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.





Thursday, 21 May 2015

Crossing the Atlantic, again

Here is my account of the crossing from Bermuda to the Azores. I've taken it directly from a log I kept as I went, editing just a little to remove repetitive stuff mostly. Still, there's a lot of detail about the state of the wind, which landlubbers (and some others) could find a bit mind-numbing. But I left it in, for the sake of those who for whatever reason want to be able to picture such a voyage  most completely, and also for sailors who will be able to look at that and understand my tactics and appreciate how the boat performed. But you won't miss much speed reading through that. For the really impatient, just scan down the images...

Note the times of the entries might not seem right. The computer entered the times automatically, and the computer is set to universal time. So things are 3-4 hours out leaving Bermuda, but I lose 15 minutes a day, so the times appear to be more and more appropriate as I travel east.

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5/1/2015

8:41:20 PM

Rice and beans. Quite a contrast to last night's dinner at the Royal Bermuda Yacht club, courtesy of Neal who was giving a speech there. Salmon with grapes and strawberries and the rest. And tropical fruit salad for desert, plus raspberries and blackberries. Where did they come from, at the end of April in Bermuda?

I'd sauntered out of the harbour mid-afternoon under jib alone making 4 knots, with the boat still untidy and disorganised.  But it was easy enough to be sailing gently while I attended to organising things for crossing an ocean - taking anchors and chains from the locker to stow further aft, storing the outboard safe from waves, stashing the dinghy, unloading the shopping and generally tidying the boat.

Waterman, a Beneteau 38 under full sail, comes out of the harbour and he's catching me fast. So, the heavy duty jobs done, I raise some mainsail. There is swell and waves all over the place, and a reef in the main gives me 6 knots, fast enough. Waterman overhauls me, us taking pictures of each other as if we are seeing something spectacular.



The wind gradually dies through the afternoon, and becomes more from astern. I raise more sail, and once I'm able to replace the jib with the genoa, overtake Waterman easily. He's got three sails out now, I don't think he could do more, unless he hangs his bedsheets from the boom. But the wind is very light now. So all he can do is 3.5 knots, while I get 4, having the lighter boat. There he is, in the late afternoon sun. Byebye Waterman!



Jak, the ex-pilot in the Hallberg Rassey 42 showed up - I saw him come out of Town Cut, and watched his sail for a while, but he's barely visible now. Worse, he's not visible on the AIS, which makes him a danger to me, and a danger for himself, if he is unaware that he is invisible to other boats. I'll call him on the VHF.

Waterman tells me Jak has two AIS systems, and he's using the one that doesn't transmit. I don't know why. Waterman heard the weather forecast and was a little upset to hear of 40 knots winds coming. Having spent the morning studying the weather, I was able to reassure him that that wind would be a little to the west of Bermuda, and later tomorrow. We should be 100 miles away by then. My reassurance seemed to work. I do hope I'm right. I've got the drogue ready and have everything stashed ready for a storm, even though we're drifting over the great swells with the sails flopping about in the gentle breeze.

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5/2/2015

2:19:58 AM

Waterman has disappeared. At dusk, all I saw of him was on the AIS and a low light by the cockpit. He lit no masthead light, which was puzzling - the most basic, cheap and electrically cheap safety device. I almost called him on the radio to ask if he'd forgotten to switch on the masthead light but since I could still see him just a mile away on the AIS, I left it. Now, I can't see him on the AIS either, and since we were going at a similar speed I suspect he is nearby, but I can't see him at all. It seems rude to call a single-hander in the middle of the night, but I tried anyway, and got no answer. The moon is full, so visibility is quite good through the thin cloud. I've had a good look around, and I'll set an alarm to look again soon. Jak is invisible too, and I'll feel much more comfortable when I'm some miles from here, and know it's less likely I'll end up in the same patch of water as these invisible single-handers. I can't understand why they don't show bright masthead lights at least, and why they don't show up on AIS. Damn! Single-handers are each other's worst nightmare. It was a mistake to leave at the same time!

10:40:53 AM

Dawn

Waterman is 2 miles behind me. I've turned directly downwind, which is dead on course. It's a bit slower dead downwind. I was wondering how significant the speed difference is, and realised I could find out with a little geometry. I drew a few triangles and made some measurements, and proved to myself that when I'm aiming at a far off destination and the destination is dead downwind, I'd have to multiply the increased speed gained by going off course (so that the wind comes more from the side than dead behind) by the cosine of the angle I'm off course. It's what I suspected, but now it's something I know. 10 degrees off course needs to be only 2% faster to make that worthwhile. 30 degrees needs an increase of 15% or thereabouts to make that worthwhile.

Something to mull over breakfast, as I contemplate hoisting the spinnaker. I really would like to get away from Waterman, not just to go faster than him, but to get away from a fellow who will go to sleep and leaving his boat sailing on in close proximity to another yacht without so much as a masthead light showing. Throughout the night, I'd set an alarm and I'd been looking out for Waterman every half hour or so. Spoils the night's sleep that does! Sometimes he appeared on the AIS, sometimes he was gone. I have no idea why.


11:40:39 AM

In trying to set the spinnaker, I lost the halyard. The stopper knot had come undone, and the end of the halyard went inside the mast and the whole lot ended up on the deck at my feet. I guess if I was racing, I'd be more inclined to climb the mast, but there's quite a bit of swell so the top of the mast isn't a wonderful place to be, let alone hang on and attach a block to allow the halyard to be re rigged. I don't think many single-handers use a spinnaker at all - the sail is quite complicated to set and adjust, but I like it a lot. Get it right, and the boat flies along in the slightest breeze. Oh well, I'll have to see if the sea state allows me up the mast at some point. For now it doesn't matter anyway, because in the time I was messing about up front with sails and ropes and all, the wind has changed, and it is doing fine with genoa and mainsail.

11:59:32 AM

I spoke to Waterman, and told him I'd spent much of the night looking for him. He does have a masthead light but for some reason I can't understand, he didn't switch it on. For myself, I'd light this boat up like a lighthouse at night, if it wouldn't be mistaken for a lighthouse. I have an AIS alarm and a radar alarm, but since I go to sleep leaving the boat sailing, having a bright light at the top of the mast so that at least I can be seen seems the most basic safety strategy. If all else fails, I can be seen by others.

I tried to take the spinnaker halyard up the mast anyway. I figured I'd just scoot up the mast steps, and if it got too jerky and hard to hold on, I'd just come right back down. I gave up halfway. I decided I liked living. I came back down, and if I'd been wearing a hat at the time, I'd take it off to Ellen MacArthur, who did go to the top of her much higher mast to do the same job. I guess she had something safer rigged than steps, but even so, a pleasant light roll and sway down on deck soon becomes an unpleasant and violent motion up high. Good for you Ellen!

10:28:29 PM

I certainly didn't need the spinnaker today. The wind increased, but the forecast suggested the stronger wind wouldn't last long, so I held on with the full mainsail and genoa out, hitting 11-12 knots without surfing. I left the Dutch monohulls far behind. I kept the sails up too long, until I was afraid of damaging the genoa. It's now the only light weather sail I have, so I need to look after it. As the wind grew, from the SW, I got down to jib and triple reefed mainsail, and still often hit 9-10 knots. So it's been a wild fast day. Made progress I guess.

Now the sun is about to set, and a full moon is rising, and the strong wind fading a little so it could be a pleasant night with good progress. Hope so anyway. After last night's poor sleep, due to having to set the alarm every half hour or so to look for Waterman, I'm glad I've left him behind. I can set my radar and AIS alarms and sleep unless a change in the wind requires me to go out and change sails.

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5/3/2015

10:22:17 AM

The wind stayed steady and fresh through the night, so I was able to sleep well. Occasionally I'd wake and wonder, when the boat surfed a bit and reached 12 knots, but I had just the jib up, and the boat never went faster than that, so I was able to turn over and go back to sleep. I've woken to a clear blue sky and a F6 from astern, and the boat behaving very nicely.

