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

Madeira to La Graciosa


Fathom departed the anchorage at Funchal late morning on Tuesday and was soon sailing directly for Graciosa, 270 miles to the south east in a moderate north easterly breeze.  I decided to try my luck with the fishing line and sure enough an hour later pulled in a Bonito which provided a tasty dinner that evening. After making a mess of my shorts and most of the cockpit when trying to kill the last fish by knocking it on the head several times with the bilge pump handle my new technique is to squirt some cheap vodka from an old washing up bottle onto the gills. This seems to work nicely and quickly without creating a mess.

That afternoon I took the opportunity to try the towed generator for the first time. This was purchased from Ebay a year or so ago and although I had wired it up had never tried it. A metal propeller shaft is attached to 30m of rope towed behind the boat which when spinning powers a generator in a gimbaled ring mounted to the pulpit. I was pleasantly surprised how well it worked generating about 1 amp per knot of boat speed and not noticeably slowing the boat. Satisfying to be able to create all the electrical power I need with a combination of solar and wind energy.

As Tuesday progressed the wind began to increase and by evening it was quite uncomfortable on board with a considerable swell running and a confused sea. Occasionally a large wave would cause Fathom to round up slightly into the wind which would then unbalance the self steering and she would struggle to bear away again back on course. A 2nd reef in the main before dark did the trick and we made good progress towards the Canaries at speeds between 5 and 6.5 knots. I had noticed another yacht leaving Funchal at the same time on Tuesday morning and throughout the day had been keeping a close eye on them via the AIS which indicated they were 33 feet. Both yachts were doing near identical speeds and remained within a couple miles of each other. It was obvious we had the same destination so my competitive streak made a reappearance and a race was on!

It proved quite difficult to sleep during the first night but I snatched some 25 minute naps. With the other yacht so close I didn’t feel comfortable sleeping longer and I had to turn the AIS alarm off as it was constantly triggered by the other boat. By 3am the wind had increased to over 20 knots and I went into the cockpit to make an adjustment to the self steering. At exactly that moment a large wave decided to deposit itself right on top of me and although I was clipped on I was only in my boxers so I received an unwelcome salt water wash! I hadn’t felt comfortable trying to pull in the towed generator the previous afternoon in that sea state but there was now a danger of overcharging the batteries. I was forced to turn on every electrical appliance I could in order to neutralise the power being generated by the towgen. Not only did I have the fridge on full blast the radar was on constantly and both my laptop and ipad were on charge and the chart plotter on full brightness!

By first light on Wednesday the conditions were beginning to moderate but the sea was fairly messy still. The other yacht were alongside and I managed to take some photos in between them disappearing behind the waves. Progress was good and Fathom charged on to the south east. 133 miles in the first 24 hours. I gave considerable thought to how to get the towgen back in. One option was to stop the boat to stop the rope spinning but instead I decided to cut a slit in a plastic funnel and placed this over the rope. Once it had slid down to the propeller it stopped the rope spinning and I was able to pull it in fairly easily. A problem with the electrics then appeared whereby every few minutes all power would go off then instantly turn back on again. This caused the VHF and chartplotter to turn off and restart each time. Thankfully I managed to find the cause which was a loose nut on the back of the battery isolator switch. Fathom began to make some miles on the the other boat and by evening were 5 miles ahead which was very satisfying :).  Cooked steak for dinner with potatoes and vegetables.

Sleep was easier to come by on Wednesday night as I was far enough ahead of the other yacht to turn the AIS alarm back on and the sea was calmer. I woke from one nap at 5am to find the wind had veered and we were sailing south west. The next hours were then spent sailing upwind in a dying breeze. By lunchtime on Thursday there was only 4 to 5 knots of wind coming directly from the south east so reluctantly the motor was used for the remaining few miles to Graciosa. On arriving at the anchorage it was nice to see Jan and Corrie on ‘Livingstone’ and a few other familiar boats from previous places. Overall the trip from Madeira had taken 51.5 hours which was good going and Fathom had beaten a larger boat (more on them later..). Well done old girl!

Posted on 08 Oct in: Logs 2016 (No Comments)

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