What Happened to Summer?
Approaching Isle of Wight
After a couple nice days in Brighton between Legs 4 & 5, it started blowing, nearly constantly out of the west and often near gale force with occasional rain as one front after another pounded the English coast.
On Thursday, when our Leg 5 crew arrived, there thankfully was a break in the weather. We didn’t need any prompting to set sail ASAP to the west, towards Falmouth where we would wait for weather to head to Spain. Quickly our overall trip plan went out the window with the continuous strong headwinds. We took shelter the first night anchored in the lee of the Isle of Wight at Whitecliff Bay though would have loved to tie up in Cowes Harbour but it was the middle of Cowes Race Week with nearly 1,000 boats competing in daily yacht races.
We were underway before dawn Friday morning unsure of our exact destination but knowing we wanted to get as far west as possible before the next substantial front with predicted gale force headwinds (westerlies) came roaring up the English Channel.
By 2030, after a long wet, wild and bouncy day motorsailing we anchored off the beach at the summer town of Torquay, a place none of us had visited before. There was a carnival in full swing on the beach, complete with a hot air balloon and lots of rides so we tried to anchor far enough off the beach to keep the noise to a dull roar.
Saturday morning everyone went for a swim in the bay after breakfast (it really wasn’t THAT cold!) and just as we were raising anchor to practice Lifesling overboard rescue, the heavens opened and the winds really piped up. We chickened out on the Lifesling and moved into Torquay Marina, (www.torquaymarina.co.uk) being assigned the only open slip in the place. The rest of the day it rained and blew, so what a perfect time to study marine weather and explore the waterfront.
It was still blowing Sunday morning, so after a leisurely start, we sailed in 20-25 knot winds 13 miles around the corner to Dartmouth, (www.discoverdartmouth.com, www.dartharbour.org), another port we knew nothing about. Wow, what an attractive setting – a river inlet (the River Dart) with both shores lined with picturesque historic homes, castles, and buildings. The town marina and floats were packed with boats rafted several deep but we found a berth in the new swanky Dart Marina a very short wander from town wharf and center.
Our first order of the day was to repair the foot of the genoa which had parted fabric along the foot. Fortunately Bob spotted the rip before it had gone more than a few inches, and in short order we had the sail down, stuffed partly through the salon hatch and repaired on the machine. We all enjoyed exploring town and a couple of our guys made it as far as the Dartmouth Castle, the 1480’s fort guarding the channel entrance. Amanda and I found a little French Patisserie run by two gorgeous French girls with delectable pastries, checked out the several marine shops, and enjoyed walking among the historic houses and cottages perched along the river hillside.
View across the river
Houses along the river
Paul sewing the headsail repair
Monday we got a 0500 start, motoring through the moored yachts as first light crept up the hillside. By 1530 we arrived at the entrance of Falmouth Harbour where we had to carefully thread our way through the Falmouth Week Races. Hundreds of boats of all sizes and shapes were on the race course and many classic 80’-200’ sailing yachts were anchored or moored at Pendennis Yacht Harbour. The town docks were so jammed it was hard to see them for all the boats rafted out, but I had earlier emailed Falmouth Marina (www.premiermarinas.com) where we had spent a night in 2001 and they said they would hold their one remaining berth for us.
We had considered anchoring out off town but with gale force winds forecasted and tons of boats anchored in the few places not filled with permanent moorings the marina berth seemed a good idea. Our crew enjoyed the hot showers and convenient access to town so much that when we mentioned anchoring out the second night they said they had all agreed to chip in to cover the second nights’ moorage cost which we gratefully declined. Mentioning moorage costs, these south coast harbours were among the most expensive we’ve seen worldwide, with Torquay Marina was in first place with a charge of 66 British pounds (US $132) for one night, without electricity, and Dart marina was a close second.
However, we were pleased to be tied up securely in Falmouth when another powerful cold front came roaring through Tuesday and Wednesday, with winds to 33 kts at the very protected marina. Just outside the harbor entrance the winds were Force 8 to severe gale Force 9. Ashore the newspaper reported it had been the coldest and wettest (nearly three times normal rainfall) July on record, with August set to be another record breaker. The jet stream was in its winter (more southerly) position, directing one low after another into the English Channel.
