Terceira postscript

Christian, possibly the best sailor among us, and certainly the most modest and unassuming, received a Jester burgee from George, representing the Jester Helm. Christian was absolutely delighted and shot straight up his mast to fly it!

A very happy Christian
Christian begins to realise what’s coming. Graeme looking on
A delighted Christian received that famous burgee ……..
and shoots straight up his mast to fly his new burgee
Rony takes coffee

Meanwhile for those of us still here, there was always time for tea or coffee and conversation aboard Pippin, the Jester mother ship admired by all.

Glenn and George come by
Duncan with his lovely new tiller

Glen made this gorgeous tiller of a local cedar type wood, laminated and glued with epoxy. The incredible things is its weight, no more than perhaps a kilo or so. Having checked it for size, Glen took it home to epoxy. Duncan was delighted and will leave here with his little ship better fixed up than ever before.

Now as I look back, I reflect more on my journey, which is nicely put into perspective by the table below;

SkipperYachtTypeLOAFinish
Brian JuddSylviaSadler26’09/07/21 0650
     
Donald HeathGuppy UnchainedDjango 77025’07/07/21 0740
     
Duncan LougeeMinkeFolkoat25’11/07/21/1050
     
George ArnisonGood ReportClassic sloop31’11/07/21 1050
     
Graeme ShinwellPanaceaAlbin Vega27’06/07/21 0610
     
John AppsAreliaInvicta26’10/07/21/0230
     
John WillisPippinFrancis PH34’06/06/21 1830
     
Justin ButlerRoquettaTwister28’07/07/21 0230
     
Christian GallotKalavalaSea Breeze31’05/07/21  0930
     
Stephen MooreyHelixTwister28’DNS

The routes (above – Pippin red) each competitor took and the messages sent along the way can be better seen at Jester Azores Challenge 2021 – Jester Challenge (wordpress.com). Brian somehow managed to find time to write a book on his tiny Garmin Inreach during his voyage, quite a feat in a 26′ boat tossing around on the rumbustious ocean!

I pretty well sailed the route I had planned, with no down wind sails, just the yankee one side and main the other when running, without a pole. Pippin goes very well like this and I probably only lost out marginally to the spinnaker flyers, but where Pippin came into her own was the rough stuff during the last 4 or 5 days. She has the weight and hull shape to cut to windward very well, and to keep going almost whatever the conditions, something I found most reassuring. One Jester reckoned that there were gusts of 60 knots where he was, but I stopped looking when it topped 40! Whatever, Pippin was quite happy under staysail; overall I am more proud and impressed with her performance than my own though I guess I had a hand in her progress.

GOODBYE LOVELY PIPPIN
GOOD BY LOVELY TERCEIRA (courtesy of Rony & Katrine)

Terceira bureaucracy is delightfully laid back if a little long winded, with lots of bits of paper for even the simplest things. It reminded me of my time in Kinlochbervie in 2015 just below Cape Wrath in Scotland, where I was adopted by the locals for a few days as I sat out a gale. One talked of this and that, and that and this, usually over several cups of tea or hair restorer, before much was achieved.

Frankly there is only one way to deal with it here – change down a few gears, smile and go with the flow; chat back and never mind the 20 people behind you as was the case when I went for my Covid test. Seconds for the test, 20 minutes for the chatty bureaucracy, which isn’t without error for I discovered they had mistyped my email address, which is critical for the result.

In the evening, Rony , Katrine, Jester George and I dined convivially at a street cafe where I enjoyed fried octopus and little mackerel. This morning Rony cast off, heading his lovely Victoria 34 Blue Alligator off to Santa Maria. A little later I helped George cast off in his wooden sloop Good Report, beautiful, wayward astern and slow to turn – not the best traits for marina manoeuvres but he got away very nicely, also headed for Santa Maria. With their departures I felt the final chapter of the book of the Jester Azores Challenge 2021 close; it felt lonely.

Back aboard Pippin, I checked again for my test result, the last piece of my departure arrangements and one I shan’t relax about until it arrives. If it doesn’t, I’ll be posting again from here!!

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By ajay290

Final Days in Terceira

If love within family is the greatest gift one can receive in life, then friendship must be the next greatest. My Swiss friends Rony and Katrine had kept in touch with me during my journey and had arranged a little arrival reception party. Totally exhausted, relieved it was over but with a little glow of achievement growing inside me, I was overwhelmed by the welcome from these lovely people as I have described. These pictures (from Rony and Katrine) tell the story of my arrival and the magnificent welcome I was given. I cannot thank them enough, then and now.

Rony looks out – its much foggier at sea
Rony proudly displays the Guernsey flag as lovely Pippin comes slowly in – its shallow there!
Rony and I greet each other – Jesters Christian and Graeme admire Pippin

Gradually the Jesters left, one or two to visit other islands, others heading straight for home. I kept in touch with Justin via Garmin Inreach, sending weather reports, which I hope will help him on his way. Christian came over to my boat, which is a fair distance from his, to give me a hug and say how much he had enjoyed meeting me and asked to stay in touch, which of course I will. He is one of those people whom a yacht club bar ‘commodore’ would dismiss as a scruffy eccentric; indeed he would probably bar access to him! In so doing he would of course miss the whole point of this great, kind tough man who could sail the pants off any bar hugging yacht club type.

Which reminds me of another typical Christian story. He has a 1955 175 cc motorbike, with a little side car and he used to have a Labrador, which travelled in the sidecar, each of them wearing ancient Biggles type goggles as they rode slowly and smokily along, the dog loving the whole experience. Christian’s problem was that they made such an amazing sight, he was constantly being flagged down by people wanting photographs and of course Christian being Christian, he always obliged! Christian has a home and I think a partner, but spends most of his time living aboard when not crossing oceans; a true sea gypsy.

I received messages from Brian the mad caver, who described how they had sailed along the island’s south coast to Angra, where they anchored. Being Brian, he was towing an inflatable catamaran and being Brian, he and his crew mate Colin paddled off on the catamaran round a headland for a beer.

