<-- Previous: British Virgin Islands Next: Flores and Faial -->
The Crossing Back
-- 9th to 28th May 2012 --
Crossing back… everybody talks about it with apprehension before making the jump, with respect when they’ve done it. It’s our turn now, the famous route opens up in front of us. Sometimes difficult, always long, it crosses through a big part of the northern hemisphere. During this trip more than any other progression is measured through daily changes in temperature, wind, skies, colors…

More pictures: blue, less blue, or not blue at all :oS on our page "Pictures". And even a short movie to make you feel the cold and wet.

2267 miles sailed in 19 days and 10 hours, at an average of 4,86 kts
11 045 miles since the start
We stopped in : Flores: Lajes (marina)
9th May 2012 : Sea smooth to slight, wind E 3-4, fine weather – departure
At noon, the sun stood at 0°57’ from us, almost at the zenith. Water : 29,2°. Air (in the boat) : 32°
A little breeze is gently blowing Marigot Bay awake after several days of clam. We are almost ready, the dinghy carefully dried and folded away in the trunk – clear sign that it’s time to go! We’re only missing 20L of diesel to fill our last tank. Unfortunately everybody else is getting ready to leave and not a drop can be found in the stations of the Bay – at the end, our friends from Blue Wind give us a ride to the lagoon to fill up.

Good, this time, we’re off! The boat is made ready, the sails uncovered, the cabin neat and tidy, the locks removed… except one lock, completely rusty and refusing to release our wind vane even after several dips in WD40. No way we leave our precious Bob wind vane in hostage! If the lock doesn’t open, it’ll break… it takes less than 2 minutes to cut it clear with a very simple metal saw. (And now we understand why bike-theft rates are so high in Holland…).

Saltimbanque ready for the jump, the additional diesel tanks are firmly tied to the shrouds
Last time picking up the anchor before… long… The engine off, we’re riding smoothly along Saint Martin. A light wind, bright sun – nice! Anguilla Island spreads always further to the east and we have to make another tack to weather it before finally setting the course towards the high sea: route to the 40, there on the other side of the horizon lays Flores, 2000M from here…

We are not alone on the water today: at least four other sails are heading north as well, under the friendly trade winds clouds and as the evening thunderstorms gather on the islands way behind us.

Starting under the Caribbean sun, but the clouds are looming already behind…
Sailing closehold to the wind is not our favorite trim: heeling, banging, soaking – even with 15kts wind. Sleeping in the front cabin is not possible as it jumps up higher than 2m on every wave. Not possible either to stay dry in the cockpit. Our vital space shrinks to the 4m2 of the main cabin.

The first reportable incident occurs in the night: a piece of rope holding our fruit-net under the solar panel breaks, causing a couple of casualties amongst the cabbage and grapefruits. Despite our big stock of tin cans we are very sad of this loss… on the following morning the grey sky doesn’t help to cheer us up. On top of that we lose the end of a line eaten away by a mahi-mahi. This is a frustrating start :oS
10th May: wind ESE 4-5, sea rough, thunderstorms – 124 M
Noon : sun peaking at 2°13’ from us. Water : 28,3°. Air: 29,7°
The weather is dull and grey on this second morning, but the wind is fair: 15kts from the SE, Saltimbanque flies at 6kt on the direct course! Time to rest and to start our new artistic project: the crossing’s flag. Last time we made Christmas balls during the crossing, but as there’s no Christmas soon we have to find something else to express our talents. It will be a big flag decorated square by square every day, like a comic strip.

At nightfall the sky grows darker, turns pitch dark, streaked with lightning… No more protective hills, our little mast stands alone on the water up to the clouds… until 4am we tack and tack again, trying to avoid the darkest clouds… the wind picks up to 20kt, we take 2 reefs and change the genua for the gib. No exactly your perfect night…

We'll have to get used to living on an uneven floor !
11th May: wind ESE 3-5, sea slight to moderate – 129 M

Noon : sun at 3°20’ from us. Water : 27,9°. Air: 29,8°
Luckily in the morning the sun shines on a new day, warming up the clothes and the hearts. As the clothes get dry, we get wet under the shower. The water is already sensibly colder but still very acceptable and rinsing our spray-covered faces with fresh water feels so good.

At noon we study the weather thoroughly. There used to be a daily long-wave broadcast on the French radio RFI, but they stopped in January. To replace it we played the card “call a friend”: Yann sends every day the general situation and forecast by sms, and expended version on emails every couple of days. Thank you Yann! With our Iridium we can ask for Grib files in complement – and actually also receive the situation cards of the NOAA by email! (see below for the technical details). Awaiting us for the next couple of days: flat calm west of the 60°W and a little low east of us making winds up to 30kt. We’ll have to squeeze in the middle… (actually the low turned out to be some forecast error in the Grib files – those files are automatically generated and not checked by any human – although useful and accurate most of the time, they may contain errors or be understated in some situations). We aim for the 20°, running close to the wind at 5.5kt in average!

