The sting in the tail

The forecast higher winds arrived yesterday evening (Saturday). As is usually the case with winds on the grib file forecasts of high teens we are getting low to mid 20s. Not in themselves dramatic winds but as they have been blowing for a few hours now a big sea has built up and the cockpit is regularly splashed.

Helen tidied all the lines in the cockpit as a final job yesterday evening so we haven’t lost anything overboard which is a possibility with Grace being rolled from one beam to the other in the waves.

We have just a scrap of the twin headsails out now and are still making 5 knots, fortunately in exactly the right direction.

Because of the conditions the routine on board is changed. There is no lounging in the cockpit this morning. No warming sun to enjoy. We have timers set on the iPhones. 20 minutes. H is in bed having done the 0300 to 0600 watch. Im lying on one of the saloon settees reading and listening to the sounds of the ship. All good thus far. When the timer sounds (constellation in my case) it’s time to haul upright, traverse to the companionway and climb the steps enough to get a head out for a scan of the horizon. It’s not raining so it’s ok to look out for a few minutes but not a place to stand for long so soon it’s back to the bunk and the timer is reset.

The generator is on so batteries are getting recharged and it’ll soon be time to try and coordinate some muesli and juice into a bowl. It’s a job that needs three hands so will be done over the sink in case of spillage.

There are some other yachts around but not in sight. We can hear them trying to contact each other over the vhf. I guess their routines today will be similar to ours.

No one will be fishing today.

Missing the boat

Evening All (or morning, I didn’t post promptly….)

We are approaching the last few hundred miles now and have been looking at likely arrival times. We will not struggle to sail quickly for the next two days as we have strong winds forecast. Consistent 20+ knots. However, even sailing at full tilt we would be making landfall around sunset on Monday evening. And at sensible speeds more like midnight.

We have taken the decision to have another night at sea and approach Barbados with the morning light on Tuesday. In effect this means we have 12 hours to use up between now and 0600 Tuesday.

So, if you’re looking at the tracker and wondering why we have suddenly slowed right down, there’s your answer. Rather than get close and mooch about we will ease off and sail slowly for the last 48 hours or so.

We’ll keep you posted.

Apologies to Wordsworth

May 2010. The adventure starts
A goodly while before we can depart
The good ship Grace is now a Savage
That year too we squeezed in marriage

Summer trips to Scilly, Jersey and France
So we started the experience and upgrade dance
Weekends in Goole with tools and spanners
Grovelling in small spaces, thinking of fresh fish and sundowners

Years roll on, new sails, rig and generator
H gets a new hip, the NHS a speedy efficient saviour
Next year is the year, 2016, we plan to depart
Are they REALLY going, friends and family inquisitively ask?

It took us a while to sort house, health and business
Goodbye Hull, can’t say we’ll miss ya,
Away to the south to follow the sun,
France, Spain Portugal, here we come

Summer was amazing, an array of new places
Iles Cies off Vigo the dream like creation
But it wasn’t a dream, it was all beautifully real
Just me, Dave and Grace, a stunning idyl

To the Canaries, then gloom and engine woes abounded
We thought sea water had curtailed our future planned travels
But optimism reigned thanks to the genius man from Spar
He’s a new superhero, forget batman and his bat mobile car

New year in Mindelo, fireworks, parties and music
Spent with good friends, a special treasure to hold onto
The Atlantic then beckons, that big stretch of water
An ocean crossing, a journey, the challenge we’re after

The miles drop off as we sail to Barbados
Sun, sleeping, fishing, books, bread and emailing
The days roll by with a true sense of order
Closer each moment to that reputed blue sparking water

Land is still a few days away
Maybe 600 miles at lunchtime today
There’s still some sailing to be done
And looking after Grace, making sure she’s still number one
But here we are now seven months in
Having made it all happen and that makes me grin.

A to B to get to C

Eagle eyes will have spied our change in direction. We were running out of wind on our previous heading and also pottering towards a windless hole. So we turned a lot more south on the advice of our weather router, his professional persona is Mr B Dandridge but we know him as Ben. Thanks again for spending your evenings looking at synoptic charts, grib files and different computer models. (I hope we aren’t providing you with an excuse to get out of kiddies bedtime or washing up duties!)

