Archive Journal: 2001 - 2002
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05 July 2002
Chapter 14 - A Year to Remember
So here we are in Grenada in the southern Windwards with some 7,600 sea miles under our keel since leaving Chichester on 25th June last year. I don't think either of us thought when we set out what a wonderful year it would turn out to be. At the time, our minds were both reeling with saying goodbye to family and friends, disentangling ourselves from our life back in England, and finally seeing to all the last minute preparations to get ourselves and ALIESHA ready for sea.
It probably took us the best part of 4 months to sort ourselves out and get to know one another again. The pressures of everyday working life are now long gone and we have become different people to what we were a year ago. When you live within the very small confines of a 36' boat a certain amount of patience, love and understanding is required in order for the relationship to survive. Add to this the trials and tribulations of an Atlantic crossing and you become a very close-knit team at the end of it all.
And what of the highlights? There are so many, but those that stand out in our minds are the people we have met along the way; people from all walks of life, long-term cruisers like us who share the same hopes and dreams and whom we hope to meet up with again in some far-off port; the locals who have made us feel so welcome wherever we have been, and just so many people whom we have passed the time of day with either in a bar, in the bus or shopping in the market from the Isle of Wight to down here in Grenada. When you're sat on a bus with a large West Indian lady clutching several chickens, it's hard to maintain any British reserve! It has been wonderful to learn about different peoples and cultures at first hand, rather than through the distorting view of television and the press.
Other delights have been the wonderful sailing (well mostly wonderful anyway!), the snorkelling and, for Dick, the scuba diving which he would love to do more often but sadly the cruising budget only permits the occasional dive. Other favourites are steel bands, starry nights, time to read without feeling guilty and of course rum punch! We don't miss traffic jams, TV, daily newspapers, politics, schedules and all the rest of the paraphernalia that goes with modern living. You may wonder why we haven't added computers to this list! Truth is we would be lost without them - literally as one takes care of all our electronic charts, tidal and weather information while the other looks after all our emailing and web-site updates. So we still get the occasional frustration when something goes wrong but we really can't complain.
Drawbacks? Well there are a few of those too I could mention, like top-opening fridges. I would pay a fortune to anyone who could come up with an alternative to this beastly piece of boat design which always ensures that you have to take out the entire contents before you can find that odd bit of cucumber you just know is in there somewhere! Or if it isn't that, it's when you've covered the top with all your cooking clutter and then discover that you forgot to get the vital ingredient out of the fridge. AAAAGH!!!!!!
And so as we clean up the boat and pack our bags ready for the flight home on Tuesday we are getting very excited at the thought of seeing family and friends again and Kate and Steve's wedding in three weeks time. ALIESHA who has looked after us both so well is being hauled out in Prickly Bay on Tuesday morning and will be rewarded with a good bottom scrub before being chocked up to await our return at the end of July. You wouldn't believe the size of some of the barnacles but Dick has valiantly kept the worst of the weed and slime at bay by constantly diving with the scrubbing brush.
You will see from the Intended Route on our website that we should be heading off through the Panama Canal early next year. 'Intended' is a good adjective in this case as it implies change and this is currently what we plan to do. On our return from the UK we shall spend a couple of weeks working on the boat, or having work done, and then go down to Tobago and Trinidad. From there we hope to join forces with a small group of other cruisers and visit the Venezuelan islands and the Dutch Antilles. Mainland Venezuela is considered too dangerous following the recent coup there. Then back up the island chain and across to Cuba where we shall spend about 6 weeks. After which we shall go up the Eastern Seaboard of America, hopefully getting as far north as Nova Scotia but it will depend on time and weather. We will return south via the Bahamas at the end of the hurricane season in November/December 2003. So an exciting year is in prospect. If it turns out to be half as good as this one, we can count ourselves as being very fortunate people.
We look forward to you joining us back on the website in early September.
Pam and Dick
Mount Hartman Bay
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17 April 2002
Chapter 13 - The Leeward Islands to the Virgin Islands
Another two months has passed by since the last chapter which has seen us covering some 600 nautical miles and 14 different islands from Dominica (pronounced D-O-M/-I-N/-E-E-K-A) in the Leewards to St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. The diversity of topography, fauna, flora, cultures and customs has been amazing and we could write a whole book on what we have seen on just this leg of the trip. Don't worry! We have no plans to do any such thing here and will try and keep it short and interesting.
The Leewards are a mixture of volcanic islands, with towering peaks covered in tropical rain forest and stunning coastlines such as Guadeloupe and Dominica, and hilly islands with scrub terrain such as Antigua and St.Barts.. Both types have beautiful beaches although some of the volcanic islands have black sand rather than golden or white sand. Many of the islands still experience small amounts of volcanic activity and earthquakes and Montserrat is currently active. Everyone is advised to give it a 10-mile wide berth when sailing down the west coast. We sailed up its east coast but because the volcano was shrouded in cloud we weren't able to see anything.
If you want to buy cheap fresh bananas, oranges or grapefruit then Dominica is your island. In fact the whole island is really fertile and they say that 1 year's gardening in Dominica is worth 7 years in England. Here we saw waterfalls, hot bubbling springs, amazing trees and shrubs and beautiful flowers. But the scene that will forever stay in our memories is that of the Indian River. We were taken up there by boat shortly after dawn, our guide gently rowing so as not to disturb the birds and river creatures. It was like a scene from Grimms Fairy Tales with the roots from the Swamp Bloodwood trees fringing the river and the leaf canopy meeting over our heads. Any minute we expected to see the wicked witch emerge from one of these trees! We didn't of course but what we did see was belted kingfishers, green-backed herons, ground doves and bananaquits amongst other things.
The French islands that we visited - Guadeloupe, The Saintes and St. Barts - are almost more French than France in their way of life and customs. All the women, black or white, are dressed as if they are about to walk out on a Parisian catwalk. The boutiques and shops, especially in St. Barts are to die for and nearly every other building is a bar or restaurant with typically French cuisine. The supermarkets stock everything you would expect to find in France from Chaume to Champagne but it is not cheap. After the poverty of Dominica it was a refreshing change.
Antigua is different again. Around English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour it is almost like being back in old blighty with the buildings still remaining intact that were used by the navy when Nelson was leading the campaign against the French. The buildings have now all been restored and turned into a very attractive visitor centre with all the usual facilities for the yachting fraternity. There is even an English style pub! On Sunday afternoons people take a taxi or climb the hill (as we did) up to Shirley Heights where the local steel band perform for several hours before they switch to reggae which is so loud it's unbearable. The steel band were extraordinary and could play anything from Mozart to Glen Miller. Not a bad way to spend a hot Sunday afternoon, sipping rum punch, listening to the music and gazing out over the Caribbean! The ladies had an extra bonus - a gorgeous rastafarian with the most sexy body you've ever seen dancing in front of the steel band (well that would be the polite way of putting it!) and entertaining the audience.
We had an extraordinary experience whilst we were anchored off Green Island on the east side of Antigua. We arrived just before lunch in this very beautiful anchorage and dropped our anchor in company with a very large motor vessel and a charter boat. Well it wasn't long before the people on the M/V got out all their toys and before we knew it we had speed boats, donuts, ocean riders et al going round and round at high speed causing ALIESHA to start rocking madly and our lunch to disappear off the table. Then a small helicopter turned up and landed on the island and was obviously part of the picnic going on along side us. Dick and I went ashore in the dinghy to do some snorkelling from the beach and try and get away from it all but the noise was truly awful from the helicopter and was quite disturbing even with your head under water. What awful people these must be we said to each other - no manners and more money than sense! Back on the beach again we were approached by a young couple who apologised most profusely for all the disturbance but they had been doing a photo shoot for the large motor vessel which was now thankfully completed. Meanwhile the helicopter had landed just down the beach from us and the pilot came over and added his apologies. He was rather a dish so I was more than happy to forgive him and Dick thought the girl was rather stunning too so we all had a good laugh and went on our way. Some 20 minutes after getting back on board two others member of their crew came over in their dinghy bearing a bottle of very nice chilled French wine for us to have with our dinner. I wonder if we will appear in the brochure! I rather doubt it looking at all the nubile young wenches and good-looking chaps that had been hired as crew for the occasion!
And so finally to the Virgin Islands. We did an overnight passage from Anguilla to Tortola across the Anagada Passage. This can be a tricky crossing if there is a large swell from the north or north east but we picked our moment and it was a very good sail. We had a clipper cruise liner some 10 miles ahead of us going the same way so navigation was easy! These things look like the Blackpool Illuminations at night with all their masts strung with lights.
Our time in the Virgin Islands has been one long party since the moment we arrived here, meeting up with our old friends Chris and Heather off HALO and their friends Mick and Wendy who are currently living in Tortola. We spent a very merry Easter in their company and enjoyed the delights of snorkelling in the Caves and going to the Willy T, a somewhat notorious floating bar where, if the ladies remove their tops and jump in from the top deck, they are rewarded with a free Willy T tee-shirt. Shame I don't like jumping into water!
