Antigua to UK via Azores

28 May – 0035 GMT. DTG 0! 

Safely attached to the “Cutty Sark” mooring, one of the old Admiralty moorings in Falmouth. Astern of Marietta, just across the way from Adix, in great company. Turning in for a good sleep on a boat that’s hardly moving, almost seems set in concrete relative to going off watch for the last week or so. We could not have picked a more appropriate port to make our UK landfall. Keith, Bruce and I left from here 26September 1995 on Grandee. I will sit down and write some reflections on a real adventure, but my first thought is how well we all reacted to the forestay failure, effective, safe and got us on our way again, albeit to a different destination. Cheers to all those who have helped and supported us to date, we’re aiming to head up-Channel towards the Hamble on Tuesday afternoon. Yes into a headwind. Can’t believe I’m agreeing to that!

Adventure: An undertaking, possibly risky, with an uncertain outcome. Yes that about sums it up. An adventure. Well done Kialoa and well done her crew.

27 May – (1800 GMT) Course 070 / Speed 6kts / Wind 010 7kts / DTG 35

1056 Land Ho! Bishops Rock Lighthouse spotted as we neared the Scillies. Quite a spectacle, a tall narrow shape against the haze and then, gradually, the teeth of rocks behind it appeared as we neared. The trip towards Bishops Rock so we could pay homage to the lighthouse and it’s builders was in effect our capitulation. A beautiful day for sunbathing and going to the beach, not so much for sailing towards our destination. No longer able to make Falmouth before the pubs shut, we decided to do a bit of tourism instead along with the obilgatory selfies and photographs. Hence a longer tack north than necessary and a drive-by of the rock. Made it a much more worthwhile day.

1745 Land Ho! Lands End spotted silhouetted by the western sun. 35 odd miles to go, it is sunny and warm-ish, at least for Cornwall at the end of May, and notwithstanding our disappointment at not getting in today, we  sure as heck will make up for it tomorrow.

26 May – (1800 GMT) Course 010 / Speed 7.2kts / Wind 060 24kts / DTG 150

We’re under 150 miles to go to our allocated mooring in Falmouth Harbour. Somewhat pleasing to be informed the mooring has a name: “Cutty Sark”. Hoping that’s a good omen, but yet to see anything that might be so. It’s sunny, we’ve just had a tot to celebrate a new life, Izzy Gair’s new daughter, and also a tot to acknowledge 4 months since we left Sydney. And of course it is blowing dogs off chains (24 kts) and we’re down to staysail and one reef and low revs on the engine to keep us going through an unpleasant lumpy sea. Falmouth bears 067 from here, I’ll leave you to guess where the wind is coming from…

25 May – (1800 GMT) Course 095 / Speed 6.2kts / Wind 050 19kts / DTG 279

Sort of a useful day when compared to the last 2 or 3. The breeze wasnt too strong, it swung between 080 and 040 allowing us enough time to get making tacks in when it approached one extreme or the other, very helpful.

A swallow has spent the last hour or so trying to land aboard. Clearly blown a long way off course thanks to the same blocking high pressure that is our bete noir, I think its chances are slim. If it does land, it will either get seasick and fall off, or lose patience before we get near to land. Thankful our situation is positively rosy compared to the swallow’s rather bleak prospects. Best of luck matey.

24 May – (1800 GMT) Course 090 / Speed 7kts / Wind 050 20kts / DTG 410

No change to the forecast, we battle on into 22kts of NE wind with not much to look forward to, from the forecast anyway. Life at 25 degrees of heel gets very tedious after a remarkable short space of time, minutes in fact. The day becomes a blur of chores (fuel, water, system checks), eating, steering, the occasional tack, wiping oneself down after your watch (to get the salt off at least your head) before trying to sleep. Oh and coffee from the Nespresso machine, a life saver. Not generally in my nature to be wishing precious time away, but believe me there is nothing enjoyable about beating up the western approaches into 20kts plus. Maybe there will have been, in the bar afterwards. However as Sir Michael Caine once said:” If you’re going through hell, don’t stop, you’re in Hell! Keep bloody going.” Or a Dame Judy Dench quote: “It’ll be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not the end.” Like that one. Onwards and Northeastwards.

