#1 2013-10-27 06:57:49

Committee Member
Registered: 2003-11-23
Posts: 167

Single Handed from South America

Single Handed from South America


Extracts from the log of Paul Heiney as he made his way the 5,000 miles from Piriapolis to Dartmouth.

The Victoria 38 - Wild Song
LOA(Length Over All): 11.4m
LWL(Length Water Line): 9.3m
Beam: 3.53m
Displacement: 7,000kgs
Draft: 1.9m
Ballast: 2948kg
Hull Material: GRP
Engine/Fuel Type: Volvo MD 2040D
Engine HP: 38hp

15th February
Things Getting Lost

A perfect day to be sailing north across the River Plate; Piriapolis, our destination, now less than 40 miles away. In terms of contrasts this has been one of the most remarkable passages I have done. We started in the majestic landscape of the Beagle Channel and the wild waters around Tierra Del Fuego which, over a week became more benign until this morning when we are in hot sun, blue water and a gentle breeze pushing us on course at five lovely knots having suffered a couple of gales to get here. We have seen no land since leaving the Beagle, and the only sea life has been a daily visit by dolphins. But in the last few days, as we closed the Argentine coast, we have been visited by butterflies, moths and giant dragonflies. The sailing has been tough at times with the two gales sufficient to make us heave to, and one depressing day when a combination of headwinds and adverse current gave us a mere one mile towards our destination. If you want to know the statistics: in 15 days we have sailed 1633 miles which gives us 108 miles per day, and of those miles 84 were made good to the destination. On board life has been bumpy at times with much strength and agility needed to get from cockpit to bunk, but my excellent crew have never complained. The bread has run out, the fruit is gone, and last night we had the last of the cabbage with the required Fray Bentos pie (steak and kidney) Magic! For breakfast this morning we had toasted pannetone which, for some reason, I found in a tiny shop back in Puerto Williams. We shall be too late tonight for the much anticipated steak and chips but I will give a full report in due course. This is where Mike and Malcolm will leave and my 5,000 miles solo voyage back to the UK begins.

16th February
Stocking Up

Very hot days here in Piriapolis, temperature above 30 degrees and I am dripping in sweat at the repeated walk to the supermarket, returning laden with enough food for 60 days. It's 4,600 miles to the Azores which is the only feasible stopping place on the way back. So what do you buy? Obviously lots of tinned stuff, but how long will the fresh last in the tropical heat? I am reckoning on getting stuff like oranges and potatoes to last three weeks and after that it will pasta or rice with a tin of something added. I have also taken on board several curly, hairy and mouldy looking salamis. They look as though they will defy any heat. This could be a very long and slow passage, especially in the early stages. The South Atlantic High gives north easterly winds hereabouts and it is difficult to make progress. The best option seems to head east for several hundred miles; we'll see. These things are easy to plan on paper but until you get out there and point your bow you have no real idea what it's like. Once north of Rio, 1,000 miles, the winds become more favourable and it should then be an easier ride to the equator. Hoping to get away in the next couple of days, but getting diesel and gas is proving remarkably complex; like all simple things in South America.

19th February
Marking Time

I was hoping to get away today but I'm going to hang around a couple of days more. I'm subscribing to the idea that the good sailor knows when to go but the best know when to stay put. With 5K miles to go, a couple of days makes no difference. Anyway, there's a little 35 knot blast coming through on Wednesday night and the mouth of the River Plate is no place to be in onshore weather like that. I'm only just getting into GRIBs for weather forecasting, and they're quite good if you accept their limitations; they always seem to under-indicate by five to ten knots. If I see a GRIB for 30 knots I know it's going to be 35 at least, but they're the only decent forecasts round here. The Argentina has Navtex, but give vague forecasts along the lines "winds moderate from sector north". This could be anything from northwest to northeast; useless and often out of date before they are transmitted. Brazil doesn't even bother to do Navtex, or perhaps someone nicked it. Turned much cooler here by about ten degrees, and just as I'd stowed my cold weather gear away. Enjoying much beer with Cruising Association yacht Moonshadowstar. It's a 58 foot monster; hydraulic reefing!! Makes Wild Song look like a Mirror dinghy.

