Day 41 (June 15) – at sea

Today is my 1.5 month anniversary on board this boat. What a crazy few weeks it has been!

Our status is the same. The swell got worse through the night with many waves breaking over the stern but they seem to be calming a bit. We got an updated weather report from a passing ship and it seems like this is the best we are going to get. We also got the number of the Portuguese coast guard and we are texting someone to look up the number of some towing companies to drag us the last 318 miles.

The guys are trying to figure out the rudder situation but it doesn’t sound too good with the type of swells we have and the distance we need to go. Today will be a decision point of one kind or another. Chris has already stated that, if possible, he wants to get off and onto a passing boat. With the way the seas are now, that isn’t possible but it might work if they calm in the next couple days.

Nothing much happened during the day. The guys brainstormed and we slept as much as possible to conserve energy. We are on water rations though I believe we are going to rig the water maker tomorrow.

The winds and swell started lessening towards dusk but as night moved in so did a dense fog. We have virtually no visibility and since we are seeing more ships as we get closer to Europe it is particularly dangerous.  We have contacted the coast guard and asked them to send an alert to all vessels in the area that we are adrift and to keep clear of us. That, with a close watch, is really all we can do. Again we are sleeping with life jackets to hand.

We are now 300 miles from the Azores. Even if we get a boat to tow us, it will take a day or two for them to get here.  We are hoping for calmer seas tomorrow so we can at least give some of our ideas a go. At the most basic, it would be good to have clear weather so we can keep drifting in relative safety. Then, when we get closer we can call for a tow.  Steve has mentioned having to abandon ship a couple times but I am really hoping it doesn’t come to that. Selfishly, I have been trying to figure out what I will do with my stuff at that point. At least my electronics, I would like to bring with me. As long as it isn’t a life-raft situation, that should be doable.

Day 42 (June 16) – at sea

Cargo ship passing WAY too close to our stern.
Cargo ship passing WAY too close to our stern.

It is the start of my 3 am watch and the wind has pretty much died and we are completely fogged in. I can maybe see for a few feet in any direction.  Every hour I am sending out a radio call requesting a tow from any vessel in the area but so far have heard no response. This isn’t surprising as we have only seen one sailing vessel and talked to two others on the whole trip.

On the plus side, apart from the occasional roller we have calm seas so once dawn breaks we will finally have a chance to try some of our rudder ideas.

We are currently drifting south and therefore not getting closer to our destination, but I think the chain of islands that makes up the Azores stretches to the southeast so hopefully it will make getting to one of the others easier.  It sounds like we will end up getting a tow. The UKCG is looking into info for us which we should get in the morning.

I anticipate I will fly from the Azores to mainland Europe. We have had two hard, dangerous legs in this journey. I don’t want to test the ‘three strikes and you’re out’ theory too much.

After an entire day working on rudder options, we have determined that the one we spent hours constructing has no viable place to be mounted. We tried a few options but the one that works the best would likely demast us in a big swell.  We are all exhausted and ready to give up. Photos of building new rudder.

Steve has finally agreed to doing some research into towing – something i think should have been done right away. I contacted my Portuguese friend and asked him if he could do some searching for us as the language barrier is causing a problem.

The couple from the crew who rescued us when the engine died has arrived in the Azores and is going to research some options. At this point, if I can get a ride on the next tanker, I am going to take it. Not sure what that will mean financially, but staying on this boat and drifting along isn’t an option. Even if we can find a tow – which is doubtful – it is still 4 days at *least* if we stick with the boat. An emergency rescue by the coast guard or another vessel might be faster.  Steve said today he has no insurance for this leg of the trip (which is apparently common) which is why he hasn’t abandoned ship until now.

We had a close encounter with a cargo ship this evening. We contacted them several times but there was miscommunication and at one point they were only about a half mile off and heading directly for us.  They finally ended up passing us on our stern, but only a couple hundred meters away – which is way too close for comfort! Turns out they had mistaken us for another sailing vessel which was out of fresh water and they were coming to help. Nice in theory, stressful in practice.

It is 8:30 pm now and I am going to try to sleep. We are all exhausted. Luckily I am not on watch again until 6 am so hopefully I will get past least a couple hours.

Day 43 (June 17) – at sea … Still

The new rudder mounted and working.

New morning, same situation. The nightmares are back. Wheee! At least it is beautiful out. It is 6 am. The sun has risen but is still low in the sky and the reflection on the water is almost painful to see. I can see for miles and we are surrounded by glass-like surfaces and rolling waves. It is hard to see the horizon it blends with the sea so well.

