Safari sails from Gran Canaria to St Lucia (Nov 25th - Dec 17th)
Author: Carmel Kavanagh Posted on: 4/1/08 Print Version

Most of you are aware by now that we successfully crossed the Atlantic from Las Palmas in Gran Canaria to the Caribbean Island of St Lucia over a period of 22 days starting on Sunday November 25th at 1300. There were 5 people on board. Ken and myself, our son John, Cyril Geran and Eddie Brennan, both from Howth and members of Howth Yacht Club.

Leaving Las Palmas - Sunday November 25th
Well, it was 1310 when we actually crossed the line in what was a very stiff breeze and a heavy, lumpy sea. The conditions were such that we couldnít set up the Hydrovane (self-steerer) until the following morning.
So the first night was a tough one as Safari was hand-steered down through the nasty wind acceleration zones of Gran Canaria, past Maspalomas and Playa del Ingles and the other hot vacation spots in the south of the island where the holiday makers were blissfully unaware of the thousand or so sailors who had just set out to cross the Atlantic ocean in a fleet of small boats.

The wind gusted up to 35-40 knots which is gale force 8 - not pleasant. The following morning things settled somewhat and we were able to set up the boat properly. Quite a few boats had to turn back because of damage during the gale but as we had sailed very conservatively, covering only 100 miles during that first 24 hr period, we had no gear failure to report. up the Hydrovane (self-steerer) until the following morning.

Cyril Geran maintains
his usual high standards

A flag halyard had wrapped itself around the wind generator which stopped it from working. Mercifully, Cyril was uninjured when he catapulted out of his bunk over on top of John who was sleeping opposite him in the aft cabin. As soon as the wind abated, John went up the mast and sorted out the halyard - so all was well once again aboard Safari.

Over the following 5 days, the wind weakened until it dropped off completely during the following Thursday night. We had the mainsail and cruising chute up until Tuesday 27th. Then the little wind there was went behind us and we were finally able to drop the main and raise the twin headsails. We retained this rig until we were 1.6 miles off the finishing line at St Lucia. It was a brilliant rig and most importantly - safe. As we had no need to hoist the main, there was no danger of an accidental gibe which can result in serious accidents. One skipper, John Thompson, was killed during the crossing as a result of being hit by the boom on his yacht, Avocet. We were naturally devastated by this awful accident and all the more so because his yacht was in the same group as ourselves for radioing positions to Cowes every day. He was a well-known and respected sailor from Northern Ireland whose accidental death shocked everyone in the sailing community at home and abroad.

However, we eventually had to motor out of this area of light winds. We were disappointed and frustrated by our slow progress during the first week. We had only covered 450 miles or so during the first 5 days when we should have at least 700 under our belt. This is why we finished in 22 days instead of the hoped-for 19-20.

We felt we were being left behind by the rest of the fleet. It was a weird sensation to be out there in mid-Atlantic with not another vessel in sight. We saw absolutely nothing for more than 2 weeks! Can you imagine - just the sea with itís huge swell and the sky with itís puffy clouds!

During the 2nd week we were challenged in a different way by the wind - there was too much of it! A gale hit us during Saturday night, 1st December and basically lasted until the following Saturday, December 8th. Once again the wind strength was between force 8 and 9 with gusts of 40 knots and more. The sea also mounted to keep pace with the wind. Heavy squalls were the order of the day and night and life became very uncomfortable on board. We reduced sail and lurched and banged our way through mountainous seas and strong winds.

As it happened Eddie was unfortunate enough to be on watch when most of the bad squalls hit - it wasnít a cunning plan on our part- it was just bad luck on his! He was aptly nicknamed Eddie, the Rainmaker.

The most comfortable berth on the boat!

By the following Sunday (9th), we were all pretty exhausted and wishing the passage was over! Cyril had been flung across the main saloon one evening and suffered a broken rib. Being Cyril, he was back in action doing his watches within 48 hrs in spite of being in great pain. What a man!

