The Azores to England Part I

normal service is resumed : )

Day 1: Wednesday 3rd August

It was a pleasant surprise to have a nice breeze leaving the sheltered eastern coast of Graciosa, and an even nicer one when the wind and waves didn’t increase significantly on getting clear of the island. In fact, my immediate reaction was ‘is this it?’ – though with a fair bit of excitement at starting the trip, with over 1000 miles to go.

Of course it helped that things were going well – sailing quickly and comfortably, and also with some desserts from a cafe in Vila da Praia to savour. I’ve forgotten what this is called, but it’s effectively a pastry containing a caramelised miniature rice pudding, and extremely tasty.

I was heading almost due north initially, following the advice of the pilot book and also hoping to follow the movement of favourable winds for a significant chunk of the way back towards England.

There was some initial excitement that night – I called an approaching ship up on the radio and was told they could see me were keeping well clear of me, but it didn’t look that way. The AIS showed them swerving suddenly to one side after I called them, and then back again after they’d passed, and 3-400m (confirmed on the AIS) didn’t feel like a long way off at all in the dark!

Day 2: Thursday 4th August

Maid was still sailing very well the next day, though the latest forecast suggested I might not be quite as lucky with the weather as I’d hoped.

Here’s another anonymous dessert (or two!) from Graciosa – this one a layered coconut confection.

The wind had been gradually increasing and by the middle of the night I’d taken one of the jibs down and reefed the mainsail to it’s smallest possible sail area. We were still making excellent progress northwards, though I was careful to make sure we stayed clear of a large underwater ridge extending north from Graciosa.

Day 3: Friday 5th August

The next day was similar, although the wind was forecast to get significantly lighter that evening and Saturday.

It did reduce during the day, but also swung round to come more from ahead rather than the side, and together with me putting more sail up again we kept moving nicely.

Day 4: Saturday 6th August

That lasted though the night, but not long after breakfast the wind pretty much died for half the day. I did have another visitor, though much less chatty than Cheepcheep, and more inclined to lurk in corners than perch on heads.

I definitely need the Passagemakers’ Bird Care handbook, as this one died as well..

The last time that had happened a strong headwind blew up not long afterwards. There was indeed a forecast of strong winds for the next day, but from a more favourable direction, and a nice light wind to get going again in the meantime. It was a bit shifty at first but I was glad to be able to get onto a settled course by the evening.

Then it changed again. It’s hard to convey the depth of the (ridiculous) indignation this can inspire when you think you’re just going to be popping out for the occasional look around overnight and then find you’re heading for Portugal.

Still, having tacked I was able to head in about the right direction….

Day 5: Sunday 7th August

…until very early the next morning. The situation eventually resolved itself with a dead calm. No concerns about sailing in the wrong direction now!

This is one of the things I was getting on with – cutting some plywood blanks to go over the fittings where the anchor chain passes down through the deck into the chain lockers below, and tying the chain on and lowering it right in before sealing it up.

Normally that’s not necessary, but a near gale was forecast which would probably mean that area of the deck getting quite wet, and draining water out of the chain lockers is a time-consuming and awkward job, definitely best avoided if possible.

After a while of pottering around doing jobs with all the sails down the wind eventually increased a little. I guessed wrong the first time about which side to pole out on of the largest jibs, but didn’t mind too much since we were moving again.

This continued steadily for a while, until quite a sudden increase in the evening. I got the large jib down and was rather impressed to see Maid was sailing at 2 knots with no sails up at all!

Unsurprisingly, putting a couple of smaller jibs up made for even better progress.

Day 6: Monday 8th August

There was a very odd sea state early the next morning. The waves weren’t at all big but breaking a lot – noisy and disconcerting, and making the boat roll quite jerkily. I tried altering course and setting a jib either side of the boat, but that didn’t improve matters at all.

It seemed a bit better by the morning – I think the waves had settled down a bit though of course daylight may have helped! Noises and motion are definitely more significant when you’re trying to sleep.

The wind was gradually decreasing, and by the evening I set the mainsail to get going a bit faster.

It gave a nice speed boost for a while, but later that evening the wind increased and it came down again. It seemed to be a pattern that the wind was stronger overnight – not particularly welcome!

Day 7: Tuesday 9th August

The next day broke the pattern though, with the wind increasing further and gusts reaching the forecast near gale strength. With the wind slightly from behind it wasn’t a problem though, and Maid was storming along doing around her theoretical maximum speed despite a lot of weed and barnacles on the bottom.

I was glad I wasn’t further west, where there was a lot more wind, and hoped to keep moving north-east to get closer to home and keep away from the stronger winds nearer the centre of the low.

There’s always a balance to strike between progress and preparedness though, and I took one of the jibs down late in the evening and turned more away from the wind for a quieter night.

Day 8: Wednesday 10th August

Things were still going well on Wednesday, gradually increasing sail a little as the wind dropped. The weather was not great though..

I decided it definitely wasn’t worth setting an alarm to keep looking round when I couldn’t see anything anyway, and it actually led to a very nice night’s sleep – a very pleasant novelty not to be regularly interrupted for once!

Day 9: Thursday 11th August

I might have been less at ease if it had been the next night, as I was clearly approaching a shipping route, and after ages without seeing any several appeared in the space of a few hours.

There definitely weren’t enough to interfere with cooking though…

All in all, it was a pretty good first week.

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