Wednesday, 3 August 2011

In search of summer

Darting about
The rendezvous with the two Pauls and Roy went without a hitch and we spent a very pleasant evening in Fettler's cockpit, together with Joe and Jayne from the Canvas Factory, who gave us lots of great local tips. The first of which was to go to the Dartmouth Arms for pizza, which we duly did.

The next day was the day of the Seafeather self-steering installation on Hyskeir by yet another Paul. Things ran into difficulty immediately when it became apparent that the frame for this would not clear the rudder. There was talk about delays, remaking frames etc., until Jim got out the sheet metal saw and proposed cutting off the offending part of the rudder. Paul T. had to look away as Jim neatly sawed the top end of his rudder off and all worked out in the end.

The following afternoon we set off on a Corinthian cruise in company up the River Dart. A gale was raging outside, but we were hoping to be sheltered from it. Alas, it was not so and spray was whipping over the river and the wind was howling. The sky looked particularly black at Dittisham so we decided to pick up a mooring and wait for the squall to pass. Shortly after, the call came through on the VHF from the two Pauls wanting to just stop right where we were, but we coaxed them on around another bend where shelter improved.

To get to our destination, the pub in Tuckenhay, we had to go on a challenging zigzag course up a drying side arm of the river. Since we had the only working depth sounder we formed the avantgarde, with Hyskeir following, blissfully unaware of the times that we squeaked through depths of 1.4 metres! After only one brief grounding we made it to the pub, to find an enormous Ovni (a French-built aluminium boat, mighty expensive) taking up most of the mooring space. We were assured that it was perfectly safe to dry out next to a grassy slope further back. It was a beautiful, peaceful spot and the beer was good, but the poor skippers had quite a night of shenanigans to ensure a smooth drying out.
A well-earned pint at the Maltsters, Tuckenhay.
Scenic Totnes
The next morning we rode the tide up to the pretty market town of Totnes, end of the navigable part of the River Dart. The weather was still rubbish so after a delightful cooked breakfast and a pleasant stroll around town we went for a sauna to get warm. On our return from the congenial Albert pub we found the vessels heeling over at crazy angles (due to the lines from the mast still tightened from drying out at lunchtime) and not wanting to dry the boat out another night we decided to high tail it downriver in the twilight and pick up a visitor's mooring at Stoke Gabriel. Since Paul T. had our inbound track on his chart plotter, he formed the avantgarde this time, straining his eyes on the little screen, while we had a most enjoyable motor behind in the still evening air.

Back in Dartmouth we said a hurried goodbye to Hyskeir who headed off east and took Paul J. on board for one last sail. Since we had to bash to windward, we only went as far as Salcombe. The Salcombe Estuary is very scenic indeed, but it is also insanely busy. Coming in, we had to dodge countless ribs towing donuts, two dinghy races, kayakers, ferries, water taxis and etc. Too much! After dropping Paul and topping up with fuel and water, all we could do was drop the hook, drink some wine and collapse. We anchored upriver, back of beyond, about 2.5 miles from town and had to pay £7.20 for the privilege. This is the first time we had to pay to anchor and hopefully the last!

Up to the Azores
Our plan had been to make for the Scilly Isles and spend a few days there before heading to the Azores. However, as we emerged from the Salcombe Estuary into an unrelieved greyness of sea, sky and air, to rain and an unpleasant sloppy chop, we decided it was time to bid adieu to Olde England and go looking for the sun.

The wind was from the southeast at that stage, handy for a quick exit from the Channel. The sea state was outrageous, however, and it was not long before I was violently seasick. Jim gallantly held off until after the Lizard. It was a tough day and night, but it got us clear of the Channel and both sea state and weather improved. The wind turned westerly and stayed that way for the next seven hundred miles – an uphill sail all the way!
When conditions are poor, this is the most coveted spot on the boat.
It took a couple of days to recover from that first day, but some dolphins appeared to welcome us to the deep ocean and that helped. On day 4 we ran into fog, which enveloped us for the next 300 miles! Without the AIS, this could have been an edgy time, but as it was we set the CPA (closest point of approach) alarm to one mile and relaxed. Jim radioed one big ship, which had been on collision course and altered course for us. We barely saw the colossus one mile away. However, despite the limited visibility, both a sperm whale and a minke whale swam close enough to be seen – maybe two boat lengths away. Jim was lucky to see the sperm whale dive: “I heard a rumble like distant thunder and turned round in surprise. It wasn't distant at all, it was right there – the Leviathan – an enormous brown mass that rolled slowly forward, raised its tail flukes (nearly as long as the boat) high and sounded to the deep.” The fog played havoc with our Tacktick solar-powered wind instrument, whose battery ran down for the first time ever due to the lack of light.

