Bermuda to the Azores

30th May
You may notice a gap in proceedings here.......................... that is because my macbook stopped working a couple of days ago. No I didn't get it wet this time, it just turned itself off. Don't know why. And I'd been keeping a daily update on the passage since Antigua to post when we reach the Azores. Well now there'll be a gap until I can retrieve the blog from the mac and I'll continue from here.

We've been running away from a low pressure system for the last couple of days, and it can run faster than we can, so the winds and seas have been slowly and steadily building. We heard about this weather system from Chaos, a british Contessa 32, which we met up with 5 days out from Bermuda. He had his weatherfax working and gave us the info over the VHF. Very handy as our weatherfaxes are still pretty unintelligible. I'd decided to stay on our course at the same latitude rather than turn south for lighter winds.

My watch started at 5 am and as I came up to relieve Fredrik I could see that conditions had deteriorated during the night. At that point we had 2 reefs in the main and the No2 jib. We were heading east and the wind from the SSW was now blowing F7 with seas to match. Overnight we'd been making 8 to 9K in a large sea. Very uncomfortable at that speed but it was good to be knocking off the miles. The rig was straining and you could feel the tension throughout the boat. Everything down below was soaked, through a combination of deck leaks and our wet oilskins. We were sailing with the companionway doors closed, something I'd never found necessary before, and in those conditions the accomodation appears much smaller. Off watch we either lay in our bunks.............. damp but warm or found a dry spot to sit in and just stayed put.

More reduction in sail was needed, so I roused Gerry and Giles from their warm bunks, and I helmed, running off before the wind to make life easier for those working on the foredeck. Everyone was clipped on and taking a soaking from time to time as waves broke over the deck. At least the water was not cold ! First the No2 jib was handed, and then replaced with the stays'l which is a much easier sail to keep under control as it is hanked onto the forestay. Then we put the 3rd reef in the main. These changes eased some of the strain but we were still racing along at quite a pace. If things got worse we still had more strategies................. drop the main and sail under stays'l alone, then we could replace that with the storm jib (only 50sq ft) and run off before the wind. I was pleased with the way Holly Mae was coping although life down below was not great, and we were guessing that we probably only had another 24 hrs before it all blew over.
At 09.30 Giles spotted a large ship a couple of miles behind us and called it up on the VHF for a weather update. He told us that the low was moving NE and filling by tomorrow. OK we could manage that and we were making great progress. By our noon site we'd covered 180M in 23 hrs. It was 23 hrs instead of the usual 24hrs as I put the clock forward by an hour to compensate for sailing 15 degrees east.
With the wind howling and the water rushing past the hull and occasionally thumping into us from abeam, it was quite noisy down below and so I was surprised when at 13.30 all seemed to go quiet. And then we gybed accidentally. Sticking my head out of the companionway it took me a couple of minutes to work out that the centre of the low had passed close to the north of us and the wind had veered through 90 degrees. The wind had dropped to a F4 but the sea was still large and very confused. Then a wave broke over the cockpit, and Gerry, who was on watch at the time. The cockpit was half full and a couple of baths-full of sea came tumbling down the companionway. The cockpit is self draining and we soon had the bilges pumped dry before covering the soleboards with an old newspaper.
By four in the afternoon we had the No1 jib up again and shook all the reefs out of the main, relieved that the worst was over, sooner than we had expected.

31st May
By midday the wind was light and from the east, the direction we were heading, and a little later we were totally becalmed. The batteries needed charging so we motored for an hour and a half and then cut the motor for a bit of peace while we ate our dinner. By 7 o'clock a light wind had returned from the south, we hoisted the headsails and were back underway in peaceful conditions under a starry sky.

1st June
After a beautiful night we had a perfect morning...................... blue sky, gentle wind moving us along and only a light swell. We'd obviously moved away from the depressions and into the Azores high. But winds in the Azores high are light and variable and it wasn't long before we were creeping along losing speed all the time. This was the time for the large asymetric sail to earn its keep. It's made of very light sail cloth and its area exceeds the rest of the sails put together, so up it went and we were off again, in barely perceptible winds, doing 6 knots or more. The idea of the sail, which isn't very traditional for a boat like Holly Mae, is to keep us moving in light airs when I might have been tempted to use the motor. When we first put it up we still had around 300 M to go to Flores and not much chance of decent winds returning.

Later that morning Fred saw a whale blowing behind us, and then we were joined by a school of dolphins who played at the bow. I did some filming with the GoPro, and then Giles climbed down on the bobstay, took the GoPro and got some amazing underwater shots of them.
It's interesting how much more wildlife there has been on the return crossing. We have seabirds in numbers, several times a day instead of one every 3 or 4 days, dolphins often visit two or three times a day, and we've seen quite a few whales too !
As the evening drew on the wind was light but we were still moving at around 5K.. The asymetric is a large sail and can be difficult to handle, and I had to decide whether to keep it up at night. High pressrure weather is generally fairly light and predictable and the progress was to good to miss so up it stayed.

2nd June
By the following noon we had covered 141M, all in light winds. The asymetric was at last proving its worth. The weather was sunny again................... life was good and to top it all we caught a Tuna. Fantastic, fresh fish for lunch !
The winds continued to die out over the afternoon and we were becalmed again by dinner time. That was fine.................... we put up the table in the cockpit and ate alfresco, which was just as well as we were visited by 2 large fin whales and then more dolphins.
After dinner we ran the motor for a couple of hours to recharge the batteries and when we cut it we tried various sail combinations to try to stop the rolling and make things comfortable overnight. Motoring took us within 100M of our destination, only 12 to 14 hours at our best speed, but now....................... well it could still be days before wind returned.
Giles spent the night sleeping on deck. In the morning he told us he'd heard a lot of heavy breathing overnight, which he took to be whales. It might just have been Gerry down below.

3rd June
At 6 there was a breath of wind so it was up with the asymetric again and off we went. Slowly at first, and then 4 or 5 K. At 9 we spotted something orange in the water. Was it an EPIRB ? Was it a dan buoy light ? Perhaps it was connected with the british boat, lost three weeks ago, so we decided to go back and try to pick it up. To do this we had to drop the asymetric, which took a few minutes, and when we'd done that we retraced our track on the GPS with the motor. We couldn't find it, which in itself is not that important, but it did highlight some safety procedures that we needed to practise. So we sat down and went through our roles, and the use of the Man OverBoard function on the GPS.
We caught another tuna, of a similar size to yesterdays. Fantastic. Two tuna in two days after weeks of nothing !
At 18.30 we handed the asymetric. We don't like to keep it up overnight as it can be a handful to get down, so daylight at least means we can see what's happening. Up went the No1 Jib and actually there was enough wind and we were still making good speed. An hour or so later we were visited by more dolphins and about the same time I spotted the lights of a small settlement on Flores, the most westerly of the Azores. It was still 34M away.

4th June.
The wind was going light as we made landfall and sailed along the southern coast of the island. There was no moon and the night was dark. We followed the lighthouse on the SE corner until we could see the red light on the end of the breakwater and then we headed for that. We ghosted in the last half a mile at less than 2K before dropping the sails and motored, following the leading lights into the tiny harbour of Lajes. It was 3 in the morning, but the concentration required to approach and enter in the dark left us all fully awake so we sat on deck and finished a bottle of port. The sweetness of it was warming, the air temperature certainly wasn't.
Twelve and a half days with only a couple of hours motoring from Bermuda, was good progress. With the possibility of the Azores high surrounding the islands and hundreds of miles of windless sea it was a relief to arrive. The extra diesel jerry cans I had bought were still sitting untouched on deck, and the tanks still nearly full.