Monday, 14 January 2013

2013 is here

And another year starts, with hopes for all sorts of adventures, and plans to do this and that, most of which will not, I'm sure, happen.

Ishtar is in a right mess. I've decided to start the winter maintenance before we take her out of the water, which looks like it might be in March. Everything is out of the lockers and I'm working through them, one at a time, painting. It's cold, cramped, smelly and quite hard work. More on that, hopefully with some boring pictures of the inside of lockers, soon.

Louise and I watched the film Kon Tiki the other night.

I'de read Thor Heyerdahl's epic story as we crossed the Atlantic, and really enjoyed the film. It's Norwegian, with English subtitles, but anyone who fancies crossing Oceans should know the story, and owe a debt of gratitude to those 5 Norwegians and a Swede who floated from Peru to the Marquesas with no prior knowledge or experience, in 1947.

The last of those brave men, Knut Haugland passed away on Christmas day 2009. Knut was a double hero, having taken part in the campaign to sabotage the Nazi heavy water plant, dramatised in the film 'Heroes of Telemark' and the more realistic 'Real Heroes of Telemark' by Ray Mears.

These people inspire me, and I remember growing up watching Heyerdahl and his Ra expeditions on tv as a child.

There seem to be far fewer heroes around these days.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Some thanks

Home for a few days now, and some of the memories, especially of the early part of the trip, are starting to fade. Just a short note to say thanks to my crewmates for the last seven weeks.

To Susie. With almost no experience, to cross the Atlantic on your first real sailing trip is exceptional, bordering on the unique, I would have thought. Amazing stuff!

To Louise, who perhaps suffered the effects of the sea more than all of us, yet kept going, and never missed a watch.

To Ross. It's so easy, and so condescending to mention his achievements in connection with his age. His abilities on a boat would do credit to someone of any age. To possess such abilities and experience at his age is though, is almost unheard of. He's a really nice guy too, and has a wicked sense of humour.

Most of all, of course, to John. Not just for giving Louise and I the chance to go, but for leading us all as a crew, putting up with our mistakes, and our moans and groans. For relentlessly getting up at night when it wasn't his watch, to help when we had difficulties, with never a cross word, or a complaint of tiredness. For calmly dealing with bad weather and equipment failure and inspiring confidence when we may have been worried. A true inspiration for those of us who can't wait to get out and do this on our own.

Thanks, John.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Barbados - and Wales

We made our landfall at about 18:00 local time, near Bridgetown, in the commercial port. Not designed for small sailing vessels, we carefully positioned Chelone alongside one of the large buffers used for cruise liners, and John and Susie set off for customs. Louise and Ross offloaded our rubbish, including a couple of redundant quilts, and I stayed on the boat. Elated now. Yes.

An hour later, we were attached to a mooring just off the two yacht clubs at the Southern end of Carlisle Bay. A quick dinghy ride. A well deserved shower, some grilled Marlin Rotis, with Searing hot pepper sauce, and the rum punches started flowing...

I was alone with my hangover in the morning. I gave Chelone a brief clean as the others went ashore.

John then took Chelone into the Careenage, and tied up right in the centre of Bridgetown.

It's strange. About 6 days from shore, we'd been talking about what we missed most. For some, it was cold beer. For others, chocolate. We all missed showers. Oddly, I had developed a craving for an ice cold lemon sorbet. Finding one, in Bridgetown, left me smiling, and letting out all sorts of strange, but apreciative noises.

We then went our separate ways. I was concerned about the availability of flights leading up to Christmas and, possibly, the bad weather back in the UK affecting this. When I found out there were only seven seats left on one flight a couple of days later, Louise, Ross and I decided to book immediately, rather than risk waiting any longer. A couple of hours later, it was job done, and Louise and I repaired to 'The Waterfront' for some local seafood, creole style. Louise's Flying fish with plantains and fish broth was particularly good.

The town was buzzing. Like so many we've been through on our travels, everyone was friendly and seemed happy.

A jazz band played in the Waterfront that evening. John, myself, Louise and Susie anjoyed yet more beer and cocktails until some o'clock and fell asleep an a tranquil Chelone a bit later. Relax, now, man.

