All sailors know that new sounds and noise that appears all of a sudden seldom is something good! Well, there was a clear noise coming from the autopilot area and the steering wheel on the port side. The hydraulic pump was very warm and vibrated at every “crank” and our worry deepened further. Not much to do so we ensured the wind vane was used as much as possible to ensure that autopilot got some rest. In fact, we used the wind vane much more than the autopilot after this, something both the batteries and the autopilot was thankful for I think!
Anyway, we were still right on schedule for the 14days crossing still. The forecast was very light and as we had a magnificent day with gennaker sailing we headed straight into the becalmed zones. The next day there was absolutely no wind at all and the engine had to be started. However, “never waste a crisis” as many famous leaders have said, we used the day to take a swim! The temperature had risen quite a lot as we headed west and the opportunity to jump in the water was highly appreciated by all! We threw out a safety line, as the current still dragged us westwards with app 1knot, and jumped in the sea. Tinius and I jumped from the front and let us drift back to the safety line many times. The Braekkens did backflips, turns, handstands and whatnot’s, the typical Braekken way of swimming, haha! We all enjoyed the rather unreal feeling of knowing that there was 4000m of water beneath us and nothing else.
The next day, the wind came back, however light. The gennaker didn’t fly properly and if it did, in the total wrong direction. Wing-on-wing only resulted in flapping sails so frustration level was quite high for the captain. Then we tried something new. We hoisted the staysail behind the main while sailing wing-on-wing, hence the main and the staysail on the port side and the genoa on the starboard side. We spread the stay, using the main boom to avoid flapping. This worked magnificently! With a 15-degree wind angle from the starboard side the staysail “fed” wind into the genoa. The flapping stopped and all of a sudden we did 3-5 knots in the very low winds.
This was untouched for 3days after this, just broken by another bathing session. By the way the last request to swim that came from the crew… shortly after we had started to sail again after the swim, Kjetil screams “look there”! On our port side, we see a very distinctive fin. Yeah, it’s a shark! It swam along with us for maybe 10 seconds and no one got the camera up of course, but no doubt, it was a shark, even if it wasn’t one of the big ones. Noone asked to swim after this. But to compensate, we did lower the platform in the back and we could sit there with a safety harness on and dip our feet in the no-longer cold water. Still quite refreshing as long as you remembered to take them out when someone was on the toilet (sorry for that Ingeborg and Marie..)
As we were getting closer to the Caribbean, we started to see the familiar sight of sargasso sea-weed. They started as small patches and in the end fields of 100’s of square meters. This is a fascinating sight as they represent more or less a total eco-systems with crabs, prawns and fish living in and beneath them. They grow in the water, with no connection to the bottom or ground whatsoever. They smell like a fishery when you pass them though. Speaking of smells.. One night during the night watch I was certain a whale was around us. You can often smell whales, as they have a very bad breath when they blow out. At the end of my watch, there was a distinct smell and as I was alone in the cockpit I assumed it was a whale ad started to try to listen and look for it, but with no luck! Kjetil came out shortly after, despite still 30minutes until his watch. Long story short, Kjetil was “the whale” and was thrown out of the cabin by Ingeborg! I think Tinius still laughs about this today.
The ssb radio net was fantastic during the crossing. Still, I’m very much an amateur on the radion but we managed to connect with the other boats with radio every day. It’s really good to be able to communicate with other boats, even when out of VHF range. To discuss the weather, sail configurations and dolphin sightings are good when disconnected from the rest of the world. Very happy that Sjur and Elin lent us the radio for this adventure.
We were now approaching the end of the crossing and the sound from the steering had worsened even more. However, one morning I came out to take over the watch Kjetil said he was sure the noise came from the port steering wheel and not the autopilot. When the light was good enough we dismantled the compass on top of the steering pedestal to access the steering chain, and there we saw it clearly. One of the chain parts had jammed and didn’t bend as it entered or exited the steering and the result was a cranking noise and vibration that went all the way down to the autopilot. We lubed the whole thing with good old fashioned grease, very carefully as the autopilot had to be engaged while doing it. The sound was dampened, and as the chain loosened went away totally! The relief was tremendous, especially with the captain.
The distance to Saint Lucia reduced itself rapidly as the wind came back and we went back to the traditional sail set-ups. As we were not in the official race anymore we had not been very worried about our performance, but we clearly said that we wanted to be at least 24hours before the next monohull over the crossing line, ensuring we were the fastest boat before TCF and motoring time correction was done. This sharpened our competitive edge again and we sailed very well in the end. The plan to get to Saint Lucia in the morning disappeared when we realised we could be there already in the evening before. And so we did, we sailed towards the finish line in very light winds in the dark. The photographer came out and took the pictures while we still tried to spot the finishing line. As in 2017, the captain was a bit too eager and made the tack a bit too early, so a second tack had to be done, but then we were done, we crossed the finish line, screamed in joy, hugged each other and knew we had crossed an ocean! The feeling was tremendous as we talked to the ARC people on the radio and got instructions on where to dock. With the new rules, we had to go to a quarantine dock and wait to be tested the next morning, as we, by a miracle, would get corona in the middle of the ocean. But we got a very nice welcome from the ARC crew and enjoyed an “ankerdram” or two so much that Ingeborg at one time even stood on her head!
What an experience and what a crew! Jill, Tinius, Kjetil,Ingeborg, Marie and myself had crossed and ocean together and were even better friends now than before. Now we were ready for the Caribbean adventure!