Sailing from the Azores to Ireland

Lindsay and I along with up to three other crew members sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from Florida to Ireland in three legs. The first leg stopped in Bermuda. The second leg stopped in the Azores. This is a series of short videos taken during the third leg, Azores to Ireland. The total distance traveled on this leg was 1184 nautical miles.

On June 8th, 2018 we departed from Ponta Delgada in the island of Sao Miguel. The wind had been strong from the northwest over the past couple of days and then it turned north, which is bad. I wish we could have departed sooner but we had to wait for a crew member to arrive. While we sailed northeast over large waves we were pounding the hull for 24 hours. During that time I downloaded an update for the weather forecast. It predicted 40 knot gusts and 14 foot waves when we were due to approach Ireland. I decided to turn back, even though due to his work commitments we would lose the crew member we waited for.

We waited for just a couple of nights in Ponta Delgada for the wind to subside and the waves to dissipate. Besides, it was Portugal Day and there were military parades and events going on to entertain us!

Here is a video of a helicopter fly-by.

This shows how close the navy helicopter was to our boat.

Lindsay and I make comments on the Portuguese Navy demonstrations.

Once we had our fill of Portuguese nationalism and military pride, we set our minds to sailing again.

In June 11th Lindsay and I departed once again but with only two crew members, Charlotte and Svein. Charlotte had joined us in Bermuda and Svein was new to the boat.

The forecast was for 5-10 knots of wind or the first three days. I expected we could fly the spinnaker. On the fourth day a series of cold fronts was coming to add wind from the west by northwest and strong at times. Since we were heading northeast that would put the waves behind us and at worst on the beam. I figured the boat would be fine with that so off we went.

We were able to sail with the spinnaker about half the day and the other half of the day we had to run one of the engines.

Dolphins were swimming with us many times during the day.

By Wednesday the winds are strong around 30 knots so we were surfing down waves on a broad reach in the afternoon.

As that first cold front passed the wind clocked around to the north and then slowed to the point where we could not fly the spinnaker, so it was a frustrating day having to deal with waves.

At dawn on Friday the 15th another cold front came. The rumor here is the remains of a tropical storm added to the front. The wind was steady at the levels of the forecasted gusts for three days, which was until we arrived in Ireland. The swell and wave height combined into levels as high as we have ever seen. The wave energy was much stronger than expected. The crew’s excitement went up with the swell.

The temperatures dropped to 61F and the humidity coated the interior of our cabins. The sheets felt cool and damp when we climbed into bed.

Here’s a view from the aft deck.

When the seas get so big the boat “surfs” down them, alignment to the wave is critical. Unfortunately, sometimes the auto helm would turn itself of by going to standby status. If the crew member on the helm was not watching carefully, or tried to push buttons to correct the heading instead of just grabbing the wheel and turning it, we would turn broadside to a wave. This is called broaching. It’s not good. In fact, with wind so strong and wave energy so immense it can rip sails, part lines holding the sails and break rudders or steering cables. Also, if the boat gets turned the wrong way around it will throw to boom over to the other side and slam the rigging. This is called an accidental jibe. That’s even more likely to break something.

Here’s another video showing stronger winds and taller waves.

Eventually, each of us would broach and accidentally jibe during one of our shifts. In hindsight it’s surprising we didn’t break anything until day seven. This is the last video before something went wrong.

Here’s another aspect angle.

Here’s a view from the aft deck.

Not long after I recorded that video, The autohelm went into standby and we broached. Due to the size of the waves, it was an especially hard broaching event. The steering cable broke and the wheel became useless. Charlotte was at the helm and I was on deck. Lindsay heard the loud bang and a few seconds later heard me yell below “all hands on deck NOW.” Lindsay yelled back “what happened?” “Steering cable broke,” I said, “we need to get the emergency rudder out.” While I was getting my PFD on I was watching the boat turn by the force of the wind on our sails. I was relieved and said loudly “It looks like she’s going to round up and go over the waves,” but I wasn’t sure and for how long it would last.

These waves were friggin’ big. I was pretty sure we needed the emergency tiller connected and propellers spinning to hold a safe course up and over the waves. If a big one hit us sideways it would rock the boat and shake the mast so hard it could break a shroud and cause the mast to fall. That would be very bad.

With lots of communication and good teamwork, we got the emergency tiller in place an tied on both sides.

Next I went about inspecting the damage, formulating a repair plan, and on plan number two feeling confident it will work. I bypassed a block (pulley) and clamped the broken stainless steel cable together with extra cable clamps I got from each of the ends at the tillers. Not without getting lots of water coming into the engine rooms and completely soaking me as well.

This is right after the port engine room got swamped.

In the end, even though it was not the roughest ride or the longest distance, it was the scariest leg of the crossing. Thankfully, we got new cables custom-made on the second day in Crosshaven. Lindsay and I were off the dock the next morning, headed up the Irish Sea for more adventures, hopefully of a more pleasant variety.