The home straight

We waited at Penzance while the winds moderated then back to Southampton in three longish legs: Cawsand Bay, Swanage, and Southampton. Good sailing on each leg.

Day one we set off before daylight and arrived just as the sun went down. On the way I photographed a few yachts coming the other way and tried to contact them to send copies. I still haven’t heard from the cruising chute boat off Pico.

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Approaching Rame Head there was a cream gaff cutter coming in the other direction. I thought it might be Ewen, but it was another one. I binged his blog and if he contacts my comment I’ll send the snaps.

Thursday I had a rest at Cawsand and planned the next leg. The aim was to pass Start Point and Portland Bill with fair tides. It worked out well, and we reached the Bill at the start of the flood and continued with the fair tide over St Alban’s ledge and past Anvil point. Overnight in Lyme Bay there was the usual concentration of fishing craft, so there was not a lot of sleep to be had. The main had torn further with a rip by the lower batten pocket. In Swanage I put a patch of sail number material over it and slept until the morning.

I have seen some strange, unusual and wonderful sights this year, but the most bizarre of all was over St Alban’s Ledge. The race was really living up to it’s name, with 4 knots of tide and although the wind was light and with the tide, there was breakers over the whole of the ledge. As we raced across the race, there was four yachts motoring in the opposite direction, and another four passed by the time we cleared Anvil Point. Now I know that August is called the silly season, but that is just plain ridiculous.

Tuesday evening there had been a great firework display at St Micheal’s Mount and we had a fine view through the harbour entrance. An hour after reaching Cawsand, there was another display at Plymouth. Thursday evening as we went past Salcombe, there was another fine display of fireworks. I expected to see more at Swanage, but there wasn’t any, or I slept through it.

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Saturday the wind started light, but the tide compensated for it and pushed us east and up the Solent. A fortuitous wind shift gave us a beam reach for the last leg up Southampton Water and we reached the club before high water and went straight onto the trailer and Scallywag was hauled out with the new club tractor.

Then started the tedious business of washing, drying and storing sails, ropes and clothes etc. The water pump had been dripping and the drops fell onto the flywheel and were sprayed all around the engine compartment. As well as rebuilding the pump, the engine has been taken out and painted and the empty compartment also painted. There are a number of little jobs still to do, and no doubt a number more will appear. These unforeseen jobs must wait in the bilges until you think it is nearly complete then sneak out when you’re not looking.

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More Terceira tales

On the pontoon at Praia, we were moored by two Portuguese yachts. Behind me was a couple from Lisbon who use the yacht as a holiday home. They saw the Australian red ensign and the lady told me that they had seen many Australian yachts when her husband, a former naval officer, was the last Portuguese harbourmaster in Dili. He was in that post when I was there in Polack in 1974. They were intrigued by the absence of a shore power line. He asked about the lighting and I explained that all lights on board are LED and consume little power. He is more used to warships I suppose. They took a swim every day at the beach nearby and plugged in an electric shower to the 32A socket afterwards. One day as we were both doing some washing on the pontoon she remarked “We must profit the sun” which is a phrase that stuck with me.

I had done my passage washing soon after arriving, and just kept up with a bucket wash every few days. We were lucky with the weather and days forecast to be rainy turned out dry, though there was heavy rain at night. The last day was the exception and the forecast rain came in heavy showers. Once outside the harbour, I could see further heavy rain over Praia while we were in the dry.

Next to them was Pedro with his motor-sailor. I think he would prefer a more traditional yacht, but it suits his purpose for now as he has two young children. He bought the boat there and took it out of the water for a refit. Like all of us, there is a list of jobs to tackle, though he has done much already. He was interested in the natural self steering, and may experiment with it, as the boat can be operated by tiller or wheel.

Pedro had driven me up to a ridge south of the port where there are 14 wind turbines. Miradours are both sides of the ridge giving great and very different views. To the south there are flat areas where the fields are set out in regular plots, unlike the higgledy-piggledy arrangements on the steep slopes. Beyond them was more hills hiding Angra do Herosimo from view but showing the Isles Cabras that I had sailed past. To the north the view was dominated by Praia and the harbour, and the town of Lajes with its airport. One set of turbines disappeared into clouds that were rolling in, giving them an otherworldly appearance. The views were indeed splendid, but I felt that having been driven up the hill I had not earned the right to appreciate them fully.

The next day I took off to the south, going along the harbour, past a beach at the south. There appeared to be a sandy bottom out from the beach and I took a mental note to consider it as a possible anchorage in a strong southerly. Next to the beach is the fishing harbour, and after that the commercial docks and industrial area. I went on the road and headed off, up a steepish slope and dropped down to Porto Martins, which looks like it was a port at one time, but now a fine swimming spot. Returning, I took a farm track which led through pasture and corn fields. The corn is for cattle feed. A path led from the track to the coast and then to the industrial and port area.
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The fort of Sante Catarina was undergoing a refurbishment and looked like it would soon be open to visitors. The harbour was at one time ringed with forts, but mostly they are gone, though their locations are marked. Terceirans have the proud claim that during the time when the Philips of Spain occupied Portugal, and their king had fled to Brazil, Terceira was the only part of Portugal to remain Portuguese.

The next morning I was up late, having been disturbed in the night by heavy rain and overactive fish bumping the hull. They were probably trying to escape a predator. I was considering going to Angra do Herosimo, the capital at the south of the island, and wondering whether to take the bus that day or the next. Pedro came by and offered a lift to Angra, where he works, and a lift back at five. I gratefully accepted and he dropped me off at the top of the impressive botanical gardens. It is set on a steep slope and there are impressive views over the city and surroundings. Near the bottom of the gardens is an area of specimen plants and I was pleased to see a lemon scented eucalyptus.

My third pair of shorts had split at the backside, so I looked around for a replacement. The only ones I could find under €20 were not in my size. Peter Sport, no longer just a bar in Horta, had a shop selling branded clothing but they were even more expensive. In the end I waited and picked up a pair at the supermarket in Praia for €8. Pedro and I met up at a central restaurant for a Prato do Dia. I always choose these even if I don’t know what the dish is. If by any chance I don’t like it, I can learn the name to avoid it in future.

