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2022 - Arkyla escapes the UK

Quite a year!  West Country shake-down cruise, across Biscay, Atlantic Portugal, the Algarve, then an Atlantic crossing to help deliver SV Falcon from Gran Canaria to Grenada via the Cape Verdes:  4420 nautical miles!

And... Arkyla makes the front cover of Yachting Monthly and Cruising magazines, 1 article published in YM, photos published in 3 issues of YM, contribute to 2023 update of Atlantic Spain & Portugal Pilot Guide, product endorsements from Vircru boat monitoring and Nautica clothing companies, Arkyla is the covergirl for MARLEC 2023 renewable energy catalogue, shortlisted for 2022 National Historic Ships photo competition and entry selected as June image of NHS 2023 calendar... yup, quite a year!

May:  Shake-down cruise - Fowey & the Helford River

For the last few years, our plan to sail Arkyla south to the sun always seemed to get pushed back ‘just over the horizon’.  Now however, with COVID restrictions behind us, and the boat in her new (but) temporary home at Mayflower marina, the ground rush of a June Biscay crossing with the ARC Portugal rally felt very real indeed.  In the time since 2018 when we bought Arkyla, a Regina 43 deck saloon from the Scandinavian yard now part of the wider Sweden Yacht Group, we had spent significant time, effort, and money refitting her for our intended blue water adventures.  The impacts of COVID though had given us few opportunities, save a couple of Channel crossings, to properly appraise the boat of her ocean-going credentials.  Furthermore, Arkyla had been on the hard for the past 6 months so, conscious that mid-Biscay is no place to be stress testing neither yacht nor systems, a shakedown cruise was most definitely needed.  With only limited time available between other commitments, we therefore settled on a week’s early-May cruise of the south Cornish coast to weed out, and hopefully expel, any gear gremlins before our big push south.

Cruise plan

Leg 1: Plymouth to Fowey.  We slipped lines from Mayflower and made our way into Plymouth Sound where, under grey and somewhat non-descript skies, there was a distinct lack of wind; this was definitely going to be a day to test the engine rather than the rig.  It wasn’t long however before we were starkly reminded that taming the wind is not the only set of skills required of us sailors; the ability to navigate safely between rocks and other vessels being of particular necessity!  So, when upon rounding Rame Head the chart plotter screen was filled with a mass of AIS targets, each and every one of which was heading our way, some rapid revision of collision avoidance was the order of the day!  It transpired that we were about to gate crash the return leg of the bank holiday 'Plymouth-to-Fowey and Back' regatta and that some proactive dodging of competitors was going to be needed.  

Race drifter_edited.jpg
Race Fleet_edited.jpg

Thankfully, despite a few winter COLREG cobwebs, we were not stressed too much for, as it turned out, few boats were travelling faster than the gentle tide and were, rather, merely drifting along under half-filled spinnakers and flaccid cruising chutes at a decidedly non-threatening pace. Still, it provided a good opportunity to get reacquainted with the features on our Axiom plotters and to practice the button-pushes needed to interrogate AIS and radar targets.

Fowey.  No matter how busy this popular destination may be, its pretty much guaranteed that the harbour master will find some way to squeeze you in; give a call as you navigate the entrance, and they will direct you to a suitable spot.  A word of warning however; if you see a suspiciously empty buoy opposite the town pontoon in an otherwise crowded mooring field, it may just be that a cruise ship is inbound and the space is reserved for it to manoeuvre in the channel – if in doubt, check with the HM!  On this occasion however, we had timed our weekend arrival perfectly as, with the race fleet having left early that morning, there was a plentiful supply of visitor buoys and no need for us to raft alongside another yacht as we have had to do in the past.  Safely secured, and our (very reasonable) dues paid, we relaxed in the cockpit unaware that a special treat still lay ahead of us.  As the sun began its trip to the horizon, a pink aura first painted the sky over Polruan and then, as the sun dipped below the hill and houses of Fowey, the heavens steadily turned the deepest of orange and gave us a sunset that any Pacific Island would be proud of.

The following day we awoke to another spectacular display of light, this time in the form of early morning fog burning off the hills down the length of the river.  As the veil of mist lifted, so the river came back to life with fishing boats returning with their catches, yachts departing for their next destination, and river craft of all shapes and sizes going about their business.

Fowey entrance
Arkyla at Polruan
Fowewy sunset
Arkyla sunset at Fowey

Whilst this was primarily a shake-down cruise with clear aims to identify and iron out any snags from Arkyla’s winter ashore, it was also a week to kick back and relax and take in some of the sights and sounds of Cornwall.  In particular, we have long wanted to visit the famed Eden Project.  What fortune then that the iconic biospheres are only a relatively cheap, 7-mile taxi ride away from Fowey.  As is often the case, the harbour master was proven to be the font of all local knowledge; he advised us to go early to avoid the crowds, suggested that 3-4 hours would be plenty to take in the attraction, gave us the number for a reliable taxi service, and warned us to pre-book a return taxi to ensure we weren’t left stranded when all transport resources were directed to the afternoon school run! Our guru was, of course, correct on all accounts and a thoroughly enjoyable day was had amongst the desert, savannah and jungle environs of the southwest.

I have a theory that some boats are ‘magnetised’ to other cruising yachts and are destined to reacquaint in anchorages far and wide; it should have been no surprise then to find hanging off the next-door visitor buoy our friends Jo and Phil in their newly commissioned Hanse Night Flight.  This naturally secured the early evening entertainment before Jenny and I dinghied ashore for dinner in what we believe to be the best tapas restaurant in the southwest; the food and wine in ‘Pintxo’, found at the top of the hill heading south from Fowey town centre, is to die for.

Fowey Mist
Fowey trots

Leg 2:  Fowey to the Helford River.  Unfortunately, a week’s cruise does not allow for significant time to be spent in any one location, so the next morning we slipped our lines to head further west to the Helford River.  Whilst I first learned to sail at Dorchester SC, a small Oxfordshire gravel pit, my first contact with the big yachts was on a 1981 charter out of Falmouth.  I use the word ‘big’ in the loosest possible sense; somehow my dad had convinced my mother that squeezing two adults, a pair of hormonally challenged teenagers, and a dog onto a 26ft Westerly Centaur was a good idea for our summer holiday.  Crashing the boat as we first left the charter base set the scene for that week of ‘lessons learned’, but I have always held fond memories of our time pottering about the Helford River.  And so it was that this would be our next port of call some forty-one years later.

Under a 10-12 knot breeze, there was little of any great consequence to this 24 nm hop west.  There was no evidence of the ‘Bellows’ overfalls off Dodman Point, and we successfully avoided the Wave Energy Test Area off Falmouth as we made our approach to the entrance between Rosemullion and Nare Heads.  We again chose to pick up a buoy rather than anchor, so motored upriver to the mooring field close to the village.  The visitor buoy was not the easiest to pick up as someone had carefully designed the float with a handle just too small to successfully engage with a boathook.  Nonetheless, with a second approach (and change of bow crew), we were soon safely secured; we felt an added sense of security being moored next to the retired RNLI lifeboat ‘The James & Catherine Macfarlane’ thinking that help would not be far away should we, for instance, be dragged to the bottom by any errant Kraken or threatened by any other such unlikely event.  Time to settle back then and watch a traditional, red-sailed gaffer tack its way home in the dimming light and then take in another glorious Cornish sunset.

Helford river traffic
Retired Padstowe lifeboat
Arkyla in the Helford River

Helford.  The next day we chose to give ourselves some exercise with a circular walk starting from, and ending in, Helford village.  We left the dinghy at the private jetty to the north of the village, close to the ferry point, for which there is an honesty box to contribute to the upkeep of the pier.  We could have tied to the free-to-use sailing club pontoon closer in but, as it dries with the tide, we calculated that we would probably have been left stranded at the time we wanted to return to Arkyla.  We stocked up with snacks in the village shop before heading out on our route that would take us out to Dennis Head and back.  

Helford River entrance

We left the picture postcard perfect village and headed out along wooded paths, festooned with bluebells and the scent of wild garlic, toward the small hamlet of Carne.  From here we followed the Southwest Coast path along Gillan Creek pausing to look at the traditional boats, dried out in the mud on their long keels and held steady with the help of their legs.  Eventually the path led us right out to the vantage point where we stopped to catch our breath and watch the yachts making their way in and out of the Helford River and, a little further to the north, the approaches to Falmouth.  Working our way back along the coast path we took time to wander along a couple of wonderful little beaches before heading back to our start point.  Along this final stretch we spotted, between the trees, Arkyla hanging to her visitor buoy; from here it was just a short walk to the Shipwright's Arms for a well-earned beer.

Helford Village
Arkyla on the Helford River

Leg 3:  Helford River to Plymouth.  All too soon it seemed, it was again time to slip our mooring, this time to sail the 42 nm back to our berth in Mayflower Marina.  We motored out of the river mouth and pointed ourselves in the direction of Plymouth.  We now had a gentle breeze directly from our stern, so decided it was the ideal time to test our downwind rig of twin genoas that we keep permanently hoisted on the outer furler.  To help keep the sails filled, we hold the windward genoa out with the pole and stabilise the leeward sail with the aid of a snatch block mounted mid-way along the boom; although easy to handle once flying, setting the rig is a little cumbersome and, truth be told, not really an option to use for short trips especially when shorthanded.  However, with an expected 7-hour downwind passage, we went for broke and pulled out both sails which instantly filled and began to pull us along beautifully in the light airs.  I felt so confident in the stability of the rig that I launched the drone (a nerve-wracking event under any point of sail) to get some shots of Arkyla wing-on-wing.

Twin headsails downwind
Arkyla's 'sun tunnel'

By the time that we were within five miles of Rame Head, the wind had noticeably strengthened and moved further into the south.  We de-rigged the pole, furled the genoas, reset the 'reaching' lines, then pulled both sails out to starboard, one genoa lying atop the other.  With the mainsail also unfurled we were back to a traditional rig.  With the wind continuing to strengthen, I attempted to reef the headsails, but the furling line would not move an inch!  I went forward to discover that the lower furling gear had somehow rotated on itself, and the line had consequently wrapped tight around the deck fitting.  Whilst I tried to manhandle the furling drum to unwind the snag, the boat turned away from the wind.  Due to some supply issues, we were still waiting for delivery of our Scott Boomlock gybe-preventer; with nothing to tame it, the boom fired across to starboard with a resultant force that, whilst not catastrophic, was enough to knock out the feed from the wind transducer atop the mast.  This was also the moment that our Axiom MFDs chose to reboot themselves leaving us navigationally in the dark as we were due to close the coast.  Before leaving on this trip, I had updated to the latest software version that, it transpired, had a few bugs that included random and untimely system reboots!