25th February
Goodbye Uruguay

This is the second time I've said goodbye to Piriapolis; the first time when heading south and now as I head for home. It's a friendly little seaside town, no more no less, yet I've grown very fond of it. I crept out of the marina about teatime and took a tack south to get myself well into the mouth of the River Plate and by dusk I was able to make a course for Punta del Este (where the rich and lovely of South America hang out) which I passed in the dark. It was great to be on my way although the figures are daunting. Since I have no desire to go back to Brazil, the only real option is the 4,500 miles to the Azores, take a breather there, and then the last sprint for home. Best to say it fast, like that, and not think too much about it. The first night out gave me a light headwind and I ended up tacking close inshore, which I promised I would not do. The AIS, which sounds an alarm if a ship is coming my way, was hardly ever silent. This is a busy spot with ships going to and from Buenos Aires and Montevideo. After a quiet start a bit of a shock. A stiff northeaster, dead on the nose, set in and it was back to the banging and crashing and lurching of more southerly latitudes. It was exhausting. The decks ran constantly with water, moving about the boat was, in itself, dangerous. Sleep was difficult and I could not risk any damage at this early stage. I worked my way north as far as La Paloma and, by chance, noticed that my phone had caught a signal. I quickly snatched a GRIB via PocketGrib and could not believe my eyes - four days of strong, following wind. It was a good reward for the previous wet and miserable days. And that's where I am now, bowling along at 6 knots in 20 knots of wind and a biggish following sea with a promise of a couple more days of it. Yesterday I sailed through a cloud of moths. I have no room for such stowaways so, last night, over 20 of them felt the sole of my shoe.

1st March
The First Calm


Someone once said that calms were as testing as gales, and it's true. After three days of 130 miles a day, it had to come to an end. And it did last night. The wind fell away during the afternoon, ran its way all around the compass and after supper last night, and died away completely. There was a residual swell running from the SW chucking us every which way. Sails slatting.Very tiring. I motored at light throttle for a couple of hours in the hope that we might have dropped into a small wind hole but no breezed returned. In the end, to spare the sails, I dropped the lot and went to bed. It was about midnight. The masthead light has failed again (Lopolight grrrr) and so I hang from the rigging an all-around white light which is pretty bright and will make us just as visible, although I have not seen another vessel of any kind for five days now. This is a lonely bit of the ocean. The moon rises about 10 local time and is nearly full and its reflection on the still water last night was beyond words, as is my joy at the returning breeze which is pushing us along, on course, at four lovely knots on a sea so stunningly blue it is almost painful to watch.

2nd March
Thank You to All My Fans

All four of them; I have a fan over each bunk in the main cabin, one in the aft cabin where the computer and radios live, and one at the chart table. If I had another fan it would be over the galley but if I find a need for fresh air there I tend to open the portlight and hope that a playful little wave doesn't land on the deck and drown my cooking, which has happened in the past. This is long-winded way of saying that things are warming up. I'm still at 27 degrees south but I can sense the tropics not far away. The sun is too strong to sit under for most of the day and it is a great relief when it sets. The hour after that is almost the best part of the day. Except perhaps an hour after that when the moon rises out of a black sky and makes its shimmering pathway across the water.

3rd March
The Battle for Cabo Frio

It's been good progress this first ten days. I've made decent northing and, more importantly, good easting. The prevailing wind along the Brazil coast is North East, which would be dead against me; but if I get myself a few hundred miles out into the Atlantic, on the latitude of Cado Frio, that is where I should pick up an easy wind that, hopefully, will waft me up to the equator where a new game begins. But I have to work my way up to 22S and that can be troublesome. Today has been slow, but making a good course. The speed has now picked up but the course is poor. It's very easy to get yourself into a place where whichever turn you make, it can be the wrong one. It's going to be a battle, but Cabo Frio has to be mastered.

4th March
A Visitor in the Night

Around three in the morning, in a rising wind, I did one of my regular checks around the horizon; as usual, nothing seen. I headed back to my bunk but was aware of some kind of commotion, a flapping sound, coming from the heads. It was a flying fish, and a big one around a foot long, and it was thrashing around in the wash basin. The intriguing thing is  how did it get there? If it entered via the main hatch of the boat it would have to have executed two right angle turns in quick succession; not very likely. There is a very small ventilation hatch in the roof of the heads and this was ajar only a couple of inches, and then there was the spray-hood over that. So this flying fish must have landed under the spray-hood, slithered through that little gap and landed, happily, in a bowl of water; a remarkable little journey. I am pleased to say that I returned him alive and well to the ocean and told him to be a bit more careful next time.

7th March
Not Won Yet

The Battle for Cabo Frio is not won yet. However, I can't complain too much for winds mostly out of the North have allowed me to track north easterly which is a good direction at this stage in the game. But I am still several hundred miles from where I might pick up an easterly which I can then carry almost to the equator so quite a bit of patient plodding along is called for. Winds have been mostly around 20 knots, and the sea rough. After a week of windward work I am ready for a bit of rest, and one seems forecast. The air temperature is now nudging 30C but the cabin temperature is even higher because there has been too much spray to risk opening any hatches. It's like an oven where I am writing this and the keyboard is awash with dripping sweat. I stick my head out for relief but the sun is very strong and shade limited because there is too much wind to rig the cockpit shade. The nights are the busiest time; it's usually when the self-steering needs adjustment, or a squall runs through and I have to reef. It is two weeks today since I left and I'm quite pleased with progress. I reckon I am a quarter of the way to the Azores which give me an arrival there of middle to end of April. Fresh food is lasting: tomatoes, spuds, hard white cabbage are doing well; but I feel duty bound to eat those first which is making for a repetitive diet. Can't write more now; - too bloody hot.

