24 December 2012 | Dry land - St. Lucia
17 December 2012 | Atlantic Ocean
15 December 2012 | Atlantic Ocean
13 December 2012 | Atlantic Ocean
12 December 2012 | Atlantic Ocean
10 December 2012 | Atlantic Ocean
08 December 2012 | Atlantic Ocean
07 December 2012 | Atlantic Ocean
05 December 2012 | Atlantic Ocean
05 December 2012 | Atlantic Ocean
03 December 2012 | Atlantic Ocean
30 November 2012 | Atlantic Ocean
28 November 2012 | Atlantic Ocean, 150NM SW of Gran Canaria
25 November 2012 | Las Palmas, Gran Canaria
25 November 2012 | Las Palmas, Gran Canaria
23 November 2012 | Las Palmas, Gran Canaria
19 November 2012 | Las Palmas, Gran Canaria
13 November 2012 | Portugal to Gran Canaria
22 October 2012 | Vilamoura
15 October 2012 | Vilamoura
The final blog
24 December 2012 | Dry land - St. Lucia
Well, it's been an trip of a lifetime and we are now enjoying and adjusting to life on dry land.
Having finally picked up the wind again with 250 miles to go, we had a great last 24 hours sail with following winds and waves pushing us ever closer to St. Lucia.
On Monday evening we had our first sight of land - Barbados - despite the cries from the cockpit of 'land ahoy' and the temptation to pop in for a rum punch when only 20 miles away, we sailed on through the night and by 3AM had our first sight of St. Lucia (or rather the lights of St. Lucia).
As the sun rose we were able to make out buildings on the island and for the first time in almost three weeks we started to hear other voices over the radio. At about 10AM local time (2PM UTC) on the 18th December we rounded Pigeon Island (the rocky outcrop actually attached to the northern tip of St Lucia) and the ARC finish line was sighted.
We were expecting a small welcoming committee on land but as we approached the ARC finish line we were approached by a water taxi making a huge amount of noise! As they got closer we realised that Lizzie, Alexis, Zoe, Debs, Viv, Pat & John were onboard and had come out (complete with Union Flags and foghorns) to see us across the line - they were joined by another boat that we'd got to know (Wife of Pi) and they both, along with the Arc finish line team, set off simultaneous fog horn blasts as we crossed the line at 10:15AM local time.
The welcome from there got louder and louder - as we dropped sails for the final time and motored into harbour the cheers and fog horns of our two support boats were joined by those of nearly every ARC yacht in the marina. A bugler played from the pontoon and having acquired a berth for the boat we moored up and stepped onto dry land for the first time in almost exactly three weeks - welcomed by family, friends and a glass of rum punch!
Having decamped from the boat to the houses that had been rented and in which our support crew had been staying, the next 24 hours was a reminder of life's luxuries - hot showers, proper beds and a steak dinner to welcome us back. Since then we've been able to adjust to dry land and the St. Lucian way of life as well as enjoy the sandy beaches and a trip across the island through many of the little island villages to the Rabot Estate and the original Hotel Chocolat (there's actually a hotel).
The final ARC activity was the prize giving ceremony on the 21st December - along with a healthy dose of rum punch, prizes were given away for everything from the fastest crossing to the oldest skipper (81 if you were curious!). Canapesia even got a mention and a moment on stage as we picked up a bottle of rum for being one of the SSB radio net controllers.
Pat & John left us to fly back to the UK on the 20th December and Shane and Debs left on the 21st December for a UK visit before heading back to their home in Spain and the Mar Menor Sea School - if you ever want to learn to sail then you'd be in great hands there. You can get in touch at www.marmenorseaschool.co.uk. Finally, Keith & Zoe and Neil & Viv left on the 23rd December leaving the rest of us to enjoy a St. Lucian Christmas and a few more days holiday before returning to normality.
Life on the boat seems an awfully long time ago despite it being less than a week since we crossed the finish line. As mentioned before, it's been one hell of an adventure and whilst there were moments of hardship and loneliness the overwhelming feeling is one of happiness at having achieved what we set out to do and, whilst easier than ever before thanks to modern technology, something that very few people can say that they've done.
We hope you've enjoyed the blogs and at sea updates - thank you for all your emails and blog & Facebook comments.
Happy Christmas and as they say on the ship's radio: Canapesia Out!
The beginning of the end...
17 December 2012 | Atlantic Ocean
As I write, we are 160 miles away from St. Lucian shores and, assuming we keep the winds we have, by lunch time tomorrow (4PM London time) we should be on dry land.
It's been another interesting few days. As expected, by Thursday evening last week we finally lost our wind and despite our best efforts to sail through into Thursday night it was clear that we weren't going anywhere fast! Our dilemma however was that with 450 miles to go we only had enough fuel for 160 odd miles - how to keep moving as much as we could without running the engine dry?
