Thursday, June 22, 2017

June 2017: Wrapping Up in Gibraltar

Ocean View Marina at Port of Gibraltar
We had four wonderfully relaxing days in the Port of Gibraltar from Sunday 18-Jun through Wednesday 21-Jun. It felt fabulous to unwind in such an accommodating place while savoring the experiences and accomplishments of the past month.   And the weather was simply idyllic – cloudless, sunny skies, low humidity and light breezes.

The docks here in Ocean View Marina are floating and in exceptionally good condition, the staff is helpful and friendly, and the rates are quite reasonable.  We hooked up to shore power with a pair of the 32 amp cords we had assembled way back in Bermuda, and had consistent quality power available.  (We even got our washer and dryer to work on the 50 Hz power!)  There are numerous bars, pubs, casinos and restaurants on the premises and within easy walking (or stumbling) distance.  And the town square is an easy walk as well.

The Gang at Little Bay Bar for a Group Dinner
Compared to our Horta and St. George’s facility experiences, this place is heavenly.

As had become our custom, the day after arrival was all about cleaning the salt-encrusted vessels, and then our group scattered to the winds for a few days to explore and enjoy the area – tours, shopping, provisioning, eating and drinking.  But we also managed a group dinner at nearby Little Bay Bar & Indian Restaurant, as well as a decent group photo on the back of Relish.

Rob, Thomas and Cameron Celebrate Jura's Arrival in Falmouth
We also got word from Cameron aboard Jura that they had arrived as scheduled and without issues in Falmouth.  Likewise, Stefan aboard Aleoli reported that they had made a stop in Cadiz after departing the Azores, and were about to depart for Mallorca.

The NAP Gang Gathered for a Group Shot Aboard Relish
On the morning of the 21st both Angela and Moxie threw off lines early, made a long stop at the fuel dock to top off their tanks, and then headed out once again.  Moxie was heading to Malaga, while Angela was starting its final leg, a short passage to Morocco. 

Relish hung around the docks until the following morning before making its fuel dock appearance at 0800, taking on 6,363 liters of diesel (1,680 gallons) and then just after 1000 headed out for the relatively short run to Malaga, Spain….about 50 miles to the northeast.

Here are the concluding stats for N60 Relish, whose Atlantic Ocean crossing entailed the longest distance for any of the Nordhavns involved in NAP 2017:

Departure date from Nassau..........16-May 2017           
Arrival date in Gibraltar...............17-Jun 2017
Total nautical miles traveled..........4,149
Average speed while underway.......7.2 knots
Average fuel usage......................1.35 NMPG

That latter number (fuel efficiency) was actually even better during the first 4-5 days on the leg from Bermuda to Horta (nearly 2.0 NMPG) when we had her dialed way back to accommodate Aeoli’s required pace.

Here is a quick summary of everyone that participated according to departure & destination, as well as by vessel:

Group 1 (Bahamas & Florida to Bermuda-Azores-Gibraltar)
Aleoli, N52-75 (departing from Florida)
1. Stefan Hearst (Florida-Gibraltar)
2. Fernando Campos (Florida-Gibraltar)
3. Daniel Hobbs (Florida-Gibraltar)
4. Glen Sheardown (Florida-Gibraltar)
5. Craig Walker (Florida-Bermuda)
6. William Arntz (Florida-Bermuda)
7. Stuart Miller (Florida-Bermuda)
Angela, N55-24 (departing from Florida)
1. Andre de Weldige-Cremer
2. Oxana de Weldige-Cremer
3. Bernie Francis
4. Robert E Lee
5. Eric Van Landtschoote (Azores – Gibraltar)
Moxie, N55-09 (departing from Florida)
1. Bob Warshawer
2. Peter Arneil
3. Shar Figenshaw
4. Jason Warshawer
Relish, N60-52 (departing from Nassau)
1. Silvio Gentile
2. Rick Riordan
3. Michelle Riordan
4. Gary Brace (Nassau – Bermuda)
5. Michel Sirois (Horta to Gibraltar)
Jura, N57-21 (departing from BVI) 
1. Cameron McColl
2. Rob Allen
3. Michel Sirois (Bermuda to Horta)

GROUP 2 (Florida-Bermuda-Canada)
Roam, N47-08
1. Clark Haley
2. Michelle Haley
3. Mark Cole
4. Michele Kelly
Tivoli, N50-05
1. Clayton Neave
2. Deanna Neave
3. Jim Neave (Bermuda Leg only)
4. Kristen Kinan (Bermuda - Nova Scotia)
5. Wayne Tries (Bermuda - Nova Scotia)

A very good friend of Rick’s (whose initials are Dan Clark) gave us a card just before we departed the U.S. for Nassau and launching from there towards Gibraltar.  We carried it with us the entire journey.  It read:

The Sea

It is a battle against a tireless enemy in
which man never actually wins.

The most he can hope for is not to
be defeated.

Of course Alfred Lansing wrote that in his book about Sir Ernest Shackleton’s failed attempt to cross the Antarctic continent in 1914 and the subsequent struggle for survival….not exactly an analogous level of risk.  In comparison we traveled in relative luxury and calm.  But the sentiment of respecting the sea is still quite valid, and we are reminded of how fortunate we were to cross in mostly benign conditions and in some of the best built vessels in the world. 

Likewise we were just as fortunate to make the passage with a group of people who were well prepared, always professional, and without exception just plain fun to be with and around.
View of The Rock Upon Departing Gibraltar

Monday, June 19, 2017

June 2017: From the Azores to Gibraltar

Jura is First Departing Horta Harbor
The weather once again was quite pleasant on Monday 12-Jun, but also still quite cool with temps in the lower 60’s.  And the Commanders weather forecast for our planned route into the Mediterranean was also good enough. We had a lazy, peaceful morning while our agent, Duncan Sweet, processed our paperwork.  Just before 1100 Jura pulled up her anchor and headed out of the harbor, eventually turning north towards England and Scotland.  At approximately 1120 the remaining there boats – Angela, Moxie and Relish – also departed and headed towards Gibraltar, 1,128 nautical miles to the east.

Aboard Relish their new mate, Michel (formerly on Jura) got the immediate opportunity to familiarize himself with the pilot house and nav/comm equipment as he took the first shift at the helm.  Michel is a veteran seaman and Nordhavn owner himself – check out N50-26 Sea Turtle if you ever have the chance.

Leaving Horta in Our Wake
For the initial part of this leg we experienced flat sea condition as we threaded our way east between the islands of Sao Jorge and Pico.  We also had the fishing lines out once again, hoping that the numerous birds and dolphin pods we were seeing would be favorable indicators…but we did not get any hits.

Just before 1700 we passed the eastern end of Sao Jorge and were treated to the sight of three waterfalls spilling down the steep southern cliffs of the island.  That was followed shortly by the light house at its eastern most tip. Entering the open ocean waters between Sao Jorge and Sao Miguel (20 miles in the distance) we had a pushing current giving us between 8 and 9 knots SOG, along with gently rolling swells of no more than a few feet and an almost imperceptible wind chop on top.  It was a really nice ride under mostly sunny skies and we had the stabilizers dialed way back with a 15 knot speed setting.