The sun goes up on a new day closehold to the wind !
Good that we enjoyed the blue sky in the morning, because it doesn’t last… the clouds and the accompanying wind gusts are back in the afternoon. Again 2 reefs and the gib, getting the 3rd reef ready just in case – mode “struggle”. To change the front sails we have to bear away from the wind for a moment and – surprise – everything becomes quiet and easy… what a difference between close to and with the wind!

Back to the route, close to the wind, we spend most of the time watching or sleeping. Just like during the first crossing we try and spend some time together, but priority n°1 is rest. We do usually a quick nap during the day. When the boat is heeling continuously so that we can’t tell the vertical from the horizontal, when the crashing waves break about twice more quickly than when running with the wind, every muscle is strained. Everything is very wet as well, the deck swept by the waves, the cockpit of course, and even parts of the cabin when a treacherous wave finds its way under the sliding hatch to the feet of the sleeping sailor on her bunk… as for now the temperature is still high enough for us not to care too much though :o) Nights are tackled with a tshirt and a light rainjacket only. And when the clouds part, the starts are beautiful – especially the constellation of the scorpion, bright and full and high on our route…
12th May: wind ESE 3-5, sea slight to moderate – 122 M
Noon : sun at 5°08’ from us. Water : 27,1°. Air: 28,4°
It has been a quiet night. In the morning we find ourselves in the middle of the Azores Highway! Two cargoes pass us by in a few hours, then a white sail appears behind, such as an elegant comma set on the horizon. A fast growing comma! Soon the full boat is visible, a nice light blue hull and the gleaming white reefed sails of a cutter. We talk on the VHF as they pass us by: Volterra left Saint Martin two days ago, they are heading to Horta where they expect to be… in 7 to 8 days!!! Mmm maybe we’ll be a bit longer… we swap emails and other formalities, then one of the crew asks: “Your boat is a Brise de Mer right?.. I’ve seen her already in Africa, with her former owner Jerome…”. Even in the middle of the Atlantic Saltimbanque is famous!
Ok a bigger boat sails faster... but we're smaller, hence cuter !
A few hours later we cross the Tropic line again. The first time was off the White Cape on the way to Dakar… so long ago, so far away… good bye tropics!

The afternoon is rather quiet. Saltimbanque is making his way close to the wind, every inch of canvas out. We find time to bake some bread, to read, to chat, to sit in the cockpit and play Trivial Pursuit! Being at sea is great! We love those peaceful moments when the boat is sailing away on his own, course set, sails up, when our minds can fly away through a book or a talk. Sometimes we would almost forget where we are, in the middle of the sea, surrounded by blue waves under the sky… but one noise, one tiny unusually move at the corner of our eye and everything is gone – we stay still, fixed, humming the air and watching that grey patch over there: was it really a lightning? Goodbye rest and dreams. The clouds are gathering as every evening and we start watching for thunder… In the end it strikes way behind us – thank you Poseidon! Yet the wind increases and we take the chance of every change of the watch to manoeuver – setting the gib, reefing… and they said it would be calm here, in the high pressure zone… not sure whom to trust any more!!

It was beautiful before the cloud arrived... damn cloud...
13th May: wind ESE 4-6, sea slight to rough– 111 M

Noon : sun at 6°23’ from us. Water : 26,5°. Air: 28,8°
As the sun rises Camille is hoping to go to bed for her second half of night… well, too bad: the sun is followed by a thick cape of dark clouds blocking the light at every level. The wind picks up suddenly, in no time we find ourselves from main-sail-up to no-main-sail-at-all, only the gib. Very quickly big waves appear, on which Saltimbanque bangs and crashes as he struggles on close to the wind. This ordeal lasts for an hour, then the “warm front” is gone and life resumes its normal course – the wind veering favorably 30°!

Yet the boat keeps on jumping about, making it difficult to sleep sound and long. When the sea becomes smoother in the afternoon the main activity is still the “siesta”. On such a long crossing the crew’s fatigue is at least as important a parameter as the state of the boat…

The tropic birds are common in high seas
The air is really cooler now, even though the sun is still hot. Sitting in the cockpit all the afternoon long has become agreeable. At night a fleece is required. Today’s surprise is a couple of elegant white birds with a very thin long tail called “Tropicbirds”. They fly about the boat, light and easy, 500M away from any land…
Tonight it’s flat enough to cook: we treat ourselves to a lemon-pie! The night is quiet under the stars. Sitting on the stairs we listen to audiobooks (the adventures of Captain Hornblower of His Majesty King George of England fighting on the 3 oceans and the 7 seas against the Corsican tyran Bonaparte). We listen, and watch the clouds running, dark patches against the shining stars… at last a thunder-free night!
Yummy ?
14th May: wind SE 3b, sea slight – 114 M
Noon : sun at 7°37’ from us. Water : 26°. Air: 29,8°

