Saturday, June 10, 2017

May-June 2017: Bermuda to the Azores

The 3 Person Helm Watch / Shift Schedule Aboard Relish
We needed to modify our watch duty shifts aboard Relish for this very long leg with only three crew members aboard. (Gary departed back on our 3rd day in Bermuda to accommodate other commitments.  It wouldn’t take long for us to start missing him.)  Our shift protocol on Relish also called for the new watch stander to first conduct the standard engine room checks – also known affectionately as “hugging your Lugger”.  At this point we are varying 3 to 4 hour shifts throughout the 24 hour period (now including fixed shifts during the day) and with a varying rotation – an interesting experiment since every few days that means one is assigned two closely clustered shifts.  On the other hand the opposite is also true – periodically one gets extra “time off.”  But basically it’s still an experiment in maritime sleep deprivation.

In addition to helm shifts, another common practice among voyaging vessels is for the crew to eat at least one meal together, typically dinner, and the pilot house settee generally makes a good gathering place since whomever has the helm can also be part of the socialization as well as the meal. 

Time of day for that group supper can vary, but generally we find ourselves eating earlier at sea than we do when we are dirt-dwelling.  For other meals each crewmember is on their own – a properly provisioned boat will have something for everyone, and they will know where to find it in the galley. And we keep (OK, Michelle keeps) a bowl of snacks – some healthy, some perhaps not so much – at the pilot house settee for folks to raid at their convenience; that really comes in handy during the graveyard shifts.

Michelle did all of our provisioning and she has made it a point to serve a satisfying, tasty and wholesome meal every day.  In fair weather it was common to find her in the cockpit monitoring the fishing lines and chopping up the day’s veggies and fruits.

Dawn had arrived earlier with temps in the upper 60’s, light winds, and once again gently rolling seas, although we had considerable overcast and had been painting rain showers on the radar set (with lightning in the distance) most of the night.

Planned Route in Blue.  Actual Route in Red.
Overall, however, Monday was mostly uneventful, with reasonably soft following seas that gradually increased as the day and evening wore on to around 5 feet.  There wasn’t much fishing action, although on our route that’s probably to be expected given the 17,000 foot depth and lack of any nearby structure or seamounts.  Nevertheless, late in the day Jura reported two, nearly simultaneous, hookups.  They were likely large tuna because they stayed deep and spooled both of their fishing rigs.

About this time we start to realize the challenge of posting daily updates to a blog when almost nothing is changing – same boats, same crews, mostly the same weather, and waters that look suspiciously similar to yesterday’s ocean.  We avoided the temptation to cut and paste from previous days’ diaries.  On VHF channel 14 Stefan on Aeoli says:  “This feels a lot like “Groundhog Day.”

Early in the day we received an updated weather briefing from Commanders that wasn’t particularly optimistic, although it wasn’t terrible either.  A low pressure trough was developing to our north and moving ESE, and we were advised to stay south of 34N latitude for the most tolerable sea states. It would bring windy conditions to 24 knots and seas building to 7-9 feet for the next couple of days.  After that they were optimistic that conditions would settle a bit, but they still recommended we alter course further south for a better ride.  And we did.
Surfing Some of the Atlantic's Big But Gentle Swells

The graying skies and worsening seas didn’t stop us from putting out the fishing lines for a while, although most folks really didn’t want to catch anything – slowing or stopping the boat would have been really uncomfortable in those sea conditions.

Stephan (skipper of Aleoli) helped the fleet pass some time by serenading Silvio with a few Italian tunes broadcast over our ship-to-ship VHF channel, one of which we recognized as an old Julio Eglasias riff.  Stephan – who is from, and is now returning to, Mallorca – played a few others that absolutely nobody recognized except for him.  We pitched in with broadcasts of Sloop John B (Beach Boys) and Buffett’s ode to the ocean, Treat Her Like a Lady ….

