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Wild Coasts and Wee Children Part III: En Route to Antigua

Editor’s note:  Roo Hughes began her tale in All at Sea’s November and December 2007 issues of a 4,000-mile trans-Atlantic voyage on a 32 foot yacht with a two-year old child and five-month old infant.  (Read it on www.allatsea.com.)  Lest readers wonder if the family began a new life in St Helena, the story resumes:

Some cruisers seem to really plan ahead, a two year vacation broken down into a series of neatly-calculated crossings and landfalls. We, however, seem to be the masters of the last minute passage plan and it wasn’t until two days before we left St Helena that we paused for thought. "Er, where next?"

After chewing over days and miles we figured we could make Antigua for Classics Week. This was judged by all as a fun goal as well as a likely place for our crew, Tom, to find a lift back to Europe and for us to replenish our kitty.

The first few days out were uneventful, just pleasant—with the worst of our worries being the absence of the BBC and having to make do with VOA. (It’s hard for a Brit!) By day five, the wind had dropped to a SE force 2 and even our eclectic compliment of full main, No.1, No.2 and storm jib (hanked on to the backstay) were failing to fill. We hauled out our spinnaker which, well into its third decade of use, was a whisper away from being condemned – even by our standards. We kept our fingers crossed and it held good.

As our boat speed crept up, we tried very hard not to think how long it would take us to get there at 2.6 knots. Progress in the right direction at least, for by our seventh day we had reached our halfway mark across the Atlantic, also Jago’s first ‘half’ birthday. We celebrated by putting him to bed, cracking open a bottle of Simsberg and toasting the perfection of sleeping children!

Day ten and the breeze was back up to a force five; good for the morale, bad for Chloe’s tea parties…but two days later we were praising Tandika’s performance after an exciting beat into Baia da Pico, Fernando de Noronhos. We had planned a brief stop-over but, seduced by the beauty of the island, the ease of customs, and the novelty of being the sole international yacht (and, naturally, being masters of the last minute decision!) we stayed for nearly a week. But for the call of Classics, we could easily have stayed longer.

Fernando de Noronhos is a volcanic archipelago of 21 tiny islands and has been a nature reserve since 1988 and we were met by a blast of Brazilian warmth and exuberance. The number of visitors to the island is restricted to 420 and, as the regulations of the National Park are strictly upheld, the islands are very, very unspoilt. The main mode of transport was beach buggies, favoured even by the local policia, though theirs were jazzed up with a flashing light on top. The only setback we found was the scarcity of drinking water, which is rationed…even the locals are issued with tokens. We decanted our gerrycans into our main tank and took on an extra 120 litres of ‘washing’ water.

As it turned out, water was not to be an issue. We left Fernando on Friday 26th and for the following three days experienced brisk south easterlies and some serious rain showers. The log book was interspersed with comments like, "Rain, rain, RAIN…. More rain later…" With all the hatches closed we dubbed the saloon ‘The Sweat Pit’ and discovered all our breathable oilskins appeared to be wicking water the WRONG way.

Even the ‘Cape to Caribbean’ cruising guide happily states, "Approaching the Equator it rains often. An efficient rain catcher can be useful." It ain’t jokin’! All misery and despair, however, was held at bay as we clocked up some fantastic days’ runs. We had borrowed the Sao Luis-Recife chart from my parents and had great fun racing their progress in 1988, now a faded series of plot marks, up the Brazilian coastline. We came within four days of besting them but gave ourselves an honorable mention considering they held an 8 foot waterline advantage AND a 16 year head start.

Only four days out from Fernando we were tempted to stop for a snorkel (Plan No.19) at Ile Salut but decided to press on. With a perfect force 4 we were cracking along at 8 knots over the ground and it was hard to justify a stop while the going was so good. At 2000 that evening we crossed the Equator, a first for Chloe and Jago but we kindly skipped the tar and feathers of old and just fed them crème caramel. Regardless of his soft hearted parents, Jago was proving to be more of a traditionalist and had started teething on any old salty rope he could lay his hands on.

Having spent a couple of days sailing through muddy waters (an astonishing 100nm north of Rio Oiapoque, Brazil) we hardened up 20 degrees to lay Barbados. This would give us a better angle on our leg up to Antigua than from Tobago (Plan No.23). The waters cleared to a brilliant blue once again and we stopped surreptitiously checking the bucket for piranhas at bathtime. After a pleasant six-day stop in Barbados, we reminded ourselves of our original goal and made for Antigua, finally dropping our anchor at 2300 on the eve of Classics. The end of one epic voyage…. and not bad timing for a last minute plan!

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