I departed Sines early on Friday morning bound for the small island of Porto Santo which lies 470 miles to the south east. The weather forecast suggested two days of fresh north east winds followed by a 24 hour period of light south west winds and then a northerly wind returning following the passing of a weather front. Not a perfect forecast but decided to push on anyway. In fact it was a mixed bag including two beautiful sunsets, some great downwind sailing, some tedious upwind sailing, some sun, some rain, a squall, several calms and a fish called Houdini. Below is a small summary from my log for each day of the trip. Scroll down for some video. More on Porto Santo later.
Day 1: Friday 9th September
Departed Sines just after 08.00. 15 knots of wind from the NE this morning allowing a broad reach and good progress. Must admit to feeling a little queasy for the first hour as there was quite a swell running but soon settled in to the motion and now feeling good. Just after lunch the wind rose slightly and the speed over the ground hovered around 7 knots for a few minutes. There is about 1 knot of favourable current so Fathom was pretty much at hull speed. Really great sailing.
Keen to clear the shipping lanes by sunset and early this afternoon the AIS collision alarm went off and I could see that a 300 ft cargo ship had a closest point of approach of 90 feet. A little close for comfort! Called them up on the VHF and the officer told me he would change course by 20 degrees and insisted on calling me ‘Sir’ which I thought was very polite. Trouble was with only a few minutes until the two boats would be at their closest point he still hadn’t altered course so I called the ship up again his reply being ‘i’m very sorry sir changing course now’!
It is now 21.00 and just put a 2nd reef in the main as wind is over 20 knots and I like to be conservative at night. Hasn’t really made any difference to the boat speed which is hovering around 5.5 knots.. Cooked spaghetti bolognese for dinner and appetite was at 100%. No fish today.
Day 2: Saturday 10th September
At night I sleep in 30 minute blocks and put my faith in the AIS alarm and the radar (which does a sweep every 15 minutes and beeps if it detects any other vessels within 6 miles of the boat). It does take some getting used to when the boat is sailing on by itself into the dark and I am trying to switch off and sleep below. Fathom has travelled 138 nautical miles in 24 hours since leaving Sines at an average of 5.75 knots so very happy with progress so far. Downloaded a weather forecast (GRIB file) and checked emails via the Iridium sat phone while drinking my morning coffee. Forecast still showing 24 hours of headwinds from later tomorrow so progress will slow.
This afternoon I really felt in rhythm with the sea and in good spirits. So good in fact I decided to cook for dinner a chicken leg I had in the fridge with some sage and onion stuffing, potatoes and veg. This evening the wind hovered around 10 knots and I sat on deck and watched the sunset which was very pleasant. Tried to take some video (see below). Still no fish despite using the lure Jean gave me which he promised always works. I have noticed that about 30 minutes after sunset each day the wind tends to increase by 5 to 10 knots.
Day 3: Sunday 11th September
Fathom really does like a decent breeze from aft of the beam and 123 miles sailed in the last 24 hours so no complaints. Despite saying I would refuse to use the engine I did so for two hours this morning when the wind dropped to 4 knots and the sails were banging about in the swell. I hate that sound! It did though allow some juice to be pumped into the batteries which were under 60% as the solar panel cant keep up with the fridge and radar running through the night. The towed generator will come into its own in the trade winds but not used it yet.
This afternoon I went on deck after a short nap and noticed our boat speed had dropped by half a knot. Looked astern and could see a big fish thrashing about on the end of the line. At last! Began to haul in the line but the damn fish did a Houdini and managed to free itself. Not a happy skipper for a few minutes after that.
One moment of concern this afternoon was after another short 20 minute nap I went up on deck and noticed a fairly large ship passing me less than a mile away despite the AIS alarm not having gone off. Turned out the ship wasn’t broadcasting an AIS signal which is illegal. I called them up to tell them but they didn’t answer.. Hope not to meet many like that again.
Wind has dropped to 7 knots this evening and speed over ground is down to 4 knots. Headwinds on the way tomorrow. Pasta and Pesto for dinner. 150 miles to go.
Day 4: Monday 12th September
Tired this morning as didn’t get any decent sleep last night. Was up on deck constantly adjusting the course and resorted to using the engine twice during the night for an hour at a time during two periods when the wind was down to 3 knots and the boat was rolling about in the swell. At least the batteries are charged. Skipper is a bit grumpy.
By 08.00 the wind had backed to the west as forecast and by 15.30 this afternoon our heading was due south. Don’t want to slip any further south so just put a tack in. It is now 21.00 and Fathom is sailing on a course of 300 degrees away from our destination. Waiting for the weather front to pass so the winds return to the north. At sunset Fathom has only progressed 25 miles towards Porto Santo since 08.00 this morning.
Day 5: Tuesday 13th September
Woken up at 03.00 by torrential rain. Wind suddenly rises from 10 knots to 25 knots then to 30 knots as the front goes through. Throw on my oilies and lifejacket and harness and on deck to put another reef in. 20 minutes later all is calm again, the rain has stopped and the wind has veered 90 degrees. Fathom can now head directly for Porto Santo again.
Swell is from the north but the 24 hour period of SW winds has made the sea very confused and Fathom is rolling about all over the place. Eat up the rest of the miles to Porto Santo during the morning sailing downwind in 10 to 15 knots of wind. The island appears at first to be a series of several steep and isolated hills but soon merges into one. Arrive Porto Santo 15.00 and call the marina who say they are full but anchor in the harbour which is preferable anyway. 470 miles covered in 4 nights and just over 4 and a half days. Now for a cold beer!