Monday, February 22, 2010

Atlantic Passage - Ville de Gaspe, Quebec to Praia da Vitoria

Easy Go departed Ville de Gaspe in the Province of Quebec, Canada, on June 15, 2007 at 0315 EDST (0715 UTC). The timing was perfect. We rode the katabatic wind falling from the mountains to sail away from the dock and out of the harbour break wall. Silently gliding out on the ghost of a breeze under a star filled sky started the trip in a dream like fashion.

We are travelling without a motor, having sold the old and very reliable Honda 9.9 outboard motor to the sailing club at the Marina de Jacques Cartier. Not having a motor makes us totally dependent on wind power although we do have a yuloh, a type of sculling oar, for getting in and out of tight places in calm conditions.

Five hours of good sailing and the sighting of a Minke whale indicated that the trip is off to a good start. The barometer, steady at 1021 mb and the promise of a southwest wind buoyed our spirits under the sunny and warm wind. Should know better than to take the wind gods for granted! The wind died as we approached the mouth of Baie de Gaspe and then changed to ESE, right on the nose. We beat for a few more hours as the wind strengthened then hove to anticipating that the wind would change during the night and we could make our way towards the Magdeleine Islands at the centre of the Gulf of St Lawrence. The winds diminished by morning, June 16, but stayed out of the SE.

Time to put Reggy to work. Reggy is short for Regulator as the French speaking people of Gaspe referred to it. Yes we decided that Reggy was going to be a it. The newly designed and built wind vane was not completely installed when we departed so we quickly finished the install and went on a port tack SW back towards the Baie de Chaleur and away from the shipping lanes of the St. Lawrence River. Reggy steered very well for his first night of work. Our work is now reduced to keeping watch for shipping and making sure we stay on course.

We beat into a SE wind for two days arriving off the mouth of the Baie de Chaleur in a heavy mist at 1200 UTC June 17 then changed to starboard tack towards the Magdeleine Islands. Plans to pass to the south of the Magdeleine Islands and head into the North Atlantic through the Cabot Straits between Newfoundland and Cape Breton Island has not been changed. We hope to make a quick visit to ports along the south coast of Newfoundland as we passed by.

The wind just died abruptly and we sat becalmed for the afternoon with a large swell still coming out of the SE. I always look here for the wind to come from the opposite direction when it changes suddenly. I was not surprised when the wind came back as a gale out of the NW. We reduced sail and let Reggy keep us on our planned course. There is no wind velocity indicator on Easy Go. We rely on indicators such as wave height and type. The wind stayed at thirty knots with higher gusts during the night. Waves were comfortable at about three metres. During one particularly strong period of wind I went on deck to help Reggy as he was being overwhelmed by the wind. The wind continued to rise all day, June 18, to about 40 knots and waves came up to four metres and then five meters as we approached the ominously named Isle de Corp Mort. The striking cliffs of the island rise out of a reef strewn sea. A bearing broke on Reggy and he was retired from service until repairs could be made.

Time for Plan B. Hand steering around Isle de Corp Mort and getting under the lee of the Magdeleine Islands became a priority. We had not slept well for a couple of days and the cold and exhaustion were starting to take its toll with continuous hand steering. At one point just as we passed the Isle de Corp Mort we almost struck a seal playing in the huge seas. He did not see us until the last moment and dove slapping his tail like a beaver. During the worst of the storm we had a visit from a porpoise just nosing about to see what we were up to. We had a large wave break and knock us on our beam ends as we came into shoaling water but after passing by this area the waves were diminished. We hoped to anchor at a sheltered sand beach on the south shore of the Magdeleine Islands but were unable to make the beach with the wind and seas as they were. We continued on until we were well under the lee of the Magdeleine Islands then took down the little scrap of sail that was on the forward mast and lay ahull for a couple of hours. Some boats lie ahull well and don´t complain. Easy Go is not one of them. We rolled and were thrown about quite a bit. Not getting any rest I went on deck and put up a couple of sail panels on the stern mast, sheeted them in tight and then tied the rudder to the lee to balance the boat. A miracle! The boat settled down instantly and slowly fell off to the east while meeting the wind and waves at a good angle. We were still being hit by large waves that shuddered the entire boat, but we no longer rolled side to side or were in danger of a rogue wave rolling us over. A flashing strobe marked our spot in the unlikely event that someone else was around. The lights of the Magdalen's to the north were comforting. Time to sleep.