10th March
Into the Tropics

It was with great pleasure that I sailed through 23 degrees south, for two reasons. It is the latitude of Cabo Frio so that is now behind me 600 miles to the west, and 23S marks the start of the tropics so represents real progress. Even better, the forecasts are suggesting that in a couple of days the winds will shift into the east and, with luck, they will take me up to the equator. But you never know. I'm now on the last loaf of bread (not bad, lasted 18 days) and the veg is down to a cabbage. The apples and oranges remain remarkably intact, and so do the onions. Found some bad eggs this morning, lovely. I'm now in a good living pattern now that the sailing is easy with force 4 breezes over a flat, blue sea, although the evenings are long with the sun setting about 1830 every night. This is more than compensated for by the tropical night sky which takes my breath away every time I stick my head out of the hatch. The stereo has died a death. I tried to fix it but when I opened it up I found a solid lump of corrosion, so no cabin music unless I put on headphones. And my Royal Cruising Club burgee has fallen into four frayed pieces. I miss it at the masthead. Fingers crossed for that predicted wind shift in the middle of the week.

15th March
Dead Easy Going

It can't get much easier than this. For the last three days a fine, 15 knot breeze out of the east giving us a fast, trouble-free reach right up the middle of the South Atlantic. The miles are now clicking by faster than at any point in the trip so far. A couple of days will bring Salvador abeam, and a week after that the equator will be looming - fingers crossed. Sometimes there is an interruption to the day. Last night, just as it was getting dark - when all things seem to happen at sea - I reefed for a nasty looking rain squall which turned out to be nothing very much at all, and I got myself in another right old sweat after all that needless effort. Mind you, it was the only effort I'd made all day. Most days, I do NOTHING. Well, nothing of substance, anyway. There's food to prepare, although the heat dulls the appetite for that, and an element of cleanliness has to be preserved although there is no one else to offend. But none of these take long. So not only do I not do very much, I do most of it in a horizontal position on the downwind bunk. Here I am working my way through 'Crime and Punishment' but wonder if the next book, a Danish classic called 'We, the Drowned' might stay on the shelf. Little jobs are stacking up, though. The lights in the heads have stopped working, so has the compass light, some varnishing is needed, and all the tools have gone rusty in the warmth and humidity. It's probably time to give the winches some grease. But tomorrow, perhaps.

16th March
The Race is On

There's an interesting race going on, if my astronomical understanding is correct. For the last few days I have been sailing almost due north, and shall continue to do so unless the wind prevents me, for this is the course for the Azores where I plan to make a stop before heading for Falmouth. But also on a northerly course is the sun who has performed her duties in the southern hemisphere's summer and is now on her way north to cheer up the folks back home (who I gather are much in need of it). It is noticeable that around midday the sun is pretty much overhead. Not quite, but getting there. I have got used to her rising in the east, passing through north before setting in the west. But soon that must change and a day will arrive when she passes to the south at noon, as we are used to in the northern hemisphere. It means, of course, that I will have overtaken her, but where will that happen? I have, of course, a GPS, but also a fine Cassens and Plath sextant which I use most days. It keeps me amused and if, as they claim, Suduku wards off dementia, then so must the intricate mathematical business of reducing a sight. I noticed that my morning sight gave the sun a declination of just over one degree. When her declination becomes zero, does that mean that at noon she will be directly overheard, or overhead at noon on the equator? Back to the text books, which will pass a happy hour or two.

20th March
It's All Going Over My Head

The sun is directly overhead now in the middle of the day - not precisely but as near as makes no difference. This presents a navigational problem. In an instant, the bearing of the sun switches from east to west as it passes overhead. I have been employing the tried and tested method of astro navigation and taking a morning sun sight, noting the log (Walker log off the stern rail) and the course, then taking a sight mid afternoon and bringing the morning sight forward to give me a afternoon fix. Some have turned out quite good- 5 miles my nearest and 130 miles my worst. But with the sun passing directly overhead, the morning and afternoon position lines are directly opposite each other in terms of the compass rose. For the best fix they need to cross at right angles, but now they are almost parallel. This can be fixed by employing the sun and, say, a planet. Jupiter is good for this at the moment and I have used her once or twice. But with these trade winds have come cloud so getting sights is not quite so certain as it was. I'll be glad when things are back in order; the latitudes are north, the sun is in the south at midday, and Orion is the right way up!

It's the Sun Wot Won It!

