Underway Still and Again

We left Praia da Vitória on Ilha Terceira at about 1400 Wednesday the 23rd of April, 2024, and two days later (well, about a day and three-quarters) put the hook down off the island of Santa Maria, our final stop in the Azorean chain and not exactly a planned one.

Dena on the stick
Dena on the stick

After five months of (damn-near) static living aboard, we silently glided out of the marina and back into that one big ocean. It was incredible! It wasn’t kind, it wasn’t calm, it was fucking awesome!

The view aloft
Aloft at sea

The winds were a northeasterly 18-30 knots with a 2-3 meter chop across our port beam leaving the lee of Terceira, so a reef went in the mainsail just outside the harbor breakwaters with a full staysail and no yankee. The gusting got worse and the staysail got smaller, but that didn’t last long. We rocked and rolled…and I’m talking from sunset on!

Sunset one to Santa Maria
Heading into night

The full moon was devoured by a thick gray-shield of cumulus that never gave us a peak of our local satellite. An ambient sky-wide light kept it from feeling like a new-moon night and made it easy to get around the little we moved on that first night of watches.

Shhhh, it's quiet time...
A LoveBot adventure

That first overnight was hard but doable simply because we were both so stoked to be underway again. The cat not so much.

Underway with Dena and Beluga Greyfinger
Beluga Greyfinger on watch

As the sun rose, the winds abated and moved abaft so we furled the staysail and went mainsail alone for the rest of the adventure, clipping along at a respectable 3-5 knots.

A mighty broad reach
Reefed mainsail alone off São Miguel

Shortly after leaving Terceira, I (James) got a text from my brother informing me that my sister had had a heart attack and was in a third-world Texas hospital with a grim prognosis. Just after that text, our internet went dark. We decided to sail as close to the island of São Miguel (airport with the largest number of flights to the US) as possible to pick up some internet signal and were surprisingly successful. Signal alone isn’t enough when waiting on someone to write you back, so I (Dena) used it to access weather. A good thing, too, because the not-fun-but-not-necessarily-dangerous 3 meters at 12 seconds wave forecast had been changed to 4 meters at 9 seconds.

That’s no go. I mean, not on purpose. We’ll handle it when and if we see it, but there was another weather window where we could follow the easing of the waves south. It’s a little painful to let such good winds go to waste, but waves do more to define the difference between a good and a bad sailing day. We respect that.

Santa Maria was bolt-hole number one, but with protection only from the north. Since this storm system was northerly and the internet had yet to yield news about James’ sibling, we sailed on.

Ilha Sau Miguel off to port
Sao Miguel at a distance to port

Night two was sublime! The moon was bright, the sea state was kind, and the winds were light and steady for most of the night.

A Lovebot Sunset
LoveBot still on watch

We do a strange watch schedule overnights. From 2100 to 0900, we do two three-hour watches each. From 2100 to 2400, Dena marveled at a moon-driven ‘Verse that plowed through a stratus-covered sky and, from 2400 to 0300, I was absolutely hypnotized by a moon-lit mainsail that was so bright it was almost impossible to look at directly.

Lovebot at night
Sometimes the only thing to watch is LoveBot
Sunrise on Ilha Santa Maria, Pt.
Jesus-Beams off the port bow

On my second dog-watch, I had the pleasure of watching the sunrise on Ilha Santa Maria four times as we traveled up the volcanic incline of the island at the same pace as the sun rising. The spectacular jesus-beam dramatics were rudely interrupted by a sudden crack I felt in the tiller just after taking the helm away from LoveBot, our wind vane steering system. The tiller didn’t break away and leave us without steering control, but it did crack just under one of the tiller fasteners and we were still at least seven nautical miles away from the closest safe anchorage. That was about the time the wind kicked up to about force 6 with a potato-patch chop and banshees through the rig.

James at the stick
A bit freaked out but understandable

I pointed us to the anchorage and Dena took the helm at 0900 in a gusty fresh breeze. 

After five and a half months in a marina and an incredible sailing adventure lasting 43 hours and 3 minutes taking us 153 nautical miles, we dropped the hook in 8 meters of water on 60 meters of chain.

Hook Down on Earth
Our home

Safe and sound in the middle of the Atlantic Flow… underway still and again.


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