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Passage from the Azores
A case of Too Much, Too Little, or the Wrong Kind of Wind

The urge to start our passage back from the Azores to France and mainland Europe began to exert itself during the previous week. We were becoming slightly bored of Horta, and I fancied visiting Graciosa on the way, to complete our collection of all nine Azorean islands. Admittedly we had only visited Pico by ferry. The grib files indicated a window of opportunity to visit Graciosa with very light winds on Tuesday and Wednesday .. necessary if we were to leave the boat at anchor for any period of time. So the plot was hatched, and set in stone.

Please don't now confuse the issue by introducing any subsequent changes and developments in the weather! Such, for example, as the unexpected south westerly blow associated with the forecast front that we experienced the evening we arrived at Graciosa, a day earlier than originally planned. Nor please dwell on the fact that we spent most of our time at Graciosa on Tuesday hunkered down in the cabin keeping out of the way of alternating heavy showers and banks of scotch mist, so saw little of the island.

On the evening before our departure, with the latest grib files to hand, it became fairly obvious that the little local high was going to be more tricky to negotiate than we had anticipated. Also, it must be said, I had not quite got my head around the sheer (small) scale of the grib file charts, or the distance we were about to travel. I did not appreciate the fact that the light winds circulating around this high would extend perhaps as much as 180 nm to the north! The plan was to work through this area, using the winds as best we could, which I was sure would be understated as usual. We would then be able to hang on the coat tails of a fairly deep low centred north of the English channel, reaching across a broad band of north westerly winds. Hey presto! We would be enjoying French croissants in no time!

Our route

The pilot guides suggest taking a northerly route to latitude 47, before turning east. This is a longer way round, but avoids the risk of being headed by northerly winds prevalent nearer the Portugese coast. This is what we tried to do. My first fundamental mistake came from lazy navigation: too used to putting waypoints onto the computer and letting that do much of the thinking for us. A glance at the table below shows that despite motoring for the first day, we only made good 26 miles! The main reason for this was that I had ignored the fact that the instruments were dealing in Magnetic bearings, and with Magnetic variation at 11 degrees west, our northerly course was actually setting us west! I didn't pick this up for a couple of days, when we were trying to work out what the instruments were up to. It was a fundamental mistake to make, made worse by the distances we were trying to cover, and further aggravated by the fact that we do not like sailing dead down wind. We would have been much better setting a course of around 030 or even more.

DayLoggedDistance
to go
Made good
1122116526
2113113952
380108739
468104873
511297544
68893189
7121842109
8119733108
911762577
109854898
1198450103
12108347107
13116240111
14122108739
15202020
TOTAL15021165
Map showing our passage from Graciosa, Azores to Duarnenez, Brittany

Wednesday 1st August - departing Graciosa 122nm logged

(Note: The distance run is that logged during the 24 hours, from 10 am to 10 am, based on our 1000 hrs departure from Graciosa. It therefore includes mileage from the following day.)

All the same, despite the weather issues, at 1000 hrs, off we set. We had discussed the possibility of returning to Terceira to await for a better window, sensibly mooted by the mate, but the suggestion had not appealed to the skipper. The die was cast.

With light mainly southerly, but variable winds, never more than F2, we motored all day, watching the barometer expectantly for signs that we were coming out of the high. The tension was relieved, first by the sight of dolphins, and by certainly one, and possibly two turtles swimming in the calm seas. At one point with a glassy calm, a pod of dolphins came and swam around and behind us for some time, so that they could be clearly seen deep down in the water. Overnight, there were the bright lights of what we assumed to be an almost stationary fishing vessel and an almost full moon. Mo was bemused by another very bright white light just above the horizon: this transpired to be a planet, perhaps Venus, rising in the east.

Thursday August 2nd 113 miles run

In anticipation that we might have spells of light following winds, we had prepared the cruising chute for an outing while we were in Horta. This monstrous sail has been resting in the forepeak lockers since it disgraced itself on the delivery of Fuga from Holland to Gosport in 2003. On that occasion, having seriously broached several times, the gennaker pole fitted to the boat had snapped, and the torn pole end had destroyed the tack of the sail, which had to be dumped in the water behind us. We had had a new longer pole made up using the end fittings of the original, but planned to be used as a conventional pole from the mast, instead of protruding from the bow. This had also allowed us to mount a larger anchor on a bow roller. All it required was a downhaul, and plenty of courage, which we have lacked for the intervening 9 years!

