Sailing back to the UK

After a week of waiting for a suitable weather window from the Azores to Northern Spain, we were slowly getting impatient. It was time to move on and we started feeling stuck in Ponta Delgada. Everyday we checked the weather forecasts and debated when would be a good time to leave. Unfortunately, the wind did not look promising at all. When we were invited for dinner with the lovely German couple on SV Rainbow they told us that they hired a professional skipper to help sail their boat back to La Rochelle in France. We took the opportunity to sit together with them to discuss the weather and spontaneously decided to leave on the same day as them, but instead of beating into headwinds to Spain, we would directly sail to South England. Even though the Azores high was sitting north of the Azorean islands and we expected at least 2 days of motoring, a southwesterly blow promised at least 2-3 days of favorable winds to sail to the UK. After that the forecast models all contradicted and there was no way of telling what the wind will be like once we were out there. We had our doubts about having to use the majority of our diesel so early on in the crossing, but we also did not want to take the risk of missing this opportunity and potentially wait for a few more weeks. Apart of that we liked the idea of skipping another crossing of the bay of Biscay, avoiding the areas where orcas decided to bite off boats‘ rudders, and of having more time to explore the British coast instead of trying to rush along the Atlantic coast of mainland Europe before the weather gets too cold for comfort.

We split up to run the last errands like clearing out of the country, buying fresh produce, filling up on fresh water and diesel. It didn‘t take long to get the boat and us ready and just like that we were underway to finish our Atlantic loop back in the UK. Little did we know at this point how the wind would actually develop over the next 12 days we spent at sea.

In the very invaluable book „World Cruising Routes“ the writer and seasoned sailor Jimmy Cornell specifically warns to not follow the temptation to set course directly toward England when departing from the Azores. We followed his advice and headed dead north for the first few days until we reached 45°N to cut across the windlass center of the fairly static Azores high pressure system. At the end it turned out that our light wind sail set-up in combination with flat seas allowed us to progress under sail much earlier than expected and we were able to save our diesel for another high pressure coming our way a few days later. Apart from the unusual strong easterly wind in the English channel which had us beat into the wind and waves for the last two days of the trip, we had a very relaxing crossing. The boat and crew did well in the changing weather conditions and we are happy that nothing major broke.

These are our daily logbook entries from the trip:

Day 1 to England

Thu Aug 18 2022

We are underway again! We are not headed, as actually intended for Northern Spain, but spontaneously decided to sail to England. Instead of having to wait potentially for weeks in the Azores for a suitable weather window, we have spontaneously changed our plans. That’s how it is with sailing. As the saying goes: you write plans in the sand at low tide. With us on board is Ross, a friend of Max, who lends us an extra hand and at the same time practices astronavigation. The weather forecasts for the first days didn‘t look too promising and we were debating whether we should leave or not. The Azores high expands north of us, which means that we probably have to burn a lot of diesel at the beginning of our crossing to catch the westerly winds north of the lull. Then we hope for a few days with west to southwest winds, which hopefully help us steer a course towards the southcoast of England. What the weather will do after that is completely unclear, as all predictions contradict. We will see as we go. Depending on the wind, we plan to be at sea for 12-14 days before we arrive in Falmouth; exactly from where we set off from England almost 2 years ago and we will then also finish our Atlantic loop. Our new refrigerator has unfortunately not arrived in the Azores and we have to go without fridge for now. Meanwhile, we somehow got used to not having one anyway. The boys said that they are already looking forward to the first cold beer in the pub. The first day at sea was very relaxed and we were accompanied by many playful dolphins and spotted whales in the distance. In the early morning the wind gradually decreased and we had to use the engine for about 3 hours, but could sail again since then. We do not break any records with our current speed and the course is more towards Northwest than North, but as long as we are moving forward without the engine we are happy! Max is now cooking pasta with Bolognese sauce and we are getting used to our rhythm at sea again.

Day 2 to England

Fri Aug 19 2022

We are now in the almost uncanny quiet center of the high pressure area. Last night, the last breeze disappeared and the sails began to flap. So our Perky had to swallow some more diesel. Although the idyllic night was accompanied on mirror-smoothed water by the engine noise, the clear skies and bioluminescence were still magical. The water was so quiet that small bioluminescent creatures as far as we could see turned the water into another glowing galaxy. A playful dolphin circled in the middle of the night around our boat. Although it was pitch dark we could clearly see the outlines of the sea mammal in the glowing water. Like a luminous torpedo, it swam a few times around us before he disappeared again. In the morning, when everyone was awake, we then hoisted the Spinnaker in barely 5 knots of wind from the West. With 2-3 knots we slowly sail a course to North in hope of a few more knots of wind. For breakfast / lunch we had fried eggs on freshly baked bread. Unfortunately, we were only able to refill butane and no propane as cooking gas, which covers the cooking pots, pans and eventually also our fingers with stubborn black sot. A real mess, especially if you do not pay attention to what you are touching afterwards. In the meantime we find black fingerprints everywhere in the boat, as on a crime scene. A relatively small sea turtle drifted past us on the water’s surface only a few meters awayband didn’t seem disturbed by us at all. A lot bigger was the bang-pink cargo ship passing us, which fully loaded steered a course towards Canada. Our Spinnaker helps a lot to cover some miles through the light breeze and hopefully soon we find stronger winds. While I write this summary, several pilot whales surfaced near us. So far we have been really lucky with wildlife spottings!

