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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Peaks Island - by lucky accident

Well, we've been a bit quiet on the blog because life has been very full recently. We visited Portland because my parents were getting the train back to Boston from there, and we found it so nice we stayed a bit longer. It's more of a small town than city, just seventy thousand people and a lovely friendly place.

Yesterday we took a long time to get laundry done and then Gesa felt unwell so lay down for a couple of hours to let a headache pass. Because of this, we didn't depart until about four pm, aiming for a short hour and a half journey to Jewell Island, supposedly beautiful. By this time, a nasty looking thunderstorm was gathering over the city and we were pleased to leave before it hit, but the thing appeared to be following us. Within a few minutes, the coastguard issued a severe thunderstorm warning on the radio and we decided to cut short and anchor at Cushing Island, just three miles from downtown Portland. The storm passed with little more than a bit of rain and thunder then gave way to a beautiful still evening where we rocked gently in the sheltered cove and watched a beautiful schooner drift past under full sail.

As morning rolled around, it had changed again (Maine is like Ireland, if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes, it'll change) and the day dawned grey and cold with the wind from the north east, the only direction that our anchorage wasn't sheltered from. So we were being bounced a little and our intended direction was, sadly, right towards the wind.

We decided to move a half mile to a nice calm spot behind nearby Peaks Island (you need Google Earth to see what I mean about these islands, so close, small and sheltered just a few miles from the city) That was much better and we had breakfast in the calm waters. The kids played for a bit before we finally got ashore just before noon. We walked through the small village and found a great playground where Issie and Max had a lot of fun before we headed back. Stopping at the library, we saw two interesting notices. One for a 'movie night' tonight, showing two films at six and eight pm. The other for a 'community breakfast' from eight in the morning. Hey, we thought, we could stay and extra day, bring the kids to the first movie and go to the breakfast. So we're doing just that.

The movie was great, 'Howl's Moving Castle' by the master Japanese animator who's name escapes me right now - he did 'Spirited Away' too. We enjoyed it and the kids followed much of it without being too scared or bored, not bad for a two hour show. The audience was us four and one other, the kids lay on a rug to watch the film and it was like being in someone's front room! Free too.

Tomorrow we'll go to the breakfast and get another taste of local island life - this place has a mix of residents, summer visitors and day trippers who come in their hoards by ferry. The breakfast is before the ferry arrives, deliberately, so it'll be a more interesting affair, I sense. Then it's on to Bailey Island, I think, but that's just a plan and as we've seen, plans change.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008


Gesa has a new childcare book, very effective actually, and one thing is to give the children choices instead of instructions, when appropriate.

So I try this at bedtime. Instead of 'Max, get your pyjamas on', I try the more diplomatic approach.

'Max, which one do you want to put on first, your pyjama top or bottoms?'

'Both at the same time, Daddy'.


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Now, you've heard of Kennebunkport. If you don't know why, then it's lodged in the back of your mind because it is home, at least part-time, to President (ex) George Bush. The older one. As you approach the entrance to the river, there is a set of big white buoys to one sid marking the 'Presidential Exclusion Zone'. No boats, no swimmers (on or under the water) and no nothing. At one of the little marinas in town is a big black inflatable with 'US Secret Service' written on the side. Very secret.

Kennebunkport doesn't just house a slightly aging ex-president, nor does it only win the prize for the best name on this coast. It is also a beautiful, thriving little riverside village. The Kennebunk river is narrow, winding and shallow but it is early in the season and we found a vacant mooring with enough depth for us. We were pretty much the biggest boat there. On one side, the river is lined with expensive looking houses, hotels and yacht clubs with verdant lawns and picket fences. On the other is the wooded grounds of a Franciscan monastery, which keeps the river looking somewhat as it must have done so many years ago.

We took the dinghy up river to look for supplies, and found many, many art galleries and boutiques and one little grocery store with a fabulous deli and a few essential provisions, at prices that we reckoned might have bought us one of the artworks in the gallery next door. Until, that is, we looked in the gallery next door. This is clearly an upmarket destination.

