Continuing notes from the passage… from just beyond the halfway mark. Our crew, Ty, is working on a guest post: what do you want to know about life on Totem from his point of view? Ask in the comments here, or through the Contact form (they’ll both reach us on passage).
This passage has one big routing decision point: where should boats cross the ITCZ? This ribbon of doldrums- sprinkled with squalls- runs generally along the equator. The basic options from Ascension are to pick a likely spot to jet north, get through the ITCZ as fast as possible to the NE trades…or sail nearly due west to Brazil, then pick up the coastal current and head north along the edge of South America.
We decided on the latter. This route that offers better probability of avoiding calms with the narrowest stretch of ITCZ to cross, not to mention, the chance to ride a ripping current up the coast of Brazil and French Guiana. It’s also a slightly shorter overall distance than the serpentine path of a more easterly sprint across the ITCZ, although boats picking the alternate plan generally benefit from the drumbeat of steady trades once far enough north. Route optimization from both PredictWind and FastSeas agreed that efficiency with the Brazilian path, we called a Westward Ho for Totem. Our friend singlehanding in his Liberty 458, Solstice, has been nearby but decides to take a flier at punching north instead…we’ll see him again in Barbados and make a pilgrimage to the Mount Gay rum distillery together in a couple of weeks.
The weather is clearly equatorial now: thunderheads billow skyward, and manage to look menacing even when turned candy-fluff pink with the dawn. This night, one squall packs a 30 knot punch, but most are givers…sucking in wind as while slowly track nearby for hours, giving us enough breeze to sail with.
There’s a perfect moment in the early mornings, when the sun is still hidden below the horizon and the eastern sky is light shades of amber, but overhead stars still twinkle down from a deep periwinkle. The peaceful calm in that half-place of neither night or day is transcendent: the rest of the boat sleeps, and the sea bubbles mantras off Totem’s hull. It’s my favorite time of day, and one of the best parts about being on a passage.
Conditions are generally pretty light, but we’re moving nicely and glad not to need the engine. Totem’s asymmetric (which Jamie would trade for a Code Zero in a heartbeat) has seen more hours of use on this passage than all the years before it…and yeah, it’s been on board since 2008! We put away 140nm on a “slow day,” which feels pretty good.
At night I spot the lights of an airplane overhead for the first time in… well, it’s been so long, I honestly don’t remember! January, I guess? It’s startling at first, and take a few beats to process that it isn’t a satellite or shooting star.
Fresh produce is getting low. It might not have lasted even this long were it not for the generosity of new friends on Ascension. Terry works on the US Air Force base, so has access to produce that comes in on the US flights; he gifts a box from his family’s share with a mix edible goodies. There’s everything from green beans and tomatoes to apples from our homes state of Washington, and candy treats for the kids (who are thrilled, candy being a pretty uncommon treat on board). I’m touched by this generosity, because fresh fruit and vegetables are a precious commodity on the island where nothing is grown; it all comes from far away, and infrequently.
Near midday the spires of Fernando de Noronha come into sight; we pass within a couple of miles of these Brazilian islands. The lush green hills are tempting, and this UNESCO world heritage site is a massive marine park, but the fees for the privilege of visiting are too high for our budget.
Meanwhile, the Kuhn Rikon pressure cooker that’s a galley workhorse on board has stopped holding pressure. This is unfortunate: I use it nearly every day, especially at sea. An emergency valve for over pressurizing has failed from age. We have spare parts for almost every bit that might need replacing on the cooker except that one, of course.
Totem’s track stays in a zone of breeze on the southern side of the ITCZ. It’s a little stronger, and less stable, so we’re using a poled-out genoa more often than the asymmetric now. Squalls have gathered more frequently in the afternoon and evening; after dark, one of them packs 30 knots, but it doesn’t last long. With our wing-in-wing configuration, we must be cautious about sudden shifts in wind direction and velocity to avoid backing the main. At night we tuck in a reef even if we don’t really need it, just to be conservative.
The blissful downwind ride we’ve had is being replaced by a rock and roll slide as the sea state begins coming from two directions. Worse, Totem is on port tack. This makes meal prep categorically Not Fun, because besides all the rolling around…our galley runs along the port hull, and the starboard heel makes everything want to slide into the cook or down to the cabin sole. For the first time on this passage I resort to totally prepared food, and dumping cans of chili into a saucepan for dinner.
The current is building as we near the Brazilian coast, which is as near as 70nm away this morning. Totem is flying! With 25 knots on the port quarter, we make an average of nearly 10 knots over ground during my watch in the wee hours. On the radio net I understate our boatspeed slightly…most are still doing only about 6 knots, and I feel greedy laying claim to so much more.
In the afternoon we reached our halfway (mileage) point to Barbados, and mark a 24 hour run of over 200 miles. The second half of the trip will go faster: partly because there’s more wind, and it will be on a faster of sail; partly because of the current, a magic carpet ride that is expected to double in the coming days.
Towards evening, during the long anticipated gybe to starboard tack, a winch handle goes overboard. One of those awesome double-handed OneTouch winch handles. Oof.
- Toast (homemade bread, delicious slathered with jam from Karma- a South African guest house)
- Cold noodle salad with crunchy veggies and peanut sauce
- Potato-chickpea curry, homemade chutney. Curry recipe pinched years ago from www.svsereia.com.
- Bannock (panfried oat cakes) with butter and honey
- Cold salads: rice/citrus/cranberry and peanut/noodle (leftovers)
- Butternut risotto (squash from Sharon’s father’s farm, on St Helena)
- Yellowfin tuna hash with fried eggs (because my fishcakes didn’t hold together… fishcake hash!)
- Two salads: three bean (last of the green beans), and chicken, chickpea and pesto (easy with chicken I jarred back in South Africa)
- Boerwurst (spiced South African sausage), mashed potatoes, sautéed bell peppers & squash
- Muffins with dark chocolate chips
- Enchiladas with guacamole (last avocadoes!)
- Canned chili (total dump meal. Not in the mood to cook!)
- Granola (yeah, still not in the mood to cook)
- Corn fritters (with the very last red bell peppers)
- Bobotie (delicious Cape Malay dish) and apple crumble (celebrating halfway mark, yay! and, last apples, boo…)
This post is sent through our Iridium GO from off the coast of Brazil. Where exactly? Find out here. Send any questions for Ty! And thanks for the notes, they really do make our day.