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Friday, November 30, 2007

Hot and humid

22:30UTC 30/11/07 16'00N 050'33W Wind ESE3

It's been a very lethargic day. The weather started out blazingly hot, which had us all hiding under the shades or below, and the heat has grown a lot of thunderclouds, which have now arrived and are giving us a little gentle rain - they didn't develop enough for big squalls - and we're here at dinner time with 29'C temperatures and 100% humidity, not altogether comfortable but we have to remind ourselves that it is probably better than an english end of November day...

Despite the weather, things are getting done - I was driven to wire a new fan into the aft cabin so we now have 'air conditioning'! One of the crew has been seen wielding the varnish brush so we might arrive looking better than when we left (the boat, if not her crew)

Made 131 miles yesterday, and now we are 650 miles from Antigua.

All's well, N.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

On not wishing the days away

18:30UTC 29/11/07 15'51N 048'01W Wind ESE3/4

I think I wrote in a recent message that 'we can almost smell the rum'. And indeed, we now can expect to be in Antigua about this time next week. It is interesting to observe the effect that this has on us.

After eighteen days at sea, we are well into the rhythm of this voyage. So far, there has been nothing to tax us in terms of sailing, some frustrating calms and the occasional squall but really this route is living up to it's billing as the 'milk run'. Life is relatively easy and the sailing is splendid. So why have I been itching for every last mile to get us to our destination?

We still have seven days to go, to enjoy and relish this experience. I think it is in our nature to always be looking forward, thinking about what is coming next. One of my favourite books is Alain de Botton's 'Art of Travel' and he comments on this:

"It is as if a vital evolutionary advantage had been honoured on members of the species who lived in a state of concern about what was to happen next. These ancestors might have failed to savour their experiences, but they had at least survived while their more focussed siblings, at one with the moment and the place they stood in, had met violent ends on the horns of unforeseen bison'

The effect is interesting, for it seems that the mind spends more time ashore in a bar, restaurant or hot shower in English Harbour than it does on the boat. The daily tasks still get done but with a counting down - "this is the last but one time I'll be on washing up duty". This voyage is meant to be about the journey not the destination, otherwise we would have taken that five hundred miles an hour jumbo jet, but of course without a destination it is no voyage at all, just a random wandering to nowhere.

There is a superficial explanation, for the destination is a reunion and a beginning. Much as I miss Gesa and the kids, and however keen I am to begin our life aboard, wishing the days away doesn't actually make the boat go any faster, nor does it change the date printed on their airline tickets. It only detracts from the enjoyment of the inevitable next seven days, and hence from life as a whole.

So I have managed to shake myself out of that particular little trap and enjoy the present once again - this thinking and analysis can be pretty useful - and as the boat leaves her determined wake across the Atlantic, I have read another book, completed a few little maintenance tasks and spent time watching the waves, stars and satellites on my night watch. It's my turn to cook dinner tonight, and I shall attack that with gusto and enjoy realising another of Gesa's menu masterpieces. And I shall certainly enjoy the cocktails.

(Last night's cocktail - Guardaloupe Sweetie - Summer fruit berries and juice with vodka)

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Busy day

17:30UTC 28/11/07 16'28N 045'37W Wind ESE4

We've spent most of the morning preparing for some forecast lighter weather. That will require the mainsail, and a pulley at the top of the mast has become very stiff, probably with dust from La Gomera, and makes it tough to hoist the sail. So we swapped the halyard to another pulley, all done without climbing the mast by a complex operation involving a third long length of line to allow us to pull the halyards through different paths. It all went smoothly and we've now hoisted the main, gybed onto port tack and are shooting along in a good breeze. Although it's forecast to drop later, we're making the most of it now. 140 miles again yesterday, and we're keeping up that pace right now.

It's hot, despite the breeze so everyone is a bit lethargic and spending a lot of time reading, dozing and preparing each meal. Most of the fresh fruit and veg has gone now, as has the cheese and cold meats, so we're down to packets and tins but the menus are surprisingly inventive and we are still eating extremely well. Of more concern is the need to ration the wine as it looks like we could run out a day or two before arrival. The crew don't know it, but I have a couple of extra bottles hidden in another locker to pull out of the hat at the last minute and salvage morale.

Cocktail last night was a Long 'waytothe' Island Iced Tea. Cold tea, lemon, rum, vodka. Sounds better than it was.

Melissa - if you're reading this you should know that we finished that exceptionally good bottle of Bourbon you gave us long ago and have consigned the bottle to the 5000m deep. I'm also trying and failing to remember the words to Barratt's Privateers but given the quality of my singing, it's probably for the best. "I was told we'd sail the seas for American gold, fire no guns, shed no tears. Now I'm a broken man on a Halifax pier, the last of Barratt's Privateers"

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

One thousand to go

17:00UTC 27/11/07 16'03N 43'18W Wind ENE4

We continue to move westwards, another 140 miles yesterday. It's odd to think that what we do in 24 hours, an aircraft does in 15 minutes. We'll grumble about being delayed for a couple of hours at an airport, yet just 50 years ago, crossing this ocean was by ship for most, and delays of a day or more were common. Travel was for the wealthy or the enterprising, yet now most 18 year olds can buy an air ticket around the globe by working in a pub for a month. Sailing an ocean has changed too, maybe it's not become quite as accessible as 500mph jet travel, but what was once the preserve of a few crazy yachtsmen is now possible for the average crazy yachtsman, so here we are.

The DTP (distance to pub) is now almost down to a mere 1000 miles. We can almost taste the rum.

All's well. N.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

The Squall and the Storm Chaser

16:40UTC 26/11/07 16'02N 040'52W Wind ENE4

We met our first Atlantic squall yesterday. This generated a frantic amount of photographic activity from the crew, especially Mr Ian Sheldon, our artist in residence. For those that don't know, Ian is a very accomplished professional artist and approaching storms are one of his favourite subjects. In fact, Ian was recently profiled in the Edmonton magazine, Avenue. You can, and should, read the article, 'Stalking the Sky', which can be found in the news section of

On the horizon, a wall of dark cloud appeared about an hour before sunset. It was clearly catching us up, and the radar confirmed that this was a four by two mile slab of pretty heavy rainfall. As the tradewinds blow out of the sahara and across the atlantic, they gather moisture. Further back, this is pretty little fluffy white clouds. Now, at 40'W, they have gathered some punch and can drop a lot of rain. With the rain comes wind, strong downdrafts of colder air that drive the raindrops deep into your skin. As we get further west, towards 50 and then 60'W, these squalls will get more and more powerful, so it was good to have a fairly mild introduction.

Ian settles himself onto the stern platform, wedged in with camera in hand, enjoying the way that the low sunlight from the other horizon is lighting up the approaching squall line. I am wondering just how much wind it will be packing, and decide, given that it is daylight, to wait until we can see the whitecaps and feel the breeze before reefing, because reefing is such an easy process with just the jibs to be furled.

As the squall reaches us, the rain starts to pound down and we all head below to the saloon, closing the doors behind us and sit listening to the lashing of the rain whilst watching the wind speed readout. In a few minutes, the speed has jumped from fifteen to thirty knots, a good force seven and now we do need to reef. The boat is surging to eight knots, a great feeling but I'd rather take the strain off the rig and sails.

