Blogs from our sailing vessel SV Sänna. Eastwards from England to New Zealand... & sailing circumnavigation.

09 May 2016 | Anacortes, Washington State.
28 January 2016 | Anacortes, Washington State
26 November 2015 | Anacortes, Wahington State
10 October 2015 | Vancouver, British Columbia.
30 September 2015 | Vancouver, Canada
10 August 2015 | Pruth Bay, Calvert Island, British Columbia (Canada)
30 July 2015 | Vancouver, British Columbia
23 July 2015 | Shearwater, British Columbia
19 July 2015 | Butedale Cove, British Columbia
30 June 2015 | Port Edward
20 June 2015 | Prince Rupert, British Columbia.
07 June 2015 | Craig, Prince of Wales Island, Alaska
21 May 2015 | Glacier Bay, Alaska
17 May 2015 | Hoonah, Alaska
14 May 2015 | Hoonah, Alaska
10 May 2015 | Hoonah, Alaska
06 May 2015 | Hoonah, Alaska
04 November 2014 | Hoonah, Alska
26 October 2014 | Hoonah, Alaska
01 September 2014 | Juneau, Alaska

Anacortes Exceedingly Private Marina

09 May 2016 | Anacortes, Washington State.
Photo: Lined up on parade...

A raggedy English sailboat pulling into someone's privately owned berth here in Anacortes Marina caused something of a stir would you believe. There's no transient moorage in this marina I was told in no uncertain terms by various salubrious boat owners who were clearly of the more monied type. I explained our arrangement to the first guy who came along to ask, you know, just to check us out, that the berth owner's boat had been hauled out of the water for a month and that we'd done a mutual deal to use his spot. I said the same to the second guy who asked and then to the third who just happened by. But then, I heard that the first guy checked in the office anyway, just in case I was pulling a winger. The fourth guy who asked was a little more friendly but I could see in his eye he was uneasy... 'we've never had such thing as an English sailboat in here before,' he said. All of this happened within the first couple of hours of tying up.

Later in the evening a fifth guy knocked loudly on Sänna's hull, demanding to know why we were tied up here, right here in his friend's slip? I responded impatiently this time, telling him that I'd been fortunate, that I'd won the berth in a game of cards, indeed I was now the proud owner. The English are always extremely good at poker, I said. He was horrified. He didn't know his friend Jake was a gambler he said. Then, to make this fellow feel a little more sympathetic to his friend, I explained that I'd dealt a sneaky hand, a bad one from beneath the deck, that I'd be forever grateful if he didn't tell because we had nowhere else to go with our boat. He disappeared abruptly, very abruptly in fact. I already knew I was stupid - I had a sudden bad feeling. Come the next morning, quite early, I received a voice message on my phone asking that I present myself at the marina office first thing Monday morning. Of course, on Monday things didn't go well...

Later on Monday I received a call from Jake himself. He was laughing loudly, explaining to me his wife had already received two calls from her friends... 'did you know Jake lost your boat slip to an Englishman at poker....'

Never play poker with an Englishman is wot I say.

Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK.

Easy Haul Out

28 January 2016 | Anacortes, Washington State
Photo: A novel way of hauling a twenty ton boat from the water.

We're now back in England for a short while because the wintertime in Anacortes is not so much different to English winters... wet, wet, wet! We've both got families to catchup with and Dave has gorgeous new grandson we desperately need to get to know. The biggest and most heartbreaking problem of living this sailboat life is that close family and old friendships begin to decay. It can be quite upsetting at times.

We hauled out with North Harbor Diesel who are going to attempt to finally fix our Volvo Penta engine, they'll also install a new transmission gearbox, fix the hole in our rudder and bows and various other work over the cold months of winter. We've also arranged with old Tom from Canvas Outfitters to replace our spray hood and bimini cover because our existing ones are worn out and storm battered. Hard to think they were only renewed three years ago down in New Zealand.

Our haul out from the water was a fascinating experience using a new method we've not come across before, using self-drive hydraulic wheel based lifts that are driven down a ramp into the water much like a trailer lifting and launching smaller boats... except these guys can lift fifty ton boats and then drive them for many miles down normal roads to storage yards and workshops some distance from the water. We simply steered Sänna between two markers and five minutes later we were out of the water. Simple, easy and safe. We were both extraordinarily impressed! Seriously, there are many parts of the world that would benefit from this technology without the need to construct expensive lift out facilities with waterside storage and workshops... anyone out there looking for an investment opportunity?

Sänna is now wintered down and our plan is to return sometime in the spring to make our way back north to Alaska. Of course, our plans are like a line in the sand at low tide - they get washed out and changed twice a day. Our big issue is whether to continue with our attempt to transit the Northwest Passage because our Volvo engine is not nearly reliable enough and continually causes concern. We shall see how the big green piece of Swedish scrap metal performs in the coming months before we make a decision... we're not that confident and hope North Harbor Diesel know what they're doing - they are after all Volvo Penta experts.

Fingers crossed.


Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK.

Bastard Dead Heads

26 November 2015 | Anacortes, Wahington State
"For the first few minutes both of us thought we were surely sinking. Marie quickly dug out the emergency grab-bag containing our personal possessions we'd need if we abandoned Sänna and we quickly donned our life jackets. In somewhat of a panic, I checked our life raft and we were ready to go. Marie manned the VHF radio to call an emergency Mayday..."

We've been dodging so called dead heads all year; huge waterlogged trees in the water that are partially submerged and incredibly difficult to see... especially in poor light or when the sun is ahead of the bows. Most of these sometimes enormous boat sinkers originate from the endless forests that make up the shorelines of Alaska and British Columbia or they are washed down from numerous logging operations up river. And so this collision just had to happen at some point!

Leaving Bedwell Harbour on South Pender Island in British Columbia and heading for Friday Harbour down over the border in the US, the wind suddenly rose out of nowhere as we crossed the Haro Strait. I quickly unfurled both the mainsail and the jib to get us under sail whilst Marie was still below, sending her slipping, sliding and cursing across the galley because I'd forgotten to tell her the sails were coming out... she was not best pleased and we lost breakfast! Then the wind kept rising and rising and we both realised we urgently needed to reef the sails as fast as we could. This whole situation was crazy! Then, out of nowhere, we struck the submerged dead head...

Neither of us saw the bastard. Our speed was well over eight knots when we suddenly crashed into it, instantly holing the bows although we didn't know that at the time. Our propeller was still turning in free rotation and the submerged tree struck the propeller and then the rudder. We slewed off course which then sent our boom out of control, the wind swung Sänna around and we suddenly leaned right over. We knew we'd hit a dead head because of the tremendous sound of impact; it then quickly surfaced behind us and we were horrified... it was unbelievably huge. We totally lost control and Sänna wouldn't come upright... Marie dashed below and there was water slopping around everywhere. This was it, we both thought, we were sinking.

Marie, as per usual, took control. She calmly collected all our emergency equipment together whilst I fought frantically to get control of the sails. Our rudder wouldn't turn and the wind, now nearly forty knots, spun us around all over. Marie ran around below checking the bilges for seawater whilst I released the mainsail and the jib sail to get them down as quickly as I could. Luckily, we were in fairly sheltered waters between the islands so there were no crazy seas to worry about. The out of control jib nearly launched me overboard whilst I was furling in the main but I got the sail in and slid my way back to the cockpit to wind in the jib. Once both sails were furled everything seemed under more control and Sänna now came upright. Then more of the tree surfaced which seemed to free our rudder...

I got the engine going and immediately made for the shelter of Stuart Island only a few miles ahead. By now things were under control and we were both thinking more clearly. We weren't sinking at all! The water in the galley was fresh water from somewhere as yet unknown and we calmed ourselves down. Marie put the kettle on and we had our usual cup of tea during a crisis.

Once in Friday Harbour we moored up and sorted ourselves out, we had suffered damage but nothing that we could tell without hauling Sänna out of the water. We had seawater in the bilges and a leak from our stern gland around the prop shaft but our three bilge pumps easily cleared the water out. We decided to make for Anacortes to haul out and see what's what.

Damage? Our bows were holed but still partially sealed by remnants of tree wood. Our propeller was bent on one of the three blades, the shaft seal is permanently damaged and the gear teeth in our transmission gear box are somewhat stripped. If the engine had been under power then we would have lost our gearbox. More seriously, the rudder is damaged; holed and full of water.

So, now we're overwintering in Anacortes, at North Harbour Diesel, an excellent company who hauled us out and are repairing everything as we speak. Our keel has superficial damage too but that's more a result of colliding with a submerged part of Alaska earlier in the year (see our blog titled On The Reef). Numerous vessels suffer damage every year from these well named hazards and we've had several close shaves ourselves. Sailing at night or in fog is the worst and they present a real enough danger, making overnight sailing just too dangerous.

But we didn't sink, we're alive and well with yet another close escape to talk about when those back home ask "well, what is it that you do exactly..."


Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK.

'Barnacle' Bob

10 October 2015 | Vancouver, British Columbia.
Photo: 'The Leaving of Liverpool'

My good friend Bob is a fine fellow - he believes there are 'lay-lines' around the earth which have a profound affect upon his health. He's also quick to tell you there are these amazing small-sized machines available that convenient fit your back-back, that he's convinced will divert any lay-lines and keep him safe. Bob also believes in most of the more obscure alternative medicines, in the power of homeopathy, argues vehemently that a glass is always half full and is truly passionate about the infinite power of music. He plays his ukulele with his heart and sings like the world is going to end tomorrow... he is one of those genuine guys that God, with foresight, gave an endearing Liverpool scouser accent and when he told me he was travelling out to Vancouver to join me onboard Sänna for a couple of weeks whilst Marie travelled back to England with Henry, I was overjoyed.

Of course, Bob is no sailor but then as far as I was concerned he didn't need to be. I was just happy to have him around whilst we trawled the music bars of Vancouver's Gas Town. I dug out our pair of bright-orange folding bikes from deep within Sänna's storage locker and we explored wonderful Stanley Park, drank fine Granville Island IPA beer on Granville Island and talked endlessly into the early hours about everything we'd done together over the past twenty five years... previous marriages, Bob's views on the joys of sex and the politics of economics. It was just grand. Then, never tiring of the marvellous city of Vancouver, one of the world's best in my opinion, we left the dockside to sail across the Georgia Strait to the small Canadian towns of Nanaimo and Charmainus with Bob's seasick patch stuck to his forehead because that's where I told him it needed to be. 'Barnacle' Bob sang his sea-shanties and his unforgettable renditions of Dylan classics, taking large intakes of breath through his inhaler each time he needed to leap ashore with a line... slowly my friend Bob adapted to life at sea and, you know, we had a mighty good time.

We talked an awful lot and we had a lot to talk about. Because sadly Bob lost his wife, a longtime friend of mine to a tragic illness but then met and married luscious Marija with a 'j' who God, with a sense of humour, gave a deep Black Country accent and she's since done a fine job. Marija with a 'j', packed Bob off to me for one of those male bonding occasions with a fine malt whisky and instructions to come home whenever. After a few marvellous sunshine days exploring the quaint shoreline of Vancouver Island, surely winning the music-quiz in the Dinghy Doc pub on Protection Island despite being kicked out for the last ferry-boat, we sailed back over the forgiving Georgia Strait, returning to Vancouver with a sweet breeze blowing from the southeast.

With Sänna's sails filled nicely and a gentle beam reach we sailed under the spectacular Lions Gate bridge whilst dodging the fleet of dinghy racing boats seriously buzzing around us. As we approached the bridge Bob's final melody of 'The Leaving of Liverpool' will be forever treasured by two ageing old men wearing ridiculous hats... when the gentle wind, the forgiving sea, the music and the magical memories were all perfectly in tune.


Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK.

Ageing Delinquents

30 September 2015 | Vancouver, Canada
Photo: A crew of sorts...

Sometime way back, just a few short years after the war, Bernie Fiedler met his future lifelong friend Ronnie Weise in war-ravaged Berlin. Ronnie, an Arnold Schwarzenegger's lookalike, liked Bernie's sister a lot and needless to say, Bernie was not overly amused. Three years later the pair met again after each of them made their own tortious route leading to Canada.

Freedom in the west worked exceedingly well for the pair of them; Bernie creating the first string of coffee shops in Toronto and Ronnie, well he was so handsome he just had a good time following his dear friend Bernie around and making himself well known. In fact he became a successful engineer. Bernie Fiedler himself went from strength to strength, moving from coffee to music and became Canada's foremost musicians' agent and promoter of concerts as well as working with seriously well known artists such as Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell and other internationally renowned artists. Bernie is understandably proud to name drop some of the greatest musicians known.

You may ask why I'm telling you all of this? Well, I came across these fine pair of delinquents when Bernie approached me speculatively in Vancouver having them both spied me from their hotel restaurant whilst I repaired Sänna's anchor windlass. It seems Bernie said to Ronnie, "He looks like a nice sort of guy, I bet he'll take us out sailing for a week or two...." and so Bernie stopped me as I came out of the marina dock where we'd managed to secure a berth by private arrangement, an amazing location right in the centre of Vancouver right beside Stanley Park. I hung around there for an amazing five weeks whilst Marie was in the UK... and fate decided that I should meet Bernie and Ronnie who were on vacation celebrating Ronnie's eightieth birthday in Vancouver.

Of course, I refused Bernie's offer, explaining that we were a British vessel and couldn't do charters or anything like that... it would contravene just about every Canadian regulation going and, well, I had other things to do. But Bernie, I soon learned, never made it all the way from Berlin by being the shy and retiring type, I agreed to take them out for free just for an afternoon of sailing, to spend time in the glorious sunshine nosing around the bays of Vancouver. We agreed for Wednesday and this was to be Bernie's good friend Ronnie's birthday treat... and, as luck would have it, it turned out Ronnie was an avid and experienced sailor too. Come Wednesday, at the agreed time, they both arrived at the marina gate - complete with their exceedingly large suitcases and everything they'd travelled with to Vancouver. At this point I realised why Bernie became the most successful music promoter in Canada; the old war-torn city of Berlin was never going to be big enough for this guy. I grinned, I liked the man and it seemed I was in for another interesting adventure.

