Monday 15th May
In the morning, Tom and I went ashore to undertake final provisioning for fresh stuff and to clear with Customs. Then back to the boat to stow the dinghy and make ready for sea. Weighed Anchor at 1300 and motored over to fuel dock to top up with fuel and water. Then we headed back to the Anchorage to say good-bye to new friends Bob on Pipistrelle, Justin on ??? and Trev on Liberdade. She was only 28 feet and Trev and a pal had sailed from Australia on her via The Cape of Good Hope. That’s an amazing achievement – nearly as impressive as Webb Chiles doing it on his own in his 24 foot superyacht Gannet! I wonder if they came across each other? They must have been at sea around the same period.
Around 1400 we set the mainsail in the harbour and headed out for the exit channel and by 1530 we were sailing for the Azores with goose-winged mainsail and genoa on the port tack.
Tuesday 16th May
I took the first night watch to give Tom a chance of finding his sea legs. We had to gybe around 0130. The wind was very variable in strength between about 10 – 20k and direction and it took ages to get AS settled on a reasonable course of about 070ᵒ T with Angus our trusty Hebridean wind vane at the helm.
Around 0700 the wind fell away very light and then backed to East of North and we continued on a close reach on the port tack under full sail at around 4-5 knots.
Boat speed was up and down during the course of the day – between 4 to 6 knots.
By noon we had covered about 100 miles since departing St George’s.
I cooked dinner, the first of our two fresh meat meals. Chilli stir fried pork and potatoes. No fresh green vegetables. The prices in the local shop were so extreme and the produce was all chilled which would quickly rot on the boat. Our fridge was too small to accommodate any more too.
The wind got up sufficiently to require two reefs in the mainsail around 2000.
Tom took the first watch between 2100 and 1300.
Wednesday 17th May
By the time I took over the Watch at 0100 the wind had eased considerably and so I shook the reefs out again. Of course, it wasn’t long before it freshened and I wondered whether it was going to be necessary to re-reef. Thankfully it didn’t get that strong and so we continued under full sail for the rest of the night and up until the time of writing this – 1400. In fact the wind eased down significantly during the course of the morning and early afternoon with our speed reducing to 3 knots for periods – endangering our goal of arriving in Flores early enough for Tom to get his flight out from Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel on the afternoon of 3rd June. His daughter’s High School graduation ceremony is the following day and so it’s a date he understandably wants to keep. Sailing to a schedule on a long distance ocean passage on a small boat with only minimum reserves of fuel is a notoriously fool-hardy enterprise and so all we can do is hope that Neptune favours these two particularly fool-hardy Mariners!
So far we’ve seen little wild life – two birds one sitting on the water and one in flight, and a solitary flying fish!
The weather has for the most part been very pleasant. Yesterday after a cloudy start was a beautiful sunny day but not overly hot – indeed we didn’t need the Bimini down all day. Today has been a little warmer and we put the Bimini down at 1100 once the batteries were fully charged – earlier than normal due to running the engine for just under an hour around 0400. I didn’t understand why at the time, but by then, we had consumed 28 amp hours – around the usual limit with the batteries in their now semi-knackered state. Since leaving the very warm temperatures of the Caribbean that many Amp Hours normally gets us through the night and so I was puzzled why we consumed that much that quickly. Later in the morning I think I discovered the reason. I heard a faint whirring noise around the companion-way area and realised that the switch for the electric bilge pump had been accidently knocked into the on position. Of course, that could have happened at any point but hopefully it will prove to be the cause of the extra consumption.
At 1430 we were visited by a large school of spotted Dolphins and they stayed with us for 20 minutes or so – another wonderful experience and Tom’s first sighting of Dolphins at sea.
