Message Log Archive:
No 4: Lagos to the Canaries - October 3rd to November 3rd 2005
3 rd-10 th Oct Lagos
Although we have continued to work on the boat we are essentially filling time while we wait for better weather. Actually the weather here in Lagos has been very good until the last few days when we’ve had overcast and now thundery conditions. Our problem though is the wind off the coast of Africa . Ideally and high pressure over the Azores (islands in mid Atlantic ) and low pressure over Africa create a nice breeze to blow us south to the Canaries. However, all the autumnal depressions (low pressures) which have been pasting UK recently have generated a couple of related disturbances which are heading down towards us and canceling or reversing this favourable breeze (see weather pages of this site). This happens but not so often this early in the year.
“From June to September the Portuguese trades usually provide excellent sailing conditions along this route. In May and October the winds are less constant, although their direction continues to be predominantly northerly.”(Jimmy Cornell)
Unfortunately for us the door slammed shut at on the last day of Sep. and we didn’t expect that. Now we need to wait until the odds start to work in our favour and the “predominantly northerly” winds return.
So we’re sitting here on the blocks waiting to cast off when the weather improves.
12 October 2005
Vince, Eric, Susan and Us
The weather has been very stormy and changeable recently. Monday we rigged the awning (canvas tent running from mast to back of boat) for the first time between cloudbursts and have not looked back. Tuesday morning around 0400 the weather went crazy. The following morning the Met Office charts revealed that “Tropical Storm Vince” had passed right over us. Tropical Storm! This can’t be right! These are just one step off a hurricane. We didn’t expect to be dodging hurricanes off the coast of Portugal ! On further investigation we discovered that Vince was extremely unusual. Starting, as it did, between the Azores and Canaries and moving directly towards Portugal was a first in more than 30yrs.
As a form of comfort in these unpredictable times I’ve taken to re-reading the Eric and Susan Hiscock’s account of their circumnavigation on a 30’ yacht in 1952 - ‘Around the World in Wanderer III’. The Hiscocks were one of the great pioneers of small yacht voyaging in the post-war years and they were a source of inspiration during the planning of this trip. They make everything sound rather straightforward and fun and it is interesting to compare their approach to sailing all those years ago with us today. While we drown in Grib files, Weatherfax, and satellite images they just popped their head out the hatchway, licked a finger, held it in the air and set off; Susan rustling up a soufflé shortly after clearing the breakwater. Sometimes they got blasted but generally it went ok and they lived to tell their tales. It seems we’re going to spend hours deliberating over the forecasts and probably have the same results. Maybe we should all have a bit of Eric and Susan in us. Nat’s not so sure about the whole soufflé thing though.
Received 3rd November
Leaving Lagos and the Passage to the Canaries
The last week in Lagos was quite tense, broken only by the occasional walk down the beautiful coast.
We had delayed our departure several times through bad weather and we began to believe we would never leave. In retrospect we planned our passage very well - we developed a good system for tracking and analysing the forecasts, we gathered information on alternative ports, we carried extra diesel and our departure time and date gave us a better passage than many others - but at the time, as we watched other boats come and go, we started to believe that the weather was ok and we had lost our nerve.
We eventually departed in company with “Blue Iguana” and “Belmore” on Thursday 20th October at 1230ut into a northwesterly wind and a lumpy confused sea.
Given that the wind was forecast to back to the southwest for a time before settling to a favourable northeasterly we headed out west in the hope of gaining enough room to be able to sail this headwind when it arrived. Not unlike our departure from Falmouth to cross Biscay the awkward cross sea and overcast sky mixed with our apprehension at this long passage soon challenged our stomachs. Nat was unwell and I limited my queasy visits to the chart table and galley as much as possible. It would be difficult to make a cheese sandwich any faster than I did on that first day! Around midnight we had some anxious moments as we tried to cross a 20 mile long convoy of large ships heading for Gibraltar – after an hour we finally found a gap in the traffic and raced across.
Friday was spent either motoring or sailing in reduced wind and although the sea remained confused we settled into the routine of the boat and felt much better.
