Seabirds, Sunsets & The Southern Cross 2 (Jan. 1 – 4, 2019)

Sailing Canaries to Cape Verde – SECOND OF TWO PARTS

In Part One of this passage, we battled seasickness and engine issues as we made our way to the last sunset of 2018. Read about the last half of the voyage, which included spectacular moments and high drama all the way into the Mindelo marina.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019 - Day 8

695 nm - 152 hours at sea

I normally begin my night watch at midnight, but I asked Maik to wake me early so we could bring in the New Year together. 

I joined him in the cockpit around 23:30, and we listened as the radio came alive with greetings from sailors all over the world and in many languages. Maik joined in and offered our New Year’s wishes on behalf of the Seefalke crew in English, German, and Russian. We hadn’t seen a ship in several days, but with the many greetings over the radio, we were reminded that we are never truly alone. 

It can feel isolating out there at times. In normal, everyday on-land life, we are all surrounded by other humans. We may not speak to any of them, and sometimes we probably don’t even notice them because seeing other humans is just part of our everyday fabric. You step outside and see people walking around or passing in cars. You venture into your routine and are surrounded by people while standing in lines or in shops or restaurants or offices. 

We have sailed for almost eight days without seeing another living soul. But, still, we are not alone. 

We popped open one of our mini champagne bottles and sliced a piece of German Stollen Christmas cake. Then, while cuddling in the cockpit with Cap’n Jack and Scout, under a black sky full of twinkling stars, we welcomed 2019 from somewhere off the Western African coast. 

We reflected on 2018 and are so grateful to be making this grand journey together in our floating home. It’s amazing to think about how we have been to all these exotic places and sailed more than 3,000 miles over incredible bodies of water but without ever leaving home. 

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As Maik slept and I continued my watch, I noticed some of the now familiar but always mesmerizing bioluminescence in Seefalke’s wake. There were no dolphins to provide the underwater fireworks, but the plankton created little twinkling stars in the water that looked like the sea had been sprinkled with diamonds. 

In the morning I joined Maik just a little before 08:00 to see the first sunrise of 2019. The golden sun brought us more bright orange and yellow hues as it lifted gently from the horizon, hidden at times by 4-meter swells. 

When Maik went down to sleep he noticed that Cap’n Jack had crawled onto our bed and gotten a little seasick all over our bedding. So, for me, New Year’s Day became laundry day. But it was ok. It was time to wash the sheets and blankets anyway. I decided to use the burst of energy I had to completely clean the entire main cabin and sweep away the massive amounts of dog hair that had accumulated during our week at sea. The Beagles shed so much that sometimes I wonder how there is still hair left on Cap’n Jack and Scout’s bodies.

The swells continued to roll in all day, and it got uncomfortable at times. Maik continuously adjusted the sails and the course trying to soften the blows. I remained firm in my commitment to no longer use seasick medicine. I felt fine. Even though we were being rocked from all sides, my sea legs were becoming firmly planted . . . my resolve solidified.

Meanwhile, our little petrel continued to circle Seefalke with great interest. We would see her during the day and night, flying around us and occasionally gliding along the top of the water. We believe she was guiding us all the way to Cape Verde, so we named her Lotse (pronounced lōts-sa) which is the German word for “pilot.”

At 16:08 we officially hit our one-full-week-at-sea mark at 767 nautical miles. 

Wednesday, 2 January 2019 - Day 9

800 nm - 176 hours at sea

I’ve always been a morning person, but I especially love the mornings at sea. I’ve developed a comfortable and pleasurable morning routine. I relieve Maik from his 04:00-8:00 shift and make all the necessary watch checks as Maik crawls back into bed to recover from the long night. He takes two four-hour shifts in the dark of night, while I only take one. So when he goes down below at 08:00, I let him sleep as long as he wants and needs to, which is generally around two or sometimes three hours. 

After making my checks, I settle into a little nook I created in the cockpit. I have a comfy piece of fluffy carpet that provides a cushion for the wooden-plank cockpit bench. I nestle in the corner with some soft pillows. I settle in, cuddle with Cap’n Jack and Scout, and get lost in the pages of a book. Of course, when you are on watch, you still must make your checks every 10 minutes or so, therefore I can never get fully distracted with my book. I read a few pages, make my checks, read a few pages, make my checks….

When Maik wakes up we have breakfast together and if everything is good with the conditions, we sit in the cockpit and talk for hours. 