In the race to the equator, the sun has won. I notice that the Nautical Almanac tells me the sun's declination ceases to be south around midday (Wednesday) and becomes north. I, meanwhile, still have 500 miles to go to the line. But progress has been good this last couple of days with a 15 knot easterly breeze blowing over a flat sea (there is no swell here - the Atlantic is not very broad at this point) giving us fast reaching. I haven't touched a sheet or a winch in 48 hours. After sixteen days, I finally saw a ship last night, or at least her lights. Judging by her course she was out of Salvador heading for Africa. This is a deserted bit of water. I have seen no other vessel, and not even a seabird since I was south of Rio. Food is holding out. Remarkably, the apples and oranges are in good shape. I've been keeping them in the fridge which I cover with two blankets and I reckon that saves a lot of power. I also switch it off at night, but everything seems not to suffer. Apples, oranges, cheese and salami are the only fresh things left. It's really bread-baking time but I have been putting it off because I've had serious doubts about the gas situation. I had my two bottles re-filled in Uruguay but was uneasy as they felt a touch too light. However, I'm four weeks out, have about four weeks to go to the Azores and the first bottle still hangs on, so I should be OK. Also, I've found half a canister of Camping Gaz so that will stretch my propane supply. To run out of gas is a dreadful thought, almost as bad as running out of water. But it's no longer a serious concern. After Malcolm's expert servicing of the water maker that is now running without a hitch - touches wood as he types. Much excitement last night when I sailed through 10S. It marked a change of chart. It is encouraging to be on one titled 'North' Atlantic.

24th March
Computer Lets Me Down

The second laptop has now expired. DeLorme Inreach messages reaching my wife Libby, who will pass them on for interested parties; 150 miles to equator, doldrums very wet but no wind. Motoring but limited fuel so fine balancing act, still got a tank full to go. Spirits lifted by baking white loaf, a superb example. Uruguay apples and oranges still good after 4 weeks in fridge - amazing! Four tropical birds (not seabirds) flew in last night and spent night on pulpit. Gone now.

(No longer able to update the blog directly, Paul sent text messages via his Iridium phone which his wife posted on his behalf)

25th March

Just 40m to equator now. Never seen sea so flat. Motoring all night. Hoping for wind soon . Couple of small whales drifting around.

25th March
Crossing the Line!

WILD SONG crossed the EQUATOR at 20.53UT at 25 18.4W.
Making celebratory scrambled eggs; still motoring north west looking for wind. Forecast shows no wind for 300 miles yet: only two days' fuel in tank. Suspect barnacle growth in tropical waters, boat sluggish not helping. Very disturbed swell now gone down.

27th March
Crossed 2 degrees North, celebrating with coffee. Very light breeze from South sprang up after 48 hours of motoring, blissful. 1-2 knots. Slow progress but improving, 2136 miles to Azores.

28th March
Broadway Bound!

Passed 3 degrees North. Lovely little breeze from NNE for last twelve hours. Tradewind sky now. Heading NNW now. The wind should slowly make it round to NE or ENE over next few days. It's all part of the plan to be pointing at New York for a while...

29th March
A Cake for Easter

Consulted daughter by DeLorme satellite about whether cake would work with honey as I have no sugar. It did. I made the cake. More like a scone and less like cake, but with butter and jam will be lovely.

30th March
Flying Fish and Flat Sea

Clearing flying fish from cockpit. All well this am. Wind in NNE so quite a bit of westing overnight, but fast sailing now on flat sea. DTA (dist to Azores) 1904

1st April
Pointing at America...

8 degrees north now, getting a little bit cooler. But badly headed. Going to be harder flog to Azores than I thought. Saying prayers for a wind shift to the east. Present course takes me to Cape Cod USA, only 300 miles further than Falmouth...tempting!

3rd April
On Course at Last

Yesterday passed through 10N and 30W at more or less same time. Hint of more E in wind . Today past Lat 11.58 and got wind shift to NE, at last, but blowing F6 and a bit rough. Still, can more or less lay course. 7/9 more days of bashing along like this to Azores with luck. Boat sails very well.

5th April
Flogging On

13.4 N, 31 W. Rough,squally day. Hard on wind F6. Course OK. Baked a cake (just) Noticeably cooler here by about 5 degrees. Might get blown too far west for Azores to be feasible. Strong NE forecast for next 5 days.

7th April
Flogging On

Log clicked through 15000 miles since Falmouth. Wind still strong NE, big seas, slow progress. 400 m West of Cape Verdes but continuing towards Azores. Going to crack off a bit to the West, hoping winds will move in four or five days. Dreaming of a little cruise back home with rowing ashore and anchor every night.

10th April
A Thousand Miles to Horta.

Wind down, sea flattening, all reefs out. Given that there will be calms ahead (and only 180 miles of fuel left) guessing ETA Horta two weeks, 23rd.

