Skipper’s Blog, Thursday 18 April

Jan adjusting sails in light winds 18 April

Svalen crew Jan Olssen adjusting sails in light winds


Skipper’s Blog

What do you do all day on the boat? This is a FAQ from non-ocean-sailors, and it is reasonable to ask it! I asked it of myself before starting on long voyages. Well, now I have the answer. But first a little preamble.

Now we are on a circular route from French Guyana in South America to the Azores. French Guyana is at about 5 degrees north of the equator, and the Azores is about 32 degrees north. The straight line distance (ignoring the complexities of chart projections) is about 2400 nautical miles, but the distance we have to sail is about 3000 nautical miles. This is because the winds are from the NE to start with and until about 25 degrees north of the equator. Then we reach the ‘variables’, so feared by sailors in the old days, before picking up the usual westerlies of the north Atlantic. Those that bring depressions to the UK.

We do an average of about 5 or 6 nautical miles an hour, which means that each day we cover about 120nm. This in turn means that the sail will take us about 24 days and nights non-stop. It is a lot of time to be “sitting on a boat”! So what IS the answer to my starting question?

First of all, we find we need between 6 and 8 hours sleep, and we are two persons on board. We divide the days and night into four hour segments called “watches”, and one of us is on deck in the cockpit during his or her watch, looking after the sails, steering etc.  They may also be multitasking. The first watch after or around dawn starts at 0600. A cup of tea must be brewed. Then if everything is ok on the sailing/ steering front, the last watch person goes to get more sleep until breakfast, while first watch downloads the latest GRIB files (weather files) and weather forecasts and routeing advice from PredictWind. This comes via SSB Radio or the Iridium GO Satellite box.  The files can be large on a passage like this, so it takes quite a lot of time, and several new connections, before this is finished, After that, the forecasts etc have to be examined and compared, and decisions taken about the route for the next few days in the light of wind and wave strength and direction, and gut instincts.

Both crew are now normally on deck and it is breakfast time. We like fruit and muesli, with coffee, and if we have some fresh bread (see below), some of that with marmalade and honey as well. In other words a good breakfast to set us up for the day, and usually with chat about our performance and plans.

Then it’s time to check emails and reply or send, perhaps to sources of spare parts, or to the next harbour, or to the blog, etc.

The rest of the morning is taken up by a range of work items, such as baking bread, washing clothes and dish cloths or towels, repairs, engine checks, charging batteries with the generator if they are low, making water if needed, and adjusting sails.

But you will ask, who is steering the boat while all this is going on? Well it’s “George” our favourite member of crew who does not eat or drink, use electricity or diesel, or cost anything after coming on board. George is a WindPilot wind vane steering device on the stern of the boat that, when correctly set, keeps the boat pointing at the correct angle to the wind for the course we are following. He is great, because he allows us to get on with all the other things day and night, sea mile after sea mile, and is usually reliable, at least if we have wind!

I have not yet mentioned cooking, except for baking bread, and assembling breakfast. We take cooking of the main evening meal very seriously, and try to make sure it is both varied and nutritious. We do not like pre-prepared food of any kind, although we do sometimes resort to packets and cans. On this trip the fridge and freezer are out of action for reasons we cannot fathom, and cannot fix until we get to the Azores. So some of our fresh food has not lasted well, and even had to be fed to the fishes. It makes it all more challenging. Staples are lentils, rice, pasta, dried meat, dried fish, tinned tomatoes, and onions and garlic which last quite well.

On this trip we have also been doing a little sewing – the Kapok filled cushions began to leak because of wear and tear. On other trips we have had sail repairs to do, which also means sewing.

Not to mention fishing, but so far most of the fish caught on the boat are flying fish, which really do fly, if close to the waves. They catch themselves by landing on the deck at night, and are unable to get off again. Sometimes we see birds catch them in mid air, or failing to catch them. This morning Jan saw a Tuna fish catch one by flying right out of the water and snatching it in mid flight. What a shock!

And, by the way, everything takes at least twice or three times as long on a small sailing boat because it is usually at an angle and jumping up and down, which means that you are often one handed, or tied on, which restricts maneuverability.

