Ascension to Barbados: notes from the passage part III

Continuing notes from the passage… installment three. We’re in the home stretch! 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, Totem’s facebook page , or through the Contact form (they’ll both reach us on passage), and he’ll tell you.

Day 11

Hello ITCZ! Mid-morning, we give up trying to coax progress out of the dying wind and turn on the engine. It’s usually slower to motor than to sail, but a nice push from the current keeps miles passing steadily under the keel. As much as it’s nicer to be sailing, there are upsides. We run the watermaker for hours, which performs better with the voltage bump from motoring. Our hot water tank only heats when the engine runs, so we’ll all have nice warm water showers this evening. Making extra water also means we can do some laundry, which readily dries on the lifelines in our calm conditions. In the evening, the breeze picks up again and we’re able to ghost under starlight again. Ultimately, having only a half day of motoring to get through the ITCZ is exceptionally gratifying, as it could have been much longer: some other boats headed to the Caribbean are spending 4 or more days under power- that’s not so fun.

Day 12

We crossed the equator! Unfortunately, this happens at 4:30 in the morning, so only Jamie and I are awake (my watch, but he couldn’t resist staying up). It’s fun to see Totem’s position switch from 0 degrees S to 0 degrees N, and *poof* – for the first time in six years, we are in the northern and western hemispheres. This feels like a bigger milestone than the equator crossing, which we’ve done a few times now. Meanwhile, getting across the ITCZ also means we’ve picked up the tradewinds that come from the northeast, which means… STARBOARD TACK. Finally! The galley is more manageable on starboard, and we’ll be on this tack until Barbados. Meanwhile, Totem’s progress is better than we anticipated- we’re farther along than expected by this point. Despite all this goodness, or maybe because of it, for the first day in ages I’m kind of over this passage. There’s a voice in my head asking ‘are we there yet?’ that’s getting a little harder to ignore.

Day 13

I love the peace of the cockpit in early mornings: watching the morning star/planet fade in the east. These tranquil moments of solitude, just me and the sky and the ocean, get my day off to the right start.

It’s hot near the equator. Air and water temperatures are pegged at 86 degrees, no matter the hour. But today we’re on a nice beam reach in 15 knots, and the breeze helps cool the cabin, so I spend the morning with the heater (I mean our oven) on and bake up a squall. My rationale is…as long as I’ve heated the oven (and the cabin) up, I might as well churn out a few recipes. In goes cinnamon pull-apart bread for breakfast. When that’s done, a throw in a cake to sweeten our dinner; when it’s out, the bread has finished rising, and I put in two loaves of Stromboli.

Early in the afternoon, Jamie calls me to look at the water. He’s concerned about the difference in color ahead. We’re on the edge of the continental shelf in our quest for current, and there some startling shallows reported on our charts where the sea runs from 3,000’ to 33’ deep. Could it be a poorly charted area that we want to avoid? We decide it’s not, and shortly after find Totem in an outflow from the Amazon river, about 250 miles away. Murky, full of weed, and chopped up against the prevailing current, we take an immediate hit to boatspeed. The adverse current lasts an hour or so before spitting us back out, but the color change remains. This water is clearly more nutrient rich: flying fish are almost constantly in sight, and at night, the water burbling up into the sinks sparkles with green specks of bioluminsescence.

Day 14

Did I say we were out of the ITCZ? It’s still the tropics, and I spend the dawn watch tracking squalls. Totem speeds along at nearly 10 knots with about 18 knots on Totem’s beam as the cells form to windward. The towering cumulous clouds in their Maxfield Parrish colors are breathtaking, and would be so much easier to appreciate if I wasn’t worried about what kind of wind and rain they’ll throw at us.

We’re down to some of the very last of our fresh produce; after today, only the exceptionally hardy (potatoes, squash, onions) remain. I can’t procrastinate sprouting any more, and start mung beans since they’ll only need a couple of days to be ready.

