At precisely 20:30 on Friday 24 June, for a fleeting moment, we crossed Baggy’s outbound track, sailed over three years and five months ago.
We’d sailed 30,104 miles, faced unimaginable trials and tribulations and were still going strong!
BUT the journey still wouldn’t be truly complete till we turned left into Portsmouth Harbour and moored up in Gosport Marina! ETA TBC very soon, flags flying!
Since the last blog there have been two other celebrations.
Celebration! Crossing the Equator
At 19:00 on Friday 10 June we re-crossed the equator, back into the northern hemisphere.
We last crossed the equator outbound in March 2019. Back then we initiated each other with salt water and flour as ‘equator virgins’ and thanked King Neptune with whisky and chillis.
This time we solemnly thanked King Neptune for looking after us, sang a schnapps song and hope he enjoyed the Danish Aquavit, which had been rolling around the drinks locker since we’d left.
Celebration! We’ve arrived back in Europe
We left European waters back in November 2018. Our passage then took us to Africa, the Caribbean and Central America. We’ve skirted South America, visited the Pacific Islands, explored Oceania, skirted Asia, skirted Madagascar and arrived back in Africa.
We’ve now sailed up the South and North Atlantic via Saint Helena and Ascension Island to Horta, Faial Island, Azores. Just 1,200 miles away from home turf.
Sailing up the Atlantic
This was going to be our last long sailing passage; so we vowed to enjoy every second. Famous last words!
We knew it was going to be challenging so we broke it into four sections 1) south-east trade winds 2) the dreaded doldrums 3) north-east trade wind belt 4) horse latitudes.
1. South East Trade Winds
For the first week all the best things about big ocean crossings applied.
We heard dolphins chatting during the night watches; their clicks and whistles clearly audible through the hull. We saw pilot whales and a breaching whale.
Apart from essential satellite phone messaging we were off-line and self-sufficient.
Life on Board
Daily life on board felt like a school activities timetable!
Sailing activities: timed watch keeping, sail and steering adjustments, weather checks and navigation.
Crew entertainment : crosswords; highly competitive scrabble tournaments; reading (a book ever other day, each); ukulele playing; singing; podcasts; learning French; baking; drawing; sorting photos, watching old films and exercising on deck.
Housekeeping: There was a never ending list of Baggy housekeeping duties – water, gas, fuel, rubbish and provisions management; salt water refills, sprouting, yoghurt making, bread making and cleaning.
We made good progress over the first week – over 900 miles. It was some of the best sailing we’d ever experienced – a brisk breeze, friendly waves. Baggy was well balanced and not rolling; we were sleeping and enjoying our simple life on board.
Four kilos of unopened, South African wholemeal bread flour was found infested with moths. And a large family of tiny ants were found frolicking in the tissue box. But, apart from stowaways, life was great.
Above Bog Standard
As an aside, our heads (toilets) have been serviced with finest extra virgin olive oil. For three reasons.
1) I have callouses on my hands from four years of cranky ship toilet pumping 2) a small amount of cooking oil is a sea friendly lubricant and 3) we ran out of bog standard (ahum) canola oil in Saint Helena. The war in Ukraine had disrupted all ship deliveries of cooking oil and Ascension Island only had the posh stuff. Anyway, the heads now have a luxuriously smooth pump action. Ooeer missus!
2. The Dreaded Doldrums
Then. Day eight arrived.
5pm. We’d had a sea swim, shaken out a reef and had salt water bucket scrubs. Relaxed and happy we were nibbling peanuts and sipping cold, happy hour cocktails of white grape juice, tonic and sparkling water.
The sky was mostly clear and we were anticipating an easy night watch with Mowgli (the wind vane) steering. Ah, life was as good as it gets.
6pm. While relaxed and distracted by dinner preps a rain squall appeared out of nowhere; then another. With torrential rain, wind gusting over thirty knots and a full main Baggy took off at one point doing nearly 11 knots!!
Paul rushed on deck to steer while I frantically shut windows, secured flying missiles, saved dinner and mopped the deluge of water now flooding through the hatch.
Then there was no wind at all. Baggy was left spinning around, totally disoriented.
We motored through the night. And, because the electric self-steering was broken, hand steered in two hour shifts.
We had reached the doldrums.
Over the following days we could be sweltering on deck under an infinite cloudless sky … and then hand steering in pouring rain, in full foul weather gear, with water wrinkled hands.
At one point the rain fell almost continuously for ten hours. Our foulies, hats, socks and boots were sodden, cold and dripping and we were operating like zombies.
