23 September 2022

Petronella and her contribution for a better world

 Petronella and her contribution for a better world

Today, September 10, 2022, we closed Petronella until Spring. 

She is winterized, the deck clear of all sailing necessities and her belly packed. Hibernate and rest my darling, we will wake you up when the time comes. Thank you.

Last week was an extremely busy one, and I am happy that we had Stas, our sailing companion during the last 3 weeks, with his youth and enthusiasm helping us. We were done ahead of schedule by about 5 hours, and this afternoon I was able to sit on her deck and relax while the sun, apparently a bit tired too, was bathing me with its warm rays. A nice breeze added perfection that moment. 

I am sad that this chapter is over, but very happy that with our life style, which for at least 6 months let us live in synch with Nature. I am very proud of our commitment, even if by accident, to her (Mother Nature). 

It is very difficult separate ourselves from the Earth, the Ocean, the Sky, and the beauty that surrounds us every day and night while we are out there. It becomes very important to us to preserve this environment and we feel that we are doing out part to protect and respect it. 

Before departure we try to buy only recyclable packaged supplies, we recycle what we can while on shore and prepare to dispose only what the Ocean can use. We arrived in Terceira with very little trash to be disposed in the plastic recycling bin (I am proud to say).

Our energy comes from the Sun and our faithful solar panels create enough energy to charge our computers and flashlights. 

We use the wind as much as we can - duh, sailing vessel :-), and the engine as little as possible, switched on only to help us move faster to avoid being stuck in storms and to get around treacherous rocks and cargo ships, and to enter marinas and docks. Uff, thank you Mercedes.

Petronella gives us the chance to boast about our carbon-print and we try to continuously keep it low as much as we can while we are on shore. 

Nature will carry on, it couldn’t care less of what damage we do to it, but, I am proud that we, the sailors community, are seriously committed to limit this damage and to show respect for this beautiful environment we take so much pleasure from.

07 September 2022

The Atlantic Crossing

The Atlantic Crossing, a once in a lifetime experience in very few words

by Helena...

The longest and hardest part of this adventure was the month before we left the dock. 

John was in charge, he was the boss, The Captain. He was telling me what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. We had a list of chores and they had to be done on time, precisely and without any whining. There was no room for “but….”.

Needless to say I resented that…What happened to “our” trip?

In any relationship, where the responsibilities and duties are equally divided and rewarded, it is very hard to accept that life in a boat doesn’t quite works like life on shore. 

The skipper is responsible for the well being and safety of the crew. He or she has to make sure that the engine, electronics, hull, anchors, sails and masts are in condition to withstand storms, high winds, disasters, and orcas. Feeding, providing comfort and assurance that “all is going to be fine” and preventing mutiny is also his or hers duty and if that wasn’t enough, he or she is also liable to the authorities in case of accidents (even if caused by another crew member). Weather forecasting, route planning, setting course and avoiding bad weather were also some of John’s many tasks.

Life on a boat is different; there MUST be someone in charge.

I thought about that, I changed my attitude, I listened, I obeyed, I got it. I put a smile on my face and carried on.

On the other hand, I am the person that the captain trusts the most on the boat, he counts on me to follow the directions, to do exactly what he asks me to do without arguing, discussing or challenging, because that’s the way of life on a boat. 

When he was 56 feet above the deck and I was handling the ropes that would make sure he would not plunge down onto a hard steel deck, he knew that I was prepared to do exactly what had to be done to ensure his safety going up, and most importantly, getting back down.


Credit is due to John for making this passage a true adventure, he made it happen. He planned the meals, the safety needs, the route, and the first aid courses we took for survival in a raft (just in case…).

Today when I look back it didn’t matter who was the Captain, who was the First mate. In our case we couldn’t have lived this adventure without each other, our titles and their separate meaning brought us closer.

I know that you were expecting amazing videos of wild life, whales, dolphins, storms, three story high waves, winds gusting up to 35 knots, waves crashing over the dodger, John swinging on a bosun chair 50 ft above deck, me holding the lines with white knuckles while trying to control or ease the sheets. Sorry, during these were moments we were either busy focusing or in awe.  

- what are you going to blog about? asked John.

- Feelings…

- Feelings? commented John with a hearty laugh…

Oh boy. Perfect, as one of our commenters posted “viva la difference..” :-)

Our Route

17 August 2022

Atlantic Crossing Complete!

So, we did it!

After a very slow and rolly and foggy last day at sea -- actually, the worst day that we'd had on the passage from the Azores -- we had to decide whether to enter the Brest inlet in the middle of the night, or to either stay out at sea for the night, or maybe try to anchor in a cove outside the inlet.

In the end, we decided to just go for it. The inlet looked relatively easy, and it would be great to be in the protected waters just outside of the Rade du Brest, which is a big bay inside the inlet.

We tried to time our arrival at the inlet for slack tide, but ended up arriving early, but the current was only 1 or maybe 1.5 knots, which we could run against, though it slowed us down a bit.

Did I mention there was fog? Oh yes. Just to make the entry into one of France's busiest ports more interest. Fog. At night. And you wonder why I have grey hair.

But we had the AIS and Radar (added to Petronella before we went to foggy Maine for the first time), and in the middle of the night, there were very few ships or boats going in or out. The only significant one was a "French Warship", as it was described on the AIS. We never saw it in the fog, so don't know if it was a patrol boat or an aircraft carrier. It did look big on the radar, though.

And we were contacted on the radio by "Brest Approach Control", like we were an airplane approaching an airport. They wanted to know "What are your intentions?"

I was surprised but glad to hear from them, because I worried about sneaking into the country at night and anchoring somewhere. So I happily told them we had a reservation at the marina in the morning, and intended to anchor overnight off the Roscanvel Yacht Club, just around the corner from the inlet.

The young man on the radio was very nice and told us to "have a good night!"

Ah, civilization!

So, we puttered slowly into the anchorage, with Helena on the bow with our brightest flashlight, looking for crab pots or whatever else might ruin our last day, but she didn't see a thing in the fog. There were two boats anchored near the yacht club already, but they had generously left us a wide berth between them in about 3 meters of water. 

