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Back to Europe
-- 22nd June to 2nd July 2012--
After testing the orthodromy, the loxodromy, now we present a new routing strategy: the winding-dromy! 10 days weaving between cargo ships and low pressures – without a doubt the toughest of our long trips – and we finally reach Europe at the southwestern point of GB, Penzance. Despite the frustration of missing the projected landfall in Ireland, we are very happy to see Cornwall again, where we sailed for the very first time with Saltimbanque, 4 years ago :o)

Apologies for the poor quality of the pictures: our good camera died on a jetty in Praia :o( But we do have a short movie for you on our page "Photos".

1236 miles sailed
12 507 M from the start
Our stop : Penzance (lock basin)
22nd June 2012 (D0 : 38M) Wind SSW3-4, sea moderate, cloudy
Never have we been so reluctant to set sails. Three weeks island-hopping in the Azores, enjoying comfortable nights at the pontoon, have softened us to the point where we wish we would never leave this near-home with water, power, electricity and a flat bed… Never having to bother about the security of the anchorage or the good progress of the ship at sea is also a relief. Growing lazy… and we’re not the only ones! Our friends feel just the same, sitting at the restaurant for a last lunch, peering outside the window at the cold drizzle and wondering where they’ll find the will-power to cast the lines for their last trip to their home port.

Fair wind Ster-Vraz !

Have a safe trip 3 Gouttes !
Even things conspire to make our life difficult on the last day. Our camera dies (luckily still under guarantee, so it’s only one less life and no game over). We will have to take pictures with the “waterproof” camera… which is now so rusty after 6 months at sea that it’s stuck in one position: “snow/white beaches”… not sure about the results on the delicate shades of grey of this European summer… The gas cooker starts leaking on the last morning. One of the two fires that is. We buy a spare little camping burner, and decide to go on with only one fire – and closing the gas tank off every time we use it. And of course internet and the website server play their tricks as well – but that’s just expected.

On top of that the weather is by no means easy. To catch good winds we’ll have to leave on the tail of a former tropical storm and follow the ridge between this low and some high pressure anchored off the coast of Portugal. But this Thursday afternoon the wind has still not veered and keeps steady and strong from the ENE. As we have no desire to face 6bft under the rain on the first afternoon, we wave our braver friends goodbye and decide to wait another 12 hours and start off in the middle of the night, at 4 am on the 22nd June.

Butterfly sailing, we do like it !

LIfe's hard sometimes...
Leaving at night is easy with ample light from the harbor and the bay of Praia. Soon we find ourselves with the wind to the quarter, then to the stern, a little 10kts only. Even the sky is less grey than expected! Saltimbanque flies butterly-fashion on a flat sea, handsomely steered by the faithful Bob the windvane. Dolphins come and go, jumping around for a while. But nothing beats what Laure sees at 50m to starboard: a sperm whale jumping entirely out of the water! Only the head shows on the next move, before it disappears completely to the abyss.

This is a perfect day! Let’s enjoy it before the Deep Dreaded Depression catches us!
23rd June (D1 : 122M) Wind SW3-4, sea moderate, clouds
During the night the wind got up to 15kts and a lingering drizzle appeared… the main sail is taken down and the genua poled. As much as this canvas reminds us of the glorious days in the trade winds, the visibility (or lack thereof) calls back to reality. With some help from the current we’re pushing our way through a pea souper…

Poled genua : like it too :o)
Then the clouds part and the wind drops, up goes the main sail. Saltimbanque is holding a good 6kts average, with 15kts wind and a bright sun. if it were not for the fast racing clouds in the sky we could forget about the low pressure…

The night falls on a fast Saltimbanque sailing on a flat sea under a cloudless moonless sky – at the center of which the Scorpio sits, beautiful.
24th June (D2 : 130M) Wind SSW4-5, Sea moderate to rough, sun !
1.15am: some gathering clouds herald the arrival of the low pressure. The wind picks up a bit as a confirmation. The pole is taken down in a few minutes – we still retain something of our trade winds drills. A couple of turns in the genua. Only the heavy woolen pullovers mark the difference versus the trade wind crossing :oS The sailing becomes all the more similar as the swell grows in the morning and the Gulf Stream helps us with an additional ½ kt.

