We left Horta on 3 October. The locals were shaking their heads, and saying that it was too late in the year for a yacht. Sheila was apprehensive, and looked somewhat longingly at an island steamer which called in, but decided to stick to Gipsy Moth and see the voyage through. The Azores were a great disappointment to me; instead of the calm fine weather I had expected in the middle of the Azores high pressure system, it was always squally or bad weather, and there were strong currents, not shown on any of my charts. We left Horta in a dead calm, but within an hour it was blowing a Force 9 gale, with steep seas breaking on the counter. I felt ham-fisted with Miranda after my fortnight ashore, and asked Sheila to take the helm while I went below and cooked some breakfast. I should have liked to heave to, but we had an island in our lee which we had to clear. After breakfast I took over for an hour or two until we had cleared the point, when I gratefully lowered all sails and Gipsy Moth jibbed along under bare poles while I went below, had a hot whisky, and a sleep for an hour and three-quarters. Then I set a spitfire jib, and by midnight we were clear of the last island, out in the open ocean and I could relax.
Trip To New York Photo Gallery
We were fifteen days on passage from the Azores to Plymouth, and on nine of them we were under storm sails, spitfire jib and trysail. There were impressive seas, magnificent and monumental, but not malicious. It was exhilarating to watch those mountains of water creeping up and passing. I spent hours on deck trying to get a good photograph of a big sea but found it difficult. The whole passage was a grand sail, and much more relaxing for me than the hot calms and light airs after leaving New York, when my temper and fingernails had been worn to the quick by the incessant sail changing and trimming. As soon as it blew up to Force 7, I could set the storm rig and retire below to prepare a good feast with a bottle of excellent American wine. Sheila was now quite happy with big seas in a gale, and I was amused to recall her candid comments on navigation when we left New York if we were bumping somewhat at 6 knots in a fresh breeze.
I had lost both my log spinners. I rigged up an old-fashioned log, which worked by timing the run-out of a given length of line, but as time went on I found that the log was not really necessary, for I could judge the speed of the yacht to a quarter of a knot with fair accuracy.
On the way up from Plymouth to Buckler’s Hard, on the last day’s sailing after a wonderful voyage of 8,000 miles, I was seasick again in some nasty weather off Portland Bill.
Next spring – the spring of 1961 – I had intended racing Gipsy Moth in the ordinary RORC programme with a conventional full crew. At the start of the season I was alone on the Beaulieu River, checking the compass, when Gipsy Moth drifted aground, and I damaged my back hauling her off. I was flat on my back for ten days, and before I had recovered fully, I had a sharp attack of hepatitis. I had cancelled my own racing programme, but, having agreed to navigate for John Illingworth in Cowes Week and the Fastnet race, I did not like to back out at the last moment; so concealed the hepatitis, and joined John in Stormvogel for the Channel race. Stormvogel is a big 75-foot yacht of very light displacement. Caes Brynzeel (her owner) asked me to stay with him for the Fastnet and I was glad to do so. It was a good experience, sailing with Caes; a tough hard-driving Dutchman with a racing mentality. He had built several revolutionary yachts over the years, and had won the Fastnet Race in 1930. We missed an all-time record for the Fastnet course by only 100 minutes. This was comfortable racing, with seventeen on board, including a cook, but I could not take advantage of the good fare for the last three days – my hepatitis had got the upper hand again, and I navigated on hot water only.
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