In my last blog we were in Gloucester in the USA to wait for a good weather window to start our North Atlantic crossing to Europe. Towards Ireland/Kinsale to be precise. It might be a long blog for some of you, but maybe a nice insight into an Atlantic Crossing.
We left Gloucester on the 5th of August in the afternoon when the wind finally calmed down a bit around 20 knots from the Tropical Storm Isaias the night before. The whole sky was opening up when we left and we got treated with the sun and great wind on the beam. Ker Marie was flying along with 8 knots…not a bad start. We were heading towards Canada. Due to the pandemic we weren’t allowed on land and if you wanted to anchor in Canadian waters you had to ask for permission from the government. We planned for one stop, which is also the last stop possible before you cross the big pond. It’s a place called St.Johns in New Foundland where we will re-fuel and get our last provisioning. St.Johns is the capital and largest city of the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It is the most eastern city in North America, excluding Greenland.
Our sailing along with 8 knots didn’t last for that long unfortunately. After 4 hours the wind died down and it turned into very rolly sailing. The swell was side on and while I was making dinner I got tossed around and my cherry tomatoes for my Caesar salad were airborne in the galley. We both love cooking and find it really important we eat well during a crossing. I put in a lot of effort making nice meals. There are some meals I make before hand, and put it in our freezer. Meaning that if I really don’t fancy cooking or if the weather makes cooking in the galley not easy I just grab a freezer meal. Somehow I always end up with the most challenging meal in the most challenging weather conditions.
We do our watches 4 hours on, 4 hours off. When it was my turn to sleep after dinner the rolling motion of the boat made it that I couldn’t get into sleep. Completely awake in my bunk I saw the 4 hours pass until it was my turn to get out there again. I guess it was just because it was the first night and I was all a bit too excited.
On my night watch the sky was so clear and bright that it could have been early morning. We were doing a very slow 2.5 knots in the wrong direction. We were literally going nowhere. It felt terrible at the time, but it is also what I like about sailing. Sometimes it might be the wrong direction but later it pays off if you get into the right wind window. You hope. And it did pay off, we got into a patch of more wind and in the early morning we got our spinnaker out. During the day the wind was on and off and not really playing ball.
By the time we got into our second night we had to put our engine on, there was really not a single breeze left. The sea was as flat as a pancake. We both don’t like motoring but sometimes you have to, to get in time for other weather coming up further in your journey. During the night we had a lot of very thick fog, this is common in this area. A few times I couldn’t see the bow of the boat. There were many fishing boats around and most of them were NOT on AIS (Automatic Identification System….so they show up on your plotter). Thank god for a good working radar! Some fishing boats came really close, but in thick fog and at night that is a little bit freaky (for me) when you don’t see them, and suddenly they are RIGHT there! Let’s put it that way that I had a few swearwords and why?? are they doing this! Oh and don’t forget the big amount of fishing buoys we also had to avoid.
In the morning we got treated with an amazing sunrise that tried to burn the fog away which was almost eerie. A few hours later we got Canada in sight and were welcomed by the coastguard about 10 miles off the coast. Very friendly guys who were asking what we were up too and where we were going. We are not allowed on land and I think they wanted to make sure we were a vessel in transit. After a big friendly wave, they left. In the meantime we changed into our proper warm sailing gear because it was getting pretty cold. David was lying under the winter duvet and even Floyd was completely tucked in under a blanket.
At night we checked the forecast and it changed significantly. There will be no wind at all the next day. We decided to get going as long as possible but that when the wind dies, we drop our anchor. To drop our anchor we had to ask permission from the authorities due to covid. After several phone calls explaining our situation that we are a vessel in transit, we got a phone call back a few hours later that we got permission to drop anchor. Obviously we were not allowed on land. And so we did when the wind died, just before Halifax in Nova Scotia. And oh my god, what a beauty of an anchorage! Magical.
After a good meal and a very good night sleep we hoisted our spinnaker again in the early morning. The wind was back. Not much but enough to head back out again. The sea state was a bit messy but following. We had a big group of dolphins along the boat for a while. These creatures make me so happy.
The fresh vegetables were going wrong quickly. I was only able to buy refrigerated vegetables unfortunately. That means you need to refrigerate them again straight away. Unrefrigerated vegetables stay good for a lot longer. During dinnertime we spotted some whales! Amazing and they were massive! At night the wind was like a night switch/gusty. At moments it was 12 knots and within a few seconds it would be 25. The reefing kept on going on and on. At one point I set the sails for a middle point because I was so annoyed. Although I had a hard time not adjusting it in low winds because you know you can go faster. At this stage we had about 160 miles to go to the south tip of New Foundland.