Back on the river, the local fisherman were pulling little mackerel out by the dozen. Ah-ha, we thought, breakfast. So we pulled down the fishing rod and cast a few times with demonstrable lack of success. We changed lures and tried again, and again, until we finally got down to the basic, lightest line we had, with a small hook and spinner and suddenly we were grabbing them almost every cast. We soon had six nice little fish for breakfast the next day.

And very nice they were too, even the kids loved them. As usual, breakfast took a lot longer than we planned and it was nearly lunchtime before we went ashore to explore. In the meantime, the local harbour master came by and said hello, once again showing the upmarket nature of the destination - he talked about how he was concerned whether we had enough depth at low tide, and by the way, they normally charge $25 for these moorings but don't worry. Just drop a cheque to his address when we get a chance. Very diplomatic, and very effective, we don't really feel we can just cut and run without paying but neither do we feel hassled for cash. Smart. And for the very special location and comfort of the Kennebunk river mooring, it's a price worth paying.

Then we had a lovely lunchtime wander around the village, feeling a bit out of place but finding time for a very nice cup of coffee and slice of Maine blueberry pie with ice cream. After that it was back to the boat and off north on a gorgeous sail to Wood Island Harbour, twenty miles further towards Portland.

This coast is fun, we're enjoying the variety of places, winds and weather. Casco Bay, here we come.

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Reunited in New England

So here we are, all together again in our summer cruising ground. Mum and Dad flew in from the UK, via Amsterdam, and I met them at Boston's Logan airport on Monday. Gesa and the kids arrived on Tuesday, their flight was early so they were sitting at the terminal bus stop when I arrived - the kids were very excited to see me, which was lovely. I think Gesa was too but she doesn't run up to me and throw herself around my legs then jump up and down screaming. I guess those days are gone...

We were quietly anchored in a small corner of East Boston, and took advantage of the nearby supermarket to stock up with a couple of hundred dollars worth of supplies - it is so nice to be in the land of plentiful and inexpensive food after six months of very variable Caribbean food stores. There were some very large steaks on the barbecue that night.

On Wednesday, we moved over to a mooring just off downtown Boston, a prime sport right in the heart of this beautiful, favourite city of ours. Boston holds a lot of happy memories for us both, as I used to come here for work a lot, and Gesa joined me a couple of times. We'll be stopping again on our way south and hope to hook up with some old friends then. The family visited the aquarium then we went to Boston Common, found the ducklings (google 'Make Way for Ducklings' if you don't know) and just enjoyed being in a big city for a couple of days.

Once we'd had our fill of skyscrapers and crowds, we motored just forty minutes out to the Harbor Islands, a group of islands on the way into Boston. Suddenly we are in calm, peaceful waters and, for almost the first time since leaving England, we have an anchorage all to ourselves overnight. Beautiful.

In the morning, we take the dinghy to George's Island where the civil war fort, Ft Warren, stnads preserved as a national monument. Free to visit, nicely explained and maintained, we had a lot of fun walking around the walls and rooms of this huge complex. America does it's National Parks very, very well - all those tax dollars put to very good use.

Now we are up in Salem, after a near perfect three hour sail in flat water and gentle breezes, we are anchored in the infamous town where, in 1692, a brief outbreak of hysterical accusations of witchcraft put the town on the map forever. Salem deserves to be remembered as one of the main ports of the USA, building Americas trade links with the rest of the world to circumvent the British embargo on US trade after independence, but in fact it is the persecution and deaths of some twenty innocent men and women that lives on in the memory and tourist attractions of the town. We visit the Salem Witch Museum, which is actually a nicely done exposition of the hyseria, witch trials and ramifications, and also draws parallels with the Macarthy 'witchhunts' and other scapegoating examples.

Tomorrow we move on up the coast, hopefully around Cape Anne and onto the Isles of Shoals, if the weather stays fair. We're heading up to Maine at a fairly brisk pace, so we can cruise south again at our leisure, so we'll cruise for a day, stop for a day and so on until we are up north.

