Wednesday 29 July 2015

Time to move on (to Flores)

Well it's been a delightful lazy few days at Velas but I really want to get to Flores and time is beginning to run out. The forecast isn't ideal - mixture of calms, fair light winds and contrary light winds over the next couple of days. The previously forecasted north easterlies never did materialise and they don't look as if they will in the near future, instead they are due to be replaced with fresh north westerlies in a couple of days which would be hard word work.

The passage to Flores - about 150 miles will therefore probably be a mixture of motoring and sailing but there should not be any strong contrary winds. The plan is to cast off at around 0700 tomorrow morning and head for Flores. If I can maintain a four knot average speed towards Flores I will get there on Friday evening before dark.

An alternative more real time track of the boat can be found via "". Search for "Arctic Smoke". The tracking is provided via the boat's AIS transponder.

Bon Voyage to Andy and Linda for their forthcoming passage to South Africa and Happy Wedding Anniversary...

Monday 27 July 2015

More Sao Jorge, news from new friends, newer friends, will I get to Flores?

Well I've been here in lovely Velas for four days now waiting for the winds to go round to the east to for a good passage to Flores. The trouble is the forecast keeps pushing the arrival of the easterlies back. First it was Tuesday, then Wednesday, now the lasted is Thursday, but now they look even more fickle than previously. We seem to be sandwiched between two areas of high pressure and looking ahead more than 12 hours is pretty hit and miss in that situation. I need to be in Horta for the 7th to meet David so I've still got  a few days to play with. It will take the best part of two days to get to Flores and the same to get back and there's no point in getting there just to turn straight round; so fingers crossed.

Fortunately there have been compensations. Firstly, Velas and Sao Jorge are simply' delightful.

The marina itself is a splendid setting....


Arctic Smoke - left of centre

A posh Dutch Yacht

There's wonderful snorkeling just round the corner from the marina at the locals swimming spot. One of those numerous "rock pools" that dot the Azores. This part of the Atlantic is teeming with fish compared with the Adriatic - the only other place I have snorkeled. Indeed one does not even have to leave the marina to see numerous fish. Throw a piece of bread over the side and within seconds it's surrounded by scores of fish. The "rock pools" though have even more, many of them highly coloured. Then there's the experience of swimming in say 2-3 meters of crystal clear water, which suddenly plunges to depths of 100 metres or more and all you can see then is blue.

This evening I went in search of a walk that new friends Andy and Linda of "Coromandel" told me about. First I spent the day doing a few jobs on the boat after yet another late start. First I stuck back on some wood trim that had come adrift in the heads weeks ago. Then I tackled a job that I only realised needing doing yesterday when trying (yet again) to seal the windows. I noticed the decks were spattered with thousands of little rust dots. I think they must have been deposited from our time under the Lisbon suspension bridge, but not being an avid deck scrubber I had not noticed them before. Most of the deck is painted and so I'm not too bothered about that because it needs repainting anyway - a job for next year. However, the gel coat areas are another matter and whilst the rust spots are definitely unsightly they may also be damaging the gel coat so something had to be done. Fortunately I had some mild abrasive to get rid of the foreign particles and then I painted on and washed of a mild sulphuric acid (I think) compound that bleaches the rust stains away.

Then I went over the side with the snorkel and cleaned up the water line which is particular liable to fouling with the constant change between water and air providing ideal conditions for weed to grow. The rest of the hull still looked pretty clean apart from the very bottom of the keel which was sporting a short beard. I was not up to diving down that far through so the beard will have to stay for now. I also noticed that the anode that I'd attached to the back of the propeller had disappeared which is a bit more worrying. Currently that means there is not protection against galvanic corrosion to the propeller. I'll have to re-rig the old hanging anode that I used previously so that at least the propeller is protected whilst in port. A job for tomorrow.

The walk  was  quite delightful. I found the start of it behind the church as Linda and Andy had said and made my way up the hill, passing the first sheep I had seen in the Azores. Shortly after that a runner passed me and stopped and very kindly gave me some tips about where to head for. It turned out that he was Arnie - a German and from a boat on the same pontoon as Arctic Smoke.

Here are some views from the walk...

Those animals just noticeable in the above photo are goats and some of them sported some very impressive horns.

I also took a 3 videos of the walk which give a much better impression of the grandeur of the views. Have a look at them on the video page.

