Thursday, 28 May 2015

Scrumpy on the rocks

I'd recommend Flores for hikers and campers - anyone who appreciates grand scenery and peaceful countryside. But not for sailors.

Anchored at Faja Grande on the west coast of Flores.

One of many.

A short walk from the anchorage.

I was glad to spend a few days in the little marina at Lajes. It was cheap as marinas go, and I appreciated the stillness after the boisterous crossing. I had the time to eat luxuries like cheese (local cheese is just great), eggs, fruit and vegetables and to clean up the boat and wash the salt away before Tash arrived. It was very pleasant too to spend time getting to know some of the other cruisers - all of whom had sailed long distances to get here.

The locals are especially welcoming and convivial. I asked the harbour master how I might meet Tash at the airport at Santa Cruz - 8 miles away, almost the other end of the island. There is no public transport and very few cars. It turned out the harbour master needed to take his mother to the airport on the same day to catch the plane Tash was arriving on, so he offered to go a little early and give me a lift. He arrived in his car at the boat with his mother in the passenger seat. His mother had a huge cake on her knee. This we'd need to deliver to the harbour master's grandmother en route, to wish her a happy birthday. Cake delivered, and on to the airport. It turned out too that the harbour master's girlfriend's sister was also on the same plane and she needed a lift home to Faja Grande, a village on the west of the island. So we went over the top of the island to Faja Grande to deliver her. The harbour master had warned that the coming easterly winds would soon make the marina untenable due to the incoming swell - lines would snap, fenders would burst and no-one would sleep he'd said - and so we had the chance in Faja Grande to take a look at the anchorage he advised us to use while the wind remained from the east. We then gave a ride back up the mountain to her father, who needed to check on his cows. Then finally, back to the boat where we were invited to join the village in a free lunch. There is apparently such a thing! However, we hadn't seen each other for 3 months, so we made our own lunch on the boat. Besides, we were informed that the following day there was also free lunch for 600 people in Faja Grande where we'd be anchoring. Surely, one free lunch would suffice.

We sailed out of the marina with some difficulty the following morning. The entrance is narrow and twisted and the swell was already beginning. Graham and Heidi, who were on the last leg of their round 17 year the world cruise on a home built catamaran came with us. At the south west tip of the island, we were contacted by a Portuguese warship docked in Lajes who had picked up an emergency call on the radio. They asked us as the nearest boats to divert and investigate. We sailed south for 5 miles and intercepted a yacht sailing east, going fast, hard on the wind. We'd tried calling him on the radio, but got no reply. I set us on a collision course, and the fellow soon called on the radio, worried that we might hit him. He insisted he hadn't made the emergency call, didn't appreciate the fact we'd sailed down to check he was OK, and didn't even appear in the cockpit to wave. Anyway, he was why we missed the second free lunch in two days!

The anchorage looked a bit dodgy, with swell coming round from the north of the island, but in close to the rocky beach we were comfortable and had easy dinghy access ashore. But the east wind seemed to blow over the mountain and backwind, so we still on a lee shore. Still, the anchor was set amongst huge boulders, and the wind wasn't that strong. Being from the east, it would have been difficult to sail on to Faial, 100 miles away - and that harbour too is open to the east. So we stayed. Just from the deck, we can see three waterfalls which drop hundreds of metres from the top of the volcano, and so we had some excellent hiking on hand.

Tash admiring a waterfall.

Tash climbing out of a hole.

Good eh? Don't mention the bridge.

More boats arrived, including Sputnik, a 40' yellow catamaran that looks just like a stretched version of Scrumpy, also on it's final leg of a round the world trip.

On our second night here, the wind picked up from the north and the swell came round the corner and built up and the waves started breaking in the anchorage. Thick cloud and rain made visibility close to nil. I stayed awake till 3 am on anchor watch. I had the same anchor out that had proved so reliable for the last couple of years, never dragging once. 10 metres of chain, and then rope. I'd have felt more comfortable with a second anchor out - but then we'd anchored previously in much worse conditions, and so I told myself that all would be well, and very tired went to bed.

At 6 am we heard a scraping sound and in a moment realised the boat was at the beach. By the time we were out of bed, the starboard hull was being lifted by the swell and dumped onto the rocks. We got dressed and put on life-jackets as quick as we could in the crashing boat. I pulled the string to fire a flare, and found the string in my hand, separate from the flare. A dud. I managed to fire a second flare, and then put out a mayday call on the radio. This was promptly responded to by the crew of Sputnik, and they asked how they could help. I asked if they could come over in their dinghy to take a kedge anchor out. I went forward and prepared a second anchor and attached my longest rope to it. By the time I'd done that, the crew of Sputnik were there, along with Graham who'd joined them to help. The kedge anchor laid out, we used a sheet winch to haul the boat off the shore. Tash had been watching as the boat turned while we hauled it forward and heard new bumping sounds. With hindsight (I have a lot of hindsight now!) it might have been best to pull ourselves off the shore sideways. Pulling from the bow turned the boat, and the starboard rudder was demolished in the process.