Readers may recall from an earlier posting (or I may have imagined writing about it) that the boat is low on gas (the cooking variety not petrol). We carry Campinas (a Butane mix) cylinders. I normally carry two but bought a third one in Grand Canaria before departing. They are very common in the UK and throughout Europe and are available in most ports. I had also read that these cylinders were easy to obtain in the Caribbean and so it proved. I exchanged cylinders in Mindelo (Cape Verde), Martinique and Antiqua and with Neville’s help - after a major hunt around in Jamaica, found somewhere that would re-fill the cylinders there with Butane. It seemed unlikely that they would be available in Cuba and as a consequence I didn’t look. I also anticipated that I wouldn’t find them in the Bahamas (being American in so many respects and therefore probably propane/American fittings territory). However, I assumed I would be able to get them re-filled in Bermuda being British but it turned out that not only was Bermuda, Propane only, they would also not fill Butane tanks with propane. On leaving West End in the Bahamas I had one nearly full tank and one full tank left. However, carelessness early on my passage to Bermuda resulted in me leaving the gas on low for an hour or so after boiling a kettle and so midway through my stay in Bermuda I had to connect the last remaining tank. The next day I bought at great expense two small propane cylinders and a single burner. I used that for the remainder of my stay in Bermuda whilst the boat was steady at Anchor (one cylinder probably ¾ used). The upshot being that we left Bermuda with only one nearly full Campingaz cylinder to get us to the Azores – hopefully around 14 days away. It should just about be enough. Mick and I got through one cylinder during the 16 day crossing from Mindelo to Martinique. However, to preserve gas stocks as much as possible we started using the solar kettle. It consists of an internal insulated cylinder and fold around mirrored wings which when deployed direct sunlight onto the cylinder. It holds about two mugs of water. After about four hours in the sun the water reaches boiling point. We can then either use it directly to make tea or coffee etc., or transfer it to a Thermos Flask and to reduce the subsequent time it takes to boil water in the kettle. It has proved to be a very useful device. Hopefully it will help us get to the Azores without running out of gas.
Tom cooked dinner – a tasty meal of burgers and sautéed potatoes, plantain and tomatoes – the burgers being the last of our supply of fresh meat.
He took the first Watch 2100 to 0100, which for the first three hours was slow going with the wind constantly being rolled out of the sails by the swell causing the sails to crash and bang all over the shop. I know because I was trying very unsuccessfully to sleep!
Thursday 18th May
The wind picked up a little in the last hour of Tom’s Watch and the boat settled down to quieter rhythm and faster pace – up from 2-3 knots to 3-4 knots and I could get some sleep. All too quickly though it was time for me to take over the Watch. On the plus side the wind held and we continued to make reasonable speed so that by dawn we were making between 4-5 knots in roughly the right direction.
We passed East of 60ᵒ West during the Watch and so at the change over, I advanced the clocks by 1 hour so that 0600 became 0700. Our up and coming noon to noon will therefore be only 23 hours!
The batteries held out so it looks like the problem of the previous night was caused by the bilge pump being accidentley switched on.
Noon to noon, distance to Flores = 1371 which brought us only 78 miles nearer our destination. Our worst to date even allowing for the 23 hours. Tom won’t make his flight unless we can improve on that by around 20 miles a day!
The wind backed during the morning requiring us to proceed under goose-winged main and genoa on the starboard tack. That however is pushing us south of our ideal course by some 10ᵒor so. We had however tracked some 8 miles or so north of our preferred track during the last 24 hours and so I judged that a slight over correction now was better than going still further north. The only other option would be to gybe the boat again, but with the wind being so fickle it could easily change once again. Air pressure is still gradually increasing; up from 1013 mb on departure to 1023 mb now and so I fear we may well be in for light variable airs for some time to come. At this point I reviewed the above decision in light of the last grib file downloaded at St Georges which showed a ridge of high pressure west to east from Florida to about 45ᵒW and between 25ᵒ to 40ᵒN. We need to get out of that and a North Easterly track should get us out more quickly. So around 1450 we turned to port to put the wind on the beam on a heading of 30ᵒ- 40ᵒ T and picked our speed up to 3.5 to 4 knots.
By 2000 the wind was pushing us almost due North on the beam reach and had increased a little and so we changed course again to head back towards our WP on a course of about 070ᵒT at 3-4 knots. Just about respectable and we were at least now going in the right direction.
Despite the fact that we could have done with more wind it was a delightful afternoon in warm but not too hot sunshine and so we folded the Bimini away, listened to Jimmy Buffet on the ‘FLIP’ in the cockpit and downed 2 Gin and Tonics during the course of the afternoon. I was first introduced to Jimmy Buffet’s music a few weeks ago by Dave and Kimberly on board ‘Island Girl’ when we were in Hemingway Marina, Havana. They were aghast when I confessed my ignorance of his music and indeed of his existence full stop and decided I needed some serious musical re-education. Jimmy is a VERY big noise in the USA and they could not believe his music was not as equally well known in the UK. They concluded I must have spent a large proportion of my life in a dark hole somewhere. It was only later when I introduced them to Anna and Daniel, a Scottish/ Brazilian couple who had also not heard of him, that they were willing to give me the benefit of the doubt! And so, I discovered the delightful “Cheeseburger in Paradise”, “Margaretville”, “One Particular Harbour” and many more songs. At first I wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about. His songs seemed pleasant enough, easy listening but not much more. However, they grew on me once I listened to the lyrics more carefully – they are very witty and sometimes quite deep too. Anyway it turned out that Tom was also a Jimmy Buffett fan and had the full Buffett collection on his MP3 player. I took a copy so that we could play his music through my ‘FLIP’ speaker.
