Sunday, 13 May 2012

Gone *with* the wind

Farewell to Porto Santo
As was very often the case on the Atlantic islands, the decision to depart came suddenly with a fresh weather forecast with the destination likewise a surprise: Baiona, instead of Santa Maria. A week of southwesterly wind was simply too good an opportunity to pass up and so we have catapulted to Galicia, giving us the prospect of an entire summer in the Rias of northern Spain.

Finally the fellowship of Fettler and Roede Orm was forced asunder, with the Orms peeling off to the Gulf of Cadiz, but happily the Kodiaks were going our way, having likewise altered their planned Azorean route to suit the weather.

The day of departure was sunny and breezy and once we got clear of Porto Santo, with 700-odd miles of open ocean ahead, the pace was set for the rest of the voyage. Apart from a couple of half-day windless spells, the wind held true to the southwest, F5-6 - more or less tradewind conditions. The seas were moderately boisterous, forcing us to stick to a sail plan of poled-out working jib alone. Not the best setup for speed, but no worries about backing mainsail or jib and easy for the self-steering to deal with. It did make for a very rolly ride, and though no seasickness was suffered we didn't have much of an appetite either.

The rolling made everyday tasks, including cooking, awkward and we stuck to a stomach-friendly diet the entire time. What a healthy life we lead at sea - no alcohol, no tobacco, no coffee, small portions. We would start with a hot bowl of gofio in the morning, then have an apple, an orange and half a banana during the day, with maybe some dried fruit. Lunch would be crackers or crisp bread - with avocado until they ran out - and dinner a potato-based dish. We ran out of our favourite, instant mashed potato, on the fourth day.

It was mostly grey, with a fair bit of rain and rather cold by night (cold weather gear including the duvet and our Fladen immersion suits were dug out for the first time since the passage from England to the Azores).

The main excitement was provided by frequent dolphin visits. Every day but one we had good long sessions with highly energetic and acrobatic Atlantic white-sided dolphins. They were surfing down waves in formation and leaping out in synchrony, doing back flops and belly flops and of course porpoising and bow riding. They came by day and by night, showing off fantastic displays in the powerful luminescence during the darkest hours between sunset and moonrise. I have rhapsodised about glowing dolphins before but it really is one of the most amazing sights there are to be seen. The closest thing to magic there still is in this dull old world.

So long as we kept well offshore (100 mile minimum), we encountered very little shipping, maybe a ship a day. This changed dramatically when we turned in towards the mainland on the last day and crossed the shipping lane approach where they feed in and out of the traffic separation scheme around Finisterre. Then we were dodging ships from 0500 to 1000, with 6 to 8 of them showing at any one time on the 10-mile range of the AIS. The wind, of course, was dropping off steadily at this point, leaving us completely just as we were approaching the inner edge of the lane and forcing us to motor through the last bit to safety. Just at this point we were fortunate in dodging a bank of fog hanging about nearby. We could hear the fog horns of the big ships as they disappeared into the gloom.

Thereafter the last day was lovely, even though we had to motor, with the first warm sunshine since Porto Santo. We had stuff out to dry and sunned ourselves with wild abandon until - dah dah daaahh - the heavy fog bank rolled in. From hunky dory, things instantly turned to chill, drab and damp. From being able to see our destination, we were left to feel our way in for the last 5 hours in the fog and dark. A bit more excitement than we were really looking for at that stage.

Fortunately we are equipped for such conditions. On with the radar, on with the AIS, on with the chart plotting software on the computer! Also, on with the coffee. It was quite an absorbing task to keep an eye on all these devices, as well as a pair peering the boat length or so we could see into the fog. Visibility was zero. It was interesting to see how the radar and AIS still complement each other. Usually a passing vessel would appear on both but there were cases when we could see a target only on  one or the other.

It was only when we entered the bay that visibility was finally restored, much to our relief, and we happily made fast to the pontoon at Baiona at half past midnight, local time, after six and a half days at sea.

Flying the flags in Baiona.
On a 'tapas crawl' with the Kodiaks.
The ramparts of the fortress of Baiona.
Looking out to the Islas Cies.


ant or kay said...

Jim, Sonja. What a fantastic post. Brilliant writing...and that dolphin video is superb. There's plenty of magic left.

Christian und Christine said...

Hi Jim and Sonja! Unfortunately we don't have your e-mail address so we wanted to say thank you again this way for your charts and guidebooks of the Pacific that you generously gave us in La Gomera! We will start our Pacific Crossing tomorrow and are really looking forward to it!
Enjoy your stay in the Rias, it will be great!
Always fair winds,
Christian and Christine from S/V THOR