Thursday, July 7, 2011

Crossing

Ok, a quick update. We arrived in Horta a couple of days ago and it has been go-go ever since with clean-up from the trip, getting through customs, buying replacements for parts that broke, getting 200 pounds of laundry to the cleaners, sorting out left-over food, and a dozen other details.

All that by way of apology for not having made contact with all of our friends and family yet.

So, I have just about 15 minutes here to enter a few words before we have to head off again.

If you followed the trip on the tracking site, you probably saw that we had a calm departure from Rhode Island. Too calm, in fact. We lollygagged for about two days. The next phase of the trip was a series of "Fresh Breezes" and gales. The first Fresh Breeze being about 20 to 25 knots of wind, followed a few days later by a gale with sustained winds of 30 knots and gusts to 35 with waves from 3 to 4 meters. (9-12 feet) And the third Fresh Breeze was 25 knots sustained and gusts to 30 knots.

The last one helped us along quite a bit. During that one, we were doing six knots of boat speed, but we were in a strong part of the Gulf Stream and so we had an extra two knots of current, giving us a total of 8 knots "over land." During that blow, we had two of our record days, doing about 160 nautical miles each day. Otherwise our average was exactly what I had expected it to be, which was about 100 mile days.

The forces on a boat out to sea are tremendous and almost unimaginable. It is as if a giant hand picks the boat up like a five-year-old would pick up a toy car and shove it backward and forward on the floor, going "Brrrmmm, Brrrrrmmm!" The boat slams back and forth in heavier weather and drawers slide open, pots crash in their cubbies, the entire shelf of books cascaded down onto to floor, your body is slide or tossed from one side to another, and trying to open the door to the head is a dangerous operation, let alone trying to pull your pants down and trying to end up on the toilet. It's a bit like trying to land the space shuttle in a driveway. You're lucky if you get anywhere close.

And after every blow, we would discover the various pieces of equipment that had been bent or broken or disappeared overboard. Heavy duty shackles would come undone and bend apart. The halyard which holds the mainsail up almost chafed completely through. Thank god, it held on and didn't rip apart during the storm. Our reefing line (which is used to shorten the mainsail during heavier winds) chafed halfway through. Everyday we would do rounds on the boat to see what might be coming undone.

And we had to do the repairs. Replace the broken or missing parts; re-splice new shackles onto the halyards, stitch chafing guards into various places.

Other repairs too: The belt on the engine chewed up in the first week. I replace that.

The bilge pump was going on much too often, and we searched and searched for where water was coming from. Never really found it, but after three weeks, we found that it only happened during rougher weather, so I'm not too worried about a leak in the boat. We might just take more water over the bow than we think and the water enters through the anchor chain pipes.

The batteries wouldn't hold a charge very well during the last half of the trip and so we began to turn everything off (like the GPS) and sail just by hand steering or with our windvane (Monitor) steering system which doesn't use electricity and by night we would simply watch for lights instead of using AIS or radar.

The water coming from the tank began spitting out algae. I will need to open the water tank and do a thorough cleaning once we get to Europe. But in the meantime, we used the tank for doing dishes and used our bottled water for drinking.

But those are just all the normal aspects to an ocean passage. Nothing uncommon or even too troublesome. When we live on land, we have all these issues too, except we simply bring our car to the repair guy, or we call the electrician or the plumber.

On a boat, YOU become the repair guy, the electrician and the plumber.

Oh yeah. I was the plumber. And what do you call the plumber for? To fix your toilet when it won't flush any more. Our head was getting more and more troublesome. It took more and more effort to flush. And finally it wouldn't flush anymore. I was the lucky one who final deposit wouldn't go down. Actually I WAS lucky because it was up to me to fix it, and I was glad that if I had to get right down to the nasty, it was MY nasty and not someone else's.

