Antigua to Portsmouth Days 9-11: Approach and Arrival in the Azores!544 views | January 21st, 2019
Challenger 4 is safely tied up alongside the wall at Horta at 0730 UT, 0630 local time, just under 13 days of rather wonderful sailing since we left Barbuda. 2425nm run since leaving Antigua. Bacon, egg & Clive’s freshly made sourdough await for breakfast. Catch up on the weekend action below:
Friday 18 January 2019
As our sights are firmly set on arriving in Horta, spirits are high. The weather continues to be kind as we ride on a wind coming from the South feeding into a storm depression running several hundred miles to our North. The southerly wind means we are running on a beam reach (due East) which is ideal for the angle of the boat and good speed. We have been consistently running at 10 knots per hour or more for the last few days meaning that at Friday night we have only 550 miles to go to get to port (probably less than 3 days running) and just about halfway through the total distance we will travel to Portsmouth.
The sea has definitely lost its Caribbean Blue but is not yet the dark green with which we are all familiar that flows in the English Channel. The night sky is no longer crystal clear and the sea state is more as one would expect in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Huge swells run past the boat giving it a gentle swing. When the wind gets up this causes waves to develop which can make helming problematic when the two wave systems are not synchronised.
Everyone is enjoying helming. The boat performs better than one could ever expect. When the winds get up it takes a lot of concentration – especially at night when it is easy to get disorientated. Shifts are set at 3 hours each so watches tend to have 4 helms running for 45 minutes each. This is quite exhausting at night and everyone looks forward to getting in their bunks when a shift ends.
Its now 8.00pm on the boat and part of the crew is on deck shaking out a reef in the mainsail. This takes about 6 crew to achieve and is an operation that is undertaken as the boat proceeds along in the dark at 20mph. The sailing proceeds relentlessly. We man the boat all the time and watches rotate on a 24-hour clock to ensure there is always a fresh watch at the helm
“Other vessel” watching is a constant pastime. Different watches see different events. Most still see shooting stars and flying fish. Several times Porpoises have been sighted. Recently achieving the fastest speed has interested the more competitive amongst us. We are running a sweepstake for charity estimating the arrival time in Horta. Books are getting finished and are being shared. Without question, sleeping takes up the lion’s share of the non-watch time.
Every 4 days we each are relieved of sailing duties and work in the galley. Sue, the Skipper, sets the menu and those with any cooking skills can improvise. Tom continues to bake great bread and very tasty meals appear every night. Beards are de rigour on most of the crew –ladies excepted – and during this leg I am happy to report that showering with hot water has been frequently available.
This trip is slowly developing into the brilliant adventure that I hoped it would. The professional crew are very supportive and inspire great confidence. This is a serious venture. The sea has awesome power, fortunately, the boat was designed for such a challenge. I am very grateful to all at home who allowed me this enormous self-indulgence. This message should get to those who are reading during Saturday. When your Whatsapp starts pinging you will know we have safely arrived in the Azores. Despite having inordinate fun I miss all at home terribly and will call hopefully on Monday when I have a signal.
Date : 19/01/19
Time : 12:00 UT
Position: 36 11.05N 36 01.01W
ETA :Jan 21st – according to the GPS
Fuel : 2 full, 1 empty, 1 in use
Water : 2 full, 1 in use, 1 filling from W/maker
Gas : 2 empty, 1 full, 1 in use
Sail plan: Full main, Y2 & Staysail
Wind: 20kts 180deg apparent
20 January 2019
Yesterday saw the first taste of the mid-Atlantic grey, cold and wet weather. Torrential rain and grey sky’s produce a drop in wind strength mid 20’s to 5 kts of true wind. Several attempts were made to maintain a decent speed including poling out the head sail. The result was less than successful and it was decided to pin in the main and reluctantly switch on the engine. By the time I came back on watch the wind had increased back to 20 plus kts so the engine was only used for a couple of hours and we were back to making 10nm per hour. This wind strength and direction have continued throughout the night and we are looking at another 200nm plus day. We currently have 380nm to run and the wind is predicted to stay with us for at least the rest of the day. The crew are now counting down the miles to Horta the main focus is a beer in Pete’s Bar. The sun is shining the wind is blowing, what more could we ask for.
