In the past six weeks, Will and I have been training to get in shape for a ride from Tucson Arizona to Great Falls Montana. It is the Mexico to Canada deCycles trip. http://decyclesindiana.org/TripDetails/decyclesindianatd1.html I learned last Saturday that it may be challenging to keep up with high school and college students negotiating significant Hills. Since we will crisscross the Rockies at multiple points, as well as the continental divide twice, it will be a tough ride in terms of elevation changes. Heat will be another factor to contend with.
After passing to the north of the shipping lanes and approaching St Vincent Point, we expected to see less wind. We assumed the land would buffet the wind. Not the case, the strong winds continued right up to until we were about 4 nm from Lagos. As we passed the Point, we had to be vigilant to avoid fish traps. Sailing directly into the sun it was hard to see them, until we passed them. However, we managed to avoid wrapping fish netting around the keel, sail drive, and rudder. As we were dodging fish traps, it became clear that we would soon be docked at Customs in Lagos. It was quite a feeling of elation, with a bit of relief we averted potential disasters. The music sounded better than normal. I’ll admit to a little of dancing at the helm. It reminded my of a comment from a waitress in Flagstaff, AZ, who mentioned having a Grand Canyon high, while hiking below the rim. During the final few miles it certainly was a great natural high.
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.
Carlos yelled, “Whale.” Kathy and Roy were up through the companionway like a shot. I was in bed, grabbed my camera and was right behind them. Off the starboard beam about 50 yards were two whales moving in the opposite direction of the boat. They would spout shooting water 10-15 ft in the air. Then their dorsal side behind their blow hole would appear and continue above the water till their dorsal fin broke the surface. Moving forward their dorsal fins would disappear and their dorsal side behind the fin would submerge. I never saw the classic whale tail shot. Nevertheless, very cool. Again, there wasn’t time to get the camera, turn it on, and find the whales. Given how quickly the whales passed, I made the right decision not to mess with turning the camera on and trying zoom in where I thought the whales would be next.
More good news was that we had 12 kts of wind on a beam reach, moving us at an average rate of 7.2 kts closer to Lagos. It is nice when the forecast in wrong in the right direction, i.e., more wind than was forecast.
While I was sleeping at the start of Kathy’s 0200 watch, the wind died and the Yanmar sail was fired up. Much to my chagrin, the Yanmar was still running at the start of my watch. It was cold enough to wear a fleece and my rain jacket. It was misty and we were surrounded by clouds. The exception was a sliver of light on the horizon that appeared to be the sunrise. The strange part was the light was not coming from the east. It was directly south. The clouds were so thick in the east that the sun could not peek through.
For an hour the Yanmar sail droned on. Then the wind emerged off the port beam. Not much only about 6 kts, but enough to unfurl the genoa. Soon the wind was giving us a 1 kt boast. After an hour of many minor heading and sail adjustments, my shifted ended. It looked like we are in for a slow day.
When my shift ended at 0800, I made a nice egg, cheese and prosueto grilled sandwich. I used goat butter and grilled the bread. Goat butter is pure white. It looks like Crisco, but tastes like regular salted butter.
Shortly after my watch ended and I had eaten, it was off to my bunk. This has been my pattern for the last 24 hours; watch – eat – sleep, watch – eat – sleep, watch – eat – sleep.
I woke at noon to a beautiful blue sky, and super light wind. The engine drones on, aided somewhat by wind on the port beam. It looks like another 48 hours of comparable wind. Then I expect to have North Wind on its hull speed.
I woke up early and took a walk up the steep hill to the town. I had learned that a century or so ago, Azoreans displayed their good fortune with ornate ironwork on their first-floor balconies. Each design is unique. I looked for duplicates and was unable to find one.
Shortly before casting off lines, there was excitement in the air. Doing last minute chores, I took the trash to the dumpster. I passed ten or more crew from various boats. Everyone was smiling and had an upbeat greeting. Anticipating the imminent departure, said; “Safe sail,” “Safe travels,” or “Fair views.” With 5 kts of wind forecast for the next 3 days, fair winds was optimistic.
Much to everyone’s surprise, the winds were close to 10 kts as we lined up for the 1200 start. Carlos was cautious, and we were .2 nm from the starting line when the final horn blasted. Eventually we caught the pack and over several miles passed half the boats.
For most of the reminder of the day, the winds held, about 10-12 kts. We were on a close reach and doing a respectable 6-7. When the wind shifted so we could do a board reach, we were able to do between 7.5 and 8.5. By making small adjustments to the heading, we saw low 8. Knots. Great fun.
At the end of my 2200 watch, the wind started to drop.
First order of business was getting the sail patched. A check of resources available in Santa Maria revealed no one on the island with a sewing machine for sailed. Dave of Himmel, volunteered to help. He brought his patch kit and Carlos brought out the sail repair kit he bought at West Marine in Portsmouth, VA. We hauled the genoa down and for the next 90 minutes Carlos sewed. Pushing a needle through the heavy Dacron at the foot of sail took a lot of strength. I took over and finished the job in a little more than an hour. The patch looked darn good, considering Carlos and I had never sewn one before.
To celebrate our victory with the sail tape, I went with Roy to get a grilled tuna lunch. I wish I had a picture. It was a big tuna steak, grilled and served with a cup of butter. The flavor of the wood grill added a new dimension to tuna.
Tomorrow we set sail for Portugal. Hard to believe it is the last leg. The winds are forecast to be less than 10 kts for the next three days. It would be nice to have more wind, but it is what it is.