Sailing to French Guiana

We left Cabedelo on the outgoing tide at around 09H00 and slowly motored down the river to the open sea - yacht Entheos not far behind us. As we got near the harbour mouth the the water started changing to a milky green colour and there was a slight swell. We motored for about 2 nautical miles off shore before first raising the main sail and then unfurling the jib - then setting the course north east away from the coast. We easily and quickly settled into the sailing routine and by day two, we were in good sailing rhythm and mode.

Sue would do the 18H00 to 24H00 hour shift allowing me to get some sleep and I would do the 24H00 to 06H00 shift. From 06H00 to around 09H00, Sue would steer the yacht whilst I catch a nap for a couple of hours and I would then take over until 18H00 allowing Sue time to take care of other yacht duties, prepare food and also take a break. It is hard work for two people alone to sail a big yacht like Revelations and it was tiring. For the first 5 days we had some good winds, mostly between 10 and 18 knots and we made good progress - on some days in excess of 180 nautical miles.

After rounding the corner of Brazil, now heading almost a straight line to French Guiana, we considered stopping at Forteleza and get the B&G technicians located in Salvador to come and fix the problematic auto pilot. After discussing this amongst ourselves for a while, we radioed Entheos about our intentions to which they indicated that it was a good consideration. As we got nearer to Forteleza, we realized that whilst we would enter the marina before sunset, Entheos who was some 20 nautical miles behind us would only arrive after dark and given all the problems (theft, break-ins, crime, etc.), this was not a good situation. This would mean that Entheos will have to anchor outside the marina and only enter in daylight the following day. It is whilst anchoring where almost all the yachts calling at Forteleza gets robbed and often get beaten up in the process by armed men. Sue and I then agreed to rather sail all the way to French Guiana and to skip Forteleza all together. I once again radioed Entheos to notify them of this problem, but whilst detailing the Forteleza problem to Bertie, he interrupted and out of nowhere announced that they intended sailing to a place called "Lencois" on the northern Brazil coast and stay there for about five days. Considering the several months we waited for them to get their yacht repaired whilst in Salvadore, this unilateral announcement came as a surprise. But we were happy with this new situation as there has been a number of incidents, under lying tensions and disagreements between us, best not dwelled upon - this meant that we could now finally forge ahead on our own.

We then changed course by some 20 degrees more northwards, headed for deeper water and a straight line to French Guiana. Contrary to the weather predictions, the wind was on our starboard beam and we had to drop the spinnaker and raise the main sail and unfurl the jib. We had some good speed runs and for the first 3 days we covered 160 to 190 nautical miles per day. As we got near the equator, the wind shifted and substantial dropped in speed - we were clearly entering the renown doldrums. We raised the spinnaker again and were content with the much slower pace - we were still making good boat speed in relation to the wind speed. At night, squalls (rain clouds) would overtake us and the wind speed would then increase dramatically - from a mundane 7 knots it would increase to 15 to 18 knots. For an hour or so each time, things would get a bit hectic as the boat speed increase accordingly and everything was wet.

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On a dark moon less and cloudy night, on the radar we saw another squall approaching us and I went through the usual preparations - close all the hatches, pack all the loose item in the cockpit away, put on our foul weather gear to prevent me from getting drenched. But as I found out later, this squall was very different and much more powerful than all the other squalls. The wind speed increased as expected, it went to 9 knots for a couple of minutes - steadily increasing to what I expected at around 18 knots. When the squall was directly overhead, the wind speed rapidly accelerated to 25 knots! That was when things started to really get hectic on Revelations - Sue was asleep and with the autopilot not working, I was at the helm working hard to keep the yacht on course. Unable to leave the helm to either call Sue to come and help or drop the spinnaker, all I could due was steer Revelations on a course where the full force of the wind had the least effect on the spinnaker. I managed this for around 10 minutes, but then the wind increased yet again - now blowing 30 knots and gusting close to 35 knots. It was during one of these gusts that all hell broke loose - the spinnaker exploded with a loud bang and were crazily flapping around in the wind. The already lumpy seas where whipped up in a state of confusion, it was pouring buckets of rain and the wind was howling - it took us an hour to lower the remains of the spinnaker, sort out the entangled sheets on the front deck and stow everything away. That was the end of our beloved spinnaker - a mistake on my part for under estimating the power of the squall.

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So it was back to the mainsail and jib, although we did not loose much boat speed it was not as easy steering Revelations as it was with the spinnaker. We sailed like this for another two days and then the topping lift (the sheet holding the boom up) broke. This did not effect anything much as the fully deployed main sail was holding the boom up. The remaining piece of the topping lift coming out on top of the mast entangled itself around one of the shrouds, this meant that it would not fall back down the mast and it would be easy to later run a new sheet through the mast back to the boom. We sailed like this for several days doing a mundane 4 to 5 knot in boat speed. Whilst the boom was swinging around occasionally in typical sailing fashion, I noticed that the base of the mast would move slightly every time the boom would come up short. I have never seen the mast doing this before, this was disconcerting and I decided to drop the main sail and proceed sailing with the jib only. Again, we did not loose much speed with only the jib powering Revelations and everything seemed alright. But two days later, when I looked up the mast, I noticed that the remaining topping lift untangled itself and fell down in the mast - so now we have a piled up sheet within the mast. I tried pulling out from the base of the mast - but it is stuck and any further pulling will probably caused additional damage.

We encountered a strange magnetic anomaly close the French Guiana continental shelve. The compass completely swung upside down - North now pointed to South and vice verse. For around an hour or so, we were stumped by all of this, with the chart plotter saying one thing and the compass saying the opposite - clearly something was badly wrong. But what is wrong, which instrument was incorrect and which one was correct or were they both wrong. In the middle of the night, overcast and with no moon causing complete darkness, unable to see land and take bearings - for awhile we felt completely lost. I was rattled and was quite concerned that we might be sailing to some unknown destination. We brought Revelations to lie a hull , now virtually standing still and drifting with the current, I rigged up a portable GPS device and connected it to my laptop and navigation software. That was when we found out that the compass was totally incorrect and that the now North was actually South. With this new found knowledge, we made a couple of mental adjustments and continued sailing - this time without taking much notice of the compass. Some 80 nautical miles later, the compass slowly swung to the correct heading and a couple of hours later, things went back to normal. But it was a strange and new experience - feeling completely lost.

Still three days away from Ilse du Salut, the port engine started using water. At first, I thought that the water pump sprung a leak due to a worn out bearing. So I filled the inter cooler up with fresh water - but one day later, the warning light once again came on. Upon closer inspection, I found oil within the inter cooler and this meant serious trouble - oil in the water cooling system and water in the lubricating oil. We shut the port engine down and for the rest of the voyage only used the starboard engine. We finally sailed into French Guiana waters and a day later tide up at a floating buoy at the Isle du Salut. We now have an extensive list of repairs to be done when we reach Trinidad & Tobago - although I will try and get the starboard engine overhauled whilst we are here.

Video sailing to French Guiana
Insane thoughts of the human autopilot.

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