Some of us sailors call her home
She’s big and she’s strong and she’s mighty
Some of us sailors call her home
And I guess that’s the reason why I treat her like a lady

We had been bucking a current for most of the morning, and then around mid-day we somehow escaped that and the waves subsided a bit as a result – for a short while at least, the seas weren’t battling or colliding with the wind as much.  We enjoyed the respite and got the fishing lines wet yet again.  A few boats reported more bottlenose dolphin sightings, and the occasional Portuguese Man of War, but there was no luck with the fishing.
Dolphins Streaking By Headed for the Bow Wave

Late in the afternoon the seas picked up as predicted, and we were glad to have an efficient pair of stabilizer fins.  About this time we also discovered that the guest stateroom sliding pocket door makes a better guillotine than a door when one attempts to open or close it in rough seas, especially after lubing it up with silicone spray.  On the other hand, Jura was reporting that its ABT Trac (stabilizer) panel was throwing low pressure warnings; after Cameron went through his troubleshooting steps this issue eventually boiled down to the low RPM settings on the main engine (which provides the PTO for the stabilizer hydraulic pump.)  Let’s just say that the Nordhavn 57 isn’t designed for going this slow.

We had been monitoring a slight hydraulic fluid leak in the starboard actuator, but so far it was holding up fine, and Rick believed it wouldn’t require attention until we get to Horta, perhaps even Gibraltar.  About the same time the sailing vessel Viva, who had been moored near us back in Bermuda, came into view on our radar and AIS displays.  She was also headed to the Azores, so we hailed them on VHF channel 16, shared our weather forecast with them, and offered to stay in touch as they made their way across the big pond.  It’s interesting to note that while our weather router had us deviating further south, Viva had no interest in that – she wanted the wind.

By the end of the day we were surfing down the faces of some 8 and 9 foot waves, and our trip log indicated that we had covered 417 miles since leaving Bermuda, and over 1,400 nautical miles in total since departing Palm Beach, with Relish clocking 1,600 miles since Nassau.
We Always Had Snacks in Relish's Pilot House

Daybreak greeted us with gray skies, winds from the southwest at 10-12 knots, following seas averaging 6 feet, and a line of showers developing in front of us extending from the NE to the SW.  Rick buttoned up the boat as the rain neared, fired up the 20KW generator (we’d been running sans genset since departing Bermuda), and turned on the air conditioning as of 0600.  At that point our instrumentation and observations showed:

Speed:                        7.0K SOG
Wind:                         235 @ 10K
Seas:                           4-7 feet
Temp:                         76F
SST:                             73F
Humidity:                   100%
Pressure:                   29.84 / falling

Trip Odo:                   1650 NM (since we left Nassau)
Distance to Horta:   1367 NM (1100 NM due east of the U.S. coastline)
ETA to Horta:           08-June (absent further weather detours)
Fuel Burn Rate:        4.1 GPH (main engine) + 1.0 GPH (generator)
Fuel Remaining:       +4000 NM (range w/o generator @ current speed)

That latter metric is rather startling; with her 2,830 gallon fuel capacity, and the miserly rate at which she’s been sipping it, Relish has serious “legs”.

That line of showers grew in size and intensity, but was now moving away from us at a greater speed than what we could muster, so it was mostly a non-factor.  But we left the genset running both as a change of pace, plus we would be needing 240V power to run the washer & dryer today for laundry.

As well as the boat was performing overall, we were still battling high engine room temperatures even as the outside air cooled into the 60’s.  Inadequate engine room ventilation seems to be a common problem with many Nordhavn models, and Relish wasn’t an exception.  It isn’t just a comfort issue when performing the routine periodic engine room checks or whatever maintenance might be due while underway.  A lot of important components live down there – alternators, numerous printed circuit boards, fans, pumps, batteries, etc. – and high heat levels will take its toll on useful life, and eventually make your Lugger engine unhappy.

