Karibik wir kommen. Off to the Caribbean

Hey Leute jetzt ist es so weit!! Heute verlassen wir Mindelo und machen uns auf den Weg in die Karibik also keine Angst, wenn ihr die nächsten 3 bis 4 Wochen nichts von uns hört.

Last post from Africa. We are leaving now for the Caribbean. We will be offline for three to four weeks.

Santo Antao (the track to nowhere)

Everyone in Mindelo was telling us how stunning the neighbouring Island of Santo Antao was so in the morning we took our bikes to the ferry. The day before we had been given a price for bikes but now the lady said “no bikes!”. Panic! But we have a local Mr Fixer who basically blocked the ticket counter until we had bike tickets and were on the ferry.

From the ferry the cobblestone road went uphill. Not just a bit. Non-stop up. 1100 meters uphill through a desert. No houses. No people. No animals. Just up. And cobblestones all the way.

At about 1100 meters vegetation slowly appeared and goats and donkeys and then people. But it was still another 300 meters uphill until we reached our guest house. At the top of the volcano we reached the edge of the crater and looked down in to a perfectly flat, fertile, patchwork of fields. It was just like a scene from “the land that time forgot”.

The guesthouse is a farm with restaurant and a few rooms. Basic but luxurious after a days cycling. Tea on the verandah, a shower, dinner and life was good.

On the second day we cycled down in to the crater and around the inside before taking a track downhill. The start was a flowy track slowly losing height through the bushes. A little further on the trail got smaller, steeper and rocky. Lots of pushing and carrying. Once we had dropped about 500 meters we entered a gorge and the path disappeared. Before us was just a scree slope and an impassable cliff.

So, with no other choice, we climbed back up, pushing, pulling and carrying our bikes. Five hundred meters up a stony, loose desert trail with a bike is “character building” but when you don’t have any other choice you just have to “do it”.

Back at the top we returned to the guest house for more water and asked if there was a later ferry. We were sure we had missed the four o’clock ferry but there was one an hour later. It had taken us four hours to cycle up the cobblestone road. We made it back down in 35 minutes! Our hands felt like jelly but we caught the four o’clock ferry with five minutes to spare.

First bike ride in 2019 (Monte Verde)

We have officially recovered from New Years Eve and from the wine with Christina and Werner last night. So this morning the alarm woke us for an early breakfast and while Heidi packed our rucsacs, Neill ferried the bikes to land with the dinghy. On the pontoon, we assembled both bikes and left the dinghy with some Norwegians who we first met in Portugal.

From the marina we cycled through Mindelo and then uphill on a cobbled road. This is definitely not a place for race bikes. As soon as we left town the traffic reduced to almost nothing and we could cycle next to each other most of the time. The landscape is a desert and it is not hard to believe that the average rainfall is 98mm. In January it doesn’t rain at all. Not surprisingly there is little population, few houses and just the cobbled road.

It is a few weeks since our last bike ride so we could be fitter. Even so, when your front wheel leaves the ground you know it is steep and you aren’t too unfit.

As the road climbed to the summit of Monte Verde at over 700 meters and through the surrounding national park, we were very impressed by the rugged beauty of the volcanic cliffs above us and the stunning views to the beaches far below. As we neared the top we entered the “farmland”. Crops have been planted between the stones and stand dried out and brown in the sun. We guess the dew waters them.

Before we reached the summit with all its antennas we were stopped by a military policeman who waved us away and glowered until we disappeared. Out of his sight we stopped to eat our picnic lunch before the descent.

We have never cycled down 12 kilometers of non-stop cobbles before but now we know that it turns your hands to jelly.

Mindelo

At the end of the last blog entry, we had just dropped anchor in the dark off Mindelo and fallen in to bed and a deep sleep. Obviously we weren’t awake with the sunrise but some time later. When we got up and took a look outside we were presented with a colourful town, a bay surrounded by barren hills and lots of yachts at anchor. And lots of sun and wind.

