Saturday, August 12, 2006

Well, I’ve finally got some time to sit down and write a proper log of the trip from Vineyard Haven across the Atlantic to Portugal!

We left Vineyard Haven on the 16h June. It was bright, sunny day, with not a breath of wind. Not a particularly auspicious start to a 2000 mile journey when we were wanting to sail! We managed to get some sailing in the evening, thankfully for dinner there was no engine running. The weather was gorgeous, though, and the night watches were blessed with clear skies and bright stars.

Unfortunately, what little wind there was seemed determined to head us, and there was also a strong current against us, so the engine had to be employed in conjunction with the sails for the most of our second day. Once again, we were able to have dinner in silence. It was pizza; Mum’s special, delicious as usual. That evening we had our first visit of many by aquatic creatures: a pod of pilot whales with young glided past, coming close to investigate us.

The next morning was dismal and foggy. On top of the fog there was a sloppy sea and no wind, which made life a little uncomfortable. It wasn’t until the afternoon that we realised the reason for the fog and the slop was the fact that we had entered the Gulf Stream. The fact that we had discussed the fact that the sea colour had changed from green to deep, clear blue, that we had a north-going current, the sea temperature had risen by more than ten degrees had failed to jog our minds. Finally the light bulb blinked on! Also, by evening, we were able to turn off the engine and sail along pleasantly – the slop caused by the edge of the Gulf Stream had gone and the sea was a lot smoother, although there were a lot of thunderstorms around.

Unfortunately, the thunderstorms did not hail wind but the lack of it, and the engine was started in the early morning of our fourth day out. We spent the early morning dodging the storms, but one caught us, allowing Warren to venture out and have a shower. The rest of us were more sensible – it was very cold! By the time he had dried off and got dressed, the wind had picked up again, and we raised more sail. Finally we got some great sailing in. We ended up doing over 8 knots at one point, at which time we reduced sail slightly and reduced our speed to a less nerve-wracking 6.5 knots!

Just after lunch, a tuna was caught: guess what we had for dinner?

The night was dominated by variable winds and thunderstorms and by predawn of the fifth day the wind had died but the seas hadn’t. We had been registering a one to on and a half knot current against us all of the previous day and then the reverse happened during the night. Obviously the currents were responsible for the choppy seas, but knowing that didn’t make our passage more comfortable. Fortunately, we ended up having a great sail that day, making up to 8 knots on the GPS all day.

For the next two and half days we had great sailing, the perfect winds on the beam. Unfortunately, we had a current against us, sometimes over a knot, but with the sails pulling and the seas quiet it felt as though we were really getting somewhere.

A container ship, the ‘Sealand Pride’, passed close by us on the 22nd June on her way to New York. She called us up and we had a chat with the officer of the watch. He was due for holiday leave when they reached port and was going to Cape Cod for his holiday! This was a first for us – we had never had a ship call us up for a conversation before!

During the nights we had an escort of stormy petrels following, flying very close the boat. Their call is more of a squeak like a bat, and they were certainly noisy during the night!

This trip proved to be full of firsts: on the 23rd of June (8 days out from Vineyard Haven and 843 nautical miles on our journey) we came across another yacht; again something that had never happened to us, in twenty years of sailing! The yacht, a gaff cutter called ‘Lucky Linda’, was out of Nova Scotia. Unfortunately, she did not have much diesel and we were now in the grip of the Azores High – there was no wind when we came across her. She was drifting along at just less than a knot.

There are some advantages to there being no wind, though, assuming you don’t have to worry about fuel. We saw a huge leatherback turtle lazing on the water, and later Matt (our crew) and Warren had a swim in the middle of the North Atlantic. There aren’t many that can say they’ve done that!

Just past our halfway point, brand new GPS (our old one had inexplicably quit a week before leaving Vineyard Haven) beeped a warning and informed us that we had ‘no fix.’ No matter what we did we couldn’t convince it that there were satellites up there – it even registered them, it just refused to use them. An hour later, it started working again!

That evening, a huge pod of common dolphins came to play in our bow wave – perhaps to celebrate us passing our halfway mark! They played for almost an hour, enabling us to take some great photographs. Later in the evening, just at sunset, as we were gently motoring along, I saw a huge shark cruising along the surface. Judging by the length from the tip of its tail to the dorsal fin (and we passed within 15 feet of it, so it was pretty easy to see) it must have been at least eight feet long!

The next day we got a cyclone warning: there was a possibility of one forming within the next 36 hours centred not too far from us! Naturally we kept an eye on it, and fortunately it was cancelled the next day. The next few days were punctuated by regular visits from dolphins and variable winds – sometimes we were sailing peacefully, and sometimes we were motor-sailing. Fortunately, we didn’t have to do any straight motoring. The only straight motoring we had to do was when we caught up with ‘Lucky Linda’.

On the 27th June, the wind came round to our quarter, so we had headsails poled out, and the engine was turned off. Our motion changed, and we started rolling slightly, but it wasn’t anything dramatic: Jill still managed to cook things like lasagne (I actually saw the pan in the oven, and it was full to the brim. Nothing spilt over the edge and the pan remained in the same place in the oven, so we couldn’t have been rolling too badly!) and I never felt like I was rolling out of my bunk (my bunk was right up in the bow, high up just underneath the deck, so I felt the motion more than anyone else).

That night, on Jill’s watch, a stormy petrel ventured into the wheelhouse. We have no idea how it got in, but it was lucky that Jill didn’t stand on it! She had heard a noise like a flying fish hitting the wheelhouse (an occurrence that has happened regularly on other ocean passages, but strangely not on this one) and got up to investigate. Luckily, she turned on a torch (flashlight, for Americans!) before leaving the wheelhouse, and saw the bird on the floor. It fit in one of her hands. She put it outside on deck, and when she checked back sometime later, it had gone.

Later the wind died and we had to start the engine. Then we started rolling more, even though we had the mainsail up and sheeted in tight. I mist say, though, in defence of ‘Swn Y Mor’, if we hadn’t had sail up, it would have been pretty awful. As it was, nothing was flying about! I’ve been onboard when things have done!

As soon as the wind picked up again, we got sail up and the rolling immediately lessened. We ended up doing a lot of sail changes that day, up and down, and up and down, and on and off – we got our exercise! We were visited numerous times by dolphins again – I think this trip was more social in terms of aquatic life than other. The wind began to come out of the North-East, not quite what we were expecting.

This was when Matt became really ill and had to go to bed. Naturally, this was when things started to happen. Once again we had to do several sail changes, the wind kept picking up and we had to reduce sail. Eventually we ran with two Yankees poled out. Whilst we were sail-changing, dolphins were cavorting about in the seas around us. For the first time on the whole trip, we actually had seas that looked like ocean seas! They weren’t particularly large, and the motion certainly wasn’t much to be concerned about, but they reminded me of the seas we had encountered on a daily basis during our east to west crossing of the Atlantic in 2005. Unfortunately for Matt, he was feeling really ill y this time. He occasionally hadn’t been feeling too good during the previous days, but fresh air had helped him, but obviously a bit more motion had affected him and exacerbated his ill feeling. So he went to bed.

That night, the cog on our autopilot (which is chain driven – our steering isn’t hydraulic) broke. This meant that we would be hand-steering from now on. On the plus side, we had less than 200 miles to go, and minus side, Matt was incapacitated, and we probably wouldn’t be able to get the autopilot fixed until we reached Gibraltar, actually over 1000 miles away. We couldn’t get our wind vane to work because we’d discovered that the blade had become twisted and wasn’t in line with the rudder, so it wouldn’t keep a straight course.

Fortunately, the weather wasn’t too bad, and the motion was pretty easy, because steering was relatively easy, there was no fighting the boat at all. Hand-steering ‘Swn Y Mor’ in bad weather is no joke (I generally end up doing most of it if there is sail-handling to be done, as my parents used to go out on deck when I was younger, leaving me to be the one on the helm), but the two hours of our watches passed fairly rapidly, and I didn’t end up with aching muscles afterwards.

As we were nearing Flores, the western-most of the Azorean Islands, we started to keep a sharper lookout for yachts, and sure enough, we saw one in the early hours. It didn’t respond to our hail on the VHF, though, and as she was sailing faster than us, we soon lost sight of her. Warren proved early that morning what a genius he is by fixing the autopilot, so we were relieved from hand steering, although I did some to make sure that the autopilot didn’t pack in again.
That day Matt began to feel better and by evening was well enough to eat and keep watch.

