Discovery does not hold a lot of fuel. Our range, which is greatly influenced by current, wind and seas, is about 900 miles in perfect conditions, well short of the distance on a standard ocean passage. Our forecast as we left Cape Verde for the 1200 mile trip north showed almost no wind at all. Simple math meant we’d either have to get some wind, or we’d be doing some sitting around in the middle of the ocean. But no wind does have its benefits. For one, Jody actually gets to enjoy being at sea. Usually the passages for her are synonymous with suffering and I too admit that as the years have gone by my indifference to seasickness seems to be wearing off.
For 3 days the ocean was almost perfectly flat. Dolphins visited regularly; sometimes hundreds would join off our bow to play in our wake. Martin and I hung off the swimstep one afternoon and several came up right beside us, certainly wondering why we couldn’t just let go and join them. As our latitude increased the water temp dropped and the sunsets lengthened. Sunsets at sea are one of the most precious things we experience. You have the feeling that you are the only one to see them, and in fact this is true, at least from our perspective. Other than dolphins, whales, and an incredible number of Portuguese Man-o-war jellyfish (NASTY to the touch, but beautiful) sailing placidly on the surface we are the only ones out here. We’ve spent nearly all our time in the last 5 years in the tropics, where the days and nights are equal, there are no seasons except wet and dry, and the sun spends very little time on the horizon. I found myself relishing the change.
Then we got some breeze, but unfortunately it was right on the nose. Our options were to crack off to a heading that allowed us to use the wind, but greatly increase our miles, or use more fuel going the right way. We had 10 days to complete the journey, our first trip was scheduled on May 10th in Sao Miguel, in the Azores. 10 days to go 1200 miles is typically a very comfortable margin- with decent wind Discovery can easily make 200 miles a day. But by day 6 of the trip things were looking desperate. By my calculations we were going to run out of fuel a full 400 miles short, and then of course not make the start of the trip. We needed wind…or a miracle.
At sunset on the 7th day the radar picked up a ship 12 miles off our port bow, headed right for us. I put out a call to the ship, which ended up being a natural gas supertanker out of Norway- the “Norman Lady”. I explained that we were in no distress and would cheerfully wait for the wind if need be, but would happily receive a wee bit of diesel if they were so inclined. Knowing these massive ships are on tight schedules and their operating costs are exorbitant I never imagined they could help. But as usual, someone was looking after us. The law of the sea and our incredible luck of literally running right across an extremely friendly and helpful skipper (thank you Morgan!) in the middle of the Atlantic prevailed and the looming monster immediately began to slow. It took her 12 miles just to slow to 6 knots. I gingerly pulled alongside and the crew of the ship, well above the top of our mast at their deck level heaved us a line and lowered 150 litres of fuel in jerry cans in a sunset exchange that was literally bewildering. Discovery seemed like a dinghy, a miniscule toy, dwarfed by a mega giant. As sunset turned to night with a fresh load of fuel on board we said goodbye to Morgan and his crew, who proudly wore some Best Odyssey gear and turned north again, full steam ahead.
We arrived the night before our scheduled trip, as always just in the nick of time. We were again down to a sip of fuel remaining as we never did get any real wind to help us along. We came to the Azores to paraglide, kitesurf, surf and hopefully swim with whales with recent reports of Blue, Sei, Fin, Humpback, and Sperm whales all being spotted right off the marina in Sao Miguel, our home for three weeks. Being in a marina was I’m sure disappointing for the clients, but it was a welcome change for the crew. Bobby could walk to the stores daily for provisions, Martin could hook into shore-water to rinse the decks, I could actually get parts from chandleries instead of waiting for people to arrive from distant places with parts hidden in their bags. It was all very “first world”, and after 5 years of roaming in places where getting a croissant or good cup of coffee was nigh impossible, the modernity was appreciated.
Our three weeks in the Azores was as varied as the weather, which changes every 15 minutes. Sun, rain, wind, calms; repeat indefinitely, every day. I’m not sure what I expected from the Azores but I know I loved it all. The scenery is a lot like the north island of New Zealand- lush rolling green hills and towering craters with small lakes shrouded in wispy clouds. When the sun comes out the whole place turns technicolor, the contrasts rich and vibrant. Which tells you something about the climate. Black sand beaches and steep cliffs are continually battered by fierce Atlantic swells and clouds whistle through valleys in a real time time lapse. A long history of whaling lends a very nautical feel to the area and the Portuguese people are as friendly as they come, and thankfully for us- all very adept with the English language.
We were welcomed into the local flying community (Asas Sao Miguel) with open arms, headed up by Joao Brum, who eagerly showed us incredible site after site to soar and fly over his beautiful island. We spent three weeks enjoying the people, kiting, flying, sailing in rather rough conditions to nearby Santa Maria, swimming with dolphins and even got a brief encounter with a Sperm whale. The weather was at best uncooperative, but somehow between bouts of rain and wind we were able to carve out delicious fun every day.
Joao showed us a rarely flown cliff site near Ribiera Grande that immediately caught Jody’s photographic eye. For three weeks we visited almost daily, sometimes several times in a single day, hoping for a short go. On our last night in Sao Miguel it finally happened. For several hours we were able to soar directly over the ocean. If the winds shut down when doing this you’re dead- literally. As soon as you hit the water with a paraglider it fills with water and turns into a 1 ton block of cement that pulls you to the bottom. But the conditions were perfect and I for once have no untoward incidents to report. Here’s a little taste of the results.
“Who dares nothing, need hope for nothing.” –Johann Friedrich Von Schiller