Sunday, August 28, 2011

Cockpit Dreaming

2011 08 28

Portimao, Portugal

A shaded cockpit protects us as we sit, drinks in hand, watching weekend traffic at the marina.  The BC is in vinho heaven with prices even on the continent in the $3 a bottle range for her favourite tipple.  My beer is poured from a litre bottle of SuperBock into a glass I stole (along with Randy of Babykiller Bee fame) from a bar in Greenwich Village a couple of years ago.

It is warm and we have just returned from the grocery store.

Today we completed arrangements for replacement parts to the boat and now have no gainful employment.  Maybe tomorrow I will work on the boat.

Dinner is in two hours with Dennis and Cheryl aboard the only other Cabo Rico 38 in Europe, it moored by purest chance only two slips away from us here at the marina.  Not a big fan of coincidence or other quasi religious experience I wonder at this.

Here and now we have time to spend on such weighty problems.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Tread Softly

2011 08 26

Portimao, Portugal

When all is said and done it was just discomfort and inconvenience but you know the crossing from Ponta delGada to Lisbon was a bitch.

In fact we never got to Lisbon which is almost 90 degrees due east of Ponta delGada.  We were blown offcourse by an unforecast storm and ended up 275 miles south having to sail 75 miles north just to get back to Portugal.

I am not going to regale you with details because I have a faulty recollection of what the heck happened.  The last windspeed I saw was 42 knots apparent and we were running hard before the wind.  That reading unnerved me and I stopped looking because I needed all the nerve I could find for more important tasks.  The Budget Committee never asked.  For the same reason I presume.  

We made it a Force 8 storm verging on Force 9.  Waves were huge but that is a subjective assessment; I did not measure.  White spume blew horizontally from their tops but the tops never rolled over.  They were sure burbling and bubbling.  For an entire night we watched, Meredith poised on the very edge of control, for that final sign that the waves were starting to break.  It was a close call and many waves found their way onto our deck anyway.

Here was the scoreboard after 8 days of heavy weather sailing:

  • We broke our staysail boom in two places.  Stress from wind and wave tore the sheet attachment point loose and before I got to the foredeck to wrestle the errant boom to the deck it had broken under heavy pressure at the gooseneck.  

  • We lost our dinghy.  Lashed to the deck fore, aft and centre it tore loose and flew into the ocean.  We did not notice, either of us, until we were tied up at dock for almost a day.

  • At one point running with bare poles we were making 6.5 knots.  

  • We did not change clothes for eight days.  I know!!! Not one article of clothing was changed and we lived in foul weather gear (foul has a whole new definition on Meredith these days) and rubber boots.

  • we slept on the salon floor for eight days.  Lee cloths allowed too much movement and so did the quarterberth.  The floor was perfect.

  • The BC had to pump the head while she peed.  In the dramatic boat motion even the briefest of spurts was enough liquid to wash up the side of the toilet bowl and splash her.

  • Food consumed in the first four days: 3 sleeves of soda crackers and a package of melba toast. Total.

The low point came with a wave that washed over the entire boat just after I went forward to secure the staysail boom and sail.  Some wave from somewhere struck from bow to stern.  The BC was on the wheel and was totally consumed by the great green greasy Atlantic.  She lost sight of everything but, out of the corner of her eye, caught a flash of red roar by the helming station outboard of the lifelines and destined for oblivion.

My offshore jacket is red.

What she did not know and what took several impossibly difficult seconds to come clear was that the fuel canister for the outboard engine, tied with quarter inch line to the deck, had ripped apart and let go.  It was the gas canister she saw.  I was still on deck.

On the whole it was quite the experience.  We had read the books: Cunliffe, Pardy, Motissiere and while you cannot learn heavy weather sailing on the internet we would have been lost without the guidance of these smarter better sailors.

We can buy new equipment.  The dinghy arrives in a week or so.  Staysail boom parts are available in the USA and we will bring those back with us after Christmas.  That is all that happened.

