Passage Diary – Cartagena, Colombia to Horta, The Azores 3,300 miles

7th May to 14th June 2022

By Nick

We were due to leave Cartagena today. We have been here too long. An outbreak of Covid on the boat and unfortunate timing waiting for a good weather window has meant we have again been anchored off the city for more than a month for the second spell. In total we have been in Colombia for three months and in The Tropics for more than a year but it’s time to leave. I relish returning home and especially at this point cooler climates. Here, surrounded by sky scrapers and loud obnoxious speed boats plus awful heat and humidity, it has been impossible to find respite day or night.

With the weather improving we did an enormous stock up at the market yesterday. The Bazuca market is from hell. In spectacular contrast to the gleaming, heavily policed jewelry shop studded streets of the colonial old town the impoverished part of town has been left to rot, literally. The approach to the market is on a road running parrallel to the most polluted infested mangrove you could imagine. Inumerable depressed pelicans and herons pick through the heaps of rubbish on the water’s edge or perch on top of fisherman’s shacks waiting for guts. It stinks and you gag but whilst it’s overpowering passing the main fish area that particular scent of death never completely vanishes thanks to renegade fishmongers that are scattered in isolation all over the vast market labyrinth.

Today we worked hard to finalise the boat preparation for departure. The last minute list always takes longer than expected so by mid afternoon, behind schedule, we looked again at the forecast and chose to postpone leaving until the morning. Nice to have one more uninterrupted night sleep and it was looking like squalls and thunderstorms tonight which doesn’t constitute an ideal beginnings.

Interesting how different this moment feels compared to last year as we got ready to cross The Atlantic the other way from The Canaries. Much less fanfair, a more sober mood. Partly this is due to the nature of the passage ahead which is a more complicated and unpredictable proposition. Gone are the prospects of consistent firm trade winds and on this occasion we have the inconvenience of navigating through islands. We will sail north and hopefully navigate between Cuba and Haiti then pick a course through The Bahamas before the Atlantic opens up for us. It also will be the longest passage for all on board. I feel some underlying anxiety, it’s not strong but there’s a flutter. I try to accept, the unknown awaits but overall the sensation is one of readiness. The boat has been well loved and it’s the moment for a new adventure and ultimately a new life chapter as we head towards home.

Day 1 – 3,300 miles to The Azores

5am cup of tea before hauling anchor and motoring out of Cartagena’s filthy bay yesterday. Very light winds so engine on to get away from the coast and find wind. By the evening it was blowing and so, close hauled, we set in for a fairly boisterous first night back at sea. Away from light pollution we finally saw stars again with The Plough our mark for navigation and The Southern Cross in our wake.

We are sailing as close as possible to the easterly winds as we head north, ideally east of north. It could be a problem if we are blown west of Jamaica and it’s not clear if we will be east of the island based on current performance and forecasts. If we don’t make it we might be forced to sail west to pass Cuba the long way round adding many miles and days to the passage.

This morning brought clear skies and savage heat. Djanna has mild sun stroke. We put up a makeshift tarpuline sun shade but there’s no real escape. The bits of deck that have stayed dry are roasting and below is an airless sweat box, too many waves on deck to have hatches open. In this sense we can’t wait for cooler latitudes.

Slept well last night and grateful for it given it’s the start of the passage and it can be hard to find the rhythm particularly when sailing to windward. Sailing to windward means it’s wet and uncomfortable. Simply put we are bashing into the waves and weather rather than going with it. It’s also tough on the boat, more stresses on the rigging and on this occasion more water than ever down below. Lilly has some new leaks and it’s mildly disconcerting to have water sloshing around your feet when at the chart table. Bilge pumps busier than usual.

Day 4

Beautiful dove currently catching a ride on the triatics. Reading a book about a sailor who apprenticed on tall ships in the late 19th Century and they were a superstitious bunch. Surely a dove would be a considered a good omen.

Currently 80 miles off the eastern tip of Jamaica. With luck the wind will turn to allow us to get more easting in the direction of the channel between Cuba and Haiti. The sea state is calmer and the moon is growing lending to a relaxed atmosphere for now.

