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Saturday, 14 May 2011

Monday, 27 December 2010


Well,,,, for those of you who read my last blog where I promised to go from the south of France to Madeira,,, and did not complete it because of a little mishap 20 miles to the east of the Pyrenees,here I am again determined to finish what I started. I told Jackie and a few close friends, but did not want to say to much just in case i lost my bottle and pulled out of it. Simo my 25 foot Vertue was on a mooring way up the river Guidiana which is the river between Spain and Portugal she was a couple of hundred yards south of San Luca on the Spanish side and it had been her home for the past 18 months. It was now 4Th august 2010 and I was flying out to Faro and then it would be bus , train , and shanksys pony to get to Simo , in fact the flight got me to Faro in a couple of hours,, ( I arrived at 0930 ) but then it took me all day to get to the boat. I managed to grab some shopping along the way and got a mate to give me a lift down river in his dingy , I got the covers off her and then put the sun awning up, made a couple of sandwiches, and crashed out , it had been a long day and a very hot one too.
Next morning I was up at the crack of dawn , the first job was to wash down all the bird shit that had accumulated over the previous two months and brighten the place up,, check the engine and open all the sea-cocks, the engine fired up first time so my next plan was to go up the river and anchor of the village of Alcoutin so I could pick up WIFI from the local library and skype Jackie later that day.
The weather as always in the river this time of year was hot, very hot, so it was a case of work hard till midday then hide from the sun and rest till about 5pm, then get more jobs done and get the dinner ready for about 8pm or later. I told some people on the dock about my plans, but didn't want to tell everybody because I just did not want a lot of people saying things like oh you shouldn't do that in such a small boat . Simo may be small by my goodness she has a lionheart at sea.
I did not want to spend to long in the river , and my plan was to sail down to Ayamonte and anchor off the old wreck just south of the marina entrance, for the night, the trip down was uneventful and because of the light winds I used the engine most of the time , it takes about 4 hours to get down the river if you take the ebb tide, which I did.
After a nice dinner, and a few cupa's I got my head down for a peaceful nights sleep, knowing full well that once the trip started proper my nights would only give me snatches of 25 minute mini kips.
The dawn came quickly and as per usual was a clear sky , I made a flask of tea had a couple of weetabix, and was ready for the day , there was not alot of wind and i wanted to get round to a little town called Olhao ( pronounced oli ow ) near Faro and anchor as close as I could to the fantastic local covered market, where I could stock up on all my fresh provisions. First things first and it was anchor up time , Simo has a thirty five pound CQR and although I do have a hand windlass it still takes a bit of effort, once lashed down we headed out along the long breakwater at Villa Real towards the sea , there was a little swell coming in and we followed the channel out and turned to starboard at number 2 buoy and headed due west, mainly motor sailing as the breeze was pretty light, I had put the auto helm on and spent the next few hours reading and thinking about the trip ahead
which was going to be my longest single handed trip so far, If I did it !!.
The trip along the coast was uneventful and I was going thru the narrow pier heads at faro around two pm , the sail came down and I now made my way through the main channel to the port of Olhao, when I arrived I found the anchorage almost deserted apart from a couple of friends i had previously met on the river Case (yes thats his name) and Susan in the little blue boat they are from the Netherlands so I am not sure if I have spelt there names right , but they are just the nicest people , next day I had coffee with them after getting most of my provisions from the daily market Susan was just about to fly back home for a couple of weeks and as we sat there , I told them of my plans and my fears for the trip ahead , and I remember Susan saying " listen if your not comfortable don't do it ", before she went off to the airport to catch her plane .
