Sailing To French Guyana

24 March 2018   Brazil to French Guyana (Day 1)
The alarm went off at 06:45.  It’s strange how the sound of an alarm clock makes you want to stay in bed, but time and tide wait for no man and we wanted to leave a hour before high tide.  It took us a couple of hours to get the dinghy on deck and tidy up after two weeks at anchor, but at 09:00, we started to pull up the anchor. The anchor chain was covered in thick, slimy growth, so it took 10 minutes to try to wash off the worst of it.

The sky was overcast with lots of showers around us and no wind.  Motoring down the river was uneventful and the tide had just started to push us out as we headed out of the ship channel.  There was a one metre swell coming in from the north, but with hardly any wind and not much current, it was fine.  The channel is only 10 metres deep and I would imagine that if there was a strong on-shore wind and an outgoing tide, it would be unpleasant.

Leaving Cabadelo

There was a light 5 knot wind from the east, which just about filled the mainsail as we motored north. The afternoon was muggy, but the clouds eventually moved west over land and the wind picked up enough to sail at 16:00.  Unfortunately, we had a slight 0.5 knot current against us, but we should pick up a favourable current when we turn the corner tomorrow.

As soon as we’d hit the open sea and settled down, we changed the ship’s clocks forward one hour.  Over the past two weeks, while on Brazilian time, the sun has been setting at about 18:00.  This is great for the tourists listening to Balero, but a bit too early for our watches.  We should now have the sun going down as Glenys goes off-watch at 19:00 and sunrise should be about 06:00, which is perfect.

Glenys produced my favourite Brazilian meal for dinner – rice, beans & chicken.  On our last two long passages, I’ve become constipated because of slight dehydration and the lack of exercise - sitting around all day doesn’t help the digestion.  Glenys has decided that the solution is to increase our fibre intake by eating more beans.  Of course, flatulence may then be a problem, but Glenys has read that the proper soaking of dried beans overnight, removes the starch and reduces the production of gas.  We’ll see how it goes.

It was a pleasant night with a 10-14 knot east wind putting us on a beam reach at 5 to 6.5 knots. We followed the edge of the continental shelf about 15 miles offshore, where the depth drops off to thousands of metres, trying to find the elusive current.  By 02:00, we had up to ½ knot with us.  There were quite a few cargo ships following a similar route, so we had to keep a good watch – not as relaxing as the trip from St Helena where we didn’t see anything for days.

25 March 2018   Brazil to French Guyana (Day 2)
The wind dropped after dawn and we bobbed along until I cracked up at 11:00 and started the engine.  Just after lunch, we turned the north-east corner of Brazil and started to head north-west.  Probably due to a land effect, the wind veered to the south and increased enough to gybe the main and start to sail again.  We were only achieving 3 to 4 knots boat speed, but we had about a knot of current with us, so it wasn’t too bad.

Poled Out Genoa

With hardly any wind, it’s blisteringly hot during the day, even in the shade of our bimini.  When I went for my afternoon kip, I had to have a quick cold shower and then a fan running above my head to be able to sleep.  The best time of the day was an hour before dark, when the temperature dropped to a comfortable level and we had dinner.  

When the wind is light, we have the genoa poled out and a preventer on the main to minimise the sails bashing and banging as we roll in the waves.  However, there’s still some serious snatch forces on the mast and gear.  This morning, while I was in the saloon, I heard a metallic clink on the deck. I scurried up and found a broken piece of u-section stainless steel, about 6mm wide and 25mm long – very worrying.  After searching the mast with a pair of binoculars, I discovered that it was part of a stainless steel thimble from the rod kicker wire – not an immediate problem, just another thing to go on the To Do List.

The wind dropped again over the afternoon and at 16:00, we had to put the engine back on for a couple of hours until the easterly 10 knot wind filled in, allowing us to sail wing-on-wing.  The first half of the night was lovely, with a half moon and fluffy white clouds.  The wind was consistent at 10-14 knots, and we were gliding along at 6 knots in the calm seas.  

Unfortunately, at our 01:00 watch change, a huge black cloud system overtook us and the wind backed by 30 degrees, forcing me to gybe the main.  The wind had picked up a little, so I put 1½ reefs in the main.  10 minutes later, the wind veered by 30 degrees and torrential rain started, soaking me through as I struggled to install the rain flaps on the bimini, while gybing the main back to port.

To add to my woes, I could see the lights of a fishing boat about quarter of a mile to starboard, restricting my ability run downwind. The wind increased over 20 knots, so I was glad that I’d put in a precautionary reef and then 10 minutes later, the wind died completely, forcing me to run the engine for an hour.

And then another rain shower came along and the wind backed by 120 degrees, putting us hard on the wind - we’re only 240 miles from the equator and back in the region of tropical squalls.

26 March 2018   Brazil to French Guyana (Day 3)
The miserable weather continued until lunch time.  In the daylight, we could see that we were surrounded by big black squalls. The 3 day weather forecast looks horrible.  There’s rain for the next 3 days and it looks like variable winds for the next 48 hours, so we’re going to be kept busy with sail changes.

