Plymouth, home.

Saturday 3rd August finds me on a train to Plymouth, with a dream forecast for the days ahead, to join Tom and Daisy in bringing Cherubino back to her home port. Plymouth Haven marina, which won the prize of best marina showers of the entire trip (they even had a bath!) had requested that we leave by Sunday as they were hosting the Fastnet race fleet who’d started on Saturday. They’d have a fairly long wait though as even the biggest boats were all still on their way out to the rock on Sunday morning, a pretty impressive sight on AIS.

Purple blobs are sailing yachts!

This is the 40th anniversary of the tragic 1979 Fastnet, in which many sailors drowned and several boats were lost completely. As a 9 year old I was taken to the memorial service held in London for those lost. I remember so clearly, when we sang Eternal Father Strong to Save, it felt like the roof would lift off and then the walls crumble. This year’s fleet should have had a much more forgiving race.

We left the racing boats behind and continued west through drizzle and fog with occasional glimpses of white cliffs of Sussex. Once at Royal Sovereign the weather started to lift and we picked up the ‘magic carpet’. If you time it right you can get fair tides of up to 4 knots and hold it all the way to Dover, then round the corner the tide sweeps you into the North Sea and right up the River Orwell.

We made astonishingly fast progress. We hardly had time to savour our last hours on passage and it was far busier than we were used to. Sluicing through Dover at 10 knots whilst dodging three ferries coming in and out of Dover doing

20 knots required plenty of attention. The navigation in the Thames estuary is more intricate than mid Atlantic, with sand banks, wind farms and shipping all to be avoided. Saturday evening had us fetching up outside the Goodwin sands with the sun setting in to the sea, which isn’t a sight you expect on the East coast.

Keeping a careful eye on those ferries

We arrived just off Felixstowe at around 11pm and because Tom is very familiar with those waters, we made our entry in the dark. It’s really hard to pick up the navigation lights with the bright lights of Felixstowe dock in the background and we had a container ship and the Stena Hollandica ferry to dodge. Finally with Daisy on the foredeck with a powerful torch we found the safe water mark buoy at the entrance to Levington marina, then we crept in between the posts, Daisy’s torch swinging side to side to illuminate them and all breathed in as we squeezed into the inside berth where Cherubino set off from last October. Then we breathed out and had a glass of wine!

Cherubino leaving Levington on 14 October 2018. Those boats in the background were still in the same place on our return. Had they moved at all during our nearly 10,000 mile odyssey?!

And so it goes on

Position: 44° 29’N 011° 45’W

Wind. NE 20-25

Course: 110

Day’s run: 104 miles

We have big seas and winds gusting up to 30 knots. We even heaved to for a few hours this morning to try and let Tom and I get a little sleep. It’s very tedious but at least the sun is shining now. Bizarrely there’s another yacht out here about 2 miles to leeward of us. Poor sods. Those of you who spend a lot of time in the open ocean will know how rare that is.

More tomorrow no doubt….

Where are you going?!

Position. 44°16’N 016°18’W
Wind W 12-14knots
Course: 055
Day’s run: 139 miles

Well that’s a good question. Our intention on leaving the Azores had been to go to La Coruna in Galicia but we are currently north of La Coruna and still sailing north east. So you can assume either we’ve gone mad or the weather gods are playing cruel games. It is the latter. Let’s hope it doesn’t lead to the former.

From Friday, the wind off Galicia is forecast to blow strongly from the north east ie right from where we want to go. Sailing boats don’t like going straight into the wind. In a small dinghy or a lightweight racing yacht you might be able to steer as close to 30° from the direction of the wind. For beautiful solid, but less nimble Cherubino, it is more like 60°. And it is quite wet and uncomfortable. So we have to sail miles out of our way to open up the angle to La Coruna to 60° if we are to get there. Hence our enormous detour. We’ve been checking the forecast every 12 hours for the last few days hoping for less wind or a slight change in direction, and considering the alternative options (Falmouth? Cork even?) all of which are a very long way further.

