Lisbon to Madeira – Ooops! nav error, nav error – Lisbon to Lanzarote!

We were in Cascais for a week while we waited for some packages to arrive. Finally they came and we could make Capri ready for sea and head for Madeira. We studied the weather reports and forecast closely since we would be asea for at least 3 days and probably 4. At last the forecast showed clearing, strong winds the first day, thereafter almost no wind and finally some wind as we would near Madeira.

All in all, as good a forecast as we were likely to get. We had also spoken with a Danish cruiser who told us to make sure we had lots of diesel since the trip to Madeira usually involved a lot of motoring. Capri has a 140 liter diesel tank and we have an extra 100 liters in jerry cans on deck – so all told 240 liters.  From past experience, Capri burns about 2 liters per hour, which meant that we could sail on the engine alone for over 4 days – more than enough to get to Madeira.

But more about our diesel usage later.

We started in sunshine and with a good wind. The whole way across Lisbon bay we could see clouds on the horizon and we hoped they would disappear before we got there.

Of course, we have to remember that this is Vinni and Carsten sailing so when we got there not only had they not disappeared – they weren’t clouds, but, ahh yes dear reader – you’ve guess it you sly devil – it was FOG.

Once again, we are sailing in close fog. This is almost more than a poor sailor can bear. More fog.  More fishing nets. Oh well, by now we’re old salts insofar as fishing nets are concerned, so crack on the speed and let’s get far enough out to sea that the fishermen haven’t set their nets………………..

Of course, on the way far enough out, we managed to wrap one around our keel. Fortunately, we were able to back Capri out of the net, but it did cost us several very nervous minutes (especially since I had no real desire to do a reprise of my superhero role).

Off we went and now the wind picked up. Soon we had over 15 knots and Capri showed us that despite being heavily ladened she’s still a fast boat – she was going 8 knots much of the time – even with 2 reefs in the mainsail. All of which is wonderful, but when you’re sitting alone in the dark in the cockpit – 8 knots is a lot of speed. Actually 6 knots is much more comfortable.

I had the first dogwatch since Vinni was under the weather with seasickness. It is difficult to explain to those that have never tried it, but the level of attention necessary to drive the boat is much higher at 8 knots than at 6 knots. At 6 knots you (feel) you have time to react if the sails need trimming or anything else occurs.  At 8 knots – the reaction has to be immediate and instinctive – there’s no time to think – just do. And at shit o’clock in the middle of the night, you’re not at your most alert anyway. On top of that, on Capri, we are only two. So when the other one is sleeping (most of the time), then you are single-handing the boat. At night that means juggling a light while trying to tighten or loosen the sheets or tacking.  We’ve bought headlamps that we can wear just to have both hands free, but it is still a problem at night.

Our first day at sea we made 156nm – very nice with an average speed of just over 6 knots. Later that morning, the wind died, we started the engine and motorsailed with the engine and genua up.


Bathing at sea


Everybody takes a bath – even if the seas are high

Our second day was mostly engine sailing and actually rather boring. We discovered our generator wasn’t charging the batteries. WE had problems with this earlier, had ordered a new regulator and received it in Vigo.  I was going to change it but then it all started working and I didn’t do it –  now it was back to haunt us.

This was serious. Electric power is a real necessity for us – both to run our navigational instruments but also our watermaker and everything else. We have a fantastic solarsystem on the boat, capable of charging our batteries by themselves, but everything should have a back-up. On top of that, it was cloudy and the solar wasn’t quite as much.

Shit, shit, shit.  Now what? We were still 1 ½ days sail from Madeira at least. The wind had come again, but typical for Vinni and Carsten it was coming from the west – meaning right in our faces. So madeira was 2 days away. Repair possibilities on madeira are limited, there are many more possibilities on the Canary Islands.

Here’s little video from right after we turned and there’s also some footage of the heavy swells even though it is difficult to video swells.  Fianlly since a lot of you keep asking for more dolphins – there’s a fair bit of dolphin footage – we saw a lot of them on this trip

After a long discussion, we changed course from 225 degrees to 180 degrees, due south, bound for Lanzarote.  Why Lanzarote? Because our Sailing Directions noted that there was a company called Mast on Lanzarote, owned and run by some English people who were good at boat electrics.  We really need an English speaking electrician – I simply don’t speak enough Spanish to be able to explain our problems to a non-english speaker.

Unfortunately there was one small detail – Lanzarote is a fair bit further away than Madeira – at least 2 ½ days sailing.