I managed to get all the food I wanted including a Little fresh meat for the first couple of nights main meal, plenty of soft drinks , top up the tanks with water with four large bottles of water in reserve, I had filled up with diesel in Villa Real , and apart from checking the weather forecast was good to go , There was a small
metal boat in the anchorage and I had seen them on the river , I think the boats name was called MAID OF METAL, I rowed over to see what was what and they were going to Madeira ,,and there was three people on board, wow maybe we could go in company , but no my hopes were dashed when they said there was a weather front going thru and they would wait a few days before setting out ,With hindsight they were very sensible , but me I was going tomorrow and nothing was going to stop me, I was being a brave boy in front of these guys , but deep down was shitting myself , we said our farewells and I headed out of the anchorage to go down and have one last night at anchor in Culattra, before setting of for Porto Santo.
As I arrived and was about to drop the hook a guy came past in his dingy and shouted to me that I was invited on his boat for drinks at six thirty sharp , his name was Mark and his boat was called "Rain Again" I realised after a while that he was flying the same OCC burgee that I was and that this was what it was all about , I have to tell you that I only joined the OCC this year , after thirty years of meaning too , I didn't really know the form , but I do know that I was pretty whacked out after all the shopping in hot sun and also I didn't have a bottle of wine or a blazer , any way I went over and was met by Mark, his wife and a few friends and we sat in the cockpit of his fab boat and had nibbles and drinks , the conversation somehow went to the weather and I asked what it would be like for the next few days ,, Mark said there would be northerlies and I would have a good trip south and also gave me a few tips and contacts for the islands when I got there .
After a couple of hours I said my goodbyes and rowed back to Simo, to get an early night as I wanted to get a dawn start the next day . I still had not thoroughly checked the weather , and I think because every day is sunny and when it is hot, people can be led into a false sense of security , ( I was , but it will not happen again ),.I was not really hungry , but was excited with the anticipation of the trip ahead , I made some tea opened a bag of crisps and settled in the cockpit to see the sun go down, and then after one final check on the anchor went to bed .
The next morning I woke early just as the sun was coming up , had a couple of weetabix cup of tea and was ready for anything, the anchorage was peaceful the water smooth with a light breeze coming from the west, without delay I got the sun awning and the mainsail cover off and packed away , the deck was kind off dewy and damp, I made sure all was tight and secure below, made a flask of tea that would see me through he first few hours, started the beta and got the mainsail up and secure,then the anchor , luckily I have a small windlass with a long handle and made short work of getting the anchor on deck in its chocks, I would lash it down before hit the open sea, I headed out west towards the narrow exit that leads to the sea, the tide was flooding, but we still made 4.5 knots over the ground and with the tiller pilot on I did a few little jobs like releasing the hanked on head sail and lashing the anchor down, oh and of course another cuppa from the flask,we were on our way and the dawn looked fantastic

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I exited the pier heads and continued to head south west ish for a while to avoid the massive sand bank that spreads out seawards for just over half a mile and for the unweary and in a bit of weather can be pretty dangerous.
It was my intention to sail along the coast probably up as far as Portimao and then hang a left and head straight to Porto Santo, I was taking short hikes out to sea , say a couple of miles and then could do a nice long leg up the coast, and of course as the day wore on the wind would veer enough so i didn't need to tack out to sea .
I did my lunch a nice salad, the breeze built up to a very pleasant 12 to 14 knots and we were skipping along quite nicely, the hasler was working a treat and did not need any attention, I suppose I must have been a couple of miles offshore and by 6pm was about 10 miles south east of Portimao and laying it quite easily on port tack,the wind having backed throughout the afternoon, If this was how the trip was going to be it was going to be fab.
Around 8pm I was a few hundred yards from the entrance to Portimao It was now make your mind up time ,, have you got the bottle to do it? or are you going to chicken out and turn right into the safety of the harbour and get a good nights sleep.
I tacked on to starboard and eased sheets the sun was very low in the sky and my mind was made up, I was going for it and with the sheets eased we were doing a steady 5 knots. After setting up the hasler, it was time for some dinner something fairly simple like corned beef boiled potatoes and tin peas and by 21.30 I was eating in the cockpit in shorts and a tea shirt, Simo sailed on with full main the number 2 staysail and the flying jib with its tack at the end of the bowsprit.