A nice day closee to the wind with Saltimbanque !
Ridges are good! As the barometer climbs the sea flattens and the wind decreases. Little and light Saltimbanque runs quite well in lighter winds thanks to a clean hull. Normal life can resume onboard after a first couple of days struggling in the breeze. Enjoy: peaceful sleep, full showers, towels and bedsheets drying in the sun! And we can even stand and walk to the bow of the boat!
Many sails on the horizon again. Three yachts spotted only today. Much sargass seaweed as well, those dirty yellow drifting banks growing around here, not far from the “Sargasso sea”. Getting on our nerves as they keep on jamming the windvane’s fletner or turning the yummy-looking lure into a disgusting (and inefficient) salad. 6 days at sea and no fresh fish – never happened before…

As night falls, so does the temperature… we adapt tonight’s menu: tartiflette with cheddar (couldn’t find the proper French cheese…). One more step away from the tropics: we dig out our trousers! Sandals are put away, socks and closed shoes reappear… it feels so cold even with 25° inside. Maybe 6 months under the tropics have messed up our senses? The cold night is beautiful nonetheless, a perfect round sky just like a planetarium above us.

Yet another seaweed bank !
15th May: wind NE 4b, sea moderate to rough– 114 M
Noon : sun at 8°44’ from us. Water : 25,1°. Air: 26°
Lots happened today! First we change time zone: in the Antilles the official time is UTC (Universal Time Compensated) – 4, in the Azores it’s UTC, hence 4 hours difference. As we are sailing about 30 degrees to the east, and since the sun runs about 15 degrees per hour, the “solar” time difference is actually only 2 hours. But the conventions of man decided it would be 4 hours, so we’d better start adjusting our clocks: we will change every 8° to the east roughly, and always around noon – so as to lose an hour of watch, and not an hour of sleep ;-)

1 year at sea ! that deserves a celebration (even though modest, as we're sailing)
This afternoon thus shortened will nevertheless be a productive one. We celebrate the anniversary of our trip today: one year ago exactly, on Sunday 15th May 2011, we left our home port Stad-aan’t-Haringvliegt, waving our friends goodbye and setting sails to reach the first lock a couple of miles further east. As we were mooring along the jetty there, a couple of passers-by asked us where we were bound to. Quite embarrassed we mumbled something like: “we’re going to the Caribbean’s – well, at least, trying to…”. It all seemed so unreal, so far at the time… yet today those waves breaking on the hull are very real, and so is the big ocean we’re crossing for the second time!!! Despite the heeling we manage to bake an anniversary “chocolate pudding”. The recipe comes from our culinary bible “cooking onboard” by Michele Meffre. Looks weird but tastes very good – and there’s plenty left to help us through the next night shifts! Tonight, the next accessory to be dug out of the cupboards are rain boats :o(

16th May: wind ENE 4b, sea moderate to rough– 109 M
Noon : sun at 11°20’ from us. Water : 23,7°. Air: 25,8°
For one week we have been able to keep a rather good bearing almost straight to the Azores. It is quite unusual in this area – and reality catches up today, when the wind veers to the North, forcing us full North. The sea is 1° colder than yesterday… time to do some washing before it gets even worse! In the afternoon the wind increases and the sea becomes rougher, making any activity very difficult. A couple of waves splashing on the side find their way through the sliding hatch inside the cabin again and we build a small plastic-bags tent inside to keep the sleeping bunk dry…
Our shelter inside the shelter
The diner is basic: noodles and bread spread with paté. And of course, Murphy’s law decided that the gaz bottle should be changed tonight under the rain and spray… Thus well fed we can tackle a new cold and windy night under the stars. Should we wear the rain-trousers? Not, not yet… let’s stay warm inside instead :o) To sleep we need a thicker fleece blanket now.

17th May: wind ESE 3-4b, sea slight – 117 M
Noon : sun at 11°47’ from us. Water : 22,6°. Air: 24,1°

A "man-of-war" jelly fish, not easy to take a picture... (the nice photo here is from the internet)
During the night we crossed the 30° N parallel. In the morning the sun rises on a new world. The intense and deep blue of the high seas is still there, and the gleaming white of a couple of nice little trade winds clouds. Seen from the deck no line comes to destroy any symmetry. Seen from the deck the horizon is a circle – the world is a flat blue disk, crowned by a lighter blue sky. Yet one color is missing this morning: no more dirty yellow seaweed! Instead, bright pink dots are dancing on the waves. Weird things, looking like flat bubbles: these are “man-of-war” jellyfishes – or “sailing jellyfishes”. Elegant – and dangerous if you touch their bright blue filaments! Flying fishes have vanished in the night as well. The dark brown wings of the wide puffins are still gliding just above the waves.
For one week we have been towing useless lines. Jammed by seaweed or damaged by invisible beasts, the lures always came back up empty – and we eat meat. But this morning… “Bite!” says Laure, “it’s a big one”, she adds as an excuse to wake Camille up. We let the gib fall to slow down, catch the gloves and the fish hook… the line is very tensed but nothing is to be seen on the surface. It actually dives a little, and sways right and left behind. No jump means it’s not a mahi-mahi. Slowly we take the line in, closer and closer, without seeing anything yet… finally a jump: a swordfish! The shape disappears again in the depth until the line is so short it has to swim alongside Saltimbanque. It’s a beautiful, big swordfish, smoothly swimming along despite the hook in its rostrum. No useless jumps and hectic moves, it seems calm and thoughtful, it seems patient and wise. Every now and then it comes back to the surface, looking at us. Once or twice it tries to free itself with one powerful stroke of the tail – only when there was a small chance to be freed… it’s so beautiful, swimming a bit like a dolphin… it’s big also: 1,50m, way too much to eat with the two us (providing we managed to get the beast onboard). Finally we cut the line and let it go, silent and impressed by its majesty. We have lost a lure but gained beautiful memories – feeling part of a “Old man and the Sea” tale for a moment.
Our swordfish, so beautiful that we decided to let it go :o)

