Flew out to the Azores on 12th June. Arrived in cold, windy and wet conditions. "I want to go home" I thought, as I crossed to the airport terminal at Ponta Delgarda.
In theory, the Azores are beautiful. I know that because I saw some postcards of the views. In reality, they are covered with low cloud, rain and wind most of the year. On average there are 25 days of rain out of 30, except in July, August and amazingly January.
A view of one of the crater lakes during a short interval when the cloud lifted a few centimetres.
We met up with our boat Mistral 48, with Roger the Cap'n and Dave, a Scot who was also crewing with us. His yacht had lost it's mast during the crossing from Bermuda and he was hitching a lift back to Britain. We left Ponta Delgarda at Mid-day on Saturday 16th June.
Dave the Scot, our 1st Mate.
Cap'n Roger, the boat owner.
Peter, aka The Old Man of the Sea.
Leaving Ponta Delgarda in a north easterly direction.
I have never, ever been sea-sick in my life, but I broke my duck, as it were, within an hour of setting sail. For the next thirty-six hours I had my head firmly wedged in a bucket. Walking around below deck was nigh on impossible with the general heaving and straining of the boat under Atlantic waves. The waves were massive. Quite awe inspiring. I tried taking photos of them but in fact they did not even nearly convey the size and strength of the water. It was what sailors call a 'confused' sea. The waves were coming from one direction, but currents and wind were making them move in another direction, so instead of having just a big rolling sea, the waves were coming at you in all directions. Quite good fun, actually.
What really got to me was the absolute lonliness of the ocean. At times I was full of despair, being really home sick, missing my family and wondering whether indeed I would ever see them again. The stories my father used to tell us about being on the Atlantic convoys during the war really hit home. I just couldn't get used to the vastness of the place. I spent many lonely hours glumly staring at my GPS, and watching the inevitable slow crawl forwards, towards each new latitude with the miles from Ponta Delgarda getting larger, and the miles to Ireland getting smaller. Being bored out of my mind, wondering what to think about next. I know, I'll think about my brother, that's always good for a laugh!
I plotted and schemed an escape plan should we touch down in Ireland. I had it all worked out. First jump ship then the Cork ferry to Swansea, then train to Macclesfield, or alternatively Cork to Dublin and then fly to Manchester airport. In the event, we did it non-stop so my cunning plan didn't come to fruition. I missed everyone so much. I thought about Ann drinking Berky's industrial strength coffee in the deli. I thought about Badger staying with Joe and Kerry, about Scaredy being looked after by Natascha, Peter's daughter. Wondered how Plumpy was doing.
How Dave and Peter coped with the boredom.
Boredom was actually one of the great trials. Reading was difficult in such a swaying environment as after a little while you just became dizzy. Soduko was out of the question as it was so unstable that everytime I tried to put a number down, there would be a great jolt and the pencil would go to the wrong square and I would have to give up.
The low-grade inconviences were:
bodily functions; there was a small, smelly cupboard that seaman like to refer to as 'the heads'. This cupboard was really not at all pleasant, so one trained oneself to use it as little as possible.
showering; definitely not allowed. We had to conserve all fresh water as we didn't know how long we would be at sea. Even washing up was done in sea water, which meant there was always a slight greasy smear to the galley work-tops. Peter got keel-hauled one night for using fresh water to wash up in.
damp; clothes never really dried out. Each morning damp clothes were put on. I remembered my mother used to tell us when we were children, to put clothes under our pillow to 'air' off. I found this did help, and at least I would have a warm woolly jumper to put on, before that too got wet again.
Sunset at Summer Solstice.
Summer Solstice came and went. Maalie was in the Arctic Circle last year. I wondered where he was this year. I'm in the middle of the bleeding Atlantic, I wanted to cry out.
Every day the three men would start squabbling about the position of the sun in relation to the yardarm. I think the earliest they got it to was just after mid-day. I must put in here, that not one drop of alchohol passed my lips during the whole trip. For the first thirty-six hours it would have just ended up in the bucket, and for the rest of the journey I had to use all my powers of concentration and balance just to remain upright below deck. One whiff of gin and I would have fallen over.
We took it in turns to do the various night watches, but I never had to do the actual 'dead of night' ones, as I hadn't the experience to deal with any emergencies. I took to doing the 6.00 am watch, which I quite enjoyed. Dave very kindly made me cheese toasties and cups of tea while I shivered in the cockpit. The main purpose of these watches was to look out for shipping. Not a good thing apparently and had to be avoided at all costs. I took it on myself to also watch for U-boats and icebergs.
One day we had a bit of an emergency when the boom parted company with the mast, while at the same time funny things were going on at the top of the sail, and something called a 'topping lift' unattached itself from the sail, all at the same time. This made for an interesting diversion from boredom while I watched the three men valiently struggle with booms, masts, sails and ropes, all the while nonchalantly eating a bowl of meusli and giving out appropriate words of encouragement.
Men struggling with nautical equipment.
The really exciting bit came when Dave had to go up the mast, to free a little doeysole that was jamming up the track which meant the sail could not be fully raised.
Dave up the mast.
The highlight of the crossing was just after we entered the Irish Sea. Four dolphins swam up to the boat and they were soon joined by a school of about twenty. These creatures swam around the boat, played in the bow wave and generally showed off to us for over an hour. I hung low over the side of the boat and got within a foot or so of them when they jumped through the water. They were so beautiful and clearly were having as much fun as we were. It was magical. I didn't take any photos as they were just too quick to focus on.
At about 3.45 am on Sunday 24th June, Dave came and woke me up to say we would be arriving at Pwllheli within the hour. Went up on deck to sunrise and the site of the marina in the distance.
So, thankfully, it was all over. There were times when I had suffered every emotion from low grade panic to all out terror, especially when the wind reached Force 8. Most of the time it was Force 6 to 7. My constant companions on the journey were shearwaters and petrels, but not too sure which brand they were. Gannets appeared when we got within striking distance of land. Two of them kept us close company for quite a while. We had travelled over 1,600 miles in eight days which was really good going. On two days we did more than 190 miles. Overall, I can honestly say I didn't enjoy it, but I can also honestly say that I don't regret a moment. It was an experience (albeit never willingly repeated) that I will never forget. And what else did I come away with? Two cold sores and a cut lip!
And finally, some birdies for Maalie.