On Friday evening, my first full day in Velas, Linda and Andy from Coromandel came over to introduce themselves.They're into their 7th year of sailing all the oceans and have completed a full circumnavigation are have no intention of stopping any time soon. They invited me for drinks for the following evening and of course I gladly turned up. Many hours afterwards I nearly fell off their boat on departure and did fall onto Arctic Smoke; thankfully not into the drink. It was a most enjoyable evening and it was great to hear of their many adventures. Coromandel is only a couple of feet longer than Arctic Smoke and is a Nicholson 35 one year older than Arctic Smoke and has taken very good care of them over the 7 years. I returned the favour last night and cooked for us all. We, did I think manage to consume slightly less alcohol than on the first evening. Although of course I didn't have far to go so I may be wrong. They will be off to Angra soon where they will leave Coromandel for a few weeks while they fly home for a spell, before continuing on to South Africa. Interestingly, despite their wanderings to many places, the Azores are one of their favourites spots. They much prefer them to the Caribbean on account of the people being so friendly and easy to deal with. I have heard similar comments from a number of other long distance sailors now! Linda has kindly put me in touch with sailing friends of theirs who have visited Jamaica. I'm very much looking forward to picking their brains. I'm invited back for a Barbecue tomorrow which will be good fun I'm sure.

I've also heard from a couple of the long distance sailors I said good bye to in Pria de Vitoria a few weeks ago. Claus has got to Treguier in Brittany after a 14 day crossing to Brest and is working his way north via Guernsey. Olly is in Arklow in Ireland, half way between Wexford and Dublin. He sailed in company with Arik and Berbera on Symphony, who apparently had problems with the rigging and engine and Olly towed them for a while! Apparently they made it to Brighton OK and I hope to hear from them soon. Mark and Anna from Netherlands/Germany, on board "Ojala" left at the same time and I hope to hear from them soon too.

Thursday 23 July 2015

I meant Velas!

Well anyway that's where i've ended up (on Sao Jorge). The winds were so contrary that I couldn't stand the thought of fighting them all the way to Flores. Whatever course I set the winds either headed me or died. I changed my mind about 6 hours out. I spent the vast majority of the day motor Sailing into headwinds. Probably the worst passage ever. Fortunately there were some people around when I arrived at 2300 and a few spare berths. A couple of French guys helped me moor up stern too. It all looked pretty neat but actually I messed up my first approach and had to take evasive action.

Wednesday 22 July 2015

A productive couple of days - off to Flores tomorrow

Top priority was the water tank leak so I tackled that first yesterday morning after a leisurely breakfast on board.

I hoped that the problem was simply a bad connection between the hose and the tank and that nothing had broken that would require spare parts - or worse that the tank had ruptured. Given it's a new tank, only fitted just before the commencement of the cruise, "simply" replacing it wit another, even if I could get hold of one may not be the answer.

I could see nothing obviously wrong with the fitting that's on the bottom of the tank, but did notice that I could tighten it up a little more. When Tony and I installed it I was concerned about the consequences of the weight of a full tank on that plastic fitting and had tried to provide some padding around it with sponges and rags. Despite that perhaps the fitting was being distorted by the weight of the tank. So I removed the fitting and then re-assembled it this time with some synthetic grease around the O ring seal. Then I butchered a low profile plastic food container to sit under the tank and around the fitting so that the tank would not sit directly on the fitting. I also inserted a couple of blocks of wood in side to provide extra support...

I then re-connected the outlet tube on the fitting and partly filled the tank having first inserted a sterilisation tablet and hoped for the best. After the tank was about an eighth full I turned off the tap and listened and prodded. No leaks were apparent. The water that was previously left in the tank was smelly so I pumped the quarter tank of water out and then re-filled it completely. Still no leaks. A result and a great deal of relief.

Next up I decided to give the cabin a spring clean including washing all the mattress covers and sleeping bags. Tony and I had sweated and in the early days of the trip froze on them, and then the boys had added their aroma during their stay so I thought I should try and spruce things up a bit for my new crew - Bernie and David who are due to join in a couple of weeks at Horta. I had advised them to bring their own sleeping bags but I have two spare ones and if I washed them it would mean the guys would have less to carry.

I was pleased to see that my hand washing of the mattress covers produces a noticeable improvement in their colour and aroma! I put the sleeping bags through the machine. Two washes and two drys cost 20 euros and that was the first time I thought the cost of anything was a bit expensive. Mind you, I have no idea how much it would have cost at home.

While the washing machines were doing their stuff I washed down the whole interior of the main cabin including the ceiling which on close inspection  was a light grey rather than the white it was supposed to be!