3 meters at low tide, I mean. But there are 7 meter tides in this area, so we put out 40 meters of chain to make sure we didn't have a "We didn't mean to go to sea" moment, and float away in the middle of the night. 

Then we had one or two celebratory drinks, gave each other numerous high-fives, and generally congratulated each other for an amazing voyage. It was hard to believe, but we'd actually done it. 

We finally crashed at 4 am, and had a great half-night's sleep on a level, non-rolling bunk. 

Ah, heaven.

Anchorage in Roscanvel

I slept until 11, and had to wake Helena up at noon, and then after a slow start, we lifted anchor and headed for the Moulin Blanc Marina. Of course I was nervous about docking in a new marina, I'm always nervous about this, but there was a young man on the dock (a young and VERY attractive man, according to Helena -- yes, she's been out to sea a long time, too!) who helped us into a very easy along-side tie-up on their visitor's pontoon.

And we were really there! In a French marina. Wow!

Promenade Bernard Moitessier

Petronella on the visitor's pontoon

After we checked in with the marina and took a shower (ah, showers!) it was time to get to customs down in the city. We only had about an hour before they closed. There was a bus that should have got us down there just in time, but it was a holiday, and the bus didn't arrive on time. So I had to get up early and get down to customs first thing the next day. I was a bit nervous about this... imagine being two days late checking in with US (or Brazilian, or anywhere else we've been!) customs! I was pretty sure there would be firm questions to answer.

The bus into the city... because why not an open-top bus?

But, hey, no problem. They just wanted to see our passports, no questions, no evil looks. Just a pleasant crunch of the stamp in our passports, a smile, and a 'welcome to France'. And then, since I was the only one in the office, a bit of conversation about our passage, and what we planned to do next... Oh! Montpellier is a beautiful city! A few recommendations for restaurants, etc. 

Did I have to check in with anyone else, I asked? The police? Immigration? In two other buildings on the other side of the city, for example?

Nope. I was done. We were all set.

Ah, civilization!

So, that's that! We have a couple days of jobs to do, of course. Change the oil, do laundry, that sort of thing. Then we need to make a plan for the final leg to La Rochelle. More on that soon...

Happy wife, happy life.

12 August 2022

The English Channel… yikes!

Tonight we are crossing the mouth of the English Channel, the busiest shipping area in the world, I think. Actually, the mouth of the channel is 150 miles to port, so it's not as crazy as it might be if we were closer, but there are a lot of ships! At the moment, there are 155 ships on our AIS. I had to filter out all except those that will approach within 5 miles of us to make any sense at all of the screen. That cuts the 155 down to a more comprehensible 4, but four ships converging on us at the same time is still a lot to deal with. It is going to be an interesting night!

Well, we are in the home stretch now. Just a couple days left on this passage. We are still on schedule to arrive in Brest Monday. That's good timing, because apparently this is the biggest travel weekend in France all year! The marinas are probably packed for the weekend, but we were able to make a reservation for Monday without any problem.

As usual, I'm a bit apprehensive about arriving in a new marina, but I have a lot of confidence in my boat handling skills at this point, so not as terrified as in the past. I'm sure we'll do fine.

Speaking of us, Helena and I patted ourselves on the back today for managing so well as just a two person team. We did just fine standing our four hour watches around the clock for a month and a half at sea, and (so far!) we're able to handle everything that King Neptune threw at us.

One thing that made that easier was the weather, once we cleared the truely awful weather that plagues the US east coast during the summer. Since then, we have had nothing but good to great weather. No afternoon thunderstorms, no cold fronts ripping off the coast, no tropical storms, and definitely no hurricanes. These are constant threats to coastal sailors in the US, and I can't say I've missed them. Maybe we've been exceptionally lucky, but if so, it's been a remarkably long stretch of luck! Well, we've got a couple more weeks in our season… I hope our luck lasts!

Yup, the summer is coming to an end quickly. We plan to be hauled out around September 1, and then will spend a week or two doing maintenance — mainly painting— and winterizing Petronella. She's in great shape, but after 2 months of non stop sailing, we need to touch up some rusty spots and recaulk her port lights. I also want to pull both masts so we can replace the halyard sheaves at the top of both masts. They've really deteriorated in the last couple years from UV exposure, I guess.

But, we still have a couple of weeks to explore the beautiful coast of Brittany, and plan to make the most of it, unfortunately without our young friends, who won't be able to join us this summer. But there's always next summer! Hang in there, les jeunes!

10 August 2022

The Long Route

If you have been following our tracking page, you probably think we are lost, or are at least wondering why we are going so far north. Heck, I ask myself that question several times a day. The answer is easy: because the fastest path between two points at sea, on a boat that can both motor and sail, is rarely a straight line. In our case, the wind has been blowing from the northeast since we left Ponta Delgada. Yes, we could have sailed directly for Brest, as a fellow OCC member did a week before we left. I've been closely following his tracking page, and he's had a pretty rough time tacking many times into rough seas, marveling at the punishment a sailboat can handle, tackling Mother Nature head on.

Meanwhile, we have been enjoying day after day of perfect weather — though without wind! — motoring through the high, rather than bashing into the adverse wind on its east side. And we are easily keeping up with the sailing boat ahead of us.

A third way would be to sail up the favorable western side of the high, but that would be the longest route by far.

Anyway, it's a long trip however you make it, but we are less than 4 days out now, I hope, and the last leg of the trip, finally swooping down to Brest with a fair wind on our beam, should be a joy. Fingers crossed!

Speaking of joy, we had the most exciting whale encounter of our lives yesterday. We passed within 100 feet of a 60+ foot whale, heading the other way, not sure of the type, but we saw a good portion of its back, from blow hole to small triangular dorsal fin, several times as it cruised past, headed south on some mysterious whale mission. A truly stunning sight.

And we've seen lots of dolphins recently, including two lively pods today alone, one of which came alongside and rode our bow wave for awhile. Fun!

We've also had some periodic bursts of wind, where we have enough wind to sail, sometimes for an hour, and two nights ago, for the whole night. Marvelous. So we are not motoring all the time, even in the middle of this high. It's a good rest for our nerves and the engine.

