Antigua to Azores

Mon – 2 May

Up at 6 and squaring the last few things on the boat for departure. It was then into the water for a final quick scrub of the hull and a clean of the log. Even at that time in the morning the water was nice and warm. After a quick internet fix it was up with the anchor and we motorsailed the South coast of Antigua. We had not been underway an hour when the heavens opened. It was the most torrential rain we had seen since the Tuamotos. Thankfully the rain was relatively short lived. We turned the SW corner and started to head North. The seas were flat and we were making good speeds. Come 1600 we were abreast of Barbuda and then it was out to sea away from land. Time for dinner and to settle into the first of many night watches.

Tue

IMG_1328It has been a great days sail. We are doing 5-6 knots at 60 apparent in gentle seas. The sun is out and it is very pleasant indeed. We are all adjusting to life at sea again and re-establishing our proven routines. V is not yet convinced why she can’t yet go for A WALK.

Wed

The SSB net is working well and we are talking with Super Ted, Iona, Deese and Island Swift (receive only). Super Ted are heading to Bermuda and Deese are leading the pack to the Azores. Despite having the weakest HF set I seem to have become Net Controller!

The winds have risen so we have reefed. The seas are still flat so all is quite comfortable.

Thu

C called me up on deck as she thought a squall was approaching. We made the call to leave the sails but just as I was getting back into my bunk I heard the winds increasing and the rain starting. It was quickly back onto deck and reefing the sails. It only took a couple of minutes but I was drenched. The boat was happy sailing again so I went below and got changed. That was the end of my off watch sleep. I came back up and relieved C. Over the next few hours the winds built to about 24 knots – on the nose, the waves began to develop but Gallinago sailed on smoothly taking water over the bow. When the sun came up the heavens opened, moments later the wind completely dropped off and I could see a rainbow end to end behind us. A few minutes of rest bite and the winds kicked in again.

Fri

On watch at 0430. The winds are gusting up a bit and we are just about managing to outrun a big squall line. The boat is moving well and only pounding into the sea occasionally when we come off a wave badly. V was awake a couple of times in the night but generally manages to sleep through most things. 0530 and a great sunrise. The boat is continually taking waves and the jerky motion as we plough through waves is far from comfortable.

Come the afternoon and sea has a gentle rhythm to it and the winds have abated. We are sliding along at a great pace. C is sleeping and V is watching the iPad. I am enjoying watching the endless sea.

1700 I need to get dinner on before the little one starts screaming. Pasta and veggie stuff – everyone seemed to enjoy it.

As the sun sets, the sky to our west has an amazing array of clouds from cirrus to alto-stratus and the beginnings of cumulus. It is building eastwards towards us – pretty but not a good sign.

1830 the little one is in bed. C in bed by 2000. Time to settle down for the first watch.

Sat

I reef the Main Sail just before 10. Come midnight I go down to do the log and give C a shake for her watch. A disturbed sleep for her as she was up at 10 checking to see if I needed a hand with the Main.

I hand over the watch with an uneasy feeling. The winds have been building and the sea becoming livelier. An hour later C calls me. We have a squall upon us with 35 knots of wind. We battle the boat, reef the Main still further and turn down wind for an easier ride. The boat is under control and sailing well again. The seas are feisty. I give it 15 mins with C before heading to my bunk. A lively watch for C who has to take the helm, tweak the sails and wind vain and try and keep dry. I check on her as I hear the wind surging, but she has it all in hand so I return to my turbulent bunk.

Sun

0500 the little one wakes up. On the plus side the winds have abated and although we have 3 meter seas running they are not too aggressive.

Mon – 9 May

IMG_1322The winds are going light but we are still able to make good progress. We used the last of our bagels with the cream cheese and bacon for breakfast – very tasty. After the rougher conditions C has caught up on all the nappies. They are trailed in a bag behind the boat for half an hour, then wrung out and rinsed in fresh water before being pegged out on the guard wires.

The little one resisted going to sleep today so it was entertaining duties all day. 1830 though and she was out like a light.

We caught up with all the other boats on the net. Everyone seems to be doing well.

Tue

The sun is slowly rising as we motor away. The water maker has been running for the last five hours and our tanks are almost full. The ocean has a slight swell running beam to us. It is all very peaceful ….apart from when our electronic autopilot trips out with a series of high pitched beeps and the boat starts to steer off in the wrong direction.

With our water tanks full it will be shower day today. We also have to drop and repair the headsail which has split 2 seams. Then a good clean though the boat. Hopefully tomorrow will bring some stronger winds and we will be sailing again.

0645 the sail is down and I am stitching away whilst C is entertaining the little one. The tanks are now overflowing with water and we have all had a shower…..it’s only 1030…. What to do with the rest of the day 🙂 winds remain light so we motor on. C has made some Brownies and some Banana Muffins whilst I had an hours sleep 1100 – 1200.

C hits the sac so I brew some coffee and download the latest weather.

A chilled rest of the day motorsailing. I covered the night watches to give C some extra sleep as she was trying to get over a cold. It was a flat night so I was able to get pretty comfortable in the cockpit.

Wed

It has been great sailing today. The seas have been relatively flat and we have been making good speeds under a polled out headsail.  I eased a bit of main out towards the end of the day as the winds picked up and when I knew the sails wouldn’t flap. One ship seen today. Generally we have not sighted much this trip.

The little one is running a temperature so we have been dosing her up with Calpol, which she absolutely hates. She has been off her food and quite lethargic.  Hopefully just teething and nothing serious.

It has been a restless night with the little one up most hours crying. We are all a bit sleep deprived tonight.

Thu

The boat is moving quite nicely Goose Winged. The clouds have been rolling in and the heavens have opened. We have spent a fair chunk of the morning below sticking our heads out the hatch to do regular checks. The little ones temperature has gone but as she didn’t sleep well and woke at 0530 she is not happy – she spent most of the day screaming. C lacking sleep is also cursing sailing.

Well a slightly slower day, definitely wetter.

I downloaded the gribs and the models are starting to agree. The Azores High will be starting to re-establishing so we need to track more NE to stay with the wind. We have been following a rhumb line for a day or two.

The seas were quite rolly today but seem to have flattered out for the evening. We gybe the head sail and bring the boat to port heading 065 degrees. The next Low passing should give us a good wind boost.

C did the net this evening.

Well it is just me on watch with some nice peace and quiet and a cup tea.

Fri

It has been a dismal old day with a frontal system going by. Lots of rain and strong winds this afternoon. We are heavily reefed as we go into the evening. It is still quite squally so better to be safe than sorry.

We were unable to hear the other boats on the net this morning. This evening was a little better and at least we got the other boats positions.

The waves are roaring past us this evening and tossing the boat around a little. We are well reefed so it is still reasonably comfortable.

It is getting quite cold at night now. Multiple layers of clothing on deck and it won’t be long till we are using a sleeping bag for real below decks.

Sat/Sun

We had lots of flapping sails on Sat with light winds and big rollers coming through. Each time the boat would roll 30 or 40 degrees, the sails would collapse and then with a bang fill again. Most annoying. In the end we ended up running under the headsail with a tiny bit of main out. This reduced the airflow turbulence to the headsail and kept it filled more.

We made the call to switch from reusable nappies to disposables today. With about 7 days to go and 4 nappies a day we will end up storing 28 used nappies in the aft heads. They will all be bagged and double bagged to minimise the odour. C happily washed and dried the used reusable and stashed them and the towing bag away.

The sea temperature has now dropped 10 degrees from when we left Antigua. It is going to be refreshing swimming in the Azores.

We tracked further north overnight to pick up some more favourable winds and it seems to have worked. We made great progress all day Sun. Average speed 6knts. We could not pick anyone up on the net in the morning but had great reception in the evening. The joys of HF.

Island Swift is still sending us their position. They are 35 ft and a bit slower so are now a few hundred miles behind us. They seem to have resolved the engine issue that they had but still have a leaking stern gland. A worrying issue for them when you are alone hundreds of miles from help. I emailed them a couple of potential fixes so hopefully one will help them out.

Another cold night, but a comfortable one with regular seas. Our new passage treat is one teaspoon of peanut butter, plus one teaspoon of chocolate spread put together on a desert spoon and eaten in one mmmm

Mon 16 May

The gribs have been changing daily. We need to make the call to go to Flores, the most Western Island, where the other boats are going, and where we have been promised Rum. Or to Faial the main hub. If the promised strong winds are not as bad on the gribs today for heading to Flores we will probably go there – it is also 100nm closer.

Tue

A great days sail. The seas are relatively flat and we are making a good direction. The gribs are still conflicting but one thing is clear.  There is a big Low heading our way. The question is how deep and how fast is it travelling. We can keep heading on our present course for another day before we have to make a call as to which island to head to. Deese and Iona are going to Flores but they are 2 days and a day ahead of us respectively. My new obsession downloading the latest weather.

Life on board is actually very pleasant, we are in a good routine with V having plenty of scope to roam the boat in the calmer conditions. C has gone baking mad with rolls and multiple varieties of cookies and whilst we are starting to run low on fresh goods we have a well stocked tinned cupboard which should see us back to the UK.

Wed

Perfect sailing again. Flat seas, clear skies.  Though we know that storm is fast approaching. The latest gribs show we should be able to make either island before the worst hits.  Either way the wind will turn against us for about 6-12 hours.

We decide to motor sail when our speed drops below 5 knots in case the low comes through early. Every mile counts.

In the middle of the night I come to the conclusion Horta is our best bet. We can make it in time and whilst we will not meet up with Iona and Deese for a while we will be in a well protected marina in a nice town that will keep us occupied in bad weather. It also means that if a good weather window opens up for the UK we can take it straight away. We are a little time pushed.

As the sun goes down, we have a magnificent sight on a crystal clear evening as we are joined by a pod of dolphins that flank us and jump through the air. A great end to the light day.

Thu

Not much sleep last night. We have been doing 20 minute look outs as there has been very little traffic on route. I took the time to catch up on some emails and tweak the sails some. 0500 and we are not making the best of courses. I gybe the headsail so we are goose winged – slower progress now and not the best course.  An hour later we gybe back onto a broad reach. I hit the sac at about 0830 leaving C and V on watch and the boat motorsailing. When I wake the engine is off and we are making the desired course at 6 kts – it stays like that all day.

With the seas relatively flat we make the call to fill our tanks with the fuel we are carrying in jerry cans. We have just over half a tank left and I would hate to be running low when we really need it. An hour later and 80 ltrs are in the tank and it is full to the brim. If we need to motor hard to beat the storm at least we do not need to worry about fuel.  We also repackaged the storm jib so it is ready to go if required. Our Jordan drogue, never used, but is packed ready to go if it really comes to it.

Noodles and a can of mixed veg for lunch.

1400 C hits the sac and I entertain the little one…

C is doing the double watch tonight, I rustle up some dinner – potatoes, tomato sauce, green deans, sweet corn spears and pasta all together with a good dash of spice. It is then off to bed with the little one. As always she protests trying to delay by running around, getting out her toys and giving hugs. With the little one down it is Net time. Superted are on. Racing up from behind the storm – they are going to have to slow down from their 8-9 kts. Palagie who have a broken autopilot and spare are hand steering. It is going to be a long and tiring trip for them. We all swap position and weather reports. Then C is on deck and I get my head down.

The four hours go very quickly. I don’t think I have slept but I must have. I was up at 2200 to reef the sails as it was getting lively. The weather is turning. Lots of low lying clouds giving rain. 2350 I am on deck and we gybe the head sail over going goose winged – we are now back on course after a wind shift. Time for a cup of tea and a cookie 🙂

Fri

storm3We have had everything today. We were broad reaching, then running down wind to get some Northing in. The winds went light so we were motorsailing to maintain speed. Whilst tweaking the radar down below, the heavens opened and we had torrential rain. We were then on deck, sporting our very sophisticated yellow fisherman waterproof jackets (our Musto Jackets now leak) adjusting the sails. The winds then died so we were off motoring. A front then went through with 27 kts of wind so we were off racing along at 7-8 kts. An hour later and the wind had gone forward but dropped considerably. There were cross seas running so the boat was being pitched and rolled in every direction. I helmed under engine making best progress.

The seas started to flatten, then bang 400m directly in front of the boat a 15 – 20 m Sperm Whale launched itself vertically out of the water. An amazing site. I shouted C on deck and we watched 2 or 3 whales breaching and probably luckily heading away from us.

The little one had a good day, despite getting into a tub of sudacream and seeing how far she could spread it. C did an excellent job entertaining. Not an easy job in such a confined space.

Whilst helming I saw what must have been an injured turtle. One of its legs and most of its back were covered in muscles. The first passage we had seen turtles in the middle of the ocean. Must have been following all the Portuguese Man of War jelly fishes

We motorsailed on for a good few hours looking for whales but no more were seen. C was on watch into the early evening and did the net whilst I got my head down. By the time I was on deck we were sailing again. It was getting very cold so hats and gloves were order of the day.  The winds built and died a little through the night. Whilst the wind was on the nose we maintained a relatively direct course for Horta.

Sat

As the sun came up and I took over from a cold looking C the wind picked up and after motorsailing we killed the engine and were making a respectable 5 kts.

The sun rose, the sky had only some cirrus clouds and it slowly got clearer. We were sailing close hailed to make the course but the seas were relatively easy going. A pleasant morning indeed. The wind started to die so I powered up the motor and we were off motorsailing doing 5 kts again. C and the little one were awake and cooked up some warming porridge.

We made good progress and Faial and Pico came into view in the morning sun and haze.  In our last few hours on route we tidied the boat in and out. Less to do when we arrive.

It was a very easy approach in, straight onto the fuel dock with a very quick check in and top up of the tanks with diesel. The little one had a run ashore which lasted 10 minutes. She was knackered so had a good couple of hours sleep – she needs to get her land legs back.

We had to wait a couple of hours for a berth to become available. We are now on a 6 ft finger. We are a bit big for it, but the marina is packed with 3 abreast on the wall.  It is good to be in before the storm. Beers and Frey Bentos pie with mash. A real treat after 19 days at sea 🙂

The Caribbean

It still didn’t feel real, our circumnavigation was complete. Arriving In St Lucia on Thursday 24th March was the first familiar place we had been to in almost exactly three years. IMG_0932We left from the same marina berth on the 7th Feb 2013. The place hadn’t changed much, other than looking a little more run down than we remembered. We had changed a lot though, we were now here with a toddler and had over 25,000 sea miles under our belts.

After 24 days at sea, V was desperate to see other faces. Sat in the cockpit, she was waving and saying hello as we passed every boat on the approach in and no sooner had we secured the boat alongside, she was grabbing her shoes and demanding a walk. Shame she looked like a drunk trying to get her balance! It took weeks for her to acclimatise to land and regain her land legs. New shoes probably didn’t help. She had outgrown her old ones in just a matter of weeks, which was quite obvious as she was now head height with the tables and reaching height for the work surfaces.  With the excitement of being on land, it was hard to convince her it was bed time. We arrived with perfect timing, around 5pm, so we were able to feed and put her almost straight to bed, whilst we celebrated our huge achievement with a bottle of South African plonk and a few shots of tequila, whilst still getting an early night to recover.

We were pretty well out of fresh food by the time we arrived, so treated ourselves to breakfast out. V scoffed a massive bowl of local fresh fruit. Clearing in was painless, and the only downside being it was Good Friday and everything was shut for the day. Instead of rushing out to the supermarket and explore, we took the opportunity to give the boat a much needed clean inside and out. The marina had a great little pool, so come the afternoon, I took V for a splash and cool off. The weather was hot and humid, and you instantly felt sweaty despite just having had a shower. There was also a great deal more rain than we remembered from the first time around, maybe because we were getting towards the end of the season. That evening we met up with Zen Again for dinner and drinks, except the restaurants weren’t serving alcohol due to it being Good Friday. Luckily we had hip flasks and plenty of rum on the boat!

I would like to say we made the most of our time in St Lucia, but in reality we spent 7 days recuperating around the marina and local town, whilst tackling the boat jobs. We had been at sea for the best part of two months bar ten days in St Helena and Ascension and were pretty worn out. We also rationalised it, that we had explored the first time around and it was better to complete as many of the jobs and chores as we could to leave more time to explore the islands up the chain.  We did however, manage to socialise and caught up with the guys from Andiamo, who had come to Rodney Bay especially to see us for a final few rums. At least we kept saying our goodbyes expecting it to be the last, only to find ourselves at the same island again all the way to Antigua. An easy way for us to socialise with the little one, is to invite everyone over to our boat. That way I can put V to bed after the initial excitement, and join in myself without having to worry that it is past her bed time. On the Tuesday night we all, with Zen Again, polished off a couple of bottles of rum and ordered take away pizza from one of the local restaurants in the marina.  It seemed like we were splurging out and eating out most days, and after 24 days at sea, it does make a nice change. Our last treat was an Indian curry from the new restaurant in the marina, our first for quite a while, and actually it was pretty good. Even with all the eating out, we realised we didn’t actually manage to eat the one thing we were looking forward to in the Caribbean – the chicken rotis.

IMG_0949After our experience the first time here of beating into 25knots of wind to get to Martinique, we had been watching the weather to find a window where the winds became more Easterly rather than the usual North Easterly trades.  On Thursday 31st May, we finally had the slot and whilst the winds were still blowing strong, it shouldn’t be hard on the wind to make Le Marin. We cleared out and were about to cast our lines, when we spotted Iona pulling up. We hadn’t seen them since Ascension and we were all keen to catch up. If we weren’t all set to go, with the engine on and lines in our hands, we would have stayed. Instead we cast off, and made a few turning circles around their boat to say hello and work out where we might cross paths again. We headed out of the bay and decided to motor sail around the north of the island into the wind, in order to get a better point of sail across the Martinique Channel. We still took a lot of water our our nice clean deck, but the strategy worked well in the strong winds as we were able to bear away from the wind slightly. V slept for much of the hop across, she must have been tired still. All was going well and we were making great speeds, managing to do the 27 nm in four hours, until our headsail furling system broke. We were trying to furl it away as we approached the entrance into the harbour, but we had somehow with 30knots of wind, managed to furl the sail so tightly around that we had run out of rope and still had half the sail to get away. Without realising that was the problem, and pulling hard on the ropes, we ended up breaking the bottom disk. With the sail now unraveling and no way to pull it in, I was quick off the mark and told M we needed to drop the sail. He went on the foredeck and I ensured the headsail halyard was free to run. With a release of the jammer, the halyard quickly eased the sail down the track, as M grappled with the sail, trying to secure it to deck without it trailing in the water.  With disaster averted, we approached the channel markers leading into the busy harbour of Le Marin. We had been here before also, but didn’t quite remember how many boats there were here. It was jam packed and reminded us of those now distant memories of remote islands with only a handful of other boats who all knew each other. This was carnage. IMG_0939We waited just outside of the marina, with a handful of other boats, all waiting to be allocated a berth. With no dinghy, we had no choice but to go into the marina. It was a good job we made the crossing in good speeds to arrive early afternoon, as it was approaching tea time for the little one by the time we squared away the boat.

Keen to order a new part for the furler before the weekend, we checked out the chandleries (after croissants for breakfast – while in France). With the piece on order, it was due to arrive Wednesday, Tuesday If we were lucky. That meant extending our stay beyond the few days we had planned. Martinique wasn’t actually our favourite place first time, so it was a shame but we still had a dinghy and outboard to buy and loads of Internet stuff to do.  We spent the rest of the day trawling around in search of a reasonably priced inflatable dinghy and outboard. Recalling that there was a good sized chandlery by the supermarkets in an industrial estate a few miles away, we headed that way. Low and behold, a second hand inflatable v bottom dinghy and 4hp Yamaha engine was on display outside of the shop. Just what we wanted. Shame we had to wait an hour for the shop to reopen over lunch. We killed time in Carrefour and went back. M thought it would be beyond our budget, my money was on €1k for both. I was on the money with my guess, so M offered 800, which was accepted. We had ourselves a dinghy and outboard – that saved the walk home. A productive day.

The heavens literally opened in Le Marin all day on Saturday, so spent much of the day drinking coffee in the nearby bar to get the wifi. It was the first real downpour of rain that V was caught out in.  She shouted rain rain rain, whilst jumping and splashing In the puddles. Again we took the opportunity of our extended stay to do boat jobs and to restock the boat in the cheap Leaderprice supermarket. It was convenient as you could dinghy right up to the entrance, and the French supermarkets are always well stocked on tinned goods, essential for the longer passages. Our extended stay meant we were able to catch up with Iona and Andiamo, and with the cheap French larger, again everyone came onboard Gallinago. At least the girls can run around and play freely. It was a late night, and Ivy enjoyed gazing up at the stars – her new favourite word.

IMG_0976The furler arrived on Tuesday and M fitted it easily. Problem sorted. We were now good to get moving. Dominica was the next island, which was over 60 nm from Le Marin. We didn’t fancy an overnight, so decided to stop at St Pierre on the north of the island.  It was still an 8 hour sail along the south and up the leeward side of the Island, at least we managed to sail most of the way. St Pierre was a scenic spot to drop anchor, with the volcano overlooking the town and the rustic French buildings and churches along the waters front. IMG_0982Shame the reality wasn’t quite the same, when we went into the town the next day. We were taken aback by the amount of traffic. Small narrow roads were packed full of cars, dusty and full of fumes – we certainly weren’t used to that anymore. It was also the first time V was mobile in close proximity to vehicles, as we tried to educate her on road safety. In the end we resorted to reins and then the carrier. With a few stocks and the essential baguettes, we headed back to enjoy the much better view from the boat.

We picked up the anchor at dawn on 10th April morning for the 35nm sail to Roseau in Dominica. IMG_1022We set out and we’re going along nicely, the skies were dark, but we didn’t really spot anything untoward. Then suddenly the winds increased to 39 knots and the rain lashed down. It eventually eased off, as we approached the South West corner of the island and being on the leeward side of the island, the seas flattened and all was pleasant again. We were greeted as we made our way towards Roseau by one of the boat boys in the area. Enterprising, if slightly annoying. They direct you to mooring buoys and help you secure the lines, in exchange for a small fee. Obviously we are more than capable of doing it ourselves, but you keep on the good side of them. Especially in Dominica where they provide security for the boats in the anchorage. M took a local bus into the town to clear in whilst V and I stayed on the boat. It was a two hour round trip for him, but he said the town looked quite an interesting place with a local Caribbean feel. We had planned to go into the town together the next day, but being a Sunday and most things being shut, as well as a forecast for rain, we decided it made sense to move up to Portsmouth Harbour. IMG_1061It was only a few hours motor. Again we were greeted by the boat boys, and dropped the anchor. It took a few attempts to get it down, in the weedy bottom. The boat boys hold a BBQ on Sunday evenings to raise funds, and we did want to join in, but with things not kicking off until later in the evening it wasn’t practical with V. A decision we didn’t regret, when it rained heavily that evening. Instead we took her for a late afternoon play on the black volcanic sand beach and in the sea, whilst M sat by and watched from the beach bar sipping his Carib beer.

IMG_1072The climate was pretty uncomfortable in Dominica, extremely hot and humid, but with constant downpours, you couldn’t leave the windows open for much needed breeze.  The following day we walked into the town. It was clearly much poorer than the other Caribbean islands we had previously visited. The recent hurricane making the situation for the locals worse. It was a colourful place though, with beautiful flowers and the typical Caribbean brightly coloured buildings and houses. There wasn’t too much about the town and the large supermarket was a long walk away, so we decided just to get some fresh bread from a local grocery store and head back to the boat, picking up some fruit from a stall on the beach. IMG_1034We ended up chilling in the beach bar and then having lunch at the purple turtle – a decision I later regretted, as I am pretty sure that is where I was bitten by a mosquito infected with the Zika virus.

The boat boys in the harbour offered different tours of the island. Thinking we should see some of what Dominica had to offer, we booked an early morning river tour on the 12th. The Indian river was used for the witches house in one of the Pirates of the Caribbean and the river system ran into the centre of the island. One of the boat boys picked us up from our boat, and we were first up the river. We did feel guilty when he turned off the outboard and started rowing us up the river. IMG_1080The water was full of fish, crabs everywhere, dense rainforest on either side of the bank and rich bird life. The tour stopped at a purpose built bar, for refreshments and a walk around the rainforest. V loved to explore, making a bee line for steps – her favourite.  The flowers were lovely, a particular favourite was the Ginger Lilly (great name too) and we also spotted hummingbirds. We managed to complete the river tour, just as the heavens opened.  A little wet by the time we got back to the boat, we decided to stay put until the rain subsides.

We had decided to leave for Iles des Saintes straight after the river tour. It was only 20 miles, so even being back by 10, we would be there early afternoon.  The rain put us off though and as we sat in the cockpit watching the thick rain clouds all around, we decided to give it an hour and if it didn’t clear up, we would stay. In the end, whilst it was still raining, we decided that it wasn’t much fun sat at anchor in the rain, so we might as well be motoring in the rain. We donned our new bright yellow fishermen style waterproof jackets, upped the anchor and motored out in poor visibility and a downpour. Half way between the two islands, the skies did clear and the rain stopped, although it still looked bleak over Dominica. I had been looking forward to Dominica, hearing good things about the island.  Maybe we were just too burned out to do the place justice, but in the end we left feeling that we hadn’t missed much.

IMG_1126IMG_1125We managed to get the sails out and were pleased with our decision to leave. It was a pleasant motor sail in light winds. Iles des Saintes was another in the French island group and was made up of several small islands.  The beaches looked appealing, as did the water and we were keen to get to one of the anchorages to enjoy a swim and snorkel. First we had to clear in at the main town on Terre de Haut.  We headed into the mooring area and saw what looked like the last free mooring and spotted Iona on the one next to it.  They invited us over for a drink and for the girls to play that evening and we made plans to move around to the anchorage at Le Sucre the next day for drinks on the beach.  The town was lovely and French. Very quaint, but also very busy with cruise boats and ferries bringing people over from nearby Guadeloupe. We went in early the next morning for coffee and pain au chocolats, had a mooch around the town and of course visited the local supermarket. There was plenty of great looking restaurants, it would have been nice to have stayed for a few more days.

IMG_1117After baguettes for lunch, we slipped the mooring and had a quick motor around to the anchorage where we picked up another buoy. V had fallen asleep on the short motor, so we made the most of it and both jumped in the clear waters. It must have been all the walking about town, as V slept for hours, which worked well with our plans for a later afternoon rendezvous on the beach. We headed across at about 3pm, with a cooler bag of drinks and a bottle of rum for luck. V and I enjoyed splashing in the water, whilst M looked on. Iona and Desse (a Dutch couple we first met in Rodrigues) joined a little later. Everyone enjoyed the ‘party’ on the beach, but I think V had the most fun. She was in and out of the water until we dragged her away at 7pm screaming as she wanted more, despite it turning dark and a little chilly.  It was a quick warm shower to wash off the sand and then the easiest bedtime ever, as she literally crashed as soon as her head hit the bed.

Unfortunately I woke up the next morning covered in a thick rash all over my face, arms and upper body. I had been complaining of feeling lethargic and flu like for a few days, but put it down to needing a rest.  We had no internet, but fearing the Zika virus, asked my sister to email to me details of the symptoms and sure enough I pretty well had all of them. We had planned on heading to Guadeloupe that day, and whilst I didn’t feel up for anything other than going back to bed, M was happy to take us across himself. It was only 20 nm and the winds were light so it would be a motor. I helped to slip our lines from the mooring buoy, said goodbye to friends, and then fell asleep on the sofa for much of the trip. I was now covered head to toe in what looked like a measles rash. Worrying with V, although she was up to date on immunisations, but we didn’t really think it could be measles. We made our way to Pigeon island, and whilst you can’t anchor over night there, we dropped anchor just across from it off the mainland. People were canoeing and going across to pigeon island in their dinghies. Iona weren’t far behind us. M took V for a play on the beach with Leili whilst I stayed on the boat and rested. The bright sunlight was almost too painful for my eyes and the pain in my hands was unbearable. Not feeling much better the next day, I stayed on boat with V whilst M took the dinghy over to pigeon island for a snorkel. He reported that it was quite nice, in clear waters he spotting a large lobster. We have been spoilt by the snorkelling in the Pacific.

We continued up to the north of the island the following day (16th) to get some fresh supplies ready for Antigua. IMG_1173We dropped anchor at Deshaies, and feeling a little better, we all went ashore for a walk. Again there were some nice looking French restaurants, a few little grocery stores and one reasonable sized Spa, which stocked most things we needed. By the time we had finished, most places were shutting for lunch, so we headed back to the boat. The exertion hadn’t done me too well, so I rested up for the remainder of the day, before setting off to Antigua the next morning.

The crossing from Guadeloupe to Antigua was 40 nm, so we planned a departure at first light. With my rash fading, I was starting to feel on the mend, other than my painful hands. We were hard on the wind, but the seas were flat and the wind was light enough to move the boat nicely. V watched with fascination her first pod of dolphins chasing through the waves next to the boat and playing in our wake. She let out Wow repeatedly, and then asked for more when they disappeared. Her dolphin stuffed toy became a firm favourite for the day. IMG_1197We had arrived in Antigua on 17th April, and towards the end of classic race week. As we approached English Harbour, we saw the procession of these wonderful old classic boats after their race for the day had finished. We nosed into Jeffries Bay which was a small packed anchorage and managed to find a reasonable spot in the middle. We were just in time for M to head ashore to clear in with customs and immigration before they stacked for the day. With loud requests from V to go to the beach, I obliged whilst M was sorting the formalities. We had a lovely time together in the warm afternoon sun. She does love the beach, but I’m not sure the UK beaches will have the same appeal – one dip of her toes in the icy cold water will send her running back up the beach! I saw M head back to the anchorage in the dinghy and beckoned him over, as we headed for a quick beer at the Cheeky Marlin beach bar whilst V continued to play. A perfect setting.

IMG_1226Finally feeling back to good health, we took an early morning walk around Nelsons Dockyard. The old buildings were beautifully restored and reminiscent of England. We enjoyed a treat of breakfast out at one of the cafes and then strolled across to Falmouth Harbour, a short walk. For such a big hub of boats though, the facilities in both English and Falmouth harbour were poor, with not even a decent supermarket. Otherwise though Jeffries bay was a nice relaxed spot, where we could enjoy a swim from the boat and a play on the beach. Perfect before the next and penultimate long sail eastwards to the Azores.

With us, Iona, Desse and Andiamo all arriving within a few days of each other and Zen Again already here, we enjoyed a final final get together at a great pizza place before Andiamo headed back to the States. V had her own pizza for the first time (usually we just give her an odd piece of ours), and proceeded to scoff over half. It was fair to say pizza was a firm favourite. Whilst it was a late night for the two girls, they were happily absorbed in movies on the iPad, leaving time for us to enjoy a few glasses of wine with Katie, Chris and the others. The heavens opened though on the dinghy ride back, and continued to rain for the next few days. With an occasional break in the rain clouds, we did venture ashore to give the little monkey a chance to run off some steam.

The weather was finally clearing come Saturday, so we took a local bus into St Johns to look at the fresh market. The drive was interesting, but the town was busy and dirty and the market was disappointing. We were there by 9, but there weren’t many stalls selling fruit and veg, at least not by the time we got there, and what they did have wasn’t anything special. We usually enjoy perusing the local market and finding the street food vendors, of which there were none. So we got back on the bus, hungry, and made our way back to Nelsons Dockyard and enjoyed a bit of brunch there.

Our days in Antigua seemed to go something like this: up and breakfast, ashore to run off some energy, back for early lunch and hopefully an afternoon nap for V, M running errands and boat jobs, me an afternoon swim around the bay; either a play with a bucket of saltwater in the cockpit, a swim by the boat and play in the dinghy or a trip to the beach in the afternoon for the little one, and maybe an evening social. Very pleasant, even if it felt like we weren’t making the most of our time in Antigua – it was actually just what the doctor ordered. V was enjoying our daily routine. It was funny to think that just 12 months earlier, she had never been in a dinghy before. Now with the daily ‘commute’ from the anchorage to the dock or the beach, she was so aux fait with it all, she would happily take the tiller and drive the boat herself (well with a little guidance and a supervising hand).

IMG_1250Sunday afternoons at Shirley Heights is the place to be. It is an old fort on top of the hill, where they put on a huge BBQ and music. We trekked up the track at about 3pm, V walking much of the way herself, despite protestations for UP and Daddy telling her just a bit further. Bearing in mind it was a steep incline and us adults were hot, sweaty and worn out by the time we reached the top. Great views though. We were nice and early so got a table in the shade. V enjoyed hearing the steel drums and every time the music started up again she would run off to go and see.  The place was heaving and livening up come the early evening, but with everyone else deciding to walk back before it got dark, we begrudgingly followed. We had planned on taxis back, but with the reality and hassle of getting a taxi plus the fact that V was ready to drop, it was the easiest thing to do.

With supplies low, we took a bus to the nearest supermarket. It was small but reasonably stocked and the fruit and veg looked fresh at least. The bigger supermarkets were an expensive taxi ride away, so we decided to leave that until a day or two before our departure for the Azores. Superted (minus Jean, who had gone back to the UK for their first grandchilds arrival) had arrived in the bay a few days earlier. We hadn’t seen Matt since Simons Town. We had many discussions with him about weather and tactics for the next leg, as well as Chris from Iona. The area over the Northern Atlantic was looking very confused with lows coming off the Eastern coast of America and tracking over Bermuda every few days. The Azores high which is usually in place, forcing these lows further North, had not yet established and there was a large area of no wind for the first half of the journey.  There would be no suitable weather window for a departure until the high established. With the strong winds hammering Bermuda, we decided to give that one a miss and do the Azores in one go. To avoid the horse latitudes and long periods of calms though, we would still have to do a dogleg up towards Bermuda before heading eastwards. That would still leave the option of Bermuda if the weather dictated. Doing this would add an extra 400nm or so onto the journey rather than taking the rhumb line direct. With a watch on a possible weather window to leave come the weekend, Superted decided to move on up the chain to St Martin, while we decided it was more relaxing to stay put and with the start of Antigua race week, there were plenty of events being held around the two harbours.

Speaking of Antigua race week, friends we had made on our first stop in St Lucia, Alan and Jenny from Spirit, a Swan 65 ft, race every year here. Last year they even won the their class. I dropped Jenny an email in the hope that we could catch up for a beer, and made arrangements to meet at the yacht club on Tuesday night.  They hadn’t changed one bit, as we spotted Alan by the bar.  It was lovely to see them again, and we enjoyed a couple of beers and G&Ts with them. They invited M to join them for the racing on the Thursday, which he jumped at the chance. Come race day, we were all up early and over in Falmouth harbour before 8am for him to catch a lift out to Spirit after the morning race brief. V and I had the dinghy, so at least we weren’t constrained to the boat. With M off for the day, we headed straight to the beach and spent the morning playing in the sea and sand, and catching up with Katie and Leili. My plan to tire her out for a good sleep in the afternoon was foiled as I must have overdone it with her and she was overtired and refused to sleep. My afternoon of Internet to get my head around the job situation back in the UK would have to wait until another day. In the end we settled on the sofa, cuddled up together watching Happy Feet, until there was a loud bang…..

Racing upstairs, I couldn’t believe that a boat had gone into us. Well, actually I could believe it as all week, we had charter boats speeding into the anchorage after racing, dropping their anchors down anywhere, usually as close to us as possible, and jumping in the water as fast as they could, before heading back to the marina for the evenings drinking. Assuming that it was one of these that had obviously just got to close, I checked the boat over and gave them a piece of my mind. Until I looked around and couldn’t see our usual frames of reference with the other boats around us in the anchorage. Looking around, the boat that was usually in front of us, was now behind. What the hell had happened, and then the penny dropped. This charter boat, Fantasasia, had dropped too close to us, and when they came to pull up their anchor, they pulled ours up in the process and had dragged us towards the rocks, whilst they were all on deck trying to free their anchor from ours. No shouts before the bang for anyone onboard to tell us of the problem. I hate to think what would have happened if I wasn’t onboard – am sure they would have freed their anchor and left us to drift onto the rocks, which was where we were heading. Shouting blue murder, I turned the engine on, secured V down below and turned off the cooker which had a curry cooking away for dinner. Up on deck, I shouted for someone on their boat to join me, as it was just me and a baby. Eventually one of their crew jumped in the water and swam to me, meanwhile another boat in the anchorage who saw this unfold jumped in his dinghy to come and help. I took the helm, applying a bit of forward and reverse to keep us from hitting another boat in the anchorage, whilst the two guys were on the foredeck freeing our anchor from theirs. Eventually we were free, the racing boat guy rejoined his boat and they left after pleading their sincere apologies (bit too late for that, me thinks!). Peter, then helped me to reset the anchor. It took a few attempts but finally we were happy we were not dragging. My only concern was that I was too close to our neighbouring yachts, especially as come the night when the winds drop, we all spin around our anchors in different directions and often end up stern to each other.  Peter offered his assistance if I needed, and said he would put the radio on. Moments later, our friends on Iona, who had returned to their boat half way through and were wandering what had happened, came by.  It was good to see a friendly face, especially as I was unable to get hold of M. In the end, Katie went back to Iona to get her partner Chris and they came back to help me re-lay the anchor to give us all enough swinging room. With it firmly down, a stiff drink poured, M finally received news of my need for help and radioed me to say he was at the dinghy dock. I didn’t want to end his night out after the racing, but with evening drawing in, I wanted to be sure he was happy with where we had ended up. An eventful, stressful and emotional end to the day. Alls well that ends well though as they say, and thankfully I was onboard.  At least, M had been invited for another day sailing the next day. It was funny though, I had a worry all day about what I would do if our anchor dragged without M nearby.

After a second good days racing, M came back to an unpleasant job of unblocking our heads. He had left me without a working loo all day (a potty comes in handy in these situations). So between the two of us, we spent a not so relaxing end to a Friday afternoon, up to our armpits in waste (M more than me in fairness), removing all he calcification from the pipes which had created a narrowing blocking the new toilet paper we had recently started using, which was thicker and harder to break down than normal. At least it didn’t happen at sea, I tried to suggest as a way of encouragement and promptly offered him a cold beer as soon as he was clean again. With a dirty job done, he deserved to go and join the crew on Spirit for a few drinks to celebrate end of race week, even if they didn’t win. With an invite back next year, it was an enjoyable few days spent.

With the grib files showing that the high was now establishing over the Azores, the window was looking good for a departure Sunday 1st or Monday 2nd May. With a few other boats thinking the same thing, we all coordinated a trip to the large supermarket on the other side of the island. Not so coordinated in reality, as we couldn’t get a taxi driver to commit to a price for taking us there, waiting and then bringing us back, as they didn’t know how much shopping we would get and therefore how much extra fuel it would cost them. We didn’t realise we were taking an aeroplane! In the end we decide to wing it, and took two buses to get there and hoped we would get a taxi back. £500 later (“I thought all you were getting was fresh stuff” said M) and a long wait followed by difficult negotiations with the taxi driver, we got back to English harbour and unloaded. It took the rest of the afternoon to put it all away.

We had decided to leave Monday morning, as we still had a good mornings preparations before we could depart and we always prefer to get up and go. The last day is always a busy one, but we managed to get to the beach at a reasonable time, to enjoy a final play on the beach and an evening sundowner with Iona and JoJo from Island Swift. Shame I stood on a sea urchin, at the end of my swim ashore from the boat. Let’s hope that doesn’t get infected in the middle of the ocean.

After almost 6 weeks in the Caribbean, we were keen to get the final ocean underway.  Our circumnavigation might have been complete, but we still had over 3000nm to go before we were home. We really enjoyed the Caribbean first time around, and had been looking forward to returning. In reality, we didn’t do it justice and after four years away, we were looking forward to the next challenge. But first, the North Atlantic.

Ascension Island to St Lucia

Week 1

IMG_0788Monday came around very quickly. We had spent 4 days in Ascension checking in on Thursday and out again on Friday ready for a morning departure on Monday. We raised the anchor at 1130, mindful that we had heard lots of reports of fouled anchors on the bottom. We had no issues and were off motor sailing past the ship that was debunking fuel via a floating pipeline to the Island. We deployed the fishing line and within a few minutes, as we were passing the ship, we had a bite. We reeled in a nice little Amber jack. It was straight out with the line and again and within a few minutes the line was spooling out, this time a nice sized Mahi Mahi. The next 30 mins were spent gutting, filleting and cleaning up. We would have liked to have put the line out again for the chance of catching a Yellow Fin Tuna in the area but decided we had enough fish to keep us going.

IMG_0790As we drew away from the island the wind direction varied a little – local effect from the Island, but it wasn’t long till we had constant winds pushing us along. We poled out the headsail and settled down for an early evening dinner. Iona left 20 mins before us and we kept sight of them until just before dark. As arranged we chatted early evening on the SSB with Iona and Andiamo who had left at about 1500 that afternoon.  It was good to be sailing again and with such a short stop everyone was still in sailing mode. 3200 nm to St Lucia.

The first 7 days flew by. The sailing conditions were very pleasant. For the first 3 days, the seas were relatively flat and with winds of 12-20 knots, we were regularly making 6 plus knots. Alas not enough to keep pace with Iona or to stop Andiamo overtaking us. By Sunday night (day 4), the winds slowly reduced and we switched from goose winged to broad reach to keep up a reasonable speed without banging sails – a frustrating sound, but more importantly we still had a long way to go so wanted to avoid wear and tear on the rigging and sails. It was a lovely day to celebrate Mothers Day.

Over the next few days the gribs were predicting some very light winds as the ITCZ fluctuated south across our path. That said the daily variation on predictions changed a fair amount so my confidence in their accuracy was not there.  Being on the extremities of the ITCZ, we had a number of squalls go through at night, although nothing significant in terms of increased wind speeds.  However, we did have over a day of solid rain – it was good for cleaning the boat down, but being near the equator, the heat inside the boat with the hatches shut was almost unbearable.

We headed West towards the NE tip of Brazil with the intent of turning northwards 60-100 nm offshore. This route would hopefully miniimise the time we would spend in the doldrums.  The days ticked by and we were quickly in a routine of cooking, playing with the little one, reading – when the little one was asleep and enjoying the calm night watches. With the moon high and full I spent a chilled night gazing out and enjoying the black glossy waves rolling past the boat as we coasted along bathed in moonlight.  The boat gliding along with the gentlest of rolls. An amazing sensation to be all alone and in such a peaceful environment.

A loaf of bread baked – a week one treat.

Week 2

Into week 2 of the passage and time seemed quite irrelevant. Generally it was quite relaxed and easy going if a little too light on the wind front. We decanted the 60 litres of diesel we had in jerry cans into the fuel tank to be almost full again.

By day 9, we were 100 nm from the Fernando Island. We had a great 36 hours sailing, making 6-6.5 knots with a knot of current in our favour. The predicted light winds had not materialised, at least not as much as was expected, so we were able to take a slightly more northerly route to shorten the course in a bid to make up some distance on the other two faster boats. A good sign of the currents we can expect off the Brazilian coast.

IMG_0807We had not done much fishing since our early catches, but with the light winds and the fridge looking emptier, we deployed the line again with our winning lure. The line was soon pay ngout very fast. We managed to slow the boat and started reeling in. As the fish got closer to the boat it was looking big. Was it a Wahoo – that would be very nice. Alas no, it was a very large Barracuda. This thing had massive teeth. We decided to release it. The only problem, removing the hook without loosing part of my hand. Job done. We called it a day for fishing after all the excitement.

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 13.26.30As we reached the NE corner of Brazil we picked up a positive current of 1-2 knots – very welcome. Just as we were eagerly following the current, our log stopped working, which meant we couldn’t easily calculate the current. We unpacked a hundred cans from a locker and pulled the log from the hull to inspect it. Minimising how much water rushes in is always fun. The log looked fine and was not fouled so we deduced it must be a wiring issue. A real pain. A day later it started working again. We have no idea what the issue was but fingers crossed it does not reoccur.

In the midst of the ITCZ, we had very light winds and motored for 15 hours. The plus side of burning the diesel to keep us moving was we managed to give the batteries a very good charge. We also chill the fridge right down and topped up our water tanks. Zen Again, a boat behind us were surviving on 6 litres of water a day. It is a nice luxury having a water maker. I did get stick off C for only making an additional 10 ltr of water for washing some clothes. Sometimes you can’t win :-))

We started potty training……just to add a little more challenge to the passage – as if we needed it.  The training was progressing; however, reluctantly we decided after nearly two weeks effort, to return to nappies. With the weather due to become livelier once through the ITCZ, it would become untenable to continue. Added to that, she was starting to have difficulties to go on the potty and we really didn’t have the spare capacity to keep putting her on it every 15 minutes. That said with the lively seas it is hard enough for me to relax and use the heads whilst hanging on to the boat – you have to love sailing.

We did a big stew to keep us going for a few days. One of the packs of meat at the top of the freezer had gone a little brown, I guess from the freeze thaw action, so we gave it a good cooking and it tasted fine.

Reaching half way had been a long time coming, particularly as we had lost the current earlier that day and with light winds we had dropped 20nm from our daily run.  We decided, since we were motoring anyway, to head due West to see if we could find the current again. After several hours motoring we started to pick up the current which thankfully built to 1-2 knots.  We celebrated the half way mark with a few digestives covered in chocolate spread.

We were pretty much out of fresh veg now, except pumpkins and sweet potatoes. Though the little one refused to eat them. Kids!

We were still keeping in daily contact with Iona and Andiamo on the SSB, although the reception was becoming extremely poor. A job to investigate in the Caribbean.

Week 3

IMG_0824The first night of week three, we watched the GPS eagerly as our Lattitude slowly hit zero. We had crossed the equator for a second time, this time heading Northward. We celebrated with a rum each and one for Neptune.

Tracking across the ITCZ, we started to experience some confused cross seas – a combination of NE and SE swell. Luckily it did not last too long and the NE swell became more established. The winds also went Easterly and we were soon making 6 knots on a Beam Reach.

We had changed our waypoint to take a more direct route towards Barbados based on the weather forecasts.  The winds went NE and we were sailing at 50 degrees apparent. The boat was moving well riding over the building waves and holding a good course. The cloud cover had been building and the squalls becoming more frequent. We have had a day of rain, max winds of 28 knots and some huge cloud systems passing over us. The night lightning show towards the mainland is quite impressive.

After 4 days, we started to lose the current again. We had hardened up on the wind anyway, and with the winds consistently up to 20 knots, it was becoming uncomfortable.  With that, we decided to head closer inshore coming off the wind to find the current and eventually picked up the contour for the continental shelf. We probably would have had a little more current if we had gone further inshore but we wanted to have sufficient sea room to bear away if needed. If the winds blow hard from the NNE, we didn’t want to pound into a head sea.

On day 20, I had a call to come on deck from C whilst she was feeding the little one. As I came on deck, she said there was something in the water ahead. Doing 7.5 knots the seething water quickly approached and we were surrounded by large bait balls of fish. They were everywhere and we were sailing straight through them. As we looked at the nearest bait ball some 2-3 meters from the boat we suddenly realised that whales, working in teams, were rounding up the fish. A whale suddenly surfaced scooping the fish and dived. As we glanced around, each ball of fish had whales surfacing. We reckoned on about 15 whales afterwards. This had all happened in a matter of seconds and we were very close to a lot of whales. We quickly turned the engine on – running in neutral – to alert the whales to our presence. In a matter of minutes we were clear of the whales – an amazing event to watch and we were so close. We were lucky we did not hit anything. We looked back watching all the plumes of spay from the whales until they were out of sight.

We continue with 2 knots of current making some great speeds. Our maximum daily run was 177 nm.  At the end of week three, we were still 5-6 days out from St Lucia. Andiamo were now in and Iona not far behind them.  If the weather remains as is, it is going to be a hard few days. Hopefully we will keep the current and the speed for as long as possible.

Week 4

The start of week 4 gave us a hard day at sea. The boat has launching over waves, which have been regularly coming into the cockpit – the poor little one got an early shower – luckily the water is warm.  You have to hang on as you move through the boat, making it difficult for V for get around. But despite all this it is amazing to watch the waves rolling in and the boat riding over them. The sails are nicely balanced and the Hydrovane is keeping us on course. We have a waxing moon that is bright in the sky. The black waves chase us through the night. We heal hard, right and race on through the night.

The wind has gone ESE, despite the gribs showing NE or E if we were lucky. The current has also dropped. The current slowly turned against us and we have had two days of counter current upto a knot. From making some great speeds it now feels like we are going painfully slow.  Zen Again has closed on us whilst we have had counter current. They will be harder on the wind being further west for the same Lattitude as us and maybe having a less comfortable ride. It will be interesting to compare trip notes when we arrive.

We passed a fishing vessel in the middle of nowhere laying to its nets. In the middle of the ocean miles from anywhere boats just seem to attract each other. We passed about a hundred meters off them. We have had a number of ships go past us on the trip. The AIS is invaluable, we see them a good few miles out and most importantly they see us, know our course and speed and that we are a sailing vessel and alter course if needed to avoid us.

IMG_0866On the 24th day at sea, we sighted Barbados, 20 nm to the North. We had a large squall go through earlier today which made the wind fluky for a while.  We were running before the wind, but had to switch to a broad reach to clear Barbados before hardening up and heading for the north of St Lucia. Barbados looked like the Blackpool illuminations lighting up the sky as we passed at night.  We were circled several times before we had a guest join us for the night. An impressive sea bird which has perched on our boom. It looked like hard work balancing there all night as the boat rolls along – at least there was no mess on the decks.

At first light our feathered friend takes flight. The boat starts to accelerate as we pick up some great current pushing us towards St Lucia. 1 knot, 2 knots then some more.  We are going to easily make St Lucia in the light.  The seas have calmed slightly and the end of our circumnavigation is so so close. We sight St Lucia and coast up the East of the island. We are using the original paper chart that we came across the Atlantic from the Canaries with.  It still has our daily plot and track on it.  As we reach the Northern tip of St Lucia we close on our original track and at 1700 on the 24th March 2016 we crossed our original track……………..we have sailed around the World…..we took some photos and start to square the boat away for port.  We need a safe landfall before we celebrate.  As it is too late to Clear In with customs we head into the marina and almost coincidently berth in the same slot that we were in 3 years and 2 months earlier.  Time to crack the bubbly. A bottle later it is only starting to sink in that we have safely sailed around the World.  We have achieved our aim.  There have been some great highs, some lows, some draining and scary moments but most of all some amazing people and wildlife.

Ascension Island

At 1520 on Thursday 18th Feb, we slipped the line on the mooring buoy and headed on a bearing of 330 degrees magnetic.  The high volcanic island was disrupting the winds, so we motor sailed for the first few hours.  We were out and soon thinking about dinner, bed for the little one and into the night shifts before we knew it.  Once out of the wind shadow, we had a reasonable 15 knots of wind from the south east, although it tended to be a bit squally so we had a few reefs in the main. The highlight of the passage to Ascension was the amazing bright night sky – we approached a full moon on night three of the trip. We hadn’t sailed with a full moon for a long time, and whilst stargazing is superb on the dark nights, it made a real difference to be sailing along as it were dusk all night. We even managed to watch a few films on the iPads without it affecting our night vision.

We had left St Helena earlier than we would have liked to to make the most of the consistent winds forecasted until Sunday, before they were set to die completely. We were making a good 20-25 nm every four hours, averaging 5-6 knots. The seas were flat and it made for some perfect sailing.  We continued the good routine we had established from Cape Town with V and everyone was happy. Come Sunday, the winds did reduce but not as low as we were expecting, which made a pleasant change as we continued to make good progress for Ascension averaging 4-5 knots over the ground. Although the drop in wind speed by 5 knots was enough to set the sails banging and flapping driving M insane as he tweaked and adjusted to reduce the wear and tear. IMG_0674Finally we dug out the cruising chute. We flew it a lot across the Pacific, but since having a baby on the boat, it always seemed too much like hard work and had been easier to put the engine on for the short periods we would have had the chute up for. However without being able to top up on diesel in Ascension and with 4000nm to go to the Caribbean, we had to conserve fuel for recharging batteries, running the water maker and for the calms expected in the doldrums. The cruising chute was hoisted easily, and once set up, it was actually not too cumbersome and although we had to keep more of a watch on the sail and the wind speeds, it was easy to do with the little one, especially as she was quite happy amusing herself. We did however notice that the reinforcement patches on the cruising chute were ripped, so we ran with it cautiously and dropped it once winds reached 14knots to avoid any further damage.

It was another solitary passage, seeing only the Royal Mail Ship (RMS) St Helena passing by and a few birds landing on the boom for a rest over night. We made the most of the quiet nights, setting an alarm for every 20 minutes to scan the horizon and allowing us to get some sleep between. Two other boats left at the same time as us, Andiamo and Iona, both of whom were faster than us, arriving on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning respectively. Come Wednesday morning, we had 80nm to go after a fairly fast sixth night. The winds kept over 15 knots which meant we were now looking at an evening arrival rather than early hours of the following morning.

With 30nm to go and just before sunset, we spotted land in the distance, always exciting and our ritual of shouting “land ahoy” gives us a great final boost.  As the sun set, the lights from the military airbase on the south of the island were clear to see. It was extremely dark until the large moon finally rose. This was as we were heading north up the island with 5nm to the anchorage. The moon made it easier to spot the small buoys, floating pipeline and local fishing boats in the water. Iona guided us into the anchorage area by flashing their bright deck light on and off. It was a pretty deep anchorage for us with only 50m of chain, so we snuck forward of the boats as much as we risked in the dark – not knowing if there were any hazards closer inshore. We dropped the anchor at 2100 in 15m of water, thankfully not waking V in the process. We were a little close to Andiamo, but the anchor was well dug in, so vowed that it would be OK at least until morning. We cracked a beer and treated ourselves to some delicious English Stilton we had picked up in St Helena. It was a perfect time to arrive, to relax and still manage a good full nights sleep to feel refreshed the following day.

IMG_0697Waking up on Thursday 25th Feb, we had a relaxed morning wake up and breakfast, before putting the dinghy in the water (first time since Mauritius) and heading ashore to clear in. Being another volcanic rock in the middle of the ocean, there was little protection from the surge of the ocean, making it difficult to land. Unlike St Helena there was no ferry to take us ashore.  Grabbing a rope on the crest of the surge, I would jump up to the landing area with a line to hold us in, whilst M quickly passed up V and offloaded bags and rubbish. It was a well oiled operation by the time we left.

Although this trip was less than one week, it was funny to see V adjust to walking on land again. She definitely still had her sea legs on, as she was wobbly on her feet and couldn’t walk in a straight line! She also went mad with all the free space to run around; the ladies in the Port Office found it amusing.

The main town in Ascension was small and it didn’t take long to find the essentials – supermarket and pub. There was an odd mix of history with an incredible fort and old Victorian looking buildings mixed with military style housing. It had the feel of a military town, and almost reminiscent of Lossiemouth in Scotland. There was an amazing playground but in the whole time there we didn’t see a single child playing other than V and Leili, despite there being about 90 children on the island.  The RMS St Helena had just restocked the island, so we managed to pick up some fresh fruit, bread and best of all pate. The three boat crews all congregated in Saints Club for lunch and an afternoon catch up.

Having missed out on the whale sharks in St Helena, I was keen to see the turtles laying their eggs on the beach. With another plan for M and I to take it in turns whilst looking after V, I made plans with Iona and Andiamo, to grab a lift ashore with them that evening. It was a lovely warm evening, and even just on the small beach right next to the town, there were at least one hundred holes in the sand where the giant green turtles had already laid their eggs. We saw a few trails from the sea leading up the beach and didn’t take too long to come across our first turtle laying it’s eggs. The turtles were huge and it was incredible to see them lift their heavy shells up the beach, a slow process given the hefty weight. They would then use their flippers to fling sand behind them as they dug a hole in which to lay their eggs. Back on the harbour, the local fisherman were cleaning up their nightly catch of yellowfin tuna, unfortunately none for sale. A great evening, which unfortunately turned sour back on the boat, when we realised our dingy and outboard were missing. M who had stayed on board with the little un, had heard some strange banging against the hull earlier that evening but didn’t notice anything suspicious.  It is hard to believe that on a small island like Ascension, one of the locals would steal our dinghy/outboard, but I guess it is hard and expensive to have equipment delivered to the island. Most likely spares were needed for an outboard, and the dinghy was ditched out to sea.

With the events of the night before, M spent much of Friday chasing down the local police to file a report and to speak with the insurance company about a replacement. It was frustrating to know that we had carried the new hard bottomed dinghy with us since Australia, hardly using it to lose it just weeks away from the Caribbean where it is essential. Luckily with a supply ship in from the UK, the port control had requested that we didn’t take dinghies ashore, and to make use of their ferry boat. This made getting ashore easy.  Unfortunately, Ms plans to go spearfishing with Eric from Andiamo had to be put on hold, but kindly Eric offered us a large grouper from his catch that day. We invited them over for a fish cook off, with their Mahi Mahi and we enjoyed a great evening of drinks and playing cards against humanity then trying to teach liar dice.

IMG_0742It was impossible to hire a car on the island, with the supply ship in, but we were keen to see the island. M spoke with the local school bus driver to see if he would take us all for a tour. Whilst he wasn’t allowed to use the school mini bus, he didn’t have anything planned for Saturday and kindly offered to drive us in his car. We managed to squeeze us and Iona into the car, with the girls on laps, as Rob gave a great guided tour of the sights. It was a really interesting place, with its volcanic terrain, blow holes, derelict NASA buildings previously used during the moon landings and a spiders web of communications antenna – one providing relay for the BBC World Service. Back on the boat by 2pm, M finally went out spearfishing with Eric, whilst V had a play date on board with Leili. Tonight’s fish catch was a tasty Amberjack.

We had already cleared out for a Monday departure, another short but sweet stop, which meant a busy day on Sunday. With the supply ship finished unloading and the ferry service ceased, Iona and Andiamo kindly ferried us back and forth to shore so we could do washing and Internet, and a final night of drinks at the bar with the guys.

St Helena

IMG_0600Port Control contacted us at 0900 and requested that we complete formalities ashore. We grabbed quick showers onboard (we were stinking!) and hailed the ferry. We had been told that the surge around the Island meant it was not advisable to take the dinghy ashore, and we could see why when the ferry made a well timed approach to the harbour wall on the crest of a surge. We grabbed ropes and jumped ashore, passing the little one to a fellow cruiser. It got easier the more we did it! Andiamo and ourselves walked around port control and immigration and were complete by 11am, so headed to Ann’s Place – about the only thing open in Jamestown on a Sunday. To hell with it, we all ordered a couple of beers and spent an enjoyable afternoon catching up with David, Eric and Amanda before Rutea, Deese and Iona joined us later. With no cash machines on the island, we had to wait until Monday morning for the St Helena bank to open. Luckily St Helena is about the only place in the world that we could run a tab, which we proceeded to make use of for the rest of our stay.

