North Atlantic crossing to Azores 31st May 2017

The low above us offered us a nice boost and great sailing with 25kn from behind. Winged out we made good progress. Lows are typically stronger on the northern side in this hemisphere and rotate anti-clockwise, unlike the southern hemisphere which rotate clockwise.

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Hi everyone, All is well aboard Blue Heeler on our way to the Azores and the U.K. Overall the sailing is great; downwind mostly as we head east, with the spinnaker making regular appearances. Highest wind speed we’ve seen is 25knots, but the average is around 12-18kn. Now that we are over the halfway mark, the remainder of the journey will become a little trickier as we weave our way around highs and lows to take advantage of the conditions. We are at latitude 32N and the Azores are at 38N. Here’s the diary so far:

Day ten: Monday 29th May

Yesterday the sails remained winged out as we sailed on the southern edge of the passing northerly low on a direct course to the Azores. Last night the high pressure ridge overtook us; winds up to 25kn and rain, still winged out which made for an uncomfortably rolly night. The ocean temperature is around 23degrees matching the daytime ambient temperature. Socks and beanies are worn during the night to keep cosy in the cool ocean nights.

Spinny got plenty of air-time during our voyage.

Light winds today (8-12kn) but with our blue and grey spinnaker flying high, our speed kept respectable, only snuffing the spinny at dusk in anticipation of stronger winds overnight. There’s a nasty blow developing to the north above 34degrees with strong easterly winds; disastrous for any vessel trying to sail east (like us!). So our plan is to stay below 33degrees and take advantage of the lighter westerly wind, making our move north once the nasty has blown to another latitude.

Day eleven: Tuesday 30th May

Each morning I speak to eight other boats scattered some 1500nm apart. The first of our group, ‘Felix’, is planning to arrive at Flores island in the Azores sometime on Wednesday after 18 days. The vessels ‘Nostress’, ‘Inish, and ‘Fenicia’ will arrive over the next few days; ‘Emil’ and ‘Inishnee’ are well ahead of us, while ‘Coruisk’ and ‘Sara 2’ are bringing up the rear, about 500nm behind us, last heard they are motoring along with no wind. It’s good to have a chat each day with everyone to find out how they’re going.

For us, today the wind piped up to 25kn and the day was bright and sunny. Hair washing day! Surfing all day down 2-3m seas gave us a great boost east.

This PredictWind forecast shows a nasty blow to our north. Isn’t it amazing how defined the two wind directions are? There’s no way we wanted to bash into 25kn winds so we maintained our easterly course for two days until the winds shifted to the south east, as can be seen by the following image. Much better!

Day twelve: Wednesday 31st May

Once again I’m sitting in darkness just after midnight UTC. For a few hours the light from the waxing moon highlights the waves around us before it disappears leaving me again in total darkness, except for the dimmed glow of the boat’s instruments and my iPad. The moon will get brighter and hang around longer each night as the full moon develops over the coming week.

Today we expect the wind to ease a tad and we will begin our course further north.

 

Latest position: Distance travelled so far 1250nm. Direct distance left to Azores: 1150nm

Date/time(UTC)/position: Wednesday 31st May 2017 / 0000UTC / 32*14N 051*18W.

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North Atlantic crossing to Azores 28th May 2017

Eight days into the trip and our course is much better. So far the weather at this time of year is perfect. Winged-out sails helping us on a direct course to Azores, still keeping between 32-35N to avoid any blows from the west. GRIB files less detail now as we use our Iridium 9555 Satphone and Optimizer to download.

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Hi everyone, All is well aboard Blue Heeler on our way to the Azores and the U.K. Here’s the diary so far:

Day seven: Friday 26th May.

Keeping an eye on the course and horizon, while watching documentaries and movies on iPad.

To the north of us a low pressure system is blowing in from the west. As the wind is sucked into the centre of the system which rotates anti-clockwise, southerly winds develop in our region then develop into westerly winds. Our goal is to reach this stronger westerly wind to catch a ride east. There’s quite a bit of planning that goes along with sailing!

For most of the day we sailed steadily making good northeast progress until the wind died later in the afternoon. So to keep up the momentum to reach the south-westerly winds of the passing low, we turned on the iron sail for few hours until we had 12-14kn of southerly breeze to help us sail.

Day eight: Saturday 27th May

Already one week at sea with maybe two weeks to go. I’m already into my second novel (David Baldacci’s ‘The Last Mile’) and plan to devour a few more by the end of this trip. We’ve settled into our offshore routine of cooking, eating, sleeping, sailing, reading, writing, star-gazing, pondering, and bathing. But today the monotony was broken as after 800nm on the one tack, we finally gybed and winged-out the sails to run downwind and head north-east to catch this elusive low pressure system.

