Mt Pico

I awoke at 5:30 searched for my passport, packed 2 liters of water, a cliff bar and some nut bars.  The crew of Himmel and I took the 7:30 ferry to Pico, met our guide, Mateo, and headed off to the Casa da Montanha.  The mountainside house is at 1,200 meters, I was under the mistaken impression that hiking Mt Pico was be a walk in the park.  I apparently had not read the following website. “Pico is basically a very steep uphill hike. In some parts it feels dangerous. The wide range of hard rock formations and different types of soil are quite a challenge to your feet, ankles and knees.”  Steep, yes, almost vertical.  Dangerous, yes.  My fear was I would lose my footing and bounce off sharp volcanic rocks. Mateo did a great job with motivation and when I feel behind he encouraged me to move to the position directly behind him.  This was immensely helpful because he modeled the best footholds and baby steps.  He frequently reminded us to breathe and use small steps and to traverse rather attempt to climb straight up.  At least 200 times he must have said, “We are almost there.”  I was reminded of a mountain hike with Marcia.  Climbing up a winding trail, we were hiking with my former student, Melinda. Over the course of 90 minutes or so, she repeatedly said, ‘It is just around the bend.”

The greatest challenge on Pico was reaching what looked like the summit, only to realize the steepest climb was still ahead.  The below picture is not the summit.

We had to cross a crater before reaching the incredibly steep peak.  As I was approaching the peak, my legs were jello and my left leg started to cramp.  At that point I would have put the odds of me standing on the summit at about .01%.  I yelled to the group that I my legs were cramping.  They kindly let me rest for several minutes and then we pushed ahead. By taking it one step at a time, I got across the crater.

On the way up, I thought this point was the summit.  Once we reached this point, we saw the real summit off in the distance.  Much more climbing to go.
Here we are climbing the last stretch to the summit.
The vertical got to the point that it was hands rather than poles that were needed.
The dropoff was scary, especially with weak legs.

When we approached the steepest part of the climb, it was time to stow the trekking poles and use our hands and feet to ascend.  While climbing, I worried whether I would have the strength to descend.  At multiple points, I thought I was making a poor decision to continue upward.  If I had not been with the Himmel crew, I am sure I would have quit. The last 30 or so ft the rock were quite water.  Steam was emerging from cracks.  Even though I was unsteady on my feet, it was a good feeling to reach the top. We had a lunch of bread, cheese and ham/salami.  We sat there and enjoyed being above the clouds.  The descent was not a difficult as I feared.  Lunch provided some energy and going down required a different set of muscles.

At the summit.  Mateo, our guide, a great person. Notice the climber on the bottom right.  He depicts how I felt.

First Full Day in Horta

Took a long walk south. It was pleasant to exercise the legs and explore the adjacent town.  I saw two groups of locals heading up steps to a restaurant.  I tend to select restaurants that are crowded and avoid those that are empty.  The waiter told me today’s fish would arrive in a 15 minutes.  Sure enough, a man came in with two baskets of fish.  There were at least ten different types of fish.  The waiter sensed I had no clue which to order.  He recommended the big fish and indicated it was the best in the Azores.  Uncharacteristic of me, I said yes without knowing the price.  I still don’t know what it cost, but whatever it turns out to be, it will be a bargain.  The fish was firm, not to the degree of swordfish, but a bit firmer than grouper.  It was grilled over a wood fire. It was incredibly moist.  I don’t know what the clear sauce was, but it added to experience.  Bottom line, a very memorable meal.  It ended up costing 27 Euros, not cheap at $31, but worth every cent.

Went to Peter Sport Café and met up with the Migaloo and Himmel crews. After a .5 liter Super Bock (Portuguese beer), then I joined Himmel for dinner.  I learned that the Himmel crew had arranged a guide for to go to the summit of Pico the next day.  I asked if I could join them. Mike sent a text to the guide and he immediately replied affirmatively.  Great meal at Peter Sport Café. We laughed a lot and replayed parts of the sail from Bermuda.


Off in the distance, 20 nm, appears Mt Pico.  At least that is what thought.  Pico is a Off in the distance, 20 nm, appears Pico.  At least that is what thought.  Pico is a off in the distance, 20 nm, appears Pico.  At least that is what thought.  We assumed it was Pico with the peak covered by a thick layer of clouds.  As it turned out, we were mistaken.  Eventually, we saw a peak emerge off our starboard bow.  It is a serious mountain that goes up from sea level. Pico is a 7,713 volcanic mountain.