Brian and Colin towing their inflatable catamaran. Note the self assembly Hebridean wind vane, crude but effective

Being Brian they encountered contrary tide and weather and could barely make way, which was worrying as they were being pushed out to sea. Assisted by 2 swimmers, they finally made shore, completely unfazed by their experiences, and enjoyed their well earned beers – before they mounted up and paddled back out to sea, and round the headland to their boat Sylvia. Bonkers, but then I guess you have to be to dive down into deep caves, something I regard to be as terrifying as running out of Gentleman’s Relish. Brian plans to cruise a while before laying Sylvia up in Terceira for the winter.

Things happen in their own time and in their own way here. Paulo the friendly harbour master had advised me for peace of mind to pay the lighthouse tax, which almost no visiting yachtsman does. So I summoned Heldeberto the taxi and we set off arriving a little after the end of lunch hour, but the officials had obviously shifted the goal posts and arrived in their own time. They mainly deal with 20,000 ton ships and my request to pay light house dues for my 8 ton visiting boat seemed to puzzle them. Taking advantage of their confusion I thrust my passport and ships registration document at them, along with a small wad of notes, assuring them that that is all they needed, whilst Hildeberto translated. Umpteen photocopies, several signatures and much confused head scratching later, I had my requisite pieces of paper – job done, and another little experience filed away.

Meanwhile Justin was making good progress towards home and I kept in touch by Garmin Inreach – someone said the Jesters were of a certain age, which is true (40s to 72), and of course of a certain mind set. Unconventional might be a reasonable description; for example, there are no lawyers, accountants, or bank managers among us, which probably says something. Retirees, sea gypsy, ex soldiers, ex Police, civil servant, engineering business proprietor – this is the mix of our little group, the smallest Azores Challenge possibly ever and the only one where every boat finished, a point I am proud to repeat.

As my departure draws nearer, I confess to feeling more anxiety than when sailing here, for I have not kept up with the bewildering requirements for travel in this Covid age, but Angie patiently inducted me into the welter of dos and don’ts and I dutifully trotted off to book a pre-departure Covid Test at the laboratory in town. Hopefully I won’t be seeing the inside of a Portuguese jail, or be at the wrong end of a hefty fine during my journey.

Meanwhile its time to begin getting things ship shape, so Pippin is festooned with washing – naturally the signal for a nasty squall and torrential rain! C’est la vie – at least its warm and will be of short duration and the sun will re-dry my clothes later.

Here I’ll leave you, the end of my Azores journey, and the beginning of my journey home.

Até logo

(which I am told is Portugese for goodbye)

By ajay290

Down time in Terceira – 2

Operation Rudder – Duncan,George, Don, Colin

Irrepressible Brian the caver and friend Colin, also a barmy caver, dived with snorkels to refit Duncan’s rudder, lost due to a split pin failure. I cannot begin to express my admiration for Brian, who seemed to thoroughly enjoy the whole operation like a puppy with a toy.

Operation Rudder – George, Don, Paulo, Brian, Colin, Duncan
Terceira Marina view

Today was almost the first day that the clouds lifted from the nearby hills to reveal these lovely views from the marina. Almost next to me are Rony and Katrine, who have done so much for me. I mention them by way of grateful thanks but also because they have fallen so in love with the islands, that they are buying a full time home on the beautiful little island of Santa Maria. They have a Victoria 34, the same hull as Pippin, minus the pilothouse. Yes I am surrounded by real friendship and support, which has helped me more than I can say.

Terceira Marina view

If you don’t mind, I will let the pictures that follow tell most of the story. They were all taken during our wonderful tour with Hildeberto, and his Taxi Amigo. He asked for no payment, though we bought him lunch and gave him a tip at the end with which he was so delighted.

Holsteins graze peacefully – there is a herd of Guernseys here too! Twice a day, the farmers come with portable milking machines and the cows gather to be milked, without any need to herd them. The dairy then collect the milk from the various pumping units around the island. There are more cows than people, for farmers receive subsidy for each animal. What I can say is that the beef, from these placid unstressed super fit animals, is wonderful. From here we looked out across what is known as the the Quilt. Most of the rain falls in this and the central are of the island, so the people leave it to the cows!

Here on Monte Brasil, British anti aircraft guns, installed in WW2 and never used, point blindly at the sky. Nearby is a monument shown below to the unfortunate Alfonse 6. Lame and apparently mentally deficient, he was most unfortunate. However, he was clearly intelligent for his words are most poetic. Described as the king, his brother took the throne, his wife and his freedom and Alfonse wrote to the effect; “I am king, but never reigned, I am married but with no wife, I am free yet a prisoner”.

A typical view out from the heights, this from Monte Brasil.

Jester Don communes with Alfonse 6.

The Holy Spirit Chapel at Judeau, SE corner of the island. There are 71 of these chapels, none controlled by the Church but for the people and run by the people; understandably the Church aren’t happy but I know where my sympathies lie. They are not places of worship, but places you go to say a prayer or to use the sceptre to make a blessing and they are highly valued and carefully, lovingly maintained. Whilst we were there, a farmer stopped his truck, with which he was towing a cow in a trailer, came inside, took the sceptre, climbed onto the trailer and blessed the cow – which was on its way to slaughter!

The farmer blessing his cow with a sceptre.

The Jesters doing what they do second best to sailing! This was lunch during the tour at Os Moinhos restaurant in Sao Sebastiao – a beef pot meal, alocal dish not unlike our beloved Guernsey Beanjar, perhaps without the explosive after effect!

I know there are people who will be interested in rock formations, so here is a typical shot of layered rock. There are two types of lava – one very hard and one very soft.

A typical beach lave scene, this one near the natural pools at Biscoitos.

A small volcanic crater, now with a shooting range across its bottom, near the Christmas caves shown below

Jesters deep inside the Christmas cave system.

The natural pools at Biscoitos

George considering a swim, but we persuaded him the locals might object to nudity!

This is Glen and Nancy’s house, which they are gradually developing. These are the most kind people you could ever wish to meet. He has been many things, including a Jester sailor and he will do anything to support a fellow Jester. Lovely people.

Christian the winner, Nancy, John and Glen facing camera. Below are two magnificent views from their lovely home. Today Glen is making a new tiller for Duncan! That’s the sort of man Glen is.

