Azores home

We'd left the bad weather behind in Faial, and now the sun was shining in Sao Miguel. We'd arrived in the evening too late for all the bureaucratic activities of check in, imigration and customs, so it was straight to a bar for the traditional cold beer and steak and chips. The cold beer doesn't have many merits apart from it's coldness, lacking anything that you could call flavour, so we soon moved on to a bottle of local wine, of which the best seems to come from the island of Pico. Very good, and cheap too !

The next day Heather flew home via Lisbon, and the remaining crew explored the town. It's a pleasant town................... not spectacularly beautiful, but very friendly. It has the wonderful black and white cobbles laid out in varied and beautiful patterns in even the smallest streets, and plenty of pollarded plane trees
After ocean passages, the days spent in port are a sociable time. I lent a hand to our neighbours removing their mains'l for repair, and in the evening invited them aboard for a glass of wine. It's interesting to hear all the different stories that have bought people to the same point after different voyages, and to see the different boats that they've done it in. Benoit and Caroline, from Belgium were sailing in their 45ft catamaran, and I was shown around when we were invited over to eat. It was an eye opener........ such a different experience to sailing on Holly Mae. There were only the two of them on board, with all home comforts................... Two heads compartments, a shower, watermaker, and apart from the usual they also had a washing machine and dishwasher ! Holly Mae, by comparison, is old school, as I always intended, and my 'Atlantic circuit' experience has been much as in many accounts by the sea-dogs of old. I've also been surprised by the number of people that I've met who had an Atlantic crossing on their 'bucket list', bought a boat, spent a couple of years learning to sail, and set off ! I applaud their courage, but find this bucket list approach to life a bit strange.................................. it's a bit like 'consuming one experience after another'....................... but, each to his own, I suppose.

Giles decided to go walkabout on the island, and set off with sleeping bag etc, and came across an interesting fishing village, Rabo de Peixe. The following morning he came back with a new found friend and guide, Nellia, to take Gerry and myself over. The fishing was very traditional, we visited a trad. boat builder who was turning out wooden boats for the fleet, and had a short trip around the bay in one of his latest. No GRP in sight ! The harbour itself was just approaching the completion of a massive concrete extension, presumably EC funded. Then it was lunch in a superb local fish restaurant, with local wine. When we tried to pay we discovered that Nellia had already done so. The hospitality and generosity of these people is amazing !

Giles continued with his walk from there. Gerry and I hired a car, to explore a bit more of the island and walk some of the hills and calderas. The second day with the car we visited a lake with hot springs, geothermal food cooking etc, and picked up Giles.
There is lots of bamboo growing on the island, ......... much thicker and useful than that grown at home. Sometimes it's used as windbreak, sometimes just growing wild. On the way back to Holly Mae, we harvested some of the larger bits. Giles wanted some to make sculling oars, and I wanted some to rig the cockpit tent. We drove back to the marina with a bundle on the car roof, and now it's lashed on deck.

Azores to Penzance
Our last crew member was John, who'd previously been aboard on the leg from Lisbon to Tenerife, via Madeira. He arrived on the 19th, and after a day of provisioning and preparation we set off on Sat 21st. The 7 day forecast was not favourable. All the books I have suggest heading due north from the Azores until 45 degrees of latitude is attained, and then picking up the westerly winds to blow you east and home. But all we could expect was winds varying from F2 to F4 all from the north, and no real sign of improvement over the period of the forecast. I considered our options;
1. head ENE making as much northing as we could, ( This would take us somewhere in the region of NW Spain ) and hope to find more favourable winds when we got there.
2. head WNW for up to 300M in search of the SW winds which are blowing there.
3. stay put and wait for an improved forecast
Sailing ENE was the most attractive option, and interestingly was the course marked on my second-hand chart last year. I had bought my charts from a friend Bob, who had done a similar Atlantic circuit the previous year, on his 42' gaff cutter, Chloe May. I hadn't spoken to him about this leg, but it seems that he must have had the same weather.