Last night FireFly showed up on our Chartplotter.  They were 8-9 nm ahead of us.  We slowly closed the gap, until the wind came up to about 15 kts on a beam reach.  Then we were averaging 8 kts, was 1 kt greater than FireFly.  For the next 12 hours the gap closed.  About 2 nm from the Horta harbor, we had FireFly on the starboard beam.  It was a great opportunity to take pictures of their boat.

Seeing the Faial and Pico was exhilarating.  For 12 days and 2005 nm, we saw nothing except blue water.  Suddenly, we are looking at rocky outcroppings surrounded by verdant hills.  The hills were terraced with crops.  From the distance I could not determine what the crops were.  They did not look like corn or soybeans.  It was a beautiful sight. I learned later the fields were grass that feed cows, sheep and goats.

Set among the fields were communities.  It was a rare house that was not white with red tile roof.  The effect was stunning.  It is something thing that Disney would copy.  It was the real deal.

Arriving in Horta was all that it was billed to be.  A marina jampacked with ocean bred sailboats.

Peter Sport Café is a legendary bar/pub that is celebrating its 100th anniversary.  Bungees from yacht clubs around the world adorn the walls and ceiling.  The place has the character you would expect in 100-year-old pub.  At 6:30 pm, Peter’s was the site of the first gathering in the Azores of ARC participants.  I arrived at 6:00 and found Roy enjoying a beer and salad.  We talked about how impressed we were with Horta, surely one of the best sailing marinas in the world.  The fact that everyone had responded to various winds and shared sunshine and storms created a strong bond.  After much time with only text messages to the outside world, the opportunity to converse with other crews and relive parts of the passage was fascinating.  It was also interesting to learn sail setups that worked well.  We also commiserated about what broke.  It was rare to speak with another crew whose equipment performed flawlessly.   Chaffed lines were common, and failed autopilots were taken in stride.

Diner at Peter’s was salad and couple of hours later and more glasses of local beer, I had meat chili.  If I had been in the U.S., I would have inquired as to what kind of meat.  It could have been the beer, but I really didn’t care.  The dish came with a large scoop of white rice in the middle of the plate.  The meat chili surrounded the rice and extended to the outside edge of the plate.  It had a pleasant, spicy flavor.  The only thing left on my plate was about half the original portion of the rice.

It is a Blue Planet

On the cognitive level, I have seen the pictures from space and agreed that there was a lot of blue on the earth.  On different international flights, I saw the plane icon on the screen travel over big expanses of blue.  As a kid, I spent time along the New Jersey shoreline, the water was never a deep blue.  The water was tinted brown, probably as a function of pollution.  It is sad to think barrages of trash and industrial pollution have changed the color of the shoreline sea water.  Even in Longboat Key where the water is often that beautiful shade of Caribbean blue, there are days that it has a green-brown tint to it.  It could also be that the many miles I have traveled in a car, seeing green and browns of forests, farm land and prairies, would cause me to question the characterization of earth as the blue planet.

Sailing for three weeks and seeing thousands of miles of blue seas, the idea of the blue planet is not an abstract concept.  It is real.  When I look around all I see is clean, blue water.  (We are still about 200 nm from Horta in the Azores.)  At various points I would see the water depth as 16,404 ft.  That means there is three miles of water between the bottom and me.  That thought makes me want to go for a swim, but man over board is a serious situation.  I am reminded of swim lessons as a kid, once you can swim it doesn’t matter how deep the water is.  No way to touch bottom.

Back to the point, blue planet…  Mile after mile, the water color has not changed.  It remains a deep, rich blue.  On a very emotional level, I now buy into the idea that we live on a blue planet.  I hope future generations will be able to experience the incredible blue water of the ocean.  I fear that their experience will be different.  Forty-five years ago, I snorkeled along the Plankar reef near Cozumel reef near Cozumel, Mexico.  The reef was alive with schools of various fish, and brilliantly colored corals.  Three years ago, in the British Virgin Islands, it was clear that the corals were dying and the diversity of fishes was less.  Hopefully, society will learn the lesson that our reefs are the canaries in the coal mine.

If we continue to operate with a “me first” mindset, collectively we all will lose. Hopefully, we will move beyond a “nation first” mentality to one where we cooperate on global issues.

Dolphin Day

Dolphins made multiple visits to the boat today.  The first five times there were 2-4 dolphins that would appear 40 or so feet off the side of the boat.  Then they would move quickly to the bow.  The water is so clear it is easy to follow them when they dive after surfacing for a breath of air.  They seem to play at the bow, but only briefly, maybe 15 seconds.  Then they are gone.