The transducer, it transpired, was fine so it was a call to the Allspars team based in Queen Anne Battery to see if they could replace the mast cable and, whilst they were at it, check out the Furlex that had so inconveniently wrapped its line about itself.  I can't speak too highly of the Allspars team; despite full books, they found the time to fit us a new cable and repair the mounting block on the furler; all this in the rapidly condensing time before our deadline departure for Biscay with the ARC Portugal rally.  Raymarine also came good and rapidly released an update to the Axiom MFD software that had been causing issues for many users things back under control, the remainder of the passage through Plymouth Sound and into Mayflower Marina thankfully went without any further incident.  Back in our berth, I hauled Jenny up the mast to retrieve the wind transducer to send for testing; unfortunately, her fingers weren't quite strong enough to unscrew the fitting, so down she came and up I went using the TopMast Climber.

Mast fixing

Looking back.  So, although we ended up with a couple of unplanned bills, the shake-down cruise had done its job; we had identified and fixed a couple of issues that would have been a whole lot more serious had they failed mid-Biscay.  Testing boat, systems and crew aside, we had also had a memorable week afloat; we’d visited new places, marvelled at glorious sunsets, bumped into cruising friends, and generally had a wonderful time.  It’s amazing what you can achieve in a week!

Some lessons learned:
  • Always thoroughly test new software before embarking on a significant offshore passage.

  • Make use of local knowledge to find the best ways to see things at a new destination.

  • Remember to test yourself, as well as your boat, after a long winter layup.

June:  Crossing the Bay 0f Biscay - Plymouth to Bayona

It all came right down to the wire, but finally the boat was ocean ready to tackle Biscay and all that its offshore route could throw at us.  Fearful of potential bug-related engine failure from a perfect storm of pre-COVID fuel, water content in fresh diesel following UK and EU changes to  biofuel regulations, and an expectation of big confused seas churning her 360 litre tank,  Arkyla now had a new dual Racor-type primary fuel filter system to complement the Diesel Dipper polishing system installed last season.  Last-minute work to fix the genoa furler and replace the wind transducer cable in the mast were also completed with just days to spare before the ARC Portugal rally start on 4 June.​

Recruiting two 80's era university rugby friends, and another retired RAF colleague, my crew for the crossing was strong and full of experience if not particularly pretty!  Over the course of the prep-week, the character traits of each of my piratey band began to emerge; offshore racer Rich was eying up the opposition, charmer Mark was eying up the totty, and long-time gin palace owner Mike was eying up the cake, chocolate and rum rations!​

We slipped lines for the final time from our Mayflower Marina berth in near calm conditions, unfurled the mainsail, and motored toward the rally start off Mountbatten breakwater.  As the 19-strong ARC fleet jockeyed for position on the line the wind began to fill and, on the virtual 'VHF cannon', we powered out of Plymouth Sound on a close reach toward the Eddystone Light.


When I say toward the Eddystone, I mean directly toward the Eddystone... collision course in fact!  We could only watch in jealousy as the higher-pointing Falcon passed west of the light whilst we had to bear away and dip off the wind to the east of the rocks.


Once south of the light, it was clear that the fleet was split in its thinking for tackling the Ushant TSS; as we watched some of the early leaders bear away to take the inside route, we stuck to our original plan to make further westing and go outside.  Timing drove my decision as, with a crew still learning the boat, I did not want to either cross the shipping lanes nor run a possible gamut of shipping pots during our first set of night watches.  Coming on deck at 0200hrs, the helm was handed to me just as we had made the turn south past the TSS.  The wind had dropped and moved into the north, and we were no longer making the steady 7 knots we had enjoyed earlier; AIS showed that we were well placed in the outside group of rally yachts, but the 'insiders' were now out of VHF range to measure their progress. Toward the end of the dark hours, the autopilot alarmed with a 'low power' warning.  This surprised me given the size of Arkyla's (brand new) domestic battery bank, but I thought that a night of full electronics use was maybe an 'ask too far'.  We started the engine to charge the bank, but were panicked when the Axiom MFD's also alarmed and a check of the Victron monitor showed we were charging at 15-18 volts and rapidly cooking our kit!  I shut down the engine; there was no immediate concern as, with some power rationing (namely the autopilot), Arkyla's solar and wind systems would keep us going, but thoughts turned to how we would fare if, unable to motor, the forecast calms materialised at the back end of the passage.

Sun-up was at 0430 hrs for our first Biscay dawn. The wind had continued to drop as had our speed.  With the wind directly from Arkyla's stern, I set the twin genoas wing-on-wing as this rig had proven so effective in our shake-down cruise.  Alas the combination of light airs and a following sea that persistently kicked our stern meant that the sails struggled to stay filled with the tops collapsing each time the boat rolled.  Not only did this induce further roll, but the sails would regularly batter the radar doing no good to either the Vectran cloth or the Raymarine electronics!  We persevered during the day tweaking settings but progress was painfully slow.  In hindsight, I should have tried furling some cloth to see if this would have tamed the sails, but instead we decided to change tactic, set the mainsail, and play the wind angles broad reaching.


We zig-zagged our way south and, as the sun began to set at 2030 hrs, an incredibly bright, orange super moon rose in the sky; it was mesmerising!  As the winds remained light, I ignored the old adage to reef down for the night, and we pressed on toward the continental shelf with full mainsail and genoa.  By midnight however the wind, still in the north, had steadily built and, as we neared the shelf where depths plummet from 200 to 4000 metres over a mere 20 NM, the sea had also built considerably.  Arkyla was now surfing and it was obvious that any further increase in wind or waves life would become uncomfortable and potentially dangerous.  I had a watch partner, Mike, but given his unfamiliarity with sail boats and the now threatening conditions, I called the off-watch crew on deck to help; despite the interruption to their slumber, all agreed this was the right skipper's decision.  The rest of the night passed without incident, and we made good progress toward our aim point of Finisterre.


By now, boat and crew had set into a good rhythm and the wind angles were such that we could hold a broad reach whilst also heading in the right direction!  Skirting the western edge of the shipping lane there were now frequent sightings of traffic.  With a plan to round Cape Finisterre mid-way between TSS and land (to hopefully avoid lobster pots, 'stealth' fishing vessels, and areas of accelerated wind), we would need to cross the flow of traffic.  As the sun set for the second time on this passage, the wind picked up and we were back to making 7+ knots; in the early hours, with wind in our sails, we decided that the time was right to push our track to the east of the lanes.  Visibility under the bright moon was excellent, so we didn't have any great need of the radar.  The AIS was used extensively however to interrogate any closing vessels of concern.  

Sailing by the light of a Super Moon

On two occasions we were unsure if we had been seen by the coaster traffic and we called each up on the VHF to confirm both situation and intent.  The first vessel confirmed that they had seen us and had altered course accordingly (though this was not readily evident from the AIS data).  The second vessel did not answer the radio and maintained its collision course; we suspected that no one was on listening watch, so gybed (to some colourful sailor language) to safely go behind the vessel.

Weather front

By Wednesday morning, the start of our 4th day at sea, we were safely across the shipping lanes and, although the wind was dropping, Arkyla was still moving along nicely.  By mid-afternoon the Galician land mass could clearly be seen as could a strange procession of three weather fronts lining up behind us to the north.  One by one the fronts passed overhead bringing with them instant increases in wind from near calm to over 25 knots; expecting squalls we had reefed down though we were still taken aback by the change in wind direction that went through a full 180 degrees and back again - none of us had experienced anything like it before.

Once the fronts had overtaken us we were left becalmed.  Having already taken time to dig out the alternator and regulator manuals and take spanners to the battery compartment, we could find no obvious reason for our mid-Biscay charging issues.  Tentatively we started the engine and were relieved to have a steady 14.2 volts flowing through the system.  Engaging gear, within minutes we had a pod of dolphin playing off our bow wave.  This was our first wildlife sighting all passage and we had all but given up the hope of any encounters; they stayed with us for a good half an hour.  Our spirits had no time to sink when they eventually left us as, almost immediately after, a pod of eight pilot whales surfaced along each side of the hull.  This was a more fleeting encounter and, unfortunately over before I could capture them on camera.

Dolphin escort

As darkness fell, I left the night watch to navigate us through the gap between Finisterre and the TSS with instructions to make judicious use of the radar in case of any unlit fishing vessels randomly weaving their way off the coast.  I returned on deck at 0200 hrs to relieve a rather cold, and very soggy, Rich and Mark who had spent the last six hours in alternating periods of thick fog and torrential rain.  Myself and Mike settled in the cockpit to continue our motor south along the coast in near calm conditions.  As we worked our way along the coast, several times we saw erratic and flashing lights; we assumed these to be fishing vessels or markers on their nets, but it was impossible to gain any perception of depth to know how close they were.  In the pre-dawn light, my eyes started playing tricks on me; on the waves I could see fields of poppies, and in the distance, over the hills of the coast, ethereal forests of vines.  It was the strangest feeling; I knew they weren't there, yet I could clearly see these things - I was glad that sun-up was not long away.

When dawn finally broke, we were treated to an incredible display of golden light over the hills to the east.  We also had a breath of wind start to fill despite the forecast we had been passed the evening before for a windless end to our passage all the way to Bayona.  No sooner had we pulled out full sail and cut the engine, there was a marked increase in the wind which was now coming directly from the south and on our nose.  Something didn't feel right, so we reefed down the main, furled the genoa, and set the smaller self-tacking jib.  How glad we were of this intuition; within minutes the wind was blowing 35+ knots true.  It was not the wind however that drew most concern, but the accompanying waves; these had almost instantly built to 2.5-3m with steep sides and very short period.

Finisterre Dawn
Monte Real Yacht Club of Baiona

Whilst I battled the elements at the helm, down below Mark had his own war with the stove as he fried up eggs, bacon, and sausages for breakfast rolls.  How he managed this I'm not sure as the boat pounded into the short, steep waves - I'm convinced that at the end-of-season cabin deep clean we will find at least one sausage embedded in a hidden corner of the galley!  Relieved of my watch, and refuelled with breakfast, I retired to my cabin for some much needed sleep.  By the time I awoke, the weather had blown through and we were comfortably motoring the last few miles to our destination of Bayona.  Safely berthed in our slip of the very welcoming Monte Real Yacht Club of Baionia, it was time to crack open the champagne to mark our crossing of Biscay.  It was here, over the next few days, where I would say goodbye to my intrepid Biscay crew.  Jenny was soon to fly in for the next stage of the trip south... the Atlantic Portuguese coast.