Day 1.
We set off at 10 on Sat morning and motored around the western and of the island. Several schools of dolphins turned out to see us on our way. Bright and sunny, little wind, but then we were in the lee of the island. By 1400 we were around the north of Sao Miguel and with light winds we cut the motor but were only making 2 to 3K, 4 for a couple of minutes if we were lucky. Off the north coast we saw whale spouts a few hundred yards off, but not close enough to see the whales. With 1140M to go, progress was painfully slow. And it always seems worse when in sight of land, as every time you look up the view is the same.
At 2030, with sunset not far away, I decided to motor to get clear of the island, in the hope of more breeze. As it turned out we only had the motor on for an hour and twenty minutes before the breeze filled in allowing us to make 4K with a steadier motion for the night. The breeze held all night, but it wasn't until around 5 in the morning that we could say goodbye to the lights of Sao Miguel.
At this time of the year, in the Azores, there are about 9 hours from sunset to sunrise, and I've divided this up into 4 night watches of two and a half hours.Daytimes are divided into four 3 hour watches, and one of 2 hours. This gives us a rotation of watches, so that we each get a turn at the 9 to 11.30pm (best), and the 2 to 4.30 am (least popular) watches. 4.30 to 7 am is usually a good one as there's often a beautiful sunrise. Daytime watches are only observed when the weather is bad and those off watch are sheltering below. Otherwise we're generally all in the cockpit with little to do as the monitor is taking care of the helm, passing the time reading or teaching each other new knots.

Day 2
There was a bit more breeze, allowing us to maintain between 4 and 5K. The direction was slightly better too, and this held steady all day with the sun coming out in the afternoon. Occasionally the self steering would lapse and we'd bear away 20 or 30 degrees. And then speed would pick up to over 6K and the motion would be more comfortable as we weren't bashing into the swell. But that was of no use to us, unless we wanted to end up in Lisbon, so we'd coax her back onto out previous course. On our first day out we covered only 77M towards home, and this improved to 106M on day 2. Compared with our previous passages of following winds or wind on the beam, making 150 to 160M a day, this is quite laborious. And our current course will take us to La Coruna on the NW corner of Spain.
The forecast we left with, was for 7 days, and they're pretty reliable, at least for the first 5 or 6. We won't be at La Coruna by then, so we're hoping for a favourable change in wind direction before we get there, to take us north to Cornwall. Or we may pull in there for a new forecast and fresh provisions. We'll see where the wind takes us, and decide later.
The wind was freshening in the evening, so we put a reef in the main just before sunset. ( I always try to make sail changes, if they're necessary, before dark ). This should balance the helm, making it easier for the monitor to do it's job, and maybe make it a bit easier for sleeping.

Day 3
The night was overcast..................... no moon, no stars, not much to see. But the wind was steady and we continued with our steady if unexciting progress. Gerry enjoyed some dolphins on his early morning watch, but the morning continued grey and uneventful as we continued to jog along towards La Coruna. The sun came out in the afternoon, but otherwise all carried on as before.

Day 4 24th June
John and Gerry were in the cockpit, Giles and I were still in our bunks at 7.30. The night had been gentle and we'd all slept better, then we lost boat speed and the boom started to slam....................... the wind had gone ! Lying in my bunk at night, I'd been thinking that an unscheduled stop in La Coruna wouldn't be such a bad thing. We could fill up with water and fresh food, but most of all we'd get a new 7 day forecast. And La Coruna is only about 450M from home.............. 3 or 4 days with a decent wind.
Then after 20 mins of doing about 2K the wind returned from the NW. A much better direction for us, and allowed us to sail at 30 to 40 degrees, which is actually north of our rhum line to Penzance. This change had been forecast, and at the moment I'm expecting it to last for 24 hrs, if we're lucky before going back into the north. This new wind was too good to waste, so after a fortifying breakfast of 'eggy bread', we shook out the reef and hoisted the tops'l. It may not take us all the way home but for now we were going in the right direction for the first time, and doing 5 to 6K.
We had a look at the weather for the 7th day and looked out west on the chart, to get some idea of what would be coming after that period. What it showed was a period of calm followed by some south westerlies, and then westerlies. If we can get far enough north to take advantage of these winds, things could work very well for us. So perhaps Penzance direct is a possibility................................ all we can do is try to get north and keep up boat speed, and then leave it to fate.
By noon we'd moved 107M nearer to Penzance. One mile better than yesterday and now we're moving a bit faster.