Tom also smoked his pipe handed down from his father and I took a few puffs finding the experience quite pleasant. Unfortunately, both our fathers are now dead; mine much too early at the age of only 56 in 1984, Tom’s rather more recently a few years ago aged 75. Both were consummate pipe smokers and so Tom’s pipe brought back memories for both of us.
I have to confess I was a bit sleepy after the second G&T and so took an afternoon snooze! It was then my turn to cook. We had snacked our way through the G&Ts with pistachios and trail mix and so neither of us were feeling overly hungry. Dinner was therefore a simple meal of frankfurter sandwiches with onions and garlic fried in chilli powder. They were rather yummy.
At 2100 I noticed the barometer had dropped a little – down from 1023 mb @ 1350 to 1021 mb and so I was hopeful of picking up a fresher breeze. During Tom’s watch it did pick up a little and we averaged just over 4 knots. We still had a very confused swell however and so the boat was rolling with the sails crashing - not conducive to good sleeping. I did though manage to get a couple of hours. However, during my Watch I felt incredibly tired between 0300 and 0400 and had to resort to dozing in the cockpit. It was quite a sound tactic from the point of view of still maintaining a lookout because the rocking and rolling of the boat meant I kept slipping off the cockpit seat and therefore never really nodded off!
The wind more or less held during my night watch and through into Tom’s early morning Watch. When I took over at 0900 we had a decent breeze and Tom reported 4+ knots with the boat on course for the duration of his watch. Unfortunately, as soon as he departed for his bunk the wind departed too – or at least died away significantly, such that we were soon barely making 2 knots and were once again rolling and crashing in the sloppy seas – I’m beginning to suspect that regular ocean swells from one consistent direction do not exist – I don’t think I’ve experienced them since leaving the Canaries! By noon I’d had enough and we headed northwards once again on a beam reach in an effort to clear the high pressure area and find a stronger breeze. Our speed increased to a little over 3 knots but of course we were no longer heading in the right direction! To rub salt into our wounds the boat’s motion was such that we couldn’t find a secure location in which to deploy the solar kettle. Yesterday, the plastic hinges on its solar reflectors broke because of it repeatedly capsizing. Tom fashioned a running repair with Gaffer tape but I don’t want to damage it further. Another set-back was discovering the solar shower bag that we had left out in cockpit over night was empty. Four gallons of precious water literally down the (cockpit) drains! At the time of writing I haven’t investigated to establish whether it had sprung a leak or simply that the tap had been knocked on.
It’s another sunny day – we just need more wind!
We deployed my pathetic fishing gear at 1330 to supplement our now rather boring protein stocks!
Tom cooked an excellent meal of tinned Tuna, fried Plantain Onions and Tomatoes and boiled potatoes. We followed that with tinned peaches and evaporated milk.
Around 2030 we headed back in the general direction of the Waypoint again but still very slow going at around 2.5 – 3 knots. It remained like that throughout the rest of the night.
Saturday 20th May
The wind picked up again at around 0430 and we were making 4 knots once again. However, when I took over again at 0900, Tom reported that the wind died back once again shortly after he took over – around dawn.
The low voltage alarm went off again around 0900. There was no sun. We had however only consumed 25 Amp hours which was down on the previous occasion when it went off at -28 Amp hours. I hope that doesn’t prove to be a trend. I want to avoid replacing the batteries before we get back to the UK if possible. I’m more likely to get a better deal there – and will not have to rush into making what will be a major and costly purchasing decision. I ran the engine for an hour and a quarter in gear and reduced the negative AMP ours to -7.8. We made just under 4 knots during that period. Back under sail alone we were down to 3.5 knots or thereabouts.
Around 1130, I decided to try the spinnaker to increase our speed. Half way through setting it up the breeze increased again and so I abandoned the idea at least for the time being – the spinnaker is a bit of a handful and I didn’t want to get caught with it up in a fresh breeze – we were sailing at 4 knots again. Of course, by the time I’d tidied everything up the breeze was down once more. As I write however (1245) I can see speeds of over 4 knots again, so perhaps we are beginning to finally push into stronger winds. Our course over the ground is around 60-65ᵒwith our next Waypoint bearing 82ᵒ. We would need to gybe to head directly for it, but I don’t think is worth it until we have made more ground and/or the breeze becomes better established.