So I spend a half-hour to simple get a few tools and the replacement gasket. Because on a boat, you have to open a cupboard, take out five boxes to get to the one tool box you want, then put everything back in a way that it would fly around while you are using it; and after you use it, re-arrange everything again. Anyway, in lumpy seas, I had to rebuild the head, open up the deposit-plugged pipe that was clogged, muck out the faulty rubber valve V-E-R-Y carefully, and insert the replacement valve, and re-assemble.

Our policy on board during the trip was to keep all trash that was plastic and non-biodegradeable, and to throw overboard: glass, metal, paper, and food. When it came to this faulty rubber valve that was now, um…. dirty, I violated our policy and V-E-R-Y carefully walked it up to the cockpit and begged Neptune's forgiveness as I committed it to the sea.

Now, that is all the drama just because drama makes a good story. They were minor annoyances to an otherwise fabulous trip. Almost every day we had dolphins visit us and play around our boat and dive around our bowsprit. The last night was amazing: it was pitchdark and the dolphins were shooting through the black water, which lit up with bioluminescence. So it was like seeing fireworks under the water with darting curvy lines of green-white shoots of light.

Flying fish were spotted and one day a squid washed onto the deck with a wave. About the size of a middle finger but with disproportionately large eyes about the size of your fingernail. We saw birds the entire time, thousands of miles from shore. A shark fin here and there. Endless shooting stars. Several times we saw the humps of whales pass by.

Scott, (aka Young Master Boyd) saw a sea turtle one day. He also saw an albino Dolphin. Scott became known as The Spotter because he saw more things than any of us. He was the first to spot land. (The island of Corvo.)

Carol was our master sail trimmer. She could squeeze four knots of boat speed our of less than ten knots of wind. She was also the main nourisher. While us other three would scrounge for nuts and chips one more time, she was the one to put on a pot of real food and take remnants of this and that and presto: we had a salad.

Joseph was our ever vigilant first mate, doing rounds every day to check shackles, ensuring the dinghy was still tied fast, inspecting for chafe. And more than once, was on the foredeck in 20 knots and rolling seas, reefing a sail, or trying to tame a flogging sail, or all the way out on the bowsprit while it dipped up and and down into the sea, fixing the wraps around the roller furling.

Once, on night watch, I saw a bit of glow on the horizon and a minute later, I saw the light of a ship off the port bow. It got a bit larger, and then I saw a few more of the ship's lights. That meant it was much closer than I initially thought. I stirred to get upright and started peering into the darkness and saw the ship's lights were now glowing red. Concerned I turned on the monitor to see the AIS and radar and find out the ship's course. But just as I was doing that, I saw the ship become bigger and more orange and change into a beautiful, rising crescent moon.

The moon played this trick on me once before during a passage to Bermuda in 2006. I could almost see it laughing as it rose.

Horta is a great town. It has maintained all of its original Portuguese nature. Most of its tourist traffic is by sailing yachts. All kinds of boats here, from the run-down to a beautiful 130 foot (30 meter) sailing yacht. But as in contrast to other port towns in which there are now only tee-shirt shop, after sunglass hut, after jewelry shop, after tee-shirt shop, Horta has all original shops and nary a tee-shirt or sunglass to be found.

Coffee places don't serve anything that we understand as coffee, and the staff speaks very crude english or not at all. A cappacino is a sweet powder mix drink. An espresso is barely enough to fill a hollow tooth. And a coffee with milk is the closest thing that you can order that approximates a latte.

The restaurants are excellent and reasonably priced. The best, freshest seafood you have ever tasted because all of the day-boat catch ends up in the local restaurants and nothing is shipped elsewhere.

Yesterday we all had dinner at a place that serves each person their own extremely hot, square lava rock and then offer you raw fish and meat and you sear your own food on the lava. The lava, of course, being abundant on this volcano island.

We intend to head out on the ninth. From here, Scott and Carol will be leaving. Joining are Jennifer and Beth. We intend to do a 30-hour trip to San Miguel and spend a day there seeing if we can find Jennifer's grand-parent history, and then onward to Lisbon.

C'est tout for now.

-Capt. Matty Black

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