Christmas in the Caribbean

Written by Mia

We arrived safely in Barbados and then it might seem as if we fell off the planet. We moved from one rather exposed marina where we cleared customs (called the Shallow Draught) to an inner city marina (called the Careenage) with lots of life where we were surrounded by lots of Christmas trees and lots of boats with our friends from the rally. Thanks to Terry and Andy for help checking in and out of the country and teaching us how things work in Barbados. It was lovely to spend some time together at Pirates Cove playing in the sea and letting the island pace wash over us. I think we are getting the hang of it! We said some hard good byes, Kevin and Tina left us on the 21st and Sta Vast the next day.

We made the most of the water connection of the Careenage and washed everything in galley so that we protected it all from the salt water washing of the crossing. We also filled up with water and took down our fancy dress overall and got ready to move Itchy Foot again with just the three of us. It was special to have the lift up bridge open for us, lots of locals watching and taking video of us.

We anchored just outside the Yacht Club, where Jon signed us up for a visiting yacht membership. We used their beach and their showers and ate lunch on the beach under the May Ho trees surrounded by bright yellow banana quit birds. Teo and I made Christmas decorations for Itchy Foot, she looked so fancy!

There were pine cones from Teide and sand dollars from the Pirates Cove, so something from each end of the crossing. And we made enough for all the boats in the anchorage and we put on our Santa hats and delivered them by dinghy on Christmas day. Later we met our friends for potluck on the beach, complete with sword fish done on the Cobb bbq (ooh how I wish Santa would have brought us a Cobb!) and a Christmas ham and smashed potatoes ala Kevin and lots of yummy salads and a dessert table. A fun time was had by all, the adults chatted and had seconds and even thirds. The kids ran around and played on the beach and made a club in a tree house and had water fights and such. It was a perfect day!

Then we went to the races on Boxing Day, that was very exciting! They even moved the gate and we got to see a couple of starts right in front us. It was a lot of fun!

We have explored Barbados, a little anyway, and would like to thank the island and its people for a wonderful welcome to the Caribbean! And now it is time to go to Martinique, I wonder if I have time to learn French…

Day 22: Safe and sound

At about 9am on the 18th of December we arrived safe, sound and happy into Barbados.

Beach, beer, rum punch, swimming in the sea, surfing, pot-luck parties, kids running wild, tales from the ocean. You get the idea… more to follow.

Day 21: Guest post from Kevin

Itchy Foot Log

I am Kevin Bourgeois (64) retired pharmacist. The ‘old man’ on board Itchy Foot. Fortunately (for them) no one called be grandpa. It has been a privilege to sail on board Itchy Foot with Jon, Mia, Teo and Tina (a ‘temp’ like myself). It was a great mix of crew; very dynamic ; always interesting; lots of humour; never boring. I have recently purchased a Hallberg Rassey 40 in Sweden. My trip on Itchy Foot has been invaluable. I have learned so much from Jon and Mia about taking care of this boat. I can not thank you both enough!

Best moments:
-bus tour to the volcano on Tenerife, Canaries
-incredible good vegetarian meals on board. I have never felt so healthy. -‘knuffles’ (a Dutch word. Look it up.)
-watching squalls on the radar
-private car tour of Sao Vincente, Cape Verde, by Felix
-drinking a ‘few’ beer with other sailors at floating pub, Marina Sao Vincente -morning watch with sunrise
-catching 25lb tuna, 8lb mahi mahi and 6lb mahi mahi
-beautiful weather
-generator; watching Jon get the generator to work and the logic he used to solve the problem. -meeting lots of interesting people; Stuart, Jeff (2), etc.
-sailing across the Atlantic in an informal fleet of 4 boats: Itchy Foot, Freja, Gorm Den Gamle and Anyway; usually within sight. -regular radio chats with the boat s above.
-Yorkshire Gold Tea (identical to Red Rose Tea in Canada)
-using Iridium satellite email
-while cleaning in the galley one evening a flying fish came through the porthole, hit me in the glasses and landed in the dishwater. I quickly rescued him and threw him overboard.
-despite the turbulent wave pattern Itchy Foot handled very well; has good feel on the wheel

So-So Moments:
-cleaning the tuna on the back deck. I was on my hands and knees, on a slippery deck, sliding towards Jon with a very sharp knife pointed in his direction. Note to self: Rethink Risk Management Policy/Procedures on fish cleaning on a bouncing wet deck.
-we noticed, too late, the battle between the melons and the papaya as they rolled around in the fruit netting. The melons won and it was not a split decision.
-cooking in the galley while the boat gets slammed on the side by rogue waves. However, I do have a better appreciation for the HR galley design!

