Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Azores - UK

I left Horta at dawn with a forecast of a high pressure ridge stretching from the Azores to the UK. Light winds, calms and a need to stay west of the ridge and sail north to find the westerly winds at a higher latitude. Suited me fine. Bye bye Horta - such a nice place!

I had 60 miles or so, sailing between islands, to get to open ocean. Here's Sao Jorge, 30 miles long, and 3 miles wide at it's widest. This is the thin end of it, the west end.

And so, after 60 miles and a busy day, the wind stopped.  I don't think a photo of a calm out on the ocean really conveys the profound stillness - here's an action video of the calm:

So that got me a good night's sleep. One reason I wasn't too daunted at the prospect of prolonged calms is that I have some decent light weather sails, and Scrumpy goes well in really light wind. I don't need the kind of wind that generates waves and will happily sail like this for the rest of my sailing days:

I kept the spinnaker up all day, and sometimes hit as much as seven knots. That's the kind of sailing I really like, when you look over the whole ocean from horizon to horizon, and the only waves in sight are the little ones generated at the sterns in the wake. I think not too many single-handers use a spinnaker, and only silly buggers would be daft enough to leave it up overnight. At 4 am I awoke because the boat had slowed, and looking out the window I saw the spinnaker wrapped around the forestay. I decided it was best dealt with after dawn, and turned over for another hour's kip.
The next few days the wind was too light, and often from the NE, so dead against me. I stayed on the starboard tack sailed north when I could, and sometimes even NW.

Sometimes I thought I detected a threat of bad weather, but this was as bad as it got:

I spent over a week in such calm weather, making less than 500 miles. The wind was almost always from just north of east so I had to sail into it close-hauled on the starboard tack. If I'd had a windvane connected to the Autohelm so that I could have had the boat steer by the wind rather than the compass, I could have left the sails up and would have had no need to adjust either the course or the sails for days on end. As it was, the wind shifted about frequently, and if I found the boat slowing down, it was because the wind had headed me and I had to bear off a few degrees, and if the boat started going faster, the wind had freed and I could change course to somewhere closer to my destination. I had to do this day and night, so that was quite tiring, though sleep came easily, day or night.

When it is calm, and all is quiet, you can hear the whales breathing from over a mile away. I see a spout and count the seconds, like after lightning, to gauge the distance. Hearing the spout 5 seconds after seeing it means the whale is a mile away. There are many more whales in the ocean than I thought! Even a slightly roughened sea makes spotting or hearing one much less likely. Prolonged calm is what is needed to really see how many there are. Unfortunately, I got very few decent photos of them. Usually, they are only clearly visible briefly. I won't write a lot about whales right now - I think a posting about the whales I've encountered on the whole trip might be better (and more interesting than the details of the repair job coming up), but here's a sei whale, 12 metres long. It stayed around for an hour or so, often swimming alongside, then disappearing and then swimming along the other side. Occasionally, it would turn and swim for the bow of the boat, and when it got within a few feet, just drop down in the water (not diving) a few feet. 500 miles from the Azores, and 800 miles from home, this seemed an appropriate time to have my heart in my mouth as I listened for what seemed the inevitable contact between rudder and whale, but that never happened.

After over a week and making only 500 miles, the wind shifted to a more southerly breeze, and Scrumpy was able to crack on, a steady 6 knots day and night.

The return journey is just a countdown to completing the voyage, getting of the boat, reuniting with family and friends, getting on with all the plans that have been forming when I've been able to do nothing about them except imagine.

800 miles to go, and I passed through an area where tuna leaped from the water all around. I hooked one, but the line spilled from the spool so quickly and the rod bent so violently I was hesitant to grab it, and when my 100 lb line snapped I was relieved I wouldn't have to deal with it.

700 miles to go, I passed through an area full of tuna boats from Galicia catching nothing.

