Songbird ARC 2020 Blog
Introductions - November 2020
Let’s introduce our crew of 10 for the ARC 2020 Las Palmas to Rodney Bay, St Lucia; Captain - Andy Kinnaird, First Mate - Myril, Cook & Chief of the Mother Watch – Sarah (that’s me), and our enthusiastic crew; Adam (Astro) Warby, Dr Dave (The Baker) Forbes, Lou Dean (Music Queen), Martin (Mend-it) Suter, Paul (Banksy) Fellows & Rohan (The Roast) Putter.
With the introduction of a second, nation-wide, Covid-19 lockdown in the UK (including a ban on non-essential travel), everyone was eager to get to Gran Canaria as soon as possible in order to get started. The crew were put to task readying the yacht for an ocean crossing of over 2600 nautical miles – which could take somewhere between 2 to 3 weeks.
Ship Shape and Bristol Fashion
Aside from the highly important task of provisioning for this passage (and we will come to that shortly), the boat underwent a huge amount of work pre-ARC including; getting lifted out to dry dock in Valencia for a full safety inspection, servicing of the engine, two on-board generators, water-maker and air-conditioning. Once in Las Palmas, Songbird passed the official boat safety checks from the World Cruising Club and was cleared for departure. Now it was vital that all onboard were also fit to sail and to deal with any safety issues should they arise, and that we were tested and cleared for Covid-19 in accordance to the Coronavirus entry regulations set out by the St Lucian government.
Testing for Coronavirus
Wednesday 19th November was a tense day, we visited the local hospital as a group for our PCR testing, and then isolated on the boat for 24 hours until our results were received. We had already heard of one crew who had had a positive test; their boat was sent to the Quarantine dock to isolate for 10 days which sadly meant they had to pull from the ARC, so, it was vital that we passed. To pass the time and to take advantage of the lockdown, Captain Andy organised us into our watches (Blue, Red, Green) and put us through our paces in sea survival training. We explored the safety features onboard, and discussed the possible causes of accidents on passage. News of our tests arrived over the VHF around 2pm on Thursday and thankfully we were all clear! After a brief celebration we clicked into first gear and set to focusing on our departure. Now… back to those all important provisions…
How do you provision for a trans-Atlantic crossing?
It is quite a challenge providing food and nourishment 10 hungry crew; one-gluten-free, one-pescatarian one nut allergy - but on Songbird with have the luxury of 3 fridges, 2 freezers, a water maker, an ice maker, a washing machine, plenty of storage space and a healthy budget. After a good deal of research (in particular the invaluable book by Richard Bevan “The Galley Slaves Handbook” amazon link), and in depth crew discussion around preferences, I set about the first draft of an exhaustive list of produce. There are a number of suppliers who deliver to the ARC boats, which makes life easier, so with this and a hire car I embarked on the provisions. These included;
120 oranges, 100 other citrus, 30 avocados, 20 lettuces, 10 kilos of potatoes, carrots and tomatoes, 16 kilos of assorted meats & a leg of the finest, 100% Acorn fed, Jamon Iberico. In addition to 10 kilos of pasta, 5 of rice, and 100 assorted tins and jars. Most of our green vegetables and all of our fish and seafood came frozen. We are blessed to have a keen baker (and ENT Doctor) on board, and before we set off Dr Dave created “Pet 2” a rye ‘starter’ so we could make an array of fresh bread on board. Nonetheless, the challenge of cooking and baking at sea were at this point unknown to any of us so I filled the freezer with sliced bread, and an assortment of ready-meals just in case, and for those inevitable days when no one could quite stomach being in the galley for too long. On day one, Rohan volunteered for the mammoth undertaking of cooking a roast on board – 2 corn-fed chickens, roast potatoes and all the trimmings. A 6 hour ordeal and a lot of swearing ensued but after a very trying first days sailing on the ARC we were all incredibly appreciative of his effort.
The eagled eye of you may have noticed I haven’t yet mentioned the liquid refreshments; even with an onboard water-maker capable of producing 1000 litres of water every 4 hours, its important to have back ups, so we ordered 400 litres of bottled water, 180 litres of milk, a few cases of beer and 35 litres of red wine (other refreshments are also available). Drinking alcohol isn’t generally encouraged onboard, it is entirely at the discretion of the Captain and usually allowed moderately in good weather in order to maintain a good sense of morale. We provisioned for a happy hour a few days a week and a few good arrival parties for when we arrived in St Lucia!
