Plymouth to Azores

Baybreeze's route from Plymouth to Terceira in the Azores. Data collected by GPSTracker, an Android smartphone app - gaps are due to power outage.
Baybreeze’s route from Plymouth to Terceira in the Azores. Data collected by GPSTracker, an Android smartphone app – gaps are due to power outage.

Apologies to those of you following our track via the website and expecting to see a position point every twelve hours as I had promised. The YellowBrick satellite transmitter had been placed in a port side locker of the boat in with the FM radio. Although it had worked in the past, it appears too heavily obstructed to receive and send a clear signal. That has now been remedied so, hopefully, transmissions will be as normal with positions reported every twelve hours.

Just a brief note about my crew. The boat’s crew consists of Len Hiley (25,000nm), Tony Statersfield (5,000nm) and myself (1,200nm). Both Len and Tony are boat owners and former Jester challengers (see Jester.org), Tony suffering a knockdown twice before withdrawing. I have been very fortunate indeed to have them as crew with their very detailed knowledge of every aspect of seamanship and boat maintenance and repair. Whenever we are in port, a list of boat maintenance and repair items (too long to mention!) are compiled which are always diligently seen to by everyone and almost always successfully resolved.

Some of the highlights of the journey were stunning starry nights with the Milky Way clearly visible. Just as spectacular was the bio-luminescence from the breaking waves at the bow but also at the stern as water cleared the keel. Bio-luminescent jellyfish also passed by, some the size of dinner plates, perhaps at rates exceeding one per second. During daylight hours and on different occasions we sighted several whales, schools of dolphins and even a small turtle! A real treat!

There were a couple of technical issues worth mentioning. Having adequate power to run the boat’s systems, especially the frig/freezer and the autopilot, is of paramount importance. The frig/freezer was essential to preserve of very delicious pre-prepared meals so that couldn’t be compromised. The autopilot use was minimised by resorting to manual steering for much of the time. Len devised a bungee system which he called Simple And Reliable Automatic Helm (SARAH) which connected a bungee line from the port pushpit side rail to 10 turns around a spoke on the helm thence to the starboard pushpit side rail.

SARAH

We experimented with the wheel lock both on and off. With the sails nicely trimmed to provide a slight weather helm the system work quite nicely and relieved the watch person of many hours of manual steering while at the same time conserving electrical power.

The second minor technical problem was a torn stitching on parts of the reinforcement straps at the clew of the mainsail which was noticed mid-journey. The remainder of the stitching held out well and has just been beautifully hand-sewn together by Len.

 

Highlights from the boat’s log book:

Day 1 Sun 7 June 2015: N F1. Becalmed near Lizard Point. Engine hrs 3.3. Later N F6. Magnetic variation 3°W. Distance logged 129nm.

Day 2 Mon 8 June 2015: N F5-6. At 2330 Aurelius VHF radio contact. CPA 0.7nm. Distance logged 134nm.

Day 3 Tue 9 June 2015: NE F5 → E F4. Past 200m depth contour, now in deep water. Distance logged 111nm.

pidgeon1

Day 4 Wed 10 June 2015: NE F5. Latitude 47° 38.9’N, longitude 15° 03.4’W. Exhausted pigeon lands on boom, makes way to cockpit. Drinks fresh water offered. Tag: GB 14 B 10657. Engine hrs: 2 to recharge battery. 768 nm to Terceira. Distance logged 137nm.

Day 5 Thu 11 June 2015: NE F5 – NW F5. Beam reach. 1300 hrs pigeon departs and returns a few minutes later. Unsuccessfully tries to land. Repeats this twice before heading south. 622 miles to Teceira. Distance logged 135nm.

Postscript: Our exhausted pigeon hailed from County Armagh in Northern Ireland about 1000 km NE and, as of mid-July, had not returned home.

Day 6 Fri 12 June 2015: NW F5 – WNW F4. Air breeze wind generator cutting out while battery below 90%. Re-adjusted to allow full charging. 477nm to Terceira. Distance logged 124nm.

Bluefin tuna caught by rod and reel.
Bluefin tuna caught by rod and reel.

Day 7 Sat 13 June 2015: NW F3/4 2-3 Spanish fishing boats sighted. Battery level drops to 66%. Engine run for 2 hours to recharge. 1000 hrs cruising chute up. 1500 hrs whale sighted 500m astern. 1800 hrs first fish – a tuna – caught by rod and reel. Tuna for dinner. 2200 hours becalmed, so furled all sails. Deployed cruising chute. 346Nm to Terceira. Distance logged 98nm.

Extra solar panels deployed.
Extra solar panels deployed.

Day 8 Sun 14 June 2015: NW F1 – SW F4/5 Initially becalmed. Engine run for 7.7 hrs. First drizzle towards end of day. Two additional 40W solar panels connected to cigarette lighter socket to assist battery recharge. 273Nm to Terceira. Distance logged 82nm.

Bonito caught by rod and reel.
Bonito caught by rod and reel.

Day 9 Mon 15 June 2015: SW F3/4. 1500 hrs bonito caught by rod and line (second fish caught). Distance logged 78nm.

