Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Our First Week at Sea and Diversion to Cap Verde

First week on route to St Lucia - 24 November to 1 December

Day 1 - Monday

The Start
We arrived at the start line with 30 minutes to spare and hoisted the sails in 20 knots of wind. We had agreed that we would reef the sails from the outset as we were expecting strong winds as the wind accelerated along the coast. Good decision as we were soon in 30 knot winds and everyone in good spirits as we bowled along at 8 knots.

Sarah keeping a look out
Andy and I navigating through the mass of boats

The sea was a little lumpy but we expected better conditions and lighter winds as we cleared South of Gran Canaria. The 30 knot winds however continued until 1am in the morning when we hit the wind shadow caused by Gran Canaria and we drifted aimlessly for about 4 hours until the wind once again picked up. I was not part of the watch system for the first couple of days so that I would always be on hand for any tricky manoeuvres which we had a lot of. The consequence was that I had little sleep for the first 24 hours so very tired. The waves were frequent and steep and were not all coming from one direction which made the boat motion ragged.

Checked the engine bilge and we had no water coming in

Day 2 – Tuesday

Winds were around 25 knots but were constantly changing which meant we were never on course for long. We had decided previously that we would not worry about direction for the first couple of days but concentrate on getting the boat sailing well and the crew working together. By the end of day 2 we had the boat sailing along although the lumpy conditions left over from the storm made sleeping difficult. I slept for 12 hours without being woken which I really needed – I had not realised quite how tired I had become.

Sarah cooked chicken and mushroom which in the unpredictable and difficult motion of the boat it was a horrible experience for her. Not the best introduction to cooking on board!

Day 3 - Wednesday

Into Day 3 we set the Hydrovane to steer the boat and it all worked very well. We know adopted a 5 person shift pattern that Sarah had worked out so it meant that everyone would get more sleep as we settled into our routine.

This was the first day that we found water in the bilge – 1 litre which we traced back to a leak in the rudder. Only a slight concern at the time since the water leak from the rudder appeared as one small drop every minute or so – we could live with that.
Pasta for dinner because the sea made it impossible to cook anything better!

Day 4 -Thursday

We found 4 litres of water in the bilge and the leak was still small but increasing. We took advice from the boat builder via email about the cause and his advice was to head to a safe port and get the rudder bearings checked. We had our first crew conference and decided that we would continue and monitor the amount of water, partly because of a new storm developing over the Canaries would have made going back very difficult, if not impossible.

Sarah suggested that we head for Cap Verde which meant we could continue to monitor the problem with an option (and our only option) to go into Cap Verde 500 miles south if the problem did get worse. We discussed the fact leaks only get worse and never better but we had no option other than to go to Cap Verde in any case because of the weather. We also started to discuss our contingency plans to have ready in case the leak worsened further.

Weather continued to be overcast and not very warm so we had to wear jackets for much of the time. The sea was also a challenge as waves came from different direction causing the boat to rock side to side as the waves hit us. The sea continued to build as the storm had moved further South which created a heavy swell.

A pod of 15 dolphins joined us at dusk as we were preparing dinner, swimming alongside and playfully jumping out of the water to show off. Dolphins are meant to be a sign of good luck, however on this occasion I am not sure they were for us. It was a 20 minute peaceful and still moment

We ate one of our prepared meals that night – a Boeuf bourgignon for dinner (prepared by Catherine the week before departure) which did wonders for crew morale.

Day 4 - Friday

A check on the bilge showed we had taken on 8 litres of water in the past 24 hours so it was getting worse. We had no doubt that we needed to get to Cap Verde as quickly as possible and we emailed the ARC organisers to inform them of our predicament. The stress levels rose visibly on the boat as we now had to consider contingency plans for pumping out large volumes of water if the leak worsened or we encountered structural damage caused by the waves on the rudder.

