Day 4, Ascension Island to Grenada

1300Z 26MAY22, Day 4, Ascension Island to Grenada. Weather for the past 24 hours has been gray! We haven't had this long of gray skies and rain in quite awhile. But there is blue sky out there now, so we are hopeful that we will get some solar power today and a bit less rain. Of course, the plus side (there is almost always a plus side) of the gray and the rain was that things were a bit cooler.

Current Position: 06 21S / 021 12W
24 hour progress: 118nm, 4.9kts avg SOG. Overall progress for the passage is 435nm, approximately 2660nm to Grenada. We gybed from port tack back to starboard tack just before noon. We continued sailing deep downwind with the asymmetric and main at the 4th reef, making a good course to Grenada.

The wind continued to be up and down. Typically we would lose the wind right before the rains came and then the winds picked back up (so the opposite of what had been happening with the small cloud systems). Nothing major, just we would go slow and then pick up speed. All was fine to stay on the asymmetric and occasionally we were making some really nice speeds. The wind seems to be a bit less shifty and perhaps a bit more consistent so hopefully we are starting to see the trades re-stabilize. We have gybed this morning as our course on the other tack had worsened. We could be on this starboard tack for most of the rest of the trip, if the weather forecasts are correct. We shall see.

Yesterday, we mentioned seeing a line of AIS hits that we thought were fishing boats just before our gybe at the end of the day's log. As we continued paralleling the AIS beacons for 10 hours and continued thinking more about the very consistent line and odd AIS data, we decided they were probably not boats at all, and likely were nets. How depressing. 50nm (maybe more?) where there is a beacon every 3 or so nm. So no telling if they are individual smallish nets or more probably a very long drift net with intermediary beacons on some floats. We never got closer than 10nm and felt thankful that they were at least marked so that we could avoid them and so that the mothership could find them to recover them. But wow, it seems such a waste and a ravagingly devastating way to fish. We are all a bit sad about it.

We are settling into routines and working well together as a crew. The days are passing with schoolwork, meals and general chores along with audiobooks, reading and podcasts.

Last night we were down to 2 noddy stowaways. They were better behaved with just the 2, but we are hoping we can be free of them soon. Our fishing line has been in, but still no bites. Maybe any fish still free in this area need to remain that way.

Day 3, Ascension Island to Grenada

1300Z 25MAY22, Day 3, Ascension Island to Grenada. It's been a bit cloudy and rainy. We have had ok winds, but it is not exactly consistent yet. The storm clouds certainly don't help.

Current Position: 06 40S / 019 19W
24 hour progress: 115nm, 4.7kts avg SOG. Overall progress for the passage is 317nm, approximately 2771nm to Grenada. We have gybed from port to starboard and back to the port tack, sailing deep downwind with the asymmetric and main at the 4th reef.

We seem to have mostly made decent speeds over the last 24 hours. We often get some extra wind before a rain cell passes and then some lighter air after it passes. Additionally the wind tends to shift directions a lot and we find our course to be changing quite a bit around the cells. It tends to settle back out as the cells pass and the wind returns. None of these rain cells have been significant or dangerous, just an extra 5kts of wind, a rain shower and inconsistent wind direction and speed.

The excitement of extra wind, a need to gybe or a fleet of fishing boats always seems to arrive at somewhat inconvenient times. Then the rain comes and windows have to be closed up making everything even hotter. Last night we had some decent wind while making dinner, as often seems to be the case. Once the wind died back a bit, our course was not especially good and we decided to gybe just before sunset (and at log entry time).

We have been doing very controlled gybes and they take some time and work to complete. We roll in the asymmetric, remove the preventer on the main, crank the main sheet in, gybe the boat, put the main back out, secure the main with the preventer for the other tack, walk the asymmetric sheet across to the other side, relaunch the chute. We have settled on this process because it keeps things controlled and keeps us from having a long lazy sheet that could get pulled loose and go under the boat. The flip side is that it takes awhile and having the asymmetric furled and up on the bow can be problematic if it doesn't roll well. If there is a bubble the wind can start to pull it loose from the middle which makes a bit of a mess of the sail and takes a bit of time to work back to furled or sailing. Thankfully we have 4 crew and we have enough hands to get it all figured out pretty quickly.