We are chasing our tails with mountains of vegetables we bought trying to eat things before they go off. Seemingly everywhere you look there is veg rapidly overrippening. We expected this to be the case, Cartagena was a bad port to stock up from with most produce arriving from far and some previously refrigerated massively reducing shelf life. It’s a stark difference to last year where we sourced amazing food direct from lush fincas in The Canaries. In that case we had fresh food weeks into the passage. On this occasion we are already force feeding ourselves half mouldy mangoes and pineapples by the kilo as they race to go rotten. Our diet might go beige before long.

Sailing blind currently with regards to weather. Our decades old SSB (short band radio) weather fax system is temperamental and thus far we have not received a single broadcast. It makes planning a bit impossible so for now we look at the clouds and take what we get.

Day 5

Memorable sailing last night. In the lee of Haiti we found perfect flat water, a bright moon and immaculate 7 knot close hauled sailing. Today the wind has dropped and we have been headed and pushed onto a course perfectly towards Guantanamo Bay?! What to say about that fucking place. We will press on with this tack towards Cuba hoping to pick up northerlies that will assist progess towards The Bahamas.

Day 6

Lighter and lighter winds until it’s time for swimming and with no sign of improvements we motored through the night. Glassy sea and strange eerie fog encroaching from Haiti. It’s become routine to see incredible lightning at night in the distance from weather on the land of Cuba, Jamaica and Haiti. The rain for us has held off until this morning when a squall brought a few hours of wetness. Chance to get the rain catcher up and top the tanks up.

Caught a toothy barracuda today but the area is well known for cigutera and these beasts are famous for carrying the disease so fish returned. Light wind sailing this afternoon with Cuba visible on the horizon.

Day 7

Grey, grey and plenty of pathetic rain. We are heading home and getting a taste of things to come. Almost no wind this morning left us slowly sliding towards Cuba having made just 9 miles in the last 12 hours. Slow progress with 2,700 miles remaining.

It’s enjoyable to slowly make our way up the Cuban coast with its uncannily flat, terraced volcanic hills. We have also had some human contact with big smiles and waves from the passing local fisherman. Apparently rich fishing grounds here so we put the line out and half an hour later had a perfect sized tuna to add to Djanna’s feast.

By late afternoon we had technically crossed from The Caribbean Sea into The Atlantic having exited ‘The Windward Passage’. Sailing sweetly now at sunset with a big moon aloft. If the wind remains like this we will be eyeing up a Bahamian pit-stop possibly at a horsehoe reef (one of only four in The Atlantic) called Hogsty. If we get there tomorrow we plan to drop the hook for 24 hours.

Day 8

Last night the wind filled in and the sea picked up. Plenty of waves on deck, rain and more lightning storms brilliantly lighting the sky up. We were obliged to keep bashing into the waves in order to keep a good course towards Hogsty Reef. We look forward to The Atlantic proper when we can afford to be much less precise with the compass and instead choose a comfortable point of sail vaguely in the right direction. Grey skies in the morning and very tired crew as we continued to charge towards the reef still not knowing if it will be safe to anchor there in these conditions.

As we arrived and nosed Lilly carefully into the horseshoe it was disheartening to realise it was not a place we could stop and be relaxed. Too choppy and windy. We edged back out and as a last chance sailed round the outside of the reef to a spot that might just work as an overnight anchorage. It seemed unlikely but to universal relief it turned out to be sheltered enough from the swell to drop the anchor at least for the afternoon.

The appeal to stay longer grew when Kieran found himself surrounded by sharks and a monster barracuda while cleaning Lilly’s hull. Promising signs for snorkling and a last Carribean spear fish. The slight hesitation was that the holding was bad with risks of squalls about we settled in for the night with an anchor watch rota which constitutes a two hour shift for each of us during the night sat on deck being sure the conditions don’t deteriorate. It would be a shit place to be shipwrecked 40 miles from the nearest land. In fact the reef was littered with wrecks, some impressively visible still with parts of hulls sticking out of the water or beached on the tiny deserted island found at the end of the reef.

