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North Atlantic Sailing Tour - Eastbound
June marks the start of the North Atlantic hurricane season. Uninterested in the cold icy waters of spring and not wanting to cross paths with a hurricane, we headed east from St. Augustine, Florida at the beginning of May at 44. Our destination was Bermuda.

We had a perfect wind for sailing directly east, right through the Gulf Stream, but instead sailed the rhumb line north east to Bermuda. As we approached the Gulf Stream in the evening, the wind started shifting. It forced us south of the rhumb line. So we tacked the boat to go more north. I figured that as the low pressure system headed east, the wind would shift further east and then south and the self steering system would automatically sail us back on the rhumb line to Bermuda.

Instead, by morning, the wind died. We were stuck in the middle of the Gulf Stream bobbing around like a cork in the confused seas of a strong current against an old wind. Of course, we were also drifting a good three knots directly north with the current; well off our rhumb line.

Until the wind picked up almost two days later, conditions were not comfortable and we were not headed in the direction we wanted. This is when I learned a valuable lesson.

Ignore the rhumb line.

Forget about time. Choose instead the safest and most comfortable route.

Would you rather spend 3 days in relaxing pleasure and joy or 1 day in discomfort?

The wind we started with could have taken us directly through the Gulf Stream well past the other side into clear clean blue warm water before it died. Waiting for the next wind would have been much more comfortable.

This mistake never happen again for us but it wasn't so simple for a colorful little tree bird that must have gotten stuck on a passing freighter. It flew in a porthole, bounced around the cabin a bit and left. Problem is, there was no place to go. There was nothing but water all around and this little bird was not made for flying long distances in any direction even if it knew where to go. It took a few comings and goings before she figured this out and perched herself on top of a swinging food hammock. Barbie did her best to help her with food and water and warmth but over the next couple of days the colorful little tree bird went from her perch on top of the hammock to nestling inside to the cabin floor and finally the sea.

Then we started seeing lots of Portuguese Man-O-War jellyfish. They are like little sail boats on their own with long tentacles as keels, big hollow bodies as the hull, and a long/tall back that acts like a sail. They move along pretty good in the wind. When a wave tosses them over, they right themselves just fine.

The worst storm we ever experienced was on the way to Bermuda. Actually, it wasn't really close to the worst storm. We were simply least prepared to deal with it.

We were beating into the waves and I left the anchor on the bow roller. As the boat bashed into the waves, the anchor banged into the boat. Banging things can never be good on a boat. Not only was the sound disquieting, it eventually damaged the hull. What good is an anchor when the bottom is abyss? Better to pull it in and transfer the weight to middle and lower.

While sitting in the cabin at night trying not to hear the banging anchor, we suddenly watched a huge volume of water dump into the forward birth soaking all bedding and clothes.

I immediately grabbed a flashlight and jumped above to see the forward hatch wide open and watch another wave crash down through it into the boat. Assuming gravity would keep the forward hatch closed at sea like it does at anchor isn't smart and this is exactly what I had assumed. By the time the hatch was pinned down and a towel was tied around to limit leaking, a lot of water made it down below. Staying warm and dry was more of a challenge.

Finally, on a beautiful sunny afternoon we were in sight of Bermuda's St George's channel beating north on a starboard tack. The first similar sailboat we'd seen in many days was on a collision coarse with us. We had the right of way with it on port tack so we stayed course as we should. For some reason, it maintained a collision course with us. Thinking it's captain may not be aware, I turned the Saugeen Witch clearly off the wind to a safe course. It turned with us to maintain collision course. A couple similarly clear moves later experienced the same consequences. I didn't know what to do.

After all we'd been through since St Augustine, this nice pleasure looking sailboat was going to purposely smash into us just off one of Bermuda's beautiful beaches. There was nothing we could do but let whatever happen happen.

In the cockpit was a woman and a man at the helm. Less than a boat length away, we could see the white of this lady's eyes on a face of pure fear. I think Barbie's face and eyes mirrored hers. The man at the helm had a grin from ear to ear. Within mere meters of hitting us, he finally turned his boat. I hooted and hollard "Right On!" as they nearly kissed us like pyros playing with fire.

The build up to extreme excitement suddenly turned to a quiet relaxing sail into Bermuda with a beautiful calm anchorage suspended over white sand in crystal clear turquoise water.

Check in with officials was quick and easy.

The anchorage in St George's Harbour is well protected, clean, and a perfect home base for exploring the rest of the islands.