Lying on my back in the bridgedeck bed looking up at the sky, it feels like the boat is hardly moving, so it takes a little adjustment to watch the waves and see what the boat is handling.



A night time visitor who became lunch.

Morning jobs to attend to - washing up, moving solar panels, and this morning, lay out the drogue in case the wind picks up. It seems to do so each afternoon round here, but the forecast I downloaded before leaving Bermuda says I should be having F3, and that it should continue all day. It would be nice to be in radio range of Jak to check the latest forecast, but I've seen no boats all night. I'm on my own.

70 miles in the last 12 hours. Which isn't bad at all for a 30' boat, but it is often a surprise to me that I don't seem to make as much distance as the speeds I see suggest I ought to. I guess the high speeds I notice sailing down waves make a bigger impression on me than when I'm sailing slowly up the back of a wave.

9:41:33 PM

The wind increased and was close to a gale for the afternoon. The boat frequently surfed, but never beyond 12 knots, which was surprising and pleasing. The waves were big and steep, but there was no tendency to go too fast. Eventually, I did hang a bit of the drogue out the back, but this was more to reduce the work that the self steering gear had to do rather than to slow the boat down. With a full working jib up and 10 metres of chain out the back, the boat was very steady.

I ate the flying fish for lunch, and was disappointed how many bones it had in it. Poor fish! What are the chances of taking a short flight, mid-Atlantic, and landing in the cockpit of a yacht?

The wind moderated by late afternoon, and I pulled in the chain. I can't put more sail up till the seas level out some more though.

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5/4/2015

9:50:49 AM

The wind, always the wind. So long as the boat is intact, nothing else matters out here. The wind died through the night, and also went round the compass. By 3am it was east of north, and I got up and set the boat going fairly close to the wind. I was lazy though, and didn't pay too much attention to how well the sails were set and woke at dawn to find the boat dawdling along. The wind had also turned more easterly and I can no longer point towards the Azores.  I'm close reaching about 15 degrees south of what I'd want to do. The wind will almost certainly continue to go round the compass, and I'll have to turn more and more south until it's dead against me, then tack....

Sometimes I feel trapped in a plastic container being bounced about by waves, far from anywhere or anything, a slave to the demands of setting the sails and the course and keeping the batteries charged and everything intact. Other times, I feel the freedom of being able to use the wind to get myself across the vast wilderness of an ocean in this magical thing with its adjustable vertical wings. You'd think there'd be deep psychological reasons for swinging between one and the other, or hanging about somewhere in between. It might be simpler than that. Maybe it is just the direction of the wind and the size of the waves. And whether I'm tired or not. If I find myself dwelling on dark thoughts and bad memories, I try to see if I can moderate the motion of the boat and get some sleep. Yesterday, watching the boat surf down the bright waves, I imagined a camping trip I have planned with my wife, and went on to design a camping trailer that uses a 9' dinghy as the roof. Well, we always prefer to camp by water, and it would be nice to have a boat to explore waterways, and to catch some fish. There's room too for a little kitchen and a couple of bikes, storage for hammocks and a tent. I planned it in great detail, gluing panels in place as you often do in boat building rather than using bolts, to make it quicker and easier to build and to avoid making holes in the frame where the rust would start and holes in the panels where there'd eventually be leaks. Then I remembered she'd wanted a camper van... out here, thoughts run unconstrained. It'll be a task when I return to remember the good ideas and be ready to discard those not so well connected to reality.

7:37:10 PM

I saw spotted dolphins this morning playing about the bows, so I spent some time taking a lot of photos, and got wet from spray in the process. However, there isn't a single decent photo. All I see are splashes, blurs and hints. It's like trying to photograph ghosts. I looked them up in my whale and dolphin guide and was a little disappointed to find they are called Atlantic Spotted dolphins. Like I couldn't have guessed from the markings and location!



The wind has been F3-4 all day, and I'm close hauled with a reef in the main. The sea is still rough, and going through it at 5 knots or so is enough. I'm expecting tonight that the wind will come round more from the east, and I'll have to get up frequently to adjust the course. The boom is creaking very loudly. It does whenever I put a reef in. I think the reefing lines have become stretchy. I do hope they don't snap. That would be very inconvenient. Since I'm in for the long haul, and I'm not racing, I'm inclined to take it easy with the speed. More comfortable for me, and much less wear and tear on the boat.

No Photoshopping - nothing! As it came from the camera...
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5/5/2015

11:43:31 AM

The wind stayed pretty constant through the night, and I slept well despite the course being close to the wind. Now the wind is changing direction, and within the space of half an hour, it has changed by over 40 degrees. I have gone from being close-hauled and on course, to making the best of a wind that is dead against me. Well, perhaps I ought to be making the best of it, but I can't be bothered. I suspect the wind will go on turning towards the south, and soon I will take the northern tack, and after that, with each wind shift I'll be able to turn back to my desired course. The forecast I got in Bermuda has been surprisingly accurate, apart from underestimating the wind speed on the second day out. The direction and the timing of the changes of direction have been pretty good. I'm looking forward to freer wind by this evening, and a gentler motion and faster progress, on course.

A tanker passed by this morning, 274 metres long and 50 metres wide. I guess it is 20 metres deep, and so contains 274,000 cubic metres of oil. Bound for Rotterdam. We didn't speak. Funny that. No contact for days, and yet you just sail by each other.

I see  Portuguese men-of-war all the time. Their sails are more sophisticated than I realised. They are arched, but not evenly. One side is steeper than the other. So the sail points close to the wind - closer in fact that I can manage with this boat. I estimate the angle of the sail to the wind to be 30 degrees. This arrangement suggests that the jelly fish is doing the same as me, tacking into the wind. Can they go upwind even? I'd like a test tank, a few jelly fish and a large fan. Or Google. What are jelly fish doing sailing upwind? (I did google this once I reached the Azores, and it's true, they sail, not just drift - here's more information about the sailing of Portuguese men-of-war than you'd think possible, but to me, finding such a wealth of information on the subject so easily is fabulous.)

I'm a quarter of the way across. Already, I'm looking forward to stretching my legs, getting some exercise. Sailing across an ocean sounds like hard work. Cooking and so on while you're bouncing about is difficult sometimes, and changing sails can be quite hard work, but 90% of the time I am reading or sleeping. I've read an intriguing book about running that suggests us humans are evolved to run very long distances - up to 100 miles a day. That apparently, is how we used to hunt. A brisk walk up a steep hill would be nice. I followed that with a comedy by Tom Sharp, and now Stephen Hawking's the Grand Design. I really appreciate the eclectic mix I have on my Kindle.

12:46:39 PM

Dear Professor Hawking,

I have discovered that some macroscopic entities are semi-quantum. As I understand from your book, quantum entities are affected by the act of observation. I have found that while dolphins and Portuguese men-of-war are easily visible to the naked eye, they seem impossible to observe through the lens of a camera. Likewise, come to think of it, flying fish. I hope this observation will help you deduct a more elegant theory than the one you present in your book, that quantum entities have multiple histories. Can I have a Nobel prize now please?

Yours observingly,

John

I don't know either, but he seemed to be waving at me.

9:35:27 PM

I was lazy, and spent too much time reading, and didn't bother much with the sails and the course. The wind was light and against me, and I expected it to change soon, so I didn't bother about a lot of work for an extra mile or two. Except the wind didn't do as I expected, and stayed against me just about all day. I could have gone a lot closer to the wind, and a bit faster too. And now, I can point to the Azores, as the wind has gone back round to the NW, but it has dropped to a slight draught, and I'm ghosting along at 2 knots or so. Still, that's 50 miles a day, so I have to make use of it. Here in the Sargasso sea, and later, around the Azores high, I could be waiting a very long time for the right wind, or any wind at all. So I've resolved to be more vigilant in keeping the boat moving and on course.