Another friend Mark, who Dave happened to be emailing last night offered the same picture. This sailing lark is not just about where you are now. It’s about where you’re going to be and what the weather will be there.

We had a couple of small squalls come through last night. Dave timed his watches brilliantly and didn’t get wet. He was up though, give him his credit, supporting me from the dryness of the companion way steps as I winched away some sail. The radar is a great addition to have as it picks up areas of dense rain and we can track direction and estimate speed too.

20 odd hours later, we are now at a more southerly latitude. Sail plan has changed from Main and Yankee to our faithful twin headsails again. We have bright sunshine, 12 knots of breeze, a reasonably forgiving sea state and we’re doing over 5 knots in almost the right direction.

In the ‘to be rectified’ column, we are currently devoid of fish in our refrigerator. Wahoo in a garlic and herb cream sauce last night with green beans and sweet corn. Okay, the veg came out of a couple of cans but still good eating. The line is currently out so in the words of Delia Smith…. let’s be ‘aging you. (Sorry, another football reference. And you thought I’d got that out of my system)

Food is quite a big thing on the boat as you can imagine. Fresh wise, we still have sweet potatoes, new potatoes, garlic, ginger, squash, onions, a leek, a red pepper and an assortment of oranges, lemons and apples. We shopped on 13th Jan in Mindelo and set off the following day. Today is 24th. How many days to go? Well with that old caveat, weather depending, perhaps another 7.

Half time oranges

First half is complete. It was a slow start. Not much early action as we eased ourselves into the game. Didn’t want to use up all our energy early on. A solid defensive start was what we needed. After the battering we took in the first couple of days out of Tenerife, a mid table Tuesday night *away fixture at Walsall in November would suit us fine. (*if you don’t get the analogy here, ask someone who knows about football)

After a couple of days though, the game got more interesting and started to stretch as Grace pushed on and just before half time did a run of 138 miles in a day. We were happily impressed by that. We have a little game every day… guess that day’s mileage from noon to noon. The current scores show me in front but all still to play for. Loser buys the rum punches in Barbados.

A bit of housekeeping during today’s half time milestone – put the ships clock back one hour as we ease ourselves towards the time difference in Barbados. That’s an hour extra today for fishing. Caught another last night just as we were about to give up and have veggie stir fry for tea. Landed, dispatched, filleted, in pan with lemon and butter within the hour. Our friends the ‘Coconuts’ who are about 250 miles ahead of us caught a tuna yesterday. That’s our game plan for today.

What will the second half bring? Well I hope our crowd returns to watch from sofas, arm chairs, desks, kitchens etc and see that small red dot advancing steadily west. I guess a tuna would be the equivalent of an Alan Shearer hat-trick. Continuing to average over 5.5 knots would be a happy crowd at St James Park and no substitutions please as Dave and I crack on with the second half in fine fettle, well rested and content. And we need to mention a big thanks to our strategist and meteorologist in Jersey, Ben, who is providing data. I think outside coaching is allowed and we will pass the drug / alcohol testing as this is a dry boat.

I still have a hotline to football in the uk. The draw is a strong umbilical cord that will never be severed. I can’t reveal my source but I hear Newcastle beat the mighty Rotherham 4-0 yesterday. Good luck for the rest of the season toon army and a safe and enjoyable passage for us.

Sporting PS.
1. Can someone let me know how Murray gets on the Australian Open?
2. Did Armel win the Vendee Globe? Was Alex Thompson second? How close was the finish?

Sailing PS
989 miles covered. 1025 miles to go. Yes, I know it’s not exactly half way, but you have to allow for Fergie Time* (sorry another football reference)

A regular Friday at sea

Practical things first today.
We’re a third of the way across. Have covered over 700 miles. About 1400 to go.
We have eaten all the lovely fillets from the fish we caught so will be putting a line out again. Probably with a smaller lure as we don’t need such a big fish again.( I know this approach is completely the right way to go. But part of the competitive me is secretly thinking let’s try for a bigger one).
We’re glad we don’t have access to the internet or tv today as neither of us particularly want to see the inauguration coverage.

