Spellbinder arrived safely in Porto Santo, Madeira at 2000 on Wednesday 25th July, a journey of 9 days or 222 hours to be exact. We covered 1300 nautical miles at an average of just under 6 knots, a speed which reflects the relatively light winds experienced over the passage – the maximum recorded gust being 18 knots, but the average being more in the 7-12 knots range.
We spent the first 40 hours largely motoring into light westerlies to get out of the English Channel. We always knew that we were unlikely to have favourable winds for this part but were thankful that they were not too strong. Rounding Ouessant 40 hours later, we headed away from the French coast and off the continental shelf, finally getting a sailable wind and for most of the Biscay crossing we were under Parasailor, steered by Hydrovane. The Parasailor is particularly good on a dead run or very broad reach and gave us stability and assurance that if the wind had got up, it would have coped. Once on the level of La Coruna, we sought out the Portuguese current and sailed with both the Parasailor and, when the wind came forward sufficiently, the gennaker. Once off the latitude of Gibraltar, we had a period of calm and more motoring before a light NW reappeared, allowing us to reach into the Madeira archipelago under gennaker again.
Spellbinder served us well and I was particularly pleased with how her systems functioned on her first long passage in my ownership. The Hydrovane will be great on long passages, and functioned well downwind with the Parasailor, but we also used the autopilot quite a lot too, as it steered a straighter (and therefore faster) line in light airs. The solar panels and towed generator did a good job at topping up the batteries but I think running the engine for a couple of hours every 2 -3 days will be necessary to make water. The watermaker itself was excellent and allowed us the luxury of a shower a day, which was thoroughly appreciated. The SSB and Pactor modem allowed me to send regular emails and download met forecasts and GRIB files, although performance was best at night, as the propagation is better. Throughout we connected to the Belgium Sailmail station, at various frequencies. The further away, the higher the frequency generally. I don’t pretend I fully understand it! Finally, of note, having a freezer gives you many more options on the food front; as does the large capacity for storage on Spellbinder, which had surprised me.
We settled down as a crew very well and adopted a watch system which effectively started at around 1800 with a drink and supper together. I tended to do the first watch at 2000-2200, writing and sending emails and getting weather information, and then we went into a ‘two on, two off’ régime with me doing the ‘graveyard’ shift between 0200-0400. This allowed me to come back on watch at 0800, by which time I had had enough sleep and took over the morning, allowing my two crew to sleep in – something 18-year olds are very happy to do! After lunch we kept the afternoon informal, as all three of us were generally around. Once away from the Channel and well offshore all shipping had AIS – Automatic Identification System, which shows up on chartplotters. We could see everything around for 30-40 miles or so, including closest point of approach and time to it (CPA and TCPA) which was very reassuring, as was the fact that we transmitted on AIS too.
We took it in turns to cook lunch and dinner (and clear up afterwards) every three days, with breakfast being a ‘self-help’ affair depending on the time it was taken! Highlights were Tiger’s Spanish omelette and pancakes and Tom’s pasta bolognese. We also baked bread, which went down well and improved with experience. Every 3 days we cleaned the yacht, taking it in turns to do the heads, galley and saloon. In sum, I think 3 is an ideal number on long passages, although in poor weather it would have its drawbacks.
We saw plenty of wildlife – dolphins most days, lots of various sea birds, some amazing sea turtles (we sailed through a ‘field’ of them about 200 NM off Madeira but were so amazed we forgot to take a photo – we had initially mistaken them for human debris). Tom saw a whale early one morning. We tried fishing with a variety of trolling lures and Tom’s home-made ‘teaser’ but to no avail.
Other highlights were flying the drone in mid Biscay, which gave us some wonderful footage. Recovery drills need to be worked on though as we did have one crash landing and nearly lost it. Also, becalmed on the latitude of Gibraltar we threw a fender over the side and went swimming, leaving one on board, of course. Swimming in the deep, clear dark blue water was fantastic, and we used the deck shower to wash off. We donned a mask and checked under the hull, and generally enjoyed ourselves. With 4000 metres below us we were definitely in the deep end. We had watched the sea temperature rise from 18 degrees to 26 over the passage, along with the air temperature. Night watches needed no extra layer towards the end.
To occupy ourselves we read a lot, and Tom and Tiger set up a sort of gym to exercise most evenings on the foredeck. We did a few sun sights but I feel that astro navigation requires me to spend a concerted time reminding myself. Lots of music was played through the Bluetooth speaker and I had to listen to a lot of what is called ‘London grime’. There was also a lot of ‘banter’ and I learned a few phrases of teenage vernacular which had hitherto blissfully escaped me.
Spellbinder will now stay in Madeira for the next couple of months before heading to the Canaries in mid-October. I am still after a couple of crew for this leg which should be 36-48 hours downwind and may go via the Savage Islands. It could be done over a long weekend (probably 12-15 Oct 18) so do let me know if you are interested.
Finally, I enjoyed merging drone and GoPro footage into some video editing software I have (Davinci Resolve) and while it is fairly basic I hope you enjoy the video of the passage, which is a neat synopsis of our adventure. The video will appear shortly.
In sum – it was great fun and hugely rewarding, and I feel well set for the adventures ahead. Thank you Tom and Tiger for being such excellent crew.