A bit of expense and a bit of inconvenience.  Spent in purchase of invaluable experience.

We hove to when it was needed and ran when we could.  So long as waves were not near breaking we ran hoping to get out of whatever had taken us under its control.  

Nice try Poseidon.

HAD I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet,
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams
W.B. Yeats

Leaving the Land That Breakfast Forgot

2011 08 14

Ponta delGada, Sao Miguel, Azores, Portugal

As a Destination the Azores are Hot, HOt, HOT

Heated Saltwater Pool at Ferraria
Friday and Saturday we toured the island with Lillia and Jeff.  The first day saw us swimming in ocean pools fed by ocean swells and protected by huge laval outcroppings.  Hot springs heated the 18 degree ocean to a Budget Committee approved 24 degrees Celsius.   As the tide departed taking with it considerable volumes of cold oceanic water the termperature rose until the BC was blissful indeed, steaming with the clams in 28 degree ocean.

Each Little Hill Covers Someone's Lunch Cooking

Tea Anyone? Water's Ready
Saturday found us dining in Furnas, the entire town built in a centuries old caldeira, the air around us a bit sulferous and very warm and moist in both cases the result of volcanic flows just metres (and in some cases much less) below our feet.  Our lunch, a Hungarian platter of beef, pork, chicken, sausage, cabbage, and potato was cooked by burying the constituent roasts and carcasses three feet in the ground near a hole bubbling with live steam and boiling water.

Finishing off with a tour of the only tea plantation in Europe we called it a good two days and prepared to leave.

We are unabashed in our praise of the Azores and we are grateful indeed to Scott and Kitty on Tamare for their strong recommendation that we spend some time here.  Thanks too to Stanley Feigenbaum at Beta Marine for his recommendations on prospective stops and to Paul and Mo on Ti Gitu for advice general on clearing into Flores.

If you do the crossing stop first at Flores and begin a leisurely investigation of some of the finest cruising you are likely to do in Europe.

The Caldeira Lakes at Lagoas do Fogo, aptly named

Monday we leave for the continent.

It is eat what you kill at Furnas.
Curmudgeon digs for his (hot) lunch while the BC drives the shovel from the rear seat

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Graciosan Swine and French Sailors - Laugh or Cry II

2011 08 04

Angra, Terceira, Azores
(were going to leave today but the neighbours asked us to dinner.)

Waking after our first night of frequently interrupted sleep on the island of Ingraciosa we were dismayed to find the pigship Espirito Santos moored off our stern.  The prow of their boat actually extended over our stern and came very close to touching our backstay.  The pigship, a stinking livestock transporter which had brought pigs and goats to the island had no need to be so close - the wall was 800 metres long and the ship only 50.  Its captain, obviously taking umbrage at our use of "his" wall, had the crew hose down its deck and the muck it was washing off itself was spraying in large quantities on the deck of our poor Meredith.

A French yacht tied up a boat length and a half ahead of us the night before had moved overnight and now its stern davits were only a foot and a half off our pulpit.  It seemed to have deliberately moved to block any attempt by us to move away from the heady nose of Espiritos.

We were pinned.

All of this came before my morning coffee and after a night of aural and olfactory blitzkreig by the pigship docking darkened my mood: it was as black as the muck raining down on our decks.

Nowhere could be found a french yachtsman with which to discuss the situation.  Probably for the best.

Aboard Meredith when things take a turn, as they so often do, we look always to the Benner family motto:"Run away".  Only ten minutes were wasted untying our two lines and casting off.  Out to sea with us it was and on to Angra do Heroismo on the neighbouring island of Terceira only forty nautical miles to the east.

In the process we lost the flag and flagpole which caught on a line from the french yacht (they had seven lines to our two) and was torn from the pushpit.  Manoeuvering was tight.

As we motored out the harbour and set the genoa in the following breeze it began to rain.  Perfect.  The Budget Committee made coffee and we sailed happily away from the Isle of Inhospitality.