Day 5 25th June
At 5 in the morning, the wind had picked up and veered. I was roused from my bunk by Gerry and John to hand the tops'l. I decided at the time it was also prudent to put a couple of reefs in the main. The breeze was steady and we were making 6 to 7K in the direction of Penzance. By noon we'd made good 131M towards home, and all thoughts of La Coruna were banished. This continued throughout the afternoon and although it eased a bit in the evening we were still going well and hoping for our first daily run of 150M. The swell was also building with the wind and we were again taking the odd bit of spray over the cockpit necessitating oilies at all times.
Since leaving home with three pairs of jeans, I am down to one now, and guard them carefully against salt. Back in higher latitudes the air is cooler................ quite comfortable when you can keep dry, but once salty, the damp and cold is a short cut to misery. On the crossing from Cape Verdes to Barbados we were constantly salty after the first few days, but it was just bearable with the warmth.
Having said that, the joy of sailing in the higher latitudes in the summer is the longer day lengths, and we notice the days stretching out by a few minutes each day. We have only 6 hours of total darkness at the moment, there being very little moon, compared with 13 hour nights on the crossing over.

Day 6 26th June
My wedding anniversary today. I'm thinking of Noley. I'm sure she'll have remembered. Forgot to mention it in my postcard from Sao MIguel................... I'll be in chubble when I get home !
My watch started at 04.00, this morning, and it was already getting light. The wind also was getting lighter. I wanted to shake the reefs out, but decided to wait until Giles was due on watch at 06.30. With the two of us on deck it was quickly done, and then a bit later we hoisted the tops'l as well, but by 10.00 we were becalmed.
We'd missed our 150M, and in fact only made 129M. by noon.
Over the last few weeks we've been running a daily competition to see who can guess our daily mileage, and the crew have all been honing their skills and occasionally achieving total accuracy to the nearest mile. Today I decided to up the stakes and open up a book on the date and time of our arrival. Everyone to put their estimate of the time we enter Penzance (or Newlyn) harbour in a sealed bid. Compulsary stakes of £5 each. The winner takes all, but has to buy two rounds of drinks in the Dock Inn when we get back.
Shortly after taking the 'noon sight', still becalmed, we started planning a special evevning meal to be washed down by a celebratory bottle of wine as we achieved the halfway mark. 570M sailed......................... 570M to go. The problem being we still had 20M to go and were drifting backwards at 0.5K. Life is about compromise and it was decided to motor from 2 o'clock for 4 hours which should take us the required distance before dinner.
Gambling is an addiction, and I was astonished to discover how easily it's acquired, when I next went on deck and found that John and Giles had £5 on whether we'd be going 6K within the hour. Giles was busily taking down the jib and stays'l in preparation for hoisting the assymetric. The wind was very light, but we soon got up to 5K.
The SW wind continued very light throughout the afternoon, but we covered the required 20M by 17.30 under sail. We finished off the dregs of a Mount Gay Rum bottle to celebrate the half way mark, followed by a risotto, cooked by John, with a bottle of tinto from Pico, and finally a small glass of Port. There was a beautiful sunset during which a fishing boat came very close, passing half a mile astern. I tried calling him up on the VHF to see if he could give us an update on the weather.
He was Spanish from La Coruna, but beyond that we couldn't get much useful information as his Inglesie wasn't any better than my Espagnol. It was a friendly exchange of gobbledegook though, which I ended with............ "buenos noches". To which he replied, "yes yes, goodnight, nothing, nothing."
The wind slowly died during the night and during my watch the slamming of the boom drove me to sheeting everything in tight, to make it better for sleeping down below.

