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A Coruña to Las Palmas Recap

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We have now completed almost 1,500nm on Starry Horizons and are happy to report that all the issues we’ve been having are relatively minor.  So for those of you hoping for stories about having to climb the mast in 30 knots of wind to retrieve a halyard, we can’t share those with you (yet, we still have a lot of cruising to do on this boat).

I think we both agree that this passage went quite well and having a bit longer on the boat allowed us to get into a good routine.  We started out by doing 3-hour watches and then once we got our sea legs, we went to 6 hour night watches so that we could get a bit more uninterrupted sleep.  I think that made a big difference as we both had more energy during the day and were able to spend less time napping during the day as well.

Marine Life

A couple of the big highlights of the trip were visits from “Not Moby” (the whale) and “Hoppy” (our aviary friend).  Not Moby was just ambling along and not concerned with us in the slightest.  He stayed close for a little while and then decided we weren’t all that interesting and went off on his own way.  But before he left, he at least gifted us with some decent photo opportunities so we could prove his existence.  We met Hoppy several hundred miles offshore of the Canary Islands and were pretty surprised that a bird that small was that far out in the ocean.  He was a friendly little fellow and even flew inside the salon and down into one of the guest cabins.  Though I can’t say I blame him for wanting to find a good place to nap after flying for so long!  He helped us out by eating a random fly and then he flew off to continue his adventure.

Ship Traffic

In terms of other traffic, we saw lots of commercial ships on this passage but had no problem passing them with lots of room, thanks to AIS.  I know I’ve said it before, but that system is proving to be absolutely crucial for these sort of passages.  We did have a surprise on day 5 when we saw another set of sails on the horizon.  We could tell that it was a monohull, but he was too far away, and the waves too high to really get a good look at him.  I’ve been quite surprised at the utter lack of sailboats that we’ve encountered while we’ve been on passage.  We’re a little behind the large rush of boats heading to the Caribbean (most of which leave the Canaries by the end of November), but I would have thought we’d have been meeting up with some stragglers at least.

Mainsail Trouble

Now for exciting moments…  Since we’ve primarily been sailing downwind and in pretty heavy winds, we’ve been mostly using the genoa without the main as the genoa is easier to manage.  With the barber hauler deployed, the genoa has been giving us pretty decent speeds, even if it is not quite up to the polars for the boat.  However, the few times when the wind has dropped a bit or changed direction to more of a reach, we’ve raised the main.  The issue has come when we try to get the main down.

The mainsail on the Helia has 6 batten cars, 1 for the head of the sail, 1 for the diagonal batten at the square-top and 4 for the horizontal battens.  With a luff of about 53.5′ (16.3 meters) that means the average distance between the horizontal battens is quite large.  When we drop the main to store or reef, the luff of the main between the battens catches the wind and goes flailing about, preventing the sail from dropping.  This means that I need to go to the base of the mast to manually haul down the sail.

This issue led to our exciting moment when the winds increased from about 12 knots apparent to above 20 knots apparent while sailing downwind and the seas increased from a few meters to perhaps 4.  I had originally wanted to reef the main, but when we turned into the wind to lower the sail, we were then pounding into large waves and the luff started billowing from side to side once we dropped the halyard.  So instead of trying to reef, I just hauled the sail all the way down and stowed it.  It was never an extreme situation, but it wasn’t fun.

Based on the advice of others, we tried a few different ways of managing the main, but still haven’t met with much success:

1) Trying to flake the halyard on deck and letting it run clean through the stopper. This has worked the best, but the line still gets enough twist that it won’t run free and the sail starts to billow.

2) Dropping the halyard a bit at a time while pulling in our 3rd reef to try and keep tension in the sail, but since the 3rd reef line only runs to the leech, it doesn’t help along the luff.

So anyone with thoughts on how we can better manage the mainsail, please chime in.  As of now, this is definitely something I would like to take a closer look at when we get to Florida.

