View the Archives | Subscribe to Posts [Atom]

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Only Canuks and Englishmen...

San Sebastian de La Gomera.

Gesa and I decided to take advantage of the grandparent's babysitting skills and leave the kids in town whilst we went for a walk in the hills, up to a viewpoint 1000m above the harbour, and then catch a bus down after a leisurely beer. We should have started in the cool of early morning, but after sleeping in and a slow breakfast, we didn't set off until 11am.

La Gomera is proud of it's extensive, well marked hiking trails, but it should be a little less proud of it's maps. We missed the start of the trail, and decided to take a side path marked on the map that would lead us up to the main trail on the ridge. What we thought was the path rapidly dwindled to a goat track and then to nothing, leaving us scrambling through prickly scrub and over steep rocky slopes before finally breaking through onto the ridge. The views were, indeed, spectacular, and we enjoyed walking along the top of the island, until we finally deduced where we were on the map and realised that instead of being nearly there, we were about halfway!

A long, parched trail led us over a series of peaks with ever more spectacular views, but the day was growing longer and we were a little concerned about getting back to recover what would be quite grumpy children by the time we got back down. We finally made it to a cafe perched on the side of a precipice, and enjoyed a beer, ice cream and bottle of water before asking about the buses. The last bus had left Valle Gran Rey 15 minutes earlier and, not knowing the route too well, we thought we'd better get out to the bus stop. Consulting the map there, it looked like the lengthy series of hairpin bends would take quite a while, and there was no sign of a bus for a long time.

After about half an hour, we did what we should have done right away, and hitch-hiked. The first two cars waved, but were full, and the third one stopped. 'Ola' says everyone. 'San Sebastian?' 'Si', and in we get having exhausted all of our Spanish short of 'where's the laundrette' which wouldn't have made great conversation. However, it rapidly transpires that the driver and his companion were German, so Gesa chatted merrily away to them all the way down the mountain. 'Buy you a beer?' we say, but no, no need, just do something good for someone else one day, they say. We like that attitude.

We'd walked for 5 hours in a hot, dusty and spectacular landscape. We hadn't seen another soul on the paths. Perhaps hiking is more popular in the cool of autumn than the 'midday sun' reserved for mad dogs and englishmen.


Sunday, August 26, 2007

We like La Gomera!

We've been here in San Sebastian for a few days now and the contrast between here and Tenerife is wonderful. The town is small, friendly and full of bars selling us cold beer and ice cream at ridiculously low prices. The marina is of a very high standard, with lots of activity and things to watch, like the ferries that dock on the other side of the breakwater. Max likes watching them turn and reverse into their docking spaces.

The marina is alongside a high cliff to the north that shelters us beautifully from the breeze, and it's a 5 minute walk to the bakery and supermarket. Fresh bread every morning, yum.

The beach is also fived minutes away, and it's very sheltered and calm. Issie and Max have both been swimming in the sea - Issie the water baby just loves it, although she will then curl up under a towel to get out of the sun! The beach also has a football pitch, where Max tried out his goalkeeping skills (which are about on a par with his Dad's legendary days as the Magdalene keeper), and there's a volleyball court, so Gesa and I knocked a volleyball around for a bit and proved that my knee is not completely knackered but won't cope with proper play. I still can't persuade Gesa to challenge the locals to a game of 2-on-2 beach volleyball, but maybe later in the week.

We're going to go round to Valle de Grand Rey, a bay about 15 miles away, today and stay there for a few days before coming back to settle the boat into a berth here and prepare her for a two month wait until the Atlantic crossing, and in just a week we'll all be back in England. Strange to think that I'll have to mow a lawn....
Posted by Picasa


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Issie and Max find lots of fish!

Here in San Sebastian, La Gomera, the marina is beautiful and very close to a lovely town. The marina basin is teeming with fish, and the water is so clear that we can see five metres down to the bottom.

Issie and Max lean over the wall, fascinated.

Issie: "Look - a big school of fish!"
Max: "Which one's the teacher?"

Ty Dewi has even attracted her own school of fish, happily feeding off the bottom of her keel. It's cheaper than a new coat of antifouling.
Posted by Picasa


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Tenerife - take it or leave it

12:50UTC 23/08/07 28'02.0N 016'48.2W

We're just leaving it.

Tenerife, at least the South and East coasts that we have seen, has clearly been a near desert of scrub and brutal volcanic landscapes for thousands of years. Now, however, much has changed, and it is a near desert of apartment blocks, strip malls and brutal resort landscapes.

I am aware that, perhaps, some of those reading may have a property in Tenerife. If so, I am sure that it is a lovely place in a quaint and unspoilt part of the island and not at all like I am about to describe. Here, in Tenerifes 'Golf del Sur' (Southern Gulf, but probably Golf) the coastline is wall to wall multistorey apartment blocks, apparently owned and occupied by wall to wall brits frequenting the local Irish Bar (all the Sky Sports and Magners cider your euros can buy) shopping at El Supermarket (run by expat brits and charging 4 euros for a box of Weetabix) and eating at the 'Queen Mary 2' and 'Mexicana Cantina' whilst being entertained (a generous term) by the local crooner who last night was murdering some Credence Clearwater Revival and Elton John tunes. Around the resort are four or five golf courses, where, for 75 euros, you can play 18 holes of golf on the only grass on this end of the island. Lord knows what your wife and kids are meant to do but if you spend every weekend in England leaving them at home whilst you play golf, this gives you the chance to do that every day of the week!

It is hard to describe the way this bit of the coast feels and behaves, except that it is perhaps like a perpetual Saturday night out in any provincial British town, but with more sunshine and bikinis instead of halter tops. Equally flattering.