Tuesday, after covering our Anchoring Worldwide class and splicing, two lots of us rented cars and took off to explore the Cornwall coast. Lee, Henry and Kevin drove to Eden Project Biosphere and Lands End while Amanda and I drove across the peninsula to the wild west coast where we found a well-organized cliff walking trail and explored the jam-packed little seaside tourist town of St. Ives. A bonus for us was finding a Tesco supermarket (our favorite in the UK) where we could stock up on more provisions for our passage to Spain and beyond.
Wednesday we topped up fuel with plans to anchor out but even stronger gusts made us think twice, so we spent yet a third night on the dock.
When we spotted a small break between the seemingly endless progression of lows and fronts for Thursday (yesterday) we decided to head to sea knowing we might face one or possibly two frontal passages at sea, with wind gusts to 45 knots predicted. Commanders Weather recommended waiting nearly a week (this wouldn’t have allowed us to reach Lisbon by the scheduled end of Leg 5) for a possibly longer weather window, but with no guarantees it would be any better.
It was a 0500 departure for the 450 mile passage across the English Channel and Bay of Biscay to La Coruna, Spain. The winds were light, as predicted, and the seas had died down considerably from the previous day.
Crew splicing 3-strand
A quiet morning departure from Falmouth
To: John Neal and "Mahina Tiarre III"
From: Commanders' Weather Corp, tel 603-882-6789
Route: Falmouth to Lisbon
Departure: 1800 UTC Wednesday, Aug 13, 2008
Prepared: 1400 UTC Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Summary: very active/stormy pattern, but looks better to leave tonight, which will get you south quicker for slightly better conditions with the next frontal system!!
1) For this Wed PM, upper trough and surface low pressure resides to the N and NE into the UK and North Sea, and
2) But as this storm system exits to the E-NE, look for lighter conditions during tonight into Thu.
3) If leaving tonight, look for the SW wind to diminish down to the teens, and possible to near 10 kts during Thu.
a) wind trends left into S-SW overnight
4) A weak front/trough advances to the E and SE during Thu.
5) Behind this front/trough, wind shifts into the W to NW, and increases into the teens to 20 kts for late Thu into Thu night.
a) should be able to make good time to the S or S-SW
6) High pressure shifts E across the southern Bay of Biscay on Fri, while the next storm system organizes north of the Azores.
7) As this high shifts east, look for the NW to W-NW winds to shift into the SW and more on the nose
a) wind speeds near 20 kts or into lower 20s
8) Stronger cold front off the low advances east, shifts winds into the S-SW to S during Fri night and will be quite gusty/squally
a) potential for winds into the 30s for a time and
b) watch out for gusts to 40-45 kts near the front
c) would try to get west to get thru the front quicker!!
9) Cold front pushes thru around 0300-0600 utc Sat with wind shifting into SW behind it.
10) With low pressure remaining to the north, look for mainly a SW flow thru rest of Sat
a) wind speeds into 20s
11) Another 2nd cold front weakens as it advances SE and most likely pushes thru sometime during Sun AM
a) look for lighter W to NW winds behind this front, but
b) the NW wind doesn't last and shifts back into SW by Sun PM,
c) so look for a SW flow near Cape Finistere!
12) Another low heads E into Bay of Biscay on Mon, while associated cold front moves to the SE
13) will be a SW flow ahead of this front thru Mon, then shifts into the NW to N behind the front later Mon night or on Tue.
a) watch out for much stronger N winds behind the front, possible into 30s
14) Overall, the pattern is active/stormy and there is likely to be changes in forecast
1) With leaving tonight, would head S-SW or SW to off Ouessant, then should have good time to continue more S later Thu into Fri
2) As wind shift into SW and S ahead of the next front, try to get some west, so that you can get thru the front as quicker as possible
a) will also need to get westing to set up for more SW winds down to Finistere.