After a good nights sleep, we hit Jamestown to suss out the available supplies and managed to pick up some cucumbers, kiwis and peppers, and not forgetting freshly baked bread. Between the various stores in the main town, there was everything we would need for the long passage up to the Caribbean. Monday and Thursdays seem to be the day when local farmers sell their fruit and veg, and when there was a small growers market. You take pot luck on what you can get though. We lucked in with a visit to the tourist information. A helpful lady called her uncle and arranged for 4kg of green tomatoes for us which we picked up later in the week. She also called another farmer who was able to supply a stalk of green bananas. With laundry deposited, a tour of the island organised and British pounds in our pockets, it had been a productive morning. We met Iona for lunch in Ann’s place and the girls played together in the castle gardens before going for a swim in the local pool. Not sure why they were called castle gardens with no castle in sight.

IMG_0599St Helena is the first British territory that we have landed since Gibraltar some 3 and a half years earlier. It was comforting to see some old favourites in the shops. There is very little tourism in St Helena at the moment, with the only way to arrive by boat. This made for a very friendly welcome wherever we went and everyone greeted us in the streets as we passed by. With an airport due to open on the island this year, we wondered how it will all change in the years to come and were thankful to have been able to visit the island whilst it was still largely untouched.

One of the main attractions on the Island was the whale sharks. We arranged a snorkelling trip on Tuesday morning with a few other boats. M and I would take it in turns to snorkel whilst the other looked after V. Well that was the plan anyway. After an hours motor to the north of the island, it was obvious that it wasn’t going to be our day. The guide struggled to find the whale sharks. Previous cruisers had given us reports of loads of whale sharks in the waters, so we didn’t even consider that we wouldn’t find any. After about half an hour of looking, they spotted one in the water, everyone except me dived in and within 5 minutes they were all making their way back to the boat, the beast had dived too deep to see. And that was the end of that, no more whale sharks. M luckily had a good view of it before it dived having jumped in pretty much on top of it.

To alleviate somewhat our disappointment, we went out in the dinghy with Eric and Amanda from Andiamo to snorkel the wreck in the harbour. This time M stayed in the boat with V whilst I went in the water first. It was a fantastic wreck of a boat that had sunk due to a fire.  Most of the structure was still in tact and the walls of fish all around provided a really interesting snorkel and in any rate it was good be be back in the water.

With the weather forecasts showing the winds dying for up to a week on route to Ascension, come Sunday, we decided that we should leave whilst there was still some wind. With an Island tour with Robert organised for Wednesday and fresh supplies in the shops on Thursday morning, we reluctantly made plans for a Thursday pm departure, along with Andiamo and Iona.  With that decided we arranged for a fuel barge to come alongside the boat first thing Wednesday morning to top up on diesel and water – very handy arrangement, and we grabbed a lift back ashore with them to meet up with a few other boats for the island tour. Would you believe it, it rained and rained all morning. We started the tour in an open sided truck, but with the rain pouring in and the carbon monoxide fumes from the steep hills, we convinced Robert to squeeze us all in his bus. It was a squeeze, but was much more comfortable.  The weather spoilt the views for most of the morning, but it did brighten up come the afternoon. We were taken to the fort In Jamestown, the Governors home with the giant older living tortoise, Napoleons house and best of all the distillery! IMG_0621Having been to many distilleries, we weren’t all that bothered, but pulling into someone’s house and seeing what looked like a DIY set up we were intrigued.  It was in someone’s garage, but the set up was extremely interesting as we heard about how he learnt the process from scratch, invested in the equipment, designed expensive one off bottles that cost £20k, and how he manages as a one man band to complete the process himself, including the bottling. Always a favourite, we sampled the different blends and enjoyed the coffee liqueur the best – made from St Helena grown coffee. All in all it was an interesting day and gave a great overview of the Island.

IMG_0625Our stop on St Helena was too short to really do it justice, but as always the weather takes priority and with a lot of sea miles and a back stop date of leaving the Caribbean at the beginning of May, we had to keep moving. So on Thursday morning, we were up early to catch the best of the fresh supplies before they sold out. A stop in Ann’s place to use the expensive but rubbish Internet, lunch and have a last play with Leili before settling up our tab and clearing out with immigration and port control. It was a hectic day and we were knackered by the time we released our lines and slipped the mooring buoy at 1500. With just 700nm to Ascension, we could rest on passage…

South Africa to St Helena

Sat 30 Jan we departed Cape Town after a fairly straight forward and quick clear out process.

0830 we slipped the marina berth, dumping a few mooring lines that had been trashed by our time in South African ports and motored out through a calm and peaceful harbour. As we put some distance between the land and ourselves we started to pick up some wind and we were sailing. South Africa had been great but it was time to move on and it felt good to be on the water again. We watched over the day as Table Mountain disappeared into the distance.

Sun – It had been a lively night with moderate size waves on the beam. The boat had taken a good soaking. Mid way through the night we found ourselves doing a constant 10 knots. It was a little on the lively side for a relaxed night sail so we reefed down and were happy to still be doing 8 knots.

Mon – We are following the rhumb line between Cape Town and St Helena. The winds have reduced a little so our daily run has dropped. Conditions about are very manageable though and the little one is happy scampering all over the place. There is no where she will not climb. She has though taken to resisting going to bed, waking up in the middle of the night and then waking up at the crack of dawn. We are both looking forward to getting her back to a normal sleep routine. We think the cause might be teething.

Tue – To try and keep some good wind we have deviated from the rhumb line and are making a more northerly route parallel to the African coast.

Wed – We are working our way through our fresh stocks. What will be available at St Helena I wonder?

Thu – The seas were fairly flat and we mere making good progress. As the morning went on the winds became lighter and the sails started flapping. It was on with the motor for a spot of motor sailing whilst we made some water. The watermaker ran for 3.5 hours making 105 litres. Showers, washing nappies, washing up and drinking water had taken its toll on our water supplies. By 1630 though the tanks were brimming and it was off with the engine. We sailed into the night making about 4.5 knots.

Fri 5 Feb – It has been a very nice days sail.  The winds have been a bit light but a consistent 12 knots.  The seas have been flat and the boat has slowly glided along at a sedate 4.5 knots. Our call to go north of the rhumb line appears to be paying off as the boats nearer the rhumb line are struggling for wind.

IMG_0544C has spent the morning keeping the little one amused. Stickle brick, Lego, Playdo…..but to mention a few. I spent an hour this afternoon making bread. The first loaf since the Pacific – it turned out fairly well. Bacon sandwiches tomorrow for breakfast.

The line has been out all day with a new pink squidie lure but to no avail. Hopefully we will have better luck tomorrow. At about five we let out the Main sail and stowed the pole. We were running under poled out head sail alone. We are now on a broad reach.

After 7 days at see we are all settled into the sea routine.

IMG_0549Sat – Another light wind day. The fishing line went out nice and early and within a few hours we had a bite. We had to slow the boat right down to get the fish in. It put up a real fight and it was a struggle to reel in the line before the fish took it out again. After 30 mins though we hauled a 16 kg Tuna on board. It was great to have caught something other than Mahi Mahi. The next 40 mins were spent filleting,and cleaning the deck off whilst C managed to squeeze all the meat into the fridge. Tuna steaks for dinner were fantastic. And even the little one scoffed a fair size portion.

All in all a great days sail.

Sun – The day started well with a little stronger wind pushing us along a little faster. This soon though reduced to 12 knots and our speed dropped. We tried several different sail combinations to maximise speed but in the end settled back goose winged. With the steady seas, albeit a bit rolly the little one is scampering around the boat in complete confidence. Not to mention climbing up retrieve books from the shelves. Tuna mayo wraps for lunch. The last of the loaf has gone and C has been baking some sugar free cookies for the little one – quite tasty if you cover them in jam!

The nights are getting warmer. We were in full oilies but they are not needed quite so much now.

We realised that the fridge had been turned off for nearly 24 hours. We will have to leave it running on max to refreeze everything.  The batteries will take a hammering so we will have to run the engine a couple of times to recharge them.

No other vessels seen for several days now.

Wed – We have been running the engine a couple of times a day to keep the freezer going to freeze all the tuna – we are all a little tuna’d out.

Thu – A light days sail and some slow speeds. 3-4 knots most of the time and with the sails banging and flapping. Slow noisy but comfortable. The daily routine just ticks on but the highlight today was fresh baked cookies with a nice cup of tea this afternoon.

We changed the ships clock back by an hour as we had gone past 000 degrees of longitude putting us back on GMT. We also passed 001 deg 10 minutes West meaning that we had crossed every meridian of Longitude.

Fri – A slow day sail and unable to listen in on the net to see how everyone else was doing. Reception is very poor at the moment. We saw Andiamo on the horizon slowly gaining on us late morning so hailed them on the VHF to see how they were doing – they were the first boat we had seen in at least 1200 miles.  We arranged a photoshoot when they sailed past. A few hours later they sailed past and both yachts managed to get some good shots of the other. An entertaining couple of hours.

We dipped the pole taking us onto port gybe and settled down for the night. It was a black black night.

Sat – As the day grew light the black clouds were looking ominous and the rain started. On the plus side the wind strength increased and we were doing a good 6-7 knots. And so the morning went on with the odd cloud, rain shower and sudden burst of acceleration. At 1800 we spotted St Helena on the horizon ahead of us. We had 29 miles to run to the island come 2000 so aimed to do a night approach with the intent of picking up a mooring about 0230 Sun morning.

Sun – We rounded the island in the early hours, furled our Main sail and gybed the head sail allowing us to run most of the way to the mooring field. We made contact with St Helena Radio who took our details and contacted Port Control who told us to pick up a yellow buoy. Deese had left their AIS on so we knew we were heading to the right spot in the pitch black of the night. We did an easy pick up of a mooring with C on the helm, squared the boat away and cracked a celebratory beer at about 0300. After a couple more beers we hit the sack at 0500. 0630 the little one woke and was raring to go!

Cape Town Area

IMG_1300We had arrived in Simons Town on 14th December, one week before Christmas Eve, and now it was time to get into the Christmas spirit. But as always, first we had a major boat job to sort out.  We had known for quite some time, that our mast was starting to compress the compression post base, which meant that the deck fibreglass was dipping. M had been speaking to Ken from Badgers Sett, whom we had met in St Lucia, about the problem as they had recently undertook the same repair on their Westerley Oceanlord. We had hoped we could make it back to the UK before fixing it, but on inspection in Richards Bay, the compression had increased following the stresses of the Indian Ocean. M had already teed up with a local rigger to come and inspect the problem and with various shipwrights in the yacht club, they had a solution for the problem. It was just a shame that everyone was finishing for Christmas holidays and we couldn’t arrange the work until the 7 Jan.

IMG_3972Simons town was a quaint little town, with its buildings dating back to the early 1800’s, and had the Table Mountain and Cape Point national parks as its stunning backdrop. It also meant you needed a car to get anywhere. I managed to find what seemed like the last hire car in Cape Town and booked it for one month at 200 Rand per day, less than £10. It was a small Honda with a poxy little boot, barely big enough for a few shopping bags, but it was a new car and had air con.

IMG_1307False Bay Yacht Club was an ideal place to be situated for the month, with Cape Point 15 minutes away, Cape Town an hours drive, and stunning surf beaches along the whole coast line.  A favourite spot was Boulders Beach five minutes drive and the only place to see the African penguin. It had a nice little walk to view the Penguins and a perfect beach for V – protected from the surf, small sandy area with shallow water for paddling and penguins. She loved seeing the Penguins. It became a firm favourite especially when my mum came to visit.

The yacht club itself was very friendly, with regular events being hosted and a popular swimming area. Not ones for swimming in marinas we avoided it, but the water was crystal clear; you could always see the bottom.  Wednesday nights were Braai night, where the wood was lit on the BBQs and everyone congregated with their meat to Braai and drink their wine or beer.

With no presents yet, we made regular trips into the local shopping malls and into the V&A in Cape Town itself. Whilst the V&A was a great waterfront development, we were glad to have secured the berth at Simons town.  There was an awesome shopping mall, where we managed to pick up most of V’s presents in just one day, and a lovely food and artisan market full of local African crafts and designs. I could have spent a fortune. We had put on hold the tourist activities for after Christmas when my mum arrived, as there was no point in doing them twice. With the usual excitement of Christmas, it seemed like we were in supermarkets every day leading up to Christmas, but we did also manage to start ticking some boat jobs off the list at the same time. We also found time to entertain and on the Sunday before Xmas, we put up the tinsel and Christmas lights, cracked the cheese and port and invited Superted and the Windarra’s over for an afternoons festivities. It was starting to feel a lot like Christmas. We even had our first date night since V arrived, taking up the frequent offer of babysitting by Jean and Matt, we managed to go out for dinner in Simons Town. Although we nearly didn’t make it, as V must have sensed mummy and daddy were doing something different that night, and it took two hours to get her to sleep. We were determined to go out though and had a lovely evening, if only we had grandparents nearby.

With Christmas Eve, the boat jobs were put aside and after we managed to get the fresh duck, brussels and parsnips (no mean feat, I can assure you as most South Africans seemed to prefer a Braai on Christmas rather than the full trimmings), we had a walk around nearby Kalk Bay.  We had driven through it repeatedly and looked like a hip and happening place, with loads of cafes, bars, and cool shops for those last minute gifts. We had also been told about the best fish and chip shop, and whilst we don’t normally like fish and chips, the queue out of the door told us it was worth it, and it was, probably the best fish and chips we have ever had. We sat there in the car, whilst V was asleep scoffing our faces, watching the local fishermen selling there fresh yellowtail from the dock. We had been invited for cocktails on Ruteur that night, but the little lady was ready to drop, so I put her to bed, whilst M enjoyed an eggnog or two. His expresso martini offering had been wisely whisked away.

As the usual hype of Christmas finally arrived, the boat was stacked full of presents wrapped on the chart table (not quite a Christmas tree, but still). Father Christmas had managed to find V and leave a stocking full of gifts. We had a lovely family day, just the three of us, it was nice and relaxed. V opened a present or two, and enjoyed playing with them before being handed the next.  She still hasn’t opened all of them even now and it is nearly the end of February. Well kids get too much anyway! We took a walk to the beach in Simons town and whilst it was a bit of a cold day, we had a run around on the sand as I tried hard to keep her out of the water, in her nice new Christmas dress. It took hours to cook the Christmas dinner in our little gas oven, but we were in no rush. In the end, V had fallen asleep and I had to keep it all warm until she woke up. She never sleeps for that long usually!  With Skype calls made to all our families, we finally put her to bed and relaxed for the evening ourselves, unable to eat all the Christmas treats we had bought.

Every man and their dog had the same idea as us on Boxing Day, to take a drive to Cape Point. With queues extending a mile from the entrance, we drove past and headed to the beach at Scarborough and enjoyed some Xmas leftovers in a sandwich in the car watching the waves.  A group were heading to the Farmhouse Cafe for an afternoon of live music.  It was a fantastic spot with a kiddie playground. We put a picnic blanket on the grass nearby whilst she played and we enjoyed a beer listening to Freshly Ground, a popular South African band. They were really good and it was a great way to spend the afternoon.

IMG_0041We had been umming and aahing about what to do in the days between Xmas and NY, and decided to put an overnight bag in the boot and see where we end up. These spontaneous outings are always the best, as we headed North out of Cape Town, taking in the scenic ocean route called Chapmans Peak, it beat the Great Ocean Road hands down.  IMG_0064Making our way towards the West Coast National Park, we stopped at a great view point of Table Mountain overlooking another long beach popular with kite surfers for lunch. IMG_0165We made our way to Darling and found a nice little hotel for the night, although it was quite a small town with not much going on, we found a pleasant cafe for dinner. We tried to put V to sleep on a mattress on the floor, but with the excitement of new surroundings she didn’t sleep all that well. She wasn’t used to seeing a proper bed, and enjoyed jumping up and down, with fortunately no accidents occurring!  The following day we took a drive through the stunning West Coast National Park, with beautiful beaches and a large lagoon. V enjoyed her daddy’s first lessons at rock climbing. Langebaan would be the ideal place to return to learn to kite surf. We drove inland back towards Cape Town heading for Wellington.  There was a real contrast in the land from dry arid conditions to green lush vineyards the closer we came towards Wellington. It was a lovely drive,  but Wellington was a bit disappointing, although the mountain backdrop was impressive, so we continued the drive towards the mountains and ended up in Paarl for the night. We pushed the boat out and stayed in a lovely hotel with swimming pool, and enjoyed a dinner of rotisserie chicken and salad from the nearby Spar shop and tucked in around the pool, just outside of our room. V was in her element again, and enjoyed a swim followed by a splash in a proper bath rather than a bucket.  After two nights away and with winds howling back in Simons town, we made our way back to the boat via a beautiful mountain drive through Franschhoek and along the coast road of False Bay back to Simons town. A lovely few days away.

With my Mum arriving on the 3rd Jan, we spent a few days ticking off more jobs and generally getting ready. The yacht club put on a good NYE bash, with a Braai and disco. V actually slept through most of the evening, until the sudden change in noise at midnight, which brought our evening to an abrupt end.

The day had finally arrived to pick up my mum from the airport. She hadn’t seen V since the end of Feb last year, so we were all looking forward to some quality time together, with a babysitter on hand!  We hadn’t really practised the word grandma, although I always try to bring up names of family when we are playing pretend telephone games, but V suddenly started saying Grandma within the first hour. She was really starting to communicate now and saying quite a few words of her own accord.  We checked mum into a lovely hotel in Simons town, a grand old building beautifully decorated and only a stones through from the Marina, and then went out for lunch and a late afternoon glass of wine.  She came back to the boat for dinner (and more wine) – a trigger for bad weather (mum always brings bad weather with her, we had a week in Gibraltar at the start of our travels and all it did was rain rain rain). This time it was two weeks of gale force winds!

IMG_0239We had a busy itinerary of activities to pack in whilst she was here, first up was Table Mountain.  We picked Mum up at 7.30 to get there early but weren’t entirely sure whether the cable car would be running due to the winds. There was quite a queue already by the time we arrived as the cable car was delayed but eventually we were heading up to the top.  Not one to do if you are scared of heights but wow, the views really were amazing. We started a free guided walk, but regretted it as it was more talking than walking and It wasn’t holding V’s interest.  It was a hot day at the top, and V walked almost entirely on her own the whole of table mountain. She was knackered and desperately needed a sleep and we needed food, so we headed to the V&A and had some delicious sushi and a bottle of wine whilst the little un slept.  M made a beeline for the cinema to watch Star Wars, whilst the girls had a mooch around the markets and shops, and took V to the lovely pirate climbing frame and slides in the centre.

After a full on day on the Monday,  we had a more chilled day around Simons town on the Tuesday and took Mum to see the penguins and spent the morning on the beach.  We had saved V’s Xmas presents from my mum to open whilst she was here, so we had a mini Xmas day with a nice lunch onboard.  We tried to do an evening meal out that night, but V had other ideas and just would not go to sleep, so in the end, M took her home and did the bed time routine whilst mum and I enjoyed a relaxed evening out. It made a lovely change for me to go out, and surprisingly she went to bed very easily – she normally screams the place down if M even tries to put her to bed.

IMG_0294Another early start to go to Cape Point, where we took the funicular to the top. This peninsula was like nothing we had seen before, the ruggedness, outlying rocks and the waves crashing in reminded us why the Cape of Good Hope was renowned for its difficulty.  V enjoyed walking and refused to be carried, and ended up climbing up all of the steps to the top to reach the Cape Point lighthouse. She dropped after that and fell asleep in the car, so we took it in turns to go to the Cape of Good Hope beach. The national park was a lovely drive, with baboons and Ostrich, giving my mum her first glimpse of the South African wildlife.

We had booked four nights away, two in the wine lands and two on safari. After enjoying the Hunter Valley in Australia, we were all keen to see what Stellenbosch and Franschhoek had to offer, besides their prices – we already knew the wines in South Africa were cheap! Our first vineyard was Middelvlei, a small boutique family run place on a farm. Paying 5 Rand (25p) we enjoyed large measures of five of their wines and relaxed whilst V happily played on the grass, taking it in turns to take her to see the goats, chickens and cows. It was a nice way of doing the wine tasting, we weren’t rushed and V wasn’t bored.  Next stop was a larger vineyard, called Blaauwklippen. The bubbles were delicious there, but the reds and whites weren’t anything to write home about.  We had booked into a winery for the night, it was expensive at £100 but cheap in comparison to what you would pay elsewhere for five star accommodation on an exclusive vineyard with beautiful grounds and our own personal wine tasting. IMG_0387Webersburg made only a small selection of wines, notably a Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, but they had won awards left, right and centre and you could see why, they were amazing. We had booked a picnic hamper for the evening, and whilst the food was a bit disappointing, we enjoyed a lovely evening drinking the Sauvignon Blanc overlooking the lake and the vineyards.  The next morning we took a morning stroll through the estate to breakfast. We drove onto Franschhoek via another winery, Tosaka. It wasn’t even 11am, so we tried not to drink too much of the free samples, and felt obliged to buy a bottle in return. Whilst waiting for our room for the night to be finished, we stumbled on another vineyard whilst looking for a place that makes wine with real chocolate. Sadly that one wasn’t open to the public, but instead found a smaller family run vineyard with lovely grounds and a kids playground. We had a delicious cheese board and 7 large samples (literally talking full measures) over the course of the afternoon. You could see why the wine tram was a popular thing to do with these measures. Later in the afternoon we eventually went back to the guest house to check in and were pleasantly surprised by the large two bed apartment we had for the night. IMG_0396You could have fitted the boat in at least ten times, it was that big,. V enjoyed running all around. It’s funny that she isn’t used to houses and gets so excited at the increase in space with different rooms and furniture compared with the boat. We had a quick dip in the pool, before heading out for dinner in the evening, tapas whilst V this time slept through it all. Both the towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek were lovely to wander around and we could have spent all day looking around the shops and in the cafes if it wasn’t for the wine tasting! We came away with over a dozen bottles of wine, only to realise that we didn’t have that many days left with mum to enjoy them. I would have to hide them in the bilges to enjoy with her when we arrive back to England!

IMG_0422From Franschhoek it was over two hours drive to Inverdoorn safari lodge. It was in the middle of nowhere. Again the scenery on the drive was spectacular. The lodge was nice, very hot and a little disorganised, but the buffet lunch was good. We made a mental note to arrive early the following day! With an evening and early morning safari falling on food and sleep times for the little one, we decided to split our safaris so that I did the first day and M did the second day, whilst the other looked after V. We did however take up their babysitting service for the evening meals once she had gone to bed – the best £3 an hour we had spent as I was able to relax whilst she slept soundly. The Inverdoorn game reserve is a big 5, although it is primarily a rescue centre with animals being relocated here rather than purely wild like the ones we had seen over in Richards Bay. It meant the lions were in their own separate enclosure, as they had been rescued too late in life to survive in the wild. Despite that they were great to see, as it was the one animal we hadn’t seen yet. IMG_1410On the reserve there was an array of rhino, giraffe, zebra, buffalo, kudos, elephant and even hippos. Being in the jeep we actually had some fantastic viewing positions close up to the animals, maybe a little too close for the comfort of the animals. It was good to see all the giraffes close up as we had only seen one from a distance to date. It was a great introduction to safari for my mum and being malaria free, it made it easier with having V with us. The main attraction of the Inverdoorn game reserve was the cheetah rehabilitation centre, where they rescue and release these animals back into the wild. IMG_1501Cheetahs and leopards are so hard to spot in the wild, so it was nice to be able to see the cheetahs close up and to watch them do their evening exercises running at full speed.  We also did a one on one cheetah interaction, where we were able to get up close to the big cats. With two nights and for my mum four game drives, we were worried that it would be a bit repetitive. In actual fact, we saw something different on each trip be it a rhino standoff or a cheetah escaping from the sanctuary. IMG_1607It was a lovely few days away and I was glad that mum enjoyed it.

With arrangements made for M to start the job on fixing our deck compression issue, we headed back to the boat for Mums last five days. Unfortunately the winds were still blowing strong and with the rigging needing to be loosened off, the work had to be put on hold.  He cracked on with making sure everything was ready and set up for when the wind would eventually die. Mum, V and I did day trips. There really is so much to see in and around Cape Town. She could have stayed for three weeks and we still wouldn’t have done it justice, but I think we had a nice balance of activities that she enjoyed. The botanical gardens at Kristenbosch were beautiful with the table mountain as its backdrop, and we made several more trips to the penguins and into the centre of Cape Town itself. Unfortunately I completely put my back out whilst picking up V awkwardly at the gem factory. It was sufficiently bad that M had to stop his boat jobs and come out with us too. I couldn’t pick the little one up and she is so strong and heavy that it would have been difficult for my mum too. It was nice though, as we all got to do the open top bus tour around Cape Town and visited the District 6 museum which is about the apartheid. Sadly her two weeks went by far too quickly and before we knew it we were back at the airport saying our goodbyes.   V loved having grandma to stay and really flourished even in the short time she was here.  Our last night of being unhealthy saw us scoffing a large dominos pizza in the car whilst V slept in the back as we parked up overlooking the beach.

Finally the winds abated enough for M to crack on with the big job on Monday 18th, whilst V and I took the opportunity to have a quiet few days in and around the yacht club, catching up with Katie and Leili from Iona, and seeing yet more penguins. The hardest part about getting the mast done, was actually herding the workmen together and in the end it took several days to complete what should have been done in a day. We did have one restless night, where the rigging was still loose and the winds blew strong, and every noise was sure to be the mast falling over! Thankfully it didn’t and with a substantial 6 mm stainless steel plate bolted and epoxied in place to support the compression post, the lintels were removed and the rigging tightened. We were good to get going again and back to looking for a weather window to round the Cape of Good Hope.

We wanted calm conditions to do the 50nm trip to the Royal Cape Yacht Club. After such a long period of gale force winds, there was finally a break over the weekend of 23rd Jan. We decided to leave a few days later on Monday 25th, to give the seas a day or two to reduce with the lighter winds. We moved berths the night before to make an easier night departure from False Bay Yacht Club.We slipped at 04.30 and motored out into lightish winds on the nose as we headed South to Cape Point.  We motored sailed, but the seas were becoming rougher the closer to Cape we got, with short sharp swell. It was incredibly uncomfortable and slow going, thankfully V wasn’t affected by sea sickness this time, but I was yet again. It was a cold day, and we all had layers of coats and woolly hats on trying to keep warm. As we rounded Bellows rock, we were able to bear away from the wind and the seas soon flattened. We continued to motor sail into Cape Town itself, passing Iona on the way as they flew their spinnaker in the light winds. IMG_0494It was a stunning view of the Twelve Apostles and Table Mountain as we approached Cape Town. We had been warned that it was difficult to berth in The Royal Cape Yacht club as the winds funnelled down the mountain and the slips were narrow, making it difficult to back out in the event of a problem. For us luckily, we arrived in dead calm and we took the spot on the outside of the Marina. It would be Northwards from here on!

IMG_0524Besides completing a few jobs, our last few days in South Africa were spent making the most of being in the centre of Cape Town. With a lot of sea miles to cover over the next few months, we made the most of the civilisation of the V&A with its shops, cafes and bars and the brilliant kids playground. With the weather looking good for an onwards departure to St Helena, we cleared out of the country on Friday and slipped the lines at 0900 on Saturday 30th Jan for our final leg of the circumnavigation back to the Caribbean.

 

 

 

Richards Bay towards Cape Town

We were finally In South Africa. The dreaded Indian Ocean had been crossed, it had lived up to its reputation but also proved to be a fast passage with ocean currents helping us notch up record speeds.  Arriving in Richards Bay in the late afternoon of Friday 6th November, it felt quite emotional.  A major challenge achieved with no major boat issues and crew all in tact. Not bad when you think we were sailing with a baby on board – a baby who was fast growing and developing into a toddler. We could breathe a huge sigh of relief and look forward to a relaxing three months exploring South Africa. If it wasn’t for the Agulhas current around the coast of South Africa down to Port Elizabeth and the low pressure systems bringing south westerly winds every 2-3 days.  We still had the same issue of avoiding the Agulhas current in these south westerlies and with the longest leg from Durban to East London being about 300nm, we  needed a long enough weather window.  But first we would celebrate with a 1kg T-bone steak and beer for under a fiver each at one of the bars at Tuzi Gazi Marina. Tuzi Gazi was set on a waterfront development with quite a few bars and restaurants, making a pleasant change. Even more pleasant were the prices.

With a good night sleep and a full English (for less than two quid a head) in our bellies, we spent much of the Saturday getting the boring stuff done so we would be free to explore. We still hadn’t cleared into the country, which meant we couldn’t officially leave the boat anyway, so we set about cleaning above and below decks and washing all our sailing gear to remove the ingrained salt.  Iona, who left reunion at the same time as us and had weathered the same storm, arrived safely late on Saturday.  We invited them over for a a drink so the girls could have a play together, which turned into a lovely evening drinking and chatting amongst many other things, about the trip and weather.

Having not left the Marina area yet, we were keen to see where we were.  Unsure of whether anything much happens in South Africa on a Sunday, we decided on a walk to the nearby yacht club.  There were meant to be monkeys in the fields, but we didn’t spot any, only the guys from Iona who had the same idea! The yacht club was pretty atmospheric, with not much going on, so we were pleased to be in Tuzi Gazi even if the pontoons were sinking.  It did though have a lovely large area of grass, which V and Leili enjoyed chasing after each other on. What more could you do on a relaxed Sunday than have a spot of lunch out and some drinks. M and I tucked into a kilo of ribs.  Eric and Amanda on Andiamo whom we had met in cocos, invited us to join them and Windarra for cocktails.  V and I went back to boat, leaving M and Sean to it. As I walked away, I knew it was going to be a messy affair, hearing Sean say “shall we pull the pin (on the hand-granade)” with two jugs of cocktails on the table, and that was only at 2pm! Oh well, think M needed to  let off steam after the pressure of skippering us across the Indian Ocean, and Sean needed some adult company after being couped up on a small boat with a screaming baby.

Getting out and about locally gave us our first glimpse of South Africa, most notably the electrified fences and cameras on homes and gated compounds.  It didn’t feel like we were In Africa yet though.  Richards Bay was quite modern, with an almost american feel to it we thought as we drove to the Mall. Once there we ambled through the main shopping mall and into a smaller, tattier looking mall, to realise that we were literally the only white faces. It’s strange that even now, throughout South Africa, there were areas predominately white, and other areas black.  Our main reason for visiting the mall was to stock up on the South African meat ready for a Braai (BBQ) at the yacht club that night. M was in heaven with the cheap price of steaks, a welcome relief from Australia. We bumped into Sarah from Makena, a 65 foot Lagoon taking part in the world ARC rally. M and Sean had already met them a few times in various pubs, but I had not and was pleased to finally meet another mum with a similar aged baby. Her boy was four months older, but the first child V had met of her own age.  Sarah invited us over for a drink before the Braai.  Unfortunately, Kai was being put to bed when we arrived so the two of them didn’t get chance to play, but V enjoyed the space on the catamaran, especially the sun bathing platform on the top. Oh to have a bigger boat. The yacht club lit the wood for the Braai, and the place was packed with mainly cruisers. We hadn’t realised there were so many of us until then!  About ten of us piled into a van for a lift home from one of the local delivery skippers in the area, just as the heavens opened and the bolts of lightening lit up the sky.  He gave us some great advice on weather conditions, currents and timings for the onwards leg to Port Elizabeth.

IMG_0872With the weather not looking favourable to move on in the next few days, we managed to hire a car with Sean to visit the local safaris. Richards Bay is well positioned to visit the national parks with the big five. We packed a bag with the aim to stay in St Lucia for the night.  It was a couple of hours drive through more rural South Africa to the iSimangaliso wetlands national park, our first glimpse at life in these communities seeing the basic housing, outside toilets and people carrying water on their heads.  Eagle eyed Sean even managed to spot two elephants as we were driving along despite being at the wheel!  It was dirt cheap to visit, roughly ten pounds for the car and was easy with V as we could self drive around the park.  IMG_3535There was a lovely beach at the end of the national park, where we stopped for lunch before a monkey stole our loaf of bread. On the beach warnings of sharks, salt water crocs and hippos made us think this was worse than Australia! There were plenty of people on the beach and in the water though. Signs of the severe drought were obvious, with the wetlands water levels well down. This did though make spotting hippos very easy. We drove and drove for about two hours only spotting a few monkeys and antelope/kudos, then at 4pm bam all the animals came out  We saw a rhino with its baby, baboons, buffalo and zebras. Not bad for a first day. We managed to pick up a couple of cheap rooms in a nice motel for £35 for two people (including breakfast) and went out for dinner.  V did well with the late night, fascinated by the restaurants cat and enjoying the attention from other patrons whilst tucking into my half peri peri chicken.  We took a careful walk back to the hotel, eyes open for hippos walking down the street (true!).  The following day we took a boat ride up the St Lucia estuary and saw the hippos and crocs close up, as well as an array of bird life. The tour guide told how they would have to stop running tours in a few weeks as they wouldn’t be able to get the boats up the shallowing river if it did not rain soon. It made for good views of the hippos though. IMG_0971As they lay on the river bed there backs were out of the water.  We had some lunch back at St Lucia and then drove back to Richards bay via the Imfolozi game reserve. Imfolozi and Hluhluwe are second in size to the Kruger game reserve and host the big five. We arrived probably too late in the day to do it justice, but we were working on the fact the animals came out at 4pm on the previous day. We unfortunately didn’t see all of the reserve, but again managed to see rhinos, quite a few this time and one giraffe in the distance. It was sad to see how dry the area was, with only one small man made watering hole and a large river completely dried up. There were loads of elephant dung on the road, and the destruction of the trees suggested elephants were nearby, but sadly we didn’t spot any.  IMG_1030The guided drives and the safari lodge accommodation would have been the best way to see the animals, but it was impractical with V as they don’t allow children under a certain age.  It was good to see the heavens open on the drive home, providing the locals and animals with much needed water – it rained for the next few days.

Sean kept the car as the weather system bringing the rain also brought adverse winds. We were staying in Richards Bay until at least the weekend. With the low pressure system, came a drop in temperature and we were wearing jeans and jumpers one day and shorts the next. It was very odd, but nice to feel cosy in warm clothes after so long in the tropics.  Sean had a few days away to visit the Zulu battlefields, something M was keen to do, but decided that we all needed some down time. It had been a hard four months sail. I was at breaking point, V was very fractious with her teeth and M, well he handles everything ok, but he was happy to chill and spend time on his computer!   Apart from anything, we all needed some sleep. With V on the floor in the aft cabin, she was back to waking up in the night and waking up at 5am.  Whilst it was a relief to arrive in South Africa, we still had the constant worry about weather windows to get down the coast. M would study the weather a couple of times a day, it was that changeable. We had hoped to sail from Richards Bay to East London in one go, but there was only ever 24 hours of consistent south easterlies showing on the Gribs, and we needed three days worth. We decided to cut the distance down and thereby reduce the required weather window duration by going into Durban first, about 90 nm from Richards bay and easily done in one day. The weather was looking good to go on Thursday 19th November.

In the meantime, we enjoyed some great company with Windarra and Iona, enjoying a tasty bunny chow (a curry in half a loaf of bread) and some tasty sushi. Rebekah and Karl from Windarra invited us for dinner Sunday night on their boat. They have two children, Sofia 10 and Blake 8, lovely kids. Sofia adored V and would happily take her off my hands to give me a rare chance to relax and enjoy some adult conversation over a glass of wine.

A few of us had the same intention to get to Durban and at 0430am on the Thursday, we slipped the lines at Tuzi Gazi. There was still some south westerly in the wind, but we were on the back end of the low and it was expected to come round more southerly/south easterly in the morning. The weather forecasting in South Africa was extremely accurate in terms of times and wind directions but usually underestimated the wind strength. Coming through the breakwater, you could feel the effects of the wind against current, making the seas turbulent and extremely uncomfortable. The waves were short and steep, with the wind on the nose, we were being thrown around. I was sick almost immediately, although being in the forward cabin trying to get V back to sleep didn’t help – it’s usually the worst place to be as you can feel every movement. We put V in her car seat, but she was really complaining and for the first time ever threw up on herself,  repeatedly and then mainly over me. It was enough to stop me from being sick, as I had to pull myself together. We both just slept in the cockpit together whilst Sean slept below and M, who never feels any sea sickness, stayed on the helm. We headed out to the 200m contour line, where the current was at its strongest and picked up an extra couple of knots of speed. The seas gradually settled in the deeper water and the winds finally blow from the south east.  As we started to cut inshore again to make our approach into Durban, the winds blew stronger and backed to the North East. Running with storm jib alone we were making a good 8-9 knots, touching 10, some great speeds.  Racing along we then saw a single humpback whale breaching a few hundred meters away – amazing.  Windarra were ahead of us and Iona just behind. As we approached the breakwater into Durban, the sun had set and it was a pitch black night. The wind was blowing a sustained 35 knots and we were making 5 knots under bare poles. The seas were mounting and waves were starting to break as the water shallowed just outside the harbour entrance. We were given permission to enter the harbour, committed ourselves, only to subsequently be told we had to wait. Well we didn’t fancy making a holding pattern with a strong onshore wind and rough seas to wait for a ship to come through, so we continued on regardless sticking well out of the way at the side of the channel. We navigated through some shallows in the dark to drop the anchor outside of the Marina, it took a couple of attempts with 30knots on the nose, which unfortunately woke up V, terrified by the noise of the anchor and windlass above her cabin.

Durban Marina was full with boats waiting for weather windows, but not wishing to be stuck at anchor with the impeding bad weather coming through over the weekend, we spoke with Superted who were already in.  They advised that there were in actual fact some berths available and spoke to the office for us and said there was potentially one berth available but it was first come first served.  Well the offices ability to know who was first in, was based on who arrived at the office and filled out the paperwork first. So on the pretence that we were taking a slip to complete the paperwork, we snuck in and got to the office before any of the others.  Sneaky and we weren’t popular but hey there were loads of spaces really. It was mayhem. As they say possession is nine tenths of the law, and eventually we were told we could stay in the berth and at least Windarra who were in ahead of us, also secured a berth. Taking a baby to the office always helps to be bumped up the priority list!  The marina was well set up with good security, two yacht clubs on the premises, nice facilities and a great cheap cafe with good internet, what more could we want.  The weather forecast was spot on, and at 3pm the sky turned grey, the winds howled and came from the south west and the rain came.  Despite the weather, we joined Superted and Windarra for dinner at the Royal Natal Yacht Club. We wrapped the little one up warm and in her pjs ready for bed, and Sofia entertained her most of night, perfect! The food was lovely and cheap, a great curry and when there was a lull in the weather, we made a dash back to the boat with V ready to drop.

The marina provided some safety advice for us, showing us an area of the town to stay within and to only walk down certain streets.  With that information we ventured out for a walk into town and to the supermarket.  It was the first place where we really had to be mindful of security and something which we were aware off throughout South Africa.  You did get the sense that it wasn’t a safe place to be, but taking the sensible precautions like not having jewellery, cameras and money on display, we never had an issue. Durban has a reputation for being dangerous, but then it is the biggest city in South Africa and much like London, there are places you avoid.  Unlike Richards bay, Durban was mainly a black town and we were often the only white faces in the supermarkets and cafes. Having V somehow made it easier, and we would often be stopped, mainly by women, who would try to chatter away with her. She would engage with all the check out staff who would soften to her cheekiness.  We didn’t go unnoticed that is for sure, especially as she was a noisy little thing, shouting dada at the top of her voice wherever we would go.  We made it back to the yacht club as the heavens opened again, so took the opportunity to spend the afternoon doing Internet and drinking coffee. Jean had offered to babysit that night, but with the weather so rotten, we decided to cosy up in the warm.

Another Sunday and another Sunday chilling with good food, company and wine! The Royal Natal Yacht club put on a buffet for 100 Rand. God, it was delicious and so much food. We hadn’t had a roast dinner in a long time and were all stuffed, V included, who proceeded to sleep all afternoon – that’s where we had been going wrong! There was live jazz afterwards on the green, so we spent the rest of the afternoon chilling on the grass with Windarra and Iona enjoying a few drinks whilst the kids played.

With rumours of an expert giving a talk on weather, we hung around the yacht club on Monday morning to see what they would say. It was worthwhile, as he had a piece of software which was able to predict the Agulhas current flow and direction, which opened up an extra window for boats to leave. Half left and half decided to stay for the better weather prospect at the end of the week, with the risk that it would close up again like they had on many occasions before. We decided to hang out in Durban – we really didn’t want to be caught out in the Agulhas and felt that it wasn’t quite long enough to ensure we would make it before the next low. We didn’t want to rely on having current with us in order to make it.  We hadn’t explored Durban yet in any case.  IMG_3616That afternoon, we walked to the beach through the town, which was mostly fine apart from one area which we got the feeling that we should walk as quickly as possible through. We found out later, it was where the Nigerian drug dealers had taken over, and was very dangerous to go near at night.  It was fine for us and was nice to have a long walk. The beach was fantastic, long white sandy beach with a nice promenade. We treated ourselves to a tasty curry lunch whilst V slept and later met up with Iona for a drink at one of the beach bars, before getting the bus back.

Sean spent most of his days making the most of the yacht club fascilities, whilst we spent most of ours on the beach.  The biggest water park and aquarium in South Africa was in Durban.  We had a fun day there with Iona, despite V taking a really bad fall.  She cried for over an hour, after landing on her head from a ledge looking at the turtles in the aquarium.  It was horrible to see her fall and the way she landed, so so lucky that she didn’t do herself damage.  The vision still haunts me now. She seemed better in herself come the afternoon, so we still went to the pool park, but I took it easy with her in the baby pool, whilst the others went on the slides.  In the end it was a lovely day out.

With the weather window still looking good for Thursday 28th November, with the possibility to make it all the way to Port Elizabeth, if not Cape Town, we had a final day of supermarket stocking and goodbye drinks with Iona, who were staying in Durban whilst having some work done on their engine.

It was another early start on the Thursday. We left on the back of a low again, with similar conditions to leaving Richards bay. V and I were both sick again.  The seas were nasty and I’ve never felt anything like it before, we are never normally sea sick. Sean had booked a flight from Cape Town on 4th, only 7 days away.  If we could make Cape Town in one go, we would arrive the day before his flight. We were keen to do it in one, as we needed some work done on the boat, but as always it was dependent on weather.  M constantly monitored the weather forecasts, one of which suggested that the window to Cape Town was going to close earlier so we made call to stop in Port Elizabeth. In the end it didn’t materialise and we could have made Cape Town in one.  A decision we regretted, but unfortunately by that point flights had been booked out of Port Elizabeth. We were picking up 3-4 knots or current with us for most of the way to East London and with 20-30 knots of wind, we were again racing along at record speeds, toting up 218nm for one day’s run (we usually aim for half that). With 400nm to Port Elizabeth, it would be a two night sail. As the sun came up on our final day into Port Elizabeth, we were motoring in thick fog with not a drop of wind.  It took a few hours to burn off, and was quite unnerving to not be able to see more than a few hundred meters in front of you. As the visibility improved and with the seas like a mill pond, it made for easy spotting of the seals wallowing in the water. There was a mass convergence of boats making for Port Elizabeth, and the race was on! It was only a small Marina, which was full by the time we arrived, so we had to tie up alongside the fishermans wharf. IMG_3683It was an industrial looking place and a coal loading facility. After a few days the boat was filthy and our fenders and lines were ruined. The Agulhas current is at its widest before Port Elizabeth, so our arrival here was much to all of our relief. We had arrived safely and without any of the brick wall seas that we had heard about. From Port Elizabeth, the current diverts away from the coast and out into the Southern Ocean, making the remainder of the sail, in theory, an easier one. With that, we were able to say a big thanks to Sean for helping us to sail one of the most demanding seas and coastlines, although it was a shame he couldn’t see it through to Cape Town itself rounding the Cape of Good Hope, but he had onwards plans arranged.

We celebrated our last night together with a few drinks at the yacht club and ordered pizza delivery back on the boat. With his flight in the evening on 1st December, we all took a taxi into the waterfront beach area, called the Boulevard. There was an awesome billabong sale, so we stocked up on swimmers and then went to the pub for lunch, before it was back to just the three of us. V was back in her bed, and suddenly started to sleep through the night once more. With more sleep, more attention and four big molars finally cut through, she soon settled back to her usual happy self, no more screaming and far less tantrums. Sorry Sean, you were on board for the worst!

With the boat back to normality, we went for a nice walk into the Boulevard area again. It was a lovely area, with a great beach, nice parks and plenty of bars and restaurants. Shame the water was much colder. V and I had a play on the beach and dipped our toes in the water. She was really interested in the school kids, who were having an end of year day out.  We managed to hire a car at short notice for the following day. I was keen to visit the Addo elephant reserve. IMG_1147Having always wanted to come to South Africa to see the elephants and not having seen any up close yet, I thought my chances were pretty high at this game reserve! For less than £10 for  self drive, we saw hundreds of elephants, one of which we shared the road with for a while. It was a lovely big national park, with the bushland more open than we had seen at the earlier ones. IMG_1090This made spotting the animals much easier. Still no big cats or giraffes, but lots of Zebras.

After three days, the boat was now literally thick with coal and ore dust and we just wanted to leave. Without any water to wash the boat down, we huddled for the next two days in two small spots in the cockpit trying not to touch anything for fear for being covered in black. IMG_3748The window was light winds, but we decided to leave anyway and head for Mossel Bay, 200nm away.  It was a short beat to windward down towards the headland. Once clear, we headed West with the wind from behind and sails out on either side. We motor sailed at around 6knots for much of the first day (4th December). The winds built to 30knots over night and come the morning we were running under just he headsail.  We did contemplate trying to make Cape Town at one point, and gybed the sails accordingly but with the first wave crashing into the cock pit from beam seas, we thought better of it and we gybed the sails back and stuck with plan A.

Coming into Mossel Bay we managed to secure a slot on the fisherman’s wall, rather than anchor. Whilst the anchorage looked nice, it is much easier to just step off the boat with V, although iIMG_3846n this case it was a massive step up.  We also had our very own resident seal living in the tyres on the wall.  The wall was situated inside a security controlled double gated area and was quite a walk into the town.  There was a big fishing industry going on, with mussels and oysters being a delicacy of the area.  It also meant we were breath tested for alcohol every time we came back to the boat.  They couldn’t explain what would happen if we tested positive, but in any case it was a good excuse to abstain and they couldn’t stop us drinking inside the boat!  It was quite ironic to go to all that effort to reduce Alcohol related injuries on site, when there was a large patch of cannabis being grown right next to the boats. The wharf also had a high pressure hose which we used to clean the boat best we could.

IMG_3787IMG_3820Mossel Bay was a lovely seaside town, very picturesque with beautiful long beaches that could easily match those in Australia. Very cold sea temperatures though. We took the opportunity of a lack of a weather window for the foreseeable forecast to enjoy the seaside town, we walked most days along the sea front and took V for a play on the beach. Turning right, you ended up on the beach and turning left was a nice long walk along the rocks to the peninsula and lighthouse, with natural tidal pools. We hadn’t walked so much in ages.  After a long hot stroll one day to the lighthouse, V and I took an extremely refreshing swim in one of the tidal pools, except she wouldn’t actually go in the water and tried her best to climb up my body to escape the freezing waters. There were some great coffee houses and restaurants too – our favourite was the Braai where they had an open fire in the middle and they cooked your food over the flames. They only sold meat, rice and bread rolls though, no veggies or salad, you could understand why the South African white men were on the large side. They also had a nice little kids slide, great for keeping her occupied, but just a shame it was right next to the fire – what health and safety.  We also found a nice roastery, which were really popular especially around Cape Town, where they would roast their own coffee beans. Great tasting coffee and a lovely little garden and climbing frame for V. They seemed to have wooden climbing frames and slides everywhere, which is a great set up for being able to enjoy a coffee or lunch with kids.  It’s just a shame she wasn’t that bit older, where we could let her climb them herself, instead we were forced to play tag team over who’s go it was next.

There were five other boats in the anchorage, and we were all waiting for the weather, except this time we were waiting for some wind. For nine days, what little wind there was, was coming from the South West and with Cape Agulhas, the Southern most tip of Africa to tackle next, we didn’t want to chance South Westerlies even if they were light.  With the afternoon sea breezes kicking in, it wouldn’t take much to suddenly have 20knots on the nose.  It was just over 200nm from Mossel Bay to Simons Town, where we were planning a months stop, thanks to Kim at the yacht club, who pulled in a few favours for us as we had a baby and secured us a berth in the otherwise fully booked Marina. Come 13th December, the winds were finally forecasted from the south and whilst it was still light, all the boats in the anchorage had the same plan to up and go at first light.  IMG_3773We had planned on a motor sail, which was fine, except the wind wasn’t from the South East as forecasted but from the dreaded South West and it stayed that way for a good 24 hours. On leaving Mossel Bay we had two large pods of over one hundred dolphins a time, swimming long with us. We never tire of seeing them, especially not in those numbers.  Cape Agulhas is the southern most point of South Africa where the Indian Ocean and Atlantic Ocean meet. With two opposing currents, it could have been an uncomfortable sail round the Cape. At 0136 in the pitch dark, we rounded Cape Agulhas with the engine on and sails down with less than 10 knots of wind.  We changed course to 310 degrees magnetic and were finally heading northwards. It suddenly felt like we were on the homeward stretch, particularly as we had finally sailed the Indian Ocean and were back in the Atlantic. Unfortunately no opportunities to capture on camera our epic rounding of the Cape. The next morning, we were able to pole out the head sail and switch off the engine as the winds picked up to 15knots. The last few hours were a fast and enjoyable sail across False Bay and into the yacht club at Simons Town. We arrived at 1630, with a greeting party to take lines and give us keys for the facilities. It was a quick square away of the boat, as we joined Superted for happy hour in the bar. It was good to be staying put for a while, time to relax.

Reunion to South Africa

Whilst in Reunion we had been checking the weather and suitability of a weather window to sail to South Africa daily. We eventually thought we had one.  We modestly calculated it would take 14 days or maybe a day or so more if we had to hove to.

IMG_3355On the 27 October we motored out of the harbour, fully stocked and ready for the passage. The storm jib had been hoisted and checked, the Jordan Drogue had been assembled and checked.  Stocks were full and we had full water tanks and plenty of gas.

We motored out of the lee of the island and the wind slowly died. It was on with the motor. Through the night the sails and engine were up and down as the wind increased and died, but by 0600 the following day the wind had increased and we were off.

We had planned to take a route south of Madagascar maximising on the currents that flow. We were aware of the general areas of adverse current so were aiming to avoid these where possible. IMG_3351As it turned out this was going to take us within 80 NM of the southern tip of Madagascar. Normally the recommendation is to stay 150 NM south to avoid the wind acceleration zone.

Thursday saw the winds hit 28kts, the waves had built and we took a wave on the side throwing water into the cockpit and down the hatch – despite the lower board being in.

With our extra crew member aboard, the revised shift patterns were working well and enabling everyone to get some extra sleep. We had the SSB net a couple of times a day so it was good to be keeping in contact with and monitor progress of Sea Bunny, Zen Again, Iona, Superted and Tigger.

It took us 5 days to reach the southern tip of Madagascar and we had made good use of the 1-2 kts of current. We were expecting more current as we rounded the tip and headed westwards.

We were monitoring the weather a couple of times a day as the leg from Madagascar to South Africa is notorious for extreme weather and when crossing the Agulhas Current, if the wind is from the SW monster waves can develop that can damage ships – not a place for a small sail boat.  Using the Iridium Go in conjunction with Predict Wind greatly improved our weather situation awareness and was vital we felt.

12219405_10207297278697706_6519659846540881453_nWe quickly realised that a large low was developing (big storm) that was going to be in the area of Richards Bay and Durban – our destination. Whilst we would be well north of the probable track of the low we would still feel the considerable effects and the wind would be on the nose. One of the vessels sailing with us with a medical issue made the call to return to Reunion and Iron Horse who were well ahead of us had some serious issues and had to abandon ship. Luckily they had been picked up by a passing ship and were now on route to Singapore.

Saturday, we hit our waypoint south of Madagascar and turned Westwards. We were now closing on the SA coast. As predicted we picked up 3 knots of current and we were flying along. We stayed north of 27 degrees south.

Sunday saw larger swell and a direction change.  These were the initial indications of the changing weather pattern heading our way. We were though making great progress. The boat was flying along, motor sailing with the current in our favour.

IMG_3507Monday we rigged the storm jib, put away the pole, cleared lines. We were ready as we would ever be for the impending weather. It was the proverbial calm before the storm. Our eyes were on the horizon looking for the band of cloud that would signal the approaching front.

Monday 2200 the wind completely died and and weather changed in about 3 minutes from NE to SW, with rain and 30 knot winds. IMG_3477All the sails were quickly reefed as the squalls started to roll through. Massive thunderstorms with fork lightening surrounded us as the night went on. We had consist winds above 40kts maxing out at 49. This was accompanied with torrential rain and building seas.

As the seas built and with the wind on the nose we were forced to bear away. The boat handled the waves exceptionally well but we could make no southing and were forced to make a more NW route. We picked up adverse current and our progress slowed as we slowly continued under storm jib and reefed Mainsail (tri sail size). The night was black, the sea was relentless with the boat being continually swamped by waves. No one got much sleep except the little one. Sean and I covered the watch whilst C ensured the little one was safe and sound. My oilies did little to keep me dry, but at least I was relatively warm.

We resorted to two hours on two hours off.  The boat leaked from places it had never leaked before but we were moving steadily in approximately the right direction – towards the African Coast.

The Hydrovane handled well with the storm jib and a small amount of main. Driven of course we travelled 100nm north of our original southing position. We talked three times daily with Iona, sharing positions and weather. They took the option to hove too and by all accounts had a reasonable time of it.

Even though the winds reduced to 20-25 from the south we were still driven north of west. It stayed like that for two days – of course, making slow progress with counter current, we travelled 60 NM in a day. At least we were making some west but still unable to make any southing.

Winds went south east Thursday night and we started making a better course for Durban. We eventually picked up a favourable current, but the weather forecast showed another low coming through on Saturday and Sunday.  We decided to head for Richards bay which is 95 NM further North than Durban, in an attempt to get in before the bad weather.

We recorded a daily run of 179 NM. It is great sailing with the Agulhas current, obviously with a favourable wind direction. We were always keen to make best speed as there was always another system on the horizon.

We used the SSB to radio into Sammnet. Sam gave a great service giving the latest grib information for our routing down the coast.

Our last day at sea running into Richards Bay was one to remember. We picked up good current and averaging 8 knots throughout the day, regularly touching 10. This was under Storm jib alone. We still had large waves hitting us beam on and lots of water over the boat. Winds were gusting 42 knots from the NE.  We definitely would not have wanted to be in the Agulhas in a SW blow as the seas were big enough and rough enough as it was. As we raced along we noticed something in the water ahead of us. As we came closer we realised there were three humpbacks breaching, a fantastic sight.

As we dropped out of the Agulhas current a few miles off the coast the seas reduced although the winds maintained. We had a fast but easy entrance through the breakwater at Richards Bay. We had crossed the Indian Ocean!

We moored up in Richards Bay marina, a rickety old place. We found out later, whilst we were avoiding the storm over Richards Bay, the main pontoon was busy folding in half with the extreme winds. Sometimes it is better to be at sea.

The boat had performed well and although every inch was covered in salt we had crossed the Indian Ocean without much damage. We later realised we had some mast compression that would need some attention.

That evening steak and beer were order of the day. Ten days at sea in some arduous conditions had given us all an appetite.

Our average daily run was 140 nm. Not bad all considered.

La Reunion Island

IMG_3271It was a hectic morning on the day of departure from Mauritius, with a final visit to the fruit and veg market whilst M undertook all the formalities. He was wandering what was taking Sean and I so long, until he saw us laden down with bags and bags full of fruit and veg.  My thinking was that it would be cheaper to re-provision here, than in La Reunion which would be EU prices.   After a spot of lunch, we slipped the lines and left for the one night sail.  The short 125nm hop was a good opportunity for our new crew, Sean, to learn the ropes, so to speak, on Gallinago. It was his first experience of sailing with a hydrovane, having hand steered across the Atlantic Ocean on his own boat. First impressions were that it weaved a lot and was quite boring!  We will see how that changes after two weeks to South Africa. It was an easy sail or should I say motor sail in light winds. M even managed to pull in a large Mahi Mahi, probably our biggest catch yet.  We hadn’t put the fishing line out much in the Indian Ocean, as the conditions were frankly too rough to bother, so it was nice to have some fresh fish in our diet. After day 4 of mahi mahi, we were ready for a change!

We arrived in Le Port in the early afternoon. At this time of year, it is difficult to secure a berth in La Reunion, as the world ARC boats again had booked up all the slots. They were becoming a pain and we hadn’t even crossed paths with them yet.  After copious emails to the marina manager and using the baby card, I managed to secure us a berth in the new marina.  We arrived and the place was practically empty!  The new marina was pretty characterless, all concrete, no bars and worst of all no WiFi. At least it was a short walk into the town. La Reunion is a French territory, so back to dusting off our French language skills, spending Euro’s and enjoying fresh baguettes and croissants from the boulangerie.

Our arrival in Reunion was well timed to bid farewell to Matt and Jean from Superted, who were leaving for South Africa the next day. The first boat that we knew to make the dreaded crossing!  They came over to us for an evening of drinks, as we hadn’t caught up with them since Rodrigues.  Unfortunately, it was the start of V becoming a right pain at bed time, screaming the place down – maybe she knew she was missing out.  It took me ages to get her to sleep, and in the end M and Sean left me to it to go out drinking for the evening. Charming! With the boys nursing hangovers the next day, and V waking up well before 6am, we went for a morning stroll for a coffee and pastries. It was lovely to have some mummy daughter time.  IMG_3277It was a great time to be up, as we stumbled upon the weekly market and bought a punnett of strawberries to go with the pain au chocolat’s for breakfast. There was everything on sale, including live chickens.  I thought to myself, I must get up at this time of the morning more often!

We managed to hire a car the next day for a few days to explore the stunning volcanic island. The landscape was very reminiscent of the Marquesa’s, very green, rugged terrain with massive walls and gorges and basins. It was really quite visually striking. It was just our luck though that the active volcano literally stopped erupting the day that we arrived.

