Tuesday, 6 November 2018

....and north up the Atlantic


It took me 9 days to sail from the Antarctic Peninsula to the Falkland Islands where I arrived on 17 February 2018. The Australian yacht Kraken the British yacht Novara, both of whom I had met in Antarctica, were tied up to the public jetty. I could have rafted outside them but anchored off for a quiet night. Navara had left by the time I had cleared customs the following morning, but I caught up with Kraken's news. They had made a very fast passage of 3-1/2 days from Deception Island to Stanley and had got in before the wind veered as the next depresson arrived. A larger, faster vessel's speed advantage over a small vessel such as Iron Bark is much increased on a short passages if they can make port with a fair wind before the next weather system brings a foul wind. In contrast to Kraken, Iron Bark had to weather three lows on her way from Antarctica to Stanley, each one bringing sustained strong headwinds.
Anchored off Stanley in front of the whalebone arch
I immediately set about reprovisioning and preparing for the voyage north up the Atlantic. The Falklands are at the end of a long, irregular shipping route, so food other than local mutton is expensive and the vegetables are of poor quality. I spent 10 days refuelling, reprovisioning, repairing sails, checking the masthead and in general preparing for sea. A few people from Stanley remembered Iron Bark from her previous visits and I ran into Skip Novak who was in the Falklands to join the training barque Tenacious as a lecturer for a South Georgia voyage, Surprisingly, he remembered Iron Bark from a meeting many years before. My stay in Stanley was was interrupted by a several NW gales. They were well forecast and each time I moved Barky to Moody Brook at the west end of Stanley Harbour, where the protection is better than off the town.
It does not always blow a gale in Stanley
The lateness of the season and poor weather combined to make even a short visit to other parts of the Falkland Islands impractical. I was ready to sail on 26 February but a another gale sent me scuttling down to Moody Brook. Kraken and Iron Bark lay there windbound for five days. Eventually the gale blew itself out and I sailed back to Stanley, topped off the water and on 4 March departed for Ireland.
It is about 8000 miles to Ireland along the sailing ship route and I expected it would take close to 100 days: a long voyage but one with the interest of crossing all the major wind systems except the polar easterlies (which I had crossed on the way from Antarctica). The passage begins in the westerlies, which can be boisterous but with South America only a few hundred miles to leeward, seldom produce really dangerous seas. Next comes the south-east trades, then the South Atlantic variables followed by the doldrums. The North Atlantic is a mirror image: the north-east trades, the horse latitudes then finally the westerlies from the Azores to Ireland. Although I did not expect any really severe weather, it is not going to be a downwind romp; I would be close hauled for several thousand miles.
The wind was a light when I sailed from Stanley, but freshened to a strong breeze from the north-west. Progress was excellent with the wind a point free and a lift from the Falklands Current. A week after leaving Stanley I crossed 40°S, leaving both the Southern Ocean and the westerlies behind. Here a strong, later gale force, NNE headwind set in and I hove-to for 36 hours. I got moving again when the wind eased, but within a day was again hove-to in another short-lived north-east gale.
After that boisterous start the wind eased and the daily runs fell, predictably as we were now in the variables. The days merged into one another as I fell into that timeless routine only possible when the land behind is a distant memory, the land ahead to far off to anticipate and the weather benign. The days had a cadence: all night in thanks to the AIS, a coffee at dawn, breakfast of oats, raisins and nuts, some rather ineffective cleaning of the cabin using seawater, lunch of bread and cheese or similar, reading, then an evening meal usually of soup and bread. I baked a small loaf of bread every other day as in warm weather anything larger quickly gets mouldy.
The passage up the Atlantic was bedevilled by calms
The days were occupied with the endless jobs necessary to keep a vessel on a long passage seaworthy. Most days a sail needed to come down for a bit of stitching, halyards and sheets were checked for chafe and slipped to renew the nip, the steering gear oiled and there was time to read my stock of books. Another fair-weather job was to strip and varnish the companionway and main hatch. Part way through the varnishing a pair of noddies adopted Iron Bark. They spent the days fishing and returned to Iron Bark at night. One insisted on perching on the companionway coaming, tail inboard, streaking the still-tacky varnish with guano. When dislodged it would fly a couple of circuits and return to its original perch and deposit more guano on my new varnish. This went on for three nights. I like having birds around but that one should be thankful I did not have a rifle.