I take off my t-shirt - no point in getting that wet - and step up into the cockpit in my shorts. The reefing takes just a couple of minutes and we are settled doing seven knots with less than half the canvas we had before. Everything settled and comfortable, I stand in the rain enjoying the experience. I even thought about calling for the soap and getting properly clean, but perhaps next time. The boat was beautifully washed down and, finally, we've got rid of the clinging saharan red dust that had accumulated whilst she was in the Canary Islands.

A mere thirty minutes later, the wind is back to normal and we unfurl all sail and continue on our way. The crew is briefed to check the radar every thirty minutes for approaching squalls and reef ahead of time, then we settle into the watch system and head for our bunks. In the night, Ed reefs once but the squall passes a mile away and doesn't affect us.

Our daily mileage was 138, helped along by that burst of speed yesterday evening, and we are now making the best of a good breeze and rolling westward.

Cocktail last night - rum, white wine and peach juice.

All's well. Nick.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Day in the Life - Part 4

17:30UTC 25/11/07 16'21N 038'29W Wind NE3/4

Well, that's another 130 miles down and now we are over halfway in terms of miles and, since the first bit was slow, hopefully we're way more than halfway in terms of time. If we keep 130 a day, we're there on Dec 4th.

Last night the wind shifted to directly behind us and we rolled so much that no-one slept well at all. Today has seen it shift back, the boat steady out and we're resting and recovering. Being Sunday, we're taking it especially easy and have just finished coffee (expresso + hot milk) and cake (the last of a particularly good one from La Gomera) saturated with evaporated milk.

We even saw dolphins briefly yesterday evening, the first for a few days so it's nice to know they are still around.

Ian had a report from home but he's not going to gloat about the fact that it's -27'C and snow flurries in Edmonton right now.

So here's the final part of 'Day in the Life', as I try to remember it....


'A day in the life of Ty Dewi - Wed 21 Nov 2007 - Part 4'

I wake from my snooze at about half past four and realise that it's time to send the blog entry, position report and an email home. I sit and write the messages at the chart table, which gently rocking back and forth but still a comfortable place to work. The position report is automatic, I click a button in the email software and it reads from the boat instruments to get time, position, speed and heading, then formats that and puts it in my outbox ready to go.

It's now time to send email. The procedure is the same as the morning, although I have a little more trouble finding a frequency - it seems that this is a busier time and radio conditions aren't great around now, they get much better after dark but I've promised to send updates before six each day so off we go.

As I finish, Dad's completing his cocktail creation. There seems to be a bit of a generation gap where cocktails are concened, us younger ones having a bit more experience of mixing odd combinations of ingredients to form bizare drinks, but Dave and Ed are catching up quick and getting more inventive with each turn. We gather in the cockpit to toast the day and chat whilst we sip - gin and orange today.

It's my turn for dinner, so I disappear pretty quickly to start preparation. This one is a greek salad omlette, according to the recipe. I chop red onion finely, making sure to time the slicing of the knife with the roll of the boat and avoid adding and fingers to the mix. Once the onion is sizzling in the olive oil, I break open ten eggs into a bowl which I've placed in the sink to be low down and immune form the rolling. Or so I think. As I open a tin of tomatoes and chop up some cheese, the boat puts in an extra big roll that doesn't tip the bowl, but causes the eggs to slosh and two yolks make a bid for freedom. I'm too quick for them; swearing heavily to slow them in their tracks, I sweep them up with a large spoon that I'd already placed nearby. Bak into the bowl and the whole lot goes into the big pan with the onions, tomatoes, cheese and some dried parsley. It sets nicely into a thick eggy cake, and I amaze the team by successfully placing a large plate over the pan and flipping it upside down, depositing a perfect circular cake onto the plat. It is cut into quarters and handed around. We open a bottle or red wine to accompany it and it's another good meal. Thanks Gesa, recipe goddess.

After dinner, Ed clears up and washes whilst Dad reads below. Ian and I sit in the cockpit and chat about a wide range of stuff, covering a lot of ground as usual and watching the waves roll by in their endless variety. We comment on how the waves are so mesmerising, we can watch for ages as the shapes morph and change yet stay essentially the same.

By 8pm it's almost dark and time for my watch. I get my lifejacket, it's still too warm for a sweater or long trousers, and stand on deck looking around. The sails are set well, the boats going as fast as she will in this breeze, and the horizon is clear of lights or dark shapes. I go below and flick the switch to turn on our navigation light at the top of the mast so that other boats can, hopefully see us and know which way we are heading. The light is in three sections - seen from behind it's white, from the left, or port side it is red, and the right, or starboard side is green.

Whilst I am at the switch panel, I put on the compass lights and make sure all our other lights are out, apart from anyone staying up to read. At night, we use red lights inside the boat for writing the log or looking at the chart, the red colour preserves our night vision for once we go back on deck.

I check the radar, and see that we have nothing within its twenty four mile range. That's good, I can relax a bit and sit at the chart table and write on the computer.

After half an hour writing, I take a break to go up on deck. Before going, I check the radar. No contacts. Up on deck, I stand and watch the waves, enjoying the power as the boat surges forward. It's not quite right though, a little slow perhaps, so I reach for the furling winch, carefully unwind a loop of the line and ease it out, allowing the sails to unroll a little more. Securing the line again, I watch the instruments as the boat speed leaps up from 5.5 to 6.1 knots. I do the usual mathematical games in my head - half a knot more is 12 miles a day, is 2 hours of sailing, is a day earlier at Antigua. Satisfied, I stand and watch again and even in the dark I can see the flying fish leap from the waves and escape this bizarre predator. Five minutes later I return to the computer and write this.

By 9pm I am decidedly sleepy. As Ian noted, you get to that point where if you were driving, you'd have to pull over and nap. I check the radar, go back to the cockpit and lie back, watching the stars roll above us. I doze lightly, standing to check the horizon every five or ten minutes until 10pm comes round, not a moment too soon. I go below, write up the log and nudge Ed. 'Your watch'.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Day in the Life - Part 3

15:30UTC 24/11/07 17'0N 036'08W Wind ENE4/5

We're moving south to avoid some lighter winds in the north, but that means that we are running directly downwind again and rolling like a bad'un. But 138 miles in the last 24 hours, despite a quiet patch overnight so no problems with progress.

Cocktail last night was a Canadian Wake Up Call - Expresso coffee, milk, baileys, vodka and maple syrup. Mmmmm.

Below, the third installment of a day in the life, there'll only be one more!


'A day in the life of Ty Dewi - Wed 21 Nov 2007 - Part 3'

Now that we are set up for the tradewinds that seem to be firmly established, we can leave the boat and autopilot to sail on and get on with the simple chores of daily life. We have a strict rota for the four of us. Day 1, you're making Breakfast and Lunch, day 2, Dinner and snacks, day 3, the nasty day, you do all the washing up, sweep the boat and clean the heads (toilet). Day 4, you are rewarded by having the difficult duties of inventing the evening cocktail and choosing music. Today, I'm making dinner.

