Tenerife, Canaries to Martinique – 2857 nautical miles
Our total crossing time was 19 days, 17 hours and 45 minutes. We averaged a speed of just over 6 knots. Our quickest 24-hour period was at an average of 7 knots (168 nautical miles) and our slowest at 4.9 knots (118 miles). We sailed conservatively, with three reefs in the mainsail the first few days in heavy seas and conservative settings at night.
Winds and Route
The trade winds were not completely established yet, but overall, we were lucky as we only had a couple of days with very weak winds. We chose to leave the Canaries when the winds were blowing 30 to 40 knots, because they were blowing in the right direction and the alternative was to wait a few days and have no wind at all. After a couple of challenging days, things calmed down a little and most of our crossing was in 15-20 knots of wind with gusts in between 20 and 30 knots.
We chose the conventional route that takes us south towards Cape Verde until the trade winds are established. This is a bit longer, but much more predictable. It also leaves the possibility of an unplanned stop in Cape Verde if the need arises.
It can be surprisingly cold at first but going south towards Cape Verde brings the warmth a bit faster, and it is very pleasant from a wind and weather point of view from there.
Once in the trade winds, we dropped the main sail and deployed our code D wing on wing with the jib for almost two weeks… We had to furl the code D a few times for squalls. We also had one glorious day of beam reach as a large depression was passing north of us, with main sail and code D (we were flying).
We sailed 97.3% of the time and could have sailed 100%. As we needed to start the engine regularly to give an extra charge to the batteries, we arbitrarily chose a couple of time to lower the sails as it was quicker with the engines, otherwise we would have been able to report 100% sailing.
The waves in between Gran Canaria and Tenerife in the acceleration corridor were pretty serious, and then 1.0 to 2.5 meters for the rest of the crossing. As we had the waves on our back all the way, it was relatively harmless. We had 2 days with a long period swell from the north.
Squalls only started to materialize in the last part of our trip, 4-5 days before arrival. We could see them very well on radar and managed to avoid the most of it. Winds would typically go up 5 to 10 knots in the vicinity of squalls as we were running away, and the one time that we got smacked by one it was between 30 and 40 knots. Squalls often had lasting effects on the direction and strength of the wind after their passage, sometimes bringing a change of wind direction of 45 degrees or more for an hour or so.
Electricity generation and consumption, alongside the same for water, are the two main elements that need good planning and constant watch throughout the crossing.
We were four crews. We lived well and although we were careful not to abuse, we did not hesitate to use electricity and water.
With 1050 Watts of solar panels, we generated an average of 4 kWh per day (or a bit over 300 Ah each day). This is slightly less than I would have expected: There are many puffy clouds on the trade route. Our solar panels are built as an extension from the back of the roof, so we avoid most shading from the sails, although starting in the middle of the afternoon, with the sails wing on wing and the sun lowering in front of us, there was shade. So, we were far from the electricity generation that we had been able to achieve during our European season, when the days were much longer and the clouds less present.
We have 7250 Wh of Epsilor lithium batteries (basically 600 Ah of usable power). This proved to be perfectly adequate for the crossing as we can solicit 100% of the battery capacity (compared to 50% for conventional batteries). I am waiting for more time at anchor in the Caribbean before providing a final opinion on our Epsilor batteries, but at this point they would get a rave review from us. One of the best decisions that we took was to forgo air conditioning and a generator and to instead equip ourselves with a large solar installation and lithium batteries.
Our daily average consumption of electricity was approximately 550 Ah, including the watermaker.
We had to cover the solar deficit with the engines, running them an average of 3.2 hours per day.
This is much more engine time than I would have liked. The diesel consumption was very reasonable at less than 3 liters per hour as we reached the potential of the alternators at around 1500 RPM. We have 2 Volvo D2 40HP. Also, although the alternators are rated at 115 Amps, they are regulated at around 80 Amps after a few minutes of use, which must be taken into consideration.
If I was to repeat the experience, I would for sure choose to have more solar, wind or hydric electricity generation. A hydro generator would have been ideal but is not useful when you are not undergoing long passages. A wind generator is not especially performant in the apparent wind of a crossing into the trade winds but is much more useful at anchor on a cloudy day in the Caribbean’s. More solar power would have done the trick, on sunny days. All three of these options have pros and cons, it is a personal decision. I am at this point waiting to understand the electricity generation patterns at anchor in the Caribbean’s before taking a final decision.
We have a 12 V watermaker that produces 65 liters per hour. The passage validated our decision to choose a 12 V watermaker, it is absolutely the right choice if you are trying to generate as much electricity as possible from renewable energy. 65 liters per hour is totally adequate.
With the four of us using water prudently mostly for dishes and a shower every couple of days, we consumed and average of just under 100 liters of water per day.
We used our watermaker an average of 1.48 hours per day. We started it 16 times during the passage.
When in a marina, and during the very long days of summer that provided plenty of sun to our solar panels, we mostly used an induction plate and we love it. We are not fans of fossil fuels. The Atlantic passage was the first time that we were completely dependent on our butane stove. We use 2.7 Kg camping gas cylinders because they are available everywhere in Europe and in French islands. We plan to switch to propane when necessary. During the crossing we made a bread every 3 days or so, it was probably the biggest consumer of butane (a full hour of oven at 220 Celsius / 425 Fahrenheit). We cooked every night and most lunches. For the 19-day crossing, we used the equivalent of two full 2.7 Kg cylinders of butane.
You need a good sail for 160-180 degrees from the wind. Don’t leave home without it… You also need to install a jibe preventer on the mainsail to avoid unplanned jibe. In our case, it was so pleasant to sail with the code D that we dropped the mainsail that had a tendency to bang around. With the Code D and jib wing on wing, we could sail 180 degrees from the wind comfortably starting at around 10 knots of wind. With the mainsail, we needed 15 knots to really get going at 180 degrees. We also were going half to a full knot faster with the code D and jib. We could not have both the mainsail and code D deployed at the same time past 150 degrees of the wind or so.
We chose 3 hours watches. With four of us, it translated into one day watch and one night watch per 24 hour period. We kept the watch cycle and logbook on the GMT time zone and adjusted the boat clock every 15 degrees of longitude. Our meals followed the boat clock. All except me exchanged their watch schedules with another crew member every few days so they could experience the various periods of day and night. On my side, keeping my biological clock on a regular schedule is my preference, and I was in charge of the kitchen, so I stuck to the same watch for the whole passage.
Crossing the Atlantic is for the most part easy and pleasant navigation once you hit the trade winds. Four was an ideal size of crew to rest and have the necessary manpower for any eventuality. We were happy to be four the couple of times that the Code D misbehaved. Days have a tendency to merge with each other at the rhythm of the watch schedule. In today’s busy and fast society we live in, I felt privileged to have these almost 20 days to myself to read, think and do some introspection.
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