A final reckoning
01 August 2013
Sorry to keep you waiting for this, but here are a few final thoughts on my voyage:
Ocean sailing is much easier than you think.
You spend too much time in advance worrying about bad weather when your time would be better spent considering light airs.
My round trip was 18,000 miles from Falmouth to 56S and back again.
The total time spent at sea in winds of F7 or greater was less than 60 hours.
I went from Lisbon to Uruguay without ever once coming on the wind in average wind speeds of force 3 - you could have done it in a Mirror dinghy.
By contrast, on the return trip I was on the wind roughly 70% of the time, and certainly hard on the wind (mostly around F6 and rough seas) all the way from 150 miles north of the equator to home.
Light airs do more damage to boats than heavy weather. Sheets fray and chafe, shackles work lose, knots come undone.
The Lopolight failed 100 miles out and never worked again (My second such failure) I used an anchor light as an all-round white light at night but this failed after water ingress.
One halyard holding a light airs genoa chafed through at the masthead.
Several sets of steering lines from the Monitor wind vane to the wheel were replaced -chafe
The Monitor wind vane safety tube fractured 1,200 miles from home.
The spool valve on the Katadyn watermaker failed, but easily fixed with good support from Mactra.
A Lewmar sheet car became detached from its track during a hiatus in the Beagle Channel, and lost all its ball bearings.
Compass light failed
Deck level nav lights corroded to a green pulp
Anchor windlass foot switch fell apart through corrosion
Corrosion is a big enemy: you get rust streaks in places you didn't think possible.
The spray hood was seriously ripped on a couple of occasions; once by weight of falling water, and the second time due to a flogging sheet.
The rig gave no problems but the cap shrouds were noticeably slack by the end.
No engine, starting, or battery problems. However, I did spend 24 hours chasing a leak in the diesel feed pipe which eventually proved to be a pinprick hole in the copper pipe tucked away in a conduit beneath the galley -that was fun.
I had 150 watts of solar power and in the tropics this was more than enough to run everything including the fridge. In cloudier parts we needed a few hours of engine every third day.
The instruments repeatedly fused going southward. Instruments don't tell you much at sea so I was happy enough without them (see my column in the current 'Sailing Today') This was traced to a short where the cable passed through the throttle housing and had become crushed (another of those one in a million chances).
On return, there was much about the boat that was weary, if not broken. Sheets, traveller sheet, some halyards and all the sails needed replacing but none failed underway. Most of the sail wear and tear was in tropical light airs.
I bought a v expensive Parasailor but had little use from it;but on the basis of a little experience I would say it was a good bit of kit.
I reckon that 18000 miles represents 20 seasons of average sailing (does the average boat do more than a 1000 miles a year??) If so, I consider th level of gear failure I suffered to be minimal.
I HAVE LEARNED THAT......
....IT DOESN'T MATTER WHAT BOAT YOU HAVE
I saw all kinds of boats in the Beagle and around the Horn. Some of the charter boats plying the Antarctic trade are built like battleships; but I saw a couple of yachts from Europe, neither of them much bigger or stronger than a Centaur and they'd been round the Horn and looked very relaxed about it.
In the Azores I met a Belgian chap, just in from the Caribbean in an 18 footer built out of plywood sheets. He said “it went best in a gale”.
WHATEVER BOAT YOU HAVE YOU MUST KNOW IT INSIDE OUT
This boat was pretty new to me and I spent the first 5000 miles working stuff out. You have to know every nut and bolt of every bit of kit, every rattle in the boat, every sound she makes, and then you instantly know when something is not quite right. It takes time- there's no other way. But once you have that knowledge you can relax.
You must also know where to draw the line. Know what you don't know. I draw the line at taking heads off engine blocks and going up masts. I'll have a go at anything else.
I never reckoned on how much time would be spent doing nothing. Plan for boredom. If you're taking books, movies, Kindle, make sure you have sufficient variety. I read far too many murder books for my own good.
By all means have some ready meals, but have some labour intensive ones too. Peeling potatoes passes time. Bake bread from scratch, and your own cakes. Buy ingredients, not meals.
Controversial, I know, but I went to bed about midnight and got up for breakfast with just a couple of quick lookouts in the night. In the 4000 miles Uruguay to Azores I saw only three distant ships (Although I don't know how many passed in the night but the AIS never went off.) The idea that a good night’s sleep actually added to safety (when away from shipping lanes) was taken up by Chichester, Rose and Robin KJ
It is interesting how quickly you respond to any change in the motion of the boat and wake instantly.
