The sun had just dipped under the horizon when Claudia released the mooring lines and I reversed one engine and put the other one forward, spinning us on the spot and turning our aft end to Bonaire.
This was to be the big test to see how things would work. We have a total of 390 nm to go to Grenada, but with several stops on the way. First leg to Las Aves is 35 nm if you go directly, but with the wind, waves and current on the nose, it will be more like 70 – 80nm, due to the tacking up and down to make any headway.
I was nervous to see how the Furuno autopilot would work. I had done everything I could do: Changed the CPU unit and the hydraulics pump and also bled the system properly. In addition I had lengthened and properly aligned the rudder indicator and drilled new holes and properly attached the hydraulic ram.
The wind was forecast to hit a maximum of 24 knots. On the nose that can be quite severe, but it was worse for the following days, so it was worth braving these “milder” conditions to get on the way. What we met was different: We had true winds in the range of 24 – 28 knots with gusts up to 30. The apparent wind hit 34 a few times, which was unpleasant. Waves quickly built and we were soon pushing through 3 meter waves, short in interval. A 1 knot head current didn’t make it better. In short, the conditions were unpleasant and on any day they would have been a challenge for an autopilot. That’s why it was awesome to see Otto, my trusted autopilot return in form. He slogged through everything and did so unrelenting. It was a huge comfort and I was so happy to have him back on my team again. What was more pleasant was that I went down in pump size and the new pump uses less amps, so not only does it work better, but it uses less amps. A classic win – win situation.
Claudia and I divided the shifts so that one person sat at the helm montioring the situation, while the other slept in the cockpit. It means that you always have the other at hand if something develops. The downside is that it’s difficult to get proper rest, because you are somewhat exposed to the elements sleeping in the cockpit.
The wind and waves made for a wet ride and we were both drenched when we finally got to Las Aves after 13.5 hours of pushing through the relatively tough conditions. Having said that we sailed the whole way here and our biggest problem wasn’t moving forward, but stopping African Innovation from going too fast. With the big waves hitting in short interval, it really stops you, so if you sail too fast, it puts a lot of strain on the boat. We sailed with a double reefed main and a double reefed genoa, but I still had to work very hard to limit our speed to 7.5 knots by depowering the main and steering a bit too high to the wind.
We were happy when we pulled into the tiny bay between Isla Palmeras and Isla Ramon which is part of a island and reef group known as Aves de Sotavento, which again is part of Las Aves. Ian and Westa, having sailed the day before us, were already there with their boat Marsha Claire. When we put down the sail I noticed that the mainsail had gotten a tear in it, below the second reefing point. It’s a shame, because now we’ll have to sail with a double reefed main until we can get it fixed on Grenada. We’ll do fine though … African Innovation is fast and I was already contemplating moving the first reef up to the third reefing point, to be able to reduce the main even further. The tear won’t have a huge impact on us, because going upwind against the strong tradewinds, waves and current I doubt I will want to sail with a full main.
After we had dropped anchor, Ian dinghied over and welcomed us to Venezuela with a couple of beers. While he was over, the Coast Guard stopped by to get our details. Unlike the Coast Guard visit I endured on Bonaire, this was very friendly and they were all smiles and happy faces, despite them not speaking English and none of us speaking Spanish. We still managed to fill out the paperwork and everything was fine and dandy.
When Ian left we did the only proper thing to do after a night sail: We hit the sack to catch up on some much needed sleep. The trip across had been tough, but it would have been a much more difficult journey if Otto hadn’t been back.