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Messages from the Atlantic (Postcards from Passat II)

K. Barrie Letts

Nearchus
Saturna 37 Sloop
March 13th, 2022

Editor’s introduction:  the following is a collection of SSB messages from Passat II. They  describe some of the adventures of Barrie and Sandra Letts whilst voyaging from Bermuda to the UK in 2014.

Underway to Bermuda, April 2014

At 4/27/2014 5:40 PM (UTC) our position was 30°03.90’N 079°13.43’W

No wind and “Susie” [calm] seas. Motoring with the sails up, just for show. Making only 3.7 kn as that is the most economical from a fuel consumption point of view.

We have crossed the strongest part of the Gulf Stream current, so do not have to worry so much about steep wind-against-current waves. Ha ha.

If the weatherman is correct, we should have low winds for up to two more days, then the hoped-for 15 kn from the NW to take us the rest of the way. We all know how accurate they are. With our luck, we will get the winds, but they will come from the east, on the nose, but we live in hope.

The sun is out in full force so we are working on our tans and reading our books.

Sandra baked Brownies, so morale is high, as is the sugar high.

All is well with us and we hope the same for you all.

Wishing you fair winds and calm seas.

Barrie, Sandra & Alex

Land ho! Bermuda

Offshore Wining, May 2014

At 5/1/2014 2:51 PM (UTC) our position was 31°26.05’N 072°03.42’W

Normally we are a dry boat underway. To promote high moral (read prevent mutiny) it was decided to permit one adult beverage a day with dinner. I reluctantly (ha ha) agreed to join in “just to be sociable”.

Those who know me well will confirm that I do not think red wine (or mustard) should be allowed on a boat. The spill/stain ratio is just too high. The Admiral likes red wine so guess what? Those that answered “you have red wine” would be correct.

The Admiral has a favorite blanket on board. It is (was – foreshadowing) white with colored fish on it.

In spite of using travel mugs with their lids on, and on anti-slip mats, two of the three mugs went flying. The lid on the mug with white wine stayed on, caused a minor mess on my shirt and shorts, and cleaned up in seconds. The lid on the mug with red wine flew off, distributing its nearly full contents on my aforementioned white shirt, Alex’s shirt and shorts and the Admiral’s favorite blanket. After considerable time and effort, the stains persist.

Please bear witness that up until this very moment, I have not even breathed an “I told you so” – a restraint I do not normally display.

Do we still have red wine on board? Sigh! Will it be served while we are underway? I await the jury’s decision.

Wishing you all fair winds and calm seas.

Wining in paradise.

Barrie, Sandra & Alex

Recommended protective gear for dining with red wine

En-route Horta to Falmouth, June 2014

At 6/10/2014 3:50 AM (UTC) our position was 41°13.37’N 025°55.08’W

“Humans plan and the Gods laugh.” Old saying, but true today as ever.

The predicted winds for this passage were not to exceed 30 kn. Yesterday we experienced gusts in the low 40s. The seas were choppy and the rhumb line was straight downwind. Can you say mal de mer? We were both so doped up on anti-sea sick medication we were zombies. Sigh! On the plus side, we were going up to 9 kn down the back of the swells, with only the triple reefed main drawing wind.

Did I mention that it was totally overcast, rainy and cold. We were in long underwear and full wet gear. Shades of Pacific NW sailing in spring.

Tonight the winds and seas have settled down and conditions are pleasant, but still overcast, with intermittent showers.

Speaking of Gods laughing…. During the height of the weather, I decided it would be nice to have a lemon tea, with honey. Going downwind the boat was not heeled over, but was bucking like a wild pony. I was wedged into the galley in a classic three point stance: feet placed wide apart and braced against bulkheads, bum wedged between stairs and counter, leaving my hands free. By some miracle, I managed to boil the water, make the tea and stir in the honey without spilling a drop! It was too hot to drink. Never mind, I thought, I will wait until it cools. I set the wide bottom, tight-lidded cup on the counter, on an anti-skid pad, next to the bulkhead, braced fore and aft by anti-skid cutting boards. This left only the interior nominally “uphill” side open. I then sat opposite, at the Nav station, to play Solitaire on my tablet.