At 1330 the wind freshened again and we picked up speed to around 5 knots which we held for the rest of the day. After dinner, which I cooked – chilli fried frankfurters, potatoes and fried plantain – and just as Tom was about start his Watch at 2100, the wind freshened further and I contemplated reefing but didn’t. I went to bed but was nervous about whether I should have reefed and so didn’t get much sleep – but was too lazy to get up and put the reef in!
Sunday 21st May 2017
By the time, I took over from Tom at 0100, he was having difficulty controlling the boat and so I put two reefs in the Genoa which quietened things down a bit for a while and things remained like that for the remainder of my Watch and the first two hours of Tom’s that started at 0500. At 0700 he had to call me up the wind had freshened further and had veered into the Northwest requiring us to gybe and put two reefs in the main. Within minutes of completing that change the wind died away again and I had to shake out the reefs once more. By 0930 the wind was up again and so I reefed the main again! The day was grey, drizzly and rather cold! Later in the morning as the weather got even more grey and wet it also got very cold for about half an hour. The weather up until then had been classic warm front conditions. When it got cold it was still gloomy and wet but clearer weather was evident to windward and I surmised that the leading edge of a cold front must have been passing over. By the time the brighter weather arrived the temperature had recovered. For a while I was reminded of Autumn sailing back in the UK!
Our noon to noon plot put us 110 miles nearer to Flores with a mere 1,116 nautical miles to go! We had probably sailed nearer to 120.
The clearer weather arrived around 1400 and we got enough sunshine to charge up the batteries and whilst still pretty blowy it was quite a pleasant and reasonable warm afternoon.
Tom knocked up an excellent late breakfast around 1500 of bacon and egg sandwiches in flat bread. Absolutely delicious and just what was required to keep our spirits high in the boisterous conditions.
Around 1930 the wind freshened still further and a third reef in the mainsail was required – so in total we had one and half in the Genoa and three in the main. Under this rig on a Port beam reach we were making 5 to 6 knots. Time spent in the cockpit or on deck was now only when required to manage the boat – it was too wet up there! The washboards went in around 1945 too.
Monday 22nd May
I came on Watch at 0100 and everything was much the same as before. It’s difficult to be accurate in the dark without a reliable anemometer but I think we are in near gale conditions. A prolonged gust just hit us and Arctic Smoke veered into the wind with her sails flogging. I waited to see whether it was indeed a gust and would pass or whether this was a more permanent deterioration in the conditions. Fortunately, it was the former and after a couple of minutes Angus was able to bring us back on course. He has performed remarkably well the whole passage but particularly so during this recent spell of windy weather. He’s been out there all on his own for hours now getting soaking wet without any complaints whatsoever. I’m very glad he’s a member of the crew! Tom’s doing pretty well too! Whilst in the middle of writing this entry we must have been hit square on the beam by a large wave because suddenly Arctic Smoke took a lurch to Starboard and all the loose contents of the galley arrived on the chart table including a fairly heavy half full jar of marmalade which I think would have given me a serious headache if it had connected. That’s back in the locker now. Although it later it escaped with various other contents when we took another mighty blow on the Port beam. The Barometer has dropped a millibar since 1800 yesterday evening. It had dropped around four millibars in the preceding 24 hours – not a huge amount and I’m therefore assuming we’re in the southern half of a depression which the last grib file we have, put to our North. I was just about to write (at 0350) that I was therefore hopeful that weather wouldn’t get any worse when it did! The boat rounded up into significantly stronger wind and this time the wind did not die down. I went out to investigate in the dark and eased the main out fully and wound another couple of rolls in the Genoa. That seemed to be just enough so that Angus could bring the boat back under control. She still veered up in the stronger gusts but that’s fine if she returns to her course after the gusts passed. I did debate with myself whether further action by way of sail changes should be made. I hadn’t got round to rigging a fourth reefing pennant and so the choices were: rig one ‘on the hoof’ by reusing an existing pennant – but that would require messing about on top of the cabin top in a gale which was probably not a good idea; getting the main down completely and continuing under the Genoa alone – on a beam reach that was probably doable but I would still have to get up to the mast and do it – again doable but unpleasant; or heave to and wait for the wind to moderate. The easiest of the three options – to heave had one big disadvantage – we would slow to a snail’s pace. Eventually, I decided to leave things as they were and heave to if the boat became unmanageable again. Fortunately, although we had to endure some prolonged heavy gusts when AS veered up into the wind with sails flapping, they eventually passed and we could continue our way at 5-6 knots. The seas by this time were BIG – probably as big as those Mick and I encountered on our crossing to Martinique. This time however they were on the beam and whilst every now again we got hammered and the boat lurched to leeward, for most of the time the motion was much more pleasant. That awful and extreme jerky rolling we suffered during our westward’s crossing being absent.
