Monday, 13 October 2014

Travel Report No 71: Sailing from the Azores to England via Spain

Report No 71    Horta – Baiona - Falmouth. 

For all the pictures and captions go to: Picture Gallery No 71

AZORES

We had entered the harbour of Fajal on Horta island in the Azores at dawn on the 8th June. After first anchoring as instructed, Stein rowed ashore with our passports at 8 am, and it did not take him long to check in and return with the news that we could get a place alongside the quay. We immediately weighed anchor and motored over to the fairly tight free space between two other yachts, but with Stein’s good maneuvering and some help pulling ropes from other boats, we got into the space and tied up, and then a French catamaran tied up outside us. It felt good to be alongside, although it is not a great harbour, there was a bit of a swell in the part we were, and we were exposed to strong gusts of wind. Regardless - we have been in Horta twice before with Red Admiral (1982 and 1991, having sailed there from Anguilla), had many good memories from these visits, so it was exciting to revisit this interesting town after many years. 


Still blue skies on the first day alongside the quay in Faial, Horta -
a famous meeting place for sailing ships for more than 500 years.
It is a Mecca for all yachts crossing the Atlantic from West to East, and most leave a painting of their boat on the walls or walkways around the harbour. It is also an interesting town due to its old Portuguese architecture. Facilities for yachts have improved since we were last here, with a new building containing a café with wi-fi, showers and laundry facilities. The favourite meeting place though is still Café Sport, or Peter’s Café, now run by Peter the younger, who is obviously more of a business man than his father, as there is now also a souvenir shop attached, still with scrimshaw as its specialty (engravings on whale teeth and whale bone). There is even a branch of his shop at the airport and he is a general tour operator on the island.
Two days later, Andreas Hauge arrived at the airport, and we met him in our hired car. Andreas is another experienced sailor, he has sailed with us from Portugal to Canary Islands in 2003, and from Panama to Florida last year, in 2013, and proved himself to be another uncomplaining, humorous crew member, so we were very happy that he came to replace Andrew, and would sail back to Norway with us.


For a few days in Horta we were five aboard: Diana, Andrew (about to leave), Andreas (just arrived) and Frode (still here!) as well as Stein behind the camera.
The days in the Azores we hoped would be a sunny interlude between ocean crossings, but apart from the first day and a half, turned out to be cold, misty and rainy. Nevertheless we made the best of it, driving round Faial in the hired car, enjoying the very reasonably priced restaurants and visited some places of interest. One of the best restaurant visits was to Ricardo’s restaurant where we had an impressive lobster feast, another was to Genuino’s newly opened restaurant full of souvenirs from his solo sails around the world (the only person from the Azores to have done this and he did it twice!) and Canto da Doca where we cooked our own fish, squid or meat on boiling hot pieces of lava stone!


Three circumnavigators together at Genuino's restaurant (but Genuino sailed twice solo around the World in his "Hemingway" - a genuine achievement!)

Hard (well, not very...) and hot work cooking your own dinner at Canto da Doca,
a very popular restaurant next to the harbour

One of the main tourist attractions is the Volcanic Centre on the north west of the island. Here there was a large volcanic eruption in 1957 adding a new peninsula. The lighthouse at the coast was no longer of use once it was inland, and instead became part of an impressive  museum, with lots of information about volcanic activity in general and about this particular eruption and its consequences. It caused a crisis which led to USA admitting inhabitants of the island, and a lot more people than necessary joined the band-wagon, leading to a large immigration of Portuguese from Faial to USA.  
On the way to the Volcanic Centre. Most of it is under-ground, above is the rebuilt, original light-house
that ended up too far from the sea to be of navigational use after a new peninsula formed outside.
Andrew as always wanted to get some geo-caches, particularly as with a geo-cache from the Azores
he would be the person in Switzerland who had found caches in the most countries! So as we drove round, we stopped to hunt at various sites and ended up with nine finds. Otherwise our drive in Faial was rather disappointing as there was low cloud over the island and we did not get to see the wonderful views which exist in good weather. The island is well-known for its spectacular wild hydrangea plants and bushes which grow everywhere. We did see a number of these, but most were just starting to flower so it was not the full show. We also managed to get a puncture on a rather stony road. When we saw the worn-down state of the tyre it was not surprising. As we were jacking up the car, the jack slipped, causing a dent on the side, but we got the new tyre on and took the car back early as the weather was more suited to walking, eating and drinking than sight-seeing.
One day when we were sitting in the yachties café with our I-pads, a young man came up and asked Stein in Norwegian if he was Stein Hoff! This was Bjarne Marcussen on the yacht ‘Peyotl’, who had sailed here with his friend Morten Michalsen and Morten’s father. Bjarne is now a doctor, but as a student worked one summer in the same unit as Stein in Kristiansand! 
Frode is also enjoying the visit from 'Peyotl' crew Bjarne and Morten from Kristiansand (and they enjoyed Diana's cooking!)
The two younger men were going to sail on together back to Norway. We were able to be of use to each other. They were having some problems with their autopilot and managed to get our old one to function on their boat, and we needed some epoxy fillers which they were able to give us.
Soon it was time for Andrew to leave us after his first (and probably last) dramatic sail over an ocean. Considering he had no previous experience he was an amazing member of the crew. He pulled his weight with the night duties, kept calm in the emergency and worked hard to get the boat safe again, in addition was always in a good mood and ready for a chat about any subject as well as being a cheerful dish-washer. During the trip he had been promoted from deck-hand to able bodied seaman! We said goodbye to him on the main road outside the harbor and off he went in his taxi to the airport, as Frode and Andreas got ready to take the ferry over to Pico to experience another island. 


