October, 2013

Somehow, all the problems following Fiona‘s launch got solved; the chaos below was sorted-out and we left, on schedule, on 5 July, 2013. This is due, in large part, to my son Colin, who drove up from Tennessee before the launch and helped greatly IN getting unwieldy objects on board, such as the liferaft and the Aries wind vane. He also sealed the teak topside and fixed innumerable problems. The Bon Voyage party was organized by my daughter, Brenda, who flew in from Florida. Wade showed up the next day; he had signed up for the leg to Uruguay. Unfortunately, the other crew member, Joey, appeared to have disappeared into cyber space: he did not respond to e-mails or messages left in voicemail boxes and failed to arrive in time for the blast-off. His place was taken by Pat, just for the run to Block Island. Transiting Fire Island Inlet, we bumped on the bottom for a short distance, but without damage. We had a glorious sail along the coast of Long Island, thanks to a high pressure system lying to the south, which provided a wind of 10 to 12 knots on the starboard quarter. When we arrived in Great Salt Pond, we found an interloper had attached himself to one of the CCA moorings–but he soon relinquished it to us. The anchorage was choc-a-block with boats enjoying the Independence Day weekend. After lunch at Ballards, we made the traditional walk to the Southeast Light, enjoyed our last ice cream in New Shoreham, and walked backed to New Harbor, where Pat caught the Viking ferry back to Long Island. I had hoped Wade and I would be able to have supper at the Oar, which is a very “yachtie” bar, but it was so crowded, we made do with a scratch supper on the boat and retired early; it had been a long day.

The next day, we took care of some small maintenance tasks and left just after 8 am. The same high pressure dominated and we had wonderful sailing as we headed for Flores, in the Azores. Wade turned-out to be a gentle giant: at 6 feet, 3 inches he also had immense strength. When we set the whisker pole for the first time, I asked him to pull the foreguy as tight as he could and then noticed the pole had developed a significant bend! I modified the request to ‘as tight as I could get it’ and the pole straightened as he eased the line off the cleat. The weather continued hot, with a gentle wind from between southwest and west. For about a week, each day was much the same; reaching or running with winds in the 12 knot range. We averaged about 130 nautical miles per day. Most of the time, Victor the Vane, was in control of the helm; when the wind fluctuated for a spell, George the Autopilot, steered the boat. Wade and myself read a lot and took care of maintenance chores. We divided the daytime period, 8am to 8pm, into two six-hour shifts. At night, 8pm to 8 am, we served three four-hour shifts.

As we sailed near the center of the high, the wind died and, for a day and a half, we chugged along under power. When the wind came back, it was southerly; rather a surprise as I expected north or northwest winds on the east side of the high. Yet a low was developing to the east and this upset the wind pattern. A couple of squalls gave us “wild sailing,” followed by little wind as they moved off. A passing freighter gave us a call on Channel 16. The captain, who had an Indian accent, was astonished to meet a sailboat so far from land and wanted details of our departure, destination and time at sea! The wind continued to be mild, but a low-pressure area produced rain and squalls. When the wind died completely, we started the engine. It was hard to have to endure the noise and heat after the tranquility of the great sailing we enjoyed in the earlier part of the trip. I was devouring a book a day and Wade was very interested in learning something about celestial navigation. We broke out the old sextant, which was a veteran of all of Fiona‘s cruises, and checked the GPS with a noon sight. About 600 nautical miles from Flores, the wind was frustratingly erratic for half a day; we shifted the whisker pole from one side to the other three times before lunch. Then, the wind settled down to blow strongly from the northwest. Fiona picked up her skirt and just flew on a broad reach. It was a wonderful change after listening to the engine for over a day. Victor the Vane coped admirably; Wade logged 29 nm on his 8 pm to midnight watch, an average of over 7 knots. The wind conked out very quickly and for half a day we tried to squeeze what progress we could from a 5 to 8 knot breeze. We also had engine problems: overheating and signs of water in the lube oil. Also, the engine start battery “gave-up the ghost.” We dealt with them as best we could, including changing the oil and filter. For the night watches, we ran the engine slowly. We then had a good night of sailing, followed by a day of fickle winds and finally a complete calm. Whales, dolphins, the occasional sea turtle and even a few flying fish enlivened the watches. Fortunately, a high developed to our south and favorable winds propelled us to Flores, which was good, as I was becoming concerned about our fuel usage.

