We just got back from our trip across the Atlantic! We left New York harbor on the evening of July 9 as a crew of three on our friend’s boat, headed for Falmouth, England. We expected the trip to take about four weeks.
Rich caught a fish our second day out, a huge bluefish. The next day we were just starting to eat our lunch of bluefish ceviche, when he caught another one. We took pity on the poor guy (a big cod) and threw him back. But then a few minutes later, there was another bluefish on the line. Guess what we had for lunch the next day?
It was around this time that we started seeing dolphins pretty much every day. They’d be off a ways riding the waves in a pod of 20 or more and then they’d see us and all come flying over to say hi. We were amazed by how playful and curious they were. The cutest things ever were the baby dolphins. Chubby little Mini-Me’s of the adults with tiny little dorsal fins! As entertaining as they were to watch, they were incredibly difficult to photograph, so you’ll have to settle for this image and trust us when we say they were beautiful.
On July 20 we broke a running backstay. We made the decision to divert to the Azores to make some repairs to be on the safe side. We hadn’t been able to get the wind vane to work so the guys were driving 24/7 with some very brief spells from me. That night the wind picked up and before we knew it we were in the middle of some pretty big seas. The awesome force of the ocean and its power over us is incredibly apparent when you see waves that big. They don’t seem like much until you ride down to the bottom of one and look back up to the top. Those waves (some of them 30-feet high) look like two- and three-story buildings about to collapse on top of you.
The wind picked up some more in the next 24 hours and the guys had to go from shifts of two or three hours to one hour on, one hour off. I was basically useless for driving under these conditions. Even making us all something to eat was a challenge bouncing around down below in the enormous seas we were experiencing. I was starting to accrue a pretty good collection of bruises at this point. Early the next morning, a gale rolled in and we hove to (basically used the sails like brakes to hold us in place) and rode it out that way for a few hours. It was the first break the guys had had in days, and the first time we’d stopped moving in almost two weeks.
Thursday, July 24. “Another rough night. We got hammered all night long by a storm…we were a bit screwed since the second main tore again yesterday and we only had the small jib up. Everything and I mean EVERYTHING is soaked.”
We sighted the first two islands of the Azores, Corvo and Flores. At first I was excited to see land, but then the reality of our glacial pace set in and I had to come to terms with the fact that we were still a few days’ sail from Horta.
Friday, July 25. “One hundred and fifty miles to Horta. It’s been well over a week since we last bathed. It will be so nice to sleep more than a few hours.” Even though it’s been way too rough for me to do watches, the conditions haven’t exactly been conducive to sleep. I was averaging about three to four hours a night at this point, but the guys were probably getting half that so I certainly couldn’t complain.
Winds calmed down to nearly nothing late Friday night so we started motoring early Saturday. Finally, our destination island Faial came into sight. A few hours later and we landed in Horta. For the first time in 17 days our feet were on terra firma. Yesssssss! What a feeling of accomplishment. Not that anyone came out to congratulate us on our incredible feat. Pretty much everyone else there had just sailed in from someplace far away too. We were in good company!
Horta was a truly magical place. And I’m not just saying that because I was glad to be back on land again. While we explored the incredibly green (and rainy!) town and stuffed ourselves on great seafood and fresh produce and lots of delicious beer and wine we were really struck by the beauty and just plain vibrance of the place. Peter Cafe Sport was a great spot to hang out pretty much any hour of the day. When we wandered in that first night, freshly showered and wide-eyed at seeing other people for the first time in a long time, we were welcomed with open arms, and frosty beers!
We had been toying with the idea of leaving the boat in Spain since stopping in Horta meant we didn’t have enough time to make it to England. In the end we decided to leave the boat in the Azores, but we still needed to take it two islands away to Terceira where the boat would remain for the season. We stopped for one night in Velas (which means “sails” in Portuguese…doesn’t get much more sailboaty than that) on São Jorge. It was pretty and green like Faial, but maybe even a little more nature-y. Wandering the deserted streets that afternoon we stumbled on the one cafe that was open and found Rich’s new favorite potato chips. (We didn’t know this until we tried them, but presunto means ham in Portuguese.)
Angro do Heroísmo on Terceira was our last stop in the Azores and my second favorite town after Horta. It had a very Mediterranean vibe and was terribly cute. We found a great little restaurant for dinner and feasted on a tasty beef stew and a delicious local wine.
And then it was time to fly to Lisbon for phase two of the trip: visiting my Spanish host family from college and spending a few days with my Spanish language exchange friends in Valencia and Asturias.
Meanwhile, Rich is already planning a trip to the Med on our boat. As for me, I might be okay with waiting a year or two before we attempt another big crossing…