Morning comes early this time of year. June 19 is close to the longest day of the year. Waking to a much diminished wind and wave action allowed us to set the injured Reggy and put him back in charge of steering. Implementing Plan B we decided to head south to Prince Edward Island to make repairs and adjustments to the way our stores were loaded before going any further. By afternoon Reggy was hurting a bit more so we retired him again and went back to hand steering. We hand steered most of the afternoon and came under the lee of East Point on PEI and headed west past Souris to a bay that our Sailing Directions suggested offered fair protection. Coasting along PEI is beautiful. The island has every shade of green. Summer had arrived here and so had we. The scenery is so different from the north end of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Farms and low land with no granite in sight. A few lobster pots to watch out for, however.

Reviewing the Sailing Directions and getting up early in the morning to catch sight of the fishing boats led us to believe we could get into the more protected anchorage at Bay Fortune, PEI. We put up the sails and caught a light anabatic breeze and the rising tide to move easily up the river to a good safe anchorage. We were guided by the local lobstermen on the dock as we glided silently past.

After coming to anchor in the calm and beautiful river we repaired the lazy jacks. Still don´t know exactly what the right configuration will be. Hope that they don´t snag the yard in floppy conditions as this has been a continuing problem and nuisance. Used the dinghy to go to shore and see if we could scrounge up some scrap plywood to make a new bearing for Reggy. This place is really clean. We couldn´t scrounge up anything at all. Spoke with some of the fishermen and one, Edwin Mckie took us to his home where we were given everything we needed for repairs, a few spares to boot, some wine and a few lobsters for dinner. Just love the support we get from local watermen. The masts had been trying to throw themselves out so we built some mast wedge retainer blocks and got them all in place. No more worry about the masts launching themselves off the boat when a large wave gives us a kick.

We stayed in Bay Fortune until June 25 and after finishing the repairs we headed out into the local area to check out the surroundings. Locals were offering us rides and recommendations on where to go and more importantly, where not to go. Everyone was so friendly and helpful.

On the morning of June 25 we had a light outgoing breeze and the tide turned early after sunrise so it was time to leave again. Up anchor and underway at 0815 UTC and headed out of the harbour. The lobstermen had been out for some time and we had the opportunity to talk with a few as we sailed through the fleet as they pulled their pots. The end of the season was coming soon so they were in a hurry to get all they could.

The sailing across the east end of Northumberland Strait and into St. Georges Bay was fast and just about as perfect sailing as one can have. Boat speed was sometimes over 7 knots and no reefs in the sails. We made really good time until about 1700 UTC when the wind died completely just one mile short of the Canso Tidal Lock. A little sculling and working the light winds got us to the lock and through about 0100 UTC.

The Canso lock and causeway are recent impediments to navigation through the Strait of Canso. The lock master met us at the dock on the approach to the lock and handled our lines. As he physically towed us through the lock we were provided a full commentary and history of the lock and causeway along with recommendations on where to stop in the next town, Port Hawkesbury. About half a dozen motorless boats, like us, arrive at the lock every year. The regulations of the lock state that all watercraft must be passed through regardless of their propulsion. This is distinctly different than many other locks we have gone through that simply won´t deal with motorless boats. Cast out of the lock we got sails up quickly and started to tack towards Port Hawkesbury. Again the wind died and we drifted along in the current eddy by the causeway for the night keeping an eye open for any freighters that might come along. The night was uneventful and with the sun came a little breeze that allowed us to tack to Port Hawksbury and get into a dock at the local yacht club. We were able, and encouraged to sail right up to the dock where the dock hands took our mooring lines and tied us up with out a problem. They are used to motorless sailboats and know how to handle them at the dock. Arrived at June 26 1300 UTC.