Pico is next to Horta, but as the weather and visibility worsened, we only saw the island like this the day we sailed in.
Here there is an old whaling station, where we had seen one of the last sperm whales to be caught when we were here in 1982. To our surprise Andrew turned up at White Admiral an hour or two later, the travel agent had booked him in on the wrong date! He had been given a new booking that evening, so was just in time to catch up with the others for a day on Pico.

BACK TO SEA - MORE DRAMA

By the 14th June, we were ready to set out again, small jobs were done and the repair in the stern seemed solid, so a more cosmetic repair could wait until we reached Norway. The weather forecast was not great, but was not going to get better soon either, so it was time to get going. Late afternoon we drove along in a gusty wind to the fuel-dock where we nearly crashed into a crazy bunch of Swedes/Americans who had lost control over their boat which was swinging wildly out from the jetty. 


The crew on this yacht were celebrating safe arrival at the fuel-dock after a terrible journey with too many beers, more or less refusing to move when others needed diesel. They momentarily lost control of their mooring-lines in a strong gust of wind  as we were tying up outside them: Scary!
 They just managed to get it pulled in and we tied up outside them to fill diesel. Frode drove us slowly around in the harbor while Stein cleared away ropes and fenders and shut all hatches, and out we went into the rough passage between Horta and Pico -  1223 n.miles to go to Falmouth. 
The first night was bumpy, drizzling and the sky was dark and cloudy, but after the first few hours of howling tail-winds, the wind left us altogether and we motor- sailed for the first 24 hours. Stein and I saw some smoke on the horizon the next morning, and wondered what it was, could it be volcanic activity or a burning ship? Then Andreas looked out and said 'oh, there is a whale!', which it was of course! We motored towards it and saw that there were several large animals spouting, probably sperm whales, but we only managed to get close enough to see the odd back breaking the surface of the water. A couple of days followed with some good sailing in a NW breeze, but on the 18th June drama struck again. Diana was on watch in the early morning, when about 5.30 a.m. she heard a funny noise and looking out saw the boat hook rattling on the back stay. When she took this down she found that the back stays were very loose and woke up Stein. The cause was not immediately obvious, but then he saw that the genoa sail was falling away from the main mast, the 10 mm thick stainless steel wire of the fore-stay inside the roller-furling mechanism had broken up top and only the rope halyard was holding it all up! Now it was all hands on deck, and it was quite a struggle to get the genoa under control, rolled up, lowered and laid round the deck. 
Stein aloft with a rope for the second time after the loose genoa sail was finally rolled up. The genoa is still hanging by the rope halyard, which could break any moment, and the top of the mast is unstable.
Most important now is to stabilize the top of the mast with more ropes.
Stein had to climb up the mast twice to tie strong ropes from the top down to the bow, to stop the mast being pulled back and breaking. In the rough sea this caused him to be thrown about and come down with bruises all over his legs. (And a couple of days later, after a new trip up top, with a cut above his right eyebrow.) Finally he hoisted a flying jib to take the place of the genoa. All this took three hours, after which we were all ready for a fry-up for breakfast!
Flying jib being hoisted in place of the genoa. (But its rope halyard broke after a few hours of beating into the rough seas and 25-30 knot wind.)

After the morning ordeal, Diana treated us to a fry-up of mushrooms, tomatoes and eggs - and an extra bonus for the skipper: A squid that had landed on the fore-deck during the night (skipper loves almost all types of sea-food and shell-fish!)
The barometer was falling again, the wind was northerly and the chances of getting to Falmouth were diminishing, but Andrew was texting us a weather forecast on the satellite phone that there were southerly winds nearer the coast of Portugal, which we hoped might take us north. However after a night of rough seas, gusts up to 35 knots and hand-steering we made the decision to head for Baiona (Bayona) in Galicia, North Spain, and get our rigging repaired. This was a good decision as the wind was mainly from the north the rest of the way, fortunately a bit calmer the last couple of days. We got a text message from the boys on Peyotl that they were also making for Spain, so even with normal rigging and a mono-hull it was difficult to go north.
We had no luck with our fishing on this crossing. As on the previous leg there seemed to be too much sea-weed and that was all we got on the line. Fortunately we had taken some bacalao (dried and salted Norwegian cod) from the Azores, and after watering it out for 3 days, had two good meals, the first baked with onion and garlic, and the second fried with tomatoes and onions. Bacalao dishes happen also to be one of Andreas’s special interests – and he approved!
Bacalao with onion and garlic a la Diana was highly approved of by he crew!
At 2.30 a.m. on the 25th June, Stein was the first to spot land – Spain and the European continent! In the grey dawn we passed into the Baia de Vigo. Lovely to be in calm water again - and motored into the bay at Baiona. The first impression was of a nautical town, jetties and boats everywhere. A dinghy approached and a friendly voice called to us and waved us alongside the floating jetty of Baiona’s Municipal Marina. How wonderful to tie up alongside, there is nothing like rough weather at sea for making one appreciate simple pleasures like just lying still!

BAIONA

Baiona is a great town – nautical milieu, historical buildings, charming small back streets, good beach, cheap restaurants, excellent sea-food and friendly people! In the harbour is also a fascinating reconstruction of ‘Pinta’, one of Christopher Columbus’ three ships from the original 1492 expedition when America was discovered. Captain Martin Alfonso Pinzon was in charge of Pinta and sailed her into Baiona in March 1493, four days before Columbus arrived in Lisbon on ‘El Ninjo’. Thus Baiona was the first place in Europe to receive news about the New World and see strange plants, food and some animals still alive as well as two surviving  Amero-Indians that were brought back to Europe. (A third died during the voyage and one of the two also died shortly after arriving in Baiona.) To celebrate this, there is a festival held every March and in 1993, 500 years after the historical event, the Pinta replica was launched and still remains a large attraction and worthwhile visit. (‘Santa Maria’, Columbus’ main ship was lost on the return voyage. But whether what the Europeans later did in the Americas is truly worth celebrating is another matter… )
The Pinta replica gives an excellent insight in sailing conditions 500 years ago.