Day 7 27th June
The day began overcast, with light drizzle and little wind, and we drifted all morning, resisting any temptation to motor, until by noon our daily run was a measly 67M. In the afternoon a very light wind returned from the NE. Exactly the direction we wanted to go ! We tried first the starboard tack, heading a bit west of north, and after a bit we tried the port tack. The air was damp, making even the light breeze feel cold. Early evening the sky began to clear from the west.

Day 8 28th June
Just after midnight we received the Shipping forecast on longwave radio for the first time. We were in sea area Fitzroy, and for us was forecast winds west or north, force 4 or 5. ............ Very good.............. it was still a beat ( close to the wind ) but at least we could still lay a course direct for Penzance.
The sunrise brought a clear and bright day with a moderate sea. At midday we'd made good 117M towards Penzance, and I put the ships clocks forward 1hr to bring us in line with British summer time.

In the afternoon it was still sunny, the wind backed a little more and we were romping along at 7K. At 4 o'clock we passed a large container ship, 1M on our port, going in the opposite direction. In the evening the wind eased and reduced our speed to 5K, and we noticed that the control line on the monitor was wearing through again.

Day 9
the early morning forecast for sea area Fitzroy/Sole told us to expect winds of F5 -6 occasionally 7. As a result of this we tucked a couple of reefs in the main, and I replaced the control line on the monitor. The sea was still relatively smooth and reefing was easy. Usually I spend too long wondering whether to reef, and when we get around to it, working on a heaving deck, it's quite hard work. So this time I was congratulating myself for, at last, reefing nice and early when the wind was still only F3.
At 07.30 it was my watch, so I donned my oil-skins, went up, sat in the cockpit and waited for the wind. After a while it became plain that the wind was easing. I was reluctant to shake out the reefs again, but we needed more sail, so I thought we'd experiment with the tops'l set over the double reefed main. It set OK, but was not enough. We dropped the heads'ls and tried the assymetric, but although the speed picked up, this would only work on a course of ESE. So down with the asymetric and up with the No1 jib and stays'l. Then by 10.30 the wind was down to a F2, we were rolling in the swell and the boom was slamming..
The boom is a 24 ft long, 6" diameter piece of douglas fir, and therefore quite heavy. When it begins to slam, the shock loading is intolerable, so we had to sheet in the main to stop this.
I was tired and all this misguided sail handling left me quite annoyed at the shipping forecast. Where were these strong winds ? At home I'd given up using the shipping forecast long ago, but out here it was all we had to go on. The internet now gives us access to many forecasts, computer generated with far more detail down to the nearest 30M or so. By comparison, sea area Fitzroy is hundreds of miles across and so the forecast is more general and therefore less useful.
In disgust, I went down below, and to distract myself started cooking up a curry for the evening meal. Meanwhile on deck, the crew handed the tops'l shook out the reefs and hoisted the tops'l again.
In the afternoon the wind picked up to a westerly F3 and progress resumed at a sedate but positive pace. There were loads of dolphins and seabirds about as well, which might have been because we were approaching the edge of the continental shelf .
The fuel ran out for the cooker and we had a rummage around in the lazarette to look for some more. We found a couple of litres of lamp oil and the last half gallon of something in a paraffin container, so we put all these together and siphoned them into the pressure tank. The kettle went on for a pot of tea, and we soon discovered that what we'd thought was paraffin was probably some dirty diesel and would only give a very weak flame with a lot of fumes. We had no more fuel ! Disaster.................. no tea, no coffee, and no hot food. Lucky there were only a few of days to go. We'd have to be creative with our remaining food supplies.

