Sunday, 16 July 2017

Passage Log – Praia da Vitoria, Azores to Falmouth (and Fowye and Yealm and Plymouth) UK

Thursday 29th June

Isaac had arrived on Sunday evening and given the need to provision the boat and undertake a couple of final jobs – rigging a fourth reefing pennant being the main one, the earliest we would have been ready to depart was Tuesday. However, there was a high-pressure system north west of the island moving slowly east and the winds were therefore forecast to by variable/light northerlies and if we left on Tuesday we would most probably end up being stuck in calms for a protracted period. I therefore decided to postpone our departure until Wednesday but as it turned out we weren’t ready until late afternoon and still had our fresh produce to buy. With high pressure still dominant, the invitation to dine on board Bengt was therefore the deciding factor in postponing our departure a further day!

A check of the weather on Thursday morning confirmed that the high-pressure system was still tracking slowly eastwards and that we would therefore have to head north for perhaps the first two days to get around it and pick up the westerly winds to the north of it. The problem this presented though was the amount of motoring and therefore fuel that would be required. Up to now I had carried enough fuel for about 30 hours of motoring vat around 3.5 – 4 knots. We really had to keep half of that in reserve for making port on arrival and for charging the batteries when there was insufficient sun for the solar panels to charge them. Limited suitable stowage space is the reason we carry only 15 litres of reserve fuel but with a bit of re-organisation I reckoned we could fit in another 20 litres and so I had bought a 20-litre jerry can at Praia and therefore we now carried 35 litres in addition to the main tank. That should enable us to motor for 24 hours and still have enough fuel for a further 24 hours motoring without draining the tank. This was still probably not enough to get us through the high-pressure area but it would significantly reduce the amount of time we were forced to wait for the high pressure to pass us by.

After shopping for our fresh fruit and vegetables in the morning we said our goodbyes to Wim and Elizabeth who are going to over winter in Praia da Vitoria before heading south next summer for Patagonia, we cast off our mooring lines at 1400 and headed out of the marina. Once in the outer harbour we stowed our lines and fenders, hoisted the mainsail and headed out to sea. For the first few hours we tried to make use of the light northerly breeze and motor-sailed north west around the coast of the island at around 4k. At around 1700 I decided we were getting such little assistance from the wind that we may as well dispense with the sails and motor due north directly into the little wind remaining.

As the sun began to set Isaac spotted a whale blowing about a mile off to port. It looked like puffs of smoke. Unfortunately, it was too far off for us to see anything other than the blow. It was a large blow though and therefore quite probably a Blue Whale which are relatively common in the Azores.
I cooked our first dinner at sea; meatballs in a chilli tomato sauce with boiled potatoes. Unfortunately, Isaac was feeling the effects of the boat’s motion and had to retreat rapidly to the cockpit to throw up. After that however he was able to eat his dinner and stand the first watch as we continued to motor slowly northwards in search of the westerly winds north of the high pressure.

Friday 30th June

I came on Watch at 0230. Isaac had misunderstood my intentions with respect to the Watch system – I had said we would run 4 hour watches starting at 2130 and he should therefore call me at 0130. Because I had emerged at 0100 for a spell and then gone back to my bunk he thought I intended that he stand the next 4 hours too! He therefore didn’t call me at 0130 and I slept through until 0230 before checking the time. The poor chap therefore stood a five-hour watch on his first ocean passage!
Once in the cockpit I noticed that whilst the wind was still very light it had veered to the NE and we therefore able to motor-sail once more on a northerly heading at around 4 knots with a slightly reduced engine speed and therefore hopefully use slightly less fuel. By 0530 however the wind had died completely and we were motoring through a glassy sea in reduced visibility.

We changed the Watch at 0630 – Isaac volunteered – and I got my head down for another couple of hours. At 0900 I got up and we re-filled the stern gland greaser and the diesel tank. We had used a about 22 Litres in the preceding 19 hours. At a push we could therefore motor for another 14 hours which would use up the rest of the reserve diesel stock and leave us with a full tank – about 55 litres – not that we could use all of that before encountering problems with the fuel supply. Say another 30 hours in practice. We’ll need that for emergency battery charging and getting into port. 

Our noon position was 120 miles north of Terceira.

Well we continued motoring until 2130 when a very light breeze from the NE developed and we set the genoa and sailed VERY slowly northwards or thereabouts. That had been the longest continuous period of motoring I had undertaken on Arctic Smoke and I was both relieved to be able to turn the engine off and that the trusty little Buhk had continued to run for so long – 30.5 hours - without missing a beat. With the Buhk now having a well-earned rest, we sailed more or less northwards at the giddy speed of 2-3 knots. Apart from the lack of wind the day had been very pleasant with warm sunshine throughout. It remained T-Shirt weather right up until sunset at around 2145.
Isaac cooked dinner – a tasty meat Chilli sauce served with boiled potatoes and red cabbage. Earlier we had finished off the excellent pineapple I had bought in the Supermarket in Horta and one of the delicious peaches from the market in Praia da Vitoria.

Shortly after sunset and at the beginning of his Watch, Isaac heard a whale blowing and we were just about able to make out a large dark shape breaching the surface of the water a few hundred metres of our starboard beam. The rather spooky encounter was to distant and brief to identify the type of whale or even its direction of travel. Earlier we had seen Dolphins a couple of hundred metres off. They showed no interest in us and we probably engaged in the more serious business of looking for their dinner.

