Açores Pursuit Rally

Rallies are fabulous opportunities for sailors to enjoy the camaraderie of a passage and share the enjoyment of a new place. This rally, the Azores Pursuit Rally, organized by the OCC (Ocean Cruising Club), was unusual, as it had no specific starting place. Unlike most rallies, it was a bit of a race, with an ending spot and time. You “won” if you crossed the line at the Horta harbor entrance at exactly noon on July 18th. Some of the rules included having traveled at least 500 miles, and using no engine power for the last hour. Since we all had traveled so far, the timing of the endpoint was hard to pin down, resulting in many boats arriving days, even weeks, in advance, and some boats arriving days late or not even making it all. At least one boat turned around due to lack of wind and flew to Horta instead!

We came to Peter Café Sport soon after landing
The peak of Pico was our daily delight
Tie up on the wall was crowded!

We arrived two days early, and chose to take a berth on the wall rather than wander around in the ocean for the proper arrival time. This gave us a chance to clear customs, find the Peter Café Sport (where much of the Rally would take place), hang our fathers’ day flags, go for a swim, do laundry, explore the town, and rest before the festivities began.

We hung our Father’s Day flags. One letter for each of us
A local concert with children and senior citizens
Fabulous tile work on all the sidewalks
The crazy winds here caused this shape!

And what festivities! A full five days of dining, biking, hiking, busing, whale watching, and making new friends was organized to fill each day.

I carried the Rally flag to welcome the Rally boats arriving just on time

We cheered the boats coming across the finish line at the proper time and feasted on a classic Azores BBQ at a castle the first day.

Traditional Roast
9 new OCC members. 1000 mile sailing requirement was met

The second day we all worked on our paintings on the wall

Our last boat was Wings and my Dad’s name is Gus. This gave me goosebumps
A fabulous story here
A sad outcome for this boat after it sailed away from the Açores

before enjoying a special dinner at Peter Café Sport.

José’s hospitality here continued all week and beyond

The third day we rode bikes down from a volcano, all the way back into Horta.

1Biking downhill is easy
This fern was gigantic
Horses and cows mingling
Another fabulous church
Mossy home
A few of our marina from afar
Cutie
Windmills now have no paddles
Part of our bike group. Blue Yonder and Indulgence

The fourth day was a ferry ride to the nearby island of Pico and a hike to the top. This is the highest point in all of Portugal, and quite challenging, so many chose to stay on the bus and enjoy a tour of the island instead. A fancy dinner was a lovely conclusion to this day. The final day was an exciting whale watching tour.

Our whale watch boat

We saw many breaching whales and came close enough to feel like they were playing with us. On the return trip, we entered some caves where birds nested. For our last evening, there was a grand dinner at an elegant club and prizes for all sorts of reasons were delivered to great rounds of applause.

Our final dinner with the large crowd of participants in the OCC rally

Final speeches were delivered to thank all of the people who pulled this large group together so thoughtfully. José Azevedo, the proprietor of Peter Café Sport, was properly thanked for his tireless hours of organization (and reorganization when things went haywire!) and his generosity with many meals, tours, gifts, and time. Jenny Crickmore Thompson was also thanked for her excellent leadership from the initial organization, through the final festivities.
When the rally was over, we remained in Horta for another hike up Pico

Soccer players on the ferry
A view from the top of Pico
Our hiking companions Bill and Laurie from Toodle Oo

, more exploration of the welcoming town, and the final touches on our painting on the wall.

It’s awkward to paint at this spot
Bill’s Mom, the artist, would be proud of his design

We also helped a rally member sew his torn genoa.

Taping the long tear
It took the three of us to jam it through my machine!

The local sailmaker was so busy with repairs from the many arriving boats, causing the queue to be many weeks! This particular captain was in a hurry to get to the UK to visit his mom who was unwell. How could I refuse to help him??
We bid farewell to many boats who left, and were grateful that we were not in a hurry to depart.

One of our favorite boats and crew!

I had a flight home to Maine in a few days, so Bill was lucky enough to enjoy Horta for another week. I half wondered if he would purchase real estate here; we could see calling this fabulous island our second home.

The view from the home

Sailing From Bermuda to the Açores

Note how we are always tethered!