Our decision was to head south; whilst adding 80-100 miles to our journey we knew that our fuel situation dictated that we needed wind as quickly as possible. All the forecasts that we'd received suggested 36-48 hours of calm but winds then slowly returning from the south. Having made this decision we finally admitted defeat with the sails on Friday afternoon and turned on our engine. By reducing our RPM we managed to motor throughout the rest of Friday, all of Saturday and the early hours of Sunday morning.
During this calm period we had time to winch Neil up the mast to re-run the halyard to the Parasailor that had been cut in the squall a few days prior as well as fix one or two other things on board, it was a chance too to get a little more sleep than normal as only one person at a time was required on watch.
Having headed as far south as we felt we could (south of St. Lucia at this point) we turned west again, finally come Sunday morning we felt we had just enough wind to hoist the Parasailor and get sailing again - whilst it has almost been our downfall previously the Parasailor was certainly our saviour this time. We managed to fly the Parasailor through the night (this time without any drama) and are now enjoying what we hope is our last full day at sea - we are all very ready for dry land.
Our first sighting of land may in fact not be St. Lucia but Barbados, our southerly route means that we will pass within 20 miles of the island, once we pass Barbados though we will know that we're within 12 hours of St. Lucia.
It's been an eventful and unforgettable three weeks at sea (plus the week before in Las Palmas and the extra week at sea for Gary, Keith and Neil from Portugal to Las Palmas). We've all had moments of loneliness, terror and hilarity and days with nothing to do but look at the sea through to days that are non stop and full of action - hopefully the blogs have helped share a little of what we've been up to.
We will send another update once we're on dry land and settled back into a 'normal' routine. For now though, another 24 hours or so at sea, long overdue reunions with loved ones and a hot shower await.
It's been one hell of an adventure!
Time and tide wait for no man
15 December 2012 | Atlantic Ocean
The final Count Down
A lot of personnel planning has to go along side making sure the integrity of the boat is sufficient for the task. The crossing itself would take about 3 weeks and because of sleeping and working shift patterns I figured 5 people would be the optimum number. Allowing for two people to be on watch through out this would mean our 3 double berths would be sufficient working split shifts of say 3 hours each. (Eventually this system was used on the crossing but we changed the pattern of who started in the evening so that everyone would have ample day time to relax). We could then use a system known as hot bedding. Therefore since only one person would sleep in a double bed at any one time we could use half of each bed for pre-boxed food or other storage. Further since we would be an all male crew (having a female on board would have made too many compromises) we were therefore able to use the second bathroom for storage also. In this case for spare sails and bottled water. Ultimately every dry floor compartment and crevice would be utilised for storage.
The (ARC) crossing organisers arrange meetings and demonstration at Las Palmas from two weeks before the event starts and with about 250 boats taking part local accommodation has to be pre-booked. We would need some accommodation in Las Palmas for the crew since not everyone would a have bed as indicated above. However, as we did not have a fixed date this would be done nearer the time of departure. Likewise, the Marina at Rodney Bay in St Lucia becomes a sea of some of the finest yachts in the world and many tourist turn up to view both the beginning and the end. So it fell upon Lizzie and I, just after Alexis and Dan's wedding in October 2011, to check out suitable accommodation for ourselves, the crew and their partners as well as some of our friends in St Lucia. Being over a year early we were able to find two wonderful adjacent town houses overlooking the bay and marina which we booked for the month of December, 2012.
The delays in completing the work on the boat in Vilamoura compromised a number of fixed dates we had for sea trials and personnel training. Also this caused a problem with pre-booked work holiday periods (especially for Dan, who is in full-time employment) as well as confirming who would be our skipper on the leg down to Las Palmas. In particular we were to have split the journey South into two legs allowing us to sail to Madeira, as part of our sea trial, in the late summer. A trip of about 450 miles. As this is still technically Portugal we would not need to do customs clearances etc and could have easily returned to the Algarve if need be without to much trouble. This would have left us only about 200 miles from Las Palmas. Also the trip we had to do eventually in one run, would have been less arduous that it ultimately was. This leg South also is a lot easier to do before the Autumn when head winds become more common.
There are lessons to be learned here; be busy at the start of a project rather than at the end; have the specialist approved contractors fit the key parts, this will not only give you peace of mind it will make sure that you have a warranted job with all the spares you will need, but also provide the the manufacturers guarantee to fall back on; not sorting out the problems as you go along ultimately means you have a lot of problems to fix when time is of the essence and this can lead to rash decisions being made and antagonism between all those involved.
