Archive for Waiting on the weather

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

Posted in Planning (or pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey), Sailing, the Atlantic Ocean with tags on June 20, 2011 by maidofmettle

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.

Gran Canaria to Madeira part 1

Posted in Cooking, Photographs, Sailing, the Atlantic Ocean with tags , , on June 14, 2011 by maidofmettle

Day 1: Thursday 26/05

In the end leaving Las Palmas proved surprisingly easy. I’d actually considered going on Wednesday evening. The forecast suggested that would give me the best chance of getting north enough to catch the edge of a low pressure system and moderate fair winds up to Madeira, which is very unusual. However, I was feeling fairly tired, and it looked as though the wind might die overnight – I didn’t fancy spending the first night rocking around going nowhere still near land and shipping.

But on Thursday morning it still looked pretty good. After all the time deciding not to go – and if debates about when to leave can seem like they take an excruciatingly long time when there’s three of you, when there’s just one the freedom to second-guess yourself sometimes means they actually do – deciding to go was very simple indeed.

My goodbye committee made sure that I cast off:

I stopped briefly on the reception pontoon to give my keys back to the office and then headed out. The wind was a bit less strong than it had been earlier in the morning and gave excellent conditions for sailing once I’d motored clear of the port to get away from ships.

The wind held nicely until I’d got clear of La Isleta, the very north-eastern tip of Gran Canaria which protrudes from the end of Las Palmas, and then went very light and swung round to behind. I was just about to change all the sails round to see if I could make some use of it when I spotted a turtle swimming along behind.

It looked like it was gaining….

Until I think Maid got rather offended and splashed a bit, scaring it into diving. And handily at this point, the wind swung round another 90 degrees and became a nice light westerly breeze, so I was very glad it had distracted me and saved a fair bit of work.

With things settled down nicely it was time for dinner – pasta, mushrooms, courgette and olives with a sauce made from cream cheese, milk and parsley.

And a shower. Some things at least are actually simpler when you’re sailing on your own!

In light conditions, sleeping could possibly even be included in that. It was so calm I didn’t need to bother using the leecloth, and with very little traffic around, Horace steering and the AIS keeping an eye out for big ships I didn’t have much trouble taking 30-60 minute naps between having a look around.

Day 2: Friday 27/05

The second day was lovely – steady wind from the same side, and still reasonably fast but gentle progress. Lots of time for relaxing as well as keeping an eye on the boat and looking out for ships. Dinner was rather nice too.

Day 3: Saturday 28/05

The third day started similarly, but with the wind getting slightly lighter again. The morning was interrupted by a loud wailing (I wired the AIS ship monitoring device up to the burglar alarm) signalling some company, which came past fairly close on one side, but clearly not coming too near.

There were very light spells though: . The boat’s movement in the periods of little wind was a bit unpleasant at times though – I was sick once, though the feeling went away very fast after that, and luckily we were moving fast enough that Maid wasn’t left sloshing around in it!

Otherwise it was another nice day – very slow progress off and on, but still comfortable, and nice weather. It did get a bit hard to keep track of time – the main reason for putting the dates and days in this entry was to make sure I didn’t get too confused.

Day 4: Sunday 29/05

Today brought even more visitors. First some dolphins arrived – probably the nicest conditions I’ve ever seen them in (they usually like plunging in and out of big waves), but they still seemed to have a good time playing under the bow.

It was quite late before getting round to making breakfast after spending a while watching the dolphins, so I decided to have something a bit more substantial as a change from cereal, and improvised some very Canarian banana-and-gofio cakes.

The recipe is very simple indeed – just mix 2 very ripe bananas and 1/2 cup of gofio together and work till you get a very soft dough, then form into flat discs and fry. That probably serves a couple of people – I ended up saving two of them for later.

The wind was rather fitful though – but it was calm enough I could be quite philosophical about it:

It was often tricky to decide which way to sail, with neither tack making much ground to the north. Sailing westish would make some progress towards the Azores but possibly make it harder work, and quite likely make it harder to call at Madeira. Sailing eastish would make the trip to either longer but probably easier in the long term, but in the short-term the forecast suggested it might lead into even less wind. I tried to strike a balance…

The second arrival, who I’m fairly certain was a red-rumped swallow, was a nice distraction.

It was good to have someone around to judge my little steering competition with Horace (the hydrovane self-steering gear):

Though he didn’t actually seem to be paying that much attention, and at times didn’t seem that responsible – careful with those claws on that tube, we don’t want petrol everywhere do we? As a bird I’d think you’d know that petrochemical spills are undesirable.

