Robert Holbrook’s Atlantic Crossing

This insightful guest blog comes from none other than Robert Holbrook, the former Managing Director of Admiral Marine.

How hard could it possibly be to find the Trades, those most consistent of winds upon which westbound sailors have depended for centuries?

We took all of the advice offered. Head south to Cape Verde Islands and turn right; head South to 12 degree N then run down your latitude; head South until the butter melts. But our butter, it seemed, wouldn’t melt in the south. We sailed deeper and deeper to 9.5 degrees N before we could pole out the genoa and roll towards sunset, in confused 3m seas and a 15-20 Knot breeze.

Maria’s voyage had started last April in Greece were Iona and I cruised since buying her in France in early 2019. Last summer we sailed in stages through Italy and the Balearics to Tangiers, then (after a suitable break in July and August to return) we continued down the coast of Morocco as far as Agadir and out to Las Palmas via Lanzarote.

I returned in late November with my brother in law, Justin, to make Maria ready for the passage to Grenada and after five days of victualling, fixing and stowing, we were joined by my son Tom, and Giles Thomas.

crossing the atlantic

There followed a final night on the town, a morning of MOB drills in the outer harbour, and another final night on the town before on November 28 we slipped south between the coast of Gran Canaria and the acceleration zone in a fresh NE breeze. Ample time, surely, to make the Phare Bleu in Grenada, celebrate, tidy up, celebrate, and appear compos mentis to greet the welcome committee flying out from the UK on 21 December. Or was it?

It seems that we’d picked an unusual weather window. A deep and ominous low was building from the west. As we sailed south the low tracked slowly east, drawing the any breath from the regular Trades before itself moving north. For us there was simply no sign of Trade winds where they ought to have blown! 

After four or five good days sailing west of south out of Las Palmas our wind became light. A further day or two of fitful motoring and we were within sight of the Cape Verde Islands (almost 100 nm away at the time!), and it became clear from the weather routing files that the opportunity for a racing pit stop at Mindelo should not be forgone. It was the right decision! Arriving at first light we elbowed our way to pole position at the fuel dock queue and were soon satiated. The timing was fortunate, as the previous day a super yacht had, taken 20 tons of fuel and all day doing so!

In the interests of expediency we all agreed to forgo the opportunity to clear in to supplement our rather unhappy Carrefour fresh fruit and vegetables. Mercado Municipal would just have to wait. 

As we tracked deeper and deeper south we fell into the familiar rhythm of watch, sleep, eat, repeat. With the fore cabin and half the aft cabin requisitioned to stow the only three jars of crunchy peanut butter in Las Palmas, a job lot of tinned tuna, and various other provisions, only three sea going berths remained between four crew. We opted for a watch system whereby three of the crew stood watch, hot bunking two berths for 24 hours. Meanwhile the fourth had 24 hrs “off” – sailing duties that is, in return for a day below in the galley and “vinegarising” the heads etc with the dubious reward of sleeping watch free in the aft cabin. 

Galley Watch gave us each the opportunity to make the daily bread. I adopted the “no knead” method, Tom, the “elbow deep” immersion technique while Giles and Justin, followed the Waitrose bread mix instructions. Each ultimately proved one thing – a hungry crew will eat anything warm and doughy as long as it is spread with Marmite (or peanut butter for Giles, of course).

Giles, the consummate fisherman , also produced perfectly skinned fillets from humanely despatched, sustainably caught, meal sized Mahi Mahi and Wahoo, and, just when we thought there was never a Dahl day in the Atlantic he curried us all fish served with lentils and chapati!

At 0315 on 21 December, 23 days after leaving Las Palmas and after 3350nm at sea we finally picked up a mooring outside St Georges, Grenada … barely beating the support team to the showers! We had 40 litres of diesel left so stopping to fill up in Mindelo was a blessing! Christmas had arrived.

Robert’s, Giles’s, Tom’s and Justin’s photo diary of their crossing is available here.