Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Horta to Lagos

After several sacrifices to the sea gods (mostly in the form of fishing tackle), a Mass in Portuguese, the required wall painting to summon up fair winds and a string of unprintable imprecations from Terry, AT LAST we had a run of fine sailing weather. The only exception was a brief, wild ride on a forty knot gust sweeping down from the volcano on Pico. Overall we managed 5 – 6 knots for most of the 900 nautical mile passage, scooting along on the front of the fronts, rather than wallowing in their wakes.  Much better. 

Time did start to hang heavily in the uneventful middle days of the voyage. As our spot crept at a glacial pace across the chart (with the catamarans Scolamanzi  and Purrr-fect rapidly gaining on it) we found ourselves engaged in unaccustomed pastimes – Padraig writing letters and playing chess against the computer; myself doing girly things like cooking and embroidery;  and I’m sure I saw Terry with at least one novel. The fish started biting again - unfortunately we lost a big tuna (and the tip of the fishing rod, lures etc) but compensated with a nice one the next day, followed by another.

Then, finally, it was countdown time – 100 nautical miles to go.  80. 50. Suddenly we were into the Traffic Separation Zone and life became exciting and eventful. We heard Johannes and Henriette of Scolamanzi on the VHF, negotiating their way through a line of south-bound freighters behind us. Ahead, ships appeared very quickly in the northbound lane; a couple of them we needed to watch carefully. Without AIS we could not identify them, but Henriette kindly called the nearest one on VHF, providing us with their name. It was a little disconcerting to hear that we did not appear on their radar, but the watchman assured us that they had us ‘visual’ and we could pass in front. We did pass just metres in front of the huge cargo vessel, then had the pleasure of seeing a bunch of sailors peering out the rear windows at us. That’s how close we were. Another reminder of just how small a speck on the ocean our 42 foot boat really is. During the night, we saw Scolamanzi’s  lights as she flew past us. Not even four days’ head start could get us across the line first!

The light from Cape St Vincente guided us to the mouth of the Med, and as dawn broke Padraig and I had the wonderful sight of the cape, with its light and white chapel, that has greeted mariners for hundreds of years. We dipped our ensign respectfully to the saint, and tried to wake Terry who staggered to the deck but was just too exhausted to stay up. Sailing east along the majestic Algarve coast, we had our best conditions of the whole trip. With seven knots and beautiful smooth seas, we enjoyed the sight of the little white villages, rugged sandstone cliffs and all the various craft on the water. For Terry and me, it was Europe at last, a dream come true after about 40 years! For Padraig, it was a goal achieved and another great adventure amongst the challenges he sets himself – and of course he was just about bursting to see Claire, his beautiful wife who would be in Lagos that day.
I took us in through the channel and it was a thrill to steer Common Sense up the canal that runs right into Lagos. Up to the customs dock, then a comfortable entry into our slip in the gorgeous Marina de Lagos, where the friendly and efficient staff welcomed us and secured the boat.  
Stepping ashore after a journey of over 4000 nautical miles and 34 days at sea was quite overwhelming. Thanks to the ARC, congratulations to all our companions on the crossing and kudos to Terry for shouldering the skipper's responsibilities and getting us there safely through every trial. Especially thanks to Padraig - we were blessed to find a crewman who was so willing, capable and positive through every situation. And good craic as well.

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