I took a break for a beer at the marina restaurant mid afternoon and got chatting to a couple of Americans, Doug and John from Boston who had just flown in to join "Tioga" a very pretty traditional American yacht. Vincent and I had chatted with her skipper, Philip Kersten the day before whilst boat watching in the marina. He's an American of German extraction and is sailing to Germany this year before returning to Boston in 2017. They're a great bunch of people and I wish them well with their journeys.

I was invited aboard a charter yacht for drinks in the evening, crewed by a lovely bunch of people from "up north". I was still drinking and yarning with them at 2200 when I remembered I had promised to ring Sharon and so made my excuses and made the call home. I had intended to shop before being waylaid, and so dinner was hot dog sausages and tinned potatoes!

After another leisurely breakfast this morning, first job was to sort out the engine stop circuit. There was at least one lose connection and it had taken half an hour to stop the engine on our arrival. Anyway I tightened up all the connections and subsequent test stops suggested all was now OK. Next whilst I was fiddling with wires and switches I thought I'd try and get the electric cool box working. Mick had wired it in a couple of years ago in lieu of a working fridge, but it had stopped working last year. First I had to teach myself how to use a volt meter, having previously relied in Mick for such skills. After a few sparks I consulted "wiki how to" and was off. It was soon apparent that no power was getting to the switch. I could not locate the supply end of the positive wire and so ran a new one from another live terminal by installing a "piggy back" connector. I couldn't ascertain what the existing terminal fed and hope it is not something with a large current. Anyway it all worked!

Next up was the starter solenoid. It had been getting temperamental over the last few months. Indeed, the first signs that something was amiss were evident before we left Chatham, but as is my want sometimes I chose to hope it would fix itself! Over the ensuing months there were occasions when the starter motor would not kick in unless I waggled the solenoid around. Anyway I finally got the message and bought a new one whilst back home. There are hundreds of them though and I had really no idea which one I needed. To know that I needed to know the make and model of the starter motor, but I didn't twig that until I had got back home; too late of course the starter motor was on the boat hundreds of miles away. Anyway I adopted a stringently scientific approach to choosing one - and plumbed for one that looked most like the one I had a picture of in my minds eye. It was a Lucas one and had the word "classic" in the description which sounded pretty encouraging given the age of the engine. Once out of the package it was clear that whilst similar it was not exactly the same as the existing one with some of the terminals in different positions and one of a completely different size. Anyway I connected it up using a mixture of guesswork and intuition and wonders of wonders it worked. By this time I was feeling pretty pleased with myself and event contemplated making my electrician (Mick) redundant. This was just as well given that he is about to set sail with Chris from Falmouth, bound for New Zealand. They may however come via the Azores, thereby allowing me to hand Mick his redundancy notice in person!

In between these periods of hectic activity I checked the weather and we appear to have a week or so of settled weather with moderate winds from the W/SW. Good conditions for a berth at Lajes in Flores. If I'm lucky I may make it close hauled but I expect some beating will be required. The plan is to leave at 0700 tomorrow (Thursday) and hopefully arrive before dark on Saturday, giving me one night at sea on my own for the first time. It will be interesting to experience that. The Austrian couple on their self made 56 foot steel ketch "Voodoo (something)"alongside Arctic Smoke have very kindly offered to get up early to help me get out of the berth which is a very tight fit!

Monday 20 July 2015

Hallo, sad goodbyes, carry on sailing, dolphins and other stuff

I flew back out  out to Praia da Vitoria with Sharon and the boys on the 15th July and we met up with my sister Stella and her husband Peter who were holidaying in the Azores for another couple of days. We should have overlapped for much longer but I screwed up the dates.

We hired a Renault van with 6 seats for a couple of days and had a wonderful time.

On Thursday we drove round the coast to Santa Barbara and found a great swimming spot despite the drizzly rain. Sharon was behind the camera but did provide a pose after our dip ...

We stopped off at Angra on the way back and had the first of a number of large meals that pleased Vincent no end.

On Friday we explored the island some more, the highlights of which were a visit to a couple of the island's mysteriously termed "volcanic phenomena". The first of which was an area in the hills where steam was still escaping from deep below ground. Didn't succeed in capturing any of it on camera though...

Next stop was a local snack bar for lunch that served up the most amazingly good value pork steak sandwiches which we all devoured with relish. Indeed, Peter, Vincent and Stephen had seconds. They were only 1.5 euros each!

Next was a drive up to the highest point on the island to enjoy the view......

Then a drive down some narrow lanes to caves (the second volcanic phenomenon) formed my a complex interaction between two volcanic eruptions many years apart which preserved the interior of the volcanic core for us to walk around thousands of years later. Amazing......