This morning there have been dark clouds and the AIS showed a vessel right on our course. As we got closer it broke out into more and more vessels, eventually showing at least 8 of them in an E-W line. All class B AISs and moving at around 2kts, clearly a fleet of fishing boats all spaced about 2-3nm apart. Amazing that they all seem to be class B with limited data (no boat size or call signs) and no class A "mothership" present. (Class A is for commercial use and large vessels, class B is for smaller boats and private use.) It isn't clear whether some of the vessels only turn their AIS broadcasts on when we get close or if the signals from many of the units are just very weak, but we seem to most often see a vessel at normal range somewhere in the middle first, and we only see the whole fleet on one of our receivers unless we get really close.

Of course, we were sailing directly toward the middle of this fishing fleet, and there was a large gray cloud between them and us. Usually the rain clouds move pretty quickly, generally with the direction of the wind. This cloud seemed to be stationary and it seemed unlikely that we wanted to sail right into the middle of the cloud or the fishing fleet. So we decided to gybe. This would allow us to keep them to the north and give us wind to maneuver. And all this just before the daily 24 hour log entry. We gybed, but it wasn't an especially clean one and the rain started coming down in sheets while we were still out on deck. On the plus side, we have all had nice showers. Once everything was sorted, we stripped off the soaked clothes, soaped up and rinsed off with the outside shower head. Easy, refreshing and not much water used!

We are adjusting to passage making and it's random bursts of activity. We continue to feel a bit tired with the heat. Megan and Daxton are in a health challenge with Skylark so that will hopefully set up a bit of a routine and burn some Daxton energy.

Last night we had 4 noddy (pronounced naughty we believe and if not, that's what we are going with as they definitely are) stowaways again. This time there seemed to be less than the previous night. They noisily fought for their resting spots, and then once that was sorted slept 2 on the solar panels and 2 on the bimini. All the while pooping and making a general mess. The good news is that we had lots of rain showers to clean up the mess in the morning when they headed out for the day. Hopefully they'll go hang out with this fishing fleet now that we've brought them this close.

Our fishing line has been in, but no bites. We are really on a fishing dry spell here! Hoping our luck will change. Maybe we just need some better boat speeds for our trolling line.

Day 2, Ascension Island to Grenada

1300Z 24MAY22, Day 2, Ascension Island to Grenada. It's sunny and not much wind which translates to hot, hot, hot. We continue to seek shade and ways to stay cool.

Current Position: 07 21S / 017 39W (yesterday should have been 015W and not 005W!)
24 hour progress: 110nm, 4.6kts avg SOG. Overall progress for the passage is 202nm, approximately 2878nm to Grenada. 13 hours on the engine after 6 hours of sailing at 3kts or below. Now back to sailing downwind, port tack, with the full asymmetric and main at the 4th reef.

The winds continued to lighten through yesterday staying below 10kts. The afternoon found us playing the game of what is that smell and where is it coming from. We (finally) tracked it down to some cauliflower that didn't make it and our box of eggs that had gotten infested. This gave us a job for awhile cleaning a vegetable bin, checking the other fruits and vegetables, getting rid of the cardboard box and checking on the eggs to salvage what we could. That was followed up with changing out a pre-filter for the watermaker as production had been notably slow when we departed Ascension. A fairly easy task at the pier, that's always a bit slower and messier when the boat is moving around.

By sunset we saw boat speeds under 2kts and wind below 5kts so we furled and doused the asymmetric and turned on the engine. Winds stayed low throughout the night. We recharged our batteries, made lots of water (better production thanks to that filter change!) and did some laundry. At least we were moving in the right direction, at a good speed and working through chores, even if the noise and extra heat were not especially nice.