11th April
Dolphins, Pumps, Reefing, Progress

Rain and calms overnight. Slept very deep. Seem to have escaped an adverse current so speed now better in returning wind. Galley pump sounding dodgy. Very slow going now, doing lots of calculations etc. Lovely evening with Atlantic Spotted Dolphins for company. But then busy night- squalls- reefed and unreefed 4/5 times in as many hours. Good going now. Distance to Horta, Azores: 968

14th April
Becalmed Again

Slow in horse latitudes after 2 good days. Motoring. Distance to Horta 805 miles.
Now in centre of high, glassy calm, hope W winds not far north of me now. Very poor progress though, five miles in last 9 hours, dare not use more diesel. Fuel carefully planned. Got strategic reserve of 100 miles still in cans. Very little sleep, sails slatting noisily, rolling in swell if I take the main off . Also had small fire on board- light fitting overheated. Boat more sluggish- pray for scrub in Horta . Food very boring. One apple and two onions left of the fresh stuff. On we go.

21st April

Friday. Funny how the closer you get, the further away it seems. 500 to go now. Becalmed under rain clouds. Could  be another week. Sufficient food but getting dull.

Saturday My birthday. Cup of tea and piece of cake (rationed) soon. Wind comes and goes under clouds. But my overnight present was a fair and steady wind. 439m to Horta

Rough overnight and today. Wind headed, being forced westwards.

On the other hand desperate yesterday for a birthday bacon sandwich of which there is no chance, I found a battered old tin of spam and fried it up with home made bread instead.

24th April
Going Well

Considered Flores rather than Horta for a while with strong NE forecasts. But sea and wind down this morn and better course. Had to tog up duvet colder. Forecasts for 35k NE. All strong wind has moved north thank God. It's NE4 now so I'm going E and will tack when it goes SE - nothing more than F5/6 but it will be a fair wind. Two baby swallows came on board, invaded cabin. One has died, the other is frankly being a bit of a pest. Fast reaching all night in torrential rain, but on course! Horta 137 miles, forecast good . Likely to be slow going today because I am sailing through the centre of that low, so my ETA Horta probably Friday am
Low in Every Sense

The middle of a low is a horrible place. Huge mountainous swells from every direction, no wind, torrential rain. Can't motor out of it as engine not working, dirt in the last of the fuel. Wind picking up very slowly from SE. More swallows coming aboard - four now - two have died and had to be thrown overboard, the other two come into the cabin and shiver. Food very dull. Have had to make new holes in my belt, lost so much weight. But 110 miles to Horta. Hoping to get a tow into the harbour.

28th April
Hove To

Conditions deteriorating here. Very big seas. Low is stuck, wind ENE 35k+ There is no moderation in the forecast before Monday so I could be stuck out here some time if I have to heave-to. Seas will soon be so large that it won't be safe to run with them. Hove to is fine but the drift is 340 and. Flores is 302. Horta impossible. Food still OK but no engine to run water maker. Plan to get shelter W of island of Flores, go round to harbour when wind allows and make repairs. Wait for chance to get boat to Horta. Low f/cast through to Thursday next. Distance 49nm to Flores, there is safe anchorage to the West, but harbour can't be approached in strong Easterly. Hove to all day, drifting nicely towards Flores at 2 knots but will have to start sailing tomorrow at dawn. Underway, sea down wind down 33 miles to shelter. Very easy 4k under staysail. Severe breaking wave took old Avon dinghy last night (got spare below). Hell of a wave. Sounded as if boat was splitting open but no damage.

28th April
Flores in the Azores.

At 930 this morning I saw land for the first time in 66 days and some 5000 miles: Flores and Corvo. Making 4 knots under staysail alone towards the West, anchorage at Flores. 36 miles. Trouble tacking, thought there was a dolphin beside me but realized it was the grey Avon which was swept off the deck yesterday. I had been towing it underwater. Conditions too wild to recover, so cut it free. All hell broke loose later, rain and gale, triple reefed main ripped. Tough tacking into rocky bay with headsails only. Finally got anchor down, not complete shelter but OK. Given engine and now mainsail problems, and dubious shelter, reluctantly have asked for assistance into harbour. Mobile signal here from village , so spoke to Falmouth Coastguard and await local response. Falmouth coastguard very pleasant and helpful. And, apparently, reading the blog. Hello, Falmouth!
Haven’t eaten, opening tin of rice pudding. Need to get to Horta, 126nm, for repairs. Wind forecast a better slant but may not be before Wednesdays.
Really, this sort of disaster and damage is supposed to have happened down in Patagonia. Not the good old Azores!