Having said our fond farewells to HALO who are now going north to the eastern seaboard we belted over to St Croix (US Virgin Islands, formerly owned by Denmark) for a few days where we met our Danish friends off PIKERO and enjoyed an excellent evening with them. Then back to St Thomas to prepare the boat for Gillian and John, my sister and her husband who live in Cincinnati and who joined us for a week's cruising round the islands. We had a lot of fun despite some poor weather at the start of their visit and a truly awful day, the day before they left. But we still managed to find lots of sun in between and it wasn't long before they were applying the Aftersun in large doses! We had lots of superb snorkelling and some pretty good sailing too.
Back on our own now we are planning a quick trip over to Culebra and Puerto Rico and possibly Vieques in the Spanish Virgin Islands before Jon, our son, joins us for a week at the beginning of May. We shall then have to leg it down to Grenada to be out of the hurricane zone by 1st June. We return to the UK on 19th June for Kate and Steve's wedding on 6th July and look forward very much to seeing everyone then.
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15 February 2002: (Pam)
Chapter 12 - Further Impressions of The Caribbean
We are shortly to leave the Windwards and sail north to the Leewards. At least we think we are; there seems to be some confusion between the guide books as to whether Dominica is part of the Windwards or the Leewards! Whichever, it sounds a very interesting island and quite unlike any we have been to so far.
So what have we been up to since Chapter 11?
Firstly Dick passed his PADI scuba diving course in Bequia with flying colours. He managed to lose the rest of the class during one of the dives and caused a certain amount of extra oxygen to be consumed by his dive buddy and instructor. They found him again bobbing about on top of the waves safe and sound wondering where the hell everyone else had got to!
Having got that out of the way we then legged it back to Rodney Bay, St Lucia, to pick up Kate and Steve. Kate arrived with a horrible bug and it took a couple of days of warm Caribbean sunshine and rum punches to get her sorted out. And then we were off south again to Bequia which is still our favourite island so far; why I don't know but it seems to have an atmosphere all of its own. We celebrated my birthday there with an evening at the International Blues Festival held at the Plantation House Hotel and listened to some really great artists. The following evening we dined out at Fernando's Hideaway where Steve managed to set light to his shirt having previously lost his favourite pair of shorts off the boat's washing line and into the oggin the day before!
Dick, Kate and Steve enjoyed some diving over the 4 or 5 days we were there. Steve toured the island looking for good windsurfing spots on the Atlantic side but none of the bays could produce the 25 knots or so constant wind he was looking for. The only cloud on the horizon was the loss of our dinghy which went AWOL for the second time in a week. On the first occasion I'd tied it on in the approved fashion while Dick was away doing his dive course and, to my horror, saw it drifting away astern of us when I popped my head up through the hatch to get some air. A very gallant German gentlemen dived in from his boat and grabbed it as it drifted by and another equally gallant American towed it back for me in his dinghy. The second time we were not so lucky. We had all gone off to visit friends on their boat shortly after arriving in Bequia and, being dark, no one saw it slip away. Despite a lengthy search in friend's dinghy there was no sign of it and we had to write that one off to experience. Well, the dinghy was called HOBO so I suppose it was only living up to its name! We were fortunate in being able to buy a good second-hand dinghy from one of the other live-aboards. The outboard engine we had to buy from new. Anyway, moral of this little story is to have a good stout rope with which to secure the dinghy and always tie it on yourself!
We finally tore ourselves away from Bequia and went off down to the Tobago Cays in search of some strong wind. And we found it much to Steve's delight! So while Dick, Kate and I took the 'new' dinghy off to visit the tiny islands and swim and snorkel, Steve was flying through the anchorage on the latest piece of sail-board wizardry. Sadly we had to head north again for St Lucia after only a day and a half down there as we reckoned it would take us 2-3 days' sailing, including night stops, with 20 - 25 knots of wind on the nose.
And so having been fully updated on all the wedding arrangements, we bade a tearful farewell to Kate and Steve until the summer. They flew back to a new job for Kate, a new house in Hamble and continuous rain. We returned to our boat to resolve the problem of a fresh water leak in the bilges (100% better than a salt water leak!) and a faulty shower outlet pump, and continuous rain!! (well, rain showers)
The leak was resolved by the despatch of a spare part from the UK, using DHL. We tracked its progress across the world via the Internet, until it "disappeared" in St Lucia. Eventually we telephoned DHL, to learn that all that was needed was a special importation licence ($25EC), after which the part would be delivered to the boat, accompanied by a Customs Officer, this to ensure that it was truly for a "yacht in transit" and so entitled to be brought in duty free.
All went smoothly until the Customs Officer said "Where's de boat?" When Dick said "at anchor in the bay" he lost interest in procedure and waived the visit. He also missed out on some freshly baked flapjacks, but Dick took him a couple the next morning, when we cleared out for Martinique.
The sail to Martinique was hard on the wind, in 20 knots of warm trade wind, and was just glorious. We anchored in Marin, our arrival port after the Transatlantic, and it felt just like visiting Cherbourg or some other French port we know. After the formalities (very relaxed here) we managed to find some much needed bits of chandlery as well as a selection of decent French cheeses, pates and wine, and felt even more at home, taking lunch in the cockpit..
Martinique is our second favourite island, so far. It is so very French, yet with a Caribbean slant, which makes it exotic, yet familiar. We hired a car on Mardi Gras and toured most of the island, having the bonus of seeing the Carnival parades in 2 of the towns we passed through. Tomorrow we visit Fort de France, the capital, to clear out for Dominica, and then it will be "au revoir, Windwards, at least for a while.
PS We have actually used the dreaded Euro and, you know what, it isn't bad at all! Not as easy to convert, mind you, but on the basis of 3 Euros equals 2 Pounds, we are getting along fine. Maybe the Government haven't got it right on this one........
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15 January 2002: Pam (Chapter 11) and Dick (Chapter 10)
Chapter 11: First Impressions of the Caribbean
Well, if you think it's wet in England, you want to try the Caribbean for rain! I think it has rained at some point nearly every day since we arrived including three continuously wet days from dawn to dusk. Christmas Day finished with a deluge which continued well into Boxing Day. However there's still lots of sunshine in between and, of course, it's always hot. All the locals are saying this is most unusual for the time of year and it's the weather they should have had back in November. Being British, we have a very stoic approach to these things and anyway, does it really matter when the rain is so warm even though the planter's punch gets a bit diluted now and again!
It has taken us a little while to settle into the Caribbean culture (?), it being our first ever visit here. It is very different to Europe and is beginning to feel far more like a big adventure than the first part of our trip. We've learnt to barter in the markets and to say 'NO' to the boat boys in the nicest possible way. In fact, contrary to what we were lead to expect, we've been quite pleased to use their services even though it is a little more expensive. The only time we've felt threatened is when we got surrounded by boat-boys approaching Wallillabou Bay on St Vincent. Dick radioed the hotel there and asked them who we should deal with to tie up to a buoy. Once we had a name, and said that was who we were dealing with, the others all went away without further trouble. It can be scary though if you don't know what to expect.
Christmas and new year were in St Lucia and were great fun spent in the company of our new friends whom we have made along the way. Christmas kicked off with mince pies, mulled wine and carols on board Aliesha on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day was spent with a crowd of about 20 British yachties in a very smart beach hotel. It is the second time I've swam on Christmas Day, the first being in an Austrian ski resort - how different can you get! After pushing the boat out for Christmas we all decided to get together and pool our resources for new years eve which was just as much fun - but oh what a mess in the morning!
So far we have visited Martinique, St Lucia, a one-night stop in St Vincent, Bequia, Mayreau and the Tobago Cays. The islands are all subtly different. Unlike the Canaries which are also of volcanic origin, these islands are covered in rich tropical vegetation. Volcanic peaks tower above the forests and the coastlines consist of beautiful sandy bays and rocky inlets. Perfect for anchoring, swimming and snorkelling. The West Indians all seem very friendly and helpful, particularly on St Lucia where they have a very happy-go-lucky approach to life.
We are currently in Bequia where Dick is doing a 5-day PADI scuba-diving course. This is something he's wanted to do since he was a wee boy (I didn't know scuba diving had been invented then, but he assures me it was!!) so hopefully there will be much celebration on Wednesday when he gets his certificate. As for me, well I'm still trying to master the art of snorkelling - very difficult when you don't like getting your face wet!!
Excitement is mounting as we look forward to Kate and Steve's visit on the 20th. Steve is coming armed with the latest in sailboard technology and we've found just the place for him down in Tobago Cays. Scuba diving will also be on the menu so Dick can practise his new-found skill in the company of Steve and Kate who are PADI certified to rescue level, not to mention some wonderful sailing as we go from island to island. I'm looking forward to catching up with all the wedding preparations and the time will just fly by.........................
