Tuesday 3rd May 2011
Well we're tied up safely now, not exactly where we originally planned in Southampton but back at the yacht's first home of Plymouth. The reasons for this is after 18 hours of pushing into gale force winds on the nose up the channel in very cold and uncomfortable conditions the thought of a hot meal and a cold beer were just too much.
From middle of yesterday afternoon the high winds we'd been expecting started to appear, so we changed down sail sizes early and every got ready for a hard nights sailing. We beat back and forth making some headway but sailing against the wind and the Channel tide progress forward is slow.
Once the tide changes in our favour we make more ground but the wind over tide issues then come to the fore and the seas get steeper and shorter making for a less than comfortable ride.
Everyone seems to have enjoyed the experience of some heavy weather sailing especially as it was cut 24 hours short and they have all headed to have a long hot shower and rid themselves of some of the salt that has been thrown at them over the last 18 hours.
We'll be moving the boat back up to Southampton at the end of the week to get ready for the summer season.
This marks the end of the long distance winter season and marks the start of the summer for us. This winter we were away for 7 months and cover just under 15000 miles at sea, amazingly only using 1900 litres of diesel in the whole time, almost makes us a green boat!
Thanks goes to Jonty the 1st Mate for his work over the winter and look forward to lots more sailing together in the future.
Monday 2nd May 2011
First thing say today is just how stunning the dawn was today, we're on the
South side of the Channel approach keeping clear of the stronger winds
running straight down the English side and in the still calm morning the
sunrise was astounding coming up through a light mist. It makes the fact
we're now plodding along under donkey (the engine in the normal world!)
through calm seas at a heady 6 knots. Challenge yachts are definitely not
So the last 24 hours saw us tacking through the day picking up the wind
shifts and making as good distance East as possible. As the day progressed
and darkness came in the wind drifted away with the sun and left us bobbing
along in the calm. As sunset happened we were treated to two hours of
amazing thunder storms about 30 miles North of us in the middle of the
'trough'. The lightening lit the skies every few seconds letting you see
the lightening both above and blow the storm cloud, something you never get
to see ashore.
The weather system that's causing us fun has left the channel split down the
middle, the South side is sunny and calm with very little wind, the North
side is wet and squally with thunderstorms and very strong Easterly winds,
hence my decision to ease us South and enjoy the more relaxed conditions.
We've got less than 300 miles to cover now, half of which will be through
these calm sunny conditions today before we head North East passing West of
the Channel Islands making for Southampton. Depending on the wind strengths
up the will decide if we approach the Solent from the East or West. If we
have a force 7-8 like the forecast we'll be going East as tacking a
Challenge yacht through the Needles Channel and up the Solent is a hard task
for a full race crew in those conditions and with our small band would be
hard finish to the sail. Tomorrow morning we should know which way and if
we'll be in late tomorrow or sometime Wednesday.
Sunday 1st May 2011
First thing to say is the dinner last night was a huge success, the Spanish
sausage with tomato based sauce with mash was definitely well received.
Sailing yesterday and most of the night brought us kinder wind than had been
forecast enabling us to make a nearly due East course and reasonable boat
speeds directly toward the Channel.
Crossing in to the Western Approaches and the edge of the shelf that signal
arriving in Europe (the depth of the sea changes here from 4km to around
150m so huge change) was uneventful and the sea state has remained similar
if a little shorter. This area in some conditions can become very rough,
especially if there is a South Westerly gale so our NNE winds have some
Another feature of this area is the number of fishing boats, last night saw
us pass at least 10 of them. Trying to work out which way they are going
(which changes often) and what they are doing when navigation lights are
lost in the arc lights covering their deck at night can be interesting but
we sailed through without incident.
This morning as the sun came up once again all change, the winds have
lightened off significantly and are now coming from a more Easterly
direction (as it happens to the degree of where we are trying to go!) so
we've put a tack in and are now heading due North and hoping as forecast the
winds fill in again.
The outlook is not so great weather wise, the Easterly winds look set to
continue making us sail around twice the distance over the ground to make
our destination. With 300 miles remaining this means we could be doing this
for another 3 days yet. The other interesting thing is as we feared it
looks like there is going to be a 'stiff breeze' when we get into the
channel with the potential for a gale. We'll see what happens but it might
be time for a pit stop in Plymouth for 36 hours to enjoy a drink and let the
gale pass rather than fight East and play chicken crossing back and forth
across the shipping lines.
Saturday 30th April 2011
The last 24 hours have been good upwind sailing, everyone is getting well
practiced at the art of following the wind, keeping the boat moving and not
giving away distance by not keeping the boat pointing hard to windward
through the shifts. Weather wise yesterday was wall to wall sunshine with
12 knots of breeze as we sailed towards Ireland (joys of sailing upwind is
you can't go directly where you want you have to zigzag your way there).
Overnight the winds were consistent and we continued North to the point now
that we have made a tack and are now heading directly towards the English
Channel at about 7 knots of boat speed, the morning clouds are parting and
the sun is coming out again for looks like another beautiful days sailing.
Food tonight is going to consist of something to do with Spanish sausages...
Ian has promised to impress us later so we'll see what that brings and
Keeping fingers crossed these easy winds hold and we make good use of the
next 24 hours to make ground towards the UK before we start to encounter the
promised strong Easterlies coming out of the Channel on Monday.
