Sailing in Lanzarote

We’ve been in the Canary Islands since the beginning of December and so far have run 5 of our 7 night sailing trips as well as 1 special 10 night trip over Christmas. Each trip has been unique, with slight variations in route, a really good mix of weather, plenty of fun and laughter and a great mix of both new people and returning customers.

Despite it being warm and sunny – we do not see too many other yachts on the water – so last week it was really nice to see an ex whitbread boat anchored outside Marina Rubicon – Fisher and Paykel, still looking very smart. What a difference to the Volvo 60’s they used in the last race!

Starting on Thursday is our last 7 night trip before heading north. We know it is time to head north because week by week it is getting hotter! We’re looking forward to meeting 6 new people this time and having some more fabulous sailing before we leave our winter home behind and head to the wilds of the Hebrides and the fjords of Norway.

Last of the Midnight Sun

After a really busy summer with short 3 day turnarounds between our first 3 long trips, Richard and I were thrilled to have a slightly longer break before the start of this trip.

We are often asked if we spend the time between trips getting out and about, but the simple answer to that is no.  By the time we have done the laundry, the shopping, made up the cabins and cleaned the boat, kept up with the maintenance, and checked out the weather for the next trip, our 3 days have passed.  We manage to get a bit of a rest in that period, but we are also always adding to our ‘to do’ list.

Whenever we have a longer gap, we try and tick off as much as we can from the to do list, but also have a bit of time to ‘treat’ourselves.  So what do we do for a treat in a foreign country.  Well last week we ‘treated’ ourselves to dinner and a movie.  Dinner was a pizza and beer, followed by Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz in ‘Knight and Day’. All the films in Norway are still in English with Norwegian sub titles, so that helps a lot.  Only problem was, we had not thought the cinema would be so full, and we never thought about ‘allocated’ seats, so although we were in the back row – Richard was at one end of the row and I was at the other.  I enjoyed the film (and I think Richard did, although he was sitting next to a 10 year old munching popcorn).  Full of ‘action;’ it reminded me of Tom Cruise in his Mission Impossible days, so much so that I am now looking for MI3 on DVD as I never managed to see that one first time round.

So relaxed after a day of rest and our treat, we were all set and ready to go for the first of our shorter 7 night Lofoten Islands trip.  Our guests arrived and amongst the 6 of them 2 were sailors and the other 4 were relatively new to sailing.  All had come to see the Lofoten Islands, do some sailing, but also climb a hill.  We knew just which hill to take them to.  Here in Bodo, the sun now sets although it still does not go dark.  To catch the last of the midnight sun we had to go further north, and climb a hill which gave us a clear view of the northern horizon.

The wind was light as we motored across to the Lofoten islands and made our way up to Digermulen, a very small town on the island of Hinnoya.  The town lies at the foot
of Keiservarden, a 384m hill, to be climbed after dinner. The aim to be on the top at midnight and catch a glimpse of the sun still above the horizon.

With light wind again the next day we motored north to look for trolls in Trollfjord, before heading south again to anchor in Haversand for a BBQ.  Although we have been into Trollfjord on most of our trips, we have never before noticed so much bird life.  There were hundreds of black eyed guillemots nesting on the sheer rock. What stops them falling off I wonder.

At the beginning of the week, Marina had expressed a wish to see a sea eagle flying.  We were not disappointed, we saw sea eagles on every day this last week and some of them from really close up.  On our last day there were 5 soaring above us as we left our lunch time anchorage and headed back to Bodo.

Despite this trip being 3 days shorter than our previous ones we still sailed 192 miles and visited 7 stunning places, including a new anchorage with many birds.  Jo, Marina and Chris went walking ashore amongst wonderful flowers and butterflies, whilst Mike and Mary fished for our supper.  Our newcomers to sailing were broken in gently at the beginning of the week, with sunshine and flat seas and learnt about tacking at the end of the week on an exciting beat home!  The sun shone for our last afternoon in Bodo, and with a couple of 6 packs of beer from the supermarket we sat in the cockpit and learnt to play ‘Liar Dice’.