Chapter 10: Across the Atlantic
Tuesday 27th November had been decreed as the day we left for the crossing, but, sensibly, we left the actual departure time open. "We'll go", we said, "when we are ready."
It was a beautiful morning in Mogan, warm sunlight and a slight southerly breeze. We woke late, had a leisurely breakfast and listed last-minute jobs and purchases. Then a knocking on the hull announced Mike from Sunshine Maritime, come to fit a cooling fan to the Spectra Watermaker, under warranty. "It'll only take 20 minutes", he said, and two hours later he left with the item in place and working. It's somehow reassuring to know even the professionals get caught, not just us yachties.
We badly needed another Camping Gaz cylinder, and knew the local ferreteria were stockists. This morning, of all mornings, they had none, and we dared not leave without! Consternation, for there was only one other possible source. If they too were out, we faced an uncertain delay, and we realised how much we wanted to get started. Luck was with us and we secured the vital cylinder, then paid our dues to Maria Teresa in the port office, bought a few more beers in case of a slow trip and returned on board.
A light lunch, and we slipped our lines and motored gently out of the harbour, passed our friends Chris and Heather on HALO, who gave us a noisy farewell on their foghorn, and then...we really were on our way! The time was 1515, UT.
Navigating across the ocean from the Canaries to the West Indies is quite a simple task to plan. To be certain of the constant, warm Trade Winds, you sail approximately south west for about 800 miles, to a point about 25 degrees North, 30 degrees West. Then, assuming the Trades are blowing, you turn more or less due West for another 2000 miles and, voila, on y est. To save a few miles I had worked out a great circle course and put a further 4 waypoints into the GPS, with a small course change at each one. There is more to think about on a cross-Channel trip than an ocean crossing, and our only concern was the possibility (probability?) of colliding with another boat as we approached the 25N 30W waypoint! With about 1000 yachts on the passage at the same time, this was a real possibility.
With the winds expected to be between 15 and 25 knots all the way, and from astern, you usually plan to use a special down-wind rig, either twin headsails with a pole to boom out each one, or, as we did, to use the genoa and a second jib, the one poled out with the spinnaker pole and the other sheeted to the end of the boom. The mainsail stays down all the way. Sailors have described making the entire crossing without altering their rig, or changing direction more than a few degrees every other day or so, and we hoped to do the same.
You don't steer on a trip like this. We carry GEORGE, a wind vane, and the Autohelm, an electric-powered self-steering device. George uses wind power, Autohelm uses precious amps, and having both should free us from the tyranny of having to steer for days on end.
Watch keeping would be divided up into 3-hour chunks between 2100 and 0900. You do have to keep a watch, partly to ensure avoiding other vessels and mostly to be ready to alter the sail area if a squall happens along, as, the books had told us, they sometimes do. The mornings would be set aside for necessary jobs and any unforced sail changes as we thought appropriate. In the afternoons we would both try for an hour's sleep or so, until "Happy Hour" at 1800 which would then be followed by dinner. Wine would be taken, but sparingly, since we would have to keep alert.
Water would come from the 400 litres we carried in tanks and canisters, and from the watermaker. Personal washing was allowed, with a shower every 5 days or so, provided the watermaker continued to work. Otherwise water would be for drinking and washing up only.
What actually happened!
It didn't quite work out like that.
As we left Mogan, the wind was from the south-west and so we turned on the engine. At least we could start with fully charged batteries. By dark though, it had swung to the north-east and increased to a Force 5-6, causing us to put first one and then a second reef in the main. That night, under a full moon, it was cold, so cold that we both wore thermals while on watch.
ALIESHA was travelling fast, above six knots, and the motion was appalling. Still, we thought, it'll calm down soon and we'll get used to the motion (wrong and wrong). We glimpsed an American yacht, CALYPSO, which had left Mogan just after us, and, speaking to her skipper, Nick, by VHF the next morning, we learned that they too were finding conditions difficult - and they were on the last leg of a circumnavigation so well used to ocean sailing.
And this was the pattern for the whole voyage. The winds were mostly between 20 and 25 knots, from astern, to be sure, but they produced a confused sea through which ALIESHA rolled and pitched and bucked for nearly 20 days. We never did get properly used to the motion, for it was so unpredictable. Put anything down that wasn't on the gimballed stove and it flew off across the cabin. This mostly happened to the G&T's, for some reason, and Pam's language became truly atrocious as the days wore on. Happy Hour and dinner (mostly prepared by Pam and, very occasionally, by Dick) were the highlights of the day and we dined magnificently all the way across, with much variety and great enjoyment.
On the afternoon of Day 2 we decided to stow the mainsail and to set our Trade Wind rig, the genoa and a second jib, set on a second forestay, and boomed out on our only pole. It worked reasonably well, but our attempts to improve the set of the free-flying genoa by sheeting it through a block on the end of the boom (recommended by many pundits) were unsuccessful, and we soon abandoned them.
One great advantage of this rig is that one person can easily reduce sail in a squall, by furling the genoa on its roller gear. Easily, that is, until the gear jams, which happened on Day 3. The problem was soon diagnosed as due to allowing it to unfurl without keeping enough tension on the furling line, which resulted in a terrible jam inside the furling drum. The remedy was to lower the sail, remove the drum, unwind the line then reverse the process until the sail was set again. It was really quite simple, but at 5+knots on a bucking foredeck it took an hour and 40 minutes!
On Day 4 we had some sunshine and were entertained for about 20 minutes by a huge pod of dolphins, who took turns to ride our bow-wave, squeaking and clicking in delight as they swam closer and closer to our hull. These were the only dolphins we were to see the whole trip, and we longed for a repeat performance as the days wore on.
Day 5 was also nice and that night we dispensed with the thermals, for it was definitely warmer. Things were looking up.
Day 7. Extract from the log:
"Wind varying between 12 and 22 knots. V. rolly sea, bad motion. Raining". Then it improved and we were treated to shoals of flying fish bursting from the bows and gliding across the waves, some managing a hundred yards or more before clipping a wave top and returning to the water. We found one of our spare water containers had leaked, but with the watermaker (thanks to the fan) running well, we didn't mind. We each took a shower, washed our hair, put on clean clothes - magic.
During the day we spoke by radio to HALO, and learned that she had just departed Mogan and was motoring in no wind. That evening, we tuned in to "Herb", a Canadian amateur weather forecaster who gives weather and routing advice to yachts on passage across the Atlantic. With so many boats at sea, we didn't register, but located a small group near to us and listened to their forecasts. All in all, a good 24 hours, and we had more or less got our sea legs and were into the routine and enjoying ourselves.
Day 8 we made the 25N 30W waypoint and altered course for Martinique, some 2000 miles away. We also gained a passenger, a white cattle egret, one of a flock of about 10 birds and clearly exhausted. FRED, as we named him, dropped onto the stern deck, and clung there looking very sorry for himself.
We tried to persuade him to take food, or water, but having no insects aboard, we found nothing he would take. Nonetheless, he moved into the cockpit, tucked his head under his wing and went to sleep. We were glad to have him.
On Day 9 we were convinced we had found the Trades. The sky was clear except for a few, fluffy white clouds like the steam from an old railway engine. The sun shone, it was hot, the sea was an amazing blue. We spoke to various friends making the crossing with the ARC, and established a daily radio schedule, which preceded happy hour and became another highlight of the day. Of course, given that we all reported our positions, a certain new keenness crept in (not that we were racing, you understand)! As the wind had dropped to less than 20 knots, we reverted to mainsail and poled out genoa, and cracked on at a great pace.
It didn't last. On Day 10 we were overtaken by a series of black squalls, each with heavy rain and many, but not all, with strong gusts, forcing us to reef. During one such gust poor Fred was lost overboard. Dick had to race back to the cockpit from the mast to free a jammed rope. Fred was in residence and, to avoid treading on him, Dick flipped him into the air. The wind blew the poor weakened creature into the sea, from which he rose once, made the rail, then fell back and soon sank, but not before fixing us with a most piteous stare which haunts us both still.
And so was established the pattern of the weather for most of the rest of the crossing. It seems that there was a low pressure trough lying along our course and, for 8 days or so, we sailed in or just beside it. There was sunshine, then a squall, more sun, more rain. The winds were up and down, in the range 20-30 knots, so we mostly sailed with reefed or double reefed mainsail and then varied the amount of genoa as seemed sensible. Relaxing it was not.
Extracts from the log:
9th December. "Rolling ever onwards, 2 reefs in main and jib. Awful motion"(We used it to track the squalls. If we could see one would miss us, we didn't have to reduce sail)
10th December. "Nice day, lousy night (SQUALLS) Radar u/s"
12th December. "A very pleasant, sunny day's sailing"
But all things pass and, as we neared our destination, we made entries like:
13th December. "A shitty night, rain, heavy squalls (up to 37 knots).
Saw our first ship through a squall. Fixed radar"
15th December. "a great sail, a velvety night, reasonable sea, lovely dawn.
