Yacht Fathom - Setting off from England in May 2016 on a single-handed voyage somewhere a bit warmer

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Panama to the Marquesas – Part 2

Staying south – Days 18 to 25

The entry in the log for the 3rd April begins with “PISSED OFF!” The Aries paddle had flipped up twice in the night and I was tired. On one occasion it flipped up and I hadn’t woken up so for two hours Fathom was heading S.E away from the Marquesas! The latest weather advice showed the S.E trades much further south than normal too but at least there was wind in our current location, albeit squally conditions and an uncomfortable sea still. The huge bunch of bananas which I had separated into three sections to prevent them all ripening at once ignored me and all ripened together within 24 hours. Never eaten so many bananas at one sitting.

On the 20th day at sea all the remaining bananas had gone to mush and I ate the last of the Grapefruit so no fresh fruit remained. On the veggie front sweet potatoes last for ages as do onions and garlic but the peppers, carrots etc don’t so these had already gone in the pot. The next day marked 3 weeks at sea, by far the longest time I had been alone. The Atlantic crossing had only been 17 days. The wind was down to 10 knots, the sea much calmer and my spirits so much better that I baked some chocolate brownies.

Over the next few days the sea became uncomfortable again and there were still squalls but less frequent and with less intensity. I spent a lot of time reading and trying to learn the harmonica. Most the time I was pulling the tow generator behind to keep the batteries charged but when I pulled it in the fishing line went out. No luck but there must be some big fish out there as I lost two lures one day.

Tradewind sailing, kind of – Days 26 to 38

Blue skies, small cotton wool clouds and 10 to 15 knots of wind, the tradewinds at last! Days 26 to 28 were really nice. Decent progress and pleasant sailing. I slept well at night and the Aries behaved. Sleeping wise I would go to bed at around 23.00 and stay in the bunk until about 6am, waking every 2 or 3 hours to check the course which I can do on the Ipad without getting up. Since leaving Perlas I had only seen one other yacht and two ships had appeared a long way off on the AIS but not within sight. Mornings would usually be spent doing a Suduko over a coffee and every couple of days baking some fresh bread. I spent relatively little time outside the cabin on deck due to the heat and sun.

From Day 28 the wind gave up and on several occasions Fathom was completely becalmed with the sails banging back and forth. By day I used the cruising chute to try and gain an extra knot or two. The tow generator created too much drag and wasn’t deployed so I had to run the engine every couple of days to charge the batteries as the solar panel couldn’t keep up. I decided to turn off the fridge to save power which meant sacrificing quite a bit of cheese sadly. I used as much as possible by having a pizza evening! After 4 weeks at sea I was very excited by the sight and smell of freshly baked pizza coming out of the oven.

There was now about 1000 nautical miles to go. I tried not to look at the eta because it changed so much depending on current conditions and boat speed that it was pointless but my mind began to wander a little to thoughts of landfall. Daily runs suffered in the light winds and ranged from 74 to 92 miles. In truth though I felt in no great hurry to make landfall. I was in a bubble and enjoying the solitude. Not once did I feel lonely or wish I wasn’t out there in the big blue.

On day 31, the 16th April, there was one of the most amazing moments of the voyage from the UK so far. I was sat on the foredeck with a cup of tea waiting for the sunset which I always did if conditions allowed. I noticed a pod of dolphins in the distance racing towards Fathom. There was about 12 knots of wind so we were sailing along quite well. These dolphins numbering at least 20, were particularly playful and keen to show off. They revelled in Fathoms bow wave twisting and turning right alongside while other decided to jump into the air or slap their tails on the surface alongside the boat. Here I was, alone, thousands of miles from land with unexpected company. I had a front row seat for the mid pacific sunset dolphin extravaganza! As the sun set they became even more expressive and somehow I managed to capture one of them, mid jump, leading me west towards the setting sun. A moment I will never forget.

Day 32 marked one month at sea.. On the food front despite turning the eggs every day most of the remaining few had gone bad. I baked a cake with the last three good ones. The wind hovered around 8 to 10 knots and the cruising chute was flown during the day. I discovered the Scrabble App on the Ipad which I had forgotten I had and which provided great entertainment for the remaining days at sea as I tried to beat the AI on expert mode. Important to keep the grey matter active.