We made our landfall as light was fading, and entered the harbor at Lajes about midnight, local time. It had been five years since my last visit; since then, the industrious Portuguese, no doubt with EU money, had constructed a small marina in the northwest corner of the bay. Fortunately a “yachtie” answered my call on Channel 16 and let us know there was room for us. We slowly negotiated the unfamiliar passage between flashing red and green lights, and our friend on the radio was waiting to take our lines. In the morning we, officially checked-in and we were free to explore beautiful Flores. We had logged 1864 nautical miles from Block Island; the passage had taken 15 days, which is pretty typical. We walked up the hill to the village above the harbor to get some euros. The ATM at the bank behind the church rather reluctantly, I thought, disgorged some notes and we treated ourselves to a beer and some lunch. Actually I had the beer (Wade is a teetotal, and settled for a Coke). After picking up a few groceries at the market, we returned to the marina. We got to talk to a few of the crews: an international lot–Canadian, British, French and German. Later many of us retired to the Beira-Mar Pizzeria, located a short distance up the hill. I remembered it with some affection from my last visit. In the morning, Wade and I hired a taxi, driven by Mr. Fonseca, and toured the gorgeous island. Mr. Fonseca had lived in Canada for 15 years and spoke good English. He gave us a lot of local history, but the sad thing is that, although Flores is charming, it is a tough place for locals to live in; our driver told most people had a job with the government or got by on unemployment relief. Wade was very impressed by the place as we drove along the winding roads, edged with miles of stone walls, which were covered in great profusion by hydrangea flowers. Like all the Azorean islands, Flores was made in recent geological times by violent volcanic upheavals, which produced a landscape of dramatic valleys and mountains. We had a “very local” lunch at a small café in the capital, Santa Cruz. Wade declared it was the best fish he had ever tasted. Afterwards, we walked to the dock, where I nearly lost Fiona during my first visit, in 1986. But that is another story. For Happy Hour, we entertained the crew from a British yacht, the one that had responded to our radio call the night before, and later, had supper at the pizzeria with the gang from a Canadian boat, which was tied-up next to us. The next day, we left soon after sunrise, for the leg to Horta, on Faial island.

Horta is an old friend–I first sailed there in 1986 and this was Fiona‘s fifth visit. Wade took the ferry to Pico one day with some fellows off the Canadian yacht we had met at Flores. They climbed the great volcano and fortunately the clouds cleared way for a wonderful view from the 7,500-foot summit. I also introduced Wade to Peter’s Sports Café, a de rigueur stop for any yachtsman, although sadly touristified from the old days.Duncan and Hilda at Mid Atlantic Yacht Services provided a number of essential spares. We took care of numerous maintenance jobs: I spent some time at the masthead rewiring the anemometer and stringing cord between the mast steps and the outer shrouds. The idea was to prevent the mainsail halyard from wrapping-round a step. I repainted the Fiona sign on the seawall; it was quite faded from my last touch-up in 2008. I also had a warm shower: my first since leaving home. We tried to recruit a third crew member for the leg to the Canaries and on to Brazil, but without success. All-in-all, we had a very pleasant four days.

When we left, we powered to the south coast of Pico and then picked a wonderful breeze as we got out of the wind shadow of the island. The wind blew initially from the southwest, and then veered with squalls and rain. We reefed–the first time since leaving Long Island–and the wind settled into the northeas,t with clear skies. It blew reliably for hundreds of miles. Victor the Vane dealt with the steering and we didn’t use the engine again until we got to the breakwater at San Sebastian, La Gomera; a leg of 951 nm. Unfortunately, the notorious acceleration zone between La Gomera and Tenerife lived-up to its name and we had tough few hours until we finally staggered into the lee of the harbor at San Sebastian. This is because the NE winds are funneled into the narrow channel by “El Tiede,” the 12,200-foot volcano on Tenerife.

