Ocean Passages – Practicing our Navigating skills.

chart az plymGreat Circle Black, Rhumb line Red, Actual track Blue

We have just completed our longest passage of the year 1200 mile as the crow flies from Ponta Delgada in the Azores to Plymouth. It is not often that the weather allows you to go directly from A to B – so this trip we actually logged 1400 miles on the 10 day passage. So if we couldn’t go in a straight line – how did we choose which way to go and how did we find our way?

If you read the pilot charts and ocean passages for the world they suggest that in April first you will encounter light NE winds North of the Azores and then winds from the western sector from about 45N. It would seem logical to head north (even motoring) until you reach the westerly air flow.

Before arriving – Michael, who owns his own boat, had done lots of planning and brought with him his chart with the great circle route (black) and rhumb line (red) already marked on. We were aiming for an average of 5 knots made good or 120 miles per day and the rhumb line was divided accordingly. We mapped our progress on this chart every day at midday.

James, a Coastal Skipper, was interested to see how near you could get with dead reckoning – that is when you draw on a line for course steered and distance run without using the GPS – his dead reckoning track is in blue and over 1300 miles to Ushant he was only 10 miles out when we spotted the land

John, a Yachtmaster, was aiming to use the trip as a qualifying passage for Yachtmaster Ocean, so he wanted to see how accurate you could get with a sextant. He had never used a sextant before and rapidly found out that it is not as easy as it looks – it takes practice and patience when the boat is leaping up and down – however, we had a good amount of opportunities to practice and in the end the sextant positions were with about 5 nautical miles of the good old GPS.

Paul, a Day Skipper, just loved being at sea and was interested in making sense of the ever changing weather patterns – in fact he had sailed this passage with us twice before in the past.

(please note all names have been changed to protect identities)

To make the dead reckoning and the sextant sun run sun positions work accurately it is important to keep good records of the course steered and distance run – hourly entries in the log book ensured this and gave everybody something more to do on watch.

Our course was always dependent on the wind direction. For the first part of the trip we had wind from the ESE and as you can see from the blue line on the map we managed to sail close to the Rhumb line.   The second half of the trip we had winds from the NE (instead of from the west) and ended up beating. It was important for us to keep track of when the wind shifts would come. For this we downloaded twice daily Met Office synoptic charts using weatherfax and worked out that we had to head to the east before heading north we didn’t cross the Rhumb line again before reaching the Lizard!

We had made such good time on this passage we had plenty of time to spare so we made a stop in Falmouth to rest and recoup before our final leg to Plymouth.

So how did the guests find it

My first ocean crossing could not have been in better hands. Great boat, great crew, great company. Thank you for all your knowledge sharing and a fantastic experience

 My dream of a long Atlantic passage fulfilled, many, many unforgettable experience. A gale as usual, sunrises and sunsets, night skies seen from a new angle. Saw and learnt a lot about weather and passage planning. As a skipper of my own boat it has been a master class in ocean sailing

 Thanks for a fantastic 2 weeks I have learnt a lot and had a great time. Hope to be back with you in the future.

 Well that’s four trips and very nearly 5000 miles on Velvet Lady – looking forward to the next 5000!

If you fancy putting your navigation skills into practice coming up soon are 2 more milebuilding passages – The shorter, 500 miles from Plymouth to Oban which has now been reduced to £600 or the longer, 1100 miles North to Norway, Oban to Bodo


Where are the Azores?

azores webApprox 9oo miles from Lisbon, 1800 miles from Newfoundland, 1200 miles from UK and 530 miles from Madeira.

 A fabulous sunrise welcomed us to the Azores – with 50 miles to go the sun appeared on the eastern horizon, we were sailing amongst fishing boats and were joined by whales and dolphins.  What a welcome.

760 miles on the log and 6 nights at sea – we were pleased to arrive.  As last week we started with winds from the north west and a beat – luckily we did not end up having to sail double the distance as we managed to play the wind shifts nicely.  Gerry and Pam had sailed with us on passages before, Terry and Sarah were new to it.  All of us found it difficult to move around the boat and sleep as we were constantly pounding the waves.  Nevertheless the watch system went smoothly and as we stuck to our usual 2 watch regime – 6 hours on and 6 hours off during the day, 4 hours during the night.  With our watches still on Madeira time it didnt go dark until just around 9 pm and the moon was out giving us a huge floodlight in the sky.  Venus was particularly bright every evening, and proved quite handy to steer by.

