Atlantic Crossing: Part Deux

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Our second part of the Atlantic crossing (from the Azores to Portugal) was fairly uneventful up until we approached land and then we had a few moments of excitement (read on to see details!). However, upon leaving Lisbon to go to the south coast of Portugal, we had to sail through a gale overnight (near gale to severe gale). The seas were very large 15′ occasionally really big maybe 20′, but not breaking.  They were uniform and consistently from the same direction.  You would see these big mountains rolling towards you, and you are wondering how the hell are you going to survive this?  They seemed like they towered over us, yet the stern inevitably would rise nicely as the waves pushed under us. Favorably the stern behaved like a bow, an advantage to a canoe stern in big flowing seas.  Next we would be surfing down the waves hit 9.5 kts+.  As you approached the bottom and settled into the water/whitewash the deck would be flooded with water, but never coming into the cockpit.  We stayed surprisingly dry.  The boat was very sea kindly and felt quite stable in the conditions.  We were sailing under a triple reef on  a broad reach with a preventer.  I thought we might have to drop the main and go under furled jib so to minimize yawing, but the boat’s motion was very straight and steady. I guess the force of the wind on our portside main and the force of the waves on our starboard side balanced each other out. We stayed below watching the radar and AIS overnight, coming up above to check conditions. It would rain heavily at times. The one thing we have learned in all these miles is there is no single approach you can use for any given condition.  What worked in 20 kts in the past may not work in 20 kts for the current condition.  Every time you have to fiddle with the arrangement to find what works best for those specific sea conditions.

So, I guess that is what we get for having such a relatively uneventful Atlantic crossing!

With that said, the following is a compilation of the “sail mail” emails we sent to our family over our SSB radio during our passage from the Azores to mainland Portugal:

Day one is always the worse. Looking for our sea legs, again. Jen spent several hours searching in earnest in the toilet for her sea legs as she prayed to the porcelain gods. She said to mention that she sure is glad she cleaned the toilet well before departing. Starting to get our energy back as sail into the evening. Tomorrow will be better. Left with the marina with 15 kts out of the east. 15 minutes later we had 40 kts. This was due, we’re guessing, to the winds channeling down between the islands, plus the usual high winds you get around any point. As we moved beyond the northeast point of Faial the wind quickly settled down. 30 minutes later we were bouncing along in moderate seas and 15 to 20 kts. We are using a weather routing service again for this last leg across the Atlantic. Below is the weather forecast from Commanders’ Weather.

Day two – Very nice day of sailing. 10 to 15 kts, beam to close reach, mild sea conditions. Just gliding along at 5+ kts. Not fast, but comfortable. How do we spend the time? Well…. on my ipad, As Alexander the Great, I have managed a very successful campaign to unite Macedonia and am marching onward to Persia. I hope to conquer the mighty Persian Empire before reaching Lisbon. Jen is happy to report she found her sea legs and has now immersed herself into Jane Austen books. (Rolling my eyes). Dante is on his 9th book. His favorite book so far is called, Hatchet. Why do you like this one I ask Dante. “Well Dad, it is a survivor book about a kid that survives a plane wreck in the forest in Canada near a lake. It is epic!”

Day three – In this moment it is very quiet. 8-10 kts with a long gentle swell. We are effortlessly gliding through the water. One of our favorite ways to sail. Granted we are only moving 3.2 kts, but nice to have a break from the bashing around we did earlier this morning in 20 kts. All is well.

Day four – Please send wind! Today we saw a beautiful rainbow arching up from the ocean into the clouds. Somewhere over there is our destination we thought! It would be nice if we could get there at a speed faster than 4 knots. Today we spent the entire day motoring – no wind. The ocean took on a glassy appearance, almost viscous looking. The good part at least is that with the swell having died down considerably, it is much easier to sleep when off watch. We are still getting a lot of reading done; that’s about all there is to do. For some reason, this passage seems longer than the first leg (which is twice as many nautical miles.) The most disappointing thing about this voyage is that we’re missing the World Series. Just before leaving for Lisbon, while in the marina bar in Horta, we asked the bartender if he could get ESPN over the Internet on the TV. No such luck. Tomorrow we’ll hit the halfway mark. Nothing else to report.