Tom cooked up a very welcome hot meal of corned beef, baked beans and rice.
Monday 22nd May
The conditions remained much the same during the night and into the first half of Monday. At 1125 I made a note in the log – “moderated slightly?” It hadn’t – just a temporary lull.
I missed the noon position but at 1230 the range to Flores was 969 nautical miles and we were closer by 125 nautical miles.
By 1600 conditions had eased. I let a little more Genoa out and hardened in on the main sheet a little. Our speed was down to 4.5 to 5.5 knots and we were tracking southwards a little due to the reduced weather helm and less rounding up. I may have to make further adjustments if the conditions continue to ease.
They didn’t, at least not in a sustained manner. The wind was up and down for the rest of the day, often blowing as hard as ever and we continued under three reefs in the mainsail and two and a bit in the genoa. The biggest gusts provided an extra helping of drama. A couple of days ago, one of the slides on the mainsail (these are attached to the front edge of the sail and which slide up and down the mast in a grove) had worked lose and so I removed it with the intention of re-attaching it later when conditions improved. The stainless-steel eye into which the slide would otherwise have been attached was now up against the aluminium mast and the strongest gusts caused it to vibrate and make an eerie screeching wail adding to the rest of the gale’s cacophony. The conditions were such that visits to the cockpit were made only for the essential purposes of maintaining a lookout and making the occasional adjustments to sail trim and/or to Angus. Otherwise we remained down below with all hatches and the wash-boards battened down. In the worst spells of weather, waves crashed into AS’s port beam and broke over her decks as she then rounded up into the wind to deal with the gust before Angus’ determined efforts brought her back on course. These episodes were sometimes accompanied by driving rain and we could see thick sheets of rain and seawater cascading down the outside of the cabin windows and then along the side decks before returning to the Atlantic Ocean. I was so glad that Chris had managed the re-bedding of the cabin windows in Gran Canaria last November. It would have been absolutely miserable to have gone through this weather with water running in around every window! As it was, apart from a moment of ill-judged optimism (see later) when I thought the conditions were improving and left the companion way hatch open a crack for air and got the ocean instead, not a drop of water entered the saloon except via the mast partners. Despite the drama outside, inside was (unless being it by one of rogue waves on the beam) surprisingly peaceful. The strength of the wind kept the sails full at all times and made the boat more stable than when being tossed about in that most frustrating of conditions - sloppy seas and light airs. With the companion way hatch shut and washboards in the cabin was surprisingly quiet once one’s senses adjusted to the background din of the gale. The quiet was though, pierced from time to time by the wail of that missing mainsail slide!
It was my turn to cook dinner – a very basic bean and sausage stew out of a can with pasta!
We were visited by Dolphins again at dusk as we have been for the last few evenings. It’s strange the way they often seem to find us then. Perhaps related to their hunting schedule?
Tuesday 23rd May
When I came on Watch at 0100 the wind was still gale force or thereabouts although the barometer had started to rise – up 2 millibars to 1012/1020 (ship’s Barometer/my Casio watch). At the end of my Watch at 0500 I noted that the wind had moderated a bit.
Our noon to noon run got us 114 nautical miles closer to Flores, now 855 away. The wind had also moderated sufficiently to shake out a reef in the mainsail. I had earlier unfurled the genoa fully. I was just about to shake out the remaining 2 reefs at 1315 when the wind piped up again and I began to think I might have to put the third reef back in. Thankfully that was not required. By 1330 the Barometers were up another 4 millibars and at 1430 I did shake out the remaining two reefs in the mainsail. The wind continued to die during the afternoon.
After 24 hours of gale conditions I was pretty hungry and so Tom knocked up a great lunch of ham and cheese flat-bread sandwiches cooked in the frying pan – wonderful.
The weather was not quite done with us yet however. Tom and I were both seated on the starboard lee bunk finishing the afore mentioned lunch when we heard a terrific banging crash on the port side of AS, the next second a breaking wave had engulfed the boat and we watched through the windows, fascinated, as it drained off the cabin top and down the side decks and made its way aft, whereupon it reached the gap I had left in companion way hatch and surged through completely uninvited and without a ‘by-your-leave’. The companion way steps turned into a temporary waterfall and the chart table and seat suffered an indirect hit. Fortunately, all our electronic gadgets were stored well away to starboard on the chart table shelf and only got splashed. I wiped down my two phones that got with a tissue dampened in fresh water and they seem to have survived the ordeal. We also had quite a wipe up job to undertake throughout the saloon.