People who venture on voyages like this are living the dreams of other people.

Day 20: Finding a boat to crew

Guest post by Tina

In the marinas which are typically the last stop before an ocean crossing you’ll find hopeful people running up and down the pontoons trying to find a boat that needs an extra pair of hands, and there’ll be “crew available” notes hanging at the entrance. This last minute approach to a sailing adventure might end up as a sailing nightmare. Being in a hurry and not having a lot of options makes it easy to board the first boat that accept your request. One girl I met told me she had done this; the boat was leaving in 10 minutes when she approached them, they said yes, she thought “they seem nice enough” and jumped onboard. 30 minutes out sailing she regretted being so spontaneous. The people were not mean, but you just can’t get along with everyone. Lucky for her, this was “just” a 5 day sail. When we met her in the Cape Verdes, she was looking for a boat to cross the Atlantic with. She had learned her lesson, so she was very careful and had a lot of options before she happily d ecided to trust the good vibes she felt for a Spanish catamaran.

An other way to do it is to find a boat online that is seeking crew members. This way you have a lot of options for departure date, departure harbor and you can chat with several boats before making up your mind. Some of my friends thought it was a bit crazy that I found a random boat online to cross an ocean with. But the Wright family and I had had a Skype date already and we both felt a good energy in the conversation and agreed that I could come along as crew to the Caribbean.

However, having a 30 minutes video chat vs spending weeks stuck together in a very limited area in the middle of the ocean, can show totally different personality traits. If you happen to be unlucky with your crossing company you can’t simply go for a walk or a run to clear your mind, the furthest you get is to the bow or aft deck.
Luckily for the 5 of us onboard Itchy Foot we all get along well and we do our best for the boat and its inhabitants to be happy.

Stating the obvious; as a boat accepting crew you run the same risks plus some more. Did the new crew run away from home and have their parents reported them missing? (Read: sisters crewing on a boat in Cape Verde). Well, that one might be rather rare, but you hear a lot of stories in floating marina bars. Anyway, you are inviting total strangers to stay with you in your floating home with no (legal) way to kick them out for some weeks. On the other hand, I don’t think this happens too often. People are in general good, travelers have more or less the same mind set and I think we are all doing our best to treat people well on our journey to happiness.

I think I speak for Kevin also when I say that I am so so pleased to have ended up with being a crew member at Itchy Foot. Teo, Mia and Jon are wonderful, and they made us feel like home from the very first day. We all do thank you’s and please’s and appreciate the effort of the day’s chef, which is important. It’s literally not a walk in the park to have galley duty.

Day 19: 150 miles a day, fast and slow

Normally, we manage about 130-150 miles a day (24h). But it’s not distributed evenly over that time, we go faster in the daylight and slower at night: we slow for squalls.

During the day, the sun heats up the equatorial Atlantic very efficiently, being almost directly overhead. Right now the sea temperature is about 23C, not bad for the open ocean. All of that heat causes the water to evaporate during the day, causing huge thunders clouds to form. At night the air cools and all that water comes back down again as very small tropical rain storms, or squalls as they are called.

Under a squall you get wet and the wind speed picks up considerably, we’ll go from 15 mph of wind to 30 in less than a minute, and potentially stronger winds we’ve not experienced yet.

To prepare for this we reduce the size of the mainsail at night, making it much smaller than during the day. The head sail, the one at the front, we leave full sized knowing that it can be quickly and easily reduced by one person without leaving the safety of the cockpit when a squall hits.

Thankfully, squalls are fairly easy to spot if you are paying attention. On very dark nights, without the moon, then we also track them on radar. Also, we also call up other members of the fleet if we notice one approaching, a night time squall network on VHF.

So given that we only get squalls once or twice a night and they last only 30 minutes or so, we spend much of the night going more slowly than we would like, without much sail up. The good news is that everyone in the fleet has the same tactic so, one the whole it has been fairly easy to stay together.

In other news, we did 130 miles yesterday (we slowed down to let the others catch up) and we are hoping for an arrival in Barbados on Sunday morning. Also, the sea was a little calmer today, still rolling around but less so. Still no dolphin sights, I pray for some soon, lest there be mutiny.