After sunrise we decided we'd had enough of the noise and at least were back to around 10kts of wind. We put out the chute and secured the engine. Moving along again, on a good course, at 3-4kts. We continue to head west (with a touch of north) as we await the trade winds filling back in and the ITCZ moving back to a more normal position. We expect the winds to improve in the next 24 hours.

The crew is well, but hot. Lots of lying around and moving around trying to find cool places to sleep. Outside is a favorite, especially at night. Humans and cats behave the same in these conditions.

Last night we were invaded by a flock of noddys. They were rude and messy house guests. They fought with each other and left feathers, fish bits and poop everywhere. We had at least 10 aboard at one time - on a spreader, on the lifelines, on the solar panels, on the boom, on the bimini and somehow a pair balanced on the wind generator (which wasn't moving as there was no wind and we were motoring). Apparently we made a good island. We expect they will return after dark, but we shall see. When we exit the Ascension Island MPA in another hour or so, the fishing line will return to the water.

Day 1, Ascension Island to Grenada

1300Z 23MAY22, Day 1, Ascension Island to Grenada. After a nice stop in Ascension, we planned to leave midday on Sunday. The weather forecast suggested there would not be much wind for the first couple of days, but even so, moving along at 3-4kts still gets you across the ocean sooner than sitting at anchor - at least hopefully.

Current Position: 07 30S / 005 49W
24 hour progress: 92nm, 3.8kts avg SOG, approximately 2982nm to Grenada. Less than 1 hour on the engine before we were sailing, however we ran the engine in idle to help recharge and make water for another 3 hours before securing it.

The forecast called for light winds but we had a nice strong breeze through the anchorage and felt like it was as good a time as any to get going. We weighed anchor and made a drive-thru of the anchorage to say our "see you laters" to Skylark, Atraxia & Dallandra. Then we unsuccessfully trolled a fishing line past the cargo ship hoping to coax a large tuna out for dinner.

By 1300 we were heading out and shortly thereafter raised the main to the 4th reef. We expect to be largely sailing deep downwind again which we don't need the main for, but without the main at least to the 4th reef it is hard for us to raise the main without turning on the engine and turning into the wind. Having a small bit of main up gives us more options later should we need to sail on a reach.

We got organized and dragged out the asymmetric sail. By 1340 the chute was flying in 15+kts of wind and we were moving along nicely. We relaxed and watched Ascension shrink away in the distance. We reflected on our visit and were very glad to have stopped. But we were also excited to be moving again with pleasant downwind sailing. The weather was partly cloudy and the breeze was well received. It felt far cooler than we had been that morning at anchor; it has been quite hot.

The winds gradually lightened and fell to less than 10kts by early this morning, driving our average speeds way down. Additionally there was cloud cover and a few good rain shower rinses before clearing up to a sunny day. We are moving in the right direction and have gybed to a port tack. We plan to head west for now as we await the winds filling back in and the ITCZ moving back to a more normal position.

The crew is well. We are all happy to be back on passage, though the last ice cubes have already been consumed. The last of our delicious wahoo filet will be eaten by the end of today. We are a bit sad that we don't have our citizen science project to keep us busy, but there is other school work to tackle. The seas have been calm and nobody - not even Poseidon - has been sea sick. Everything felt like a normal day and the boys were straight back to their watch standing shifts.

Ascension Island Wrap-up

We spent just under 5 days at Ascension. It is a very interesting place. We arrived Tuesday night in time to have a quiet birthday celebration aboard. Then on Wednesday the swell was significant and we were advised that we should not attempt to come ashore. We took advantage of the down day to do chores, inflate the dinghy, do an impromptu sewing project and work on the halyard. Jon spliced in a long dyneema anti-chaffe sleeve over the end of the asymmetric halyard. It is a long process, but he got well over half way done with the job on Wednesday.