The mysterious pole (copyright: Richard, S/Y Sya, spotting the same on his way to Bermuda)
A few hours later the other line jerks. A steel and yellow flash and furious jumps leave us no doubt: a mahi-mahi! A big one as well, but as we’re pulling to get it back onboard it breaks the hook and leave :o( ham for us again!

The afternoons are pleasant in this area. A flat sea let us read and enjoy the sun in the cockpit. The sea is beautiful, curled by the long Atlantic swell, fringed with white when the wind blows. Suddenly in the middle of nowhere a stick stands on the waves, like a fisherman pot but with a square shape on top instead of the little flag. It’s not drifting…can it be a weather buoy? Just next to it, a water jet, like smoke in the distance. Then another jet, closer yet. A whale? No... two jets! Still nothing to be seen of the animals as they pass us by the beam, maybe 100m away. Then slowly a big brown tail rises, higher and higher straight against the sky, then slowly sinks into the waves. Another smaller tail follows. It was a couple of sperm whales!

It’s time to look at the weather forecast. The Grib files and Yann agree to announce the end of sailing close to the wind in a few days: a high pressure zone is building up and will return to its rightful position on the Azores (and more south), creating some calm and then favorable winds. In 2 days we will be out of the trade winds. Then we will have to be extra cautious and make sure we avoid potential low pressures forming there: we’ll have to sail close enough of them to get their wind, but not too close not to get in a gale! Tonight there’s a feeling of celebration in the air, like the closure of something. We linger in the cockpit, playing at riddles in the last rays of the setting sun and sharing a beer. When Laure goes to bed at 8.30pm there’s still light outside! We gained almost one hour of sun by sailing so much north since the start!

The sunsets are becoming redder the further north we go

18th May: wind ESE 3-4b, sea slight – 118 M
Noon : sun at 13°09’ from us. Water : 22,2°. Air: 24,7°
Yet another pleasant night under a dome of stars, all bright and beautiful in this moonless dark. The Scorpion is presiding, standing high and straight in front of us as we’re sitting on the stairs. We are sailing towards Cassiopeia. The Dolphin, smaller, shyly plays hide-and-seek with the rare clouds passing by.
In the morning we set the fishing lines again. Suddenly: “bite”! No jump, no dive this time: the fish is lying flat on the water, big eye and pointy fin to the sky, it’s a tuna! A nice yellow-tail tuna! Saltimbanque becomes a fish-processing factory all of a sudden as we’re cutting, peeling, slicing and conditioning the meat: tuna steak for lunch, boiled with tomatoes and potatoes tonight, cold in salad and marinated in teriyaki sauce, sautéed with noodles tomorrow. The rest is salted and will keep longer.

Yet another sunny afternoon. The wind dies down and we set the genua up again. During the previous and busy days the harder conditions have prevented us from thinking about anything else than the sky – and the warm comfort of the noodles cup. But today Poseidon gives us a break and we can relax, keeping the same canvas and same course for more than a couple of hours, just enjoying being here and watching the sea around: life is simple in the trade winds, the rest of the world is so far away! There’s the sky and the sea, and us, lost in the indefinite infiniteness of the world. Nothing matters but the sky, the waves, the clouds and the stars – and the fish ;o)

At last a fish and the prospect to change our daily routine!

19th May: wind S 4-5b, sea slight to moderate – 134 M
Noon : sun at 13°50’ from us. Water : 22,5°. Air: 24,1°
After a quiet night close to the wind, it veers and increases suddenly. Quick, take in some reef, and change the bearing: great, Saltimbanque is flying straight towards Florès again! But just like every time the wind increases, the waves follow suit almost immediately – and soon we find ourselves on a steep rollercoaster again. It then takes a few hours for the swell to smoothen to a long regular high sea ideal. Generally speaking we must admit that up to now, we have seen lower waves than during the first crossing (which is consistent with a weaker wind).

