Across the Atlantic’ Bermuda to Azores
25 May 2019 | Horta, Faial, Azores
TITLE: 'Across the Atlantic’ Bermuda to Horta, Faial, Azores
LOCATION: 38:32N 028:37W
AUTHOR: Richard Rowley
Across the Atlantic – Bermuda to Horta, Faial, Azores
Distance: 1795 Nautical Miles
We left St George’s Harbour, Bermuda for the 1795NM passage to Horta on the Island of Faial in the Azores on Tuesday 7th May 2019 just before noon (Local Time). We set sail in the company of another yacht, Sailing Yacht Emotion, whom we had met back last year in Portugal last year, we were both on passage down to las Palmas for the ARC+ 2018
We planned this departure so that we left just after the cold front of a passing depression had had blown through, riding the tail winds to send us on our way, and hopefully arrive in Horta before the next one came through.
We left in a stiff north easterly force 4 but being hard on the wind we were making slow progress, less than 100NM per day, on average less than 4kts. As the wind started to veer back to the west our progress started to improve. Day 8 we clocked 152NM on the days run, that’s more like it, and average speed of 6.3kts. We were now back on a broad reach, sailing the ‘Tradewinds’ again, south westerly force 4-6.
On our second day out we had caught up with the Swedish Sail Training Ship Gunilla that had left St George’s Harbour a couple of hours a head of us. Gunilla is a 35m sailing ship built in 1940 as a sailing cargo ship, and used as such until 1997, and now converted to a sail training ship, plying her trade of recruits across the North Atlantic Tradewind circuit, still doing what these fantastic sailing ships had been doing since the colonization of the Caribbean by Europeans 400y years ago in the 1600’s
We were alternating between a broad reach and goose-winging on a dead run with the genoa poled out to windward on the whisker pole, alternating from one to the other day after day, before settling down to a broad reach in the starboard tack. We are now making 130NM plus per day (average 5.5kts), noon to noon, not too bad, but on top of that since 16th May (day 10) we have picked up the North Atlantic Current giving us an extra ½ to 2.0kts lift which is very useful, on average it gave us nearly an extra Knot, 20NM per day, that makes a big difference, over the whole passage that could not a day off our overall passage. If we carry on at this rate we could be in Horta by Monday 20th May, just 14 days, better than my passage plan of 18 days.
We had noticed a small tear in the genoa, the large foresail, and furled it away before it could get worse. We rigged up the secondary forestay and hoisted the Yankee Jib, this sail set well and was just the right size.
Unfortunately, the weather forecasts we are getting are saying that this fine sailing weather won’t carry on the same, we can expect a complex low to come through may hit us Monday 2oth or Tuesday 21st, may be sooner, may be later when we are safely moored up at Horta.
By noon 19th May (day 13) we knew it was going to be a serious storm gusts up to 35kts, may be more. And maybe lasting a couple of days before it passes away from us. We will have to start planning now, SY Emotion had access to a Weather Router, his advice was to head south east now and when the first front, the worm front hits us, the wind will back from SW to SSW and increase, we then head off down wind on a broad reach and run before the wind towards Horta. We altered course to 1030 (T) just south of east at noon 19th May (day 13) making good progress on a beam reach.
We dropped the whisker pole, it had been out since day 2, we had not used for a couple of days now and should not be needing it again, and it may well get in the way and did not want to be messing about with it in storm force winds.
Whilst it was still light we dropped the Yankee jib and hoisted the storm jib in preparation, with the storm jib, staysail and 2 reefs in the main and were making good speed, We would be able to furl the staysail and drop the third reef into the main as the wind increased relatively easily.
By noon 20th May (day 14) the wind was starting to increase, gusting to 25kts quite regularly, so we put the 3rd reef into the main, just to prove the old adage, less is more, the boat speed picked up, but still comfortable. ‘Old Harry’ the Hydrovane wind vane self-steering was still doing his job perfectly not complaining and keeping the boat on course
We were awaiting the front to hit us bringing strong wind and rain.