Day 9 – 734 miles covered 2,607 miles remaining

Last night was calm in the end and woke to a postcard perfect Bahamian scene with clear skies again at last. Nono managed to get the SSB radio working (bloody aerial wasn’t plugged in!) and we received grainy weather faxes showing no nasty storms between us and The Azores. The decision was made to not seek more detailed weather from a habitated Bahamian island and instead just go for it.

We allowed ourselves a few hours before lifting the anchor. Some headed for the island to put their feet in the sand while Kieran and I went spearfishing. He came back with a very nice Snapper, the carcass of which we fed to the sharks still surrounding the boat. After lunch the moment had arrived to begin crossing the Atlantic, we have one more island to pass before it’s open ocean so we hauled the anchor and headed off.

Day 11

Two nights ago it was back onto lumpy sailing and shit weather. On watch with Nono in the middle of the night we were feeling aggrieved to be cheated out of a clear night and a full moon and then we got nailed by a squall and all went dark. It stayed dark as the squall passed and we could see a glimpse of the moon through the cloudy sky which just so happened to be covered by a cloud creating a perfect crescent moon. It took us 20 minutes to realise that in fact it was a lunar eclipse which perked us up a bit in rubbish conditions.

This morning caught a big Wahoo. Many kg’s of beautiful fillet which we cooked in fresh coconut milk.

Some amazing sailing this afternoon up to 11 knots on the GPS. Incredibly changeable conditions so far on this passage. Wind doesn’t stay stable for more than half a day at a time. Keeps it interesting and us active with regular sail changes.

Exciting moment yesterday for Seren, another tooth fell out and last night the tooth fairy found our coordinates and dropped off three pearls and one shell.

Day 13

Wind’s gone. Been virtually becalmed for 24 hours now. Had an opportunity to swim with two Mahi yesterday that were circling the boat. I have had an ambition to spear one of these overshore fish in just these circumstances but now I’m not so sure. It’s a stupid reason because we happily catch them on the line but they looked sensational underwater and they mate for life so to spear one means you’d have to look them in the eye and then break up the happy couple.

Much earlier in the passage than we hoped to be becalmed. Hell of a long way still to go. Bit of a crazy thought that we are two weeks at sea and very far from the half way point. Doesn’t serve to look too far into the future and enjoy each day as it comes. Becalmed moments are lush, time for rest, writing and creative projects. Seren has been teaching me crocheting and so I’m working on hats for a baby niece and nephew. 31 miles covered in the last 24 hours.

Day 14

The calm was broken yesterday afternoon initially with a firm wind under a cloud that had us racing along. It was during this period, with all on deck, that we saw humpback whales jumping clear out of the water. It’s an absurd site. They are the size of Lilly (around 50 feet) and it seems improbable that they can leap in the air. An outrageous moment.

Wind was short lived and had almost gone by sunset but for the first time in a while we had some clear skies and before the moon rise the starscape was perfect. My night watch was 3am and being totally becalmed by then Rowena and I went swimming under the moon surrounded by super bright phospheresence.

Today totally becalmed all day. No progress. Time for other things. Nono gave me a tattoo, Kieran made up bottles of spiced Colombian moonshine and we all had the chance to see large yellow fin tuna jumping out of the water close to the boat. All day the tuna were leaping within 200 metres of the boat. Not quite sure why they jump but spotting wildlife like this totally enriches being becalmed and frustrations of not moving are abated. I kept jumping in the water to swim with the tuna but they never came close until Rowena and Seren got in later and had a lovely interaction with a tuna bigger than Ren!

Weather faxes received today show a gale between us and the Azores around 1,000 miles away. Happy now we have been slow. It will dissipate in a couple of days but very unstable conditions forecast. Currently we are stuck in the one place in the North Atlantic with no wind. We may get impatient if we don’t make progress within a day or two. Either that or I’ll get more tattoos…….

