Phil Pascoe
Fri 12 Jun 2009 10:49

38:34.9N 28:42.9W
The Caldeira (Crater) on Faial
Dave’s Blog of the final few days:
The first gale to hit us had been a force 8 on Tuesday and Wednesday 26/27May. The following day gave us a brief respite before the second low pressure system we were expecting arrived. The winds started increasing not long after midnight on Thursday.  This low was smaller but more compact than the first and by breakfast on Friday it was in full swing with consistent winds in the high 30/low 40 knot range.  Winds reaching 44 knots were recorded bringing this gale up to a force 9. The mainsail had been reefed to its lowest sail area at 5am and the genoa had been furled to leave just a small handkerchief sized sail. As we finished breakfast it was decided that there was still too much sail area for the wind strengths we were encountering. The main had to be dropped, this we did immediately.  Unfortunately whilst dropping the main, not an easy task on a bucking boat in high wind, it was noticed that there was a 3 foot tear along the seam of the leech and a 3inch tear on the luff  where the sail had rubbed on the spreader bar. Not good news, we still had over 600 miles to get to the Azores.
Reducing the sail area made it far more comfortable and Whitemeadow twisting and turning up the windward side of the waves then surfed down the lee side performing graceful carve turns at the base that any skier would have been proud of. Spray poured over the boat so we left 'George' to continue helming while we retired to the cabin, battened down the hatches, and watched a DVD. Regular visits were made on deck to check for shipping etc,. and to note the state of the sea which was gradually building to equal if not exceed the waves of the first gale. Extremely exhilarating.

The gale abated by early evening and we had dinner and allowed ourselves the luxury of a glass of wine with which we toasted each other and George for getting through the gale without injury(other 
than the torn mainsail). Fate then played its second card of the day when the boat violently lurched just as we finished the toast. A quick rush on deck showed that George was no longer in control of the 
the boat and for a time we had to resort to manually helming.  Later inspection of the linkage on arrival in the Azores revealed that a bolt had sheared.  Phil soon set up Maggie to take over helming once the winds subsided to a mere 30 knots and by about 11 we able to leave Maggie in control but only under very close supervision.
For the next four days of 30/31 May and 1st/2nd June the wind continued to blow between 20/30 knots between WNW and NNW allowing us to run before it on an approximate bearing of 90 degrees. The low's progress east slowed and we managed to keep a hold of its shirt tail as it moved toward the Azores.  This was very fortunate for if it had pulled away from us we would have been left in an area of low and variable winds.  The only sail used in this period was the Genoa, and because of the strength of the wind this was furled to leave just a half to three quarters of its potential area.  Whilst the boat would have been better balanced if the mainsail had been hoisted it was deemed prudent to leave this down because of the damage it had suffered. The wind finally left us as we neared the Azores early on Wednesday morning 3 June.  When we were just 20 or so miles from Horta we eventually had to use the motor to complete the final few miles.  The mainsail was raised but only to allow it to dry before being being despatched to a local sailmaker in Horta for repair.  At 11.25am  we eventually tied up to the marina key.  This part of the Atlantic crossing had been accomplished.

On Wednesday afternoon and Thursday Pete and I explored some of Faial and Pico whilst Phil arranged for the repair of the sail, plus some time to his own.  Pico was fascinating far too much to record here.  On Friday Pete left for home, Phil went over to Pico to meet up with his old boss from Plymouth and in the evening Robin and Chris joined the boat.  Robin bringing with him a replacement bolt for George. Saturday was spent shopping, undertaking some boat maintenance and a visit to the local whale museum. On sunday we hired a car and visited other parts of the island including the site of the volcanic eruptions in the 1950s.  A fascinating area covered in ash.  We then did our best to navigate our way to the central crater on the island using tourist sketch maps and encountered the same problems as Pete and I had on Pico, The maps are drawn by impressionists. We did succeed and were rewarded with some stunning views.  Then back to the boat stopping on the way to have an excellent meal in a restaurant on the outskirts of Horta.  I then packed and on Monday left to fly to Ponta Delgada where I spent the afternoon and evening before flying back home on Tuesday. This left Phil, Robin and Chris hiring a car to make their own trip round Pico on Monday before setting sail on Tuesday for Plymouth.

At the beginning of this trip I wondered how it would live up to my expectations of such long sea passages in a small boat particularly across the Atlantic. All my questions were answered in the positive. It most certainly was not boring but then it was my first trip. I had thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. We had seen the Atlantic both glassy calm and also somewhat angry with majestic seas whipped up by high winds. We had been fortunate to catch site of the odd whale and several groups of dolphins along with thousands of ‘by- the-wind-sailor’ jelly fish and numerous birds thousands of miles from land!. A really positive experience and despite being pounded by wind and waves Whitemeadow coped with all that was thrown her way giving us confidence that all was well.

Pics:  The Caldeira on Faial.  The Azores are now encouragng Whale-watching rather than hunting and killing.