In the afternoon I went to Monte Brasil, the volcano which sticks out to the south, joined by a narrow isthmus and providing fine natural harbours to each side of it. The area has an old fort and is still a military barracks and training area. There is a walking path that went around the island, up to the highest point and then around the caldera.
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At the highest point is an old lookout and visual telegraph. This simple but ingenious system has a crosstree where balls can be placed high or low on four wires. The whole thing is then hoisted up to the top. The first signal would indicate the direction of an approaching vessel, the next the type of vessel and the last the nationality. A lot more information could be provided also and the code was apparently modified to take account of steamships and later aircraft.

The next day Pedro had volunteered the use of a bicycle, or another trip to Angra. I accepted the use of the bike, as it would allow me to visit the interior of the island, and I was eager to be back on a bike. The bike was in the boot and he dropped me off along the road on his way to work. It was only when we took the bike out of the boot that I realised it was an inexpensive dual suspension model. These are an abomination, excessively heavy and if you pedal hard they soak up energy bobbing up and down. I set the saddle at the minimum insertion but it was still a little lower than it should be for me. I set off up the road at a steady pace, and was overtaken by two cyclists on proper road bikes and cycling kit. They looked to be putting in half the effort for twice the speed. I reflected that one advantage of a slightly larger boat is that I could accommodate at least a half decent folder. The road became steeper as we went up a pass between two mountain systems, then joyfully dropped down a slope to a flattish plain at the base of a caldera. This was the Caldeira do Guilleirmo Moniz. To the south and west there were areas where the sides were near vertical cliffs. At the base, there were wild cattle roaming, and the region is divided up with stone walls. I passed a number of cattle crushes and small bull rings where the fight bulls are selected.

I had seen on the map the Gruta do Algar do Carvao, and the Furnas do Enoxfre. I went past the turning for the Gruta, reckoning that the fumaroles would be hot and best seen first, leaving the cooler caves to be best appreciated later in the day. The distance between the two turnoffs was small, but led up the sides of the caldera, and was very steep and winding. There was no way I wanted to push that bike up that road twice, so it would be either returning on the same road, or taking in the Lagoa do Negra and Gruta Natal, Black Lakes and Christmas Cave, which were on the road after the fumaroles and would form part of a round trip going along the north coast of the island.
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The fumaroles were indeed fascinating, steam and sulphurous odours coming out of the ground and pale yellowy mosses growing around the exits. I’ve never seen anything like it before. The road after swept down the hill, and I coasted to the turnoff to the Lakes and Christmas cave. A very steep hill went up past a plantation of conifers and dropped down to the caves. I pedalled at the bottom, and the chain parted. Traditionally chains on bikes with derailleur gears are endless and some time and a little skill is needed to split and join the links so that it will run freely. In order to build a bike down to a price, joining links are often now used on cheaper models and this is always a weak spot. Thus it was that at the furthest point from Praia I was stuck with a heavy bike that would not pedal. There was a large car with its bonnet up and I spoke to the driver, hoping there might be some prospect of a lift at least part way. Alas he had an electrical fault, nothing I could help with and he was going to have to call for assistance. He suggested that the filling station at Biscoitos might be able to help. With a long way to go, and no idea if I would have to push all the way, I left the lakes and Christmas Cave until next time.

Biscoitos was 6 km away, but after the first 100m it was coasting downhill all the way, then downhill further to the filling station. The mechanic had no chain tool, but when I explained that I could fix it myself he offered any tools he had. I used a punch and vice to split the chain and pliers to rejoin it with a washer to space the pin. It is something I used to do about 40 years ago, but decent chains now have hardened pins so usually only the proper tool will do. The repaired chain is now almost certainly stronger than the original. Paulo the proprietor seemed almost as happy as I was at a successful outcome.
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Paulo, Len and the Abominable Bike

The road back to Praia was another 20km and took about an hour and a half, with , stops to admire the views of the coast. Certainly on that bike I had well and truly earned the right to enjoy them.
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The best sight of all was the control tower at the airport, as I knew from there it would be downhill back to the marina.

Rain was forecast the next day, so I didn’t go biking again, but did some tidying up and prepared some blog entries to post. I was catching up with these now that the computer issues had been sorted, but would need to use the Portuguese computers again. It was looking like a weather window would open for departure, but I would need to check again nearer the time. There were bullfights scheduled Friday at Port Judeau, about half an hour by cycle and Sunday in Praia. Next week was the Festas at Fontinhas, not far from Praia, and there would be bullfights every evening. So there would be plenty to keep me entertained if the weather window closed. Roger was expected in on Ella Trout III, and I wrongly assumed that a white boat with a red ensign at the anchorage outside was he. He had found no free berth at the reception pontoon and not liking the lee shore in the strong winds, and it was strong then, had anchored at the south of the harbour. Roger is somewhat older than he looks and did remarkably well to complete the crossing in the time he took.

Friday morning I was watching the yacht outside when Roger appeared in his dinghy. He was assigned a berth alongside a large yacht that was waiting to be lifted out. This was convenient, as the owner was not aboard. I went onboard to help with his lines as he approached. After checking in and showering, the time was getting on so we went to the town for lunch and a chat. Roger has been here before for two Jester Azores challenges and showed me a stall at the market where I could get some local produce.

We chatted again over diner on Pedro’s boat. I am lucky in more ways than I knew. The slightly more northern route would have given more wind, but none of it in the right direction. It would have given us little if any more distance made good and almost certainly caused more damage. Roger’s repair bill in Newport was sobering. Bigger boats will mean bigger bills, and more stuff means more stuff to go wrong and more time spent doing repairs and waiting around for parts. It is a trade off, but sometimes I wish for a little more headroom and stowage space.

Saturday morning I took a final look at the forecast, which still looked good and went for some last minute fresh provisions, taking my last walk up the main street which is paved with black and white stones in intricate patterns. It is not many places where the main street is a work of art.
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I had a last shower, then checked out at the office. I had to wait an hour for the border police as they were busy at the airport. The border police lady could not have been more friendly. I have found this with all the officials here. They really do want to make the visitors welcome.

