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WANDERING ALBATROSS

"Sailing to Save Our Seas"
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August 27 2006

 
Gary relaxes on a hillside above Isafjordur After a memorable passage from Svalbard, we made landfall in Iceland in the small town of Isafjordur in the far northwest where a big peninsula reaches out like a hand, with deep fjords cutting between fingers of land. The scenery was unique, with steep sided mountains rising hundreds of metres and topped by flat plateaus. After the Arctic everything seemed incredibly green with masses of wildflowers and lush meadows of grass. The day after we arrived the glorious sunshine prompted us to go for a long hike. We set off enthusiastically to climb a 740m mountain behind the town and in spite of our complaining sea-legs managed to scramble up the ever steeper incline to reach the top, where we had breathtaking views all around.
 
anchored off Eider Island Further up the fjord we visited the small, tranquil island of Aedey (Eider) where one family lives, rearing sheep and geese and harvesting eider-down. Collecting eider-down has always been an important means of making a living in these remote places and it plays an integral part in the Svalbard trappers' lives too. The eider-ducks line their nests with the wonderfully soft and warm down, which is carefully harvested so as not to disturb the nesting process. Cleaning the raw down of bits of grass etc is a laborious process that is done by hand. It is then exported and fetches a very high price per kilo.
 
Iceland is full of small, colourful fishing villages moored alongside the wall in a fishing port We divided the 180 miles to Rekjavik, Iceland's capital in the SW corner of the island, into three longish day sails, stopping off in various tiny fishing villages en route. Colourful houses cluster along the shore beneath the mountains and we were able to tie alongside in the busy little harbours. Everyone was particularly friendly and we were given delicious fresh fish several times.
 
2 white-beaked dolphins a white-beaked dolphin leaps aerobatically The waters around Iceland are teeming with life and we had several fantastic encounters with Minke Whales and White-beaked dolphin. We were even lucky enough to see a Humpback blowing and diving, raising its tail flukes as it went. The dolphin were rather playful, coming to ride our bow wave and swimming right under the boat. More than once we saw them leaping acrobatically out of the water. This species is endemic to the higher latitudes of the North Atlantic and is thought to number in the tens of thousands, perhaps even a few hundred thousand, throught its range. These dolphin usually form groups of between 5 and 50 and eat a wide variety of fish such as herring, cod and haddock, as well as octopus and crustaceans.
 
a Minke Whale shows its dorsal fin In 2003, despite strong opposition from the International Whaling Commission (IWC), Iceland resumed hunting of Minke Whales under the guise of "scientific research". The governments of 23 countries object that the proposed research is "unjustified and unnecessary", and could be carried out by well-proven, non-lethal methods. Some pro-whalers claim that Minke Whales are depleting fish stocks. This is clearly nonsense as the fish and whales have existed in balance for millenia and human over-fishing is far more likely the reason for poor catches these days. Around 50 whales are killed annually and whale meat is widely available for sale and served in restaurants. Ironically, whale watching in Iceland is one of the fastest growing industries, bringing in millions of dollars in revenue every year. From the dock where we are moored in Rekjavik several whale watching operations take large numbers of tourists out every day. Just a few yards away lie 3 disused whaling ships and a fourth is hauled out in the shipyard undergoing a major upgrade. It will be back in commission soon using every modern location aid and high powered harpoons to hunt these beautiful, defenceless animals for no purpose other than commercial gain.
You can help end Icelandic whaling by writing in protest to the government. For more information CLICK HERE
 
Wandering Albatross anchored under an amazing sky
Rekjavik is a large, modern, vibrant city where about half of Iceland's 260,000 population live and it has been our first taste of "civilisation" in several months. In between doing some necessary boat maintenance such as changing the engine impeller and replacing a faulty block for the self-steering, we have taken time out to explore the city. There is a great atmosphere, numerous cafes and bars, excellent museums and best of all several outdoor, geothermally heated swimming pools with hot tubs up to 40 degrees C! Our time in Iceland has been all too brief and it is definitely somewhere we would like to return to one day...

...but with an unexpectedly favourable weather gap offering us what looks like 4 or 5 days of stiff northerly winds, we will be setting sail tomorrow for the Azores, about 1500 miles south.
 
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September 9 2006

 
Arctic Tern settling on nest Arctic Tern on the defensive demanding tern chick
 
As we left Rekjavik we had several hours of sailing before we cleared land and headed out to sea. Numerous Guillemots and Razorbills were on the water with their chicks and young puffins which are left to fend for themselves - their parents abandon them in the burrows from where they take to the sea alone. As we move south we are leaving behind most of these sea birds that have become so familiar over the past few months and by the time we were out of sight of land only the Arctic Terns and Fulmars were still with us. Arctic terns undertake one of the longest bird migrations every year, travelling at least 10,000 miles each way between their Arctic breeding grounds and feeding areas in the Antarctic - they will probably be there before us! We have enjoyed seeing most stages of their breeding cycle this summer. Initial courtship displays included males presenting the female with a fish; later we saw camouflaged eggs in shades of blue and green laid in shallow scrapes in the tundra, vigorously defended by both adults. Later still we found newly hatched chicks hidden amongst the pebbles on a beach, and in Iceland partially fledged chicks were everywhere, perched on rocks along the seashore, patiently waiting to be fed by their parents.
 
