Heading for The Azores
1720 nm to go
Wednesday 1st June 2011
Sorry for leaving you with a ‘cliff hanger’ about our ‘exciting change plan’. Unfortunately we were a bit premature with the blog posting and the exciting change of plan hasn’t happened. After much deliberation we have finally set sail for The Azores which are 1800nm east of Bermuda.
Mary has wanted to go to the US for some time and had finally persuaded Alan that we should sail to Halifax in Nova Scotia Canada, only 750nm away with favourable winds, where we assumed we could get US visas and then sail down to Newport Rhode Island where we had arranged to ship Stella back to the UK. It is supposedly a stunning bit of coast and we have been busy talking to lots of people heading that way, planning our route, copying borrowed charts and books, learning all about the gulf stream and generally getting quite excited about it.
If you arrive by yacht (as opposed to an airline) in the USA you need a B1/B2 visitors visa for the US. Unfortunately we didn’t know this until we started to talk to other yachters with the same problem or we could have got them before we left the UK. We know other people who had got visas in Barbados, Trinidad and Dominican Republic so assumed all we needed was a US embassy, of which Canada has many. None of the islands we have been to in the Caribbean have had embassies and as we were so busy with visitors we haven’t had time to go to those which do. Having then spent 3 very frustrating days filling in the US immigration departments online visa application forms over a very unreliable internet connection, when we submitted the forms we found a statement at the end of the page saying that we couldn’t apply for visas in Canada as we are non residents. But you could only find this out once you had submitted the application forms.
We then spent another day trawling the websites to try and get more information and then resorted to spending a fortune on Mary’s mobile to call the US visa service (they want your credit card number just to talk to them!). As expected the person on the phone who we eventually got to talk to after about 5 mins of recorded messages telling us to look at the website was useless and knew less about the US visa system than we did! He was not able to confirm if we would be able to apply for a visa in Halifax.
At the end of this very annoying process it was unclear if we would be able to get a US visa in Halifax or not. The official US websites contained contradictory information, with one clear statement saying it wasn’t possible and then others implying it was. Because we didn’t want to be in any doubt and didn’t want our (expensive) trip north to become a wild goose chase for visas we’ve decided to cut our losses and stick to our original plan of going to the Azores. We and many of our fellow cruisers have spent so much time trying to unravel the US visa process it is ridiculous.
Fortunately the weather forecast has improved significantly for the trip to the Azores and rather than strong head winds we are back to light winds. So yesterday after a busy day provisioning up for an extra week and getting Stella ready, at 6pm Bermuda time (2100h GMT) we left Bermuda for the Azores. It’s difficult to say exactly when we will arrive as it depends on how much wind we get. It’s about 1800nm in a straight line, but we’ll probably head north initially to try and get better wind. We have approx 500ltr of fuel which gives us a range of about 800 – 900nm, so we can motor half way. Based on an average speed of 5kts, it should take us 15 to 16 days.
On the positive side there will be plenty of exploring to be done in the Azores and hopefully we can feel very satisfied that we have ‘completed the circle’ when we sail back into Lymington.
This is the traditional trade route home and should see nice westerly winds to blow us along. But as has been the case all year the weather is still not normal and as the Azores high is too far north and not established in a stable fashion. The forecast has been showing strong easterly winds for some time. Some of our friends left for The Azores a couple of weeks ago and have been emailing us daily with reports of tough conditions in strong head winds and cold!!! although they have now arrived safely. The forecast has however now improved slightly and the anchorage in Bermuda, which was getting very busy with boats waiting for the wind, has emptied in the last couple of days as everyone has started to leave.
So right now we are 80 nm NE of Bermuda with 1720 miles to go to Horta. We’ll try and post daily updates to the blog so you can follow our slow progress east. As always do send us emails to let us know you are reading it as it gets very lonely out here!