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5/6/2015

3:24:34 AM

Neal said it, as many sailors do. Neal has sailed across the Atlantic 18 times, and been in single-handed the round the world race twice. Once he was dismasted in the southern ocean and had to sail to South Africa under jury rig. The second time he made it round, and at Cape Horn he had 80mph winds and was rolled dozens of times within a few hours - the mast stayed up that time. Anyway, Neal said it: the calms are the worst.

Am I missing something? I remember sleeping becalmed on the edge of the continental shelf in the Bay of Biscay. Whenever I awoke, there were the sounds of the breaths of dolphins and whales, so frequent that I began to identify individuals by the tones of their blows. One I remember thinking must have had a lung infection, or a sore blow-hole at least. I slept with whales and dolphins.

Portuguese man-of-war
I took hundreds of pictures of Portuguese men-of-war. They were all crap. This was the best. Sorry, but it's really hard taking pictures of a jelly on a wavy sea from a wobbly boat!

The wind died soon after sunset, and so I'm now becalmed on the Sargasso sea. The water is oily smooth. I dropped sails and went back to bed, leaving a window and a door open so that any breeze would awaken me. There's always a little breeze. The great soft swell heaves air above it, swishing it back and forth. But I'd be able to detect a steady breeze through the window. Soon the cabin was bathed in light - the full moon had risen, and as I tried to get to sleep, the boat drifted round and round, so that the moon appeared through all the windows in turn. I don't know if I slept, but I sat up and looked out the window and the oily appearance was replaced by ripples, so I went out and hoisted the sails again. Too early perhaps. The wind is still fickle. I'd have to wait and see what it becomes. I remembered I had a drop of ginger wine somewhere in the boat, and I dug it out. I never drink at sea, but it was only a drop, and the chances of a storm any time soon are zero. So I sat in the cockpit, swigging from the bottle, in near silence. Just the sails flapping about a bit in the swell. Two gentle wakes behind the boat, and the moon, higher now in the southern sky. There's a part of me wants to get on, but the rest of me is glad to have spent a little time at least, becalmed on a bright moonlit night in the Sargasso.

9:59:58 AM

The calm lasted all night I think. The boat drifted south 3.5 miles when I drifted off to sleep. I woke an hour before dawn with a light breeze blowing through the cabin. From the west. All sail up as the sun rises and the moon sets. Progress again!

12:57:45 PM

Wing and wing, genoa and jib. Pancakes and bananas. Cold and sunny. 1/4 of the distance done. At this rate, it would be 20 days to get there. In time for Tash's flight, but SLOW, and I'll be running out of good food. I'll have to hurry the thing along as much as possible.

9:25:39 PM

The wind picked up to F3-4 from dead behind, so all day I've been on course making decent speed, and am now going at good speed. This'll do. Sailing-wise, it is perfect.

I've just dug out my wooly hat. I'm at the same latitude as the Algarve, and North Carolina, but despite the sun, I'm cold. I go about all day with three layers on, and at night, if I need to do a sail change, it's not enough! My blood has become thinner than water spending a winter in the tropics. I should wait in the Azores till mid-June before venturing to those far northern latitudes.

I've made a mistake in my reading. I'm getting through the books, sometimes two a day. Martin Amis is a dark character, funny at times, but dark and melancholic. I picked up a French book as an antidote, and it started light, and became gloomier and gloomier. It's written in the first person, so I'm guessing the guy isn't going to top himself, but that's the way it's heading. Out here in the solitude, such things take on too large proportions. I'm looking for other things to occupy myself with, and put out a fishing line, but nothing so far.

Browsing through the computer, I came across a half-finished program I wrote designed for single-handed sailing. Using the GPS data, it shows what speed the boat has been going over the last 24 hours, and the last hour and other such information, but also has alarms that can be triggered by the boat going too far off course, going too slow or too fast. It looks great! I'd forgotten about it. I haven't done any programming in years, but I was keen to have a go at finishing it. Sadly, a couple of bits of software I have are no longer compatible. One has been automatically updated, the other not. Shame. Perhaps when I get the internet in the Azores, I might finish that program.

This afternoon, I looked to the north, and saw mare's tails in the sky and dark clouds, rain falling to the north west. Looking south, clear blue sky. I had a closer look at the weather forecast, and saw that the low to the north of me isn't anywhere I want to be at all. There isn't a gale forecast, but close to it. Further south, F3-4. That's all I need to keep the boat going at 6 knots, and it sails downwind like that in great comfort. It would hardly be more comfortable tied up in a quiet harbour. No rolling of course. If I sell this boat, I must remember not to buy a monohull. Downwind rolling with mono's, John, don't forget!

I decided to change course to due east for the next 48 hours, or until the sky clears to the north of me. To do this, I had to swap the positions of the genoa and jib, which were each poled out, hanked on the same forestay. In getting the sails down, the genoa pole lost its fitting at the end. I didn't lose it, but decided anyway I'd repair it tomorrow. In the meantime, I've raised the two jibs instead, and I'm still doing 5 knots, so that's not too bad. And if the wind rises in the night, I won't have the big genoa do get down. The jibs are very easy to handle, but I expect, small enough that I won't have to.

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5/7/2015

8:56:05 AM

So much for my plans. A black cloud overtook me, but unlike the squalls in the trade winds, it contained no wind. A second black cloud came, much bigger than the last and I left the twin foresails up, and again, there was little wind. Plenty of rain, and then in the rain a wind shift to the north. So I had to drop the headsails, and switch to a jib, and then hoist the full mainsail. The wind isn't strong, and there is quite a swell running from the last 24 hours of westerly wind, so I've turned a little north, to get more speed, and to prevent the sails bashing about the swell and the light wind. So now going 5-6 knots at 60 degrees or so.

I'm knackered now, and after a good night's sleep. The sail changing wasn't really that much work, so that's a bit discouraging.

7:49:03 PM

My forecast doesn't make sense any more. What I see on the computer doesn't match at all what I see outside. So I'm back to guessing, as if I wasn't previously. The sky has cleared, and the wind faded and I'm doing 4-5 knots, a little north of the direct route - it's a bit faster that way, and I'm thinking I'd rather have a bit too much wind than too little, and that means go north a bit.

I've now sailed 1/3 of the distance to the Azores after 6 days, and already I'm looking for variety in my food that I haven't got. The vegetables available in Bermuda were expensive, but also refrigerated, and I've found that vegetables that have been refrigerated don't last long at all taken out of the fridge. And I have no fridge. So, I still have onions from the Bahamas, which are only just starting to go off. The other vegetables I have, I like variety - two cabbages, one red, one green. Sadly, I'd used a bit of the red one a few days ago, and most of the rest of it has gone rotten. I have the stump left. And I'm fishing. Oh, and I have sweet potatoes, which weren't refrigerated. Been fishing all day, but probably going too slow to interest a tuna or dorado. Need 8 knots at least, and I've tried every sail combination and course that might make sense, but I can't do better than 5 right now.

I can see 2 ships on the AIS, one 35 miles away. I find that reassuring.

8:54:49 PM

I saw a bird that looked like a swallow. A storm petrel is similar, but this was too high from the water, and did a tight circle round the boat. I went below for my camera, and it flew off to the east when I came out again. Could it be a swallow? I've just checked - I'm 608 miles from the nearest land - Bermuda - and as far as I know, I'm not on a migration path. Poor thing. I watched until it was a dot, and then disappeared. I concluded it must have been a petrel. And went back to reading.

Five minutes later, it flew into the cabin through the door. My first swallow of the season! It flew about, chirruping in that seemingly happy way, not afraid of me at all. I took a few photographs, and then it flew onto my right shoulder, and sat chirruping in my ear. Just like Buddha. But unlike Buddha, I had a camera, and reaching for it carefully with my left hand, the bird flew off again. Oh well.



What a beautiful creature. I know that when I arrive at land again, I'll be overwhelmed by the smells of the earth and the vegetation, and then the colours and sounds. Well, I've heard little but wind and waves for nearly a week now, and this fabulous creature came and sat on my shoulder, chirruping. You won't believe how much it has improved my day.

video

It seems to have set up home in the bathroom. I hear it in there from time to time, but don't want to disturb it, so I'll leave it to its private room. It's welcome to it.