When Wade checked his e-mail after we arrived, he discovered his son had developed a serious medical condition, and he decided to fly home. That left me with no crew–exactly what happened on my last visit, in 2011. After a couple of days, Wade left on the ferry to Tenerife and caught flights to the US. A cruising couple we had got to know at the marina was interested in sailing to South America, and ultimately, Nicole and Chris signed-up as far as Uruguay. They had been living on their sloop, Mew Gull, for many years, the last five years berthed at La Gomera. Unfortunately when the time came to actually untie the lines and shove off, they changed their minds and unloaded the gear they had previously stored on Fiona. This left me with a dilemma:; if I stayed any longer, I would probably be late getting to Uruguay and may even miss the Antarctic summer window. So I sailed anyway, single-handed bound for the Cape Verde Islands. The weather was fairly benign, but after a few days, the wind failed and I started the engine. The overheating problem which first emerged on the transatlantic leg was still there, despite serious attempts to solve the problem in Horta. I had about a half-dozen promising replies to my Crew Call for the Antarctic leg and every night I spent as much as an hour on the computer dealing with questions via Sailmail®.

The wind piped-up the morning I arrived at the Cape Verde Islands, with gusts over 40 knots. Fortunately, as I rounded the cape into Porto Grande, I got a good lee and I was able to furl the sails without too much hassle. I arrived just six days after leaving La Gomera, but the marina was almost deserted; the busy season for Caribbean-bound yachts had not yet started. Finally, a marina crew appeared and made me tie-up to a pontoon bow first, the biggest problem was getting off and on the boat. Later, the captain and crew off a charter boat helped me turn Fiona around so that I could clamber on and off at the stern. Water is still scarce here; yachties buy an electronic card which, permits entry through the security gates, but also docks the allowance you are initially given (100 liters) when you use the toilet or shower. The Aries wind steerer needed TLC; a spring-oaded pin had rusted in place and I had to find a machinist to make a stainless-steel copy. I got a lead on a machine shop. How on the earth the taxi driver found it I’ll never know–it was in the middle a run-down industrial area. But they made me a perfect copy for less than the taxi fare! I also discovered a broken spring in the hub of the Aries; the machinist put me onto a wonderful store called Zepherino. They seemed sell everything and it was always crowded; I was able to get a spring about a foot long, from which I cut a piece about an inch long, which was a perfect replacement for the broken bit. While I had Internet, I tried to sort-out the applicants for the crew positions on the Antarctic leg. Ultimately a couple dropped out and I made an offer to one without getting a reply before I left. For the leg to Brazil, I posted a ‘CREW WANTED’ sign on the marina notice board, etbut without any bites. I reluctantly resigned myself to single-handed passage to Brazil. The Bulgarian crew from a next door boat helped me to take off the working mainsail and bend on the storm main. This reduced my average speed a bit but meant I wouldn’t need to reef for the usual winds I expect to meet on the leg to Brazil. I stocked up with plenty of beer and apple juice. I was mildly cheated when I checked-out by being charged for an extra night, based the way they calculated arrival and departure times. I refueled at only $3.00/gal for diese,l which more than compensated, and left before 10 am local time, for the roughly 1800 nautical mile leg to Jacare on the Paraiba River in Brazil.

Naturally, the wind was very calm for the first few days, because I had mounted the storm sails. I managed some sailing in light winds, getting the boat up to four knots, but when the speed dropped to 2.5 knots, I ran the sturdy Perkins diesel. The light winds continued for five days; I judiciously used the engine, when possible, in combination with the sails, yet progress was slow. It was also very hot: temperature in the main cabin was in the 90s by lunchtime. It was even hotter in the aft cabin, and I temporarily moved onto the port berth, in the main cabin, when I slept. One squall packed a wind that gusted to 37 knots with driving, cold rain. That was when bending on the storm mainsail paid-off. A week after leaving the Cape Verdes I was not quite half way to Cabedelo , the entry port for Jacare, and about half the fuel on board had been used. Then, the wind finally came back but, from the sout west, blowing straight from Cabedelo! I began to tack, about 12 hours on each tack, however it is hard to make progress that way. The navigation was complicated by the Equatorial Counter Current, setting strongly to the east, and by numerous squalls.

