Sunday, October 30, 2016

Sailing off Lanzarote

We just received these pictures from Laurence on Sonata VI who sailed passed us off Lanzarote and took these pictures - we were still trimming the sails as the wind had only just come in - however it's really cool to see how Askari looks sailing. I feel a bit guilty that we did not take any pictures in return but we are going the same way so hope to get the chance to do so again......

This was sunrise and we are the little mark to the left of the sun 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Our most challenging trip yet on Askari

The trip down to the Canaries should be fairly straight forward; northerly winds prevail although the swell can be an issue and squall lines and acceleration zones are common as you approach the islands. We know this well from our last trip 12 years ago to this part of the world where a squall line blew out our main sail as we approached Lanzarote. However, with a huge low pressure system north of us the wind had all been sucked away and we were initially left with no wind and calm seas but then it all changed.

Our first night after leaving Rabat was so calm; we both caught up on sleep. I cooked an amazing brunch (if I do say so myself) on Friday morning – sausages, eggs, homemade hashbrowns, mushrooms with fresh thyme and roasted tomatoes. We still were on careful watch for local fishermen, and a few boats came quite close – I always keep a low profile or if I am on watch put on hat and jacket. However, one boat came right up to Askari and the guys held up a huge red fish to Andrew – it looked amazing but he wished them well and they gave big waves back.
Posh brunch aboard Askari
A few hours later, late afternoon on Friday we past by a huge pod of pilot whales – we really considered turning around to spend time with them but we had to keep pressing on. We noticed it had got quite a lot warmer and did our night shifts in shorts n t-shirts – oh yes this is what we like….

Nice sailing into the sunset

Saturday, we noticed a change in current and were now fighting up to a knot against us; the cloud then started to increase and the wind picked up to force 4 from the South West (exactly where we were trying to go). As the sea picked up we had no choice but to turn south and try and keep the heading with the motor on but before long we realised this was eating up too much fuel and having spent two days under engine we had less than half our tank left. Oh gosh who thought it was a good idea to go to Morocco???

We spent most of Saturday sailing into the wind with a very ugly sea; it was now force 4/5 and we were only making a 2 miles an hour in the right direction. We didn’t go backwards and did get the chance to try lots of different sail set ups but it was so frustrating. If we didn’t know that massive 4 to 5 metre swells were heading our way and that potentially the low pressure could come this way we could have just relaxed and enjoyed the sail but it was front and centre and every weather forecast we brought in showed a huge pink (bad) system just north of us tracking south.
Even though it's rough out there - Andrew brings in the weather in comfort
By 7pm on Saturday we had achieved about 40 miles in 12 hours, we still had 140 miles to go so to cheer us up I made what I have now called a Virgin Ridiculous GnT (basically Tonic and Lime with ice n a slice for our dry boat on passage) however the boat moved and both drinks emptied themselves inside a locker – oh bloody hell when do we get a break??? So we had a glass of water and Andrew dipped the fuel tank. The wind had eased enough for us to power directly towards Lanazrote even though it wasn’t pretty or comfortable we felt under a lot of pressure to use what ever resources we had to get South and away from the low.
Sunday morning the sea was fairly calm and we managed to keep heading in the right direction until mid morning when the wind picked up again from the South West and pretty strong by 11am. We were now very low on fuel – 110 Litres but we realised that with any heel on the boat, our tank having such a large base, the fuel draw pipe was out of the diesel and we didn’t want to risk getting air in the system. After our experience yesterday we now thought there was no hope of getting in that day but resolved to beat our way the last 30 miles towards Lanzarote which was now in sight.
Lanzarote in sight
We removed our inner forestay to allow us to tack with more ease and spent ages getting the sails perfectly balanced – we had a lot of fun at first really getting the boat going; we each had a spell on the helm despite being pretty tired, being able to see the destination even if you can’t get there was such an incentive. A French yacht sailed across us and took a long tack out of sight, while we choose to short tack along the coast – managing the angles all the way (this was serious now and we were in a race with a Frenchman). Andrew noted a building squall line that could change things - so we were keen not to get too far from the lea of the island even if it meant gusty conditions.
still sailing....
By 4pm we still had 13 miles to go, a pod of Dolphins came to play and then we noticed the wind was doing strange things before we found Askari round up and the squall line past right over us and change the wind direction by 180 degrees and increased to 25 knots creating an instantly awful sea but we could now lay Arecife Harbour – Oh My goodness talk about being in the right place and the right time. We look up and our French friend who was heading in ahead of us a few minutes before was now on the other side of the line as we creamed in to the coast near the harbour entrance and calm seas.
A big squall passing by
The next concern was would there be air in the fuel system, we decided we would rather find out outside the harbour so we furled the sails and I prepared the anchor while Andrew removed the floor boards to see the full system. I motored cautiously down the 10 metre contour where we knew we could anchor and Andrew monitored everything. To our surprise despite the fuel pickup being completely out of the fuel for much of the previous day we had no air in the system, but only about two inches of fuel in the bottom of the tank – even though that was 100 Litres.

