2002 - Faustina II comes home from the Caribbean
This log won the prestigious Faulkner Cup awarded by the Irish Cruising Club, and the Workman Cup from the Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club
From Trinidad to the BVIs
Ann said,” I don’t want to do it, but I do want to have done it”.
She repeated this line several times as we sailed Faustina II up from Trinidad to the Bahamas. Very reasonably she was concerned that the two of us should take on the transatlantic voyage home to Ireland on our own. There was no way that I was going to ship the boat home so I offered to do it solo, but she said that would cause her even more concern. We asked a few friends whether they could join us, but the Irish summer (little did they guess the awful weather they were going to get!) and the RNIYC Centenary celebrations had their prior commitment.
We had left Faustina II, our trusty Bowman 40, at Chaguaramas in Trinidad for the hurricane season and re-launched her at the end of November 2001. From there we made our way northwards through the Windward Islands, which we had explored quite thoroughly in 2001 after our ARC crossing. We stayed for about a week in the area of Union Island and the Tobago Cays. I did several scuba dives with two very amusing Swedes and we walked ashore and shopped for supplies. For Christmas Day we joined up with several other yachts by prior arrangement in Chatham Bay on Union Island. We had Christmas drinks on board a fine old Baltic Trader from Scotland and our dinner was barbecued lobster cooked very well for us all on the beach by a great local character known as ‘Shark Attack’.
On Boxing Day we moved away to the north and made overnight stops in St Vincent and St Lucia. The normally delightful Marigot Bay was so full of charter boats that we made no attempt to go in and simply anchored off the entrance. We stayed three days in Martinique at three different anchorages enjoying the French connections including its bread and croissants. The French islands in the Caribbean are part of metropolitan France and thus the EU – and it shows in the quality of life on them. The last of the Martinique anchorages was off St Pierre where almost exactly 100 years ago 30,000 inhabitants lost their lives when the nearby volcano exploded. We met the Swedes again and I did a great 30-metre dive with them.
We loved Dominica and spent a pleasant New Year’s Eve there attending a hotel party at Roseau. We spent several days exploring the island by taxi, scuba diving (John) and snorkelling (Ann). The island claims to have 365 rivers – and it probably has. Wet and heavily forested, it is the last home of the ancient Carib race who now produce delightful artifacts to sell to tourists. Near our second island anchorage off Portsmouth we explored the ‘Indian River’ just after dawn to do some bird watching, and later we climbed up to Fort Shirley, an old British fort that with its outposts on nearby hills is being well renovated.
We had a few days at anchor in the small island group of The Saintes, one of which was spent having repairs done to our pulpit. The damage was caused by a French yacht that had left the anchorage under sail and become caught in stays. Having hit us, the yacht then just sailed away, but I chased them in our new RIB and made then return to give us their details.
Our RIB with its 15 hp outboard engine is bright yellow and aptly named Buttercup. She was an extravagance that we never begrudged as she gave us much greater ‘exploring range’ and we very rarely got our backsides wet, even in quite rough weather. She is also great fun to drive – and useful for chasing boats that damage you and leave without offering to pay up!
We sailed on to the north, visited a marina overnight in Guadeloupe, and then took Faustina II through the channel that splits the island in two. This transit has to be started in the dark of early morning (due to bridge opening times) and it was as well that we had gone right through the pass in Buttercup on the previous day. By checking in daylight we were saved at least one embarrassing mistake in the night. However we STILL went aground for a long mosquito-infested 90 minutes before we broke through to the sea again.
We left the island of Monserrat with its newly awakened volcano billowing smoke well off to port and arrived in Antigua to anchor in Nelson’s Harbour. The old naval base has been very well renovated over the last few years and is well worth visiting (especially when the cruise ships are not in – though this can be said of many places we visited.) We managed to get our anchor caught under one of the big so called ‘Nelson’s Chains’ which were laid across the harbour floor to hold the Navy’s men of war during the hurricane season. That was 6 metres down. I free-dived down and managed to damage an ear that wouldn’t ‘clear’ and that gave me pain for several weeks thereafter. However, happily, after a while I freed the anchor without having to call in divers. Round at Falmouth harbour we anchored near our friends Vincent and Maureen O’Farrell on Fastnet Dancer amongst the staggering collection of large and wildly expensive yachts and motor-cruisers.