Oh, and it's my birthday today, so whilst Gesa and I went to get the morning loaf of bread, the kids and grandparents decorated the boat so we had a nice breakfast with gifts from all over. And we had home baked brownies (with candles) with our picnic on Salem Common - all a very nice way to celebrate turning thirty seven, which is about as innocuous a birthday as one can have.

Wifi one day soon, so lots of photos to post then.

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Saturday, June 07, 2008


Arrived midday, safe and sound. Cleared customs and anchored. More later. N.

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Calm and collected

06 June 2008 23:05UTC 41'24N 69'29W

After the strong winds of the past days, it's nice to be in calm waters and light airs, but a shame to be motoring. Guess we can't have it all. The fog has finally lifted, and we think we'll see the lights of Chatham, on Cape Cod, within the next couple of hours. The tide has turned, after being against us for a few hours we are now starting to accelerate up the coast towards the top of the Cape, where we will turn and make our final fifty miles to Boston.

We think we'll be there at lunchtime tomorrow, if all's well. If only it wasn't so cold - the water temperature is 10'C, the air isn't much above and even here in the cabin, the thermometer is only reading sixteen. Sweaters and warm socks are the order of the day. I think it won't be long before I'm organising interior heating for Ty Dewi. There's only so long that Gesa will want to wear four sweaters and carry a hot water bottle around with her. About fifteen minutes, if I'm any judge.

The crew, and I too, have their eyes firmly fixed on the chart of Boston Harbour. There will probably be a dash for the exit (or at least for Logan Airport) as soon as we have cleared customs, which will leave me with a day to tidy up and prepare for Mum and Dad arriving on Monday

Time to go curl up in under a duvet with my book until it's time for my night watch.

All's well. N.

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Friday, June 06, 2008

New England weather

6 June 2008 09:45UTC 40'16N 069'12W

Shipping lanes, fishing grounds, thick fog. One of my least favourite combinations. I don't know if we have a magnetic boat (or maybe it's just my personality) but every lump of floating steel we see on the radar seems to be drawn right towards us.

The big ships are all very professional and we often talk on the radio to confirm we've seen each other and which way we will pass. Sometimes it's not even necessary as they alter before that. Fishing vessels are another story, the one approaching ignored or didn't hear my radio call, then loomed out of the fog about a half mile away, turning slow circles presumably to set out or recover fishing gear. I know they are out here in this weather day in day out so they are probably pretty good at it but I need more reassurance! Anyway, in the end it's up to us to look out for ourselves and avoid everyone else as a last resort.

Right now we are about fifty miles south of Nantucket Island, and we will shortly cross the main east/west shipping lanes out of New York. These lanes are each four miles wide, so it take three quarters of an hour for us to go over each one, that's one hell of a zebra crossing and there's no lollipop lady to stop the traffic for us (US readers might need to check for those references). Normally I'd be pleased to be crossing in daylight but this fog makes us blind as bats, I reckon we have less than half a mile visibility.

Thank the heavens for affordable small ship radar.

All's well, if a little cold. N.

Oh, yes and we saw whales yesterday, a pair of, maybe sperm whales, very square heads and about fifty feet long. They wandered over to see us, gently spouting as they swam within a hundred feet of the boat before turning and heading off astern. A beautiful sight. We also glimpsed two pods of dolphins on a mission, they were heading west fast, leaping over the waves in formation but too far away to capture on a photo.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Less wind, less comfortable!

5 June 2008 19:40UTC 39'19N 069'01W

As the wind eased, we finally hoisted more sail, and more, and more until we had a fabulous three or four hours at top speed in decreasing seas. Eventually, a bank of cloud appears ahead of us. This is the cold front - the boundary between warm and cold air in the depression. This has turned out to be a little low pressure system right out of a meterology text book. We have been through the windiest, south-west quadrant, then almost through the centre with lighter winds, and now the front. A front usually carries a band of rain then a fifty to sixty degree windshift and much colder airflow.

Which is exactly what we got, and we were able to head almost right for our next waypoint, just off Cape Cod. The seas were still following us, giving a smooth ride and the wind was slightly ahead, keeping things fast. Sadly the air was ten degrees colder (I could see my breath!) and we were shrouded in fog, but this is the north atlantic.

