20-22.04.19

So, we unexpectedly arrived on the small Island of Graciosa to soak in a little more of the rural Atlantic charm of Azores and wait until the waves gracefully decide to let us through to the English Channel.

Nils woke up with a burning pain in his foot and as brave as he was, we were getting ready to transform the cockpit into an ER, but before we had the chance to operate, he received a diagnosis through his medical app – it’s a jelly fish sting! The Atlantic Portuguese Man o’War (you have to admit, even the name sounds scary!) surfed into the boat on a wave, left its marks on Nils’ foot and got washed away from the cockpit before anyone could notice, but the pain would accompany Nils for the following week.

That being said, the captain stayed on the boat to rest his war wounds while the rest of the crew started exploring the island. Agata climbed all the way on the highest peak of the island (2000m above sea, impressive for a morning walk!), Piotr and I were lured by the beautiful coast and the lovely Portuguese villages.
With Easter approaching we were all excited to have some family time. Nice to use to internet for something else than weather updates!

Easter holidays means also good food and a lot of it, and here we had major help from the local fishermen who shared their catch with us. What a lovely surprise and splendid grill!

Monday morning Piotr was supposed to dive and fix the propeller – a fishing hook and around 300m of rod was stuck in it. By the way, this is what 300m of fishing rod looks after a few minutes in a running propeller:
Putting his wetsuit on, Piotr struggled like Brigid Jones with her slimming granny-panties. Or maybe it was too much chocolate for Easter morning :D?

18. and 19.04.19

In the Horta marina every square meter is covered by paintings, flags, drawings of ships and their passages. Almost every east-bound boat crossing the Atlantic stops there and almost every crew wants to leave a sign of their successful voyage. Each painting tells a different story and every sailor is happy to share theirs.

Not everyone is given the opportunity, though. Horta tends to get rainy and there we were ready and waiting to get the brushes and our hands dirty with paint, Nils had even sketched the design, but the rain didn’t grant us that opportunity. Even if Horta will not remember the little Tonic and its crew, we will sure remember the town, the lovely Peter’s café with a whale guarding its entrance, the lovely Portuguese food and wine, the misty view of Pico, the highest volcano of Azores, barely visible, and the weather that kept changing every hour and kept interfering with our plans.

Finally Nils saw a window of opportunity – if we rush and sail of immediately, we should be able to scrape through and miss the storms! Express shopping, packing, preparing and off we go! We waved goodbye to Horta, sailed across Pico which finally granted us the majestic view of its volcano.

The sunset was perfect, dozens of dolphins came to play around the boat, the panorama of Faial, Pico and Larga was hypnotizing. And then the newest weather report came in: stop or you’ll lose your mast, that’s basically what it said.
Right behind the corner of Azores 10 meter waves from the side were awaiting us. If we wanted to sail south to the Canaries or to Gibraltar, we could have taken the risk – such waves from behind could give us some awesome surfing time 😉 but we were still heading towards the English Channel. 10 meter waves from the side? Nope.
Quick decision: we’ll stop on Graciosa, one of the smallest islands of the archipelago and the last one before deep ocean and wait for the ocean to calm down.

17.04.19

Yesterday the few hours that we didn’t spend on sleeping the storm off, we dedicated to fixing… a crack. In the past few days the bilge pump was running constantly. The waves had been coming at as with the force of war tanks, some of them tried to make its way into one of the back cabins, cracked the back of the boat and we ended up taking in salt water.In case you don’t know much about sailing, having salt water in your boat is generally considered not great.
It wasn’t huge, fortunately, we didn’t sink (yay!) and we had been dealing with the problem by constantly pumping the water out manually, but this was obviously a very pressing issue, so the crack has been located, sealed and secured and all the salt water that we were carrying has been removed.After the hard part was done, we could spend the rest of the day wandering around Horta for a few hours, admiring the lovely architecture and soaking in the European, yet, so very ocean-inspired vibe and drinking hectoliters of the silky, aromatic Portuguese coffee. As the weather didn’t look very promising, we weren’t pressured to do speed-sightseeing, which was good because unpromising sailing weather very often means wicked rainfalls. Well, yes, it rained for the whole day. It’s been established, wouldn’t leave for another day or two anyway.The evening was chilly and what better way to warm yourself up than to integrate with a Polish crew of another boat? Darek, the captain, was taking a beautiful catamaran from Martinique to Italy and took Mateusz as an extra hand. We met in the harbour and had a great evening together.So great in fact, that Piotrek didn’t come back until 11am on the next day, very surprised that anyone had been worried about him. Well, isn’t it logical that after a good party you go climb a volcano on a 12km walk at the crack of dawn?