Roger and Pedro saw us off. It was blowing quite fresh and I thought after that I should have hung off a stern cleat while stowing the fenders and lines instead of doing that in the harbour. I had to take the weather opportunity, but the Azores has been so welcoming that I wouldn’t have minded if the forecast changed and I was obliged to stay a bit longer. Maybe in 2016.

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From Praia to Scillies is 350 leagues

The trip from Terceira to the Channel was in two parts, first go north, then go east. The forecast showed south easterlies for the first few days, then reducing and backing to northerly, continuing to back and freshening again from NW, giving a good boost towards the east. This is pretty much what happened. At first we were able to put the wind on the starboard quarter and still point the bow towards the Scillies. I was using Bishops Rock as a waypoint, expecting to put in at Scilly for a day, or a tide, if conditions were suitable. If not, we would at least be north of the TSS and clear of most big shipping in the channel.

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A friendly Ray in Praia says goodbye

The first night was a bit lively. We banged along with one reef in the main and the No 2 jib. After dark there was frequent lighting ahead of us. It was too far away to see the lighting bolts, or hear any thunder, but the tops of the clouds flashed bright enough to light up inside the cabin. The radar alarm beeped with each flash. It was too far away to present any risk, but I wanted to keep a watch in case we were running into danger. After the storms died away, the radar started bleeping again with a distant ship. It didn’t appear on AIS but was within range for nearly two hours. It was probably a slow moving ship going in the same direction and about 20 miles or more away.

By morning the wind had backed a little and I tweaked the rig to bring the wind further forward. Just sliding the sheet back down the tiller is usually enough. We carried on with short sail throughout the second day, but it eased just before sunset. I was tempted to increase sail, but opted for a quiet night. In the morning the wind picked up again and we were back to a force 4 or 5 for another day.

Tuesday morning the wind did ease off as expected and we set full sail. The afternoon was sunny and I had a wash in the cockpit with solar heated water. It was easy but not spectacular sailing with winds gradually easing and backing.

The next afternoon I saw a whale at some distance, too far away to even guess the species. At 1900 there was just a light breath from NNE, and we tacked, pointing east. A whale went past at about 200m distance. Just about as the sun set a whale, probably the same one, surfaced just 50m off the beam. Luckily I was in the cockpit at the time. I would guess it was about 10m long, and judging by the shape of the back and hooked fin, it was probably a large Minke. I have seen a few whales this time, and noticed that they seem to approach more closely in calm conditions. In contrast the dolphins are much more interested if we are moving quickly and bashing around.

Overnight the wind picked up again and we had a good run with the wind increasing and backing further. Noon to noon we made good 124 miles. I had been unable to get a radio signal from Northwood for weatherfax, and the signals from Offenbach were sometimes distorted. I found fiddling with the aerial connector was some use, and tightening the connector on the back of the radio, I broke it off inside. I didn’t know until it was opened up, but it was either the radio or the aerial. In the morning I put another reef in the main as we were bumping around too much for extreme soldering. The radio was a very easy repair, just soldered a wire back onto the connector, then tightened up the backnut. There was still no signal from Northwood, so I used the Offenbach ones. The synoptic charts have no geostrophic scale, so working out the wind speed is more difficult. I hope that normal service is resumed from Northwood. By now the late night shipping forecast was audible on the BBC, although we were well outside the areas covered.

The wind eased again the next day, Saturday and I went to set full sail. Hoisting the genoa it caught on a cleat and when I went to free it, about a metre of leech had torn. I could repair it like the last time, but that repair had taken three days, and this one is three times as long. It would be very difficult to do a good job without a big table to lay it flat, and I am not sure that I would be worth it anyway, as rest of the leech would be suspect. For now it will be the old blue genoa, or the number 2, or if the wind is really light, the cruising chute. I couldn’t repair the genoa, so did the hole in the floor instead and through-bolted it.

Sunday started cloudy day, but lived up to its name eventually. The radio was still a bit scratchy but we were able have it tuned in during the day. I found a cable from the big solar panel had broken, so soldered that. Warm enough for a solar heated wash and dry. I baked a longitude cake, meant to do it earlier, but now each degree would warrant a larger slice.

Monday I took the sextant out of its box. A large tanker was passing at 4.5 miles and I wondered how long it is. It measured 2 degrees 30 minutes, and as one degree is 1:60, that works out at around 300m. I might even try a sun sight one day.

On Tuesday the radio reception was very clear, and the noon weather forecast was worrying, warning of strong winds and rain due to the remnants of Hurricane Bertha, with the worst to come on Sunday. We were nearly 300 miles from Scillies. I would need to take the sailing quite seriously, adjusting the sails to take best advantage of the wind shifts and take careful note of the forecasts. The lack of the genoa was an issue, as only the smaller No 2 was available to pole to windward.

The weatherfax in the morning was not too drastic. It looks like there will be strong westerlies on Saturday and Sunday. It looks worse in the north, and probably no more than force 6 at Scilly. The anchorages are a bit exposed, so I would probably carry on to Penzance. The shipping forecast was for winds becoming variable. The weatherfax suggests southeasterlies at midnight Thursday, so I would avoid heading north of the waypoint, which would leave us closehauled. It was a pleasant day, with a sunny start, and feeling warm with the light winds. The drop in temperature has been noticeable with the sleeping bag putting in an appearance and now socks to wear at night.

The winds becoming lighter, I got the cruising chute out. With no snuffer, I set put this sail up or down in the lee of the mainsail. I use an autopilot to keep a steady course while doing this. It is the only time I use it, as it continually hunts from side to side, wasting electricity and driving me crazy. It is useful for the chute though, as it would be too easy to rip this sail if it got out of control. The autopilot didn’t work, although the light came on and it beeped encouragingly. I abandoned the idea, but after two hours of creeping along at one knot, I decided to put it up anyway. If we were to have any chance of staying ahead of Bertha, we would need to get some miles on the log.

I was pleased that the cruising chute would not only fly, but it would also self steer. It had to be watched as the wind was a bit changeable, but I was able to get on with some other jobs in the cockpit. I tackled the autopilot, which turned out to be some corrosion in the plug and socket. I only fitted these in May. The last ones were in place for 6 years, including the Atlantic circuit. The autopilot has only been used twice, but the socket also does the anchor light. Flushed with my success as an electrician, I got the old bilge pump, which stopped working in Praia, out and dismantled it, cleaned and sprayed it all and reassembled. It now works! Then I cleaned some other bits and pieces in a cockpit locker, a job on my to-do list since Plymouth.