In order to mitigate the delays we were forced to use more local labour than had been anticipated. A key activity was the installation of the electrical navigational and SSB radio together with there associated antenna and integrating this with the existing compatible equipment. Also the wind charger and PV panels, which were to be installed on the arch could not be completed until the arch was finished. The integration of these elements proved to be very problematic due to space limitations, and since Neil was the only person who knew the existing wiring and system installations, everything revolved around him. The local person involved in commissioning these electrical elements, though pleasant and seemly competent took more than a month instead of the expected week - my experience with using local ex-pat tradesmen is that they seem to always promise more than they can deliver and they purport to be able to undertake work beyond their current knowledge or experience. In this case it seemed our man needed to read the manuals a lot and we still didn't have a fully operating system by the time we left! However, our experience with the stainless steel fabricator and welder (Sergio) was very pleasant and heartwarming since he could not have done a better job in such difficult circumstances. He was very inventive and thorough in his approach and even worked on his days off to complete work and get us away as soon as possible
The lack of proper sea trials with our new equipment meant that any problems would need to be fixed during the trip South (which in itself would be an open Atlantic sea run of 650 miles) or during the short time we had in Las Palmas! This brings to mind a journey I had with Jon Linbergh, the youngest son of Charles, the first person to cross the Atlantic by air. In the run up to the 70th anniversary of this flight I got an email from Jon saying he wanted to visit his childhood home of Long Barn, in the Weald of Kent, which he had not visited since WWII. The house was owned by Vita Sackville-West at the time but Jon had no idea where it was. His family had taken refuge in England, after the kidnapping of his elder brother, to get away from the press. Through a contact at the Sevenoaks Chronical, Bob Ogley (local historian) and I kept his visit a secret until he had left. After which Bob was allowed to put out a big spread in the local paper and scooped all the nationals. As his initial host I collected Jon from Heathrow, together with his wife, and brought them back to Sevenoaks where his was reunited with Lord Sackville, who had been a boyhood friend of Jon's. We were all slightly bemused because instead of blending in with the crowd he arrived wearing a Stetson and a flying jacket, rather in the mode of the way you would have expected his father looked in his heyday. During his visit he explained that his father would have been broke had he not won the prize for his flight and although everyone remembers his transatlantic feat the most important trip was his solo flight across the USA from San Diego to get to the start line. His plane, Spirit of St Lois named after his sponsors home town, was specially built with lots of his own ideas built in, but because of delays etc he too would be taking an arduous trip in a vessel that he knew was not properly tested. His quick turn-around in New York left him little time to make further modifications before he set off on his epic journey.
With an every diminishing amount of time we would finally cast off from Vilamoura with less than 13 days to go before the start of our crossing of a further 2,800 miles. By now I had already secured the services of an experienced skipper, who would see us through the transatlantic waters. Shane Cole, a 40 year old Sailing School owner based in Mar Menor on the Spanish Coast in the Mediterranean. He and his lovely wife Debbie (also a RYA sailing instructor of repute) have run a highly successful sailing business for over 17 years. They had both been on our list of highly recommended people and although I am told that she is the better cook Shane is also a bit of a chef in the galley too. The deal was finalised on their stand at the Southampton Boat Show in September but neither one was available to help us on our first leg, especially since we had not got a final date,at that time.
The rules of the World Cruising Club say that any boat and crew that is able to take up the start in Las Palmas will be approved to take part as long as they have completed a 500 mile open sea crossing. Shane would be our insurance for this qualification and we would now all qualify should we be successful in a single down leg run. As the owner of the boat it is my responsibility to have all the ships papers and insurance etc up to date but in the absence of a skipper at the moment I was responsible for the whole crew and making sure the boat was sea worthy in every detail. We had been looking for a suitable skipper for some time. It is not always necessary to have a professional help you sail a large cruising boat but on a voyage such as this most sailing people would think it unwise for a limited experienced, part-time sailing person such as myself. The amount of detail and know-who that these professionals have is huge and just what you need at a time of crisis which can happen at any time during a long voyage. You have only to read Dan's accompanying daily blog to understand this. As I write this item I note (15th December) that about a dozen yachts have retired and a further two earlier today sent out fleet advisory notes about there perilous situation will damage/loss of equipment use and with limited amounts of essentials, and still over 500 miles from the nearest safe harbour. I say that a good skipper is more use at sea than comprehensive insurance cover.