It really does seem like the North Atlantic of the movies, grey rolling waves with icy whitecaps and endless low cloud. I half expect to see a periscope following me, and an iceberg loom out of the fog before the torpedos come streaming in.

Right now the wind continues to clock around to the north and towards the north east, which will push us away from our target, but we will choose a time to tack back during the night. We are 'hard on the wind' which means that the sails are in as tight as we can, the boat is heeled over and the motion is uncomfortable as we punch through the waves. Whilst everyone got some good rest during the smoother parts of the day, there is a feeling of fatigue over the crew who would rather be broad reaching in warm sunshine, or even sitting in Boston Harbour with a pint of Sam Adams!

For me, this is the sort of sailing I grew up with, racing in Britain's cold and rough north sea, so it feels something like a homecoming. Once the family come back aboard we'll have to pick our days carefully to avoid being out in this sort of weather.

Time to go listen to Herb again. The guy is amazing, he said we'd exit the Gulf Stream at 38'40N and we actually did so just two miles after that, unbelievable.

Anyway, all's well, N.

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All well and good

05 June 08 10:40UTC 38'33N 069'11W

It seems that our near gale at midnight was the worst of it, touch wood. Now, at daybreak, we've got twenty to twenty-five and are nearing the northern edge of the gulf stream. We've been ultra conservative all night, tootling along under a reefed jib at about five knots, and the motion has made it hard to sleep so everyone is tired but otherwise OK. Ken and Dave are accusing me of actually enjoying this sort of weather. They're right.

So the wind we have now is what Gesa and I sailed in quite regularly between the islands back in January and February. It's a bit different when it's grey, rainy and five degrees cooler so we're still only running with triple reefed main and a bit of jib, but as we have breakfast and reassure ourselves that the big squalls aren't coming, we'll speed up and make for the Massachusetts shore.

Onwards. All's well. N.

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05 June 2008 04:30UTC (00:30 local) 38'04N 069'20W

The wind's rising, as forecast, now a fairly steady thirty knots, near gale force. That's about thirty five miles per hour. We've just dropped the main completely and are running under reefed jib alone. We sacrificed a little speed for a lot of comfort and security. Murphey's Law came into play as Yan and I went up to drop the main the wind decided to gust up to thirty-eight and made for an interesting time, but we just worked at it, slow and steady and the job is done.

We're in a bit of a counter-current, earlier we had two knots of current against us and it made for a short, sharp sea and a bit of a bumpy ride. But Ty Dewi just slices through it and keeps on going. We have to work hard to slow the old girl down. The current's eased a lot and it seems were into the main gulf stream flow again.

It could get windier, but it's easy to deal with now as we just reef the jib a bit more and keep on going.

All's well, but it might be a long night. N.

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Riding the Gulf Steam

04 June 2008 23:00UTC 37'34N 069'01W

Our log says '15:30, entered the Gulf Stream'. In fact, what we came into first was a north flowing eddy, and the speed jumped from seven and a half knots to nearly ten. The wind has built nicely, now twenty knots from behind us, so we are reaching fast in mild seas, at high speed. Almost perfect.

Almost. There may be some nasty stuff to come tomorrow. Yesterday, we listened to Herb advising boats near us to head west then north. We did exactly that but listening to Herb today, the two boats he was advising to do this didn't follow it exactly, they took their chances and turned north quite a bit sooner. One of them is now forecast to have forty knots of wind, gusting to fifty by early morning. Herb didn't exactly say 'I told you so' but did spend five minutes pointedly giving them a forecast for the area they would have been in if they'd listened to him. Twenty, maybe twenty five knots.

We felt happy about that, as we're going his recommended way. But we are some fifty miles behind. A further fifty miles behind us, Herb advised another boat to stop making good progress towards Newport, turn around and go south again for four hours, because otherwise he'd hit thirty knots with possible squalls to forty or even fifty in the middle of the Gulf Stream. This had us a little more worried, that's a very extreme thing to do but Herb was adamant.