Saturday 1st July

I came on watch at 0130 at which point the feeble breeze decided to become even more so and as I write this we are ghosting along at between 1-2 knots with our course over the ground (COG) between North and 30ᵒ. I’m puzzled and a bit concerned by the North-East wind. I had hoped we would have picked up the westerly winds that should be blowing to the north of the high-pressure area. Light North Easterly winds suggest that despite our 30 hours of northward progress under power, we are on the eastern rather than the northern edge of the high pressure and may therefore not pick up the westerlies for some considerable time to come. We cannot afford to use any more fuel to look for wind and will therefore just have to sit it out. I’m hoping to rendezvous with my son Stephen on the 12th of July in the Scillies or Falmouth but unless we get out of this high pressure soon that will not happen. He has managed to get a few days off his busy job as a junior hospital Doctor and we were hoping to get a few days sailing together. I had also expected to have received a weather update/advice message from Chris Marchant (a previous owner of Arctic Smoke) via the Yellow brick but nothing has arrived. I’m beginning to think that he has changed his email address I have registered on the Yellowbrick system since he last sent me a message. I have therefore sent a message to Mick asking him for an update. However, even he is unlikely to be awake at 0300 and so I will have to wait for further weather information.

By 0400 the light wind had veered towards south pushing us Eastwards on the beam reach set on Angus and I therefore set the genoa on the pole to starboard and set Angus to sail us on a very broad reach on the starboard tack. With the wind now over the starboard quarter we have a COG of 0-25ᵒ and are making 1-5 to 2 knots. The wind shift is hopefully indicative of progress across the high pressure and hopefully we will pick up stronger more westerly winds within the next few hours.
Early during Isaac’s morning Watch he heard a whale blowing and called me. Soon we heard him again and briefly spotted his back break the surface a few hundred metres off the Starboard quarter. We spotted no more of him during the next few minutes and so I returned to my bunk. I learnt later however that the whale had followed us for the next couple of hours during which Isaac heard him blowing from astern but did not see him. Quite a spooky experience. Isaac also noticed Dolphins cavorting in the distance and saw one perform the trick of scooting around on his tail.

The very light winds continued until 1300 when the breeze increased from the South and at last we were sailing properly albeit only at 3 knots. After a spell without the pole I boomed out the genoa again and we continued northwards in search of the westerly wind. Something had clearly gone amiss with my arrangement with Chris to provide weather updates because I heard nothing from him. However, in response to a message to Mick over the Yellowbrick he confirmed that we should encounter south westerly winds sometime on Sunday and should continue to head northwards.
When I took our noon position and compared it with the previous day we had only travelled a meagre 40 nautical miles further north. Probably Arctic Smoke’s worst day’s run of the entire cruise and that had been with the engine on for nine and half hours of the 24!

Later in the afternoon we spotted a group of Turtles pass us by in the opposite direction but they were too far off to get a decent photograph. We also saw a semi submerged oil drum only 20 or so metres away and were thankful we had not run into it. Then our most exciting experience of the passage so far; Isaac saw him first – a large whale breaching to starboard. After a few minutes, we saw him breach once more. Isaac had seen his underside and his flippers on the first occasion; this time we just saw his underside as he came up. His belly seemed grey/white and the shape seemed to be fairly slim and of uniform cylindrical appearance. After studying my whale book it seemed that he conformed most to the description of the Fin Whale – the second largest animal after the Blue Whale - on the planet. Alas we saw no more of him after that however.

It was my turn to cook once again and I served up beefburgers with fried onions and boiled potatoes and the last of the red cabbage. For desert, we had a small melon but it was not quite fully ripe and therefore not at its best.

We had continued sailing northwards at around 3 knots the whole afternoon and were still doing so when I went off Watch at 0930. The day had been sunny and warm once again, right up until sunset at 2125. We’re still on Azores time and will have to change to UK time at some point in the future. Isaac only reported the encounter the following day; we were again followed by a whale for a few minutes. He didn’t see it, but just heard it blowing behind us. Apart from it being dark, he confessed that he was in any case too scared to look behind us.

Sunday July 2nd 2017

By the time I came on Watch at 0130 the wind had eased and we were back down to speeds of around 2 knots and were still heading northwards. Isaac reported that it had been like that for most of the Watch. I was disappointed having believed that the earlier increase in the wind from the south was a precursor to us finding the south westerly winds above the high-pressure system. There were some benefits to the high pressure however. The calm conditions had allowed us to brew proper coffee in the percolator without risking it being thrown off the stove and the days had been pleasantly sunny and warm allowing me to spend most of the time in the cockpit in shorts and T-shirts. Isaac being very fair remained dressed in long trousers and a long-sleeved shirt however. Once we encounter the westerly winds, my shorts and T-shirts may well become redundant! Apart from the few cooler/greyer days spent on Flores, I’ve not worn more than shorts and T-shirts during the days since the middle of the west bound Atlantic crossing last December. It’s going to be quite a strange experience to have to get dressed again!

This is getting quite ridiculous, Isaac had yet another close encounter with a whale this morning shortly after he took over the Watch. Once again, he heard it blowing fairly close by – this time to Port but was too scared to look! He’s had as many whale encounters in the last few days as I have had on the entire cruise!

It’s been good to spend time with Isaac. We don’t normally see much of each other with him living in Norwich and me in London and it’s given us a chance to catch up with each other’s lives and generally chew the cud. He’s settled quickly into the routine of passage life and has stood his Watches and after his initial bout of sea-sickness has been fine. Our days have been fairly quiet and uneventful apart from the occasional wild-life sitings but he seems comfortable with the slow pace of live on board and has shown a keen interest in the mysteries of the weather. Hopefully the settled conditions will have helped his body adjust and he’ll be OK once the motion becomes more lively.