With light southerlies, and the engine having run all day and all night, I was on the foredeck in the early morning running the guy, sheets, downhaul, sorting out the jackstays (run over the jib control lines, not under them) and getting the pole out ready. The chute has a snuffer, so I was able to extract it from the bag, hank it on and lash it down. My only mistake was to try to raise the pole myself, as in doing so I caused it to clang on the pulpit, and this caused a sleepy, hot and cross Mo to emerge noisily from her sleeping bag, accusing me roundly of impatience.

Getting the whole lot up was something of a learning curve: I had hanked the snuffer on to the halyard, not realising the sail was not attached inside. Then the snuffer lines were snagged, and the guy needed to be re-routed to the pole. Eventually the sail was up, set and tweaked, and our speed climbed to nearly 4 knots, then later in the day to over 7!

Later we spotted a waterspout from a whale blowing, and then others. There was a group of perhaps four whales, up for air, but they soon disappeared from view and were too far away to photograph.

The investment in the monster had proved very worth while, as we were able to sail all day, the S/SSW winds persisting, finally dropping it for the night just before 2000 hrs. There was still no sign of the north westerly winds, and the pressure had built to 1026 and remained there or close to it. The modest little high was not so modest, and we seemed instead to be in a ridge of high pressure that had merged the various smaller highs around us and made nonsense of our forecast. There was no sign of the promised land of north westerlies at all. The skies clouded over and we had a brief heavy shower, seeing very little of the full moon.

Friday August 3rd. 80 miles run

By the morning, the winds had backed to SE or E, and freshened slightly. We tried to head east, as we had in fact made good northing the day before, but lost a little towards the west. Our second day's run with the aid of the monster, and motoring overnight had been 113 nm. The autopilot had gone into standby mode twice while motoring, resulting in a crash starboard turn each time. In the morning I found the remains of our fishing line twisted up and broken with the lure missing. Maybe it is still around the propeller. Mo is quite grateful it is out of the way, as she does not enjoy the rare consequences of catching a fish, although she does not get involved in the butchery herself.

We found ourselves quite confused by our instruments: there was a large discrepancy between the course steered and the course over the ground. We had noted that the AIS position of the vessel we had seen during the night fishing was quite some way from the radar echo. The magnetic variation the (Raymarine C90W) plotter was using, set to auto, was a couple of degrees east, but we knew the variation here was around 11 degrees west. I set this into the plotter on manual, and it seemed to improve the sense of everything. However, when the plotter was switched off, later it would be showing 11 degrees east, (it seems it does not save the minus sign), introducing a 22 degree error!

During the evening, the wind backed away again to the ENE, NE, just where we need to get to, and became very light overnight. Mo heard what she took to be a whale 'breathing' and noted that the depth guage was showing 9m, and then gradually increased. She fastened her harness, hung on, and hoped that it would not take a closer interest in us!

We had already decanted all our spare diesel cans apart from one for emergencies into the tank, so we made the best of the little wind that we could. Our progress, to 1000 hrs on Saturday was a mere 80 nm through the water, and only around 35 nm made good towards our objective, 1045 nm away on 073M.

Saturday August 4th 68 miles run

The light and variable winds from the NE sector continued through the early hours, but strengthened in the morning to give us F3, and occasionally F4, so that we were able to make some slow progress to the north. We kept hoping for them to back to the NW, and tantalisingly they did go NE, then NNE. Occasionaly we would get a flash of NNW, but we now put that down to the effect of the swell on the wind vane. In time the seas became rougher, with a slight NE swell, that slowed our progress. We found that the opposite tack was more profitable sailing along the line of the swell.

We had one brief visitation from some larger dolphins that came to investigate, and then disappeared. We heard but did not see a whale blow, then later in the distance, a small group of them. Mo was happy that they stayed away.

We were still puzzling over the compass variation dilemma, and decided to perform the compass setup manoevre, requiring two slow circles. With full sail up this was not so easy, but it seemed to work, and resulted in more sensible and consistent readings.