"Just a couple of days would be good," Bernie said to me in the same persuasive style that made musicians into mega-stars.... and, well, the deal turned out to be much longer than two days. That same afternoon we made our way to Plumpar Cove on Keats Island to drop anchor for lunch and I quickly realised that eighty year old Ronnie was no slouch when it came to handling a sailing boat. He was magnificent, we sailed to Vancouver Island with this endearing pensioner loving every minute of the glorious sailing, involving himself in everything I could throw at him. His thick German accent, charm and easy personality made this guy a gem to have onboard; we became good friends. Bernie, he kept things rolling along in entertaining style. I liked him a lot... I listened to his remarkable tales of life in the fast lane, about his friendships with stars like Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Mick Jagger and the Stones... the list went on and I believed every word. Ronnie, well he just smiled and laughed, talking about the girls and the parties and other stu ff too. I was having a remarkable time.

"Listen," said Bernie. "Could we anchor down in False Creek this evening instead of going back in to the marina? I've arranged for my daughter Susan to join us onboard." Exasperated, I calmly agreed. False Creek is an amazing anchorage right in downtown Vancouver and Susan, it turned out, was not his real daughter but that story is far too complicated to tell. Gorgeous and magnetic, I was more than happy that Susan came along and I didn't even complain that much when Bernie's son Arthur joined us too. And when I found out that Arthur's job with the Canucks ice hockey and Vancouver Whitecaps football teams would secure Marie and I tickets then, well, what could I say?

"Listen," Bernie asked in his normal persuasive style, "Susan's best friend lives on a very nice island close by, she's said to tie your boat there on their pontoon and she says we can stay over a while." And that's how I came to have a marvellous time with Keeley and her next door neighbourly friends living on Gambier Island not a stones throw from Vancouver, and how I met Keeley's neighbour Cathy... I worked hard explaining I was married, that my good wife and round-the-world sailing companion was not too far away... and that Marie has an amazing knack of knowing when I'm enjoying myself. The evenings outdoors were warm and relaxed; we drank copious amounts of Granville Island beer with other familiar odours drifting in the nighttime air. By Sunday morning, when it was time to loosen our mooring lines and leave, my crew had somehow grown disproportionately, with Keeley and Cathy having now signed on... but with Ronnie's eager help I was easily able to cope - even though I didn't have enough lifejackets to go around. I kept a wary eye out for any Canadian coastguard cutters who might intervene and ruin things.

Sadly, the two ageing delinquents, my new good friends, left when Bernie suddenly announced their flight to Toronto was the next morning, a week after he said it would be. I was sorry to see them leave. We agreed we'd get together next year to do the same again but you know how these things go. We ourselves will have moved on, north or south to someplace new and they'll be living their lives in Toronto or somewhere as they usually do. But for me, my lasting memory will be of my special friend, an eighty year old Arnold Schwarzenegger lookalike with a thick Berlin accent who's amazing tales of 'Da girls' will forever keep me entertained


Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK.

Maybe It's a Yank Thing (Part 2)

10 August 2015 | Pruth Bay, Calvert Island, British Columbia (Canada)
Photo: Scenic Pruth Bay, Calvert Island.

Six o'clock in the morning, there's frantic banging on the hull.

Both Henry and Marie, who are strangely already up and moving around, jump up the gangway steps into the cockpit to find an oldish couple standing in their tender whilst hanging on to Sänna's stern rail - they are in a foul mood. The guy begins to rant at Marie, saying we anchored too close to his rather posh American flagged Nordic Tug when we came in to Pruth Bay the previous evening, which, of course, we had. I dressed quickly to sort out the frantic argument being played out on deck. Instantly I'm confronted by a fifteen foot tall yank, a well built Ronald Reagan lookalike who's accompanied by a sort of Nancy Reagan who chooses not to look at us directly for some reason, she's either angry herself or she's embarrassed... it's difficult to tell which and I need to make a quick decision...

We're sitting over their anchor and our chains are crossed, or rather our chain is crossed over theirs he says. I see that all the boats in the anchorage, which still has plenty of space, have drifted around at various angles overnight with no wind or current to disturb them. It's a magnificently calm morning with the sun rising over the anchorage in fine style. It's a glowing yellow orange, just appearing over the tip of the forest with radiant colours streaking across the cloudless sky. The quiet stillness of the bay is broken only by our visitor who's frantic ranting can be clearly heard over the water; heads are beginning to appear out of hastily opened hatches on neighbouring boats... clearly something is afoot on Calvert Island. Oddly, it's an amusing but sorrowful spectacle entirely of my own making but this strange fellow is losing the plot and Henry whispers to me, "maybe he's gotta gun..."

I take a look around and quickly decide that we cannot have crossed anchor chains. It's simply not possible. Maybe we have drifted over the top of his anchor but that surely shouldn't be a problem? But I did drop our anchor too close and that must have baffled him, when the anchorage had so much space. And he said exactly this in rather no uncertain terms... he'd obviously got himself wound up overnight and decided to come over at first light to sort these Brits out. In a shockingly loud voice he demanded what's to do if our chain is crossed over theirs which, of course, it isn't. I say to him, if our chain is crossed over theirs then it's a simple procedure to extract his chain from beneath ours which, I quickly assume in my mind, he doesn't have the skills or the experience to do. This stops him dead in his tracks. He tries to figure this out... I can see this in his perplexed and mystified expression. Then, a stupid masterstroke, you know, one of those you regret afterwards, I offer to send Henry over to his boat to do it for him...

I feel sorry for them both and I understand his anxiety. He is in the right. We are too close but our chains are certainly not crossed as he vehemently claims. Should there be another way of sorting this? My good Canadian friend Del Boy onboard Blow by Blow recommended this anchorage to me and stated categorically that space must be left on the north side of the narrow bay for the seaplane that lands daily, usually early in the morning. Because it sometimes has difficult problems landing and then manoeuvring through overnight anchored pleasure boats crowding the anchorage. The seaplane then cannot reach the embarkation jetty. Del Boy's friend's brother is usually the pilot. And that's why I anchored where I did. When I offer Henry's services to help out Ronald Reagan's lookalike he loses his cool, starts his engine and speeds off in a terrible temper. Henry whispers he thinks the guy didn't have a gun.... Marie gives us both one of her looks, she knows full well I'm in the wrong and shouldn't have said what I did...

Just when the glorious sun rose higher in the sky to bring another fabulous new dawn the sound of an approaching seaplane splits the new found silence. We all three stand and watch it approach majestically from the east, out of the golden sunrise - it lands in the exact spot our American friend said we should have anchored.

Often, there's no peace in paradise.


Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK.

Finding Alaska

30 July 2015 | Vancouver, British Columbia

Our good friend Ken from Island Rover said we'd need to penetrate the ice-flows calving from the John Hopkins Glacier if we wanted to somehow reach the huge Marjorie Glacier. He said it wouldn't be easy. It wasn't easy, but we did it, we did it by following the National Geographic vessel Sea Bird which cut a convenient path for us through the pack-ice. Once through this frozen barrier an incredible world opened up; we were all alone in this wild wilderness.

We've now produced a five minute video trailer of our adventure into the depths of Glacier Bay. We left Hoonah on remote Chigacoff Island to head across the Icy Strait to Glacier Bay and were joined by our best friend and step-brother Gary Cole who assisted in the filming of our seven day voyage. It was an amazing experience, described in detail in our blog 'On Thin Ice' below.

The 'FINDING ALASKA' trailer has been produced by Ungless Freelance Media Productions.


Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK.

Maybe It's A Yank Thing (Part One)

23 July 2015 | Shearwater, British Columbia
Photo: MV Aurora (name changed for legal reasons)

At first, I didn't really know what to make of it. The captain of the rather large US flagged, private super yacht glared at me from ship's bridge and dropped anchor a little more than a hundred metres from where Sänna was now anchored. Because of their length, which I guessed was something well over a hundred feet, we were both easily within swinging distance of each other, especially with the long lay of chain he seemed to be running out. I was perplexed... the extensive anchorage tucked behind Shearwater Island, where I'd been sitting on the hook a short distance from the marina entrance for nearly ten days waiting for Marie to return from England with Henry, was pretty much empty. Except for Thomas and Silvia onboard the German catamaran Thosyma and one other yacht a good distance away there was acres of space... why was this guy now anchoring so close? Then the logical side of my brain suddenly clicked and I calmly decided I wasn't much bothered. If we collided whilst at anchor then the liability under Maritime Law would be his and their insurance would be far more comprehensive than ours... and our faithful, battered Sänna desperately needed a new paint job.

Around an or so later the Captain of Aurora (name since changed for legal reasons) sped the ridiculously short distance between us in his fast launch... which was itself nearly a third of the length of Sänna. I noted he was dressed in nice clean uniform whites with epaulets of rank proudly displayed on his shoulders. At this stage I confess my unease with my own rugged appearance... in terms of both of us being professional skippers we were on entirely different planets. He slowed, cut his engine and I took his line across our stern.
"Good morning my friend," he greeted me in some vaguely familiar southern Yankee accent. "You British?" he asked, eying our red ensign fluttering in the warm breeze. Well, he was friendly enough if nothing else.
"English actually," I replied cautiously, "the meaning 'British' has for the last five hundred years included the Scots, but not for much longer it seems," I tied off his line so he wouldn't drift away. I was intrigued to know the purpose of his visit.
"Independence from you Brits hasn't done us much harm," he laughed, his gaze shifting as he weighed Sänna up. It's something every seafarer does naturally without even thinking. All vessels have their own way of going about their business and most knowledgeable sailors wish to know how. This guy also knew about the Scottish indepedance vote, which surprised me.
"All of our former colonies seem to be doing well for themselves," I replied trying to keep the conversation light hearted. "I'm Dave," I said, introducing myself.
"Nice to meet you Dave, I'm Ryan." He paused to see if I would invite him onboard, protocol being that I should really but I wasn't in the best of moods; he quickly realised he was going to have to work much harder. "I can see your boat is a real seagoing vessel, you sailed all the way?"

For the next five minutes or so we talked about our long voyage eastwards from the Mediterranean; he was genuinely impressed but I was keen to know the purpose of his visit before we got to any sort of friendly level. This obviously wasn't a social call and I guessed I wasn't about to be invited to some late evening party aboard a luxury super yacht crewed by good looking girls sporting fine white teeth who'd dance till dawn whilst I drank expensive champagne. I was right.
"Look," this unashamedly young captain of Aurora said, "we're anchored too close together and we could have a big problem when the tide in here changes," he paused nervously... "Could you move and anchor a little further away?"
Well, instantly I was cross. "Surely you realise you shouldn't have anchored right there so close when you came in. You've deliberately endangered both vessels." I was impressed by how I remained calm, normally I'd have been off my rocker with rage and old man's indignation. Of course, I'd suspected something was afoot, this guy was an experienced captain; he must know about anchoring protocol and the subtleties of maritime law? Every boat owner and skipper knows that whereabouts you drop your hook can be an emotive issue. I found myself thinking of what Marie would do if she was here now and then quickly realised she would already have been onboard Aurora arguing our case... mainly to get to look around their boat.
"It's you that should pull up your anchor Ryan," I said.
"I realise that, but the owner, who's onboard, he specifically instructed me to anchor there at that location," he replied. "He now wants you to move."
"Why?" I asked, envisaging our newly painted hull sparking in the sunshine with the super-rich American owner of Aurora eagerly handing over his cheque.
He paused as if cautiously considering his reply. "Well, the owner has important guests arriving this evening and he wants to be close to the marina to ensure they only have a short boat ride from the shore."
"I'm within my rights to request you to move your vessel Ryan, you know that." I told him, dismayed. This was preposterous. "I can contact the harbourmaster to formally record that my vessel is in danger."
"Yes, I realise."
"Then why should I pull up my anchor and move?"
"It would sure make my life easier if you would Dave," he answered, "this guy, my boss, he's a real prick and I'm really sorry about all of this. I don't like asking you but my hands are tied. My job is everyday on the line."

I listened and saw that Ryan, embarrassed, was genuinely unsure what to do. I thought for a few moments, thinking of all the problems we'd had in the past with these big moneyed super yachts which were always superbly polished and clean. I could see the crew of Aurora were already hard at the task. The crews of these vessels were usually friendly enough and, in the main, very professional. We'd often drunk late into the night with them in various exotic locations swapping sea stories but we'd never actually been invited back onboard as would be the case with many sailing yachts. I also knew these crews had little respect for their usually overbearing owners who often treated them with disdain. Although we were now in Canadian waters we were increasingly encountering these vessels daily, more often flying the American flag which was undoubtedly a reflection on the unbounded wealth that exists in the United States. I thought about how I should reply to their unseeming request.
"Do you know something Ryan? I'm gonna refuse. If we swing and collide during the night and your guests are ruffled, then that's fine by me. I'll claim for damage and then we'll see what happens."
"Sure, but my boss owns the biggest law firm in America Dave. Top office is based in Seattle. You'll sure need hell-of-a-lotta bucks to take him on Dave. Trust me, I know him, he'd fight you all the way," Ryan seemed rather too assured.
I thought for a moment. I briefly considered my chances against an exceptionally powerful lawyer in the most litigious country in the world. My prospects didn't seem all that good but, hey, what the hell...
"Look, you tell Mr Biggest Lawyer in America that I'm English and soon, in about a month in fact, I will be in his country to reclaim our former colony for the English crown," my calm composure disappeared and I was now on a ridiculous rant, one of my favourites if truth be told. It was a subject that always wound up former colonials when the need arose, "your President is gonna need a good lawyer." I untied his line from Sänna's stern and abruptly passed it back. "In the meantime you tell your boss to go and stuff."
"OK, Dave, I'll tell him just that." Ryan replied with some obvious trepidation, "Have a nice day Dave." He started his engine and then sped back the short distance to Aurora which had already drifted ominously close. I stood there pondering exactly what to do next knowing nothing had been resolved. I'd already decided not to call the harbourmaster because I knew full well he never answered the VHF and the Aurora would overhear my increasingly frantic calls with amusement....

