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June 1 - June 20, 2005: Milford/USA to Horta/Azores

The Beginning of our Trip

June 1, 2005 (Wednesday)

We left Milford at 1030, approx. 2.5 hours late as we waited for a FedEx package we absolutely needed for our trip, a serial port to USB converter so we can actually access the website while on the trip - i.e., CRUCIAL!!!

Nancy, Flo, the Bedners, Doug, Larry and Davie (all boating friends) came by to wish us a good and safe trip. Many phone calls came in as we motored to Montauk (Christa, Alexander, Larry King) - making me more than ever aware of the fact that we were actually going out to sea tomorrow. On the other hand, the kindness of so many of our friends gave us a very warm feeling and made us comfortable that a lot of people were going to be with us while we were out there.

With the wind straight on the nose, we motored the entire way to Montauk, the most Eastern harbor on Long Island. We topped off our Diesel tank to ensure that it was absolutely full for our trip and then anchored in Montauk Lake for the night. A last Backgammon game, a last glass of wine before we would embark on the trip of our lifetime as many of you (and we) call it.

First Day at Sea

June 2, 2005 (Thursday)

It was overcast and cool as we left with an outgoing tide and rounded Montauk Point with its beautiful lighthouse around 0900. Another phone call from Guenter and Waltraut, another one made by us and no more cell phone service for quite a while... It was foggy and ugly out, very little wind, only fishing vessels around trying to find their catch. We are motoring - again. Today, we heard for the first time that there was another sailboat (Sam Mumm or Say Mumm?) on its way to the Azores (focus is on the "o", not the "a" as per our new European friends). They were a few miles ahead of us and we agreed to talk to each other every twelve hours at 0900 and 2100 - except this only lasted for a day or two, when we lost contact. The distance between our boats had increased, except, by now, we were ahead.

Huge logs of debris in the water. We are wondering what they would do to us if we hit them in the dark at 7 or 8 knots, and we are glad that we did not find out. A dead seal and then in the late afternoon, a large schooner behind us with gleaming sails - well the sails disappeared in the haze, to reappear again. It looked weird. The binoculars lifted the mystery, it was a fairly large whale blowing, the sails a "fata morgana". Later on, smaller whales (we believe) with dorsal fins (we promise, these were not porpoises. We saw those a few days later), small and very curious as they followed the boat.

Around 1900 we began crossing the shipping lanes at an exactly 90-degree angle (COLREGS)... It was a strange feeling in the fog. Thank God, we have radar and the AIS system I mentioned in our introduction. Therefore, we could identify what ships were where and whether there was any danger.

We just decided on the night shifts for the first night: Juergen from 2100 to 2400, I from 2400 to 0300, etc. In the beginning of an ocean trip, I dread the dusk hours and the setting in of the night. It scares me, makes me melancholic and not fun to be with. So the best defense is to go to sleep...

June 3, 2005 (Friday)

The night was uneventful - but incredibly cold (14 degrees Celsius in the cabin). This made us decide that we will no longer sit watch outside at night but keep watch from the warmer cabin via instruments and a regular scan of the horizon. Today, I also got seasick again, and it would stay with me for the next few days. Whatever I ate, drank or did not eat or drink just wanted to be donated to Neptune... I hate this feeling. Finally, Birgitt's pills came to the rescue, and I feel better without the constant nausea. Juergen is fine. He seems not to be affected by the incredible motion we are exposed to due to the seas, which at times are reaching 15 feet and more.

The night sky was amazing, so bright and covered with stars, so clear, no more haze, no more fog, just total beauty. Nature is an amazing thing...

Juergen had spoken to Commander Weather for an update earlier in the day. They recommended to stay on our latitude (approx. 40 degrees North) rather than heading south towards the Gulf Stream. Say Mumm or Sam Mumm followed the advice, which we had passed on.

We finally had a chance to sail, albeit at slow speeds (Wind very light at 10 - 13 knots). We enjoy the quiet sailing brings (as opposed to running the engine all the time). We have no schedule but the desire to cross the ocean in a reasonable manner and, hopefully, within a reasonable amount of time with comfort being more important than speed.

June 4, 2005; June 5, 2005 (Saturday/Sunday)

I did not write anything since June 3rd, for reasons you may image. I just felt miserable and avoided any time down below that was possibly avoidable. Writing was not my priority. We could sail for a bunch of hours today, even reefed the main and genoa just to avoid too much of a heel. We used our Iridium phone to call Luise and Ulli yesterday just so the family knew we were ok. Juergen spoke with Guenter today. They were so excited when they heard his voice over the phone - imagining that we were somewhere in the middle of nowhere.... They reminded us that people are checking the website and that nothing has been done since we left on June 2nd. I still did not feel like sitting down below and concentrating on anything other than cooking / cleaning the galley.