Day 5 – Please send wind. Thanks for sending us some wind! Today we were able to sail “wing in wing” due to a good 15-18 knot breeze from the Southwest. We broke the ½ way point (450 nm). We’ll break the 300 nm mark sometime tomorrow morning. We’re in the home stretch; hopefully the SF Giants are too!! It’s been overcast and drizzly most of the day. We continue to devour books to spend the time. Jennifer is reading about Ernest Shackleton’s voyage, which puts some perspective on our journey. Apart from reading, we did take a break today to have spaghetti and introduce Dante to the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It would be great if we could be more productive, but lethargy prevails. We hope for continued good winds (In Italian – bene vento) to take us to the coast.  Nothing else to report except ….. Let’s Go Giants!! Let’s Go!!!

Day 6 – Gliding Along Nicely. Another rainbow today. This time it was 95% complete – with one end terminating due east. So we figure we must be getting close to Lisbon! We continued to have good wind (gusting to 30 knots); last night (10/28) we had a fast ride occasionally getting over 8 knots. That’s screaming fast for us. Due to this fast 24 hour run we have less than 200 nm to go. I can almost taste the port (wine). More reading today. Followed by a little more reading. Then some more reading. Oh, and my conquest of Persia is coming along nicely. We took break to watch another movie. Today we introduced Dante to “Strange Brew”. You can see we are showing him only the classics. He giggled constantly, which shows he has the same sense of humor as his Grandpop Muchow (it’s his favorite movie). That’s all there is to report.

Day 7 – Landfall tomorrow – Hopefully! Another day spent mostly… you guessed it … reading. No rainbows today, but we have fewer than 100 nautical miles to go. As a cruel twist of fate, the wind is coming from the East so we have the wind almost on the nose, impeding our progress. We’re trying to make enough headway so that we arrive to our anchorage before it gets dark tomorrow. The temperature continues to be good, the high 60s and low 70s with water temperature of high 60s. Still quite warmer than sailing off the California coast in summer, though, to be fair we spend our evening watches down below watching the radar and going up above for visual checks instead of staying in the cockpit all evening as we do when coastal cruising. As for the Giants – we are keeping our fingers crossed.

Day 8 – The Eagle Has Landed. We arrived early yesterday evening (10/30/14). It took us 8 days 5 hours 30 minutes to sail 951.0 NM. We are safely anchored in Cascais, Portugal, located at the entrance to the Rio Teo. We anchored here for the night and will continue this morning up the river about 13 NM to Lisbon. We’ll be there for about 5 days and then will make our way down the coast to Gibraltar and into the Med for Dante’s next series of history lessons – the ancient world. Dante says our boat is like a time machine. I’ve always wanted to sail across an ocean, and with the help of my great crew, the three of us did it! We got very lucky with the weather. It was great that we were able to do this before the fall gales started to blow in earnest. Our weather was surprising mild compared to rougher patches we’ve experienced throughout our trip. Top five roughest weather (so far):

1 – Trying to round Cabo Beata, Dominican Republic. Sustained 35 kts, gusting to 40, big, extremely close together waves, that were starting to break

2 – Rounding Cape Fear, southern most cape of the North Carolina Outer Banks. Sustained 25 kts, gusting to 30, in very confused seas. These conditions were so rough they nearly knocked our outboard motor, secured to the stern pulpit, into the sea. Didn’t help that our auto pilot was broken. It is a big help setting it to steer a given wind angle while Jen and I reef our sails. Without Auto Von Pilot, as we call him, we are short a crew member.

3 – Sailing across the Central America (primarily the gulf waters from Nicaragua to Costa Rica), where the notorious Papagayo Winds blow. Sustained 30 to 35 kts for several days. This was one of my favorite legs of our trip.

4 – Crossing from Baja, Mexico to mainland Mexico. Had to dodge a number of thunder clouds, with winds 25 to 30 kts and confused seas. This was our first experience dealing with the turbulent winds of thunder cells.