The bad news of the day comes as we try and plug the MP3 player. No power. Electronics at sea, not good… Luckily we have a spare for that critical part as well! Indeed, the long night watch rounds would be more painful without our precious audiobooks!
The good news of the day comes from the sea! After long fruitless days both lines give a sudden jerk in the afternoon: one big tuna (62cm) on the starboard line, another tuna just a bit smaller on the port line. The latter is granted another chance at life – no point in keeping more than we can eat – while the bigger is being processed. “Factory – boat” mode again, too bad for the siesta. The swell doesn’t make the carving and skinning easier, but a delicious tuna steak will reward all our efforts tonight!!
There’s at least 6 meals in there !
25th June (D3 : 126M) Wind SSW 5, sea rough, clouds
Another foggy night, so humid that droplets dance in the flashlights. Beyond the lights, a dark deep nothingness. Then the day breaks, some vague grey light at first. It takes a few hours for the sun to drink and swallow the mist. Blue sky, miraculous sun! Life is great this morning, flying with the genua alone on a nice blue sea under a nice blue sky!

We are in the best of moods as we turn the Sat phone on for the noontime weather check. Arghhh!!! The low pressure on the tail of which we have been riding from the start decided to linger around and deepen a bit, before rushing North to Ireland… blowing very very hard on the way! The Grib files are showing more than 30kts right on our route 3 days from now. And their tendency to underestimate stronger winds is well-known… Grrr! Anger, confusion, and the only sensible decision: we will bear away to the East to keep from the strongest of the gale. A new course is set from the 45 (to Ireland) to the 65 (to… Concarneau!). That way we should have no more than 25kts (that’s what we had in the Northern Atlantic before the Azores). It means a longer route though, if we ever can reach Ireland at all :oS that’ll teach us a lesson for checking and discussing the landing options this very morning! The afternoon is spent in a dark mourning mood. Let’s hope everything will be alright… all we have to do now is wait – and waiting often proves tougher on the nerves :o(

Good night!
To think about something else Laure sets to cold washing session (water at 18,4° !!) right before the sun goes back to hide… Camille will stick to the less cold and humid wipes… After washing, sleeping. Sailing further from the wind, we can use the front cabin. Compared to the cold humid nights squeezed on the bunks during the crossing back, that’s luxury! Aaaah the blessed moments when one can slip under the warm blanket, tucked between the hull and the pillows, and quietly go to sleep for a few hours with the water singing along the stem… A sperm whale swims 50m away from the boat, slowly bending its huge back as it dives. Laure jumped on the key, ready to turn the engine on and signal our presence should it come closer, but no more powerful waterjet is to be seen. The water here, though 6000m deep, has a weird greenish colour quiet different from the deep blue usual in abyssal areas. Maybe some plankton gathering in the Gulf Stream?
26th June (D4 : 120M) Wind SSW4-5 with gusts, sea rough, clouds
It has been another split night, beautiful and clear at the beginning, misty and wet at the end. Camille is growing tired after one year of sailing and indulges in some dozing during her watch. Suddenly “splash, flik, flok, flik”. “Some flying fish” is her first instinctive thought. But the temperature calls back to reality. No flying fish could survive – but what about this noise then? Outside the deck smells like fish indeed! In the port shrouds a 15cm long garfish is jumping helplessly. Back to the water it goes, leaving behind many scales and the scent of a tropical night at sea…

Today the sun has not come up. It stayed lazily laying on its cloudy bed, under a thick compact grey blanket. Sometimes a somewhat darker bar on the horizon warns about an upcoming squall. It doesn’t rain so much luckily. This morning’s show starts with white sails on the horizon. “Sails ho!” cries Camille, waking Laure up at the end of her watch (and of her chapter of the adventures of the sailing captain Hornblower). 15 sails more precisely, half square half triangular, all set on the three masts of a beautiful white-hulled ship. Maybe is she on her way to the upcoming gathering in Brest? Anyways the three-master grows slowly on the starboard quarter, then passes our stern and bears away slightly on our port beam. The whole show takes hours to be completed: running 5kts with the wind little Saltimbanque is far from ridiculous in light airs!

