After three days of sailing in modest winds, we were greeted with much stronger winds. Initially, the winds grew to 14-17 kts. They gradually built to 17-20 kts with gusts almost to 30 kts. The wind was out of the north but then shifted northeast. This made for a close reach and the pounding of the bow began. The waves were coming from the north. Initially they were in the 4-6 ft range. Eventually, they grew to 8-10. Every once and while, there were waves that were at 12 ft that showed signs of breaking. They may have been 14 ft, but I have heard sailors often overestimate the size of waves. Hence, I adjusted my estimate down to 12 ft. Regardless when you are in the trough of the wave and look up at the crest of the wave next to you, it seems like a wall of water could crash down on you.
We wanted to go directly east and going parallel with big waves was scary. There were times that we fell off the crest of a wave and were blown sideways, heeling at an angle that felt like a broach or knockdown was imminent. Roy was not worried. Carlos mentioned there was considerable righting force generated by more than 10,000 lbs of ballast in the keel.
The last thing I wanted was to dip the sails in the water and risk breaking the boom or rigging. The loss of the standing rigging would mean dismasting. I chose to head up and take the waves at an angle from 15-30 degrees. The boat settled down, riding the wave down and coasting up the next wave continuing the same angle of attack. The wild fishtailing stopped and comfort level increased. I was very pleased that through trial and error, I was able to find the heading to bring the boat under control. I kept on the same heading for the duration of my shift. The negative part was we were off our intended course and would do more miles. Eventually the wind shifted again, and we were at to head southeast between a beam and broad reach and recoup the extra miles.
Fast forward to the evening and almost complete darkness. The issue is that you can’t see the waves and the autohelm follows more or less the heading you set. On a flat sea the autohelm tracks straight on course. In the current seas the heading would vacillate across 30 degrees. It was a rough last night on the approach to Lagos. Carlos and Kathy were unable to sleep in the forward v-berth cabin. Since we were heeling at an extreme angle in combination with the pounding of the bow, it meant they would be briefly suspended in the air and then slammed in the mattress. This went on and on. They moved to the salon and unsuccessfully attempted to sleep.
Rather than one person on watch, there were 2 or more. In the final approach to Portugal we chose to go north of the shipping lanes. We had been warned that shipping lanes were dangerous. A cargo ship can take out a sailboat and not even know it. It would be like a mosquito hitting your car windshield. In the Azores we heard a rumor that a sailboat met an unfortunate fate with cargo ship in the Atlantic.