Captains Log - 2012
I have been somewhat slow with the Captains log this year, having already been aboard since February and this being my first entry in June. To be honest I've been having too much fun to stop and write about it, but since arriving in the Azores it's rained so much I've finally had time on my hands.
So here we go....
I flew out with Claire to spend three weeks pottering around the islands, but the weather was unusually chilly for Fuerteventura after the coldest winter they had every had.
Still it was usually sunny, even if we did have to wear long trouser and jumpers.
On day three of our holiday my propeller fell off and disappeared to the bottom of the Atlantic half way between Fuerteventura and Lanzarote.
This was very frustrating but luckily I still had the original bronze propeller which I managed to re-fit using my scuba equipment.
After having the propeller fall off, I wondered what else might be just waiting to break so I gave the engine a full service, checking every nut and bolt, changing the fan belt and impellor, plus coolant and three different types of oil. I also disconnected the silencer and took off the exhaust elbow to inspect it from the inside.
Altocumulus cloud at dawn over Rubcion Marina in Lanzarote
Claire and I then sailed Moleoba up the East coast of Lanzarote and spent a few quiet days exploring the dessert Island of Gracisoa.
We hired bikes to look around the island, the track started off reasonably safe, but became more of a goat trail, until I ended up having to carry the bikes along the sea cliff.
We ended up on the North Coast on one of the most beautiful beaches in all of the Canaries, La Concha Beach on Graciosa featured at the top of this post.
The week after Claire flew home, my next door boat neighbor Johnny was celebrating his birthday and decided that he would like to eat out in the Thai restaurant on Lanzarote, so three yachts, Hunky Dory with Johnny, Nikki, Mandy and Gary aboard; Sol, crewed by German girls, Marlen, Helena and Polly and Moleoba with just me aboard, sailed over for the night.
Nikki, Mandy and Johnny on Hunky Dory
We had a fun time and close to Lanzarote the wind picked up and Sol and Moleoba tacked around each other taking photo's, video's and having a lot of fun.
About two weeks later, we all went sailing together again, this time over to the beautiful beaches of Playa Blanca and rafted up for an evening BBQ. This worked well until late in the night when the wind swung around 180 degrees and all three anchor chains wrapped around each other, creating quite a twisted puzzle for us to solve the next morning before we could leave.
Shortly after, my wind vane and auto helm cockpit control units both packed in. It doesn't say in the paper work, NOT to mount these units horizontally, but according the marine engineer I talked to, this was undoubtedly why the Auto helm unit had failed for a second time and the wind vane unit shortly followed suit. They are now mounted vertically where the sea and rain water can not puddle around the buttons and eventually wear through the rubber membrane.
On may way to see the Marina engineer in Lanzarote, I was lucky enough to see, what we think were two 10m Fin Whales cruising along the surface and blowing their spouts up into the air. It was the first time I had ever seen a whale at sea and was noticeable excited.
Claire joined me again over Easter and we set off down the East coast of Fuerteventura stopping at Jandia before heading for Gran Canaria where I was hoping to have my life raft serviced and dingy repaired.
We enjoyed a splendid 60 miles trip over to the next island, setting off in the dark at 3am and arriving soon after 4pm. I caught my first fish of the year just after dawn.
After Claire left, I spent another 10 days in Gran Canaria, having the main sail altered to take sliders instead of using the bolt rope that needs to be fed into the mast track every time it is raised.
I find myself sailing more and more often single handed and moving from the cockpit to the mast 5 or 6 times, to hoist the main sail, is laborious and also dangerous, as each time I leave the cockpit there is a higher chance of falling overboard.
With the sliders in place the sail can be hoisted from within the safe confines of the cockpit.
The life raft was serviced as it was three years out of date, all the valves on the dingy replaced and I bought new service batteries.
One exciting thing I did do in Gran Canaria was to buy a 800w Subwoofer and a 450w Amplifier and four mid range speakers for my sound system, which now rocks!
Its great using it for the surround sound when playing videos through on my laptop, the subwoofer speaker mounted inside the chart table shakes the whole boat. You can feel it in your bones.
I then left Gran Canaria and sailed back to Fuerteventura a trip of 90 miles, my longest single handed passage to date.
In theory two yachts can be just 10 miles apart at sea, and not be able to see each other because they are below the horizon, and then within 20 minutes, if heading directly at each other, collide!
So in theory a single handed sailor must check the horizon every 20 minutes for approaching ships. This is done by setting an alarm and just cat napping in between look outs.
I knew I could handle the boat on my own, what I didn't know was how I would react to the lack of sleep.
