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


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.


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 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.


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!