We devised two methods of pumping out large volumes of water should the worse happen. One involved connecting the water intake from the generator directly into the engine bilge and the other diverting the manual bilge pump into the engine compartment. Grab Bag was reviewed and finalised, AIS personal monitors were checked,

The crew were brilliant and took it in their stride – we all slept with life jackets close at hand and monitored the leak every 6 hours. We also set up a twice daily update with the ARC in case we did need urgent assistance. Spirits were generally as upbeat as possible, although everyone was mentally strained and exhausted.

Martin losing a fish after a long fight!
So despite a high level of stress, Andy and Martin took to fishing in the afternoon and nearly caught a fish - it took them half an hour to lose it!

Day 5 - Saturday

Catherine reading in 4m swell
While the swell was now over 4 metres the waves were much less steep and the leak went down to four litres over the last 24 hours. It meant that the water leak had been worsened by the steep waves and the forecast was for the waves to lessen over the next couple of days. Still we had 300 miles to go but the crew were much more relaxed now. We had our first really enjoyable day sailing in the trade winds with some good sunshine. Catherine sat at the back reading the newspaper while listening to music almost oblivious to the huge swell coming in behind. 

Andy on fishing duties
Andy and Martin set up the fishing rod and caught the first of the two fish – a mackerel which 3 hours later had been cooked as part of dinner. This was followed by a lamb stew that Martin prepared. It was much warmer now we were further south and we were in tee shirt and shorts overnight.

First squall experience in the middle of the night, wind suddenly increased from 15 knots to 30 with driving rain. Catherine and Sarah were on watch and coped with it without any fuss – although they did look like drowned rabbits! We continued to be hit with 5-6 squalls each night over the next two days.

Andy was fishing off the back of the boat with his legs over the side when he saw a shark in the water which he pointed out to me. I have never seen anyone jump up so quickly! He also blamed the shark for losing yet another fish off the line together with the lure. The other crew were sceptical that it was a shark but we know what we saw!

Day 6 - Sunday

Catherine's first fish
Waves now abating as the storm over the Canaries moved North and the leak stabilised to 4 litres a day. Catherine took over the fishing rod and caught a good size Mahi Mahi which was served as part of dinner three hours later. Again a very relaxed day and we further enjoyed some good sailing in pleasant conditions.

Catherine decided that Pizza would be a good option for dinner and made the dough for the Pizza base. She prepared individual Pizzas to order giving a range of options that Pizza Express would have been proud of. This was prepared in fairly rocky seas which made standing up a challenge let alone cooking 5 individual pizzas.

Day 7 Monday

We motored over night for a few hours so that we would reach Sao Vincente in daylight. The last thing we needed was to come into an unknown marina in the dark when we did not have detailed charts for the area. We had to rely on the Pilot book to guide us in together with the GPS to give us an exact position. Another good day sail although we motored through light winds to maintain a day light arrival.

Arrived at 6pm with much relief. Now we just needed to sort out how we fixed the boat. But first we had a good few beers and found a very nice restaurant where we could relax and have some good food. 

All we have to do now is get the boat fixed!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

We are Leaving for St Lucia Today!

Sunday 23 November - the start day on our journey to St Lucia
Very frantic time over the last couple of weeks getting the boat to Las Palma on Gran Canaria, working on the boat and getting all the provisions.

The arrival at Las Palma was delayed by three days because of 50 knot winds which we hit trying to get there. We had to give up and turn back after 5 hours and spend the next day repairing some damage caused by the steep 3m waves. Not a pleasant experience and it meant that we had three days less to prepare the boat  - we ended up with only 8 days to do a lot of work!

The major work was to fix a leak as we were taking on water into the boat as we were sailing. After someone let us down in Tenerife who had agreed to do the work at the end of October, the seals for the rudder had to be done in Gran Canaria. Without this we would not be able to go as we were taking on water and could not risk that for three weeks! We had to get Andy who is one of the crew to bring out the parts from the UK as it was the only way we could get them before December. Andy only arrived last Wednesday and so I had arranged the boat to be lifted out and the seals replaced on the Thursday - 3 days before our start. A very stressful day since at first they thought I was going to do the work, then they wanted to remove the rudder to replace the seals (a 2 day job) before I convinced them that it could be done without doing this which they eventually did. However it was another day which we lost in preparing the boat and at this point we still had a significant list of jobs to get through. 

