Ocean High

Monday 10th June 2019

We have finally arrived in Horta in the Azores, after a couple of weeks of very little wind, it has been a slow but comfortable crossing. I, particularly, get range anxiety when we have to do such a lot of motoring but this time even Rick, not confident of the fuel gauge, was measuring the inexorable draining of the fuel tank with the dip stick on a very regular basis. In the end about 50nm out from the marina we picked up some wind and sailed the whole of the last day, approaching the island reefed and doing 8kts, with at least 150 litres of fuel left in the tank.

‘Got here beer’ in Horta

Our crossing from the Caribbean might have been the slowest of our ocean passages but stuck in the middle of the Azores high pressure system, it also became the calmest. And calm seas don’t just mean more sleep and a much more comfortable life onboard, it also means our fellow ocean goers are easier to see.

On Wednesday I spotted what I first thought was rubbish, it looked a bit like the end of a child’s clear pencil case decorated with a pink rim. Then I saw another and another. We looked more closely and realised they were a type of jelly fish, a jelly fish with what appeared to be a three dimensional semi circular sail. Enquiries back home to those who have access to Google revealed them to be in the Portuguese Man-o-War family. We learnt that each creature was in fact not a single organism but a colony of much smaller ones, all working together to create a viable unit. And what was also incredible, was that five days and nearly a thousand miles on, they were still passing us by in a steady stream. The whole ocean is full of them.

A clump of a dozen sailing jelly fish

A rarer sight was a pod of whales. In a rougher sea we probably wouldn’t have spotted the telltale blow in the distance, but any thing that breaks the surface in these calm conditions is obvious. Too far away to identify conclusively, their small size suggests they were probably pilot whales. And just when we were beginning to give up on dolphins over the last few days of the passage we saw three or four large pods, They were Atlantic spotted dolphins and they gave us a spectacular show leaping from the water and dancing in our bow waves.

A pod of dolphins charging in to swim at our bows

The journey has also been big on the pure grandure of the open ocean, the only ripple to be seen was our wake as we motored over a glassy, inky blue, undulating sea, that stretched out to a huge horizon. We have been treated to dramatic dark orange sunrises and sunsets and one night the ocean was so smooth, I sat mesmerised by a whole sky full of stars reflected in its surface. As always we gaze in wonder and reflect on how honoured we are to witness such things.

Sun rising over a silky sea

While we enjoyed all this we were slowly travelling northward and we were noticing many changes. The temperatures of the sea and the air dropped daily forcing us into more and thicker clothing. The Southern cross that has for so long been our focus in the night sky, a few days ago disappeared below the horizon and after years of pretty much 12 hours of darkness each night, the shorter nights are taking a bit of getting use to. With the sun setting later and later each day, despite our routine changing of the clocks as we travelled through different time zones, we had eventually to push our night watch system back an hour because we were struggling to get to sleep. Even the duration of dawn and dusk is changing, the sudden onset and disappearance of darkness of the tropics is being replaced with the hour long fading and brightening of light of higher latitudes.

We hope to have about a week to enjoy the Azores, we suspect the passage back to the UK may not be so tranquil, so we must be patient and wait for a good weather window.

At Anchor

Hooray, we finally have Internet!

Saturday 13th June

We enjoyed Tuesday and Wednesday night at anchor, it was extremely peaceful. Despite being under the flight path for Faro airport, the frequent passing of the local ferry service and all the fishing boats zooming around, it was still somehow quiet. We enjoyed not having to deal with the marina authorities, not having the pressure of parking and really liked being 50m rather than 5ft from the nearest boat. All with the added bonus of being free.

We anchored in a channel, cutting through the wetlands south of Faro and Olhao, off the small island of Culatura. Culatura is little more than a sand bank and there seemed to be more tiny fishing boats in its harbour than houses in the village, I think we can guess the main source of income on the Island. There were a couple of restaurants serving excellent fish, of course, catering for the locals, the few anchored yachtsmen and a dribble of tourists arriving on the ferrys from Faro to enjoy the beaches on its southern shore.

There were no cars, the roads were made of sand and the pavements were wooden board walks. The small store next to us at lunch was been stocked by tractor that carried goods up from the dock and a friendly scavenging dog wandered around the tables. It was all slightly ramshackle, unhurried, authentic.

When we are at anchor our dingy is the equivalent of our car, and we carry it on davits, a crane like construction on the back of the boat. I always love travelling in the dingy it somehow seems adventurous. Of course it is essential for us, without it when ashore we couldn’t get back to our boat and conscience of the fact that it and the 20hp outboard are and look brand new we have a strong cable and padlock to secure it. Having taken lunch and wandered around the island not only did it feel an unnecessary precaution it almost seemed insulting. 