Early the next morning, at the beginning of my watch (0400-0600), I saw the loom of a lighthouse off our port bow. As the sun rose, out of the gloom two landmasses appeared: Flores and its smaller neighbour, Corvo. This was the first time that I had been the one to spot our landfall, and being alone on watch made it all the more exciting for me. It didn’t matter that I knew that there were people on the island, and that thousands of other yachts had visited it, it was still a thrill. A thrill that I’ve no doubt runs through every sailor who makes a landfall after a long voyage, and that ran through the old explorers.

As we approached the island, the wind died, and then came around to head us, so the engine had to be started to enter the harbour. The island was so green, even more so after having seen nothing but blue/green/grey water and blue/grey skies for two weeks!

The harbour, however, was not the best in the world, and it was crowded too. As we had no anchor windlass (that having broken the day before we left Vineyard Haven and got left behind at Gannon & Benjamin) and thus were anchoring on our spare anchor, which, although a fabulous anchor for holding, had only a small amount of chain attached to it and the rest was line. The anchorage also had a large swell rolling right in, but the wind wasn’t from the same direction. The island’s shape meant that the swell was refracted around right into the harbour. A vote amongst the crew was made and we ended up anchoring. From Vineyard Haven, it had taken us 14 days and 21 hours to get to Flores.

Our celebratory lunch, complete with champagne, was marred somewhat by our rolling: we rolled more in that anchorage than we did during our whole trip, and we weren’t the only ones: the whole fourteen yachts that were anchored were rolling heavily. We noticed that not many of them had dinghies behind them and quickly came to the conclusion that everyone escaped the rolling by spending all day ashore!

Gary Maynard of ‘Violet’ in Vineyard Haven, a good friend of ours, had visited Flores many years ago, and had told us that it was the one island in the Azores that we must visit. After four and half days stay (the rolling stopped after the second night) during which time we went on a taxi tour of the island with Dick and Ginger of ‘Alchemy’ we decided to leave. The scenery was amazing, the flowers, for which the island is famous for, were just fabulous, and the food was pretty good too! The general consensus was that we would love to return, but not y boat, as the harbours are tenuous at best. Talking to the other boats in the anchorage, a lot of them American, having sailed from Bermuda, we discovered that the almost constant adverse current that we had encountered was common to all those we spoke to, and we had in fact done less motoring than the rest of the yachts. Nobody had had a good sailing passage across, but it turned out that we had had the best meals! Looking back on it, and discussing it with my parents, we came to the conclusion that this passage was the best food-wise we had ever had: Matt didn’t know how lucky he was! We had lasagne twice, pizza, curry, fresh tuna, pork tenderloin, beef tenderloin, plus numerous other things, and we still had meat in the fridge! All this without a freezer on board!

When we left Flores, there was not much wind, but we drifted for a while, and then motored the rest of the way to Horta, on the island of Faial. There we met some very old friends. Naturally, being the owners and crew of an old wooden boat, and especially a gaff one, we tend to constantly be on the lookout for wooden masts and the telltale rigging of a gaffer. There was one other gaffer in Horta Marina, and it turned out to be a Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter called ‘Madcap’ that belonged to an old friend of ours that we knew when we were sailing in the Irish Sea. We knew ‘Madcap’ had been in the Mediterranean for several years, but no news on the Irish Sea grapevine had told us to expect to see her in Horta.

As luck would have it, the owner and a friend arrived a few days later: they were taking her to the north of France. Naturally, a great reunion occurred, and soon we were waving them away from the dock.

Traditionally, yacht crews paint a logo or some symbol on the marina breakwater, or walls or some other available piece of concrete: superstition says that if you do, you’ll have a good passage. Naturally, we’re not one to shirk tradition, so I spent two and a half days painting on concrete (not that easy, considering I’m a bit of a perfectionist!). More people spoke to me and took my photograph whilst I was painting than has ever happened before!

We did a quick car tour of Pico, the neighbouring island, with some friends, and Matt hiked up to the top (over 8000 feet – I was all for going with him until the height was mentioned! As it turned out, he had to rush back down and only just managed to catch the last ferry back, so I made the right decision in not going!) of the volcano. He said that it wasn’t actually that fantastic, and the going was difficult.

We ended up spending over a week in Horta, somehow! Not long before we left, we were filling up our water tanks and discovered that the filler hose had come off and we were actually filling up our bilges! This led to an all day job for Warren, cutting out the plywood backing that the previous owner had had installed, and fixing a new pipe: the hose clamp had been mild steel and had rusted through. Since he had everything, Warren also fixed the opening window – some Vineyard Haveners will know that he had done the same on the starboard side, fixing it so that any water that leaked in down the window would drain outside instead of into the bilge.

Also, we provided amusement the next day, as whilst checking the storage underneath our wheelhouse we discovered that water from the previous day had leaked into a storage box: the one containing photographs and our slide projector. Naturally, this was the only storage box that had got water into it! This led to us spreading our entire photo collection out on deck to dry, causing a lot of passers-by to question us! The projector was half saved: it won’t automatically focus anymore, but we don’t use it on a regular basis, so it isn’t a huge loss.

Finally, we pulled ourselves away from Horta and set sail for mainland Portugal. This trip proved to be a very mixed bag of weather. Warren had fixed the wind vane whilst we were in Flores, so it could be used, but it didn’t get much use. The wind that we had was mainly from the North-East, so we were beating into it for a lot of the way, and we had to really head into it to avoid Sao Miguel, the main centre island of the Azores.

As we were passing the island it was discovered that the radar was not working. Fortunately, this problem had a simple solution: when Matt and I had washed the boat down in Horta, we had accidentally turned the scanner off!

Once we left Sao Miguel behind we were free of the Azores. When we were in Horta, Dick and Ginger off ‘Alchemy’, our friends from Flores, joined us, and showed us some interesting photos of an unidentified sea creature they had seen whilst sailing from Flores to Faial. It resembled a ping-pong ball, with hard, clear things hanging from it. They had no idea what it was, and neither did we. We hadn’t seen anything like it before. However, sailing past Sao Miguel we began to encounter thousands of these things, and we didn’t stop encountering them until we reached the coast of Portugal. We managed to catch a few and took some photographs, but were none the wiser as to what they could be. They seem to come in different sizes, and the hard, filter-like things hanging from them are not necessarily the same number on each white ball. If anyone has any idea what these things could be, let me know!

We also discovered a remora, or pilot fish, attached to us at one point hitching a lift to Portugal! We sailed and motor-sailed all the way: fortunately the weather was very pleasant.

On the day of my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary, we encountered another yacht, with tan sails. Naturally, we hailed them on the radio. They immediately replied: “This is ‘Elsi Arrub’ of the Shetland Islands.”

You know in the movies and in books when someone’s shocked, their mouth drops open and they’re said to be gob smacked? I thought that never really happened in real life, but it was certainly my reaction when I heard that name, and my parents were equally taken aback. We had met a boat called ‘Elsi Arrub’ from the Shetland Islands in 1994, when we were both sailing up the Red Sea. We had in fact given them some diesel. We knew there could only be on ‘Elsi Arrub’ in the world (it is Burra Isle backwards, which is where the owner was from) and naturally he knew who we were instantly as well. As there was practically no wind, we motored over to see him. It was one of the owners of the boat, Andrew Halcrow, that we had met 13 year before. He was a month into a non-stop, solo circumnavigation. The chances of us meeting him, us sailing east and him sailing south, must be millions to one!

A few days after that, as we were approaching the coast of Portugal, sailing along well, we managed to catch a line around both our starboard propeller and our rudder, whilst we were crossing the shipping lanes! Whilst we were freeing the line from our rudder (which led around our stem before becoming caught on our prop!), a ship passed very close across our bows – if we hadn’t had to heave-to twice to disentangle ourselves, it would have hit us!

Because we had a line trailing from our starboard propeller, we couldn’t start either engine, for fear of it catching on the port prop, so we had to sail into Sagres Bay and anchor under sail. Normally, this wouldn’t have been too much trouble. Fortunately there was only one other boat in the anchorage, which is open. The wind, of course, was coming straight out of the bay, so we had to beat to windward to get in. Warren cut the headland as close as he could (not helped by the eccentric fishermen who were fishing from the cliffs – how they expected to pull anything in without it being bashed to pieces on the way up I don’t know) to help us get up as far to windward as possible, as ‘Swn Y Mor’s windward ability isn’t the best.

