Life Aboard

Transatlantic: United States to The Azores

When we left Baltimore in the Summer of 2017, we thought we would be in the Azores by Chrismas 2017. Well, we made it, but with a lot more time and distance in getting there!

We honestly were not ready yet to cross an ocean when we first set sail. Looking at this map, you can see that when we decided to head to the Bahamas to ride out the winter and made our way south, we clung to the coastline!

We were planning to cross an ocean and at many points felt like we were far from land, but the truth is, we were smack up against the coast the whole time.

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By the time we made it to the Bahamas, we had gotten the experience we needed to feel confident and comfortable with heading out to sea to actually cross an ocean. No longer did we watch shore disappear behind our stern, no longer did we worry about getting far from land.

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When we left Florida for the Azores, we were ready. Nothing had physically changed with us, but a mental transformation had taken place. We still had the same gear and the same thought processes about when to use certain sails, but our attitude about everything had changed drastically. Now, we were heading out to sea and the thought of land sickened us. We wanted to head straight away from land out into the blue horizon where we would point directly towards our next destination.

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The trip began at the wrong time, for the wrong reason, and in the wrong direction.

We left Florida when the weather was not right to cross the ocean because the summer weather patterns that grant you safe passage had not occurred yet. We should have waited another two weeks for the weather to be correct.

We left to appease our angry crew member because we were worried that he would abandon us and we thought that we really needed a crew member to cross an ocean, so we left port to appease him and shanghai him (there are no airports out in the middle of the ocean) so he couldn’t abandon us.

To try and make our way from land, but avoid the nasty storms up north, we traveled way to far east. This placed us into the doldrums with no Gulf Stream to help carry us through the windless region.

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We learned some very valuable lessons on this passage.

First: Don’t have crew.
Second: If you have crew, you don’t have to please them, they have to please you.
Third: You call the shots, not the other way around.

We stopped in Bermuda to drop off our angry crew member because we realized that we didn’t need crew (or his giant ego and bad attitude) to make the crossing.

This passage was insanely slow and was full of mistakes that we learned from and would not repeat!

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Maddie and I waited in Bermuda, in St. George’s Harbor, for the winds to be perfect for us to leave. While we waited, we had a grand time exploring Bermuda and getting to know the locals. Once the winds were correct, we left and had a wonderful and fast passage to the Azores.

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We stopped listening to the weather forecasts on the way to Bermuda because they were always wrong. We instead looked at the clouds to read what is really going on up in the sky. Using this method, we were able to sail on the rhumb line straight to the Azores, until we got caught in a high pressure system for a few days and were totally becalmed.

Being becalmed for a few days was the worst weather we had. While crossing, we had gales to the North, Hurricane Chris to the West, and trade winds all around us, but by looking at the sky, we were able to keep ourselves safe from powerful winds and simply relax in light winds.

The crossing was very surreal, we saw things that could never be imagined, like one night where photosensitive bio-luminescent creatures illuminated the ocean with as many lights as the stars above in the sky. On another occasion when the ocean calmed down completely, the entire surface was covered in a snow of micro plastics.

Now that we have made our first ocean crossing, we feel very confident that we can do it over and over again as we voyage the world and visit ports all around the Atlantic Ocean.

Transatlantic: Arriving in the Azores

Arriving in the Azores was magical. The month at sea has come to an end and in such a splendid fashion. On our last day, we passed the island of Corvo, enjoyed the majesty of land with its high cliffs, and then sailed onward without stopping. Our port was still beyond the horizon and out of sight, probably another day away at this point.

Once we passed Corvo, the winds grew in our favor! We held a steady 8 knots for most of that afternoon and night, rocketing us towards Faial at speeds we have never had before!

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Typically, there is no wind in the Azores, as you are in the Azores High. For this very reason, we were planning that this last hundred miles would take us several days with our light air sails set. Well, all that changed as the winds were wonderful and we were screaming along under full sail and having a blast!

As we approached Horta, the winds vanished which meant that we had to push our electric motor to the limits by trying to motor into port. Once in there, the lack of wind meant that docking would be as easy as possible. There was no wind pushing us around, everything was under the full control of the helm and we could graciously enter the harbor and tie up.

Our Transatlantic Voyage has come to an end for now, as we have made it to the Azores and have now crossed an ocean. It’s time for a steak dinner!

