Jan Olsson, a friend from Wasahamnen in Stockholm where he is harbourmaster, came with me from Kourou in French Guyana to The Azores. We had decided to sail directly to The Azores, rather than do the usual sail up to the Caribbean and then Bermuda where sailors hope to pick up westerlies to cross the Atlantic.
We had hoped and expected to take three weeks and, anticipating some calms en route, took on some drums of extra diesel for the engine. Our calculation was a Rhumb Line route of 2400 nautical miles. This is roughly the same distance as from Trinidad or Antigua.
We were delayed by a day because we got stuck on the mud in the shallow channel out of Kourou – be warned this is NOT maintained at the advertised depth! However, we did get out the following day, April 11th, at high water, although not by a significant margin. After escaping the effects of land and shallow seas, we started sailing well at 6 to 7 its, and the wind pilot steering was working very well. The wind pilot really is an extra member of crew, son we called him “George”. I guess only my family will understand that one!
After a day or so at sea we find out the neither the fridge or freezer are working, and despite our efforts, they do not start again. This is despite the best efforts of the repair man from Cayenne (who, to be fair, did not charge us when he failed to get the freezer to work). We are reconciled to a fairly boring diet for this long sail!
The wind was mostly staying in the NE, even if the forecast said it would go more E. This forced us to sail more north than we had hoped. In fact directly for Newfoundland! After about a week of this, when we were a few hundred miles east of the windward islands, we took our routers advice and started to tack to get more East and North and hopefully pick up more westerly winds at about 30N. But we faced a lot of calm weather at this point and resorted to engine-assistance, using more diesel than we intended. By April 2oth we started getting more northerly and strong winds, with high and confused seas. We were noticing cooler conditions at 24N and 53W. Then calm weather comes back, and the wind is again NE. We don’t feel we are making progress again until 24 April, when we are still about 1300nm from The Azores. In fact we are sailing in a large circle, rather than on the Rhumb Line! At this point we are over 1000nm from South America, the same from Bermuda, and about 1300nm from Cabo Verde. Truly mid-Atlantic. On this day Jan saw green fish with yellow fins, and Sieg emails that it is a Yellow-Finned Tuna.
On 25th April we are able to launch the Parasailor at last and although the wind is light, we are making over 5 its in calm seas. Later in the evening the wind dies and we take off the Parasailor again. The engine goes on and we enter 100L from drums into the tanks.
On 27th April we spot a cargo vessel heading west, and due to pass very close to us, and also a Tanker. We discuss requesting diesel, but decide to carry on, hoping for more wind in the right direction. The seas are unusually calm, and we are proceeding slowly even with the engine assistance. We blame barnacles on the hull, and the folding propellor. We decide to lift the boat out and clean hull etc in The Azores.
Meanwhile, time passes slowly, and the sailing is not good. On 1 May we still have about 900nm to go to The Azores, and I am getting nervous about our diesel supplies. We spot the cargo ship S*** G***** approaching from the east, and crossing our path, and decide to request some diesel. The captain says yes after we call on the VHF. But he does not want to change course or slow down. He asks us to send the dinghy. We get the dinghy into the water and put on the engine and gas tank, and wait for SG to appear. Jan then sets off. In the end Jan has to sail the dinghy alongside, while the crew lowers 160L of diesel in drums over the side of this large vessel. It is not an easy manoeuvre, but jan gets it done and returns. we load the diesel and enter into tanks, stow the dinghy, than the cargo vessel, and proceed. We are doing 2,2 knots under sail.
Next day the wind strengthens a bit and we start to sail at 6-7 knots again for a while, but by 3 May the seas are confused and difficult. We work out that we have already sailed 3255 nm from Kourou (with tacks) and still have 716nm to go to Horta on Faial.
We have some good sailing now, but have to use the engine at times. We have problems with the auto helm, which is not maintaining a course, and of course use the wind pilot when we can. We also have to bleed the engine a lot, and suspect the fuel we took on board. We plan a series of maintenance and rapid tasks in Faial, and also in Terciera which is where we can lift the boat our of the water at reasonable cost. We contact Duncan Sweet at Atlantic in Horta, and he links us to Perrairas in Terciera.