We moved Artemis nearer land and amongst the other boats. We recognised Riki and Martin’s “aracanga” and their friend’s boat “Streuner” so anchored near to them. Once we had the dinghy out of the locker and the outboard attached, we discovered that the propeller was siezed. No problem; we are young and fit and rowed to the marina office. They told us that the shop next door would service the motor – on Monday – and immigration may be open – on Monday. Life in Africa is slow and relaxed. At least we found an open supermarket where a friendly sales assistant installed local SIM cards in our phones and got us online.

On Sunday we spent most of the day cleaning as much of the Sahara off the boat as possible. We washed everything in salt water and then cleaned all the ropes with fresh water. Artemis once again looks presentable.

A friend from home wrote that he had friends currently at the marina so we contacted each other. In the afternoon, after the cleaning and a warm solar heated shower, we rowed over to say hello to Christina and Martin and ended up leaving again just before midnight. A great evening with two really nice sailors.

Monday just after eight we reported to immigration and received two visas stamped in our passports for a grand total of five Euros. Then on to the maritime police to clear the boat in to the country. One formular and no Euros. Everything quick, efficient and easy. We were on a roll so we filled up with water for one cent a liter at the fishing club, found some one to look at the engine and bought a new bottle of camping gas. Then collapsed in to bed for Siesta.

Today was New Years Eve so we met up with Christina and Werner again and waited for midnight. We knew when it was without a watch. Both ferries were sounding off their horns, people were using up out of date flares and the town put on a great firework show. Straight after a concert began in the middle of town in the closed off streets. Big stage, huge speakers and thousands of people. Everyone from toddler to grandparents and every outfit imaginable from cocktail dres to diving suit (honestly). We watched people and enjoyed the music until past two in the morning.

In Mindelo they know how to party.

To the Cape Verde Islands

In the morning we walked with Max to the bus station and watched him start the journey back to “real life” as a ski instructor. Now, once again, there are just the two of us and our Artemis. One last trip to the marina office and then we left the pontoon and set off from one group of islands heading for another far to the south.

The wind was behind us and, once we left the island’s wind shadow, we were sailing happily downwind with the genoa pulling us along. As the sun set and the full moon rose we left the lights of Tenerife behind us and sailed off in to the Atlantic. As always on the first night out, we slept fitfully, not yet in to the watch system. No Max meant less sleep but we managed.

By the second day we were far from land and surrounded by nothing but waves and sky. The wind turned against us so we set the main sail and genoa for the port tack and left them there for three days. As the wind increased or decreased, we were reefing or rolling the genoa as needed but we never stopped. It was during these three days that we received a coating of sahara sand.

On the fifth night the wind dropped to zero and we were left bobbing under a full moon. It was six hours before we felt a breath of wind so we packed the sails away and went to sleep – alone, 400 kilometers from the nearest land.

On Christmas Eve the wind returned and blew until ten at night. We baked bread and added cheese, onions and bacon to the dough. The evening meal was delicious and warm out of the oven. This time the wind was gone for ten hours so once again it was a good night for sleeping and a bad night for progress.

On Christmas Day we finally had the chance to try our new Parasailor. While the sail converted the light wind to lots of miles, we cleaned all the ropes of their sand. Afterwards we rewarded ourselves with a homemade pizza with everything on top.

Boxing Day and the next day we once again had the trade winds behind us and the genoa pulling us south. On the second night we met the second ship of the trip and checked on the radio that he had seen us. “Yes. Got you on radar and see your lights.” We watched as a huge oil tanker ghosted past us.

Finally, after eight days, we saw the islands ahead of us through the clouds. You know they will be there but it is still nice when they are where they should be.

It was past midnight by the time we arrived off Mindelo harbour. We had sailed all the way but now stowed the sails and started the motor so that the autopilot could take over while we took the anchor out of a locker and fixed it back on its chain. Then we motored very very slowly in to the harbour. The pilot book warned of wrecks and abandoned, unlit hulks so Heidi was on the bow with a torch as we crawled in to the bay. In seven meters of water we dropped the anchor and, at two o’clock, fell in to bed.