With all our checks taken place and all our provisions onboard, there was time for a traditional rock painting ceremony in the marina; this is where ARC yacht crews showcase their creativity by leaving a depiction of their boat on a rock in the marina to be seen for years to come – our very own resident Banksy – Paul Fellows took up the mantle and got his artistic flare on, we were all pretty surprised at his talent! Then out for a final onshore crew-supper in Las Palmas marina at our favourite restaurant, Pier 19, and back to Songbird for an early night.
Over and out,
28° 8.385’N 15° 25.445’W
Sunday 22nd - 12 noon (UTC)
With a sparkling clean yacht and a well turned out crew – looking dapper dressed in their Songbird uniform – all excited and enthusiastic, with beaming smiles and a healthy dash of trepidation - we motored through the animated atmosphere of the marina, somewhat emotional, to make our way towards the starting line to get our sails up.
We made a strong start across the line at 12.45 thanks to favourable winds and headed out into the sea with the 5 other boats in the racing class on this years ARC. Everyone was hugely excited to be finally on our way, this was it, the time had come. Months and months of planning behind us, we all started settling into the fact that we would next see land in St Lucia in around 15-18 days time. About an hour into our sail, our excitement was sadly cut short lived as noticed a sudden tear in our Genoa sail, around a foot in length. The crew worked fast to get the sail onto the deck and set about mending it. With the repaired sail hoisted we re-joined the race to make up for lost time only for the tear to reappear a few hours later, and this time – it had grown. Deep disappointment was felt by all, but we quickly came to the unanimous decision to turn back to port for a professional and full repair. A torn sail not a problem we wanted to encounter mid-way on our journey across the Atlantic. The decision to return was sweetened by the thought of a roast dinner, with a glass of Rioja or two, back in port.
Our connections back in the marina found us a sail maker who worked into the small hours to fix the sail and get it back to the boat. We left dock just before first light to chase the pack.
As a recap, Songbird is one of 56 boats in the ARC2020, 54 boats left port as 2 were in COVID quarantine, and 2 other boats subsequently returned to port, reasons unknown.
A wide-eyed crew were awake at first light, coffee in hand, setting out into the blue for the second time. As we settled into our watch pattern of 3 hours on, 6 hours off, some retired to their cabins to get some shut-eye. Excitement woke everyone around 2pm when Dolphins were spotted off the bow. No matter how many times you see dolphins in the wild, the sight always fills you with absolute joy. To see a pod of 20-something beautiful creatures dancing alongside the boat, chasing us, outswimming us, playing in the water – this wonderful sight never gets dull, and truly lifted our spirits.
We spent the day cruising along at around 8knts, in good winds. For supper we enjoyed a delicious chicken curry, the mood was good and everyone was settling into our home-on-the-seas very well.
In the early hours we encountered some problems with the autopilot, giving the on-watch crew a great opportunity to hand-steer in winds up to 20knts, moderate seas and pretty dark skies. After 3 hours concentrating at the helm, you certainly don’t need much rocking to get you to sleep.
Midnight position: 27° 11.11N 017° 15.57W
Position in fleet: 52
The clear, black, star-sprinkled skies clouded over and we awoke to a grey day. However, great conditions for sailing and we continue to chase down the fleet. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we haven’t spotted any other boats (just a couple on radar), late morning however, one eagle-eyed crew member spotted what he thought might be a whale somewhere off the port side of the bow. After much deliberation as to whether this was indeed a whale or perhaps a migrant ship, the object moved out of view but left the crew discussing the possibilities for a long while. Something we shared with the rest of the ARC fleet on the daily radio network call, ARCnet; this is a good opportunity to check in on each other, report any action and boast about how many fish you’ve caught…
Midnight position: 26° 18.632N 020° 02.789W
Position in fleet; 42
Fish caught; 0
Daily checks onboard include; checking the rigging for signs of wear or damage, surveying the bilges for water, oil or fuel, checking the levels on the batteries, grey & black tanks and fresh water. Seeing that the water levels around under 50% means we switch on the water-maker and top up the tanks. Songbird has a very efficient water-maker and in just 2 hours we topped up 500 litres! Showers all round, happy days!
Captain Andy’s “Sextant and Astro-navigation school” started today and 6 willing students enrolled.