Replica of the two Amero-indians and a parrot who arrived in Baiona in March 1493 must have been both very cold and extremely frightened. One died shortly afterwards.
Particularly Andreas is a bit of a gourmet, and he had soon found out where the best places to eat were from asking the locals, and sure enough that first evening a friendly woman served us a great meal cooked by her husband to celebrate our tough but successful Atlantic crossing! Frode and Andreas insisted on taking the bill, although Stein and Diana felt that they were the grateful ones, and owed thanks to the uncomplaining, ever cheerful crew.
Diana ready to head for the bus to Oporto in Portugal and a Ryanair plane to Scotland,
Frode also has to leave for Norway a couple of days later, but first he and Andreas are off to visit Santiago de Compostelo.
Diana had by this time an appointment with her cousin Tom in Scotland with whom she was going to perform in a play (Plaza Suite) at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August, and after another day went off by bus to Oporto in Portugal to get a Ryanair flight to Edinburgh. Frode had also to leave the ship here as he had promised his wife Susanne that he would be back by the end of the month, so he too went off to Oporto a day later. But he and Andreas first took a day trip to Santiago de Compostelo, where they thoroughly enjoyed visiting this interesting old city with one of the most beautiful town squares in the world. They also had an evening with the ‘Peyotl’ boys, who had chosen to berth further into the bay at Vigo. They came by bus for an evening on White Admiral with sailing chat and good food prepared by Andreas and Stein. The evening continued in a local pub watching one of the World Cup football matches before Bjarne and Morten headed back to Vigo in a taxi to meet a new crew-member coming from Norway.
Now there was just Stein and Andreas left on board. It is tougher to sail with only two people sharing the night watches, but sporty Andreas was willing to sail to Falmouth with Stein if the repairs were done before Diana could return. We certainly cannot complain of any ’manana’ attitude among the Spanish people here, the marina office immediately found us a rigger, a friendly young man and himself an experienced sailor called Javier, who did all he could to get the repairs on the fore- stay done as quickly and reasonably as possible. 

Well, here is a job! Says Javier, an experienced sailor and rigger. This is soon after we arrived and the genoa with bent fore-stay profile is still lashed along starboard side and across the bow.
(It is nearly 18 m long and not easy to stow on a boat that is 12,6 m long!).


Four days later, a brand new fore-stay wire is collected from Vigo and a second-hand roller-reefing
adjusted and elongated and made to fit by Javier. (Stein took all the original bits and pieces apart.)
in fact it fitted so perfectly that it was quite a struggle to get the last pin and shackle in place.
The result: Excellent!

He even managed to find good second hand roller reefing equipment to fit on to an exact copy of the broken fore-stay wire made to his specifications in Vigo.

BAIONA TO FALMOUTH

By 29th June, the rigging was as good as new or better, and damage to the genoa had also been repaired by a local sail-maker, all done in four days! Andreas’ wife Marit was on the phone at first very worried about Andreas sailing across the Bay of Biscay with just two aboard after the two near-disasters on the ocean, but was reassured by all that there was now no great danger and she relented. A new safety factor employed was Andrew’s little “Spot” transmitter, which he had left behind in Horta. With this clever GPS device the position was transmitted  twice daily on e-mail to up to 10 selected persons, Marit now being added to the list by Andrew, he was himself back in Switzerland.
At 15.30 with a reasonable weather forecast, White Admiral passed outside the huge breakwaters of Baiona and headed for Cape Finisterre, the most westerly point of Spain. (Finis terre meaning ‘end of earth’.)
The first part was sailing in relative shelter behind large islands before hitting the Atlantic swells as White Admiral approached the cape. This impressive and feared landmark was passed at night and soon we were in the infamous Bay of Biscay. The Bay could have been a lot worse, but this time seemed to provide either strong wind and rough seas or little wind and thick fog. Fog and poor visibility is in fact more nerve-wracking than rough seas, especially when the radar decided not to work… (Just as well Marit had not thought of this possibility!)
So the sailing was a bit uncomfortable and erratic and it was good to have two engines whenever the progress was poor. Again and disappointingly, no fish was caught on the trolling line, but on July 1st, after a rough night doing two hour duties on and off, Andreas and Stein were treated to a great dolphin show as a big pod suddenly appeared from nowhere and zig-zagged and jumped in front of the bows for more than one hour.
Master chef Andreas at work and about to serve a tasty chicken dish lavishly garnished with garlic.
Diana usually prefers to do all the cooking herself (it is suspected that she does not like tidying up), but Andreas and Stein proved at least to each other that they could provide delicious dinners every day as well as good, home-baked bread!
On 3rd July, the day before arriving in Falmouth, Otto (the autopilot) struggled with the steering as the clutch for the autopilot kept slipping and had to be tightened. Stein could only get this done by taking the wheel completely off while Andreas used an emergency tiller to keep the yacht on course. The metal tiller enters through a fitting in the steps on starboard side directly to top of the rudder on that side (from which there is an aluminum rod across to the portside rudder). It is good to check that emergency systems work occasionally, and after the clutch was tightened and the wheel was back in place, Otto was much more reliable.
Dense fog and Andreas has the fog-horn ready!
4th July may be a great day of celebration in USA, but as the distance to Falmouth decreased, the conditions seemed to worsen proportionately! With the shallow continental shelf underneath, currents, tides and swells increased, cold rain decreased the visibility and made it necessary to have a constant look-out for ships, yachts, fish-pots, navigational aids and land-marks. The sea and wind only calmed down when there was a couple of miles left. Falmouth Harbour, a famous English yachting and shipping centre was a beautiful sight, made more beautiful by the rough conditions left behind.
The floating docks for visiting yachts were crammed with boats, many tied outside each other, and we were told to head for a string of large, green buoys on solid moorings (for rent at half the price of lying dockside) a short distance away. Several were vacent. Soon White Admiral was hanging safely to ropes from a buoy to each bow bollard and Marit was duly informed over the mobile phone of her husband’s safe arrival. Skipper and crew could celebrate a successful six days’ short-handed sail across the dreaded B of B with a wee anchor-dram before rowing ashore for dinner in a picturesque restaurant a few steps from the pier. 
Andreas about to have as anchor-dram a small malt whisky (found in the back of the cupboard) while dressed in his Islandic, woolen jumper, his slightly obscene, but (at least for men) very functional, oilskin trousers and warm, wet neoprene boots.
Before sitting down, Andreas asked if staff or guests objected if he just kept his neoprene shoes (wet and no doubt smelly) and oilskin trousers on during the meal. Nobody did of course, probably suspecting here comes a rough and possibly mentally unstable, Norwegian sailor... So the two enjoyed good wine and a wonderful shell-fish selection in peace and contentment. No silicone mats were need to keep glass and plate from slipping, and Andreas and Stein could repeatedly congratulate each other on a safe crossing and the fact that tonight somebody else would tidy up and wash the dishes!  
First night ashore in Falmouth Harbour: Andreas in a clean top, still in oilskin trousers and neoprene boots and together with Stein enjoying a perfect meal!