The wind generally had an easterly component to it, but remained light and fluky. The variables merged imperceptibly into the SE trades without any increase in wind strength. Eventually, in 11°S and 700 miles ESE of Recife, the trades freshened to SE3-4 I had the first day's run of 100NM since leaving the westerlies a month earlier. Six days of steady wind carried us to within 50 miles of the equator. There it fell calm – we were in the doldrums.
There were rain squalls in the doldrums, but none heavy enough to fill the tanks
Barky drifted across the line in 22°40' W on 17 April, 44 days out from Stanley. The doldrums are fairly narrow on the west side of the Atlantic and there is a north-setting current to help get through them so it took only four day at an average of 55 miles/day to find the NE trades. Predictably, the NE trades this close to the equator were in fact NNE and we slopped off close-hauled to the north-west, a full four points from the desired course. Initially the NE trades were as languid as their southern counterparts. The combination of light winds and an ever-more foul bottom meant daily runs averaged only 90 miles.
The North Atlantic had calms as extensive as further south
The trades generally veer from NNE to ENE as one sails north, allowing a vessel to alter course in an arc until it is laying the rhumb line to Europe with the sheets free. The sooner this happens, the faster the passage. This year the trades did not veer until I was north of the latitude to the Cape Verde Islands and almost through the trades before the wind veered enough for me to start the sheets. By this time Iron Bark had been close-hauled on starboard tack for so long that gooseneck barnacles were growing on the topside to within a hand's span of the rail. There was also a thick carpet of barnacles on the bottom of the keel where I had been unable to paint when I antifouled between tides before sailing from New Zealand and more barnacles along the waterline where ice had knocked off the antifouling. I scraped those I could reach, but enough remained to seriously reduced our speed.
I scraped off as many barnacles as I could reach, but enough remained to be a significant drag.
There were rain squalls about and some came with enough wind to need a quick reduction of sail, but none heavy enough to fill the tanks. The lack of fresh water mean the everything – cabin, galley, clothes – were grubby. It is difficult to do a proper job of cleaning with salt water.
The trades, never strong, trickled to an end in latitude 30°N, about 1000 miles west of the Canaries. For eight days we drifted through the horse latitudes, which lived up to their reputation for light, fickle winds. The best day's run was 67nm, the worst 21nm. Our accompanying flotilla of Portuguese men of war jellyfish often seemed to be sailing faster than Iron Bark.
Sunset in the variables
On 18 May, in latitude 36°N, 75 days out from Stanley and 350nm WSW if the Azores Islands, the wind freshened and veered to WSW. I gybed, which put us on port tack for the first time in nearly two months. My hopes that this was the start of steady west winds were dashed when the wind veered further to become N6 then, a day later, died away to NNE2. After four days of headwinds, the westerlies returned but were at best fitful. On the few days that the wind was fresh and free I made runs of over 100nm despite the foul bottom, but more often there were light headwinds and a contrary current. Eventually we drifted on to the continental shelf some 150nm off the Irish coast in a glassy calm. There were enough fishing boats about to make drifting with no steerage way unwise so I abandoned my intention of making one last long passage entirely under sail and started the engine. The breeze never returned and I motored the rest of the way to Bantry, anchoring off the town at noon on 8 June 2018, 96 days and 9116 nautical miles out from the Falkland Islands.
Irish landfall at dawn, 96 days from Stanley
Since leaving New Zealand about 7 months previously I had sailed 16,270 nautical miles and spent 165 days at sea. No voyage of that length including rounding Cape Horn is ever going to be easy, but the weather was more benign than I have encountered in those seas in the past, and I got to Antarctica, too.


  1. Trevor, why Bantry and where are you now? I saw from your post in October that you were quarantined, but not where? Still in Carriacou? How has the refit gone?

  2. Thank you for the great information. This post is awesome, nice written and includes almost all important information. Really helpful. I want to see a more helpful post like this in the future.
    Thank You