Day 16

Sloooooow progress. Drift for a bit then sail into exceedingly light headwinds for a bit. That’s the rhythm. It’s entirely pleasurable, the climate is more manageable and the days are longer now we are more north. The only detail inhibiting perfect relaxation is that we have a destination and we are incredibly far from it. Over 2,000 miles in fact. Progress on the chart looks excruciatingly slow and we have appeared to make no significant dent in the actual crossing of the Atlantic. With any decent winds we would have passed Bermuda a long time ago but it remains 400 miles to our North East and our best course currently is a disappointing 110 degrees on the compass.

Our belief is that surely the conditions will change and of course they will eventually but it’s healthy to accept mentally that this will be a very long passage. It’s too slow to catch fish trailing a line but we see plenty of wildlife with tuna regularly jumping, a brief visit from dolphins and two days ago at sunset we saw more whales jumping in the middle distance. Hugely uplifting these moments.

I hope we will be alright for drinking water. We haven’t had enough rain to collect much recently. The vegetable situation for now isn’t desperate. Pumpkins, cabbages and potatoes still remain. Fruit almost gone with some mouldy oranges made into juice this morning. It was sour and drank like medecine.

Day 18

Some healthy progress at last. Wind returned and we had our first day of covering over 100 miles for a while. It felt good although our heading wasn’t great due to more headwinds and the four day forecast suggests we should get used to this.

It’s not a good idea when sailing to have expectations but we had anticipated more favourable winds once in the Atlantic but they just haven’t arrived. It is however a very enjoyable period of the crossing, the sun is shining, it’s comfortable and with a shrinking moon we are treated to some stunning starry nights.

Rowena and I enjoyed a beautiful orange crescent moon rise two nights ago. We hoped Kieran would enjoy the same last night when Nono and I handed over to him for the midnight shift. It wasn’t to be and we got nailed by a torrential short squall during handover. It’s a bit shit getting drenched right at the start of your watch in pitch darkness with clouds obliterating any star scape.

Caught another wahoo this morning. Very impressive fish but not sure they are that tasty.

As we get deeper into the passage the rhythm becomes more entrenched. It’s an opportunity to experience a mental cleanse. There is a clarity of mind that comes from being connected primarily with the rising and setting of the sun and the lunar cycle. It’s interesting to imagine how much this would be interfered with if, for example, we had access to the internet out here. Even without it the mind does occasionally wander to speculate about what is going on in the outside world. Are we closer to nuclear war, has covid spiked again or is there a brand new crises to cause concern? These thoughts are fleeting though. Our concerns presently are tangible. They are the wind, the setting of sails. They are preparations of food, discussion and reading, How to achieve this mental space back on land?

Back to my book. Reading a memoir of an Irishman born in 1850 who lived on The Great Blasket Island in Dingle Bay. His life was closer to the sailing experience in the sense that his primary day to day concerns were with trying to live well in nature. We hope to reproduce elements of this with our plans to find land together in Wales and live on and from it communally. More sure than ever that this is the future that will provide fulfillment and purpose.

Day 20

Rowena read a poem yesterday she’d found about The Sea. The message was to learn patience in order to find peace with the ocean. This notion grows in pertinence as we continue to drift more often than we are sailing. If there was no destination, no objective then each day would be complete bliss. Each day in fact is complete bliss, almost. Almost all the time it’s easy to enjoy the tranquility. It’s like living on a slightly lumpy lake with almost perfect weather. But this acceptance and enjoyment reveals itself to be conditional occasionally. The underlying assumption is that conditions will change and winds will become favourable. But as time goes there are moments, and they are normally short lived, of frustration, irritation or disbelief by the conditions. It might be the fact that at current speeds we are still 6 weeks (!) away from The Azores that triggers irritation at this interminable lack of wind.

How to make the final mental leap of acceptance without expectation of change. In these conditions generally it feels like progress is made towards that ambition. With sailing it’s quite obvious that the experience is just as much about the journey as the destination. This cliché is less clear of course in a traffic jam on a motorway.

