"AVOCET" - A GRAMPIAN 30 VOYAGE
An email home
from Bryan Allan who sailed from Newfoundland to Portugal in Summer of 2004 in
30ft Grampian, Avocet
" Flores, Azores to Povo de Varzim, Portugal"
(This is a continuation of the letter sent home to family and friends, mostly nonsailors. This part is preceeded with some specifics about how the Grampian 30 handled her various passages.)
How the Grampian 30 has handled ocean passages:
I spent the first several years I have owned AVOCET thinking it was an interim boat and that I would eventually get that "real ocean boat", a Hans Christian, a Tayana, a Pacific Seacraft, etc. And yet, each year, she gets me where I want to go and seems to take whatever comes her way. I no longer look at the listings (ok, maybe a little) and have no plans on replacing her. On passage from Bermuda to Nova Scotia, she endured a 2 1/2 day gale that peaked out at 45 to 50 kts of wind with 20 foot waves and occasional 25's. She did suffer a bit of hull flex with some separation of the fiberglass tabbing connecting the port setee plywood to the hull.
Though smacked around by many waves, she was never knocked down. I'm glad of that as I would worry about the 3 batteries below the cockpit sole. I have them strapped down but that would still be a lot of energy working on a lot of weight. I have rotating hold-downs for all the interior lockers but they also have never been tested by a knockdown.
A few of those waves broke over the stern and half filled the cockpit. The drains worked but painfully slowly. Most of the water made it back to the ocean by virtue of feverish bailing with a bucket. I have often wished for a large drain, say 3"x4", connected to a spring-loaded door on the stern by a fiberglass tube. While in the cockpit bailing, I left the bottom two wash boards in place in case another wave boarded. Once, while trying to jump quickly to the cockpit to bail, I hit the upper of these two wash boards with my knee and broke off the vertical grain on the side. This was a big problem as until I repaired it, I was vulnerable to boarding waves. I now have all the boards pinned with SS rod. I had a bungee with hooks holding down the washboards to prevent the boards going over the side in a knockdown.
I also need a spring-loaded cover for the exhaust as twice I have had water driven into the cylinders by prolonged days in large following seas. The most recent time was this year ('04) sailing to Portugal from the Azores. We were so thrilled to have fair winds every day that we never ran the engine. A solar panel supplied power back to the batteries. Had I started the engine once a day, I would have at least known about the water intrusion sooner and perhaps prevented it altogether.
The mast steps, which I now consider must-have equipment, did twice snag a sail while coming about, once tearing a genoa. I have since added light lines which run from the steps to the cap shroud from the spreaders on up. I should have done that years ago.
AVOCET is a keel/centerboard model and most years the centerboard is not working for one reason or another. The brackets which support the hinge pin were attached to the lead keel with lag bolts. These eventually worked loose and fell out. Of course it was 2 in the morning half way to Bermuda. Luckily, the pennant was still intact and we rescued the centerboard. I have since bored a 1/2" hole through the keel and have an SS rod with cotter pins on each end acting as the hinge pin.
The floor timbers seemed thin and vulnerable to the constant moisture so I laminated and thru-bolted additional 3/4" plywood to each side. I also had to support the sagging floor under the mast compression post. I did up-size the standing rigging one size and replaced the closed turnbuckles with 1/2" open body.
I don't find AVOCET to be especially fast. 115 to 120 miles a day seems to be what she will do generally speaking though she once did 141. Perhaps if I wasn't dragging a 3 bladed prop through the water, she'd do a little better. A feathering prop is another one of those 'lust-for' items that I'll never get. As a k/c boat, she also doesn't point really well but mostly this hasn't been an issue for me.
Anyone new to the 30 should check the port side cap shroud chain plate. This one is bolted to wood but the wood is hidden by the fiberglass tabbing. 30 years of use could easily start a leak which would rot the wood around the chainplate bolts. Mine was this way and I have welded 'wings' and 'tail' to the original chainplate. I also put backing plates on all the chainplates. Mine just had washers and cap nuts.
Hi all -
Our first landfall in the Azores was at the town of Lajes on the island of Flores. This island is the western most part of Europe for you trivia buffs. Lajes has an exposed little anchorage with high cliffs on one side and a concrete breakwater on the other but open to the NE. We stayed here about a week exploring the rest of the island by foot, taxi, car, and bus.
Our fleet of 6 yachts grew by one when a 44 foot sloop arrived from Norfolk carrying a married couple and two hired crew. Keith and Carol had purchased INTREPID through an internet sale, flown to Virginia from half way around the world, and fit her out for the passage east. Keith, in addition to being a control freak and particular about just about everything, is a New Zealander. NZ men apparently still live in a world where women are treated as second rate by western standards. The two American crew, Sherry and Greg, were also found via the net on one of the many "Crew Available" sites. The owners wanted experienced crew; i.e. someone who could get the boat to its destination on their own if necessary. Sherry and Greg had each been aboard someone else's boat for 1 ocean-crossing trip and were now in their minds 'experienced'. Sherry had been a lawyer, in fact a lawyer which defended other lawyers so she will accept crap from no one, New Zealander or otherwise. Greg had come aboard seeking an escape from marital troubles back home. So the four came together in a witch's brew of differing titles, mindsets, and expectations. From what we could gather, the first few days at least were quite pleasant. I only wish I could have been a fly on the wall for some of the on-board 'discussions' as the crossing progressed. We met up with the owners and crew several times though rarely together. Each conversation with one pair brought out ever more strenuous dialogues about the faults and peccadilloes of the other. Andy took to calling their boat the 'Insipid'. It's no wonder yachts are sold and divorces begun in most of the world's major ports.