My first obstacle was going to be the shipping lanes to the south where the big ships come around Cape Vicente and head for Gibralter and vice verce, I had Ais fitted through my chart plotter and had had a couple of warnings allready that day so I knew it was working. I got washed up and put a brew on,I started thinking
about how I would tackle the sleep thing, and decided to set my old darkroom timer for 25 minutes at a time , somehow I figured fom lookout to being hit by a ship would not happen in 25 minutes. It did not seem to be that dark but I could see no ships , only the dissapearing land lights behind me, so after drinking the tea I set the alarm and went to lie down on my bunk, it was far to warm to be in a sleeping bag, but very quickly I dozed off and when suddenly the alarm went of twenty five minutes later it sent me into a panic to get into the cockpit to see if anything was around,, Nothing was, I had a few more cat naps and was not so panicky after the first time and became quite relaxed about it all.

At about 2 am I was woken by a different alarm and because I was slightly all over the place from being asleep it took me a while to realise that it was the AIS alarm, and then I saw it on the chart plotter lines of ships going West and lines of ships going East, I jumped up into the cockpit and ahead of me was as many ships lights as I have ever seen in the Englash channel, my first thought was there is no gap for me to get through and my second thought was these guys are pretty close to each other.
with no imediate panic I put the kettle on and had a close look at the AIS the alarm was set at 10 miles so I had a couple of hours to sort it out ,, and hey it was a beautifull night, but I was going to have to sort it in the dark at about 4am, I guessed as twighlight was not till about 530am , amazing how much clearer things become when you have a cuppa in hand, but sleep from now on was a no no at least till we got through this lot. As we got closer ( me and Simo ) we had to pick our place well in advance as most of these ships were doing between 14 and 18 knots more than three times our speed, we still had a good breeze just aft of the beam about 14 knots so had plenty of steerage way , I sort of guessed a ship with hand bearings and a bit of the old experience and as we got closer it was clear we would go astern of the one I picked out and also have quite a bit of time to get across before the next one in line started to pose a threat, so we safely got over one side of the shipping lane and about an hour later I had to just plan it all again, needlessly to say it all went ok and I squeezed through just as dawn was breaking, funny thing was I must have seen about forty ships lights in the darkness but come daylight there was nothing in sight. So my first night was over and now it was wednesday morning we still had a great breeze 14 to 16 knots aft of the beam probably about due north, pretty normal for this area and on port gybe were doing about 4 knots, I managed to catch up on a bit of sleep during the morning and had some weetabix at about 11am, since the ships in the night I had still seen nothing, I put my harness on and had a walk round the deck its not far on a 25 footer, everything seemed ok and secure. It was another hot day and I spent a lot of it sprawled out on my bunk, I seemed to have loads of time to spare between cooking and sleeping and started to do a bit of reading , Its funny really whenever I went up into the cockpit to look around I always expected to see a ship or something, and the other thing that dawned on me was how vast is the ocean,I must have looked like a little tiny speck , if anybody was looking that is.

lunch was salad and bread and a fairly cool drink, with no fridge I kept the drinks in the bilge along with the butter and any other small items that I wanted to keep as cool as possible.