We decided this was cause for celebration, so enjoyed a small drink before supper, despite our determination to dry out during the trip. Once more Mo and the freezer excelled, with chilli sauce and rice for supper.

Sunday August 5th 112 miles run

Overnight the wind dropped away completely, and getting nowhere we ran the engine, initially for an hour and a half. Then Mo was struggling, so we ran it again for two periods of one hour. Finally, fed up with the slatting and chafing, we dropped the sails, locked the wheel, and turned everything (except the fridge and freezer) off. Mo wasn't sure that the anchorage, as she called it, gave sufficient shelter from the swell in all directions!

We calculate we now have only 87 litres of diesel remaining, having made very little progress towards our destination. That's enough for 30 hours of motoring, but we need to keep our batteries topped up as well. We have kept back 15 litres in a can in case of emergencies. We have logged 373 nm through the water over 4 days, but have only made a rather depressing 128 nm towards our destination!

Analysis of the grib file, with the benefit of hindsight, shows that I made a bad mistake deciding to leave: there was no way that I could have covered the distance to pick up the low in time. We are stuck now in the middle of the high, at 1028 much higher than the forecast 1023. We will have to wait, and hope that the next low materialises, and we can hitch a ride on its coat tails.

The Monster on its second outing after 9 years in the lockerWe realised later we had the clew to the pole and tack to the sheet
The tack had been rebuilt by Flew Sails following the delivery trip

No sooner than I had written the last paragraph, than westerly zephyrs appeared on the water, gradually increasing to around 4 knots of wind speed. We brought the Monster out of his cage, and were very soon coasting along at a gentle couple of knots under Monster alone. Gradually the wind strength improved, and we started to make some progress, until by late afternoon it was getting into the Force 4 range and we began to chicken about getting him back in to the cage. Eventually we brought him in without trouble at 1745, and then set the main and jib, that in fact gave us a similar boat speed, but not quite in the same direction.

Clouds began to bank up behind us, as the wind strengthened, and the seas became quite rough. We took in one reef. We were chomping along at a rate of knots, with Little Jack Horner sat in his corner of the cockpit, legs under travel rug, trying to keep warm and snug. I hadn't quite appreciated the increase in wind strength, and at our change of watch at 0100, everything suddenly went belly up. I had unzipped my jacket, and was about to disrobe when the autopilot decided to perform its 'standby' trick. Fuga rounded up into the strong wind, tacked with mainsheet fully out, such that one of the sheet ropes got hooked up behind the pedestal, flicking up the winch switch cover and turning the starboard winch with the mainsheet loaded on... I flew into the cockpit. Mo had just come out of her sleeping bag and was in the heads. I screamed at her to get dressed, and to bring my lifejacket with her so that I could harness on. Meanwhile Fuga, much overcanvassed, and I performed a dance trying to get her under control. Mo couldn't find my lifejacket, and I then realised I still had it on, albeit undone. Once Mo arrived, we managed to get some rolls on the jib, and then set about putting a second reef in the main. This did not work, for reasons we could not see, so we then tried to get it down. It was only when I went on deck to try to hand the main down, I found the reefing line caught around the spinnaker hoop on the front of the mast. We actually didn't need the main, and let a little of our rolled jib out to get ourselves a respectable 6 knots albeit a little further northward than we ideally wanted.

Monday 6th August 88 miles run

Good progress, although with uncomfortable motion and breaking wave crests bubbling around us. At 1000 hrs we had made 112 nm in the 23 hours since we left our 'anchorage', and actually trimmed 88 miles off the distance to our landfall.

In the afternoon the winds shifted and started to increase from the south west, accompanied by an intense rain front. Of course it was blowing from astern, so the only way to keep the cabin dry was to shut the hatch and slide the cover back over. There was nowhere to keep out of the rain in the cockpit, although we found the sunshade on the back of the bimini helped. The wind soon raised a short sea running counter to the remains of the easterly swell, with breaking wave crests hissing past us, but the wind barely reached Force 6. We made some rapid progress for a short while under jib alone. Quite soon, however, the front passed and the wind veered to the north and west at around Force 4. We started the engine to raise the main, only to discover that the VDO was now U/S due to the rain, despite my attempt to seal and protect it with silicone. With the northerly wind we were able to make good progress, now on our course for Pointe de Penmarche and Loctudy at around 080M. Unfortunately it was short lived, and we had to endure more whanging of sails and rigging as we rolled helplessly in the left over seas.

