Adina departed the Brazilian island of Fernando de Noronha on Sunday 19th February. Ahead lay 2020 nautical miles, crossing the equator and the dreaded ITCZ (Intertropical Convergence Zone) into the northern hemisphere to face the north-east trade winds. The target is Grenada and hopefully the completion of our circumnavigation.
The South Atlantic from Cape Town had been some of the best ocean sailing we have ever experienced. Winds from behind, calm seas, days of flying the spinnaker, it was just bliss. Sadly, that was no more. As we left Fernando de Noronha the equatorial belt was already reaching out with its menacing claws and delivered its first squall and rain shower. The ITCZ which hovers north and south of the equator is where the north-east trade winds of the northern hemisphere meet the south-east trade winds of the southern hemisphere. The area is characterized by a mixture of doldrums, squalls, big towering clouds, rain, no wind, lots of wind. Its movement is hard to predict and sailors want to be through it as fast as possible, firstly due to the lack of sailing wind but more so because of the sinister black squalls.
Added to this you need to decide on your approach for sailing up to the Caribbean considering the north-east trade winds you will experience in the northern hemisphere. You either shoot straight across on a direct rhumb line that allows a more comfortable angle on the wind or you chase the current that follows the South American coast which can give you a boost heading north-west. This current, running at up to two knots, makes for a swifter crossing but it also means you will sail at a higher angle to the north-east trade winds. The other risk of the in-shore route is that you have wind coming from the north-east and current flowing north so you face lumpy seas.
Many have asked us why we don’t sail straight back to England. It is the angle that we would be sailing at against the north-east trade winds that decided it for us. You face sailing close-hauled upwind in big open seas in winds that can be strong. Very few do it, the vast majority cross to the Caribbean and then cross back to Europe from there later in the season. And hey, that means you get to sample a few rum punches on your way through!
We had learnt in Madagascar and South Africa that chasing current can be a good thing. The question was what would the north-east trade winds do? If they were more northerly it could be a disaster to be following the current, more easterly and it would be great. We spoke to those who had sailed this route before, read various accounts and spoke to a few South African skippers who regularly deliver yachts on this route. The vote on Adina was to chase the current and with the winds being forecast to be bang on north-east we duly set off following the current to the Brazil coast before turning more north-west.
Sailing just south of the equator the squalls weren’t too bad and we even enjoyed two outdoor fresh showers. It saves water and it’s invigorating. It is a little funny as you have to make sure there will be enough rain to have a good wash and rinse the bubbles away so you sit looking at the clouds and the rain coming on the water. Sometimes it’s easy to predict heavy showers, sometimes not! With the current in our favour we were able to keep sailing for quite a while before having to motor through patches of the doldrums. Given we’d estimated we might be motoring for three to four days and actually motored only eighteen hours, we were pleased.
We crossed the equator and offered Neptune a drink of Bruichladdich Islay malt whisky and one of Susie’s boat-made cookies, thanking him for the good winds we’d had and asking for good winds ahead. In hindsight, Neptune was clearly in a bad mood that day. It was a waste of good whisky and a delicious cookie.
As we entered the northern hemisphere, the clouds increased in intensity, the days were grey and the squalls started to roll in. We hit the trade winds and they soon increased in intensity. Winds that should have been on the beam were generally 60-70 degrees off our bow. And the seas were two metres high which, combined with the current, meant the sea-state was definitely on the rough side. While it was not all ugly, it certainly wasn’t pretty. One night we sat with wind strength in the mid-twenties, squall after squall hitting us the whole night, the wind a deafening roar as we sailed upwind. Waves would crash against the side of Adina and every now and then one would come smashing over into the back of the cockpit. Why, oh why? Our last leg and we were going to have to work hard at it. Don’t think about the finish line, focus on the here and now.
In our favour, Adina is a boat that sails well to windward; any skipper will tell you they fear for their boat in these situations, the strains and creaking as the boat is pushed, but Adina stood solid and just kept pushing through the seas. We could no longer sit together in the cockpit as we normally do during the day; one would stay up on watch and one would rest down below. We always pre-cook our meals for passage and it was paying dividends.
Finally, after three days some respite! The winds eased and went more east. It was a real release of tension, Adina demanded more sail and we raced on. As for the current, it came and went, it never did anything special, perhaps it’s the luck of the draw.
We have 645 nautical miles to go to Grenada which means we’re just over two-thirds of the way from Fernando de Noronha. We’re well ahead of schedule and with Susie’s parents flying into Grenada we’ve decided it would be bad form to pick them up at the airport rather than them seeing us arrive as planned so we will stop in Tobago. Friends Donal and Sarah with their boys Ted and Robert from yacht Millport II with whom we enjoyed sharing our North Atlantic crossing have taken up residence in Grenada and we’re positively excited to see them too.
We hope to make Tobago on Thursday night. Unfortunately, Neptune is still being a grump, the winds and more so the sea state are due to pick up once more on Wednesday. We’re going to have to work hard at closing that gap.