Day nine: Sunday 28th May

The benefit of sailing winged out (foresail poled out on one side; main on the other) so we can sail with the wind almost behind us allowing us to continue our course directly. In this case the alternatives with a sou’wester would be to sail north or east. The downside is the yawing from side to side, which makes eating a bowl of nachos quite challenging! Not to mention the difficulty in sleeping when the boat slews down the waves then corrects itself (yawn).
As I write this at 2.30am on a very dark night, there is up to 25kn from the south west, no moon, some lightning, and clouds blanking out any starlight. It’ll be morning twilight soon…my favourite part of each day.

Latest position: Distance travelled so far 900nm. Direct distance to Azores: 1500nm

Date/time(UTC)/position: Sunday 28th May 2017 / 0630UTC / 31deg06min N 057deg58min W.

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North Atlantic crossing to Azores 25th May 2017

Finally on day five the winds shifted more southerly offering us some perfect spinnaker flying weather. We made good progress despite the light winds. The Azores High developing nicely at this time of year, keeping nasty lows at higher latitudes.

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Hi everyone, All is well aboard Blue Heeler. Here’s the diary so far:

Day four: Tuesday 23rd May.

Two years since sailing this route and the conditions are a little kinder. Northeast winds have shifted to easterly so we are travelling further to the north east on a course of 020degrees. The winds are expected to shift further south helping us to maintain our course. Our aim is to reach 34degrees latitude and catch the bottom of a passing low and ride this on an easterly course to the Azores. Winds are no more than 12kn and averaging 8-10kn. Seas are slight and the air is warm during the day and cool in the wee hours of the morning as I sit on watch. We haven’t seen any other boats since Inishnee disappeared ahead of us on the AIS. But last night the glow of a vessel on the horizon had me wondering who that may be.

Day five: Wednesday 24th May.

After a calm evening, but still managing to sail at 4.5kn, we put up our spinnaker in between having our morning coffees. With the wind now coming from the southeast and still around 10knots our vessel needs a helping hand to shift all 12 tonnes of Blue Heeler in light breezes. Before long we were moving along at 6.5kn with only 9-10kn of wind. Perfect! With the wind forecast to remain the same, we kept the spinny up all day and even threw the night snuffing it the following morning when the breeze strengthened.

With no wind and not enough solar panels to keep everything charged, every other day (weather dependent) we would run our small Honda generator to top things up. Our Pacific Plus Wind Pilot worked like a charm over the voyage, taking the pressure of the auto-pilot. More solar panels needed – added to job list!

Day six: Thursday 25th May.

Another glorious sailing day! Wind is 12-15kn from the southeast and our course is 040degrees. We are sailing at 6.5kn and settled into the rhythm of the ocean passage. Skipper relaxed and looking forward to a piece of stowaway cheesecake for dessert!

Latest position: Direct distance to Azores: 1829nm

Date/time(UTC)/position: Thursday 25th May 2017 / 1530UTC / 27deg31min N 062deg46min W.

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North Atlantic crossing to Azores – 22 May 2017

The final GRIB file we downloaded before we left St Maarten – a broad picture of what we could expect over the following ten days. The small red dot indicates our position at that date/time. Unfortunately the easterly winds we expected at the start were more north-easterly, which meant we sailed further to the west as we’d liked, adding another 100nm to our overall journey. This 100nm would make a difference as we approached the end of the journey.

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Hi everyone

It’s so nice to be away from the sounds of St Maarten: the vibrating buzz of low flying aircraft, the doof-doof music from nearby nightclubs and the constant VHF chatter! Once again the deep indigo ocean extends to all horizons as we gently ride the slight swells on our way to another land. The sky is opaque like a steamed up mirror, with glimpses of blue sky showing through. It’s quite warm – 30degC in the saloon – and all is well aboard. We are making slow but steady progress in the light conditions.

Here’s the diary so far:

Day one: Saturday 20th May 2017

Our ‘hot bunk’ on the bottom, and top for other gear. Our bed for three weeks.

We left St Maarten mid morning on Saturday 20th May and headed to the west of the island then sailed on a northerly course. Unfortunately the forecast easterly winds were in fact light north easterly winds which meant we sailed close to the wind and travelled further west than we would’ve liked.

Behind us is the US yacht “Inishnee” and Aussie Mark aboard “Sealife”. Winds are generally 7-10kn from the northeast, our course over ground is 340deg.

