Monday, July 20, 2009

Arriving in Horta, the Azores

Arrived in Horta - July 18th – 5.00pm

We had quite the reception when we got in as we were a couple of days later than everyone else, i.e. The Wind Cries, our Dutch friends, Guns and Roses – Barbarossa who took the northern track with much more westerly wind (they sail well downwind), Exiles the 2 ‘boys’ from Montreal who managed to get about 150 miles ahead of us and avoided the north easter wind which really set us back the last 3-4 days. Anyway, enough excuses we were just late, but that didn’t deter our enthusiasm to party when we got in, even if we had only a couple of hours sleep in the last 24. So, no sooner were we tied up than our boat filled up with our friends who all brought the necessary party ecoutrements. So yesterday was a bit of a write-off, though we did walk around town and have some idea where things are.

And what a place Horta is. It is such a gorgeous town, plus it doesn’t cost a fortune to be here. We have a slip in the marina, a very nice marina with good facilities and shelter from the outside wind and waves at about $20 per day. One of the things Horta is famous for is the artwork all around the marina. It is a tradition to find a spot in the concrete surrounding the slips and paint a picture which depicts your boat, or your boat name, or whatever you want to paint. During our walkabout yesterday we located a spot, but will have to wait until it is drier before painting. Last night it started to rain, and looks like it might keep this up for a bit longer.

So, what to say about the 1800 miles or so we just covered to get to this lovely place. Its amazing how quickly we put out of our minds that which we don’t want to remember. I liken that to childbirth – if women could not put the pain of that experience out of their memory they would only ever have 1 child and the human race would basically disappear, perhaps to be replaced by a species with the attention span of a goldfish.
We sure did read a lot of books, all of which were picked up at various book swaps along the way, some of which were total crap, but I read them anyway – even avidly getting into drivel which comes under the heading of ‘chick lit’ – books for women, just a couple of steps up from Harlequin novels. Actually if I had Harlequin novels I would have read those avidly too. Reading passes time, which there is a lot of and it takes your mind off and eyes away from what we don’t want to see.

I was a little surprised at how local the weather systems were, and as such don’t show up on weather faxes. We did get quite dependent on Herb, the weather router to guide us through these systems, and mostly that was a good thing, though the second gale we were in was totally unexpected. Our friends on Exile who used a different weather router were also caught by surprise.

We are very conservative sailors, totally aware of the strain on our equipment; i.e. the wear on our genoa caused by constant thwapping when attempting to run downwind without being able to pole the sail out to keep it still. Our reefing discussions are pretty standard. I ‘feel’ that the weather is piping up, or about to pipe up and suggest we reef the mainsail – which basically means that Tony goes up to the mast to make the necessary changes and I stay at the wheel and the main sheet. The earlier we reef the easier it is on Tony and the equipment. So, I say I think that its time to reef, Tony often disagrees and by the time he agrees the job has usually got a bit harder to do, and by that time we are often putting in 2 reefs, not 1. Then its probably a good thing we wait a bit. There are not many things we disagree on fortunately.

We are both tuned into Moondancer’s ability, and now that we have experienced worse conditions we feel even more confident in her ability to keep trundling along. She may not be very fast - though when we are abeam with all sails up she sails beautifully without any steering aids, just by herself, and with about 15kn of wind we can reach 6 – 7 knots, that’s fast enough for us. The further away from home we go, where there are a lot of Bill Garden designed boats, the more unusual Moondancer is. Its quite nice to be the only whimsical looking boat in a marina. We are seeing a lot of very nice steel and aluminum looking boats here in Horta. These seem to be quite common in Europe.

Its quite a thrill to be in this marina surrounded by hundreds of boats with mostly European flags, and everyone who is here has sailed thousands of miles to be here. We feel quite honoured to be part of this community of sailors, many of whom have been ocean sailing most of their lives and have a world of information to impart. The problem sometimes is that those cruisers also have all of the time in the world to impart the information. Time is something we have a short supply. As we have been held up by weather so often on this journey, we now only have about 5 weeks left to get to Malta by the beginning of September. And that is where we want to be to meet with my brothers.
So, though we loved Horta on sight, we hope that we will not have to spend more time here than a few days before moving on. Our next leg to the Mediterranean will likely be about 10 – 13 days, and then from Gibraltar to Malta another 2 weeks or so.
I’ll try to post again before we leave Horta

Atlantic Crossing - First Post July 20th

Atlantic Crossing Bermuda to Horta
Left 26th June 2009 – Posted July 20th

Its amazing to us that we left Bermuda so late in the season. Even more that many more boats were arriving in Bermuda from the Caribbean to complete their journeys home to the US east coast or to come across the Atlantic. Newbies like us are very concerned about being in the hurricane belt after the end of May as that’s when the likelihood of early hurricanes can happen. But according to some of the locals we met in Bermuda, hurricanes hardly ever happen this early. The ARC ‘race’, which is an organized Atlantic crossing from the Caribbean to Europe left May 8th, which is a helluvalot earlier than June 26th.