Early on 16th December Pam sighted the lighthouse on the southern tip of Martinique and lights from St Lucia across the channel. We were almost there. We both felt conflicting emotions, a desire to make port, and a sadness that our adventure was drawing to a close.
Wonderful not to be rolling for a change"
We sailed gently on, timing our arrival at the port of Marin with the dawn. As it grew light we made out the approach markers and, at 0900, we entered the marina and tied up at the end of a very long jetty, alongside a friendly French yacht, for there was no room for us except at anchor.
We had done it.
We covered 2800 miles, all but 100 under sail alone. Our time of just under 20 days was respectable, but not record breaking. Frankly, we had had to sail to our strength, or lack of it, to ensure a safe arrival rather than an early one. We faced the Atlantic and arrived intact, or reasonably so. We fulfilled our dream.
We enjoyed the adventure. There were moments of pure delight, by day and by night, when the vastness of the ocean or the brilliance of the stars caused a catch in the throat, so beautiful and so rare were the scenes we witnessed.
Talking to other sailors with more experience than us, it seems clear that we had quite tough weather conditions, with much more cloud and rain squalls than are usual. However, at least we always had a good wind. We have met another 36 footer which sailed ten days before us and took 27 days. Our friends on HALO, a 42 footer, arrived on the 24th after a 22 day crossing.
Our planning and our preparation stood us in good stead and most things worked and worked well. Sailing a small boat across an ocean is always going to have testing moments, and we coped with those which came along. There are a few things to change before the next ocean passage, and we will do them during this summer's fit-out.
Best of all, we worked together as a team and never wavered in the trust and confidence we each felt in the other. After 34 years of happy marriage, no re-dedication is needed, but in a way, this voyage reaffirmed the strength of our relationship in a unique manner.
We are now exploring the wonderful Caribbean islands, familiar to many of you but new to us both. Having accomplished one major goal, we are content to drift along for a while, enjoying our new surroundings with the many new friends we have made along the way. Thoughts of the summer wedding of Kate and Steve are starting to take precedence over more major trips, and we won't decide our next major direction until after the wedding.
Sailing a small boat across the Atlantic is not as difficult as what comes beforehand - the decision to do it, the arrangements to leave normal life, family, friends for a year or more, the planning and preparation. Once you set out, you meet lots of others who are doing the same trip, and it soon becomes quite the usual thing to do. So, why are you waiting?
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26 November 2001: (mostly) Dick
Chapter 9: Cruising the Canaries
Our first island was little Graciosa, just off the northern tip of Lanzarote. It is bare, volcanic rock, with little vegetation and about as many inhabitants. We had anchored off a lovely beach on the southern side and passed the day lazing, swimming and, from noon, entertaining the crew of ASTERIE who had followed us from Porto Santo.
We could well have stayed but next day the wind, normally from the northern quadrant, was determinedly from the South West, and blew straight into our anchorage, making it rather rolly and uncomfortable. ASTERIE suggested we move on down to Arecife and we readily agreed.
It was a beautiful day and the breeze was just perfect for sailing. After we had passed through the spectacular channel between Graciosa and Lanzarote (towering black cliffs on the one side, gold and reddish cones and hills on the other, with a deep blue strip of water dividing them) we turned south along Lanzarote's East coast. Here we soon saw our first holiday complex, neat white buildings spreading back from a tiny harbour, but none of them more than 5 stories high.
Apparently Lanzarote employed a local artist, Cesar Manrique, now deceased, as Director of Development. He banned all high rise buildings and also personally designed many of the tourist developments. The result is tasteful and pleasing, at least from a distance.
Sailors among you will realise that, when two boats are going in the same direction, a race soon develops. So it was with ALIESHA and ASTERIE. Although some six feet shorter, ALIESHA soon slipped into the lead, but James and Jan on ASTERIE are nothing if not competitors, Soon they hoisted their cruising chute, a kind of spinnaker, royal blue and decorated with a spray of stars. It not only looked the business, it added at least a knot to their speed and steadily they caught us up. So we had to hoist our chute, set as a spinnaker, and just managed to hold them off until the finish at Arecife.
Arecife is the capital of the island and it almost without tourists. Indeed, the Lanzaroteans have had the happy notion of creating tourist villages all over their island, and then of bussing visitors straight there from the airport, and back again at the end of their stay. This happy notion leaves Arecife as a genuine Canarian town, lived in by its locals and pleasantly different from most towns in tourist areas. We loved it.
The old harbour contained about 20 cruisers from all over the world - Brits, French, Germans, Americans, Kiwis, S Africans, Dutch..... It was a social place, too. Bruce and Alison from the American catamaran SYMPATICO invited the entire anchorage to a cocktail party our second night. Two nights later it was a potluck supper on the quay, everyone taking and sharing their food and drink. Unfortunately the weather had turned quite nasty, with a chilly and strong NE wind, but a good time was had by all.
On our way back to the boat, we had one nasty moment. The outboard cut out, and when Dick reached for the oars he realised one of the rowlocks was missing. These are permanently tied to the dinghy, but nonetheless, only one remained. We tried to paddle but in that wind were being blown steadily out of the harbour when the crew of ASTERIE loomed out of the darkness and towed us back to ALIESHA. Needless to say, we now check the rowlocks, oars, bailer etc etc every time we get into the dinghy.
Other friends we'd met earlier on the trip arrived as the days went by - Jim and Diane from ALERT, Brad and Suzanne and children from WINDHARP, Peter and Corinne, our neighbours from Gibraltar, John and Kay from SKYLLA (by road). It was a sociable time.
Thursday we hired a car and set off to tour the island. First stop, owing to a wrong turn, was Puerto Carmen, one of the largest holiday developments on the island. We drove through about three miles of bars, restaurants, grockle shops and supermarkets before finding the escape route. Then we went into the lava fields of TimanFaya. Through six years, from 1830 to 1836, the southern end of Lanzarote erupted, covering the most fertile part with molten rock, with clinker and with ash. We'd never seen the results of recent (geologically speaking) volcanic activity and were stunned. We took a tour of the main points of interest and were fascinated. If I escape being any closer to an eruption, I'll be happy.
Then across the island, marvelling at the local horticulture. Almost every single plant has to be sheltered behind a low wall of local stones, to keep the wind from scorching it, and to trap what little moisture there is in the night-time air.
After lunch in a pleasant bar we found the "Green Caves", a lava tube about a mile and a half long. We joined a large party led by a rather bored guide, whose English was pretty unintelligible, but we were still enthralled by the evidence of such massive heat and energy. We've seen limestone caves; they are impressive, and beautiful too, but these were so different. We both were fascinated by the way molten basalt had solidified into ripples down the walls, for all the world like chocolate icing on the sides of a cake.
After a week we moved down to Puerto Calero, a few miles south. This is a modern, purpose built marina, very well laid out and very busy. Still, we managed to talk our way into a berth for 2 nights, later extended to 4, and enjoyed the comforts of water on tap and mains electricity. More friends, more parties. A feature of Calero are the polished brass bollards which are on the quaysides. The Brasso fairy must come every night for, as the sun rises, there they are. Gleaming and immaculate.
We'd planned to visit Fuerteventura, but the anchorages and ports are all on the SE side, and that was the direction the wind took, blowing a Sirocco and coating everything with a fine red Saharan dust. We set sail into the murk for Las Palmas in Gran Canaria, and after an interesting night of wind shifts and reefing/unreefing, we entered the port at Las Palmas early on the Friday morning.
Las Palmas is host to the ARC, the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, a gigantic cruise in company across the Atlantic to St Lucia. Not being members, we were not allowed into the marina, but found a spot in the anchorage, and rolled horribly until we managed to find a better spot in the shelter of the breakwater. We landed on the beach and went into town to explore.
Las Palmas is a major city. It has lots of real shops, including El Corte Ingles, a 7 story department store on both sides of the main shopping street. We were tempted and we gave way. We also found the produce market, on two stories and selling just about every form of meat, fish fruit and vegetable you could imagine. We ate well that night.
Saturday was grey and rainy, but still warm. More shopping, and some farewells, to chums with the ARC fleet, who would remain in Las Palmas until their departure on 25th November. Early on Sunday morning we raised the anchor and set of for Puerto de Mogan, on the SW side of Gran Canaria, where we had booked a berth for three weeks, and from which we will make our own departure, on 27th November. There was little wind and soon the rain came down in earnest, so we had to motor the whole 50 miles or so, but even so we were awed by the ruggedness of the west coast, where steep mountains drop sheer into the sea. As we approached the harbour entrance, a flying fish skittered across the water, flying maybe 20 metres before slipping out of sight.
Reaching Mogan about 1700, we dropped anchor and SMS'd Chris and Heather on HALO, our friends from Chichester. In no time they were alongside in the dinghy and we fell to swapping stories of our journeys down from England. This continued over a delightful dinner on HALO and the next morning we were invited to take our berth in the marina.