Midnight position: 25° 45.770N 123° 53.814W
Position in fleet: 31
Fish caught: 0
We are moving nicely up the positions board, but it seems this has been more by luck than judgement, as today, Captain Andy found his “How to cross the Atlantic” book! As he settled down for some speedy study, the rest of the crew, worried about how long the crossing would take (and if I’d provisioned well enough for an extended passage) started to take the fishing more seriously. A cheer of elation erupted mid-afternoon as Paul reeled in a pretty decent sized Mahi Mahi – something to boast about on ARCnet, finally!
Dr Dave put on the chef’s hat and put to use his training at Billingsgate fish school and created a delicious dish of Mahi with ginger, soy and lemon.
Midnight position: 25° 01.82N 027° 35.62W
Position in fleet: 29
Fish caught: 1
Friday 27th - Keeping time at sea
The temptation is to stick with UTC for the entirety, or whatever local time zone you’re departing from, and this is what we did. But we are traveling west on a long passage and there comes a time - towards the end of the first week - when the mornings are dark and day doesn’t break until gone 8am, which can be torture for the early morning watches as seeing the sun rise is one of the experiences you look forward to most. St Lucia is 4 hours ahead of UTC and we all felt it would be good to start the migration process, and to have sunrise at an earlier hour. Adam came up with a few scenarios and as true pirates we put it to a democratic vote.
On Monday 30th November at 9am we will set our watches to Rio time, giving us an extra 3 hours in the day, coincidentally, this is when we anticipate we will hit the mid-way mark so a few hours of daylight means a longer, celebratory lunch and perhaps a beer or two!
In a bid to up our ‘fish caught’ tally, Mike has been reading some of the sea life books we have on board and has come to the conclusion that the migrant ship/whale/migrant ship, could actually be a whale after all – a ‘spy-hopping grey whale’. This type of whale pops its head above sea level to scope the seascape for anything of interest before moving on, and from a distance, it looks a lot like a sail.
The reading has paid off and we pulled in two fish! One small unknown, with dark meat, and another Mahi! Dr Dave set to work in the kitchen and we enjoyed the fresh fish as a starter for our lunch. Popcorn and movie night with an instalment of the Hunger Games, followed by a divine dinner of beef bourguignon with mash.
Midnight position: 24° 30.47N 030° 35.59W
Position in fleet: 26
Fish caught: 2 – 1 x tuna and 1 x mahi. Plus we had an flying fish land on the poop deck, he didn’t manage to fly off again.
Saturday 28th - What day is it?
A question you hear get asked frequently on board, what day is it? Unless there’s an event such as catching fish, or sighting another boat, there’s very little to punctuate the days and they tend to roll into one. Today is one of those days, we are all eager to make progress towards the mid-way mark and to change our time and watch. The weather is getting warmer, the sea temperature is up to 25.5 degrees, and there’s talk of a swim if we are ‘becalmed’, which is when there’s little or no wind and the water is flat.
I ordered 6 butternut squash from the provisioning agent in Las Palmas, what arrived were more akin to your uncles prize winning giant squash from his allotment. Fortunately squash lasts a long time and we can think of plenty of things to do with it. We also have an abundance of ginger – anticipating sea sickness*, so today we had a lunch of squash and ginger soup with Dave’s freshly made lunch rolls, plus a Greek salad. We have enough soup for a few meals, and only used the one squash, it’s a good feeling to be storing leftovers in the freezer for bumpy days.
Our Astro navigation group took their first noon-site today; capturing the sun at its highest point. They were within 60nm accuracy. Pretty impressive.
*A point I haven’t covered yet is sea sickness, something you don’t really feel like writing about when you’re trying not to think about it. The majority of us took a travel sickness pill or 6 for the first few days. A few of us still suffered, oddly the women of the group seemed to be more susceptible. Aside from the nausea, you’re wiped out, just dog-tired, this could be either a by product of the medication or the sickness – probably both. By this point in the week we are pretty much all over it, thankfully.
Midnight position: 24° 24.4N 034° 06.1W
Position in fleet: 25
Fish caught: 0
Sunday 29th – Seven days at sea
Funny to think that we’ve been onboard a week by now, albeit with an unscheduled return to port, for the most part it’s skipped by pretty quick and we are all well, happy and settled. More sleep would be a good thing all round, none of us are getting much more than 3 or 4 hours at a time. We are all eating a lot, aside from all the fresh food and carbs, I have a good stock of junky snack food onboard (and a secret stash to lift the spirits in week two), the crew have been tucking into this with vigour and I put this down to tiredness, we are all craving sugar and instant energy.