Once in the Mediterranean, 400 miles from land, in the spring, a swallow made itself at home for a night on my trimaran. I was amazed to find next morning that where it had perched for the night, it had left behind quite a pile of shit! Which suggests that so far from land, the bird was still feeding. I didn't mind the mess. In the morning, the bird flew out the door, and flew round the trimaran 3-4 times, gaining height, and seeming to get its bearings, before flying off to the north.

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5/8/2015

8:46:19 AM

At dawn, two thoughts. The boat is going too fast, and has my little friend survived the night, sitting on his loofah stump? Half an hour later, two jibs set on the forestay, sailing directly into the sunrise. The swallow is missing it all, still sleeping on the wobbly bit of loofah.

9:07:23 AM

It was a female swallow. On the loofah, frankly, it wasn't looking so good first thing this morning, feathers sticking out every which way, a bit of a mess. Hardly recognisable as a swallow. While I'm drinking coffee in the saloon, I hear a few chirps, and it flew in and sat on the opposite side of the table. It spent a long long time preening itself and sorting out its feathers, stretching its wings, chirping a bit between preens. I was thinking maybe it wants to stick around. But as soon as it's sleek it's ready for business and it's out the door and into the sunrise and gone in a flash. I've had birds like that before.

It's now 672 miles from land, and it has flown even further off. Does it know where it's going? It left me a little mess. As I say, it's happened before.

6:07:22 PM

I was woken from a light snooze this afternoon by the boat going too fast, haring down wave fronts faster than the self-steering could cope with easily. So I got up and sat outside, considering whether to throw a bit of chain out the back, to take the top off the top speeds. I saw the rod twitch, and thought I'd check it for weed, and I had a fish right away. They often seem to bite the moment you starting reeling in. I didn't want to take the sails down to reel it in, so I just pulled hard, and managed to get the fish as well as the boat surfing, and like that, skimming on the surface, there was no fight in it. It was a nice tuna, about 2.5 feet long. Two very large meals for me.

It's important to drain the blood from a tuna right away - that apparently is where a lot of the mercury is. So I whacked it on the head with a winch handle and cut the arteries by the gills. I thought briefly of a photograph, but it was no longer a pretty sight. Filleting it, I found quite a few roundworms or thread worms, and some other white maggot sized things in the muscle tissue. I've never seen the attraction of sushi, and I should think that not many people who slice fish up would be keen either.

Looking at the sea, which is what I came out for, it seemed the wind had increased, but the waves had become less. Previously, there'd been a swell building from the west, combining sometimes unpleasantly with a large swell from the NW. Well, I took one of the jibs off anyway, and the motion is much nicer and the steering gear can keep up. Back indoors, with a cup of tea, I see that I am still surfing down waves, very often sailing along at 8 knots and then up to 12 down the waves. But the boat feels under control and not under any great strain. So I'll leave it as it is, and see how the wind changes next.

Sometimes, there's a lot of wind and the waves are small, and sometimes the waves are big and the wind is light. I appreciate that much of the swell is generated great distances away, but still, often I can't make much sense of it. Close to land, where the waves are affected by shallows and tides and currents, I can understand that the same wind can generate waves of quite different sizes and shapes. But here, it is 5km deep.

9:26:18 PM

Wow, I was caught out. I saw clouds to the north, but assumed they were travelling with the wind like me, and so would not be significant - the rest of the sky was clear. I got lost in a book, and suddenly the boat is going at a steady 14 knots and the wind is howling, and there's a big dark cloud right behind me. I drop the jib, and hoist the storm jib. Unfortunately while I'm doing that the boat is blown sideways on to the wind. To turn it downwind again, I had to drop both boards, slack the storm jib sheets to get some way on, and very gradually I was able to turn downwind. I lifted the boards, and since it started raining and the coming weather looked ugly, I dropped some chain in the water too. All quiet and steady now indoors, but for a while the wind was howling, and there was spray and rain, and things were a bit hectic. I'd been a bit complacent leaving ropes all over the place, so once I had the boat under control, I had a good tidy up.

I've been watching a tanker, heading to Bordeaux, so almost parallel to me. I saw it from 50 miles away on the AIS, and it has finally just about caught up with me - I've been making very good progress all day! I almost never call a ship, but well, we're mid-Atlantic. I don't suppose the watchkeeper can be so busy. I asked for a weather forecast, and he asked me to wait, and he'll get one from the internet. Nice, and the forecast, NW 4-5. Which is fine. Once these waves die down a little, I can make a decent track with that. And then, since he had the internet, I asked another favour, whether he'd mind sending an email with my position to my wife. Well, she is planning to fly to the Azores to meet me there, and watches the weather and tries to guess where I might be. She'll now get an update of my exact position, and should be able to guess my arrival time with much more confidence. Hmm, if I can do that again, closer to the Azores, she might be able to go ahead and book a flight. Come to think of it, the helpful watchkeeper had to ask me for my position. I wonder why. I can see his position on my screen just fine. Can he see my position? I'll ask the next ship. Enough favours from that one.

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5/9/2015

9:36:34 AM

I spent the night with just the little jib up and a chain hanging out the back, taking a course 30 degrees south of what I wanted. The odd wave would hit the side of the boat and crash spray all over it, but apart from that, it was a peaceful night.

This morning it looks like NW5, so I pulled the chain in and put up the main with 3 reefs in it and put the boat on course. There are still waves occasionally hitting the side of the boat, and the motion isn't particularly pleasant, but we've whizzing along at a pretty steady 7 knots. I could live with that, but there are knots of black cloud all about and the wind is increasing again, so I'll have to do something different soon.

1:04:18 PM

997 miles to go. Down to the three figures at least!

9:57:59 PM

The wind increased dramatically quickly this morning, and it got to F7 in minutes. I was a little slow to respond, wanting to believe the F4-5 forecast. But when waves start crashing into the side of the boat and spray flies from one side to the other, it's time to act. I put out the chain again, and as the wind went on increasing, I let all the rope out - 200'. I left the small jib up, rather than replace it with the storm jib, because the speed - generally 5-7 knots - gives good steerage and I'm sailing away from the waves, so my speed reduces the impact a bit. Occasionally I've hit 12 knots, but that has been rare. Once a wave climbed steeply at the stern and then crashed right over it. I've never had that happen before even in a gale. The Autohelm self-steering got a soaking. I'd hate that to be wrecked, but it has steered flawlessly since.

Dragging 10 metres of chain on a 200' bight of rope to slow the boat down.

Safer indoors, but the view is just as scary.

It's now almost sunset. A yacht just appeared - 'Tilly Mint' - a 60' monohull from the UK, heading for the Azores. They have a scrap of sail up, but are still able to point to the Azores, and they are making 9 knots.



They called me on the radio as I was about to call them. They figured I might appreciate a weather forecast. Precisely! They'd just downloaded the latest for this area, and it seems this gale will go on till midnight, and then die down till dawn. Behind this horrible weather, there's a high pressure following, with winds at first of 15 knots, but lessening. That is really great news. I could do with some light wind sailing again! They warned there'd be a bit more strong wind as I approach the Azores, but as it will be from astern, that shouldn't delay me at all. What great news! It's been a trying day, even for them apparently. Such kind and helpful people. Being yachties, they knew exactly what kind of weather information I needed - far more useful than the extremely basic forecast from the ship yesterday, which turned out to be quite wrong. They realised at some point I was probably alone, and said they'd like to buy me a beer in Horta. Single hander on a small yacht makes a crew on a big yacht feel safe. I remember passing a rowing boat 1000 miles out from the Canaries. Made me feel I was in a luxury cruiser in comparison. They didn't mind sending an email with my position to Tash too, for which I'm very grateful. I think the beers ought to be on me.

Tilly Mint have made a very unpleasant day much better. As I write, the wind has increased even further, but I'm greatly reassured that it won't get much worse, and won't last much longer. Out on the Atlantic, you know that no matter how bad it gets, it can always get worse. It's a big ocean. Stuff happens. Phew, that forecast.

