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Leg 6, 2015

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Leg 6 - 2015, Update 1

August 4, 2015, 2030 hrs, 44.47 N, 21.41 W, Log: 189,781 miles
Baro: 1017.3, Cabin Temp: 75 F, Cockpit: 74 F, Sea Water: 66F
Beam reaching at 6.6 kts in 24-30 kt NNW winds
600 miles from Ballydavid Head, Dingle Peninsula, Ireland


Our time off between Legs 4 & 6 was the best ever! It was a treat being back in Horta, ( catching up with old friends and finding the painted boat names of Maiden Great Britain (Amanda's Whitbread Race boat), Taitoa (Amanda's parent's wooden gaff ketch from their 1988 visit) and Mahina Tiare's still amidst the hundreds of boat names and paintings on the breakwater and marina walls and sidewalks, but after two nights in port after crew left Amanda and I set sail for Pico Island.

I wanted check out a small new marina 22 miles away in Lajes on the south side of Pico. In 2006 we'd cycled 120 km around Pico in two days on our Dahon folding bikes, falling in love with this dramatic and productive rugged island. We were especially attracted to Lajes and Ribeira, two small whaling/fishing villages that looked like possible anchorages for Mahina Tiare. While clearing out with the Horta harbormaster, I asked him to call and see if there was room for MT in the Lajes marina - there was, and when we arrived, the harbormaster and his assistant helped us into a small slip.

In days of whaling, Lajes do Pico was a very busy and successful little town. In the Azores whaling was only done under sail or oar, never with motor boats, and only ended in 1981. Now in the small harbor we counted eight large (20+ passenger) inflatable whale watching boats which each went out 3-4 times a day. Between working on boat projects we spent our time exploring town and as part of an extended morning run we even hitchhiked 10 km south to the smaller whaling village of Ribeiras. Here we found four immaculate whale boats pulled up on the boat ramp and what appeared to be enough room to anchor MT behind the breakwater, out of the swell. The village looked like a postcard scene, and as soon as we hitched back to Lajes we paid our bill with the harbormaster and set off with MT. Speaking of marina moorage bills, the prices for all Azorean marinas are the same. For MT's 46' we pay 18 euro per night including electricity, internet and water which is the least expensive we've found anywhere!

Ribeiras harbor is tiny, and the historic motor launch used to tow the whales and whaling boats was moored in a prime spot. We ended up mooring inside the breakwater by positioning two opposing bow anchors 180 degrees apart

Mahina Tiare moored Bahamian-style behind Ribeiras's breakwater
(Bahamian mooring) by hand underwater so MT could swing around in the small space without coming too close to the rocks, wharf, or whaling launch. This worked perfectly for several days and we had a blast, snorkeling, trail running to explore the coast, checking out the village and hitchhiking further down the coast to Nesquim, and even smaller whaling village. Most of our rides were with farmers, and even if they spoke only Portuguese, they were incredibly hospitable.

Before we knew it, it was time to head back to Horta and we arrived early Wednesday morning in time for grocery shopping and for Amanda to spend Thursday touching up the paint work on the three boat names on marina wall.

Amanda checks out what needs to be repainted on Mahina's logo on the marina wall
While scurrying back from our final grocery shop to welcome our crew at noon on Friday in the marina we passed an entourage of VIP's that looked like the mayor, head of the navy, etc, all carrying colorful printed bags with hydrangeas sticking out of the top. I said to Amanda, "Looks like swag bags!” When we got back to MT, surprise! There in our cockpit was one of the bags and the guy on the next boat said we'd just missed the town officials personally inviting all visiting cruisers to a dinner party that night at the yacht club to kick off the 40th Semana do Mar, or Sea Week;

Amanda and I with our gifts from Horta's mayor
a festival of sailboat and whale boat races, rowing races, music, parades. etc. In the bag was a booklet about the festival events, a printed letter in Portuguese, English and French inviting us to dress our yachts with all the flags we had, an invite to join in the festivities, and a big slab of vacuum-packed local gourmet cheese. Unfortunately we were just about to set sail, but it sure would have been fun to enjoy the festivities.

As soon as our Leg 6 crew stepped aboard we had a quick lunch before setting

Our eager beaver Leg 6 crew: Keith, Tom, Steve, Peter, Bettina and Jeff
sail on a glorious sunny downwind sail for Velas, another new marina on Sao Jorge Island, 22 miles to the north.