Puerto de Mogan is a purpose-built holiday resort, but tastefully done, all white apartments two stories high, flowers and palm trees. There are bars, restaurants and boutiques, supermarkets, chandleries and hairdressers - everything for the holidaymaker, whether seagoing or land-based. Germans predominate and so the restaurants advertise schitzel und chips and serve food at familiar times, not from 10.30 pm as in Spain. We have enjoyed our time here.
The first week we spent working hard to get ALIESHA cleaned up, as after over four months of constant travelling she was not looking her best. We broke most afternoons to join the Saints for a swim, going outside the harbour in the dinghies and diving off the boats into about 6 metres of clear warm water. After five days of this it had become a welcome part of our routine, but on the Friday we were chased from the water by the local lifeguards with news of "beeg feesh". I've never seen such swimming in my life, even at the Olympics!
It seemed that the day before two swimmers had been bitten by a fish of some kind. We never learned any more, but thoughts of Jaws stopped the daily swims for over a week.
Sunday the 11th saw Kate, Jon and Steve (Kate's fiancé) arrive. You can imagine how lovely it was to be with them after so long. We talked until late and planned the week ahead.
Monday morning we provisioned the boat and then sailed at lunchtime for a small harbour/anchorage on the western edge of Gran Canaria. The scenery was spectacular but the anchorage was untenable owing to the swell. After a cup of tea we up-anchored and blasted off to Los Cristianos in SW Tenerife, arriving at 0115 after a very fast crossing (55 miles in 7 hours).
Crstianos is a ferry port and tourist centre and, in daylight, and under a heavy grey cloud, looked uninviting, whilst out to sea we could see sunshine reflecting from the sails of other boats. Off to sea we went again, and soon left the grey murk behind and saw WHALES. A pod of long-finned pilot whales were moving down the channel at a leisurely pace, oblivious to us and other boats which approached them. These were the first whales I had ever seen (writes Dick) and I was thrilled.
We sailed to La Gomera, one of the smaller islands. Fatally we phoned the marina in the only real harbour, San Sebastian, to be told they had no room. Undeterred, we diverted to Santiago, a lovely little port according to the picture in our pilot book. Arriving, however, we found grey skies once again, the wind off the sea and a nasty swell, which meant no anchorage, and there was clearly no room behind the little breakwater. We moved a mile up the coast, tucked in under a headland out of the wind and laid a stern anchor to haul our bows into the swell. So settled, the boys cooked a splendid meal while we watched the stars, fantastic in the clear air with no light pollution to dim them.
Eerily, all around us dim lights gleamed from caves in the cliffs. We'd noticed a few encampments as we arrived. It seems this part of the island is home to a colony of drop-outs, who wear no clothes and live simple lives with few comforts. (much like us when on passage!)
Next morning we rose early and motored up the coast and into the marina at San Sebastian. We were given a space alongside other boats on the quay, and so proved the wisdom of the old saying "it's better to arrive than to telephone ahead".
After exploring the little town, quite genuine and unspoilt by tourism, we hired a car for the following day. This took us high into the mountains where we encountered a different world and a climate to go with it. There is a rainforest of evergreen trees and shrubs up there, which is more like the hills of home than anywhere we have seen in the Canaries. Unfortunately we had not come adequately dressed and, because the temperature must have been a whole 10 degrees C lower than at sea level, we couldn't go walking. Still, it was quite an experience, enhanced by a visit to the very informative Visitors' Centre, which explained the importance of this "laurisilva" to the existence of water .
Seeking warmth, we motored down the spectacular mountain road to Valle Gran Rey, where we found sun and a black beach where we had a swim. Then back through more tremendous scenery to the port. We liked La Gomera.
Friday saw us sailing, then motor-sailing "home" to Mogan, where we were able to watch Ireland vs the AllBlacks in the local Irish Bar, drink Guinness and eat chips, quite disgraceful and great fun!
The family returned on Sunday, leaving us very flat. Since then we have done yet more jobs, bought and stowed yet more food and drink (Mostly drink!: Pam) and waited for our departure day.
We leave for Martinique on Tuesday, 27th November. Our next chapter, all being well, will cover the crossing. We are keen to go and not nervous, just wanting to get started. Wish us well.
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25 October 2001: Dick & Pam
Chapter 8: Porto Santo to The Canaries - A Taste of the Exotic
We'd never heard of Porto Santo till this trip so just to put you all in the picture it's a very small Portuguese volcanic island in the Madeiran chain and has a population of less than 5,000. It is very barren with several high volcanic peaks and lava flows - long extinct, thank goodness. What little vegetation there is, is on the northern side where smallholders try to eke out an existence. Porto Santo is mostly known for its wonderful golden sands and is popular with the tourists who come over from Madeira.
The small marina, built within the only harbour on the island, is efficiently run by Nelson, the handsome young boatman and by Sonia and Tanya, his delightful ladies in the marina office. We managed to break our self-steering gear on a mooring line whilst we were at anchor in the harbour waiting for a space in the marina. They were all extremely helpful and managed to find us a place in the marina for 24 hours so we could effect repairs before going out on the moorings again to await our turn for a space. The marina was particularly busy as there was a French 2-up racing fleet in who were sailing from L'Orient to Dakar with a 4-day stopover at Porto Santo. It was really buzzing for a day or two with camera interviews being conducted on the pontoons with all these gorgeous young Frenchman. Oh to be 21 again!
Finally our turn came after nearly a week, and we booked tickets on the ferry to Madeira , a cheap hotel room and a flight back 2 nights later. We were advised not to take Aliesha there as there is no room in the marina and the anchorage can be very rolly with nowhere else to go except the 60 miles back to Porto Santo if the weather gets rough. It really did feel like going on holiday. I know, I know - our life is all one long holiday these days but sometimes it's nice to have a bit of a change!
We made the mistake of taking dinner on board the ferry - totally awful - no wonder there weren't any other diners! We arrived at the hotel in Funchal about 9.45 pm and collapsed into hard beds. The following day being a miserable wet Sunday and nothing open, we took a taxi tour around the western part of the island. We found a cab driver whose English was pretty good and we set off for what was to be a pretty fantastic tour. Madeira is dominated by high volcanic mountains with stupendous sheer drops straight into the sea some 550m below. Unlike Porto Santo, the island is covered in lush vegetation and they grow everything there from bananas to poinsettias. Our driver took us off the tourist track to a local bar half way up a very wild mountain valley where we were introduced to the delights of the local poncho made from white rum, local honey and pressed fruits - magic! Later we stopped at the roadside and bought apples from some local women - the best apples Dick and I have ever tasted and costing virtually nothing.
The following day was action-packed with visits to one of the Madeiran wine houses, the market with its wonderful display of local produce, and the Botanical Gardens, with a little shopping thrown in for good measure. Then a 20 minute taxi ride out to the airport and a 20-minute flight back to Porto Santo. We'd had a wonderful time but we were pleased to be back on board and certainly appreciated our comfortable double bunk!
Two days after our trip we were back on the high seas heading for the Canaries with a light following wind and sunny skies. The wind settled into a decent breeze by the evening and we sailed all through the night and all through the following day and night. We saw quite a bit of shipping including one super tanker with which we were on a collision course. To our amazement she altered course for us so we called her up on the VHF and thanked her. They seemed suitably pleased!
And so as the dawn came up on Friday, 19th October I got my first ever view of a Canary island - Isla Alegranza. It was quite spectacular with the sun rising out of the sea just to the south of it (photos to follow). The lights of Lanzarote were still twinkling away on our starboard bow and the sea all around us was broken by lots of fins breaking the surface as a large pod of dolphins provided us with an escort in towards the islands.
We were making for Isla Graciosa, a small island just off Lanzarote. We anchored in a tiny bay edged with golden sand and clear turquoise water with about 10 other boats. It wasn't long before we were sampling the delights of this wonderful place. I think we're going to like the Canaries...................
Chapter 7: Gibraltar - Porto Santo: Blue Water
We left the anchorage alongside Gibraltar's runway as dawn came stealing around the looming bulk of the Rock. Ahead of us lay 600 miles of open ocean. Our destination was the barren volcanic island of Porto Santo, 28 miles NNE of Madeira. I think we were both a little tense, wondering what lay ahead, how would we cope.
Gibraltar Bay was crowded with ships, most at anchor, some on the move. Threading our way through them kept us busy and the butterflies were forgotten. Something cold and slimy brushed my cheek - a flying fish, airborne in its desperate struggle to escape some unseen predator. We returned it to the sea, and hoped it survived. A pod of the local dolphins came to inspect us but didn't stay. Instead, they withdrew a little distance and started all manner of leaps and jumps. We both had the thought that they were practising their routine for entertaining the day's crop of sightseers, dolphin tours being a popular feature of Gibraltar's tourist industry.