Passing Pico in the Distance
By the time we reached Terceira – the next Azorean island about 65 NM east of Horta – it was 1930 local time, and the ideal weather continued.  Terceira is one of the larger islands of the archipelago, with a population of 56,000 and covering 153 square miles.  Here you will find the Azores' oldest city, Angra do Heroísmo, the historical capital of the island chain.  (Documentation varies, but the islands were first discovered in the 1300’s or 1400’s.) It is also the seat of the judicial system and the main base of the Azores Air Zone Command, where the USAF also keeps a remote detachment.  In contrast, Faial only has about 15,000 residents, many for only six months of the year, and Horta’s population is just under 10,000 people. Throughout the nine islands of the Azores archipelago the key industries are agriculture, dairy farming, livestock, fishing, and tourism, with the latter being the most dominant. Regardless of which island you may choose to visit, the scenery is spectacular and their people are welcoming and friendly.  We’ll miss them.

The remainder of this first day enroute to Gibraltar continued to be uneventful, with superb weather and sea conditions, with all boats reporting ops normal.
Waterfalls on Sao Jorge

Dawn came early in this part of the world on Tuesday 13-Jun, with the glint of first light glowing dimly around 0500, highlighting only very scattered clouds low on the horizon.  Our three-ship formation was a nice tight V-shape with one mile spacing.  We had been tracking two non-AIS targets on radar for most of the early morning – one was Jura, holding steady at 9 miles directly off our bow, as she had not yet reached her northerly turn point.  The other was a slow moving blip bearing 118 that ARPA told us would cross our path and pass within a mile of us, so we kept a close eye on that one.  Eventually we got an AIS signal that identified it as S/V Wolf, and she continued on a northerly heading as we passed by her stern with ample clearance.

The sun peeked at us coming above the horizon around 0620 revealing a partly cloudy sky and seas still with a gentle following swell and light wind chop on top.  Ambient air temp was 63F and SST at 67F, with a 6-8 knot breeze out of the southwest.  We were still making good time with an average speed of 7.8K since we had departed Horta.

Leaving the Azores Behind
The seas picked up as the day progressed with growing swells, some occasionally in the 6-7 foot range, but once again at intervals that were quite tolerable.  That is, of course, unless you bring the boat to a stop and let them roll you while broadside-to.  Which is what happened at 1000 when Relish hooked up with a feisty blackfin tuna, and when Rick literally got rolled out of bed a few hours earlier than he had planned.

But it was worth it – Silvio slowed the boat and Chelle was on the rod.  She handed it over to our “other” Michel who reeled it in and then leadered it into the boat.  (He also cleaned the fish.) Voila, fresh tuna for supper tonight!  (Note to other anglers – this tuna swallowed a Rattle-Jet XL lure that was being skipped at the surface.)  This was going to be a good day.

We conducted our usual afternoon fleet briefing, reported fuel stats, coordinated our timing for the next two time zone changes, and confirmed that unlike Moxie, Relish did not crack any toilet seats while fighting its fish in the swells.  We had taken a slight detour to the north of our originally planned course to manage some coming weather patterns – mostly predicted wind and increasing swells that would likely come out of the north in a few days, by which time we could take a more southerly track to keep that stuff somewhat on our stern.  All that made our predicted arrival in Gibraltar at least a half day later than originally planned.
Very Fresh Tuna for Dinner

A short while later Relish had another hookup – again on the same (green) Rattle-Jet lure; this one took some line with it before Chelle got it tired enough to bring it to the boat.  As Michel grabbed the leader we were treated to a close up view of a beautiful juvenile blue marlin – approximately a 3-footer.  It then spit the hook and happily sprinted off into the swells.  It was close enough for us to call it a “catch and release” opportunity.

N55 Moxie on Our Port Side
As Chelle was preparing the small tuna for an early dinner (around 1700, that’s really early for us), we hooked into more tuna – both lines got hit simultaneously, our first double header of the journey.  We lost one but boated the other….another nice blackfin….or what we call a “football” in the U.S. because of its shape and relatively small size.  (But one that still yields some very nice filets.)  We’re fairly certain this scenario was a first for us:  cooking the first fish while still reeling in the second one.  In the early evening the crew of Moxie also boated their first skipjack tuna.

We ended this day knowing that we’d passed our northernmost point of the entire journey (well above the 38th parallel and not quite to the 39th) which meant that Relish was nearly 900 nautical miles north of its Nassau departure point, and that Angela and Moxie were over 700 nautical miles to the north of their Palm Beach jump off point.  More importantly, of course, was that we were also 3,000 miles east of Florida and nearing Spain – about 650 miles west of Lisbon.  And we still had a nice current and the wind at our backs.

We Went Considerably North of the Planned Route
Between Azores & Gibraltar 
The overnight helm shifts leading into Wednesday 14-Jun continued to be peaceful and uneventful, and some of the radio chatter that had frequently accented previous nights had tapered off – after nearly a month of voyaging conversational topics were thinning out, and perhaps some fatigue was setting in.  But we had a bright waning gibbous moon and a very comfortable sea state for the wee hours shift.

Aboard Relish we figured out this handy layman’s guide to sea conditions; we call this the “Forward Shower Stall Scale” or FSS Scale. Over on Moxie they would probably convert the following to various conditional states of the toilet seat in the forward head:

(1)   Mild & comfortable seas:  you can take a shower standing up in the forward head.
(2)   Moderate seas:  you can still shower standing up in the forward head but you bounce off the shower stall walls a few times.
(3)   Heavy seas:  you can shower in the forward head if you’re sitting down.
(4)   Very heavy seas:  you’re not taking a shower today, get used to the smell.

And as the sun rose just before 0630 we had started out at #1 on the FSS, with gentle 4 foot rollers pushing us from the northwest and a light wind chop on top from a light southwesterly breeze.  Air temp was 65F and the SST had warmed slightly to 68F.  Skies were partly cloudy, providing a bit of eye relief from that early morning brightness.
A Pod of Orcas Join Angela in Formation

Fishing lines aboard Relish and Moxie got deployed early – yesterday’s success with green Rattle-Jet lures trailing long (50 meters behind the boat) had our anglers’ hopes high.  Green feathered things seemed to be the winning ticket, so that’s what we rigged to start the day.  Relish also had some unexpected bait to use – a very unfortunate squid had landed on its teak table in the cockpit some time during the night. Just before noon the crew of Angela got the rare pleasure of seeing a pod of Orca killer whales playing in and around their bow – a spectacular sight. 