On Friday we had the SSB aerial connection remade by a specialist company who used one of our halyards to haul themselves up the backstay which is was not designed to be used for. This pulled the line off the pulley at the top of the mast jamming the line in the pulley. Although it is a spare halyard, it is also our only method of getting up the mast of retrieving a man over board so we had to fix it. Andy agreed to go up the mast (we had to drop the genoa and use that halyard) and two hours later, two trips up the mast and another 100 euros for a replacement pulley we had it fixed. Another two hours gone that we needed for other things!!

On Friday night when I found water had leaked into the boat again I was in despair but decided not to mention it to the crew since we had a farewell party that night and wanted time to think about what to do. Dreadful night sleep on Friday and on Saturday I told the crew I was not happy to take the boat out with the amount of water we were taking on. They all took it very well and we agreed we would try and get the boat fixed and go next week. Not ideal but I could not risk problems when we are 1500 miles from land.

Andy and I went to see the boat yard on Saturday morning (24 hours before the race was due to start) and they immediately sent out two mechanics on the Saturday morning to help us find the problem, organise the parts to be delivered and arrange the lift out. They found that the water in the engine compartment was actually fresh water and traced it back to the cockpit shower which was leaking a small amount  but enough to half fill the engine compartment i.e. the boat was not leaking sea water but dumping water from the fresh water tanks into the boat. Two hours later and I had fixed that and we could get on with the final jobs. Just a few things to finish off this morning but nothing major and we have until 11:30 when we must leave.

Catherine and Sarah have spent the last week getting the food for 5 people for 25 days and organising the storage. The planning and logistics of getting that much food and drink, deciding what to buy, sourcing it and getting it delivered and packed away is a major job. Putting it away is not  easy as there is limited space and people need to be able to access things for specific menus without turning the boat upside down to find it. The food has been packed week by week so there is a set amount of food for each week and we do not end up eating everything in the first week. Sitting here on early Sunday morning and it is amazing that the boat now looks normal again after all that food and drink which seemed to be spread out everywhere has been put away. That is if you ignore the 6 crates of fruit and vegetable sitting in the cockpit that still need to be stored!

At 11:30 today we leave the marina and the official start it 1pm. All the crew are excited if not a little nervous as we have some very strong winds in the squally conditions at the moment. However, the 7 day outlook is for good trade winds blowing at 13-18 knots which is perfect. It will just be a little bumpy for the first 24 hours.

If you want to track our progress, you need to download the iPad App https://www.worldcruising.com/arc/eventfleetviewer.aspx which is free but you have to pay £1.99 to add the ARC race. It should be the first option on the list and it is ARC 2014 (not ARC+ 2014).

Next blog update will not be until we reach St Lucia probably around 16 December.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Madeira to Tenerife

Madeira to Tenerife

4 October to 13 October

We left for Santa Cruz Tenerife on the Saturday morning with a good weather forecast and a feeling that it was only 300 miles so was a short hop. We planned for Catherine and me to take out the boat as part of the first watch but with the swell entering the marina the boat was moving about in all directions and we had not untied it yet! So Steve and Annie we called up and between us we made it out of the marina unscathed. 

The winds were stronger than expected at first which was due to the funnelling effect of the islands. After 30 minutes we put in the first of three reefs that we would need that day with winds exceeding 30 knots for most of the day. The wind and the waves that followed the wind were not a problem and we had an enjoyable sail at first. During the day, a further set of waves built from the East, which came in groups of three, every four minutes or so directly across the beam. These waves were steep and caused the boat to roll from side to side. Not too bad during the day (you could do things between the waves) but it made sleeping very difficult at night– back to sleeping in a washing machine. 

At last some fair weather
Further reefs in the sail overnight kept the boat well within its comfort zone until the morning when the Easterly waves subsided and we were left with a very pleasant days sailing. 