So we've done some careful analysis. Thirty knots is fine, we are very happy with that if it comes and it poses no threat. The problem is that in the warm waters of the gulf stream, big squalls can develop packing much higher winds for an hour or so at a time. We'd rather avoid that. The forecast is for the strong winds to develop at breakfast tomorrow, so we looked carefully at Herb's exit point for the Gulf Stream and believe that we will be there by four am, meaning that we should be well clear of any big squalls by breakfast time. We can see why he was telling the other boat to turn back, fifty miles would put him smack in the middle of it all.

Right now, we've got a very comfortable twenty knots of wind, making good speed in a slowly building sea. We've prepared for heavy weather - the checklist I made before crossing the Atlantic finally came out of the folder - and are well fed, briefed and tidyed up. Hopefully it'll just turn out to have been a good exercise.

It's been a fun and fast day, we've well past halfway to Boston now and enjoying ourselves, here's hoping that we've played the weather right and by this time tomorrow we'll be approaching Cape Cod.

All's well. N.

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Wiggling around the atlantic

03 June 2008 21:15UTC 35'30N 067'34W

It's been a very varied twenty four hours, with winds from all around the compass and from almost nothing to a good 15-18 knots. We've taken a turn westwards, and I'll tell you why but first I have to tell you about Herb.

Herb is a legend among the cruising community. From his home in Ontario, Canada, Herb is a retired meteorologist who sits by his Ham radio set for two hours a day and guides sailors like us on their journeys around the Atlantic. For free, because he likes to and he's a nice guy. Google for 'herb yacht weather' and you'll see what I mean.

Many yachts register with Herb, then they call him on the radio just before 20:00 greenwich time to say they are listening, then he calls them back in turn and gives a detailed weather picture based on their position. We haven't registered because so many yachts are making this passage right now, we just listen and sure enough there is 'Boheme' just fifty miles ahead, and 'Prince of Persia' thirty miles behind, so we get the information.

Best of all, in this area Herb combines weather with analysis of the gulf stream. The enormous river of warm water that stops Britain from being like Newfoundland turns to head out across the Atlantic somewhere ahead of us. Moving at 1-2 knots, it can make a huge difference to our speed and direction and if the wind blows against the stream it can kick up a very unpleasant sea. Added to which the gulf stream, like a river, can meander north and south, and develop eddies and curves that mean being fifty miles east or west is the difference between being pushed forwards or backwards.

So yesterday we listened and heard him advising 'Boheme' to turn to the west and slow down a little in order to miss a south going eddy and time their entry to the gulf stream after a period of strong wind due on Wednesday night. We followed suit and turned to the west.

The wind rose nicely yesterday, from behind us, and the boat was storming along at over seven knots, yet our speed over the ground was only five and a half. Something was pushing us backwards and sure enough, Herb confirmed today that we had crossed a spin off of the gulf stream but had to in order to get to the favorable waters further west. Meanwhile, the wind built and we reefed down for a bouncy night, riding a bucking bronco through the pitch black, cloudy and moonless night. Like driving a car down a rocky road with no headlamps.

That's bad enough, but when a truck comes right towards you and the driver isn't watching the road, it gets a little tense. The ship showed up on our radar twelve miles out. At ten miles, still coming right at us, the guys on deck woke me up. At eight miles, I called on the radio, no response. Another mile and he finally answered my call. 'Oh, yes, I see you on radar now, but can you show more lights, I can't see you' We switched to our deck level lights, brighter than the one at the masthead but more easily hidden by the waves. He seems to alter but at four miles he's still heading way too close to us. I call again. 'Yes, lost you on radar, can't see you any more, can you show more lights?' We flick on the floodlights and he sees us, we agree to pass 'green to green' (he's on our right hand side, we're on his) and it's all OK but you have to wonder about the quality of watchkeeping on these ships. Which is why we are very strict about our visual and radar watch. Sometimes it's good to have a reminder to keep everyone on their toes at night.