Arrival into Las Palmas

The arrival into Las Palmas was fairly easy (amazing how much of a difference daylight can make!).  Outside the entrance to the harbor there are lots of large commercial ships moored waiting for a berth inside so we gave them lots of space.  The marina is just inside the harbor so once we got inside we hailed them on VHF Channel 11 and were told to come to the visitors’ pontoon.  Amy got out all the fenders and we came inside, only to find that there was no room at the visitors’ pontoon.  Fortunately, someone came out on a tender and guided us to a spot.  This marked the first time we were going to dock “Med-Moor” style, where you back in towards the dock, attach stern lines, and then we pulled up the mooring lines and attached them to our bow cleats.  Of course, we attempted this maneuver with pretty decent winds and current but managed not to hit anything, and later someone told us they thought we looked competent while coming in.  I hope that’s a compliment!

Passage Stats

Total Distance: 1,078 nm
Total Time: 7 days, 2 hours (170 hours)
Average Speed: 6.34 knots
Whales: 1
Aviary Visitors: 1
Other Sailboats: 1
Exciting Moments: 1

Photos

Not Moby
Not Moby
Not Moby
Not Moby
Hoppy Making Himself at Home
Hoppy Making Himself at Home
Hoppy Enjoying the Breeze
Hoppy Enjoying the Breeze

Passage to Las Palmas Journal

Dec 5th:  On the Move

Written by David

As I write this, we have just completed the gybe necessary to head south along the coast of Spain towards Portugal. Both crew members are quite excited about this and looking forward to finding warmer weather.

After fueling up at the fuel dock at Marina Coruna, including both our main tank and 50 gal fuel bladder, we left A Coruna right around 11:00. Winds were very light and variable to start so we ended up motoring for about 5 hours. But at 4:30, the winds picked up, we pulled out the genoa and turned off the engines. This is more like it!

SH is moving along just fine with waves that are reaching 10-12 feet at times and are rather confused. It makes for a bit of a bumpy ride but we’re both managing okay so far. Amy is up at the helm for her first night shift, so I’m going to keep this short so I can go get some shut-eye!

Dec 6th:  Hello Portugal

Written by David

We had more tangible proof of our progress south this afternoon when we officially crossed into Portuguese waters. Our trip log is currently showing 194nm in approx 31 hours, giving us an average SOG of about 6.25 knots. Not too bad! Especially since we’ve been sailing with only a significantly reefed genoa due to wind conditions.

The wind and seas have been growing a bit today and it’s now pretty bumpy with apparent winds gusting into the upper 20’s. Last night I saw a gust of apparent wind of about 35 knots, while we were doing about 7-8 knots sailing downwind. So yes, light winds have not been a problem so far on this passage.

Our biggest issue is the cold. The sun was out today which made things decent, but I think it is dropping into the 40’s or 30’s at night and with the windchill, it must be at freezing or below. Last night, I wore 6 layers including my foulies and it was STILL cold. Can you guess why we’re heading south as fast as possible??

At the moment, the sun is setting and we’re having the first of many dance contests onboard Starry Horizons. Since Amy is cooking dinner, I’m actually winning by default but a white boy has to take what he can get.

Dec 7th:  Passing Lisbon

Written by Amy

Hello everyone!

Don’t think that David is hogging all the fun time on the boat. I am getting my fair share too.

My seasickness is better. David has been a big help by assisting me in doing things that would get me not feeling well. For example, one of the worst things to do is get dressed to go outside. It takes a lot of focus and energy to get all 15 pieces of clothing on. David helps and then once I get outside the seasickness goes away thanks to the breeze and the view. Unfortunately, I get a different kind of uncomfortable because despite all my layers it is still freezing out!

We are passing by Lisbon right now. While there are plenty of ports we could stop into, we really want to get to the Canaries. We want to be sure that we can do 1 week at sea pretty well before we really commit to the Atlantic crossing. Plus the further south we go the warmer it gets, making everything around here a bit easier.

Starry Horizons has been sailing beautifully. Last night we had a few random sizable waves hit us and we surfed down them at 15 knots! It was a bit scary for us, but SH handled herself really well.