Having lost several games, I decided it was time to taste my tea. At that very moment, a rogue wave hit. The nominally uphill side became the decidedly downhill side. The cup took flight, hitting the companionway ladder, losing its lid and distributing honey-laden tea across my drying wet gear and the entire galley sole. After the clean up, I decided it was not my day to have tea. If I really needed a taste, I need only chew on my wet gear!

On the plus side, I won my next two games of Solitaire.

All is well with us and we hope with you.

Wishing you fair winds and calm seas.

Barrie

man reading a book while sitting in sailboat cockpit

Sunbathing North Atlantic style

From the North Atlantic June 2014

At 12/06/2014 03:55 (UTC) our position was 43°29.07’N 021°15.22’W

The North American boater faces a number of challenges coming to Europe, including:

  • fixed concrete docks (sometimes rafted 4 deep);
  • 230 V / 50 Hz electrical power vs 115 V / 60 Hz;
  • butane “GAZ” vs propane; and,
  • the Schengen Agreement.

All were known to us before we left, other than the excessive rafting in busy ports. The Schengen Agreement is worthy of a separate Postcard (rant), which I may do at another time.

Between a Dock and a Hard Place

It is hard to imagine poor little Passat II put against a fixed concrete dock, with a 3 ft tide range, swell surge and 3 larger boats rafted to it, but this is exactly what happened at our first stop, Horta, Azores. The constant movement and excessive pressure causes the concrete to embed particles of grit in the fenders, resulting in them becoming “sandpaper” against the hull – that is if the fenders do not pop first. Not to mention the mud tracked across your boat by some less thoughtful boaters. Of all the North American boats in the harbor, we were the most prepared. In Mexico I bought a 2 x 10 board, to which I bonded three plastic cutting boards as wear surfaces. This is hung by ropes from the lifelines, between the concrete and the fenders. The board prevents the grit from getting on the fenders. I use two 10″ regular fenders with a 4″ flat fender between them. The flat fender prevents the regular fenders from being squashed to the point of popping. So far it has worked.

Adapting to European Electrical Power

I thought that I would be able to buy a transformer, at a reasonable price, to address the electrical issue. Ha! For about $1,000 CAD, plus installation, you can get a transformer to convert from 230V to 115V, but it will not change the Hz from 50 to 60. Many battery chargers and appliances will not work with 50 Hz. Those that do are not as efficient. The handout supplied by MAY [Mid Atlantic Yacht Services] recommended that you check your battery charger to see if it accepted 50 Hz. Glory be! My battery charger not only accepts 50 Hz, it accepts 230V. All I needed to do was flip a switch and change a fuse. Now, how to provide a 230V connection to the charger? I consulted (over an adult beverage) a Canadian boater, who happened to be an electrician. It turns out my wiring can handle it. All I needed to do was shut off the breakers to the plugs to prevent damage if someone plugged in a 115V appliance, and get a European 230V plug for my extension cord. For about $8 CAD I got the plug and fuse and sacrificed my 15 amp to a 30 amp pig tail to convert to European power. Now we can keep the batteries charged, then use our 150 Watt 12 V DC converter to produce 115 V AC for our electronics (computer, etc). The only challenge remaining will be to provide wiring for a 230V heater, but that is a problem for another day.

pig tail electrical adapter for marine use

30 amp pig tail adapter was needed to convert to European power

Butane Gaz vs Propane

Propane appliances will work with butane, losing some efficiency. I had heard that you could buy an adapter so that the North American propane bottles could be filled with butane. The adaptors were not available in Horta. However, they must exist as the supplier of Gaz in Horta can fill propane tanks. Hopefully this is common. If not we will have to find an adapter or convert to Gaz. Sigh!

All is well with us and we hope with you.

Wishing you fair winds and calm seas.

Barrie

From Portland, UK, July 2014

At 02/07/2014 05:19 (UTC) our position was 50°35.39’N 002°27.48’W

Happy Canada Day!

Our Canada Day was an exercise in futility.

This was supposed to be the day we traveled from Portland to Poole. We awoke to a brisk breeze (10 kn building to 15, with gusts to 20 as the day progressed), but it was on the nose. The current on the east side of the Bay was favorable so we tacked back and forth, along the coast, for most of the morning.

