Leg 17: Acores - Europe

We had pinpointed early June as our preferred ETD for our crossing back to Europe, so that’s when we started with another WWW. The children did not mind this, as they had found new friends. All five they invaded the local playground, though there was a noteworthy difference in volume and activity between our offspring and Mumtaz’s. Lotte remained the calmest of all, but Kwinten and Hannelien clearly switched to overdrive.  Anouk joined in quite easily, though her twin sister Sanne needed some more time. According to their parents they keep themselves quiet and occupied during most of the crossings, a luxury we can only dream off.

The third day of our waiting, Leen had a chance to join the Pouncer/Ocean Blue connection and go walking around Faial. First they walked around the crater, and then further toured the island counter clockwise. Leen enjoyed herself thoroughly, though her mother heart remained in doubt about Wouter’s capacity to cope with the situation. Undeserved as it turned out, as the remainder of the crew all mounted one bike and rode straight to the play garden. Though 4 people on 1 bike is a tad exaggerated, we were not stopped by any police, most probably because they had difficulty keeping count with the bikes passengers.

A first possible window presented itself from the 4th of June. We bought extra jerry cans as a last minute prep, and Leen cleared port and customs. We should have left with four yachts: Luigi Presto (HR 352), Mumtaz (Grand Soleil 34), Quien (Super Marau) and us. However, together with Luigi Presto we decided, very last minute, to wait 2 or 3 days because of a depression which would pass close to our rumbline two days in the trip. Our decision was so last minute that Mumtaz and Quien already left…

We did leave on the second try, and got underway on Saturday 8th of June around 13:00 for what was to be our longest and most difficult trip of the sabbatical. Most people which did cross to the Carribean also look upon this leg as the most difficult, mainly because of the lack of trade winds and stable, year round weather systems. The distance and duration of the trip make it impossible to cover the trip within the time frame of a reliable, long term weather forecast, and the relative instability of the weather so far north makes for the possibility of encountering a depression somewhere along the way…

Based on the latest weather forecast we decided to stay on the rumb line to Falmouth, not following the typical northerly route until the 45th parallel. We also decided to leave Graciosa to our port side, passing between Graciosa and Sao Jorge. Luckily we did, because to the N of Sao Jorge we were surrounded by a huge pack of dolphins. No matter where we looked, the only thing we saw were dolphins. They were clearly feeding on a rich bank of fish, cause they did not play with Aspro and did not move along or past us.

We kept close to Terceira, doubting to make a stop there to check the morning grib file and monitor the movement of another depression. However, at 03:00 am we decided to turn our bow to Europe, chase Luigi Presto for the lost miles and make a go for it. During the night we had two more visits of dolphins, which is quite a strange experience. You can not really see them coming, but hear them when they are very close and you can follow their movement by the fluorescent line of their dorsal fin breaking the surface. We met a sea turtle the second day, which was calmly waving her front fin while sunbathing on her back, kind of a “No worries maaaannn” behaviour.

The children took a day to get used to the sailing again, but once settled in they behaved great. We did not have any seasickness on board, though Leen and Wouter needed a bit of time to get their stomach in sea mode again. This was mainly reflected in lack of appetite, both for real food as for candy. Leen did get sick twice come evening time, but before doing so she had been curling in all imaginable postures to get the kids into pyjamas and fed, which certainly helped to induce the sickness. The biggest problem is getting the kids to bed. As we gain northing, and because of the summer, the nights are too short. Being used to go to sleep when it is dark and get up when it is light, we are once again in trouble. It takes about 2 hours for all of them to finally fall asleep. The first one to give in is Hannelien, while Kwinten is the last. Come morning time, the waking up sequence is completed in the same order, between 05:00 (Hannelien) and 07:30 (Kwinten).

We sailed in very light conditions for about 4 days, raising question marks on the extent of our diesel stock. We don’t fancy floating around and making averages of less then 100 nM a day, as not only our kids but also we are too impatient for such actions. We are running the engine at 1800 rpm, which gives us a consumption of 2,2 liters with a speed between 5 and 6.5 over the ground.

After day 4 we very regularly spotted whales. The calm weather is ideal, as you can really distinguish their breathing fountain. Furthermore you actually don’t see that much when you cross them, as they kind of swim up and down in horizontal S’s. The easiest way to spot them for us has been to smell them. The only whale we spotted the world famous whale paradise of the Acores was the one Lotte has on her bib. This crossing however made up for it. Come evening time of day 6 we had a big whale passing Aspro very close by. Kwinten and Lotte however were much more interested by the swallow which had started hitchhiking in the afternoon then by the one in a lifetime opportunity to see a whale up close….

As a decent Friday the 13th should, ours brought some pretty bad news. Opening the grib file this morning, we saw a depression developing right between ourselves and Falmouth. Once we sobered up from the bad news, we started our quest for alternative landing points to minimize our exposure. The first choice was Brest, which, according to the forecast, we should be able to just make before. We should have to sail against 20 – 25 knots of headwinds for about 6 hours to reach it however. After more careful consideration we reluctantly decided to bear off to La Coruna. This was a rather bitter decision as we actually had to return south to get there. The day did bring a marvellous dolphin show to get a positive note in, though the forecast made it a bit difficult to fully enjoy. The kids kept behaving well, though their energy level clearly was on the rise. Noise was getting louder, and all of them became less and less tolerant, mainly towards each other.

The night of Friday the 13th brought further bad news, as our friends from Luigi Presto reached the sad conclusion their tanks hold less fuel then their manual indicates. We transferred a jerrycan containing 15 litres, which is about all we had to spare at this point. Nevertheless, at 1800 rpm, this should make for about 9 more hours and 54 more nM of motoring.

The grib file of Saturday the 14th was about as bad as the previous day. Not only we, but also the depression had decided to go to La Coruna. Based on this new info, Brest would have been the better option, but no second chances can be given. We therefore had to make as much speed as possible to reach La Coruna before Mme depression did. To add insult to injury, Luigi Presto started developing rudder trouble. The Spanish met office, through the Navtex, issued a forecast with 2-4 Bft, variable but with a South component until Sunday 0:00. Maybe it was the weekend watch, or maybe they had too much sangria, but come early morning we ran into 30+ knots of wind, on a course of between 60 and 90 degrees relative to Aspro. We reefed the main twice and luckily had changed the Genoas yesterday, so we were flying our Genoa III. Nevertheless Aspro was flying, running at 8,5 to 9.5 knots through the water and a steady 7,5 to 8 knots VMG. The sea built, but she handled it like a beauty, not once being knocked off course by gusts and/or waves, while we felt a bit awkward crossing the Finisterre shipping lanes at a flying speed.

A group of about 20 dolphins put on a spectacular show, following Aspro at full speed while jumping synchronously in rows of 7 through the waves. Breathtaking, and a welcome diversion in the given conditions. We kept flying until we are at 35nM from Coruna, when the wind drops considerably to 14 knots. Still having 80 lts in the tanks, we decide to put the engine on to finish our crossing asap. The energy level reached by our kids is such at that stage that we really need to air them, as well we felt the breath of the depression coming closer each minute.

We had been feeling a bit dual over the past day, ever since Mme depression entered the picture. At one end we felt privileged to experience what we did during the crossings, on the other end we felt an uncomfortable knowing the physical well being of our kids was depending on our ability to judge the best course to deal with the weather treat. We can not imagine running into a similar situation on land in normal, peace time life…

We finally arrived at La Coruna on Sunday 15th of June at 11:00 UTC, after 8 days and 21 hours at sea… Luigi Presto arrived the same day at 21:00 UTC with a moaning rudderstock.

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