Thursday, 11 July 2013

Back in Scotland

Well the news is mid September for a new rudder, so home we are for the time being!

Monday, 1 July 2013

Nics Diary - Part 14 - Bermuda to Azores

Nic’s Diary – Part 14

This blog entry covers our last few days in Hamilton, Bermuda (start of June 2013), and our second Atlantic crossing to Flores, Azores (3rd June until 20th June), and then on to Horta, Azores (22nd June).


We had a fabulous time in Bermuda, catching up with my brother Neil, and his wife Shelly, although the tension on the boat between crew was becoming a little annoying.

I enjoyed sharing a “hard” days’ work of a Goslings rep (Neil), when we visited several pubs in St Georges and the south of the island, making sure his clients were happy with the service that Goslings (the local beverage supplier) were providing, and that all deliveries etc were satisfactory. We had a free lunch at a golf club (another client), overlooking the beautiful turquoise waters and white sandy beaches of Bermuda. Also, an Italian pub owner gave Neil some home baked bread, and home grown tomatoes, that he kindly donated to our boat (well appreciated seen as it is $6 a loaf in Bermuda!!). All in all a fab relaxing day out, and great to get off the boat.

Neil and Shelly came over to the yacht for dinner, and Shelly had bought me some baby clothes and other baby gifts. These are the first baby items I have. I was quite overwhelmed, and very happy with them – thanks xx

Baby starter pack!!

Chewsy, our friends from home, who towed us the last part of our last journey, when the engine failed, towed us again around to Hamilton (from St Georges). Stevie and Steve diagnosed the fault as the  fuel pump, the diaphragm in it had broken, allowing the fuel and oil to mix, resulting In the engine overrunning and failing. Luckily this turned out to be the problem and we were very relieved, as the new pump cost £100, whereas a new engine is £10,000. Very lucky!! We breathed a huge sigh of relief, but the next day Stevie found a leaky injector. The mechanic came out and it turned out be a simple fix, so finally we were ready for our second Atlantic crossing.

Mandy went up the mast to fix our topping lift

Neil and Shelly agreed to chauffeur us around to the farmers market for fruit & veg, the supermarket, and the DIY shop for a few bits. Thanks very much for your help. Unfortunately 24 hours before we were due to leave (after 7 days in Bermuda), one of our crew (Graham) decided to leave us. We were a little annoyed at his timing, especially as his departure was obviously per-meditated (his flight was booked, and he had taken his custom clearance form from all of the boat documents). A little more notice would have been appreciated, but in all honesty we were relieved to see the back of him, as for a 60yr old, he had a lot of growing up to do. I will spare you all of the details, but life on board the yacht had been rather depressing and hard work. I did not realise how much the atmosphere was getting me down, until he left and I felt the weight lifting off my shoulders. I asked Neil to take me to St Georges, so I could check the noticeboard for new crew, and put up an advert.

One crew on offer turned out to be a Colombian illegal immigrant from another boat, luckily Stevie was on the ball and realised that he did not have a visa for Europe – if not, we could have been fined for bringing him into Europe, and also made to pay for his flight home (close one!!).

However, our luck finally changed, and we had a phone call from an English guy called Chris (who looks like Jack Sparrow), who had dreamed of sailing the Atlantic, but had just left a catamaran, mostly due to health and safety issues. He was about to fly home, but after meeting us, and seeing the boat, he decided to join us. Thank goodness. He has been a god send!!!

So after 7 days in Bermuda, all 4 of us are finally ready to cross the Atlantic.

Bermuda to Flores, Azores

3rd – 9th June:

We departed Bermuda at 20.00hrs utc, on the 3rd June, for our 1680nm Atlantic crossing to the Azores (estimated to take around 2 weeks). I didn’t feel the same ‘buzz’ as the last Atlantic crossing, maybe due to the fact we weren’t destined for the Caribbean, and because we were headed in the general direction of ‘home’. But never mind, we had good conditions, and favorable wind, so all was looking good. As we were 4 people, we worked the same rota as before, with 3 hours on and 9 hours off. It sound like a ‘piece of cake’, but you would be surprised how much it catches up with you, especially when the conditions are crap, as sleep can be difficult, and sometimes either Stevie or I will be up all of the time, if required.
In the first couple of days we saw pilot whales, dolphins and turtles. Mostly beautiful clear starry skies, and no other boats.

Dolphins playing with the boat

A few days into the journey, I started to feel a little down. I wasn’t sure why, and put it down to pregnancy hormones. My hips seemed to be having a growing spurt, which was quite painful, and the baby was giving me growing pains too. I felt exhausted, uncomfortable, and started to think that maybe another Atlantic crossing was too much for me when 5 months pregnant. However, the next day I felt fine, so I think I was just hormonal – maybe I was just ‘letting it all out’ after the terrible previous passage (engine failure – Niics Diary – Part 13) or maybe the horrible atmosphere that we had been living with for quite a while?? or was I having premonitions of what was to come??