After a few days we sailed on in a very fresh wind to pass between Nevis and St Kitts where we anchored in Major’s Bay for the night. We had planned to spend the next night at Basseterre on St Kitts but the marina was a mess having been hit by a hurricane and the wind was too fresh to anchor off. We therefore went on to St Eustatius (Statia) where we spent a rolly night anchored off Oranjestad and then gratefully north to the security of Sint Maarten. We called first at Philipsburg on the Dutch side of the island - along with several large cruise ships the passengers of which were apparently solely interested in shopping at the expensive shops on ‘Front Street’. We shopped with the locals in ‘Back Street’. We cleared immigration with the stupidest man in authority that we met anywhere and then moved around to the lagoon where many long-term cruisers make the most of the shelter and the excellent repair and supply facilities available. We became frequent visitors to the St Martin YC (located in four containers but a great place to meet, eat and drink) and took the RIB north across the lagoon to St Martin (the French side) on most evenings to eat away our last French Francs before they became useless with the introduction of the Euro. After a week doing some essential maintenance we made the longish crossing over to the British Virgin Islands.
The BVI are quite rightly a chartering paradise. They have lots of interesting and beautiful places to visit, all quite close together and with well-sheltered waters. Sadly it is expensive there - presumably as charterers don’t mind paying high prices as they are only out for their two-week holiday. It is hard to find anywhere to anchor, as all the bays are full of moorings costing US$20 a night. Also we found the locals the least cheerful of all the islanders that we had met to date. Still we had a very pleasant and easy 10 days pottering and relaxing.
It was now early February. We had hoped to spend more time exploring different islands but the weather this year has been ‘unusual’ – a description used often by the Caribbean weatherman, David Jones, in his daily SSB radio forecasts. The Christmas winds came in January and stayed fresher than usual throughout the season – Easterlies force 5-6, occasionally 7, instead of the more normal force 4-5. This tended to slow us down, as we would decide to ‘stay here another day’. It also meant that didn’t know whether we had a few days clear to get ashore for a visit the island in more detail.
We left Faustina II for a month in the capable hands of our friends David and Hilary while we flew back to Trinidad for the Carnival (another story) and then home to NI for a couple of weeks.
From the BVIs to Puerto Rico
On our return, and with a jet-lagged Hazel on board, we joined a fun regatta that took us racing up to the reef bound island of Anegada for a day of games, swimming and good eating, and then down to the west end of Tortola at Soper’s Hole. We came 13th (dodgy handicapping!) – but STILL won a prize! We made a brief visit to the USVI but the immigration authorities there made us return Hazel to the BVI so that she could arrive in the USVI by commercial means – as she had no US visa. She went back to St Johns in the USVI on the ferry and we sailed back – again. Bureaucracy – or what?
After a day or two we returned to the BVI and there we had very welcome visits from family members for a week. It was great to see sun-starved folk enjoying the sun and warm blue sea. Overall, we stayed in the area for about four weeks during which time we had a new mainsail made – also a mainsail ‘cradle’, a great invention for packing away the mainsail quickly
Now there were just the two of us again and once more we moved over to the USVI, and again we met the O’Farrells on Fastnet Dancer. Together we dined at the St Thomas YC and Vincent provided an Irish Cruising Club pennant for the club that was received with great good humour and pleasure. Then, after anchoring for a few days near the capital of the USVI, Charlotte Amalie, in the company of some cruising friends we set off to Puerto Rico (PR), visiting the islands of Culebra and Vieques en route.
We probably should have known better but PR surprised us. It is a great place. OK, it’s rather Americanized but it is also beautiful and interesting. We anchored for a day in great seclusion in the Golfo de Jobos on the island’s south coast where there are supposed to be many manatees living amongst the mangroves – but we couldn’t find one. Next day we anchored in a sheltered bay called Salinas (another meeting place for long-term cruising folk) and hired a car for 5 days. We visited San Juan, the capital, on the north coast where the old city and fortifications are lovingly preserved but where the new city has horrendous traffic and huge shopping malls.