Steve apparently has another idea he wants to try. We will see…

Steve has gone to bed and I am the only one awake. I am thankful for this bit of alone time and really hope people sleep for a few hours more – which should guarantee that they’re all up in the next 20 minutes.

Chris and I hauled out the life raft this morning while the others were sleeping. It was a pain in the ass to get to and I would hate to think how it would have been in an emergency.  Steve didn’t comment but I am sure he wasn’t happy.

Chris and I are both done and plan to get off if it can be arranged with a passing boat. I will definitely be flying from the Azores. No more passages for me!

We gave the rudder another shot with a different mounting. It works but takes 2-3 people on it to make constant adjustments. Cumbersome but better than nothing.  The couple from the boat who rescued us in Bermuda have offered to come get us if all else fails. At least we are supposed to have clear weather and calm seas sf or the next 4 days.

At approximately 10:30 am we were contacted by another boat. They had received notification that we were in distress and are coming to help give us a tow. Yayayayayay! There is a chance it won’t work or there will be a problem, but odds are good we are golden.  Thank god!

While having lunch and waiting for our white knights, we were surrounded by a pod of small whales. We estimate that there were about a dozen of them and they swam around us checking us our for about an hour. I am sure they were confused by this large cousin just floating in the water not moving and making no noise.  Initially we were freaked because they were surfacing quite close and if a large whale hit us we would have been toast. Then we saw that they were small – maybe 4-5 times the size off a dolphin – so while they could knock us about I’d they hit us, they wouldn’t destroy us.

Our rescue arrived at about 2:30 pm. We tied together quickly but after a few minuted realized that without our makeshift rudder in the water, we were just going to be jerked all over the place (and jerk them as well) so we spent a while reinserting the rudder and now we are moving along well.

Chris moved to their boat as they lost their autopilot and the three men on board have been hand steering for over 800 miles.

It is now 11:15 pm and we have approximately 67 hours to go.  I wish it was 6-7 but at least we are underway!

It sounds like it is going to take a couple months for the new rudder to arrive so they are going to put the boat in a marina in the Azores. I am hoping I can boat watch for a few weeks to keep coats down before I need to head to the UK for my house sitting job in late July.

Day 44 (June 18) – at sea

The tow is going well, if slowly.  We are trying watches of 3 hours which means we only get 6 hours to sleep. I suspect I am going to be exhausted at the end of this as the max I will be able to sleep at a time is less than 5 hours.  But, at least they are snooze watches which means you just have to go up and check everything every 20-30 minutes rather than being up there the whole time.

The moonset on my watch was amazing. Some clouds moved in and semi-obscured it which made the moon look very haunting and halloweeny. When it finally hit the horizon, it was still behind scattered clouds and they filtered the light in such a way that the moon looked like the sun – big and orange. It was like a sunset in the pitch black.  Very cool!

Day 45 (June 19) – at sea

Same shit, different day. Can’t wait to get a full night sleep but glad I am not on the other boat. Apparently since they have to stand while hand-steering, their watches are 1.5 hours on 4.5 hours off. They must just be wrecked. I feel bad for Chris. The worst part for us is that the way the towing captain wants our ropes set up is causing a lot of chafing so we have to go adjust the ropes every 90 minutes to prevent them from snapping. It sucks, but it sucks less than drifting aimlessly in the mid-Atlantic.

We are back on water rations as we have found out that the marina we are heading to is not only very expensive with no facilities, but it is also full to the point that they are rafting the boats together and to get to the dock you have to climb through the cockpits of a bunch of other boats. That would suck!  Instead we are going to take a night or two in the marina to rest and resupply then the boat from Bermuda will tow us 70 miles to a marina on another island. We also need to have lift-out facilities so the new rudder can be installed when it arrives.

We should arrive sometime tomorrow. I can’t wait for this to be over!

Day 46 (June 20) – at sea

Finally arrived in Flores in the early evening.  We were all exhausted, but no one more than Chris since he’d been on the other boat the whole time. Pretty much the whole village and all of the yachties turned out to watch us arrive.  People had been hearing about us for days and we saw a couple of the boats we’d been talking to while stranded so it was quite a party.

After tying up, Chris and Steve (from the boat that towed us in Bermuda) joined us onboard for a mini-celebration and we popped a couple bottles of champagne and enjoyed not having to be stressed out for a few minutes.  Later we all headed into town for dinner on Steve as a thanks for all of our hard work.  Much wine was consumed but we were all in bed by about 10 pm and looking forward to the first relaxing sleep in a week.