The grand finale came late in the afternoon.  It was my watch and everyone else was below.  Off the port about 50 ft was an 8 ft wave that was coming toward us at a 45 degree angle.  Suddenly there were 12-15 dolphins leaping out the wave.  They  emerged from the wave a couple of feet below the crest and smashed down.  My best estimate is that there were 30 or more in the pod.  My thought was that my camera was safely stowed below in my cabin, safe from getting splashed.  It took me several seconds to realize that my cell phone was out of the rice bag and in my pocket.  By the time the phone was unlocked and the camera was rolling, the vast majority of the pod had vanished.  The video below shows a few of the stragglers.

(video will be added once the phone starts working again.

Wind Shift at 39 North

Finally, the winds shifted a bit to the south and we were on a close reach with winds 19-20 kts and gusts to 25-27.  Boat speed is another variable that makes the crew happy.  We sailed 9-10 kts with occasional bursts to 11 knots.  Once on the chartplotter I saw we hit 12.2 kts.  The boat did an admirable job of pounding through the 5-6 waves.  We had quite an exhilarating ride in the dark.  The moon came and went behind clouds but most of the time there was some light on the water.  It surprised me that 9-10 kts could start to feel normal.  Similar to being on an interstate, when you slow down to 55, it feels slow. Amazing how we adapt to speed.

This was the best mileage day of the trip.  We sailed 206 nm in 24 hours.  We averaged 8.6 kts!  Big smiles around the boat when we realized how good the last 24 hours had been.  Much of the credit goes to the whisker pole and 110% genoa rocks.  No spinnaker, gennaker, or code 0, so all the more impressive.

Wind and mood

Initially, I thought this is the rare case where one might find a perfect 1.0 correlation.  Reflecting on wind further, I realized the relationship is much more complex.  When there is no wind, the mood is frustrated/disjected.  If the lack of wind persists, the mood grows darker.  When there is no wind for a day or more, depression and hopelessness sets in.  One questions whether the destination will ever be seen.  When the wind picks up to 8-10 kts, smiles emerge on the crew.  The sailing is smooth and comfortable with slight heel.  It is relaxing.  Wick it up a bit to 12-15 kts and more attention needs to be paid to the sails.  The mood goes from chilling to a heightened level of happiness.  Increase the wind more to the mid-20’s and the mood changes to excitement and enjoying/controlling the speed.  In the 30’s to 40’s, the mood morphs into focused attention with a douse of fear, please let me get the sails reefed and I hope I don’t screw up.  No one wants to test their lifevests.

While the above is generally true, mood is clearly influenced by the direction of the wind.  When the wind shifts and is coming from the direction of your destination, all is not lost, but it means it for every mile you sail you only get half a mile toward your destination.  We had a nice broad reach going for at least 24 hours, when it slowly shifted on May 23.  Sure enough we had to tack and instead heading directly in the direction we wanted, we had to head north instead of east.  The mood on the boat soured and continued to decline as the new wind remained consistently out of the east.  We had to travel 60 miles north of the latitude where we needed to be.

Sea state is another consideration. Relatively flat to 3-4 ft rollers is pleasant.  When we headed with the wind on our stern a couple of days ago, it was scary to see a 12 ft wall of water coming at the stern.  Fortunately, the waves did not break and the stern rose to meet to gradually meet the wave.

The Winds Come on Strong

When the weather gets rough, my attempts to update the blog drop off to zero.  The last couple of days have been wild.  We changed our heading to NNE get to the 38th latitude.  When my watch started we were motor sailing.  Soon the winds built enough to turn the engine off and we were close hauled doing 7-8 knts with winds of 12-15.  The wind started to build and I heard Marshall in my ear.  I looked at Carlos and said, “Time to reef?”  He responded affirmatively.  Turned out that Marshall was right. The winds eventually hit 35 kts and we were ready.  The sails were well balanced and set at the third reef.

We had been referring to the winds at the 38th latitude as the conveyor belt.  The grib files indicated there would a band of 15 kts wind building to the mid 20’s out the west.  Once we got near the 38th our heading shifted to 090, straight east.  The winds were as promised and more.  Since the winds at 38 N were sustained over several days, the seas had time to build.   From the crest to the trough was about 12 feet.  It felt like were we were surfing with a 50 ft 15-ton surfboard.  The waves were moving faster than the boat and directly on our stern.  As a wave would slowly pass it would lift the stern and as the crest of the wave would pass, the bow would be lifted.  Then we would be looking at a 12 ft wall behind us.  When the wall of water caught us, the stern would ride the wave up.  The distance between the waves was great enough that the bow did not get buried in the next wave.

