Blue Water

Azores to Portugal: Night 1

This time, it was less surreal because we knew what to expect. We sailed out of Terceira and away from the little island chain that has been our home for almost a year, and we are back in the abyss. The warm orange lights of little towns are dotting a small portion of the horizon behind our stern. It’s a cloudy night, but I can still see Jupiter shining big and white next to the moon, which is making the boat look like an old film in its gray light. I can see Saturn too.  On our way out, we passed two pods of feasting dolphins, and one of them came to say a brief hello. I wonder how many are below and around us now. We are only granted access to the stars, while below the black waves exists an entire world. I am still grateful. 

Azores to Portugal: Day 0

Today we left Angra do Heroísmo, 10 months after we arrived there and 364 days since we left Florida on our transatlantic voyage. Why the huge delay? Because we are not in any rush and really wanted to experience the Azores. 

After being there a few weeks, we learned that the window to make it to Portugal had closed and it would be unsafe to venture on until May the next year. 

We spent that time rebuilding and refitting the head and galley, making upgrades and changes that we have been talking about for years but never had the time to execute them. Now we had the time, so we spent 6 months working on the boat and making her look brand new again, 51 years after her hull was produced. 

So, the time has come and we had to say goodbye to the place we called home for so many months. Leaving a place will show you how much of an impact you have had there by how many people will come and say goodbye. All of our friends as well as people from the town that we had come to know well all came by to see us off on our voyage. 

We scooted out of the marina quietly with our electric motor, then raised the sails quickly since we have a make-shift battery bank at the moment. We began tacking out of the harbor in what seemed like a washing machine! Ocean waves pounded into the harbor only to reverberate off the rock walls in the harbor. You are literally being hit from sides by towering waves. 

The forecast for that day and the next few days was light winds (8-15 knots, no gusts) but we had steady winds of 20 knots! We all know how accurate forecasts are! 

Once we made it clear of the harbor and Monte Brazil, we turned onto a broad reach to leave and clear the island. 

As we sailed around the island, we could see all our favorite towns and the towns where our friends lived. We now have a deep connection with this tiny island in the middle of the ocean. As the sun set and the island lights turned on, we slowly sailed away into the darkness of the ocean, watching the little lights dim out on the horizon. 

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We are cruising once again. 

The Hardest Part of Crossing an Ocean

Those who have crossed oceans will all have different forms of advice. Some will recommend eating extra to gain weight that you will inevitably lose while crossing, others will declare infinite storm preparedness. I have much simpler words of wisdom.

My advice is this: Setting sail across an ocean is easy, the hard part will be returning to the world of civilization. On the ocean, direction doesn't matter. At times we were 200 miles north of our course, yet our heading was unchanged because the ocean is so vast. If a storm was passing by, we would change course and sail the wrong way for a good distance to avoid the weather system. Once we were clear of it, we would then resume our previous course. There is nothing to run into, no reefs, no lee shores, no anything.

Today is day 22 from Bermuda to the Azores and we have seen a grand total of 4 ships! Night watch is more focused on watching the weather as we have never seen navigation lights on the horizon.

All that is going to change as we are nearing the end of our voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.

In 40 nautical miles, we will pass Corvo, the first island in the archipelago. Tonight's watch is not only focused on the weather, but also on traffic and land.

We are reaching the other side, and soon, 10 miles off course can put you on a rock! Just as a lee shore can limit your ability to sail around a weather system.

Most of all, landfall means the return to civilization. No longer will it be only Maddie and me in the world of the visible horizon. We will be able to venture off away from Wisdom and walk for miles over land. We will meet new people and new cultures, and we will have made it to the other side.

This may sound wonderful, but we have been living in a bubble of "just us" for over 3 weeks. I have come to know Maddie in even deeper ways and she is my entire world out here. There has been no stress of timelines or schedules. We have no meetings to get to, no due dates for our work. It has been a wonderful escape from the hectic world we live in, where we can sit back and appreciate every single unique sunset and watch the stars come out in the sky.

I sit here on night watch and look at the moons light glittering a beam of light ahead of us, the shadow of our tanbark jib blocking out a section of this moonbeam, and the water rushing past. We have no cares or worries, but we are rapidly driving ourselves forward towards the end of this bliss.

Landfall means that this blissful world we have lived in for the past month will stop. That is the hard part of crossing an ocean to me, having the journey end!

Flag Size for Blue Water Cruisers

A while ago, I did a post about how to select the proper flag size for your yacht. The longer your yacht, the larger the flag should be, that way it all looks proportional.

This is great for weekenders and coastal cruisers who can avoid bad weather by hiding in a protected cove. This is not the case for a cruiser out in the ocean.

Our flag was tied to the topping lift in a location that I could reach. If foul weather was coming, I would furl the flag around the topping lift and tie it off with another line. I had to do this because the flag was large enough to actually pull on the topping lift and cause us to heel a bit.

The flag met its demise one violent storm when its furling line actually came off and the flag flew free. It beat so violently that it shredded itself.

When selecting a replacement flag, I went a size smaller and tied it in the same place. This flag seems appropriately sized for ocean sailing. In storms, it hasn't caused us any ill effects and has not necessitated a good furling. It is small enough that a violent beating doesn't seem to hurt the cloth, as none of the stitches have worked free. This flag is made by the same manufacturer, so it's not a difference there.

When at anchor, the flag does look small relative to the rest of the yachts, but it is still visible from a distance and meets the legal requirements.

If you are choosing a flag for a coastal boat, get a nice big pretty flag to fly! But if you are planning on crossing blue water, consider choosing a flag that is a size smaller.

Time Zones on the Ocean

When crossing an ocean East to West or West to East, you will be crossing many time zones.

Time zones are an artificial creation  by humans to help organize our days in a predictable fashion. It is much easier to proclaim that the work day starts at 9am and ends at 5pm and not have to specify where this time is taken and how to convert to your local time.

Time zones change 1 hour every 15 degrees of longitude. This means as you sail across an ocean, every 15 degrees will mean that your clocks will change by an hour.

You have a few choices here on the matter, you could keep your clocks on the same time as the country you departed from or the country you will arrive at, and simply deal with the variance in sunrise and sunset times. You could also adjust your clocks as you progress across the ocean. And lastly, you could ignore the constructs of time zones all together and live by UTC time.

We are buddy boating across the Atlantic with an Australian couple on "Adventurous" and they are advancing their clocks by 1 hour as they cross the time zones.

Maddie has not adjusted the time zone on her phone as we have sailed across two time zones, so it has its own time. I have set my phone to UTC time and simply ignore the constructs of time zones all together.

For me, noon is when the sun is directly overhead. That is when I take the moon sight with the sextant. Time zones make it difficult to know which hour I should be getting ready to take the sight. As we advance East, I know it will be a few minutes earlier than last time. At this current moment, I start getting my sextant ready at 3pm UTC. I am ready and I don't miss the sun.

Now, timezones make it easy for daily living if you live by a clock. You eat breakfast at this time, you eat dinner at that time, you awake at this time, you sleep at that time. But while cruising, all of that can go over the side of the deck! We sleep when we are tired and we eat when we are hungry. Some days, we have one meal, other days are spent cooking and eating in entirety! Since time is immaterial to us, I feel fine having a clock that simply tells me my latitude instead of how to live my life.

With watches Maddie and I don't really follow a time schedule. Instead she does first watch until she is tired. I do the next watch until I am tired. This way, neither of us is forced to be out there if we are falling asleep.

When crossing an ocean, time is a construct that you can use or be used by. On the boat, the choice is yours since no one is telling you what to do.