In our last blog entry, Kate mentioned that we were planning on taking Seahorse to a boatyard on Tenerife. Well, we have since made the trip to a boatyard...but Seahorse is nowhere near Tenerife!
|Waving goodbye as we leave Marina Lanzarote|
When it came to it we had the best forecast we would ever be likely to get for heading North, in an area where sailing North is notoriously difficult. Our last few days on Lanzarote were a whirl of final preparations, such as filling our jerry cans with diesel. Although Marina Lanzarote proudly boasts the largest travel lift in Europe, some of the basic conveniences for the average yachtie are sadly still missing, such as a diesel pump. We had to walk over a mile to the nearest road vehicle petrol station, which although not far, feels like a very long way when you're carrying 70 litres of diesel. By the end of it, our forearms burnt like we had been involved in an industrial spillage accident at the Deep Heat factory.
|"Jugueton", one of the friends we made on Lanzarote|
We were busy right up until the last moment. After calling Lanzarote our home, on and off, for about two years, slipping the lines was an emotional moment. I was sad to be saying goodbye to the people and places we have got to know on the island, but was very excited to be moving on, heading to a boatyard where we can finally give Seahorse the attention she deserves and open the next chapter of the Great Adventure.
We have had some fairly uncomfortable experiences in our relatively short cruising lives. The one that sticks in most people's minds is the trip from Portugal to the Canary Islands, where we got knocked down in an unforecast storm. This trip was much, much worse!
Unfortunately for our readers, there was no spectacular moment of horror for me to recount. What made this trip so awful was that it was physically exhausting and mentally distressing for such a long time. The passage took us 16 days. We always knew it was going to be a slow trip, because the wind is generally North-Easterly and on top of that Seahorse's hull was badly fouled, which has a disastrous effect on a yacht's speed. We could make a top speed of 3 knots if we had favourable winds. Ordinarily, we would have been able to more than double this. Our average speed for the voyage worked out at 1.7 mph. While I was sat in the cockpit on watch one evening, it occurred to me that a toddler could toddle between Arrecife and Lagos faster than we were sailing. After that, I kept imagining giggling children tottering unsteadily past us.
|Kate's favourite pass time - feeling sick|
|The sun setting while Kate steers. It's going to be another long night at the helm for us!|
|Our glow in the dark hand bearing compass.|
Guaranteed to put you to sleep
When I wasn't steering or trying to sleep, I was fixing things. Because Seahorse hadn't been put properly through her paces for so many years, one thing after the next needed my attention. The following is an example day, taken from the log book:
- Discovered water in the engine bay, so spent time pumping to clear the water
- Investigated where the water was coming from, which meant tearing up most of the aft cabin
- Found that the exhaust pipe had rusted through and it was the cooling water that was leaking in through that hole
- Fixed the leak using some 'boat saver' putty
- Fixed the leak again because the putty wasn't actually that good at saving a boat (luckily I had some epoxy putty as an alternative)
- Fixed the leak yet again because the boat saver putty failed in another location (luckily I had rags and gaffa tape, which, it turns out, along with a big hammer is all you need to fix almost anything)
- Filled the diesel tank from a jerry can
- Fixed the bow light which had broken such that it couldn't be turned off
- Lowered the Spanish and Canarian courtesy flags
- Tried, unsuccessfully, to get the alternator working
- Checked the engine and fuel pump oil levels
- Tried to get the wind vane self steerer working, which proved impossible without reinstalling it
- Spent time trying to get the sails set up to chafe less
- Boiled eggs, ready for snacks when the weather makes cooking tricky
- Ate spaghetti from a tin
All that took about 6 hours, having only had an interrupted 3 hour's sleep the previous night. This was a particularly busy day, but wasn't far off typical.With no contact with the outside world, we were left trying to predict the weather by reading the clouds and swell that came our way. Several times, a large container ship would pass close enough for us to be able to identify and I would call them on the VHF, to see if they could give us the forecast for the area. One day when completely becalmed, I called a passing ship and was kindly told that "there are blue skies and it's quite a nice day". Once I had managed to politely explain that I was more interested in a shipping forecast, rather than the information I could glean by stepping out into the cockpit, we received an accurate and pleasing forecast, but the first version did make us chuckle. Maybe he heard a British accent and thought that I must simply be interested in discussing the weather as small talk!
|Like ships passing in the...day. A rare but welcome sight: a commercial ship close enough to identify and call for weather|
Kate and I both felt that this trip was the worst experience of our lives so far (mourning aside). So many things kept breaking that we couldn't help but worry about what would break next, hoping that it wouldn't be something that would stop us reaching Portugal. Of course, running on so little sleep made every problem much worse. When we were sailing into the wind, things were at their worst. We had lots of leaks from on deck, under the teak where the steel has rusted. When heeled and pounding into the seas, water would flood through these holes, soaking our possessions below decks and forcing me to mop up the bilges before going on watch and again upon getting off watch, so that Kate wouldn't have to do it as that kind of work would be tremendously worse for her with her seasickness. It's hard to explain how awful it feels to be so intensely worried and exhausted, without break, for such a long long.
|New potatoes and pesto. Try it!|
We continued to have problems right to the end. We were crossing the large shipping lanes about 30 miles off the coast of Portugal when the wind began to die. It wasn't long until we were in a dead calm. Shipping lanes are no place for a small craft. The scale of it probably isn't far off a matchbox car trying to cross a motorway. For this reason, we immediately started the engine so that we could continue making progress. I was nervous about how much diesel we had left because we needed to get out of the shipping lane, but still have enough remaining to get into the marina when we arrived, which is up a fairly long channel that is too narrow for sailing.