The fleet’s noontime weather report was a mixed bag – relatively good for the next few days, but then about the time we planned to reach the Straits of Gibraltar later in the week it was looking pretty ugly.  The straights are known for nasty conditions when the inflow or outflow currents collide with strong winds from the opposite direction, and that’s exactly what the forecast was calling for.  For now we decided to take the weather router’s recommendation to continue on a mostly easterly heading rather than direct to Gibraltar – basically we were aimed directly at Lisbon.  By the time we reached the coast of Spain the strong north winds would be kicking in and we could then turn south towards Gibraltar to put them on our stern.
This Poor Squid Boated Himself...Instant Bait

If the next forecast for the straits turns out to be as crappy as the current one then we would start looking at holing up at an intermediate location to wait out better conditions – Rota, Spain was a likely place for us to consider.

As sunset was nearing we were still 450 miles west of Lisbon, with 650 miles to reach Rota…and at least another day from there to reach Gibraltar.  Andre, taking a break aboard Angela, hooked up with a hard fighting fish that took some time and considerable effort to reel in – a 36 inch blackfin tuna.  That is a big blackfin!
Sitting in the cockpit with a warming sun on our faces – and seas at the lowest level of our FSS scale – was a great way to end another good day.

At 0400 on Thursday 15-Jun the trip odometer on M/V Relish showed exactly 3,500 nautical miles traveled since departing Nassau on 16-May.  Angela and Moxie had clocked just over 3,300 miles since departing Palm Beach on 17-May.  For this final leg the fleet had steamed 496 nautical miles since departing Horta, at an average speed of 7.68 knots.  All three vessels were averaging a minimum of 1.3 NMPG (including generator burn) so fuel reserves were more than adequate.
View of Another Sunset from the Cockpit

As we progressed further east (our longitude was now squarely in the teens) we noted a gradual increase in both air and sea temps – by sunrise we had 67F with an SST of 69F.  Swells had built overnight to an occasional 9 footer, but intervals and direction remained quite comfortable, with WNW winds at 10-12 knots and a mostly overcast sky.

By midday, however, it was mostly clear and sunny, and Moxie had hooked up with more fish as had Relish – a marlin and a tuna on both vessels.  There was no further fishing action until very late in the day when Relish landed another small blackfin just before sunset with Michel on the rod and reel.  The seas were starting to churn a bit more, initially about a #2 on the FSS scale, but that rapidly went to #3 as the winds clocked around to the north with increasing velocity.  We were getting anxious to see the next day’s updated weather forecast.
Bow Goes Up
By the early morning hours of Friday 16-Jun the seas were just plain messy.  The wind was out of the north at 25 knots with gusts to 30, giving us nasty short-interval wind waves of 3 to 5 feet on top of the larger swells.  That pegged the FSS scale, and the question instead became where one could sleep without getting levitated or tossed.  Answer: somewhere down low and aft of the pilot house.

Around 0500, aboard lead boat Angela, Bernie suggested – and everyone concurred – that we make a slight turn to the southeast to cut the next corner and put some of the wind and waves a tad more to our sterns.  That definitely helped but the ride still resembled boating in a washing machine, and the stabilizers (bless them) were getting a workout.  There would be no fishing today.
Bow Goes Down
As the sun rose to illuminate a partly cloudy sky and an ocean of whitecaps, we were 220 NM due west of Lisbon, Portugal.  We had been underway 90 hours since departing Horta in the Azores, and had averaged just over 7.5 knots to this point.  While ambient air temp still hovered in the mid 60’s we noticed SST had decreased to 67F with the north wind and frontal passage.

At noon we received a weather forecast update from Commanders via sat phone, and it was just as lousy as the last one.  It also appeared the winds would be clocking around to the east starting tomorrow and on Sunday, building further as we approached the Straits of Gibraltar.  So we decided to plow ahead on our ESE heading towards the coastline of Portugal at whatever pace we could comfortably maintain, hoping to eventually find some protection in the lee of the land.  After that we would update the forecast for the straits and decide whether we should wait for a window at one of the coastal marinas or just plow on through.
Sleeping in the Salon -- Sometimes a Necessity

The afternoon brought more of a high overcast to complement the wind and rough seas; everybody spent the rest of the day just hanging on or napping in between the routine engine room checks and helm shifts.  And everyone slowly got used to the new noises and vibrations such a vessel can make when bouncing around in big seas.

Aboard Relish Rick passed the time building some new Maretron screens (in the kneeling position), and somehow Chelle managed to find a braced position in the galley to cook up the fresh tuna we had caught the night before for another great supper.  Not an easy feat given the way we were pitching and rolling.

As the sun headed towards the western horizon over a boiling ocean we had about 160 nautical miles and 21 hours to go on our ESE heading to reach the coast of Portugal….and hopefully some calmer waters.
Building New Maretron Screens
In the wee hours of the morning of Saturday 17-Jun the seas were still churning:  some furniture in Relish’s salon got rearranged courtesy of one big broadside roller.  But somewhat surprisingly the waters calmed as the early morning progressed; by dawn the wind was northerly but only at around 12-15 knots, and the swells shrunk to the 3-to-5 foot range.  Intervals remained tight with wind chop on top, but it was considerably better than just a few hours ago.

By sunrise we had an air temp of 66F and the SST was 67F with a gradually falling barometer but clearing skies.  We were hoping that the forecasted stronger winds out of the east might be further delayed as we continued heading towards the Portuguese coastline, which as of 0640 was now 90 nautical miles off the bow.  If that were true, and we got into the protected lee of the coast, we just might wet the fishing lines later today.  Or benefit from some better sleeping conditions.  By early afternoon our sea conditions were downright pleasant, so we turned further to the south nearer our original route, and started to close the distance between us and Gibraltar.

We of course also noted an increase in radio chatter on VHF channel 16 as we got closer to civilization once again.  It was a good reminder that we needed to remain vigilant for traffic, as it would surely soon increase in volume, especially compared to what we had been experiencing in the middle of an ocean for the past week.  And by early afternoon our radar screens were getting cluttered with return blips and AIS symbols.
AIS Traffic Builds as Land Gets Near

Aboard Moxie they were also eyeing some sea floor features on the chart, one seamount in particular seemed worth a detour for some drive-by trolling, so that’s what we did.  Nobody netted any fish from that excursion, but it got us closer to the Portuguese coast.  And shortly thereafter everyone had cell phone service and plenty of spam email to sift through. 

By 2030 we had turned the corner around Cape St. Vincent (Cabo de São Vicente) and Sagres Point at the far southwestern corner of Portugal with its cliffs and lighthouse within easy view.  The issue now was what route to take into the Straits – direct and risk some headwind and head sea pounding, or continue hugging the coast.  Regardless, eventually we would have to bash our way through the rough seas within the Straits.  
Sunset -- Just Before 2200 Local Time
Knowing that was coming we decided to enjoy our last sunset on this journey with some quiet time in the cockpit while on relatively calm waters.

And then we decided to experiment.  Around midnight local time Angela and Moxie peeled off to the north to hug the coast a bit more, while Relish continued direct toward the Strait.  At daybreak we had lost AIS contact with each other but were still within radar and VHF radio range.  By midday it was clear that Angela and Moxie had the better ride and were making better time even with the added distance.  Relish had slowed to make the ride more tolerable in the head seas where initially she encountered square waves of 4 to 6 feet at quick intervals.  It was the proverbial “boating on a waffle iron” ride.