Pippin is to remain whilst I fly home to join Angie for our trip to Spain to see our second grand daughter for the very first time! Our son Sam asked her 3 year old elder sister whether she was excited about seeing granny and grandad very soon; “oh yes she said, because they are very old!” The honesty of childhood!

Meanwhile, my dear friends Pete and Tracey Goss, who have never been to the Azores, are coming over for a little holiday, returning in Pippin which they owned before me. That will be another lovely adventure for Pippin and I wish Pete and Tracey God speed and fair winds.

By ajay290

Down time in Terceira – 1

Imagine, that haunting song by John Lennon, is to me one of the truly great of all time. Sadly it is also the name adorning the upturned rump of a 50′ aluminium ocean greyhound in a corner of the marina. It is a sad boat, its furled sails mildew covered, its lines unkempt, its decks and cabin top grey with dirt and of course it has a bad story to tell. Apprehended with her crew on the high seas, she was found to be carrying several tons of cocaine and now her crew languish behind bars, whilst she – innocent of all crime – rots slowly in this forgotten corner.

Talking of stories, Christian told of his trip up high into Arctic waters where he met an iceberg, which smashed open one side of his bows. Turning so that the undamaged side faced wind and waves, he sailed his boat back to shelter, where he set to repairing the damage. Meanwhile his crew disappeared in a puff of smoke. We swapped tales of our time high up in NW Scotland and Shetland, where he told of being at anchor in 25 knots. He had an inflatable kayak, which he loaded with his bicycle and rucksack and duly paddled for shore – into the wind. He only just made it and somehow slung his sack on his back grabbed his bicycle (carried in a kayak!!) and began to climb the dockside ladder. But his glasses were salted up, and he is blind without them and he missed a handhold ending up careering into the sea – clutching his bicycle and sack.

It was quite a while before he bobbed to the surface, for there is not much of Christian to bob! Of course being Christian he duly made it and pedaled off, water streaming behind. What a guy.

Several days ago, 500 or so miles away from here, a Jester boat, Minke, lost its rudder. Another, Good Report, diverted to assist and for long periods towed the disabled Minke, arriving today. This is the true story of the Jester Challenge, one which it is not my remit to tell – that is for those amazing 2 seamen (George and Duncan) who made port together through thick and thin. It is one hell of a story, one which epitomizes the true Jester spirit.

Christian, a winner, welcomes George the tug, another winner
LtoR John, Duncan, Christian, Graeme, Brian and George
The rudderless Minke, safely home

We believe that despite the weather and the loss of one boat’s rudder, this is the very first Jester Azores Challenge where all competitors have finished. We can be rightly proud of that I think.

Returning to Pippin, below is a photograph taken as the storm closed in around Pippin. The blue marks the frontal rain as it approached and then enveloped the boat.

A soiled underpants moment!
Wing on wing off Galicia
Driving on towards the weather

So, I have been safely docked here for 5 days and I am still all over the place. This has been an adventure that took me to my limits and beyond and whilst I am proud of the achievement and grateful for all the lovely comments I have received, I know too that there were times when I didn’t manage terribly well. But in the final analysis, I achieved it and no one can take that from me.

By ajay290

The 2021 Jester Azores Challenge begins

Black Velvet

38* 43′.37N 27* 02′.91W is where this is being written from – well actually if it was I would be floating off the island of Terceira. I am in fact a few hundred metres beyond, comfortably tied to a pontoon after 1,610 nautical miles.

As family and very close friends know, I am troubled by depression and do not mind admitting it – but I have left out references to how this affected me, but will just add it made this voyage more of a battle with self than with the elements. But this isn’t the forum to dwell on such things.

So, back to the beginning.

19th June – D Day -2. We gathered in the rain on and around Ewen Southby Talyor’s Black Velvet (a Crabber 30), 18 of us, to pay tribute to the great man, instigator and father of the Jester Challenge. As we sipped black velvet, rain dripping down our necks, Bernie Banfield spoke a few words before presenting Ewen with his gift. It was a bound volume of pictures and words from each Jester over the years. A dinner followed, low key, quietly enjoyable particularly for those in the Challenge, for our thoughts inevitably strayed towards the ocean.

20th June – D Day -1. The last day is a strange one; you’re as ready as you can be, but your boat remains chained to the dockside, butterflies fly in the stomach, thoughts roll across the sea – you want the moment to come, yet a little tiny piece of you wishes that somehow it wouldn’t.

The forecast is adding a frisson to the butterfly feelings, for the wind will hit Force 7 – that’s 30 knots – as we set off but from behind unlike 2019. The seas will be big and we will be accompanied by heavy rain for at least the first few hours, and it will be important to get the boat snugged down and the skipper comfortable inside as soon as possible, eyes glued to the radar, peering through the windows for it is a heavy traffic area for at least the first 24 hours.

Pete and Tracy Goss came for morning tea and doughnuts, dispensing quiet words of advice and gentle words of encouragement. Such lovely, supportive and loyal friends. Alan the sail maker with his wife and little son joined us too for a real little party.

Graeme’s Panacea

Brian’s Sylvia

That evening we gathered quietly on the pontoon at George Arniston’s boat for the very relaxed and informal briefing. made a little more complex because of the Covid rules we would need to abide by in Praia Vittoria on the Azores island of Terceira. Those that could swapped satellite communicator numbers. George had decided to delay his start as he wasn’t fully ready and I am sure the same thoughts crossed other minds, but no one said anything. Seven would be starting on the morrow, down from 30 entrants in May.

Just before we left, Graeme handed each of us an embroidered Jester badge, made by his daughter and I was immensely touched. He hadn’t even known she had made them until he left and she thrust them not his hand!

21st June – D Day. Predictably it dawned cold and grey, an early infantile rain playing and growing to adulthood as I drank my tea. Quite frankly its going to be a horrid start. pushing us hard into the incoming wave stream. The rain, in varying intensity, will continue all day – the key will be to set Pippin up, hopefully on the course I want though that may not be possible, and to remain as comfortable and dry as possible.

My sausage sandwich and espresso helped morale, whilst I finished final preparations aboard, but I can’t say I was looking forward to the start, and neither, I am sure, or any of my fellow Jesters. Repeated, hopeful checks of the forecast revealed no reduction in the torment to come; this was as it was going to be.