We are expecting more shipping traffic now that we are south of Lisbon and heading towards Gibraltar. We still have yet to see any other recreational boats.

We have been eating well thanks to all the advance prep work I did. Sadly though, I did not buy enough Pringles and David is having to ration. I can’t believe in the Canaries I’m going to have to provision and prep at least 4 weeks of food!

Dec 8th:  Goodbye Europe

Written by David

Today marked the day we made our turn away from Europe and towards the Canaries. It was quite an exciting moment for us on board, especially after we spent the wee hours of the morning dodging lots of commercial traffic to get from the east side of the commercial shipping lanes along the coast of Portugal over to the west side so that we’d have a clear shot to make our way further southwest. For someone used to crossing the Houston Ship Channel in a couple of minutes, this was a new experience since the shipping lanes are 20nm wide with 4 lanes.

All I’ll say is thank goodness for AIS since it made life so easy. We could tell exactly which ships were approaching us, even if we couldn’t see them yet, as well as how close our paths would cross. It kept me from freaking out when 3 ships appeared on the horizon, all appearing as if they were approaching us head-on. It was quite easy to chart a path through all of them, keeping each one several nautical miles away. And our AIS is definitely working better now that we have the external GPS antenna, so that was an excellent upgrade.

I wish I could say the same about our Sat Phone at the moment. In spite of all my extensive testing and the antenna upgrade in Spain, we’ve been having lots of problems getting it to reliably check for and send emails. Not sure if it’s a problem with computers on either end or with our connection, but either way it’s quite annoying.

On the good side of the news today, we saw our first whale! We named him Not Moby, in honor of a How I Met Your Mother episode, and I actually managed to get a picture of him as he came up out of the water to breath. I’ll be sure to post it once we have a good internet connection again.

As for the boat, SH is doing awesome. The winds have died down so we’re motoring a bit to keep our speed up. So far we’re on target with a Friday mid-afternoon arrival into Las Palmas and we’d sure like to keep that date. Time for me to head to bed and Admiral Amy is up with the first night watch!

Dec 10th:  It Finally Happened

Written by David

It finally happened. After approximately 1,250 nautical miles at sea, we saw our first sailboat! I saw sails on the horizon, but nothing was showing up on AIS so it was a bit of a surprise when someone hailed us on the VHF. Unfortunately, he spoke English about as well as I speak French, so other than exchanging a few pleasantries and a “Good Journey” there wasn’t a whole lot of other communication that took place. He was on a pretty wide tack towards Africa, so we zoomed past him pretty quickly since we’re broad reaching/sailing downwind pretty much on a rhumb line towards the Canaries.

Amy mentioned yesterday that I rigged up a barber hauler to help us get better performance out of our genoa when we’re going downwind and so far I’m very pleased with the results. I think we’ve gained a knot to a knot and a half in speed which is helping keep us on track for a Friday afternoon arrival in the Canaries on this passage and should help out immensely during our Atlantic crossing. For those of you who are interested, I took the spare block that would have been used for our screecher/spinnaker and used a spare webbing strap to strap the block to the midship cleat. I then tied the spare sheet line to the clew of the genoa, led it outside the shroud, through the block at midships, back to the block at the stern and then led the line back up to the winches at the helm or the port aft winch. This set up works great with full deployment of the genoa as the barber hauler line stays outside the shroud, but when reefing the genoa, I’ve been re-running the barber hauler line inside the shroud as this seems to have less rubbing.

With only the two additional blocks on board at the moment, I’ve been needing to re-rig everything every time we gybe, but the extra speed has been well worth it and we’ve been on a port tack for the last 12 hours and should be able to stay on the same heading well into tomorrow morning. To simplify the system for the future, I think I’d like to add a pad eye in front of the shroud to help keep the barber hauler clear and prevent having to re-run the line when we need to reef. This seems like something that could be well worth it for when winds are too strong for our screecher, but we still want to broad reach/run downwind with the genoa.