 Then back to the local beach bar for drinks.....

.... before the worst dinner of the holiday in a local restaurant. Unfortunately we battled on through the meal like typical English folk and only complained after we had "finished". Very unusually in our experience to date, the management were not at all interested and refused to make any concession on the price so we eventually paid up and left and then the boys used the restaurant's internet connection to post their reviews on "Trip Advisor". Afterwards we had drinks at a very friendly and very cheap local bar before retiring late to bed only to be serenaded by the worst rock band in the world until about 3 am!

The next day, Saturday, I drove Peter and Stella to the Airport for 0700 and we then prepared to sail to Angra. The forecast was not good for poor Sharon - Force 3 to 5 on the nose, but if we didn't sail the boys would get no sailing in as the next day looked worse. So we dosed Sharon up with Stugeron and hoped for the best, which from her point of view might as well have been the worst. We had a fresh beat of 20 or so miles around the coast to Angra. The boys enjoyed it but Sharon was miserable and wanted to die, although she did not actually throw up! We saw dolphins on the way which was great for the boys. We motor sailed the last 5 miles to get in as quickly as possible so as to minimise Sharon's misery.

Unfortunately Sharon was so knocked out by the Stugeron that she was not up to coming out and so the boys and I ended up having probably the best meal of the week without her. Great Fillet Mignon steaks all round.

On Sunday we took a crew "selfie"

and wandered around Angra's delightful public gardens .....

We planned to take Sharon back to the restaurant where we had enjoyed our steaks but unfortunately it was closed and so we had to make do with a nearby steak house which was fine but not as good.

This morning the boys and I went whale watching on one of the local boats. I had tried to convince Sharon to come with us but she wisely declined. Whilst it was much calmer than during our short passage from Angra, a fast boat going through a swell is no place for a delicate constitution.

We had a couple of wonderful periods with firstly common dolphins including mums with babies which was a real treat, and then a pod of spotted dolphins. The photos below do not do justice to the experience which was truly memorable - even more so because it was our last day together as Dad and sons before the boys had to fly home....

Stephen and Vincent both managed to capture some pretty good video footage on their phones however. Stephen also did a pretty good impression of David Attenborough. Hopefully I have been able to upload a copy of his video to the Video page of this blog.

Then it was back to boat for lunch prepared by Sharon followed by packing, a taxi to the Airport and the most difficult of good byes. We'd had a wonderful time together including the first couple of days with Stella and Peter and I think living together in such a small space made our parting even more intense. Also, my recent decision, coinciding with the boys graduations,(Stephen in Medicine and Vincent with a 1st in Physics with Computer Science) to carry on sailing with the intention of crossing the Atlantic in November, emphasises something of a watershed in our lives. Sharon will have to cope with me being a long distance husband for much of the next 12 months while the boys start the next stages of their lives.

Vincent (the 1st) Fisher with proud Mum and Dad

Dr Stephen Fisher with proud Mum and Dad

Over the next few days I've got various jobs to do on the boat including fixing a leaking water tank. I'm hoping it's just a poor connection but it might be that the new flexible water tank installed just before we left Chatham has ruptured. It that's the case I might have to get a replacement shipped out.

I'm hoping to then explore the islands a bit more; specifically I want to get to Flores where my stepfather's old school friend, Timmy Hubbard (recently deceased), a key participant in an early OSTAR (Observer Singlehanded Trans Atlantic Race) made his Corinthian stop over. I then have a new crew joining me in August, David, a very experienced ocean sailor with a circumnavigation to his credit, who contacted me via the Cruising Association and Bernie who sailed with Tony in the Med a couple of years ago. Bernie's an ex Merchant Mariner so he certainly knows his stuff too. I'll be the least experienced of the three of us!

The plan is sail to the Canaries where I'll leave the boat for September and October while I return home for our wedding anniversary and to spend time with the family. Then in November, cross to Antigua before going on to rendezvous with Sharon and hopefully the rest of the family and her mum for Christmas in Jamaica. Sharon was born in Jamaica and has elderly relatives there and this may be the last chance she and her Mum and I will have to see them. After Jamaica, a cruise eastward to the Virgin Islands, before the return crossing home via Bermuda and the Azores.

That all sounds quite daunting given that the longest passage so far has been six days and the passage to Antigua could be around thirty!

I'm looking for crew so if any one is interested let me know via

Before that however, there is the not insignificant matter of a leaky water tank to resolve!