3) Estimated positions listed below
Wind directions are TRUE, wind speed in kts, and time is UTC
Wed, August 13
18: 240-260/ 17-25 depart Falmouth
Weather�variable to mostly cloudy, chance for a period of rain or showers
Seas up to 10 ft offshore, but subsiding overnight � mainly W-NW swell
Thu, August 14
12: bcmg 280-310/6-12 near 49N/6W
18: 300-320/13-18 off Ouessant
Weather�AM lower clouds, possible rain/showers and drizzle, then partial clearing
Seas down to 4-6 ft, W-NW swell
Fri, Aug 15
12: 230-260/15-22 near 46 30N/7W
Weather�variable lower clouds with increasing chance for rain and squally conditions later in day into night. Watch out for gusts to 40-45 kts at night
Seas 4-6 ft, but building at night
Sat, Aug 16 � front moving W to E
00: 170-200/22-35, gust/squall to 40-45
06: bcmg 230-250/15-22 behind cold front
12: 230-260/18-26 near 45 30N/8 45W
Weather�Scattered showers and a few squalls in the AM then cloudy to partly cloudy, but possible a squally shower with front at night
Seas up to 7-10 ft, wind wave chop with W-SW swell
Sun, Aug 17 � 2nd front moves SE
00: 250-280/ 16-22,
06: 300-330/ 10-15 behind 2nd front
12: 230-250/ 15-22 off Cape Finistere
18: 190-220/ 22-35
Weather�Variable cloudy morning then increasing clouds. Chance of showers/squalls at night
Seas near 10 ft, wind wave chop with W or W-NW swell
Forecast more uncertain
Mon, Aug 18 � another 3rd front advances SE
00: 210-230/24-32, squally
12: 210-240/12-22 near 41N/9 40W
Weather�Variable clouds with chance for squally showers
Seas 6-9 ft, NW swell
Tue, Aug 19
12: 350-010/22-35 close to Lisbon
Seas up to 10-14 ft, rougher chop with N-NW swell
Kind regards, Chris Wasserback
Commanders Weather Corp.
August 15, 2008, 1130 hrs, 47.12 N, 007.58 W, Log: 118,812 miles
Motorsailing SW at 7kts in WSW 12kt winds, a little sun poking through the clouds!
Baro: 1018.3, Cabin Temp: 71F , cockpit 67F
We have been motorsailing constanly, trying to get past Ushant, the shallow and notorious western tip of France and into deeper water before the powerful front we’ve been tracking catches up with us. We covered nearly 200 miles in the first 24 hours and are now past the half-way point. This is an exceptionally patient crew, never complaining about being storm bound in port or having to motorsail and always cheerful.
The previously WNW winds have come around to nearly on the bow, and it is starting to get seriously choppy. Our estimate of when the frontal passage should occur based on the weatherfax charts, Commanders Weather forecast and GRIB files is between midnight tonight and 0300 tomorrow. We expect headwinds of 30 knots, gusting 45, so we may set the storm trysail and staysail before dark tonight with a plan to head west, toward the front to lessen our exposure time once we can no longer maintain our SSW course.
August 16, 2008, 1730 hrs, 44.48 N, 008.11 W, Log: 118,974 miles
Close hauled at 7kts in WSW 16kt winds, a little sun poking through the clouds!
Baro: 1007.9, Cabin Temp: 75F , cockpit 69F
Wow! That was one powerful frontal passage; a double whammy of a warm front closely followed by a cold front according to the latest weatherfax charts. We had sustained winds around 28 knots, gusting to 36. Although we rigged the cutter stay, we found that fore-reaching under triple-reefed main worked very well, with no stress or slamming on the boat, and the helm locked. MT just sailed along by herself at 2-3 knots, heading straight west, directly into the front thus lessening our exposure time to it. What a simple storm tactic! We were in the relatively deeper part of the Bay of Biscay, but
confused seas pummeled the hull from nearly every direction. The forecast (from the GRIB files and Commanders) both said the strongest winds would occur around midnight, and that by 0600 we should be through the front and back into westerly winds of around 20-25 knots. They were incredibly accurate. Soon after first light we were charging along back on course for Spain having unrolled the headsail although somewhat carefully as the seas were still very confused.
Reefed down and charging
Today the winds and seas have steadily dropped and we’ve been shaking out reefs along with unrolling the genoa. The forecasts tell us that if we can get past Cape Finisterre (120 miles), the westernmost point of Europe by noon tomorrow, when the next cold front and headwinds are due, we should have following winds for the rest of the week to Lisbon. If we can’t, we’ll stop at La Coruna and will (according to Commanders’ Weather) probably need to wait until Tuesday afternoon to wait out the front with resulting headwinds and 15’ - 18’ seas around Finisterre.
August 20, 2008, 1900 hrs, 40.28 N, 009.11 W, Log: 119,282 miles
Broad reaching at 7kts in NW 16kt winds in brilliantly sunny conditions.
Baro: 1019.2, Cabin Temp: 76F , cockpit 74F
HOORAY!!! WE’VE MADE IT INTO THE SUNSHINE!!!