The starboard rudder.

Now no longer pounding, Tash went below to look for water, and found we weren't leaking at all. Phew! We got the engine started and motored back out into the anchorage, steering in the strong wind and through the waves with some difficulty with one rudder fine, but impeded in its movement by the damaged rudder.

I put all my remaining chain, 20 metres, onto a second anchor and we set that. By the time I'd thanked our rescuers and we were sure all was well, it was dawn, and as soon as it was fully light, I jumped into the cold water to check the anchor was set properly, and to assess the damage to the starboard hull. The anchor was fine, hooked onto a large rock. If there was a problem with it, it would be in retrieving it, but that was a problem for another day. Down the side of the hull, it was clear that the oak mini-keel I'd attached to the bottom of the hull had absorbed most of the pounding. A layer of glass I'd epoxied to the bottom of the was damaged and peeling in places and the oak itself had a few dings in it. There were places where the hull was scuffed, so that the antifoul was scraped away, but there were only two areas that had any serious damage. Each place had a crack in the outer skin less than a foot long.

From the inside of the boat, there was no damage visible, so I've concluded that the boat is safe to sail on to the UK as planned. The damaged glass will need removing and I'll have to check to see how far the water might have penetrated along the foam. But I doubt the repair will be a big job. The rudder however needs the attention of a good stainless steel workshop, and then I or someone will have to fabricate the wooden rudder blade and glass over it. I gave a little thought to sailing on with one rudder, but only a little, Tash persuaded me otherwise. When the wind pipes up and the boat starts haring down wave fronts, both rudders are necessary.

The wind is due to blow gently from the west for three days starting tomorrow before becoming easterly again. So we're going to sail east to Sao Miguel, the main island here with the biggest port. Tash needs to be there to fly back in 10 days or so, and that is where I'll have the best chance of rebuilding the rudder.

That hindsight - obviously I should have shackled together all the chain I had available. We'd have been fine. The anchor didn't drag. The rope broke. At first, I believed the rope had snagged on a rock and chafed, but as the wind picked up again last night I woke up and realised that I couldn't be sure of that. Maybe the rope had just been stressed enough times to be worn out at last. Having thought that, I had to go on deck at midnight, pull up the anchor rope till I reached the chain and add a second rope. It's not practical for little multihulls to carry all chain for anchoring and many say that the elasticity of rope provides a more forgiving connection to the bottom, alleviating some of the snatching that can happen in strong wind and using all chain. Clearly our anchoring strategy, which has seemed perfect for so long needs a rethink. But we have only one more night at anchor. Tomorrow we set off for Sao Miguel, 300 miles away. We'll dock there, and I shouldn't need to anchor again till I get back to the UK.


  1. Good thing you have rudders that can be taken up for repair without an expensive haul out.Old damp rope weakens over time,reminds me of when Richard Woods deployed old rotten sea anchor in a storm
    Close call!

  2. Yes, with the rudder. It's stashed in a locker now to carry to an engineer to get fixed up. Only took a few minutes to remove. Likewise with the engines. If I'd had diesels with saildrives, one of those at least would have been mashed.

    Having just found and retrieved the anchor, it does look like the rope frayed on a rock within a foot of the chain. But you're right, the old stuff has had a lot of stress on this trip and it is time to retire it. I'm splicing a new bit of rope to it now, and the old stuff might find some use as a handrail in the garden or something.

  3. Tropical humidity takes more of a toll on wood & ropes than we folks living in cooler climates realise.Especially without much ventilation. Guessing the fibreglass is worse than it appears(?)Needing a dry out to patch.

    1. Actually, all my lockers have a good through-flow of air.

      But I'm pretty sure the chain was snagged between rocks. I pulled it up anchor first, and it took quite a heave to get the last bit of chain free. With the end of the chain snagged like that, the rope would have frayed against rock every time the boat swung about - which is was doing a lot with the wind back-winding over the mountain.

      As soon as the rudder's done, I'll sail for the UK, and haul the boat out there. I'm guessing most of the impact was absorbed by the wood mini-keel, and the couple of prangs on the side of the hull won't take that much fixing. We'll see anyway.