three hulls, two people, one trip around the world…

From Bermuda to the Azores

Eine Seefahrt, die ist lustig, eine Seefahrt, die ist schön…. (A sea voyage is fun, a sea voyage is beautiful….)

As in the song, our crossing also has two sides. If you cross the Atlantic from east to west, it is usually at a time when the trade winds offer fairly stable wind conditions. that means wind from astern and a relatively calm boat. In the other direction, from west to east, there are no such conditions. To catch the prevailing winds in the right direction, you have to sail across in the northern half of the North Atlantic. May is supposed to be the most favourable month for this, before an Azores high produces calm winds. But the weather changes frequently. The weather is dominated by low-pressure areas that stay further north at this time of year. At their edges, a sailboat gets wind from the side. It is important not to get too close to the low-pressure areas with a lot of wind, but still sail far enough north so that one gets enough wind and can still reach the Azores. Mathias gets weather updates every 12 hours and then we decide which is the most favourable course for us. Sideways wind means speed on the one hand, but also heeling on the other. Although heeling is only slight in a trimaran, it is definitely noticeable in the waves. It is therefore advisable to follow the motto “one hand for the boat” and always hold on or support yourself somewhere.

Cooking becomes a sporting exercise. The cooker is not gimballed, in the wave the pot can slip off the plate. That’s why there are metal hooks with which a pot is strapped down. I put one of my induction plates on the gas cooker and I can fasten a pot there. It’s amazing how well it works to cook each dish in turn, or to use the oven and microwave as well. I try to cook enough when the weather is a bit calmer to keep leftovers to use when the sea is heavier. Unfortunately, it rarely works for me to cook anything in advance of the trip (I’ve never been much of a housewife).

Our departure from Bermuda took us first through a stormy area, but it was not to last long. Had we waited any longer, there would have been trouble with another low that was to be far more unpleasant. So for the first day we sailed with three reefs and the jib. The exit from the lagoon was correspondingly rocky and against a good swell. But by late afternoon, all but one of the reefs could be taken out and the going was smoother.

On the second day at sea, the back line of the first reef broke. Now it became more difficult to decide when to reef. Mathias usually wants to reef later than I do. So we sailed with full sails for a long time, even with up to 20 knots of wind. That gave us a lot of speed, but it was a strain on my nerves. Sleeping is also difficult, as the wind noise is loud and waves often crash noisily against the hull.

On the third day, we put in reefs for my night shift and replaced the genoa with the jib. With two reefs, this makes sense on downwind courses, because then the proportions of the main and foresail fit together better. It costs about two knots of speed loss, but spares my nerves, which also allows the skipper to sleep sounder. We had just tightened all the reefing lines and were about to switch to the jib when there was a “crack – boom”. Something had fallen onto the deck. Mathias always finds such parts quite quickly: it was a strange metal hook with a bolt. Hmm. First I had to take care of the sails, the genoa was flapping. I quickly realised that pulling tight wouldn’t help, because the luff* was loose. We quickly furled the sail and set the jib. Now it dawned on us what the metal part was: the shackle of the genoa, with which it is attached to the halyard. This was not immediately recognisable because it was completely bent open. The bolt must have jerked loose from the screw thread after the securing device must have broken, and the metal bracket of the shackle was then bent under load. We had to let that sink in. — In principle, there were two options: to dawdle very slowly to the Azores with reefed sails and jib, or to climb the mast at sea and dare to repair it. Because the whole thing happened between 11 p.m. and midnight, we could postpone the decision for the time being.

{*For non-sailors: the luff is the leading edge of the genoa sail where it is pulled up}.

The bent-up shackle and what it should look like.

The fourth day brought good wind and we made good progress despite the small sail area. In the evening, the wind dropped and on the fifth day it became even calmer. Mathias decided to try the repair. Because Mathias had to go to the front of the mast and because we did not want to take the sail down, the boat chair could not be attached to the main halyard. We have a lift system where a rope drum is pulled up, to which an endless line is attached. With this you could pull yourself up. Since it still wobbles even in calm seas, I took over the pulling up and Mathias held on to the mast with both hands. In addition, we had pulled up a guide line to keep the boat chair close to the mast. Setting up the construction took a considerable amount of time. It was particularly difficult to pull up the drum, which had to be prevented from hitting the mast or twisting the lines too much. When everything was in place, Mathias was secured with a second halyard and off we went. Pulling required a lot of effort. For me it meant using my upper body, pure arm strength was not enough. I always made 5 moves, then pulled the safety halyard tight and at the same time took a breather. Again, it occurred to me that going to the gym might have been a good idea.

When I almost couldn’t take any more, Mathias finally hovered at a lofty height and turned over to the suspension of the genoa. He pushed off the mast with his leg and swung over to the genoa. Depending on the movement of the ship, he was sometimes thrown back against the mast or onto the other side of the genoa, I couldn’t watch – my nerves.

