Skip to main content

The days leading to the transatlantic departure

·2294 words·11 mins
ARC+ 2023
Nuvem Mágica
Table of Contents
ARC+ 2023 - This article is part of a series.
Part 8: This Article

Hello there shipmates ⛵️💨

Last time we spoke, we had just arrived in Las Palmas and were getting ready to cast out our lines once more and officially start our transatlantic crossing!

And yet… we still had so much to do!

🎙️ It’s the final countdown!

We arrived on October 20th 2023 to Las Palmas and thus had a little over 2 weeks to finalize our preparations until the official start of the ARC+ on November 5th. For boat projects, that’s not a lot of time. So we got to work.

🏬 Las Palmas is the one-stop-shop for boats!

We could find e-ve-ry-thing! A ton of well-stocked shipshandlers, a Volvo dealer, a Honda dealer, a bookstore with the Ship Captain’s Medical guide in stock (it took me months to get a copy over Amazon), pharmacies acquainted with the notion of at-sea care… and more!

🧲 Endoscopic mast surgery

As discussed in a previous post on rigging preparations, our gennaker halyard was showing recurring signs of chafe.

With the help of Sylvain Quinton, using two endoscopic cameras, a magnet and a messenger line, we were able to perform minimally invasive mast surgery and managed to pass the halyards correctly! For a moment there we thought we would have to take the mast down 😥.

📡 Lost one of our offshore communications devices

In line with what we wrote in a previous post, we started activating our offshore communication plans and got down to testing everything. It was at this point that we realized the KVH VSAT system did not work.

The error came from a problem on the satelite’s motor, which should move the dish (it needs to point into the right direction to work 😉).

Unfortunately, it was impossible to get a technician to fix it. Fortunately, we had other systems we could rely upon.

💊 Stocking up the medicine cabinet

If you are purchasing a pre-made medical kit, you won’t necessarily run into this issue, but if you are building it from scratch (as we did), it can be very difficult to get the necessary medication. In Switzerland, it was impossible to get prescriptions for the antibiotics and other items we needed to carry. The physicians that attended to us rightly said we had no indication for these drugs and it was impossible to convince them that (1) they were right but (2) if we someone did get a urinary tract infection in the middle of the Atlantic, then they would have an indication for antibiotic treatment then.

The point is the following: if you try to get everything at home, make sure your doctor is familiar with this unique situation. What we did in the end was to purchase everything in Las Palmas. Equipped with a letter from the captain and a list, you can go to a pharmacy, review your needs with the local pharmacist and purchase the medication you need. Here is the letter we used:

We brought this letter to a pharmacy close to the port, explained our situation and could purchase the missing items for our medical kit

👨🏽‍🔧 Inboard & Outboard Engines revision

We knew we should do an engine revision before crossing, and so we contacted the local Volvo dealer over 1 month in advance. The first contact was very friendly: they assured us we would have a spot in the week we would arrive, they asked us for the serial numbers of the engines, the location of the pre-filters… we thought this was going to be an easy item to check off.

I mean, our engines were showing no signs of trouble, we check them very regularly… so what could happen? (Spoiler alert: something did happen 😓)

🛒 Provisioning

We had the lists, we had everyone’s preferences and recipes, and it was time to go shopping! We did that, we stored everything, and we made an inventory. Finally, in the days before the departure, Inês also did quite a bit of pre-cooking.

The pre-cooked lasagna was a treat on our first day of the passage from Las Palmas to Cape Verde 😋

🗓️ ARC+ Rally packed schedule

📑 Admin

We still had a couple of open to do’s.

  • For one, we needed to complete the in-person safety check. We had done an online pre-check with the awesome Roger Seymour and now were ready to check the missing items off our list!
  • We also had to handle all the customs & immigration for our boat and crew. Here again, the spectacular ARC+ Rally took care of 99% of this for all boats. What was left was making sure we delivered all the documents at the right time.

👩🏼‍🏫 Seminars & Training

Furthermore, in the week preceeding our departure, we were treated to a very complete set of seminars and safety training. We can’t possible recommend these enough!

🍻 Social Events

Despite all the work that needed to be done, we thoroughly enjoyed spending time in Las Palmas.

There were social events pretty much every day and we even put some together ourselves! Sundowners (we learned a new word here), fancy dinners, drinks… the ARC+ had it all! And we met so many cool new people!

The end of the day was the perfect time to meet and share what everyone had been doing with regards to prep during that day.

We joined all the ARC+ events we could and try to make the most of our time on the island.

🌲 Reforestation Project

ARC organizes two sessions of planting trees (one for ARC+ and another for ARC) every year with the goal of bringing back Gran Canaria to its former glory.

From ARC:

Local not-for-profit organisation, Fundacion Foresta, is working to revitalise the ancient Doramas Forest for the benefit of wildlife, ecosystem restoration and carbon capture. The organisation has planted 576,423 trees extending over 726 hectares of Gran Canaria, and this is already fixing over 5,000 tonnes of CO2 every year.

World Cruising Club got involved with Fundacion Foresta in 2010 as a way of offsetting the carbon footprint of the rally. So far, rally participants have planted 3,800 trees in the growing forest. Fifty-one ARC+ 2023 crew added another 112 Laurisilva trees one Friday morning, every tree making a difference.

We of course had to tag along and got multiple trees planted 🌳. Watch the recap video here.

🎃 Halloween

We joined the ARC+ Costume Party dressed as orcas and came back with an award 🏆!