And so the day goes in, and we are usually tired when we turn in for our 4 hour spell of sleep.  Too tired to read! Jan brought a guitar thinking he would start playing again, but he has only had it out twice. In the end, being self-sufficient in food, water, energy, transport, etc for about a month is hard work! But also fun! And you lose weight!

Skipper John. Thursday 18 April 2019

1100 nm from Kourou

Sunrise 20 North

Sunrise, 20 degrees North

Skipper’s blog, Wed

It is now Wednesday morning one week after leaving Kourou. The weather is a bit fresher, especially at night when we have jackets and jeans etc now. The sun is still hot during the day, though, and we still have flying fish landing on deck. the wind changed a couple of times in the night, creating havoc with sails and wind steering, but we fixed it. Now we are heading north east, more directly towards Azores, which is still 1900 nm ahead.
Still, we sailed 1100 nm in the first 7 days.
Today I must bake bread!


Fortaleza – Cayenne in pictures


Photos by Killian, who joined the crew in Fortaleza.  Half Moroccan, half French, Killian cycled from Morocco to south africa, got in a sailing boat from Cape Town to Salvador Bahia where we met. Cycled up country Bahia and joined our crew in Fortaleza. Now cycling, doing puppet shows with his hand made puppets and looking for work in the jungle in French Guyana! Amazing story! And photos! His website is

Skipper’s update, Sunday 14 April

Jan Olsson

Jan Ollson , crew from Korou to Azores

Skipper’s update, Sunday.  It has been quite tough sailing. we are sailing into the waves and wind, so  beating north, while keeping as far east as the winds permit. Later when we get the Azores High the winds will change and we can go along the north edge of the High to the Azores, we hope. But the route is a big curve, so it will take us longer than we hoped.
We also lost the fridge and the freezer, so fresh stuff is a challenge. we thought the guy would fix it in Kourou, but in fact he made things worse. Still we have lots of beans, peas, rice, pasta, etc, and also dried and tinned meat and fish. Also some tinned Ratatouille from Fr Guyane!  So we should be ok as long as it does not take too long!

Further update, Tuesday 16th: We are sailing faster now thank goodness! Will reach 18 degrees North today and keep going North until the wind shifts to W, NW or N. Its about 20ktd, and we have three sails up. A bit lumpy, so hard to cook etc, but we get our sleep. The wind vane steering has been on all the time so we do not need to steer.

Last Day in Kourou



It’s sometimes very frustrating on a boat!

It was fine to clear out this morning at 0800 from the customs office near the road bridge.

Our fridge man also came as promised and fitted the electronic controller that Janne brought with him from Sweden, However, the compressor is still not functioning correctly at lunchtime.

We still have to service the generator, because it will reach 150 hours after the last service when we are on the ocean, and it is hard to do the service when the boat is moving about so much.

And when we know if we have a freezer or not we have to do some last minute fresh food shopping and bring the bike on board. Killian also must disembark in the early evening.

Killian will stay with Isabelle, a French teacher he met. Isabelle came for a vegetarian meal with us last night and filled us in on the local social and economic issues, which are not too promising.. We ate Baba Gounosh (made with BBQ’d Aubergines) on home made flat bread, followed with Tabbouleh, and then lemon biscuits that Isabelle brought. Some Bordeaux wine was quaffed alongside!

Update – Mahuri River , French Amazonia

After the fast sail from Brazil, we are now in the Mahuri river tied alongside on a pontoon at Marina Degrad des Cannes, S of Cayenne, which is a small town on the coast. The river is part of French Amazonia, and flows swiftly. It is a muddy colour, as in this entire watershed. We have two nice French couples with young children as neighbours, one of the couples being friends of Valerie and Francois on Cybele, whom they met last year in Tromso.