I made a few mistakes on this trip, ripped a sail in the middle of the shipping lane at 2am and exhausted myself by leaving after a full day of work on the boat, so already physically tired and not preparing Moleoba for a proper offshore passage.
An interesting thing I did learn from having a ripped jenny and only being able to use a small potion of it, is how much easier it is sailing Moleoba at 3/4kts instead of her usual 7kts. At these slower speeds the motion inside her is much calmer and life tasks such as cooking, sleeping and going to the toilet all become much easier.
One of the things that happened in the middle of the night was the anchor buoy came undone from the bow and I needed to go forward and retie it. I now remove the buoy completely for off shore passages.
This is a video of me doing the same thing two days earlier when Claire was aboard, not something you want to do alone, at night and in the middle of a shipping lane.
After all that I still enjoyed myself immensely and learnt from my mistakes and with that 25hr trip under my belt I set my sights on a three day, single handed passage to Madeira.
I had never really wanted to do these long passage alone but finding people who want to and who have the time to do these trips, is surprisingly difficult and I am not tempted to find unknown people via the various internet Crew sights there are.
The day after I arrived back in Fuerteventura the Auto Helm packed in again.
If it had failed mid passage it would have made an already exhausting trip much harder as I would have needed to hand steer all the way and not have been able to cat nap.
After another conversation with my friendly marine engineer, who helped me trouble shoot the problem over the phone, I found out that it was the solenoid valve which controls the flow of the hydraulic oil through the ram arm that connects to the rudder of the boat that had seized.
Again the manufactures do not tell you that this oil slowly (over 6 years) absorbs water and turns into brown mud which then clogs the valves. By now my replacement Kiwi prop and been made and I needed to lift Moleoba out of the water to fit it and give her a fresh coat of anti fouling which I did at the Rubicon yard in Lanzarote.
One thing I notice after I had replaced my two large system batteries that are housed under the fore cabin bunks, with smaller, lighter batteries, was that Moleoba's motion through the water, particularly into the wind and through waves was much more stable because she had less weight in the bow to pull her down into the troughs.With this in mind I decided to try and move 60m of 10mm chain which weighs 2.5kg per meter so 150kgs of my anchor chain further aft and lower in the bow, to further reduce the weight and therefore the sea sawing motion of the boat through the waves.
By the second week of May I had the Auto helm and all the other systems working on Moleoba and was about to leave Lanzarote for Madeira, a three day passage when my very friendly marine engineer friend advised me that I could not possibly think of single handed sailing unless I was 100% sure about my auto helm and as I had not changed the oil in the hydraulic system it would surly fail on me sooner or later.
So after half a day of searching the island I finally found a specialist that sold the right type of oil and spent the remainder of the afternoon flushing out the old oil and replacing it with new.
As the sun set I cast off my lines and set sail for an anchorage on the south coast of Lanzarote where I could have a good nights sleep and be prepared to leave at first light the next day for Madeira.
I will let the video's tell the tale.
But will remark on how foolish I was to set off immediately after changing the auto helm oil without a good sea trial. It worked fine in the harbour but as soon as we were out to sea the auto helm kept sounding its warning saying that the helm was not responding correctly. I assumed that the system was still bleeding itself of air.
But it continued doing this. So I put the auto helm unit through is computerised calibration program on a lumpy sea and under sail. In the book it says to do this on a flat sea and under power. The next day was luckily very calm, the wind I had set out to find was late but that meant I had calm conditions to tighten the high pressure hoses that were leaking hydraulic fluid and re-read the manual and manually adjust the auto helms steering parameters so it would accurately steer the boat, which it then did faithfully for three days.
The three night and four day sail to Madeira was fantastic. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the experience. I felt quite at ease and very contented with myself and the situation. I had thought that being on my own for so long a time would be lonely, but apart from one sun set when I thought it would have be nice to have someone to share it with and chat to, I felt very comfortable with it just being me and Moleoba out their alone together. I did talk to Moleoba quite a bit!
Being far out to sea on your own for an extended period of time, brings on quite a unique feeling. Which is difficult to put into words, but it feels a bit like all of this.
Magnificent, peaceful, content, calm, proud, being in control, a sense of achievement, natural, satisfying, simple.
I was aware of being alone and isolated but neither of these were negative, in fact being so far from everyone and everything felt exciting.
Learning from my trip from Grand Canaria, I started cat napping early in the afternoon, even if I did not sleep, I just lay down and closed my eyes. I also extended my naps to 40 and 50 minutes, convincing myself that it was very unlikely to meet another vessel on a collision course also without a look out. Twenty minutes is just too short for me to nod off and gain any practical rest.