We'd been hearing stories of the legendary hospitality of Jose Dias, harbormaster at the recently completed Velas Marina ( and sure enough, Jose was on the end of the first dock, waving us to the one remaining end-tie large enough for Mahina Tiare. He warmly welcomed us to his island and was genuinely sorry to hear we planned to spend only one night. He suggested an amazing restaurant for dinner and that perhaps we might enjoy the community lava rock ocean swimming pool a short walk away. We were delighted to take him up on both suggestions.

Mahina Tiare end-tied in the new Velas marina

Jose Dias, Vela's enthusiastic harbormaster

Saltwater lava town swimming pool

Velas is an attractive little town with interesting and unusual architecture, parks and civic buildings and very friendly inhabitants so it was hard and sad to leave but we were hoping to make the 1,100 mile passage to Ireland between two very powerful storm systems tracking across the North Atlantic.

We started out with perfect broad reaching conditions, covering 152 and 149 miles the first two days before encountering full gale force winds of 35-40, gusting 47.

Bettina and Peter practicing reefing

Bettina keeping a lookout for sperm whales

In preparation for the increasing wind I rigged the inner cutter stay and got the storm jib and sheets ready below. Soon we were down to three reefs in the main and no jib and still surfing at up to 10.2 kts. The strongest gust near the end of the passing front blew our anemometer clean off the masthead, so now we're having to estimate wind speeds.

Surfing action in large breaking seas

Peter and Bettina relishing heavy weather sailing
Click HERE to read Commanders Weather forecast.

The center of the low has now passed, winds are slowly dropping and clocking around from a broad reach to slightly forward of the beam, and were now hoping that most importantly, the large breaking confused seas will soon flatten out.

August 6, 2015, 1700 hrs, 48.05 N, 17.44 W, Log: 190,062 miles
Baro: 1017.8, Cabin Temp: 70 F, Cockpit: 70 F, Sea Water: 61F
Close reaching at 6.5 kts in 20 kt NNW winds with double-reefed main and genoa
374 miles from Ballydavid Head, Dingle Peninsula, Ireland

No sooner had the previous low passed than the weatherfax, GRIB files and Commanders Weather forecast were all indicating the next area of concern would be a low that would form directly on our course, resulting in 25+kt headwinds for at least 24 hours. By checking GRIB forecast in three hour intervals I determined that if we motorsailed directly on course for 12 hours or so through the light and variable winds between the systems we might end up on the north side instead of the south side of the low. This would then be a better angle to lay our course without being close-hauled, so we gave it a try.

Keith takes a sun sight
Fortunately the confused seas were not directly on the bow and by dawn this

Crew take a moment on the bow after on-deck rig inspection to pose for a photo: Steve, Keith, Peter, Jeff and Bettina
morning we'd shut the engine down, unrolled a little bit of headsail and continued directly on course for Ireland through one rain squall after another. By class time (10 am) the sun was out so we eased sheets and Amanda taught rig inspection on deck, followed by rigging spares below decks. This afternoon I completed our diesel engine spares class and now our keen crew are now unfurling more headsails and easing the sheets eager to keep our boat speed over 7 kts with the intent on a Sunday landfall in Ireland.

Leg 6 - 2015, Update 2

August 9, 2015, 0530 hrs, 52.16 N, 10.22 W, Log: 190,471 miles
Baro: 1017.5, Cabin Temp: 68 F, Cockpit: 57 F, Sea Water: 58F
Beam reaching at 6.4 kts in 15 kt SW winds
23 miles from Fenit Marina, Dingle Peninsula, Ireland


Bettina happily hoists our Ireland arrival flags
Soon after first light Keith and Jeff spotted very green rugged hills of the Dingle Peninsula and an escort of small dolphins appeared on the bow. We're now well into the lee of the peninsula and the confused swell that reached 2.9 meters, driven by winds to 35 kts by passage yesterday of a powerful cold front have completely disappeared.

What an amazingly good passage this has been! We've had three powerful systems pass but we've not had any headwinds and seas and are making landfall a full day earlier than planned. Yippie, another day for exploring the wild west coast of Ireland and Scotland!