On 9th May, despite changing filters and bleeding the engine, we cannot get the engine to start. We are now approaching The Azores, the wind is strengthening and the forecast is for a near Gale of F7 with gusts. There is no moon at the moment, and it look as though we will arrive in Horta in the middle of the night, under sail. We review the situation and discuss whether to stay out at sea and heave-to, in oder to enter Horta is daylight. However, the forecast is for strengthening winds the following day, so we decide to enter at night, but request assistance to moor when we reach the harbour, since mooring would require us to sail directly into a very strong wind fuelling through the gap between Faial and Pico. I put out a Pan-Pan on the VHF, and the GMDSS radio man contacts the harbour master. The latter says he will send a boat out to help us in when we reach the harbour.
In fact we now have some quite good sailing under reefed main and Genoa, and get to the harbour safely at about 0300. We call on approach, and the HM send out a remarkably small boat with one man aboard. Jan passes him the rope, and he takes us in not without some difficulty – Svalen weighs 22 tons or so, and she has a fair bit of windage. However, by 0330am we arrive safely at the waiting pier, and Karen is on the pier to meet and greet us, complete with a nice bottle of highland malt! We tie up and settle down, the wind whistling outside. But we feel safe and secure inside, and enjoy a wee dram before turning in, rather exhausted!
In the end we sailed 4060nm from Kourou (including long tacks) in 31 days. Our longest continuous sail. We did not run out of food or water, but we both needed some meat and red wine!
Karen comes on board again next morning with breakfast, which we enjoy. We then go through all the entry procedures at the harbour. Duncan arrives to discuss work to be done, and we decide that the fuel system needs to be emptied, cleaned etc. We have also found a small leak, and trace this to the earth plates below the aft cabin floor. These will be replaced when we get the boat out of the water in Terciera.
We do some touring and walking together on Faial, Karen having hired a car for a few days. Including the Volcano Caldeira at Cabeco Gordo, the old whaling village at the west end near Ponta de Capelinhos, another old whaling harbour on the North of the Island (where we had an Atlantic. dip!), and the old Whale oil factory and museum at Porto Pim. we also ascended Monte da Guias and viewed Caldeira duo Inferno from the top.
With Jan at the old whaling harbour, west end of Faial
Karen, after out Atlantic dip!
View of Horta’s impressive harbour, from the S.
Skeleton of Sperm Whale, In the Museum at the Old Whale Oil factory, Horta
We paint a symbol of Svalen on the pier at Horta, because bad luck is said to follow if you do not!
We added Svalen to hundreds of others who left their mark on the Pier. The flags are Danish and Scottish.
Jan disembarks to return to Stockholm on Monday 13th May. Duncan and his excellent crew proceed with the fuel system, fridge and freezer, and other things. Karen and I see something of the island, have a dip in the cold sea, and when Duncan is finished sail off to the nearby Island of Sao Jorge, and the beautiful small harbour of Velds, which is a lovely place N of Pico. We get a tour from Carlos Brasil, taxi driver, and walk back via the small Dairy of Canada, where we buy a lot of cheese from Manuel. Next day we have a long day sail to Priaia de Vitoria on Terciera, but the winds mostly good for that. Karen departs for Stockholm on Monday 20th May.
Jan Olsson departing in Horta.
View of Pico, early morning 19th May, from Sao Jorge
The boat comes out of the water on Wednesday 22 May. We first had to remove the two forestays in order to fit into the travel hoist. I live aboard, on high so to speak, while cleaning hull, antifouling, changing the propellor, changing the earth plates, and generally cleaning up and checking things above and below.
Svalen being lifted out of the water, Praia de Vitoria, Terciera
The boat went back in the water on Friday 31 May, and there were no leaks! Some inside things to finish, fuel to take on board, engine to service etc, but all do-able before next crew – Charlotte, Svarte, and Jon-Mikko – arrives from Sweden on 8th June to sail with me to Ireland, which is about 1200nm.
Landscape with sheep and cattle grazing, near Lajes, Terciera
Church at Lajes.