16.04.19

Yesterday’s immigration clearance made it very obvious: we’re in Europe. Life is simple, burocracy is minimal.We couldn’t decide which was more urgent – pizza + beer or hot shower + laundry. The hurricane which we escaped by ONE HOUR was making the life in the marina rather cold, wet and miserable.Just as we were waiting for our eight washing machines and four driers to give us back fresh, dry and warm clothes, blankets and sleeping bags, the power went off. Blackout in the entire marina meant that we had no heating and nothing warm to wear. Even the gas bottles were in the shop, only to be picked up on the following day… In this case, we just had to run the engine for the whole night to give the boat a more reasonable temperature.Well, the wine and gin and beer from the famous Peter’s pub also helped 😉And after the last night of the Bermuda-Azores passage we slept until 2pm.

15.04.19

YEEEES!!!!
We made it to Azores!And what a ride that was!
The last night was pushing us to the limit, none of us came even close to falling asleep. The wind went nuts, the waves went cuckoo, the autopilot refused to cooperate in such conditions, which meant last 12 hours of manual steering.While the wind was giving us plenty of speed, we still had to run the engine all night long to make it to the land before the hurricane reaches us. We arrived with 10 litres of diesel left, almost emptied the tank! That’s either huge luck or really good planning. Maybe both?We could see the Island of Pico and Faial more with our imagination than with eyes, the visibility was close to none, rain was pouring, little tornadoes were dancing on the water, wind was hitting 54 knots. We sat in the cockpit wrapped in our rescue suits, with salt covering every part of our skin.The water was coming into the boat, we were wet, cold, exhausted, happy and excited.We made it.And we found one hitchhiker:

14.04.19

Remember yesterday? The mast almost falling down when the front sail ripped out? That’s what you call a blessing in disguise.

Stressful as it was, it happened when the sea was relatively calm, everybody was awake and we could react in seconds.

This night would be a way, WAAAAAY worse time for attractions like that:
I finished my shift with calm and steady winds of 8 m/s. Nils took over and didn’t have to wait long when suddenly it started raining salt water. The drops were attacking horizontally and going in circles. With strong moon, you could see the water taking the shape of tubes. When Nils was taking all the sails down and securing everything the whole boat was shaking and still cutting the waves at an impressive speed of 10 knots with sails already down.

A few minutes later the tornado went away and left us with awesome wind: our average speed on Piotrek’s shift was 7.4 knots!

Agata wasn’t as lucky, she woke up to find three massive clouds approaching the boat from each side. Her shift was a constant race with the sails and the wind, putting the up and down and back up every 15 minutes.

With the land so close we can almost see it through binoculars and the passage already exceeding 2 weeks we miss fresh food a lot, but after tonight we well deserve everything tasty that’s left on the boat – popcorn, chips and some leftover brownie, that’s the way to get our spirit up!

We’re counting the hours and pushing hard. We survived the storm last night, but tomorrow morning there’s a hurricane coming. Let’s try to avoid it.

13.04.19

Lucky 13 😀

What an awesome day – more and more animals are coming to show us the right way to Azores! Dolphins following the boat, playing at the front, pretending like they’re going the same speed as we are. They’re not, don’t be fooled. They are triple as fast, but they don’t want us to feel inferior. So nice of them!

Dozens of dolphins opened the day, a turtle was floating in the opposite direction, birds started to surf on the clouds. That can only mean one thing – the land is close, we’re getting there, it’s almost celebration time!
Celebration can only mean one thing (well, if you’re from Poland, it usually means drinking, but we don’t have any alcohol aboard ;)) – cake! We have just enough gas to bake one and only cake.

While most of the crew is sitting in the cockpit making sure that we’re still above 5 knots (remember yesterday? The wind died down and in two days a hurricane is coming, so we need to keep our speed! We’re nailing it actually, having hit our new record speed of 12 knots on Agata’s shift!), I take my role as the brownie-whisperer. The dough looks beautiful, the oven is heated to perfection, I’m inhaling the sweet, thick chocolaty, fudgy air. The cake is just on the verge of being ready. Everybody is salivating.

