The first 600 miles to Faial.

Sat 20 May 2023 23:00

Bermuda- Faial,   at 18:30 on Saturday 20th, our position is 34:41.48N 051:59.06W and we are heading northeast.

This leg has been a roller coaster ride so far. We set off from Bermuda on Sunday 14th May with everything, we thought, in good shape; the weather was fine and the forecast benign.  Leaving the island behind us I went below and noticed a strong smell of diesel!    There was diesel in the bilge and it turned out, after emptying the cockpit locker (fenders, bikes, dinghy oars and seats) to gain access, that the fuel tank breather pipe had split so the last few liters of the fuel we added that morning in St Georges, had escaped into the boat.  I bailed diesel from the bilges into a 10 litre can using the dinghy bailing scoop and did my best with absorbent pads to wipe up the residue but the smell still lingers, and it is difficult stuff to get rid of completely; there is a distinct hydrocarbon smell when the gas rings are lit.  The nether regions of the bilges from the engine space to the under-cabin soles are going to need a thorough scrub out during the winter layup.

That was Sunday, on Monday morning we noticed the line to the furling drum was leading at a strange angle and it turned out the furling drum bearing had come apart allowing the drum and foil to slide up the wire forestay sufficiently for a large amount of the new Dyneema furling line to be ‘welded’ around the stay inside the bearing housing.  At the same time the sail was unfurling itself (and winding on more Dyneema) as the wind was getting up.  We had to get the sail down before we could even assess the issue with the drum.  This was a mouth-drying, monumental struggle for Brian and me while Keith steered the boat with the sail thrashing around our ears.  Inch by inch we hauled it down with nothing much to grip except folds of sail pulled bar tight by the pressure of the wind. We had run off to try to shelter the sail behind the main – and reduce the apparent wind –and, perhaps, going head to wind might have been easier?  It must have taken forty minutes of work at the limit of my strength to get the sail on the deck and eventually subdue its wild tendency to blow everywhere by lying on it while recovering.   Then a second struggle to bundle it through the hatch to the sail bin which it filled. We stopped for some breakfast and a rest and then set our very small (No 4?) sail on the emergency forestay and carried on.  The little sail was OK in the fresh wind but would not pull like the Genoa in light airs. 

The following day the wind went light to nothing and we motored and the flat sea gave us a chance to examine the furling unit. I had also emailed Adrian at Eurospars in Plymouth for advice, and he thought that the bearings and a retaining circlip with the furling drum had failed, and we shouldn’t/couldn’t use it.  This was a dilemma, we were 250 miles from Bermuda and 1600 from Faial, should we go back to fix it, could it even be fixed, or replaced, in Bermuda?  We erred on the side of continuing and explored options with the broken furler.  After a misguided attempt to set the Genoa again (probably rash because we couldn’t reduce it in stronger winds) we decided to remove the rope drum that carries the furling line and lash the moving part of the furler to the forestay anchorage with several turns of stout line.  We then set a heavy working jib on the foil with the understanding that we would have to lower it in heavy weather.  This sail came with the boat, and I had never tried it; it was small but considerably bigger than the No 4 but set very poorly. So poorly that even with the cars right forward, we couldn’t sheet the sail properly and the head of the sail flogged in high winds making a sound like rapid gun fire from the ranges at HMS Raleigh and made the mast shake. 

Nevertheless, with a working jib we were up and, if not exactly running, off again and heading for our next waypoint.  Then the gribs indicated a strong north-easterly weather system associated with a high-pressure system near Canada. This was going to be wind on the nose, and we opted to sail east to avoid the worst weather and enjoyed 36 hours of fast beam reaching in fresh southerlies.  It almost worked, we eventually clipped the tail end of the weather system, but it was weak enough by then to enable us to continue east, close-hauled. Then it started to rain continuously, and visibility dropped to ½ mile at best. On top of that waves hitting the side of the boat washed over the deck and into the cockpit.   The interior of the boat became saturated, mostly water from wet foul weather gear on the watch changes but clothing, upholstery and bedding all felt damp. Eventually, on the evening of the 19th we emerged from the strong wind and rain zone, exactly when the grip file said we should, and the weather started to improve.  The wind went light and started to push us south until at 2:30 in the morning of the 20th, Keith’s birthday, he made the decision on his watch to tack north. Since then, the wind has come around sufficiently to allow us to sail NE towards our destination but, with 7 knots of wind, we are only making 3-4 knots on a close reach although, if the sea state continues to reduce, we may do better.  The sun has come out, the boat is drying out and the solar panels are charging the boat batteries – I had to use the generator for a couple days in the claggy weather.  

I baked a ready-mix birthday cake during my 4-7am watch this morning and we had a birthday beer withnlunch in the cockpit.  Over lunch we discussed the pros and cons of re-hoisting the Genoa in the foil to give us better speed in the light air.  It is a lot of work to change sails and because we can’t roller reef, it would mean hauling it down and setting the working jib if the wind freshened which is a risk –and is going back to ‘old school’ foredeck work which I thought I had retired from.   However, this afternoon’s gribs shows no wind over 10 knots for the foreseeable – and we are running out of milk!  So tomorrow morning’s project is to change sails again.   Where is all this easterly wind coming from? WEeare supposed to have westerlies at this lattitude.  Hey ho, only 1100 miles to go.


One last shot of Bermuda
Never underestimate a desperate sailor with a bag of string. Red holding the bearing together, blue leading to the tack of the working jib.
Our stout little working jib - about a quarter the size of the Genoa.