We drove North from Le Port to St Denis, and stopped to enjoy a wander around the quaint town of St Denis, very typically French. It was also a shock to be stuck in traffic jams, even more typically French!  We drove clockwise around the island to the first incline towards the Piton des Nieges (at over 3000m above sea level), the Cirque de Salazie.  IMG_0809There were so many waterfalls, incredible drops. We pulled the car over and made sandwiches by the roadside just taking in the view around us. We continued to drive to the top, in awe of our surroundings.  The walking around the area would have been great to do, but with V, it was easier to just enjoy the views by car.
The next day we were up at dawn to get to the volcano at the Piton de la Fournaise before the clouds come in by 9am. It was an early start, given the two hour drive to the South East of the Island. What made matters worse was that when we arrived at the foot of the volcano, we were advised that it was closed for the morning, due to a visiting dignitary.  Instead, we drove back down the windy hill and made a stop at St Pierre on the South of the island, and stopped at a nearby black sand beach to watch the waves come in.  St Pierre was home to the only other harbour on the island, although it is difficult to enter due to the swell coming in from the South. Our friends on Iona had made landfall here, so we took the opportunity to visit and the girls had a play, whilst Sean enjoyed some peace and a beer in a nearby bar.

IMG_3386After a few long days in the car, we decided to have a quiet one on the boat with V and to catch up on a few boat jobs to ensure we were ready once the weather window to South Africa apeared. Two important jobs were to practice how to deploy the Jordan Series drogue and storm job in the event of bad weather. We all needed to know what to do and how to do it, if and when the time came. The Jordan Series drogue is a series of 124 parachutes handsewn (not by me!) onto double braid nylon rope. It is deployed from the aft of the boat and is used to slow the boat down in heavy seas – we were all mindful of what the next leg could bring.

IMG_3424With the final day of the hire car, we woke early again to visit the volcano. We walked along edge of the volcano and arrived at the crater to give us a good 10 minutes of photographs, before the cloud rolled in – a view which was very worth while.  Unfortunately no eruptions this time, but it was still an impressive sight and good to stretch the legs for the reasonable walk.

The Predict Wind tool was showing a good weather window for the 1500 nm to South Africa leaving on 27 October.  All other weather forecasting tools seemed to match, and with Iona also concluding the same thing, we decided it was the right time to go.  With low pressure weather systems coming off the Southern Ocean every 5 days give or take, it was inevitable that we would likely have to endure a period of strong south westerly winds at some point.  The planning assumption was to be past the Southern tip of Madagascar before the winds backed to the South West, so that we would have sufficient distance to run off North if needed.  The weather window was showing a pretty reasonable picture for the next 14 days.  The decision was made to leave on 27 October. We were as ready as we were ever going to be, and with a last minute supermarket run to replenish the fresh stocks and a fix of internet, we were set for South Africa.

Mauritius

350nm almost due West of Rodrigues was the larger and more popular of the island set, Mauritius. Whilst Rodrigues still had plenty to offer, we took the first weather window onwards. The 15-20 knots on a broad reach made for some great sailing, taking just three days – that’s the sort of sailing we could get used to!  The weather window forecasted for 2-3m swells instead of the 4m+ we had experienced on the trip to Rodrigues, but as we were still in the Indian Ocean, conditions were still moderate and confused at times.  We had intended to pass through the middle of the small group of islands just North of Mauritius in order to save time, however with significant current being forced through the islands and with the potential for wind against tide which makes for extremely rough seas, we had to time our arrival spot on for the tide turning in our and the winds favour.  We were bang on time for the tide, but unfortunately it was the middle of a very dark night, so in the end we decided to add on the extra miles and detour North. However, taking this route meant that we had a sharp turn to port to make our heading to Port Louis on the West side of the island and we would be hard on the wind.  With squalls coming through, we were heavily reefed. We used the gusts and the wind being curved around the island to our best advantage to stay on one tack all the way into harbor, with the sun coming up as we made our final approach.  IMG_3009The large oil rig lit up like the Blackpool illuminations and the tens and tens of Asian rusting fishing boats moored up gave us our first glimpse of Mauritius – no longer were we in remote paradise islands.  It took a while to work out where to dock for customs, expecting a pontoon or somewhere equally official, we were eventually told to just tie up alongside the town wall. IMG_3011At least, arriving first thing in the morning, the process was swift and we moved into the town marina. No sooner had we tied up, security was asking us to leave. The whole marina had been booked for the world ARC boats.  With knowledge that the boats had only just left Cocos Keeling and even the fastest of the fleet wouldn’t be arriving for at least another week, we stayed put and promised to go in good time for their arrival.

The delicious smell of curry was luring us away from the cleaning (the boat hadn’t had a proper wash down since Darwin), so we treated ourselves to the best curry lunch we have had since the UK. You could tell it was good, as all the locals were eating there.  In contrast to Rodrigues, which was mainly African descent, the population of Mauritius was predominantly from Indian descent.  Mauritius was the first civilized country we had been to for months, with shopping malls and fast food chains on every corner. It was exciting to see proper shoe shops so that we could buy V her first pair of shoes now that she was walking confidently. I sold M on the idea with the promise of being able to enjoy a drink in a bar whilst she is able to wander around and play (little did I know that would mean I would be chasing after her rather than relaxing with my cold beer). The local people were extremely warm and friendly, everyone wanted to pick V up and smile and wave at her – there weren’t many blue eyed blond hair babies. Port Louis was an interesting town. The contrast between one side of the street lined in the modern shops (aimed at the tourists) and then across the busy main road, there were street vendors selling tat on literally every inch of every street. There was a real hustle and bustle to the place, which was a little disorientating at first having been in pretty isolated places of late, and the traffic and pollution was a real shock to the system. IMG_3091On wandering around the town, we stumbled upon the most amazing fruit and vegetable market, perfect for stocking up for the forthcoming trip to South Africa.

We were advised that on a Saturday the only place to be in Mauritius was at the horse races¸ so with our glad rags on, we took a taxi to the races.  We paid for the VIP tickets – we weren’t sure what we were getting for that, but it was still next to nothing.  There were people everywhere, mainly men to be fair – no wonder ladies got in for free.  Asking for directions and unfortunately being in the wrong footwear, we were taken to a box with two other couples directly who were incorrectly dressed. In the end though we were treated to waiter service for drinks and snacks, taken to the paddock to see the horses parade and then invited to the Director Generals box overlooking the finish line and given free drinks and nibbles.  We didn’t win on any of the bets placed sadly, but we had a lovely day out topped off by cocktails in one of the waterfront bars.

Whilst we had a long list of boat jobs to prepare for the hard leg to South Africa, we took a few days off to venture around the island with a cheap hire car. IMG_3116Port Louis wasn’t the picture post card that you would expect from a destination like Mauritius, so we drove around the East and South of Island in search of the beautiful beaches it is renowned for.   We were slightly disappointed that all the beaches were hidden by the exclusive hotels and that there was a vast contrast between these areas and the rest of the island, which looked extremely run down and poor.  We called into a couple of hotels for a drink and to use the facilities.  Ivy had a good play in the sea and on the beach; one hotel was even kind enough to supply her with some beach toys, her first introduction to a bucket and spade.  The following day, we went to the botanical gardens and enjoyed a guided tour whilst V ran around the grounds and smelt the flowers. It made a pleasant change to hear about the different plants and trees rather than just wander aimlessly.

With the ARC boats approaching we were finally moved out of the marina.  We sailed to the North of the island to the anchorage in Grand Bai.  It was another close hauled sail with the wind coming from the North. We managed to keep close on the wind again without tacking, and then put the engine on for the entrance into the pass. There were a few drying patches, but were easily spotted them in the clear water with the sun behind us. It was a busy anchorage with jet skis and tourist catamarans jetting past close by at high speeds. The anchorage was full of mooring buoys, so we were forced to drop anchor further out, not something we relish with the prospect of getting soaked in the dinghy. We started peeping the boat for our onwards journey to South Africa and the arrival of our friend and additional crew member, Sean. We had 4 days before he was due.  We had been toying with whether to get crew for the Indian Ocean. After the rough sail during the trip to Rodrigues, we had decided that having extra capacity was a good insurance policy.  We had managed on the sailing front with Ivy during the bad weather, but it was tiring and that was with the wind steering vane taking charge of the boat. If we were to have a failure with the hydrovane and were forced to hand steer, it wouldn’t bear thinking about.  M had met Sean through the Fastnet prep and racing they had done together at least 8 years ago, he was also an experienced Yacht Master with his own boat in the Caribbean having undertaking an Atlantic crossing in 2013/4.   It was fortunate for us, that Sean’s availability meant that he was able to join us from Mauritius with the plan to stay on through to Cape Town. With the boat fully stocked, cleaned, space made for an extra person and kit, and V moved into the aft berth on the floor with us, we were ready for our new boat mate to arrive on the 13th October.

Finally our paths crossed with Iona, whom we had met in Darwin. We had been exchanging emails and chatting on the SSB with Katie and Chris, but we had until now, always left just before they arrived. They were travelling with Dylan (14) and Leili (4).   V’s first friend!  We met most evenings at the Yacht Club so that V and Leili could enjoy a play and splash on the beach.  IMG_3181Of course, drinks in the yacht club after a swim in the sea was a great excuse for us too.  It was lovely to see both girls playing well with each other. V hadn’t had really any experience of playing with other children and in just a few weeks really flourished from the interaction. She waved frantically every time she saw her, running and squealing with excitement. They cuddled and kissed on saying goodbye each day. An evening trip to the beach became a daily ritual.   Leili was 1 when they left the UK, so along with Katie and Chris had very much been there and done that, so it was great to get their advice and share experiences on having a young one onboard.

We had hired another car for three days to coincide with Sean arriving on the 13th.  Tragically, the night before he was due to fly, his friend dies in a Puma helicopter crash in Afghanistan. Sean ended up changing flights to take a later one that day. We really appreciated him still coming under those circumstances. M picked him up at the airport and they arrived back on the boat around 8pm – it was a boozey night for all involved as we made up for the 4 years since we had seen him last!  It was a shame though that Ivy didn’t sleep well in her new makeshift bed and woke at 5, a trend which unfortunately continued for the duration of Sean’s stay with us.

Our day of sightseeing with the hire car the next day wasn’t quite as planned with hangovers all around. Still, we managed to get out and explored the West and South of the island, visiting the local distillery with great views over the bays. M took the excuse of driving to abstain from the rum tasting – I knew it must have been bad! Sean and I took one for the team as we sampled the local rum, whether it was the hangovers or the acquired taste for rum now, but it wasn’t good enough to buy.

IMG_3017Saturday was my birthday.  It was badly timed as we would have liked to have taken the weather window that day to make the trip to La Reunion, but not wishing to spend my birthday at sea, M agreed to stay put for a few more days and perfect it was too –  I was spoilt rotten with breakfast, an amazing and relaxing spa session, cocktails and dinner. I was glad not to be at sea! We did move the next morning, back down to Port Louis to visit the market and clear out.  Along with Iona, we were moored on the town wall again – perfect for an Indian a stones throw from the boat that night.  Our month relaxing in Mauritius went far too quickly!

Rodrigues

The clearance process for our arrival in Rodrigues was slow and cumbersome; we have never seen so many forms to fill out providing little useful information that would undoubtedly never be looked at again. We were confined to the boat until we finished immigration, who came late in the evening. It was a good excuse to clean the boat through and with V tucked up in bed, to have an early night ourselves rather than go and explore the town Port Mathurin.  It had probably been the most tiring passage for us yet due to the weather.  The weather was up there on our top 3 worst weather experiences, but what made it worse, was that it lasted for a good 4 days and during that time we had limited sleep during our off watch and had to look after the little one. There was no way she could be on deck with us in those conditions.

We were moored along the town quay, next to Obelisk whom we crossed paths with on our final approach into Rodrigues. Funny to go 1900nm without seeing another sail boat until the last few miles. Being younger (hard for M to admit that he wasn’t as young!) and carefree (= no baby), they were out into town on the Saturday night, enjoying the local hospitality and nightlife. That would have been us before. Alas….

Sunday morning, M took the nipper for a walk in the carrier on his back looking for the local boulangerie. Rodrigues, an island of Mauritius, was very French. The people spoke very little English, but the baguettes and pastries were a welcome addition to our diets.  The cost of living was also a nice surprise, once we had worked out the currency conversions, after 18 months in Australian waters and Australian prices.

IMG_2933Taking a stroll through the local town, it was almost reminiscent of the Caribbean with its brightly colored, albeit run down shops and buildings.  Sadly, it was a ghost town on a Sunday with only the supermarket open until midday. Long enough to stock up on the local beer and French cheese. The population of Rodrigues is from African descent, and with little to no tourism, it was quite easy to spot the other yachties and with a baby we were quite a novelty.  We also soon remembered that we never saw pushchairs being used in these small islands, and realized why when we tried to use the stroller about the town with its uneven pavements, potholes, cars coming from all directions. We vowed to return to using the carrier again. With not much happening about town, we returned to the boat and chilled for the afternoon, whilst M joined Jesse and crew for afternoon drinks on their boat.

We were desperate for fresh fruit and vegetables, and were pleasantly surprised by the small fresh market we found on Monday. We had heard that the market only ran on Wednesdays and Saturdays. It was lovely to buy fresh at such a cheap price (all for under a couple of quid) after visiting Christmas Island and Cocos Keeling.  We happily ambled around the town taking in the feel of the place whilst organizing the essentials – a 3g sim card for internet.   It was clear that the island was poor, with demolished buildings, security guards protecting us at cash machines and wooden scaffolding.  Rodrigues is self-governed and with little tourism, it does make you wander how its economy can grow.

IMG_2821Hire cars were cheap on the island, about 10 pounds for a day hire, so we booked up for a day around the island on the Wednesday.   It wasn’t a brand new Avis car, more like someone’s old pick up truck, but it had character! Rodrigues is surrounded by a large reef, and the view from the mountains over the beautiful lagoons was incredible. We followed the coast road clockwise around visiting a lovely beach for the youngster to have a run around. She had only just woken up from a sleep so I didn’t bother to change her into her swimmers forgetting she makes a beeline straight for the sea! In she went with her new Grandma hand-made dress. Being the windward side of the island, it was pretty blowy so we didn’t spend too long there, long enough to see the herd of goats come for a stroll along the beach – until they heard the squeals of excitement from V and quickly scuttled away. We detoured into the centre of the island and the mountain for panoramic views, and headed towards the Giant Tortoise sanctuary and caves. The landscape of Rodrigues is made up of pastoral farm lands and housing that looked fairly basic. IMG_2822There were a lot of ferile dogs and cats about the place, and with cows in the road and chickens in the town, it was a wonderful learning environment for V, who had enjoyed playing with her animal toys for the past few months and now was finally seeing them for real. We had seen giant tortoises in the Galapagos, but here we were able to get up close to these creatures (tortoises are one of my favourite animals) and V even managed to touch the shell – we had to teach her to be gentle when she started to wallop one!

Thursday, the islands monthly supply ship was due, which meant that all the yachts had to leave the harbor basin and wait in the outer anchorage until the ship was safely moored alongside the wall. This meant that the shops would be full of new food the next day. It also meant that we couldn’t go back alongside the wall until the ship left three days later, so we anchored and dropped the dinghy in the water – not too much of a hardship, but it is always easier to alongside with the little one.  More delicious French cheeses on the supermarket shelves and parma hams were a real treat, plus fresh yoghurt for the little one.  Our stay in Rodrigues also gave us a flavor of the cheap South African wines to come.

Friends on Superted, whom we had not seen since Darwin, arrived on the Friday afternoon, so we treated ourselves to dinner out with Jean and Matt that night at Aux Deux Freres, a popular French restaurant. It was our first night out taking the little one for dinner, now that she was more mobile, but worked well as we took along our little highchair seat which we strapped to the chair so she could join us at the table.

With our minds always on the next weather window, we had decided that it was looking good for a Monday departure for the three day sail to Mauritius. The market was the place to be on the Saturday morning, so we were up early and at the market before 7am, picking up a good stock of fresh fruit and veg, as well as meats. There were individual shop for beef, chicken, pork, lamb and mutton, and at each one there were literally whole animals laid out on the chopping table, being carved up for selling without any going to waste.

IMG_2982A festival of the sea was being held on the other side of the island on Sunday, so we decided to check it out with Matt and Jean. It also gave a good opportunity to catch the local bus, always entertaining and an interesting mix of people. The festival was a little overstated in the end, with a few local food stalls, some kitesurfing demonstrations and bit of dancing from the local school children. It was a lovely relaxing day, enjoying the barbequed meats and chatting with the other cruisers in the sun. V had a great little run around on the grass; she was becoming really quite steady on her feet. It was the most she had ever walked around unaided. It was a tight squeeze on the bus ride back as the packed everyman and their dog onto the bus. An experience in itself! A farewell G&T onboard Superted finished a lovely final day in Rodrigues.

 

 

Cocus Keeling to Rodrigues

Day 1
After a review of the weather we made the final call. It was time to go.  We finished prepping the boat, did a quick cheerio to a couple of boats in the anchorage and it was off we go. The winds were predicted to be around 15 – 20 kts for the first week, then getting a bit livelier.

IMG_2620We picked our way out of the lagoon with heavily reefed sails. It’s always easier to let more sail out. As we left the shelter of Cocos we were out into some lively seas. A tired baby (after all the swimming and chasing crabs) decided she was not happy and was letting us know.  After clearing the North of the atoll we bore away and went onto a bearing of 255 degrees. This would be our course for the next 1980nm. The pole went up and as we put some distance between Cocos and ourselves, the seas settled down and we spent the rest of the day making good rolly progress.

We had an early dinner and after much complaining put a tired baby to bed.  C got her head down shortly after and I settled down to my first night watch on a dark but pleasant night. The moon came up late illuminating the sea all around. A fairly uneventful night with light winds.

Day 2
Light winds today but making steady progress.  We managed to chat to Superted V and Yindee Plus on the SSB who were on route to Cocos and anchored at Cocos respectively. We swapped positions and confirmed all was good aboard. The Iridium Go! was turned on which updated our position on this web site and we downloaded the weather through the Predict Wind app. It is seriously easy and remarkably reliable. This is the way of the future. Predict Wind link

The day past quickly, with meal times a highlight as always.  Our batteries were taking a hammering, which I suspect is down to the fridge. We will need to turn it down as we are having to run the engine a couple of times a day to keep the batteries charged.

As twilight approached we decided to dip the pole and gybe the headsail….not good timing as C was trying to get the little one down.  Nonetheless we got the job done, C got the little one down and we even managed 10 mins of chilled chatting on deck with a piece of chocolate before C hit the sack. Overnight the wind died and we coasted along at about 3 knots. I furled the Main Sail to reduce the flapping of sails and subsequent wear and tear as the swell rolled past us.

We have taken to cat napping on deck overnight.  A compromise we have had to make with the additional crew. This ensures that we both get enough sleep and are fit to function, clean, feed and entertain the following day. I wonder why we found our previous ocean passages so tiring when we just had to look after ourselves!

Day 3
The wind has died.  We were expecting light winds, but this is a little lighter than expected. With the engine on we are back making 4.5 knots at 1500 revs.  We switched the watermaker on and topped up the tanks and boosted the fridge. We had cold fruit juice mid morning. A refreshing treat.

The fishing line had been deployed and by mid afternoon we were reeling in a Mahi Mahi. Whilst a modest 70cm or so, that was dinner sorted. Mahi Mahi fillets were floured, shallow fried and served with homemade chips.

Day 4
The routine today as per most was as follows. SSB net at 0630, breakfast on deck about 0730, the little one sitting in her chair, eating porridge and seeing what she could get her hands on and how far she can smear porridge across the cockpit.

We saw a pod of Pilot Whales following the boat. An amazing sight in the deep blue waters surrounding us.

Come 1800 we are settling the boat down for the night ahead. Dinner on deck and then bed for the little one. A final wander around the deck to check that all is good before the light fades. Life jackets and harnesses clipped on.

We had not been expecting to see many other vessels at night, but 2 ships passed us going in the opposite direction. They were about 3 miles off.

Day 5
Must have been a good day as I can’t remember anything out of the ordinary.

Day 6
It has been a grey old day. We have had numerous clouds overtake us, giving us a good soaking on route.  On the plus side, they have increased the wind speed so we have made a little extra progress today.  They have also given the decks a much needed wash down.

Nothing much to report out of the ordinary. We have been mainly sailing under the head sail alone.  This is to minimise the flapping and subsequent wear on the sails.

We downloaded the latest gribs which are showing stronger winds from the SE on Wed. No doubt we will have a lively trip from then on. At least we will increase our daily runs to something respectable.

Day 7
We made the call when we left that we would have an easier ride for the first week, with lighter winds, and then pick up the stronger winds for a shorter period of time. That was the theory anyway. The reason for this being that the little one would have more freedom on the boat. Rougher weather means more time in her car seat.

The gribs showed the winds going southerly as we approached the high then increasing to 15 knots, then within 12 hours being up at 30-35. We had been hoping for more wind all week. We had been constantly analysing the weather and now we were keen to just get the weather we knew was coming and get on with it.

Days 8, 9, 10, 11
So how did it pan out. Right on cue the winds went southerly and shortly after the winds picked up and we were off.  It was great to be making some proper progress after all. Come midnight we had 20 knots and were seeing 7 knots of boat speed. The seas were moderate and the boat was cruising along fairly comfortably.

The following morning the seas started to build. They were forecast to build to a maximum of 4.5 meters (average) and subside after 48 hours. By mid morning the seas were large. Four meters plus, winds were 25 to 30 knots and the waves were starting to break. On most passages so far we have been running down wind. To get to Rodrigues we were on a broad reach and with the apparent wind angle shift we had the wind and the waves on the beam (the side).

We were ready and expecting a wet ride. All hatches closed and the wash board in the companion way. There was no getting away from the breaking waves. The first one crashed into the back quarter of the boat flooding the cockpit (which drained very well) and smashing into the dingy over the aft cabin. Although well lashed down the whole dingy shifted a foot right. A quick check confirmed it was still well secured. The order of dress from now on was full oilies (waterproofs). Spray after spray would come flying over the cockpit. Most breakers just sent water flying and did not impact too hard.

IMG_2749Later that day another good wave crashed into the boat midships sending plumes of water over the foredeck and spray hood. Scanning the deck to check all was Ok I noticed our diesel cans, which are strapped to a 5 ft long by 1ft wide, 1 inch plank on the side of the boat was not looking right. Clipping to a lifeline outside of the cockpit I moved up the boat, keeping a weary eye for breaking waves, to investigate. The wave had snapped the plank in two. The cans and rope were still in place. We had very little options of what we could do as we could not afford the 20 lt cans to come loose and start flying across the deck. In the end we managed to lash them down to the deck still attached to the two parts of the plank.

As the light started to fade we faced our first night in these conditions. There was hardly any moon so it was almost pitch black. The roar of the water around the boat was intense. Every now and then the sound of a breaking wave would be heard surging towards the boat.

The next few days were an endurance test. We saw winds of 35 knots but mainly in the range 25-30 knots. We saw 4.5 m waves that relentlessly chased the boat. The cockpit was continually doused with water. The Hydrovane worked tirelessly keeping us on course or bringing us back onto course when we slid over the top of a wave. Life below was limited, the little one had to be watched like a hawk and prevented from clambering around the boat as it was just to rough.  She spent a fair amount of time in her car seat and we ended up playing her the Jungle Book which she loved.

After little sleep and both of us tired of the constant hammering, on the fourth night the seas started to moderate and the wind speeds dropped to below 25 knots. The boat was moving well and we were still hitting 7 knots.

Day 12
The seas are now a very manageable 2.5 metres and winds are down to around 20 knots.  We celebrated with the last of the bacon for breakfast. Bacon, egg and tomato wrap – very tasty.

On previous trips we had noticed a clicking in the rigging. This we had put down to a crack in a spreader end cap. We had one crack welded in Darwin but in Cocos we noticed another was cracked. We were rather limited in our options in Cocos so we seized the wire to the spreader end cap with Monel wire. Previously, in discussion with a rigger in Darwin he had said this would be fine – time would tell.

The creaking had stopped once seized. Today however it returned. We would take it easy on the rig for the rest of the journey, I would do an inspection in Rodrigues, and a friend was couriering out 4 new end caps to Mauritius for us. The intent was to replace them all.

After breakfast and a good run around the little one chilled in her seat with an educational program, C retired to the aft cabin for some sleep, and whilst on watch I contemplated business options for our return to the UK .

Day 13, 14, 15
The seas and the winds have reduced and we have had some very pleasant sailing. Our speed has dropped but we are still making good progress. The night of the 14th was perfect sailing conditions which had the yacht coasting along at 5 knots in flat seas. Everyone got a very good nights sleep as the boat gently bobbed along.

With the gentler seas the little one has been able to roam below decks fairly freely and it still amazes us how well she balances. Her latest trick is standing on one leg as the boat sways whilst trying to get a leg into her shorts. Her boat balance is second nature. Hopefully she won’t fall over when we put her on dry land 🙂

Having delayed thoughts of landfall for as long as possible (no good comes of counting days at sea) we are now aiming for Saturday. We just need to maintain an average of 5 knots to ensure we get in in the light. Having just calculated this, the winds go light and the boat speed has dropped to 4 knots. Typical, but hopefully we will make the time up in the fresher winds over the next 2 days. The thought of fresh baguette and coffee are starting to fill our minds.

Day 16
Since leaving Darwin we had steadily used our fresh stocks which were now almost out. We do though still have a few pumpkins left that we picked up in Christmas Island. That must be 10 that we have eaten so far.

We could really do with a good downpour now as every inch of the boat is encrusted in salt after our lively few days.

Day 17
Whilst the winds were lighter the relentless Southern Ocean swell continues to roll in, tipping the boat and causing the sails to flap and bang with annoying regularity. Late afternoon the seas started to flatten and I eased out the full Main to make best progress. Without the swell pushing the boat off course continually our speed picked up to a respectable 7 knots.

The little one was happy playing with her toys, gated off from the galley, whilst C prepared another fine meal – spicy Chinese beef and rice.  Our inspiration for food had been slowly waning so we were both looking forward to getting some fresh food ashore.

At 1900 we had 107 NM to run. Dusk was at about 1830. With the good run we had had today we knew that we would be able to make it into Rodrigues the following day.

Day 18
IMG_29260545 we came up on the SSB and checked into the net giving our position and weather/sea conditions. We also made a note of everybody else’s position to monitor their progress. As the sun came up I payed out the fishing line and had a cup of tea whilst C and V slept away.  BBQ fish would be rather nice. Alas we never caught a fish, but at about 0830 Rodrigues came into sight and we made our final approach around the reef and into the harbour.  Although the navionics was about 150 meters out and had us running over the reef we made a safe approach and moored up alongside the wharf.  It had been a long journey and we were all looking forward to going ashore.  Customs formalities and then time for a well deserved beer.

Cocos Keeling

IMG_2430Cocos Keeling is a small coral atoll just under 500nm WSW from Christmas Island. It had been a long time since we jumped off the boat to take a swim (Fiji a little, but more like Maupiti in French Polynesia) so we couldn’t wait to get there. With a 5 day sail and a good weather window for 6 days, we set off early on Monday 17th August. It was another fast passage picking up at least a knot of current, and with the winds blowing consistently 15-20knots with calm seas it was enjoyable. V was again in her element having free rein down below, roaming and climbing. M caught a small mahi mahi, probably on the verge of whether to through it back in, but we had been looking forward to tasting the fish we caught so many of coming across the Pacific. We were making such good speeds, that we were set for arriving at night and without sufficient information on the entry and the possibility of extensive coral, we decided to slow the boat down on the fourth day to ensure we arrived in the light. Always demoralising in such good winds, to have to go from over 6 knots down to 3. As the sun came up on Friday morning, we could just about make out the low lying reef and coconut palms. IMG_2343M caught a barracuda 10nm offshore. We normally have a rule not to eat barracuda due to the risk of ciguatera but we decided to check with the locals about ciguatera on arrival and then make a call on eating it (although we said V wouldn’t have any just in case).  The approach was in actual fact straight forward, not like the small passes in the Tuamotus and no significant coral heads protruded near the surface. There was a fairly well marked out approach channel into Deception Bay which was the designated anchorage, although it took us over a suspiciously dark patch of coral. We took it slowly, with M on the bow to spot for shallow depths, but luckily we had 4m below the waterline. The sun was shining on the atoll as we dropped anchor in a patch of sand – at last we could see the bottom, the water was crystal clear. As M dropped the barracuda head overboard, we had 5 or 6 small black tip sharks instantly surround the boat.  Shortly after, we upped anchor and moved to be clear of the ferry jetty, the sharks followed in an orderly line behind us.

The wind blew in and the rain came that evening, just as we were trying to have a BBQ (barracuda) and lasted through till Monday. It was good for the batteries at least, which had taken a hammering since leaving Darwin and needed a trickle charge to make sure they were toppers. We were also able to run the watermarker for 8 hours solid – we didn’t realise we were that empty, but we figured we must have had an airlock in the tanks when we left Darwin and so were never completely full. Despite the rain and the wind, we did venture ashore to look around the island, taking the machete with us to acquire some fresh green coconuts. We walked to the ocean side of the atoll to watch the waves pound in with the strong winds. Deception Bay is a deserted island, with a ferry coming in just twice a week for day visitors, the yachties had the place to themselves. Boats over the years had left plaques of their boat names etched into driftwood and we enjoyed spotting the familiar names of friend boats from the Pacific.  With the sun finally shining on Monday and after watching dolphins in the anchorage, we ventured ashore for sundowners with some of the other boats in the anchorage.  We met, for the first time, Windarra, who were friends of friends, and who also have children onboard. Theirs were older than V, but their 10 year old daughter was quick to offer to look after V for us on the beach. V was in a very clingy stage whilst teething and was going through a developmental leap (according to the wonder weeks), and at first she stayed with us. After a bit of time watching the other children play, she became braver and went off with Sofia. Sofia was great with V and over the course of the week, became good friends. It felt quite strange handing her over for the first time to someone I didn’t know, but we both kept our eyes firmly on her and it definitely did her good to have some interaction with other kids, and us too (oh the chance to have grandparents on hand to babysit).

Tuesday morning seemed to provide some relief from the constant blow, so we decided to brave the half an hour dinghy ride to visit the populated Home Island to get a few basic supplies and to suss out the shops for stocking up. With the dinghy ride over to the island head into the wind and bashing straight into the waves, we were drenched by the time we arrived. The shops seemed well stocked and whether we were just expecting the worst, the prices didn’t seem all that unreasonable to us (well we had been used to living in expensive Australia for the last 18 months). We chatted to some of the crew from a traditional Hawaiian canoe and their support vessel who had arrived the day before. They were sailing the canoe around the world, which made me feel very thankful for the comfort and safety of our boat. On a whim, we decided to catch the ferry to the main island, West island and only realised when we arrived that we had little more than $20 cash and no bank cards, doh! We also didn’t realise that it was a 5km walk to the town, as we saw a bus drive off. A nice lady offered us a lift, as we all squeezed in. M managed to borrow some cash off the American support boat, so we treated ourselves to lunch out and it tasted so good! We ambled around and walked along the beach as we waited a few hours to catch the ferry back. We took V to a park, which was a bit old for her, but she enjoyed climbing up the spiral slide nonetheless, more so than sliding down.

IMG_2594With the flat anchorage, we took the opportunity to send M up the rigging again to investigate our creaking. Unfortunately as M came back down, solemn face, I knew something bad was wrong. Our top spreader end cap had cracked this time, and unfortunately had cracked in two places running the likely risk that it would break off, leaving the wire unsupported. This could lead to de-masting. Mark from Tipperary Waters in Darwin who used to be a rigger in NZ had told us (when the bottom end cap had cracked) that a lot of boats seize the rigging using Monel wire. With that we hoisted him back up the mast to secure the rigging to the spreaders using the csiezing wire. He wired up both sides, as it was likely that the caps were brittle on both port and starboard. With a long passage coming up, he did the best to ensure that the rigging wouldn’t come loose, and got onto investigating replacements for our friend Sean to bring out to Mauritius when he joins us in October.

IMG_2587The mornings provided the best time to take V for a play on the beach and in the sea, as the coconut palms provided lovely shade before the sun became too high in the sky. This was the first real visit to a beach, and whilst we had been to a few along the Gold Coast, she was too young to really enjoy it. Now she loved it and waded straight into the sea right up to her chin, no fear. As the water was so clear, she could spot the shells and rocks lying on the sand, and without realising she would dunk her head as she reached down to grab them. IMG_2423She was fascinated by shells and the hundreds of small hermit crabs along the beach, grabbing them and turning the shell over to reveal the creatures hiding inside – I know who was more scared! We had a lovely time showing her how to build sandcastles and burying her in the sand. And what’s more, she learnt to walk. Without anything to grab onto and with a desire to head back into the water, she quickly mastered the art. What a great place to have learnt to walk. Back on the boat, she was zonked for the rest of the day and slept for three hours straight, completely unheard of. We would be trying this again tomorrow!

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

Deception Bay was home to an amazing area of coral, that you could snorkel, called the Rip and literally the current ripped you through. We took the dinghy up toward the reef, where the ocean breaks over the top. V was tucked up in her life jacket, and huddled next to me who was on the outboard as M dived in. He soon surfaced the other end, exclaiming it was the best coral he had seen since Fiji and Tonga, and that there were several sharks sleeping on the bottom. He got back in the dinghy to have another go.  We spent the next week enjoying relaxing on the beach, letting V play in the sand and the sea, whilst we took it in turns to snorkel the rip.

Saturday morning was the twice weekly delivery of fresh fruit and veg, so we braved the wet dinghy ride again to replenish the stocks ready for the 1900nm trip to Rodrigues. We were just waiting for a good weather window to go. A$250 later, we had more apples, oranges, tomatoes, cucumber, cheese and bread, plus three bars of cadburys dairy milk for a treat on passage (shame we ate two whilst at anchor and had to buy more!). V was initially reticent about the dinghy Maybe I had given her a fear every time I tried to clamber in the dinghy in Christmas Island, with the dinghy going one way and the boat going the other. After ten days of using the dinghy every day, she was now more than comfortable and enjoyed the rides, trying to lean forward out of the dinghy to touch the water as it sprayed past.

Our friends from the Pacific, Yindee Plus, arrived in Cocos that morning after spending the year in SE Asia. I had kept in contact with Sue, and even more so in the last few months as both of our plans for the Indian Ocean were firming up.  We didn’t think we would see them until Mauritius. We spent the late afternoon and evening catching up over a beer on the beach. Something that we continued to do each night until we left. It was great to see V really come out of her shell with Windarra’s kids and the Yindee’s twins, she was thriving on watching and joining in with them where she could, and they were great with her too. By the end of our stay, V was all waves and smiles for everyone and there were lots of tears when we did leave.

M had been watching the weather patterns for the trip to Rodrigues everyday since we had arrived and come Monday, decided that a departure in the next day or two would be our best bet. With the swell that comes in from the Southern ocean and with the high pressure systems that roll in every week or two, bringing strong winds, the next passage was inevitably going to be a rough one. We chose a window that would minimise this as much as possible. The week ahead was looking calm, maybe a bit too calm, with a wave of stronger winds coming through after that. We took the decision that we would face these adverse conditions one way or another, and for us with the youngster it made sense to start in calm weather and settle into a routine rather than head straight out into boisterous conditions. With the decision made, and a delay from a Tuesday to Wednesday departure to watch what was happening in the forecast two weeks out, we had our last swim and sundowners on the beach as we bid a sad farewell to one of our favourite stops.

Christmas Island

After 31 days in Darwin, we were ready to start the Indian Ocean crossing. The Indian Ocean is the most feared by any would be circumnavigator, with the roaring forties and the Cape of Good Hope. There is even a medical condition for all female sailors called the Indian Ocean Anxiety Syndrome – ok maybe not a real medical condition but the thought of sailing across the Indian Ocean terrifies most and creates many a sleepless night. Added to this the thought of sailing with a one year old, having never done an Ocean passage with her, you could say I was nervous about leaving. We had been toying with alternatives and possibilities of crew for months. In the end it came down to, wanting to sail home, with the only realistic option being via South Africa, and putting in place back up plans where we could taking it one island at a time.

So on the 30th July, we locked out of Tipperary Waters Marina and headed west, first into the Timor Sea headed for the Indian Ocean. We quietly slipped from our berth at 0645 and into the lock. As the outer lock doors opened we slowly motored out into the swiftly ebbing tide. The sun was rising and a gentle breeze building. We were off! It was a very pleasant start to our trip with smooth seas, and bacon sandwiches and coffee on deck. We had a good full day to get back into the swing of things before the first night sail. The passage to CI we had calculated would be 1400nm and should take us no more than 14 days.

After one month ashore in Darwin, the little one, I shall call her V from now on, suddenly seemed to be so much more mobile. Previously she couldn’t climb (without help or a cushion under foot) onto the seats in the cockpit and so was quite content playing with toys on the floor in front of the wheel. No longer, she now climbs easily and has worked out that if she walks across the seats to the aft, it is a lower step for her to climb out of the cockpit. We bought a child safety harness in Darwin, and although it was from 18 months and a bit big, it was good enough to keep her attached to the boat. Or so we thought. V had other ideas, and literally screamed the boat down every time she got to the end of the tether and couldn’t move any further. This was going to be long 5000nm to South Africa! In the end she got her way and we took the harness off, but in exchange she had to sit in her seat in the cockpit or wear the baby reins (for some reason she didn’t object so much to the reins as the harness). Whilst she had suddenly become more mobile, she had also become calmer and was quite happy to sit in her chair for a good hour at a time and play with her toys or look at books.

With the first night drawing in, we spoke with Matt and Jean on Superted V through our Single Side Band high frequency radio. It was the first two way communication we had managed on it, after M managed to resolve the issues we had coming up the East Coast. Finally, our £400 eBay bargain (usually a couple of thousand pounds to buy new) proved to be a good investment as we were able to exchange positions and weather reports, as well as general chit chat on how everyone was on board. It will be invaluable for exchanging information as we cross the ocean.

We had tried to pick a reasonable weather window, as the first 500nm to Ashmore Reef is notorious for no wind due to the land shadow cast from Australia. The wind was looking good from Tuesday, but unfortunately a cock up with customs and not realising they needed three days notice for clearance out (why on earth they need three days, when every other country we have visited needed at most 24 hours is still beyond us), meant we were delayed until Thursday. We thought we would still have a good two or three days of wind before it was due to die down again, but it really only lasted the first 12 hours. After that the silver sail (engine) was on for way too long over the first four days. We tried to sail when we could, but knowing that we could pick up diesel relatively easily at Christmas Island and without wanting to create undue pressure on the rig with banging sails, we did resort to motor sailing more than we probably would have done before. Our initial philosophy of only motoring when absolutely necessary seems to have gone out of the window and if we aren’t making 4 knots, the engine comes on far too easily nowadays!

We always used to do four hour watches at night alternated so that one night I would do two night watches and then the second night I would do just one. With the demands of V, we decided that M would do 2000 – 0000, I would do 0000 – 0400 and M would do 0400 – 0800 before getting his head down for much of morning. We would generally try to get her down by 7pm, and then we would have one hour together chatting over a cup of tea and a piece of chocolate (that’s how we roll these days!), before I would retire to sleep on the sofa in the saloon. On the whole it seemed to work ok for us both. M was more tired than I, but with the demands of V, I needed a bit more rest than him anyway. Invariably, she would wake up quite early, anywhere between 0500 and 0600, so my second sleep was usually interrupted trying to get her back to sleep again. We don’t bring her into the cockpit until it is light, so if I couldn’t get her back off again, I would go in the forpeak with her until the sun came up.

We were overflown at least once a day by Australian maritime and border protection, to the point where they stopped calling us up on the VHF. They obviously recognised and remembered the boat. It was quite a nice reassurance knowing that someone comes looking for you every day!

The seas were gentle and conditions aboard Gallinago, very pleasant – despite the noise of the engine when needed. We passed a sailing boat, who were making slow progress without use of their engines in the light winds. We don’t often overtake other vessels, so called them up on the VHF radio. My Lady were headed direct for Madagascar, with just one stop at Cocos Keeling, where they couldn’t pick up fuel. We began to wander whether we should have burnt so much diesel, with about half a tank used in just four days, but there isn’t anything worse than making 1-2 knots in little or no wind – you can literally add on extra days at sea at that rate. The little one was at home running about the boat and climbing away in the smooth sea conditions. It was as though we were still moored in the marina. Although we made slow progress for the first four or five days, we did have the equatorial current with us which pushed us along at a very pleasant 2 kts at times

As we approached Ashmore Reef after dark, we saw our first traffic for 5 days. Three container ships running perpendicular to our course. Whilst there were no shipping lanes on the charts, we worked out that it was a convenient transit into Indonesia to or from Western Australia. There were two other obvious transits, one into Bali and one into Java, of which we seemed to pass at night. It’s always a bit disconcerting suddenly seeing lights around you, after days of nothing, and working out distances apart and directions headed.

The trade winds began to kick in as expected after Ashmore Reef and we were off. It was great to be sailing and our speeds varied from 6 to 7 to 8 kts. We set the boat up Goose Winged, tweaked the Hydrovane and settled down for the long haul. Days and nights started to pass by and our routines fell into place. These mainly revolved around feeding, play time and sleeping for the little one. Feeding on deck in her chair was always a messy affair, and took longer to clean up than it did to eat. We generally took the opportunity of her nap times for one of us to get some rest, unfortunately on this leg, V seemed to suddenly drop her afternoon nap, so she slept when M slept and was awake when M was awake – he got the raw end of the deal! In a bid to entertain her, M constructed a den down below made out of the cushions from the sofa. V absolutely loved it and spent much of the passage hidden in her den with a few toys or books. She never just sits or lies down and relaxes, but in the den there were a few occasions where we caught her just chilling or looking as if she might go off to sleep – not that she did.

On the whole we didn’t see too many other ships, but when we started to drop our guard, we would be gently reminded that we still had to be vigilant. Flying along one morning, I spotted at the last minute a small fishing vessel cutting across our track just ahead of us, it must have been in the blind spot caused by the sprayhood. I quickly shouted to M who was asleep in the aft, and we managed to put in a quick gybe to make sure we had plenty of room from his astern – you never know whether these boats are towing nets or lines. Then just a few hours later, it was M’s turn, as we sailed past a small vessel no more than a boat length or two to our starboard. The umbrella we use for some shade in the cockpit this time blocking the view. It looked like it was going in the opposite direction to us. Then we saw a big drum that the vessel appeared to be tied to. It almost looked like the vessel was moored, but checking the charts we were in 3000 meters of water. After some discussion we concluded that it must have been a fishing vessel laying back on its nets. Over the next few days we saw a few vessels fishing, all of which are about 100 NM off the Indonesian islands. At night they always appeared to be on the same course that we were heading on – there must have been a good contour in the oceans depths for fishing. Thankfully we only had to gybe out of their way once. Flying fish however, we didn’t manage to avoid and would usually hear repeated slams as another hit the decks followed by frantic flapping. There were a few narrow escapes for us too – a few inches to the left and the fish would have hit M on the back of the head. It was the fishes lucky day as it was thrown back to the sea.

All in all the passage was progressing quite smoothly and we described it as our best yet with flat seas, consistent 15-20 knots and 1-2 knots of current…If only the rest of the Indian Ocean could be guaranteed to be like this. The nights were dark, with little light from the moon and made even darker by our Bimini extension – great for providing extra sun cover by day, but it ruined the views of the stars at night. One thing that continued to amaze us was the incredible balance the little one has. Even though the boat rolls from side to side and she can barely walk, she is hardly ever off balance and scampers around the boat faster than us. Her evening game of rushing from one end of the boat to the other (below decks) over and over again soon had us tired. With great protests we managed to chill her out and get her to bed.

Our first ocean passage, and Gallinago was fairing quite well with just a few minor issuettes to investigate. On day 2 during the morning inspection, M spotted a bolt that had sheared off. The bolt was attaching the mainsheet bracket to the boom and was luckily held on by three other bolts so not an immediate problem. Our batteries were the biggest bug bear, which needed the engine to be run twice a day to keep them topped up. We had a freezer full of meat, so we couldn’t turn off the biggest drain on the batteries, like we used to do. We wouldn’t have minded, but they were new batteries from Australia. Poor quality in hindsight, not that there were many other options for better batteries. That is one thing we found about boat repairs and equipment in Oz, expensive and poor quality. Added to our battery problem, was the intermittent failure of the LED tricolour sailing navigation light, which meant we had to use our bicolour and stern lights which drew 3 amps per hour, as opposed to 0.1 amp an hour. Then there was the creaking rigging. We first had the problem after the sail to Lizard Island in the Great Barrier Reef and thought we had resolved the problem in Darwin when M saw our one of our spreader end caps had cracked. With the end cap welded, we started to consider other causes of problem, hoping it wasn’t a broken wire. We were in no mans land when it came to getting parts sent to these remote islands. M spent many an hour pontificating over the cause, and managed to reduce it sufficiently by playing with the rigging tension. Job number 1 for Christmas Island, to send him up the mast.

We had been really impressed by the functionality of the Iridium Go satellite device we had bought in Darwin. With the unlimited data package, we were able to send and receive emails and download weather for the first time at sea. We used the Predict Wind software, which seemed to be spot on in terms of forecasted weather with actual conditions, as well as providing useful weather routing information to make best use of currents and wind. Our families were also relieved to be able to see an hourly update on our position, which is automatically sent via am SMS to a Predict Wind web page, who display the track information – once the spurious positions reports were understood which suggested we had turned back!

With our record speeds, we were set to make Christmas Island two days early. With 20nm to run at first light on 11th August, we were caught unaware by a breaking crest of a 5m wave swamping the cockpit and funnelling down below decks. It was a rude awakening for me, as I woke to seeing at least 20 litres of water come in through the companionway – it just kept on coming. Not realising that V was on deck with M at the time, as soon as the water stopped I was handed a wet but unfazed baby, as M took the wheel! It was then a clean up job for me. Safest place for V was in her car seat (once changed into a dry set of clothes), as the floors were too wet and slippery and the boat was rolling in the large seas. I’m pleased I spent most of the time down below, as I was oblivious to the 5m waves outside. Unfortunately, with the calm conditions we had had up until that point, we had become complacent with windows open for ventelation, and the offending wave which soaked the saloon, had also made it into the aft cabin and soaked our bed. Luckily there was meant to be a launderette on Christmas Island (more on that one later!). Thankfully it was only a few hours in these conditions before we rounded into the industrious looking anchorage at Flying Fish Cove. A good lesson had bee re-learnt before venturing deeper into the Indian Ocean.

IMG_2186We picked up a mooring buoy close to the jetty and opposite the large mining transportation facility. There wasn’t the immediate wow factor. Christmas Island is heavily mined for its Phosphate, with plumes of dust frequently wafting over the anchorage as another ship was being loaded. Customs were out to the boat, before we had even finished putting the mooring lines onto the buoy and were friendly and efficient. It must have been a quiet period, as they came loaded with a large contraption to detect drugs and explosives. The cleaning products I had covered the boat in that morning in a bid to clear up the sea water managed to triggered the device, luckily we were honest and trustworthy! V was the youngest crew member they had cleared in.

It wasn’t the most comfortable of anchorages with a constant blow and swell rounding the island. At least we were safely attached to the mooring buoys, rather than at anchor in 15m of water and on a lee shore. We spent much of the day cleaning the boat and drying the cushions in the sun, before trying unsuccessfully in the strong wind to have a BBQ. At least we managed to relax with a beer or two before getting an early night.

Well rested after a good nights sleep for all, we ventured ashore with three bags full or washing – the launderette had to be close surely. With the dinghy lifted onto the beach, no mean feat with a baby strapped to my front, we met Kim who offered to give us a lift to the car hire place and to the launderette – not that he knew of one on the island – but the book says there is one, please let there be a launderette with all this salt water soaked washing. It quickly became clear, you need a car to get around on Christmas Island, with the settlement spread out over a wide hilly area. I’m glad we didn’t carry the washing into the town! Car hire was actually very reasonable at $65 per day. We could have got it for $55 if we took out three day car hire, but we only really wanted it for two days. One to sightsee and one to ferry around. A quick trip to tourist information informed us that the launderette had shut years ago. Kim very kindly called his wife to ask if she would mind us using their machine. What a lovely and very helpful couple, as they suggested we come by at 1300. I’m not sure they knew how many loads I had mind you! With a little walk around the town and sussing out the supermarket, we had lunch and made our way to their flat. Unfortunately we hadn’t changed our watches to Christmas Island time and arrived an hour too early, doh! That didn’t matter though, as we were kindly invited in. We spent a pleasant afternoon in their company, as M drank beer with Kim, I did the washing (only nearly breaking the machine once) and Lisa, his wife, played with V. She was in her element with all the space in their flat to explore and scampered everywhere, trying her hand at walking unsupported with a bit of gentle encouragement and mummy moving away from her as she tried to take a step towards me! Now time to get the washing dry…

The next morning, in between the rain (I must have rehung the washing out to dry at least four times), M shimmied up the rigging to investigate the noise. Sadly there was nothing obvious, although thankfully nothing broken as it takes three weeks for express post from the mainland to the island, and three months for non express post. We had invited Kim and Lisa onto the boat that afternoon to return their hospitality, but unfortunately with the lumpy conditions, Lisa wasn’t feeling too great, so we took some beers ashore and continued at their flat. V was getting much braver and without the distraction of kids TV was much more engaging and walked across the length of their room. Lisa very generously offered V and I a beautiful gift each, a pair of Thai silver earrings for me and a lovely Thai silver necklace for V. They were handmade in her home village in Thailand, where the workers get paid peanuts for producing these beautiful pieces of jewellery. Lisa was so intuitive and perceptive about V, spotting lots of little characteristics of hers. She told of how V’s double crown is thought to mean you have a great gift in Thailand – a lovely sentiment that I shall tell her of when she is older.

We had scheduled a hire car for Friday and Saturday, taking the opportunity of the weekly fresh produce arriving in the shops on Friday afternoon. Generally we found the supermarkets to be well stocked and not significantly more expensive than the mainland, although you do have to be careful on the buy one get one free offers, which are their way of selling off out of date stock. With the help of Kim and Lisa, they directed us to the local hospital where we had made an appointment to see a doctor about Vs cough, which had developed coming across from Darwin, and then they took us to a little secret place on the island where wild pumpkins grown. We were in our element, as we picked over ten pumpkin, of differing varieties (squash to us English folk) for the onwards trip. The bonus find was the bush chillies, small but deadly! We said our goodbyes, as Kim and Lisa were leaving Christmas Island the next day to return to life on the mainland since the work at the immigration detention centre had dried up since the closure the year before. There was definitely an odd feel to the place, almost like a ghost town but with people milling around and signs that the detention centre used to be the main activity on the island. Kim told of how each morning, at least three new boats arrived into the anchorage and they were just the ones they knew about, many boats didn’t make it to the Island, and if the seas on that last day are anything to go by, you could imagine many boats going missing at sea. With diesel topped up (and this was all before lunch time!), we got to the best supermarket for fresh fruit and veg just as they were setting out the stock. Most was gone by the next day. It was expensive, and some things we had to put back ($48 for a dozen bananas and $42 for three cucumbers), but on the whole we had a good selection of apples, pears, mandarins, green beans and sugar snap peas, peppers, courgettes and lebanese cucumbers. Hopefully that, with the pumpkins, would keep us going. IMG_2224Next was a stock up on the duty free spirits, we hadn’t seen prices like these since the Caribbean, for rum at least. With a quick beer in the Golden Bosuns on the way home, it was a very productive day.

Saturday morning, we were up early to explore the island. IMG_2306Taking a drive through the jungle in search of the crabs that inhabit the island. In season, we were told, the town turns red from the migration of red crabs to the sea to lay their eggs and the roads have to be closed. That must surely be a sight to see. Sadly we only saw a few tens of red crabs, as well as the blue crabs and the robber crabs which are endemic to Christmas Island. The robber crabs are huge coconut crabs, and are protected. There is a A$5K fine if you run over one. Thankfully we avoided them driving, but we did see a couple of the magnificent creatures as we took a 4×4 track through the the jungle. IMG_2267Our hire car was a Toyota Rav 4 which was ideal for exploring off the beaten track. We took a lovely walk to a waterfall, where we dipped our toes in the refreshing water. V screamed all the way back to the car, she didn’t want to leave the waterfall. Driving around the island you could see the extent of the mining with areas excavated and road trains continually speeding past with truck loads more Phosphor. The blow holes were an amazing sight, as the sea slammed into the limestone rocks and found its way through the porous holes to create a loud swoosh sound and spraying water high into the air. The jungle was thick in places and with lots of bird life. We took what was meant to be a short walk to the beach, but after 45 minutes we could see the beach but still couldn’t reach it, and with the afternoon drawing in, decided to head back. It was a nice walk anyway, although we were all covered in mosquito bites. Christmas Island was quite a surprise – it wasn’t just a detention centre, but had plenty of great 4×4 tracks to explore and if we weren’t keen to get to Cocos Keeling and with a weather window for departure on Monday, we could easily have stayed for another week.

 

The Top End to Darwin

We had now rounded the most northern peninsula of Australia, Cape York and with a couple of good nights sleep sat at anchor outside of Seisia and with supplies running low, we were ready for the final push for Darwin. This would be our first significant passage, away from the security of coastal sailing with 400nm of open water as we cross the Gulf of Carpentaria and then a further 400nm of isolated coastline of the Northern Territories.

We set up our shift pattern and settled easily into the routine of sailing, using the tides of the Torres Straits to our advantage. The weather was kind to us – we were a little in the dark on the general picture, still relying on text message updates to the sat phone from my Dad. The trip across the top end was fairly uneventful, with steady winds and easy downwind sailing for the best part. The little one faired well but was becoming increasingly mobile and wanting to climb the seats to leave the cockpit. The final 50nm was a different story. With a weather update suggesting that the winds would increase, conditions quickly deteriorated. MD had to stay on the helm to assist the hydrovane, whilst the baby and I stayed down below. As quickly as it arrived, the winds began to ease and we thought we had come out of the worst lightly. We passed a random sea snake gliding along, not realising they ventured this far offshore. As the sun began to fade, we rounded Cape Don and into the Dundas Strait between the mainland and Melville island- the quickest route into Darwin. The weather forecast had said winds were changing to Southerly, but as the region covered was quite substantial, we didn’t pay too much attention to the impact that could have on us. No sooner had it gone dark, the winds turned and picked up to 30knots and as we were trying to head south, the wind was now on the nose. For any avid readers, they will know we do not sail well with the wind on our nose and to make matters worse there were strong tidal influences in this region and with our luck, come midnight we were now plugging the tide for the next 6 hours. Wind over tide creates short, sharp waves and an uncomfortable sail. We were struggling to even make 1 knot of boat speed. The narrow channels between shoals made tacking through the wind difficult. This was going to be a long night with both of us up taking turns on the helm. It was reminiscent of our entry into Brisbane some 18 months earlier – our worst conditions thus far. This was the first occasion where we were concerned about leaving the little one in the forpeak to sleep, as the boat was being thrown around, and so transferred her into the car seat for the remainder of the night. Conditions lasted well into the following morning until finally we were able to steer a more easterly direction with the wind at 60 degrees to us. The waves were still short and sharp, but at least we didn’t have to tack and come lunchtime, the wind strengths began to abate – just in time for another turn of the tide not in our favour. It took over 24 hours to cover 80nm through the channel into the anchorage at Fannie Bay, which meant we punched the tide for two six hour periods. Slow going. It might have been easier in hindsight to chalk up the extra mileage and go around the outside of Melville island before turning east into Darwin. It was dark as we approached the anchorage, but the area was well lit and charts were accurate. We still approached the anchorage with caution, as there were wrecks and shallows dotted around. We dropped anchor towards the back of the packed anchorage with good distance between us and the boats around. The bambino had already been put to bed, as we breathed a sigh of relief and cracked a beer. We woke the next morning to a pleasant anchorage and relaxed on deck enjoying pancakes and bacon, chatting over coffees. It was Saturday morning, and the day my brother was due to get married back in the UK, which made me feel very homesick and sad to miss out, but relieved that we were back within 3G reception so that I could Skype with him on the morning of his big day. We had arranged with the lock master at Tipperary Waters Marina to be at the lock for 1300. We didn’t need to clear bio security in Darwin as we had been in Australian waters for 18 months and had the boat lifted out and anti fouled twice. Thankfully this meant we didn’t have to wait at anchor until Monday – we didn’t have enough fresh food to last until Monday!  With the anchor up and high tide approaching, we motored up the river to lock in at high tide. IMG_1801We were talked through the approach to the hidden lock entrance on the handheld VHF buy the lock master. It was only big enough for one boat at a time, very different from the last set of locks we went through in Panama! As the inner gates opened we motored into the pleasant looking Marina, tied up the boat, unloaded the rubbish and took ourselves to the showers for the first decent shower in way too many days to mention. We had been dreaming of a cold beverage or two and some food in a restaurant for days. Unfortunately we were disappointed to see just a small fish and chippery – not so much the waterfront Marina and bars we had been expecting. Tipperary Waters Marina was in the middle of nowhere, and with lots of running around to do, we started to look into hire cars. No sooner had we started discussing the options, when Mark a friendly kiwi on the boat opposite, knocked and offered us a lift to the supermarket. With it being the nippers feeding time, we weren’t in a position to go with him, but he very kindly offered us the use of his car when he wasn’t using it. This seems to be a standard gesture from most New Zealanders. MD joined Mark and the lads (a few of the other liveaboards) for beers most evening and was soon offered Marks spare car for our sole use. What a godsend. We repaid his kindness with a slab of beer when we left.