Looking up the Tamar

I noticed that the Challenge had begun because all the other boats suddenly scuttled off and Pippin followed, elegantly last. Brian scuttled up in tiny Sylvia like a Dachshund visiting a Retriever and soon Pippin was beginning to overhaul one or 2 others – though its not a race. Mind you, lay down a start line and get a bunch of guys jeed up to cross it and there is no way it won’t be a race.

A couple of Border Patrol craft kept station for a while, no doubt wondering what this little armada was doing mid Channel all together but we were all going the wrong way to be of interest. Night brought a very close encounter with a large fishing trawler, but otherwise traffic was light as I snugged Pippin down to pass 80 miles west of Ushant.

A little mal de mer teased me for a few hours, but of no great consequence as Biscay began to yawn to port, the winds light. So far all was good and 125 miles slipped beneath the keel as Day 1 ran on into Day 2 and I began to eye up Pete and Tracey’s Biscay package – they had even supplied an egg cup and cosy – proper job!

50 shades of grey all round and under me, unrelenting like the light NW wind but hey – I complain if it’s blowing and I complain if it’s not!  Can’t have everything.  The key is to keep Pippin sailing, go with the flow, don’t stay fixed on rigid routes or way points for sure things will change.  Enjoy, rest and prepare.

The final fading words of Radio 5 Live marked a break with civilisation and the onset of feelings of loneliness, but I have my music.  In 3 days, I had barely touched the helm, just pulling Hercules control cord occasionally, a tweak here, a tweak there; what an amazing machine it is, an example to me.  That afternoon I was wreathed in virtuosity, smiling immodestly at my wet washing flying in the light breeze celebrating with soup, tinned fish on thins and an orange.  As the wind crept east of south, I pushed Pippin’s bows more to the south – yes, for now, we are doing fine.  There is always something to do, whether planning or actually doing, and I decided to do some fuel calculations so I would know if and when I had to use the engine, just how far the engine would take me at any given revolutions.  Pippin carries enough fuel for between around 350 – 500 miles, depending on revolutions.

25/06.  All night Pippin ran south wing on wing (main out to one side, yankee the other) directly down wind with Hercule in charge – I was incredulous, even though the wind never topped 13 knots.  My fears about a failing domestic battery seemed confirmed, for one was down to 12.17 volts; I charged the batteries for an hour and decided I would switch this battery over, replacing it with the bow thruster battery located right up in the bows a task I do not relish.  As if in response to my irritation, the two raw eggs I was holding exploding in my face as I was pushed over by the motion.

A wash, shave and bacon sarnie put me right – indeed doing such little domestic things when you are able to gives them a meaning out of all proportion to their importance.  1200 each day has a ritualistic importance, for it marks the end of each 24 hour period since the start and I found myself counting down to the hour each day before noting the day’s run in miles.

“Above all, enjoy it” advised Pete Goss before I left as he handed me 2 packages, one marked Biscay, the other Atlantic.  Am I enjoying it?  The truth is, only partly.  I gain satisfaction from setting the boat up properly and managing the never ending tasks around the boat, but my state of mind right now reflects the greyness of the sea and sky around me.  I try very hard not to focus on the days ahead, the coming of bad weather and just stick to ticking off the days and staying rested and comfortable.

At 1200, the end of Day 4, I did the housework, cleaned the cooker and at lunch time opened Pete’s Biscay package from which I lunched on delicious Cabanossi and tomato soup.  It struck me I hadn’t seen dolphins or whales, but then with the boat set up and proceeding well in the right direction I had spent most of my time inside, resting and reading.  Angie’s weather information for future days now brought on agonies of indecision, for the wind would be N/NW 10-20 knots, followed by a flaccid period of light winds and then strong southerlies.  Perhaps it will be a shitty finish.

I had begun to also soak my spaghetti for a few hours and just before meal time, pop it in the kettle and make my cup of tea.  After a little while the pasta was done and I quite liked the slightly starchy quality the water gave the tea.  The day closed as it began, grey, unimpressive and a sloppy sea. 

Amazingly at least 3 of us are within 10 miles though there is no sign of anyone, as cheerful texts between Brian and I and Justin and I flew between the boats.  Their opinions on weather, combined with Angie’s, I actually found unsettling – too much information equals indecision, so I ignored all but Angie’s weather texts, which I came to cling to like a drowning sailor a life raft.

I changed Hercule up a gear as the sea was livelier, flicking frothy fingers under Pippin’s hull, the playful wind pushing Pippin at the sort of speed I had hoped for since the Western Approaches.  In the late evening my somnolent thoughts were shattered by the radar alarm, so I took my post in the pilot seat until the ship passed.  Slatting sails and the noise of passing water brought me to at 0320 on 26/06 to find the wind now NW so I pushed the bows more west and tickled Hercule’s lead to set him firmly on the new course.  I checked the battery voltage again and decided action was required, before bad weather made it impossible, so I drew up a plan including a list of tools.  I also decided to keep the led searchlight to hand to illuminate the sails in the event of a vessel approaching too close.

It took me 2 ½ hours to disconnect and remove all three 20 kg batteries, because of course the failing one was right at the back of the locker, all but unreachable.  Then I had to clear the fore cabin to get at the bow thruster battery, which I replaced with the failing one.  I am not quite sure how I managed it, but it was another task that gave me a little satisfaction, a small boost in mood and a realisation that, given a problem to be sorted in difficult circumstances, I can just get on with it.

During this exercise, we were hit by a squall as I was carrying a battery along the cabin, so after I had finished, I hove too and reefed as a light rain fell.  Yes, the truth is I am quite chuffed with myself for I was severely tested this morning.  Meanwhile Brian behind me was all excited because he had spotted his first whale – pah!  I’ve seen those, billions of them.

By lunchtime Pippin was 50˚ off the wind, creaming along at 6 knots, one reef in the main, a few rolls in the yankee and Hercule in second gear – 3rd is for storms and I don’t want to use it!  I know the seas will build as we head further into the ocean, but right now they are ok.  I had also tied off the wheel slightly to counter a touch of weather helm and she seemed to like that.