Next day we drove over the mountains to visit the awesome Caves of Camuy, the 3rd largest cave system in the world. We stayed overnight in a hotel in the mountains (what luxury!) – and did some shopping at a huge mall. A week in PR would never be wasted. There is so much to see and do. We sailed along to the west coast and had to take a taxi to Boqueron to clear out with the US immigration authorities before we set out across the notorious (at least to Americans trying to sail to the east against the wind and current) Mona Passage.
Puerto Rico to the Turks and Caicos Islands
We actually had an easy run over to Mona Island, which is in the middle of the Passage, where we literally scraped into an anchorage inside the reef and went ashore to look at the National Park. It was lovely. The only inhabitants are three Spanish-speaking ‘Yogi Bear’ Park Rangers but we enjoyed the walking and saw large iguanas in the wild.
We left here on a Saturday evening and had a good run northwest across the rest of the Mona Passage and around the northeast corner of The Dominican Republic (DR), along its north coast to the little village and good anchorage of Luperon, where we arrived on Monday morning. Luperon is yet another of the places where cruising boats congregate.
In some of these meeting places owners live on board for several years and almost become part of the local community. Luperon is very poor; the sanitation was appalling and the shops had little in them. The bureaucracy was long winded but easy-going – and the people were incredibly friendly. We had laundry done while we were there. Ann saw no sign of a tap in the place where the job was done, nor where she bravely had her hair cut, but the laundry was the best we had had done to date and her hair was very well cut too. She had allowed a very large man on a scooter to take her off quite some distance for her haircut (while I was still trying to clear immigration), which shows how desperate she was to have that job done! School children were immaculately dressed both before and after school – but we had seen this a lot in the Caribbean.
Sadly we could stay here only two days because we had tentatively agreed to meet with my sister in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) and the unusual weather was threatening to make the passage to the TCI difficult in a day or two. (She never actually arrived, due the very high cost of the airfares from the USA, but of course we didn’t know that then.) An overnight motor/sail to the north brought us to the TCI at Big Sand Cay – a small desert island surrounded by translucent turquoise water a long beach to take your breath away. Just – WOW!
We loved it and had a lovely few hours swimming and taking a walk ashore. Sadly here, as in every place we visited, the eastern ‘weather’ side of the island was covered in litter (mostly plastic) brought in on the sea.
After lunch we sailed across to South Caicos where one anchors, well protected, near reefs in quite shallow water. We cleared Customs (the only place I was offered an arm chair to sit in while I completed the copious paper work.) and explored a bit. During the next couple of days I did four scuba dives off the reef ‘wall’. The snorkelling just off the town on the ‘Admiralty Reef’ was amongst the best that we saw anywhere. We walked ashore a lot. Our arrival coincided with the supply ship’s monthly visit and so there were stores in the two shops. Ponies ambled around the town, flamingos waded in the salt flats and a band in full dress uniform was playing at the Protestant church on Sunday. They looked very hot!
South Caicos is pretty run down. The housing stock is photogenic but very poor, and there is little work. The TCI government has largely caused this to happen. Apparently so many of the inhabitants used to run drugs that it was deemed necessary to punish the whole population - and so the airport was closed. This kept all tourists away (except the few yachts that happen by). The airport has recently been reopened after several years of punishment and so perhaps the islanders will start to attract tourists again. Sadly for them the other islands, especially Providenciales, have had a head start and I doubt that South Caicos will ever catch up. I think that there is only one hotel. Thus it remains a delight for the unsophisticated casual visitor (like us!) – but less so for its diminishing residential population.
To go from South Caicos to Providenciales (or Provo), the main island of the TCI, one can either go north around the islands (a long way) or go across the Caicos Bank. Most of the Bank is too shallow for a yacht to pass over but there a couple of routes that are just ok – if you keep to the (unmarked) route. There are lots of coral heads to be avoided too. TG for GPS. We motored in flat calm conditions over the Bank, a distance of about 45 miles, and for much of the time there was not more than a metre under the keel. We could see stingrays as we sailed over them - so clear was the water over the sand. We didn’t touch and anchored safely off the south coast of Provo, where we stayed for 4 days.