In the best tradition of Spanish resorts, the marina is still being built, apparently by one man with a digger and dump truck, who spends one day jack hammering away at the underwater rocks, and another scooping them up and depositing them elsewhere. Max thinks this action is great, but for the rest of us, 9am-6pm construction work was a little wearing. Actually, the marina staff were great, it's very sheltered and the facilities aren't bad, but it's far from the best place we've seen.

The black volcanic sand beach wasn't bad, though the breakers were rolling in so the kids didn't go swimming but did jump up and down in the waves with much screaming of delight. Thankfully, 5 year olds rejoice in just being on a beach, not caring much about the surroundings, so we built a black sandcastle and played happily for an afternoon.

Yesterday we walked up to a bus stop and rode into Santa Cruz, the island capital. It's a 30 mile journey almost the full length of the island along 'TF-1', the main motorway, and almost the entire route is apartment blocks on the seaward side and scrub farmland to landward. Clearly, this area has been heavily farmed for hundreds of years, with stone terracing and sheltering walls everywhere, but in the last 40 years tourism has taken over, and the landscape is a sad indictment of the damage that can be done by men with bulldozers and no planning restrictions. The nature of the land is such that it does not recover and bears the scars until the next flash flood carves great valleys in the soft rock and mudstone, between the old basalt lava flows.

Santa Cruz is the urban version of the rest of the island, although it clearly has some old buildings from early Spanish colonial times and occasionally you turn into a little side street and are caught by lovely old facades with balconies and painted stucco walls. Sadly few and far between, and I think we saw more such beauty in little Santa Cruz de La Palma than in all of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. However, if Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana and Tag Heuer are names that set you salivating, this city is probably for you.

We did have a lovely time in the Botanical Gardens, really just a nice big park on the edge of the old town.
It has beautiful landscaped sections with sculpture, fountains, playgrounds and a very cool feel sheltered by all the trees. The kids loved the playground and we met a charming elderly Tenerifan gentleman who just wanted to sit next to us, chat and improve his english. He'd lived in London for 15 months when younger and enjoyed chatting to us. Another lesson for me here, not to be too cynical - when he first asked if he could sit next to us, despite 10 empty benches around, I whispered to Gesa "wonder what he's trying to sell?", and maybe that's understandable as at lunch we had three or four visits from the beggars trying to palm off dreadful little toys for a euro. But not in this case and once again, a reminder to me that, whilst still keeping one hand on our wallet and camera, we should also open up to people and enjoy the chance to meet and chat for no purpose other than to pass the time and expand our horizons.

Asking around the marina, and talking to the local sea school, it's clear that the coast of Tenerife is much more interested in those that want to sit on its beaches and play on its golf courses than the less euro laden types who want to use its harbours and anchor in its bays. Few of the other marinas would be welcoming and none of the bays are recommended for anything more than a lunch stop at anchor, as the holding and shelter are not reliable.

So we've decided to leave Tenerife and head for La Gomera, which has a much better reputation among the local sailors and hopefully find for the family some of the wonderful feel and experience that we had in La Palma. There are also supposed to be a couple of little quiet bays where we can lie to anchor for a few nights, which will be a nice change (and cheaper too!) Right now we have almost no wind in the lee of Tenerife but are just a couple of hours away from San Sebastian.

Tenerife just didn't float our boat - probably just as we expected - so we look forward to a change of island.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Dolphin video

Finally got a chance to upload the video we took of dolphins a few days back - go to the 'galleries' page and click the video link to find it. There are also some more pictures in other galleries if you haven't already seen them.


Poor advertising strategies #1

We were driving back down the mountain, feeling a bit peckish and in the mood for beer and a snack. A roadside sign says 'bar' and Ian swings our little car to the right and pulls up outside a promising looking building. We're about to get out when Amanda spots the above sign and the place is instantly vetoed.

Shame really, might have been an interesting little stop....
Posted by Picasa


Into the hills

La Palma is a fascinating island, find out more on wikipedia, and we hired a car to go inland and explore. The volvanic crater, Caldera de Taburiente, dominates the centre of the island and also hosts an international observatory, because the skies are so clear. Obviously, this is a bit of a climb from the harbour, and our little Renault Clio took five adults slowly up in second gear along steep windy roads, hairpin bends and treacherous drop-offs. Very quickly we are in the foests above Santa Cruz and can look down on the harbour. Ty Dewi is moored in the small triangle of water at this end of the harbour.

As we continued to climb, we went through the cloud layer and out into brilliant sunshine. A blanket of cloud hung over the Eastern side of the island and about 30 miles out to see, like the view from an aeroplane window. Over to the east, about 50 miles away, we could see La Gomera although not quite as far as Tenerife, our next destination.

The views from the top of the crater are astounding - a brutal volcanic landscape that tells a vivid story of the enormous forces and eplosions that create such shapes, with rocks torn apart, bubble filled lumps of lava many metres across that must have been tossed into the air like popcorn. Ian picked up some lava rock for his BBQ but we decided it actually was cheaper to buy it at Homebase...

Here's Amanda up on top of the mountain with Owen the meerkat keeping watch for lurking photographers.
The road back down the mountain was no less treacherous than the road up, only that second gear was no longer enough to contain our little car and the brakes got a good workout on the way down.

We stopped for a beer at a lovely hotel on the north of the island, and made it back in time to drop off the car and wander into town, finding a very acceptable meal, and good Rioja, in a beautiful little colonial spanish plaza - island life has its attractions.
Posted by Picasa


Saturday, August 18, 2007

La Isla Bonita

18:30UTC 18/08/07 28'40.7N 17'46.0W

La Palma, the pretty island, and indeed it is. We arrived at 3am, inched our way into the harbour and, despite a substantial language barrier ("non comprende, Inglesa", "Espanol?", "non, Inglese", "eng..con..ish..random stream of spanish....") we moored succesfully at the Club Nautico de Santa Cruz de La Palma.

