Tuesday, July 14, 2009

994 miles to the Azores

I left Gibraltar on the morning of 11th July at 9.30am in time to catch the west flowing tide in the Gibraltar Strait. However once in the Strait, it was clear the tide wasn't as expected; I was making just over 3 knots across the ground with a 2 knots current against me. Had I lost the ability to read a tide timetable after so long in the tropics? I rechecked, no obvious mistakes - I'd even taken the two hour difference between GMT and local time into consideration. There wasn't much wind, so the water in the Strait clearly showed up disturbances caused by the current.

I noticed a significant difference in the wave pattern half a mile inshore so changed course towards it. The difference was amazing, I'd reached an inshore counter-current with my speed shooting up from 3 to 7 knots. However the Straits weren't going to let me go so easily; just as I was relaxing and enjoying the sights speeding passed, a thick fog descended. Good job I'd had a night to recover from the previous night's excesses, I needed to be fully alert. I rushed up and down the companionway trying to be in two places at once; matching the radar display with the chart, checking the radar image for boats ahead and peering through the fog to make sure I wasn't heading towards any fishing markers.

After nearly an hour in the gloom the fog vanished and I had a clear view of the wind generators above Tarifa - allegedly one of the windiest places in Europe, though not today. However the wind slowly picked up from the east and by afternoon I was speeding out of the Mediterranean on a run under full sail, accompanied by schools of dolphins.

With the Gibraltar Strait disappearing in my wake I thought I'd left the worst behind me. However as night fell; a confused sea built and the wind vanished, I tried to sail with the little wind there was, but decided it would be best to motor west and attempt to clear the steady stream of shipping heading for and leaving the Mediterranean. It made for a sleepless night trying to keep a good watch for constant flow of shipping around me.

Dawn brought a return of the wind, but unfortunately from the WNW. I sheeted in the sails and set the best course I could - SW. Although not my intended course for the Azores, heading slightly south seemed to clear me from the majority of the shipping and I could at last grab some sleep.

Throughout the day the wind and sea built, and though Kika was well-reefed we still sped along, crashing over and through the mounting sea. Sailing like this isn't restful - there are incredible bangs and crashes as we fall off a wave or a wave breaks over the boat. Even though I've learnt over the last four years that Kika can easily cope with such conditions, it's not easy to relax. Fortunately the forecast indicated that the wind would ease around midnight and sure enough, today bought a much welcome easing and veering to the NNW. The sea is still lumpy but it too is slowly calming down and after a difficult start I'm looking forward to an easier passage ahead.

Position @ 13:00 GMT, 14th July: N35deg38' W9deg53'
Distance to the Azores: 765

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