14:00: I looked out the hatch, blue sky above us through thin altostratus cloud ahead of us and to port as well, but behind us to the west and to windward to the south west there was thickening cloud quickly approaching.
14:30: I checked outside again, the blue sky above barely visible through the thickening alto-stratus cloud, astern there was a wall of nimbostratus reaching from sea level high up into the sky, wind speed a good 20-25kts gusting 27kts, this is it coming.
I kit up with full foul weather gear to go out into the cockpit to be prepared to alter course downwind to reduce the apparent wind speed over the deck. By the time I have kited up and am on deck, we have clear blue sky overhead and all around, with just the odd wisp of wisp of cloud. Falling astern and to port the bank of menacing cloud is retreating, passing us by astern going NNE. but there is another bank of cloud on the horizon to windward on the starboard side.
What is happening, what has just happened, has the front and the storm passed us by. We shall just have to wait and see how this pans out, but for now we have a stay of execution.
Not for long; 15:00; The wind has now veered to SSW and increased to force 6, that was the warm front passing, we have borne away downwind a bit now heading for our destination; masking 5-6kts in 20-25kts of true wind the apparent wind over the deck is 15-18kts, and the waves on our starboard quarter, the motion of Cerulean being quite reasonable considering. We sailed on thus making reasonable progress covering 52NM in eight and a half hours
At 22000 the 16m Sailing yacht Tauranga passed us within less than 500m, a bit of a tense time. By 22:30 the wind was 34kts plus, gusting up to 38kts, Force 8 gale for an hour.
23:00 the wind veered as if in an instant to the to the north west, 90 degree, as the cold front passed over bringing with it torrential rain, and we both had to get our waterproofs on and gybe the boat round to get us back on course. Wind still blowing force 6 for further hour and a half until 01:30 the wind disappeared to NW force 2, not enough us to try and make an attempt at sailing, so the engine on and I went back to bed whilst Alison took watch her watch.
At 03:00 the wind went back round to the SE blowing f4. Alison tried pulling out the staysail, but with the wind astern it would not fill properly and then as dawn broke she noticed that the lower starboard shroud (D1) had pulled a strand at the top terminal, this is potentially a nasty situation, we could lose the rig. We immediately furled the staysail and headed into wind and dropped the main to take load off the rigging. As I took the helm again to put us back on course, I noticed, out the corner of my eye a large fishing buoy just off the port bow rapidly coming down on us, I pulled us back round to starboard, took the engine out of gear momentarily as it slid by astern, fortunately we did not get caught up in it, that would have been a whole new chapter. I jury rigged a stay using the downhaul/uphaul line for the whisker pole car on the front of the mast, it is just above the terminal for the D1 shroud. and have sweated it down with a short length of rope to the bottlescrew, I hope that will hold. We still have the storm jib flying from the secondary forestay on the port tack to steady the boat a bit as there is a 3-4m swell running. It is a pity we cannot sail, as there is a nice W f4-5, but as we are in easy motoring distance of Horta only 50NM to go it is not worth risk of losing the mast for.
We had a few rain squalls pass by at dawn but now we have Cerulean blue skies with a few fair-weather cumulus floating by, and all looking well to windward.
Thus, we have been motoring since 05:00, now only 10NM to go, 2 hours or so. The majestic towering mountains of Faial loomed out of the murk at about 10:00. We docked along the waiting pontoon at Horta Marina at 14:30 (boat time), and then moved to a berth on the wall alongside our friends Trollcat…. Relieved to be safely moored up after such a tumultuous voyage we had a shower and went to the bar.