Wednesday evening the wind still behaving I had a hearty meal of corned beef boiled potatoes and garden peas , it was nice , I got all washed up and made a cuppa , the sun went down and I settled into my watch system of 25 minute sleeps and then a quick look round , the alarm was set on the AIS for 20 miles and at about 4 am I was woken by the alarm, the ships name and call sign came on the screen also the speed and course when I put the curser over the ship on the screen ,it was a long way away on my starboard bow and heading my way, it gave the speed as doing 18 knots and was going to pass astern of me providing he did not change course, I kept my eye on it on the sceen , I never saw the ships lights at all , it was the only drama all night and Thursdays dawn was welcome. I had noticed a slight increase in the swell coming down from the North and maybee a tad more wind , but we were still very comfortable, I continued to doze on and off till about 11 am and was sure the wind had increased and we had a metre in the waves , I had some weetabix and a cuppa , and we were rolling along at a steady four to five knots the hasler working perfectley. Lunch came and went with a couple of salad sandwiches, it was still quite hot and you needed a hat in the cockpit, during the afternoon, the wind had increased to around twenty knots and whilst we were smacking along well ,, in fact mostly above five knots, it was a worrying trend and simo started to roll a bit a she scurred along, I had seen no more ships on the AIS and as tea time came and went I felt a little anxious and did not eat as much as I should have. By nine pm with the wind up to twenty five knots and the sea increasing in size I had to make a decision, and having all ready rolled up the flying jib decided to change the number two staysail to the number three, which effectivley is a storm jib, its not great working on the foredeck but a least it was light and we were going downwind so not much water on deck , task done I came back to the cockpit and put the kettle on , in the short space of time it took to change the jib it felt like there was more weight in the wind, off with kettle, clip on the harness and roll down six foot or so of main , this definatley settled her down and we were back to around five knots , I did the tea and sat in the cockpit as the sun went down on my third night at sea and had a few ginger biscuits . I always seem to get a bit anxous if the weather starts to get tasty when it gets dark.
Throughout the early hours the wind continued to increase and so did the seas, I got less sleep than the night before and longed for the dawn to come , being fairly determined to not reef any more in the dark , but the time dawn broke around six am we were fairly flying along at speeds above six knots with a fair bit of water coming on board , the sea had changed colour from a beautiful blue to more of a north sea grey colour and the quite large waves were speckled with white caps, I guesed that the way it had all increased in the previous twelve hours it was going to continue , now I could either reef the main down to its second reef point which would be a slab or take the main off completley and put up the trisail ,I am by nature rather cautious, I dug the trisail out of the forepeak, I think subconciously the decision had allready been made, it was to be the trisail, by eight am I was fully harnesed up and ready to go, the first thing was to get the main of completly then sheet in and put the boom in the boom crutch and tie it down so it can't move , pulling the main down was quite difficult as it was hard up against the shrouds , and with the boat rolling through a wide ark, and the harness around the foot of the mast life was not easy , but finally I got it down and got on good tie around the head and boom , I then went into the cockpit to haul in on the mainsheet and bring the boom in line with the crutch get it on top and sheet in hard, as a precaution I then lashed the boom down so it could not move , because I then had to get on the coach roof lashing my harness around the boom and get some ties on the main and make it secure, the whole operation took me about forty five minutes and took quite a bit out of me , it was the hanging on that takes it out of you, I finally sat in the cockpit the hasler was still working perfectly, and we were doing a sedatley four knots and no water coming on board,and this was just the storm jib, the next step was to get the trisail in the track on the mast and the sheets sorted ready to hoist,not sure what the time was but after a cup of tea I steeled myself for
another episode at the mast,the rolling was the worst because you felt you could not rely on harness alone and had to hang on with both hands , it must have taken me half an hour to get the sail in the track and my next task was to crawl back to the cockpit and sort out the sheets, once the sheets were sorted it was another excursion to the mast all the time clipped on and hanging on for dear life to hoist the trisail, it went up fine and was hard against the stays as soon as it was up, I crawled back to adjust the sheet, everything was great and we were doing a steady five/six knots and not rolling as much, the seas had increased in size I reckon they were now about three metres but nice and long and not at all threatening. I had not eaten all morning and all the exersion of the morning reefing had took its toll and I knew that I was going to be sick, it was not if but when , I took a stugeron with some water and had a sniff of the ginger extract I have in a bottle but I knew it was too late, I felt my stomach convulsing and making sure I was firmly clipped on was finally sick in the scuppers , to lean over the side would not be a good idea with all the rolling I suppose the sick thing lasted about forty five minutes and then settled down ,I felt like shit ,excuse my language, but trust me it is not nice you feel sorry for your self there is nobody around to give you sympathy and you think to your self what the f___k are you doing out here anyway, I had a couple of alarms on the AIS but there were no ships in sight , I had worked out the day before that I should arrive in Porto Santo sometime on saturday night, so I had a fair way to go . By mid afternoon on the friday I had begun to feel slightly better and was picking at dry biscuits and trying to drink water I was also getting a bit of sleep trouble was when the alarm went off you just did not want to get out of your bunk, lying down seemed to be the only time you felt ok , as soon as you moved you got that sicky feeling.