We rented a car and drove up into the mountains, along very scary twisty mountain roads (if you thought we were in danger at sea it's nothing to these roads) and ended up 2400m above the sea, above the clouds and looking into the largest volcanic crater on earth. A truly amazing landscape and worthy of the photos we'll post when we can. We wound our way back via a long coastal road and saw some of this gorgeous island, which would warrant a week or more of exploration - a shame that we can't give it that time.

But tomorrow, we'll explore the town, which is laden with history of Spanish conquest and exploration, and then we'll leave for an overnight to Tenerife and time for the crew to depart and my family to arrive. Looking forward to seeing them again, and changing the nature of the trip from passage-making to island exploring and beach time.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:


Friday, August 17, 2007

Fast progress, and happier boat!

08:20UTC 17/08/07 30'16.8N 17'24.3W

Almost 24 hours since leaving Madeira and we have covered 145 miles, meaning that this will probably be our fastest day so far, by 1 mile! Thanks to Kevin at YachtBits in Lowestoft, we have a working plotter and radar. He'd got in touch with Raymarine who said "have you done a factory reset? Hold down button one and turn it on". It worked like a charm, the question being why the hell wasn't that in the manual?

The book I'm reading right now quotes an Inuit elder talking about how the younger men use GPS to go out on the Arctic Ice. "Those machines," he says, "they make you afraid of what you should know" and I understand this well. When you are without such a piece of kit, you know, or think you know, how to revert back to the older methods, but there is a nagging doubt and fear that really, you might not be able to do it right.

And so with the return of our precious electronics I, certainly, felt better and as the watch system began, the wind strengthened, we reefed down and enjoyed a fast night. No-one slept as well as they should, funny how a night in port disrupted rhythms, but the boat is romping along and the crew seem content - Owen is cooking a bonus breakfast with the remaining eggs and some bacon like meat we bought in Funchal. It's a bonus because the meal plan anticipated us to be out of fresh food by now so cereal,dates and seeds are being supplemented by these extras. Meals continue to be great, and the regular feature is the 'miggy bonus meal'. We are never short on quantities and as the boys finish their portions, Amanda lets it be known that some of hers is leftover and the first to shout can claim the 'miggy bonus meal'. Funnily enough, we have yet to see the 'miggy bonus white wine'

Oh, and although we haven't been mentioning the cocktail choices, it's still a regular feature of life aboard. Having had a limited selection of spirits, by the time we got to Funchal it was 'anything without gin in it please?!' but we continue to be inventive.

More later, hopefully within sight of La Palma.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:


Thursday, August 16, 2007

On the road again

17:00 UTC 16/08/07 31'55.5N 17'00.4W

We left Funchal as planned, at 10am this morning, after chivvying ourselves through the pre-departure tasks and getting away easily from the marina. In the lee of the island, there was little wind but a good force 5 was blowing outside, so we unfurled the jib and romped away.

Funny how back in England, a 250 mile, two day passage is a big deal and we'd spend a lot of time planning for that. Now, it seems like a little nip across the bay after the past 10 days, 1100 miles we've just done. I have to remind myself, and the crew, that it's still a serious passage and the same checks and routines apply.

The equipment needs a similar reminder. After 9 months of faultless operation, the Raymarine plotter / radar has got into a loop where it starts up, stops and reboots before we can do anything. Not great to be without it, but we have a couple of backup GPS units, a chart plotter on the PC and the paper charts, so not a big problem. The radar will be missed on the night watch, but with so little shipping and good visibility, it's an inconvenience not a risk. I managed to call the agent in the UK before we were out of mobile phone range so hopefully there might be some suggestions (other than 'send it back to us') waiting on my email when I call in in a few minutes.

I don't know if it's the humidity, the fact we've been in port, the overcast day, but something is making us all feel a bit lethargic and quiet. This is good, fast, easy sailing yet it's hard to enjoy it as much as we should. Tomorrow will doubtless be different in some way or other.

We had a fabulous meal last night, in an old fort on the Madeira seafront. Having walked past a lot of cheap bars (plastic tablecloths - not good) we decided to go a little up-market and this place was really smart. The food was excellent - Owen and I shared a big fish platter with prawns, mussels, clams, cod, salmon and other stuff - more than we could eat. A couple of bottles of very nice wine, complimentary cava, very nice dessert and all for about 30 quid each. As we remarked, we felt like grown-ups for a change, rather than the slightly overgrown students that we still tend to see ourselves as for much of the time.

In less than 40 hours, we should be in Santa Cruz de La Palma, and the island has the largest volcanic crater on Earth, apparently, so we'd like to get inland and see that on Saturday before heading south towards Tenerife and a rendevouz with the family for the next stage of this adventure.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Uncommon courtesy

It is good ettiquette, and downright required in some places, to fly a courtesy flag, being a small flag of the nation you are visiting. We have one for Spain (Canaries) but didn't plan to stop here in Madeira so we didn't have a Portugese flag. No problem, out comes the almanac, with pictures of flags, a piece of A4 paper, Issie's felt tip pens (sorry, but you'll need new red and green pens, Iz) and some spinnaker repair tape. Mr Hargreaves did the honours and we now have a lovely flag.


Madeira m'dear?

And here we are, in Funchal, Madeira after 1100 miles of sailing. The crew are enjoying their shore leave - one of them has even found a MacDonalds for lunch..?!

