Trans-Atlantic Schooner Sail

Sometimes you get a very unexpected phone call that changes things. I got one towards the end of March of 2007 from Sam, a friend in NY.

Peter and Jeanette, from the American Schooner Association have been on a really slow (15 year) trip around the world in an old 50′ Alden Schooner. They were planning on coming back across the Atlantic when they were delayed by having a transmission rebuilt in Gibralter and then their crew had to leave for personal reasons. They said they needed 2 sailors with bluewater experience to help them sail from the Canary islands to Antigua right away and they mentioned my name as a possibility. The weather window starts to close after April because of hurricane season.

Sam said he could go and I started looking at flights immediately. Not an easy or cheap place to get to - off Morocco - about 1800 miles SSW of London. After checking Expedia several times over several days, a “somewhat reasonable” price was found and booked at about half the price of anything Sam found in NYC.
We left Boston April 1 (no fooling).

The normal route is to head south from the Canaries toward Cape Verde and then catch the Trade Winds West to Antigua. Probably be gone about a month. This was the 7th trans-Atlantic crossing for Peter. He and his wife were Architects in NY and he has owned the schooner for at least 45 years.

They were in Asia when they decided to rebuild it again - the first rebuild lasted 30 years. They found a yard in Phuket, Thailand that did good work at prices that were about 10% of those in the US and spent ‘02 and ‘03 there.

It would have been nice to get to Antigua in time for the Classic Yacht race week starting April 19th, but that didn’t look feasable due to a later than expected start. Probably take 3 weeks if things go well.

Here is a photo taken during the ‘93 Antigua Classic Yacht race.


We arrived in Gran Caneria on April 2 and they met us and we took the bus over some mountains to Port Mogan, on the southern end of the island. There is a beautiful harbor there and the place seems to cater to tourists, mostly German and some English but few Americans.

Port Mogan

As you can see, it is rocky with little natural vegetation. Crops were grown under giant tents of shade fabric to conserve water and keep the crops from burning up. There were also many windmills.

We finished stocking up the boat from the produce market and left a few days later. There are several Canary Islands, Tenerife is another well known one that we saw on the way out. With the 10,000 ft mountain, it is hard to miss. During a lot of the year, the winds funnel between the islands and form an “acceleration zone”, a very windy area. A 50′ catamaran broke up in one of those zones just before we got there. We got wind right away and headed south towards the trades. The wind settled down and it was pleasant sailing on an extremely sound boat.

By the second night we had settled in to a 2 hours steering, 6 hours off routine. During off hours, there was cooking, eating. cleanup, sleeping and story telling.

After a few days, were were getting down toward Cape Verde. We had been on starboard tack and suddenly the aft chainplate snapped. The chainplate is the connection between the hull and the shrouds that hold up the mast. The part that broke was the cylinder that is the top of the metal strap. The half inch stainless steel bolt connects it to the lower deadeye. It was a surprise - over 20 years old and a substantial cylinder. We tacked to port and looked the situation over. We jury rigged the shroud to the sway hook and decided to divert to Cape Verde - about 2 days away.


The broken chainplate and the jury rig are on the right and a normal one is on the left.

It took us southeast instead of southwest The boat does about 120 - 165 miles a day in the relatively light winds. We averaged about 6 knots for the whole trip.

The island of St. Antao was the first landmark, we went around the north side and saw St Vincente and went into Mindelo, the commercial harbor that is the biggest in the 10 islands. There is a great lighthouse there, on a huge rock, with the lightkeepers house about 2/3 of the way up and a big set of stairs leading up to the light. Here is a photo we took on the way back out.


St. Antao is in the background with its peak in the clouds. Some produce comes from there, it has a wet side as well as a very dry side.

The anchorage was near the ferry dock and there were about 10 other sailboats around. It was very gusty there - sometimes over 30 knots. The chainplate that broke was the starboard aft chainplate on the main. The bolts were behind the navigation station, behind the GPS, SSB radio, and the radar. After removing the electronics and some books, we carefully removed the bungs and were able to unfasten the bolts. We used the main throat halyard to carefully pull the chainplate up thru the rail. The next day, with the help of an Englishman on the next boat, we were able to get a machine shop to turn a new cylinder and a welder to weld it into place. They did a nice job and it was returned the next day. In the meantime, we started inspecting all of the chainplates. We found 4 others with cracks and decided to fix them too. The hardest part was removing the bungs without messing up the beautiful interior of the boat.


You can see several knees in the photo as well as one of the laminated deckbeams.

After another day at the anchorage, we did get a space at a small dock, which made things easier. It also made it easier to walk into town and look around. I have heard about Cape Verde for many years, because that is where Ernestina was from around 1947 until 1983.
At that time, Cape Verde became independant and gave Ernestina back to the US as a gift. When we went to the police station to report in, it was nice to see some familar names such as Andrade and Silva on the police nametags. I wore my Ernestina hat and they recognized it and we had a good talk about the boat. When we stopped at the Club Nautical for lunch and a beer, one of the guys at the bar was about in tears when he saw my hat and we talked.
A German guy, Kai Brossmann (, was doing a big marina development in the harbor, he has been there for years and is familar to the sailors that come in. The marina should be done this summer. He was very friendly and helpful and said he knew an old former Captain and owner named Alberto. He later talked to him about stopping by, but the captain didn’t get a chance to do it before we left. It would have been great to trade stories with him.
We got some escudos from a bank machine. A Visa with a 4 digit pin (or using the first 4 digits of a pin) made it easy - it is much more difficult otherwise. Only some hotels take credit cards. One dollar is worth about 81 Escudos. The 200 escudo bill has a picture of Ernestina and will buy a beer or a lunch of catchupa and you get some change. A dinner for 4 and a bottle of wine in a beautiful restuarant cost about $71. Many places will take US $ or Euros.