Okay, enough boat talk, life on board is pretty good though the tragedy of the day is that I ran out of Pringles. 🙁 Fortunately, we’re now about 265nm from the Canaries so I’ll be able to survive for the next few days. Winds and seas picked up quite a bit this morning through early afternoon and even though they were forecasted to stay strong all the way through the evening, they’ve calmed down a bit as the sun is setting. Tomorrow and Friday are forecasted to be quite light, so we’ll probably be motor sailing a bit, which will give us a good opportunity to run our generator and make some more water. Pretty amazing that we can do that out in the middle of the ocean.

The 6-hour watch schedule at night worked out pretty well for both of us. It felt quite good to get a longer stretch of sleep but we both agreed that starting a passage using 3-hour shifts at night until we’re acclimated to being back at sea will be a good strategy for us. So life is pretty good at sea, but we are quite excited about our upcoming landfall in the Canaries!

Dec 11th:  Almost There

Written by David

So close, yet so far away… This morning started out with the wind shifting pretty significantly from behind us to coming over our port beam. We raised the main, took out the barber hauler and Starry Horizons absolutely took off while beam reaching. We were hitting 9-10 knots in less than 20 knots of breeze. That was a lot of fun!

Unfortunately, it didn’t last as the wind continued to shift. Our GRIB files indicated that there should be 10-15 knots of wind and that we would be able to sail close-hauled or on a close reach on into to Las Palmas. The weather forecast we had received had the wind speeds a bit lower but still at an angle we’d be able to sail, though probably with an engine running as well.

And of course, the wind has died more than predicted, and shifted even further south than predicted, so that the true wind seems to be coming directly from Las Palmas and is light enough that if we try to bear off and sail, we generate most of the apparent wind. And to top it off, the winds seem to be generating some southerly chop which is going against the predominant NW swell and making things pretty bumpy.

Fortunately, we’re about 115nm away from Las Palmas and since we are aiming for arrival during daylight hours tomorrow, we’ve got the engine on and plenty of fuel to power through if necessary. Not the most comfortable of options, so we’re definitely earning this arrival back on land.

In lighter news, Starry Horizons set a new world speed record on the water today. Our chart plotter is showing that our Max Speed over Ground is 128 knots and I’ve got the picture to prove it. So put us in the record books!

We also had our first aviary visitor on board Starry Horizons today, a little bird that we named “Hoppy”. He was quite at home on the boat and even flew down into one of the guest cabins to take a nap! We eventually convinced him that outside was better and he hung around for a while before taking off again for parts unknown.

Time for our last dinner aboard for this passage and Amy has cooked up a special one, strawberry balsamic pork chops with rice and some beets. We may not be the best sailors in the world, but our Admiral can cook with anyone on the water.

Dec 12th:  Second Leg: Done!

Written by David

If you’ve been following our Location page closely, you could probably already guess, but we have arrived in the Canary Islands!  After 7 days and approx 1,100 nautical miles, SH is safely docked again.  We’ll be working on a more detailed post, including pictures, once we have a chance to get settled in a bit more.

Thanks for all the good thoughts and encouragement during our last passage!

Watch the Video:  Sailing from A Coruna to Las Palmas

2 Comments

  1. David and Amy,
    Very big congrats on your long passage. Sounds like it was quite successful.
    If I may ask a question: Why have I not heard of any gennaker use? I realize that at about 18-20 knots true you may want to take the gennaker down; however, it sounds like a large part of your time is spent on a broad reach. Ideal point of sail and we often fly our gennaker without the main up if the apparent is greater than 90.
    I continue to learn from everything you post. Thank you! Rest and have fun.

    1. Thanks Frank! Unfortunately, the luff on our screecher (gennaker) is too long so we can not pull it tight enough to ensure a good furl in anything other than really light winds. We’re not willing to risk a situation where winds increase and we can’t get the sail down so we’re not using it. Once we get to Florida, our sail loft is going to re-cut the sail for us, but for now we just have to do without. Fortunately, the barber hauler seemed to work pretty well and as we continue to gain more comfort with the main, we should still be able to sail relatively well.

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