Variable weather, trying to catch the wind, constantly changing sail configurations and dealing with unidentified submerged objects all made for a challenging, not entirely uneventful passage from Bermuda to the Azores.
Back home in the UK, having flown from Bermuda as planned, Elaine provided land-based support for Pipistrelle, following the same weather forecasts, receiving daily progress reports and providing information when needed.
Once Elaine had left, Bob Tuckwood and Pete Stone (both very able sailors and cooks, Pete also a diving instructor!) were tremendous help in preparing Pipistrelle for the passage. Apart from provisioning, preparing and freezing ready cooked meals, many jobs on board were required to try to ensure there were no mishaps on passage.
We left St. George’s on 19th May, having refuelled with duty free diesel and checked out, heading north in a flat calm. Weather wise, it was not unlike leaving the Galapagos for the Marquesas, knowing the engine would be running for at least 24 hours before we would find the wind, and then head first east, then north or north east to be to the north of the Azores high pressure area. No doubt several course alterations would be necessary to stay in moderate breezes, avoiding windless anticyclones and strong winds of forecast depressions.
At midday the following day we realised something was obstructing the propeller. Pete snorkelled to investigate, and cut free several hundred meters of fisherman’s buoyant rope. We continued on our way, were finally able to turn off the engine at 34N, and continued sailing to 36N apart from one brief period of calm.
Five days afterwards, at 21.45 on 25th May we were motoring again, and heard a thump on the stern followed immediately by a drop in engine revs. In a slight swell, a very light breeze and no moon, we had no alternative but to turn off the engine, set the staysail to reduce roll, and wait until daylight to investigate. During the night the wind picked up, so we set the genoa. Next morning we had 17 knots of breeze, so slightly altered course for Flores, and continued sailing. During the following days we watched many dolphins alongside, and as we approached the Azores a few whales, some of them large.
On 31st May we were able to hoist the main as we closed Flores, and then furled the staysail and dropped the main in the lee of the south coast of Flores. With Pipistrelle drifting, Peter went over the side again, this time to remove what was left of a large black bin liner, but it was strong and tight enough to need the bread knife to remove it. It was a huge relief to be able to use the engine again when required. We hoisted the main once more and set off for Horta where we arrived at 12.30 on 2nd June.
We sailed a total distance of 1,913 nm in 13 days 20 hours, at an average speed of 5.8 knots, and covered 1,000 nm knowing we could not use the engine! Best 24 hour run: 175nm.
The ARC Europe Rally had arrived in the Azores 3 days before us, so the marina was packed, and we found a place alongside two other boats on the outer marina wall. Horta in its heyday had many beautiful buildings, but sadly many of these are now in disrepair and abandoned. But we found some very good restaurants, and the renowned Peter’s Sport Café lived up to its excellent reputation.
With flights for Pete and Bob on 7th and 8th June from Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel, we left Horta on the morning of 5th June, and whilst we were able to sail for an hour, we then had to motor for the rest of the 140 nm overnight passage.
Alongside in the main marina on the afternoon of 6th June, Pipistrelle is secure and sheltered from the storm forecast to arrive in three days’ time – on the 9th!