So we ran with the door from the lazarette to the engine room open, and when smoother sea conditions allowed we cracked the cockpit hatch open to draw in more fresh air.  Rick also placed two small portable fans down there to help circulate more air.  But the real answer would be to re-engineer the intake and exhaust fan arrangements and capacity, so we would be looking into potential services in Horta once we arrived there.

As the day progressed the winds began to decrease, as did wave heights, with increasing intervals between the swells.  But sunshine was limited to intermittent bursts through a largely overcast sky.  We had the fishing lines out all day but saw no action.  One crew member on Angela, on the other hand, claims they caught fish on several different occasions and quickly got it vacuum sealed in convenient little bags that only by sheer coincidence had the “Costco” name on the side.

The Busted Toilet Seat

Another line of showers moved through in the wee hours of the morning, but once again passed clear of us to the north at a range of 6 to 16 miles.  During the night winds died down considerably, but the large swells continued, and we were now headed mostly into them vs. having a following sea.  By daybreak winds picked up again, but not enough to add wind chop to the top of the swells, which were now running about 6-9 feet, and thankfully at greater intervals, 

We deployed the fishing rigs once again, but did not plan to bring the boat to a stop for any fish that hit.  Moxie tried that and the big swells started tossing things around, including a cabinet door in the forward head that departed its hinges and smacked into the toilet, cracking the seat.  The toilet is still operable, and Bob reports they may have found a new use for the ship’s throw ring.

At this point we were in the middle of what is known as the Sargasso Sea, which while not bordered by any particular land mass, is framed by four major current systems that tend to isolate these Atlantic waters – basically a big gyre that collects seaweed (sargassum) as well as all kinds of garbage.

Glenn on Aleoli sighted a floating oil barrel and either a busted spar or a telephone pole, and Relish sighted one of those jugs that we associate with rum and pirates, along with some other unrecognizable floating junk.  Given our distance from any land mass, we have to assume all of it is garbage dispersed by other boats. (We may throw some biodegradables over the side, but we bag all other trash and store it on the boat deck until we reach port.)

The Sargasso Sea

Meanwhile, aboard Relish we were trying to figure out what our center forward fuel tank levels were without the aid of an operable gauge of any kind – it has no sight gauge and its analog fuel gauge was stuck on 95% full.  We knew it was getting towards empty, and we sure didn’t want to risk starving the supply tank to the main engine – but we were anxious to know how much was indeed “usable fuel” given we were told the entire forward tank doesn’t completely gravity feed into the supply tank.  Thus we took educated guesses based on our fuel log, and also kept a close watch on the supply tank’s sight gauge.  During darkness we always ran from a fuel tank that didn’t have such issues – the middle of the ocean in the middle of the night is not a time or place you want to experience a flameout.

Late that afternoon we sighted a sailboat also headed in our general direction.  It was only a 26-footer, and they had poor sailing conditions with little consistent wind and some very tall swells.  We hailed them a few times with no response; but then Michele (a French Canadian from Montreal) aboard Jura tried again in French, and soon a lengthy dialog had been established.  Bob on Moxie asked Michele to inquire if the guy has a spare toilet seat.

Another Great Sunset at Sea
The day ended quietly with another picturesque sunset over the Atlantic waters, but again we found no fish out here.

Showers continued to form and dissipate all through the night as well as during the day, all generally light activity with no embedded TRWs detected.  Temperatures remained pleasant, hovering around 70F, and for the most part we ran without the genset unless the showers got heavier and we had to close up the boat.  Seas had picked up a bit in the early morning hours shortly after daybreak (6-8 foot swells with some wind chop on top) but then settled again by mid-day to less than 4 feet.  That made for a nice ride and eventually the dolphins came out to play in our bow wave for a while.  (Note to self:  need to research the ones we saw today, much smaller than those we see so frequently in southwest Florida; likely spotted dolphin.)  Silvio also spotted a whale breaking the surface nearby and was able to capture some of that on video.