The cruising chute came down with the sun and the old genoa went back up, only to come down again as the wind died and we were just rolling around. With no wind at all, I took the main down. As I was flaking it down over the boom, my hand went through the leech. It hadn’t caught on anything. The cloth just ripped. Luckily it was a small tear, but it doesn’t fill me with confidence about the strength of the sail. It was too dark to do anything about it, so I tied it to the boom and waited for the morning.

I was woken before dawn by the radar alarm. I had some breakfast waiting for light, then took the sail off the boom. I had sorted some sail repair cloth in the evening. I cut a piece to go across the repair and stuck it down, pressing hard and rubbing it down. It went back up, then it was a case of waiting for enough wind to fill it. There was a very light northerly. The leech didn’t look too bad. There is not a single length of leech that goes for a whole panel so any further tear could only spread to the next batten pocket or reinforcing patch. I hope there is no further tear. It only has to last another 400 miles.

The wind veered quickly and we then tacked with a SSE breeze allowing us to steer the direct course. The wind increased a little more and we broke the 2 knot barrier. Also the sun is shining and TMS is on the radio.

I didn’t use the computer again for a few days, apart from weatherfax, as the battery voltage seemed to be a bit low. It turns out that the large panel was giving out voltage, but one of the connector plugs was not making a good contact in the socket, although it appeared fine. Wrapping some aluminium foil around it did the trick but it would take a few days sunshine to top the battery fully. There really is a need for a paraffin fuelled computer.

After the main went up, the wind was very even handed for 2 days. First N, then SE, SSE, S, SbE, SSE, SW, NW, NNW, NW, WbN, WbS, SW then SSW. There may have been a few I missed when asleep. Not that there was much sleep as there was quite a bit of traffic. So there was a bit of sail tinkering, but only one blow that needed reducing sail. Mostly we enjoyed force 4 and made good progress.

All week there had been warnings of the remnants of hurricane Bertha promising heavy wind and rain on Sunday, and the forecast suggested gales for late Saturday. This ruled out Scilly and I planned to get into Penzance where we would dry out in the harbour and be well sheltered.
At first light the Isles were visible, very low to port and Land’s End was ahead. The wind was now from directly behind, so we had to head off to put the wind on one quarter then the other to allow self steering. It would have been possible to set two headsails on long poles, but with the newer genoa damaged, it would have been a bit slow and in any case the wind was not likely to remain constant. It turned out a pleasant morning with sunshine enough to heat water for a solar wash.

We arrived at Penzance two hours before HW, having put 1195 miles on the log since Praia, and a total of 5097 from Southampton. Bertha arrived sometime overnight. I slept well. This is the first time this year we have dried out. The bottom is mostly clean, just a little slime in a few places. There is no serious problems with damage or wear and tear, but a number of smaller things that need attention before next season, so we will probably return to Southampton then come out of the water and start cleaning and repairing.

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An Honorary German in Horta

As readers will know, Germany won the semi-final against Brasil 7-1, so I was duty bound to watch the final on Sunday night.  I wouldn’t have minded seeing the semi as 8 goals in 90 minutes looks like good spectator value.  My first task after berthing was to have a shower, as the ones in Flores were free but just cold water.  The first hot shower for 5 weeks is of course wonderful, but I found the towels smaller and less fluffy than in Praia da Vitoria.  These details are important.

Peter’s Café Sport was easy to find and I had the obligatory beer there.  In bygone days it was the place for yachties as not only could you get fed and watered, but they could point you in the right direction for whatever you needed for your boat.  Nowadays that role is filled by others including the helpful marina staff, the tourist information office and various yacht supply places.  I did see that Peter’s was advertising a live music duo on Saturday night.

Saturday I had a wander around the town looking for the big supermarket.  I had looked on their website and seen it to the north of town.  I didn’t find it there but did come across a parade with four military bands.  The first three were playing slow marches but the last was playing a quick march.  They had to keep stopping so that they didn’t catch up with the band in front.   Not only were they not in time with the band in front, but they were not in time with each other either.  I was reminded of the drunken band competition in “Brassed off”.   Back at the boat, I chatted with the crew of a British yacht nearby and they gave me better directions to the big supermarket which I found after a bit of a wander around.

The evening gig was great fun.  As soon as I arrived I recognised the style was from Cape Verde and indeed they played a mixture of Cape Verdean and Azorean music.  The female singer also sang some contemporary songs in English and Portuguese which she sang well, though I preferred the more traditional numbers.

Sunday I took a walk up Monte da Guia, the volcanic cone to the south of the port.  From the top I looked down into the Caldeira and an officer from the maritime police came and looked down at a dive boat which was on the boundary between the two entrances.   That ruled out any plans that I had entertained about sailing into there.

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There is lots of interesting history about the place.  Between the Monte and the south coast, there is an excellent harbour in northerly winds, Porto Pim, but the whole area is prohibited for boating because it is the terminus of many undersea cables.

In the evening I went to the football, not in Peter’s which was crowded, but the Club Naval.  As an honorary German for the night I should have felt pleased at the result, but was just relieved when a goal was finally scored.
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Monday I took a bus ride around the island, following the coast road clockwise.  There were bananas growing here too and a good variety of other produce, but mostly small scale stuff.  A lot of corn was grown, but most of that is for cattle feed.  It seems a pity that with such a suitable climate and abundant water that most of the produce in the supermarkets is imported.
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Tuesday I set off for Terceira.  The distance to Praia da Vitoria is only 80 miles and with a fresh SW just aft the beam that shouldn’t take too long.  The plan was to leave around 1300, after the Marina office reopens, so that we should arrive in daylight, not that a night arrival at PdV would be difficult.  The customs office keeps different times to the others, so I had to return at 1400 to get my paper stamped.