Thursday morning we went ashore early. We checked in, walked around town and turned in our science samples. We went to the Conservation Center, met Tiffany the lead for the plankton drag / eDNA citizen science project, and learned more about the program. We toured the labs and went by the office to pick up some brochures about the local wildlife and geology, and to get recommendations for what to see during our visit. That was followed up by a look through the grocery store and some lunch.

Our friends on Skylark had secured the one rental car on the island. When they returned from a nice hike and drive around, we borrowed the car and drove around. We went to the US base and met the base commander - Matt. We had a nice chat with him and invited him to stop by the boats later as he usually goes out spear fishing on Thursday evenings. We continued our drive around stopping in the couple of other grocery stores scattered around the island.

That evening Skylark threw a cocktail competition party for the boats in the anchorage. We had a pleasant evening together. The Skylark espresso martinis were judged the clear winner, but Daxton's mocktail entry received an honorable mention.

Friday saw us with the car for the full day. There was a supply ship in port with goods to deliver to Ascension which meant that they didn't allow dinghies on the pier during working hours. Instead, we were shuttled in by the port control work boat. This is a complimentary service and we were told to return by around 5 to ensure we didn't miss the last shuttle back to the boats.

We had a great time exploring the island and managed to pack in 3 different hikes. On the first hike we saw the last of the nesting sooty terns. We even managed to see a couple of chicks. That hike continued on over a jagged lava flow under a blazing sun. We didn't manage to find the special tide pools that were out there, but we did find crabs, fish and even a small octopus in the waters along the beach. The second two hikes were on Green Mountain where the British Marines once maintained a farm to support the garrison and visiting ships. The first hike was to the highest point on Ascension. It goes through a bamboo forest and ends a few steps above a very green dew pond in a cloud forest. The second hike was relatively flat and went around the peak a little lower but still well into the cool, lush, green zone. It provided good views of the island, and included 6 short tunnels dug to complete the watchstander route. After we finished all of that, we drove around some more. We managed to view most all of the island and see the key sights with a day and a half of driving and hiking.

We returned to Georgetown around 4:30 and headed back to the boat. The plan was for the parents to take the dinghy back into town and head to the US Base for a burger. Jennifer from Skylark also agreed to come out with us. There was a bus service from town to the base so we could make it out and back without driving and could have beers at the bar while we were there. The challenge was the bus went at 6:30 and the next one wasn't until 9 and the food stopped at 8:30. It all would have been fine, except they didn't finish off loading the supply ship for the day until sunset and we couldn't get our dinghy in until almost 7pm! This was a bit sad as all the hiking for the day had us really looking forward to a good burger and fries. However, we were in luck as Matt and Dan (Tiffany's husband) were finishing up on the pier. They had just returned from spear fishing and were putting things away and filleting their catch. They offered us a ride to the Volcano Club and it was all sorted again.

They dropped us off, promising to return later, and the three of us enjoyed delicious burgers and beer. After awhile we were joined by Tiffany, Matt and Dan. We also met some other folks including José who works to organize recreational activities on the island for the base personnel. We had a nice evening and returned back to the pier with Jennifer giving out invitations all around for a Skylark party Saturday night.

Saturday we headed into town and toured the museum. The display plaques were simple but very informative. There were old photographs and lots of old equipment and items for the various sections. Ascension has a strange history and has basically been a base and work camp throughout its populated time. If you live on the island and are over 18 you are required to have a job. If you get into any trouble (drunk driving or fighting or whatever) you are kicked off the island. If you graduate high school and aren't employed, you get kicked off the island. If you are under 16, you can't be out alone. There are no local inhabitants though there are a number of Saint Helenans who have had work contracts on the island for many, many years. NASA had a long presence on the island, but is no longer there. There is a US Space Force unit maintaining a plethora of antennas and expanding and updating the runway. There is a British Ministry of Defense detachment on the island. There are BBC relays and any number of other antennas on the island. There is a population of around 1000, largely contractors for the US and Saints for the British. It seems appropriate that the British originally commissioned the island as a Royal Navy ship when they first occupied the island to prevent it from being used to stage any possible mission to free Napoleon from Saint Helena.