On the 19th April, day 32, I woke up at 2am to the sails banging about and 0.2 knots of wind and a speed over the ground of 0.1 knots. Most of the next 24 hours was spent motoring and waiting for the wind to return. Every attempt so far had been made to conserve fresh water. Washing dishes was done using salt water and I didn’t wash as much as I would have had there been crew onboard! So every time a heavy rain shower came over I would rush on deck, strip off, grab the soap and shampoo and receive a free shower. Latest weather forecast showed good winds coming which should push Fathom the remaining 500 miles to Fatu-Hiva.

The last days were very pleasant with the wind ranging from 10 to 15 knots. Speed was slow though and I guessed the hull was very fouled. Peering over the stern I could see a harvest of goose barnacles along the waterline. I decided to head to Fatu-Hiva, the most windward and reportedly beautiful of the Marquesas islands. It is not possible to check in to French Polynesia here and other yachts have been fined for stopping here first in the past but I decided to risk it and avoid the long beat to windward to come back later.

On the 24th April, 38 days after departing the Perlas Islands I spotted land at 06.30. As Fathom swallowed up the remaining miles to Fatu-Hiva the volcanic peaks of the island made a beautiful sight. The only suitable anchorage when translated is called the ‘Bay of Virgins’ and the anchor went down at 15.30 local time. Fathom and I had reached South Pacific Paradise!

There were six other yachts in the anchorage including a French solo sailor who came across in the dinghy to say hello, the first person I had seen in a long time. I invited him onboard for a cold beer ( I had purposely turned the fridge back on several hours before). He told me he had arrived here the day before in his aluminium 36 footer after taking 45 days from Panama. I couldn’t help feeling rather smug! Well done Fathom 🙂

Posted on 28 Apr in: Misc

Panama to the Marquesas – Part 1

It would have been nice to stay longer in the beautiful Perlas islands but as Fathom was full to the brim with fresh food and the forecast showed some good north east winds for a few days I was keen to set off on the 3971 nautical mile voyage to the Marquesas as soon as possible. After a trip up the mast for a last check Fathom was on the way out of the anchorage early afternoon on the 17th March when I spotted two people in a small dinghy waving frantically to me in the distance. It turned out they were a young American couple who had just been spear fishing on the reef and had guessed I was off to the South Pacific, probably by Fathom’s incredibly low waterline. They had wanted me to take a fresh fish they had just caught and passed up a good sized red snapper all gutted and ready for the pan. A nice send off and another example of kindness from fellow cruisers. They would be the last people I would see in five and a half weeks.

Perlas to the Galapagos region – Day 1 to Day 9

It turns out that the most consistent wind and fasted progress of the whole voyage occurred during the first couple of days. Sustained 15 to 20 knots of breeze, the remainders of the Caribbean tradewinds, and a tail current enabled Fathom to roar along at 6 knots at times. Due to the high amounts of shipping in the bay of Panama I slept in short chunks at night and used the AIS and radar alarms to keep a look out. By the third day the wind was under 6 knots and the cruising shute was deployed. This is the big asymmetric spinnaker which I use in winds under about 12 knots but never fly at night in case there is a squall or it gets wrapped. On the fourth day I spotted another yacht on the horizon but couldn’t raise them on the VHF for a chat.

chasing rainbows

The wind was still under 10 knots during the 5th day but a current of nearly 2 knots enabled 24 hour runs of close to 100 nautical miles. It was on day 6, when becalmed, that I made the spontaneous decision to swap the sails over. The yankee headsail was swapped for a new and unused downwind headsail and the mainsail swapped for a well used but serviceable second hand one I had purchased for £150 as a spare before leaving the Island. The idea being I could save the primary sails from UV light damage and from banging about in the calms to come. It took nearly all day to remove the mainsail, battens, reefing lines and get it stowed (not easy to get it neatly packed into the bag alone!) and the replacement bent on and single line reefing setup adjusted accordingly.

The wind remained very light during the 6th and 7th days but I was reluctant to use the engine due to the need to save the diesel for calms later in the voyage when there would not be favourable current. The cruising shute was deployed in the daylight hours and at night the mainsail and poled out headsail. One notable change was the increase in cabin temperature as we approached the equator. The cabin thermometer regularly showing temperature of up to 42 degrees! I was constantly drenched in sweat, day and night, and without any real wind it was very uncomfortable onboard. Everything inside was sticky and it was generally not too pleasant.

