Bob Hazell writes about Pipistrelle’s route from Antigua to Ireland in 2017, which was enhanced by Martin Goodchild flying in to the Azores to join him for the passage.
Transatlantic Passage 2017, Antigua to Ireland, with thanks to the GXSA!
Having completed our circumnavigation, Elaine and I agreed that the time had come to sail for Europe, and in retrospect with the hurricanes decimating the northern Caribbean, it was the right decision.
Peter Stone joined Elaine and me on Pipistrelle in Antigua, and from here we set sail for Bermuda on the 1st May, a passage of 950 nm over 6 days at an average speed of 6.6kn. After 2 days the nitrogen gas leaked out of the hydraulic boom vang, and we were forced to attach the topping lift to keep the boom clear of the bimini. On arrival we discovered that the manufacturer, Navtec, had gone out of business, it was not possible to air freight the vang to the USA for repair due to flight safety rules, and there were no facilities on the island to repair it. So we were faced with the fact that we would be sailing coming on 2000nm without a vang, not the end of the world!
Bermuda is a fascinating island, with loads of history well presented in the National Museum of Bermuda at the Royal Naval Dockyard. The island has no fresh water springs, rivers or lakes, so there is no mains water supply. Rainwater is captured on the roofs and then fed to underground water tanks. All the roofs on the island are painted white because this reflects ultra-violet light from the sun, which also helps to purify the water.
Bob Tuckwood, a friend of Peter’s joined us for the passage to the Azores, where our first stop was planned to be the island of Ilha do Faial, famous for Peters Sport Café in Horta. In the days leading up to our planned departure date, we had a large area of high pressure, and no wind to speak of. Finally we left on the 19th May 2017, and for the first time ever for me, we set off in a dead flat calm, and knew that we would have to motor for 2-3 days to find the wind. Our plan then was to continue north until we reached 037N, and then head east or NE for the Azores.
ASIDE: About GRIB Files
Grib stands for ‘Gridded Information in Binary form’, and is a concise data format commonly used in meteorology to store historical and forecast weather data.
We download these forecasts on a daily basis via email and our satphone, and then view them in the format displayed in this article. The arrows denote the direction of the wind, and the barbs on the end the strength, assisted by the colours, blue denoting light winds to red and purple denoting strong winds. Pressure, wind and rain in a precise spot is also shown. There is a considerable amount of information available, once one knows how to extract it.
All went well until the afternoon of the second day, when suddenly the engine slowed right down, so we put it in neutral, then astern, back to neutral, then ahead, to no avail. Obviously we had something around the propeller, so Peter stripped off and with a mask and a knife dived under the hull, and found we had picked up about 200 metres of fishing rope. After about 10 minutes he managed to cut it free, so we secured it under the dinghy on the foredeck, and continued on our way.
The wind finally filled in, and we were able to sail under genoa alone, which is always comfortable in light airs as the mainsail is not slatting. We sailed for the next three days, and then the wind died again, so we were motoring, and had furled the genoa. By 20.00 it was dark, and we were down below with our evening meal, when the engine slowed again, once more we had something around the propeller, but with a slight swell and some wind it was unsafe to investigate. We set the genoa and continued on our way. By the following morning we had 20 knots of wind aft of the beam, and were making 7 knots, but the question then was where would we be able to dive and investigate?
Ilha das Flores looked the best bet, further to the NW of our course, but as I had no wish to try to access a marina without an engine, this island provided two opportunities, either in the lee of the island depending on wind direction and strength, or in the bay off Porto das Lajes to the SE which looked fairly sheltered.
At this point we had approximately 970nm to sail without an engine, always a concern to me when we are sailing downwind, because how do we get back if someone falls overboard, and also what happens if the Azores high develops and stays there, but in that case hopefully it will calm down and we can dive! The wind continued in strength and direction, until we were about 330nm from Flores and the wind backed, so we hoisted the main, furled the genoa and set the staysail, and were hard on the wind.
The wind backed further until it was in the north, which was perfect, so we closed the southern coast of Flores until we were about 250 metres off, furled the staysail and dropped the main, and within minutes we were stationary in calm waters. Peter donned his wetsuit and mask and went over again, returning to ask for a serrated carving knife! We had an industrial quality plastic bag around the prop, which took him about 15 minutes to cut free. We started the engine, and the prop turned perfectly. Peter brought the plastic on board, and we were off, hoisted the main, set the genoa and were sailing again. Hurrah! We had 130nm to sail, and arrived in Horta on the 2nd June at midday, after a passage of 1913nm at an average speed of 5.8 knots.
Our time in Horta was restricted as Bob & Peter had booked flights to the UK on the 6th June. We managed to explore the town, and found a bay on the windward side of the island which was totally covered in dead Portuguese man of war jellyfish that had been washed ashore.
Bob just found time to add a painting of a bat and Pipistrelle’s name celebrating in time honoured fashion our circumnavigation and clocking up 50,000 nm. The wall had no space left, so this was on the breakwater:
We left the next day on the 5th June for Sao Miguel, and after 150nm arrived in Ponta Delgada 28 hours later at 14.10, an average speed of 5.4 knots.
Peter and Bob departed for the UK by air the following day, and a few days later Elaine joined me for some R&R. Pipistrelle remained alongside in the marina, and we spent the time exploring the island by hire car, and also checked into a fabulous hotel for a few days, just bliss. There is so much to see in the Azores, this was our second visit to the islands. In retrospect it was probably a mistake to try to pack so much in to our sailing programme, as otherwise we could easily have spent a month cruising here, and then sailed to Portugal to lay up for the winter.
On Sao Miguel when touring by car it is important to pick the right weather, and to leave early in the morning, so that the mountain peaks have not clouded over with convection during the day. Highlights for us were Sete Cidades to the NW of the island where the Caldeira do Alferes is 1270ft above sea level and the view from the road to the south is beautiful. In the village by the lake the order of the day is a coffee in the restaurant, and then a wander along the water’s edge.
On the north coast the town of Ribeira Grande is worth a visit, especially the seafood restaurant Alabote, for its food, service and great coastal views. From here we headed south into the mountains, and Lagoa do Fogo, where from the car park there is a very steep path down to the lake, and from there along the rocky shore. It was a demanding but enjoyable hike to the lake, the final descent of 20 ft of vertical rock being assisted by a ladder, and then the walk to the pontoon on the headland. We had not taken our swimming gear with us, otherwise a dip in the clear water before the return climb might have been enjoyable.
The other highlight we enjoyed was the thermal pool at Furnas town, and then wandering through the romantic botanical gardens of Terra Nostra.
Cruising offers so many opportunities to enjoy spectacular scenery, meet people from different cultures, and enjoy local food and wines at their best.
I found a hydraulic business who assured me they could repair the boom vang, so I was driven there and left the vang, to be inspected and pressured with nitrogen to 650 psi.
At this stage I was short of crew for the passage to Ireland, but after more emails and a phone conversation with Stuart Gaunt of the GXSA, he sent out another email, and Martin Goodchild replied to me, offering to join me, manna from heaven, and a huge thank you to Stuart! Martin arrived minutes before Elaine departed on the same plane, so we all said hello in the airport! The vang had been returned and installed, and seemed to work!
After some final provisioning at the market we set sail after lunch and headed to the western end of San Miguel where we altered course for the Emerald Isle and Kinsale. As if by magic the wind filled in and we were able to turn off the engine and sail.
The wind lasted all night, but eased in time for breakfast, so we were back to motor sailing. We then enjoyed 3 days of good sailing accompanied by dolphins that were fascinating to watch as always. The wind continued to vary, so we did have to resort to motoring every now and again. The big plus factor was the company of whales for three days in succession; one was a sperm whale, one unidentified, and then pilot whales. Dolphins returned and were with us for a considerable time, performing some spectacular jumps clear of the waves.
Then the vang failed again, the gas had leaked out, but we had left the topping lift in place, so it took the weight of the boom. The good news was that Martin and I got on with each other, we shared and discussed the daily grib weather forecasts, agreed on a plan of action, and shared 3-hour watches. Elaine had prepared enough frozen evening meals to provide for the passage, so each evening we had a good supper, and the catering went well.
As we closed the coast on the evening of the 9th July it was clear that we would be entering the river in darkness, and it was 9 years since I was last there. We handed the sails just short of the entrance to Kinsale harbour, and then slowly motored up the river, anchoring at 03.34 just north of Charles Fort in 4 metres of water. A passage of 1152nm in 8 days, 10 hours and 57 minutes, an average speed of 5.7kn.
We had a leisurely breakfast at about 10.00, tidied the boat up, and motored up the river to the marina, where we were made very welcome, and made full use of the yacht club facilities.
The nightlife in Kinsale has changed yet again. 9 years ago all the live music or craic had gone, juke boxes and discos had taken over. Happily they have seen the errors of their ways, and Martin and I enjoyed the live entertainment, which is many and varied.
Whilst we had been on passage, Elaine had located Armada Engineering in Falmouth to repair the boom vang, and so with the help of the yacht club, that was shipped to the UK.
Alas, all good things have to come to an end, and with another good weather window we prepared to leave on the 13th July. Customs finally caught up with us as we refuelled, and wanted to inspect down below with a dog. Big reminder, if there is a next time the dog wears covers over its paws and the handler clears up all the hairs left by the dog!
We had great sailing towards the Irish Sea, and were astonished to watch humpback whales perform close to us. After 18 hours we were able to round Carnsore Point and inside Tuskar Rock, and anchored off Rosslare Harbour at 06.40. We stayed on board and had a relaxing day and a good night’s sleep.
We left the next morning at 0600 for Howth, just to the north of the entrance to Dublin harbour. We chose to take the inshore passage which is buoyed the whole way, and anchored off the yacht club at 13.30, before then waiting for the tide the next morning and taking Pipistrelle alongside in the marina.
We were incredibly impressed with the yacht club which is managed superbly well, and the facilities are excellent. They were also running a cadet fortnight, but here the kids were under control, no mess in the changing rooms, boats were left neatly so that one barely noticed them, and the emphasis was on fun, and not just sailing! Well done Howth YC.
Immediately outside the YC there is a fabulous cliff walk to the south and east as far as the Baily Lighthouse, marking the headland and entrance to Dublin Harbour, where one is walking along a narrow footpath and in many places a sheer drop of over a hundred feet to the clear waters of the Irish Sea below. We shared this with a large number of tourists, including many Poles who make up a large community in and around Dublin. In a way it was lovely to return to the private oasis of the YC, and to peace and quiet!
We managed an evening in Dublin, and here the craic scene had changed, so we finished up getting in a taxi and being taken to the Brazen Head, the oldest pub in Dublin, where the music and singing started just as we arrived. Another good time, which left an evening on board with home cooked food before sadly Martin had to leave for home.