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Leg two
Bermuda to the Azores
By Peter Swanson

Yachting - August 2004

On Watch

As we went to press, our intrepid writer Peter Swanson was just climbing off the Nordhavn 57 in the Azores. It appears that all the weather and adventure was saved for this leg. The fleet hit a front several days out that tested the crews and boats. We've included an excerpt from Swanson's log. Stay tuned for his feature from leg two and a wrap-up of the last leg to Gibraltar in the September issue.

George Sass Jr., managing editor for YACHTING, had been looking forward to joining the fleet on the Bermuda-Azores run, but the press of magazine business killed that notion. He called me a few days before departure and asked that I take his slot.

I had spent 17 days on a Nordhavn 40 during a circumnavigation a couple years back. I expected this new event to be at least as good. Of course I'd go, I said.

In Bermuda, the skippers learned that the fleet would not set a direct course for the Azores. Weather router Walt Hack had convinced Jim Leishman that the most prudent course would be due east, instead of a more northeasterly course for Faial, thus avoiding the ill effects of a front set to pass through the Bermuda region Monday and Tuesday. Once we'd outflanked this weather, we would aim the fleet directly toward the Azores, probably from a point near 55 degrees west longitude.

Besides Leishman, Motor Boating magazine's managing editor John Wooldridge and myself, five others joined our happy ship-Dr. Kevin Ware, rally physician, and his wife Kari; photographer David Shuler; Nordhavn project manager Justin Zumwalt and Leishman's son, James.

The weather leaving Bermuda did not match the forecast. Winds were nearly calm and the seas had settled into comfortable 6-foot swells. The skippers reported no major mechanical problems and high morale. For them, and us, the first day of the second leg had turned into an unexpected pleasure.

June 11, 2004

"This is Autumn Wind, we've got a problem."

Autumn Wind is the Slow Group's other escort. She'd stayed behind to provide a level of comfort to Uno Mas, a 40-footer that had lost the use of her stabilizers. Now Autumn Wind was calling to report that the Nordhavn 62 had caught a line on her prop.

Autumn Wind had switched to its auxiliary engine, and was chugging along in heavy seas at 4.5 knots. At that speed, if we stayed alongside, we wouldn't pull into Horta until midnight. Zumwalt, who had made a tactical swim to Uno Mas yesterday, and James Leishman insisted that they be allowed to hack the line off Autumn Wind's prop.

As Justin and James, clad in wetsuits, swam to Autumn Wind, Jim Leishman carefully instructed her crew to keep the vessel into the seas, using only the bow-thruster to hold her in place.

After our swimmers determined that the culprit was a line wrapped several times around the prop, James waited for a period of relative stability to avoid being whacked on the head by the hull, then dove under the stern with a knife in his hand. He made three cuts before coming back up again.

Jim Leishman then asked Autumn Wind to restart her main engine and give her a blast of reverse. When they shifted into forward gear, the vibration that the line had caused was gone.

And that is why I can sit here writing this-in daylight with the cliffs on the southeastern side of Faial on our port side, and above them the green pastures divided by ancient hedgerows. The top of the island, a 3,400-foot-high peak, was obscured by a stationary cloud it wore like a crown.

These are the moments that make up for all the monotony, seasickness and self-doubt. I think most voyagers would agree that riding a proud little ship into a foreign port for the first time is one the greatest feelings imaginable.

For my colleague John Wooldridge and me, Horta is the end of the line. We fly out tomorrow. Atlantic Escort has been the happiest of ships, in part because each person was a professional mariner of one sort or another, and each person treated every other with respect and affection.

When the fleet makes its next move, a 1,100-mile passage to Gibraltar, your writer will be YACHTING's Editorial Director Peter Janssen. I know he will be in good hands, and so will you. Till next time.

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