We're going to stay here overnight, and whilst the marina quay wall is less than perfect, free wifi and showers makes up for it, and for less euros than a night for a 20 footer in Cowes.

We've bought a bottle of madeira, some madeira cake and are off to explore Funchal, although someone has to be back to tend our lines as the tide drops. How come being in a marina takes more work than lying to anchor?!

Some photos from the passage:

  • Rolling down the Biscay waves
  • Sunset
  • The 'twins'
  • Ian swims in 10000 foot deep water


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Cap'n sanctions a port visit

14:30UTC 14/08/07 33'27.0N 16'19.0W

Discipline on board this 'ere pirate vessel is a finely balanced parrot, if ever there was one. The threat o'the cat o'nine tails and the promise of a share o'the plunder is usually enough to keep the crew in line, but as'ee all know, familiarity breeds contempt and the wise privateer captain uses every means at his disposal to keep the crew just on the right side of mutiny and the wrong side of fear and trepidation.

So when wind and weather present an opportunity for ol' Cap'n Ward to appear magnanimous, it must be seized with both hands and a claw. We've been running down the trades for a week now and the beer has begun to run low. Regularly, this is no problem for the scurvy bunch we call crew can survive on water for a few days at least. But in Plymouth we made the dastardly mistake of shippin' aboard a new hand who seemed harmless enough but has turned out to have a influence that frighten's the bejeebers out of even this hardened seafarer. Manda, she's called, or 'the reader' as the crew have termed her, somewhat worried that her ability not only to read them strange books, but to read at least two a day, is a sign of a cunning and dangerous intellect. She seemed harmless enough, but as the white wine supplies have run dry, things have turned nasty and there's a strange 'fluence floating over the ship and the crew.

So as the island of Madeira hove into view this morning, the crew, call them foolhardy or brave in equal measure, dared to suggest a raiding party on the fair town of Funchal. Instead of dismissing them out of hand and ordering a round of lashings, I saw a chance to gain on many fronts. It was time to think about the weather. Stepping out onto the poop deck and sniffing the air, it was clear that Seaman Price should have resisted the hot peppers we'd plundered from a Polish merchant. Moving to the foredeck, the smell of the breeze, direction of the swell and the latest weather file from told me all I needed to know.

The wind would die to almost nothing until Thursday morning when a fresh northerly breeze would spring up to whisk us onto La Palma. Until then, we could drift slowly past the Madeiran Archipeligo with a near mutinous crew gazing longingly at the verdant island shores, or heave into Funchal, have our way with the Portugese town and make merry until Thursday. At a single stroke we would be able to please the crew, gain fresh supplies and avoid many tedious hours of light winds, yet cost us little in delay to La Palma.

My only concern is that, this being the worst pirate crew that you have never heard of, they tend to depart a port raid with less gold than they arrive, but try we must.

Madeira beckons on Wednesday morning.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:


Light airs, and visitors

07:50UTC 14/08/07 33'59.1N 017'04.7W

The wind has died away to almost nothing, and we've hoisted the biggest sail we have, the 'drifter' that we tried out going down the Solent. Together with the big jib, in 8 knots of breeze we were still doing 4 knots, which for such a heavy boat is remarkable. Now, in the early morning, the wind is down to just 3 knots but we keep about a knot of boatspeed. It'll be engine on soon though, just to keep some miles in the log for today. At 8:30 am, local time, the sun has enough heat in it to send us looking for shade, and the cabin remains cool from the night. With no breeze to keep the heat away, this could be a stifling day.

Motoring yesterday afternoon, we were joined by a pod of dolphins. These amazing animals swam with us for almost twenty minutes, playing and jumping in the bow wave. There were between thirty and fifty of them, hard to tell but there were many on each side of the boat and fins appearing in the wake behind us too. At least two of them were accompanied by young, half size dolphins gliding through the water in perfect harmony with their parent, just inches apart, twisting and weaving as if joined by a string to the larger animal. The largest, presumably the males, were showing off, tracking our bow with their tails just a foot in front of the boat, darting over and under their fellows, seeming to just revel in a chance to play with the boat's hull. They clearly didn't mind that we were under engine, although a few had bright white scars on their backs that looked like propeller marks. Perhaps that's just the trophies of bravado taken a little too far one day, something to remind the other, lesser dolphins that they are rock 'ard, and deserve some respec' from the rest of the pod.

Out here, we are the caged animals, in the zoo, limited to a small area of indoor and outdoor space. They came to look at us, then left to live, feed and play in their almost limitless world.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:


Monday, August 13, 2007

In another world

15:00UTC 13/08/07 34'53.4N 015'41.8W

Normal life seems a very long way behind right now. The weather continues to be benign, as the northerly breeze has ebbed away to a gentle force 2 and we have slowed to around 4 knots. The sea is very calm, extraordinarily blue and now 22.5'C - a swim beckons sometime soon. The sun beats down and we read, do little tasks, play games, prepare and eat food, and sleep. Even those on watch are getting a lot more sleep than at home - e.g. bed at 9pm, up at 2am for a night watch, bed again at 4am and sleep until 9am. Possible nap in the afternoon too. Watch keepers do only one or two 2 hour watches through the night, and in calm weather the system works perfectly. In rougher seas, they would be disturbed during their 'standby' period to help with reefing or ship watching, but here it's so quiet.

We have, in fact, just had today's moment of excitement when we spotted not one but two ships on the radar and they eventually passed within a mile of us. We see shipping on the radar frequently, but haven't seen an actual vessel for a few days. The other moment of excitement was the hooking of a large fish. It must have been large, because it got away before we'd reeled it in, but we are all sure it was a whopper. We all had to have a lie down after that, far too strenuous.

