To the Azores…and then back to Lagos

The adventures of Chili III
Peter & Belinda Vernon
Thu 7 Jul 2022 09:43

Thursday 7 July

37 06.0N 16 10.6W

37 06N 08 40.0W

On Saturday 2th July we set off at 0930 with 820NM to go to Ponta Delgarda on Sao Miguel Island. Light winds to begin with so we used the engine. Having avoided orcas (again) and crossed the 22 mile-wide traffic separation scheme (shipping lane) round Cabo Sao Vicente we set full main and genoa and sailed at a good 7.5KN with a N4 just ahead of the beam. Shipping fell away and we settled into the ocean sailing we had been so looking forward to. By 0000 the wind had strengthened and backed to a NW4 giving us apparent wind of 15-20kn and reasonably close hauled. This was a bit bouncy so we reefed down and slowed from 8.5kn plus to 7.5kn which made it a bit more comfortable. We stayed on a more northerly track than due west to avoid Banco Gorange – an extraordinary ridge which has only 20m depth over it at one point and which we felt was likely to through up a bigger, shorter swell. Best avoided. If this sea bed was on land it would be as dramatic as the alps with mountains rising 4000m over quite short distances.

Good fast sailing through the night and during Sunday with the wind a consistent N / NW4 or 5 as predicted; it felt good to be clocking away the miles with no need for the engine, quite a change from the Med. I’d decided to use this passage for an ocean yacht master submission which meant no use of GPS or electronic navigation which we are so used to. Delving into the depths of my memory for index errors, dip adjustments,  azimuths and Greenwich hour angles together with taking sun sights on a very bouncy sea kept me occupied for a good part of the day. Cloudy skies didn’t help. Still the results were more or less sensible.

Into the second night and after dinner we reefed down (to reduce the risk of having to wake each other overnight) and pumped the bilge. We gave ourselves a huge shock when, having noticed more water than usual, we switched on the pump to find water flooding into the bilges from the aft end of the boat. We quickly discovered the outlet pipe had come off the pump in the engine room so we we creating a garden pond waterfall effect pumping water from the bilge into the engine room which then, like a bubbling brook tumbled back down into the bilge again. The pipe was soon fixed, but where had the water come from in the first place? We persuaded ourselves it might have been from the shower (which shares the same pump) but decided to monitor every 3 hours.

At 0000 and 0300  the bilge was filling up again at a rate of around 10 litres an hour. This was bad news and after checking every possible source of leak we tracked it down to the rudder tube. A (designed) hole in a GRP molding just forward of the tube was leaking steadily. Monitoring continued but we also:

·        Called Falmouth coastguard and agreed a 3 hourly “welfare call”

·        Emailed and spoke to Dan Hills at Malo yachts and also got advice from James Hollingsworth at Berthon Boat Yard and our friends at Ardfern who know the boat well

·        Fixed the rudder in position and relied entirely on the hydrovane self-steering

·        Reefed to slow down and take the pressure of the rudder

At 1400 we hoved-to to consider our options. Carry on to Punta Delgada (475NM), run before the wind down to Madeira (250NM) or turn round and head back to Lagos (360 NM)? We look time to go through the options, got updated weather routing from the Predictwind offshore app. (invaluable) and decided that, as there was a risk of some structural damage that could become serious, the latter was the best option. So about turn, set a course of 95 degrees and off we headed off back to Lagos. There were mixed feelings at this point to say the least, huge disappointment combined with a conviction that we were doing the right thing.

The return trip became more relaxing the longer the water ingress remained constant at 10 L per hour. At 10:00 Thursday, after 5 days at sea, 785NM and a good deal of bilge pumping we were back at Lagos being lifted out of the water and parked in the Sopromar Yard.

Geoff Skinner, the marine surveyor very kindly gave up his Saturday to carry out an inspection. The most likely explanation was damage caused by the grounding we’d had in Acciaroli a few weeks earlier which only created a leak once the boat was hard pressed in a big sea but more investigation needed. On reflection we were satisfied that we did the right thing as it will not be an easy repair and Sopromar are experts. But we’re both very frustrated to suffer this setback. Still, we keep positive at all times. The beach is fantastic, Portuguese food excellent and the people are just wonderful.