Three masts in one.
The weather check at noon confirms our strategy. Forecasted winds are even stronger today and we have to further alter our course to the south (losing all the more ground to the wind). Bearing to the 80 now, that’s about right… to Bordeaux! Talking about a home-coming, I just wish it wasn’t so direct yet… In the afternoon the wind veers slightly between closehold and to the beam. This is the favorite trim for Saltimbanque, running easily at 6kts on a reasonably flat but rather confused sea – the swell not knowing any longer which direction to roll after all the changes.

We are rather tired already due to the cold, the nervous tension and the ceaseless maneuvers to trim the sails in a fluky wind. We have to catch some rest before the battle stars tomorrow. Time seems to be spreading out to an eternity under the infinite grey sky. Only a few days at sea but it feels like forever. We can’t help but dream about arriving – landing – resting… so many miles yet to go… and we don’t even know where yet with all our changes of plan - if we ever make it!
27th June (D5 : 120M) wind S4, sea moderate, cloudy
In the night the wind drops as we are getting closer to a high pressure zone off the Portuguese coast. For indeed there is a high somewhere on this ocean – yet not strong enough to our taste, why doesn’t it keep the lows off our way?!! The heralded low is still there, looming over our noon weather check. At least the forecasts are consistent and stable, therefore perhaps accurate.
In the night we had a small event: we heard offshore weather forecast on the radio! This is not RFI resuming its broadcasting again alas, but the long-waves of the BBC and France Inter! Small voices on the waves, familiar voices calling the weird and mythical names of the maritime zones in a daily litany. Warm feeling, call from home, we’re getting closer… It adds to our family’s messages on the sat phone, enjoying plotting our position every day on the chart and marking our progress. Sailing across the oceans is a grand adventure – but we’ll be happy to come home…

In the meanwhile we get the boat ready for the stronger winds to come (still heading in the direction of Bordeaux). We take the floating anchor out of the front trunk (to stabilize the boat riding on big waves) hoping that it won’t serve. We set the small gib on the flying forestay ready to go up should the genua fail. The sails’ trunk is put in order: spinnakers at the bottom, storm gib on the top. The deck is cleaned of all unnecessary lines and pullies. The sun makes a brief appearance at the end of the afternoon, just long enough to listen to the radio in a warm cockpit.

Saltimbanque sailing eastwards, towards home
28th June (D6 : 124M) Wind SSW4-5 then 6-7, sea rough to very rough, clear sky
In the clear night the wind picks up gradually…and the canvas shrinks accordingly. Our course is still set to the east and towards 2am we reach the area covered by our “detailed” chart of the Golfe of Biscay. On the same chart some 300 miles away there is our route of last July, when we crossed from Belong to Coruna. Another proof that we’re getting closer and that the trip is nearly complete.

"Wind 7b with gusts, sea state very rough with a crossing swell" have promised the forecast on France Inter...
The wind is due to pick up until noon, then stabilize before decreasing for the night. The swell should follow the same pattern with a couple of hours lag time. And indeed the wind increases… we kept only a little piece of genua unfurled, a few square meters that can be easily furled in and out further to adapt to the variations of the gusts and maintain enough speed to pass the waves before not too much so that the boat should be tempted to go up to the wind on the swell. Faithful Bob does wonder in keeping a course quite far from the wind, almost running right in front of it. Saltimbanque is racing straight down the 3 to 4m high waves (in average and according to the previsions - it’s almost hard to judge in real life). When one talks about “bad weather”, one thinks immediately about dark rainy storms of beating rains. In that case nothing could be more wrong! In the bright blue sky small nice white clouds are running fast (and sometimes bigger, darker, less nice ones). With the wind came a squadron of adventurous puffins blazing and swirling around in some formidable aerial acrobatics show. There is undoubtedly some beauty in this glowing sea stabbed by thousands of white scratches, in those towering mountains of liquid forming and disappearing continuously… (and from which we hope at every second that they will not swallow us).
The radar-detector bips, there’s a big ship approaching… rolling and pitching on the swell it takes many minutes before we can see the container-ship heading right to us. Call on the VHF: “Big ship, for small ship just in front of you…”. Yes he says, he saw us and will avoid us. Good… we keep a watch and see it coming closer closer… still its bow to us… we wait tiller in hand but the big steal thing doesn’t change course… until a little 100m away when he calls back “altering course now” – but we had jibed away already – better safe than sorry! And the shiny black hull passes by close enough to see the crashing waves on the bowsprit.
"Too close" does not mean the same for us as for this cargo ship apparently...