Finally, I was able to pull Mathias down again. He couldn’t do the attachment of the new shackle well enough up there, so the genoa still had to be brought down. For this we went on a downwind course. That might have caused a funny swerve in our track. The apparent wind is at its lowest on this course because the true wind and the head wind have opposite directions and are therefore subtracted from each other. So it is relatively calm on board. The jib stayed out so that the genoa could be brought down in its lee. Once on deck, it was a good idea to sew up the break in the UV protection strip that still needed to be repaired. Sure, we can do that too.

We had started at 10 am and by 5 pm we were ready to use the mainsail and genoa again. The boat sailed well again and we went downstairs to warm up some food and lick our wounds. Mathias’ thighs will be sore and my arms.

The soreness was bearable, but we both slept well after this action. On the sixth day, we reefed at midnight, which is when my watch begins. The wind had picked up again. It remained uncomfortable throughout the day, and it was not until the evening that we were able to replace the jib with the genoa. With that plus a 2-fold reefed main, we are between 7 and 9 knots fast in 14 to 18 knots of wind, a pleasant cruising speed for our boat.

During our repair work we could observe larger fish jumping around in front of the boat. Tuna fish? And again we saw strange little sails just above the surface of the water. These are jellyfish. They are aptly named “sail jellyfish” or “by-the-wind sailor”.

On the seventh day in the morning hours, another sailboat showed up on the AIS. With the AIS on the radio, we can only see the other boats, but not be seen ourselves. Also, the device does not have our own position, so it does not calculate the CPA (Closest Point of Approach) correctly, or only for the moment we type our position into the device. In addition, the screen is mini and ships sailing close together can no longer be recognised individually. So I got a pad of squared paper and drew our position and that of the other boat into a coordinate system every 10-20 minutes. It quickly became apparent that the other boats stayed on a slightly more northerly route, so overtaking would not be a problem. This gave me something to do during the night watch. The other sailboat (L’Attitude) was quite small and probably reached its hull speed at a good 6 knots. We were going 7-10 knots fast. Still, it took us a while to get past them. After sunrise we could see the boat, we had only overtaken them when I had already started my second round of sleep.

Once the other ship hardly moved at all. That was a buoy:

At noon it was “only” 900 nm to Horta, half-time. The wind dropped and full sails were set again. The journey was uneventful during the day with fairly constant wind. The sea is more grey than blue and the sky mostly overcast. The temperatures in the boat are around 22°. Gone are the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. The climate is approaching that of northern Germany, which is what we had wanted. Now we have to live with it: we wear T-shirts again 😉

My watch on the morning of the eighth day began with the engine being switched on briefly at midnight because the wind stayed away and we were sailing downwind. Just 10 minutes later it was blowing again at 15 knots and the fast sailing continued. But Mathias didn’t go to sleep yet because a big tanker was rushing in from behind at 19 knots. I radioed them (perhaps a little late). They couldn’t see us, not even on radar. I gave our position and then heard nothing more from them. Maybe the tanker changed course by 1°, but we were uneasy and Mathias sailed under engine away from the tanker’s side. We could clearly see his lights as he sped past behind us. The fact that we were not visible on the radar may have been due to the fact that it was raining on and off, so it could be that our radar point was hiding in an area of rain. The big boats don’t seem to be looking for navigation lights. I’ll radio earlier next time. That usually works quite well.

We are now sailing at the front edge of a low pressure area, just like the yachts in the Transocean races do. The only difference is that we stay on the outer edge, and we don’t want too much of the good wind. Everything in moderation 😉 . One advantage is that the sea in front of us is not yet so choppy, the wind only gets there with us. Accordingly, the wave height is moderate. Waves slow down a sailing boat the most and make even a trimaran lean. We have become accustomed to the ship’s movements again. Waking rhythm and weather still need time to get used to. Sailing is not just about smooth gliding in the most beautiful sunshine.

Flight from the strong wind area (orange to red colours)

Mathias entertained himself during his watch by catching up with and then overtaking another sailboat (GlenIV). This loosens up the tasks during the watch a bit.

The ninth day brought a further increase in wind. Around three o’clock in the morning I woke Mathias up and the mainsail got 2 reefs again. We were able to luff a little and continued sailing at a brisk 8-9 knots. In the course of the day the wind dropped, we thought about taking out the reefs, but decided against it because of the weather forecast. When sailing along the edge of a low-pressure area, it can sometimes happen that the edge is not quite smooth. In our case, another front was coming from behind, with an outgrowth to the south that would pass over our course. This reached us in the early evening. I hadn’t been in bed long when I was woken up by the ship’s movements (although we are in a quiet corner with our mattress camp.) I got up and there was no sign of Mathias. He was out at the helm, battling gusts of 30 knots of wind*. I quickly got dressed and we put the third reef in the mainsail and swapped the genoa for the jib. The jib sheat attachment points had to be adjusted, but couldn’t be operated by hand, so Mathias had to get out with the pliers. We can crawl across the sun deck, where we attached a line up to the foot of the mast. He got wet in the process, because it had been raining all day. Rain is supposed to happen in low-pressure areas.