The Grib file forecast from when we left had predicted the passage of the low and front, the problem is that it is very difficult to be entirely objective about forecasts. It is so easy to place upon them the interpretation that you would like. However, as it's eight day life is drawing to a close (and we shall see if it correct about the next low), I spent some time trying to get a weather fax from either Hamburg or Northwood using the SSB radio, without much success. Once again it is a big learning curve with the kit, the software, propagation and the transmission schedule, all of which I had sorted but long since forgotten. The Navtex continues to give me stuff from Newfoundland and Iceland, but rarely if anything, remotely useful. I caught the tail end of the shipping forecast just before midnight UTC(?) on 198kc/s long wave, but was too late for anything but the coastal forecast around the UK. It seems the times have changed, as I was actually hoping for a news bulletin! We will await developments and see what comes.

Mo was allowed two hours of engine time in the early hours, so that she could make some progress. This time the VDO managed to stop the engine, but the display is hardly working at all. I borrowed Charles' special tool to undo the screws in Angra, and will have to wait until I can buy one in order to dry it out. Maybe by then it will be too late?

Our distance logged over 24 hours was only 84 nm despite the useful winds at times, but we appeared to have made a little more than this towards our destination. Maybe there is some current working in our favour.

Tuesday August 7th 121 miles run

With the engine off, we were back to slapping around in the confused seas, going nowhere. I tried to organise a better preventer, but gave up in frustration. If the boom was controlled, the upper sail and battens just seemed to slap around louder than ever. I sheeted the jib in, dropped the main as far as it would go without handing it down, and switched off the autopilot. Mo offered to get up to hoist the Monster, but even he would struggle in these conditions. Cue for a light southerly wind to pick up: up again with the main, and a gentle 4 knots towards our destination.The pressure has dropped, how long before the low and its front arrive?

One of three storms brewing behind us

We could see dark clouds building up behind us, with two distinct storm clouds. We watched as they dumped their load of water and were grateful we were not under them at the time. Unfortunately a third centre materialised further south, and we were unable to outrun this. When it hit us, its onset was so sudden that we had to rush to try to retain control as Fuga went into a broach. The sea around us was completely flattened, and water poured off the sail. Fortunately we had already dropped a reef in as a precaution, but Mo found herself clinging to the shelf above the 'sea berth' while I grappled with the wheel to bring us up into the wind. There was no time to look at the wind instruments, but the gust must have been up in the 30's. The squall was over as suddenly as it arrived, and was replaced by a calm. Once more, we were going nowhere, until gradually a breeze filled in and increased, backing from the west through south to south east.

Wednesday August 8th 119 miles run

The SSE wind persisted all night, and we made steady progress, strengthening in the early morning. We saw a container ship travelling west: the first vessel or sea creature (other than the sheerwaters) that we had seen for three days! We dropped in a second reef, and had the jib well rolled, but were still sailing along at 6 or 7 knots. While we were in clear sky, behind us an impressive bank of cloud built up around what we assume was the centre of the depression, resembling something like an enormous Olympic stadium. We could see its northern edge, rounded at the top like a marangue, but with wispy clouds attached to it, its darker centre, and slightly more diffuse edge to the south. We hoped it would not overrun us, and we were lucky, as it seemed to move to the south, and increase in size. We were sailing away from the centre, and as we did so pressure slowly built. At one point, the wind was Force 6, and gusting 7.

We hove to on the opposite port tack in order to open the fridge, and to be able to use the toilet! The wind moderated, but later in the evening we were caught by a small shower, again briefly carrying some stronger wind, followed once more by a shift to the west and relative calm.