Speaking of the engine, we had to stop and replace a piece of the raw water exhaust hose yesterday. The old hose had apparently been chafing against a metal corner for a while, and finally developed a leak. Well, I should have caught that, but it was half hidden under the engine… yeah, I still should have caught it!

While I was at it, I bled our oil filled stern tube. Should have done that when I changed the oil in the Azores, but forgot to do it. My bad again! Someday I'm going to be perfect. Yup.

Tomorrow, our routing program says it will finally be time to turn east and to drive out of the high. Well, we can't go much further north, so tomorrow it will be, one way or the other. Hoping the forecast is correct and we will have an easy run down to Brest.

09 August 2022

Motor, motor, everywhere

Motor, motor, motor, fix engine, motor, motor, motor.

This has been the story for the past few day. My brain is starting to rattle with the sound of Petronella's Diesel engine, which makes it a bit hard to blog. But I will endeavor to catch up.

So we finally arrived, as predicted, in the high pressure area that has been hovering between the Azores and the UK. The wind died slowly down. When Wanda, our wind vane, didn't have enough wind to steer by, we switched to George the autopilot, and when George complained that he couldn't maintain this course (because we weren't making enough forward motion to let the rudder work), we knew it was time to take down the sails and start the engine.

We've been motoring ever since, up a narrow corridor of calm that stretches up towards Ireland. To the east, a northeast breeze is blowing down the east side of the high, to the west, a southwest breeze is blowing up the west side of the high. It would be too slow to tack eastwards towards Brest, and it would be too slow to go far enough west to catch a worthwhile breeze. So our routing program has us motoring northeast in a dead calm. Eventually, we will be far enough north to get a good angle on the wind to turn south east and sail directly to Brest with the wind more or less on our port beam.

Mathematically, this is the fastest route, but the motoring is getting old. We should have a short window of favorable wind to sail tonight, but it will be back to motoring tomorrow (Wednesday) morning. Thursday, we should finally turn east, find the wind, and sail the rest of the way to

We are hoping our friends meet us in Brest for a week of cruising, but that is still a bit up in the air. Fingers crossed, I hope it happens, but No matter what, I will be thrilled that the passage is over. I say that now, when I'm a bit bored with motoring, but in the last few days of the Azores leg, I was sorry the passage was coming to an end. We shall see how I feel when approaching Brest.

What else has happened… oh yes. Yesterday, when Helena came on watch yesterday at 10 am, she noticed that the red indicator light on our automatic bilge pump panel was on. Actually, I'd noticed it myself during my watch, and had even pumped the bilge dry with the manual pump, but didn't think too much of it. We'd taken showers in the cockpit, and I just assumed that there was a leak in the footwell, and that some water had worked it's way into the bilge. Fixing that leak was already on my to-do list. The only strange part was that we'd never had enough water in the bilge to activate the automatic bilge pump. Literally never. So the fact that the bilge pump had turned on *a second time* raised a big red flag.

I was pretty sure one of our raw water hoses had sprung a leak, but just at that moment, a big tanker appears on the horizon, heading straight for us. I couldn't just shut down the engine and fix the leak, we had to maneuver out of the way of the tanker! (I always assume big ships either can't or don't see us. A small course change when they are still 10 miles away is way better than a last minute scramble! Ask me how I know this.)

Anyway, while we were motoring out of the path of the behemoth, leaving Helena in the cockpit to keep an eye on the beast (never trust them!), I opened the engine compartment and started looking for the leak. There it was, exactly as I expected to see, a raw water hose had been chafing on the corner of a piece of steel under the engine where it was hard to see. It had probably been rubbing there for years, but finally the hole was deep enough to create a leak. A thin stream of water was hissing down into the bilge. Easy enough to for the bilge pump to keep up with it, but dang!

Luckily… well, actually there was no luck involved. I had thought ahead and bought 10 feet or so of the right size exhaust hose just in case something like this happened. So once the tanker was past, we shut down the engine, took the old hose off, cut a new piece to size, and installed it. Tested it, and the leak was fixed, easy-peasy.

However, while getting my hands dirty under the engine, I decided I should also bleed our oil-filled stern tube. This is what allows the propeller shaft to run from inside the boat to outside the boat without letting any water in. It's basically a tube filled with oil with oil seals around the prop shaft. The rear oil seals used to be so worn that they always leaked some oil out into the water, to be replaced by oil in a reservoir. But since I relaxed those seals a few years ago, they no longer leak oil. Instead, a tiny bit of sea water leaks through the seals into the stern tube.

This is actually how it's supposed to work… you don't really want to leave an oil trail behind you, even though that is more convenient for us. Instead, the oil is supposed to put the water into suspension, like salad dressing, and you are supposed to periodically bleed the tube to remove the old oil and replace it with fresh oil. I should have done this in the Azores after our long passage, but forgot. But since we were stopped anyway…

So that job got done, too. All told, we were back to motoring after about 4 hours. It took a while longer to scrub off the grease and oil.

So, yeah, I'm ready for some nice coastal cruising, with young friends eager to do all the sailing, along the beautiful French coast. Now that's the cruising life! Pour me a G&T!

Just a few more days… hopefully!

04 August 2022

Pleasure cruise

Today, I am feeling well adjusted to life at sea. I'm less grumpy, more active, and more interested in making the most of the voyage. I'm probably also more rested, since I've been sleeping well and a lot. Always a good sign!

I'm also tuned into the key of Petronella, so better able to get what I want out of her. That isn't necessary just the fastest performance. This evening, for instance, right at dinner time, it was blowing like stink, altering our plans for a nice salad, which involves pulling lots of vegetables out of various storage places, cleaning them, cutting them, etc., etc., to the much simpler beef stew with rice. The rice was left over from yesterday's lunch, the stew pre-cooked in one of our beautiful jars. Dinner was as simple as throw rice and stew into a pan, heat, and serve.

While Helena tackled that still-not-simple job in the rolling/pitching galley, I tried to calm the boats motion a bit to make the eating part a little easier.