Skipper, 20 March

Hello to French Guyana

We had another great 24 hours sailing, and are now on the approach to the marked channel into the Mahuri river near Cayenne, the main town in French Guyana. We will clear into the EU/EEA here before proceeding to the island and then the Kouru river where we will try to tie up at the pontoon belonging to the Space rocket launcher for Ariandne rockets.
Just a couple of hours over 6 days to sail 1000 miles, which is not bad. I will report on average speeds etc once we are settled.
The fridge/Freezer needs attention again here, as does the electrical system, We have had a few problems starting the generator. Luckily we have a couple of weeks..
Skipper, 18 March


Skippers Blog

14 March

Yesterday was a terrible day! The wettest since leaving Stockholm on May 12th last year, and with light and cyclonic winds very had to sail with. We had to resort to the engine for nearly 14 hours, and try to stay under cover. Everything was getting wet or at least damp, and we had nowhere to dry things. So we were very happy when this admittedly short experience of the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) ended after dinner last night, the wind picked up from the NE and we got sailing at 7,5 to 8,5 knots again under Genoa and mainsail. The rain stopped, and some stars even appeared.
On the positive side, we are a good team, get the sleep that we need, still have lots of lovely tropical fruit, and also ample food supplies to keep us going.  Also good cooks on board. We bake our own bread, make our own kefir, and at 6am enjoy a very fruity breakfast with muesli and oats, kefir and coffee. Often we have a later second breakfast (a habit picked up in rural Catalunya) with bread, cheese, marmalade and honey. Last night we had some Okra (Jumbo) with Garlic, Olive Oil and Pomegranate molasses, together with the remains of some pork and rice.
Tonight we are a Vol Du Nuit, flying along with the help of the stars, and once again in our comfort zone! We don’t like heavy rain, even if it means free showers! Crew member Killian, who has cycled from Morocco to Namibia, also talked about the desert skies at night. Saint Exupery who wrote Vol du Nuit about the early days of commercial flight from France (he also wrote Le Petit Prince) also used the stars and a sextant to navigate.
We are lazy. Yes we have learned to take sights of stars, planets, moon and sun using a sextant, and have tried to do so. Generally we get a position a few miles away from what the more accurate GPS gives us with much less mental effort. So yes we get lazy, and rely on the GPS too much. We need to keep the skills, because one day, maybe, the authorities controlling the satellites that give us GPS may decide to switch them off!

Skippers Blog:  Leaving Fortaleza, Brazil, for the 1000nm sail to Cayenne, French Guyana.

Skippers Blog:  Leaving Fortaleza, Brazil, for the 1000nm sail to Cayenne, French Guyana.

On 11th March my new crew arrived, Thomas Thiis, and Killian Dadi. Jan Linquist disembarked on the morning of 12th March. Thanks to Jan for coming to do the duo-sail from Salvador to Fortaleza.
We (the new crew and I) had to visit the three offices in order to clear out of Brazil and from the state of Mucuripé – federal police and immigration (passports to be stamped), federal fiscal office (temporary importation of boat signed off) and the Port Captain. Then a bit of last minute shopping before returning on board to enjoy a welcome/ farewell supper for crew change.
We had an engine problem to fix before leaving Fortaleza, because when we arrived, the engine would not stop, and we had to starve it for air to get it to stop.  This was a new one for me. We then discovered that the control panel for the engine was completely dead, and an engineer came on board in the early morning of 12th March to fix it. In the end – and as so often in the case of diesel engines – it was something simple, namely the large cable with all the wires from the engine to the control panel had become disconnected. We think it was when Jan and I were fixing the sound proofing for the generator set; the cable joint was in a black box, and so we did not notice. All was well in time for us to leave about 10am with the outgoing tide.
Since leaving we have had some tropical downpours and squalls, but mostly good NE winds, and a current taking us towards French Guyana (about 335 degrees magnetic). So in the first 24 hours we made a very respectable 140 nautical miles towards our destination, passing many fishing boats, tankers, cargo ships and oil rigs on the way. We enjoyed a mostly starry sky with a small moon.
The crew seems happy, and with three of us we can get better sleep.
We have allowed 10 days to get to Cayenne, but at the present speed it could be 7 or 8 days. No doubt we will experience several changes in weather. Now we are about 2 degrees or 120 nm south of the Equator, and 40 degrees west of Greenwich. We should cross the equator tomorrow, and will need to make offerings to Neptune to ensure a safe onward passage!

Life on board Svalen

8 March 2019


We created a couple of videos that hopefully are entertaining and gives some insights of what life is like onboard Svalen.  It was tougher  to sail with the same waves during the night. During daylight you at least see the waves.  WARNING: You may get sea sick from watching the videos!

Summary of trip between Salvador and Cabadero

Cooking on svalen

Greetings from,
captain John and crew member Jan (Sweden)