Thursday August 9th 117 miles run

The low cloud sloped down until it reached the sea as a fog bank

The day dawned dull and grey, with freqent fog banks. It was interesting to see how the cloud descended gradually, until it merged with the fog at sea level. Above, the air looked quite clear. The south easterly winds had persisted all night, enabling us to make fast progress, but not exactly in the right direction. Having headed north, as the pilot guide suggested, we had originally been constrained by the southerly winds, so that we had in fact made a little westing. The pilot guide suggested going north until latitude 47 degrees north, but as we were heading for Brittany, we had opted to head east from 46 degrees. Now we were being constrained by the south easterlies from heading directly for our destination!

It really proved to be a 'nothing' sort of day. There were no ships, not a single flash on the 'Seame' radar transponder, nor any sign of an AIS transmission. There were not even any sheerwaters about, simply a solitary tern. We saw a large group of dolphins some distance away, possibly preoccupied with their supper, but they ignored us completely. There was plenty of fog, alternating with some bright sunshine, cloud, wind, and then later rain. Unable to read her book because of the motion, Mo was reduced to day-dreaming about houses and holidays..

We hove to for supper, to make cooking it (i.e reheating one of Mo's excellent pre-prepared meals, this time a chicken casserole), and eating it, easier. We washed up, squared away, Mo retired to rest all in relative comfort, and then we resumed our journey.

By this time we were down to our second reef, with a well rolled jib, and the wind had headed us a little further, now ESE and a full Force 6. Our eight day forecast based on the grib file downloaded before we left was now useless having expired the day before. In retrospect, it was remarkably prescient. My attempts to get a weather fax through the SSB had not been notably successful: for a start I don't know what the transmission schedule is, and we are not getting a clear enough picture onto the computer. It may simply be the headhone/microphone connection between the SSB and the computer. We are now picking up the long wave shipping forecast from the UK, although it does not cover the waters where we are. The Navtex is, as usual, pretty hopeless. Newfoundland and Greenland are ok, but only sporadic reception from Europe. We are of course out of its theoretical working range. I had picked up from the shipping forecast and the French Navtex a hint of northeasterlies, and was hoping for those.

I was therefore very irritated when, having listened through 'A Book at Bedtime' and the opening bars of 'Sailing By', the autohelm went into standby yet again, putting Fuga in irons into the wind before I had time to get out into the pelting rain to reset the pilot. By the time I returned the announcer had reached the coastal weather reports, so I had missed my slot! Reception during the day is practically useless.

Mo planned to relieve me at 0100, but by that time conditions on deck were very dire. It was bucketing down with rain, and blowing F6 and F7 in equal measure. We were not making much progress, because of the seas, and we were now down to a pocket handkerchief of jib and our second reef. I encouraged her to stay in the bunk, and she did not seem to object! The saving grace of this awful watch was a display of phospheresence such as I have never seen before. The waning moon had not materialised, dark clouds overhead made it dark and filthy a night as you could imagine. All around us, the crests of waves were breaking, and with each breaking crest there was a great release of greenish light. As Fuga plunged up and down and through the waves, we threw out blankets of light on either side of us.It would have been almost impossible to spot navigation lights, if there were any, amongst the heaving, flashing natural lighting. If only it could have been photographed!

Friday August 10th 98 miles run, 76 made good

When I finally decided that I had had enough, and the Force 7 had given way to 5's and 6's, I called Mo up. Deciding I wanted a cup of tea, it was necessary to get milk out of the fridge. I was lucky..and Mo suggested I left it out. Returning it to the fridge, various items leapt out at me, including a large unopened pot of Yoghourt that split on impact, covering me, the floor and the drawers with yoghourt in equal measure. I insisted on returning these to the fridge, but they did not want to go, and seeing the fun the middle shelf decided to jump out too, along with all its contents. It did not make it out quite, though, and instead jammed the door so that it would not close. Eventually order was restored, Mo putting many of the contents into a basket on our bunk forward. By this time, my tea was cold! Not exactly what you want after 10 hours on watch!

One of my suggestions to Mo for future exploration in Fuga is to visit south west Ireland, a suggestion which for the moment Mo is vigorously resisting. You can imagine my surprise and delight during the watch the previous evening to discover that we were headed directly there, and that the nearest land to us at the present time is in fact Cork! I broached this with Mo as we were doing the navigational catch up, and desperate as we are for more fuel, she declined to take up the suggestion. She will buy Falmouth, but not this time, Ireland.