Day 10 Tue 16 June 2015: SW F1 – SE F3. Initially becalmed. Calm and sunny. Engine run for 3 hours. 1000 hrs morning swim. 1700 hrs 20 min VHF radio chat with Klaus on SV Lubini on return voyage after completing Atlantic circuit. 146nm to Terceira. Distance logged 61nm.

Day 11 Wed 17 June 2015: S F3 – SSE F2/3. 0930 Fin whale spotted 300m ahead. Spectacular breech – vertically upward then crashing down. 1400 hrs small turtle spotted. 2000 hrs Sei whale surfaces 10m on port side travelling in same direction then dives below boat leaving a turbulent wake then surfacing on starboard side before heading off. Engine hours 5.7. 78Nm to Terceira. Distance logged 84nm.

Day 12 Thu 18 June 2015: SE F2 Island of Terceira sighted in very early daylight. Sailed, tacking often under light winds. Tied up at marina Praia da Vittoria at 1610 hrs. Magnetic variation 11°W. Engine hours 0.3. Distance logged 49nm.

Travel statistics: distance travelled: 1312 nm, logged distance: 1223 nm, engine hours: 24, duration: 11 days, 16 hours.

OCCFlag
Ocean Cruising Club members’ qualifying ocean passage.

Southampton to Plymouth

Our intended departure from Southampton was planned for Monday 1 June but was delayed by gales. While we waited we got on with various tasks on the boat, one of which was to pressure wash and disinfect the 640 litre aluminium water tank to ensure we had good potable water for the journey. We carried an extra 150 litres of water in separate containers so as not to rely on a single source. We had a plentiful supply of food on board – enough to provide 1600 calories per person per day over 45 days (I had counted the calories provided on each can!). There was also a generous supply of pre-prepared frozen meals – bolognese sauce, beef casserole, vegetable curry, chicken tikka masala, Thai green chicken curry, lamb tagine, and cottage, fish and apple pies. Besides of fresh food, there were also loads of canned food. Len donated 30 rusty old cans of baked beans from a stash of 150 from a boat he recently purchased from an owner who had abandoned plans for an Atlantic crossing. The former boat owner did care for at least a degree of variety for he/she had both Tesco and Asda brands!

The gales abated and we decided to leave Shamrock Quay at 0730 hours Wednesday 3 June for the non-stop journey to Plymouth. As with any disciplined and well-trained crew we were up in readiness and departed within a minute of the scheduled departure time. We left at the mid-rising-tide stand working initially against a weak tide that would prepare us for an exit through The Needles during a strong ebb. Unfortunately, we hadn’t bargained for Force 4 wind against tide which made conditions a little choppy in the Needles channel with breakers clearly audible and visible on the Shingles to starboard. Sailing had to be assisted with the engine through the narrow channel.

We comfortably cleared the Needles Channel and headed out to the open sea for a near mid-English Channel route to gain a maximum advantage of the ebbing tide and wind conditions. While out from Lyme Bay the wind and tide abated and so we thought it wise to motor on to Bolt Head in order to catch the tidal gate there for the final leg to Plymouth where we arrived at Queen Anne’s Battery Marina (QAB) at 1700 hours Thursday 4 June. The journey in fine weather had taken 33.5 hours, 12.9 hours of which were under motor.

The journey gave us the final opportunity to check the integrity of the boat systems including our three-hour watch-keeping schedule- all seemed to work well. A few maintenance issues were addressed while at QAB in our final preparations for the Azores trip. Although not yet due for another 30 engine hours, the engine oil and filter were changed and the alternator belt checked and adjusted. It was time now to wait for the next weather window for the long journey to the Azores!

We’re Off!

We are presently at Queen Anne’s Battery Marina in Plymouth ready for a Saturday midnight departure in a couple of hours time. The eight day GRIB weather forecast shows this to be close to the best opportunity as the winds will ease a little from a force 5 and veer to a north-west or northerly direction. The plan is to make it to The Lizard by about noon on Sunday in time to catch the strong west-going mid-channel tide. The journey from Plymouth to the Lizard should take about 10 hours, hence the very early departure. On this leg, tides are less vigorous as we will be in a bay and close to the coast.

From the Lizard to the Azores, rather than a direct route to the Azores, we plan to head further to the west initially for the first 350 nm making haste to the 200 m depth contour and then head directly for the Azores. This will avoid some rougher weather that will be impinging nearer the Portuguese coast. This is confirmed by Sailgrib route optimization software. If the GRIB forecasts are correct we should have quite a pleasant ride over the 7-11 day journey with winds mainly on the stern quarter and no tacking against headwinds! While at sea, we will no longer have access to GRIB weather forecasts but will use an SSB radio to receive weather faxes to monitor the weather patterns and to alter course if necessary in order to avoid an uncomfortable ride.

Everything is ship-shape with the help of a very able, competent and enthusiastic crew. Our position will be logged every 12 hours and can be followed on Baybreeze’s main page which. Here’s hoping for a very safe and pleasant journey with air winds and sunny skies!