Day 15

Today continues our comfortable beam reach trend: flat seas, stead breeze in the upper teens and a couple of knots of current. Totem cannot seem to go slower than 8 knots. This passage was expected to take at least three weeks, and easily more. For the last few days, it looked like we’d come in a few days below that. Now it seems that we might even make it by this Thursday, putting us in at 17 days and change. Very exciting! With the prospect of North America so close, we talk in the cockpit with the kids about some of the things we can look forward to this year: things that felt too remote to discuss any sooner. Like going to a Sox game in Fenway Park. Having a proper clambake with family on a Rhode Island beach. Soon. At sunset, we’re visited by a pod of dolphins; big gray cetaceans with speckles we can barely see in the dwindling light. They play in the bow, squeaking some enigmatic message, then take off to the south as the light fades.

Passage meals

Day 11

  • Bannock (oatcakes) with butter and honey or jam
  • Mashuni, roshi (Maldivian meal of tuna/coconut/lime/chili rolled up in flatbread)
  • Pasta with pesto and sun dried tomatoes.

Day 12

  • Bacon! because, equator. In breakfast burritos
  • Asian style fried noodles with veggies and sauce
  • Loaded nachos

Day 13

  • Cinnamon pull-apart bread (aka, monkey bread)
  • Stromboli (loaf of bread baked with pizza toppings rolled up inside), cabbage salad
  • Butter beans and spinach on couscous
  • Betty Macy’s oatmeal cake (I don’t know Betty, but Carolyn Shearlock does; this recipe is from Carolyn and Jan Irons’ cookbook The Boat Galley).

Day 14

  • Dragonfruit smoothies (with kiwis, lemon, honey, and coconut water)
  • Leftover sugar-laced gluten (aka, monkey break and Betty Macy’s cake)
  • Second loaf of Stromboli; salad from beets, feta (last feta!), cabbage (last cabbage!), hearts of palm and vinaigrette
  • Pork chops, glazed carrots, beets, mashed potatoes, gravy

Day 15

  • Granola
  • Chicken, pesto, artichoke heart and cream cheese wraps
  • Red lentil, sweet potato and kale curry with biryani rice.


Sent by satellite as Totem rolls along the coast of Surinam: find our current position here. Thanks for the comments and notes, it’s great passage reading! We’ll respond after landfall in Barbados.

13 Responses

  1. Wow, you guys are flying! What a great passage you have had 🙂 Funny, I looked for a water color change as we went by the Amazon Delta but we never saw anything and we were about as far offshore as as you.
    Keep on truckin to Barbados! I will be in Guadeloupe on the 27th. Still hoping to tip a rum or 3 with you in Bermuda 🙂

    1. I sure hope so Judy. Keep us posted on your ETD from Bermuda. We hope to be there in late May… hopefully that’s not too late for you!

    1. Enjoyed passing on your greetings to Bill- we’re talking daily over the radio while he completes his passage. Aloha back from him to the two of you!

  2. You guys are such an inspiration. What a great passage, and you managed the convergence zone and currents just right. When you make it to the East Coast, I’m hoping that you’ll stop in Charleston. I love to buy y’all a drink and/or cook you a meal.

    1981 Stevens 47

    1. thank you Scott! We did well with the ITCZ and current. We do hope to stop in Charleston, although not till this fall. We’d love to meet up and compare S’47 notes with you, keep in touch! If you use Facebook, we have an owners group for Stevens/Hylas 47s.

  3. I just checked your Predict Wind page and it says you are doing 15.5 knots! Either there is a glitch in the software or you have found a hell of a current. 🙂 I hope the great passage continues and puts you into Barbados early. We’ve been on the hard here in Vuda Point Marina for 9 months and it’s been great sailing vicariously with you all these months.


    1. Hi Christine! The GPS readings sometimes don’t line up with reality very well… we DID have a fast passage but never even surfed at that speed! The current was spectacular, though, over 3 kts at times. And now I miss Fiji… enjoy!

  4. Guys, how lovely is reading about your lifestyle in on the ocean.. How to say.. I haven’t seen any bioluminescence this driving early morning today on the highway 🙁

  5. Thanks for sharing what you’ve been eating! It’s one of my favorite “fun facts” while you sail along. 🙂

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