Now though, I turn to a little job I've been meaning to do for a while, and permanently wire in the navigation lights. Up to this point, lighting up at night has been done by joining two bits of wire together. Effective but inelegant. All I have to do is lead a wire under the floor and up to the switch panel, but doing anything in this rocking, rolling world takes a long time. After an hour, I've done it and the lights can go on at a flick of a switch.

I lie down and read. The current book is 'Ninety Degrees North', a well written and entertaining history of the quest for the North Pole. Those guys were mad.

After another couple of chapters, I get up, check the radar - still no ships - and revise our course slightly. The weather analysis suggests that we want to be positioned a bit further south by Friday, so I set a course that will take us 60 miles south and about 100 west over the next day. Playing this game is always a bit tricky, sailing extra miles takes longer, but falling into a calmer patch does too. Of course, the light winds might not materialise or might be somewhere else but we go on the information we have and if we can optimise our route, we do.

I realise that the past couple of hours have been solitary. This happens quite a lot, we have a burst of communal activity - sail handling, meals or just a meeting up in the cockpit - then everyone finds some time and space to themselves. It's good, a nice mix and avoids the pressure of being sociable all the time.

Soon enough, it's time for lunch. Ian consults our little menu page, a laminated card for each day listing what is needed for breakfast, lunch and snacks, plus a recipe for dinner. Today, up from the galley comes crackers, ryvita, paté, cheese, pickled onions and olives, plus another litre bottle of beer from the fridge. Despite the boat's constant attempts to tip these things over, we've got quite good at balancing our food, so we sit in the cockpit and enjoy our lunch, chatting away. After a while, the cleaning wallah (toady it's Ed) gathers everything up and washes, dries and puts away to leave the galley nice and clean.

At this point, I look again at the dinner menu for which I am responsible. A little warning light goes on in my head when I read 'chocolate pudding - from mix'. Hmm, I dig out the pack and sure enough, it says make then chill for a couple of hours. Lucky that I read that one, so I get on with it, boiling some milk and making a passable imitation of a chocolate pudding to be put in the fridge. If I say 'Angel Delight' the Brits will probably know what I mean.

I lie down again with my book and then try to catch up on some sleep. Once more, the boat, or rather the seas, are against me. With every roll, something clatters from one side of a cupboard to another. We have a variety of chopping boards, and I've almost thrown the round one overboard as it was stored on edge, rolling nicely from one side to another. I saw reason and stuffed it, flat, in a locker somewhere. The biggest annoyance is that, after a meal, we've used some tins from the cupboard and there is now space for the remainder to slide around, which they do with the delight of kids having finally been released into the playground. I shut them up by digging more tins out of the storage boxes, and wedging them in with the bags of dried fruit. I wedge other things by using almost our entire collection of tea towels to jam in the gaps between bottles, plates and anything else that disturbs me. But you never get them all.

Eventually, I sleep for an hour or so.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

A Day in the Life - Part 2

15:00UTC 23/11/07 17'14N 033'43W Wind E4

More good progress, another 148 miles noon to noon. And 103 pages of my book. Some sleep, still fighting with the rolling but improving. We changed our clocks today, back one hour to cope with the changing times of sunset and sunrise. Communications and navigation is still done by UTC (or GMT, as us traditionalists will have it.) but watches run on local time.

Below, another installment of a day in the life, taking you back to Wednesday.

All's well. Nick.

'A day in the life of Ty Dewi - Wed 21 Nov 2007 - Part 2'
As coffee is made the remainder of the crew stir and stagger out of their bunks. We sit in the cockpit, enjoying daybreak - the sun doesn't rise till 8:30 - and sipping our coffee. We talk about the plan for fixing the steering and changing sail.

Coffee finished, we heave to. This is a very useful technique, where you tack the boat, putting her nose through the wind - but don't release the headsail. It lies against the inner forestay, trying to push the nose down to leeward. Meanwhile the mainsail and rudder try to push her up to windward and, with these forces balanced, the boat jogs along at about 1kt gently riding the waves. It's very stable and comfortable, useful for doing tasks like repairs or cooking in heavy weather.

We put the engine on gently and drop the mainsail. The batteries need to be charged, and the engine replaces the balance of the main as we pack it away. The sail is quickly dropped, folded and the cover put on. We probably won't use it again for days. Whilst we're at it, I pull the staysail cover out of the forecabin and we put that on too, so our unused sails are protected from the ultraviolet rays that slowly destroy sailcloth. With the boat still hove too and stable, we have breakfast.

The next job is the steering, so I dig out the tools and hydraulic fluid. The top up point is on top of the steering pedestal, but to get at it we remove a wooden plate which holds the main steering compass. This is a delicate instrument so we carefully remove the holding screws, slide it back a few inches and disconnect the wires for the compass light. That done, the compass is laid carefully on a cushion out of the way. We remove the plug on the steering pump and can plainly see the fluid level well down on where it should be. Good, looks like the diagnosis is correct. One of the fluid bottles has a pipe that screws on the top, making it easy to squeeze the fluid into the pump. We empty it of the few milliliters in there, then Dave and Ed top the bottle up from another full container, via a funnel. A roll of the boat predictably tips fluid over the swearing pair, but it's easily mopped up.

We finish topping up the pump, work the wheel and autopilot a few times to get the air bubbles out and put it all back together again. Time to raise the second headsail. This sail is hoisted in a groove on a 'furler', which is a roller that swivels to roll the whole sail up around it, thus reducing the area as the wind gets stronger. The crew is now used to this procedure, so we work quickly and smoothly in our tasks. We come out of hove to by releasing the jib sheet and steering us at ninety degrees to the wind. It's fast and stable for this job. Clipping my harness on, I take up position on the plunging bow, ready to feed the new sail into it's groove. Ian and Ed take the sail from it's bag, tie on the sheets and halyard and feed it to me. Ian pulls on the halyard and the sail slides easily up the rig. Dave manages lines back in the cockpit. Tying off the halyard and the strop at the bottom, we can furl the two sails together a bit before rigging the poles.

Each sail has a five metre pole that holds it out from the side of the mast and stops it flapping as we sail with the wind behind us. Ed controls the lines that hoist the pole upwards, and I clip it to the jib sheet. As Dave and Ian in the cockpit give us slack or tension on the sheets, we lift the pole four metres off the deck and tension everything up. Moving to the other side, we do the same for the second sail and now we have two little triangles of cloth, held by the poles, pushing us forward at full speed.

The whole manouvre only takes 10 minutes, and as we return to the cockpit and get on our way, Dad says 'nice seamanship' to me. That comment is all the praise I need.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

A day in the life - Part 1

16:30UTC 22/11/07 17'06N 031'24W Wind NE5/6

Well, yesterday I thought I would jot down what I did in the day. We have fairly relaxed days so I didn't reckon it would be too long a post, but here I am with many pages of text! So, if you have the stamina, below is 'A day in the life of Ty Dewi - Wed 21 Nov 2007 - Part 1'

We're sailing fast right now, good breeze and just broke the record for the 24 hour run since I bought her, 152 miles from noon to noon. All's well. Nick

'A day in the life of Ty Dewi - Wed 21 Nov 2007 - Part 1'
Today, my day starts at midnight. I'm dozing in the settee bunk in the saloon, drifting in and out of sleep as we get used to the rolling motion of the boat. Ian taps me on the shoulder. 'Your watch' he says.