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Travel Report No 70: From Bahamas to Bermuda and the Azores



Travel Report  No 70

From Bahamas to Bermuda and the AzoresFor all the pictures & captions: Picture Gallery No 70

Now that family visits were over, the plan was to sail White Admiral back home to Norway after  more than 10 years of cruising around in the Caribbean. Although we have had a wonderful time, we are now getting older, have had our fill of white beaches and snorkeling and would like to have more time to do other types of travelling.  It is much easier to do ocean crossing with a crew of four rather than two, mainly because of the night watches, and we were happy that two good friends were able to join us for the first leg to the Azores:  Frode Filseth, our old friend and Diana’s colleague, who is an experienced sailor and has sailed with us many times, and Andrew Fraser, an old University friend of Stein’s who studied engineering in Glasgow and is an intrepid traveler. This however was to be his first ocean sail.  


The captain and crew a few days later out at sea: 17th May - Norwegian National Day, hence all the flags.
Stein, Andrew and Frode
Frode arrived on the 10th May and Andrew on the 12th, so more exercise marching to the airport. Frode came through immigration no problem, but Andrew was stopped because he had no return ticket, and had to pay for a flight out of the country which he has hopefully now been refunded. We had ordered a new satellite telephone via Frode, which we knew he had bought, but could not understand why he had not replied to our requests for his bank account number. Now we got the answer, he presented it to Diana with a birthday card, a present from himself, Andrew and their wives, Andreas Hauge (who would join us in the Azores) and his wife, and our old sailing friends Anne and Knut, many thanks to all! The time in Marsh Harbour was spent shopping for provisions and getting the boat ship-shape for the crossing.  Andrew is a keen geo-cacher, so we had a stop first in Hope Town, Elbow Cay, where we also filled water and diesel, and at Man of War Cay, where he could find caches as well as enjoying two interesting islands in the Bahamas.
On the evening of 14th May we were all set to leave, and after a last swim at the Narrows, motored out through the north Man of War channel into the Atlantic Ocean.  Ahead lay 733 nautical miles to St George’s in Bermuda! There was a moderately strong SE breeze the first night and a big swell so we made good progress with the genoa, but it was pretty bumpy. Diana is usually tired on the first day if the weather is rough, so often prepares a casserole dish to eat, this time a chicken stew which we ate on the first day, Stein has to do the serving and any other cooking until Diana is in action again by the second day.  Frode and Andrew soon became friends and made a good team, especially at the kitchen sink where they made short work of the washing-up.  We decided to split the night duties into four, Frode and Andrew would take the first two from 8-11p.m. and 11p.m.-2a.m., alternating as they wished, Stein took the middle of the night watch from 2-5a.m. and Diana the dawn watch from 5-8a.m. This worked well as necessary sail changes could often be made at the beginning or end of Stein’s watch. He generally slept on the sofa in the central cabin, so that it was easy for the person on duty to give him a call if there was any problem. This was particularly important for Andrew who had never had a night duty on a yacht before, but he is a quick learner and was soon able to judge if everything was going as planned, and if any sighted ships were on a collision course or not.