We fetched another weather forecast just before Noon and saw fairly reasonable projections.  A low pressure system spinning up further north would eventually close in on us and bring higher winds (gusts to 30) and steeper seas (up to 8 feet with nasty wind chop & short intervals) by early next week, but then improve thereafter.  All in all, that’s pretty benign for this part of the Atlantic Ocean and didn’t warrant a routing change.

When this long leg started our fleet of 5 boats had instituted a daily protocol of conducting a “conference call” on VHF channel 14 to report detailed fuel status every day at 1400.  Each boat reported its main engine fuel burn for the past 24 hours, as well as burn rate and generator usage, along with RPM and SOG.  The main goal was to establish / maintain a speed and burn rate that would provide the smaller boat (Aleoli) with a comfortable reserve as we approached the Azores; but it was also an opportunity to gather and eventually share fuel efficiency and consumption metrics with the larger Nordhavn community.
Silvio and Chelle Chilling in the Pilot House

Right at dusk about two dozen dolphin vectored in on Relish and cruised the bow wave again. Minutes later Aeoli reported the same thing.  The day ended peacefully with mild rolling seas, partly cloudy skies, temperatures in the low 70’s and a light breeze out of the southwest.  We had another 6 days to go before we’d reach Horta.

Saturday morning sunrise started with a few low clouds on the horizon, but over the next couple hours those burned off and by 0700 we had mostly clear conditions with a light 10K breeze from the southeast and gentle seas – 3 foot rollers and a minor wind chop on top.  Overnight Relish had passed its halfway mark for the journey from Nassau to Gibraltar (roughly 2000 total nautical miles based on revised routing.)

Later in the day the remainder of the fleet passed its halfway point.  And Moxie also sighted another whale spouting at about the same time. Their crew celebrated by slowing the boat and dumping its supply of “Moxie Cola” (some kind of orange-flavored carbonated drink) into the Atlantic Ocean, followed shortly thereafter by Bob’s hat with the Moxie emblem on it.  Soon after that Peter reported sighting the whale wearing Bob’s hat and doing a Michael Jackson dance on the ocean surface.  We suspect Moxie’s crew got into the Bloody Mary pitcher mistaking it for regular tomato juice.

Eventually the radio chatter turned attention to our planned upcoming pot luck dinner at the Horta docks; apparently there was concern that not enough fish was being caught and we may be short on proteins for that group dinner.  After quick inventories of the burgers, chicken and other meats that were still in the freezers (and Michelle’s insistence that we still had time to catch fish), we concluded all was still well.  All of that prompted Stefan on Aleoli, who is something of a party guy, to inquire on the radio:  “Just what do you people have against restaurants?”

Someone also commented that there was a famous Scottish restaurant located there; but it turns out it has golden arches and is called MacDonald’s.

After sunset we were all planning to fire off some expired flares, mainly for training purposes; but hey, who doesn’t like pyrotechnics for entertainment?  It was suggested by Bob on Moxie that we try at least one smoke grenade now (during daylight) to test its visibility, so we did.  We first announced our intention on VHF channel 16 via a “securite” call just in case there were any other vessels nearby who might mistake it as an actual distress signal.  Since we were smack in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean – roughly 1685 NM from the U.S. coastline and 1750 NM from Spain, we didn’t think there was much of a chance that anyone was within visual, much less radio, range.  We were wrong.

Shortly after Moxie’s orange smoke bomb went off Relish received a VHF transmission from a sailboat named Meka at about 1230 local time. They were asking if we had any diesel fuel to spare. After some back and forth conversation it was determined their fuel need was not presently an emergency situation but might eventually turn into one.  We plotted their reported position (bearing 207M @ 9.9NM) and after a brief discussion among the fleet Angela and Moxie volunteered to assist, so they peeled off to the SSW to intercept the sailboat. We also had Meka alter its course towards us to close the distance gap a bit faster, while Relish, Jura and Aeoli maintained their original course and speed for the interim. As that was in progress Rob aboard Angela and Rick aboard Relish tested their two-way inReach texting communications one more time in case we lost VHF contact with them.