Provo is developing as a major tourist resort and is basing itself on the worst aspects of Florida. A car is essential as the shops and facilities are widely spread around the island and it is HOT and dusty. We hired a car and with some other yachties we explored and ate out and scuba dived. It would be good for a holiday – it has good beaches and diving – and the hotel resorts look fine. The yachting is a bit limited by the extensive reefs that virtually surround the island.
We cleared out of the TCI and entered the Bahamas, about which Don Street (he of the transatlantic guides) had said to us that, ‘You can always see the sea bottom but rarely see the shore’! There is some truth in that. We went first to Mayaguana, the most easterly of the ‘out-islands’. There’s not a lot there but we met some interesting people and watched as hundreds of conch shells were cleaned ready to be sold up in Nassau. The island’s Mr Fix-it helped us without payment by hammering our damaged boom gooseneck pin straight. The anchorage has two approaches, one is about 2 miles across the inside of the reef and the other is a dash through a narrow gap. We came in the one and went out the other. We stayed lucky!
And so on to the west. We called on West Plana Cay (deserted except for the two large barracudas that patrolled under the boat for the duration of our stay and which somewhat discouraged swimming!) where we stayed for two days – mainly due to high winds. Then we went on to anchor overnight in an empty bay on Atkins Is, and then in the amazingly indigo-water at Crooked Island where the barman at the most isolated hotel in the Bahamas spent sometime going through his repertoire of party tricks. At least the meal, taking in the company of fellow yachties, was good. Then came Clarence Town on Long Is where, famously, a Father Jerome had built first the Protestant church and then, after changing his faith, another for the RCs. Again the approach to the anchorage needed care, as the water gets quite ‘thin’ in places. All these island hops were quite short day-sails. The next one brought us to Rum Cay with yet another thinking-man’s entrance. They have a small but very good marina, which they are enlarging over a 10-year period. 2002 was alleged to be Year 8. We ate ashore (expensively but well).
We had a fine sail to our next stop at Conception Island about which we had heard much over the SSB in conversations between people who had been there. It was said to be unmissable – and so it turned out. It’s uninhabited, it’s flat and it’s covered in scrub. However the anchorage is fantastic. The beach is long with white sand and all that you would expect of a tropical island whilst the warm sea was the usual variety of stunning blues. We settled down to chill-out for a couple of days. Our stay included a run in Buttercup to visit the interior of the island which has lagoons filled at each high water. We had met a delightful American couple who had been cruising around the world for 13 years and we spent quite a lot of time together with them until we left the Bahamas two weeks later. We shall long remember Conception Is – and the joy is that the cruise ships will never get there. No shops!
A nice easy morning’s sail brought us to Georgetown on Great Exuma Island, which has two very tricky entrances through reefs. We stayed there for 10 days while various adverse weather systems came off the US east coast and pestered us. Georgetown has several anchorages between it and Stocking Island a mile across from the town. The game is to move from one anchorage to another depending on the expected wind. It’s called the ‘Georgetown shuffle’ and we shuffled a couple of times. With our friends we hired a car and explored but that was easily finished in a day. There was little to see. We shopped, walked, repaired things, and socialized with other boats until at last we got a good weather window to head north to Bermuda. This was to be a leg of 793 miles and was to be our first prolonged voyage with just the two of us on board.
The Bahamas to Bermuda
We were, by now, already quite relieved that we were expecting no extra crew as were under no pressure at all to be anywhere to meet them. This certainly improved the quality of the daily decisions about whether to sail or not. We were already a bit behind our planned schedule for reaching Bermuda, but it really didn’t matter. So we waved goodbye to our friends who were heading for Florida and set off to the northeast.
We had arranged to talk with David Jones, the weatherman in the BVIs, on the SSB each morning. For a payment he gives individual yachts routeing information that covers the next 7 days. He is usually pretty good for the first three days after which his forecasts understandably become less reliable. We had also arranged to speak with Herb Hilgenberg (known to all Atlantic yachties as just ‘Herb’) the well-known weather guru who is based in Canada. (http://hometown.aol.com/hehilgen/myhomepage/vacation.html). His forecasts are free, as he is a ‘ham’, and they are excellent. The only problem with Herb is that he talks to a lot of yachts each evening and gives each one good detail. Thus you may have to listen to him for up to 3 hours before he gets to your area and calls you up. If you miss his call he moves on to the next boat quickly. He doesn’t suffer laggards! We ‘got’ David until Bermuda and then we benefited from Herb all the way from Bermuda to Ireland – for which ‘thank you Herb’. He kept us out of trouble.
