The ARC 2016 Blog
21st November 2016 - Day 1
Skyelark of London has a multinational crew this year. Skipper Dan, Richard, Richard and Bob are from England, Bill and Eian from Australia, Anthony from Wales, and our Mate Richard from Ireland. Good job there isn't room for a rugby match on board! First job was to decide what to call the three Richards on board. Rich? Rick? Dick? No one wanted to be a Dick so we have Mate Richard, Rick and Bidders! Richard Bidwell has assumed his long term nickname. Having overcome the early identity crisis we set about coming together as a crew by sharing beers and wine at the ARC Happy Hours and the Farewell Party. Final preparations including the big shop and washing all the fruit and veg.
At last it was time to go. Skipper Dan and his well oiled crew were ready for the big adventure. Lots of boats, lots of noise, and lots of people were there to see us out of the marina and on to the Start Line.
A good start followed by a nice night sailing in light winds and calm conditions saw us on our way to St Lucia. This morning we caught a good sized Mahi Mahi so dinner tonight is 'Catch of the Day' prepared by Bob (who doesn't eat seafood). We therefore also have 'Sausages of the Day' as the Chef`s Special.
Light winds and calm seas continue so it`s been a relaxing day for all.
- Blog entry by Bob
22nd November 2016 - Day 2 So the second full day into the ARC 2016 and we are settling into our routines here on Skyelark. Up to now the winds have been very kind to us with a nice gentle introduction to Ocean sailing.
The past 24 hours have been reasonably eventful. Yesterday a pod of Pilot Whales past very close to the stern and today we had 2 pods of dolphins playing around in the bow wave. As someone whose cruising ground is the North Sea this is a great novelty. In fact just the temperature is a great novelty!
We managed to pick up a discarded fishing net today. A good job we were under sail rather than engine. Earlier we had managed to break the fishing rod trying to land a big one. No, honestly! The recovered fishing net would have been a poor substitute.
Winds are set to increase so progress should improve.
- Blog entry by Rik
23rd November 2016 - Day 3 No Dolphins today but a Mahi Mahi on Bidders lucky lure. Third catch of the voyage if you count Bill's stick from yesterday. The struggle to land the 'monster' was captured and will be available shortly.
Good winds overnight and today translates to steady progress south towards the Cape Verde islands - we currently have another 400nm to go. Skipper Dan informs us that the winds look favourable and it would appear that a lot of boats in our classification have chosen to take the southerly route.
In general, life on board is great and the routines all appear to be working well making Skyelark a very happy place to be!
- Blog entry by Ant
24th November 2016 - Day 4 Day 4 has come upon the intrepid Skyelark crew with continuing favourable seas and winds as we head ever onwards towards St Lucia. Experienced ocean sailors will tell you that the first three days of an ocean passage are all about finding your sea legs and settling into the "eat watch sleep" routine, which is so very different from life on land. Happy to say that day 4 sees the crew pretty well adjusted to life at sea with the "eat watch sleep" routine now well established.
In the very large Atlantic Ocean there is really not a lot to see, so as a result any minor event quickly become a moment of great excitement for the crew. Catching a fish takes on major event status as does the sighting of another ship or yacht. Of course a dolphin sighting sees the crew racing for cameras, although as we have quickly discovered, trying a photograph a pod of fast moving dolphins from the deck of Skyelark is a challenge in itself.
Food at sea has taken on a whole new dimension with every dinner, the main meal of the day, being keenly anticipated. We have all had to learn very quickly that there is no food super market just around the corner, as a result there is now a keen awareness amongst the crew of the provisions we have on board as of day 4 have to last all the way to day 18, our estimated time to arrive into St Lucia. A great way to lose those extra kilos! Same principle obviously applying to fuel which provides both power and water. A learning process for everyone!
- Blog entry by Bill
25th November 2016 - Day 5 Day 5 and another perfect day in paradise. We can't believe the calmness of the sea. In all I had read, I expected something very different, so a very pleasant surprise, touch wood!
We enjoyed stunning blue skies all day, and wouldn't you know it, as night falls here comes the cloud cover, another very dark night ahead of us. A high point today was seeing our first flying fish, we were all mightily impressed with the distance these little wonders can cover.