Some lessons learned:
  • No matter how prepared the boat, expect things to break.  Carry spares, be familiar with the manuals, and think laterally.

  • Don't rely on the weather forecast - it's only a guess helped with science!

  • Always have a plan, but don't be afraid to deviate from it if situations dictate.

  • Look after your crew and they will look after you.

Rich helming
Skipper helming
Mike helming
Mark helming

June-July:  Atlantic Portuguese Coast - Bayona to Lagos

Over the next couple of days Mike, Rich and Mark all signed-off the boat to catch their flights home.  I owe the team a great vote of thanks (and even bigger debt of beer) for their incredible efforts to return Arkyla's interior from a student digs reminiscent of an early episode of 'The Young Ones' back to her normal state of comfort and cleanliness before Jenny's arrival.

Bayona anchorage
Bayona memorial
Bayona stone
Inclusive sailing
Bayona gull

Bayona is a wonderful place, and we were glad to have a few days to explore the town and its surroundings.  The marina is well sheltered and the yacht club, lying in the shadow of the town's castle, has good facilities including a grand, but friendly, bar/restaurant.  The club excels in bringing boating to all with a sailing school dedicated to those with disabilities; it was wonderful to see the smiles and obvious joy that the trips in their fleet of adapted keel boats brought to these sailors.  The town itself is a great place to explore, especially the back streets filled with tapas bars that come alive at night, and provisioning is excellent with both supermarkets and local grocery stores within an easy walk of the marina.  Bayona is well placed to visit other Galician places of interest.  We took a trip to the renowned UNESCO town of Santiago de Compostela.  Pilgrims, easily identified by the shell motifs that they carry, come from far and wide to this sacred centre.  Even a devout atheist as myself cannot fail to be impressed by the dedication of the believers, and it is well worth having a guide to tell the history and point out the many stories carved in the stones such as the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden, and the scarlet mistress holding her beheaded lover's crown!

Adam and Eve
Santiago de Compostela
Scarlet mistress
S de C Statue

We also took the opportunity to head out toward the hills north of the River Minho and the Spanish/Portuguese border.  Before looking down on the border estuary from on high (the river is too shallow for safe navigation by most cruising yachts), we stopped to view the remarkable remains of the Castro de Santa Tegra excavation, a site dating between 100BC-100AD.  Following a hike amongst the water mills of Molinos de Folon, we finished the excursion with a delicious lunch in the traditional hillside restaurant Casa da Pintora.

Ancient excavation
River Minho, Spanish-Portuguese border

Bayona to Povoa de Vazim.  Things did not start well for our 75 NM passage south from Spain into Portuguese waters; on starting the engine we again had a charging output exceeding 15 volts.  Having already lost a day to strong southerly winds, we were reluctant to split from the rally fleet, so made to push anyhow and nurse the engine if the problem persisted.  It was quite literally a windless start, and we watched a little dejected as the fleet charged out of the bay on full revs as we dawdled along at 2000 rpm.  Within an hour however, the wind had begun to fill and we were not too far from the bulk of the fleet when we pulled out the genoa and began sailing.

We worked our way back amongst the rally boats and had a cracking downwind sail.  Apart from the first hour or so when leaving Plymouth Sound, this was the first time that we had been close quarters with many of the rally fleet and it was good to see the various down-wind set ups from twin headsails, wing-on-wing, cruising chutes and one Parasailor all being deployed.

Westerly Konsort 'Katy' under Parasailor
Castle Island Goosewing

Povoa is a well protected harbour, though a degree of care is needed once within the breakwaters to avoid the well-marked shallow when manoeuvring to the pontoons.  As with most Atlantic coast Portuguese harbours, the entrance can be dangerous when large swells are running so it is important to establish that it is safe to enter especially if there are any effects from winter Atlantic storms.  The town is dominated by the modern apartments, hotels and attractions built to cater for the summer sun worshippers to the long golden beaches north of the port and, for us, lacks an authentic Portuguese feel.  There are however good transport connections to Porto and, as we were not planning to sail into the Rio Douro, took advantage of theses to visit Portugal's second city.

Povoa de Vazim, harbour at night
Povoa Breakwater

Porto is simply stunning; full of history, tradition, sights, sounds and, of course, home to the all the port cellars that produce and distribute the national drink.  With only limited time, we took an electric Tuk-Tuk tour to see the main attractions; we wished that we had had more time to explore as we felt that we only scratched the surface of what this fascinating and beautiful city has to offer - several days here would be time well spent.

Porto 'new' bridge
Traditional Rebelo vessel to transport port
Porto & the Rio Douro

Povoa to Figuera da Foz.  It was another lengthy day sail south of 75 nautical miles to our next stop, Figuera de Foz.  Along this relatively featureless stretch of coastline, the 50m contour line can extend beyond 10 nm offshore; this means that, unless making a large detour, fishing pots are a constant menace and there is a need for a constant lookout to avoid snagging a keel or prop.  With the shallow waters also came a significant swell and it was not uncommon to lose sight of other rally boats beneath the crests of waves.  Once round the breakwater, and in the shelter of the river, care is still needed in entering the marina on the north bank as a significant current can set across the entrance.  Confidence was also needed in decisive boat handling as the fairway to the visitor pontoon was little wider than Arkyla's 13.8m length; with a stiff cross wind, we were glad of some help to catch our lines and help guide us in with only inches to spare between pontoon and the other berthed yacht on our port side. 


Discovery 55 'Brizo'
Dressed Boats
Figuera de Foz marina

With the ablutions block a lengthy 'stride' away, we showered onboard before heading to the marina restaurant for a delicious meal of barbecued sardines.  Unfortunately, as the night drew to a close, Jenny began to feel unwell so we retired back to the boat; not wanting to spread any germs amongst the fleet, we kept ourselves to ourselves and spent the next day resting onboard.

Figuera da Foz to Nazaré.  With Jenny still feeling unwell, I was glad that the next leg was a relatively short hop of only 35 nm; I was also glad that the persistent 15-20 knot northerly winds had calmed for the small window needed to extricate ourselves from our ever-so tight berth!  The route down to Nazaré was another stretch characterised by a mostly featureless coast and a maze of fishing pots - many very poorly marked.

Nazaré harbour
Nazaré harbour mole

There is a unique topographical feature of an undersea canyon that extends into the Nazaré bay; in winter storms this can funnel water and create monster waves - some of the biggest recorded anywhere in the world - to produce the huge breaks that surfers flock to off Praia do Norte.  The approach to the harbour should be carefully planned at any time of the year however and, even with only moderate winds, the entrance can be intimidating with sizeable waves crashing against the mole and along the town beach.  Once inside however the swell, if not the wind, is all but calmed.  There is a well stocked chandlery within the marina complex, and here we managed to buy a 32-amp shore-power adapter; this is a useful purchase as a number of Portugueses marinas require this connector.

Wandering north along the seafront, you will find the funicular that takes you to the higher parts of the town sited on the cliff top.  Here you can look down on the beach and the harbour before taking the road, lined with numerous drink and snack vans, down to Forte de Sāo Miguel Aranjo; it is here where spectators gather to watch the big wave surfers risk life and limb to ride the giant swells. 

Big wave vantage point, Nazaré
Nazaré beach

Nazaré to Oeiras.  Leaving Nazaré early morning for another lengthy 70 nm day passage was, again, a windless affair.  We rounded Peniche headland, inside of the off-lying Baixinhas island group, still under motor with hope that the forecast Force 3-4 would soon fill in.  We tried a couple of times to pull out sail but, with the wind directly astern, there just wasn't enough to give us any drive and so we continued under the iron mainsail.  Not until we were 10 nm off our destination did we get enough wind to turn off the engine and goose-wing all canvas.  The pilot guide warns that the headlands along this coast can be the cause of wind acceleration zones; sure enough, as we were approaching Cabo Raso and our turn to port toward Lisbon, we heard from boats ahead of us over the VHF that winds had increased to over 35 knots off the headland.  We took heed and shortened sail and, in the event, were very glad that we did so.  Conditions went from benign to steady Force 8 in an instant as we made our turn east; under a couple of handkerchiefs we were still making 10 knots - a lot for a heavy girl like Arkyla!

Falcon Blue Water Runner
Peniche headland

Oeiras.  We arrived into Oeiras under a stiff breeze and moored up in the well-protected marina.  With our proximity to Lisbon, there was a notable change in the extent and quality of services and restaurants.  Unfortunately Jenny was still feeling under the weather; taking another COVID test, this time the result showed positive so, although we had already been keeping ourselves to ourselves the last couple of days to limit any potential spread of cold germs, we now formally isolated from the rally group.  We did however take time offboard to make our mark on the harbour wall, even winning the rally award for best painting.  It is a shame that we did not get to fully enjoy Oeiras as it seemed a buoyant 'happening' place for the Lisbon crowd.

Yacht Race to the 'Sea of Straw', Lisbon
Arkyla wall art
Arkyla berthed in Oeiras

Oeiras to Sines.  We were looking forward to this leg; it was relatively short (50 nm) and the wind was forecast to be a perfect beam reach of 10-15 kts.  Indeed, we had the perfect start off the line; under blue skies we rounded the committee boat as the gun fired, and powered away for a rare moment in front of the whole fleet!  Even though the bigger, and lighter, boats soon overtook us, we revelled in the close-quarter 'racing' and were further delighted to again be visited by a pod of dolphin as we surged along under full sail. 