Transatlantic: Day 26 [Day 47]

Yesterday, we saw land for the first time in 25 days. Then we kept on sailing and never stopped. Our destination lays a few hundred miles further east.

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As you can see, we chose to enter the south side of the island because the winds looked like they might start coming form the South. Yes, having a lee shore is not fun, but at the same time, fighting a wind shadow and then trying to short tack in a narrow straight is not fun either.

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Over night, we had our best and fastest run ever! We averaged 6 knots and were doing over 8 knots for most of the night. This is wonderful because we were expecting to fly our light air sails that we had made for the Azores High. Instead, we were flying our regular sails with a reef in them. We were a bit overpowered and normally would have reefed down, but we needed to make all the miles we could while we had the wind. The next day was supposed to be very light winds and we wanted to make it to port before it got dark so we wouldn’t have to wait another night hove to outside of the harbor while we wait for dawn.

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In the morning, we saw a sleeping sperm whale at the surface. The whale looked like a large flat log, only apparent when it exhales and creates a giant cloud of mist.

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The distinct blow from a whale is easy to spot out on the distance which gave away their position in the times of whaling. Sperm whales were hunted with efficient strategies and hand launched harpoons from tiny boats all around these islands for hundreds of years.

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As we rounded the SW point of Faial, a pod of dolphins came out to greet us. This was a very magical moment and as tired as I was, I could not help myself but stare at them as they swarmed around our sailboat.

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It almost felt surreal. The first island we passed, Corvo, has no civilization on the northern shore, so to us it just looked like an island with fields partitioned with hydrangeas. Faial on the other hand is a settled island with many cities that were established hundreds of years ago. Seeing the very European architecture from the water felt like being transported back to another time.

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The highest point in Portugal, Pico, is visible just to the left of the leech of our jib. That massive volcano reaches up from the bottom of the ocean, some 4000 feet beneath the surface and then stretches up several thousand feet into the air. If you took away the water, Pico would be an epic mountain!

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The sounthern shore of Faial is so quaint looking. There are fields and buildings, all with a similar architecture; terracotta roofs with white walls, all set on the hillside.

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As we neared the harbor, we were presented with a massive volcanic creation that helps shield the harbor from the ocean waves.

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After being isolated from civilization for so long, this is now what we get to gaze upon. This quaint little town. We never got this kind of a welcome in the United States. When you enter a harbor, the waters edge is lined with factories, or ugly boxy buildings. There is no style, no form, and certainly no aesthetic value put into the shorelines of the American ports. The towns do not display their beauty towards the water. American towns are pretty (some of them) once you are walking around them, but from the water, they look boring and plain.

This town showcases the style of buildings you can expect to find in the inter-lands of the island. More importantly, this town was designed to be approached from the sea and therefore the buildings are set to face the arriving boats. You can tell that the goal here was to make the town pleasant to greet arriving ships and their passengers.

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After almost a year at anchor, mooring, or sea, we are now tied up to a cement quay. We have traveled a long ways and we feel like we have accomplished a great feat, but every other boat in this harbor has also crossed an ocean to get here! This is a port filled with true bluewater cruisers.

Transatlantic: Day 24 [Day 45]

The day has arrived, the day when we turn towards the Azores!

You might be wondering how we decided when to turn? Was it because Predict Wind said we should turn? Was it because someone told us to? Or was it because the clouds said it was time?

Well, a little of some and a lot of the others.

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Our Australian friends and our friend in the States both were away from their computers today, so we didn’t hear from anyone until late that night when they both told us that we should turn South towards Faial. At that point we had already turned!

What made me make the decision to turn? The clouds and the compass.

The weather was changing overhead and the high pressure was being pushed further to our stern, meaning that we would be able to turn without getting caught in the windless region of the high pressure system that was off our starboard side.

The compass was really the important one in this decision (as it should be). I knew the course we would be holding to get to Horta on Faial, and I decided that it would be best to sail a bit further East before turning so that we would be on a broad reach instead of a beam reach. Why? If I’m wrong about the winds on a broad reach, they will either be a run or a beam reach. If I’m wrong about the winds on a beam reach, they will either be a broad reach (which is fine) or a close reach (I hate beating)! I don’t want to run that risk!