The Garmin is a treasure, keeping me in touch with Jesters (the 2 that had Garmins) and family, good for morale but it increases loneliness too at times.  I took several trips on deck to adjust things to keep Pippin around 240˚ in NW 15-18 relaxing in the pilot seat in between times; this modification of mine right now is number one aboard.  It is a master stroke, transforming the comfort of watchkeeping.  By now the occasional wave sent its reconnaissance troops on ahead, reaching searching fingers up over the wheelhouse, looking for leaks but failing, leaving frustrated in the overwhelming grey day as the sky aged into night.

As the kettle heated up, I smelt burning and frantically dug down into the battery locker, suspecting I had erred in replacing the batteries, only to find my tea towel nicely on fire.  Phew, not a good idea to have a fire on board.  My dinner was to have been a relaxed affair with steak, onions and fried potatoes, but ended with me strapped to the galley at 45˚, eating directly of the work surface as the expected front hit, brining 20+ knots of wind and boisterous seas.  This was the point beyond which I was never able to deploy a plate for a meal again, instead spooning the meal from a collapsible silicon bowl wedged in my pilot seat.

Meanwhile Pippin rode the seas beautifully, before I went out to set a better course in the direction of the Azores, true a more rolly and slower one, but it was in the right direction.  Naturally whilst on deck I spotted a few Willis howlers one of which took longer as it involved rope and rope and I do not get on.  I think it is to do with each of us having a mind of our own and thus disagreeing too often.  A small glass of hair restorer in my seat, sipped to the sounds of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy seemed an appropriate way to end the day.

27/06, Day 6, 0700.  A restful if sleepless night for there is now a lot of movement which a body takes a while to grow accustomed to.  You cannot stand, before you find a hand hold and once upright, must always have a grip of something.  To be flung across the cabin is to risk a broken bone, a head injury, or death over board and then what?  Sunshine finally won the battle of the clouds as Pippin rode the Theta Passage, pushed by the surprisingly strong Portugese current.  It was time to shake out a reef, trim the course and check those batteries, still a cause for concern.

Having adjusted the course I was puzzled, for Pippin strode along at 6 knots, despite 2 reefs in the main so if she likes it, so do I.  I didn’t shake out the reef.  Now I am beginning to think it was a failing battery and that the newly arrived sunshine is pushing in a charge through the solar panel – I’ll probably always have to charge them using the engine each day, but that’s fine. 

My back is reminding me that I have been moving 20kg batteries about in one hand whilst I cling on with the other, but I sense it isn’t going to go on me.  I couldn’t afford a week or more of incapacitation!!  So, I shook out a reef to, as Angie puts it “get a wiggle on!” and Pippin lifted her head sniffing for that far distant finish line, neither of us catching a whiff of it – yet.

I feel settled into a routine aboard, despite my many usually minor little faux pas, which at least give me reason to talk out loud for no matter how much I tick myself off, there I go again making another one!  Incorrigible, impossible, will never learn!  Meanwhile Brian has had an epic with an exploding curry and the loss of his spoon, eventually found in his shoe inside a cabin little larger than a coffin.  But then Brian is mad, for you have to be to be a caver like him.  Having a fear of being hemmed in, I can categorically say that the mere thought of caving reduces me to a quivering, terrified wreck.  But then I can say the same about heights.  Or the restaurant being full before I get there.  Or the Haut Medoc running out.

28/06.  Pippin chuckled and burbled through the night as she does when she is happy, and sunshine greeted me kindly next day as did a visitor, the first since leaving Plymouth.  There on the side deck was a 9” flying fish, quite plump so perhaps a pregnant female, who had jumped to escape dolphins only to find death on the side deck.  I committed her thoughtfully to the deep, deciding not to fry her for breakfast.  Meanwhile a rather alarmed Brian message to say that Orcas were finding his boat most attractive and were swimming right up under his rudder.  They are bigger than his boat and if he lost his rudder, he would be in real trouble.

I wear larger foot wear aboard, as my feet swell and, if necessary I can put thick socks on.  This sometimes causes me issues as my brain is programmed for Size 8 – Not size 10, so sometimes when it is instructing my 8s what to do, I find the manoeuvre only ¾ complete before my brain has moved on elsewhere, leaving me tripping over an errant foot.  Morale needed a boost so I washed my hair shaved and generally smartened myself up, not terribly easy at 45˚, before sweeping out the cabin and tidying up.  Two things I do NOT want to do are to think about the distance ahead, or the strong headwinds that will prevent me shaping a course anywhere near the Azores.  I don’t want nightmares, so I’ll bury myself in the current Sven Hassel.  So far it has been at times satisfying, at times tough and at times to be endured, depending on where the needle of my mood barometer lies.

Overall, looking at it now, my satisfaction will come from completing the voyage, rather than the journey itself, perhaps a little sad.  But then the fact I am doing it reflects strong determination and a resolve to complete the task despite the fairly strong limitations bestowed upon me by my physiological make up.  Pondering my navigation options, I decide to make N40˚ to give a good angle of attack to the target – and anyway, “forty north” has a nice ring to it.  We are in an area of high pressure and light winds, but through the door ahead lies the opposite.  Most of the time I can just about make way, but when charging my batteries, I put the engine in gear to continue progress.  I don’t feel this is cheating, for one of the tenets is good seamanship, and if it is necessary for your campaign to power up occasionally, then so be it – after all none of us carry enough fuel to do it often.

I have moved to a main meal in the middle of the day, partly because sleep is easier on a lighter stomach – I have also stopped my adored espresso, anything I can do to aid slumber.  Does it work?  I don’t know, but I feel better about it for trying.  I ate my last steak at lunchtime, more or less on the level, whilst my back throbbed with complaint.  It is important I do nothing right now to exacerbate it, so I am pleased we are in light winds whilst I recover with the help of Iboprufen.  Of course, I have my Gabapentin bombs for very serious nerve pain and hope to Hell I won’t need them.

29/06.   A bright orange sunrise tried very hard to lighten the day, before being consumed in the all-encompassing grey murk.  I washed and changed clothes and made a list of things I should do for heavy weather, waiting just outside the doorway into the high-pressure area.  From then on, it’s going to be windy all the way to the finish.