Then again, maybe he wasn’t that clever. Most stowaways would realise that sitting on the captain’s head while he’s eating dinner would generally be looked on as insubordination, if not actually defined as mutiny. He was very uninterested in offerings of fresh water and food as well, though I admit I was a bit short on insects.

He got named Cheepcheep, as that was all he ever say, whether meaning ‘hello’, ‘okay, I’ll sit on your shoulder instead, though doing the washing up isn’t that piratical you know’, or ‘I’m going to top myself if you don’t get somewhere soon’. Unfortunately that last translation was only worked out with the benefit of hindsight.

The conditions were still pleasant that night, except for the slight worry that Cheepcheep might come and sit on my face while I was getting some sleep, but the wind’s direction kept changing inconveniently, meaning we weren’t making very much progress overall. The dot on the screen is my GPS position at the time and the line my past track.

When I went to bed I’d been heading NNE, towards the top right of the screen. Unfortunately, this had changed rather significantly within the hour or half hour, curving off to the right, which wasn’t really where I wanted to go. The big change in angle is then me tacking, to sail with the wind on the either side so I was heading vaguely north again.

Day 5: Monday 30/05

That happened several times in the course of that night. Not great fun..

Sadly it did prove too much for Cheepcheep. Glad he wasn’t an albatross, though the wind did definitely pick up after the funeral.

After the peace and quiet of the first few days, and a night without much sleep, it came as a bit of a shock, though on other days I’d definitely have said it was beautiful sailing.

Happily I did start to feel slightly differently: .

We were certainly making good progress, and it was a beautiful day as well. It was a slightly tricky decision to make on whether to keep heading for Madeira or not. It would have given the boat a much easier motion to turn away from the wind a bit more and head for the Azores, but would have made the trip quite a few days longer, and made it fairly impossible to change my mind and shorten the trip by calling at Madeira.

I wanted to keep that option open as long as I could in case the forecast started to suggest getting to the Azores would be a problem, so I decided it was worth carrying on for now.

Getting some rest was definitely becoming a theme in videos recorded that day: .

I’m not sure that last bit is something I’d normally say. It was certainly a bit optimistic.

To be continued..

(shortly I hope, videos are all processed and just need slotting in).

 

Going to…Madeira?

Posted in the Atlantic Ocean with tags on August 31, 2010 by maidofmettle

We are hoping to leave for either Madeira or the Canary Islands tommorow afternoon or evening. The idea is to go out and see how it feels heading for Madeira for a couple of days then either carry on that way or turn left a bit and go to the Canaries. Prevailing wave direction and our reactions to it will dictate where we end up.

Funnily enough…we were intending to leave this afternoon but another look at the forecast made us think twice. No, not too much wind but not enough this time! We didn’t really fancy bobbing up and down for a day or so before the wind came later in the most promising forecast for weeks . Frustrated at not being able to face the demons of ‘what is it going to be like out there for a week or so?’ we will have to wait a little longer…

It’s ok though, we are all pretty tired from packing away, buying food, scraping barnacles off of things (I thought that was only a punishment people had to do in the old days!) and fixing things we’d been putting off until the last minute, so a bit more time will be good. Also, the todo list had “nap” on it yesterday and I didn’t have time for that so maybe today 🙂 Also there will be time to watch the last 20 mins of the film we started before I got too sleepy so that’s good.

On the front line…

Posted in Fun, Photographs with tags , , on August 20, 2010 by maidofmettle

Yes Clare, we have been here for quite a long time, though not forever as you might think 😉 In fact we’ve been hanging around Faro, Culatra and Olhao (all in the same estuary) for nearly a month…unbelievable!

Don’t worry, we’ve not been short of things to do…not only have we been able to look at the weather forecast and go “euw, what’s that all about?!”, but also things have been breaking again so we have been chasing up various companies to try and sort things out.

First things first. Apparently Chris’ uncle suggested it might be an el nino year weather-wise, which would explain a bit why we don’t seem to have found our ‘perfect conditions’ to cross to Madeira yet. Of course it might be that we have been unlucky for the last few weeks but that doesn’t make us feel any better when we look at the weather and wave forecasts that show confusion, confusion, confusion.

Our lovely and un-ideal weather forecast (thanks Zygrib)

The main problem is that when waves travelling in different directions meet they can pyramid and become larger – sometimes becoming as high as the total of their heights. Unfortunately it appears that passageweather.com’s wave forecast does not take this into account. What it does show though is lots of confused waves colliding in and around the area we would want to be in for our passage to Madeira.

Same time and place waves forecast – doesn’t look good.