29th April
Back from the Brink

There was a time when sailors used to judge their closeness to land by smell of it, the birds, the swell, the colour of the sea. Now, it's the first welcome message from Vodafone shortly followed by the first wifi. And so I write this in the most westerly (and most exposed!) marina in Europe - Flores, in the Azores. The last 48 hours have been the worst of my sailing life. After a very rough 36 hours hove-to in an easterly gale, I made sail again for Flores with a pilot book promise of a good anchorage on the western side. It crossed my mind that if I failed to make that, next stop was America. I made good progress in big seas and soon raised Corvo, but Flores was shrouded in mist as the pilot book warned. But I found the northern tip and started to make my way down the west coast, only 5 miles to Faja Grande. The difficulty soon became clear - ferocious winds of over 40 knots with light winds in between. I identified the anchorage and it didn't look good but I had no alternative. I started to beat in, but the gusts blew me out every time. The boat wouldn't tack in the rough sea and so I had to wear round losing much distance in doing so. It was on one of these gybes that the mainsail split. I was now beating with yankee and staysail - impossible. I tacked till my arms dropped off, at least 30 times, but with darkness falling and the wind still howling I was forced to drop the anchor. I gave her 60 metres of chain and she came up with a hell of a bang- so she'd bit. I was not in a good position: no mainsail, no engine, no electricity to raise the anchor, and the wind freshening even further. I rang Falmouth Coastguard who passed the problem to Azores Coast Guard who rang me within 15 minutes. I told them I was OK for the night. The phone rang the next morning. The marina were sending a boat to tow me the ten miles south. Looking at the state of the sea, I hoped it was a strong one. But no problem. A stout pilot launch appeared with a skilful driver and four big, jolly lads landed on my deck and took over.


I made the tea. It took 45 minutes to get the anchor up, hand over hand, five of us hauling at one stager. I was a wild ride. The tow rope broke five times, once so close to rocks I couldn't look. Two hours later I was alongside. I wondered what it would be like to confront the human race once again after 66 days alone at sea. I never expected it would be like this.

29th April

Wild Song and I are now alongside in a pretty deserted early season little marina in Lajes de Flores, thanks to the cheerful lads on the pilot-boat which towed us round. `I am having a ham and tomato sandwich: the first tomato for six weeks. Tiago gave me a lift up to the shop - it's a one horse place, but food! I can get water and electricity here, and with some difficulty can refuel, and will try to fix the filter problem.
Everything is in a mess, wet and salty; a lot to be done. But there's no weather-window for getting to Horta until Friday anyway , and I won't go until the forecast gives me a reaching wind to motor-sail the 120 miles with staysails. No sailmaker here for the main, and it's beyond my repairing, so that'll have to be at Horta.
Meanwhile the tomato sandwich is...glorious!!!


30th April
Peace at Last

Deep night's sleep, best for months. And isn't birdsong lovely? Much to do. Gelcoat chip from tow experience. Water. Fuel. Clearup. Marina manager's Mu doing my washing, nice woman cooking me breakfast. Ironic that worst week of the voyage (one of worst in my life) is due entirely to the Azores High having moved north to give UK a pleasant spring. Will do fuller account of it all later, probably able to leave for Horta at end of the week. Still wet and windy, though gale down a bit.

2nd May
Trying to Get Back in the Game

Stressful higher than at sea! Running rigging in major tangle, nice Frenchman offering to go up but thunder and lightning, heavy swell, boat moving too much. Hope this afternoon. Engine won't start, trying various things. Mechanic booked but can't come till tomorrow afternoon. Must catch weather window to get to Horta. Will the police allow me to leave? How much will the tow cost ? (nobody seems to know, they don't do it much). Oh for the simple life in the midst of a storm. Seriously, desperate to get away on Saturday so fingers crossed. But had much rum with French and Floreans.

3rd May
Gradually Getting Sorted

The mast tangle is fixed now, thanks to the Frenchman aloft. Been very worried about engine, but at last the mechanic came, and it has started! Mechanic only tried to charge me six quid, gave him twenty, joyfully. Now to pay tow and sort police permission to leave. Moderate SW/S/W winds over next few days. I hope towards Horta. Preparing to leave in the morning. Euro-irony: cost paid to police E50 to tell them engine not working, which I knew, and E50 to tell them it was fixed (which I know). Now clear to go.
Let it be known that the marina manager at Lajes de Flores is the most helpful, nice guy ever. He is a real star.

5th May 
False Start

Latest report: set out under headsails and engine for the 126 miles to Horta where I can get the mainsail fixed and scrub the huge tropical goose-barnacles off the hull. Wind and sea unexpectedly came ahead a few hours out, conditions worsening, staysail looking problematical. Turned back. Now back in Flores, twelve hours later, waiting for a window.

