6 November 2017

TransAtlantic III - Milly gets bruised, even battered

Having got to Azores, I thought we had pretty well made it across the big, wide ocean to the next continent but, looking at the map, the Azores are only half way between Newfoundland and Portugal.  Of course, we left from Florida so in reality the majority of our passage was behind us.  But the map optics were still a bit disconcerting (not for Peter for whom the longer the passage is, the better).  We had about 750 NM to go and expected it would take a mere 5-7 days - nothing compared to the 11-day Bermuda to Azores voyage. Little did we know…
We were leaving from Santa Maria, the most southern island of the nine Azores.  At the time we went, this seemed logical.  It was directly east of Portugal with a predominantly north wind expected.  However, the take off point was a bit of a mistake for two reasons.
We had arrived in Flores, the most westerly island and cruised to Faial, San Jorge, Terceira, Sand Miguel, visited Pico and ended our cruise in Santa Maria, the furthest south and east and closest to Portugal.  Seemed logical to begin our passage from there.

First, as a Canadian, I am restricted in length of stay in most of Europe by the nasty Schengen Agreement which states that those without an EU passport must pay attention to the rules applying to the country of their passport.  Peter, with his British passport can stay as long as he wants, at least for now.  I am welcome for 90 days within a 180 day period.  Unless I checked out of a Schengen country, including the Azores which are Portuguese, passage time is included in my 90 day count.  Unfortunately, Santa Maria did not have an immigration official, I could not get the required stamp and the five day passage counted in my 90 days.  Bummer, every day counts. We could’ve stayed a few more days in Spain.  

Second, a high pressure system - meaning no wind - hangs over the Azores so consistently that it is called the Azores High.  Once out of it, it is followed by often howling north winds and a south setting current along the coast of Portugal.  The strategy is to head as far north as possible in the high so that when the wind begins to blow we can sail with it across the beam or, better yet, on the stern which means heading south.  Without making some headway north at the beginning, the unpleasant consequence may be that we end up south of the cape and have to beat up into the howl. Not fun.
Leaving Santa Maria and the cliffs we had hiked.  Beautiful!

The first day we had a slow and gentle ride.  We edged our way north and east with spinnaker flying during the day.  We ended up being further north than San Miquel, the island that I could've had my passport stamped to exit Portugal and, hence, save Schengen time.  Oh well.  

During one of my two night watches, I heard a bang and that morning Peter found a washer on the deck, obviously fallen from on high but from who knows where.  Hmmm.  There was also some chafe on the spinnaker tack line - in lumpy seas the line rubs back and forth on the bowsprit.  Adjustments made.  And a wheel at the end of the spreader to protect our genoa from chafe was missing.   

Second day - Upwind, washing machine.  Pretty unpleasant and hard on poor Milly.  This was the bounciest ride we’d had since our voyage began in Argentina, almost three years ago.  Holding on was essential.   Even sitting at the helm required bracing with our legs - by the end of the passage our legs were stiff from the constant tension.  Morning inspection found the spinnaker halyard mast block was resting at the end of the halyard - it’s rightful spot was attached to the top of the mast.  Could this be where the washer was from?
Where the spinnaker block should be.  Definitely missing!
And Milly was leaking.  Catamarans, by law, have two emergency hatches.  These are safety precautions from the days when catamarans were still a new concept and were overpowered with sail which made them capsize in high wind.  Once capsized a catamaran, unlike a monohull, can’t right itself because it doesn’t have a heavy keel.  Without an emergency hatch, the crew were stuck inside the boat with dire consequences.  The emergency hatch would allow us to get out in the very unlikely event of a capsize - Milly has small sails.  It means, though, that the hatches are very close to the water line.  In big, bashing waves, they are regularly pounded by a terrific force of water.  Both were leaking.
The waves were also crashing up over the deck and even over the bimini.  Although Peter had fixed the leak previously, one sprouted again at the mast step which dribbled inside the saloon.
A salt slick from water streaming from the top of the bimini, at least 12 feet from the water line.  When Peter climbed the mast, he found salt higher than the first spreader.  Big wave, lots of spray.

And mysteriously, we had a constant stream of saltwater on the floor of the starboard hull.  We have since figured out that the water was being forced up the dryer vent which is usually high and dry and has never had any clamshell/cover on it.  In these seas, it was also getting pounded.

Third day - When doing his daily check of lines, Peter noticed odd chafing at the top of our main sail halyard.  Through binoculars, it looked like about 20 cm of the outside coating of the line was completely chafed through, leaving the strong core fully exposed and vulnerable.  We needed to monitor our main very carefully.  If the halyard broke the main would fall willy-nilly and the halyard would disappear into the mast.  Neither would be easy to rectify, especially at night when these things tend to occur.
Mainsail halyard didn't look good!

Fourth day -  More rollicking seas.  We were now going downwind in 25-30 knot winds.  It’s kind of like a really long sleigh ride.  

Finally - There is a major shipping channel, as you can imagine, leaving and entering the Straits of Gilbraltar.  Our cruising guide warned that the winds were very strong at the cape and it is best to avoid the shipping channel.  The Portuguese must amplify the AIS system for shipping because even a couple of days in advance we could see a constant stream of ships entering and popping out of the lanes that were marked on our chart.  It was like the 401 at rush hour.  At one point we had more than 200 ships on our AIS.  A little intimidating.  We imagined - I should say, I imagined. Peter is much more realistic than I - dodging huge tankers while surfing down big waves in high winds at night with no moon.  Yes, my imagination can run away with me.  
A few of the more than 200 ships on AIS. Notice boat speed is 8.6 knots.   A pretty good consistent clip.

Shipping lanes are sometimes marked on charts at tight corner or narrow waters.  Keeps those monsters more predictable.  They adhere to the lanes as if they had guardrails.

In reality, I see one ship’s lights on my watch.  Peter had to change course to avoid Murgath and Constanza but that was nothing unusual.  The ships were tankers, cargo or passenger with names as fanciful as Victress, Happy Delta and Fjord and as ominous as Chemical Provider.  They were headed to Denmark, Suez, La Rochelle, Amsterdam, New York City to name a few and even to Halifax.  And they were up to a huge 400 meters with silhouettes that looked like low-rise apartment blocks on the horizon even six miles away.

Cabo de Sao Vicente, the southwest corner of Portugal.  Winds topping 30 knots.
The coast of Portugal was a welcome sight.  The wind was now, pretty consistently over 30 knots.  We arrived at Sagres harbour at dusk - as is our habit.  The waters became flat and the wind died to a mere 18 knots.  Anchoring was no easy task especially when I notice, the trampoline is beginning to split at the corner. 

Our battery was low after auto pilot, instruments, freezer and fridge draining it so Peter went to turn on the generator to top up the batteries before nightfall.  The generator did not work.  On inspection, Peter found that the generator battery was completely submerged in salt water.  The battery was short-circuited and arcing was occurring across the terminals.  Sludge was everywhere.  He was able to disconnect the lines but had to submerge his hands in the black, murky water.  We emptied the polluted salt water, cleaned up, disconnected the battery entirely and then relaxed….somewhat.
Oh dear.  And that's post clean up and dry out.

We had been planning to stay in Sagres to explore. Instead, we hustled off to a marina in Lagos the following morning to give Milly some much needed TLC.
Sagres, left unexplored. We didn't even get ashore.