Tipperary was a lovely friendly Marina. We had planned on a couple of weeks in Darwin and then straight off to CI. Time however ran away with us and we ended up staying for a month. Darwin was a friendly place and a great place hang out, explore the national parks and recouperate after the trip up……well almost. It was far too social and there were plenty of boat jobs to keep us busy. We were cracking on with the jobs as soon as we had arrived and worked up a schedule for who was doing what and when, so that we could split looking after Ivy to allow the other one to work. Otherwise, my jobs always seemed to be put on the back burner. The priority jobs were completed in the first few days, including servicing of all key systems, engine check and alignment and rigging check. The creaking in the rigging we had carried with us since lizard island, appeared to be caused by a crack in the bottom spreader end cap causing the rigging to slip; M managed to find a specialist welder to fix the crack. We also caught up with dentist checks, skin cancer checks (everywhere in Australia) and 12 month vaccinations for the little ‘un. 1st July was Territory Day in NT and we were told that there was a great fireworks display by Mindyl Beach with some night markets. We finished the jobs early that day and took a walk in the baking heat (even at 3pm in the afternoon it was scorching) to see what it was all about. Darwin’s cuisine is influenced by the proximity to Indonesia so we enjoyed sampling different foods at the night markets. With a public holiday, it seemed like every man and his dog was descending on he beach. Once the sun set, the first of the fireworks were set off. They didn’t stop all night. Unlike Guy Fawkes night in the UK, fireworks can only be purchased on one single day of the year in NT, and everyone had purchased them and were setting them off in what can only be described as uncontrollable mayhem. I’m not a fan of home fireworks at the best of times, but when the first firework went towards the crowd gathered at the beach, I decided it wasn’t the place for us. Walking back into town, fireworks were going off all around us. The little one wasn’t phased by the sound thankfully, but it wasn’t conducive to getting her to sleep, so we called into one of the quiet bars in town for a drink on the way back. For some reason we ended up walking home – what a wrong night to choose to walk. Seriously, people were setting off fireworks on every corner of every street, pathway and open space. I was a nervous wreck, which didn’t help when one set of fireworks came straight towards us as we paused on the other side of the road to wait to see what one group were doing, they took no account of people nearby and proceeded in setting them off. I felt at least one firework brush past my foot, as I started hopping around like a crazy person whilst M guarded the pushchair. I was pleased to be back on the boat that night and needed a stiff drink to calm my nerves.

It was now my turn for some jobs, as I set up a sewing factory in the saloon – repairing and modifying the Bimini to include a window pane to see the mainsail, make a high lee cloth to give the baby a safe and secure place to sleep in rough weather, make a swing for her upcoming birthday. Whilst M cracked on with more baby proofing around the boat: putting up lifeline netting around the guard rails if she were to leave the cockpit; a gate to secure off the galley, stairs and power cables and a stair block to stop her climbing the stairs. M also ordered a new Iridum Go to provide us with a more robust method to download weather across the Indian Ocean. I was sold on the email and tracking capabilities. It wasn’t cheap and took a few discussions to bite the bullet, but we were glad to have it on order. If only it didn’t get lost in the post and delay us by a week. Darwin was the first place that we had bumped into a few other boats going the same way as us. Always nice to know you are not the only ones and to swap a few thoughts and ideas, as we had drinks onboard SuperTed V with Matt and Jean. Our first outing with the little one on someone else’s boat and she didn’t create too much havoc. There were also a few other kid boats in the Marina, and whilst they were older than ours, she enjoyed watching and wanted to join In at every opportunity. She was also a hit, with offers of babysitting and cookies from the girl next door – it’s a shame she doesn’t eat cookies, we enjoyed them none the less!

In between boat jobs and with upcoming birthdays, we did manage to have a few R&R days to get out and about and do some touristy things. IMG_0470We took a drive to Adelaide River to see the jumping crocs. Our first sighting of crocs and we weren’t spared, as we spotted tens and tens on the muddy banks of the river. IMG_0489They say for every one you see, there are another five you don’t. The river is meant to be home to 6000! We also took a longer road trip to Katherine and stayed the night at a motel leaving the boat unattended in the Marina – there is a first for everything! It was great to see some of the outback and the spectacular national parks in the NT. We took a boat trip at the Katherine Gorge and a dip in the rock pools at Edith Falls. With the heat of Darwin (glad we weren’t there in summer), we also became frequent visitors to a nearby outdoor swimming pool to give the bubba a chance to splash around. She loved it, if only we had been able to swim coming up the coast.thumb_IMG_2037_1024

Over the course of the month, we had taken countless trips to the supermarkets stocking up on the weeks best offers to replenish the boat stocks. We needed four months worth of food to South Africa, as we weren’t sure that we could rely on local supplies at the remote islands, other than fresh goods. It was expensive, as each shopping trip seemed to come to $500, and we must have made at least 8 trips. The boat was full to the brim, with probably more food on board than we had coming across either the Atlantic or the Pacific, and not to mention the couple of hundred nappies stored in the aft heads. We also visited the local markets at Parap and Rapid Creek, hoping to stock the boat with the freshest fruit and veg and the only non refrigerated eggs we could get. Disappointingly, Darwin didn’t seem to run a decent fruit and veg market and the bits that we did get there perished much sooner than the supermarket bought equivalent or had bugs inside. We were though pleased with ourselves on the quest to find non refrigerated eggs (which last longer if baselined). With five dozen bought and a further two dozen ordered for the following delivery. Shame I dropped three dozen in the bilges – oh well no point crying over cracked eggs, and in the end it was probably a blessing as they weren’t the best eggs and went off far quicker than the supermarket ones we had bought. Waiting for the winds to build, we took the opportunity to complete the nice to do job lists, like making courtesy flags and covers for gas bottles and car seat, not to mention undertaking a proper clean throughout, including the bilges. There is always more that could be done, but when the wind finally filled in, we called it a day and decided to make the bold first sail into the Indian Ocean. In any case, MD was ready for a detox!

Airlie Beach to Cape York

After a longer than planned stop in Airlie Beach, the boat was restocked and we were ready to start knocking out the miles in a bid to get to the top, only another 1500nm to go! We had worked out that Brisbane to Darwin was the equivalent of sailing from the UK to the Canary Islands and we took five months to do that trip. It was now getting on for the end of May and we had planned to be in Darwin sometime mid to end of June. From Airlie Beach, the Great Barrier Reef is much closer to the coastline and so from now on we were on constant look out to make sure we didn’t come a cropper on the reef. Hard going when the baby needs our constant attention during her waking hours. On the plus side, the seas flattened out and we enjoyed some of the nicest sailing we had had, with the wind coming from our aft quarter we flew along with just the headsail out and no horrid rolling motion.

From Airlie, we sailed overnight to Magnetic Island.  It looked a popular spot, with the most number of boats we had seen so far at anchor. There looked to be some kind of resort on the beach, but being at the start of crocsville, I had absolutely no desire to go ashore. There were plenty of people dinghying onto the beach and by all accounts we missed a great stop. With a baby in a dinghy, I was probably overly cautious when it came to saltwater crocs from here to Darwin, M seemed unfazed. The wind blew up the morning that we had planned to leave and we had to make a quick exit when we started to drag anchor towards another boat in the anchorage. Initially it was pretty lumpy as the winds were blowing from the south west and the fetch from the headland was building short sharp waves over the shallow bay. We were initially setting out to do an overnight sail to Dunk island, but with the weather forecast on the vhf from the local Voluntary Marine Rescue, we decided to take the easy option and divert into Orpheus island for the night. Orpheus island had a marine research station located on it, and as such they had dropped some free mooring buoys for visitors.  As we entered the anchorage with a screaming hungry child, I’m sure the other boat on a nearby buoy were pleased to see us. I picked up the buoy and handed over to M to finish up, whilst I quickly rustled up some tea for the baby. We always seem to arrive at breakfast, lunch or dinner time, but we have a reasonable routine where I will help to get the boat safely secured and M will finish up squaring the lines away and tidying up after the sail. Snacks work a treat to wade of the hungry cries for food so we don’t create a reputation for ourselves, “oh there’s that boat again with the screaming baby”!

We stayed in Orpheous Island an extra day for the winds to abate, before continuing to our original destination Dunk island.  We left early in the morning to make the best use of the tides and arrive in the light. With an hour or two of daylight remaining and still 10nm to run we stuck the engine on to help give us an extra push and dropped anchor just as it was going dark. The anchorage was pretty uncomfortable, another discrepancy in the pilot we were using for the Coral Coast. We only stayed for the one night and lifted anchor at first light the next day. It was a shorter hop today to Mourilyan Harbour, a sugar loading facility. The harbour entrance was extremely well concealed in the coastline, opening up only as we lined up our approach. A shipwreck on a nearby beach showing signs that people get it wrong. It looked like a nice and secure anchorage, surrounded by thick mangroves, to wait out the forecasted strong wind warnings over the next few days. Wrong! It was a fairly tight anchorage in depths of no more than 3 metres with drying patches all around.

We had dropped the anchor early afternoon but typically the winds built to 20 knots by the evening. In the pitch black and with the wind increasing to 30+knots we realised we were dragging the anchor once again. With squalls coming through we donned the oilies and got drenched on deck as we lifted and shifted. Choosing a decent place to drop the anchor in the dark was a challenge. I was on the foredeck with a flash light trying to spot the mooring buoys so that we were clear of those. When the tides turns we didn’t want the chain to get caught around them. Try as we might we could not get the anchor to hold that night. We usually have absolute confidence that when the anchor is down we aren’t going anywhere, but that night we must have moved no exaggeration ten times. In the end the power cat behind us saw that we were having difficulties finding a spot and as he drew little draught, he up anchored and moved into the shallows to give us more room. Very kind of him. We both stayed up all night eagerly watching our track on the chart plotter, which clearly shows whether the anchor was holding or not.  With more dragging room, we were able to lay out the full length of the chain. We literally had ten times the depth in chain out, normally we use four times. We made it through to first light and miraculously even with the sound of the anchor windlass above the little girls cabin, she didn’t stir once. Once we were able to visually see the anchorage again, we lifted anchor one last time and moved further into the river and this time managed to get the anchor to hold. Shattered was an understatement, and with a well rested baby who was as lively as ever, it was going to be a long day.  We succumbed to the tiredness and put Finding Nemo on for us all to watch in the afternoon in a bid to chill her out. The winds blew again hard the following night, but we were able to get some decent sleep knowing that we were held this time and with the anchor drag alarm on just in case. Looking back on why we couldn’t get the anchor to hold, we think we were rolling the anchor by still having forward motion on the boat when the chain was going down. It’s very disorientating to anchor in the dark with no or little visual reference. Time to perfect our technique again. On the plus side, I didn’t spot any croc eyes staring at me from the water when I had my head over the side pulling in the anchor!

From Mourilyan, we headed straight for Cairns. With 60 nm to cover, we left just before the sun came up and arrived at dinner time again. It was a fairly fast passage using the best of the tides and as we came towards the entrance to Cairns harbour, we used the wind shift from the squalls that were coming through to our best effect. So much for the dry season, we seemed to have day after day of rain. We spent a longer than expected week in Cairns marina, initially recuperating and then the little un picked up her first sickness bug. The boat was a small place for projectile vomiting. With 24 hours clean of sickness she seemed much better in herself. We decided to head on to Lizard island with Port Douglas being a back up in the event of bubba still being unwell. Not long out of the channel from Cairns, M caught his first fish. After a big debate and Google, we worked out that he had hooked a Spanish Mackerel, IMG_1669 (1)nice. It was a good size, looked a bit like tuna but with white meat. I must say it tasted delicious and with the new freezing capabilities on Gallinago, we were able to fillet enough portions for four or five meals. However, no sooner had the blood bath begun, that is catching and killing a fish onboard, the bambino threw up again. So with some phone calls on route, we had managed to arrange a doctors appointment for 5pm in Port Douglas – we were due to arrive about 4.45. It was going to be tight but with a taxi booked we managed to safely moor the boat in the marina and arrive in time for her appointment. The nice lady doctor gave her a good examination and thankfully there seemed nothing untoward but she suggested giving her 24 hours again.

It turned out to be a lovely stop, with a town full of cafes, bars and restaurants. It was one of our favourite stops coming up the east coast. Unfortunately, it was tinged by myself falling badly whilst carrying the baby. Without looking, I turned to walk down the steps backwards not realising that M had taken them off to do some work on the engine. We fell 6 foot straight back and smashed my head and elbow on the way down. Luckily the little one wasn’t hurt, shocked and upset by hearing mummy scream and hurt. She was my first thought once I landed and the cuckatoos stopped spinning. With a quick check that I could move my toes, M helped me to the sofa were I spent most of the morning covered with ice packs. We think some loose floor board cushioned my back and with the engine compartment open, my legs seemed to swing inside which meant I narrowly missed the table. Very very lucky, although my elbow hurt for months afterwards. Now it was both the little one and I feeling very sorry for ourselves.

We continued on the following day however, and in hindsight it was too early as the girl threw up again on route. IMG_1684 (1)We diverted this time into Cooktown, where we decided to stay put for the week. The wind was howling anyway and there was a Captain Cook festival taking place over the weekend, so all in all a well timed stop. With more vomiting in the night and a suspicious rash over her torso, we took her to the local hospital the next morning. Whilst we knew it wasn’t a meningitis rash, the fact that she was still being sick almost one week later was worrying. The doctors put it down to a virus, but I was never convinced as she didn’t have a temperature. With sailing further north, the weather was getting hotter again but I was still wrapping her up in warmer clothes particularly at night and for naps and she seemed to be sick after a sleep when she would wake up dripping wet. I put it down to overheating and whipped off the layers of clothes again. Whether it was a coincidence or just that we gave her adequate time to get over it, she was back to her usual self in no time. We did decide at this point that we would alter our plans going forward and decided to ditch Bali, and give ourselves more time across the Indian Ocean to allow for contingency in the event of illness and to also give ourselves some down time once we arrived. I must say we were both knackered from the continual moving on. An extended stay in Cooktown was exactly what we all needed.

Cooktown was an authentic Australian outback town, and we loved it. Felt good to see what australia was really like once you got past the beaches and the tourist spots. It was a friendly town and if we were to have stayed longer, I don’t think it would have taken much to become one of the regulars. The dinghy rides ashore were always quick, no messing around with 5m salties up the river who often came into town. The festival brought a reenactment of Captain Cooks landing and a large fireworks display, which we enjoyed overhead from the comfort of our own boat. Australians do know how to do fireworks (although more on that one later!). The weather forecasts seemed to be daily strong wind warnings, so we took advantage of a mere 20-25knot forecast rather than 30knots to make the trip to Lizard island at last. It was a lively trip but a fast trip, as we tried to take shelter under the islands as best we could. Lizard island is a popular stop in the GBR. We had 35 knots at anchor for four days solid. With the power going in from the wind gen, we were able to run the watermaker for 8 hours solid without running the engine. Our tanks needed it as we were getting fairly low after our week in Cooktown where the river was too murky to generate our own water. Lizard island was at last clear of the thick silt that we came through up the coast.

From here on, we had a bit of a call to make to get to the top. The reef was fairly extensive close in to the coastline but with no decent anchorages between there and Cape York. We could day hop to avoid sailing through the reefs at night but risk little protection at anchor, especially with the stronger winds, or we could sail to the top in one go. We also had an issue with obtaining weather forecasts as the VMR service over the vhf was no longer covering this area and our satphone was having difficulties downloading grib files. With my Dad providing daily updates by text to our satphone and a fairly settled period forecast, we decided to do it in one go. We just wanted to make Darwin as soon as possible now. On the positive side, the shipping lanes providing a safe passage through the reefs, were well charted and lit at night and there was little traffic in the way of ships passing through the narrow channels, maybe one or two a night. We chalked up 250nm in one hit straight to Margarets Bay just south of Cape York. We needed to time the Torres straits to ensure we made best use of currents as the area is notorious for stronger winds funnelling through. Whilst sailing through the reefs was intensive in terms of concentration and needing to keep a constant watch, difficult with just the two of us and the baby, I would actually go so far as to say I enjoyed it, particularly the night sailing and working out the light sequence I could see and matching it to the chart to know where we were.

Margaret’s bay was brimming with sea life. We didn’t see any crocs, but know they were there! We did see thousands and thousands (not exaggerating) of birds feasting on the fish that were clearly being chased by bigger fish and sharks underneath. We were watching this spectacle one morning, as they were getting closer and closer to the boat. We started to spot fins gliding through the water hunting. There were at least five bull sharks hunting right before our eyes. No we didn’t catch it on camera, we were all (including the baby) watching intently. It was amazing to see. With the birds and the fish still going for it, M got his casting rod out on a quest to catch a tuna. He only succeeded in losing two of his lures before giving up to whatever it was biting them clean off.  We had two very pleasant relaxing days chilling on the boat in Margarets Bay whilst the winds reducing, prior to doing the Torres Straits.

IMG_1746We hit the Albany pass right on the tide change which meant we had it in our favour as we rounded Cape York. It was very satisfying after 2000nm of heading North from Brisbane, to finally be turning West. All in all the Torres Straits was fairly uneventful for us. We did notch up some good speeds, touching 8-9 knots with little wind for a while. We had decided to ditch the idea of Thursday Island due to a lee shore and the risk of ending up on the shore if the anchor dragged, and stopped in a town called Seisa just round from the pinnacle of Cape York. IMG_1778There was meant to be a supermarket for some fresh supplies. It had been two weeks since we bought basics at Cooktown and over three weeks since our large fresh shop at the market in Cairns.  Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on the way you look at it, we both quickly realised that it wasn’t the best place. The inner anchorage was too shallow, despite depths on the chart to the contrary and the place was full of crocs (not that we saw one, but another boat on the radio told us to be careful as they had seen at least two in the anchorage). We were both exhausted after the night sail from Margaret Bay and thankfully had the sense to drop the anchor in a safe protected spot out of the entrance to Seisia with sufficient depth. We decided against turning around and going to Thursday island as an alternative. In those moments of exhaustion you can make the wrong decision which could have severe ramifications. With the anchor down, we were able to objectively say we were too tired to carry on and that the safest thing was to stay put, particularly with the tidal effects within the Torres Straits if you get them wrong. With a 7 day trip to Darwin, we were running low on supplies and gas, but we did have enough, particularly with the emergency supply of baby pouches we had for the little one.  These provide a useful addition of fruit and veg to her diet. We would be ok on pasta and tinned foods, but we do try to make sure she still has a balanced and nutritious diet. Although I’m not sure the same could be said for M and his coffee rationing in a bid to conserve gas! After two good nights sleep, we were off for out longest trip yet with Bub onboard.

Brisbane to Airlie Beach

After a slight delay in our intended departure date, we said our farewells and slipped our lines on 22nd April.  We hadn’t actually taken the little nipper out on the boat once. This was the moment of truth.  With her attached to me in the carrier, East Coast Marina and Manly started to fade into the distance as we motored out of the fairway and headed North into Moreton Bay. The last time we were out on the Bay was our arrival into Brisbane some 18 months earlier in 30+knots of wind on the nose.  The calm and flat seas painted a very different picture and I could suddenly see the appeal of sailing in the Bay. With little wind, it was mostly a motor 20 nm up the coast to Scarborough, although we did get the sails out to check the work that had been done by Ullman Sails and UK Halsey to repair the wear and tear of sailing half way around the world.  The little one faired well on her first sailing trip and the car seat proved a useful addition as we neared Scarborough and prepared to drop anchor. Whether it was the white noise of the anchor windlass or just all the excitement, she was sound asleep before the anchor hit the ground. A successful first day all round.

With all the systems up and running on Gallinago and no major problems after being sat still for 18 months, we headed out of the Bay the next day. Next stop Mooloolabar, some miles up the Sunshine Coast. We set off at the crack of dawn to ensure we arrived in the daylight.  The bub was still fast asleep, and with the anchor windlass above her cabin, we didn’t want to frighten the poor girl on day two. We managed to gently rouse her enough for a quick feed and eased her into the car seat, where she continued to sleep for another hour or so. With light winds forecasted, we anticipated a gentle start to the trip North and a fair bit of motoring – well it was good to just get going and to be honest, motoring in calm flat seas was an easy introduction to sailing with a baby, especially when it came to feeding time (a messy affair at the best of times).  The little un also saw her first dolphins, although she was more interested in her cucumber at the time. Mooloolabar was a lovely sea side town, as we came in through the breakwater and navigated through the river inlet and round mini islands in the middle, surrounded by million dollar mansions – the best views are always from the boat. Motoring around the fairly tight anchorage to find enough space to drop anchor, it was almost comical as M shouted to me on the bow, “I think we are good to anchor here, 5m of water” and then stop, we came to a grinding halt with a bump as we had run aground on the shallows. After many quick fast bursts of forward and reverse and with the wheel hard over, M managed to free the keel from the mud. Not sure how she managed to sleep through it all, but thank goodness she did.  With that, we decided to drop anchor in the middle! Time to test the new dinghy and the little one on a smaller boat. We have crew saver lifejacket for her, but really she couldn’t wear it all the time as it is so big and bulky, it would be uncomfortable. However for the dinghy rides ashore we managed to put her in it without too much of a fuss. She didn’t particularly like sitting inside the dinghy but was more than happy on my lap as she bounced up and down. One thing Australia does is beaches, and Mooloolabar was another great example of long stretches of sandy white beaches and some lovely walks along the promenade.

With the forecast predicting stronger winds over the coming days, we sat them out in the anchorage and enjoyed trips ashore – it almost felt like we were on holiday with all the other Aussie holiday makers. Our intended stop next was Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island, however with a sand bar requiring entry on a rising tide during daylight hours, we broached our first night sail with the nipper. With a well-timed execution of baby’s dinner, feed, up anchor and bed, we were away just after dark. Mooloolabar was an easy one to navigate out off at night with plenty of red and green channel markers paving the way. With just one night, it was difficult to get into any sort of shift pattern as we never really get into it properly until day two or three.  We hadn’t quite figured out a longer term solution for the baby whilst sailing at night, particularly in the rougher weather where the forepeak would be just too big for her. Thankfully it was forecasted to be light winds, so we stuck with putting her to bed in the forepeak on the assumption that I would sleep in with her if the motion of the boat sent her rolling. She tucked herself into a little corner and looked very cosy for the night, not waking once.

IMG_1440We arrived outside the sand bar to Fraser Island at first light and on the turn of the tide, and navigated our way through the shallows and associated breakers by lining up the leading lines on the shore. We spotted our first Dugong on the entrance in and you could easily see the many 4×4’s racing along the beach. It was a reasonable motor to Garry’s anchorage, helped by the tide flowing in and pushing us along. As we approached the anchorage, we were ‘pulled over’ by the maritime border patrol vessel who wanted to see our paperwork. With no hard copy to handover, one of the officers jumped across onto ours and was happy to look through the copy of our cruising permit on M’s laptop.  It hadn’t even crossed our minds that the Australian’s have a tough stance on their borders. We dropped anchor with the little one fast asleep in the carrier strapped to M’s front whilst he was on the helm – too easy, as the Queenslanders say!!   With sandflies and dingos on island, we weren’t all that keen to take the bambino ashore, so admired the beauty of the island from the comfort of our cockpit. That is when I wasn’t down below, making her dinner, feeding her, cleaning up after her, playing with her , getting her to sleep and then starting all over again – a theme of the journey so far, we could really be anywhere and I wouldn’t know.

After a couple of good nights sleep to catch up on the lack of sleep from the night sail, we motored 12nm to an anchorage on the north west of the island called South White Cliffs, to make the exit into Hervey Bay the next day easier. We timed the route through the shallows to make the best use of tides, as the constriction around the middle of the island, brings opposing currents.  With the sand banks constantly shifting, we nudged the bottom again despite the GPS showing us in clear water, with a hard turn to port we easily took the boat of the sand bank and continued through the channel.

With strong wind warnings predicted higher up the coast, we were keen to get going to make port before the wind built in the South. We were aiming for an overnight passage towards Yeppoon to crank out some miles. Unfortunately the winds blew through faster and stronger during the course of the day and whilst 30 knots behind us in the ocean is usually a comfortable sail, the same conditions in less than 20m of water provided us with steep waves and a rough trip. With the forecast due to get worse during the night and with Bundaberg 10nm away, we decided to deviate our route and take shelter up the river in Bundie.  It was a very good call as the winds and not to mention heavy rain lasted for 3 days.   We docked the boat in the marina just after dark and just before the heavens opened.  M bought some cold tinnies from the local bar as we relaxed and enjoyed being tucked up safe and sound. The little one faired ok in those conditions. We would normally let her play in the cockpit, but with the rough seas she was either strapped into the car seat or onto me in the carrier, otherwise she would go flying. As the town centre was a way up the river, the marina laid on a free bus into the town, which we took advantage of and replenish the boat of fresh food. The pushchair came in very handy to carry the shopping bags for the long bus journey back to the marina – I am not sure how we managed before!

When the rain finally stopped, we continued our journey and knocked out a two night passage straight from Bundaberg to the Percy Islands. We decided to use the shipping lane outside of the Barrier Reef to make for an easier trip, as it didn’t add on too many extra miles.  The shipping lanes were fairly quiet anyway and all vessels are allowed to use them.  After a week of rubbish weather in Bundaberg, there was now no wind so we motor sailed much of the time and sailed when we could. It was another theme coming up the East Coast, one week strong wind warnings, one week no wind, one week great sailing weather. As we started to cut back into the Great Barrier Reef from the outer shipping channel, and as the sun came up, we were overflown by our first maritime patrol aircraft. Throughout the trip up the coast, we have been overflown by patrol aircraft asking for our vessel details and ports of call. I’m sure they must collate the information somewhere, but for the illegal vessels in Australian waters, I am not sure how difficult it would be make it up! Coming into Middle Percy Island, it was the first island in the Great Barrier Reef that we chose to stop at, and it felt good to be back to island hopping again. The anchorage was a little rolly, but there was a lovely beach ashore and what looked like a bar on the beach. All the other boats in the anchorage were dinghying ashore and swimming in the sea, so we figured that stingers and crocodiles weren’t an issue here.  We toyed with getting the dinghy out over the two days that we stayed but lazily decided to stay put on the boat – we enjoyed just recuperating after the sailing and letting the little one have some time to roam without the risk of bumps to the head.  It was surprising how much more tiring it is to sail with a baby, especially in coastal waters where you need to keep a constant watch on the boat and our position relative to the reefs.

With the distances involved in making it to the next island Scarfell (sounds like something out of Game of Thrones!), and needing to arrive in the light, we decided on another night sail and set off from Percy after dinner as the sun was going down.   The bambino sleeps well in the forward cabin whilst we are sailing and we have found that the night sails are significantly easier than the day sails with her. With the anchor raised and the head sail hoisted, it was a night feed and then bed for the little one, quickly followed by me, as M started the night shifts.  The night sail turned out to be the best sail yet (well for a few hours at least until the wind died again), with the wind on our beam, it is our fastest point of sail in light winds with both the main and the head sail out.  As we approached Scarfell, there were some reasonable counter currents to the South of the island, which slowed our speed.  Arriving into Refuge Bay in the morning and coming into the sun, it was difficult to spot the fringing reef surrounding the island (although we did spot a turtle or two), so we dropped the anchor a fair distance from the shore. We enjoyed being the only boat in the anchorage for most of the day and spent a relaxing day on the boat. For tea, we fired up the new gas BBQ and enjoyed chicken and sweet potato, as our new neighbours in the anchorage dropped by for a chat on their way for a dusk swim. I am sure the Aussie’s must be used to sharks in the water, but there is no way you would catch us going for a swim at dawn or dusk. I guess you have to just get on with life or you would never go into the water.

It was a short 23nm to Brampton island, easily done in a day especially with 15-20 knots of wind and the currents in our favour as we rounded the island.  We nudged our way into the anchorage to protect ourselves from the swell, as the anchorage was a little exposed to the South Easterly trades. We were keen to keep moving, as we had family joining us in the Whitsundays in 4 days time. The bad weather and later departure from Brisbane had eaten into our contingency for spending time around the islands, which was a shame but at the same time, it was always a lot of an effort to go ashore anyway. We enjoyed the views from the boat at least.

With the SE trades kicked in for the week, we pushed on to Shaw Island in 25-30 knots of wind with large following seas. The anchor was dug in well with 30 knots in the anchorage, the wind generator was topping the batteries up nicely. Early to bed and early to rise for a 06.30 departure to use the tides to make Airlie Beach before the Simmonds were due to arrive the following day.

We docked up in Abell Point Marina, the first time we had set foot ashore in two weeks. The stop was needed just too dispose of the accumulation of rubbish and dirty nappies. Whilst we get rid of her number two’s into the heads, just the stench of ammonia from the full nappies was starting to smell the aft cabin out where we had been using the aft heads as the rubbish dump. With the boat cleaned and squared away and showers for us, we took a lovely walk into the town along a purpose built promenade following the sea front, past a man-made lagoon for swimming due to the Irukandji   jelly fish present in these waters.

The marina was really well set up, with a courtesy car provided for free! It’s a good job we have a car seat on board. With my first mother’s day (later than the UK equivalent), I was treated to a breakfast ashore before borrowing the car to visit the supermarket to load up on food and booze for a week around the Whitsundays with another 4 people onboard. In actual fact, Gallinago was large enough to accommodate 4 adults and 3 children for the week and for us to all still be on good terms at the end!  It was a well timed morning, with the shopping purchased and car returned just in time for the Simmo’s to descend on us from their airport shuttle.  We had a lot of food and snacks on board – well the kids alone all had healthy appetites. With a few safety briefings and ground rules set, we headed into town for the kids to blow off some steam in the lagoon, before the adults blew off some steam in the bar.

We spent the next five days cruising the Whitsundays, one of the renowned island sets in the Great Barrier Reef. With neither his sister or brother in law having sailed before, M also undertook the  competent crew course syllabus with them over the week, as they practiced coming alongside, tacking gybing, reefing, man over board to name a few. We anchored in Hook island and Dugong island, before heading to Hamilton Island, the most famous of the Whitsundays for its exclusive resort.  We treated ourselves to a night in the marina, a $120 per night, it was definitely priced for the rich and famous.  Ashore we headed to the nearby resort, where we could make use of the facilities and had a quick dip in the cold pool and a cocktail in the pool bar – very nice too. The next few day’s forecast was for over thirty knots of wind. With that, we decided it wasn’t worth going anywhere and stayed put for a second night, enjoying a lovely walk and sunset cocktails at One Tree Hill. Whilst the forecast was much the same for the Friday, we IMG_1648decided to brave the stronger winds as the Simmos had a flight out of Airlie Beach the following day. With everyone donned in lifejackets and the kids under strict instructions to stay seated and the baby girl oblivious to it all as she slept for the whole trip in her car seat below, we gave the Simmos a taste of the livelier sailing conditions. It was a fast one that was for sure, with 20nm covered in 3-4 hours – we touched over 10 knots at one point. With us safely tucked up again in Abell Point Marina, we headed to the rum bar for more cocktails before a takeaway dominos back on the boat to enjoy our last night with the Simmonds since we arrived in Australia some 18 months earlier.

Preparing to Sail with a Baby

With our luxury of being on land for a few months coming to an end, we moved back on the boat when the bambino who was 6 ½ months old. We had naively thought before this point that there wasn’t too much to baby proof on the boat. WRONG! She was sitting up comfortably on her own and was rolling onto her tummy easy enough, but it seemed like as soon as she set foot on the boat again she suddenly developed a whole new bunch of skills. We soon learnt that everything on the boat was baby height and she quickly learnt to pull herself up to standing; however, with limited balance and control there were many a bump to the head. The existing lee cloths that we use on passage, which we had assumed would be good enough to put up so that we had somewhere safe to leave her to play, were no way near high enough. Within the month she had also mastered the art of crawling and followed quickly by the shuffle holding onto anything and everything in her sights. The veggie shelves were a favourite, particularly the onions which routinely were put straight in her mouth – I suppose they look a little like apples. It was back to the drawing board to find somewhere safe and secure.

With the travel bassinet out grown and the temporary measure of letting her sleep in our bed with us becoming tiresome, the first thing to work out was the longer term sleep solution. We were always going to make the v berth in the forward cabin her play room come nursery, but with a four foot drop and wooden shelving at chin height, we couldn’t leave her in there unattended. M designed a strong netting that attached to each side of the berth to stop her from falling and I made some bumpers to cover the wooden shelves and turned a flat sheet into a v shaped fitted sheet .  It was quite an easy transition from our bed into her new room, which also saw her start to sleep through the night – whether it was the distance between the aft and forward cabins that meant I didn’t wake at every sound, or the fact that the v berth is wider than our bed so she is free to roll and move until she finds a comfy spot. Not sure how we will move her back to a small bed once we return to land! It does double up well as a play pen where she will happily play with her toys.  The only drawback though is we can’t get her to sleep in there during the day, as she just wants to play.

With somewhere safe for her to sleep and play, the next issue was where do we put her when it is all getting too lively or when M needs my help with heavens forbid sailing. IMG_1454We initially discounted the idea of installing her car seat into the boat, mainly due to the size of the things and the space available on the boat.  However with limited other ideas, we tried it in a few areas and decided upon fitting it in the saloon where she can look up at us in the cockpit and we could keep an eye on her, It does mean that the storage underneath the seat is difficult to get into, but hey a small price to pay. She actually doesn’t mind sitting in her car seat and we find it is the only place we can get her to go to sleep in the day. I know this is not recommended, but needs must and a well-rested baby is a happy baby who sleeps better at night too.

And then there are her clothes. We will be sailing when she is nine months to two years, and I have onboard enough clothes (hopefully) to last her across these age ranges for a mixture of weather conditions.  She is, by far, better dressed than M and I and will be the best dressed boat baby for sure. I have managed to store them all on the boat, only by sacrificing many of my clothes. I became quite ruthless and took all of the clothes that I didn’t wear to the local charity shops. I am hoping I didn’t go too mad when I ditched most of my winter clothes forgetting that South Africa is going to be cold.

We often get asked by family and friends, what will you do if she is sick. This is probably one of my biggest fears, although M tries to reassure me that she is less likely to be sick and more likely to break something or burn herself – thanks love! With the support of our excellent doctor at the Birkdale Medical Centre in Brisbane, we have prescription medications to cover almost all eventualities. And with a satellite phone and High Frequency SSB radio, we will be able to contact Falmouth Coastguard who will be able to put us into contact with a doctor for advice.  Hopefully we will never need to use them.

The other one is food, how will you feed her in the middle of the Ocean? IMG_1258Well, it’s simple the same way we feed ourselves!  M installed a new fridge and freezer, as well as extra solar panels to provide sufficient power. Whilst I sold him on the improvements with the promise of cold beer at last, it was really to enable us to keep a well-stocked freezer of meat and fridge of diary and perishables.  We also hope to catch a good supply of fresh fish along the way. When all that has run out, then we will have dried beans and pulses, tinned fruit and veggies, and plenty of pasta and rice. Whilst the route home will be a lot of sea miles with not many stops along the way, most islands, whilst expensive, also stock the essentials and fresh fruit and vegetables.  The ready-made baby pouches (Rafferty’s Garden, Macro Organics etc) are also ideal for those days when it is too rough to cook or to add some extra fruit and vegetables to her diet when the fresh stuff runs out.

With a baby lifejacket, harness and extra sun protection on deck we were good to go….

Baby on a Boat

Coming home from the hospital with a teeny tiny baby and seeing the sudden accumulation of baby paraphernalia, the boat suddenly looked like a very small place.   Of course she was oblivious to being on a boat, as long as she was fed, changed, slept and had lots of cuddles she was happy. We had spent months researching how best to accommodate a baby on a boat, with little information from other blogs. We know that people do raise children on boats; we met plenty coming across the Pacific who made it look very easy. There is however no one size fits all when it comes to babies on boats. All boats are different shapes and sizes (not to mention the babies too!) – catamarans seem the obvious choice for young families, and you can see why with plenty of space and significantly less roll on the open seas.  Gallinago is a 41ft mono, she is roomy for two but when you start to think about how to fit a baby who will fast grow into a toddler on a boat, you soon realise that you have to think outside of the box. After-all this isn’t a typical scenario where you have a nice big comfy pram, a crib or moses basket, a nursery with change table and cot, a play mat, bucket loads of toys and gizmos and the list goes on.  Before the D date and with my pregnancy hormones, I would often feel overwhelmed that I couldn’t provide my new baby with all these nice things and then I would be reminded by my patient and ever practical other half that she is only a little baby, she doesn’t need these things and she will be enriched in so many other ways.  So with that, I set out to find the best and most practical way of caring for our baby on a boat.

Sleeping was the biggest area of uncertainty. As a new born baby, we could have easily accommodated room for a moses basket in the aft cabin. However, as my family breed big babies, a moses basket was only going to be useful for a month or two. Added to that the impending road trip and return to Canberra for work, we needed something to suit all needs within the available space. Cots and cribs were out; bassinets, hammocks, travel cots, fashioning a babies bed within the fixtures of the aft cabin were considered.  I really liked the idea of a hammock, but they actually need about as much space as a crib when you factor in the stand.  Likewise the travel cots might be small when packed down, but opened up are the size of normal cots. We have a cushioned seat next to the bed in the aft cabin, which is a reasonable size for a new born baby. We considered commissioning a babies mattress to fit the size with a lee cloth to keep her in.  If we hadn’t found a bassinet that fitted our size perfectly, this would have been the only option available to us. After countless trips to the limited baby shops (no where near as plentiful or well stocked as UK equivalents), we found a travel bassinet which was just the right size.  IMG_0635The space available was in front of the aft heads, so that would put that out of use for the foreseeable future, but not a problem with two heads on board. The Love n Care Rock n Go bassinet served the purpose, it wasn’t the best quality (we took three back) but it was good value for AUD$165 (Equivalent of about £80-100). It was quick and easy to dismantle and reassemble, and she slept in it until she was 7 months old (max weight 9kg). In fairness she was probably too big for it after at least 6 months, but we eeked it out until we returned from the UK.  She always slept really well on the boat, whether it was the sea air and the constant rocking motion. Our neighbours in the marina didn’t complain of screaming babies (not until she was older anyway!)

Living with a new born baby in a marina was no different really to living in a house: water and electricity were on tap so baby baths were done in a large plastic box (we have evolved now to a plastic bucket!) and a helpful midwife told me that good old fashioned soap, water and sunlight were the best things for removing explosive poo from her baby grows.  It worked a treat, and with the laundry at the marina office, I was able to keep on top of the dirty washing.  With breastfeeding we didn’t need to worry about sterilizing bottles (we don’t have a microwave anyway and we just reverted to Miltons when I returned to work). We used disposable nappies, which was easy with the large rubbish bins available in the marina for the endless dirty nappy. My goodness how much more rubbish do we generate with just one tiny little person on the boat.

We had decided that we would baby wear (name used to describe carrying baby in a sling or carrier) instead of using a pram.  From a practical perspective we didn’t have room for a pram, and in the salt environment an expensive one would rust just as much as a cheap pushchair. In any case, I loved the idea of keeping her close to me and from the research that I had done, it is also beneficial for a new born baby too, as it is reminiscent of being carried in the womb. The only consideration was to make sure that all the safety checks were done to make sure she didn’t overheat or suffocate.  My sister on the other hand tried to persuade me that there was an equally important factor – baby sick and baby poo. Luckily we were blessed with a baby who was rarely sick and on only one occasion did I get poo all over me, and thankfully we were away for the weekend, so had a change of top to hand. I guess it was easier to baby carry with two of us together most of the time. Usually I would have her strapped to me, whilst M carried all the spare nappies and changes of clothes in his backpack. It was always a little bit more of a challenge when I went out to the shops on my own.

I became a little obsessed in my research of what type of carrier or sling would be best. In the end I decided on one for her as a new born and one that would be suitable to a higher weight that could also be used to carry her on our backs for when we eventually set sail again.  I loved the Hana wrap, which is a long piece of material made from bamboo which you fold around your upper body in like a crisscross pattern and she fitted snuggly inside. IMG_0803It took a few attempts to get the right tension so that she didn’t slump down in the sling – I found it can’t be too tight as the material stretched with her weight.  It was perfect for Australian winters and would be great for the UK, but I did find that as soon as the temperature started to warm up, she would come out dripping in sweat and me too. The woven wraps are meant to be cooler and also don’t stretch as much, but you need to be more of a pro at tying them – maybe next time!!  We used the wrap exclusively until she was three months old, but succumbed to a cheap pushchair (only AUD $100 and could be used from birth) when we moved to Canberra. With me being back at work and M looking after bubba, we decided it was easier for him. With the Australian summer approaching, I became thankful for it as we could keep her shaded from the sun at all times whereas the carriers do leave their arms and legs exposed. Plus it is good for carrying your bags!!  We then reverted to the Ergobaby Performance Ventus Carrier, which we started using from about 4 months, but have used more in earnest since we started sailing again. The added bonus is that M doesn’t mind wearing this one and he will comfortably have her on his back for the day.  The Performance Ventus is made from breathable material and comes with an SPF50 hood. Again the only drawback with it is that her arms and legs are exposed to the sun. I might have to get my sewing machine out to make some sun protection for her, but at the moment I get by with wrapping a large muslin around us.

IMG_9396Other than a bouncy chair, few crinkly books and soft toys, that was about the extent of the kit we had for her as a new born baby. A physiotherapist we saw when the little one was first born advised us that babies don’t need anything more than books, balls and stacking toys. Excellent, with the limited space onboard we didn’t have room for masses of large toys. Come Christmas and the inevitable questions of what can we buy her for Christmas came, I did manage to convince M that she needed a small toy box and set about finding toys that were not too big, that would give her sufficient stimulation now as well as last her until she was about 2, when we would be back in the UK. The toy box has grown to a large toy bag, but I think we have a good balance between enough and not too much and she seems more than happy to play with all her toys, whether it is on her own or with us. In short, I don’t think that our little girl is lacking of anything by growing up on a boat. Many people comment on how contented and happy she is and at the age of 11 months now, I can say that she seems to be thriving on the boat with all the challenges that it has to offer her.

Living on a boat was a novelty for the midwives who visited us for the new born check-ups. Although one midwife had delivered a baby a few years earlier to a family on the boat, apparently they arrived a few days before she was due, had the baby and then left again two weeks later. It wasn’t her first baby, but in hindsight it would have been so much easier to start sailing when the bambino was a little baby before she was into absolutely everything!!

Australia in a Nutshell

So after our well timed arrival in Australia on the first of December the rest of the month was fairly chilled out.  It consisted of catching up with family that we had not seen for a couple of years, doing a quick tidy on the boat, buying a few Christmas presents and generally getting into the festive spirit. It was great just to be in one place and not constantly on the move.

Christmas was great followed by an equally entertaining New Years Eve.  Thank goodness for January and a chance to eat and drink less.

So our plans had been to explore Australia until March and then start heading up the East coast of Australia for Indonesia.  With our change in circumstance we had to review our plans….Plan B then, was to spend a year in Australia and then head off in March 2015.

We spent most of January working on the boat, doing all those jobs that you can not do when you are always on the move.  A thorough clean, in and out. IMG_1164The boat was lifted in Wynham Manly Marina; a very friendly and well equipped little marina. The prop was pulled for replacement cutlass bearings to be installed. The prop shaft was also straightened and the prop balanced – all in the effort to get rid of our long suffering engine vibration! A PSS dripless seal was also installed. After 18 months, the growth that had taken over on the underside of the hull was scraped off and a fresh couple of coats of anti-foul applied, and the topside was polished. At least that should stop the re-growth whilst Gallinago would sit in one place for the next year. A busy couple of weeks,especially as C couldn’t do much of the work due to the toxic chemicals in the paint and cleaning products.  The new buffer made hull polishing a lot easier though.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We had paid up for a berth in East Coast Marina, so we were dropped back into the water and were towed back to our berth ready for an engine alignment after all the prop work. Alas, after a period of time for the hull to relax back into shape after her time ashore, and an engine alignment, we still had our engine vibration. Next we swapped out the engine mount pads and I did another engine alignment – hey presto no vibration! Touch wood our long suffering engine issues were behind us.

Mid February and C was due to start work down in Canberra. A little far from the sea so alas we had to leave Gallinago behind safe and secure in the Marina.  IMG_0699With a flat sorted shortly after our arrival it was back to a bit of normal living on land for a while. We explored some of the highlights of Canberra. A very organised and easy city to get around.  With Sydney only three hours away by Greyhound, Canberra was a well located base for some sightseeing. Friends that we came across the Pacific were now moving on and heading North.  It is a strange feeling knowing we will have to wait another year.

C adjusted to work well, given it had been just over 18 months since we left the UK and she was well into her second trimester. In fact, I think she would go so far as to say she enjoyed working again. Meanwhile, I picked up some instructing work at Southern Cross Yachting and enjoyed some very pleasant sailing in Moreton bay.  I also did a bit of work on a delivery trip from Brisbane to Airlie Beach on an Offshore 65. A great little trip via the Whitsundays and a mile builder for my plan to do a crossover to get my Yachtmaster Power certification – which I achieved later in the year.

We stayed in Canberra until July when we returned to Brisbane for C to give birth to our daughter. The Australian hospital was excellent and all went very smoothly.  It was then two months acclimatising to the little one on the boat in the marina. It was lovely to get to know some of the live aboards in the marina after being part of a cruising community for so long. Well we weren’t difficult to miss with a baby!   I managed to pick up work with Southern Cross Yachting most weeks, a combination of theory and practical courses.  C managed with the bambino on her own whilst, as she would say, I was off enjoying myself sailing on the Bay.

C’s mum arrived in September and we had a very pleasant road trip from Brisbane to Sydney, staying in nice plush apartments, enjoying the beaches on the Gold Coast, wine in Hunter Valley, the spectacular views in the Blue Mountains, then exploring the incredible city that is Sydney.IMG_0260 All with the little one in tow. Actually it was a good age to do it, as she just ate and slept, so we were able to get out and enjoy a few meals in the evenings.

It was then back to Canberra where C was back to work in October. It was house Dad and gym junky for me. I did throw in a few coffee mornings and play groups with all the other mums! With a car this time in Canberra, we were able to explore the wider area and did a few trips to Batemans Bay, a two hour drive South.

With our second Aussie Christmas, it was a quick flight up back to Brisbane to spend a few weeks with the family. It was great to catchup with my folks, who had flown out to Australia, after two and a half years. Not forgetting it was our baby girl’s first Christmas – her stocking from Santa was bigger than her. Luckily we managed to fit all the presents back onto the boat!

C finished work in January and we took a camping road trip from Canberra down to Melbourne, where we met up with my folks again for a great week exploring Melbourne.IMG_0347 It was then onto the Great Ocean Road with its spectacular views before doubling back and taking the coast road up to Brisbane. We arrived back in Brisbane at the beginning of Feb to crack on with the preparations for setting sail again, and not forgetting the girls trip back to the UK.IMG_1123

The next few months flew by. The main jobs were: upgrade the fridge, install an SSB, install a Sat Phone with external antenna, baby proofing the boat and antifouling, modifying the Bimini for extra sun protection and finally making a new spray-hood.

April saw us ready to slip our lines and start our journey North!

To Australia

Day 1

Rested after a couple of good nights sleep at anchor in Noumea and with the weather, or more the winds looking a lot more favourable we made the call to head out.  A number of boats all with the aim of hitting Australia were awaiting better weather.  The trade winds appear to have disappeared and the endless lows coming off the Australian coast are making for very varied conditions.

The weather outlook was for light winds, probably requiring a fair amount of motor sailing, interspersed with some moderate winds.  We wanted to arrive in Brisbane by the 1 Dec, the start of the Cyclone season and a requirement of our insurance.  We were also keen to catch up with family we had not seen for far too long.  We have accepted that we may have to burn a little more diesel on this passage.

We set out with motor sailing in mind. The anchor was up and we were motoring away from New Caledonia for one of the reef passes. Pleasantly we had  light wind on the beam and the current pushing us along at a respectable 6.5 knts. Through the reef pass and clear we hoisted our multicoloured cruising shoot to accompany our full main.  With a flat sea, the sun beaming down and 10 knts of wind on the beam Gallinago was speeding along at 6-7 knts.  Fantastic, and a stark contrast to our last departure.  Not expecting the conditions to last we made the most of them helming hour on and hour off.

We doused the cruising shoot a few hours before dusk, unfurled the Genoa and continued to rocket on into the night.  Not what we had been expecting, the gribs had been predicting, or what we could have hoped for.  A flying start to our passage.

Day 2 

The night was fairly relaxed, the stars and the moon were out, the sea was flat and a gentle wind pushed us along at a reducing rate. As the sun rose the wind died and at 0800 we powered up the engine and furled the sails.  We motored away at 1500 revs doing about 4.5 knts.  A slow south-easterly ocean swell rolled passed us slowly raising and lowering the boat by 2 or 3 meters.  It was a gorgeous day and very relaxing despite the lack of sailing.  With the engine on we turned up the fridge, filled the water tanks with the water maker and charged the laptops.

With the water tanks topped up and hot water from the engine we took the opportunity for a shower late afternoon before an early pasta dinner.  As the sun started to set the fish were become more active and what looked like a couple of large tuna jumped clear of the water a 100 m off our bow.

As darkness fell, we were donning the lights and life jackets when we received a VHF call from Earl of Tasmania, Tom, who had been opposite us in the marina and had been flanking us for several hours about 4 miles off our port side.  We had tried to hail him without success, we had assumed being a single hander that he was probably getting his head down.  We confirmed our course and bearings – neither of us wanting a close night call – exchanged a few pleasantries, and said we would talk again in the morning.

At 2320 we hoisted the sails, the wind was picking up and coming round North-Westerly; we motor-sailed on and by 0130 there was enough wind to kill the engine, we were able to make a steady 5knts for the rest of the night.

Day 3

We had a mixture of motoring and sailing today.  The wind came round in the afternoon and we were on a beat.  As the wind died we motor sailed on.  With 200lts in the main fuel tank and another 60ltrs in cans on the deck we can motor/motor sail for a number of days if required.  The day was fairly uneventful, the highlight being lunch, a concoction of noodle soup with mixed vegetables.  

On any trip meal times always play a key part, breaking up the day and a time when we are both normally up together.  C had made a chocolate cake before we departed so I have a piece during the day and on a night shift – very tasty but I will definitely need to hit the gym when we reach Australia.

At about 1700 we were just discussing what concoction we were going to have for dinner when the wind started building, quickly hitting 20 knts, and the sea turned rather lumpy throwing the boat about.  We settled for a tin of Ravioli with the addition of sweet corn – very quick, easy and done in a single pot, the gourmet stuff would have to wait.

It was a rough old night, we were hard on the wind, and despite the sails being well reefed down the boat was hard over and being tossed around like a cork, added to that the waves would slam into the side of the boat and throw gallons of water over the deck.  Despite this though we did manage to hold our desired course.  We have about a 100 nm to run to our next waypoint (still 500nm off the Australian Coast) which is located between two sea mounts.  At the mounts the sea bed rises from 2000m to 15m.  Hopefully there should be some good fishing to be had there, but I suspect that the water over the mounts could be rough depending on the conditions of the day.  For this reason we are beating hard to stay on our track and pass between the mounts.

Day 4

The light has arrived after an uncomfortable and wet night.  The sky is overcast and we have had a little rain already.  The winds did not improve this morning.  As expected, although a little early, the wind came round onto the nose .  With the swell and the westerly wind we furled away the sail and motored on.  The sea is confused so we have an unpleasant rolling motion.  On the bright side the sun has come out. Lunch was a can of pork and beans for me and plain pasta for C.  

This afternoon the wind picked up and came round so it was full sails out.  We have been cruising along nicely and whilst C has been sleeping I have managed to knock up some bread.  I am hoping the wind holds in this direction as it is a fast point of sail for us.  At least we will make our waypoint and will not go over the sea mount…though I am tempted to anchor in 15 m of water in the middle of  the ocean, it would be quite cool.  We will see how the weather fairs.

Day 5

We sailed between the sea mounts on a beam reach, this was in the early hours of the morning so nothing much to see.  The wind picked up nicely and we have been rocketing along at 7-8 knts.  The wind has now come more southerly and with the increase in wave heights we need to be close hauled to make our next way point off Brisbane.  Unfortunately without pounding the boat to bits over and through the waves we are not going to be able to do this.  Hopefully the wind will come round Northerly when we are nearer the coast.  

Midday and we have a cross track error of 20Nm with no sign of the wind coming round or easing yet.  The rain is beating down and the boat is riding the waves well.  Unfortunately the bread I made yesterday did not do so well being a little on the heavy side.

We have had a good days run although a bit wild at times.

Day 6

The wind seems to come in bursts at the moment, the wind is blowing a good 15-20 knots one minute and the next it dies and the sails are flapping.  Subsequently I have been up and down trimming sails, furling sails and motoring.  The fishing line went out for the first time on this trip mid morning. Ten minutes later the whole reel was paid out and a very large fish was jumping clear of the water a couple of hundred metres behind us.  It was probably a swordfish but hard to tell exactly.  Unfortunately the line on the lure gave way and it was gone.  A real shame although I am not sure we would have been able the land the fish had we kept it hooked.  I reloaded the fishing line with a 3 inch multicolour squidi lure with double hook and just as we went past some flotsam the line was paying out.  This time a Mahi Mahi with its bright green and blue colours clearly seen.  This fish was not so lucky and is now filling the fridge.

We have now been motoring since 1030, I suspect that we will be motoring through most of the night.  We have 160 miles to run to the NW passage of Brisbane bay.  We have had some large swell all day which has rolled the boat, pleasantly they have started to reduce so maybe we will both get some good sleep in on our off watch.  The wind is due to come Northerly tomorrow before turning Southerly and building the day after.  We will try and hit the passage early on Sat so that we do not have a hard beat.

It is a very dark and clear night with no moon, the stars are out in force and can be seen all the way to the horizon. One of the best things about sailing offshore is the lack of light pollution and gazing at the heavens and picking out the far off galaxies. 

This has been a trip and a half, having become accustomed to trade wind sailing it has been a culture shock sailing with winds around the compass, we have hammered hard to wind smashing through waves and pounding down their backs sending vibrations through out the boat,  we have motored for hour after hour and we have had fantastic blue water sailing, rocketing along with a gentle ocean swell raising and lowering the boat as the sun beats down.  

Day 7 

We  are making good progress and the wind direction is coming round so we can ease the sails some. Unfortunately the wind is building and we are having to reef down.  As we approach the Australian Coast we are starting to see more shipping transiting up and down the coast so we need to keep our wits about us. 

As the waves have built we are taking more and more water over the decks. We are trying to stay a little north of our track as there is a south setting current along the coast and we don’t want to battle the current to make Brisbane. We are riding short 4 metre waves at the moment.

We had a busy night with neither of us getting much sleep. There has been lots of shipping to keep us on our toes, working out if they are heading our way or not. The good news is that we are on course for the Northern entrance for Morton. We should meet the first channel markers at first light.   

Day 8

At 0500 the wind reduced from over 20 knts to almost nothing. The first markers for Morton Bay came into sight and as the rain started we furled the sails and motored into the Bay.  The route to Brisbane river is through a series of channels which are flanked by very shallow water.  We had an early morning breakfast and took the opportunity in the dead flat calm of the Bay to tidy the boat ready for landfall. 

At 0600 the wind had switched through 180 degrees, earlier than predicted! By 0630 the winds had started to build and in the shallow waters of the Bay a nasty short chop had started to form.  Things were going to get very unpleasant very quickly. By 0700 we had the Main sail out and were motor sailing into 25 knts of wind. We were having to tack up the narrow channels as the oncoming waves were killing all boat speed.  We had a tough choice to make, turn around, leave the Bay and head for safer waters with at least another 24- 48 hrs at sea or battle on.  With no good alternative port available we made the call to carry on. We were now taking it in turns on the helm, tacking every 15 minutes or so with 25 gusting 30 knts on the nose. Water was flying over the deck and the rain was pelting down. We eventually made it to a way point and tacked to port bringing the wind slightly more to starboard and allowing us to motor sail without having to tack for a while. 

By midday we had 30 gusting 35 knts of wind.  We were both in full oilies and were drenched to the skin. The cold rain continued to pelt down, visibility was down to a 100 metres, at times water was flying across the deck and soaking whoever was helming.

Rounding a mark we tacked and then out of the gloom we saw a ship coming up on us from behind, we tacked to the side of the channel leaving its path clear and were hailed by the pilot on board who informed us there was another ship heading our way.  They also relayed a message from Customs asking what our intentions were. They had been clearly following our AIS and asked for our ETA at our clearance port in Brisbane River. Optimistically I said 1800 that evening.

The hours rolled by, and the winds and waves did not let up. We were both tired, wet and cold from the constant tacking and poundings we were getting. Because the water is so shallow in the Bay the waves become very short and steep and with the wave direction on the nose they kill all boat speed if you are not carefully. This combined with the narrow channels was making life very difficult. We came into the lea of Morton island and had an opportunity to anchor and wait out the weather. As we had broken the back of the Bay by this point and had only 10 miles or so to go we made the call to carry on.  As we cleared the lea of the land the winds although abated from earlier in the day rose to 25 -28 knts. The water shallower and the bow of Gallinago repeatedly disappeared into the oncoming waves with huge quantities of water flying down the deck and over us. At 1845 we entered the mouth of the Brisbane river and found some respite from the waves and wind. It was a happy moment! We motored up the river in the fading light to the customs berth. We tied up at 2000hrs. It had been one long, hard and tiring day. We stripped out of our sodden clothes and had a well deserved brew.  Customs had gone for the night so we squared away the boat, made some dinner, closed the log and recalled the hardest passage since we left England. Despite the Bays best efforts we had made landfall in Australia! Our journey for now was almost at an end.

That night we both slept very soundly indeed.  We were woken by a knocking at 0600.  The customs and immigration officers had arrived. They were followed by the bio security officer. They were all very friendly and the check in process went very smoothly with no issues or infestations found on board. We did though, as expected, have to give up all our spices and most of our dried goods. 

With customs and immigration all sorted, at 0800 we dispensed our deck fuel into the main tank before slipping our lines to head to East Coast Marina – our final port of call.  Whilst the wind was still at 20 knts the sea was a lot calmer and we only had about 7 miles to go. We motor sailed the route using the lea of a couple of small islands. The waters shallowed to 2.5 metres at times making navigation interesting but by midday we reached East Coast Marina and proceeded in through the entrance. As we approached the pontoons we were greeted by happy shouts from my sister, her husband and their two kids. A great welcome after a long hard passage and especially as we had not seen them for a couple of years.  We moored the boat in her new slip and after lots of hugs and kisses cracked some sparkling, regaled stories of the passage and broke the news that C was expecting!

 

New Caledonia

PB090083We timed our arrival entering the Havananh pass on the Sounth East corner of New Caledonia on the ebb of the tide (i.e. with us) in the early hours of the morning on Saturday 9th November. There were no visible signs of the reef, but New Caledonia is very well charted and buoyed so we relied on the GPS and the leading lines to make our passage through. It was a nice change after the inaccuracies in Fiji. Our speed over the ground increased by 3 knots, as we felt the effects of the ocean meeting the lagoon.

PB090105The landscape of New Caledonia was very different to any of the other islands coming across the Pacific. Large orange patches in the hill side could clearly be seen, evidence of the major industry in the country, Nickel mining. The port of entry for New Caledonia was Noumea on the West coast of the island, and some 40nm from the pass entrance. We were unlikely to make it before dark, and decided to lay low and anchor for the night half way along, before finishing the journey the next day. We dropped anchor close to 1700 on a beautiful island called Ile Ouen. The bay was well protected, as we settled down for a quiet night recuperating. It was a beautiful spot with a lovely beach, a row of fern trees mixed with coconut palms, with a stunning landscape behind and not to mention flipper swimming around the boat for added entertainment.

