Time Bandit

25 July 2017
20 July 2017
20 July 2017
13 July 2017
08 July 2017
07 July 2017
02 July 2017
25 June 2017
22 June 2017
17 June 2017
05 June 2017
01 June 2017
31 May 2017
26 May 2017
19 May 2017
18 May 2017

Nuts

25 July 2017
No, not the legendary riposte from the commander of the surrounded US Airborne troops at Bastogne, but the temptation presented to us day before yesterday.

After four sleepless nights pitching, rocking and rolling in Komo, the "nut" was the prospect of a beautifully quiet night at anchor in a pool tucked inside the reef surrounding Lakeba. Now, this "nut" wasn't just a wee salted peanut. Not even a cashew. This was a milk chocolate covered Brazil, with a dash of icing sugar. It warranted this exalted state because a) it promised shelter and a good nights sleep and b) our new best friends who we met in Komo were already tucked in and called to say it was a bit tight going in but fine.

There was also a point C, in effect. Tony, our NBF had a badly infected knee from a coral graze and was heading into the local hospital. For me, that offered the potential of some respite from my asthma which has gone a bit skew-wiff after catching what is apparently known as "the Fiji cough". If someone sneezes, I catch a cold. If they've got a cold, I get man-flu.....and on it escalates. For the last four weeks I've been driving everyone mad with my constant barking, both on and off air, whether its during sundowners, snorkelling or the morning Net I'm playing tunes. Despite a week on Lemsip, a further week of antibiotics followed by a week of steroids my asthma wouldn't ease. Consequently, the chance of some heavy duty medication was largely behind what tempted this monkey (the analogy will unfold - give it time), to stick his mitt inside the bottle and grab "the nut" - shelter, sleep and, best of all, medication.

The analogy is appropriate because to get "the nut" we had to enter the Lakeba Tuobo pass (check it on Google earth) between huge curling combers, spume spraying backwards from their foaming crests before collapsing in mountains of foam instilling fear in us nut hunters. The only flat spot was the pass itself which looked like a long thin necked bottle of wine, the neck being perhaps 50 metres long and maybe 10 metres wide rising near vertically from 10-12 metres deep to just inches at the sides. No second chances. At the inner end of the neck was "the nut" - the sheltered, tranquil pool into which we were duly spat out heart rates well up and the odd bead or perspiration. So far so good. Anchored in 20m we had a sundowner with Seven and Eight before an early, restful, flat night safely in our little pool while the combers crashed on the reef.......until 06:00.......wee-waw....wee-waw our anchor alarm went, well, nuts.

The flat calm overnight was replaced in ten minutes by a ten knot south easterly. Ten knots, no big deal except, the bottle neck was now effectively corked by the combination of outgoing tide, combers and the new breeze. There was nought else to do so it was Doc time for me and I went ashore with Mrs Bad Knee to visit Tony who'd been kept in for a luxury stay in the 1969 built facility.

Three hours later, nebulised until my eyeballs were floating we headed back to the boats to find land where bay had been and reef where pool had been. The Bad Knee Boat was already aground. We had 12m under us but maybe just 12 feet behind us. It was clearly time to go but first, as skipper Tony was lying in hospital we had to raid his boat, plunder an anchor and some chain from his bilge, lay it as a kedge which Seven bravely rowed out and then muggins, freshly de-wheezed, set himself back three hours by winching her off the putty.

Refloated it was back to Time Bandit, where we whipped up our anchor, dropped the nut and charged out the pass like a scalded cat before we got stuck there permanently.

So, the moral of the story. Get your nuts somewhere safe.

Hallucinating in Lau

20 July 2017
I'm getting a bit worried.

It's a bit of a walk to the village. Half is along the beach, rock scrambling at high tide, a flat walk on the coral at low, every step crushing years of growth making us feel quite guilty but then, the locals tramp around all day in search of the days meal and have done for generations.

On these walks, with our cruising buddies Seven and Eight, aka Sven and Lisa but the locals can't get their tongues around that so they've become numbers, what started as a joke saying we'd pop into Starbucks and have an ice cold mocha latte with caramel topping, has become quite serious. We're hallucinating about treats and maybe a wifi hit.

