Sailing to St Helena 1

5 February 2018   Lüderitz, Namibia
We didn’t sleep well because it was boiling in our tent with absolutely no breeze.  Glenys and I were up before dawn and climbed to the top of a nearby dune to watch the sun rise.  It was well worth the effort because it was beautiful to watch the sun chase the shadows from the dunes, especially knowing that there was no one else within 40 kilometres of our camp.

Heinz regularly uses this place as a campsite and has set up an interesting camp toilet.  An old metal oil drum is sunk into the sand on the other side of a small ridge.  Heinz has a toilet seat screwed to a piece of plywood that fits over the oil drum.  A spade painted with the words “Engaged” is placed on the ridge and whenever anyone goes to the loo, they stick the spade upright in the sand.  It’s a stunning view when sat on the toilet.

Camping in the Namibian Desert

After a breakfast of bread and jam, (it’s definitely not haute cuisine on this trip), we packed up camp.  Some diesel was poured into the toilet oil drum and the contents were incinerated.  Apart from a few tyre tracks and footprints, there was no sign that we’d been there.

We had a last bit of fun driving out of the extensive sand dunes and then drove along a gravel road through the stony desert, following the water pipe back to Luderitz.  It was an excellent trip - a tad expensive at $3,500 NAB (£175) each, but we saw a very special place.

Back at the boat, we found that one of the two ropes attaching Alba to the mooring was hooked around our keel.  I managed to release it without too much drama, but the rope is covered with our blue antifoul paint, so I guess that we’ve lost patches of our new antifoul.

We had a quiet afternoon, catching up on lost sleep and an early night.

6 February 2018   Lüderitz, Namibia
We had a slow start to the day.  I set about editing the scores of stunning photos that I took of the Dune Trip and didn’t bother to check the weather forecast until 10:30.  We were planning to leave for St Helena after the 10th, but it looks to be very windy on the 10th and 11th and then there’s a few days of very light winds.  The best time to go appeared to be tomorrow, so we decided to go for it.  Starting a 1,335 mile trip tomorrow?  Don’t Panic Mr Mannering!

I rushed off to do a couple of trips ashore to fill our water jerry cans at the stand pipe and topped up our water tanks.   

9°C is damn cold

After lunch, we went shopping to buy enough provisions to see us across the South Atlantic Ocean.  There will be slim pickings in St Helena and nothing in Ascension Island, so we have to be self-sufficient for 6 - 8 weeks until we get to Jacaré in Brazil.

In the evening, we went out for a meal with Martin & Maggie from “Dreamcatcher”.  We went to the Barrels pub, which had a great atmosphere and did good food.

7 February 2018   Namibia to St Helena (Day 1)
I woke to the disturbing sound of no wind.  Thinking that we’d probably be motoring away from Namibia, I worked out that we had used 35-40 litres since we left Cape Town. I poured one of our 21 litre jerry jugs into the main tank and refilled it in town. We now have 420 litres of fuel in the tank plus 63 litres in jerry jugs  - enough for 160-240 hours of motoring depending on how fast we run the engine.  We could motor for 1,000 miles out of the 1,335 miles to St Helena

Another thought that occurred to me in the early hours of the morning was that I ought to check the propeller after the mooring line had been caught around the keel a few days earlier.  The thought of jumping into the cold, dirty water was not appealing, but it had to be done.  I didn’t intend to be in the water very long, so I just put on my 1mm skin suit for protection against the nasty looking jellyfish pulsating around our boat.  The 9.5°C water literally took my breath away, but the propeller and stern gear all look OK.

We zipped ashore to buy the diesel and fill up another three jerry cans of water. Glenys spent our last Namibia dollars on some carvings and a painted fabric from a local guy in the waterfront square. By the time that we’d lifted the dinghy on deck, most of the morning had gone and we dropped the mooring at 11:10.

Back Sailing

There was some wind outside the harbour, but unfortunately it was from the NNW – not good when our required course was NW.  The today’s forecast showed a small high pressure system next to the coast, so we motored for an hour to get away from the land.  The NNW wind persisted and picked up to 15 knots, so we pulled out the sails and sailed west, pointing as high as we could.  

Three hours later, after passing through a nil wind area, the wind backed to the SSW at 5-12 knots – we’d escaped the land effect and were into the prevailing winds.  We poled the genoa out to port and sailed wing-on-wing, slowly heading towards our destination, 10 days away.

About 20 miles out to sea, we came across several large groups of Cape Fur Seals (20 or more) hunting together, which is something that we haven’t seen before.