On the crew front, I confirmed two applicants for the Antarctic leg: Clay and Simon. I debated with myself about a third, as “insurance” against one dropping-out and also to make watch keeping easier. The down side was food and water storage. For the leg from Jacare, a former crew member had indicated interest, but as the days went by, he remained silent, despite numerous emails. I decided that without a definite commitment within a few days I, would sails directly to Salvador to pick up John and Helena. After a night of severe squalls the, weather improved, but the wind was still on the nose–tack after tack, maybe making a good 50 nm a day. Fiona crossed the equator at 32″ 22′ west. The putative crew eventually decided not to meet me in Jacare and I switched course a few degrees, to head for Salvador. Unfortunately, the wind was not too favorable, and I was pushed to the right. I passed Fernando de Noronha, 45 miles to the west, so there was a problem rounding Cabo Branco if the wind persisted without veering. An American living in Budapest, David, agreed to crew from Santos. One morning, I discovered the propeller was not turning, producing horrible thoughts of failure of the Borg Warner transmission, yet surprisingly I found all four bolts holding the coupling had become unscrewed. It was a tricky job getting it put back together with the boat sailing; the propeller kept turning despite free sheets.

The weather did not improve, with frequent squalls. I made on short tack to the east and one long tack to the southwest each day. At times, the wind speed picked up to 25 knots, with gusts to 30 knots. I spent a lot of time furling or reefing the jib. For me, it was quite demanding physical work. About 250nm from Salvador when, Fiona was running down the coast, the wind moderated and veered, permitting a wonderful reach. There were plenty of steamers also skirting the coast; at one point I had three registering on AIS. I handled e-mails twice a day, when shortwave conditions were good for Sailmail®. Minor maintenance continued, the most serious was that the mounting bolts for the Aries worked loose; hanging over the stern to tighten them was difficult, I used George the Autopilot for the last 300 miles.

When I arrived at Salvador, I discovered the marina I had stayed at before was not functioning, but I was able to get a slip at a nearby marina. Just to complicate life, the depth-finder display quit. I walked to a shopping area; the banks were all closed so I could not use my card at an ATM, but fortunately, I had a few dollarsthat I was able to change into Reals at a “cambio.” To start the clearance process, I found the Policia Federales Office in the dock area, but they told me to come back tomorrow. After three quiet weeks alone on the boat, I found the traffic and noise very disturbing. I took a taxi back to the marina and poured a stiff rum, or two. Naturally, when I went back to the Policia Federales they were closed–it was a Saturday. John and Helen arrived at the marina, lugging tons of stuff, most importantly, a new water pump for the engine, which Colin had located. John is a wooden boat enthusiast, he now has a Tom Gilmer design, Blue Moon, and he runs his own computer consulting business. Helena grew up in Brazil but has lived in the States since she married John; she is a former concert pianist, so I had a very talented crew. John and I tackled some of the maintenance chores that had accumulated, which were more easily fixed by two people. When we left the following Tuesday, the boat was in fairly good shape. The new water pump was a tremendous improvement. Helena was extremely helpful in dealing with the bureaucracy, including two more visits to the Policia Federales Office, to clear-in and -out. After refueling, we left the marina on Tuesday morning for a 24-hour sail to Ilheus, a small town a 120 miles down the coast.

The depth finder problem, which had first surfaced when I arrived at Salvador, came back, but John and I were able to partially fix it with some parts from my collection of electronic bits Howevber, a new unit will have to be found before I depart for Antarctica. We anchored off the yacht club at Ilheus and went ashore, via a tender run by the club, with an asthmatic diesel. When we returned the young men operating the tender told us Fiona had dragged her anchor and they had tried to tow her, but the strain had been too much for their old engine, which had given up the ghost. The wind and seas in the exposed bay had indeed picked-up. We got a ride to the boat, started the engine and re-anchored. Instead of a planned dinner ashore, John cooked some beans and ham. Early the next morning, we left with a fairly stiff breeze, which was on the nose as we cleared the nasty-looking reef on our starboard. Not unexpectedly, the choppy seas stirred-up sediment in the fuel tank, which blocked a filter and the engine quietly died with the reef only 200 yards on our lee. We hurriedly set sail; Helena and John were getting a taste of the little adventures that make sailboat cruising so interesting.