Why, I don't know as last summer's on-board speleology expedition to the depths of our freezer means we have loads of burgers, steaks and chicken left. We even had a bonfire with hot bananas, chocolate sauce and ice cream on the beach two nights ago. Nonetheless, we, or maybe it's just me, gabble on about what way we want our epicurean burgers and coffees done.

All this when we clearly know that there's absolutely nothing in the village to eat let alone electricity, that hasn't been grown in the jungle, fallen off a palm tree or been out in the reef recently swimming around with its mates thinking, "what a lovely day for a swim......ohh.....look, a juicy clam hanging on a wee wire just there....chomp....Ow, whoa my gums. And bingo, a juicy green parrot fish becomes tonight's dinner.

Our guide, the guy who can't speak or hear yet manages to understand and be understood, took us to the village well today. Lucky he couldn't make us drink. This pool of water was apparently the bathing spring. The island is a big limestone rock and the well is the sump where rain water which has flowed through the limestone for decades, rich in minerals and naturally filtered comes to the surface in the middle of the village.....and lies stagnating with a bit of a soapy scum on top. Not quite Highland Spring, or indeed Ramlosa. (this for our Swedish reader). Or indeed, Poland Spring for East Coast USA!

I've previously mentioned that I feel what we're doing is a bit of voyeuraging, like Red Nose Day but without the celebrity tears, but it is quite an experience to step off your first world platform, anchored in "paradise" and then see how basically the villagers live. Corrugated iron shacks, possibly a bunk but more likely just a bit of foam on the floor and a bit of cloth separating the "rooms". All cooking outdoors or maybe a separate shack over wood fires in battered, blackened pots.

On the other hand, if they'd ever left the house with me at 04:15 to drive to the airport then fly for 3 hours to haggle and get beaten up over next year's contract or "your labels are falling off" (despite the fact they sprayed them with WD40) so here's our claim for $1million, my guess is they'd be thinking, "poor bugger, imagine living like that".

Medic!!!!

20 July 2017
We met Tui at "The Bus Stop", a wooden platform built around the village square mango tree. We were introduced by our adopted "guide" who we'd been allocated by the first man to meet us. (A bit like our friend Arthur when he first arrived in Largs).

The village early warning system had kicked in and our presence in the anchorage was noted. As mentioned previously, it's essential in the Fiji islands to do the Playsticks ceremony, presenting a gift of Kava to the village Chief and on our first morning we duly had the chief's man waving to us from the beach, summoning us ashore for the Sevusevu ceremony. A 45 minute trek along the beach and through the jungle took us to the village; we're getting used to this rush hour commute, where we were led "our man's" corrugated clad wooden shack to be briefed on the upcoming process. Having taken his commission, one of our boats' worth of kava, (they might be in the backwoods, or indeed, back jungle, but there's room for enterprise) , we proceeded to the chiefs house for the very serious introductions, mutterings, mumblings and clapping. Two or three of the elders appeared, one looking remarkably like my old dad.

Duly welcomed, we were introduced to our "guide" who would show us around whenever we were in the village. Quite why they chose the village's only deaf and dumb guy is beyond us but he's turned out a real gem although building an understanding of what makes things tick is difficult.

Back at the Bus Stop, we meet Mr Tui who waves me over, sticks a finger wrapped in dirty old cloth in my face and asks if we've got any medical stuff. Good Girl Guide that she is, Anne of course has some basics in her back pack but, having spotted that state of the external wound wrapping isn't quite Girl Guide enough to get close.

It's therefore left to me to get Tui to unwrap the improvised cloth bandage revealing, YE GODS, as severe, in fact, the only case of gangrene I've ever seen. Or was it? It was certainly green, weeping and generally yucky. Quite a long way outside my comfort zone.