An hour out to sea there appeared a sail off our stern, a big white sail which belonged, I knew without aid of binoculars, to the same french boat which proved so helpful on the wall.

One ocean empty save for two sailboats.  Only one outcome is possible: Race.

And this was a grudgematch.

Now I say this as if the crew were of one mind.  The Budget Committee was just happy to be away from the filth and stench of Espiritos Santos.  She relaxed with her Kindle while I  fell with relish to the tasks of trimming sail and adjusting course.  Honestly the BC is rarely much use in a race: she just doesn't get it.  Those double XX chromosome things cloud her thinking.

Early on I lay my sextant on its side and measured the angle made between the top of the french mast and the horizon. If this angle grew then the frenchmen were gaining on us, if the angle shrank then Meredith was treating them to what they deserved.

Five minutes later I put the sextant away.  No further sextant work was required. Every trick and bit of sailing lore in my quiver had been pulled out and set to the bowstring but my aim was off.  All that effort to no avail. That French boat was smoking us like the Hayter family smokes their turkeys.

Hayters is a family farm just outside our former home of Lucan, Ontario.  For thirty years this farm has provided us with all of our fresh turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

Like me their turkeys cannot sail.

It was embarrassing.  As the french sail grew inexorably on the horizon my mood turned further to the dark side. The other boat drew abeam, crew laughing and waving to us,  the devious buggers.  Finally it delivered the final insult and crossed our bow.

About this time the BC noted that I seemed "sort of quiet". Was there something bothering me she wondered.  One of those enigmatic smiles grew on her face; you know the kind that lets you know your wife thinks you are acting like a teenager and could use a good dose of maturity.

About then it occurred to me that throwing unnecessary weight from the boat would help our speed on the ground.  It was a fleeting and uncharitable thought but if I could have managed another half knot...

In the end the despicable french having left and hour and a half after us arrived at Angra nearly an hour before we did.  As we pulled into the marina dock to clear in I prepared a gracious congratulations to those who had bested us on the water.

As we approached the marina/fuel dock four guys lept from the cockpit of the french boat to grab our lines and help tie up.  The french captain entered the office with me.  Once cleared in and returning to the dock I spoke briefly with the captain about our shared night of horror in Graciosa and found out that in addition to our mutual grievances his boat was new and he was terrified that it, a Bavaria 50 I noted from the side, was going to be pulled under the concrete wall and destroyed.

It took a minute.

A Bavaria 50.  That meant these guys had almost 20 feet of waterline more than Meredith.  And that meant that Meredith had not been smoked at all. We were just fighting way over our weight.

And that meant these guys were ok.

As we moved Meredith off the fuel dock to her slip one of the French crew yelled an invitation to come for drinks when we were straightened away. The invitation was taken up immediately.

Drinks ran to 6 hours in which a cockpit of french, english and german sailors, none of particularly bilingual, finished several litres of wine and two litres of Ricard as we shared  horror stories about Graciosa.

The pig boat and the car ferry were great sources of mirth to both of our boats and the "wall" at Graciosa was common enemy. They, like us, had arrived at Graciosa that same day only to find no marina, no anchorage and obviously not much of a wall.

If memory serves we learned some interesting insults to the pigship Espirito Santos, each insult carrying several corollories and each of those toasted several times.   Truth be told my memory is not that clear.

Our affair ended with the exchange by us of the Canadian flag flown on Meredith across the Atlantic along with some maple syrup and by them of a unique empty container for Ricard and a bottle of what we were assured after great argument by the French, was the best Champagne.   Over our three days in Angra we met and remet our French friends always to good effect.

Damn fine fellows those French. Nice guys.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Pigs in a Poke - Laugh or Cry 1

2011 08 02

Angra Da Heroismo, Terceira, Azores

  38 39N  027 13W

Ponta da Barca
From the south you must round this rock at the Point

Some days a bad mood just gets worse.