Our landfall in Spain was just ahead of the front. We chose Muros, a small fishing village with a well-protected anchorage and a new landfall for us, arriving mid-afternoon. It didn’t take our crew any encouragement to dive in the clear water for a swim followed by a hot shower then head ashore to check out this busy little port. Ashore we found hundreds of families walking along the waterfront, enjoying the sunshine, and our crew relished the cold cervasas and olives at the plaza cafe.
Muros marina and town
None of us heard the torrential downpour that half-filled the dinghy Sunday night as the front passed, but Monday morning the clouds had cleared and we made an early departure before forecasted 15’-18’ NW swells were forecasted to start pounding the coast.
With just 40 miles to the Cie Islands, an isolated offshore national park, we enjoyed some great sailing and very welcome sunny conditions. After anchoring I suggested to our crew that we swim the half mile ashore. I didn’t seriously think they would, but in minutes they all dove in and struck off to shore. The windward coast, a short walk across the narrow islands had huge booming surf and the sand on the sheltered leeward side was as fine as powdered sugar. Hundreds of people ferried to the island by a passenger-only catamaran ferry were enjoying the beaches, and several dozen tents packed the small campground.
We set sail in late afternoon for the remaining ten miles to Baiona, followed by a huge NW swell that broke heavily on the rocks flanking the Baiona harbor entrance. The large swell made docking in the large, nearly-new marina a little challenging and not long after we had tied up with eight lines we heard a great BANG! We’d pulled off one of the huge dock mooring cleats. The dock master re-attached it to the heaving dock but a few minutes later after another almighty bang resounded the cleat was again dangling in the water, suspended by our dock line.
Our crew was on a mission to find a special place for a celebratory dinner (celebrating a safe Bay of Biscay crossing). Jonas, our Swede who speaks a dozen languages (well, nearly a dozen!) followed up a tip from the harbormaster and directed us into a small restaurant hidden in the medieval alleys of town.
Lee & Jonas retrieve the dock cleat
Where is our restaurant?
We thought it must be good, because within minutes after they opened their doors at 2000 hrs, the place was instantly packed with locals. We started out with seafood tapas, several plates of beautifully-presented shellfish and octopus and finished with fresh sponge tortes.
What a dinner, and what an evening! Outside the restaurant afterwards we wandered the alleyways admiring dozens of gorgeous little restaurants, tucked away from the waterfront streets, each more interesting looking than the last. Even at 2100 hrs the sidewalks thronged with families and lovers strolling the streets, visiting, and looking at the sights. No one appeared to be in a hurry, everyone just enjoying the warm, moonlit night.
A celebration toast
We enjoyed a slow start the following morning with less than 30 miles to sail to Viana do Castela, the northernmost port in Portugal. We had our first great sailing conditions and as we closed on the harbor entrance we were concerned that there could be surf breaking completely across the relatively shallow bar entrance. When we got to within three miles we saw what looked like brightly-colored butterflies or birds darting back and forth across the harbor entrance ahead. As we approached, we could see there were dozens and dozens of kite boarders and windsurfers zipping around in mid-channel in the lee of the breakwater.
Henry did an excellent job avoiding the board sailors and piloting us up the river to the pedestrian swing-bridge that blocks the marina entrance. Right on cue the dock master zipped out in a dinghy to tell us we could have the last slip in the tiny marina, and he would help us connecting to the stern mooring. After getting situated and checking in with him, we all took off to explore this vibrant and colorful small waterfront city.
Kiteboaders and windsurfers
After navigating our way along the crowed and highly decorated waterfront boulevard we decided to find out more at the tourist office. We discovered that the city was celebrating its 750th year anniversary in conjunction with Romaria de Nossa Senhora d’Agonia.( www.vianafestas.com). This five day religious and traditional festival happens throughout the city and tonight streets would be salted in preparation for tomorrow’s procession of the “Lady of Sorrows”. She is paraded, from her home in the harbor front church, back and forth down numerous fish district salt-covered streets to the fishing fleet. This is the local version of “blessing the fishing fleet” and the flotilla then proceeds out to the ocean before returning and parading up the river in front of grandstands lining the shoreline.
After dinner we returned to the fish district expecting to see a little salt strewn in the streets. Instead we found hundreds of people divided into teams, spreading the cobbled streets (many, many blocks long) meticulously, by hand, with a layer of variously-hued salts in elaborate patterns, using large metal templates for the designs. Traditionally it is the fisherman’s wives who spread the salt but even a Girl Scout troop was salting. Amanda pitched in to help and enjoyed visiting with several local girls who said they would be up all night. A night’s work by many destroyed in ten minutes.