We got to Bermuda in 5 days and 4 nights but the weather window was so ‘good’ that we only managed to sail for two days and one night of that. The rest was motoring. We had had some battery troubles and these caused the alternator to burn out during this trip leaving us to use the Aquagen, solar panels, the Air marine wind generator and our mobile Honda generator to make power. You HAVE to have cold mixers for the rum!
We entered the Town Cut into St George (there seems to be a town called after ‘George’ on every island – and Sao Jorge Island in the Azores) and anchored with about 20 other yachts. Some of these had already set off for the Azores. Two days out Herb had advised them to return. Some did – and were ok. Some turned back later when the weather had already deteriorated and some suffered damage. The group became known as the ‘boomerang flotilla’ as they had returned to where they had started. It was a lesson that we took to heart. The weather is everything. Get that right and the dangers reduce. We were in no hurry and we were prepared to wait until Herb gave us a clear green light.
In the meantime we set-to to explore Bermuda – and to get our alternator and its ‘intelligent controller’ replaced. Bermuda is a well-governed and prosperous island that one can explore in sufficient detail to satisfy in about 10 days. There are no cars for hire – only scooters, and the bus service is excellent Thank goodness, as the narrow, often twisty, roads would soon be jammed. We visited Hamilton the capital, the old Royal Navy dockyards (now very well converted to provide a tourist attraction complete with a pool with dolphins to play with). Ann wasn’t too keen on the scooter (or my driving perhaps!) and often went to places by bus but I loved the scooter. I failed to find a suitable alternator on the island and couldn’t get anyone to come to the boat to check the electrics. In the end I arranged for Adverc to send me a complete charging system from the UK, which arrived in 3 working days by courier.
By now we had made some new American friends on a boat called Southern Cross, Joe and his wife Lee and John and his wife Connie. They were all experts on some aspect of boats. Joe wrote for US yachting magazines and John and Connie had worked on yacht refrigeration and electrical systems. John ASKED to help me fit the new alternator and controller – and this was by no means the last time that their help was to be a Godsend to us. We were to sail in company from the Bermuda to Ireland. They were great company and generous people.
I asked if anyone would like to join a twice-daily SSB net for the trip to the Azores. Six boats joined up and the chats en route were to prove comforting, and helpful to at least one boat that Southern Cross was able to give advice to about its engine problems – rather like a radio doctor. Ann was able to pass the recipe for an apple crumble to an English skipper who was keen to impress his American lady crew with ‘English cuisine’! Joe and I took it in turns to run the net during which we logged each boat’s position and heard what weather they were having. Occasionally the ladies had a chat together.
From Bermuda to the Azores
John painting on the harbour wall at Horta.
Once we were ready to sail, Herb stopped us from going for a few days because of a new front coming off the USA. This one was being called a tropical storm, though happily it never developed fully. Finally after two weeks in Bermuda, on 17 June, we sailed out and headed for the Azores some 1800 miles distant.
We started with a watch system that worked ok but which evolved into the following routine. The night was split into three 4-hour watches, 2000-0000, 0001-0400 and 0400-0800. The first and last of these had quite a lot of daylight in them. We had our evening meal at about 1930 and our breakfast we made ourselves if necessary. John, say, would take the 2000-0000 and 0400-0800 watches and then be allowed to sleep during the following morning until he woke up or was ready to get up – usually around lunchtime. Then Ann would be allowed to sleep all afternoon, building up rest before the following night when she would do the two ‘outside’ night watches. This system worked really well and neither of us got seriously tired at all. John was occasionally called from sleep to deal with some sailing matter but for the most part, fortunately, we had pretty good weather, else we might have found life rather more tiring. The night watches, especially when we were motoring, largely consisted of sitting at the chart table glancing at the radar occasionally. This warned of incoming squalls and of course the very occasional ship. Even a good visual lookout would not have seen lurking whales or containers. Of course we looked around outside frequently.
