Antigua to the Azores – Part 2

2nd Update from Sea: 22nd May 2020
32deg10’N 036deg06’W

Fathom is currently 575 nautical miles from Horta and 1,656 nautical miles from Antigua. The second week at sea has been all about taking the ‘low’ road not the ‘lo’ road! Although I have faced no direct issue from Tropical Storm ‘Arthur’, which is currently N.E of Bermuda, it has been playing havoc with the weather systems in the North Atlantic and has meant my path towards the Azores has been more of a dog leg rather than the more conventional arc to the north.

 

After a fantastic first week of sailing, I reached 30degreesN on the 14th May, day 9 at sea, and that evening a weather front swept overhead introducing some cooler and less humid air with a wind shift to the west, then north, and then north east before it veered back to the south east 36 hours later. It was frustrating facing some headwinds but after so long lazy sailing in the trades probably about time I worked for some miles. The worst part was the drop in temperature which forced me to wear a T-shirt and sleep under a blanket at night. I don’t imagine I’m going to get much sympathy for this but it was a bit of a shock. A total calm then descended for the next day and a half so I decided to use the engine instead of listening to the maddening sound of banging sails as Fathom rolled in the swells. Queue a mildly stressful moment when the engine refused to start, just a click of the solenoid. It turned out to be the start battery which is on the way out but thankfully I can start the engine by linking in the house battery bank. All ok unless It gets too low on charge so I’m being careful. I celebrated passing the halfway mark on the 16th by breaking my no alcohol at sea rule and enjoyed a cold beer at sunset to mark the occasion.

 

Looking ahead I could see from the weather forecast, and was also warned by friends ashore, that there were two threats lurking. The first was a large low pressure system that was deepening and looking increasingly nasty. It’s direction of travel to the east was converging with mine so I made the decision to alter course and put some distance between it. It was a pain losing miles to the south but I wanted to err on the side of caution. On the plus side the detour meant I qualified for another halfway beer as miles had been added on to the total distance and I passed half way again! I continued to sail on a south easterly course on the 17th and that night, as I was on deck in full wet weather gear in torrential rain, I realised it was the first time I had dressed up like this since sailing down the South African coast in December 2018. Still heading to the south east on the 18th and 19th, losing latitude all the while, and a little frustrated at having to endure more very light conditions and lots of motoring. Just as I was getting a bit concerned about the low diesel reserves a Norwegian yacht, ‘Ocean Viking’ sailed close by and we got chatting on the VHF. They kindly offered me 20L of diesel but with a large swell running it was too dangerous to bring our boats close together. Instead they put 10litres of diesel in two 20litre jerry cans, tied them together with rope attached to a buoy, and threw the whole lot into the ocean in front of Fathom. I then motored up, leant over the side and caught the rope with the boat hook and hauled the whole lot aboard. It worked like a charm and the whole experience was quite surreal: speaking to strangers face to face in the middle of the Atlantic! I continued preparation for some bad weather during the afternoon of the 19th and during a check on deck noticed that nearly all the screws in the mainsail batten cars were loose and one had fallen out. No issue as I had a replacement, was just relieved I had checked everything carefully. I made a huge batch of stew in the thermal cooker which provided easy dinners over the next few days.

The low passed by on the 20th and in the end we had gained enough distance from its centre that there were barely any gusts over 20kts and it was a bit of a non event. The sea got up into a confused mess but was easily manageable. Friends on boats further north experienced gusts over 40kts and had a tough time of it. The next threat to address was a mid ocean ridge, a spin off from TS Arthur that was developing in the wake of the low pressure system. The forecast showed 25 to 30kt north east headwinds above it and south west winds below. Directly on the ridge line an ugly mess of thunder storms and heavy rain squalls. This was far from appealing so I decided to carry on to the south east where I calculated I could sneak around the corner of the ridge on the 21st, and then stay in favourable winds up to the Azores. The timing would be touch and go but I was now committed to the low road.

 

Yesterday, the 21st May, was my birthday, and the best present of all was confirmation I could sneak around the ridge and remain in the good winds. I baked a chocolate cake and celebrated with a tot of rum! Back in 2016, I also had a birthday at sea, arriving in Spain that day after a storm in the Bay of Biscay. At that very early stage of the voyage, I remember feeling completely disheartened and ready to pack it all in. Four years later, I must admit it did feel good to be enjoying a birthday in better conditions, with a few miles under the keel since that miserable day in Spain, and to be on the way home.

The forecast for the next few day’s indicates that I should remain in favourable southerly and then easterly winds, but there is a small chance of meeting some headwinds a day or two before arrival in Horta. In the meantime I’m enjoying the sailing and Fathom is going along nicely. Now there is finally less weed floating about I’m determined to catch a fish to spice up the evening meals. The lockdown rules in the Azores are such that yachts are only permitted to stay 48 hours to take on provisions and then must be on their way again unless they have repairs to carry out. I plan to arrive with ‘something’ time consuming to fix!