GOING TO FLORES!
Going back to Flores, by the sea, was my wildest dream that came through. This project was born there, with my promise to coma back with Giulia.
July 2018 – August 2018
I was glad, my yearly check-up for breast cancer went well. This was the last practical hindrance for the passage. I took advantage of my trip back via London, to take a course to learn how to use my satellite phone. The guy was impressed how fast I learned. I just think I wanted to go on. When I arrived, Giulia was waiting for me. I had taken her out of the water and antifouled her again.
I admit the closer the time to leave came, the more nervous I became. I decided to exercise more before the big jump. Dartmouth became my next destination. It was a longer trip from Lymington, 80 Miles, with a few difficulties. The first was passing the Needles, then the Portland’s Bill. My fears were bigger than the reality. All went well and I arrived late at night in Dartmouth. The lady at the desk was waiting for me on the pontoon. Worried that I didn’t arrive – I had called her an hour before on the VHF – she sent the harbourmaster of the river Dart to check if I was all right. I was confused. I go very slowly when I arrive at night. I wait until I am sure I identified all the lights before going on, and it took much more time that I told her on the VHF.
With the high temperature, it seemed I was in the South of France, so beautiful is the nature around Dartmouth.
I was afraid of leaving the passage of the Needles.
All went well, except for a moment I came too close to shallow water.
And reassured to discover the cliffs nearby Dartmouth at sunset.
After a few days, I did the last coastal trip to Falmouth, again 80M. It was also the first time I was “offshore” to cross the bay. I was sailing slowly, and hesitated to stop in Plymouth. Then I thought: “It is the best opportunity to try a night trip.” The full moon illuminated the water, the wind came back, Giulia was progressing at good speed, and a gale was announced. It was better to be in Falmouth by then. The experience convinced me to try to go further too. I felt much more relaxed further away the coast, less traffic, few fishing buoys and nets. It was really nice. I arrived at 3:00am at the marina. I didn’t know where I could moor, which was also new for me. Until then I always could contact the marina in advance. Nervous, I was coming closer to the pontoon, when I saw a couple going back to their boat. I called them out, and they helped me to berth.
My first long sail at night
Okay I could go, but did I want to? It was difficult for me to know what to expect as I never had spent more than 20 hours on the water, and sailed 80M in a day. I was stressed, and decided to buy all I needed anyway, to then feel how I felt when all was onboard. Water, food, fuel bought, I found a place for everything. I took the passage chart, and drew my route, and entered the waypoints in the GPS. Can you imagine I was about to sail for at least 1300 M, without seeing land? The stress was building up. Would I be able to sleep? Was my navigation correct? Wouldn’t I feel lonely? I really didn’t know what to think. Therefore I decided to go for a walk, and have a gin and tonic with other sailors. At night I asked my little voice: “Do you think I can do this?” She directly answered that I was ready, and Giulia too! “Just go for it!” To reassure me I decided I would try for three days, and there I always could head due South to A Coruña if was too tired.
After a last Gin and Tonic, I went to sleep. The next day, my friends were on the dock to say goodbye. They were worried to see me so stressed. “Don’t worry, once on the water all will go well!” I shouted them while waving goodbye. I focused on the navigation and headed towards Lizards point.
waiting for the gale to pass
Leaving Falmouth for the Unknown
I needed to motor through the zone with no wind. At Lizards Point the wind came back, I was relieved to switch the engine off, as I didn’t have much diesel onboard. All sails out, I was approaching the traffic lane off the west point of UK. To avoid a big cruise ship, I went more to the West. I saw a black dot on the water that I avoided. It was a good decision! Later someone told me it was probably a whale. She brought me good luck because 15-20 knots of NW started to blow, letting me head on course. I was away of danger when the sun set, and began my first night solo ever. I set the alarm just after a gorgeous sunset.
First night at sea
I woke up every hour to check that Giulia was still on course, and the sails properly trimmed. I discovered the big advantage of the windvane that follows the wind, and somehow the waves too, the sailing is much smoother than with the autopilot. I enjoyed looking at the stars. The next day I was glad: I felt good and could sleep enough to be fit. I spent my day contemplating the Ocean and enjoying the sailing. The next night went well as well. I was worried when I woke up the third day, a near gale was announced on the NAVTEX. The weather forecast had changed since I left. I was approaching the Continental shelve of the Gulf of Biscaye, where deep underwater mountains rise to 200 meters, a place with steep waves when the wind is strong. And that was what was about to happen. I reduced sails and went to sleep. I didn’t need an alarm. I woke up on the floor, having been ejected by the unsettled ocean. A heavy seasickness made me feel dreadful. The only thought that repeated itself was “If I jump, all will be finished!” I knew this was due to the seasickness, and was happy I could talk with my friend over the satellite phone. “I want to jump in the water, I don’t think it is a good idea? Or I let Giulia over to the windvane and sleep until I feel better. What do you think is best?” I was laughing again at my question, sign that I knew his answer. “Sleep to recover” I heard him saying to me very worried. “Okay, I will!” I hung up, went on deck and took a more comfortable course to the waves. Giulia reacted directly gliding smoothly on the waves. I just looked around for a last check-up, and saw dolphins swimming alongside Giulia, a little further the blow of a whale, and even further the rescue boat. It felt awesome to be well protected and went for a sleep with a smile, my ear listening to the water flowing on the hull.
After a good night of sleep
After two 4 hours sleep, I felt my mood had changed again, I felt I could go on. The next days I felt better and better, and even though I was not heading exactly as I would like, I was going South- South West. I spent hours looking at the clouds, taking note of the pressure, wind direction, recognising the cold and warm fronts, and felt I was understanding better the weather around me. This felt very special.