Rally start from Oeiras
Close tacking with Kite Runner
Arkyla's dolphin escorts
Grey Goose under sail
Boat visitors

These ideal conditions were not to last however; within the hour the wind had moved into the south east and the fleet was now beating against the dying breeze in its attempt to clear Cabo Espichel.  With skies turning a gloomy grey, and the wind decreasing further, we made the decision to haul in the genoa and continue under motor.  Before leaving Oeiras, we had heard that a yacht had been attacked, and its rudder disabled, by an orca the previous day close offshore to Sines; there had consequently been a slight 'air of trepidation' amongst the fleet before we set off on this leg with many boats sharing their intended orca mitigation plans.  Whilst we were half way across the Bay of Setubal, we heard frantic radio calls from the yachts bringing up the rear... "Vio Mio, large black fin seen off your stern", then "Katy, please repeat your position and state your situation".  Vio Mio turned the throttle all the way up to 11 and sped toward nearby boats in the hope of achieving a level of safety in numbers.  Katy, the smallest and slowest yacht in the rally, could do little more than pray to Neptune to call off his rudder collectors!  In the event, neither boat was physically 'interacted' with, but it was a sobering experience for all to know that the orca danger zone had now moved north from the Straits of Gibraltar and was establishing itself in the exact area of our route.

There was little else of note for the remainder of this passage completed under motor.  Rounding the breakwater to Sines there was quite an 'industrial' feel with a large commercial harbour and a number of large vessels at anchor in the bay.  Once inside the inner harbour area however, most of this is hidden from view and the charming town with its splendid beach becomes the focus when berthed in the marina.  For those that don't need the services of the marina, there is the option to anchor in the very well protected area of the inner harbour close to the beach.  Still isolating ourselves, we didn't really get a chance to fully explore the town but, in stretching our legs, very much liked the little that we did see of the place. 

Grey Goose rounding Cabo Epischel
Sines beach, marina & anchorage_edited.j

Sines to Lagos.  And just like that, it was time to set off on the final leg of the rally.  It was another lengthy run of 80+ nm to Lagos so an early dawn start was necessary.  The morning was completely windless and we looked back at the stream of yachts motoring out in the gloom across a ripple-free sea; the conditions and the realisation that soon this part of our adventure, and cruising in company, would be over gave a slight sense of melancholy. 

La Vie en Rose_edited.jpg
Venturi leaves Sines early dawn_edited.j
Grey Goose under motor_edited.jpg
Vio Mio_edited.jpg

Eventually the sun came out, though the light winds persisted so that only a few of the lighter boats felt they had enough drive to swap motor for sail.  It was not until we were a few miles off our last cape, Cabo São Vicente, however that we were able to stable the 75 horses of Arkyla's mighty Yanmar.  Turning east, we slowly drifted in close proximity to our friends aboard Free Spirit and Blonde Moment, with Castle Island not far behind.  Passing our last turn point off the Sagres peninsula, we felt the breeze freshen and soon we were flying along the home straight.  The wind continued to build, reaching a steady 25+ knots, so we tucked in a couple of reefs and relished the ride.  What a way to finish the rally; a perfect broad reach, shooting along at 7-8 knots, and in company with those we had shared so many fun experiences with over the past month.  Sails down, we entered the breakwater, passed under the lifting bridge, and settled onto the new events pontoon of Marina de Lagos.

SV Falcon approaching Cabo São Vicente
Blonde Moment
Free Spirit approaching Lagos

So that was it; the end to our first rally.  No longer COVID-infectious we were able to join the festivities of the final crew dinner where we all swapped stories and contact details.  It seemed strange that the boats we had grown so accustomed to sailing with would soon be moving on with their independent adventures; some into the Med, some across the pond, but also a few, like us, deciding to spend the remainder of the summer, and then to over-winter, in the Algarve.  It had been a fun, yet challenging, run south to the sun.  COVID running rampant through much of the fleet, combined with some fickle winds, had made this a demanding set of day passages in many ways more tiring than the passage across Biscay.  For us on Arkyla, the real adventure starts here...

Some lessons learned:
  • Engineering support is limited down the Atlantic Portuguese coast; carry spares and be prepared to nurse issues until reaching Lagos where there are excellent facilities and a well-stocked chandlery.

  • Take heed of the pilot guides, especially entry to harbours in bad weather and presence of wind acceleration zones off headlands.

  • Have orca plans in place; in particular, think how you would steer if your rudder is disabled far from help.

  • Always maintain a watch; fishing pots are an eternal menace down the whole coast.

Blue Eyes
Bolero (and Kite Runner)_edited.jpg
Hazy start from Nazaré
Sea Crusader

August-September:  The Algarve - Lagos to Guadiana River

Lagos – our new cruising hub.  Since our arrival in early July, we’d had plenty of opportunity to explore Lagos.  As locations go, it’s well suited as a seasonal base to explore the Algarve and further afield toward the Med.  The marina is modern, well protected in terms of weather and physical security, and is efficiently run by a friendly set of staff.  The nearby SOPROMAR boatyard has all the expertise required for any level of repairs or refits and has an excellent (if sometimes pricey) chandlery.  The marina is fronted by a number of rather ‘brash’ bars and restaurants that seem to cater mostly to the daytrip and excursion clientele, but it is only a short walk into the old town where there is any number of more traditional places to eat and drink.  A nearby supermarket and superb off licence makes provisioning a doddle.  Rail and bus terminals are also just a short walk away for fast and easy public transport to Faro airport if you don’t want to splash out €100 or so for a taxi.  Oh yes, and the sun shines here.  A lot.  All year round.

Our plan was to cruise the length of the Algarve coast as far as the Rio Guadiana and the border with Spain, then retrace our wake back to Lagos; a round trip of about 180 nm.  Having spent the previous month sailing with the ARC Portugal rally, it felt a little odd to slip lines and head out of our berth alone; strange too to have this feeling given that all our previous cruising has been solo and to the tune of our own song sheet.  Still here we were, back to ‘our normal’, pushing Arkyla’s bow into our (perceived) promised land of sunshine, clear warm waters, and picture-perfect anchorages… though not all expectation would survive contact with reality over the next 3 weeks!

Despite good intentions, we were somewhat late in getting away, so we did not set our sights on going too far that first day; through the swing bridge, along the breakwater, and into the Baia de Lagos anchorage… a grand distance of 1.5 nm to be exact!  However, having spent our entire passage down from the UK overnighting in marinas, we were longing to be back on the hook again where we both feel happiest.

Although only a mile from our berth as the crow flies, life couldn't be more different anchored just off the beach.  Instead of the noise of bars and restaurants, we were now serenaded by the gentle slapping of waves against hull as Arkyla lightly danced around her chain.  Relaxing in the cockpit we watched arriving yachts drop anchors, tripper boats head out to the Ponte de Piedade grottos, and youngsters race their Optimist dinghies (using us as a windward mark).  Maybe we could have done with a few less high-speed drive bys from the jet boat and its cargo of adrenalin junkies but, all in all, life was good.  Through the afternoon and into the evening, the wind freshened to 15-20 knots, but we felt safe in the firm holding and turned in for the night.

Lagos Jet Boat
Optimist race training, Lagos_
Private beach - Ponte de Piadade
Lagos Bay anchorage

Come the morning, the anchorage was a perfect calm so we decided to head over to the caves.  The grottos are only a short dinghy ride away and are a wonderful place to visit; we were glad we made the effort to rise early thereby beating the onslaught of tourist boats, kayakers and paddle boarders that crowd the area from late morning onwards.  With some careful rock dodging, here we found our own private little beach to relax and paddle around spotting the tiny crabs that scuttle around the rocky shoreline.  As the place began to get busier, we headed back to Arkyla, weighed anchor, to push on eastwards.

Alvor.  Just a short (3 nm) hop along the bay is Alvor.  Given the high spring tide, and our lack of local knowledge, we chose to anchor in the entrance behind the breakwaters rather than pushing all the way up to the town where the pilot guide warns of limited space between the shallows to anchor.  Even where we were anchored, care is needed in selecting where to drop and how much scope to lay as the nearby mud flats could easily catch you unawares on the turn of tide or wind.  

Alvor mole_edited.jpg

Alvor is a mecca for kite surfers so, seeing scores of them speeding and leaping all around us, we should not have been surprised that the wind maintained a healthy 15-20+ knots from mid-afternoon until well into the night.  The wind kicked up quite a chop so, with a healthy spring current also running, we were deterred from launching the paddle boards.  Feeling somewhat trapped onboard, and a little isolated, we made the decision the next morning to up anchor and keep heading east along the coast.  With our draft (1.8m), we thought that neaps might be a better time to come back, creep further in, and more fully explore.

Alvor entrance
Alvor Fisherman
Alvor anchorage
Alvor kite surfer_edited.jpg

Punta João de Arens.  One beauty of the Algarve is that if you become restless of one spot, it's never very far to travel to find another anchorage or marina.  Our original plan was to push to Portimão, anchoring for lunch along the way behind Ponta João de Arens just another 3 nm east along the coast.  Arriving here mid-morning, the anchorage was relatively empty, so we dropped the hook and settled back to have a lazy time in the cockpit.  This is a beautiful spot and, despite the pilot guide advising this is 'probably only a day anchorage', we decided it was well protected from the forecast W-NW winds and chose to stay here overnight.  From mid-day onwards, a steady stream of day-trip boats converged here, and the anchorage transformed; the calm of the morning was replaced with the coming and going of vessels of all sizes, kayakers paddling along the entrances to the grotto caves, party boats filled with partying people, and the occasional jet ski or towed inflatable zooming close by.  By 1700 however, almost at the flick of a switch, tranquillity was restored as the day boats leaft and just a few yachts were left at anchor for the night.  Again, the wind had picked up through the afternoon to between 15-20 knots, but the holding was good, and the cliffs gave us excellent shelter from both wind and swell; we slept silently and soundly!

Party Catamaran
Foil surfer
Man, dog, and boat.
Busy anchorage off Punta de Arens_edited

The morning scene could not be more different from that of the previous afternoon; just four boats motionless at anchor, their chains dropping vertically to the seabed, and a dead calm with not a ripple on the water.  Add to this the most beautiful light painting the orange cliffs that had protected us so well during the night; I rushed to launch the drone to capture Arkyla in the scene at its most perfect.  Shortly a Maritime Police launch motored in and directed two boats to re-anchor further from the line of special markers protecting the swimming area off the beach. This seemed a bit of a pointless exercise as, once the day trip boats returned a few hours later, this zone was consistently violated with gay abandon.  Oh well, at least the authorities make serious effort to keep this coast safe for all to enjoy.

Again, the pre-breakfast calm before the influx of day trip boats is the ideal time to paddle board and swim amongst the grotto caves.  This is quite a magical place to explore with many small beaches accessible only from the water.  We hauled our boards out on one such private strip of sand and took the plunge.  Tropical these waters are not!  Even wearing neoprene tops, the chill of the water was enough to take the breath away.  I'm not sure why we ever thought that this easternmost part of the Atlantic Ocean would be bath-tub warm, but the lesson learned is that Algarve waters are neither Caribbean nor Mediterranean... let's just say that my intent to regularly dive the boat, check the set of the anchor, and scrape slime off Arkyla's CopperCoated-bottom went unrealised for the duration of the cruise.

