"With fair winds and fair weather we hoped to make Lagos... "

20th Dec 2002 At midday on Wednesday November 23rd the Anna M sailed quietly out of Baltimore, West Cork and with Cape Clear as a backdrop headed south for Lagos, Portugal on the first leg of the Cape Clear to Cape Verdes (CC2CV) Humpback Whale Expedition. A pod of common dolphins came along to see us off.

With fair winds and fair weather we hoped to make Lagos – located on the Algarve - in ten days. I was onboard to film the first part of a documentary following the expedition. And enjoy ten glorious days of ocean sailing!

Ah, was life so simple. Forty-eight hours battling gales and huge North Atlantic swells in the Bay of Biscay left the Anna M taking on water. We had hit something, or something had hit us. In order to make Portugal we were forced to make temporary repairs in Portosin just north of Bayona, Spain.

I will never forget the final hours of the passage out of the Bay of Biscay. It was both exhilarating and relieving as beneath a clear starry sky and bright moon, but still in a huge swell and freshening winds, we dodged across shipping lanes and round what the Spaniards call the Costa du Meurte.

The next morning we were under blue skies, the wind had gone, the seas glassy calm and the Spanish coastline looking spectacular. Sadly the same coastline now lies covered beneath a layer of black sticky oil, a dark cloak of death, the result of big business greed and possibly the worlds worst ever ecological disaster. Had you seen this landscape as I had, been welcomed in the same small fishing villages we were, you would feel as sad as I do today.

The journey from Baltimore to Cape Finesterre had felt rough, five days of incessant pounding, everything thing wet or at best damp. And me feeling very green. I had been unable to eat for the first three days. But we had been lucky. How lucky wouldn't be revealed until we reached Lagos, Portugal when a detailed inspection of the forward hull showed 13 buckled ribs below the waterline. Seen from the inside, the damage looked a little scary and left this novice sailor wondering about just how fortunate we had been. That detail was filled in by the looks on the shipwright's faces.

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Never mind, along the way pilot whales had serenaded us. What a magical thing. Dolphins provided endless shows, bow riding, night and day. Tiny storm petrels had lived up to their name. And barbecued tuna is just amazing. Especially when you catch these magnificent fish yourself.

Thanks to funding from the Swiss Karl Mayer Foundation we had completed the first leg of CC2CV, experienced the good and bad of the North Atlantic Ocean and left ourselves with an and even bigger search - serious funding in order to complete the second leg scheduled to start in February 2003.

Tony Whelan