Following some great assistance from new friends Tony and Rachel aboard Saltwistle III, who provided some real insight into weather prediction, tools for same and methods of interpretation, we left Praia da Vitoria on Terceira on Sunday afternoon, just after 1pm. Our GRIB file showed (light) wind forecast for the next 7 days all the way from the Azores to the coasts of Ireland, England, France, Spain and Portugal. Armed with this, we decided to head for Ireland.
The GRIB files show wind direction and strength and it seemed to us that heading north or even west of north for a while would allow us to gain some reasonable wind – whereas everywhere in line between the Azores and England showed a high pressure zone with very little wind.
We also took the precaution of paying for a weather forecast and routing assistance specific to our trip from Chris Parker – who operates out of Florida and provides these services across the Atlantic. Unfortunately, as our order for the forecast was sent out on Sunday, we would not receive it until Monday evening – and only then if the SSB radio is working properly and propagation is in our favor…
‘Toots’ a 40ft Ovni, followed us out of the harbor with a destination of northern France or wherever the wind blows them. Saltwistle III was a full day ahead of us bound for Spain or Portugal. Other OCC boats would be leaving in the next few days – either from Praia or from Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel with destinations from Gibraltar to Ireland and everywhere in between. We had arranged an SSB net for 8:15 every morning so that we could check each other’s progress. We would also be in contact each evening with Saltwistle III – allowing Tony to hold my weather forecasting hand even more.
Winds were very light on Sunday as we headed off dead downwind (north) with just a spinnaker flying, allowing us to make 5+kts, however this was good enough to leave Toots in our wake – who headed off with a more easterly component to their course. Unfortunately Toots does not have an SSB so we were unable to connect with them after leaving.
In the evening, the winds lightened further so we motored through the night… heading west of north in search of wind. We were not able to pick up any emails (or weather forecasts) – either because of propagation or because the SSB was still not working right. Even though I was able to talk with various OCC boats, them being relatively close was less of a challenge than getting a signal the couple of thousand miles required to retrieve email and weather files.
Monday morning the wind began to pick up and by 7:30am we were sailing again – it appeared that my westing was paying off as we gained some distance from the high. We ended up sailing the rest of the day and into the evening picking up speed the whole day.
On Tuesday evening we did manage to pick up emails – and Chris Parker’s weather forecast dated Sunday afternoon – which was particularly pessimistic – starting with: “It’s a good thing you have enough fuel for 800 miles, you’re going to need it all – I just have to find you 400 miles that you can sail” !!! This was a little surprising since we’d already been sailing for all but the 12 hours overnight Sunday/ Monday. Chris seemed adamant that we’d see no wind until Wednesday…
On Tuesday, the wind picked up more and we in fact scored a record (for us) of 193 nautical miles in the 24 hours noon to noon – not bad for no wind! We’ve been steaming along ever since – the only reason the engine goes on at all is to charge batteries and heat water! Our problem is more of slowing the boat to a reasonable speed to stop it banging or worse, broaching – and as I write this on Friday, we’re still moving along at 8kts with two reefs in the main and our smaller jib! Average miles covered so far is about 166NM/day – which includes the first day of only 105NM.
The downside of this trip is that the waves have been a bit of a bugaboo – 6-8 feet, making for a difficult time walking the length of the boat. Also awkward walking on deck with our safety lines and wet under foot from wave action splashing the boat. In spite of this, Laurie has maintained her excellent culinary standards – but managing with fewer pots than the last trip. So far we’ve had chicken curry, pork shops Portuguese, sausage and pasta and as we speak she’s preparing Shepherds Pie – from scratch!
Other boats in the OCC fleet seem to have caught Chris Parker’s forecast – the commodore on Al Shaheen in particular is being told that he won’t see wind until Thursday – six days off! Saltwistle III made good progress the first day but has struggled ever since – and seems to have winds blowing them towards Ireland instead of France! The vagaries of owning a sailboat I guess – you have to go where the wind takes you sometimes… (Commodore made an unfortunate comment: “Yes, we all know Toodle-oo! always has wind!” Not sure to what he was referring!)
I’ve been able to download further GRIB files as we’ve progressed north and it looks like we’ll be able to maintain good wind until tomorrow evening – at which point it looks like we’ll be in very light air. However, by then we’ll be in striking distance of Ireland – so will happily motor the last day – it’ll actually be nice being able to stand up straight! Expected landfall will be Sunday afternoon – unless we get slowed by residual wave action, in which case we’ll slow down and enter Bantry Bay on Monday morning.
The wave action has unfortunately not allowed sightings of any Dolphins or Whales – though we are in the constant company of Shearwaters – which are wonderful birds to observe as the swoop along right on the crest of waves, with wingtips almost touching. They seem revel in the windier conditions. This reminds me, I don’t think I’ve mentioned the Cory Shearwaters that are in high numbers around the Azores. They have a most peculiar call and fly at night around the island cliffs. They sound like Batman screaming at Robin having just inhaled a helium balloon!
We’ve both been very tired this trip – it’s been difficult to sleep with the motion, but this was made worse by the fact that the two evenings prior to our departure from Praia da Vitoria, we were subjected to loud music from a nearby hotel which started at 1:30am and went on until 5am!!! We were therefore very tired at the outset and it has taken several days to get back onto a sound footing sleep-wise.
On Sunday we started motoring towards Bantry Bay. We were being headed by Easterly winds, preventing landfall – so bit the bullet and turned the engine on. Frankly we’d had enough of life on a slant. However, it didn’t get much better with the boat only able to make about 4 knots into the 6ft waves and the hull slammed constantly into the next wave. However, here we are, 4:00am on Monday morning, motoring up Bantry Bay, with landfall expected in about 3 hours time. With any luck there’ll be a visitor’s mooring available… It’s been a very fast passage from the Azores…
Looking forward to some kip – followed by some black beer!