I took a nap for a couple of hours after completing my Watch at 0530 shortly after dawn and just before sunrise. I surfaced again at 0900 to discover the wind had increased a little but unexpectedly had backed to the South East. We had therefore been pushed West of North on the Port tack during the last couple of hours and so I tacked the boat onto to the starboard tack to enable us to head East of North. We were now making around 4 knots, the fastest we had sailed since leaving Terceria and it was a pleasure to feel Arctic Smoke moving at a reasonable pace once again. Despite the increase in wind the sea was still remarkably flat. Indeed, since leaving Terceria we’ve had flat seas; sometimes the sea had been glassy calm too albeit that there had been a moderate swell too. Since yesterday mid-afternoon however the swell had disappeared and the sea was as flat as the Medway – indeed I have seen more swell on the Medway on occasions! I didn’t think it was possible in mid Ocean!
Our noon to noon run was 65 nautical miles – an improvement at least on the previous day. I have not started tracking our progress towards our destination yet (The Isles of Scilly or Falmouth) because we are still simply heading north in search of the Westerlies. However, we have about 952 miles between us and the Isles of Scilly.

I’m increasingly finding myself anticipating the return to home waters and how strange it will be to be to be back sailing there after two years away.  Of course, I spent one of those years back home, but Arctic Smoke left Plymouth back in April 2015 with me and Tony on board. If I’m finding the prospect of returning a strange one after a mere two years, just think how odd it will feel for the likes of Evelyn and Herve who will shortly be returning to France after 16 years away! I’ve also been fantasising about future cruises and have realised I need another life-time. It’s a strange bug I have caught – long distance cruising. I wonder how other sailors experience it? I only truly enjoy relatively short chunks of the actual sailing. When the boat is creaming along in ideal conditions on relatively flat seas under a sunny sky with Dolphins cavorting around the bow it’s truly magical. Similarly, at night under a clear star-lit sky it’s wonderful – until drowsiness overtakes me and I need to sleep. The encounters with whales – as few and often distant as they have been have been, have been very special indeed. Once I had got the boat set-up properly for the ‘big’ gale on the passage from Bermuda to Flores I even really enjoyed that. Departures and landfalls/arrivals are also genuinely enjoyable. The experience of returning to the mercy of the elements on departure is I suspect something that drives most of us to sea time and again even when the memories of difficult times are still fresh in the mind. Much of ocean sailing for me however has been more about coping with either the challenge of the conditions or the shear bloody monotony of them, or indeed both at the same time. That was the main feature of the crossing from Mindelo in the Cape Verde to Martinique. Mick and I experienced near gale force winds for the entire passage and that was a challenge. Sixteen days of extreme rolling in huge swells with breakfast lunch and dinner jumping across the cabin at frequent intervals and regular deposits of the Atlantic Ocean in the cockpit – mostly on Mick – was also quite monotonous. We both enjoyed our capability to make light of the conditions – and hopefully Mick’s classic French Chef impersonations will eventually arrive on YouTube; but I don’t think either of us enjoyed being thrown around like a couple of rage dolls in a washing machine for days on end. The mountainous swells were certainly awe inspiring and thrilling – no theme park ride can possibly compete with the majesty of the Ocean rising up behind our little craft only to send it creaming down the next slope at what felt like breakneck speed. The howl of an approaching squall in the black of night and the desperate struggle to reduce sail before it arrived got the adrenaline pumping through my veins like nothing else – but it was not enjoyable. The relief of our landfall at Fort de France, Martinique on Christmas Eve 2016 after such a thrilling/infuriating/challenging, passage was probably the most enjoyable part of the whole trip. Another very enjoyable aspect of ocean cruising is meeting the world’s most wonderful characters and sharing one’s experience with them. I’ve made many new friends along the way. Some I may never meet again but I hope to keep in contact with them and to follow their travels around the oceans.

1600 – Isaac spotted another whale off on our Port quarter. Too far away to identify however. We just saw its back and dorsal fin. Around 1900 we spotted another briefly. This has certainly been the best passage for whale spotting of the entire cruise.

Isaac cooked lunch earlier to make a change to our hitherto standard lunch of bread, salami, cheese and cucumber – pasta with tinned Tuna – very tasty and a nice change. I therefore cooked the dinner again, another spicy meatballs dish this time served with bubble and squeak.

The wind gradually increased during the afternoon but remained in the South East and so by the time Isaac started his night time Watch at 2200 we were sailing nicely under goose winged main and genoa on the Starboard tack at 4-5 knots.

July 3rd 2017

By the time, I came on Watch at 0200 the wind had increased further and we were making 5-6 knots under almost full sail with our COG averaging 30-40ᵒT. From the start, I had one reef in the genoa owing to the pole being too short to boom out the whole sail. The seas were still reasonably flat however and so we were having a comfortable ride. Isaac was able to retire to the fore-peak which still provided a comfortable berth. Weather information provided by Chris and Mick was that the wind was forecast to veer to the North West on Tuesday and we should therefore keep north of the direct line to the Scillies/Falmouth. That’s to try and ensure we don’t get embayed in Biscay later in the passage.

The rest of my Watch passed without incident but with the wind and therefore boat speed varying quite a bit. The wind direction too was quite variable and therefore sometimes I had the genoa boomed out and other times not. By the time Isaac relieved me at 0600 I was ready for my bunk again and so handed over to him with instructions to wake me at 0900 if I had not surfaced or if there was no reason to call me before then. At 0800 I was woken by Isaac calling me from the cockpit. He had the lower washboard in with his head protruding into the cabin, soaking wet and looking nervous. The wind was up and we were heading too far Eastwards. I think a short squall was passing through. He told me later he was very shocked at how quickly the wind had got up and was rather worried. I got up too reef and get the genoa off the pole but by the time I had finished the squall had passed and we were wallowing around at 3 knots and so I immediately set about shaking out the reef. The morning continued wet and grey with the wind varying from SW to W and Force 3 to 4 so sometimes we were moving along at a good speed whilst at others we were barely making 3 knots. The sun came out in the afternoon and remained out until the early evening and so we were able to re-charge the batteries in preparation for the coming night. We saw no more whales. Isaac cooked a very tasty chilli concarni with the last of our fresh meat.

