Sailing Reports

Sailing from Saint Helena to Brazil: Our Spinnaker Takes a Hit

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After eleven nights on a mooring ball in Saint Helena, it was time to move on. We’d had a great time exploring the island, but we still had half an ocean to cross!

We’d debated for a very long time about where to stop in Brazil. Many places are known for safety issues. We considered:

  • Fernando de Noronha, a small island group off the northeast coast (very expensive)
  • Skipping Brazil (meaning a very long sail of 3700 nm) Salvador (where the ARC stops, but a crime hotspot)
  • Natal (we know cruisers who were headed there this year)
  • Cabedelo (we know cruisers who went there last year)

Then, we heard from our friends Hans and Karina, who live in Recife. We thought they were going to be out of town during our visit, but they weren’t! So, that made it an easy choice to stop in Recife.

We left Saint Helena on February 12th. After escaping the shadow of the island and getting through a squall, we got our spinnaker up and running. Big Blue stayed up for about 24 hours, until…

February 13th at about 1800. We had the spinnaker set up on an adjustable tackline with the line leading from the bowsprit block to a low-friction ring on our starboard side and then down along the toe-rail to our aft windlass. The tackling was squeaking and creaking a lot, so David wanted to change it out. We turned the engine on, rolled the spinnaker in and swapped the line.

As we were rolling it back out, the continuous line got wrapped around the drum. We had no choice but to finish unfurling the sail, but we weren’t sure what we were going to do after that. Well, the twist and tension in the torsion line caused one of the sides of the block to break. The new tackling was now fraying against the break and the line was going to snap. David quickly got a new line tie to the tack and feed it through the clutch on the bowsprit. He was pulling the line through when the old tack line snapped. Thankfully David had closed the clutch, but unfortunately, the new tack line was caught under the bowsprit and had too much tension on it; we couldn’t get it around properly.

At this point, we needed to just drop the sail. We were never going to get it to furl and the tack line was too long anyway, there wasn’t enough tension on the torsion rope. I got on the halyard, David got on the sheet, and I eased as he pulled.

The head was about halfway down when the halyard line caught at the clutch and I had to clear it. Those few seconds gave the wind enough time to fill in the sail and blow it backward. I hastily dropped the sail the rest of the way but the top half of the sail went into the water. I quickly put the engine in neutral and David struggled to hold the spinnaker on deck.

The spinnaker had filled with water, so I had to find a side of the sail to pull up and dump out the water as we pulled it in. Finally, we got the spinnaker down and on deck, salty as it was.

In writing this out, it sounds like a fairly well-organized situation, but in reality, there was a lot of terror and f-bombs. David and I were both shaking with adrenaline and exhaustion when we were done.

Later, in Brazil, we would roll out the spinnaker to find absolutely no damage. It’s a miracle we didn’t rip the sail or catch anything on our props, rudder, or keel. And of course, thank god neither of us fell overboard.

The rest of our passage was surprisingly uneventful. The sea state was very calm most of the time. The winds were deep reach or dead downwind the whole way and less than 15 knots of apparent wind speed. We sailed with the screecher on the windward bow when we could, with the main and genoa when we couldn’t Occasionally squalls troubled us.

We did try to put our fishing lines out. On the 20th, we heard the telltale whir of our fishing rod going off on the port side. David quickly got on the rod and wrestled with the fish. Then the starboard one went off! I got on that rod and even saw the fish – a mahi mahi – leap out of the water. However, BOTH of our lines snapped and we lost the lures! So frustrating.

David discovered that the block on the bowsprit was just a regular block with a spring over the base. By pushing down the spring, he could replace the block, so we were able to put our screecher back on the bowsprit.

Our last 24 hours the winds really died and we alternated between motor sailing and wing on wing with two headsails. We do wing on wing with two headsails when the wind is light but the waves too choppy. This avoids having the mainsail up and the boom banging around, but we do go really slow.

We had dolphins visit us several times on the 23rd.

David was running the numbers a lot, as we had to time our approach to Recife to coincide with high tide. The approach to Cabanga Iate Clube is not charted at all on our charts and has a big tide swing, so we needed to give ourselves some wiggle room.

Finally, we saw the coastline of Brazil in the distance – not mountains, but skyscrapers!

We’d been in touch with Hans and Karina all the way through the passage, and they offered to meet us at the entrance of Recife. They came out in their tender and guided us to the Cabanga Iate Clube where we parked in their slip.

  • Time: 12.4 days
  • Distance: 1864 nm
  • Average Speed: 6.26 knots

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