Our only sighting of Dolpins on route.
One sighting of Dolphins on the Sunday excited the crew and after the photo call the dolphins went off to their next photo engagement somewhere. Otherwise there were very distractions for the crew and even tracking other boats on the AIS was not exciting as there were only a handful of boats in the two days. The game of guessing how far out we could see Tenerife with its high Volcano became tedious as a mixture of cloud and darkness meant that we were practically parked on top of it before we actually saw it rather than the 40-80 miles away we had guessed between us.

Once we had arrived at Santa Cruz at 11am in the morning we were very tired to the point that Catherine and I did nothing until the late afternoon while Steve and Annie went to explore. Santa Cruz is a very attractive town and the more we explored it the more we liked it. Catherine and Annie search out the best restaurant on google before we headed out in the evening. It took an even more intensive search on foot to actually find the restaurant but was well worth it. 

Catherine, Steve and Annie

The following morning we all went on the tram to hill top town of La Laguna which is 30 minutes away, high into the hills. It was a former capital of Tenerife and was very engaging with old convents, churches, museums and building. If there is a tower then we will climb it and so when we found the church bell tower we climbed to the top. There were clear signs to warn people about touching the bells or throwing rubbish off the top of the tower. They did not mention that the bells strike every 15 minutes and it is deafening when they do. So it was a shock to us at the top of the tower but even more of a lucky escape for Steve who had been standing inside the bell just seconds before it struck.

Lucky escape for Steve

 The following day we sailed from Santa Cruz to Las Galletas which would be the end stop for Steve and Annie. But we had a few days still once we were there to explore the area, particularly the British parts of Tenerife. But first we had some maintenance to do.

Hope, Despair and Victory

Steve had agreed to do spend Thursday on maintenance with me and the main priority was to fix the water maker. Replacing the hose that we had cut in error in Lisbon was straight forward and we put the diverter valves in the correct pipe this time. We tracked the leak down to one particular joint which we took apart and using TPFE tape we repaired it. We re-cleaned the water maker with the cleaning chemical but this time we used warm water and set the water maker to actually make water at the same time so all parts would be cleaned.

So two hours later when we tried the water maker with sea water, we were really pleased that the water had no smell, tasted drinkable and with only a slight weep in the joint that we had repaired. We discussed that we could live with the leak and we could make matters worse if we tried to repair it. However, there is that nagging feeling that we had not quite finished the job so we took it apart and brought some better jointing “string” (better than TPFE tape according to the advert)  to secure the joint.

After a couple of attempts, we wound yet more of the string around the thread and on the final attempt to screw it in we cross threaded it. I had noticed this quickly so there was limited damage but it was not going to go back on without a Tap to recut the first part of the thread. Nothing left to do but pack up and go into Los Americanos to meet Annie’s sister Lynne and boyfriend John for a curry. Nice to have traditional English food again and this was our first experience of the British part of Tenerife.  Curry was not bad and after a few more drinks we put any thought of water makers behind us.

I was confident on the Friday that we would fix the problem and we set off to the local hardware store where they speak English to buy a Tap and Dye set. On the way we passed a Chandlers come hardware shop and decided to ask them as we were passing. The shop keeper did not speak one word of English but was interested in what the problem was. So Steve mimed the sequence of us screwing in a thread which became cross threaded. It was clear he still did not quite understand (as he tried to sell as PTFE tape) but he pointed to his phone and tried to call someone, presumably who spoke English.

After failing to get through, he indicated that we should follow him and he beckoned us to get into his van. We were a little disconcerted after driving 20 minutes when we had no idea where we were going and why. During the journey, Steve sat in the front, and through a combination of mime and naming the odd country which he recognised, recounted our journey from England to Tenerife.  

We arrived at a house which can only be described as a building site inside, rubble everywhere and not habitable but we did meet his friend. Not sure how he thought this person was going to help as he  was not a talented builder, could not speak English and seemed to have no tools other than a few hammers (which explains the state of the house). But clearly a very good friend of his and it seemed that he had used us as an excuse to leave his wife in the shop while he could go out. Steve once again mimed what the problem was and how it happened using a large plastic bottle as a prop which seemed to generate a common understanding of the problem at last. They drove us to the hardware superstore and after 30 minutes (mainly chatting to more of his friends) established that they did not have the right tools either. 