But we had the wind on a beam reach, which Capri just loves, and soon we were on our way going south at 7-7.5 knots. The wind held through the first day and night. That day we made 159 nm. The night watches were not a pleasure though. The sea was unruly and Capri was being thrown from side to side.

When morning dawned, the batteries were drawn well down and we turned off the chartplotter and autopilot to give the solar a chance to charge them up. Unfortunately, it was cloudy and therefore they charged very slowly.

At noon, we decided to bunker diesel. The sea had calmed a bit and since you never know what it is going to be like after a few hours – it was best to take advantage of the situation. We had sailed 36 hours on the engine, only at 16-1800 rpm (capri makes 5-6 knots at that rpm) and using 2 liters per hour – we figured we would need to bunker at least 60 liters.

The first 20 liter jerry can emptied and we started on the second. Before we ad emptied it, the diesel tank started overflowing


Overflowing? We filled 38 liter in and now the tank was full? Impossible, but facts were facts – the tank was full. I went down and reread the logbook – yep, 36 hours total. So we were using just over 1 liter per hour.  If someone tried to tell me that I’d have figured he was either lying or exaggerating – but we were both there and both saw it.  Implausible but true.

By now it was our third day asea and the swell was beginning to raise. At the same time, the wind increased and new we had 3-4 meter swell and lots of cross waves, tossing Capri around like a rubber duck. Capri was dancing every which way and it became difficult to be on the boat.  One arm had to be wrapped around a winch, a leg braced against something solid and the other hand hanging on to something solid also.

It is very tiring to spend hours on end like that, hanging on. At the same time, we were clipped in with our lifelines and that made movement around in the cockpit more difficult. There was no help blow either. Even in the seabunk you needed to hang on with both hands and brace both legs to try to maintain some semblance of lying still. Since you had to hang on actively, sleep was impossible. Every time you’d start to doze off, you relax your hold on something and get tossed all over the place – and wake up.

I pride myself on being able to sleep anytime, anywhere – but even I couldn’t sleep in this. Vinni couldn’t either. The best we could do was lie down and get some type of rest – although it wasn’t much.

This meant the watches were very long.

I had the dog watch between our 3rd and 4th day. Capri shot through the night at 6-6.5 knots. The sea was horribly unruly and she was dancing like a crazed can-can dancer. My mood was heavy. I hadn’t made a warm meal that evening, not because I couldn’t make one, but because it was damned close to impossible to eat a warm meal.  Even spaghetti from a bowl would have been a major challenge since it would have required releasing a hold on something with one of your hands –a and it was damned near impossible to sit in the cockpit holding on with just one hand.

At the same time I labored with a guilty conscience Vinni and I are co-skippers aboard Capri, but I’m “Chief Engineer”. And I hadn’t done my job good enough. So out there in the middle of the ocean, 2 days from anywhere, dark thoughts starting crowding down on me.

Not that I was doubting or afraid, but Christ – you certainly can feel very tiny and very much alone when your bloodsugar is low and the waves are coming in over the stern. Fortunately my watch ended, Vinni got up and I had someone to talk to.

The days sail was 155nm.

It wasn’t a lot better the next day. The large swells and heavy cross waves continued. Capri continued to dance her can-can and we continued to hold on with both hands. The only positive thing was that we were getting closer to Lanzarote. The wind and swells were from the northwest, and that meant that sooner (oh please sooner) or later we would be behind the land and get some relief from the swell and possibly the wind. No warm food today either – the sea was too unruly to get a hand free to eat. Cold sandwiches.

At 19:30 I could call out to Vinni – LAND HO! Isla de Graciosa was ahead. Only about 70nm left to harbor in Puerto Calero.


we saw lots of dolphins on this trip, here’s one going under the boat

Sleep was impossible, the swell and wind having gotten even larger and more confused. Now docking a boat in a strange harbor in the middle of then night in strong winds is not exactly Vinni cup of tea (mine neither!), but Vinni felt I should be at the helm when we came in and she felt that in that case I needed to try to get a couple of hour sleep so at least one of us was a bit rested when we rolled.

I went below and wonder of wonders – we sailed into lee of the land about a half hour later and I fell asleep while Vinni sailed the boat the last few hours onto Puerto Colera.

At 5 a.m. we were docked on their guest pier after having  sailed 730 nm (our longest “leg” so far) and almost 5 days at sea.

Friends the wine tasted good and the bed was soft.

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