Juergen spoke with Herb Hilgenberger again, the sailor who once had a disastrous experience sailing with his wife when they both feared for their lives. He promised to himself that, to the extent he can help it, no sailor in the North Atlantic would ever have to experience what Herb and his wife went through. He began "Southbound II" an operation via Single Side Band (Kurzwellenfunkgeraet) in which he advises sailors anywhere in the North Atlantic on what conditions to expect (weather and waves) and what the best course of action would be given the individual circumstances). Herb is available from 1600 to approximately 1900 (EST) every day. We have listened to him many times but never spoke. This time, Juergen called him with our position (Longitude and Latitude, barometric pressure, wave action, etc.). Herb suggested that we should cross the Gulf Stream as soon as possible. Therefore, we changed course and went south, a great downwind sail throughout the night. Via Herb we indirectly also learned that Say Mumm or Sam Mumm are approximately 150 miles behind us.

June 6, 2005 (Monday)

My last official day at WestLB, my last "vacation day" before my retirement begins. A strange feeling but still, it is all for the best. The seas continue to be sloppy to a point where the glorious sunshine and the great wind pushing us forward (though in a more Southerly direction than we wished for) no longer are relevant. We would prefer a little more comfort. Instead we see big ships, at times seemingly on collision course...

We spoke with Herb again who suggests that the weather should be quite good with winds of no more than 18 - 20-ish knots until Thursday/Friday. What comes thereafter, we don't know but will try to update you as soon as possible.

June 7, 2005 (Tuesday)

I again made poor Juergen take the early shift just so I can avoid my melancholy.... By 2230 I took over but had to awaken Juergen because the sail needed handling which, according to our safety rules, may not be handled by one of us alone, at night. We later decided that we needed some sleep and took both main and genoa in up to approximately 2-3 feet each. This morning, we had moved only 4-5 knots in the 2.5 - 3 hours we let the boat virtually drift. At 0540 I began to set sails again - with Juergen's help, and began the best sailing so far on this trip. We passed the first quarter section of our trip (roughly 498 nm) yesterday and expect to reach the 1/3 mark (668 nm) later today (if the wind plays along - it just almost died on us while we had up to 25 knots true wind earlier.

June 8, 2005 (Wednesday)

We are having a terrific sail today and are making good distance, something we have not always been lucky with. Many days, the winds were on our nose so that we had to tack, covering great distances but without really gaining distance for our destination. We are at approximately 38 degrees 56 minutes north and 55 degrees and 13 minutes west. We have made approximately 775 miles towards our first landfall, Horta. By Friday, we expect to pass the halfway point at 50 degrees west. I am sure we will celebrate that with a glass of wine or so.

We spoke to Ulli today who promised to call Tante Herta, my very dear aunt who is not really my aunt (I can explain that on another occasion). We also tried Christine (left a voicemail as she did not answer the phone). Juergen is on the Single Side Band to listen and speak with Herb for our daily weather update. Tonight, we will have the first portion of meat Silvi cooked when she was at Luise's. We are eating well, doing well, are in great spirits (even though I am still taking my motion sickness pills).

Today we passed the halfway mark and celebrated by enjoying one each of Silvi's walnut tarts and coffee. We have very little interest in alcohol except that Juergen occasionally has a Coronas beer (something very light).

Herb announced a weather change from gale to storm force winds in the area between 45 degrees N and 42 degrees W. Therefore, we decided to move further south (as recommended by Herb) to get hit by lesser winds. The plan was to move to 36 degrees north but, in the end we moved all the way to 33 degrees north and still were hit with gale force winds (between 30 and 40 knots, gusting higher). Around midnight the wind started picking up. We took the genoa sail in and started the engine as the boat had been rocking like crazy.

Dinner was mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, garlic, all served on Polenta - not bad for such a mishmash meal...

June 10, 2005 (Friday)

The night was too calm so we started the engine for a while until the wind picked up enough to sail again. So far the night watches have not been too strenuous. The weather has been favorable so we are not as tired and stressed as we have been on our three Bermuda voyages. Also, this boat is a lot more comfortable, and we have more and better electronics aboard than we had on our CAL 39. Thus, we can sit down below during our night watches, just looking out once in a while (AIS and radar certainly help in this situation).