Fortunately, however, she isn’t that bad, and we made it to the head of the bay in two tacks. Then we had to figure out how we were going to drop our anchor (remember we didn’t have a bow anchor windlass and the spare anchor we generally drop fro the stern). The plan was that we would drop it from the stern, so we had to get the anchor ready, drop the mizzen, round up, drop the main, bear away, and drop the anchor and the jib simultaneously. Somehow, it all went without a hitch, and soon we were happily anchored.

The next morning, we all got up early and saw an amazing sight: square riggers rounding Cape St Vincent and sailing into the Straits of Gibraltar. Naturally, square riggers under sail anywhere is an awesome sight, but the fact that it was at Cape St Vincent, and Sagres, home of Prince Henry the Navigator, and famous amongst sailing history, made it all the more poignant.

It turned out that it was the 50th anniversary of the Tall Ships, and they were heading for Cadiz, in Spain. We set off for Gibraltar that morning also, sailing in exalted company, and were having a fantastic sail, regularly clocking 7 to 8 knots, when we got in touch with the famous Le Havre Pilot Cutter, ‘Jolie Brise’. It was they that told us about the Tall Ships, and they invited us to a barbecue in Lagos. So we rounded up, got sails down and beat to windward to join them.

The barbecue was fantastic, although the atmosphere was marred somewhat by the news that the Portuguese Maritime Official for the Algarve coast had told the square riggers that they were not allowed within 2 miles of the coast, thereby dashing their hopes of joining the party. They left Portuguese waters and sailed straight to Cadiz.
The next day dawned clear and hot, with not a breath of wind. We were running low on fuel, and so had to load some in Lagos, which was very annoying, seeing as fuel in Portugal is very expensive. The trip to Gibraltar was all motoring – very frustrating considering the great sail we could have had the day before. Seeing a cruise ship anchored less than a mile off the coast showed how hypocritical the Portuguese official had been – someone hadn’t told him about the Tall Ships and his nose had been put out of joint, but I’ve no doubt that there were recriminations for his pettiness.

Finally, after dodging squid fishermen all night, we reached Gibraltar, although not before going through fog so thick you could barely see the end of the boat. We eventually managed to secure a place in a marina, and discovered to our delight that our shiny new anchor windlass, ordered in the Azores via the internet, had arrived and was waiting for us! Warren and Matt fitted it immediately. It has a remote control that can be operated 60 feet away!

We’re still in Gibraltar, or rather I am. Warren and Jill went to Corfu to finalise their buying of their house (the reason we sailed back across the Atlantic) and they’re due back tomorrow, the proud owners of ‘Wolf’s Nest’ (although apparently at the moment, the name ‘Rat’s Nest’ would be more appropriate!) and Matt is touring Morocco. He’s due back tomorrow also, and soon after that will be flying to London.

So that’s our travels so far. I must say that, from the point of view of someone who’s done ocean crossings on ‘Swn Y Mor’ before, the crossing from Vineyard Haven wasn’t too bad. There could have been less motor-sailing (there wasn’t actually any time when there wasn’t a sail up) – looking at the log book, we actually had an engine running for 8 days in total time. On the plus side, our batteries didn’t get low, and Matt and I did get watch quite a few films! The seas were pretty calm, as is evidenced by the diet that we had, and the fact that not once was all of us needed on deck during the night for a sail change. The last Atlantic crossing we did, it felt like every night all of us were up for some of it! Also, we had some great sailing days, saw some wonderful wildlife, and even got to swim in the ocean!
We had amazing encounters with other yachtsmen at sea and in port, encountered some very peculiar adverse currents, and also some odd ping-pong ball like ocean life!

Who knows what will happen next?!

posted by Heliona  # 11:45 PM

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

April 2006

Things have been busy since I last updated. Warren and Jill are in the process of buying a house in Corfu, and so are planning on setting back across the Atlantic this summer, just after hauling the boat out.

The winter spent in Martha's Vineyard has been a lot of fun, and we've made some great friends. Photographs have been taken bby the dozen. The wooden dinghy is looking magnificent, and work has been done on 'Swn Y Mor' that would have been unable to have been done elsewhere.

More updating will be done later - as it is, we're all very hungry!


posted by Heliona  # 8:28 PM

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The month of November:

We had been told that we would not be able to get into the lagoon until November 15th, which as our visas ran out on the 17th was cutting it fairly fine. We talked to the marina owner, and he said that it would be perfectly possible for us to go in earlier.

Whilst we were waiting for our berth to be ready, we launched our wooden dinghy, "Dignity", and rowed her over to the Gannon & Benjamin shop. After having taken off the fender rope, and the bench seats were taken out, she was put on the yard truck and driven over to the Mugwump shed, which is where the larger boats are built. There she was put in front of the schooner that Nat Benjamin is building for himself.

Work started on "Dignity" immediately with the wooden strip that the rope fendering was screwed into being removed. Then the stem was taken off, along with the rowlock covering patches. A replacement knee was made for the forward thwart as well as brand new lodging knees. Two knees on the middle thwart were replaced with larger ones, and another floor was put in. Whilst this was happening, I was stripping and sanding the bench seats, bringing back the deep red of the mahogany. A new, more beefy stem was made, along with a much more substantial breasthook. Also, the two knees joining the transom to the sides of the hull were replaced with larger ones. The rowlock covering patches were also replaced with pieces of wood mcuh thicker than the original.

Two and a half weeks into the project, "Dignity" is looking nearly like a brand new boat, although the interior paint still has to be removed, as much as possible, as does the interior varnish. Then she will be turned upside-down to allow access to the outside hull, which will also all be stripped. We have decided that instead of revarnishing the dinghy, we will 'Coelan' it, as the Coelan on "Swn Y Mor" has held up very well.

Now it is nearly time for our flight back to the UK, leaving "Swn Y Mor" and "Dignity" to their own devices for a month.

posted by Heliona  # 12:42 AM

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The month of October:

October came whilst we were in Rockland, waiting for the weather to get better. Once the weather improved, we moved onto the Public Landing, and had a very hectic social life. We stayed in Rockland for nearly two weeks, waiting for a north wind to carry back down the the Cape Cod Canal, and Martha's Vineyard.

The north wind arrived, carrying with it a lot of rain. So much rain that parts of Maine were flooded. We moved away from the Public Landing and out to anchor, dodging lobster pots and mooring buoys. There we stayed for two days, until the rain and the wind subsided enough for us to weigh anchor and sail to Boothbay.

It was a long sail, Jill and I getting very wet and cold whilst standing outside, on constant watch for lobster pots. The weather held for most of the day, but then broke as we approached Boothbay.

We only stayed the night, and moved on to Richmond Island Harbour, an anchorage protected from the north just south of Portland, Maine. Once again, we stayed only one night, as the weather forecast predicted strong north-easterlies, then veering to the south, so we decided that if we didn't want to get stuck in Richmond Island, we'd better leave.

We left with a deep reef in the mainsail, and almost immediately encountered a large swell from the east. This meant that we were essentially running with the wind, and had the swell on the quarter. The seas built steadily, some of them reaching twenty feet, making it very unpleasant sailing. Jill and I were, again, outside constantly, trying to spot the lobster pots that were submerged either by the seas or the current that was fortunately with us. We certainly ran over at least five pots, but our speed was such that they didn't have time to get caught around a propellor. We managed to gybe four times, two of those being accidental, on one occasion the preventor breaking.

We finally reached Portsmouth, and picked up a mooring. The swell somehow made it into the small bay we were moored in, but we decided not to move until we had dried off and eaten something. The sail down had been horrendous, and the only good thing about it was that we had been going so fast, due to twenty knots of wind with us, and a couple of knots of current pushing us along at sometimes up to eight knots, that the trip was mercifully short - only about six hours.

Also, Jill and I saw a large whale breech clean out of the water a few hours out of Portsmouth. It appeared directly in front of us, leaping out of the seas, clearly enjoying itself.

After having recovered from the trip, we decided to move moorings to across the river. On our trip up to Maine, we had met someone who was a member of Portsmouth Yacht Club, and who invited us to visit them. As their moorings were much more sheltered than the one we had initially picked up, we decided to take up that offer.

The river that divides Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Kittery, Maine is called Pisquatank (?), and is the second fastest flowing navigable river in the United States (the Columbia River in Oregan is the fastest). This meant that picking up a mooring can be interesting. Fortunately, we managed fine, having got our technique down to perfection. The tide changed in the middle of the night, so Warren stayed up to see what happened, as the wind would then be against the tide.