With Keith, Neil and I as the basis of the crew and Dan and Shane not able to join us until Las Palmas, we had two spaces available for other competent sailing people to join us. The more experienced the better. We were lucky to find two experienced people to join us at short notice. Peter Bearman, a seasoned 30,000+ miles man and all-round sailor, who would compliment the crew really well, and a brash 30 something Australian called Simeon Michaels. After training as a lawyer he became a sustainability expert, ecologist, and writer. He was traveling the world writing about his adventures for his hometown newspaper in Byron Bay. His name was passed on to me by the ARC office, who have a short list of qualified people looking for places on boats to cross the Atlantic. We couldn't offer him that but gave him the opportunity to join us and ultimately get on another boat for the crossing. He had ample ocean sailing experience and was a tireless and willing worker both on land and offshore. Both joined us in Vilamoura and help get the boat ready, working tirelessly and making valuable suggestions. Unfortunately due to another delay, Peter had to leave us. We were going to sail to Madeira with another yacht "WifeofPi" owned and sailed by Enda Connellan and his good friend Kevin, and his crewman Adrian. After a good "Irish Night" together it was agreed that Peter would join them on their next leg rather than fly home direct. We parted best of friends and hope to sail together in the near future. This still left us a man short and fortunately Marco De Polonia (Mark) who though only 35 is a seasoned skipper, after having work as a lawyer in PWC. He flew in from Poland at a days notice and quickly integrated in to our team. Mark's harsh North Atlantic sailing and knowledge of the area down to Las Palmas was later to prove invaluable as we struggled to get through ferocious head winds for two and a half days.
We left Vilamoura in a rush on Monday the 12th October, almost a month after what should have been our final leaving date. But like Linbergh before us we had our date with destiny and were eager to achieve our goal. After a harrowing 7 days at sea I felt we had earned the right to cross the Atlantic. We arrived in Las Palmas as the Harbour Master was closing his office on the evening of 19th November. Both Dan and Shane were there to meet us and smooth our way through the formalities.
Our few days in Las Palmas ae now a blur of activity. With Shane, now about to enter his second ARC, taking over the role of skipper and overseeing the many remedial jobs that were required. The facilities in and around the marina are superb with the ARC team hosting a large number of events. We had a number of equipment issues to resolve with the generator, engine, SSB radio and Raymarine electronics needing specialist attention and all were resolved by the experts supplied by the manufacturers at little or no cost! In particular Jason a 17 year veteran of Raymarine showed what the system could do when other sales and authorised dealer/installer network were unsure or simply unaware. However, we managed to pass our safety inspection by the following Thursday and we duly allowed into the fleet to do the crossing. That evening we celebrated with a memorable Tapas and Beer night in the Old Town, where I was able to introduce many locals to the cork and egg tricks, winning a free beer along the way. We had worked tireless for several solid weeks and our adventure was about to begin. However, we had been dogged by electrical and battery charging problems throughout our downward leg and these were proving difficult to sort out. Since we would be at sea for about three weeks we were keen to have a workable solution for any more problems that may occur. Fortunately we found the right man. Jon Crouch, an Englishman from Kent, who currently works offering Yacht Services in Las Palmas. In the short time we had with him he was at least able to identify our problems and provide a series of solutions, whilst rendering services to other boats in urgent need of his services. It is partly through his efforts and those of many other suppliers that we were able to make the start line.
Due to bad weather, and for only the second time in 26 years the start of the main event was delayed. The racing fleet and a few others left on the due date, as the rules require in any conditions, and we were to join them two days later. However, due to a minor hiccup at the dock as we were leaving (those electrics again) we were able to cross the start line 32 minutes after the rest of the 200 odd fleet of yachts at 11.32am on Tuesday 27th November. At that moment Keith, Daniel, Neil and I, on my boat "Canapesia", became transatlantic yachtsmen.
Gary Mellon At Sea, 300 miles from The Caribbean.
The final 500!
13 December 2012 | Atlantic Ocean
It's been an interesting few days since our last update. The good news is that the rain has stopped, the wind returned and we've had a good couple of days sailing traveling at an average speed of 6 knots an hour. We had another close encounter with an ARC yacht over Monday lunch, though unlike the last one which it turns out wasn't on AIS (hence why it came so close at night), we were able to track this one from 10 miles away, identify that we were on the same course and ensure we passed at a reasonable distance (a few hundred yards). we have started to see planes in the sky above too - a sign that we are getting closer to civilisation again!
We have however had an...interesting couple of nights:
In the interests of maintaining our progress on Monday night (especially after the frustration of having little wind over the weekend) we decided to fly the Parasailor through the night. All went to plan until at about midnight when those crew asleep were woken by the biggest lurch that the boat had made yet (imagine your walls becoming your ceiling and floor). Everything down below not secured went scattering across the floor. We had been hit by a squall (impossible to see on a dark night) and whilst Shane was doing a miraculous job of keeping us upright and in one piece (we had concerns at one point that we may lose the mast), it was clear we needed to get the Parasailor down quickly. The challenge is how to get a sail down that's full of wind and pulling you along at a fair speed. We waited until we had a slight lull, Shane and Neil then up on the bow pulling the funnel down over the sail and Dan releasing the sheets from the cockpit. Unfortunately to get the sail down onto the deck having funnelled it we had to cut the halyard to the sail after it had become knotted on the winch. All in one piece thankfully (boat and crew) but no more Parasailor until we manage to get up the mast and re-run the halyard to the sail.