As the weather was fine fort the first week, we managed to enjoy movie nights, and rest quite well (once we got into the pattern of things). All in all a great first week, and we had covered half of the distance, with 840nm to go. No records broken, but we had a horrible southerly current trying to push us ever north, losing 20+ NM per day to current was not fun ,on a couple of  days we estimated the current was costing us 2 Knots, 25 percent of our speed.

One of many beautiful sunsets

10th - 13th June:

The last few days have been a bit rougher, as the wind and swell have increased. Also, the weather is grey and drizzly. Not so nice – I think we are definitely on right direction of home (well the med)!! It was starting to get really cold, and the thermals, water proofs, and willies are out. I miss the Caribbean!!

14th June: The day the shit hit the fan!!!

300mn to go – approximately less than 3 days to go – or not!!

It was approximately 12.30pm and I was on watch, with Stevie up with me, and luckily he was in the ‘driving seat’. A bit swell caught us on the starboard aft quarter, pushing us around quite far. I was looking at the steering wheel, and it did not correct us. I said to Stevie ‘I think the auto pilot has failed – press standby and hand steer’. At this moment he looked over his shoulder to see our lovely (f'ing) rudder floating away. Oh crap!!

 Mandy and Chris were both downstairs, and heard a thud and came up onto deck. I shouted for Mandy to get everyone’s life jackets, as the boat spun around quite violently in the big swell. I told Chris to help me put the genoa away (my usual panic since the knock down - Nic’s Diary – Part 7), but Stevie said to leave them both up, as the boat was naturally ‘heaving too’ (turning side on to the wind with the sails backed – the most stable position for the boat to sit in these circumstances). When the boat appeared to be stable, Mandy and I collected all emergency gear from the microwave (hand held GPS, sat phone, radio, and PLB (Personal location beacon)), and put them safely in our pockets in case we were knocked over (this won’t happen unless the swell turns into breaking waves – so really we were safe). Once the boat stabilised, and we had a few moments to digest what just happened, I sat quietly trying to calm myself, remembering I was pregnant, and this stress cannot be good for the baby. 

Stevie and Chris started discussing plans to make an emergency rudder, and I suggested that before we did this, that we should inform Clyde Coastguard (where the boat is registered) of our position and situation. I also called my poor mum (sorry mum), to tell her of our situation – we were safe, but if she didn’t hear from me daily, then tell the coast guard.

Clyde coastguard informed the Portuguese coastguard, who put out a warning to all of the big boats in the area, that we were adrift.

We got an up to date weather forecast (thanks to Steve my friend from home), which predicted several days of calm, after tomorrow. Very lucky to have the winds and swell forecast to drop soon!! (So different to our previous passage when our engine failed, and we prayed for the wind to stay!! – Nics Diary – Part 13).

Stevie suggested everyone went to bed for the night, to get a good rest. I said ‘no way – the last thing we need is for someone to hit us, causing more damage, and that we still needed to keep a proper watch’. Eventually he agreed – I think he had just had enough.

15 June:

Plans and discussions continued about the new rudder, but Chris was getting quite anxious to make a start on it. Stevie explained that there was very little we could do, and also it was quite dangerous to try to work in the big swell, and that we would have to wait until tomorrow for calm. Chris then decided that he wanted to leave the boat asap. I explained to him that this would not be possible, as the risk of damage to ourselves, or another yacht coming close to us was too high in the big seas. Also, launching a dingy and trying to get to another yacht in this swell was virtually suicide. I suggested he rested until the morning, and that Stevie had some ‘time out’ watching cartoons, as his brain processed the plan of action for tomorrow.

Unlucky for us, again, thick fog descended in the evening, making look out for other boats virtually impossible. Once again I called Clyde coastguard for them to issue another warning to big vessels in the area of our position. It was a long night, as our 3 hour watches continued, armed with a fog horn just in case needed.

Luckily for us, we had actually drifted very slowly in the correct direction, towards the Azores, since we lost the rudder.

16 June:

Finally, a day of calm seas and nice sunshine. Time to start an exhausting 12 hour day of rudder construction, and steerage ideas.

Rudder construction begins
Attaching bunk bed base to spinnaker pole
New rudder strapped to back stay
Thank goodness for strong back stays!!

The idea was to use the emergency tiller for steerage once the new rudder was in the water

Without a rudder, our boat steers off to the port side, due to the prop walk. All we could do was turn in circles!! Never underestimate the value of a rudder!

We decided that before we started chopping up bits of the boat to construct a rudder, that we should try towing our dingy (with the engine on it for extra weight), and to pull it to either side of the back of the boat, in the hope that the drag from it would be enough to turn the boat. This took a few hours to prepare, and it didn’t really work. 

We stopped for lunch, and then decided to try plan B. Use the spinnaker pole (a n 18ft long 10cm diameter hollow pole), and attach 2 pieces of wood (one on each side), to make a rudder. For the wood, we cut up the base of a bunk bed, as this was 10mm thick marine plywood – nice and strong for the job. Luckily we had some 12mm threaded rod, with washers and bolts to fit. We put these together, and pushed the dinghy anchor and other bits of heavy metal  inside the end of the pole, to try to keep it in the water, as it would keep trying to float up out of the water otherwise. We decided the best place to attach our new rudder, with its long pole, was onto one of the back stays, with several bits of rope around it, and onto the winches, for a help to turn the rudder. Our topping lift, plus a few other ropes were used to hold the pole in position.
We got this completed, and in the water around 7pm. We were exhausted. The rudder looked good, and felt really sturdy, but the steerage was poor. We decided to call it a night, and have a work on the steerage aspect tomorrow. 