Friday morning will be decision time so if you happen to be up in time for the shipping forecast, keep an ear out for Fitzroy and hope that it isn’t north east 4-5, occasionally 6 later. North 2-3 would do fine. Whatever the forecast it will be exciting to return to ‘home’ waters of the UK shipping areas for the first time this year.

More tomorrow…..

Gentle beginnings

Position: 39° 48’N 026° 08’W
Wind: SW 14knots
Daily run. 135 miles
Course: 070

We finally tore ourselves away from Horta yesterday morning. We had a lovely sail down to Sao Jorge and admired the precipitous coast that Daisy and I had made intimate friends with (don’t think we would have attempted it had we seen it from the sea first). Then the wind slowly died and reluctantly we turned the engine on. By early evening we were off the inviting coast of Graciosa, beckoning us to pop in until the wind picked up again. We resisted, knowing that next week is forecast to be even lighter and less reliable, and thinking we could easily find ourselves still here in September!

With limited fuel, the last thing you want is to blow most of it in the first 48 hours, so throughout the night we sailed whenever possible and only used the engine when we no longer had steerage. There was no shipping during the night, but quite a lot of yachts to be found on AIS, purple shapes heading our way or further north if making for the channel. And one going in the opposite direction, making a painfully slow 0.75 knots, a straggler from the two handed Les Sables – Azores race, the early finishers from which had been creeping in on Saturday morning. No opportunity to use the engine for those poor bods.

By dawn things were looking rosier as the sun rose in a very clear sky, the sea gently heaved underneath us and the winds began to reach dizzying strengths of 10 knots. We’ve held the wind through the day, making 5-6 knots, fighting an irritating current which will stay with us all the way to Spain.

Crew morale is high on this glorious gentle day, as we slip back into passage making mode – picking up a good book, sleeping two hours during the day, answering Dora’s Nat Geo quizzes (again). I think much patience will be required on this leg but we just have to take each day as it comes, as is always the way at sea.

Azores High (points). I cannot recall any lows!

Forgive complete silence over the past few weeks. After several days at anchor in Horta harbour, it looked as if the marina was emptying out a little, so Tom visited the harbour office with Dora in tow, engaging her best “cow eyes” which secured us a berth in the marina to ourselves on a finger pontoon, so we’ve been able to come and go as we please and have running water and electricity on tap. We’ve taken advantage of this luxury and had an impromptu summer holiday.

Faial is one of a trio of islands (the others being Sao Jorge and Pico) within easy reach of each other by subsidised ferry and we’ve been doing some exploring. The islands are all volcanic in origin – some more obviously so than others.

Perhaps my favourite of all our pictures of ever present Pico, poking its head out of the clouds.

Pico is dominated by an enormous cone volcano – the highest mountain in Portugal – with solidified lava flows going right down to the sea. The enterprising settlers in the 15th century began growing wine on PIco and this required some innovative methods of cultivation due to the local environment. The rocks left by the old lava flows were broken up and used to build stone enclosures within which they planted individual vines, with soil imported from Faial across the channel. The vines are now a UNESCO world heritage site, dominating the landscape and producing deliciously drinkable wine.

A sample of the lava enclosures for vines on Pico. Faial in the background.

Faiail has a central but less obvious volcano, with an enormous caldera inside. As a change from the family Sunday hike up a volcano, we walked around the rim of this one. To liven it up the girls went one way and Tom and I the other and had a race to see who would get round the 7km rim first. Age triumphed on that one.

Caldera walk on Faial. Fortunately that wasn’t the last time we saw the children.

At the western end of Faial there is a far more dramatic reminder of the origins of the islands. In 1958, an eruption occurred to the west of the existing lighthouse on the point. This continued spewing ash and lava for some 18 months or so, and there remains a very lunar landscape on the western tip with the unique sight of a lighthouse a good few miles in from the sea. These eruptions left a lot of people displaced and the US government issued some 2000 plus visas to the Azoreans and their families which resulted in a significant out flow of people. It also means that whilst getting lost in fairly remote villages, we end up redirected on our way in perfect American English by a returned resident, and we found English very widely spoken across the islands. I expect that loss of so many young families actually made viability of island life quite precarious at the time, though Faiail has a young and busy buzz to it nowadays in the height of summer.