The weather continues to be a psychological struggle with a constant unknown factor – ‘will we leave next week or won’t we?’. Getting psyched up to leave, not to mention the practicalities of filling up with water and food (when you’re not in a marina and you don’t have running water less than a row away), tidying etc then …’oh! Forecast says no’. The worst bit (and I suppose the best) is that the actual weather (i.e. is it warm, sunny, raining or whatever) is still really nice so when you see a forecast that puts you off leaving it seems a bit frustrating. Equally frustrating is deciding not to go then seeing a couple of days later that it didn’t turn out to be as bad as the initial forecast suggested it would be. Then you’re thinking ‘we could have gone after-all!’ Maybe life before forecasts was a bit simpler in a way…

The list of broken things has grown along with Chris’ list of companies he dislikes. The poor customer service list now includes Plastimo who have fallen down in our estimation, after a good performance replacing our broken water tanks back in Reims. Our Plastimo outboard bracket has a nasty crack in the plastic of the mounting pad which they are unwilling to do anything about without us returning it to England. Given that the outboard is our only engine we are powerless if we were to take the outboard bracket off and send it away. It looks like we may have to repair it ourselves instead.

Other broken things include the pendants that come with our man overboard Lifetag system – all three have started to crack. We are in the process of getting these sorted out so will let you know how that goes.

Our Adventures around Faro, Culatra and Olhao

Unless you’ve seen it, geography is a bit confusing round here so here’s a map…

Despite our troubles with broken things and annoying weather forecasts it’s not all doom and gloom. In our travels around the estuary we have explored lots of places, met up with some people for lovely food (thanks Gail and Steve for your hospitality, books and BBQ tongs)

Nice BBQ at Culatra beach with Gail and Steve from “Gone Troppo”

Also, I have been teaching Chris to dive. We now have two diving platforms made out of our fender boards from the canals. One low down at the side of the boat, the other higher at the back of one side boat. The second diving plank would also be useful should we have a mutiny.

The mandolin, guitar (and occasionally the Guinness themed harmonica when Pete joins us) ensemble is going from strength to strength. We are getting a good number of songs together in our repertoire and learning chords quickly. Oasis’ Wonderwall can often be heard across the water.

The kayak has had several outings, most interestingly taking the chance to see a channel at Culatra that is only navigable with an exceedingly high tide and a bit of squeezing under a boardwalk.

Kayak up the channel at Culatra at high tide
– this was dried out for the majority of our time there

We briefly visited Olhao to stock up with water (via lots of trips in the dinghy to collect water from a tap on shore) and food from the local market. The market was impressive for its fresh fruit and veg, honey and more fish than is imaginable. These people really like sea food, so much so in fact they have a big party to celebrate fishing. We saw them carrying a statue of Mary in procession through Olhao town (accompanied by a marching band) to the port and then onto fishing boats which went across the water to Culatra in a convoy of flags and noise. They seemed to be enjoying the organised chaos…We decided leaving Olhao at that point to go back to Culatra would have been unwise.

Unusual vegetables in Olhao market

Woo fish! The parade from Olhao to Culatra

Yesterday we all went for a meal in Faro. On the way back Chris and I hired a couple of Segways to try for 10 mins. They are brilliant and surprisingly quick to get the hang of. I felt like someone in the Jetsons (children’s cartoon show set in the future) I would have to sell my car to buy one though!

Chris and Caroline “Jetsons eat your heart out. We love Segways!”

The Waiting Game

Posted in Fun, Photographs, Wildlife with tags , , , , on July 31, 2010 by maidofmettle

I like the moon…night-time view at anchor

We are having fun in and around Faro and Culatra at the moment because there is some funny weather going on out at sea.
Not wishing to repeat some of our previous sailing ‘adventures’ we are holding out for those promised perfect conditions to cross to Madeira and Porto Santo (a little island just before Madeira)

I am writing this from an anchorage near the island of Culatra where we arrived the day before yesterday. Highlights so far include some really big dogs, one of whom looked a bit familiar 😉

What’s he doing here? A distant cousin perhaps?

Large dogs asside, Culatra is an interesting place not only because it is mostly a fishing village but also because it has no roads to speak of. In addition, both free water supplies and ATM money appeared to have run dry yesterday. Luckily we have a good bit of tank water left.

Fishermen at work

Culatra – roadless, waterless, ATMless town (at the moment at least)

Unfortunately the lack of ATM did land us in the embarrassing situation of going into a restaurant and not having enough money between us to pay for a meal from their menu! By the time I got back to the restaurant to tell the other two that the cashpoint was out of order they had already had the drinks and bits of bread and olives (that they seem to sneakily charge you for even if you didn’t ask for them) delivered to the table, leaving us a little short to actually order any kind of main meal. It turned out we had walked into quite a pricey restaurant. So it was left to Pete to try and explain that because the cash point was broken we could only afford to pay for drinks and the other bits and pieces they had brought out already. Embarrassing…I’m just glad we didn’t have to resort to offering to do the washing up.

