In The Azores

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.IMG_0543

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.

Azores – almost!

Skippers Blog, Friday 10 May 02.44AM

It’s a clear and calm night. We are 118 miles from Horta in the Azores. The new moon made a welcome appearance, casting a carpet of light towards us as we sail. But it has now gone to bed again. We expect wind from the south by morning, and it will probably be after midnight today (ie Saturday early morning) before we get into harbour.
Karen arrives tomorrow for a ten day visit, which is super. But Jan will return to Stockholm in a few days, and I will miss his cheerful company, and his ‘let’s get it fixed’ approach to any technical problem !

Update Friday 10.30AM:

We are now 80 nm SW of Horta in Faial and expect to arrive this evening or tonight. As soon as we can, in fact, because a gale is coming this evening!
The wind came back this morning, and we have been sailing since 0300UT, up to 6.3 knots. It is drizzling – feels like a West of Scotland summer day – a bit damp and cold!
By the time we get in we will have sailed over 4,000 nm what with the curved route, tacking etc. It has taken over a month, and no land or shops. Now we need red meat and red wine!

Saturday night blog

Skipper’s brief blog – Saturday night (4/5May):
Am now on 0200-0600 watch. Its very dark! No moon. And not much wind at the moment, so only sailing at 3,2 kts. We expected that though. It will get windy again later today until about Wednesday. We hope to get to the Azores by 9th May: Karen arrives on 10th. The weather router says 8th or 9th. We need good winds, with about 500nm to go. Supplies ok but meals more of a challenge every day. Our last fresh fruit has gone – vitamin pills from today.  Changing time zones slowly – now at UT-1
We had lentils and duck cassoulet from a tin for supper last night. I also got two loaves of bread and two boller for sunday breakfast baked!
We had about 10 dolphins of all ages playing around the boat yesterday pm, and hope to see whales in Azores.

Dolphins, en route to Azores

Skippers Star Sight Blog, Night of Thursday-Friday 25/26 April

Parasailor up, mid Atlantic 25 April  Parasailor up, Thursday 25 April

Skippers Star Sight Blog, Night of Thursday-Friday 25/26 April

Another thing we do while ocean sailing is to take sights of Stars, Planets, Moon and Sun in order to determine our position, and in case the GPS goes wrong, or is taken out of service by malevolent forces.

The principles of Astro-Navigation are fairly straightforward- the heavenly objects are imagined to be mostly stable in relation to each other out there on the heavenly sphere, a kind of extension of the earth in the heavens.

If we imagine them in this way, then at any point of time, each heavenly object has a point on the earths surface where light coming from it would pass through on its way to the centre of the earth (if of course the earth were transparent!). If we can see the object from our own position, then it is above the horizon, and its altitude from our position can be observed, and, using a device for measuring angles from the horizon called a Sextant, we can measure its angle above the horizon. We can also measure its latitude, or Zenith, in the spherical hemisphere using the hand-held compass, up to 360 degrees (a complete circle), but this is really only to check that it is the star we think it is because the Zenith of each star and planet used for navigation purposes (the brightest and most stable in terms of light) for any date and time of day, and part of the globe, is given in the Almanacs, and a hand held compass will only give an approximation.

Given the star sight we can proceed to calculate our position by using the tables in a special almanac for each time (expressed in Universal time), date, hemisphere and our estimated position.

Would it were that easy in practice!

Several problems are faced when one tries to take a sight in the real galaxy.

First of all, the boat moves, sometimes violently! It is almost impossibly hard to stand up straight while using both hands to hold the precious sextant for long  enough to take the sight of the celestial body and note the time accurately. Really hard to understand how these old salts found their way around at all, far less how they got home again! Of course the geezer who invented the device was desk-bound, and probably never took a sight from a boat.

Secondly, the idea of a sextant is that you look at the celestial object through a small eyeglass or telescope and move the image of the star down until it just rests on the horizon. Of course it is usually dark when this has to happen, and seeing the horizon at all is a challenge even for good eyes. It is at best a fuzzy line, usually obscured by mist, fog, or haze. Also, seeing a star (as opposed to the Moon or Sun).