✉️ Grand Large Yatching special event

In addition, we were also invited to the Grand Large Yachting (GLY) community get together, where we met the wonderful Sigrid and Thomas from Enja, as well as Chris from Madeleine, the unstoppable Costa and Chris from Mongoose!

Camille Allard from GLY doing the honors at the meet up ❤️

🌋 Island Touring

Finally, we took one day to do a big tour of the island, and my were we met with some natural beauty!

We went with an ARC partner, Climbo Rocks, and did a combined Red Canyon + Volcano Heart Tour. They were incredibly friendly and the guide was always making jokes, keeping everyone entertained as well as constantly delivering interesting information about the places.

🎭 Last-minute drama

Of course, no big adventure is complete without a couple of hiccups 🙈.

🤭 The funny

There were funny hiccups. Like that time a fender tried to escape and the SAR team (David and a paddle board) had to go save it, being really, really careful not to fall into the dirty marina water 🤢.

Less funny, but also worth a story in hindsight, was that we got boarded in the early hours of the departure day (November 5th). Specifically, we woke up at 5 AM with two people trying to steal things from our boat. We caught them red handed, and proceeded to confront them. We tried calling the police. Unfortunately, no one ever picked up the phone (neither the police, nor the port police). After our dinghy got stolen (and we recovered it… that’s a story for another time), we doubled down on security and now have several cameras on board. So we caught these two people on camera, from our cabin.

😅 The bad

All right, this section is for the issues that did become a real nuisance.

In short, we have Volvo Penta engines, and the engines installed on our boat have something called a turbocharger (let’s call it turbo, for short).

Without getting into the technical details of how this piece of the engine works, what you need to know is that this piece of equipment hits in once the engine reaches high RPMs (on the order of 2550 rpm, so you’ll hear a proper “vroom vroom” at this stage).

For the turbo to function, it makes use of a little release valve. The problem is that this valve is a weak point: it rusts very easily and is then fixed in place.

We had been servicing our engines following Volvo’s guidebook and using only Volvo’s partners. Yet, only in Las Palmas were we informed that the piece had rusted and the valve couldn’t open anymore.

We further learned that, if you don’t push the engine to 2550 rpm, the valve never opens. The problem with this is that the exhaust from the turbo is the same pipe that takes the hot salt water out of the engine’s cooling system. So, if the valve doesn’t open for a while, it rusts and gets stuck in place.

Now we now that every time we use our engine, we have to push it to 2550 RPM at the end of use to activate the turbo and open the valve.

Enter the warranty process. We went in for a normal engine revision, and this issue was detected. Volvo dictates that the turbo must, in these cases, be replaced.

The problem? Well:

  • The revision was initially scheduled for the week of arrival, but, frustratingly enough, kept being postponed. In the end, the mechanic only came to our boat on the Thursday preceeding departure day (Sunday);
  • The turbo issue was a well-known problem at this point. 6 other engines in Las Palmas had been diagnosed with this problem and were still waiting for the parts to be delivered (2 weeks after the problem had been found). Getting goods shipped to Las Palmas is a well-known problem, and this case was proving particularly difficult.
  • Had we decided to leave without replacing the turbos (because we basically never reach 2500 rpm anyway), that would void our warranty 😱.

Honestly, we felt stuck between a rock and hard place 🪨. When the mechanic told us that we needed 2 new turbos, we concluded that there was no chance we would be leaving on Sunday, given the available empirical evidence of how things went down in theses cases.

We promptly informed our crew of what was happening, explained the situation as best we could and told folks that, if they were on a tight schedule, they should cancel their flights and get their money back.

😣 The ugly

The communication with the crew happened on Thursday afternoon. In the meantime, we (with our friends from XIII, who had the same issue) also doubled down on figuring out what was happening. Even for Las Palmas, these deliveries were taking too long. On top of this, we were hearing conflicting information from the business side and from the mechanical team of this particular Volvo dealer company. After confronting the mechanical team with the incongruent information, we arrived together at the conclusion that, indeed, the parts had simply not been ordered.

The mechanical team was baffled by this, but informed us they had placed a separate order for extra turbos that should arrive on Friday. However, at this point, trust had eroded. We were only willing to believe statements backed by facts, i.e., tracking numbers or physical parts.

As it turns out, the mechanical team had indeed ordered the parts. We woke up to a call from them at 9:15 AM on Friday, announcing the parts had arrived. The mechanic on duty worked tireleslly to install all the missing turbos on all the affected boats. Thus, by an unbelievable stroke of luck, we were back on track and departing Sunday!

But were we all departing? Unfortunately, some crew had already cancelled their flights that very morning (30 minutes before we received the call!), and we ended up loosing crew 💔.

✨ The bright side

We consider ourselves practical optimists, and the facts are the following:

  • Although we were saddened by this unnecessary hiccup and how it prevented some crew members from joining the voyage…
  • … in the end, we made it to the starting line, on time, as planned, with 2 functioning engines, and almost everyone on board ❤️

We are immensely grateful to our friends from Maracujá who treated us to some delicous boat-made food, drinks and music 🎶 and cheered us up on that Thursday evening, where everything suddenly seemed a bit bleak 😣.

And hey, challenges are part of the adventure. In the words of Yvon Chouinard: For me, when everything goes wrong – that’s when adventure starts.

And we did sign up for an adventure, did we not?

So when we finally had the crew aboard, we were super excited to start this trip!

Fair winds and lucky breezes to all you sailors ❤️

Until we read again,

Your Nuvem Mágica

ARC+ 2023 - This article is part of a series.
Part 8: This Article