Day 3 to England

Sat Aug 20 2022

Last night we got the Spinnaker down, as we spotted a few dark clouds on the horizon. We surprisingly sailed well in the light wind under full main sail and genoa. With beam reach (Porky’s favorite angle to the wind) and hardly any waves, we gently rocked with minimal heeling through the night. Everyone slept like a baby and we are so well rested as if we were still at anchor. In the morning after sunrise, the wind has increased a little and we since have perfect sailing conditions in bright sunshine. We are very glad that we had to run the engine much less than initially thought until now. We have not tried to fish yet. Without a fridge, we must first eat all fresh food before it turns bad. So as you see, everything is very relaxed here. Until we reach 45° latitude, we will stay on a course towards Northeast before adjusting course toward England.

Day 4 to England

Sun Aug 21 2022

All good here. Last night Max came very excited to our cabin and woke me up. A little sleepy I climbed out to the pitch dark cockpit in my pajamas where Max pointed his finger into the sky. A blinking light was coming towards us. As it passed very close, I realized that a relatively small aircraft seemed to pass right above our heads. However, contact via radio was not established. A rescue or search operation would certainly have been communicated with us. Max suspects that it could have been a military exercise that we unknowingly passed through. I just imagine that it was a drug exchange on the open sea and we happened to randomly be near the coordinates of the transfer site. The plane might have come so close to us because they mistook our lights for the actual smuggling ship. The plane continued to fly in a regular search pattern (who knows, maybe to locate the actual transfer vessel) until we could not see it anymore. My idea would be a cool story, but probably Max is right. The wind has come since last night from Southwest with a funny high crossway from the West which rocks the boat from side to side. Since the large sail banged too much in the irregular wave, we took it down at night and are now running under poled out genoa only. From time to time a high wave threw us onto the side and took the wind from the sail for a brief moment. When the boat uprights itself, the sail violently bangs back as soon as it is filled by the wind. Every time we twitch, clench our teeth together and hope that nothing breaks. It is not a pleasant feeling, but we’re progressing well and could already adapt the course a little towards Ireland. A group of huge gray whales exhaled big clouds of spray only a few hundred meters behind us. Never before have we been able to admire so many different whales in one crossing! Slowly, the waves becomes more regular, the wind increased a few knots and Porky is already much more stable in the waves. By the way, the weather is very pleasant with bright sunshine during the day and a refreshing coolness at night. Let‘s see how it continues…

Day 5 to England

Mon Aug 22 2022

It has not happened much in the last 24 hours. Apart from the gybe last night we did not have to adapt the sails anymore. With 15-20 knots from the aft, the genoa remains constantly filled with wind, even if we are sometimes vigorously thrown from one side to the other. In the bunk we slide on the mattress and do not sleep as well as in the first nights. Cooking is more difficult in these conditions too. Daniel still managed to cook a delicious pasta dish in the rolling galley yesterday. Ross practices daily navigating with the sextant and the associated calculations. If we are not on watch or asleep we spend a lot of time reading, watching movies and series and listen to audiobooks or podcasts. We are curious what the weather will do in the coming days. The wind should turn North and we might get wet from above. It is definitely a lot cooler today and a consistent cloud cover forms in the sky. Until tonight we should be able to ride with the strong southwest wind though.

Day 6 to England

Tue Aug 23 2022

About half of the distance from the Azores to England is now behind us! However, the weather also indicates that we are approaching the UK. Last night exactly as predicted a front came through and brought strong rain showers and light wind from the North. However, the wind needed some time to properly fill in until this morning and we decided to run the engine for a few hours at night. So our batteries are full again. Unfortunately, a little bird looking for a place to rest got caught in our wind generator and was so injured that it could not fly anymore. Panically he crawled on the deck when we took the sails down in the pouring rain at night. Unfortunately he disappeared in the morning. Farewell little stowaway! Since sunrise, we sail again under main and head sail. In the cold rain, everyone sits under deck and drinks tea. Whoever is on watch sits in the companionway, from where you can observe the horizon, the sails and instruments without getting wet. The sea has meanwhile lost its dark blue color and the horizon merges with the gray soup of the sky. We see more cargo ships again and seem to be approaching the shipping routes to Europe. The boat stank for two days of rotten cabbage, which hung all squished in a net over Max berth and even dropped on his feet. Ihhh Bah! Max and Daniel used the rotten cabbage heads to see who can throw it further.

