After 4 weeks in Antigua, we were ready to go back to sea. I left there with some amazing memories and epic times, having met so many people and made some great new friends. I could quite happily have stayed there another few weeks but the sea was calling…
Most of my time in Antigua was spent working on the boat, getting her back up to speed. I did however find time to explore some of the island and have some evenings away from boat work which was much needed.
March really is not the time of year to be crossing the Atlantic. Not West to East in the North anyway. In fact my gnomic chart of the Atlantic says, “No boats should be crossing the Atlantic in January, February and March, except boats going West that are already in the Canaries”. Hmmm. So I ignored that and left for the Azores…
There is a ‘reason for the season’ for when boats cross oceans. I knew I had a very high chance of encountering rough weather on the passage, not like the easy one I had going west in the trades, running downwind where it only got warmer every day.
Out of Antigua I started on a beat, wind on the nose, which I hoped would become South Westerlies by the time I was out of the trades. But, in short, it took me 23 days to get here, and only 4 were not beating. The weather certainly came, it meant I got the chance to play with my storm sails which I hadn’t previously done. I didn’t see the worst of some of the deep lows that were tracking across at 50 degrees North as with the wind on the nose my best course took me along the 30th parallel for many miles.
When I was planning this winter loop, one of my main reasons for doing so many miles was to get to know the boat. To get to know every last problem, however big or small. So that when she goes into the yard on our return I can get all these things sorted.
Beating to windward in the seas I was in I was having to pump the bilge every couple hours as a lot of water was coming in through the forepeak. On starboard tack she doesn’t take on much water but port tack was another thing. I only discovered how much water comes in through the deck fittings on starboard when I arrived. Having only spent the last two days of the passage on port tack I hadn’t been in the lockers at all, but when I got into port and went to get some tools out I subsequently discovered the lockers full of water. So my first few hours on shore were spent bailing out and praying I could recover the power tools that were in there. Alas, no. Oh well.
On the few days I had with wind astern I managed to get the headsail poled out and have a lovely downwind run, until I snapped my spinnaker pole. I had gone for a sleep and in the meantime a squall had snuck up on us and hit with full force, far too much for the full sail I had up. It is currently at a 90 degree angle. I couldn’t work out a way to use it at that angle so I simply strapped it down on deck and left it. Right after the genoa halyard decided it had done enough work and the headsail came down. I re-hoisted it on the spinnaker halyard hoping it would keep until I get to the UK. So far so good. 😃
It's certainly been an active passage, not only with sealing up the deck and fixing things I have broken along the way, but the amount of squalls and weather that we got have kept me on my toes. The most reefs in and out in a day was 26, but on average it was about 10.
When I left Antigua there was very little fresh food in the supermarket. I wasn’t able to get much, so I thought I would be fine on tinned and dried goods. Turns out after a week of this I was thoroughly bored of it. Meals got blander and blander. A lot to work on, food wise, before the start of the race next year. Need one pot exciting meal ideas. I have run out!
Sailing in the trades the colour of the sea is this very deep blue, but about half way to the Azores it changed colour and became very green and grey. There was life in the ocean again. From the moment the colour changed I had dolphins with me every day, something that is always special to see. They would put on quite a show and stay as long as I was watching them. Birds also started to appear and would fly around the boat all day. I really can sit and watch them for hours. How they can glide over the waves so close and never hit one is quite impressive.
Out off all the passages I have done on my loop since leaving the UK, this one is by far my favourite. Even though the weather was not kind to us, and I've had the most issues with the boat, I have felt the most at home. Maybe its the amount of sea life, or the cold, I don't know. There is something quite awe inspiring about gales at sea, the size of the waves, the screaming wind… It makes you feel so small and insignificant to mother nature but also so lucky and blessed to be able to witness nature in its rawest form.
I was hoping to leave the Azores after fuelling, victualling and filling with water but my little yammer had other ideas. Again I arrived with no engine, a cylinder issue which means I will be here a little while getting it fixed. The Azores is one of my favourite places I have been, maybe because it resembles the British climate, well, with a little more rain, but it is one spectacular cluster of islands that I can certainly find plenty of things to do whilst the engineer gets to work on the engine.