At last a better breeze on the 8th day with 12 knots from the north east and I was in great spirits. During the afternoon Fathom crossed the equator for the first time. Second time for me having crossed 10 years ago when sailing from Hawaii to French Polynesia on yacht Babelfish. I toasted Neptune by tossing him some Balboa lager and enjoyed the remainder of the can myself. I never drink at sea so this was a rare treat. It felt great to be in the southern hemisphere and I remember feeling that I really was a long way from home. As part of the celebration of being in the south I decided to bake a cake later in the afternoon by cheating and using a pre mix pack. However it turned out like a chewy rubber mess which was most disappointing and it was inedible.

What a difference a day makes. On day 9 there was less than a knot of wind and Fathom was crawling along at 2 knots with the current. A real game of patience in these conditions and with over 3,000 miles still to go to the destination I couldn’t help thinking, however unrealistic, that we might be at sea for months and soon i’ll be so low on fresh water i’ll be performing rain dances on deck. I had never properly got to grips with the fuel consumption of the engine since it had been installed in October so spent a bit of time working out how many hours I could motor on the fuel capacity I was carrying and various RPM levels and reckoned on about 450 miles max. Resorted to motoring for several hours during the afternoon to make some meaningful progress and myself feel better. The south east tradewinds still at least 500 miles away to the south.

During the night I was very close to the Galapagos islands and as the sun rose the next morning I could just make out the outline of Isla Cristobal on the horizon. It was a shame to give these islands a miss but the cost for visiting yachts are in the thousands of dollars and the regulations stipulate the underwater hull must be entirely clean and the cabin fumigated. Fathom was completely becalmed during the next night so I dropped all the sails and went to bed leaving Fathom to drift south with the current at 1.5 knots. I later received a few messages from people asking if everything was ok as they had seen low speeds on the tracker map and were worried something bad had happened!

Over the next days I noticed a significant increase in bird and animal activity. I was visited by blue footed boobies who flew constantly in loops around the boat, especially at night when they loudly squawked and looked like they were trying to land on the mast but never did. Lots of dolphins by day. I awoke one night to the sound of flapping sails and the boat wildly offcourse. After going on deck the cause became apparent. A bird had decided to perch on top of the wood paddle of the self steering gear for a rest. Why on earth it chose to sit there when it had the mast and the rest of the boat is beyond me.

Galapagos region and south to the trades. Day 10 to Day 17

At this time the weather forecast and free routeing advice emailed weekly from a forecaster in New Zealand was not overly encouraging. A convergence zone had formed south of the equator between the Marquesas and the Galapagos islands with big squalls, thunder storms and calms. Furthermore there was now a river of east going current, the equatorial counter current, running between 2 degrees and 6 degrees south, west of the Galapagos. The recommendation for yachts heading to the Marqueasas was to avoid the direct route, cross the foul current as quickly as possible then head right down to 12 degrees south to find the tradewinds before turning directly to the Marqueasas. A much longer distance.

The journal reminds me that day 10 was quite successful in the galley. An excellent cake baked, fresh loaf of bread and a sausage, carrot and sweet potato stew in the thermal cooker. Good sailing in the day but little wind during the night. A small milestone on day 11 was that Fathom passed 91deg 30′.27W longitude and therefore was a quarter of the way round the world from Yarmouth!

Fathom was well and truly in the doldrums during days 12 and 13. Baking hot with not a breath of wind and a mirror like sea. Motored through the night which was miserable to try and get though the foul current as soon as possible. A couple of notable things on day 14 – the equatorial counter current was passed at last, signified by the speed over the ground increasing by a knot and I mastered the four hole draw bend on the harmonica!

I guess I wasn’t completely alone as technology in the modern age allows contact with others. A highlight each day was checking emails and reading messages from friends and family. Thanks to everyone who messaged me it was much appreciated. It was good also to exchange SMS messages via the sat phone with my friends Victor and Julie who left the Perlas islands one week after Fathom. We would compare weather conditions and fishing success rates and generally check everything was ok.

The night of 31st March I was woken up in the wee small hours to a squall so went on deck in the howling wind and heavy rain to put some reefs in the mainsail and roll in some headsail. A long standing problem, which I thought I had solved in the Cape Verdes, began to occur again around this time. The Aries self steering gear paddle began to flip up time and time again especially in bigger waves and wind. When this happens the boat veers off course and invariably this occurs in the middle of the night during a squall or when i’m fast asleep. The boat needs to be stopped and I hang over the stern with the boat hook to reseat the blade. It was not something I could really fix at sea because the cause was the swelling of two parts of the hinge so I made the best of it.

