Leg 2: Lisbon to St Lucia – trip total 6,750 Miles
So are we living the dream? That’s a good question to ask right now, 6,750 nautical miles (12,500 kilometers) and 2 ½ months into the trip. The last sector of this leg has been long; we joined the ARC Rally across the Atlantic (more below on that) and I’m a bit tired after 18 days and 3000 nautical miles at sea. It seems a lifetime ago we made the decision to buy Coco and sail her home from Finland. For sure there have been some long sleepless days and nights because of the long-distance sailing, and I feel like we’ve been chasing our tails non-stop from Finland trying to make miles to move south and get stuff sorted out on a new yacht. However, we’ve seen some really cool parts of the world you’d never really think to go and some days I’ve felt very much at peace on the ocean. I get a feeling from the Caribbean through into the South Pacific, we will be able to slow down and enjoy a more sedate pace!
I’m also feeling way more comfortable in sailing Coco – she’s got a lot of moving parts so its certainly not as simple as Dad’s old trimaran, and there’s always a lot of work to do in getting ready for each long leg. But she’s an awesome yacht to do a long journey on. We can throw wind and waves at her and she just keeps going. She sits well in a big sea but can easily hit 12 knots with the gennaker up. So we are still super happy in our choice to buy a Swan 54 – it’s perfect for performance bluewater cruising and long ocean crossings.
So, to answer the question, are we living the dream? I think we might be! On to a summary of the last month covering Portugal, Madeira Islands, the Canary Islands, and our 3000 mile Atlantic crossing.
Vintage Port & Sangria – Lisbon & Porto
The primary reason for the stop in Lisbon was to get the water maker sorted out, still playing up (grrrrr). It hasn’t been right from the start and we really needed to get it sorted before we cross the Atlantic (no shit Sherlock…). While the stop in Lisbon was somewhat unscheduled, having never been to Portugal, it also gave us a chance to explore a new part of the world. We berthed Coco at Cascais Marina at the entrance to Lisbon harbor and had a few nights off the boat exploring Lisbon city. We stayed in the old part of the city and found there, some pretty cool history, along great bars and restaurants. These guys make an artform of Sangria – not just your typical holiday destination sweet and red teenage memories of hangover inducing rubbish (come on, let’s face it, we’ve all done it) – we are talking artisanally produced Dacasa Espumante made with pride, mixed with a local brandy, passionfruit and other tasty additions. The result is a perfectly balanced, 1 litre jug of happiness that keeps magically refilling itself. Love it.
After exploring Lisbon, we bailed north to Porto to get our hands on some epic goodness from the historical home of Port. Porto is a pretty town, however the Port producers have become very commercial in their operations so we searched out some of the smaller guys and found Kopke, one of the oldest producers, who had some stunning years in their cellar (including a vintage 1966 Colheita– a perfect year!). Oh, and there’s pig – a lot of pig – in the form of their famous Black Iberian cured ham. Portugal’s answer to Italy’s Prosciutto. I was left wondering, if you were a pig, why would you choose this part of the world to live in?
Sweet Wine & Sunshine – Madeira Islands
The 500 odd mile crossing to the Madeira islands was plain sailing. Our first stop in the Island group was Porto Santo (for no particular reason apart from it looked cool on the chart – that’s pretty much how we make most of our navigational decisions), arriving early in the morning, and we loved it! The marina was good, the staff were helpful and facilities as expected. The island was laid back, not full of tourists, a bit hippy bohemian and really friendly locals.
Our one night there turned into 3 with some great running trails around the northern end of Porto Santo which while remote, has pretty amazing soft rock formations around the coast, some good exploring by cycle around the rest of the island and some awesome beach bars serving up of course, the omnipresent sangria, and beautiful sunsets.
I’d go back, and if you are sailing this route to the Canary Islands, I’d definitely schedule a stop here. Just a note on ground transport when we are ashore for a couple of days or more. Most cruising yachts have fold-up bikes – we aren’t any different. The “go-to” standard seems to be the Brompton folding bike from the UK. I did a fair bit of research and found the Tern Verge P10. They are awesome and look way cool (the Brompton by comparison looks positively frumpy). The Tern’s also run standard Shimano parts for most of the components which means getting repairs done around the world is pretty simple whereas the Brompton has a lot of custom parts. The Tern rides like a full-size bike and it’s fast. We love them.