Gary putting in a reef kirstin putting the pole up A deep low pressure system was lingering just SE of Iceland, giving us northerly winds at F6-7 and it wasn't long before we had 3 reefs in the main sail with a double furled jib. Within a few hours we were windswept and salt encrusted and loving every minute! We were sailing on a broad reach until we cleared a bank of shoals and rocks extending over 30 miles to the SW of Iceland. Then we fell off, poled out the jib and set our course for the Azores, racing along in big seas.
 
racing south in big seas For three days the wind remained strong from the north, gusting up to gale force 8 occasionally. We made the most of the favourable wind direction while it lasted, pushing the boat, and ourselves, hard. Wandering Albatross loves these conditions - she handles the often violent lurching motion better than we do most of the time. With the following sea we were sometimes "surfing" at over 10 knots, so it was a wild ride. Every once in a while a tumbling sea would break into the cockpit, soaking everything within reach, but we were slipping between fronts and managed to avoid the associated rain and windshifts. As we settled into the passage routine of watches and broken sleep the hardest thing was getting used to the dark again! Moving south at about 150 miles every 24 hrs the days were quickly growing shorter and with overcast skies the nights were inky black - our 6 hr watches seemed to go on for ever.
 
shaking out the reefs By day 4 conditions began to ease and the wind went round to the NW, settling down to a nice, steady F4. We put away the pole and shook out the reefs one by one until we were broad reaching under full sail. The sun was shining and the water temperature was increasing steadily as we ate up the miles. The sea was a deep, dark blue with sparkling white caps dancing across the surface. For the next few days we enjoyed fantastic weather and calm seas as a high pressure system edged over us. The winds were lighter than we would have liked but the bonus was that we were able to keep a good look out for wildlife, and were rewarded with some amazing sightings.
 
a Short beaked Common Dolphin plays off the bow dolphin at dawn Short-beaked Common Dolphin, distinctively patterned with bold black, grey, white and tan markings, were regular visitors. Although this species often gathers in large schools, we have only seen them in small groups. They appear suddenly out of the endless expanse of ocean and love to play in the bow wave. We rush to the bow to watch them and it is always a moving experience, to be just a few feet away from them as they twist, turn, jump and roll, often seeming to be showing off for our benefit. Studies have shown that they feed mainly at night when their prey species of squid and small fish, such as anchovies, migrate up towards the surface. They then spend the daylight hours resting and socialising.
 
Pilot whales One morning we saw the blows of Pilot Whales just off the starboard quarter and hove to in the hope of being able to watch them, as these whales rarely approach boats. With their bulbous melons and broad, low dorsal fin these whales are easily recognised and grow to between 4m and 6.3m. We were excited to see a young, pale coloured calf closely accompanied by 2 adults. Shortly afterwards about 10 adults surfaced nearby and the group moved off together. It is thought that small pods of 10 - 20 animals form around a female and her calf, which she nurses for up to 2 years. Well known for its tendency to strand en masse, this species has traditionally been hunted throughout the north Atlantic by driving groups ashore. This practice only continues today in the Faeroe Islands, where hundreds of animals are killed each year.
 
Wandering Albatross sailing into the evening As we moved steadily south it became warm enough to shed our thermals in favour of t-shirts. Clear weather transformed the night watches into magical hours with skies full of incredibly bright stars. The sea glittered with bioluminescence and our wake streamed out behind us like a mini Milky Way. The most amazing sight was when dolphin came in the night, illuminated by the surreal greenish white light of the glowing plankton. Like ghosts in the darkness they trailed long plumes of light behind them that curved and looped, tracing their every move.
 
a spectacular orange sunset a magical moonrise Another of the great pleasures of being at sea in settled conditions is watching the ever changing skies. Dawn paints the early morning sky in subtle shades of pink and violet and gold; all day the sun marches overhead amid drifting cumulus clouds, occasionally blotted out by dark rain squalls; spectacular sunsets light the sky in blazing orange and as full moon approached there were some beautiful moonrises. We never tire of these wonderful natural displays. The downside of the calm weather, brought about by a high pressure system building over the Azores, was that the wind finally died away altogether and we had to resort to motoring. Hurricane Florence was tracking across the Atlantic well to the south of us and at this time of year these systems often curve north and east, becoming extra-tropical in the region we were traversing - not a time to be hanging around waiting for wind!
 
a Sperm Whale surfaces just ahead of us A few hundred miles north of the Azores we had a fantastic encounter with a small group of Sperm Whales. A mother and calf were moving slowly on the surface and a short distance from them another 2 adults were swimming. We spotted their blows from about a quarter mile away and hove to to watch them for about 20 minutes as they circled, blew and interacted with each other. Sperm Whales are one of the better studied cetacean species and have several distinctive features: massive, squared off heads which can be up to a third of their body length; a unique blow that is projected forward and to the left; small, stubby dorsal fins and a somewhat wrinkled skin. They are the largest of the toothed whales and males can grow up to 20m long. At the heart of sperm whale 'society' are small groups of adult females and immature animals, which may remain together for years. There seems to be a substantial amount of social cooperation amongst these whales and defense of the young is a joint responsibility. a Sperm Whale blows as it surfaces Mature whales have been observed forming a protective circle around young or injured animals, with their powerful tail flukes outward to fight off attackers. Care of calves is also a joint effort as while the mother must dive deep in search of food her calf cannot follow, but must remain on the surface where another adult will look after it. Calves are nursed for very long periods, occasionally over 10 yrs! During the few centuries of intense commercial whaling it is estimated that a million sperm whales were killed, highly prized for the valuable spermaceti oil contained in the melon. This oil was used to make fine quality candles and as an industrial lubricant. Sperm Whales were granted worldwide protection in 1984.
 