Well, the wind has appeared from the SSE, treading lightly now but here nevertheless and it will gather up its forces for the skirmish, which will come soon.  From east of south to south is not so bad but SW is definitely not good and for now my aim is to head more south for now.  Each time I tack, I move house, putting my bedding on the other side of the boat and pulling up the lee cloth, which is to stop me falling out when it gets really bad.  I also washed my clothes as I felt this might be the last chance before the finish.  No – mustn’t think about the finish!

As the wind built, slowly at first, I set full sail and refuelled, as I have to run the engine sometimes twice a day and refuelling in rough weather is impossible.  Time to open Pete and Tracey Goss’ Atlantic package – yum yum!  I kept busy with tasks, doing anything to reduce anxiety and stress I could think off, resting reading not helped by the projected forecast for the days ahead.  It will be very good to finish.

As evening approached, the wind rose to 15-18 knots right bang on the nose naturally and the seas became shorter, hindering progress as each time one hit, progress was slowed but the next was lying in wait, punching just too soon for Pippin to gather her way again.  It helps at times like this, to think of the others in their smaller boats but most have the advantage of a. being certifiably insane and b. more experienced.  Well, I might qualify for a. – indeed my GP stated I was bonkers before this Challenge – but not really for b.  I handed the stay sail and reefed the main, more for comfort and dinner more nearly on the level than necessity.  When I say dinner, I usually mean something pretty basic, sometimes not even heated.

31/06.  An increasingly delighted Pippin seems to know better what to do than I, and I don’t mind being told.  I tweak Hercule perhaps 3 times a day and reef for comfort rather than speed, especially at night for I reckon good seamanship means as little deck work during the dark hours as possible.  I have seen no ships on radar now for 4 days.  I was woken at 0530 by the radar alarm, set off by rain storms.  It was fascinating watching rain storms on the radar and I was able to see exactly which one and when it would hit, bringing with it a deluge and stronger winds.  Fascinating but scary too.  The radar screen was splatted by blue blobs, like insects squashed against a car windscreen, as lightening lit up the sky and thunder bellowed all around.  I am actually ok in terrifying circumstances, as frankly there is nothing I can do about it so just get on with something else.   Worry doesn’t help; good old fashioned fear does, as it makes you alert and receptive to good ideas.  So, I switched on the steaming light to illuminate the fore sails and made a cuppa, as the Heavenly inferno bellowed and flashed.  The wind briefly swung east, before turning south again and blowing hard.

On though a blue sky sort of day, towards the frontal system up ahead, like a barrier between me and the Azores.  My plan remains to continue west, even with a little northing until the west winds starts in 36 hours or so.  Yes, the next 24 hours will be very lively and tough, at least for me if not my redoubtable steed, Pippin.  Angie’s weather information has been amazingly accurate and I found myself clock watching until the time of her next forecast, sent by SMS to my Garmin.  It was manner from Heaven, even if I increasingly did not like the message!  I always feel nervous waiting for bad weather, but never enough to put me off eating, or resting – I lie below quite comfortable almost regardless of the weather with my radar alarm on.  Indeed, I have been inside so much that I have seen no whales or dolphins – but I had my flying fish and now the shearwaters come, skimming low around the boat.  They are gorgeous, sleek, swift, economic masters of sea and sky.  Physically I am lean and mean but this is much more about can I do it?  Do I have the balls to do it? Do I have the skills to do it?  Well, I am not far off answering those 3 questions.

Glittering stars in a black sky, tearing hissing white foam ripped open the seas, and Pippin simply shouldered these new imposters aside – what’s all the fuss about?  Amazingly I slept a little – but here’s the funny thing.  In the lead up to something big I have, time and time again, done just that; slept ok.  Waves now smashed over the bows, which reared and crashed with artillery like explosions in the darkness, and eventually at 0330 I relented, went on deck and pulled in a reef as the wind was at a hard 25 knots (F6/7), gusting and we were heading right slap into it.  They say gentlemen never sail to windward – well all I can say is that particular breed of gentleman probably never leaves the Solent and verbiages about ocean sailing in the comfort of the yacht club bar.  To go anywhere, you have to.

Anyway, I wasn’t surprised I had to clamber out on deck, but I was a tad disappointed to have to leave the fecund warmth of my pit.  Pippin and Hercule responded by setting a better course and losing little if any speed – time for a cuppa.  At 0715, a squall hit taking the whole shooting match to a new level.  I was in my first storm of the trip as the winds hit 30+ knots, gusting over 40 (F8/9) and I made a complete balls of furling the madly flailing yankee, an action that resulted in the yankee wrapped tightly in its sheets (the ropes that lead from it back to the cockpit).  Up on the bowsprit, in the gloom of dawn, in 4 metre waves, the wind howling like a banshee, I stood and unfurled those sheets, falling frequently and being totally immersed as the bows plunged down and down at 30˚ into the coming wave; at least the water was quite warm.

I had now to get Pippin settled, I couldn’t just leave her, so I dropped the main, hauled out the stay sail and turned on the engine, taking Pippin gently forward right into the storm, about 45˚ from the wind.  Hercule seemed happy, Pippin seemed happy and apart from the noise and indescribable motion, she could have been leisurely skipping across a pond.  It was a relief to get back inside, strip off, put on dry clothes, brew a cuppa and try to convince myself this would be a short affair.

I had known I was coming as I’d seen it on radar, a big blue blob creeping up on me bringing with it its attendants of wind and waves, the whole quickly becoming a frenzy like some nature party on acid.  Waves hammered against the boat, deluging it entirely right over the wheelhouse and into the cockpit.  The motion is wicked – God knows how my fellow Jesters were faring in their bath tubs (I later discovered they heaved to until better times – I could keep Pippin plugging through it).  My tactics now are simply to keep trucking waiting for things to calm a little before going back on deck to finish my tasks.

