#1 2012-11-06 14:35:11

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SAMPHIRE - Fog, Humming Birds, Gales and Whales (V34)

Fog, Humming Birds, Gales and Whales
by Mowbray Whiffin

This was to be the year when I closed the circle on my Atlantic Circuit, after 8 years away and 10,000 miles across the Atlantic, the Caribbean and the East Coast of the US, up to the Canadian border.

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I had a kind offer in 2010 to have a discounted price mooring from a fellow member of the Ocean Cruising Club which I took up at his home port of Camden, Maine, a port that I knew well but more as a land-based tourist! I therefore left the base of Morris Yachts in Bass Harbor for a short hop to Camden where I overwintered prior to my return across the Pond.

The Camden Yacht Club was incredibly kind to me and as well as the mooring I had full use of the Club including use of the free launch and Club dining room. I could have stayed for ever!

However I asked for crew, and Graham Hughes, a Canadian with a Victoria 30 on Lake Ontario stood forward, after reading an earlier article in Waterlines (see how it travels!) and a fellow OCC member, Raymond Crawford volunteered for the passage.

This was a strong crew, my boat and ocean miles, Graham had technical ability and Raymond sailed downwind like a witch, a point of sail that defeats me. Other crew came forward, all very strong contenders with several lady members connected to the Victoria Association.

Once I had decided to bring my boat back to the UK, and after a crew selection (I hope that I can meet all the well qualified applicants) all that remained was to book the flights and agree with Raymond that he would be on the same flight.

Apparently he had never been to the US so the passport and immigration hurdles were a worry. This was something about which I knew a great deal!

We agreed on a flight but meeting on the flight proved to be a ‘health and safety issue'. I managed to ask a steward if Raymond would identify himself to that person who would then ask me if I wished to speak to him!

This was soon cleared and we met and agreed to meet again after immigration. This was easy, I was actually greeted by a welcome back Mr Whiffin!

The next hurdle was the short hop with Cape Air up to Rockland, the nearest airport to Camden, about 10 miles away. All went well, I always try to sit next to the pilot (all aged about 20) to have a chat until we banked round with the sun now on my right side. I said this meant we were now going south, the reply was Americanese “Rockland was socked in with fog, he was not allowed to touch and go so we were going back to Boston.''

The control tower uses marker poles at 200yds distance down the runway and the nearest one had just disappeared so the airport was now shut!

This happens a lot so we were then put on a small bus and set off into the falling evening light. This was going to take at least 5 hours with eta after midnight.

The driver sped up the Interstate but was promptly pulled over in Wiscasset for doing 60 mph in a 25 mph zone! We were swiftly released when we all woke up and said we were Cape Air passengers who wanted to go to bed!

At 1am we arrived to a deserted, locked and dark Rockland airport, no hire car (the desk had shut at 5 pm the previous evening) and no taxi. Everybody had cars at the airport and thankfully a kind lady said she would take us to our, pre-booked, hotel in Camden where we arrived at 1.30am, totally jet lagged.

I signed in at the deserted desk and next day the owner said he was going to frame my signature!

Next day we went back to the airport to collect my rental car and I wanted to know what Budget would have done if nobody had given us a lift. This was thought very English but I did not get a real reply. At least a contact number should have been posted at the desk with a freephone with directions to the keys, as the car was right by the door. Our luggage had been delivered the previous evening on an earlier fog free flight, so much for the security of luggage must always be with the passengers.

The next day we both went over to Portland airport, the size of Gatwick, but with no passengers, to await our third crew to fly in via New York, from Toronto. All now present and correct!

Then to the yard, where my boat was at the end of the dock and no sign of any work having been done since launch. It could only get worse and indeed it did! Read on.

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Graham Hughes, Raymond Crawford, Mowbray and Samphire, minus mast

Before leaving Camden the OCC North East Regional organiser, Doug Bruce whose mooring I had used earlier kindly invited us all for dinner at their lovely house high in the Camden hills. I thought that a bunch of flowers was important for his wife Dale but my progress up Main Street that afternoon had been noticed by a neighbour so our hosts knew we were coming well prepared!

Whilst enjoying the barbeque I noticed that Dale had hung several pots of syrup by the windows and I was amazed to see humming birds visiting for a nectar drink. They visit from the Southern States but I did not expect them to visit so far north on their migration. A lovely evening from a most hospitable couple.

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Work was progressing on the boat after its layup but I was less than observant of what was actually being done and this was to have repercussions on the trip to the Azores. I had originally intended to use the North Atlantic route but Lloyds were not prepared to cover me so the longer southern route via Horta it had to be.

