Thursday, 16 October 2014

Coruna to Porto Santo - Break on Through

"Mañana" rarely means "tomorrow". The most accurate translation seems to be "not today". So in the second week of the engine installation, we gave up trying to predict our departure date, but agreed to be ready to leave as soon as the work was done.
And so it was that we slipped lines on Friday, the 3rd of October. Leaving the new engine turned off, we sailed out of the marina and continued in light winds past the waterfront we had had so much time to explore. A NWly flow promised headwinds from Coruna to Finisterre, but fast sailing South after rounding the north-western corner of Spain. By early Saturday, we headed a few miles offshore, found the sudden right wind shift where the flow diverges around the mountainous mainland, tacked South, and by evening we were reaching along the rhumb line at 6-7 knots with a building breeze behind us.
By Monday, the wind had swung around from N to W, providing the first signs of the weather to come. Indeed,  a deep low from Greenland was moving SE towards the Biscay, with a cold front extending for hundreds if not thousands of miles across the Northern Atlantic. This was weakening the Azores high, which was initially supplying the favourable winds. The pressure trough along the front also held potential for the development of a secondary low.
Weather on Mon 06/10/14
Weather on Wed 08/10/14
Moving to the North Atlantic
Passage Planning Chart
A night of variable winds followed, necessitating a few sail changes including taking down the medium #2 jib after we spotted a small developing tear. Good that we have so many sails to choose from! Throughout Tuesday and Wednesday, the wind stayed in the SW, building steadily to a force 6, than dropping again. On starboard tack, we where sailing just below the rhumb line to Madeira, away from the weather front. On port tack, we would have been heading just north of west - a winning tack if we where to sail through the cold front, yet the latter seemed to move so slowly that we were not even sure it would overtake us. Every few hours it would seem like we were outrunning it, with the wind dropping and veering. So we stuck with tacking on major wind shifts only. By Thursday, the forecast indicated clearly that the front would move south-east, overtaking us. Being well east of the rhumb line, we stuck with the port tack.

Soaked
The approaching front was heralded by rain squalls, ranging in size from an isolated cloud to dark bands spanning the entire horizon. Each brought 90 degree wind shifts, the strong gusts were often followed by complete calms, leaving us at the mercy of the confused seas with reduced sail barely providing steerage. One squall filled an open bucket with enough fresh water for Matt to wash his hair.

We expectantly mistook each passing squall for the main front, only for the wind to stubbornly return to the south-west. The pressure remained steady. Around midday, the sky turned black. Steep chop was rolling in, the water surface roughened by the approaching gusts. With the small #3 jib set, we where ready. After all, the forecast only mentioned winds up to a force 6. As the squall hit, I only had time to reduce the main sail to the bare minimum. The boat was knocked on its side. I shouted to Matt below to get the storm jib and run forward to take down the jib. Matt handed me the bag and steered the boat downwind to reduce the pressure. With the storm jib set, we where crushing through the waves, not being able to tell salt spray from the rain pouring on our heads. The squall passed as suddenly as it arrived. The wind veered from SW to N in just a few hours, and with increasing amount of sail, we carried on towards Madeira.
After a squall
A day of light and variable winds followed before the high pressure system could properly establish itself. This was a welcome opportunity to dry out, cook, and sleep. Unfortunately, water had gotten inside the tiller pilot, necessitating a trip to Aurigas onboard electronics workshop, while Matt was forced to hand-steer in winds too light for the windvane. 
Repairing the autopilot
 The wind picked up again from the NW as forecast, and at dawn on Saturday we could see the outlines of Porto Santo - the north-western-most island of the Madeira group. The island itself, and the amazing people we met there by nothing but pure chance deserve another post - including an account of what was probably the first ever Porto Santo to Madeira yacht race sailed in Albin Ballads!
Matt happy to reach Madeira

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