Reflections on the sail here and playing vinte-e-um

Since I’m thinking about when to leave for the Azores this seems a good time to look back on the sail here. I’ll definitely catch up on my time in Madeira though – there are lots of fun things and photos to share (hopefully that will make up for this one, unfortunately I’ve used all the good pictures and video from the trip). In fact, you’re liable to get overwhelmed with blog posts.. ahahahaha…

It really didn’t feel like it took a week to sail from Las Palmas to here. While the last few days were difficult, I could have happily gone on for a long time with the light winds of the first few days. It was beautifully peaceful, and I didn’t find isolation a problem at all.

Gear failures at sea – Horace doesn’t really count since by the time I noticed it I didn’t need him any more, but the outboard bracket was certainly a problem, even if it did turn out to be solvable with two bits of wood and a hammer. The next issue will quite possibly be different, but having faced and overcome one such problem is definitely a better starting place than before. Believing that you can and will solve a problem is definitely important.

I think I’ve also overcome any issues I had about not wanting to call and ask someone else for advice. At work I would certainly advise someone not to reinvent the wheel on their own if someone else had relevant experience, so if the option is available, why should sailing be different? Obviously sometimes it may not be, but I’ll deal with that if it happens.

The fast sailing on days 5 and 6 was, looking back on it now, really not in very bad conditions at all compared to some of our other trips. While Maid was racing over the waves and occasionally getting the foredeck rather wet, there were no breaking waves, and no crashing into waves making the whole boat shake, and there wasn’t a sense of the wind or waves increasing further.

I didn’t feel sea-sick – and was basically fine when I was looking around outside, reading, cooking or working at the chart table. But trying to sleep or even just relax was difficult, and that probably made the following day harder than it would have been otherwise.

I probably will get those conditions, or worse, again, and hopefully having experienced it and dealt with challenging conditions following it once will stand me in good stead. Furthermore, I probably would get used to it gradually over a longer period of time.

More sleep probably wouldn’t have helped much the next day though – a boat slamming around in a choppy sea with no wind is always going to be a horrible experience, especially if there’s no prospect of a quick end to it. I suppose the couple of brief fits of screaming or sobbing (ahem) might have been avoided, but I’m not certain. I definitely don’t think getting used to those conditions is likely. Try and avoid them and hope I’ll cope better next time, I guess..

It’s possible, though, that I might have made better decisions and avoided it by tacking back and forth before getting to that stage and approaching the eastern end of Madeira, which is lower and blocks the wind much less. I’d expected the wind might go slack, but not that far out, but I hadn’t anticipated the sea state at all. So hopefully I’ll do that better in the future, tired or not.

That said, I’m still not entirely sure of the best way to get away from Madeira itself – not part of the journey I’m really looking forward to. Going west is likely to involve headwinds and then no wind, with the possibility of a nasty chop like that I met coming here. Going east is similar but just more headwinds, and the risk that on rounding the corner to head west again I might stray into the upwind ‘wind shadow’ where wind is being deflected up over the island, with no shelter whatsoever from waves.

But I think I’ll take the latter route, and just make sure I gain plenty of ground to windward before turning to reduce that possibility. I might make an intermediate stop at the eastern end of the island, as sailing near land is definitely more demanding than where there’s very little around to hit.

But the main reason I haven’t left is that for the last fortnight, ever since I fixed the wind vane, there’s been an incredibly stable strip of water with next to no wind acting as an irritating barrier for travelling from here to the the Azores (of course, while I was stuck waiting for suitable wind to get from Las Palmas to here there were beautiful winds between here and the Azores), and it’s forecast to persist for another week or more.

Other boats heading the same way have dismissed it as ‘only 70 miles or so’, but for me motoring that isn’t really an option – it would probably take a couple of days of continuous shifts, hand-steering with the engine on whenever I wasn’t eating or sleeping.

Part of me thinks it’s daft to delay leaving on the say of a forecast for a week in advance, when there’s no really strong wind in it, just the probability of too little. But if that’s been the forecast consistently for the last fortnight it does give it some credence.. and as I’ve said above, sitting around in no wind is really not pleasant.

But it is a lot more likely that I will get favourable wind from here to the Azores than it was from Las Palmas to here. There I was frequently wondering if I should go even when it didn’t look very good, because I wasn’t confident it would look better anytime soon.

It’s very much like playing blackjack, or vingt-et-un, or vinte-e-um, or whatever you like to call it – do I go with this light wind forecast, or do I gamble on waiting for a bit more, hoping I don’t go bust by getting too much and end up waiting again? And with the marina price here being several times that in Las Palmas, possibly going bust in a different way.

Though I do need to find out what the units are before I push this metaphor too much. 21 knots is more than I’d like. 21 m/s (41 knots, a full gale) is definitely too much. 21 mph (18) knots is a bit strong for going to windward comfortably, though downwind it would be perfect. 21 km/h (11 knots) would be about perfect. And as one of my physics teachers would have pointed out, 21 elephants would be problematic.

That all sounds like it should be quite frustrating waiting here, but I’d say I’m a lot more at ease with it now than at the end of my time in Las Palmas. One fact is that I’m making sure I get out and do other things still, another is possibly that I haven’t been here nearly as long as there, but I think a big one is that I have now made one long trip.

In Las Palmas I’d say I was sailing single-handed, but then end up explaining that I’d really done very little of it (much less than one might expect meeting someone there!). Having come here it’s a different case.

2 Responses to “Reflections on the sail here and playing vinte-e-um”

  1. Uncle John Says:

    Sounds like a valuable rite of passage!

    • maidofmettle Says:

      Hah! Now that would have made for a far better post title!

      Seriously though – yes, probably about what I was saying toward the end without quite thinking of the phrase. The 1000 mile plus one for full Ocean Cruising Club membership still beckons, but this one was probably more important in some ways.

      And it was good to have a bit of a test actually – the sail from Fuerteventura to Gran Canaria was very nice but so perfectly gentle it didn’t let me learn much for future trips.

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