This has been one of our keenest crews of the year with not a whimper during the heavy weather conditions or occasional drizzle although they do mention a thirst for a pint of Guinness after landfall

Speaking of keen crews, here they are! Jeff, Tom, Keith, Steve, Peter and Bettina
Steven, 18
I grew up cruising the West Coast of British Columbia with my dad, as well as some charter trips to the BVI's and Med. My dad took Jason, my older brother, on a Mahina leg from Fiji to Vanuatu when he was 18 and now he's taken me. This has been an incredible experience!

Tom, 57
This is my third Mahina Expedition and it's been a fantastic sharing these sailing adventures with my sons, and now I have two proven offshore crew for the day we sail over the horizon! (Tom is a maritime lawyer with the best shipwreck stories we've ever heard)

Peter, 55
I'm a real estate broker originally from Ontario but now living in the SF Bay area. My wife and I first cruised the Caribbean in our mid-20's, then later for two years on our Stevens 47 with our two young boys. I'm looking forward to buying another boat and setting sail again, but first my wife Tracy is joining me in Oban and we are cycling across England on back roads next week.

Keith, 52
I'm originally from Cape Town and only learned to sail as a nice way of exploring the BC coast after emigrating to Canada. I'm planning more sailing in the Caribbean and elsewhere before returning to BC. Keith works as a petro-chemical engineer in Canada's oil sand fields.

Bettina, 48
Originally from Germany, I learned to sail on Lake Wabamum, Alberta, Canada as well as in British Columbia. My favorite pastimes are sailing and racing our C & C 25 and traveling. I work as an environmental engineer to support the boat habit.

Jeff, 49
I learned to sail with my wife Bettina and am really looking forward to retirement and a larger boat. (Jeff designs, builds and operates dialysis machines in Edmonton, Alberta)

August 14, 2015, 0700 hrs, 56.41 N, 6.22 W, Log: 190,844 miles
Baro: 1010.2, Cabin Temp: 68 F (furnace is on), Cockpit: 57 F, Sea Water: 57F
Motorsailing at 7 kts in calm winds
9 miles from Muck, Inner Hebrides, Scotland

Fenit Harbor
We had a lovely landfall at Fenit Harbour, with Connie, the old harbor master waving us into a tiny berth and welcoming us to Ireland, even on a Sunday morning. Checking in was cinch, as he kept calling customs until he reached an officer simply took our details over the phone, suggested we leave a copy of our outbound clearance with the harbor master and said, "Welcome to Ireland!”.

Fenit is a tiny shoreside village and Wooly, a friendly local boater and contractor not only offered us a ride eight miles into Tralee when he saw us hitchhiking, but he waited as we grocery shopped and dropped us back at the marina. That night we enjoyed an tasty dinner at a nearby restaurant/pub and our crew relaxed listening to a local singer as Amanda and I headed back to MT for much needed sleep.

Two crazy stowaway Leprechauns named "Pete the Pirate" and "TomTom" tussle to shake out a reef
At first light Monday morning we set sail on a fast broad reach of 52 miles for Kilronan in the offshore Aran Islands. What a sail we had and with wind speeds from 12 to 35 kts our crew kept Mahina Tiare's speed between 8 and 9 kts by lots of reefing and unreefing. As we got closer to the Aran Islands, the occasional drizzle cleared off and dolphins entertained us for hours, zipping back and forth off the bow.

Although there were eight free moorings, they didn't appear to be well maintained so we anchored and headed ashore to rent bikes while the sun still promised to shine. The bike rental person gave us two half-days for the price of one day (a very reasonable 10€) and we set off to explore the Neolithic fort of Dun Aonghasa, one of the oldest and largest in Europe.

Bettina stands in the Middle Enclosure at Dun Aonghasa

A view of the surrounding landscape from Dun Aonghasa wall

Early Tuesday morning we were all on our bikes and off exploring again, this time several of us went to the Black Fort, which predates Dun Aonghasa by several years.

I enjoyed the Black Fort bike and hike thanks to the recommendation from Nigel Calder who's just visited here...but...

It's certainly a giddy height from these cliffs

Bettina and Jeff busy exploring the Black Fort

Steve sews up a hole on his shore side blue jeans during sail repair class while Bettina gives encouraging advice
Inishbofin (island of the white cow) was the next on the agenda a 46 mile passage to a small island off the tip of the Conemara Peninsula famous for Celtic music.

