At the time of writing, we are located in the Atlantic Ocean wind gusting power to our sails.
This post is something that I have been trying to get published for several weeks as many non-Finnish readers of our blog is not satisfied by Google translator, which is not always quite getting the job done from Finnish to English. It has to be said though that occasionally some parts of the blog may not make sense in Finnish either. As it is always amazing to find people following our journey, here is a little summarizing post of our adventure in English.
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As I already mentioned, we are currently crossing the Atlantic Ocean and already positioned to the Western part of the puddle. The intention of this post is to describe and explain how we exactly ended up to this astonishing area populated by whales, exciting fish, stars that are so bright that one can read without additional light and huge waves that splash all the way over the boat.
In short, we are three young Finnish guys (2xlawyer (Arimo and Ossi), 1xengineer (Antti)) who share passion for sailing. In addition to this, we also wanted to travel the world under sail. As a result, we ended up buying s/y Dyssel (Swan 41) sailing yacht about 1.5 years ago. The plan later escalated and we ended up taking some time off from regular life and sail across Europe to Canary Islands and all the way across the Atlantic to Caribbean to visit maybe Panama, Venezuela, Belize, Cuba etc. – and then sail back in the near future.
Although the boat was in brilliant shape, it required further updating for such a long journey.
We fitted new navigation systems and various safety instruments and other back-up systems during the winter of 2014. We took Dyssel to warm hall in Inkoo, a town one hour away from Helsinki where all repairing and updating work could be done. That meant intensive boat work for every weekend. Sometimes working at boat was quite demanding when we had missed some parts and it felt that the boat is not getting her new equipment in working order in the given timeframe. Also, many pieces of equipment had to be returned as they did not work as promised. The biggest concern was regarding our hydro generator which we eventually sent back to the seller and purchased their competitor's device mostly due to IPR infringement claims (we respect others' inventions!).
On the other hand, it was completely unbelievable when we for example got our water maker installed (and working, yeah, it also visited Switzerland for a repair) and all the hoses in right order. Otheastounding feeling was when we finally turned our new electric system on and understood that our navigation system, radar, AIS, windlass and all other instruments worked beautifully. All this made it worth for waking up at seven on every Saturday and Sunday by a wide margin!
A strong boat is only half of the story in a sailing trip such as our journey. In addition, one needs to know much more to be able to operate the boat in various places and conditions. Thus, we studied different aspects concerning our sailing including (but seriously not limited to) weather, immigration, navigation, routing, sailing in heavy weather, cooking, medical first aid and so forth.
Now, about a year later it appears for me that we had to be quite busy back then.
After countless hours in Inkoo and Lauttasaari where we brought Dyssel for summer, we finally got her completely prepared for our adventure. This was basically in June or July, not too early considering that we decided to leave on the 25th of August, 2014 from Lauttasaari, Finland. By that time we had also arranged our own lives to a point where we could leave Finland for this adventure.
The moment when we really and seriously headed off to south from Helsinki was something that most likely I will never forget: The downtown of Helsinki looked grey and dark from the sea and light rain soon faded the light house of Suomenlinna out of sight. We were on the move. Hours later we passed the most southern part of Finland without seeing any other boat.
Although our first morning at sea was a beautiful summer like Finnish morning with bluebird sky and sun shining, the wind was getting stronger. At noon, the weather forecast changed completely – a strong gale warning was issued to exactly where we were aiming to be in the following 12 hours. During the following night, it really got windy and strong gusts smashed big waves into Dyssel.
While the wind was on its strongest, we were in the middle of Baltic Sea.
Despite the strong wind and waves that I had never seen at Baltic Sea prior this, Dyssel seemed to be designed just for this. Nothing appeared to be even remotely close of getting worn out or whatsoever. S&S designed Swan was calm, stable and reliable. Aspects that anyone would appreciate on a sailing boat. On the following day of the storm, we landed to sunny Visby, Sweden. Our first leg was completed. A start that will probably not either be forgotten by us or our crew members Elli and Heikki. From Visby we sailed through Denmark to Kiel, Germany. From Kiel we took the shortcut channel right to the end of Elbe. The North Sea opened to us.
Sailing again just three of us, we visited Germany and Belgium on our way through the English Channel to England. We had some incredible spinnaker sailing right into the English Channel, which by the way is way narrower what I had thought it was.
Jarno joined us for crossing the Bay of Biscay. Due to some dangerous-looking weather systems, we had to take a stop in Brest (France) prior crossing the Biscay. On a many level, the Biscay was exciting and new for all of us: for the first time, we were truly out at sea hundred miles off the coast. For the first time, it appeared at least for me that regardless where you are; on the coast or miles away – sailing remains sailing. From Brest we landed to La Coruna (Spain) – I would say the summer officially had begun again.
Jarno left us in Lisbon where we explored Portugal for couple of weeks prior heading to Africa. In Lisbon, we had amazing opportunity to meet Markku, the head of the European Union Marine Safety Commission, who demonstrated us various different ways how the European Union is utilizing technology for better marine safety. We also met Ville and his huge construction project which aims to build a huge golf and hotel resort near the marina of Vila Moura. We had some brilliant time – not related to sailing which is of course nice while you had just sailed 2500 NM.
Then we left for Africa.