Day 10.
The wind gradually increased through the evening, and Gerry was on watch when the shipping forecast came through again at 00.48. He woke me with the news that strong winds were forecast. Poking my head out through the companionway, I decided that despite our earlier frustration with the forecast we could not afford to ignore the possibility that there was something in it this time. So I roused John, and we handed the tops'l and stays'l, and tucked 2 reefs in the main before going back to my warm bunk.
I was on watch at 06.00 when we were joined by a school of pilot whales. They were black, had blunt noses and ranged in size up to about 20ft. There were a couple of dozen of them and they escorted us for quarter of an hour or so, quite close, and breaching more like dolphins. Probably our best whale sighting yet !
We were sailing along quite fast in NW winds of F5 gusting 6, sometimes increasing for a period to F6 gusting 7. I noticed that the GPS was reading about 1K less than the log. This means that speed over the ground is 1K less than speed through the water. I could only put this down to a tidal effect that had kicked in as we were now sailing above the continental shelf. Before the shelf, the depth was maybe 4000 metres, and the tidal stream was very weak. But now the depth was around 200 metres and we were feeling the effects of the tide ebbing out of the English Channel.
Giles mixed up some tins of peas, beans with some onion and vinegrette and made a bean salad. Not bad. Along with that we had crackers and cheese.
It was overcast and was raining on and off all day. By midday we had only 168M to go to Penzance. (122M made good in the last 24 hrs).
Just before dark, Giles noticed that the Jib traveller on the bowsprit had parted. This is a steel ring that slides out on the bowsprit to which the tack of the jib is attached. Luckily it was still hanging on by a single turn of 6mm line, which could go at any minute, sending the jib flying up in the air attached only by the halyard and sheet. We hastily dropped the jib and put up the stays'l instead. This worked to a degree, but the arrangement was not as balanced as with the jib, so the monitor needed more tweeking to keep us in the right direction, and we could not sail quite so close to the wind.
The wind then died suddenly, leaving us with a confused sea. So it was sheet everything in hard, and turn the motor on. But this only lasted for an hour or so before the wind returned from the SE suggesting that the centre of the low pressure had passed by quite close.
Just before midnight, the wind backed to the NE, ................................. just the direction we were trying to sail !