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We talk about our kids and places we dream of sailing to one day. We share stories, ramblings, and musings from each other’s night watches and also discuss politics and philosophy, stories from our youth, and plans for the future. I could sit there all day dreaming and chatting with the love of my life, but Maik soon gets restless and needs to be busy. We both find things to do, which is never difficult. 

Maik spent this day configuring the sails in many different ways trying to gain us a little more speed and to soften the blows of the increasing swells. Seefalke has two masts and five sails, which—please correct me if I’m wrong, Ms. Frickie—is theoretically 60 possible sail configurations. 

Meanwhile, I relaxed on the deck in the sunshine in nothing but a ponytail and found inspiration from my book about the Atlantic, in which the amazingly talented author, Simon Winchester, reminded me of a famous quote from Arthur C. Clarke, who said, “How inappropriate it is to call this planet Earth, when clearly it is Sea.”

Maik and I took advantage of the beautiful day and had another deck shower as our lovely little navigator, Lotse, circled around us slowly guiding us closer to Cape Verde. 

Thursday, 3 January 2019 - Day 10 

889 nm - 199 hours at sea

The midnight watch began with heavy, gusty winds and big, choppy waves. It seems the closer we are to shore—on the front end and the back end of these long passages—the bumpier and more uncomfortable the ride. 

It was a relaxing day, although the choppy swells and white-capped waves continued to rock and roll us. I took no seasick medicine. I felt uneasy at times, but fine for the most part.

By mid-afternoon, we were about 100 miles from landfall, but still no other ships in sight. Only our sweet little Lotse, who continued to fly with us and guide us toward the Cape Verde archipelago.  

Friday, 4 January 2019 - Day 11 

991 nm - 223 hours at sea

After a long night of rocking and rolling seas, restless sleep, and still no ships or land in sight, we began to remind ourselves that we will not have the use of the engine to help us work our way into our mooring position. 

Maik was studying the charts and making preparations to maneuver the channel and the bay into the marina under sail. He had a plan to take down the mizzen, the main, and the genoa sails and use only the small jib to make the maneuver under sail more controllable. 

In the early morning, after 233 straight hours at sea and 1,030 nm, we finally saw in the distance through the morning fog the mountaintops of Cape Verde.

Land Ho!!!

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It was at this point that we couldn’t find Lotse. After flying with us for more than 300 nm, she was just not there anymore. She had brought us to within sight of land, and then quietly flew away to new adventures—perhaps to keep other sailors company on the expansive Atlantic. We missed her, but we understood that petrels want to be at sea. They are not land birds. She had piloted us to within sight of land, and now it was time for her to glide away.

Meanwhile, we had some new visitors.

I saw something floating in the water, but I couldn’t figure out what it was because of the glare of the rising sun. Maik thought it might be a bottle or some other kind of trash. But then we began to see more of these floating objects and decided to take a closer look.

The small, bubbly, colorful objects floating in the Atlantic were about the size of a small bottle decorated with purplish-blue and pink features. They were beautiful and kind of resembled a floating conch shell. They glistened as the sun reflected their colors onto the surface of the clear water that was beginning to take on an aquamarine tint as we got closer to land.

We later learned these were Portuguese Man o’ War. Beautiful, but deadly. 

These creatures are found in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans. With tentacles floating beneath them that are typically 10 meters in length (but can be as long as 30 meters) they can deliver a painful, and even deadly sting. The tentacles are venomous and powerful enough to kill fish, and sometimes humans.

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We learned that these are not actually jellyfish, although this is what they resemble. They are actually a siphonophore, which has multiple organisms. True jellyfish are single organisms. The long, venom-filled tentacles “fish” continuously through the water stinging, paralyzing, and killing adult or larval squids and fishes. Portuguese Man o’ War swim in large groups, sometimes with more than 1,000 individuals, and have been known to deplete entire fisheries.

We probably saw about two dozen of them swimming in the opposite direction.

We sailed into the bay just outside of Marina Mindelo. We made a sharp port side tack and marveled at the detailed layers of remarkable brown mountains and small island formations that just a few hours before were only a faint silhouette on the horizon.

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We were waiting until the last minute to use the engine. I checked the fresh water funnel to be sure it was full. It was time to focus on keeping the engine cool. We had three spare 1.5 liter bottles on standby in case we needed to refill while we were maneuvering into the marina.

As we made our way into the bay and inside the wind shadow of the islands, we began to furl in the genoa. But the furling mechanism decided to give us one more aggravating challenge. It tangled again in the gusty wind and turned us in circles as Maik tried to furl the sail manually while balancing himself on the bow sprit. The mission was unsuccessful. Maik finally had to slice the sheath. He wrapped the genoa as best as he could around the stay, but a small corner was still flapping violently.