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5/10/2015

8:48:55 AM

It did get worse, and lasted longer than expected. Rather than shifting towards the west, the wind became pretty much northerly. The waves don't shift as fast as the wind, so every time there's a wind shift, there are waves crossing through each other - new ones from the new direction of the wind, and the other stuff left over from the old direction. When peaks from different wave trains peak where the boat happens to be, well, it's not pleasant. The wind increased to a full gale, and I found that it was important for the motion of the boat to sail directly downwind with my little sail up, dragging my ropes and chains. Even 10 degrees off dead downwind would see waves crashing into the bows and over the boat with a great slamming.

So I went downwind, and stayed awake to tweak the course every now and again. Since talking to Tilly Mint, I've sailed 96 miles at 135 degrees. The course I want is about 70 degrees. I calculated that I am at least 40 miles closer to the Azores as a result, so it's not as bad as it seemed in the night. Of course, it always seems worse in the night, and the moon is much less than full now, so the first hours of darkness before moonrise are really dark. The imagination runs wild, and it has plenty of material to feed upon - the occasional surfing at 12-14 knots, the odd wave getting as far as the cockpit (never happened before) over the Autopilot, the spray blowing across the boat, the slamming under the bridgedeck whenever waves would peak together under there, the howling and whistling of the rigging, and the cold. It is really getting quite cold, and I need to do more to keep warm.

I seem to have slept deeply eventually, nodding off sometime after 2 am. At dawn, the wind is still from the north, at about 20 knots. I changed course to east, and just left the little jib up to pull the boat gently along. The waves and swell are still messy. There's not so many breaking waves, so I could hoist a bit of mainsail and get 6-7 knots, but for the time being, in this lumpy water, I'd rather creep along at 3-4 knots and wait for things to settle. I pulled in the rope and chain, and found it quite twisted. It took an hour to haul in and untangle. I guess the problem there is that I'm using twisted 3-strand rope. If I had multiplait rope I think it wouldn't twist, but that is much more expensive and I guess a tangle might slow the boat as much as a straight line, so it's just an inconvenience to deal with when it comes in.

In case another waves breaks over the stern again.

I'll rest some more, then think about doing some washing up etc. I've had a good look around, and can see no damage whatsoever from the ugly adventures of last night. I've found nothing broken. There's a bottle of rum still standing on the bedroom floor, even though the boat got hit quite often on the side, causing my herb and sauce bottles to tip over and rattle about in the cupboards. Monohullers will assume either I don't know what a gale is, or that I'm lying about the rum bottle still upright.

6:13:16 PM

The sea being still lumpy, and the wind surprisingly variable in strength, I've been pottering along. I tried the reefed main up, but then the wind increased a lot for a while and waves were splashing over the roof and slamming the leeward hull, so I took it down again. Now at last, mid-afternoon, the wind has settled a bit but it is from the N, not the NW. So I have the main up, and am going at 5-6 knots east. Any closer to the wind, the waves just slow the boat right down. As the sea settles and the wind becomes more favourable (I expect) I should be able to set a course more direct, though 25 degrees off course isn't very significant at this distance.

I passed the half way mark, too busy with cleaning up and messing about with the sails to notice at the time.

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5/11/2015

9:16:02 AM

I messed with the sails through the early evening, then left it. Some time in the middle of the night, the boat was going too fast. I got dressed to deal with it and decided I liked the progress too much, so lay down again fully clothed ready to go out again. That's how I woke up at dawn, the boat still going 6-8 knots on a close reach.

I'd expected clear skies, what with Tilly Mint telling me there was high pressure building round here, but there's no sign of that. Dark low grey clouds everywhere.

830 miles to go, exactly 1000 miles from Bermuda.

12:13:43 PM

Saw a large turtle. Looked dead, flippers floating loosely about. Maybe that's how they sleep. Dolphins came. Not the Pacific striped variety. The other kind. I took many photos, all rubbish.

4:52:10 PM

Ongoing grey sky, wind and waves building from the NW, a little rain. Nothing for the solar panels to soak up. Not what Tilly Mint had predicted at all. Where's the high? I do hope I'm not in for another gale. I could do with a steady ride in to the Azores now. Not a lot to ask is it, for the next 800 miles. Actually, it shouldn't be that unrealistic. I ought to be approaching the Azores high by now, and there are no strong winds within that.

7:44:37 PM

I've been out in my waterproofs, preparing for bad weather. I was concerned last time about the self steering gear getting inundated by waves from astern. Hopefully, I've resolved that issue, for now at least. I put the solar panels indoors - they weren't generating anything this dark day anyway, and it's good to have them out of the way of any thrashing ropes and blocks and a misstep by me. I'm putting the laptop to sleep to conserve electricity for the steering gear. There's no saying how long this darkness might last. I had 3-4 days of it last time I crossed the Atlantic, and the batteries were getting pretty low by the end. I've rigged the storm jib too, ready to hoist on the inner forestay. Last time, I was still going a bit too fast. If it gets as windy again, all I want is steerage way, and the storm jib can provide that. The wind isn't exactly dramatic, and maybe it won't be - it depends on how deep and how close the depression is. I'm hoping there'll be a bit of rain, and blue sky to follow, but I would hope that wouldn't I? Ah well, I've prepared all I can, so that's my task now, to wait and to hope.

10:20:54 PM

Switched to small jib as it gets dark. Wind not really strong, but figured I'd rather have a too slow passage tonight than a too fast one. There was a passenger ship within radio distance, but I decided not to call him for a forecast. I'm in it, what can I do?

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5/12/2015

8:11:08 AM

I spent half the night awake ready to throw some rope and chain out the back. The boat was going fast, but not quite too fast. You can only worry so long, so I fell asleep, and was woken at dawn by the radio. Elfje, a 50 metre sailing boat who lists his destination on the AIS as Armageddon called to check I was OK, and give me a forecast. Continuing NW, 15-20 knots, fading gradually as a high develops over the whole mid-Atlantic. So soon I'll worry about being becalmed. Always something! Till then, I guess I'd better make the most of the wind, hoisting more and more sail as it fades away. There are a few bits of blue sky amongst the gloom, so I hope to be able to make some electricity later.

For now though, a little more sleep. Usually I wake up really early, but I have boat-lag, sailing east like this. I'm losing 15 minutes a day.

6:18:24 PM

It's been another grey day, stuck indoors listening to the wind in the rigging and the occasional waves smacking the side of the boat. The sun didn't shine. It's raining now. Good progress through this grey murk though. Just 640 miles to go, so I'm 2/3 of the way. Seems like the job's nearly done, or maybe I'm just getting impatient. I have only a little maize flour left, and my fruit is just one withered orange. Plenty of cabbage and onions. I have every kind of incentive to keep this speed up as much as I can. It would be a bit disappointing to almost make it, and then drift somewhere off the Azores for days on end, dreaming of fruit.

11:15:18 PM

Wind turned to the NNE. Can't go to bed, will have to see how it changes...

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5/13/2015

3:08:31 AM

Wind increased. Small jib, and one reef. Clear skies at least I think.

8:21:29 AM

Wind died overnight. Big jib up at dawn, full main, 3-4 knots on course. Dolphins in the sunrise.

I have averaged 5.75 knots, measuring by the direct distance covered from Bermuda towards the Azores, ignoring the changes of course necessary to deal with headwinds and gales. That's not bad at all, slightly better than my last passage across the Atlantic, which was in the trade winds. But from here, most likely, that average will fall rapidly. I'm in the Azores high. There's bugger all wind here. It's the reason so many yachties headed this way carry rows of jerry cans on deck full of diesel. They'd all motor the last 500 miles if they found the wind was as light as this. I have a couple of gallons of fuel - possibly enough for up to 40 miles if I run the engine slowly. That won't make much of an impression on the 571 miles remaining.