But necessity is indeed the mother of all invention. When I crawled out of bed to take over the 9am watch, ‘Paul’s Patented Stay Dry Remote Self-Steering System’ was in full operation.
We could now stand in the saloon, watch the plotter and steer the boat, dry, with a mug of tea on the go.
To conserve our limited diesel supply we turned off the engine and endeavour to make use of every zephyr of breeze to inch our way up the chart. It was hot and humid; we were sticky with sweat; everything felt damp and the dull ache of an ear infection had begun.
There was also an equatorial counter current setting in a south easterly direction. But as Paul wisely concluded, “So long as we’re not going backwards too much we’re OK.” Yeh, great.
The Baggy Bird Motel
We were open for business from day one.
Two Black Noddy’s visited every night for four days. Despite arguments over rooms (they both wanted the solar panel) … and some toileting issues … they were reasonably well behaved guests. Room turnover entailed wiping down the panel. The other ‘room’ was the end of the pole, which stuck out over the ocean and was far more hygienic.
They would arrive at dusk after a tough day of fishing; bicker and squawk; choose their ‘rooms’; preen and then go into a meditative state. At dawn they’d be off again, without so much as a coffee.
Other visitors were our daily morning tropic bird; the daily busy terns; some large brown boobies … and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of flying fish.
3. The North East Trade Winds
They barged into the middle of week three, like pissed party gatecrashers and shook us out of our soporific state.
Menacing and gusting over 25 knots they brought grey skies and boisterous seas. We were on a wild ride once described as ‘sailing through concrete blocks.’
Baggy wasn’t bothered, she’d met these types before and took over doing what she does best. She burst her way through the cresting waves, shaking off the water crashing over her bow like a big wet dog and plunged down into the troughs. She even enjoyed being thrown into the air and landing with a sickening thud.
While Baggy shipped heavy water, we hunkered down in the trenches. The activities timetable was hurled overboard. Our insides felt weightless and we hung on, braced in corners and secured anything that moved. We moved in moon walk bounces, ate simply, slept fitfully and adopted survival mode. We fantasised about fresh lettuce.
Our virtuous ‘enjoy every moment’ mindset swiftly turned to wanting each moment to end.
We became obsessed with distance, speed, days left, weather forecasts, wind angles and sail trim. We managed our speed and course to minimise the flying take-offs and slamming. Getting to the Azores and stopping couldn’t come soon enough. Meanwhile, the days were noticeably lengthening.
4. Horse Latitudes
By week five we’d crossed the merciless north east trade wind belt into the horse latitudes. Historically named by sailing ships which, when becalmed here, horrifically jettisoned their cargo of horses to conserve drinking water.
And becalmed we were; just 120 miles away from hot showers, that fresh lettuce and cold beer.
The wind died and Baggy took a rest while we dared to open windows and hatches.
Whilst we were relieved our north west trade wind party poopers had jogged on, it meant we weren’t going anywhere. A frustrating final week threw everything at us.
The Azores current started pushing us around and any puff of wind we did have was in Baggy’s face. We tacked on the wind shifts to crawl north and motored on and off. But swell and Baggy’s barnacled bottom was gulping our limited fuel supply.
Obsessive calculations, and re-calculations concluded we were 40 miles of fuel short of being able to motor all the way. All beery shower salad fantasies were packed away. We forced ourselves to relax, pray and wait.
And, while seriously starting to wonder how long we could survive at sea for, a miracle happened. A consistent breeze filled our sails, the sun shone and Baggy purposely sailed us all the way to Horta, Faial. And we suddenly weren’t alone anymore.
The sea birds had returned. Thousands of (deadly) pink Portuguese Man O War jelly fish drifted past; stripy fish cavorted around Baggy’s hull; porpoises whistled through the windows at night.
At 7am on Monday 11 July, the clouds parted and magnificent 2,352 metre high Mount Pico loomed on the horizon. It took several sandy eyed blinks of disbelief before the most triumphant “LAND HO” of the whole trip rang out across the ocean.
We smelt grass on the breeze. And as night drew in a nearly full moon lit the sky and the lights of the Azores tauntingly twinkled at us in the distance.
We stepped foot on European land at 9am, Tuesday 12 July. We’d sailed 3,480 miles and it had taken us 36 days and 21.5 hours, average speed four knots.
In the immortal words of the Yorkshire farmer in the film Babe, “That’ll do Baggy, that’ll do.”