Archive for July, 2009

The Home Stretch…

Monday, July 20th, 2009

Tomorrow morning at sun-up we should be able to see the top of the volcano that makes up the island of Faial. This time tomorrow we should be sitting outside Peters Sport Cafe on the quayside in Horta drinking beers, wearing salt free clothes, eating as much as we like, and looking forward to a full nights uninterrupted sleep ahead. The Azores being Portuguese, Dinah will have completed her second transatlantic crossing. We’ll also be celebrating the fact that both Aileen and Andy will have completed their first transatlantic of course. I get the impression tomorrow’s going to be fun.

The last few days have been very non-eventful. This part of the ocean seems to be pretty desolate. The weather continued to be extremely hot,  sunny, and windless until last night, and now we’re running before 25knts of wind under grey skies and drizzle! It’s actually quite annoying  drizzle, as it’s not heavy enough to wash the salt out of our hair, but it’s wet enough to require full oilskins. It would actually be better if  it just lashed rain, in which case we could have a proper shower on deck! Oh well…

Let’s hope tomorrow brings all we have been wishing for. I’ll let you know…


38 deg 38.455N  32 deg 07.123W

Breeze Please?

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

It’s been another quiet day in the Atlantic. Overnight we sailed out of the breeze, and now we’re plodding along under engine direct for Horta. Sometime tonight the breeze should fill in again, but this time from the NW. Again a perfect direction for good speed towards civilisation. In the meantime we’re keeping the diesel tank full, and hiding in the shade as much as possible on deck.

As we travel West the sun goes down earlier, so we moved our night-watch rota forward by an hour last night. At the same time the moon comes up later in the night, and it’s less and less bright as it reaches the end of its waning phase. Last night it was that classic “children’s drawing” type moon, a narrow crescent, that would have had somebody sitting on it and singing, were it a theatrical prop. We all love the complete darkness in between sun-down and moon-up. The show of stars in the darkness is spectacular, and it’s amazing to be able to see the creamy band of the Milky Way overhead stretching the whole way from horizon to horizon.

We haven’t seen any shipping in quite a while now, and even the wildlife seems to be finding the daytime a bit too hot to come out and play. Pretty much the only things to be seen are those funny jellyfish with little sails, and huge turtles each a few feet across. We took a small detour this morning to take some photos of one, who was of course named Terry (we’re an imaginative lot really!), as apparently some people don’t seem to believe that you get turtles in the middle of the ocean!

Supplies are starting to run a little low, although once we maintain our current pace we should be ok for the essentials. Fresh foods are all but gone, chocolate is in short supply, and we’re nearly out of Twistees! That said, the discovery of an extra pack of beer yesterday has had a significant impact on the the daily ration, which is nice.

Must get back on deck before I melt…


At 1600 UTC:   38 deg 13.357N   37 deg 42.030W

Highs and Lows…

Friday, July 17th, 2009

No, I’m not getting all emotional again. I thought you might be interested in some of the theory behind some of the weather we’ve been having, which also explains some of the weather you’ve been having back home.

During the night last night we finally dropped off the edge of the Gulf Stream. The thought occurred to me that I have probably mentioned the Gulf Stream many times, especially during the race, without actually explaining what it is. Basically it’s a river of warm water that flows along the surface of the Atlantic from the Caribbean, up along the Eastern Seaboard of the US, then heads NW’ly across the Atlantic, hits Ireland and the SW corner of England, before ending up off Scandinavia.

There the warm water cools down, drops to the bottom of the Ocean, and heads back South, past the Canaries before crossing back to the Caribbean again. It’s one big cycle. It is this phenomenon that gives the British Isles such mild damp weather, while other parts of the world at the same latitude are snowbound for months
on end. The Gulf Stream flows at about 1.5knts, so during the race when it was flowing against us it was really important to avoid it, staying in the cooler water.

It was also responsible for most of the endless thick fog we had during the race, the warm air flowing along its surface suddenly hitting the cold water of the ice-laden Labrador current and immediately turning to fog. On the trip back we have tried to stay with the Gulf Stream for as long as possible, to ride is like a giant escalator. Last night as we left it, the sea temperature dropped by over 4 degrees very quickly and it will continue to drop as the approach the Azores.

