Passage notes: Ascension to Barbados, part II

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).

Day 6

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.

Day 7

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.

Day 8

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.

Day 9

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.

Day 10

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.

Passage meals

Day 6

  • 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

Day 7

  • 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)

Day 8

  • 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

Day 9

  • Muffins with dark chocolate chips
  • Enchiladas with guacamole (last avocadoes!)
  • Canned chili (total dump meal. Not in the mood to cook!)

Day 10

  • 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.

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10 Responses to Passage notes: Ascension to Barbados, part II

  1. johnny April 14, 2016 at 10:11 pm #

    When you have new crew come aboard for a passage, what and how do you prepare them? Is it always the same? eg., do you have lists that you review with them such as MOB procedures. How do they prove that they can be trusted to take a watch?


    • Behan April 24, 2016 at 7:25 am #

      It’s actually so rare for us to have crew on a passage that we don’t have a specific process. Totally based on the individual joining us, which has always been someone we already know well…with the exception of Ty’s first passage with us in 2010.

  2. Rick Meijer April 15, 2016 at 5:47 am #

    Amazing going and the course you taking seems to be paying off, where is the single hander, are you going to ‘win’ this ? Following you all with bated breath. It’s as if your’re friends and who knows one day our wakes might cross, and stop for a meet ! Just checked where you are again and it’s always good to see your signal, an indication you’re still out there somewhere.. 😉 Enjoy have fun and I still have to wait until 2017 when my friends can join me, not going to do the trip canaries/caribbean single handed, I also prefer company on such a long trip. keep well !!!! Rick

  3. M + B April 15, 2016 at 7:42 am #

    Wishing your family all the very best on your adventures! I admire you all so much. We are a homeschooling family in So Cal (daughters 6 & 7). I am a novice sailor with hopes of travel adventure learning. I have known about your blog for a long time and am so grateful to you for it. I learn so much thanks to your willingness to share your experiences.

    • Behan April 24, 2016 at 7:22 am #

      Thank you M+B! I hope you find fodder for your own family’s travel/adventure/learning!

  4. Yvette April 15, 2016 at 11:24 am #

    The “no airplanes since January” comment got to me- there’s always stuff flying over my busy corner of Europe, to the point where one of my favorite pastimes in nice weather is to lounge on my roof and use Flightradar24 to look up details about what’s flying overhead (because clearly everything in the sky is my domain). Guess I’d need a new hobby in the middle of the Atlantic!

    Glad to hear all is well, though I am starting to wonder just how excited you guys will be to get OFF the boat in Barbados. 😉

    Also, got the Ascension Island postcard two days ago- thank you so much for sending it, that was very kind of you! 😀

  5. Jane April 15, 2016 at 7:45 pm #

    Greetings Ty and all aboard Totem! During our 3 week passage 40 years ago from Gran Canaria to Martinique aboard Onatu, a 45 foot French ketch, we saw 2 ships, one other sailboat and only one plane. During night watch I would amuse myself by tuning into radio stations from 4 continents. Showered in sea water most of the time, as any squalls would usually pass tantalizingly close but not close enough. Sextant and charts for navigation, no autopilot, just a self-steering wind vane. Wishing you fair winds and comfortable seas.

    • Behan April 24, 2016 at 7:19 am #

      Thank you Jane, loved reading about your passage while we were on ours! We saw a few more ships (carriers of many flags, and a lot of Taiwanese fishing boats) but just 2 plans while near Brazil. Definitely different tech available to us now vs 40 years ago!

  6. Robert April 16, 2016 at 5:21 pm #

    A lovely description of the early morn’.

    Best to Ty, he’s missing some great spring weather here on BI, which I am sure he doesn’t miss at all.

  7. Bruce&Anne Stewart April 16, 2016 at 7:06 pm #

    Behan – you’re amazing. We are so impressed with what you put in front of your family every meal time. Anne says that if she was on the boat, everyone would eat muslie every breakfast!

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