3 hours on, 6 hours off, 3 hours on, 6 hours off and so it continues. Meals are prepared and eaten, sails are raised and lowered, reefs are added and shaken out. The wind blows and we, our merry band of 16 sailors speed on towards the Azores. A few hours’ sleep and then a tap on the shoulder. The glowing red light of a head torch, a few whispered words: “15 minutes, you’re on watch, tea or coffee?” Shorts are pulled on. Jumper, woolly hat, lifejacket (still no shoes – the night air is warm and gentle). I make my way up into the cockpit for another 3 hours of sailing through the night. A quick chat with the off going watch leader, “Any sail changes? What’s our course? Any ships? Dolphins? Rain?” A shift on the helm, concentrating on the compass glowing on its pedestal. Some guidance from the skipper: “Try to keep the wind just aft of the beam. That triangle of stars is a good guide to steer by. Small movements of the wheel are better than big ones”. A rogue wave and a sudden gust swings the bow around, I struggle to keep the course but it’s soon back. With practice comes familiarity and I learn to feel the rise and fall of the boat and every watch brings a small improvement in my ability to keep 57 tonnes of boat moving smoothly towards her goal. Life is simple, reduced to the basics. With no phones, no internet, no news of the outside world, we are happily cocooned. 2 weeks seems like an eternity and at the same time like no time at all has passed. We carry on. Eat, sleep, sail, repeat.
Skipper’s blog 0400 UT 21/01/19
20 nm off Horta….
The last time I sailed into Horta from Antigua was in 2007, I was the cook and the passage had been cold, wet, windy and bad-tempered. This passage could not be more different.
The weather has been amazing, the hardier half of the crew still standing their night watches in shorts and I have put a foul weather jacket on once, for about half an hour. We have had two squally nights to add a little spice and every point of sail from close hauled through to dead downwind. The North Atlantic grey has appeared from time to time, only to be replaced by the clear skies & warm sun we have become accustomed to. We have been treated to awesome light shows at night, dolphins playing in the bow wave and day after day of fast, beam reach sailing.
The crew ‘got on’ from day 1 of the training weekend – a cold, wet & windy weekend all those years ago back in December. After 2400nm together, confined to a 22m by 6m tin can, they are still ‘getting on’. There is a huge amount of expertise (sailing and otherwise), good humour, practicality and sense amongst this group of sailors. From deck work to helming to cooking and keeping the boat clean, they have taken on all aspects of an ocean crossing with diligence, skill and enthusiasm. Everyone is an asset to the crew and they have made this first leg of the passage a joy.
Tom & Ben – Tall Ships volunteer watch leaders – have been exceptional too with their own highly individual approaches to life at sea, bread making masterclasses and doing sums. Co-skippering with Nick, who brings a peculiar mix of philosophy, sarcasm, a love of ocean passages and a very exacting attitude towards tea, biscuits and condiments, makes life easy – as long as the kettle is on – but with a number of ex-RAF types on board at least he is well served with the right kind of tea.
The approach of land and civilisation, such as it is on this far-flung archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic, brings mixed feelings. There is the inevitable excitement after 14 days of looking out at the big blue wobbly thing of seeing land, tasting beer, having a decent shower, a full night’s sleep etc but it is tinged with a reluctance to leave this very small, very contented, self-sufficient world that we have been living in. The bubble bursts.
Lots of love to all at home.
And so we continue in the same vein…
We’ve had 6 glorious days of perfect sailing on the same course and at speeds rarely dropping below 10 knots. It’s been exciting, rewarding and has eaten up the miles to the Azores. Today the wind has finally started to play games with us, and there have been several sail changes keeping the entire crew gainfully employed. We have been entertained by dolphins for much of the day too with all watches getting plenty of time to see them. We eventually changed tack late this afternoon when it became clear that we’d miss the Azores otherwise, causing considerable consternation below decks as we now have to walk around on the opposite slant after almost 2 weeks unchanged. Some have adjusted quicker than others!
On the domestic front, most of our fresh provisions are now exhausted, meaning that we’re turning to other sources more and more. Though our top mother watch today still succeeded in turning out both fresh bread and cake for the enjoyment of the crew…..
As we write this we lifted anchor in Barbuda 2,320 miles ago and will arrive in the port of Horta in only 62 miles from now sometime during the night hours. Our Portuguese courtesy flag and the Quarantine flag are both on the chart table ready for deployment and by the time this blog hits the website we’ll almost certainly be alongside and adjusting to our new surroundings
The general intention is that we’ll be in Horta for about 3 days to fix some minor issues with the boat, reprovision and catch up on some sleep before heading out again towards good old blighty. It’s unlikely that we’ll blog while alongside, but our mobile phones will be hot!
With love, Ben, Clive and Mark!
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Posted by: First Class Sailing