A Parasailor for Christmas

On Christmas Eve while sailing south towards the Cape Verde Islands we were becalmed. Two hundred miles off the coast of Africa the wind dropped completely and left us drifting at half a knot with the current. Alone on the Atlantic, we dropped the sails and went to sleep bobbing on the swell.

On Christmas morning we were woken by a light wind heading our way so we set the genoa and tried sailing with that while we ate breakfast but the wind was much too light and the sail flogged so it was time to finally unpack our christmas present – a Parasailor.

We first came across this downwind sail while in Spain. Stuart, from parasailor.co.uk, was also in Ayamonte and gave us a demonstration of the sail out on the river We were impressed; Shane said it was just what we needed and Stuart agreed to deliver it to the Canary Islands so the next morning we ordered a huge orange and black version.

Stuart delivered the sail as promised and also flew out from the UK with a bag of goodies to set the sail up for Artemis. Twice he came out with us and drilled us in hoist sail, jibe sail, strike sail, hoist sail, strike sail, … At the end of the second day we both had back ache and sore muscles.

So on Christmas Day it was finally time to hoist and rig the sail with no Stuart. The bad news was we were hundred of miles from anywhere if we needed help. The good news was we had another ten hours of daylight to get everything working and a few hundred miles of open water with no one in the way. To add to the fun there was the typical Atlantic swell rocking the boat and we had to do everything while clipped on to the boat with our safety lines. We tidied away the jib, rigged all the lines, brought the Parasailor on the foredeck, struck the Genoa, hoisted the sail in its sock, opened the snuffer and – were sailing. We only took ninety minutes from “OK let’s do this!” to “Yippee, we are Parasailors!”

In the last nine hours the apparent wind has varied between two and seven knots but we have an average sailing speed of 4.8 knots and no flogging sails. We are both happy with our Christmas present.

Gran Canaria silliness

We cycled as high as you can get on Tenerife. We cycled to the top of La Gomera so we thought “Why not cycle from the marina to the top of Gran Canaria?” One good reason is that it is over 100 kilometer there and back. Another is that the top of the island is 1900 meters above the boat and over a steep pass. Neither reason was good enough for Heidi.

The alarm went off at six and at seven we were cycling through the dawn light. There was about fifteen kilometers to get warmed up and then a sign warning that the next nine kilometers averaged 7.7% with a maximum of 14.6%. Luckily we turned left before we had done all nine kilometers and followed a tiny pass road that averaged 10%. Later we told a local guide we had done the pass and his comment was “steep!”

At the top of the pass there was a man in the middle of the road giving out samples. A great sales gag which also worked. We bought fruit and cheese in honey for lunch and met two New Yorkers on their honeymoon. A little later we passed some construction workers and were rewarded with cheers and a victory arch of two workers left and right.

More cycling through absolutely amazing scenery and we finally reached the village of Avarata at 1300 meters. By now, we had both had enough but we were “only” 11 kilometers away from the top – and 600 meters below it – so we both switched to “bloody minded mode” and cycled the rest of the way past huge rocks and through pine forests.

At the top the clouds were closing in but we were rewarded with a view across the island with the peak of Teide a hundred kilometers away poking through the clouds.

The 55 kilometers back were almost all downhill with a stop for coffee and amazement at how far and steep we had cycled on the way up. Our route is at gpsies and shows that we actually cycled nearly 2700 meters uphill today

The sand off the Sahara

We are now about four hundred miles south wesr of the Canary Islands, off the coast of Western Sahara, following the coast of Africa southwards. We are staying well away from the coast as the Internet tells of hobby pirates, terrorists and crazy fishermen in this part of the world. In the last three days all we have seen are a handful of birds, the lights of one boat and one aeroplane condense trail.