Wandering Albatross moored in Lajes harbour Not long after this the wind came through for us from the WSW and we had ideal sailing for the last 2 days of the passage. After 12 days at sea we arrived at the island of Flores, the most westerly of the Azorean islands, at first light, just as a front caught us. As we approached the port of Lajes we were doused in torrential rain and had 30 knts on the nose for the last few miles. It was a welcome respite to tie up alongside the stone quay where a diligent official was already pulling up to clear us in. With the minimal paperwork completed he kindly gave us a lift to the village to buy some fresh bread and milk. Whitewashed cottages tumble down a verdant green hillside above the picturesque harbour and as it is so late in the season we were the only boat there. We are looking forward to going for long walks and exploring the beautiful islands....
 
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October 27 2006

 
scenic cliffs in Flores one of many beautiful waterfalls in Flores After arriving in the Azores from Iceland our first few days were spent in Flores, the most westerly of the Azores Islands, where we moored stern to the main dock. With Wandering Albatross safely tied up we were able to go exploring and we walked, hitch-hiked and drove all over the island. It is particularly scenic with dense vegetation clinging to steep cliff sides, numerous waterfalls, tiny villages hidden in beautiful valleys and crater lakes in shades of green and blue high up in the hills. We could easily have spent much longer there but Hurricane Florence was moving up the Atlantic making it too risky to remain in the exposed harbour.
 
the marina in Horts An overnight sail of about 150 miles took us to the island of Faial and the large, safe marina in Horta. The Azorean Islands lie at the center of a web of different routes across the Atlantic, and in the few months of summer over 1000 yachts a year pass through Horta. Arriving in mid-September was a far cry from last year when we sailed into Horta in early June. Then, the marina was packed to capacity with boats from all over the world rafted 4 deep along the breakwater. Now, in mid September, there were just a few foreign yachts, most spending the winter here, and we had a pontoon all to ourselves.
 
looking over the city of Horta It was great to receive 3 months worth of mail when we arrived in Horta. Even better was the news from Simrad,USA that they had agreed to cover the repairs necessary to our radar unit several months ago under warranty. They had given us a full refund which was very much appreciated - Thank You Simrad, USA!
Horta itself is a bustling town built along the water's edge and up the steep hillside beyond. Whitewashed buildings with red rooves cluster around numerous ornate churches and narrow cobbled streets wind through the heart of the city. The marina is in a prime spot with easy access to a fresh produce market, cafes, restaurants, shops and even a cinema. Knowing that in the coming months we'll be far removed from such luxuries, we spoiled ourselves as often as possible!
 
laundry day servicing the winches We had 6 loads of fleeces, thermals, and warm clothing to wash and dry in the sun, before packing it all away for a while - at least until November. The transition to shorts and T-shirts was abrupt - we really felt the heat, and tried not to get too sunburned while working our way through a long list of maintenance jobs. One of these was to service all the winches, dismantling, cleaning and greasing them, a fun and messy task that needs to be done every year
 
Hurricane Helene approaches putting out an anchor Although Hurricane Florence went on her merry way without affecting us in the end, less than a week later Gordon was threatening the Azores with a direct hit. According to the locals it was the first time a hurricane warning had been issued for the islands and there was a flurry of activity around the marina as everyone put out anchors, took down sails and secured the boats with extra mooring lines. Luckily for us it missed Faial and all we had were gale force winds, while the island of Santa Maria 200 miles south east had winds up to 85 kts. Just as we had breathed a sigh of relief, Tropical Storm Helene began heading our way, bringing 45 knots - we were certainly glad to be in the marina.
 
Hurricane Helene approaches putting out an anchor In between working on the boat and planning the next leg of the voyage, we went on several long hikes. Outside Horta, Faial is a patchwork of fields separated by hedges of hydrangeas, with villages dotting the hillsides. The center of the island rises to 1030 metres where a large volcanic crater, often shrouded in low clouds, is testament to the volcanic origins of the island.
 
an Azorean interisland ferry a Tourada on Sao Jorge We also visited the neighbouring islands of Pico and Sao Jorge by ferry, crowded with local people bringing their produce to market. We particularly loved Sao Jorge, a long narrow island with a high central ridge of mountains and precipitous cliffs most of the way round. Life revolves around the twice daily milking of the cows which graze in lush pastures all over the island. One of the most popular social events is the "tourada" and we happened to be there for the last one of the summer season. Bulls are released into the street, controlled on long ropes and the young men show off their courage and daring by approaching the bull as closely as they can. The bull is not harmed and everyone from tiny children to the oldest grandparent turns out to enjoy the excitement and meet their neighbours.
 
painting our logo on the wall Horta fresh market By mid October we were moving into departure mode, focussing on the last minute details and monitoring the weather. There is a great tradition amongst sailors of painting their boat name on the wall of the marina in Horta and it is considered bad luck not to do so. Many crews take a lot of time and care over their designs and the entire marina is like a vast outdoor art gallery. We touched up our painting from last year and added some new details. The last task is always stocking up on fresh fruit and veg, and the farmer's market in Horta has a good selection of produce. Picking out 6 weeks worth of potatoes, cabbages, carrots, onions, butternuts and eggs took most of a morning. And so, at last we were ready and set sail at the end of October for the southern hemisphere....
 