During the daytime we were still able to fly our spinnaker but we went slightly into the wrong direction. We decided to continue with our spinnaker because of our speed and that we will make a tack later. Before dinner we took it down and tacked back towards the south tip of New Foundland which was about 20 miles away before we were able to turn up North. Through the night we had very steady winds on the beam and lovely sailing conditions, although it was foggy again. Early in the morning we reached St. Johns but we didn’t get permission yet to get into harbour. For hours we have been sailing circles in front of the natural harbour and finally we got a ‘go’ and were allowed to come in.
The scenery and nature here is absolutely magical. It is so impressive. The natural harbour entrance is fairly small and has both sides steep rock walls. We took our sails down and got the boat ready for docking. While coming in we could see that there were not many small vessels coming into this harbour. We were surrounded by massive fishing boats and we had to park between them. Our boat looked like a dinky toy and the gigantic truck tires against the quay served as a ‘soft’ bumper. Uhmm, not really for our boat. After docking we could not believe we were finally here, a place we both dreamed of. It took us a slow 6.5 days of sailing and 895 miles, but the first part of the Atlantic Crossing was done!
Port authorities came around and gave us a very warm welcome and have been very helpful to get us this exemption to park our boat here to refuel and to get some provisioning during a pandemic. Such a pity we are not allowed on land, but already grateful to be here and to see the beauty of this place. When the port authorities left we straight away called up the supermarket to order our shopping to be delivered to the boat and a fuel company to deliver us fuel. There isn’t a fuel dock here.
During the day so many people stopped at our boat to offer help of any kinds, from walking the dog to do shopping for us. We had great conversations and everyone was so enormous friendly. In the meantime we checked the weather forecast and it looked like we were able to leave the next morning. After a good night sleep we decided the weather was good to go. In the morning we got our shopping delivered and a big truck came to fuel us up. We were ready.
We casted off our lines, got a big wave from the fisherman next to us, and off we went, crossing the second part of the North Atlantic towards Ireland/Kinsale. We really want to come back here one day, what a great and beautiful place. Thank you Canada for your kindness in a pandemic. It felt like we were leaving the world, thats how rough and beautiful this place is.
Our route was heading up North/North East for the next few days to avoid a low pressure and to be in more favourable winds. We wanted to stay below the SE ice limit though. The wind wasn’t as forecast, actually there was not much wind at all. At times we had to put our engine on, and unfortunately our engine decided to use a lot more fuel per hour than normal. It was a frustrating day, going up North with not much wind feels like you are not making ANY progress. David spent a lot of time in the engine room trying to sort the engine out with no luck. We saw loads of puffins though and they make me laugh so much. They try to fly away as soon as they see the boat but they are a bit too chubby to take off. So they are belly flopping all the time or are flying into a wave. Little clumsy things that gave good entertainment on board for all of us.
At night at 12 o’clock on my night watch I toasted on myself with a cup of tea. Today was my birthday. Slightly different then normal I would say. First time celebrating a birthday on an ocean crossing. All I wanted for my birthday was a bit of wind and not hitting any icebergs this crossing. My prayers were listened too. We caught the northerlies and they were pumping us East with a steady 20 knots, gusting to 30 with the accompanying swell. All the sails had a reef and the ride was a bit uncomfortable for mister Floyd, our dog. Later in the day we passed the iceberg limit and that made us pretty happy. A birthday never to forget.
For the next days it was windy, but it seemed like it was dropping off. We were trying to keep up with an extensive low pressure which was heading for the UK. This way we could benefit from the tail end, direction and the wind speed. It felt like we were on the edge of it all the time with the wind going on and off. We were hoping we were able to keep up with it!
It was very cold on board due to the Northerlies. It was that cold that we put Floyd inside. Normally he isn’t allowed inside so you can guess how happy he was when he was allowed to sleep next to our bunk. I wrapped myself up looking like I was ready for an artic experience having to sleep in an igloo. Even David, the über warm blooded man, was cold sometimes. So, my artic experience look was justified I reckon. Suddenly I heard the sound of fabric ripping. I looked up and saw that our Bimini ripped just above the window. A terrible spot to rip it on our boat, because we get wet every time a wave comes over the bow. I made a professional *uhum* repair with some waterproof material, clothing pegs and some line. It was working, for now, let’s see for how long.
We were already two weeks underway when we left the US and I could feel that my body really needed some exercise, it needs some land. I can feel my muscles start to weaken from the lack of sleep and lack of body movement. But I have to be a bit more patient here, a lot more miles to go!
In the meantime the wind died down substantially and we had the idea we were getting out of the end tail of the low pressure. It died from a solid 25 knots to about 12. This was an opportunity for David again to get into the engine room without being thrown around to try to fix our fuel problem. He did a quick fix which hopefully sorted it. By the time it was at night there wasn’t much wind left and we had to turn on our engine. Let’s see after a bit of motoring if Davids work payed off.
We checked the weather and we saw two more low pressures forming and we couldn’t avoid the first one (force 7), but we could try to make landfall before the second one. It means we have to keep up with a decent average in miles per day. With not much wind for the upcoming days and our fuel leak this might be a challenge. Well, at least we know we are getting decent wind with that low coming over us.