5 – Rounding Point Conception, California – Big following seas, gusting to 42 kts. This was our third time rounding this point. We picked a good weather window as it can get very nasty.

(Editor’s Note: Add to this list the gale I mentioned at the beginning!   We’d rank this as #3.  Even though we had the highest seas and winds we’ve seen, we were on a run and not on a lee shore so Cabo Beata and Cape Fear still rank above this.)

Now on to the next adventure …. finding a laundromat. Darold

From Jennifer: I want to say, for the record, that Darold is my hero. Not only is he an amazing captain, navigator and meteorologist, but he is as cool as a cucumber. Let me tell you what happened as we were approaching land.

We were about 0.5 miles off shore as we entered the Rio Teo to make our way to the anchorage at Cascais. All of a sudden the engine dies in a way that suggests we are out of fuel. Yet the fuel gauge is still measuring over 1/4 full. Nevertheless, thinking it’s a faulty sending unit (this is our 4th sending unit), Darold has me take the helm to keep our position while he fills the tank with one of the jerry cans. We have 2 to 4 kts of wind so sailing is barely possible. Side note – how is this for irony…. we spent the entire day bashing to weather in 15 to 20 kts only to have the wind die when we needed it most! We are slowly drifting/sailing parallel to the shore. Nothing too bad so far – except the fact that I was thinking that the engine better start or else we’re in trouble! After filling up, he turns the key and although the engine is cranking over fine, it still does not start even after repeated tries. It’s not getting fuel Darold concludes. Meanwhile, the sun is setting, we are 0.5 miles from a rocky shore, in 75 feet of water, and very close to the harbor entrance bouys. I am (internally) freaking out. Darold, meanwhile, is busy targeting the problem. Could it be a clogged fuel filter, clogged fuel line, a faulty fuel pump, etc….. He is wondering aloud. He lifts the engine cover off, and looks and listens to the engine. I take a huge (audible) breath and he sees the freaked out look on my face and says, “panicking doesn’t help, it just clouds your ability to think clearly. We can always drop the anchor, and we are sailing away from danger. This is just an inconvenience. Relax.” Then he targets the problem as the fuel pump. He realizes the fuse has rattled itself loose so that the fuel pump shut itself off. He fixes it and then hears the pump start to work. “That’s good, that’s good.” He then discounts the fuel hose to confirm fuel is indeed pumping. It is, as he tells me, “we’re in good shape now kid”. He turns the engine again and while it doesn’t start it sounded more promising. You can tell the engine is now getting fuel. He said he’d let the engine sit a bit while he fastened the jerry cans to the topside and then came back to start it. Voila! Who would think that one of the most stressful bits of the voyage would be at the very end? It takes someone like Darold to be calm in a stressful situation and solve the problem. He’s definitely the man I want as my captain.

That aside, I am extremely proud of our accomplishment, but am thrilled it is behind us. However, in the future when encountering work stress, I’ll tell myself, “I can handle this I’ve crossed an ocean in a small boat!”

Dante here – When Mom yelled land-ho at first I thought she was joking. Scrambling above and seeing land for myself I was so excited I could barely contain it. I feel very proud to have crossed an ocean!!!! And if you think of it, my first time to cross an ocean has been by boat, not an airplane. My favorite part was when the Risso’s Dolphins came along our boat one evening and you could hear them talking. And the best thing of all, Dad has promoted me from “Swab” to “Deckhand”. Still not paying me though. I started off as a Barnacle, then Scalawag, then Swab and now I aj Deckhand! Yahoo. Back to Dad…

The total crossing from Harwich Port, Cape Cod to Cacais, Portugal: 2,987 Nautical Miles (that’s 3,435 Statue Miles to you landlubbers), 25 days, 22 hours, 5 minutes. Conclusion …. faster to fly (but you’ll miss all those stars)!


One Response to Atlantic Crossing: Part Deux

  1. charles

    Loving this blog! What are you doing for.books? Downloads to a Kindle? Also, is your home school curriculum on line? Think your trip is great. Thanks for sharing.

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