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Oct 31 2006
Azores - Argentina Day 2
Position 36 05'N 28 57'W

Distance 150nm
departing from Faial, Azores After an early morning walk to our favourite cafe for a last glass of fresh orange juice and a bag of rolls still warm from the oven, we cast off from Horta Marina yesterday at 1000 and got underway. For the first few hours we were in the lee of Pico, Portugal's highest mountain, which gave us fluky wind but as we cleared the islands the easterly breeze filled in and we soon had 2 reefs in both the main and jib. With F5/6 on the beam we were flying south, averaging 7.5 knts and it wasn't long before the Azores disappeared below the horizon. It is fantastic to be back at sea! As always it takes a while to settle into the watch routine and get used to the motion again but that didn't stop us from enjoying our traditional 'first night at sea' dinner of roast chicken & vegetables. In the wee hours this morning a large ship passed within a mile of us and not for the first time it seemed remarkable that in the vastness of the ocean we often have close encounters with commercial vessels. A clear, starry night gave way to a grey, cloudy dawn and I am looking forward to getting off watch and into a warm bunk....
 

Nov 2 2006
Azores - Falklands Day 4
Position 31 07.5'N 29 17'W

Distance 455nm
sailing away from a rainbow The sun rose in a blaze of colour a few hours ago and it is a beautiful morning. The water is the deep, sapphire blue of the open ocean, stretching away in all directions. The last few days have been great with 15-20 kts from behind and moderate seas. By the afternoon of the second day we had shaken out a reef as the wind lightened up and since then we have been rolling steadily along, sometimes on a broad reach but often goose-winged. Atlantic Spotted Dolphins have been to play in our bow wave each afternoon, entertaining us with their leaping and racing. The sky has been full of rain clouds bringing quick showers and sparkling rainbows. At night the waxing moon is bright enough to create moonbows, magical sights in shades of silver and grey that form briefly and then are gone. We have settled easily into the routine of life on board, adjusting to the pattern of our 6 hr watches and the rest of the world already seems a long way away....
 

Nov 4 2006
Azores - Argentina Day 6
Position 27 40.5'N 29 57'W

Distance 669nm
sailing goosewinged It has been a slow but enjoyable couple of days with very light winds, mostly from behind. The weather charts show we are edging down the western side of a weak and almost stationary low pressure system with a large area of no wind at the centre. We were expecting to be becalmed last night or today but with full sails goose-winged for the last 36 hrs, we have continued to slip along at about 4.5 knts and are now abeam of the Canary Islands. We caught our first fish, a lovely little dorado, and have had two delicious dinners from it. The calm conditons have allowed us to get very good sleep, which makes the long hours of night watch pass more easily. An almost full moon has been beaming down on us, lighting everything in monochrome shades that seem nearly as bright as day. The other night a small group of dolphin swam in our bow wave for over 1 1/2 hrs and we could see them clearly, lit only by moonlight. Even more exciting, it was so quiet we could hear their high pitched clicks and squeaks as they communicated with each other. Our only other company has been the occasional Cory's shearwater gliding past and every so often a storm petrel appears, pattering erratically close to the surface behind us as it searches for food we might have stirred up. It is great to be out here!
 

Nov 6 2006
Azores - Argentina Day 8
Position 22 40.5'N 30 36'W

Distance 1000nm
a squall advances Constantly changing conditions have kept us busy the last few days and it has been fairly frustrating sailing. An endless procession of dark squall lines have swept over us, some bringing strong wind, others full of heavy rain and the occasional flash of lightning. The passage of a squall sometimes brings a wind shift and often robs the wind entirely, leaving us bobbing along at 2 or 3 knts in sloppy seas. We have gone from full sail to double reefed and back again several times a day, jibed twice, tacked once and are now close hauled with two reefs in the main and the jib furled to a mere scrap, shouldering our way into a confused sea. Around noon today we crossed the Tropic of Cancer - welcome to the tropics! The sky has been a dull, leaden grey for 2 days and nights, blocking out the full moon. Quite a few birds around, mostly Cory's Shearwaters, which breed in the Azores, Madeira, Canaries and Cape Verde Islands. Flying fish take to the air ahead of us as we disturb them, skimming tens of metres across the surface with their pectoral fins outstretched like wings.
 

Nov 9 2006
Azores - Argentina Day 11
Position 17 59'N 30 12'W

Distance 1300nm
Gary shakes out a reef We have been making steady progress south these past few days and it seems we are starting to pick up the trade winds, with a constant, though light, breeze from the east. Two days ago we shook out all the reefs and have had the wind just forward of the beam ever since - hard to beat! We are in a blue, blue world, sliding across a calm and beautiful sea of the deepest blue with the pale blue sky above, and the days are starting to merge together in the routine of watches and sleeps. As always, all our bananas - at least 40 - ripened at once and for several days the race was on to try and eat them all before they went rotten. The final few went into a batch of banana bread, a firm favourite. It is getting rather hot, with the sun blazing down all day and the water temperature now up to 25 degrees C, and to cool down we have a lot of fun throwing buckets of water at each other. The Cape Verde Islands are less than 300 miles to the east and we have noticed quite a lot of plastic rubbish - bottles, bags, fishing floats - drifting on the current which from here will carry it across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. This morning we saw our first Tropic bird of the passage, a Red-billed Tropic bird with its distinctive barred upperparts and long white tail streamers, which came and circled the boat, peering down at us. They breed in the Cape Verdes as do Soft-plumaged Petrels, which we saw for the first time ever around noon today. There was just a single bird, flying close to the water with rapid wingbeats interspersed with glides, readily identifiable by a dark face-mask and white underbody.
 