Friday 29th April 2011
Day five of our trip proved to be something of a day of contrasts, from no
wind to a good strong breeze. Most of the day light hours were spent
teasing the boat to find any speed, easing over the rolling seas in 5 knots
of wind from very variable directions watching the wildlife go by. The
count by the evening was a sparrow and a swallow, thousands of sail
jellyfish floating of the glassy surface and even a circling shark at one
point as well as a reported hump back whale seen by Jakob and Jim. The
strangest item to drift by was a whole fridge freezer unit bobbing about....
As the light started to fail the wind started to fill in, an hour later we
were changing down headsail and putting the first reef in the main and
getting used to the feeling of being heeled over pointing hard to windward
making a direct course for home. As the night continued the sea state has
become confused with waves coming at us from three directions, some of which
have the frustrating ability to almost stop the yacht dead as the punch into
This morning the seas are starting to calm, the winds ease again slightly
and talk of the reef coming out very soon. The wind direction is starting
to change heading us slowly North of course as our long beat for the final
450 miles starts.
The weather forecasts are very contradictory out here at the moment, some
look good others show 45 knots of Easterly in the channel when we get there,
time will tell which are accurate.
As for the 'Wedding' we're all blissfully ignorant out here enjoying the
clear blue sky, sunshine and easy sailing. Hope everyone has as a relaxed
Thursday 28th April 2011
Ocean sailing can at times be a patience game and this trip is starting to prove the point somewhat. We've become stuck for a better word on the edge of a couple of weather systems that are giving us very variable and very light winds, very different to what was forecast only 3 days ago. Looking at the weather charts now it looks like the high pressure system that has been giving Northern Europe such great weather over the last couple of weeks is giving one last stand and refusing to move as quickly as it was predicted to. This means for us the weather systems aren't really moving and winds are getting lighter and lighter.
What this means is we'll be out here a couple of days longer than would be normal for a trip like this and by the time we make the channel all indications are the high pressure will have moved and been replaced with much stronger conditions, sadly for us this looks like it's going to be very strong Easterly winds down the Channel to make our last day or so a hard beat, at least it will be a change from a slow drift!
Life on board is good, calm weather mean more time is spent on food and sleep with everyone well fed and very well rested. Fingers crossed we can have at least 8 knots of wind at some point today (ideally not directly on the nose) so we can see more than 4 knots on the log for a while.
Wednesday 27th April 2011
Our third day has been the biggest contrast to our up to the Azores I think it's possible to have. Light winds and variable directions have been constant challenge aboard.
The seas are smooth, the wind varying from 5 knots to 15 knots and the wind direction seems to have been making a run from coming from the SE to the NE at least once an hour. This means the sail trimming has been key and once we are close hauled staring into the dark watching the wind direction to make the best course and speed possible.
3 hour watches are gone in the blink of an eye with the continuous activity, everyone is smiling and this morning has been sunny and nearly warm! Who says ocean sailing is just setting the sails and waiting to arrive!
From all the weather information we've another 24 hours of these sort of conditions to thread our way carefully through before we catch the bottom of a low pressure system to the North of us and ride some stronger following winds for a couple of days and make some serious miles towards home.
Life on board has settled easily into the watch routine, hot showers are open and food as ever stays very important with Jakob and Jim last night cooking a very good chicken in black bean with rice (OK rice for 50 but they're learning!), Vics home made carrot cake was a huge success proving calm conditions do have some serious upsides!
First three days have taken us 500 miles which considering the 8-10 knot average wind strength is very good. Off to catch some sleep after my busy night and then coax every 1/10th of a knot out of the boat to make sure we make it to the right position in time for the next weather system.
Tuesday 26th April 2011
The last 24 hours have flown by with calm seas and light wind that are letting us cruise along very comfortably almost directly towards home. The main thing we've had to deal with is heading North and crossing all the various routes for the container ships that are making their way across to the US as they thunder by at 20+ knots.
At first light we spotted another yacht running on a parallel course to us and called them up on the VHF to say hi. The French yacht departed Horta for Saint Malo 24 hours ahead of us to everyone aboard is feeling very pleased with our progress.
This morning the wind has settled in to give us beautiful beam reaching conditions in 18 knots of wind and Big Spirit is relishing the chance to put some double digit speeds in hour after hour. Fingers crossed this will hold for the next 48 and rush us towards the Western Approaches.
Monday 25th April 2011
Well it's that busy time of the year for yachts starting to sail back across
the Atlantic for their summer homes in Europe and Horta in the Azores has
been playing it's usual role the motorway services of the Atlantic with huge
70m super yachts stopping off to take on 30 tonnes of fuel to 12m family
yachts taking a break after 3 or 4 weeks at sea. Even with huge range of
jaw dropping superyachts everyone still somehow knew exactly which boat we
were from when asked, must be something to do with being bright orange!
So for the sailing; we finally left yesterday at 3pm GMT after finishing the
port formalities and have been heading out on a near direct line back to
England some 1450 miles over the horizon. Unlike our last sail from the
Canaries to the Azores this trip has started of perfectly with calm seas a
light but steady breeze giving us around 180 easy miles in the first 24
hours and allowing everyone to easy gently into the routine of 3 hours on
watch and 6 hours off watch as well as get their sea legs.
The next 24 hours looks to be similar conditions based on the current
forecasts so we'll keep enjoying our relaxing sailing out here in mid
Atlantic and continue to watch the endless dolphins we seem to have had with
us since leaving Horta. At night watching them play in the bright
phosorestent wash is stunning sight.