Mindelo is the big commercial port for the islands and probably on of the most active towns there.


There was an active indoor produce market.

produce market

There was a separate enclosed fish market as well as street vendors selling both fish and produce.

street vendors

The official language is Portuguese and many speak Creole (or Crioula). It was easy to make ourselves understood, although hard for us to have a meaningful conservation unless they spoke English, and some did. People were very friendly with a laid back manner and many smiles. We were very busy with the repairs during the day. It would have been fun to spend more time and visit some of the other islands - maybe later.

I have used many of the night watches on the trip to think of a plan to take Ernestina back there. I have heard a lot of people talk about it, but have seen no detailed plan. There was one in the early 90’s that was scuttled by the “perfect storm”. A new one would include going over before hurricane season and returning in the early spring, and should include a visit to the the Azores. Many groups would have to support it with people and money.
I will detail some of my ideas on this website soon.

There is some charter fishing for big Marlin and we talked to a few captains at the dock. A bad day is one were they only get two 300 # marlin and maybe a 50# wahoo. Most marlin are thrown back. As one sign said, they are too valuable to only catch once. Zack, a charter captain originally from the Azores, gave us 2 lures to troll with. We did lose two lures to what must have been very large fish, but did catch 4 mahi mahi as well as a 25#+ wahoo on the trip to Antigua.

After a week, we left Cape Verde for Antigua, a little over 2000 miles straight downwind. Very gusty at first, to at least 40 funneling down between the islands. Started off with the fore and jumbo (staysail). Steering downwind sounds easy, but in the good sized waves - starting at 15 ft and down to 5 ft, it is easy to have the boat swing a little and gybe. A lot of attention and steering is required. Had the main up later, but it blankets the fore. Alternated between using both the main and the fore or both, always with the jumbo up for balance.

Did about a 1000 miles the first week and we got into a pleasant routine. Then, on a Tuesday night, Sam was going down the ladder to the galley when he lost his grip as the boat rolled and he went about 5 ft across the galley and was stopped when his ribs hit the stove. It took a while to get him to his bunk and it was obvious he had cracked ribs. We couldn’t tell about internal injuries. He was in pain and effectively out of the watch system. He seemed better the next day, but not the third.
We did what we could to make him comfortable, and asked him about calling for a Coast Guard helicopter. He was very much against that.
We started the 2 hour on 4 off watch system. Of course the 4 off didn’t count repairs, eating, cleanup, etc. When we were ready to gybe one day, I noticed that one end of the traveler had come adrift. It was a bronze rod that had been threaded and screwed in to the two uprights. The constant working and repetitive motion over the last years of hard sailing had slowly unscrewed it from the upright and forced the upright away from vertical. We screwed the rod partially back in the upright (which of course unscrewed it partially from the other end). A “vice grips” kept it from unscrewing again. We roped it to the turning blocks and held the lower blocks away from the ends of the traveler.


We did drop the main later so we could steer closer to the wind and it was more comfortable for Sam. Of course the repairs were not over. The fore ripped in a big horizontal line across the middle. We got that down and put up an old repaired spare (during our 4 hours off). Here is the fore backup.

fore backup

We arrived in Antigua on Sunday, Sam’s wife was there to meet us and they got a room for the night and flew to NYC Monday. He was hospitalized and should recover soon.

We had some rum and went out to eat. The next morning we went to English Harbor and looked at some of the old fortifications and went thru customs. They were very polite but it took about 3 hours (not quite as long as it took them in India). I also flew home Monday.

There were many stories told about Peter and Jeanette’s trips. When you go into a small harbor or island with a beautiful old boat, stay for a week or 6 months and really try to meet the people, good things happen. We heard stories that are best told by them, and saw many carvings and things that they acquired on the trip. For example, a carving over my bunk told the family history of a man whose recent family were headhunters. When asked if there were other carvers in his village, he said no, because he would kill them.
There was a Muslim in Algiers that imitated all of the 1955 Dodgers. There was a Muslim baker in Papua New Guinea that refused to take money for bread right after 9/11, she said that was not the real Muslim religion. There were people in a yacht club in Japan that helped them tie up when they came in during a gale. They were there for a formal dinner and invited them to be the guests of honor and would not take no for an answer. When they dumped water out their boots at the door, their hosts “dumped” out their shoes as they took them off.

Peter and Jeanette plan on heading up the coast this spring and may build a house, possibly in Martha’s Vineyard where they have land or Maine - or maybe build later after they sail some more…

PS.  Sam is fully recovered.   Peter and Jeanette built a beautiful home in ME overlooking the ocean from Camden to Rockland Harbor and many islands.