Later that evening I stepped aboard Aurora as an invited guest, dressed in my finest white shirt and tie. I didn't take my freshly pressed suit jacket because it was a gloriously warm night and I decided I wouldn't need it. I was greeted by two gorgeously young girls with unbelievably perfect smiles, their amazing white teeth sparking in the moonlight. I met my host, the friendliest lawyer you could ever wish to meet and we became great friends. I danced till dawn with my two companions who fought each other frantically through the evening for my affections and I had to reluctantly decide which of the two would be my 'special one'. The fine wine and champagne flowed with the best food I'd eaten since, well, since Marie cooked my favourite noodles. I had an amazing evening and finally stumbled back aboard Sänna in the early morning, hoping to God that our friends Thomas and Silvia onboard Thosyma hadn't noticed my illicit night of fabulous bliss onboard the finest private motor yacht you ever saw.

Of course, none of this actually happened. Truth be told, in the middle of the night I couldn't sleep because I kept waking, thinking we'd both swung in the rampant tide until both vessels were only feet apart. We hadn't, nowhere near in fact... but I got myself up anyway and dressed to pull up Sänna's anchor in the dead of night by the light of my head torch. I started the engine and moved a couple of hundred feet.

Neither did I ever get around to reclaiming America on behalf of the Queen of England. There seemed little point really. The next morning I heard over our SSB long range radio the Scots had voted to stay in the union and so we were once again the 'United Kingdom'. I would be forever British and the ever rebellious Scots would still get their free university educations and elderly health care at our own English expense. But, to my lasting pleasure, Edward Longshanks always did get the better of Mel Gibson.

It's a mighty cruel world sitting there on anchor.


Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK.

Larry with the Umbrella

19 July 2015 | Butedale Cove, British Columbia

Sixty seven year old Larry Miller had a bust up with his wife up in Kitimat where they both lived. There's always two sides to every domestic confrontation but this particular argument took a turn not terribly in Larry's favour when the furious Mrs Miller angrily untied his skiff and launched him off the dock, telling him to go and fish or, even better, to drown himself during the process. In the meantime she herself would travel alone to visit their daughter. So, like all maligned men the world over, my new friend Larry thought to teach his dearest a lesson... he decided not to fish at all but to continue all the way to Vancouver in his tiny ten foot open topped skiff; to then surprise his dear wife and show her he was not the uncaring husband and father she supposed him to be... except that Vancouver is over four hundred hard miles south from where Larry was unceremoniously cut loose from the jetty by his indignant wife.

The now determined Larry Miller set off with a few jerry cans of fuel to fill his outboard, some flasks of water to keep him coherent and a cool box containing beer and the basic of food supplies. He would fish and land crabs along the way. Conscious of the inclement weather that invariably whips up in this part of the world, Larry also took along his old golf umbrella to protect him from the rain and the heat of the sun. The sea he would deal with as things progressed. His plan was to beach himself each night to set up his camp, pitch his tent and sleep - whilst subconsciously aware of the grizzly bears and wolves that commonly frequent the shorelines in these parts of British Columbia.

Me? I myself was making my way southwards too; from Port Edward to the small township harbour of Bella Bella... through stunningly wild landscape of the thousand mile route of the Inside Passage which twists and turns through the snowy mountains of British Columbia and Alaska, from Puget Sound in the south to the cold, frigid Glacier Bay in the north. There I would meet up with my own dearest wife who would soon be returning from a short trip back to England with Henry. I tell you now that I was having myself an unforgettable time solo sailing Sänna alone, anchoring overnight in deserted coves, finding secluded harbours and hanging out for days on end without seeing much folk around at all. I'd sometimes come across infrequent Canadian and American motor-cruisers heading north or south, maybe an occasional sailing vessel drifting on the wind or, more often, a fishing vessel making its way to the big salmon runs north of Prince Rupert. These treasure days were long and hot, no rain for weeks and weeks... something highly unusual for this often damp part of the world. I wouldn't be lying if I said this sublime time turned out to be one of the highlights of my whole life.

Then, of course, I met the exhausted and dehydrated Larry Miller. We somehow arrived simultaneously in the remote ruins of the Butedale fish cannery where he told me I saved his life. Tying Sänna to the crumbling log-boom wharf with some trepidation because Butedale was literally falling into the sea, I saw Larry turn into the shelter of the cove in his little skiff to tie up behind me. If it wasn't for his beaming smile of proud male oneupmanship then I would have believed him... but even to me it was plain to see he was in pretty bad shape. As a sympathetic male who, I might add, has suffered somewhat from marital squabbles myself over the more distant years, I hauled Larry out of his boat and vigorously sprayed him with cool refreshing water from a decaying hose feeding directly from the tumbling waterfall not fifty metres away. His sudden and sodden transformation was beholding to see.

Larry's own intrepid plan was to pitch his tent inside one of the crumbling cannery buildings, to then cook up some fish ferreted out from deep within his long defrosted cool box and to recover as best he could. But I was having none of that, the wolves and bears hereabouts would quickly sniff him out... I'd already seen them nosing around the shorelines of Graham Sound. And the weather these past few days has been uncommonly hot with the relentless sun beating down to cause both of us fresh water deprivation issues. The heat increasingly makes things difficult... for me it's the bastard horseflies the size of pterodactyls, biting chunks of flesh that make even an Englishman scream in pain like the devil. For Larry it had been much worse and when I offered Sänna's empty rear cabin for the night to rest and sleep, he eagerly took up my offer.

So, as the sun set in the truly astonishing surroundings of Butedale Cove, built in 1911, we cooked up his fish, shared our beers and talked through the night in extremely fine style. We shared stories of old marital conflicts, laughed unceremoniously at our common misfortunes and I proudly showed him my own trophy wound, proof of the domestic knife attack I myself undoubtedly deserved many years ago. We commonly agreed that male smugness is not an endearing feature as far as emotional women are concerned. Outside, in the deep woods, as clear starlight darkness finally descended on yet another endless hot day, we heard the wolves howling in the crumbling ruins not very far away. We abruptly ceased our ridiculous talk to listen. Then Larry and me both giggled uncaringly like two overgrown lampoons... beer-talk bravery that always happens when you save someone's life, you see.

But I'm no fool. I could see that Larry simply adored his caring wife, the lady of his life who loved him dearly and who would now be fretting over where he could be. For Larry, why else would you set off alone in an open skiff to head south through four hundred miles of wild Canada to seek your wife's forgiveness eh?

Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK.

Maybe It's a Friendship Thing

30 June 2015 | Port Edward
What is it about Port Edward? It's a nothing place really, set deep in northern British Columbia not that far south from the border with Alaska. There's an abandoned paper-mill that's falling into the sea, a huge coal-heap that waits to be loaded onto Chinese bulk-carriers and then, its main reason for being here... the busy fishing harbour. We've been in Port Edward twice now with Sänna and this time we headed straight here, once we'd cleared grumpy Canadian Customs in nearby Prince Rupert. It's not just the dominating ruin of the pulp-mill that's decaying into oblivion, or the rotting wooden piles protruding from the sea... the rest of Port Edward is slowly rusting away too. Almost everyone agrees this harbour has undoubtedly seen better days but, do you know? Port Ed has something special, it has an indeterminately friendly soul.

There's no moneyed cruising boats here. No wealthy foreign Americans parading their immense pride and joys. The powerful smell of fish and the blowing coal dust is enough to keep those types away. If one of these posh motor-boats suddenly turn up then the mile long freight trains that slowly power their way though this two-bit settlement is usually enough to send those knob-heads on their way. They quickly turn their noses up and leave. So, you see, that's why Port Edward is indisputably a hidden jewel.

We called here last year for one week and stayed for five. Back then, having arrived storm battered and exhausted from Hawaii, we rested and quickly made good friends... stopping a while longer than we originally planned. Harold and Raina on Salt 'n Shaker, Big Jim on Why Not and then friendly old Fred on Humboldt - private fishing boats that had maybe seen better days. I myself will remember for a long time the two Kitimat boys, Paul & Ted, who came to repair their twisted rudder... and did I ever tell you about my drunken meeting with Christopher on Blow by Blow? That's why Port Edward is a wonderful gem.

This time, me and Gary tied Sänna up alongside the run-down wharf, pretty much in the same place as before. My step-brother looked around suspiciously, not believing a word I'd said. "WHAT?" is what he said... "Wait till you meet smelly Keith on the bus," is what I said. I smiled, because straight away I could feel Port Ed's hard-earned crusty reason why it still exists. And, if you really want to get the train to Terrace, my disbelieving step-brother Gary was reliably informed, just stand in the tracks and wave it down. The train will usually stop just in time.

Harold and Raina have sadly moved on to somewhere back east, to Alberta Big Jim said. Paul and Ted, the Kitimat boys, are long gone too but, thankfully, Fred is just fine. Christopher suggested we celebrate yet again and this time I met his delightful wife Wanda.... then I made friends with Portuguese Del Boy who nowadays lives onboard Blow by Blow with his wife Sherry. Ken in the marine-shop smiled, remembering me and Sänna well and so did his little wife who's name I can't remember, but who used to worry me for some reason whenever she came by. And then, surprise, surprise... our good friends from Hawaii, Leighton and Lynda on Morning Star arrived suddenly out of the blue and tied-up right alongside. So did Thomas and Silva on the big German catamaran Thosyma and, I have to say to those of you back in England who these days, for some reason, have cast me aside... we all had an extremely fine time.

And, do you know? It's true - if you need to catch the train, to take the easy route to Terrace to fly the long way home to England, you stand in the tracks to frantically wave it down... and the long lumbering freight train stops only just in time.


Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK.

My Step Brother and the Tall Dark Princess

20 June 2015 | Prince Rupert, British Columbia.
My step brother Gary was all gooey eyed. He stood on the Customs Dock confronting the nine foot tall policewoman from the Canadian Mounted Police whilst she talked into her radio trying to sort our problem out. She had long dark flowing hair, all neatly tied up, which easily conjured up unhealthy thoughts... and it was the first time I'd ever noticed Gary break into an uncontrolled sweat. He's an ex-policeman himself you see.

I still refused to move off the Customs Dock at this hour of the night and my ongoing feud with Canadian Customs & Immigration wasn't improving. Having just cleared Customs in Prince Rupert we had then been ordered off the dock by the port security officer, who'd threatened to call the police if we didn't leave. I'd called his bluff. It was pitch dark, there was no safe anchorage and I'd been informed previously there was little chance of finding free space in the Prince Rupert Yacht Club or even the small boat harbour. I wasn't about to meander around an unfamiliar harbour in the middle of the night... we had planned to arrive sometime the next morning but then there suddenly came a good wind, you see. I told him that under International Maritime Law, of which Canada was a signatory, I was within my rights as skipper not to put my vessel or its crew in danger and therefore I was not moving. He was beside himself with indignant anger so I told him to go ahead and call the police.

Now, this image of uniformed beauty, a tall goddess of the night so to speak, appeared out of the darkness... and my step brother immediately intervened. He eagerly took over my role in a suave, professional way that was beholding to see and I was impressed. Gary explained to her, in his own polished manner, that we weren't exactly refusing to leave the dock (which I was), it was just that we had no safe place to take the boat. I straight away realised that leaving the problem to Gary would be our best course of action and so it proved. Ignoring the fact that he was obviously as tired as I was, he easily slipped into his proud sophisticated style and delivered the ultimate copper's chat up line. "I'm one of you, you know...."

I was beside myself, smiling away down below out of sight whilst listening to their conversation through the open hatch. He was magnificent. At some point soon, I thought, she would whisk him away, to somewhere private, in her posh police car and I would never see them again. However, even I thought she was good. I was summoned to her personal cell phone to talk to the port harbourmaster, who she'd called in her genuine effort to resolve the problem. He explained that we were not allowed to stay moored to the Customs Dock and I repeated my refusal to move in the dark until we were given a safe place to tie up. I also explained that it was his responsibility to monitor channel sixteen at all times and that he didn't. In short time he responded by allocating us a berthing space in the Yacht Club, stating that he had the authority to do so. Of course, that was fine by me.

Only twelve months previously, almost a year to the day, Marie and I had been moored on the same dock having sailed three thousand miles from Hawaii, arguing with a big immovable woman from Canadian Immigration who threatened to refuse me entry into Canada because she couldn't find a space in my passport for an entry stamp. We had a serious impasse, where would we go... until Marie interjected and asked where had she found those really nice shoes and could she herself buy some in Prince Rupert? There then followed a fifteen minute conversation between Marie and a now all womanly Customs dragon about shoes, following which my passport was duly stamped.

On this occasion Gary and I let slip Sänna's mooring lines and we motored off into the night. I distinctly noticed him staring despairingly into the darkness in the general direction of the Customs Dock, and he turned to me saying, "There's a proper way to deal with these things, you know," he advised with authority, "You shouldn't be confrontational, it's all about being professional and dealing with it the right way." Of course, Gary was perfectly right.

It had nothing at all to do with a dreamy, fifteen foot tall Canadian Mounted Policewoman with dark flowing hair and deep brown eyes.


Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK.

On the Reef

07 June 2015 | Craig, Prince of Wales Island, Alaska
Well, we struck the reef and went aground. Three quarters of the way around-the-world and here we were on the rocks. It was all to end like this. I was distraught... and to say I was a little suicidal would be an understatement.

Gary had called a warning out to me, as we left the dock heading out in to Craig Harbour, that he thought we should have been the other side of the green buoy. Alarmed, I quickly checked the chart on the plotter and, no... the clear channel was marked red to port with green to starboard, the standard US IALA-B buoyage system and we were, in my mind, where we should be. We would pass the green buoy to our starboard side. But my still calm and collected step brother was somehow right. In fact, there was little point in arguing with him because our keel was now hard fast on a small part of Alaska that was submerged. In the first few minutes of mad panic we ran around checking for incoming seawater sinking the boat... but there was none. Nevertheless, it was spring tides, we were subsequently three feet below chart datum at low tide and, motionless. Help was at hand.

