Azores to Plymouth – Sea Fever

on watch

We are now back in Plymouth after a great trip from Santa Maria in the Azores, 1564 nautical miles for our log books.  Just needed a few days to catch our breath and do some jobs before writing this blog – all done now and we are ready for our next season – Summer in Norway.  Thanks to all of you who sent e mails with best wishes – I shall now get around to answering them!

We added to the adventure of our new crew who joined us in the Azores by getting them to catch an extra flight from San Miguel to Santa Maria.  Yes, we ended up ‘stormbound’ there for a week.  Fortunately the day the guests arrived was the day that the weather turned and we had blue skies and sunshine for both our training day and first days sailing.

The wind strength was kinder to us this year than in many past years, we had a maximum wind force of a 7 – on the day we left the Azores and then again the day we arrived in Plymouth.  Our bigger problem was lack of wind, and at one stage we wondered whether we might have to motor the whole way.  Fortunately not – although the wind was never too strong in the centre of the high – it was always on our nose and we managed to create enough apparent wind to ghost along at 5 knots.  We had some blue days and some grey days – and boy was it cold!


We had many fantastic sunrises and sunsets – some cloudy nights with no stars and some clear nights with the whole sky covered in them.  Aided by Martins app – Google stars – we managed to identify a lot of them and also three planets, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter.

We had dolphin sightings and whale sightings and small little birds resting on the deck a long way from home.

There was the odd job to do on passage – including taking down the roller reefing yankee one day to fix the block on the clew before hoisting it up again – all in a days work!

Some watches there were lots to do and others were kind of quiet so we kept ourselves entertained chatting, singing and reciting poetry.

My favourite – Martins rendition of Sea Fever by John Masefield – which to me says it all!

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking,
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over

If we’ve whetted your appetite for a long passage, there are still 2 places left on our next one, North to Norway from Oban to Bodo.  1200 miles broken down into a 350nm passage to the Shetlands,  a 650 nm passage to the islands south of Bodo and 200nm of coastal cruising – more details here.  Last minute price reduction to £995 for 15 nights from 17th May to 1st June – why not join us.

Subject to the Weather

Velvet Lady in the sheltered harbour on Santa Maria
Velvet Lady in the sheltered harbour on Santa Maria

Our trip itineraries are all written and described as subject to the weather, but what does that really mean.  It means that if we think the weather is too bad to go out we will stay in harbour. The safety of our guests and of course Velvet Lady is always our main consideration.

Early on in RYA courses we teach that you need to plan for harbours of refuge and on ocean passages it is no different.  Whilst at sea out in the open ocean, the sea room is your safety margin, but once you start approaching land you have to go back to thinking like a coastal skipper.  You are also taught that once diverted to a harbour of refuge you should only leave when the weather improves enough to carry on or just stay put!

Leaving Madeira in glorious sunshine

We were all happy to put these conditions into practice at the end of our recent trip from Madeira to the Azores.  We set off from Madeira in beautiful NE winds and sunshin, and decided to make some northing as the wind was due to shift to the North later.  These first 2 days sailing were fabulous and the nights full of stars.  Eventually on day 3 the wind came from the north, and boy did it blow, for a while some of us were ‘outside our comfort zones’.   Although we had Velvet Lady well reefed down and riding the waves well sleep was a little difficult. The blast lasted for 30 hours before decreasing back to a steady force 5 with watery sunshine.

Just a bit wet and windy

The plan according to our website, was to stop (if time and weather permitting) at the tiny island of Santa Maria, the southern most island in the Azores chain, before continuing on to Ponta Delgada.  As we approached Santa Maria, not only did we have plenty of time to stop – we could also get there ahead of the next gale.  We arrived just as the wind started picking up – Richard wrote in the log book ‘Diana goes for a sprint finish’ and by the time we were secure in the marina it was back up to 30 knots.

We were safely tied up in Santa Maria at 0630 on Saturday morning and not due back in Ponta Delgada until Monday evening.  There was plenty of time for some exploring and for the gale to blow through before heading out.

Santa Maria lighthouse and whale look out station
Santa Maria lighthouse and whale look out station

Well – that was 7 days ago and we are still here.  There has not been a gap in the weather since then and at the moment there are waves breaking over the harbour wall.  None of the fishing boats have moved from the harbour since last Saturday, and the regular supply ship on Tuesdays and Thursdays was cancelled.

When we look at where to use as Ports of refuge, we also look at whether there is transport available to get our guests to their departure airport.  We knew that Santa Maria had a daily flight to Ponta Delgada and so that is how our guests left us on Monday.  Having already experienced one gale at sea – I think everyone was relieved to go by plane rather than battle the elements, I certainly was!

We had hoped that there would be a gap for us to sail across to Ponta Delgada to meet the new crew, but no such luck so our new guests, due to join on Sunday night will be on a flight from Ponta Delgada to Santa Maria tomorrow evening.  Santa Maria has a population of about 6000 people and so we have been able to do all the victualling for our next trip with no problems.

The guests will be here on Sunday night, then we just need the weather to go…..

tuesdays forecast
Tuesdays forecast – so far so good