Because we extended our stay on Porto Santo, we only had a brief stay of a couple of nights on the main Island, Madeira. We berthed after a short 50 mile sail in 6 meter Atlantic ocean swells (awesome) at Quinta do Lorde marina in the north.
Even though it’s a resort marina, its modern and has good berthing. The north of the island is stunning so after a few boat jobs, we had a chance look around the top half of the island and had an awesome trail run followed by a long lunch in a wee village down the coast. My most epic find was a vege store that served Madeira wine at a bar in the corner of the shop! My favorite grocery shopping for sure…. Of course, we picked up a supply of Madeira wines for the yacht – it’s a bit addictive.
Mercury Bay goes Atlantic
So here’s a bit of history, and some irrelevant nostalgia. My Dad gave me before we left New Zealand to start this adventure, his own personal Mercury Bay Boating Club (MBBC) flag. Dad was commodore of the club when Michael Fay and David Richwhite (a couple of fatcat NZ based merchant bankers flying high in the 80’s) decided to make an out of cycle challenge in 1988 for the America’s Cup using a little-known technicality in the rulebook. They thought they were pretty clever taking on the big guys. They needed a yachtclub to make the challenge through, and given Mr Faye had a connection with my old man and Mercury Bay, they chose MBBC. This meant fame for the club, bubble breaking over the bow for my Mum, and trips to San Diego. All good! The challenger got to choose the yacht type – they designed a big long 90 foot waterline beast – and hey presto, a challenge was made. MBBC had to move out of the caravan on the beach and build a proper home for the yachtclub to scrub up their image at the same time – progress. This was all good – except the Yanks didn’t take to kindly to some upstart kiwi’s messing with their cup so they paid some mighty expensive lawyers to mess with the rules even more and built a super-fast catamaran that kicked our arses to touch. End of story.
But the flag, that my Dad designed for that cup challenge, lives on. And it was a real privilege for me to fly my Dad’s flag to cross the Atlantic – probably the first MBBC flag to do make crossing I suspect. So thanks Dad, we are still flying your flag with pride.
Canary Island Potatoes
Leaving Madeira at 5am we figured we could make the Canary Islands group before dark the next day. We had an epic sail – the conditions were perfect and Coco hoovered along, loving the conditions. Randomly (for navigational reasons aforementioned), we chose Graciosa for our first stop. I’ll start by saying it’s just cool Graciosa is a really small Island (most of it a protected park or marine reserve) right up the northern end of the group and what a find! It had a cute little marina (we had to grovel to get a berth) and awesome bars / restaurants scattered around the small port area. There were a lot of day trippers coming across from Lanzarote but once they left on the ferry back to the port of Orzola, it was just us and the locals. We were gutted that we could only get one night in the marina, it’s probably been one of our favorite places yet. Very few vehicles, the roads are sand, the buildings all perfect white gathered around the port.
The running the next morning was pretty stunning with a 13km loop around the biggest volcanic hill on the Island and around the coast. We loved it and if you are ever sailing this way, it’s totally worth the stop on Graciosa – but try and stay longer, you’ll regret leaving.
From there we heading down the east coast of Lanzarote the next island in the Canary group heading south. First stop was Porto Calero marina (another good stop) where we hired a car and went exploring the island. Lanzarote is less touristy than the other islands further south but certainly had its fair share of them!
The island is volcanic, really volcanic, and this makes it pretty stunning. Old craters, lots of lava, plenty of history relating to lava roasted residents, and wine – yes, they actually grow wine in the lava. It’s pretty awesome to see and some of it was bloody good! However, the highlight was the Canary Island potatoes. I’ve gone off french-fries forever. These small dark spuds, grown in the lava fields, boiled in salty water from the Atlantic and smothered in Mojo Picon , the local sauce made from spicy peppers, was just epic. Thank you, God, for growing Canary Island potatoes – a moment of divine inspiration.