Another impressive dinner tonight saw everyone refuelled for the coming night. We trolled all day, but no success today despite trying out Bill's sure winner killer lure, but we will be back at it again tomorrow in our fishing lure championship.
We are expecting to pass by the Cape Verde Islands tomorrow and finally turn west for the Caribbean - WOO HOO!
- Blog entry by Eian
26th November 2016 - Day 6 Land Ahoy! or as we modern mariners say, Phone Signal! The early morning met us with sight of the northern most island of Cape Verde, but any hope of a bit of 3G was short lived. However, the fishing line jumped into action with the first tuna catch of the voyage. Not the biggest fish to be fair, but it was soon reeled in and within a couple of hours we all sat down to fresh sushi lunch. The Bidders lure is currently on fine form.
Last night's watch in the early hours brought a special display as we were joined in the pitch darkness by a pod of dolphins who's trails in the luminescence looked like torpedo trails flashing down the side of the boat.
Today's wind has been relatively light, and seas calm so once again we have been making steady if not exciting progress, a couple more days until we make the turn west, and the prospect of stronger wind and corresponding bigger seas.
Today i have been Mum which means no watches, but cleaning and cooking duties all day, but the biggest bonus is a sleep longer than about 5 hours which will make my family laugh I'm sure. The day ended with two more fish catches both of which were small and thrown back to live another day, and another 140ish miles under our belt.
- Blog entry by Richard B aka Bidders
27th November 2016 - Day 7 Day 7 marks our first week at sea, and 1000 miles sailed on the log. Another hot mostly sunny day, rigged for sailing downwind with light winds and calm seas.
Plenty of action on the fishing front today, adding to our species count with our first Wahoo. with several small tuna and Dolphin fish - all returned.
Birdlife is scarce out here. with only an occasional Shearwater or Storm Petrel. Dolphins, Common Atlantic and Bottlenose, are almost a daily occurrence riding the bow wave and if they appear after dark their trails are spectacularly lit by the bio-luminescence.
A welcome saltwater shower to cool down rounded off the afternoon, followed by Wahoo ceviche and dinner.
Night watches are teeshirt and shorts affairs now in these latitudes - happy days!
- Blog entry by Richard
28th November 2016 - Day 8 Last night was the best yet for stargazing. Clear skies, no moon and zero light pollution so far out at sea. Spent the time when not at the helm laying on my back hoping to see the Space Station go over. No luck, but I did catch two shooting stars.
Daylight sees us making slow progress in light winds. At least we are heading in the right direction. St Lucia is only 1900 miles ahead. I am Mother today so I produced pancakes with maple syrup or chocolate sauce for breakfast. I found the mix (just add milk to the plastic bottle and shake) in the supermarket in Las Palmas. I had kept it a secret and everyone was very impressed by how I could rustle up the perfect pancake with ingredients available on board. No secrets on this boat so I did confess to cheating, but no one complained.
Atmosphere on board today is very relaxed. You can tell we have reached the Caribbean island latitudes. Some are enjoying the sun on deck while others are reading or snoozing in the cool cabin below. Suddenly, a shout "FISH!". After catching three tiddlers and throwing them back yesterday we now had a fish on each of our two lines at the same time. Much excitement and two good size Mahi Mahi landed. However the pork chops have been defrosted so no fish supper tonight. Not sure how my homemade apple sauce would have gone with the fish anyway.
- Blog entry by Bob
29th November 2016 - Day 9 We have had very light winds for a couple of days now. This has been a source of frustration but has had its benefits. This afternoon we dropped the sails and took some time in the calm conditions for a swim. I was always told not to go out of my depth but in nearly 3 miles of water that was a bit of a task. The water was pleasantly warm. Not something you could say about British waters this week from what we are hearing.
Shortly after getting underway again we were visited by some more dolphins. Always a great sight. The other night they came in the dark and there were phosphorescent torpedo like trails. A very wonderful sight.
Sea water showers are also the order of the day so we are staying cleanish. Again the sea water coming through the system is warm but still cool enough to be refreshing in the heat.
With the engine running most of today, we can power the water maker and once the tanks were full, there was plenty for washing - our guard rails were full of clean clothes! such was the demand that we had to form a rota for space on the line!
