From Azores to the Med (or maybe not!)
22 June 2013 | Barbate, Spain
Midday Sunday 16, we were ready and psyched for our next crossing. Our only concern was that we had discovered one strand broken in both the port and starboard shrouds. We were planning to sail conservatively and had replacement parts being shipped to Gibraltar. The weather forecast for the crossing looked good. It was going to be a quick, short (5 days or about 200 m/day) and pleasant passage from Sao Miquel to Gibraltar, with Por Dos on a beam or broad reach for most of the way. After the Bermuda to Azores crossing, this was going to be a stroll in the park, I thought. Oh! Boy! Was I wrong!
In the afternoon of our second day at sea, we suddenly hear a "bang". The shackle at the head of the mainsail had broken and the main had neatly folded itself on top of the boom. The main halyard was at the top of the mast. This had happened to us once before while crossing from Hampton in the Chesapeake to Marsh Harbour in the Bahamas. That time we had pulled Mark up the mast with the spinnaker halyard and he had retrieved the main halyard with no issues. So, not a problem, we would just do the same and then we would somehow attach the main to the halyard and continue sailing. Very quickly we realized that the conditions were not the same. As Mark as was going up the mast (with his crash helmet and his climbing harness on, the boat was swinging with the waves, and the mast was swinging with it. The higher Mark was, the more violent the swing of the mast. At one point, with one of the violent swings, I saw Mark flying in the air wildly, legs horizontal to the mast. He managed to wrap his legs and arms around the mast. The kids and I were holding our breath while looking from the cockpit. A couple more times, the violent movements of the top of the mast, took Mark flying again, his legs and arms crashing against the boat's rigging. He had to hang to the top of the mast for dear life; he did not have a spare limb to get the main halyard down. We decided it would be better to lower Mark down and rescue the halyard another time. We all breathed better once Mark was on deck. He, of course, was sick as a dog, and he had a pretty bruised left arm. I was happy to have Mark safe and no main sail. There was enough wind that even with just our relatively small jib we were moving at 6 to 7 knots.
Day three, early morning, still under jib alone, my watch, another snapping sound. I decided to investigate. More bad news! Now, three of the nineteen strands on the shroud wire had broken on the port side (windward side). I checked the starboard shrouds. Sure enough, there were two strands broken on the starboard shroud wire (instead of just the one that we left with.) Would the rigging come down? This is all new rigging. We had the rigging totally replaced two years ago. This should not have happened. Although, Mark thought that it was improbable that the rig would come down (as it is quite oversized), we set up the spinnaker and the gennaker halyards to windward to reinforce the windward shroud. Also we were flying just the jib so the force on the rig was a lot lower than with a full main.
Of course, our dreams of getting to Gibraltar on Friday had become just that, dreams. Most unfortunately, the winds were going to change as we were getting close to the Straits of Gibraltar, from favorable Westerlies to "on-the-nose" Easterlies. By Friday evening, we were motorsailing on a close reach with the starboard engine. In the wee hours, the starboard engine started to make an awful noise. It seemed that the transmission coupling had collapsed. Mark switched to the port engine. What else could and would go wrong? Well, the wind, of course! By mid morning on Saturday, we had 20 to 25 knots of East winds, motoring with the surviving engine against an increasing chop, we were doing barely 3 knots. As we were approaching the Spanish coast on the West side of Gibraltar, the wind and waves continued to increase. Finally, we decided to pull in to the last port before the Gibraltar Straits, Barbate. We approached the breakwater wall on our port side in 30 to 35 knots of wind. The sea was frothing white and Mark was having a hard time turning to port with just one engine. At some point, he thought he would have to do a 270 degree turn or end up in the tuna nets just outside the harbor. Once inside the marina they directed us to a port side dock. Por Dos did really not want to turn that way. Lucky the docking spaces were big, and there was plenty of space to move. It was not our most relaxed and graceful docking but by 3 P.M. we were safely tucked in the protected marina de Barbate.
This had been our hardest crossing so far. In part, because of our expectations of an easy and fast sail to the Med; in part for the anxiety about the rigging. We were tired and cranky, but decided to go out for dinner and celebrate. We were in the Med (well, almost there).