The wind increased all day and our speed was on or around six knots but nothing was straining and apart from the rolling we were ok , about five pm we had a ship come pretty close to us and no matter how much I called them on the VHF they went blindly on heading in the general direction of Gibralter, about seven pm another ship came within range and after succeffully comunicating I asked for a weather update, after a few minutes he called me back and gave me the latest , North easterly force seven to eight sea moderate to rough, I let it sink in for a mo and called him back again," did they say anything about it moderating " I asked, a few minutes later I got the answer and wished I had not asked the question , he said " no there is no mention of it abating in the next twelve hours " so straight away I knew I would have to enjoy a night with big seas and big winds , it sort of makes you depressed in a way I can't really describe , It had been a grey day , warm but not much sun I had not had much to eat only a few dry biscuits and didn't feel like food anyway, by nine pm I was in my bunk , the boat was sailing well I had shut the hatch and the cabin doors there was nothing on the AIS so i sort of decided that there was nothing more to do so I may as well stay in my nice warm bunk and that is just what I did , I was awoken by two AIS alarms both ships were twenty miles away and although I got up and had a look out I saw no ships lights , I dozed for hours it seemed and Simo just sailed on through the night doing between five and six knots , it was very rough outside but inside the cabin it was so peacefull like a force three.
As the dawn was breaking on that Saturday morning I woke up fairly refreshed and with an appetite , I grabbed a couple of weetabix and put the kettle on, had a lookout and the seas although they were all coming from astern they were awesome , we seemed to get picked up on the face of the wave and our speed increased to eight or nine knots untill the wave overtook us and it would seen we would be going uphill for a time untill the next face arrived and we would surf down the face most times exceding hull speed, there were patches where the tops were breaking but apart from minor plops on board we came through unscathed, It's funny really but I knew this was going to be my last day at sea and I also knew I had well over sixty miles to go , but for some strange reason kept looking for the Island !!!! fully expecting to see it. It seemed that we had been in the strong winds for ages and by lunchtime it had been 48 hours or so, but I have got to say it is very tiring when you have to deal with it all on your own. The storm jib and trisail were working perfectly together and with the hasler steering a perfect course I had little worries, My ETA was for around ten pm so it would be dark when I arived. I had a couple of tomatoe sandwiches for lunch and a couple cups of tea , most of the time I was in the cockpit and well harnessed up and clipped on, the boat was still rolling very heavily and often with a roll the lee deck went under water and you had to hang on, it was warm though even though it was cloudy. I had detected by mid afternoon that the wind had dropped a tad and we were down to five knots or just below, but we still had the big seas, at least I had the comfort to know that the marina in Porto Santo was on the lee side of the island and once round the east end would be getting some shelter from the seas, I did not want to do anything energetic like putting the main back on , I was quite happy with the progress. I had been checking the bilge every three or four hours and pumped accordingly, she didn't take to much water on board, and to be fair we did not use to much battery power, I have two very good quality solar lights and these lasted allnight, and we only put the led nav lights on when in the close proximity of a ship, which was twice on the whole passage, risky I guess, but for a small yacht we dont have many options.