Whilst we had been having dinner, another boat came in in the dark, and picked up a mooring close to us. At about two o'clock in the morning, we awoke to the noise of powerful engines revving close by. It was the US Coastguard lifeboat, maneouvring around this new boat. With the combination of a strong tide and a strong wind, the boat had got it's mooring line wrapped around it's keel. After much maneouvring, the lifeboat took the yacht in a alongside tow and dropped it off at the yacht club dock in a neat piece of boat handling.

The next day, we contacted the yacht club to ask if it was all right for us to remain on the mooring. We were told it was all right, and the cost was $30 a night (bear in mind this is in October - off season!). Then we were told that we were too big for the mooring and we had to leave. Now Portsmouth is not really boat friendly, unless you already happen to have a mooring there. Every available anchoring spot either has moorings in it or lobster pots. And due to the bad weather, the lobstermen had brought in a lot of their pots from offshore and set them in the river.

We called several marinas in Portsmouth. One of them had no room, either in their berths or on their moorings, another had vacant moorings, but they were upstream of a bridge we couldn't get under, and another had vacant berths, but they were actually outside of Portsmouth, and the seas were breaking over their breakwater - also their rate was $2.90 a foot per day, off season!! So we decided to call the coastguard, in the small hope that they would be able to tell us something. As we expected, they were completely unhelpful (the US Coastguard are completely unlike the UK Coastguard - if you're sailing in US waters, don't expect help from them, they won't tell you anything, for fear of litigation). However, the chap who ran the pump-out boat overheard our conversation, and came down the river to investigate.

It turned out that he knew the manager of another marina just upstream of the first lifting bridge that definitely had space. So we let go the mooring, and powered upstream, battling with the four knot current, passed the US Naval Base, where they work on their submarines, and tied up at Harbour Place Marina.

The pump-out chap, Ken Anderson, was also the Captain of a large tour boat that did trips up and down the river, and another, smaller tour boat, a salvage boat, he did some work on the tugs, and also co-owned a tourist fishing boat. He became a very good friend in the six days that we stayed there, and we got to take a couple of trips up the river, learning about the history of the port.

However, time was getting on, and the end of October was approaching. Fortunately, there was a spell of light winds from the west and calm seas. We seized the opportunity to leave and had a good sail and motor-sail down to Plymouth. There we were lucky to be approached by a couple who ran the marina and who had owned a Colin Archer. They saw us coming in and offered us a free mooring. They wanted us to stay, but we had told people in Martha's Vineyard that we were heading down, and we didn't want to waste the calm weather.

So the next day we left the landing place of the Pilgrims, and had a good sail down to the Cape Cod Canal. Transitting the Canal was more exciting than it had been going north, as we met two tugs and barges going the other way. As our luck would have it, we managed to meet both the barges at bridges, making the maneouvring room rather limited. We made it through the Canal unscathed, however, and motor-sailed to Hadley's Harbour.

There most of the moorings we'd seen in August had been winterised, meaning that the buoys had been lifted and replaced by large sticks. We anchored in the same as we had before and relaxed.

The next day was beautiful, so we stayed in Hadley's Harbour, tidying up the boat and destressing. When it was time to weigh anchor and sail to Martha's Vineyard, the weather changed, and became rather chilly and rainy. The wind was from the east, meaning that we couldn't sail.

We entered Vineyard Haven and found it rather quiet when compared to what it had been in August. The moorings behind the breakwater were almost as full as ever, but we spotted friends amongst them and soon picked up a mooring near to the Scottish Zulu "Violet", owned by our friends Gary and Kristi Maynard.

We had arrived in Martha's Vineyard just in time. Hurricane Wilma, after having caused havoc down south, made her way up the east coast, and reinforced a depression just south of Martha's Vineyard. The situation was compounded by Tropical Depression Alpha being absorbed by Wilma. The depression passed right over Martha's Vineyard and Cape Cod, before heading out to sea. We didn't actually encounter Wilma and Alpha, merely their effects, but we still had hurricane force winds from the north east. Unfortunately, the north east is the only direction that Vineyard Haven is not protected from - the wind blows straight into the harbour. The breakwater provided some protection, but the wind and seas were so strong that they were breaking clean over the breakwater, showering the closest boats in sheets of spray.

We had a small fibreglass boat in front of us that sailed about all over the place, and was only attached to the mooring by a small cleat. We spent the two days of the blow desperately hoping that the boat wouldn't break free. Fortunately, everything was fine - in fact, no boat broke free or was damaged in any way - and after the second day, the wind subsided. We were lucky in that the wind had been more from the north-north-east as opposed from the north-east, and so had been slightly protected by the breakwater, even though it wasn't very high at high tide, due to the tide being held in.

I was very lucky in that the weather was clear and sunny for my birthday, and "Swn Y Mor" was taken in to the Gannon & Benjamin dock to allow people to come aboard for the party. Somehow we managed to get twelve people in the wheelhouse without anyone being in anyone else's lap, and a good time was had by all.

October ended with Halloween, which was spent with friends Don and Sheena onboard, the weather looking brighter.

posted by Heliona  # 12:37 AM

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The month of September:

Camden, where we stayed for about five days, is indeed beautiful, and full of schooners that do daysails, but I must admit that Penobscot Bay was not what I had expected. The descriptions I had read had made me imagine mountains (in fact, there are the Camden Mountains) and upon getting there, I was sorely dissapointed. For the mountains on the coast of Maine are hills. The highest of the Camden Mountains is about 1500 feet, and there are only a few of those, the rest of the area is flat. There are plenty of trees, but there are also plenty of what they call "summer cottages" which are in fact mansions that people from Florida and other souther states spend about two weeks to two months in during the summer, and the rest of the year are empty. As a result, Maine isn't exactly wild. The sailing would be quite good if there weren't lobster pots everywhere, which in a boat like "Swn Y Mor" that does not maneuovre rapidly, make going anywhere a trial.

The people of Maine, however, are wonderful, and we met so many through "Swn Y Mor", and through our knowing Nat Benjamin. Anyone who is into wooden boats and thinks of Maine will probably connect the two via the "Wooden Boat" magazine, whose base is Brooklin. We ended up meeting the founder, Jon Wilson, and several of the editors, and stayed anchored off the Wooden Boat School for several days, riding out fog. Fortuitously, the day we arrived was the day of the windjammer gathering, when all the schooners that run 4, 5, or 6 day trips around Maine gather. Most of them do not have an engine, instead they have a "pusher" on davits hanging over their stern if they need power. It was a sight to see them all sailing in (for there was a reasonable amount of wind, and these schooners can shift) and anchoring under sail. They do it on the run, so to speak, as they know that the holding is very good - good, sticking mud.

After Brooklin, we sailed over to South West Harbour in Mount Desert Island. There we met Joe Snider, a recently retired astrophysicist, who very kindly gave me a very interesting book, "Black Holes and Time Warps." It was whilst we in South West Harbour that we got a phone call from Pam Benjamin, to say that they were going to be in Benjamin River, on Eggemoggin Reach (not far from Brooklin). So we turned around and met up with them on "When & If." The "When & If" had been sold and this was their farewell sail. They were sailing the schooner to Vinalhaven, a large island in Penobscot Bay, so that Ross Gannon, Nat's partner at Gannon & Benjamin Boatyard, could get married onboard, before "When & If" was delivered to her new owner in New York. We joined the fleet at the wedding, and met up with lots of ours friends from Vineyard Haven. We also met Peter Chase, who had owned a Galway Hooker for a time, before selling it back to an Irishman.

After the wedding, we decided to head "Down East" again, as they say, but the lobster pots defeated us, and we turned back, to anchor in a harbour called Winter's Harbour, a delightful little place. There we stayed for two days whilst the weather was bad, and then we decided that we couldn't stand anymore of dodging lobster pots, and turned west. We sailed to Rockland, where we met up with Lance Lee, the brother of Todd Lee, who we'd met in May on Man-o-War Cay in the Bahamas. We also met several other people, through Lance, many of whom had worked at Gannon & Benjamin, and knew the same people we did.

posted by Heliona  # 12:35 AM

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The month of August:

We finally tore ourselves away from Mystic and sailed to Block Island, which is basically one large pond absolutely chocked full of boats. It was amazing. Jill had a rather uneventful birthday there, and the next day we sailed for Cutty Hunk, the western-most of the Elizabeth Islands.