Nov 13 2006
Azores - Argentina Day 15
Position 10 23'N 29 12'W

Distance 1770nm
collecting rain water The wind was very light for several days but the trade-off for slow progress has been the tranquility of a smooth sea and clear night skies filled with stars. Yesterday an indigo sea was flecked with whitecaps for the first time in over a week and with F 4 just aft of the beam we picked up speed, flying along at a more respectable 6 - 7 knots for 24 hrs. This morning marked exactly 2 weeks at sea and at dawn we were hemmed in by rain squalls. Our watermaker, which has unfortunately given us problems ever since we installed it, has chosen this inopportune moment to fail completely and we have been looking for rain to top up our tanks. Upside down, our sun awning (which is now invaluable during the day) doubles as a rain collector - it might not be the most efficient system ever devised, but it works!(see photo) We also took advantage of the rain to have a fresh water shower, standing out on deck and hoping the squall didn't pass before the soap was rinsed off - Murphy makes sure it usually does! We have been seeing huge schools of flying fish take to the air en masse, hundreds of shiny bodies glittering in the sunshine as they soar above the waves. One afternoon we had 8 or 9 small tuna swimming just ahead of the bow for hours in much the way dolphins do - we've never seen fish do that before. There have been lots of storm petrels around and we've spent much time trying to positively identify them. Of the eight species found in the Atlantic, five might be seen in this area and four of these appear similar at first glance - small, dark birds with white rumps that flit close to the water as they forage for plankton. Noting the exact extent of the white on the rump, the shape of the wings and the flight pattern are all key to identification. Based on these characteristics we are (almost!) sure we have seen both Madeiran and Leach's Storm Petrels in the last few days.
 

Nov 17 2006
Azores - Argentina Day 19
Position 3 36'N 29 00'W

Distance 2185nm
an Atlantic spotted dolphin breaks the surface Over the last day or two we have been passing through the Intertropic Convergence Zone (ITCZ), an area of heavy clouds and rainfall. In the Atlantic the ITCZ remains north of the equator, with slight seasonal shifts to north and south. It marks the convergence between two dissimilar airmasses: Warm air rising at the equator rides over cooler air moving towards the equator from higher latitudes in the form of the trade winds. The result is a band of disturbed weather and we have had endless squalls, windshifts and windspeeds between 5 knts and 25 knts, often in the same half hour period. Lots of rain means we have all but filled our watertanks. As we leave the ITCZ the south-east trade winds are picking up - we are now hard on the wind and expect to remain so for some time as we approach the coast of Brazil. We had a brief visit from a small group of Atlantic Spotted Dolphin (shown in photo) which played at the bow for ten minutes or so. These dolphins only occur in the tropical and warm temperate waters of the Atlantic, between about 42 N and 20 S. They have a distinctive shoulder blaze, a usually white-tipped beak and variable amounts of spotting - calves are born without spots and spotting increases with age. This species is fairly abundant and there is a community in the Bahamas that is habituated to humans, providing a rare opportunity for research. Females appear to nurse their calves for between 3 and 5 years with a calving interval of 3 to 4 years. The main prey species for Atlantic Spotted Dolphin are small fish, bottom dwelling invertebrates and squid. Yesterday evening as we sat up on the foredeck watching the sea go by we saw 3 low, bushy blows about a mile away and moments later a humpback whale breached almost clear of the water, an impressive sight even at that distance. We hove to, hoping for a closer look, but after another two less energetic breaches the whales disappeared. Such chance sightings always seem remarkable and special - had we been facing the other way we would never have seen them at all!
 
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Nov 20 2006
Azores - Argentina Day 22
Position 2 13'S 31 02'W

Distance 2578nm
champagne at the Equator Once we were clear of the ITCZ the squalls decreased and the breeze settled down to a nice, steady 10 knots from the SE. In combination with about a knot of west setting equatorial current we were not quite making our desired course for several days but now the wind has backed a little more to the east and increased slightly so we are going well and it feels good to be really moving again. We crossed the Equator at noon on Sunday and cracked open a bottle of champagne (see photo) that we had buried at the bottom of the fridge for the occasion. Lightweights that we are after 3 weeks at sea, we only drank about half of it before offering up the rest to Neptune for good luck. We toasted the southern phase of our voyage, bid farewell to the north and anointed Wandering Albatross as this was her first equatorial crossing. We are plotting our positions on the same chart that we used as we sailed up the coast of Brazil on our first boat 15 years ago and it was funny to see that we crossed the Equator then, in the same month, about 600 miles further west. 55 miles north of the Equator, we passed well west of St Paul's Rocks, a breeding site for many species of tropical seabirds, and since then have been seeing a great variety of birds : Sooty terns; Noddies; Tropic birds and Boobies.
 

