The AZAB Race leg one
We left the marina, filled with excitement and apprehension and made our way to the exclusion zone which would be the starting area, this time there would be four separate class starts, we would be on the second one. We looked up to Pendenis Point, it was crowded with spectators, you could here the commentary over the PA system, BANG the first class were underway, our turn now, on the final approach to the line we got caught out on port tack and didn’t get as good a start as we would have liked but soon pulled it back and carved our way through the fleet, by the second turning mark we were in second place and soon settled in to a rhythm, beating our way towards the Lizard, our last sight of land until our arrival in Porta Delgarda, San Miguel, the Azores, hopefully in just over a weeks time.
As we left the Lizard we soon lost sight of the other yachts as the fog started to close in but even worse Emma started to feel sick (unknown to us at the time it was not seasickness but she had somehow picked up a bug) and was now being violently sick and had no alternative but to lay in her bunk, bucket in arms and manage the best she could on her own (sorry to paint such a graphic picture but that is how it was!) With the auto pilot playing up, Pete helmed all the time only briefly leaving the helm to replenish Emma’s water supply and make sure she was still breathing!
After a day the fog dispersed and the wind and the sea increased, Pete spotted another yacht, same course as us and way off in the distance, this was a welcome distraction and took the focus off feeling so tired and diverted his concentration onto catching it up a task which he eventually achieved. He had now been on the helm for 48 hrs and was absolutely exhausted, we had covered 301miles but with his focal point achieved had started making bad decisions, by this time Emma was up in the cockpit but still being sick and the discussion got round that’ under the circumstances, it may be the best thing to turn back and retire’, this was just the stimulus that Emma needed, her dogged determination shone through as she took charge and ordered Pete off watch and with a vision of Emma with the helm in one hand and retching over the side, he fell to sleep!
We start to get into our one hour watch system and after a few watch changes we feel the benefit of some quality rest, with only the frequent visits by pods of dolphins breaking this routine, we pole out the asymmetric spinnaker and we really start to fly, for the next few days we work extremely hard, kite up, kite down, reef in, reef out, they are grey, dark days and at night we hurtle in total and absolute darkness and with the growing seas keeping a good course becomes more difficult.
The VHF is buzzing with talk of a severe gale brewing, the barometer is falling fast and what happens next is best described by Emma’s own diary.
Friday 8th June 0730
Put on engine to charge batteries. 26 knots of true wind, 7.7 knots boat speed. Barometer 994mbs. Decide to put up kite. This does not go well from the outset, as we hoist, the sheet comes loose and starts flailing around wildly. We try to catch it but it keeps getting away, one minute at the stern of the boat, the next at the bow. I am trying to helm without jybing and catch the thing. Pete is chasing it from bow to stern, trying not to get whipped in the process. He eventually catches it only to have it whipped out of his hand as a gust comes through. Get it caught and sorted and the kite set, we start flying. I am a gibbering wreck, and desperately want to blow it, but Pete assures me we are ok now we are set, our speed has shot up. I decide to go to the loo, bad move as I have just got my oilies and life jacket off when Pete screams that we have to blow the kite NOW. Grab life jacket as it is one of our rules not to be on deck without one and fly upstairs. The sea has suddenly built and we have 40 knots of true wind. As I get on deck with have a massive broach, which Pete manages to steer us out of and fortunately the kite doesn’t wrap. I take over the helm and Pete goes forward to trip it, the rope has pulled tight in the jaws of the spinnaker pole and it takes a few seconds to release it, but suddenly it goes, we get the kite down and shoved in the cabin without getting it wet. Result.
11.00 hrs. Speed over ground 10 knots, wind 34 knots true, barometer 990 mbs. Getting cloudy now and a little cooler, the seas are quite big and we are flying along with only the main up. We are surfing down the waves, fantastic. We have the odd gust of 50 knots.
13.00 hrs. Speed over ground 10.2 knots, wind 45 knots true, barometer 984 mbs. We battle to put 2 reefs in the main, we are amazed to be able to reef going down wind, but we can, which is fab as it would be grim having to turn into the wind and waves to do it. We are now in a severe gale. Pete helms all the time.
19.30 hrs. Speed over ground 7.1 knots. Seemed to have weathered the storm. Saw 50 knots of wind with a 6 metre swell, quite interesting. Merlin, a Prima 38, a single handed boat is causing concern and Growler (a Westerley GK34) goes back to help. They transfer one of them onto Merlin, and then when they have finished helping him got back to Growler. We spoke to the guys and they said it was fairly horrendous.