It feels like the boat is wallowing in the dying swells, going nowhere. But for the time being at least, I'm doing 3 knots. These low speeds hardly register - all you can feel is the effect of the swell passing under the boat. But that's still 90 miles a day, so 6 of them... This boat is good at light wind, but it takes a lot of attention to the sails to keep up with frequent fickle changes.

I ate my last piece of fruit.

1:28:59 PM

The little breeze didn't last long at all. I dropped all sail, and set about doing the overdue washing up and cleaning. I then cleaned out the forward lockers which are used to store the sails. They are almost watertight, but after days of waves and spray over them, there was a couple of pints of water in one and a small bucketful in another. Not that big a deal, but the lockers would stay forever damp if I left it. Emptying the lockers, I remembered that I had a spinnaker, but no means of raising it, having lost the spinnaker halyard at the start of this trip. The spinnaker halyard would need to be re-reeved through a block at the top of the mast. Fishing line, halyard, halyard, fishing line...

I tied the fishing reel to the base of the mast in a way which would allow me to pull line off it as needed. I tied a 1/2 ounce weight on the other end, put that in my pocket, and climbed the mast. At the top, I dropped the weight over the top of the block, and heard it rattle its way down inside the mast. That's right, 500 miles from the nearest land, not a ship or anything else in sight, I climbed the mast in the heaving swell. Well done, chap, some might say. But you're scared of heights! my kids would say, but there you go. You have to just hang on when a bunch of swells set the boat rolling, and the mast catapulting, and when it's still again, climb some more. It's a matter of clinging on as tight as you can, but not so tight as in a panic-stricken death-grip, as I was tempted to more than once. Near the top of the mast, the steps end, and the last 4-5' feet is just mast...

Anyway, job done. I figured if ever I'm likely to need the spinnaker, it would be in the next few days to help get me through this calm and the fickle light winds that occasionally interrupt it.

If this was a fairy story, the wind would reappear now from any direction but the NE, but preferably a direction that would allow the use of the spinnaker. Wind? Wind...? Must be real life then.

4:00:57 PM

After a few hours of total calm, I felt a slight breeze from the west and hoisted the genoa. On tightening the sheets, I happened to look across from the boat and I saw a fin 50 yards away, and then another behind it. It was in fact a large shark. I think the distance between the two fins - the latter one proving to be the tail - to be at least 10 feet. The thing was idly swimming north. I decided progress was more of a hope than a fact anyway, and dropped the genoa again, hoping the shark might come nearer. I spent a good while imitating a turtle with a bad leg - not so hard I think, with a deck brush bashing onto the surface of the water. The shark was less convinced. It reappeared 50 yards behind me briefly, and then was gone. I imagined falling from the top of the mast, bouncing on the deck, and finding this big wide ocean isn't as empty as it often seems to be. Calms are good for seeing things like that. I also saw a 3' long tube shaped jelly fish, close to the surface, probably 6" in diameter.

Still, I'm glad now to be making about 2.5 knots, though on a mostly northerly course. The Azores high usually has a long finger stretching to the west and south of it. Sailing up this finger directly for the Azores could take a very long time. Better to be on the northern edge of it, where westerly winds can be found. I doubt this tiny breeze will take me a significant distance, but, well, if it's all there is, I'll do all I can with it.

5:06:52 PM

I ate the last of my potatoes with the last of my beans, hoping to make a luxury meal of it with my last egg. Sadly, the yolk was black and the egg stunk - the only one that had gone rotten.

It's always a problem whether to eat food while it is fresh and enjoy it and make do with the other stuff later, or try to preserve it. The orange I had this morning, my last piece of fruit, was excellent, and could have lasted a few more days I'm sure. So the pleasure of eating it was tainted a little with the knowledge that I might have enjoyed it even more tomorrow or the next day.

9:33:27 PM

Spent a few hours this afternoon with the spinnaker and main up, but there wasn't enough wind really for it to be effective - or too much left over swell. Now at sunset I have the genoa and jib up side by side. A bit slower but certainly quieter and simpler arrangement. Better for getting some kip. It's been very busy day, but the boat is cleaner and tidier, the halyard is sorted out, the lockers are clean and dry, and it being sunny all day, the batteries are full again. 550 miles to go.

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5/14/2015

6:51:49 AM

Drifted 24 miles through the night with the genoa and the jib up. At dawn, there's slightly more wind, and a little more from the south rather than from directly astern. That should make the spinnaker more effective. I'm drinking coffee at daybreak, awaiting the sunrise. As soon as it's properly light, I'll raise the spinnaker.

8:54:31 AM

The spinnaker was disappointing after all. With the light wind and the ongoing quite big swell, the boat would catch the wind, get up to a good speed and then slow right down, catching the spinnaker aback. I realised that with such great changes in the apparent wind, I wouldn't be able to set the spinnaker properly in any but the optimum conditions. That's a shame - I once had a spinnaker up pulling a boat across glassy seas at a good speed for 48 hours, without touching the tiller or a rope. It was a monohull, and the apparent wind doesn't change as much, so it was able to use a wind vane for steering, and the wind vane was able to follow every little wind shift, keeping the spinnaker full and still against the sky quite perfectly.

Back to genoa and mainsail, and the familiar question of how to occupy the day. Under Milkwood I think.

1:36:16 PM

Bah, I have only half of Under Milkwood. I'm tired of reading. I've read maybe 15 books this trip so far. I got so bored drifting along at 2-3 knots with flopping sails that I decided to learn French. I found I didn't have the learning materials I thought I had, so went back on deck to photograph jelly fish. I've seen hundreds, and don't have a single photograph.

A whale spouted maybe a mile away, and then after a minute or so, again. A very high spout. I got the camera and waited, watching the area. After 20 minutes it came up again, and guessing the time between seeing the spout and hearing it, I reckon it was 300 metres away. It took half a dozen breaths, and then it's back rose as it dived. There was a pronounced dorsal fin, so it wasn't a blue whale as I'd hoped, but probably the next biggest thing around, a fin whale. Fin whales never seem to bother about boats, neither investigating them or going away from them. But still, it was headed towards me, and despite my impression that after so many breaths it was ready for a long dive, I hung around for the next hour or so, watching the heaving swell, listening for the sound of a spout. I checked the chart, and see that we are over a sea mount, but there are no more for the next 50 miles.

On the AIS I can see 5 ships, the furthest being 115 miles away. Crossing the Atlantic in the trades, I saw maybe three on the whole crossing.

9:45:44 PM

Progress has been pathetic all day. I think a lot of the forward motion has been provided by the swell, washing the boat from side to side and flapping the sails. Seriously! I've averaged about 2 knots in the last 24 hours.

All afternoon, there's been blue sky, except for some fluffy clouds to the east. I was hoping I'd eventually get over there and find wind, and that seems to be happening at sunset. However, the cloud now looks dark and ominous.



Could it really go from flat calm to stormy in so short a distance. I guess I'm about to find out.

I'm tired now. Since I'm almost 3/4 of the way there, there's part of me ready to arrive, relax and switch off from the constant efforts to keep the boat moving along. But there's still 500 miles to go, and since I have no fuel and am completely dependent on the wind, there's no saying how long that could take. It might be 4 days or so, but of course, it could be much longer, so I need continuing patience.

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5/15/2015

It's 2am, and I'm awoken by the radar alarm. I check the AIS and see a ship 7 miles away. The alarm doesn't usually work until a ship is three miles away at most. The sea is so flat that the radar is travelling further, uninterrupted by waves. I see that I have sailed 7 miles in the last 5 hours, and decide to drop the sails and switch off the self-steering. I'm going nowhere.

I call the ship on the VHF and ask for a weather forecast, and they tell me it will be the same for the next 2 days. So I ask the watchkeeper if he'd send an email for me. He says only the master can do that, but he took the details anyway and will ask. I gave him the details, thanked him, and wished him a pleasant voyage. He wished me a pleasant time, as if recognising that voyaging wasn't an option. The last Tash heard from me would have been from Tilly Mint, and they might have told her I was dragging chains in a gale. She'll be better off knowing I'm becalmed. I won't arrive in the Azores in time for her to book the flight she hoped to get.