There are of course a few considerations on passage that are not flippant. Water, food, gas, the boat and of course everybody’s health. Water is a small niggle. The flipside of ‘perfect’ weather in the traditional sense is that there is no rain to collect. Maybe our perspective of ideal conditions will change if we feel the tanks are getting low. For now it’s just a case of practising frugality rather than tight rationing. An added bonus of a downpour would be the chance to wash some clothes. Everybody wants to wash some pants!

150 miles until we have reached the halfway point. It will be a welcome milestone.

Day 21

We were blown out of our slumbering and philosophising last night. My night watch with Djanna at 9pm began with a nice breeze sending us in a good direction but the wind strength was inconsistent and with a growing swell we were constantly tweaking to keep Lilly balanced. By midnight it was clear we were overpowered for the conditions so more hands were stirred to begin reducing sail area. By the time we had the fore sail down the wind had strengthened further meaning next it was time to reef the main and swap to the small jib.

With the wind by now blowing strong and substantial waves crashing on deck in the pitch darkness it became a job for all hands on decks and a discussion on the planned manouvers. These are not conditions when you want to make mistakes in or have an accident and reefing Lilly’s main is a physical, protracted event that would keep us all busy. We hove to and went about the sail changes methodically. These moments are exhilerating but hard to describe the scene and do it justice. It took all five of us over an hour before Lilly was sailing again. Time then for tea, cake and bed.

Woke up at 6am for my watch and it was beautiful to be properly sailing again after all this bobbing around. For two hours I watched squalls scoot in front of us until the clouds cleared and wind seemed to hold pushing us along at a comfortable 5/6 knots.

Day 23

It felt like things had changed and this time the wind was here to stay. This was not the case and we only managed one day of over 100 miles before the cycle of light and then no wind returned. We are getting used to it and frankly enjoying it more and more. Yesterday we dribbled over the halfway mark (1,650 miles to go) and shortly afterwards saw 3 ships in quick succession. We are meeting Kieran’s sister Tamsin in The Azores. She flies in on the 15th June. When we left Cartagena we felt confident, even if this turned out to be a slow passage, that we’d be by then. Since it’s an incredibly slow passage so far this may not be the case so we thought of trying to get a message to Tam via the closest ship.

We spoke with Jonas, 2nd Mate on a coal ship coming from Panama, on the VHF and he agreed to try and send a whatsapp to Wales explaining we are moving slowly and might be late. Before he was out of radio range he even got back in touch to relay a reply from the UK which included the question ‘Do you still want me to bring the ski suits out for the kids?’. Entertaining to hear the officious Jonas reading this in his Phillipino accented English. Maybe he thought it was code for something less innocent? We asked him how long ago he’d left Panama and he replied 5 days. When we told him we’d covered a similar distance in 3 weeks he dryly replied ‘very slow progress’! We had the impression he was tired of acting as our secretary and he promptly signed off.

Wildlife moments continue to punctuate and enrich these times with little wind. We’ve had around 14 petrels swimming around the boat at times picking up food scraps. Before sunset last night a brilliant Mahi was stalking round the boat and a few hours later, whilst Rowena was reading out sections of her book to me under the stars at the start of our watch, we heard a strange noise not far from the boat. It was the breathing of an enormous animal. Reasonably short but strong intakes and exhales of breath loud echoey and gutteral. A whale surely and within 50 metres of the boat. Everyone quickly on deck to listen and a bright torch to try and spot it. No luck in seeing it but phenomal to feel the company and curiosity of this anonymous giant.

Soon we were back to idyllic sailing for the night during which Kieran and Djanna had a visit from dolphins trailing phospheresence. Stars in the water and in the sky.