During the following days the sea became rough and very confused with swell from several directions. The motion of the boat was most uncomfortable and doing any task in the cabin difficult. To make it worse squalls regularly appeared from astern with wind going from 7 knots to 27 knots in an instant. Sleep was hard to come by at night so I was tired and lethargic during and not in great spirits. The Aries paddle flipped up numerous times which didn’t improve my mood. At least progress was reasonable with daily runs ranging from 110 to 121 nautical miles. Most of the days were spent catching up on sleep or reading.

Posted on 28 Apr in: Misc

To the South Pacific!

I think Fathom and I are as ready as we’ll ever be for the long passage to the Marquesas Islands. Yesterday we departed the anchorage at La Playita and spent several hours motoring in no wind before having a nice sail over the last few miles to the island of Isla Contadora in the Perlas Islands. This morning I went up the mast to check everything over before it got too hot, replaced the self steering lines and went over the side to give the waterline and propeller a scrub. Unfortunately the bottom isn’t as clean as I would like, quite a few barnacles have got a grip and some will have to make the passage with us. The boat is full to the brim with stores there is not one bit of space in any locker or cupboard. Highlight of my fresh food provisioning is probably the box of green bananas I purchased at the large local market for 10 dollars, a bargain. Only trouble is I have 100 of them and they are bound to ripen all at once! In addition to the 220 litres of water and 110 litres of diesel in the main tanks, there is an extra 100 litres of diesel in jerry cans and just over 100 litres of bottled water. Waterline, what waterline?

I have heard many good things about the Perlas Islands but as I am already tucking into the fresh food and water want to get cracking asap. Intend to set off in the next hour or two. It is quite hard to prepare mentally for such a long trip alone, nearly 4,000 nautical miles, more than double the Atlantic crossing. The intertropical convergence zone (doldrums) and large areas of calms are sure to be frustrating and may drive me mad but I know conditions will improve once I am far enough south to reach the S.E trade winds.  It looks like two or three days of N.E breeze to get Fathom out of the Bay of Panama. There is an option to pull into the Galapagos Islands if very short on diesel or water but will avoid if I can. The cost and regulations for visiting yachts these days is sadly not making these islands a viable option for those of us on a budget.

A quick mention of my inreach tracker which sends tracking points to the map on my blog. Yesterday it malfunctioned and wouldn’t update the map but today it seems to be working again. Hopefully it will keep on working but who knows. Don’t be alarmed if it stops.

Bye for now.

Posted on 17 Mar in: Misc

Sines to Porto Santo

I departed Sines early on Friday morning bound for the small island of Porto Santo which lies 470 miles to the south east. The weather forecast suggested two days of fresh north east winds followed by a 24 hour period of light south west winds and then a northerly wind returning following the passing of a weather front. Not a perfect forecast but decided to push on anyway.  In fact it was a mixed bag including two beautiful sunsets, some great downwind sailing, some tedious upwind sailing, some sun, some rain, a squall, several calms and a fish called Houdini. Below is a small summary from my log for each day of the trip. Scroll down for some video. More on Porto Santo later.

Day 1: Friday 9th September

Departed Sines just after 08.00. 15 knots of wind from the NE this morning allowing a broad reach and good progress. Must admit to feeling a little queasy for the first hour as there was quite a swell running but soon settled in to the motion and now feeling good. Just after lunch the wind rose slightly and the speed over the ground hovered around 7 knots for a few minutes. There is about 1 knot of favourable current so Fathom was pretty much at hull speed. Really great sailing.

Keen to clear the shipping lanes by sunset and early this afternoon the AIS collision alarm went off and I could see that a 300 ft cargo ship had a closest point of approach of 90 feet. A little close for comfort! Called them up on the VHF and the officer told me he would change course by 20 degrees and insisted on calling me ‘Sir’ which I thought was very polite. Trouble was with only a few minutes until the two boats would be at their closest point he still hadn’t altered course so I called the ship up again his reply being ‘i’m very sorry sir changing course now’!

It is now 21.00 and just put a 2nd reef in the main as wind is over 20 knots and I like to be conservative at night. Hasn’t really made any difference to the boat speed which is hovering around 5.5 knots.. Cooked spaghetti bolognese for dinner and appetite was at 100%. No fish today.

