Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Across The Atlantic

We said goodbye to Al and Tess, dropped our mooring and set out from Brigus Bay at 09:30 and started the expected 1700 mile passage to Cork, Ireland.  The first day of a passage is always interesting as you have days, sometimes weeks to go, and you never really know what the days will bring - maybe it will all be smooth sailing (probably not) and maybe we will have a major issue with the boat (hopefully not), what is our plan B?, what type of traffic will we see? - so many questions to be answered.  

When we first left, our weather router suggested that we try to outrun the first LO pressure system by maintaining a 6 knot average speed.  So we left the coast of Newfoundland to our stern, motor sailing to maintain speed and the fog settled in for what would end up being a week.  As it grew darker the first night, the wind continued to increase over 20 kts and we finally were able to turn off the motor.  

Though the fog hadn’t lifted, the wind continued to increase over day two and three and the squalls arrived.  We couldn’t see anything past our bow so we turned on the radar and would reef the sails as the squalls inched closer.  We emailed our weather router who suggested that we wouldn’t be able to reach the east side of the gale (200 nm) so it would be better to slow down and let it pass to the north of us.  So we slowed to 1.2kts and though the waves were a bit rolly, it was better than sailing into a gale.  We were actually going so slow, that a Russian freighter hailed us on the vhf to make sure we were okay.  Why would you be in the middle of the Atlantic only making 1 knot?  Just waiting on weather...

The barometer continued to drop and we were sailing via instruments as the fog still surrounded us.  By day six, the weather router confirmed what we learned from the weather forecast we had downloaded that another gale was due to arrive and we probably couldn’t avoid this one but the further southeast we were able to get, the lighter the winds, relatively speaking, would be.  So we sailed as fast as Terrapin could go without beating her up.  At one point, we even motorsailed for maximum speed.  By time the gale went over, we had 45 knot winds sustained, categorized on the Beaufort Scale as a STRONG GALE, and a 12-hour average of about 35 knots.  The gale passed overnight so we couldn’t see the waves but as soon as the sun came up and the gale had passed, the conditions had settled to approximately 15-18 foot waves so one can only guess what they were during the front.  

Though the following day was overcast, there was a bit more light and the fog was starting to lift.  Since Terrapin had been “stirred” around in the gale, there was water that had found its way into every possible crevice - ports, chainplates, hatches, etc..  We spent the next day drying out anything we could to make things more comfortable down below.  Also, during the gale, our starboard flag halyard and rigging lines that run from the mast, had wrapped around not only the mast but the port side spreader and the top of the reefed mainsail.  So Baxter had no choice but to go up the mast while we were underway.  If he didn’t go up, we would not be able to use the mainsail.  Dan winched Baxter up as I tailed and we were all very cautious to ensure that our fatigue and the rolliness of the 5 ft waves would not lead to any careless mistakes.  

Since we were 300 miles south of our intended route, we were looking for the opportunity to turn northeast towards Ireland.  Days 10 - 12 were spent going from 35kts sustained to 20kts back up to 30kts and waves from 8 ft to 18 feet as we watched gales come and go.  Our opportunity for turning to Ireland kept getting smaller as we moved along a course of 090 degrees (east).  The next day as we downloaded the weather, a huge gale appeared in the forecast - right between our position and Ireland.  Our dilemma became do we continue moving east to Spain on a more conservative route or sail into a gale forecasted to be near Ireland as we make landfall.  As this would be a new harbor with big tides and we were still tired, we opted for a more conservative decision to head to La Coruna, Spain.  Another factor was that if we went to Ireland,  speed would be critical to limiting our exposure in the gale.  If we were slower than an average of 6.5kts, we would be in the stronger part of the gale for a longer period of time.  If we went to Spain, we could rest, dry the boat, and then look for a weather window to Ireland.  

Because the gale near Ireland was so large, it took the wind near the Bay of Biscay and our course to Spain required motoring for 2 days.  We took the opportunity of a flat boat to cook decent meals, watch movies, eat popcorn, dry things out more, watch dolphins from the bow and make chocolate cake for dessert.  I definitely prefer to sail than motor - but it was pretty nice to be spoiled before we made landfall.  

On the morning of day 15, with an amazing sunrise, we were able to spot the tops of the mountains in Spain.  Of course, Kala could smell land long before we could see it.  When we finally spotted it, she looked at us as if to say - “that’s what I have been telling you!”  Throughout the entire day, pods of Atlantic common dolphins were numerous and bobbed, weaved and jumped all around Terrapin.

We arrived too late in to the marina to check into the country and the rules are that you cannot get off the boat until you have been cleared by customs.  Kala did not understand the rules and was not happy with us - at all.  She thought 15 days of being on the boat was definitely enough, we must just be torturing her.  Nonetheless, we uncorked the champagne and celebrated a well-traveled adventure across the Atlantic.  

Boat speed = mileage per day = how many days across
Beautiful Brigus Bay
Dropping the mooring in Brigus Bay
Rounding Cape St Francis heading to Ireland
Baxter fixing leaks during a squall
Keeping Kala company in a snuggy bunk
Quick pic the morning after the 45-knot Strong Gale
Baxter trying to fix the rigging without going up the mast
Salt crystals on the winch means waves crashing into the cockpit much farther?
The LO that helped us decide to route to Spain instead of Ireland

Finally spending a day in the cockpit
Sun came out for a quick sunset shot
Dead downwind with Jib only
Relaxing in 8 ft waves
Traffic in the separation zones off the Iberian Peninsula
Pods of dolphins welcoming us to Spain!


Tess said...

Hey sailors, sounds like you earned your salty badge on this trip. But having read this over more morning coffee, all it makes me want to do is jump in our boat and follow you guys. I love hearing all the details, the good and the bad, so I know what it can be like to cross the Atlantic. Also, s\do you get some kind of badge for crossing the Atlantic? You should, cause you earned it! Kisses to Kala. Cheers, Tess

Bill said...

Hi - finally jumped on your blog - sounds like you had an interesting crossing! Good decision to head to Spain. Are you still planning to get to Ireland?
Toodle-oo! is in New England and will head down to the Caribbean for winter again, then looking to do the OCC's Azores Pursuit Rally next year...
Love to all aboard!
Bill & Laurie

Bill said...

Oops! - I see you did make it to Ireland. Enjoy!

Molly Gillespie said...

Hi Bill, we left Crosshaven this morning and we're now in Kinsale enjoying a nice pint. Have a great time in the Caribbean and maybe we will see you in the Azores...we will definitely refer to your blog for Euro advice. All the best to Lauri.

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