Day 1. Wednesday 6th September
We left Povoa de Varzim, Portugal, as early as we could to get a good start. The tide was going out and the entrance can get a bit rolly at low tide, so we left at high tide. We'd been checking the weather every day for the last week and the day we chose was the windiest but safest for us to go. From the forecast, the first two days would give us a speedy start to our 800 mile passage and then it would settle for the remaining days.
We were headed for the Canaries. Originally, we were going to sail to Madeira after Portugal, which would have been 650 miles away and then we would sail down to the Canaries (if at all), before sailing further south to Cape Verde. Mattis was due to start two weeks of work in the Canaries, so we asked ourselves whether it was still worth sailing to Madeira or not. If we had sailed to Madeira, Mattis would have then needed to fly to Lanzarote for work, I would have stayed with Jingo until Mattis came back and then we would have sailed south from there. Our other thought was; do we bypass Madeira altogether and head straight for the Canaries instead? The latter made more sense to us.
To give you a general idea, for those who don't know, when we start talking about knots, nautical miles and Force....
What are knots? A knot is one nautical mile per hour ie 1.15 miles per hour. The term 'knot' comes from the 17th century, when sailors measured the speed of their ship with a device called a common log.
What is a nautical mile? A nautical mile is the unit used in measuring distances at sea. 1 nautical mile is approximately 1.15 miles.
What is the Beaufort Force scale? It is the measure for describing wind intensity based on observed sea conditions. This scale came from Sir Francis Beaufort (1774 – 1857), the English admiral and naval hydrographer who devised it.
With winds increasing up to Force 7, we were speeding along at 8 knots. It was the fastest we'd sailed Jingo so far. During the night, we were running before the wind and we were starting to nose dive through the waves. The waves seemed to be growing, getting higher and higher. There were rogue waves from time to time, which would throw our stern off to one side and the waves would start 'jumping in', half filling the cockpit. We were on port tack, rolling and nose diving. At one point, our genoa flipped inside out when it got caught in the wind and filled with water, making the boat heel considerably. As soon as the moment was possible, Mattis furled in the genoa to make it a more manageable size to sail with.
Our boat, a Contessa 32, has a low freeboard, which means that the height from the waterline to the top of the boat is short in comparison to other boats. This means that water is more likely to flow across the deck when we're heeling to one side and very likely to get a wet cockpit if the waves start 'pooping'. This is another sailing term that Mattis has explained to me along the way. Pooping is when the stern wave catches up with the boat, either propelling it forward or breaking over the stern, possibly causing swamping. To us, it would feel as though the stern waves would break and jump into the cockpit (or sometimes just at you), almost out of nowhere. Even when we're wearing heavy weather sailing gear, we'd still get soaked through. The term 'poop' comes from the French word 'la poupe', which means stern. Therefore technically, the poop deck is the stern deck.
After the first night passed, we looked at the chart to calculate the distance we had sailed so far....we sailed 150nm! This was our fastest yet in a day. Even though were weren't in a race to get to the Canaries, it was a great feeling to be sailing Jingo so well. When we left Ireland, on the couple of days when we had practically no wind, we didn't sail more than 70 miles in a day.
Our boat weighs 4 tonnes and half of that weight is in the encapsulated lead keel. Last year, before deciding on what boat to buy, we did lots of research and we learned that a Contessa is stable up to 155 degrees before rolling into the water. If there were any freak roller waves to get thrown at us, Jingo would always self right after a few seconds.
Day 2. Thursday 7th September
During the first night whilst Mattis was on night watch, he could hear someone talking on the VHF, Channel 16. When sailing and in the instance that you need to get someone's attention, you would contact them via the VHF radio on Channel 16. Primarily intended for distress, urgency and safety priority calls, the frequency may also carry routine calls used to establish communication before switching to another working channel, so you don't block up Channel 16. Mattis realised that the call was not intended for him and somebody else came onto Channel 16, who was clearly their friend. They started happily chatting away, about things that weren't related to their course, heading, position, weather conditions.... After a few minutes, somebody else jumped in on their conversation and started singing randomly. Not long after that, a fourth person had had enough and quite abruptly told them to 'stop talking so much!', in a European accent. Then all went quiet. I couldn't help but laugh when Mattis told me in the morning, it's just not what the VHF is meant to be used for or what you'd expect to happen.