Every afternoon a band set up to play at the edge of Kings Square. Consistently accompanying the band was this little feel good man who danced the whole time. They were better together and we always had fun watching and listening to the fun afternoon band with the feel good dancing man.

Bermuda is very charming low lying archipelago. From the water to the rooftops, everything is kept nice and clean.

North east of the main anchorage in St George's Harbour is a laundromat / sailing club / dance hall / bar / variety of other things type community center. Here we washed all our sea soaked clothes and bedding a couple times over. One day we hired a scooter and explored the beaches and coves of the islands all the way to the huge cruise ship terminal on the far north west side.

After a week or so of walking around and exploring, we made water for the Saugeen Witch. This was the first time we had used our new home made watermaker. Fortunately, it worked exactly as planned so I documented how it works in a video.

Then we filled up with fuel, and started sailing east.

Actually, we raised our anchor, motored a mile east of the island and then bobbed around for a couple of days wishing for wind to sail east. It was good to be underway, however slowly, before the first of June and start of hurricane season. We watched glassy water, interesting life like the Portuguese man o' war jellyfish, and the last sunsets we'd get to view over distant land for a while. Finally, the wind picked up and we headed north until we were at 40 degrees latitude and then turned east.

We headed mostly north when the Azores is actually a couple thousand miles east of Bermuda because the Azores High covers much of the mid North Atlantic during summer. This high pressure system is a wind killer. Winds are better as you go north but pilot charts indicate risk of ice if you go too far north. For eastbound summer sailing across the North Atlantic, the goal is to be on top of the Azores High and the bottom of each passing low.

Navigating towards this goal would be much simpler using modern communication technology to access accurate weather data. However, with self sufficiency and sustainability a common theme throughout my realm, I did not want to shoulder the recurring costs and power requirements of anything beyond our amateur and marine band short wave radio. We had been experiencing difficulty getting weather grib files and sending winlink emails. It was getting less reliable as we distanced from North America and becoming a source of greater frustration for me. I yelled my frustrations at the "stupid" radio, computer, and antenna many times. My rants did make me feel better in the calm of the ocean but eventually I got smart and dropped it.

A bunch of really cool amateur radio operators across North America run the Maritime Mobile Net on 14.300 MHz. After finally getting smart and dropping the computer/radio interface, I called a Maritime Mobile Net leader in North Carolina and asked him to please contact my brother Warren. We were fine and feeling good but having difficulty with digital radio propagation so please tell Warren not to expect contact from us for a few weeks or more until we reached the Azores Warren then let everyone in our families know this.

With that responsibility over, the radio was forgotten. We didn't even bother with weatherfax. Herb Hilgenberg is a Canadian who provides free weather advice to North Atlantic sailors daily through marine radio. I considered but decided against contacting Herb because I didn't want to deal with the responsibility. What if we didn't call in for position and advice check one day because we were busy, forgot, or didn't fee like it? Why put Herb or family through the worry?

Instead we accepted the true challenge and joys of sailing east across the North Atlantic without weather aids. On board we had "Instant Weather Forecasting" by Alan Watts. This book is loaded with pictures and tips on how to read the sky, pick up clues, and predict what the weather will do. It's a small book that doesn't take up much space and relevant for most anywhere 30 degrees from the equator.

From the start, Barbie took to the rocking motion of the sea much better than I. She actually liked it whereas I only handled it just enough to do what needed to be done. One time She was bouncing around happily making tasty tortillas with awesome chilli sauce and I watched thinking "This motion sucks. Instead of sailing east, we should head south through the Caribbean to the safety of beautiful warm places like Trinidad or Venezuela before the height of hurricane season."

I never shared those brief thoughts and somewhere between Bermuda and the Azores, my ease with the motion grew to match hers. We saw whales, wildlife, and even birds flying around over a 1000 miles from land. Some times we were becalmed spending as much as three consecutive windless days drifting with sails down over water like glass. Instead of turning on the motor, we relaxed and watched the sunsets. Other times we flew down 10 meter waves at over 10 knots with only a small reefed inner stay sail with a surface area of maybe 5 meters of canvas. (rambling video).

Whatever the weather, nothing lasts more than a few days. If the last three days have been calm, know the next day will be different. If the last three days have been stormy, it will subside tomorrow.

During the 22nd night of our sail from Bermuda, we saw lights from the island of Flores. Then a haze dropped in and we lost it. So, we reduced sail and maintained course. When the haze lifted in the morning we could see the beautiful green tall island in full view and it was awesome.