On Saturday the headwind arrived and we found ourselves sailing slowly in the wrong direction - towards Africa. Around this time we noticed that the propeller shaft was rattling and letting in water, and we got a weather forecast detailing a storm due to hit the Canaries in only four days time. For a short while, the problems seemed insurmountable and we dreamed of a little house in Stamford with a fire and a bath. But then, just as the things seemed at their worst, the sails filled, the boat stiffened, and the wind veered allowing us to make a better course. We started to smile. Before long the wind was behind us and we worked hard to spread out a large area of sail. Free Spirit accelerated pushing through the waves with determination. Our new speed promised an arrival before the storm and closer inspection of the prop shaft suggested, with regular observation, it could wait. As the hours passed, and we realised that this fair wind was here to stay, we left our doubts and worries behind and looked ahead to the horizon and to our next landfall.
The remainder of the trip we settled into a pleasant routine. Our watch system split the night into two parts with me covering 2200-0200 and Nat awake 0200-0600. During the day I watched from 0700-1300 and Nat from 1400-2000. Between these periods were times for us to enjoy meals together.
Since the second day we had spoken to Nick and Ellen on “Kika” over the radio twice daily. They were heading from Gibralter to the Canaries at the same time and our chats were always fun. During our night watches I danced around cockpit while listening to loud music through the headphones of Nat’s Ipod and gazing at the millions of stars overhead. The shooting stars were breathtaking as they left a trail from one side of the sky to the other. During the day we tended the sails, read and watched birds fly past skimming the waves.
At dawn on the fifth day land appeared out of the haze: the Canaries!
The wind died and we motored the last few hours into the small harbour of Caleta del Sebo on the island of Graciosa , arriving at 1300ut – exactly five days after our departure from Portugal .
The following table captures the individual daily position reports provided during the passage detailed above
25th October 1725
We arrived in this unique little town on the moonscape of Graciousa around 1300ut. It's hot here in this ramshakle marina which nobody got around to completing. Soon we are out to celebrate our arrival with KIKA - then SLEEP. Posn 29deg 13.7N 013deg 30.2W
25th October 0900
Land sighted! After almost 5 days at sea we raised the Canaries this morning at first light. We are celebrating with beans on toast. The wind has dropped though and I feel that we shall be watching the islands from a distance for a while yet. ETA 1400. Heading for the little island of Graciosa to the north of Lanzarote. We will stay here for a short while with KIKA. Bit tired now but otherwise it's all good. Posn at 0800nut 29deg 28'N 013deg 11'W
24th October 1930
A good days sailing for both ourselves and KIKA; they are about 15 miles away and we chat on ssb twice daily. Watch system going well. Watching approach of awful weather north of us and glad we set off when we did.
23rd October 2050
The wind came good as forecast. We've been sailing well since around 0900 when we hoisted cruising chute and poled out genoa on opposite sides. This with 0.5 knots fair current gave us good speed even in the lulls. Just before dark we lost chute and hoisted poled staysail to slow the boat and make it easier to handle through the night. Nat spotted some crazy dolphins which leapt through the air backwards. just finished dinner of lentil, pot and cauli curry with rice.
22nd October 2230:
The wind veered eventually and we could sail our course again but now it's eased and we are motorsailing. Very clear night. Quite close KIKA now, we've been chatting twice daily on SSB. Trouble sending email earlier so as always don't worry if messages stop for a while. Posn at 2030ut 33deg23.5N 009deg59.1W.
22nd October 1134:
Sailing close hauled in light winds since 0200. The accumulated fatigue mixed with the quiet of sailing gave us both some good hours of sleep. Still sailing although now headed by SW wind and heading south. Waiting for the forecast northerlies.
21st October 2036:
Motoring into light SW wind. Sea has smoothed out nicely.
|21st October 0518:
Sailed until midnight. Now motoring into W-SW3. Posn at 0518UT 36deg 00.6N 009deg 30.0W. All well. Settling into routine nicely.
|20th October 1830 :
Left Lagos 1330 with Blue Iguana (40') and Belmore (26'). Current Posn 36deg 46.0N 008deg 56.7W
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