Leg 4: Cascais - Porto Santo

After our pit-stop week in Belgium, we leave for Portugal again on Thursday 18th of October.  The French Public transport sector decided to strike that day, to counter President’s Sarkozy’s plans to make them work to an honorable retirement age, like most other French citizens already do today, so no TGV was available to get us to Paris CDG.  We anticipated this problem by renting a car, but were surprised by the amount of traffic jams and stopped traffic around Lille. We feared to miss our plane, but oddly enough, once passed Lille, we seemed alone on the highway. The only further effect we experienced from the strike was the constant info flashes on the radio. We had once more the blessing of two very tolerant 60+ passengers in the row in front of us. Kwint was barely installed when the first complaints about back aches and kicking children started… Once at Lisbon, the rest of the trip from the airport to Aspro was completed by bus, train and bus. The idea was to keep costs down, as a Cascais Hotel had given us an estimate of 50 Euros to reach the airport. One day later, a cab driver indicated that 25 Euros was the most he ever charged for that route.

The day after travel day was supply day. After 1 and a quarter month living aboard, our food cabinets started showing their bottoms. With fresh courage and 3 bags we attacked the local Auchan hypermarket. 3 hours later and 50 kg heavier we were obliged to take a cab for the way back. Unfortunately we were still missing another 50kg of AA milk

The grib files were giving very light and variable air for the coming days, meaning we could leave but most probably would be in for another uneventful, engine rich trip. We thus decided to spent some more time in Lisbon, planning a cabrio-double decker bus ride for Sunday. The exuberance of the kid’s reaction to these plans closed all doors for second thoughts on the issue, unless we want to torture ourselves with 15 consecutive days of “why’s” and “how’s” we did not take that cabrio bus ride. We left Cascais for Lisbon Saturday early morning, right after washing the vegetables with Dettol (yep, some weird things happen on boats). Our planned cabrio-bus ride started very touristy, queuing in the burning sun for 20 minutes with two German ladies pushing in our backs. Once on the bus, Hannelien destroyed half of Leen’s headphones within the first 15 minutes, while Lotte got bored after about 30, and decided to take a nap on the floor. Kwinten on the other hand was utter concentration, though we still don’t know if it was because of the fact of driving in a cabrio double decker, or if it was because of the tour itself. The day ended with another run to the hypermarket, for 10 liters of engine oil and 26 kg of AA milk.

Monday 22 of October was day 3 of www (weather window waiting).  We remained at anchor, cleaned the bottom of Aspro, as signs of a beard started appearing, and inspected the anodes. Wearing my shorty summer neoprene proved a bit optimistic, a mistake which took a hot shower, warm clothes and half an hour under the blanket to repair. As Leen and Lotte were not feeling 100% either, the day became a lazy, pancake day. At 15:00 we left for mails, picking up the scuba bottle and another batch of 42 kg AA milk. We can officially state that Portugese sidewalks are hell to transport this amount of milk in a travel bag.

Tuesday we took Aspro for a stroll upriver Tage, for a photo shoot under the bridge and to visit the marine and tram museum. Early morning again became 10 o’clock, but the photo shoot was brilliant.  We also entered Doca Belem at about 13:30, but nobody of the marina was available to help us with mooring. We chatted a little bit with an elderly boat owner who had been sailing a steel two master for 30 years. He appreciated our choice for a steel boat as the only sensible thing to do, and took our particulars to arrange free berth for us in Madeira

The next day we prepared Aspro for the crossing. Leen went for another round of washing machines (counter stopped at 4 this time), while Wouter prepared the outside. Wind generator once again became a water generator, the dinghy was packed and parked while all sails are in place and fastened. We left for Porto Santos Thursday morning around 09:00 LT (08:00 UTC). Our try to mount the spinnaker in 12 knots of breeze was frustrated, as the wind changed direction by 180 degrees and completely died out once everything was flying. Having tidied up our Spinnaker gear again, the wind returned, in force and direction. We apparently had everything flying just when we sailed through some convergence zone between offshore and coastal winds, causing weird breezes all over the place. We decided to fly Genoa and Main in the 15 knots of cross breeze.  With the sun and the nice breeze, the crossing started again on a very shiny note, though personally I felt a bit sad to start another round of lonely watches full of navigation, sailing, child care and food, but without time to really enjoy each other company when one feels like it.

During day two of our beautiful crossing, we fully started to realize that most of our joy does not come from the long crossings. On top of that it has become very clear these past 2 months that our family is completely and utterly lost for the real cruising community. The first signs were apparent during our Biscay crossing and cruising on Spain’s north shore, through the 15 sail changes per trip and the fact we started fiddling all over Aspro whenever the speed dropped below 6 knots. The symptoms further showed at Ria Pontevedra, where we were chasing a Spanish 39 foot racing yacht in a 6 to 8 knots upwind beat. The final diagnosis was made in Cascais, where we dived in cold water to clean the entire bottom of Aspro, less than 2 months after she was put in the water with a new layer of anti fouling paint on her hull.