What a prospect. I'm bored with my books, I have no fruit, and only a bit of cabbage and some onions, and dried stuff. Some of that is running out too, though I won't starve. I have plenty of rice and lentils. I have no music with me, and just 2-3 radio podcasts left to listen to. I spent much of yesterday simply staring at the sea, trying without much success to photograph Portuguese men-of-war. The silence is total.

How did I get here again? I was well aware of the Azores high, and have seen how it often stretches away to the south west of the Azores. My intention on leaving Bermuda was to sail along the current latitude to stay south of gales until I was half way, then head north east till I was north of the Azores, and then aim directly at them. This would have avoided sailing along that stretched out area, minimising the time I'd be in light winds or becalmed. But that gale sent me a long way south, and since then, much of the wind I've had has had quite a northerly component, so I've just used it to make as much progress towards the Azores as  could. Anyway, it's all statistics really. What I find on the day itself is something else. This boat really doesn't need much wind at all to make progress, just some. Something. Anything.

7:29:02 AM

At dawn, wind. Well, a very slight breeze anyway. Blowing almost directly from the Azores. There is cloud in the east, and I imagine wind with it. All yesterday I was hoping to reach it. It seems I almost have, or it has reached me. But the wind is blowing dead against me. So I've taken the starboard tack, heading north of my destination. South would take me into that stretched out area of the Azores high. Going north, I increase my chances of finding more useful wind. Slightly increase my chances that is, but slight is all I have available, so I go for it of course.

4:31:48 PM

The wind increased, and became a little more southerly. It increased so much, I had to put a reef into the mainsail. It's nice the boat's moving again though. So much for the forecast from the ship. I guess with a 200 metre long ship, a calm and a 15 knot wind is pretty much the same.

I've done forty miles this morning, which seems a fantastic distance. I doubt the wind will stay in this direction though. It is fading a little again already. There aren't really any waves building up from the SE, where the wind is coming from. There is a swell building from the west though, so I think I can count on a strong westerly wind on it's way. The Azores is renowned amongst sailors for the high pressure which is fairly constant here, meaning calms and light winds. But when I see the swell from the west building, I can't help but remember Chiki Rafiki, who we shared an anchorage with in the Caribbean the previous winter. The boat sank near here in 50 knot winds, and all the crew were lost. The keel came off. I don't have a keel, but have no appetite for 50 knot winds either.

I've decided to sail to Flores rather than Faial. It's 100 miles closer for a start, and it would be very nice to have vegetables, fruit, cheese and eggs again. And cider. And music and radio and contact with people and email and downloads and so on. And I'd be able to make the next 100 miles to Faial on the back of a recent local forecast, which would be very nice. I think I can't make it in time for Tash to catch the flight she wanted anyway, so she'll arrive two weeks later probably. I may end up with time to kill in the Azores, so it would be nice to spend a bit of that time on one of the smaller remoter islands, and do a bit of hiking.

8:10:23 PM

I've spent most of the day indoors, reading. It's a bit cool and windy outside. It's easier to read once the boat is making progress. Becalmed, the mind tends to wonder how long for, and to count up remaining assets to see how long they might last. But I've been outside frequently to check the sails. I still can't point to my destination, so I have to tweak the self-steering gear to make the most of every wind shift.

Mid-afternoon, I was about to go back in after one of these adjustments when I saw a whale spout on the port bow. I watched, and it spouted twice more. The spout was much lower than the fin whale, and points forwards, so it was a sperm whale.



It seemed to be on a collision course, though far off, so I got the camera and sat on the roof and waited. 15 minutes later, 3 more spouts, and I could see the back of the whale clearly, but failed to get a decent shot with the camera. It was where I expected it to show up, still on the same bearing, which indicates a collision course. Sperm whales are quite common round the Azores, and I have seen one once before steaming along the surface of the sea, not diving at all, but swimming along at 10 knots or so. If this one was doing that, then there was a real chance of a collision. I guess a more prudent sailor might have stopped the boat. Whale crossing.

I didn't see the whale again, but in front of the boat, I soon saw a whale sized patch of mirror smooth water.



It had disappeared just yards ahead of the boat. Usually they show their tail and dive steeply. This one just sank a little below the surface. The boat sailed on, right through the slick. I waited for the sound of the daggerboard or a rudder hitting it. Nothing. It was a bit eery sailing over the smooth water and then waiting and watching without knowing where to look.



Ten minutes later I saw it again, off the starboard quarter. It was still steaming along the surface in the same direction. I wonder how many more have slipped below the surface to allow me to sail right over them, while I was sitting indoors reading my books or asleep in my bunk?

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5/16/2015

8:40:51 AM

Clear blue sky at dawn, and the boat is still bashing away to windward. I'm still pointing 30 degrees north of my destination, but with 270 miles still to go, the exact direction doesn't matter too much. If I'm doing 5 knots 30 degrees off course, I'm still getting closer to my destination at a rate of over 4 knots. At some point, surely, the wind will change a little and allow me to sail a direct route.

In the cockpit, a squid. So, squid can fly too!


 But obviously they're not evolved to deal with hard landings. I guess there isn't much benefit in that, usually. I'll rig him up for bait later on.



It's getting a bit bumpy and bouncy. It's impressive though, a boat sailing along hour after hour, upwind and against the waves. Anything that floats can sail downwind. It takes a cleverer contraption to go upwind too, so I'll have to stick with this appreciative aspect, rather than get frustrated at the continual shaking around.

1:51:49 PM

Dragging the squid behind the boat, I caught a baby turtle. Luckily I was watching the rod at the time, otherwise it might have drowned. The hook had snagged its front flipper.



It wasn't hooked up as far as the barb though, so I easily unhooked it, and it didn't seem to have suffered too much. It's leg wasn't broken. I put him in a bowl of sea water for a while to see how he'd get on, and he swam around just fine. Though I guess he might have been puzzled by sea water with sides.


After he'd rested a few minutes and I was confident he was OK, I dropped him back in the sea and he dived down.

2:07:34 PM

Making lunch I heard squeaking through the hull. A pair of bottle-nosed dolphins were playing around the boat, but only until I got the camera out.

3:18:04 PM

The dolphins came back, bringing a few friends, but they didn't stay long.

8:33:48 PM

The bottlenose dolphins and the wind have been coming and going all day. The wind is steady in direction, but changes in strength quite a bit, so I have done a lot of reefing and unreefing, trying to make the most of what's available. Unfortunately, the direction is all wrong. It's coming from just south of east, and I want to go just north of east, but can't so I'm going north east. With every mile on this tack, the wind is becoming more unfavourable. I'd expected and hoped for a change by now, but it has been this direction for 36 hours.

There's only 216 miles to go. On my laptop, I can now have the boat and the island of Flores displayed, and I can see the shape of Flores. It is no longer a dot way over the screen. This wind, if it just shifted through 30-40 degrees would allow me to finish the trip in a day and a half. If I have to tack all the way, it's going to be 3 days. And if there's a calm...

I'm starting to eat my emergency rations - stuff I've been keeping in case the stove died or I ran out of gas. I'm near enough now that I could make it the rest of the way without eating if necessary, so it's nice to tuck into some of the things I'd set aside. I'd list them, but I doubt they would seem luxury foods to anyone else. It's not rice and beans anyway.

No-one wanted the squid. I've dragged it through the sea for over 50 miles, and apart from the turtle getting accidentally snagged, it has been ignored. Maybe it wasn't a popular squid. Maybe that's why it leaped onto my deck last night. There can't be many ways for a squid to commit suicide. Scrumpy offered a rare opportunity. I've been at sea for nearly two weeks now. Is that long enough to go mad?

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5/17/2015

9:00:29 AM

The wind has shifted a little. It has moved a little to the south about as much as I've moved north. That is, I can point at 45 degrees now, but my destination is now 90. The wind was variable in strength throughout the night, so I was up a lot adjusting sails. Now, at dawn, it is just F2. 172 miles to go - however, it is grey everywhere, and darker ahead, so I expect rain soon, and a wind shift after that. Then we'll see...