PB090113After a good nights sleep and a nice breakfast, we lifter anchor and carried onto Noumea. MD had his fishing line out as soon as we left and within 10 minutes we had caught a tuna within the channel between the mainland and the island. Large flocks of birds diving into the water is always a give away – who needs a fish finder! With the fish on board and gutted, we had a lovely sail under just the Genoa in gorgeous sunshine (it made a nice change after the rain in Fiji and Vanuatu), flat seas and 15 knots of breeze. There looked to be a lot of lovely anchorages to cruise around, but as this was the final stop before before Australia and the end of the Pacific crossing, we were keen to relax and wait for the first available weather window.

Arriving into Noumea on a bank holiday weekend, meant we could either anchor for free but stay on the boat until Tuesday or pay to go into the Marina who would organise for Quarantine to come to the boat to allow us onto land, whilst we waited to finish customs and immigration on Tuesday. It wasn’t a difficult decision – well we were in need of some food and a cold beverage or two.

The great thing about the French territories was that all the clearing into the Country was free, and no overtime rates charged four arriving out of office hours. The guy from quarantine wasn’t all that happy though, as we disturbed his Sunday. It suited us, as he wasn’t interested in giving us the Spanish Inquisition or search the boat and was gone within 2 minutes of arriving. After a quick walk around the town to find a bar, we ended up back at the marina as it was like a ghost town. No wander the marina bar was so busy – it was the only thing open.

We took the opportunity of water and electricity to give the boat a well deserved clean through. The last opportunity was back in Tahiti. We figured that if we did it now, we could relax a little once we arrived in Australia especially since the weather was not looking good for a departure any time soon.

PB140151Noumea itself was an average town. It was a shock to not say hello to everyone you passed in the street after the wonderful people of Vanuatu and Fiji. It must be the constant stream of cruise ships that pull into the capital. At least this did bring one benefit – MacDonalds 🙂 although we were massively disappointed with the standard of the cheeseburgers, and vowed not to go there again. We did take the opportunity to see some of the numerous museums in the city and visited the war museum (who knew the island of New Caledonia played such a big role in the second world war) and the excellent cultural center, Tjibaou.The building of the cultural center was interesting in its own right, as it was designed by a famous architect Renzo Piano and designed to look like Kanak grand huts.  It also uses the prevailing South Easterly winds to take full advantage of the wind for air circulation. Our favourite exhibition was the ancient karma sutra carved into bamboo – I was told off for taking pictures!

On Friday night, we were invited for drinks to celebrate Travis’s 40th Birthday, whom we had been travelling with since Fiji and met some new faces from other boats we had heard about coming across the Pacific,  but never had the opportunity to meet.

Our few days stay in the marina turned into a week and a half – the lure of free internet was impossible to resist, but come Tuesday 19th November and with a possible weather window coming up over the next few days we decided to wait it out on the anchorage. Calico Jack joined us on-board for a final night of drinking up the supplies before we parted company as we were destined for different ports in Australia. Wednesday morning, we took a quick trip ashore to a cafe for some free WiFi to check the weather and made the call to depart that afternoon. The window wasn’t brilliant, with 24-48 hours of wind from the West (the direction that we wanted to go in), but we decided that if we could get out and make some reasonable distance we would make better use of the wind as it changed direction come Friday.

We motored 10nm to the Western pass and made it out into the open ocean before dusk. Despite the wind on the nose, at first we were making a reasonable South Easterly course in the slight seas. But as the seas built up, we were unable to sustain this course and had to sail almost a Southerly direction to make any reasonable speed. Unfortunately this meant that we were just following the island and not making enough West in the right direction. With the strong South setting currents closer to Australia, we didn’t want to be too far South of our track so early, so decided to tack. We figured that if we were 90 degrees to the wind going South, we might be able to head on a more North Westerly course. Wrong – we just ended up sailing North along the track that we had just come from. We had forgotten how badly Gallinago points into the wind. After some tacking backwards and forwards, we decided that it wasn’t worth carrying on as we were making absolutely no distance away from New Caledonia. However by this point it was dark and the safest option was to wait until first light to go back through the reef. So we wasted the night, killing time tacking up and down until we reached the entrance of the pass at around 6am. We then had another hour or two motoring back to Noumea – how demoralising.

We anchored on the other side of the harbour to protect ourselves from the Westerly winds and pretty much went straight to bed. It was a bit of a rubbish day, so when we eventually woke in the afternoon, we monged out watching the final episodes of Battlestar Gallatica. The next day we moved anchorage and went back to the internet cafe for some more weather analysis. The winds were moving away from a Westerly direction come Saturday, but the window over the next week wasn’t giving us the consistent trades that we would have liked. We were ready to arrive in Australia though, so we made the call to make the best of what we had and set off early on Saturday morning, after another good nights sleep.

Vanuatu

You would think that after 18 months of constant sailing that I would have my sea legs by now. Wrong! I think I feel more sea sick now than I ever have before. I put it down to the roughest and wettest passage we have had yet, thankfully it was only 465nm from Fiji to our next and penultimate stop Vanuatu or previously known as the New Hebrides.

We reluctantly left Fiji on 29th October, vowing that we will return and explore the numerous island groups that we never even got close to over the past 4 weeks. Before arriving in Fiji, so many people told us that you need 4 months to do Fiji justice. I never really understood that, until we arrived and fell in love with the Country. But with the 1st December deadline for being in Australia fast approaching and the weather windows becoming even more elusive, we took the first opportunity of what looked like some good winds.

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Leaving the calm of Vuda Marina in Viti Levu, it came as a shock to see white horses everywhere, and this was on the inside of a lagoon protected by reef. The wind was blowing 20 knots on the nose as we made our way 10nm South to one of the passes, Malolo. Motor sailing and punching through the waves, we were only making about 3 knots underway, until we were out of the pass and into clear water, where we could turn onto course with the wind on the beam. We were suddenly flying along at 7+ knots.

Beam reaches are usually great in 10 knots of wind, but we were recording nearer to 30 knots. Whilst the speed we were moving was one thing, the swell had increased to about 3m, and with the waves were hitting us side on, it was an uncomfortable point of sail. Not to mention wet, as the waves would crash against the side of the hull and drench us in the cockpit. The boat would slide down the edge of the waves at an angle over 45 degrees from upright, and we would grab on for deer life and peer into the water below us. In these conditions, we always wear life jackets and harnesses clipped onto the boat, just in case.

All I could manage to do was sit still and look at the horizon. That meant with me pretty incapable of going below, breakfast, lunch and dinner duties fell to MD for the next few days. MD please note, I will never enjoy instant mash potato, even if you do put cheese in it! After 18 months, we both feel ready for a break for the cyclone season in Australia. People keep telling us to slow down and take longer, and whilst I am ready to slow down, there is always the trade off between time, money, and where we want to go next. At this stage in the passage, I was all for missing Vanuatu and New Caledonia and heading straight for Oz, but MD was set on wanting to see the bubbling volcano on Tanna island in Vanuatu.

PA290346Over the first 24 hours, we notched up 141nm and calculated that if we carried on like this, we could make port in three days. With the winds continuing and the seas gradually calming, things were looking good. We were sailing under just the head sail and still achieving an average of 6 knots boat speed. At 8am on 31st October, we officially crossed the half way mark, having sailed 180 degrees of longitude from our departure point in Plymouth. We marked the occasion with a high five!

On day 2 we started to take our anti malaria tablets in preparation for our arrival. Vanuatu is the first Country we will experience with a high risk of malaria. A bit of a worry, but as long as we take all the necessary precautions, the risks should be low.

Another 141nm were notched up after the second daily run, however the wind started to reduce on Thursday morning and by the afternoon, we had slowed to about 4 knots. On the plus side the seas were calmer and the battering had reduced, on the down side it would mean a fourth night at sea.

We left Fiji at the same time as Calico Jack. Our boats seem pretty well matched in terms of speed, as we stayed within 4nm of each other until the third night at sea. All was calm when I went to bed at 2000, only to be awoken for my shift four hours later by 25 knots of wind again and pelting rain. Donning my oilies, I started my watch. For the next four hours it rained constantly as I tried to dodge the waves breaking over the cockpit. It’s an unnerving sound to hear a wave crash so hard into the side of the boat that you wander whether you have actually hit something. It was still raining when MD started his shift four hours later. Unfortunately, earlier in the day we had set up the headsail on the end of a whisker pole to enable us to sail almost downwind just under the headsail. As the weather changed over night, so did the direction of the wind, which meant we were forced to deviate from our course and go high of the track. We ended up 15nm off track over the course of the night. If we had stayed on track and making 7 knots again, we might have made port on Friday night, instead of Saturday morning. Frustrating, but MD going out of the cockpit in the pitch black to take down a heavy spinnaker pole in rough seas and heavy rain, is just not worth the risk. With a lull in the rain and the sun starting to rise, MD did wake me at about 6am to make the sail change to get back on course.

PB010355So much for the weather forecasts, Friday was meant to be little or no wind, and we were still getting 25 knots come the morning. It just goes to show that a lot can happen to the weather in the 3 days since we had last downloaded the grib files in Fiji. We were now making our way back to the original track and making about 5 knots. During the course of the day the winds reduced to a more manageable 15 knots. It is difficult to say whether we would have arrived in Port Resolution that night, if we hadn’t deviated the night before. We might have pushed the boat a bit harder to go even faster if we had an achievable number of miles to go before dark. That said come 8pm we had about 20nm to run, so we needed to slow down significantly. Unfortunately a slight error in the location of our intended bay, changed our course by 20 degrees (a good job we checked!), but it now meant that we were trying to go close hauled on the wind. We needed to reduce the sails enough to slow the boat, but keep enough sail to keep the direction of the boat. It was going to be a long night of tacking backwards and forwards to buy us some time until daylight. On the plus side, sailing close to the island at night gave us our first glimpse the World’s most accessible and active volcano. As the darkness of the night set in, the whole sky was lit up by bursts of red. It was almost worth staying out for that extra night!

PB010378Come first light we made our approach into Port Resolution on the East coast of Tanna on Saturday 2nd November. Despite its location to the direction of the tradewinds, the anchorage itself was very well protected, tucked behind a large hill to give shelter from the strong winds with a narrow entrance to the bay to reduce the amount of swell making its way in. After 4 days of sailing, and even with our slight detour, we arrived within 10 minutes of Calico Jack and were greeted by Samuel in his canoe, waiting to tell us that we needed to visit the yacht club to make arrangements for clearance into the Country. After a spot of breakfast and a quick snooze, we all headed ashore.

PB020398PB020404The village was like nothing we had seen before coming across the Pacific. The village was beautiful and pristine, the houses were small huts made from woven straw with thatched roofs. The land was very green with large trees and ferns, and there was a big village green where all the people come together for celebrations and the like – it almost made us think of the landscape back home, with the exception of coconut tree! Stanley the yacht club president was not about, but we managed to tee up a trip to the main town Lenakal on the Monday to sort out Customs. Normally you are not allowed ashore until the boat and crew are cleared in with customs and immigration, but since it is a 4 hour round trip to the town and not open at weekends, we were allowed to come ashore and explore the villages. It was weird to be introduced to English sounding names again, after so long trying to remember the Polynesian names.

PB040067PB030019PB030030It was a fairly chilled weekend as we recuperated from the crossing. Come Monday morning, we were ashore by 7am for the road trip to the other side of the island. Thankfully we managed to bag the inside comfy seats in the cabin of the 4 wheel drive pick up truck, I’m not sure I would have fancied 4 hours perching in the flat bed of the truck, with the bumps in the roads, or should I say dirt tracks. It was such an interesting journey though. As we drove along, adults and children alike would stop what they were doing and come out into the road to say hello and wave. We passed fabulous trees with immense root systems that would be great for climbing, more perfect little villages with their handmade thatched huts and little market stalls on the sides of the roads selling their home grown carrots, potatoes, eggplant etc. Half way along the journey, the roads and landscape suddenly changed from thick green forest to volcanoes with roads carved through the ash and lava tunnels. It was our first sight of the volcano close up and every few minutes there would be a rumble with great plumes of smoke being thrown in the air. In heavy rain the roads around the volcano turned into rivers which would be impassable by car, effectively blocking access to each side of the island.

 

 

We arrived in the main town, and without knowing what to expect at all, I was amazed by how basic the capital of the island was. The town consisted of a few corner shops, a market, bank and post office, not to mention the ever present Digicel phone shop, which we have seen throughout the Caribbean and the Pacific. These villages don’t even have electricity, other than for an hour or 2 when running a portable petrol generator, so why a mobile phone company thinks that these people need Digicel I do not know. After an hours queue at the bank to change some US dollars into local currency, we now had some money to spend and made our way to the customs and immigration office. Unfortunately it was shut! The officials were on a different island to help with the formalities of a cruise ship and wouldn’t be back until the end of the week. As our timescales were only to be in Vanuatu for no more than one week, there wasn’t anything that we could do about clearing into the County and so for the first time, we were effectively illegally in the Country.

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We took the opportunity to wander around the main town and visit the market to stock up on some fresh food. It’s the cheapest thing to eat here, as all bundles of fruit and veg seemed to cost just 100 Vatu, which is less than $1. The carrots were the best I had seen ever, you could tell they were home grown. Unfortunately we forgot to buy our postcards, which you put in the box at the top of the volcano – sorry to our Nephews and Niece for missing our first destination postcard. The ride back to Port Resolution was just as fascinating.

PB040102PB040103PB040110PB040119PB040137Stanley invited us to a Coming Of Age Ceremony in the village on Tuesday morning, for Pilot who was turning 18. We arrived at 8am, and everyone in the village was busy decorating, cooking, or setting up the speaker system! Large pots of delicious smelling food were being prepared on the open fire. We spoke to the father of the boy, Samson who spent half an hour with us, telling us the history of Vanuatu and the island Tanna itself, and the story behind the John Frumm Cult on the island. People kept arriving from villages all over the island, as other distant relations and friends joined in the celebrations. There must have been nearly 100 people by the time the event kicked off. At 9am we sat down on the village green in front of a ceremonial shelter, where the boy, his Mother and Father and Uncle sat. After some speeches and prayers, where we were even mentioned and welcomed to the event, each village in turn queued up in front of the shelter, to present their gifts and greet the family. We joined in with the village in Port Resolution. I initially thought our offering of an old t-shirt of MDs, a pack of cards and some DVDs (everyone wants DVDs whenever we arrive on a remote island) was a bit measly, until we saw the number of washing up bowls, plates and bars of soap being offered. These people don’t have much and it makes you realise how commercialised these events have become in the developed world – sorry to ruin the surprise for our families future Birthday/Christmas presents!! After we offered our gift, we were invited to join the queue for some food. We were dished up some rice, cassava, salad and beef with noodles on a plate of woven straw and banana leaves. Samuel, one of the chiefs from a nearby village joined us and told us more stories of how the people live in Vanuatu. Once every one had seen the birthday boy, the village from the John Frumm cult brought out there guitars and ukuleles and sang, as others danced away the morning. What a great privilege.

IMG_9109IMG_9113IMG_9116That evening we had organised for the trip to the volcano. This time we weren’t so lucky with the comfy seats and had a one hour uncomfortable bumpy ride sat on some wooden benches in the back of a van. Luckily the van had a tarpaulin cover, as the heavens started to open. Unfortunately this meant that our view of the volcano from the top wasn’t as good as it could have been. Regardless, it was still phenomenal. The sound coming from the volcano was terrifying – it made me jump every time. We were stood about 100m from the crater of the volcano, and when the guide gave us the go ahead, we moved to a higher viewing area right above the action. As the night drew in, the eruptions became even more impressive as hot lava was thrown high in the air. You could follow where some of the boulders landed not that far away! The rain started to come down heavier and the guide said that we could only have another 15 minutes as the volcano becomes even more volatile in these conditions, and in these last few minutes the intensity of the noise and the amount of lava seemed to definitely increase. It was amazing to see such an active volcano so close and if the following day hadn’t rained all day, then we would have gone up a second time.

PB060027Without internet we were struggling to know what the weather forecast had in store for us, and with another 265nm trip to New Caledonia ahead of us, we took what looked like the best window to head South West. With the SE trades, we received some weather reports from family to say that the winds were looking more SE going ESE at 10-15 knots on Thursday/Friday, which would have been an ideal angle for the trip onwards. We left Tanna at around 0830 on Thursday 7th and motored the length of the island to make our course. Once beyond the island, the actual conditions were more SSE and 20-25 knots with a couple of meters swell. This felt like sailing in the UK with the wind on the nose and the boat slamming into the waves. Unlike these conditions in the UK where the most we would do is 20nm, this one lasted for 2 days until we reached the Southern tip of the Loyalty islands, where we could bear away slightly and put more West in the direction. Another wet and rough trip, I hope the last one to Australia isn’t going to be like this!

Fiji

Tonga had been great but Fiji was calling. After an easy check out we were off. The sail across was one of our most enjoyable, the highlight of which was racing along under the cruising shoot at around 8knts. We timed our approach to go through the Lau Group islands middle pass well, spotting the islands at first light and passing the outlying reefs shortly after (though we only saw one rock breaking the surface). We cleared the last island before Vanua Levu, our port of call, just before last light. This meant that we could have a fairly relaxed night sail without having to worry about reefs or islands in our path.

We left Tonga at the same time as Egret and Yindy Plus. We managed to keep up with Egrit the first day, but being a lighter and faster boat they eventually pulled away. However; being much more evenly matched against Yindy it was neck and neck all the way.

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We arrived at Savu Savu at around midday on Tuesday 1st October, motoring through the reef and picking up a mooring buoy outside the Copra Shed marina. The customs officials were ferried out to our boat by the marina staff, shortly after we were cleared to disembark the yacht and able to start exploring Fiji – that was of course after a long shower.

Savu Savu, in contrast to the towns and villages that we had been to in the last few months was fairly developed. Surprisingly, it was mainly populated by Indians. This all meant that we were going to get our fill of some good curries. There were also limitless stores selling the latest knock of DVDs. That aside, Savu Savu was a great little place to stock up, enjoy a beer in the local yacht club and recover from the passage.

Calico Jack arrived the following day, so we met up for lunch and a rerun of the trip down, before heading to a seminar run by Curlie – an expat and local guru on cruising Fiji.  All in all an afternoon well spent, coming away with some top tips, useful chartlets and waypoints for the tricky reef entries around the Fijian islands.

04Thursday morning we were on the bus at 7am to visit the Rain Forest nature reserve with Egret and the Yindies. Well Ok, so that took an hour – a little quicker than had been expected. We then continued on the bus to Labassa, the island capital which was on the other side of the island.

 

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The town itself did not have a great deal to offer other than a very good market – with an array of every vegetable you might want – and a great a little cafe tucked away, Indian of course. We had a massive curry with rice, roti and a few sides for about £3 each.

The main reason for getting the bus had been not to see the town, but the island. The 2 hour ride took us from the wet rainforest over the mountains to the drier Northern side where the sugar cane was grown – some spectacular views for the top.

Loving curry, and making quite a few ourselves we decided to pop along to a curry class in a very friendly local Indian cafe in Savu Savu to see if we could pick up some tips. We watched and participated in the making of a selection of curry dishes and roti and then….the best part…..we ate it!

We had a few brilliant days of sunshine when we first arrived in Savu Savu, but as with our luck as soon as we were looking to head off and explore the smaller outer islands of Fiij, the weather deteriorated and rained for the best part of 4 days.

With this, the visibility was poor making it too risky to navigate through the island reefs, so we ended up spending longer than we had intended, about 6 days, before we were able to head out. Our first stop was Koro.

A 4 hour motor sail into the wind with increasing swell had us rounding the west side of Koro, skirting the reef and picking up a mooring buoy. We spent a couple of enjoyable days here. Whilst it was not the most traditional of Fijian islands, we enjoyed some fantastic snorkelling in the bay around a couple of very healthy coral heads. Ashore we were welcomed to the so called resort by a group of expats who seemed to be the sole occupants. A friendly bunch who had all bought land and built property on the island. They immediately extended the table and invited us to join them, I think they were desperate for new company! A few bottles of wine later, we were invited back to Calico Jack for some Yellow Fin Tuna they had caught earlier that day. Very tasty! We had received an invite to visit the house of a Scottish/Australian couple, so took a stroll up the lush island with its dense rain forest to their home build house. It had great views over the island from its open platform balcony area. After a quick tour of their garden and being loaded up with fruit and herbs, we were given a ride back down to the resort bar for happy hour.

09From Koro, about 20nm to the West we could see Makogai, our next stop. Again not blessed with good winds we motored across in about 4 hours, trawling our fishing lines (without success) and entered the Eastern Pass to the island. The pass is not normally recommended except in calm conditions (which we had) as there is a bommy in the middle of the pass. Despite this, the pass was straight forward and after a couple of attempts at anchoring we killed the engine and started readying the dinghy to head ashore to find the village chief.

10Once ashore it did not take us long to find the Chief to whom we presented an offering of Kava. There was a small SevuSevu ceremony, where some words were said in Fijian accepting the Kava and welcoming us to the village. The Chief then gave us a tour of the village explaining how Makogai used to be an old Leper Colony run by the French, but how now there was a turtle and giant clam breeding program being run there. After the tour we returned to the main village hall where the Kava root was being pounded into a fine powder. It was then mixed with water in a large bowl and sieved through cloth as we all sat around in a circle. The Chief declared the Kava fit for drinking and with ceremonious clapping, the Kava cup (half a coconut shell) was passed around with the contents being consumed in one. Before the end of the second bowl of Kava, we made our excuses to leave and returned to the boat. Just in time as the winds had picked up and the rain hammered down. It stayed like that for the rest of the evening with some surge coming in over the reef.  We were now on a lee shore, so I stayed up on anchor watch ensuring we were not dragging – it was also a good opportunity to catch up on some sci-fi films C was not so keen on.

12The following day the weather had much improved and we took the opportunity for a 2 dinghy expedition with Calico Jack to snorkel Black Rock about a mile across the bay.  That evening we had been invited to the village to watch a traditional dancing show by the children which they had performed at a regional contest the previous day to celebrate Fiji Day. It was an excellent show and the enthusiasm and energy was clear to see. 13After the show we were invited to drink some more Kava with the village which we readily accepted. We were keen not to outstay our welcome and were about to make our excuses and leave when we were told that food had been prepared for us and we should eat. They had prepared a feast of Barracuda, land crab, pig, rice and numerous vegetable dishes. They are completely self-sufficient on the island, catching the fish from the sea, hunting the wild pigs on the island and growing their own fruit and vegetables. The only non-home grown food, were Super Noodles. It was an honour that they spared their precious food with us, the feast was delicious and we were overwhelmed by their generosity.

14The following day we had been invited to visit the village across the other side of the island. It was a 90 min walk through the dense vegetation, via the Whale Watching Station on the top of the hill. No whales, but some fantastic views. On route we stopped for a drink of green coconut juice and a snack on the soft jelly like fruit inside, that was of course once we had managed to husk the nut.

16When we arrived at the village we were welcomed by a young couple (unfortunately we cannot remember their names) who had moved to the island a year before. The man was 30 years old and a farmer, his wife was the kindergarten school teacher.  They had two children, one of which was a gorgeous little girl called Sissy who had amazing blonde hair. They offered us fresh watermelon straight from the field, before we explored the village, school and the beach with a small gang of kids who had taken a shine to C. Before leaving the village for our walk back we stopped to say good bye and were presented with a watermelon to take back. In exchange we gave them a few things for the kids. 17The walk back seemed quicker than the walk there, maybe it was call of cold beer and food, or maybe it was my preoccupation with spotting and collecting chillies from the many bushes on route.

We spent another night in the anchorage waiting for the wind to come round slightly more Easterly; a more favourable direction for our south-west trip to Suva, Viti Levu. We left Makogai via the West reef entrance and were out into some steep chop on the nose. We did a couple of hours motorsailing, to make some westing, then manage to sail the rest of the way to Suva. This was an overnight sail that took us past Ovalau and the private island Wakaya. We would have like to have visited Ovalau but time and the weather were against us. Our main regret for Fiji is not getting more diving in – we need our own kit next time.

18Arriving at the approach to Suva the long leading reef was easy to see as the waves crashed over it and the odd rock stood proud. With the wind dying in the early morning light we motored into the harbour and were amazed at the number of ships that looked like they were barely afloat tied to a single mooring. It truly was a graveyard for ships. We slowly picked our way around numerous wrecks until we were anchored in about 4m of water off the Yacht club.

We strolled into downtown Suva and were pleasantly surprised by the variety of shops and indeed shopping centres. It was C’s birthday so a trip to the museum was planned, followed by Captain Philips at the cinema – hopefully not a taste of things to come – and then a few quiet drinks in Suva’s finest nightclub/cocktail bar.

After a few days in Suva we were keen to move on but the wind was howling and the seas were rough. We were planning a shark dive in Pacific Harbour about 20nm down the coast. Instead of taking the boat we decided to take a taxi which turned out to be a wise decision.  We arrived at the dive centre, grabbed our kit and jumped on the boat. It was a 20 min ride pounding through the waves at about 15knts. Once we were at the dive site everyone was keen to be in the water and away from the waves. We dived and grouped at a predetermined spot behind a rope line. There were already a considerable amount of large fish about, including: Travellies, Yellow Fin Tuna and an 8 foot Queensland Grouper. As the chumming of the water began the sharks started arriving. There were large Nurse Sharks, White Tips, one Lemon Shark and Bull sharks. All the action was about 8 feet away as the feeding frenzy got underway. Luckily the sharks knew not to cross the rope line! One of the dive guides tapped me on the arm after about 15mins, turning around there was a very large Moray Eel about 2 foot from me. 25 mins later our dive time was up and after a quick decompression stop we were back on the boat. Our second dive was after an hour surface interval, a quick snack and a few breaking waves over the bow of the boat. Following a line down to about 20m, we positioned ourselves behind a 2 ft wall, being mindful for Morays, and the fun started again. At one point we must have been only a couple of meters from a 4m Bull Shark. All in all an excellent dive. The ride back to shore (into the wind) was even more exhilarating than the ride out. Back at the dive centre we made the most of the running water for a shower before heading to a local cafe where it was curries all round.

21With our dive accomplished and the weather starting to improve we decided that the following day would be good to make our jump to Robinson Crusoe Island, this would be another overnighter, leaving around midday. The sail was fairly uneventful and we made good time, in fact too good a time as we had to run under bare poles for a while to slow down for first light before making landfall. The highlight of the trip was landing out largest Mahi Mahi to date. It was an almighty battle to land the fish and an even biggest struggle to dispatch it, all happening as C was trying to navigate her way through the pass. Whilst we try to kill the fish off swiftly, with the boat rolling all over the place and the fish struggling like mad this is not always easy. The final outcome though was one dead fish and a boat and crew covered in blood. The fish was filleted and steaked. We had 2 x 8 inch steaks, one we did in the oven, the other was destined for a BBQ, plus 6 good size fillets.

With the blood washed from the deck, we made our final approach into Robinson Crusoe Bay and set anchor in 3m of water. The water was crystal clear and we could easily see our well set anchor. After a quick power nap, it was then ashore to this small island for a beer and to see the lay of the land.

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The highlight on Robinson Crusoe Island was the cultural evening which was on once a week. This involved a Kava ceremony, and some very good fire dancing. We also managed to walk all the way around the island at low tide looking for crabs in the mangroves and collecting shells on the beach. Unfortunately most of the colourful shells had occupants so were returned to the beach.

With time marching on, our next stop was Muscet Cove. This was a quick day sail along the coast and through the reef system. Despite the Navionics charting software having an offset we managed to find the anchorage without incident – despite a large power cat racing down the approach channel not having much of an idea about collision avoidance tactics.

24We picked up a mooring buoy at Muscet Cove and went ashore for an explore. Despite a number of people recommending this spot to us we found it very touristy and a bit of a disappointment. To be fair this was not helped by the inclement weather. The yacht club bar had some great free BBQs though, which we made use of to cook up a large chunk of Mahi Mahi – more than adequate for the 4 of us. Despite the fact it had been raining all day, we lucked in at 1700, the rain came to a halt just as we were heading ashore to light the BBQ.

26With the weather not set to improve greatly we started planning our departure from Fiji. We calculated that we had already been here almost 4 weeks, a week over our scheduled timescales. We really needed a lot more time to do the islands justice, that would just have to wait until next time. Latoka was the main clearance point on the West side of Viti Levu, however it was not supposed to be the nicest location to hang out so we headed for Vuda Point marina. We started motoring and caught a small fish. We were not too sure what it was but it tasted okay and we both lived to tell the tale! As the wind and the waves picked up (on the nose) we unfurled the mainsail, and had our second jam with this sail. After 10 minutes of pulling and easing we had it out and were motor sailing. We put the jam down to a loose furl whilst down wind sailing. 28There was no real detail for Vuda Point Marina on the Navionics software, but we spotted the 30 ft channel cut through the coral into the marina. Vuda marina is a small circular marina with about 50 boats moored around the outside and with a single mooring buoy in the middle. You guessed it, we ended up on the buoy in the middle. This suited us as there was no chance of cockroaches or rats coming aboard and I got some exercise rowing ashore.

Vuda was a cool little place. We enjoyed a beer or two sitting in the open bar looking out across the water at a great sunset. We managed to get a number of small jobs completed on the boat ready for our next passage and we had a bus ride into Latoka to visit the market. The return bus ride was entertaining, not only did we get to see a bit of the surrounding countryside but we managed to experience off-roading in a bus, an experience not to be missed….or repeated!

With the boat sorted, we Cleared Out at of Fiji at Vuda Marina, a very quick and painless process. Come midday we were off. Vanuatu here we come.

Tonga

IMG_8363We arrived in Tonga on Friday 6th September after jumping forward 24 hours to now be the first Country to welcome in a new day.  Our first impressions of the Friendly Isles was just that, the local people were so friendly and made us feel immediately welcome in their Country (the ex pats surprisingly less so). With the boat put to bed on a mooring buoy off the main village, Neiafu in the Vava’u Group, we went ashore and treated ourselves to a couple of ice cold beers, the fact that it was not even eleven in the morning was besides the point, as our body clocks were way out of synch from 13 days at sea. From the anchorage it was a short walk into the village, which after experiencing French Polynesia for the past three months came as a bit of a shock. Tonga is probably the most third world destination that we have been to so far. It was strange to see piglets and boars roaming around the streets, and to then see them being cooked on a spit nearby. The main village mostly consisted of banks, a few cafes/bars owned by ex pats, chinese supermarkets, and a large fruit and veg market.  After two weeks of predominantly tinned food, we treated ourselves to some staples, beer, bacon, cheese, bread, biscuits and crisps. With our five a day pretty well covered, we recovered for much of the weekend.

We had read that the singing at the Tongan churches were the best in the Pacific, so we donned our Sunday best and went to the big white Catholic Church on the top of the hill. It was packed full, with the Tongan people wearing their traditional attire of a woven mat wrapped around their waists, apparently it is to remind them of where they came from with the original settlers arriving in Tonga on sailing boats with sails made out of woven mats. The singing was spine tingling amazing and beat Jerusalem or Morning has Broken hands down. The service seemed to cover a similar structure to what we would be used to in the UK. Naively MD thought it would be in English, so didn’t follow much of what was going on, but luckily there was much more singing, even the readings were done in song. Our next stop was the Tonga Beach Resort, about the only thing open on a Sunday, as it is illegal in Tonga to work and we had been warned that even going for a walk or bike ride would be frowned upon. The hotel was in quite a nice setting, as we relaxed for lunch and a chilled afternoon – you could tell that we are not used to that anymore, as we were bored within an hour – luckily there was free wifi!

IMG_8384With the local amenities back open on Monday, it was back on with the boat jobs and stocking up with gas, fuel, and proper food supplies. We also caught up with some familiar faces on Sirius and Blue Moon. Come Wednesday we had exhausted much of what there is to do in Neiafu itself and left to explore the anchorages around the 100+ islands of the Vava’u Group, in the North of Tonga. First stop was Port Maurelle on the island of Kapa at anchorage number 7. Unfortunately the Moorings charter company has renamed all the anchorages by numbers, which has lost the feel of Tonga but actually makes it very easy when talking with other cruisers about where to go. I was in charge of the dinghy whilst MD went spear fishing. With the sharks in Tonga, if he did catch anything I needed to be nearby with the dinghy to get him out of the water quickly. Either luckily or unluckily depending on the way you look at it, he didn’t catch anything, mainly because we are a bit fussy about the type of fish we trust to eat. There is an abundance of parrot fish, groupers, snappers in the waters which are all sold at the local market, but with the risk of Ciguatera and friends on Aldo suffering from this fish poisoning they had caught from Suwarrow, we didn’t like to take the risk. It was a good chance for him to practise his free diving and to explore the coastline and nearby uninhabited island of Luakapa. We went ashore later that afternoon to look for coconuts and for a BBQ/ bonfire on the beach. It was good to meet a new set of faces, as we are now ahead of most of the boats we have been crossing the Pacific with so far.

Thursday 12th, we moved to one of the anchorages further East, just off Pangaimotu and Tapana (or anchorage number 11), to catch up with Juan and Jane on Aldo. It was a bit of a choppy motor for the 5 miles or so as we were head into 25-30 knots of wind, but the anchorage itself was fairly well protected by the islands and adjoining reef. We took a snorkel around another nearby uninhabited island, Afo and the West coast of Tapana, this time towing the dinghy behind. No luck again with the spear fishing, and whilst the sheer drop offs around these small volcanic islands was impressive to see underwater, the coral all looked pretty dead. We also tried to go for a walk inland on Pangaimotu, but with the thick dense woodland and inappropriate footwear we didn’t go too far. Apparently it is better to walk around the islands at low tide.

IMG_8445IMG_8467IMG_8489We had booked to go to a Tongan Feast on Saturday, so we were up early to arrive at Lape island (anchorage 17) before the anchorage became too crowded. This time we were down wind, and managed to get some good speeds with just the head sail out. Another afternoon was spent in the water, followed by a trip ashore for a tour of the island and the feast. There are 10 adults and 16 children who live on the island of Lape. The islanders have won prizes throughout Tonga for their entrepreneurship as they embrace the yachties visiting their island by hosting these feasts and asking for donations in return that are subsequently invested back into the island. Last year they built a boat dock and this year they want to build a working toilet, so that they can teach their children how to use a proper toilet before they go off to school on the mainland. The families on the island all pull together as they tend to their land and the vegetables that they grow, and host these feasts. The chief of the island took great pride in explaining how they rely on the coconuts and how they make baskets, mats and tapa from the bark of the trees. It was fascinating to hear and see their well kept houses and land. We were all looking forward to the main event, the pig cooked in the ground. Unfortunately we didn’t actually get to see the pig being cooked, but the whole pig was proudly brought to the table with the other dishes prepared by all the families, before the islanders sang a song and said grace, before we all stuffed all faces.

Mariners Cove 022t1We were very kindly invited aboard Divided Sky by Jeanie and Cole the following day to snorkel in nearby Mariners Cave. The cave was on the leeward side of island Nuapapu, opposite Lape but too far to go in the dinghy. Jeanie and Cole, a lovely Aussie couple who have already done at least one circumnavigation and have sailed across the Pacific numerous times wanted to take a few of us over to experience the cave whilst making a day of it by everyone bringing a dish towards lunch. It took about an hour to motor around the island and then find the entrance to Mariners Cave, which is a cave you can only access by diving a few meters underwater and swimming through a hole until you see light the other side and you come up in the middle of the cave. Apparently if you can swim the length of the boat underwater, you can get through into the cave. Jeanie and Cole stayed about 50m off the island with the boat, whilst we, together with Brian and Richard from Osprey and Travis and Joanne on Calico Jack dived in the water. You could hear clearly the whales singing through the water, they must have been fairly nearby but we didn’t see them. After a bit of physching myself up, I followed MD diving through the entrance and up inside the cave. It wasn’t as bad as I had imagined as I was only under the water for maybe 30 seconds. Inside the cave the walls were steep all around and the water was at least 20m deep below. It was a calm day, so we didn’t experience the swell coming into the cave and reducing the amount of air available inside! Back outside the cave, I snorkelled for a while listening to the whale song, whilst MD swam the deeper entrance to the cave. After lunch, we headed to coral garden behind the reef adjoining Nuapapu and Vaka’eitu. Coral garden does what it says on the tin, it was thick with healthy coral – the best we had seen for a long time. We snorkelled and watched octopus, trumpet fish, clown fish and many more. The whale song was even louder here but still no sightings. A lovely day was had by all, and thanks to Divided Sky for inviting us.

IMG_8520IMG_8564Monday morning we decided with the expected calm weather to up anchor and see if we could go to the islands in the South of Vava’u. Apparently the islands are rich with fish and coral, with stunning reefs but they are small islands offering little protection in anything other than calm weather and the Moorings guide recommends no overnight stops. We motored out to the last large island before committing to explore the Southern Group, and decided that with more wind than expected not to go further South. So we nosed the boat into anchorage 22 on Taunga, but with only a small area surrounded by coral in which to drop anchor, we decided not to stay. Back 10 miles the way we had just come from to try another anchorage on the North of Ovaka at anchorage 40 (Avalau). It looked like a stunning spot to drop the anchor, but the depth was either too deep for our length of chain or too much coral and rocks to dig the anchor into, and with only the reef to provide protection from swell, we were fairly exposed to the wind. After some deliberation, we decided to up anchor and try another spot on the South of Kapa behind the reef extending to a small island called Nuku (anchorge 8). All in all, we had spent the best part of 6 hours motoring around the Vava’u group, to end up 5 miles from where we had started – frustrating. At least we were now in a beautiful spot with good protection. I wasn’t moving again for a few days, so took the opportunity to relax and have sundowners on the beautiful beach on Nuku, a tiny uninhabited island. Very romantic! The snorkelling wasn’t bad either, and whilst there wasn’t much healthy coral, we drifted with the current for two hours along the reef from one end of the island to the other and spotted a large lion fish, helmet crab and lots of other shellfish that I’m sure would have been good to eat, if we had known what they were.

IMG_8600On Wednesday 18th September, we lifted anchor again to explore the anchorages on the West side of the Vava’u group. Another motor for a couple of hours – you could sail around the islands but we were always in need of running the engine to top up the batteries and make water – to reach the Blue Lagoon to the South of Fofoa (anchorage 14) . On route we spotted a distant splash of the humpback whales, the whale boats also gave away their location! Tonga has a large population of the whales during breeding season, but we weren’t lucky enough to have any good sightings, although there were reports of a mother whale giving birth in Port Maurelle right next to the boats. The approach into the Blue Lagoon was a bit tricky with only eye ball navigating through the maze of coral heads. We dropped anchor in a good patch of sand in about 10m – perfect. The Blue Lagoon definitely deserved its name. A quick trip ashore to suss out the restaurant disappointed when we were greeted by a very unfriendly expat owner, which put pay to the idea of a nice dinner ashore. With the tide rising the protection we were getting from the reef was reducing with more chop coming into the anchorage, and so we decided it wasn’t a good overnight spot as there would be no way of finding our way out through the coral in the dark. At 2pm we upped anchor with plans to go to the North of Kapa so that we could do Swallows Cave the following day. Another 2 hours motor, we arrived at anchorage 6 but decided there was too much coral to drop anchor and with the sun fading, we needed to get somewhere for the night. Reluctantly we decided to head back to the main village, Neiafu and managed to pick up the last free mooring buoy, just in time for happy hour.

P1020212We caught up with Bryan from Osprey, who invited us along to go to the only nightclub in Vava’u for the weekly drag show. We all arrived at 7.30, only to realise that there must have been a problem with translation as we were the only ones there and the show didn’t kick off until 10. By the time the queens came on, we were all a little but merry. Across Polynesia there is greater acceptance of cross dressers than even in the more modern thinking Countries, like the UK. They put on an entertaining show of traditional Polynesian dancing, as well as more modern popular music. The guys and the girls tuck dollar notes into their clothes. I particularly enjoyed watching MD squirm at the lap dance he was getting and tucked a dollar bill in myself. By the end of the show, the party had definitely started and we found ourselves strutting our stuff on the dance floor to the early hours of the morning.  Needless to say, Thursday was a right off.

IMG_8604We stayed in Neiafu for the following week as we had planned a couple of excursions around the main island. A few familiar faces also started to descend upon Neiafu, as we caught up with Egret and Yindee Plus. Saturday afternoon, after visiting the great fruit and veg market at 7am, we took a taxi to the Ene’io botanical gardens. Haniteli was given the land when he was a young boy and spent his whole life developing his secret garden. It was only opened to the public 7 years ago when he retired from the Ministry of Agriculture, and many of the locals didn’t even know what existed there. It was a fascinating story as we walked the gardens with Haniteli providing a 2 hour guided tour.

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On Monday we arranged to see some vanilla plantations with an Aussie guy called Ian, who had come to Tonga and set up a business called Taste of Tonga to help the local farmers re-establish their vanilla farms. The vanilla farms were neglected and literally overgrown by jungle after the world market for vanilla kept collapsing and the farmer couldn’t guarantee a regular wage. Taste of Tonga had a contract with Queens, a large Australian food supplier, to provide investment in the farms in exchange for guaranteed sales at a fixed price. Ian was working with over 200 farms and had recently been accredited as organic and in the process of gaining Fairtrade status. IMG_8633We visited 5 farms and saw how the farmers had to manually fertilise each individual flower as soon as it started to bloom. The flower could only be fertilised between dawn to dusk on the day that the flower started to blossom, and with the farms completely overgrown it was a laborious task to find the flowers. No wander vanilla is so expensive. Ian was trying to work with the farmers to teach them how to cut back the jungle and control the growth of the vines which produce the vanilla. It was really interesting, and we were lucky to go with him on a day when he visited his ‘bad farmers’, people who took money but did little work. Some had done a lot of work since his last visit to get the farm under control in order to get the next installment of money, others had done very little and were now black listed and one had used the money to plant a whole new farm which was very well attended, but would take at least 3 years for the vanilla crop to grow. It was also a good way to see the island and do some serious off roading!

On Monday evening we attended a talk at the local cafe from a research vessel, Global Reef Expedition, who were half way through a 5 year programme to examine the state of the worlds coral reefs. Having snorkelled and dived in many locations in the Pacific we have been shocked at the amount of dead coral we have seen. One of the main threats to the coral, is the Crown of Thorns starfish and since the talk it has been amazing how many of these starfish we have spotted on the reef. The Crown of Thorns population has taken over, as many of its predators (large groupers and shell fish) have been taken from the seas by locals, and the unbalance of the coral ecosystem due to reduced numbers of sea cucumber (sea slugs) which are hunted by the Chinese as a delicacy.

VauVa'u (105)In the evening of Tuesday 24th, we took a local boat to another Tongan Feast on the nearby island of Pangaimotu. The village people (as they described themselves!) provided a fun and informative cultural event, where they described the history behind drinking kava, basket weaving, tapa making and coconut husking. We watched the ladies beating the bark of the mulberry tree to make a very thin cloth, which they then decorate to make tapa, which all Tongan homes have and use for weddings, funerals and any other celebration. It was also our first opportunity to drink kava and although the colour was off putting (muddy brown), it was actually quite nice and made our tongues tingle for about half an hour!

Whilst in the main town, we organised to go out for a dive on Wednesday to two sites at the entrance to the islands in the Vava’u Group. The first dive was pretty average, it didn’t help that my mask would constantly fog up and i could hardly see anything (he had rubbish gear, but was the cheapest by a long way – you get what you pay for). On surfacing after the first dive, we were left stranded in the water with the dive boat no where to seen. If we hadn’t been near a small island, it would have reminded me of the film the Deep Blue! We were in the water for about 10 minutes when another boat (one of the ribs from the research vessel) came by, as we started swimming over and waving to get their attention, they waved back and went to drive off! Luckily MD managed to whistle and they came back to help. Around the other side of the island on their boat, it was still no where to be seen and with no VHF on the dive boat we couldn’t get their attention. After a little while longer, we eventually saw a boat in the horizon and spotted through the binos that it was our missing boat. The poor girl on board had an engine failure and couldn’t start the engine, she had drifted out of the channel a couple of miles into the open ocean. Luckily she eventually managed to start it. After the excitement, we moved to our 2nd site, which was much better with lots of narrow swim throughs in the islands. They took us via Swallows Cave on the way back and managed to park the dive boat actually inside the cave, so that we could snorkel inside.

After 3 weeks in Tonga, we finally had a weather window for moving onto Fiji. We cleared out on Friday afternoon, and moved back to Port Maurelle at anchorage 7 for the night, for an early slip the next day.

Maupiti to Tonga

00Day 1 – After a great time in Maupiti there looked like there was a break in the weather and we decided to head off. There was a trough, with lots of unfavourable weather heading down across the Cooks, this was making for some interesting navigation decisions. We decided to head North from Maupiti to 16 degrees South, working on the fact that we should have stronger winds and be less affected by the trough moving through. We set off on Friday 30th August at about 1000 having prepped the boat and the dingy the night before. Peter from Stormvogel delivered 4 baguettes to the boat – a great service he had been doing all week. Armed with breakfast and lunch for the next few days it was up with the anchor and we carefully navigated our way to the pass. The night before a yacht coming into the anchorage managed to run into a coral head with a crunching stop. We made sure to maintain a good watch from the bow for rogue coral heads. It was a leisurely motor sail down to the pass entrance, through which we had passed a couple of times during the last week on whale watching expeditions. On each occasion the pass had been very smooth despite a constant outflow of water. The day of our departure however, the wind had come round to the South – the pass was southerly- and there were quite a few significantly sized waves across the pass with a confused sea beyond. Despite the boat pitching up and down, with C hanging onto the furler for dear life (watching for the reef) we made a safe exit from Maupiti and were on our way. As we sailed along the south of the Island we kept a keen look out for whales, but alas there were none to be seen. The water maker was powered up and ran seamlessly for 5 hours filling up our tanks. A good test after its recent rebuild.

Day 2 – With our arrival in Australia fast approaching we needed to reduce the food stocks that we have been holding since the Atlantic; there are a number of restrictions as to what can be taken into the country. This combined with the fact that we had very little fresh produce and no meat meant that we were very keen to catch some fish to supplement the daily menu. We had the fishing line out from day one with varying success. Our first gear loss – the wire leader snapped. With 2 lines being trawled we managed to hook a Mahi Mahi on the Cuban yoyo. It was big! After some heaving in of the line the fish was hauled onto the deck. It was a great looking fish. Unfortunately whilst waiting for the camera to take a pic, with only one hand on the fish, it saw its chance and with a final thrash managed to release itself from my grip and was over the side. I was gutted as I saw dinner swim off. The next fish that we landed with the rod was not so lucky and it was swiftly dispatched. It was the biggest fish that we have caught (and retained) to date. 01We managed to have 2 large filets that went into a Thai curry, a fillet that made fish finger baguettes and another fillet for tandoori wraps for lunch and dinner the following day. We sliced a load of fish into chunks and put it in lime to cook for 24 hours and another batch of fish was put into salt to dry – nothing wasted. The curry tasted very good. Sailing for the day had been fairly uneventful, apart from trying to slow the boat down to land the fish. The winds were starting to reduce and we gybed north to try and find some stronger wind.

Day 3 – Progress had been slow over night averaging about 3 kts. Towards the afternoon the wind picked up and we were making good progress. The night was light with the sea illuminated by the almost full moon. Looking aft, the swirling mass of the sea looked to be chasing us, the endless waves catching us and swaying the boat from side to side as they passed by.

Day 4 – Mid morning we were cruising along at over 6 knts when the fishing line started to pay out. We needed to slow the boat; there was no chance of stopping the line paying out with the size of fish we were hooking if the boat was still traveling so fast. We managed to furl the head sail and round up into the wind. The following 20 minutes was a battle between man and fish which left both of us knackered. As the fish was drawn towards the boat we could see that it was another magnificent Mahi Mahi. They definitely breed them big in the Pacific. We had the fish reeled it in to the boat and as I pulled in the last couple of metres lifting the fish from the sea one of the swivel clips broke and the fish, tired after the battle slowly swam away from the boat. Unlike previous Mahi Mahi that had repeatedly jumped clear of the water, this one was obviously an old hand, repeatedly diving. The winds slowly became lighter and lighter and we ended up motoring for 8 hours overnight. Much as we hate burning diesel.

Day 5 – The winds picked up in the morning and we were happily sailing under the cruising shoot making good progress. We were hoping that we had now passed the trough and it would be plain sailing from here on. Alas, the weather we were experiencing was nothing like what the gribs were predicting. We continued to make slow progress through the night either goose winged or under headsail alone when the flapping of the sails became too much.

Day 6 – We are now about half way. It had been a pleasant day sailing under the cruising shoot making a little over 3 knts in 6-7 knts of breeze. All very relaxing. At 1700 though the wind reduced still further so it was on with the engine. We motored for about 3 hours, whilst watching Dexter on deck with the laptop plugged into the deck speakers. It was very strange watching the laptop as the ocean past us by. The wind speed rose to about 10 knts and we were sailing again. Hopefully the wind will come round more SE which should give us a good turn of speed. So far we have seen no other vessels on this passage, and we are not aware of any other yachts taking this route. Most either going North via Suwarrow or South via Raratonga. It is quite refreshing to be alone on the ocean, although it does mean that we can not get much of an idea about surrounding weather when boats report on the Southern Net.

Days 7-9 – Nothing too much to mention on these day. Just slowly sailing on, interspersed with some stronger winds pushing us on a bit faster, either goose winged or on a broad reach.

Day 10 –  The weather continued to be variable; one minute we were cruising along at 6 knts, the next the wind has died and we were barely making 2 knts. We are now 450 miles from Tonga. We have decided that we will not head for Niue as there are variable strong winds and heavy rains associated with the trough over that area. The anchorage would be exposed to the North through West to South, so the anchorage may be untenable depending how the weather pattern pans out. The bad news today was that I lost 180m of line and the attached lure. The line payed out so fast, came to the end of the real and then broke free. The fishing kit is starting to get a bit low! I have never seen the line go out so fast. It must have been big. The wind died in the afternoon just after an hours torrential downpour. So it was on with the engine, topping up the water and charging the batteries. We also enjoyed a couple more episodes of Dexter – a very bad habit to get into but quite surreal as we sit on deck with large ocean swells passing us by and the yacht slowly cruising on at a couple of knots. The consolation dinner, after losing the fish, was home made chips and beans – very tasty. We also experimented with espresso coffee and condensed milk, also rather good. I have the double shift tonight 8-12 and 4-8. With no sleep today, it is going to be a long night, not to mention wet. The boat is plodding on at 3 knts- well each mile brings us that little bit closer. To be fair it is quite pleasant, no rush, slowly sailing just enjoying the routine of the days. We could though do with a slightly more varied food stock – we did make the call to run the stock down though.

Day 11 –  It was an interesting days sail today. We motored, sailed and then motored again from the early hours, with winds varying from 4 to 10 knts. The winds started in the East, moved round to the North and were then on the nose coming from the West. It has been a while since we were last close hauled. Come about 1500, the winds started to increase with the cloud cover (it had been glorious and sunny with flat seas until then) and the seas built to a couple of metres, indicating things to come. It was not long and we were hammering along between 6 and 7 knts and reefing the sails as the winds were constantly 20 knts plus – it was good to be covering some miles at last. I could have done without the 2 hours of constant rain though. On C’s watch we covered 30 nm in just over 4 hours. A bit of an improvement on the 71 nm we covered in the previous 24 hours! The wind had come round to the SSW by midnight so we could ease out the sails and still make 6 plus knts on a broad reach – nice. The South Pacific Convergence Zone (read no wind) is due to be over Tonga Wed and the Cook’s come Friday (today being Sun). That should give us just enough time to make landfall – we have 300 nm to run. The weather is not looking favourable for the boats at Raratonga to head West for a while, hopefully they are not stuck there for too long. The last few weeks have been poor for weather windows to head on; it really is a case of make the most of what you get.

Day 12 –  Today kicked off with a flying start. The fishing line had only been out about 30 minutes and the line was paying out – it was about 930. C furled in the head sail and turned the boat into the wind to depower the Main whilst I grabbed the rod , giving it a sharp jerk to ensure the hook was well set into the fish. We were running with a tiny squid and a single hook (we have lost all our best trawling gear). I slowly increased the friction on the line as it payed out. The boat slowed, then pulling the rod up and reeling in as I lowered, I worked the fish towards the boat. In no time it was within range and with a quick swing of the gaff the Mahi Mahi was hooked and landed on board. We had lunch and dinner for the next couple of days. It was good timing as our recipe ideas had been getting a little creative with our dwindling stocks, that said I quite enjoyed the fried spam, peas and potato in homemade wraps 🙂 The wind has been blowing from the South East across our beam and the boat has been flying along at over 6 knots. The sky is clearing and the seas are reducing. It’s been a great days sailing. Lunch was pan fried Mahi Mahi and left over falafels from the night before. Dinner was tandoori Mahi in homemade wraps.  As the evening is closing in we are still making 6 knts though the wind has backed slightly driving us off our ideal path. We will run through the night and then goose wing back on course tomorrow morning. Less than 200 nm to run now so we should be in the day after tomorrow.

Day 13 – It was a long night. The wind came round onto the nose – not what was predicted – and we had swell coming at us from our port and standard side. It all made for a very rolly night which we had to motor sail to make the best of. Even so it was rather uncomfortable and hard on the boat. Come the morning we were still motor sailing, though the wind was starting to come in our favour and the confused seas started to have some order, throwing the yacht about a little less chaotically. From 0700 to 0730 we motor sailed through shoal after shoal of thousands and thousands of fish just over Capricorn Mount (underwater mount).  The shoals were being cut up and chased by large Mahi Mahi and who knows what other large fish.  It was an amazing spectacle. 0830 and we were sailing, the engine was off and we were making a good 6 knts in the right direction. We were close hauled, hard on the wind but we were doing well – it was a blessing. To get a little harder on the wind we used the electronic auto helm which worked very well and weaved a little less than the Hydrovane. 1030 – land was in sight 18 nm away, we were on target for arriving later that afternoon. 1100 – the wind shifted abruptly to the West, we were again heading directly into the wind. With the wind building and the sea fairly lively there was no chance of just motor sailing a direct course. We soon realised that if we did not get a wind shift we would not make harbour in the light and would have to spend another night at sea. The Westerly had set in for the day! Our problem now was making sure that we did not arrive to early the following day, in the dark. So close yet so far! We continued to tack towards Tonga making very little progress. The winds reduced over the evening and we slowly sailed on.

Day 14 – In the early hours of the morning the winds died and we slowly motored on. We arrived at the harbour entrance as the light came up – good timing. 03We then motored up to the quay in Neiafu. It was like cruising up a lake. Within 10 minutes of arriving at the quay we had 4 Immigration and Customs officials on – all very friendly. Within 20 minutes we were all done. Easy. It was good to be in Tonga!

Society Islands Part 2

IMG_7530Our arrival in Bora Bora was a bit of a wash out. The heavens opened just as we were coming through the pass after a sunny beam reach sail for 25nm from Tahaar. Bora Bora didn’t look the picture postcard destination we were expecting. As we entered the lagoon, the wind was suddenly blowing 30 knots. All the mooring buoys in the three ‘marinas’ in the South of the lagoon were full and as it was getting on for 1700, we had little choice but anchor in 25m of water. With only 50m of chain, and needing at least three times the depth in the length of chain, we had to extend the chain by connecting the end onto 50m warp (rope). We’ve never anchored in these depths before and with 30 knots of wind, we had a restless night keeping anchor watch. Thankfully the eye splice that MD had put in the rope held up to the winds over night and we were still connected to the anchor and chain!

IMG_7594IMG_7733The sun was shining on Bora Bora the next morning (Tuesday 13th August) and we could see the beauty of the island with the high volcanic mountainous island encircled by a coral reef and Motus with white sandy beaches, palm trees and beach hut hotels scattered over the bright blue waters. With the help of friends in nearby Mai Kai marina, we received a call on the VHF to tell us that there were some free mooring buoys, so we upped anchor and moved to the main village, where our water maker parts had been kindly collected by Jessica, the manager of the marina. With the boat securely attached to the mooring buoys, we soon went ashore to explore Bora Bora. The village was somewhat of a disappointment with tourist shops selling all the gifts we could have bought from Tahiti, but for nearly three times the price. At least there were two reasonable supermarkets, so we were well stocked on Hinano beer, baguettes and brie again. The exploration took just about enough time to make it back to the marina in time for happy hour, where we met up with a few of the familiar faces.

We stayed at Mai Kai for an extra night, and spent much of the day ferrying to and from the boat filling up the jerry cans with water to top up the tanks – only 300 litres worth, good for the biceps! Not to mention the opportunity for more happy hour prices at the bar that night.

IMG_7571IMG_7737Thursday morning we decided to brave the shallows and coral on the North of the lagoon, in search of the beautiful anchorages for which Bora Bora is famous. With 30 knots still blowing inside the lagoon, and heading into the wind, it was a rough trip. The route to the anchorage took us through a narrow chicane to keep in the deepest water, at 2.9m – just over 1m clearance below the keel and with an abundance of coral, my heart was pumping on the helm. With MD safely guiding me through the coral reefs, we dropped anchor just off the St Regis hotel. They charge $1000 for the same view we had for free, and what a view it was. Within minutes we were jumping in the crystal clear water, perfect.

We were up early on Friday morning to snorkel with the Manta Rays, and then back to the boat to fix the water maker. Schenker had sent through replacement parts for the whole unit, so it took MD most of the day to overhaul the unit and put it back together again, before the moment of truth – does it work? Thankfully it ran like a dream and we were back to being self sufficient for water and no more rationed showers 🙂

I have been dying to do some more diving ever since we aborted our plans to go to Fakarava, and whilst Bora Bora isn’t as renowned for its dive sites as the Tuamotus, we took the opportunity to go diving on Saturday morning with Graham from Maunie through a new dive shop , “Dive N Smile”. It was a great set up, as Patrick the instructor could only take out 4 people diving at any one time, as he was restricted by the size of the high speed rib. It made it a much more personal experience, and actually one of the highlights of the trip was seeing the rest of the island as we whizzed around the whole of the lagoon. The first dive was outside the coral reef to see the sharks. Visibility was really good,and very quickly we saw a 3m Lemon Shark glide past us, followed by a few small Black Tip Sharks. There were large shoals of brightly coloured tropical fish, but much of the coral was dead due to a cyclone hitting the island a few years earlier. I also saw my first Moray Eel, apparently it is worse to be bitten by one of these than a shark! Luckily it was just a small one. The second dive was back inside the lagoon, off the Southern Motu, where we saw a large group of Golden Eagle Rays. It was good to get back in the water again.