I planned to sail down the channel with the long islands of Pico and Sao Jorge on each side.  Good plan as there should be brilliant scenery.  All was going well coming out of Horta and I was having a wash off Pico using hot water from the solar shower bag when the wind came right around ahead of us.  There followed a period of frustration as the wind went very light. I don’t mind oing slowly when coastal cruising.  It is the principle of the slow reveal.  Just around the next headland the scene opens up with a little picture postcard village and dramatic mountain backdrop,  You never quite no what to expect but it is usually worth the wait. We could just about make Velas on Sao Jorge close hauled.
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It had been a brilliant clear day, the best since arriving in Horta and I was taking some photos of Pico.  A yacht had come out of Velas and had apparently been under motor.  About half a mile away I saw the cruising chute open, and took some photos as they approached.  I hailed them and took some more photos with Pico in the background and radioed them my email so that I could send copies.  Shortly after we finished with the radio, the cruising chute came down and they resumed motoring.   Perhaps they just don’t like sailing and had been kind enough to provide a photo opportunity.
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Technically it is not the best photograph. If both boats were going in the same direction it would be sharper.  If I had a fancy all singing and dancing camera and knew what to do with it, it could be better still.  But we can take lots of photos of our boats at anchor or tied up.  It is less common, unless prearranged, to get a decent photo of your own boat under sail.  Much rarer to get one under sail with the cruising chute up.  Rarer still to have an iconic landmark like Pico as a backdrop, and extremely fortunate to be able to see Pico so clearly.  I’d be delighted to get a snap like that.  Perhaps next Jester we can organise a mutual photoshoot.  Can we organise the visibility as well?

As the evening wore on, the winds were worse, and it was slow going down the channel.  Between midnight and 6 we were averaging between 1 and 1.5 knots on the log, and none of that pointing where we should have been.  At least there was a current that favoured us all the way.  Once clear of the islands, the wind picked up where it left off and we had a wonderful force 3 on the quarter.  I poled out the extra genoa and we were bowling along at 4 knots with a tide and the Azores current helping and as the wind increased we logged 5 knots or more at times passing along the south coast of Terceira.  I was tempted to put into Angra, but carried on to Praia  da Vitoria, arriving just as the sun had set and dropped the hook with a wonderful fiery orange display over the town.

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Home on the beach

I felt quite at home returning to Praia da Vitoria. The marina is so friendly and welcoming. There was no space at the reception pontoon when I arrived, so I tried the radio, then took up a position next to where I had been a month before. We can easily fit on a five metre finger pontoon, so there will almost certainly always be a space. If there was not, it is a good big anchorage and well protected so I would be happy enough to stay at anchor and row in. The shower and laundry facilities are available for boats at anchor as well. In all the Acores marinas, the berthing is cheap and the showers and laundry are on a pay per use basis.

The plan was to be off after a few days, given a suitable weather window. Alas there is a persistent high pressure which looks to stretch out across the whole of the Atlantic. All we could expect after clearing the Azores is headwinds. Headwinds will bring a slow passage with wet decks and lots of banging about and not much progress towards our destination. It is likely to be damaging for the boat and frustrating for skipper. So I await for developments, but so far it doesn’t get any better on that front.
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The good news is it has given more time to explore our surroundings. There is much that is unique about Terceira and locals are proud of their heritage. In the centre of the island there is a large volcanic crater, where wild cattle roam. These provide the fight bulls. From May to October, street bullfights are arranged. The bull is tethered to a rope about 200 metres long. Five men dressed in traditional garb are at the end of the rope and another five nearer to the bull. The bull is let out of his pen and roams down the street. All the houses in the street are prepared with plywood barriers across the gates and other entrances. Most watch from the windows and balconies. Others watch from the street and there is great excitement as the crowd moves back and forward, close enough to get a good view but running to keep out of harm’s way. A few men will tease the bull with a cape or umbrella, provoking him to charge. The skill is in circling around faster than the bull can turn. A few brave or foolish men from the crowd will try their skills. No doubt it is considered a very macho thing. I saw one guy misjudge the timing and the bull knocked him down then used his horn to flip him over like turning an egg. Fortunately he landed well and soon ran off, but didn’t come back for another go. The bulls are not killed in this type of bullfighting, but the spectators sometimes are. I was told that every year someone is killed.

Terceira, like the other islands, is full of volcanic features and this provides stunning views, both of and from the mountains. There is a ridge along the coast to the north of the town and I had walked west out of town towards the airport then up a very steep road to the top. There was a miradour looking south and great views over the sea to the north. A curious cow was tethered next to the miradour and came up for a chat.
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Nearly every spare piece of land has cattle grazing on it. It was explained to me that cattle rearing is heavily subsidised and meat is exported to the mainland. No doubt the country is well suited to livestock rearing, but it is a pity that a more mixed farming system is not practised, as so much produce has to be imported. Worse still, all the produce in the supermarket has been in refrigerated storage, so will not keep long if a fridge is not available.

Eight days after I arrived, Roger came in on Ella Trout III, fresh from his second successful Jester Atlantic challenge. It was very good to meet up. I knew he was on his way, but didn’t know if I would have left before he got here. It was good to catch up and have a chat about our atlantic experiences. He had also found it tough going with persistent headwinds, and took a full week longer than in 2010. Last night we had a take away on board Cucuga, which belongs to Pedro, a local dentist who has taken a great interest in Scallywag, and been very welcoming and helpful.

More about Pedro and my land adventures next time and lots of pictures. I am behind with writing the blog, and the WiFi is so slow that pictures would be challenging. I sent the last few posts from the Marina computers, but the Portuguese keyboard and Portuguese windows are still presenting issues for me. Now, as my elderly neighbour would say, I must profit the wind.

We have the long awaited weather window, not the one I would have ordered, but the best there has been for a while. A fresh SE breeze should push us north for five days. During his time it should ease off and back. When we are being pushed to the west, probably on Thursday or Friday, it will be time to tack and head east with the wind continuing to back and making the course freer. There will be a few days close reaching, but well worth it if the winds have studied the GFS model as closely as I have.

So now after a shower with the big fluffy towels and checking out and paying the bill, which after 9 nights will be much less than the 3 nights out of season plus special Jester discount price in Plymouth, I will be off, unless I change my mind and stay a bit longer.

Stop press. I have just logged in to WordPress and find that the entry from Horta, which I posted a few days ago, has vanished. I have found it and posted it, but it is not in sequence. Does it matter?

