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The Sailing for Sustainability Campaign - Week 4
December 20, 2005

Dear Friends:
I am writing to you from the middle of the Atlantic ocean. Yesterday, we passed the half-way point between Mindelo, on the island of Sao Vicente in the Cape Verde Islands and St. Lucia in the Caribbean - having traveled 1042 miles, with 1042 more to go. Our last ten days at sea seem to have blended happily together, knit together by the gentle rhythm of taking turns to stand watch, tending to the sails, preparing meals, washing up, making occasional repairs, sleeping, reading, fishing, and enjoying the good weather and the good fellowship.
We departed Mindelo on Saturday, December 10 in high spirits, glad to finally be on our way. A fresh breeze carried us out of the harbor, but the winds soon became light and variable. The harsh, craggy cliffs of Sao Vicente and the volcanic mountains of Sao Antao seemed to take forever to disappear from view as we searched for better winds. The light winds continued for several days, moving us forward at an average of 4 knots, which was frustrating for some of the crew who longed to be home with loved ones for the Christmas holidays. But we were blessed with beautiful, blue-sky days, moonlit nights, and gentle, rolling seas, and we headed slowly westward, sailing with the large, blue and white code zero.
But our first few days were not without some excitement. The first day at sea, the genset (generator) shut itself down again, and our concerns mounted. Robert and Ed did some careful sleuthing and discovered that the problem was not the new water pump, but a small coolant leak caused by a missing washer. They made a new washer from an aluminum can, and the repair held...All was well until the genset shut itself down again a few hours later. This time the duo discovered that the genset was overheating with its cover on, so they removed the cover, and ran it again. Ever since then the genset has performed well for us and has allowed us to recharge our batteries - much to our relief!
For the next three days, the winds built from 5 knots to 10-15 knots, lifting our spirits and hastening us on our way. The winds came primarily from the north and east, allowing us to fly the code zero on a broad reach, and to sail close to our target heading of 283 degrees. The seas became large, rolling swells, 8 feet in height, which we coasted over, and the weather was warm, sunny and beautiful.
Since this is my first blue water crossing, I (Nina) did not know what to expect, but it was during these three days that the magic of being at sea became clear to me. Those of us on the night watch were treated to a gorgeous full moon, which made the undulating ocean glisten as if it were alive and illuminated the clouds above us. One night after the moon set, I saw a stunning array of stars which stretched from horizon to horizon. Sunrises and sunsets have also been breathtaking, and as Gene wrote in one of our daily logs, it is as if a group of celestial artists are creating works of art with a palette of remarkable hues. Several times, dolphins have come to play in our bow wave. During the daytime, the water has been a breathtaking azure blue, and the waves shimmer with brilliant light from the sun.
One day, we stopped for a swim in the ocean. We lowered the sails, tied a line with a makeshift buoy to the stern of the boat to hang on to, and jumped in. The temperature was ideal! Robert and I did laps around the boat and caught a glimpse of a large shimmering fish below us! Then we all took turns standing on the stern to take much appreciated showers with fresh water heated in our solar showers.
Since the 14th, we have had more unstable weather at night, resulting in occasional rain showers and squalls which have produced abrupt changes in wind velocity and direction, and have resulted in some quick sail changes. While the squalls are exciting - as crew members scurry around to close hatches and adjust sails - we welcome the rains because they cleanse the boat of encrusted salt and dirt. The storm clouds have also contributed to spectacular sunsets.
Beginning late on the 15th the winds dropped, becoming light and fluky, and finally disappeared all together. For several days we did our best to coax Speranza forward when there was wind (at 3-4 knots), and motored when there was not. Our captain, Ed Witts (a.k.a. Captain Weather), reviewed his weather data and assured us that the much heralded trade winds would soon fill in. At this latitude and this time of the year, the trade winds usually blow from east to west, providing mariners with a downhill (downwind) ride to the Caribbean. But the persistence of a low pressure zone kept the winds away, and the seas remained glassy and smooth.
On the 16th, Ed consulted his GRIB files (a type of weather forecast) and instructed us to motor to 15 degrees North, 40 degrees West where the trade winds were expected to fill in. We analyzed our fuel capacity and usage and decided to "spend" some of our precious fuel to reach the trade winds So for the next 24 hours, we motored west southwest. As we approached our "hypothetical destination," the breeze began to fill in, and by the afternoon of the 17th we were sailing at over 6 knots with East North East winds between 11-13 knots and flat seas. We had finally found the trades! Since then the trade winds have steadily increased, so that today (December 20), Speranza is galloping along towards St. Lucia, carried by 15 to 25 knot winds.
In the last few days, we have achieved several milestones. We crossed the halfway point (1042 miles) on December 19; we joyfully celebrated our midpoint crossing with a special brunch of scrambled eggs, bacon and my homemade apple coffee cake and a dinner of fresh caught fish, rice and carrots; and we had our first noon to noon 180 nautical mile day. We altered course one night at midnight to avoid a French boat - overtaking it literally in the middle of the Atlantic - and passed within several hundred yards of them wishing them "bon soir y bon chance" over the VHF radio.
Indeed, good food has been one of the themes of the trip. Some of our more successful creations included: a wonderful Mexican eggs/chorizo/tortillas breakfast; a "comfort food" feast with meat loaf, mashed potatoes down-home gravy topped off w/Captain Witts's baked apples dessert; a gourmet apple pancake breakfast featuring dustings of shredded chocolate and cinnamon; and freshly caught Dorado done in one of Captain Witts's signature sauces.
Today, the winds are 18-25 knots, the seas are 7-8 feet, and Speranza is charging along beautifully, averaging close to 7 knots. We are sailing dead down wind with the main on the port side and the Genoa held out with the spinnaker pole on the starboard side. We have 5 foot rolling swells from astern, combined with a pattern of smaller waves from the north, so our ride is rollicking and rolling. This makes cooking much more interesting as things tend to fly off the counter and onto the floor and makes stumbling around in the dark looking for a berth after a night watch much more entertaining! We topped the afternoon off with some blues harmonica lessons and then listened to a great collection of blues artists on Gene's iPod. All in all, life is good.
Warm wishes to you all,
The Speranza Crew