Our biggest problem on this journey was the new  Raymarine autopilot, which had trouble steering, it made us go zig-zag and kept peeping to tell us that we were off-course, so Stein spent quite a bit of time trying to calibrate it, and did eventually manage to get it to steer quite well. This is absolutely necessary for comfort during the night, hand steering is very tiring, even with a crew of four. We began to use our new satellite telephone, nice to be able to send text messages to the family, although we were a bit disappointed that not everybody were able to send messages back, and also that it was not always possible to get adequate satellite connection.
The 733 nautical miles took us five and a half days. For the first two there was a strong SE breeze, then there was a period with variable winds, cloud and  rain when we had to do a lot of motoring, but the wind picked up again the last day with a light NW breeze which gave us a pleasant last night as we approached Bermuda. There was a bright half-moon as we approached and saw the lights on land getting closer, always a thrill after an ocean crossing. After dawn we motored in through the narrow buoyed entrance into St George’s sheltered bay on the north-east side of the island, and we knew from an old Atlantic guide of Frode’s where to tie up at the customs jetty.
Safely tied up at the Custom's Jetty, St George, Bermuda

Bermuda

Checking in was easy and friendly, a minimum of forms to fill out, 35 dollars each to pay, and we were free to explore Bermuda. There was little room for yachts to tie up so an hour later we were lying at anchor out in the bay with other yachts from many countries. Bermuda was new to us all and we spent three days having a good look around.  St George’s is the oldest town on the island, a UNESCO world heritage site, settled in 1612. We found it delightful, with its old well-kept buildings and friendly people. There are no car-hire firms on the island, so we hired a taxi for one day, and were driven around with a running commentary on what we saw. Bermuda looks very prosperous, lots of luxurious homes with well-tended gardens, no litter, small sandy bays and interesting rock formations along the coast.  The prosperity of this old British Colony is due mainly to off-shore banking and to tourism, more than 100 cruise ships stop every year, and the income from these for 2014 is expected to be about 82 million dollars! In addition there are many hotels with visitors from Europe and the States, and a few yachties!  Our patient driver stopped every time Andrew called out that there was a geo-cache nearby, and Andrew and Diana logged 18 new finds! Another day we took a local bus to Hamilton, the capital in the south end of the island, a bright little city on the sea-front with a population of only 1800. Nevertheless it is a busy shopping centre, and we made our way to the marine warehouse for a couple of boat items and new rain-clothes for Stein. His old wet-weather gear was not keeping him dry anymore, so he needed both a good pair of waterproof trousers which we got at the marine store, and a jacket which we found in a sports shop, surprisingly a Norwegian make, Helly Hansen. The city is also very modern and prosperous looking, due to Bermuda’s successful financial and business sectors.  It was amusing to see the dress of the business men which consisted of shirt, tie, jacket and Bermuda shorts! When we stopped one of these men to take his picture he was a little skeptical, but Stein asked so nicely that he let himself be photographed.
Frode, Diana, a local gentleman in typical attire and Andrew. Hamilton, Bermuda.

A Tough Crossing
On 23rd May we were ready to set out on the longest leg of the crossing, 1793 nautical miles to the Azores and Europe! We had managed to get a place alongside one of the quays in St. George’s for the last night, making it much easier for us to get our provisions aboard. As we moved out from the quay, a strong wind caught us giving a little bump and a scratch on the starboard bow. We filled diesel and water at the fuel jetty, took a round in the bay as we tidied up ropes and fenders, then made our way back out through the channel to the Atlantic ocean.  We started off in a fresh SE breeze sailing with the genoa , but by the next day the wind had increased to 35 knots and when Stein saw us surfing at 18 knots for a moment on the speedometer he was quick to reduce sail! The next few days were pretty miserable weather-wise, periods of rain with thunder and lightning, varying winds mostly about 20 knots from N or NW, current which seemed to be against us and bumpy seas. Our new autopilot managed to steer most of the time, but we had periods of hand-steering when there was a strong following wind. Andrew had brought a gadget called Spot which could send out coordinates to up to ten people, so our families and friends could follow our progress using these spots on Google maps. The satellite telephone kept us more or less in touch with families, and Stein and Diana heard about their crazy son Martin’s non-stop 720 km cycle trip from Stockholm to Oslo! It was also surprisingly cold, only about 14 degrees in the sea, and not much more in the air, so we were very happy to have a well-functioning cabin-heater on board.

Drama

On the28th May the weather was deteriorating and the barometer falling. By the next day there was 30-40 knots following winds and big, rough seas, and there was no way the autopilot could manage to steer. After two days of hand-steering, doing one hour on and three hours off, we were all tired and on the evening of the 29th, decided that we would lie hove-to for the night with a tiny storm-sail and try to get a good sleep. Once we had done this the boat seemed to be riding the waves ok, and we had our supper with a glass of red wine. But suddenly we experienced the biggest crash we have ever felt as the boat was thrown by what we think must have been a freak wave, which partly broke over us on to port-side. Everything that was loose flew out of its place - books, shells, galley equipment, and we all began to tidy up.  



Just after the freak wave hit port-side and before we knew about the damage outside. Diana starting to tidy up (Photo by Andrew Fraser) 

As Frode went down to his cabin, he noticed water trickling from under his bunk, and at the same time Stein went out to the cockpit to pump out the engine room as a routine and discovered that the port-side engine was covered in sea-water!! It did not take him long to discover the cause – a big hole in the back steps of the port-side hull! The bottom step must have been pushed in by the wave, maybe because it had the bathing steps resting on it. The most important job was to plug the hole, the port-side was already floating lower in the water. First Stein and Frode tried the plastic kayak, but that was too stiff, then they tried the extra genoa sail – a large amount of polyester cloth - and managed to get it into the hole which pretty well stopped the sea flowing in. Towels and sailbags were added later and all heavy items on that end of the boat, inside and outside, were shifted to the opposite end of the boat to get the port stern to float higher. They bailed out the engine compartment, Frode working the pump from outside, Stein standing in water inside nearly up to his waist, and throwing buckets up through the opening. (It is true as the saying goes that there is no pump as efficient as a scared man with a bucket!) while Andrew and Diana bailed the bilges inside the boat, and gradually we managed to get the place fairly dry. Then we discovered that there was a huge compartment under Frode’s bunk which was supposed to be watertight, but it was also full of water and Stein had to drill a hole and cut it wider with a saw before pumping it out.  We spent the first few hours of the night bailing out as seas kept splashing through the plugged hole, with a little sleep for some, but none for Stein who was up all night. As we had no guarantee that the sail would stay in place we gave a message to Martin that we had some damage and a leak in the boat, and that we would send another report when we were sure we were safe.
Next morning, May 30th, the weather has improved, the waves and splashes are smaller and repairs can begin. (Photo by Andrew Fraser)


