A fast run from Cascais to the Madeira Archipelago
Day 1 (2022-09-17)
The day started, as per our usual, quite early.
Up before sunrise, morning coffee on the starboard saloon seats while reading the news and waiting for the sun to come up. With a final check of the forecast.
With the first daylight, we got on busy bees mode preparing to up the anchor, final tidy up of the cockpit and lock up all stuff in the galley and saloon. Ella did her morning peepee on her mat, and knowing well the up anchor pre-tasks went to her cockpit seat to wait to be tethered as usual.
John started the engine as I finished the last round of checking things were ready. He moved to the bow and I moved to the helm station and we started lifting the anchor.
What a difference it is having the LiFePo4 battery bank, even without being connected to the alternator and discharged from the night before. The windlass feels powered constantly without any engine assistance.
In a short time we were making our way out of the anchorage with our eyes wide open and super focused on the water trying to avoid the absurdity of nearly invisible fishing pots that dot the entire Portuguese coastline.
Not much wind at that point. We could have taken the opportunity to hoist the mainsail but preferred to be sure we were out of the "danger" zone.
One hour later we already had full sails up and the motor turned off, 18 knots winds after the beam and we were making good distance from Cascais.
Still, a few fishing pots were to be avoided but not as annoying as closer to shore. Wind stronger than forecasted but at that time we thought maybe it was pressing and accelerating on Cabo da Roca.
Two hours into our journey the wind was still stronger than forecasted, occasionally gusting to 24knots.
With the winds and seas pressing a bit we had already noticed a strange squeak coming from the rudder quadrant, we decided to put a reef on the Mainsail.
We packed the Jib turned to the wind and did the first reef on the Mainsail as good measure. Turned back on course and decided to open the new Solent sail for a play. At this point, as we were still getting to the course and a bigger wave rolled a bit more awkwardly, that moment autopilot decided it didn’t want to play, restarting itself after giving the message "rudder feedback error", this could mean hand steering if it didn’t return normal after reboot, but when it came back up all seemed normal.
I went below to inspect the quadrant and rudder, John followed a bit later and both decided that at this point nothing seemed out of normal so we should continue.
Just north of Cascais there is a reasonably busy and big TSS (Traffic Separation Scheme, like a highway for cargo and big vessels with specific lanes and rules for navigation) that we would cross just south of it, although quite busy our pace seemed to allow us to cross without much fuss or even the need to adjust our course. We were doing 7-8knots of SOG (Speed Over Ground) with the Solent sail and a reef on the Mainsail. Winds still gusting 18-19 occasionally 20 knots.
Something that was still in the back of our minds was the Orcas “killer whales”.
We had been through a period of 10 days without any reports of sightings or incidents and then all of sudden on the same day there were multiple reports in the area of Vigo, in Spain, just north of Portugal. Previous reports had been much further north. Although on the week before we splashed (5th September) there had been two incidents off the coast of Sines, a city just south of Lisbon. Both boats had hauled out at the same yard as us for repairs, both had extensive damages to their rudders that had been chewed by the Orcas.
Our goal was to cross as fast as possible to the other side of the TSS with hopes that it would give us a good distance from the areas where they had been reported to attack in the last two years and hoping also that the reasonably intense cargo traffic acted as a deterrent.
Once we cleared the TSS we decided to switch back to our Jib and furl the Solent away. At this wind angle, we didn’t need to depower the boat but we wanted to play with the sail for a bit.
We kept one reef on the Jib to ease the pressure and kept the wind on a broad reach between 100 and 120 of AWA (Apparent Wind Angle). Not only this made things more comfortable onboard it still kept us going at speeds of 7-8 knots for most of the day.
By lunchtime we had already made a mental note regarding the loud squeaky we could hear from the rudder and quadrant. We may have tightened the steering cable a bit too much, something that we would address when we made landfall.
Late afternoon as I was snoozing preparing for my night shifts, John woke me up. He had just seen a huge spout at quite a distance behind us. The question was: Orcas or Whale?
I scoured the horizon with the binoculars and noticed a spout also, it seemed to be too big to be from an Orca but what do we actually know about the topic?
We kept our eyes glued to the area trying to understand what kind of animal would have done that, but we didn’t have any more sightings. Once again we relaxed.
I prepared dinner on the induction top or better to say I heated up dinner on the induction top, thanks mum!
We settled in for the end of the day but just before sunset, we were surrounded by a huge pod of very small dolphins. They were everywhere, swimming super fast and giving shy jumps to say hello. They stayed for a really long time, tormenting Ella that just wanted to go swim with them.
Given Ella’s reaction in the middle of the night, they returned once again to swim with us.
The winds calmed a little bit but not much. We had expected a maximum of 15 knots gusts for the day and less for the night, but we got very consistent winds of 15-17knots with gusts between 18-20knots during the day and 15-17knots gusts during the night.
My night shift started at 9.30 pm, with some annoyance with the PredictWind satellite download that required John to wake up and assist with. By 10 pm I had managed to sort out the issue (user error) and John was back to sleep.
In the middle of my shift I had a cargo coming too close to us so I had to reach him on VHF and request if he could slightly adjust his course, but other than that it was a peaceful night. The rudder noises had subsided.
2.30 am, it was time for John to pick up the next shift, he didn’t seem sufficiently rested so I set an alarm for every 30min so I could check up on him. He fell asleep a few times in between my checks and by 4 am I decided it was better if I returned back on watch and let him rest.