As we were approaching Cutty Hunk, we saw a sight that was to become a regular one - two large gaff-rigged schooners, one with a square sail, sailing into the harbour. We arrived not long after, and anchored beside them. They were "Alabama" and "Shenandoah" (not "Shenandoah of Sark" I might add) out of Vineyard Haven, Martha's Vineyard. Onboard were tens of young teenagers, scrambling all over the rigging, and jumping in the water.

The next day, we sailed for Vineyard Haven. It was rather foggy as we were sailing, and about halfway there, out of the mist came this white shape. Another schooner, this time smaller and obviously a yacht. They were beating to windward as we were sailing downwind. Before long, we identified her as "Juno", the schooner that had sailed into Anguilla with Nat and Pam Benjamin onboard.

The weather cleared as they passed and we waved and continued on our way to Vineyard Haven. As we rounded the notorious West Chop, the wind had picked up considerably and was blowing right out of the bay, as it was wont to do, and we were considering taking down our topsail when another schooner, this time black, sailed towards us. It was "When & If," the Alden schooner commisioned by General Patton, and part-owned by Nat Benjamin and his partner, Ross Gannon.

Again, we passed and waved, and then tacked our way into the bay. We did a tour of the bay before anchoring. Vineyard Haven has more wooden boats in the water than I have seen anywhere else, mainly thanks to the hard work of Gannon & Benjamin Boatyard, for at least half of the boats, mainly daysailers, were built by them. In amongst them was "Violet," now sadly without her mainmast, as it had come down on the trip back from Mystic, fortunately very close to home, and with harming anyone, and minimal damage to the boat.

We anchored and soon found ourselves invited ashore for dinner by "Violet"'s owners, Gary and Kristi, and their two children, Kinsman and Clara. The next day, we got in touch with Pam Benjamin, who told us to tie up to the end of the Gannon & Benjamin dock. So we moved, and ended up staying there for three weeks.

Vineyard Haven is an amazing place, at least for wooden boat people, thanks to Gannon & Benjamin and the crowd of people associated with the boatyard. We were there for almost all of August, the busiest month in terms of tourists, and still enjoyed ourselves immensely. We made some great friends, who did their best to convince us to winter the boat there. There was some confusion over whether that was possible, but eventually everything was sorted out, and a berth was sorted, so in November, Swn Y Mor will be nestled safely in Vineyard Haven, alongside some great friends of ours, Don and Sheena.

I was perfectly willing never to leave Vineyard Haven, as the presence of young people interested in building and sailing wooden boats was novel to me, but Warren and Jill were getting restless and as the third week of August came, we decided to head north.
We didn't get far, however, before we had to wait out weather. Fortunately, we didn't waste time, and got some varnishing of blocks done. Then we made our way through the Cape Cod Canal and up to Provincetown. The next day, upon leaving Provincetown, we had to pull a boat off the beach, where he had grounded, and then sailed up to Isles of Shoals. On our passage, we crossed Stelwagon Bank, famous for whale-watching, and saw several whales. Upon reaching Isles of Shoals, half of which are in Maine, the lobster pots, that we had been encountering since leaving Provincetown, increased exponentially. We had been warned that Maine is full of lobster pots, but no matter how many people tell you, it has to be seen to be believed.

After Isles of Shoals (which the guidebook described as being spectacular, but are in fact just boring granite rocks one of which has a very ugly hotel on it) we sailed up to Jewel Island, in Casco Bay. There, again, the lobster pots got more numerous. Jewel Island was a very pleasant overnight stay, and the next day we left to head for Boothbay Harbour, where we had been given a contact at a boatyard. The weather was not nice: it was blowing quite hard, and cold, and foggy, and there was quite a large swell. In combination with the lobster pots, it was extremely unpleasant, as Jill and I had to be outside the wheelhouse windows all the time, telling Warren if he was about to go over a pot. This left little, if any, time for navigation, or anything else, and it wasn't until we reached deeper water and luckily the fog cleared, that we got anything to eat, after Jill and I had been standing outside for at least four hours.

Boothbay Harbour is a nightmare to get into, not because of submerged rocks, but because the lobster fishermen set pots throughout the harbour and amongst the moorings. We were shocked. Naturally in the UK such a thing would not happen, as they are an obvious hazard to navigation, but in Maine, lobster is king.

We stayed in Boothbay for several days, until the end of the month,waiting for the remnants of Hurricane Katrina to pass by, before heading into Penobscot Bay, which is known as amazing cruising area and to be spectacularly beautiful.

posted by Heliona  # 12:34 AM

Monday, August 01, 2005

The month of July:

July the Fourth is obviously a major cause for celebration in the USA, and during the days leading up to the Fourth, every night we saw fireworks on the horizon. As is always the case with Swn Y Mor, she made us some interesting friends, one whom owned an old Alaskan fishing boat beautifully altered into a yacht.

The transit of the Chesapeake-Delaware Canal was made without incident, and the trip down the Delaware was uneventful - the day was lovely and sunny, without a breath of wind. We arrived at Cape May Harbour for the Fourth of July, however that night there was low, dense cloud, and thus the fireworks were not particularly impressive. All we saw was red, green, blue, and orange glows in the sky.

We kept moving and were in Atlantic City the next day. On the sail up, we passed a small steel schooner called "Delight" with a single-hander, David, onboard. From Atlantic City, we went to Sandy Hook, and then the next day we sailed (or rather motored) into New York City. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't particularly nice, and we were bundled up rather well, however the Manhattan skyline was still impressive. The absence of the Twin Towers was remarkably noticable, though. We didn't stop in New York, instead making our way through Hell's Gate. As per the usual Scott style, we timed it completely wrong, and ended up fighting the maximum tide. For us, it wasn't a problem, but for "Delight," whose engine was only small, it was tough, but fortunately he made it through.

We stayed in City Island for several days, getting shopping and laundry done, and also buying some charts for Long Island up to Rhode Island, and the East Coast from Rhode Island up to Canada (but not including it, as these were American charts). Along with the charts came a program for the computer, which allowed you to access the charts electronically, and if you could interface with your GPS, have a chart plotter. Once we got our laptop connection working, this came in very handy.

After City Island, we visited Oyster Bay, and Teddy Roosevelt's home at Sagamore Hill, which was very interesting. We didn't stay long around Long Island, however, as everywhere there are moorings which cost up $50 a day for and make it difficult to anchor.

Soon we were motoring into the Thimble Islands, which are a group of granite islands off the Connecticut coast. What is amazing about these islands is that despite having hardly any topsoil, trees grow there abundantly, and on every rock there is at least one house, literally. We stayed there two days, surrounded by fog, and left in fog. The air was so damp that all our doors swelled up and anyone in the heads was in danger of getting stuck in there. We made our way to Fishers Island, just off Mystic, in fog, and then, miraculously, the next day it cleared. In lovely sunshine, we drifted into Mystic and made our way up the river. Last time we were there, eighteen years ago, there was plenty of places to anchor, but now, that has changed dramatically. Fortunately, we managed to anchor, fore-and-aft, just out of the channel, having arrived a day before the Mystic Seaport Antique and Classic Boat Rendevous started.
The next day we moved up to the museum and tied up, and registered. The last time we'd been at the museum I had been five, and had only vague memories of the museum, which is essentially a small village set up with blacksmiths' shops, riggers' shops, and everything else a small old shipping town would have, including two large square riggers: "Joseph Conrad" and "Charles W Morgan".

Tied opposite us was a unique boat - "Violet," a Scottish Zulu rebuilt and restored by Gary Maynard and his wife Kristi. Naturally, two double-ended workboats (in fact the only two workboats of the whole fleet) got along famously and within minutes of Gary nearly setting fire to the dock with his barbecue, we felt like we'd known each other for years. They live on Martha's Vineyard, and were fairly insistent on us visiting The Vineyard, as they call it. As we had already promised Nat Benjamin and his wife, Pam, that we would, we were doubly bound to visit.

We ended up staying in Mystic for nearly two weeks, as we had met some very interesting people, one of whom was Tim Macgennis, the editor of the Journal of the Sea for the Maritime Institute of Ireland. He had ties with Stephen Jones, who owned a small boatyard in Mystic, and was over visiting as it was the fortieth anniversary of the circumnavigation of the South African boat "Sandefjord", a Colin Archer that Tim had crewed on during the circumnavigation. Upon meeting Tim, we discovered that we had many mutual friends amongst the Irish wooden boating fraternity and had in fact been in the same place at the same time, but had never met.