Boom. Smash. Crash. Crack.
Shit.

Piotr, quick, up! Up, up, up!
There he is, looking around, trying to get his head around the situation as Nils is already in the front, catching the front sail as it’s trying to fly away, wander off. The rigging bolt of the front furling wire got broken! The only thing holding the mast was the main sail with wind from the back and the baby stay – the thin wire that helps to stabilize the mast.

Who will be stronger – the men, or the hippie sail that refuses to follow rules?

The deck is starting to crack. The mast is wobbling like a drunken penguin/ giraffe. The front sail is just laughing at us. Never before have we been so close to actually losing the mast.
Just in case you don’t know, losing the mast pretty much equals losing the boat. That’s something you don’t want to happen. If it does, well… let’s hope you have really good insurance.

Piotrek jumped up on the wire holding the front sail. It was throwing him around like a feather. Nils was concentrating on fixing the problem. What do you do when you know you have 3-5 seconds to make the right call? Well, then you should simply make the right call within 3-5 seconds. That’s exactly what happened. The adrenaline was getting over the roof, the actions were precise, strong, but immediate. The deck didn’t crack, the mast didn’t fall down.

The boat was still there, laughing wickedly.

Now we have really earned that brownie. It was delicious.

12.04.19

Now THIS IS SAILING!

Today the sea has decided that we are worthy sailors and we can be tested properly. The wind is blowing up to 25 m/s. The waves are at a killer height of 10-12 meters (calculating from the bottom until the very top of the wave). The pressure is low, 1003 mbar low. We have almost no sail and still our average speed exceeds 6.5 knots.

This is sailing.

We have officially added “cooking at 45°” to the list of our skills. Everything on the boat is flying. That’s the rule, you may think that you’ve hidden everything properly, but there’s always something that will fall down and hit you on the head when you least expect it.

This night we took double shifts, instead of 1 person for 3 hours – 2 people for 6 hours. What’s the point, you may ask? Well, the point is that if somebody falls into water, the other person is there to see it. If the wind gets ballistic, both persons can figure out the sail settings, the steering and all the ropes without putting anyone in immediate danger.

And right now we’re not just fighting the current storm. We’re actually playing chess with the weather, strategy is everything! The moment this wind dies down (early afternoon today!), we need to push through the quite time with highest skill and patience, because unless we keep our speed at at least 5 knots, we will fall into the cold embrace of the next storm, 3 days later. That one is waiting for us right at the entrance to Azores, like a mad, spiteful dog that just really wants to bite you on the ankles.

Today we have a very clear enemy that each weather forecast seems to confirm. Unless we come to Azores by the 15th, we’ll be screwed. Fingers crossed. Wind, please. Just be there for us.

Resting after a tough watch

11.04.19

Take that! Our new speed record – 11.5 knots!

While we took a moment to feel great about ourselves, we saw on the radar a 300m cargo ship going at 19.5 knots against the wind. Haha.
Nice people though, we talked on the radio and they gave us the latest weather report. It’s a wavy day and an even wavier night, the cabins start to look like an aquarium, we’re all walking around the boat as if it’s 4am after a rum night.

Cooperation has never been better, today was the first time when we needed four people to do the dishes – one on the inside passing the dirties and hiding the clean ones, one on transport duty, one cleaning and one rinsing and jumping away from the 6m waves the kept smashing the boat from behind.

The anchor that we prepared yesterday, we actually threw it into the water to check how it’s working and it slowed us down to almost zero, what a strange feeling, standing still on the ocean on full sail with waves of 6m all around us!

10.04.19

Still no storm.

Not that we’re complaining! The wind has picked up, indeed, but the forecast is still hanging there in the air and actually now we’re getting a little anxious, because we don’t know when and if it’s going to hit us. Just in case, we’ve prepared the anchor – it’s such a funny thing, on deep sea you use a giant plastic bag as an anchor, it fills up with water and works like a break with the force of several tons.

If huge waves come, this anchor will prevent us from flipping over and allow us to still steer the boat in very harsh conditions.

The bed cushions are moist again, so it looked like there might be a leak somewhere. The boys located and fixed it, so we’re very hopeful that tomorrow everybody will have a dry bed all night long.

And we all felt so jealous about Piotrek’s shower the day before that – hey! – we all took one! Second shower since Bermuda, we all smell like a spring meadow.