The long way home

Having delayed our departure, missing our flights in the process we were increasingly concerned to get a weather window for our return passage but could only see a constant series of gales force winds and the occasional storm passing across our return path to Stanley.

The skippers that ply these waters for a living had told us of constant headwinds, motor sailing into big seas and generally gave us little hope of finding a 5 to 6 day favourable weather window. Indeed all spoke of this passage as being consistently more arduous than crossing the Drake Passage to Antarctica and having done that in 2007 this did not fill me with confidence!

As it was we left as soon as the huge storm had passed over the island, knowing that seas would still be high but both winds and waves would ease as we motor sailed NW towards Stanley. And so they did, but only for a short time and with the need to conserve fuel we tacked back and forth across our rhumb line making little progress towards our destination.

The twice daily grib files offered no respite and by the 4th day were showing a large weather system developing in the Andes and would sweep across the Falkland islands and move slowly across our path. Seeing no way through or around this system we enlisted the help of a weather router who gave us a better idea of the big picture but no miracle solution.

By day 6 we knew we would encounter winds of 45 kts with gusts far in excess and breaking seas of 7m or more. Time for some heavy weather tactics!

An aero rigged schooner is not the easiest boat to heave to in heavy weather and having a mistrust of Para sea anchors had sold mine in Mexico and researching the alternatives had bought a Jordan series drogue made by OceanBrake in the UK. WE had rigged the bridles and set up the drogue as a test before leaving Stanley and left the bridles in place in case of heavy weather....a good call!

So with winds and seas building we deployed the drogue before things got too hectic and settled down to sit out the storm.

The drogue is designed to turn the stern into wind and waves and slow the boat down to 1.5 to 2 kts lifting and falling to the following seas. It works!

The occasional cross sea would corkscrew the boat but generally it would lift and settle between waves with the occasional breaking wave flooding the cockpit.

In the event we drifted SSW for 42 hours initially at 1.5 kts increasing to 2kts as the wind created a surface current. and during this time we covered 80nm, sadly away from our destination!

Our outbound passage was entirely downwind and took a little over 5 days covering 795 nm.

Our inbound passage was all upwind and took a little over 10 days covering 1,223 nm.