Since we were beating into 20+ winds and heavy seas, the first thing I tried was easing out our double-reefed main. Just to take some of the pressure off the boat. That helped a bit, but not enough. Then I decided to roll in a bit of our yankee jib. Now, this isn't a huge sail compared to the monster genoas most sloops carry, but it's more than enough when the wind is in the 20s. I rolled about half of it away… too much! Our speed dropped from 7 knots to 2.5 knots! Roll out a bit more… 5-6 knots! Perfect. Enough to power us into wind and waves, but a lot more comfortable than bashing into them at hull speed.

As night fell, I decided to keep that configuration for the night. It makes sleeping easier, no one is stressed, and if the wind picks up, we will be fine. We are tuned for comfort while still making good progress north.

Hey, it's supposed to be a *pleasure* cruise, right?

03 August 2022

It Will Come

And then it was time to leave! We had the whole month of July in the Azores and enjoyed it a lot, but now it was time to move along. We had crossed over 2000 mile of the Atlantic, but we weren't done with it yet. We still had to cross to mainland Europe, the only question was, to where?

We had a plan, which I believe I've mentioned, which was to stop in Galicia, the part of Spain just north of Portugal, on the northwest corner of the Iberian peninsula. Galicia is reportedly a terrific cruising ground, with many rivers to explore. But in the last few weeks, I've been watching the weather around Galicia carefully — as you would if you were planning to sail there. Getting there seemed straight forward, and the weather in Galicia itself seemed great — good sailing winds, and not too hot. Europe, like the rest of the northern hemisphere, has been having a hot summer.

No, the problem was leaving Galicia! Day after day, the weather forecast showed strong winds from the north or northeast — directly on the nose if you wanted to round the point and head for La Rochelle, in France. In addition, there was the Portuguese Current, which was a part of the giant river of current that flows clockwise around the north Atlantic basin. So not only would we have to buck the northerly winds, but a strong current as well. We wouldn't make much headway against the combination, and I knew we might have to sail far offshore to get around it.

I started talking to other people about this problem and quickly discovered that these northerly winds were common and even had a name: Nords. Cruisers just waited them out, but would we have time to wait for the right weather window in late August or early September. We had to get to La Rochelle by the beginning of September. After watching the northerlies blow around Galicia for two and a half weeks without a break, I realized we couldn't take the chance of getting stuck there.

So, we are on our way to Brittany, on the northern side of the Bay of Biscay. This will allow us to go around the bottleneck off Galicia and leave us in yet another beautiful cruising ground, with an easy sail to La Rochelle.

So at the moment, we are sailing gently north, still very much under the influence of the Azores high. We've had 5-10 knots of wind on the port beam, and we've been making 3-6 knots. Eventually, we should be able to turn east and make for Brest, our first port of entry into France.

Meanwhile, we are trying to get our sea legs back, and trying to get back into the grove of blue water cruising. You would think that this would come right back after a month at sea, but no, it looks like it will take the usual 3 days. At least for me. Helena seems right at home, but I have a harder time regaining especially the required patience. I need to let go of the go-go urge and just enjoy the ride… it will come…

18 July 2022

Terceira Road Trip

Helena and I are still on the beautiful island of Terceira. We've finished all our jobs on Petronella so that she is completely ready for the sail from the Azores to Spain. Not only did we fix the few things that broke during the crossing, but we've made a few improvements based on that experience, to make the next stage of the voyage a little easier or safer.

But since our to-do list is more or less empty, we've been playing tourist and just enjoying life on the island. This week, we took another road trip to see more of the island, including some places that are really off the beaten track. It's amazing how few tourists there are here. For most of the trip, we were the only ones there. We didn't pass more than 3 or 4 other cars, and they might have been locals. This truly is an undiscovered paradise!

Anyway, this time I thought I would try to update my blogging skills, such as they are, by making a video of the trip. I'm a complete amateur at this, and more of a writer than photographer, so let me know what you think. 

14 July 2022


Since arriving on Ilha Terceira we've been dividing our time between being tourists, working on Petronella, and just hanging out, enjoying the luxury of living on a non-moving boat with plenty of water.

Not only plenty of water, but we've been on a dock in the city marina, which is only steps from the center of town. Apparently, the marina is very cheap, although I don't actually know what the daily rate is. Nor do I care! The anchorage is fine on calm days, but no fun when the wind pipes up from the east and the swell rolls in. Whatever they are charging us, it's worth it.

The other day, our friends Trip and Nicole and us rented a car and did a tour of the entire island. We took a bunch of pictures, of course... so many that I'm not sure how to present them. After thinking about it a bit, I've decided to upload a simple slideshow of my favorite pics from the trip. I hope it gives a taste of what this beautiful island is like.

All the islands in the Azores are volcanic in origin, and in the first few pictures of the slide show, we are standing on the ancient (and much eroded) rim of the volcano, looking down on the bowl, which is now all farm land. 

Later on, we visited a kind of 'beach' with sharp volcanic rock instead of sand. A few hardy souls were swimming in the pools of water between the rocks, but not many! We were not tempted, but it was beautiful to look at.

We stopped for lunch at a Portuguese restaurant which had some traditional dishes, including bone marrow... and what a bone it was! The table was divided in its opinion of the flavor. 

Then we drove to the western part of the island which was full of flowers and trees and beautiful sea views. 

And finally, we drove back to Angra through some mountains with woods, and farms, and bulls. Bulls are a big thing in the Azores. More on that, later!

05 July 2022

A taste of the crossing

Of course, when I said I'd be posting pictures of the crossing tomorrow, I meant in a couple of days! Yesterday, our number one priority was to move from the Angra anchorage, which was extremely uncomfortable, into the marina. The marina was full, but Helena applied the full force of her persuasiveness (scary!) to the harbormaster, and somehow a slip materialized. We are now docked in the marina, and life is good.

As I was going through the photos I took during the crossing, I realized again how difficult it is to capture the experience of sailing in photos or even video. I'm afraid my photographic skills just aren't up to the job, but there is one video that I hope captures at least a taste of the experience. Here it is:

A taste of big-ish waves

And then a few select pictures, mainly those that I just like...

The first day at sea, looking optimistic!

Me, on watch, in what looks like gloomy weather.

