Atlantic Challenge 2011

N 43° 39' W 08° 59'

Part 6: Madeira to Tenerife

December 11, 2011

I’d enjoyed a lovely week in Madeira, made all the better by the great people there. I wasn’t asked to pay for any berthing charges (always a bonus) and made use of the public showers off the swimming beach. It was great to finally be in a climate warm enough to swim in the sea in comfort! Jon had been a great friend while I was there, and I valued his company.  One evening he came down on his very new, very expensive looking sports [motor] bike. I was admiring it when he promptly offered to let me take it for a spin. I hesitated and was tempted for a few long seconds, but decided that I’d only stall it or unintentionally pull a wheelie. Or crash it. “Oh no, I haven’t got a license, but it’s a great machine!” I replied reluctantly. Brilliant. I did what I could to help him out in return; I’d stayed around to help him let the inside boat out from the raft one morning, which while wasn’t too challenging a manouvre, but could easily be a bit worrying short handed. When safely resecured, he disappeared down into the cabin and reappeared with two cold beers. “But Jon, it’s only half 8- isn’t it a bit early for beer?” I laughed. He shrugged with his reply- “It’s never too early for beer Tom…”

One evening I returned to the harbour to find Sara Jane at anchor a hundred yards away. This was the family who I’d met in Porto Santo earlier, and it was John who’d initially come to help me berth (not the worried Norweigan chap I had dinner with.) It would’ve been nice to see any British yacht, but it was particularly nice to see them again! I launched the dinghy and rowed over to say hello. As we were chatting Sara told me that she’d made their sprayhood, and also mentioned that she carries her industrial sewing machine aboard. My thoughts quickly turned to the sail I’d promised Makatea I’d have repaired, and never one to let an opportunity pass me by I casually enquired as to whether she did any work for other sailors? Fortune smiled again when she agreed to take a look if I could get it over to Funchal where they were heading. On Thursday Jon drove me there, in between calling in on his numerous friends (who were a great bunch). Sara made a lovely job of the sail, chuckling at my emergency stitches, or “homeward bounders” as she called them. She is a master mariner by trade, John a consultant paediatric surgeon and yachtmaster examiner (of course I attempted to recruit him as a faculty member when I discovered he was also a senior APLS instructor!)

On Friday it was time to go. I spent the day preparing the boat for sea again, and restocking on various bits and pieces, an exercise made much cheaper by Ricardo showing me the best places. I treated Makatea to some new Jib and Spinnaker sheets (control ropes for the forward sails), and a new head torch for me. I had spent the week looking for the one I use for all night operations without success, and the last time I could recall seeing it was in the cockpit 5 days beforehand. 

As people who know me will verify, I am always the last to declare something as stolen unless it is proven overwhelmingly beyond doubt- and with my organisation that’s sometimes difficult! I just cannot stand the thought of being robbed, and would much sooner think of something as being lost. (Perhaps this is why I hated being in La Corunna so much, where I was robbed on an almost daily basis…) Anyway, this time after hours of searching even I was just beginning to think this might have been a possibility; I had been berthed against a public quay, and it’s the sort of thing that might just have appealed to one of the children playing nearby. It was my own fault for being so relaxed of course.

After scrubbing my footprints from the decks of the neighbouring boats I’d spent a week walking over (then a last minute swim to cool off) I was finally ready to go. I slipped out of the harbour by 15.30 for the next leg of the journey, the 250 miles to Tenerife.

The passage started peacefully enough, the sea was what the met office would describe as “slight”, only small waves. Far from being seasick, I was feeling great for a change and even managed a glass of red wine with my pasta supper! How very civilised. We were making great progress at 5 knots, only spoiled temporarily when being greedy I tried altering our heading by a few degrees in pursuit of that little extra… Of course I only succeeded in knocking Makatea off her perch, and spent the next 45 mins paying for it while I coaxed her back up to speed. Eventually we were there, but it did put me in mind of the saying “if it aint broke… don’t fix it!”

