Atlantic Crossing West to East: Sint Maarten to Azores

Boats had been setting off for Europe for a few weeks now, the time for departure was upon us, but what of the weather? Apparently the Jet stream is in the wrong place (according to weather guru and friend Chris Tibbs) and we do not have the normal settled weather plan, and it looks like headwinds for at least part of the route. We delayed a week, then an extra day, Chris said although the weather wasn’t ideal it wasn’t that bad and nothing better expected in the near future. We had been gradually completing our preparations: Steve hoisted me up to check the rig, Jaco from Atlante h divers cleaned the hull and the prop, all deck gear was checked, diesel, cooking gas and water filled, laundry done. Although things had been gradually opening up including takeaways for instance and Sint Maartin had no recent cases of Coronavirus, we had mainly kept to ourselves apart from getting supplies at the supermarket and things for the boat from the Chandleries and hardware store, obviously it would not be good to get the virus while underway crossing the ocean. We got a taxi to Philipsburg to clear out for the next day (the driver had had no other work for weeks), filled out the forms for making an emergency stop in Bermuda – just in case, we did not intend going there, contacted the OCC (Ocean Cruising Club) Port officer at Horta in the Azores – where we did intend to stop, contacted the Police Commissioner at next door island Anguilla, who had just declared a 12 nm maritime exclusion zone, to request permission to transit through Anguilla Waters (at anchor on the opposite side of the island to Anguilla we were only 7.5 nm away). We said goodbye to Terri, Mike, Mic and Jay on Life of Reilly and Brian and Chris on Exile, the boats next door in the anchorage, also over the VHF to all the cruisers with whom we have shared the pandemic lockdown experience, friends whose voices we know so well who we have never actually met face to face. We had left plenty of time for getting the anchor up – after 10 weeks it was very well buried (luckily on the advice of Jaco we had let out a little more chain to allow the weed and so on growing on to be rubbed off in the sand for a few days), we were hovering by the bridge as the appointed time (9am) approached, and it opened! Of course we were still too slow for the bridgemaster who as usual was exhorting us to make better speed. The big coastguard boat was coming in. And we were free!

We had light winds to start with, but once past Anguilla we headed north east on a close reach. We checked in on the nightly Ocean Cruising Club SSB net so at least we had some “virtual” company, including some boats whom we had already met via “Messenger” who were setting off at almost the same time from the French part of the island – Mojito, New Dawn. Weather router Chris advised there was no benefit in going a long way north so we continued NE. Little wind became no wind and we drifted slowly, I think we had every possible point of sail, on many days we only logged 70-100nm as were making only 3 knots and distance made good towards our destination was sometimes much less. Then more wind which soon went ahead then too much wind from ahead gave us a very wet and rough ride as we sailed as close to the wind as we could, had just two short periods when we made good progress in the correct direction then no wind again. Saw 1 whale, 2 pods of Atlantic Spotted dolphins, White tailed Tropic Birds, Laughing Gulls, Shearwaters (on arrival) and flocks and flocks of Sailing jelly fish, presumably Portuguese Men o’War (fortunately they did not seem to sting that badly as they were all over our Aquair towed generator). But we had a great downwind sail for the last 3 days, and sunshine as we romped along the coast of Faial. We arrived in Horta and anchored in the harbour on a sunny Sunday evening after 24 days and 4 1/2 hours, Total distance 2705 nm, Motoring hours 42.3, including getting out of Sint Maarten and into Horta. We used something like 110L of diesel, some of which would have been for the generator. We could no doubt have been quite a bit faster if we had motored more when it was calm (but as it is we used nearly half our diesel). We checked in with the marina on VHF (one thing they needed to know was the age of the crew).

The crew from Peter Cafe Sport note the beanie hats symbol of the resistance

Some of the OCC boats already in the anchorage (that we’d been speaking to on SSB) called on VHF to welcome us – Mirafe, Altarama, Mojito. The RIB from Peter Cafe Sport came alongside. Duarte and friends have been enthusiastically and efficiently supplying the transient yachts sheltering in Horta’s harbour. The Azores and Horta are a major stopping place for transatlantic yachts and fortunately the authorities there decided to continue the tradition in the year of Covid19, even though yachts had to anchor out in the harbour and were not allowed ashore. It was a great relief to know in advance that we could stop for a short while and get fuel and food. The week before we arrived the arrangements changed, yacht crews could get a COVID19 test and then go ashore. I think there was one fast racing multihull that made the trip from Caribbean to Horta in 7 days, but everyone else took 2 or 3 weeks or more for the voyage so having been isolated at sea for that time the tests were going to be negative. On Monday we had to wait for the police boat to bring forms. On Tuesday we had to wait by the radio for the signal to go ashore for the test, Wednesday had to wait by the radio for the (negative) results, then to be called to the marina to check in, Thursday we got diesel and moved into the marina 3 out on the outer wall and could walk ashore. Meanwhile, Monday was Steven’s birthday, I messaged Duarte from Peter Café Sport on WhatsApp and they delivered dinner and groceries. A wonderful service.

Tracks of vessels in the OCC West to East Atlantic Crossing group, Timshel is a blue line as far as Azores

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