I think the AIS receiver is possibly the greatest safety device of modern times. I also carry an EchoMax transponder.
I had a 25kg Manson supreme. The Antarctic fleet had all sorts of anchors - Rocna,Manson, Bugel and several heavy CQR. The Manson always bit deep and hard and was severely tested on a couple of occasions.
I tested it in widely varying conditions and was well pleased. I did have a diver give her a scrub in Salvador but she had been standing for three months in, effectively, hot soup. I had her hauled in the Azores on the way back and there was not a trace of weed after two months in the tropics, but there was a good covering of low profile barnacles the size of a 5p coin. They took some shifting.
Computers. I used Apple computers for downloading gribs through an Iridium phone. The Mailasail email service was good, but both computers failed. I was able to get messages home via an InReach made by Delorme , which I highly recommend. This also acted as a tracker.
A deck leak trashed the cabin stereo.
If sailing with crew, don't allow them to book return flights. Sailing to a timetable can be dangerous.
Do astro navigation. It's rewarding to learn you way round the sky, and it takes up an enormous amount of time.
it's all over
26 May 2013
The final 24 hours were amongst some of the worst of the trip with near gale force northerly winds all the way up from Ushant with very rough seas. It looked as though it wouldn't give me the slightest break. I thought I deserved a break. I was convinced that with this final hurdle yet to cross, something serious was going to break. Certainly the jib and the jib sheets looked ready to fall apart, and I felt pretty much the same. Saturday morning, 3 am, and the wind headed me - the final insult.Also ships! Dozens of them! I had only seen a handful the whole length of the Atlantic. I prepared for tough old beat for the last fifty miles, but during the morning it fell away, the sea flattened, and eventually the engine went on. For longer than I can remember, I was able to sit in the cockpit and have a cup of tea made with one of the remaining three teabags, and not get wet. For a change, I caught a fair tide round Start Point and made up to Dartmouth at top speed. I had no clue where our new mooring was, but the harbourmaster took to his launch and escorted me alongside. Perfect. Almost to the minute, Libby and daughter Rose arrived after their own struggle against an adverse tide on the M5. Many hugs followed. I was home. The Dartmouth fish and chips never tasted better. To be home in England never felt better.
THE END PS When I come down to earth I'll offer a few reflections and some interesting statistics. But if you have been following this voyage since the beginning, as I know a lot of you have, then I have appreciated your support along the way. I really have.
24 May 2013
Log has now tripped over 18000 miles since Falmouth. Today, faster than expectd. 3 reefs and scrap of staysail has given us 6k most of day. We have just crossed our outward track two years ago 30 miles south of the Lizard...under 70 miles now to Start Point.
(Libby adds: This is most disappointingly unpoetic. I require the Ancient Mariner to go into a full aria of "O dream of joy! Is this indeed / The lighthouse top I see? /Is this the hill? Is this the kirk? Is this mine own countree?"
23 May 2013
Have now reached the Continental Shelf, doing cautious 4.5 k in brisk NW. Could go faster but wary of more breakages, sails now fragile. Indeed it's going to be a struggle to the end. Instruments failed again and possible stern gland leak is being watched. I'm ready to man the pumps. But good fast sailing under blue sky and over lumpy sea. Hoping it all holds together. Jib sheets don't look as strong as they did. Start Point 197nm. GPS suggestts Friday night but many a slip...
23 May 2013 | The Continental Shelf!
Been going along fine at 4.5 k . Rough patch overnight, could go faster but fearful of more breakages, sails fragile after nearly 20k miles. Just crossed onto the continental shelf. F5 NW and sunny but v cold. Nearly at the 200 mile mark. Gps puts me off Start Ptmidnight Friday! But many a potential slip yet.
Head in cockpit locker, electrical triumph
20 May 2013
All well, good progress, 570 miles to go (more than halfway from Azores). Forecast NW/ N for a few days. Fixed instruments and autopilot.Tiny bit of cracked insulation allowed 2 wires to rub. Found deep in cockpit locker and fixed in quite large swell. Good.
European waters. Fixing things.
19 May 2013
Position now puts me N of Spanish coast (400 miles to the East). NW wind, 5k progress, though under reduced canvas so I can try to fix the instruments. The knockdown wave resulted in electrical smoke from the locker: still have GPS but none of the others, and more importantly no electric autopilot, which could become necessary if there's a calm . I now have plenty of fuel .