So I simply sailed until the bearing to Horta was going to be a course on the compass that would have us on a broad reach with the low pressure that was coming in!

The other giant sign in the sky was the clouds literally turned at that point and basically lined a path that pointed straight towards Faial, the way they were blowing, it looked like a good track to be on and follow the weather system into the island chain!

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You can see here, we made it to around the area of our little sign post out in the ocean (on this digital map) and began turning towards the Azores! My, how far we have come!

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The other good part about staying with the winds is it helps keep us charged up! Our batteries got a little low during that period of no wind that we had. We really like having fresh food on the boat, and to do that, we need to power the biggest most power hungry monster in our yacht: the fridge. This monster chugs the amps and just gives you the cold shoulder! Our house bank got a little low so we were supplying power to the fridge from the motor bank. That drained the motor bank down quite a bit though!

All this fast sailing we are having is great because our electric motor works as a hydrogenerator when sailing fast and that produces the power needed to charge the batteries back up!

Here, the display is saying that we are generating 6 amps at 48 volts. When you step that down to 12 volts (to power lights and the fridge) those 6 amps become 24 amps! That is some serious power it can generate and that is crucial because we will need power when we enter the marina and need to dock.

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Looking ahead at the information from Predict Wind, you can see that they are calling for the winds to be pretty good for the next few days, and then get kind of light. I don’t really care much for these kinds of charts because it all seems like guesses to me. I like when they are all agreeing, like they do for the first few days (because they are all working with good data) but then the radical spread occurs where one is calling for winds of 4 knots and another is calling for winds of 15 knots! All this tells me is that further out, no one knows and I should just ignore the computer programs and look to the sky to read the clouds.

Clouds tell you the weather you are having and going to have because they are generated by the very weather you are seeing and experiencing. I would much rather look to the sky for my weather than to look at a computer screen generated by a program written by someone who is guessing based on incomplete data.

Transatlantic: Second Week

Week two from Bermuda to the Azores, well, it’s actually 10 days because its a week of ocean time (you know, where time doesn’t matter), was a mix of everything!

First we had no wind and a nice break from all the fast sailing we had done. This gave us time to relax and celebrate my 31st birthday! Then the winds came back and we made our way East towards the Azores.

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We sailed about 707 miles in these 10 days, averaging 70 miles per day and a speed of 2.9 knots. I know that seems slow, but we actually bobbed around for about 4 days with no wind, and when the winds returned, they were still rather light.

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The light winds gave us the opportunity to appreciate the ocean in a way few do. Usually, calm conditions is when most cruisers crank on their engines and power their way through to the finish. Hull speed is easily achieved at a modest fuel consumption of around 2 gallons per hour. Cruisers have the fuel to burn and the intolerance for sitting still to justify the expense of the fuel, so off they go at full speed!

Us on the other hand do not have the ability to motor at hull speed for days. Instead, this is when we look out at the horizon and at the fish that are hiding in the shadow of our boats hull. We saw marlin and tuna swimming around our boat, as well as many Man-O-War.

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These scary siphonophores are incredibly intricate! I had never before taken the time to notice the detailed pattern of their sail and how their balloon portion is slightly curved like a pastry and somewhat resembling a liver (with the different lobes making it larger on one side and pointy on the other).

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We were also graced by the presence of many marine mammals. A whale came to check us out one day and surfaced close to us a few times before diving off into the distance and a massive pod of dolphins came to play with us when we were sailing along at speeds in excess of 6 knots.

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No matter the time of day, not even if I just came off watch and only want to sleep; the chance to see dolphins in the wild is always a worthwhile moment to be awake!

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This week has also had some interesting neighbors which I identified on the satellite tracker interface. The skull and crossbones is Hurricane Chris, which we were avoiding, the windmill is the next waypoint we should head (according to our friends with Predict Wind), the boat is the position of our Australian friends who left Bermuda a few days before us, and then the islands of the Azores are marked with lighthouses and trees.

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Aside from the marine friends we had encountered out there at sea, my second favorite part of this week (and any afternoon at sea actually) are the sunsets. Each is as unique as mathematically possible, and each more interesting than the last; except on cloudless days with an approaching low pressure system, those sunsets are rather boring.

We have been at sea with no sight of land for a long time and we have not seen another human since we left Bermuda, but oddly, we are doing great and enjoying each day at sea for what it has to offer.