The wind got up around 2030 and so I put a reef in the main (I’ve by-passed the original first reef and so one reef equals what was two) and in the genoa before handing over to Isaac and hitting the sack at 2130.

Tuesday 4th July

Isaac woke me at 0100 because we were heading too far East and so I got up shortly afterwards to make the course change. The wind was still pretty fresh and we were making 5-6+ knots. At 0230 I went below to make a hot drink and just after I had got down there was a loud crash and the cockpit was suddenly a third full of water. Fortunately, none came below and I escaped a major dousing!
At 0300 the AIS CPA alarm went off – we had a vessel about 8 miles ahead of us on a reciprocal course. I called them up on the VHF. The vessel was the AS Fabiana a cargo ship. She had us on her AIS and we passed each other about 45 minutes later, about 1.5 miles apart.

The wind held in the West ish Force 5-6 for the rest of day and we continued under reefed main and genoa sometimes close and sometimes beam reaching making 5-6 knots. The sea was quite lumpy and we took several waves in the cockpit. It not being very pleasant outside we both spent most of our time down below. A lot of snoozing took place. Breakfast was a muesli bar, lunch a bacon and egg sandwich and dinner a pre-cooked meal heated through in a saucepan.

In the afternoon I read-up on the Scilly Isles - which are by all accounts breath-takingly beautiful -where I hoped to meet my son Stephen on the 12th July. I’ve never managed to visit them. I had hoped to in 2012 during our month-long Channel cruise but the weather was against us then. Unfortunately, the Guide to the Scillies over which I had drooled in 2012, emphasised that they were not a sensible landfall rendezvous at the conclusion of a lengthy Ocean passage. The Guide stresses the need for settled conditions and day-light as pre-cursors for approaching the islands. At this juncture I’ve no way of knowing what the conditions will be like nor whether we would make a daylight landfall around the time of our as yet unknown arrival. One really needs to depart from a nearby location on the English or French coasts to be able to obtain a suitable weather/light window. I therefore sent a message to Stephen via Sharon that we would have to make Falmouth our rendezvous. Falmouth has the major advantage of being accessible in all weathers and is therefore an ideal landfall at the end of an Ocean passage. It also is blessed with every conceivable facility and service a yacht may need. Falmouth also houses part of the National Maritime Museum, home to Robin Knox-Johnson’s, Suali, in which he became the first person to circumnavigate the world non-stop and singlehanded back in XXXX? I therefore hope to be able to have enough time to visit before setting sail once again with Stephen. He only has 5 days off from his busy Junior Doctor job though, so I’ll have to make a fairly swift turn around so he can make the most of his short holiday.
The latest Weather forecast from Chris was broadly more of the same for the next three days but with the winds moderating tomorrow, Wednesday.

Wednesday 5th July

More of the same until 0430 when the wind eased considerably and so I shook the reefs out. Boat speed was down to 4-5 knots. The dawn was grey and damp. The battery voltage fell again requiring us to run the engine at 0530 for an hour. The afternoon gradually cheered up with some week sunshine making an appearance at around 1400 when the wind also backed much further West requiring the genoa to be poled out to Port. Conditions were good enough to enjoy sitting out in the Cockpit for a while and as of 1530 the solar panels had collected enough charge to replenish all but one of the negative 10 Amp hours left after running the engine for an hour earlier. The wind continued to veer and back from SSW to W, requiring gybing every few hours.

Our noon to noon run was 120 miles.

I cooked dinner – a sort of mushy & spicy corned beef hash. It was tasty enough though.
The wind continued to vary during the course of the evening and Isaac’s night Watch. We gybed once just before dinner at 2000 and then I had to get up at 2330 to Gybe back again. We passed the half way mark during the night.

Thursday 6th July

My Watch started with another gybe as the wind veered West once more. During the course of the Watch I had to adjust Angus and the sheets a few times but no further gybes were required. I had to run the engine for an hour and 20 minutes to charge the battery after the low voltage alarm went off after 22.2 Amp Hours had been consumed and we charged the batteries for an hour using the engine. The night had been cloudy and drizzly with no stars or moon and the dawn was the same minus the drizzle.

The wind gradually died during the next three hours until once again we were becalmed. After 3 hours of wallowing around going nowhere I decided use the engine for a maximum of 5 hours. We duly motored for the next 5 hours (at 3 knots in order to conserve fuel) under grey skies. Thankfully when I switched the engine off at 1500 there was just enough of a breeze from the SW to push us along at 2 knots or so. At 1545 we spotted a group of whales off to starboard. I heard their blows first and then we could just make out the dorsal fins of a few of them breaking the surface. They were probably 500 or so metres off and therefore difficult to identify. However, after consulting my whale watching book bought at the Whale Museum on Flores, we were reasonably confident we had seen a group of Sei whales; the curved dorsal fin and low round blow being the only identifying features we could make out.

At noon our run was 103 miles.