Helena prepping Wanda, our Aries wind vane, for action

Our first sunset at sea

As we approached the Azores, I picked the 'A' (for associate member) off 
our Ocean Cruising Club burgee. To become a full member of the OCC,
you must complete a 1000nm non-stop passage. Our qualifying passage
was 2242nm. Yay! (It's funny how happy this milestone made us!)

Just because I like pictures of Helena

At sea, bunks are extremely important!

It's not always rough and stormy out there. 
Of course, it's difficult to sail in this kind of weather, but we
tried to enjoy these moments of calm.

Our first site of land in nearly a month! 
The island of Flores from a distance of nearly 25 miles.

Helena, happy we have made it across.

Just because I like this picture. Our small
mizzen staysail, which is easy to set, great in light
winds, and makes a nice contribution to our
speed in low wind conditions.

03 July 2022

Day 29 -- Arrival

 2242 nautical miles.

I’m just letting that sink in to my own brain. That’s how far it is, as the albatross flies, from Cape Henlopen in Delaware to Angra do Heroismo on the island of Terceria. We’ve arrived. We did it. It’s still not real, maybe because my brain is more than half asleep!

We had another very slow night sailing with a 6 knot breeze on the beam. This petered away to nothing during Helena’s watch, as it often does in the small hours of the morning, but by the time I came back on watch at 6am, the wind had picked up again and we were sailing nicely, in the channel north of São Jorge.

Speaking of watches, I don’t think I’ve mentioned how we stood them. We divided the day into six 4- hour watches, 6am-10am (John), 10am-2pm (Helena), 2pm-6pm (J), 6pm-10pm (H), 10pm-2am (J), and 2am-6am (H). We chose 4 hour watches because that’s what works best for us after trying just about everything else. 4 hours is long enough to get a decent amount of sleep, and if you really need it, you can get almost 12 hours sleep a day, which is more than enough. I rarely felt tired on the voyage.

Also, my first watch at 6am was a great time to gather the days weather forecasts, make a plan, adjust sails for the reviving wind, and generally get us off to a new start. This sometimes cut into Helena’s sleep time, but to make up for that, I would often get up at 5 or 5:30 to minimize her sleep disruption. But I’m sure she has her own thoughts on how well I did with that! Thank you, Helena, for putting up with those early morning sessions with rarely a complaint.

Anyway, it was a pretty gloomy morning, with low clouds, drizzle, and fog hiding the islands to either side of us. Visibility was bad enough that we had both the AIS and Radar going. But we hadn’t seen another boat for nearly two days, so it was quite a surprise to get a call on the radio. I went down below to listen more carefully (I had the volume down so as to not wake Helena.)

“American vessel this is #$*#@“, came the call (I missed the name of the boat.) it was a woman’s voice, which is not rare.

American Vessel? That’s a weird name for a boat, I thought.

The same call came again. Now I thought that maybe she was calling an American boat. But which one? VHF radio can cover a lot of miles. How would you know if she was calling you? It wasn’t us, because nothing showed on AIS or radar.

Suddenly I remembered we were flying a rather large American flag. The radio down below had distracted me, but now I popped my head out of the companionway and did a quick scan of the horizon. There, on our starboard bow, about a half-mile off, emerging from the gloom, was another sailboat, which looked like it was going to cross our bow!

“This is Petronella,” I said into the mike.

“Good morning Petronella, this is #$*#@.” I never did catch their name.

I hurriedly changed course by 20 degrees to starboard, just to be absolutely sure we weren’t on a collision course.

“Are you the boat that is just about to cross our bow?” I asked.

“Yes, we are. Do you need us to alter course?”

By that time I could see they would cross well in front of us, even if I hadn’t changed course.

“No, I think we’re good,” I said, probably sounding a bit annoyed at having my adrenaline level raised unnecessarily, but it was probably obscured by the radio.

We chatted a bit. They were coming overnight from another island and heading for the same town as us. After crossing our bow, they turned onto a parallel course, on our port side. Naturally, when two sailboats are headed in the same direction, a race inevitably breaks out. While this woman was distracting me with idle conversation, her sailing partner was out on deck tweaking his sails! I was glad ours were already perfectly trimmed and we were making a robust 6.5 knots. Nevertheless, I bid her a good day, made a few tweaks of my own, and we gradually pulled away from them.

Most satisfying!

So that was a good start to the day. And shortly thereafter, the clouds lifted their skirts to reveal the green and lovely island of Terceira, just a few miles to port. There were green fields on the hills above a village hugging the shore line. The morning sun lit the island and made it look like what I would imagine Ireland looks like from the sea: a green and pleasant land.

Suddenly, I was anxious to arrive!

The city we were aiming for was past Monte Brazil, a mountainous peninsula which loomed out of the sea before us. It looked like a jagged rock made from lava, which is exactly what it was, but as we approached, I could see it was not bare black rock, but covered with green — grass and other vegetation, and even some trees. It actually did remind me of Brazil, as it probably had whoever named it.

Monte Brazil as we approached

Monte Brazil, with Angra opening up behind it

I’d let Helena sleep as long as possible, but she had to see this reminder of her homeland, and also, we needed to think about anchoring soon!

Helena oohed and aahed at Monte Brazil as I knew she would, and took lots of pictures, but then it was time to work. The bay leading into Angra do Heroismo was starting to open up, and I didn’t want to sail past it.

On came the engine, down came the sails that had carried us so far, and up came the equipment we needed on the bow to drop our anchor.

But first I wanted to find our friends Trip and Nicole on Kalyra, who had arrived several days earlier. I called them on the radio, and soon they were waving at us from their cockpit, and advising us where to anchor. Another boar had just left, leaving a good spot for us between Kalyra and the shore.

We glided past them, found our spot, and with a roar, dropped our anchor and 50 meters of chain into 10 meters of clear green water.

We set the anchor well in the sandy bottom, turned off the engine, and looked at each other. It was quiet. The boat wasn’t moving. We could smell the land smells, and hear the distant voices of children playing on the beach, just a few hundred yards away. The city with its brightly painted buildings climbed up the hills before us. A church bell rang.

“We’re here,” Helena said. “We’ve done it.”