{*For non-sailors: knots and wind force (Beaufort): Short excursion into the Beaufort scale


On the tenth day, the 3 reefs plus jib were still necessary. Before Mathias went to sleep, we did a q-tack* because the wind was shifting slowly and we would have come too far south if we had beared away further. In the meantime, the waves had also built up. At night up to about 3 m, during the day also occasionally 4 m high. It is difficult to get used to the fact that one side of the boat is lifted far up, only to slide down again immediately afterwards. We have been sailing on the port hull since Bermuda, and now on the starboard hull since the q-turn. This means that I am no longer pushed into my sofa corner, but could tumble out of it 🙁 . Now we were so shaken up that we were always glad when the wind dropped to “only” 24 knots. It already felt like a calm period. Long-distance sailing is no fun in these conditions, I’m not sea-bearish enough for that.

{*For non-sailors: For a tack or gybe, turn the boat through the wind so that it comes from the other side afterwards. If the wind comes from the front, you turn the bow through the wind, that is the tack. If the wind comes from behind, you turn the stern through the wind, that is the gybe. When tacking, the boat is in the wind for a short time and then has no propulsion, so you have a little time to change the sail position. In the gybe, the ship remains in motion, the sails and thus the boom suddenly and jerkily flap to the other side. This circumstance is very dangerous when there is a lot of wind and waves. Instead, you can do a q-tack. In this case, one sails an incomplete circle, one luffs, sail a tack and then bears away again on the other side of the wind. The track of the manoever looks like a small q}.

Only the eleventh day brought a certain calming down. At 0 o’clock there was only 18 knots of wind with a decreasing tendency. The jib was replaced by the genoa, the reefs remained in the mainsail. We didn’t want to tinker with the sail in the dark. Only when Mathias woke up again did we take the reefs out of the mainsail, by then the wind had already reached 12 knots. There was sunshine again. In the course of the next night, the wind continued to drop. At the same time, we needed speed. This time it was a matter of escaping a calm area.

Between midnight and 6 a.m. on the twelfth day, we made some progress, but then the wind was almost non-existent: 3 knots. We didn’t like the idea of bobbing along slowly so close to our destination. That’s why we had to use the engine. The poor sailors of the past who didn’t have this option. It is demoralising when, after all the fighting with wind and waves, the ship suddenly barely moves. Instead, more life becomes visible again. The small sail jellyfish drifted past us and we saw two whales swimming next to us. First they came swimming towards us, then they dived down. The first time I was able to capture a whale fluke on film myself. Unfortunately, the whales were quite a distance away and despite the 4k camera, the picture remains small. I wished such systems actually existed, as they are always shown in the TV thrillers. The computer experts can zoom in and reconstruct pixels to make even the smallest inscriptions in the shadows legible or recognise faces. (Columbo was already able to do this with old video recordings.) Well, you can see my edited recording below. Zooming in further would have resulted in a pixelated image.

Because the journey was now calm over almost smooth water, we devoted ourselves to tasks that were too dangerous in the wave. Mathias wanted to work on the damaged reefing line of the 1st reef. As we pulled it over from the end of the boom, we noticed a broken loop at the end of the boom. It didn’t look good: This is the loop where the clew of the sail is connected to the boom. The sail was only hanging on the outhaul. Not good at all. Quickly lower the sail and tie in the second reef. Then the corner of the sail is held by the rear reefing line. The rest of the trip has to be done with the second reef. That might be more relaxed.

The doldrums still persisted. It was not until the changing of the guard on the thirteenth day that we were able to sail again without the motor. This was our final day. The wind slowly increased up to 19 knots, no problems with that thanks to our forced reefing.

As we approached the Azores, fishing boats without AIS appeared again. We would arrive in the dark, so together we kept a lookout for lights. The first glimpse of the islands was a glimmer of light on the horizon, which could be seen from very far away. Soon it became clearer that these were the lights of Horta, then came the mobile radio reception. We didn’t want to do the driving in and mooring in an unknown harbour at night. So we anchored off the outer breakwater with lots of waves. It was midnight.

Because we left at noon on the first day, our journey lasted pretty much exactly 12.5 days. Considerably faster than we had previously thought. So our course and weather strategies worked out 🙂 We are happy, relieved and also pat ourselves on the back a little.

I never imagined that I would go to the Azores. I only associated the Azores with the Azores High, and I felt the same way about Bermuda, which I only associated with the triangle (and the shorts). Being here now is an adventure. We are excited and look forward to the next few weeks.


Like this Post? Share it with your friends!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.