We'd taken Chelone's sails off the day before. Both had torn, and been repaired, but John wanted a Barbados sailmaker to repair them properly before he and Susie began their cruise proper. Blocked fuel filters had limited the revs on Chelone's engine on the way into Barbados, however, and John set about changing them. When all filters had been changed, and the engine still wouldn't rev above 2000, we were all pretty perplexed. Seeing the boat that had safely carried us across 4300 miles of ocean sitting, tied up against the wall with no sails and a sick engine concerned me greatly. John was convinced he coud sort it, however. Louise and Susie rented a car, and we set off for a drive, stopping off for a swim a couple of times.

Holiday brochure stuff. All we need now is turtles said Louise.

 We called in at Oistins fish market. As a lone Egret stalked the offcuts from the day's catch, I wondered which of the five we'd helped he was. 'Would you like to feed the turtles' a voice called from behind.

Louise ran back to the car for her snorkelling mask and we walked out along a jetty - one of the fish merchants carrying a bag of fish scraps. He threw them to Louise, who squealed with excitement as she hand fed up to three large turtles who swam around her.

The day was passing. As sundown approached, three of us turned our thoughts to our 20:10 flight for London Gatwick. John and Susie looked forward to their cruise.

And then it was over. Hugs and kisses at the airport. 4200 miles flown in 7 hours 20 minutes, after being sailed in around seven weeks. My father was there to pick us up at the airport. We dropped Ross off at Cross Hands and had a curry and an early night. In Neath.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Crossing - Done

Wednesday December 12th

So, the Tenby fishing boys finally got their tuna. A skipjack, around 4lb. John cleaned and Ross cooked it, searing it in a pan with hot oil and spices. He also cooked some plain, although both were delicious. A tuna, sweetcorn bake, with cheese, olive oil and tomatoes was served with it, again courtesy of Ross, and it was also very good.

So, here we sit. Just 60 odd miles to go. Squally showers, and only moderate visibility, as we look out for land. In just a few short hours we will be back in civilization, with cars, mobile phones, other people and so on. Our little 38 ft bubble will burst and we will split up and go our separate ways, the ocean swells will calm and stop and three of us will start looking for flights home.

.........and then we saw it. In the rain, in the mist, Barbados. 16:35 GMT. 12:35 local time. We'd crossed the Atlantic ocean. 20 days and around 8 hours.

Happy, rather than elated. Tiredness, the heat, the cabin fever, etc probably accounted for that. I'm sure the elation will kick in.

Right. Next. Get in. Customs. Anchor in front of the yacht club and hopefully, enjoy a beer. The BBC world service says flights from London are delayed, and that the weather there is so cold, the planes require de-icing. Oh dear. Could we be stuck here over Christmas? Palm trees, beaches and cocktails. It would be dreadful, wouldn't it?

Atlantic crossing part 4

Wednesday 5th December

The fishing is progressing well, at last. after 5 mahi mahi last week, John caught another today, and then caught a triggerfish. I was gobsmacked by the latter. As a keen diver, I've seen these fish on reefs and rocks the world over. Seeing one over 1000 miles from land surprised me to say the least. Its skin was so tough, we were unable to gaff it, and landed it by hand.

John filletted the two fish, Ross deep fried them in chunks in batter. I steamed some rice, Louise fried it with eggs and soy sauce and the five of us had sweet and sour fish with fried rice. Susie washed up.

Dessert was tinned fruit with custard. All went well until a wave sent me, and my bowl of tinned fruit, flying across the galley into Louise. Luckily, I deposited the tinned fruit  onto Louise, missing the computer.

This morning we saw our first whale. At less than 15 feet, a curved, pointed dorsal fin and the way it was clearly playing around the boat, I wad convinced it was a large dolphin at first.

John had seen stripes under its jaw, however, long pectoral fins and a white underside. A book suggested that it may have been a juvenile minke whale. Whatever it was, it was a delight, the way it played with Chelone for the best part of an hour. No photos, unfortunately: My camera was misbehaving.

Thursday 6th December.
Less than 900 miles to go. 6 days, or 12 night watches. Yup, I'm counting down the hours now. The broken sleep and boredom, on this most benign of passages is taking its toll.

The question is this. When I get to port, shower, go ashore, eat, drink and relax freely, will I still hunger to sail on? Even now I think the answer is definitely yes. I think the drudgery of the ocean passage will fade in a couple of days. By the time we fly home, John and Susie will be looking forward to a Caribbean Christmas and several months of island adventures. Louise and I will be in a cold and miserable Neath. Hmm. Seems like I may be hooked on this life.