We were resigned to not getting the problem fixed today on the way back to the marina but once again we stopped off at his shop on route while the two of them rummaged through various drawers. Eventually he showed me pipe joint with a thread that was tapered which might just recut the thread. My hope was restrained by the knowledge that they could just further damage the thread and I would have even a bigger problem to sort out.

So the four of us went back to the boat to find it locked up – it was now two hours after we had said that we had said to Catherine and Annie that we would be 10 minutes and neither of us had our phones. We had the possible means of correcting our problem, two willing volunteers but we could not gain access! As an off chance I suggested that they may have put the keys somewhere for us which proved to be the case. A dodgy couple of moments where I could see everything falling apart yet again!

However, we got access to the boat and we use the tapered joint to recut the first part of the thread to my great relief. The question was now how to pay them for the last two hours but they refused to take any money. And we had not even managed to speak one sentence to each other.

Thirty minutes later the pipe was back on, fully secured and we had cured the leak. Thanks to Steve, his enthusiasm, patience and determination that is one big job successfully put to bed.

Back to Real Life

That night we met up with Lyn and John again and went to the restaurant that is colloquially known as the Cow Shed – basically it serves meat and lots of it. We ordered 3 meals for 5 of us which was still far too much but the meat was excellent. Managed to drink too much again and ended up in our favourite bar on the way back. I am beginning to think that Steve and Annie were a bad influence – they may feel it is the other way round!

Saturday was the last day Steve and Annie were with us and they went off to the beach for the day. Catherine and I went to explore Los Christianos as we had never been there. Steve described Los Christianos as Blackpool with sunshine which is probably a fair description - everyone we met was British, the signs were in English and the bars were run by Brits. It markets itself not on charm but on cheap beer and curries although we did not really explore too deeply.

El Medano
The next day we went to El Medano to see if this would be a good place for Rebecca, Ed and our grandson Arthur to come to in October. It has a nice feel to the town, a mixture of different nationalities and good restaurants and Cafes. The beach was also sandy so would be good for Arthur.

With that settled, we prepared to set off for la Gomera the next day.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Lisbon to Madeira

Lisbon to Madeira
23rd September to 3 October

Steve and Annie arrived at the marina at midnight with their luggage soaked from the thunderstorm while it was being unloaded from the plane. It was the last day of the two weeks of thunderstorms we had suffered but now the weather would no longer be a constraint on when we left for Madeira.
Steve arrived full of enthusiasm and in UK work mode. He would have left the next morning to sail to Madeira if we had not slowed him down. My plan was to make sure that we were all ready for the journey and had allowed three days preparation for so that everyone was comfortable with the journey ahead - 500 miles over 4 days out into the Atlantic.

We agreed the menus for 6 days (to allow for contingency) and spent the first afternoon shopping. It needed all four of us to carry the shopping back onto the boat. It was even more difficult to find places to put all the shopping and meant rearranging half the boat to make space that would be accessible on passage. A well-deserved beer and some tapas in the marina restaurant that evening which turned out to be the best meal we had in Portugal.

I had scheduled the Wednesday for finishing off jobs on the boat, the most important of which was to get the water maker in full service so we could use it on passage. We had to put in some diverter valves into two of the pipes (inlet and outlet), run some cleaning chemicals through it and then sample the water. It did not go well! 

Firstly, we put one of the diverter valves in the wrong pipe. I say we because it makes me feel better but it meant that we did not have enough pipe to correct the problem and so we sent Catherine and Annie into Lisbon to find some replacement pipe – an hour to get there, an hour to find the shop and an hour to get back just to get 2m of pipe.

Then we cleaned the water maker with the special chemical and it made no difference to the smell of the water – it had a distinct diesel smell although was crystal clear. And finally we found a leak in the water maker high pressure system which would mean taking the whole unit out of the boat. Not something to be done before we set sail on Friday.