Yummy, what a good chemical dinner !
The day is already drawing to an end and the wind still strong. If anything, even stronger. Our small handheld wind meter measures a good 30kts, more in the gusts (add some knots to get the speed on top of the mast, that makes a lot!). Before the night we install the flying forestay ready to take up the tension should the frontstay part (the latter has always been slack and is dancing as we roll on the swell). For diner we reach a new extremity and open our first dried meal: open the pack, pour water, stir, wait – eat (from the pack, no washing!). And… it’s actually not so bad :o)
29th June (D7 : 112M) Wind SSW6-7 then 5, sea very rough then rough, clear sky
At 6am the wind drops a bit at last, we jib and resume a course to the north. This near-gale has lasted for 24 long hours – 118 miles ran with 3m2 canvas.

We can unfurl some genua and relax. But a few minutes later… What’s that weird cloud over the water on portside? No cloud Camille, that’s a sperm whale! And another one on the other side… plenty of whales around the boat, just their jets visible. One whale is nice, many is scary: the engine starts in no time despite the last 24hours in shaker mode and the cetaceans swim away peacefully.
30th June (D8 : 120M) Wind WNW4-6, sea rough, clear sky
The weather forecasts said we would have a quiet day with 4b abeam – the perfect conditions for Saltimbanque to fly when his crew rests. And indeed the wind veers again at the end of the afternoon, so much that we hoist the main sail back up
The wind increases gradually: one reef in, then 2 reefs, then 3… then the gib is sent instead of the genua in the middle of the night. At the next watch change around 3am we agree that Saltimbanque is still wearing too much canvas, and we change the front sail again: gib 2 instead of gib 1. First time we use that sail… we won’t have carried it around for nothing :o) the last reef can be released and Saltimbanque finds his way with 2 reefs and the small gib, still a little overpowered in the squalls… a quiet 4b they said??
Saltimbanque with 2 reefs, genoa is furled in, gib 1 stored alongside, gib 2 on service
At least the weather is nice (between the squalls) in spite of a chilly 18° in the cabin at the warmest of the day. More and more cargo ships are to be seen, the sea becomes greener and flatter as the swell smoothens on the continental shelf. Back on the European continent! Gannets replace puffins in the sky, trawler boats appear, the coast is not so far now. Dolphins come and play around the boat often. Those are common dolphins of the channel, friendly and energetic, always eager to jump around, looking at us so as to greet us welcome back home! So we leave the big ocean that has been bearing us since last July. Thank you, goodbye… and see you again!
1st July (D9 : 123M) Wind NNW4-5, sea rough, sky clear then fog
And yet the day had started alright, with a decreasing wind to the beam under a bright sun. But we know that can’t last… in the afternoon the wind increases again as clouds gather. A few hours later we are still running with 25/30kts wind to the beam, through a lingering drizzle. Visibility: poor. Chance to meet cargo ships and fishing boats at the entrance of the Channel: high. Oops :oS We have to rely on our radar detector, which goes off very often.