Tuesday night we hit not only squalls but one of the biggest swells we've had to date - 4 metres high with the odd wave even larger and crashing over the stern and into the cockpit. Neil and Shane took us through the night, rather drenched by morning. Those of us down below kept awake by enormous booms and crashes as the waves hit the boat. Two nights when we were reminded that when the wind and sea want to play there's very little that you can do but hang on!
Thankfully Wednesday night was breezy (but in the right direction) & rain free and we made good progress. We should cross the 500 mile to go mark at about 6PM today (London time) and St. Lucia whilst not in sight does feel like it is just around the corner. Nature may have one final twist in store for us though as the wind is forecast to drop again Friday lunch time and, with not quite enough fuel to motor all the way to St. Lucia if required, our arrival time is still TBC. Keep your fingers crossed for wind!
Thanks for all emails over the last few days - they have certainly helped keep us smiling. By the time of our next update land will hopefully be almost in sight.
If you don't start you will never finish
12 December 2012 | Atlantic Ocean
Seneca a 1st??? century Roman scholar said quality counts and to achieving anything first you must have a plan.
After a brief visit to the Southampton Boat Show I realised we had bought a tug. My beautiful streamline and sleek looking machine with masses of German engineering was designed to take German tourists on lazy holidays around the Adriatic and Greek Islands. It was safe and secure and built for reliability not for crossing an ocean! What I desired was a Bentley, what I had was a stately Rolls Canhardly (rolls down hills can hardly get up 'em). When I bought it, as is normal when acquiring a secondhand boat, it came fully equipped with everything down to the bedlinen and knives and forks. It had previously been the property of a Croatian Marina owner, he had registered it as a charter boat to get round the local tax rules but had used it as his personal yacht. As such it had all the safety features for a party of ten with all the knobs on. It seems I was the beneficiary of East European gerrymandering. However, I could console myself in that the Germans had learned something after the Bismark and my baby was virtually unsinkable. Or at least that is what I told Lizzie.
Yachts come in all shapes and sizes and are designed for the a specific market. All I needed to do was to put a bit of British flair into a Tutonic bathtub, rather like Maclaren do with Mercedes. Ron Dennis was not available so I called upon a lot of other people to help and advise me on what to do. Furthermore, I wanted something that would allow us the freedom to roam the Caribbean unhinded by variables such as water quality and electricity restrictions, with hot and cold running water at all times. I wanted to turn on a sixpence and keep cool when the weather was tropical and have ice-cold beer on tap. Otherwise what was the point.
It was like remodeling a Victorian townhouse with all the new features and creature comforts without changing the outside appearance within Westminster Council guidelines. Not easily achievable so seldom undertaken without costing lots of money. Fortunately I had Neil on hand and he would, as it turn out, relish the undertaking. Unfortunately like all remodeling not everything goes to plan.
Keith started the ball rolling by taking Royal Yachting Association (RYA) navigation, competent crew and day skipper courses with his best friend and fellow Sheffield United supporter Steph (like many others he help us by helping Keith go through a difficult learning curve). The enormity of the task slowly began to sink in as I attended lectures and seminars about intercontinental travel by sea. Fortunately, we came across the World Cruising Club which was founded 25 years ago to help yachtsman travel around the world. I signed us up for the Atlantic section (ARC), Canaries to the Caribbean but increased the specification on my new equipment to be world standard. The safety features are a little more demanding, having an SSB radio on board becomes mandatory. So we thought let's go world standard.
SSB stands for Single Side Band and uses special frequencies to communicate over large distances (halfway around the world). With the added advantage of being able to send email by radio at no extra cost a real bonus. However, user needs a license obtained after taking a test. What seemed like a formality turned into a nightmare 4 days for Keith and I. Sharing a twin room to replicate life at sea and reduce costs we spent 8 hours a day learning in a classroom and a further 7 hours at night and early in the morning trying to keep up. Frequencies and method statements don't seem to stick so well in the brain after you have had your first SAGA holiday. We convinced ourselves it was our teacher, Bob Smith of Yachtcom, only to find out later that he and his lovely wife Claire run the best courses in Europe and many superyacht owners insist on having their crews attend their classes. Thankfully we passed and can now pollute the airwaves with our chatter and email messages, hopefully in code.
The next important factor after being able to communicate whilst isolated at sea is health of the crew. We attended a couple of great lectures by Ian Hardy, though only calling himself a pharmacist, seems to specialise in health and treatments at sea. He gives very colourful hands-on demonstrations including how to apply an Epi- pen into a tennis ball (great if you want to make pass at Annette, I suppose)! Even the doctors present were impressed with his teaching style. Many ARC participants end up buying his offshore first aid kits and "The Ship Masters Guide to Medicine at Sea". I now think all young people should have compulsory first aid lessons. Both Keith and I became aware of what simple things that anyone can do that might reduce trauma or even save a life. Later Keith signed up for a 4 day course but was too ill to attend... a case of medic heal thy self.