By morning to our delight the weather had settled and the day was sunny, the barometer was rising quickly and there was a light NE breeze. This was a blessing as it was now essential to get the hole repaired. Stein got out some old boards which had been in our dinghy before we got an inflatable floor, and cut them and some rubber canvas (from an old water tank) to shape to make a cover for the back steps. This he managed to get into place, hanging with a safety line over the stern, with Frode handing him tools and screws and hoping nothing would end up in the sea, which amazingly it didn’t. When the repair was finished and seemed solid, we felt a great sense of relief, and Diana made raisin buns to celebrate. Never has a lunch been more enjoyed! But then we heard a plane over us, in fact it was circling over us and calling us on the VHF. Andrew is an old pilot and recognized it is a Hercules, it was the American Coast Guard! They told us that they had been given a message that we had a problem and came to see if we needed help, and we were able to tell them that we were now fine. What had happened was that Martin had been trying to call us and send text messages on the satellite telephone, but had not been able to get through, so of course he thought something serious had happened and called the emergency services. We feel bad about criticizing a kind gift, but this showed that the new telephone was absolutely useless for an emergency situation. It had been recommended to Frode as very reliable for this purpose, but we will be taking it back and upgrading to a better model with an external antenna.

We were now nearly half way to the Azores, it was nice to get under 1000n.miles the next day. There was still current against us, where was the Gulf Stream? The weather was now reasonable, in fact we had one day of good sailing in a moderate southerly breeze! Stein had another job to do and that was to see if it was possible to get the port side engine going again. During the first night he had already poured a lot of fresh water over the engine and taken off the starter and alternator and left them submerged in fresh water until we would reach Faial and expert help. Now he changed the oil, took out the injectors, flushed the cylinders with diesel, cleaned all electrical connections with WD40, cleaned and dried the air filter and replaced the starter and alternator with old spares. We all held our breath as he pressed the starter – and hallelujah - after about 20 seconds it coughed into life! This was also worth a celebration, this time in the form of apple-pie and custard!

Horta of Faial, Island in the Azores

The last few days were mostly cold and rough with east or south winds, giving us fairly good progress, but on the 5th June it was again very unpleasant with the wind up to 35 knots, though no more damage. The day before reaching Horta , the weather calmed down, making the last night at sea quite magical, motoring quietly round the north and east sides of Faial to reach the main town of Horta. 
Nearly there! Only a few minutes before we enter the breakwater outside Faial, Horta.
We passed the breakwater outside the harbor at dawn on 8th June after a 16 day trip which was the toughest and most dramatic we have experienced in all our years of sailing. The harbour was surprisingly full of yachts of all nationalities. Out at sea one hardly ever sees another yacht, but when they all meet at the same place in the middle of the Atlantic there are quite a few gathered. We drove near the jetty where the authorities seemed to be, and an official told us on the VHF to anchor until 8 a.m. when we could check in. There were already many yachts at anchor, but we managed to find enough space to join them. Never has it felt better to lie peacefully at anchor in flat water!

Looking back at our tough crossing, it is funny how the bad memories fade, and one remembers the good things. We had a marvelous crew, Frode always calm and good humoured and Andrew acting as though he had done nothing else but steer downwind in 35 knots! (The most difficult point of sailing.) We had lots of good meals and chats together, and did not exchange one cross word in spite of often differing political and religious beliefs. Nature showed herself in different moods, and we saw various forms of wild-life, including dolphins, a turtle, Portuguese Men of War (a nasty jelly-fish also known as Blue Bottle) and sea-birds, mainly skuas and storm petrels.  Andrew wrote in our guest-book that the reality of the crossing did not quite correspond to the smooth, comfortable sail which the brochure offered; at times it was scary and awful! But in conclusion he would not have missed it for anything – it was the experience of a lifetime!


Safely alongside the quay in Faial with another large catamaran outside us. The temporary repair on port side is seen + an extension of canvas that was added a few days later to stop spray and rain from entering.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Travel Report No 69: Family Visits in the Abacos, Bahamas


Exploring in the Abacos

For all the photographs and picture captions:  Picture Gallery No 69

We arrived in the Abacos on the morning of 23rd March and were expecting our first visit on 4th April. This was an unusual luxury to have such good time to prepare, and we decided to use this period to reconnoiter and find the best anchorages for kids, and as always to do the small jobs on the never-ending list. There was now a bad weather forecast for a couple of days with strong northerly winds, so the next day our port of call was Hope Town, which has a round, fully protected harbour, where one has to pick up a mooring or lie in a marina. 
Safe in Hope Town, Elbow Cay

We picked up what seemed to be the last free buoy in the middle of the bay, obviously many boats were making for this shelter, and here we were safe from the strong winds and heavy squalls which raged for about three days. This was the perfect place to be in this weather, another charming spot with a colourful little town, marinas and restaurants along the water-front and the red and white striped Elbow Cay Lighthouse. This is very special as it is one of the last functioning paraffin ones in existence.


