Day 28 – 875 miles to Horta (Azores)

You may have noticed that the title of this chapter gives our distance from Horta (in the Azores) rather than our distance from Bermuda. That’s because we have passed the mid point! Conversation is now focused on arrival in Horta.

Chris, on Goleen, has been speaking with the marina in Horta, and has been able to procure slips for all of us, and also get agreement that we can arrive on Thursday, a day early. I’m sure this will not excite Nordhavn, who would prefer an organized arrival in order for us to be greeted by the press. After 10 days at sea, arriving at the perfect time to make the press happy will NOT be foremost in our minds. To do this we need to pick up the pace. Our fuel report this morning looked much better than yesterday’s, so I’m fine with it, subject to watching our fuel closely. Kirk suggested that as an alternative to speeding up, we could shift to a course that would allow us to join the slower boats, and all arrive together in Horta at the previously agreed time. Chris’ answer demonstrated how eager everyone is to once again see land. His response “Well, that would be a big negative on that one. We will not be slowing down”

As I mentioned in an earlier daily update, we are running the boat from one fuel tank, and transferring fuel into it from the other five tanks. Sans Souci has a fuel transfer system that allows us to easily transfer fuel from tank to tank. Unfortunately it has been running slower and slower. Garret replaced the fuel filter on the transfer system a couple of days ago, and that didn’t help at all. It has been taking us 3 to 4 hours to transfer 50 gallons of fuel. Rip spent much of yesterday trying to determine why. Finally, we realized that the fuel transfer system needed bled. This was a bit complicated, and involved somehow pumping fuel backward through the fuel transfer system. I’ll have Rip and Kirk walk me through how this is done, in case I ever need to do it. We are now transferring fuel at a pace that is still slower than we like, but acceptable.

I overheard a fun conversation between the fleet yesterday. I shall not reveal the names of those parties involved, but some of the boats were explaining to the other boats that there is a mailbox in the exact middle of the Atlantic. The idea is that you can write letters, put them into the mailbox, and once a month the military collects the letters from the mailbox and posts them. The mailbox was described as being like a floating jug, with a huge cork in the top. You pull the cork, pop in your letters, and continue on. The exact latitude and longitude of the mailbox were being shared, and the writing of letters was being encouraged. I asked Rip if it was for real, and he said: “It’s an old sailor’s myth that has been going around forever.” No one has ever found the mailbox. Too bad, it seemed like a cool idea.

The only excitement during Roberta’s and my 8:00pm to midnight watch shift last night was watching an approaching storm come in. It first appeared as a few specs on the radar, then, within a few minutes the entire left side of the radar went bright white. It didn’t look like a squall, but it did look like it could be a hard rain. At the time all six boats were running very close to each other (all within a two mile radius). I wasn’t sure if the radar would work once the rain hit, so we started immediately maneuvering ourselves away from the other boats. I was reasonably certain, but not positive, that there wouldn’t be much wind, but thought it wiser to get away from the rest of the boats, in case we might need to fly blind for a while. The radar does have a setting to minimize rain and to adjust for bumpy seas, but neither works perfectly. On several prior occasions we have been through squalls with high winds and had zero radar visibility. This turned out to be nothing more than a long hard rain, with only 13 knots of wind. We were thankful for the free fresh water wash down. If you were here, barefooted, sharing decks with Shelby, you too would be happy to see rain.
I missed sunrise this morning, but apparently it was incredible. St. John got some great pictures of the sunrise, one of which I put on the website. Bob Rothman on Emeritus announced the first glimmer of sunlight on the VHS by saying, in his deep booming radio voice – “Ladies and Gentleman, I give you the sun!” Sans Souci responded in our own way by finding the Beatles tune “Here comes the sun” and playing the entire tune on the VHS radio as the various crews admired the sunrise. Sorry I missed it.

At the 8:00am roll call this morning we spoke with Division 2. All was peaceful at their end. No medical problems and only one mechanical problem. Envoy’s stabilizers have failed. Braun, on Grey Pearl, mentioned that he also had a minor stabilizer problem. Apparently the tank that holds the reserve of hydraulic fluid had fallen off the wall. A bolt had sheared itself off. He patched it back in place. He spoke with Naiad (the makers of the stabilizers) and has them sending a technician to Horta with spare parts.

The group had a long discussion about the weather. We are getting weather information from more than one source, as well as our own interpretation and forecasting. I subscribe to the Ocens service ( and have been studying the weather reports from them. Thus far, the weather has been far calmer than anyone has predicted. We still haven’t had a really calm day (on this leg), but we haven’t had any rough days either. Our primary weather forecaster (Walt Hack) is cautioning us that we may see near Gale Force conditions on our final approach to Horta. From looking at the maps of Horta, it appears to be an easy approach and we should be able to get in under high winds without much trouble. The high winds aren’t supposed to arrive until Friday, further reinforcing why a Thursday arrival in Horta would be a good idea.