Wednesday evening the wind got up, we anxiously sat on deck keeping an eye on the orientation of our neighbours but we just gently swung left and right  and our anchor held fast. The small French boat behind us began to drag and had to re-anchor but on the whole the muddy bottom gave good holding and the night past without incident.

Next morning we upped anchor, taking a good quantity of the mud with us and set off towards Cadiz, one of the places on our route I’m keen to visit. The channel we were in was quite shallow, so we needed to leave around high tide, which was at 11am. This meant that sailing the eighty nautical miles directly to Cadiz would have us arriving in the middle of the night. So instead we planned to stop halfway at, as it turned out, a rather soulless modern marina in Mazagon. But it did the job, giving us a good nights rest and we arrived at Puerto de Santa Maria yacht club at four pm yesterday. There is a ferry that runs regularly to the old town of Cadiz and the yacht club apparently has lots of facilities including a swimming pool we can use and on Sunday Phil and Julia arrive to join us for ten days.

 And it has reasonable wifi. 

Cascais to Lagos

We never really settled in Cascais and never got agreement on quite how to pronounce it. We felt a bit ripped off by the high marina fees, almost double everywhere else we have been so far, for the least appealing spot we have had. Our berth was right under the high marina wall, next to that area of water that all marinas seem to have, where all the rubbish and scum collects. The showers were not great either, I’m rapidly becoming an expert at what features make a marina shower good and having to press a knob to get the water to run, that turns off every 30 seconds, is definitely not one of them. And last but not least the free wifi was so weak it was almost unusable.

The town and bay were very pretty but very much a holiday town full of cheap Kiss Me Quick souvenir shops, restaurants tempting you in with pictures of the food – never a sign of high gourmet standards I find – and at the weekend it was full to bursting with day trippers from Lisbon.

But enough moaning, with a bit of effort we did find some fantastic food, Italian on a secluded roof terrace, bizarrely one of the best Indian meals we have had for a long time and we spent a very pleasant evening in the wonderfully named Douche Bar, discovered and thoroughly researched by Brad and Duncan, where we ate amongst other things fantastic grilled sardines. The hilly streets were paved in mosaic, as is common in Portugal, but many of the lanes were laid in wavy black and white patterns that were fun to look at but slightly disconcerting to walk over, especially after a couple of bottles of Portugal’s finest. There were three very nice beaches to explore, we did have a paddle and ate ice-cream but the water needed to be quite a few degrees warmer to tempt us in for a swim.

After Brad and Duncan left us we considered moving out into the bay and anchoring for a day or two, but those pesky north winds were still plaguing us and often reached F6-7 in the evening. We decided with our first night sail with just the two of us planned for the next day, a night checking our anchor was holding, was probably not the most restful way to prepare.

The crux of our passage plan was to round the headland – Cabo de Sao Vicente in the morning when the winds would be at there lightness, which meant leaving at about 2pm. I cooked a chorizo, potato and pea stew an easy dish to reheat for our supper, Rick filled our water tanks and we cast off. We were surprised by the chill of the north wind and were quickly back wearing three or four layers. The sea quickly built as we travelled further offshore but the wind was slightly lighter than we were use to and it took us a while to set the sails so they were comfortable. We ended up with the main slightly reefed, out wide on a preventer line and the Genoa full on the other side, with wind directly behind us, we goose winged down the Portugueese Coast for about twelve hours. The AIS told us there were plenty of boats about, but only a couple of fishing boats and one tanker came into view. We had a 72ft yacht sailing the same route as us, he was about five nautical miles behind when we first spotted it on the screen and  to ‘this is not a race’ Smith’s delight didn’t manage to catch us, in fact if anything we pulled ahead. We had a bright full moon and during his early morning watch Rick was honoured with a performance from a dolphin somersaulting out of the water, framed perfectly in the shimmering moonlight.

We didn’t do a very good job at getting much sleep. With someone always needing to be awake we opted for a three hour watch system. When I was on watch Rick tried to get some sleep in the salon so he was within easy reach if I needed him and I conscious of the fact that he wasn’t getting much sleep felt I needed to cut short my off watch periods to support him, I think we only managed about two hours each. Room for improvement but everything we do at present is such a steep learning curve and everything needs time to be worked out.

I have read many a time how turning the corner at San Vicente is a a real milestone and that everything becomes easier but we weren’t quite prepared for the dramaticness of this change. One minute we are fully reefed with 3m swells and white horses, just half an hour later we had calm blue sea and as the dawn turned into the morning the temperature rose steadily. Of course we paid for this by a drop in the wind and eventually had to put the engine on but to be honest we were more than ready for a bit of easy motor sailing.