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Getting high in Flores

The first thing you notice about Flores is that the roads are unbelievably steep.  After 28 days at sea, where the sea horizon is 3 miles, if I stand on the coachroof, the effect of getting height is really dramatic.  Walking up the hill from the port, the horizon opens up with every step, and the views are quite dramatic.  The town of Lajes has changed little apart from the Marina since we were there 4 years ago.  It is a small town on a small island which prides itself on being the most western part of Europe.  Flores and its tiny neighbour Corvo are 120 miles further west than the central group of the Azores.

The first day I walked up the hill to the supermarket.  There is a choice of three, but all require climbing up the hill first.  I went to the one I had used before and picked up some bread, cheese and a few other fresh items.   The supermarket now stays open till 4 on Saturdays rather than 12 as it did before.  Back at the boat I found that the bread rolls were spotted with mould, so I had to get back up the hill quickly before the shop closed.  The guy in the shop could not have been more apologetic and I swopped it for some fresher stock.

Walking up such steep slopes puts a strain on the Achilles tendon and calfs and my legs ached a bit the next day.  I was determined to get some more distance in, both for the spectacular views and to exercise my wasted leg muscles.  This trip I had fared better than last, but my right knee had begun to swell towards the end and I had been wearing a pressure bandage to support it.  I walked north up the coast road, past Fazinha and then the road went down a steep slope.  This was not too good as what goes down must come up, but I persisted and found a disused footpath leading off the road.  I followed this for a bit and could hear running water, so carried on and discovered two old stone buildings beside a rocky stream.  These turned out to be disused water mills.  I was amazed to think how the grain and flour would have been transported there, but it was probably by donkey.  It is a part of the island rarely visited by tourists, or by locals I expect either, and I felt I had made a real discovery.

Monday I went to see the very friendly young harbourmaster who speaks excellent English and is a great ambassador for the island.  He dealt with all the entry formalities.  I went off for a walk along the south of the island past a grey cat.

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Climbing the hill out of town I remembered looking out to sea and watching the tiny spot that was Frigga and seeing the wake stretching out in a big V shape as she motored across the mirror like sea.  Thomas had been in a hurry to get to Horta so that he could watch Germany playing in the world cup.  This time I went in a different direction and went to the south of Lopo Vaz, and took a path down the steps that I had seen cut in the cliff.  It was in places a very narrow path with a straight drop to the side and a very long way down.

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At the bottom of the cliffs there is a flattish area which was one of the first places settled on the island, due to its sub-tropical microclimate.  It did indeed feel warmer there and there are bananas and figs growing.

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There were four houses there, not apparently occupied, but not completely fallen into disrepair either.  I later found that the bananas were transported up the path by donkey.  Past the houses there were fields with stone walls and four cattle grazing there.  A stream came cascading out of the cliffs and a pipe transported water to the houses.   I had my lunch there looking out to sea and then up the cliff, which seemed even steeper than on the way down.  The sun had come out and I was sweating freely and puffing like an old steam train.

Going back down to the port, I called in at a bar and had a few beers with Marcel, a Frenchman from a neighbouring boat.  I was on the inside of the pontoon with smaller local boats and all the boats on the other side were French.  I tried speaking in French  which I think was completely incomprehensible.  Back at the boat I emailed Thomas and told him that if Germany got through to the final I would sail to Horta and watch the match in Peter’s Café Sport as his representative.

The next day was raining in the morning, so not a particularly good day for sightseeing.  I did a few jobs on board, including lifting the chain pipe and reseating it on polyurethane sealer.  There had been some water getting in to the chain locker, and I think that was where it was coming from.  On Wednesday I planned a long trek, so went to the supermarket which also sold shoes and bought a pair of hiking boots, which happen to be the only pair of size 44 of any type in the store.  They seemed to fit OK and I wore them back down the hill to the boat.
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In the morning I put the boots on again but having not worn shoes at all for 2 months, only crocs or flip flops and mostly bare feet, my feet were hurting like hell and I couldn’t even walk up the slope to get off the pontoon.  It was a good day for looking at the lakes and also the only good day for sailing to Horta, so I paid for the marina in the morning and left in the evening.  I took a bus ride around to the west of the island for the first lake.  The bus ride itself was fantastic value.  It was a newish mini-coach and in very good condition.  I was the only passenger.  We climbed up and up out of Lajes, then plunged down the side of the mountain along a narrow steep road with hairpin bends.  Out of the window I could see hydrangea bushes and beyond them nothing as the mountain side was so steep.

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I screamed out a few times in delight, or fright.  It was such an amazing experience, even more so after my recent confinement to sea level.  We dropped down into a few villages on the route, but there were no passengers to get on.  Back on the main road we stopped at a miradour and he urged me to get off and take some photos.  He kept pointing to a big rocky piece sticking out of a mountain behind us.   We stopped again on the way at another view point and he pointed out the villages and told me what time to be at the bus stop for the return trip.

I had asked him to put me off at the path to one of the lakes, considered by locals to be the prettiest and accessible only by foot.  It was an easy enough walk up to the lake, and indeed it is very pretty, like a large duck pond, with trees all around.  It has the added feature of a backdrop of high cliffs with numerous streams falling over the sides and feeding into the stream.  I was the only person there, but met some more on the path when leaving.

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The plan was to walk back to Lajes across the centre of the island and go past most of the lakes.  There are numerous and all with different features.   Unfortunately there is no path from where we were to the inside as the cliffs form a barrier and we had to go north to Faja Grande, then follow a path up a ravine to the top.   I followed the road down to Faja Grande, passing some eucalyptus trees on the way.  There were hydrangeas here lining the road and the flowers looked a more intense blue than elsewhere.  Perhaps the soil is more alkaline or it may have been a trick of the light.

Reaching the town, I felt a bit hungry and decided to buy a lunch, although I had rolls in my bag.  I found a restaurant right by a little natural boat harbour with a narrow entrance through the rocks and ordered fish.  I was introduced to the fish, a fine red Garupa that had been landed there.  There was a wait while it was prepared and cooked in a pot in the oven, then served in the pot, accompanied by potatoes, onion and tomato with the cooking sauce.  It was a superb fish, plenty for two and an absolute feast for one.