We left Bermuda on Saturday evening, June 2, soon after saying tearful goodbyes to Lindsay, Anne, and Sarah. Most of our buddies in the harbor had left earlier this day and the day before. We would be out there with Antares, L’Aventura, Camomile, and Blue Yonder (all bound for Horta with the Açores Pursuit Rally), as well as Tigger (a large catamaran) and Calcutta (with our Russian friend Igor aboard). Even though we couldn’t see these boats, we found comfort knowing that they were close by.

I think Liz read 9 books!

Overall, the sailing was perfect. The trip was 13 and a half days, four of which we had to motor. The highest wind we recorded was only 30 knots, and that was in a brief squall. We had plenty of company for this trip, sailing beside Blue Yonder for many days and in company with others with whom we checked in with every day on the single side band radio.

Navigating and using the SSB radio
We never realized that squid jumped aboard too

Also keeping us company were hundreds of birds, whales who gave us a show of breaching one day and a parade of welcome as we entered Horta, jumping schools of large fish, and endless viewings of Portuguese Man-o-War. These Man-o-war are spectacular to watch. Displays of purple and pink iridescent membranes rise above the water as if sailing, while their tentacles stream up to 160 feet behind.

Liz just chillin

Our only gear failure was the roller furling bushing which fell out after two days at sea. Luckily, we found this on the deck before it washed overboard. The roller furling genoa still operates without this bushing, but we have no idea what type of damage we would have sustained if we carried on sailing without it. We dropped the genoa on deck and tried in vain to jam the bushings back into the drum while the boat pitched around in a large sea. We raised the sail again, rolled it in partially to lessen the load and carried on. When the seas lessened a few days later, Bill cut the bushings in half, dropped the genoa on deck again, and managed to wedge them into place. We decided to wait until we arrived in Horta to drop the genoa and the headstay to properly insert the spare bushings.

Liz had the vee berth, but found the main cabin more comfortable
Helen’s nest in the aft cabin
Calm enough to chop veggies again

Perhaps the best statistics of all were that no one got seasick on this passage! We can’t say the same for the trip to Bermuda. For our sailing friends who are always looking for the sailing statistics, here is a day by day journal synopsis:

Beautiful sunset

Saturday night was a strong downwind sail after a gorgeous sunset. Jib n jigger (Genoa and mizzen).
Sunday was excellent sailing downwind with reefed main and mizzen and the poled out genoa.

Quiz: What are the nautical names for all of these nine different lines?

Monday morning the winds died and we motored with our main and mizzen sails hanging limply.
Monday by noon the winds picked up and we were sailing again with genoa, main and mizzen.
Monday evening we found the bushings to our roller furling on deck. They had fallen out!
Tuesday winds and seas built and we were back to a reefed main and poled out genoa.

Raising our gennaker

Wednesday the winds lightened again, and we raised the gennaker. By evening, the wind was on the beam and we enjoyed an excellent sail.

I was the lucky one to get doused during the squall

Thursday we had a squall with lightening so we doused the genoa and put all electronics in the microwave. By noon the winds were excellent again for a nice beam reach. Fifth ship.

Dolphins!

Dolphins!

First Satellite call ever. Bill asks George to book a flight for me to Maine
Drying our foulies

Friday we motorsailed all day
Saturday we motorsailed till 4 pm then sailed with reefed main, mizzen and poled out genoa. Blue Yonder is 30 nm north.

Bill enjoys a peaceful turn on watch

Sunday we got as close as 2 nm to Blue Yonder, so we gybed the main, went wing and wing for a bit to give them more space. It’s getting cold! Gybed downwind to stay on course. Dead downwind is too hard on the gear with the rolly seas and banging sails.
Monday was an excellent speed day (168nm). We saw whales breaching, our 8th ship, and lots of birds.
Tuesday we had strong winds and excellent speed, but also more spray with the 30 knot gusts. Tenth ship
Wednesday winds were a little lighter but the seas didn’t abate. We saw fishing gear and almost a green flash.
Thursday winds were still lighter. We spotted dolphins, turtles, and many fish jumping (Tuna?)
Friday we motor sailed all day in light winds. Land Ho! Pico could be seen at 9pm 90nm away!

Liz is capturing the sunrise
Raising the Q flag

Saturday we came through the breakwater at 9am after being escorted by a parade of small whales.