With the passage of yet another heavy rain cloud, our fortunes appeared to change. Behind it, there was an immediate clearance, and a watery sun even made a brief guest appearance. Much more welcome, however, was an easing and shift in the wind direction from ESE to South. Although it did not last long, and soon went back to SE, it was a harbinger, perhaps, of better things to come?. We may yet get to southern Brittany this year?

On watch after supper, I listened to the reports of the Olympics on Radio 4, and once again put up with a panel show that seemed to be 'any questions about food', a cross between 'Any Questions' and 'Gardeners' Question Time' that is being repeated from July, every night this week! Talk about cheap programming! As a result, I was pretty tired and bored, and heard once again the opening bars of 'Sailing By', only to wake up to the National Anthem. I am not having much luck with the forecast!

Saturday August 11th 98 miles run, 108 made good

We left a precautionary reef in overnight. The night was very dark again, with a waning moon absent until the early hours, and even then rising behind cloud. We were luckier, however, because overhead the skies were clear, and the Plough shone down. We spotted aircraft that had been missing from our skies, and the occasional meteorite too. The wind veered to the west gradually, and dropped, so that Mo was left with whanging sails once more, making slow progress but in the right direction.

In the morning, my initial thought was to invite the Monster out. Mo counselled caution, correctly, because of a large dark cloud hovering in our path. It did not in fact affect us, and seemed to disappear.

Mo had been off watch and asleep for barely an hour, when the mainsail suddenly crumpled from the top. Clearly there was a problem with the halyard. We continued for a while, with the main held up by the shrouds and the cross trees, but as soon as Mo had returned to the cockpit we rounded up and took the main down. The halyard had chafed through on the backsplice, presumably where it entered the sheave. It is something I am wary of, but I had not noticed any undue wear and tear. Getting the halyard out of the mast proved tricky: there appeared to be a rubber grommet inside the mast that would not clear the exit point, but eventually the halyard came out with considerable persuasion. We had put a new, heavier topping lift in, purchased in Croatia in 2007. It was amazingly cheap, and looked it, as well as fraying at a number of points, so was not serviceable as an emergency halyard. I thought that we should run the old main halyard in its place, but although carefully joined end on end it would not enter the sheave. It was an odd rope, presumably Spectra, with a soft sheath, probably 12mm. We replaced it in 2005 because it was too bulky, and supposed that it was making dropping the main more difficult. We called a halt at this point, to get some rest..The wind meanwhile had settled in the west, and freshened to Force 4 or 5, so we were making reasonable progress under jib alone, although rolling in the cross swell. We were also excited to see two ships passing close by: things must be hotting up.

Our wildlife feature for the day was provided by the sheerwaters once more. There were perhaps fifty or more wheeling and diving in a feeding frenzy, calling out to each other. Normally they seem to be endlessly prospecting, soaring amongst the waves, either singly or in pairs. They obviously have a method of calling in reinforcements when they find their prey.

Later we got the regular halyard, with its shackle secured with a sewn lashing and binding, run through in place of the topping lift. We left the main down, however, as with the following seas and wind we would simply be rolling and crashing about without making much more speed.

By this time it was late before we had supper, and I had missed the 'News at Ten'..and yet again more programmes that did not interest me. Once again, I missed the shipping forecast, although we are seeing a bit more luck with Navtex.

We are beginning to think about our landfall. Mo has refused to entertain County Cork or Galway Bay, and I have a distinct preference for southern Brittany, as that is what was planned. Mo' son David may even have booked a flight out there. We realise now that our C-Map legitimate chip containing the west coast of France was overwritten by some Mediterranean offering, and we have long since disposed of our 2004 Macmillans Almanac - its back to Reeds now! We are distinctly lacking up to date information, but at least we are now able to sail for the time being in the right direction. I suppose it is down to the old adage, that "Rocks don't move!", although where we've been there is volcanic activity in various places, and they actually do!

Sunday August 12th 108 miles run, 108 good.