First came a smiling fisherman in his little skiff. "So you're stuck fast on Craig Reef?" he informed us, laughing, "You're not the first. Been on there myself a few times." I think this was supposed to make me feel easier in our somewhat new found situation. We passed him a line and he tried to pull us off. Nothing much happened but he could see how things were much better from where he was than we could. He reliably informed me that our keel was caught on the edge of the reef and we'd float off in an hour or two as the tide came in. It was the lowest possible tide right now and he was right. He considered things thoughtfully for a moment or two and then said, "Here, take these three crabs I've caught, it'll cheer you up I guess." He sped off with a friendly smile, leaving us with three enormous still alive King crabs. Then came another fisherman in a much larger vessel...

"Awe, you're stuck on Craig Reef," he said with a big friendly smile, "You got any water coming in?" I shrugged by shoulders and informed him forlornly that we hadn't and that we seemed ok. "Shucks," he said, "You ain't the first boat that's been stuck there. Just last year I was fast on those rocks myself," he was leaning out of his deckhouse window having a good look around. "Nice looking boat," he ventured, "I'd pull you off but you'll float free in an hour or two," he said cheerfully. We then had a longer conversation about the merits of a fibreglass constructed hull. "I've got some fresh crabs if you want some to keep you busy for a while?" he offered, "They'll cook up real good." I looked around to see Gary eagerly preparing the three crabs we already had. I thanked the fisherman but told him we'd been given some not five minutes ago and he throttled his big engine and left. Next came the Craig harbourmaster in his launch...

"Heard the call about you being on Craig Reef. Do you need any help?" I informed him sheepishly that we seemed ok for now and we'd wait to see what happened when we floated off with the tide. I considered abominishing him for what, in my mind, was an incorrect coloured reef marker buoy but thought better of it for now. It would be unwise to upset him when we might need his help in an hour or two. "That reefs a bummer," he informed me, "There was a Canadian boat on there a week or two ago." He asked me to keep him informed on the radio and then left, his speeding launch heading back into the harbour.

Gary finished preparing the crabs so we again decided to double check everything in order that I could relax and rid myself of my suicidal tendencies. The tide was rising. The rudder, which was caught in the kelp beds, was now free. There was still no signs of water leaking in to the boat and all the bilges were dry. I began to feel a little easier with things and now began to see that we'd got away extremely light... it was just a case of sitting in the sunshine waving to everyone who came by. I heard much boat talk on the radio about the English boat stuck on Craig Reef and the news, complete with chuckles and laughter, was travelling fast. In the meantime our three crabs were boiling furiously on the stove. Gary was working magnificently on them, unconcerned and doing his best to cheer me up. He listened without much comment to my indignant views about the American buoyage system and had his own thoughts. He's an ex policeman you see.

At 1130 precisely, we floated off the reef. We'd been fast for nearly two hours and there's no doubt we'd become small time celebrities stuck there in Craig Harbour. I informed the harbourmaster over the radio that we were fine and he wished us a fine trip to Ketchikan. We left the harbour carefully following the channel, green to starboard, red to port, just like before. For lunch we had magnificent fresh dressed crab with green salad and tomatoes... and I can tell you the crabs were just grand.

However, in my mind, I'm convinced that a red buoy should have marked the reef. Of course, I'm totally wrong, because a skipper's job is to always check the charts to know where he is and when I zoomed in to a lower resolution on the plotter the reef was clearly marked with a green buoy. We would have been in clear water if I'd done my job correctly.

But.... it should have been a red!


Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK.

On Thin Ice

21 May 2015 | Glacier Bay, Alaska
Little did we think we'd see anything like this. From Hoonah it's a mere twenty eight sea miles across Alaska's Icy Strait to the entrance of Glacier Bay. For those of you who don't know Alaska well, Glacier Bay is a hefty fifty mile inlet with deep jagged fjords, where remote high mountains meet a shoreline carved out by numerous tidal glaciers. Tidal glaciers are ones that come right down to the sea to calve off huge slabs of towering ice and, incredibly, no less than eleven enormous glaciers grind their way southwards within Glacier Bay. They are spectacular and exciting to see... but the floating bergs and ice fields can be hazardous to a sailboat such as Sänna.

The glacial fjords are a protected wilderness area and we would need permission to gain entry. My step-brother, the infamous fisherman extraordinaire Gary Cole, joined Marie and myself in Hoonah for a month of carefree sailing and we decided to head north across the Straits. It was easy enough except for the fierce tides at the entrance. There, under a reefed mainsail and jib, with a brisk westerly wind across our beam, we cautiously made our way through the treacherous Sitakaday Narrows - watched suspiciously by large numbers of sea otters and grey seals nosey enough to come and see what we were about. Of course, there were the usual humpback whales blowing sea spouts along the shorelines and majestic bald eagles soaring all around us too.

We had been instructed to call the somewhat isolated Park Ranger station on the VHF radio and they gave us very specific instructions of what we could and couldn't do... and where we were not allowed to go! And so, in the fading daylight of these long northern days, we made our way to Shag Cove deep within Geikie Inlet to anchor for the night. There we found a long narrow indent in the shore with a fast flowing creek and a waterfall at its head and spectacular mountains either side of us. Whilst settling Sänna down for the night I briefly spotted a black bear poking around on the shoreline nearby... it quickly disappeared into the trees with a backward glance before my two sceptical crew members had chance to view it.

The next morning, after Marie cooked up a bacon and egg breakfast using the last of our still fresh bread, we drew our anchor in glorious sunshine and motored northwards by following the main Glacier Bay Inlet to take us deep into the depths of the high St Elias mountains. We'd struck lucky with the weather too... most visitors to the region find low lying fog with incessant grey summertime rain, the prevailing weather here in Alaska. Auspiciously, before long, we began to encounter ice in the sea. In small drifts to begin with that soon turned into worrisome amounts of more continuous but still broken flows. The bergs we found appeared to be calving from the huge John Hopkins Glacier and we would have to force our way through the barrier confronting us if we were to make any progress. It was easy enough really, to begin with, and we slowly forced our way ahead - but I was acutely conscious of our unprotected propeller and any hard impact against our hull. I kept our boat speed low.

With our safety in mind Marie and Gary strategically positioned themselves either side of Sänna's bows with our long boat hooks to push away the troublesome larger flows. In this manner we gradually inched our way through to reach a channel behind Russell Island where we found much less drifting ice and the flows diminished. Leaving bothersome John Hopkins Glacier and its ice field behind we made faster progress northwards into craggy Tarr Inlet and I relaxed more easily on the helm. Along the way we passed the retreating Rendu and Reid Glaciers and saw numerous other glacial fields with still heavy snowfalls higher up the mountain range. This was grand.

And all the time the changing sea colour made a lasting impression on each of us. Now free of the ice flows the water became a wonderful turquoise... a result of the mineral content of numerous melting glacial bergs. And the wildlife grew in spectacular fashion as well... ubiquitous numbers of sea otters all rafted together on their backs whilst holding 'hands' and staring unceremoniously in our direction. Maybe they were curios or simply objecting to our intrusion. Once again, along the shoreline, the spouts of uncountable humpback whales slowly raising their huge fin tails out of the sea before making their majestic sounding dives. To all three of us, mesmerised like innocent children messing around under wide deep blue skies, this was an unforgettable experience. The incredible silence dreamlike and difficult to describe.

By late afternoon, with no wind to disturb the flat calm sea, we'd made over thirty miles progress north to reach Margerie Glacier, the jewel in the crown of Glacier Bay's fjord wilderness. This ferocious mile wide slab of moving ice snakes twenty seven miles from the monstrous fifteen thousand feet Mount Fairweather located in Canada's nearby Yukon Territory, to end itself by breaking up in thunderous cracks and falling with huge towering chunks into Tarr Inlet. I let Sänna drift along slowly and serenely in the sunshine under no power... but wisely kept our distance. A sudden collapsing ice tower would cause a local tidal wave that could overwhelm us. Just over the high ridge to the north, still unseen, lay the magnificent Grand Pacific Glacier which history tells us formed Glacier Bay itself.

Conscious of our need to somehow find a safe anchorage for the night, and that we'd again have to force our way through the floating ice barrier, we turned south and left Margerie Glacier behind. We had the advantage of long daylight and the late setting sun but we still had a long way ahead. The ice field would surely delay us and we'd be lucky to anchor except maybe in twilight. I had no wish to traverse back through the barrier ice in the dark either. But luck was on our side. By keeping close to the shoreline the tidal currents had dispersed the berg ice just enough to give us a reasonably clear passage through, but I had to keep a close eye on rapidly receding depths and any sudden breaching humpback which could break through Sänna's hull with impunity. I well remembered Ken's warning words in Hoonah about their own sinking by a whale.

With perseverance Gary had found us a possible anchorage on the charts that we could reach. We made for Blue Mouse Cove. It would be a long drag south on the engine but the ease of traversing the ice field meant that we'd probably be on anchor before nightfall. And so it was. Whilst Gary and I piloted our way across Glacier Bay Inlet towards the anchorage Marie prepared a hot supper in her special way so that we could dine in some style once our anchor was set. Entering Blue Mouse Cove was easy going and I manoeuvred the helm around looking for a suitable depth to drop our hook. It was calm and windless so we'd surely have few problems overnight. Once settled, we relaxed with a couple of Alaska's Pale Ale beers for me and Gary whilst Marie downed her precious Newcastle Brown Ale. We dug hungrily into Marie's lovingly prepared late evening supper.

And then, to complete the magnificent day, as starlight slowly descended, a large and well weathered brown grizzly bear meandered along the beach only yards away with its nose in the air. Undoubtedly it was attracted by the delicious smell of cooked food which, on this occasion, consisted of chicken baked with apricots and rice. It paused and studied us for a good while and I suddenly recalled in the back of my mind that grizzly bears are noted swimmers. Soon, after some deliberation, he turned and ambled off to find his own supper deep in the forest. The next day we'd try and find a secluded inlet where we could go ashore and, maybe, with our ludicrous taser to protect us from Grizzlies, find the semblance of a trail to explore inland. Instead, we found the secluded ranger station in Bartlett Cove and anchored off.

Other vessels were anchored there too, but not enough to disturb the tranquility and remoteness of Alaska's spectacular jewel.


Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK.

Fishermen's Friend

17 May 2015 | Hoonah, Alaska
Moored right next to Sänna here in Hoonah is Icy Queen, a wily forty five year old Seine fishing trawler. At first call I could see the roughneck crew weren't much interested in the likes of us... sort of retired, snobby English who'd sailed their fancy sailing boat all the way. But we would sometimes nod our good mornings whenever our eyes met... these no nonsense, hard working, proud men who grind their lives from the sea. We ourselves have always admired hardsalt fishermen everywhere and anywhere we've been, for their toughness and extreme demeanour. And Icy Queen is a typical battered and bruised working boat built not for luxury but for making a living when the sea does not want to give it up. She is wonderful to behold in my eyes.

Then there is my wife Marie. I've long held a theory that deep Derbyshire sheep farming roots have inbred a unique toughness and determination within my dearest beloved... and I'm in no doubt the more mysterious the man the more she's intrigued. She does not give up easily and the skipper of Icy Queen soon gave way. Marie wore him down as I knew full well she would. It took a little time at first, using all the tricks she knows... loving their dog, excitedly inspecting their catch, admiring their boat and asking the questions they loved. I tried to smile but sometimes would think 'hmmmm'... they were getting along just too fine. Of course, I noticed the skipper talked more and more with Marie but kept his wary eye on me. But I was slowly making a good friend with Icy Queen's young Braydon as well.

Then we got fish. We gave them six pack beer in return and the old barter trade began. Young Braydon came onboard Sänna and we drank and talked and listened till late in the night about his vastly interesting life, how he fished out in the sea for weeks and weeks, just him and his father and their mangy loveable mongrel dog. It was memorable. Maybe he didn't realise but me and Marie thought it was as good as it can be. Some days they gave us fresh halibut and sometimes big cuts of delicious king salmon or a strange oily fish, black cod, for which Marie didn't care much. I though it was grand. A few nights later, Marie's hard work paid off and we got an invite onboard Icy Queen to look around and to drink their canned beer until the sun showed its early head. I talked with the skipper about how good it must be to share his son's life in such a wonderful way with their bedraggled adorable dog, and from then on I saw I had Scott's genuine friendship too.

We traded more beer for their fish and also their respect. It's easy for us to make friends with those German and Yankee sailors, we meet them all the time. To get the friendship of these far north fishermen is something hard earned and meaningful.

Of course, my Marie wore them down until these tough Alaskans were sorry to see us leave... just as I knew she would.


Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK.

Singer, Sailor, Song Writer

14 May 2015 | Hoonah, Alaska
We anchored in sheltered Neka Bay, just a few miles south of Hoonah. We needed to make sure the new seals on Sänna's prop shaft didn't leak now that we'd hauling back into the water after the long cold winter. When the early morning sun came up we saw that Island Rover was anchored just across the bay too. A few moments later Ken come on the radio to ask about our plans so I told him to pull up their hook and to come on over for coffee... they could easily raft alongside us in the flat calm sea. The sun climbed still higher and it was yet another beautiful warm day here in Alaska.

Island Rover came to tie along our starboard side and I noticed Ken with his beloved guitar. Juanita bought aboard some cookies and Marie brewed up the coffee and her tea... I looked around this beautiful anchorage, with the high snowy mountains and pine forest reaching way down to the shoreline and thought it really doesn't get much better than this. Further out in the Sound I could see the watery spouts of humpbacks and the usual gangs of noisy squabbling bald eagles. We even had a couple of busy porpoise dolphins too.