It's warm, so I'm just sleeping in my shorts, in a cotton sleeping bag liner. I get up, swinging myself out over the leecloth, a fabric barrier that stops me falling out of bed as the boat rolls. Finding my t-shirt and a light jacket, I dress in the moonlit cabin, trying to time my movements to those of the boat.

We exchange a few words. No ships, nice night, boat going fast but the autopilot's making a funny noise. I'd been worrying about the autopilot, it had been tripping out during the day. We've previously christened the autopilot 'Georgina', and she's a full time member of the crew. Without her, we'd be hand steering, a dismal prospect for 15 days non-stop, 2 hours each, turn about turn. Now I've got to think about what might be causing the problem.

I put on my lifejacket and harness whilst Ian writes up the midnight log entry. Bidding him goodnight, I step up towards the cockpit, find a harness line and clip it to the steel loop of my safety harness. I remember that I'm not wearing my lifetag, so I reach to the grabrail in the saloon, peel apart the velcro strap and wrap the tag around my wrist. The harness should keep me on board if I trip or fall, but the tag is always sending a radio signal to a box on the boat. If I, and my tag, fall over the side the signal is lost and an alarm sounds.

Clipped onto the boat now, I step out into the cockpit and stand, legs apart to balance for the rocking, holding onto the sprayhood rail and watch the moonlit waves roll under the boat, feeling the rise and fall as we tumble our way across the Atlantic. I listen, the autopilot is noisy, working harder than it should and making a 'grrunch' sound every minute or two.

I sit down, unclip my harness line from the u-bolt near the cabin and reclip to the one at the back of the cockpit. Moving to stand behind the wheel I hit the button to turn off the pilot and take control of the boat myself. It takes a few minutes of one hundred percent concentration, judging the slew and twist of boat and waves before I'm into the groove and can relax, my movements of the wheel becoming more instinctive and automatic. And in those few minutes, the autopilot problem is clear to me. As I turn the wheel there's a delay, some slack, before I feel the rudder move. That final symptom helps it all click into place, there must be a shortage of hydraulic fluid, the pilot is pushing against some air bubbles and not getting a response. That's good, now I know how to fix it, we just need to wait till daylight. I hand steer for most of my two hour watch, enjoying a buzz from steering MY BOAT over this great ocean.

Finishing my watch at 2am, I wake Ed to take over, and head back to my bunk. I sleep fitfully, the noises and motion of the boat intruding on my rest. I don't hear the autopilot much though, so the guys must be hand steering a fair bit, just using the pilot when they come below to check the radar.

Around 7am, I wake to the first glimmer of a grey dawn. The wind has risen nicely and it's great sailing weather, but Ian and Dave are both up and on deck, Ian's enjoying hand steering just as I had been earlier. We all chat a little about the plan for the morning, then I go below to put the kettle on and get the morning emails.

Email comes via the radio. I open up the computer and jot a quick note to Gesa, file a position report and then prepare to dial into the email system. First thing to do is check the radio propagation. My email software has a screen that shows the chance of connecting to various stations at certain times of the day. Right now, the Belgium station shows green on 8422kHz, so I turn on the radio and modem, select the frequency and listen. Bleeps and chirps suggest that someone else is already dialled in on that frequency, so I wait. After a few minutes the sounds revert to the usual static and random beeps, so I click 'connect'. The lights flicker as the radio puts out full power and connects to Belgium. Two messages to send, and two to download, Gesa's news from last night and a weather file. After 3 minutes, all is sent and received, a tiny 10kbytes of data. It's nice to hear from home, Gesa's analysis of the weather looks good even if things back in Cambridge are a little stressful right now. I'll have to write something nice later to try and cheer her up.

Switching off the radio, I load the weather file into the viewer and get the news we want. As Gesa had already suggested, we'll get favourable strong breezes all the way to Saturday. Need to work our way south a little to about 17N in order to be well positioned for Friday but that'll be easy. The kettle's boiling, it's time for a coffee....

To be continued.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007


17:00UTC 21/11/07 17'26N 028'44W Wind NE4/5

Well, what a difference a day makes, as Jamie Cullum is crooning on the stereo. We are not well and truely in the tradewinds, with a good 15-20 knots of breeze from almost right behind us. The familiar rolling is back, something I'm used to from the first trip from the UK to the Canary Islands, but fairly new to this crew. They'll have to get used to it because if all goes to plan they'll have another 2 weeks of it! We're all learning to walk around using the movement of the boat, pausing until she's going our way rather than fighting the motion. It's kinda like dancing, balletic when you get it right and comical when you don't.

The chart positions are looking better too, we've finally escaped the tenacious clutches of the Cape Verde Islands, putting an extra 130 miles on the log in 24 hours. And we're pointing almost right at Antigua, with a slight diversion south to stay in the best breeze. It is hard to believe that just 48 hours ago we were becalmed, tied alongside another yacht.

Cocktails recently have been:
Sun: Flight of Fantasy (gin - lots, orange, apple, peach)
Mon: Completely Bananans (v. ripe banana, dark rum, vodka, milk, lemon zest, ginger)
Tues: Whitecap (vodka, cucumber, lemon juice, salt, splash of water)

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007


15:20UTC 20/11/07 18'06N 026'20W Wind NNE3

Yippee, woohoo, yeah. We got wind. And not just because yesterday's meal plan had baked beans for breakfast and bean casserole for dinner.

Engine off at lunchtime, under full sail since then, breeze building slowly and forecast to be good for the foreseeable future. At last we're on the move and the atlantic looks like and ocean again.

The last few days have been frustrating but amazing at the same time. Her's my note to Gesa this morning, which sums up last night's experiences:

Good morning. It's 6:30am and although it should be Ed's watch, I'm not tired so I'll let him sleep. At last the wind is building, still only 7 kt but pushing us along nicely at 3-4kt in the right direction. Dolphins visit, clicking and whistling to each other, breathing lazy sighs as splash gently around us. Distant lightning over the Cape Verde islands flickers and lights up the sails, even from 100 miles away. A freighter looms on the radar, come into view and passes 2 miles behind us. A shooting star dives across the sky, so low it leaves a trail in the sky and I can hear the fzzzz as it blazes into oblivion. All this in the last 3 hours.

All's well. Nick.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Café Atlantique

16:00UTC 19/11/07 18'55N 024'46W Wind Zero

Today has been somewhat surreal. We have enjoyed a near mystical night, and then had a delightful lunch with fine wines, great food and interesting conversation. We have been to a party.

We have no wind, only the lightest of breaths disturb the mirror like surface of the Atlantic Ocean. As the sun set, just before darkness fell, we were visited by about 10 dolphins arcing their lazy way across the water to say hello to us. We all took photos. After seeing Ian's photos, I'm not bothering to take any myself. The sky produced a range of colours that are near impossible to describe and could not be captured on our cameras. From dusky yellow through dark pink, violet and the deepest blue black, an infinite progression upwards.