Old lighthouse on the western tip of Faial. All the land beyond appeared in the late 1950s.

Dora and I inspecting one of a number of natural swimming pools wondering just how cold it would be.

Sao Jorge is definitely less populated but dairy farming, tourism and keeping the hedgerows looking beautiful seem to provide sufficient employment for the population. Daisy and I had a mini break on Sao Jorge, where she gamely joined me on some quite extreme walking on the exceptionally steep north coast. We saw wild orange trees and met an old lady who lived in an isolated one room hut by the sea with an Alsatian for company and a well kept visitors book. And had four different home made jams for breakfast at our simple but perfect hotel!

It’s quite hard to tell just how high up we were in the first picture unless you zoom in. Having made it down to the coast Daisy gamely kept smiling all the way back up again!

The Azores has accents of Scotland, Devon and Cornwall to its landscape with some unique features of its own. The grass grows richly, the roads are well maintained and virtually empty of traffic and the hedgerows are made up of blue hydrangeas. I could spend months here very happily exploring all the hiking trails and continuing to sample the local jams (fig, pineapple, orange, strawberry), pastries and vegetable soups, staying in restored farm buildings built from volcanic rock. But I will have to save that for another time, as the pages in the calendar keep turning and it is time to be moving on.

Cherubino’s crew looking East, checking out what lies ahead.

Tomorrow we set sail for La Coruna in Galicia, a week’s sail from here, if the winds are favourable. We are hopeful of a peaceful and uneventful voyage for what will be our last ocean (as opposed to sea) passage.

So lovely is Horta that many sailors decide to put down more permanent roots here.

Making your mark

After a lovely stay on Flores we sailed 130M SSE to Horta, the port of Faial in the central group of the Azores. One of the traditions for yachts anchored or moored in the harbour of Horta is to paint a small plaque on the sea wall.

Daisy took charge on our behalf and here’s what she came up with.

Horta is dominated by the 2400m peak of neighbouring island Pico’s volcano which looms over us, sometimes lost in cloud but always reappearing huge and imposing.

In a maths lesson we estimated that from the top of Pico the horizon would be 100M away and you’d be surveying over 30,000 square miles of sea, more than the area of the island of Ireland- as well as all the islands in the central group – in the most unlikely event of the atmosphere being clear enough to see 100M!

We’ve been walking a lot around the many calderas (old volcano cones) on Faial, here we are on a small one near the port.

We thought its inside would make a good anchorage in settled weather.

But the swell breaking on the outside was a bit scary!

We also went for a big walk on Saturday, here’s a clip of Faial’s main caldera at the top of the island – it’s only about 1000m high so a tiddler compared to Pico but big enough to be a 7km walk round the rim.

Today we’re all hard at work boat cleaning, polishing the bright work. More soon, Dora & Daddy

Farewell Flores. Hello Horta.

We had an incredible walk up the west coast of Flores on Wednesday morning, in a rare day of glorious sunshine. We finished up in Faja Grande, vowed to return one day, took a taxi back to the boat in Lajes (I personally vowed not to return to that most uncomfortable of anchorages), dinghy aboard, anchor up and off we went in the direction of Faial.

Farewell beautiful Flores. Tom is letting out the electric fish (the tow generator) as we settle down for a swift passage to Faial.

Arrived at the port of Horta (mandatory and iconic stopover for yachts crossing the Atlantic Europe bound) with winds gusting 28 knots, but found a sheltered spot at anchor off the marina. The water in here is flat calm which we haven’t had since Bermuda. It is heavenly. More on this interesting island once we have had a chance to explore.

Our view from Horta harbour. Commercial dock in the foreground with the extraordinary peak of nearby Pico poking through the clouds.

Waterfalls and Bays

Here’s a quick clip of one of the many waterfalls that plunge down the sides of the cliffs surrounding our anchorage at Faja Grande. Good spot for a long overdue hair wash!

And here are Daisy and Dora scrambling about below it…

Finally, a picture of Cherubino riding to her anchor in the bay.

This really is the most enchanting spot! More soon, T.