Sometime later we ventured ashore with Ken & Juanita to find a forest track leading to the warm volcanic springs. Ken had his rifle to protect us from the Grizzlies and we found a cabin with some young guys out for a few days hunting bears. Guns don't sit easily with me and Marie, as Brits we have no concept of carrying weapons although it's a way of life here in the north. I'm far more relaxed with Ken when he plays his guitar, he writes and sings his songs of hardcore fishermen drinking in their bars and about the alarming tale of their own sinking by a humpback whale. A talented, soulful musician and he became, for a short while, my very good friend.

When, a few days later, it was our time to leave Hoonah I went along to say goodbye to Ken and I felt the old familiar pain that hurts when I see a good sailing friend for the last time. We shook hands and we passed the same suspicious look when we said we'd meet somewhere, sometime soon. We both knew our paths would never cross again. And then, for a fleeting moment, I saw something special in his eye.

The gentle singer sailor who knows all about life and where he wants to be.

Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK.

Guilty Secret

10 May 2015 | Hoonah, Alaska
"It's simple," Bob the Welder said, "All you need to protect yourself from bears hereabouts is a taser." I was impressed and, of course, eager to own one. "And I can sell you the lightweight model for only fifty bucks." Bob showed me his, which was square shaped and pocket sized, easily clipped to your belt for rapid deployment in the event of a sudden bear attack.

Several folk in the Office Bar had already related to us the tale of the unfortunate local who'd been dragged into the bushes by a frenzied grizzly bear in a bad mood. Just next to Collet's Cupboard in fact, the ubiquitous wooden shack that served as Hoonah's general store. Although, as Marie pointed out, no one could recollect who the unlucky victim was and the mauled individual's gender mysteriously changed depending upon who was telling the tale. Nevertheless, I eagerly purchased my taser from Bob and I noticed that everyone who sat at the bar had their tasers neatly positioned on the rear of their belts too. I was, without doubt, now one of the fellas.

You may ask why am I telling you this? Well, just a few days later, Marie and I stumbled out of the bar and walked the long walk back towards the harbour floats. It was just turning to dusk when suddenly, to our absolute terror, a black bear sprang out of the forest just before us, right in our path and only feet away. We both screamed in abject horror and I, to my lasting surprise, stood frozen to the spot. Marie reacted quickly by releasing the taser and aiming it right in the bear's direction, with absolute accuracy and determination I'll forever admire. The bear rolled over onto its back and lay motionless, its feet in the air.

Only at that point did we see it wasn't a bear. It was someone's pet dog. When I gingerly inched forward I could see its collar and a name tag. 'Blackie' it stated, with the owner's name who, it transpired, we both knew well. Blackie lay silent, unconscious, but breathing slowly. We were both shocked and quickly had to decide what to do. We discussed our options and, perhaps on hindsight not our best course of action, we decided to leave the scene and so therefor ran off as fast as we could.

The next day everyone was talking about the dog which had mysteriously been found unconscious by the roadside the night before. We think it made a full recovery although Bob the Welder, who we believe suspected the truth all along, told us a few days later he'd heard the dog was still in a coma. In his opinion, he said with a knowing glint in his eye, Blackie the dog might have been accidentally tasered by foreign folk probably not used to confronting bears.

We both nodded in easy agreement and said we'd listen out for any incriminating talk.


Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK.

Hoonah... Population Eight Hundred & Eighty

06 May 2015 | Hoonah, Alaska
Photo: The Office Bar... supposedly voted in the 100 best bars in America!

There's a marvellous scene in the Kevin Spacey movie 'Shipping News', where the Englishman, who's been shipwrecked in a remote Newfoundland fishing village, rebuilds his sailing boat in preparation to leave after two years there. The night before his departure he holds a farewell party with all his friends and they take a chainsaw to his boat to reduce it to broken timber. They don't want him to leave and he never did. I know it's a made up story but it typifies the attitude of these wild far north folk who live by the sea.

The fishermen and the roughnecks hereabouts live off what bucks they can make and hold a friendship in higher esteem than who you like to think you are. A visitor who's desperate to display their life success won't cut the ice here in Hoonah... population eight hundred and eighty. And in my opinion rightly so. It can be said this frontier wilderness town is a heartily downtrodden place when compared to the somewhat more salubrious location we've sailed into with Sänna. But let me tell you this... there's something here in this cold, one road, two bit fishing commune that's hidden deep and is special. It's buried in the friendship of these intrepid folk, who've accepted the English living on the sailing boat down on the harbour floats. They are keen for us to stay awhile. I've been warned it's a dangerous place, here beneath these snowy mountains, these bear infested forests and icy creeks. We must be careful. A good number of the wonderfully strange friends we've had the privilege to meet came here too... and never found a reason to leave.

There's wily Greg, with his flat cap hat and cheeky grin, he came to paint the local school more than twenty years ago and is still here now. Nowadays he runs the local boatyard workshop, talks passionately about Aliens taking over the world and convincingly tells the state of your health by studying your eyes. And Brick Shit House Gary, who left England a while ago to travel Alaska on a small time budget, came to Hoonah and never left... and to prove it he removes his shirt to proudly display his Sunderland football tattoo. These days he works in the town's only dilapidated liquor store to support his kids and Tlingit Nation wife. And steely Ken and Juanita. Their sailing ketch was sunk by a humpback whale not very far from here, out in Icy Straights. Now they've patiently built a new boat here, from the finest pine... and never left. Then there's Mary and Jim who own the bar, Bob the welder and Debbie, hippie Robert and Doris, Sherry the harbourmaster who speaks poetry with her hands and old Uncle Bob, who trades derelict boats... it goes on. Hoonah, population eight hundred and eighty, is a small dirt street harbour town with its own soul.

And get this... there's one wonderfully ramshackle bar, The Office, constructed of old rain bleached plywood and a rusting tin roof, that stands out on platform stilts over the gentle lapping sea. These days we take our place in the row of stools at the bar and find new friends. No one dresses for the occasion here, the fishermen drink cold poured beer still dressed in their smelly foul weather gear... and so the men do too. Yesterday we learned the Office bar is now voted one of the best one hundred in America and so, in celebration, the blue grass fiddles played, the beer flowed like mad and we danced on the tables until the sun went down and the sea tide came in. Then, in my mind, came the magnificent western saloon bar fight with fists flying around, with the piano player playing his heart out for friendly peace until he broke whiskey over the nearest head. Outside the humpback whales were in the Sound and the bald eagles majestically flew around.

Now we have a strange situation. After a long cold winter here Sänna has launched back into the water but our gearbox has suddenly sprung an oil leak. We cannot move. I've ordered the parts from way down south in Seattle but it seems they never arrive. Each day we visit the modern day post office with hope and Marielle says "Nope, not today." The travel hoist lift, which we need to haul Sänna out again to remove our prop shaft to fix the leak, is busy and Arlen, the operator is not around. But the hoist stands unused and Arlen sometimes appears to buy our drinks. When we sip our beers and complain, everyone laughs and another round of beer is suddenly announced by the ringing of the drinking bell.

I suspiciously suspect, in fact I'm convinced, our parts from Seattle arrived a good while ago. Something we're not allowed to know. In the street, complete strangers stop to greet us and ask if those gearbox seals have arrived yet? When I reply with my despairing sigh I distinctly note a sympathetic look, a mysterious guilt and a mischievous smile. Then we listen to their strangely pitiful tale of how they themselves came to one street Hoonah, population eight hundred and eighty... and never left.

Yesterday we suggested we might leave soon. In the distance I heard a warning chainsaw rattle.

Alaska, the elusive true wilderness we didn't think could still exist.


Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK.

Hoonah Haulout

04 November 2014 | Hoonah, Alska
Photo: Approaching Hoonah Sound

"Go to Hoonah for the winter," Horst said, "You won't freeze there."

So we did. We headed north through Alaska, Marie, Henry and me, through the wilderness islands and fjords, chased incessantly by numerous humpback whales and harassed by countless bald eagles. The huge eagles roost on Sänna's masthead wind vane, threatening to snap its fragile protrusion with their immense weight. Then they swoop down for fish and leave the bones and blood at the foot of our mast. They leave a ton of bird shit too. In the beginning we desperately searched for bears and now, as time has gone by, we carefully dispose of our rubbish each night because we fear them prowling around outside and climbing onboard. And I've rigged up a noisy contraption to scare the nuisance eagles away just like the bears. That's how good it is here in Alaska.

Everyone has a bucket list vision of Alaska, born through stories from the 1890's Klondike Gold Rush and, more lately, World's Deadliest Catch, Ice Road Truckers and something called Gold Diggers; all shown nightly on the telly. It's not quite like that, well the touristy bit isn't and, boy, there's lots of tourism here in Alaska. The three of us sailed north for Hoonah and saved our grace. We began to think our vision of Alaska didn't exist. But it does.

We've hauled Sänna out of the water for the winter and the tourists have gone. We're not so far south from Glacier Bay and Icy Strait, just over the water in fact. The sea is beginning to freeze and the annual ten metres of snow is showing signs. It's been hard work making preparations for the freezing cold, I've filled our watermaker with glycerine antifreeze, drained the engine of seawater and all the sails are down... the winter winds are infamous here. And all the time black bears are prowling around Sänna looking for somewhere nice for their winter sleep.

The mountain glaciers surrounding Hoonah are spectacular. We're quite remote now on the north of Chichagof Island... and the folk here... we're not allowed to call them Eskimos anymore... they're First Nation Tlingits, or Inuits if you're even further north. They're friendly and ask everyday if there's anything we need. They stop in their trucks to talk, with their rifles and guns, suggesting we all hunt and drink beer and have a good time. That sort of talk doesn't suit us timid Brits.

We'll leave Sänna a while in the cold and head back to the UK. I'm a new grandfather for the first time and I have an urgent appointment I must make...

When we return we'll knuckle down into the winter cold and get ourselves ready. Ready for our journey north and the arctic ice and the Northwest Passage.


Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK.

The Simple Art of Catching a Fish

26 October 2014 | Hoonah, Alaska
Photo: Fishing Fleets of British Columbia

Did you know a female Pink Salmon lays between 1,200 and 1,900 eggs? They incubate over winter for five to eight months and hatch early spring. The little baby pink salmon migrate to the deep ocean as soon as they emerge, feed for eighteen months, then return to the exact same creek to spawn and die at two years of age.

If we think about this a little more then we get to a thought provoking calculation. Perhaps you're not much interested in what I'm about to tell you but please try and stay with me for just a short while. I'm going to explain the simple art of catching a fish...

There were, according to official estimates, 179 million salmon caught in Alaskan waters in 2013, a near 30% increase over 2012 of 127 million fish. Add to this the estimated catch in British Columbia of 122 million salmon then you can see we are talking a lot of salmon. Fisheries experts claim that approximately 40% of the total numbers of salmon are ever caught, thus allowing a round number estimate of 500 million fish that are forever free... essential, I might add, for the future of salmon. That's half a billion in my reckoning, winging their way eastwards thru the Pacific ocean June to September in this current year. These are the happy fish, they get to find their little river or creek where they were spawned. And if we say, through the principles of logic, 50% of these are female fish then we can safely suggest the rest, 250 million, are frisky males each with an expectant glint in their eye.

Let's, for arguments sake, say other predators as well as ourselves feast on this glutton of John Wests' prime Pink, Sockeye, Cohort and King salmon. By this I mean grizzly bears, black bears, bald eagles, other numerous sea birds, some species of whales and many others I can't even think of right now. Of course, there are no reliable figures for subsistence consumption by species other than man (and women, my wife Marie can consume copious amounts of fresh salmon which could play havoc with official estimates) but let's make a generous guess at perhaps 50% of the fish missed by the Alaskan and Canadian fishing fleets, plus eager sports fishermen, are caught and eaten by non human predators. That leaves, and correct me if I'm wrong, around 300 million salmon that actually get to the little reed bed they were born in...

Then there's halibut. This is a vastly underrated eating fish that's found in huge numbers in Alaskan and British Columbian seas. It's a strange flat fish that lives on the seabed with its eyes on top of its head. Presumably the halibut swims around in the mud wandering why millions of salmon forty feet above are all heading in the same direction. The halibut goes nowhere. It just hangs around eating other small fish, usually other halibut, and growing big. The largest recorded halibut was more than eight feet long and weighed over 700lbs. That's nearly three metres to you continentals.

The female halibut spawns between two and three million eggs and generally lives, if not itself consumed, for up to forty two years. The male is less fortunate, living only twenty seven years but presumable gets to keep the females happy before she gets old and wrinkly. Not a bad thought eh guys? A mind boggling 25,000 tons of halibut are hooked and caught in Alaska every year added to the 18,000 tons snared in British Columbia, so even if the fish is big, that's an awful lot of halibut. And, according to those impressive official estimating folk, only a regulated 32% of halibut are ever caught!

It's a happy hunting ground. This spectacular part of the world is brimming with commercial fishing boats in addition to numerous sports fishing communities, all thriving through a common outdoors way of life. They are good folk too, more than obliging and willing to show an eager Englishman how to catch a frisky salmon or a frustrated halibut. It's quite straight forward really...

The key thing is knowing which fish is where in terms of depth. Location isn't really an issue because both fish are so abundant it's simply a question of dropping your hook over the side. Ask the locals... that's what they say... it's so easy, in fact, the relevant authorities in British Columbia and Alaska demand fishing licences so they can monitor what you catch. It's a good system. Commercial and professional fishing aside, we buy our annual license and we record every fish we hook. But there are limits too. We're not allowed to catch too many salmon or halibut and we cannot sell them, we can only self consume! We ourselves onboard Sänna have no problem with that.

