3rd Update – From Horta: 28th May 2020
The final days to Horta, after my last update on the 22nd May, turned into a race against time to beat strong northerly winds. I had a feeling that the SE winds would fail before I arrived and sure enough the new forecast on the 23rd indicated some calms and then 20 to 25kt headwinds would arrive with a punch in the early hours of the 27th, my ETA @ 5kts was a few hours later at 06:00 the same day. Typical. At this stage there were about 460 miles to go and I calculated I had about 300 miles worth of diesel left. In the meantime, with 12 to 15kts of good wind still blowing, I went into full speed mode with Fathom lapping up the miles under full main, yankee and staysail. Just after downloading the depressing weather forecast I was on the head, sending a package off to sea as my Dad used to say, but while pumping it on its way the discharge hose jammed up. This is due to calcium build up inside, it happens every so often, but the timing could have been better. Without taking it all apart there was no chance of getting it working again so bucket and chuck it for the timebeing. A method that is always reliable!
The 24th started with a beautiful sunrise but it appeared far too early for my liking at around 04:30 so I put the boats clock forward an hour to UTC -2. I realised that I should have done this a few days earlier and still had 2 more hours to catch up before making landfall in the Azores as they are on UTC time zone for the summer. A French yacht appeared on the AIS, also bound for Horta, and as we got close we had a chat on the radio. They were friendly but told me rather pompously that I should be sailing under a gennaker and not with two headsails. I replied that this configuration had worked pretty well for the last 35,000 miles to which they didn’t have much of an answer! To my surprise my old uni mate Barney, the Captain of J-Class yacht Velsheda, then called me up after overhearing my conversation. He asked if I needed anything and we exchanged positions. Unfortunately they were 15 miles to windward of me and our paths were not converging. A shame as a rendezvous with Velsheda at sea would have been quite the photo opportunity.
Later that day the breeze began faltering and as the speed dropped the ETA slipped and my thoughts increasingly focused on how unpleasant it would be to bash to windward for the last 50 to 100 miles, making slow, uncomfortable progress to Horta. There were now around 300 miles to go so I decided to motor-sail to improve speed. I am always reluctant to use the engine but there are times when it makes sense and this was one of them. But oh no, not again. It wouldn’t start! Same problem as before, just a click from the starter motor. I linked the house battery bank which had worked the last time but still just a click. Shit! Floating around in a calm waiting for headwinds nearly called for a glass of rum but one last try. It reluctantly started. With Fathom now making 6kts towards Horta I decided to stick to coffee for the timebeing. A little later, while clearing yet more weed trapped on the self steering paddle, I noticed some rope trailing behind the boat. Not my rope and despite my best efforts with the boat hook I couldn’t free it. Only one thing to do, jump over the side. With the wind calm, I dropped the sails, put on my snorkel and mask, tied myself on to the boat and after a good look for any Portuguese Man of War jumped in. I have dived into the ocean a few times over the last years and everytime it is a surreal feeling to leave the safety of the boat and have thousands of metres of water beneath my feet while wondering what hungry sea creatures are looking at me and licking their lips. It didn’t take long to unwrap the rope from one of the propeller blades and I was back onboard within a minute or so. With the water temp now around 21 deg C it was certainly refreshing and in hindsight actually nice to have a free bath! After an eventful day things ended well when a pod of dolphins approached to say hello just as the sun set. I spent a good hour on deck watching them play around in the bow wave which is always entertaining.
The wind remained light out of the SE during the 25th, too light to sail with any great speed, so in fear of the engine never starting again, I continued to motor-sail. With the help of a little current pushing Fathom to the NE we maintained a good speed of 5.5 to 6kts. The ETA started to look good again but it remained touch and go whether we would arrive before the headwinds. Today it was the time for a visit from some small porpoises but they were shy and didn’t accept my request for some jumps. The weather became very unstable with some strange looking clouds and rain showers. I decided to bake another loaf of bread and hoped it would be better than the last one which had not risen very much and had tasted a bit odd. While kneading the dough I noticed that the ‘grains’ in the multigrain flour were actually moving. Weevils! The flour was infested with them. Somehow while making the previous loaf I hadn’t noticed. No wonder it had tasted strange but I guess I should be thankful for the extra protein consumed.
I continued to motor sail into Tuesday the 26th, and with about 5 to 6 kts of wind on the beam, and half a knot of useful current, Fathom raced along at over 6 knots. I now knew I could reach harbour before the N winds arrived at 03:00 later that night, and spent a relaxed day cleaning up the cabin and reading. I also decided to give my unruly seabeard a trim and make my appearance a little more presentable, not that there was any chance of socialisng off the boat on arrival, let alone ashore. Feeling productive I even decided to try and unblock the toilet discharge hose which proved to be a messy mistake and I regretted that shortly afterwards. Definitely a job to undertake in a non rocking boat in the anchorage! 10 miles from Horta, with daylight fading and in a complete calm, I could just make out the volcanic peak on the island of Pico and sat on deck with a cup of tea watching Storm Petrels swooping around the boat and gliding between the swells. After a somewhat tense race to arrive in time it was a nice relaxed finale.
I got the anchor down just before 22:00 local time. It had been good to exchange messages with Ben and Caroline on ‘Balou’ and Tim and Gayle on ‘WildBird’ before I arrived and nice to chat with friendly faces as I entered the anchorage. Overall it had been a fast passage from Antigua at an average speed of around 5kts. I had avoided the gale and the bad conditions in the NE ridge but that had meant plenty of calms and motoring. I think I made the best choice overall. I felt sorry for Greg on ‘Nebula’ and other yachts still at sea that would not make landfall before the headwinds set in, it would be a long slog for them. After attempting to sail to the Azores from the UK in 2016, and failing, it felt great to have finally made it four years later. I guess you could say I took the long route to get here. The anchor beer(s) tasted oh so good.