The wind has been behind us and we were enjoying downwind sailing under a clear blue sky but today the wind turned from the east and therefore off the Sahara. We are now sailing under a blanket of wind borne sand. The sun barely reached us and in the night there was neither moon or stars to be seen. We were sailing across a black ocean that fades into a black sky. Beyond Artemis there was absolutely nothing to be seen. The compass pointed the way and the instruments claimed we were making good speed as we sailed from darkness into darkness. Occasionally we took a wave on the port bow and it broke across us but other than that we only heard the wind generator and water passing under the keel.

The next morning it was obvious that we had passed through the tail end of a sand storm. Everything was dusted with fine sand, the teak hand rails had been sand blasted and every rope is impregnated with finest sand. What we need now is a tropical rain storm to wash Artemis clean of salt and sand.

Update: we didn’t wait for the rain. On Christmas Day we began cleaning everything. The pilot tells us that the sand carrying wind is called the Harmattan and can carry its load a distance of 600 miles offshore.

Aquair towed generator

When we bought Artemis there was an Aquair generator at the bottom of one of the lockers. Getting this working again has been on the “todo list” since we left but was never priority number one as we mostly have enough power from the wind generator and the sun. Now however, with a few long journeys ahead of us, the time had come to get it plugged in and earning its keep.

The generator is designed to work as either a towed generator or a wind generator. The basic housing is the same and you change out the wind vanes or the towed propeller as needed. We currently have it affixed to the stern of the boat and operating in “water mode”.

A long rope is attached to the axis of the generator and streamed behind the boat. At the far end there is a torpedo shaped weight with an integrated propeller. As we sail along the propeller turns the rope which drives the generator.

The Aquair produces a 12 volt output so we have it connected it straight in to the battery. Originally we thought we needed a regulator but recently a long time user of the system rightly pointed out that if the onboard systems are using roughly the same as the generator is producing, then you can’t overcharge the batteries. With our fridge switched on we use roughly the three to four amps that are being generated.

Above about 12.7 volts our house batteries and engine starter battery automatically switch together so we then have over three hundred amp-hours of capacity. Even if the generator was to produce six amps, that would still only be a charging current of 2%. I doubt if the batteries would even notice it.

Forty eight hours after leaving port, we still have three fully charged batteries and a cold fridge. It looks like the towed generator is the perfect complement to our solar and wind systems.

The Canary Islands

As we write this we are sailing south along the coast of Tenerife on our way south to the Cape Verde islands after spending two months in the Canary Islands.

Before we came here, we had read about all the problems that we could expect. Anchoring, they claimed, is forbidden nearly every where and you will be moved on by the police. The marinas, they said, were always full and wouldn’t let you in without a reservation. The swell, they warned, is awful and the wind mostly too strong. Luckily, against all this advice, we sailed to the islands and have had an enjoyable stay here.

We never booked a marina and at four out of five we turned up unannounced and were given a berth. At the fifth marina they would have allowed us to raft up even though they were full, but the strong wind had already ripped cleats off the pontoon and was threatening to increase. We had to agree that staying there was impossible. The marina staff were all friendly, professional and helpful. Often they were hampered by bad computer systems but they worked round them.

We spent a week in mainland Spain and felt totally confident leaving Artemis (and Max) at Santa Cruz Marina.

We spent over twenty nights at anchorage at a selection of beautiful anchorages (and the less lovely anchorage at Las Palmas). There was always a bit of swell but only one night was bad enough to deprive us of sleep. A few nights we had winds of up to twenty knots but, with our Rocna anchor, that was no problem and the wind generator charged the batteries. We saw a patrol boat moving boats without permits on in a national park but we were never disturbed by harbour officials or the police. Neither did we meet anyone who had been moved on.

It is true that there is often plenty of wind, particularly in the acceleration zones where the venturi effect between the islands adds to the wind speed. Fighting wind and swell can be less enjoyable than a downwind cruise but any sailing is better than motoring.

As we already wrote, we needed work doing on the boat. We can vouch that there are skilled tradesmen on Tenerife and are sure there are good people on Gran Canaria. Everyone we met in the two months were friendly and polite and, even if they only spoke spanish and didn’t understand us, willing to help.