After the museum, we did a little shopping as some onions and squash had made it to the shelves from the supply ship. We also enjoyed a little live music for the local celebration of Saint Helena Day. We returned to Zephyros in the early afternoon to work on projects so that we would be prepared to depart as planned on Sunday. Jon finished the anti-chaffe sleeve on the halyard and we swapped the line around through the mast.

In the evening we headed over to Skylark for a party. They had invited Matt, Tiffany, Dan, & José. The party from shore added another friend and arrived via the work boat shuttle service. They had been out fishing during the day and caught a wahoo. So they brought a huge bowl of delicious ceviche and huge filets as gifts for Skylark and Zephyros.

The Zephyros crew all excused ourselves for awhile around 8pm to go into the beach to look for green turtles. The green turtles are laying eggs and the turtles are hatching on Long Beach. Long Beach was just in front of where we were anchored, but it is a very steep beach so it is advised that you land at the pier head. We took the dinghy to the pier and stopped to watch the Galápagos sharks that hang out there waiting for fishing scraps. Then we walked over to Long Beach. As soon as we were on the beach we saw a few baby turtles headed to the water! Then we walked the beach with our red lights seeing what we could find. We did find a couple of mama tracks, but didn't find any mamas laying eggs. We walked for awhile, but weren't seeing anything. Then we spotted a nest that was erupting. The baby turtles were swimming up through the sand. Once they were free we followed them down the beach. They move quite quickly and were down in the water before long. It was a very cool experience, and baby turtles are super cute. We felt so lucky to have been able to see it! After we had successfully found a hatching, we turned around. We walked slowly back down the beach towards the pier. We didn't see any more eruptions, but we did see a few more baby turtles. From there we went back to the pier. A fisherman had caught an eel on a line and he held it up for us to see. Then the eel tied himself in a knot. It was quite interesting. We watched the sharks some more and even saw a baby turtle swimming around. We then headed back to the party. We had a wonderful evening together learning more about the island and the people who work there. Quick farewells were said as we dropped everyone back off at the pier and the swell bounced everything around.

Sunday morning we got up and moving. We broke down the dinghy and made the boat ready for off shore passage making. We were all a bit tired after the busy few days and were looking forward to getting back to some (hopefully) relaxed passage making.

The stop at Ascension was really neat. You can see an amazing amount in a few days, or you could spend every off hour of a year tour/contract hiking and biking every trail through the National Park and conservation areas. There isn't really any way to visit the island except in an official work capacity or stopping in with your own vessel, and then you still must be individually screened and approved to go ashore. We are glad we made the effort to stop in and visit this unique volcanic mount, on the mid-Atlantic ridge, in the middle of the Southern Atlantic.

Arrival in Ascension!

1910Z 17MAY22, anchored in Georgetown, Ascension Island! The weather was a bit cloud covered but we enjoyed nice views of an interesting volcanic island along our approach.

Position: 07 55S / 014 25W
10.5 hour progress: 53nm, 5kts avg SOG. Last 4.5 hours motor sailing to arrive by sunset.

731 nautical miles sailed
6 days, 10.5 hours
4.7 knots average speed over ground
7.4 hours of engine time
1 birthday
8 plankton samples taken
8 water samples taken for eDNA
0 fish caught by us, but tuna that was gifted to us in St Helena made 3 delicious meals
Major Casualties: None! But a crisis was narrowly averted. The halyard for the asymmetric had significant chaffing. A longer anti-chaffe sleeve will be installed here and it's a good reminder to check lines when sails remain up for extended periods. Other minor repairs and chores will be attended to, but the passage was pretty easy on Zephyros overall.