Just when the clothes, crew and boat were scrubbed the wind returned and we are back to sailing. - right now we are making 5 knots, silently slipping through the calm seas. On such a moonless night the stars are incredible, and water twinkles with our wake. The only light 'pollution' is the glow from compass light (and the screens of all of the devices running star gazing apps), and one other yacht behind us - we all wish for a little bit more breeze, but it is hard to get tired of nights like these.
- Blog entry by Rik
30th November 2016 - Day 10 Woke up to yet another beautiful morning and one of Richards special bowls of porridge. It was nice to see another ARC boat overnight with the Swedish boat Njord passing within 1/2 mile of us.
During the course of the morning the winds freshened and by lunchtime we were sailing in a healthy 15 knot south easterly. The forecast for tomorrow suggests a further improvement with yet more wind and we are all looking forward to pushing onward to St Lucia. We currently have another 1600 miles to go but appear to be making good progress when compared to some of the other boats in frustratingly light winds.
Both Bob (aka The Salty Seadog) and myself have now removed our 'beards' and our youthful radiance has been restored (the reservation at the care home for 2 in St Lucia has now been cancelled).
We have just finished dinner and witnessed a beautiful sunset. With clear skies, the night sky will no doubt continue to enthrall and captivate those on deck.
- Blog entry by Ant
1st December 2016 - Day 11 A milestone in the voyage today with Skyelark passing the half way mark to Saint Lucia mid morning. Only another 1600 miles to go!
The half way mark was celebrated in grand style with a sumptuous leg of lamb roast dinner prepared by skipper Dan, with some assistance in the galley from Bill, who was designated MUM for the day. Served in the saloon on proper plates along with a fine bottle of red it was hard to believe that we were in fact in the very middle of the vast Atlantic ocean.
Once again we see frustratingly light winds, and whilst we are continuing on a course to Saint Lucia it looks like an arrival time of around the 11th or 12th December is our best estimate at this time. We have all had a guess of our arrival time into Saint Lucia, with the winner having the privilege of helming Skyelark over the finish line.
- Blog entry by Bill
2nd December 2016 - Day 12 A bit of excitement on the fishing front - we had hooked yet another small to medium Dorado and had it almost landed, when out of the deep came a big dark blue monster from the deep - we are pretty much agreed it was a marlin - he took our whole fish clean of the line, leaving us some nice gouges on our fishing line.
Then, a while later we had a big hit on the fishing rod - this was a BIG fish the way the line raced out - unfortunately, it was indeed too big for our line - the first time we have experienced a broken line!
Now it was getting boring - we later hooked a really nice sized wahoo - which was quickly and expertly dispatched by first mate Richard.
We have finally now come into the famed TRADE WINDS! we are now enjoying 18-20 plus knots of wind, and its actually pushing us directly towards St Lucia. We have logged 100 miles in the last 12 hours - so we are looking good.
- Blog entry by Eian
3rd December 2016 - Day 13 Good wind all day has made for some great sailing and good progress in somewhat lumpy seas. There's lots of chat between the crew as to when we think we will arrive, with just over 1250 miles to go its all about the wind from now.
We were joined earlier this morning by a pod of dolphins about 50m off the starboard bow but much smaller than we have seen before and all leaping from the water almost in a line. However they seemed uninterested in us and carried on with their journey.
Despite the speed of the boat we still had the fishing lines out and one large strike and a leap out of the water by what looked to be a decent sized tuna but then gone.
Because of the sea state it was all hatches closed tight which made for some pretty hot, sticky and bumpy time down below. Christmas has arrived in the cabin in the form of some tinsel and fairy lights that were kindly supplied by Riks wife Jean before we left Las Palmas and are now decorating the fruit net hanging from the ceiling. Haven't quite got onto Christmas songs, but it can only be a matter of time! Although sat in shorts and t-shirts mid Atlantic it couldn't feel any less like Christmas.
The promise for tomorrow is for more wind and bigger seas so watch this space.
- Blog entry by Richard Bidders
4th December 2016 - Day 14 Two weeks done now, food running low, two cases of scurvy, weevils in the porridge, insubordination, an ugly incident concerning ownership of the last digestive biscuit- all going well really. Wind picked up early morning to 25 knots or so - boat going well with some surfing in double figures.