Our little tracker seems to doing its thing. It’s not the most advanced, fast moving or interactive computer game on the market but does have a reality to it rather than, well I don’t really know what, as I don’t play computer games, super mario, grand theft auto??? Every hour we hear a small beep from the iridium phone as it sends a text with our location to somewhere and something happens so you get a red dot on a screen thousands of miles away. That’s the technical analysis of the IT hardware and software we currently have available.

We’re getting through reading material too quickly. A book each every day / day and a half. Mostly books we’ve acquired on the trip through exchanges. But a few downloads and books from home. Dave has enjoyed and whipped through Danny Bakers autobiography, re-read Treasure Island (it’s a free download) and persevered through a little self published book written by a bloke about his experiences on a coach tour holiday around Australia. I read it too. God knows why we both persisted, it was utter boring dross. The Australian tourist board ought to buy up all the copies and shred them for hamster bedding. It’s not doing the country any favours.

Each morning we take a walk round the deck to check the rig, look for chaffage (I like that word) and remove the kamikaze flying fish for a burial at sea. I was chatting to Miv by email earlier today about flying fish and his thoughts amused me.

“And what goes through the mind of a Flying Fish as it takes its last gasps on the deck of a small boat in the middle of a massive ocean?
‘Oh, that’s just bloody typical that is. All this sodding water and you go and choose this bit, “come this way” you said, “it’ll be nice over here”. Idiot!”


Massive excitement. No routine and repetition here (reference to last blog), we caught our first fish. And it was a monster. There is photographic evidence. Yeh, I know all about fishing stories and myths.

The day had started well. A pod of dolphins on the bow, much larger and darker in colour than others we’d seen before. We’d finished our scrambled eggs in the cockpit and the line snatched. It’d only been out for a couple of hours as there was little point in fishing with fresh meat on board when we left Mindelo. And the whole point of fishing is to catch our dinner. No sport fishing for us.

Dave got on the rod, wedged himself in the corner of the cockpit and started winding the line in while I collected things together that we might need… camera, (very important), 2 pairs of gloves, knife, chopping board, gaff, bucket and a bottle of very cheap rum.

I’ve been waiting for this moment since we bought the rod in Jersey. Anticipation is a great thing. All the time I was thinking, what’s it gonna be, how big will it be, are we going to be able to get it on board and dispatch it, will it have big teeth, how easily will the hook come out, will my brother believe me?

Dave reeled and a flapping fish appeared above the surface. Nothing like anything I’d ever seen before. It was yellow with blue flashes and a flat forehead. And it was much bigger than we needed. But this was our first fish and there was no way it was going back. I was on a mission.

We got it on board without too much of a struggle, me using the gaff and Dave grabbing its tail and with it upside down, I poured some of the rum into its gills and this dispatched our dinner pretty promptly. It’s amazing how quickly the vibrant sheen of the fish changes and disappears between life and death.

Speedy action then ensued.
No. 1. Photographic evidence.
No.2. Take the fillets off each side. I wasn’t the most skilful at this but we ended up with plenty of meat for a first attempt.
No.3. Take meat down below and get it into meal sized packages and into the fridge asap.
No. 4. Clean the cockpit as it was a bit of a mess.

There we go. I am no longer a fishing virgin. We think we caught a Mahi Mahi. This afternoon I marinated chunks in lemon and lime then cooked it this evening with onion, garlic, red pepper, chilli and coconut milk. With a bit of cous cous on the side. Top healthy fresh nosh.

I will post the photos when we next get wifi. In the meantime, you’ll just have to believe me.

What to write about?

Here’s the thing. We’re on a boat crossing the Atlantic. It’s going to take, we imagine, more than two weeks but less than three. Our immediate world is very small as we have 43 feet to walk up and down. There’s sea and sky and weather and wildlife and maybe other boats but that’s our current existence. What am I going to think up and write about when routine and repetition visit us each day?

Then I remembered the letters I used to exchange with my Grandad as a teenager and a student. He lived in a very small hamlet a stones throw across the border into Scotland. He would drive the three miles once a week to do his shopping in Berwick upon Tweed, visiting the same shops each week. He was a keen gardener and spent time each and every day in his greenhouses, veggie and flower plots. He didn’t really go to many other places, just very occasionally to visit a relative or friend.