By mid-afternoon the conditions were sufficiently pleasant outside for us to celebrate passing the half way mark earlier in the day (about 850 nautical miles) with another draft of Tom’s Tennessee Bourbon and a couple of my Cuban cigars!
We received our regular visitors at dusk – the Dolphins.
The wind was now easing significantly however and we made little ground during Tom’s Watch between 2100 and 0100.
Wednesday 24th May
I nursed the boat along at a snail’s pace during the four hours of my Watch but by 0500 we were almost becalmed and without steerage way. I decide to motor for the coming four hours of Tom’s morning Watch in the hope that the wind might find us once again during that period. We couldn’t afford to motor for much longer than that if we were to keep sufficient fuel in reserve for charging batteries (when we have no sun), emergencies and getting into harbour. I set the boat up for motoring and left Tom to it for the next 4 hours, during which I got a surprisingly good sleep with the noise of the ever reliable and mighty 10hp Bukh cranking away in the not so ‘back’ background!
When I got up at 0900 there was a little wind – just enough to push us along between 2 and 3 knots under goose-winged mainsail and genoa, initially on the port tack and then the starboard. Progress though has been painfully slow and the sails continued slatting and crashing as the swell left behind by the gale, continuously rolled the light breeze out of them.
By noon we had endured our worst run yet – we were only 61 miles closer to Flores which is now a mere 794 miles away. We had a little wager on the distance. I had guessed 75 miles, Tom 69, so he won. I have still to decide the prize to award him for the dubious honour of being more right than me!
The afternoon weather however was delightful, warm and sunny with a breeze pushing us along at around 5k and the cockpit dry. We therefore decided to drown our disappointing day’s run in a couple of Dark ‘n Stormy’s each – the local Bermudan Rum cocktail, made with their dark rum and ginger beer. Perfect. We made a special toast to Rolph up ahead of us somewhere in his boat – ‘Dark n’ Stormy’.
The wind gradually increased during the late afternoon and night time and by the change of Watch at 0100, Tom reported a steady average of 6 knots.
Thursday 25th May
We had been gradually moving north of our desired track so during my Watch I gybed and poled out the genoa to enable us to head further eastwards. At 0230 I noted that the Barometer was falling slowly. I went off Watch at 0500 but at 0700 Tom called me up. The wind was up significantly and the mainsail had backed putting us in a rather unpleasant situation – the preventer and additional kicking strap had done their jobs and stopped the mainsail from crashing across the boat in an uncontrolled gybe but now the strong wind on the full mainsail set to windward was pushing the boat onto her beam ends. I needed to control gybe the mainsail as quickly as possible. I decided I would first release the kicking strap set to windward (requiring a trip up to the shrouds where the fall end went through a block) and then ease the main over using the preventer. However, I quickly discovered that the snap connector joining the two parts of the preventer had got itself snapped onto the windward cap shroud (the wire stay that runs from the top of the mast over the spreaders half way up and down to the deck). I quickly cut preventer in two and then went up to the shrouds to ease the main across using the kicking strap – a little tricky because the integral jam cleat was down at deck level making it difficult to release – I’ll need to make some changes to the set-up. Once sorted I put three reefs in the mainsail before we set off once again at a good but more comfortable pace.
Our noon to noon to noon run brought us 124 nautical miles closer to Flores, now 670 nautical miles off. We had another competition to guess the day’s run and Mr Feeney won with his guess of 128. Mine was an optimistic 132! The Barometer had and continued to drop over the coming hours. The good news was we were still going like the clappers with 6 knots regularly displayed and sometimes 7+!
At 1300 I gybed the genoa and took it off the pole. By 1800 it was blowing a full gale and even with three reefs in the main we were significantly over canvassed. We therefore hove-to whilst I re-rigged the second reefing pennant to act as the pennant for reef number four. I had the 4th reefing point added to the sail in Gran Canaria. The modification was an expensive one and ever since I’d doubted whether it was worth it and whether the new reef point was in the right place. It looked like the sail would be VERY small when reefed. However, it’s now clear that both decisions were the right. Without the 4th reef we would have had to either ‘heave-to’ and wait for the wind to diminish or run under genoa alone – a rig that would not have been nearly so well balanced and which might therefore make steering more difficult and quite possibly impossible for Angus. As it was we were able to proceed with Angus at the helm under the deeply reefed main and a scrap of poled out genoa. Under this rig we were still making 6+ knots and surging to 7+ in the gusts.