Fishing is not going so well - lost two good fish to gear failure today, and worse lost two more lures.
A gannet hunted beside the boat most of the day, we reckon it was after the flying fish that go airborne as the boat passes.
Spoke to a French yacht - Pes Keval - last night who passed within a mile of us. Not an ARC boat, he was heading for Guadaloupe. We passed on some weather info to him and left him in our wake - left me with a passing fancy for a croissant.
- Blog entry by Richard
5th December 2016 - Day 15 Passed the '1000 miles to go' mark this morning and celebrated with Bobs Banjos, a bacon sandwich with a soft fried egg in it. Must be eaten with care to avoid wearing it. Not easy in cockpit of a yacht rolling in a heavy swell. Not sure if our tee shirts will be worth keeping at the end of the voyage so probably doesn't matter anyway.
We are enjoying decent winds and are making good speed towards St Lucia. We have heard we are moving up the field after a slow start chasing the wind past the Cape Verde Islands. Skipper Dan and Mate Richard deserve all the credit for our great performance. Dan will never just accept that we are not getting the best speed or achieving the optimal track to our destination. He and Richard are up at all times of the night (and in any weather) to have us put in a reef or gybe the main sail. I am sure others might stay in their bunk and accept the less than ideal track until morning. It certainly keeps us on our toes and means that we never know what to expect on our Watch. Roll on '500 miles to go', but running out of breakfast ideas.
- Blog entry by Bob
6th December 2016 - Day 16 Today sees us making good progress with some respectable winds. The swell has settled down a bit so not so much of the rock and roll except for some of the music.
Late yesterday afternoon we acquired a new crew member. I can see the headlines. Boat with all male crew on ARC pick up chick mid Atlantic. As you have probably guessed the new crew member is of the feathered variety and more specifically an Egrit. He arrived on the deck looking very sorry for himself but perked up a bit after some ham and fresh water.
He has stayed around the back of the boat most of the time since only flying off when there was work to be done. This morning he feasted on some flying fish that had found their way on board over night and during the day he has become a lot more confident culminating in a tug of war with Richard, first mate, for the fish lure. Obviously there was only one name that we could call him and that was Eddie.
So, 750nm to go. Looks like we might even catch our designated flights home rather than swanning around in St Lucia for a few more days. You can sense our relief......perhaps.
- Blog entry by Rik
7th December 2016 - Day 17 Eddie is still with us and seems to be getting more attention than the rest of the crew. During the night he perches just behind the helm and tucks his head under his wing making strange noises in a manner not dissimilar to some of the human members on board. He spent a little bit of time in the galley this afternoon but offered very little support with the cooking and washing up duties.
We continue to make very good progress and day after day appear to be closing in on the leading boats in our class. We are currently lying fourth. The winds for the next few days look favourable and we are optimistic that we will arrive some time in the later part of the weekend. We each had to guess the day/time about a week ago and the closest gets to helm over the finish line.
This evening was my last as 'mum' and I get a late start in the morning. The watch system is working well but with the increased boat speed some are finding it a little harder to get an undisturbed nights sleep. In spite of that, the spirit and humour on the boat is fantastic. Much of this is down to the patience and leadership of Dan and Richard who have been great throughout!!! 570 miles to go and then a cold beer in St Lucia!
- Blog entry by Ant
8th December 2016 - Day 18 As the destination of Saint Lucia draws tantalizing closer the intrepid Skyelark crew remain in good spirits. Now operating as a finely tuned team Skyelark continues to surge thru the field chasing a podium position.
Well led by the experienced and capable Captain Dan and first mate Richard the crew appear to be in top form, although there is, as always, room for improvement. For instance crew work in the cockpit at 4.00AM in rising seas is sometimes, not as smooth as it could be. When Captain Dan commands "Please put the starboard running backstay on the winch" he can be met with a befuddled and confused look from the crew. A moment later a call of "just pull the yellow rope on the right hand side " eventually achieves the required result.