Andy started training some of the crew for their RYA Day skipper, living onboard for a few weeks – with an RYA instructor - really does present a great opportunity for people to upskill.
Some of the crew on deck spotted a solitary dolphin today – it jumped clear out of the water, we anticipated more, odd to see it alone.
This evening I made the legendary ‘Bread Ahead’ carrot cake, 2 actually, a GF/NF version and a fully loaded one. These were scoffed overnight and only crumbs remained by daylight.
Midnight position: 23° 56.023N 037° 08.742W
Position in fleet: 22
Fish caught: Mahi Mahi
Monday 30th – Groundhog Day
At 9am we reset our phones to Rio time and our watches to 6am, we had a second breakfast, we are also changing watch teams today, good to mix things up and work with different people, we are becoming more cohesive as a crew. We’ve been pretty much following the Rhum Line the whole journey (the straight line between the Canaries and the Caribbean) and today changed to a port tack for the first time to pick up more of the trade winds, pleasing those of us (myself included) sleeping on the starboard side. Now we roll into the side of the hull at night, instead of out of bed to be caught by, if we are lucky, our lee-cloths. About time the other half had their turn going bump in the night.
As we were preparing the lunch of Caribbean chicken, rice and salad, chilling the beers and baking brownies, a tuna took a fancy to on one of our lines and within an hour we were devouring the freshest tuna tataki possible! After lunch we spotted a yacht on the horizon – S/Y Albatross - another ARC2020 boat, we chatted on the radio, challenged each other to a race and had them in sight until night fall, they have the added benefit of a spinnaker sail. We’ve mostly been cruising along at a comfortable 7-8knts.
A full moon this evening – really beautiful seeing it rise out of the sea on a clear night in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, with no light pollution! Later that night, when the day finally came to a close, Adam bought out his boat-gift, a very welcome bottle of Glenlivet whiskey, which we enjoyed with Haribo and 70% dark chocolate.
Midnight position: 22° 28.7N 039° 44.7W
Position in fleet; 22
Tuesday 1st December – Midway – Hooray!!
In the early hours of this morning we hit the mid-way point, hopefully from here on we will experience more Caribbean weather, good winds and calmer seas. Captain celebrated by finally making an appearance in the kitchen to make his legendary sweet potato brunch cupcakes – when I’m back on a stable WIFI connection I will post up photos and the recipe for these. After a good lunch of lasagne and salad the winds died and the brave boys took the opportunity to have a celebratory swim in the Atlantic – a once-in-a-lifetime chance for sure! (Again, photos to come). We spotted another ARC boat this afternoon to our port side, S/Y Escapado, we tracked them for a few hours. Our astro navigation team (Martin, Adam, Dave & Myril) did their first “sun run sun” today – which is a morning, noon-site, and afternoon sighting. This is complicated stuff, and their accuracy is improving greatly.
This afternoon certainly was the calm before the storm as rain and heavy weather appeared on the radar around 9pm and we battened down the hatches and got our wet weather gear ready for a rough night. Impressive electrical storms peppered the night sky, with lashing rain which soaked the crew on watch. Those below deck had an equally uncomfortable night trying to find spaces to wedge ourselves into in order to sleep.
Midnight position: 21° 24.30N 42° 36.15W
Position in fleet; 24 ☹
Fish caught: 0 ☹ ☹
Wednesday 2nd December – Dark’n’Stormy
The storms of last night show little signs of abating, we’ve been hitting force 7-8 through the night and in to the early hours. To lift the spirits and warm the crew, I made a nourishing brunch of flatbreads with baked eggs (shakshuka) which was a challenge to say the least, cooking hot food on the hob whilst healing over in strong winds and rough seas. Things calm down a little around lunch time to a force 5. Paul is on lunch today, busily preparing chicken burgers with coleslaw and rice, whilst Dave has been making brioche buns ready for the burgers. It amazes me that we are producing such incredible food under these conditions, and we are always so appreciative.
Day skipper school started this afternoon, we are learning chart plotting and tidal theory.
At approximately 18.00H, we broke the 1000nm to go mark, we start thinking about our arrival in St Lucia, when this might be. Under current conditions we anticipate Wednesday morning, one week away. After the bad weather of late, this has really cheered us all up.
It’s dark by 7pm and some of the crew retreat to the salon to watch The Dallas Buyers Club. Rain comes again, lots of localised squalls, bumpy seas, we are in for another rough night it seems.