We have been treated with lots of groups of dolphins and whales. Floyd even spots them before us. We think he can smell them sometimes. He sticks his nose up in the air, ears up, and that is how we know we got something moving around the boat. I think we should start a whale watching charter because he is a pretty good spotter.
Our liters per hour are back to normal again and that feels pretty good knowing that you have enough fuel again for this trip. The wind seems to be back as well, and we reached the half way point. That point is always massive in my mind, its a little celebration. It’s like you climbed a mountain and now you are able to go down. I have been literally dreaming of sitting in front of log fires sipping wine, going for long walks and to sleep longer than 4 hours. We are getting there. The wind was coming from the South now and we thought it would bring us warmer winds but I think it will be the artic look for a bit longer.
During the nights I catch myself ‘again’ obsessively tweaking the sails and direction to get the best speed possible. On a normal day sail I would roughly look at the numbers and more feel whats going on. Instead, I am staring (with my glasses on) at the speed/wind direction and the sail set up. When David wakes up for his watch and I tell him excitingly that 77 degrees is “really the best angle for this set up” and that “He can’t change it”…..he starts laughing out loud….and so do I. At least I keep myself busy.
I was hitting the bunk quickly after my sail tweaking and pulled out an extra duvet because I was super cold. When lying down I could hear the sea start moving fast underneath me. The wind is increasing. I couldn’t really get into a deep sleep. I heard so many little noises/sounds but I can all relate them. After living on Ker Marie for more than 2 years I know every little screech or sound it makes when she moves. I am so proud of her.
I tried to watch a program on my phone which might make me fall asleep. It does. I woke up 3 hours later and make eggs and bacon for breakfast. In between making breakfast we hoist our spinnaker. The wind should change direction later on and turn behind us so we are sailing downwind. That makes us both pretty happy because our boat is very good in down wind sailing. A lot more stable and a lot faster.
The weather is still cold, grey and miserable. But in the afternoon the sunshine showed itself for the first time. What a great feeling to feel some rays on your face. Later on the day we had a big group of dolphins around the boat and a lot of baby dolphins. I clipped myself in and stepped out of the cockpit to deck to walk towards the bow. Fantastic! These creatures always make me so happy. I never saw baby dolphins before and it was beautiful. They were so tiny, yet so agile and completely synchronised swimming along their mothers. It almost made me cry. Almost. I blame the tiredness for that.
As expected the wind turned and kicked in over dinner time. This was part of the low pressure we were going to see. We had a steady 20 knots for a while but on my first night watch the wind suddenly increased with gusts over 40 knots within seconds. And that didn’t stop. The swell was building rapido behind me and we were literally surfing down waves a few hours later.
I woke up David after my 4 hour shift. I was so tired that all I could think of was hitting my head on my pillow. That was a heavy watch. That is heavy weather out there. Those are big waves out there. It’s exhausting to control the boat in these conditions. My body started to relax when I hit the bunk. I am cold. Tears are rolling over my face. Not because I am sad, just because I am dog-tired. I fall into a deep sleep and I scare up from the sound of my alarm. 4 hours passed which felt like 30 minutes. I get my sailing gear on again, get up into the cockpit and are welcomed again with heavy rain and 35 knots……..it’s my turn again.
The next two days continued like this and I couldn’t wait until the wind would ease off. It did make us both very competitive though in trying to break our ‘over ground top speed’. And we did, we improved our top speed to 15.6 knots! Thats pretty fast for our boat. Later the wind finally died down to a steady 25 knots which felt like an absolute delight. We don’t mind 40 knots and it isn’t new to us, but it just amazes me every-time how quickly swell builds and how quickly you adapt as a person to the situation.
In the meantime we made a lot of miles and we were getting closer to Kinsale/Ireland. We both have been talking about all the things we’ll do when we get to land. It is so funny how you can look forward to very simple things in life that are not always so simple at sea. We should be able to make landfall before the second low pressure comes in.
We were coming closer to Ireland and it didn’t take long before we finally spotted land. That is such a great feeling. At night we had an unexpected plus 30 knots which flew us through the evening sky. We had a very slow day after, with almost no wind. We passed the iconic FastNet Rock and made the calculation we were probably not going to make it before dark. Which meant we needed to anchor outside Kinsale so we could go in harbour the next morning.
We dropped our anchor at 10.00 o’clock at night outside Kinsale. We did it! We crossed the North Atlantic after 23 days and a total of 2680 miles from Gloucester/USA. From St.Johns/Canada it was 1785 miles in 12 days. After a knock out sleep we sailed into Kinsale the next morning and arrived in harbour. We got a very friendly Irish welcome and were both über happy that we made it into Kinsale. A dream for David to arrive in his home Country and to drink a pint of Guinness to celebrate.
A trip to never forget. A trip we both smile from ear to ear if we talk about it. A trip which made us grow.