However, we were now confident of being up to speed on the basic necessities and we moved forward on to the boy's toys and how to fit all our kit into our tub. Items on the list 32" LEDTV, upgrade stereo with ondeck speakers both attached to ships computer for full multimedia experience. Take out ice-cream tub side fridge and replace with diesel generator (sounds odd but it just fitted in it's place). We made room for a full sized fridge-freezer by sacrificing the double bunk room (who sleeps in a bunk these days anyway, unless you're under ten and like to crawl into small spaces). The bunk room still had space for a watermaker (we now know that this is the most essential piece of kit on an Atlantic crossing apart from sails, of course) as well as ducting for the aircon unit that conveniently slipped in under the seats in the salon. We also found room for the inverter (which takes any incoming electrical current and upgrades it to 220V to run our domestic appliances on a ring main). We ditched the couple of "house batteries" for 5 super-duper AGM longlife ones. We took out the old oven and replaced it with a new microwave oven with lots of buttons. We didn't neglect the outside either. By designing a stainless steel arch frame off the back (which looks like the downforce wing on an F1 car that Jeremy C would gush about) we were able to support all manner of gadgets from aerials to a radar scanner and UV panels to a wind-charger, and that it just the top bit. The sides have convenient ladder type bars which have brackets for fishing gear and scuba bottles etc. I won't go to bore you any more other than to say we did leave enough room for the essential safety gear that nobody is interested in except when you have an emergency. We did however, double up on such items as navigation equipment and communications systems including handheld YHF radio's and ultimately but almost too late a satellite phone.
You've guessed it. All this stuff in a very confined space with different lead times and most items being ordered via London source from another country ordered over the internet and delivered via Rob Francis at Algarve Freight Centre (who were our saviors many times) to Vilamoura in Portugal was no mean feat. With Neil fitting out everything and coordinating local suppliers we nearly pulled it off! Despite our best efforts we were not able to meet our first, second or even our third agreed finishing date. The trials of the Summer of 2012 will not be reported here but will remain with me for some time to come.
However, we did reach Las Palmas 6 days before the official start date of the ARC on 25th November. This final part will be posted soon.
Bumps in the night...almost!
10 December 2012 | Atlantic Ocean
We've now had two weeks at sea and have just come through a fairly frustrating weekend wind and weather wise. Whoever said that the sun always shines in the Caribbean was wrong, it's been more like an English autumn day here: grey, constant drizzle and not as much wind as we'd have liked.
The good news is that whilst the rain hasn't yet stopped, the wind has come round slightly in our favour and with our Parasailor up and flying (now with the addition of a couple of home made patches after we sustained a few minor rips from the rigging) we have made better progress today. To maximise our speed we have taken the decision to fly the Parasailor through the night and hope we avoid the worst of any squalls.
The biggest excitement, if you can call it that, came at about 1:30AM this morning. Gary and Neil on watch and a boat spotted on the starboard side. Thanks to our onboard AIS system (essentially a tracking device that picks up any other AIS enabled boats) they were able to identify its course (straight towards us) and speed. Judging distances on land at night is difficult enough, at sea with the waves in the way and rain reducing visibility distances it becomes an almost impossible challenge. The rest of the crew were awoken therefore by the sound of shouting on deck - turns out that the other yacht (also part of the ARC) had continued to sail straight towards us forcing us to drastically alter course with them about 30 feet away. We believe that their entire crew had been asleep (whether deliberately or not we don't know), but thankfully any contact was avoided and having clearly woken up they then altered their course and slipped off into the rain. Crazy though that with an whole ocean to play in they come within spitting distance of us!
The rain eased this afternoon just in time for us to catch a fish - a real treat having not hooked one for most of the week and enjoy crew drinks on deck to celebrate crossing the 2000 mile mark. We now have 900 miles to go and if we can achieve our aim of 6.5 knots an hour for the remainder of the distance will arrive in St Lucia late on Sunday afternoon.
Thanks for all news from home and festive emails - keeps us smiling!
Starlit nights and ships on the horizon
08 December 2012 | Atlantic Ocean
Another few days on board and we're all well and truly into the daily routine, so much so that on arrival the temptation to get up every three hours during the night might be too much to resist.
It's been a reasonably relaxed few days but despite the relaxation there are always little jobs to be done and new excitements and challenges.
Provisioning and water are our first key balancing act. At the start of the voyage we divided up all our dried and tinned supplies into three weeks worth of food - helps resist the temptation to eat all our favourite chocolate biscuits at once! Fresh fruit and veg are hung in nets off the stern of the boat. As we approach the end of week two we are now all but out of fresh fruit and veg and our nets hold only a few drying oranges and half a cabbage. Dried & tinned food and frozen meat remain, but as the temperatures rise and the effectiveness of our fridge and freezer decreases, the need to eat it increases. Fresh fish is a true delicacy but, with the exception of a few tiny flying fish that did land on our deck the other night (too small to make a meal of though), we have had no luck catching one since our mini haul a few days ago.