At 1930 I noted in the log that the wind had eased a little but that the swells were worse making life rather uncomfortable down below. The lull was a temporary one and by 2000 the wind was once again blowing a full gale. Despite these conditions, Mr Feeney set-to in the galley and produced a most welcome bean stew with rice. Just before sitting down to eat it though, the mainsail backed once again and I had to go on deck to manage the gybe and tack back. We proceeded under goose-winged rig albeit on a broad reach to avoid backing the mainsail once again. This meant our track was 15ᵒ or so south east of the ideal. I went to bed after dinner and left Tom to it – I slept well!
Friday 26th May
When I came back on Watch at 0200 we had slipped 12 miles south of our preferred track and so I decided to ship the pole and gybe the boat on to the port tack. This I managed successfully despite being thrown across the fore-deck and getting a bash in the kidneys for my trouble. I was sore but not severely damaged. By 0315 the wind had eased a little despite the Barometer continuing to fall albeit more slowly. At 0500 the wind died further and backed to the North West. I rolled out the genoa to the first reef point and set Angus to sail us on under a broad reach. Our speed was down to 4-5 knots.
At 0600 I noticed an AIS contact to our North going in the opposite direction. It was the cargo ship Vogerunner – Dutch I think. I called her up on the VHF and asked if they could give me a weather forecast which they did. Indeed, after our initial conversation during which she provided the forecast, she called us back to clarify our vessel type and destination. Our AIS signal was clearly not reaching them. On learning we were a tiddly sailing boat bound for the Azores she warned us of a low-pressure system moving in that direction from the North West. The forecast was for winds of 13 knots today from the NNW (we actually had rather more) diminishing to 8 knots tomorrow and backing to the SSW and rising back to gale force on Sunday! The centre of the Low was moving SSE at 20 knots which would place it over Flores on Monday 29th May – probably a day or two before we would get there. It looks like our approach and landfall may be a windy one therefore. I’m estimating based on that information that we’ll encounter strong winds from the SW which will back round to the North/North West during the last two or three days of the passage (i.e. commencing Sunday). I’m going to ask Mick to provide a forecast too.
Later forecasts received from Mick confirmed the general situation – i.e. we had fresh to strong winds for most but not all of the rest of the passage.
Our noon to noon run was a good one; we were closer to Flores by 127 nautical miles.
The wind moderated during the afternoon requiring the shaking out of all reefs. With the light wind in the NW we sailed on a beam reach on the port tack somewhat north of our desired track to maximise boat speed in the sloppy seas.
Saturday 27th May
By 0430 we were totally becalmed and I therefore turned the engine on to motor for a few hours. Given the forecasts the wind should return before too long. By 0745 a breeze had indeed returned from the South East and so we continued sailing once again. By midday we needed two reefs in the mainsail in the fresh E/SE wind.
The distance to our Flores waypoint at midday was 450 nautical miles and we were 103 miles closer.
We enjoyed steady consistent sailing more or less on course at around 5.5 knots for the rest of the day. I’m typing this a few days after the events and have therefore lost track of who cooked what when but we continued to eat pretty well by supplementing our tinned meat and fish with the remaining ‘fresh’ onions and garlic. We also had a couple of fresh limes and strangely enough the other ingredients for making Gin and Tonics and Dark ‘n’ Stormy’s. We were clearly getting hardened to the conditions because whilst a pleasant sunny afternoon in the cockpit was a great incentive to enjoy yet another cocktail, it was no longer a necessary precondition and a number were enjoyed below decks whilst it was dark and stormy above!
It was around this point in the passage that Tom showed an interest in Arctic Smoke’s original brass clock and barometer, both of which had ceased to function since before she fell into my possession in 2011! I had of course fiddled with them a little but to no avail and they therefore remained on the saloon bulkhead as lazy mementos to bygone sailing and sailors. I explained to Tom that they were hopeless relics but he was not easily deterred and so with the boat rocking and rolling he first turned his attention to the clock and through cunning use of the wind-up mechanism coaxed it into life! Personally, I was not fooled; it was clear to me that he was acting as some sort of divine conduit for Father Time. I had wound that clock several times in the past and it had steadfastly refused to tick one single tock. Next, he turned his attention to the barometer. A more challenging project. First it had to be removed from the bulkhead and then taken apart. Shortly afterwards we were both on our hands and knees trying to find one of the tiny screws that we thought had ejected itself from the case as Tom dismantled it. The cabin sole was not exactly spotless after days of rough weather on and off and so the task was not an easy one. A number of holes in the inspection hatches to the bilges also offered the little renegade plenty of opportunity to make a permanent escape. After numerous fruitless minutes of searching amongst the passage detritus we gave up and commenced the useless pastime of staring at the machine and wondering whether the missing screw was really necessary. “That’s where it goes” said Tom pointing to the inner mechanism “hang on a minute, what’s that stuck on the frame just there” – more pointing… Sure enough there was the errant screw stuck on the frame curtesy of a blob of oil. Tom proceeded to take everything apart and then re-assemble all the various bits. Nothing seemed to account for the barometer’s lack of activity. Oh well back on the bulkhead with it. At that time, we happened to be in period of stable air pressure and therefore it was not possible to establish whether the Barometer was working or not. Some hours later however and to our great delight movement was apparent, the Barometer was working once again – well done Tom. Not satisfied with getting the instruments functioning once again, Tom later polished them up so that they shone like new. Arctic Smoke therefore now has two Barometers and two clocks. The new ones I received as presents a couple of years ago, now unfortunately need re-plating, but at least I’ll be able to remove them for that purpose and still have two functioning instruments on board.