Day two: Sunday 21st May 2017

Despite the calm winds, we managed to clock over 100nm the first 24 hours, but still heading further west rather than north. Ideally this leg of the trip should be northerly as far up as possible (up towards Bermuda) to catch the westerly winds from passing lows.

At 1100UTC I opened the SSB net for the small group of boats heading to the Azores. I can only hear a couple of them, but managed to get everyone’s positions through relay and later by Satphone SMS.

Had to run the engine today through a calm patch so decided to make water while we motor-sailed along. We have three weeks of sailing ahead so we have to use our diesel wisely.

Winds today same as yesterday, although a little lighter for a few hours. Still heading west but hope that changes on Monday.

Day three: Monday 22nd May 2018

Happy Birthday to my brother Mick! Today we expect much of the same weather and fingers crossed we may get some south in the wind to guide us onto a more northerly course. We’ve settled quite quickly into our four hourly watches, no doubt due to the light conditions.

Latest position: Direct distance to Azores: 2110nm

Date/time(UTC)/position: Monday 22nd May 2017 / 1030UTC / 21deg02min N 063deg59min W.

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Destination: Azores, North Atlantic

As much as I like St Maarten, eight weeks is a long time here! Fortunately, besides working on Blue Heeler, there’s always Lagoonies, JabJabs, and the Yacht Club to get off the boat and catch up with friends.

Brian and Wayne enjoying a beer at Simpson Bay floating bar “JabJabs”

But tomorrow the weather is right and we are off to the Azores!

Sailors agree that the best time to cross from the Caribbean to the Azores is from mid May and June as high pressure systems make their way into the Horse Latitudes pushing those nasty low pressure systems farther north. (Apparently in the days of tall ships, to conserve precious water, sailors would sometimes throw the horses they were transporting overboard. Hence the phrase ‘horse latitudes’. Maybe they should have taken more water…).

This could be a challenging trip, particularly as we approach the Azores at 40 degrees north where there are a potential for large seas to knock us around. With the Atlantic hurricane season starting on 1st June, we are hopeful that we have a safe sail with no dramas! In 2015 our sail to Bermuda then New York was fine and we didn’t encounter any gales. This year the distance is far greater – 2300 to Azores then 1300 to UK – so our wait could be rewarded by favourable weather conditions.

Safety gear checked

Although we are heading into ‘summer’ it will be nothing like a Caribbean or Aussie summer. From the lockers I’ve uncovered and laundered polar fleeces, beanies, gloves, warm clothes and blankets. Further down in the lockers our Dubarry sea-boots have been revived with a generous smear of Dubbin wax to keep them dry (mine also have a good dollop of 3M-5200 sealer at the toes which deteriorated somewhere near South Africa!). Life jackets are re-armed with CO2 cannisters for automatic deployment in case we fall in the drink; grab bag stocked with all sorts of survival stuff is ready; safety gear and flares checked; jack-stays in place; rigging inspected; hull cleaned and cupboards stocked with food! Wayne has been super busy making sure the boat is in top shape for offshore sailing. Now, the whiteboard has no more jobs listed and I’m hoping it stays that way, at least until we reach the Azores!

Another few hand-made flags to my collection!

Blue Heeler carries 500 litres of diesel aboard (we will have to motor at least a few days as we cross the calms of the Horse Latitudes); gas bottles are filled and ready for cooking up plenty of meals; water tanks are filled with 400 litres of water, although we also have a watermaker; I whipped up a few of flags – one for Azores and one for Portugal (Azores is part of Portugal), plus another one for the Ocean Cruising Club as I’m not able to buy one out here.

We are as ready as we can be.

Unlike the Indian Ocean or South Atlantic crossings, I haven’t stocked up with many month’s worth of food. Sometimes it’s easy to go overboard (pardon the pun) with food, but this time I’ve kept it simple and plan to cook easy meals along the way. It’s only a few weeks after all and we definitely won’t starve!

Rob and Josien “Inish” left last week, already are 600nm away.

So that we can keep in touch with our sailor friends who are also making the crossing, I’ve organised an SSB net with about eight boats. Each morning, four vessels which have already left, report their positions and weather conditions. They are making good progress and will be around 700nm from us when we depart.  The call quality isn’t always good, but between us all we can usually hear each other. Other vessels will leave next week so we’ll be scattered across the North Atlantic.

Beers and Pizzas for crews heading to Azores.

While we are offshore I’ll be posting to this blog and the Blue Heeler Facebook page every few days so you can follow our voyage. Look out for Tweets now and again too which are also visible on the right hand side of this page (#BHAtlanticXing).

That’s it! It will take a few days to settle into our trip and get used to the effects of sleep deprivation then in around three weeks we should be in the Azores.

Until then… fair winds!

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