Sailing to Ireland

Motoring away from the Açores in calm water

Leaving the Açores was hard. We had fallen in love with the islands, the locals, the fellow cruisers, the food, everything. And we were facing a ten day trip to Ireland that could be our most challenging trip ever. Many cruisers had reported lack of wind, with several of our friends’ boats being towed in when they ran out of diesel! Others had rough passages and rerouted to new places to ease the trip. Luckily, we had no firm plans, nobody meeting us at the other end, so we could “go where the wind blows us”.

We had studied so many weather reports from Chris Parker, FastSeas, PredictWind, Spots, Grib files, and many more sites. All reports seemed to vary slightly, but generally assure us that there would be enough, and not too much, wind to get us to Ireland. So off we went with Alexandra V, a sailboat with a Polish couple on board, not far behind us. We had compared notes and planned communication strategies with these new friends. Sailing in the company of others is always comforting.

A Green Flash for our first sunset

The first day was mellow. A light drizzle cleared away to bring bright sunshine, enough wind on the beam to sail, and the most spectacular Green Flash. If you haven’t seen one, keep watching. You need a clear horizon on the water, and a mostly cloud free sky. A bit of cloud actually helps bring out the colors and the last color as the sun disappears is green. Sometimes it is so tiny, you barely see it, while at other times it feels like someone has flicked a switch to illuminate a bright green blaze. This night, it was tiny, but clear, leading the way for a night of bright stars.

That was the end of the peace. By noon the next day, squalls arrived and the winds started playing games on us, varying from 5 to 25 knots and from northeast to west. Our wind vane, which steers the boat relative to the wind angle, had to be constantly adjusted or else our path would have been like that of a very confused drunk. The sails also required frequent tweaking. After taking down the pole, we used the genoa like a throttle, letting it fly when the winds were light, then partially furling it in as the winds picked up. The mizzen sail only needed sheeting in and out, while the main was reefed, double reefed, hoisted back up, and reefed again, as the nearby weather system flirted with our path to Ireland.

The huge waves kept us rolling along

By the third day, the parade of squalls and the variable winds continued to keep us busy. Bill tied in a third reef line so we would be prepared to make our mainsail as small as a handkerchief. Luckily, we never did sail triple reefed, but we did heave to that night for three hours. This requires us to drop all sails except our reefed mizzen and lock the wheel to steer into the wind. The mizzen drives the boat into the wind, and the rudder also tries to steer into the wind. Alembic loses all momentum as it tries to come about and falls off the wind again. Meanwhile, we get to sit back and rest, while the boat just pokes along at about one knot in a direction about 60 degrees off the wind. This is a technique many sailors use to quiet the wild boat motion down. We even know sailors who do this to make a meal, or go to the head!

Our Spot for days 4-9. Reality: double the windspeed and add a meter to the wave height.

After sailing northeast for three days, we turned to more due east to try to get south of these weather systems that were moving north of us. The trick to sailing in this part of the Atlantic is to go close enough to the low pressure systems moving generally westward to take advantage of the wind they provide, but stay enough south of them to avoid gales. While we were in no danger, and the systems were not hurricanes, we were getting tired of the strong winds and large seas.

Switching to the autopilot on the fifth day helped us steer closer to our course and prevent some of the slatting of the sails and gear. This device steers a heading on the compass, so the line is straighter, but it consumes electricity, which we always try to conserve on passages. The wind vane uses no electricity, but the large waves shove Alembic off track, and the vane struggles to stay on course, causing near gybes every few minutes. Alembic looked like a spiderweb with all of the preventers keeping the booms from gybing. When we felt we could maintain a somewhat straight course with the vane, we switched back.

I was always cold on this trip. Staying below, with ski gear on.

Spotting wild life was infrequent on this trip. The seabirds were solo and far between. Random pieces of fishing gear were spotted but too far off to pick up. Usually, we try to grab these and deliver them back to shore where fishermen can reemploy the gear instead of leaving them out here as pollution. The one whale we spotted was dead, sadly, with a gathering of small black storm petrels feasting.