The weather was kind to us. At first we could still talk to David Jones in the BVI but increasingly Herb became ‘the man’. Our SSB was disappointingly inefficient probably due to some cabling running parallel to other wires. Thus we had increasing problems in contacting Herb. However Southern Cross was getting good contact and talked to Herb for both of us (as we were never out of VHF range of each other). Anyway it was easier for them with their ‘large’ crew to spare the time to wait for Herb to call them each evening. This was a great bonus for us and was much appreciated.
Another use of the SSB that we had set up when we were in the BVI was the ability to send and receive emails on board. The ‘Airmail’ system is a ham-only system (ie. you have to have passed the amateur radio exam - and Ann had) but once you have bought the special modem (called a Pactor) the service is free. There is a similar system called ‘Sailmail’ that costs $200 per year for which amateur status is not required. The system requires you to call up a participating ham by SSB from the boat (it’s done semi-automatically) when his radio will take your mail and send you any thing for you that is in the system. There is no talking involved. It works extremely well and it was fun and pleasurable to ‘talk’ to one’s friends and family from mid-ocean. The system had a web site that shows your yacht’s position whenever you report it in. The site can be accessed by anyone. (www.winlink.org).
Generally we had good weather en route to the Azores. I was able to deploy the cruising chute as a small spinnaker a couple of times and we often poled out the Yankee for many hours at a time. We had to beat occasionally and were unable always to keep to the Great Circle route. Indeed sometimes Herb deliberately took us away from it to allow us to find better winds.
We had expected to see lots of whales but we were disappointed. I was looking ahead one fine day and suddenly I saw a pilot whale in mid-air about 30 metres ahead. I called Ann (who was awake and up) but of course all she saw were the bubbles where the 30-foot animal had landed back in the sea. We saw many dolphins and on flat calm days we usually saw Portuguese Men of War and turtles. Ann saw whales blowing in the distance but all the other yachts in our group reported good sightings.
Southern Cross had planned on going straight to Horta on Faial in the Azores but we persuaded them to come with us to the island of Flores first – as it was sort of en route to Horta. That was an excellent decision for both of us. We arrived in the harbour anchorage of Lajes on Flores on 2 July. The crossing from Bermuda had taken 14 days, an average of 130 miles a day and 5.4 knots. Flores turned out be our favourite island of our whole time away. It is green and friendly. The harbour master even offered to let us use his machine for our laundry! The bureaucracy is still extensive in all the Azorean islands (you have to book in and out of each one) despite Portugal’s membership of the EU. But the flowers make it all amply worthwhile. The island is a mass of hydrangeas growing along the walls of fields and up the sides of the steeper slopes. These are interspersed with Cana lilies, wild roses and myriad other flowers. The islanders are all involved in cattle farming or fishing (though they have not been allowed to catch whales for many years). Our taxi driver showed us his island with great pride. After a couple of days we all went for a long walk to the north of the island that took us over some wild areas and then down along an ancient cliff path to the sea – about 10 kms in all, exercise that we badly needed after so long at sea.
After 4 days on Flores we sailed overnight the 120 miles to Faial and to the famous yacht rendezvous of Horta harbour. The marina has been extended and now lies well within the old Atlantic wall on which so many yachts had left their marks. The new wall is already, after only about 4 years, full of painted reminders of visits, and the newest section of the marina, only just opened, is already proving to be a worthy canvas for talented sailors to paint on. The locals are proud of these paintings and a section of the museum is devoted to an exhibition of them.
We were berthed alongside for the first time since Trinidad and made the most of the luxury of shore power. We were to be here for two weeks – at least one week longer than originally planned. The first days were devoted to boat maintenance – the rectification of little problems that are a nuisance rather than a danger. On the third day we all (Southern Cross and ourselves) went for a great walk that began high up on the island’s centre at the old volcano’s caldera and ended 6 hours later near the north coast. Unlike our first walk on Flores, this time we thought to take a picnic for which a couple of bottles of local wine were included. The walk went from the highest point of the island, through forests, along a mile or two of irrigation channels and over farmland. Beautiful!