23 May – (1800 GMT) Course 100 / Speed 6.5kts / Wind 050 17kts / DTG 550

The closer we get, the harder it gets. Almost like there’s a fully padded up ice-hockey goal keeper blocking our way to Falmouth, the high pressure ridge has built up unusually high (in latitude), and is unusually extensive, setting up a blocking pattern from mid Atlantic up to NW Ireland. The result for us is no fronts to blow us in and rock solid easterly flow across the bottom of the high at 20kts plus. Wonderful. We battle on. Rotis for lunch yesterday, most excellent, as was Antigua Patsy’s lasagne. At least the food is very good.

22 May – (1800 GMT) Course 090 / Speed 6.2kts / Wind 040 12kts / DTG 692

The curse of the Opua Yacht Club poster (the one giving a definition of sailing “decide where you want to go, then sail in any direction except where you want to go”) strikes again. We’d like to go to Falmouth please, course 078. Right-ho have some wind from say 050 to 070, that should do.

We’ve headed north using an apparently temporary veer (clockwise swing) in the breeze to around 065 in order to get up out of the stronger breezes and we hope into something a little more helpful for the project of getting us to Falmouth. First step seems to have worked, we’re back to full main and #3, wind strength a more pleasant 15kts, the breeze has yet to back (anti-clockwise swing) to help us in our decision as to when to tack. (Just as I send tonight’s note we’ve tacked as the breeze has kindly shifted).

It’s easy to understand how sailors of yore got the black spot or reputations as Jonahs: when you’re battling along steering in horrible conditions and you get a spirit lifting improvement in direction and strength, life momentarily improves. Right up until someone comes up on deck and says something like: “conditions have improved”, or “the direction’s much better”, and you get an immediate adverse reaction from the duty wind god. We’ve banned these people from mentioning anything at all to do with the weather. They know who they are…

21 May – (1800 GMT) Course 090 / Speed 6.5kts / Wind 030 20kts / DTG 775

We didn’t get as far to the north as we’d hoped before we got belted with 28-30kts from 045 degrees at around 1100 this morning. Dropped down to 2 reefs and the genoa staysail. Struggling to make the course towards Falmouth which is 075 degrees, so we’r looking for the breeze to veer to something like 050 or better so we can tack and get a bit more north in. At least it’s not raining. Yet.

20 May – (1800 GMT) Course 030 / Speed 6kts / Wind 320 6kts / DTG 913

Just on dusk last night we had one of those events that reinforce ones sense of wonder at the mystery of it all. Nice enough sunset – big red ball of a sun appeared momentarily under the low cloud, we motored (very little wind) into a line of current – long lines of completely smooth water interspaced with lines of breeze and the occasional white line of froth. A couple of minutes in I spotted a large fin – looked like a basking shark fin to me, mooching around following a fairly convoluted course, its tail occasionally visible, big dorsal fin occasionally flopping over. Then another and another and so on. 15-20 fins in 15 minutes. More interesting, some of them were clearly interacting with each other – one seemingly following the other, again in a sort of pattern, one of the pairs within 5m of the starboard side. And yes it was definitely 2 dorsal fins and two tail fins – we weren’t mistaking a single for a pair! As dusk wore on we inadvertently motored between an interacting pair. The follower was not going to give way until we almost washed it aside when it swirled around and gave the hull a slap with its tail as if to say “don’t you cut in on my dance”. In the end we spotted 40+ fins in the space of 45 minutes, all in this tide line, perhaps 12 of them in pairs. There may have been more but it became too dark to see, 0% moon last night. A basking shark ball? Singles night in the North Atlantic?

19 May – (1800 GMT) Course 025 / Speed 6kts / Wind 075 6kts / DTG 1029

Grey leaden sea even when there’s sunshine – where else could we be but the North Atlantic? Fine sailing morning, 3 sails up, just cracked sheets and making good speed towards our weather mark which is set north of the direct Horta-Falmouth course. Since then the breeze, as predicted has faded out and we are motorsailing, we hope over the high pressure ridge and into more northerly and NW’ly flow. That flow was the forecast when we left – not looking so likely now – looking more like NEasters direct from where we want to go. So we are preparing ourselves for some hard work beating our way to Falmouth. Wouldn’t be Kialoa’s voyage to England if it were any different now would it?

