Doldrums, storms and nasty surprises

Rivercafe Atlantic crossing

It was May2 2023 when Ka and I released the lines of Rivercafe in Fort Lauderdale and threw them on board. Unusual, because normally we are on deck when we leave a dock. This time we stood on the jetty and watched our delivery crew disappear with the Rivercafe through the lifting bridge.

Dave, Clyde, Rita and Matt are all experienced sailors and we handed over a perfect boat that had just left the yard after a maintenance treatment. 30 days were planned from Florida to Alicante in Spain’s southeast. We should be able to communicate sufficiently via our Starlink. Unfortunately, Starlink “asked us” to upgrade our subscription in Fort Lauderdale and we had to change to an offshore package. This was of course more expensive and limited to 50 GB. Actually, no problem, but the four on board had not deactivated the automatic update of their devices and so plenty of GB flowed into the updates of mobile phones and tablets.

Florida – Bermuda – Azores

On this transfer, many things turned out differently than planned. The first 900 nm were calm. Not much wind. Little sail, a lot of engine and 2 kn/h below the planned speed. The crew had to make an unplanned call at Bermuda for refuelling. The next 1,900 nm to the Azores got wilder. Dave wrote of 5 m waves with short frequency, cross-cuting seas and 35 kn wind. No fun. The North Atlantic impressively made it clear that it is not a playground.

On this stretch, the issues began. First our mainsail was damaged, more precisely the rail runners on the square top sail’s carver hook broke. The mainsail could no longer be set. And then a recovery maneuver of the Code D went wrong. The sail dived into the water and the bowsprit broke. Without a bowsprit, no more Code D sailing. That left two sails out of action. The genoa and the spi remained, but the later is only sailable in moderate downwind. The generator got a salt water flush when the bow hatch opened unplanned and passed away, as did the anchor control.

Horta in the Azores

Informed of the major damages, I tried to organize the appropriate spare parts. The manufacturer of the rail runner Antal, had a delivery time of 12-16 weeks – that would have been the end of our sailing season. After a few days, and with the help of friends and contacts in St Lucia and the USA, I was able to find replacements and have them sent to Europe.

Because of the lack of spare parts, a repair in the Azores was not possible. In addition, the port was overcrowded with vessels on their way to Europe, which had to repair damage in order to get anywhere. Only the worn-through topping lift, the line to the end of the boom, could be replaced. When the VAT matter was settled in the Azores (last article), the four quickly cast off again for the last 1,200 nm.

On the way to Gibraltar, the alternator of the port engine died. This was the second one in three years. The crew did not want to install the replacement alternator on board. Despite the lack of a generator and an alternator, there was still enough power on board, thanks to plenty solar panels and big battery bank.

Trip through the Orca Territory

Just under 1,000 nm after the Azores, Dave made another unplanned stop in Portimao in Portugal. Rita had to return to her skipper job in Greece and Matt had to return home to England for a family matter. Instead of Alicante, Cartagena became the new final destination.

Dave and Clyde set off from Portimao on their way to the Mediterranean, right through the Orca hotspot. Three yachts have sunk this season after Orca attacks and many vessels have been damaged. We saw some with nasty marks. The region is something of a nightmare stretch for sailors right now. The website documents how many attacks there were in June 23 alone. There are a frightening number.

On the way to Gibraltar, the Rivercafe was overtaken by the Oceanrace fleet. IMOCA and VOR65 regatta vessels were on the same course Gibraltar. Luckily for us, the visit to the Rivercafe became uninteresting. The rudders of the VOR yachts are bigger and more colourful than ours. Orcas mostly attack rudders first. But there are also attempts at ramming. Something must have seriously pissed off  the whales, because so far there’s only speculation about reason for the aggressive behaviour.

Weather in Gibraltar as Rivercafe entered the Med

As Dave and Clyde headed for Gibraltar, the weather got really bad. 40 knots on the nose and Dave reported waves, “I have never seen before”. Ka and I tracked mile after mile on the AIS tracker as we headed into the Mediterranean. The next few days were going to be even worse, so the two of them had to get through it. After exactly one month and 4,200 nm at sea, Dave and Clive arrived at the marina in Cartagena early Sunday morning and moored the Rivercafe.


The two were already on their way home when our plane landed and we boarded in the evening. It was tragic to get on our woebegone vessel. The Rivercafe was in a needy condition. We found salt in places where I’m sure there had never been any seawater. After countless washdowns, scrubbing, cleaning and removing stuff, it took three days to get the Rivercafe back to our expectations. At the same time, 6 expensive major problems and 8 minor things had to be repaired. The spare parts alone made the credit card glow. The transfer became much more expensive than we had feared because of the many damages.

Fortunately, the spare parts organized from the other side of the Atlantic had all arrived and we found competent technicians. Especially Fernando from Mistral Riggers solved our rigging problems. A big recommendation for all those who have rigging problems in southern Spain.

After three days of hard work, we had the certainty that our sailing season was saved. Now it was getting better and Ka and I had time to visit downtown Cartagena.

Miraculous reunions

No sooner had we put the scrubbing brushes away than the wonders took their course.

During the day, Ka looked through photos from our last visit to Cartagena 7 years ago. In the evening, on the way into town, I was surprised when Ka simply approached an elderly gentleman (Don Corleone type). She told the delighted man that we had eaten in his restaurant 7 years ago and she had a nice photo of him. This was exactly the photo she had seen during the day. Funny to have such a facial memory. Anyway, we ate at Columbo that night too.

Happy circumnavigators Nina and Eirik with us

The next wonder was our reunion with our Norwegian sailing friends Nina and Eirik with their Emelin. We last saw the two of them two years ago in Grenada. The Emelin turned left through the Panama Canal, we turned right across the Atlantic. And here in Cartagena we meet them again, after they had a successful circumnavigation. What an accomplishment. Now they are on their way back to Norway. A good occasion to celebrate the reunion and life.

On Sunday, we set off to circumnavigate Spain’s south, on our way to our old love Valencia. Unbelievable that after 5 years we will come back with another vessel. But so much is so unbelievable. /Holger Binz


P.S. technical information for the subscribers

For some time now, notifications of new posts no longer arrive at some Gmail users. We then receive the message of undeliverability. The problem is exclusive to Gmail. Sorry, but we have no influence on it.

2 thoughts on “Doldrums, storms and nasty surprises”

  1. Der Bericht liest sich wie ein Krimi. Immerhin mit gutem Ende. Ich bin sehr froh, dass Ihr zwei diese Überquerung nicht selbst unternommen habt. Die Schäden an der Rivercafe lassen sich reparieren, aber es hätte alles noch schlimmer ausgehen können.
    Willkommen in Europa! Ich wünsche Euch eine angenehme Segeltour um Spaniens Mittelmeerküste.

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