Crossing the Atlantic PART TWO (Read Part One)
Sometimes your worst night at sea is the one you spend at anchorage.
After 15 straight days sailing across the Atlantic from Cape Verde to Brazil, we took a pit stop at the remote island of Ihla Fernando de Noronha on our way to Cabedelo.
We dropped the anchor and had some difficulty getting it to hook and hold properly. We were in an open bay surrounded by plush rainforest mountains that reminded us of Jurassic Park.
It was midday on Saturday, and the plan was to stay a day or two and explore this hidden gem, a national park located about 250 nautical miles from the eastern coast of Brazil mainland.
After about a week of blistering heat while sailing the doldrums on the Equatorial line and into the waters of the Southern Hemisphere, we welcomed the overcast weather and even the rain that began to fall and cool things off a bit.
We were in need of some relief from the intensive heat, as well as a little rest.
It took a while to get the anchor settled, but Maik was feeling completely unsettled. Something just wasn’t right.
In addition, we had received an alert that our engine was running hot, which didn’t surprise us in this heat. Seefalke was built for sailing in North Sea conditions. She isn’t used to the extreme heat we had been facing in the doldrums where temperatures were in the high 90s directly under the blazing Equatorial sun and with no wind. We only motor sailed two of our 15 days at sea, but that was enough to put stress on the engine.
This was our longest passage ever—1,430 nautical miles so far in 15 straight days. We crossed the Atlantic and the Equator, huge milestones for any sailor, and I was ready to pop our traditional celebratory champagne and toast the accomplishment. But Maik refused.
While a steady rain fell, we blew up the dinghy, lowered the outboard motor using the mizzen halyard as a crane, and Maik went to the island to check us into customs and secure our berth.
When he returned, he told me that as an American citizen I needed a visa. I kicked myself for not checking on this sooner, but excused myself since going to Brazil was a last-minute decision. I’m usually so organized. I jumped online with the little weak internet we had and took the necessary steps to secure the visa. However, I learned it would take five business days.
Meanwhile, I cooked dinner and hung out the sheets, blankets, and towels to let the pouring rain do some laundry for us! We also took a refreshing deck shower in the fresh water falling from the sky!
The wind was howling and gigantic 3-meter swells from the open Atlantic were pounding into the bay and rocking our anchored ship in all directions. This island has no marina so anchoring was our only option.
Maik just couldn’t shake his feelings of uneasiness.
We needed rest badly, but we were floating about 200 meters from massive rock formations and mountainous cliffs. If the anchor dragged, Seefalke would be slamming against those rocks in minutes.
Maik made the decision to keep our night watch schedule to be sure that if the anchor didn’t hold, we could quickly do something about it.
The night was brutal. I could hear the heavy anchor chain scraping against Seefalke’s steel hull, making the most haunting sounds that echoed throughout the cabin. The swells were lapping against the ship and jerking and jolting us in all directions. The rain continued to pound us as lightning flashed all night. I couldn’t remember a night passage at sea that was as uncomfortable and as downright scary. At least at sea, there is room to move. There is plenty of space to maneuver off course to avoid storms and other obstacles.
In this small bay, the rocks were right there, taunting us, daring us to come a little closer and face their wrath.
Day 17 - Sunday, 24 February 2019
At anchorage - Ihla Fernando de Noronha, Brazil
It was a long night for all of us.
The next morning Maik decided we would skip our island adventure and get back in the open ocean where we could feel safe.
Maik got in the dinghy and went to check us out and pick up a few provisions while I cleaned the cabin and prepared the boat for departure.
Then the sun came out and we could truly appreciate the beauty that surrounded us. In deep contrast to the brown and silver mountains of Cape Verde, these formations were covered with plush green vegetation. Hundreds of long-tailed birds hovered around the island. We think they may have been some species of parrot.
Dozens of dolphins jumped and played and leapt from the water to the delight of the sailors sitting in anchored ships, the tourists on charter boats, and the kayakers and paddle boarders that had populated the bay under the bright Brazilian sunshine. Huge sea turtles were swimming alongside Seefalke and piquing the interest of the seadogs, who probably wanted to go ashore, but also seemed content staying at home.
Maik was enjoying the sights in the small island community, and learned that the island will accept no more than 400 visitors per day. He decided to take the dinghy to go check out another anchorage. He thought since the weather had improved perhaps we would stay another day and explore the island after all.
But after checking out the anchorage he changed his mind. His gut continued to tell him it was dangerous to risk another night at this anchorage.
We didn’t want to have another night like the last one.
It was blistering hot—almost 40C, 104F. I wanted to cook a hearty meal before we set sail again. It was so hot that I had to jump in the water before i could eat the food I had just prepared.
The water was fantastic! After we ate, we both decided to take a break and swim for a little while. We jumped in and enjoyed the cool aquamarine tinted water that was so clear you could see all the way to the bottom of the ocean floor, more than 8 meters below us.
We showered off all the salt water and then went back to the business of preparing the boat for departure.
It was about this time that Maik realized that he had not properly closed the waterproof bag he took with him onshore. His cell phone was completely waterlogged and no longer functional.
I began to download the much-needed weather and navigation apps to my phone.
We finally got the boat prepared and were ready for departure. But even more drama was looming.