The next day was my birthday (66) and we celebrated that with a wonderful dinner at a restaurant where one cooks one’s own meal on a very hot slab of lava. I cooked my prawns to perfection! That was followed by apple strudel, decorated with 11 candles, cooked for me by Lee on Southern Cross. To walk all this off we took the fast ferry to the island of Sao Jorge next day, a journey of about an hour. We hired two taxis at Velas and they carried us to the start of yet another brilliant walk from the island’s high volcanic ridge down through stunning scenery (sometimes masked by clouds) to the sea on the north coast. Yet another well-stocked and leisurely picnic was taken en route. We were tired by the time we met our taxi at the walk’s end but happily some entrepreneur had set up a small beer stall there and our spirits were soon revived prior to the spectacular ride back over the hills to Velas.
Four days of boat work and socializing followed. We visited the local botanical gardens in Horta and the small but interesting museum. We ate out at various quite good restaurants – and throughout I carried on with my painting on the jetty wall. This was not a work of art – more one of careful measurements. There were paintings by other RNIYC members on view.
We all then went for our last walk in the islands – on the island of Pico. The old volcano of Pico is across the water from Horta. One rarely sees the whole mountain as the top, the middle or the bottom is usually shrouded in cloud. Walking to the top sounded like work for younger people but we decided that following our walking practice to date we would walk DOWN the mountain.
We crossed to Pico on the ferry and took two taxis up the slope. Somehow our instructions were misinterpreted and we were taken MUCH higher than we had planned and were set down at a place where the going looked, and was, rough. We were at a height of about 1100 metres. Some of our party had the wrong sort of shoes on for this. We should have got back into the taxis and gone down a way – but we didn’t. However we all made it in the end. Two got lost. However it was a lovely walk through very varied countryside. After nearly two hours we took our picnic lunch at the point at 700 metres altitude where we should have started the walk. Close by we were able to explore a few hundred metres of Furna – tunnels created by lava that cooled to the size of large Underground Railways. We had time to visit quickly the gardens of a now demolished Quinta or country house that is being maintained by the forestry department and which was a delight to see. We all got spread out and we only JUST made it back to the port of Madelena in time to catch the ferry that prevented us having to wait there another five hours. By the time we got back to Horta we were a very tired party of walkers.
The wind blew strongly from the north over the next few days and setting out for Ireland was out of the question. We therefore went for more walks, shorter this time. We went back to Pico to explore the Quinta garden more fully and we then walked down to have dinner overlooking the sea in Madelena. Another walk was to the hills a mile or so to the north of Horta and the second was to the caldera of Mont Gaia, which lies just to the south of the town. That was on Sunday and we had a good meal that evening in the famous Peter’s Sport Bar where so many yachties have congregated to tell tales of daring-do over their beers. Peter’s unique scrimshaw museum is amazing.
The Azores to Ireland and home
That was our last evening ashore as next morning, 22 July, having been given the ‘go ahead’ by Herb, we cleared out with the authorities and set sail for Ireland, about 1200 miles away. Our original plan had been to head straight for home (Bangor marina in N.Ireland) via the north coast of Ireland. However we had managed to persuade Southern Cross that for them to go to Falmouth without having visited southwest Ireland would be a sin – no less. They gave in and we felt obliged to keep them company and to act as their guide. So we both set off on the Great Circle route to Bantry Bay.
The weather at first was mild and gentle. Up to this time we had been downloading weather faxes each day from Boston, USA, but now were in Northwood’s (UK) area. These faxes, which are obtained via the SSB radio and our trusty laptop computer, provide an essential background to safe cruising.
It is true that we were often not able to see how Herb was getting the forecast that he was giving us but we would then begin to see developing what he had noted a day or two earlier. We didn’t follow Herb blindly – we occasionally made our own decisions and Herb ‘allowed’ that we had done so, even if he then told us how to get ourselves out of the mess that we had made! On the third day out we were having a good run with the cruising chute when a large Spanish fishing boat came over to join us. An Irish voice called us on the VHF – he was an EU fishing inspector (from Bangor, NI) and had been aboard for three months with only a brief stop ashore in Nova Scotia, now on their way back to Vigo with 300 tons of fish in the hold. The poor man was longing for a talk in English and we chatted away for 30 minutes or so before the Spanish skipper dragged him away again.