(hours later) Well it’s still pretty horrendous 4 metre waves and winds in the 20s on the nose.  I am losing ground east but gaining south, my most comfortable option for I am completely and utterly exhausted.  But, that old determined spirit burns brightly, for I am chuffed with my efforts, my heroics on the fore deck/bow sprit!  Immodest, sure, true, Hell yes!  Thus fired up, I went back out to complete the untangling of sheets so that I was back with the option of being able to sail on either tack – we were back being ready for whatever came next.  Of course, a better sailor would have got in such a muddle in the first place, but then I am stuck with me and all my failings.  I haven’t found myself wanting when push comes to shove but God, I want this weather to FUCK OFF!  Maybe there will be another 8 hours or so of this.

It was a lumpy, bumpy crashing night with the wind still in the 20s, until early morning which broke under a canopy of cloud, with the promise of brighter from the west.  The seas are still huge and confused, like me, and my daily engine checks revealed that dreaded gunge from the fuel tank in the Racor filter shaken up by the frenzied movements of the boat.  I have to change it, so I wrote out a plan of what to do and all the tools I would need to complete the job, all the while Piuppin danced her merry jig.

A cuppa and I set to work, lying on the wheelhouse floor, head and hands inside the engine compartment and managed to complete the job.  The Yanmar engine, which had never yet complained, seemed happy with my efforts as it charged the batteries, so I clambered back outside and let fly a reef to get Pippin sailing comfortably, more in the right direction but still, naturally, hard on the wind the least comfortable, most exhausting angle of attack.  How I wished I was one of those gentlemen who don’t go to windward!  I even considered pulling in to San Miguel for a rest, but there wasn’t that much difference in distance and anyway, I would then have to set sail again for Terceira, the finish.

I decided to continue as is and review my options at 1200, the end of the day so to speak.  Meanwhile I decided on a wash (too rough for one, so antiseptic wipes all over the body) and shave before yet another cuppa.  The only leaks thus far were through the cabin top ventilators when waves covered the boat, and I wanted to seal them with butyl tape as I had the hawse pipe, most successfully.  But could I find it? No.

This wind is maddening, for you are largely condemned to going north or south, yet you want to go west.  Holding a long tack one way buys you but a few miles westing, the other, the same.  Grrr!  Of course the Portuguese 0.5 knot current has joined the opposition too.  My daily on deck checks revealed another rope faux pas, which I quickly resolved and I managed to get some diesel into the tank, not that I really needed to.

I think it is 02/07 Thank Heaven for isotonic drinks from my Army ration pack because you feel instantly better after having one – it’s really quite extraordinary and probably proves my body is desperate for those vitamins and minerals.

I am awaiting a wind change to the NNW, expected perhaps around midnight, a change I pray will allow me to hold a line more in the direction of the finish – a still very long line indeed.  In the night, my radar alarm alerted me and I watched a 1,500 ton coaster coming straight towards us. I called him on VHF – I switched on extra lights, grabbed my spotlight to illuminate the sails – nothing. Pippin was careering along flat out, throwing waves right over her and here I was about to take dramatic avoiding action as if I hadn’t enough on.

Pippin swung a few degrees and the coaster slipped past, perhaps 1/2 a mile off. Shit! That was almost curtains and the buggers never even saw me!!

Well we made it not 03/07, just, another lovely morning actually and although I am well rested I am very, very tired, woolly headed and bleary eyed.  I am increasingly uncertain of what course to set and this raises my anxiety levels to uncomfortable levels because its hard enough making ground to the finish in any direction.  My current plan is to continue SSW, the best I can do until the wind swings to WSW when I can tack north – but is that best?  I am besieged by doubt and texted Pete Goss, who agreed I should get north.  OK, I may already have had that idea, but to have someone like Pete agree was a real tonic; my tail was up, I had a plan, the best one available.  So, what of Pippin and Hercule?  Never better, just getting on with things, no fuss, no drama.

I kicked myself into action and knocked up a better breakfast than usual and a pint of hot sweet tea and set myself some tasks, nothing that would stress me, just being pleasantly busy.  A positive is that I can now see Pippin and Terceira on the chart plotter, so we must be closer!  I had tacked north and begun a helter skelter ride under full sail, glorious; I was really going somewhere at last.

A rip roaring afternoon in glorious sunshine, I left Pippin pressed under full sail in 15-18 knots and she took it well, smashing into the waves that threw water high up the yankee in protest completely covering the wheelhouse.  I will calm things a little before dark though, as I am done with fore deck heroics.

It looks like SSW for another 48 hours and then northerlies, which I hope and pray will be the case.  By evening 03/07, it was time to reef and again I ended in a tangled muddle, winds in the high 20s and big seas.  This was a situation when I looked at the problem and simply did not know what to do to resolve it, yet that I must do, because there is no one to help and the finish was miles off.  I sat strapped to the foredeck, waves in my face and looked at the problem – there was only one thing I could do to save the sail flogging itself to death so I got on with it.  2 hours later, I got back inside, a warm glow of achievement in my veins, spoiled by my getting in the muddle in the first place!

After the roughest night yet, when the boat literally reared and crashed down like a stone onto concrete, or slammed over on to her side throwing water over the entire boat a nasty grey dawn began to be born.  I decided to go for it and tacked down south and here I add a note from afterwards; dinking and diving around down south probably cost me a day, but that’s wisdom in hindsight.

My milk had exploded messily and foully in the fridge (not turned on) so I set to mopping it up.  Life was so much better on this tack, which I found strange as wind strength wasn’t so very different – I suspect it had to do with wave direction.  I am expecting winds to swing WSW around lunchtime, which should give me a much better heading to the finish.  A small shape on radar 4 miles off my starboard quarter falling very slowly behind might have been a Jester, but there was no response to my VHF call; if so I hope he is ok

We crabbed SW until after lunch when I pulled in a second reef and turned Pippin’s pretty bows north, which I will continue to do during what I am expecting to be another very blowy night.  I did so in the nick of time for the wind was back in the 20s, on the nose naturally, hoping to be in a good position for the coming north wind to drive be down towards the finish line something I can’t yet bear to think about.  What I find incredible is that despite the pasting we have had, there is not a squeak, rattle, flexing of hull or any other sign of stress in Pippin and all remains comfortably dry inside.  Proud skipper that I am, I KNOW this would not be true of shall I say, the average modern white blob.