We hear that the UK and Biscay weather is set to turn grim again, and think how lucky we've been to get clean away with no bad weather. Long may that continue. Right now, we are less than 400 miles from the Canaries, where we expect our first landfall to be La Palma, because we should have a day or two to cruise the islands before arriving in Tenerife, and Amanda lived on La Palma for a while as a very small child, so it seems appropriate to visit.

We've used up pretty much all the fresh provisions, although our vast surplus of cheese continues to sustain us, as does Basil, who is alive and well and regularly sacrificing leaves to the cause. Interestingly enough, the meals just seem to get even better as the fresh stuff has gone, probably because Gesa's amazing meal plan tries doubly hard to be creative with tins and preserves. Last night's chickpea and salami casserole was a blinder. Tonight's Greek salad omlette will be a little inventive because I made an error and used the Feta two days ago but shh, don't tell Gesa or we'll be in trouble. I have little doubt that the cook (it's Owen's turn tonight) will come up with a suitable substitute.

till tomorrow, Adiós.

PS: 15:30UTC. Just stopped and all gone for a swim. Water 3167 metres deep. Nearest land 130 miles. Lovely.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:


Saturday, August 11, 2007

Doing well but bandwidth limited!

08:30UTC 11/07/08 39'07.6N 013'17.9W

We've had another fast 24 hours, covering 148 miles from 9am to 9am. Now over half way there and well settled into the routine. So settled that even before breakfast we've sat around chatting about religion (stimulus - the God Delusion), why people watch Big Brother (stimulus - wonder who got evicted?), adjusted our destination from Tenerife to Las Palmas (stimuli - fast progress giving time for cruising on arrival)

But we have a minor communication problem - we only get 90 minutes connect time in any 7 days and we've had a little too much email this week. So we're dropping off line for a 'quiet Sunday' and will reconnect on Monday morning with a position report. So don't be surprised to see nothing on the blog tomorrow. We're all fine.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:


Friday, August 10, 2007

My, how the time passes

16:00UTC 10/8/07 40'42.8N 12'50.4W

We are well and truly in the tradewinds now. A steady northerly wind speeds us south towards the Canaries. We have hoisted a classic downwind rig - two headsails and no main - and haven't had to adjust sail since we put them up 24 hours ago. Before that, the mainsail and it's boom were a constant concern, flapping, banging and sometimes held back by only a single piece of rope, called a preventer - and they have been known to snap.

I've relaxed quite a bit since we left Biscay - it was a real obstacle in our path. Whilst the others spend time reading, sleeping and doing their chores, I have hardly read my book and am only sleeping OK because I'm not on night watches. That's partly just how I am, never resting, but it's more so here because there is a constant, if often subconscious, knowledge that I and our boat are responsible for the lives of all of us. We have fathers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters on board and the first concern is to make sure they stay on board.

The other night, I'd gone to my cabin but wasn't sleeping. Something was nagging me, but I didn't really know what. The darkness was filled with those unpleasant imaginings and thoughts that often fill the sleepless mind at night. I decided to go for a walk, but the options are limited, so I came into the saloon, checked the chart, looked at the instruments, felt the roll and motion of the boat and it started to become clear. 'I think we might need to reef' I said to Ian. 'I think we're ok for now' he replied, but I'd at last given a name to my fear. 'I'm going on deck to sniff the air', I told him and, putting on my lifejacket and harness, stood on on deck for a few minutes feeling the boat power though the water and watching the moonlight sparkle on the foaming wake. The old phase came back to me - if you're thinking about reefing, you should already have done it. It was the change of the watch, so Guy was coming on deck anyway. 'Lets do it, Ian. One reef in the main and a roll in the jib.' Ten minutes later the boat was more upright, less stretched and still going just as fast. I went back to bed and slept very well.

Today, with our amazing new 'no maintenance' sail plan, we've had little to do. No ships within 10 miles on the radar for over a day. So we got up about 9, had breakfast at 10, played cards, had lunch at 1, now doing our tasks, reading, and thinking about dinner at 6pm. It's a hard life.

There's a decent little card school on board, Hearts being the relatively un-stretching game of choice, although Uno has also been seen. We have concluded that some games are less effective in this slightly unstable house of ours. Jenga is over a bit quickly, and pick-up-sticks leaves you chasing the little devils all across the floor. Ker-plunk might work but the darn marbles get loose and roll everywhere. Battleships seems to be tempting fate a little too much. Suggestions in the comments section please.....

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Not horrendous, honest.

16:30UTC 09/08/07 43'04.4N 11'50.4W

I think I might have worried some people with my description of the 'rhythmic rolling', as there have been two comments of 'sounds horrendous, hope you're OK'. Well we're fine and it's not at all horrendous - life goes on quite well despite the fact the the floor doesn't stay still and your food rolls across the deck until it's almost within reach before rolling back again just before you can grab it. But as long as you hold on to things, and walk around with a carefully timed swaying dance, everything's fine. Rather like being a bit drunk, but without the hangover.

We've now dropped the mainsail and are running under the 'twins'. No, not another big brother reference (although the image is interesting) but two jibs hoisted and rolled together, supported by a pole on each side. It's a really safe, controllable rig, to reef we just ease the sheets a little and furl the sails together some more. It can all be done without leaving the cockpit and the main boom is out of use, tied down and no longer threatening to take our heads off.

Given that some of us have recently been selling or buying houses, we've been writing the estate agent's description of Ty Dewi.

"A delightfully appointed two bedroomed waterfront apartment with spectacular sea views and many original features. Requires some attention and would suit a couple or young family looking for an adventurous project."