Am hoping to get in to Dartmouth by the bank holiday Sunday. However, if the wind goes NE and heads me that might not happen.
Small repair of Monitor self-steering drum on wheel: all jubilee clips but one had failed. Luckily I had spare jubilee clips so it only took ten minutes. Always carry many, many jubilee clips. Distance to Start Point: 690nm
Course better. Tea worse.
17 May 2013
I think all the gustiness about 5am was a front.wind now easing a touch and course is 15deg better. And it has turned COLD. Just noticed glass has started to rise a little. Sun now out.
Looks good for progress till end of Monday then NE tues. Hoped to be in by end of Sunday but not if NE sets in. Getting some fax charts by radio now as well as Weatherquest and Meteo France reports via Libby via DeLorme satellite link.
Now it gets really tough- the last of the PG Tips teabags has gone. I bought some bags of 'black tea' in the Azores but it's weak stuff. No body to it. Just had worst tinned meal ever: beans in tomato sauce(good) with added lumps of chicken skin with fat attached (not so good). 900 miles to Start Point.
17 May 2013
Two days out from Terciera. Been blowing like hell mostly. Jogged along on main 3 reefs and staysail. Getting Meteo France reports from Libby for Altair and Charcot.
But just had tricky night, v gusty, 10kts to 35 in a few seconds. Down to 3rd reef and scrap of staysail. Sea state not bad but one rogue wave picked us up and threw us sideways. Sprayhood ripped and instruments taken out. All GPS having trouble getting a fix so am using iphone to check position.
Cascade of water down dorades onto chart table and galley.can sort all this in the morning. Going back to bed. Reckon these little squalls are a front going through. Distance to Start Pt 942.
On the way. Twice.
14 May 2013
Set off from Horta, strongish wind but making the course. Whereon the safety tube on the Monitor self-steering broke. First time in over 16000 miles. I have a spare, but needed flat water and a dinghy to fit it. So - better here than further north - I diverted two hours to anchor off San Jorge, fixed it, and am now under way again. Sea flatter, wind down, all working, 15 miles nearer Start Point than I was. Distance to go, 1255.
(posted by wife Libby from info by text/delorme. Libby now in correspondence with Kemp sails to replace the UV-and-gale-shredded rags currently propelling Wild Song towards Dartmouth)
Let the Last Leg Begin
13 May 2013
Time for the final leg home. 1300 miles to Dartmouth. Oh, I shall be so sorry to leave Horta; it's a perfect little island with a perfect harbour and some of the most decent people I have ever met. Ralph, the sailmaker who looks like Father Christmas, came stumbling down the pontoon with my repaired mainsail - he's done a good job- and I spent most of Sunday morning bending it back on, which is one of my least favourite jobs because it's always a struggle. The forecast isn't perfect, but it never is. There's going to be quite a lot of windward work this week but I'm getting used to that. Having got thoroughly miserable on the long leg north when the food started to get very dull, I'm well stocked with bread,ham,cheeses and meat and it is my ambition to get within sight of Start Point without having to open a tin of damned tuna, or look at a plate of pasta swimming in a gloopy red sauce. The computer is still not working so updates from now on will be based on short messages I send Libby (If anyone's interested in how I do that, Google Delorme InReach).
10 May 2013
I said to the ever-helpful and cheerful Duncan at Mid Atlantic Yacht Services here in Horta, that I wanted a good scrubber for a few hours. Without batting an eyelid he said,"Male, female? Upright or horizontal?" I considered this carefully. I have been at sea a long time, so I opted for the upright male option. A young man called Liuz arrived on board. I have never met anyone in the marine industry as enthusiastic about his work as this man. 'I could deal drugs,' he said, 'but I prefer to work overtime on boats to make some money.' I have never met anyone with so much enthusiasm, skill and an inate sense of helpfulness. He had just come back from a one day course on engines. I never knew it was possible to be so enthusiastic about something made by Yanmar.
Be warned, the Travelift at Horta is small and anything much over 30ft will have to remove its forestay, which is tedious.