Hurricane Lane, Hope Town

We noticed a Swedish flag across the bay, and sure enough not long afterwards we heard a friendly Swedish voice calling to us, wondering who the Norwegians were. This was Magnus Sjøberg, who with his wife Charlotte, live on a big motor boat ‘Swede Dreams’. They moved to Charleston, South Carolina many years ago, so for Diana’s sake we spoke English together. We enjoyed their company and had dinner together on our totally different types of vessel. 
Enjoying a borrowed cycle for a trip around the quiet sand roads of north Elbow Cay.
They let us use their bikes which was great for cycling around the island, especially on the small paths where otherwise  there were only golf carts.  After three days the weather quietened down, even so we had a brisk 20 knot breeze which gave us a quick sail over to Marsh Harbour, the main town of the area where we wanted to do some shopping.

Marsh Harbour has a great big area for anchoring, but the holding is not great. This we realized when we were quietly sitting having breakfast one morning as a woman passed by in her dinghy. She charmingly asked in a French accent if we knew that our boat was moving! This made us jump into action, we discovered we had indeed moved during the night, fortunately not bumping into anyone else, and we motored into a new position where we re-anchored and made sure we were holding.  This was a working stop, we had been here before and it is a charmless town, but the supermarket is great and there is a good hardware store where we could buy the things we needed for the boat.

Our next stop was at a deserted island, one of a little group called Fish Cays. We found there was a nice white beach but it was surrounded by very sharp coral stones, so not a place to return to, but we enjoyed the peace after Marsh Harbour. From here we sailed across to Man o’ War Cay, this time finding the perfect children’s beach and also another interesting community which lives on boat building. Never have we seen a cleaner and tidier industrial area, where they make launches and ferries of different types and lovely little sailing dinghies. The locals are known to be hard-working and God-fearing people, and the island is the only alcohol free one in the Bahamas. We found them very friendly, for example when we were looking for fish to buy and we asked at the hardware store if they knew of any possibility, they phoned round everybody whom hey knew fished regularly before having to tell us there were none to be had as the weather had been too bad.

By now the weather was beautiful and calm again, so we motored across to Baker’s Bay on Great Guana Cay. This has a huge beach, two or three kilometers long with soft sand and shallow water to splash around in. There were a few houses and a new marina at one end of the beach and we went to have a look. Here we found a closed community of rather paranoid rich  Americans, with security control at the road entrance, but we managed to slip in from the beach side. It is a beautiful resort with all the facilities one could wish, but it is not open to the public. We were not even able to use a restaurant unless we came into the marina for a night at a cost of 4 dollars per foot. No thank-you! Another hour’s motoring brought us to Fisher’s Bay on the same island. Here there was much more of a party spirit, with cheap, brightly painted restaurants, and a short walk over to the Atlantic side of the island where one can walk for miles admiring the breaking surf.

Elisabeth and family visit

On Friday 4th April we were back in Marsh Harbour, boat restocked and ready to receive Elisabeth, Hugh, Finn aged 5 and Soren aged 3. We had put White Admiral into one of the marinas for the night so they could walk on board. It is an hour’s walk from there to the airport, a good distance for daily exercise so we briskly walked to meet them. The plane from Nassau arrived about half an hour after schedule. We took a taxi back to the boat and two tired children were quickly asleep.  The next morning after a swim in the marina pool we were ready to explore the Abacos together and the weather was looking good. 
First breakfast aboard at Conch Marina for Hugh, Elisabeth, Soren and Finn
No wind, so we motored again, about two hours to Tahiti beach. Here it is easy to entertain children, warm, shallow water and soft white sand – a paradise! From here we decided to go south, first visiting Sandy Cay which we heard was good for snorkeling. Unfortunately the wind had now blown up and it became a bit rough for snorkeling, but with Stein’s help Finn managed well enough to be thrilled at the amount of fish he could see through the goggles, and Hugh saw a big shark swimming just behind his son! (They have never been known to attack swimmers here.) The rougher weather meant also that we could not anchor for the night so we went on south to Little Harbour, a favourite stop from earlier, and picked up a buoy in the secluded harbour. This little bay was first settled by the disillusioned American artist Randolph Johnston when he sailed in here with his wife and three sons in 1951. They first lived in a cave, gradually built not only a home but a bronze art foundry behind the beach. From never having sold an non-commissioned work back in USA, he gradually grew into fame. His son Pete took over eventually, and now also a grandson works in the foundry, keeping up the artistic tradition. Another family income is from the picturesque bar and restaurant and for the $20/night buoys in the harbour.
Lunch at Pete's Bar, Little Harbour,South Abacos
This is a laidback place with an informal bar and restaurant at the water’s edge with sand underfoot, a great spot to eat, drink and chat to locals and yachties. This time we go to know a German family with their two little boys out on a year’s sailing adventure, who were now on their way home and had come the more unusual way via the Bahamas.
After two days here we got news of another cold front with a northerly wind on the way.  As the wind was still from the south, we decided to use it to sail back up north to Hope Town. This time we could sail and with just the genoa had a brisk three hour sail to get there. Again boats were seeking shelter and there were no free buoys, but luckily we got a nice quiet corner in a small marina beside the light-house.  
Soren loved the lolly-pop like Elbow Cay Lighthouse
The kids loved the trip up the many steps inside the light-house and the great view from the top. Otherwise the family enjoyed the swimming pool and restaurant at another marina a short walk away, open to all, unlike the snobbish one we had encountered further north. Three days later we were able to get on our way again, and the weather was back to fair winds and sunshine. Now we could visit the places we had found suitable for the children, the pleasant anchorage at Man O’ War Cay, the huge beach at Baker’s Bay and the friendly pool and restaurants at Fisher’s Bay. 
Elisabeth and Finn in Baker's Bay
The snobbish marina turned out to be better than we had thought as there was a children’s playground and playing field where Finn and Soren were able to play with nobody objecting. At Man O’ War Cay, Diana did a little geocaching, just to have a find from the Bahamas, and Finn got his first geocache! (If you do not know what this is, look up geocaching.com.)
Finally we crossed over to the west side of the sea of Abaco to visit Treasure Cay, new for us all, where we had a night in the big marina, making it easy to use their facilities, especially the swimming pool. From here we could walk to a nearby beach which is proudly advertised as one of the world’s top ten beaches. It was certainly soft and lovely and boasted a friendly restaurant where we had a last evening meal together, most of us enjoying fresh grilled grouper.  