Repairing a tear in the genoa

Before breakfast, while it was raining heavily in another squall, we were called up by a seismic survey vessel.  We were politely told that there was a 3 kilometre exclusion zone around the ship and cables stretching out 7 kilometres behind it!  The ship was directly on our route, so we made a 15 degree correction to port to motor-sail around it, which took a couple of hours.

Early in the morning, Glenys noticed a 4 inch tear in the genoa, which must have been done during one of our gybes last night, but I can’t figure out what caused it.  We had to roll away the sail, which put it out of action during the morning, while we waited for a long gap in the showers and gusty winds.  It took us a couple of hours to darn the rip and then sew on two patches, one on either side of the sail.  We had to use our “Speedy Stitcher”, so it’s not a pretty repair, but it’s very strong.

After lunch, the weather started to settle down and by 16:00, we were back to east 8-12 knot winds and sailing along at 4 to 5.5 knots, with at least 1 knot favourable current.  At sunset, the skies were overcast, but at least we couldn’t see any black squalls.

The good weather continued until midnight and then the wind slowly backed to NNE, putting us on a close reach on starboard tack.  At our 01:00 watch change, Glenys pointed out a dense, black cloud off to starboard, which had occasional lightning flashes and then she went to bed.  I hate lightning.

I flicked on our radar and could see that we were six miles from the squall to our starboard.  There was also another one six miles to our port.  The next hour was spent watching the movement of these two squalls, which seemed to be going in the same direction as us.  

Approaching another squall

Squalls have a habit of burning themselves out and others seem to appear by magic.  Another squall popped up about 3 miles on our port side, but fortunately the one on our starboard dissipated.  I rolled away our genoa, turned 40 degrees to starboard and motored directly into the 5 knot wind, away from the squalls.  An hour later, the squalls were 10 miles off our port side, so I turned back on course.  

Unfortunately, the light north wind was still 10-20 degrees off our starboard side and too tight to sail without forcing us to port, back towards the squalls, so I kept motor-sailing for the rest of my watch.  The damn squall just kept moving parallel to us and at 04:00 was 9 miles off our port beam.  Thankfully, over Glenys’s 4-7 watch, the squall dissipated and she was able to sail again. 

27 March 2018   Brazil to French Guyana (Day 4)
The wind proved to be very fickle and we spent the morning motoring with a very light 3-5 knot south-west wind.  There were a few squalls about in the early morning, but they didn’t get any closer than 6 miles and the latter half of the morning was very pleasant – overcast, but nothing nasty in sight.

As usual, I used email on our satellite phone to publish my daily position report to our “at sea” blog, so that my Mum knows were we are.  For some reason, I’m having a lot of trouble sending and receiving emails on this trip.  The Iridium server keeps timing out - I don’t know if it’s the squally atmospheric conditions or there’s simply poor satellite coverage in this area.  

In any case, it’s taking twice as long every day.  Normally it takes 3 minutes to get a weather forecast and now it’s taking 6 minutes – that’s £6 per day instead of £3.  I’m now only getting a weather forecast every other day, because I only have 65 minutes left on my account, which needs to last us for another 6 weeks until we get to the Caribbean.

In the late afternoon, the wind finally picked up enough to sail – 6 to 9 knots from the north-east, putting us on a close reach, but that’s fine in such light winds and calm seas.  With 1½ knots of current with us, our speed over the ground was 5 to 6.5 knots.  Just before dinner, we caught a nice 10lb tuna, which I filleted ready for tomorrow.  

Sunset

We had a beautiful sunset with clear blue skies above us, but there were lots of cumulus clouds at various points on the horizon. We’ve been sailing 30-40 miles from the coast up to now, but are now starting across the huge bay where the Amazon River meets the sea and we’ll be 150 miles away from land.  I’m hoping that we’ll be encountering less squalls as we head more offshore.  

Overnight, the wind increased to NE 10-14 knots, putting us on a 70° close reach.  We’ll be on the same course for the next 700 miles and the wind is likely to increase to NE 20 or higher once we pass the equator.  At the moment, it’s fairly pleasant sailing upwind in these slight seas, but the stronger winds may bring bigger waves in the next few days.   We don’t relish the idea of bashing to windward, so we’re aiming at a waypoint of 02°37N 45°22W, which is 10° higher than the rhumb line, which will allow us to ease the sheets if the going gets tougher. 

At around 03:00, we were tromping along at 6.5 knots and I was gazing out to starboard at the stars and the bright moon shining on the silver sea.  Unbeknownst to me, a squall had been sneaking up on us. The wind suddenly dropped, so I looked to port and could see the huge cloud approaching.  I eased the main sheet and started to zip the side panels onto the bimini.  I wasn’t fast enough, within 30 seconds, we had 18 knot winds and torrential rain – I got drenched. 

Five minutes later, the wind died down to 5 knots and the rain stopped.  After five more minutes, the wind came back from the north-east and we were off again.