It was a dark, cold night, and we both spent most of our watches lurking down below, with the hatch cover up. There is nowhere to shelter in the cockpit with the wind astern. This morning it is uniformly bleak all around, with fine rain, while the wind has backed to SSW from W. Pressure is back down to 1010, and the low pressure system seems to be slipping back towards the north. I thought about putting the main up, but will wait until the rain has passed and the wind has settled down.

One ship passed us around a mile away, and Mo also saw one. The first appeared not to be running radar, as we were not detecting a pulse, and the second was not running his AIS.

During the morning I was fairly sure that I had spotted a group of whales. Once again it was the fountain of water, as one of them cleared their tanks, that caught my eye. They were well over a mile away in rough water, so it was impossible to be sure, but there seemed to be several, and I thought I caught sight of a tail.

At first we unrolled progressively more jib, but in the afternoon conditions ahead began to look very bleak, with the barometer steadily dropping as the depression that had tracked south now headed north towards Ireland. The wind picked up to Force 6, then gusting 7, and the jib had to be rolled back in. The forecasts on Navtex, and the UK shipping forecast, had no mention of 7. We were running before trying hard to keep to the rhumb line to Pointe de Penmarche. Periodically the autohelm dropped into standby, and we would have to rush on deck to reset it. Often it was drizzling, and we had to keep the hatches closed.

As the evening progressed, the wind increased further, until it was Force 6 and 7, gusting to gale 8 and 9, with the barometer dropping to 1002. The seas were building, and now with minimal jib out we barely had the steerage way to keep the boat under control. When it did lose it, rounding up into the wind, recovering in the dark and seas was a nightmare. Our compass light is u/s. I don't think I could have kept the boat pointing in roughly the right direction as consistently as the autohelm was managing to. Once again we felt it was best for Mo to doze out her night watch, although she said she had not slept, and adrenalin and snacks kept me going until the wind had eased and it had begun to become light.

Monday August 13th. 116 nm 108 made good

The wind had died on us to a miserable F1/2 from the south east. We motored for six and a half hours to try to make some progress. Dolphins had appeared on my watch, and kept us company as we sailed along quietly for several hours. They did not jump out of the water, but came to the surface, and you could hear them blowing. Again, there was no moon, but you could see them swimming and turning around the boat by the phospheresence. On Mo's watch they continued with us, despite the fact that we were motoring.

Tuesday August 14th 122 nm

The wind went around to the west, and Mo suggested we let the Monster out. At first it seemed to be going far too well. Then having raised the sail in its snuffer to the masthead, we began to try to tease it out of its bag. It is difficult to see what you are doing, trying to remain secure on the foredeck, surrounded by so many lines. So the snuffer was half way up, before it became obvious that the pole uphaul (our second self tacking jib sheet pressed into service) was wrapped around both the forestay and the Monster in its snuffer, stopping the snuffer from lifting. It took some while to retrieve the whole lot, sort out the problem, and re-launch it. The wind however remained obstinately at 3-4 knots, so that the Monster would not really fill, and only made a marginal improvement. Then, when the wind shifted, trying to gybe it proved too much of a trauma, and we put it away without really having achieved anything for two hours hard work. Mo unkindly remarked that she should have sent the photo of this second wrap to Peyton, had she taken one. Unfortunately he has had to give up drawing his cartoons.

The wind soon died away again, and picked up once more from SSE/SE. There had been conflicting forecasts on the Navtex and shipping forecast, made worse by the fact that we did not know the names of some of the forecast areas, and did not appear to have a publication with them in. We searched the boat, but it seems we have given away our old Almanac, and surprisingly the information is not in the pilots for Biscay.

After supper, with Mo having turned into bed, I had another look at the Navtex. Suddenly there appeared to be general agreement that it was going to blow, and blow hard with severe gusts, initially from the SE, then later veer to the SW. Given that we were having trouble fetching our required course with light winds, it seemed that we would be fetching up on the very rock-strewn Penmarche coastline with little sea room and nowhere to go. We were still some distance away from the coast, so it seemed sensible to free off and make landfall north of the Isle de Sein, and head instead under the lee of the peninsular to Douarnenez. At this point there were 48 miles to the buoy marking the reefs off the Isle de Sein, after which the (Chaussee de Sein) run in to Douarnenez was a further 30 miles. We put the second reef in to the main, and gradually rolled in more jib as the wind freshened.