The stretch down to Tarifa (Europe's most southerly cape) was a lesson in riding the tides. We were motor sailing as the wind was light, and seeking the strongest, west-going streams. Sometimes we might be 4 miles offshore, but then had to close to 400 metres to keep the tide flowing in our favour. About 1030 we cleared the Cape and were in the Atlantic. The sun came out, the breeze increased and soon we were sailing over a sparkling sea, with only the constant stream of ships entering and leaving the Straits to keep us vigilant.
As darkness fell, the stars came out and what stars! With no ambient light to hide them, they blazed above us until the rising moon, almost full, dimmed their brilliance. Later, we could see distant lightning inside a bank of clouds, far to the south over Africa. Truly it was a night to remember.
We work a three hour watch system when on passage. From 2100 to 0900, one of us is always on watch while the other sleeps. We never steer except when entering or leaving harbour- the wind vane, "George" or the Autohelm handle that chore for us. So we find a variety of ways to pass the time. If there are ships about, or the wind is shifting direction, then the watchperson (Ugh!) is kept busy and time flies. If all is quiet, there is little to do, so we may read at the chart table, looking out every ten minutes of so to check for ships. We listen to CD's on a personal stereo. Pam does crosswords and we both spend hours looking at the sky, trying to decide which star is a planet and vice versa, noting the occasional satellite, or shooting star. I'll confess to cat-napping, waking every 5-10 minutes for a look around.
Day 2 started out idyllic. Pam cooked a full breakfast, which was well received by Captain and Crew. We re-commissioned our watermaker, and set up the towed generator. This is a rotator on 100 feet of rope, attached to a generator mounted on the stern. It provides most if not all the electricity we need when on passage. We had bought one on recommendation and now - hey, it works!! Good feeling. The 24 hour run to 1600 hours was 146 miles, which is pretty good for a 36 foot sailing boat, although not much by land standards.
In the afternoon, squalls started to hit us, forcing us to reef. Perversely, by 2000 there was no wind at all, the sails slatting as the boat rolled. On went the engine, to maintain progress. Sleep is difficult then because of the noise.
By 0100 on Day 3 the wind came again, this time from directly ahead. We switched off the motor and started to beat to windward, pitching as the seas built up. Waves started to come over the bows, the first time we had had this since leaving the western Solent! At 0400 we needed to reef again. Suddenly the shallow water alarm went off! Now, this is set to sound at 3 metres and, looking at the chart, the depth around us was around 3900 metres, so we were a little puzzled, until we noticed that the instrument (which can't reach the ocean depths) had locked onto a false reading of 2.8 metres. Disabling the alarm restored both silence and our equanimity.
Daylight came about 0800, to reveal the kind of grey day we know from the Channel. It also revealed a serious leak through the forehatch. Every time the bow dipped under a sea, a gallon or more of salt water found its way below, soaking the forward bunk cushions and the gear stowed in the forecastle. Aliesha was hove to, which kept the decks dry. I went up with a tube of bathroom sealant and made the most horrible mess all around the hatch and our beautiful teak decks. We had breakfast and allowed an hour or so for the stuff to dry, then got under way again. The repair wasn't perfect, but it certainly reduced the flow.
The next 24 hours were a bit dour. We remained hard on the wind, and so plugged into the waves, a most uncomfortable motion. Every hour or so, the wind would shift direction and we would tack, to maintain the best possible course towards Porto Santo. About 1700, the sky upwind darkened and there was a distinct line of black cloud, hugging the surface of the sea. Apprehensively, we sailed into the blackness. The wind rose (not too much), it rained cats and dogs, and then we were tacking every 30 minutes as huge shifts in direction overtook us. Night fell, a night so dark that it was easy to become disorientated, with only the illuminated face of the compass to keep us on course. Every now and then a wave would break alongside, and the burst of phosphorescence would light the hull and the sails. The wind fell lighter, leaving a vile sea and not enough strength to drive us through it. On went the engine and we eased Aliesha along at about 4.5 knots. By dawn, we found that in 24 hours we had covered just 81 miles towards our goal.
Happily, nothing lasts forever. By 1000 (Day 4) the breeze had increased and we could sail and the seas were going down. By 1100 the sun shone. There followed 40 hours of near-perfect ocean sailing. The sea was a deep blue a colour you just don't see near to land. There was a huge swell, maybe 10 metres high, maybe more, and perhaps 500 metres from crest to crest. The sunset was magic and, on Day 5, a large pod of dolphins came to play and stayed for quite a while. We saw another yacht, about 5 miles ahead, and heard others talking on the radio. This was FUN again.
As the sun dipped towards the horizon and slipped behind a little cloud, we saw the jagged peaks of our destination. It was a great feeling. Slowly, so slowly, we sailed closer and, just before midnight, dropped anchor off the sandy beach in Porto Santo.
We had sailed a little over 600 miles of Atlantic Ocean, taken 112 hours, coped with what had come our way -we'd done it. It was a great feeling, and gave us confidence for the bigger leg to the Caribbean.
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1 October 2001
Chapter 6: The Algarve, Andalucia and Gibraltar (The quest for tapestry wool)
After the ruggedness of the Atlantic, the warm, sleepy, sandy Algarve has been quite a contrast.
Lagos was our first proper port, approached (like most ports on this coast) between long stone walls, designed to channel the tide and scour the entrance to stop it silting up. The marina is surrounded by apartments on two sides, all quite recent, nicely done and such a change from the fishing ports we mostly stayed in down the Atlantic coast. A short walk takes you into the town, which is pleasant, if touristy. Our friends Bob and Jacqueline in EXEAT joined us there and we had a merry few days, before they had their boat hauled out for the winter and we pushed on.
After a brief detour into the nearby lagoon of Albor, we then made for Faro, the regional capital. The city lies some 5 miles up from the sea, across a sandy shallow lagoon, and from a distance looks most uninviting. We named it Gotham City and decided to spend a couple of days at anchor near the Isla de Culatra. This is home to a few fishermen and their families, some drop-outs on old catamarans in a tidal pool and, at week-ends, resembles East Head in Chichester Harbour. For those who don't know East Head, I mean, thousands of people go there by boat.
Now, the Portuguese only have two speeds when driving their power boats, namely Stop and Warp Factor Eight. The noise and the wash were unending and we soon moved to a quieter corner. We went ashore, walked across to the sea, swam and lazed - quite like being on holiday.
While there we met Malcolm and Tessa, his wife, plus their friends John and Sue,on the HR 42 VIDA. Malcolm and I had shared a table on the Radio course we sat last February and it was good to meet up again and swap experiences.
Pam has been searching with growing desperation for some tapestry wool with which to tackle a canvas she bought in France months ago. A feature of every trip ashore has been the search for a Tapiceria, and so we went up to Gotham City (aka Faro) to see what we could find.
Faro on a Sunday is asleep, shops are shut and restaurants mostly likewise, so we had little joy on the wool front, but we did enjoy the old, walled city, the cathedral with its squat bell-tower and the shady lanes.
Monday was my Birthday and we discovered another side to Faro, a lively, bustling town, with few tourists and two tapiceria. Neither had the right wool, but we felt encouraged. That night we took the dinghy ashore and ate well in the marina restaurant, looking over the moonlit lagoon. The romantic mood was only slightly dampened by the wash from a passing speedboat as we returned home!
From Faro we went to the River Guadiana, the boundary between Portugal and Spain. After a stop at Vila Real, on the Portuguese side, to hunt for wool, we spent a couple of days up-river, getting about 27 miles from the sea before we turned back. It was amazingly beautiful, but almost impossible to capture on camera. Our modern world is so busy, so noisy and so crowded, yet there we found solitude and near total silence, save for the rippling of the current and the sounds of birds. Here, storks replace herons as the common bankside fisher-birds, quite a sight to our eyes at least.
From the Guadiana we sailed to Cadiz, but chose to moor in the nearby port of Santa Maria, once home to the sherry trade. Old bodegas line the river and it looks quite picturesque. However, the river is narrow and home to about 300 fishing boats, most of which leave between 0300 and 0600 in the morning. Although Spanish, they too only have STOP and FULL SPEED AHEAD available to them.. We hardly slept, so bad was the wash and the noise.
We did take the fast ferry to Cadiz, 40 minutes away across (another) lagoon. Cadiz is a fascinating city, well worth a visit if you are in the area, and we spent a fascinating day there, acting as tourists and loving it.
And so on to Gibraltar, an 80 mile sail which was probably our best leg yet, from the sailing point of view. The wind was against us, a good sailing breeze. Once we rounded Cape Trafalgar, we started to feel the tidal stream, which runs fiercely through the Straits. At one moment we would have 5 knots of current under us, hurling us to the east against steep,white crested waves. Then we would find a gentler stream, perhaps two or three knots, the seas would grow smaller and we would have an easier ride. We came up with a much larger yacht going in the same direction and left her for dead, not that we were racing, you understand! Great stuff.
Our entry to Gibraltar was in the dark, and we finally tied up at the Customs Quay at 0100. A sleepy Waterguard Officer did the paperwork and then turned a blind eye while we stayed on the Customs pontoon and slept until the morning. Luckily we then found a berth in Marina Bay Marina, and have been here these last ten days.