We slapped five, hugged and kissed, and poured a will deserved shot of rum each. Who cared if it was 9 am? We still had to launch the dingy, go to shore, check in with the authorities and Portuguese immigration, and make a start on turning Petronella back from a dedicated ocean crossing machine back into our home, but that could all wait for a few moments while we enjoyed the moment.

Yes, we’d done it. Wow! That was going to take some time to sink in.

And now for some accounting and time stamping. I never did this on my voyage in the Blue Moon, and I still get confused when I try to figure out when I left, etc.

So, 2,242 nm from port to port, but how many miles did we actually sail, according to our log (kind of an odometer that measures the miles as they are reeled off)? 2,383nm. That’s not actually as much as I would have guessed. Our detour to get south of the Gulf Stream seemed much longer.

And let me finally sort out the days here. Why I started counting from Annapolis is lost in the dim inner reaches of my memory, but it certainly left me confused. We actually departed the Cape Henlopen anchorage the afternoon of Monday, June 6 2022, and we arrived the morning of Friday, July 1. So, just under 25 days. Not too far off our original estimate of 3 weeks, considering we raised Flores, the first island in the Azores on the morning of the 28th, or the 22nd day of the passage.

The marina with Angra behind it

And that is that! As I write this, we’ve already been ashore, checked in, met our friends for drinks and food, and otherwise wore ourselves out.

Time for some much needed sleep, on a boat that isn’t moving, without alarms rudely waking us for the start of our watches!

Pictures of the actual voyage tomorrow!

On solid ground!

With shops!

Petronella (red boat in the distance), under Monte Brazil 
in the Angra anchorage.

01 July 2022

Day 28 — A long day

I don't know that today was a particularly hard day — it certainly wasn't — or if fatigue is gradually accumulating, or if the near end of our voyage has sent a signal to our brains, saying it's okay to let up on the adrenaline, we're almost there. Whatever the reason, today Helena and I were both feeling tired today.

Also, coastimg along these beautiful islands, suddenly 4 knot seems VERY slow. It's one thing to do 4-5 knots in open ocean, where there's nothing to measure your progress against. It's another to watch an island slowly crawl by…

So, we kept busy to keep us distracted most of the day.

First, we set a small mizzen staysail that I bought used just before leaving. It fills the gap between the mainsail leach and the mizzen mast and looks very jaunty when set. It's light weight, so pulls nicely in these low wind 6-7 knot conditions.

I also tried to fix a leaky foot powered water pump, but no luck. It needs to be rebuilt. Water has been a problem this whole trip, one way or another.

And when I was really fed up with that, I decided to bake a cake. Most of our eggs are in sad shape, but good enough for baking. It cheered me up.

One more night, headed towards the island of Terceira, and we should be thinking about anchoring tomorrow (Friday, 1 July) morning!

30 June 2022



That's my word of the day. We made very slooow progress today, sailing between Flores and Faial, ghosting along at 2-3 knots, without enough wind to go any faster.

The twin headsails kept pulling well, but then the wind shifted significantly and we had to disassemble all that (much quicker than assembling them!) and go back to normal sailing, with the wind more or less on the beam again. If only there was more of it.

But we weren't the nay ones short on fuel after a month's passage. We spoke on the VHF to a French boat with three 23 year old French guys who had sailed from the Caribbean and were in the same boat fuel-wise. They also wanted a weather forecast high made me wonder more about how they were navigating. But, hey, they were 23 and youth makes up for many other faults. They'd obviously done fine and were on the final leg of their voyage. I was imagining how they'd be a big hit with the girls in Horta, but Helena was imagining the state of their boat after a month with three 23 year old guys in charge of cleaning. She shuddered just thinking about it.

He talked about our slow progress today and agreed that it hardly matters, now that we are 'here' so to speak, neither one of us are particularly anxious to actually arrive. I think Helena would be perfectly happy to stay out another week, and she started talking today about doing the so-called European circuit, which is a roundabout cruise from the Azores, down to Madeira and the Canary Islands for the winter, then back to the Azores or Europe for the summer… lots of combinations that could keep you sailing in warm weather for years.

So, we will arrive eventually, I guess!

Anyway, we didn't make it to Faial… the wind died away completely during the night and we just drifted. I will start the engine tomorrow morning and invest a few more gallons of our precious fuel in motoring until the wind returns again at 8 or 9 o'clock. Assuming the forecast is correct.

Tomorrow will tell…

29 June 2022

Day 26 — Land ho!

Somehow I lost count of the days, but I think it is actually 26 days from when we left Annapolis, so I am adjusting the title of this blog post and skipping forward a few days.

Well, today I thought my big news was going to be how well the second pizza turned out. I always make enough dough for two pizzas, and it is always better the second day, I guess because it's had more time to ferment and get more flavorful. I've also refined my cast iron pan baking technique a bit, flattening the dough a little more evenly so it wasn't too thin in the middle, giving the first side 3 minutes, pricking it with a fork to pop bubbles, flipping it over, applying toppings (with a lighter hand this time), and then running it under the broiler to melt the cheese. The crust was better cooked this time, slightly charred underneath, as if cooked in a classic wood burning oven, thick and chewy like good bread. Yum! Better than using our not very hot oven, and a lot easier. I'd even say it was the best pizza I've had all year, including from restaurants in Montpellier. Now if only I could deep fry chicken wings…

Anyway, not that I'm food obsessed or anything. The other big news was going to be my solution to our lack-of-wind problem. This would not be a problem if we had more fuel, but we are low enough that I really don't want to run the engine anymore except to charge the batteries and for the final push into whatever harbor we end up in. So when the wind dropped away to 5-6 knots, more or less directly from behind, I dispaired. Running dead downwind in light wind is the worst point of sail for any boat, but especially for Petronella because we don't have one of those gigantic downwind sails. I thought about buying one for this trip, but everyone said the number of days I'd need such a sail on this crossing would be very few, if any, and that has been correct. But now I needed something to keep us going.

Anyway, after a think, I decided to try setting twin headsails, that is, putting out two jibs, one on either side of the boat.

We first hoisted Orion, our cruising spinnaker, to starboard. Then we poled out our working jib to port. This means we used one of our long poles to hold the jib out to port, so it couldn't swing over to starboard even if the wind tried to push it that way.