We already had the marina instructions, and a quick call on the radio allocated us a berth. The wind was still very gusty and a strong current was running this made getting into the berth between two pontoons with spikey metal ends a real challenge – oops our first little scratch on our beautiful Oyster shell – it’s only small but the first cut is certainly the deepest and it just was the icing on the cake for this trip. Oh gosh we were so exhausted and just collapsed with a beer in the cockpit – ‘relief’ was the word that we agreed summed up how we felt. Then in bounced the fabulous Fi from Supertramp – a bottle of wine later and the pain washed away.

We learned so much about the navigation systems on board especially in fog, how to really sail Askari to windward and finally the fuel system on this trip. Askari was amazing and we did pretty well, despite probably making a silly choice at the outset to leave with a bad weather system bearing down on us for our first big trip. However, it feels great to be here now and nearly everyone we have spoken to had an awful trip down here this week too; which creates a great camaraderie. I said our most challenging trip – in that it was psychologically challenging more than anything due to the fuel and imminent weather.

Now to exploring Lanzarote – although we have another Southerly gale to pass through this week then hope to be back into summer and maybe get to visit La Graciosa – the place that really started our adventures 12 years ago; although we need to get a permit now so things have changed a bit!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Gotta get moving.......

Tuesday 18th October – the guys who manufactured our fresh water pump in Italy flew in from Milan and drove all the way from Lisbon to Lagos – they certainly needed an espresso when they arrived at 3pm (not sure if my Nespresso machine was up to the job but they drank it anyhow). We seriously could not believe they would make this trip for a pump, however we had been through 3 of their pumps and they are so passionate about this pump they wanted to come and check out our whole system for themselves; I think they are also keen to keep their relationship with Oyster…. It was actually the owner of the company and the sales director who came, the owner then stripped down to his vest to fit our new pump and make all the adjustments. All done, Andrew invited Jac from Surya (Oyster 575) to join the gents for a beer; as Jac also had a few questions – so the poor guys ended up on his boat too. We saw them leaving the marina about 6pm looking a bit jaded for their drive back to Lisbon - but two happy Oyster owners with fully functioning Marco pumps.

Having been based in or near Lagos for nearly two months now (we arrived on 20th August) Andrew and I were desperate to get on the move. So after our lovely Italian chaps left we brought in the latest weather forecast, paid up at the marina farewelled our Lagos family and set about readying Askari for an early morning departure.