IMG_7750We were back from diving by midday, so we went ashore in the afternoon to the nearest Motu and watched the Pacific waves crash into the outside reef. Shame the camera battery ran out shortly afterwards. With the St Regis nearby, we took the dinghy to explore around the hotel, which was situated on its own little Motu. It was a great spot, but looked pretty empty – maybe not surprising with the price, but I suppose you only have a honeymoon once in your life….

With the winds still blowing 30 knots in the lagoon, and starting to think about our departure date, we decided to head back to the village to pick up some Internet on Sunday 18th, with a view to moving on to Tonga on the Tuesday. The great surprise of the Pacific has been the need to wait for weather windows to move on. With the Southern Hemisphere winter, the South Easterly trade winds are regularly disrupted by the depressions coming up from New Zealand. Typical – our panned departure date was going to coincide with one of these troughs pushing the South Pacific Convergence Zone over the Cooks and French Polynesia, which would mean 5 to 10 knots of wind. Gallinago usually needs a good 15 knots to really get going, especially down wind and with a 10 day sail to Tonga, we wanted a bit more wind than was forecasted. We spent much of the next week studying the weather night and day, and realising that the calm weather was staying put. There are worse places to be stuck than Bora Bora.

The window wasn’t looking good until at least the 21st August, so we decided to try one of the outer islands of French Polynesia, Maupiti. Maupiti is one of the less popular stops because you need calm weather to enter the narrow pass in the coral reef. This made it the perfect opportunity for a change of locations. Maupiti was 25nm from Bora Bora and on Friday 23rd we decided with a forecasted 10 knots of wind, there was a chance of sailing the distance. We were off the mooring by 7am to allow 5 hours to make the pass at Maupiti by midday for slack high water. Unfortunately, managing to sail at only 3 knots, we made the call to motor the distance to ensure we arrived close to slack water.

IMG_7779IMG_7807As we approached the South of the outlying reef, it was difficult to spot the pass for all the surf breaking onto the coral. It was only as we hit the designated way point just outside of the entrance that you could see a gap in the surf to go through. It was a lovely calm sunny day, which made for a fairly easy passage through the pass in the reef that couldn’t have been more than 10m wide. I was on the helm trying not to have a heart attack whilst seeing the edge of the coral just metres away on either side, whilst MD was on the bow looking for coral heads, or more accurately taking photos of the breathtaking scenery. Maupiti must be one of the top islands that we have come into with the wow factor.

One of the really good things about French Polynesia is the investment and upkeep into the buoyage system as we followed the channel markings through into the village, which avoided all the areas of coral. We dropped anchor in 4m of water in what looked like a good clear patch of sand. It was then straight into the water, followed by a trip ashore. The island had a single road which circumnavigated around the mountain, which was lined by houses on each side. It was quite disturbing to see the grave stones in all the front gardens, but I suppose there is no where else to bury their loved ones on such a small island. We went in search of a supermarket, but quickly realised that we had become too used to the civilisation of the rest of the Society Islands, and that we were back to little corner shops run from people’s houses. After a few half hearted attempts to ask if they took credit card (we knew the answer), it was clear that MD wouldn’t be getting any beer here, and with only 500 francs in our wallets ($5), we had just enough cash to buy a fresh baguette every day. Oh well we needed to lose some weight!

The following day we went snorkelling with the Manta Rays, and were treated to a display of either play fighting or mating by two of the rays. It was incredible to watch, as they brushed up close to us. The Manta Rays here have been the largest that we have seen so far – they were wider than I am tall. The spot soon became a bit crowded with the few tourists that there are on the island (there are no beach hut hotels here), so we headed out into the pass to see what fish were being swept by with the current. Again disappointingly, all the coral was pretty dead, but there were some nice colourful tropical fish around the reef. Later that evening we were invited for cocktails on Somerset with Carol and Jim from Canada. We had some serious boat envy, as we spotted the espresso machine, deep freezer and sofa on the back of the catamaran for watching films with their projector and surround sound system. With dwindling supplies, my offering to the party was homemade cumin seed crackers and hummus, plus the obligatory banana wine – the food went down a treat, but I think they were just being polite about the wine!

In search of live coral we took the dinghy across to the East side of the reef on Sunday, in reality we could have walked there, as the water was only up to our knees at the best of times. The snorkelling wasn’t brilliant, with not many fish and more dead coral, but it was interesting to see the topology of the reef and to take a walk along the Motu on the windward side of the island. That evening we had drinks on the beach at sunset with the other boats in the anchorage, and listened green with envy as they told their tales of swimming with humpback whales outside of the pass earlier that day.

IMG_7894We were up at the crack of sparrows (or should I say cockadoodledoo’s) to walk up mountain before the heat of the day. The walk started with a short path, then a scramble followed by rock climbing up an almost vertical edge to the highest point. The views from the top were stunning, you could see for miles out into the open ocean, with panoramic views of the reef, clear waters, and coral pools inside the lagoon. We even spotted a whale off the East of the reef. We sat and watched the world below for about an hour, it was then that I suddenly realised how the hell am I meant to get down!

IMG_8129_edited-1Just after midday we caught a VHF announcement from Interlude that there were more whales just outside the pass. We called up Lucy and Harald on Bounty, and joined them in their fast rib in search of the whales. We were literally only outside of the entrance to the reef for a couple of minutes before a humpback whale surfaced 10m from the dinghy. He (obviously it might have been a she but for ease of writing i’ll assume it was a he) just watched us for a few minutes before diving. Absolutely awesome, if a little terrifying if I stopped to think we were in just a small inflatable. After ten minutes or so, the whale surfaced again, a little further away but still close to the reef. We watched him a few times, and when we were content that he was relaxed in our presence, we quietly entered the water and started to swim towards the whale. Watching the whale slowly dive below we could see that he was only maybe 20m below the surface and just waiting there. You could see the contrasting colours of the whales skin with the rays of the bright sun above. MD free dived down towards it, which was a bit nerve wracking to watch, but impressive to see him up close to the whale. If only we had two GoPro cameras! I was happy to watch from the surface. After a while the whale swam off and we returned to the rib to see where he surfaced again. We slowly edged towards the whale and MD entered the water again. As the whale dived again, he stayed even closer to the surface and MD could make out that there was a shark with the whale, so stayed close to the rib. At the whales next surface, he seemed to stay longer at the top and dive shallower, so I took the opportunity to get back in the water. With the next dive, the whale put on a show for us and hovered vertically in the water, and slowly came to the surface belly up, turned over and dived down, flipping his tail and was off. This happened right before our eyes. An unbelievable, unforgettable and very privileged experience, one that we will remember forever – it definitely beats a Monday afternoon sat in front of a computer at work! We were all buzzing afterwards, and made plans to go out again the net day, but this time on their catamaran.

IMG_8103_edited-1IMG_8198The next day we joined the German contingent in the anchorage on Bounty with Stormvogel for another days whale watching. First we stopped by the Manta Rays and this time watched 9 rays swim together like the Red Arrows in the RAF. Outside of the pass, it took a little while longer to spot the humpbacks again, as we couldn’t get quite as close in the catamaran. We took the opportunity for some above the water photo shots with the big camera lense on the SLR, and were treated to two swimming together. I couldn’t resist getting in the water again as they came closer and I managed to see a close up side view of the two whales as they swam past the cat and then swam away. Shame my GoPro camera skills are not as good as MDs! Next MD kitted up to go in, but by this time they were no where to be seen – only heard as he listened to their singing under the water. Back on board, the skipper of the cat tried to get a bit too close this time and hearing their squawks on the surface and seeing more splashing and plumes of spray, MD decided not to go in the water. At this point we decided to call it a day and started to head back into the pass, not before seeing 4 humpbacks swim past the boat as a final fly past. Another incredible day.

IMG_7942News of more whałes came on Wednesday, but we decided to resist the urge to go again. We didn’t want to push our luck! Instead we took the dinghy for a motor around the island. The waters on the South West of the island were a maze of coral lagoons, as we weaved our way through trying not to break the propeller of the outboard engine. In places the depth of the water across the width of the lagoon, was no more than knee high, so you could walk across the lagoon from the main island to the motu on the outer reef. The water visibility was so good that you could see Sting Rays gliding along. Back on the boat, we finished the scrubbing of the hull, which we had been doing a little bit every day. We literally had a rug growing underneath us – no wonder we are so slow. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the growth to come back.

Like Bora Bora, we had been studying the weather every day to find a good window for making our onward passage West.  With no obvious prolonged window providing good consistent winds, we made the call to leave to Friday 30th, and head North of the rhumb line to Tonga to maximise on wind. This would also give the opportunity to call into Palmerston in the Cook Islands or Nuie on route to Tonga, depending on how the wind would take us. So with our decision to leave, we had a busy day on Thursday doing yoga on the beach (thanks to Lionel from Kiapa), preparing the boat for departure and getting our last Internet fix.

After nearly three months in French Polynesia, we were looking forward to exploring our next landfall. Although the thought of an extended sailing passage would be a shock to the system after some great day sailing around these wonderful islands.

Society Islands Part 1

We left Kauehi heading for Fakarava, a days sail away on the 8th of July.  Despite the passage being quite quick we had had a number of squalls on route which made us question if we wanted to head to Fakarava or stag on to Tahiti.  After a quick discussion and a review of the weather for the coming week we concluded that if we stopped in Fakarava we would have to stay for at least a week, and it would probably be a wet week.  We decided to carry on to Tahiti – after all it was only another 3 days sail 🙂

01Arriving in Tahiti was straight forward enough, we managed to sail right up to the island and then just motor sail as we came into the lee of the land.  We slowly motored through the pass in the surrounding reef and proceeded to glide over the flat calm waters towards the town quay.  Tuatara radioed to give us a few details on the mooring arrangements and then proceeded to take our lines as we came bow into the quay.  02We stepped ashore and were transported from the quiet atolls to bustling Tahiti.  The quay was in the centre of town, well situated for exploring and enjoying the coming festivities.  That evening it was beer and pizza on the quay pontoon with our neighbouring boats – a good opportunity to gather some intelligence on down town Papeete.

Another year in my life had flown by, the last birthday I celebrated was in Ile de Groix, France.  We have sailed continuously over the past year and covered thousands of miles.  My birthday started with a McDonalds breakfast – I know not very Tahitian…….but it tasted good! It was then off to explore the town, it’s market, and many diverging streets and shops.  That evening we met up with Maunie, Stormvogel, Egret, Sirius and Tuatara for Happy Hour drinks and were greeted by a rendition of Happy Birthday…..Back on the boat we cracked a bottle of Laphroig that we had been carrying since England (thanks Gwen) and fired up Skype to catch up with family.

We were carrying a couple of boat issues: our water maker had packed in and our Main Sheet Tang on the Boom had sheared.  After a lot of walking, and to cut a long story short, we managed to get the Tang welded for $20.  We also managed to get Schenker to send the replacement parts for the water maker to Bora Bora (our destination down the road) – under warranty.  Jim McDonald, the water maker agent in the UK, as always, gave us excellent support.

04We arrived in Tahiti in time for the Heiva celebrations with a number of sporting and social events on (part of the reason for our decision to arrive early).  Friday night we were off to one of the main Heiva events – a competition of Tahitian dancing and singing.   The dancing was excellent, very tribal, the singing however was a bit painful on the ear and a bit of an acquired taste.  Saturday, we went to a local sports day with such events as spear throwing, rock throwing and coconut cracking, to mention but a few – all very entertaining.  We then managed to hitch a ride back to town with a local couple (hitching is very easy in Tahiti – the public transport system is not so good).  We bumped into Fred our line handler from the Panama Canal and had a  brew with him.  We were pleased to hear that he had managed to secure a job on a neighbouring private island as a carpenter….he was going to be staying some time.

07We were up early Sunday morning for the local market, a good opportunity to pick up some local produce and try a few new veggies.  There is a strong Chinese influence in Tahiti and the Chinese/French/Tahitian snacks were very tasty.  That afternoon we wandered to see the Bastille Day Procession – it was probably better in Paris!

We decided to buy a Go Pro camera in the Go Pro store so that we could get some underwater footage.  We also managed to arrange a Cruisers discount of 8% which is always nice.  10The next few days in Tahiti were spend wandering around the multitude of pearl shops, the museum and watching the Banana racing – lash a lot of bananas to a pole, throw it over your shoulder and leg it around the park a couple times…..very entertaining, but looked far too energetic in the midday sun.

Our replacement propeller arrived via FedEx on Friday 19th July.  I managed to borrow a propeller removal tool and a Hooker Unit (a surface compressor with a regulator on a 20 ft hose for breathing under the water).  With all the kit set up and the tools needed on lanyards, I was all prepped to replace the propeller in situ on the town quay.  We were in about 12 metres of water and the visibility was not brilliant; dropping anything was not an option.  All was going well.  I had the nut loose and removal tool on – but would that propeller budge!  Eventually I called it a day as I did not want to cause any damage by whacking the prop too hard.  Also, the propeller removal tool was not fitting onto the prop very well so was not making the job very easy.  We contracted a diver to do the job on a mooring outside the marina on the West side of the Island the following week.

We moved the boat onto a mooring in crystal clear waters just off the marina.  Whilst it was clear water, we were still in 20m, so on the day of the job we aimed to anchor in 5m of water (an easy depth to recover anything dropped).  Alas, on the day we could not find a suitable mooring and in the end went along side Mares, a catamaran that was on a mooring buoy in 10m of water.  I picked the diver up at 0830 and we were back on the boat shortly after.  He brought 2 sets of dive equipment (one for each of us) and a customised propeller tool.  In no time at all we had the nut off and with a sudden twang the propeller was loose.  We ferried that to the surface and the new one down.  It was all going too smoothly!  As we tried to put the new prop on, it would not fit….the key way of the new prop was too small.  There was nothing for it but to put the old prop back on.  The rest of the day went like this:

1030 – Diver dropped ashore and made call to arrange machining of the prop
1130 – I dived on the prop to remove it – straightforward second time round.
1200 – Bus into town to the machine shop to have key way enlarged.
1530 – Collected propeller – not as simple a job as they had thought, but they did it.
1540 – Lift back to marina with the machinist – very lucky ride.
1600 – On the boat and kitted up in dive gear the diver had left with me.
1645 – The propellers were swapped out.
1715 – We slipped our lines for a test motor.
1800 – We dropped an anchor as there were no mooring buoys left.

It had been a long day, we had the propeller swapped out but the jury was still out on the new one.  We were still getting vibration in reverse (previously forward) and we were also getting some noise above 1500 revs.

After some deliberations and a couple more sea trials the next day, we decided that the new prop was an improvement on the old one and that we would run it for a few passages and see how it performed.

We did a stock at the very large Carrefour near the marina, treated ourselves to lunch there and prepared to head out to Moorea the following day (Friday 26th).  The passage across only took about 4 hours, and as the wind was on the nose we motorsailed most of the way.  11We arrived into Cooks Bay where there were about 6 other Southern Cross boats anchored.  We did a quick cruise by them, saying hello and catching up – they then all promptly left – was it something we said 🙂

Moorea was a picturesque little island which we explored via moped, managing to get all the way around and enjoy lunch in about 4 hours.  14There were some great views of the fringing coral and Tahiti in the distance.

After a couple of days there we headed for Raiatea, an overnight passage and a good run.  We did out final approach as the sun came up and entered the reef pass into the calm waters of the island.  A lot of the anchorages there were very deep (over 25m).  Luckily mooring balls have been placed in a number of the anchorages alleviating the need to anchor.  We spent a night near the marina (an opportunity to stock up on water), and we popped over to Tuatara for a sun downer and ended up with dinner, a very pleasant surprise – many thanks.  The following day we headed to the west side of the island where we managed to anchor in sand just as the depth changes from 12m to 5m on the reef.  A great little spot with some very good snorkelling around coral heads just a few minutes dinghy ride away.  We spent a couple of night here.  The last of which was a little disturbed as the wind came around and we were rather close to the sloping sand reef.  We re-anchored and then maintained an anchor watch for the night – a good opportunity to catch up on some internet.

The following day we took a mooring buoy in a sheltered location and had a run ashore to pick up some more provisions.  We also managed to have a look around a number of catamarans that a couple of the charter companies had.  We quite like the Leopard – maybe we will get a cat for the next big adventure.  When we returned to the boat, Stormvogel had picked up a buoy not so far away, so it was sun downers with them.

15We spent the remaining couple of days in a quiet little bay on the south of Tahaar.  A great place for swimming, chilling and wrapping the fishing line around the dinghy outboard prop.

Next stop Bora Bora!

The Tuamotus

The Tuamotus were known as the Dangerous Archipelago before the days of radar and GPS, and the coral atolls which make up the Tuamotus are only as high as the tallest palm. At no more than 18m above sea level, land will only be seen at a maximum of 14km away. The atolls contain surprisingly large lagoons of around 20 miles long and 9 miles wide, which are surrounded by a 360 degree reef, with only one or two passes to enter. With this, there is a large tidal flow in and out of the lagoons (up to 6 knots) which requires careful planning to ensure you enter the pass at slack water. Once safely inside the lagoon, the level of charting is pretty inadequate, and to avoid the numerous coral heads, often just below the surface, eyeball navigation is required (before midday), to ensure best light conditions to see in the water. To say I was a little apprehensive is an understatement, and with 450nm to cover between the Marquesas and the Tuamotus, arriving at the right time of day would probably be more luck than judgement!

After some careful planning before we left the Marquesas, we had worked out that we needed to arrive at Kauehi, our intended atoll, by 7am in the morning on the 1st July. This would give us 4 days, to sail 450nm if we averaged about 4-5 knots. We left Daniels Bay in Nuku Hiva at 6am Thursday 27th June. Liward, one of the other boats in the anchorage, left just ahead of us, and we had arranged to keep in radio contact throughout the journey.

We left the anchorage with one reef in the main sail, due to the jury rig that was still in place from the trip to the Marquesas. On leaving Daniels Bay, there was little wind, due to the lee of the Island. Then bam, after a few hours, the wind kicked in at 20-25 knots and stayed like that for the rest of the journey.

Unfortunately though at about the same time as the wind arriving, MD started to feel unwell with the same sickness bug that had knocked me out for a few days in Nuku Huva. So, with orders to go down below and get some rest, I started my mammoth 18 hour shift.

As evening approached, so did the squalls and large swells, which would bring gusts of 30-35 knots. Although the hydrovane is one of our best investments for the boat, with these sudden increases in wind, it occasionally needs some help to keep the boat on course. So I spent most of my watch sat behinds the wheel, rather than sheltered under the spray hood, hand steering with the hydrovane. We had managed to put in an extra reef in the main sail, just before it went dark to be on the safe side during the squalls. With our main sail about half the normal side, we were still averaging 7 knots and we were flying along.

Just before midnight, there was an almighty downpour and being on the helm, I was drenched. It was so bad, that I couldn’t see a thing with my glasses on. With Liward close by, I quickly put in a pair of contact lenses and helmed until the squall had passed. After so many miles never seeing another boat, it was quite disconcerting having Liward within a few miles of us, heading on the same course. On the other hand, it was good for the morale to speak with Steve and LiLi every morning and night.

The next two days were much the same, with the winds consistently above 25 knots, our projected time of arrival was most likely to be at night. Trying to slow down is not normally a problem for Gallinago, but the one trip where we needed to average 5 knots, we were still averaging 7. Each attempt to reef the main sail and the head sail only managed to knock maybe half a knot off our speed. On the plus side, MD was starting to feel better and we were enjoying watching our boat speed clock up some record times.

On the third night (29th June) we passed our first outlying atoll, called Tikei. We kept a good 10 miles clear of the atoll, as we were unsure on the accuracy of the charting software, especially at night. To be extra sure, we switched our Raymarine radar on, and were relieved to be able to make out the return from the atolls.

On the fourth day we furled away as much of the head sail and main sail as we could whilst still maintain enough speed to keep a steady motion through the rough seas and trying to time our arrival at Kauehi for first light. As the evening approached, we had about 30nm to run, and with the radar on, we sailed passed another small outlying atoll, Taiaro. We started to make our approach into Kauehi in the early hours of the morning. As the pass was on the South West corner, there was still a good 20nm to go. IMG_6930By this point Liward, who had been ahead of us for the journey, had reached the entrance and were killing time till dawn by sailing up the western side of the atoll (unfortunately a decision they later regretted as they struggled against the strong current to come back to the pass). As darkness began to fade, we could make out the palm trees on the first atoll, Raraka to the East of Kauehi, and then the scattered motu’s of Kauehi. After four days of sailing, it looked like we had timed our arrival at the pass to within 1 hour of slack water. Pretty good going.

IMG_6927At 6am Liward were the first to enter the pass with no troubles. With a large squall heading our way, we were quick to follow through. With the sails still up, but the engine on, we headed towards to narrow entrance. The deepest channel of the entrance was only one hundred metres wide. Just before the entrance, we had a pilot whale swim just in front of our bow and across our path. He wasn’t braving the entrance! We were relieved to see flat seas in the pass, and proceeded through the entrance. We had half a knot of current against us, and thankfully we were safely through.

Inside our first atoll was incredible. The lagoon was massive, you couldn’t even see the Northern end of the atoll. Where the coral reef broke the surface, small islands (motu’s) are formed which are only a few hundred metres wide and covered in palm trees. You wouldn’t be able to drive all the way around the atoll and in the days where there was little charting information, or heavens forbid no radars or GPS, I’m sure a few boats ran around as they mistook a gap between the motu’s for clear water. Navigating through the lagoon is where the fun really begins. Only one channel had been accurately surveyed into the lagoon, and we had chosen an anchorage to the South East of the atoll past three large coral heads (bombies) and into an uncharted area. As it was only 6am, and with the rain clouds from the squall  the light conditions made it difficult to see anything in the water. Liward were first in convoy, with us very close behind (and I mean close!). We figured that they had a heavier keel than we did, so could dodge the coral heads for us! I was on the helm, whilst MD stood on the boom to elevate his position to help spot the coral in the water. We weaved our way through the 3 charted bombies only seeing one coral head on the surface. Steve on Liward had climbed half way up his mast, thankfully spotted all three. IMG_6945Once in the uncharted area, we separated from the convoy with Liward and found a place to anchor. This was even more nerve wracking as we had switched roles and now I was on the bow spotting the coral. With the light conditions you could only really make out the coral heads once you were within a metre or two, and you couldn’t see anything in the water when you looked towards the sun. We found a patch of sand and dropped anchor in front of a beautiful small motu, with no other boats nearby. Unfortunately when MD dived down on the anchor, he was uncomfortable with the position of the chain near to some large coral heads. In the event that the wind changes direction and we swung around the anchor, it would most likely wrap the chain around the coral and make it extremely difficult to pull up the anchor. So we decided to reset the anchor, but after some much needed brunch (by this point it was no longer breakfast!).

IMG_6947After a tasty ham, egg and fried potatoes, we lifted the anchor and tried to find a clearer spot. The sun was now higher in the sky, making it a bit easier to see what lies beneath. Our search for a clear spot of sand was hopeless, as there was coral everywhere, so we dropped the anchor again. This time I dived down, and found that the chain was even closer to a larger area of coral. We lifted again and dropped the anchor, and in I went. I only got as far as the putting my head in the water, as there was a coral head in line with the depth of our rudder, and only a few feet behind. At this point, we decided to move to the pack of other anchored boats off one of the larger motu’s. It was a shame not to be anchored on our own, but we managed to dropped the anchor in a better position with less coral around. There was also a pot luck going on ashore for Canada Day, so we were keen in get ashore. The sandy beaches from the boat, were actually broken up coral, but the water was amazingly clear. After an hour or so chatting with the other boats on the anchorage, we made our excuses and headed back to the boat to relax with a few episodes of Broadwalk Empire before having a much needed early night.

IMG_6955On route across to the Tuamotus, our water maker finally gave up the ghost after a few hard slams of the boat in the rough seas. With our water tanks probably only a third full, water would soon become critical. The next day, MD took to investigating, and with all the air bled from the system, he managed to get the water maker to run for up to one hour, but the pressure would fluctuate and it would eventually cut out. Deciding to call it a day and contact Jim MacDonald, our very helpful Schenker rep in the UK, there was nothing more we could do as the time difference is now 11 hours behind BST. In the meantime, I scrubbed and bleached all our bilges and food cupboards after finding my worst nightmare in the fridge, a cockroach. They say it is not if but when you have cockroaches on board in the Pacific, but we are always very careful about removing food packaging and washing fruit and veg. Thankfully, we only found one, and whilst it was in the fridge and we had to throw what little food we had left away, it was confined to that one area. Fingers crossed we don’t get any more.  With our first full day in paradise taken up by boat jobs, we showered and joined Liward and a large group of people on board for margaritas and live music, courtesy of Steve.

Wednesday morning we were awoken by howling winds, as it was gusting 30 knots and blowing onshore. A number of boats decided to move anchorages early in the morning, whilst the rest of us decided to brave it out. Come midday though, we were getting breaking waves over the bow and decided that it was no longer safe to stay in the southern anchorage with a lee shore. The visibility was poor though and eyeball navigation would be difficult, so we tried to re-trace our path into the anchorage but in reverse. As we watched Yindee Plus tear out their anchor windlass from the deck (they were caught around coral) we felt very helpless, but waited until they were safely away, and then it was our turn. The anchor initially came up OK, but after about 10m, the windlass came to a grinding halt and as the bow of the boat bounced up and down with the waves, it would pull out chain. Fearing a similar problem to the YindeesIi worked out a pattern of taking in the chain and letting some out to try to ease the strain on the windlass, meanwhile MD circled around the area trying to work out what direction our chain was wrapped. After some patience, and circling in the opposite direction, the chain started to free itself from the coral and i was able to pull in the chain. A lucky escape. Slowly we edged through the uncharted area, with me on the bow, trying to navigate around the coral. We were soon into the charted channel and began to relax. IMG_6975We followed a few other boats into a good anchorage for protection from the North Westerly winds, only to be inundated with pearl farm buoys, with long warp hidden just beneath the water’s surface. I spotted them too late and fearing the lines would get wrapped around our propeller and bust the gearbox, MD quickly slammed on reverse. Whilst we managed to avoid it, our dinghy which was towed behind the boat got wrapped around the buoys. I quickly jumped into the dinghy and freed us from the pearl farms, as we weaved our way though the rest of the farms and into the anchorage.

IMG_6956The following day (Thursday 4th July), the heavens well and truly opened, with torrential rain for the whole day. With our tanks almost empty and our deck spotlessly clean from all the rain, we opened the water filler cap on the deck and with a few strategically placed tea towels to filter any remaining dirt, we let the rain water fill our tanks. After a few hours our tanks were full and we started collecting buckets of water for hand washing. Even the dinghy was half full of water, so we filled our solar shower bags to help with water conservation. As it was a wet and windy day, MD took the opportunity to dismantle the water maker with instructions from Jim to replace all the O rings in the lower unit.  With the unit completely overhauled and flushed through with the cleaning solutions, we tried it again. This time it ran for a little longer than 1 hour, but eventually tripped out with an increase in pressure. Come the afternoon, there started to be a lot of chatter on the VHF about weather conditions changing again and needing to move from the anchorage for risk of a lee shore again. With visibility even worse than the previous day, we were reluctant to move and especially not back down to the southern anchorage again. With all the other boats rushing to move to the Southern anchorage, we were the only boat remaining. Without any weather information ourselves, we took some advice from trusted friends on Tuatara and made the call to move to the anchorage off the village. It was only a mile away but would offer better protection from the South Easterly winds that were due to set back in again. After negotiating our way through more pearl farms, we dropped anchor, dried off and had a nice cup of hot chocolate. It felt like winter in England! To make matters worse, the UK were experiencing a heat wave.

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The rain eased off a bit on Friday, so went went across to Jean and Alan on Tuatara next to us, for a coffee and to give Alan a haircut. My first job in over one year, and I would be paid in beer later that evening (not sure why MD deserved a beer though, for my hard work 🙂 With a glimmer of sunshine, we went back to the boat for a swim. MD free dived down on the chain, and managed to re-arrange the chain clear of any coral ready for our departure. Good practise for him holding his breath whilst swimming down to 15m and still have enough puff to move the chain and come back up. I watched from the surface! The rain came down again, just as we were about to head into the town for an explore. Having been confined to the boat for a few days, we were in need of stretching our legs. In Kauehi City, or should i say ghost town, as it was deserted, we only saw a few children playing in the street. Kauehi City consisted of a small village store, a school and a church.
IMG_6982It was interesting to walk ashore with the width of the atoll only wide enough for a road and a line of house each side. Everywhere you looked there were tall palm trees, the only thing that can grow on the atoll, and holes in the sand you would avoid the hundreds of land crabs scurrying along the sand. We walked across to the other side of the atoll to see how the Pacific Ocean meets the atoll and watched as the waves crashed in. We walked along the volcanic rock and looked to see if there was anything worth scavenging. With the village store shut, our quest to organise a look at the black pearls, had failed, so we went back to the boat.
IMG_7023The mayor of Kauehi is the man to see about buying some black pearls, and his wife owns the village shop, so Saturday morning we went into the village early to try to tee up the black pearls. I communicated in my best French, and with the help of a drawing, indicated that there was a large group of boaters who would like to see their black pearls.We managed to arrange a visit the following day. We went ashore with Jean and Alan on Sunday at 10am, whilst the boats from the Southern anchorage were expected to be picked up. An hour later, we were all still waiting. Eventually we communicated with the Mayor that we were all ready, and agreed that we would come with him in his truck to pick up the others, and then we would all go to see the pearls. It would be a good chance for us to see the atoll, with a 10km drive there and back. We piled into the open truck with his children and with some cardboard for sitting on.

IMG_7032At the end of the road, we turned left. instead of right to the Southern anchorage as we expected, and ended up on his pearl farm. There were piles and piles of discarded oyster shells from the farming. Unfortunately we didn’t get chance to see the actual farming process, as it was just a quick stop to fill up on diesel. We were then back to the village and on our way South. There is just one road around the atoll, with coconut palms on either side. You had to duck otherwise you would take a battering in the open truck bed. IMG_7051About 30 minutes later, the heavens opened again and we were soaking wet. The mayor pulled over outside a house, and asked if we wanted to take shelter there whilst he carried on to the South anchorage. Without hesitating we all piled out of the truck and waited in the house. There was no one home, and even now, I have no idea who’s house we were in. When I say house, it wouldn’t be much of a house in the UK. It was pretty basic to say the least, but had the most amazing views. IMG_7047It was sat right on the edge of the water, over looking a shallow reef and with uninterrupted views along the coastline in both directions. If it hadn’t been raining it would have been even more spectacular than it was. We stayed there with his children for probably about an hour, and saw a black tip shark cruise around the reef right in front of us. On the table in the house,was a jar of black pearls which the children used like marbles. It’s funny to think that people would pay hundreds of dollars for these gems. When the rain stopped we ventured into the water looking for shells, and MD picked up some lovely coloured cone shells only to find out from Jean that they are on the top ten most deadliest creatures! After about an hour, the mayor pulled back up in the truck now loaded with about 20 people from the other boats. We then headed back to the village and onto the Mayors sisters house for lunch. They had laid on a lovely spread of sandwiches and sea bird eggs (local to Kauehi) and drinks, plus fresh coconuts. The sea bird eggs were an acquired fishy taste, and a local delicacy. They gave us bowls of these eggs to go back to the boats with – a generous present, even if most of us were secretly wishing they hadn’t! IMG_7053After lunch, and with the rain falling again, they decided to bring the pearls to the house for us to see. With three piles of pearls on the table, it was carnage as we all hustled to get the best pearls. The reason why they are technically illegal was because they are the reject pearls that are not sent onto Tahiti for the world to buy. Looking at the pearls, they were not your classic round unblemished pearl, but after a bit of bargaining at $1 a pearl we couldn’t complain. So we both choose 20 each. We also took away a couple of coconuts that they had given to us, to mix with our rums later that night. It was a great day, and amazing local experience. The people of Kauehi were so warm and friendly, and it was a great honour to be invited into their homes. Back to the boat,  we packed up the dinghy ready for our departure to Fakarava the next day.

After one week in Kauehi, we decided to sail to the next atoll, Fakarava 30 miles away. Again we needed to time our entrance into the North pass at Fakarava for slack water, but to make things more complicated we had to leave Kauehi at Slack water which was at 4am in the morning. Not wanting to leave in the dark, we decided to leave at first light and risk the outgoing tidal current. We arrived at the pass at Kauehi at 8am, slap bang at the mid point between slack water, and on the strongest tidal stream. You could see more standing waves from a distance, than when we arrived, but we decided to go for it. As we got nearer, so did the standing waves as they looked pretty wild. By this point we were committed as the current increased from 5 knots to 9 knots in seconds. With the main out, and the engine workig hard we spotted the channel with least swell and made a go for it. It was horrible, like a washingt machine, that you had absolutely no control over. You could see the potential to land on the reef or be sucked under the waves, if you were not careful. Luckily we were only in it for a few minutes as went through the channel and were back in deep water. Outside the pass, the swell was still large and uncomfortable, as the depths changed from 10m to over 100m in an instance. Heading to Fakarava, we were hit by squall after squall, with heavy rain and gusts of 30 knots. We were making good speeds, so put away the main sail to time the arrival at the pass for slack water. As we approached the North corner of the atoll and after the tenth squall, we started talking about carrying onto Tahiti. It wasn’t much fun, and we didn’t relish another week in an atoll with heavy rain. We contacted Tuatara, who were just behind us and would have the latest weather forecast, and with more rain expected over the Tuamotus for at least another few days, and with sunshine predicted in Tahiti, we made the decision to stag on 300nm. It was disappointing not to experience the diving in the Tuamotus and to see a proper pearl farm in action, but with MDs birthday fast approaching it was a good call. With the decision made, we eased out the main sail again and we were off. It is funny to think that we used to plan for days and weeks journeys of 300nm, we now just do it off the hoof!

Once past Fakarava, we had a few hours of confused seas and winds, as it funnelled though the channels, but once in open ocean again, we were flying and making good progress. We had continued squalls for the first night, but come day 2, the seas flattened out and with a constant 15 knots, it was a lovely day and night sail through to Tahiti. As the sun came up, we could see the mountainous landfall once more, and Papeete was in our sights.

The Marquesas

Fatu Hiva

IMG_6631Waking up on Tuesday 11th June to the magnificent scenery of Fatu Hiva made the 25 days at sea and the hangovers after 2 bottles of rum on board Almacantar worth it! We did not fully appreciate where we had dropped anchor the night before, as our arrival was approaching dark. In the morning, it was just incredible. We have both never seen anything like this island before. The vertical mountains either side of the anchorage and the erosion of the  mountains in the valley ahead of us was spectacular. Jurassic park sprang to mind. The island is very green and lush, as there is an almost constant cloud above the hill tops as the air is forced to suddenly cool after three thousand miles of open ocean.

IMG_3841We spent most of our first day in French Polynesia chilling on the boat and just taking in the views around us. Later in the day, we launched the dinghy and armed with two rods and our ‘tuna hunter’ lures we took off for a trip around the bay to find some dinner. Within about ten minutes we were reeling in a small tuna. The lure never seems to fail. We called it a day at three tuna, after throwing a long garfish like fish back in the sea, and invited Almacantar over for a BBQ on board Gallinago. Claire and Steve were still recovering from the night before, so it was a fish each for us and Emma. They cooked up nicely on the BBQ with some rice and vin rouge went down a treat.

The following day (Wednesday)  we were invited to a beach BBQ hosted by a local family. When I say invited,  I mean for the privilege of €25 per person. We pitched up at midday with about 15-20 other people from the anchorage, including some of the other boats who took part in the Southern Cross Net – it was good to exchange stories of the crossing. There was a large BBQ going, packed full of chicken and a good spread of local foods: cooked shrimps, shrimps in coconut sauce (poisson crux), chicken in a really tasty spicy coconut sauce, tuna cooked in lime juice, rice, breadfruit done on the BBQ, homemade barbecue sauce, pamplemouse, aka grapefruit, and a banana tart with cream. It was very tasty and good to try the local food. Whilst ashore we took the opportunity to explore the town. Unfortunately, that didn’t take long, as it was just a church, a school, post office and a small village shop. We wandered around the houses, made out of corrugated iron and admired their lovely gardens with so many fruit trees growing a range of pamplemouse, limes, breadfruit, mangos, papaya, soursop to name but a few. We walked out of the village and followed the river to try and find the waterfall, but we called it a day after about an hour. The waterfall would have to wait until tomorrow, it was a good initial explore of the island.


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Feeling refreshed after a good nights sleep and no alcohol, we were up early for a trek up the mountains. As there was little chance of getting lunch out, we took a packed lunch of half a loaf of freshly baked bread (courtesy of MD), a pack of squeezy jalapeño cheese, and two oranges.  We set off in search of the waterfall with the help of a few friendly locals pointing the way. The village is very friendly with everyone shouting out bonjour as you walk along the road. We followed the road and the river, passing locals picking the fruit ready to be sent to their families in Tahiti on the supply ship (due to the island on Friday). Eventually we reached a track passing through someone’s house, as we walked along the path, 10 dogs started barking at us. Fatu Hiva was inundated with dogs, which for me being slightly scared of dogs wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience. The path to the waterfall became more of a trek through the forest, with plenty of No See Ums and Mosquitos eating us alive (better than the cannibals of the Marquesas I suppose). The way was cleverly marked with towers of rocks, that looked like something out of the Blair Witch project. Eventually we saw the waterfall through the trees – wow it was definitely what you would describe as a waterfall, unlike the previous ones we had seen in the Caribbean. The water was falling down a sheer vertical drop, of at least 100 metres, into a small but deep pool at the bottom. After the long hot walk we immediately stripped off and were into the water. It was absolutely freezing, but we soon acclimatised and it felt very refreshing to be underneath the falling water. We dried off whilst having our lunch, alone in this idyllic spot.

IMG_6614Walking back to the main road, we decided that we should continue our hike up the mountain to see the cross at the top, which we could see from the anchorage. It was steep and I suddenly felt very unfit after being on a boat for the previous 25 days, with our only exercise being a daily walk of 80 feet around the boat. With regular stops taking in the views (and getting my breath back) we climbed to the top in about an hour and a half. It was definitely worth it, taking in the incredible scenery engulfing us. We finished the bread and squeezey cheese at the top before heading back down. It was definitely much quicker, if a little hard on the knees, MD tried walked down the hill backwards (reminiscent of his childhood, walking all the way into Peterborough with his Nan backwards!) until we stumbled across our friends Claire and Steve – much to his embarrassment.

Our long walk was a good start to the day, and when we returned to the boat, we got straight in the water to finish scrubbing the hull to get rid of the goose barnacles and the thick layer of green above the water line. Having worked up an appetite, we headed out of the bay in the dinghy to catch some more dinner. Our favourite corner of the bay proved to be another winner as we pulled out two good sized tunas. Seeing Emma, Claire and Steve return from their respective treks, we invited them on board for a rum and orange sundowners, which later turned into tuna curry and a little more Rum.

IMG_3848We had arranged for an early morning snorkel and spear fishing trip on Friday morning, with Almacantar and Juan from Aldo. Claire and I spent most of the morning chilling and catching some lazy rays in the dinghy. The boys, loaded with spear guns and some ‘rules’ on what to do if they speared a fish so they didn’t become dinner for the prevalent sharks in the Pacific, entered the water.The first two locations on the North side of the bay were fairly uninteresting, other than the white tip shark swimming along the sea bed. After about an hour or so, we switched to the opposite side of the bay (our favourite spot for catching tuna). The water was so clear, and the beautiful underwater wall of the mountains was fascinating to snorkel along with so many bright coloured fish and more sharks lurking in the depths below. No tuna though, so we want back to the boats with no dinner, but we had a fun few hours in the water.

After a spot of lunch on Almacantar, we went ashore for the festivities from the supply ship which lands on the island every three weeks. There were craft stalls, music and dancing and the local village store was well provisioned. We bought a few essentials (sausages, butter, potatoes and pringles) for twenty dollars. We also tried our luck at trading with the locals for fruit from their gardens. The currency for these trades was rum, wine and fishing gear, but unfortunately we didn’t have enough of these items to spare! If only we had stocked up more on the Caribbean rum and Panamanian cheap wine. Luckily we found a nice lady and her husband (who had also put on the beach BBQ previously), who were happy to accept a small travel size bottle of Christian Dior perfume, an old nail varnish that I had used for my sisters wedding two years earlier,plus a para vane for fishing that we had picked up from Shelter Bay for free. In exchange we got a stalk of at least 50 green bananas, a bag of limes, pamplemouse, papaya and soursop. Not bad at all, and should keep us going.

Tahuata

After 4 days in Fatu Hiva, we were ready to move on up the islands. it was 47nm to the next island Tahuata. We lifted the anchor and set off at 0730 to have plenty of time to arrive at the anchorage before dark. Although the winds were fairly light, about 10-13knots, the wind was on the beam, so we moved along nicely and made some good speeds.

As usual we had the fishing line deployed to catch some dinner, and whilst we had a couple of bites, nothing was being hooked. It was a new lure and hooks, that didn’t have much success coming across to the Marquesas, so we decided to swap to our tuna hunter that was so successful in Fatu Hva. Within 5 minutes, a fish had taken the line although it managed to work its way loose whilst beginning reeled in.

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After an hour and as we were coming through the channel between Tahuata and Hiva Oa, the line started to pay out again and kept going despite the clutch being put on. As MD started to reel it in, he could tell that it was a big fish. As the fish was reeled into the boat, we saw that it was a large and fat yellow fin tuna. The biggest fish we had hooked and it looked absolutely delicious. Unfortunately as the tuna hunter only had small hooks on it, as we tried to haul it onto the boat, the fish jumped free of the hooks and escaped. Gutted (although not literally for the fish!). We put the line out again hoping that there would be more, and we soon had another bite. This time it was clear it was just a small tuna, but it would still make a tasty dinner that evening.

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We beat Almacantar to the anchorage, although we left 3 hours ahead of them, we were only in an hour before them. Oh to have a bigger, faster boat. We joined them for an early sundowner, before cooking up the tuna Chinese style.

Tahuata was not as impressive as Fatu Hiva in terms of landscape. It did though have beautiful sandy beaches and amazing sea life all around the boat. We spent Sunday doing a few jobs around the boat (including filtering the now ready banana wine, which had been brewing for the past three weeks), before heading out in the dinghy to snorkel and find the manta rays which frequent the anchorage. The snorkelling was fairly average on the outskirts of the bay and we were disappointed not to see the mantas.

On coming back to the boat, we dived into the water as there were actually more fish around our boat. Then suddenly MD called out to me that the Manta’s were here. We were both in the water, 10 metres from the boat, with Manta Rays circling around us. It was absolutely awesome, even better than in the Galapagos as the water visibility was much better – we had a much clearer view.  Then MD spotted a shark (probably just a black tip) but I wasn’t in the water for too much longer at that point.  That evening we were invited for a drink onboard Zenna, another Westerly from the UK, although the large 49ft Ocean.

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Monday morning, I was awoken by MD shouting to Claire nearby that there were more Mantas in the water between the two boats and then dolphins. At this point I thought I should get up and see for myself. It was only 6am, I’m sure the other boats in the anchorage wanted to know. Claire was by herself on the boat, as Steve and Emma hadn’t returned from a night on the Norwegian Cat, Blue Marble. With the binos, we could see that the party had moved to the beach. MD being a knight in shining armour, offered to give Claire a lift in our dinghy to the beach. So at 0730, we were greeted on the beach by a large bottle of rum and some very drunk friends. MD and Claire were soon playing catch up, but I for once in my life, couldn’t face it. It was a messy affair and by 10.30 (am this is), I was helping everyone onto the dinghy (and back into the dinghy after they repeatedly fell out) for lifts back to their respective boats. I spent the afternoon do some hand washing and scrub the remainder of the hull. Thankfully it was only once I had finished in the water, that I spotted my very own shark in the water. It looked like a reef shark and was fairly small, so I watched for a while before getting out. Later that afternoon, Mark and Marion from Zenna popped by to have a look at our boat. MD managed to persuade them to try our banana wine. I am not sure it was hugely that popular, although we were pleasantly surprised.

Hiva Oa

IMG_6743Tuesday morning we decided to take a short hop back up the channel to Hiva Oa. This was also also a good stop to stock up on some local currency (Pacific Franc) and fresh supplies. We were also in need of some Internet access – for the first time in over 1 month. We motored the 10 miles, as the wind was blowing fairly strong on the nose and to also make some water. We anchored behind the breakwater, as the anchorage is exposed to the trade winds. It was also our first time at deploying the stern anchor, so that we wouldn’t swing in the small anchorage. Hiva Oa wasn’t as picturesque as the other two islands, with the water a rather muddy colour and reputedly inhabited by Tiger Sharks.

We took the dinghy ashore, treated ourselves to a can of cold coke zero, and then managed to catch a lift into the town from a friendly local. It was a good job, as we hadn’t realised it was a good 5km walk up the hills. The clearance in process was very straightforward and didn’t cost a penny, which was a pleasant change after Panama and Galapagos. We had a walk around the town, and picked up some fresh baguettes, Camembert, eggs, bacon, and sausages. With no obvious bars or restaurants in the town, we decided to head back to the boat for a bottle of cold white wine, a rare treat, and a tasty dinner.  Another friendly local stopped and gave us a lift back to the anchorage.

The following day, we went for another walk around the town, stocked up on more fresh supplies and this time managed to find a bar/restaurant that was open. We had our first taste of the local beer, Hinano, which was pretty good although not cheap at 1100 Francs or about $11. It was worth it – just. The people of Marquesas are donned with amazing body tattoos, men and women. If we had more time in Hiva Oa, I would have been tempted to get one of the local tribal tattoos.

We were invited over to Almacantar that night for a farewell dinner. After 2 months making great friends with Steve, Claire and Emma, our plans would start to diverge, as they planned to spend the cyclone season in Tahiti and we needed to press on to make Australia. Steve cooked up a fantastic Steak with Roquefort sauce, followed by pistachio ice cream.

IMG_6755Thursday morning, we did some final boat preparations, before lifting the two anchors at midday. We waved goodbye to Almacantar and set sail on the 100nm trip to the Northern Islands. We planned for an overnight passage to arrive in Nuku Hiva the following day. With the fishing rod deployed, MD was soon fighting with the large fish that had taken a bite. Hoping for another yellow fin tuna, it took the best part of 30 minutes to reel it in. It wasn’t a tuna, but a very large barracuda. A first. With the sharp teeth waiting to bite, we managed to gaff the barracuda to bring it on board and salvage the lure. With barracuda being prime fish for ciguatera, we decided not to take the risk by eating it. It was the barracudas lucky day, as he got thrown back into the water.  We were soon out of the lee of the islands, and the winds picked up to 10-15 knots, which made a pleasant and swift overnighter.

Nuku Hiva

IMG_6838We made landfall as the sun came up, and motored the final miles into the main port, Taihoe Bay. The steep sided mountains around the bay were again an impressive back drop, as we approached the anchorage. We caught sight of Sirius, one of the family boats from the Southern Cross net, and shouted across a few hello’s as we prepared to drop anchor.  With the boat squared away,  we took the dinghy to have a look around the town. It was good to see an Internet cafe on our doorstep! The town was well kept with a few modern looking buildings along the waterfront. There were also a couple of supermarkets, with one actually looking like a proper supermarket with rows and rows of neatly ordered products. On the way back to the boat, we called into Sirius for a cup of tea and a catch up.  They told us that we had arrived on the island at a good time, as they were preparing for a weekend music festival due to start that night.

The Music festival was a good gathering for the boats in the anchorage. We met up with Sirius and Aldo, from Fatu Hiva, as well as meeting many more new people. The festival was local music and dancing, and had a great big BBQ. No beer though, so MD went off to buy a 6pack – a bargain at $19. Having only had 4 hours sleep each the night before, we called it a day early and went back to the boat for dinner and bed.

We went along to a party on a trimaran from Argentina on Saturday night. Juan from Aldo had caught a large yellow fin tuna back in Fatu Hiva with the locals, and invited a large group of people to share the remainder. It was another good evening meeting more new people, of similar ages. The banana wine was a hit and everybody wanted to know the recipe.

Saturday and Sunday were fairly lazy days, catching up on internet and a few little jobs.  Monday was our last day in the town, before heading to nearby Daniels Bay and then onto the Tuamotus. We spent the morning stocking up on essentials and getting our final internet fix. We treated ourselves to a local Goat dish lunch, which was tasty at the time, but was not so good when it came back up later that night as I was struck down with a sickness bug for two days.

IMG_6855Luckily, we had managed to move onto Daniels Bay before I was feeling too ill. The entrance to Daniels Bay required balls of steel, as you motored towards the steep mountain sides and rocks awash. Only as we came within a few hundred metres, did the entrance open up and the pass into the small sheltered bay became clear. We dropped anchor, and MD went across to the nearby boat, Skye, whilst I went to bed.

Our planned date for leaving for the Tuamotus, Tuesday 24th, was now on hold as I spent much of the next 2 days in bed and MD busied himself with jobs and trips around the bay in the dinghy.

Late in the afternoon on Wednesday, I was finally starting to feel better, so we went for a walk along the beach for some fresh air and later had a BBQ and fire on the beach with Sirius, prior to our re-scheduled departure the next morning.

Galapagos to Marquesas

00Day 1 -16th May

The dinghy was on deck, the bananas tied on, we were well stocked and ready to go. 2950 miles to the Marquesas. The plan was to head southwest to 5 degrees south, 110 West then head West to 124 degrees for about 900 miles and then straight for Fatu Hiva. The rough route would maximise on the best winds and the ocean currents.

We lifted the anchor, sounded the fog horn (a cheerio to all in the anchorage) and we navigated our way out to sea. After a mile we spotted our first Manta Ray, and then another and another. They were every where. It was amazing sailing past these graceful creatures, some of which were over 5 meters wide. We continued to pass many Rays until we were away from Isabella. We also saw a couple of Turtles and Sea Lions.

The real highlight was our first whale sighting. About half a mile away, C spotted an almighty splash in front of the bow, and called me up on deck. About 5 minutes later, there was another one. On the third splash, we got an incredible view of the head and underside of a Humpback as it broached clear out of the water. As the South West corner of Isabella disappeared into the distance, we saw about 5 plumes of spray rising from the surface. They must have been a good 20 metres in the air and could be seen well into the distance. We watched for about 15 minutes as school of whales gradually made their way along the South of the island and out of sight.

The initial sail had been, well a motor as there was no wind. In all we motored for 5 hours. This enabled us, not only to take in the abundance of wild life but also to make some water, recharge the batteries and cool the fridge. The winds did though kick in and we were sailing into our first evening with the Galagagos disappearing over the horizon.

Day 2 – 17th

The first 2 nights the winds were light and at times our progress was painfully slow. The swell with the light winds meant that the sails flapped as we tried to make progress. We knew that there was a band of stronger wind about 300nm further South West so it was just a matter of making it there. We sailed with the wind over the beam maximising boat speed for the limited wind speed. Later the second day we were sailing along nicely.

01That evening I pointed the flash light into the sea to see the orange eyes of squid all around looking back at me. I had prepared the casting rod with a spiked lure that James, my brother in law, had said would be good for squid. Within a few minutes, the line went heavy, a different feeling from hooking a fish. As I reeled in the line I wasn’t sure if I had hooked some seaweed. Bringing the light to bear on the end of the line, I was pleased to see a moderate sized squid about 6″ long – our first caught squid. Minutes later a second squid was in the bucket this time 8″. Happy with our catch we called it a night and despite eating into my off watch sleeping time, the squids needed preparing – a somewhat messy affair. Ink and squid everywhere. I have subsequently read up on the easy way to clean them.

Day 3 – 18th

With a good 15 kts of wind, our boat speed increased to 4.5 kts. We also had a couple of kts of current with us, so we were actually making 6 kts over the ground. This was helping our daily runs to slowly increase, with our maximum at 160nm. We were hoping for an extra knot of current by the time we hit 5 degrees South.

The days seem to be mainly overcast and the evenings cool, jumpers and jackets definitely required. We had been expecting long swells and a comfortable sail, but the seas were fairly rolly with waves and swell hitting the boat just aft the beam.

The 2 pieces of chicken and 4 pork chops were gone….the squid were fried and made a great salad. The fishing line would be out tomorrow for dinner!

Day 4 – 19th

Picking up the Southern Cross SSB Radio Net has become harder and harder. This is a HF radio net for about 10 boats that are crossing to the Marquesas the same time as us. We will keep tuning in as the signal may improve.

Well so far we have not seen a whole lot of wildlife out to sea. There are of cause flying fish aplenty, and these, as in the Atlantic are finding their way onto our deck. Part of the daily routine is to wander round the deck throwing the fish back into the sea. We now also have squid that are projecting themselves onto our decks, these little, generally semi- dried creatures are also thrown back to the sea.

Day 5 – 20th

Still moving well, although the wind started to back to an Easterly direction, which means we were not quite making our desired track. The rod was out most of the day and late afternoon a large Mahi Mahi took the lure. It put up a fair fight, jumping through the air on a number of occasions, despite this it was reeled into the boat – well almost – inches from. It was a good 80cm long and was a magnificent array of green and yellow hues. Just as it was being lifted over the guardrails it managed to slip the hook and was off. Dinner was gone, so we resorted to pasta!

Day 6 – 21st

The weather has improved during the day, so we have been relaxing in the sun topping up our tans and reading. It almost feels like a holiday! I am now onto my third book and am swatting up on the French. Come the evening though, it is back out with the jumpers and jackets.

Day 7 – 22nd

The wind backed further in the night, which meant we were heading 220 degrees as opposed to the required 260. We changed sail configuration to goose winged and were back on track, albeit not moving as fast. With the drop in speed the sails flapped and the rigging banged, so we reverted to gybing the headsail back on a broad reach. So much quieter and faster.

The 200 plus bananas were fast ripening, so C made some banana cakes and banana jam- we will see how it tastes in a few weeks. We have trawled through all the cookery books we have on board to come up with new ways to use up the bananas. Banana wine, now there is an interesting idea…

02I have been mastering the art of my bread making, as our fresh supplies are starting to run thin.

The highlight today was actually landing the Mahi Mahi that took our lure. It was a much smaller fish than the one that got away, only about 40cm, but it was just the right size for a meal for 2. The fish was filleted and made into a rather taste madras curry.

Day 8 – 23rd

The Net that we listen to, or at least have been trying to, changed frequency and the reception is much better. We managed to pick up most of the other 10 boats that were reporting their positions. It is always good to know what the weather is like ahead of you and how people are getting on.

Almacantar has had a delayed start from the Galapagos due to a faulty high pressure fuel pump. Hopefully they will have set of today. If so they will no doubt catch us at some point-they are 55ft and a faster boat.

As evening approached we were doing a good 6 knots over the ground. We are aiming to stay at about 5 degrees South, going West for the next several hundred miles. This is to maximise on the reported 2 kts of current.

Day 9 – 24th

03We recorded our lowest mileage today – 101 miles. The slow going and flapping sails as we get rolled by the waves is getting very boring. On the plus side the bananas which had been chopped up and left in a 8 litre plastic bottle have started fermenting with their natural sugars. We added water, sugar, fruit juice and yeast to the container and gave it all a good shake. We now just have to wait 18-21 days and we should have banana wine. Just right for landfall. C also made some more banana cakes and a banana crumble today. Thankfully we only have one banana left.

We had no luck on the fishing front today, though we did get a few squids bites during the night.04 I managed to pull one in for lunch tomorrow. The nights are starting to warm up slightly now, though jackets are still needed.

Day 10 – 25th.

Our average daily run so far has been 130 nm. We had a good start with some high milage, but the last 3 days we have been less and less. We had another large Mahi Mahi slip the hook at the final moment….luckily we had already had dinner.

Day 11 – 26th

A steady days sail today averaging about 4.5 kts. We should reach our half way mark at some point this evening. As the darkness approached, the wind increased and we were doing a good 5 plus kts. Hopefully the wind is here to stay.

Day 12 – 27th

05Nothing much of interest today, just slowly sailing on. The wine though is fermenting well and our dinner of banana crumble and cream went down a treat!

Day 13 – 28th

Only 7 kts of wind today so it was another slow day. The seas have reduced right down so at least it was a smooth ride. With our impeller for the boat speed no longer working, we calculated our boat speed, by throwing paper into the sea and timing how long it took to travel from the bow to the stern, then did some simple maths. We were sailing at a speed of 2.3nm. As our speed over the ground was 3.8kts, that meant we had a current of 1.5 kts with us. Luckily we have the current or it would be very slower. Listening to the net, a lot of the other boats ahead of us have started to motor with no wind or current. Our aim will be to keep on sailing, or drifting with the current no matter what.

Chilly wraps for lunch and tuna pasta Neapolitan for dinner…tasty.

Day 14 – 29th

07Well the wind has been very light today, between 7 and 9 kts, so it was up with the cruising shoot. It ended up being one of the best days sailing so far. The sea was flat and we were gliding along under the cruising shoot alone. We were averaging between 4.5 and 5 kts for most of the day. We made the call to drop the shoot at 1800 as the winds are expected to pick up early tomorrow. Swapping sails in the dark is best avoided if we can. It was a well timed sail change, as the winds started to gust to 15 kts.

No fish were caught although I saw some good size dorado jumping through the air past the front of the boat. More fishing tomorrow. We made some bread this evening, at the same time as cooking the Fray Bentos pie. Toast for breakfast tomorrow – a rare treat now.

The nights are warming up, and the sea temperature is up from 31 to 33 degrees from when we started. We are both looking forward to some swimming in warm water in the Marquesas.

Day 15 – 30th

The winds have picked up and were flying along at between 5 and 7 knots. The seas built a bit with the wind, and had between 3 and 5 meters swells. Running down wind they rolled the boat a bit but, as usual, the Hydrovane is performing admirably.

The yachts about 400 miles further West than us were still suffering with a lack of wind. Maunie reported that they had been motoring for 80 hours.

Corn beef hash curry for dinner tonight. Not too bad. We didn’t put the rod out today, as with the speed we are traveling, it would have been just our luck to catch a whopper, and we would have had an almighty effort to reel it in.