Midnight position: 20° 18.43N 045° 31.37W
Position in fleet; 22
(Giving up on fishing in this weather)
Thursday 3rd - 50 Shades of Grey
The weather is still battering us this morning, Force 5 gusting 40 knts, rolling seas and sailing speeds from 10 to 14knts – challenging conditions for us all. I fried up the left over rice from yesterday’s lunch for breakfast with extra veg and a few eggs, nice to have a bowl (never a plate) of tasty warm food to soothe the crew at times like this. Endless grey skies and damp weather, we are all hoping the sun makes an appearance soon. Using up the last of the fresh mushrooms, Dave made a delicious Carbonara’ish pasta for lunch. The wind drops to Force 3 late afternoon and the sun finally breaks through, we are treated to the most amazing sunset. We gather up on the fore deck to witness an utterly incredible sight and marvel at the beauty. It’s just like being in a movie set, it almost looks fake. Feeling steadied by the calmer seas, we settle in to watch A River Runs Through It, a timeless classic and beautiful story.
Midnight position: 19° 12.257N 048° 24.121W
Position in fleet: 17
Friday 4th – Going in for a Dip?
Amazing weather we woke up to, and an incredible sunrise – all of a sudden it actually feels like we are getting closer to the Caribbean. People are sunbathing on deck, the seas are calm. Wind Force is down to 1 or 2, Dave is busy making a sourdough, and to take advantage of this Rohan and I produced a smorgasbord of delicious food for lunch; plates of salads, olive tapenade, freshly made hummus with crudities, plates of antipasti and cheese, and we are still carving up the Jamon, such a feast. Another Atlantic swim followed, this time we all went in for a dip. It was EXHILARATING! We have some really great photos of this memorable experience and celebrated with a rum cocktail at sunset on the foredeck. Unforgettable night skies, millions of stars, the milky way is so clear. Louise, Adam and Paul tested out the brightness of their headtorches in a lumens competition and happened to see a couple of green turtles swimming by, in amongst the Sargasso seaweed which floats by in huge clumps.
Astro navigation crew got to 30nm accuracy today.
Midnight position: 18° 10.55N 051° 05.56W
Position in fleet: 14
Fish caught: 0
Saturday 5th - Sundowners & a Dolphin Show
Waking up in paradise again, although the winds continue to be light, the seas are calm and the sunrise is stunning. Myril cooked lunch today, we were treated to Beef Adobo, a classic Philipino dish using meat, boiled eggs, pineapple, veg and rice. More sunbathing, a dolphin show mid afternoon – there must have been 40+ dancing around the boat in all directions – and a round of GnT’s on the foredeck for sunset. With the amount of food we have left on Songbird, we are all considering a detour to prolong this trip!!
Talk of arriving in St Lucia is building, we have been on the boat for 14 days now, when we left Las Palmas the deal was that this time together on the boat served as our quarantine period. We now find out from ARC HQ that we are required to have another PCR test (something we all dread) in St Lucia on arrival and then quarantine at anchor until the results are in. This is disappointing news to us all.
The Astro navigation team beat all previous records and got to 11.6nm accuracy!
Midnight position: 16° 45.732N 054° 38.522W
Position in fleet: 10
Fish caught: 0
Sunday 6th – Is it a Bird… Is it a Plane…?
Excitement on deck just after day break as we spotted a couple of Frigate birds dancing in the air high above the boat. We must be closer to land! I can only imagine how intrepid explorers of years gone by must have felt after months at sea when they spotted wildlife or land. Later that morning we had a sole Booby bird flying around us for an hour. This is another gorgeous day, although still very light winds, we all took the opportunity to relax. I served up a brunch of scrambled eggs, cheese, tomatoes, avocados (still unbelievably fresh), all accompanied by another freshly baked sourdough from Dave.
We put the Rioja on ice this afternoon and Rohan took to the kitchen to roast a couple of chickens, we aimed to finish as we started, with a good’ole Sunday roast.
Good winds building in the afternoon and into the evening with sailing speeds of up to 7 knts, calm seas making this feel very comfortable. We anticipate arrival in St Lucia on Tuesday morning.
Our Astro-nav team got to within 1nm accuracy – if all navigation systems go wrong now, we feel safe that we are on the right boat.
Midnight position: 15° 31.2N 057° 32.8W
Position in fleet: 10
Fish caught: 0
Andy Kinnaird 07894 429453 [email protected]