‘Watch out!’ yelled Dan from the helm, two seconds later a gigantic wave crashed across the sidedeck and filled the cockpit, there was a loud crash and bang as it went accompanied by the hiss of my lifejacket going off, surprisingly my hair remained dry!
This was the largest wave we had ever ‘taken’ on board Velvet Lady in three years and clearly demonstrated the power of water. As well as setting off my lifejacket, this wave managed to wash a lifering, over the side (which remained on board because it was attached to the danbuoy), wash the autopilot control box off its mount and fill the cockpit. Down below the microwave moved 6 inches off its bracket, and the books on the bookshelves leapt over the bars that held them in place and crashed to the floor, no one was hurt. It felt like being in the southern ocean all over again.
We were on passage from the Azores to UK, and this was one of the many memorable occasions on the trip. We had set off from the Azores, a week earlier, and with a forecast for continuing gales from the north east had chosen to take an alternative route back home going south of the low. Even heading south the wind managed to increase to gale force, with gusts of force 10, and as it was now easing it left behind a big sea. We were glad we had opted for the easier route!
As the wind continued to decrease and we studied the weather maps, we realised that the wind was going to all but disappear for the second week leaving us a very long motor!
So much for the prevailing westerlies that are clearly shown on the routing charts. Is this a result of the North Atlantic Oscillation.
Velvet Lady took it all in her stride, and as the wind eased to reasonable amount and the sun started shining we took advantage of a favourable wind shift and at last started heading north making 7 knots.
We quickly forgot about our first few days of windy weather, and settled down to sailing in the sunshine and passing our time reading and relaxing. Before we left the Azores, Dan had downloaded an i-phone application to locate the stars, and during night watches we used it to identify the constellations. We also found Mars and Saturn much more easily than studying the nautical tables! Sunrises and sunsets were dramatic and many photos were taken.
As the wind continued to die, we headed for Spain and a diesel top up, with up to 12 sparrows perched under the sprayhood hitching a lift. They were clearly lost in all this unusual wind as they kept looking at the chart plotter! Many of them spent more than one night in the comfort and warmth of our bookshelves! We arrived in the Spanish Rias late afternoon to fill up with diesel and spend the night ashore.
Working out timescales for long trips is perhaps the most difficult thing to do. Up until now, Velvet Lady has never been late back from a trip, and in the past 22 years I have always managed to complete trips on time. This time however we had to face the fact that we were going to be 48 hours late, and some of our crew needed to go home from Spain..
As we came within phone range of the land, mobiles started beeping with messages, including one from Davids wife which said, ‘thought I’d better let you know, theres been a volcano erupt in Iceland and all flights to UK are cancelled’
Sorry Pam, we thought it was a wind up but after a quick google, we discovered it was in fact true. Our crew who needed to go home, contacted their companies, and were advised, stay on the yacht it will be the fastest way back!
We had a great night out in Sanxenxo, dinner followed by Spanish brandy. After 10 days of being ‘dry’ the large Spanish measures soon went to our heads so it was early to bed. Before we left in the morning we spoke to one of the guys working on Telefonica Blue (a Volvo 70) who said – we go out training in gales, we were out all last week, lucky for us they were not planning on going out this week.
93 hours after leaving Sanxenxo, we were motoring in fog up Plymouth Sound, early Sunday morning with no one around. After a quick breakfast and tidy up, it was off to the station and trains home.
Although in the previous two years, we have completed this passage with a day to spare, we have decided that for 2011 we will be making the Azores to Plymouth a 14 night trip. This trip and more for 2011 will be on line by the end of the week.
And finally – don’t forget to look in the June issue of Sailing Today, out on the shelves now, to read all about our trip from La Gomera to Madeira in March this year.