Whilst we were in Mystic, we had to replace our batteries (although the ones we got as replacements seem as bad as the ones they replaced - it seems that the Americans are behind Europe on battery technology) and our outer forestay, as there was a kink in it. All it needed was actually shortening and a new fitting attached, but because it was metric wire and there was no imperial equivalent, a whole new forestay had to be ordered.

At the end of the month, we were still in Mystic, having enjoyed some famous Mystic Pizza and some wonderful outdoor concerts on the waterfront park.

posted by Heliona  # 12:33 AM

Friday, July 01, 2005

The month of June:

June dawned not very nicely. The rain came down in a torrential torrent, and the wind blew almost gale force. Fortunately, because we were in sheltered water, the waves weren't too bad, but the ICW does occasionally have to cross river mouths. We managed to cross Cape Fear River whilst the tide was flooding, and the wind was on the nose, meaning that, since we had to go up the river for a way, it was wind over tide. 3 knots of tide and 30 knots plus of wind acting in opposition in a river mouth is not a nice situation, and we got very wet. Once we were back onto the ICW the seas were better, but the wind stayed as strong. The tide was against us, because it flooded in through various inlets (trying to understand the tidal system of the ICW will give anyone a headache!) which meant that we weren't going anywhere very fast, and it was getting dark. We made it to Wrightsville Beach, NC, with daylight to spare, thank goodness, since there was nowhere else to go. The night spent there was unbelievable. The amount of water that fell out of the sky was amazing.

The next day dawned relatively clear and the wind had lessened considerably, so we weighed anchor, hoping to get as far north as we could, to get away from the front that had stalled over the Carolinas and was causing the strange weather.

It was a few days later that we had another animal encounter, this time very close up. We had left early in the morning and were making our way through a canal when I noticed a green thing on the anchor winch. Initially I thought it was a lizard, but it turned out to be a green tree frog! Later, when we hoisted the mainsail, three more appeared! How they got onboard was a bit of mystery, as the night before we had been at anchor, away from the shore, and nowhere near any trees. That night we anchored off Elizabeth City, famous for its hospitality and the "Rose Buddies." The "Rose Buddies," when we were there eighteen years ago, consisted of two gentlemen, one of whom grew roses, who gathered all the cruisers visiting the City together every evening, gave the ladies a rosebud, and had a general chat. This time round, only one of the gentlemen was left, Fred, now in his nineties, but he still came down every evening with his roses. We tied up to the free dock the next morning, and managed to get rid of all the frogs - final count was seven!

After a few enjoyable days in Elizabeth City, we made our way up the Dismal Swamp Canal, which, despite its name, is beautiful. It takes two days to transit the canal and on our journey we saw huge butterflies, hundreds of dragonflies, and even a ground hog-like animal.

The Dismal Swamp Canal comes out just before Norfolk, Virginia, where the US Navy keep many of their ships. Getting through Norfolk was interesting, to say the least, as there are numerous lifting bridges, and tugs and barges all vying for river space.

Finally, though, we were in the Chesapeake Bay and were able to sail. Our aim was to be in St Michaels for the Father's Day weekend, as they had an Antique and Classic Boat Festival that weekend, and friends of ours were involved. We had tied up to our friends' dock eighteen years ago, when their children were the same age as me, and again we joined them at the end of their dock for two weeks. The Boat Show was a success, the weather was glorious, and our friends won a prize. Our friend, Ebby DuPont, is also heavily involved in the Chesapeake Bay Log Canoe races, racing his own log canoe, "Island Lark." The first races of the season were to be held the weekend after the boat show. Naturally we stayed for that spectacle, and the weather was brilliant for the two days of racing. The first day had strong winds, and second was calm in the morning, with a bit of a breeze in the afternoon. "Island Lark" showed everyone her heels, and won overall that weekend, with two firsts and second, so we were all happy.

After that, we decided that we had better get moving, as we had spent two lovely weeks in Harris Creek and St Michaels, but as we wanted to be in Mystic Seaport, Conneticut for the July 23-24 weekend for the Classic Boat Rendevous there, we had leave.

posted by Heliona  # 12:32 AM

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The month of May:

In the end, we decided that the front we had been waiting to go through wasn't ever going to do so, and left Nassau for the Abacos. We had an extremely pleasant night's sailing, although there were a few thunderstorms around, and arrived at Lynyard Cay thoroughly happy. There we met a family from Brussells who had just caught a huge dorado and gladly gave us some. That night a huge thunderstorm passed right above us, with strong winds. Fortunately, our trusty anchor was well in, and we rode the storm safely.

From Lynyard, we spent our time dawdling through the Abacos, sailing from waypoint to waypoint amongst the shoals and arrived in Man-O-War Cay, a place that was once the stage for a dramatic scene in my life. The last time we visited Man-O-War, I managed to do a 180 in bed, and then launch myself out, landing with my head on a wedge, splitting it and spilling blood everywhere! (Now you know why I am the way I am!) This time our visit to Man-O-War was somewhat less stressfull! As soon as we had negotiated the tight entrance, a chap in a lovely boat told us to follow him to a good mooring. The chap, Tod Lee and his wife, Charlotte, were as friendly as could be and treated us very well. They own a delightful little house on the waterfront called the "Owl's Nest" that Tod built himself (it's for rent if any of you want to head over to Man-O-War, possibly the nicest island in the Bahamas!). We met dozens of interesting people whilst we stayed in Man-O-War but finally, after a week, we had to move on.

After leaving Man-O-War, we didn't dawdle, and were soon leaving the Bahamas for Florida, and the United States of America. Crossing the Gulf Stream was easy as we were going the right way. Anyone going to the Bahamas would have been beating into a rather horrible sea. As it was, we had a great sail.

We knew we had arrived in Florida when we saw a Stars and Stripes planted in the garden of every huge house on the waterfront. Checking in was remarkably easy, although I did get blisters right away from actually wearing shoes! We had our first hamburgers in a lovely bar/restaurant, and I was introduced to American portions. I could eat one meal a day in the US and be perfectly happy!

Now we are on our way up the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), and I have to say: Florida is really rather boring. It's flat, very flat, and marshy. There's not much to see apart from humungous houses that never seem to have anybody in them. In fact, the only people we've seen are other boaters, and, on land, gardners, roofers, dock builders etc. Not a single houseowner! Oh, apart from fishermen. Because apparently, all anybody ever does in Florida is speed around in fast cars/boats and fish! That's if they go outside at all. Most houses that we've seen have a huge net-like thing enclosing their swimming pool and veranda, so that bugs, birds, sun etc don't get in. Frankly, we'll all be happier once we get into Georgia and further north. Another thing is that is really hot in Florida and very humid. Unfortunately, although with each day we're heading further north, we're also getting further into summer, so it's going to get hotter anyway!

One thing I will say for the Floridian Intracoastal is that there is plenty of wildlife. We've seen numerous manatee, dolphins, cranes and herons of all sizes, egrets, osprey, seagulls, terns, a flamingo, another singing bird that was a brilliant scarlet with a crest, and a raccoon (obviously the last was actually on the shoreline!). Of course, there are the lesser appreciated wildlife too, like mosquitos, no-see-ums and some large cleg-like flies that really bite well. Such is life!

After Florida the next state along the way is Georgia, and our first stop there was Cumberland Island, made famous by the Carnegie family of steel fame. Actually, it wasn't Andrew Carnegie (who was in fact a Scot) but his brother, Thomas, and his family who built summer homes (otherwise known as mansions!) on the island. It is now a national park reserve. Ashore we saw feral ponies, squirrells, and a tree frog that leapt at Warren from out of a box and nearly gave him a heartattack. It was there that we identified the scarlet bird with a crest as a red cardinal.

From there we only travelled a short way through Georgia on the Intracoastal, since there was a bridge not operating just south of Savannah, so we went "outside" and did an over-nighter to Charleston, South Carolina. The next morning, a tornado formed just to the east of Charleston, and was heading our way, which was rather terrifying, but fortunately it dissipated before it reached Charleston. Whilst travelling along the ICW through the Carolinas, we managed to spot a puma swimming across in front of us, an alligator (a big one too, it must have been at least 5 feet long), and several terrapins resting on logs and rocks by the side of the canal. One thing I can for the ICW, we've seen a lot of animals.

posted by Heliona  # 12:31 AM

Sunday, May 01, 2005

The month of April:

We arrived in Luperon, on the north coast of the Domincan Republic after having sailed straight there from Puerto Rico, crossing the notorious Mona Passsage with great ease. There was no wind and the sea was like a pancake. The crossing was made more interesting by me spilling a glass of water onto my laptop and then attempting to take it apart to dry it. Whilst Mum and I were putting it back together - a rather difficult process as the lid was up, the laptop had to be held upside down and kept steady - the US Coastguard came alongside. Dad was down below at the time, and the first we knew about it was Alessandra looking around for the source of the male voice! I had a bit of a panic, since my shorts were hanging out the window to dry from the water-spilling incident, and I had to get them on in double quick time whilst hanging onto the laptop. However, I was decent by the time they boarded!

