After Antigua Classics it was time to focus on getting ready for crossing the Atlantic back to the UK. There was a long list of jobs to do. First of all was the smelly task of fuel filtering. We had already taken a sample of diesel and found a lot of dirt at the bottom of the tank and also dead ‘diesel bug’. So with a 12 volt pump and a wonderful filter (thanks Tim) we spent a few hours pumping the diesel through the filter until it was clear and clean. Now we could have faith in our engine in case we had to motor on the windless days across the Azores High. Mmm… it did not work out quite like that.
On the 2nd May with the boat groaning under the weight of extra water, diesel and lockers packed full of food, we sailed out of English Harbour bound for the Azores. Sadly the fresh stores from Antigua were not great. The fresh produce was limited and did not last well because it had been refrigerated. But luckily the eggs were good and lasted well. It was sad to say good bye to the warm waters of the Caribbean and the possibility of Pacific sailing, but exciting to head out on our second Atlantic crossing.
The first part of the trip was fast and furious and as we sailed North on a close reach with wind increasing, a front passed us heading East. There was lots of water on the foredeck which became known as 'the swimming pool'. Luckily we did not have to venture forward much. On the first night out we found water in Lochlann's bunk coming in through the navigation light leads, which Simon fixed the next day, we also found that my clever new system for the compass light was not going to work (another job for Simon!)
During this first week we found water in the bilges. Thinking it was someone who had carelessly left open the heads valve we pumped out, but then we found that the bilges were full of water again. This time we checked the stern gland and found that it must be letting in water. We managed to reduce the flow but throughout the trip we had to monitor it constantly and we never managed to stem the flow completely.
We felt battered and bruised after this first week so it was a relief when the wind reduced and we enjoyed the next few days in delightfully light winds but making good progress. As the wind slowly died we put on the engine to move further North to pick up the SW winds above the high. Sadly the engine was not happy and died. As we slowly worked our way up the 32 degrees North, Simon started to work on the engine. Not the nicest job in the world when you are out at sea. We quickly discovered that the lift pump was broken. We investigated our spares’ locker and found bits of an old lift pump that John (previous owner) had kept. Using these parts and after many hours, we managed a temporary repair so the pump could be used manually, so we did have an engine that could be used in an emergency!
When we arrived at 32 degrees North we picked up a nice SW wind and started heading towards the Azores. We were feeling good, we were making good time and started to think about possible arrival dates. Then news arrived that there was a nasty low headed our way with very strong winds forecast.
For this leg of our Atlantic Circuit we had invested in a Delorme Inreach. It is a satellite navigation device that has text messages enabled. It is cheaper than a sat. phone, not only to buy, but also the monthly plan. If I had known about it before we left the UK we may well have bought one then! The return trip to the UK is far less stable weather-wise, gone are the nice trade winds that vary in velocity but not in direction. So I was hoping to get some form of weather updates while mid ocean with this amazing little machine. Jack and John did an amazing job of sending me weather updates, synopsis and good cheer. We also got occasional weather routing advice from Chris Parker, who is a professional weather forecaster. What a difference it made to make decisions with up-to-date forecasts! Yes, it was a revelation, and we were safer because we were forewarned about that nasty low headed our way.
So we took avoiding action and headed back down to latitude 32 North to spend a few days lurking around waiting for the low to pass us. Boats that we met in Horta who did not go South had very challenging conditions.
This was quite a difficult time, waiting around going nowhere, although we did try to make it fun. Lochlann went for a swim on one of the days. I played noughts and crosses with Pauline in the UK via the Inreach. We had film nights and I made yeast buns, scones and other tasty things. This was the passage that we had the most problems to sort out. Nothing very dangerous luckily but nevertheless when tired it's harder to think straight.