The end of the holidays…
All through the day the wind keeps veering to the South and we keep bearing away to stay on the route. After more than 10 days closehold on the starboard tack, Saltimbanque is finally free to run on his best trim: with the wind to the beam! This is the crossroads of this crossing: we are leaving the trade winds area and entering into the low/high pressure kingdom. The current also changes: it was flowing to the north-west since the start and now turns to the east as we approach the Gulf Stream. (Afterthought note: we might have not found the Gulf Stream actually, since the currents we measured kept changing in direction and force). It’s the half of the crossing as well: the GPS indicates less than 1000M to go a few hours later…
This milestone on our way is marked by the “Corner Seamounts” that we are passing by the south. Mountains under the water, peaking above 4000m on 5000m deep grounds… that leaves more than 900m water under the keel – should be ok :o)

20th May: wind SSW 3-4b, sea slight to moderate – 123 M
Noon : sun at 14°37’ from us. Water : 21,9°. Air: 26,5°

Aaah, Iridium is our new best friend !
With the wind to the beam and on a rather flat sea Saltimbanque is flying. Yet ideal conditions cannot last: a strong low on Greenland will make winds up to 35kts around the 38°N. Our daily sms from Yann is now complemented by other messages from Traou-Mad, from ShadokII, and other friends… We are in no shortage of weather information now! It’s always very nice to receive texts from family and friends. Today we hear that another friend-boat, 3gouttes, is sailing about 30M from us (or so they said in their blog). Maybe one of those mast-lights we keep seeing at night since the start?
As for now nothing can be felt of the strong wind. The breeze is moderate, veering to the south-west, ie quarter back for us – yeepee! This is a much more comfortable trim to go about our chores onboard: weather forecast, painting the flag, repairing a small diesel leak and a small water leak on the hatch – even taking a shower in the warm afternoon soon! (better the sun be warm because the water is definitely not!)

During the night, Laure is comfortably sitting on the stairs watching the stars when one small light appears on the horizon, then two lights... two boats? Great, some company! Hey, wait a minute… 2,3,4…6 lights are dancing now, dim and slightly blue, all carefully spaced 50m from each other on a straight line like the landing runway of an airport! Before realizing what is going on Saltimbanque crosses the line right in the middle. Nothing happens – if that was a signal for UFO’s, none came to pursue us…

21st May: wind W 5b then suddenly NNE 2-4, sea moderate to rough– 117 M
Noon : sun at 14°32’ from us. Water : 21,6°. Air: 23,7°
Just as expected the wind indeed increased during the night. The first daylight finds us sailing with a furled genua only, running in front of the wind in a growing swell. Lucky that we saw the low pressure come and prudently stayed under the 35o N to avoid the stronger wind – it doesn’t top the 20kts. The sea is beautiful, the long swell curving under the sun. The wind comes exactly from behind: even if our windvane Bob can steer on a reasonable course we prefer taking the helm ourselves and stay right on the course. It’s an excuse to enjoy steering in the sun, surfing at 7-8kts down the waves! It reminds us of the first crossing… well, the whole manual steering concept will be far more appealing suddenly when the clouds come hide the sun and start raining. No question of the trade winds any more – that’s cold Brittany!
Full speed !
Finally the cold front comes up all of a sudden – bang – between the main course ( a tin canned stew, welcome with that weather) and the yogurt. With a wind veering 100 degrees to the NNE we soon find ourselves… closehold to the wind again! Yeap, 10 days closehold on starboard tack, 2 days with the wind… and now back to closehold, on the portside tack this time! We have to learn and stand heeling on the other side. The swell hasn’t had the time to change yet and it still comes from behind, making a strange combination of sailing close to the wind and surfing on waves.

The night is not pleasant. Every couple of hours the wind changes so much that we have to change the front sail and take or release reefs…

22nd May: wind NNE 1-4, sea slight but big swell N 2m50 – 106 M
Noon : sun at 14°48’ from us. Water : 21,7°. Air: 20,2°
First things first: rest! Sleep to try and catch up on the missing hours of last night. We have just crossed two symbolic lines: the 35°N and the 45°W. The first transition is made clear by the necessity to wear our fleece during the day now. The second line adds up an hour on the clock.

We have been sailing for two weeks now already. Two weeks is a long time. We are reaching this tricky period when the bodies are tired after 14 days at sea, 14 patchy nights, continuous efforts of keep standing and moving on a heeling ground. Yet we are still too far away from the arrival to count only on our nerves to get us through. No final run yet, we have to make up and spare some strength. After the turn of the last days, we already can thing of the 10 days closehold as of a distinct period of time, it’s already part of our memory, we have enough distance to remember the most important trends: the first nights escaping between the thunderstorms, the quieter days when we would relax and enjoy, then the stronger wind again… All those are already memories. Yet today, now, the boat is moving, the sky is changing - the trip is not over! Less than 600M to go on the GPS – already 1500M done. We’d like to believe it means arriving in 6 days… weather permitting…

Indeed the cold front and the low pressure have cut the high pressure sitting on the Azores in two parts. As usual in the northern Atlantic this high pressure rebuilds in two blocks: the lesser south east of its original position, and the main north west, that’s to say… well, right on us! We had reached the latitude where favorable winds are supposed to blow and were eyeing towards Flores with envy… but not yet! First some calm to endure… We check and turnon the engine, Nestor starts – that’s one good news.

