Crossing the Atlantic ocean is typically the first really big passage for cruisers starting in Europe. It definitely was for us. The last days (or weeks) before the crossing and even the first days of the crossing we had butterflies in our stomachs. Thoughts of the vast, big ocean, the long distance, the long time being entirely on our own, totally without any help from others whatsoever, fear of gear and material failure, and the lack of confidence in our sailing skills and endurance, all those and similar thoughts weighted down and burdened our souls.
We tried everything possible to make it an easy, comfortable, and short crossing: (a) the right time. January, when the trade winds have settled. (b) from the Cape Verdes to Suriname (only to French Guiana or to northern Brazil would be yet a bit shorter), and (c) a convenient downwind rig (two Genoas on the same roll reefer with two poles. No main sail up so no hassle to reef…). Also, radar to assist at night watches, wind steering autopilot, plenty of books to read, good provisioning, … Sounds relaxed and easy.
On the third day of our crossing disaster struck: the rudder shaft of our wind steering device broke. The backup, our hydraulic autopilot on the main rudder, is not reliable when used continuously and it drains the batteries quickly. We were desperate. We had to manually steer most of the time. Day and night one of us two had to be at the helm. The hydraulic pilot was used only for short brakes, to reef the sails, to have meals together, etc. Particularly the night shifts were strenuous, worse yet, when so overcast that the moon could not brighten the pitch black darkness, because then, orientation was solely provided by the dimly lit compass. The accumulation of lack of sleep brought us close to breakdown. On top of that, thoughts that other gear might break as well, such as the main rudder, which bearings squeaked worryingly, were nerve-wracking.
We dealt with the situation as well as we could and kept on going westward (what else could we do?) and regained confidence in us and in Pitufa. The highlights of the day were the meals (we actually gained weight on the crossing), reading aloud to entertain the helms(wo)man, and to compute the daily runs. We were rewarded by good daily runs. During the night shifts we listened to music or audio books, had small snacks, and longed for the shift to end to get some sleep.
Regarding the weather, we were relatively lucky. So, staying at the Cape Verdes until after Christmas was, for we liked it so much there, worth it twice. We had predominantly steady winds from NE between 15 and 25 knots, sometimes ENE (then also lighter). The seas were not that high. In the first week the sky was mostly overcast with thick, grey clouds and we got a lot of drizzle and sometimes heavy rain. We encountered two squalls during nights plus one when entering the channel into the Suriname river.
Sailing 1900 nautical miles in 14 days gives an average speed of 5.7 knots. Our fastest daily run was 172 nm according to the GPS (this is an average speed of 7.2 kn). However, the wheel of the log paddled only 116 nm. So we were impressively boosted by the Guyana current, which contributed 2.3 kn on average on this day. Also the north-equatorial current helped a lot and we got several daily runs between 150 and 160 nm. Without any current we rather covered around 130 nm per day. Attached to this post is a map that shows our exact route, collects all our daily runs and tells about the observed currents along our route.