The plan was for Meka to take down her spinnaker as the gap closed, launch her dinghy loaded with their five empty jerry cans, raft up with Moxie, and then use Moxie’s wing engine’s day tank to drain fuel into them.  This is the inReach text messaging update we received from Rob aboard Angela:

Vessel is a catamaran from Tortola approximately 50’ with 3 males on board, Reg #743111, British.  He is a delivery skipper….Vessel name corrected to Meka. [We had previously thought it was ‘Nika’.] Moxie has the cans and are filling them now. This is the 37th time the skipper of Meka has crossed the Atlantic.

Subsequent conversations filled in the blanks, but basically the fuel offload went without incident, although it took a while to transfer fuel from the main tanks into the wing tank, and then into the 4 jerry cans for Meka.  And the recipients didn’t seem all that grateful for Moxie’s efforts. 

Radio snippet from Bob on Moxie:  The guy didn’t even have a spare toilet seat to offer.

The Rejoin in Progress on Radar

With nearly 37 crossings under his belt, we’re guessing he’s going to keep doing them until he finally gets it right.  The entire episode left Angela and Moxie about 15 or 20 miles behind Jura, Aeoli and Relish, and while Relish was able to maintain VHF radio contact with them the entire time, it wouldn’t be until the following day before their closure rate would allow them to rejoin the formation and the planned route to Horta.

In the interim our sea conditions were about as good as it gets in the middle of the Atlantic with sunny skies and light breezes, and the temperature hovering right around 70F.  And as the sun dropped in the west we enjoyed several strafing runs by large pods of spotted dolphin, with some of the smaller and younger ones getting quite acrobatic as they darted in and out of the bow wave.

Daybreak brought overcast skies and a few spotty rain showers on the radar, the closest at 5 miles to the southeast.  Angela and Moxie had closed to within 4.5 miles as they approached us from the WSW at our 4 o’clock…roughly 17 hours after they had diverted on their Meka intercept mission.  Our Nobeltec and Furuno systems told us we had a little over 4 days and 725 NM to Horta in the Azores.
Nearby Showers on the Radar

By 1030 we were back in our preferred (octagonal) 5-ship formation once again, with all boats tucked into their usual slots, and every vessel reporting ops normal.  Weather still presented a high overcast, winds at 10K from the SW, ambient air at 70F as was SST, with following seas very smooth at 2-3 foot gentle swells and a light wind chop on top.

Aboard Relish we took advantage of the calm conditions to test out the Wing engine.  It started and ran smooth with all instrumentation in the normal ranges, and gave us around 4 knots of forward ground speed.  The downside was that its stuffing box was getting very hot pretty quickly, so after about 15 minutes of run time we shut it down.  Since we had lost ground on the fleet with the slower wing engine speed, we decided to perform our WOT run to catch up and that went fine. 

Once we were stabilized back in the formation Silvio and Rick spent some time in the engine room mucking around with loosening the stuffing box’s adjusted nuts and follower flange to see if we could (eventually) get some water flow and lower temps.  That will be a continuing task over the next few days.

At noon the fleet conducted its group weather briefing, presenting the latest forecast from Commanders, and then at 1400 we likewise conducted our daily fuel consumption report and review.  The net results of those two were:

Napping in the Pilot House
1.     Some lousy weather moving in from the east beginning Tuesday evening with rain, gusts to 35K and 7 foot seas; followed by improvements on Wednesday; and then going to hell again on Thursday as we neared Horta, with gusts to 40K churning up 8 foot swells and 5 feet of wind chop.  At least the wind and seas would be coming from behind.

2.     Everyone’s fuel status still looked positive, with even Aleoli estimating a 25% reserve upon reaching the Azores; and the 20 mile diversion and 20 gallon fuel donation by Moxie and Angela on yesterday’s Good Samaritan mission still left them with adequate reserves as well.

Nevertheless, the group decided to maintain current speed and course rather than attempt to speed up – fuel consumption rate (for Aleoli in particular) during the coming squalls was an unknown, as were impacts from potentially adverse ocean currents.  We’ll fetch another weather update on Tuesday and recalibrate as required at that time.