Then we fine tuned the direction of the boat so that the wind was blowing either directly from behind, or slightly to port. This kept both sails filled as best as possible.

This was the first time I'd tried rigging twins, because it's a lot of work (1.5 hours to set up!) and not worth the fort unless they can stay up for a good long time. In this case, the forecast led me to believe we could leave them up for at least 24 hours. That made it worthwhile to do.

Anyway, the results were amazing. Neither sail is particularly big, but the two of them made for a big spread of sail, probably about 800 square feet. We were able to make 3-4 knots with 6-7 knots of true wind. Very respectable for a 25,000 lb. boat, I think, and much faster than we would have made with just our normal working sails blanketing each other at maximum inefficiency.

We set up the twins first thing in the morning, and had a fabulous day running easily down wind, with not much rolling, and a hot sun which kept Helena happy in the cockpit, sunbathing and reading her 'trashy novel' (her words, not mine.)

In the late afternoon it was my watch. We were about 27 miles from Faial, the most westward island in the Azores, which we planned to pass close by. Of course it was too far away to see the island itself, but there was a bank of clouds in that cloudless sky, on the horizon in the exact direction of Faial. I was sure the clouds must be right over the island. You often read of such things, clouds over an island being a classic way to find such islands from far off.

I felt pretty smug about figuring this out for myself, and looked forward to mansplaining this to Helena when she got up from her nap.

Then I got a text from my son Chris, who has been following our tracking page pretty closely, I guess.

'Did you spot land over the horizon? I can see an island nearby on the map, but I have no idea if it's over the horizon,' he wrote.

'At the moment, Faial is about 27 miles away, so it's well over the horizon, but I can see what I think are clouds over the island! They are in the right place anyway. We should see the island itself tonight, if we are close enough.'

Thinking about how long it would take to reach the island at 3 knots reminded me to worry about chafe, so I got my binoculars out and started inspecting what I could of the various lines holding the sails up, down and out. I didn't want any of those lines chafing through and ruining my peaceful afternoon. I didn't see any obvious hot spots, but I changed the nip of the jib sheet where it went through the end of the pole, and thought about putting some chafe guard on the Orion tack line, where it was rubbing against the jib furling drum, and then casually pointed my binoculars towards that mysterious cloud bank, wondering if I could possibly see the tip of a mountain, or other sign of the distant island.

At first I saw nothing, just the clouds hovering on the horizon, but then I had a real double-take moment.

Was that…? Could it be…? Yes, it was!

What I saw was a mountain, nearly as blue as the sky, reaching right up to those hovering clouds! The color of the mountain hid it from the naked eye, but with the binoculars, where it was, big as bold, and extremely impressive to look at.

This is not something my brain was prepared to see. Not at all. The east coast of the US is flat and low, for the most part, and invisible unless you are within 5 or 6 miles. So a mountain, clearly visible from 27 miles away was absolutely unexpected and stunning to see.

'Oh wait! Yes, I can see the island with binoculars! Land ho!' I wrote to Chris.

'Whooo! Glad I asked!'

'Amazing! We did it (almost!)' I wrote. No need to tempt King Neptune with hubris, of course.

'So exciting!!!'

Just then, Helena appeared in the companionway, looking a little sleepy. Very casually I explained my theory about the clouds on the horizon being a good clue as to the location of Faial which was, of course, still too far away to see, but I got her into the cockpit and casually coaxed her into taking a look at the clouds.

She did, without a huge amount of enthusiasm, and I waited a few moments, happy in anticipating the excitement that soon lit up her face.

'Oh my God!' She said, gripping the binoculars tighter, and focusing on what she thought she saw. 'I can see it! Mountains! Land ahoy!'

Her English is so adorable.

28 June 2022

Day 23 — Experience

At 0600 the wind really fell off and we had to pull out 'Orion', our cruising spinnaker. The name comes from the constellation of black stars sewn onto the large, light white sail. I also eased the out haul on the main to give the sail more draft, turned the boat to put us on a beam reach, and did everything I could think of to keep us moving in 6 knots of wind. Right now, we are making 3-4 knots, which is about as good as we can expect. Supposed to have this light wind all day.

After doing all that, it occurred to me that we are getting A LOT of sailing experience on this trip. The equivalent of many years of normal cruising. 5 years? I'm choosing that number from a hat, but I'm probably not far off. If nothing else, I am really learning how the old girl sails, and what makes her move. Before departing I paid to get her Polar Diagram to use in my routing program. This turned out to be a good investment because it really made the routing program come to life. I honestly thought the Polar Diagram was wildly optimistic because I'd never been able to get the performance out of Petronella that the Polar predicted, but between lots of practice (there's no way to avoid that out here!) and 'tutoring' from the routing program, telling me which angle to sail, I've gradually figured thing out, and now I'm getting performance I never dreamed possible out of the old girl. It's really been an eye opener.

Later in the day, the wind just drifted away. I think the Azores High, which we struggled to escape, has drifted east and caught us again. Before dark, we had to decide whether to drift all night, or motor all night. We decided to invest some of our remaining fuel in motoring east, wher we hope to find more wind. Time will tell.

To boost morale (mainly mine, Helena is a rock and never seems to get frustrated) I made pizza. I make it on the stove top in a cast iron skillet to save propane. Basically I make the dough, press it out into a round, about the size of the pan, heat the pan and coat the bottom with olive oil, put the dough in the pan to cook it, flip it over when slightly browned, put on the toppings, cook a bit more, then run under the broiler to melt the cheese. Simple, quick, and delicious. Helena had her half à la Portuguese, which means with onions, hard boiled eggs, and mortadella. That seemed like too many flavors for me, so I stuck with plain Margarita style.

Hoping to have wind for breakfast !

26 June 2022

Day 22 — 400 miles to Terceira

Well, we are *almost* in the Açores weather zone. Another 1/2 degree to the east and we'll be there. Everything takes longer than you expect at sea. Mainly because it's difficult to keep sailing at maximum speed all day long.

For example, I just spent an hour making under 4 knots because I was hard on the wind, and not able to lay the course I wanted. Big mystery! I expected to have the wind on the beam. Why were we headed so far into the wind?

