Nearly there!

Mon 17 Oct 2005 22:37
17th October 2005. From the shores of continental Europe, almost.

Dear All,

As I write, we sailing in the Gulf of Cadiz and are 14 miles from our
waypoint outside the Straits of Gibraltar, having almost made the crossing
from the Azores. Sadly the RCC dinner in Gibraltar that we were hoping to
arrive for is underway at this moment. Instead we are heading for Barbate in
Spain, where a fleet is due to meet to commemorate the 200th anniversary of
the Battle of Trafalgar on Friday. We have been at sea almost a week now and
are looking forward to dry land once again.

However, back in the Azores we had been having a fascinating time with the
islands' geography, and a frustrating time with the Atlantic's weather.
Angra do Heroismo on Terceira is a very pretty town with a rich
Mediterranean feel and we tied up in the fairly new marina. It had all the
elements that we like about a place; an excellent market, bustling
atmosphere and everything within easy walking distance of the boat. It also
had an excellent museum on the geology of the islands which we thoroughly

Having been so in awe of the cave on Graciosa we decided that we would again
hire a car to explore the caves here. First though we took in another
bullfight in a nearby village, staying very much on the edge this time, and
toured this lovely island. The first cave we went into was somewhat similar
to that in Graciosa, formed in the centre of a volcano by escaping gases.
The narrow chimney into the cave allows some natural light to enter and
supports some beautiful vegetation. Inside, the vast domed ceilings and
basalt walls are covered with spattered lava and stalactites. We spent quite
some time just marvelling at it, despite it being pretty cold, but Robert
did not seem to mind. We then drove on to find a lava tube; a tunnel formed
by a river of molten lava which has drained away and left the scoured lava
walls and splattered ceilings where drips of hot lava have splashed up and
hardened. Robert was again quite happy and at home in these different
environments, safe in his backpack, but this time we had to be very careful
not to hit his head on the sharp lava edges. There were helmets provided,
but none of them were in Roberts's size! At one point we had to pass him,
backpack and all, underneath a very low lava ceiling, but by this time he
was fast asleep and totally nonplussed by the strangeness of his

Again it was time (or even rather over time) to leave and we were watching
the weather. First the Azores High shifted north, which would have given us
head winds all the way, so we waited. In the meantime we worked on the boat
as usual, examining the rig, and particularly the backstay where Peter was
troubled by a gap in one of the SSB antenna insulators. So we spent a good
deal of time on the telephone to the rigger in New Zealand and the
manufacture until we decided that it was okay and had probably always been
like that. There were plenty of other jobs as usual, and I cooked enough
food for Robert to last him our whole crossing and persuaded the local hotel
to deep freeze it all for me. Then a low pressure formed just north of the
Azores. Perfect. We made ready to leave and picked up one last five-day
weather forecast. Strangely it showed the low intensifying and drifting
south, meaning perfect weather for a day or two and then north-easterlies
again. We considered trying to get in front of it, but thought better of it
and stopped at Ponta Delgada on the island of Sao Miguel instead. Thank
goodness we did, because it drifted south as far as Madeira, intensified
again and then moved slowly north and hovered between the Azores and
Portugal in the form of hurricane Vince. We would have been caught right in
the middle. Finally the Azores High reformed to the south and a large
depression in the north Atlantic gave us the weather we needed. Having made
absolutely sure that the forecasters really thought it was going to move
north (rather than south and across our track) we left ahead of it. It was a
rapidly intensifying deep low which gave hurricane force winds near its
centre, but has given us southerly winds most of the way to Gibraltar.

The passage has, so far, been without too much drama. We have been close
reaching most of the way, on port tack initially but now on starboard, which
at least means that Robert's play pen and bunk is downhill and slightly more
comfortable for him. On our first day out he was very sea sick, which gave
us both a fright (although it did not seem to bother Robert at all). Luckily
he quickly got used to the motion it has not troubled him again.
Unfortunately however he has managed to develop a new ear-splitting
glass-shattering high-pitched scream especially for the crossing. It is
pitched perfectly to enter the head and make it either swim with irritation
or instantly produce a continuous slight headache. And since we can only get
a few yards away from it at most, there are few options. I think he is
trying to tell us that from bunk to cockpit and back again is really not
enough variety for him. It was particularly grating on the only day we were
close reaching in 25 knots of wind and quite rough seas. It was stuffy and
unpleasant down below and we could not really take him into the cockpit for
too long. I don't really blame his frustration, and I am so glad it was only
one day like that. It was lovely when he went to sleep!

Ships are all about now that we are getting so close to the Straits and we
have even seen the odd yacht heading out into the Atlantic, presumably
either to the Canaries or Madeira. But by the time you all read this I hope
we shall be snugly tied alongside and planning to go out dinner to celebrate
Pete's 32nd birthday tomorrow.

Hope you are all well and we look forward to seeing you all when we get back
to the UK in just over a months time.

Lots and lots of love,

Katharine, Peter and Robert.