Next,we realised that the solar panel was not charging the battery. This was extra important because we were using the VHF and nav lights and it was not easy to charge the batteries with the engine. But over the day we figured out that it was a bad connection, which we fixed. As the front crossed us, the wind increased very fast and we progressively reefed down as the night progressed. The wind was NE and we wanted to head North, so we were back in the 'washing machine', pounding through the waves.
|Visit from a tired seagull|
Then we noticed water coming in the fore hatch quite a lot. This was not good! Water was falling on the vegetables on the starboard side, but luckily Finbar's bunk was not affected. The problem was the hatch tape was old. We had checked it before we left, but it had looked OK. So we heaved-to to reduce the flow and used plastic bags and plasticine to seal the hatch. When we stared sailing again, the flow was greatly reduced so we continued on our way. The next morning I remembered I had some special stuff for leaks that I had bought in the UK. I got this out and was very pleased that it stop the almost completly.
The wind reduced rapidly over the next night, so we were up shaking out the reefs and putting up the topsail, then taking it down again. We were exhausted, after very little sleep, so we decided to have a ‘night off’. We hove-to for the night, had a glass of wine (we normally do not drink on passage) watched a video with the boys and both Simon and I went to sleep! We left the VHF radio with AIS on watch with Finbar, who during this passage had become nocturnal.
Yes, we finally have a VHF that works. When we left the UK in 2015 our VHF was not working despite buying a new ariel! This new radio is a very fancy set which receives AIS signals from other boats. This tells us the course, speed, name and distance of other vessels near us. It's mandatory for commercial vessels to transmit an AIS signal, so if our VHF is on, we now know if there is a ship close to us. On this passage we had it turned on at night, and the shipping was far busier than we expected. We saw more than a dozen container ships. If the vessel looked like it would pass close to us, we radioed through, using its name from the AIS, and always got a response. It was interesting to note that even though we are a steel boat, they often did not pick us up on radar. In fact I got the distinct impression that they used the AIS more than radar now. But they were all friendly and were happy to alter course, once made aware of our presence.
After the front passed us we were left with a NNW wind and an enormous swell, which meant close reaching all the way up towards the Azores. It was a bit of a slog because it's not a very fast point of sail and the big seas were slowing us down. But those swells were very big, majestic and beautiful. It is wonderful how one can sit on deck watching the sea and its changing moods without getting bored.
This voyage was also different because Simon and the boys were so much more experienced now. They could manage without me in many more situations than previously. Simon and Finbar jointly took the night watches, waking me when necessary, so I got far more sleep than previously. I even had time for celestial navigation with the sextant Simon had bought me even before we bought the boat.
I took 'sights' most days. It becomes obsessive and it is amazingly accurate. I even took some star and moon sights. It's such a wonderful art that I really wanted to become proficient at it. I feel that I can now say, that I can navigate us without gps if necessary. It's amazing to think that my parents left Africa, before the time of gps, having learned the principles of celestial navigation, but no regular practice. At least I had gps to check my celestial fixes.
Two days before we arrived at the Azores the wind finally went round to the SW and we started to make our final approach to the island of Faial and the town of Horta. Most frustratingly we were going to arrive at night. I was not happy about this, particularly with an unreliable engine, so we hove-to off the island until morning and got some extra sleep. We made sail again as it started to become light, but sadly the wind by this time had started to reduced significantly, so we put the engine on and motored the last few hours. To keep the engine running we needed to hand pump the fuel every five minutes. As we motor sailed into Horta, poor Lochlann was doing this very important job.
We kept the sails up until the last minute because I did not trust the engine. I was quite tense and spent most of my time figuring out backup plans. I had this strong feeling that something else was going to go wrong. It was quite busy in the anchorage but we found a good spot to anchor. When I called to Simon to drop the anchor, we discovered that the chain was jammed! We then spent the next 15 minutes motoring round in circles while Simon and Finbar figured out what was wrong. Not only had the chain rusted, preventing it from running smoothly, but ithad also moved around in the chain locker making it difficult to run free.
My heart was in my mouth as we motored round in circles, Lochlann pumping the fuel, me trying to get information from the foredeck. I had already decided that if the motor failed and we could not get the anchor down, then we would run out of the harbour to get sea room, until we could sort out the problem. Finally the chain was clear and we dropped anchor.