Fortunately it turned out the gangrene was in fact the squished, bloodied remains of a tree leave. Natural medicine at work.....or not as was patently the case. I asked Tui to wash it out in the bucket of water at his feet but no way. Water's precious. We therefore dabbed it with a paper tissue but I'm not sure I made a friend when I squirted on our antiseptic gel but I got a real high jump. Tui had been husking coconuts, a process that involves driving a sharpened steel rod or tree branch into the ground then standing astride the sharpened the implement and swinging a fresh coconut in a downward arc onto the pointy end. This splits the outer husk, and apparently fingers. The infection potential was high so we did our best to drag him to the village nurse but, no way. So we shopped him to her! Hopefully she will be able to get it properly cleaned up before it's to late.

We also had an IT session involving programming a Garmin GPS that a visiting yacht from last year had donated to one of the fishermen. These guys will go 20 or 30 miles out into the ocean aiming for outer islands in their one engine, 25 foot open glass fibre Pangas. No map, no compass and until last year, only this non programmed GPS. I spent an hour putting in waypoints for his target islands and have spent the night worrying if they're right. One wrong key stroke and this poor guy could just disappear over the horizon.

Back in the village, we've done a pitch at the school showing the kids our (or Peat Smoke's) charts of the Pacific islands, family pictures, holiday snaps etc.... The ones that really got them going were snow and our motorbike. Kids eh!

Fire and Brimstone

13 July 2017
It was Sunday yesterday so I was duly dragged on the the one hour trek through the jungle to attend church. Second time in two weeks. That brings my average up to once every fifteen years........including weddings.

So, there we were, sat in the pews along with maybe a hundred villagers and kids. As the sermon is in Fijian we haven't a clue what's going on but I have to say I felt a lot of sympathy for the audience. There they sit, having been in the fields all week, including Saturday, the men chopping down trees, harvesting coconuts, tilling the soil the women battering the bark off a special tree branch senseless to make "tapa", a kind of parchment that they then paint to export and sell in Suva. Most Tapa are about 2 foot and 3 foot, some a good sized living room rug and one that half a dozen women were working on was probably 60 or 70 foot by 20 to be packed up and sent to the USA for an ex-pat Fijian wedding.

Anyway, there they sit a bit knackered after their six day week while up front, the vicar is doing a fair imitation of that nasty little chap from the late 1930's, him with the Charlie Chaplin moustache you sometimes see on the History channel, giving the villagers some serious talking to, fists flying and fingers pointing. What they'd done I've no idea but it did seem a bit unfair to me. They work all week and get one day off. He works one day and gets six off and on his one day he gets mad. Might have been a bad curry.

During our visit to the village on Friday one of the guys, on seeing the fairly unique, commemorative edition Fiji Olympic win Rugby Sevens $7 note yelled excitedly to his pals that, "look, look......its my brother. He's the captain" So, we presented him with one we had been keeping as a Christmas present and gave it to Beely. He was delighted and we were duly invited to another sumptuous lunch of leaves in coconut, leaves with fish, (it's amazing what you can do with leaves) noodles and chicken and taro cooked in the fire pit lomo outside the back door finished off with lemon cake. The others were invited to another house which was holding a traditional wake for a recently deceased old lady. I think we had more fun.

Afterwards, having eaten them out of house and home they offered us a lift back to the boats in one of their Pangas, 20 feet, flat bottomed open fishing boats with a 40hp Yamaha on the back. We gave them a Time Bandit tour, a can of Coke and a few lengths of some old rope my brother gave me years ago. Two course lunch for a Coke? Made us feel quite mean and perhaps they were thinking, "It's true, what we heard about the Scots"

Trevor! You Push The Button

13 July 2017
I guess bringing your "western" values to out of the way places like Fulaga leads you to make assumptions. some right, some wrong. Some embarrassing.

Trevor asked if he could use "the facilities" and was duly directed to the outhouse. Pleased to find a porcelain loo he had a quick pee and then, assuming the bucket of water was for flushing he picked up the clanking pail....at which point his host, hearing the clanking and imagining his precious water getting poured down the loo, realised what Trevor was doing and shouted, "Trevor, you push the button". We all fell about laughing. Unsaid was "we're really operating in the same world as you guys".