18 May – (1800 GMT) Course 025 / Speed 7.5kts / Wind 090 14kts / DTG 1163

Smooth exit from Horta having topped up with diesel and cleared out yesterday evening. First hour or two were windless, once clear of the islands, the breeze filled in and we’ve been tight reaching since. Great whale watching on the way out.

Biggest change we’ve noticed, it is cold. The breeze has a real bite to it, the brave lads starting off in their shorts didn’t last so long!
Adix is now visible on our port stern quarter, rapidly catching us up, a great sight.

Crew: Ian, Gen, Jonathan, David, Michael, Paddy, Duncan

13 May – (1800 GMT) Course 097/ Speed 8kts / Wind 175 2kts / DTG (Horta) not far!

Land Ho was called at 12:30 zulu, the peak of Faial appeared through the haze at about 45miles. A bearing from that completed nicely my morning sunsight Line of Position to give us a very passable fix. Ultimately a boring day as Audrey and the donkey carried the load for us, made passable by the odd passing whale, pod of dolphins and the slowly revealing views of Faial and Pico which are truely magnificent landfalls. Two hours out, looking forward to seeing Mel, who’s been exploring the islands, and having a beer, definitely in that order…

Update: at 1945 Kialoa came around the corner into Horta harbour and now comfortably tied up alongside the 43m Swedish sail training ship Gunilla.

12 May – (1900 GMT) Course 096/ Speed 8.3kts / Wind 195 6kts / DTG (Horta) 199

Just ticked under the 200 to go marker. Breeze held until this morning, we’ve been motorsailing since. The scrabble set is getting a good work-out, as are the binoculars. Mel suggested we keep an eye out as it is prime whale watching season, and sure enough, just after my evening report yesterday we saw two, a large one and an even larger one, one, parallelling us just 50m away. At the same speed – 9.0kts. A very large whale doing 9.0 knots apparently easily. Could it be? A few years ago I never thought I’d see one in my lifetime – I got all excited! Don’t panic, check the identification signs: a large splash guard around the blow hole and a tiny dorsal fin set a long way back. A blue whale?  Wow. Here’s hoping I got the identification right, I’ll check in Horta, but I have to say I got a bit emotional.

11 May – (1800 GMT) Course 093/ Speed 8.1kts / Wind 190 14kts / DTG (Horta) 405

An heroic day, at least from a sailing point of view, great miles covered in an effort to eat up the distance before the predicted wind drop-out. 227 miles covered giving a VMG of 9.4kts. Nicely done K2. Sadly as I record our day the breeze is behaving as predicted and we’ve dropped from 15-17kts from 195 to 13 kts from 185, enough to be annoying as our much watched ETA has slipped into Saturday evening…

So our overall weather plan has been good. We didn’t drive up hard north as the programme paths decided we should, potentially travelling an additional 180 miles to chase wind. These paths were calculated using the data from 2 of the major weather models, very good models. We, rightly as it turns out, thought the suggestions a bit extreme and chose a more conservative route, less out to one side of the race track, so to speak, more direct towards Horta, but still with a nice curve north. Shorter distance, more options if things changed.

One of the pitfalls of route optimisation software is the predicted path can sometimes involve flying off at a tangent to the most direct course in order to take advantage of a kink or change in the weather. Isn’t that what it’s supposed to do? Well, yes, but, if the tangent, taken now, is to take advantage of a predicted change in 4-5 days time, how good is the weather prediction, how likely is that change, how much out on a limb are you going now to try to gain from something that may not happen? Weather forecasting beyond about 4 days, improving amazingly as it is, can still be hit and miss, so we try to follow the basic rule, as Cuts says: “Always head at the mark”, Tried and tested…

10 May – (1800 GMT) Course 090/ Speed 9.2kts / Wind 195 16kts / DTG (Horta) 632

We dropped the spinnaker and sailed through the night with jib, main, and mizzen, somewhat conservatively given the forecast was for increasing breeze. Dropped a few knots but it meant good sleep! This morning we resumed our charge, hoisting spinnaker and mizzen staysail. The breeze has behaved impeccably so far, backing to 195 and increasing as predicted, so late morning we returned to the jib/main/mizzen set up and find ourselves pointing at Horta bowling along at 9 kts, everyone enjoying their turn at the wheel, no heart-in-mouth moments sliding sideways when caught too high.
A special mention for a seriously good lunch – roti’s from Roti-Sue near English Harbour, Antigua.