Nov 22 2006
Azores - Argentina Day 24
Position 7 04'S 32 02'W

Distance 2886nm
a juvenile booby tries to land on the mast top The last 2 days have been hard to beat with good wind just forward of the beam, varying between about 12 and 18 knots. We've had one reef in the main most of the time and have been making good speed, 6.5 - 7kts, in the right direction. We passed about 100 miles east of Fernando de Noronha, an island off the coast of Brazil, and are now less than 200 miles from the "bulge" of Brazil. The days are beautiful in shades of blue and with no moon at all the night skies have been incredible. There has been hardly a cloud in sight and the stars rule the night, glittering like jewels. Numerous shooting stars blaze across the sky and we watch the constellations rise in the east and march slowly overhead. The Southern Cross is now visible very low on the horizon. Being relatively close to land has brought an increase in birds and we've had a regular "dawn patrol" of a Magnificent Frigate bird soaring high above on stiff wings, followed by a Tropic bird or two. Not far behind come the Boobies, both adult and juvenile Masked and Red-footed. They are such comical birds, always amusing us with their antics. The last few mornings a juvenile Red-footed booby, wholly chocolate brown with only subtly red feet, has been intent on landing on the mast top. It first makes several speculative passes, craning its neck round to peer down at its target whilst scratching its head with a wide, webbed foot. Then, ignoring the obstacles such as the VHF antenna, the nav light and the wind instruments, it comes in for a landing only to realise at the last moment that it is impossible. With much outraged squawking and ungainly flapping it lumbers away, only to return for a second attempt a few minutes later ... the photo says it all!
 

Nov 26 2006
Azores - Argentina Day 28
Position 15 19'S 35 14'W

Distance 3416nm
a pair of clymene dolphins After days of being spoilt with pleasant, settled conditions, 15 knts on the beam and almost cloudless skies, the last 36 hours have brought a change in the weather. Huge, slow moving, black squalls have hemmed us in below an overcast sky and the wind has been very inconsistent, gusting to 25 knots on occasions then dying to almost nothing. We've had reefs constantly in and out of both the main and jib and tonight, when the wind shifted to the NE and stayed there, we poled out the jib and are now running downwind. We are sailing more or less parallel to the Brazilian coast, about 200 miles offshore. Tomorrow morning will mark exactly 4 weeks at sea and we are starting to dream about things like ice-cream, crisp fresh lettuce and, for the carnivour, a big juicy steak! At dawn 2 days ago we were visited by a group of 10-15 Clymene Dolphins, which played in the bow wave for about 20 minutes as the sun came up. We were doing good speed and they raced ahead of us just feet from the hull, making rapid turns off to the side to leap out from the back of waves, occasionally spinning on a longitudinal axis. Many of them had obvious scarring on their backs and flanks, which apparently is often caused by cookie-cutter sharks. Very little is known about this species. For many years it was considered to be a short-beaked version of the Spinner Dolphin and was not confirmed as a separate species until 1981. Occurring only in the deep tropical and sub-tropical waters of the Atlantic, these dolphins may be naturally rare which makes seeing them all the more special. They have a short beak with distinctive black markings and a three phase body colouration - a dark grey dorsal cape that dips low beneath the dorsal fin, pale grey sides and a white belly. They do not spin as high, as often or as impressively as Spinner Dolphin, often landing on their back or side, but they are the only other species to spin longitudinally rather than sommersaulting....
 

Nov 30 2006
Azores - Argentina Day 32
Position 23 38'S 39 21'W

Distance 3992 nm
Propagation is too poor to try sending a photo tonight, but hopefully the text will get through OK. It is not a very pleasant evening and we are thumping our way into quite big sea with 25 knts of apparent wind well forward of the beam. Ominous black bands of low cloud are sweeping in from the SSE bringing persistent rain and sheets of spray are flying across the cockpit every so often when we catch a wave the wrong way. We have a double reefed main and a tiny scrap of jib but are making good speed, 6.5 - 7 knots, helped by the Brazil current which is giving us up to a knot in the right direction. Before conditions began to change this afternoon, we had had a great downwind run since Sunday, averaging 150 miles a day with the jib poled out.
 

Dec 4 2006
Azores - Argentina Day 36
Position 30 24'S 46 27'W

Distance 4560 nm
Gary sheets in the jib A beautiful, bright, full moon is hanging in a cloudless sky behind us and we are rocking gently along on a calm sea. Conditions have been very varied for the last few days as the strong SE wind backed gradually to the north. Over the weekend we were careering along, surfing at up to 8 knots in the following sea and on the whole we had one or two reefs in the main and a partly furled jib. Things began to ease up early this morning and tonight we are under full sail again. Mar del Plata is just 700 miles away and, much as we love being at sea, after 5 weeks out here we are starting to look forward to making landfall ...... a hot shower....a looooong sleep.....fresh fruit....an ice cold beer! On Saturday night we saw our first exclusively southern bird, a White-chinned Petrel, which is circumpolar in the Southern Ocean and fairly easy to identify thanks to its white chin patch. Since then we have been surrounded by birds. Up to 40 Great Shearwaters and a few Cory's Shearwaters have been swooping and soaring around the boat, feeding on small fish and squid. They are very interesting to watch as they make sudden, ungainly landings when they spot their prey then appear to give chase on the surface by paddling flat out with their feet while keeping their heads below the water, often going around in circles. This attracts more birds which join the fray with much squawking and squabbling. We have seen them chase huge 'flocks' of flying fish as they take to the air, pursued by tuna below and birds above. One of the Cory's Shearwaters had a silver leg band and although it could have been ringed at any one of the numerous breeding colonies in the Mediterranean, Cape Verde, Canaries, Madeira or Azores, it is nice to think that it may have come from the Azores and followed much the same route as we have done!
 