"The accommodation comprises of a delightful front facing double bedroom with built in wardrobes and a curious feature cupboard apparently dedicated to the storage of chains. Moving through to the kitchen, the main washroom and shower are to the left then the kitchen itself contains many built in teak storage units. After the kitchen is an office with a curious array of electronic gadgetry. Stepping up to the lounge / dining area with all round picture windows offering beautiful sea views, then through to the main bedroom with en suite bathroom.

"Spiral stairs lead up to the garden which has teak decking and an extensive water feature."

"Potential buyers should be aware that the property has no connection to mains utilities or services, that access roads can be limited and it is a rather long walk to the shops, but the features of this outstanding home more than outweigh these challenges."

Tonight, before turning in, I am going to have a dram of our finest malt whiskey and share one with Neptune, as a thank you for letting us through Biscay. Less than a thousand miles to the Canaries.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:


It's morning in the big brother boat

09:20UTC 09/08/07 43'43.3N 11.15.2W

and the shipmates are just stirring. Guy is on deck, watching for ships, of which there have been none all night. However, Guy is a 'ship magnet' and soon enough a small container ship appears on the horizon heading right for us. She alters course 6 miles out and saves us the trouble, passing half a mile away. Ahoy the Santa Maria Catana.

Owen is snoozing for a change. Nick is, also unusually, buried in some fixing, checking or other technical looking business to avoid having to do any of the real work on board like watch keeping, cooking or cleaning.

Amanda is today's music and drinks ferret, an easy task allocated a crew member the day after they have had the joy of being cleaning ferret for a day, doing all the washing up, sweeping through and argggh - cleaning the toilets. Amanda threw her mug of tea all over Owen at breakfast but was able to blame it on a roll of the boat. We suspect a mild domestic. There certainly was one after that event.

Ian comments that today we can mostly see sea. And he is preparing himself for a hard day's work, as his responsibility today is lunch.

Basil is drinking and swinging. What a life.

Strange things are happening on board the big brother boat. Ian is showing symptoms of mild hay fever. 150 miles from anything resembling a flower, and certainly not near anything that smells like one - the atmosphere on board is more intriguing than flowery. Owen appears to have been bitten by a mosquito. Whilst he does have an ability to attract the only mossy for miles around, this sounds a little extreme. Amanda has been seen to eat fruit at breakfast time for two days running. Commenting that in the Ward household, the kids have to have fruit before they are allowed breakfast, Owen suggest that as a good idea for Amanda, to be sharply reminded that he would have to get out of bed in time to oversee Amanda's breakfast....

tonight the shipmates get to nominate one of their fellow crew for eviction. Swimming practice is underway.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Rhythmic Roll

15:30UTC 08/08/07 44'35.9N 009'24.14W

Another beautiful day in the fearsome Bay of Biscay - we are very lucky. We are also very wobbly, we are running almost dead downwind in fairly light breeze, a force 3 from the NNE. What that means is that the wind is right behind the boat, and we have a sail out each side, moving gently along at about 5-6 knots. As the swells move under the boat she rocks from left to right to left building a little with each swing until reaching some sort of maximum when there are one or two sharp swings that have us all holding on and waiting. The tins slide about the lockers and any loose items cavort from one side to the other before the boat comes to her senses and sits upright with a little shake of apology to her crew before setting off again, serenely rocking along gently as if nothing had happened. And five minutes later, the whole cycle reaches another oscillatory climax and then returns to the level again. Repeat for many hours.

Life on board proceeds now around this rocking cycle, with activity slowing at the end of the five minutes as everyone reaches for something to hold on to and waits for the last two rolls before continuing their conversation, food preparation, typing, navigation, snoozing or whatever they were doing. We've been thinking about a gybe - heading across the wind in a slightly different direction - for a bit now in order to take us a little further away from the Finisterre coast and the big ship motorway that is 50 miles off that coast. The appearance of a supertanker on the radar, and then on the horizon six miles ahead, on a direct course for us, gave us the excuse to make the gybe so we've spent fifteen minutes preparing and doing that.

It's a bit different to racing in the bay when we say 'ready to gybe - gybe-oh' and it's done. Here we roll away the jib, lower the jib pole to the deck and switch the sheets over. Then we remove the main boom preventer and bring the boom to the centreline before it swipes across of it's own accord. We re-rig the preventer on the other side ready to use. We take the boat off autopilot and turn her carefully through the wind. The boom is let out gently and the preventer tightened up as it goes until all is in the right place. Then the autopilot goes back on and we wait for Georgina to finish clucking wildly, which tells us that she's happy with the course given. We tweak that course to what we want, then hoist the jib pole into the right position, unfurl the jib, sheet it in and tighten up the pole downhaul.

Easy as that. You can see why the skipper says 'we need to think about a gybe' to which the crew asks 'when?' and the answer is 'we'll do it mid-afternoon, after lunch and afternoon zzz's'

And the supertanker had seen us and was already turning away but you know what they say about it taking 5 miles to turn one of those things - it's true.

Tonight's cocktail: 'Sloppy Seas' - Sangria (can you tell that the cocktail cabinet is a little light on base ingredients?)

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

"Should I read a chapter then snooze, or snooze then read...."

16:50 UTC 07/08/07 45'58.8N 007'38.8W

Decisions decisions. Owen was struggling with this and other difficult choices today, and it's been a good day like that for all of us. The wind has strengthened a little, but is now generally behind us and we are broad reaching at top speed in a nice long swell that, whilst not exactly calm, isn't uncomfortable either. We covered 136 miles from in the 24 hours to 9am this morning, and look to better that again today. So far, Neptune has been kind.