Arriving in Luperon was interesting, since we didn't really have a proper chart, and the endtrance involves basically going in through the breakers. Fortunately, it was daylight when we arrived. Luperon is an inlet amongst the mangroves, with several shallow areas and an ideal hidey-hole from hurricanes. That is, if there were less boats in it. When we were there about a hundred boats surrounded us, almost all American, but we had it on good authority that during a hurricane scare there would be up to three hundred boats - far too many for it to be safe. There was a little community of boats there, Americans who had made it down from Florida and thought they'd made it, since the Dominican Republic is cheap and warm. We found the community slightly cliquey though, and didn't feel hugely welcome by most of them (although, as my parents pointed out, the younger men were perfectly happy to talk to them, probably due to the presence of myself and Alessandra!).

Checking into the Dominican Republic, at least in Luperon, was a very expensive process - for the four of us it cost over US$100! And they all wanted US money. We were very lucky that I had been paid in US money, otherwise we would have had hardly any.

We stayed there for just the weekend, and got a chance to see some of the surrounding countryside by going horseback riding. We spent some five hours in the saddle, trotting, cantering, and even galloping across fields and up and down mountains. It was a very enjoyable experience, and one we would recommend to anyone who visits Luperon. The guy who ran the ranch was an extremely interesting man called Mario (the ranch was Mario's Ranch, if ever you go there, ask for it, I'm sure you'll get pointed in the right direction) who knew all sorts of things about the countryside in which we rode. I must admit though, all of us were rather sore for quite a long time afterwards!

From Luperon we left the Dominican Republic behind and sailed straight for the Bahamas, unfortunately bypassing the Turks & Caicos. We were sorry to do that, but we knew that upon entering the Bahamas we would need to buy a cruising permit for US$300, and wanted to spend as much time as we could cruising the islands on our way to Nassau. Arriving in Georgetown, in the Exumas, was rather nerve-racking, as we had to enter a small cut in the reef. Fortunately, it was a calm day, so there were no distracting breakers! I called out when I could see the bottom. Dad wouldn't believe me, since the depth sounder read 17 metres. It's been a while since we've been in such clear waters! Naturally, the rain came in just as we were approaching the harbour, so we just dropped anchor and waited. Eventually it cleared, and then we got to swim in beautiful crystal clear water.

We spent a good few days in Georgetown, waiting for the weather to clear properly so that we could head north. At point we collected a friend. A five foot barracuda decided that underneath our boat was his favourite spot. Alessandra and Dad went in the water to have a look at him, but Mum and I decided that the safest place was on the boat, although I got into the dinghy and had a look through my mask.

Once the weather broke, we headed north, having a great sail and managing to get through a cut in the reef to get on to the Bahama Bank safely and without fuss. After that, the weather was fine, and we had some great gentle sails in shallow water. We visited the famous Thunderball Cay at Staniel Cay, where the James Bond film Thunderball had its climax. We'd been there many years before and I had vague memories of it, but it was definitely worth seeing again. It is a natural cave with a hole in the roof and two entrances, so that you can swim in one end, get into the grotto in the middle, where the fish hound you to feed them, and then swim out the other. We went at near high water, so you either had to dive down to get in, or else just scrape through along the top of the water, depending on what entrance you were going in. We had also brought stale bread, and I was nearly eaten by the schools of sergeant major fish that swarmed all over me to get at the bread. Outside the grotto, there are numerous crevices that you can swim through. We stayed for quite a while, and whilst the tide was going down, more holes opened up around the grotto, enabling us to explore more. It was definitely an experience, and the fish were so tame and some were really large.

After Staniel, where we met up with some friends of ours who we hadn't seen in eighteen years, we sailed up to Allans Cay and Leaf Cay, which are famous for their iguanas. The water was beautiful and Dad went for a snorkel. The coral was magnificent and he even managed to hitch a brief ride on a turtle!

We soon were sailing over Grand Bahama Bank for Nassau, as we had to be there for the end of April, and the weather looked like it was closing in again. We ended up staying there for a week, which was dreadful. Nassau is not the place to stay a week on your boat. Alessandra left safely and got back home in one piece, ready for another adventure, this time in Mongolia!

posted by Heliona  # 12:30 AM

Friday, April 01, 2005

The month of March:

Sorry it's been so long!

After we left Martinique, we sailed north, finally having some good sails along the lee shores of Martinique, Dominica, and Gaudaloupe, although the crossings of the channels were rather bumpy! From Guadaloupe, we sailed to Montserrat, the island whose southern volcano erupted in the mid-1990s, engulfing the main town of Plymouth. (You may remember it on the news.) We sailed on the lee side of Montserrat, right past the volcano, which was still smoking. The smell of sulphur was quite bad, making us think that our tomato sandwiches tasted of eggs! We anchored at the northern end of the island, where the inhabitants now live, since the southern end is still dangerous. It was strange sailing past a town that's half buried. Further out from the main area of devastation, all the houses are abandoned. It was a ghost town.

From Montserrat it was on to St Kitts and Nevis, and then on to St Martin, where we were hoping to arrive for the Heineken Regatta, a sailing event at the beginning of March. We met some friends there, and due to some good luck and the fact that we have a classic wooden yacht, managed to get crewing places on a beautiful Alden 50' schooner called "Charm III."
Unfortunately, the weather was not good for "Charm." The winds were very light, and she needs quite a good breeze to get her going. The first race was around the island of St Martin, and we managed to get around within the time limit with an hour to spare. Others didn't manage it. The next day was more exciting. We had a close encounter with a Moorings charter boat (there are several classes for the bareboats, where people charter a Beneteau and race) as their class caught up with our, and then later, near the end of the race, had an encounter with a Swan. This was due to the fact that because of the wind not being in the normal direction, our course towards the finish line went right over the start line of the Swan class. It was bad luck that we were crossing their start line just before they were due to start. Pandemonium ensued, but thankfully no-one was hurt and no boats were damaged. The last day of racing dawned with no wind, and as a result, the owner of "Charm" wisely decided not to race.

Soon after, we sailed over to Anguilla, where "Charm" was kept, to visit her owners and relax. Whilst we were there, another schooner sailed into the harbour. We went out in the dinghy and took photos, which I then burned to CD. As an introduction, we took the CD over to the anchored boat, called "Juno." The designer was onboard, Nat Benjamin, and his wife and children and grandchildren. He and a friend own a wooden boatyard in Martha's Vineyard. Nat loved "Swn Y Mor" and insisted that we visit Martha's Vineyard and call him when we arrived. Anguilla is a delightful island, and we wished that we could have spent more time there, however, a friend of ours was flying into the British Virgin Islands a week and bit later, so we had to push on.

The crossing from Anguilla to the BVIs was rather entertaining, as it was a night passage and "Swn Y Mor", clearly having spoken with "Charm", had a very close encounter with a catamaran that was motoring the other way and zig-zagging across in front of us. Later we heard that someone else had nearly hit the same catamaran later on in the night.

Whilst in the BVIs, I sailed on a charter catamaran for two weeks, as the owner had broken his toe and was pretty much incapacitated. It was fun, and I got to see all the touristy sights, but it was little hectic, especially since at the end, we had a day to get ready for the next guests. Afterwards, I rejoined "Swn Y Mor" with her new passenger, Alessandra. We met Alessandra many years ago when she was sailing with her parents across the Pacific, and we spent a lot of time with them from Malaysia up through the Red Sea and into the Mediterranean.

We left the BVIs and basically bypassed the US Virgin Islands, since they've never been our favourite place, and soon were in the much sleepier place of Culebra. After that we sailed along the south coast of Puerto Rico, visiting some nice out of the way places in amongst the mangroves. We didn't stay too long, though, as we were anxious to get to the Dominican Republic and on to the Bahamas, where Alessandra was flying out at the end of April.

posted by Heliona  # 12:27 AM

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


Hi everybody,
Have found a new and easier way to update the website, so hopefully there will be more regular updates.