Day 11
Through the night the winds were strong, the seas were building, and without the jib we were finding it increasingly difficult to make headway. At first we could sail due north but gradually we were being pushed back west of north, then north west. Maybe it was just because we were so close to home................... about 85M at midday.................. but this seemed to be the hardest sailing I'd had since leaving home !
Around 02.30 we passed a beam trawler going west with all his lights on over the stern, lighting his trawl. Hundreds of gulls followed him hoping for scraps. It was funny to think that he almost certaily came from Newlyn, only 80M away. Only a mile from Penzance, our destination, tantalisingly close and yet, at the moment, unattainable !
Down below, if we weren't on watch we'd spend most of the time in our bunks keeping warm. Moving around, heeled over at 20 to 30 degrees, and slamming into a head sea makes life interesting. Every action has to be carried out slowly and with great care if we're not to be thrown around and hurt ourselves. We'd only do what was absolutely necessary and this includes visiting the heads. Even with an all male crew, we sat down to pee, and held on to the extra hand hold I'd fitted before leaving home, trying to remain seated and hoping that the angle of heel wouldn't spill the contents of the pan before we got up ! If you add to that the inconvenience of removing and replacing oil-skins each time, and all the pumping out after use, you'll understand why we were not drinking much.
We had the tide with us, then against us, in 6 hourly cycles. At one time, with the tide against us we were slowly losing ground.................. 6 miles further away after 6 hours !!! We began to consider the possibility of stopping at the Scilles, which were at the time only 40 miles to the east. But even 40 miles seemed a long way then. Around noon, we started the motor again and started plugging away at those forty miles at the rate of 1 - 2 knots. Then the sky cleared, and very gradually the wind began to ease, although it's direction was still 'on the nose'. Motor sailing, our speed slowly increased to 3K. The sea also began to subside through the afternoon allowing 4 knots. Although we had reserve power from the motor, there was no point going flat out as we then just hit the waves harder, slowing us down and making life more uncomfortable. There was a speed at which we were getting the optimum progress without wasting fuel, and this gradually increased as the sea moderated.
Would we make the moorings at St Mary's before dark ?
In more cans we found some sausages in lentils, with saurkraut. Not so good cold.
I'd always imagined a West/East Atlantic crossing would end with a sighting of the Bishop Rock lighthouse. There was a time when it looked possible that the wind directions would lead us south so that we'd approach Penzance from the direction of France. Having done this many times before, it would have been a disappointment to me. So I was pleased to be approaching from the west. We were on the lookout for the 'Bishop' from mid afternoon, but it proved elusive. At night the light should be visible from 24M, and theoretically we could see it from the same distance in the daytime, but obviously it would only be just showing above the horizon then. We didn't spot it until half past seven when it was only 10M away. At that stage we were getting some shelter from the islands and could up our speed to 5K for the final run in.
We were going down the North West channel when the sun set, we had a phone signal, and I could ring Noley. 20 minutes later we were in Hugh Town harbour in the last minutes of twilight. On a nearby mooring were Dickon and Jan, on their pilot cutter 'Peggy'. Quickly putting a couple of lines to a mooring buoy we had just enough time to row ashore for a pint in 'The Mermaid'.
When leaving home last July, we had started with a visit to the Scillies, because southerly winds had made a channel crossing unattractive. So it was here that I completed my Atlantic circuit, 49 weeks later.

Day 12
We woke to a beautiul quiet and sunny morning in St Mary's harbour....................................... the Scillies at their best. Probably as beautiful as any of the other islands I have visited !
Because the cooker was out of action we rowed ashore for hot breakfast, after which we bought more fuel for the cooker. Back on the boat we drained the pressure tank for the cooker, flushed through the pipes and burners, and refilled with good fuel. We were back in business.............. hot tea again for the last leg.
It was about 35M from St Mary's to Penzance, and we wanted to time our arrival to make sure that the gates to the wet dock would be open. Noley had been down to the harbour, checked the time of the gates opening and arranged a berth alongside the harbour wall. We aimed to arrive at 7pm.
The sun was still shining and the wind was a light south easterly, not the best direction, but better than yesterday, when we set off at 1 o'clock, under full sail and motor. As we were leaving the islands we saw another large gaff cutter going into St Mary's. None of us recognised it, and then an hour later, we passed Luke Powell in his pilot cutter Agnes going out. An hour or two out we managed to cut the motor and still maintain 5 to 6K, but it didn't last. We had a schedule now, and couldn't afford to dawdle, so we had to motor-sail again. About half way back we passed close to Wolf Rock lighthouse and came into phone signal again. At once all of our phones started to go off..........................where were we ? .......................what time would we be in ? Our efforts to sail had already put us half an hour behind. Not a bother for us after 1140M , but the reception committee were getting impatient.
We came around the corner by Mousehole at 7 ish, and into sight of Penzance harbour. Half an hour to go. The wind was dying, but we wanted to arrive with all sail up rather than just motor. In fact Giles had just hoisted the jib tops'l, and it was even considered to enter the harbour and tie up with all sail up, but I thought better of it, and we dropped it all smartly by the entrance.
What a fantastic homecoming it was. Warm, still, sunny evening, and 30 or so friends and family on the quay clutching bottles of champagne. It was good to be home !

PS. Technical difficulties have delayed photos recently, but I hope to post these soon. Also the blog from Antigua to Bermuda is on my macbook at the repairers. Hopefully this won't be lost and I'll be able to post it in a day or two.