Coco Bar and Restaurant on Treasure Cay provides a meal with a view, 

Here is the view!

Soren borrowed Yellow Teddy for the flight home: Come back soon, both of you, please!
On 15th April it was time for Elisabeth, Hugh and kids to get back to the airport, they were going on to Nassau for a couple of days before flying home to London and back to work. We motored out of the marina late morning and had to drive for three and a half hours into a light contrary wind to get back to Marsh Harbour, this time we anchored and took the family ashore in the dinghy. After our goodbyes at the airport, we walked briskly back to the boat feeling happy that they had had a good holiday.
Now we had twelve days with just the two of us aboard, time to relax, shop, do small jobs and get the boat ready for the next group of visitors. We spent three days back in Little Harbour which has the best internet connection that we had found, and a good place to work on the boat, this time we had some torrential rain. Stein was keen to do a dive and had bought a second hand buoyancy control jacket from the diving shop in Marsh Harbour, so with a calm weather forecast we sailed to the best diving site at Fowl Cay. It was not as good as expected, the forecast was not accurate so it was quite rough, the coral reef was rather dead although there were plenty fish, and a valve on the newly bought diving jacket broke!

Tonje and her family visit

On 26th April, our daughter-in-law arrived with Oscar 10 months old, her mother Selle Marie and her aunt Karen (Selle Marie’s sister). Martin was not with them as he had recently been on a trip to South Africa to take part in one of the world’s biggest cycling events, so could not afford more time off work. This time the plane was punctual and we ended up jogging the last couple of hundred yards as we saw it landing, and were just in time to give them a sweaty hug. We were happy to see everybody, but of course were especially interested in Oscar whom we had not seen since he was 4 months old, and were delighted to see such a happy friendly boy, already able to walk about!


Back in delightful Little Harbour at the Randolph Johnston bronze art foundry and gallery

And at Pete's Bar next door: Karin, Diana and Selle-Marie
The morning after we were off on our next cruise around the lovely sea of Abaco with this cheerful, enthusiastic group aboard. We visited most of the same places that we had been with Elisabeth and family, with the exception of Treasure Cay, and made a new stop at Lynyard Cay, which is one of the long islands between the Atlantic and the Abacos Sea. There are long beaches on the leeward side where we dinghied across to have a beach-picnic. Some Americans have holiday homes here but they are usually deserted, so it is easy to peek into these houses and have a rest on the terrace! For the first few days the weather was lovely, warm, sunny and light winds, so we were fully able to enjoy the sailing and beach-life.
We did make one small blunder as we were leaving Little Harbour, where there is a shallow buoyed passage through a narrow exit. We chose to do this at low tide, which should have been alright except that we got too near the edge of the channel and suddenly we were stuck in the sandy bottom! It was not possible to motor off, so Stein rowed out an anchor and we pulled ourselves back into deeper water. No damage done!

Diana is 70!

The first of May was a special day for Diana, her 70th birthday! 


Prosecco for Diana's Birthday Breakfast!
We had booked dinner at a resort called Firefly on the west coast of the island of Elbow Cay, and the breeze was in the right direction so that we could anchor safely right in front of their jetty and row the dinghy ashore. 
Anchored outside Firefly Resort
The afternoon was spent sitting at the pool-side, swimming and playing with Oscar, then we had drinks and dinner on the terrace, a great sea-food meal. With a lovely present from the others of an opera subscription for next season, a glass of white wine in hand, watching a lovely sun-set in the tropical evening, being 70 didn’t seem too bad!
Boat and people dressed up to go ashore! (Norwegian flag, St. Andrew's flag of Scotland, Kristiansand's  350 years' jubilee flag from 1991) Karin, Oscar and Tonje.

Diana with her lovely grandson Oscar - the visit was the best present for her birthday! White Admiral anchored in the background.
By this time we were in need of water, shopping and laundry, so in the morning we sailed the short distance to Hope Town where this could be combined with an enjoyable stop.  Here there was a change of weather, so our stay was extended to three nights while another northerly blew itself out. This was no problem, we enjoyed walking on the island, and Oscar loved the swimming pool at the marina where he toddled about charming everybody with his friendly grins and ‘high fives’.
It was back to perfect weather for the last couple of days, good for swimming and collecting shells at Man O’ War Cay where we gathered a lot of sand-dollars, then a last stop at Fischer’s Bay where we walked across the island to have a swim in the breakers on the Atlantic side. 
The sea was a little rough on the reef , but below the surface it all looks calm.
Stein also had a snorkeling trip, but the others thought it was too rough. The ladies were delighted to find a dress shop with lots of lovely summer clothes at reasonable prices, and both Tonje and Karen found dresses to their taste.                
Give me Five! At the Sail Loft, Man O'War Village
But everything comes to and end and on 7th May we motored back to Marsh Harbour where cases were packed, taxi ordered, and we had another round of hugs at the airport. As we walked back to the boat we reflected on how lucky we were to have this life-style and to be able to enjoy the company of our friends and relatives on our boat.                               
But now it was time to think ahead and plan our Atlantic crossing!