He did however the write the most enlightening, amusing and erudite letters about nothing in particular…. The visit of the postman, his trip to buy tea, seeing Miss Cook outside her house. I still have all his letters. They were all identical in form. Blue Basildon Bond writing paper, two sheets of, written on both sides using a black fountain pen. It was always a real pleasure to see one of those blue envelopes waiting for me. I loved those letters about nothing in particular.

So my plan over the next few days is to write about nothing in particular and try and make it interesting so you too can occasionally have a Basildon Bond Blue Letter.

Noon, 15 Jan

16 39.3N, 26 35.6W.

We left Mindelo at about 2pm yesterday. I should explain that the times here are ‘ship time’. Mindelo is one hour behind UK, and Barbados is a further three hours different to Mindelo so the strategy for time, copied from the crew on Spirit of Oysterhaven, is: change clock on departure, half way across and on arrival. We should hardly notice.

What we will notice is the extra day the crossing may take due to the very light and fickle winds we had on the first night out. Speeds were dire. The run to noon today is a rather paltry 85 miles. So it’ll be about a 95 mile 24 hour run. Somewhat different to the vendee globe fleet.

They are out here somewhere. If anyone fancies it, compare our track to theirs and do let us know if it looks like we’ll meet any of them. Same goes for the Talisker Atlantic Challenge. (Now there’s a top sponsor deal). The rowing, yes ROWING, teams left the Canaries about four weeks ago heading for Antigua. There is tracking on their website but I only found it by googling for the tracking, couldn’t find it otherwise.

We are up to better speed now, between 5 and 6 knots most of the time. Winds are F4 and on the starboard quarter for our desired heading of, yes you guessed it, West. We are having to relearn the windvane self steering. It’s part science, part art, and it was pointed out by a Scandinavian crew in Mindelo, part magic. I don’t feel like we have any fairy dust to sprinkle at the moment so it’s a bit of a headache. To be honest the windvane doesn’t particularly like the downwind stuff. It allows us to meander about 30 degrees either side of the course and with a risk of a gybe ever present it’s frustrating. It worked great when we were dead downwind using the twin yankees on the way to Mindelo, but if we did that now we’d be following Danny and Em on Stepping Out to Brazil. And I really want to get to the Caribbean. There’s cricket to see don’t you know.

Lisa will post this on the blog for us, thanks again Lisa. I’m not sure how we are going to get to see your comments though, they usually come to helens email which is out of reach for the duration of the crossing. You can always mail us on the sat phone address, graceoflongstone @my

Time for a cuppa. And love to all of you out there.

PS – this was written by Dave

Off tomorrow

Hi. Dave here. Shamed into writing by pressure from a number of folk who responded to our last blog.

Finally, the work on the wind-vane frame was finished and it was installed this morning. It may be a few days later than promised but the workmanship is without fault. The yacht engineer business here has the strap line ‘if it’s man made – we can fix it’. And I believe them. Their workshop is one part modern machine shop one part jumble store of recycled and collected boats bits and pieces.

It will have been worth waiting as without the wind steering it is much harder on the two of us, hand steering for a few hours on a coastal passage is fun, but non stop for a number of days is too much.  We do have an electric autopilot we can revert to but as H has said I do worry about the amps.

We had a text this evening from the Coconuts (Hugh, Miranda and Simon.) they are already 400 miles west of us and we will have our work cut out to catch them before landfall in Barbados. If we are later in guys, remember the cold ones we had for you on your arrival in Mindelo…

So, we’ll be at sea for at least 17 days. We intend to update the blog with help from Lisa. We can receive texts to the sat phone. +8816 51486672. Uk mobile providers may charge this but you can also text via the iridium website,, or email us at Just plain text please, if you include photos of the 6 foot of snow in the back garden it won’t get through, much as we’d like to see it.

Time to go now. A few chores to tick off tomorrow then slip the lines and head west. It will be good to get back out to sea. Landfalls are great but the pull of new places to go prevents us sticking long in one place. Boat maintenance is the thing that does that.

Wish us fair winds and gentle seas. We will keep you posted on progress and if you feel like getting in touch, please do. As Miv said earlier today, urges get rarer as you get older, best act on every one.