Land Ho -- We Found Portugal
By the time we neared the actual Strait of Gibraltar, however, none of that really mattered much.  While Relish was a few miles behind the other two boats, all three of us eventually got clobbered with 8-to-10 footers at wickedly close intervals as the 30K winds buffeted against the opposing current.  Hugging the northern coastline helped minimize that somewhat, but it wasn't until we turned the corner at Tarifa to head northeast towards Gibraltar itself that we escaped the big waves.  
About to Turn the Corner Out of the Straits & Towards GIB

At that point we only had 15 miles to go, and relatively flat water in spite of the still howling winds.  It was nearing 2100 and sunset, so we were hoping for calmer winds inside the marina.  And a couple hours later as we cruised into the large harbor at Gibraltar we got our wish -- winds had calmed, and both Angela and Moxie had just finished docking using the last two alongside ties available.  Silvio maneuvered Relish into the tight Med-mooring spot that remained, and by 2300 we were all secure at our intended destination on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Approaching The Rock at Dusk

We'll have at least one more blog entry to wrap this up....we'll try to summarize the stats on the journey itself, get some more shots of both our crews and Gibraltar, and put this whole thing into perspective.

But for right now we are going to clean up ourselves and our boats and go get some time on Terra Firma.

Moxie Moored at Gibraltar
Angela Moored at Gibraltar
Relish Med-Moored at Gibraltar

Monday, June 12, 2017

June 2017: A Few Days in the Azores

It had felt SO GOOD to sleep through a night without bouncing around in the bunk, and we awoke on Friday 09-Jun to windy but otherwise tolerable conditions. We had a relaxing morning catching up with nearly two weeks of emails over hot and strong coffee. By early afternoon rain had ended and skies started to clear.
Horta's Harbor

James Knight (of Yacht Tech and Rob Cote (of OceanCurrents Marine) showed up at the pier as scheduled to address some maintenance issues which the fleet had documented along the way.  They had flown in from Palm Beach, Florida the day before. The main problem for James to solve was aboard Relish, and that was to install two forced-air ventilation fans in the rear bulkhead of the engine room – the passive vents were proven to be wholly inadequate for keeping engine room temps within an acceptable range, even in a mild climate.  The central issue for Rob was to address Moxie’s inoperative KVH satellite phone system.  Both of those key maintenance items were completed within the day, as were each vessel’s re-provisioning runs.  Aeoli also got a more permanent fix for its water maker (new PCB control panel).

The Raft Up Just Before All Hell Broke Loose
There were plenty of other relatively minor things for each crew to tend to during the day, but by late afternoon most had caught up with their respective punch lists and were able to saunter into town to enjoy the local atmosphere and superb hospitality of our Portuguese hosts.

Saturday 10-Jun started in a relaxing manner after another good night’s sleep – more email catch-up along with tending to a few administrative items back home.  For Silvio and Rick aboard Relish it was oil change day on the big main engine, and that went relatively quickly.  That was a good thing because shortly after that was done, and just as they were getting ready to change the Racor fuel filters, all hell broke loose.

The wind had shifted and though the big weather system was far to our north (see related article HERE), it was still generating significant swells, and they started slamming our boats around – against each other and the sea wall of the pier.  Crews were scrambling to adjust and reinforce lines and fenders.  But a really nasty harmonic motion seemed to go into high gear, and soon we had five vessels bouncing around like 60 ton beach balls, lines were snapping and there was the awful sound of crunching fiberglass against concrete.
The Fleet Back at Horta's Outer Harbor

We had to get away from that concrete pier and fast.

But the crew of Aleoli wasn’t aboard their vessel, which meant that Relish and Angela were pinned in the 3-deep raft-up. Bernie jumped aboard Aleoli, James Knight took over the helm of Angela, and Silvio did the same on Relish, doing his best to orchestrate a combination of gear shifts and thrusters to counter the hard rebounds into the wall.  While it seemed to progress in slow motion – it took 5 to 6 other crew members to untie the boats from each other, and then Relish from the pier leaving most of her lines behind – we finally got all the boats free and into the middle of the harbor.

Anchor Watch on the Salon's Big Screen TV
After that it took a few hours to find spacing and get an anchor to set in the hard bottom.  Finally we had to give up on a good set and just let out as much chain as we could, then set two anchor watch alarms.  Eventually one of the vessels dispatched a tender to go pick up all the lines we had left behind and redistributed to the respective boats.

Damage report: Jura has a good sized hole in her swim platform, and Relish had four nasty looking gelcoat scars fore and aft.  All repairable and amazingly nobody got hurt.

By late afternoon we had all finally settled into a nervous calm, and while some went ashore for additional relaxation, all vessels kept at least one soul on board to monitor for anchor drags.  Aleoli picked up her anchor departed the fleet as she wanted to cruise some of the other islands in the Azores chain.

We awoke to clear skies on Sunday 10-Jun, a lighter breeze and an air temperature in the 60’s, and thankfully no vessel had moved significantly from their anchored positions.  Once we were certain that all maintenance tasks were done and the vessels were stable a group of us went ashore to tour the island of Faial.

Our tour was totally enjoyable – we were treated to some stunning views.  These pictures will help tell that story.  Left click any of them for a better viewing. 

View of the Harbor From The Hills of Faial
The Caldeira Volcanic Complex
Distances From Caldeira
View From the Northwest Side of Faial
Closer Look at the Surf on the Northwest Side
Our Tour Group....Robert, Rob, Chelle, Fernando (Guide), Michele, Thomas, Cameron
The Rugged Cliffs and Surf Formed by the Capelinhos Volcano
on the West Side of Faial
Difficult to See But There is the Roof of a House Just Barely Visible
Under All That Lava Dust from Its Last Eruption 50 Years Ago
The Lighthouse on Capelhinos
That's Actually a Boat Ramp Used by the Whalers in the Past
The Placard at the Whaling Port Ramp
About the Whaling Port & Ramp

Friday, June 9, 2017

May-June 2017: From Bermuda to the Azores

Fleet Hanging on the Hook in St. George's Harbor
We ended up spending two extra days in Bermuda – one due to weather, the other to allow Aeoli to tend to some much needed and rather difficult bottom cleaning.  With the longest leg of the journey looming in front of us, it was important that both bottom and running gear be foul-free to allow for optimal hull efficiency – which significantly affects fuel usage and range.

Thus on Saturday 27-May we had some down time to spend as desired (well, except for the Aeoli gang).  The day’s weather was delightful so crews dinghied to shore and fanned out across Bermuda from St. George to Hamilton to take in more sights and local food and drink.  Cameron invited everyone over to Jura for a pre-departure party, a great way to end another fine day.
All Hands Party Aboard Cameron's N57 Jura

We headed over to Customs early on Sunday morning 28-May for outprocessing, and then readied the boats for departure.  By the time we got dinghies cradled on the boat deck and the anchors up after washing off some of the worst anchor snot we’d seen in a long time – heavy gray clay that stuck like glue – it was just after 1000.  We hailed Bermuda Radio with our required departure calls as we sortied out the channel in single file and aimed the pointy ends towards Horta in the Azores.