There was very little green growth, despite my suspicion that long,green tendrils were flourishing in the tropics and holding me back. But the barnacles were wicked and yielded only to a scraper and not the pressure washer. Despite that, I think Coppercoat did a good job. She hasn't been out of the water for nine months and has sailed through both tropical and subantarctic waters. On that basis I would recommend Coppercoat (professionally applied, though. Mine was done by Pedros at Dartside Quay in Devon).. Luiz' day was made when he got a message from his mum to say her dog had just had seven pups. My day was made when I got back to my berth and find that two of my three sails had been returned, duly repaired.
Big Yot, or Wot
08 May 2013
This place,Horta, is a bit of a crossroads. All the super-yachts are arriving on their way from the Caribbean to the Med. There's a huge bit of kit called 'Lady B'. I swear her ensign is bigger than my mainsail. I met the skipper in the chandlery- his own boat's a 22 footer.
Back to Civilisation
08 May 2013
Flores was a lovely and hospitable place but felt like the small island community that it is. Horta, on the other hand, has got a bit of a metropolitan touch to it. Or at least it has to me; but remember I haven't seen a supermarket for three months. Fantastic! You can walk round and pick things off shelves, and there are kinds of food that don't come out of tins!! I'd forgotten such things existed. I have been eating a lotof bacon sandwiches, simply because I now can. Repairs continue. There is a set up here called Mid Atlantic Yacht Services. This place is a dream. Apart from a properly stocked chandlery (in the middle of thr Atlantic Ocean) it's a friendly and helpful place under Duncan Sweet and his wife. Gas? - no problem. Sailmaker? - no problem. New navigation lights (old ones taking by wave way back)? - no problem. I wish this couple would come to the UK and show some (not all) of our chandlers how to do it. My friends Jeremy and Adrie Burnett used to have a chandlery in Falmouth which I always thought was the best in the world - this place reminds me very much of that. Talking of sails, my mainsail, yankee and staysail have now been taken away but Ralph, a Swiss sailmakers, who looks like Father Christmas. Did I mention the sheer joy of walking into a coffee shop and sitting, typing this, when you haven't seen such a place since Christmas? Starting to think about the last leg now, 1300 miles back to the UK. Won't get away till F Christmas has worked his magic on my sails, but the weather is looking a bit northerly - here we go again.
07 May 2013
Made it to Horta. Calm easy passage, 130 miles under engine and headsail, flat sea. Island beautiful, mist on the mountains. Much to do to boat here, hoping for a lift-out and scrub, mainsail to repair. Getting some sleep now, more later.
05 May 2013
Latest report: set out under headsails and engine for the 126 miles to Horta where I can get the mainsail fixed and scrub the huge tropical goose-barnacles off the hull. Wind and sea unexpectedly came ahead a few hours out, conditions worsening, staysail looking problematical. Turned back. Now back in Flores, twelve hours later, waiting for a window.
Farwell to Flores?
03 May 2013
Preparing to leave in the morning. Euro-irony: cost paid to police E50 to tell them engine not working, which I knew, and E50 to tell them it was fixed (which I know). Now clear to go.
Let it be known that the marina manager at Lajes de Flores is the most helpful, nice guy ever. He is a real star.
Gradually getting sorted
03 May 2013
The mast tangle is fixed now, thanks to the Frenchman aloft. Been very worried about engine, but at last the mechanic came, and it has started!
Mechanic only tried to charge me six quid, gave him twenty, joyfully. Now to pay tow and sort police permission to leave. Moderate SW/S/W winds over next few days. I hope towards Horta.
Trying to get back in the game...
02 May 2013
Stressful...higher than at sea! Running rigging in major tangle, nice Frenchman offering to go up but thunder and lightning, heavy swell, boat moving too much. Hope this afternoon. Engine won't start, trying various things. Mechanic booked but can't come till tomorrow afternoon. Must catch weather window to get to Horta. Will the police allow me to leave? How much will the tow cost ? (nobody seems to know, they don't do it much). Oh for the simple life in the midst of a storm.. Seriously, desperate to get away on Saturday so fingers crossed.
But had much rum with French and Floreans.
Peace at last
30 April 2013
Deep night's sleep, best for months. And isn't birdsong lovely? Much to do. Gelcoat chip from tow experience. Water. Fuel. Clearup. Marina manager's Mu doing my washing, nice woman cooking me breakfast. Ironic that worst week of the voyage (one of worst in my life) is due entirely to the Azores High having moved north to give UK a pleasant spring. Will do fuller account of it all later, probably able to leave for Horta at end of the week. Still wet and windy, though gale down a bit.