Ocean

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. 

public.jpeg

We are cruising once again. 

ARC: Atlantic Rally for Cruisers

When we first started cruising, everyone asked if we were going to join the ARC. Our answer was always a firm “No way” which was often met with confusion on the part of the person who asked. 

The ARC offers a great way to explore the world and make new friends as you voyage to distant horizons in the safety of a group and in the care of overlooking experts. 

I have always had two problems with this setup. 

First: The group. 

When the ARC arrives, the marina instantly fills up! All the slips are taken by their boats and the town streets that were once empty are now jammed packed with cruisers. It almost feels like when a cruise ship is in town. 

Since you are in a big group, everyone will descend on a single restraurant together and pretty much fill the whole place up! When they go into shops, they seem to go as a massive group again. These cruisers are connected with unbreakable bonds, which is great, unless you want to meet the locals. 

When locals see a massive group of people, they avoid it like the plague! As a couple, we frequently meet people who come over to talk to us and give us wonderful suggestions of sights to see, and even invite us into their homes. Inviting one or two people is a lot easier to manage than inviting a group of 10 or 20! We have actually found that the moment we reach a group of 3, the invitations seem to stop all together, almost like if 2 is company and 3 is a crowd! 

If you want to travel to new places and really get to know the locals, hanging out in a huge group isn’t going to show you that side of the world. 

Second: Care of overlooking experts. 

Your marina stays are booked ahead of time for you, and all the events you could dream of are planned out on a long itinerary. Being told that you will have dinner at a fancy restaurant on the other side of the ocean on a certain date will sound enticing, especially when they tell you all the fun activities they have planned out for you in the prescribed destinations!

But crossing an ocean is dangerous, how do you know where to go or what weather systems to watch out for? Well, they have that solved and hire a private weather forecast company to watch the weather for you and tell you exactly when it is safe to go and cross the ocean. Their land based office connects to the latest weather information gathered from satellites and then sent directly to your onboard device. You have all the care and safety you could dream of! 

The problem is, you don’t! They have a pretty firm scheduled leave date for these events and will leave in pretty foul weather because if they wait longer, they will run into scheduling issues. 

Due to changing weather patterns, the old tried and true dates to leave on an ocean passage are not what they used to be. In the past, early May was the time to leave the United States and cross the North Atlantic going East. The ARC does just this. We thought it was hilarious to see the ARC arrive in the Azores with tales of strong winds and high seas on their crossing because I had been watching the weather for our departure to mainland Portugal and was seeing that the weather was not right yet for a crossing. With this wrong weather, they had already left and crossed, weather be damned! 

The best part was when I asked an ARC boat. When they would be leaving (because I wanted to know when there would be space in the marina again) and they told me they were leaving for Lisbon that night. This was stated as a massive front was approaching bringing terrible storm conditions. The storm arrived that afternoon and I waited to see if the boat was going to set sail or not in those conditions. The answer is “Yes”, all the ARC boats left the safety of the harbor in a storm and sailed along with that storm which was on it’s way to mainland Portugal rather than waiting a few days for it to pass and follow in the wake of the storm. 

These people pay for someone to keep them safe by guiding them on weather information while at the same time, that weather service isn’t warning them about real and present dangerous storms? All of a sudden, it doesn’t sound like such a “safer way to cruise”!

It is true, on a long passage, you will encounter bad weather. This is simply because you are out there for weeks and will eventually encounter some bad weather. The thing is, leaving in a storm doesn’t check off your quota for storms on the journey, guaranteeing a calm passage for the rest of the way. All it does is guarantee that you will encounter as least two storms in your passage! 

No, we do not participate in the ARC and no, we will not participate in the ARC. We would rather use the fees they charge (which are rather expensive if you ask me) and use that for a lot of provisions which will then allow us to cruise longer and safer because we watch the weather ourselves (and don’t set off on a voyage in a storm). 

 

How Calm Can The Ocean Be?

When you imagine the ocean, you probably think about endless waves that extend out and beyond the horizon. This may be the case on windy days, but the ocean can vary in surface topography just as much as dry land can. 

IMG_2810.JPG

While out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, we were becalmed for four days in a row. By the second day, the ocean had calmed down and the true beauty of being out there unveiled itself. 

IMG_2813.JPG

My favorite times during these days were definitely sunrise and sunset. The sun at low angles would create a multitude of colors around you. Any slight ripple would glow with golden hues and the ever-present Portuguese Man-O-Wars around us would illuminate on the water.  

Having an electric motor meant that we didn't move very far on these four days, but had we had a diesel, we would have missed the magic of the ocean as it would have been drowned out by the roar of burning fossil fuels. 

Corssing an ocean should not be something you do in a rush, but instead it should be an experience that you can cherish and remember for a lifetime. 

Ocean Sunsets

Out on the ocean, there is nothing obstructing the horizon. That means that you will have a perfect sunset every afternoon! 

IMG_2818.JPG

Depending on different air qualities, such as air pressure, humidity, dust, air streams, and cloud cover, you will get a new and exciting sunset every time; best of all, each sunset will be unique.

IMG_2816.JPG

We make a special effort to eat our dinner in the cockpit while out at sea on a blue water voyage just so that we can watch the sunset.  

There is something magical and magnificent about watching the colors in the sky change as the glowing spot on the horizon disappears beyond the horizon. As the sun fades away, the sky will burst into a painters palate of colors, and then the stars will begin to come out. 

Mars and Jupiter are usually the first of the night lights that come into view after the sun sets, and rather quickly as our eyes adjust, all the stars in the sky light up in a vast wonder above our yacht. 

I have spent many nights starring up at the mast head, watching its silhouette move among the stars. Laying in the cockpit looking up at the night sky as you sit alone on the surface of the ocean with no one else present in your visible disk of the Earth makes you feel just as alone as the invisible planets that orbit the infinite stars out there in the sky. It becomes easy to imagine that someone else might be sitting on their own craft on a distant planet, looking up at their night sky and visualizing our Galaxy as just another star in their own sky.  

Dawn

Sunrise is a magical time on the ocean. Overnight is not a time for sleep, but a time when your ears do the looking.  

The sun sets and the stars come out, your ability to see diminishes but sound carries incredibly well over water. Sleeping whales breathe loudly in the obscurity of the night, just at the waters surface. They are invisible to your eyes, but not to your ears! 

All night long, your imagination runs wild as you peace together random fragments from your senses; and then dawn comes. The sky to the east begins to glow in preparation for the suns glorious arrival.  

FullSizeRender.jpg

When the sun comes up, you get to change watches and get some sleep. Imagination fades as your eyes squelch out your creativity, showing you what “is” there rather than letting your mind believe it knows what is “to be” there.