Our early morning weather briefing from Commanders indicated mostly benign conditions for the coming week.  We did take a slightly more southerly track for the first two days to stay clear of rougher water to our north, but the deviation from original plan was slight.  Early feedback from Aeoli was that their clean bottom was greatly improving their fuel efficiency, so we were able to bump fleet speed up from 6.5 to 7.1 knots for most of the day.
Departing View of Bermuda

The five boat fleet assumed a pentagon formation with one mile spacing, and we did our best to match Aeoli’s speed at which she was getting an acceptable fuel burn rate.  As the smallest boat with the least fuel (even with a 300 gallon bladder in her cockpit), this long leg could present a challenge if her fuel wasn’t managed carefully.  In such cases – and this isn’t a totally unusual challenge for ocean crossers – the protocol is to set your throttle to a burn rate that will assure arrival with a 15% reserve; that inevitably will be a very slow speed, but at various intervals along the way you always recalculate and adjust as required:  as you burn fuel and reduce weight the boat gets more efficient; and you may get more favorable currents and sea conditions along the way (or not).  Either way, you can control your range with your throttle.

Several boats had fishing lines in the water most of the day, but the expected action departing Bermuda did not materialize.  Sometimes we caught pieces and parts of jellyfish, but that’s about it.

Radio chatter from Michele on Jura:  “Does anyone have a recipe for seaweed?”

We enjoyed another beautiful sunset on our stern as we continued to motor eastward in fair conditions and readied ourselves for the night shift routines.
Another Great Sunset at Sea

Some of the boats had lost crew members in Bermuda so shift assignments for helm duties had to be adjusted to accommodate fewer souls on board.  Each vessel had its own methodology that worked for them, but any way you slice it it’s all just a maritime experiment in sleep deprivation if you have less than four in the crew count.

In addition to helm shifts, another common practice among voyaging vessels is for the crew to eat at least one meal together, typically dinner, and the pilot house settee generally makes a good gathering place since whomever has the helm can also be part of the socialization as well as the meal.  Time of day for that can vary, but generally we find ourselves eating earlier at sea than we do when we are dirt-dwelling.  For other meals each crewmember is on their own – a properly provisioned boat will have something for everyone, and they know where to find it in the galley. And it is a good idea keep a bowl of snacks – some healthy, some perhaps not so much – at the pilot house settee for folks to raid at their convenience; that really comes in handy during the graveyard shifts.
The 3 Person Helm Watch / Shift Schedule Aboard Relish

On Monday 29-May dawn had arrived with temps in the upper 60’s, light winds, and once again gently rolling seas, although we had considerable overcast and had been painting rain showers on the radar set (with lightning in the distance) most of the night.  Even though we were essentially in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, we still sighted occasional traffic on radar or via our AIS transponders, and you had to be vigilant for the occasional crossing pattern.

Radio chatter from Bob on Moxie:  “My AIS for that freighter at our 3 o’clock says it’s headed to Gibraltar at 11 knots….how’ bout we all just tie onto him?”

Overall, however, Monday was mostly uneventful, with reasonably soft following seas that gradually increased as the day and evening wore on to around 5 feet.  Once again there wasn’t much fishing action, although on our route that’s probably to be expected given the 17,000 foot depth and lack of any nearby nearby structure or seamounts.  Nevertheless, late in the day Jura reported two, nearly simultaneous, hookups.  They were likely large tuna because they stayed deep and spooled both of their fishing rigs.

Early in the day on Tuesday 29-May we received an updated weather briefing from Commanders that wasn’t particularly optimistic, although it wasn’t terrible either.  A low pressure trough was developing to our north and moving ESE, and we were advised to stay south of 34N latitude for the most tolerable sea states. It would bring windy conditions to 24 knots and seas building to 7-9 feet for the next couple of days.  After that they were optimistic that conditions would settle a bit, but they still recommended we alter course further south for a better ride.  And we did.

About this time we start to realize the challenge of posting daily updates to a blog when almost nothing is changing – same boats, same crews, mostly the same weather, and waters that look suspiciously similar to yesterday’s ocean.  We avoided the temptation to cut and paste from previous days’ diaries.

Radio chatter from Stefan on Aeoli: “This feels a lot like 'Groundhog Day'.”

The graying skies and worsening seas didn’t stop us from putting out the fishing lines for a while, although most folks really didn’t want to catch anything – slowing or stopping the boat would have been really uncomfortable in those sea conditions.

Stephan (skipper of Aleoli) helped the fleet pass some time by serenading Silvio with a few Italian tunes broadcast over our ship-to-ship VHF channel, one of which we recognized as an old Julio Eglasias riff.  Stephan – who is from, and is now returning to, Mallorca – played a few others that absolutely nobody recognized except for him.  Relish pitched in with broadcasts of Sloop John B (Beach Boys) and Buffett’s ode to the ocean Treat Her Like a Lady ….

Some of us sailors call her home
She’s big and she’s strong and she’s mighty
Some of us sailors call her home
And I guess that’s the reason why I treat her like a lady

We had been bucking a current for most of the morning, and then around mid-day we somehow escaped that and the waves subsided a bit as a result – for a short while at least, the seas weren’t battling or colliding with the wind as much.  We enjoyed the respite and got the fishing lines wet yet again.  A few boats reported more bottlenose dolphin sightings, and the occasional Portuguese Man of War, but there was no luck with the fishing.

Later in the afternoon the seas picked up as predicted, and everyone was glad to have an efficient pair of stabilizer fins.  Relish had been monitoring a slight hydraulic fluid leak in the starboard actuator locking pin, but so far it was holding up fine, and believed it wouldn’t require attention until we got to Horta, perhaps even Gibraltar.  On the other hand, Jura was reporting that its ABT Trac (stabilizer) control panel was throwing low pressure warnings; after Cameron went through his troubleshooting steps the issue eventually boiled down to the low RPM settings on the main engine (which provides the PTO for the stabilizer hydraulic pump) in agitated sea states. Let’s just say that the Nordhavn 57 isn’t designed for going this slow.
Planned Route in Blue.  Actual Route in Red.

About the same time the sailing vessel Viva came into view on our radar and AIS displays.  She had been moored near us back in Bermuda, where the crew of Jura had helped her rig some sails for the coming leg to Horta.  Since she was also headed to the Azores, we hailed them on VHF channel 16, shared our weather forecast with them, and offered to try and stay in touch as they made their way across the big pond.  It’s interesting to note that while our weather router had us deviating further south, Viva had no interest in that – she wanted the wind.

By the end of the day we were surfing down the faces of some 8 and 9 foot waves, and our trip log indicated that we had covered 417 miles since leaving Bermuda, and over 1,400 nautical miles in total since departing Palm Beach, with Relish clocking 1,600 miles since Nassau.