Yet another night on the Atlantic…

23rd May: wind NNE 1-3, sea smooth to slight– 89 M
Noon : sun at 15°14’ from us. Water : 21,3°. Air: 20,6°
The feeble breeze is enough to keep on sailing. Thanks to a small displacement volume (made everyday smaller as we eat away the tin cans stocks) and to a clean hull Saltimbanque sails so fast that he overtakes another yacht! Well done! Five dolphins come and salute our performance in the morning. Yet our speed is quite depressing (less than 3 kts) in a low wind and high swell remaining from the passed low. Rollercoaster in slow motion, quite impressive. Well, nothing else to do but wait – at least the boat is flat! Back to normal routine: 8-11pm Laure sleeps, then Camille until 2 or 3am, then Laure till 6 or 7am, and finally Camille until 9 or 10. Laure turns in for a quick nap sometimes in the morning and Camille in the afternoon. Lunch and weather forecast are made together, as well as the painting the flag and playing before diner. And the cycle starts again. Compared to the first crossing we spend more time maneuvering and studying the weather – and less time to cook!

Pictures of dolphins, always a success
Tonight we hear small shrieks during the diner: those are black dolphins with white spots, playing around the bow.

During the night the wind keeps on dying and we keep on turning the engine on and off. Still sailing on though, small stubborn snail progressing towards the promised land where the salad is so green (who said it was because of the rain!!???)

24th May: no wind, then SW3-4, sea smooth to slight– 106 M
Noon : sun at 15°49’ from us. Water : 21,6°. Air: 24,8°
“Today it’s my turn to tell! Me – Bob, the faithful windvane steering day and night without eating and sleeping, in the warm and cold, in the sun and rain – never a complain. Yeah Man! Well, today’s my day! Holiday!! Or technical stop if you prefer – you can turn this inside out: without wind a windvane is not’ing. Max, the autopilot, is on duty today… feels good to relax every now and then, watch the sea, count the jellyfish, all those sorts of things. The swell has calmed down, leaving a flat mirror-like sea without a riddle. Nothing can come to disturb my contemplative mood, not even the relentless pout-pout-pout of the engine – poor ol’ Nestor working in his pitch dark trunk. Seems in good shape though, the ol’ pal – better keep on that way! In the distance, the yacht we overtook yesterday has turned the engine on as well and put on second gear – they’re far in front of us now (don’t tell Nestor, no point in offending him!). Impressive how much traffic there is around here. Never 24h without seeing a cargo or a sail. The ocean is big, but it’s not empty!
Pout-pout-pouting all day long, the sails help when there’s a little breeze to keep up above the 4kts. The crew gets some rest, bakes a cake, opens all the windows, charge on all the batteries that need charging (enjoying free power from the engine!)

Hey, what’s up there, why all this agitation on deck? Is that because of those two little water jets on the horizon? They’re getting bigger alright… big jets about 10m high, then a huge black back plunging - no tail. Some rorqual, nothing worth a fuss if you ask me… nothing that will keep me from my nap!”

So calm... we can get the sheets and sleeping bags to dry !

25th May: wind SW 4-5, sea rough– 125 M
Noon : sun at 16°15’ from us. Water : 20,7°. Air: 25,2°
Midnight: “Hey, Bob, wake up man! The wind is up, time to go back to work, old friend…” Nestor the engine goes to sleep after 17h or faultless labor, Max the pilot stays on standby – just in case. The sails are filled with the light air, we resume our course with the wind on the quarter back, silently gliding on the sea flattened by the calm.

It's a grey, but dry - hence beautiful afternoon. The rainjackets can dry a bit
The wind increases again, still from the quarter back, the sky still rather clear. No more big wide blue sky of course, no more scorching sun – the main shades are green and grey now. But it’s not so bad, one can get used to much! Despite the Britton landscape those are good conditions to practice our favorite trade-winds exercise: setting the pole on the genua. Saltimbanque runs well, Bob steering before the wind without letting the genua beat once.
Less than 400M to go – less than 100 hours sailing the GPS says. No doubt we’re getting closer. During the weather forecast session of the day we notice a deep low pressure forming north and arriving in the next 4 to 5 days towards the Azores – 30/35kts winds, more in gusts, certainly high swell…. 400M to go, 4 days before the bad weather: the strategy is simple: run!!! If the wind holds fair in the meanwhile, we can reach the shelter on time. The final sprint has begun…

26th May: wind N 1-3, sea slight– 125 M
Noon : sun at 17°40’ from us. Water : 19,5°. Air: 18,5°
With the wind quarter back and the genua held by the pole, Saltimanque flies like a rocket at 6kts, steered by a very focused Bob holding the boat on the direct route. As for now our plan is running well. But our new best friend the Iridium tells us that the happiness will come to an end, tonight, as another violent front runs above us.
Not under the tropics any longer... where are the gloves again?
As-a-matter-of-fact at 2.14am that morning a black row of clouds gathers in the dark moonless night… Laure keeps the watch and sees the wind veer 100° in 10 seconds ! In no time Saltimbanque is back banging on the waves, Camille wakes up with that noise and we go and maneuver again… back closehold to the wind…

The next day is long and frustrating. The northern wind makes it difficult to hold our course. Worse even, Aeolus seems to have caught a cold (understandable with a water at 19°)… it sneezes, chokes, loses his breath… hey there, that wasn’t planned! The engine has to come help every now and then the faltering breeze. We’re in a hurry, no time to lose… today is an elusive day, a day of fleeting impressions of quick dolphins coming and going, of the rapid dance of the pink jellyfish on the grey waves.

