Merry Christmas! The crew of the good ship Hawk wish all of you a joyous holiday season.
Our plans for some short winter sails along the southwest coast of Ireland have fallen victim to the wettest, stormiest fall in 300 years of record keeping. Of course, our sails have been with the sailmaker since October, so we couldn't have done much even if we had left the dock. As gale has succeeded gale, often with less than twelve hours between them, we've been grateful for our truly watertight boat, our efficient heater and the local library. Beth has had plenty of time to practice her Spanish, and Evans has already finished his winter work list. Despite the weather, we usually manage to walk an hour or more each day, though we've learned to always have a raincoat along or we're likely to return wet. We've been promised that the gales end here on St. Stephen's Day, the day after Christmas, known as Boxing Day in the UK. We remain skeptical, but take heart from the fact that the serious racing season begins here in February.
While cruising opportunities have been limited, Beth did get to travel around the southwest corner of Ireland with her sister, Leigh, who came to visit in the middle of November. Driving in Ireland turned out to be a major part of that adventure. Luckily, when we were in New Zealand aboard *Silk,* we bought a car and spent six months driving on the "wrong" side of the road. But driving in Ireland proved far more challenging than New Zealand. Major Irish roads average about the width of a country lane in the States, often with a deep ditch or stone wall in lieu of a shoulder. The Irish drive down the middle of the road until they see another car approaching, then they put their left tires right on the edge of the pavement when faced with a car coming in the opposite direction. Distances between the car mirrors and nearby hazards (cars in other lanes, walls, trees, bushes, etc.) are generally measured in inches. Yet the Irish cruise along at 60-70 mph, sideswiping bushes, bouncing off the edge of the road, and dodging trucks and buses coming the other way. Just to add spice to the proceedings, a line of stopped cars can lurk around every sharp curve due to the endless roadwork. Driving in Ireland could be characterized as tense. It's especially brutal on the passenger, who has to learn to suppress the almost constant gasps of terror as the side of the road whizzes by a few inches from the fender in front of them.
Despite the hazards, Ireland's tremendous natural beauty makes it well worth a visit. The high cliffs and windswept headlands along the Atlantic coast are a haven for bird life and offer incredible vistas at every turn. Four thousand year old beehive huts made of stone dot the headlands on the Dingle Peninsula, attesting to the span of human habitation on these wild coasts. The rugged mountains of Killarney National Park, the highest peaks of which were snow-covered when we visited, surround a series of alpine lakes. Even when it rains, the ever-changing clouds and light create rainbows around every corner.
Clinton has been greeted on his visit here like the Pope, with running commentary on the radio from the time his plane came into Irish airspace. His visit has focused on attempting to restart the peace process in Northern Ireland, and indeed there has been violence in the North while we've been here. Just today, the police arrested two men and found an activated bomb in the car they were driving through the middle of Belfast. The entire dispute seems intractable, and yet "the Troubles," as the Irish refer to the long-running battle over Northern Ireland, are as remote to us here as they would be in the States. It involves only the northern part of the country, and most of the Irish we talk to don't care much either way what happens to Northern Ireland. Economically stagnant, the North will be a drag on whoever ends up with it; a reason, several people have suggested, why England would just as soon be done with it. But small minorities on either side keep the fighting alive and hold the rest of the North hostage.
Our winter in Ireland will speed by far too quickly, of that there's no doubt. We will be underway in the spring as soon as the weather patterns have moderated, hopefully by mid- to late-March. We plan to sail up the west coast of Ireland, the part we never got to last year, and from there we'll spend a bit more time in Scotland. By mid-June, we hope to be headed for Iceland by way of the Faroes. Then our plan is to run all the way down the Atlantic, from Iceland to the Azores to the Canaries to Uruguay, and end up in Patagonia by this time next year. It will be an exciting year, the culmination of all of our planning since we first started seriously planning to sail away again. We look forward to sharing it with you.
Stay warm and healthy, and enjoy the spirit of the season. Beth and Evans s/v Hawk Kinsale, Co. Cork, Ireland