Before we cast our hook let's take some time to look at what else we must do before we tuck into our succulent pink flesh or our tasty flaky white fillet. There's the cost of the fishing licence of course and that's not cheap, especially for foreigners. As you may have guessed, as non Canadians or Alaskans, we Englishmen are asked to contribute a little more to the pot than the locals. Quite a lot more in fact, the cost of a licence in British Columbia is $162 for me and just a little less for Henry because he's not yet fully grown up. That's the cost for a year and is only legal in British Columbia... and if we are onboard our own boat then it's compulsory; we have to purchase or be fined. The not unreasonable assumption is we're in fish abundant waters where everyone is fishing, so we are catching halibut or salmon just like everyone else. Then, when we sailed north out of British Columbia into Alaska we were strongly advised by US authorities to compulsory purchase a US fishing license too. Being 'foreign' it's, again, not unreasonable to pay more than local Alaskans. Three times more, in fact, but then that's the law.

Then we have the eager investment in the right fishing gear. The existing three rods we carry onboard Sänna, suitable for long line trawling for tuna out in the ocean, were not, I pointed out to Marie, going to catch salmon and halibut. For this, as my good friends Harold and Jim reliably informed me in Port Edward, we needed a short stumpy halibut rod and the standard longer salmon rod to fish down to forty feet. We also needed the right weights, the right reels, line planers, non barbed hooks (it's the law), something called a halibut jig, ingenious mud rakers and a smelly liquid that's guaranteed to lure frisky salmon and hormonal halibut onto our line. And then, and this is important, there was my beard...

I grew my beard because it's what you do in this part of the world. When I took my place in the line at the bar I quickly worked out I needed a beard. When discussing fish and how we catch them it's crucial to have credibility, especially when drinking your beer. On top of the issue of facial appearance there's the major point to consider of how you're dressed. No one here dresses up to go and drink their beer but it's vital not to be a short stay tourist, a city dweller afraid of the rain. It took a little while but within a week I was looking rough... and my proud appearance more than suggested I could live off the land.

Our journey north was eventful. Not much wind so we engined for most of our four hundred miles north through the incredible Inside Passage of British Columbia and Alaska. This is the ideal fishing method for a sailing vessel cruising in probably the world's most prolific fishing grounds; not having to worry about sails or following a volatile wind, worrying about trailing fishing lines or a constantly varying speed. We'd simply follow the fish...

The first thing we realised it was almost impossible to sail through the myriads of fishing vessels anyway. The trailing and twisting nets of the gillnetters, the long liner guys with as many as fifty hooks off their sterns and the much bigger purse seiners who lay circling net traps all contributed to an interesting and full on voyage north. There were also numerous private and chartered vessels with their rods and reels too. And, of course, mine and Henry's own lines were fully out and rigged... we needed to be on constant alert to work our way through dozens of fishing boats and tend our own baited hooks as well.

The really interesting thing I noticed, on the first day in fact, was the tremendous comradeship between us fishermen. Although we were flying the British red ensign flag it made little difference. We'd weave close to numerous vessels, both commercial and sports, avoiding their nets and lines taking care not to entangle our own lines with theirs. You don't do that, it's unforgivable and frowned upon hugely. Professional and experienced fisherman pay close attention to the needs of other fishermen and we all look out for each other. Passing close by I was able to wave and acknowledge their attention, call out in my friendly voice whilst they were clearly casually unhooking and freeing huge numbers of Pinks and Cohorts from their nets and sending them below. And, of course, with my beard and gloves and boots I was there.

But it was best of all in the late evenings, in the harbours in which we tied. The long daylight days and fantastic sundown skies, we found large numbers of incredibly friendly folk waiting to fillet their fresh halibuts, their vivid coloured salmon, queuing at the fish cleaning tables with the screaming gulls circling overhead to claim the spoils... we had the same sharp knives, aprons to keep us clean and ice boxes to carry the filleted fish onboard.

Now... I calculated, using the figures I've used above, in our four hundred mile trip north, over a two month period, that each day we had around fifteen thousand salmon pass by Sänna during daylight hours whilst they swam in an easterly direction. The numbers may have been more but I figured large numbers were caught before they crossed our course, by other vessels who waved as we passed them by. Roughly, at the same time, around two tons of halibut were within a half mile radius of us at any one time. The seas were flat calm and the whales and eagles took their share of fish too. Conditions were almost perfect for fishing whilst we motored our way on our northerly course. Eventually I did the maths and, for those of you who are truly interested, I can forward the calculations on to you if you wish. I did this with my calculator, lying awake one night, because not a single one of the little bastards took our lines.

I sneaked around the cutting tables with my head down and, eventually, didn't wave and laugh so much to other fishing boats just in case they sensed things were not quite right. We didn't go in the nighttime bars because they would always ask. I hung around the fringes and listened... our gear might not be right but, surprisingly, it was all the same. Henry and I had in depth man discussions whilst Marie smiled and giggled the way she does.

Eventually, after six weeks, we caught a single spiny rock fish late one evening, which is a fish found in down market restaurants and sometimes mixed with other fish in supermarket fish fingers and such like. But it was the single victory we had and we were proud. We sat around the table, each with a meagre fillet and Marie carefully announced she'd done her own calculations too. Each bony piece set upon our plates worked out more than the world's most expensive restaurant according to Marie's reckoning. Such were things that we quietly gave up and bought our fish in the shops. I figured it was cheaper and I could bandy it around as I liked, even to give the impression we'd caught it that day. It worked and I got my praise and I've continued to grow my beard...

Not for me a watery grave!


Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK.


01 September 2014 | Juneau, Alaska
Photo: Tracy Arm Fjord

I'm not sure where I'm going with this particular blog. I could easily come across as a moaning, deep, reflective old goat whilst trying to confess a point that's been bothering me more and more over the last few weeks. The subject of my increasingly frenzied frustration is Mickey Mouse.

Like everyone I loved Mickey when I was a kid. I watched Mickey and Minnie and I watched the others too. Many years later, the previous Mrs Ungless and I took our daughters to Mickey Mouse's heartland in Florida and, totally overwhelmed, I booked the same trip the following year too. We had a marvellous and memorable time. I was a Disney convert and eagerly sang along with the Mickey Mouse chorus loving every minute, riding 'It's A Small World' over and over again with my own adoring kids. Somewhere since then everything changed.

Along the way I lost my marriage and maybe I lost my kids too. My little girl I didn't understand died and I set off on my adventure on my boat, to escape, finding time to meet and marry my Marie along the way. We've had a magical time together rebuilding our shattered lives. We somehow morphed into lonely adventurers and hardcore sailors, travellers always seeking something strangely elusive. Old map makers used to say there were only dragons and demons at the end of the world but, having been to the very edge, there's Mickey Mouse too.

Last year Marie and me left New Zealand to make an incredibly hard journey. We'd already sailed halfway around the world to get there but, this time, we decided to sail the world's largest ocean both west to east and between the two hemispheres as well, south to north... over nine thousand miles. The pacific gives everything, exotic islands, desolate landfalls, powerful storms and the mythical edge of the world. We set off to find our way home knowing there would be every chance we'd never make it at all.

We learned we had a tough boat and somehow we got ourselves north. We got to Alaska. The land of hard men, rough women, intrepid explorers, the Klondike gold rush, grizzly bears and wolves and icy high mountains. Alaska is the edge of the world when you've sailed nine thousand miles, just the two of you, to get there.

We always kept going, determined to find the land of dragons, to see if they existed like old maps say. We did find cold winds, tall seas and incredible beauty. We found a place where strange beasts do indeed live, forcing our way into Tracy Arm, through misty fog and massive rip tide currents, through grey whirlpools, torrential rain, glaciers with snowy mountain tops hidden by black clouds. This, I thought, must be the very edge of the world where you find monsters and demons and the devil himself.

And then, through the horrible damp and grey mists, Mickey Mouse. There he was, plain as day. The Disney World is the third largest cruise ship yet built and Mickey is painted along the funnel and down the sides. On the decks were thousands of absurd tourists wearing their bright yellow free issue plastic Mickey Mouse capes to protect them from the rain and wild weather of the arctic north. Of course, I don't know if the capes were free issue or not.

Here was my demon, just as the map makers drew on their ancient charts, where they said they would be. I was in the right place. The last time I saw Mickey Mouse I was laughing and jumping with my own three kids who loved their dad like nothing else. That love goes away when life twists and turns and kicks them in the guts. When you do stupid things you wished you'd never done. When the young girls and women you've hurt smile a knowing smile...

There are thirty two of the world's largest cruise ships plying the fjords and wild inlets of south east Alaska. There's a second big Disney ship somewhere around with Minnie Mouse. The wilderness here is not our wilderness and it does not belong to us. There are no gold diggers who pan the wild rivers, no more explorers or raw adventurers making their way through deep snows, hunting critters to eat a night-time campfire meal. They are long gone. Those who come nowadays sleep well in their beds every night.

But there are beasts and demons hiding in the grey mists, marked for all to see. They'll never take up and leave and let you be.


Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK.

Too Many Eggs and No Toblerone

15 July 2014 | Port Edward, British Columbia
Photo: Calm sunrise before the storm

After we arrived in British Columbia Marie told me she'd hidden chocolate Toblerone on the boat to eat when she was alone on watch during night. I was devastated. I confess to an inherent chocolate addiction and usually stock Sänna with copious amounts for long passages, but on this occasion I'd decided to try and abstain. It was either that or another trip back to the hypnotist. Marie doesn't usually consume chocolate and I can't get my head around why she suddenly decided to become a secret eater during our three weeks at sea. We finally made port in Prince Rupert, having sailed directly from Hanalei Bay, on the wonderful island of Kauai in Hawaii.

One week into our voyage I desperately longed for Cadburys Dairy Milk or even a coconut Bounty but we had nothing, or so I believed. All the time I was suffering the pains of withdrawal there was a secret supply of Toblerone not feet away. By the second week I was pulling my hair out, or the little I have left. And, each evening, whilst alone on watch, Marie consumed little triangular pieces of Swiss milk chocolate with deliciously small bits of sweet nougat buried inside. I thought we had a close relationship... we share everything but it seems not. And, when I later found out in Prince Rupert, Marie giggled finding the whole thing amusing.

And, another thing... I argued we had too many eggs onboard for a three week voyage. Nearly sixty I believe although Marie denies this. Each one had to be individually greased for preservation and, luckily, our very good friend Sarah joined us onboard in Honolulu for a holiday. Sarah greased each one for us in a rather too caressing manner in my opinion, before we sailed north and Sarah left to return to the UK. I made the point, several times, that we would never get through sixty eggs but Marie and Sarah steadfastly refused to accept this. Not nearly enough they said. To prove her point, once we left, Marie cooked four egg omelettes or double poached eggs on toast each morning and we consumed egg fried rice, egg noodles, egg salads, boiled eggs and egg dishes I'd not come across before. We ate rather well. I suspected at one point I was egg bound. Somehow we consumed the last two eggs in the evening we made port and Marie declared we'd carried just the right amount, as she'd said all along.

Our three thousand mile sail north from warm Hawaii ended in cold British Columbia just south of the border with Alaska. The weather deteriorated gradually, the first week was again glorious trade wind sailing in sublime sunshine until we reached the infamous North Pacific High, the erroneously static area of high pressure that dominates north pacific weather. We had to sail northwards around the high, gradually turning east to Alaska and British Columbia. As we did so the temperatures dropped and the dense fog, strong winds and torrential rain began to dominate. The wind at first died as we approached the High, until we reached the latitudes where low pressure gales hurl relentlessly from the west to drive us eastwards to our landfall destination...

Inevitably, we got caught by a deepening weather front knowing all along we would. We had prepared. We picked up a storm warning issued by the Canadian weather service and quickly realised the wind and seas heading our way would be no spring chicken. There was no means of avoiding it, we battened everything down and made ready. Skip, a friend onshore in San Francisco keeping a keen eye on the weather for us, advised over the radio to dig out our best pirate songs and old sea shanties to sing loudly into the powerful storm coming our way.

The gale force winds came from the south east, touching sixty knots with towering ten metre seas. We tried to hold our easterly course as best we could. A huge rogue wave, breaking with unbelievable green ferocity, knocked us down and we rolled upright to thankfully survive. So we turned like frightened rabbits, running north with the seas under bare poles, flying just a scrap of storm sail to keep our way. We cleared the chaos below, battened the hatches and settled ourselves down from the biting cold to nurture our tired strength, to sit things out leaving Sänna to her fate. Then we were comfortable and warm whilst the wind roared outside and the raging sea hurled and twisted us around. If we survived we'd now make landfall much further north than we'd planned.

The gale winds eased and we somehow tucked into the foggy west coast shelter of Graham Island. Desolate Canada sometimes showed herself through the swirling mists and we turned eastward around the hidden headland making for the infamous Chatham Sound. Captain Cook first came here and called this a savage land.

That's how we came to arrive in Prince Rupert with the last of our eggs and the mysterious Toblerone secretly consumed. We're thankful to God we're alive.

British Columbia is the wildest wilderness we've seen. We have rain and glorious warm sunshine with snow capped mountains and pine forests clinging to countless islands. There are Humpback whales, huge Bald Eagles and we've seen growling Grizzlies along the shorelines too. The locals are friendly and the fishermen give us crabs and halibut and salmon for free. These beautiful harbours are no tourist traps and we tie and live alongside hardcore rough men of the sea who give no grace. They ask and we talk and we have their acknowledging respect.

We're tired and Sänna needs time to gather her strength to continue north some more. She begs and whispers in my ear and someday soon we'll leave.


Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK.

Eric Two Corks

23 May 2014 | Ala Wai, Ohau.
Photo: The Mercurial Texan

Eric Two Corks, skipper of Maluhia, was adamant we should go and see the Judge. We could somehow free Horst, skipper of Awenasa, from appearing in the Kona Court. So we rode off in Eric's car to set things straight and I imagined it rather like two cowboys riding to the Sheriff's jail to free the condemned outlaw about to be hanged. I saw there was already a rope in the back of the car which, I figured, could be used to free the hapless Horst if things took a turn for the worst. This, I thought, was going to be fun.