The day was overcast with little of no sun as we ground down our final destination, tea and biscuits in the late afternoon was followed buy some corned beef and boiled potatoes and the simplicity of even the potatoes proved the very devil with all the rolling going on. I suppose it was about seven pm, and the wind had dropped even more and with the very large waves it was pretty uncomfortable, so I decided to get the trisail off her and put up some main, I would put up the main with just the rolls in, so just about one reef , for the next hour I struggled to get the trisail off and out of the track and in its bag out of the way , I left the main in it's crutch and despite the severe rolling and hanging on for dear life managed to get the ties off and the main back in it's track on the mast as some of the sliders had come out, the next stage is probably the hardest, in that you have to release the boom from the crutch and let the boom fly free, I had adjusted the hasler a notch to put us on port gybe and pushed the boom out to starboard, I suppose it was half way out, gave it a bit more scope and cleated it fast, the next part had to be done at the mast and for that I had to be sure of my harness and attachment point, once I got to the mast the safest fixing for the harness was again round the mast, the boat was probably rolling through 30 degrees so when she rolled to starboard I had to forsake everything and hang on with both hands, I managed to get it started ok but the top of the main wanted to go the wrong side of the spreaders, pretty normal when you trying to hoist downwind with 25 knots behind you, it seemed to take ages to just get the head of the sail the right side of the spreaders, and then it was brute force on the single speed winch to get it up inch by inch and all the while hoping it would not rip. The further it went up the more out speed increased and the faster the rolls, by the time it was up hard and fast I was exausted and was more than gratefull we never crashed gybed, I got back to the cockpit as quick as I could and let more main sheet out so the main was hard up against the stay's, The hasler was impeccable, steering I think better than a human and seeming to judge the waves and pre'mpt just like I would, our speed had gone back up to between six and seven knots and time was gettiing on , it was now nearly eight thirty and a pretty grey evening, I was hot and sweaty after my hard work and downed a bottle of water in short order. I checked the plotter and Porto Santo was now less than 25 miles away. I strained my eyes when we were on the tops of waves but could see nothing , dusk would come early, and then the darkness and surely I would see the main light at the east end of the island , I ducked down into my bunk for a 25 minute cat nap, when I came up still no sign, another cat nap, and when came up this time it was getting dark,, then I saw it or did I,, I am sure I saw a light dead ahead it was still only half light and my eyes strained to catch a glimpse of the light knew was there, back down below I checked the plotter enlarging it in the area I would be rounding , it looked like a bit of a spit was running south east from the mainland and I guessed in these sea's it would be prudent to give it a wide berth, just before 10 pm I came back up almost dark now and there it was plain to see and about fifteen miles distant, we were really cracking on and I checked our speed , ok down to between five and six knots so the wind was dropping thank goodness.
I was still on port gybe so could go a little to port if necesary, not wanting to encroach on the rocky shore I steered a little to port and set the hasler, the wind was just behind my left ear with ten miles to go I started to see shore lights dotted around, but My eye was on the main light at the east end of the island , I wanted to be about five miles to the east of it when it was on my starboard beam, I would then go on for another three of four miles before gybing and hardening up to enter the bay.
With the light on my starboard beam the seas seemed to be confused and i guessed it was because of the spit, the wind had dropped to around fifteen knots as I kept a check on the sounder and the plotter with a mixture of excitement and trepidation Forty minutes went by and I decidede I had given enough room so Gybed on to starboard and gradually sheeted in adjusting the hasler as I went , wow it may only have been fifteen knots or so but heading into it on starboard tack doing four knots was as much as she wanted with the lee rail dipping , I eased the main, the time now was about one am and i was shocked to see that we had overstood the island buy about seven miles and now had to beat back to the marina, at least we had the bright lights of the land welcoming us , very suddenly it dawned on me we had made it wow,,, ( did we really think we would'nt ) I finaly dropped the hook in the harbour at three thirty am on Sunday morning and after checking our holding had a cuppa and crashed into my damp bunk , .

Lessons learned

what a fantastic little boat