3:28:05 PM

I've spent a lot of time outside in waterproofs and socks and boots - what a palaver it is in the cold north to get dressed up to tweak the sails - adjusting for the changes in wind that the rain brings. But the changes have been brief, and I doubt my efforts have paid off. The wind is now blowing exactly from my destination. A weather forecast would be great now. I could then know whether to continue sailing NE or change tack and go SE. But there are no ships for many miles. Not that ship's forecasts have been much use. A yacht with satellite data would be ideal, but I'm too far north of their track. Anyone with a yacht that can afford satellite connections will certainly have a nice diesel engine, and finding themselves becalmed and then headed by the wind as I have, they'd have motored directly to port. Up here, drifting about, sailing at 3.5 knots and so making good less than 2 knots, it's just me. So close, and yet...

6:20:31 PM

I've done 4.5 miles in the last 3.5 hours. And it was a lot of work. The very light fickle headwind seems to shift to one side then the other then back again. Whichever tack I take, the wind comes round to head the boat. Maybe. That may be just how it seems. Anyway, there are now black rainstorms every side of me. I got dressed up to try to continue to sail through them, taking advantage of whatever wind shifts the rain comes with, but gave it up. It's not that I'm tired or have anything better to do than read, but even so, I think my efforts would be wasted. I might as well relax and wait for some wind I can use. I've dropped the sails and tied them down. Still 150 miles to go. I'd hoped to get in before tomorrow night, but clearly that can't happen now, so I have at least 2 more nights out here to go.

9:06:54 PM

At sunset a little wind has started again, but from the east still. I won't bother putting the sails up for that.

A house martin arrived, and settled itself in a bedroom for the night. It's very welcome.



Did I say there's 150 miles to go? Probably...

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5/18/2015

8:02:13 AM

At midnight, some wind, so I raised some sail. The wind direction was still east so I wasn't going to be making great progress, and there were still black clouds all about so I put a couple of reefs in the mainsail and left the boat ticking along on a NE course. I saw a bird flick in and out of the light of the decklight as I was raising sail. It looked like another house martin and I thought my guest must have left, but that would have been strange, to take off in the dark.

A dawn, I'd covered just 9 miles. So I guess the wind died again and I didn't notice. Oh well, at least I had some kip. And of that 9 miles through the water, it counts as just 6 miles towards my destination.

I have more sail up now and am bashing through waves at 4-5 knots at 70 degrees. So the wind has turned a little further south and I can point a bit closer, but I am now further north. I need to make a course of more like 100 degrees.

It's an hour after sunrise and the house martin is still where it perched last night, with it's head tucked under it's wing. Maybe it wants a lift all the way. Fine by me, but it could take a long time.

5:20:54 PM

The house martin flew out the window at 10am without stopping for a photo. For over half an hour, it flew round the boat, and then set off NW. There's nothing that way till Newfoundland.

The wind has become more and more southerly, and mid-afternoon, I can just about aim directly for my destination. I'd been gambling the wind would go that way, so rather than get as close to the wind as I could, I freed up a little to get more speed. I needed the speed to crash over the swell left behind from days of easterlies. Anyway, so far it has worked, I've sailed in a big long loop, gradually altering course all day - though I'm not in the clear yet.

99 miles to go, and I'm really really hoping to make it by tomorrow afternoon without the wind growing into a gale, or turning back against me again. I'm much more tired than a nap is able to clear.

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5/19/2015

2:12:59 AM

Woke up to boat screaming along and bouncing over waves. I shot out and reefed to third reef, and slackened sheets as wind had gone round some more to the south. Went inside, and boat was too slow. But it started raining, so I left it a bit, then went out and put just one reef in, and now - 2 knots! Wind died. I hope it comes back after the rain finishes. It's difficult adjusting sails in the dark, not being able to see what's coming - like rain clouds. 56 miles to go. Ship bearing down on me, the first for several days.

7:12:07 AM

I awoke at dawn to find the boat moving very slowly. I went straight out to get it going again. Black clouds ahead. The wind has shifted a little against me. There are just 38 miles to go to the southern corner of Flores, and I need to sail 114 degrees to get there, but can currently manage just 104. What a pain it would be to have to tack that last bit round the island. I'm going to have to be outside most of the day, squeezing the boat as tight to the wind as I can manage. I really had expect the wind to be westerly by now, so it would have been a fast and easy sail in the end.

10:41:21 AM

Can't make the southern tip and the wind is increasing, so decided to go around the north of the island. I just hope the wind shifts a bit to the west so that I get the shelter of the island, and I don't have to tack down the other side.

18 miles to the tip, and the island is clearly in view. There's a halo round the sun, so I think the sooner I get in, the better.





Around the north end of the island, I was sheltered from the wind and got the outboard out. It started 2nd pull, which was pleasing. However, when I got to the NE corner of the island, the wind was howling again, and the engine flat out could only push the boat through at 2 knots. I had to steer by hand. I looked for an anchorage along the east coast, but in them all there was a lot of swell, not much shelter and poor access to the shore. The last option was to go into the marina in Lajes, on the SE corner of Flores. This would be the last option because I expected that as soon as I turned the slight corner at Santa Cruz, I'd have no shelter from the wind at all, and I wasn't sure if the engine would be sufficient to get through. And also, it would be the first marina I'd been in for two years. In that whole period, I'd anchored, for free. And then there was the difficulty of manoeuvring a catamaran with just one little outboard on one side in a marina full of expensive yachts.

There was no need to worry. As soon as I left Santa Cruz, it poured with rain, and the wind stopped entirely. The manoeuvring wasn't so hard at all, with the assistance of the harbour master, and Jak the Dutch ex-pilot. He seemed genuinely pleased to see me, and gave me the news.

He'd been in for four days. That's what a good diesel engine can do for you. Waterman had just left for Faial. He'd reported winds of 40 knots on his crossing, but sustained no damage (a gale is 35 knots). Jak had recorded 50 knots of wind, and for the first time, he'd had a wave come over his stern and fill the cockpit, overflowing into the cabin and smashing a window. He said the forecast he saw for the period showed waves averaging 15', with a maximum of 30' and steep. But we all got off lightly.

There was a group of boats that left soon after I arrived in Bermuda. Johnny, a single-hander I didn't meet but heard a lot about - he was dismasted 200 miles west of the Azores, rigged up a spinnaker pole as a temporary mast, and sailed the rest of the way with his storm sails. He repaired his mast within days and has sailed on.

A French couple had their boat sink. The were rescued by a freighter. There was one other dismasting, another rescue I vaguely heard of, and then another sinking. Mother, father and 7-year old daughter. They were in the water for several hours before they were rescued, and the little girl died of hypothermia soon after. So the relief of being tied to a pontoon at last, unscathed from the voyage is tempered by sadness for those who weren't so lucky.

-----------------------

I emailed the photo of Tilly Mint from Flores to the skipper, and he replied informing me that they were growing a little concerned about me when I didn't arrive at Horta (which I had told them at the time was my destination). Tilly Mint had a knockdown (mast hitting the water) at 4:00 am that morning, and afterwards, their steering broke in a flat calm - they're assuming that the steering was damaged during that night.

And there I was querying why I was so far out to sea in such a little boat in such conditions. The conditions, according to people with wind instruments and forecasts, were quite a bit worse than I suspected at the time. With hindsight, the boat handled it much better than I gave it credit for. So far, it's just Scrumpy and Waterman who came through with no damage.

I'm coming to the conclusion that every catamaran should be fitted with attachment points and blocks to handle an adjustable drogue, or in extremis, to attach a Jordan series drogue. The tactic of using sail to maintain a speed of around 7 knots downwind, at the same time as the drogue to minimise excessive surfing speeds and to help hold the stern into the wind seems to be ideal, if there's sea room to run downwind.