It is recommended that sights of stars and planets are taken around half an hour either side of sunrise or sundown, since at those times the horizon is supposed to be clear. The Almanac allows you both to check when this is each day, and to discover in advance which of the stars and planets used for navigation will be visible at those times in any place on earth (assuming of course that the sky is cloudless!). However, it happens also to be very hard to see the star and planets at dawn and dusk!  They are easiest to see in the middle of the night when it is dark. The sensible solution should be to use what is called a “bubble sextant”, which has a device like a masons level to indicate the horizon. However, such devices are used by those nasty airmen in flying machines, and not by sailors, who are only allowed to use “real” sextants requiring real horizons!

Then again, there is a list of errors to be factored into the calculations, such as “sextant errors”, reflecting the facts that they are not always made with 100% precision, or that they have been knocked around a bit on a ship, etc. There is also a correction for the height of the eye above the ocean, but how do you measure that when the boat is going up and down like a yo-yo? These are local errors, but there are more, attached to specific planets or objects, such as Venus, or the Moon, all of which have to be computed (with the right sign, for the right date and hour, etc) and factored into the calculation.

When you have finished it all, you arrive at a magic result that tells you how far, and in what direction, you are with respect to the estimated position you started with.

Of course all that was some time ago!  So now you have to make corrections for your speed and direction of travel since he sight were actually taken.  Maybe its time to start again, or take that noon sight of the Sun. At least you can see it on a clear day!

But seriously, it is one of the great pleasures of night sailing far from those over-lit urban conurbations that one can see, and reflect on, the stars and planets above. There are so many of them out there, visible to the naked eye. But where to start? Its all so massive!  Before doing anything, though, just gaze. The more you gaze, the more stars there are up there, at least on a clear night. Take in the wonder of it all. While doing that, you will notice that some stars are brighter than others, and some make interesting shapes with other nearby stars, such as bears, horses, dogs, bows and arrows, necklaces, snakes, fish, etc etc. In ancient times both the Arabs and the Greeks named the stars and galaxies after such resemblances, and incorporated them into their mythical worlds of gods, goddesses, heroes and so on.  For the Greeks in particular the mythical adventures and battles of their Gods and Godesses, their lovers, bulls, goats, horses like Pegasus, and dogs, and so on are reflected in the heavens above for all to see, free, for all time. What a great gift to humanity.

Thus stars like Aldabaran, one of the 57 navigation stars, was named by the Arabs. It is “the Eye of the Bull” in the galaxy Taurus, meaning the bull. The galaxy, however, was named after the flying bull that Jupiter transformed himself into  in order to escape with Europa, the King of Crete’s daughter.  Aldebaran is the brightest star in the galaxy.

One of my favourites, part,y because it was nearly always present on the way to Brazil as well as on the way back, is the constellation of Orion. It is easy to spot. Patrick Moore thinks it is the “most splendid Galaxy in the entire sky”, and I agree with him on this.
Three bright stars form the core of Orion’s belt. Another two bright stars lie some distance from the trio, and perpendicular to it- The upper one is Betelgause, and the lower one is Rigel, both good bright navigational stars. To the left of Rigel and below left from Orions belt we find Saiph, and between Saiph and the belt we have what looks like three small stars in line, well clustered together. In fact this is the Great Nebula or “Trapezium”. If the eye follows a line to the upper right from Saiph and through the lower of the three stars of Orions belt, one finds the star Bellatrix, also a bright navigational star. Last night (24/4/2019) I could see them all very clearly in mid-Atlantic at 2340 UT.

It is so much fun trying to find the patterns of the Galaxies in  the stars, identifying them, and finding out how far away they are. More fun would be to write a book about this heavenly playground of the Gods, the story of the naming of the stars, and to be equipped to follow those nightly ancient battles and drama for all time. It can absorb hour and hours of pleasurable time on the part of sailors.