7th May

Made it to Horta. Calm easy passage, 130 miles under engine and headsail, flat sea. Island beautiful, mist on the mountains. Much to do to boat here, hoping for a lift-out and scrub, mainsail to repair. Getting some sleep now, more later. Flores was a lovely and hospitable place but felt like the small island community that it is. Horta, on the other hand, has got a bit of a metropolitan touch to it. Or at least it has to me; but remember I haven't seen a supermarket for three months. Fantastic! You can walk round and pick things off shelves, and there are kinds of food that don't come out of tins!! I'd forgotten such things existed. I have been eating a lot of bacon sandwiches, simply because I now can. Repairs continue. There is a set up here called Mid Atlantic Yacht Services. This place is a dream. Apart from a properly stocked chandlery (in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean) it's a friendly and helpful place under Duncan Sweet and his wife. Gas? - no problem. Sailmaker? - no problem. New navigation lights (old ones taken by wave way back)? - no problem. I wish this couple would come to the UK and show some (not all) of our chandlers how to do it. My friends Jeremy and Adrie Burnett used to have a chandlery in Falmouth which I always thought was the best in the world - this place reminds me very much of that. Talking of sails, my mainsail, yankee and staysail have now been taken away but Ralph, a Swiss sail maker, who looks like Father Christmas. Did I mention the sheer joy of walking into a coffee shop and sitting, typing this, when you haven't seen such a place since Christmas? Starting to think about the last leg now, 1300 miles back to the UK. Won't get away till F Christmas has worked his magic on my sails, but the weather is looking a bit northerly - here we go again.


8th May
Big Yot, or Wot

This place, Horta, is a bit of a crossroads. All the super-yachts are arriving on their way from the Caribbean to the Med. There's a huge bit of kit called 'Lady B'. I swear her ensign is bigger than my mainsail. I met the skipper in the chandlery- his own boat's a 22 footer.

10th May
Scrubbing Day

I said to the ever-helpful and cheerful Duncan at Mid Atlantic Yacht Services here in Horta, that I wanted a good scrubber for a few hours. Without batting an eyelid he said,"male, female? upright or horizontal?" I considered this carefully. I have been at sea a long time, so I opted for the upright male option. A young man called Liuz arrived on board. I have never met anyone in the marine industry as enthusiastic about his work as this man. 'I could deal drugs,' he said, 'but I prefer to work overtime on boats to make some money.' I have never met anyone with so much enthusiasm, skill and an innate sense of helpfulness. He had just come back from a one day course on engines. I never knew it was possible to be so enthusiastic about something made by Yanmar. Be warned, the Travelift at Horta is small and anything much over 30ft will have to remove its forestay, which is tedious. There was very little green growth, despite my suspicion that long,green tendrils were flourishing in the tropics and holding me back. But the barnacles were wicked and yielded only to a scraper and not the pressure washer. Despite that, I think Coppercoat did a good job. She hasn't been out of the water for nine months and has sailed through both tropical and sub-antarctic waters. On that basis I would recommend Coppercoat (professionally applied, though. Mine was done by Pedros at Dartside Quay in Devon).. Luiz' day was made when he got a message from his mum to say her dog had just had seven pups. My day was made when I got back to my berth and find that two of my three sails had been returned, duly repaired.

13th May
Let the Last Leg Begin

Time for the final leg home; 1300 miles to Dartmouth. Oh, I shall be so sorry to leave Horta; it's a perfect little island with a perfect harbour and some of the most decent people I have ever met. Ralph, the sail maker who looks like Father Christmas, came stumbling down the pontoon with my repaired mainsail - he's done a good job- and I spent most of Sunday morning bending it back on, which is one of my least favourite jobs because it's always a struggle. The forecast isn't perfect, but it never is. There's going to be quite a lot of windward work this week but I'm getting used to that. Having got thoroughly miserable on the long leg north when the food started to get very dull, I'm well stocked with bread, ham, cheeses and meat and it is my ambition to get within sight of Start Point without having to open a tin of damned tuna, or look at a plate of pasta swimming in a gloopy red sauce. The computer is still not working so updates from now on will be based on short messages I send Libby (If anyone's interested in how I do that, Google Delorme In Reach).

14th May
On the Way Twice.

Set off from Horta, strongish wind but making the course. Whereon the safety tube on the Monitor self-steering broke. First time in over 16000 miles. I have a spare, but needed flat water and a dinghy to fit it. So - better here than further north - I diverted two hours to anchor off San Jorge, fixed it, and am now under way again. Sea flatter, wind down, all working, 15 miles nearer Start Point than I was. Distance to go, 1255. (posted by wife Libby from info by text/delorme. Libby now in correspondence with Kemp sails to replace the UV-and-gale-shredded rags currently propelling Wild Song towards Dartmouth)

17th May
Course Better Tea Worse.