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The road out of town up the ravine was steep, of course and afforded great views as we got higher.  I must have not followed the instructions carefully, as I missed the path that would take us up to the highest part.  Either it was not conspicuous or I was not paying attention, but we carried on going up the road which eventually went flat and then down again, bringing us out on the main road quite close to the pond from the morning.  I then ended up walking another 4 hours back along the main road to Lajes.

It was a little frustrating having to go back the way we had been in the bus, but now the sun was around the west, and lighting up that side of the island.  The views then were even more spectacular, and I was certainly earning the right to enjoy them.  My legs were not too bad, but the crocs were wearing a bit thin and I could feel the bumps in the road through the soles.  Coming back to the place we had stopped, I could see why the driver had urged me to take photos of the big rocky extrusion.  Lit up by the sun it showed off a pleated skirt of vertical basalt columns.  In the morning it hadn’t been conspicuous at all.  Click on the picture to see it better
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Eventually we came to a T junction and I had two choices, turn left and continue going up and the road would pass by one or two of the lakes.  Turn right and the road was going down and although we would not pass the lakes, it was a somewhat shorter road back to Lajes.   The lakes will have to wait for next time and I set off down the hill, although a little concerned about going down so soon, as I could see a steep uphill in the distance.  In the end that road was going up to the heights of Lopo Vaz and we took another road, which was downhill all the way.  On the way I stopped for a herd of cattle that were being moved along the road and soon after recognised landmarks from my previous visit.  It was a long way, the shops had shut by the time I reached them and it was 8 when I stepped back on board.
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I still had to stow the anchor warp and chain that had been taken out to allow reseating the chain pipe, and do a few other jobs to get ready for sea.  It was 9.30 when we set off with the last of the light for Horta.  The northerly wind that favoured our passage had bought a lot of swell into the harbour and the only yacht at anchor was having a very uncomfortable time of it, prancing around like a hobby horse and almost burying the bow with each wave.

There seemed a bit too much wind for the genoa, so I had set the No2 jib and soon put a reef in the main as we were crashing about a bit and taking some seas.  Reefed it was a lot calmer, and I wasn’t worried about losing a bit of speed as I expected to have two nights at sea and arrive sometime Friday.  We were able to point a little higher than the straight line, but the wind was forecast to veer later.  In the end the wind veered more than I had expected and we were being set well to the south.  It looked like we would have to beat at the end and perhaps just two nights at sea was looking optimistic.  In the end all was well and the wind then backed more than had been forecast, steering us around quite close to the south coast of Faial on Friday morning.  I did take one short tack in to better appreciate the views as we went past.  It was very green and picturesque with the villages stretched out along the roads and hedgerows coming into line, marking our eastward progress.  Ahead was the island of Pico with its magnificent peak.

There is a mountain to the south of Horta harbour with a caldera that is open to the sea. I was sorely tempted to sail into it, as I had been fascinated by it on the chart.  There is plenty of depth inside.   In the end we went past, but I was keen to go into it before leaving Faial.  It was a good job we didn’t because although it is not marked on my charts it is a nature reserve and no go area for any boating activity.

Only one tack was needed to bring us up the channel between Faial and Pico and I would have sailed into the harbour with the next, but saw a large fleet of sailing dinghies around the harbour entrance, so dropped the genoa clear of them and motor-sailed around the fleet, dropping the main inside the harbour outside the marina breakwater.  The dinghies happened to be access class and the local club was hosting the Azores championships.  It was very well attended.  Entry was quite straightforward and they allocated us a finger pontoon.

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Azores to Ocean and back

Terceira to Flores is a little over 200 miles and should take two or three days depending on the wind. We took 28 days and travelled 2278 miles. The as the seagull flies distance to Newport is around 2050 miles.

After leaving Terceira the priorities were: look after the boat; look after myself and try to get west. In order to do the first two, we had to get further south, where the water and air temperatures are warmer and the winds generally lighter than at higher latitudes. The fresh North-westerly when we left pushed us quickly south-west for the first day. I would have liked to carry on like that, but the wind slowed down and backed until we could do little better than make due south. On the second day we were treated to the sight of mount Pico clearly visible from about 50 miles south. It seemed quite symmetrical from there and often sticking its peak through a layer of cloud. A pod of dolphins came and played, giving an ideal photo opportunity with the mountain backdrop.

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At 35N the water and air were noticeable warmer and life a lot more comfortable. We then made the best course westward, staying around 35 – 36N. For 9 days the winds were from the westerly quarter, so progress was slow and often not even in the right direction.

Day 9 we were almost completely becalmed when what wind there was shifted around to North, then continued veering. At last we had a breeze from an easterly quarter, so we could set three sails. Alas there was so little wind that progress was painfully slow. By the evening the wind, or what there was of it, was from due east so the twin headsails went up. At two in the morning the radar alarm started chirping away. Soon a target appeared at 12 miles on the AIS receiver which turned out to be a Chinese supertanker. It was exactly on our latitude and heading due east. There is limited scope for turning with twin sails boomed out, but I headed off as far as it was possible to starboard. As we were only making 0.7 knots it was not going to make much difference. At 7 miles his course had started to change and by 6 miles he had changed by 10 degrees. This then gave us a separation of one mile. He called me on the VHF to confirm that we were a sailing vessel and I thanked him for his early avoiding action. It proves the worth of the radar target enhancer as he must have tracked us from 8 miles or more.

I had worked out the latest time to possibly arrive at Newport and decided to call off the attempt if we had not passed half way, 50W by half that time, 1200UTC on 24th June. By then it didn’t seem likely, although a few days of half decent winds from a useful direction would have made it possible. We had more wind than needed for a few days only with force 6, gusting 7 on the second day. Scallywag behaved well in the conditions, although it was uncomfortable going with crashing and banging around in the waves. It all ended with a front that bought a heavy rain shower, enough to wash in the cockpit and collect a half a bucket full of rainwater for rinsing out some clothes.

There were other frontal systems bringing more winds than we needed but mostly they were a degree or two to the north of us. The weather-fax charts were of great use as it was mostly possible to keep us in winds of useful strength, but alas not particularly helpful direction. The UK charts had become unclear a few days after Terceira, but Offenbach with its more powerful transmitters could be received from further away. At 35N, we were running off the edge of the forecast chart, but fortunately the Boston charts started to become available. It was a bit hit and miss as poor weather could ruin the signal.