It further showed that Wouter is a true and 100% around the cans man. Whenever there are no cans around, the fun is gone. Sadly enough, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the very low concentration of cans in our crossing. Crossings of about 5 days are really the limit of enjoyment, as after that, he really longs for a stroll. Leen can enjoy the peace and quiet of the crossings more, but she seems to have a problem with the rising temperatures. Under the Lisbon October sun she already felt heavy and a bit sick. Hardly an encouraging thought for a trip to a warm and damp area.

The amount of time consumed by the routine jobs further reduces the moments we can dedicate to our youngsters. Though they keep each other occupied and do not complain, the difference in mood is to apparent from when we can really dedicate them the time they deserve. Putting all this together, we are unable to follow a normal watch rhythm. During our double handed Channel Race, once we learned how, we could fulfill our watch and afterwards chat or enjoy a few hours a day. These same off watch hours are now completely filled with cramped with the added care needed by the younger crew members, making the crossings less enjoyable and tending towards “hard work”. A filled tour of the Atlantic program in 8 months would thus make for 3 months of “crossing work” and 5 months of strolling fun.

We feel this would be unfair to our youngsters, as our intention of the sabbatical was to “go somewhere with a boat with the complete family”, not to fulfill any program or goal. We are thus inclining to change our program, wintering in the Canaries, and then either entering the Mediterranean or going north again via the Acores. We might even consider returning to Belgium over the European inland cannels, exploring areas we would normally never frequent being offshore sailors. We want to make sure it remains fun for everybody. We have difficulty understanding some of the other boats we met with similar programs and reflections, which stubbornly want to keep going on their Atlantic Tour, even sometimes with one of the parents battling heavy sea-sickness. Maybe it is because of our years living in the tropics that we don’t have any trouble to change our route to try and get the most fun out of this year. Another important, added factor for us is that we want to make sure we are back in Belgium late June, to start another round of exiting regattas with Tontín.

Day 3 at sea was again filled with sunshine and carrying winds in excess of 20 knots. Though the winds keep blowing about 5 knots more than what the gribfiles predict (thanks for the hint Jan), it is extremely comforting to feel Aspro’s excellent behavior in these conditions. During the night we kept our full Genoa in the 28 knots breeze with gusts of 34+. Aspro ran on autopilot the entire time, beautifully negotiating the oncoming waves (in excess of 2,5 meters) with incredible ease, surfing at 9+ knots, without noises or cracks. The only noise we hear is the creeping of the Genoa blocks with every gust and stretch of the Genoa sheet. Aspro shows her pre-spectra birth date in these conditions.

The movement inside the boat is a bit more complicated, the downside of her marvelous wave behavior. Being easy on the helm also means that she goes her own way. Aspro does not need a helmsman to constantly correct her course, but she does not want to be offset by the cross waves either, resisting them with force. This makes that the live outside easy, but a tad harder and shakier on the inside. Our fat bottomed 40.7 was much easier on the inside, but only provided a good helmsman was working the wheel at about 100 revs per minute to keep her on course.

We are also impressed by our water-generator’s performance. After 60 hours at sea, and using autopilot, fridge, navigation lights and all instruments, our batteries remain 100% charged. Even the energy for the 2 movie pictures a day, on computer and CD-rom of about 5 Amps, is restored within the hour. Only when our speed drops under 5 knots we start using our batteries at a rate of about 1 Amp.

Day 4 at sea was much the same in the wind department, though we seem to alternate sunny and cloudy days. The speeds remain high, in the 6 to 8 knots range, also in lighter winds provided we butterfly Genoa and main. The boat is again filled with giggling and noisy kids, as today is the last day at sea and both parents can forget about getting the sufficient rest for their watches. Early morning, and after hoping for it the whole trip, dolphins dropped by to play with Aspro again. Lotte remained glued to the foredeck when they disappeared, with Kwinten extremely disappointed he was still asleep when they passed by. We finished the trip without having to start the engine for filling the batteries, as our private little Electrabel did an excellent job, without any rumors of future price increases.

Leen had spotted Porto Santo first, around 11 am. It then still took us about 5 hours to actually reach the island, a tad frustrating at times. It looks very inhospitable without vegetation, a real volcanic pimple in the middle of the ocean. We finally arrive at 17:00 hrs UTC, having covered the 481 nM in 81 hours on the theoretical course. Our log showed 515,3 nM covered over the same period, giving an indication of our wobbling behavior on this leg.

Moored at the dock, we must admit that we didn’t complete this crossing unscratched. About 6% of our recently acquired 72 kg tetrabrick AA cargo did not fulfill the Aspro specs. Leen had thought that the smell she noticed in Aspro as from day 4 morning time was due to us living in the same clothes for about 4 days. Further checking showed however that the real reason was 3 liters of AA Milk, fermenting in our bilges to form a MGO-AA-yoghurt of a very distinct odour…

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