We reached 120 degrees West over night, so set the boat time back an hour. We are now GMT-8hrs. We are changing our boat time every 15 degrees of latitude, mainly so we are not having dinner midway through the night 🙂

Day 16 – 31st

We have seen no other signs of life, other than one ship that went past us on day 10. The day was fairly uneventful, the night however had its moments. The wind was generally between 12-15 kts and we were running under full Main and making reasonable progress. Come the night, I had just gone off watch and with almost no warning, it started raining and the wind speeds shot up to 31 knots. A squall had caught up with us. We kept the boat on track, with some impressive speeds, but as the winds abated we stuck in a reef incase there were any other squalls looking to sneak up on us. The night was so black that there was no chance of spotting them ahead of time. C changed her clothes after her drenching and continued her watch, whilst I retired to a comfy bed for a good nights sleep….or was it to the saloon berth, to be chucked around for a few hours before coming back on watch 🙂

Day 17 – 1 June.

It was a rolly start to the day. The seas were between 3 and 5 meters and the wind speed 18- 20 kts. We made good progress.

It has been exactly a year to the day since we started our journey. We celebrated with some Pringles – wild I know 🙂 we also calculated that we are, to the degree, exactly a third of the way around the world.

Day 18 – 2 June

The wind has died, but the waves have increased. You guessed it, the flapping of the sails started. All in all a slow and frustrating day which went on into the night. At about 0100, a series os squalls caught up with us, the rain started and pleasingly the wind picked up…..at last. 0400 hrs – I made a couple of cups of tea and C and I had a couple of slices of the large loaf that we had baked that day. We monitored our progress on the electronics bellow deck whilst the latest rain shower went through, then it was off watch and bed for me. With the boat moving relatively smoothly and the sails not flapping I had a very good 3 hours sleep.

Day 19 – 3 June

We have come to the conclusion that we could do with making the boat move a little faster to increase the number of miles we knock out per day. Presently we have a fixed prop which will be causing quite a lot of drag. If we replace this with a folding prop we should be able to make an additional 0.5kts… Or 12 nm in 24 hours. One for Australia maybe.

06Whilst on watch I noticed that the u bracket on the boom where the Main sheet is attached had sheared one of its legs. The second leg had started to bend under the strain so it was only a matter of time till the Mainsheet would have parted company with the boom, and the boom would have gone flying forward into the rigging.

Luckily we spotted it in time. We hauled in the Main and managed to use some webbing tape around the boom that the Mainsheet could be attached to. We are now not able to unfurl the whole Mainsail but the work around seems to be holding OK. We will have to find a friendly welder when we get to the Marquesas or Tahiti.

Day 20 – 4 June

Still sailing 🙂

Day 21 – 5 June

The wind has picked up today and we have been making about 6 kts. We still have 450nm to go so we have another 4-5 Days at sea. We are both getting keen to make landfall now.

Day 22 – 6 June

Determined to catch a fish we were trawling two lines out, one either side of the boat. Late morning we heard the rod paying out. We had a Mahi Mahi on the line, as we reeled in, the fish jumped a meter clear of the water. As I was reeling in, I noticed we also had a fish on the hand line. Just as I was getting the fish to the boat it managed to slip the hook. Without stopping it was over to the other side of the boat and hauling in the line hand over hand. This fish was not quite so lucky and within seconds it was aboard and dispatched. Again it was a good size Mahi Mahi.

The fish was filleted and skinned and used in a very tasty Green Thai Curry.

Later that night whilst C was on watch she saw a meteorite. It must have been large as she saw it burning up all the way to the earth with what looked like a bright green centre and trailing red flames.

Day 23 – 7 June

Less than 300 miles to go now. We are hoping that we will be able to make landfall without having to motor. Fingers crossed the wind holds. We need to maintain at least a 100 miles a day (even with the light winds) to ensure we arrive at Fatu Hiva in day light. Not technically a port of entry, but it is the most windward island. If we do not go in there first we probably wouldn’t beat back to visit the island, so we will pop in for a night or so.

The nights are much warmer now and the sky clear. We can easily make out the Southern Cross and the constellations of the Southern sky.

Day 24 – 8 June

Good winds today so we managed 120 nm.

Day 25 – 9 June

12The winds died, so we only had about 5-6 kts of wind. We put the Cruising Shoot up and were making about 3.5 kts. It was a slow day but we managed to keep the boat moving without motoring. At 1600 local we hit the 100 miles to go marker. As long as we average 4 nm per hour we will make it into Fatu Hiva in daylight.

We have had a sort through our stuff to see what we can trade with the locals. We have come up with a varied selection of bags, small shampoos, pens, paper and a host of other things – we will see how we do.

Day 26 – 10 June

0100 hrs and we spotted a light coming up behind us. An hour later and we had a call over the radio from Almacantar. They had caught us up. After 25 days they were the only other vessel that was in range to hail us. It was good to have a chat with them, catch up, and arrange a beer for that evening. An hour later and they were past and ahead of us – 60 miles till our final way point.

We were averaging about 4 kts so we would be sailing for most of the day. Then the wind started to drop, with it our boat speed. C had been off shift for an hour and was sound asleep. Did I take the hit on slow boat speed or wake C so we could get the Cruising Shoot up…..easy choice….anyway, 30 minutes later and we were back up to speed with the Cruising Shoot flying magnificently in the early morning sun.

We had a coffee, listened to the net and noted the reports of sharks circling boats in the anchorage we are going to. We then started to square the boat away so we didn’t have too much to do once we arrive. 13The bottom of the boat is definitely going to need a scrub as we have plenty of Goose Barnacles that have attached themselves, and it looks like we have a couple of lettuces growing on the back of the Hydrovane – I think it must be C’s turn to scrub the bottom this time – don’t worry Tony, I will keep a good watch for sharks from deck 😉

At 1100 hrs we started to motor sailing. 10The wind had dropped further and we wanted to make landfall in the light. Fatu Hiva came into sight about 25 miles away, bairly noticeable shimmering in the haze. As we got closer we could clearly see the towering rock raising out of the sea covered by lush vegetation. About a mile from the island, everything on the boat was done, we had filled our water tanks with about 150 litres of water, the fridge was cold again and we were showered. C was on the helm and I was below when I heard a shriek from on deck, rushing topside I was confronted by a large Orca a metre from the boat. There were 3 in total. One dived under the boat, resurfacing behind us. A great welcome to the Island.

17We came into the anchorage as the sun was going down, dropping the anchor in the last remaining rays of light. The scenery was spectacular, which we only fully appreciated in the light of the following morning.

Minutes after shutting the engine down Steve arrived and the evening was spent aboard Almacanter celebrating our successful passages.

1425 days and 3048 miles, a slow but steady trip with no major issues. We had motored a total of 10 hours. 5 leaving the Galapagos and 5 arriving at Fatu Hiva. It is great to be in the Marquesas.

Special thanks to our shore support for Met and Comms relay!

The Galapagos Islands

We arrived on Isla Isabella, the furthest west of the islands in the archipelago, on Friday 3rd May. We arrived in Puerto Villamil at 9am, following a slow sail between the islands over night to make the approach in day light. The anchorage is on the South of the island, and is surrounded by a large reef to provide some protection from the South Westerly swell. We dropped anchor near to our friends on Almacantar, with about 10 other boats.

0708The local agent for the island was straight on the VHF summoning the skipper ( MD) to meet him on the dock. In the Galapagos all boats that enter must use an agent, we were hoping that this was not the case, but alas a water taxi was arranged and MD went ashore. Due to the sensitive ecology and wildlife within the area, boats are not allowed to cruise around the islands and there are specific ports of entry on the three main islands. Due to our time constraints and also the cost, we had decided to visit a single port. We chose Isabella as although it is the largest of the islands, it was reported to be less touristy and more relaxed compared to Santa Cruz and San Cristobal. There were also some additional features on this island, that couldn’t be found on the others, for instance the Galapagos Penguins, Flamingos and an active volcano. The Autografo cruising permit would have allowed us to visit up to 5 other ports of entry, but it was twice the price and needed to be arranged 2 months ahead of arrival.

The town had a great feel to it, hardly any people, friendly locals, no real sign that tourism had taken over. The roads are just sand, and the beaches were beautiful with golden sand, crystal clear waters and a bit of surf breaking on the shores. There is a Main Street and a square in the shape of a v, with a few restaurants, tour companies, a couple of shops and a few market stalls at the tip. The town felt very safe to wander around – a vast difference from Panama, our previous stop.

13We had to wait whilst our agent sorted the paperwork with the port captain. As we were ‘forced’ to sit at a little beach bar, we had a few cold beers taking in the amazing views. With the fees handed over, and our clearance in complete, we were free to enjoy the Galapagos for up to 21 days. We headed along to another beach bar to meet up with a few yachts we had chatted to on our arrival at Villamil. It was our first sightings of Iguanas – the whole wall was covered with the black creatures. We picked up some good information from Liesbet and Mark on Irie, and they later showed us around the town before we all went for dinner. We are loving the cheap food here, for $5 you get soup, chicken with rice, salad and beans and a glass of juice. It’s become our staple food out here, as well as the empanadas and fried potato balls stuffed with meat. Its cheaper than the supermarkets and it saves our stocks for further passages – that’s our excuse and we are sticking to it.
00In the Galapagos, you can only explore the island with the National Park guides so the following day, Saturday 4th, we went our our first tour of the Los Tunellos. We were picked up from the boat, where we went at high speed across the bay. Even MD was impressed by the boat ride. We came to an abrupt halt half way across the bay, where the guide started to point out the huge manta rays in the water and telling us to get in the water quickly. With fins and snorkel prepared, we rolled off the boat into the water backwards and snorkelled to the rays. It was an amazing experience seeing these huge rays up close. Apparently they can grow up to 6m, but these were only about 2-3m – still an impressive size. They were very graceful in the water.

02050406Back on the boat, we continued our boat ride, dodging more manta rays and turtles. It sat a little uneasy with us, as I’m sure at the speed the boat was travelling, it must cause some serious injuries to the sea life. We pulled up close to a small rock off the coast, to see the indigenous Galapagos Boobys – birds to you and me. There are two types the ‘mask’ boobys and the blue foot boobys, they were really quite cute. On the rock there were also a few sea lions basking in the sunshine. After an opportunity for taking some photographs, we carried on through the surf and into an amazing series of lava tunnels that were formed from an eruption of the active volcano one thousand years ago. The driver of the boat must be well practised, as he negotiated his way through the tight tunnels and shallow waters. In the tunnels, we saw more bird life up close, and our first sighting of the penguins. The boats pulled up further inshore, and we took a walk around the lava tunnels. The guide gave a good description of the topography of the area. We also tried some cactus fruit – it was similar to kiwi fruit and very tasty. We went for a snorkel within the tunnels. The water was freezing, so we didn’t stay in for too long. Next stop on the boat, was for a snorkel in the reefs to see the white tip sharks. We found them, and also a stingray, hiding in some caves. There was also a giant turtle swimming around. It was by far the best tour we have done in the Galapagos.

We went out for dinner that evening with Steve, Claire and Emma on Almacantar, which subsequently turned into a 5am messy affair, drinking rum and tequila and playing forfeits with the taser. We worked out that it hurts much more on the hands and feet, than on the body! Needless to say, Sunday was a quiet day.

1516On Monday, we took a walk to the Muros de Las Lagrimas or the Wall of Tears. It was an 8km walk, so we decided to walk there and back. The National Parks are well organised with dedicated trails and signposts, all done very sympathetically with the environment. Along the route we saw loads iguanas, camouflaged on the black volcanic rocks – you really had to look where you were walking. We also had our first sightings of the wild giant tortoises, grazing on the vegetation. There was a good viewing tower along the route, with great views over the South of Isabella. The wall itself was just a wall! It was built by prisoners from Ecuador after the 2nd World War. It was a lovely walk though and great to see more wildlife.

The following day, we had a leisurely stroll around the town and a $5 lunch, followed by a walk to the Tortoise breeding centre. It was free to get in, and had a good array of tortoises, from baby ones to giant ones. The giant tortoises are 150 years old. We also booked our next excursion to the volcano.

1718It was an early start on Thursday morning, as we were picked up from the boat at 7am. We took a bus to the Seirra Negra volcano, the 2nd largest active volcano in the world. From the drop off point it was an 18km round trip. The National Park guide was very strict, we were not allowed to stop or eat along the way, and his walk was more of a march. We were towards the front of the group, but come the end, I was knackered. The rim of the volcano was 10km diameter and the last eruption was in 2005. I was expecting to see hot lava boiling out, but it was dried out. There was some pretty rough terrain as we walked over the lava rocks and caves to the Chino volcano. There were some amazing views from both volcanos, it was a really sunny day with clear skies, so you could see the nearby islands as far as Santa Cruz, 60m away. We slept well that night.

1019Friday and Saturday we had a few days on the boat, preparing for the next passage. The waters in the Galapagos must be rich with nutrients as the bottom of the hull was thick with algae after only one week at anchor. We snorkelled/free dived the hull with scrapers and cloths to remove as much as we could on Friday, then on Saturday afternoon we borrowed Steve’s diving gear and tank to do the keel. We also went to a saltwater pool early on Saturday morning for a swim and a snorkel with Emma. We were hoping to swim with penguins, turtles or seals but alas, there were just fish and an octopus. It was a fresh start to the day. Within minutes of getting out of the water, two seals came swimming straight over and jumped out of the water onto the bathing area. We managed to get up close for some pictures. After our early morning swim, we went to the market to get some cheap breakfast. Asking for a tortilla, we had more like a dinner with chunks of beef and fried potatoes stuff with chicken. A good start to the day. We later took a walk to see the pink flamingos. Expecting to see a large flock of the birds, MD was a bit disappointed to only see three. They were very pink though. We walked back into town through a wooded trail, and luckily saw a few more in another pond.

Sunday was our first chance to dive in the Galapagos. MD borrowed the kit from Steve on Almacantar and I hired the kit with the dive shop -Scuba Galapagos. I was thankful for the 7mm wetsuit I was wearing in 21 deg surface water temp. MD was a bit cold with his 3mm one! The dive site was at Isla Tortuga, a moon shaped island, that we had passed on route to Isabella. With only my PADI open water under my belt, this was my first dive without instruction and I was starting to feel a bit nervous as we prepared to go in the water. MD and I were buddies, the first time we have dived together. I think I was a bit underweighted with my 7mm wetsuit, as I struggled to descend. Unfortunately the dive master didn’t give me a chance to try again, as she pushed me under water. A bit in shock, I struggled to equalise and my ears were in severe pain. I could have gone to the surface at that point and jacked it in, but MD calmed me down and I managed to equalise at last. As we continued to descend, my mask compressed under the pressure – I had only dived to 16m before and this time we were pretty much straight down to 35m. It must have given me a nose bleed, although I didn’t realise until I had eventually surfaced. With my mask cleared and my ears equalised, I was able to relax and start to take in our surroundings. The topography of the rock and coral was beautiful, with a fairly steep drop. We spotted a group of golden eagle rays swimming together and some turtles. I was really hoping to see the hammer head sharks and thankfully we weren’t disappointed. The visibility on the day was better than we expected, about 12m and in the distance we saw at least 5 or 6 sharks, some hammer heads and others the Galapagos shark. Amazing! We surfaced after about an hour and had our lunch during the surface interval, before moving onto another dive site nearby. This one was a smaller rock with some strong currents. We did an immediate decent down to about 18m, this time with a bit more weight, and then dropped down to 30m again. It wasn’t as good as the first dive, although we saw some large shoals of fish and colourful coral. We drift dived on one side of the rock and tried to round the rock but the current was too strong so we turned back. It was a much shorter dive than previously and we were only just within the No Decompression Limits. All in all it was great experience for me, and it had been a while since MD last went diving. Scuba Galapagos was a friendly dive shop too.

09

Sunday night we went ashore with the other boats in the anchorage and had some food and a few beers. It would have been a good night for any boat robberies, as there was no one left on the anchorage. It was a good night, great to meet more people.

We were planning to leave on Tuesday 14th, so spent most on Monday making some final preparations and reprovising. The weekly ship had arrived on the island to bring ashore fresh produce, and we managed to pick up some fruit as soon as it hit the shops. We went aboard Almacantar for a few sundowners, which turned out to be a few more than anticipated. Come Tuesday morning we decided that we still had a few jobs to do and with an area of light winds expected to come on Wednesday, we made the decision to defer our departure until Thursday. With an extra few days, we are going to take the opportunity to relax at the beach – hopefully!

Panama to Galapagos

The trip to Galapagos from Panama is notorious for light and variable winds because of the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone. We had been watching the weather carefully to find a favourable time to head out across the Pacific. The latest grib file showed that we would have a good start Tuesday 23rd April. After hoisting the new dinghy aboard and finding a place to secure it to the deck – it just fitted over the aft cabin – we lifted anchor and were off. We motored out across a millpond keen to be on our way, the winds were due to kick in mid afternoon. The weather was gorgeous, the sea was flat and we motored past many shoals of fish. We took the opportunity whilst the engine was running to top up the water tanks with the water maker, charge the batteries and put the fridge on boost.

Sun SetAs forecasted, the winds kicked in and we were sailing into our first evening. In all the first 2 days flew by with good winds and moderate seas. Come day 3 though, despite the grib file still showing an area of wind, the strength had started to reduce and direction came round onto the nose, our progress ground to a halt. Whilst neither of us wanted to motor sail, it had been expected and there was nothing for it. Our thinking was that we would motor for a few hours until we found some wind. 24 hours later we were still motoring. Numerous attempts to sail were made, but without success. On the plus side the calm weather meant that we got to see all the wildlife that was about. Dolphins chasing the boat, pilot whales cruising along and various birds circling the boat. We even think we had a sighting of a whale – though it was a bit far off.

Most nights there was an array of thunderstorms in the distance. In the early hours of Saturday morning, one of these thunderstorms was fast approaching us and we hoped it would bring some localised wind. In reality, there was very little, but what it did have was lots and lots and lots of rain. The heavens opened and the boat received an almighty downpour that lasted for half an hour.

Anyway, 40 hours later, and yes, we were still motoring. By this point, we had used half of our fuel in the tank and there was still no sign of being able to sail. We have a 200 lt diesel tank and were carrying 60 lt on deck in jerry cans. By our reckoning we would be able to cover 400NM at a speed of 4 knots. The weather reports showed a band of wind further south – it was proving elusive so we had to make the call at some point to switch the engine off and wait for the wind. We calculated that we could easily motor for another 24 hours without reaching our determined reserve limit (quarter of a tank). That evening as we motor sailed towards another ominous black cloud, the wind picked up, we eased out the head sail (the Main already out) and we were sailing. We killed the engine and the silence was bliss. The winds grew over the next few hours and we were soon cracking along making over 5 kts.

We have both seen some very large fish jumping from the sea on route. BirdMy spot was what looked like a 6 ft shark jumping clear of the water. Very impressive. I just wondered what it was jumping out of the way of. We also saw a large Turtle. I am not sure who was more surprised to see who as we eyed each other up as we passed. I think the turtle just managed to swim out of our path when we spotted it. We had a number of large birds circling us throughout the passage; our latest passenger was a 4 inch bird, which looked a bit Swift like. It’s landing, after flying into 17 knts of wind, trying to find a suitable spot, with the boat swaying from side to side was not very graceful. After its fourth approach it did manage to touch down with a flurry of wings and a little roll. It spent the night camped out in the cockpit.

At 200NM from the Galapagos we were too high on our desired track so we started to put in an occasional tack. We had been pounding the seas head to wind for the last 3 days. The flexing of the bow hull was a little more than I liked so we reduced canvas (and unfortunately speed) to reduce the stress. We also had to tighten up some of the rigging as there had obviously been some stretching since the last check.

The skies were generally overcast and the sea temperature had dropped by 5 degrees, the nights are also much cooler on deck. No wonder the penguins love the Galapagos.

Sailing along, there appeared from nowhere a little open fishing vessel that had just payed out their nets. Being over 150NM from the nearest land it was a little surprising to see such a vessel. They motored over to us and directed us so as to avoid their nets. We tried communicating in our different languages without a great deal of success, but there were smiles all round. We grabbed a photo of them and chucked them a couple of beers. Fishing BoatThey seemed happy with that and waved us off as we cleared the end of their nets. It was about an hour later when another similar fishing vessel motored over to us all smiles and waving. It appears our beer throwing had got around and they were indicating that they were thirsty. We gave them a couple of cans and they posed with their catch whilst we took a picture. Next ones get some oranges I told C.

Later that afternoon we came within 3 ft of a bambo raft. It was only about 5 ft square, so I would not have wanted to escape far on it myself. The birds and the Grouper underneath though clearly appreciated it. I am just glad we did not collide.

After several days at sea with no communication we managed to talk to Almacantar on the VHF, it was good to catch up with them, especially after no sightings of other boats for the passage. They also gave us the revised frequency and time for the SSB net that we listen in on (HF receiver but no transmitter). It was interesting to plot the latest position reports of about 5 other boats making their way to the Galapagos. We were all within about 100NM of each other. It was good to hear that Stormvogal and Maunie were on route and doing well.

The last three days of the trip saw us hard on the wind making good progress to our destination. The wind came round in our favour and we were able to point to our destination. The waves were fairly short and sharp so the boat was fairly wet for most of the time, we found out later that we had taken on a fair amount of water down the anchor locker as the bow ploughed through the waves.

Throughout the passage we mainly ate our fresh stocks saving our supply of tins. I have a feeling though that this is all going to change once we leave Galapagos. We headed for the island of Isabella and whilst it is reported that you can buy fresh goods, they are limited and expensive. With no cash machine on the island, our cash funds won’t last long. Still, we do have a good variety of tinned and dried goods that we have been collecting all the way from France – we shouldn’t get bored.

We sited Santa Cruz about 10NM out, the wind reduced and the seas flattened. A pod of 50 or so dolphins raced across our path jumping and chasing pray. Half a km off we saw a couple of large Rays (2-3 metres) launching themselves from the sea and doing backflips before crashing back into the water. You could tell there was an abundance of wildlife in the area.

At 1700 on Thursday 2nd May, we had 55NM to run. We wanted to arrive in Isla Isabella in the light so our timing was good. The last night was slow going as the winds reduced and the sails flapped. The sun came up after a cold damp night at about 0600. We motored the remaining couple of miles keen to make landfall in the Galapagos.

The approach in was fairly straightforward despite the red channel marker being tied to the green. As we approached we were hailed on the VHF and a couple of the yachts anchored in the harbour gave us details on the best approach. As we rounded the reef and entered the sheltered anchorage we shouted hello to Almacantar and set the anchor.

03One of the highlights of the trip was sailing across the Equator which we did at 0702 on 2nd May. This was a first for C and myself. I woke C just before the event and we loaded some shot glasses with Rum and toasted Neptune. A warming start to the new day and the Southern Hemisphere.

Panama Canal

IMG_3357We arrived in mainland Panama on the 4th April, anticipating a 2 week wait to get through the Canal. The Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal is in Colon. We moored up on the opposite side of the harbour to Colon and on the outskirts of the jungle, in a very secure marina called Shelter Bay. Shelter Bay used to be a large US military base and you could see the signs of neglect by the Panamanian Government since the US military left, with buildings falling down and large holes in the roads. There is still a small presence of US military, mainly helicopters, which was useful for 24 hour security on the gates.

The marina was well set up with excellent WiFi, a swimming pool and a free shopping bus to the nearby supermarket on the outskirts of Colon. There was a great atmosphere around the marina, as the majority of people there were doing the same thing – waiting to go through the Canal and into the Pacific Ocean. We met lots of nice people who all have similar routes and plans to us, so it was good to swap boat cards with contact details as we are likely to bump into them again.

IMG_3442Our agent for the Panama Canal, Erick Galvez, arrived the next day to give us the low down on the process for the transit. The Admeasurer arrived on Tuesday 9th April to complete the necessary assessment and paperwork for the boat, and to issue us with a Ship Identification Number. With this number, Erick was able to book our Canal slot for the 16th and 17th April. The Canal is not cheap at $850, plus $350 for agent fees. We did contemplate not using an agent, some boats in the marina had taken this option with no obvious difference in waiting times. However, Erick made the transit very easy for us, as we didn’t need to find our way around the different offices, trying to speak Spanish whilst not knowing the system. In addition, the fee included the provision of tyres and 4x100m lines for the transit, also, we didn’t have to pay a $800 buffer in case of engine problems or delays to the locks. All in all we worked out that it was the best option for us, although departing with $1,334 was a painful experience! No wonder the turnover for the Canal is over $3million per day.

In the lead up to our planned transit date, we took the opportunity to clean and polish the boat inside and out, and to tackle the never ending jobs list. We have also finally got to the bottom of our engine problems, thanks to MD’s investigations and Jamie ( from Looe Volvo Engineering in Plymouth) who has provided endless phone and email support to us along the way. Our problems are not to do with the engine after all, but the propeller! Despite a new prop being fitted at the same time as the engine, MD worked out that we have a wrong sized prop for our 2 speed gearbox, so effectively there is more strain on the engine going forward, as it is using the lower reverse gear ratio. So with that worked out, MD had to dive into the water at Shelter Bay to measure the propeller boss size so that a new one could be ordered. This was no mean feat in crocodile infested waters and with quite literally floaters floating past. It was straight to the showers after that!

IMG_3448On Wednesday 10th, we caught the express bus into Panama City from Colon. I wouldn’t want to catch the non express bus, as this one took nearly 2 hours, the traffic in Panama City was horrendous, but at only $3 you can’t complain. The bus took us to the Allbrook shopping mall, where we were pleasantly surprised by the American style mall with loads of great shops and even better the American fast food chains – Taco Bell for breakfast and MacDonalds for lunch! On the bus back to Colon, it was clear to see why it has a reputation for being dangerous. The poverty on the streets was striking. It’s a shame that the area doesn’t benefit from the billions that the Canal brings in.

We managed to coax 3 people to line handle for us on the transit (you need 4 people plus skipper plus the pilot), an American lady called Debbie and two French guys called Fred and Jorge. With everything now in place, I would like to say that we took the opportunity to relax and chill out by the pool, but the task master on Gallinago is unrelenting! Our supply of US dollars also seem to be rapidly depleting since being in Panama, as we parted with another $600 on our long term stores – provisioning in the Pacific is difficult and expensive.

IMG_3378Tuesday 16th soon arrived. We prepared the boat with tyres and lines and made the last minute preparations like filling up with water. Our line handlers joined us at 1300 and were due to stay on board Gallinago overnight. We left Shelter Bay and headed to the Flats anchorage to await our pilot to board at 1700. We took the opportunity to go through the procedure with the line handlers and to refresh their knot skills. At 1845 our pilot finally arrived, this meant that we would be going through Gatun Locks in the dark. A slight issue with our navigation lights was quickly resolved and we were on our way!

IMG_3434There were 2 other yachts going through with us, a German boat called Voyager and another English boat called Egrit. The 3 yachts rafted up together and went through the locks together. Voyager the bigger of the three was in the middle, with bow, stern and spring lines to each boat; we were on the port side. As we rafted up, the cargo ship and tug boat went ahead of us into the first lock. The illuminations from the locks and the boats were a magical experience.

IMG_3420As the three yachts motored together into the lock, two guys on each side of the lock prepared to throw the monkey fists onto the boats. The monkey fists were much smaller than I expected, but were quite heavily weighted inside. The accuracy of the lines being thrown onto each boat was brilliant. Fred and I were in charge of the bow lines, with Debbie and Jorge on the stern and MD at the helm. The first monkey fist landed on the centre of the deck, which I quickly retrieved and tied a round turn and two half hitches around the long bowline we had already made in the 100m line. The same was done out stern and also on Egrit on the starboard side. These four lines are used to control the raft in the lock and to make sure we stay in the middle away from the concrete walls.

With the monkey fists attached to our lines, we then slowly released the line, so that the man on the dock side gathered up his line until he reached the bowline. He then walked forward with the lines until we were in the lock and put the bowline around a bollard. We were now secured in the lock as the gates closed behind us. The water ferociously filled the lock (you wouldn’t want to fall in) as we pulled in on the lines to keep them taught and ensure that the raft stayed in the middle. The increase in height was amazing, as we looked at the drop behind us. When the lock was full, the forward gates opened and we all motored into the next lock. In total, we went through three locks in Gatun Lock with the same process each time and raising above sea level yet further.

We only had one slight issue on the third lock, where we were veering closely towards the concrete walls on our side of the lock. We had been pulling in on the lines on the port side, but unfortunately the monkey fists were still being sorted on the starboard side. We quickly let out the lines to give the other side some slack and we were back in the middle.

Once through the third lock, we released the lines from the middle yacht and motored through Gatun Lake to pick up a large mooring buoy where we would stay overnight. With dinner and a well deserved beer, Fred, Jorge and I were ready to drop, leaving MD and Debbie drinking rum sat on the large mooring buoy – it was big!

IMG_6048IMG_6091The next day we were up by 0545 ready for the pilot to arrive at 6. The pilot boat, spot on 6, brought out two pilots for the other two boats, leaving us alone still on the mooring buoy. 45 minutes later our pilot finally arrived. It was now full throttle for 30nm across Gatun Lake to reach the next set of locks by 11am. As we were behind, our pilot told us to take the Banana Cut, a more scenic but shallower route which would shave off a few miles, this was not usually allowed. It was a worrying few hours as we tried to catch up the other boats so that we didn’t delay the lockage time. We could see the other boats on the AIS, as we were gradually catching up – it helped that they both had to slow down! As we went under Centennial bridge, we started to raft up again for the first lock, Pedro Miguel.

IMG_3428We arrived at the first lock by about 1200, but this time it was just the three yachts and a tourist boat. This time the water exited the lock, as we gradually descended to sea level. We released the lines to make sure there was plenty of slack in them as the water dropped. It was much more sedate than Gatun Lock. From Pedro Miguel lock, we motored, still in our raft of three boats for 1nm to the Miraflores Locks. This time, we were on our own and after 2 more locks, we were at sea level for the Pacific and as the gates in front of us opened, there was a massive sense of relief and excitement across all three yachts as we had finally arrived in the Pacific Ocean.

IMG_6130Again we released the lines from the middle boat, and we motored a few miles towards Balboa Yacht Club, where the pilot, line handlers and tyres and lines were offloaded. The three line handlers had done a good job and it was interesting to spend time with other people to exchange stories, but it was good to be on our own again. From Balboa we motored back up the channel to La Playita, where we dropped anchor surrounded by Pelicans and Herons diving into the sea. The sky line of Panama City in the distance were amazing, a vast contrast to what we had seen in Colon. We quickly went ashore for a celebratory beer with some friends we had made in Shelter Bay.

IMG_3469We spent the next few days exploring Panama City and buying the last few essentials, like a new dinghy and small petrol generator – more dollars. We also stocked up from the shopping mall with a taser, pepper spray and telescopic truncheon! I’m sure if they sold guns MD would have gone for one of those too. Speaking of which we spent Saturday morning at a shooting range with our friends from Edinburgh, Steve and Claire from Almacantar. Claire and I were a bit freaked out by being in a gun shop in Panama City surrounded by loads of men waving guns around. But we were assured it was probably the safest place to be in Panama. On the range, we fired a 22mm and 38mm pistol, a Magnum (seriously scary) and a 9mm semi automatic. I think both respective partners were surprised by how well the girls did!

With a final stock of fresh food, and the winds looking favourable we were set for the first leg to the Galapagos.

To Panama

After our time in the Caribbean it was time to push on to Panama. We lifted the anchor at about 1330 on Sun 24th March with the pole already set for down-wind sailing. As we motored out of Prickly Bay, we started to unfurl the roller Main Sail, it suddenly started to jam. The trailing edge of the sail (leach) had folded over and was jamming as it came out of the mast grove. After half an hour of pulling out and furling in little by little, we were both relieved to have the sail sorted and set. We said our fair well to the beautiful and friendly island of Grenada as we headed out across the Caribbean sea with a thousand miles of water between us and our destination – the San Blas Islands.

For the first 20 miles or so the winds were light and the sails flapped. Being in the lee of the Island was killing our speed and the waves were confused which was not helping. After the first few hours though the trade winds kicked in in earnest and we were flying along between 7-9 knots over the ground. The first night shift arrived and we sailed on through the night. The sky was crystal clear and the full moon slowly rose behind us illuminating our way. The first 24 hours passed swiftly as we ate, slept and worked the boat. In that time we managed to covered 170 miles, a record for us.

Over the next 2 days we raced along, surfing down waves and munching up the miles. I constructed a new lure, with a bright squid, double hooks and wire leader. I just need to catch something with it as we had not stocked much meat. Though the Fray Bentos pie, mash and gravy went down a treat. The weather has been roasting so keeping cool and hydrated had been the main effort.

The winds reduced a little and our daily runs accordingly reduced to just over 150nm – still fairly respectable. At the end of Wednesday I was just about to retrieve the fishing line for the evening when the line went screaming out. We had a fish on the line. As I started to reel it in, the line went slack. What ever had taken the line had been big as it managed to break the 80lb line. There was no sight of the new lure.

00

The following day it was out with a trusty old lure. Again, just as I was about to bring the line in for the evening we saw a shoal of fish jumping through the water heading our way. The lure was spot on cue and about 10 seconds after the boat had passed them, the reel started clicking as the line began to pay out. We managed to pull in a nice sized Tuna. It was gutted and straight in the oven, half of which was going into the Chinese special rice for dinner and the remainder was for Tuna Mayo sandwiches the following day. There is nothing like fresh Tuna mayo sangers.

That evening the sea flattened out and the boat was effortlessly gliding along making an average of 8 knots – sailing at its best. The next day was to be completely different. The day and the weather started well enough. The area along the Columbian coast was supposed to be a little lively so we had headed a good 50 miles off shore. Despite this, as the evening approached the winds picked up. At 1600 we reefed the Main and the Head sail down. The waves built fast and the wind speeds continued to increase. Within a couple of hours we were running before a gale and by my calculation it would be with us for at least the next 12 hours. By the time we wanted to put the final reef in, the seas had started to break, so turning into the wind which would turn the boat side on to the breakers was not an attractive option. Despite this we waited for a lull in the winds (it’s all relative) and managed to get the reef in without a breaker hitting us. By 2200 the waves were substantial and Gallinago was easily swallowed up in the troughs between waves. To make things worse rogue waves would come from the side hitting the boat and sending her off sideways. The Hydrovane, despite working her hardest could not keep us on track, so our only option was to helm in tandem with the vane to keep us running straight. Twelve hours helming with just the two of us was going to be hard work. The moon was out which enabled us to see the swirling mountains of water around us. We could see the mass of foaming water crashing down as waves were routinely breaking. There would be a deafening roar of water behind us and we would feel the back of the boat being lifted as the breaking wave surged forward. The aim was always to keep Gallinago going straight. Getting hit side on by a breaking wave would be bad news indeed. With the boat straight, it was then surfing time, the boat would gather momentum and race down the waves. We achieved some very impressive speeds.

As if contending with 20 ft waves breaking around us and the sideways waves was not enough, I then had to contend with a psycho dolphin that decided to jump across our path. Flying through the air, it could only have been a metre in front of the boat. I am not sure what would have happened if it had miscalculated and landed on the boat. I am sure the dolphins were having a great time surfing in our bow wave.

The hours went by and the waves continued to build. We took turns on the helm but sleep when not helming was really not an option. The waves were far in excess of anything that we experienced across the Atlantic.Looking on the bright side much better to be in a gale in the Caribbean than in the UK 🙂 I would have been a lot wetter and a lot colder. We helmed from 1700 until 1300 the following day. The waves eventually reduced sufficiently for the Hydrovane to take control – to our relief. The winds reduced to a steady 20-25 knots and we continued to make good progress on a slightly slower spin cycle.

09We arrived in the San Blas Island at about 1600 on Sunday 31st March (Easter Sunday), we carefully navigated our way through the reefs and set an anchor 50 metres off Isla Provenir. It was a quick run ashore to do the essential paperwork and pick up some cold beers at the only shop on the islands. Mind you a quick trip for the paperwork cost us the best part of 300US$ for immigration and a 12 month cruising permit (despite only planning to be in Panamanian waters for 1 month). It was then into the water for a well deserved swim, a relief from the heat, followed by showers and that well needed beer.

07The next few days were spent exploring only a fraction of the 350 fantastic San Blas Islands. Eye ball navigation was required with charts (or sketches more accurately) dating back to 1933. A promise of things to come on the Pacific side. It was a little overcast and hazy, so the pictures really do not do the place justice. The little sand islands littered with palm trees and huts were breathtaking and the Kuna Indians were very friendly. 12
We were pleased to meet up with Maunie and Stormvogel again, and had a great BBQ on the tiny islands of Baned Up where we were anchored off.

With really not enough time in the San Blas we decided to head on towards Panama. The winds were predicted to die over the coming week and we wanted to be at Colon in good time to get into the Pacific. We set off with reasonable winds, which then reduced as predicted. It was then up with our cruising chute, but eventually there was just not enough wind and we had to motor sail. 14To reduce the motor time, we called in at Green Turtle Bay – a tiny marina that had been under construction for about 15 years and probably would be for another 10. It was surrounded by a very rugged coast and was a real taste of Central America.

15We made Colon a day later. The remainder of the passage was a combination of sailing and motor sailing. We had an interesting couple of hours avoiding the shipping that was heading into and out of the Panama Canal. Safely moored up in Shelter Bay Marina we are now waiting for a slot to go through
the Canal. 06Pacific, here we come.

Last Stop Carribean

After a frustrating time in Rodney Bay, we decided to cut our losses on the engine front and head on South. There was another Volvo rep in Grenada, so we decided to test the engine further on route. C had a flight home in about 2 weeks (from Grenada), so we were keen to enjoy the islands in the Grenadines, without being too rushed.

PitonsWe slipped our mooring on the 7th February and we were off. It was so good to have the sails hoisted again and be shooting along the west coast of St Lucia. We were making good progress and it was only a few hours before we were drawing alongside the Pitons (in St Lucia’s National Park). The tall mountains that we had driven round now towered above us as we headed into the bay. We dropped an anchored and a boat boy took a stern line ashore to a palm tree and tied it on (for a small price and a can of beer). We had fantastic views on all sides, we cracked a beer and I lit the BBQ.

Early the next morning I swam ashore and untied our line. Within half an hour we had our anchor up and we were off. We planned to sail past St Vincent and on to Bequia. The winds were a good 20Kts and we flew along. We followed the coast of St Vincent, enjoying the view and spotting the location and some of the remaining set where they filmed Pirates of the Caribbean. Rounding the bottom of St Vincent we came head to wind with a couple of other yachts and the race was on to Bequia.

01We arrived in Admiralty Bay, Bequia fairly late in the afternoon. It was a busy bay with lots of boats on mooring buoys or anchored and a continuous stream of ferries coming in and out of the island. We went ashore the next morning to clear into St Vincent and the Grenadines. We spent a relaxing morning walking around the local area and visiting the local market for some of our newly discovered favourite fruit, soursop (tastes a bit like mango, but is white and the skin is prickly). Bequia is famous for its whale hunting, a tradition that dates back hundreds of years and which they are still allowed to do – hunting a maximum of 4 whales a year. We didn’t see any whales on our trip to and from the island, which is probably a good job.

We stayed in Bequia for 2 nights, before leaving for the next island, Canouan. Unfortunately, we missed out the private Island of Mustique, because it was a minimum of 3 nights stay and we were feeling pressed for time. Apparently there was a Prince and a pregnant Princess there at the time.

We anchored in Charlestown Bay, a fairly quiet spot with only one hotel and a dozen or so buoys for the Moorings charter boats. Soon after we dropped anchor, Graham and Diane on Maunie of Ardwell came into the anchorage. We met Graham and Diane briefly in Rodney Bay, through our German friends Heidi and Peter on Stormvogel. We are all planning a similar onwards journey. We snorkelled a short distance to the coastline and saw some colourful fishes – it was a long snorkel back to the boat against the current. That evening we decided to go ashore for a beer and to see if we could get some food. By this stage our fresh supplies were running very low and the supermarkets on the islands in the Grenadines were more like corner shops. It was an interesting walk through the little town – I’m not sure how many tourists venture off the hotel complex and into the local area. We had a very expensive beer in the hotel and vowed never to drink in places like that again. Well we are used to beer costing 5 EC, which is only £1.25 give or take. We were invited over to Maunie for some drinks later that evening and enjoyed the first of many nights drinking red wine with Graham and Diane.

Unfortunately that night, we were yet again rudely awoken in the early hours of the morning by another boat colliding into us. I quickly climbed out of the after cabin window, and straddled the two boats to keep them apart, only to realise that I was but naked. Oh well, saving the boat was more of a priority. The other boat had dragged their mooring and luckily for them, hit us instead of being washed up on the rocks behind us. With fenders put out to separate the two boats, we managed to free the other boat who had become stuck on our anchor chain. The next morning we inspected the boat with only a few minor signs of impact. Another lucky escape, although we do wander why it always happens to us!

07Mayreau was next, as we inched ourselves into the tiniest of bays and set the anchor. It was a small island and the first real sign of paradise, with golden sands, clear waters and palm trees no more than 20 metres in front of us. We went for a snorkel along the reef behind us (we really didn’t want to drag our anchor here) and then strolled along the beach in the afternoon. It was such a lovely day, that we couldn’t resist a few cheeky beers in the afternoon sunshine in the wooden beer shacks whilst listening to reggae, with a pungent smell of the local leaf around us.

It was a short sail the next day to Tobago Keys, rounding the outlying reef, we then sailed straight up to the 2 main Islands (Petit Rameau and Petit Bateau). We dropped anchor in the channel between the 2 and looked at the crystal clear waters surrounding us. The Tobago Keys are a group of tiny islands, with nothing else but sand and palm trees – no shops, no bars, nothing (a desperate state when you have no food, but a wonderful exotic feel). We were soon into the dinghy and off to Baradal island, where it was reputed you could swim with the turtles. We dragged our dingy up onto the beach and were into the water with our snorkelling gear. It was no more than 10 minutes and we had spotted our first Turtle…..then another….and another. We slowly followed them, diving down to their level and watching as they gracefully grazed on the grasses and occasionally came to the surface for air.

09The following day we caught up with Graham and Diane on Maunie – thanks for the amazing areal picture of the boat from the top of your mast. Needless to say we had a few glasses of vino with them that evening.

Having enjoyed the snorkelling along the plentiful reefs in the Keys over the last 2 days, it was time to move on and it was off to Union Island. We weaved our way out through the reefs and it was a quick motor sail into Clifton. Ashore, we managed to stock up on a few essentials at last and had a wander around the colourful town. In the evening we took a dinghy ride to Happy Island – a bar on an island made of conch shells (very entrepreneurial of the owner). It was a great setting for sunset, as we enjoyed the happy hour – buy two drinks and get the third on the house.

The next day we went ashore to clear out of St Vincent and the Grenadines. We had to walk half an hour to the nearby airport, but it was fairly painless. Back to the boat, we lifted anchor and had a quick trip to nearby Petit St Vincent and Petite Martinique. We dropped anchor next to the private island of Petit St Vincent. We didn’t go ashore here but I had a great drift snorkel (C stayed in the dinghy) gliding along at about 1-2 Knts. I flew over a large Ray laying on the sea bed and then a 6 ft shark gliding effortlessly along directly under me….I was trying to slow down so as to not worry the shark but the surface current was taking me along at the same speed as it was swimming. A great snorkel.

Onwards to Carriacou which is part of nearby Grenada. We checked in at Hillsborough, Union Island. As we stepped ashore it really was like stepping back in time. It was a real local town. Clearing in went smoothly and we wandered around the town. It was not long untill we were drawn into one of the local Rum Shops and joining the locals in some under the counter Rum – the afternoon soon flew by.

The next day, we moved to another anchorage for the night on the same island, Tyrrel Bay. We went ashore to a great little yacht club where we had a tasty burger and caught up on some internet. The NNP (local Political Party) were out in force having their final push before the elections….their convoy of vehicles and extremely loud music could be heard for miles.

Heading to Grenada, we sailed over an active submerged volcano, to C’s relieve it was very uneventful. We had an over night stop at St George (the capital) then it was on to Prickly Bay. The bay was nicely protected, the anchor was well dug in and there were good facilities ashore. It was a good location to spend the time whilst C was back in the UK. The following day it was a quick trip to the Airport, and C was on her way. The list of jobs to be done on the boat was extensive…I started cracking on with the list….remembering that Happy Hour started at 1800 😉

One of the jobs on the list was to service the engine and change the gearbox oil. It was good timing, as I discovered metal particles in the gearbox! After a quick visit from the Grenada Marine Volvo engineer, it was agreed that I would take the boat round to their yard where they would remove the gearbox for closer inspection.

The following day after listening to the weather forecast, 15-20Kts on the nose (as expected) I set off alone. The fairly constant 25-28Kts and short sharp waves were less that pleasant. Fortunately it was only 7 miles and I was soon in St David’s Bay, where the gearbox was promptly removed. That was the 28th February….

It is now the 23rd March and we now have a working gearbox. On the plus side the staff at Grenada Marine are very friendly and the bar is a mixture of sailors and locals….well mainly locals to be fair. Friday nights have a real party atmosphere and Saturdays one of the guys cooks a big pot of food and everyone gets a plate. We have had some great local dishes.04

We had been planning to visit the ABC Islands and then on to San Blas. Our delay has meant that we are not going to see the ABCs and we will head straight to San Blas and then onto Panama, where we aim to meet up with Maunie and Stormvogal – fingers crossed our engine problems are behind us.  Ten days and a thousand miles of sailing, it will be good to be moving again!

St Lucia and Martinique

IMG_5454I would like to be telling you of the number of exotic islands we have visited, the amazing waters that we have been snorkelling and diving in and the different cultures we have been experiencing. Unfortunately we made it to St Lucia, had a short visit to neighbouring French island, Martinique before being stuck in St Lucia again with more engine troubles.

We have had an on-going vibration problem with our new engine (only 350 hours on the clock after 8 months of cruising) since our time in France. The last ‘fix’ in the Canaries led to new problems with the Gearbox. Enough was enough, and we found a local Volvo engineer in Rodney Bay who at last understood the problem and agreed that the previous ‘fixes’ were just hiding the real problem. Brilliant we thought – that was 2 weeks ago. The relaxed attitude in the Caribbean has meant that we have spent the best part of 2 weeks waiting on the boat, in case the engineer turned up on the day he said he would. Frustrating is not the word, but we seem to be making progress at last. On the positive side, we could be stuck in worse places than the Caribbean!

So the Caribbean….

IMG_3001The first few days after our Atlantic crossing were spent in the marina at Rodney Bay for some much needed relaxation and celebrations. We spent much of the first day asleep as we caught up on the 25 days of night shifts, before heading out for some well anticipated Caribbean Curry. We met another Westerly Oceanlord, the first we have seen on our travels. We had our first taste of the local beer (Piton) and Rum Punch with Ken and Judith on “Badgers Sett”, who have since provided endless support and advice with our engine issues, not to mention they kindly gave us a BBQ they no longer needed.

We arrived a few days before NYE and spent some time doing a few essential clean up and maintenance jobs (needed after 25 days at sea), as well as exploring the local area around Rodney Bay. The town is actually quite well developed with 2 new modern but small shopping malls for the tourists. However you can still see the authentic Caribbean way of life, once off the tourist trail. We found some great local eating places, where you could get a meal of rice, macaroni cheese, curry, salad and veg for about £3. This has become our staple diet since being in the Caribbean – well you can’t cook for less than that! MD especially liked the pork curry or on closer inspection pig tail curry.

On NYE, we followed the loud music and found a little bar full of locals. We enjoyed more rum punches and local beers, as well as a BBQ, before heading to the beach to watch the fireworks from Pigeon Island. The roads on the way to the beach were absolutely packed, busier than I’ve ever seen, even London on NYE. We were only two of a few white faces in the crowds. The fireworks were a bit of an anti-climax in the end, but we enjoyed the atmosphere and chatting to some of the locals.

Nursing a very bad Rum Punch hangover, my NY day became even worse, as I received some sad news from home. Our thoughts and prayers are with my amazing nephew who has a tough battle ahead of him in 2013.

IMG_5405We moved out of the marina at Rodney Bay and back into the anchorage where we first arrived in St Lucia. At last we managed to take a daily swim, whilst dodging the jet skis and dinghies from the nearby Sandals resort.  We took a trip ashore in the dinghy to the national park on Pigeon Island. As MD led me to the top of the peak through what can only be described as a cliff face, covered in what looked and smelt like lemon-grass, the other tourists stared at us in amazement as they walked up the much more civilised path. Luckily I’m not too afraid of heights. The views from the top were breath taking and you could see nearby Martinique in the distance. We had bought a pack lunch with us, and ate it at the top under a tree for shelter as the heavens opened once more. It rains most days over here, although gladly not like the rain we are used to in the UK and at least it is brilliant blue skies and sunshine again afterwards. No wander the islands are so green.

IMG_5417After 10 days in St Lucia, we headed to Martinique. It was less than 30nm in distance, but the weather was much worse than anything we experienced in the 2900nm across the Atlantic. We were beating into 30 knots of wind for 5 hours, but the waves made it feel even worse.  Our freshly cleaned boat (and crew for that matter) was no more, as everything was covered in salt water. We motored the last hour into the wind, to reach Le Marin. We negotiated our way through the marked channel, looking at a number of wrecks on the sand banks and anchored along with several hundred other boats in lovely cul-de-sac Bay.

Ashore it was strange to be back in ‘France’. Our French was more of a mix of Spanish after 4 months in Spanish speaking Countries. The price of beer was a shock to the system again! Luckily the price of wine in the supermarkets was akin to mainland France, so we took the opportunity of re-stocking (as well buying another tin of Confit de Canard after our Christmas dinner success!). There was not much in the town, although they had a couple of well stocked chandleries and an industrial estate out of town for some good hardware shops.

We decided to catch a Collective Taxi (aka bus) from Le Marin to visit the capital Fort de France, as we decided not to sail further North around the island. The taxis are an excellent way of travelling around the islands (including St Lucia). They are mini buses or vans, which seat about 10 people. They only cost a few East Caribbean dollars (less than a pound) for a journey of about 30 minutes.  We are usually the only tourists on these buses, and the people are friendly and helpful. Fort de France was a bit of a disappointment, but it was a good way of seeing some of the island.

IMG_3042After 5 days, we headed out of Le Marin and anchored in nearby St Anne’s (literally less than 15 minute motor). It was a good anchorage in about 3-5 m of sand across the coastline. Ashore, the town was quite quaint with a good little market and shops and cafes surrounding a small square. We spent most evenings at the beachfront bar. It was here that we met Steve and Debbie from Nauti Dread and had a fun couple of nights/early mornings drinking, chatting, being treated to some great Mexican food and learning how to play Liar Dice. After 3 nights of going to bed at 3 or 4 am, we were broken!

IMG_3064On the 16th January, we headed back to St Lucia. Our plan was to get lifted out of the water for 24 hours to replace the prop shaft seal that had started to leak after our incident across the Atlantic. We then intended to head South to see the rest of St Lucia. We had a busy 24 hours on the hard standing, taking the opportunity to also re-apply some anti-foul to the leading lines and rudder, clean the prop and change the anodes. On first inspection back in the water, everything seemed to be OK. We spent the night in the marina at Rodney bay again, so that MD could re-align the engine the next day.

On the 20th Jan, we left the marina to head to Castries, the capital of St Lucia. As we motored out of the bay and checked the engine, we now had a steady flow of water coming into the engine room through the replaced seal. We quickly turned back, dropped the anchor and took out the emergency bilge pump (which pumps 500 gallons of water an hour) as MD needed to reseat the prop seal. We spent the next hour scraping off the marine sealant with our finger nails that we had applied to the seal, all the while water continued to come into the boat – our hearts were pumping as much as the bilge pump! MD managed to push the seal further onto the prop shaft and at last we had a water tight seal. Phew!

We decided to head back into the marina at Rodney Bay, to check that we had resolved the problem and to also take a closer look at the gearbox which was not sounding too healthy. MD changed the gearbox oil, but unfortunately it came out black instead of clear. We obtained the number of the local Volvo engineer from our neighbours Heidi and Peter on “Stormvogel”, who then kindly invited us over for beers the following night, if we were still here!

The engineer arrived that afternoon and took one look at the engine and gear box and told us that the increase to the revs made by the Canaries Volvo engineers was damaging the gearbox and agreed that the vibration was due to the engine mounts. As I said at the beginning of this blog, it is now 2 weeks since his first visit and we finally have his full attention to fix the problem. Needless to say we were still in the marina to join Heidi and Peter on their boat for a pleasant evening, and we were able to return the invitation a week later for rum punches on Gallinago!

Over the past 2 week waiting, we have taken the opportunity to complete most of our outstanding jobs on the “to do” list. We have also frequented the bars for one too many drinks, and met some lovely people, notably Alan and Jenny on “Spirit” who we would often bump into at the Ocean Club and share a bucket of beer or two prior to going back to their Swan 65 for curry, drinks and more Liar Dice.

IMG_5481After 10 days of cabin fever stuck in Rodney Bay, we decided to hire a car for the day to actually see some of this great island. It was so good to get out and about. We negotiated our way through the steep winding roads, taking in the amazing views of the dense rainforest that covered the whole of the island.  We took a walk in the rainforest and visited a few waterfalls, took a walk on the beach on the South of the island, drove through the Pitons and stopped at Soufriere for lunch. The next day, we took a bus to the capital, Castries, where we had a wander around the local market and sampled the water from our first green coconut.

Hopefully we will be able to move onto the next island in the coming days…..

The Atlantic Crossing

Fresh Veg

We spent about 5 months getting to the Canary Islands, during this time we completed a number of maintenance and improvement to the yacht, became fully familiar with her quirks and enjoyed a number of countries and cultural experiences.  The aim though had been to be in Gran Canaria for a Dec 2012 departure across the Atlantic to the Caribbean.

In the Canaries we undertook the final yacht preparations for the Atlantic Crossing.  Ham There always seemed to be one more job or one more improvement that could be done.  Time soon ran out and the 1 Dec arrived.  We were fully stocked with fuel, food and water and ready to go; however, we slipped our departure date to the 3 Dec due to poor weather conditions.  This scuppered our plan to open an Advent Calendar door for each days sail.  On the bright side it did give us a little extra time to do a few more jobs on that never ending list!

The 3 Dec came and we were busy preparing the yacht for departure.  I was just putting the Hydrovane windvane (wind steering unit) in place and noticed that the wheel locking nut was gone.  It had been there a few days previous when we had serviced the unit and there was no way that it could have fallen off….it had clearly been stolen.  This would have caused us serious problems as with only 2 of us on board it would not have been feasible to hand steer for the duration of the passage…..anyway, after a couple of hours fabrication with a number of washers, nuts and a file, the vane was fitted and, with relief, we were good to go.

We slipped our mooring lines saying cheerio to our marina neighbours and we were off.  The sails were hoisted and we were away into a lumpy sea.  The winds were fairly lively so we were soon flying down the East coast of Gran Canaria.  We reached the end of the Island as the light faded and started our shift pattern as we headed out across the ocean and into the blackness.  The night was cold so it was full oilies, gloves and hats – not what we were expecting.

Our plan was to head South West until we were approximately a few hundred miles North West of the Cape Verde Islands, we would then hopefully have consistent Easterly or North Easterly Trade Winds that would carry us West to the Caribbean.  The passage down towards the Verdes started well with strong winds enabling us to make good mileage over the first few days.  The winds then started to reduce and our boat speed slowed – as the winds became light, the flapping of the sails started.

Lively seasThe waves rolled the boat and with the wind not strong enough to keep the sails filled, they continuously collapsed and filled.  The flogging of the sails was, for me, the most frustrating thing about the trip.  Despite trying every tweak to the sails I could think of, when the wind was light and there was swell/waves running, the flapping had to be suffered.  We have though learnt a few lessons on how to reduce it.

We finally made our turning point after about 10 days.  It was good to eventually be heading in a more westerly direction, cutting down the miles to our destination a little quicker.  The days on board were flying by and merging one into the other.  DoradoOur shift pattern of 4 hours on 4 hours off at night and 6 hours on 6 hours off during the day was working well and we seemed to be getting enough sleep.  Our fresh food was also lasting well and we had had no major issues with the boat.  All was going well.  We also managed to catch a number of Dorado to supplement our food stocks.  Each one seemed to be bigger than the last.  A great looking fish which tastes even better.

With our turn West the wind speed increased and we were soon flying along.  Chart PlotterThe wind steadily increased and it was not long till 25 kts was the standard. The waves were though starting to increase and become quite short.  We were soon running in 5 metre seas routinely surfing down the waves and hitting some impressive boat speeds…..well for Gallinago!  The flip side was that we had to adapt to life living inside a slow cycle washing machine.  We would also routinely have squalls approach in the evening and whilst we sometimes managed to dodge them, invariably some caught us.  The wind speed would increase in seconds and 35kts was not unusual.  Goose winged but reefed the boat took all they could throw in her stride and she felt remarkably stable.

Sunset

The wind and sea eventually moderated and we had some excellent sailing.
The boat would be flying along almost gliding across the ocean, eating up the miles.  As we looked out there was not a single vessel in sight and we were surrounded as far as we could see by the deep blue sea.  We had our own private circle of the world.  Throughout the journey we saw very few other vessels, in total 2 ships and 3 yachts.

One quiet night I was on deck when all of a sudden something flew into me and then down the companionway hatch into the boat.  Looking down there was a flying fish flapping away in our Galley.  I am not sure who was more surprised, us or the fish.  A pretty fish with paper thin wings.  Despite being in the galley (kitchen) and asking to be cooked it smelt a bit to fishy so it was back over the side with it.

Christmas Decks

We reached the half way mark on the 15 Dec and decided it was a good time for our Christmas Decoration Party.  There were nibbles, coca-cola (a rare treat), Christmas Music playing across the deck and of course the Christmas Decorations went up.  We were feeling very festive by the end of it all.  We had also calculated that based on our slower than desired speed we would be spending Christmas Day at sea.  Where better!

On the 21 Dec we were becalmed, we had made it 19 days and only used the engine to charge the batteries to date.  Reluctantly we fired up the engine to motor for a few hours to see if we could find some wind.  All was going well until we had been motoring for about 4 hours; there was a whoosh sound from the engine.  Quickly killing the engine I went down to investigate, all looked OK, but there was a smell of burning rubber….never good.  The fault was eventually tracked down to the Volvo prop shaft dripless seal.  Air had obviously entered it.  The sound we heard was the expanding air (from the heat) escaping.  We left the prop and engine to cool naturally over night.  Meanwhile we spent a very calm night bobbing around as there was still not a breath of wind.  The next morning after checking the engine and prop, burping/bleeding the air and applying some more grease all seemed well and it looked like we had not sustained any serious damage….time would tell.  That morning the wind kicked in again and we were, to our relief, sailing again.

