Departure from Mainland Europe

La Graciosa with Lanzarote in the background

January 1st 2020 – Rainy weather and snow covered peaks in the distance as we take off from Zurich Airport. My ears pop and I think of what lies ahead, the sunshine and the warmth of the tropics, palm tree lined beaches and long days on the ocean with no land in sight. Daunting but promising.

I just carried three heavy packs from the train station in Faro to the Boatyard. It is early evening January 1st 2020 and already dark as the automatic metal gate opens, revealing the working lights of the boatyard. The air is moist and warm and carries with it the smell of the sea and a mixture of oil and paint. It’s good to see Fitz Roy sitting there in his cradle. You know that a boat can speak to you? “It’s about time, let’s go!”.

The following two days we prepare all kinds of things on the boat, the crane comes to step the mast, I check and tune the rigging, fix the fridge, check the engine.

New Crew and Launch Day

A day later Nadine and Alexandra arrive who will crew with me across the Atlantic. We make a shopping list and they do three shopping runs to get everything. In the evening we check the weather forecast to find a suitable window to sail south. It is looking good but the first part of our trip should not be underestimated this time of the year.
On day three we are ready to put Fitz Roy into the water. We have to get the timing just right, we must wait as long as we can, to get the tide higher up, but also go in as quickly as possible as the daylight is fading fast. Fitz Roy sits in the mud under the slip and we have to reset the straps of the lift again and again lifting him and pushing him further out . Nobody breaks the silence as Fernando performs this unusual and unnerving maneuver on his 50 tons travel lift, but he seems to know what he is doing. We finally make it into deeper water and out into the channel. One of the yard workers leads the way out in a little pilot boat, as the channel is unmarked and falls completely dry during low tide. Out in the main channel he says his goodbyes and returns to the yard. We motor on following the buoyed channel out to the Culatra anchorage where we drop anchor around 22:00.

Leaving Faro

Laving Faro just after sunset, we had to navigate the tidal channels in the dark. First maneuver of the season completed.

We plan to stay in the beautiful dunes of Ilha de Culatra for a few days, but the weather looks promising and we start preparing for immediate departure.

For some reason I don’t feel nervous about the passage, normally I don’t sleep well the night before departure, but not this year not on this trip, even tough it is the biggest for me so far. I know the boat is in good shape and the weather forecast is good.

The next morning we sail out of the Culatra anchorage through the narrows with an outgoing tide of 6 knots. Four days until we will reach the Islas Canarias.

From the Logbook
The morning of the 3rd day at sea. With the rising sun on a clear sky we tack FITZ ROY onto our final heading towards La Graciosa, 190 nautical miles to go. We are a bit west of the rhumb line in search of better wind. The weather is glorious and the hasty departure from Faro was absolutely worth it. The conditions are 100% correct with sustained 20 knots of true wind out of the north and sea state at a moderate one meter. The Atlantic has welcomed us with his best manners and we are thankful for sure. The first night and day was exhausting we have yet to grow our sea legs. The area we are sailing trough is not to be underestimated in January. When we arrived to Faro, we were pretty much aware that the weather, this time of year, can be a shutter downer. And that we could be stuck there for weeks. With the Acores High being pushed south, the Atlantic cyclones have a tendency to sneak into the bay between Portugal and the Canaries, bringing with them huge swells and nasty gales out of the south.
But on day three of our passage nothing of that is showing in the long-range forecasts. It is just glorious downwind sailing with long gentle swells running alongside like a herd of little ponies. This is just how I imagined trade wind sailing, just a million times better!
We have had no issues with the boat so far, everything works very well including the downwind sail setup. The new lithium battery bank has some troubles getting enough charge from the 300WP solar as the days are short in the height of winter. The alternator regulator seems to have given up and needs to be replaced when we arrive in Lanzarote. With less power we had to hand steer some hours yesterday. Last night I folded down the bimini top and the sprayhood, shooting along at 7.5 knots on a silvery surface under an almost full moon. My thoughts are still back on the mainland but my nose is pointing south, I’m full of anticipation. Food has been difficult the first day but Nadine made a delicious curry yesterday and we are slowly getting our appetite back. I even start thinking about doing some fishing.

Arriving in the Canarie Islands

We made landfall on the Canary island of “La Graciosa” on day four around midday. Time flies when you’re having fun. Our new anthem: “Jenny Wolkenreiter”. Welcome aboard!