Mini Atlantic Circuit.
10th July 07
Our proposed circuit is: Lagos - Porto Santo - Madeira
Deciding on this mini circuit was easy, readying ourselves was harder so lets hope that this escalation doesn't continue into the trip proper. We are looking for flat seas, wind behind us and just the right strength. Fussy eh, why not this is still the planning stage. Recent additions to our cruising armoury have been; a heavy jib, storm jib and an EPIRB. All of these are simply insurance such that if the unplanned happens we are prepared (I think you know what I mean). Locker lids have gained catches and cupboards have gained removable fiddles. Overhaul of the electrics found the anchor light and the tri-colour wiring were reversed, funny no one at anchor ever commented.
Its now 7th June 07 and SW winds are blowing as the Azores high takes on the appearance of an Azores Low, forecasts show these head winds remaining for at least 7 more days. Statistics say this is rare and the chart extract above shows Northerlies should be the norm, but guys here on the pontoon say its the main reason trips to Madeira and the Azores are frequently shelved. Maybe they are cautious, I suppose we shall see.
Our Atlantic trip begins
Our proposed route to the Madeira Archipelago is pretty much down the rhum line but with a couple of dodges along it. These being for shallow water, yes shallows, and 200 miles from land. If you look at the depth profile image (from Google Earth) of the route you see two Matterhorn sized underwater mountains, one after 250 miles (the Ampere Seamount 56m below surface level) and a second 100 miles further on (150m deep). They sit in waters called the Abyssal Plains which are about 5 km deep and, presumable, kick up strange seas so we'll avoid them by some considerable distance.
Wednesday - We left Lagos in company with Jürgan and Brigitte on Good Fellow, and Thomas and Ulrike on Toriba on Wednesday 20th June; the weather forecast was for winds from the northerly sector varying from F4 to F5, the sun was shining as we set our course on the Hydrovane, hard on the wind, of course. This would be the first real passage on Ruby Tuesday where we were totally reliant on using the Hydrovane wind steering. I make this comment as the Raymarine Autopilot has just ceased to operate and we are only half a mile into the passage!
The first day sailing conditions were ideal with force 4 to 5 winds, initially from the SW but after about 4 hours they slowly went round to the NW allowing us to travel directly towards Porto Santo. The waves were no more than 1m and the sea was a beautiful indigo colour so we had dinner in the cockpit, shepherds pie - super. The first night we saw very little shipping, but we chose to call up a ship that looked to be on a convergence course with us and as he was displaying a strange light pattern we were a little confused about his intentions. The watch officer who came back to us assured us he had us on his radar and we were okay to stand on, the ship was in fact a US Naval Warship, so not one to argue with!
Thursday - At midnight Janet went to bed for 4 hours, such was our watch routine, and at 0130 I recorded in the log that we were 100 miles into the journey and our speed and course were good. We were also still creeping ahead of our fellow cruisers even though we had reefs in both sails. Our practice is to shorten sail during the hours of darkness so as to give the off-watch crew better comfort and peace of mind.
We had breakfast at about 0900 and it was clear neither of us had slept; anxiety, excitement, who knows.
During the day the sun shone again, and the wind varied between F4 and F5 from NW to N and, towards the end of the day, NNE. Mid morning had shown that we had logged 171 miles in the last 24 hours. We saw quite a few turtles who seemed totally unfazed by 10 ton of boat bearing down on them, and we had three or four squid washed onto the deck but no dolphins or whales in sight. We also saw a yacht past going in the opposite direction, and we both said we where glad it was not us beating into the wind. During the early evening we deviated south of our rhum line by 15 Miles so as to clear Ampere Seamount, which at only 56m below the surface might cause tricky seas.
We had a late dinner of chilli-con-carne then settled into a quite uneventful moonlit night, seeing only a couple of ships. Having said that, the night sky was brilliant and we wished we knew more about the constellations; cor, so many stars and planets.
Friday - Mid morning, looking back at the 4 hourly crosses on the chart, showed that we had topped 180 miles during the last 24 hours, and to cap it all, we had been reefed and trying to go slowly.
By mid day the GPS showed an ETA of about 0200 Saturday morning, so our arrival would be in the dark, really dark, not a time to go berthing in some strange marina. We already had 2 reefs in the main and so in went the very deep third reef, which together with a scrap of head sail did seem to slow us down, so hopefully we would not arrive in the dark. By the third day the wind was generally F5, occasionally 6 but from the NNE, putting it just off our stern. During the 2nd day we made very good progress, but the sea began to build up to 3-4 m waves and with a confused directional pattern; as evening approached the wind rose and was gusting 7 for a couple of hours. Sleeping was quite difficult during this time, in fact we think we now know how laundry feels in the washing machine. Despite being well packed and cushioned in the berth it was hard not to roll in time with the boat. Other than this minor discomfort we had another good day.
Saturday - At about 0200 we could see the lighthouse on Ilheu de Cima just off Porto Santo about 20 miles away so, if we could keep our speed down to about 5 knots, we would arrive off the lighthouse just as it became daylight. Trouble was the log insisted in showing 8 knots with peaks over 11 knots so we rolled the Genoa away totally. Then as the wind went fully NE we were on a dead run, though now in a full F7 occasionally F9 in the gusts, so 5 knots became a reality and everything went to plan; we entered the harbour on Porto Santo at first light, 2 days 17.5 hrs after leaving Lagos.
The hardest part of the journey was berthing on the pontoons. Everyone in the marina was, as you would expect, fast asleep, and the wind was gusting off the mountains which overlook the harbour. One minute it was 5 knots and then within seconds this screaming gust up to 30 knots would occur, despite being tired we managed on the second attempt without too much cursing. Extremely tired but having thoroughly enjoyed our trip.
Two other yachts left Lagos with us and we had agreed to have a VHF rendezvous at the change of the watch every 4 hours. We thought at the outset this would be a burden, but they turned out to be very enjoyable, with all participants looking forward to them, on a par with the anticipation one had for the Archers in the past. We were able to relay and compare weather information from our various sources, discuss our sleep habits (or lack of sleep actually), and just have a general chat. Despite not being in sight of the other two vessels after the first 24hrs it was good to know they weren’t all that far away, and as we had deliberately slowed our progress during the last night they arrived in Porto Santo only 3 hours behind us. We were waiting on the pontoon to help them tie up as the wind was even stronger by then.
Meal preparation and consumption had all gone to plan during the voyage and neither of us had experienced any sea sickness or lose of appetite, and so sleep was our priority, breakfast could wait.
Facts from the trip were:
On the next page we'll show you Porto Santo.