Christmas Day arrived, the sun was shining and we were flying along on a fairly flat sea…breakfast of scrambled eggs on toast with Bucks Fizz (less the fizz) was had on deck to the sound of Christmas music.  Tinned DuckPresents and cards were opened (thanks all) and we made a few calls to our families to wish them Merry Christmas.  Late Lunch was a feast of tinned duck, tinned Brussel Sprouts, roast potatoes, stuffing and gravy.  Surprisingly, it was one of the best Christmas dinners that we have cooked.  After our big fat lunch it was board games on deck…..well scrabble….luckily it was magnetic otherwise it might have been a whole different game.  After a long relaxing day, the sun slowly went down.  Gallinago had sailed along all day with almost no input from us, she obviously knew we were enjoying Christmas.

Boxing Day – the time honoured tradition of bubble and squeak was on the menu.  Leftovers from Christmas with an added tin of mixed veg…..mmm tasty. Wildlife Lunch was followed by some light entertainment in the form of about 50 Pilot Whales following the boat and surfing down the waves either side of us before playing in our bow wave.  Though I am sure they thought the entertainment was the 2 fools on the boat running around trying to get different angled photos and video shots of them.

The 27-28 Dec the winds again picked up and we were making swift progress.  We only had a few hundred miles to run – the end was in sight – we were keen to make landfall.  The winds were again blowing in the mid 20s and with our speed a daylight entry into RodneyBay was scuppered.  St Lucia came into sight at about midnight on the 28 Dec, just before we got a soaking from a torrential downpour.  I turned the radio to the local Caribbean Radio station and gave C a loud and lively wake up call for the approach…..I am sure she appreciated it 🙂

We rounded the North of St Lucia, heavily reefed in lively running seas and continued to sail all the way into RodneyBay where we were sheltered from the waves and the full force of the wind.  First morning St LuciaWe selected a good anchorage spot and dropped the anchor.  We had made it!  25 days and 2890 miles later one Atlantic Crossing down.  We tidied the boat away, made the final log entry at 0500 and cracked a beer to celebrate.  We also did our last video log entry….. In all it had been a great passage.  We had worked well together, learnt a number of lessons for our next ocean and Gallinago had performed magnificently.

The Canary Islands

It has been over 6 weeks since we arrived in the Canary Islands. In that time we have covered a grand total of 150NM, which averages to be about 3 miles a day! Our time in the Canaries has thankfully given us our first opportunity to relax in the 6 months since we have been away.  So what have we done with our time…

We arrived in Arrecife, the capital of Lanzarote on the 11th October and had a subdued couple of days, as we recovered from colds and thought of baby Harry back home. We were anchored in a small but well sheltered anchorage off the breakwater separating the city from the main commercial port. It wasn’t the most scenic of spots but after 5 nights of the boat rolling in the swell coming across to the Canaries, it was good to be flat and calm. The wind and sun provided some much needed energy into our depleted batteries.  After a few days of investigation, we deduced that the fridge was too much of a drain on our batteries, with the increase in temperature, downwind sailing providing no solar or wind generation and the poor insulation. Unfortunately that meant we had to sacrifice our ice cold beers and switch off the fridge.

Arrecife was well stocked on Chandleries and we took the opportunity of buying some equipment in preparation for the big trip across the pond.  We also made use of the large supermarkets in town to supplement the stocks for the 30 days at sea.  I had a serious sense of humour failure one day, as I jumped out of the dinghy to go ashore, only for the water came up to my waist. MD found it extremely funny as I walked around Lidl with wet shorts and knickers.

We decided to head to the South of Lanzarote into Marina Rubicon off Playa Blanca for my upcoming birthday and to also give the batteries a good charge. Rubicon is one of the only marinas in the Canaries where you don’t have to book it in advance. It was a fairly modern marina with good facilities and plenty of bars and restaurants. We soon realised why it was half empty, when they charged us €39 for one night. Despite the cost, we ended up staying for 4 nights, as we soon enjoyed the luxuries of being on land again. I had a lovely birthday, despite the weather deciding to take a turn for the worse. I was spoilt with American pancakes for breakfast and he even managed to create some chocolate fairy cakes with matches for candles. I received some very useful presents – I had always wanted a speedy stitcher for repairing the sails and some twine and rope. We had a relaxing day, with a few lunchtime glasses of vino and a slap up meal in the evening.  It chucked it down for the next 2 days, so we caught on some jobs, washing and internet.

We left Rubicon on Saturday 20th, although we didn’t go far. We motored for 15 minutes out of the Marina and over to Punta Papagayo where we anchored in crystal clear waters with lovely sandy beaches. It was only when taking in the surroundings of our new anchorage, that we realised we’d found another nudist beach. Out came the binoculars again! We made the most of the spot with lots of swimming, snorkelling, and spear fishing  It was amazing how many tropical fish were down there, given that we were only in Lanzarote. MD got a few strange looks from the people on the beach as he emerged from the water with his first fish speared through the body. It was quite a small fish (not sure what sort) and there wasn’t much left to eat, so we threw it back in the water for the rest of the food chain to eat.

After 3 days and an uncomfortable night at anchor with little sleep, we decided to move on to Fuerteventura. The island was less than 10 miles from Lanzarote, so we decided to motor the distance and also run the watermaker. We anchored inside a breakwater just off a popular holiday destination in Fuerteventura, called Corralejo. As we came into the anchorage you could see the great surf that had built from the previous few days. We found a surf school in the town, called Homegrown, and signed up for a 3 day course. It was a great couple of days, really nice to do something different. By the end of the 3 days, the surf was unfortunately beginning to die down, but we had both accomplished being able to stand up on the board – staying up on the board was a different story.

Corralejo was a nice anchorage, with the exception of the ferrys coming into the quay and almost handbrake turning onto the breakwater causing massive swell and leaving us both grabbing for our drinks. The town had some nice shops and bars – our favourite was the banana bar at €150 for a large beer. It was a difficult decision, choosing between a coffee or a beer whilst we made use of the free WiFi a few afternoons.

Unfortunately we found a problem with our dinghy, where the wooden transom which holds the outboard engine had come away from the inflatable. This meant that we couldn’t use the dinghy until it was fixed. We spent a whole morning walking around every Ferreteria (Hardware shop) in Corralejo trying to find some adhesive, with no success. So we jumped on a bus to the capital, Puerto de Rosario to find the yacht chandleries. With the help of google translate we managed to purchase some heavy duty bonding, which the manufacturers use when making the dinghies. With one last careful ride back to the boat on the broken dinghy we were then stuck on-board for 72 hours whilst it cured. Unfortunately we had two days of 30+ knots of wind that blew through the subsequent days, and so 3 days turned into 5 days stuck on-board  Luckily the adhesive seems to have done the trick – touch wood. On the downside, our excuse to buy a new hard bottom dinghy could no longer be justified.

We took the opportunity to move locations, our next stop was Isla de Lobo – only 1 mile or so from Corralejo. The island is a nature reserve and the water was crystal clear. I managed to spot a ray on the bottom. We only stayed here one night and we spent the next few days moving towards the South of Fuerteventura, stopping at Rosario, Gran Taranjal and Muro Jable. The East coast was fairly exposed to the elements, which made an uncomfortable few days on board.

On the 8th November, we decided to make our way to Las Palmas in Gran Canaria. We wanted to arrive about 3 weeks before our planned departure date to get the boat prepared for the crossing. With Las Palmas being the departure point for the ARC, we knew the place would be busy and were worried the chandleries may run out of stock. The crossing was lively and we averaged over 6 knots, making the 60nm in less than 9 hours.  With the wind on close quarters and the sun shining, we were getting over 10amps of current going into the batteries, so we decided to test out the watermaker without running the engine. It worked extremely well and although the batteries dropped slightly, they were soon toppers again once it was switched off.  We were beginning to question our decision to go with the low power watermaker, which produces less water per hour than the higher powered ones.

As the Marina is reserved for the ARC, we anchored in the bay next door. As expected, the anchorage was full of the Non ARC boats and at its peak there were about 70+ boats at anchor. We have a long list of his and hers jobs to do before we leave. Mine are mostly cleaning, organising and sewing things. His are mostly the repairs or installation of new kit. Very stereotypical!

It is now the 29th December, and our nominal departure date is the 2nd December.  We have made it into the Marina for the last essential jobs to do and to stock the boat (70 eggs, 5kg of cheese, 35 onions to name but a few!!) Our destination isSt Lucia in the Caribbean and we are hoping that the 2800nm will get us there for Christmas. Failing that, it will Christmas at sea with tinned sprouts, tinned roast duck, paxo stuffing and a Harrods Christmas pudding.

Sorry we have run out of time for pictures. Hopefully put some on across the pond.

Lisbon – Gibraltar – Canaries!

Well it has been a little while since our last update. In short, what have we done? We sailed from Lisbon to Gibraltar. Spent 3 weeks in Gibraltar and then sailed from Gibraltar to the Canary Islands.

So the detail…. Sailing from Lisbon to Gibraltar took 3 nights and 4 days; a day longer than it should have! The winds were very light and variable and in the first 24 hours we only managed to cover 60 miles. We did though manage to top up the tans, have our first shower on deck and do a little fishing. We had our first real hit at downwind sailing on the second day, and spent the next 24 hours with the sails Goosewinged – Main Sail out one side of the boat and Head Sail poled out on the other side of the boat – this enables us to sail dead down wind – it was, however, still very slow going due to the light winds.

We rounded the South West corner of Portugal as the sun went down and had dinner on deck watching the picturesque cliffs fade into the distance. There was a nice anchorage that we spotted that had us thinking about stopping, but alas, the wind was to be no stronger for the remainder of the week so we made the call to plod on. The night watches passed by relatively uneventful, gazing at the stars and catching the odd glimpse of dolphins as they glided around and under the boat.

The run into Gibraltar, on the final day, was to have all the highlights of the trip. Through the early hours of the morning we had been making steady progress, but as the sun came up and we neared the Straits of Gibraltar the wind died. The plus side was that the reel on the fishing rod started streaming out. Jumping up to retrieve the rod and reduce the pay out, the weight of the fish on the end was obvious. As we started reeling in the size of the fish was obviouse, the fish though swam right up to the back of the boat and in no time at all we had a good sized Blue Fine Tuna landed.

The attempt to give our dinner a swift death can only be described as a blood bath. The fine looking fish was later filleted ready to eat. However, before this was done the line was sent out again and within minutes another Tuna was on the boat. We called our lot at 3 Tuna as we didn’t want to catch more than we could keep in our fridge.

With the excitement of fishing over, the realisation that the wind had turned against us and a nasty chop was forming hit us, it was going to take us a long time to sail the remaining 20 miles……maybe days:-).So, it was on with the engine for a spot of motor sailing   The boat made good progress ploughing head to wind through the waves and after a number of hours we reached the Straits.  Just as we entered the channel, we were joined by 2 killer whales that swam under the boat, surfaced in front of us before doing a duck dive and swimming down our side.  The video footage was to say the least a little poor, but at least no one manage to fall overboard and look like a floundering seal.

With good timing or some might say luck, we managed to reach the Straits with the tide in our favour.  In no time, we were rocketing along at a little under 9 knts. We finally rounded into Gibraltar Bay and were met by a hazy Rock, a lot of ships at anchor and about 100 porpoise leaping through the water past us. We sailed on taking in the sites and anchored North of the runway……quite literally.

A well deserved beer and rather large Tuna supper was had with our backdrop, the Rock, illuminated in the dwindling light.

Gibraltar….after 3 months of being floating gypsies we decided to take a berth in a marina in Gibraltar (Marina Bay). 

C’s mum would be out to visit us for a week and we had a number of jobs we needed to do. First things first though, we decided to have the weekend chilling, exploring the highlights of Gibraltar and indulging in our first Full English breakfast and authentic British style Indian Curry since the beginning of the trip – all very tasty.
So, jobs we completed, in no particular order: replaced the piping for both heads….nice job; ordered and received the next set of charts and pilots; cleaned the boat, top to bottom; installed a replacement Navtex and antenna; installed a HF receiver; renewed the headlining in the cupboards; acquired a plank for getting on and off the boat; oiled the teak; polished the deck; spliced a new furling main line; ordered and fitted a new Main Sail; repaired the existing Main Sail; had the head sail shortened and refitted it.

The weather in Gib was great for the first week we were there, bucketed it down the second week that C’s Mum visited and was again glorious the week after…..typical! Despite the poor weather, we still managed to do the tourist attractions on the rock with C’s Mum; venture across the border to La Linea and enjoyed a fair amount of delicious tapas and wine.

We did several trips to Morrisons and the Spanish supermarkets to bolster our food supplies in our final week in Gibraltar. We now have a good stock that should last a reasonable amount of time. The wine and spirits cupboard(s) were also stocked…well it was so cheap!

The new Main Sail arrived in good time and we only had a couple of days wait for the weather before we could depart Gibraltar for the Canaries. This has been the longest that we had been in one place and we were keep to move on.

Gibraltar to the Canary Islands… Saturday morning we were up bright and early all prepped for the trip ahead, the boat and crew raring to go. The forecast was for very light winds all week but reasonable winds about 40 miles offshore. We decided to take the hit on the light winds to start with, maybe needing to motor for a while, with the plan to get to the stronger winds. We slipped our bow to berth at about 1100 and motored round to the fuel pontoon to fill up on duty free diesel. 86p per litre! We even topped up a jerry can with diesel and strapped it to the plank on deck – we are looking very much like long term cruisers now! All set, we were off across Gibraltar Bay. We had only been under way 15 mins when a 4ft turtle swam past the boat, a good start to the trip. The motorsail through the Straits was fairly uneventful with the conditions and the currents much calmer than when we arrived. Through the Straits and able to sail, we turned onto our desired bearing, dodging a couple of ships and were away down the coast of Morocco. The fishing rod was deployed with the winning lure and within half a hour we reeled in 2 Tuna. A tasty supplement to our diet for the next few days. The next couple of days and nights we acclimatised to our 3 hours on, 3 off schedule – one person normally sleeping or preparing the next meal whilst the other was on watch.

The winds were light, as predicted, and although we went Goose winged to maximise on the down wind sailing, the light airs meant that the sails flogged quite a bit. It is a horrible sound and one that makes sleeping difficult. We had the new Main Sail on, and it had been running well. We had furled it in and out a few time and were pleased with its performance….however, furling it away at about 0200 in the morning to try a spot of sailing just under the Head Sail (to reduce the flogging), the sail jammed on a rivet nut our friendly Hemisphere rigger had installed. We managed to unfurl the sail but, in the process, put a rip in the foot of the sail. No longer a new and shiny sail….I patched the sail in situ the following morning and all has been well with it since. I am sure that this is the first of many battle scars that it will receive.

As the days went by, the distance to waypoint slowly reduced from the starting count of 650 miles. By day 4, the winds had strengthened to 20 knts from the North East and we were also assisted by the Canary current which was running in our favour. The weather, as predicted, deteriorated over the last day and we ended the journey running in 24 knts of wind with 5 meter waves chasing up. We were easily doing 6 knots and good progress was made reaching the Canaries – it was though a pretty uncomfortable sail rolling from side to side when the waves caught us. With the strong winds and night drawing in, we decided to play it safe and headed for Arrecife in Lanzarote – a sheltered (but not necessarily the most picturesque) anchorage. At about 2100, after 5 and a half days sailing we dropped anchor and had a well deserved beer. Our longest passage so far with Gallinago and in general, all had gone well with boat and crew.

West Coast of Spain and Portugal

After a rainy week in Camarinas, we decided to take the opportunity of a break in the weather to round the Cabo de Finisterre so that we could start to officially head South. The weather forecast was predicting gale force winds to come through that evening (16th August), but we thought that with 12 hours to do 30NM, we would be tucked up in plenty of time. Unfortunately, whilst on route, the weather forecast on the VHF came on and was predicting the gale force warnings to come through at 1500 UTC, only 5 hours away. As the wind was on the nose (again), we decided to stick on the engine and motor sail to the corner to try to make up some time. Over the next few hours, the clouds became thicker and the wind was gradually increasing. Within minutes of rounding the Cabo, we went from 20knots of wind to 30knots and then to 40knots. We had way too much canvas out, and we quickly furled the head sail away and reefed all but a small corner of the main sail. We were pretty much bare poles and still doing 8 knots. It was a tense hour or two, as the rain lashed down and we could hardly see more than 30 metres in front of the boat – It didn’t help that we were only a mile away from the headland. Luckily we were only head into wind for a short time, as we rounded the corner, the wind was behind us and even in 40knots, it felt a much more pleasant sail than thrashing into the wind.

From there, it was only a short distance to Finisterre, and once in the shelter of the breakwater (still blowing 30knots mind you), we managed to pick up a mooring buoy that wasn’t being used. We stayed in Finisterre, a fishing village with colourful fishing vessels, for a few days whilst the wind died down again. There wasn’t much in Finisterre, but at least there were plenty of cafes and bars for some free wifi.

From Finisterre, we headed into the Ria’s of the west coast of Spain. First stop was Muros with a lovely long sandy beach. We even managed to get the spear gun out for the first time and practised some free diving (well ok not me, I was sunbathing in the dinghy keeping a watchful eye!). Muros was a picturesque town with the typical Spanish side streets, houses and squares, with pavement cafes. From Muros, we sailed up the Ria de Arousa, with fantastic views. It helped that the wind was on the beam and the sun was shining. The river was about 15nm long, and whilst the views in the river were great, unfortunately the anchorage (Caraminal) that we chose was not very scenic and with the local fair in town it was a noisy evening. We were however treated to a spectacular fireworks display directly overhead.

From the Ria de Arousa, we decided on a longer sail towards Vigo. The wind was now much more favourable and it was a good run on the beam for most of the day. The route that we took was between the mainland and three small islands, which were nature reserves. Unfortunately we weren’t organised enough to apply for a permit to anchor off the islands in advance. So, we decided to anchor at a bay on the opposite side of the Ria to Vigo. On the approach into the bay, we spotted a naked bloke on his boat, then another naked bloke fishing and then 3 naked men in a very small boat (too small for 3 naked men!). With the binocular’s out, we soon realised we were anchored off a nudist beach. Not wishing to be left out, MD quickly stripped off – I on the other hand left my bikini firmly on. After a long day in the sun, I was finally coaxed into the water – it was freezing cold, but after one lap around the boat, it made a refreshing change – roll on the Caribbean.

We have finally been able to anchor most nights with plenty of bays providing shelter from all wind directions. This has been a blessing for our budget and for the first time since we left we have pretty much achieved our monthly budget. However, we do need to call into a Marina every 1-2 weeks, in order to give the batteries a good charge and fill up on water. We decided to call into Vigo, which the pilot book described as being an interesting city. In reality, it was pretty industrial and didn’t have much to offer in the way of Spanish charm. Our last stop in Spain was Bayona, the nicest town we had been to on the west coast of Spain. We anchored in the bay and took the dinghy ashore each day to wander around the shops and re-stock ready for our longer passage into Portugal.

We left Bayona in the afternoon of Saturday 25th August. With an estimated 80nm, we expected to take about 20 hours. The winds gradually increased during the afternoon and evening, and with the Portuguese trade winds providing reliable Northerly winds for some downwind sailing, we set up the sails in a gull wing configuration. We were steaming along and during the night we notched up nearly 8 knots boat speed. At that speed, our plans for arriving into Porto during day light were scuppered and we entered the breakwater at Leixoes before the sun came up. It was also my first opportunity to be skipper for the passage and included some night navigation into port – this qualifies as a pre-requisite for my yachtmaster exam when and if I take it.

We anchored just outside of the marina but still within the harbour walls. It wasn’t the most scenic of settings though, with cruise liners, cargo vessels and tugs coming in and out. Unfortunately Porto itself does not have any facilities for yachts to moor up the river, so Leixoes was the only option. It was only 30 minutes from the centre on the tram and had a lovely long sandy beach with some great surf – if only MD hadn’t broken his toe. We based ourselves here for just under a week, taking the opportunity for some much needed rest, although as always there are plenty of jobs that need doing which seem to fill most waking hours.

We took the tram to Porto for a day, and visited the Ferreira port house, sampling their two specialities, the most common Tawny port and the unusual white Lagrima port. White port is only consumed by the Portuguese, so we took the opportunity to buy a bottle for consumption along the way!

 

As always, we were keen to move on and our next port of call was Lisbon. This is somewhere we were both really keen to visit and spend the time to explore. It was a 2 day sail, covering 180nm. The swell was fairly large, which made for an uncomfortable couple of days sail. We were sat down for dinner on the first night, as a rogue wave which must have been well over 5 metres came in from the side. The hydrovane managed to cope with it as we hung onto our plates. The speed that we were reaching with the Portuguese trades and the gull wing set up meant that we were set to arrive in the dark again. Even at night, you could feel the temperature difference – being 200 miles further south. We decided to anchor in a bay called Cascais, just before the Ria de Tejo (leading into Lisbon). It was a good decision, as we got our heads down for a much needed sleep. Heading into Cascais the next day, it was the first English tourist destination that we have been to since leaving the UK, with English pubs, menus in English and loads of curry houses. This only meant one thing – the price of beer was more expensive.

After one night in the bay, we sailed up the Ria de Tejo, taking in the fantastic sights of Lisbon from the sea. Going up the river, we had 3-4 knots of tide pushing us along. As we were still both pretty shattered, we decided to anchor up a little river, opposite Lisbon, in a place called Seixal. Going ashore, the town was pretty run down and it was seemingly quite a poor district of Lisbon. The positive was that we had a bottle of beer in a bar (normal size, none of the small stubby ones they sell in France and Spain) for 90 cent. This is by far the cheapest we’ve seen and we could have stayed there all night, if we hadn’t forgotten to put the anchor light on – doh!

The next morning we were up early for a quick motor across to Lisbon. We have decided to stay in a Marina here for a couple of days to take the opportunity to explore Lisbon. We have started to meet many other boats who are long term cruising and planning an Atlantic crossing this year. It is good to chat over plans and no doubt we will bump into them many more times.

We’ve had an ongoing problem along most of the coast of Spain with the main sail jamming on the in-mast furler (the only compromise we made on the boat). It’s been getting worse to the extent where it now jams on every attempt to either furl the sail out or in – not good at night or in strong winds. We are not sure whether it is the sail itself (as it is over 6 years old and we’ve done nearly 2000 miles in 3 months) or whether it is the rigging or both. We have someone coming across tomorrow to check the tension of the rigging to hopefully rule that one out. Fingers crossed we will be leaving for Gibraltar by the weekend.

North Coast of Spain

So over the last 2-3 weeks we have been to Santander, Gijon, Cudilero, Luarca, Ribadeo, El Barquero, Ria de Cedeira, La Coruna, Ria de Corme and presently we are at Camarinas.

The last few weeks have flown by as we have been moving most days from place to place. We are now held up in a sheltered anchorage at Camarinas. The Ria is one of the most scenic of Galacia, although the town we discovered after a run ashore does not have a great deal to offer…other than wifi, restaurants and the yacht club/bar.

The weather since the last update has been a mixed bag, with either light winds or very strong wind on the nose. The light winds have meant a lot of frustrating days with flapping sails and with us trying every trick in the book to gain some boat speed…….we’re determined to use the iron sail (engine) as little as possible, after all what is the fun in that. This has meant that we have spent some long days sailing with not a massive amount of miles being covered.

We arrived in Santander after our passage across the Bay tired but up for exploring, we went out into the City where we discovered the delights of Pinchos…..a Spanish tapas served gratis with your drink at the bar. So after a few glasses of vino and complimentary tapas we were both full and maybe slightly merry, so we retired to the boat for a well needed good nights sleep. We spent a couple of nights in Santander, making the most of the festivities and live music that they had on…..it was festival time, and as we were to find out it was festival time in a number of places that we were to visit.

From Santander we planned to sail to Ribadeo. This was to be a 2 night sail covering about 200 miles, alas it was not to be, despite the forecast being for fair winds in our favour they were…light and variable. One minute we were sailing along with 5-10 knts of breeze then there was none. The slow progress was extremely frustrating, then with a cloud on the horizon the winds started to build and within minutes we has gusts of 25 Knts, we were reefing our sails and blasting along at 7 knts. The wind then shifted 180 degrees and died leaving us in a mill pond. After the first nights sail in a particularly busy shipping area we decided to head into port and await more favourable winds.

Gijon was the port we made and a great little place it was.  The marina was cheap and we discovered Sidera, the locally produced cider that needs to be poured from at least a metre high to get some froth. It is then downed before the froth disappears. Entering into the spirit of things we bought a bottle, though there is a strict rule of one person one bottle…and proceeded to try out the pouring technique, with some success I might add!

From Gijon, we had a pleasant, if not somewhat frustrating sail to Cudilero . We entered the small fishing harbour with a tiny entrance and ominous looking rocks to port and starboard. Once in the harbour, the only mooring buoy free was between two other yachts with about two metres either side to spare…..it is amazing how much help and advise you get as you squeeze up between other boats. Safely secured, to the relief of our neighbours, we relaxed in the sun surrounded by the shear cliffs that covered one side of the harbour.

On the menu that night was mackerel, freshly caught that day on route. The first of many tasty fish meals hopefully.

The next day keen to be on our way, we were off early, just beating low tide and the growing rocks – our destination Luarca. We arrived early evening and tried a little stern to mooring on the harbour wall. With some interesting winds and with the need of an inflated dingy to get a line ashore, we decided to raft up against another yacht, We did mange to get come local kids to catch our line and put it over a bollard on the harbour wall. It was then motor forward to the buoy about 2 boat lengths away…..all was going well until the boat started to slow….we had run out of our long line. There was only one thing for it, gab the bow line (the one at the front), dive over the side and swim for the buoy to tie on…..mission accomplished…..first swim and the water was quite warm to my surprise.

The next day we left our free mooring and it was off to Ribadeo where we planned to anchor in the supposed delightful Ria. We were out of the harbour, the sails were up in seconds and we shot off in the good breeze leaving the other yacht leaving at the time still hoisting its Main Sail. The weather was looking very promising for the day ahead and in line with the weather forecast. As the day went on though, the winds blew harder and we reefed the sails accordingly. For the last few hours sail into Ribadeo, we where in a F6 gusting F7 (25 -30 Knts) with the Atlantic swells now freely rolling in as we started to near the NW corner of Spain. The waves had started as 2-3 meters earlier in the day and ended up 5-7 meters high with the yacht being engulfed between the waves…..hopefully not the promise of things to come. As we entered the shelter of Ribadeo, the wind abated and we furled the sails away and headed for the anchorages indicated in the Pilot book. Unfortunately, because of a combination of the wind direction and the size of the anchorages we made the call that we would have to go into the marina as the anchorages were not suitable. This was a disappointment as we were both keen to anchor more and enjoy the peace and quiet away from marinas. With the boat moored and ropes, sails etc tidied away, it was time for some food and a well deserved beer as we watched the sun go down.

The next day was spent doing some well needed maintenance and cleaning on the boat, least pleasant of which was cleaning out the bilges (under the floor boards). Keen to explore Ribadeo, we wandered around the quaint city with its stoned paths and traditional Spanish architecture. The sting in the tail when leaving Ribadeo was the mooring fee – 91 Euros for the 2 nights stay – by far the most expensive place that we have stayed.

The Atlantic rollers continued as we left Ribadero for El Barquero. El Barquero was a “sheltered” bay with two anchorages. As we entered the bay in gusts of 25 Knts of winds, we waited for the breeze to reduce as we came into the shelter of the mountains ….we continued to wait until we were within a hundred meters from the beach, at which point we decided to lay the anchor for the night. Despite the wind still blowing 15 Knts, we were in a great little spot. Surrounded by the tree lined mountains, golden sandy beach and not another boat around for miles. The next morning the winds had reduced; we sat in the most picturesque spot of the trip (so far) having breakfast on deck in the sun…..and it cost us nothing! Keen to turn the NW corner of Spain, we were off to Ria de Cedeira that day. Another great little anchorage protected from all directions where we spent a few days.

La Coruna was next on route. It is a massive bay with a large city. We had a number of options of where to anchor, we plumped for an option that was nicely protected where we had the whole bay to ourselves. As it was late when we arrived, the plan was to anchor for the night and then head into the marina early the next day to refuel, restock on food and explore the City. Our departure was slightly delayed as we had a jam in our main sail. We had to drop the main – no mean feet as we have to first remove the vertical battens, the longest of which is about 25 feet long. With the sails down and a rip discovered, we headed for the marina. Once in the Marina, we took the opportunity to re-tune the rigging as we had too much pre-bend in the mast. We suspected this may have been the cause of the Main Sail jam. We also dropped the sail into a local sail-maker for repair and managed to get some much needed laundry done. It was then a long but enjoyable walk through the city of La Coruna. In all, we had 2 days in La Coruna; on the second night we recovered our Main Sail from the sail-maker and motored over to an anchorage site for the evening. All was going well in the anchorage until about 0400 when we were woken by a thump. Jumping out of bed and onto the deck, we discovered that a fishing vessel had gone into us. Despite being in a designated anchorage, they had laid lobster pots and were now trying to retrieve them from under our boat, in the process banging into us. Fending them off and with their English being as bad as our Spanish, they managed to recover their pots. In the process though they had managed to stretch our guard wires and take a chunk out of their boat on our bow roller. Not hanging around though, they were off as soon as they had their last pot, but not before we made a note of their registration number on the side of their boat. Luckily after a full survey of our boat in the morning, we concluded that there was no real damage other than the stretched guard wires and probably some unnoticeable stressing of the Push-pit and Pull-pit. The guard wires were due to be replaced and once re-tightened they were fine. We concluded that we had had a lucky escape!

Close to the West coast of Spain, our next hop was to Ria de Corme…..it was a beat into a SW wind…..in part aided by the iron sail. A night there and then it was on again to Camarinas…..and here we are in a lovely sheltered bay. We are waiting for the winds to turn in our favour so that we can round Fisterra – anything but SW please!!! The wind is blowing a hooley and the rain is bucketing it down here as I sign off here……just like home sweet home, but perhaps a little warmer.

Bay of Biscay

After 5 weeks in France, we were keen to move onto the next Country on the list, Spain. From La Rochelle, the Bay of Biscay crossing to Santander was 200nm. With an estimated 4 knots boat speed, the journey was expected to take just over 2 days.

With the boat prepped and the fridge stocked, we left La Rochelle on Saturday 21st July at 0900 UTC. The weather was expected to be pretty calm for the crossing, with light but variable winds. We started on our shift pattern of 3 hours on, 3 hours off. Although our down time on the first day, was spent enjoying the sunshine and fishing, instead of sleeping.

Once past the last French coast line that we would see, we turned onto our heading of 215 degrees. This was to be the tack for the next 48 hours. We set up the Hydrovane steering, so that we didn’t have to helm for the whole passage, and settled down into the shift routine. The Hydrovane makes it considerably easier on passage, especially at night.

We had an extra crew member, Percy, join us for the Biscay crossing. Percy arrived on the Saturday afternoon, knackered and in complete disarray – clearly more of a racer than a cruiser. He was friendly enough but during the journey proceeded to eat and drink us out of house and home whilst making a complete mess. We tried to throw Percy off the boat on a number of occasions due to his unruly behaviour, but he was having none of it. With some ground rules set, we agreed that Percy could stay – it was good to have someone else to talk to after 7 weeks aboard.

The first night shift soon approached, and we were taking it in turns to try to get some sleep. There was a great sunset, followed by a spectacular star show in the clear night sky. With the help of an Ipad app, we located Jupiter and a number of other constellations.

 

On the handover of shifts at 2100 UTC, and having seen no sign of other vessels for hours, a quick check of the chart plotter showed 14 boats coming straight for us – our initial thoughts were of a pirate attack! A check of the AIS data revealed that they were in fact fishing vessels sat on the contour of 100m depth. If it wasn’t dark, we would have got the fishing gear out ourselves, but we are playing the night shifts safe at the moment.

At night standard protocole is to clip on – use a leach to clip from our life jackets to the boat; we also have a Raymarine Life Tag system, which detects if we have move 10 metres away from boat, setting of a high pitched alert. Unfortunately after the fourth false alarm, I proceeded to sleep through the alarm.

On the graveyard shift (00.00 – 03.00), we spotted some large fluorescent streaks move through the water next to the boat – was it killer squid? Alas no, the splashing gave away the school of dolphins playing around the boat. They stayed with us until just before sunrise. Unfortunately it was the only sighting of dolphins that we were to have during the crossing. We were also disappointed not to see any whales, which are apparently fairly common in the bay.

As the sun came up, so the wind died and we had a frustrating morning with flapping sails and only doing about 1 knot boat speed. With the wind behind us, we decided to set up the sails for some gull winged sailing. This allowed us to point closer to our intended course and to increase the boat speed in the lighter winds. We kept the sails in this configuration until just before sunset – we didn’t want to be changing the sail set up in the pitch black during the night.

It was a fairly uneventful 2nd night sail and as the sun came up on the Monday, we were about 20nm from Santander. We soon spotted the Spanish coastline with it’s mountains and as we came into Santander, the sea breeze was really picking up. Percy starting to become much more excited and obviously keen to jump ship, we turned our backs and he was gone, without even a cheerio. We hope that Percy, the pigeon, made it back to the UK safely (unfortunately he was 200 miles further away in the wrong direction) – we did try to tell him.

We moored up in Santander to have a few days rest and relaxation. It also happens to be a week long festival in the City. It is noticeably hotter, not a cloud in the sky and in late 20’s/early 30’s. We are also delighted with the price of beer €1.50 for San Miguel. Yesterday, we discovered Pinchos y Bebida for €2.50 (hot snack and beer/Rioja). We had a night out and dinner for €20 – bargain!

Our plan next is to head to the north west corner of Spain, La Coruna, and spend a couple of weeks there, before heading down the coast of Portugal.

France

From Benodet we sailed to Ile de Glenan, our destination was a small bay where we aimed to anchor for the rest of the day and the night. As we arrived there were only 2 other boats that were there, leaving plenty of space for us to select a suitable location to drop anchor…..that was all to change as boat after boat arrived, all with the aim of anchoring as close to the beach as possible. Luckily most were just day trippers so as the evening neared, one by one they all disappeared leaving us to enjoy the pleasant bay and the evening sunset.

The following day it was off to Lorient, a fairly large French city, the main purpose of visiting was to search out the local fishing tackle shops for some much needed quality fishing equipment. The intent is to substitute our diets with some quality fish – cheap and hopefully very tasty! We have though only caught one rather small fish so far, so we may be going hungry at this rate. The passage to Lorrient started at a leasurley 3 knts pace as the winds were light. This it seems is an ideal speed to trawl for fish. It was not long until our line went heavy and we started hauling in expectantly…..as the last few meters were being pulled in a fish was sighted on the end of the line – about 5 inches. Alas, with seconds to go until our first edible fish was caught, it slipped the line and was gone. Despite this our enthusiasm was high as we suspected we were running the right lures at the right length behind the boat. The line was sent out again as we sailed on, our speed slowly increasing. An hour or so later and traveling a fair bit swifter the fishing line was heaving under the weight of something. We looked at the end of the line and a large fish (we suspect Bass), was on the surface of the water being pulled along. We started to pull the line in but it was not budging – we had something big on the end. We were running Goose Winged so it was going to take a couple of moments to heave to and slow the boat down. Before we had time to think our 60Lb line broke loosing our gear and the fish(s). As we looked back the fish disappeared and a rather large bird shot to the surface looking rather ruffled. Within a second or 2 the bird had disappeared in the swell. The only thing that we can think happened is that we hooked a fish or 2 on our line and the bird, seeing an easy lunch, dived in to grab the fish. The combined weight was obviously too much for our line at the speed we were traveling and the rest is history! Hopefully the bird made it away without getting hooked – unfortunately we had lost sight of it before we could go back and check. The rest of the journey was considerably less eventful and we arrived into Lorrient Port mooring up a stones throw from the city centre.

Lorrient was a pleasant enough place. We had a stroll through the town and stopped for the obligatory beer before picking up some fresh bread and heading back to the boat for dinner. The next morning it was up early for a 40min walk to the tackle shops – the joys of not having a car. We were pleasantly surprised with the size of the shops and the range of equipment that they had – we were clearly in need having lost our winning fishing rig. We bought a large selection of items that should cover a number of fishing rigs and situations…..strangely though when we got to back to the boat they all disappeared! That afternoon we slipped our lines and motor sailed out to the island of Ile de Groix (Port Tudy). It was only about 5 miles away and promised to be a picturesque location to spend a few days and my 40th!

We came into the shelter of Port Tudy, a quaint walled harbour and picked up fore and aft mooring bouys – I won’t mention the rope jam on the Main Sail that required a knife to resolve – just as we were entering harbour. It had been a fairly busy day so we chilled and had some late lunch before setting to work inflating the tender for a trip ashore. The next morning, feeling slightly older but more distinguished, I was woken, to my surprise: with a cup of team in bed; a pile of presents – which, turned out to be some very useful fishing kit, a bottle of champers and a birthday cake…..the making of which I had not noticed the evening before….nor indeed the cursing of the fact that it was a little burnt on 1 side and not quite as symmetrical as would have been liked……however, it looked very good to me and tasted equally so. After a leisurely breakfast, opening of cards and receipt of cash (many thanks all) it was off to explore the Island and the golden beaches that we had seen on our approach in. The day was rounded of with a slap up meal at a local restaurant.

We left Port Tudy a day later for Belle Ile, another Island off the French coast about 20 miles away; the wind was on the beam and blowing a good 15 knts. The boat flew along at 6-7 knts and we were joined by a school of 15 or so dolphins jumping through the air to reach us and playing in our bow wave. They spent the next few hours with us racing round the boat taking turns darting in front of us. We called in at Sauzon, where we anchored for the night whilst a Force 7 blew through. A rough night with not a lot of sleep. The anchor though held well and gave us confidence in our gear. The next day, keen to move to a more sheltered location, it was onwards to Le Palais (only 5 nm away on the same island). We moored in the harbour fore and aft against the wall. We were only 4 ft from the wall, so near but yet so far…alas it was out with the tender to go ashore. We wandered around the lovely town in the pouring rain. As we were soaked through the only option was to take refuge in a local pub for a few beers whilst we dried out. As we didn’t get the opportunity to really explore, we decided to stay for a second day – thankfully the sun came out. We went for a long walk around an old fort that encircled the town and then stopped for a well-deserved Steak American avec frites, tasty!

As time is pressing on, and we have to be in Gibraltar by September, we decided to sail a longer leg to another island, Ile d’Yeu, which was half way towards La Rochelle. Unfortunately, our plan for an early night for a dawn slip was slightly hampered by the island’s party and massive fireworks display at midnight to mark the start of a week-long festival. Despite the lack of sleep, we slipped the mooring lines at 6am local time and silently sailed away from the harbour. We rounded the island headland and then it was a constant heading on a broad reach. We anchored on the southern side of the island at Pte des Vielles which was protected from the north westerly winds. It was a lovely bay with a busy golden sandy beach.

The next day during our daily engine check, we noticed that one of the nuts on the engine mounting plate had worked its way loose and the second was also on its way. We had noticed a slight increase in vibration from the engine, but with only 140 hours on the clock, we thought that it was still ‘bedding’ in. Unfortunately after securing the bolts, the vibration from the engine was considerably worse. Following a chat with the engineers in Plymouth, who had installed the engine a year ago, we feared that there might be a misalignment between the engine and the propeller shaft and were advised not to use it. So we did a slick sail off the anchor and we were off to Les Sables d’Olonne. We stayed in Les Sables for 2 days to get the local Volvo engineers to resolve the problem. It was amazing how much we understood, without speaking technical French or them being able to speak English.

We have now been in La Rochelle for 3 days. It is a beautiful city with lots of shops and restaurants. Today we leave for a 2 day crossing over the Bay of Biscay. Next destination Spain.

Anchor’s Awash

After a few relaxing days in Brest, cleaning the boat and replenishing the stocks, we set sail again on Tuesday 5th July.  It was an early morning start, slipping at 07.30 UTC for the long day ahead. We are working in UTC when we are sailing, to avoid the issues of different time zones as the journey progresses and to ensure that we are both talking the same language when it comes to tidal calculations etc.  It rained for pretty much the whole day and visibility was pretty poor. We did contemplate going back into Camaret-de-sur to anchor and wait for the weather to improve, but we were on a good tack out to the headlands, so we decided to stag on. It was forecast to be a south westerly for the next few days anyway, so we knew it would always be a beat into the wind. Rounding the headland, there was a narrow channel, with rocks drying either side. With the tide pushing us almost backwards, and the strong wind on the nose, we must have done about 15 tacks in the space of 2nm. It definitely had the feel of adventure training, as we were stood on deck in our foul weather gear, with waves repeatedly crashing over us. As we rounded the Cap de La Chevre, we managed to bear away from the wind for some downwind sailing into Morgat.

Morgat was a pleasant bay with a long sandy beach, and a good anchorage. We dropped the anchor for the first time on the trip. Our budget is based on much more anchoring than we have done, so it is finally a relief to reach this part of Brittany, where there is an abundance of anchorages. We even managed to catch the first fish of the trip, ok it was only 6cm long and 2cm wide, but it was still a fish. There was a bigger one that got away, honest! At 11pm, we decided that with only half a metre of clearance expected below the keel at low tide, that it would be better to be safe than sorry and re-lay the anchor in a bit more depth.  Unfortunately it meant a bit of restless night’s sleep, to make sure that we were not dragging the anchor.

The sun came out by lunchtime the following day, and we decided to head across the bay to another anchorage at Douarnenez. We had the whole bay to ourselves, and the anchorage was fairly well protected from the south westerly winds. We blew up the tender and put the outboard on the back and zipped ashore to have a meander and an ice cream. It was a pretty small town, but we motored up the river to have a further look around. Back on board we did some planning for the next day sail through the Raz de Sein, over a few glasses of wine.

The almanac advised to pass through the Raz de Sein at HW – ½ ± ¼, to ensure slack water through the narrow channel and avoid the dangerous overfalls. With HW expected at 1713 UTC and 20nm to get to the Raz, we decided on a later start to the day. We gave ourselves 5 hours to get to the entrance and we were making good timing. The wind turned from a SW to a W, requiring a few more tacks, and so with 6nm to go in 1hour, we decided to put on the engine. This also enabled us to run the water maker to top up the tanks and boost the fridge. In a bid to preserve our batteries, we have turned the fridge down and turned off the electric water pumps. It’s amazing how well the solar panel and wind generator are doing keeping our batteries at over 80%, with just these two simple changes. The wind dropped coming out of the Raz de Sein, so we motored the last hour into Audierne, arriving at 18.00 UTC. We won our imaginary race against the 6+ other boats, also passing through the Raz at the same time and heading into Audierne.

It was an uncomfortable night at anchor with the swell coming into the harbour, so we were up and off early for the next day down to Benodet. It was the first day sail where we have had some good sunshine all day, with a pleasant breeze and a beam reach point of sail.

On route, we diverted off track into a swarm of birds nose diving into the water to fish, there must have been at least 500 birds. They must have eaten everything by the time we got there, as we still didn’t catch anything!  We spotted a large fish swimming on its side on the surface of the water, with a fin and large wings, like a ray. Not sure what it was though.

Sailing into Benodet, we decided to go up the river and pick up a mooring buoy (for free). As we went under a bridge, 25 meters high, the perspective of the mast looking up, makes it look like the mast was going to hit. We cleared it with plenty of margin, and it was a gorgeous evening for some al fresco dinner on the deck.  Benodet looked like a big town from the water, so we decided to have a second night at the marina, and a look around the town. It’s amazing how everything looks so much better from the sea, as the town was absolutely dead. Our highlight was finding a large Carrefour supermarket, and browsing the shelves for bargains and long term stores for the boat. We’ve even found a good bilge on the boat, to store the French wine that we have been stocking up with.

Weather forecasts are less detailed over here, especially as I am yet to be able to translate the French broadcast on the VHF. We are managing to pick up internet every few days, and take that opportunity to get an up to date forecast. The winds are moving more Westerly/North Westerly over the next week, which should make a good point of sail as we head towards La Rochelle.

First Month Aboard

We left Guernsey bright and early on Sunday 24th June, the winds were strong but forecast to reduce making for a good sail. The planned destination was Roscoff, approximately 116 miles to the southwest of Guernsey. As expected we left with the strong winds and racing tide (in our favour), we were off to a flying start. Gallinago performed well and the Hydrovane (our third crew member) rose to the challenge. Once away from Guernsey, we initially had a bit of a beat into the wind slowing progress, once clear of Guernsey though, we were on a good course for Roscoff. The sail was to take us through the night and we planned to arrive early the next morning. We settled down into a shift pattern (an easy 2 hours on 2 hours off) to ensure that we both got a few hours shut eye and to break us into the routine that will be needed on our more extended passages (though it will be 3 or 4 hour shifts). It was a glorious evening with the sun setting low in the sky, the wind blowing a good 15 knts and the sea levelling out. The sail through the night was fairly uneventful, though cold, and woolly hats and gloves were the order of the day. As the sun came up, so the wind died leaving a glassy calm expanse of water around us. There was nothing for it but to put the engine on and motor the remainder of the way to Rascoff – luckily only a few hours away. Cruising along the Brittany coast, we saw some splendid rocky islands and enjoyed breakfast burretoes as the sun rose, We also had our first sighting of dolphins on the trip. Arriving in Roscoff tired, we tried a little sailing onto the pontoon for extra sport, put the boat to bed, cracked a beer to celebrate a successful passage and got out heads down for a few hours prior to exploring Roscoff.

Our time in Roscoff was fairly uneventful, but enabled us to restock on some food….and importantly some local wine.

Keen to be finding some sun, and warmer climates, we wanted to push on down the Brittany cost. Our next port of call was L’Aber Wrac’h, a good days sail and a picturesque entry to the port with its many rocky out crops. We picked up a mooring buoy and settled down for a sumptuous dinner of spicy sausage, tomoto, vegetable something…!

After reviewing the weather for the comming days, it was clear that a southwesterly was going to be set in for the duration (not good for the way we wanted to go) and the winds were going to be strong. We made the call to head out early, catching the tide in our favour initially and make for Camaret-sur-Mer (just outside Brest). All was going well and we were making good time until the tide changed, where upon progress became considerably slower. Despite this and the wind gusting 28 knots, we sailed into the bay where we planned to anchor for the evening as the sun was going down. The engine went on and as we prepared to put the sails away, we realised that we could not engage the engine into gear….there was nothing for it but to pick a mooring and sail onto it. We sited a likely candidate, did a few short close quarter tacks and de-powered the sails smartly picking up the mooring bouy…..well maybe it was on the second attempt 🙂 With the boat secured, the cause of the malfunction was quickly identified as a sticking throttle button which was serviced the following morning.

We had a couple of nights on the buoy at Camaret-sur-mer whilst the winds blew through and then a pleasant morning sail to Brest where we planned to restock and get ashore for a few beers.

The 1 Jul saw our 1 month anniversary of the trip. We have both settled into the routine aboard, most things are now stored in a logical fashion and our sailing skills as a team have come on in leaps and bounds. We have tested Gallinago in some reasonably demanding situations and she has performed well, looking after us and giving a comfortable ride. Although, we have spent far too many miles beating into the wind and have not experienced nearly half as much sun as expected…..hopefully Brest will be the turning point! We will see!

And so the journey begins…

This year has been absolutely hectic with the boat preparations, planning for the journey, house rental, leaving work. We have both been looking forward to a rest and a holiday….a very long extended holiday!

After goodbyes with our families, we finally moved onto the boat the last week of May. There was so much stuff to stow away before we could even begin to think about setting sail. My entire wardrobe consisting of clothes and shoes for all eventualities (yes i really do need two pairs of heels and 4 handbags) was carefully packed away in vacuum sealed bags. I’ve even managed to negotiate a wardrobe to myself (the biggest one at that :-)).

Unfortunately we are not having much luck with the weather and on our planned day of departure (1st June), there was very little wind. There are always plenty of jobs to occupy our time on the boat, and so we decided to leave Plymouth on Saturday 2nd June.

We planned for a 1 week shake down sail in the UK, to give the boat a good test and check that the new rigging, sails, electronics etc were all in good working order before heading to foreign shores (and not to mention to ease me in gently).

It was a good sail to Salcombe, although we set off in beautiful sunshine and arrived with the wind blowing up. We moored on a visitor buoy that night and stayed aboard with plenty of food and wine, from the massive shop that we did before we left.

Day 2 was a bit unexpected. We left Salcombe in a reasonable breeze, with a good point of sail and i was enjoying being at the helm. However, i took us straight through an area of overfalls, which is a chartered area of higher waves. With the strong winds that blew up the night before, the waves were up to 5m high and the winds were blowing over 30knots.

On the way into Dartmouth, we noticed that it had become really difficult to turn the wheel. We had previously feared a problem with the Rudder during earlier sails in the year, but several ship wrights had assured us that there was enough play in the rudder. That night we took apart all of the steering cables and put on the emergency tiller. The steering cables were free running, however the rudder couldn’t be turned with the tiller.

The next day we decided to get the boat lifted out at Dart Haven Marina, to drop the rudder and inspect the problem. On dropping the rudder, the bearing came away from the boat still attached to the rudder shaft (its meant to stay in the boat, and the rudder turns within the bearing). We therefore took the opportunity to replace the bearing and the lip seal, however as it was the Queen’s jubillee, no one was back at work until the Wednesday.

Whilst out of the water and waiting for the replacement parts, we took the opportunity to finish all the little jobs that were not essential for departure. These included fitting in a shower on the sugar scoop, and installing a wifi booster and router to get wireless internet on the boat. The replacement parts arrived back the following Monday, and we put the rudder and steering back together. We got lifted back into the water on Tuesday 12th June, and after a brief test that the rudder was now working in the River Dart, we then set sail to Brixham.

It was a quick hop to Brixham and we decided to stay for just one night, as we really wanted to get on our way. Due to the wind direction, we decided to head for Weymouth. Going across Lyme Regis bay, gave an excellent opportunity to test the hydrovane (wind steering vane). It worked extremely well on a close point of sail, to the extent where i even managed to read my kindle for a few hours before feeling sea sick.

The weather forecast was expected to be strong winds again on the Thursday and Friday, so we decided to stay in Weymouth for a few more days. We had our first visitors to the boat, my Mum and the Flynns. Joshua loved the boat and wanted to come away with us, if only his Mummy would have let him!!

After our visitors left, we prepped the boat for a night sail across the English Channel. We knew there was not much wind expected, but we just wanted to get going and we both saw France as the start of the adventure. Needless to say we had to motor most of the way, and with the rain, it was a cold and wet night. We negotiated our way through the Shipping Channels, using our AIS to track the tankers and work out their heading and speed to ensure that we were not on a collision course. It was good practise at navigating the lights at night.

At last we arrived in Cherbourg at 9am on Monday 18th June, and it was a beautiful sunny day. We took a stroll into the town, and had our first coffee and pan au chocolat, then headed for the French supermarket for some cheese and red wine for lunch, before getting our heads down for some much needed shut eye.

The next day, we left Cherbourg (again with little wind) and headed for the Channel Islands. First stop was Alderney. We picked up a mooring buoy in the harbour, and walked into town for a beer. The harbour was exposed to the north easterly winds, and there was a lot of swell that night.

Again, the weather was due to blow up on the Thursday/Friday, so we decided to head to Guernsey to wait it out there for a few days. We arrived in St Peters Port, after some careful navigating due to the tidal gates and the rocks. We’ve had some time to explore Guernsey, do a little window shopping and even a bit of fishing from the end of the pier (still not caught anything yet though!). We had our first set of guests, Lyn and Ian Horne from E’le May (Biscay 36) onboard for a few glasses of wine and to exchange stories on our search for the ‘right’ boat and good ports of call on our way to Gibraltar.

We are itching to get going again and reach some sunnier climates and good anchorages, now that there is another good weather window appearing.

Back in the Water

The seacocks were all dismantled, greased and resembled.  The yacht was then launched (some time ago now).  The moment of truth was when she was fully in the water and the newly installed depth and speed transducers (installed in the hull) were checked for leaks…..luckily, there were no such issues.  After 3 months ashore the engine started easily and was soon purring away – trusty old Volvo.  Gallinago was motored round to her new berth and the process of getting her ready for sea began.  The engine was due its annual service and and the sails needed to be collected after being laundered and stored for the winter.  A new 145% head sail from Ullman Sails also needed to be installed and tested……not to mentions the new Harken furler and the rigging.

It was great to finally have the boat back in the water…..running water, working heads, no ladders to climb and no mud to wade through to get to the boat…bliss.

Free Power

The latest on the boat is that it now has a Rutland Wind Generator and an 80 watt solar power mounted on the gantry.  15 meters of cabling for each device has been run through the boat to the regulator and then to the battery banks.  Installing the kit on the gantry was fairly straight forward; however, the cable running for a little trickier.  Head lining were down, trunking was installed, holes were drilled….but after a lot of tie wrapping, a bit of soldering and lots of crimping the system installation was completed and power is being generated.  One less thing that we will have to go into the marinas for whilst on our travels – electricity.  The head-linings have just gone back up and the boat is starting to look a bit normal again.

That said, we still have multiple cable hanging out of the chart table.  That is the next job…installing the chart plotter etc..Whilst we were running cables a new GPS antenna was mounted on the gantry and a cable run to the chart table for the AIS.  A cable for the ST40 Bi-data (speed and depth) was also run from the Aft Cabin to the chart table.

We also took receipt of the water-maker, installation of which is the next big job on the list.  We definitely have to get the seacocks services and the hull anti-fouled next though.  Time is fast running out before the boat goes back in the water.  Lots still to do – luckily the days are drawing out so we don’t have to go to the marina bar quite so early 🙂

I forgot to mention that we have also installed some speakers on deck – got to have some tunes as we are heading across those oceans!

 

Upgade – Part Two

Well it is time to lift the boat out.  The engine has been winterised, the water tanks have been trained and all the systems have been flushed with an antifreeze solution – heads included.  That said, the temperature is rising!!!

Well it has been a very productive and busy week with a number of projects on the boat starting to come together. We had taken down all the headlinings in the boat so internally Gallinago is in a bit of a state.

That said, the Radar has now been installed, the Gantry has been installed and the deck organisers and jammers have been upgraded.  The original spinlocks were a little feeble for the job and were looking like they had seen their best.

 

 

 

 

The Gantry will be used to mount the solar panel and the wind generator….plus all the other things that we will come up with….I think it might need a hard core wifi booster:-)

 

 

 

The new shiny radome all ready to go up the mast.

 

 

 

 

The biggest issue with getting the radar installed was always going to be feeding the cable down through the mast – especially with the the RJ45 terminal on the end.  Luckily it slid down nice and easy.  The bracket was rivited on and the radome bolted to that.  All done and dusted in about an hour and a half. The next stage will be connecting this up to the chartplotter and testing.

 

 

These are the new Spinlock deck organisers which the ropes from the Mast are fed through back to the cockpit.  These have been uprated from the 38mm to 50mm sheaves (wheels) increasing the breaking strean quite considerably.  They have been mounted on a teak pad which has worked well.

The ropes from the deck organisers are fed through the XTS (large) and XAS (small) jammers – again upgraded from the original kit.

Electronics Upgrade – Part One

We decided that the wind, speed, depth displays and transducers needed to be upgraded as they were rather dated, and not particularly accurate.  I started by removing the displays which was fairly straight forward, it was then onto removing all the associated wiring.  The fun bit of this job was having to remove all of the headlining in the Saloon.  I was hoping just to remove one or two panels….but no…they all had to come down.  With all the wiring traced and removed we just needed to wait for the boat to be lifted out of the water so that the speed and depth transducers in the hull could be removed.  With all the head-linings down it gave the opportunity to do a bit of gluing on the backs to make sure they were well stuck on – most of the vinyl was starting to peal off.  A can of contact adhesive later they were looking quite good.

With all the panels down there is not a lot of room in the Saloon – alas I will have to wait until we have all the new cabling before I can put them back up.  It is going to be a cramped week.

Mast On

The Mast was lifted on on Wed.  The boom has been put back on and all the running rigging has been run.  The process all rent very smoothly and Gallinago is now looking like a yacht again.  Next job – the Hydrovane!

Rigging Replacement

It has been one busy week.  The Mast was lifted off on Monday and given a full inspection by Hemisphere Rigging.  Overall it is in good condition with no significant issues.  Whilst the Mast is down and accessible we have decided to make the most of the opertunity and replace…..pretty much everything we can…..the though being it is far easier to replace with the Mast down preempting equiptment failures later on.  I have been making the most of my time and ensuring that I gain a good understanding of the rigging replacement process. Namely spending quite a bit of time watching the guys at work 🙂  So as of Friday this week the following has been done:

  • All standing rigging has been replaced.
  • The wire main halliard has been replaced with Dyneema rope.
  • The Genoa, Spinnaker and Pole Up-hall halliards have been replaced with new rope.
  • The VHF has been replaced and a new cable run through the Mast.
  • The mast head lights, steaming and deck lights have been replaced and new cable run).
  • A new windex has been added and cable run.
  • The Raymarine ST60+ wind transducer has installed and cable run.
We have also added a couple of folding mast steps about 3 foot from the top of the mast.  This will be to make it a bit easier to work at the top of the Mast – should it be required.  The other key upgrade that we decided upon was to replace the existing Rotostay II head sail furler with a new Harken System.  The Rotorstay was fairly old and spare parts are not available if it breaks.
All the work on the Mast is now compete and it is looking good.  The only job now is to crane it back on next week.  This is planned for next Wednesday.

Mast Off

I finished work on the 16 Nov 2011 and it is now full steam ahead preparing Gallinago for our departure in June 2012.  The first thing on the list is to get the rigging replaced.  The approximate age of the present rigging is 10 years old so the time has definitely come to replace it – especially considering what we are intending to do with the yacht.  This week then I have arranged the lift of the mast and the replacement of all the rigging – work due to commence next week.  I have also received a number of quotes for sail replacement and instrument upgrades (Raymarine wind speed and depth transducers and displays – ST60+).

The Hydrovane has been delivered and arrived in 4 large boxes.  They weighed a ton! We still have to unpack and fully inspect the contents.  I have provisionally arranged for a local tradesman to assist with the fitting of the Hydrovane in a couple of weeks – it is definitely a 2 man job.  For the uninitiated the Hydrovane will be the third member of the crew steering the boat!

Having sold the Parejo – the funds from which will be paying for the Rigging – I am now waiting to get my hands on a Volvo that is in the family and available.  I am looking forward to being mobile again, much as I love the train.

It is going to be a busy week ahead with the rigging as I am looking to review the Mast Head Lights, remove the Radar, replace the VHF antenna and install a new Wind Transducer and cabling.  More to follow….