We were ready to set sail and as we tried to pull in the anchor using our electric windlass, we couldn’t get the anchor to unhook from the ocean floor. The constant pounding and dragging from the previous night had wedged the anchor deep into the ground. It was stuck. No matter how we tried to maneuver the ship, we couldn’t get it loose.
Finally, Maik went into the bow and released the chain. We left the anchor and the chain on the ocean floor and got the hell out of there. We needed to return to sea.
As we were finally back in the open ocean, we felt safe again. The temperature dropped about 10 degrees. It was still in the 90s, but combined with the wind propelling our movement it felt cool and refreshing.
However, the engine was still not happy about the heat. The alert sounded again, and Maik headed down to the engine room to check it out. We pulled out all the maintenance manuals and checked in with our mechanics back in Stralsund. The consensus was to let the engine cool some more and then Maik would head back down to check out the thermostat, which we think is what was broken or stuck.
We must remember that Seefalke was built for the North Sea and spent all her 40 years in cold climates prior to this journey.
Meanwhile, the conditions were breezy and comfortable. Several huge petrels were circling us as we cruised around the island to get glimpses of what we were unable to see up close. We love these petrels—we always get the sense they are guiding us safely to the next port. Some people believe that petrels possess the souls of dead sailors.
I was exhausted from the long ocean passage and no sleep at anchorage. When it was time for Maik’s first night watch—08:00–I crashed hard and fast and slept soundly in the safety of the open Atlantic.
Day 18 - Monday, 25 February 2019
1456 nm - 398 hours at sea
Well rested from my four-hour off watch, I enjoyed the pleasant midnight shift. There was a cool, steady breeze with calm, relaxing waters—a refreshing contrast from the previous night at anchorage, which was torture.
Early the next morning, we continued to fight the heat.
Maik spent time in the engine room dealing with the raw-water circuit alert and performed an oil change. He confirmed that the temperature sensor was stuck and the engine was fine to use.
We had calm seas most of the day, but it was just blistering hot! And as we were growing accustomed to these conditions, we knew that the extreme heat during the day would likely produce tropical thunderstorms in the evenings.
Day 19 - Tuesday, 26 February 2019
1535 nm - 422 hours at sea
We had thunderstorms and lightning all night. The sky lit up like fireworks on New Year’s Eve. It was a long night followed by another extremely hot day. The hours from 10:00 to 15:00 are the toughest. We try to exert as little energy as possible and do whatever we can to beat the heat. We drink lots of water and oh how I wish that water was cold! I would be happy if it was even slightly above room temperature.
I would give anything for just one cube of ice.
Every 30 minutes or so I would douse myself with a bucket of cool sea water, which quickly evaporated from my sizzling skin.
Cap’n Jack and Scout generally stayed in the cabin and lay on the cool wood floor to beat the heat. I struggled to be in the cabin and preferred to have the fresh air and breeze. I read during the days some, but the heavy heat made this difficult. Usually around 15:30, it would begin to cool a bit and then it would be wonderfully pleasant until the sun began to set. We would begin to see the stormy cloud formations build on the horizon. Then we braced ourselves to fight the tropical storms at night.
Day 20 - Wednesday, 27 February 2019
1628 nm - 446 hours at sea
My early sleep shift was rough. We were on a heavy tilt, and I struggled to find a comfortable sleeping position. Gusts during that shift reached 42 knots as Seefalke rocked and rolled but kept us afloat. When I began my midnight shift, the conditions had calmed a bit. I embraced the cool breeze of the evening as we approached our destination of Cabedelo.
I thought a lot about our accomplishment. Not many sailors have crossed the Atlantic and fewer have sailed across the Equator and faced the challenge of the doldrums. I think the extreme heat was our biggest challenge—even moreso than the length of the journey or the tropical squalls.
We made landfall at 10:08 and as the large city skyline of Cabedelo began to come into focus on the horizon ahead of us, I began to get this conflicting feeling that I usually get when these long passages come to an end.
I’m ready to be on land, but I’m not ready for the journey to end. As Maik and I began making our long list of work and boat-repair tasks, we start to dread what awaits us back in the real world.
Maik told me that the actual Atlantic Crossing was technically Morocco to Brazil—mainland to mainland. All our other stops—Canaries, Cape Verde, and Ihla Fernando de Noronha—we just island hops along the way. From Rabat, Morocco to Cabedelo, Brazil, we covered approximately 3,400 nautical miles.
We arrived in Jacaré Village at the banks of Rio Paraiba in beautiful Brazil at 15:10. After finally reaching South American mainland we have now successfully finished our first Atlantic crossing and reached an important milestone.
Now it’s time to take a breath and have a look at our stats till now:
- It has been 192 days since we set sail in Stralsund last year.
- Since August 2019 we have sailed 5,475 nautical miles through the Baltic Sea, the Kiel Canal, the North Sea, the English Channel, the Bay of Biscay and the North and the South Atlantic Oceans.
- We have visited 10 countries in 3 continents.
- The longest single passage (1,690 nautical miles) took us from Mindelo, Cape Verde to Jacaré Village, Brazil in 462 hours (almost 3 weeks).
- The coldest temperature we experienced was 6°C, the warmest 39°C.
- Number of crew lost: 0.
Thank you guys for following us!! We still have a long way to go!