Even without all the fuss and bother of Astro navigation, we use the stars as guides to the direction to steer in at night – making life much easier than it is with a dark compass. This is an ancient skill, and nearly universal among seagoing peoples of the world.


Skipper’s Blog, Thursday 18 April

Jan adjusting sails in light winds 18 April

Svalen crew Jan Olssen adjusting sails in light winds


Skipper’s Blog

What do you do all day on the boat? This is a FAQ from non-ocean-sailors, and it is reasonable to ask it! I asked it of myself before starting on long voyages. Well, now I have the answer. But first a little preamble.

Now we are on a circular route from French Guyana in South America to the Azores. French Guyana is at about 5 degrees north of the equator, and the Azores is about 32 degrees north. The straight line distance (ignoring the complexities of chart projections) is about 2400 nautical miles, but the distance we have to sail is about 3000 nautical miles. This is because the winds are from the NE to start with and until about 25 degrees north of the equator. Then we reach the ‘variables’, so feared by sailors in the old days, before picking up the usual westerlies of the north Atlantic. Those that bring depressions to the UK.

We do an average of about 5 or 6 nautical miles an hour, which means that each day we cover about 120nm. This in turn means that the sail will take us about 24 days and nights non-stop. It is a lot of time to be “sitting on a boat”! So what IS the answer to my starting question?

First of all, we find we need between 6 and 8 hours sleep, and we are two persons on board. We divide the days and night into four hour segments called “watches”, and one of us is on deck in the cockpit during his or her watch, looking after the sails, steering etc.  They may also be multitasking. The first watch after or around dawn starts at 0600. A cup of tea must be brewed. Then if everything is ok on the sailing/ steering front, the last watch person goes to get more sleep until breakfast, while first watch downloads the latest GRIB files (weather files) and weather forecasts and routeing advice from PredictWind. This comes via SSB Radio or the Iridium GO Satellite box.  The files can be large on a passage like this, so it takes quite a lot of time, and several new connections, before this is finished, After that, the forecasts etc have to be examined and compared, and decisions taken about the route for the next few days in the light of wind and wave strength and direction, and gut instincts.

Both crew are now normally on deck and it is breakfast time. We like fruit and muesli, with coffee, and if we have some fresh bread (see below), some of that with marmalade and honey as well. In other words a good breakfast to set us up for the day, and usually with chat about our performance and plans.

Then it’s time to check emails and reply or send, perhaps to sources of spare parts, or to the next harbour, or to the blog, etc.

The rest of the morning is taken up by a range of work items, such as baking bread, washing clothes and dish cloths or towels, repairs, engine checks, charging batteries with the generator if they are low, making water if needed, and adjusting sails.

But you will ask, who is steering the boat while all this is going on? Well it’s “George” our favourite member of crew who does not eat or drink, use electricity or diesel, or cost anything after coming on board. George is a WindPilot wind vane steering device on the stern of the boat that, when correctly set, keeps the boat pointing at the correct angle to the wind for the course we are following. He is great, because he allows us to get on with all the other things day and night, sea mile after sea mile, and is usually reliable, at least if we have wind!

I have not yet mentioned cooking, except for baking bread, and assembling breakfast. We take cooking of the main evening meal very seriously, and try to make sure it is both varied and nutritious. We do not like pre-prepared food of any kind, although we do sometimes resort to packets and cans. On this trip the fridge and freezer are out of action for reasons we cannot fathom, and cannot fix until we get to the Azores. So some of our fresh food has not lasted well, and even had to be fed to the fishes. It makes it all more challenging. Staples are lentils, rice, pasta, dried meat, dried fish, tinned tomatoes, and onions and garlic which last quite well.

On this trip we have also been doing a little sewing – the Kapok filled cushions began to leak because of wear and tear. On other trips we have had sail repairs to do, which also means sewing.

Not to mention fishing, but so far most of the fish caught on the boat are flying fish, which really do fly, if close to the waves. They catch themselves by landing on the deck at night, and are unable to get off again. Sometimes we see birds catch them in mid air, or failing to catch them. This morning Jan saw a Tuna fish catch one by flying right out of the water and snatching it in mid flight. What a shock!