Wednesday August 15th Douarnenez 20nm

It was as well we had changed our plans. The weather deteriorated rapidly late on the Tuesday evening. It was every bit as bad as the French Navtex had predicted, starting with Force 6 and 7 from the SE and SSE. It then threw rain down in buckets, enough to blank out the radar while we were trying to negotiate shipping rounding the corner off the Chaussee de Sein buoy. There was a fishing boat ahead, doing its stuff, and a lot of commercial traffic crossing us, heading north and south.

After the rain there was a lull, during which I set more jib in order to keep Fuga moving, only for the wind then to veer and re-appear in re-invigorated form, at Force 7 with gusts of 8 and 9! It was first light. At some point we lost control. The autopilot goes into 'Standby' still at random intervals, despite Peter's efforts in Horta. Mo had been down below, shouting the odds from the AIS below, and put on her lifejacket to come up. We were able to get the main down altogether; this required climbing up, clinging desperately to the mast in the heavy seas, to hand down the last bit of sail, and grab the halyard to bring it down and around the winch to stop the sail blowing back up again of its own accord. From this point we ran on under a small amount of jib alone, making good speed with the S/SW wind. The seas were enormous, and we took several green ones across the boat - the first time in 9 years.

We anchored off in Port Rosmeur, behind the main fishing port. Even this was traumatic, as in trying to stow the anchor chain low down in the locker for the journey, I had managed to trap a section of chain so that it would not come up the hawse pipe to the winch. We were then blown out of position by the wind at our further attempts, so we only succeeded in anchoring in the right place at our fourth attempt. It was 1430 UTC, the journey had taken 14 days, and 4 hours 30. The total distance logged was 1502 nautical miles. We collapsed gratefully, with the help of some wine with our lunch. It continued to blow all day.

Catering en route

Mo had done a wonderful job, mostly while we were in Horta, preparing for the trip. She had laid down in the freezer packs of chilli, bolognaise sauce, Thai chicken curry, chicken casserole, each pack containing sufficient for two meals. All the duty watch (that's me) had to do was boil a pan of water for pasta, boil in the bag rice, or potatoes, heat up the thawed out dish of the day, and serve up in bowls. We also had Tortellini, and we had a pack of tuna sauce. We had some pizzas for lunch, crackers and so on. We had long life sliced bread in abundance for sandwiches. Our fruit lasted, but our normal breakfast fruit fest salad with cereal was suspended for the duration. For snacks we also had muesli bars, Mars, Snickers and Twix. We occasionally had a happy hour drink, and I had some small stubbies which served for a lunchtime beer. We both lost an agreeable amount of weight.

Vital resources

Our VDO engine control instrument succumbed to water poured onto it en route. This provides us with both engine hours and a fuel guage, as well as the ability to stop the engine. Engine hours provide a more accurate assessment of fuel usage (3 litres per hour). After the instrument packed up, we kept a manual log of engine hours. We ran the engine in total for 49.5 hours, and the generator for 30 hours, utilising an estimated 159 litres of fuel. The tank holds 160 litres, and we added 55 litres from cans en route, so arrived with 55 litres in hand (sufficient for, say, 15 hours of motoring), plus 15 litres retained in an 'emergency' can.

Our main problem, of course, was the limited fuel we carry. Fuga's tank will allow us to run the engine for a maximum of 50 hours, say perhaps 250 nm. We expected the trip to take 12 days, and we had to keep the batteries up. Using the engine to charge would need around 9 litres a day, although the generator is much more efficient and only uses 1 litre a day. We had topped up the tank at Velas,and then promptly burnt 20 litres getting to Graciosa, which we replaced from a can. This left us with 55 litres in cans, in addition to the tank. I did not like the idea of having to use a lot of fuel at the start of the trip.

Our water tanks were filled at Velas, and ran out a day before we arrived, so lasted us 15 days. They hold 400 litres. The fresh water flushed toilet seemed to be in regular use, and probably accounted for 20% of our usage. We had bottled water for drinking, and Mo had secreted reserves of dubious origin all over the place, with around 60 litres in the lazarette.

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