Friday 7th December
The promised NE winds from Herb are with us. 20 knots straight behind us as we head into Barbados. John caught another Mahi mahi. A male this time. He despatched it quickly in the cockpit as Susie hid below. She's a bit squeamish about that sort of thing. Just as well too. The fountain of blood that filled the cockpit well as John cut deeply into its head was spectacular. Quite surprising for a fish.

Later we had some other wildlife encounters. John didn't kill these ones. An exhausted swallow joined us in the cockpit, and stayed all day before disappearing during the night. Then five white egrets joined us.

They circled for a while before settling on the solar panel, aft. One even stayed the night.

Ross cleaned and prepared the mahi mahi, and cooked it in batter with spices. Louise did fried potatoes and mushy peas. Good food.

The dead run, sailingwise, led to a very rolly night. When Ross called me for my second night watch, I really didn't want to get up. Nearly there now.

A lovely surprise on Saturday morning. A message from our friends Brian and Sue, aboard "Blue Bear', asking us to meet them in the Cape Verdes. As Louise and I take our first faltering steps at Ocean Sailing, they are returning from a circumnavigatîon.

Brian and Sue have been a huge inspiration to Louise and I, and we are here today, 600 miles from Barbados, partly due to the steps they took a couple of years back. Thanks so much for the message.

Meanwhile, aboard Chelone, the atmosphere is subdued. We wait. The boat sails, we eat, we do our watches, we drink, some of us sleep, but we wait. Just over 4 days left

It appears that we are now into the food snaffling stage. This, it seems, is where preferred food items from the larder are hidden away for personal use. I looked for a jar of sundried tomatoes earlier, to no avail. Gone. John says snaffling is happening! Lots of nods and knowing looks. Evidently a bag of lion bars was snaffled a day or two back.

I'm clearly too naive. I had assumed everything would be shared fairly. I can see that I'll need to start snaffling myself. Sadly, there is little left of interest. Maybe I could hide a bag of flour?

Louise made pancakes this evening. Watching Ross coat each one with jam, sugar and custard and shovel them down as fast as Louise could cook them was awesome. His face when eating dessert is something to behold.

Saturday 8th December

Yes, we're bored. It's hot and the days drag, moreso when we have to shut all vents for the tropical squally downpours. During one such deluge late this afternoon, I went up on deck and took a shower in the stream of freshwater pouring off the mainsail. Within a few minutes, I was grinning and laughing. It was odd how such simple a pleasure as a freshwater shower could feel so good. It is a must. Standing naked on the bucking deck of a sailboat in a squall in the middle of the ocean, water pouring down from the heavens. So good. So very good.

Tuesday 11th December.

More heat. More rain. More boredom. The squalls are the worst. We wait, sweltering, below decks. Louise has been unwell. She's been drinking almost nothing for the last few days since being asked how many times a day she filled her drinking bottle

(Louise - I have been filling 2x1litre water bottles but knowing how much Martin sweats compared to me, I topped up his bottle from mine, resulting in me sometimes only having about a cup full. Martin was unaware of this).

I was quite angry with her and told her to drink as much as she needs. Everyone else does. She improved very quickly, and is fine today, as we all are.

John showed us how to use a sextant a little earlier. Ross, myself, he and Louise then spent a couple of hours waiting and measuring, until we got an approximate noon sighting. My rough calculation gave us at N13 degrees 40 minutes. Not bad, the GPS put us at N 13 degrees 52 minutes. Just 12 miles out, and this the first time I'd ever done the calculation.

Around 170 miles to go. Just one night watch left. Can't wait to get there now. We should see Barbados in the morning.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Atlantic crossing 3

Sunday 2nd December

An uneventful couple of days. Boredom and tiredness have definitely set in. I think all of us are a litle sleep deprived by now, and the night watches, especially after midnight, drag a little more each night. Spirits, though, remain good.

Each day, the sun rises a little later (after 08:00 now), and sets a little latet too. We're still on GMT(zulu) for the weather faxes and Herb Hilgenberg sessions. Sometime this afternoon we will pass the halfway point of the ocean crossing, with around 1400 miles, or 10 days to go. Still sailing well on a nice broad reach, winds Easterly F5-6 and seas slight or slight to moderate.

Chelone purrs along sleepily. This is barely any weather at all for a boat of her capabilities, and she devours the miles at 6-7 knots with ease. Hoping for a bit of a blow so she can show off. Her crew, though, seem content to count down the miles to Barbados, showers, fresh food and cold beer at this more leisurely pace.