By midday today becalmed again. No problems. As we get deeper into the passage the mental clarity, the peace is experienced on an increasingly deeper level. All kinds of reflections arrive. On many occassions I have thought of Glen. He was a friend of mine that I was shoulder to shoulder with during my battles with addiction. It killed him. I feel strong waves of grattitude, appreciation and sorrow. I never could have imagined at the time being able to leave the drugs. I had accepted on some levels that my destiny would mirror Glen’s. I was incredibly fortunate and ultimately found therapy in nature and community in leaving London and moving to a farm in Wales. I remember at that time marvelling at clouds and trees like I had never seen them before. I haven’t lost that initial lust for nature but it has evolved. Here on passage, without distraction, it is a chance to be immersed with the therapist again. The stars, the moon, the whales, the jellyfish, the tranquility. It feels good, it feels like a mental cleanse. That is of course until someone irritates you of and you come back to the emotional self. Being slightly sleep deprived means you are always vulnerable to flow in and out of this oceanic meditation. But that’s funny in itself! It’s time to read a story for the girls, but no. Morla hasn’t tidied up her toys yet. “Come on Morla tidy your shit up!!”. It’s serenity with hiccups. Would be boring wihout the hiccups.

Thinking of you today Glen, love you mate.

Day 25

Definitely an unusual year for weather. We have watched on the weather faxes a series of gales move across The Atlantic since we left. This should be a time that’s quiet on that front but now another big low has developed into a gale and for the first time it’s likely to affect us. We are forecast to be on the southern edge of the system and currently sailing SE to hopefully avoid the strongest winds. Using this time to enjoy the fine weather and prepare the boat incase we do get a blow. We have decent wind for now and clocking off a few miles.

A little bird arrived on board yesterday. I has happy because I now have cockroaches in my bunk and was hoping for some winged pest control. Sadly the bird dies today after only eating a few fruit flies. The girls are preparing a respectful sea burial in an open coconut shell cask.

Collected a bit of rain in a squall today. Some pants washed so this is a good moment.

Vegetables remaining are 5 cabbages, 8 pumpkins, 2 squash, 2 yucca, some potatoes and a sack of half rotten onions. Not bad.

Day 27

9am and sat on watch alone virtually becalmed. Sky is grey and we are rolling around helplessly in a swell generated from the wind we’ve enjoyed for the last 48hours. At last (!) we had some good downwind sailing and covered some miles but as quick as it came it went. Last night we had some torrential rain. We are influenced by a cold front to our North and beyond that it’s a substantial gale that, it seems from the forecasting, we are going to be lucky to just avoid. We have been especially attentive to the weather faxes in the last few days as the N Atlantic has been littered with low pressure systems, some already gales and some developing. There’s even a developing cyclone SW of us just off Florida. Surely it’s too early in the year for a hurricane and if it did develop the likelihood is that it would track North. It’s definitely a strange year for weather. There should be the lowest chance of bad weather at this time of year yet gales have been constantly forming.

There are pros and cons to having access to weather information. It’s fascinating to learn more about the weather and when the forecast is good it’s fabulous piece of mind and we can take tactical decisions (although to be honest we rarely do, preferring to vaguely point to where we are going with the boat balanced and comfortable if possible). The negative side to the forecasts is the anxiety that can be created if the news is bad. You feel the energy shift across the crew as everyone processes the news in their own way. Notice the impact that three little words on a weather forecast yesterday had on the boat ‘Potential Developing Cyclone’. It’s probably all a waste of energy as well when it doesn’t develop but it’s already sown a seed, led to unharmonious conversations about how we should sail in the next two days as people respond differently. The alternative is to be blissfully ignorant, don’t look at forecasts and take the weather as it comes and use the clouds and barometer as your best guess of what’s up next. You could have crossed the Atlantic and had 10 severe gales passing 500 miles to your north and be almost none the wiser. It’s hard though to say ‘no’ to the information when you know it’s available and there’s always the ‘what if’ argument that is the justification of all safety precautions. ‘What if’ there was seriously bad weather and the forecast could have allowed us to avoid it. If that happens then cool but I feel acutely aware at the moment just how much the weather takes our minds away from the present and the beauty around us.

Time for a coffee and fag, the wind has been building while I’ve been writing this and if people get up and I’ve still got all the sails down and I’m lounging around while there’s wind then there will be questions asked.

