• iainmacneil

Week 23 - Almost There.......

The penultimate week - A Tale of Two Routes

Southbound versus Northbound

The last week has been dominated by the difference between our run northwards back to Lanzarote and the stark contrast to our route south in December 2021.

In the two screenshots above, the line that is ramrod straight (the thicker line) is our current track heading on a NNW course. The erratic red line is the track recording from when we came southbound out of Lanzarote to Saint Helena, showing the course adjustments we had to make to find a more comfortable heading when we were head on into the seas and the NW Tradewinds. The yellow dots mark our position at Noon each day (on both North and South), so you can also see the significant difference in speed between the two journeys

A few last minute pics from Tue 03 May at anchor (which was after we went to press last week). We were treated to the most fabulous sunset and Mikey caught a 2.5kg (5lb) skipjack!


Wed 04 May (Day 154)

These are pictures of our approach into Saint Helena, where we turned to port in photos 2 and 3, before coming astern and berthing where the Harbour master and dock workers were stood.

We berthed alongside at 06:42 and fuelling began at 07:18. We were fuelled by 3 x 5,500 Litre island size mini road tankers, that all completed two runs back to the fuel storage depot, to deliver us 33,000 litres of diesel. With 3 trucks shuttling back and forth, we were concurrently filling both the deck tanks and the internal tanks and finished fuelling at 10:18, just 3 hours!.

This speed almost caught us out with the storing as we had received our stores, but a quick tally from Mikey and Dan revealed that we had not received our potatoes. However, when Iain asked them both if we really needed potatoes he saw their faces drop...so we said we would stay alongside and wait for sum. A quick call to the agent on the satellite phone and potatoes were located and sent over from the town. (This wee ship definitely runs on its collective stomachs........Ed) At 11:24 we unberthed and our Watch Officer, Carlos, took us out of the harbour, bringing Astra off the quay using her 135HP hydraulic bow thruster. When she was about 30° off the quay he engaged the main engine and proceeded out from Rupert’s Jetty in Saint Helena. Once clear of the breakwater, he started building up to sea speed for our final 11 day run north to Lanzarote. (Well done Carlos.......Ed)


With a delay of 1hr 06mins I must remember to speak to Andrew Weir Shipmanagement about raising a demurrage claim for the potato delay 😉.........I am really sure our DPA would love to get back into the heady world of demurrage claims (errrrr.......No..........Ed) : (Demurrage [Definition]: “a charge payable to the owner of a chartered ship on failure to load or discharge the ship within the time agreed”)

It seemed very fitting to be back in Saint Helena as our last stop and the locals could not have been more helpful, yet again showing the resilience of islanders and doing whatever is necessary to swiftly get the job done.


(Editor's Note.....Ok folks, it is beyond my skills to alert you to all of the ship nerd stuff cunningly hidden within the following 2 days. The creatives among you may wish to jump to Day 157. You are warned!!!!.... )


Thu 05 May (Day 155)

On our first day heading north at full speed we kept a close eye on the main engine cooling water temperature. We are going to run through the waters at the equator at full speed, but the initial rise in readings that we noticed were all down to the local temperature in the engine room, which Paul improved by some ventilation modifications. We are running the Main Engine at 940 RPM and so had to remove the coupling from the ‘get me home engine’ to the main shaft, as it's not designed for these high RPMs.

One redundancy feature we have not talked about previously is redundancy to the main engine.

The green coloured engine in the photos is a Volvo Penta MD 120. This Volvo engine is one of our three sources of generated electrical power onboard (the other two being an Onan Generator and a shaft generator). The Volvo is linked to a Mecc Alte Spa generator, which generates 46 kVA of electricity at 230/400 V. In the event of failure of the main engine, this Volvo engine is fitted with a hydraulic power take off that can be directly coupled to the propeller shaft. This will provide propulsion power at 5 knots in a ‘get me home’ mode, while also providing hydraulic power and meeting the electrical needs of the vessel. This engine has been pretty much cocooned and safeguarded for the whole voyage, always ready in case it had ever been needed, particularly in mid-ocean.

The ‘get me home’ drive was engaged and tested off of Lanzarote in July 2021 and delivered 4.5 knots of speed over a two hour test, with all temperatures and readings reading normal.

(So, when folks have asked me 'that' question over the last 6 months, and I shrugged and said I was not concerned, now you all understand why.......this was an essential part of the 'must have' spec from Iain Macneil, the ultimate belt and bracer.....and not excessive nonchalance on my part!.........Ed)

Fri 06 May (Day 156)

Over the next five days, we transferred all of the 17,500 litres of fuel that we are carrying on the deck into the main internal fuel storage tanks. This is the shortest period that we have ever transferred the deck fuel within and the five days was determined by the fuel consumption rate. We also wanted to ensure that our decks were clear, before we meet the head on winds and seas off Dakar.

The fuel transfer is managed in 5 stages to keep a balanced weight distribution, while ensuring that we do not list to port or starboard and that we do not adversely affect our trim. All of this is pre-calculated through the ship stability computer, to ensure we have sufficient stability to maintain our seaworthiness and stability values, of which Astra has ample (GM> 1.0 metre for the mariners out there).