The wind picked up a little during the afternoon and varied between SSW and W and for the most part we made between 3.5 and 4.5 knots first on one tack and then the other as changes in the wind required us to gybe one way and then the other. I cooked a frankfurter sort of stir fry served with rice for dinner. It was OK apart from the tinned frankfurters which were pretty disgusting. I also had a go at making yogurt in a large insulated food container I bought in Pria da Vitoria. The problem was I was not sure whether the yogurt I had bought was a live culture or not, nor did I have a thermometer with which to measure the temperature of the milk. After 8 hours, the result was disappointing – no yogurt just a faintly yogurt smell – probably from the yogurt used as a starter. I put the lid back on and wrapped the container back up but do not expect a positive result.

There was little change in the weather over night. The winds continued to be light and broadly in the West. I had to get up once during Isaac’s Watch to gybe the boat.

Friday July 7th
During my Watch I made several adjustments to Angus to take account of the wind’s direction but without needing to gybe. The wind increased a little during the early hours and from around 0400 we were making between 4.5 and 5 knots.

I managed to eak the batteries out a little longer by turning the fridge down to its lowest (warmest) setting; the alarm did not go off until almost 6 O Clock, at which point it was necessary to run the engine again.

The yogurt almost worked! After another 8 hours we had a thick slightly yogurty milky liquid. I was worried that if we left it out in the warm for longer it would sour so we put it in the fridge but as suspected that also prevented any further development and so we’ve only got the thick liquid! Oh well I’ll have to try again when I have a thermometer and am 100% certain I’ve got a live yogurt culture.

Our noon to noon run was a disappointing 89 miles putting us 85 miles nearer to our waypoint off The Lizard.

The day was for the most part grey with occasional very hazy sunshine and occasional drizzle. The wind continued to blow from a generally westerly direction about Force 2-3 and I continued to have to gybe the boat to keep us more or less on course. We made between 3.5 and 4 knots for the most part. The weather update from Chris was for light Westerly to South Westerly winds for the remainder of the day and for Saturday increasing to 15k on Sunday. He also advised to keep north of the rhumb line. Our Waypoint was on a bearing of 065ᵒ and so I decided to aim for a COG of around 045ᵒ. As darkness fell the wind reduced further and our speed fell to 2.5 to 3 knots.

Isaac called me at 2330 when the AIS alarm went off. It was a large fishing vessel crossing our stern and in addition to its navigation lights it seemed to be displaying a single all round white light of much greater brightness.

Saturday 8th July

Progress remained very slow during the remainder of the night time and into the early hours. At 0440 the low battery alarm went off and so I started the engine and this time engaged gear as well and so we motor-sailed for an hour or so making 3.5 – 4 knots. After that we spent most of the day becalmed with periods of very slow sailing mostly northwards. We spotted a large whale to port at 1645.
At 1900 whilst sailing slowly north we had an AIS contact to the West heading East. It was Sunrise a drilling vessel en route to Flushing. We lost all wind while they past us and lay becalmed. I contacted them on the VHF to ensure they were aware of us and a little later they enquired whether we were OK – they seemed quite concerned about us. I reassured them we were fine and just needed some wind. I then asked for a Forecast. Strangely, all he said was that it was not good and would remain the same over night and tomorrow. I thanked him anyway and with further urging for us to stay safe they were on their way. Thunder and lightning remained around for a few hours during the evening but was never directly overhead. We did though experience prolonged periods of heavy rain.
After our encounter with Sunrise we had dinner – a tinned mince sauce livened up with onions and garlic and cabbage with rice. Shortly after the breeze returned from the NNE and we sailed very close hauled and therefore very slowly Eastwards on the port tack.

Sunday 9th July

The low battery alarm went off at 0300 and so I ran the engine for an hour and a half. The wind had also backed a little further Westwards by that time and so I was able to sail off the wind a little enabling us to pick up speed to around 5k. Our COG was around 75/80ᵒ whereas our WP at the Lizard is at 65ᵒ but based on Chris’s last weather update the wind should back further west during the day.

The northerly wind has a distinct chill to it but for the first time in a few days the dawn has brought some genuine brightness with it and it looks like we should see the sun today!
The wind did indeed back further West and as the day unfolded I was able to ease the sheets and by midday we were making 5-6+ knots on a close to a beam reach sailing very well indeed.
Our noon to noon run was therefore not quite the disaster it once seemed likely to be. We covered 83 miles – some of them backwards and so only got 68 miles nearer to our Waypoint south of The Lizard. The good wind continued throughout the day and into the night and the evening forecast from Chris was for more of the same for the next two days, Monday and Tuesday before veering to the North and easing during Wednesday. If the forecast holds we stand a reasonable chance of making Falmouth on Wednesday. The pilotage challenge we face is that with the prospect of having to deal with northerly winds later we need to keep north of our desired track to avoid having to beat against the north wind; however, the traffic separation zones around the Isles of Scilly are in effect obstacles in our way which we need to avoid. We will therefore have to go further south than would otherwise be desirable and may still be faced with a beat to windward to make Falmouth. The race is therefore on to get close to Falmouth before we have to face the North wind.

Monday 10th July

At 0430 I attempted to start the engine to charge the batteries – the alarm had not yet gone off but would soon – only to find that there was not enough oomph in the engine battery to turn the engine over. Only yesterday I had been extolling the virtues of the battery to Isaac. I had installed it with his help back in 2012 and then it was not new. I found it odd that it started to expire now given it was getting a regular charge every day. I resorted to using the decompression leaver to get the engine turning over fast enough to start it. For the first time on the entire cruise the engine was also a bit reluctant to start but did run fine once it was going. There is perhaps something not quite right however. Perhaps the Buhk hasn’t got used to the cold weather! All I can do for now is to keep my fingers crossed that it behaves enough to get us to Falmouth.