We did some other jobs which did go well but was over shadowed by the water maker so it was not a good day and the meal in the evening did not help either. The restaurant was an old railway car which looked fabulous. When we asked the waiter for any recommendations to eat, he suggested the cold meat and cheese. That should have told us something (like the chef could not cook) but we went ahead and ordered from the menu. The food was more interesting than edible and we should have gone with the waiter’s recommendation – not much you can do to cold meat and cheese!

The shake down sail on Thursday ensured that we were comfortable with the boat and try some man over board manoeuvres before we sailed to Cascais for the night.
Steve and Annie in relaxed mode
On Friday morning (26th), Catherine and I took the boat out of Cascais while Steve and Annie slept in until they were due on watch. We sailed in a good wind for the first 6 hours before it died almost completely and we were on engine once again. In fact we motored for the next 24 hours with some gentle waves and light winds which was a good introduction to ocean sailing for Catherine, Steve and Annie. 

Next afternoon, the wind picked up and we were under sail once more. We had to put in two reefs overnight as the wind steadied at Force 6 overnight with the wind on the quarter but now we also had a further set of waves on the beam which were steep and made the boat rock uncomfortably – it was like sleeping in a washing machine. The crew looked wrecked after the last night shift and both Steve and Annie fell asleep in the Saloon after finishing their watch. Waves died down the next morning and we were back to pleasant sailing conditions until the Sunday morning when once again we forced to motor due to light winds.

Skipper ready for action
Everyone more relaxed on the Sunday as we had got through one bad night unscathed and the boat came through it without any drama. In fact the boat seemed to relish the bad weather and it was only the crew who were shaken, if not a little stirred by the motion. 

On Monday morning, Catherine asked why we were not stopping at Porto Santo on the way as it had a good write up in the Pilot Guide. It made a lot of sense to stop there since we would arrive at 8pm and in the light rather than at 1am in the dark into Madeira. What a good decision. We arrived at 7:30 and by 8pm we had ordered the taxi after having a gin and tonic on the boat. 

The restaurant we eat in was excellent, the fish was the best we had eaten for a long time and we sitting out in tee shirt and shorts. We even found a nice bar for drinks afterwards and we made up for the last 4 days of not drinking at all.

Up late the next morning as we were all tired and had headaches which we put down to dehydration (rather than the late night drinking). Sorted out Steve and Annie’s flight back from Tenerife which we decided would be the best island to head for and we walked around the town in the afternoon. Back to the same restaurant in the evening and a different bar for late night drinks.

No taxis around when we left so walked back to the marina. Steve attracted a couple of dogs who followed us on the way back with such enthusiasm they were not going to be given the slip. Steve tried to lose them by running down to the beach down a long ramp, wait and then run back while they were not looking. The dogs did not follow Steve up the ramp and we thought we had lost them until they came up the steps just in front of us so we carried on. They ended up sitting on the pontoon staring at Steve’s cabin with great expectation that he was going to come out and play but they we gone by morning.

On the Wednesday morning we sailed to Madeira in force 5/6 and boat sailed beautifully despite the steep waves from behind. It was a really enjoyable sail and we arrived at Quinta do Lorde marina at 4:30pm. Nice marina but understaffed and it took an hour and half to complete the check-in. Holiday village attached to the marina is a ghost town – looks nice but no-one is there. We checked out all the restaurants but it felt like an imposition to be the only people in the restaurant for the night so we eat on board. 

North Side of Madeira
The next day we hired a car at great expense for a tour of the island. North side of Madeira is dramatic, rugged and very beautiful. Also much colder and wetter than the south, particularly as you get into the clouds which hang over the island. Still, it was a bit like a warm summer’s day with autumn mist hanging over ground so although it was wet it was still tee shirt and shorts weather.

Our final day we spent in Funchal which is the capital. One day was not really enough to see everything we wanted to but we visited the market and the old part of the capital as well as many of the other tourist attractions. One day more would have been nice and two days too much.

Off to Tenerife the next day so we had a relatively early night and we were all relaxed about the 300 miles journey south.