As much as we wanted to explore the next island south, Fuerteventura, We had to bail from Lanzarote to Las Palmas on Grand Canaria before a windshift to make the start of the ARC Rally and to get our new boom fitted!
Flying Fish and Fair Winds – The Atlantic Crossing.
Hitting Las Palmas a week before joining the ARC Rally to make our 3000 mile transit of the Atlantic we were a bit short on time to get ready for the crossing and to have our new fancy pants carbon fiber park avenue boom installed. The ARC is organized by the World Cruising Club and is a friendly “race” for a bunch of salty sea dogs wanting to sail from Europe to the Caribbean. I’d love to say we had a relaxing enjoyable week but that’s just fantasy. Most of the other 170 yachts in the fleet doing the ARC had spent months, even years, getting prepared for this rally and we had a week – hmmmm… So while all the other participants were swilling free beer at the sundowners, we were still doing jobs. Anyway, we worked our arses off and we were still getting our shit together right up until the start gun.
Regardless, on November 25 at 13:00 hours, we set off. My first big ocean crossing that we planned to make in around 18 days. Did we know what we were doing? Not really, but we got to the start line on time.
So, what’s it like to spend that amount of time at sea with nothing to look at but ocean? Anyone who has done it before knows. One day blends into the next, you’re tired a lot of the time, the days go really quickly, and you see a lot of flying fish. They are awesome when they land in the cockpit in the middle of the night with a thump and you’re left wondering what just fell off the mast! We didn’t see any whales, however a yacht about 200 miles north of us did bump into one and damaged its rudder. Ouchies. Here are some notable things about a long ocean crossing:
- I’m getting good at sleeping sideways in the bed to stop me rolling out.And I can now sleep in midair when we hit a big wave. What a skill. I think that’s taking the concept of an airbed a bit far… I think this is the closest to levitating I’ll ever get.
- Trying to cook on the starboard tack is awesome – every time you open a cupboard or the fridge things fly at you, a lot of things.I’m applying for a job with the Boston Red Sox as a catcher.
- We’ve had squalls so I’ve never reefed in and reefed out so many time in my life.There’s an old song my kids used to sing when they were little about the wheels on the bus going round and round. We have “the sails on the boat go up and down”.
- Cooking with Atlantic water – OMG, the best pasta water ever! Perfect salt content.
- I have more bruises than ever before in my life – and I’m sick to death of headbutting the boat.Sorry Coco.
- I’ve broken up with my alarm clock – having that thing go off so many times in one day is just wrong.
- I’m getting real sick of curries – who knew you could curry so many things? Oh, and one pot meals. Overrated.
- Fixing shit – just shit.Yes things break.
- The calm starry nights with shooting stars – beautiful.
- And its getting warm! The further southwest we go, the less clothes I’m wearing.Water temp now 27 degrees (vs. the Baltic at the start of this journey at 6 degrees)
- I love our aircon – it keeps everything dry and cool (vs the Baltic where it kept everything dry and warm)
- I’m sick of being harnessed to the mothership – I’m breaking up with my tether well.
- I’ve claimed December 8 as International Potato Day – we had so many Canary Island potatoes on the boat I had to invent this day to get rid of them.The crew hate me.
In terms of the ARC Rally, it was pretty difficult to take the race seriously. We never set out to win our class. We wanted to enjoy the crossing and make it to St Lucia safely. So pulling the gennaker in before the dark so we could enjoy the Atlantic sunsets was pretty standard. We had good company with 10 Swan’s in the fleet (one other Swan 54) and 5 Kiwi yachts flying the flag.
My birthday was on November 26, the second day into the crossing. What did I do? Night watch at 3am, ate chocolate and Pringles (woohoo – push the boat out baby), drank a bottle of 1966 vintage port, smoked a Cuban cigar, went to bed and got up for night watch again. I guess I asked for that! However, spending it on the Atlantic was pretty awesome.
So I’m writing this blog about 600 miles out from St Lucia in the Caribbean – that’ll take us around 3 days to cover. And disaster strikes – we’ve just run out of beer. The worst thing is, I can only blame myself – I bought the freaking beer! That cold one when we get to St Lucia is going to be pretty damn fine. We are looking forward to seeing what the Caribbean brings. Oh, and the water maker is working…