Day 2: Saturday 10th September

At night I sleep in 30 minute blocks and put my faith in the AIS alarm and the radar (which does a sweep every 15 minutes and beeps if it detects any other vessels within 6 miles of the boat). It does take some getting used to when the boat is sailing on by itself into the dark and I am trying to switch off and sleep below. Fathom has travelled 138 nautical miles in 24 hours since leaving Sines at an average of 5.75 knots so very happy with progress so far. Downloaded a weather forecast (GRIB file) and checked emails via the Iridium sat phone while drinking my morning coffee. Forecast still showing 24 hours of headwinds from later tomorrow so progress will slow.

This afternoon I really felt in rhythm with the sea and in good spirits. So good in fact I decided to cook for dinner a chicken leg I had in the fridge with some sage and onion stuffing, potatoes and veg. This evening the wind hovered around 10 knots and I sat on deck and watched the sunset which was very pleasant. Tried to take some video (see below). Still no fish despite using the lure Jean gave me which he promised always works. I have noticed that about 30 minutes after sunset each day the wind tends to increase by 5 to 10 knots.

Day 3: Sunday 11th September

Fathom really does like a decent breeze from aft of the beam and 123 miles sailed in the last 24 hours so no complaints. Despite saying I would refuse to use the engine I did so for two hours this morning when the wind dropped to 4 knots and the sails were banging about in the swell. I hate that sound! It did though allow some juice to be pumped into the batteries which were under 60% as the solar panel cant keep up with the fridge and radar running through the night. The towed generator will come into its own in the trade winds but not used it yet.

This afternoon I went on deck after a short nap and noticed our boat speed had dropped by half a knot. Looked astern and could see a big fish thrashing about on the end of the line. At last! Began to haul in the line but the damn fish did a Houdini and managed to free itself. Not a happy skipper for a few minutes after that.

One moment of concern this afternoon was after another short 20 minute nap I went up on deck and noticed a fairly large ship passing me less than a mile away despite the AIS alarm not having gone off. Turned out the ship wasn’t broadcasting an AIS signal which is illegal. I called them up to tell them but they didn’t answer.. Hope not to meet many like that again.

Wind has dropped to 7 knots this evening and speed over ground is down to 4 knots. Headwinds on the way tomorrow. Pasta and Pesto for dinner. 150 miles to go.

Day 4: Monday 12th September

Tired this morning as didn’t get any decent sleep last night. Was up on deck constantly adjusting the course and resorted to using the engine twice during the night for an hour at a time during two periods when the wind was down to 3 knots and the boat was rolling about in the swell. At least the batteries are charged. Skipper is a bit grumpy.

By 08.00 the wind had backed to the west as forecast and by 15.30 this afternoon our heading was due south. Don’t want to slip any further south so just put a tack in. It is now 21.00 and Fathom is sailing on a course of 300 degrees away from our destination. Waiting for the weather front to pass so the winds return to the north. At sunset Fathom has only progressed 25 miles towards Porto Santo since 08.00 this morning.

Day 5: Tuesday 13th September

Woken up at 03.00 by torrential rain. Wind suddenly rises from 10 knots to 25 knots then to 30 knots as the front goes through. Throw on my oilies and lifejacket and harness and on deck to put another reef in. 20 minutes later all is calm again, the rain has stopped and the wind has veered 90 degrees. Fathom can now head directly for Porto Santo again.

Swell is from the north but the 24 hour period of SW winds has made the sea very confused and Fathom is rolling about all over the place. Eat up the rest of the miles to Porto Santo during the morning sailing downwind in 10 to 15 knots of wind. The island appears at first to be a series of several steep and isolated hills but soon merges into one. Arrive Porto Santo 15.00 and call the marina who say they are full but anchor in the harbour which is preferable anyway. 470 miles covered in 4 nights and just over 4 and a half days. Now for a cold beer!


Posted on 15 Sep in: Logs 2016, Misc


For those wondering what I have been up to Fathom has been moored in Cangas since last Monday which is much longer than I originally intended. Firstly the weather last week was very unsettled so took shelter in the marina and enjoyed spending time in the town and watching some euro football games. Unfortunately I then picked up a sickness bug resulting in the last few days being a write off. Now starting to feel much better and hope to visit Isles Cies later this week which i’m looking forward to. This morning I had an email from Peter, another participant in the Jester Challenge, who after 29 days at sea has abandoned his attempt to get to the Azores. He plans to arrive in Cangas tomorrow so look forward to hearing his tales over a beer (yes I am confident my stomach can now handle one beer). Sorry for lack of updates recently more to come very soon!

Posted on 21 Jun in: Misc, Spain

Photos from leaving Plymouth on the 15th

Thanks to Caitlin for the photos.

Posted on 22 May in: Misc

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