Our Spot for days 6, 7, 8. Add 10 knots to column 6 and a meter to column 8

Heaving to for four hours on the sixth day gave us relief again from the relentless wind and seas. 15 to 25 knots, with gusts to 38 were the norm and the boat kept surfing up and down the twelve foot seas. We finally dropped both main and mizzen and sailed under genoa alone for the next two days while the winds varied from ten to over thirty with many squalls rolling by.

Bill has a smooth forehead
Not such a pretty stitch job
Back to sleeping on watch in his pre-fall position

The worst night was the eighth when Bill fell in the cockpit. He dosed while sitting on the port side. A wave rolled the boat, and Bill flopped over to the starboard side, hitting his head on the coaming (the seat back). A gash opened up, just above his eyebrow, requiring stitches. Maybe it was because I was sound asleep one moment and staring at a gaping hole in his head the next, but I sure confirmed that night that I would not make a great nurse. First I was freezing (yeah it was super cold), then I was having a full body sweat (did I put on too many clothes?) and the next thing I know, Bill has a mirror and he’s saying “I’ll do this myself”. Not a proud moment for me!! I gathered my wits, smeared New Skin on the gash, and watched as it opened back up like a fish mouth. Stitches seemed like a bad idea in the pitching seas, so I resorted to placing four steri stitches and more glue. This seemed to work and we called it good. I promptly sent Bill to bed and I took over in the cockpit. I certainly wasn’t going to be able to sleep after this incident! Luckily Bill has a gift and can sleep wherever and whenever!

Our ninth day was more of the same weather, with plenty of rain to add to our discomfort. The poled out genoa and mizzen kept us moving along though, so we were generally pleased with our progress. By the end of this day we began to see many boats on our AIS, giving us a lift in spirits as this surely indicated that we were closing in on LAND!

Fog came in to replace the wind on our last day. Family members placed guesses on when we would first spot land. They each picked a time that would be when we first saw a light, a mountain, a building, anything on land. They could see our progress on our inReach tracking online, so they knew exactly how many miles we were from mountain peaks and river mouths. Sadly, we actually entered the river, smelling cows and hearing voices, but never saw land! After carefully arriving with radar guiding us, we dropped our anchor in a narrow river.

And went straight to SLEEP!!

Fort Charles was our first sight of land
Alexandra V came in safely

The next morning we jumped out of bed to look out and see…..fog. Still no land. I went back below to make a pancake feast and Bill shouted “Land!” I can’t even explain the ecstasy of watching the curtain rise to reveal the most gorgeous sight: Fort Charles and glorious Kinsale Ireland and our friends on Alexandra V motoring by. We had arrived safely and on schedule, with full tanks of diesel, no damage to Alembic, and only a small healing wound. Phew, time to thank the Angels.

Now that the fog lifted, we motored in to town

Three More Weeks of the Açores

We have decided that the Açores is officially our favorite cruising area. The people, wine, cheese, topography, weather, and cost add up to the best of the best. Here is a photo journal of four of the nine islands.
Horta on Faial:

Here is our marina from the plane

Alembic sandwiched between a British and French boat
Gorgeous natural cove
Hiking out a peninsula
A band outside
A band inside
Getting a tooth repaired

Bill’s design for Alembic

Twenty miles east is Velas on São Jorge:
The Matador excites the bull at the bull fight

Two Teams, one from Portugal, one from California, parade around at the start
The Cavaleiros is ready
The Portuguese Team gives a gift
The forcados tame the bull with their hands
Creeping to the edge for a picture below
Looking straight down gives you the butterflies
The cliff from the side

Bill stands away from the edge
Hydrangeas are everywhere

An awesome surf camp
This person must have been tiny!
Mamas tending their young
The farmer’s home
Beachside huts
Another ornate church

Alembic is the fifth one down the line

Another 52 miles east is Angra do Heroismo on Terceira:
A spectacular waterfall

The succulents are Huge!
Bouganvillea Archway
This fern stood like a palm tree
We stayed in the anchorage
Old fashioned dancers
This church had many functions over the years, one being a hospital

The marina was full; we are the one on the right
Blue Yonder and Alembic shared many harbors together

David and Marilyn of Blue Yonder
Our favorite Tea spot shaded on the sidewalk
The Madona led a parade while we were in Terceira
The cathedral artifacts survived an earthquake and a fire

Whaleboat race

The cliffs make a nice backdrop
We head to the Corrida a Corda (running by rope)