What I found very stimulating was living a 24 hour day. Running the boat both night and day, watching the hours fly past while the boat sailed onwards. Weather it was 3pm or 3am made no difference, I cooked, cleaned, slept, washed, watched videos, read, listened to music and audio books and looked backwards at my fishing lines in constant hope. In the day light hours all I could see was endless rolling waves and at night I saw an endless ceiling of stars. That's not quite true, where the stars stopped and there was just blackness that was the horizon and the sea.
I slept in the saloon and when my alarm sounded or quite often before it did I would poke my head top side and peer around an empty horizon. Through the daylight hours I might just sit in the cockpit and stare out at the undulating surface of my surrounding world, hypnotized by the motion.
From just one meter above sea level, I can only see about 4/5 miles to the horizon so my entire world is a circle of just 10 miles in diameter. At night I can see just one or two meters from the side of the boat depending on the state of the moon and my world is shrunk to an even smaller size.
Arriving in Madeira was very anti climatic. I felt I had accomplished something that I had been preparing for, for many years, but apart from a well done from my parents and Face Book friends there was no fanfare and no one to celebrate with.
I busied myself tidying the boat and trying to water proof the engine hatch which was leaking onto the pilot berth quite badly on the few occasions I shipped a wave into the cockpit.
Funchal, the capital of Madeira, is a very reserved and sedate city, grand with its wide streets and black and white mosaic pavements and tall colonial style buildings.
In stark contrast to the canaries, it is a very green island with the scent of flowers in the air and bird song in exotic trees and plants that line the streets.
Claire flew out to join me and we sailed up to Santo Porto where we toured the island on a quad bike and then back to Madeira where we hired a car to see it's interior.
As we sailed slowly across a flat sea we spotted two whales, swimming equally slowly towards us.
I had spent 3 weeks in Madeira and was ready for my next off shore passage. This time 460 miles north and west to the Azores.
Again the winds were not great, but they hardly ever are for this trip as it is generally against the prevailing winds.
I left the shelter of the south coast of Madeira and was hit by 33kts of NE with a 3m sea running on my beam. As I motored away from the lee of Madeira I could sea the squall line of white water on the sea ahead of me. The forecast was for up to 20kts of wind, but I could see already there was quite a bit more. I decided to push on as these winds although strong were abeam of me so I would be sailing fast in the right direction and in two days they would swing to my bow and lessen, forcing me to beat north for the remainder of the trip.
I'll let the video diary tell the tale from here.
Maderia to Azores - San Miguel
Arriving in San Miguel early evening I decided just to drop anchor within the large harbour to avoid the hassle of putting out the fenders, ropes and then having to check in with the Authorities. I decided to drink a bottle of wine and have a good peaceful night’s sleep before moving into the marina the next morning. This was a great plan until I tried to pull up the anchor t. I think the five days of almost nonstop spray over the bow had finally killed off my electric anchor winch. Frustratingly it would work to let the chain down but not up. So I had to don a pair of thick gardening gloves and pull up the anchor and chain by hand. Fortunately I was only in 7m of water so had down just 20m of chain and there was no wind or waves to push the boat against me.
I was in the capital Ponta Delgada and once tied up, I checked in with customs and immigration, which was a ten minutes process and quite painless.
Again the boat was a mess inside from five days of beating into the wind, cushions and clothes were damp and needed airing. I had stopped quite a few of the leaks while in Madeira but still a few were finding their way into the cabin and annoying me.
I was ready for the emotional come down this time and treated myself to an hours massage and a proper meal out, to celebrate my achievement.
The weather is very changeable in the Azores, they say they can experience all four seasons in one day and this happens quite often. It rained a lot the first four days I was there which didn't impress me at all, I spent my time in the local Wi-Fi bar, playing chess on-line and trying to find out how much and how long it would take to fly out a new Anchor winch. This did however give me the opportunity to start writing this year’s Captain's Log.
Day five was fine and I hired a car to look at the island interior, which has some of the most beautiful scenery I have seen anywhere.
Five days later and I still had not been given a quote for how much the anchor winch would cost, so I left.
From San Miguel it was a 90 mile trip north and west again to the central group of Azore islands, the closest being Ilha Terciera.
I left just before first light, to do the trip through the daylight hours as these waters are alive with whales and I'd like to see some. I was awash with dolphins, spooking me out in the first light of dawn with their sudden gush of air as they exhaled, surfacing close to the boat and in the half tones of first light all I could see were black fins slicing through the water all around me. I knew they were dolphins but each one made me jump.
I didn't see any whales.