Duh, because I had switched to the Angra waypoint, just to see how far we had to go to our first stop. Then I forgot to switch back to the next waypoint on our planned route, which had been generated by my weather routing software. When I finally realized my error, we were soon back on the right course and doing 7 knots again.

So, yeah, stuff happens and you lose time. And that lost time adds up after awhile!

The weather hasn't been great the last couple of days, so I guess the Azores aren't in a magic bubble of perfect weather. Oh well, I'm disappointed 😢

But not as disappointed as poor Helena who is dying for a squall to hit us and wash the salt off the deck and everything we need to touch out there. We've been surrounded by squalls for the last two days, but none has come close enough to drop any rain on us.

Honestly, I'm okay with that! Better salt than squalls, but we all have our own priorities!

Why are we headed to Angra on the island of Terceira, instead of Horta where everyone else is going? Because every one else is going to Horta, and it's supposed to be jam-packed full. Anchorage and marina. Angra is also a port of entry, and not nearly as popular, for some reason, so we will head there with Kalyra, and then go back to Horta once the mob moves on, assuming it does move on eventually.

Angra has fuel and water, both of which we need, and it seems like a good place to do laundry, fix a number of things that need fixing before we move on, and and of course do some sightseeing on an island apparently a lot of people pass by.

Meanwhile, we are making steady progress and are now liking at a Thursday or Friday arrival, depending on how much time we lose, minute by minute, over the next few days.

Looking forward to seeing those first islands appear on the horizon! Land ho!

25 June 2022

Day 21 — Into the eastern Atlantic

Today was all about gradually emerging out of the eastern side of the Azores High and into what is effectively the eastern Atlantic. I guess officially this really begins at 35W — the border between Met Area IV, the western Atlantic weather region under the responsibility of the US, and Met Area II, under the French — but I was going by the perceptible change in the actual weather around us.

For years, Les Weatheritt, Petronella's second owner, has been telling me that the US East Coast has the worst weather in the North Atlantic, and that we shouldn't be afraid of the unknown weather (unknown to me, he meant) in the eastern Atlantic . The unknown is always a bit scary, and I must admit that I was a bit reluctant to trade the devil I knew for… well, who knew what?

But as Helena and I finally turned off Petronella's engine this afternoon and resumed sailing in near perfect weather — a warm 8 knot breeze on the port beam, mild seas, water tinted azure green, and puffy clouds — I thought I could get used to this.

The stormy fronts boiling off the US coast were far behind us, and we hadn't actually seen any fronts for about a week. They were all shunted into the north by the High which wouldn't let them past. The forecast said we would have 8-12 knot winds the rest of the way to the Azores. Could we really be that lucky? Had we'd really entered some magic zone of good weather? We haven't had enough experience with the area to believe that, but for now, it sure feels good.

Tomorrow, we should officially pass into Met Area II. I need to subscribe to the French forecast. It's a new world…

24 June 2022

Day 20– Motoring

This morning the wind finally dwindled away to nothing and we dutifully checked our fuel level, performed standard engine checks, and started the engine. It will be 24 hours of engine rumble until we find the northerly winds on the other side of the high. It's a long time to motor.

I find myself wondering about the decisions I made about our route early on. Our friends aboard Kalyra, who left from New York the same day we left from Cape Henlopen stayed north of the Gulf Stream when we turned south. I think we had better weather than they did — our goal in heading south. It was certainly warmer, and we had fewer nasty days, but staying the course and not spending two days going south have put them two days ahead of us. Worth it?

Then I think back on that day our main halyard jammed at the top of the mast, and I had to climb the mast — surely the most dangerous thing I ever did in my life. No joke. It was a pure miracle that the conditions that day were quiet enough to make the climb feasible. If we hadn't turned south and found calmer weather, what then? What if I wasn't able to climb the mast, and the main sail stayed up?

So, we were lucky, and every sane sailor knows the value of luck.

Add to that Helena's happiness about the warm sunny weather we found on our southern route, and the deep sea of her tan, and I think I did all right. It's not a race, after all.

Anyway, that's what comes of having a lot of time to sit and think while the engine drones on and on.

We saw some small dolphins with white stripes on their sides today. The water was so clear we could see them zooming through the water 20 feet down. Amazing! I wonder what they eat? We haven't seen a single fish swimming near the boat, and now that I see that the visibility is clear enough to see them easily, the mystery deepens. Where are all the fish? It's a mystery.

23 June 2022

Day 19 - Heart of calm

Today we headed into the Azores high, and though I expected to lose the wind by sunset, we still had enough wind to sail north east — the direction we wanted to go. What to do?

Since I knew we would have to motor through the high — probably a good 24 hours — I figured every mile we sailed would be a mile we didn't have to motor. This logic wasn't precise because the high isn't static. It's always moving and changing shape, but no one knows these details exactly (don't make the mistake of thinking your GRIB data is that accurate) so the best you can do is guess.

Anyway, I decided to not waste the wind and to sail on until the wind really died away.

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful - just way sailing and calm seas. For some reason, I did have the feeling that we were in whale territory. Don't ask me why, it just felt like it. A pure logician would say there was nothing intuitive about it, that probably I could subconsciously hear whale noises through our hull, but however I got the idea, they did indeed appear during the afternoon !

There were six of them, according to the number of spouts we saw - two about a half mile to starboard, and four about the same distance to port. They were too far to see anything but the spouts, but the spouts themselves were very high and dense enough to look like smoke on the horizon. In fact, that's what Helena originally thought they were. And they had that classic mushroom shape you see in old wood carvings. Very exciting and very interesting.

Lunch was home-canned Guinness beef stew which I freshened up with some quartered onions and noodles, and we had red cabbage on the side. Yum. I love my own red cabbage, but even the jarred version tasted great with the stew.

Finally, we've been watching one of the wind vane control lines for chafe, and today the chafe seemed to have gotten markedly worse. I wrapped the affected part of the line tightly with electrical tape, and hope that provides enough chafe protection to get us to our destination.

So, not the most exciting day, but steady progress continues. That's the key to this game.