We had a close encounter with a fishing boat last night. The crew have a standing instruction to wake me if any boat is within 2 miles, and I got a call at about 2am to check out a boat about 2 miles off. As I put on my lifejacket and went up into the cockpit, it became clear that this boat was more like 400 yards away, and we were going to pass just a few hundred yards behind. She was showing the green over white light of a trawler and I could see her gear trawling nets out behind, so we rapidly bore away. We'd always have missed her, but I prefer a bigger comfort margin than that. Once back on course, we held a little crew meeting to work out how we got so close and decided that the lessons were that being used to looking at big container ships and tankers all night, the lights of a little trawler look like a big ship further away if you're not careful. Also, the guys had been picking up radar contacts then looking for the lights, and that should be the other way around - use the radar to check what you see, not to see what to check. Within 2 miles, boats get lost in the wave clutter so the Mk1 eyeball is key. The binoculars were on deck, but they hadn't used them, preferring to nominate a radar contact instead. A reminder not to rely on the technology too much.

There was a lot of traffic about up till then, but after the trawler we saw almost nothing for the rest of the night, and only now, at 5pm are we starting to see traffic again as we near the main routes for shipps coming up from Africa towards northern Europe. Tonight will probably see a few ships around, but it's actually easier to see them at night rather than looking for grey ships in a light grey sky against a dark grey blue sea.

The sea is that beautiful deep water blue colour - not the turquoise of tropical islands but a deep blue-black-green. The waves roll in as great four metre high swells, and we sweep up the side of one and slide away down the reverse face. It's mesmerising, to clip on your harness, wander up to the front of the boat and stand, rocking with the motion of the boat and watching the waves roll under us. We are in water 3 miles deep, over 200 miles from the nearest land, in our self-sufficient little 50 foot boat, and our world moves with the ocean.

So, time to have dinner - chicken with creamy bacon penne - although that might be slightly altered as the crew had a craving for bacon sandwiches as they came out of their seasickness yesterday, so we'll have to improvise a little.

Tonight's cocktail - a 'flat earth kir royal'. We've no champagne, so it'll be white wine (flat) with ribena and every sailor knows there's an edge (to the world.....)

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:


Monday, August 06, 2007

Lumpy Bumpy

16:40UTC 06/08/07 48'16.9N 6'13.2W

Well the wind came round for us all right. At about 7pm, just during happy hour the southwesterly breeze died away and after a few minutes a new breeze came in from the northwest and stayed there, building through the night to 25 knots. Perfect for us in terms of direction, but the seas are relatively shallow (100 metres) and the atlantic swell builds up into short sharp waves that make for a bumpy ride. Apart from me, all the crew have suffered a bit overnight, but everyone stood their watches and got a little sleep. First night out is always tough. Today has been time to sleep, recover, eat a little bit and get on with getting south. We made 110 miles yesterday, almost on our target average of 120 and given the forecast, we'll easily make up the difference today.

Coming out of the Western Approaches of the English Channel, it's not long before that long rolling atlantic swell is felt. It's a movement that speaks of thousands of miles of open ocean, of little ripples starting on an American beach and building into the great curling fluid motion of a wave that has travelled far. Everytime I've felt that swell - coming out the bottom of the Irish Sea, coming round Cape Wrath in Scotland, going to the Isles of Scilly - it's called to me and beckoned us on a voyage, which at last we are taking.

Got our navigation a smidge wrong today and found we had moved a few hundred yards inside a 'traffic separation zone' which exists to guide big tankers and container ships around the corner of France, 50 miles off Ushant. The lanes are 5 miles wide and our course just grazed the southbound one, so a quick tack took us back out and there were no ships within 10 miles or we'd have had them on our radar anyway. However, it is the nautical equivalent of taking the kid's scooter along the hard shoulder of the M25, so a little more vigilance required at Finisterre, although we plan to be much further away from that zone when we get there in about 3 days time.

The boat is doing well, and we are continuing to gain familiarity; the crew putting in and taking out reefs, heaving too, tacking the boat and furling the headsail, so they increasingly know how to do the basic tasks without me. I've also done a radar / plotter / autopilot tutorial as a one on one for each crew member so they will probably do more watches alone tonight without disturbing their standby, which gives everyone 6 hours in bed at a stretch and is very civilised once we get it running.

Today's meals haven't been exactly to plan as few have felt like eating, but today's snacks have all gone and a few of the spare snacks are at risk too. We'll take a view on dinner nearer the time. Yesterday's meal plan included the instruction 'finely chop the onion'. Don't try this at home, but you can visit your local funfair armed with an onion, a chopping board and a sharp knife. Get on one of the more lively rides, balance the chopping board in front of you and, well, you get the picture. We've put a band aid on Ian's finger. However, the meal was superb - chinese beef with red peppers and broccoli, served with rice. We'll get back on plan as the crew get used to being at sea.

Tonight's cocktail - "Cherie Blurgh" - Sherry (Cooking).

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:


Sunday, August 05, 2007

Settling in

13:40UTC 05/08/07 50'13.3N 4'31.9W

We're on our way. We motored out of Plymouth in gorgeous sunshine, and have been sailing for four hours now, with a very gentle breeze helping us to get used to life aboard. The forecast promises force 6-7 later, which will be fine but a bit more lively, so it's good to get sorted before that arrives. For now, the breeze is building gently and swinging towards the west, so we are heading in towards The Lizard before taking a tack and out towards Ushant.

There's a clear division in the crew already, between the heliophiles, Ian and Amanda, who sit on deck in a bikini or shorts (I won't spoil it by saying who's in which attire) and the heliophobes, Owen and Guy, who were down below, playing cards, dressed in long trousers, long sleeves and hats, even in the saloon. I go between the two - I like to be out on deck but hunt out areas of shade under the bimini.