I had planned on anchoring in the bay of Angra Do Heroismo, but luckily there was an uncomfortable swell running and I sought shelter in the marina. The next morning the marina manager informed me that it was festival time and today there would be a Bull Run in the city centre!
There had been a loud party all night on the quay, but having been awake for 20 hours I slept right through it.
I got a little too close to the Bull at one point.
I'll let the video tell the tale.
I spent a couple of nights here and then sailed further west and north to St George where I anchored in a tiny little harbour called Calehta.
I gave myself a fright here.
There harbour was very small and after I tied up to the quay I found that the small swell was causing Moleoba to surge back and forth against the wall so I decided to put the anchor down, in the very small bay next to the harbour.
Having no anchor winch I now have to go to the foredeck and lay the anchor and chain down by hand.
By the time I had done this, I didn't like the position the boat ended up in and used the engine to try and move myself. But the Buoy and trip line I use on the anchor had floated back to the stern of the boat and became wrapped around the propeller. I was only about 7m for the shore and a lot of large rocks, that was why I tried to move and now I was immobilised.
So it was snorkel and mask on, sharp knife in pocket and a hasty climb down the swim ladder.
In the water I realised the boat was slowly drifting towards the rocks, dragging the anchor by its head across the sea floor by the rope that was wrapped around the propeller. If the anchor dug in, it would then pull against the propeller and shaft, so the first job was to duck dive down to the anchor and untie the trip line.
I have a rope cutter on the propeller shaft for just such occasions, but it failed to do its job and in fact, in a mild panic, duck diving under the boat to quickly unwrap the rope from around the shaft I managed to slice open the back of a finger on its razor sharp edge. I had heard the rope wrap around the prop, or the Buoy rattle against the hull as it was dragged down to the shaft and had put the engine into neutral very quickly so the rope was not too tightly wound around the shaft and it unwrapped relatively easily. I took the trip line and Buoy back aboard and moved myself back out into deeper water.
Another lesson re-learned!
Sailing around the coast of St George is quite dramatic.
Huge sea cliffs, green with vegetation drop sheer sided into the sea with tall waterfalls, cascading into the sea.
From St George I had a lovely days sail up to Faial. It was one of those days when I just let the wind and the weather decide where the boat went and on this day we ended up in Horta on the Island of Faial, which is the 4th busiest transit harbour for yachts in the world. Mostly yachts sailing from America and on towards Europe. I spent just one night here exploring the local town and the Famous Pete's Sport bar, which transiting yachts have been frequenting for the past 50 years, leaving their local flags pinned to the walls, which are now three or four deep with flags.
From here I sailed to Pico in time for their annual sailing regatta which had some lively night time entertainment and then back to San Miguel before casting off the ropes one last time for a week’s long voyage south non-stop to Fuerteventura.
Arriving back into my home berth in Corralejo, at about 5am and after a hot shower and a few glasses of wine, I put myself to bed for a good long sleep. Over the next 5 days I washed and cleaned clothes, ropes, and sails as I slowly stripped Moleoba's decks and stowed everything back away in the cabin and flew back to England.
I had planned on making this trip with one or two friends, but for various reasons they were not able to join me. So I had the choice of not going, or attempting it alone, which was a daunting prospect at first but once I had made the decision, I actually became quite excited about sailing Moleoba single handed and to experience life out at sea on my own.
My two main concerns were, being alone for such a long period of time and being able to sleep enough to keep myself functioning properly.
I tested myself, gradually increasing the length of time at sea, and I was quite prepared to quit if I found the experience too difficult and or dangerous. I sailed for one day, then three, then five and then seven.
To my surprise I found that I really enjoyed being alone at sea.
As I expected, having to set an alarm and get up every 40 minutes to look out for other boats was difficult, even more so as I knew that 40 minutes was too long a time to be certain of avoiding a collision, but 40 minutes seemed to be a good balance between being desperate for sleep and being too paranoid so that I debilitated myself due to lack of sleep.
At sea I didn't feel alone or lonely, but when I landed at Madeira and then the Azores and there were lot of people around me but no one to talk to, then I felt lonely. After 6 weeks of cruising around, I had simply had enough of being on my own and decided to head back to Fuerteventura.
If it came down to the choice of not going or going on my own, I would sail on my own again, but I will try to find friends to sail with me next time as I felt that was the one negative side to my experience was not having someone to share all those special moments with.
I am flying out to Bali in Indonesia today, to surf and spend time with a friend who owns a catamaran which is moored off the island of Lombok, so there may be another Log update, but it will be titled 1st Mate or Bosons Log!