We planned to sail overnight to the famous Abrolhos Reef, which is a huge complex of coral and small islands that pokes-out 60 miles from the coast, into the South Atlantic. Indifferent winds caused us to be a little late and it was after nightfall on the following day, that we arrived at Santa Barbara Island, which carried the lighthouse that warned shipping of the reef. Fortunately, there was a gorgeous full moon; using radar, GPS and a chart-plotter, we were able to safely negotiate the reef and anchor in the lee of the island about 11 pm, local time. Santa Barbara is the base for the National Park Service, which controls part of the reef. A charming young ranger stopped-by with his dinghy in the morning, to tell us about the anchorage and to arrange a tour of a nearby island. Later he picked us up for a ride to Siriba Island; halfway there the engine spluttered and died, but the wind pushed towards the island anyway. On shore, a young woman, Rachel, acted as a guide. The island is a bird sanctuary, which supports a large population of breeding pairs. Only three kinds of birds live there: brown boobies, white boobies and tropic birds. They were astonishingly tame; we could walk within a couple of feet of the raucous creatures. Rachel told us the reef was a hazard to sailors from the time Portugal discovered Brazil and the name “Abrolhos” comes from the exhortation to coastal mariners in Portuguese to, “Open Your Eyes.” The weather forecast spoke of impeding high winds, so we left in the afternoon for the 200-mile leg to Vitoria, in an attempt to get there before they did.

The high winds came in the evening, with gusts to 30 knots. Yet the wind was behind us; we set up the whisker pole and sailed wing and wing. We made great time and arrived off the busy commercial harbor of Vitoria about an hour after sunset. A dozen large freighters lay anchored at the entrance; we dodged between them and headed for the inner harbor. We sailed very carefully across a reef, which extends for a mile, using the chart-plotter, to find the pass. Once inside, we anchored for the night. I knew from previous visits that the yacht club was rather shallow and finding our way in in the dark was too risky. In the morning we contacted the club on VHF and they found us a pier to moor to. It was not very comfortable, we had to use the dinghy to get ashore. John had lost his glasses overboard during a gybe, so the first order of business was to find an optician who could make another pair. After several tries, we hit paydirt and John had a new pair within a day. In the evening, we walked to a an area near the yacht club called “The Bermuda Triangle” (I have no idea why). Compared to Salvador, Vitoria is very affluent and the triangle consisted of restaurants and small businesses that seemed quite upmarket. The next day, the weather deteriorated, due to an offshore-low, and our departure for points south had to be postponed .It did not look like we would get favorable winds for several days. Helena and John took the chance to visit some interior beauty spots for a couple of days. The wind at the yacht club switched from easterly to westerly, which was not good. Originally, we were blown away from the dock but now Fiona was pressed by the wind on the stern and we were hanging on just one mooring buoy. The wind increased to 30 knots, Fiona‘s bow bucked wildly–only two feet from the concrete pier. I looked anxiously at the line holding the stern cleat to the mooring: it was only 3/8-inch diameter, but at least it was new. If it let go or the mooring anchor dragged, the expedition to the Antarctic would have been over in minutes. After a fairly bad night the wind subsided, I was able to breathe easier.

We lost a couple of days because of the bad weather at Vitoria, but finally left with the wind on the nose. We clawed offshore and set course for Cabo Frio. It took two days to get there. It was a significant rounding as Cabo Frio divides the passage along the South American coast into the north and south parts. We anchored at Abraao. on Ilha Grande. about an hour after sunset. I persuaded the old Seagull engine to propel us to the shore, where we enjoyed a very pleasant meal. Unfortunately John had to row back; the fuel shut-off valve leaked and the tank was dry. In the morning it performed flawlessly after some maintenance. After breakfast. we weighed-anchor and set-off for Santos, in calm conditions. A few hours later, the wind built-up, on the nose of course, and by nightfall we were tacking under sail with 20 knots of wind in coastal waters full of anchored freighters and numerous small fishing boats, carrying bewildering lights. We sailed far enough offshore to lay a good course for St Sebastian island, close-hauled, and made to Santos bay just before dark. It was foggy and rainy, but we pulled into the sanctuary of the Santos Yacht Club without incident. We tied-up to the fuel dock and tried to refuel, but after about 25 gallons the pump ran out of fuel. At that point, we got permission to stay on the dock for the night and retired to the luxurious club bar/restaurant for supper, which, fortunately, was still open. What a contrast! The next day, we waited for fuel to be restored; Helena and John caught a taxi, and the new crewmember, David, appeared. We then moved the boat to one of the outer slips.