Past 5.30 am John finally woke up good and proper and I went to sleep for a couple of hours.
Day 2 (2022-09-18)
The second day started out very overcast and by the time I had turned off the navigation lights and the radar our battery bank had already depleted 250Ah (of a total of 600Ah) all within the numbers we had calculated but an overcast day would mean little chances of recovery on our first passage with the new system. The entire morning we wondered if we would make any significant charge and if we would need to give a boost with the portable generator since we were still adjusting to the new reality and had no alternator to assist from the main engine.
A quick think-through of what could we do to reduce power consumption (turn off the cockpit fridge that only had drinks inside, adjust a setting on the main fridge to cycle in 5min intervals instead of 3min and turn off a few standby pieces of equipment on the 240v system), by lunchtime the sun finally started to peak through the clouds allowing some decent charge.
Our deepest point of discharge during the day was 289Ah, but by the time the sun stopped giving us the power we had recovered to a state of minus 178Ah.
It was a gloomy day, overcast, grey and sad looking, although not cold.
It’s funny to think that the same winds and swell the previous day were annoying us less and the only difference was the absence of blue skies and sunshine. What a difference in the mood.
An early dinner followed by the weather forecast update and we settled for the night.
John took a seat in the port side lounge bed in the cockpit, as usual for the person off watch, armed with one of the sleeping bags while I moved to the starboard seat with Ella.
I started my first night shift, from shortly past 9.30 pm until 1.30 am and then again from 3 am until 5.30 am.
Around midnight we passed another sailing vessel that we had been following for several hours now, a small 39footer doing exactly the same route as us it seemed, albeit at a much slower pace.
That was the only thing of note during the entire night watch.
Day 3 (2022-09-19)
I woke up again at 8 am feeling a bit hot. Too many layers and a sleeping bag!
At that point, John was preparing the portable generator to give a boost charge to the system. We had reached minus 390.2Ah of discharge and with the number of clouds, we could still see we were a bit worried. Considering the sea state was much calmer this was the perfect timing for that boost.
We ran the portable generator for 2h charging nearly 200Ah.
The conditions softened quite a bit with the wind dropping significantly, and the sea state took a bit longer but by lunchtime, the sun was now shining and lifting up our spirits. The day was turning out to be just bliss sailing.
Just a polite breeze, the sun warm enough, a gentle glide over the water and no other boats to be seen, not even on AIS.
The batteries kept charging at a good pace but we would still not come to full charge. The highest point of charge for the day turned out to be minus 122Ah, a great improvement from the morning state of affairs.
We had a late lunch and even watched a couple of episodes of a TV show. A calm afternoon of relaxing and enjoying the sail.
We trailed two fishing lines for the entire afternoon, we fished a piece of plastic but luckily we didn’t let our hopes down after that because by sunset we landed a Bonito tuna!
The day was so nice that none of us took the opportunity to catch up on some sleep and we would pay for that later. Well except Ella, she had some great sweet snoozes!
Unfortunately due to the light winds, we had to motor a couple of times to get out of windless pockets, but not much, probably 3 hours in total over the night.
The PredictWind routing weather forecast did tell us the previous days that we should have tracked further north to try and keep with the wind but the previous two days we had decided we didn’t want to sail on a close reach (winds forward of the beam but not yet beating to it) for comfort and there was also the chance of rain if we had taken those suggested routes. We did try to track slightly north of our rum line to destination but it wasn’t enough to catch that pocket of stronger winds, it was however enough to allow us to now with very calm conditions go upwind in angles of 45 AWA and still do anything between 3-7knots of SOG even though the TWS (True Wind Speed) being just 4-7 knots. Our strategy also allowed us to avoid being caught in the rain.
In the end, it seemed to us that the discomfort of the swell on the previous days and rain today on the suggested routes wouldn’t pay off because we would need to cover a longer distance to keep up with the wind but arrive more or less at the same time of sticking to a route closer to the rum line despite being a much slower progress. And lazy sail is our favourite kind of sail!
I started my night watch at 22 pm and stayed until 1.30 am when John took over for 3h!
The night was pretty uneventful if not considering a couple of times the winds were strong enough for us to sail instead of motoring and we choose to do so. The entire process of furling and unfurling the Jib at night can be annoying, turn the deck light to help you see things and the trim and you can’t see anything else.
Day 4 (2022-09-21)
I woke up at 8 am, the wind had picked up and we were on a cool upwind sail but not beating.
Back at great speeds instead of the slug we had anticipated from the forecast which was to be no wind.
By 10 am we spotted land through the clouds on the horizon, 1h later it was still not very clear but 2h after that first sight it was very clear the contour of the island's mountains (above photos taken 1h apart) and that when it hit John the "are we there yet" feeling.
Of course, as it happens to all impatient people the wind decided to blow as per the forecast and we were now doing around 3.5knots occasionally hitting 4.
It took us a while to get to the island but as soon as we were close enough for approaching we dropped the Mainsail and motored in. Made way through the anchorage slowly, picked our spot and that was it we were back in the Madeira Archipelago, nearly 5 years after our first trip, all be it a different island though.
***In the spirit of sharing our dreams and experiences we have shared this blog post in the NOFOREIGNLAND.COM website sailors community.