Our main task has been to provision the boat for the Atlantic run. There is a huge modern Safeways supermarket here and we have bought and stowed 453 items (food, toiletries, cleaning materials etc) since Tuesday! The real miracle is that the boat has absorbed the lot with room to spare (but not much!). Whether we ever find what we're looking for will be another miracle!! And then there is the booze! Aliesha is not a dry ship.
We took a day off to go sight-seeing to the top of The Rock via the cable car. The Rock is approx 1250' high so the view from the top is spectacular all over Spain and the Straits. We visited the St Michael's caves which are also spectacular and the Siege Tunnels which are a tribute to the Royal Engineers. I was blessed with a Barbary ape on top of my head! They are pretty tame and have got the tourists sussed well and truly! We watched one cheeky youngster snatch a bag from a girl who then had quite a tussle to get it back!
Pam also found her tapestry wool, or most of it.
We've been treated to some wonderful air displays courtesy of the RAF as the boat is parked alongside the runway at Gibraltar (we seem to have this knack of mooring near runways!). They've been flying Tornados, Jaguars, and yesterday a Hercules came and went. I guess it's all part of the build-up for the 'retaliation' whatever form that's going to take. We monitor the news daily on BBC World Service and are very relieved that we weren't able to watch the harrowing scenes on TV.
There's a couple across the pontoon on a 40 footer. Jack is nearly 78 and he and his wife Chris have crossed the Atlantic 8 times, have just come out of the Med (because they're bored with it!) and are leaving with us on Tuesday to go out to Madeira. We met an American chap several weeks ago who's 80 next year and he's also crossing the Atlantic the same time as us on his way back home. We are much encouraged o think that sailing can be enjoyed so late in life, given reasonable fitness!
Off to sea on Tuesday, for Porto Santo, Madeira, and then the Canaries. We'll be out of contact for a while, but keep writing, we'll get the messages once we reach civilisation.
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7 September 2001
Chapter 5: Atlantic Portugal - land of fiestas, fireworks, fish and fog!
We had planned to belt down this coast and into the Algarve as according to the pilot book, and here we quote, "This coast is not a cruising man's paradise but it includes some remarkable places to visit - notably Porto and Lisbon for their history......". The weather being reasonably quiet, we decided to coast hop and take in some culture.
Our first stop was Viana do Castelo, having remembered to change the Spanish courtesy flag for a Portuguese one as we sailed across the border at the entrance to the Minho river. It beats clearing airport immigration hands down! The first thing you realise is that most Portuguese speak English and are happy to do so. Just as well, as the language sounds completely different to the way you read it. In fact it sounds more like Russian than Spanish although a lot of words are similar. The second thing is the amazing amount of form-filling and bureaucracy one has to do at each port. There may be PCs sitting on the desk but the Portuguese authorities still have to have their paper forms! But despite the officialdom, everyone is very friendly and helpful and a proffered handshake does wonders.
Viana just happened to be celebrating their biggest fiesta, the Romaria, the weekend we were in and we were treated to street processions and parades with many marching bands and girls in gaily coloured traditional costumes from all over the region. Each night there was a truly awesome fireworks display despite the fact that we had torrential rain on the first night. We had ringside seats in the marina so we could watch it all from the comparative comfort of our cockpit, crouched under the sprayhood with a tot of brandy to keep out the damp.
Porto was a bit of a flop -it was a Sunday and most places were closed and it came on to rain really heavily. Added to this, it appeared that half the city was being excavated. We found out later that a metro is being constructed!
We continued on southwards, mostly under engine, bobbing up and down like a large plastic duck on the heavy Atlantic swell which is a feature of this coast. We now had fog to contend with - nothing too serious but enough to warrant turning on the radar, there being plenty of fishing boats in this region. The other hazard for motoring yachtsman is fishing floats - get one of those in your propeller and you've got serious trouble. They are littered all over the sea and constant vigilance is needed.
We stopped at many fishing ports along the way, enjoying the company of fellow yachties in the marinas, shopping in the local markets and doing a little sight-seeing. We bought some fresh sardines at Figuera do Foz and decided to have them grilled for lunch with a nice fresh crusty loaf and a bottle of wine (incidentally, a very acceptable wine here costs no more than £2!). I've never grilled sardines before and in my ignorance decided I'd better gut them first. We finished up with about 4 mouthfuls of sardine between us and the biggest mess in the galley you could hope to see! Next time they'll get slapped straight under the grill, guts and all!
We spent 5 days at Cascais which is a very upmarket holiday resort for Lisbon. This is where we first noticed palm trees and it had a distinct Mediterranean feel to it. The weather had turned much hotter and sunnier too. We took the train to Lisbon but only spent 1 day looking around - Dick's not great on cities! The summer palaces at Cintra were a much more interesting and pleasant excursion which we made by bus. That definitely had its exciting moments when the very full bus started to skid on wet cobblestones going up a very steep hill and the wall at the side of the road was getting perilously close. This was obviously not a new experience for the bus driver and, with much patience and skill, he finally got us all safely to the top. Needless to say, he got a full round of applause from his passengers!
Other things we like about Portugal are the red pillar boxes a la Britain, post offices which are modelled on British post offices (and just as slow!), and the supermarket chain 'Pingo Doce' which could show British supermarkets a thing or two in terms of display (fruit and veg is a work of art), cleanliness, variety and cheerful staff. And, of course, it's so much cheaper! We have also found a wonderful radio station - Nostalgia (pronounced Nos-tal-geeea) which plays all the 60's, 70's and 80's hits.
And so finally we reached the corner - Cape St Vincent - which we motored round in a flat calm. The coastline is quite dramatic here with incredible rock formations - a geologist's dream, I should think. A little breeze sprang up, so up went the sails and into the Algarve we sailed.
Thanks to everyone who's emailed us - we really do enjoy hearing from you and get quite disappointed when we log on and there's nothing there! At the time of writing we are at Faro anchored ion a beautiful lagoon directly under the flight path for the local airport - deep joy! We hope to be in Gibraltar around 20th September.
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16 August 2001
Chapter 4: The Rias Bajas
It's the 14th August and we're lying at anchor off a (nearly) deserted island, rather weak sunshine lighting the golden sands of a small beach. Today we'd planned to say good-bye to Spain and to start our journey down the Portuguese coast. The weather thought otherwise. After blowing steadily, sometimes hard but mostly gently, from the northern quadrant, today it is firmly coming out of the south-west, the way we need to go. So, like good cruisers, we sailed out to the Islas Cies, a six mile romp downwind, there to await the return of the northerlies.
We've had two weeks of gentle cruising among some of the loveliest scenery you can imagine. The Rias are flooded valleys, surrounded by small mountains or very large hills, depending on your point of view. Towns and villages cling to the tiny coastal plain. Most provide an anchorage, shelter and, ashore, food, drink and basic shopping. Vigo is a major city and an international port with some 3.5 miles of wharves. Yet, just three miles away lies the landlocked Ensenada de San Simon, a natural lake some five miles by two, and the perfect place to get away from the bustle of the city.
There are a growing number of marinas, most run by a Yacht Club, which seems to be THE place to belong in the locality. Very smartly dressed men and women come to take a coffee, a drink or a meal in the well-appointed restaurants. Not a lot of sailing gets done, but visitors are made welcome and the rates are about half those on the South Coast back home. Marinas are very convenient when we need fuel, water or electricity, and to go on serious shopping expeditions or get the laundry done. They are also sociable places, where we meet old acquaintances and new ones in equal measure - there are several of the boats we met at Camarinas working their way down the coast as we are and it is fun to meet up and compare notes. For all that, we have come to prefer the independence of being at anchor most of the time, and try to spend 5 nights in every week on our own. It's cheaper, too.
Bayona apart, the Spanish towns have all been incredibly scruffy. Old buildings jostle with new ones in a way which suggests that town planning is alien to the Spanish psyche. Apartment blocks and houses have smart facades but corrugated iron sides. There is much evidence of new public works - harbour moles and quays, new promenades along the front of towns - but then it all peters out, not unlike areas of Docklands, I suppose. This has not been a prosperous region, one feels and it shows.
We took the train (very modern and efficient) from Vila Garcia to Santiago de Compostela, the local culture centre. The trip lasted about 50 minutes, took us through some interesting country as we climbed into the mountains and was worth the effort on its own. Santiago, as those of you who have been there will know, is a harmonious mix of mediaeval city with cathedral etc and modern administrative capital. It has a buzz and we enjoyed our limited time there very much.
Another dose of culture was our visit to the fishing village of Combarro, in the Ria de Pontevedra. Combarro has still got about 200 old houses on two streets, little changed from the time that they were built, several hundred years ago. Stone, with iron balconies to the top story, which projects over the street beneath. Replacement aluminium windows keep out the winter draughts. And, in each back yard is a stone, wood and tiles structure with air vents all around, a cross at each end of the roof ridge and a stout door, securely barred.