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The first night saw the life-craft cradle arm fall off, followed by a ping as a boom hook dropped off! With a combination of sailing and motor-sailing, as expected, we were well prepared, with extra cans of diesel. Suddenly the engine overheating warning sounded and I immediately shut down the engine. A check revealed low engine oil, low water levels and slack belts.

Oil and water were added but attempts to change the alternator belt were made impossible as the locking nut on the alternator quadrant arm had been screwed off. We did our best, thanks to the can do spirit of Graham but the new belt that I carried was not a perfect fit which limited the revs we could use. Reduced revs meant that we only just managed to keep the power up to the batteries for the boat systems, particularly the autohelm.

Meanwhile it had become much colder and I switched the heater on low power to comfort us and the barometer started to drop. Chat on the SSB picked up reports of strong winds in Bermuda, from the North East and a lady (English) was complaining that her BA flight the next day, back to the UK, had been cancelled because of a hurricane! This was June after all. Lots of American boats were thinking of not leaving for their cruise to Europe.

With the glass down from 1010mb to 990mb and still falling something nasty was clearly brewing. With my satphone I rang the Met Office in Aberdeen, the international centre for routing advice (yes, this can be requested subject to a prepaid fee but the Met Office need to be persuaded). After giving my position the advice was chilling. Extreme lows were drifting SW off Labrador, down to 980 or lower, and the final comment was "you are in the danger zone and you must turn south immediately." We were clearly in for a pasting so I rang my daughter, gave my position and said that if I did not respond again after 2 days she was to call Falmouth on the number I had given her before we left Maine. Meanwhile she was not to ring Elizabeth (my wife) with this news, which off course she promptly did! The 3rd reef went in and we battened everything down as the wind rose to a banshee wail with a steady 40 knots and blasts of sustained 50 knots. I had forgotten to tie the wind vane down but we now had plenty of power!

Raymond was double clipped to the cockpit anchor points and the hatch was bolted shut after we had balanced the boat to gently drift downwind with the wind on our port quarter.

Thankfully the waves had not had time to build up height but we were struck by two waves in succession which flung both of us off our feet down below. Graham was flung to starboard with a crash and I went to port, coming to rest against the hand rail above the cooker, despite holding onto the galley post I checked Graham's eyes for his suspected concussion and he said I looked a sight and complained about the blood dripping from my face onto his knees! Thankfully I was not wearing my glasses.

I felt my face and thought that I had lost a few teeth but this was not so but my cheek was badly split, hence the blood. A few minutes of checking, and a chat with cockpit control confirmed that all was well, with Raymond electing to stay at the helm. The boat remained very well balanced and we gave a prayer to Chuck Paine for designing such a strong seaworthy boat.

As dawn broke the wind settled down to 30knts and the barometer started to rise by a few millibars. I gave orders that we should try and regain our eastward course and we gradually came up to our previous easterly track as the storm abated through the day. None of us had eaten for at least 24 hours and we were very tired. Helm rosters were resumed and cups of tea were much in demand! A check of the boat disclosed the locking pin for the boom at the gooseneck had clearly not been bolted home but thankfully had not fallen off the gooseneck. The sump was full of water but this came from a split water bag, not changed as instructed despite spares carried on the boat. The electric pump was also blocked with debris, thankfully the boat did not take on water as otherwise we would have been in trouble.

We had been blown over 100 miles off our course which added a couple of days to our passage but thankfully, otherwise all was well.

The remaining days to Horta were uneventful but our diesel dropped to less than half a tank, even allowing for the 7 extra 5 gallon cans we carried. We had plenty of food and water however but we might have been off the Azores for a long time looking at Mt Pico!

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The wild life was really superb as we approached the Islands, birds and wall to wall whales and dolphins who were accompanied by their young learning how to delight us humans.

On arrival we fell over at the quayside, very funny to watch, as our sea legs were cast aside. It was clear that considerable work was required to deal with the problems of the passage and the crew were stood down, with my thanks.

I then placed the boat in the caring hands of the Mid Atlantic Boatyard for remedial work which dealt with all the points outstanding from Maine.

My wife and I returned to the Azores for a few days, neither of us having visited before my trip. They really should be better known but the cost of the flights, via Lisbon, reflect the distance in the Atlantic, from the usual European destinations.

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Elizabeth and I enjoyed the beautiful scenery and flowers

It felt very strange watching the delivery skipper sail my boat away, always I had been on board!

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Samphire is now for sale in Falmouth but after 20 years of some fantastic voyaging, a lot being single handed I feel a smaller vessel might suit my age, at least that is what my wife thinks!


Does anybody, with a Vic 26 want a swop?

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