9 May – (1800 GMT) Course 080/ Speed 10kts / Wind 235 15kts / DTG (Horta) 831

Breeze dropped away after dinner last night so we motorsailed for a while, still trying to get north to avoid the soggy patch above the high pressure ridge. The team woke me around 0100 as the breeze had strengthened and backed. We gybed onto starboard and have been making good course towards Horta ever since. We popped the spinnaker up early this morning and our speeds have been high eights, to low 10s ever since. Long may that continue…

Big numbers of Portuguese men o’ war in the water, curious things they are too, the big cousin of blue bottles. Their “sails” can be quite brightly coloured along the top edge – blues and even reds – amazing to watch them “gybe” as getting across the wind causes them to broach, swing the jelly sail down into the water, turn back into the wind and then raise the sail again. Are they called PMo’Ws because they sail and look like old navy galleons or because they look like Portuguese fighting men’s helmets, or indeed were the fighting ships called after the fighting men? No looking up on google out here to spoil the discussion…

8 May – (1945 GMT) Course 040/ Speed 7.2kts / Wind 260 10kts / DTG (Horta) 977

Gentle day sailing mostly under spinnaker. We are getting pushed north as the wind has yet to swing around to the forecast SW, but, at the moment anyway, that’s actually a good thing as it keeps us clear of the edge of the high pressure ridge. Next move will be to gybe into the wind direction change and start the long starboard to Horta. Note to self: must dig out the ugg boots. Much cooler in the evenings now – my feet stick out the end of the skippers bunk down aft – need the uggs to keep them warm.

Paddy taking a sunsight this afternoon through the haze. Photo by Ian.


7 May – (1800 GMT) Course 060/ Speed 8.1kts / Wind 295 11kts / DTG (Horta) 1123

Spinnaker up, erring to N of line to 34N 45W our current weather waypoint. full cloud cover now, still high cloud though, and the sea temp has dived to 20.5 degrees from 28 which makes a huge difference, down below and up on deck. We must have got soft sailing through all those tropical waters – had to get the night-time woolies out. At least the fridges aren’t using so much amperage and my pump by-pass operation is still working nicely, thank-you. Can you begin to imagine eating all those meals in the space of a few days if it hadn’t worked and the freezer had unfrozen…

Amazing how time flies past when you have a morning sight, a meridian passage (noon sight) and an afternoon sight to organise, take with the sextant (the relatively easy bit) and then calculate and plot all while still doing your daily chores and holding down a watch. No wonder not many seem to bother learning astro-navigation in these days of GPS, broadband internet at sea, and electronic charts.

6 May – (1800 GMT) Course 050/ Speed 7.9kts / Wind 280 12kts / DTG (Horta) 1304

On we roll. We tried cutting the corner of our “Weather Waypoint” and ended up falling out of the breeze line so have spent the late morning and afternoon clawing our way back to the north. As of an hour ago we’ve finally picked up the breeze again. The next few days are going to be an interesting game threading our way between the high pressure ridge and the low, getting enough breeze to move well, but not so far north we waste miles or risk blundering into the wild winds whistling off the bottom of the low pressure systems.

And this afternoon as a special treat we’re going to have fruit-cake and tea to celebrate the coronation of a famous fruit cake, and then we might have a beer to celebrate in a more Aussie fashion. Well done for lasting the course Charlie.

5 May – (1800 GMT) Course 052/ Speed 6.4kts / Wind! 240 3kts / DTG (Horta) 1470

A special night, bowling along at 9kts plus with jib, main, mizzen and mizzen staysail up, rolling down the swells at a useful angle heading at the mark. This morning the breeze lightened up and swung more to the South, dropped the jib, went to the cruising spinnaker and business was resumed, 8-9kts again at the mark, all smiles. And then it went to rats, of course it did. So here we are motoring towards our weather waypoint in 3 kts of breeze, from exactly astern, mainsail dropped so it didn’t flog itself to pieces and the mizzen sheeted in hard, bravely trying to limit Kialoa’s rolling in the gentle swell.