We spent at least 36 hours on the conveyor belt.  The winds eventually gave us a spirited ride.  With just the genoa on a whisker pole, the winds went from mid-20’s to mid-30’s.  There were stretches when our average was 9-10 knts.  One evening, I was on watch and the chartplotter said we surfed down a wave at 12.2 knts.  Very exciting at night, the howling wind, and creaking of the wet jib sheet on the fairlead. The bad news is the stress on the jib sheet resulted in chaffing where the whisker pole was attached.  Roy and Carlos were on the bow cutting the chaffed section out of the jib sheet and re-tying it. The boat was bouncing around as you would expect with high winds and wild seas.  They had their lifevests on and were tethered to the boat, but very scary.

Sleeping in damp clothes, damp sheets, and moist hands/feet has begun to feel normal.  If I was at home, falling asleep under those conditions would be difficult, if not impossible.  Not the case here.  I close my eyes and quickly fall asleep.

Goodbye Sunshine and Consistent Winds

Hello rain.  In Longboat Key, we often watch thunder storms move across the Gulf.  A tall dark thunderhead looks like it extends to the water.  The rain portion reflects the direction the cloud is moving.  Today there were two thunderheads, one on our port and the other on our starboard.  They appeared to be connected by one large arching cloud.  Under the arching cloud was some daylight.  We sailed right under the arch and missed the downpours.  Eventually the rain caught us and stayed with us.

Most evenings we experience heavy condensation.  A layer of condensation forms on the sole (floor), table, seats, and on vertical surfaces such as cabin doors and cabinet doors.  Everything is damp, and sticky, even the sheets in my cabin.  Climbing into my foul weather gear is challenging, because the inside of the jacket and trousers is damp, not wet.  The outside is wet from the last watch.

Day 2 Sailing to the Azores

Roy awoke me for my 0600 shift.  My phone has been acting up so there was no alarm.  It is currently in a bag with about a lb. of rice.  Apparently, the charging port has not liked the salt water bath it got during the leg to Bermuda.   The timing of the 0600 shift is nice because I am up for the sunrise.  When the seas are calm and winds are steady there is not much to do.  Other than occasionally scan the horizon and check the chartplotter for other boats, there is plenty of time to watch the sunrise develop.  When not on a boat, how often do you get up early enough and devote 20 minutes to reflecting about the marvel of a sunrise?  Maybe on vacation, but during routine life, the demands of day get in the way.  About 30 years ago, Dan, my wise department chair, was listening to complain about how I was so busy with article, grant and teaching deadlines.  He asked. “Jack, who makes your schedule?”  It was quite a revelation that I was the cause of my overly full schedule.  Retirement gives no excuses for failure to schedule appropriately.

Prior to my watch, we practiced jibbing with the whisker pole out.  We had to shift the preventer from the port to starboard.  The whisker pole is attacked to a track on the mast.  The trick was getting the pole connected to the clue of the genoa.  The reason for the practice was stronger winds and a wind shift is anticipated tonight.

My 1400 shift was a peaceful as earlier in the day.   Roy, Carlos and Kathy saw three or so dolphin while I was sleeping.  I scanned the water for dolphin activity and saw none during the two-hour shift.  I did see flying fish.  I thought they were birds.  They were a little larger than the ones we saw earlier.

We have encountered solo birds.  Typically, they circle the boat a couple of times and then fly on to wherever they are headed.  I wonder whether the birds are lost, because we are currently 300 miles from the nearest island, and roughly 1000 miles from North America.  The nearest islands headed east are the Azores, between 1500 to 1600 miles away.  That is a lot of bluewater between here and land.

Blue is the appropriate descriptor for the water.  There is lot water under us. Two miles to the bottom?  Out here the water appears untouched by human and industrial waste.  When the water is splashed up by the boat it is a light aqua color.  Looking straight down when the sky is clear the water is a deep blue.  Looking across the water there are patches of dark, almost black water.  These patches of blackish water move around and are caused by clouds.

On the evening 2200, again I was pleased to see the orange sliver of a moon.   We had changed to head more directly north.  The wind at the 35 north was forecast to be light.  Two low pressure systems were aligned such that if we motor sailed north we would pickup winds in the teens building the high twenties that would carry us several days east to the Azores.  The unknown was when we would encounter the wind shift and possibly strong winds.  Hence, I had to be vigilant and be ready for a quick sail adjustments.

The moon was now off the starboard beam.  It  appeared to be following us.  It remained of my question to my dad while we were driving at night.  As a young kid sitting in the back seat of the car, I asked “How does the moon follow us whichever direction we turn?”  I still marvel at the phenomenon.