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  • Writer's pictureAna

105 hours of sailing upwind - Madeira to Cascais

"Upwind sailing, when going to the toilet becomes a dangerous radical sport." In this sail, we got to experience light winds and moderate ones, on a trip that was expected to be long and slow. And so it was. We left Madeira mid-afternoon on the “tail” of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet. They had passed on the same route we were planning to do earlier that day, but unfortunately for us, they had all managed to do great times on the first part of their race leg from Alicante to Lisbon so we missed the remote chance of seeing them pass on the horizon. We would have to wait until we got to Cascais and Lisbon to go see them before their departure on the next race leg from Lisbon to Cape Town.

As we gained distance from the Madeira Archipelago an amazing sunset reinforced the idea that we have to come back to these beautiful islands, the night rolled in we got ready for our shifts. Despite the warm temperatures during the day, the night presented itself cooler but dry and with clear skies. None of us got into trouble during the shifts throughout the entire trip, no encounters with other vessels or fishing apparatus, just sail changes to deal with the wind. But as we progressed North every day we felt the weather changing from warm days and nights to chilly days and cold nights. The first days were defined by light winds coming on the nose, around 20 to 30 degrees and around 10 knots of strength but we managed to keep an average speed of 5-6 knots while sailing and avoid to motor-sail except when the wind completely died off or when tack after tack we couldn’t see any progression in our journey. We tried out our new wind-vane and enjoyed the peace and quiet once the autopilot was off. It is way more comfortable to use the wind-vane instead of the electric autopilot and Ella enjoyed the sail even more without that annoying sound of the chain, motor and gears.

Eventually, the winds died off and we started drifting towards the shipping channel path that leads to the TSS off the coast of Sagres point, this could be a problem since those ships come at massive speeds so we tried to motor with the engine without success, it just kept stalling. We had been experiencing problems since day one when we bought the yacht but despite our instructions to the boatyard to have the tanks cleaned, the yard decided to judge us by our age and the experience they thought we had or in this case the lack of it. They dismissed the problem as being a user problem, that we didn’t open the fuel tank valves correctly or completely so the engine would fail and starve. After that, we decided to check it ourselves but when checking the fuel through the inspection access point we had only found really clean fuel. So after checking with another marine mechanic in Gibraltar, it seemed like the bet was on the chance of an air leak or a clogged air vent. But the reality was that contrary to all the other times we encountered trouble with the engine the seas were flat on this occasion, all the lines had been visually checked for air leaks and the tank ventilation pipes cleaned so obviously that was not the problem. We were back to square one and our suspicions turned again to the fuel!

After reading Nigel Calder book Marine Diesel Engines: Maintenance, Troubleshooting, and Repair we were even more confident that the problem was fuel related, so we had no other option than repairing the situation at sea. We were drifting towards the shipping channel without wind or engine and that was a situation we didn’t want to be in. So we pulled our sleeves up and started opening one of the tanks fuel intake, the plan was to in last case scenario jury rig the fuel intake from one of the spare fuel containers to see if the problem disappeared. It was not a big surprise to find that since the fuel tanks are in an odd shape and tapered towards the fuel intake we had fuel bug debris clogged only in that area of the tank! We cleaned the fuel intake pipe assembled the whole thing again and started the engine. It was finally working again and despite the fact we had to repeat the process several times at least now we had a solution.

Diesel Bug clogging fuel intake

It was a difficult task to disassemble an entire cabin to get to the tanks and that left the entire interior in a complete state of chaos, but also the fact we spent the entire time that we were fixing the problem listening to a MOB recovery attempt from a ship some 100 or so miles away. At the same time we were finishing the repair the MOB recovery was also concluded but after that, the mood to sail was gone so we just motored off those final hours. We just wanted to arrive our next Port and rest. The remaining part of this leg was uneventful and we arrived Cascais close to 11 pm.

Besides the above-described incidents with the engine and the MOB recovery over the radio, one of the things that made this sail different from others we previously did was not only the distance but the number of special visits we had. It is quite amazing the number of birds that found our yacht a safe place to take a break on their journey. Some lingered for awhile others just the enough to catch their breath. Surprisingly all seemed to be birds we wouldn’t imagine to travel the distances they did from land. With exception of an owl, all the other birds were the size of a sparrow or just a little bit bigger. We are still trying to identify them.

Total hours: 105 hours Total nautical miles: 608 nm Maximum speed recorded: 9.2 knots (during a few seconds) 8.5 knots a few times Minimum speed recorded: 2.3 knots Average speed: 5 knots (excluding the hours we motored) Maximum wind speed recorded: 17 knots (at 20° degree angle of sailing) Minimum wind speed recorded: 4 knots (at 20° degree angle of sailing) Average wind speed: 24 knots Swell: 1 to 1.5 meters Wildlife: 4 dolphins, 1 owl, 1 yellow canary that visited twice, 1 sparrow that hitchhiked hidden in the spray-hood side pocket for a full night, and 3 other birds we can't identify that rested for a few moments in our yacht.

Useful resources we use when at sea:

***In the spirit of sharing our dreams and experiences we have shared this blog post in the NOFOREIGNLAND.COM website sailors community.

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