Sunday morning Valeria had to get up early to get to the airport for her flight home. Mauro and I spent the first part of the morning practicing rope work until Andy Barker, an ex-colleague, and his niece Sarah Shelton arrived. After a safety briefing we left our berth and took on fuel then headed out for sea leaving the breakwaters at 2.10 pm, 31 August. Full Away on Passage.
Unfortunately we were heading directly into a 20 knot north westerly wind, under overcast skies with scattered showers. Hold on, this is Spain in the summer? Force 5 winds and rain … I didn’t sign on for this!
The wind slackened off a bit during the afternoon but was still from the very direction we wanted to sail and so we ploughed on under engines. Although the winds were from the North West the swell, the remains of big Atlantic rollers, was from the North and almost on our beam, side on. Windependent is a stable boat but still rolled as the swells passed under her and the motion was not particularly comfortable and soon got the better of Sarah who spent the next 24 hours feeling sick and was unable to face going below to her cabin, sleeping either out on the aft deck or in the saloon.
Mauro, on the other hand was in his element and took on the role of Ship’s Cook, although, after the first meal he was promoted to Executive Chef, even had handmade meatballs for one evening meal!!!
With four of us on board we worked in pairs and split the night hours into 3 watches, 10 to 2, 2 to 6 and then 6 to 10, breaking watches from 10 to 10. During the day if anyone felt tired they simply got their head down for a cat nap. This system means you stand the First Watch until 2 in the morning, turn in and are back up at 6 after less than 4 hours sleep in a pitching boat, probably with the engines hammering next to your head. Thank God for ear plugs!
We swapped watches each night to spread the load. If you worked the First and Morning Watches you got less sleep but didn’t have to get woken at 2 for the Middle Watch. The Middle Watchkeepers at least got a lay in!
And so we settled down for our first night at sea, Andy and Sarah on the First Watch, and with the wind still against us we had to motor the whole night.
The following day the wind came around to the north and then north east and was sailable, and so by 9.30 we were finally under sail and making just over 6 knots. By 3 in the afternoon I finally got the Chute up; with Mauro and I on board we could truly say the ‘Brazenglish are Coming’ !!! We only brought the Chute down as the wind looked like picking up at about 5.30. It worked perfectly. I did end up with one sheet lead in the wrong way and a tangled sail bag but that was user error and didn’t affect the sailing.
At 10 pm, the start of the First Watch, we lowered the sails and resumed motoring. This was a purely practical safety consideration. Sailing a catamaran is different to a mono hull and where Andy was used to three controls for the Main Sail; the Vang, Sheet and Traveller each with defined roles, Windependent only has the Sheet and a much larger Traveller, the functions of which overlap the mono hull controls. Rather than giving him this to contend with as well as a sick and inexperienced watch keeper, I took the easier step of motoring.
Overnight we were passing points along the north west corner of Spain, Punta Roncadora (Mauro translated ‘Roncadora’ as Snoring Lady), Esataca de Bares, Punta del Cuadro, Punta Frouxeria and Gabo Prior.
By 9.30 on the 2nd we were passing A Coruna and were under sail again, Main and Genoa wind to Port. Sarah had effected a recovery and so we gave her and Mauro their first spells as Helmsmen, an hour each in 2 half hour stints. Helming under sail is a very labour intensive and tiring task. You have to be aware of the wind direction, the direction the boat is going, the direction the waves are pushing you and how much wheel you are using. Putting all that together you then have to steer a straight course. You also have to be aware of other ships around you, and all the time you have the Skipper looking over your shoulder …… basically, every sense you have is fully employed, except taste …. other than ‘I could murder a coffee’ at which point, by magic, Mauro appears with said beverage.
As the afternoon wore on the wind began to pick up. By 4pm were had winds of 25 knots a Force 6, and we were hitting speeds of 10 knots in gusts up to Force 7. We were beginning to travel faster than the waves and slam into the back of the waves ahead and so we put in our first reef, we reduced the size of the Main Sail. Even with a reef we were making 6 knots.
At sunset on the 2nd September we were passing Cap Finistere, with the wind a steady Force 6 behind us. The Log reads “Passed Cap Finistere at sunset under 2 reef main and reduce Genoa with dolphin escort.” It was not too warm and we had a proper 2 metre following sea but we had sunset and dolphins playing in the bow waves. For the first time we actually had a school of dolphins playing in the water around us, and this time the Go Pro was in use. Really cool.
We decided to sail overnight and so put the second reef in the main and reduced to 60% of the Genoa on the principal that you take one more reef than you need at night. Andy and Sarah had the First Watch and by 1 in the morning we had run into a fishing fleet coming from our port side (from the left). Under sail on a Port run, in a Force 6, at night with our only option to avoid the nearest fishing boats to turn towards them, Andy called me and we dropped the sails and motored again.
Fishing boats are a real pain. They basically do whatever they want because, when fishing, everyone has to keep out of their way. Basically, they show fishing signals all the time. How they can fish ‘en masse’ at 10 knots is a mystery but they really don’t care …. at all, and my courses had apparently followed the depth contours they favoured. Having said that, to work in the conditions they face throughout the year just to give us fish fingers, I reckon I will let that slip!
By sunrise on the 3rd we had 3 metre swells behind us although these reduced by mid-morning and so when the Watch Below (Andy and Sarah) surfaced we raised the sails again. That necessitates heading into the wind, which means turning across it to start with. To do this with people sleeping, could have given them a rude awakening as the motion of the boat changed suddenly; so we waited until they were awake. How kind and considerate am !???
We then spent the rest of the day sailing, running on a Broad Reach before a North Easterly Force 6 under full Main and Genoa and making almost 7 knots. We weren’t heading in exactly the right direction but with a few tacks were made our approach to Porto perfectly. I put Mauro and Sarah on the wheel again and this time had them steer us through the tacks (bringing the boat’s head through the wind); the wind was too strong to Gybe (brining the stern through the wind). Another skill set developed. To Tack, you turn up towards the wind, bringing it onto the beam (from the left or right side) to pick up speed, then you turn hard up into the wind. As the Helm does this the Sail Trimmer heaves in on the Genoa and begins to move the Main Traveller up to the new windward side. Windependent stops in the water as her head goes through the wind, but if the approach speed is right and the Trimmer has been good enough she will turn onto the new tack. She will hesitate with the wind 30 to 40 degrees on her bow and then she will go. And she goes. If you are not careful she will end up dead downwind before you know it and Gybe (wind across the stern, Main Sail slams from one side to the other – Dangerous). But our two novice Helms handled it admirably slowing the turn, picking up speed before bringing us down to the required course.
And so at 3 pm we tacked onto our final approach to Porto under sail, only dropping sail as we closed on the harbour entrance. For this I put Sarah on the wheel, to complete her first real landfall (No Andy, Burnham doesn’t count) at Porto, and had her steer us into harbour while Uncle Andy worked on deck securing fenders and mooring lines.
End of Passage 1610 hours, 3rd September 2015.
Facts and figures.
- Distance run 420 miles.
- Passage time – 68 hours.
- Maximum wind Force 7.
- Night hours, Mauro 16, Sarah 20.
On a personal note, I would like to thank Andy, Sarah and Mauro without whom this voyage would not have been possible. I needed to move Windependent, Andy loves sailing, Mauro wants to, and Sarah was dropped in at the deep end, and when I say deep I mean Abyssal. Thank you for your help and your company.