30th November 2021
Puerto de La Estaca, El Hierro – Cercle de Voile, Anse De Hann, Dakar, Senegal
We all project a positive image on social media. Everyone is always smiling, skies are always blue and we are always living our best lives. Our social media posts would usually contain the same, but our sail from the Canaries south wouldn’t appear on social media, it wouldn’t be full of blue skies and wouldn’t contain us living our best life, it would be of us just surviving.
Looking at the forecast we knew that we were in for a windy trip and with Cerulean for company we knew that we’d need to work hard to keep up. Zipping along in the light winds around the islands Ruffian was snapping at Cerulean’s heels and we quickly gained the lead. If we had internet access, we would have been busy on FB and Insta posting about how amazing our lives were and how we were becoming our best selves.
As the first perfect days passed in a blur, we downloaded more and more weather information and the picture became bleaker and bleaker. This wasn’t just going to be a windy ride, this was going to be a wild, wet, and windy ride, where preparation was everything. Taking to the galley Fiona prepped meals for days, knowing that cooking anything more than bread and cheese would be beyond Iain, while Iain systematically went through the daily checks making sure Ruffian would be OK.
With the wind building and building, and with Cerulean still within sight, Iain started to get greener and greener. Things were about to get worse as sails were doused and instead of being greeted by the usual flapping sound the shrill sound of ripping fabric cut through the air. We’d managed to put excessive load onto a mainsail slider and punched a hole in the main. (For the sailor’s amongst you – thankfully this was below the cringle for reef one so the majority of the mainsail was still useable).
As the days went on water found its way through and into everything forcing us to come up with innovative solutions to stem its flow. Seawater cascaded down into the galley through a leaking dorade cover running over the headlining and soaking curtains, making us scamper around of deck checking all the fittings. It seeped through hatches dripping onto the low side, forcing Fiona to sleep with a towel over her head (although it looked like some bizarre form of water boarding). It washed into the cockpit, reducing the size of our sanctuary and driving us further and further under the sprayhood.
While we were just surviving the weather the wildlife around us seemed to revel in it. Petrels (Storm Petrels?) swopped down hidden by the huge waves and then magically reappeared surrounded by white water, turtles bobbed along in the rising and dropping waters without a care and dolphins joined us jumping through the spumes of white water that surrounded us.
As time went on things slowly got better on Ruffian. While Iain was still a distinct shade of green Fiona started pottering around downstairs. She decided that the ideal lunch would be egg sandwiches and set about making her yummy concoction. Serving up lunch all that Iain could stomach was a long-life croissant. Unfortunately for Iain the croissants weren’t proving to be as long-life as professed on the label, instead of having a mouthful of seasick quenching dryness, he munched into a mouthful of slimy green mould!
With the online social media world a long way away, we formed and even grew our very own little social network. In all this emptiness an amazing French boat, resplendent with 2 kids, called Zig Zag wowed us on the VHF with their chocolate cake baking skills and sailing ability. Marie’s happy chirpy voice elicited memories of Fiona’s au pairs and lifted spirits on every call. Further away, on the SSB, Zen Again kept in touch and with Cerulean in tow we never felt alone.
The weather was easing, but drama was still not over as Ruffian was being pushed about by the waves, her autopilot was doing a valiant job at keeping her on track. Suddenly, without warning, we slew off course and alarms started beeping incessantly. We wrestled with the wheel and something was clearly amiss. Losing our steering is our worst nightmare and we feared this was exactly what was happening.
Venturing into the aft cabin we were greeted by nasty grinding noises and a screaming motor. We feared that our fear was about to be confirmed. Switching off the autopilot and hand steering things eased up. Phew, we had not lost the steering; we’d just lost an autopilot ram. Relief flowed over us as the spare ram was activated, took the load and pointed Ruffian in the right direction.
Wanting to seek sanctuary we decided to divert into Dakar. In Dakar we thought we could get things fixed, experience a new country and most importantly stop this game that no one was enjoying.
After nearly 800 miles Cerulean were still within spitting distance and with the new target of Dakar in sight they finally zoomed past us. We both now had a night entry to make into a strange port, busy with traffic and with a backdrop of wall-to-wall lights.
Starting to sail in we felt like we were entering a world very different from the one that we’d left. We dodged lobster pots that were lit with flashing blue lights and very bright green proximity laser lights; fishing boats were illuminated by not lights, but by flames from a charcoal BBQ on which they prepare their tea; all while big commercial traffic sliced across ours bows and took our stern ignoring all the usual rules of the road.
When the anchor hit the ground, we knew we had entered a different world. Aromatic smells of incense washed over the boat and the call to prayer rang out along the shoreline. Fishing boats as long and thin as eels plied their trade around us while their occupants wore smiles the width of their faces and shouted out friendly greetings.
Although we didn’t have smiling faces, blue skies or much ‘fun’ on the trip south it is still worthy of social media. We were surrounded by friends the whole way, drew comfort from their presence, have grown as people and really are living our best life.
Some Stats from the sail;
- 817 (NM) Sailed
- 165 (NM) Distance in 24hours
- 27 (Kts) Average wind speed
- 5.9 (Kts) Average boat speed
- 5 (m) waves
- 2 Cumulative number of pant changes
- 1 How many times Iain went for a no2
If you see this after your page is loaded completely, leafletJS files are missing.