27th May: wind W 6-7, sea rough to very rough– 116 M
Noon : sun at 17°17’ from us. Water : 18,7°. Air: 19,7°
In the night the wind has picked up again and veered to the W, so that we’re soon running before it, with two reefs in the main sail – and then no main sail at all. To keep the genua from flapping on the growing swell we take turns at the helm, hoping that the few degrees and the few tenths of knots thus gained will see us safe in the harbor at the next gale…

A wave like many others
As day comes the wind keeps on increasing, made stronger in squalls. The waves are big – long mountains 3 to 4m high growing growing, closer and closer, up to the stern, fringed with white menacing foam, so much higher than the solar panel on the back. Holding our breath, they look like crashing onto us at every minute. But no…the boat lifts and gently climbs on the peaks, then runs down quickly in a surf, sometimes to the right, sometimes to the left – and sometimes with a sideways jerk. From the top of the waves one can see all the ocean around during a few vertigo-giving moments :oS not so self-confident… the boat is running now with a little handkerchief of canvas now, almost completely furled in. The speed is disappointing, 4.5 kts only, frustrating when the wind is shrieking outside. But if you put more canvas out, the balance is more difficult to hold for the windvane which lets the boat run sideways across the waves sometimes. And it rains, so we don’t want to stay outside steering! No doubt about it being the toughest conditions we’ve experienced so far. We measure up to 30kt with our little handheld anemometer, ie 7 beaufort – and a swell accordingly. We are happy to run before the wind and not close to it now! Saltimbanque is a good seaworthy boat, riding well and steady, not even soaked that much. We’re impressed, but never scared.
Finally the wind and the swell drop a bit in the evening. We can take turns and sleep. One of us has to keep a close watch on the clouds though, because big groups of them are coming and going, fast, dark, menacing on the dark sky – and from many directions. Sometimes they cause rain, sometimes they cause the wind to veer, increase or decrease… they always bring bad news: news of having to maneuver again in the cold and damp. Those are long hours, standing in the cabin still with our wet rain-jackets and trousers on for fear of having to go out at any moment, all attention focused on the speed and bearing – and on the ever-changing sky. Fatigue keeps us from thinking further than the next minute, the next hour – our eyes ache, our heads swim, we yearn for sleep, for warmth, for security… over there behind the horizon there’s a harbor, a wave-breaker, there’s security and rest!
Groumpf… even the adventures of Captain Hornblower told on the MP3 can't lift our spirits…

28th May: wind WSW 2 -5, sea rough– 52 M
Noon : sun at 17°49’ from us. Water : 18,7°. Air: 21,3°

But after 10 minutes in the sun, the smiles are back !
The wind keeps on dropping and we are still running with it. Despite the rain we set the pole on in the middle of the night and without waiting for the end of Camille’s watch down: no time to lose, we have a low pressure to outrun!! The sea is rather choppy and the speed disappointing during the last hours of dark. Incessant squalls make the wind very variable.

Then the day breaks, then the clouds part, then comes the sun, the miraculous sun :o) No cloud, no squall, no faltering wind, a steady breeze blows at 4 bft from the WSW. Life is beautiful again! Steering is such a joy in the glorious sun, surfing the waves, basking under the blue sky! The ordeal of the last 30 hours are forgotten in 10 minutes!

Look on starboard: a tern! Land, it means, land close-by! Those birds go back to shore at night, therefore the island must be there, not far… And here, the dark patch just under the surface: a turtle! And another one, with nice little peaks on the shell. Saltimbanque keeps on running, accompanied by elegant puffins.
We run miles and miles as the day goes by. Only 25M left says the GPS. Yet still nothing on the horizon. We remember spotting Porto Santo from 40M or more. Could the GPS be wrong? There’s a split second of doubt: we have relied all the way on a single little piece of electronics… what if it is broken? The Azores are such a tiny little dust on the wide ocean, how did they manage to discover them, those great adventurers, the Portuguese sailors of the times gone by? Even better, how could they find it again?

There, far away, a group of clouds… some mist on the horizon. Blurred and barely visible a darker shape, some silhouette of a steep shore… Land Ho! LAND!!!! We jump and dance around in the cockpit, not able to suppress the wide stupid grin of our face. Land!!!