Just couple of hours before touching the coast of Morocco, we had the chance to see Volvo Ocean Race fleet. Right after SCA of the VOR fleet disappeared to horizon, we broke our furling head sail and got it down to sea. Later sail was recovered and we continued to Africa. Being at Tanger was unique experience. In between Point Europe (a lighthouse near Gibraltar) and Tanger, one is in the middle of two entirely different worlds: high mountains of Africa on the right hand side and massive cargo ship traffic to Europe on left hand side. With no genua-sail, we went to Gibraltar where our sail got repaired. Sara and Mikael joined us for next leg to Madeira. Going to Madeira was so far the longest sea passage anyone of us have ever made. 600 nautical miles passed fast and within days we saw Porto Santo's island in front of our bow.
From Madeira we continued in big waves to Teneriffa where Annika and Tomi joined us prior sailing to Las Palmas where the ARC would start. At this point we had sailed about 3500 NM from Finland to Las Palmas.
The week before the start of the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) we did some intensive stocking and arranging for the crossing: we had to fit food, water and other supplies for more than three weeks for 6 persons. The amount of fresh food, vegetables, juice, eggs, beer and water we got fitted onboard was out of this world. We even got a piece of banana tree including 200 bananas! Days before the start went fast making sure that everything works, and were absolutely required, but quite long and sometimes even tiring. For example, I was making fifth double-check and some additional chafe preventer covers in the mast around 2 am in the morning using head-lamp. Simultaneously Antti and Arimo were busy stocking bottled water inside the boat (yes, we have a water maker but we wanted to stock water as if we didn't have water maker - it can broke).
The night before the start of the ARC was exciting and confusing – before falling asleep there were quite many things going on my mind. First of all, the wind was blowing hard and I could feel our boat moving, almost rolling in the marina that has never happened before. I also knew that all forecasts for the start were quite difficult: a storm was going over Las Palmas during the day of start building steep waves on the way. Although I knew that the storm would only last for about 20 hours and that there would not be any kind of trouble with the boat or us getting through the gale, it was still difficult to accept that we are for real going for it. Going to a storm on an ocean, voluntarily, made me think does it make any sense. According to the forecast, the wind would be blowing around 20 to 25 m/s. On a normal circumstances, we would never leave a harbor in abovementioned conditions.
In the morning there were some heavy rain. While eating breakfast, it was announced that all classes for the ARC would not leave today – the start was postponed. On the other hand it was reliving to see that the conditions were not only our concern but the ARC race committee ended up to a similar conclusion as we did – lets set off after the gale. Controversially, the day we had prepared ourselves for about a year seemed to fade away to the future, again.
Only 24 hours later, the ARC started. Conditions at sea were so settled that there was no question about leaving Las Palmas. We finally started the 3000 NMish crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. In addition, Mirva, Teemu and Tuomas joined us for the crossing.
It is intriguing how rapidly changing and entirely different weather conditions we have had.
We have been on one low pressure weather system and took waves from other lows thankfully a little bit further away from us. We have enjoyed endless sunshine, temperatures raising almost to 40 C degrees. At the same time, not a day has passed without some aggressive showers of rain. While in the middle of the Baltic Sea, we saw the sea so flat and windless that we went to swim right from the boat that was moving absolutely nowhere. The Atlantic Ocean, however, seem not to be that flat ever. According to our forecast data, we have been sailing on a 2 meter swell, 3 meter swell, 4 meter swell, 5 meter swell, 6 meter swell and bigger waves that come once in a while going even beyond 8 meters. Obviously the bigger the waves get, it is more exciting to be on the helm surfing the waves up and down, steering so that the boat will not smash directly into the wave. Doing anything inside Dyssel gets somewhat complicated in case of a big swell. It has to be noted though that this type of swell has relatively long length of the wave.
One example of swiftly changing conditions can be taken from yesterday.
It had been sunny for all day and wind was steadily about 6 to 10 m/s. We hoisted spinnaker right in morning and had sailed it all day long. On a blink of an eye, there was a strong gust of wind coming completely from another direction. This made the boat heel sturdily and it wasn't an easy task to keep the boat (and sail) under control. A second later, we saw a dark cloud on a horizon and our wind instrument already showed readings beyond 15 m/s. Antti and myself rushed into the bow to get the sail down while Arimo took the helm and tried to keep us going as much of downwind as possible in that situation. Although the boat once again heeled couple of times, we got reduced our sail from 170 square meter to 0 square meter in matter of seconds just before the immense squall hit us. Again, after 15 minutes, the sun was shining as nothing happened. We figured it is better to get the main sail back as it was getting dark already.
It would most likely be more dramatic and exciting to write about our day 17 that "we are eating canned beans and running out of water supplies" or something similar. To be honest, we ate yesterday fresh steak (ok, frozen) and beer. Our fresh water tank also gets full by pressing a button. We have baked cake, pizza, bread, hamburgers, hot dogs, pancakes, waffles, dorado (3 times). As a rule of thumb, we embed 1.2 kg of meat/fish for every meal, which seems to keep hunger out of Dyssel. Additionally I think all of us appreciate delicious food we have had here so far!
What goes to animals while sailing through Europe towards Caribbean, we have been quite lucky I guess: near Madeira we saw a huge sperm whale, right in the narrowest point of the strait of Gibraltar we saw some other whales. We also have been seeing whales on the Atlantic once in a while. We have seen plenty of dolphins right from the French coast. During the Atlantic crossing our lunch menu has been filled with 3 dorados we took out of the sea.
All in all, we are happily sailing towards the Caribbean Sea although wind has been decreasing which is not favorable for us as our boat tends to sail better on a stronger wind conditions. Considering our superb crew though, we are not that much hurry out of here at all: we have delicious food, astonishing views and marvelous sailing.
Hence we are going west, every day tends to end to a miraculous sunset just before the stars of crystal clear night sky brings glow to the Atlantic Ocean.
I guess that's all: no new messages from the western frontier.