Just a word on the fabulous people we met in Lagos, especially Cliff and Val, Rob and Lynda, Jac and Renata, Joe and Faith, Augustus and Nick, most of whom are wintering in Lagos but made us feel like part of the place even though they knew we planned to leave - I really appreciate this as often in Australia it can be hard to make friends when people think you are a transient – although my liver is benefitting from a break in the partying I’m sure.
Fundraiser in Lagos - we won tickets to the Wax Museum....
So to the trip - Our plan had always been to go to Madeira, however the weather window was at least another week away as a big low was heading across the Atlantic so we had two choices – South or East. I thought we might need a bit of culture and a real change of scene after so much time in the Algarve and after challenging Andrew’s ‘the conservative thing to do’ approach we decided to head to Rabat in Morrocco – just over 200 miles which meant we should be there the next day….

Unfortunately the Marina at Lagos is behind a bridge, which at this time of year wouldn’t open until 9am, so our departure wasn’t as early as we would have liked but the AWOL crew helped with our lines to get us out of a particularly tight marina berth and gave us a farewell card – we’ll miss them. Then by 9.30am we were well on our way. No wind and a light swell – perfect to ease us into being out of the marina and with 750 litres of fuel aboard we were not worried about a gentle motor for a few hours. The wind came in at gentle north easterly and we set the sails but it wasn’t quite enough to turn off the motor but it was a perfect day with a few light clouds and we were so excited to be out.
Leaving Lagos
We called the marina in Rabat, Morocco and the guy was really friendly; he said they had space for us, and that we just need to call them on the radio two miles out and they would send a pilot out to meet us and bring us in. After this Andrew relaxed into the plan and we committed to going to Morocco and we started getting really excited talking about the food and experiences we hoped to find.
Gentle sail towards Morocco
Raising the Moroccon Courtesy Flag we have owned for 12 years

Just before the sun went down we saw a whale, then as it got dark the phosphorescence was amazing. The night was really calm and we both got a bit of sleep – I maybe had a bit more than my share, but Andrew doesn’t mind if it’s only one night at sea he struggles to sleep.

Visability starting to drop

The next morning we both had long hot showers and ran the water maker to top up our tanks as we didn’t fancy taking on water in Morocco. Then about 1300 the visibility started to deteriorate and just got worse and worse until we could only see about 100 metres in front of the boat. At this time we only had 10 miles to go, so we called the marina on the radio to ask what the conditions were like in the harbour; the response was “it’s a little foggy, just call us when you get here and we’ll send out a pilot”. So gingerly we continued on into the fog; Andrew on the helm and look out and me inside glued to the radar and AIS shouting out any small blip with bearings and distance – it was terribly stressful as we are still getting used to these systems and many Moroccan fishing boats have no lights and are wooden so have very faint radar blips. There was a yacht already waiting and they radioed us to warn us of fishing lines on coke bottles - we headed to where they were; they just appeared out of the mist at no more than 50 metres. To our surprise it was an Australian Catamaran – Nawii.
Fishing Boats everywhere....

Nawii in the fog 200 metres off Rabat entrance

They had already been waiting a couple of hours for a pilot, the marina guy just kept saying please wait the fog will lift – so we waited and had some lunch while we considered our options. Then I called and asked if they had a forecast for the fog to lift or if they were just hoping – we’re just hoping but you can just wait!!

Rule number one of sailing is always have a safe harbour to run to if you can or at least a lot of sea room.  The port was closed and we were in thick fog 0.25miles off the beach. Close enough to hear the surf. We really had no intention of going anywhere else in Morocco; most harbours are small fishing ports with difficult entrances and unreliable charts so the thought of having to take Askari in to such a place was not something we really wanted to consider. We were about 130 miles south from Barbate in Spain, however that would mean going in the wrong direction, so in the end Andrew did some fuel calculations and we decided we would make a run for the Canary Islands before the big low or it’s huge swells got too close, even though that was more than 500 miles away.

We felt totally deflated and cheated as we radioed Nawii and the marina to say we were heading out. Nawii also decided to leave – I think they were going to another Moroccan Port (we hope to share a BBQ and beer with them one day soon and wish them well). Within twenty miles the fog lifted and we set a course east virtually retracing our route of yesterday before making for Lanzarote.