Flat tires, Bermuda shorts and flying squids: On the way to the Azores

June 3. We made landfall on Flores, the westernmost point of Europe! Thankful and happy, we are sitting on board of Johanna with a cold beer in our hands and sun on our salty faces. The lush greens of the island and the scent of the trees and flowers are intense for our senses after so many days on the ocean and we are looking back on all the eventful weeks lying behind.

On May 5, we welcomed our friend Michael in Nassau who joined us for the passage to the Azores. Together with him we prepared the boat for the first leg to Bermuda. Stephan did some repairs on the boat while Michael and Berni took a car to get bottled drinking water and propane gas for cooking. It basically sounds easy, but it wasn’t. It started with realizing that the supermarkets didn’t sell bottled water in sixpacks – which is just the best option to stow them away at sea. They just had small single bottles and big jerry cans, and definitely not enough – we wanted 270 liters (30 sixpacks with 1.5L bottles). So we visited the water company directly. Yes, they had enough water on that day, and yes, they had water in 1.5 liter bottles, but not packed in sixpacks. Stephan was not amused when we came back to the boat with more than 100 single bottles of water asking for sticky tape – an extra job on the list to tie all bottles together. Next, we were looking for the gas. Isn’t it diffcult enough to drive on the “wrong” side of the road, Berni had a flat tire, of course, in the middle of a busy intersection with trucks behind blowing their horns. Luckily, a friendly guy stopped and helped us changing the tire. We had a spare but no tools for changing it so we were thankful for his help out of the blue. After that very stressful moment we continued our mission for propane gas some time later than expected but luckily we finally found a store where we were able to get a refill for our bottle. Water for drinking, propane for cooking – done. After these two milestones Berni spent “only” four hours in the supermarket for provisioning. The prices were so ridiculous that she had to spend extra time having a closer look if there are alternatives to Stephan’s most wanted chocolate cookies and other items on the wish list. Even if almost everything is imported from the US, Berni found some local and affordable food, like some vegetables and coconut bread and modified the shopping list. In the end, we had enough food, propane and water to leave out Bermuda and sail directly to the Azores in case of bad weather. You’ll never know. And being hungry at sea is not a good idea.

Starting on May 9, the weather looked promising to visit Bermuda on the way east. The passage wasn’t very spectacular except for the fact to be in the middle of the famous and mysterious Bermuda triangle but we didn’t see any strange things happening there except for our toilet brush developing a life on its own in heavy seas and left its safe place in the bathroom to explore what’s outside – I guess no further details needed here.

Safe and sound, we arrived St. Georges Island on the east side of the Bermudian archipelago after six days and we were overwhelmed by its beauty. We passed a narrow channel between rocks into the lagoon of St. Georges and found ourselves surrounded by pretty colorful houses with shiny white roofs along the coast, ready to go ashore and explore. After clearing customs we started our walk around the city but didn’t come very far – on every single corner we met someone we knew from the Caribbean and stopped for a chat – the whole place full of sailors waiting for the best weather window to go the Azores. When we were done with greetings, hugs and chats, we finally continued our tour until we found a free-wifi spot. Exploration was over for that day.

Bermuda was overall fascinating in many aspects. The nature and landscapes, the beauty of the sea, the cute little houses, all colorful with white roofs, flowers on the roads and everything very neat and tidy. We took a fast ferry to the other side of the island and took the bus back via Hamilton, the capital of Bermuda. We were shocked by a draft beer that costed us 11 dollars but we had the best burger of the entire journey. Finding out that you can buy tax-free rum as a sailor in transit, the 11 dollars for the beer were suddenly forgotten and replaced by shopping fever in the liquor store. The only bad news  – the rum was sent to customs to be picked up when clearing out of the island. Bermuda was the most expensive countries we have ever been to. Not only the 11 dollar beer, but also supermarket shopping wasn’t funny to realize that even simple things such as bread or potatoes cost a fortune. Berni paid 150 dollars for a tiny shopping cart filled with some fresh stuff for the crossing to the Azores, but that’s the price to pay visiting Bermuda. After some more sundowners and meetings with the other sailors around, the day to say good-bye was coming closer, also the day to receive our rum at customs. We left the land of colorful Bermuda shorts on May 21, still fascinated to have visited an island in the middle of the Atlantic ocean.

Two days before our intended departure date there was a disturbance in the weather model and on this morning, a friend from a dutch boat we met on the Turks and Caicos, knocked on our hull and told us the news: maybe the first named storm developing about 370 kilometers south-west from Bermuda. Some hours later, everybody was talking about nothing else than “Andrea” and constantly checking the latest news on the website of the US national hurricane center. Andrea made us stay one day longer but the subtropical storm turned out to be quite short-lived and devolved into a common tropical depression by Wednesday moving away from the Bermudian seas. So after the last weather check we decided to finally set sails and never heard of Andrea again.

Compared to the Atlantic crossing to St. Lucia in November, the weather situation was a bit more challenging than the constant trade winds that pushed us from the Canaries to the Caribbean islands. The route from Bermuda to the Azores is basically dominated by depressions moving east, so the rule is to be at the right spot at the right time to avoid areas with strong winds and areas with no wind, the best would be something in between and ideally wind from the back. We downloaded weather with our Iridium GO! satellite phone twice a day observing the situation and constantly adapted our course. We once got into a storm with up to 48 knots and heavy rain at the same time which was not very comfortable at all but the next day the wind completely died and we had time to take a “sea water bucket” shower, bake bread, and repair sails and take care of the leak. We had water dropping in on a porthole (window on the side) on the day before from heavy rain showers and waves washing over the deck. That was just too much at the same time.

It might sound frightening to have high waves flooding the boat but they also bring some positive surprises. On one morning, it was Berni’s watch at 6am, she excitedly found two proper-sized squids lying on deck! They immediately wandered into the fridge and made three sailors very happy at dinner time! Talking about culinary events, we also have to mention our luck with fishing. The wasabi paste and soy sauce already closeby, we had a 2kg tuna on the hook and ticked another box on the bucket list: directly after filleting it, we had fresh tuna sashimi. No need to describe how delicious it was. Thankful again for a fresh meal from the ocean we enjoyed tuna steak on the same day. We even opened a bottle of wine on that day and overruled the no-alcohol policy at sea for this special occasion. But as you know…there are always occasions 🙂

All in all, we had a good passage. Eat, sleep, think, watch, sail, repeat. Some calm and beautiful night watches made up for bruises from the toilet lid following the rules of gravity on a heeled boat. As we always say – long passages at sea are always exhausting for the body, but so relaxing for the mind. And after some long days without anything special happening we detected another boat on the AIS (= a system to show other boats around you on the electronic chart by VHF radio transmission) which turned out to be one of the sailors we met in Bermuda. In the end, the Atlantic can be like a small lake. And after 13 days we spotted land in the clouds, the westernmost Azorean island, Flores, accompanied by a lazy whale and hungry birds. We made it!

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