The next day the weather became misty and cold and we dug out our warm clothes for the first time in earnest – although, for the last time, the cruising chute stayed up all day.
Early next morning Ann woke me to tell me that we were approaching lightning. We had a really big black cloud dead ahead of us with continuous sheet lightning amongst it and occasional flashes of fork lightning coming down to the sea. This was the only time that Ann was frightened – she has never liked lightning. She had put as much of the electronic gear into the oven as it would take – the theory is that the oven acts like a Faraday cage. Happily were able to make a slight course change and the cloud blew away to the south before we reached it - and the ‘cage’ wasn’t tested. The wind came in from the west and we decided to head north so that we could take advantage of the northerly wind that was forecast for later in the day and sure enough by late evening we were back on the rhumb line (065º mag) for Bantry Bay. By midday next day we were again being headed and we altered course to 330º mag but during the night the wind slowly ‘clocked’ (the very sensible American word for ‘veered’) around to the south and we once again headed for Ireland. The winds had been quite fresh for a couple of days and the seas bumpy (at very least!). The wind now moderated and we even used the engine for a few hours to move along.
A huge school of dolphins came bounding across the sea (“Yippee, there’s a boat we can play with!”) and they stayed around us giving us the usual delightful privilege of watching them seeming to play in the bow waves. We were also adopted for several days by what appeared to be the same pair of fulmars that skimmed along below the level of the wave tops and turned this way and that, never quite touching the moving water beneath them. Wonderful to watch. People often ask whether I don’t get bored looking at water all day every day. I answer that I never get bored as the sea is always changing as is the sky and the weather – and there is always plenty to do. I love it when I am asked, as I have been several times ‘What do you do at night?’!! Pull into a lay-by of course.
On the evening of 30 July Herb advised that we should not go east of 8º West as there was a to be a strong gale off the coast of Ireland. We were about 3 hours ahead of Southern Cross at the time so we turned back and hove-to, after dark, about a mile from our friends. We stayed like that for about 30 hours. It was a bit bumpy but not uncomfortable. In fact Herb had overstated the problem a bit and there was no gale, only strong winds. However one disregards Herb at one’s peril even if he does tend to err on the side of caution. Early on the morning of 1 August we set off again for the coast we had got within 200 miles of and the next morning we entered Bantry Bay in poor visibility, went into Pipers Sound and made our way into the harbour of Castletownbere.
This leg had taken 11 days covering an average of about 110 miles a day. We had had two days of head winds and over a day of being hove-to.
Arriving in southwest Ireland was an inspired move as it allowed us a ‘soft landing’ before going home after our two years of having the boat away. Southern Cross relished the scenery and the people they met – as did we. Over the next two weeks we visited Dunboy, Glengarriff and the gardens on Ilnacullin, Adrigole, Schull and Baltimore. From there we were invited to join the ICC southern areas buffet lunch on Clare Island and both our US friends and ourselves were made to feel most welcome there. Finally we moved on to Kinsale. The weather had been ‘mixed’ for our Irish period but the sun had shone enough to remind us just how lovely the area is when the fog isn’t hiding it all away. It was great.
From Kinsale we parted from Southern Cross leaving them to go on to Cork and then the Isles of Scilly and England while we made our way to Ballycotton for the night, and then to Kilmore Quay. We left there at night to head north to Howth where were royally entertained by friends. There was another late evening departure to catch the tide for the last leg to Bangor marina - and home to a hot bath for the first time in five months.
Ann may not have wanted to do the ocean crossing but now she had indeed done it! She had been very brave and was entitled to be well pleased with herself.
I would like to thank warmly those members who kindly lent us charts and pilot books, thus saving us much money.
For those who like statistics I estimate (our log wasn’t too accurate!) that we covered nearly 5000 miles this year and some 9000 miles since we left N.Ireland in July 2000. This year we flew 20 different courtesy flags!