At mid day it was obvious that we would not make St Alban’s Head before the turn of the tide at about 1400h. This headland has a wicked current and races that extend out for 5 miles, so getting there at the right time is critical. So we started the Iron Genny and motor sailed along the coast. As we reached Lulworth Cove, we were approached by a Range Safety boat. They advised that the firing range just ahead was active. We had to turn and go 3.5 miles off the shore to avoid “friendly fire”. We opted to anchor at Lulworth Cove. The Cove is tiny and has a narrow entrance. As we came close, we noted one boat already at anchor and the wind-against-current 4 ft seas would be on the beam as we entered. That, and the Cruising Guide’s notice that the anchorage was unsuitable if the winds shifted south, convinced us to move on.

We motor sailed out the 3.5 miles and set a course to round St Alban’s Head. We were now going straight into the wind and steep 4 to 6 ft seas. Progress eventually slowed to less then 1 kn. Did the math, no way to make the turn of the current. Headed back to Portland. What took us 8 hours outbound, took 2 hours inbound, as we surfed our way downwind at 7 to 8 kn.

Anchored in the outer harbour, had a stiff drink.

On a positive note, we did get to sail most of the day.

Wishing you all fair winds and calm seas.

Barrie

From Poole, UK, July 2014

At 03/07/2014 06:46 (UTC) our position was 50°41.79’N 001°59.16’W

We had a great passage from Portland to Poole, with speeds up to 9 kn in favorable current.

Anchored off Brownsea Island. Had a great walk around the Island. Reminded us of Sidney Island, with the remains of a tiny village and pottery factory (rather than the brick factory on Sidney). As at Sidney Island, the main surviving structure is the dock.

In addition, Brownsea Island has a castle, a church and a surviving village. To top it off, it is the site of the first Scout camp, which was one of the reasons we stopped here. There is a monument at the site and a modern Scout camping area nearby.

Next up is Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight.

Wishing you fair winds and calm seas.

Barrie

Passat’s hard working crew members – Cap Horn and Tow Gen

Threading a Needle on the Way to Yarmouth, UK, July 2014

At 04/07/2014 06:37 (UTC) our position was 50°42.53’N 001°30.35’W

Happy Independence Day to all our American friends.

WOW, what a day on the water, yesterday!

We had SW winds and an easterly current. We flew along the rhumb line, averaging over 8 kn from the entrance of Poole Harbour to the Needles Channel, off the Isle of White.

Now the Needles Channel is an interesting piece of water. Narrow (1/2 to 1 NM wide), with the Shingles Shallows on port, creating breakers and the rocks of the “needles” to starboard. With the turn into the channel, we were downwind; the wind dropped as we entered the lee of the Isle. We shared this space with no less then a dozen sailboats, one freighter, several power boats and two fishing charter boats camped at the choke point. All the sail boats were gybing their way back and forth. We barely maintained steerage through the water, but the current carried us forward at 5 to 6 kn. We reduced sail to just the main to make it easier to manage the constant gybing. No reduction in speed. In fact we were keeping pace with some 65 footers, with full crew, racing alongside us. I guess our full keel was doing all the work, with the current acting as our propellant.

The skies were blue, the sun was warm. Other than the freighter squeezing us closer to Warden Ledge Race than we would have liked, it was the most fun on the water I have had in a long time. Not so much for Sandra. She expressed a decided preference to the boredom of an offshore passage.

We picked up an outer mooring buoy in Yarmouth and treated ourselves to a great late pub lunch of curried pork.

Shortly, we slip the mooring and head for Portsmouth.

All is well with us and we hope with you.

Wishing you fair winds and calm seas.

Barrie

Passat II keeping ahead of fully crewed race boats off the Needles

From Portsmouth, UK, July 2014

At 05/07/2014 05:24 (UTC) our position was 50°47.52’N 001°07.06’W

Portland; 12 hours; Iceland Low slowly SE; 7 later to 8 SW; Moderate; 998 Falling Quickly; Change.

Sounds like a code out of a Bond movie, but it is a British Marine Weather report.