At night, we look down into a fluid second sky of perfect stars, reflected from above. This must be the closest we could come to being in space, surrounded by stars. The boat described slow circles of her own devising as we rocked gently in our floating cradle. We watched stars rise and set, and the planets cross the sky; Jupiter clear and bright at sunset, Mars directly above us glowing a ruddy orange whilst in the morning Venus rises over the horizon like a celestial searchlight.

Dawn breaks and we are forced to split the silence with the engine. We motor south, eating a hearty breakfast and marvelling at the peace of this ocean. On the radar, a small contact appears 10 miles ahead, and we slowly overhaul another yacht, drifting slowly in the same direction. We discuss weather to call them and decide that actually, no, we don't want our solitude and peace disturbed, and never know what you might find on the other end of the radio. How right we were.

As we motor on, our radio springs into life. A french accent asks 'sailing yacht near 19 north 25 west, do you receive?' Having been called, of course we respond and chat a little - they are heading for the west indies too. Do we know the weather forecast? Sure, I say and give them a summary. Would you like to come over for champagne? Erm, yes, great. OK, come alongside midday.

This stimulates a bit of activity on board. New t-shirts are dug out of kit bags. Faces are washed, deodorant is found. We decide to take the remaining fruit cake with us, and in a few minutes time we are alongside the 41 foot catamaran, "Hawa Dev", fenders out and tied together bobbing gently in the swell. We sit in her cockpit making introductions and sharing a glass of cava and my mother's contribution to the entente cordial, the superb fruit cake.

Jerome, the skipper, has had the boat a month and is sailing to the Caribbean with his Dad and two friends. Sound familiar? He has four kids, aged 4 to 11, and is taking 3 months off to sail. He and his crew are doctors, and are getting a little worried as they are due back and scheduled to perform operations on Dec 5th. Their satellite email isn't working and they only have forecasts from the radio which are patently wrong (force 5, ha!) Their autopilot has failed, leaving them tediously hand steering, and one of their two engines isn't working, so they have a top speed of about five knots and only four days worth of diesel anyway.

We swap stories, share our forecast, try and fail to fix their autopilot, and look somewhat enviously at the enormous living space on their boat. They look enviously at the teak and classic lines of ours, and at our working electronics! We are invited to stay for lunch, for they have had more success as fishermen whilst spending more of their daylight hours drifting around. We swim in water 3 miles deep whilst their chef gets to work, then enjoy freshly cooked dorado, rice, sun dried tomatoes. Followed by hot fresh chocolate brownie, and coffee.

We swap email addresses and plan to make contact once in the Caribbean, as I sense the kids might make friends. We will also try to contact them by radio at 10am each day for the next few days and share our forecast. Once the wind arrives, they will scoot off at twice our speed so they should get there in time for their flights.

So here, 100 miles north of the Cape Verde islands, on a mirror smooth sea, we have spent a delightful lunch at Café Atlantique, a somewhat exclusive bistro. Call for reservations. Opening hours may vary.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Being connected

16:30 UTC 18/11/07 19'46N 024'29W Wind S1

A mere ten years ago, you would not be reading anything like this. We are all familiar with how much our world has changed with regard to communications, yet the implications rarely generate more than a passing thought.

I am writing this on a very advanced, rugged computer that cost less than three hundred pounds. I connect it to a radio that bounces signals off the ionosphere to a ground station in Belgium, who relay that to a computer somewhere that turns it into an entry on our weblog. I pay nothing for the weblog, and just two hundred and fifty dollars a year for the radio connection. By virtue of your internet connection, probably a broadband one, you can read this and the rest of our collected facts, figures and thoughts at your leisure.

If I were to write a book, and maybe I will, reading about our travels would require a commitment and a dedication that is made difficult by many modern lifestyles. The purchase of a book is a careful, deliberate step even if it is done in the literary mecca that is the Luton Airport WH Smiths. Entering into a relationship with a book demands that you set aside time and distance away from others in your household and find more than five sleepy minutes to cover a few pages before bedtime. The web allows us to break our attention and interest into ever smaller chunks, a snippet here and a fact there. You are, perhaps, following our journey almost in real time and I find myself reporting on that basis too, more like news journalism than travel writing. It's not a bad thing, just a different thing.

Not many years ago, even within my lifetime, travellers of all ilk could depart their home port and not be heard of for weeks or even months before a telegram or an extortionate phone call home. Arrived safe Antigua Stop Will meet plane St Johns Stop Bring marmite Stop. I wonder about the effect of that on those left behind. Yachtsman's wives, left at home, would have no reason to suspect any problem until their husbands were long overdue in port, but I am certain that most would continue to spend dark hours trying to dispel unpleasant thoughts of disaster until contact was made again. Many a classic cruising adventure has arisen because a partner prefers being out there with the other to staying at home worrying; they usually prove themselves more than a match for their other half.

Yet our daily communication does not dispel these fears, it can even heighten them. When I miss a report through technical difficulties, poor radio reception or sheer thoughtless forgetfulness, it raises the old concerns and fears that lie so close to the surface and have to be pushed back again with cool rationale. In a world where so little seems unknown and Google can answer any question, no news is rarely seen as good news. Of course, vast amounts are unknown; the daily lives of billions of people pass without reportage or comment, as may the hideous actions of many odious governments. So familiarity - with the position and actions of this yacht and her crew - breeds what?

I am flattered that so many people read these entries, pleased that you take a few minutes of your day to see where we are. I'm even more flattered if you've got this far into this article, that has taken real dedication, thanks. So I ask myself why do I write them, why did I set up such an elaborate website, and why do so many travellers do the same?

There is certainly an element of responding to demand. From the outset, telling people of our plans has opened up a rich vein of conversation and interest that has persisted and developed as our departure drew nearer. This site is a wonderfully accessible way to share our news, and to keep in touch with all those friends we care so much about around the globe. It has also been a two way street. No plan leaps into consciousness fully formed (unless you believe that J.K.Rowling really had all seven Harry Potter books worked out on a single train journey). For us, talking about our plans has shaped our thinking from the start, morphing and changing our ideas with so many questions. This trip is the product of those conversations, and of the conversations that never happened, the ones I imagine as I write and I use to form the thoughts and ideas.

There must also be an element of the showman, the self-publicist, the 'hey look at me'. Why else would I have taken the trouble to wrap the site in a carefully conceived graphic design, and include many pages of background information. Comparing sailor's websites is instructive. There are many who have no such thing, they are quietly out there, 'living the dream' and few people know it. Yet these are often those who have 'dropped out', withdrawn from a world that they have a poor opinion of and set sail for somewhere else they hope to like more. Many more run the basic blog, a diary of places visited, things seen and done, a communication with friends and family back home and a sensible way of augmenting the occasional postcard with something more immediate and relevant. A few, like me, expand beyond and it is there that you are more likely to find the musings and wider thoughts, sometimes instructive and illuminating, other times self-indulgent and trite. You must be the judge on this one. What is for sure is that I spend a lot of time and effort doing this, my own little broadcast to the world. It may be an advertisement in the traditional sense (need some web design? drop us an email) but is also the continuation of many years trying to overcome the school-yard voices that say 'you're not that good really, you'll see'. I don't want to prove anything anymore, I'm fairly sure of that but old habits die hard and those voices resonate down the years and are only now starting to die away and let me be quiet without hearing them whisper in the night.