The restaurant was actually very nice about it and offered to cook us some fish and salad for a small price, even bringing another drink out on the house! This was the second time we had eaten fish unexpectedly as only a few days before in Faro we had been enjoying a beach bbq when a Portugese family with a slightly insane German Shepherd puppy cooked us some on their bbq. It was probably the first time I ate fish that wasn’t tuna, cod or battered/breadcrummed and actually really liked it.

Unexpected bbq fish at Faro

Our efforts with tinned ‘lunch’. It makes good burgers

Our anchorage at Faro was quite a row away from the main town but looking round it was well worth it. The old town was especially impressive and downtown Faro was really good for photos.

Downtown Faro

Fountain near the edge of the old town in Faro

The area around Faro and Culatra is very good for kayaking. When the tide is low grassy banks appear with small pools to hide wildlife. These are good because out of the main channels the current is much weaker generally, though it is easy to see how you could get lost as the landscape changes with the tide.

View of Faro from kayak – grass previously covered by water

Rewards. Nice beach and food
(even if you did forget the tin opener and have to use a rock to open the tin!
)

Kayaking the faro channels

In the spirit of finding unusual animals on board we found another one the other day. Only trouble is we don’t know what it was. Charlie has since been re-homed on Culatra after a bit of a motor with us from Faro.

Big bug

leaving…or maybe not

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on April 10, 2010 by maidofmettle

Hard to believe that we’ve been in Gibraltar for over a month now!  It seems that the Meditteranean does not want us to leave.  As you will soon gather, the idea of leaving on Tuesday didn’t work.  We realised pretty early on in the morning that it was going to be far far far too windy to go anywhere and actually have a nice time if we’d left then so we didn’t.  Lucky too as it turns out.  Apparently, a sailing school boat went out that day and were knocked down by the wind sending an indetermined number of people overboard.  I only have this as secondhand knowledge so hard to know how much the Chinese whispers had changed the story but there were supposed to have been gusts up to 60 knots out in the bay that day.  I’m very glad we didn’t go anywhere.

Anyway, it’d be good to go to Portugal or at least get out of the Straits.  Any ideas of getting straight to Madeira at the moment seem a bit unlikely until the weather settles.  It’s pretty frustrating that the wind either seems to be too strong or not there at all.  Also we are losing sleep because the wind has been howling for the last 2 days and gets louder just when you want to get to sleep.  The thwak thwak of the ropes on the mast is pretty loud and irritating though Chris claims to be getting used to it.

A harder thing to deal with is getting psyched up mentally to leave in addition to getting ready with water, food etc and then not leaving…It seems more difficult the longer you stay somewhere too.  Places become familiar and the idea of leaving them for somewhere new, less appealing.

Wind…what’s going on!?

Posted in Cooking, Fun, Photographs, the Mediterranean Sea with tags , on February 22, 2010 by maidofmettle

It seems the med is seeing a pretty bad winter. The area of Spain we are currently in has seen enough rainfall to last 3 years resulting in major floods and landslides. Velez itself has suffered a bit; the men’s toilet building overturned onto the path by the beach and a few trees fell in a big wind shortly after we arrived.

We have seen a bit of sunshine but the Easterly wind we need to get to Gibraltar and our date with the monkeys is remaining illusive so consequently we are still here. It has been a good opportunity to rest, explore and look into starting some of the jobs that need doing.

We have now experimented a bit with a horizontal lift system for a man (or woman) overboard. Using the smallest sail we have, you can create a sort of whole body sling that in theory scoops the casualty up out of the water using the winches on the mast. We are yet to try it in the water but it looks like it could work well. Given a few waves and the weight of the water we’ll have to see how it works on a sea trial when it gets warm enough for a swim.

Our friend Axel popped by the other day with his hire car and we had a lovely day exploring inland, including a picnic in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada (ski resort) and the gardens of the Moorish Palace the Alhambra. We didn’t like to think that it was only England who was enjoying all the snow.

In the mountains

Our snow creation

Due to popular demand and cries of “what do you cook whilst on board?” For an introductory bargain price of absolutely nothing per month (usual price £24.99 per month) we are proud to present part I of:

Cooking With MOM

– Your guide to making anything with an oven that wouldn’t cook a roasted quail.

Pete’s not very hot (but yummy) Tesco’s hot curry powder curry

Onion

Mushroom

Broccoli

Tinned tomatoes

Chickpeas

Tesco’s hot curry powder (small quantity of)

Rice

Salad