Day 18: The Daily Stuff

Ooooooh, I would love to tell you all about the dolphins we saw… the jumping and the playing… but we didn’t… so instead, I’ll paint you a little picture of what happens in Itchy Foot’s galley (that is Boat for kitchen).

Even though we did a lot of cooking ahead of time, preparing for and cleaning up after meals takes up a lot of our day. Our “kitchen space” consists of two burners over a stove that gimbles (rocks back and forth to counteract the waves) and a small counter space (that is either a cover over that stove or a little square over the lid to our top loading fridge). And to use the space to the fullest, you have to plan well, or spend lots of time moving stuff from one place to another and back again. It took some time to get used to this before we even slipped lines and left Palma. This crossing is that process on steroids! Everything is moving, so you have hold onto things the whole time. Have you ever seen Mary Poppins when the military man next door shoots off the cannon and everyone holds on to stuff or tries to grab it as it goes flying past? It’s a lot like that. We have a few non stick silicon mats to keeps things like sharp knives and full bowls from sliding onto the floor
and hurting someone or making a mess. But it is safest to always hold on to everything, at all times, so it’s a good thing I had those extra arms fitted!

Oh, yeah! And all the drawers and lockers have locks you twist to open them. It’s a good idea to make sure they click shut. A gnarly wave (you can take the girl out of Cali…) bashed us from the side sending our cutlery drawer across the boat. As I sat on the floor gathering it all up, I was really glad for two things, 1. Tina was on watch, so she wasn’t sleeping in the line of fire and 2. It wasn’t the drawer full of knives and other sharp things.

After the meal the washing up is done all by hand and it takes a lot longer. And now it takes even longer again because we wash in salt water so that we have enough fresh water to last us all the way across. So, before we wash up, someone fills a five liter bottle from the sea using a fire hose and haul it down to the sink. In our safety brief before we left, we were told horror stories of people being pulled overboard when they dropped a bucket over to gather some water, so that was not an option. Anyway, we wash the dishes with soap and the salt water, then we rinse with salt water and then we rinse again with a little fresh water. Then we dry everything and put it away so that it doesn’t fall and break or use up precious space. We keep all food scraps and throw them over the side and the garbage goes in the anchor locker. As we start using the bottled water test is stored there, we can fit in more garbage bags. Once all of that is done, it’s almost time for the next meal.

So, can I sail the boat? Well, I am getting better at cooking a meal in the galley!

Oh, remind me to tell you why I rigged the toilet seat yesterday. See, now you wish we had seen dolphins, too!

BTW another 145 nautical miles yesterday and we are pleased! And we just broke 500, only 495 nautical miles to Barbados! Please keep your fingers crossed that the forecasted lull in the wind on Friday doesn’t happen…

Day 17: Confusion in the Atlantic

The Atlantic crossing from the Canaries to the Caribbean is known as a ‘downhill’ route. Downhill in this context signifies that it is somewhat ‘easy’ with the wind and the waves coming from behind the vast majority of the time.

But when is the right time to go? The smart money is either late November or early January, take a look at the table below…

June – October : Too early, hurricanes in the Caribbean.
November – December : Light winds and longer crossing but longer in the Caribbean. January – February : Good trade winds for crossing, but less time in Caribbean. March – May : you have to leave shortly after arriving to avoid hurricanes.

In November and December you have a higher chance of too little wind, as the trade winds are not fully established yet, and this is why so many of the boats in the Odyssey suffered from low or no winds while we were in the Cape Verdes. The last few days in the Cape Verdes we were just waiting for the winds to improve before leaving.

And the good news is we have great wind for sailing, the bad news is that we have really CONFUSED SEAS. A confused sea is one where the waves come from more than one direction and often have a short wave length, distance between waves.

The sea we would hope for on this sort of crossing is a nice, long, slow ocean swell.

What we’re suffering from on this crossing is short, pointy, choppy sea from behind us and every few minutes a set of three rollers which come from the side. Boats really don’t like taking waves on the side and these rollers have the effect of sending us swaying and also push our nose off up wind causing the head sail to back and flap.

If you are sitting up on deck, or safely laying in bed then these waves aren’t too much of a bother, (except when they are very extreme and launch everything and everyone into a corner). And worst case if you have short legs and can’t brace yourself then you’ll constantly holding on, which gets very tiring. However, if you are trying to make dinner or even just move around down below decks the side waves can send you spinning. Leading to dropped food, spilled drinks, bumps, bruises and the opportunity for Teo to learn a few more ‘Adult Words’.