Flores is the most westerly island in the Azores and one of the lesser visited. As you can guess from the name, it is well endowed with beautiful flowers.

According to the charts, the only anchorage on Flores was off the south east town of Lajes behind a jetty. Sailing into the calm waters behind that jetty was much appreciated but in place of the anchorage was huge concrete walls. These concrete walls were not on the chart but we could see other sailboat masts sticking up from behind them.

We were desirous of an anchorage after over three weeks at sea. Dreams of big green salads filled our minds. Behind those huge concrete walls was a marina. We noticed this after motoring around a poorly protected deep rocky bottom where no one else was anchored.

They built a marina over the anchorage.

It had maybe a 15 meter opening in the wall with a catamaran blocking much of it. We motored into the opening to see a boats everywhere with no extra space to pull in and no room to turn around inside. I chickened out at least three times, backing out at the opening because I didn't want to get stuck in there without being able to get out. Eventually one of the many guys who had been watching us come and go ran around to the outside wall and told us there was an empty slip to the right as soon as we got inside. So, on the next go we committed, immediately saw the empty slip he told us about and easily pulled in as another Frenchman helped with the lines.

This new marina covering the old anchorage had surprised everyone there. We learned that, over the last year, new marinas had opened on most islands of the Azores. Most were not on anyone's charts. This solidified another reality for me. No chart is up to date. By the time the most current charts have been published, some change has occurred.

Use your eyes and trust your instincts and the good people around you over any chart.

After hanging out enjoying hikes for a week or so, we headed over to Horta on the island of Faial. Horta is the hub city of all the Azores. It was very crowded with sailboats returning to Europe from the Caribbean. Some boats were rafted 5 deep from the seawall. We were one of the few boats that the harbormaster let anchor out in the bay.

Horta has a history of sailing and whaling and the sea. Fixing up a boat there is easy. The Saugeen Witch and her systems held up remarkably well during our travels from Florida but we took the opportunity to take care of a couple key items like finding an aluminium welder to fix a piece under the bowsprit the anchor had messed up on the way to Bermuda and replacing a couple sail battens. There's also something about a stitch in time saves nine so we spent some time mending sails.

Many boaters paint the long sea wall documenting their journey. It is easy to spend time walking along the wall enjoying the art.

Most of the time Mount Pico to the east of Faial is clouded over. This was one of the rare glimpses we got of the mountain while there.

One day we hired a scooter and explored the island from the crater at the top to the new land built up a few years ago on the west side by a volcano. (rambling video).

From Horta we sailed over to Velas on the island of San Jorge.

First we anchored off the new concrete wall and later decided to join the party at the new marina. San Jorge is a beautiful island with spectacular hiking; especially on the north side. Velas is a really special neat small town with nice people. Art is everywhere integrated into everything. They add nice color to their lives all the way down to the beautiful designs in the sidewalk.

We cast off from Velas intending to sail to Spain with a short window for wind that I thought would get us well north of the Azores High. However, wanting to avoid a rocky lee shore, I made the decision to sail around San Jorge counter clockwise instead of going to clockwise. This put us in the lee of the island where the wind pretty much just sucked. Our window for favorable wind died and we spend two nights drifting south east watching the lights of Terceira. On this course we were more likely to land on the island of Madeira then make it to Spain. Ocean currents from the north increase east of the Azores. Better to get northing now while it's easy.

So, well into the second night we started the motor and headed up to those calling lights of Terceira and the town of Praia Da Vitoria. Next morning we pulled into the marina there and tied up to the first Americans we'd seen in the Azores. The north Atlantic sailing scene is dominated by the French. They make up probably 80% of the boats. Next to of course Portuguese, the best language in the Azores is French.

While in Praia Da Vitoria we learned that another wind window was looking to pick up in the evening so we enjoyed our short time on land again by hiking up and around these stairs a few times. Then we headed out again before nightfall and started sailing almost directly north to about 45 degrees latitude in search of the most favorable winds.

During our slow northing we finally land a fish. Catching a fish while sailing is much easier than safely landing it on the boat. The first one we landed was a Blackfin Tuna a couple days out of the Azores. Barbie made a tasty batter and fried it up in nice little chunks and that's pretty much all we ate for the next few days.

Almost on queue, once we closed in on 45 degrees latitude, the wind picked up, we turned east and flew the rest of the way to Spain like a sleigh down a steep hill.

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