We had rescheduled our “pyro night” for this evening, so about 2 hours after sunset each boat gathered a collection of expired hand-held flares, flare guns cartridges and parachute flares and prepared to detonate them, with each vessel taking a turn so the others could see how each device appeared from a distance.  After making the requisite “securite” radio call we got started. The SOLAS parachute flares outperformed everything else with excellent hang / loiter time and a very bright white corona visible for several miles.  However, our old 12 gauge carts fired from an Orion flare pistol did better than we expected with good altitude and reasonable duration of its small bright red fireball.  The handheld flares were also brightly visible from 2+ miles although obviously could not match the visible range of the more ballistic options.  It was an interesting and educational way to wrap up another day at sea, at least for those who were still awake.

As our pyrotechnic exercise wound down, Aleoli reported a problem with its water maker, specifically with its low pressure pump.  Since they still had half a tank of fresh water and plenty of bottled backup on board – and everyone was in need of some rest – they decided to put that problem on hold until the next morning.

We still had 600 NM to traverse before we’d arrive in Horta.

We had bright sunshine and brisk breezes out of the south to start the day, but temps continued to slowly drop – 68F at 0900 – and the ocean brought some commotion with 2 to 3 footers at short intervals on the starboard beam.  But compared to the forecast we were quite happy with it, and as the day progressed the wind started backing more towards the SW and towards our stern.  We continued to buck currents off and on, although the historical pilot charts for this part of the ocean indicated we might get a break on that soon.

Fishing in the Swells with a Scotch on the Rocks Nearby....It's a
Great Way to Wind Down a Day
Aleoli spent a large part of its day troubleshooting its water maker, and eventually cobbled together a solution to restore power to its low pressure pump component.  They would seek a more permanent solution once they arrived in Horta, but for now they were quite happy with Daniel’s electrical sleuthing and workaround.

A few days earlier Relish had suffered a minor catastrophe when Rick’s USB thumb drive with all its MP3 music files died with a corrupted file system.  Fortunately we had already copied some of the tunes to other devices, so we still had Jimmy Buffett boat and beach ballads available to protest the coming weather.

It was cool enough outside that we didn’t need air conditioning at any part of the day, and it also made Michelle’s spicy chili an appealing dish for dinner the night before.  From a wardrobe perspective it was becoming clear that some of us (Rick and Bernie in particular) hadn’t packed very well; as it turns out south Florida May-June clothing isn’t very well suited to this part of the Atlantic at this time of year.

As for the chili (delicious!) Silvio must have really liked it because he was also munching on a bowl of it for breakfast this morning.  Of course, between the odd helm shifts and the time zone changes (we were now UTC -1), determining whether you were eating breakfast, lunch or dinner was sometimes problematic, or at the very least subject to personal interpretation.

Towards evening two targets popped up on our radar at about the same time – the first was later identified on AIS as S/V Lynn Rival, a 12 meter sloop bearing NNW who at first seemed intent on sailing into the middle of the formation. She wouldn’t answer any of our radio calls, but we bumped the throttles a tad and moved ahead to make her a non-factor, although she did pass within a mile of Aleoli at the back of the formation just after nightfall. The second target was only a radar blip (no AIS) to our ESE, and after dropping an ARPA cursor on it we guessed it was another sailboat since its SOG was only 4.5K at the time.  Over time it picked up speed and hung with us most of the night, and eventually we had to alter course a bit to pass on her port side with comfortable separation. 

Traffic would likely continue to increase as we neared Horta, which by sunrise the next day was only 390 miles away.

Overnight the winds picked up a bit to 15 knots, still out of the SW, and while the ride was a bit sloppy with short and steep 3 footers, it was by no means rough or uncomfortable (at least for now.)  Both ambient and sea surface temps were at 66F, and we had a high overcast.