Day 3. Friday 8th September
By the end of Friday and the start of Saturday, we'd sailed well over half way to the Canaries, 400nm! We had blue blue seas during the day, so unlike any blue we'd seen before.
Day 4. Saturday 9th September – 330 miles to go
We had much calmer winds, the conditions were about Force 4 and we were sailing between 4-5 knots. We had been sailing with just the genoa until now, so we hoisted up the mainsail aswell and we were now happily climbing up to 6 knots. Checking the chart, we were 100 miles away from Morocco. Africa! We were having much warmer days, sailing in shorts and t-shirts, the evenings were still cool, but they were definitely much warmer than when we left Ireland.
For me, Day 4 was the best day of sailing I've had so far. The first two days was mainly seasickness. I started taking seasickness tablets the night before we left Portugal, ate breakfast, kept fluids up etc. By the end of Day 1, I had had enough and decided to stop taking everything that was preventing me from feeling nauseous, because I was still vomiting anyway and I wanted to let my body handle it as best as I could. Surprisingly for me, after two days it worked. With no more sickness from Day 3, I was able to do more, think more clearly and make sail changes with Mattis.
The wind was coming from behind us and we were sailing on a broad reach, sailing at 6 knots. This was definitely the most comfortable for us and the boat. We had warm sunshine, blue skies and we were sailing happily on a broad reach. We could have stayed out there on the water forever. It was bliss. We talked about how sea and wind conditions can change rapidly, one minute you are sitting comfortably soaking up the sunshine on deck, next minute, you're rolling around, reefing in the mainsail and furling the genoa. You nor anybody else would have any idea what the sea state was like just a few moments ago. When perfect moments come, we definitely try to make the most of it, because out there, you don't always know when it's going to change next, even when you have a weather forecast. I'm learning that you can never be too careful out at sea and you always have to be prepared.
Talking about safety, there was an article in Practical Boat Owner magazine, which demonstrates what happens to the inside of a boat when it's completely rolled over and what happens to equipment and personal belongings when they aren't stowed properly. The test was done in a controlled manner, a belt wrapped around the boat was used and a crane slowly turned the boat the full 360 degrees. The effects of not stowing efficiently was profound. Batteries, cutlery, plates, books, equipment thrown across everywhere. If you were to be unfortunate enough to be rolled at sea, you'd stay inside your boat and batten down the hatches. Then of course the next danger is that a battery could come loose and go flying at you if it weren't secured properly. So, in PBO, what they did in their second test was show that doing simple things like securing lockers and cupboards with string made a huge difference. This will be one of our next jobs. It's just not worth not doing.
Today we saw a turtle! We were happily cruising along, enjoying the sunshine and I noticed something brown floated past. I just assumed it might have been rubbish or maybe seaweed (?) as it wasn't moving. Not long after that, Mattis and I were sitting on the foredeck and we saw a turtle right before our eyes. Where did it come from? Morocco? Where was it going to? So many questions. It felt like we just whizzed passed it and this turtle was just there, happily bobbing along, not moving very much, but seemed content. We'd never seen a turtle in the wild before.
The sun went down, the evening became darker and darker until all we could see was a blanket of stars in the sky. It just takes your breath away, the longer we stared at the night sky, the more stars we could see. And the shooting stars..... What was really astonishing was seeing the edge of the Milky Way, right across the sky, from north to south. We were both in the cockpit, admiring the view and being in general awe of everything, Mattis says to me to come and look over the side into the water. I go and look and it doesn't take long for me to see the bioluminescence sparkling away as the boat was gently cruising through the water. I didn't know what to say, sparkly sky, sparkly water, shooting stars, Milky Way.....
Later on that night we started our night watches and Mattis up on deck, when he noticed a vessel a few miles away shining their torch in our direction. They continued to do so and eventually, the vessel started coming towards us. Mattis shone his torch back at them as well as through the sails, to make it obvious that we were a sailing vessel. Mattis made contact with them as it seemed as though they were in distress and needed help of somekind. It turned out that they were trying to get through to us, to no avail, hence them shining their torch at us. After the initial miscommunication, they wanted to let us know that we needed to stay clear of them as they were towing another vessel behind them with seismic surveying equipment. The equipment was 8 miles long and 3 miles wide. The friendly man on the VHF was very helpful and he worked out our position on his chart and let us know how far we needed to go off course. In the end, we had to divert our course by 40 degrees for 14 miles in order to be clear of the two vessels and seismic surveying equipment. It was really interesting finding out all this new information. We'd never heard of such a thing before, let alone towing miles and miles of equipment behind you.