Daybreak on Wednesday 31-May greeted us with gray skies, winds from the southwest at 10-12 knots, following seas averaging 6 feet, and a line of showers developing in front of us extending from the NE to the SW. At that point our instrumentation showed:

Speed:                        6.5K SOG
Wind:                         235 @ 10K
Seas:                           4-7 feet (following)
Temp:                         76F
SST:                             73F
Humidity:                   100%
Pressure:                   29.84 & steady
Trip Odo:                   1,450 NM (1,650 for Relish)
Distance to Horta:   1,367 NM (1100 NM due east of the U.S. coastline)
ETA to Horta:           08-June

That line of showers grew in size and intensity, but was now moving away from us at a greater speed than what we could muster, so it was mostly a non-factor.  As the day progressed the winds began to decrease, as did wave heights, with increasing intervals between the swells.  But sunshine was limited to intermittent bursts through a largely overcast sky.  We had the fishing lines out all day but saw no action.

One crew member on Angela, on the other hand, claims they caught fish on several different occasions and quickly got it vacuum sealed in convenient little bags that only by sheer coincidence had the “Costco” name on the side.

Radio chatter from Rick on Relish:  “Geez, I just saw a dragonfly strafe our boat; what their range?”
Reply from Shar on Moxie:  “You’re hallucinating from lack of sleep.”

The Busted Toilet Seat
Another line of showers moved through in the wee hours of the morning on Thursday 01-Jun, but once again passed clear of us to the north at a range of 5 to 15 miles.  During the night winds died down considerably, but the large swells continued, and we were now headed mostly into them vs. having a following sea.  By daybreak winds picked up again, but not enough to add wind chop to the top of the swells, which were now running about 6-9 feet, and thankfully at greater intervals.

We deployed the fishing rigs once again, but did not plan to bring the boat to a stop for any fish that hit.  Moxie tried that and the big swells started tossing things around like missiles, including a cabinet door in the forward head that departed its hinges and smacked into the toilet, cracking the seat.  The toilet is still operable, and Bob reports they may have found a new use for the ship’s throw ring.

At this point we were in the middle of what is known as the Sargasso Sea, which while not bordered by any particular land mass, is framed by four major current systems that tend to isolate these Atlantic waters – basically a big gyre that collects seaweed (sargassum) as well as all kinds of garbage.   Glenn on Aleoli sighted a floating oil barrel and either a busted spar or a telephone pole, and Relish sighted one of those jugs that we associate with rum and pirates, along with some other unrecognizable floating junk.  Given our distance from any land mass, we have to assume all of it is garbage dispersed by other boats. (We may throw some biodegradables over the side, but we bag all other trash and store it on the boat deck until we reach port.)
The Sargasso Sea

Late that afternoon we sighted a sailboat also headed in our general direction.  It was only a 26 footer, and they had poor sailing conditions with light winds and some very tall swells.  We hailed them a few times with no response; but then Michele (a French Canadian from Montreal) aboard Jura tried again in French, and soon a lengthy dialog had been established.

Radio chatter from Bob on Moxie:  “Hey, ask him if he’s got a spare toilet seat.”

The day ended quietly with another picturesque sunset over the Atlantic waters, but again we found no fish out here.

Showers continued to form and dissipate all through the night as well as during the first half of the day on Friday 02-Jun, all generally light activity with no embedded TRWs detected.  Temperatures remained pleasant, hovering around 70F, and for the most part boats ran without the genset. Seas had picked up a bit in the early morning hours shortly after daybreak (6-8 foot swells with some wind chop on top) but then settled again by mid-day to less than 4 feet. 
Nearby Showers on the Radar

We fetched another weather forecast just before Noon and saw fairly reasonable projections.  A low pressure system spinning up further north would eventually close in on us and bring higher winds (gusts to 30) and steeper seas (up to 8 feet with nasty wind chop & short intervals) by early next week, but then improve thereafter.  All in all, that’s pretty benign for this part of the Atlantic Ocean and didn’t warrant a routing change.

Several of the boats spent some time coordinating service work to be done in Horta once we arrive there. Aboard Moxie Bob arranged for Rob, his nav/comm technician, to fly out to address his sat phone/Internet issues (previously mentioned, but we should have said it was actually a KVH failure, not an Iridium issue.)  Relish also wanted some time from Rob as well to look at some minor issues around some funky Maretron readings, a dead cockpit camera and some SSB radio challenges.  Jura and Relish had each developed a small punch list for Yacht Tech, while Angela needed some generator parts.  And Aleoli would require some water maker parts.

When this long leg started our fleet of 5 boats had instituted a daily protocol of conducting a “conference call” on VHF channel 14 to report detailed fuel status every day at 1400.  Each boat reported its main engine fuel burn for the past 24 hours, as well as burn rate and generator usage, along with RPM and SOG.  The main goal was to establish / maintain a speed and burn rate that would provide the smaller boat (Aleoli) with a comfortable reserve as we approached the Azores; but it was also an opportunity to gather and eventually share fuel efficiency and consumption metrics with the larger Nordhavn community.

Right at dusk about two dozen dolphin vectored in on the fleet and cruised the bow waves again. The day ended peacefully with mild rolling seas, partly cloudy skies, temperatures in the low 70’s and a light breeze out of the southwest.  We had another 6 days to go before we’d reach Horta.
Dolphins Streaking By Headed for the Bow Wave

Saturday morning sunrise on Saturday 03-Jun started with a few low clouds on the horizon, but over the next couple hours those burned off and by 0700 we had mostly clear conditions with a light 10K breeze from the southeast and gentle seas – 3 foot rollers and a minor wind chop on top.  Moxie sighted another whale broaching the surface nearby.

Overnight Relish had passed its halfway mark (roughly 2000 total nautical miles based on revised routing) for the journey from Nassau to Gibraltar.  Later in the day the remainder of the fleet passed its halfway point.  The crew of Moxie celebrated by slowing the boat and dumping its supply of “Moxie Cola” (some kind of orange-flavored carbonated drink) into the Atlantic Ocean, followed shortly thereafter by Bob’s hat with the Moxie insignia on it.  Soon after that Peter reported sighting that whale again, this time wearing Bob’s hat and doing a Michael Jackson dance on the ocean surface.  We suspect Moxie’s crew got into the Bloody Mary pitcher mistaking it for regular tomato juice.

Eventually the radio chatter turned attention to our planned upcoming pot luck dinner at the Horta docks; apparently there was concern that not enough fish was being caught and we may be short on proteins for that group dinner.  After quick inventories of the burgers, chicken and other meats that were still in the freezers (and Michelle’s insistence that we still had time to catch fish), we concluded all was still well.

Radio chatter from Stefan on Aleoli:  “What do you guys have against restaurants?”

Someone also commented that there was a famous Scottish restaurant located there; but it turns out it’s called MacDonald’s and has golden arches.