The fifth day, when I thought I could turn right, I looked at the sky, full of cirrus and cirrocumulus clouds. “This is not the good weather they announce” I thought to myself. I was longing to come back to a horizontal position after 5 days being heeled. Yet I didn’t want to get into troubles and called my friend again. He confirmed me that the ridge had bent towards Spain, giving way to the storm Debbie. I was glad my analysis was good, but not that the weather had changed, it meant, I had to take a longer way. Yet I had no choice, and headed South, so closed-hauled as I could. I was 200-300 NW of A Coruña. I even thought to change course but it was worse. I went on. I saw the first cargos after days alone. It felt reassuring. Luckily, the next day, the wind veered to the N-NW again letting me head towards the Azores.
The more we sailed to the South the better became the weather
The wind died and I had to switch the engine on. I was worried because I was losing diesel when I filled the tank with the jerrycans, and a batteries alarm rung too. On the other hand, I was tired. And just took the risk. Not having to verify all was doing me good, and I took it as a day off. I slept, took a shower, enjoyed the sight of the water. The next day I was thankful the wind was blowing again, and pushing us slowly towards the Azores. It was short-lived as I woke up the day in the middle of silence. It felt strange. I was really worried because I was losing more and more fuel. It was my eleventh day alone at sea and I missed the contact of people. I wanted to arrive and switched on the engine again. Not so sure of me I sent a message to my friend. His answer was quick: “switch off the engine! Hoist the sails! You have enough food and water, and enjoy the peace!” Angry, I did it. I was clumsy, not being very focused, and took a deep breath, staring at the Ocean. And there I saw the huge tail of a whale disappear in the depth of the indigo blue. I knew it was a sign. I focused again, and could set sails properly. I sat in the cockpit. She was sending me the message to let go and accept to be in the instant. It was a beautiful message. From there on I enjoyed much more the last days of sailing, taking advantage of every faint blow of wind, amazed at the beauty of the Ocean, thankful to the dolphins for their show in the golden lights of the sunrise and grateful at life.
Following Giulia's wake
This video retraces the last two days of my passage.
Just the sound of the Ocean, the wind and my voice
As a contemplative as sailing in calm sea can be
A sense of the slow rhythm of sailing.
When I saw Terceira at last after thirtheen days and seven hours – I had decided to make a stop there – I was crying of relief and proud. I had a last stress as the harbourmaster told me over the VHF that the marina was full. “You must be joking, I have been thirteen days on my own, I need to go ashore now!” After a minute of silence, he answered “Don’t worry, we will find you a place!” They were three to take my lines. Full of disbelief I had done it, I took the time to clean Giulia, to thank her again for bringing me safely there. And I called my friends and family. An had a drink to celebrate.
I can't hide my joy..
Giulia safely moored
Angra do Heroismo is a beautiful city!
The next day I woke up with the problem I had when filling the diesel. I was glad I had the contact of João who helped me to find a hose. I had understood that the hose became too short and came loose. I needed to replace that. I succeeded with the help of other sailors that gave me the needed hand to fix it again. It took me ten days to recover from my passage. I was anxious to lose Giulia if I were to leave in that state. I was glad Amandine accepted to be my crew on the last long passage – from Horta on the island of Faial to Lajes das Flores.
When I felt fit again I sailed to Faial. It was a nice sunny day, with just enough wind to push Giulia towards the point of Topo on São Jorge. Once there, I could benefit of the wind created around the impressive Volcano of Pico, but also of the dead calm in its shadow. I loved sailing in that majestic landscape. As the sun set, I saw whales swimming not far from Giulia. The last miles to the mythic bay of Horta were just perfect, with 15 knots on the beam, Giulia flied on the waves. I could even let the sails down in the bay, and be welcomed by my friends at the dock. It was a warm welcome. We chatted all night.
Giulia arriving at São Jorge
Giulia entering the channel between São Jorge and Pico
The Volcano of Pico
Giulia motoring towards Faial
The days after I slowly realized what I had achieved. Even more when we made the traditional painting of my boat on the wall of the harbour. It shone so big it was. Originally, I wanted it to be discrete, but my unconscious decided differently. You could see the painting from far away.
I had a crew for the last passage. A new experience for me. I was feeling nervous about it because there had been a gale, and we would still have waves from it. Sailing south of the island of Faial and past the lighthouse of Capelinhos, was just perfect. As soon as we lost the protection of the island, the Ocean showed its rough side though. Amandine wasn’t reassured and got seasick. I could manage both her and the boat, but got seasick myself. I had to oblige her to go inside, for what she was reluctant for, afraid she would feel even worse. As she fell asleep, I could relax and take care of Giulia with a terrible headache. I was glad when the sun rose. We could see Flores, so I knew it was almost over. I switched the engine on to relax. We had breakfast on the deck, both smiling that we felt well again. I described her the coastline, mentioning the name of the villages.
With Amandine at Capelinhos & Capelinhos seen from Giulia
The last two hours were perfect again. The wind backed and came to the beam of Giulia. All sails out, Giulia fiercely entered the bay of Lajes. Gaïa, Elvira and Andrea had run to the end of the pier, and were waving at us. Camille and Marco with the other friends of Flores, were at the inner pier, and took my lines once in the marina. I was crying. We hugged a long time. Camille – that had encouraged me to buy Giulia – looking at me proudly. The lunch was ready for a beautiful welcome party.