The third and final week was slow in passing although when we celebrated passing through the 1,000 mile barrier we all felt a lot happier. The gale force winds disappeared to be replaced by a steady 18-25 knots of North Easterly trade winds. But regrettably, the sea remained uncomfortable and jolted us along without mercy. Our average speed increased to cover 140-150 miles per 24 hours. We were finally making steady progress towards the finishing line.

So how did we spend our 3 weeks at sea - 5 people aboard a smallish 42 ft yacht??

It was truly amazing how quickly most of the days flew past. When we werenít fighting to keep our balance, we ate (3 meals per day), we slept (tried to) and we stood watch (2 hours on and 6 hrs off) We constantly checked our position, speed, course over the ground and most importantly distance to go on Cyrilís GPS which was on in the cockpit all the time. We discussed strategy. John and Eddie played chess. We all read and did Crosswords and Sudoku. John looked at some dvds, I cooked (my reward was no night work unless there was an urgent need like when Cyril had his accident), but most importantly of all, we chatted and talked to one another.

Cyril entertained us greatly with a wealth of stories of his sailing adventures, Eddie kept our brains alive with his searching questions and John kept us laughing in the evening with tales of his adventures in foreign parts. In short, the whole thing worked because the crew worked so well together. That doesnít mean that there werenít little moments of tension etc but because we each had such respect for the other, these moments were very rare and very short-lived! We were all too busy making sure we survived!

Arriving at St Lucia after 22 Days at sea
Finally, after exactly 22 days, 3 hours,26 minutes and 47 seconds, we arrived safe and sound in St Lucia on December 17th. John was the first to sight land on that Monday morning. What a joy!!

Before crossing the line,I asked the crew what they had thought of the whole experience. For Cyril, crossing the Atlantic evoked 3 thoughts, achievement, endurance and fatigue but he most definitely would do it again. Eddie thought it was a wonderful adventure with itís own set of challenges - overcoming which, enhanced the sense of achievement on arrival. John was thrilled to see the end in sight after being battered and bruised for 3,000 'fabulous' miles. Ken was of the opinion that crossing the Atlantic, while done every year by hundreds of yachts, is still a great achievement. I found the whole experience just awesome. We were all very proud of ourselves on our arrival in St Lucia.

There followed a few days of celebration and dining out. The cook had gone on strike!! Sadly, 3 members of the crew, John, Cyril and Eddie had to return to Ireland for Christmas. We really missed them when they had left. We decided to remain on in Rodney Bay Marina for a few weeks R&R before setting out on our exploration of the Caribbean.

Life is very, very different here in St Lucia, which is an independent state, formerly governed by Great Britain. English is the main language but the locals also speak a type of Creole. The people are beautiful but very poor and live in very impoverished looking shacks. They are friendly, welcoming and most helpful. They do wonderful work cleaning and painting the boats for very little money - a little less than Euro Symbol5 per hour. We had the hull cleaned and polished, the deck and all the stainless steel cleaned and are currently having the cockpit re-varnished. The boat looks great and we feel we are helping out in a little way. We were also delighted to be able to donate a lot of the left-over food to families in need. Cyril will be delighted to hear that the many tins of green beans have found good and appreciative homes!!

The scenery is exquisite. The wonderful green, tropical vegetation contrasts with the magnificent blue of the sea - but there are draw-backs! The fresh food situation is pretty poor. There is very little fresh meat, vegetables or fruit available in the supermarkets. Eggs are very scarce and not to be found in the shops - even fresh chicken breasts are difficult to find. The capitol city, Castris, is really a bit of a dump. Because it has been destroyed so often by hurricanes and volcanos, there are hardly any buildings of architectural merit still standing.

Today is New Yearís Eve. We normally celebrate with a group of good friends in Howth Yacht Club. This year we have invited some new friends, Polish Canadians, on board for dinner and then we will head for Bosunís, a pub in the complex where all the yotties are going to congregate to ring in 2008. It should be a fun evening.

Ken and I would like to thank you all for taking such an interest in our adventures, for sending e-mails and giving us such great moral support. We would like to wish you all a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year. Watch this space throughout 2008 - hopefully there will be some good tales to tell!

Carmel and Ken

Carmel & Ken Kavanagh
Safari of Howth
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