450 miles from land, I got radio 4 on long wave, and now had shipping forecasts to inform my strategy, and, as it happened, settle any anxiety. The forecast remained predicting winds of a maximum of force 6, but I never even had that. In all the sailing I've done with the boat, I've never had sustained periods of a fresh breeze from the side - the boat travels very steadily and comfortably like that. It was usually cloudy and cold (to me, coming from the tropics) so I usually stayed indoors with the hatches and doors closed. The saloon warms up nicely, like a greenhouse.

300 miles, I saw the boat about to run over a very large plastic bag. As the front beam passed over it, the thing turned - a waving fin lifted out the water, and I realised that the bag was actually a sunfish sunbathing on its side, and the whiteness I'd seen was its belly. It just fitted between the hulls - so it was close to 3 metres long! That would have been quite a hit so it was fortunate that the boat ran directly over it.

50 miles, and ships and fishing boats all over the place. I line the boat up to pass through the shipping lanes in thick fog off Land's End. Hurray for AIS!

5 miles, my phone connects, though I still haven't seen land in the mist. It's late afternoon, and considering the forecast is for just one more day of south westerly wind I decide to sail on through the night, planning to arrive at Dartmouth in the morning.

That plan worked fine, though I found fishing boats not using AIS, so I had to keep watch on and off through the night and didn't get much sleep. My arrival at Dartmouth coincided with low tide, so it was simple to carry on the 9 miles up the river to Totnes and motor right up to the one pontoon we have in Totnes, 3-400 metres from our house.

Tash and Fred had been able to see the boat's progress on the marine traffic website which monitors AIS transmissions. They were able to see such detail, they even saw when I ran aground in the mud and had to reverse and put in a little pirouette halfway up the river. They were there to take photos and catch lines - I was too busy for such things, but boy, what a welcome sight! And they'd brought a picnic basket with gluten free bread (the only kind I can eat) and some local cheeses, so I had my first cheese sandwich in 7 months. And my second, and third to be honest. And raspberries, strawberries...etc. What more could a fellow wish for?

A tired fellow too busy making sandwiches to be overwhelmed.

Good old Scrumpy! Boy, it's nice to step off and walk away! :)


  1. Congratulations on a successful voyage home. Have very much enjoyed your writings and your shared knowledge. We are selling our HT at the moment and a Woods cat is our next aim so good to learn about them.
    Regards, Steve

  2. I'm not sure how I first stumbled upon your blog - it was somewhere after you arrived in the Caribbean. It has been very informative and entertaining. I will miss your posts.
    We look to be about the same age. I am three months away from embarking on my cat on my first real sailing adventure from NE USA to the Caribbean and back. Much of it may be solo, and I am looking forward to it.
    Not to make light of it..... I am an engineer and following you has taught me not everything has to be perfect. I say that in the best of compliments to you. :-) Patience looks very important now.

  3. Thanks for the compliments and good wishes. It's nice to know people got some amusement and even some useful information from all this. Good luck with your own ventures, and have fun.

    Dave, when I refitted all the stainless steel work, I upset one of my neighbours in the yard because I hadn't bothered polishing it first. It had never occurred to me. I responded that at least when the boat hits the rocks, I'll be able to take some consolation that I didn't waste time and money on such things. I remembered this when Scrumpy was on the rocks in the Azores, and it WAS some consolation. I'm relieved of course we got off without too much damage,

  4. Congrats for making it safely home. Thank you for your posts. It has been great travelling along with you.

  5. You are an inspiration! I hope you will continue to write even though you are back home. I have enjoyed your posts very much. I plan to do something similar within 7 years. Now I have a Wharram Tiki 21, but when the time comes to cast off, I hope to have a Woods cat (preferably a few years before the departure). I definitely want outboards and composting head, hopefully tillers too. Thanks for keeping my dream alive while working away at the office everyday! /Kristian.

  6. Thanks John,great story .Hope to follow on an Eclipse someday.