As of 0730 local time (0830 UTC) our key stats looked as follows:

Speed:                        6.7K SOG
Wind:                         210 @ 15K
Seas:                           3-4 feet
Temp:                         66F
SST:                             66F
Humidity:                   100%
Pressure:                   30.00 / falling

Trip Odo:                   2625 NM (since we left Nassau)
Distance to Horta:   380 NM (1100 NM due east of the U.S. coastline)
ETA to Horta:           Mid-day on 08-June
Fuel Burn Rate:        4.4 GPH (main engine)
Fuel Remaining:       3300 NM (range w/o generator @ current speed)

Rolling Swells on the Stern
We conducted our usual afternoon fleet conferences via VHF, the highlight of those being the latest weather forecast.  It had improved a bit, but we were still looking at worsening conditions beginning tonight with some showers, SW winds @ 25K and 4 to 7 foot seas; then seas building to 10 feet and 11 second intervals on Wednesday.  On Thursday conditions would start similarly, but with winds and seas increasing late in the day to 32 knots and 13 feet.  The message was clear:  getting to Horta as early as possible on Thursday was desirable.  An email that Aeoli had received from our agent in Horta (Duncan Sweet with Mid Atlantic Yacht Services) pretty much confirmed that as well. Everyone agreed they had the fuel to bump up the RPMs a bit, so we did.

Aboard Relish we cranked up the 20KW generator during the afternoon so we could run the washer and dryer to get some much needed laundering done.  We also ran the air conditioners, not because it was needed but rather to keep a good load on the diesel genset – it does not like to run at light load factors, as that tends to build up soot and shorten the life of its exhaust elbow.

Throughout the day the seas had gradually built as predicted to 7 feet with a 15 to 20 knot wind from the WSW.  And those also decreased slightly (as predicted) as the sun set, just as the forecast scattered showers began showing on the radar.  Regardless, we shut down the genset after we were done with the laundry, since we wanted to extend the time between oil changes if possible….there was at least a chance we could get all the way to Gibraltar before that came due, and we certainly did not need the A/C tonight with ambient air temps in the 60’s.

We had 285 nautical miles and just over 40 hours remaining to reach Horta in the Azores.

By the very early morning hours the winds had died off to a few knots out of the west and the seas were correspondingly smooth (relatively speaking)….although we knew that would not last long.  But it made for some good sleeping and a peaceful night watch shift.  At daybreak we were still blessed with the same conditions, along with ambient air temp of 66F and an SST of 68F, winds westerly and light, and now that we could see them, waves were still only 2-3 feet at worst and still on the stern.  Too bad it couldn’t last another 30 hours.
The Final Leg into Horta in the Azores

We had been staggering our time changes – moving our clocks forward by an hour – about every 3 days.  That plus a 7 knot moving average surely made the more traditional “jet lag” a non-factor, although generally the fatigue factor was still high on the scale with the overnight helm shifts.  Today we’d officially be in the next time zone – GMT, aka Zulu or UTC.  We had crossed 4 time zones.

Somewhat surprisingly as of 1300 UTC, with 175 NM and 25 hours to go until we reached Horta, we were still experiencing generally calm conditions, but as the afternoon progressed the SW swells started to gradually build as the wind began to pick up.  Air temp hovered around 65F and SST at 67F, with a west wind around 10 knots.  We had a very high and thin overcast that still allowed for plenty of sunshine to bore through.  But far in the distance to the northwest we could see a line of cumulonimbus building – no doubt the leading edge of that coming front which would be squeezing the pressure gradient ever tighter.

In our old Grady-White sport fishing days we’d just throttle up and beat that weather into port.  But that isn’t an option in a 150,000 pound Nordhavn that moves along at the speed of smell.

By late afternoon the wind and waves were in accordance with Commanders’ latest forecast, with south-westerlies up to 14 knots and rolling swells at 8 to 10 feet coming from the northwest.  It was comfortable even with the ABT Trac stabilizers dialed back for a leisurely 16 knot setting where the fins didn’t need to work very hard. 

