupe took the monkey away as its papers were not in proper order.


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