For Tuesday, it was a bit less wind than expected and the sailing slowed down. As we were so close and it was Ronan's birthday, we decided to turn on the engine and motor sail the final 25nm. Ascension is a bit tricky to enter at night due to the anchorage being between an unlit mooring field and a large floating hose that moves quite a bit. So rather than arrive a couple of hours after sunset and enter in the dark or have to mill around offshore waiting for daylight, we turned on the iron topsail and pushed forward. We waited just a little too long or timed it perfectly, depending on your perspective.

We rounded the corner of the island, coming into view of the anchorage as the sun was just about to set, chute flying and us motor sailing, making 7+kts. Our friends on Skylark called us to welcome us and give some pointers on the anchorage.

Shortly afterwards, we called the Harbour Master. We probably should have waited as the sun was now setting, the sails were still up, and the radio communication was quite broken. In the end Skylark relayed for us and we got the instructions from the Harbour Master and were cleared into the anchorage. There is no swimming due to sharks and there is a swell warning through the 18th so we need to stay on the boat until we can safely come ashore to check in, likely on the morning of the 19th.

We then doused the sails and proceeded in to drop our anchor. The daylight was fading and we quickly settled on a spot. We were relieved to have arrived and sorted things out before dark.

The rest of the evening was spent cleaning up, enjoying a birthday meal - lamb & potatoes - and enjoying some relaxed together time for Ronan's birthday.

This was a very easy passage, though a bit slow. We will spend a few days here and then carry on to Grenada, approximately 3100nm away. We are happy to have the short break and to explore a new spot. We hope that the next part of this passage will be just as smooth and easy with steady trade winds.

Thank you for following along with us! We'll be back posting again as soon as we are back underway in a few day.

Day 6, St Helena to Ascension Island

0830Z 17MAY22, Day 6, St Helena to Ascension Island. Almost there! About 50nm until anchor down. We expect to arrive at the anchorage in the late afternoon, likely too late to check in today. We will see what the authorities say when we get closer and make radio contact. The weather has been good (hot!) with steady trade winds and good average speeds.

Current Position: 08 26S / 013 49W
24 hour progress: 129nm, 5.4kts avg SOG. Overall progress for the passage is 678nm, approximately 44nm to Ascension (and then about 5nm around to the anchorage). We continued sailing downwind with the asymmetric and 2 reefs in the main (reduces blocking of the asymmetric). We gybed to a port tack before sunset and expect to gybe back to a starboard tack, straight to Ascension, around midday today.

We have been diligent "planktonauts" and citizen scientists. We took two samples yesterday inside the MPA and hope to take 2 again today. Yesterday we had a morning sample and then a sample when we went to gybe. For both samples we had the asymmetric rolled in and turned further downwind to slow speeds. Yesterday we had to start a new bottle of bleach and this one is very soapy, making cleaning more challenging as we needed to ensure all the soap and bleach were gone and equipment didn't slip out of soapy hands. Too bad we couldn't find a bottle of Chlorox in Saint Helena, as that was simpler. We have 4 more pieces of the collection paper so we will try to get them filled with useful samples today. It's been a fun and interesting project. We are looking forward to turning in our samples in Ascension, and hope to get a chance to talk to some of the scientists and researchers.

There have been more birds as we approach Ascension and we had a hitchhiker - a noddy - again last night. Wonder if he was the same one or a new visitor. He sat in the same place on the solar panels and made a poopy mess again. Seems like the same bird, but really all birds might choose that spot and all birds seem to be messy guests. There is also evidence of some flying fish casualties and crashes into Zephyros in the dark. Poor guys.

Besides science today, we will be searching out for land so that the lucky person to spot land first can yell "Land Ho" as loudly as possible. It's likely still a few hours away.

Today will be another celebration day as it's Ronan's birthday and we are arriving to a new place. So we will be chilling some drinks and planning a nice dinner aboard. Looking forward to being anchored off of a new island, exploring a new place, meeting new people, and hanging out with Skylark some more.