Well, the wind died away around 0800 and backed further South. At 0830 I poled out the Genoa to port and to enable us to head further East. Our speed dropped to around 3.5 knots until around 1500 when it picked up a bit and we were making 4.5+ knots and occasionally 6k. Our COG was around 60-70ᵒ with our new Waypoint marking the south west corner of the Traffic Separation Zone to the south of the Scillies bearing 77ᵒ. Shortly after our speed picked up we were visited by a large pod of Atlantic Common Bottle-nosed Dolphins. They stayed around for more than an hour playing around the boat.

[The following entries are summaries of events written in Plymouth on 16th July, because if I don’t get this out soon it’s never going to happen]

Tuesday 11th July

The closer we got to the Lizard the more fishing vessels we encountered and they were nearly all French! Vessels engaged in fishing are the stand-on vessels in any potential collision situation and therefore we always had to take the necessary steps to avoid them. During the final 48 hours of the passage we had to take frequent avoiding action. It was the most nerve wracking 48 hours of the entire cruise. One never knows when they are going to change course and therefore one minute one can be safely out of the way and the next one’s on a collision course with one or more of them.
Today the wind was pretty fresh from the South East for a number of hours which was most unexpected and we bowled along under two reefs for much of the day. Once again I had to start the engine to charge the batteries in the early hours; thankfully the engine battery behaved on this occasion and the engine started without a problem. The wind started to veer around 0800 and by 0830 it was west of south and blowing Force 5/6 and so quite lively. The wind continued to veer during the course of the morning and so I soon had to pole out the genoa. We had to avoid a number of French fishing vessels and on one occasion I tried to raise one on the VHF to establish his intentions but got no answer! Later in the evening we had to head further East in order to avoid the Traffic Separation Zone to the South East of the Scillies and had to gybe.

Wednesday 12th July

By midnight we were too far south of our best course for the Lizard and needed to sail closer to the wind meant dispensing with the pole. In the process the genoa wrapped itself around the forestay several times. The only way or sorting it out was to unfasten the sheets from the boat end and let the clue fly out to leeward. I was then able to furl the sail up and re-attach the sheets. For a while though the genoa was flogging madly and shaking the whole rig. I suspect the old Forestay may not have stood up to the punishment! Very shortly afterwards we had to take further action to avoid yet more fishing boats. By this time the wind had veered further and was now blowing from the north and we were therefore close-hauled on the port tack to lay the Lizard. At 0245 a further and very close encounter with two French fishing boats in close proximity to one another. One was not transmitting on AIS and I got into a horrible pickle trying to reconcile what I could see on the water with the information being displayed on the AIS screen and at one point I had to run off away from them (which meant going in the opposite direction from our intended route) and heave-to in order to work out what the hell was going on. I ended passing the nearest one far too close for comfort; probably only 500 or so metres away. My nerves were sufficiently shredded to warrant recording an expletive in the log!

At 0700 land was spotted. By 0900 the wind had died away completely and we motored for the next 7 hours against a foul tide. With daylight came the sun and we enjoyed a glorious sunny day with a lunch in the cockpit – a marvellous omelette cooked up by Isaac and served with a bottle of chilled Pico white wine.  This was the first time since 1976 that I had sailed in these waters and I had forgotten how beautiful the Cornish coastline is.

Land Ho

Isaac with the end in sight!

At 1600 we tied up at Falmouth Visitors Haven. After 13 days our passage from the Azores back to the UK was over.

We had experienced every type of weather short of a full gale. Isaac was smiling once again after what was at times a pretty demanding and uncomfortable passage. Unfortunately his schedule required him to get home ASAP and he was therefore unable to stay for the rather more enjoyable coastal sailing that followed.

The next day Sharon and Stephen arrived and we all spent an enjoyable day together including hosting drinks for our new neighbours Geoff and Lynn. 

On Friday Sharon and Isaac drove back to London and Stephen and I set off for Fowey. We had a wonderful sail on a beam reach with the NW wind off the land and picked up a buoy on the River around 1500. We explored ashore and had a very good Fish dinner that Stephen paid for. It’s great when one’s kids start doing that!

On Saturday we sailed to the Yealm. The weather was not quite as good but we had another good sail. The entrance to the Yealm was very interesting with a fairly narrow gap between a sand bar on one side and rocks on the other. I inadvertently made things more exciting than they needed to be by hanging on to the mainsail as we went up the river only to discover there was very little room in which to manoeuvre in order to head to wind to get it down. We managed without incident however and after a little exploration picked up a buoy on the second attempt. I had lost my boathook and so getting hold of the buoy was more difficult than it should have been. Stephen did an excellent job manoeuvring the boat in a very confined space whilst I took issue with the buoy.

We were both feeling lazy and the weather was damp and grey so we stayed on board and enjoyed an excellent steak dinner.

On Sunday morning we got up at 0700 had a quick cuppa and then motored round to Sutton Harbour in Plymouth. After a fried breakfast we walked to the rail station where Steps got his train home to Sutton Coldfield. Tony arrived in the afternoon and we met Neal (my old school friend and ex-submarina) and Trina for afternoon tea/beer and caught up on each other’s gossip.

Tomorrow we have an early start for Salcombe where my brother Sebastian (Basty) will join us on Tuesday.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Horta and Faial and Pico

Arctic Smoke in Horta - on the outside

One of the more impressive wall paintings

Well I’ve been here in Horta 7 days now and goodness knows where the time has gone because I’ve hardly been out of the Marina! [That was written a few days ago. I ended up staying 12 nights in Horta]

Wim and Elizabeth on board Bengt arrived from Flores the day after I arrived and Barry and Kath arrived the day after them. I decided to celebrate by cooking for us all on board Arctic Smoke t that evening which I think was last Tuesday the 13th June. It was a bit of a squeeze but we managed it and we had a very enjoyable time.