The strong wind doesn’t hold for long, but the rain does. The crew is soaked through and the rain finds its inside the cabin as the wind veers to the back. We have forgotten the meaning of “dry”: only exist the words “soaked” (= the oil skins and the floor covered with 1cm water), “wet” (our other clothes) and “humid” (everything else, including the towels and the bed, the charts…). (Later note: this scale shall remain in use until the first ray of sun shines 3 days later). It’s cold. Sailing is so much fun… Physical fatigue of the last night (when we steered a lot to keep the course as tightly as possible and keep a look out for the cargo ships) adds to the nervous fatigue of the days before. Looking forward to the land.
2nd July (D10 : 101M and arrival) Wind SSW4-5, sea moderate, fog and drizzle
2.50 UTC, the first light of dawn! (There must be some positive aspects to sail in such northern latitudes!). A few hours later we can see the land… for a couple of minutes only, as it hides straight back behind the thick fog. They call it summer around here…

The Mount Saint-Michel appears for a few seconds as the sky temporarily clears
Patiently we make our way into Mounts Bay where the odd.-shaped Saint Michal Mount stands in darker grey against the grey background. Nope we haven’t lost our way and drifted to Normandy: there is another Saint Michel Mount here as well, looking much like the bigger brother in France. Then we reach the northern part of the bay and the entrance to Penzance harbor. Some yellow visitor moorings are installed for us to pick up while waiting for the gates to open (tidal basin opens 3 hours per tide). Buoy picked up, line fastened, we’re stopped! So good to be able and relax a bit… the bay is wide open to the southern swell and we can’t really sleep as Saltimbanque rolls, but at least we enjoy some quiet and warm hours in an almost-dry bed.

As we put some order on the deck we see one of the blockers of the main sail breaking, eating away by corrosion. This type of blockers is not produced any longer and we couldn’t find a spare part before leaving… well some piece of string and a bolt will do for the last weeks. This is yet another broken thing, after the electronics and the windvane’s rope (repaired on the spot the day before). Maybe the boat is just like us, starting to grow tired.
In the afternoon the lightmast turns green and we can enter in the dock, guided by a harbor master so British. It smells like “fish’n chips”, the church towers are square, rows of identical houses lining straight clean streets: we are in Great Britain! There’s no pontoon in the little basin, only the quays where sailing boats and fishing boats and old wooden boats alike are moored alongside each other. People walk, people work, people shout, everything is busy and friendly. 10 £ / night including water (cheap for GB!). The warm shower is a bliss: how good to feel human again!
Laure's face on arrival... before the shower
Although we haven’t managed to land in Ireland as we planned and the round trip to Concarneau is not completely over yet, we can’t help to feel about this landing as an achievement. We love this English Cornwall where we sailed for the first time with Saltimbanque four years ago and we find ourselves at home in the Channel. As chance has it, Penzance is actually a partner city of Concarneau. Maybe a sign that tonight in the oldest pub in-town we can proudly drink our pints to celebrate our success: we did it, we sailed across the Atlantic and back!!!

Congratulations my dear...

... many thanks, and same to you !
The next couple of weeks we will enjoy a typical summer sailing in the Channel to get used to the cold again, before coming home at last in Concarneau – final landing expected around the 20th July.
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Your messages:

Kariine - 17/07/2012 20:49:21
Brrr, je me gèle rien qu'à lire ces aventures européennes ! On a bien commandé le soleil et la bière fraiche pour votre retour mais va savoir s'il ne va pas manquer l'un des deux. Euh, pour la bière, on a appelé le troquet de Concarneau: pas de pénurie prévue d'ici le 20 juillet, cherchez l'erreur :o)

Bernadette et Marie-Josée - 16/07/2012 16:12:50
Nous sommes à regarder sur le livre de Bord vos péripéties du 22 juin au 16 juillet. L'Anticyclone n'était vraiment pas au rendez-vous!Bravo pour votre courage. Bon retour en Bretagne.

Georges - 15/07/2012 12:19:02
Chapeaux les filles!!! Quel récit; on le vit à la lecture.Heureusement il a ces beaux sourires réconfortant devant les pintes de bières. Merci!!!

Herve - 14/07/2012 22:22:06
Almost no message on this thread.That is quite disappointing.
Vous avez fait une dernière traversée fantastique. Cela montre votre grand sens marin y compris de sécurité à tout moment.
You'hve done a great job and see you very soon. Poutoux Hervé

la mamou - 11/07/2012 17:55:37
super , le petit film !!
beaucoup apprécié le "calme" du coffre en baie de penzance ;-)

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