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Passage Notes: Namibia to St Helena, Part II

By Behan Gifford @sailingtotem

Passage notes: Namibia to St Helena, part II

flying the asymmetric

Halfway to St. Helena at a steady pace, more than 180 miles fall behind Totem on our fifth day at sea. We originally expected to have more than eight days on this passage, but weather like this could make it fly a little faster. Every day is warmer: no question that this is the tropics now. It’s not just the sapphire water, but the change in the cloudscape as little cells work into squalls. Nothing fully forms, but rain spits on Totem a few times.

When the wind goes light, the asymmetric flies for the afternoon, polyester cloth catching the breeze with a swish-pop. Conditions are so calm, I actually do some canning. Canning on a passage – unheard of! The corn relish I put up will be a welcome veggie crunch further on in the Atlantic. Crossing the halfway point during wee hours means celebrating with a caramelized apple upside-down cake.

Pinterest passage notes
Day 6

The wind has backed completely and gone lighter still, so we motor for a few hours in the early morning until the breeze fills. When it does, it’s a little too much for the asymmetric. If you’ve followed Jamie’s sailmaker posts, you know how much he wishes we had a Code Zero sail: that, in place of genoa or asymmetric, would be perfect on this passage! Instead, we pole out the jib and sail wing-in-wing, a configuration that will probably work for most of the remaining distance to St Helena.

At sunset we cross the Prime Meridian – time zone zero, running straight up to Greenwich. Unlike a lot of other milestones for sailors, head scratching doesn’t surface any for this one. Earring? Tattoo? Other foot on the table? I guess it wasn’t a true milestone for the British fleets behind a lot of the other seafaring traditions we know.

Somehow I’ve gotten a head cold. As a general rule, we never get sick on passages. Where are the germs in the middle of the ocean? I guess I’m just lucky, something probably incubated from Namibia. Once again very grateful for the extra hands on board from Ty, which lighten the burden for night watch and let me get more rest than I would on a typical passage.

Day 7

It’s not a passage unless something fails. This time, it’s that pesky main batten Jamie tried fixing (a couple of times) in Namibia. He and Ty work out a stopgap repair to prevent it from damaging the sail; it will get a closer look after landfall.

Every day we tune up the SSB and listen for radio nets. We’re not crossing in conjunction with other boats, though, and are too distant to hear vessels ahead of us in the Atlantic. Still, we listen, because our friend Bill (singlehanding Solstice) is taking off from Cape Town and we hoped to touch base and support him along the way. This is the longest passage we’ve ever done without participating in an HF net. As much as I’ve been a fan of radio on board, I don’t find myself missing it. I guess it just didn’t feel as useful to us, as much like a lifeline, since we got the Iridium GO! last year.

Bulwers petrel bird

When I come up for starlight watch, a rustling against the dodger turns out to be a little bird, probably stunned from a surprise encounter with an immobile object on the boat. Carefully draping a sarong over his wings, I lift him back to a batik next in the cockpit and am promptly thanked with a barfed up fish spine and scales.


The home stretch is dead downwind, a rolly point of sail, but we can feel the finish line. Moderate seas keep it pretty comfortable and wing-in-wing the best combination.

girls computer navigation

Mairen & Siobhan write back to kids at a school in Massachusetts – we’re sharing info and projects for a math project

Field guides on board identify our avian visitor as a Bulwer’s Petrel. He/she seems very comfortable on board, demonstrating little inclination to move along other than a few wing stretches. It’s hard not to be charmed by the way it tucks into the crook of my elbow, but this little must one carry on and I worry it’s injured in ways we can’t see. But when the light fades at sunset, it climbs up on my shoulder for the last time, and takes off into the evening breeze as Niall and I cheer.

In the wee hours, we approach the Jamestown anchorage in St Helena, clocking the passage at 7 days, 18 hours. The loamy smell of earth is overwhelming after our week at sea, and we crave the sight of land cheated us before sunset! There’s not enough light from the new moon to see much, but the sky is so clear that starlight outlines the dark cliffs, and a sprinkling of lights on shore bear out signs of life. It’s not a good idea to arrive in a new port after dark and something we try very hard to avoid, but this is the payback for picking comfortable motion over slower progress during the last day. Jamie’s pretty wired, though, and happy to stand off in the flat waters of the lee until there’s enough light to pick our spot.

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