The Passage to the Azores

Sat 9 May 2009 10:57

The passage from Cape Verde to the Azores was always likely to be the hardest of the trip – 1400 M or more of windward sailing with possibly strong winds in the NE Trades. We left Mindelo on 23 April (Shakespeare’s birthday) in a NE 4, just behind the two German yachts heading the same way. We were seen off by a large pod of pilot whale as we cleared the Santo Antao channel, then sailed on a close reach for several days without incident on a course which would put us somewhat to the west of the Azores. On Sunday 26th the wind steadily picked up to F5-6 occ 7, so we put in all reefs and had a fairly uncomfortable couple of days with water everywhere as the bows submarined through 5 m waves. Fortunately the crew (Eric, Brian and Tony) had gelled well and was working as an excellent team, so we all managed to sleep and get regular meals. Respite came in the form of five days of light to moderate winds from ENE that allowed us to straighten our course and actually enjoy the sailing. The wind freshened again for several days, but by this time we were adjusted to what to expect and had improved the windvane adjustment and steering trim, so excitement was limited to animated discussion about the relative merits of a bit more sail and more weather helm (Eric) or keeping the sail effort forward and trimming to neutral helm (Tony). Brian wisely didn’t take sides until he could see who had made the better call. The wind finally went light when we were about 50M west of Faial so, discovering that he tack angle was hopeless in such light conditions, we started the engine and motored to Horta on Faial, arriving accompanied by dolphins at 0400 on Wed 6th May. We had done 1447 logged miles in just under 13 days. The German single-hander’s catamaran had arrived 7 hours ahead of us, and gave us the news that Rudy (in a heavy double-ender with a damaged bowsprit) had lost his mast and entire rig but was motoring and should arrive withi a couple of days (which he thankfully did). For the last couple of days we have rested, eaten well, cleaned Amoret and done some minor repairs and been for a long country walk, enjoying the green landscape and spectacular wild flowers and watched over by the high summit of Pico a few miles across the strait. For the birders, the main spectacle of the trip was several close passes by red-billed tropic birds and by arctic skuas.