Passage to the Azores

Passage from  Galicia in Nordwest-Spain to the Azores


Day 1, 18 August

A day before starting the one-week passage to the Azores we treat ourselves to a quiet night in the Marina of Club Nautico in Portosin inclusive of a nice club house, dinner with a view, good wifi, and clean showers. At check-in we receive a bottle of Galician white wine and a bottle opener. At night a rain front passes over us and clears up by mid-morning. Download one last weather report, batten down the hatches and off we go!

900nm or 1650km, six uninterrupted days and nights at sea are ahead of us. My daughter Tara and I are excited and a bit apprehensive as this is our longest passage on the ocean so far. Dolphins greet us as we leave the marina - this must be the best blessing for our trip!

After sailing out of Ria de Muros we leave behind all the other sailboats. They are all heading north or south along the coast, while we are heading out to sea.

Cap Finisterre, the NW corner of the Iberian peninsula is astern. In antiquity it was believed to be the end of the world (lat. finis terrae). We will go and see!


Day 2, 19 August

At the beginning of a night watch I often think this has to be the most wonderful thing to be out at sea! The next morning, short of sleep, it sounds more like: Whose idea was THIS? But after having caught up on some of the sleep I enjoy the sunshine, warmer temperature, and blue sky with bright puffy clouds. The Atlantic has a deep, luminous blue that I won’t even try to describe.

In addition, I realize that we have already covered 174nm within the first 24h (322km). This is an average of 7.5kn (13km/h). Not fast on land, but pretty good for a sailboat displacing almost 15 tons. This must be a new record - without straining the boat or the crew.

There are 5000 meters (16400ft) of water under us according to the chart. Be it 5 or 5000, it carries us, lets us glide along, and is not frightening in the least. In fact, if the depth were just 5m I would start to worry we might run aground soon!

A balmy night. Lying on my back on deck watching the mast tip swaying over the dark night sky and seemingly sweep away the clouds. Revealing thousands of stars, the milky way, Jupiter in Scorpio, old friends. Next to me in the bow wash the phosphorescent glow of plankton like liquid stars. In our wake it forms a continuous stream of glowing light, the milky way in the sea. The cloud cover closes, it is dark, dark. Where can you still experience that? Softly, the boat glides through the invisible wave-scape. Somewhat obtrusively, the moon illuminates the whole sky from behind the dark clouds. The glow in the sky and in the sea fade.


Day 3, 20 August

The wind decreases continually and veers from N to NE. These changes happen very slowly and gradually on the open ocean. For us this means the wind is blowing exactly from behind and we are slowing down. The sails start to flap around because the boat is rocking in the seaway and the wind is unable to swell the sails sufficiently. At this point I normally reef the sails and start the engine. After all, I want to be some place some time soon… But out here this makes no sense at all. According to the weather report the wind is supposed to increase tomorrow. Exercising patience, relaxing and letting things be as they are. Sound familiar?


Day 4, 21 August

In the morning we have covered 460nm - half way! The wind is faithful and we are able to sail wing on wing all day. What sailors mean by this is that the wind is coming from exactly astern and the sails need to be extended each on one side to catch the wind most efficiently. 

The boat steers itself for the most part, thanks to the electronic autopilot and we have a lot of time to just be. Tara is hit by an attack of boredom, a rare occurence in her life. Meanwhile for the first time I manage to download a complete weather report to my laptop using my satellite phone. It always sounds so easy when you hear others talk about this but I had to learn the hard way and ask for help. Inexplicably, a few days before leaving on this passage, my satellite phone died and I had to quickly organize for a rental phone to be sent from Germany. In addition, data and voice calls via the satellite network are expensive to begin with. But it is great to have this possibility - as long as it works.

On the other hand I realized that weather simply takes place. We are out here and have to take what comes. Ahead of a passage it is important to chose departure time and route carefully to have wind from abaft the beam (from about 3/4 behind) and not to run into the arms of a storm. Once at sea it is difficult to avoid a depression closing in on you. For the most part they are faster than us!


Day 5, 22 August

In the morning I keep my logbook up to date and realize that we have already covered 620nm or two thirds of the entire distance. Slowly we find a rhythm in being underway. Because we are standing watches half the night alternatively we have to find a good time during the day to catch some sleep. Otherwise sleep deprivation sums up to make night watches an ordeal.

In writing this we were just led the way by a school of about a dozen dolphins. They like to swim in the bow wave and perform all kinds of tricks. I would love to jump in and swim with them. Who does not like dolphins? I think they can feel that.


Day 6, 23 August

A pleasant, unexpected, and humid breeze from the south lets us make good headway today. So much for the weather report. It was roughly correct about the wind direction but not the strength. As said, weather simply happens, with all our supposedly precise predictions.

This morning we found a dead squid on deck which must have landed there last night. Can cuttlefish fly? As I fling him back into the sea we discover two sea turtles, one larger and one smaller passing us by quickly. Even if just brief these encounters with animals on the open sea always bring joy to us. They must be special beings to fend for their lives out here.

We are looking forward to the islands and at the same time have enjoyed the vastness and emptiness in the last few days. A rare commodity in our world!

The last night watch of this passage has started. Tomorrow around midday we should make landfall in Angra do Heroismo on Terceira. TLC (= tender loving care) for ourselves and the boat is the first order of business, then explore the city and island.


Day 7, 24 August

I wake up and realize that Tara has already started the approach to Angra do Heroismo on Terceira. She has done a great job during the entire passage and was an invaluable help for me.

We approach the harbor in the morning sun casting dramatic shafts of light on the city and island.

After docking as is familiar to me the counter in the harbor master’s office is rocking considerably and I have to hold it firm to steady it… this settles after a quarter of an hour, but the swaying gait lasts for a few more hours. We like Angra instantly and notice at once how friendly and helpful peole are here. 

In 6 days and 3 hours we have covered about 940 nautical miles (1730km) with an average speed of 6.5 knots. This is equivalent to the distance from Hamburg to Rome. It was a great experience and gives a taste for more ;-)

For pictures click here

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