We finally emerged from the fog at 44N, 17W on day seven, described in the log as 'the first day without discomfort'. At last we could sit in the cockpit without oilskins! From now, the weather improved rapidly. Soon we only needed to wear the oilskin bottoms at night, then no oilskins at all but still sea boots (very impressed with our new Yacht Boot Company neoprene-lined boots, by the way) and before much longer we were barefoot round the clock.
A typical sea-going cockpit scene. Topping up the battery on a sunny afternoon.
And airing out the bedding.
Sadly the wind died as the weather improved and we had a 48-hour motor to get west and find some more. The wind in the last few days of the passage was very fickle and changeable, but we did have one beautiful starry night of downwind sailing.
At last! A bath after 9 days at sea. Water temp: 20C
We ate very well throughout the crossing, thanks in no small part to the tinned goodies donated by the many good friends who came along to our leaving bash. Highlights included cassoulet (in the thick of fog), wild boar ragu with pasta, Turkish white cheese on Ryvita and Tesco's finest ham on water biscuit. The fresh supplies lasted the entire trip; we arrived in Ponta Delgada with four potatoes, one onion and one orange left. For breakfast we always had porridge, made with milk powder, brown sugar, desiccated coconut and banana or dried dates. The new paraffin stove worked out very well, especially the gimballed tray for putting stuff on while cooking in a running sea. The new 3.5-litre pressure cooker also came up trumps and saw a lot of action: dhal, stews, soups, risottos and plain old steamed potatoes (served with olive oil or tinned fish) are staple pressure cooked dishes.
Coffee time. Relatively rare at sea.
Jim spotted Sao Miguel at 0700 on day eleven and we had a lovely sail around the island to Vila Franca do Campo where we'd decided to anchor next to a small island, not wanting to spend a night on the exposed concrete reception quay at Ponta Delgada. We arrived at the Ilheu around 1900, saw the anchor hit the sand in 7 metres and went for our second swim in 11 days. The sea temperature was 21C – we had found summer at last.
The Ilheu da Vila. A shallow lagoon formed from a volcanic cone.
Day 12 was just supposed to be a gentle sail, 11 miles to Ponta Delgada, but turned out to be a hard four-hour thrash into a Force 6. We arrived pretty shattered but delighted to be in, concluded formalities with the authorities and caught up with some friends. There have been lots of changes in Ponta Delgada since we were last here three years ago: new marina, new waterfront, half-(and seemingly never to be) finished casino. The new marina looked nice enough, but as we found out to our cost, peaceful it ain't. We were craving for a good long night's sleep only to be kept awake until 4am by an outrageously loud bar, where a cover band butchered one classic after another. The next morning Jim went straight along to the marina office to spend some time with his friends there, drank coffee, invoked the spectre of a tearful wife (tears of rage, more like) etc., and ultimately secured a coveted berth in a peaceful corner of the old marina where we have since managed to catch up on sleep.

Days sailed: 11.5
Hard on the wind: 8 days
Fog: 3 days
Becalmed: 3 days
On port tack: 7 hours
Water usage: 60 litres (2.5L per person per day)
Fuel consumption: 40 litres
Ryvita consumption: 5 packs
Fish caught: 0
Species of whale spotted: 3


The Hon Sec! said...

Superb read chaps

Marc said...

So good to hear from you. Get plenty of rest!

Penny said...

Again, you are never far from excitement and challenges but all the while having an amazing time. Thanks for the sailing with dolphins clip, utterly captivating. Take care & lots of love, Mum

Karen said...

Thoroughly enjoyed that! Took me away from the Edinburgh rain for a moment