Geoff is a Brit sailing alone. He'd been married and divorced four times and had decided he liked his own company just fine. Tall, thin, blond and blue-eyed, he looked quite a bit like Crocodile Dundee and wore a leather, flat-topped hat that sealed the comparison for everyone. At 58, he never thought he'd find an American he really liked but that was before he met Andy. They fattened the tills of several pubs draining pints and talking into the wee hours about anything and everything. This December, he plans to begin a solo-circumnavigation of the world.
Two American women, Ginny and Carol, are both in their 60's and sailing together on a Ginny's 39 foot sloop. They are making up their itinerary as they go. Ginny's husband died a few years ago and she decided she could keep the dream alive and be closest to him by continuing to sail the boat they both loved so much. But she couldn't take on an ocean passage alone so a friend put her in touch with Carol. Carol loves blue-water sailing above all else. Ironically, and unfortunately, her husband does not.
She had always said to him that one day the phone would ring and she'd be forced to make a big decision; stay or go. So after 40 years of marriage, kids, the whole bit, she went. They're still 'together' mind you and he is scheduled to come over to Logos, Portugal to visit but I suspect prying his wife away from her new situation will be difficult.
We met the other cruisers in the harbor but did not get to know them as well. There was the Frenchman who was told not to anchor where he had and of course then dragged anchor all over the harbor. He weighed anchor and slipped out quietly early one morning.
Two Germans, father and son, didn't seem to know a lot about sailing but had solved that problem by buying a rusty old tub-of-a-motor-sailor and were 'driving' across the ocean on the strength of their boat's humongous engine. When we left, they were still trying to figure out the best way to get 4000 liters of diesel to their boat. They were also trying to figure out how to pay for it - it costs about 1 euro per liter.
Two rather thin and scruffy looking characters of unknown European origin pulled in one day after sailing from the Caribbean directly to the Azores. They lost their engine first and then lost the wind. They were 42 days on passage. Having counted on a crossing time more like 18 days with supplies to match, they had to severely ration their food for quite some time. As they rowed ashore for the first time, their dog stood in the bow barking his joy at making it back to terra firma, land of trees and fire hydrants. He would have been even happier if he only knew how close he came to not completing the trip at all.
Another long and difficult passage was made by a solo sailor from Long Island who pulled in aboard a 23 foot sloop that looked more like a day-sailor than an ocean boat. His trip was apparently like that of a bird flying high over the sea but losing feathers one after the other and trying desperately to reach land before all the feathers had fluttered away. When we saw him crippling his way into Lajes, he had one tattered sail left, no engine and no food.
Geoff the Brit had been to the Azores and Flores several times before and was a wealth of information on all the islands. He also had access to a small car, the result of a friendship with a local he had met last year. In this little rattle-trap of a car, Geoff took us on a small tour to his favorite places, places that the taxi drivers didn't go. Driving around the mountainous island, one is either going up or down, left or right, never flat or straight. He took us to some great spots high over town and through the dramatic farmland all edged in blue hydrangea. It was hard for Andy and I not to think of Jackie Paine and her love for the same flowers.
The last spot Jeff took us to was the most difficult to get to but the absolute best. To get to Porto Lomba, we drove to the end of a small road and parked by a farm house which sat near the edge of a cliff maybe 1000 feet over the ocean. From here we hiked down a very old trail, switch backing down the steep hillside to the water. The trail was crudely paved with large, flattish rocks, the uphill side having a stone retaining wall about 4 feet high and the downhill side had one extending 4 to 8 feet below.
This work had been done because Porto Lomba used to be a whaling station and the whalers had to carry everything they extracted from the whales back up this path. Andy and Geoff walked ahead of me as I kept stopping to photograph the large and unusual flowers. The pleasant fragrance I noticed wafting through the air was not coming from the flowers though but from the mint growing wild in the path that we were all walking on. At the bottom, the whaling station was literally carved from the jagged, bolder-strewn shoreline. There stood an old stone building where the flensing and oil-rendering tools were kept, its Spanish-tiled roof caving in at the corner. A work area and ramp to the water was built where the whales were hauled up by the tail. We enjoyed the history and quiet solitude of this spot and wanted to come back. With an eye toward that, we made note of a spot of shallow water with a sand bottom near the cliffs that would make a good place to anchor. They steep walk back up to the car kept us all wondering what it must have been like to make the climb with 100 pounds of whale oil on your shoulders.