Getting ready now for our final Lofoten Islands trip before we start on our coastal sailing, milebuilding and ocean passage trips.  We again have a slightly longer break – and this time our planned treat – a visit to the hairdressers!

Temporary Gale force 8!

We have just completed our third 10 night sailing holiday in the Lofoten Islands. We were pleased to be joined this week by more old friends.  Liz and Dave had previously sailed with us in Iceland, and Lynn and Geoff sailed with us last year in the Lofotens.  We were also pleased to meet Ian and Kay, who were joining us for the first time.   The first night as usual was spent getting to know each other and discussing the itinerary.

The itineraries on all of our trips are tailored to suit the weather forecast.  We are always listening to the weather, and make our plans to allow us to sail during the day time and find safe protected harbours for the nights.  We use many sources to gather our information, the navtext, the barometer, the clouds, the internet, the shipping forecast (in Norwegian) and the VHF radio.  The weather is only announced in English on the VHF radio if a Force 7 or more is indicated – so whenever we hear the announcers voice in English we immediately tune in.

The early indications for this trip were light winds on the first day, moderate winds for the next couple of days and then strong south westerlies.  We decided to spend the first fews days exploring the south side of the Lofoten Islands, and then when the southerly winds came to head north of the Lofoten islands and sail in the protection of the land and flatter water.

We sailed a total of 272nm this trip.  We spent our first few days visiting Kjerringoy, Reine, Nusfjord, Ballstad and Haversand.  Ballstad was new to us and what a find – with lovely walks ashore.

As we headed north via Trollfjord and through the narrows towards the north coast, the barometer started to drop like a stone and we realised that we were in for ‘a good blow’.  This was backed up by the VHF warning us of a ‘Temporary Gale force 8’, but when and how long for?  Our next navtext weather update had no mention of a Gale, which surprised us until we noticed that it was the forecast for yesterday.

We holed up in a quite peaceful anchorage in Brottoya, in flat calm, and wondered if we would escape the gale!  It came, all 45 knots of it, just as we were dishing up the dinner.  It was hold on to your wine glasses as the boat heeled sharply in the anchorage!  We can monitor the wind speed from down below, and saw a gust reach 53.  Time for the cheeseboard to take our minds off it!

I took a quick peek outside, and although it was flat in the anchorage, I could see rolls of white horses and surf breaking on the rocks that protected our anchorage – and another yacht heading in to shelter.  Glad we were here and not there.

As quickly as it started, the wind died, and by the time we had finished dinner and washed up it was all gone – I guess that’s what they meant by temporary!

We set off again and sailed to Stokmarknes for lunch before investigating another new anchorage at Nesoy.  We were surrounded by puffins as we crept in between the rocks to this tiny cove.

We continued our lookout for wildlife, and spotted many more white tailed eagles, but despite seeing lots of shoals of fish on the surface still didn’t spot any whales.  A conversation with a local told us that they are much further north this year.

Our last day before returning to Bodo was perfect.  We sailed 40 miles across from Heningsvaer in the Lofoten islands and anchored in bright sunshine off a white sandy beach.  After piling into the dinghy to go ashore, there was time for a swim and a snorkel before the barbeque was ready to cook our burgers.

We all ate on deck in T shirts with the warmth of the evening sun on our backs and after toasting marshmallows in the embers of the fire Ian entertained us with number games.

Back in Bodo now and it’s a ‘holiday weekend’ with a funfair set up in the middle of the square.  Richard has promised me a trip on the waltzers later!

Ocean Sailing – Azores to UK

‘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.

Ocean Passage – 600 miles on the log

Part of the  RYA requirement for a passage long enough to qualify towards a Yachtmaster Ocean certificate is that it should be 600nm by the log and a minimum of 96 hours at sea. As we gathered around the saloon table at the start of our last trip this was an important point to consider as we planned our passage from Madeira to the Azores.

