Leg 13: Canaries - Azores

From Rubicon we first sailed to Graciosa, to win another 5 degrees in our course to Madeira. We arrived at Graciosa around 16:00, finding Gudrun V strangely deserted. When fisherman Miguel came in port around 19:00, he immediately recognized the boat and called for us and the kids, something greatly appreciated by Kwinten. The next day the grib file was almost spot on in its prediction of change in wind direction, so we left Graciosa at about 9 in the evening to cross to Madeira and catch up with Luigi Presto. Two other boats will follow, though be it 12 hours later. Wouter decided to give the sea sickness pills a try, but took his too late. This revenged itself immediately, by actually helping him feel sick in stead of preventing the sea-sickness.  Leen is getting used to her new state of seasick crew member, as number 4 takes his/her part of energy. The other kids don’t feel preoccupied any more when little brother or sister pushes everything out of mum´s stomach once more.

Unfortunately we had left the Genoa III on the furler, which proved too little for the light winds. To keep some speed, we kept the engine running at a low 1700 rpm. We arrived at Madeira after 45 hours at sea, where Luuk and Anneloes were awaiting us at the dockside with two pizzas we had ordered by SMS. A marvellous way to conclude a less than marvellous, engine rich, crossing.

As a promise makes for an obligation, we rented a car the next day to race to Funchal and give the kids their much promised cable cart ride. Further we did little worth mentioning, apart maybe from a visit to the local McDo. In the marina we saw “Imagine” and “Lunna”, both our colleagues from Graciosa which had left 12 hours after we did.

The optimistic idea was to follow Luigi Presto to the Azores, two days after arriving in Madeira. However, still feeling the effects of our trip from Graciosa, we decided against it at Luigi’s ETD time, also because our todo list was still way too long. The intention was to leave a day later, but as the grib file predicted 20+ knots winds on the beam, and the same strength but backstay a day later, we decided to add a Calheta day.

Despite all our best intentions we were once again late for our own timetable. Counting in UTC we just made the departure hour, but Madeira runs on UTC +1. Our Norwegian friends of Lunna thought we postponed our departure once more, and dropped by our mooring to check. Soon after we were all out and sailing to the Azores together. We started in very light conditions, and the wind shifted from a carrying (120 degrees), over nothing through an upwind beat, finally to settle in at 95 degrees. The Grib files were quite accurate, once the customary 5 knots were added for force. The direction was off by 10 degrees, and off course in the wrong direction. Once darkness had fallen, the wind increased and we spent the night on a tight reach, between 90 and 100 degrees, in 25-27 knots of breeze, gusting to deep in the thirties. Considering the wind, the seastate was what could be expected: high waves with a breaker now and then. Every time such a breaker hit Aspro, she would resist and bump further on her course. She really is one sturdy lady. We again ran under Genoa alone, easily reaching 7+ speeds over the ground, making up for time lost at the start of our crossing.

During day 2 at sea, the wind abated during daylight but came back during the night. Not as strong as yesterday, about 25 knots with gusts staying under 30, but the sea was much more confused, making for an unpleasant and uncomfortable ride. We kept on a tight reach for most of the time, and all crew except from the pregnant mum remained seasickness free. The crossings are hard work though, with Leen taking care of the daytime attention of the kids, while Wouter keeps daytime watch. During the night, Leen catches two watches, to allow Wouter to rest a bit.  The grib files were quite accurate, though every morning update carried a little surprise. The initial file gave carrying winds (120 degrees) of about 20 knots, which in practice should have given a backstay of about 25 knots, followed by a no-wind period of about 3 days after our ETA. The updates however showed increasing wind strengths at sharper angles, and the no-wind frame after arrival started to show a southerly, stronger breeze. Our Iridium files only being 5 day, restricted area predictions, against the 7 or 10 day Atlantic ocean files of the internet, the southerly caused a bit of dismay. We knew a low was brewing in front of the US, but should fill in before reaching mid-ocean. The southerly looked suspiciously like the tail of such a system, but luckily the next day’s update showed it to be a small, local depression of one day only….

During day 3 the wind veered further back, and the force abated to the late tens or early twenties. We ran the engine for about 6 hours, to crank the speed up and see the DTW drop a tad faster. The night was also calm so we ran the engine for another 9 hours. We could have solved the speed problem by hoisting the main, but we got a tad lazy. Early next morning however we did raise the main, and surprise-surprise, despite the lighter (16 – 20 knots) carrying winds (120 + degrees), Aspro was running quicker than under engine, making 6.8 and 7.5 SOG. A few miles before reaching Santa Maria we were welcomed by a group of Common Dolphins, putting up a private show for us, full of flips, jumps and turns. Next on the program: an encounter with a real, big whale? After 76 hours at sea we reached the port of Vila do Porto on Santa Maria. Santa Maria is the southern and Eastern most island of the Azores group, not counting the rock pimples “Ilheus das Formigas” (meaning “Ants Islands”) which are not inhabited and declared national marine reserve. Seen from the sea the island looks very green and beautiful, a crossing of Gomera and Madeira, though be it much less inhabited than the last.

The entrance to the marina is through the small commercial port, though both names should be taken with a bit of salt. The commercial port is little more than a RO-RO terminal and a stretch of quaywall, while the marina is still under construction. As no water and electricity are available yet, the stay is free, despite the fact that all pontoons are ready and in place. Aspro actually was the sixth visitor to the new mooring installations… The entrance to the marina, as in so many of the Atlantic islands, is rather small, less than 40 meters from toe to toe between breakwaters.

After a decent scrub –though be it interrupted by the local immigration officer- and food for the whole crew, we took of for a little stroll in the village/island capital. Picturesque seems the best description for the place, though “doll village” would also be suitable. All is small, quiet and very limited, but beautiful. The complete island has about 6500 inhabitants, and I can’t imagine growing up in a place like this. It certainly has its charms, but it is also very restricted…. Most noteworthy impression of our first day is the irresponsible behaviour of all car drivers, male and female, racing through the small streets at well over 50 kmph…  We are happy to be on the Azores, as it seems they are their reputation of beauty more then worthy.

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