Every Thursday I share a little bit (in sequence) about a wonderful year I spent back in 2010/2011 sailing across the Atlantic (twice) and up through the Caribbean. All the posts are tagged together here if you want to read back! Last week we were re-capping the first half of our sail back across the Atlantic, from Bermuda to the Azores.
We reached the half way point of our trip across the Atlantic on Day 7, the 22nd May 2011. At this point the weather seemed to have clearly changed from our lovely winter of sun in the Caribbean to English weather. The wind had increased and the boat was heeled over, rocking and rolling and ducking and yawing, the world around us creaking with every moment. The increased wind did mean we made a Triple D record in terms of speed and distance covered – 182 miles in one day. Here are some thoughts from my night shift:
I should explain that my writing is so bad because we have 15 knots and a sea hitting us on the side. There is a tanker passing within two miles of my starboard side, bound for the Bahamas. There are also what I hope are a series of squalls to my port side as I cannot see any lights. A bit worrying as it is the shape of a boat on the radar screen. However, its not currently headed towards us so I will keep an eye on it. Another annoying thing is that the wind has got up; I really don’t want to have to reef – it is difficult to put the second reef in alone and I don’t want to have to wake mum up!
The wind continued to die overnight. Although it looked like it was going to be a lovely day at 7am, by the time I woke up at 1130 it had clouded over and it even rained for a bit. While other sailors may be miserable in the rain, huddled outside in their oilies, the layout of Triple D meant that we could be nice and snug inside, even able to keep a watch through all the windows in the raised saloon.
We were still seeing a lot of wildlife – minky whales, and on one night watch, mum said that the boat was surrounded by dolphins. As it was dark, she couldn’t really see the dolphins but instead saw the ocean glittering with bioluminesence. I was so jealous!
The wind had swung round to right on the nose and so we were forced to motor (or sail in entirely the wrong direction, which we did not want to do!). The grey skies, colder weather and motoring made for a few very monotonous days. The swell was building and Triple D was heading right into it, thudding into the waves and feeling as if we were climbing mountains. By Day 12 of the crossing we were all starting to feel as if we just wanted to be on land, increasingly frustrated by our slow progress.
If we changed direction enough to sail in either direction, although we would travel much faster, we would be travelling in so much the wrong direction that it was just not worth it. So on we went, bashing into the waves under grey skies.
We joked that the winds were conspiring to send us back to the Caribbean. Europe just seemed to be cold, with grey skies, big seas and unfavourable winds, but on the other hand, the Caribbean already felt a bit like a dream.
On Day 13, we calculated that we would arrive the next day – always a good moment when you realise you are facing your last night shift at sea! Error could see Horta in the distance and just had to sail around to the Harbour.
We had a bit of a fright in the afternoon when the engine cut out for no reason, and then refused to start again. We checked the oil, the coolant – all okay – then pumped some fuel through, manually, and gave it a rest. Ten minutes later we got the engine started again and were able to keep going.
As we approached St Lucia, we wore just our bikinis during night watches. On the approach to the Azores I wrote:
Tonight I am wearing:- leggings, long socks, long-sleeved t-shirt, fleecy thermal trousers, lightweight thermal jumper, fleecy thermal jumper, hoody, fleecy polar-bear suit, oily jacket, scarf, lifejacket. I’m all wrapped up like a polar bear and finding it hard to move!
The next morning, the day we were hoping to arrive, our engine cut out again at 7am and this time pumping the fuel through manually did nothing. We changed the filter but the engine still wouldn’t start. This was more than a little concerning as we were sailing at only 3 knots so without the engine it would have taken a further 24 hours to reach Horta, and our batteries would not last that long without charging – meaning we would be sailing at night without lights.
Just as mum and I were considering our options, there was a bang from the cockpit and we ran up the companionway to see the life-raft attempting to make a break for it! The welding had come away and the liferaft had fallen off the back of the boat, luckily becoming wedged between the boat and the dinghy, so we weren’t trailing a fully-inflated liferaft! We woke Jilli up and the three of us hauled it back onto the boat and tied it into the cockpit.
Next, we bled the engine and finally got it started again – to be faced with a new concern over how much fuel we actually had left. Luckily, the wind changed in the shadow of the island and so we were eventually able to sail at a reasonable speed until nightfall, when we turned the engine on again.
At midnight, we arrived safe and sound to Horta, anchoring in the dark, so much more confident about that now than when we had first started sailing, almost a year before. Almost immediately, we went to bed – a lovely, deep sleep on a still boat!