Day 7 to England

Wed Aug 24 2022

Whoop, our fastest 24 hours since we left the Azores a week ago! Yesterday afternoon, the wind has increased and we sailed with reefed sails through the night. Wedged in the berth we often do not notice how rough and windy it is outside. When the alarm clock wakes us for the night watch from the deep sleep, and we try to put on our layers of clothes and foul weather gear without waking the others, we start noticing how strong the boat rocks in the waves. Then we climb on deck and get thrown back to reality from the cold and roaring wind on the face. The white foam combs of the waves which in the meantime built several meters high, rolled towards us in the moonlight. Again and again dark rain clouds passed over us. After 3 hours on watch we are cold and look forward to slip into the warm bed again. It was a rough night with up to 27 knots of wind from northeast and breaking waves, but Porky managed well. Since the early morning, the wind has decreased a little and the waves have also become longer. The whole crew is well rested and we are happy about the good progress. The pub is waiting for us!

Day 8 to England

Thu Aug 25 2022

Porky is showing off her wings! With the main sail on starboard and genoa poled out on port, we are surfing down the high Atlantic waves. The wind is predicted for tomorrow to die completely and we hope to cover as many miles as possible before we have to motor. At the moment, it looks like we will have to beat into strong headwinds in the English Channel for our last couple days at sea. If this will be too rough, we consider to then alter course to either Ireland or France. But we’ll see how the weather develops in the coming days. It’s cold, really cold, especially at night. Despite winter clothes and foul weather gear, we are frozen after 3 hours on watch. For lunch we had sausage rolls. Of course veggie for those onboard who do not eat meat. We earlier surfed down a wave at 9.1 knots speed over ground. New speed record for this crossing!

Day 9 to England

Fri Aug 26 2022

Since yesterday evening the expected windless area arrived and since then we run under engine. We try to make it to the Isles of Scilly (about 230 nautical miles away) before the East wind is supposed to increase in the English Channel; However, it will be a tight race. We are now in areas again where tides and currents play a huge role for navigation. With over 25 knots of wind on the nose and changing tidal currents, we probably would not progress well when tacking up the English Channel. But we’ll try. This morning, a big swarm of dolphins accompanied us over several hours and played by the bow and behind the stern. The weather has also cleared again and we enjoy the sunshine and blue sky. A nice change after the last few rainy days. From the remaining bananas from the Azores we baked a delicious banana bread. Although we are all looking forward to making landfall in England, we are fully back in our rhythm at sea and could go on forever. Everyone has their own wake rhythm, everyone lends a hand with sailing maneuvers, cooks, does the dishes and otherwise finds other ways to pass time. And as always on board a sailboat we dream and talk a lot about where we want to sail to in the future…

Day 10 to England

Sat Aug 27 2022

Last night we had to continue running the engine. During Daniel’s night watch dolphins hunted a swarm of small fish that fled from the boat. At the same time a bird flew into our mast, took a moment to recover, then took off again without any major damage. We could finally turn off the engine today at noon and sail again. And for the very first time we have the genoa and the staysail hoisted at the same time, which gives us a little more speed and better angle to the wind, which is very useful now as the wind comes from the East and we will spend our last days at sea beating against it. Apart from that, Porky looks extremely sleek with the three sails up! We also feel the stronger tidal currents. Sometimes we make 6 knots, then again just under 4 knots over ground. The plan is still to make landfall in the Isles of Scilly.

Day 11 to England

Sun Aug 28 2022

Ouph, the last few nautical miles are by far the hardest of this crossing. Since yesterday we tack against the easterly being funneled through the English Channel with up to 25 knots. The waves are very choppy and steep due to changing tides. We constantly adjust the sails to find a balance of reasonable speed and gentle riding over the short waves. The staysail helps us try out efficient sail set ups and with now wind blowing constanty over 20 knots on the nose we have just completely rolled in the Genoa. At the moment the current is running with us, but will make much less speed tonight, when the tide turns again. In addition to this the lively traffic of the English Channel keeps us on our toes. Continuously we see other ships, mostly freighters on the horizon. There was not much cooking in the rough conditions today and we nibble on snacks and warmed up yesterday’s leftovers. So far we are satisfied with progress. Slowly but certainly we approach the preliminary goal of the Isles of Scilly with much anticipation.

Day 12 – Arrival in England

Mon Aug 29 2022

We arrived in the beautiful Isles of Scilly after a little less than 12 days at sea. What a great feeling to be back in the UK after 2 years of sailing the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. We will now sit out the strong Easterly winds in this protected group of islands before sailing on to Falmouth.

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