We set off in bright sunshine on Saturday 7th June from Quinta De Lorde Marina in Madeira. We expected some swell on the first day, receeding after that, with 15 knots of wind also easing. The passage was expected to take 5-7 days depending on conditions. We had plenty of fuel on board so motoring in light winds towards the end of the trip was not a concern.
On rounding the end of the Island we headed out from the protected waters into the open Atlantic. The swell which was not initially too big but by the time we were 5 miles offshore, it was 3-4 metres high rolling in slowly from a depression passing 1,000 miles to the north of us. It made setting the staysail tricky and even trickier to take it down when we found it was not helping keep the boat steady. Anyway, soon enough we were heading north north west sailing at 5 knots into the swell. I wasn't too comfortable in the conditions but Anne and I knew that we would need to give our bodies time to acclimatise to the conditions. By nightfall the swell had become more regular or maybe I was getting used to it. I did my night watches without getting sick but found I was very tired from the effect of the motion. This was a first of many lessons learnt for me, that I was affected by seasickness at the beginning of a long passage when conditions were bouncy.
The second day the sea had eased a little with only the occasional big swell burying the bow as we sailed close hauled. Late in the afternoon the wind eased a good bit to less that 10 knots so we motored west as we had so far been sailing to the east of our destination, pushed by the westerly winds. The normal winds for this area are westerly but we had hoped to benefit from more southwesterly winds which hadn't settled in for us. After motoring for 10 hours or so, we got a little wind and resumed sailing north north west on seas which were beginning to settle a little.
I had already learnt a lot about how I would cope with these conditions. The constant movement made me debilitated. I never really became nauseous but felt constatly tired. So I spend a lot of time resting or snoozing in my bunk. It wasn't until the third day that I developed an appetite enough to eat cereals and snack food. Up till then I just tried to keep myself hydrated. The swell was still there but I was getting used to it and it was possibly not as big.
2.30pm on the third day the winds eased again so we again motored west and started thinking of our strategy for approaching the Azores. After over 24 hours motoring over easing seas we found a little more wind and sailed for a few hours but as evening came we were back on the engine again motorsailing just off the wind. The fourth night started bumpy but the seas eased as we motorsailed just off the wind in light breezes which kept up until the morning of the next day. Then around lunchtime the winds finally came into the southwest at 10 knots or so and we were able to sail on a close reach on flat seas and all was well except for the fact that Anne's brain had begun to boil in the sun and silliness was beginning to creep in on board. We were both over our initial mal de mer and had begun to enjoy the trip, having settled into the routine onboard.
In the morning of the last day we woke to calming seas without much trace of swell, indicating that there were no low pressure systems passing to the north of us. We knew that we had about 24 hours left and we finalised our intention to go to Santa Maria Island instead of Sao Miguel as the wind had finally come around into the southwest. By midday we were sailing again in 10 knots on the beam which kept the boat well balanced and moving comfortably at 4-5 knots. The conditions continued all day in bright sunshine and clear skies. I assumed that by sunset the wind would ease and we would be back to motorsailing, but luckily the light breeze continued right through the night. We noticed also that the night passages were a little warmer. When we left at night we had to wrap up, wearing a jacket and overtrousers with a hat and gloves to not get cold. By the fourth night the hat and gloves weren't really needed. Curious that we found it warmer as we got further north and west.
As dawn approached we could see the lighthouse on the southeast of the island and some streetlights on its east side. The island is just over 10 miles wide and its low peaks were covered in a low cloud but visibility was clear enough to make approaching the island from 4 miles offshore easy. By 9am we were tied up in Vila Do Porto, the marina and main community of the island of 6,000 people. It was great to be landed and I sensed the achievement of what we had done. It was the longest passage any of us had done, 650 miles in just less that 5 days despite the contrary winds and swell in the first part of the passage. Anne and I appreciated immensely the honour Ronnie and Glenis had done in inviting us along and hope we pulled our weight as crew. We celebrated our arrival with a salad lunch in the yacht club bar.
After that it was a matter of tidying up the boat and doing laundry. First a shower was needed by all as we were very grimy after 5 days of limited washing facilities. In the afternoon after the heat of the day we explored the town above the harbour. It has a colonial charm with some lovely old buildings. There seemed to be plenty of a buzz about the place and the people seemed friendly. The following day we went for a walk along the southern coast path leading east from the fort above the harbour. It was a real high value walk with lots of wonderful sea views and changing vegetation. The sun was hot, I guessed over 25 degrees, noticably hotter than Madeira. The afternoon was spent working on the boat getting things tidied away ready for the next trip of 200 miles to Horta, the main sailing crossroads for yachts crossing the Atlantic. We had a good forecast and readied to set off looking forward to the trip.