Saturday 3rd December

I finally levered myself out of bed for the last time at 09.00, aware that both wind and swell were rising. My old enemy was threatening, and I quickly responded by swilling down some anti emetics- I could always go back to bed for a snooze if they made me tired I reasoned. I made a couple of trips on deck to keep the sailplan in tune with the conditions, and was now sailing along with reduced genoa and double reefed main. I was still going out “suited and booted” as a good amount of water was being thrown around, but only wearing shorts under it all now- a world away from Biscay conditions.

By 19.00 hours the sun was low, and I was preparing for darkness. Now as many of you know, when I was on the road I was never a great fan of working the night shift… I would liken sailing a boat alone at night to working in a single crewed ambulance station; you know that there’s nobody out before you, and that the next call is always going to be yours! As such, I’ve no desire to do anything more than I really have to during the dark hours, and certainly no rufty tufty sailoring duties when I should be snug in my bunk. Of course, if “an emergency” comes in, there’s no choice but to respond promptly- things like reefing always get harder the longer you leave them. (I’ve learned this the hard way.) As such, I always try to plan properly before dark, and besides it’s a much safer option than stumbling around on deck at 4am. I chose the sail settings I reckoned would see me through to the morning.

The other concern I had was the Salvage Islands- a group of islands about 150 miles south of Madeira, now a nature reserve. They are supposed to be a fantastic place to visit (as well as breaking the passage) but before landing it is essential to first obtain a permit from either Madeira or Porto Santo. Unfortunately I hadn’t managed to get one in time as I’d been having such a lovely afternoon on Sara Jane. They aren’t called the Salvage Islands for nothing and their jagged reefs and outcrops have claimed hundreds of ships and lives over the years; I carefully checked and rechecked the charts and GPS to make sure I wasn’t about to make an unscheduled landfall!

Sunday 4th December

I’ve mentioned in the past that when I’m sleeping I never completely switched off between my hourly checks. I woke up at 03.30 aware that something had changed… After a few moments it dawned on me that the wind turbine was no longer making the humming sound it usually does when generating. I knew that it was turning well fast enough, and I also knew that to leave it spinning without an electrical load for whatever reason could cause irreparable damage. There was no option but to get up there and “muzzle it”, but just how to go about tying up the whirling blades without chopping my hands off was the question! Makatea was pitching quite enthusiastically by this point as the wind was blowing a good force six (yachtsman’s gale), and for safety reasons the turbine is mounted 9ft above deck level; in all, not the easiest set of circumstances to work with. I quickly threw on my harness and strops then went to suss the job out from the cockpit. I clambered up onto the pushpit rail to reach it, and tied myself to the support on a very short loop to minimise my swinging circle. Balanced precariously, between waves I managed to grab the tailfin and turn it into wind to slow it down. Then came the small matter of restraining it. I had planned well enough to take some rope up there with me (complete with a loop in one end) but it took a few hair raising moments before I had it under control. I climbed back into the cockpit and hoped that it hadn’t been freewheeling long enough to damage itself. Whatever, there was no way I was going to start taking it to pieces at sea when I would be safely in harbour within 24 hours, so I dried off and went back to bed.

Later on, all was well and we were making great progress. Boatspeed was high at 6kts and we were trucking on nicely along our chosen heading- unfortunately I’d made a slight error when laying off the course. Due to the constant threat of sea sickness, I had simply been recording my hourly positions in the log, rather than actually plotting them on the chart as per standard practise. (It’s important to always have a recent fix in case of instrument failure, that way a “dead reckoning” position can be estimated using course and speed.) By the time I actually made the noon cross on paper, I could see that I was too far west from the point I needed to round in order to make Santa Cruz, Tenerife. Had I only known sooner I could have altered course by 5 degrees a hundred miles away and would have been on target. As it was I had to finish the remainder close hauled in order to make it in on one tack- not my favourite point of sailing!

By 20.00 hrs we were safely berthed and I was ready for a shower and a pint, the highlight of any sailing passage. Before I left Makatea however, I found something which meant even more to me; while I was digging out my shower kit I discovered the missing head torch… and that was the best suprise of all.

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