I think all the gustiness about 5am was a front. Wind now easing a touch and course is 15deg better. And it has turned COLD. Just noticed glass has started to rise a little. Sun now out. Looks good for progress till end of Monday then NE Tuesday. Hoped to be in by end of Sunday but not if NE sets in. Getting some fax charts by radio now as well as Weatherquest and Meteo France reports via Libby via DeLorme satellite link. Now it gets really tough- the last of the PG Tips teabags has gone. I bought some bags of 'black tea' in the Azores but it's weak stuff. No body to it. Just had worst tinned meal ever: beans in tomato sauce(good) with added lumps of chicken skin with fat attached (not so good). 900 miles to Start Point.

18th May

Two days out from Terciera. Been blowing like hell mostly. Jogged along on main 3 reefs and staysail. Getting Meteo France reports from Libby for Altair and Charcot.
But just had tricky night, very gusty, 10 knots to 35 in a few seconds. Down to 3rd reef and scrap of staysail. Sea state not bad but one rogue wave picked us up and threw us sideways. Sprayhood ripped and instruments taken out. All GPS having trouble getting a fix so am using iphone to check position. Cascade of water down dorades onto chart table and galley.can sort all this in the morning. Going back to bed. Reckon these little squalls are a front going through. Distance to Start Pt 942.

19th May
European Waters. Fixing Things.

Position now puts me N of Spanish coast (400 miles to the East). NW wind, 5 knots  progress, though under reduced canvas so I can try to fix the instruments. The knockdown wave resulted in electrical smoke from the locker: still have GPS but none of the others, and more importantly no electric autopilot, which could become necessary if there's a calm . I now have plenty of fuel. Am hoping to get in to Dartmouth by the bank holiday Sunday. However, if the wind goes NE and heads me that might not happen.
Small repair of Monitor self-steering drum on wheel: all jubilee clips but one had failed. Luckily I had spare jubilee clips so it only took ten minutes. Always carry many, many jubilee clips. Distance to Start Point: 690nm

20th May
Head in Cockpit Locker Electrical Triumph

All well, good progress, 570 miles to go (more than halfway from Azores). Forecast NW/ N for a few days. Fixed instruments and autopilot. Tiny bit of cracked insulation allowed 2 wires to rub. Found deep in cockpit locker and fixed in quite large swell. Good.

23rd May
The Continental Shelf!

Been going along fine at 4.5 knots . Rough patch overnight, could go faster but fearful of more breakages, sails fragile after nearly 20,000 miles. Just crossed onto the continental shelf. F5 NW and sunny but very cold. Nearly at the 200 mile mark. GPS puts me off Start Point midnight Friday! But many a potential slip yet. Could go faster but wary of more breakages, sails now fragile. Indeed it's going to be a struggle to the end. Instruments failed again and possible stern gland leak is being watched. I'm ready to man the pumps. But good fast sailing under blue sky and over lumpy sea. Hoping it all holds together. Jib sheets don't look as strong as they did. Start Point 197nm. GPS suggests Friday night but many a slip...

24th May
Speeding Home

Log has now tripped over 18000 miles since Falmouth. Today, faster than expected. 3 reefs and scrap of staysail has given us 6 knots  most of day. We have just crossed our outward track two years ago 30 miles south of the Lizard. Under 70 miles now to Start Point. (Libby adds: This is most disappointingly un-poetic. I require the Ancient Mariner to go into a full aria of "O dream of joy! Is this indeed / The lighthouse top I see? Is this the hill? Is this the kirk? Is this mine own countree?"
The final 24 hours were amongst some of the worst of the trip with near gale force northerly winds all the way up from Ushant with very rough seas. It looked as though it wouldn't give me the slightest break. I thought I deserved a break. I was convinced that with this final hurdle yet to cross, something serious was going to break. Certainly the jib and the jib sheets looked ready to fall apart, and I felt pretty much the same. Saturday morning, 3 am, and the wind headed me - the final insult. Also ships! Dozens of them! I had only seen a handful the whole length of the Atlantic. I prepared for tough old beat for the last fifty miles, but during the morning it fell away, the sea flattened, and eventually the engine went on. For longer than I can remember, I was able to sit in the cockpit and have a cup of tea made with one of the remaining three teabags, and not get wet. For a change, I caught a fair tide round Start Point and made up to Dartmouth at top speed. I had no clue where our new mooring was, but the Harbourmaster took to his launch and escorted me alongside. Perfect. Almost to the minute, Libby and daughter Rose arrived after their own struggle against an adverse tide on the M5. Many hugs followed. I was home. The Dartmouth fish and chips never tasted better. To be home in England never felt better.


PS When I come down to earth I'll offer a few reflections and some interesting statistics. But if you have been following this voyage since the beginning, as I know a lot of you have, then I have appreciated your support along the way. I really have.


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