Saturday September 6, 2014
Just as planned, we left Horta on late Thursday after trying to time it just right that we wouldn’t arrive to Ponta Delgada before sunrise a day and a half later. All the laundry had gotten one final wash, last minute e-mails were sent out as if two days were going to be a terribly long time to be away from civilization, and all the last of the provisions that we had purchased for a two week crossing were shoved into every little nook and cranny of Serendipity. All morning I had been watching the barometer, my new favorite hobby, and became increasingly worried as the winds sounded like they were howling outside the marina in the early afternoon. Four weeks of sailing in winds rarely over ten knots still makes me queasy to think of going out in anything over fifteen now. Forget that we cruised the whole Caribbean in 25-30, apparently it’s still taking me awhile to build back up to that.
At 5:00 we tossed off the lines and headed back into open water. Both of us were hoping for a whale spotting out in the channel since we still see tour boats take tourists there every day for just this thing, but we were only left with a slight chop and dramatic views of Pico while nearing golden hour. The pharmacy brand Dramamine I had just purchased during our stay in Portugal seemed to be doing it’s job, and as we carried swiftly along at five knots under a reefed main and partial jib, I was able to reheat some pasta for dinner without getting sick from the motion down below.
All morning I had been worried that I’d slept in too late and wouldn’t be anywhere close to sleeping when 8 pm came along, but just like Matt says, something about being on a boat instantly wants to lull you to sleep. Just after the sun went down and I had finished cleaning the dishes I was happily falling asleep in my bunk. The rocking was fairly gentle and there was no trouble falling back into old habits.
Sometime during my four hours of sleep I heard the wind pick up and Matt roll in the headsail. From what I could tell we were still moving along at a decent pace and since there was no cursing or frantic movements I assumed whatever storm might be coming up on us wasn’t too bad and I quickly drifted back off. When I got up for my shift at midnight I found out that what felt like moving swiftly along to me was us only powering along at 2.5 knots. Our old friend. After getting a rundown from Matt he told me that while we were in the lee of Pico the wind had been a little schizophrenic and was not only constantly changing direction, but changing speed as well. He had just gone from 15 to 30 down to ten all within an hour. When I came up they were hovering around 12 and the wind was coming from our beam.
Just as Matt was settled into bed and I was left on my own the winds decided to shift yet again to begin to come more on our nose and forcing me to point closer and closer to Pico. It was fine for awhile, but we wanted to stay at least five miles offshore, if just for the katabatic winds alone, and finally I had to point us directly south just so we could put some distance between us once more. During the rest of my shift the winds finally started to back more to our port side and I was able to put on on a course toward Sao Miguel. The winds had also picked up to the 25-30 range, with wild thunderstorms off in the distance, but as it looked like they were headed away from us and we were only working under a reefed main, I didn’t put too much worry into it. The constant drizzle of rain we did get though was a bit annoying and by 4 am I was more than happy to take my place back in my bunk.
By morning the skies had cleared of storm clouds and we were just left with puffy cumulus balls and winds hanging around 20-25 knots. Our pace was pathetic, holding at just over 3 knots, and I began to wonder if instead of getting to Ponta Delgada by sunrise the next day, if we’d even get there before sunset. If there’s one thing I can not stand (ok, there’s actually a lot, but this is a major one), it’s getting within just a few miles of port when the sun sets and having to wait it out until the next morning to get in. Nope. That was not going to fly with me this time. When Matt woke up from his shift I let him know that winds had died down to 20-22 knots, and I know we’d been super cautious since our storms off Florida, but maybe we could think about putting out the headsail to gain ourselves some speed. We used to sail in this kind of weather all the time, right?
When I asked I thought we’d just be putting it partially out, I still felt like being a little cautious, but Matt was fine with letting the whole thing out. He didn’t see any more storm on the horizon and since it was day we should see any new ones coming from far away. As soon as the sail was let out and trimmed in we set off like a rocket. Our speed jumped from 3.2 knots up to 6.5 as the ‘Dip heeled over at a nice 10-15°. For a moment I sucked in my breath. We hadn’t seen speeds like this in a long time and I don’t even remember the last time we had a nice heel. But then I realized…we’re fine. This is what the ‘Dip is meant to do. This is what she used to do all the time before we became too scared to let her get into her groove after one too many squalls on our crossing.
For the rest of the day she stayed in her groove, speeding along at 6.5-7 knots, and even though we’d definitely made up the lost time we wondered if we might still get to our destination a little too early. When the sun was going down we rolled the headsail back in and went to cover the last 50 miles at a steady 4 knots. With the nights getting colder I spent my 12am-4am shift comfortably settled into the settee below while running up for checks every 15 minutes. Being less than 40 miles from the island at the time I spent my shift using my MP3 player to scan for decent radio stations, delighted when I found them although each station seemed to have quite an eclectic mix ranging from brand new Coldplay to 90’s Mariah Carey to turn of the millenium techno.
It was me who was in the cockpit once again as we approached the island just after sunrise. The last 10 miles seemed to take forever, not bringing us to the harbor until 11 am, but the sights as I watched us come in were well worth the wait. The SW side of the island is edged with sheer cliffs while rolling green hills followed, turning into the white buildings with coral colored roofs that we’ve come to know so well. For the last hour into the harbor I was treated to one of the best and longest dolphin shows I think I’ve ever had in my life. Plus this was a completely new species that we hadn’t come across before! Pods and pods of saddle back dolphins swam alongside the boat and tried to get views of it’s newest visitors. The whole thing actually went on for so long that I went from excited jumping, to snapping about a hundred photos, to peeking my head over the side while I enjoyed my coffee, to completely ignoring them. They just would not go away.
Once we were about two miles away from the entrance to the inner harbor I finally woke Matt up and we tried to find this elusive entrance in the massive bay. Eventually locating the itty bitty red marker that stood on the breakwater we fired up the engine and began to head in. It was strange when we pulled up to the fuel dock that there was no one working it, but we just tied up and headed inside the building. After talking to the local authorities that have an office inside we found out that we’d just crossed into low season and the marina is not open on Saturdays and Sundays. They told us just to grab any open slip and come back Monday morning to check in. Parking Serendipity in the new part of the marina (anchoring is banned here too, argh!!), we took a slip that’s probably meant for a 60 ft boat, but as they’re currently at about 20% capacity, we didn’t think it would matter.