And as I promised Mike Critchely, I’m practicing my sun sights, perched on the dog-house trying to bring the sun down to the horizon as we roll through 30 degrees. Every time I do it I think of two things, 1) massive respect to Frank Worsely taking sights from the James Caird, and getting it right, making South Georgia smack on, all Shackelton’s crew’s lives depended on it; and 2) the team from JPMorgan FX Sales and especially William Porter. They gave me my sextant as a leaving present back in 1995 when Keith and I headed off around the world on Grandee. Thank you guys, I think of you every time I use it. It is a seriously high quality piece.

4 May – (1800 GMT) Course 054/ Speed 7.2kts / Wind 185 13kts / DTG (Horta) 1634

I’ve adjusted the DTG to be simply miles to Horta direct rather than the distance via our various weather waypoints. Using weather forecast models and Clouds’ valued input we pick a route that appears (at least at the time) to be the most efficient and best sailing route to get us to our destination. On our charting software we mark out that “optimum” path, choosing waypoints at what appear to be key junctures in the weather plan. As time goes by, miles get eaten up and especially as the models update, we adjust our route and consequently our waypoints, making the DTG number swing about a bit, hence the simplification.

At the moment we are heading to a virtual point set at 30n 52w. Initially all the weather forecast models we have available via various commercial packages and a few more we don’t see but have access to through Roger (Clouds) agreed that this was the path. That takes us out to about 06/05, then it’s like the bell has rung at the end of school: paths lead every which way. We shall see in due course I guess. As the distance gets eaten away and as the time to go falls, our path will become clear, grasshopper.

3 May – (1825 GMT) Course 045/ Speed 6.6kts / Wind 170 8kts / DTG (Horta) 1819

The freezer issue has been dealt with using bypass power to the cooling pump from the watermaker circuit so we have our emergency bilge pump back on line. It is remarkable how robust the refrigeration system is given it is keeping the freezer frozen using “cooling” water at nearly 30 degrees C. Well done Zeb and Penguin Refrigeration.

The breeze dropped away and swung right this afternoon so we now have the cruising spinnaker up (MPS) which has allowed us to drop back down to course and pick up a knot or so of boat speed. Brilliant blue-sky day with remarkable deep sea blue seas, a pleasure being out on deck. Not bad rolling along in delivery mode making 6.5 kts in 8 kts of breeze.

2 May – (1800 GMT) Course 050 / Speed 6.4kts / Wind 115 9kts / DTG (Horta) 2021

Lovely sail leaving Antigua and all through the night, light-ish (10-14kts) but very useful angle and we were rolling along nicely. I was looking forward to my early watch, taking a breath, letting Audrey do the work. What was I thinking. Gen opened the freezer to take out today’s dinner and everything at the front was looking a bit softer than it should. A bit like an all hands call when a big squall comes in, same level of anxiety, the freezers failing. 2 weeks of dinners and snacks slowly melting.

No gentle watch for me. Next 4 hours of investigating and bush mechanic-ing. Pump was the issue, filled with English Harbour gunk. However, that had had a cascade effect and now for whatever reason the power circuit for that cooling pump wasn’t working. Sparing you all the hot sweaty details, the hot water pump on the bilge pump 3 circuit was substituted which gave us cooling flow and restarted the freezers. Now we just need to work out what to do next…

1 May – (1800 GMT) Course 045 / Speed 9kts / Wind 135 12kts / DTG (Horta) 2239

And so the trans-Atlantic leg begins. Heading towards the Azores and Horta. Lovely first few hours, 3 sail reaching: #3, full main and mizzen. While it was a lot of fun in Antigua, it is so good to be moving, and for once at a pleasant angle and a decent lick. Lots of weather to negotiate yet, the Atlantic has been brewing some aggressive lows recently, we aim to stay below them and slingshot off their tails, we shall see.
With our 7 crew for this leg (we said goodbye to Cuts and hello to Jonathan, Michael and David) we’re settling in to a fairly user friendly 2 on 5 off watch rota, spreading the old hands out amongst the new crew, although it must be said 2 of the 3 recruits have done a couple of thousand miles each on the old girl and the third is no newcomer to ocean sailing, so we stand in good stead.

Crew Photo: L-R Michael, Ian, Jonathan, Gen, Duncan, (Elroy (varnisher)), Paddy, David.