We come to the Azores mainly as a stopping off place to set us up for our passage to Plymouth.  North of the Azores we should get westerly winds whereas if we headed due north from Lanzarote we would most likely get northerly winds.  They are also a great place to visit just as a tourist  and today, Richard and I treated ourselves to a tour of the islands with some spectacular views.   If you plan on joining us here in the future its worth adding a day to your trip to do the same.  We’ve also discovered that Ryan Air are starting up direct flights from Stansted.

We’re ready for the long leg now, onwards to Plymouth – who wants to guess at which way the wind is forecast to blow?

We’ll let you know on the 4th May

Weather Routing – making the most of the wind shifts between Lanzarote and Madeira

lanz to maderia

Lanzarote to Madeira – 385 miles for the log books, 300 miles in open ocean – all on one tack!! This is how our guests summed it up.

‘My first trip out of sight of land for so long and first in the Atlantic. I was pretty apprehensive but Lin and Richard calmly instil complete confidence. Lovely boat, fantatic food, good company’

‘We started in sunshine and ended in sunshine. We made Madeira in one tack so I now walk funny. Super boat – great trip

‘I didn’t really know what to expect but Lin and Richard soon settled us in instilling complete trust in their ability and experience. Velvet Lady is a great boat and our bash to Madeira was a true ocean experience’

‘What a treat to be joined by dolphins as we were cruising along and catch a glimpse of whales too’

We allow a 7 night trip for this short passage to give us plenty of options of working with the weather forecasts. At the start of this week the forecast was for NW winds slowly veering to N and then NE by the end. What’s the course to Madeira – NW!

It made sense to wait a while for the passage and set off towards Madeira once the wind was in the N and starting to shift NE.

It didn’t change our plans too much as we never set off in open water on the first day – we like to go for a day sail so guests can find their sea legs. The NW wind was ideal for that as we reached along the coastline to Puerto Calero. Our second day was a beat around the coast of Lanzarote up to Graciosa. A good opportunity to experience bashing in big waves knowing there was some rest coming at the end!

After a night and morning at anchor, we finally managed to set off on our passage – not sailing by the compass but steering by the wind – keeping the wind angle at a kind 55 degrees to the bow to stop slamming and allow sleep!

We were betting that the wind would shift as predicted and in the end we would lay Madeira – take a look at the chart plot above, it worked! We made Madeira on one tack, sailing close by the Desertas Islands and spent a peaceful night at anchor in Baia de Abra.

After a passage you are often more tired than you think. Our attitude at the end of a trip is once stopped to let you sleep until you wake up and recharge your batteries. Breakfast is either help yourself or when everyone is up. After breakfast with everyone refreshed is the time to decide the plan for the day. We were anchored in a beautiful bay in the sunshine and we decided to just stay there – no need to go for another sail – and enjoy the sunshine and a picnic lunch. There is quite a popular walk along the cliff tops overlooking our bay and we could see all the walkers looking down on us in envy. What more could we want!

Lanzarote to Madeira (300nm) is the shortest of the passages that we offer – a great way to try ocean sailing and find out if you like it. We sail the same circuit each year and so there are always more opportunities coming up. Our next short passages will be from Madeira to Lanzarote 300nm in November and Lanzarote to Madeira 300nm in March 2016 – dates available at the end of April.

For now we move on to our longer passages Madeira to Azores (550nm) and then Azores to Plymouth (1200nm). These are both full but we do have spaces on Plymouth to Oban (with stops – 550nm in total) and Oban to Norway (1000nm)

As usual keep an eye on our schedule for dates and prices and sign up for our newsletter to be sure to know the new dates as soon as they are available




Pilot Whales in Lanzarote – what a treat. Another sailing holiday in the Canary Islands

pilot whales in lanzarote

We are used to seeing dolphins when we are sailing in the waters around Lanzarote, and this week was no different – we saw dolphins on 3 separate occasions.  Well so we thought, but on a closer look the third time, the splashes were not dolphins but a pod of 9 or 10 pilot whales.  With the binoculars it looked like there was also a baby.  They appeared in the distance just at lunch time so we hove too and gently drifted down towards them.  What a fabulous experience sitting and watching them – we have seen this in Norway but this was a first for Lanzarote.