So far, touch wood, no major bangs and Teo seems to be handling it well. But it’s rather like being in a two week long continuous pilates class. And where are all the dolphins?! A few little visits would be a good reward for the workouts.

In other news 150 miles in the last 24h and someone said something about an ETA of the 18th but I couldn’t possibly comment on that.

Day 16: Milestones

Please indulge us another journal type post… from yesterday; Jon and I celebrated an anniversary on December 10th, 11 years since the first kiss! Ok, stop gagging! The only reason I brought it up is that Tina and Kevin very generously took our watches and we got a movie date and a full night’s sleep. That was so very generous and considerate, a huge thanks! So there, a really nice milestone!

We had two of our buddy boats at such close range that we could hear each other shouting! In the middle of the Atlantic, which is some sort of record!

In the morning at 9:40 we crossed the halfway mark with 999 nautical miles left and also into triple digits! Another milestone for us!

At noon every day we plot our progress on our paper chart and we clocked 158 nautical miles and we weren’t even pushing ourselves… milestone!

We caught a mahi-mahi for dinner and unfortunately have run out of potatoes for Kevin’s world famous mash, maybe if one of the other boats ahead of us could drop a couple in the water, we could just scoop them up in a net? Jon made chocolate ice cream for desert from scratch, using our offline copy of Wikipedia to figure out how to freeze it quickly with ice and salt.

And special congratulations to the Atlantic Odyssey boats who arrived in Barbados already – really hope we’ll see some of them when we finally make it! I was hoping to meet the adorable kids who live on Jo-Jo and of course we are hurrying to pick up some Sta Vast KNUFFELS before they move on!!

So, now if we could just figure out how to catch a dolphin show, like everyone else, that would be nice 😉

Day 15: Mouths of babes

So, we reached our halfway mark today, roughly 1000 nautical miles to go!

When I told Teo, his response was, “Halfway?! So, we have just as many days left again? I could do that 1000 times!”

That is all 🙂

Day 14: Don’t Fall In: and 100 more useful sailing tips

No, we haven’t had a man (or woman or child) overboard yet *touches wood* this is just the name of a book I’m working on – it’ll be about risk and prevention. As we are past the point where it is easier to continue foreword than to turn back it seems like a good time to talk about our risks and what we do the mitigate them.

BUT, first I want to mention the risk that sent me out here in the first place: the most common death bed regret is “I wish I had spent more time with my kids”.

As Mia and I now spend 36 intense, infuriating, delightful, beautiful hours a day in the company of Teo (and each other) we’re definitely doing something to mitigate that life risk. Yes, there are other ways to be together as a family, but this is the one we picked for now.

Sailing around the coast and quiet little islands is full of risks: falling in the sea, running aground, getting hit by the boom, gas fires, sinking, etc. Thankfully with excellent emergency services the impact of those risks is somewhat reduced. The risks broadly fall into three types: man-overboard, medical and abandoning ship.

Sailing in the open ocean has many of the same risks and also, due to the distance from emergency services, a few more on-top. For example our distance to a hospital can currently be measured in days (about 3 days: one for the container ship to get to us and two more for it to get to within helicopter distance from the shore). A sobering thought.

For medical emergencies and to help mitigate the impact of being so far away from help we carry a very well equipped first aid kit which, our retired pharmacist crew member, Kevin helped stock. Also, before we left Oslo, we took several visits to our GPs and came away armed with over 15 different forms of antibiotics, several prescribed painkillers, anti-psychotics, adrenaline pens and more besides. In addition to the above we also have a satellite phone and access to expert advice on how best to use the above.

For non-medical emergencies, both man-overboard and abandoning ship, we are currently lucky enough to have three other yachts within fifteen minutes of us. This is not something I ever expected to happen crossing the Atlantic, but when we found out that the two Danish kids boats were planning on staying within VHF range (about 20 miles) of each other we decided to tag along. So far it has been surprising easy to keep so close and I know I’m not the only one who finds it reassuring to see three glowing masthead lights around us during the night watches. In the very unlikely event we need to abandon ship we know that others will be there to take us in.

Is the above good enough? I believe so, but I hope we don’t need to find out.

In other news….. Onwards to Barbados, another 150 miles under the keel today.