In visits past, I have had a good deal of trouble dealing with the bureaucracy in Santos, which is a major port. This time it took us nearly a full day, but David and I managed to get clearance to depart from the Federal Police; Customs and the Port Captain all in one day–an accomplishment which needed a small fortune in taxi fare, yet well worth it. We spent our last full day clearing-up some minor maintenance and exploring the upmarket part of Santos, called Gonzanga. I bought an oil painting from a booth at a beach-side craft fair, something that has become a bit of a tradition.

We left before lunch the next day, having spent all our remaining Reals on lube oil and groceries. The day was bright and sunny, but the wind was light and on the nose. We powered down the coast, heading for Punta del Este in Uruguay, the jumping-off point for the Antarctic leg. The wind slowly picked-up, after three days we were running wing and wing in near gale-force conditions. David got a taste of deepwater sailing, when we had to gybe and shift the whisker pole over. The run continued for a couple of days before the wind faded. David was interested in learning something about celestial navigation and I got out the old sextant and showed David how to take a noon sight; the traditional navigation method of the Square-Riggers for centuries.The wind petered-out and we powered south to an area for which the forecast showed a southeast wind. using Sailmail® . Sure enough, when we were nearly 200 nautical miles from Punta del Este, a light wind appeared and we sailed close reaching across a calm sea. This wind wafted us to Punta, which disappeared in a thick coastal fog as we approached. With radar, GPS and a chart-plotter, such conditions are no problem, and we tied up at the ANCAP fuel station without difficulty. However, it was Sunday and the place was shut-tight. I did manage to contact an immigration official and get us stamped in. We spent the night at the fuel dock and arranged for a slip, when the marina office opened in the morning.

I was able to reacquaint myself with Punta del Este, which I last visited in 2006. Prices had really gone up: inflation is a problem in both Uruguay and Brazil. One day, David and I took a bus to Piriapolis, a small town about 20 miles along the coast of the River Plate, from Punta. On my previous visit, I had left the boat there while I flew to New York. I was very disappointed to discover the marina I had stayed at had obviously gone downhill. Boats were crammed together along the inside of the breakwater; some clearly abandoned. I decided to leave the boat at Punta this time, while I flew home. David agreed to stay on board and keep an eye on things. There were no other cruising boats in the marina, except for couple of Argentine boats that stopped for a few hours to re-water. Life was fairly quiet; enlivened by the local fishing boats that tied-up each morning to sell their catch. The seagulls screamed and fought over the scraps as the fishermen cleaned the fish; huge sea lions broke the surface to gobble-up the larger pieces. Each morning for several days, we emptied and inventoried the many lockers used to store food on Fiona. Based on restocking for four men, for 12 weeks, we prepared shopping lists and took a taxi to the largest supermarket, Tiende Inglesio. On the way, we usually treated ourselves to coffee and pastelerios; the coffee was served in tiny cups and was very strong. A week quickly passed and almost before I knew it, I was on a plane to New York. I had a long list of things to bring back. In addition to David. the crew will be increased by Bob (who took Clay’s place), and Simon; they planned to join the boat after my return. Since leaving, Patchogue, Fiona logged 7,908 nautical miles, although, this is conservative, as the log had electronic problems in Brazil and was accidentally turned-off on a couple of occasions. Of this distance, I sailed 3,111 sea miles single-handedly, which included an Atlantic crossing. Despite a few problems, the important thing was that Fiona had got to Punta on schedule and was poised to begin the challenging Antarctic leg.

Fair Winds, Eric






Eric, Pat and Wade at the Southeast Light, Block Island.

Eric sports the start of a beard at Flores in the Azores. Note the new marina on the right.

Fiona’s sign on the seawall at Horta, it has been there in various incarnations since 1986.

The bane of sailboats: a completely calm, windless day.

The Happy Hour tradition is maintained, even on a single-handed passage.

A pair of tame boobies, Siriba Island in the Albrohos Reef, Brazil.

Boosting the rum supply in Vitoria for the Antarctic leg; sadly, it is not Mount Gay.

Helena relaxes in the cockpit, on the leg to Santos, Brazil.

The charming village of Abraao, in the Ihla Grande group, Brazil.

David and Eric try the very strong Brazilian coffee, in Santos.

Eric buys the painting of the jungle, seen here with the artist’s brother.

Eric poses with a Soviet-era sailor’s cap; a present from David, who resides in Budapest, Hungary.


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