Stage 1: 4,500 Litres transferred from aft to the Port and Starboard Wing tanks

Stage 2: 3,000 Litres transferred from fwd to the Port and Starboard Wing tanks

Stage 3: 3,000 Litres transferred from aft to the Port and Starboard Wing tanks

Stage 4: 4,000 Litres transferred from fwd to the Port and Starboard Wing tanks

Stage 5: 3,000 Litres transferred from aft to the Port and Starboard Wing tanks.


Once the fuel is transferred into our Port and Starboard wing tanks (the wing tanks are 6,000 Litres capacity each), it is transferred automatically to the ‘Day Tank’. The day tank has a capacity of 2,000 litres and when it drops to a level of 1,200 litres it automatically takes fuel from the selected wing tank and polishes it (either via a centrifuge or filters) before it enters the day tank. From there the fuel passes through a series of filters, fuel flow monitors and main engine fuel filters before being consumed in the engine.


The day tank is our most precious tank onboard and while fuel oil might come onboard with foreign objects, such as the globules of oil from South America, our engineers work to ensure that no foreign bodies or water ever make their way to the day tank, where there is a risk of getting to the main engine.

By Friday evening, we were 600 miles from the equator and it was getting much hotter and very muggy. At this stage the duvet covers were dispensed with again and we are now sleeping with a light sheet.

Across the coming days when the temperature exceeds 35°C (95°F) in the shade, during the hottest part of the day we run up the Volvo for its additional electrical power generating capacity, allowing us to run 2 x air conditioning plants. We already know that the volume of water through this aft sea-chest inlet is under some strain and so a small ¼ cup scoop will be fitted on the outer hull to encourage further water flow through this sea-chest when Astra gets back to the shipyard. However, we also suspect that a few mussels may have found their way in there during our circumnavigation, but we won’t know for sure until we can open it up in the yard.


Sat 07 May (Day 157)

As Iain finishes his watch at 08:00, he follows a normal routine of 15km on the exercise bike followed by some weights. Carlos provides some guidance and takes a photo.

The photo on the left was taken 3 months ago, as we left Chile to set out across the Pacific, and the photo on the right was taken on Saturday, 9 days before the end of the trip.

It shows the extent of muscle wastage in the 5 months onboard, particularly on leg muscles. Iain was aware of this likelihood after an afternoon talking with a Dutchman in Lanzarote who completed the Vendee Globe. On his return to Vendee and as he disembarked, the race appointed Doctor completed a medical examination on him and asked what he was planning on doing next, to which he responded “ohh, I’ll stay in Vendee for a few days and normally the family goes skiing at this time of year, so we’ll probably go skiing next week”. On hearing this the Doctor told him “if you go skiing next week, you will probably break both your legs, as you will so have little muscle left”. So, Iain had some sense of what to expect and reminded Carlos to take it easy when he went back to Lanzarote in early April. Even so, Carlos was caught out while surfing when he went out on his board and found he was completely exhausted, having to come back in on the current rather than under his own steam.

Last week Dan went for a swim off Saint Helena, jumping in off the poop deck. After a quick hull inspection, Mikey kicked a football for Dan to retrieve. After not having put his leg muscles to work in quite a long time, Dan was visibly drained when he came back onboard. As Iain, Carlos, Mikey & Dan have been onboard the longest, they will likely disembark looking like Pixar’s ‘The Birds’, with skinny legs like knotted string..! (ooooh, such a mental image for us to look forward to.......Ed)


Sun 08 May (Day 158)

At 14:15 hrs we crossed the equator as we headed North. It turned out that it was Dan’s first crossing of the equator at sea and, surprise surprise, King Neptune once again made a visit to join in the celebrations. (Getting a bit worried by the propensity to don a purple dress and wig at any opportunity....but that trident is distinctly more impressive.......Ed)

While we are not entering the Gulf of Guinea, this timely Nav Warning reminded us of how ambitious the pirates are in the waters off Africa today. We are staying a substantial distance off the coasts of Liberia and Sierra Leone and with the larger Atlantic swells our risks are lower.



However, Sunday morning started with us testing the water cannon, switching off the vessel transponder beacon and navigation lights and lights will all be dimmed and ports and deadlights all secured at night . We will be running ‘dark’ until we reach Dakar.

While running dark, Mikey came across a tanker that was in ballast and drifting at 00:30hrs. When it spotted us coming over the horizon at 11 knots it decided it was no longer ‘Not Under Command’, started up its engines pronto and moved directly away from us and further out to sea at 7 knots. We scared em!! Arrrrrrr!

Mon 09 May (Day 159)


Today, in the equatorial currents, we recorded our fastest day so far, with a distance of 272 miles in 24 hrs = 11.34 knots. As we reached the doldrums, we spent one day of completely calm conditions, before encountering squalls with winds gusting >40 knots.


On a brighter note, all that fresh water has given us a much needed washdown.

Tue 10 May (Day 160)

We are approaching Dakar and the main question that seems to be coming into us is whether we are getting “the channels?”. The channels is a phrase that seafarers used to describe the last few days of a trip. The channel originally referred to was The English Channel and it comes from a period when most British Seafarers would take ship's leave in London While sailing up the English Channel, their excitement was palpable.

Iain vividly remembers his first trip to sea when, after several months in West Africa, the ship returned to the port of Tilbury, near London. He recalls sailing up the English Channel and being able to listen to British FM Radio and watch the BBC on the ship’s TV. It seemed a rare treat 35 years ago..!


ETA Puerto Calero, Lanzarote...16th May, approx Mid Day.. Be there or Be Square!


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