And, by the way, everything takes at least twice or three times as long on a small sailing boat because it is usually at an angle and jumping up and down, which means that you are often one handed, or tied on, which restricts maneuverability.

And so the day goes in, and we are usually tired when we turn in for our 4 hour spell of sleep.  Too tired to read! Jan brought a guitar thinking he would start playing again, but he has only had it out twice. In the end, being self-sufficient in food, water, energy, transport, etc for about a month is hard work! But also fun! And you lose weight!

Skipper John. Thursday 18 April 2019

1100 nm from Kourou

Sunrise 20 North

Sunrise, 20 degrees North

Skipper’s blog, Wed

It is now Wednesday morning one week after leaving Kourou. The weather is a bit fresher, especially at night when we have jackets and jeans etc now. The sun is still hot during the day, though, and we still have flying fish landing on deck. the wind changed a couple of times in the night, creating havoc with sails and wind steering, but we fixed it. Now we are heading north east, more directly towards Azores, which is still 1900 nm ahead.
Still, we sailed 1100 nm in the first 7 days.
Today I must bake bread!


Fortaleza – Cayenne in pictures


Photos by Killian, who joined the crew in Fortaleza.  Half Moroccan, half French, Killian cycled from Morocco to south africa, got in a sailing boat from Cape Town to Salvador Bahia where we met. Cycled up country Bahia and joined our crew in Fortaleza. Now cycling, doing puppet shows with his hand made puppets and looking for work in the jungle in French Guyana! Amazing story! And photos! His website is

Skipper’s update, Sunday 14 April

Jan Olsson

Jan Ollson , crew from Korou to Azores

Skipper’s update, Sunday.  It has been quite tough sailing. we are sailing into the waves and wind, so  beating north, while keeping as far east as the winds permit. Later when we get the Azores High the winds will change and we can go along the north edge of the High to the Azores, we hope. But the route is a big curve, so it will take us longer than we hoped.
We also lost the fridge and the freezer, so fresh stuff is a challenge. we thought the guy would fix it in Kourou, but in fact he made things worse. Still we have lots of beans, peas, rice, pasta, etc, and also dried and tinned meat and fish. Also some tinned Ratatouille from Fr Guyane!  So we should be ok as long as it does not take too long!

Further update, Tuesday 16th: We are sailing faster now thank goodness! Will reach 18 degrees North today and keep going North until the wind shifts to W, NW or N. Its about 20ktd, and we have three sails up. A bit lumpy, so hard to cook etc, but we get our sleep. The wind vane steering has been on all the time so we do not need to steer.

Last Day in Kourou



It’s sometimes very frustrating on a boat!

It was fine to clear out this morning at 0800 from the customs office near the road bridge.

Our fridge man also came as promised and fitted the electronic controller that Janne brought with him from Sweden, However, the compressor is still not functioning correctly at lunchtime.

We still have to service the generator, because it will reach 150 hours after the last service when we are on the ocean, and it is hard to do the service when the boat is moving about so much.

And when we know if we have a freezer or not we have to do some last minute fresh food shopping and bring the bike on board. Killian also must disembark in the early evening.

Killian will stay with Isabelle, a French teacher he met. Isabelle came for a vegetarian meal with us last night and filled us in on the local social and economic issues, which are not too promising.. We ate Baba Gounosh (made with BBQ’d Aubergines) on home made flat bread, followed with Tabbouleh, and then lemon biscuits that Isabelle brought. Some Bordeaux wine was quaffed alongside!

Update – Mahuri River , French Amazonia

After the fast sail from Brazil, we are now in the Mahuri river tied alongside on a pontoon at Marina Degrad des Cannes, S of Cayenne, which is a small town on the coast. The river is part of French Amazonia, and flows swiftly. It is a muddy colour, as in this entire watershed. We have two nice French couples with young children as neighbours, one of the couples being friends of Valerie and Francois on Cybele, whom they met last year in Tromso.

Skipper, 20 March