The Azores are a group of volcanic islands situated approximately half way between Europe and America.  Although it is only 470nm from Madeira to Santa Maria, the closest island, it is a further 300nm to Flores and Corvo the westernmost islands.  Depending on the weather we would definitely be able to sail the 600nm by the log, but the question was – which island would we visit and when! As well as the RYA criteria to fulfill, we had to make sure we were in Ponta Delgada marina in San Miguel on 6th April to catch our flights!

Andy joined us this week full of beans and fresh from his ocean theory course, ready to practice with his sextant and take his sights.  Frances and Chris joined us to find out what long distance sailing was all about and would they take to it, and sadly, due to a last minute cancellation we were without our fourth guest, Charlie.

A quick look at the weather map showed Madeira right under a large area of high pressure, but also showed a low moving towards the Azores, how was that going to affect things.  We all agreed that deciding which island at this early stage would be too presumptive.  The best plan was to leave, set off towards the Azores (312T), sail for 96 hours, look at the log, look at the weather and decide where best to go then.  Full of the spirit of Adventure we all agreed this sounded good but we would spend the first day on a short sail to settle us all in to the routine on board.

Safety briefing complete, we left Quinta do Lorde marina late morning, waiting to take advantage of the afternoon sea breeze and enjoyed a fantastic sail to Funchal.  They are working really hard in the harbour here to clean up after the recent floods, and although the entrance was reported to have silted up there was still 3.5m at low water, plenty for us.

From Funchal we set off at noon, again waiting for a sea breeze, but as soon as we left the harbour instead of the forecast light winds we immediately found ourselves with a stiff westerly.  Hard on the wind on the starboard tack we sailed away from Madeira and away from the Azores, notching up 40 miles on the log before the wind shifted and we could head towards the Azores.  As the wind gradually shifted to a northeasterly force 4, Velvet Lady under full sail on a close reach was tearing down the dotted line on the chart plotter at 8 knots.  If this continued, we would have to do 700 miles just to stay at sea for 96 hours.

This is ocean sailing, and the thing to notice is how often the weather changes.  We continued at 8 knots for 48 hours, and then the wind gradually died away, and the speed dropped until we were ghosting along at 3 knots.  At just under 2 knots with the yankee wrapping itself around the forestay we gave up and motored hoping for the wind to pipe up again.  We continued through the centre of another high, mixing motoring with sailing until we made landfall on the eastern tip of  San Miguel.  As we approached the coastline the wind backed to the west again, to give us either a long beat along the coastline to Ponta Delgada, or a comfortable reach down to Santa Maria.  We had now done 100 hours at sea and 580 miles on the log.  Santa Maria at 40 miles away would crack the 600 mile barrier, so we freed sheets and headed south.  We arrived in Santa Maria at midnight – 108 hours and 622 miles from Madeira all on starboard tack.  We celebrated our arrival with a beer in the cockpit before heading off to bed.

During the trip Andy became extremely proficient with his sextant taking shots of the sun, moon, various stars and even Venus.  The saloon became a work station with sheets of paper everywhere, numerous graphs, plots and calculations as Andy worked out our position the traditional way.  The rest of us managed a bit more of a relaxing trip, sitting in the sunshine reading and completing crosswords (when not on watch of course).

Santa Maria is a beautiful island with a brand new marina.  The town of Vila do Porto is up a steep hill behind the marina, a lovely old town – so very real and Portuguese. Arriving on Easter Saturday, we visited the church which was beautifully decorated with white lilies.  We stayed in Santa Maria for Easter Sunday – or Chocolate Sunday as it became aptly named as we feasted on chocolate treats, some of us had given up chocolate for lent!

Easter Monday we sailed from Santa Maria to Ponta Delgada, a great broad reach on port tack in a SW6.  8 hours to complete the 56 mile crossing and then an extra one waiting for a ship to leave the harbour before we were allowed to enter!

A 4 hour day sail to Funchal, 108 hours sailing for our ocean crossing, 48 hours relaxing in the sunshine in Santa Maria, a few drinks and nibbles along the way, 8 hours sailing on the last day and a total of 700 miles in the log book, this is what cruising is all about!  Why not join us on a Blue Water Adventure later in the year.