Nevertheless, the forecast for mid-day tomorrow – as we would be approaching Horta – was calling for gusts to 30 knots with swells to 9 feet and perhaps 5 foot wind waves on top of that.  So we used this time to ready the boat for rough running.  Essentially that meant all loose items were securely stowed or lashed in some fashion, all drawer and cabinet latches were in the closed or locked position, and all portals and hatches were (or would be) dogged down, and all spare part containers and oil barrels down in the laz ang engine room were strapped down.

Shortly before sunset, Cameron on Jura downloaded the latest high resolution GRIB weather file and from that noted the weather system seemed to be moving a bit slower than earlier prognosticated.  That would be good for us if we could make the turn into Horta’s protected harbor before it started blowing really hard.

As the sun set behind us we could easily make out the line of ominous clouds on the northwestern horizon.  But we also had a nearly full moon beaming like a spotlight tonight, and we only had 112 NM to go to reach our destination in the Azores.

Daylight brought a high overcast….65F, SST 66F, winds 15K from SW, swells @ 8 feet with comfy intervals and a few feet of wind chop.  Not great, but surely not as bad as forecast.  At 0900 we were just over 20 miles from the Azores, with an ETA between 1230 and 1300 depending on which SOG readout you wanted to believe.
Azores Coming into View from the Pilot House

The ride into Horta was pretty benign overall – the big storm / frontal system had slowed, and we hit a weather window that was good enough for all boats to tie up.  While it was quite breezy the skippers handled their boats magnificently.  It’s a bit crowded here, so Relish and Jura moored alongside the big commercial sea wall, and everyone else took up a rafted position from there (and dropped an anchor in the process as a precaution against the 40 knot winds yet to come.)  Not the most elegant or convenient arrangement, but we were happy to be there nonetheless.

All boats will take on fuel from the truck today, and then we’re seeking a long walk on land and the nearest pub.  And then some uninterrupted sleep before we delve into the weekend maintenance activities.

Chelle and Rick on the Bow with the Azores Looming in the Background

As of now it appears that only Angela, Moxie and Relish will depart together for the next leg to Gibraltar, likely on Monday.  Aleoli will hang out here an extra day or so to enjoy some time with family visitors who flew in to join them.  And Jura is headed north to England and Scotland.  

We also have one crew change in the works....Michele who has been aboard Jura for this long leg to Horta will jump aboard Relish so he can also get to Gibraltar with the rest of us.  That also gives the current threesome on Relish a much more tolerable watch schedule for that next leg.  Welcome Michele!!  Of course that now gives them two folks with the same name, we need to noodle nicknames to manage that.

After refueling was completed it was a nice change of pace to get off the boat and walk into town for a meal and a few libations to wrap up a very tiring but satisfying journey. 

Rafted Up in Horta
As the weekend weather outlook here improves - rain ending and sunshine over the next few days - it's likely we'll get more time off the boat and the opportunity to tour an island or two in the Azores chain (there are nine in this volcanic archipelago).  So if the opportunity presents itself we'll try to post more photos.

We’ll have more in the next posting, so stay tuned.
Five Nordhavns Rafted Up in Horta
View of Horta Harbor From Town
A View of Horta Just Outside the Harbor
This Little Place in Horta Has GREAT Pizza


  1. I just keep saying WOW, what an adventure. Love reading your story and look forward to sitting down with you'll and a bottle of scotch and hear the REST OF THE STORY. Have fun and continue to keep everyone updated. LOL

  2. That sounds like fun, looking forward to that sit down & scotch as well.

  3. Ditto on the WOW guys. Can't wait to see the movie. Rick, I'm glad you are adjusting your dinner schedule to more closely match mine. Looking forward to going out to eat when you return. Michelle... on the slight chance that you would ever have an empty wine bottle, put a note in it and toss it overboard. I'll look for it in the Gulf in about 20 years.

  4. We’ve had plenty of empty wine bottles, so we could do several…..