One sunny morning only two days later, Andy and I sailed Avocet around to this spot and anchored. A bower out to sea and a stern line pulled ashore kept the boat directly under the high cliffs but off the rocks nearby. Reading in the sun-drenched cockpit, snorkeling in the crystal-clear water, rowing the dink 100 feet into the several nearby caves, cooking dinner on the rail-mounted grill, watching the endless stars come out; these things marked our time here and the 24 hours we spent became my favorite in all our weeks in the Azores. Had we only known then that we would have very few other days like it and that we'd be in marinas much of the time, we would have stayed longer, much longer.
We left this great spot and made the short hop north to Corvo, one of the smallest islands with only one small town of 400 people. We were the only yacht there and had a great walk to the rim of the caldera. Well, we did get a partial ride each way but did walk a third of it. Back at the boat, we debated when to leave so as to arrive in daylight at Horta on the island of Faial, 140 miles away. The decision was to leave that evening at dusk. The winds exceeded our expectations though and we arrived at dark . Andy was at the helm as we approached the city and as he fought to stay awake, he blinked hard as the entire city, aglow in all its lights, suddenly went black and then came back to life and light some moments later.
Some sort of power outage though we never heard about it. The marina was not lit well "Corvo" and we were too tired to try to get in so we anchored just outside its walls and went to sleep. Soon after, a piercing, loud blast from an airhorn jolted us awake at sunrise. 'Must be the marine police telling us we can't anchor here or some such' we told ourselves as we stumbled out into the cockpit. No. It was Keith, having just arrived from Flores, driving INSIPID in circles around us wanting to know about the marina. Knucklehead.
After going in and getting our berths, we spoke again and learned that Sherry had already jumped ship and Greg was to be leaving soon after. The berth we were given happened to be right next to Geoff who had gotten in a day earlier. (the pubs again fattened their tills on Geoff and Andy's late night conversations) Ginny and Carol arrived a few days later.
In Horta, the sailing capitol of the Azores, the big thing a sailor does is to paint a design on the sea wall which represents the boat and one's trip, a mark that says, "I made it". I had heard about this tradition some years ago and have imagined myself making 'my mark' ever since. Every horizontal and vertical concrete surface is covered and there must be 4 or 5 thousand paintings around the marina. You finds a space by searching for a painting that is so faded that it can no longer be read and paint over it. It took us several days to begin and several more to finish and we enjoyed all of it. Geoff was able to refresh his old one while Ginny and Carol made a new one as we did.
Soon after arriving, a group of
uniformed boy and girl scouts chaperoned by an adult came to each boat and
delivered one hydrangea blossom and a bottle of wine. What a classy welcome! I
then learned that the gifts were an apology of sorts as Festival week was
beginning and they would be building a stage at the end of the marina for the
nightly rock bands. While at the marina, I helped another sailor get to the top
of a tall mast so as to replace an antennae. I offered to go up myself but the
offer was declined leaving me to crank away on the main halyard winch. The
sailor was a
"Horta" woman, sailing alone, and 68 years old! You've got to admire that.
We left Horta fully expecting to meet up with our friends elsewhere in the Azores but despite advertising our plans and making many stops on two more islands, we never did. That was too bad because no matter how stunning the scenery or sublime the adventure, it's always about the people in the end. It was in Bermuda, it was in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and it would prove to be in Portugal too.
On August 14th we sailed out of Praia Vitoria, Terceira, our last port of call in the Azores, bound for mainland Portugal. Conventional wisdom says that one should sail north to latitude 40 or 41 so as to escape the Azores High and pick up the westerlies. This year however, has been a strange weather year from the start and the Azores High never did set itself down over the islands. So we sailed the rhum line, direct for Povo de Varzim, a small resort town near Porto in the north of Portugal. This plan was a total success and we never had to tack or use the engine.
One night we had the oil lamp on in lieu of electric lights as the batteries were low. The captain of a freighter we had been watching must have seen this and been overcome with curiosity because soon he was attempting to cozy up to us broadside. He didn't answer any radio calls on multiple channels. We didn't think there were any ill intentions but when this looming black hulk got so close you could hurt your neck looking at all of it, we flicked on our lights and steered clear. This seemed to cure his curiosity as well and he steamed off. We saw several more ships that night and I looked at each one with a little extra suspicion.
After 8 days of steady down-wind sailing, we got our first indications of land many miles out because the Portuguese people were celebrating a holiday with fireworks. It was an odd thing seeing those fireworks. The people under them were most likely laughing, cheering, and smiling with joy. We should have been feeling the same way but despite the warm breeze, the stars, the dolphins around the boat, the imminent completion of our trip, seeing land left both of us in an odd emotional state. We expected to feel a wild joy at our success but instead felt only a strange emptiness that was difficult to understand or explain We finally came to see that having to take this goal, this big ambition, and remove it from the list of things that lay before us and put it on the list of things that lay behind was the reason. Sir Francis Chichester, a British adventurer of flying and sailing fame wrote that he actually felt an intense depression whenever he achieved one of his dreams and felt that happiness was in the doing, the striving, the attempting, not in the success. I believe him. And now I'm finally beginning to get excited about next year's sailing.
RETURN to Part 1