Passage notes: Ascension to Barbados, part I

Totem has been heading west for five days now. So far it’s been a beautiful passage: more gentle breezes than squalls, more pretty sunsets than gray skies.

Departure Day

I make a last run to shore, to mail a few postcards, try to visit a few people we met, and grab a last hour of wifi from the hotel before our weeks at sea. The RMS St Helena was in port during the weekend and fresh produce (well, fresh when it left Cape Town, at least a week and a half ago) should be on the shelves. Score! We have $3 avocadoes, some tomatoes, and apples. Back on Totem, Jamie is trying to coax our portable generator to work. It’s not cooperating. Once he decides to call it unrepairable for now, he’s itching to raise the anchor and get going. We finally take off a little after 1pm. Some sendoffs are auspicious, like the dozens of dolphins that play in our bow wake as Ascension fades in the distance. Others aren’t, like the accidental inflation of my PFD when pulling it out from a locker for night watch. At least it doesn’t leak.

Day 2

We’ve been checking in with a friend on the radio a couple of times a day; a few other boats caught on and suddenly there’s a net schedule with eight other vessels happening. It’s good to keep tabs on fellow travelers in the big blue, so we move social chatting to a new time and run with the sked, something we haven’t done for months. It’s interesting to see how weather and performance vary across our roughly 1,000nm range. We have better conditions than most, and Totem moves nicely with the asymmetric poled out putting away 8 knots for much of the day. At nighttime we revert to slower, but more stable wing/wing configuration.

Day 3

Watch for me begins a few hours before sunrise, and this morning I share it with a petrel who departs with the dawn. Before the sun rises, the last day of the waning moon- a thin golden sliver- rises with the bright light of Venus. Thanks to the tip from an astronomer we have a chance to see this unusual occlusion…but clouds thwart the event! It’s still spectacular to see these two heavenly bodies in proximity, in the warm light of daybreak. Later we have perfect conditions for the asymmetric, 12-15 knots right behind the boat. Seas are mellow, making it very comfortable for all – even our little hamster, Jiaozi, is let out for some runaround time. If passages were all like this, there would be a LOT more cruisers! At night, we become a bird sanctuary again, but this time there are at least half a dozen. They look like petrels, relatively small seabirds, so at least there’s not too much poop left behind on the solar panels.

Day 4

Something always breaks on a passage, and hopefully the shattered shield on a block for the asymmetric is our token fail. It’s minor and makes me feel like we’ve gotten a bit of drama out of the way and can carry on. In the afternoon, we’re hailed over VHF by a 298 meter tanker, 9 miles away and on course to pass within ¼ mile. He asks if we’d like him to alter course to provide a little more room, for which we are grateful! But in the distraction of the conversation, the watermaker- which was backflushing- isn’t correctly shut down, and some saltwater gets into the tank. OK, two strikes for today.

Day 5

Our bird haven had graduated to hold NINE petrels this morning. It’s funny to hear them squawk at each other, but we miss out on ours of wind turbine charging, not wanting to tempt fate with the spinning blades so close to their refuge on the solar panel. The wind is dying, and we watch the highly dynamic ITCZ with a close eye. It’s narrowing in the days ahead, but is forecast to expand up to 12 degrees wide soon after. Is it better to leap now, pointing north to get across it, or do we risk getting caught at the top of this zone of doldrums and squalls and facing more day of motoring until the trades? For now, though, we get a few more hours of beautiful conditions, and the smooth seas and an easy motion on board make it a lot easier to cook! Imagine chopping onions on a counter that keeps leaning back and forth. I don’t like resorting to canned or prepared food. Thankfully, that’s not happening.

Passage meals

Day 1:

  • On your own breakfast
  • Onion/pepper quesadillas
  • braised chicken and bell peppers in a creamy sauce; mashed potatoes; homemade bread; chocolate cake (yay for passage kickoff!)

Day 2

  • toast and eggs
  • greek salad and hard boiled eggs
  • pork steaks, gravy, rice, braised apples and cabbage, bread, cake

Day 3

  • dragon fruit smoothies & toast
  • cous cous tabbouleh
  • pulled pork and gravy on polenta, gingerbread cake

Day 4

  • pull-apart cinnamon bread (a.k.a., Monkey bread)
  • rice salad with oranges, ginger, cranberries
  • chicken & barley stew, fresh seedy bread

Day 5

  • toast/granola
  • chicken wraps with corn relish
  • pasta & pesto

This post is sent through our Iridium GO from somewhere in the Atlantic. Where exactly? Find out here. We love reading comments underway, but won’t be able to respond on the blog until we reach “normal” internet in the Caribbean. Thanks for the notes, they make our day!

15 Responses

  1. I love reading these posts with my 9 year old daughter. We learn so much following your travels. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  2. You’ve found something interesting to do with Dragon Fruit? Hurray! Please share the recipe when you have the bandwidth – we’ve tried it and found it… less than thrilling so far.
    Love the day-by-day, blow by blow description of your passage – thank you for keeping it coming!

    1. We made smoothies with them a few times, which was really really good! In fact- turns out the seeds behave like chia, and if you let the smoothie sit (fridge overnight) it gets even thicker. We combined the dragonfruit with lesser quantities of whatever other fruit was on board (apples once, kiwis another time), added a bit of lemon juice and some honey, cold water, and whizzed it up with the immersion blender. Coconut water was a nice alternative to cold water, too!

  3. we had those type of birds, too!! One came and hung out for awhile and then left returning with his buddies. How they could land and sit on the solar panels with the boat rolling in the dark was amazing! What I thought was interesting was one perched on the lifeline and I noticed he didn’t have webbed feet which I guess I thought most seabirds did?? They also didn’t poop on the solar panels, they sat with their butts over the water ? Maybe because the first night Brian told them they could only stay if they behaved!!

    Safe and fun travels

  4. Really enjoying your passage notes! All the very best for an enjoyable and safe passage.

    1. Well, we’re almost always racing, if that means trying to be efficient with our passage from A to b! But that 19 kts is a spurious GPS reading. We did pretty well, though, averaged over 180nm/day for the duration.

    1. thank you Erik, it was very cool to get your missive in the ocean. 🙂 we’d love to meet up when Totem comes through NYC!

  5. Nice reporting. Technical question: is the watermaker mandatory for this kind of crossing or a kind of comfort? And does it increase the safety level?

    1. Hi Enrico- it’s not mandatory, more a personal choice. With six aboard and about 400 liters tankage, we’d meet our needs but it wouldn’t be enough for the way we USE water for our own comfort. And yes, you could argue safety, in case “something happens” and you have an extraordinarily long passage (not a good idea to count on rain IMHO). I wouldn’t want to cruise without a watermaker.

  6. I am loving getting your posts in my inbox.

    One question: I don’t think you’ve talked about why you choose to skip South America and go right for Barbados. Did I just miss it?

    Is it concerns about crime levels in Brazil that had you deciding to give it a miss?

    1. Hi Chris! For some reason our spam filter hid this one, I just unearthed it. We are moving a little faster than our mode because of a family reunion in Connecticut in July…and the SSCA gam in June. But I hear Brazil isn’t going anywhere, so hopefully we’ll visit another time. The crime is real, though. We had friends boarded, beaten, and robbed at anchor shortly after landfall a couple of years ago. No bueno.

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