Helming at night takes on a whole new dimension when ocean swells and winds take on a much more ominous appearance in the pitch blackness of night. Helming Skyelark, a 25 ton guided missile in 20 plus knots of breeze at a speed in excess of 10 knots in total darkness is both an exhilarating and terrifying experience. The outwardly calm appearance of the helmsman being in total and full control is often shattered when the helmsman quietly asks after 10 minutes into his 30 minute watch "How long to go"
As we near the end of the fabulous Skyelark ARC crossing the one thing which has become very clear is that when faced with a challenge, good humour, determination and respect for individuals will all ways win the day, no matter the odds.
- Blog entry by Bill
9th December 2016 - Day 19 We had an exciting night last night. At about 23.00 we noticed a dark cloud approaching us from the stern. Dan thought we were OK in our set up, so we were just to keep an eye on it. Dan came on deck anyway, just in case.
About 10 minutes later, wind and sea started to build. A further 10 minutes on and we were in a force 7 gale. Winds were steadily above 24kts, gusting to 28kts. We actually saw 11.8kts of boat speed at one point. The ride was very exciting, and for me personally, the absolute highlight of the entire trip, as I was on the helm for over an hour at the peak of this squall.
The wind dropped a little and we took the opportunity to add an extra reef for the rest of the night. Fortunately, the winds held up through the rest of the night and we saw a trip record of 202 miles covered in 24 hours - 9am to 9am. During the day we also caught our biggest fish of the trip so far- a Dorado of about 9kgs at about 10.30am. We enjoyed a stunning weather day, with good winds staying with us all day. Then at about 17.00 we caught our second good sized Dorado of the day - although this one was only some 4kgs, it was still a lovely fish that provided us with a very pleasant evening meal - baked with white wine, garlic and a little butter! We are all anxiously watching our position in the fleet, with high hopes of a podium finish tomorrow night!
Bye the way- an update on Eddy the Egret- he has learned quickly and today was the perfect boat pet- staying on his designated stern corner of the deck and out of trouble. It is indeed very funny to watch him when we catch a fish, he has quickly learned to move out of the way and wait- eagerly stretching his neck to its fullest extent to watch for the handout at the completion of filleting the catch- I have a sneaking suspicion that if Dan wants to get rid of him, he is going to have to forcibly remove him- I think he has decided he has found heaven!
- Blog entry by Eian
10th December 2016 - Day 20 Last night was our last full night on Skyelark and we head towards St Lucia with out arrival anticipated late evening today. Only yesterday someone said that we had been lucky and not had many squalls, what we didn't realise was that the Atlantic had one last surprise in store for us. I went up on watch at 10pm for my evening stint, and the first squall had been on gone through with rain and winds of 26 kn. This turned out to be the first of many, the sky behind us showed in the moonlight as an ominous dark mass approached. Winds raced to a peak of 34 kts with the boat thrashing from side to side, just as one phase finished another started, and then another. The squalls kept coming until well into the early hours. The experience was a mix of excitement and at times terror, all calmly marshalled by Dan, and one i wouldn't have missed for the world.
We now have just over 50 miles to go until we reach our destination and the end of our adventure. You can already see in people faces that they are starting to reflect on what we have achieved and I'm sure this will continue for many years to come. The experience has been incredible and challenging but probably in ways most of us may not have envisaged. We have seen sunsets, sunrises, dolphins a plenty, whales, flying fish, shooting stars and the milky way and birds not forgetting our adopted Eddie the Egret who still remains with us and happily waits for the next serving of fish. We have caught and eaten fish, changed sails, pole danced and learnt an incredible amount along the way. Dan the skipper, assisted by Rich, has been the consummate professional, with his calm nature pervading the boat, with a mix of instruction and humour. We have been treated as a team from the outset, and everyone has forming a vital part of that team but more importantly we were the crew not passengers. Everyone has pulled together and you could always rely on the fact that 5 or 10 mins before the end of your watch a face would emerge from the hatch regardless of the time of day or night. Whatever brought us all together with the common ambition to sail the Atlantic, has formed a strong bond between us, and as we head off after this to various parts of the globe that bond will remain and we can always say the we were the 2016 Skyelark ARC Crew. I sincerely hope our paths cross again in the future.
- Blog entry by Bidders