Arkyla off Punta de Arens
Paddleboard heaven
Punta João de Arens

Nut-shrinking cold water aside, we loved this spot and, over the course of our cruise, would stop here again.  Even when the wind pipes up (as per the regular pattern for the duration of this trip; dead calm mornings followed by windy afternoons and evenings with 15-25 knots of breeze), it is still enjoyable to just settle back here and watch the life aquatic… aside from the tsunami of day trip boats, we took great please in watching a beautiful Polish-flagged ketch sail single-handed into the cove, and gazed in awe at the wonderful colours of a traditional boat, laden with tourists for a sunset cruise, as it was lit up against a glorious dusk sky.  

Polish-flagged ketch, Martha
Sunset cruise aboard traditional boat

Portimão & Ferraguda.  Under any normal circumstances, we'd consider a passage of 2 nm as somewhat 'whimping out'.  However, given we had already sailed over 1000 nm this season, we held no shame in executing another bunny hop to the Rio Arade upon which Portimão and Ferragud0 lie on the west and east banks respectively.  Just inside the entrance, protected by a pair of breakwaters, is the main anchorage off Ferraguda's Praia Grande.  We initially chose to head a little upriver to test the anchorage off Ferragudo's town centre.  However, we found this small area to be very tight on space and, furthermore, were not enamoured with the view of the commercial dock on the opposite bank; we thus swung ourselves round and motored back south to anchor a short distance back from the eastern mole.  Although a busy place, there is no shortage of space, and we took pride of place dropping our hook close to the historic tall ship 'Te Vega'.

Tall ship 'Te Vega'
Anchored off Praia Grande
Ferraguda anchorage looking north

A problem we found throughout the Algarve was where to safely leave the dinghy for excursions ashore.  The 'Lagos Navigators' Facebook community group cautioned that leaving the boat tied to the Ferraguda quay (as advised in the pilot guide) can lead to altercations with the local fishing fleet, so we instead hauled the tender up the small beach opposite.  We later discovered that this is also ill-advised as boats and/or motors have been stolen from this spot if left unattended; we were lucky, though I did securely padlock the engine with steel cable.


If wanting to explore old town Portimão (our advice is to skip the concrete condo seafront) then dinghies can be left at Portimão marina by the fuel pontoon; this comes at a cost... €20 for 4 hours (payable in the reception building just up the pontoon ramp)!  An Uber into town will cost €3-4 from here.  We later heard rumour that tenders can be left at the Club Naval de Portimão, close to the old town, at a much more reasonable price, but we cannot confirm this.  Those needing to visit the Sopromar chandlery can tie up on the small pontoon beneath the yacht lift-in crane (not to be confused with the larger commercial lift close by) at the boatyard on the Ferraguda side of the river, though some dexterity is needed to get up and down the steep ladder!

Alternatively, you can drive a dinghy ashore between the marked landing zones on Praia Grande; we dragged the tender above the high-water line close to the lifeguard tower where the guards were happy to keep an eye on it during their duty hours (to 1900hrs in the summer).  From the south end of this beach there is a (well hidden) path that climbs, then skirts, the cliff edge; this takes you toward the east mole and gives access to the lighthouse and cliffs overlooking the coast.  This is a great walk with some fantastic views, and it was close to the lighthouse that we saw the most bizarre thing; a couple of old men, on a day out with their wives, fishing.  What's so odd about that you ask?  Well, they were casting their lines over a 60' cliff edge... we didn’t see them land any fish, but I was convinced any good-sized catch might win the battle and pull the anglers over the edge! 

Cliff-top angler
Ferraguda lighthouse_edited.jpg
Praia Do Torrado from Portimão lighthouse

Although Ferragudo anchorage is well protected, some swell can creep in if there is a south westerly blow.  Similarly, speeding fishing and tripper craft can kick up quite a wash that can rock your boat; we noted one boat that had rigged a sea anchor off its boom to dampen the impacts of this swell.  Be aware that the predominant evening north westerly can also carry noise from the lively clubs on the Portimão beach front, though we considered this an acceptable trade for the prime position to watch some spectacular sunsets.

Stabilised yacht in Portimão
Portimão sunset_edited.jpg
Sun down
Liner in Portimão
Returning trawler_edited.jpg

Portimão to Vilamoura.  Working our way east, we noted a distinct change in topography. Albufiera literally draws a line in the sand; west of the town, the coast remains steep sided with many coves, stacks and caves so ideal for day stops.  To the east however the land becomes low-lying with few opportunities for any protected anchoring.  It wasn't our intention to visit any marinas during our Algarve cruise but, with the 1st Mate feeling a bit off colour, we dipped into Vilamoura for some rest ashore.  It is an easy approach through the breakwaters that protect the harbour from this otherwise featureless stretch of coast, with an inner marina basin providing excellent berthing.  With a stiff 15-20 knot westerly breeze blowing us off the reception pontoon, the presence of two marineros to take our lines was most welcomed.  It is not cheap in Vilamoura, but the service is first class; once checked in at the new reception building, we followed the marinero’s rib to our berth where the guys again took our lines.  As seems to be typical of the region's marinas, the finger pontoons are short, slender and decidedly wobbly!  With the downwind berth next to us empty, we were glad of the help to secure us alongside before the crosswind took our bow. 

It is easy to see why Vilamoura has won the "Portuguese marina of the year' award for the past 11 years; the staff are friendly, helpful and omnipresent.  The pontoons are kept meticulously clean and there is good security which is important given that the basin is surrounded by an urban jungle of public bars and restaurants.  If a visit to an Irish bar is your thing, then this is the place for you; we counted 8 or 9 skirting the marina complex alone!  For us however, the marina is a little too lively with loud music thumping out from the clubs and bars until late.  As such, once Jenny was feeling better again, we reversed into the very generous fairway to continue our journey east, stopping briefly at reception again to take on diesel and check out.

Approaches to Faro and Ilha de Culatra.  With a respectable breeze, we had a super sail along the coast toward Barra Nova and the western entrance to Faro and the Culatra lagoon.  We routed inside the fishing zone offshore Ilha da Barreta, clearly designated with yellow special markers, then furled all sail before making our entrance between the breakwaters.  It is important to read the pilot guide before entering as there are local regulations to observe (such as priority of traffic at junctions, and night-time restrictions for deep draft vessels), and suggested transits to avoid the worst of the current that can be fierce.  We entered close to high water but were still thrown around in the whirlpools just outside the entrance; beware also the ubiquitous fishing pots and be prepared to dodge small fishing boats that anchor, somewhat inconsiderately, on the recommended line of approach!  

Once inside the breakwaters there are several options to anchor; we chose to push westwards to the large zone between Olhão and Culatra town.  The passage past Farol is well marked but be careful not to stray the wrong side of the buoys and risk grounding on the mud flats.  This is a popular anchorage with good holding; we were, however, advised by friends that even if content with the set of our own anchor, we should be wary of late arriving 'cowboys' that may set themselves too close and with inadequate chain - apparently it is not uncommon for unattended charter yachts to crash through the anchorage on a change of wind or tide!

For so many reasons, Culatra was the highlight of our cruise.  Not least because of the incredible light shows at dawn, dusk, moonrise and sunset.  With calm waters this place is nothing short of serene and any effort taken to rise early from the bunk is fully rewarded with the magical changing colours that spread over the lagoon.

Culatra Moonrise Yacht.jpeg
Early dinghy ride, Culatra
Culatra Sunrise
Culatra moonset
Culatra dawn_edited.jpg
Arkyla at sun up

A visit to explore the island should not be missed.  Here also is one of the few places in the Algarve where it is safe, and free, to leave your dinghy!  Tie up to the outer pontoon of the fishing harbour close to the access ramp to the quay and then wander into this fascinating little outpost of Faro.  There is a feel about this place that could make you think you were in the Caribbean rather than Atlantic Europe!  The town is slow to wake up, but this is the ideal time to wander amongst the wooden fisherman huts, scour the beach for shells (or cockles as the locals do), and take a gander at some of the abandoned boats in the drying part of the lagoon.

Abandoned cat, Culatra

Mid-morning, the town starts to wake itself up, and by lunchtime the numerous restaurants and mini markets are a buzz.  We took a wander through the centre, impeccably clean, heading toward the boardwalk that takes you over the wetland dunes and spits you out on a long stretch of beautiful coastal sand.  If you fancy something a little more ‘urban’, then you can catch the passenger ferry from Culatra's commercial pier that will whisk you to Olhão.  Beware though, the times posted on the pier-side kiosk, and on the travel sites we googled, bore no resemblance to the reality of the schedule; we eventually found the correct timetable on the Ferry company's Facebook page (which we now can’t remember the name of!).

Culatra's very own Baywatch team

Culatra to the Guadiana river.  Unless you have expert local knowledge, it is not recommended to attempt the eastern exit from the lagoon as the shallows are frequently shifting.  As such, most yachts must double back to the Farol breakwaters before heading eastward to the Guadiana and the Portuguese/Spanish border. 

Ilha Culatra's Cabo de Santa Clara light

The pilot guide warns against trying to enter across the Guadiana bar at any time other than above half flood, so an element of planning is needed to establish a time to weigh anchor for the 30 nm passage.  For us it was another dawn start on another windless morning; the breeze failed to set in all morning, so it was a motor all the way along the shallow low-lying coast.  Along the way we passed a trawler and a scene reminiscent of Hitchcock's 'The birds' as a mass of gulls circled the boat and its crew hauling its catch - an occupational hazard of the fishing life I guess!  

Trawler hauling catch off Ilha Culatra

Our passage plan took us outside of the two marked fishing net zones west of the Guadiana; once past these we turned toward land and the buoyed passage to take us across the bar and into the river.  Making way upriver, you first pass Vila Real de Santo Antonio on the Portuguese bank.  I've been into the marina here some 20 years previously and to say it takes perfect mastery of your vessel under power, and balls of steel to commit an entry is no understatement; the entrance is a mere 20m wide, space inside is very tight, and there is no protection from the current that runs fast even amongst the berths.  Call me a coward, but I wasn't prepared to risk the shiny gelcoat of my own boat or the small amount of recognition as a competent skipper I may have garnered over the years!  We continued upstream and chose to settle in the wide anchorage opposite the northern end of Spanish Ayamonte; this is the last opportunity to anchor downstream of the International Suspension Bridge that spans the river.  We dropped the hook and gently motored astern to set the Rocna.  With a sudden jarring halt, we stopped dead in the water; although no obstructions are marked on the chart, my suspicion was high that we had snagged something on the riverbed and that leaving might prove to be ‘problematical’!