After German apple pancakes for breakfast we sat on deck and talked. I even copied the CDs of the Da Vinci Code, which Claudia had given us for the trip - a little painful without Internet access because I had to type the title or some ID for each track (when having access to the internet, this occurs automatically). All of this leisurely living was short-lived when a front approached which brought welcome stronger winds, some whales and of course the need for getting our cameras out. The pictures are not great and will be uploaded when in the Azores (assuming this works. We still have not figured it out from the boat via Iridium).

June 11, 2005 (Saturday)

It is 0230 right now, clouds are starting to cover the earlier crystal clear and star-studded sky. I wished I knew more about the stars so I could better identify and understand what I am looking at. The wind shifted to Southwest, a better direction compared to our tumbling around. It is now so light that we must continue using the engine. The sun came out again for another gorgeous sail. We had Blueberry cereal with Parmalat milk as the fresh milk curded. Just right after I had cleaned up the galley, the wind picked up and we could finally cut the engine.

Today Herb intensified his warnings as to the weather change. We moved further South towards 34 - 35 degrees N and 42 degrees W. He also strongly recommended not to pass the 40 degree N longitude until Tuesday at least. We moved further south as a second storm system is brewing, making the effect of the first worse... Sailing was beautiful as we went down wind with following wind and seas, very comfortable!!!

June 12, 2005 (Sunday)

This was a challenging night for me as the AIS showed two ships with one virtually on our course but in opposite direction, i.e., aiming directly for us, or so it seemed. What scared me most was that the bearing on the AIS did not coincide with that on the radar with an approximately 20 degree difference. I will have to check with Juergen as to the reason for this and how to compensate, i.e., which of the two is correct???

Nothing happened, the ship passed us at an approximately two-mile distance (as most of them seem to unless the distance is greater); I let out the genoa to gain speed and enjoy sailing. Another 848 miles to Horta. Given our continued detours because of wind, seas, weather, it is not entirely clear that we will reach Horta next Sunday. We will see.

Herb predicted stronger winds even in our area.

June 13, 2005 (Monday)

Juergen felt that we had gone far enough south and that it was time to make headway towards Horta. Therefore, we changed course, enjoyed the breezy conditions and flew through the day even though the seas were beginning to get huge. We went downwind at 6 knots under very small sails. It was amazing.

June 14, 2005 (Tuesday)

The night was uneventful except that Juergen reefed the sails a little as the waves kept getting bigger and the ride a little scary. Breakfast was boiled eggs, coffee, and bread. The weather was gorgeous. The winds increased into the high 20 knot range, the white caps looked like ornaments on the sea. By now, we were going between 6.5 and 7.8 knots in the ever-increasing seas. It became scary as waves grew to more than 20 feet... but we still lived well, lunch was cucumber salad and foie gras on crackers... - NO wine though, only water or juice, I cannot remember. The flag halyard broke loose. Initially we did not think much of it, but then it wrapped itself around the genoa sheet... a recipe for disaster. So Juergen put on his life jacket and harness, strapped himself to the jack line and went there to take it off and refasten where it belongs. Though the sun was shining, it was a scary sight given the waves, and I was very glad when Juergen got back into the cockpit.

June 15, 2005 (Wednesday)

We could not hear Herb at all today and were somewhat concerned... we had gale force winds (35 to 40 knots, with gusts exceedingly around 45 knots, Juergen saw over 50). It sure was not comfortable at all, and the seas were sooooo huuuuuge. We tried to videotape some of what we saw but don't know yet how it came out. I did NOT take any still pictures. The idea of just having to go down below and get my camera was too much for me...

June 16, 2005 (Thursday)

This morning, around 0400 EST, I noticed the wind going down somewhat. Until then, it still blew at 28 - 35 knots. Then I saw 14 knots on the wind instrument. I could hardly believe my eyes. Then the rain started... it sounded so nice... the wind and the waves very slowly calmed - you cannot imagine how happy I was and even Juergen was very pleased when he woke up finally !!! He had slept with his life jacket on during the last two nights, just in case he had to run out to do something on the boat in a hurry. He also had added our second board for the companionway last night to avoid any water coming into our cabin should a wave come into the cockpit. While getting the board out, the locker cover fell onto Juergen's fingers - a very painful experience... Juergen never complains and never even made a sound, but I know he suffered. He is such a tough guy. Sometimes, I wished he would be a little more open with his feelings. But then, that would not be him, I guess...

This morning was wonderful. We had an early breakfast (yoghurt and frozen fruit, tea - making filter coffee is still too difficult in the waves). We talked for a long time - very good for my soul... Then the wind died down so much that we actually had to start the engine. Today, we reached our 3/4 mark. We were so happy. We celebrated this event by eating one of Silvi's wonderful slices of meat (roast with terrific gravy) and egg noodles. We even had half a bottle of wine and ate at the table down below, even though we still had to juggle the plates to avoid the slippery noodles sliding off...