Stevie started discussing that we may have to eventually abandon the boat. I told him no way – this is my only home, and virtually all that I own is on this boat!!. We had plenty more ideas, lots of fuel, water, and food, so there was no chance that we were giving up this easily. Once again I think he was just exhausted, and he had had enough. (nb steveie says nonsense , stevie was not going to abandon the boat until it was unsafe to stay aboard or we ran out of food/ciggies whichever came first, but we had to consider that it may have to eventually happen )

17 June:

The start of day 4 of being adrift. This morning Mandy told me that both her and Chris had decided that if another yacht came along, that they had decided that they would leave us. Gee thanks!! I suppose I understood there side – they had nothing to lose by leaving the boat, but all of us were in no danger. We had been radioing hourly for other boats to give us a tow for the last 24 hours, and no-one had responded. It appeared that there was no one out there – just the occasional large cargo ship!!

Mandy doing her 'message in a bottle' - I think it read 'Help we are in serious shit!!' - Nice and calm ocean though!!

Chris and Stevie began tweeking the jury rudder, adding additional ropes under the transom to hold it in tight and one mid pole to a forward winch to hold it in tight and began experimenting with the steering, it was hard work and would take 3 people to steer the boat, one on each winch and one watching compass and gps for course. it was far from perfect but would have gotten us home as a last resort. ( edit by steveie, we were working on ideas for better steering, I almost had it rigged into the emergency tiller via pulleys which would have given us wheel steering, we had probs with the ropes stretching - some dynema or other non stretch rope would have been a godsend and some turnbuckles with eyes for rope would have been great as well)

Around 10am another boat radioed us and said that they had heard that we needed a tow, and that they were going to make their way over to us. To this day we still have no idea how they heard, but not to worry, we were very glad of the help. They said that their autopilot had failed, and 3 of them had been hand steering for around 10 days. They were exhausted, and asked if one of our crew members would come over to help. Chris immediately volunteered (thanks Chris). I reckoned that they probably had not eaten very well, and also as Chris was vegetarian, I set about making big pots of food for Chris to take over to them. As we awaited our tow, we spotted a massive whale ahead (probably around the size of our boat). We prayed that this whale did not take a fancy for Crazy Diamond, and that it did not try to mount the boat!! Luckily he headed away from us. Some smaller pilot whales then started to circle the boat. As they were smaller, we were not so worried, and just enjoyed the magnificent sight!!

The 4 of us patiently and happily awaiting our tow

Circled by whales!!

James McDust (the catamaran that offered us a tow), arrived at around noon, Chris was taken over to them, and we were on our merry way. It took a while to get going, as without our home made rudder in the water, our boat just zig zagged all around the place.

James McDust to the rescue - and Stevie rowing Chris over to crew with them

The 300 mile tow took around 3 days, and our watches consisted of changing the chafe point of the towing ropes hourly (I almost lost my fingers once!!), radioing other ships if they looked like they were going to be too close, and supervising our new rudder to make sure it was behaving!

On tow once again

We were greeted by Chris and Steve (our friends from home on yacht Chewsy) when we got to Flores, the Azores on 20/6. I have to admit, I had a few tears with Chris (thanks for being so understanding and supportive!!). They had their yacht all stocked up and refueled, and were ready to come back 300 miles to tow us, until we said someone else was on the way (much appreciated  and I am so glad you didn’t have to xx).

So happy to see land!

22 June:

Chewsy towed us to Horta, a larger island, with better marina facilities. As it was looking like 3 months for a new rudder, then we decided that this was a better place to leave our boat.

Chewsy to the rescue once again - our 3rd tow in a month!!

Both Flores and Horta are beautiful islands, but they are very secluded, and a bit chilly at night.

Both Chris and Mandy have left us, and we have been stripping the deck, and cleaning, and vacuum bagging all of our belongings in preparation to leave the boat for some length of time. It is very sad, and we are not particularly looking forward to returning to the hustle and bustle of land life!!

I would like to thank Chris and Mandy for their hard work, support, and calmness during the dramas of our crossing. And also to captain Stevie for his perseverance – I am so glad he didn’t abandon and sink the boat!! Also, a big thanks to both mums for helping with sat phone credit top up, communicating with coastguards, and all of the other dramas! Also, to Steve our weatherman for being on the ball, and of course to Chris & Steve (Chewsy) for all of their help and tows!!

We are both looking forward to a wee break from sailing, as the last month or so has been quite stressful. In particular we are looking forward to a real bed, a lovely long bath, and some good old Scottish takeaways!! And of course some big hugs from all of our friends at home. Looking forward to seeing you really soon xxx
26 weeks and very glad to be putting my feet up for a bit

Lots of love, Admiral Nic, and Deck hand baby bump

The captain hard at work as always!!