Dec 8 2006
Azores - Argentina Day 40
Position 35 40'S 52 18'W

Distance 5020 nm
The past days have been unforgettable and there don't seem to be enough superlatives to describe them. Perfect, settled weather has made for delightful sailing conditions - varying between NW and SE the wind has rarely been over F4. We have had the pole up and down accordingly and enjoyed getting optimum performance from the boat, surging along day and night under cloudless skies. In order to make the most of the favourable Brazil current we have held a course parallel to the edge of the continental shelf, staying in the deeper water between the 1000m and 2000m contours. It appears to be a very productive area as the wildlife has been incredible. On Tuesday morning we were still surrounded by shearwaters and petrels when we spotted our first albatross, a very exciting moment. We watched in wonder as the great black and white bird, at least twice the size of any of the shearwaters, soared past with easy grace, honouring us with its presence for a few brief moments. It was a Yellow-nosed Albatross, which are considered to be relatively abundant off the Rio de la Plata in Argentina, the area we are now in.
2 sperm whales at the surface The next morning we were having breakfast in the cockpit when we caught a sudden glimpse of what looked like some huge logs floating just off the starboard bow. Realising at once that it was in fact 4 sperm whales, we leapt into action and hove to, slowing the boat down to about 1 knot 150m away from the whales. For the next 2 hours we had the fantastic experience of being able to watch the group socialising and/or resting at the surface. There appeared to be 10 whales in total and they remained fairly close together, blowing often as they engaged in various behaviours that researchers believe indicate a social period eg. spyhopping, when a whale raises its head above the water; sidefluking, where half the flukes are visible and lobtailing, where the tail flukes are raised and splashed down onto the surface. It is likely that we were observing a "family unit". Long-term studies have revealed that "family units", made up of mainly related females and immatures, form the core of sperm whale society. These groups may remain together for many years, or even for entire lifetimes, while males leave their natal unit around 6 years old. It seems probable that one important reason for the close female bonds is the communal care of calves. Sperm whales have a very low reproductive rate so the survival of each calf born is vital. By staggering feeding dives, the unit ensures that a mature whale is always at the surface with a calf and cooperation within the group gives a greater chance of successfully protecting a calf from predators.
an immature Wandering Albatross soars past But perhaps most special of all, this morning at first light came our long anticipated first sighting of a Wandering Albatross, most magnificent of seabirds. It was visible at a great distance, glinting white in the early sunlight, standing out because of its sheer size. With a wingspan of between 2.5m and 3.5m it is the largest flying bird in the world, and seeing is believing - it made the Yellow-nosed albatross look small! Barely flapping its enormous wings, it swept past in magical splendour, and was gone, leaving a lingering memory of power and beauty - and this hastily snapped photo!
With all this action, we almost don't want to reach land, but Mar del Plata is only 300 miles away and if all goes well we should arrive sometime on Sunday....
 

Dec 10 2006
Azores - Argentina Day 42
Mar del Plata

Distance 5320 nm
beating towards Mar del Plata Our last few days at sea have sped past and we've been making good speed in a brisk northerly breeze. As we left the deep ocean water and crossed onto the shallow continental shelf we passed through broad swathes of what looked like brownish scum on the water and realised they must be plankton blooms. These amazing bursts of life form the basis of the marine food web as sunlight and nutrients prompt great growths of phytoplankton which is then consumed by zooplankton, tiny animals such as copepods. These are eaten in turn by small fish and birds and so the cycle begins. Big flocks of Wilson's Storm Petrels were pattering across the water feeding, and they came fluttering in our wake as we disturbed the plankton. The shallower water was no longer the incredible clear blue of the deep water, but a thick, murky green as we neared land. This afternoon the breeze picked up and backed around to the SW so it was right on the nose and we ended up beating the final miles. The high rise buildings of Mar del Plata sprouted on the horizon around lunchtime (see photo) and soon filled our view, bringing us suddenly back to the man-made world after exactly 6 weeks at sea. It was late afternoon as we approached the breakwater and many locals were enjoying a sunny Sunday afternoon fishing or sailing. Seals floated in the water, raising their heads to watch us pass. The harbour was big and busy with an active fishing fleet but we soon found the Yacht Club Argentino in the corner and crept through a narrow entrance and into a berth. It was a strange sensation to stop moving after all these weeks and we felt quite out of place as we sat in the cockpit and sipped a cold beer, taking in our new surroundings...
 
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Dec 17 2006
Mar del Plata - Ushuaia Day 2
Position 42 30'S 60 34'W

Distance 312 nm
a Peales dolphin Our brief stop in Mar del Plata was fairly functional but fun as well. There were 5 other boats from UK, France, USA & Belgium all getting ready to head south down the coast. We got to know some of the crews and had several social get togethers while swapping sailing stories and information about future destinations. But we were glad to get moving again, heading out of the marina at high tide on Friday afternoon. We have had 2 days of very changeable weather with the wind backing through 360 degrees and varying between 4 knots and 40 knots! Constant sail changes have kept us busy and deprived us of sleep - for much of the time and we have had the pole up and down more than once, jibed twice and had reefs in and out with regular monotony. The hard work pays off and we have been making great speed. Now the wind seems to have settled out of the west at F5 - long may it continue - giving perfect sailing in moderate seas.
We have been surrounded by birds: mainly Great Shearwaters and Black-browed albatross, sometimes too many to count, with an occasional exciting appearance from a Wandering or Royal albatross. These two "great" albatrosses are difficult to tell apart from a distance, sharing many characteristics such as incredible size, majestic flight and distinctive black and white colouration, but a close view can reveal the subtle differences necessary to make a definite identification. We have also seen numerous dolphins. On the first night out a pair of Long-beaked Common dolphin arrived near last light and raced ahead of us for a few minutes. Then we had several visits from Dusky dolphins and today small groups of Peale's dolphins have been twisting and turning under our bow, both new species for us. Peale's dolphin is found only in near-shore waters around the southern part of South America and the Falklands, where it is nicknamed the "puffing pig" - seeing them today we can understand the "puffing" part as they often make loud, forceful blows when breathing. They are boldly patterned in light and dark grey with stocky bodies and a short, stubby beak.
 