Today, Juergen cleaned the hatches from all the salt, when the genoa sheet hit him in the face - now the poor man has a rope burn on his cheek - thank God it is not deep and I know now as I am updating the website that it was not long-lived.

We also talked to Christa today - another chapter in her life ending with moving the final pieces of her belongings out of the loft, with Koenigstein picking up his art pieces and Alexander helping pack it all up. But she seemed happy with her new apartment and the way things have worked out. We are very glad about that.

June 17, 2005 (Friday)

Propagation is really bad today - again, but we are getting closer towards Horta, and our concern is easing, as we know to be in an Azore High. Juergen got the Faial/Azore chart out, i.e., we no longer will be using our long distance plotting chart. That makes us feel as if we had arrived already - at least almost, a great feeling. Now we are already looking forward to getting internet access, to walking on firm ground, to visiting restaurants, talking with other sailors... I am also longing to get our laundry taken care of. It is quite a pile by now...

It is a gorgeous evening. We are sailing again. The cloud formations are beautiful, the sunsets magnificent, and we have lots of pictures thereof...

Herb indicated that the winds would remain very light and that one needed to motor further north to catch some wind for sailing. We decided that we were so close and that it made no sense to motor north when we can motor along the rumb line - which is what we did for almost three days straight until...(see for further detail on June 19).

June 18, 2005 (Saturday)

Another 428 miles to go. It feels like nothing any more. If you had said that to me on a trip to Bermuda, I would have complained that we barely made 2/3 of the trip. Here, it felt like we were almost there, particularly in this gorgeous sunshine and calm seas (though the swell rose to enormous heights - yet remained soft). This was a day to begin land preparations, i.e., things that needed to be done once we arrived, including the list of friends and family who we wanted to send postcards to, etc. We also planned our departure date for England - sort of.

This night, we spoke with Kestrel, one of the other boats (32 feet) who was running out of fuel. They had initially wanted to go to Ireland straight from the US but because of a non-emergency medical situation decided to stop at the Azores. Juergen offered some of our Diesel, if they could figure out a way to siphon it out of our tank. We, and they, decided to wait until the next morning as it was getting dark and they were quite a ways a way from us. In addition, our speed under engine was more than 2 knots faster than theirs. It would have meant for us to slow down tremendously and still not to get into Horta on Sunday night as planned. John Atkinson, the skipper, suggested that we move on but we agreed to monitor Kestrel's progress on Channel 16 and possibly to send someone to bring fuel to them, should the wind not pick up the next day to enable them to sail. Unfortunately, the next morning they were out of range, and we could not speak with them at all (meanwhile we know that they got in as well and are tied up to another boat near us).

This same night, a container ship contacted us, asking who we were, where we were going, from where we were coming, etc. In the end, he wished us a good trip and said that adventurous people like us change the world - he was very cute, and it felt great that someone from one of those big ships finally talked to us. I had been amazed that none of them ever did until today...

June 19, 2005 (Sunday)/ June 20, 2005 (Monday)

We spoke to Luise, Ulli, Christa and tried Guenter a few times (only got his answering machine). They were all happy to hear that we were just about 64 miles away from Horta. What we had only briefly mentioned was that all of our batteries boiled, spewing acid, making a big "stink" and had blackened some of the wooden beams that hold the batteries in place. It was a frightening scene and the thought that a fire could have happened not only today but also when we were 1000 miles out at sea made me crazy. Juergen filled distilled water into all the batteries and we hoped that all was reasonably ok for us to get to Horta. But then, the overheating recurred forcing us to alternate between 45 minutes of using the engine (until the batteries got hot but not too hot yet) and then sailing for one hour in light winds (max. sailing speed ranged between 3 and 4.2 knots). We don't know yet what caused the batteries to boil, a faulty regulator, the age of the batteries. It will need to be checked out AND FIXED!!! before we depart for England.

By 0200 on Monday morning, we finally tied up to another boat, the "Adrienne May", (im "Paeckchen") at the Immigration dock where we needed to wait till the next morning to check in. The owner of the boat we had tied up to was sitting in his boat reading (we now know that he was actually sleeping, holding his book. He awoke as Juergen called his boat), so we first asked whether we were permitted to tie up to his boat, he then helped us with our lines.

And then, we shared a bottle of red wine and cheese and crackers with him until 4 a.m.