Atlantic crossing to the Azores

We set off on 29th April from St Martins for Horta in the Azores.  If one could sail a direct course, this would be a little over 2,100 miles, but in practice the easterly winds force a dog-leg to the north, until the westerlies are found. Our course would take us over 2,400 miles to reach Horta.

IMG_3818_XA2_WindwardWindward passage

For the first week Ambition II was sailing hard on the wind, making progress to the north and a little east when conditions allowed. At first the seas were lumpy and uncomfortable, with subsequent loss of appetite (and on occasion, loss of breakfast)! Bunks were abandoned for makeshift beds on the floor, or with a lee-cloth adaption of the sofa on the downhill side.  Winds were ENE to ESE often around 20 knots.

Ten days into the voyage we were getting more light southerly winds, and later westerlies. We were able to get spot forecasts using the Inreach satellite messages, and JW sent us a general synopsis every few days. This helped us to navigate north of the high pressure area, to benefit from the westerlies.

Messages sent using the Inreach tracker also kept us in touch with family, and we received some sad news in this way during the voyage.

IMG_3825_XA2_SofaBedMakeshift sofa-bed with lee-cloth to stop you falling under the table

We started out with a good stock of tinned and dry food, supplemented by plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit. A big pork casserole was cooked and stored in an airtight container in the fridge. Bread was soon gone, to be replaced occasionally by cooking flat-bread or pancakes. We had at least some fresh fruit for over 2 weeks, with apples and grapefruit lasting well; root vegetables almost all the way, and we made yogurt to go with fresh or tinned fruit. The French supermarkets had supplied an interesting variety of tinned meals, though we were on occasion reduced to corned beef hash! To celebrate having less than 1000 miles to go on 12th May, we soaked a Waitrose Xmas pudding in brandy!




Fruit nets

We saw more traffic than on our previous passage from Cape Verde, 14 ships and 4 yachts, of which 8 were close enough to be of potential concern. The yachts all passed us by on more or less the same route – always larger and faster boats! The freighters and tankers that came within our horizon were most likely on some route between the USA and southern Europe. One interesting vessel turned out to be a Chinese tuna fisherman, laying out a long-line with AIS beacons every few miles, clearly seen on our plotter.


IMG_3899_XA2_Yacht2Distant yacht passing by

IMG_3867_XA2_LongLineChinese tuna long-line with AIS beacons every 8 miles or so

The days and weeks pass slowly at sea, and often the boat sails herself with little attention for days on end, perhaps with only an occasional adjustment to the steering or to the amount of sail set. Meals punctuated the day, along with many cups of tea/coffee, and when conversation flagged we would read ebooks or any printed matter that came to hand. J had a good stock of puzzles to complete. One day we got out the sextant and practised sun-shots without stunning success – however it tuned out we only had last year’s astronomical tables so could not make any use of observations!

IMG_3846Trying out the sextant

A variety of birds were seen, some coming close to the boat (no doubt hoping for fish). There were red-billed tropic birds as well as the white-tailed tropic bird pictured below which came very close to the boat.


IMG_3839_XA2__Bird1White-tailed tropic bird investigates our AIS antenna

There were many shearwater (Great and Cory’s), especially as we approached the Azores where the Cory’s were nesting. Another occasional visitor was probably a Great Skua. We also saw a petrel, probably a Bulwer’s petrel, flying low over the sea.

IMG_3857_XA2_Bird3Great Skua?

One patch of Sargasso weed revealed this tiny green crab, living in the fronds. Further north there was less of this weed, but still occasional fragments were seen, probably making their way around the great Atlantic gyre, to grow into more mats in the trade belt.

IMG_3855_XA2_SargassoCrabCrab found in sargasso weed

IMG_3865_XA2_SunriseAnother fine sunrise

On 11th May during J’s watch at about midnight, the steering locked up. It turned out that a cable had broken! All hands were roused and we immediately set up the emergency tiller (a chunky steel contraption that fits on top of the rudder post). This held the rudder dead ahead whilst the Hydrovane steered the boat under sail. In the morning, spare steering cables were found and the broken one removed (the cables link the steering wheel to the quadrant on the rudder post). This was not a simple operation but fortunately the sea was relatively calm and the new cable was in place by lunch-time.

IMG_3868_XA2_EmergencySteeringEmergency tiller

IMG_3878_XA2_SteeringCableRemoving the broken steering cable from under the binnacle

In 33 degrees north, we began to see patches of jellyfish, the sort with inflatable sails that propel them along. In one patch on 19th May, SN spotted a large brown loggerhead turtle (probably feeding on the jellyfish).

IMG_3884_XA2_SailingJellySailing jellyfish

Our first dolphin sighting was on 13th May when a group of about 10 spotted dolphins came jumping around us. After that we saw them most days, though the sightings nearer the Azores were a different type, dark with a white belly. They were mostly under the water so not easy to photograph.

IMG_3898_XA2_Dolphin1Spotted type dolphin

IMG_3906_XA2_Dolphin2IMG_3908_XA2_Dolphin3More dolphins

The weather was sometimes cloudy but mostly dry, and often sunny and pleasant. We only had 4 days with rain showers. As we reached more northerly latitudes, the temperature dropped until we needed warm clothes (including slippers for the skipper), especially at night. The nights grew shorter though, so night-watches were easier. We had started out with a full moon that shone throughout the night, but it waned, and we saw an hour less of it each night, until the nights became fully dark. To compensate, when the sky was clear we saw several shooting stars and a fine spread of constellations. Venus, Jupiter, Mars and Mercury were all seen.

IMG_3910_XA2_WetWorkA wet job on the foredeck

IMG_3905._XA2_JandRWarmer clothes for cooler waters

As we approached the Azores, we began to get forecasts of northerly and easterly winds, which would be a Bad Thing. We decided to head for the nearer island of Flores (J&R had a secret desire to go there anyway). On 20th May the northerlies hit hard during the night. So we had to reef down quickly. For a while we could not make a course to Flores, but later in the morning the wind veered a bit so we could motor-sail towards the island, now less than 30 miles away. As we approached, flocks of Cory’s Shearwater were flying around us – later in the darkness we heard their eerie cries as they flew in to their nests on the cliffs above the harbour. By 5:30pm we were safely moored to a pontoon in the harbour.

IMG_3911_XA2_LandHoLand! The island of Flores

IMG_3915_XA2_Flores_ShearwatersShearwaters off Flores

IMG_4045_XA2_AtlanticSlippersAtlantic in slippers (off Faial)

One thought on “Atlantic crossing to the Azores”

  1. The weather at the start sounds tough if not downright scary! Not for the feint hearted.
    There are benefits in the wonderful skies and Skua’s, though.
    The cable break couldn’t have happened at a worse time, could it?
    But least said, soonest mended and all that !
    So looking forward to seeing you – not long now!
    Ness x


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