We went to bed and caught up on our sleep waking to a strong southerly breeze. Needed more lines on the dock to keep us safe. The docks here, as in many marinas are not long enough to accommodate a 34 foot (10.5 metre) boat. One needs to be creative in how they tie!

We spent the next couple of days exploring Port Hawkesbury and getting a little supplemental shopping done. We also bought a chart for the Canso Strait. We had run off our detail charts on the way south to Prince Edward Island and had only a very large scale chart to navigate by. Much relieved to have something with more detail to see us out into the Atlantic.

June 29 was the start of the Canada Day weekend celebrations and just off the yacht club a Canadian Coast Guard Cormorant helicopter provided an hour of great entertainment. They did a life saving demo, dropping one of the divers into the water then coming back to rescue him.

After drinking some beer and enjoying the Canada Day celebrations the weather window looked promising for July 1 and we were away from the dock under sail at 1045 UTC. The light NW winds pushed us down the straits and towards the Atlantic. Underway at last. Later in the day the winds did a 180 degree change to the SE and came up. Headed into West Arachat harbour to anchor for the night and wait for the winds to change to a more favourable direction to get us offshore. The anchorage was very protected and begged us to stay for a while and check the area out more. Local resident Troy came to Easy Go on his electric powered PWC and visited for a while. He came back later in the evening with lobster, shrimp and halibut. Another great send off. At dark we had a fantastic fireworks display from the town of Arachat, just one mile to the east. Anchored in the centre of the harbour it seemed as though the display was just for us.

We were up early, July 2 to check out the weather conditions. Very light winds and clear. Sculled out of the harbour to catch the west wind. The sails were up and when we were almost to the first of the ripples the sails filled and we were off tacking our way back out to Chebucto Bay. We crossed the bay to Cape Canso where the fickle winds caught up with us again. The wind died and the current pushed the boat toward the shoals around the cape. Its always a good idea to give capes a very wide berth as currents and changeable winds have caught us before. The wind came back from the south and we crossed to the north side of the bay and headed towards the Bra d´Or Lakes as the start remained slow. The wind picked up late in the day from the SW so we headed to sea with Reggy in control. The wind died again at 2130 and we took down the sails and drifted. This is going to be a slow crossing by all indications. Into our third day and still not really underway. July 3, 0200 and the wind picked up from the SW so we put the sails back up and had good sailing until 0900 when the wind gods indicated that we had enough and everything went calm again. The routine of taking down the sails and bracing the sail bundles is becoming routine. The residual swell causes the sails and yards to swing if we don´t take the time to do this. We played with the gusts all day with the sails up and down in fluky winds. The wind finally filled in from the SW at 1600 at 10 kts and finally on a beam reach, all sails up in the sunshine. Away we go again! Life is good.

The wind died during the night for a couple of hours then came back again from the SW at 10kts then rose to 20 kts on the afternoon of July 4. Now the sailing is getting better. A fin whale was surprised to see us as we passed the "Gully", a marine reserve to the west of Sable Island. The whale splashed, dove and seemed irritated by our presence. We maintained a steady course and the whale eventually dove and did not come back to visit. A large pod of dolphins came during the night, vocalizing and bow riding during the night. It is always pleasurable when these friendly creatures drop in for a visit. We let off the wind a bit heading more east as the seas grew larger and breaking. By 1800 the wind subsided to 15 kts and the seas had subsided enough to go back to 160 degrees magnetic, our desired course. July 5 and the winds are rising again from the south, making it difficult to make our way south with 20 kts of wind virtually on the nose. Wear and tear are starting to show some of the weakness in the rig. Hove to at 1500 to retie some knots in the lashings and parrels on the head sail. Decided to have supper while we were hove to. Much calmer this way. We raised the sail and made our way almost due east until dark. We´re between Sable Island and the Grand Banks. I don´t want to experience either of these places if the weather continues to get worse. Hove to at dark and the winds continued to rise during the night. Good plan to heave to before it got wilder. The night was noisy with waves crashing into the boat. This is the strongest weather Easy Go has experienced and is handling it without problem.