Whilst we carry 120 litres of bottled water, essential to an easier voyage is our water maker - capable of producing around 60 litres an hour we aim to run it for 3 hours a day (it can only run when our on-board generator is also running) meaning that tasks we take for granted at home such as washing our hands or filling up a mug with water are still possible at sea - we even managed a shower on deck (albeit a cold one).
We have now well and truly crossed the half way point and are approaching the 1,000 miles to go mark (1,200 as I write). Our steady progress up to this point though was thwarted as we feared by a trough created by a nearby low pressure area. Having hung on to the wind for longer than we thought we might we were finally forced to switch on the engines at 5PM yesterday and motor through the night. This is allowed by ARC rules though there is a time penalty that we will have to incur for it (equivalent to the number of hours we run the engine for); arriving on time to see friends and family in St. Lucia is a more important goal though. Having picked up a slightly stronger breeze again this morning we are now back under sail and expect the winds to pick up again and swing round in our favour by Monday.
One treat that we were rewarded with whilst under engine last night was the most phenomenal starlit night we've seen since setting sail. The sort of sky that only those who are lucky enough to be many miles from any man made light source are able to see. The stars that we are used to just seeing when at home were as bright as the moon and millions more surrounded them. Phosphorescence surrounded the boat too making it seem like we were surrounded completely by stars.
This morning our biggest sighting for the last week - another ARC yacht, Enya, who we caught during the night. They appeared over the horizon in the early hours and by 11AM we were only half a mile away, close enough to for radio contact and the opportunity to manouvre closer to one another for some photos, snaps to be exchanged once we both arrive in St. Lucia. We had a brief sighting of dolphins too but sadly they were not in a playful mood.
And so we sail on, the 1000 mile marker and return of the wind both feel like major milestones for us all, we can then properly start the countdown to arrival time.
History often repeats itself
07 December 2012 | Atlantic Ocean
Part 2: Christopher Columbus sailed with his brother Bartholmew and created the trade routes we still use to this day. He sailed out from Seville via Cadiz, to take on water, via the Canaries to the New World. After achieving their goal in 1492 they returned to Europe as heroes. They completed this feat a further three times and started the Spanish expansion West. They weren't the first to cross the Atlantic but were made famous because they created the trading routes. Incidently, they passed by St Lucia on one voyage and their navigator came up with this name.
Some eighty odd years later an Englishman from nearby Plymouth rose to fame from being a shipwright to be the first Englishman to circum-navigate the globe. After proving his seamanship in clashes with the Spanish in the Caribbean he commissioned (his patron was a Mr Hatton of Hatton Garden fame whose coat of arms includes a deer - hence the name change) and built his ship, The Pelican, (with his brother's help as designer and shipwright). After receiving papers from QEI, Drake set out with a small fleet of ships commissioned with the task of disrupting the Spanish trade and finding new colonies with which to trade. His success laid the foundations of the British as a force as a sea-faring nation and beginning of our trade throughout the world. The design of the Golden Hinde with it's revolutionary "fighting tops" - sort of enlarged crows-nests on each mast allowed Drake's crew to get the upper-hand when approaching other boats. A few years later, this new design along with poor tactics by the Spanish caused the Armada to be easily repelled and ultimately decimated. Thus providing the opportunity for British to look forward to the start of building trade links and developing the Commonwealth.
By coincidence or was it fate, Lizzie and I moved into London Bankside in October 2009. We had a welcome house party on the replica of the Golden Hinde and my fascination with sailing the Atlantic began. I had a 45 foot sailing boat, a yearning to learn to sail to my limits and a vivid imagination. Surely what heroes could do 4 or 5 centuries before with wood, tar, hemp and basic navigation aids ordinary blokes like me could do with the help of modern materials and satellite navigation. The only constant being the obstacle itself and the weather.