After sunset we were all planning to fire off some expired flares, mainly for training purposes; but hey, who doesn’t like pyrotechnics for entertainment?  It was suggested by Bob on Moxie that we try at least one smoke grenade now (during daylight) to test its visibility, so we did.  Each boat first announced our intention on VHF channel 16 via a “securite” call just in case there were any other vessels nearby who might mistake it as an actual distress signal.  Since we were smack in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean – roughly 1,685 NM from the U.S. coastline and 1,750 NM from Spain, we didn’t think there was much of a chance that anyone was within visual, much less radio, range.  We were wrong.

Shortly after Moxie’s orange smoke bomb went off Relish received a VHF transmission from a sailboat named Meka at about 1230 local time. They were asking if we had any diesel fuel to spare. After some back and forth conversation it was determined their fuel need was not presently an emergency situation but might eventually turn into one.  We plotted their reported position (bearing 207M @ 9.9NM) and after a brief discussion among the fleet, we decided to dispatch Angela and Moxie, so they peeled off to the SSW to intercept the sailboat. We also had Meka alter its course towards us to close the distance gap a bit faster, while Relish, Jura and Aeoli maintained their original course and speed for the interim. As that was in progress Rob aboard Angela and Rick aboard Relish tested their two-way inReach texting communications one more time in case we lost VHF contact with them.

The plan was for Meka to take down her spinnaker as the gap closed, launch her dinghy loaded with their five empty jerry cans, tie up to Moxie’s stern, and then use Moxie’s wing engine’s day tank to drain fuel into the fuel cans.  This is the inReach text messaging update we received from Rob aboard Angela:

Vessel is a catamaran from Tortola approximately 50’ with 3 males on board, Reg #743111, British.  He is a delivery skipper.  Jerry jugs on Moxie.  Vessel name corrected to Meka. [We had previously thought it was ‘Nika’.] Moxie has the cans and are filling them now. This is the 37th time the skipper of Meka has crossed the Atlantic.

Subsequent conversations filled in the blanks, but basically the fuel offload went without incident, although the recipients didn’t seem all that grateful for Moxie’s efforts.  The entire episode left Angela and Moxie about 15 miles behind Jura, Aeoli and Relish, and while Relish was able to maintain VHF radio contact with them the entire time, it wouldn’t be until the following day before they would be able to rejoin the formation and the planned route to Horta.

In the interim our sea conditions were about as good as it gets in the middle of the Atlantic with sunny skies and light breezes, and the temperature hovering right around 70F.  And as the sun dropped in the west we enjoyed several more strafing runs by large pods of spotted dolphin, with some of the smaller and younger ones getting quite acrobatic as they darted in and out of the bow waves.

The Rejoin in Progress on Radar

Daybreak brought overcast skies to us on Sunday 04-Jun along with a few spotty rain showers on the radar, the closest at 5 miles to the southeast.  Angela and Moxie had closed to within 4.5 miles as they approached us from the WSW at our 4 o’clock….roughly 17 hours after they had split off on their Meka intercept mission.  Our Nobeltec and Furuno systems told us we had a little over 4 days and 725 NM to Horta in the Azores.

By 1030 we were back in our preferred (octagonal) 5-ship formation once again, with all boats tucked into their usual slots, and every vessel reporting ops normal.  Weather still presented a high overcast, winds at 10K from the SW, ambient air at 70F as was SST, with following seas very smooth at 2-3 foot gentle swells and a light wind chop on top.

At noon the fleet conducted its group weather briefing, presenting the latest forecast from Commanders (LINK), and then at 1400 we likewise conducted our daily fuel consumption report and review.  The net results of those two were:

       1. Some lousy weather moving in from the east beginning Tuesday evening with rain, gusts to 35K and 7 foot seas; followed by improvements on Wednesday; and then going to hell again on Thursday as we neared Horta, with gusts to 40K churning up 8 foot swells and 5 feet of wind chop.  At least the wind and seas would be coming from behind.

     2. Everyone’s fuel status still looked positive, with even Aleoli estimating a 25% reserve upon reaching the Azores; and the 20 mile diversion and 20 gallon fuel donation by Moxie and Angela on yesterday’s Good Samaritan mission still left them with adequate reserves as well.

Nevertheless, the group decided to maintain current speed and course rather than attempt to speed up – fuel consumption rate (for Aleoli in particular) during the coming squalls was an unknown, as were impacts from potentially adverse ocean currents.  We’ll fetch another weather update on Tuesday and recalibrate as required at that time.
The Final Leg into Horta in the Azores

We had rescheduled our “pyro night” for this evening, so about 2 hours after sunset each boat gathered a collection of expired hand-held flares, flare guns cartridges and parachute flares and prepared to detonate them, with each vessel taking a turn so the others could see how each device appeared from a distance.  After making the requisite “securite” radio call we got started. The SOLAS parachute flares outperformed everything else with excellent hang / loiter time and a very bright white corona visible for several miles.  However, our old 12 gauge cartridges fired from an Orion flare pistol did better than we expected with good altitude and reasonable duration of its bright red light.  The handheld flares were also brightly visible from 2+ miles although obviously could not match the visible range of the more ballistic options.  It was a fun and educational way to wrap up another day at sea, at least for those who were still awake.

We still had 600 NM to traverse before we’d arrive in Horta.

We had bright sunshine and brisk breezes out of the south to start off on Monday 05-Jun, but temps continued to slowly drop – 68F at 0900 – and the ocean brought some commotion with 2 to 3 footers at short intervals on the starboard beam.  But compared to the forecast we were quite happy with it, and as the day progressed the wind started backing more towards the SW and towards our stern.  We continued to buck currents off and on, although the historical pilot charts for this part of the ocean indicated we might get a break on that soon.

Aleoli spent a large part of its day troubleshooting its water maker problem, and eventually cobbled together a solution to restore power to its low pressure pump component.  They would seek a more permanent solution once they arrived in Horta, but for now they were quite happy with Daniel’s electrical sleuthing and workaround.

It was cool enough outside that air conditioning was really optional at this point, and aboard Relish it also had made Michelle’s spicy chili an appealing dish for dinner the night before.  From a wardrobe perspective it was becoming clear that some of us hadn’t packed very well (Rick and Bernie in particular); as it turns out south Florida May-June clothing isn’t very well suited to this part of the Atlantic at this time of year.

As for the chili (delicious!) Silvio must have really liked it because he was also munching on a bowl of it for breakfast this morning.  Of course, between the odd helm shifts and the time zone changes (we were now UTC -1), determining whether you were eating breakfast, lunch or dinner was sometimes problematic, or at the very least subject to personal interpretation.
Napping in the Pilot House

Towards evening two targets popped up on our radar at about the same time – the first was later identified on AIS as S/V Lynn Rival, a 12 meter sloop bearing NNW who at first seemed intent on sailing into the middle of the formation. She wouldn’t answer any of our radio calls, but we bumped the throttles a tad and moved ahead to make her a non-factor, although she did pass within a mile of Aleoli at the back of the formation just after nightfall. The second target was only a radar blip (no AIS) to our ESE, and after dropping an ARPA cursor on it we guessed it was another sailboat since its SOG was only 4.5K at the time.  Over time it picked up speed and hung with us most of the night, and eventually we had to alter course a bit to pass on her port side with comfortable separation. 