Horst had fallen foul of the authorities in Kona on the big island of Hawaii. Refused entry into Honokohau Boat Harbour, Awanesa had been directed to Kailua Bay by the harbourmaster where, Horst was told, he could drop an anchor. He set his anchor in the designated area as instructed but, unfortunately for Horst, Awanesa's chain swung when the wind changed, dragging over live coral at the moment a conscientious and enthusiastic eco tourist was photographing the wonderful sea life that lives in Kailua Bay. The swimmer caught it all on film and promptly informed the Division of Parks & Ocean Recreation Officer who instantly called the police. Only the previous day, the State of Hawaii had issued a new law protecting coral. Poor Horst, the German who spoke with a severe speech impediment, was duly issued with a citation and summoned to appear in Court. He was distressed and distraught.

Every condemned man needs a champion to fight his cause against his hanging. We've seen it countless times in the movies and on TV. The hapless victim sits terrified before the all white jury who've already condemned him, the brilliant lawyer stands and strides around the court, makes an impassioned speech and everyone in court, including the jury, stand and cheer and the judge bangs his hammer down hard freeing the condemned man. Luckily for Horst he had Eric Two Corks, the mercurial Texan, on his side.

I followed Eric through the imposing court house doors and listened intently as he informed the security guard we were here to right a ferocious wrong. Floor 3, we were told. We strode purposely to the elevator, with Horst in tow, and presented ourselves to the Court Clerk at the counter. Eric instructed Horst to say nothing which, in any event, was irrelevant as Horst's English was almost unintelligible with his impediment. Both Eric and I could understand him but it took time. Eric designated myself as Horst's official translator which was duly noted by the Clerk of the Court. This, I beamed proudly, was going exceedingly well.

The Clerk listened as Eric related the facts in his confident Texan drawl. This was clearly a miscarriage of justice, he said, that Horst doesn't speak English, has a severe speech defect and would not get a fair trial. The lady clerk was extremely sympathetic but said we'd have to speak directly to the Judge in the court house in Kona. She gave us the phone number. We called the Kona Court and was told emphatically the trial was set and the fight was irreversibly on...

Horst forlornly sought legal advice from a Lawyer but was told the costs would be prohibitive. No matter, Eric decided, he would call a council of boat skippers residing in Ala Wai Boat Harbour... our combined maritime knowledge would outstrip the expertise offered by any obscure suburban lawyer. Of course, Eric Two Corks was unquestionably right. Every skipper invited to the discussion eagerly contributed his opinion, myself included, and the question of coral survival didn't feature much in our fiercely opinionated world. By this time Horst was feeling confident he would escape his lynching, but what would happen, he worried, if he left Hawaii for Alaska with a criminal record? Eric played his masterstroke, pulled the card from up his sleeve and went to consult the legal mind of Mac McDonald onboard Why Not.

This was indeed a canny move. Mac McDonald was a self confessed expert on the matter of international maritime law. To Eric and myself this could easily be construed as official legal advice... maybe not of the highest order but legal counsel nevertheless. We told Horst we'd consulted a fine legal mind on the subject of his impending trial, damaged coral, international maritime law and local municipal laws... it was now a simple open and shut case. Horse beamed a great smile, realising he would be set free by the Judge on the day in the Kona court house. Not surprisingly, Eric Two Corks, Horst, Sergio the Sailor and myself continued to discuss the subject relentlessly over many beers and we have become good friends, fighting the common cause of maritime injustice...

Horst duly appeared before the Judge on the big island of Hawaii, confident in his innocence, believing wholeheartedly the Judge's hammer would be brought down hard in his favour. We had done our work well, or so we thought.

The full story of the trial of the unfortunate Horst, skipper of the German yacht Awanesa, can be viewed at noonsite.com and at sail-world.com. Meanwhile, life in Ala Wai goes on.

My very good friend Eric Two Corks will leave one day soon, with Claudia and his surf boards aboard Maluhia for the Marquesas Islands, south of the equator. Sergio the Sailor and Impulse are heading south too and I've heard rumours Maluhia and Impulse may sail south together. We ourselves are leaving to go north to British Columbia and to Alaska. Horst is heading north too, to Alaska on Awanesa with his new puppy dog Ginger. Peter, skipper of the New Zealand yacht Salamander has already departed for the Aleutian Islands and the wily old surfer Bill, skipper of Pegasus will stay in Honolulu with Shirley. Fat Annie left for Mexico and it's yet another sad, sad parting of the ways.

Goodbye magical Hawaii.


Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK.

Sergio the Sailor

25 April 2014 | Oahu, Hawaii.
Photo: Stern work...

The banging on the hatch woke me to Sergio's excited, heavily accented Italian voice... "Berlusconi has resigned. Fantastic News, Dave, Wake Up, Berlusconi, he's gone." It took me a few moments to rouse myself to the important news about Italian politics of which, of course, I had no knowledge of. I stuck my head out through the hatch, "That's brilliant news Serge. He had it coming the bastard," I was still in a dreamlike state.

Sergio, our very good friend and neighbour here in Ala Wai Boat Harbour, is passionate about his homeland. He's passionate about his incredible plan too. You see, Sergio is a talented artist and, like all Italians, an accomplished chef to boot. He's also seventy years old and desperate to leave.

So I must tell you about his plan to sail his boat Impulse solo from Hawaii to Italy...

Sergio the Sailor has been living and working on his boat these last three years whilst still running his mom and pop Italian restaurant here in Hawaii. His female staff dote on him like mother hens. They make sure he's fed, tend to his absent minded injuries and ensure his restaurant is run smoothly. But there's a problem... Sergio hasn't told his girls he's planning to sail alone back to Italy because he's afraid they won't let him go.

Then, to complicate things, there's Sergio the Artist. He's painted his restaurant in the renaissance style of Michelangelo, it's unbelievably good, reproducing the Sistine Chapel in incredible detail. Japanese tourists flock to eat Sergio the Chef's genuine northern Italian cooking, using his mama's secret recipes which, he reliably informs me, he's invented and made up. "Americans and Japanese don't appreciate real Italian food," he tells me authoritatively.

But, and here's the amazing thing... Sergio the Artist's incredible Michelangelo plan is to paint churches along his sailing route to the Mediterranean, reproducing the Sistine Chapel whenever he can. Sergio and I discuss his options on a daily basis, how he's going to get to Italy and which churches Sergio the Sailor will find to paint. We talk about the route he will sail across the Pacific and the harbours he will find that want their ceilings painting in the Sistine style. There's quite a few it seems and I truly believe there are. In the meantime, Sergio the Chef's girls suspect he's planning something up his sleeve and are keeping a close eye on him in case he tries to leave...

And then there's Sergio the Sailor's boat. It's his dream and he's almost rebuilt it from scratch. He works on his pride and joy seven days a week and finds time to visit his restaurant twice a day to keep an eye on things. I've been watching him closely too... and I can see Sergio knows a thing or two about sailing boats. Impulse is coming together and shaping up. She's well capable of sailing to the Mediterranean with Sergio onboard.

Yesterday he asked me if I thought he'd make it back to Italy which, now the bastard Berlusconi is no longer President, he's very anxious to do. I told him I thought not. His face dropped and he asked me why. "You'll never get past the Philippines with all the girls there waiting to get their hand on you," I said, "And if they don't get you the ones in Thailand will." His face lit up with a glint in his eye and we both laughed.

You see, Sergio's been married four times and he has the Italian charm that's difficult to resist. Maybe Sergio the Artist will paint his church and Sergio the Sailor will sail the seas, but the friendships Sergio the Romantic will make along the way'll get him in the end.


Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK.

Fat Annie

18 February 2014 | Ala Wai Small Boat Harbour, Honolulu
Photo: Sänna berthed in Ala Wai Harbour, Honolulu.

"We cannot give you a slip in the small boat harbour until you have undergone a survey to verify that you are a seaworthy vessel,"
"Wha' dyer me'n leik?"
"Pardon M'am?"
"What do you mean?
"It is US regulations M'am, we have to check your boat to make sure it is not a derelict vessel that you intend to abandon here in the boat harbour,"
"I will arrange for you to tie up to the waiting pontoon to await your survey,"
"Yee hev got te be funnin. Wi hev saeled aal th'way fro' New Zealand man,"
"Pardon M'am?"
"But we've just sailed from New Zealand,"
"I appreciate that M'am but we need to ensure your vessel is capable of going to sea,"
"Yee kiddin man, wha waad yee wan' te dee tha?
"Pardon M'am? I thought you said you were English?"
"Ahm a canny Geordie lass, bu' nivver mind. Surely if we've sailed from New Zealand then we must be seaworthy?"
"It is just regulations M'am. We will also need you to take your boat and motor around the red buoy outside the harbour entrance. We will watch you from the office. Our surveyor will be here when you come back,"
"Wha? Gan canny o' we'll dunsh summick?"
"Pardon M'am?"
"So that we can satisfy ourselves that your engine is in good order and your vessel will stay afloat,"
"Jeeze! Ar' ye bein' serious man. Wi ornly wanna sta' a few neets leik,"
"I am very sorry M'am but I do not understand your language,"
"I said we only want to stay a few nights,"
"It is harbour regulations M'am,"
"Ah divvant beleev it, yee jawin a heep o' blather man,"
"Your vessel name M'am?"
"Fat Annie,"
"No, I need your vessel name M'am,"
"That is the vessel name,"
"Oh! Sorry M'am,"
"Eeeh Man, ahm gannin te th' booza fer me wine an' a blaa oot Robert,"
"Pardon M'am?"
"I said to my husband we're happy to assist you,"
"Thank you very much M'am."

Jill Watson
Fat Annie
Honolulu, Hawaii.

Northwest Passage

06 January 2014 | Honolulu.
Photo: The route through the arctic...

Cook left Hawaii and sailed north to find a way home through the arctic ice. He never made it. History tells us he was slaughtered and devoured here on the big island and, curiously, Hawaiians still try hard to hide Cooks's unfortunate demise.

We too need to somehow make our way back to England from Hawaii. Personal problems are stacking up over Henry's education and his well being, it's not an easy situation. Marie takes a continual moral kicking from other moms and establishment experts who sleep well in their beds each night. But, let's agree, it's also not right that Marie and Hen have to spend time apart? Can we say it's wrong for Marie to be judged by the standards of others? The ones who always tell her they know best..?

Now the conundrum... If we ourselves head for England northwards then we can make for the remote and desolate Aleutian Islands, but our insurance people say no. Or we can head for British Columbia, Canada and our insurance experts say, well that's ok. Surely we can then keep going north to Alaska to find a route back through the Arctics' Northwest Passage, just like Cook's voyage. Now our insurance company are having the mother of all dicky fits and saying absolutely not. It's painful, we must have insurance because every first world country we sail into now insist, not the least Canada and the US. Then our insurers tell us they will give us cover only as far as 50 deg north and, even then, not after the first of November...

Things are changing. It's not easy to slow the world down and jump off anymore, to leave the establishment world of global commerce and authority. We have huge sailing experience, a well found vessel that can sail into the arctic and a sensual desire for adventure. We are explorers too but the wilderness wilds are inevitably now controlled. Sänna can go anywhere and we have no need for authority or authoritarian governments. But then we are dictated to by insurance underwriters who do not know a great deal except risk algorithms and financial return on risk management. Is it right that we have to seek the permission of our insurer before we do anything...? Is commerce interference and government control getting out of hand?

....I've thought about this a great deal. Our insurers are risk averse and puritanical, they wield too much power. We're going north regardless. Marie and I have talked and decided that maybe Henry can sail north with us too. Absolutely No! Now the education authorities and the teacher experts say not. It's dangerous, with huge adverse affects on Henry's growing mind and will contravene new education laws in the UK. So we have yet another head on collision of ideals; once again we are teasing the experts which is never a good thing to do. We are challenging their comfort zones...

The establishment is fighting back vigorously as it always does. We are irresponsible itinerants of no fixed abode, sea gypsies with low moral attitudes. We need to be reigned in and put back into our ant like slots...

No matter. We're going north into the icepack to find our way home.

Boat Names

10 December 2013 | Honolulu.
When I first called Hannu to ask if I could name my boat Sänna he said no, because his boat was already called Sänna. He then called me and said he'd been thinking and I should be able to this.

He gave me permission to use the Karelian version of her name but I must promise never to use the name Sani, which I was going to do. That was her Grandfather's boat and he would never agree. And so we agreed that Hannu's boat would be Sänna and mine would be Sänna 2 which is what you do with boat names. I've never liked the name. Then he called me not so long ago to say his boat Sänna had sunk because he forgot to take her of the water when the winter ice came. I told him now that my boat was the only Sänna it couldn't be Sänna 2 anymore so we agreed my boat would be the last Sänna. I spoke to Trish at the UK Ships Registry office and she changed the name and took the '2' away.

Then Hannu called me again and said he'd been thinking. He was buying another boat and was going to rename her Sänna 3 after his first boat. I said he couldn't do that now because there wasn't a Sänna 2 anymore. He wasn't very happy and said he needed to think about this. Then he called me to say he'd decided not to buy the boat. Which was a good thing because when he went to tell the man selling the boat, it too had sunk in the ice when the lake froze.

Sänna too is heading for the cold north and the ice fields. To Alaska, the Arctic Ocean and the Northwest Passage.

Shark Attack...

15 August 2013 | Honokohau Harbour, Hawaii.
Photo: Hull cleaning team and fearless shark hunters.

This blog discusses man's primeval fear of sharks. To be more precise... my fear of sharks. Well, one shark in particular. I'll tell you about my fear of being hunted...

This particular story begins after we arrived in Honokohau Boat Harbour on the big island of Hawaii. We tied up and went to pay our dues in the harbour office. Just as we were leaving the Harbourmaster warned us, "There's a very big tiger shark comes into the outer harbour. You gotta be careful."

A few days later Marie left to travel out with Henry and I was left alone. He was joining us for the long duration of his school holidays. After Marie left I frequented the harbour bar late each afternoon for a cool beer along with the crews of the fishing boats. We talked of big marlin and barracuda and I eagerly joined in as best I could, never mentioning my own meagre catch of the odd tuna or two. As a Brit I knew I was fair game.