Dec 20 2006
Mar del Plata - Ushuaia Day 5
Position 47 30'S 63 38'W

Distance 650 nm
triple reefed in rough seas The sun has just risen in a blaze of oranges and pinks and several Black-browed albatrosses are soaring near the boat on stiff wings they love the higher winds that we have had for the last few days. Yesterday morning the wind increased to 35 - 40 knots and we reduced sail to a triple reefed main and staysail. The third reef in our heavy weather main is equivalent in size to a trisail as per the ORC recommendations - at 8.8 square metres it is a mere scrap. Sailing hard on the wind in quite a sea we were impressed by how well the boat handled, riding easily over the waves and maintaining good speed. Needless to say things were pretty hectic with sheets of spray flying across the cockpit and making a cup of tea was an uphill climb as the galley is on the 'high' side. But it is exhilarating sailing in these conditions. At the same time, somehow out of context with the strong wind, the sun was shining from a clear blue sky, turning the sea into a glittering kaleidescope of greens, turquoise and aquamarine trimmed with tumbling whitecaps. Beautiful. In this area whatever you get, good or bad, doesn't last long - it seems that the wind changes every six hours or so - and by lunchtime we had shaken out a reef and stowed the staysail, reverting to our normal jib, double furled. We've had between 15 and 25 knots from forward of the beam ever since with numerous sail adjustments. When things were at their wildest yesterday a Southern Right Whale, which we've been hoping to see, surfaced on the back of a big swell just behind the boat. It was moving more slowly than we were, swimming on the surface untroubled by the rough sea, and we watched it blow four times before it disappeared amongst the breaking waves. It was instantly recognisable as it lacked a dorsal fin and had a huge head covered in callosities. These are raised and thickened areas of skin that appear light in colour due to the presence of whale lice, creating markings unique to each individual whale that can be used by researchers for photo identification. Right whales were heavily exploited for many decades because they were slow-moving, easy to catch and offered a high yield of baleen and oil but while populations of Northern Right whales have never recovered and are now critically endangered, Southern Right whales appear to be increasing. A population breeds in winter in the bays of Peninsula Valdes in Argentina, not far from where we are now, and the whales migrate south to summer feeding gounds around Antarctica. It was very exciting to see one of these relatively rare animals up close....
 

Dec 24 2006
Mar del Plata - Ushuaia Day 9
Position 54 18'S 64 46'W

Distance 1134 nm
another gale We have had quite a wild three days with 2 gales in quick succession. Each lasted a good 12 hours with sustained winds of 40 knots and higher gusts. During the first one we hove to for a couple of hours while the wind remained around 45 knots and although this was very comfortable, the strong current was sweeping us east at a steady rate so as soon as we could we continued sailing, albeit at a very reduced speed. With less than a day between systems and the forecast indicating stronger wind in the second, we used the time to take down our staysail and replace it with the storm jib, check all the deck fittings and lashings, prepare some food and catch a bit of sleep. In the event, we had much the same conditions again and with the storm jib in place we were able to make reasonable progress to weather even in 40 knots plus. These are the roughest conditions we have yet sailed "Wandering Albatross" in and she handled it all very well. The constant violent motion is a bit tiring but it was a good shake down for the Drake Passage and through it all the albatrosses soared around us, loving every minute! The distant peaks of Tierra del Fuego are just coming into view, etched against the pale dawn sky. We have decided to stop in the remote anchorage of Puerto Hopner on Isla de los Estados off the tip of Tierra del Fuego to wait for favourable weather to proceed up the Beagle Channel, enjoy Christmas on the level and have a rest. The temperature has dropped rapidly as we move south and the water is already just 4 degrees C. We are well into our thermals and we are looking forward to lighting the fire when we get in.
 

Dec 28 2006
Ushuaia

Distance 1275 nm
anchored in Puerto Hopner Arriving into Puerto Hopner on Christmas Eve was like finding a secret hideaway. The jagged mountain ridge of Isla Estados was dusted with fresh snow, dazzling in bright sunshine as we sailed towards it. An outer bay, hemmed in by steep slopes, is beautiful in its own right but a very narrow channel in the bottom corner leads to the hidden harbour of Puerto Hopner. Less than 10m wide, filled with kelp and with a bit of a dog's leg to avoid a rock the channel made for an exciting entrance, and we needed to wait until slack tide to negotiate it as the current races through. Inside we found a magical bay completley surrounded by snow capped peaks with a thundering waterfall high above and dense forest coming right down to the water's edge. We tied up with 4 lines ashore to sturdy trees in a cut between a small islet and the main island (see photo), snug and secure and ready to celebrate Christmas. We spent 3 restful nights hidden away in there, going for long walks each day, before setting out for the final run up the Beagle Channel to Ushuaia, about 150 miles away.