Going the rest of the way

It’s been a month (a month, really?!?) since we sailed/drifted (engineless) into Horta after nearly twenty-two days at sea. We were tired, but ecstatic, and proudly announced “we crossed the Atlantic!”.

No doubt some people read that, took a look at a map, noted where the Azores were, and thought: “uh, Mike…”

Still some Atlantic left to cover.

Indeed, there’s still quite a lot of ocean between us and the European mainland, and it’s now time for us to get serious about crossing the approximately 750 nautical miles remaining. While a lot of boats arrive in the Azores after making a similar trip from the Caribbean, from here they scatter off in all directions. We know boats who have sailed north to head around Ireland, or others that are planning to head southeast to Madeira. Some head for the English channel, bound for the Netherlands or Germany. Many make a bee-line for Cape Saint Vincent and onwards from there to Gibraltar and the Med. Neither Glenda nor I have ever been to Portugal, and this seems like too good an opportunity to pass up, so our plan is to head for the Lisbon area.

Making landfall along the Portuguese coast north of Lisbon is tricky, unless you go as far north as Spain; i.e.: Galicia and the larger bays of the Rias. But aiming north is also challenging – the Azores high, which was so important in our routing to get to the Azores, also heavily influences the winds east of here. Indeed, for more than a week now the Azores high has been driving strong northerly/north-easterly winds along the Portuguese coast. At times these can be strong (30 knots or more), especially closer to the Portuguese coast. The strong winds also cause the seas to build, so trying to aim to the northern portions of the coast involves fighting not only almost straight into the wind, but also against waves and current that wants to push you south. Though it would almost certainly be a bit easier to head straight for Cape St. Vincent instead of to Lisbon, this is the compromise we make in order to see some new places. This also means that we may face a longer wait for a good weather window.

The town of Cascais, located on the Atlantic coast just west of Lisbon, has a good harbour and a decent anchorage that is easily accessible even at night if needed; this is where we will aim to make landfall.

An example of weather we’d like to avoid: This is the ECMWF weather model for July 2. The winds along the coast are a steady 25-30 knots, with gusts over 35 knots, and 3-4 meter waves at a nasty, short, 7-second period. Image from Windy.com.

We are pretty much ready to go now. We have completed all the little repairs from our previous crossing, and the freezer is filled with pre-made meals. The dinghy is deflated and lashed to the deck and we have filled up with fuel. With about 24 hours’ notice, we could finish the last of the provisioning, top up our water tanks, and have the boat packed for passage. But we can’t go yet, because the winds really aren’t favourable. In fact, our latest email exchange with our weather router suggests that it may not be until July 4 before the current weather patterns change and a good departure window opens up. The tough part in picking the weather window is that the most challenging weather is usually closer to the coast. We are trying to pick a time where the weather is good on the coast a week after we leave; even with the best weather models, a seven-day forecast is getting into uncertain territory. Even with a favourable forecast, we may not be able to point the bow straight at Lisbon; we may need to sail north for a while to pick up decent westerly winds before we can turn east towards the mainland. As is often the case in sailing, the best route is unlikely to be the direct one.

When we do leave, our trackers will be live and we will resume posting daily updates to the Predict Wind tracker.

Hoping for the best for the Antilles. Hunker down and Stay Safe Bequia!

Sao Miguel is beautiful (more on that in a later post), and there are definitely worse places to have to wait for a weather window and more difficult situations to be in! At the moment, we can’t help but have our thoughts back in the Caribbean as Hurricane Beryl strengthens and heads towards the lesser Antilles, particularly Barbados, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Saint Lucia, with the eye possibly passing right over lovely Bequia. We have spent a lot of time there, first on our honeymoon in 2009 and most recently this past Christmas and New Years. The people there are welcoming and wonderful, and we hope everyone has what they need to prepare.

Beautiful Port Elizabeth, Bequia