Day 29

Sailing well and in a good direction. We have been covering some healthy miles, 120-140 miles per day. Hand steering for 6 days now as we try to get the best possible angle downwind. The idea of not using the wind vane auto pilot for extended periods has always been a daunting thought but in reality hand steering has been rewarding and engaging. After 3 hours it’s tiring but like the feeling after a good days physical work you feel your rest is more earned. On top of that, while helming, you become much more sensitive to changes in swell and wind.

That tropical cyclone is over Florida at the moment while we skirt the edge of the Azores High. For now it’s perfect and for the next 48 hours it should stay this way. I’ve taken a slight step back from looking in detail at the forecast. For now it’s great and so focusing on appreciating that.

Two pods of pilot whales lazily swam within 50 metres of us the other day with the appearance of magnificent enormous dolphins. Less cuddly than they appear though with apparently 12 pairs of huge teeth.

Literally hundreds of Portuguese Man of Wars slide past the boat every hour of varying sizes. When you wash yourself under the bow you pray not to bump into one.

It’s cooler at night now and we are reintroduced to dew again. All is soaking wet in the mornings. Given how salty our clothes and bedding are life is getting very damp at night. 1,080 miles to our next laundry and showers.

Day 31

We are flying now. We are currently on the NW edge of The Azores High which is being squashed by a Low to our North and the tropical cyclone to our West. These weather systems are creating a channel of strong sou-westerlies which we are now enjoying. At times it’s tiring, this morning it was rough and Lilly was a handful to keep on course but we are so happy to be charging towards our destination (150 miles in last 24 hours).

Things are not totally relaxed as far as weather is concerned. Those depressions are not too far from us so we just have everything crossed that the High stays strong and gives sweet road to the islands.

Discussions and thoughts now are turning more towards plans and excitements of being on land. Camping trips, climbing, bike rides and piss ups all being fantasised about. We have another incentive to maintain this momentum, we are a little low on drinking water. Not quite on stark rations yet but everyone is making cut backs except for cups of tea which for still remain sacrosant to the bewilderment of our French crew.

Nice prolonged visit by dolphins two days ago, around 30 spotted Atlantic dolphins came and played on the bow wave for 20 minutes. Less than 800 miles to go now!

Day 33

We have perfect conditions now and have made healthy progress in the last few days. 150 miles per 24 hours and some amazing speeds at times. Spirits have been very high as a result and the dolphins have picked up on this with daily visits now. Again we have been lucky to avoid a big blow. There was a nasty low pressure to our north with hurricane force winds but we only caught briefly the southern tail of it last night. With just a fully reefed fore and headsails we ran with the weather in an impressively growing swell that threw us all over the place but always still heading in the good direction. The roughest night of the passage so far but within our comfort zone. We have got now within 500 miles, teasingly, tantalising close and the weather is sweet again.

There are two thorns in our side however; the weather forecast and our water situation. In current conditions we’d be there in three days but tomorrow the wind is predicted to turn right in our face. This could make the last few hundres miles seriously protracted. Not a real problem if it wasn’t for our diminishing water. We have only 160 litres left and almost no chance of rain. It’s a horrible sensation being short on such a fundamental element of life. Everybody is making big cut backs and we will focus on foods that we can cook with big proportions of sea water. Potatoes, which we have plenty of, we can cook well with 100% sea water so we have them every day now.

Fingers crossed the forecast is wrong in our favour. We just need a bit of luck to get over the line. 450 miles remaining.

Day 35

Water is the dominating theme onboard at the moment. It’s a shame in a way because there would be no reason not to just relax and enjoy the end of the passage now however slow we are if it wasn’t for our serious lack of water. A couple of cups of tea and a coffee is virtually the limit of our fluid intake with regard to drinks but there’s also a hydration boost from food. Last night we watched brooding rain clouds grow on the horizon but they never arrived. The forecast suggests a front might pass over us tonight so there is possible hope for some rain collection. A good downpour would completely change our outlook.

An added complication is that some scrap metal in the bilge has pierced all the engine oil cans meaning that we no longer have the insurance of using the engine if we had to. We probably have just enough to motor for 100 miles if necessary. Just under 300 miles to go now and the forecast remains unfavourable.