Saturday1.30 hrs. Speed over ground 6.9 knots, wind 31 knots true, barometer 894 mbs. After a brief respite the wind and waves build again, Pete and I resort to Red Bull. I reluctantly took over the helm as Pete is dead on his feet. It is so dark you cannot see the front of the boat or the waves, just hear them as they break around you and roar as you catch one and surf it. Fortunately we have caught up a boat in front, they are probably about 3 miles ahead and we follow their stern light. They are sailing a good course, so it makes my job on the helm easier than trying to steer by instruments alone. After Pete has had a rest we take turns on the helm doing one hours shifts.
09.00 hrs. Speed over ground 8 knots, barometer 994 mbs, wind 28 knots true. The gale has gone and the wind gone round a little, so we are now on a blast reach. The sea has calmed a bit, it seems to build and calm very quickly. The sun is out and the sky is blue. Ruffian is screaming along. Her whole hull shuddering with the speed she is going. Our top speed last night in the gale was 14.5 knots which Pete achieved. We are nearly submarining we are going so fast, water keeps flying over the boat, we are both soaked and go through all our oilies to keep dry. This is sailing at its best!! Saw a flying fish it was so turquoise in the sun.
22.00 hrs. Raining and cold now, flotation suits on and hot water bottles down our front to keep us warm. Barometer up to 998 mbs. Ruffian still flying.
Sunday 01.44 hrs. Wind dropping, and so is speed, down to 5.7 knots. Have got so used to the big speed this seems slow. We see a lighthouse ahead Sao Miguel.
09.00 hrs. At the corner of Sao Miguel the wind dies, hoist the Portugese Ensign and the wind picks up. (Good trick to remember!) The wind is right on the nose. Start short tacking. Sea lumpy so waves keep stopping us, very frustrating.
13.00 hrs. Put in a long clearing tack. Wind up again. Reef main and genoa. Wind dies a little, shake out reefs, wind picks up again, reef in, dies a bit reef out, this getting boring, but nearly there. We try the autopilot and both hike out, but it trips and after a ducking we scramble back on board, so I hike out while Pete helms. Trying to get every last ounce of speed.
14 hrs.26.14 secs. We crossed the finish line and are escorted in. We tie alongside the Customs House and scan the harbour for other boats in our class, but there are none, we are the first boat to finish in our class and take first place on the outward leg.
With the hard work of the first leg over we sit with an inward glow of contentment and a smug grin on our faces as we watch other crews finish, chuffed with our achievement we moor up next to ROC and take the lines of second placed Stardancer before we wander up to the yacht club bar to sample the legendary hospitality of the Azorean people, the bar remained open for 24hrs a day for the whole of our stay, if that isn’t hospitality, I don’t know what is!
In addition the town of Porto Del Garda laid on sightseeing trips around the town and to the East of the island to visit the Green Lake, the volcano and hot springs. We visited a magnificent hotel set in fabulous gardens, where we had a huge meal which had been cooked in the hot steam, spewing from the ground, and on the way back we had a guided tour of a tea plantation, before once again returning to the marina and quite naturally the bar!
After a fairly quick passage we had nine days of R&R to relax and enjoy the company of the other crews and listened to their experiences of their race, we heard tales of great heroic feats of seamanship and of unselfish attempts to give assistance to others.
Other treats were the reception dinner, a five course feast, washed down with large quantities of wine and the presentation evening in the yacht club where we were entertained by a local band and presented with commemorative plaques, along with trophies for the first leg, not to mention the mystic act of levitation presented by John and Alex Head of Quaker Girl fame! One thing that sticks in my mind is the courteousness on the roads of the local drivers who will stop to let you cross, if you even look as if you want to cross, let alone hover with your foot over the curb!
All good things must come to an end though, we had made lots of new friends, enjoyed their company and conversation but time had slipped by, it was time to replenish food supplies and prepare for the return leg, talk had turned to weather forecasts, tidal currents and would we exit north or south of the Island?. There are lots of options and success would depend on the right strategy
There was one last act which brought a tear of pride to our eyes. On the day before the restart, the last boat to arrive was greeted by a spontaneous round of applause and a cheer from all the competitors who had gathered on the quay side to welcome them in, yes they were the last boat in, but that mattered not, they had battled head winds and had spent longer at sea than others but they were just as much a part of this race as the first one there. The boats name….. Late Arrival !