The last hours of the day are amongst the happiest of the trip: we sit at the helm, we fly on the swell under the blue sky, waving at the puffins around and at the growing land…

Flores, tiny dust in the middle of the ocean…
The sun sets once again, but we keep the pole on because the wind is dropping as well. The powerful light from Lajes’ lighthouse guides us to the harbor, to the flashing red light on the jetty. The pole is taken down, we jibe, sailing the last miles with the wind on the hip and the genua only. We are at the entrance of the harbor now, it’s time to start the engine. Contact – nothing. Hey there Nestor, that’s not funny! Start NOW!!! Full gas, the starter is running, running… then a small “pout”… then the starter keeps on running (and the battery emptying itself…).. finally “pout pout pout”, good! It was a close call, but it works! We shout our relief in the cockpit and make our way in the harbor.
The sweet song of the "cagarros" ! The night is rather clear and we see well thanks to a small moon quarter. Enough to make out the shapes of the cliff and the wave-breaker and the bigger ships, and even the dangerous rocks laying close to the surface in the harbor itself. One has to stay close to the wave-breaker, then to the inner jetty of the marina (yet not too close because of the rocks falling at every winter storm). Focused on the narrow passage between the red and green lights, we hear funny noises, like the comical cries of some cartoon character. It’s the call of the “cagarros”, the local night bird shouting like a duck after breathing some helium. So funny, we have to laugh hard despite the tension of that instant!
The marina is very small and very new, dedicated to boats smaller than 10m in principle. We come in cautiously, there is not a lot of maneuver space. A few spots are available – after hesitating for a minute we choose one: nose to the wind, at the very beginning of the pontoon. The neighbor and other sailors are still up despite the late hour and they help with the lines…

Done! The boat is stopped, tied up and safe, almost 24hours in advance before the gale. All the tension vanish at once, we are jubilant, we exchange a glance with the other sailors around who have just landed as well. We did it!!!!!

Our flag once complete: the crossing in a comic strip !

Technical appendix

The name of the game is to squeeze in between the low and the high...
NOAA charts on the sat phone:

Thanks to Phileas for the tip! With a sat phone you can receive the global situation charts and forecasts from the NOAA. You just have to send a request email to ftpmail@ftpmail.nws.noaa.gov with a random title, and the following body:

Cd fax

XXXX and YYYY being the name of the desired charts. E.g. the daily analysis is called PYAA02.TIF (West Atlantic) and PYAA01.TIF (East Atlantic), 24h forecast : PPAE00.TIF, 48h : QDTM85.TIF, 96h : PWAM99.TIF. Every chart is about 27kb big.
More details on the NOAA website.

LThe water temperature:

During the crossing we have been impressed by the daily variation of the temperature: every day at noon we would measure the temperature of the water and of the air (inside the boat). Thanks to this scientific approach we are able to conclude that when you go to the north it’s colder!

Hide / Display the comments
Your messages:

Christian - 12/06/2012 12:16:51
Plus que jamais je revendique hautement, vivement et affectueusement la vision de l'album photos COMPLET de vos aventures !
A quand votre entrée dans la profession de photographes ? Avez-vous prévu une exposition temporaire au musée de la photo à Bièvres ? A moins que vous ne visiez directement celui du Palais du Luxembourg à Paris ?

Michel Claudie - 11/06/2012 18:05:28
Bravo pour cette traversée . Remarquable votre lecture de la météo et de son utilisation . Saltimbanque est un sacré bateau et l équipage formidable. Profitez bien.

la mamou - 09/06/2012 11:52:14
extra ! le film de la transat retour !!
avec ma chanson de marin préféree en plus !!!

Mum - 08/06/2012 20:27:08
plus que bravo et grande fierté pour vous deux! MERçi infiniment ,dit l'espadon!

SuDad - 07/06/2012 19:01:31
Alors... ces séances de galipettes de Saltimbanque, ça va vous hanter longtemps. Vous, au moins, vous pourrez comprendre vraiment les récits des grands navigateurs. Quelle expérience! Et quel talent, pour nous la faire partager. On dirait que vous aviez déjà prévu tout le scénario et la mise ne scène, longtemps à l'avance. Pas de temps mort. En apparence. Parce que la narration nous maintient en haleine. Nous avons, indirectement, reçu notre baptême de traversée. Merci, à nouveau, pour cet épisode mouvementé. Un peu de tourisme et de repos, ça vous tente ? Grosses bises, du vieux continent.

Pet\'chi - 06/06/2012 13:25:06
Ouais !!! Super récit !!! Et que de belles photos !!! Très impressionnée par l'espadon ;) gros bisous les filles !!! Et continuez à nous envoyer de si belles images. :)

Sylvia - 05/06/2012 21:35:40
Gefeliciteerd girls met deze uitstekende prestatie!!! Nu weet ik ook inmiddels alles over low and high pressures :-)

Hélène Lebrat - 05/06/2012 16:34:54
Merci pour la superbe narration... On a frissonné dans les moments de suspense...contente de vous savoir en pleine forme!

Hervé - 04/06/2012 23:10:21
Very well done, les filles

AUMADATROI - 04/06/2012 21:00:44
Un grand bravo à l'équipage, à Saltimbanque ! You did it !!!!!

la mamou - 04/06/2012 15:53:33
hé bé !....
encore une lecture qui vous remue bien les entrailles ....
j'en ai tout le tournis :-)
aller , je cours à la plage: la mer est belle ici aussi !!
bravo bravo bravo

<-- Previous: British Virgin Islands Next: Flores and Faial -->