500 miles to windward.
8th Sep 07
Farewell Madeira, hello 500 mile passage to the mainland, and all of it to windward. We hope for North Westerly Force 3-4 and a 0.5 metre sea. Oh yes, once again the passage had a splendid surprise for us.
Of course we hoped for 5 days of North Westerly Force 3-4 and a 0.5 metre sea but would we get it? Once David had returned home we began in earnest weather watching for a suitable window for the trip. Good winds would be critical but so also would be the sea state, light wind passages demand that the sea be flat or else the waves rock the boat and disturb the wind so much that the boat stops. A further complication is that waves travel hundreds of miles so that bad weather, well away from our intended course, could still create a bad sea for us. Oh dear, is the passage ever going to be possible.
By mid August the Azores high had stopped wandering about so winds were becoming consistent, errrr, constantly NE so not ideal for us, but then a shallow low pressure area formed near Gibraltar and proceeded to wander westwards. The effect of the low was not forcastable because it was so shallow (less than 4 mB deep); the best we read was for Variable 2's perhaps NW'ly.
In the Azores friends said they had no wind and the waves were settling. US Navy weather said the sea state would be waves of 8ft reducing to less than 6 ft. And Grib.US also showed favourable conditions so we decided to go. All of this planning and pondering had been done together with Jürgan and Brigitte on Good Fellow and they, likewise, decided it was go time.
Another yacht, Do Littles from Canada, which arrived a few days ago with a broken lower stay, would be leaving an hour after us but they would head direct to Gibraltar and then on to the canals of southern France. They carry quite a lot of fuel so Wally and Lori will not be worried at light winds, fuel costs maybe. It will be good to catch up via Skype and see how their trip went. Onboard were 2 dogs, Merlot and Dubonet; good names eh? Merlot was amazing, always sizing up the fish population, and I mean always.
Our Atlantic trip begins
Saturday - fully fuelled, 180L in the tank and 70L in cans, we set of into an weakly forecasted situation fully expecting to have to motor for most of the distance. At mid day, rounding the end of the island, we were straight into a F5 Northerly but at least the waves were mature and fully developed so long and acceptably comfortable. We decided on comfort so choose to put the wind 60 deg of the bow and not our normal racy 30 deg's. It was bearable, perhaps OK for 4 hours but not 104 hours. Good Fellow had us worried with their very erratic course but on our 1600 call Jürgan described how he had been fixing a leaking foredeck hatch. Well done I say.
Late afternoon, as we passed Porto Santo, the wind eased more westerly and dropped to a F4 freeing us off such that the sail became quite pleasant and we were actually heading direct for Lagos. As darkness descended the wind was back Northerly so we reefed down and asked Seaman Redgrave (the Hydrovane) to sail best course to windward.
Sunday - neither of us had slept well last night, perhaps a couple of hours each, too excited perhaps. Shortly after breakfast Redgrave was struggling with the light winds so the delicate Autohelm was asked to perform, it "Drive stopped" ever 15 min's but was still better than hand steering. Our 24 hrs run was 134 miles. After lunch the wind returned as a NNE3 and so with Redgrave helming and full sail we made good progress against a very long 2m sea.
During the afternoon we discovered that cockpit-cat-naps had real value and so we moved into trying to sleep whenever either of us was off watch. This resulted in us either been on watch for four hours or eyes closed and trying for sleep for 4 hours. A definite conversation killer. Which is maybe why Janet noticed we had a hitch-hiker. We didn't know what type of bird it was but it was 200 miles from land, maybe just having a rest? Do you know what it is?
At 1900 I contacted G4FRN. Bill runs the UK Maritime Mobile Network from his amateur radio station in London; he told us isobars were still absent in our area so we were likely to be running the engine soon.
Sure enough, 2 hours later on went the engine at 1500 RPM (very fuel thrifty) but with no wind the sails banged alarmingly. Nearing mid night we'd had enough, we dropped all sail but oh the rolling. We tried the genoa sheeted hard centrally but it was little help so back up went the main. All of this by moonlight mid Atlantic, if you'll forgive the generalisation.Monday - at 0000 hrs we discovered that Good Fellow was only 10 miles from us and also motoring.