From left to right - Wim, Elizabeth, Barry and Kath

I’ve had two principal pre-occupations since arriving. Finding someone to crew the next leg with me back to the UK and getting the fore and back stays replaced. On the former, I had left Flores thinking the issue was resolved but shortly after my arrival in Horta discovered that Chris, a previous owner of Arctic Smoke had to pull out due to family issues. A shame, Chris is both very experienced, having previously circumnavigated and he was looking forward to it; but his withdrawal was entirely understandable. As of today (Monday 19th June) it looks as if I have a replacement, my youngest brother Isaac. He will hopefully be flying out to join me at the weekend or early the following week. Isaac’s not an experienced sailor but is very much looking forward to the trip and I’m sure he’ll get stuck into the sailing and will appreciate the experience.

On the second. I’d been concerned about the punishment that the fore-stay has taken during the course of the cruise to date – particularly during the long west bound passage to the Caribbean, when with the wind behind us and enormous seas, the genoa imposed great stresses on the stay whenever there was insufficient wind to keep the sail full during the often, violent rolling we experienced. As the boat rolled the sail would empty during the roll, only to be suddenly filled again. This cause the sail to shake the whole stay which could be felt throughout the boat. When Mick was off-watch sleeping in the for-peak, he experienced the snapping even more. Similar conditions prevailed during some of the passage from Bermuda to Flores. I therefore decided that even though the stay was only 5 years old I should get it replaced and whilst I was at it the back-stay too – given that it too would have taken a fair bit of the punishment.

On arrival, I therefore contacted Mid Atlantic Yacht Services established by Duncan Sweet in 1990. Duncan had stopped off on a sailing passage a few years earlier and vowed to return. He bought a house and one evening after a hard day’s renovating, he was having a coffee at the Café by the harbour with his tool box at his feet when approached by a Yachty who needed some work done… and so Mid Atlantic Yacht Services was born! In Duncan’s words, in those days “.. you couldn’t even buy a stainless steel screw on the island”. Now Mid Atlantic provide a comprehensive and essential service to the hundreds of yachts that visit the island every year. As of today, Duncan and Joul have almost finished the job. The old forestay had four broken strands and the foil around the stay onto which the genoa is rolled up when reefed, needed attention. The stay would undoubtedly have broken sooner or later and so I was very glad I decided to get the work done. I was a bit optimistic with that assessment of the work being almost finished; it was eventually completed on Wednesday 21st June. We had some last minute problems with the furling swivel – again. On trying to furl the genoa it kept snagging – as it did before we changed the swivel in Antigua. Thankfully on this occasion all that was required was a thorough wash out with warm water and washing up liquid in order to get rid of the salt that had built up in the swivel mechanism. The bill was rather a shock – 2000 Euros. That did include new fittings at both ends of both stay and some remedial work on the foils but it was still a shock. However, it would have been even more  expensive and worse if the rigging had failed mid passage!

I’ve also been working through the ever-present list of jobs (in addition to assisting with the rigging work). The jobs included reinforcing the fixing of the Port-hand solar panel (I discovered the  aluminium frame of the starboard panel had split when in Flores and repaired that there); checking Angus’s various nuts and bolts and oiling him and the cockpit sole and repairing the steaming light that I noticed had packed up whilst in Flores. That involved a number of hours up the mast and an email consultation with Mick. It turned out that the wire ends entering the mast fitting had corroded through. It was a devil of a job though because I couldn’t shift the screws holding the light fitting to the mast. In the end I had to resort to cutting the plastic case of the fitting in order to get access to the wires. The inbuilt connection terminals were of the most ridiculous design being very small diameter pins through the plastic housing. The wires from the mast were soldered onto the pins on one side and the wires to the bulb on the other. However, there was no way of being able to re-solder the wires in place without melting the plastic and so I installed standard cable connectors that used screws rather than solder to make the connections. They’ll last until I can get a new light fitting. After making the new connections I taped the light fitting to the mast using Gorilla tape. That too should last until we get back to the UK.

Wim and Elizabeth have fed me twice and so I returned the favour "last" night – I managed to cook a stir fry reasonably successfully despite not having a Wok. Yesterday being a Sunday also provided me with an excuse to take a day off boat jobs and after getting up late and passing by Bengt where I got a second breakfast, I went for a walk around one of the local trails and enjoyed some wonderful views.

‘Today’ (Monday 19th June) was taken up by more jobs on the boat – checking the engine oil, filling the stern-gland greaser and re-applying sealant around the locker in the Loo. I also did a little shopping and started on the more pleasant task of leaving an Arctic Smoke painting on the Marina walls amongst the hundreds of others. So far, I’ve only applied a base primer coat of paint to a patch of wall on which a now very faded previous painting had existed. One couldn’t make out any details of the previous painting and so I think it was OK to replace it.  

Arctic Smoke's Wall Painting

I also helped Duncan and Roul remove the backstay.
The rest of this post was written on arrival at Pria do Vitoria on 25th June and I cannot account for Tuesday at all, other than I must have done some more jobs on the boat! Wednesday was taken up with helping Duncan and Roul fit the new backstay and in sorting out the problem with the furling swivel.

I got fed by Wim and Elizabeth again one evening. Oh, and I also added Arctic Smoke’s mark on the Marina walls amongst the many hundred others. My artistic skills leave a lot to be desired but at least I managed something.

On Thursday, I did a tour of the island by bus with Wim and Elizabeth. It was on the public bus system not a tourist excursion and so we had no commentary or guide but it was nevertheless a fascinating trip and served to the emphasise the need to spend more time on Horta and the other islands. That’s the problem with sailing around in an old boat – you have to spend so much time getting ready for the next leg that you miss out on the sight-seeing!