On the chart the entrance to the river that runs up to Lagos marina is marked at 2m, the navigation app on my iPad tells me low tide is at 9.37am with just an extra 0.7m, a bit close for our 2.4m draft. We had estimated our arrival at about noon when the higher tide would gives us plenty of depth, but our fast progress down the Portugueese Atlantic Coast meant we were arriving at 10.30, we squeaked in with just a metre to spare under our keel.

We tied up as instructed at the welcome pontoon, only to discover a familiar face smiling at us, our friends Chris and Barry have been holidaying in Lagos for the past week and following us on Boat Beacon saw us approach, Barry cycled down to meet us. A lovely surprise and after the arrival beer and a catch up snooze we joined them for an enjoyable dinner at the Carribean beach bar a ten minutes walk away, (we must really try to fine some Portugueese food somewhere!).

The marina, it turned out, had no visitor berths large enough for us available and so we remain on the welcome pontoon. To be honest it’s rather pleasant, watching the comings and goings of the river and the people walking along the busy street on its opposite bank. The breeze is blowing into the cockpit helping with the temperatures that are in the high twenties and we are spending the day catching our breath.

Dolphins, moonlight and miles

Saturday 30th May

We had a fabulous berth in Baiona. it was protected from the wind and the wake from passing traffic but had great views over the town. On the marina side of the headland the water was calm and blue, but on the beach just a few hundred meters away, the other side of the headland, the waves were crashing on to the rocks. The best of both worlds.



Duncan and Brad arrived on Tuesday to sail with us on the overnight passage from Baiona to Cascais in Portugal. We took Wednesday to familiarise them with the boat and do last minute preparations. This included erecting the Bimini (a canvas roof over the cockpit) as with the improved weather we needed some shade. We washed the last of the Southampton grime from the hull and enjoyed the excellent local wine. The crew proved their worth early on. Brad helped a scooter rider who’d fallen off his bike while we were enroute to the supermarket and Duncan who had taken our dingy for a fun ride around the bay ended up rescuing a fisherman stranded with no engine and needing a tow back to the dock. He was rewarded with a bundle of razor clams, we didn’t really know quite what to do with them, so decided to cook them as we would muscles. We steamed them in butter, garlic, lemon juice and white wine. Unfortunately the result wasn’t as good as expected and being conscious of the state of our stomachs for the journey ahead most of them ended up over the side.

We set off early, struggling with just a small breeze that was directly behind us. The boat is not brilliant in light airs, so we turned west on a track that took us a bit further offshore, in search of wind. And we found plenty, as the day came to an end we had around 30 – 35kts of it. The sea got quite big too with a large swell coming in from the Atlantic. Raya as before took it all in her stride and with a stricter pill regime I didn’t get seasick, a huge relief. We again came across plenty of traffic, cargo and fishing, demanding our concentration and ensuring we stayed wide awake. In the early hours we clocked up our first one thousand miles, just another thirty odd thousand to go.


As we got further offshore we passed over a ridge in the ocean floor where our chart told us the depth went from 200 to an amazing 4000m deep in just 5nm. That’s quite a steep cliff by any standards and probably contributed to the rough conditions. However it was a beautiful clear night with a bright 3/4 moon, for a while it was directly in front of us and its light created a silvery path for us to follow. As it set at about 3.30am the stars came into there own, millions of them filling the sky. Unfortunately it was hard to easily appreciate them in their full splendour as we have a ‘no leaving the cockpit’ rule at night and now with the Bimini up it blocks our view, a conundrum yet to be solved.

To our delight, another highlight of the passage, was the arrival of Dolphins, during the 36hr sail we were joined by three pods. I don’t know if there is an official explanation as to why Dolphins swim with boats but from the deck of Raya it seemed obvious they had come to play, they swam fast next to our hull, surfed in the waves and dived under our bows. 

As we approached Cascais we had to sail through a minefield of fishing pots, which for reasons best known to the fishermen are marked with sticks bearing blue, green or black flags, ie the colours of the sea and almost impossible to spot. The crew were put on lookout duty and we managed to get through without hitting any although it was very close with a couple of them.


Despite our offshore detour, we arrived in Cascais an hour ahead of schedule tying up to the waiting dock at 5pm. All feeling a bit weary we were rather dismayed to be directed to a berth in the corner of the marina with limited room to manoeuvre. We have been dreading the stern to parking that is common in the Med but knew we would have to do it at some point and this was that moment. Rick a little stressed, did a great job, with restricted depth and a huge concrete marina wall looming over us, he reversed into our berth without incident.

Next came what’s becoming the customary cold beer, then a shower, food and a night without lea cloths.