So our continued connectedness, out here in a calm and placid mid-atlantic, arises from a complex combination of technological, social and psychological effects. It also raises interesting questions about the effect of being 'always on' back in the 'real world', which is where I thought I was going with this article. However, the realities of our connection are defeating me; I can only send so many characters at any one time, and I feel I must do so soon or our daily report will be missing with all the aforementioned consequences for those left waiting on the distant shore.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

More of the same - but an unexpected breeze

16:50 UTC 17/11/07 20'59N 024'06W Wind S2

We've been motoring again for much of today after another quiet night, but during this morning a little breeze sprung up from the SE and we were able to set full sail and enjoy a stunning few hours of good sailing in flat seas, the sort of thing you might expect in the Solent on a nice summer's day. Eventually the wind swung further into the south and pushed our course round so we were heading towards somewhere in Northern Florida so we furled sail, engine on and are heading south once again.

Our tally of wildlife has increased today when Dave saw a flying fish, spooked by our approach, take off and skim the water for quite a distance. They are a characteristic of sailing in these waters so we expect a few more. The fishing line, however, remains woefully slack.

I really must make time to sit down and write something more interesting than this brief commentary on our progress, and I'll try to do so in the next few days. In the meantime, I'll keep these little updates going as I know many people like to hear of progress, slow though it may be!

Cocktail tonight is gin and lime, a familiar one from the previous trip to the Canaries. Note to self - more mixers next time....

all's well. N

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More motoring

It's been a busy day today. The weather is perfect for pottering, if not for sailing, as the sea is almost flat calm. Over the past couple of days, we've cleaned the decks, washed the solar panels, whipped and sealed various fraying rope ends, rewired the compass lamps, hung a couple of pictures, moved the barometer, investigated a potentially leaky window and still had plenty of time for reading and snoozing.

The lack of wind is frustrating, but there's nothing we can do but keep on motoring. The thrum of the engine works it's way into your mind and soul in a way that's only really apparent at the relief of being able to turn it off from time to time. We drift at night, running quiet under sail and accepting the lack of progress in return for quiet sleep.

The forecast predicts more of the same for another three days. The pilot charts give long term averages for the weather in each section of the Atlantic. Here the prevailing November winds are force 4 from the NE or E, 65% of the time. Calms are reported 2% of the time. 2% of a month is one day. Hmm, statistics.

The crew comment that they don't get to read the blog, and agree that they don't really want to; as Ian points out it'll be fun to relive the voyage again back home by reading these reports for the first time. Realising that Ian has circulated this website to many of his friends, colleagues and clients, I point out that I could make up all sorts of disparaging remarks about them and attribute them to him. Ian laughs nervously.

Food continues to be excellent, although we realise that we could have been more optimistic about the longevity of some fruit and veg. Whilst soft stuff like melons and cucumbers won't last much longer, we'll be sad to run out of fresh apples, pears, peppers and so on, despite the vast amount of tinned fruit and veg on board. Last night's thai veg curry was superb, and there was so much that a good third of it was left over and used as the base for tonights meal. Simple healthy food, and it tastes so good at sea in the open air.

Cocktails yesterday were the 'Elder Statesman',white rum or vodka with elderflower cordial.

Today, Ian surpassed us all by taking his cocktail duties very seriously and beginning preparation at 4pm for the 6pm happy hour. Chopping and marinating fresh ginger, mixing with indian tonic water and dark rum, a touch of brown sugar and slice of lemon. The 'Slow Breeze' is one to remember and recreate.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Light airs, flat seas and sunshine

16:50 UTC 15/11/07 23'03N 21.50W Wind ENE1-2

Almost perfect sailing. We'd happily take another 10 knots of wind right now, as things are a little slow, but we're making enough miles, using the engine for about 5 hours a day and enjoying calm, warm but not too hot weather - about 27 degrees.

The sun rises at 7:30 and sets at 19:30 and shipboard life only extends to daylight hours, the night is a sequence of two hour watches and sleep. In those 12 hours of activity, we cook and eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, clean the boat, keep up with small maintenance tasks and find some time to read, sleep and sometimes write. It's not exactly stressful right now.

The dolphins have been back, a few at night time and a couple more just now, their appearance brought all the photographers onto deck only to have the canny creatures lose interest and swim lazily away from the disappointed paparazzi.

Dinner tonight is a vegetable thai curry, currently taking shape in the galley and smelling fantastic, although there is enough for eight so we will be eating leftovers in the near future. Last night's dessert deserves a mention in despatches, it was my mother's fruit cake, carefully prepared and shipped out to us. Ian, needing gluten free, had to avoid what was probably the ultimate in forbidden foods for him, but the rest of us found it excellent, as ever. We considered awarding the DFC but were unsure as to Mother's reaction to being called a Distinguished Fruit Cake.

Cocktails are less prevalent among this crew, but happy hour each evening usually sees a selective raid on the ship's spirit locker by each of us choosing their own drink.

All's well. Adieu. N

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007


16:30 UTC 14/11/07 24'10N 020'11W Wind NE3

Very pleasant sailing right now, as we head south to pick up the easterly tradewinds. The traditional maxim is 'sail south until the butter melts, then turn right'. Well, unless the fridge breaks down, we'll not see the butter melt so we're using the chart and weather forecasts to make the call on turning right, sometime in the next day or two.

Nighttime rewards us with an endless blanket of stars and numerous shooting stars. There is a new moon right now, a narrow silver sliver with the whole moon visible in dark relief alongside. It sets early, around 10pm, leaving us with just starlight, and plenty of it.

We see little shipping, just two ships in the last 36 hours. A fishing boat, long-lining and hauling in their line over the bows. And then, at night, a supertanker from the African Coast (Nigeria?) looms on the radar and then over the horizon, alter course to miss us and plods off towards the USA to fill the tanks of a million SUV's.

Something took our fishing lure from the end of the line last night, so we've set another one but nothing yet and hopes are fading for fresh dinner. Tonight's tuna will be out a can.

More tomorrow. N.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007


15:15 UTC 13/11/07 25'43N 018'53W Wind NE2

We've been at sea for almost 48 hours now and had the perfect start. Gentle breezes, a calm sea, sunshine of course, and dolphins, oh the dolphins. They've visited us six or seven times, including at night, trailing vivid streams of phosphorescence through the jet black sea.

Yet despite the perfect conditions, the first day is always hard work. Not just the gaining of sea legs and overcoming tiredness, but for me there is the apprehension of the voyage. This one has been years in the planning, the culmination of two years work on the boat, and the key stepping stone to our new life. So departure is a momentous moment.

The most common question in the last couple of weeks has been 'are you excited?' and the answer is still no. Excitement doesn't seem to go with a trip like this. Setting out brings to mind all the doubts, all the 'what if' questions? Many boats are setting out right now, and the ARC (a big transatlantic rally/race) leaves in two weeks. Yet many will say it's too early, the tradewinds aren't established and there could be a late season storm. The capitane at the marina says 'you go now?' in his faltering english and raises an eyebrow at my answer. I struggle to sleep, troubled by thoughts of facing big winds, of mechanical problems, or the other ten disasters I could name and a hundred I haven't yet thought of.