Arkyla & the Guadiana bridge
Ayamonte anchorage
Portuguese side of the Guadiana river

The wind, now a stiff breeze, kicked up quite a chop so we decided not to launch the dinghy to go exploring.  The blow continued until sundown at which point we had a brief spell of calm and, for a welcome change, I was again able to launch the drone for some sunset shots of Arkyla against the striking backdrop of the Guadiana bridge.  The respite in the wind was short lived however, and it soon piped up again to 25+ knots from the north. This was not so bad initially but once the tide had turned, and the boat began fighting wind against current, it became uncomfortable; I decided (along with the other two boats close by) that an anchor watch was required overnight.  

By morning, all was again calm.  However, with more wind forecast for the following days, we decided to head into Ayamonte marina rather than press further upriver.  Weighing anchor, the windlass laboured heavily and, as feared, our Rocna appeared from the murky depths snagged under a 2" rusty steel cable.  The half-expected disaster did not unfold however; fortunately, a length of line under the offending wire and secured to the bow cleat allowed us to drop the Rocna and disentangle the metals.  Released from Neptune's grip, we motored the short distance downstream to the marina entrance.

Ayamonte.  With the tide at low water springs, the marina team advised us to hold off a short while before entering, and to then keep close to the ‘fuel’ pontoon (never commissioned) to avoid the worst of the shallow water.  Ayamonte is another welcoming marina, and a pair of marineros were on hand to direct us to our berth and secure our lines; once again, the fingers are short, thin and wobbly!  On checking in (at a very reasonable €38 a night) we discovered that we had arrived just in time for the town's Fiesta; in for a penny, in for a pound we decided to stay for a couple of nights to see just how hard the Spaniards can party!  The marina is located within the heart of this small town and, on the short walk in for a drink and tapas, we dropped in to the ideally located Ayamar Chandlery.  This British-run business is an Aladdin's cave and stocks most things a boat could need.  What it doesn’t hold can be ordered in and, if your boat is based anywhere along the Algarve, can be delivered by Lorie the proprietor when she makes one of her regular runs to the marinas along the coast as far as Lagos; a great service and items are, by and large, significantly cheaper than in the Sopromar chandleries in Lagos or Portimão (which also provide excellent service if at a bit of a premium).

Ayamonte from the marina

The Angustias festival, it turns out, is more a deep religious affair than a carnival-type celebration.  It is a joint holiday with the Portuguese worshippers from across the river and, even to the non-pious like us, provides quite a spectacle.  On the eve of the main event, the ladies gather in their finest traditional dresses to offer floral tributes to the statue of the Virgin outside the church.  The next night there is a grand procession of bands (Portuguese and Spanish), dignitaries, and the devout who march ahead of the Virgin’s statue - carried by teams of the town's burliest men - as it is carried from the church, through the streets, and along the quay-front esplanade.  The whole event is rather a sombre affair which was, coincidently, reflective of our own moods as it was the day that we dipped Arkyla's RAFSA ensign to mourn the passing of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II earlier that morning.

Ayamonte procession
Virgin statue
Devout catholic
Procession participant
Ayamonte fireworks

Turn around point.  And so it was, with ring side seats on Arkyla’s bow to watch a finale of fireworks, we reached the turn-around point of our Algarve cruise.  On the journey back to our winter berth in Lagos we would stop in on some of our favourite places again, experience more wonderful sunrises and sunsets, and enjoy all that this coast has to offer.  Now into mid-September, the route back was noticeably quieter than our push out; the beaches were less packed with people and the anchorages less crowded with boats.  We have enjoyed our time sailing in this beautiful part of the world, but the cruising ground has not captured our hearts as have other places.  We are glad to have come and explored but are equally happy to be moving on next season.  The Med beckons as, after all, there is too much to see in this world to linger too long in one spot!

Some lessons learned:
  • Algarve waters are not the warmest... a wet suit top is a valuable accessory for swimming or paddle boarding.

  • Finding places to safely leave a dinghy for runs ashore can be a challenge; make use of local communities, such as the Lagos Navigators, to gain local knowledge.

  • The wind pattern is often characterised by calm mornings and stiff breezes in the afternoon and evenings; plan your passages or at-anchor activities to match the weather.

  • Fishing pots are as much a menace along the Algarve as they were down the Atlantic coast.

  • Invest in a pilot guide; some of the lagoons or rivers can only be safely entered with this knowledge.

Nov-Dec:  An Atlantic crossing on SV Falcon - Gran Canaria to Granada via the Cape Verdes

The text below is extracted from the daily logs uploaded to the World Cruising Club website during our passage on the ARC+ rally.  The full logs can be found at this weblink and then searching against 'Falcon'.

Atlantic route
ARC flags

Las Palmas Prologue - meet the boat and crew.  Falcon, a 2017 Beneteau Oceanis 45, is stuffed with provisions, has full tanks, and is ready to set sail.  After a final week of partying and preparations, his crew (Falcon is, by all accounts, a boy boat) is similarly stuffed with pizza, pickled by beer, and dangerously ready to burst.  It’s time to slip lines!  But let’s first meet the crew…

Our skipper is Ade.  Many leaders of great expeditions are revered, daring, and fearless; none of these words however apply to our cantankerous old salt with the emotional empathy of Attila the Hun and physical presence of Quasimodo!  Ade has, nonetheless, batted well above his average, and somehow managed to ensnare into marriage our wonderful First Mate Bev.  I say First Mate; in reality, Bev is the Admiral of the boat, and we are in no doubt where the true decision making on this passage will lie!  And then there is me, James, the impossibly handsome, Adonis-like mercenary mariner brought on board primarily, I think, to twist the truth into a blockbuster story of Atlantic adventure.

Falcon and her crew

Day 1: An auspicious Las Palmas start.  Police and military officers are well trained to respond to critical situations.  How fortunate then to have retired members of both onboard to deal with the near loss of our rig on the start line!  On the blast of the 5-minute signal, there was an equally loud bang as the mainsheet block slammed to the deck.  Held by the same bolt that secures the boom to the gooseneck, we were now in a somewhat tricky position amongst the melee of jostling rally competitors.  As luck would have it, the bolt had not sheared, rather the securing nut had worked its way loose and was precariously close to rolling off the coach roof into the briny.  Dashing to the mast, we somehow managed to tame the free-swinging boom, re-house the bolt and, with one minute before the start gun, continue nervously on our way.  We even returned to the cockpit with all fingers and thumbs still attached to our four hands.  As we clear Gran Canaria, and the fleet begins to thin, we are treated to a stunning sunset... Cape Verde here we come!

Where there are generators, there is wind!
Heading out from Gran Canaria

Day 2: Man Overboard.  Neptune has again tested our mettle; not 24-hours out, and the VHF alarms with a MoB alert.  We check the chart plotter, and the reported position drops barely a mile off our stern and directly over a following yacht.  A ship-to-ship call determines all crew remain safely aboard, so the false alarm is dismissed with only minimal calls for Captain Mainwaring not to panic.  The weather is perfect, and we shoot along under the expanse of Bluewater Runner canvas (hence forth known as the BFOS... Big f*** Off Sail).

Full speed ahead under the Bluewater Runner
'Tui' on the horizon

Day 3: Where is the wildlife?  Wildlife sightings so far have been less than impressive (unless you count the skipper’s somewhat disturbing moves during boat boogie exercise hour – some things can never be unseen!).  Mother Nature’s contribution stands at a few seabirds, some flying fish and a suicidal squid discovered desiccated on deck; impacts of climate change are being hammered home.

Day 4: We set new Falcon records.  Our 3rd consecutive record-breaking 24-hour run… 178 NM!  Any more of these reports and we fear those at home might think we are ‘doing a Crowhurst’ by posting phantom position reports from the comfort of a cosy marina.  Our first ‘Naked Wednesday’ was cancelled early following a bizarre winch incident; remember men, never operate a shredder whilst wearing a tie!  Wildlife remains stubbornly hidden as do other rally yachts now not to be seen either visually or on the AIS.

Day 5: Lost at Sea.  The main highlight of the previous 24 hours was the loss of the skipper’s favourite hat to Neptune.  In this ‘Ying vs yang’ boat world of ours, this moment of acute sadness for Ade provided a priceless comedy moment for Bev and James.  Our now capless captain, and soon-to-be sunburnt egghead, declared mutinous sedition when James refused to dive overboard to recover the sinking headwear!  To add further insult to injury, additional crew merriment was gleaned from Ade’s grimacing face of disgust as the innards of a stranded flying fish oozed between the toes of his ill-placed size 12 during the daily rig check.  Crew spirits are rising as we sense landfall and the prospect of some liquid spirits to celebrate a successful completion of leg 1 of our Atlantic adventure... this is just as well as the skipper has decreed that floggings will continue until morale improves!

Day 6: Landfall in the Cape Verdes.  We have made it… well, to the Cape Verdes at least!  After 903 NM, 5 days and 15 hours at sea, we have landed in Mindelo on the island of São Vicente.  Our last 24 hours were both pensive and privileged; we fell silent to remember fallen friends for Remembrance Day, then rejoiced in the arrival of a pod of dolphins… our first sign of intelligent life at sea (including that onboard Falcon!).  Skipper Ade has captured some cracking GoPro footage from the bow, but it was James who had the best view of our mammalian friends as he was being keel-hauled at the time for some undisclosed misdemeanour such as ‘looking at the captain in a funny way’!  Our plan to arrive at this new and strange destination in daylight hours has failed miserably; our rapid progress meant we arrived in the dark hours before dawn.  All tied up by 0530, as the sun rises we give ourselves a well-earned pat on the back and we celebrate with a breakfast of champions… a couple of beers and some stale ship’s biscuits!  We now have six days to see what these islands have to offer; Bev is excited at the prospect of restaurants and fine dining, the boys are grinning ear-to-ear upon hearing there is a chandlery ashore!

Dawn arrival in Mindelo_edited.jpg
Falcon transatlantic crew
Mindelo pontoons

A week in the Cape Verdes.  Falcon had something of an inauspicious start to our stay here, the first morning being reprimanded for flying our host nation's courtesy flag upside down!  In our defence against the un-defendable, we arrived, tired and bleary eyed, at dark o’clock and the difference between ‘correct’ and ‘inverted’ for the Cape Verde ensign is rather subtle to those not enrolled in the Honourable Guild of Flag Recognition! In any case, our faux pas was quickly rectified, and we were not ordered to the ‘naughty pontoon’ to reflect quietly on what we had done!  With new pontoon neighbours, we soon made new boat friends to tell passage tales, compare breakages, and swap tips.  The local grog, a potent fire water that seemed to lace most drinks in these exotic islands, also helped the ARC parties swing and friendships grow. Organised tours of São Vicente and neighbouring Santo Antão were a great way to soak in the beauty and rich diversity of the Cape Verdes; we marvelled at the grandeur of the ‘Green Valley’ and felt welcomed everywhere we stopped. For many reasons, the Cape Verdes will forever hold a special place in the heart... I can't wait to return but as skipper and aboard Arkyla!

Mountain valleys of Santo Antão
Mindelo mural
Mindelo ladies
Mindelo town

As departure day for the big push west approaches, our focus returns to final fixes and preparations to Falcon.  With the passage from the Canaries under our belt, we have new confidence in both boat and crew, and a certainty that our skipper will navigate us safely to, at the very least, one of the Americas if not our Caribbean aim point that lies between!  With the wind whistling, if not quite howling, through the rigging, we are ready for a feisty start to our big leg across Neptune’s realm… bring it on!

Atlantic Crossing Day 1:  Go west!  Friday 18 November and our D-Day has arrived… doesn’t superstition warn against sailors departing on a Friday?  There is an electrical air of expectation throughout Mindelo marina; on Falcon the level of nervous energy has been turned up to 11… we are inwardly fizzing, outwardly buzzing, and generally effervescing!  Regarding electrical energy in the boat, skipper Ade has finally solved the wiring conundrum to power our masthead Tricolour; I have awarded him a Level 1 certificate in Marine Electronics and re-christened him ‘Adrian and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamboat’ (apologies to musical impresario Lord Lloyd-Webber)!  Time to slip lines...

We have a calm start to the leg, no more so because the boom did not try to disassociate itself from the gooseneck as per Las Palmas!  We hide at the back, let the wacky racers fight for bragging rights on the line, then steadily work our way up through the fleet… no great rush with 2200 nautical miles to go!  Leaving the Cape Verdes, we experience a mix of weather tricks; calms, accelerated wind zones, more calms, and a sea state more confused than a workman placed in a shed full of spades and told to take his pick!  Eventually we settle into a speedy broad reach under 22-30 knots of true wind; somewhat surprising for a sailboat, we are progressing in the exact same direction of our destination… most unnerving!

Leaving the Cape Verdes

Atlantic Crossing Day 2:  Stir Crazy.  A slow news day so some philosophical meanderings… many, it seems, take to the sea for a voyage of enlightenment; a passage to reflect amid the vast oceanic emptiness to evaluate and discover hidden depths of one’s soul.  Well, it hasn’t taken us long aboard Falcon to confirm that, in the grand scheme of things, we are somewhat insignificant!  With philosophy done and dusted, we have therefore invented a new game to while away the remaining 2000 nautical miles of our journey.  It’s called ‘milage countdown trivial pursuit’.  As we cruised through the 1990s and 1980s of miles to go, our Gen-X girl Bev wowed us with pop culture facts from the corresponding era; who knew one person could amass so much knowledge on Jon Bon Jovi, Patrick Swayze, and that other one from Wham!  Cruising through the 1970’s as the sun fell, it was fitting that baby boomer James recollected on dark days of coal strikes and blackouts during the winter of discontent.  We still have a while to go before old father time Ade has his turn to reminisce on his wonder years of the 1840s, but we look forward to stories of him shimmying up chimneys in the heyday of the industrial revolution! Falcon continues westwards...

Atlantic Crossing Day 3:  We are put in our place.  Sunday 20th November will go down in Falcon annals as the night that Mother Nature gave us a bit of a spanking – and not in a fun ‘cheeky adult’ way either!  Our story fittingly starts, like all good classical yarns, on a dark and stormy night.  Well, it was moonless, a few light showers, and gusts to 30 knots, so close enough in my mind!  James is woken by the sound of a crash gybe, rushes on deck and is met by a muscle-ripped Ade, shirt torn from his chest by the tempest, preparing to sacrifice himself for the sake of boat and crew.  OK, some artistic licence here; more Honey Monster than Incredible Hulk, our skipper readied himself for the crawl-of-death to the bow to replace the aft guy block wrenched from the jaw of the spinnaker pole.  As Ade clung for dear life to the forestay, the wildly flaying sheets of the snapping genoa took the appearance of the tentacles of the Kraken trying to drag our heroic captain to a watery grave.  I sense I am losing some readers at this point so, to cut a long story short, within 30 minutes our well-oiled (and for Ade, possibly pant-soiled) Falcon team had the situation neutralised and the boat back under our full control; reasoned thinking, a clear plan, and a draw of straws to determine which poor sod went forward inevitably resulted in a well-executed rescue from a decidedly dodgy scenario!

1st Mate Bev

Atlantic Crossing Day 4:  Mid-ocean entertainment.  For the 4th day in a row, skipper Ade has mirrored my chosen yachting attire.  Movie buff Bev thinks this rather cute and has likened us to Schwarzenegger and DeVito in comedy classic ‘Twins’.  I’ve noted the way skipper is eyeing me lately, and sense something more sinister reminiscent of psycho thriller ‘Single White Female’.  I imagine either Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt will play me in the sequel ‘Single Tanned Cruiser’, whilst the guy who played Herman Munster already has it ‘in the bag’ to play Ade!  In other entertainment news, a new game to generate smutty ‘What Three Words’ geo-locations has created many sniggers.  A flaky SATCOM link has, however, so far prevented us from actually trying to order an Uber delivery of pizza to our mid-ocean abode!  Music continues to be a significant element to our passage.  Bev likes both kinds of music, country and western, and tortures, on a daily basis, my aural senses with ‘achy breaky hearts’, ‘dogs named blue’, and ‘lonesome losers on the bottle again’.  This cacophony is made even worse by Ade’s accompanying interpretive dance moves; I can only assume that he has been drinking the salt water!  We round off music hour with Bob Marley’s ‘Jammin’… ironic really given what the genoa did to us last night!

Atlantic Crossing Day 5:  Plodding on down the Rhum line.  We continue wing-on-wing more or less keeping to our rhum line; the tactic seems to be working as we maintain a respectable fleet position whilst the racers around us criss-cross north and south to find better winds.  Our view is why waste time, effort, and calories to continually gybe the pole?  The weather has become more varied as we progress west; yesterday we encountered several squalls which resulted in us rolling more reefs than a hippy in the natural remedies tent at a music festival!

Over The Horizon

Atlantic Crossing Day 6:  Gybe-oh.  Having gradually slipped south of our rhum line, we made the decision today to execute ‘the gybe’ and set us back on our direct line to Grenada.  For readers less familiar in sailing terminology, the gybe is a potentially violent manoeuvre where the sails (and heavy accoutrements such as the hefty slab of metal called the boom) pass rapidly from one side of the boat to the other; in our current situation, the gybe will be powered by the full 22 knot force of the Atlantic trade winds!  A central element to this merry dick dance of a rig change, is sending two heroic idiots to the bow to wrestle the spinnaker pole (another length of skull-seeking hardened alloy) and associated array of sheets and guys (rope to you landlubbery folk) into a mirrored position on the opposite side of our ‘leisure’ craft.  It’s the maritime equivalent of the Hokey Cokey; it’s all in, out, and get shaken thoroughly about before making a retreat to the safety of the cockpit.  Executed well, we may hope to retain perhaps 80-90% of our bodies intact; in short, we sailors try to minimise the number of times we perform this operation!  Gybe executed, and resultant PTSD therapy session completed, Bev and I sit back to await the next skipper’s "how about this for an idea” moment!

Atlantic Crossing Day 7:  Launch the BWR!  It’s half-way day… only 1021 miles to Grenada!  Before celebrations and rituals could be held, Skip informed us that he had had “another one of his good ideas”.  Unfortunately, there a few places to hide on a 45’ sailboat, so there was no escape for yesterday’s gybe survivor party from heading back to the exposed pointy end of the boat to launch (drumroll please) the Bluewater Runner or BWR.  A better acronym for this huge swathe of wind-grabbing canvas is BFOS… Big F**k Off Sail!  Setting this beast is akin to Captain Kirk telling Scotty in the USS Enterprise’s engine room to take the engines to WARP factor 6; it’s an exciting ride and, with the wind moderated to about 18 knots, we judged ourselves just within safe limits to join the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse on their gallop toward Armageddon!  Naturally, this sail change requires a similar set of shenanigans with the spinnaker pole as yesterday’s reported dance with the devil… another short-stay break at Satan’s Sailing Guest house!

Ocean glider_edited.jpg
Atlantic seabird_edited.jpg

Atlantic Crossing Day 8:  A toast to Neptune.  Our celebrations yesterday were not only fit for a king, Neptune that is, but were attended by a king.  And no ordinary king either, but THE king of rock and roll Elvis!  Fancy dress was mandated for half-way Friday and as well as the Elvis suit getting a much-needed airing after the Las Palmas 70s party, Bev raised spirits, and a few heartbeats, with her foxy pirate wench outfit.  Captain Ade, as far as I could tell, came as Dr Seuss’ ‘Cat in a Hat’; bonnet-topped feline or otherwise, he cut a fine figure of a party skipper.  In true naval tradition, tots of rum were broken out from ship’s stores; one overboard for Neptune and one each for crew.  Fittingly Bev served us a king prawn curry for our special dinner, followed by treacle pudding and vanilla sauce… we are in no danger of losing weight on this passage!  Later, James showed extraordinary knowledge, and extreme lack of judgement, in answering all the questions to Bev’s nautical-themed quiz before the Captain could press his button; some unpleasant boat chores are anticipated for the impudent deckhand!  As for the sailing, despite wind strengths forecast to be on the upper limit for flying the BWR, we choose to keep it set for the night… no half measures here, we have a date with the Caribbean!

Half-Way Day

Atlantic Crossing Day 9:  We entertain guests aboard Falcon.  It’s Spa Day Saturday, but first is a hefty bout of boatarobics to burn some crew calories.  A devious set of deckhand-themed exercises turn the Falcon cockpit into a sweatbox of cardio torture; moves including ‘grind the winch’, ‘sweat the line’, haul the sheet’, ‘climb the mast’, and ‘gybe the pole’ inflict lactic pain and uncontrollable hilarity in equal measure!  It is without surprise that the boys are refused entry to Bev’s beauty parlour so face-packs, moisturisers, and other such grooming malarky are the sole preserve for the weirdo with the cucumber-covered eyes.  In short, as Bev is beautified, the boys just become increasingly salt-encrusted!

Evbret 4
Egret 3.jpeg
Egrets (1).jpeg
Egret 5.jpeg
Egret 1
Egret 2.jpeg

The real highlight of our day came in the form of an avian quartet of visitors. The Falcon wildlife appreciation society was rapidly convened to welcome four egrets.  As the sunset, our tired little aviators settled down for a night atop the bimini. Later however, in the dark hours of the night watch, skipper Ade was spooked by a headless feathered body, swaying to the rhythm of the boat, on the side deck by the cockpit… it was George (so named as one of the four Beatles) with his head firmly tucked into his body sheltering from the wind!  By morning, only George and one friend remained for the free ride west. They have become increasingly bold in their moves around both boat and crew, and some captivating photos have been taken of them in the cockpit; we are, at least for a while, a crew of five aboard Falcon!

Atlantic Crossing Day 10:  Food and Fixes.  Fixing stuff at sea is pretty much a given for an ocean passage of any length.  As is Murphy’s Law, Falcon chose the hour of dusk to make his demands of the crew.  First up was a trip to the mast for the boys to attempt a fix on a broken mainsail slide.  There was much huffing and puffing to drop and control the sail on a particularly rolling sea to replace the lost, but somewhat crucial, bolt that holds the slider to the mast track.  There was also a significant level of adult language from the skipper directed at the riggers in Las Palmas who’s ‘professional fix’ of Ade’s ‘sturdy emergency repair’ had lasted less than 2 weeks!  No sooner had we retired to the safety of the cockpit (leaving several layers of knuckle skin at the mast in case it may be needed there later), there was a shout from Bev down below… “we seem to be leaking”!  This time the captain’s foul-mouthed ire was directed at the suppliers of the water-maker filters, the said accessories clearly being of the wrong sized thread to secure a tight, leak-proof fit!

Food remains a high point of each day.  Today was a brunch of sausage and egg wraps, with a Sunday sit-down ‘silver service’ of pie & mash for dinner.  My only point of criticism would be for a smarter turn out of the waitress; Bev’s pinafore had clear evidence of un-ironed creases, and her shoes were most wanting of some extra spit and polish!  This extravagant dining does, however, worry me regarding the state of the ration stocks.  The skipper should hope that we continue our speedy progress west as I now look at him not so much as a fine leader of crew, but as a potential emergency larder should we become ensnared in the doldrums; I have already kindly drawn the short straw for him, and checked we  have some fava beans and a delicious Chianti in the cupboards.

Approaching Squall

Atlantic Crossing Day 11:  Life is a roller coaster...  Today was ‘half-way of the second half’ day; in plain English, that means we have passed the 500 nautical miles to go mark!  If we were expecting an easy ride in however, we were soon to be in for a few shocks to our complacent systems!


Keeping the rig intact during long distance ocean sailing is much like playing a ‘spot the difference’ picture quiz; the game is to stare at the rig then find five differences from an hour before!  Today the key missing ingredient was the down-haul guy; this had detached itself from the jaw of the spinnaker pole and was now snaking along the hull seeking out the propeller for when we would next start the engine!  Keeping an eye on the weather is also a crucial part of this sailing game; the aim is to set enough canvas to speed you along to your goal, but not so much that you later become dangerously overwhelmed.  The art is in identifying the potentially potent, amongst the usually benign, clouds that rear up on the horizon as the sun sets.  Get it wrong, and one’s night watch can be seriously spoilt!  On this fateful evening we literally threw caution to the wind and decided to continue flying the Bluewater Runner (the BFOS remember); his was perhaps a mistake.  With the winds building to a steady 22 knots, and significantly higher gusts, by 0400 hours we found ourselves on something of a roller coaster ride.  At one point we hit 14.5 knots (that’s a lot for a 45’ sailboat!).  Bev appeared, somewhat shaken and stirred, in the companionway and, anxious for our general safety, told us naughty boys to put our toy away.  Of course, taming these African elephant’s ears of canvas in a building tempest is a little easier said than done.  With furling the sail only a partial success, the two expendables were once again despatched to the heaving bow of the boat to wrestle the writhing anaconda of fiercely flapping Dacron into its bag on deck; this was an interesting 30 minutes of our lives!  Our night adventure did not end here however as fate had a further ace to play on us.  Still in the depths of the moonless dark, we hear a loud bang from the stern; frantic searches under head-torch reveal no obvious sign of damage, and we attribute this crack of thunder to a large wave slapping the hull.  It was not until the light of dawn crept over the boat however that we found the answer to our soundbite conundrum; closer inspection of the self-steering wind vane revealed that the rudder had been snapped off at the hilt, with the majority of the appendage now making its downward journey of 4000 metres to Davey Jones’ locker! RIP Vinnie the Vane! (as an after-note, ours was one of three Hydrovane rudders within the ARC+ fleet to suffer such damage).

Ocean Gold

Atlantic Crossing Day 12:  Signs of civilisation.  After the previous evening’s excitement, some lighter airs to coast along in and recoup was a welcome change for our day’s passage making.  At dusk, we were treated to a spectacular sunset and a two-tone sky developed; the heavens were almost vertically split with pink to starboard and teal to port – most unusual!  With the latest forecast predicting settled conditions overnight, we hoped for a stress-free set of dark hour watches.  As we close the Caribbean however, signs of traffic are now becoming our nemesis.  Lights began to emerge around us; some constant, some sporadic, and all ‘whites' with no ‘reds’ or ‘greens’ to help determine direction of movement.’  The AIS display remained stubbornly empty too!  Our best analysis was that we had a mix of traffic; some yachts, like us, heading toward the islands of the Caribbean, and a scattering of fishing vessels leaving few clues that might give away their positions to us or their trawling rivals.  During the day, a new confusion befell us.  “Look at this AIS target one half mile off our bow” Bev said; “impossible” replied the boys, “there’s nothing there!”.  We began to question the integrity of Falcon’s electronics suite, but then we saw it – a small flag attached to an orange buoy.  We moved to starboard to avoid it, but then there was another.  And another!  We had sailed ourselves into a line of drift nets helpfully set in 3000 metres of deep ocean; we aimed for the middle of the buoys in the hope the nets there would be well below the depth of Falcon’s keel.

Caribbean Sea Sunset
Caribbean Clouds

Atlantic Crossing Day 13:  A bit of a pickle!  Despite promises that we would end on a broad reach under white sails, it came as no surprise that our captain, as fickle as the wind, should ask us once more to set the Bluewater Runner.    Now you may remember we had something of a fun time lowering our BFOS on the night of great tempest; truth be told the sail was bagged in a bit of a sorry state.  It shouldn’t have been of great surprise then that, when rehoisting today, the unfurling process would head south faster than a drunken sailor dashing to the bar at the call for last orders! A bit like the Grand Old Duke of York’s men being neither up nor down their hill, our large and partially wind-filled sail was neither furled in nor fully let out upon Falcon’s forestay – it had a bloody great twist in it that could best be described as something of a hazard to safe navigation!  Much head scratching ensued as to how this had happened, though the real intellectual challenge was in how to rectify this new, and somewhat unfortunate, pickle we found ourselves in.  Like the A-Team we sprang to action, and before we knew it with the aid of an extra length of rope, some clever knottery, and a hefty dose of applied Newtonian physics we had a solution to unwrap our now bellowing beast!  We are once again back on speedy course for our Grenadian destination.

Sunset pole work
Dolphin escort into Grenada

Grenada:  We've made it!  So that’s it then; after 13 days and 10 hours, the fat lady is centre stage at the Royal Albert Hall and is belting out a medley of old school sea shanties… we have crossed the Atlantic and arrived safe in Grenada!  And what a Caribbean welcome we were treated to; first a dolphin escort some 20 miles out, then the most glorious of golden sunsets before our final pilotage into Port Louis Marina and Georgetown.

What a ride we have had.  We’ve had many highs, quite a few challenges, maybe a couple of lows, but not a single tear.  We even found humour in the darker times such as when the wind-vane rudder snapped off (“well that should give us an extra half a knot”!).  We’ve used the last 2253 nautical miles to look deep inside ourselves; Bev found inner peace and harmony, James found a wanderlust for further ocean exploration, and Ade… hmmm, well Ade mostly found the chocolate and sweet stash!  Before we dash off to have a well-earned Atlantic anchor tattooed across our chests, time to consider what we have experienced, achieved, and learned.  The ocean is not to be trifled with; not all 2022 ARC+ boats made it across and there were several serious injuries, incapacitated yachts, and medical evacuations from within the fleet.  We know what it means to be truly self-sufficient; faced with a crisis 1000 miles from land, there are no mechanics, electricians, or plumbers to call – you must own the situation and devise your own solution.  Whilst extensive planning and careful preparation are essential before undertaking a journey of this magnitude, it is perhaps flexibility and the ability to adapt that showcase the most desirable qualities of an ocean navigator.

If there is one disappointment from our passage, it was the scarcity of wildlife that we encountered over our 3000 nautical mile voyage.  We sighted no whales and were blessed with only two dolphin escorts during the 3 weeks we were at sea.  We were glad to be able to give a small level of help to our avian friends across the Atlantic, but we have a wider duty to better protect our planet, its oceans, and the wonderful creatures that can still call it home – let’s not pillage, plunder or pollute it anymore!

A short note of thanks is sent to the WCC Yellow shirts for their help, smiles, and logistics.  And thanks too to the other rally participants with whom we have partied ashore and radioed at sea – lifelong friendships have been cemented.  The final word of heartfelt thanks is left for Bev and Ade; their generosity in offering me space aboard Falcon has been more than life affirming… fair winds and calm seas to your onward adventures across the Caribbean!

Final berth
Grenada welcome
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