Kassandra in national costume
Amanda pitching in with salting
On our early morning run we were excited to discover the results of the nights salting (thankfully it didn’t rain) and found that some streets were entirely finished and deserted, while others held groups still hard at work. Each street was magnificent with its own theme and color scheme; some lined their entire length with fishing nets, others flags, traditional scarves, boughs and wreaths of flowers.
In the fishing harbor large flower arrangements adorned handsome freshly-painted fishing boats that waited quietly in preparation for the water procession. This is the part of cruising we enjoy so much, finding people keeping their colorful and unique heritage alive, and having fun enhancing their community while doing it.
Ready for the parade
We’re nearly ready
Fishing boats decked with flowers
We departed Viana before the 0800 swing foot bridge closure and set off on a grand broad reach that is still holding.
Here’s our Leg 5 crew:
Leg 3 Crew – Bob, Jonas, Kevin, Henry, Lee &Shelly, with Paul in front.
Jonas Kistner, 41 is from Stockholm where he enjoys sharing sailing with his wife and six gorgeous daughters (the youngest, twins, are 2.5 years old) aboard their Hallberg-Rassy 40, mostly in the Baltic Sea. Jonas joins us to get offshore experience as he dreams of longer trips offshore, possibly to Norway and Scotland with his family. Although trained as a business administrator, Jonas is currently working with real estate in the south of France.
Kevin Harrison, 43 is a global change geochemist at McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He studies natural and anthropogenic processes that alter atmospheric CO2 concentration. He plans to explore the South Pacific Islands with his partner, Beth Ann, hoping to snorkel on as many coral reefs as possible. Kevin has learned to sail on the Charles River in Boston through the excellent Community Boating Program. He is also a keen kayaker and cyclist.
Lee Scifers, 42 now lives in Germany but grew up sailing dinghies and Hobie Cats on a lake near Seattle and learned to windsurf during pilot training with the air force. His wife, Shelli, dropped him off in Brighton and plans to be on the dock when we arrive in Cascais. From 1998 to 2000 they owned an Ericson 29 which they enjoyed cruising out of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii while learning a lot about boat maintenance in the tropics. There they began making serious plans for extended cruising in the North and South Pacific shortly after Lee’s retirement from the USAF around 2011.
Paul Cook, 61, is a recently retired engineer from Colorado Springs, Colorado. He recently purchased a used Valiant 42 cutter which he plans on keeping in Virginia and cruising the Bahamas next year, then take off to sail the world!
Bob Garbe, 56 is on his fourth expedition aboard Mahina Tiare. He sails his current boat, a Balboa 27, on Chatfield Reservoir near Denver, Colorado, where he lives. He looks forward to trailering his boat to the Great Lakes, then after retirement in a couple of years, set sail for further adventures.
Henry Brawner, 43 is an architect who lives near Venice Beach and races out of Marina del Rey, California. A man of many interests (besides sailing) which include skydiving, motorcycling and roller blading, Henry is considering long distance cruising in the future.
August 22, 2008, 1600 hrs, 38.41 N, 009.25 W, Log: 119,395 miles
Moored in Marina Cascais
Baro: 1017.6, Cabin Temp: 74F, cockpit 74F
WE MADE IT!
Hooray. The fabulous broad reaching condition held for most of the evening then filled in early morning and increased to 32 knots as we came blasting around the headland into Baia de Cascais giving us an exciting ending to Leg 5. As we approached the marina entrance the winds dropped into the 10-12 knot range so that we could practice Lifesling rescue before heading in to clear customs and check into the marina. After moving to a slip, our final teaching goals were met by safely sending everyone aloft for rig checks, studying sail design and repair, plus braid splicing.
Where’s Bob? We need help getting Henry aloft
Phew….we eventually got Henry to the top
Shelli, Lee’s bride was waiting on the dock and joined us for an excellent graduation dinner at a tiny little cliff-side seafood restaurant surrounded by palaces just five minutes walk from the marina.
This morning after breakfast, celestial navigation, packing up and cleaning the boat, no one wanted to leave! Everyone stood on the dock saying goodbye, reluctant and sad to leave, and making plans to meet and sail with each other in several different countries. This is a sign of a truly great crew, and they really were!
Over the next week we’ll be varnishing, sewing new slip covers, doing some deck maintenance and also taking some time to visit the gardens of Sintra, the mountain retreat top village surrounded by palaces.