July 6 and the winds dropped to 20 to 25 knts from the south. We tried to get as much southing in as we could but it is difficult in these seas and wind. July 7 brought more of the same strong southerly winds. Hove to until 1400 then put up two panels on each sail to run just below the wind as it changed to the SW. Doused the main sail for the night and ran at 4 knots on two panels of the front sail. The morning of July 8 we put two panels of the main sail up and went on a beam reach at 113 degrees True. A cold front came through during the night and we hove to again. The winds were strongest yet and came from the SW to W to NW as the low passed over. July 9 the winds were more reasonable from the SW and we had a great day of sailing until the wind died at 0200 on July 10. This is getting very repetitious. The wind came from the east at 0900 and we headed due south to try and get off the track of the lows that seemed to be rolling over the area one after the other. We have dropped to 42 05 N, 52 20W. The wind died for 6 hours during the night. Took down the sails and tightened up the lazy jacks and a few of the knots on the battens. The rig has been taking a beating with the variable winds and passages of the lows. July 11 and the winds are back from the west at last. The fog is heavy this morning and we are still in the ice berg zone. A steady watch is kept on deck as the sails are up and pulling well at 150 degrees True Good fast sailing in F5 conditions and boat speed to 6 kts. This is what we are looking for as the fog lifted later in the morning. We entered the Gulf Stream about 1500. The air and water temperatures shot up considerably to 24 C. Finally we have warm water. We are near to where the Titanic sank and almost out of the ice berg zone. We have not seen any bergs or indications. This is a year of low ice activity and we are glad for it. Having sailed over the wreck of the Empress of Ireland near Rimouski, Quebec and now close to the remains of the Titanic induces time for reflection and thinking of all the lives that were lost in both of these sinkings. On July 12 we changed directions to SE to intersect 40 degrees latitude and continue east towards the Azores. The winds are favourable and the air temperature has now climbed to 28 C. The water is the beautiful colour that we remember from our last passage in the Gulf Stream. Our spirits have risen enough that we started fishing, but nothing for the pan today. We had continuous sailing through the night, something that has been rare so far, and arrived at 40 degrees latitude on the morning of July 13 and changed course to due east with a nice wind on the starboard quarter. A pod of killer whales, more than 10, came by today to check us out. We didn´t interest them and they passed us by and continued determinedly on their way.

Sailing seems to be getting better and steadier. July 14 brought more good sailing although we are not getting the 100 miles a day we had planned on. Getting close to it though and our pale skins are starting to darken up. Indeed I´m getting sunburned on the arms and need to cover up. July 15 and everything is pretty much the same as yesterday although the wind is up a touch and the seas are rougher and breaking. We are making good speed through the water, but our distance over bottom is not spectacular. Put some bungee cords on Reggy to dampen the oversteering we are starting to have. The wind is more from the stern and the waves are causing a few difficulties to sail due east. The wind went to the north overnight and the morning of July 16 had us further south than we had planned. But not to worry. Headed back north towards 40 degrees. The wind died later in the day and our lack of progress became apparent. We are in a large eddy! Now drifting west and eventually north at up to 2 kts. Global climate change is becoming more apparent on this trip. Losing hard earned miles today. Had the sails back up at 1030 on July 17 and with the winds from the NW to N we are underway again heading due east. We had a few showers overnight but nothing serious. Four dorados appeared in the wake at 1330. Put out a line but they were not interested in biting and eventually left us. Guess we´re just not fast enough for them. Looking down at them in the wake gave a great view of these beautiful and powerful fish as they rode along with us.