Day 5. Sunday 10th September 230 miles to go
The wind was coming directly behind us and conditions were perfect to 'goose wing'. When running dead downwind, you can set up your sails so that the mainsail is on one tack and the genoa is poled out on the other tack, looking like a two wings. This is so that the sails can catch maximum breeze without the sails collapsing. It took us a little bit of time to figure out the best way to do this and set it up. But for our first time, it was great trying to figure this out, setting up the genoa using one of our spinnaker poles. We could see in the distance that a squall coming through in the next few hours, so we had the mainsail triple reefed, reducing the size of the sail and we could furl in the genoa if the winds were getting too strong and then unfurl it again after the squall had passed.
Day 6. Monday 11th September 150 miles to go.
We had fair weather and were sailing 4 knots. The barometric pressure dropped by two bars in six hours during the day, so we had a bit of a gusty night, but no problems. We made radio contact with a nearby vessel around 2000 to get a weather report for the area as we'd not been receiving weather faxes due to our SSB radio not working properly. The weather report was good, north westerly winds, Force 3, sea state was slight. Now that we had a weather report, we could start our proper night watches again. Not having a report meant that we would stay up together for as long as we could during the night just in case the weather changed quickly and we needed to adjust sails. We had two vessels behind us, one after the other and both just happened to be on the same collision course with us. We contacted the first vessel to let them know where we were and they changed course and with the second vessel, a 1200 metre oil tanker, we just decided to change course. The wind had dropped considerably and our sails were starting to flog, so we put the engine on from 0400 until 1300 the next day. We had dolphins to keep us company, a clear nights sky and bioluminescence in the water, until the moon showed and it was too bright to see them anymore.
Day 7. Tuesday 12th September
The engine was on until 1300 and we started to see landfall. The Canaries. Just as we turned off the engine we saw a whole pod of dolphins. There must have been at least 100+ going in the opposite direction to us. It was as if the water was bubbling with dolphins. We kept the engine off until 1600, when there was truly no more wind and we stuck it back on again and motored past La Grasiosa, an island that's a National Park to the north of Lanzarote and continued south until we could anchor in the safety of the Old Harbour. The landscape looked truly stunning and we could not wait to go exploring over the next few days before Mattis started work. It was around 2200 before we finally anchored (and in the dark). It was something we'd not done before, but we were cautious and everything was fine. We turned off the engine once our anchor was secure and took a deep breath and relaxed. We made it.
We contemplated on how surreal all of this was for us. Down below in the saloon, we could hear a popping noise throughout boat. Had we left a valve open? Was a seacock open? Was the gas on? It wasn't any of those. The noise was coming from little creatures feeding on the algae on our hull. Quite normal here apparently. The popping of Rice Crispies noise continued through the night, but it was actually quite nice to listen to.
We sailed 800 miles in our 10 metre boat. Many exclamation marks! :) We're here, in the Canaries. We could even pop over to Africa if we wanted, it's only 60 nautical miles away...
But first, Mattis has two weeks of work on a 70ft boat that needs repairing and he is joined by another boatbuilder and friend called Richard. Mattis and Richard worked together for a couple of months in Plymouth last year and since then Richard and his girlfriend Trish left the UK last June to go sailing in their 39ft ferro-cement boat, 'Gwendoline'. So far they've been to Spain and further into the Mediterranean. Richard and Trish also sailed to Lanzarote for the job. It's been exciting meeting up with them, sharing our stories and experiences so far....
At the marina in Portugal, we were paying less than 5 euros a day, which was amazing as they had good facilities, security, fingerprint gates. Now, we have anchored for a few days, it is free and you can come and go as you please. We hope to do a lot more of this as we continue to sail and see more wonderful and secluded places.
On a particularly gusty evening when we were at anchor, we tracked the movements of our boat through the night.