There is a lot of floating plastic junk about, and I picked up two pieces on the keel or prop. The first was one morning when I noticed the speed had dropped from 2 knots to half a knot. Going on deck to see what was up, I noticed we had picked up a long piece of rope. The strain on the rope was too great to pull it in, so I had to drop the headsail to stop us. It still took a good ten minutes and was hard work. It is easy to see how a long enough piece of rope makes an effective device for slowing a boat in heavy weather. This bit was about 400 metres long, and took up all of the cockpit well. I simply had no place to put it, so made it into a coil, tied it up and heaved it over again. At least now it is a much smaller target for other vessels. A lot of yachts come through that way returning from the Caribbean and many if not most will motor when there is little wind and could risk fouling their propeller.

A week or so to go till the cut-off date and we would have needed 84 miles per day. The next day was 88 miles, but then 50, 52 and 53 miles. The 53 was not even in the right direction, so only moved us 39 miles westward. It now looked impossible to make the target, but I wanted to keep sailing anyway and carried on to 50W. Ironically that was the best windward run with 4 consecutive days exceeding 80 miles.

After turning around we headed off more or less North-Easterly, looking for favourable currents. There had been a majority of useful currents helping us westward at 35N, but further north we should find the North Atlantic drift and the Azores current.

This return leg was a wonderful run of sailing, still warm, and running with the wind the apparent wind is less, so it feels even warmer. Scallywag was still clean on the bottom and we effortlessly clocked up good runs. The first 5 days we had the wind on the starboard quarter and with three sails spread totalled 100, 110, 121, 105 and 115 miles. The wind backed so the third sail had to go away, but with the increased apparent wind, the speed stayed about the same and we clocked another 116 miles. As predicted, the winds were then dictated by a large high pressure system and the speed dropped. Fortunately the forecasts had shown this and by shaping a course around the north of the high, we were able to keep enough wind to move us along well. The forecasts now also warned of Hurricane Arthur, which could have been hurricane disaster for us if we had not turned back.

With mostly moderate winds there was little going wrong, so I did not have a lot of essential repairs to tackle. I did a few jobs here and there including changing the rubber seals on the forehatch, which had still leaked a little when thrashing around during the strong headwinds. I had placed the rubber on the hatch, but scraped this off and applied the new stuff to the coaming. It is thick draughtproofing strip, which is more flexible and seals better. The seal was damaged when the boat was broken into 6 years ago and I repaired it at home but the repair does not exactly match the curvature on the coaming so it has never sealed well. It is now much better but still not perfect and could do with being cut and rejoined again.

I read some books, but often just sat thinking, or if that was too much effort, just sat. It was good to clear the mind and become one with the little boat and the big ocean. I spent a lot of time when there was no moon up at night looking at the stars. At 35N, many of the brightest stars in the sky, which happen to be above the southern hemisphere, are prominent. The entire large constellation of Scorpio was on show as was Spica and her spanker, a group of 4 stars which really do form the shape of a spanker, or gaff mizzen sail with the peak pointing to Spica. I remembered using Spica for evening star sights, back in the days when these things counted.

I did keep up an occasional video diary and made some instructional videos about the self steering. The other ones on YouTube are just ones I put together from some video that I had shot. I will probably have to wait until I have got home before posting the new ones as Google blocked a suspicious log in attempt from Portugal. Having to teach something often means you look into it in greater depth, and I hit upon a way to explain how to adjust the bungee tension.

Anyone not interested in self steering, skip this paragraph. It will be tedious. Otherwise stick with it because it will save you hours of frustration. Firstly the sails must be set correctly, as is the case with all self steering methods. Put the tiller approximately where it should be and set your bungee to keep it there. Let it alone for a bit and see what happens. It the boat steers to port, you will need to move the tiller to port, and vice versa. Here is the important bit: Make a small change and measure how much the adjustment was. An estimate will do, but make a note of how much it was. Then leave it again and see what happens. If it is still steering off in the same direction, make a further adjustment. If it is going off the other way, wind it back by half the amount. If it is still not stable, then adjust by a further half, or a quarter of the original. Each time the adjustment should be less, and very importantly the time interval should be more before you make a further change. This method will home in on the optimum position. I wish I had thought of it on day one from Plymouth.

This self steering business continues to delight me. Sailing is pretty wonderful stuff anyway, harnessing the wind and using it to go which way you want (well some of the time, or at least nearly which way). Using the sails and wind for steering as well doubles their value and trebles the pleasure. I found that I could use the jib sheet pulling to windward with the wind on the beam or a little ahead. I only discovered this when the AIS showed another head on situation at about 10 miles. This time we were moving well, and I was able to turn 30 degrees to starboard and this action alone gave us a separation of close to a mile. I expected to have to change the setup, but simply pulled in the sheets a bit and trimmed the bungee. It makes perfect sense as the sheet tension will still increase or decrease with the change of apparent wind speed.

The last few days before reaching Flores saw us going around a high pressure system. The straight line would have put us in the centre of the high with very light winds. We kept going well and were treated to our best dolphin display of the trip so far. It was a large pod and they kept with us for at least 15 minutes. I went for’ard and took some video of them around the bows.  They never look as good in the videos, as Sod’s Law dictates that the camera will be pointed where they have just leaped, just out of frame of where they are about to.

 

On the final evening we gybed onto port for the final run to Flores. At 0300 the loom of the bright light on the north west of the island was visible. By dawn the north of the island was hidden by cloud. The south plunged down into the sea so steeply that it seemed impossible that people could live there. The wind followed the island, well it could hardly go through it, and steered us round the southwest and south coast. There was indeed settlements on the steep sides and steps cut into a cliff side leading down to a flat area by the coast where there was fields marked by rock walls and some buildings. I would later walk down the steps in the cliff and take a bus ride to the settlements on the slopes.

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We sailed past the breakwater into Lajes harbour and dropped the sails before motoring into the new marina. It was Saturday morning, but the off duty harbourmaster came down to ask me to move to an inside finger pontoon, a better spot than the reception pontoon, and see him on Monday for the paperwork.

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