But we've been through this before and made the case for this trip. The boat is strong, the crew is good. We can motor through the light winds, we can forecast, avoid and survive the big ones. The die is cast, we are on our way and what will be will be.

In my restlessness, I analyse my thoughts and why I am thinking them. I realise that I am afraid. Not the adrenaline rush of imminent danger, but a deeper fear that we will be tested and found wanting. It is a necessary fear, without it we would have no respect for the ocean and its dangers, and it is the fear that drives us to prepare carefully and weigh the risks. Nothing worthwhile can be done without risk, but to be without fear is to invite disaster. Now, more than ever, I feel contempt for the 'No Fear' brand and bumper sticker so popular among the teenage drivers of flatulent pimped up cars. No Fear - Know Nothing.

But back to that question - excitement? No, but a deep satisfaction to be here, to have got to this point. A contentment with the choices we have made and the way that we are following through on them. More than anything, a delight and joy to have made these plans as a couple, a family, and for this trip to be not an end in itself, a box to be ticked before returning to the rat race, but a route to a life and experience that we have planned and anticipated together.

Onwards. N.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Waiting for the wind

16:00 UTC 12/11/07 26'50N 017'59W Wind NNE2

The first 24 hours have seen, as forecast, not much wind, but that's been a good thing to allow us to settle into the routine of life on board. As usual, it's taken a while to get our sea-legs, coupled with the general tiredness running up to departure, so a gentle night was just what we needed.

The night watches were very quiet, just a couple of ships as we ghosted along at 2-3 knots. The swell rocked us and gave a noisy night as the sails slatted back and forth, but tonight we will switch to twin jibs which will be much quieter. Although there was little to do or worry about, no-one sleeps well first night, nor do we eat much until our sea-legs have developed. So today has been a day of rest, reading, and eating a little more at each meal as we settle into the rhythm. Just this afternoon I finally got a few hours of deep, dreaming sleep and feel much better.

The wind is forecast to stay very light tonight and tomorrow, so we'll continue running the engine in daylight and slow sailing at night, then the forecast sees a good breeze developing around midnight on Tuesday / Weds morning. That should stay with us for the duration of the forecast (Friday), and hopefully longer.

We've been visited by 3 groups of dolphins during today, more than we saw all the way down to the Canaries, although not in such numbers as our unforgettable sighting of 60 or so back then. Beautiful, playful creatures, as ever, and hopefully we'll see many more.

Cocktail last night was a Gomeran Sunset, just as the island was lit by golden sunlight, we had a dark rum and orange to match.

All's well. Nick.

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

On our way

17:30 UTC 28'03N 27'08W

We've filled up with fuel and water, slipped our lines and left Europe at 5pm today. Currently, we are motoring in the shadow of the island, and whuilst it would be nice to think that there is a good breeze waiting for us, I'm not holding my breath. IT may be a quiet night, which is no bad thing.

So the email works, the weather is fine and we look forward to the next 2697 miles.

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Preparing to leave

10:50 UTC. 11/11/07 Marina La Gomera

We're all here, on board Ty Dewi having arrived safely yesterday afternoon to find the boat in good shape, as we left her, and pretty much ready to go.

A trip to the supermarket for lots of food, beer and wine kept the crew occupied for quite a while, as did the sorting of food into order to match the recipes, so food for day 3 isn't stuck at the bottom of a locker under the rest of the supplies.

Now we are going through small tasks and checklists, getting ready to leave this afternoon after we top up the tanks with diesel. More once we're under way.

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The Joy of travel

07:20 UTC, 10/11/07 - A Hotel in Los Christianos, Tenerife.

The news in brief. The airline reschedule the flight for mid afternoon, then have a hydraulic leak delaying us another two hours and we get to Tenerife after the last ferry has left for La Gomera. But we find a good and cheap hotel and have slept well so onwards, good friends, onwards. Read on to find stories of airline incompetence, interesting maintenance techniques, a vignette of English life under pressure, and the delights of Los Christianos, tiny fishing village turned mega-resort.

Back in September, the plan was simple. We booked a flight to Tenerife from Stansted, a mere half hour away from Cambridge, and it would get us to Tenerife mid afternoon with plenty of time to catch a ferry to La Gomera and reunite me with Ty Dewi.

Oh the naïveté.

In the middle of September, we had discovered that the airline we were booked on had canceled all their flights and were refunding passengers. Our agent managed to book us on a flight from Gatwick, leaving at 10:30 in the morning and arriving mid afternoon, just as we wanted. Gatwick's a bit further away from home but that's OK.

So Ian and I leave Cambridge at 6am and have a comfortable, if sleepy, journey across London and to the airport. Dave and Ed, meanwhile, have concluded that they can't get a morning train from Coventry so left at midnight and have been snoozing in the airport.

Imagine, then, our delight to find that the airline have rescheduled the flight for 14:15. They claim to have emailed the travel agent a few weeks ago but the message hadn't got through to us. If it had, we'd have had a much more relaxed journey down to the airport, although the new arrival time only leaves two hours to get off the plane, collect bags and get to the last ferry at 20:30. Still not a problem.

It rapidly transpires that we are not the only ones who didn't know about the flight change. It seems that about two thirds of the plane has been sitting in the delightful surroundings of Gatwick since 8am. They are giving out vouchers for a fivers worth of food or duty free to us all.

They call our flight, we get on the plane, settle into our seats and then the captain announces that they've just noticed an oil leak from an engine so we'll have to get that looked at. Very sorry to have got you on board, but bear with us. Outside, a couple of chaps climb up on the wing and start removing bits of aircraft with a philips screwdriver and a swiss army knife. I kid you not. This panel appears to be secured with about 50 little screws which take a long time to undo, then some sort of tape on the underside which he has to slice through with the knife.

After an hour, the natives are getting very restless. A holiday company flight to Tenerife is an interesting place to watch a cross section of society behaving under pressure. The captain has graciously, or perhaps bravely, positioned himself in the middle of the cabin and begun chatting to passengers when he is harangued by a determined looking women who is jabbing her finger at him in a rather threatening manner. We can't hear the conversation, but he must be trained for this as her hand gestures become gradually less aggressive until she is patting him on the arm and smiling a bit more. He has clearly calmed her down, well done, but it soon becomes clear that he has been put in a catch 22 situation. A flight attendant arrives and give the woman a CUP OF TEA!!!!

Perhaps you have to be English to understand the full ramifications of this. 233 rather pissed off people are trying to keep their annoyance beneath a thin veneer of English politeness. With some, the veneer is thinner than others, and a few left the factory in a distinctly unfinished state. All of us have been watching the complaining women with thoughts like 'oh, do please sit down and shut up, the poor captain's only doing his job and anyway, if we all got up and complained loudly we'd never get anywhere.' And here she is rewarded with the ultimate English pacifier, the cup of tea. 'Cup of tea all round, please mate', pipe up the three lads in row 21. As she walks back towards us, a couple of passengers ask pointedly why she's got a cup of tea. 'Well, I've just about had it haven't I? Bin ere since 7 o'clock this morning and I haven't had a fag since then, going bleeding up the wall int I? Told him I'd just go and light up in the plane toilets cos they wouldn't let me get off and anyway there's nowhere to 'ave a bleeding fag now and I 'ave 60 a day like. And me blood sugar's droppin, I can feel it.' Turns out she's not diabetic though, just conscious of her blood sugar and knows how to talk her way into a cup of tea.