The weather this week was the complete opposite of last week, with 3 days of really light winds followed by 3 days of blustery winds.  Nevertheless we still managed 145 miles for the log books and to circumnavigate the islands of Lanzarote and Lobos with a stop at La Graciosa and a walk to the top of the volcano.

3  more trips to do here in Lanzarote before we set off on our travels north.  These are all fully booked, but do not despair we will be returning to Lanzarote for more sailing holidays inn the Canary Islands in December this year.  Meanwhile we are about to start our series of milebuilding passages and have one space left to sail from Madeira to the Azores.

lanzarote to azores2comp

Feel the Atantic Ocean swell beneath your feet, the wind in your hair and the sun on your face. Experience fabulous sunrises and sunsets.  Join us as we cross the 500 miles of Atlantic ocean between Madeira and the Azores Archipelago and find out what ocean sailing is all about.

You will gain miles for your log book and experience taking part in a watch system.  You will find out about on board maintenenace schedules, long distance catering, weather forecasting etc. We are happy to teach the wonders of navigating by the stars, use of a sextant and  how the GPS works!.
If you are planning on becoming an Ocean Yachtmaster in the future a milebuilding trip also provides  the ideal opportunity to learn the practicalities without the responsibility.


Lanzarote – at last

our gardenThe view from our berth in Rubicon

After delaying our arrival in Lanzarote (see previous blog which I have also just published) our guests flew home from Faro.  There was only Richard and I on board for the passage south.  It doesn’t happen often and we quite enjoy a chance to sail the boat on our own – it reminds us of the very first ever trip we did on Velvet Lady when we sailed her from Majorca to UK on our own.

We set off from Portugal at first light on the 30th November motoring  and quickly settled into our watch pattern, the same sixes and fours we use with guests. The wind was a bit fluky for the first 24 hours, we would sail for a couple of hours then motor then sail again. Finally the wind steadied and the rest of the trip was some great downwind sailing. We had a lovely large moon, getting larger every night and plenty of stars.

We made great time and arrived in Lanzarote 92 hours later at 4am and decided to anchor at Papagayo to get some sleep. We are now safely ensconced in our berth in Marina Rubicon, the same one as last year and it feels just like home. We especially like the view from our front window.

The weather is back to its usual self with blue sky and sunshine and a bit of breeze from the North East. We’ve been doing our cleaning and tidying and are now looking forward to seeing our first guests here on Sunday.

We base ourselves here in Lanzarote to escape from the UK winter cold and as usual will be offering 7 night sailing holidays up until the middle of March. There are still a few places left if you fancy joining us and even three at New Year.

Lanzarote – delayed

centre of the rainbowAfter the rain!

Oops – sorry, as a lot of you have noticed this blog is a bit overdue. The reason – we had to delay our arrival date in Lanzarote due to more bad weather.

After diverting to Vilamoura last week there was quite a lot of organising to do – most especially to get in touch with the new guests who expected to join us in Madeira and let them know that they would have to fly to Faro instead although the joining date and time would not change. Once aboard we would set sail for Lanzarote a distance of 560 miles.

We studied the weather and headed off south towards Lanzarote in flat calm and sunshine. The long range forecast implied that we would have to do a fair bit of motoring and then we might have SW force 6 winds for a time later. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Forecasts are in effect guesses – and the longer range they are the more chance for the best guess to change. Once on passage it is our habit to keep getting up to date forecasts right up to just before we arrive. Lucky for us this week that we did – after 36 hours the forecast changed and instead of 25knot winds it showed that just as we would be approaching Lanzarote we might get 80knot winds. This seemed very unusual, unlikely even but what if it was correct! The only sensible thing to do was to have a change of plan – and with the nearest harbour of refuge being behind us, we tacked and headed back to Portugal – Portimao this time which is safer in a southerly wind than Vilamoura.

just look at the barometer

Boy are we glad that we did, look what happened to our barometer 1005 down to 993 – by the time we arrived in Portimao the wind was already blowing 30 knots and it increased to 40 during the night. Who knows what it must have been like out at sea. We were definitely staying put until it improved. We regularly monitored the weather on the internet – especially the reports about the actual weather in Lanzarote which confirmed that our decision to delay our arrival was the correct one.

As always with gales, they blow themselves out eventually. Now our barometer has started to rise this one should peter out and we should be ready to have a second attempt soon!  Watch this space.