There's no fuel gauge on Seahorse, so I had been using a piece of wood as a dipstick to take the level of our tank. I did this and recorded in the log that we could run the engine for about a further three hours before running dry. Thirty minutes later, the engine stopped! We initially thought it had broken down, as it had overheated and seized earlier in the trip. It was hard to estimate how much fuel was in the tank, because it's a cylinder on it's side, rather than being square, which means the level doesn't drop at a constant rate. In our estimates, though, we always erred on the side of caution, but we obviously didn't do so enough. We think that the feed pipe must be quite high in the tank and maybe the rolling of the boat gave a false reading on the dip stick. Either way, we were now well and truly stuck right in the middle of the shipping lane. This was bad. Really bad!
I tried making a radio call to any boats in the area that might be able to sell us fuel. We thought it would be an easy way for a local fisherman to make some extra cash, but either no one heard us, they weren't interested, or they couldn't understand my bad Portuguese.
|Celebrating 100 miles to go with a packet of 'emergency' biscuits|
What did happen, though, is that after a brief spell, we got a radio call from MRCC Lisbon (Marine Rescue Coordination Centre - you can think of them as the coastguard). They had heard my message and wanted to check that we were OK. They took really good care of us, putting out a navigational warning that would be picked up by any shipping in the area, and individually calling any ship that was heading in our direction, to make sure that they had heard the warning and could see us. They did this all through the night while we waited for the wind to pick up, which they had told us it was forecast to do.
It didn't. As dawn broke, we decided that we couldn't wait any longer and MRCC Lisbon arranged for a marine breakdown service to bring us more diesel so that we could get out of danger. It took quite a while to arrange, because we couldn't talk directly to "Diesel Man", as we referred to him. Instead, we had to talk to MRCC Lisbon on the VHF, and they talked to Diesel Man on the phone. Guess what happened shortly after we had finally got everything arranged and relayed our current position to Diesel Man? Of course, the wind picked up!
We weren't sure that we would be able to get a new location to Diesel Man if we moved, seeing as he had already set off, so we had to sit there for a couple of hours, wasting the wind.
|Diesel Man to the rescue!|
With the engine back up and running, we decided to motor-sail out of the shipping lanes. We had more than enough wind to sail, but we figured we may as well go as fast as possible, and didn't want to stop the engine again anyway, in case it didn't start again, seeing as it had given us so much trouble on this journey already.
Several hours later, when we had to turn into the wind to head for Lagos, we took the sails down and continued under motor alone...only to find that the clutch was broken and we didn't go anywhere. I couldn't believe it! We had been sailing so well, faster than any other time on the journey, that I hadn't noticed that the engine was in effect just running in neutral, wasting our precious diesel.
Just 10 miles from salvation and now we weren't even sure we could make it. If I couldn't get the clutch fixed (about which I knew nothing), we would have had to turn round and sail to an anchorage, which would have been massively depressing, not to mention stressful as we have never anchored Seahorse. To be forced do so for the first time, under sail, without the backup of an engine, was not top on my to-do list.
After an hour of working away in the filthy engine bay, which was completely covered in oil after the engine decided to spring a leak earlier in the journey, in the dark, trying not to drop spanners and sockets into the bilge where I wouldn't be able to find them amongst the oil and water lurking down there, fighting seasickness, my work was done. With my stomach in my mouth, I fired up the engine and shoved it into gear. Hallelujah, the prop shaft turned - I had fixed it!
|A glorious sunrise to lift our spirits|
Thankfully, there were no further breakdowns or incidents while we slowly chugged towards the marina. Getting Seahorse tied up and stepping ashore was an indescribably joyous moment for us. Kate's parents had very kindly brought "Dad's special bolognese" with them, which we ate below decks while regaling them with the trials and tribulations of our journey. I thought their sagging eyelids were simply a sign that Kate was going on a bit, but my watch told me otherwise. Feeling exhausted was normal for us, so we didn't realise that it was well into the early hours by then. We bid farewell to Chris and Mike and went to sleep until the marina office opened for us to check in. 5 hour's sleep, at the same time as each other, without having to continually get up to fix or adjust something, was absolute luxury.
|We made it! Seahorse on the reception pontoon at Marina de Lagos, 16 days after leaving Lanzarote|
|Dolphins showing us the way to Portugal. They probably wondered why we were going so slowly!|