Gran Canaria to Tobago on Kudu


Michael O’Farrell 3-Feb-19

Always on my bucket list, I had been keeping an eye on various websites for boats heading across the pond looking for crew. During Oct 18, I finally found what I felt would be a suitable opportunity. The boat was an Oyster 56 owned by the Robertson family and after several emails and video chats I was on board. The offer of a place on the delivery trip from Villamoura (Portugal) to Calero in Lanzarote the week before Christmas was accepted giving me the chance to assess the yacht and meet the owners. A successful passage enabled me to happily sign up for the transatlantic.

The 7th Jan found me once again on the yacht, meeting up with two new crew members, and after a suitable safety briefing and discussion on expectations we slipped lines around mid day. It was agreed to sail as much as possible with very limited use of the autopilot and engine.

Team photo in Puerto Rico, Gran Canaria

The initial plan was to drop down south towards the Cape Verde Islands and as soon as we picked up the tradewinds, head west.

As with any similar passage it took 2-3 days for everyone to find their sea legs and establish a routine in the large rolling swell. The crew was divided into 3 shifts of 2 (a watch leader and crew) working rotas of 3 hours on 6 off at night and 4 hours on 8 off during the day. This proved a very successful routine maintained for the whole trip.

During the initial phase it became clear we had electrical problems with all systems shutting down completely on several occasions when the electric winches were deployed, to compound the problems Angus (the skipper) discovered he had less fuel on board than thought due to a faulty gauge. After 5 days out we were Northwest of Cape Verde when the decision was made to head back to Mindelo to refuel and get proper advice on electrical issues. Angus was obviously disappointed stating if anyone wanted to leave they were free to do so, as a sign of how much we had gelled (including Kudu the Belgian Shepherd) the offer was instantly dismissed, everyone more than happy to sort out the problems and stay on board.


Refueling in Mindelo, Cape Verde

After 36 hours sailing back we tied up on the fueling pontoon for a total of 5hrs, refueling and sorting out the electrical problems before setting off again. We quickly picked up on our routine and slipped into the E to NE 20-25 knot trade winds, setting up our poled out genny and main with suitable preventers. Our sail plan remained unaltered throughout, reefing and gybing as dictated by changes in wind strength and direction.


Pretending to be in control!

An early parting of one of the genny sheets (due to chafing) and slipping of the vang/boom attachment reinforced the necessity for daily rig inspections – it was surprising how many issues we picked up on early during these inspections which could easily have spelt disaster.

Life on board revolved around watches, meals and sleeping. It had previously been agreed each crew member would be responsible for cooking three meals and we would all sit down together at 1900hrs each day. Everyone looked after themselves for other meals,  a system that proved very successful with all on board looking forward to the evening dinner each day.


Evening mealtime

The large rolling Atlantic swell accentuated by downwind sailing often made sleeping and staying in the bunks a challenge only made possible by wedging oneself against the lee cloths. Night time often provided spectacular views of the constellations and shooting stars uninterrupted by any light pollution. A careful eye had to be kept on the radar for any sudden vicious squalls which could see the wind jump to 40 knots in seconds and which swept over us on more than one occasion.

Throughout the passage we were very much on our own, not seeing vessels at any stage until approaching the West Indies, however we were kept company by wildlife spotting turtles, dolphins and whales. Flying fish seemed content to fling themselves onboard at every opportunity, on one morning I picked up 12 from the decks!

As we approached Tobago, Sargasso weed became a real problem, it formed long lines stretching for miles and frequently got wrapped around the prop and trailing safety line which slowed progress.

22 days after leaving Puerto Rico in Gran Canaria, Tobago finally appeared on the horizon much to the joy of everyone on board but tinged with regret that the trip was coming to the end. Rather than enter the unknown waters on a moonless very dark night and with the very real danger of collision with unlit fishing boats we decided to heave to for the night and wait for daylight before entering Scarborough, the island’s main town, where we picked up a mooring at approx 0700 hrs.

A tremendous journey had come to an end with absolutely no regrets, a trip which will always make me smile as I remember it.


Kudu at anchor in Tobago

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