05/07-05/07.  Not sure what happened to 04/07!  Another rip-roaring night with the WSW wind hitting F7 yet for some strange reason I slept quite well despite Pippin having it out with wind and waves on the nose, like a hammer on an anvil yet somehow smoother than before.  I will tack in daylight, nearer the time the wind shifts north and hopefully begin the very long run in for the finish.

I tacked in 22 knots (F6) on a grey morning in big seas with nothing going for it except that I am on the home straight.  With the wind now NW, in came its cousin squally showers, which coupled to the big seas made everything damply unpleasant; horrid.  Thoughts of mad schemes to get off the boat at any price flitted through my head, as they had once or twice before – bonkers, but it shows how little I am currently enjoying this.  I don’t want much right now, just a glimpse of the sun.  Not much to ask.

There are a little less than 150 miles to go, depending on what course I can manage, so say 35 hours which means maybe 1500 GMT tomorrow (06/07) and I will admit it cannot come soon enough.  Even as the weather slowly brightens, the seas throw an occasional wave right over the boat, wheelhouse and all.  Well maybe someone was listening for the sun shone from a blue sky and the wind began to play lightly from the east.  I am so tired I am hallucinating, the noises of the sea alongside the hull briefly translating into perfect speech, though I can never recall even momentarily afterwards what it said; its not an unpleasant experience and because I have experienced it before, not alarming at all. 

Its 1,200 miles to the Azores and yet because of the days of contrary winds, I will have sailed over 1,600 – that’s astonishing.  Pete Goss said the best sailor is the one who completes the journey in the shortest distance and that certainly will not be me!  I am going to allow myself the luxury of motor sailing the last tens of miles once I’ve passed the finish line if there isn’t a supportive wind.  I tried out Hastings, the electronic autopilot, only discover he didn’t want to know, so it will be down to me and Hercule to manage if we motor sail.  Well, I am motor sailing now and have paired Hastings with Hercule, each helping the other as it is a tight course we have to steer.  They seem to get on quite well!  Agatha would be proud!

As the last evening before the finish drew to a close, I rewarded myself with a small glass of wine with supper.  The gods had promised a nice easterly wind to blow us in and, predictably it is a west wind that has turned up blowing straight out from the distant harbour entrance!  After everything we have been through this is tough to bear.  A mizzle settled smugly in as if to say “we haven’t finished with you yet”.

I checked outside and found the boom swinging jauntily free, its controlling sheet unattached to anything but fresh air!  Bloody hell, I had to sort this quick for I cannot sail like this and a flailing boom is a killer.  I put on my crash helmet, plucked what courage I had left from the bottom of my barrel and clambered up onto the pilot house roof, strapping myself on.  The gods had been kind, for the fitting that should connect the sheet to the main sail cars was lying there, unbroken – the chance of that shackle and its pin to be still lying there by the time I got up must be miniscule.  Minutes later, I had secured it properly and clambered thankfully down into the cabin.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t undo my chin strap, so left the helmet on my head!

Again, I feel that sense of elation at another problem solved, though gnawing away at my confidence is the crud that still clearly lies in the fuel tank like artery clogging cholesterol – please God it doesn’t stop the engine.  I was now able to swing Pippin’s bow directly for Praia de Vittoria, 40 miles off, and Hercule the magnificent kept us on track whilst I began SMS correspondence with my Raymarine engineer and between us we tried this and that.  It was good of him to respond – I am most grateful to him. A wash and shave followed by Bacon Grill, Baked Beans and fried eggs was just the job and set me up nicely for working on the pilotage necessary for the final miles.  I always draw a map of the final approach, noting all communication details and things like lights.  OK its in the Almanac, but the simple act of drawing it commits it to memory plus I put my sketch in a waterproof folder kept next to me.  It always surprises me just how many little things go wrong and now the jamming cleat the holds the main sheet tight broke so I had to run the sheet to a winch.  Then as I furled the yankee, I ran out of furling line meaning I was left with enough sail flying to make the harbour manoeuvres particularly tricky as I was not going forward to dangle precariously once again on the bows – it must have stretched with all the hard work it had had to do.  Oh well, c’est la guerre.

I had sent Rony an SMS, so my reception party were ready albeit they thought I had meant BST, not GMT and paraded an hour early uncomfortable for them as a heavy mizzle had settled in as if to say here we are here comes John the man with a weather front all his own in his rucksack!

Smoke it said Pete Goss, burn diesel so I did though the land was completely invisible buried deep in the bosom of horrid rain until I was less than a mile off the harbour entrance where I dropped all sails as the Portuguese current dragged Pippin inexorably back out to sea!

Look out for the Guernsey flag said Rony and there it was being waved enthusiastically from a marina pontoon with big smiles all round, Rony, Katrin and 2 other Jesters who took total charge of taking and fastening my dock lines.  Graeme even stepped aboard and sorted my yankee in a trice as I collapsed in the cockpit quite unable to communicate, grinning like an idiot and muttering thank you, oh thank you.  Even as I sat with them all over a lovely meal so carefully prepared by Rony, I felt detached as if I was watching it from a distance – it was time to hit the sack.

The phone semi woke me and a jubilant Pete shouted congratulations, Tracy too from the back ground but I found I couldn’t speak, only make strange grunting sounds.  Bloody hell said Pete you’d better go back to sleep mate – speak later.

Well, this voyage has been a journey of discovery, one that took me, an unfit little old pensioner, way out of my comfort zone on numerous occasions.  I suppose the highlight of which I am proud is that my resolve never faltered and the more crap was being thrown at me, the better I seemed to perform and I can’t say fairer than that.  Amen.

I cannot close without a heart felt tribute to Christian, below, who crossed the start line and was never heard of again – until we got to Terceira where had long been waiting for us. To put his achievement into perspective, he sailied 150 miles less than I did! He is the sort of person, looking as he dose like Worsel Gummidge, who would be completely ignored by that gentleman who doesn’t sail to windward. Then quietly put to sea and sail the pants off anyone. Quiet, unassuming and stick thin, he reminds me yet again how great French sailors are.

Christian Gorlann the ‘winner’
Dinner with Don, Graeme, Christian, Rony & Katrin
The official presentations from the President’s representative

By ajay290