We had a good crew, international and experienced in one way or another Jerki Kivi, from Helsinki, a lifelong sailor and navigator in the Baltic; Tommi Buckley of Southhampton, England, a young man born in Finland also, but to an New Zeland father and Finish mother who were living in England while the father complete yacht design school; Jeremy ____ of Australia, not so experienced in sailing, but many years experience running diesels on heavy equipment; and me, Ben Smith, who made up for my lack of years sailing (only ten) with knowing the boat from its very inception.
We had spent several days preparing for our first large ocean passage. I had anticipated that this crossing, though shorter, would be more difficult than actually crossing the Atlantic. The endless parade of low pressure centers across the Irish Sea and the North Sea threatened us with high winds and steep chaotic seas. We watched the weather charts carefully, waiting for a stable high pressure south of England. By Tuesday, the 17th of October, we had completed our provisioning and had had the ship's compass adjusted. I made the decision to leave the next morning with the tide.
We cast off from the marina dock at Falmouth at 0944, on the 18th. The winds were light and shifting. We achieved only 4.8 knots through the water, but the tidal current boosted our true speed to an acceptable 6.0 knots. That first night we headed more west in order to fill our sails and point more out into the open Atlantic, away from the troubled waters of the Bay of Biscay once we had left the English Channel. The water temperature was a cold 11.9 degrees Celsius.
By noon the second day, we started the engine and began motorsailing. The light winds had become a problem. We had 1300 miles to go to Tenerife, but our excitement didn't pale from the problematic wind. We each looked forward to our 2 hour long watches, the time in which the boat and the sailing was our responsibility. The daytime off watch was usually spent with the other crew members in the saloon. We hadn't yet found our sea legs, so reading wasn't yet part of the activities. We ate hot meals which took an extra effort to prepare because of the roll of the boat for the English waters.
By that evening, the wind had steadied on its point and had increased to 12 meters/second. While it was my watch, I had all sail set on a beam reach. We crashed along through the steep seas at 6 knots with the genoa hauled tight. But at 1830, the genoa sheet chafed through at the genoa track block. What had been exciting sailing became dreary motorsailing. The wind continued to increase. At 2100 the wind was up to 18 meters/second, but we were only able to do 5.6 knots with the staysail, mainsail, mizzen, and engine. Each crashing wave slowed us down.
Later that same evening, the stays'l halyard broke at the wire rope eye. We had to furl the staysail. This lost would also prevent us from sailing with the storms'l because it uses the same halyard as the stays'l. This situation potentially dangerous. With the increasing wind, we felt it important to reef the mails'l, but when setting the reef, the crew put too much tension on the badly designed reefing line and ripped the mains'l along the luff tape. We motored with just the mizzen for stability. Not much resistance against the pitching and rolling of the Spray hull, originally a fishing boat design intended to be run with 20 tons of fish loading her to the gunwales, not as a light pleasure sailboat.
It was dark and cold. The rough seas on our unaccustomed bodies led to fatique and general malaise.
By this time we were about 30 miles southeast of the Scilly Islands. We turned toward them with the intention of making repairs, but when we calculated our arrival time, we realized it would still be dark. Further reading about the approach and entry to these isolated islands and the circle of reefs and rocks made us sober to the fact that they were more dangerous than our current situation. I decided to head to Portugal, roughly three or four days away, very close to the track for Tenerife.
As dawn brightened the sky, everything looked better. We had made the right decision to continue on south. The wind had shifted so we went over to a starb'd tack allowing me to tie the two pieces of the broken sheet together. Now we could get a little more push from the wind. Even though we had enough fuel to motorsail to Portugal, the additional sail power gave us a greater margin of safety.
Jerki and I got the mains'l off the boom and down below where he set on to making the necessary repairs. For two days, he did little more when off watch than sew on reinforcing tapes and repair the grommets along the luff. Tommi was his second help, and I the third. By the time the repairs were complete, we had broken all of the straight sailmaker's needles. It was a good thing that we had all become acclimated to the rolling and pitching, and so were able to do the detailed work without even the slightest queezyness. We were able to return the mains'l to service on the 21st.