Lunch was supposed to be bread, salad and tinned tuna. However, three mackerel arrived just in time, so we've fried them up and forgone the tuna. Anyway, we're after fresh tuna in the deep water... We've brought the line in now as that's enough fish for today.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:



06:00UTC 05/08/07 50'21.7N 004'07.8W

Here we are in Plymouth, preparing breakfast before leaving for Tenerife. Just a couple of hundred yards away are the Mayflower Steps, where the pilgrims departed and where we picked up our crew yesterday. Round the corner is Plymouth Hoe, where Drake finished his game of bowls before leaving to fight the Spanish Armada, and everywhere are historic tokens of departure and adventure.

I went to the chart agent yesterday to buy a couple of charts for the voyage. There's something romantic about buying a big Admiralty chart of the North Atlantic Ocean, stretching from the coasts of France and Spain across to the Caribbean. We'll be plotting our course on that one all the way.

Time to get the weather forecast and get ready to cast off. Bye for now, Nick.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:


Friday, August 03, 2007

Personalities on board

14:15UTC 03/08/07 50'11.7N 003'43.7W

Many long distance solo sailors report visitations by characters on board, often appearing during a storm. We've not quite got to such 'altered' levels of consciousness, but there are still plenty of personalities on board.

Ty Dewi is the main one, of course. She and I are jointly charged with looking after our crew, keeping them safe, warm and fed. And if I don't do my bit, she has to just keep on working. In return, I feed her oil and diesel and take care of all her needs. It's a nice relationship.

And there are a host of supporting characters.

Gertrude: Our engine. Not actually germanic, but usually dependable and uncomplaining, as long as we check her fluids daily and treat her with a little consideration.

Georgina the pissed off chicken: Our autopilot. Autopilots have been called George since at least WW2 but ours must be female. Her main working part, the hydraulic pump, sits in the stern and moves the rudder with a bwrrrrrrrk bwk that has convinced us that she will shortly produce an egg. She steers pretty well too, almost all the time.

Badger: Our dinghy. The rubber dinghy is our car. It's how we get ashore, visit the beach, get the shopping, and so on. For many years our banter has used 'badger' as a universal noun. 'Ferret the badger' meaning 'get the thingamabob'. Badger hangs off the back of the boat waiting for us to stop, when she springs to life and bounces up and down at the end of a piece of string waiting to be allowed to run ashore.

Ferret: The outboard engine. Ferrets the badger.

Basil: The basil plant. Pronounced in a Fawlty Towers voice, Basil swings from a hook in the saloon and is much happier now that he has been liberated from Mr Sainsbury's gaol and is regularly fed with fresh water. In return, he provides a few leaves for any salad or pasta dishes. We aim to keep him alive until the Canaries, after which he will have to be sacrificed as he won't survive the 'dry season' when we leave the boat there.

We have crew as well, they come and go according to need and wish but the others live on board and help us along the way.

All well. Almost at Plymouth. N.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:


Thursday, August 02, 2007


We've arrived in Dartmouth after a mixed day of motoring and rain, which cleared to bring some good sunshine, and finally a couple of hours of glorious sailing to bring us into the beautiful River Dart, with Dartmouth and Kingswear Castles guarding the entrance to this gorgeous river. IT's a bit of a homecoming too, as it was about 16 months ago that we collected Ty Dewi from here and sailed her over to Ipswich. And now we're back, en route to the adventure we bought her for and she seems to be loving it.

It's late, so more tomorrow - and Plymouth, a change of crew and the ocean beckons.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Pottering down the Solent

After yesterday's epic voyage, we slept in, started late and have had a pleasent gentle day with the tide sweeping us down the solent. We took the opportunity to mess about, hoisting the 'drifter', a very light headsail, and then using the new poles to put the jibs out either side, as we will do in the tradewinds, only with a small jib instead of the huge drifter.

It all worked really well, and it's good to have tried it out. It was so good, we lowered the dinghy into the water and I went around taking photos and video from off the boat, something you can rarely do.

As lunch was being prepared, a mackerel kindly decided to join us just in time for an appointment with the frying pan and some brown bread. Lovely.
Posted by Picasa


Not carbon neutral

09:50UTC 01/08/07 50'48.5N 000'52.8W

Here we are in the delightful Chichester harbour with the sun blazing down on another almost windless day. We've had a biut of a lie in as we got here at 1am this morning after motoring for 14 hours from Dover. The weather was so calm, and the night so beautiful that we decided to take advantage and keep on going.

But we've burnt a bit of diesel to get here! The fuel bill in Plymouth may be a bit painful.

Motoring in calm weather is strangely peaceful, despite the continual rumble of the engine. The boat rocks gently to the light swells and the crew relax and get on with little tasks on board. We have a list of daily tasks divided up between us, so one person is responsible for breakfast and lunch, another for dinner, snacks and tea, and one more for dishwashing, cleaning and other housekeeping. We rotate each day so you don't have to wash dishes too often!

Last night treated us to another beautiful sunset, full moonrise and then a couple of fabulous meteors, some of which triggered a lot of 999 calls to the coastguard reporting 'flares' seen off Brighton. We also watched the sattelites traversing, and I think I saw an 'Iridium flare' which is when one of the satellites in the Iridium phone network passes overhead and, during it's normal turn and twist, the sun glints of the solar panels causing a bright flash. Quite impressive.

We're having a gentle breakfast and setting off through the Solent today, heading for Studland Bay, a delightful anchorage near Poole. The Solent is the spiritual home of British yachting, and the place where the schooner America cam to challenge the best of british yachts for a race around the Isle of Wight - beating them hands down and initiating the longest running competitive trophy in sport - the America's Cup.

Time to stow the anchor and make way. Adieu.


radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: