#1 2011-09-26 09:50:44

Colin_Reid
Member
Registered: 2003-11-02
Posts: 16

TUI’s voyage to the Azores and back 2009 (V30)

Tui’s voyage to the Azores and back

Colin Reid

Preface

Tui is a sloop rigged Victoria 30. She is normally to be found moored on the upper reaches of the River Dart in Devon.

Colin Reid has owned Tui for many years and been a member of The Victoria Shadow Association since 2003. He is also a member of the Cruising Association and of the Royal Yachting Association. Colin has become ever more adventurous with his sailing and has previously sailed Tui across Biscay to northern Spain in 2005.

In the summer of 2009, May to August inclusive, Colin sailed Tui single-handed to Spain and then onto the Azores, where he was joined by Andrew, his crew for the journey home.

It was blowing 35 knots with driving rain when I arrived at my mooring on the Dart for my trip to the Azores. Not very encouraging. As I motored downriver looking for a more sheltered spot the towed inflatable dinghy became airborne, repeatedly flipping upside-down. Luckily I had seen this coming and removed the outboard. I spent a few days doing final preparations for the trip and fitting a new navtex in the hope it would produce a better forecast than the old one. Given the unsettled conditions I abandoned the idea of sailing direct to the Azores and decided to take it in more manageable stages.

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Departure for Spain

The weather moderated and eventually I set off for a brisk sail to L’AberWrach in Brittany in a fresh northwesterly. The next day I negotiated the Chenal du Four with a glorious sail into the Iroise in the evening sun to anchor in Anse de Pen-Hir, south of Camaret. After a windy night at anchor I went on to Camaret to do some shopping and check on the forecast. It looked unsettled but at least was blowing from the NW which was a fair wind for crossing Biscay.

Almost as soon as I left Camaret heading for NW Spain, Cross Corsen came on the VHF warning of NW force 7 that night and the following day. I mulled it over as I motorsailed towards the Raz de Sein. I was expecting strong winds for the first part of the trip, but not quite that much. I was trying to use the northwesterlies to get across Biscay before strong easterlies set in later in the week off the Spanish coast. Well I decided that I could wait forever for the perfect forecast for crossing Biscay and at least it was blowing in the right direction, so I carried on.

Sure enough it blew up that night but with a triple reefed main and small amount of genoa Tui trucked along, sailing fast all night. By morning the wind picked up another notch and three reefs in the main was too much sail. I thought about my trisail. I had only ever put it up before in harbour. Well it had cost enough and if ever there was a time to use it, it was now. It wasn’t too hard to put up; luckily I had practiced in Camaret and it has its own track. The worst bit was getting the main down which meant standing on the coachroof, clipped on of course but still feeling pretty exposed. With the trisail up the difference was amazing, everything quietened down, the sail was nice and flat and with a scrap of genoa up we were still trucking along at 5 to 6 knots. I thought about the storm jib. I had set up the emergency forestay to hank it onto when I heard the forecast but on a broad reach it didn’t seem worth the bother and the foredeck did not look that enticing in the conditions. Eventually the wind eased and I was back to full sail. I had a relaxing day and night of blue seas, dolphins jumping and making good progress.

It was when I was about 40 mile off the Spanish coast that the wind really picked up again. Evidently the easterlies hadn’t read the forecast and arrived early. Pretty soon I was down to 3 reefs again and it was clearly too much, so I took the main down thinking of the trisail. But I found that no main and just a scrap of genoa was plenty of sail. It really piped up and I was sailing fast in a rough sea, the vane steering holding a steady course towards my landfall.

As the night wore on I had an uncomfortably close encounter with a ship that would not budge from his course despite me shining a light on the sail. I blinked first.

My plan was to arrive at Ria Cedeira at around dawn where I should get some lee from the land, then motor into the ria. It’s not a hard entrance and I have been there before. Still it was pretty nerve wracking tearing towards a rocky coast in the pitch dark, in a gale and rough sea. I was down below when suddenly there was an extraordinary noise from on deck above the din of the gale. It sounded like there was a banshee loose in the cockpit. I looked out and found the wind generator had gone berserk, spinning at an incredible and scary speed. It was like having a Spitfire trying to land in the cockpit. It would have been suicidal to go near it to tie it down so I ignored it.

I thought it would start to get light at a 5am when I expected to be there, but I had overlooked that this far south dawn is later. So it was still pitch dark with no moon when I made it to my waypoint off the entrance. I was still crashing about with no shelter as yet. I hit the engine start button. Bang, nothing, it didn’t even turn over. My first thought was  ****  then the possible scenarios spun through my head: head out to sea and heave to to ride out the gale; keep on to La Coruna and hope I could sail in. Neither very appealing.

The hit the electrics took when I tried to start the engine seemed to affect the instruments as well. The normally unflappable depth sounder informed me it was 1.5m not 35m and the autohelm instrument which is a fluxgate compass when not under autohelm decided I really needed to know the distance to the next waypoint, not my heading. Small things but hardly what I needed especially when a wave flopped into the cockpit.

Meanwhile I pointed away from the land¸ got things under control and went to have a look at the engine. I was pretty sure there was water in it, so I de-compressed it and it turned over and eventually it started. Then I was back on track and after a bit of anxiety identifying the sector light got into the ria and anchored.

When I looked at the engine it had over a litre of water in that had been driven up the exhaust by the force of the seas. I have sailed in rough seas often enough before but this has never happened. I fitted a sea cock on the exhaust for this trip, but stupidly did I think of closing it? Several oil and filter changes later the oil was clean and the engine seemed happy enough. When I looked at the wind generator manual I found that in prolonged high winds it stops charging and goes into free spin to protect the generator. So that was okay as well.

After my dramatic arrival in Ria de Cedeira I had a quiet day enjoying the beautiful surroundings, sorting out the boat and comparing notes with other yachts who came in on the same gale. An intrepid German single hander mentioned 40 knots of wind but was un-phased.  An English family with small children who I had met in Brittany had an awful time and were quite shell shocked. I felt pleased to have got some bad weather under my belt early in the trip and at how well Tui had taken it in her stride.

After a pleasant motor in fine weather down to Ares I met friends on their yacht, then on to La Coruna for provisioning. I like La Coruna, a bustling, atmospheric workaday city with an attractive old town and excellent sea food. The new marina had just opened, huge with good facilities but sadly taking up the whole anchorage making anchoring difficult and according to marina staff illegal. After a day or two I carried on round the coast, by chance meeting my friends at sea and visiting the lovely rias of Corme, Camarinas where I was gale bound for a few days and finally to Muros. This is a really lovely ria and historic town, well worth a visit. Staying in the Spanish rias is mostly free as you anchor, but with little in the way of facilities. Getting diesel and water can be a challenge; jerry cans and a suitcase trolley are useful for getting diesel from filling stations. On the other hand one of the joys is that it is undeveloped, un-touristy and very friendly. Having some Spanish is helpful as little English is spoken.

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Tui anchored at Muros

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Muros

I was waiting for a decent forecast for the passage to the Azores and in Muros it was looking good with consistent northerlies forecast. I got a personalised forecast from Weatherweb which put a lot more detail into the grib charts I was using and gave me confidence. This was my longest passage and single handed at that. I set off early one sunny morning in light winds and put in my next waypoint for Sao Miguel in the Azores, some 800 miles away.

The next week blurred into an endless round of sail changes, watchkeeping, napping and contemplation. My home life seemed a distant memory, arrival a remote possibility and the passage became my overriding reality. The weather was good with fine sailing on a broad reach. Once past the Finisterre TSS I hardly saw any shipping and had the ocean to myself apart from regular cheery visits from dolphins and a couple of whales sighted in the distance. Being alone on the ocean was incredible, humbling, exhilarating. The immensity of the ocean, the gorgeous sunsets and magnificent night skies became an everyday reality.

One night I realised that visibility was closing in and seemed down to less than a mile, hard to judge with nothing to look at. I hadn’t seen another vessel for days but thought I’d better switch on the radar. There, less than a mile directly ahead was another boat. It was slow moving and on the same course as me, clearly another yacht. I slowed down, kept watch and eventually passed it close to. I don’t think they saw me. I was unable to raise them on the VHF, instead an American yacht on a reciprocal heading from the Azores to Spain answered and we chatted for a while before passing close by. It seemed odd that out in the middle of the ocean, having sighted nothing for days, three yachts passed so close.

Next day the wind piped up and I had a 100 mile dead run in strong winds to Sao Miguel. I don’t much like a dead run and the motion started out vile with heavy rolling and everything in the cabin lockers rhythmically crashing from one side to the other.  After a bit of experimenting I got Tui sailing with deep reefed main and preventer, the reefed genoa poled out goosewinged and the motion improved. Despite the rough sea the autohelm steered a good course as we tore along for the next 100 miles until finally land was sighted.

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Landfall off Sao Miguel

What a feeling! It was incredibly atmospheric closing the shore in the dramatic evening light, rough sea, slanting sunlight, hundreds of shearwaters wheeling and skimming and the island lush and green with the mountains swathed in cloud. I was on a high. It was after midnight when I finally got into Ponto Delgado, moored in the new marina, had a natter with the yacht next door, an American just arrived, and fell into my bunk for the first proper sleep for a week.

In the morning I did entry formalities which involved marina, police, immigration and customs. Not as bad as it sounds as all were in adjacent offices and were friendly and helpful. Then I set off to explore feeling a bit dazed. The new marina is big with a lot of purposeful looking yachts. All the yachts except local ones have a long ocean passage behind them and ahead of them so there is an abundance of vane steering, wind generators, solar panels, bikes, jerrycans, laundry etc.  The harbour surroundings are concrete and unappealing, but a short walk takes you into the charming bustling historic old town, capital of the Azores.

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Moored in Ponta Delgado

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Most awkward place to change a lightbulb

On return to my boat I found a man standing gazing at her. He was a local and had fallen for Tui, clearly someone with excellent taste in yachts. He turned out to be the harbour tugboat skipper and a transatlantic yachtsman himself.  He invited me to his boat for a drink, then over the next few days demonstrated the extraordinary island hospitality for which the Azores are known. He showed me round the island, took me to meet his family and generally made me welcome during my stay. The island is lovely; lush, green, fertile, volcanic with hot springs, and boiling mud in the craters.  By the time I left I felt I had friends there.

It took 24 hours to get to Terceira, the next island, in headwinds. On the way I passed a sea turtle paddling industriously along. It looked rather comical with its head stuck up having a good look at me as I sailed past.  Then I saw fleets of sailing jellyfish with fine pink inflatable sails.

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Sea turtle

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Landfall Terceira

Angra is one of the gems of the Azores, a beautiful historic harbour town, former capital of Terceira, staging port for the Spanish treasure galleons and heavily fortified. The fiesta was on and is reckoned to be one of the best in the islands and the town was busy and colourful. Among other things I went to a fado concert and a bullfight. I was dubious about this, after all being English I’m not supposed to approve of such things, but I found that in Portugal the bulls are not killed and this was a rare opportunity. It was the most amazing spectacle, the strutting macho skill of the performers, the brute fury of the bulls, and the excitement of the crowd were unforgettable.

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Running bulls in the street, Sao Jorge

I lingered in Angra, exploring the beautiful island and finally left for Velas, Sao Jorge. The island is steep-to and dramatic with numerous waterfalls plunging into the sea from the cliffs. I passed a pod of risso’s dolphins, bigger and quite different from the common dolphin. It was fiesta time in Velas as well, and the tiny marina was full but the friendly manager shoehorned me in. The huge population of Cory’s shearwaters living in the surrounding cliffs came to life at dusk, thousands of them wheeling in the sky making a cacophony with their eerie cry. Highlights of the fiesta were seeing the bulls running in the streets and the beautiful whaleboats racing.

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Whaleboats, Sao Jorge

Next stop was Madalena in Pico where I anchored in the harbour, setting a tripping line as I was not sure if the bottom was clean. I rarely do this and regretted it on this occasion. After a calm evening admiring the majestic peak of Pico’s volcano in the evening sun I settled down only to be woken in the early dawn by strong offshore winds that were swinging me towards the rocks near the harbour entrance.  I quickly got ready to leave but getting the tripping line in took precious seconds during which Tui was being blown ever closer to the rocks. I had to get it in or risk fouling the prop. I just made it and set off for the short downwind sail to Horta in Faial, flying along in F7 with only the genoa set.

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Pico

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Pico from Faial caldera

Horta is a mid-Atlantic yachting mecca, a big buzzing marina and harbour with hundreds of yachts of all descriptions from all over the world and a delightful town as well. The harbour walls, quays and every surface are covered with paintings done by thousands of crews passing through, marking their passage, an extraordinary display of folk art. I frequented the legendary Peter Café Sport soaking up the atmosphere and not a few beers.

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Horta artwork

I was used to Tui being one of the smallest yachts, not that it bothered me, but one day a tiny French yacht rafted up alongside. It was a shallow beamy overgrown dinghy, about 6m long, better suited to racing round the buoys than ocean cruising and I was impressed that it had made it from France.  When I asked the solo sailor where he had come from he said Guadeloupe, he had just sailed across the Atlantic! I poured him a glass of wine and when he had downed it he set off to the supermarket in search of boufe. I suspect he had been fantasising about that steak halfway across the Atlantic.

Andrew my homeward crew met me in Horta.  Fantastic though it had been singlehanding I was looking forward to having company and sharing watches on the way back. We spent a breathtaking day walking the caldera of the volcano and a lot of time analysing the weather. Conditions were unsettled with a huge low stationary west of Ireland, an intense high over the Azores, and gales in many areas. We decided to skirt south of it and head for Spain. It took over a day of motoring to get out of the Azores high and pick up a gradually increasing northwesterly.

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Andrew on watch

One afternoon I was reading in the cockpit when suddenly there was a commotion in the water.  I was startled to see an orca directly behind us and another alongside. This was alarming; they were nearly as big as the boat and very interested in us. I worried about the rudder, inches from its head and was awed by their power and beauty, very stylish in black and white. After a few minutes they decided we were not good to eat and took off. It was an encounter I will never forget.

The wind picked up and we had a mostly windy downwind passage. A couple of times we hove to when it got up to F7. One quiet night I was wakened by a sudden howling of wind and scrambled on deck to find Andrew frantically reducing sail as the wind, out of nowhere, picked up to 35 knots. After a few minutes the squall passed and it was back to the peaceful night. I tracked the squall on the radar but saw no others.

Night sailing was particularly magical, tearing along in the dark, phosphorescence from the boat and our faithful accompanying group of barracuda (?) looking like torpedoes as they sped along just under us. Those friendly fish stayed with us most of the way to Spain. The skies were incredible, the Milky Way, the shooting stars and the planets shining brighter than I have ever seen them.

I was having problems downloading weatherfax and as the grib files from the Azores became increasingly dated we were relying on more traditional methods, the sky and the barometer. One night I called up a freighter to alert him to our presence on his bow and asked him for a forecast. His English was poor and the only words we thought we made out were ‘we have typhoon’. This chimed alarmingly with a forecast we got before setting out warning of a slight risk of a tropical storm developing. A sobering thought which thankfully came to nothing.

In fact the barometer climbed, the weather improved, the wind died and we decided to motor for a bit. Uncharacteristically it was slow to start. This was odd and Andrew suggested checking it out. Water in the oil! Again! What an idiot, we had had a big following sea for days and despite my Biscay mishap I had not shut the exhaust seacock.

In Andrew’s words: 'so the engine cover is off, Doctor Reid is performing an oil transfusion, the tube of his bijou little brass pump keeps coming off and falling into the plastic water bottles we’re filling with emulsified oil. Nurse Gritten-who should be on watch- is standing by with swabs and lancets, trying to stop the whole theatre getting covered in oil. At this point Colin inadvertently elbows the dry powder fire extinguisher. No more than two hours previously we had been swapping fire anecdotes. The discharge sounded like an explosion in the confined space. The powder looked like smoke. There was inflammable oil everywhere. Not looking good…'

As we were cleaning up the mess a yacht came into sight. I called him up. It was an English singlehander I had met in the Azores. He gave us a good forecast and after chatting for a while headed off north for home.

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Colin

Another day of idyllic sailing, sun shining, dolphins leaping, took us across the Finisterre TSS and into La Coruna in the dark. The shore lights were confusing, but eventually we moored in the marina feeling tired but elated. I seem to remember the Glenmorangie making an appearance at that point.

Unbelievably there was a fiesta in La Coruna as well, the winding streets and plazas of the old town full of music, food, period costumes and atmosphere. After a day of sensory blitz we set off across Biscay, not wanting to miss the expected westerly but a bit apprehensive about the strong winds forecast for the middle of the passage. Again we had a long motor to get offshore but eventually the wind set in and gradually increased until we were hove to in F8. The seas were big and starting to break but not really threatening. I did quite a bit of experimenting with the sails to get her to heave to well. Tui lay quietly enough but rather more broadside on to the sea than I would like, possibly because of windage from the furled genoa. I found that sheeting the trisail hard from the windward quarter to get it more or less amidships brought her head up especially in gusts. She was making no headway but drifting off sideways which seemed okay. My last resort if things got really rough was a para sea anchor, purchased in the US. Having read the Purdey’s ‘Storm Tactics’ I was relying on their good advice. However conditions moderated and I let some genoa out, broad reaching under trisail and genoa until gradually we got back to full sail.

I planned to pass outside Ushant and as the wind died saw in my birthday motoring in a calm sea and good visibility watching the powerful lights slip by on this exposed corner of Europe. Dawn saw us back in the grey waters of the Channel negotiating the unfamiliar procession of shipping. We passed several sunfish, odd looking circular things with big floppy fins sticking out of the water. After a quiet passage across the Channel we had brisk night sail round Start Point and into home waters. The final leg across to Dartmouth was increasingly emotional. I felt euphoric and elated as I ran down the sector light into the Dart that night, with over 3000 sea miles under Tui’s keel and an incredible voyage to look back on.


Epilogue:

On my return I finally got to the bottom of the problem of water ingress into the engine. It turned out to be nothing to do with the exhaust seacock being open in heavy weather. I eventually traced the problem to incorrect installation of the shaft seal. This picks up a water feed from the engine cooling system and had been connected incorrectly by the engineer, He had connected it to the wrong side of the anti-siphon loop allowing siphoning to take place in certain circumstances. Remedying it was simple. I had the engine thoroughly checked over and because of my speedy oil and filter changes there was no damage to the engine, indeed it was pronounced to be in excellent shape. 

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