We brought in the jib and then took our chances with the engine.

It started.

As the clock on our depleted engine capacity ticked away, we quickly made a straight shot into the marina entrance. But our challenges didn’t end there.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, one end of the sheath that Maik had sliced to untangle the genoa furl had dropped into the water on the port side and found its way into the propeller where it wrapped itself around the blades and the shaft—putting a harsh halt to our ability to control the boat. We slid haphazardly into the fueling station like a baseball player sliding into second base trying to break up a double play. The four attendants yelled at us in Portuguese telling us that we couldn’t moor there.

We ignored them and moored Seefalke anyway. Frankly, we had no choice. We had no control of the boat and slammed Seefalke’s starboard beam into the pier, scraping a huge strip of orange paint from her hull. Fortunately, an 11-ton steel ship wins against a floating wooden pier every time. Seefalke suffered only cosmetic damage.

At this point, I was on the bow securing the lines and unaware that the sheath was tangled in the propeller. I knew something happened that made us lose control of Seefalke, but I naturally assumed the engine had died.

I looked back to the cockpit at Maik. He was stripping down to his skivvies. My first thought was that maybe he was just overheated, like the engine, and was layering down. I was confused. Then he grabbed his scuba mask and worked his way to the stern.

When I got back there with him, he told me what happened. He grabbed a sharp knife and took a dive underneath Seefalke. It took some effort and several dunks under the boat to release and retrieve all the pieces of the mangled line from the propeller.

As Maik was climbing back on board, I heard something in the distance . . . “Michelle!  Michelle!”

It was a familiar voice. I looked over toward the marina entrance and saw our friends Molly and Baxter Gillespie and their dog, Kala, motoring toward us in their dinghy. We met fellow American sailors Molly and Baxter a few months ago in A Caruña, Spain and have been trying to reconnect with them ever since. We barely missed them in Vigo and almost connected in Lisbon. It was so cool to finally see them again that I forgot about our equipment troubles for about five seconds.

The engine came through for us, and our drenched captain navigated us safely into our slip. Then we met with our friends at the floating bar on the pier. We were exhausted, but couldn’t miss another opportunity, especially since they were setting sail for their Atlantic crossing the next morning.

Baxter and Molly Gillespie and their dog, Kala — the crew of  Tarrapin

Baxter and Molly Gillespie and their dog, Kala — the crew of Tarrapin

The Gillespies have been sailing the world on Terrapin for the past seven years. It’s rare to see a boat sailing under an American flag in Europe, so when we saw their boat in Spain, we hunted them down and began communicating with them regularly—always trying to find an opportunity to get together. They are both seasoned sailors, and I’ve especially appreciated all the advice that Molly has given me the past few months—everything from living on a sailboat to fighting seasickness to sailing with dogs. We have been texting all these months, and it was so cool to finally spend some time with them in person.

alain and alexa — the crew of  Et Puis Pas Plus

alain and alexa — the crew of Et Puis Pas Plus

Our time together was short, but meaningful. As we always say, you never really say goodbye to other sailors—we know we will see them again somewhere in the world, possibly on the other side of the Atlantic. Case in point—as we moored Seefalke into her slip earlier that day, I noticed the boat next to us looked familiar. Just as we were tying the lines, out popped Alain and Alexa, our French friends from Arrecife who sail the world on Et Puis Pas Plus.

fredrik and Maria Rovik and their dog Tulling — the crew of  Limitless

fredrik and Maria Rovik and their dog Tulling — the crew of Limitless

Meanwhile, we also connected with Maria and Fredrik Rovik (and their Jack Russel Terrier, Tulling)—a Swedish couple who have a gorgeous Catamaran, Limitless. We have been communicating on Instagram with them and were thrilled to welcome them onto Seefalke the next day for coffee and great conversation. They are another couple who grew tired of the corporate life after working many years with a major automobile manufacturer in Sweden. They sold everything they owned and began their worldwide sailing voyage about a month ago.

After a 242-hour passage that spanned 11 days and covered 1,058 nautical miles, we were exhausted.  

And now the real work begins.

Our next mission is the biggie—to cross the Atlantic Ocean to Barbados. But first we need to repair the cracked heat exchanger and furling mechanism. This could take several weeks since we will likely need to have parts shipped to us on this remote island from other parts of the world. We will spend this time working on these and other projects and doing our final round of provisioning to get Seefalke and ourselves in tip-top shape for the crossing.