A few days ago we successfully hooked ourselves into the Azores High. This is an area of high pressure that usually establishes itself West of the Azores, sometimes covering half the ocean. The air rotates clockwise around it, so to the North of it we find steady Westerly breeze, which has been helping us make such good progress towards the Azores. Sometimes during our summers an Azores High so powerful will develop that it can remain stationary for significant periods of time, with enough strength to push any approaching low pressure system well North of it, giving us the heatwaves we enjoy in Ireland every few years.

This year, the Azores High is small and weak. It was non-existent during the race, which allowed a new record time to be set. This one that we are utilising at the moment looks like it will be bowled out of position, ten-pin bowling style, during the next week or so by a very powerful low that’s moving across the Atlantic at the moment. I just hope that particular low has gone through by the time we leave the Azores again in a weeks time, and my thoughts are with my friends half way between the Azores and the UK hoping it won’t hit them too hard.

Those lows are a dominant feature in the weather in the British Isles. Sailors are used to tracking their approach and understand their predictable behaviour. It was very interesting though when we were sailing the East Coast of the US to try to predict the behaviour of the lows before they headed across the ocean. Instead of being able to monitor and track them for days before they became relevant, over there the lows are born, and simply appear! Forecasts would change wildly as new lows appeared. Within 48hrs of leaving New York three new lows were born around us, which made all my previous weather routing obsolete, and caused us to meander around the ocean making little progress for the first week or so trying to avoid them as they started to head on their normal route North-West towards Europe. At least one of those is responsible for some of the storms the South of England has been suffering from over the last few days.

Thankfully we managed to avoid the worst, and now we’re in this Azores high we can fairly accurately predict the weather from here to Horta. With less than 600nm to go it really feels like the home stretch for this leg, and it’s comforting to see the weather on this side of the ocean is still behaving the way we expect and understand. We don’t always like it, but at least our weather makes sense!

Hopefully the cooler water temperature today will help to keep the heat inside the boat down a bit this afternoon. We’re going to need the shade as we’re close to needing to ration the sunblock!

I’m off for a sleep now before it gets too hot…


highs and lows

at 1000UTC  X marks the spot:

38 deg 28.302N  041 deg 01.415W   COG 110   SOG 7.5

Clean and Dry

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

It’s just gone midnight, the sun has just set, and another day on the ocean begins with us all sitting round eating dinner and listening to music. Phosphorescence rushes past, stars twinkle, but we’re so accustomed to that by now we barely notice! It was another scorching day, despite there being a good breeze to cool us down. It’s almost impossible to spend more than a few minutes down below in the afternoons, and certainly sleeping down here it out of the question. Imagine trying to go to sleep in a sauna… Your body is clever enough not to let you, as it knows you might not ever wake up due to fluid loss.

From a sailing point of view it was a perfect day. Steady 17 to 19knts breeze at 100degrees apparent all day. Dinah effortlessly surfed every wave, boastspeed averaging in the 9’s for the day., and topping out at 14.3. No  sail changes, no course changes, the boat didn’t need us at all!

The only real news from the whole day was a new wildlife spotting. Turtles! Big turtles about a foot and a half across, ambling slowly through the water. We saw four of them during the day. I wonder where they were going? I didn’t expect to see them so far from land. Aside from the turtles we had loads more flying fish, and little squid that ended up in the cockpit, and more of those green dolphins that just don’t seem to want to play!

After so many days in such heat we’re all incredibly salty. The salt attracts moisture, especially after dark, and its really not nice sitting in wet salty clothes. So today was a big wash day. Wet wipes showers all round, and full sets of clean clothes. It feels great to be dry for the first time in days, but I guess tomorrows afternoon heatwave will have us back to square one. I’d do anything for a big rain shower to get the salt out of my hair, and fully off my skin. I was trying to recall earlier if there was ever a time before this in my life when I was completely barefoot for a whole week. I really wasn’t expecting these conditions.

Still, with the progress we’re making there will be no complaints. Each hot sweaty fast sailing hour brings us closer to cold showers and even colder beers in Horta. Only 834nm to go right now…


at 0300 UTC:

38 deg 15.085N  046 deg 04.852W   COG 110 SOG 8.0