July 18 was another day of light winds from the NW but we are making good easting with the wind on the quarter. The wind rose a little after the moon set. July 19 we gybed to the south reaching 40 degrees 05 minutes north and then went back to a port gybe. We passed a structure floating today that appeared to be a house or barn of some type. Glad we didn´t run into it in the night. Always lots of garbage around us. Most of the garbage has some component of plastic and is originating from North America. July 20 to 22 was light winds with us gybing and making the best of what we could get. We´re making about 80 to 90 miles a day so it is really not all that bad. During the evening we reached our waypoint to head south to Flores and went on a new bearing to head us in that direction. The wind is over the starboard quarter and the seas are small, only about a metre or so. We are sailing SE and making a good time of it at 5 knots or better. July 24, Flores is is sight. We´ve been seeing the clouds above the island since daybreak and the mountains show themselves at noon. We approached the anchorage to Lajes das Flores three times to make sure we could get where we wanted to be. On the third attempt we put the anchor down in forty feet of water at the outer edge of the harbour. 1800 hours and all is secure. Tonight we don´t keep watch. Easy Go is secure on her tether after bringing us more than half way across the Atlantic.

July 25 we tour the town, send emails and go out for dinner and a few beer. We are checked in by Customs and Immigration at the bar where we have stopped for dinner. It is nice to be back in a more laid back part of the world. We stayed in Flores with boats coming and going, although most are going. The season is ending and people have places to be. Flores is very hard to leave however. The magic of its landscape and people will be missed.

The winds are light and on August 11 we get a little breeze and up the anchor at 1320 sailed out for Praia da Vitoriai with Reggy in control once again. A beautiful night sail with a short lived calm from 2145 until 2330. We averaged 5.7 knots and made 96 miles in 24 hours towards the islands of Faial and Pico. We sail into the channel between Pico and Sao Jorge and are almost out the east end when the wind dies. We spend the entire night drifting in the channel and rolling in the slop. The wind is very light in the morning and we work our way slowly east in the wind shadow of Pico and the whirlpool currents that swing us around a couple of times before we break out back into the Atlantic beyond the island of Sao Jorge. At 1830 the winds pick up from the SW at F5-6. We shorten sail as we don´t want to arrive too early. Making only 3 knots we roll our way to Ihla Terceira and at day break close the shore for a scenic ride up the coast. At 0700 we are off the harbour entrance to Praia da Vitoria. Lots of heavy equipment and cranes on the moles rebuilding the storm damage to the moles. We raise a little sail to tack into the harbour in the N to NW winds. Takes a couple of tries to get the angles right and we are in, in only two tacks. Just about up the yacht harbour and the anchor is down at 1000. A little rest and a row in to clear in with Customs and Immigration. August 15 and we are visiting the town and surrounding area. August 18 and the winds are still strong from the east making the anchorage very rough. We get a tow into the marina and take a dock to wait out the wind. The wind out waits us and blows steady from the east to southeast for the next two months. Some friends leave for mainland Portugal and take three weeks of beating to windward to cover the first 700 miles. Time to stop and take a long term berth for the winter. Praia is home until spring.

NOTE: When we arrived at Flores we were checked in by the local Police. There is no Customs and Immigration office here so they simply take down details. The Police do not have a stamp for passports and indicated that we didn't need one. When we arrived at Praia da Vitoria on Terceira we were checked in by the Marina Staff and it was indicated that we did not need to see Customs and Immigration so again didn't get the stamps for the passports. This created a problem further on when we applied for visa extentions. Not being from the EU we did need stamps in the passports and renewing our visas was a little challenging and took a few days to get through the hoops created by this oversight. In the future we will ensure that we get stamps. Even further along in Morocco, this oversight became a problem again when officials noticed the lack of an entry stamp and only an exit stamp and we had to explain our situation again .

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