A lot of people are curious how Seren (7) and Morla (5) find being at sea. We have been at sea five weeks now and more recently in conditions where it’s much more favourable to hang out down below. You could imagine that the girls are going crazy with the limited life at sea. Incredibly this is very far from the case and they manage to find endless ways to play, to create and amuse themselves for hours often without adult interactions. It is fair to say that Morla is showing some signs now of wanting to burn off some physical energy on land but Seren gives the impression that another 5 weeks at sea would be just fine! They truly are a joy to be with at sea. Their perspective, their humour and their company are things I can’t imagine being on a boat without now.

Day 37

Headwinds, headwinds and more headwinds. Feels a touch cruel to be within 220 miles of our destination and have have headwinds. The wind is blowing precisely from where we want to go. It’s rough and wet progress bashing into waves and making minimal progress. In the last 24 hours we have only managed 34 miles in the right direction. We did manage to collect 20 litres of rain water in a couple of hours rain buying us a bit more time on that front. We are all well into the swing of water rationing, drinking just enough to hold off banging headaches. It’s possible to get demoralised but we are enjoying and embracing the challenge. Our sailing has become more tactical than usual and we are taking a risk by sailing NW hoping for a slight wind shift to the north. If it works then we will be laughing but for now we are getting further from our destination. In the last 12 hours of sailing we have actually added 1 mile to our miles remaining. Currently 178 miles left.

It’s cold on night watch now. My feet were ice blocks when Kieran and I handed over to Nono at 3am last night. It was at this moment that a whale surfaced near the boat with it’s back illuminated by the setting moon. One of the advantages of a long passage, more moments like this.

Day 39

A couple of days of fairly rough battling into the weather and finally the wind has turned a few degrees. It’s enough for us to point towards our destination at last. At 11am this morning we spotted the volcano ‘Pico’ in the distance. 45 miles to go as write this meaning we may arrive under the full moon tonight. Such mixed feelings. Land is exciting and we are incredibly keen to wash clothes, sheets, ourselves. We look forward to filling water tanks, eating fresh vegetables, meeting people, smoking a joint, having a beer, going for a walk, sitting on grass and finally having an uninterrupted nights sleep. But it’s also complicated, at least compared with our last 39 day. There is the burueacracy of checking in, immigration, uncertainty on current covid rules etc. We will also of course turn our phones on. I look forward to contacting friends and family but it’s also been a blessing to spend 6 weeks without whatsapp etc.

Land means we suddenly have choices again. We haven’t had to ask ourselves the question ‘what shall we do today’ for a while. It’s a moment of reflection and of looking forward. Not for the kids mind you, they are simply bouncing with excitement to be nearly there!

4 thoughts on “Passage Diary – Cartagena, Colombia to Horta, The Azores 3,300 miles

  1. Wow! Have so enjoyed reading about your adventures aboard – you write well! What an amazing experience for you all, especially the small ones, sharing friendship and special times together and making memories to last a lifetime – what a trip. All well here in Pembs – very hot and dry with ‘hosepipe’ bans looming in the forthcoming weeks, the sea temp is positively balmy and we are all enjoying early morning dips then, (when not working) hiding at home away from the hoards of tourists who have flocked to the county in their droves to enjoy this summer weather – the hottest for years! Take care all of you and look after each other, Anna and Mark xx

    Sent from Mail for Windows


  2. Thank you Nick… you evoked wonderfully the highs and lows, the stresses and timeless moments, of a long passage. I greatly appreciate the reminder of the ‘mental cleansing’ that can happen (Kieran once described it as ‘mental defragging’) – it’s all too easy to forget how very important it can be in this time of ever available distractions! Good luck with the final stage – and the rich possibilities waiting for you all…


  3. Great read, would love to be there with you… every time we are sailing around the Cleddau (or stuck on a mud bank) we keep a look out for Lilly’s sails best of luck with the next leg home and looking forward to seeing you back in the shire. X


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