Since the last update, much has happened. From the Tobago Cays, we sailed for Mayreau, which we circumnavigated before anchoring in a very quiet anchorage in the windward side. It took us about three hours, and we must have sailed about 5 miles! Ah, the hardships of sailing in the Caribbean!

Whilst we were in Mayreau, my uncle Colin texted us to say that he had some time off work, and could we get to Antigua in less than a week? As the answer was no, a compromise was made and he flew into Martinique. This meant that we spent less time in Bequia than we had planned, and left for an overnight trip to Martinique, which was thankfully uneventful, despite meeting a couple of cruise ships on their way to Barbados.

We arrived the day before Colin was due to fly, meaning that we had time to orient ourselves and find out the best way of getting him from the airport to Le Marin, where we were anchored. Le Marin is the yachting base of Martinique, and has a huge marina there. The capital of Martinique, Fort-de-France, has been redone for yachts, and is apparently no longer what it once was. We discovered that it was cheaper in the long run to rent a car for the weekend (Colin was flying in on Saturday evening) than for him to get a taxi. Because of this, we spent a lot of our time driving around Martinique. Unfortunately, it was Carnival weekend, which meant that everyone was in Fort-de-France, and thus the rest of the towns were pretty much dead. The scenery is fabulous, though. Martinique is a volcanic island, whose main volcano, Montagne Pelee is merely dormant, the last it blew being in 1902, when it killed over 30,000 people in the former capital, St Pierre.

As a result, the soil is very fertile, and because there are high mountains, Martinique gets quite a lot of rain. Everywhere we went, there were banana plants! I've never seen so many bananas in my life before! The rainforests were also amazing, and we were glad that we took the opportunity to take a look around.

After we left Martinique, we sailed for St Lucia and Rodney Bay. The next day it was a short trip down to Marigot Bay. Marigot has some memories for us, as it was there that I did most of my first swimming without armbands - in a hotel called Hurricane Hotel. Sadly, progress has hit Marigot Bay, and the hotel is no longer there. It has been knocked down and is in the process of being replaced by buildings which will house boutiques and restaurants for the Moorings charter base that lives there. When we first visited there, the Moorings were there, but on the other side of the lagoon. In fact, the photograph at the top of the page is us leaving Marigot Bay all those years ago. The sand spit hasn't changed much - the Bay is still recognisable!

We left St Lucia then, and sailed south to St Vincent, deciding to stop at Wallilabou Bay, now famous for where Port Royal in "Pirates of the Caribbean; The Curse of the Black Pearl" was filmed. Sadly, the film stars weren't there, but set decorators were, frantically getting the buildings ready for when filming is due to start in March.Unfortunately, due to the influx of boats going to Wallilabou now, after the filming, the boat boys are rather over the top, hassling you all the time, and not knowing when to go away. I must say that I was glad we went, but we won't be going back! (Although perhaps if I was escorted by Johnny Depp or Orlando Bloom I might feel slightly differently!)

From St Vincent, it was back to Bequia, where we met up with some friends from Barbados. They are four young people sailing on a beautiful wooden boat called "Amadis," who are involved in a project called "Reef Check" which takes them through the Caribbean and into the Pacific, surveying the health of coral reefs. They're a real great bunch, full of a sense of adventure, and they regularly update their website (much more than this one!). I recommend a look. It's at Then we sailed for a quick trip down to the Tobago Cays, so that Colin could get some snorkling in. After only two days there, it was back to Bequia. There was just time for a lobster pizza at Mac's Pizzeria, and a steel-band jump-up before setting sail for St Lucia, as Colin's holiday is nearly over. After an overnight stay in St Lucia, it's back to Le Marin to drop Colin off at the airport, and then it's time to head north for once and for all.

We were sad to leave, Bequia especially, as there were so many people there that we would have liked to have spent more time with, but life moves on, and we have other people to meet up with further north. Plus, "good ships and men rot in port", as they say!

posted by Heliona  # 12:25 AM

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

I am writing this from a beautiful anchorage in the Tobago Cays, St Vincent and the Grenadines, just opposite Petit Tabac, where some of "Pirates of the Caribbean; The Curse of the Black Pearl" was filmed.

We left the Canaries around the 18th December (after an awful trip down from Gibraltar - we had to run for shelter to Safi, Morocco) and after a mixed bag of weather, arrived in Barbados on the 8th January, having spent both Christmas and New Year at sea. Both days were calm, with practically no wind. However, three days out from our landfall in Barbados, we were struck by several rain squalls, which continued throughout our 10 day stay in Barbados. From Barbados, we sailed almost due west to enter the Grenadines at Bequia, a favourite place of ours. It hasn't actually changed much since the last time we were there, 16 years ago. Even people that we met there are still living on the island. After a few more days, the weather finally sorted itself out and became the usual Caribbean sunshine from sunrise to sunset.

After spending over a week in Bequia (it is a place you can get stuck in, unlike Barbados, which at night is terrible - a beach bar blasts out indescribable music until three in the morning, even the young people in the harbour didn't appreciate it), we sailed south to Cannoun. When we last visited Cannoun, there was not much on the island, but now over half of it has been bought by Italian developers and it has been made into an expensive resort. Still, it is an unmemorable place and the only reason we stopped there was because we left Bequia too late to go anywhere else. After one night in Cannoun, we sailed to the Tobago Cays, a national park that consists of four or five islands and several reefs. The diving and snorkling is meant to be fabulous, although we have not found it so. Perhaps we have been spoilt by the amazing reefs in Indonesia. One contributing factor to the poorness of the coral here is Hurricane Ivan. The Tobago Cays are not far north of Grenada, and there is no doubt that the reefs will have taken a hammering from the seas built up by the hurricane, as the water is not very deep. A lot of the coral is dead, yet regrowth can already be seen. There are numerous fish around, though, of all shapes and sizes.

Our plan is to sail around the Grenadines for a few more days before heading back to Bequia to meet up with someone, and then sail on up north to Martinique and beyond. We intend on being in St Martin for the Heineken Regatta, which is celebrating it's 25th anniversary this year, and promises to be a great gathering. After that, our vague plan is to head up the East Coast of the States. Beyond that, our options are still open.

Hope the New Year has found you all happy and healthy and contented. Take care.

Swn Y Mor

posted by Heliona  # 5:47 PM

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Just a quick note to say that we made it across the Atlantic and are now enjoying the sunshine in Bequia (ST Vincent and the Grenadines). More updates later.

posted by Heliona  # 2:48 PM

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Okay, looks like we'll be leaving for the Canaries tomorrow, so next time this is updated will probably be from there!

There's been some trouble with the Gallery, which I don't have time to sort out at the moment, since I could do with being landbased and having regular internet access to do that, so for the time being, there won't be any more photos being put up. Sorry!

Take care & happy sailing!

Swn Y Mor

posted by Heliona  # 3:54 PM

Monday, November 22, 2004

Hello everyone from Gibraltar. This hasn't been updated in ages mainly because people have been very busy, and access to the Internet is somewhat patchy down here!

So, it's now nearing the end of November. Swn Y Mor has been hauled out in Estepona, Spain, for 2 weeks, and now has a lovely new coat of paint on the bottom and topsides, and is looking rather fabulous. We've been at anchor in La Linea (just across the border from Gibraltar) for 2 weeks now, and in that time have repainted the wheelhouse and nameboards, so she's looking ready to go to a boat show!

We are hoping to leave for either Madeira or the Canaries fairly shortly (thank goodness, it's getting rather cold here!) and then to cross the Atlantic with the vague intention of a landfall in Barbados (but as you all know, plans can change at the drop of a hat!).

Sorry this is so quick, but time is money as they say. Hope everyone is keeping well and who knows where we'll be when I next type! Take care!

posted by Heliona  # 10:58 AM

Monday, June 21, 2004

Text message from Jill & Warren:

"Left Bari early but returned as it was Force 5/6 on the nose. If it continues, we may stay here."

As it turned out, they have decided to stay in Bari, as the price they were quoted (325 euros) for a month was reasonable.

They touchdown in the UK again on the 25th June in the morning.

Will keep you posted.


posted by Heliona  # 4:23 PM

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Text message from Jill & Warren:

"In Brindisi. Dead autopilot. Hopefully Bari tomorrow and Trani day after, weather etc permitting."

posted by Heliona  # 3:56 PM

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Text message from Jill & Warren:

"In Otranto and within striking distance of Trani."

posted by Heliona  # 9:10 PM
Text message from Jill & Warren:

"Leaving Corfu for Othonoi, an island just to the north. Weather changing."

posted by Heliona  # 4:20 PM


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?