As said in earlier posts we were in Bermuda almost 2 weeks longer than intended due to weather, and when we left we knew that we had a window of a couple of days to get away from the bad weather which was hovering over Bermuda and into the ocean. We knew we would get ‘clobbered’, and we did. But we would still be there if we hadn’t left. We left on Friday, along with 3 other boats with whom we had agreed to maintain radio contact. Barbarossa - Rob and Sue from south east England, Exiles – Nick and Chevy from Montreal and EOS, Tony and his son from US/Ibiza. We lost EOS right away as he headed north whereas the rest of us headed east with a little bit of north. We carry enough fuel for 700 miles and have about 1800 miles to Horta, so we must sail as much as possible.

I’m writing this on Thursday 2nd July on a beautiful morning, 10 – 15 knots, all sails up close reached doing 5.5 knots, the sun is shining and we are feeling very good. We’ve both got into the sleep groove. What I mean by that is we are sleeping deeply now when we get our 3 hours off-watch, instead of fitfully because we are basically under siege from this magnificent ocean. Sunday and Monday we experienced sustained winds of 30 – 35 knots sailing on a broad reach with just our main, triple reefed (that’s our storm configuration), with gusts over 40 knots. Chevy on Exiles clocked 50 knots and I believe that was what we had when our whole rig was screaming. I really don’t like that noise. That day we had already had our first 135 mile day (unheard of for us under normal circumstances) but we were sometimes reading 8.5 knots speed on our GPS.

On Sunday evening we did get through to Herb, Herb is a weather router who works out of Ontario and has dedicated his life to helping sailors at sea to avoid bad weather. Herb told us to slow down, by slowing down the weather system would go over the top of us and we would get out of it sooner. How the hell were we going to do that???? We were already down to our smallest amount of sail – and still able to steer – so we put all of our spare lines overboard the stern and trailed them. This took us down to between 3.5 and 5.5 knots, sometimes less and we rode out the night. Monday morning we were in huge seas, 15 – 20 foot waves, breaking a little at the top, but by then we were resigned to this and getting used to it, and we knew it would end – soon. ** Oh, all of the women who seem to want to know if I can still cook when the weather is like that. No, we had corned beef or peanut butter sandwiches. But on Monday evening I roasted a chicken with potatoes around it, it was a 2 person job to extract the dish from the gimbled oven without getting dowsed with hot fat, but we got it out and ate with bloody great gusto.

**And it did, Tuesday our biggest problem was not enough wind to combat the remaining swells so lots of sail flogging, which we hate because it means damage eventually and we don’t have many extras. We also no longer have a whisker pole – we lost that in the last big winds we experienced somewhere around Dominican Republic. So we cannot pole out our headsail to keep it still, so thwap, thwap. We also have to compromise on our course as downwind isn’t our forte. Barbarossa is a good downwind sailboat, and they have offered us a windsurfer mast to use as a whisker pole. We haven’t decided to take them up on it yet, so far we’ve been managing. Yesterday we tried wing on wing with the main hauled out with a boom preventer and the headsail almost stayed full when sailing by the lee, we’ve got an idea on how to beef up one of our boat hooks so that we can try that without borrowing their ‘carbon fibre pole’, its probably worth a few bucks and we’d hate to damage it or lose it. (the whisker pole we made didn’t work – broke right away)

Last night was beautiful, after a lovely mostly sunny day, not much progress but enjoyable because we weren’t being beaten to death, and had caught up on sleep.
We were motoring all night as there was no wind at all, even a glassy surface on the water – there is always the swell, hey this is a big ocean.

Sorry, no storm pictures, its all we can do to hang on during those conditions, and so far not many things to take pictures of. Barbarossa coming alongside made a good subject.
Early this morning we were visited by a big pod of minky or maybe pilot whales. They all came fairly close to the boat to check us out, but they were quite shy, stayed a little while. We’ve had a couple of dolphin visits, but these dolphins haven’t played in our bow wave, just stand off to the side watching us.

There is a very interesting species of jelly fish which we see a lot of, and I will try to get a picture of one. They have a transparent sail on their backs, just a couple of inches high, looks like the fin of a sail fish. Isn’t that clever, not only do they not have to waggle their legs so much because they have sail power, they are also using solar power to keep warm. They are beautiful colors too, purple and pink, like something from Barbies world. (Now discovered that is a Portuguese Man-o-war)
A cute little bird too – these birds are about as big as a sandpiper and fly day and night. They are black and white and have a very erratic wing movement, a bit like a bat. The first time I saw them that’s what I thought – bats at sea?, hey why not, there’s fish out here that fly. So the reason this bird’s flight is so erratic is that it keeps swooping down onto the surface of the water to pick up something, don’t know what. It has a lovely white round belly, and looks like it bounces on its belly, picks something up, and then dips one wing into the water to help it lift back up off the surface. Haven’t got a name for it, so lets just call it the Bouncing Bird with the Big Round White Belly for short.

Happy Canada Day, yesterday. Barbarossa came alongside us and put up their Canadian Flag for our benefit. We wished Exiles happy Canada Day on the radio. Exiles is a 28’ sailboat on its first ocean voyage. 2 young eager men on board who found their first ocean squall ‘fun’. They are about 30 miles ahead of us, but a lot further south. They are listening to a weather router out of Montreal who has told them to aim straight for the Azores, so they seem to be ignoring the circle route, which is what we and Barbarossa are following. Mostly we are staying with the rum line. We have a no drinking alcohol policy when we are doing passages, but last night we celebrated Canada Day with a can of pineapple chunks with overproof white Jamaican rum poured over - very good. Then we ate some lovely dark chocolate. Yeah I know, simple pleasures.
Bye for now.