Passing the shallows, Ampere Seamount, once again showed lots of traffic and all of it crossing our bows. It really is an Atlantic crossroads. One thing has surprised us, shipping seems to travel at only 10 - 12 knots, i.e. a very fuel efficient speed. At Ruby Tuesday's speeds we are often matching them.
Following breakfast we spoke to Good Fellow and they confirmed the wind was back, maybe we would see it soon. We were all having about 2.5 hrs sleep in each 4 hours so we were really alert, so much so, Jürgan said we were no longer sailing away from Madeira but sailing towards Portugal, i.e. we were past the half way point. At midday our 2day mileage was 260 miles.
Midday saw us back under engine. Life was good under motor, 1500 rpm gives 4.5 knots but with no heeling and Janet can be active in the galley. Especially with sea like this photo when even bum straps are not needed. I must say, we did eat well on route.
Oh dear the Raymarine C70 chart plotter has packed up. One of the keys is effectively stuck so the charts keep zooming in until they are useless, no other keys work. Back to paper then - heck. Luckily my Benefon Esc! GSM mobile phone with built in GPS is working so we do at least know where we are, and of course we really do have paper charts. And to cap it all the Raymarine autohelm now shows "drive stop". Has Raymarine got it in for us?
Tuesday - Hurray, its midnight and we have a sailable wind. By 0400, and changeover time, the wind had never been above a F2 so really challenging to keep the boat moving, will Janet have the patience to do likewise? Its important to maintain best Northing as the forecast from G4FRN shows strong Northerlies near the Portuguese coast, so gaining miles to the North now will allow us to bear away later if the winds are really strong.
We are all sleeping well now, Brigitte says "Jürgan slept like a dead man", luckily he awoke like a live man, I think that's important.
At 1045 we noted that we were only 100 miles from the Portuguese coast - Hurray.
During lunch we were disturbed by a dolphin visit, not ordinary dolphins (do we get ordinary dolphins?) but Risso dolphins, about 20 of them. They were very light in colour and were badly scared from fighting with giant squids. Yeh right, o'course they were! Well so says Janet. Then, 2 hours later, errrr WOW.
Mid afternoon saw us sailing nicely at about 6 knots, we were drinking tea and all was well when Janet saw a commotion ahead. Yeah you've guessed, more dolphins, actually about 100 of them. They were, we think, following a shoal of fish and were in a straight line, over a quarter of a mile long, right across our bows. Once they realise we were catching them they moved into display mode, show-off mode. 10 of then, all side by side, would leap 3 or 4 metres into the air and all absolutely together; amazing. In the photo you can sadly only see the right hand guy leaping but look at the height. We followed them, and their display, for maybe 10 minutes, we felt privileged to witness such a show. Quite fantastic.
Wednesday - At midnight the strong Northerlies arrived but out plan had worked, we could bear away and head for Portimao. Shipping was really busy so neither of us slept. They were travelling too and from the Med, some rounding Cape St Vincent bound for Northern Europe whilst other were USA bound. One of them came up behind us, would have passed us but unfortunately the wind had increased and with it our speed to almost equal the ships speed. Its turn in front of us was therefore too soon. Janet was unfazed and was happily steering to go round its stern but the ship, realised that it was the give way vessel, did a full throttle reverse, emergency stop. We sailed round their stern as Janet had always planned. Once we had rounded them they did a full-forward-throttle take off, the water around them boiling as they did so. Pratt's, somebody on board obviously got it wrong, that will teach them to take sailing yachts for granted.
We arrived in Portimao at about 0700 and tied up on the fuel pontoon until staff arrived. Janet had hand steered the last 3 hours, dodging ships and pot buoys and giving me an easy time as I was really tired, she was also cold and tired on arriving. Its amazing, we were sleeping on route but it was only just adequate to maintain bodily systems at the levels needed for a passage. The last 6 hours had needed us both to be awake and we realised nether of us was sufficiently rested to give that amount of time to the task at hand.
Gob-smacking facts you need to know