I came across this in a book of sailing quotations:

'Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

-Mark Twain

Tuesday 4th December

A couple of days of heavy showers has been followed by a return to sun and lighter winds. The showers were awful. Downpour after downpour. Each time we locked down all the portholes, the main butterfly hatch and the companionway. Then the five of us would sit there for the next couple of hours, lightening flashing, Chelone heeling in the squalls, and the temperature and humidity rising, as we sit there, breathless and sweating, desperate to open the hatches, willing the drumming rain to end.

Then it would, we'd get our cool air and it would start over with another lockdown. During one such hot and sweaty session, I decided to make some bread. It came out ok, though the kneading, with all vents shut, was a challenge in the heat.

The autopilot broke. An autohelm st 7000. When John stripped it, about 5 tablespoons of ground up brass filings poured out. He had spare cogs, but it set me thinking about the sheer number of spares it is possible to carry to cover every eventuality.

The monitor windvane works well, but only downwind. John has built a gantry covering the cockpit on Chelone, and it holds solar panels, antennae and so on. Unfortunately, it seems to restrict airflow to the windvane. John intends to extend the vane upwards above the gantry when he gets a chance, which should help with this problem. Just less than 1200 miles to go this morning.

Had a little sleep in the saloon earlier. It was luxury. I've been struggling to sleep bouncing around in the forecabin. In the saloon, it is like being gently rocked to sleep in a cradle. In the forecabin it's more like being pushed headlong down a steep bumpy street in a stolen supermarket trolley. Getting some rest is, er, challenging.

Still crossing

Wednesday 28th November

We lost. Again. All Blacks.

We are now just over 800 nm SouthWest of Lanzarote, having sailed just over 6 full days, though not in a straight line. When we left Lanzarote we made contact with Herb Hilgenberg on HF radio ( 12.359 mhz).


Each night at 20:30 gmt (zulu) sailors call Herb:

'Southbound two, Southbound two, this is Chelone, chelone, checking in'

This goes on for many minutes as perhaps a dozen or more vessels take part in the roll call. Herb writes down the name of each vessel. He asks that people register by email, giving vessel details and passage plans.

Herb will then contact each vessel in turn, ask for a position and local weather conditions. He will then discuss a strategy for the next 24 hours, taking into account strong winds, calms and other factors such as the gulf stream.

Our plan, for example, which could have seen us sail South until the butter melts and then head West saw Herb route us motorsailing South to quickly escape gales in the Canaries, then due West at 22 degrees North to avoid calms near the Cape Verdes before tracking SouthWest to the tradewinds.

Herb has his critics, and likes to do things his way, but to my mind, he does a lot of hard work, on an off the air for sailors, and in my opinion he is to be recommended.

A couple of days back we suffered what I initially thought was a minor disaster. A small tear near the UV strip on the genoa became, overnight, a 15 foot rip. With over 2300 miles to go, this was very concerning.

John, Ross and myself set about dropping the genoa. We then manhandled it down below where Louise and Susie then spent the best part of 2 days sewing up the tear.

Another hour or so for the three lads to rehoist the sail and we were back sailing. In the meantime, sailing with full main and staysail alone, Chelone managed over 5 knots, not bad for a 16 tonner without her headsail.

Went swimming today,

Bright blue water, clean, crisp and warm. I swam around the boat twice before tiring. Even with bare poles and less than 10 knots of wind, Chelone moved relatively quickly. I estimated that, in those benign conditions, if I fell overboard and could not swim back to the boat within a few short minutes, that would be it. If she had sail up, I'd have no chance.

And then John caught a fish. Over 2000 miles and four weeks of trying.

Then Louise reeled one in. We ended up with five 'mahi mahi', or dolphin. 2-3lbs each, and all female. John expertly cleaned them

and then he and Ross prepared 3 different flavoured batters. Plain, Morrocan spicy and hot spicy. With chips. And mushy peas, salt, vinegar and allioli, a spanish garlic mayonnaise Louise and I brought aboard and which has become a favourite amongst the crew and, indeed, an obsession with our Tenby contingent.

We now have a settled routine. Formal watches from 18:00 until 10:00, 2 hours each for me, Louise, John and Ross, 2 watches each per night. It advances by 2 hours each night, so we all get our fair share of 'easy' watches.

John is concerned about fresh water. We wash up in salt water and flannel wash ourselves every few days. I drink 1 litre per day. I sweat a lot, especially when winching sails or carrying diesel cans on deck, so I hope John doesnt think that's excessive. I'm not sure what to do if he does.