Night before last Meredith and crew sailed from Horta to Graciosa.  Although called the "White Island" by its Portuguese discoverers this is a tiny  jewel of an island, emerald in the ring of gems that comprise the Azorean crown.
Cool Trick, Eh?

Graciosa had much to offer:  a mile wide caldeira lake, descent into a caldeiran cave with peekhole views of molten bubbling magma just below the surface but and most importantly bucolic placidity.

Graciosa may well offer all of those things but she delivered naught to the crew of Meredith.  Nor to the crews of the other two boats arriving at Praia the same day.

There are three stories in the naked island.  These are all three.


A day of frustrating sailing in light shifting winds saw Meredith make the anchorage at Praia, Graciosa in late afternoon.

Unaware there was a marina there, a marina whose construction had wiped out the entire public anchorage available for transient cruising boats we made entry, heartened at the unexpected boon of electric and water and a secure mooring.  Not so lucky,  As with most of the marinas in the Azores, and far too many we hear about in the rest of the Mediterranean we found no room at the inn as every slot was taken with a locally owned boat.

The marinas here were built with loans from an EU development fund intended to boost flagging local economies.  As described to us the terms of the loan were that repayment did not have to be made until the project was completed.  Guess what?  There are unfinished marinas dotting the coasts of most Med countries, none of them being paid for save by the inland taxpayer.  You have appreciate the sophistication of a fully developed bureaucracy, non?

So the anchorage was gone, consumed to build a marina for the transients which marina cannot be used by transients because the locals have filled it.  The rates at this marina - it is free.  Not to be put off by lack of anchorage or marina we scoped out a two thousand foot long commercial wall outside the town.  One other sailing yacht was tied to the closest end of that wall and we decided to join her.

Closing the 200 metres from the unusable marina we noted the wall was formidably high.  Arriving at the wall we confirmed its height and realized we could not get off our boat on the wall without benefit of a long stepladder.  We did not have a long stepladder, or even a short one.

Tieing up would be interesting as there were bollards for this purpose set in the concrete but the bollards were a good six feet overhead a concern as we were at half tide falling, and they were spaced about 35 metres apart.

Ever resourceful we tied, using bowline knots, enormous twenty five foot lassoos in our longest dock lines, lines a good hundred twenty feet each in length and with good luck and some boat hook assist threw our lines over the bollard from down below - first the bow and reversing, the stern.  The enormous loops would allow us to untie and slip the docklines next morning and depart without having to climb the eight or ten feet of concrete wall.  Getting back on the boat from such a wall was maybe worse than getting on the wall in the first place.

Smugly satisfied with  ourselves we waved our compliments to the boat ahead of us and had them returned readily enough.

Customs and Immigration in the person of a handsome young man with a great sense of humour, came to us on the wall as we could not go to him.  Delivering our papers up the now seven foot difference in elevation was accomplished by heaving a line to the official, tying it to our canvass bucket and putting passports and clearances in the bucket.

A local citizen happened along and with little hesitation sat with her feet over the wall and engaged us in a delightful chat for half an hour or so, she being a single hander with her own 27 foot boat which she had brought to Graciosa only a year earlier.

The harbour master followed all, apologizing for the lack of space at the marina. He asked us if we would please move our boat forward a half boat length.  We did not have to do so right then, tomorrow morning would be fine.  He then spoke with the boat ahead.

As the sun completed its descent we supped on bread and cheese with a bottle of my favourite white from Pico - Terres da Lava.  It's a pricey wine coming in at $2.50 canadian a litre - in a corked glass bottle.

As we enjoyed our sundowner repast the crew of the boat ahead spent an hour tying and retying lines, moving the boat, untying and retying lines, moving the boat in an endless cycle, each oscillation performed by a different member of the five man crew.  Each oscillation also put the boat closer to our bow.  Beginning a good boatlength ahead of us by the time we headed below for sleep the boat ahead of us was right on our bow.  There was no more room for them to move.