This one means: Portland Area. There is a low off Iceland moving SE at less then 15 kn; winds/seas Beaufort Scale 7 going to 8 within 12 hours (near gale to gale within 12 hours) wind 28 going to 40, seas 4 going to 8 ft from SW; visibility 2 to 5 miles; air pressure 998 and falling at 3.6 to 6 hPa/hr; barometer indicates change.

It took us a long time to understand, even with the help of our cruising guides and the notes provided on the back of our Imray Charts. It is like learning a new language.

Speaking of language: apparently, we are the ones who have an accent and unusual idioms. What’s with that, eh?

We had a great sail from Yarmouth to Portsmouth, downwind in 10 to 15 kn of wind and with 2 to 3 kn of favorable current. We put out just the foresail and were making about 5 kn. We passed a Hunter 36 with the same sail configuration and only boats flying spinnakers passed us. Passat II seems to do well in these conditions.

Here, sail boats outnumber power boats on the water by about 15 to 1 (Power boats are fewer and seem to stay on the dock). In Canada I’d say the sail to power boat ratio on the water is close to 1 to 1 and in the US (particularly Florida) there are 2 to 3 power boats on the water for every sail boat. This may be due to fuel prices, but I think it is also a cultural thing. I am sure there is a sociologist (or even psychologist) that could make a life’s work out of this, given adequate government funding.

The British actually sail their boats. We see them sailing in conditions that would have Americans and Canadians turning on the Iron Jenny. Again, economics or culture?

Lastly, the boats here are, on average, smaller. Passat II has moved from the runt of the litter to slightly above average in length, and definitely bigger than average in weight.

Made it safely to the marina before the wind and rain arrived.

Will be tied to the dock for the next 3 days, as we visit the sights with son James and daughter (in-law) Maria. We are very much looking forward to seeing them.

Also, hope to find time to update the blog.

Wishing you all fair winds and calm seas.

Barrie

From Eastbourne, UK July 2014

At 11/07/2014 09:17 (UTC) our position was 50°47.50’N 000°19.56’E

We had a great time in Portsmouth and Brighton and arrived here in Eastbourne last night.

Portsmouth has the greatest Naval museums I have ever seen. We took in Victory (Nelson’s ship), Mary Rose (King Henry VIII warship), Warrior (the first iron hulled sailing battleship with steam auxiliary power), the first British sub and a WWII sub, and more.

In Brighton I discovered that you can get propane in England (but not Europe). It is called Calor Gas. You rent the bottle and exchange your empty one for full ones at suppliers throughout the UK. The fittings look the same as the NA fittings, but are not. So we spent most of one day tracking down a source for an adapter. Mission accomplished: we can now stay supplied with propane while in the UK. We also got the fittings to convert to Camping Gaz, which is available in most of Europe. Camping Gaz is not good in cold weather as it does not vaporize in low temperatures. We decided to stick with propane for now as we are wintering in the UK.

Our trip from Brighton to Eastbourne yesterday was the wettest and coolest so far. In fact it got down to 12° C last night.

Today is rainy and cool so we are taking it easy.

All is well with us and we hope with you.

Wishing you all fair winds and calm seas.

Barrie

Comments


  1. Hugh Bacon says:

    Hey Barrie, loved your stuff. Heather always complains I write about too much tech stuff but I think it makes for a more interesting piece. We are now oldies but took our boat around just pre and then post Millennium. Incidentally, our stuff is in Currents; Memories of a Circumnavigation and later in Sail-World . Got to Sidney BC in 2008, Best, Hugh Bacon, SNSYC

    1. Barrie says:

      Hugh, Glad you enjoyed the Postcards. I hope to find/publish more of them soon. Barrie

  2. Shawn Wright says:

    Some very interesting and entertaining reading, Barry. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Barrie says:

    Thx Shawn. Hope to see you on the water this Summer. Barrie

  4. Arvind says:

    Very interesting, thank you.
    Having sailed around most of the English south coast, predominantly in/out of the Solent area (late 1980s to mid-1990s), your Postcards brought back fond memories.

    Stay safe.
    Arvind
    (Perth, Western Australia)

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