Traffic would likely continue to increase as we neared Horta, which by sunrise the next day was only 390 miles away.

Overnight the winds picked up a bit to 15 knots, still out of the SW, and while the ride was a bit sloppy with short and steep 3 footers, it was by no means rough or uncomfortable (at least for now.)  Both ambient and sea surface temps were at 66F, and we had a high overcast as of the morning of Tuesday 06-Jun.  As of 0730 local time (0830 UTC) our key stats looked as follows:

Speed:                        6.7K SOG
Wind:                         210 @ 15K
Seas:                           3-4 feet
Temp:                         66F
SST:                             66F
Humidity:                   100%
Pressure:                   30.00 / falling

Trip Odo:                   2,425 NM (since Palm Beach)
Trip Odo (Relish):     2,625 NM (since Nassau)
Distance to Horta:   380 NM (1,100 NM due east of the U.S. coastline)
ETA to Horta:           Mid-day on 08-June

We conducted our usual afternoon fleet conferences via VHF, the highlight of those being the latest weather forecast.  It had improved a bit, but we were still looking at worsening conditions beginning tonight with some showers, SW winds @ 25K and 4 to 7 foot seas; then seas building to 10 feet and 11 second intervals on Wednesday.  On Thursday conditions would start similarly, but with winds and seas increasing late in the day to 32 knots and 13 feet.  The message was clear:  getting to Horta as early as possible on Thursday was desirable.  An email that Aeoli had received from our agent in Horta (Duncan Sweet with Mid Atlantic Yacht Services) pretty much confirmed that as well. Everyone agreed they had the fuel to bump up the RPMs a bit, so we did.

Throughout the day the seas gradually built as predicted to 7 feet with a 15 to 20 knot wind from the WSW.  And those also decreased slightly (as predicted) as the sun set, just as the forecast scattered showers began showing on the radar.
Rolling Swells on the Stern

We had 285 nautical miles and just over 40 hours remaining to reach Horta in the Azores.

By the early morning hours of Wednesday 07-Jun the winds had died off to a few knots out of the west and the seas were correspondingly smooth….although we knew that would not last long.  But it made for some good sleeping and a peaceful night watch shift.  At daybreak we were still blessed with the same conditions, along with ambient air temp of 66F and an SST of 68F, winds westerly and light, and now that we could see them, waves were still only 2-3 feet at worst and still on the stern. 

We had been staggering our time changes – moving our clocks forward by an hour – about every 3 days.  That plus a 7 knot moving average surely made the more traditional “jet lag” a non-factor, although generally the fatigue factor was still high on the scale with the overnight helm shifts.  Today we’d officially be in the next time zone – GMT-1, aka Zulu or UTC.  We had crossed 4 time zones.

Somewhat surprisingly as of 1300 UTC, with 175 NM and 25 hours to go until we reached Horta, we were still experiencing generally calm conditions, but as the afternoon progressed the SW swells started to gradually build as the wind began to pick up.  Air temp hovered around 65F and SST at 67F, with a west wind around 12 knots.  We had a very high and thin overcast that still allowed for plenty of sunshine to bore through.  But far in the distance to the northwest we could see a line of cumulonimbus building – no doubt the leading edge of that coming front which would be squeezing the pressure gradient ever tighter.

Fishing in the Swells with a Scotch on the Rocks Nearby....Great Way to Wind Down
a Day....Guess Who?
By late afternoon the wind and waves were in accordance with Commanders’ latest forecast, with south-westerlies up to 14 knots and rolling swells at 8 to 10 feet coming from the northwest.  It was a comfortable ride as we all surfed the following seas and continued to troll the fishing lines.

Nevertheless, the forecast for mid-day tomorrow – as we would be approaching Horta – was calling for gusts to 30 knots with swells to 9 feet and perhaps 5 foot wind waves on top of that.  So we used this time to ready the boat for rough running.  Essentially that meant all loose items were securely stowed or lashed in some fashion, all drawer and cabinet latches were in the closed or locked position, and all portals and hatches were (or would be) dogged down, and all spare part containers and oil barrels down in the laz ang engine room were strapped down.

Shortly before sunset, Cameron on Jura downloaded the latest high resolution GRIB weather file and from that noted the weather system seemed to be moving a bit slower than earlier prognosticated.  That would be good for us if we could make the turn into Horta’s protected harbor before it started blowing really hard.

As the sun set behind us we could easily make out the line of ominous clouds heaing our way.  But we also had a nearly full moon beaming like a spotlight tonight, and we only had 112 NM to go to reach our destination in the Azores.

Angela Fendering Up Before Entering Horta's Harbor
Daylight on Thursday 08-Jun brought a high overcast….65F, SST 66F, winds 15K from SW, swells @ 8 feet with comfy intervals and a few feet of wind chop.  Not great, but surely not as bad as forecast.  At 0900 we were just over 20 miles from the Azores, with an ETA between 1230 and 1300 depending on which SOG readout you wanted to believe.

The ride into Horta was pretty benign overall – the big storm and frontal system had slowed, and we hit a weather window that was good enough for all boats to tie up.  While it was quite breezy the skippers handled their boats magnificently.  It’s a bit crowded here, so Relish and Jura moored alongside the big commercial sea wall, and everyone else took up a rafted position from there (and dropped an anchor in the process as a precaution against the 40 knot winds yet to come.)  Not the most elegant or convenient arrangement, but we were happy to be there nonetheless.
Azores Coming into View from the Pilot House

All boats took on some fuel from the truck today, although with the exception of Aleoli the others did not need to top off all tanks.and then we’re seeking a long walk on land and the nearest pub.  And then some uninterrupted sleep before we delve into the weekend maintenance activities.

As of now it appears that only Angela, Moxie and Relish will depart together for the next leg to Gibraltar, likely on Monday.  Aleoli will hang out here an extra day or so to enjoy some time with family visitors who flew in to join them.  And Jura is headed north to England and Scotland.  
Rafted Up in Horta

We also have one crew change in the works....Michele who has been aboard Jura for this long leg to Horta will jump aboard Relish so he can also get to Gibraltar with the rest of us.  That also gives the current threesome on Relish a much more tolerable watch schedule for that next leg.  Welcome Michele!!  Of course that now gives them two folks with the same name, we need to noodle nicknames to manage that.

After refueling was completed it was a nice change of pace to get off the boat and walk into town for a meal and a few libations to wrap up a very tiring but satisfying journey. 

As the weekend weather outlook here improves - rain ending and sunshine over the next few days - it's likely we'll get more time off the boat and the opportunity to tour an island or two in the Azores chain (there are nine in this volcanic archipelago).  So if the opportunity presents itself we'll try to post more photos.
Chelle and Rick on the Bow with the Azores Looming in the Background
Five Nordhavns Rafted Up in the Horta Harbor

View of the South Harbor from the Town