On Thursday night Barry, Kath, Wim, Elizabeth and I went out for a meal to mark our various forth-coming departures for different shores. The Restaurant - "Genuino" is run by an Azorean two fold circumnavigater, is full of his memorabilia and made a fitting location for our get-together.

However, Friday was a proper tourist day. Wim, Elizabeth and I took the ferry over to Pico and hired a car to explore the island for the day. The volcanic landscape is most obvious on Pico with the most striking feature - apart from the main volcano cone itself – being the acres of volcanic stone walls that cover much of the island. These are built to enclose thousands of very small patches in which the wine vines are grown. The walls provide shelter from the wind, rain and sea. 

Madalena, Pico




Volcanic coastline

One of the many public and free sea-water swimming pools
Me by Wim  - sea view by the pool

Views South

Views East to Sao Jorge

Lajes is the centre of Whale Watching on Pico. A large Whale Watching Centre/Museum was under construction. There is a small marina into which a few visiting yachts can be squeezed.
Traditional Motor Launches in Lajes

Fishing boats in Lajes (Marina out of shot to the left)

The wine is very good and at least when bought locally in the islands is also very good value. 3.50 euros buys one a very good bottle of Pico wine in a local super market. It was a great day but once again I was left feeling that I could easily spend more time on Pico. Barry and Kath will be renting a cottage there for three days when their friends visit them and I’m sure they will have no problem finding things to do whilst they are there. They very kindly fed be that evening. They will be staying in the Azores for a few more weeks before heading for Ireland and will then over-winter in St Catherine’s Dock in London before heading for the Baltic next year. I will therefore see them again later this year.

Wim and Elizabeth are wintering in the Azores before heading south to Patagonia next summer. They are due to arrive in Pria this evening and so I will see them again before we leave for the UK. Maybe Sharon and I will manage to fly out here next spring to see them and more of the islands before they leave. I say “we” here because after several false starts I now have crew organised for the passage back to the UK. My brother Isaac flies into Pria this evening. There’s not much wind around and so we may spend a few days here before setting off.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Flores 2 – Return to Santa Cruz

The main Harbour at Santa Cruz

Artist's impression of Harbour after works are completed

I started writing this on the 14th June on a grey drizzly day. It’s now the 15th June and the sun is out. Writing was interrupted due to the riggers arriving to commence work on replacing the fore and back stays. More on that in a later post.

My final days in Flores just seemed to rush by and apart from my return to Santa Cruz I’m not sure where the days went.

Last Friday I took the 0900 bus from Larjes into Santa Cruz on a mission to find the Hotel where Timmy Hubbard (now deceased long term school friend of my Stepfather, Tim Hunt) took refuge in 1984 during his participation in the OSTAR (Observer Single Handed Transatlantic Race).

On my earlier visit I had failed to find the Hotel that Timmy named as the Hotel Santa Cruz in his book “The Race”. First stop was the local library – I hoped that I might be able to turn up some helpful information in their local history section. 

Ariel view of Santa Cruz from a library book - The Hotel Santa Cruz should be over looking the Old Harbour on r/h 

Views of the Old Harbour

However, after 2 hours of scanning various texts on the town I was none the wiser. I therefore set off on yet another wander around the town and attempted to marry up Timmy’s description of his visit to the Hotel and his sketch map, with what I could actually see. Frustratingly however after another couple of hours all I had to show for my efforts were two or three older buildings that looked like they may have once been hotels with the characteristics mentioned my Timmy. My favourite was actually a Municipal building and so I went in to ask the locals. I received directions to what I was assured was the oldest Hotel in the town, from a helpful lady who spoke good English. Unfortunately, either her ability to give directions was poor or I completely misunderstood what she said because once back out in the streets I could make no sense of the details of what I was told. A couple of buildings – one very well restored and one very derelict -  in the general area referred to, might have been Hotels in the past but were certainly not now.

A possible Candidate

The Municipal Building
Timmy’s text of his visit to Santa Cruz describes a quite nail biting entrance to the Harbour – he was towed in by the Harbour Master’s son I recall. He then describes his walk “back up the hill” across the Cathedral Piazza” … “into the oldest part of the town”. Once in the Hotel he had … “a view across the terrace over-looking the sea”.

After juggling with this information and what I could see after repeated walks around the town I had to settle for three possibilities that more or less concurred with his description and with that I called it a day as far as my Timmy Hubbard mission was concerned.

Next on my itinerary was a visit to the Whale Museum. Exceptionally well preserved, the Museum told the story of the Islanders’ and the Azoreans more generally, participation in the Whaling trade, both locally (the Azores being a particularly favourite area for many Whales) and as crew members of ocean going (mainly American) Whale ships; an occupation at which the islanders apparently excelled. A truly gruesome trade it was and thank goodness it is over but my goodness it was a tough life for the Whalers – a truly exceptional body of men.

An Azorean Whale Boat

Tools used for constructing the local Whale Boats

Part of the old factory interior

Ramp up which the slaughtered Whales were dragged for processing

After the museum, I headed for the Airport Café for a light lunch and then waited for the 1545 bus to return to Larjes. At the Tourist Information Office, I had previously queried which of the two bus time-tables was currently in operation and was re-assured that it was the school term time-table. The 1545 never materialised however, (it had the previous week). I therefore decided to walk back into town to await the 1645. Just as I arrived in the centre at 1600, an un-scheduled bus to Larjes arrived. A number of school children were waiting for it and so it was clearly a known entity. Anyway I jumped on and returned to Larjes. The following day Saturday I intended to leave for Horta (see previous post).