An email home from Bryan Allan who sailed from Newfoundland to Portugal in Summer of 2004 in his
 30ft Grampian, Avocet

"Newfoundland to Flores" 




Where is that Dingy?

Playing with the Dolphins


Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club



Hi All,

We had good intentions of getting an afternoon start from Newfoundland but another barrage of unrelenting kindness kept us firmly tied to the dock until well after midnight. The couple next to us, Paul and Brenda, gave us a hearty good-bye but then sprinted off to the grocery store, raced home, baked muffins - from scratch no less, and then drove them back to the marina still warm and gave them to us around 11 PM. More tea and crackers aboard with Max and Sugar were simply unavoidable since we had to walk past their boat to get to ours. In the wee hours as we were untying lines, Max appeared once more and pressed a bucket of emergency supplies into our hands. Why are we leaving here again?

The early going was wet and cold. Fog, rain, 40 degree water temps, and worries about where the icebergs were kept us a bit subdued. We both wore more clothes than we ever would to go skiing. For days I had on a poly pro undershirt, a tee shirt, a turtleneck sweater, a heavy flannel lined shirt, a sweatshirt, a fleece pullover, and foul weather gear. To sleep under my flannel sheets, sleeping bag and comforter, I would take off the foul weather stuff and maybe the fleece.

We made a go of keeping proper watches but eventually, sitting out in the cockpit all night hugging yourself in the cold and seeing only the next hundred yards of ocean lost its charms. This sagged to just having a look around every 15 minutes or so. The randomness of this in zero visibility finally found us just staying below most of the time. When the weather cleared for a time, we did see one berg a few miles off but that was it. The C.A.R.D. radar detector did pick up one target, an oil rig tender whose
captain we spoke with briefly.

The air and water temps improved slowly but steadily and when the fog was finally left behind it was a happy thing. Just being able to see the horizon was a simple joy that we savored for days.

A few more miles found us approaching the Gulf Stream. Here the phosphorescence began to thicken and intensify. Each night as we got more into the stream it got brighter and more varied. It was amazing to see. Avocet seemed to be floating in a pool of glowing water filled with many sizes of twinkling lights. The smallest bits were so tiny and so numerous that all the white water Avocet pushed aside literally glowed as smooth,liquid green light. The stream of fire that trailed off behind Avocet was a sight to see. It stretched out 75 feet into the night. Then there were bigger critters, pea and grape-sized jellies that glowed intensely bright for a second or two as they tumbled in the already luminous foaming water around the hull. The largest and most odd lights of all looked to be about 5 to10 inches in diameter and blinked very quickly like a camera flash. Some appeared to be many feet down and dimmer, the ones closer to the surface brighter. These bursts of light were odd to me because, unlike the smaller stuff, they didn't seem to need disturbed water to go off. We could see them firing away everywhere we looked and as far from the boat as their brightness would allow. I wanted to go up the mast to take in the scene which even at deck level reminded me of a darkened stadium where everyone istaking pictures.

Well, this light show would have been enough for me but one night, at the very apex of the phosphorescence's brightness, half a dozen dolphin came to play around the boat. I honestly don't think I have what it takes to convey to you how incredible this looked to our eyes or how joyful a sight it was to take in. It was much too dark to see their actual bodies and yet their shape was perfectly described by the bright green glow around them. Each animal left its own trail of sparks longer than our boat, the trails being straight at times and then arabesque as they would peel gracefully off to one side or another. Seen this way, you could see their tail flukes working much better than in daylight when they seem to move almost without physical effort.

This aquatic light show went on for three glorious hours during which we stood transfixed. Occasionally, we would sail through a school of squid laying right on the surface, their shapes again perfectly described by the green light of phosphorescence responding to their movements. The dolphin would suddenly go into feeding mode and briefly lose interest in us in favour of this easy snack. Full for the moment, they would come racing up from astern and again take up station on the bow to play in the pressure waves there.

To this visual feast, add the sound of their breathing, their splashing, and the sound of the boat sliding through the calm seas. The sky overhead was not quiet either. Petrals, small pelagic sea birds the size of a robin, ignore the boat by day but seem to drawn to it by night. They make a strange chattering noise that sounds more like the laugh of a squirrel if a squirrel could laugh. During one of the moments that the dolphins were distracted with squid, Andy found one sitting on the cockpit floor. I picked it up and it seemed incredibly light, even for a bird. It lifted its wings, flapped silently a few times and just floated out of my hands as if it were a butterfly or a fairy even. That sounds silly perhaps but everything seemed quite magical that night. When the dolphins finally left us for good, we just sat below in silence, marvelling at it all.

We had a few days of light airs and some sailors respond to this by motoring to maintain some arbitrary minimum speed. We respond to this by jumping over the side and going for a swim. The water temps had gotten up to 67 Deg. Between the dingy astern, the 100 foot line we trail, and the very slow speed of the boat, its quite safe and lots of fun.

Speaking of the dingy, it got away twice. Once, Andy saw it let go and we never lost sight of it as we circled around to get it. Another time, I got up at 5 am and saw that it was gone. Andy had seen it last at 3 am. We sailed back and agreed to look for one hour before giving up on it. The hour stretched to 90 minutes. I said I'd climb the mast and if we didn't see it, we would bail. From the spreaders, I finally saw a white cap way off that didn't behave quite right. Sure enough, that was it. Both times a fitting had failed, not the line. We laughed at the thought of someone finding a dingy on the high seas named Where's Andy?

Flores, our first land in two weeks, emerged from the clouds very slowly one afternoon. It is dramatically steep and about 3000 feet high but only 10 miles long. As it gets constant warming from the Gulf Stream, it is wet and lush with plant life clinging to every bit of ground no matter how steep. As a new island landfall, it didn't disappoint. The town of Lajes is small and we joined 5 other boats in the anchorage.

A taxi tour of the island was a real highlight and I would recommend it to anyone except those who don't like hydrangeas. They are everywhere and I do mean everywhere. They were apparently brought here centuries ago and just thrive in this climate. Every road is lined with them and other flowers. Every hedgerow between the endless farm fields is planted with them. What appear as blue/grey outcroppings of rock up on the mountain peaks are in fact more hydrangeas.

We have met so many really wonderful people and fellow cruisers we hate to leave but its time to push on. We are headed for the island of Corvo today and the main sailing port of Horta tomorrow.


Random thoughts and images:

Washing dishes with no women around is easy

"Does this look clean to you?" "Yep."

Washing dishes over the side with phosphorescence swishing around in a pot.

Pumping out the head at night with phosphorescence

We can cruise as long as our paper towels hold out.

I finally threw my 40,000 word dictionary over the side. It has all the words I know and none of the ones I want.

We saw a pod of dolphins one day that numbered about 100. Many leapt for pure joy, falling on their sides with a splash. A dozen surfed down a wave together, side by side.

READ MORE of Avocet's voyage and how a Grampian 30 handles  crossing the Atlantic