In Drake's day even the cabin boys were hand-picked for their abilities to do all the task need to keep a boat at sea. Rules were enforced rigorously and the men were hard and fearless. My task was easy after I chose a brother to partner me the rest would fall in to place. I have four brothers, Andy the eldest ran away to sea (well the Isle of Man) nearly 50 years ago has become accustom to large ferries and cruise liners and was a non-starter on account that Brenda probably wouldn't let him go. Glynn, number 4 out of 5 had commitments at home bring up his two children who are his pride and joy, would also not make my list. That left Peter; my youngest brother, who has served with distinction in the navy most notably saving Hong Kong from hordes of boat people before taking up life as a security consultant and underwater expert in his spare time and Keith; soon to be retired, never sailed before with a dodgie back and on medication for pain relief. After much thought I chose Keith. After losing his life long partner and soul mate, the lovely Rita, in a tragic accident in Cancun a year or so earlier, I hoped this would provide him with a new purpose and give him a challenge to help heal his loss. Peter would have other life chances and would not begrudge his brother an opportunity like this. Having a brother as part of your team seems to work for my heroes and Keith would do me just fine. The next two picked themselves. My new (to be then) son-in-law Dan, knows a bit about being on water after many years rowing on the Thames and since he works in advertising must be good with communication, right! Neil, my handyman friend, who looks after our home in Portugal and the boat in Vilamoura Marina would install all the new equipment so was an obvious choice also. Though Neil has never owned a boat he has been around them for many years building or replacing parts for others. He too is semi-retired and is always talking about his past exploits I thought this would add to his list and verify his "Moby Dick" stories. We four would make up the bulk of the team of five (80%) and we would find the final person to compliment our skills and fill in any gaps nearer the departure time. NB: Pareto defined the 80:20 rule as common in nature. I often quote these figure and everyone just seems to believe me so this might be a good time for you to check me out and look this up under Pareto Effect.
Our first tasks were to define what we would need to refit the boat and bring it up to date. Then gain any skills or qualifications required to complete the task whilst installing the equipment and gaining extra experience whilst using it. Our target was to have everything ready by mid 2012.
How we progressed and who helped us is covered in my next instalment.
Fresh fish and flying fish
05 December 2012 | Atlantic Ocean
Well, the big news from the middle of the Atlantic is that we have caught a fish, three fish in fact - On Monday, just as we were contemplating how to make a dinner from half a dozen potatoes and a tin of green beans we hooked a nice sized dorado. Today we have had even more luck, another dorado and a small tuna so fresh fish again (it really does taste different when it is on your plate only an hour after being caught).
The other sight that we have been treated to over the last 48 hours is that of flying fish - for those that haven't ever seen one of these fish they really do fly, leaping out of the water and skimming a metre or so above the waves, tiny wings flapping - they can travel several hundred metres in the air before having to dive back down under water. We're awaiting the moment when one of them decides that our deck looks like a homely place to visit, they haven't fallen for our disguise yet though!
Other than that life on board remains reasonably relaxed - Gary is writing a history of how we came to do this trip (being posted in chapters on the blog) and often during the day it's a case of getting as much rest as possible so that the 3AM alarm call for your watch isn't too painful.
We nearly had another rudder incident when a particularly strong gust of wind jolted it out of position, a block has now been fixed around it to prevent any more shifting.
The other concern that we have at the moment is that we're going to lose our wind - forecasts suggest that as of Friday we may have a few calm days. To minimize the risk of this happening we're heading further south than we perhaps originally planned as believe that is where the winds will be at their strongest, we have the Parasailor as a good backup we hope too, keep your fingers crossed for wind though.
As we head west the days and nights are warming up and often at the start of the night and before the moon comes out we've had phosphorescence in the waves, glowing brightly as the boat churns up the water.
Many thanks for all your emails, has been brilliant to get them all.
My Atlantic Cup is half full
05 December 2012 | Atlantic Ocean
We are approaching the mid way point in our journey to cross the Atlantic. I didn't just set out 8 days ago I think it must go back to when I was a child. Those day trips to the seaside with lots of other Working Mens Club coaches racing towards Skegness or Cleethorpes with a lucky bag of goodies and a ten bob note to last the day. Of course we spend the money by lunch time and the rest of the day (after a bread and bun fight in a swanky lunchtime hotel dining room) on the beach looking out to sea. The romance of the sea was brought home to me by shanty songs and thoughts of distant paradise islands.
That dream has turned into a reality for me along with many others. Except we all fly off to paradise now in a few hours by EasyJet. The sense of adventure was missing. As I contemplated retirement and having enjoyed learning to sail dinghies with Lizzie 30+ years before, the thought of buying a yacht came to mind. So in 2009 we bought a boat. Unfortunately this was about the same time that Lizzie was becoming more in demand, as a management guru, and instead of sailing and working on the boat together we entered the world of short weekends and communicating by email. Like ships that pass in the night we seemed to be going in different direction, but after 39 years of marriage we are still very much on the same wave length.
Lizzie is now reaching great heights and after one of her books "5 Ways to Think Like a Leader" reached best selling status at airports around the world, I knew I had to up my own game and set myself some new goals. My golf game has been improving since my buddies and I augmented the GMAC challenge (Gary, Mike, Andreas and Crispin) and working with Troy, General Manager at the Golden Hinde, to help them get charitable status and move to a sustainable business has helped fill a void. Then after the pleasure of working on plans for Alexis and Dan's marriage last year I had the time and resources to surmount a serious challenge of my own. However, we would need to set up and equip a cruising yacht for an ocean crossing and I would need a team who were willing and and possibly foolhardy enough to come along with me.
To be continued...