December 31 marked not only the end of the 2000 “teens,” but also the first day of our Odyssey as a northbound vessel. Having worked our way southwest since leaving the San Diego Yacht Club March 3, we were, at 34 degrees south latitude in Cape Town, at the journey’s nadir.
After a lovely fish and chips New Year’ Eve dinner at a V & A Waterfront outdoor restaurant, we strolled back to the “Noreaster,” on which we had spent the day filling with fuel, water, and provisions, tossed off the docklines and headed northwest for St. Helena, 1700 NM distant.
The Cape Town “Doctor,” as they call the strong winds that blow down from Table Mountain, jump started our passage. Even before clearing the harbor, 45 knot gusts sent spray across our decks, forcing us to don our foul weather gear. Fortunately, once clear of the breakwater, we headed downwind and, under reefed jib alone, were making over 8 knots. These conditions continued over the next four days, enabling us to log a daily average of 182 NM. We were nearly half way to St. Helena and had barely used any fuel, which was great. Then the wind quit.
While we are reluctant to motor on long passages due to our limited fuel capacity, calm seas allow us to fish, which is lots of fun. Each day for the next three, Travis, on his watch, landed perfectly-sized dorado (aka Mahi-Mahi), which we consumed in total the same day. On Day 5 we were burning through our main tank’s 260 l of diesel, even while running at just 2000 RPM making 5 knots, but we had filled 4 Jerry cans with an additional 90 l before leaving Cape Town, which we began dumping into our main tank starting on Day 6. The next day, we added our final 40 l, and calculations showed we had enough fuel to motor 360 NM. Unfortunately, St. Helena was still 575 NM away, and the wind was still nonexistent.
Day 9, in spite of our concerns over the fuel supply, was probably the highlight of our trip. Around 1500 hours, we sighted a large white and orange object floating perhaps 500 m distant, which we thought might be a life raft. Somewhat apprehensive about what we might find in such a vessel so far from land (e.g., human remains), we were relieved to discover it was a large tank of some sort, 7 m long and 2 m in diameter, probably filled with fuel oil, 2/3 submerged and just waiting to sink any sailing vessel that might ram it at night. However, its sunken portion was a large marine ecosystem, making the waters surrounding it probably the best fishing spot in the South Atlantic.
As we approached the tank, we saw hundreds of large fish surrounding our boat. We had both a deep-sea rod and a hand line trailing lures, and both were hit simultaneously. I hauled in the hand line, which held a small tuna, but the fish flipped off as I tried to pull him on board. Travis had something more substantial on his line, fought it for almost 30 minutes, and just as we caught glimpses of its form underwater, it also escaped. Disappointed but not discouraged, we went back to the tank for another pass, and immediately hooked a large wahoo, which I managed to reel in after another 20 minutes so Travis could gaff it and bring it on board. It was so large, 45” long, we had to hack-saw it into two pieces so each of us could clean a portion. It fed us for 4 days, and was exquisite!
While we were experiencing one of our most relaxing and well-nourished passages to date, by Day 9, our fuel gauge was showing “Empty,” and we were still several days’ away from our destination. Now our motor could only be run at low revs for charging batteries, and we had to sail in whatever breeze we could find. The wind was perfectly behind us, but by sailing under spinnaker alone, and heading slightly higher than dead downwind, we were able to generate enough apparent wind to make progress. I remembered an extra 1 gallon jug of diesel stashed under the helm seat, which got poured into the tank. At one point, we sailed just 15 NM in 4 hours. On Day 12 the wind finally picked up to over 10 knots, increased to 15, and St. Helena appeared on the horizon. With just a mile to go before the anchorage, we dropped the sails, fired up the engine, and picked up our mooring. Safe at last! We don’t know how far below “E” we have to get before running out of fuel, but we just picked up another two 25 l jerry cans for our passage to Barbados, 3500 NM from here, our longest yet. We set sail tonight.