After that, I returned to my cabin, up front where the boat pitches headlong into the waves and I can hear the water rushing and slapping at the hull outside. I'm tired though, and am soon fast asleep. I awake to the sound of gentle gurgling and splashing, my bed is much less mobile and it's clear that the wind has dropped. I've slept soundly for four hours, and now it's time to get up, sort out the sails and get the engine running.

We run under engine for a few hours, during which we are blessed by a visit from a pod of dolphins, dancing and jumping in the bow wave for ten minutes. However many times I see this, I'm still overcome with delight and awe at these fabulous creatures. Later in the day, under sail, we spot a whale. It's the first time I've ever seen one and although this is just a flash of his back and tail then a brief spout of air and water, it's a wonderful sight.

The wind has moved around a lot, and we've spent time both sailing and motoring today, but now the seas have flattened out and there is a gentle breeze so we are motorsailing, with the engine in tickover to give an extra couple of knots and make sure we make our track west. We sat on deck enjoying cocktails (Bloody Good Show - banana, orange, grenadine, double proof rum over ice) and dinner (Thai vegetable curry) and Yan strummed the guitar for an hour after dinner as the sun set.

Tonight Herb reiterated the need to get west before going north, we can expect to see near gale force winds tomorrow night, but by being west we see that for twelve hours instead of eighteen further east. In fact, gale force winds from behind us are no problem for this boat, she'll love it and we could do with the extra push up towards Cape Cod and our destination in Boston. Right now it looks like we might arrive Saturday afternoon, but if we'll be later we will stop at a harbour and spend a night at anchor so that we can go into Boston harbour in daylight on Sunday morning.

All's well, N.

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Monday, June 02, 2008

A quiet and beautiful night

02 June 2008 19:45UTC 34'04N 065'23W

We had a very peaceful night in flat seas, gently plodding along at three and a half knots. It was a nice start to the voyage.

The day dawned beautifully, I came on watch just after four a.m., and the sky was already getting light. By four thirty I could read my book in the cockpit and at five fifteen the sun rose, the big orange ball in the east. Coffee, breakfast and the sun is out, hardly a cloud, fifteen knots of wind on a beam reach. Near perfection, really.

We said hello to a cruise ship last night, by the time we talked on the radio he'd been tracking us for five miles and just begun his avoiding turn, six miles out. It was good to know we were watching each other. The ship was the 'Adventure of the Seas', which was in St Thomas the day we left. I think she must have been heading down to Bermuda from New York or Boston with another load of funseekers. Funny to think that in the time since we left the Virgin Islands, this mobile city might have been back between the USA and the Caribbean twice.

Then a dolphin came to say hello. I just heard the phwish, phwish, of him breathing next to us, then saw the outline in phosphorescence and off he went to find something more interesting to do. Lovely.

No moon, and the stars were awesome. And we keep seeing these beautiful little jellyfish called 'By-the-wind-sailors', they have a three inch high fin that they hold up like a sail (latin name Velella velella)

Time to go listen to the radio for the latest weather analysis, all's well. N.

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

We've left Bermuda, next stop Boston

01 June 2008 21:00UTC 32'29N 064'35W

After a pleasant couple of days in Bermuda, we're on our way north again. Our new crew member, Yan, had the trip from hell getting here, when his short flight to Toronto was canceled yesterday, he'd missed the connection to Bermuda, so was rerouted via New York which would get him in eight hours late. But the flight to New York was delayed too and the next connection was also missed. Eventually he was put up in a hotel in Toronto and caught today's flight, arriving at midday without further hitch, so a three hour trip became a twenty seven hour journey of delight.

We let him take a fifteen minute tour of the town, cleared out of customs, did a bit of a safety brief and off we went.

Bermuda was nice, I'd like to spend more time there one day although I'm not sure our bank balance would take it, the place is not cheap.

Right now, we're three hours out of harbour, settling in nicely and enjoying a light, easy breeze and flat seas. This is likely to be a tougher trip than the last one, there's a couple of good weather systems crossing our path bringing good wind, the gulf stream to negotiate and a lot of uncertainty about the weather as we close the US coastline, but that's par for the course on this route, I think we're ready. It's nice to have a gentle start.

More tomorrow, all's well. N.

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