A riot is narrowly avoided by the announcement that the leak is found, it's just a joint in a piece of pipe and they've tightened it a little bit more (oh the trusty swiss army knife with built in aircraft pipe spanner) and we'll be off once the engineer has replaced the panel. An sure enough, matey is out there with his screwdriver slowly putting 50 little screws back in with one hand whilst holding his mobile phone to his ear with the other. So is he saying 'do I put the screws in tight or a bit loose like?' or maybe 'be home a bit late love, bloody leaky pipe on the 14:15 to Tenerife'.

So we have a tedious but fairly uneventful four hour flight, punctuated by a mixture of amusement and amazement when the attendant makes an announcement to request that anyone changing babies puts the nappy in the bin, not down the toilet, please, as we've had to close one of the toilets which is now blocked. Observing the various child care strategies of the passengers in the baggage hall, we have a guess at who was responsible. 'Will you bleeding come 'ere now, Kevin, you little git, stop that Tracy oh my god where's 'e going now?'

Tenerife baggage handlers have a relaxed, languid attitude to the delivery of bags, as the conveyor gently pops one up every 15-20 seconds and a collective sigh emerges from all but one person in the baggage hall. After about 45 minutes we have our bags and find the airport information, who are sympathetic to our problem of 25 miles of water between us and our destination and find us space at a hotel near the ferry port, quoting 80 euros per room, of which we need two. Fine, no problem, be good to sleep, where's the taxi?

In fact, the hotel is pretty good and have only charged us 115 euros for all four, in two rooms, with breakfast. That's 20 quid each which is close to amazing really. Things are looking up, and now as the sun rises over the mountains, we'll get ourselves down to breakfast and go find a ferry. Ty Dewi, here we come.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Time to go

After what seems like a long, drawn out couple of months, it's finally time to fly back down to the Canary Islands and get back on board. Friday will be spent travelling, hopefully arriving at a fairly civilised time in the early evening. Saturday is preparation and provisioning then Sunday should be time to set sail. We'll try to post to the blog each day enroute, so do keep coming back to follow our progress.

Crew this time is my father, Dave, one of his work colleagues, Ed, and my college friend Ian Sheldon. For those who don't know Ian, it's time for a shameless plug - visit his website at to see his artwork, Ian is an acomplished artist and author living and working in Edmonton, Canada, and has flown over to join in our trip so look out for future works inspired by the Atlantic skyscapes.

So goodbye, adieu to fair old England, for I don't know when I'll see these shores again.

Friday, November 02, 2007


Our cottage overlooked Balinskelligs Bay, a very pretty arc of Atlantic Ocean bounded by the craggy hills of the Inveragh Pennisula. Half a mile down the road is a slipway to a beach with, at low tide, a good expanse of sand to one side and a mass of rockpools to the other.

Nana and Daddy took the kids to the rockpools to terrorise the local sealife. As is often the case, the pools looked fairly uninteresting at first, but of course, look deeply for long enough and you soon find lots of fascinating things. The trick was to find a way to hold Issie and Max's attention for long enough to look deeply. We found that dragging a net through the seaweed was a good way to catch small shrimp, which jumped excitedly (terrifededly ?!) in the net before being released into the safety of a bucket. Max enjoyed sitting on a rock sweeping the pool with the net and insisting that every shrimp he caught was transferred to captivity.

Meanwhile, Nana proved to Issie that turning over rocks can yield all sorts of delights. We began to find sea anemones clinging to the rock and little crabs running for shelter as the roof was removed from their home. Once we'd started looking, we saw more anemones all around the edges of the pools, many waving their tentacles in search of food. We'd bought along some bacon to tempt the crabs and found that tiny pieces were very attractive to the anemones, as soon as a bit of tescos best back bacon grazed a tentacle, it was grabbed and drawn in, to the great amusement of the children.

Is wasn't long before the bacon attracted a couple of crabs, and we managed to catch one in our net, but it is clear that crabs who live in rockpools are much more wary of bait than those who live in the mud at the bottom of rivers in Suffolk. Whilst the deep dwelling crabs grab the bacon and don't let go even as they are dragged out of the water, their canny Irish rockpool cousins have had to get used to death swooping from the sky and plucking them from their shallow home, so they drop the grub and scoot away at the first sign of movement from above. The trick is to slide the net in to one side of them and then wave at them from the other side - they dart away from the movement and into the net. Ha, gotcha. When the seagulls learn that trick, the crabs are doomed.

Issie and I spent a happy ten minutes just looking at a foot square area of pool and cataloging what we could find. Four different seaweeds, various snails, limpets, many broken shells, little things under rocks and so on. Since our children, and us to be honest, rarely get a chance to stand still and just look, we rarely see more than the surface details. It's good to slow down and wait for the eye to see through the initial image and into the wealth of life and depth beyond, where there is so much more to be discovered. I'm trying to get Issie to draw what she's seen in the pool, the ironic thing is that we haven't had the time.
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A week in Ireland

Some time ago, we were discussing what to do for the half term holiday week in October. We'd always wanted to go for a holiday in Ireland, and I mentioned that I'd like to visit the far South-west corner, having sailed as far as Cork in the past but never explored the supposedly beautiful County Kerry and the wild Atlantic coast.

So whilst I was sailing to the Canaries, Gesa arranged a cottage for a week and, true to my request, got us about as far south-west as you can go without falling off the edge. My parents came along too, so we drove to Pembroke, got on the ferry and arrived in Rosslaire early evening. A sensible decision to get a B+B close to Rosslaire saw us well rested on Saturday morning and then a six hour drive through Ireland to a little hamlet called Dungegan, near the only slightly larger village of Ballinskelligs. That's near Waterville, and if your geography still hasn't caught up, it's about 100 miles west of Cork.

Our cottage was a very nicely appointed, modern house in a little group of six on the edge of the village. Very spacious, lots of light, oak floors, peat fire and four bedrooms between us. The south of Ireland has clearly experienced a massive building boom, and almost every house looks under 5 years old - either the small to moderate holiday cottages and second homes, or the extensive mansion that you imagine replacing some decaying cottage, but in rality, have probably been dropped into a couple of acres of nice virgin field. Every scrap of land seems to have a planning application pinned to the fence but the radio and papers suggest that this boom is about to come to a fairly abrupt halt, probably no bad thing for the countryside and hopefully without hurting too many residents. The word is that local people are priced out of the market, a familiar story from many parts of the UK, so perhaps a 'correction' is in order.

We had a very enjoyable week, there is a great deal to see and do in that part of Ireland and it is, indeed, stunningly beautiful. Even the weather was fairly kind to us, a bonus in mid October. I'll add some more posts about specific things and we would highly recommend it as a destination, as long as you don't mind driving a few miles!

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