The farther south we got, the better the weather and the better our spirits. We were at 1000 nautical miles to Tenerife point on the 22 of October. We were south of Finestere, the southern tip of Biscay.
By sunset on the 23rd, we were tied up in the Leixos sportboat marina, the prefered point of entry for Portugal, adjacent to Porto, Portugal. The next day we scrambled about, replacing the broken stays'l halyard, buying additional blocks for the spinnaker, refilling the water tanks, fueling, and a little provisioning. We droppend the docklines at 1840 and headed out through the maze of anchored cargo ships to our final course to Tenerife. We were completely under sail.
Our problems weren't over yet, though. At 0305 the next morning, the tang for the boom vang tore away from the boom. We rigged a line from end to end of the boom and attached the boom vang and preventors to that. The wind slackened as the day went on. By 1900 we were reduced to just using the motor.
We were able to hoist sails again a day later, on the 26th. We were also able to make our first SSB radio communication with Ballu of Venetia. Until then, I had not been certain that we were able to transmit. Now my fears were relieved.
The closer we got to Tenerife, the more cheerful we became. Jerki's girlfriend Rita would meet him there, and I, of course, was very anxious to see my family again. We all sang sea shantys and cavorted about the cabin. Dinners became festive events. Jeremy had brought two guitars and Jerki, who is quite good, entertained us with an eclectic stream of music. Tommi, Jerki, and I tried to fool poor Jeremy with our magic tricks.
By the 27th of October, we had reached 35 degrees north latitude. The sea temperature was now up to 20 degrees Celsius and the wind was gone, so we stopped and swam. Well Jerki and Jeremy swam. Tommi barely went in, while I just stayed on deck. (My excuse was that I didn't want the boat to sail away without us.) Refreshed by the break, we decided to play with some sails in the light wind. First, we raised the spinnaker in the 3.5 meters/second breeze. We got 2.5 knots of boat speed. Then we tried using the spare staysail as a mizzen staysail, but finally ended up with it rigged as mule, between the tops of the mizzen and main. It gave us about a half knot more. As night came on, the wind hardened, and we went back to our normal sails: mizzen, main, and genoa.
The next day, when the wind dropped, we tried the spinnaker again. This time the wind was stronger and we broke our little spinnaker pole in just a mater or seconds of filling the sail with wind. Since we were going dead downwind, we tried sailing without the pole. This lasted about two hours, until the spinnaker wrapped itself about five times around the forestay.
The next few days had stronger winds, more on the beam. We were able to maintain a good 6 knots average until we were within sight of Gran Canaria on the evening of October 30th. We didn't want to arrive in Santa Cruz, Tenerife at night, so we slowed down by just motoring at four and a half knots.
That night before my dogwatch (0300-0500), I dreamed that the boat was slowly filling with water. That we were racing against the incoming water to get to shore. I awoke at 0230 and began my watch somewhat sleepy, as is often the case for this time of night. I started to realize that the sloshing of water from my dream was quite real. I lifted some boards of the cabins sole, and discovered that the bilge was overflowing and nearly to the level of the high current wiring leading to the batteries. I check the electric bilge pumps. They had been turned off! I started them and then started pumping on the manual bilge pump. Very quickly the water was down to an acceptable level where I could see where water was flowing from. It appeared to be coming from under the main sweet water tank. I rigged the portable electric bilge pump in that area to manage it, which it did. The other bilges didn't appear to be refilling.
We were just hours away from Santa Cruz, Tenerife. In a few hours it would be light enough to study the leak. When I completed my watch, though, I did not go back to bed as was my custom. After all, we were coming in to land for the first time in nearly a week.
Just as the sun was coming up, we made for the Santa Cruz harbor entrance. We were tied up and safe inside the harbor at 0820 on the 31st of October. The leak didn't reappear during the entire week we were in the Tenerife harbor. We checked all the probable places and many other possibilities as well. No leak.
Gretchen met us at the dock just after we tied up. We all joined her for breakfast at a local restaurant on shore. We were elated and relieved to be at our destination after so many equipment failures. It wouldn't be until we crossed to Gran Canaria that we discovered the source of the water in the bilge.