I just looked out at the front deck. The 62 has a huge front deck. Even with the tender, we have a ton of space. Phil has set up a lawn chair, and is wearing just shorts, headphones and sunglasses. He has been there for the past couple of hours. Yesterday, we had most of the crew on the front deck stretched out reading. A few days ago St. John wrote a little essay in which he compared the boat to a house, with the front deck as the front yard. It certainly seems an appropriate comparison today. Phil looks like he is loving life. I’d go out there, but my days of lying in the sun are over. I’m a “hide in the shade” guy these days. I know too many people who have had skin cancer, so I avoid laying in the sun for hours. Phil is looking pretty red…

When we get to Horta we will be meeting Roberta’s parents – John and Nova.

They have traveled most of the world with us, and will be fun to have on board. They will do the last leg of the trip with us, and then help Roberta and I will run the boat to France. Our plan is to run for another couple of weeks after Gibraltar, but we have no firm schedule. Roberta’s parents are great people, and far younger than their age might imply. They love to dance, and I’m betting we’ll have dances going on the front deck within 24 hours of their arrival. At first I opposed to having them on board for our final leg, but Roberta persuaded me. Our last leg is likely to be the roughest. My thinking was that they should meet us in Gibraltar, as the cruising from that point on will be reasonably short day runs. A five-day run in bumpy seas will be rough physically and mentally. Roberta explained all of this to them, and they’re excited about coming on board. I have no doubt they would have happily done the whole trip from Florida if we had asked. It is always fun watching Roberta and her Dad interact. Both of them love to argue politics, and they get into heated debates that last for hours. Once in a while I need to intercede, to calm things down, but 99% of the time it’s just fun watching them stubbornly argue their positions for hours and hours.

This morning we were surrounded by dolphins. We’ve had them before, and they are always welcome to come visiting. They like to play in the wake at the front of the boat, and will stay with you for hours.

I uploaded pictures of the dolphins, and of our swim yesterday to the website. The pictures are in the section called “Photos – Part II” at St. John said that if we stop the boat next time he will dive in to swim with them. He seemed serious, and I don’t think that dolphins bite. Perhaps it isn’t a totally crazy idea.

While everyone else was relaxing, I worked on paying our bills. Roberta and I travel nearly non-stop. We claim Seattle as home, but I doubt we were there more than about six weeks over the past year. I suspect most retired boaters have the same problem we do paying bills. People mail you things and assume that you open your mail regularly. We have had important bills sit for months unopened. I still haven’t found a perfect solution, but will share what we do now. I use an online bill payment service – All of our bills go to them. For $12 per month they scan all of our bills, and send us an email when a bill comes in. I go to their website and authorize payment, and they mail the check. I can define rules that cause bills to be paid automatically as long as they fall within certain parameters. This works most the time, but there are some of our venders who stubbornly refuse to send their bills to the bill payment service. For instance, I still cannot convince the electric company to send our bill to Paytrust. They say it’s against their policy. I get around this by estimating our electric bill and automatically sending them a check for slightly more than I think the bill is each month. Whenever I finally see the bill, we are always slightly overpaid. I’ve got things as under control as they can be – but like I said, it’s still a bit messy. It is amazing though that I just issued a check for a fence repair at our house in Seattle from a boat in the middle of the Atlantic.

I’m not sure if I mentioned it in an earlier update, but we are accessing the internet through a Fleet 77 system.

This is my first trip using it, and I’m really impressed. It isn’t DSL, cable modem or even dial-up, but it is acceptable speed for most things, and has been solid thus far. After I had the Fleet 77 installed, they released a 55 that does the same thing and costs less. When I get the boat back to the US I want to try one of the high-speed internet systems. I think KVH makes one. I’ve heard they are unreliable. I am definitely internet-centric, which I think is driving some of my fellow crewmembers crazy. Kirk and Roberta have conspired at times on how to lure me away from the computer. I’m playing chess with my dad, who is in southern California, even now while I am typing this.

Lastly, St. John just surprised us all by saying that he received some funding for this trip from his college. He convinced them that this was a research project. At first I thought it was strange but then when he described the research he was doing it got more interesting. His topics (as best I remember them): “How do people react when a younger person seizes control of a situation” (he is the youngest on board, but will be calling the shots if someone gets hurt – he’s an EMT). “Issues associated with strangers living in confined places” and his third topic: “How someone who has never been on a boat adapts to a long sea passage.” (both St. John and Phil are new to boating). It’s a little weird to think that we have been studied all this time. Had I known, I would have worn shoes and perhaps combed my hair. It will be very interesting to see what’s in his report!

That’s it for today!

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Credits     |     Video produced by: Rock Steady Media     |     Teletype photo: Arnold Reinhold     |     PDP-11 photo: Trammell Hudson