We enjoyed hiking, exploring, listening to music Tuesday afternoon and evening and Wednesday morning everyone was off to hike out to Cromwell's fort which guards the entrance to this tiny harbor before setting sail for Scotland.

A group of kids prepare to launch their sailing dinghies for a day of racing in Inishbofin harbor
Although many we've spoken with have said this has been the wettest and windiest summer they've ever seen, a ridge of high pressure had become stationary over Ireland and our 220 mile passage from Inishbofin to Scotland has been incredibly lovely, with great sailing in sunny and surprisingly warm conditions.

We're hoping to make landfall at Muck, one of the Small Isles, nestled between the Isles of Skye and Mull, and a real favorite of ours. It has been owned and actively farmed by one very enlightened family since 1896.

August 16, 2015, 0700 hrs, 56.31 N, 5.48 W, Log: 190,882 miles
Baro: 1016.7, Cabin Temp: 67 F, Cockpit: 57 F, Sea Water: 57F
Motoring at 7 kts in calm winds
12 miles from Oban, Scotland

Early morning landfall at Muck
Muck was even nicer than we remembered! Soon after anchoring and breakfast and a brisk swim for a select few hardy souls Amanda taught going aloft safely for rig inspection before we all trouped ashore to check out the daily specials in the tea house...oops, I mean for hiking!

Peter (sporting a stylish Aran Isle knitted hat) takes a selfie at the top of the mast
Although Muck only has about 30 inhabitants there is scheduled ferry service several times weekly, plus a new guest lodge. It's a wonderful island for wandering and although a rather delightful highlight is the quaint tea and gift/craft shop along with the Green Shed ( which houses an assortment of island crafts and produce from knit wool items, homemade jams, paintings, soaps, plus bags of onions and potatoes. Payment is by means of an honesty box which appeared to have hundreds of pounds in it. There's an excellent new community hall where guests can take showers and do laundry and miles of trails and roads for hiking.

Yep, Life is a rush here on Muck, Here I am stuck sharing the busy road way with a chicken.
Four of our crew attended a Ghanaian drumming concert that evening at the community hall and learned that the laird, or owner of the island was the kindly white-haired older gentleman we'd passed earlier on a tractor and his wife was the gracious woman running the tea shop.

Fun in the craft/tea shop as Bettina has already been knitting up a storm with her yesterday's purchase of local wool while Amanda stocks up on local literature.
Saturday morning after our final classes (winch servicing and clearing customs in foreign ports) our crew insisted on another tea shop break and then we set sail for Tobermory, 21 miles south on the Isle of Mull. Enroute we practiced Lifesling overboard rescue and had some excellent sailing.

We arrived early afternoon while there were still a few slips available in Tobermory's small, but about to be expanded marina and enjoyed exploring the ancient marine chandlery store and this very quintessential little tourist seaport. Our crew enjoyed live music and dancing and Amanda and I enjoyed a sunset hike and this morning several of us went on a new coast walk trail before breakfast, showers and boat wash down.

Tobermory at dusk
A few minutes ago we were hailed by Chris Adams aboard his HR342 Swallow, (If you look back a little on his entries, you'll see pictures of our mid-channel meeting!) He'd seen MT's AIS signature on his radar. Chris sailed with us on Leg 2-2008, our most frequently reconnecting leg and had spent six weeks this March helping fellow expedition members Martin and Dawn sail their HR 342 from England to Croatia. Many of that group had helped fellow EM Jack Hoopes cross the Atlantic on his HR 40 and even though they live in Austria, the UK and US, twice the crew have met in Colorado, where two of them live, for skiing.

Chris and Anne aboard Swallow
There you have it! Leg 6 was a great success - with all our teaching goals accomplished, some exceptionally fine heavy weather experience and unforgettable island visits in the Azores, Ireland and Scotland. Leg 6 crew are now off on grand adventures - Tom and Steve are spending a week traveling around Scotland and hoping to golf the Old Course at St. Andrew, Keith has several days planned exploring Mull with his partner, Bettina and Jeff are visiting family and friends in England and Germany and Peter is mountain biking on back roads completely across England with his wife Tracy. No shortage of adventure with this crew!

We'll be off to the Isle of Skye for five days of hiking and climbing before returning to ready Mahina Tiare for her final expedition of the year, Scotland to Norway and Sweden.

Leg 6 - 2015, Itinerary

Azores to Scotland


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