We had first seen one of these in a place called Cabo Cruz and had thought it looked like the family vault, only just out the back instead of in the churchyard. It seemed a little unlikely, given the propensity of bodies to decompose, but they DO air-dry fish round here and we hadn't seen any graveyards, so, that's what we thought they were. At Combaro, we got a leaflet and learned the more prosaic truth. These are the traditional Galician granaries, the size and robustness of which denoted the family's wealth.
Our final port has been Bayona. Bayona is a holiday town with class. The marina is under the walls of the largest castle I have seen apart from Windsor. It is run as a Parador, a state-operated hotel. The yacht club is a modern building inside the walls of a small fort on the edge of the castle. Apparently Columbus made his landfall here after discovering America or the West Indies or whichever he did discover. There is a full-sized replica of his ship, the Pinta, and I doubt it is more than twice the size of Aliesha. There are all kinds of shops, but a distinct shortage of post boxes. Perhaps everyone in Spain has taken to e-mail.
We shall be sorry to leave Spain, not least because at last we are getting somewhere with the language (hear Pam asking for two pork chops and a pound of sausages!) but we will have another session after Portugal, which is where we really will head tomorrow. Or the next day. Or soon.
Hasta luego, amigos.
PS If you want to email us (and we do love to hear from you), PLEASE use email@example.com and not our hotmail address. Hotmail is too slow to be used over our mobile, so we are limited to internet cafes, which are quite common but less convenient.
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2 August 2001
Chapter 3: Across the Bay to Galicia
We left Ile d'Yeu at 4.00 on a beautiful sunny afternoon and soon lost sight of the land as we sailed, literally, into the sunset. It was idyllic, sun, a steady breeze on the beam so we were travelling fast, and a smooth sea. The big question was, would it last? We both had memories of our two crossings last summer, the return one of which ended with 20 hours of full gale.
But the gods smiled on us and we enjoyed calm conditions all the way across. In fact, it was so calm we had the engine on for 45 of the 68 hours it took us to round Cabo Villano on the NW tip of Spain, and reach Camerinas. Along the way, pods of dolphins joined us every few hours. One huge group seemed in holiday mood, as some of their members were leaping 10 feet or more out of the water and flying horizontally for a while before plunging back into the sea. We tried taking pictures, but probably we were always a little behind the pace, so in the end we just watched them and enjoyed their antics. They were a welcome distraction from the complete emptiness which surrounded us - no birds, no ships, no signs of life for most of the crossing.
Camarinas is a wild place, a Ria or flooded valley surrounded by rugged mountains. The little town shelters from the Atlantic and from Biscay behind a rocky headland and a newish harbour mole. We think we detect the hand of the EU and Brussels in its construction. There is also a little Yacht Club with two pontoons and space for about 30 visiting boats. Our plans to be frugal and to anchor off were shelved as we saw the 2- man welcoming committee, ready to take our lines.
We stayed two and a half days, partly to recover from the crossing (3 hours on and three hours off watch does eat into your sleep a bit), partly because of the friendly welcome and partly because it started to blow like stink from the NE. We made several new friends, but spent most time with Richard and Rebecca from "Tutela". They are on their way back to England, having had two marvellous years in the Caribbean.
By a strange coincidence, we discovered that Richard is a friend of our good friend Jim aka James Taylor! It truly is a small world.
They gave us countless tips on things to do and places to visit, plus some excellent advice. The most important thing, said Richard, is not to commit yourself to being anywhere at any specific time. He also advised us to plan on two seasons in the Caribbean, so we've done just that! So much for the schedule we tentatively laid down back in England.
The 31st July saw us under way again, moving south to the Ria de Muros, some 45 miles and including the rounding of Cape Finisterre. We had a terrific sail, up to 35 knots of wind but mercifully from behind us, a thunderstorm, calm and then a quiet anchorage off a beach in a pleasant bay. Today it's grey and cloudy, while England basks in hot sunshine. We're catching up on some everyday tasks, since as live-aboards we can't play all the time. Hopefully the sun will shine again tomorrow and we can get back into shorts and T-shirts, the current gear just doesn't feel right.
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30 July 2001: Pam
Chapter 2: Au Revoir to Our Friends and France.
We enjoyed some very good sailing in company with yachts Serenity (Ian and Lyn Harkness) and Kazan (Jim and Lisbeth Taylor) down to La Trinite which was our appointed rendezvous with our mutual friends Jill and Steve Baguley and Cathie and Tony Lodge who drove down to be with us. We all met up pretty well on the appointed hour in pouring rain and hastily got everyone on board for a cup of tea and some excellent sticky toffee cake kindly provided by the Lodges. As is our custom back home on a Friday night, we all went off in search of a pizzeria and found an excellent one tucked round the back somewhere which could seat all ten of us. And an excellent evening we all had too (see photo).
The following morning, somewhat the worse for wear, an expedition was mounted by all 3 boats to the Golfe de Morbihan, a beautiful inland harbour rather like Poole with lots of islands and channels to explore for a picnic lunch. We had a grand sail there and all tied up on the same buoy. By now the sun was out and a rather liquid and merry lunch ensued. Then back to La Trinite to prepare for the evening's festivities, again another very exhilarating sail.
This was the evening of the grand official farewell party. We all gathered on Aliesha. Champagne was served. Our friends presented us with two splendid sets of signal flags, to allow us to dress ship in the traditional manner. Then we discovered some rather unconventional flags, in the form of ladies and gentlemen's underwear. Dick was easily persuaded to don his and then posed happily for the cameras. Pam reckons she would need a visit to the beautician before pubicly showing off hers (did I spell that right?). Ian said a few words, we were reduced to a tear or two, more champagne and then....off to the chosen restaurant.
By luck or foresight, we shall never know, we had been accommodated on a long table in the bar area, as there was insufficient room in the restaurant proper. The evening got steadily more noisy as the food and wine went down, but the other diners tolerated us with good spirits. Madame served a specially baked chocolate cake complete with sparklers and then it was time to stagger back to the boats. Some farewell!
The following day Serenity and Kazan were forced to depart northwards a day early on account of a forecast of strong to gale NW winds. The Lodges were due to drive home that lunchtime anyway and the Baguleys transferred to Aliesha. Tearful farewells were said, last goodbyes waved and then Aliesha departed with guests for Belle Ile. We spent 2 very happy days with Steve and Jill recovering from the excesses of the weekend and then it was time to say goodbye yet again, they being bound for Honfleur on the north coast and Aliesha bound for the Villaine River.
And so from the Villaine we made our way down to Ile d'Yeu where we spent 2 days in glorious weather enjoying this beautiful island. We hired bikes and cycled all 23 klms round the island despite extremely hard saddles and the most complicated gear changes I would ever want to meet on a bike!
Then the big decision - should we cross Biscay and take advantage of the settled weather? And that's exactly what we did. So bye bye France - we've so enjoyed your food and wine and your wonderful hospitality - we shall miss you, we shall miss all our friends but we shall have really great memories to take on with us as we head south. A bientot.
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22 July 2001: Pam
Outward Bound Monday, 25th June 2001 and we're on our way. After months of intense preparation, the moment has arrived and we go out on the afternoon tide through the lock at Chichester Yacht Basin waving goodbye to our good friends at Premier Marinas and to Chris Holman and John who have come to wish us well and bon voyage.
We can hardly believe that the dream has started - it is like the start of any other voyage, with fenders and warps to be got in, nav instruments to be turned on and then settling down to concentrate on finding our way down the main channel and out to sea. We are sad to be saying goodbye to Chichester Harbour - it has been our second home for so many years, and we wonder when we shall next see it.
We spent the first week in the Solent, doing some last minute jobs on the boat and just generally sorting ourselves out. The weather, as usual, took a hand in things and we were held up in Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, waiting for a more favourable wind to cross the Channel. Our last night in England was spent very convivially in the company of Tim and Maggie Stokes who were out on their new boat, Aeolus, and who hope to be leaving themselves for the Med in a couple of years time.
We had an excellent sail across the Channel to Alderney and then continued the following day to Treguier, our favourite river and town in North Brittany. There we met up with friends, Gerry and Dorothy Burnham, who now live in Brittany and spent a happy day catching up on news and enjoying the fantastic weather. Another fond farewell and then we were off to Trebeurden to rendezvous with our friends on yachts Kazan and Serenity who are out from Plymouth on a 3-week cruise. Unfortunately we have had no wind since leaving Alderney and have motor sailed to Cameret, where we are currently berthed, via Morlais and L'AberWrac'h.
Today (08/07/01) however promises to be different and we should have a good romp down Audierne where all three boats propose to anchor off tonight before heading further south to Port le Foret, the Belon river and Ile de Groix. We may not have experienced much good sailing but we are certainly making up for it on the wining and dining stakes! I don't think we shall be able to keep this lifestyle up once our friends leave us to head north again but it's good fun whilst it lasts.
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