I'd take my place in the row at the bar with my beer, listening to talk of boats being spiked by huge marlin, guys pulled overboard with their rods never to be seen again and mysterious tales of hard and rough women who could out fish any boat before disappearing into strange mist banks. I listened and laughed, eager to be accepted. The conversations invariably turned to the big Tiger in the harbour... voices dropped into hushed tones and those who knew would nod their heads before falling silent. In the corner sat the old timer, ancient and bearded with fear in his eyes who suddenly wailed... "I saw a thousand men in the water when the Japs sunk the Indianapolis back in 45. Sharks got em all..." I recognised him as the same old sea salt in the movie Perfect Storm, who, at the bar, warned "The Flemish Cap? Went there once in 62..."

I needed to clean Sänna's keel and check the prop shaft before we headed north to Maui. I'd planned to scuba under the boat, something I'd done many times before. John, on the big Sunseeker moored alongside said, "Maybe you'll be ok, just don't thrash around too much and learn to play dead." He thought some more and said, "Most folk in this harbour know their fish and stay clear. He's a big son of a bitch, comes in to eat the Turtles," John clearly knew his stuff, "Hope you Brits are tough cookies."

Maybe you can think about this? Would you go into the water? In the morning I needed to don my scuba gear and go under the boat to do the work. I sat on Sänna's bows in the warmth of the evening sunshine, drinking cool beer from my fridge and thinking about this an awful lot. I stared ahead into the harbour water knowing there was a big shark in there somewhere. This particular shark had never harmed anyone and had been here a good while. I, on the other hand, had been here for precisely two weeks, had before faced big storms and taken immense risks getting here. Thinking back, I'd also taken huge business risks and done stupid things in my life without thinking of the consequence. I considered myself brave.

Where, now, was my fear coming from? The harbourmaster and the guys drinking beer in the bar had told me to be careful. John had told me to play dead. The old timer, with his dire warning, is a figment of my imagination, inserted into this story to build the effect of fear with a touch of humour. They did the same when making the movie. I had to decide whether to disregard everyone's warnings, ignore countless shark attack stories told over eons of time or submit to a primeval fear that resides somewhere deep inside me and in just about every other brave soul too. What I needed was expert advice...

I turned to the old timer. He was startled and nearly fell from his stool in the dark corner of the bar. "Well, young fella, that's the first time anyone's ever asked me that question." He pulled his beard thoughtfully and scratched his brow, "In fact, you're the first son of a bitch who's ever spoken to me if I think about it." His eyes warmed with dreamlike affection, "Since I got all old and wrinkly I only get to appear in stories like yours and the odd movie or two." He laughed quietly, "I think it's my grey beard and wild eyes that gets me the part."

When I told him about my fear of the tiger shark and need to dive the boat he paused to think, putting down his nearly empty glass on the bar. I could see he was deep in thought. A good while after he said, "I've thought about this a good deal young fella," I smiled eagerly, I liked the 'young' bit, "But first I gotta tell ya I'm only a fictional character so ya gotta take whatever I say with a pinch of salt," I agreed and poured us both another beer...

"I've seen a lotta things in my time but I only ever get to say one liners," the old timer was clearly emotional, "What you're asking needs a godammed smart ass speech and I sure appreciate that handsome fella," I beamed a smile at that one. We were becoming great friends. "The way I see it ya gotta dive the boat. No way round it boy," my smile froze, "If ya don't then these white ass toads in this bar are forever gonna talk about the Brit who was yellow. That they'd scared you plenty." He had a point, I drank my beer. "But then you've gotta a good wife and a Ma somewhere who probably still luvs ya, so ya gotta think about that too I reckon." I asked him about the Indianoplis back in 45...

"Well, as I said before, ya gotta take some stuff I say with a pinch of salt. The sharks never kill't all of em," he said. I offered it was probably me who'd added that bit in for effect. "Nope, I always say it that way," he replied. "Look, if that danky shark gets ya I can tell everybody ya was a brave young soul who wouldn'a play dead for nobody." I reminded him that I did indeed have a wife and a Ma. "Then don't do it sunny boy. Think o ya kids too." He looked me straight in the eye, "And mine's a whiskey," putting another empty glass down on the bar. I told him he was only a figment of my imagination and to go easy...

I didn't dive the boat. I figured it was a dumb idea. I never saw the tiger shark either and the turtles are thriving, swimming around Sänna all the time. Henry joined us and together we cleaned most of the hull with a long brush from the dinghy. We both fell in the water. I heard the old timer cackling loud. We all had a magical time.

Feed the Birds

12 August 2013 | Honokohau, Hawaii
Moored close to Sänna is a yankee yacht Dubon. I've got to know the family onboard quite well, particularly Marcy who's dead cute with pigtails. She's six. The other day Bo, Marcy's mother, told me she's worried because Marcy keeps using a swear word. Bo says she gets this from her father who she follows everywhere like a magnet. Yesterday I was working on the furling roller bearing and I overheard the adorable Marcy use a little word that little girls really shouldn't use. I decided to help Bo out...

"Marcy, I've heard you've been using a very naughty word."
She was shocked and horrified with wide eyes, "Who told you that?" she asked,
"A little birdie told me," I replied, not wanting to upset her.
"What!" Marcy exclaimed, exasperated, "And I've just fed the little bastards."

Bob Goddammit

10 August 2013 | Honokohau, Hawaii.
I knew this wasn't going to go well. I'd blown the wind instrument by accidentally shorting the wires trying to get a voltage reading and now I needed professional help. John, on the big Sunseeker moored alongside Sänna said "Well, I'll give you the number of the only guy on the island who can fix that," he looked concerned, "He's good but I hope you Brits are tough cookies." I called the number...

Bob, the electronics wizard said "Nope, don't do foreign shit." I couldn't be drawn because I was desperate. The autopilot had now blown too, we were powerless and stuck here in Honokohau Harbour until it was fixed. "Look, we're in trouble and I've heard you're the best..." my heart beat noisily as I played the oldest trick in the book. There was a very long pause... "Tuesday," he replied and instantly cut the call.

Tuesday soon crept up and Marie kept asking why I looked bothered. I knew why I looked bothered. The electronics wiring onboard Sänna functioned well but was a mish mosh of cables fitted at different times by different people in various countries we'd been in. All had their own standards and wire colouring... the problem was familiar on many cruising vessels. I'd since heard more tales around the fishing harbour here regarding 'Bob' and I wasn't thrilled. He stood on the concrete quay behind Sänna, waiting for me to row the short distance ashore in the dinghy to collect him. "So, I've gotta goddam swim onboard have I?"...

"Awwww Goddammit!" his long grey hair was wild and his face red. The paper sheets of our wiring diagram were stuck to his sweat covered arms and the wiring cover hatch had slammed down on his hand. "Why do I take this shit on...?" he was exclaiming to himself, "This goddam piece of sailing junk ain't fit to go to sea," he was swiftly moving through wires and deftly following their trails with his fingers, dissecting and tracing their connections. Suddenly, he screwed up my wiring diagram and threw it. Bealy leaped and caught it midair knowing it was a vital piece of ships information. I needed to be patient because this guy was critical to us leaving the harbour. Bob stood up and was obviously in pain "Awww, my goddam back, goddammit." In the corner of the cabin, I could see Marie and Henry were struggling to contain themselves.

"Dave," I was relieved he'd used my name. Maybe, I thought, we were developing a meaningful friendship, "You've got one hell o a goddam problem." My heart sank for the umpteenth time that morning, "You've got goddam Raymarine instruments and goddam Raymarine are one hell o piece of shit." He stared at me intensely, "You have no goddam idea how much I hate goddam Raymarine," his brow was oozing sweat, his eyes were wild and his back was clearly killing him. "And your wiring is all screwed up, who fitted this goddam shit?" I tried to explain the problem of different engineers in different countries etc... but he wasn't listening. "Look, I can fix this piece of goddam plastic German junk," he was referring to our boat, "But you gotta understand how much I hate Raymarine." I agreed with him how bad Raymarine instruments were although we'd never had problems with them. I'd always admired their toughness and reliability. It was me who'd screwed them up but I hadn't had the courage to tell him that bit. Bob looked at me squarely in the eyes... "The Raymarine instrument are fine, it's just goddam f*****g Raymarine, goddammit." I could see his mind wandering off to some far off place where he'd clearly been hurt somewhere in his past. "I'll be back next week with new bits of kit, but it's gonna cost ya," he suddenly declared, "But before I come back you've gotta get all that goddam old wiring out coz I can't work with that goddam shit." I nodded in eager agreement almost hating the wiring too, "Now, have I gotta goddam swim ashore or are you gonna f*****g row me?"

Bob Goddammit, as Marie and Henry had christened him, returned the following week with new Raymarine wind and autopilot displays. I rowed ashore to pick him up with great trepidation... "Well hello Dave, how're ya you young devil?" I was thrown off balance by this new friendly attitude and stuttered an unintelligent reply, "What? Speak up man," he smiled a beaming smile, "It's a beautiful day and the sun is sure shining..." We'd spent several days stripping out old wiring as 'Goddammit' had instructed. Everything was ready.

It all went surprisingly well and worked pretty much first time. We got a new circuit diagram, neatly and accurately prepared by Bob. The new instruments, expensive as they were, worked fine and we were ready to leave the big Island of Hawaii for Maui, the next island up in the chain. In the end, we three agreed, if we looked at things in a certain way, Goddammit wasn't too bad...

It's now confusing. We have Bob McDavit, our weather guru who maybe saved our lives in warning us away from the savage storm coming up from New Zealand, and now Bob Goddammit, who fixed up Sänna real good. Try repeating their names together quickly in succession.

Trade Winds

30 July 2013 | Raiatea, French Polynesia to Hilo, Hawaii.
Media: Sublime trade wind sailing

Our second attempt to make Hawaii proved to be more successful. We'd had a fabulous couple of months in the French Society Islands but we had to make the long voyage north before the onset of the north pacific hurricane season. We'd already left it a little late and needed to keep a keen eye to the east to avoid any deadly early season storms. But this was nice, easy trade wind sailing and our progress north was fast. The old sailing ships relied on the consistency of the pacific easterly trade winds and they never disappoint.

Day after day of good sailing took us nearer to the equator, following a NNE course in the SE trades to make as much easting as we could before we reached the 'doldrums' north of the equator. The ITCZ is where the northern and southern hemisphere trades meet to produce little wind and notoriously squally wet weather. The breeding ground of hurricanes... We crossed the equator at 147 deg 50 west, negotiating the swift currents now reversed and setting eastwards into the north pacific. Fat Annie too made good progress about 200 miles north of us and we stayed in radio contact.

This was fantastic sailing. The sea was in a benevolent mood and caused us no real problems. The blue ocean and I became uneasy friends again after the hideous time she gave us crossing from NZ to Tahiti. Marie delighted each evening with fresh cooked food and we'd watch numerous sunsets, dolphins and whales pass by, broken only by the odd rainstorm to wash away the salty residues of breaking sea spray. Sänna too behaved magnificently and even the dreaded doldrums proved no match, with consistent winds and seas driving us through the infamous thunder squalls. We spent our days laughing and joking and growing close again. These were the treasure days together we'd never forget. Ever. Only those who've spent endless days alone together know...

We altered course north through the doldrums until the winds backed NE and we were able to point Sänna's bows directly NW to Hawaii over 800 miles away. We followed the wind. We plotted a course for Hilo on the big island, intrigued by how the yanks would react to an English yacht turning up on their doorstep. Homeland security? Still, the trades were perfect and the wind drove us relentlessly on a reach until we could make out the big smoking volcanoes of Hawaii nearly fifty miles away. For well over two thousand miles we hardly adjusted the sails or needed too, except to occasionally reef down when the wind blew a little harder. Our logs showed that Sänna was making over 180 miles a day, easily the best long distance sailing we'd ever done.

In the evenings we talked of where we would go next. Alaska? Canada? California? Mexico? Panama? Anyhow, we both distinctly had the feeling we were heading home. Back to England; Norfolk or Suffolk I proposed. Marie laughed, "Yeah, right," she said. But I could see she was keen too...

We berthed in Hilo Port in the middle of the day. Perfect arrival timing into a new harbour. Fat Annie was already moored up but they'd had problems with their sails. We too had some minor problems we'd need to get fixed, but nothing that was going to cause problems. Just the usual wear and tear stuff from a long voyage. Refreshingly, US Customs and Coastguard were extremely friendly and helpful. We were checked in, passports stamped, Customs processed, all by the same guy. Very impressive, we thought, given the infamous reputation of US immigration.

And in Radio Bay harbour there were other long distance sailing yachts tied up too. Midnight Sun from Tasmania, heading for Alaska with their two young boys onboard. Canadians too, heading south to New Zealand. We'd arrived safely, without incident, and the smoking volcanoes welcomed us in a traditional sunshine Aloha...


Raiatea to Hilo, Hawaii. 2,350 miles in sixteen days.

Note: seven days after arriving in Hilo, Tropical Storm Flossy passed over Hawaii, followed closely by Tropical Storm GIL and Hurricane Henrietta...
Vessel Name: Sänna
Vessel Make/Model: Ocean 50 (Bavaria)
Hailing Port: Poole UK
Crew: Dave & Marie Ungless
We have sailed together for over ten years now, leaving the Mediterranean to head eastwards. Our destination was Australia and New Zealand which we achieved in 2012 before attempting a full round-the-world circumnavigation across the pacific and back to the UK. [...]
Extra: Sänna is a hybrid Bavaria Ocean 50, custom built for deep bue water ocean cruising. The build and re-fit specification is high and to date boasts over 56,000 miles of ocean cruising. For more information visit our main website at www.sanna-uk.com.
Home Page: http://www.sanna-uk.com
Sänna's Photos - Malaysia
Photo 8 of 10 | Back To Album
Prev   Next
Entrance to Tanjung Rhu July 2009
Entrance to Tanjung Rhu July 2009
Added 10 November 2009