Leaving the Azores … not so fast!

Update October 4,2018

It is 6:30 am and I can’t sleep. I have been laying awake thinking about the “to do list” that has gone through one of those sudden growth spurts recently.

We are currently at the island of Santa Maria. The oldest and last Island we will visit in the Azores. Our stop here was unplanned. Although we really wanted to visit Santa Maria, we had decided that the weather was changing and we really needed to start moving south to the Madeira Islands. Once the summer ends the Azores high pressure system (and good weather) starts to become much more erratic and low pressure systems, or sub-tropical storms and even hurricanes start to become part of the weather mix. So we decided on September 30th, it was time to head for the Madeira’s.

The weather was not ideal, but it looked stable and good…..we would just have to leave visiting the last island of Santa Maria for a future trip.

The departure from Sao Miguel was perfect, a beautiful warm night and good sailing in 15 knot winds from the NE. Our plan was to get as far east as possible before gradually turning south as the winds changed to the east over the next 48 hours. Then it would be a nice sail to the Madeira’s reaching, or broad reaching in 15-20 knot easterlies for the balance of the 3.5 day voyage.

Did I say something about weather being more erratic as summer ends? Oh! yah…I do remember mentioning something about that.

The predicted north easterlies lasted only 16 hours (not 36-48) before they started to change to easterlies and the light showers and scattered clouds changed to massive squall cells that were some of the largest I have seen. They rivalled the big squall lines we have encountered when crossing the Gulf Stream. Experience says give these big guys a lot of respect, so our first night was spent watching radar and adjusting our course to sail around these massive squalls. The largest one measured almost 20 nmi. long and 10 nmi. wide on radar. That’s 37×18 km for our Canadian friends. About half the size of Calgary, and that is just the size of the rain footprint that radar can see. It does not include the wind apron around it that is the result of all that downward air flow and lateral motion as it hits sea level. Anyway, figuring out how much Oh! could alter course, still sail, and get around these moving, menacing and morphing yellow blobs kept the night shift interesting. From a positive view, they can be really spectacular when the lightening bolts light up a cloud in the dark of night. If have ever wondered what 3M stood for in sailing, it clearly stands for; moving, menacing and morphing squall behaviour.

Over the next 12 hours Oh! dodged about half a dozen of these 3M blobs in varying sizes until we met the big guy later in the afternoon…and he just wasn’t really negotiable. Just as the winds and waves were getting lively, Diane poked her head up from her too short sleep and said, “do you need some help?”…the response was “yah you should probably come up”. It was about 5 pm in the afternoon. We talked about the 3M blob and decided the prudent thing to do was to change course for…England. Tack completed, the Madeira’s and the 3M blob in the rear view mirror we settled in for a bumpy couple hour detour on a starboard tack.

Ugh no! That was not to be. The brand new ( well 7 month old) starboard inner shroud failed with a shotgun like bang as it broke and fell to the deck. The winds were only 17-19 knots at the time. That was now our second inner shroud failure on our new standing rigging (the port shroud failed just 24 hours before arriving in the the Azores on July 22nd). They both were the result of the Navtec T-Hooks breaking at the mast connection.

It really isn’t the kind of thing I like to deal with when I am trying to maneuver away from one of the biggest 3M blobs I have seen. Plus coming into the wind to drop the sails means … pointing directly at Mr. 3M. It took about 10 minutes to get the engines started, get the sails down and furled, and retrieve and secure the broken shroud in the choppy seas. That was just enough time for the edge of light rain to get to us…it is really surprising just how fast squalls move. We were now converted to a powercat.

The next 4 hours were spent motoring through the evening into 20-24 knot winds, choppy seas, intermittent rain and generally being uncomfortable. We first tried to get around the 3M blob, then finally gave up and just powered through a small, less intense section. The only really threatening part was the potential for lightening. Fortunately, from our observations this particularly large squall was not electrically wired, at least not where we were. The weather was not particularly nice, but there were some side benefits. We had a surprise visit from a little bird who took shelter in Oh! from the squalls. Our little friend spent about an hour and a half slowly exploring Oh!’s interior and resting before leaving us. The little bird wasn’t shy and was happy to let us take pictures and observe it.

Once through the blob we set course once again for the Madeiras. The question was, “what do we do?”. Attempt to motor the remaining 360 nmi. or do we try to jury rig a new shroud so we could put up a third reefed main and get the shroud repaired in the Madeira’s? Calculations of range and estimated remaining fuel said we could make it to Madeira islands on our remaining fuel if, we alternated engines and could average 4 knots. However, over the past 24 hours of motoring into the 20-26 knot winds we had averaged just over 2 knots and the seas were too rough and choppy to want to go up the mast to the spreaders to try and rig a temporary shroud. A few emails to Mid Atlantic Yacht Services (who replaced the port shroud) gave us a third option: motor to Santa Maria and get a new shroud shipped there. It was only 160 nmi away and we had plenty of fuel to make that journey.

At 5 pm, 24 hours after the initial break, the decision was made and we changed course 180 degrees to now run down wind to Vila do Porto, Santa Maria. Our speed over ground (SOG) instantly tripled and our ride went from washing machine on agitate, to big smooth rolling waves – what a welcome change!

The bonus was, we would get to see Santa Maria and Mid Atlantic Yacht Services could get us a new shroud within 3 days once we got the old one to them.

Fortunately, Santa Maria has a good harbour, marina and airport with twice daily flights to Ponta Delgada and on to Horta where Mid Atlantic Yacht Services are based. No more 3M blobs to deal with, just a “to do list” on a growth spurt!

Oh! Joy!

To be cont’d

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