This bull is on a rope held by 6 men
They push the poor thing over the wall
He comes out unharmed, ready to charge
Back on Alembic for more projects
Exploring Algar do Carvão, a lava tube
Amazing roof of cave
Volcanic vent
Enormous Cathedral

Anchored beside us was Pinocchio, a Canadian family with seven children sailing the world

Saying Goodbye to Blue Yonder, who we have traveled with since Bermuda

One Hundred Miles southeast is Ponta Delgada on São Miguel:

Jenny and Simon on Fenicia

Bill and Laurie from Toodle-Oo
An Italian training ship Amerigo Vespucci lit up beside us
silly art
More Churches
Horseback in the rain

A natural Hot Spring
My hydrangea garden home

Bill’s tiny stone house
Practicing snuggling an infant
A delightful Polish family was on a boat beside Alembic
Bill helped on Flying
Flying’s spreaders needed to come down for replacement
Captain David and his son Albert helped from below
Saying Goodbye to the Açores

Grandbaby Shower in Maine

Goodbye Azores

Fly home to Maine from the Azores?? Before the baby is even born?? Yes. Kenny and Jenna were having a Baby Shower and many family members were coming. How often do I get to see all three of my children together? And how often does my Mom come to Maine? Nieces, nephews, brother, brother-in-law, wives, sisters-in-law…they all were coming. Bill knew it was killing me to imagine not being there, and we both feel strongly that we have to make every effort to stay close with family. So off I went, leaving Bill to take care of Alembic.
Horta is no place to leave a boat unattended. Shifts in weather and the arrival of large ships resulted in urgent relocations of Alembic. The anchorage and the wall each had advantages and disadvantages, depending on the day. Luckily, we had plenty of friends in the harbor to assist Bill with moving Alembic a few times while I was away.

Kenny and Jenna prepping for parenthood

So, off I flew to Maine, arriving just a few days before the party. Jenna looked amazing. She is doing absolutely everything right. Between her active job, and her involvement at a fitness studio, Jenna could be the photo model and the exercise coach for all pregnant moms. I remember fondly indulging frequently in my constant hunger while pregnant and succumbing to tent-like outfits. Quite the contrary, Jenna manages to eat in a healthy manner and dress stylishly at all times.

Jenna’s first cake
Erica helps Karen with the watermelon

Karen, Jenna’s mom, had organized everything. Food was coming in with many guests, borrowed middle school tents were already in the garage, and all the supplies were stuffed in the back of her car. I figured out a few items to add to the food list, pushed the vacuum around the already immaculate home, and enjoyed my time visiting with Kenny and Jenna and a few friends.

Da boys

Cathy, my dearest friend, came to York for a visit, and Mel was available for a wonderful get together as well.

I always enjoy time with Mel

More visits would have to wait for a longer stay. I was reveling in family and getting ready for the party!

Dave, Lindsay, and Erica

Lindsay, David, and Erica arrived to help us set up the tents and arrange the food to prepare for the large number of guests. Those tents came in handy, as the day heated up to near 100 degrees. Watching the kids in the kiddie pool was a treat as well as a preview of this yard when the baby arrives and begins to fill the space with adorable energy.

KBear practicing

We all had a great time throughout the day, especially with so many family members and then late into the night around the fire pit with those who lingered on.

Catching up with Lindsay

I was too busy socializing, and didn’t take any pictures. Now I regret that. But the conversations with everyone filled my heart while I managed to catch up with many people I hadn’t seen in a while.

My daughters. Can’t get enough

The next day was another scorcher so we went off for a boat ride. Kenny and Jenna have inherited our much loved Happy Ours (so well named, as the whole family just loves this 19 foot MaritimeSkiff) and jumped in the freezing Maine ocean. Too cold to swim, and too bumpy for Jenna to stay out there too long, we came back and had ice cream and cold drinks to finish off our play.

Cool refreshments

This visit home was too short, as expected, but a perfect snapshot for me to experience Kenny and Jenna preparing for parenthood, and for me to touch base with them and a bunch of other loved ones. I’m so grateful for every moment I can have with those who fill my heart.

The baby is now overdue!

PS I am posting this two months after the events and the baby still hasn’t arrived! The due date was last week!