Unfortunately, the wind remained fickle all afternoon and into the evening, occasionally veering by up to 90° and dropping down to 5 knots  - at times our boat speed dropped below 2 knots.  Normally, we would crack up and start the engine, but we have to preserve fuel on this long passage.

Thankfully, a few hours after dark, the wind picked up to 8-10 knots and backed to the south-west putting us on a beam reach, allowing us to roar along at 4 – 5 knots.

Cape Fur Seals

At our 01:00 watch change, there were four fishing boats within sight - all without AIS.  One was particularly close and appeared to be coming directly at us.  We were only doing 4 knots, so I turned on the engine and increased our speed to 7 knots, but the fishing boat changed course, still coming directly at us.  Glenys turned on our deck light to illuminate our sails, but he kept remorselessly heading for us – I could clearly see his bow despite it being a dark night.

I powered us around 180°, which backed the sails, but this was no great problem in the light 8 knot winds with the mainsail preventer in place.  I gunned the engine and motored at 7 knots in the opposite direction.  This seemed to confuse him, but he then started to turn towards us again.  Glenys was screaming into the VHF radio,  “Fishing boat on our port bow, this is sailing vessel Alba.”  After a couple of calls, he stopped turning towards us and we slowly drew away from him.

I continued motoring away from him for ten minutes, slowly circling back on course and he disappeared off into the night.  We turned the engine off and sailed away at 3-4 knots, keeping a beady eye on the other fishing boats.  Goodness knows what the hell he was doing – was it malicious or was he just coming to have a look at the “interesting” sailing boat?

An hour later, I was motor-sailing again because the wind dropped to 5 knots again and our boat speed was less than 2 knots. To make matters worse, we had a ½ knot current against us, so we weren’t going anywhere and there were still fishing boats around. We continued motoring until dawn.

Albatross

8 February 2018   Namibia to St Helena (Day 2)
It was a miserable, cold, grey morning with a light 5 knot SSW wind and a sea mist wetting everything on deck.  While we were in Luderitz, our decks, rig and ropes were covered in sand and dirt blown from the desert.  Unfortunately, the condensation from the sea mist isn’t enough to wash everything, instead we now have wet muck on every surface and have to wash our hands every time we adjust a rope or go on deck.

Last night, Glenys and I agreed a strategy of only motoring at night – it’s so depressing doing a three hour night watch and only going 3 miles.  Like good little sailors, we turned the engine off at 07:00 and then slopped around, only managing an average boat speed of 1 knot.

I downloaded a GRIB weather forecast, which showed there’s a trough coming through causing these light SSW winds, which will persist all today and all tomorrow.  Early on Saturday 10th, we should get SSW 15-20 for a few days.  The good news is that the water temperature has risen by 1½° to 11°C.

At 09:00, I cracked up and turned on the engine – I’d had enough of the sails slatting and the boom banging as we rolled in the remorseless swell.  I reasoned that we’ve still got enough fuel to motor for at least 5 days – that’s 2 days until the wind arrives plus a reserve of 3 days to get us into St Helena. 

Bizarrely, 30 minutes later, the wind suddenly veered by 180° degrees and increased to 8-10 knots from the north.  We still had the spinnaker pole set out to port, so I had to spend 15 minutes stowing the pole, swapping the running back stays and gybing the sails, so that we could turn the engine off and sail hard on the wind on starboard tack making 3.5 - 5 knots.  

Fog Horn

We have a constant stream of Shearwaters and Albatross flying past us, who are struggling to stay aloft in the light winds. I spent a while trying to photograph them, but the sea mist kept fogging my lens and the dull conditions made for dull pictures. It was frustrating – sometimes I waited for ½ hour and none came near; and at other times I’d spot one very close, but by the time that I’d scrabbled for my camera, it was gone.  It kept me occupied for a while.

The wind dropped and backed to dead ahead at midday, so we started the engine again.  The cold, saturating mist persisted and we heard the mournful sound of a ship’s fog horn when it passed  three miles in front of us – we knew it was there because of the wonders of AIS.  We dug out our fog horn, which is a small human-blown horn like you’d use at a football match.  Glenys made an effort at sounding it, but it’s unlikely that the ship heard us because our horn’s range is probably only ½ mile.

I went to bed at 13:30 and, as I was snuggling down under the duvet (in the only warm place on the boat), I heard Glenys pulling out sails and cranking winches.  When I surfaced three hours later, we were cracking along at 6 - 7 knots on a port beam reach with 10-12 knot winds.  To make things even better, the fog had lifted and the sun was shining.

The wind continued into the night until 23:00, when it dropped again.  After 3 hours of motor-sailing, the wind veered by 30 degrees and picked up to 8 knots from the west putting us close hauled with 5 knots boat speed.  We continued sailing until dawn.