Sunday 28th May
By the time I got up to take over the Watch at 0100 the wind had clearly increased significantly and therefore my first job was to put another reef in the mainsail – which, once the task was completed, had three reefs in. I also furled the genoa deeply and gybed it to port alongside the mainsail. We continued under this rig for the rest of the morning.
During the afternoon, the wind backed and veered several times requiring the genoa to be alternately poled out to starboard and then set back to port again a number of times. We ended up with the genoa poled out to starboard and goose winged once again.
A further forecast in from Mick via the YellowBrick, confirmed the continuation of fresh winds and his prediction we would be in Lajes in time for Lunch on Wednesday!
At noon, we had 335 nautical miles left to run to Flores, 114 miles closer than the same time yesterday.
The afternoon passed without anything of significance to note. We were though once again visited by Dolphins at dusk. They had done so nearly every evening since we left Bermuda.
Monday 29th May
This time at the change of Watch it was clear we had too little sail and we were heading too far to the North of our intended track and so I gybed the genoa off the pole once again, unfurled it and set it on the same side as the main – to port (we still had three reefs in the Mainsail). As a consequence, we headed to far to the SE of our desired track! However, I decide to let things be for the time being.
At noon, we had 218 nautical miles left to go and were 117 closer.
After various sail plans during the afternoon including the shaking out of the reefs as the wind died, at 1530 the wind backed and increased in strength once again and so I put two reefs in the mainsail.
Tuesday 30th May
The change of Watch at 0100 had brought yet another change in conditions. The wind was up once again and the barometer was dropping. We were surging along at 6+ knots and the wind continued to gather in strength. Time for the third reef once again. Once done we were still making 6 + knots but Angus was having a much easier time keeping AS on course.
Our noon to noon run was 123 nautical miles closer to our WP, leaving just 85 miles to go to our destination.
During this period the GPS/AIS unit developed what turned out to be a temporary malfunction – the cross-track error screen (XTE) – which shows how far off the initial track from point A to point B the boat is at any given time - was showing the error opposite the boat’s actual position. At the time there was a lot of head scratching going on as we tried to make sense of the contradictory information the machine was showing us. We weren’t even sure if it was a fault or whether it had only recently developed. Perhaps it had been like that all the time and I had only just noticed it. My brain was feeling rather mushy. Then just as mysteriously the fault disappeared!
At 0030 the low battery alarm went off – there had been very little sunlight to charge the batteries over the preceding 24 hours but even so, the gauge showed we had only used 25 Amp hours. We had been getting a little more than that out of the knackered batteries. Anyway, the engine went on to charge them up and then shortly afterwards the wind died away completely and we had to motor for a couple of hours. At this point I discovered the steaming light had packed up. It had been raining for hours and we were getting increasingly soggy below decks with all the water that got brought in every time one of us went out and in again.
By 0300 the wind finally returned from the NW – I think it had backed but it was difficult to tell. We then ‘enjoyed’ a cracking sail to our landfall albeit in the pouring rain. Visibility was poor and so we didn’t get our first sight of Flores until suddenly the top of the volcano emerged from the cloud only a mile or so away. It was a spectacular sight – all the more awe inspiring in the terrible weather – it was a view straight off the pages of a Joseph Conrad or Ernest Hemingway novel. During the last few days, I had been reading Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ which no doubt helped conjure up the comparison. The weather remained awful for the rest of our approach; visibility was poor and it was bloody chilly. Just like a November day on the Medway! However, the wind died as we entered the lee of the island. We moored up in the marina at 1030 local time and with that, after just under 16 days (the same time as the longer outward passage to Martinique) our passage from Bermuda to the Flores – all 1680 miles of it was complete.