Whale parade lead us in to Horta
Horta!
Peter’s Logo on the hill
Alembic is sailing in in very light air
Dwarfed by the cliffs
At the finish line two days early

Bermuda

Alembic rests in St George Harbor Bermuda

Finally, we are off! So many projects, charts, guidebooks, equipment, spares, and provisions. Bill and I have spent oodles of time planning and preparing for our transatlantic crossing; you might think we were traveling to the moon. But, as they say: “Better safe than sorry”. We felt ready.
Liz Riley joined us and felt ready too. This was her first offshore passage, and she arrived the previous day, so she may not have known what ready means! What a brave young lady to hop aboard a sailboat and commit to this adventure.

No wonder we held so well through all those strong winds!

First task was to raise the anchor. Simple. We’ve done this countless times before. So why was it so hard this time? Was someone trying to keep us here??? NO! Our anchor snagged a huge fisherman anchor and the windlass (winch for the anchor) struggled to bring up the weight of BOTH anchors. With our anchor aboard, and the fisherman back on the bottom, we maneuvered over to the nearby dock for final fuel, water, and food supplies.

A gorgeous sunset the first day out

We always carefully watch the weather and consult our weather expert, Chris Parker, before departing for any trip. The winds and seas were running strong lately and there was no sign of the tradewinds abating, so we headed off, knowing that the first few days would be a wild ride, with no storms in sight.

Liz chillin on her watch

Alembic can handle much more than the three of us. Twenty-five knots of wind, with gusts into the thirties, and the ten foot seas to match, were typical tradewinds, allowing us to sail at top speeds, but we chose to run with only a tiny headsail and double reefed main to keep the spray and boat motion to a minimum. These conditions continued for three days, making it hard to cook, eat, sleep, or even maneuver about the boat. We all managed in our own ways and remained optimistic about our excellent progress toward Bermuda.

Bill is checking the water intake. Some seaweed must have gotten in there

Finally, the conditions lightened as we exited the trade wind belt, granting us more comfort. By the fifth night, the wind fell to below ten knots and we switched on the iron jib (motor).

Passing Igor a chart

At dawn the next morning, while still motoring, we heard “Sailboat, me sailboat too” on the VHF. Sure enough, the rising sun revealed a sailboat nearby. We motored over to the boat and met Igor, a Russian sailor who claimed he had no charts or functioning motor. Being eighty miles to the harbor, we knew we couldn’t tow Igor, but we could offer charts. He had three sails up and was moving along nicely, albeit slowly. I tore a page out of our new book, which gave details of the depths and buoys to enter St George’s Harbor, and passed this over to our new friend. We promised to alert the Bermuda locals, and assist him when he made it to the entrance.
Our arrival was simple, even though it was well past sundown. Usually we don’t enter harbors at night, but we had been here in November and remembered the easy access to the customs dock. Clearing customs was quick, so we were on to our anchorage within twenty minutes for a quick toast to our arrival, and then immediately to bed for a blissful night of sleep.

Staffan!

Seeing Staffan the next day was a highlight of our arrival. We had sailed with him and his lovely wife Kikki for many months two years ago. Kikki had flown home to Sweden, so we didn’t get to see her, unfortunately.

We arrived a day before Bermuda Day. Parades meandered all over downtown

Bermuda Races
A lovely day at Hannah and Capt Paddy’s home on Trunk Island
Finally, the girls arrive!

Lindsay (our daughter), Sarah (our niece), and Anne (Bill’s sister) flew in a few days later for a few days of hilarious entertainment. I think Anne’s incentive was to be the last human to see her brother alive, knowing he would soon be sailing much further east, but was pleasantly surprised to witness the preparedness of both the crew and the boat. With her fears alleviated, we proceeded to frolic around Bermuda.

Just after we all jumped off the cliff

In the 4 short days of togetherness, we managed to sail, ride buses, jump off cliffs, dine outdoors, and visit a few beaches.

Annie has learned that Alembic is a seaworthy vessel
Bill sharing the outline of the novel he is writing!
Taking a seat
Enjoying a fancy lunch
Rum Punches at the beach

Sharing our landfalls with family is definitely the most special aspect of our travels. I look forward to having more family visits in foreign lands. Tears were shed when we parted ways, the ladies off to the airport, and Alembic off to sea. Açores, this time.