Throughout this, what was to us and epic voyage we sailed in close company with Sailing Yacht Emotion sharing weather information, and tactics. We spoke on VHF at least 3 times a day 08:00, noon and 20:00 at watch changes. We always looked forward to the Noon Quiz with Svenuing and Trude and the 3 children on board Emotion, with whole quizzes on such topics as Mumma Mia, and Harry Potter, Columbus, and the Caribbean Islands, Metrology….it was all great fun and something to look forward to each day. It is nice to sail in company of another yacht. For much of the time we were close enough to see each other, other times we were out of visual contact but still see each other on AIS, but never more than 7NM apart. Our boat speed seemed to be evenly matched. Although I think they held back for us. It was a comfort for both of us to know that there was another boat close by. We saw very few other vessels on this passage, the odd ship now and then would cross our paths.
We were joined now and then by small pods of dolphins, may be 5 or 6 at a time, frolicking in our bow wave, making sure that we were on course and that were ok. Seeing dolphins is always uplifting. We did not see any whales though. Early on in the voyage we had flying fish landing on deck every night but as the sea temperature lowered these disappeared and then we started getting small squid deposited on deck, I assume waves dropping them in the side deck.
Throughout the voyage we saw many, many Portuguese Man of War jelly fish type creatures, like an armada sailiing across the Atlantic towards Bermuda with the wind, with their pneumatophore, a sail-shaped structure filled with gas protruding above the surface if the sea acting as a sail and catching the wind. These are odd creatures, they are not true jelly fish which are singular multicellular organisms, the Portuguese Man of War, a marine hydrozoan, is a colonial organism made up of specialized animals of the species called zooids or polyps which are attached to each other and integrated with each other in a symbiotic relationship dependant on each other. They are venomous, with a sting that can kill humans, so be aware.
The elegant white Longtail seabirds that adorn the skies around Bermuda, soon disappeared to be taken over by the pelagic brown coloured Shearwaters, a type of petrel, which swoop around just above the surface of the water, sometimes their wingtips touching the water as they are turn or caught by that rouge wave, they often flying alongside the boat, swooping in front and circling around and then back again, sometimes there may be two or three together, but normally just one solitary bird…somewhere around us, even at night. Pelagic sea birds live out at sea most of the time sleeping on the wing, sometimes you see them on the water, but they are usually soaring or gliding around somewhere out at sea.
We are now waiting in Horta, whilst waiting for the genoa to be repaired by Horta Yacht Services, the sail maker here and whilst the rigging is being repaired by Duncan and his team at MAYS (Mid Atlantic Yacht Services). Between them they make fantastic team of dedicated and eager specialists and engineers, able fix almost any problem that has befallen the unfortunate yachtsman. Most yachts on such a voyage if they do not encounter adverse conditions will have some repair and maintenance requirements that must be sorted before you can move on to yet another Atlantic crossing of at least 1000NM or more to get you to your destination.
There is always a waiting list this time of year for such repairs, as this is the time of year which has the big yacht migration with yachts escaping the Hurricane season in the Caribbean and heading back to Europe, now that the North Atlantic storms are starting to abate, but no one seems to mind having to wait, as it give time to go sightseeing and to recuperate and rest whilst you carry on with the myriad of other small jobs that have to be attended to before your next onward ocean passage.
Whilst waiting for your repairs to be carried out of course there is always the world-famous Pete’s Sports Bar to console the sole and spin a yarn with his special Gin. Pete’s Bar is a mecca for ocean yachtsmen from all over the world, as sometime or other they will end up in Horta. Yes, there are other ports and other islands, but Horta has a reputation for being a safe harbour, easy to get into day or night and in any weather, it has a marina and all the facilities any weary yachtsman needs.
Of course there is one important task that the crew of any yacht must do before they leave Horta, that is to add your boat to the many thousands of adornments to walls and breakwaters around the harbour and paint your boats ‘logo’ as countless others have done before you and others will do after you….leaving your mark, your memory of an ocean adventure.
St. Geroge’s Harbour, Bermuda to Horta, Faial, Azores;
14 days 03 hours 30 minutes; 1799NM; Average speed 5.3kts; Engine 14hrs (50 total rest for battery charging); Max wind speed recorded 38Kts