Just as we headed below a third boat came into the "anchorage" at Praia and was forced in the growing dim to drop his hook off the wall just about in rocky shallows.

Gerard on the Boat Ahead of Meredith:

We came into Praia late in the afternoon.  Anticipating there would be room at the marina we entered without hesitation.  This was a huge mistake.  There were no berths but also there was no room to manoeuver.  The slipways were very narrow and once in  a boat could not turn.  We were forced to back out of the slipway and the marina against a 15 knot wind and cross waves.

A local citizen told us to tie up to the commercial wall and we did.  It was very difficult as the wall was very high and we had to climb several feet of chain to get off the boat to set our lines.

As the tide went out we became very worried.  The wall was actually a concrete floor poured on pillars in the water.   When the tide was out two feet the wall ran out and there was a big cave created by the space  under the floor and between each pillar.  The  echo of the waves was very horrible and we became afraid if the tide went out too far we would find our boat washed under the concrete floor and into the caves.  My boat was brand new.  We were very worried and we had to set many lines to save the boat.

Unknown single handed sailor on the Green Hulled Boat.

It is a long sail from Sao Miguel to Graciosa and I arrived sunbaked and tired.  The sail was difficult in wind that never stopped moving so I had to change the sail trim constantly.

There was supposed to be an anchorage in Graciosa but that had obviously been chewed up long ago.  Typical of these islanders: take away a good anchorage and never tell anyone about it.  Naturally there was no room at the marina the town built over the old anchorage - there never is.  The locals fill up there tourist marinas every time.  When in England I voted for free trade with Europe but I never agreed to let the bastards make legislation to control me.  What happened there.


The first attack came at midnight.  Klaxons braying at the moon, lights blazing a false dawn, a huge car carrying ferry pulled into the dock right behind us and offloaded not only cars but a couple hundred drunk islanders.  Our deck was sprayed with gravel and detritus thrown off the wall by unthinking and pretty much insensible partiers walking home from the dock.  We were just glad no one felt the need to relieve themselves.

Gerard on the Boat Ahead of Us:

Mon Dieu.  That ferry rocked our boat up and down like a mad man.  It was just past low tide and we were all awake and pushing like madmen ourselves to save my new boat.  Bastards.  And then the people from the ferry.  Laughing at us and mocking us.  They treat us like dogs.

Unknown single handed sailor on the Green Hulled Boat:

Typical bloody Portuguese seamanship.  A Portuguese captain could not pilot a rowboat without a mishap.  They don't have to take any competency exam to be skipper, they just marry the owner's ugly daughter and are given a ship.

A hundred tons and his to command
and he never having left the land.

That ferry came in pushing a bow wave five feet high.  It hit my boat like a Tsunami and knocked my anchor right out of the bottom.  I was asleep of course and by the time I figured out what was going on I had been washed almost all the way in to the breakwall.  Bloody asses.  I pulled up my rode and hightailed it out of there.

Better tired and on the seas
than in port with the Portuguese.


The Budget Committee noticed the boat at anchor was dragging and got out the air horn and search light to wake the crew of that boat.  Just as she was ready to give a blast on the horn the skipper emerged from the salon and got his diesel going.

An hour or so later peace was restored and the ferry out to sea.

Until 3:00 a.m. That is when the pig boat arrived.  Pigs and goats actually.  This transport did not wake us with its noise or lights.  It was the smell what got us guv'nor.

This transport, name of Spiritos Santos, apparently took umbrage with our being located on "his" wall and pulled so far ahead that his prow was over our cockpit.  When we woke in the morning we found a huge shadow blotting the sun from our cockpit resulting from the overhanging prow covering our stern.  Our deck was covered in black spots of odiferous and odious muck apparently sprayed onto our deck when they washed the pig manure from the deck of Spiritos Santos.

And that was when the bad mood started.

The day grew worse as  I will tell next time.