Yesterday afternoon we landed in Namuka-i-lau. The entry was a, now typical, wiggle thought the gap in the reef through which we proceeded at a careful, eyeball navigation, 1-2 knots. (If you're going to hit something, best do it slowly). When we were well into the pass, the Pacific Circuit Rally, who the previous day had screamed at us across the anchorage on Yagasa to effect that this was their bay and we should not anchor but go elsewhere, continued their run of "attitude" by choosing to exit the pass exactly as we three of us were negotiating it, led out by their leader passing us in the confines of the reef at around 6 - 7 knots. Charming. Much as we've enjoyed rallies, we're glad to see the back of the Pacific Circuit Rally.

Anyway, stress over, we anchored for the night in a beautiful sheltered bay and today hiked the one hour jungle path, perhaps known as the N1, to the village. Once again we were welcomed with open arms, the English teacher being given a couple of hours off by the Head to show us around the village and introduce us to the men, women and children. 300 people including 65 school age kids live here on their well kept lawn village complete with their all weather artificial grass cricket runway, or whatever you call it and tidy corrugated huts in which the ladies were making printed tapa cloth for the tourists in Suva. The men were in the jungle collecting cocunuts to dry for Copra and fish had the three giant chest freezers full to the brim, all for the markets of Suva.

The supply boat is due in tomorrow so it was all hands to the pumps to get the exports ready. Us, we bought some tapa, some tapioca, chased the squealing kids and had a thoroughly enjoyable day.....other than lugging 5 kilos each of tapioca back to the boats. If only we knew what to do with it.

Remarkable Fulaga

08 July 2017
Fulaga; what a remarkable place.

We have just spent our first week on this remote island in the Lau Group east of Fiji. The Marquesas claimed they were the most remote islands in the world but they really need to take a visit out here. No 4WD vehicles, in fact, the only wheeled vehicle we saw was a lashed together bogey cum wheel chair.

Fulaga is a bit like sailing from Greenock to a west coast Scottish island in the 1930's. They have nothing here and the supply boat only comes once a month. Their only contact with the outside world is the visiting yotties, or voyageurs. We were boat no 32 this year, in 2011 they had 100. So for the price of $50 and a bundle of kava root we are allocated a host family, invited along with the other 10 boats in the lagoon to a $10 (£2 per head) pig roast picnic on the beach. The pig was shuttled by dinghy in a woven palm leaf basket, actually, it was the second pig, as an hour earlier after the second choice piggy had breathed a big sigh of relief when his buddy was stuffed in the basket, being told, "we're all going for a picnic", SHE was returned, a few months pregnant to the pen and poor Mr Piggy went for a dinghy ride.

A last squeal and its prep time. Burning palm leaves and some scraping do a nice exfoliation job, his hair scraped off then expertly butchered into bite size pieces then wrapped in coconut leaves and place in the pre-prepared Jamie Oliver type oven; hot coals dug in a pit on the beach, then covered with more hot stones and layers of coconut leaves, a few old blankets, and oddly, the fabric from a golf umbrella. I'm not sure if that's critical to the cooking process or if its just in case it rains. Finally, a thick layer of sand is spread on top. Basically, Gas Mark 6 for 3 hours. The root veg, all smothered in coconut milk, are cooked the same way are in a separate lomo pit.

The islands are an alcohol free zone however, the "Playsticks", Kava roots, previously blogged, is the intoxicant of choice. It's an interesting if wholly disgusting process. First, the roots are pounded into powder, in our case use a hammer battering the root against the flat blade of an axe. After a few bashes, the crushed root needs scraped of into a pile.....a full fist, four fingernail scrape....and you can't help hoping he's not a nose picker.

Once a sufficient pile has been collected it's put into a well used cloth bag (and you're now desparately hoping its not an old pair of underpants and repeatedly washed and squeezed out into the ceremonial Kava bowl. It really is just like washing out your old pants. When the chief processer gets up half way through the washing and squeezing process and goes into the bush for a pee, again you're praying he'll wash his hands. As I've said previously, we're not that great travelers.

The resulting dirty water is then collected in a communal half coconut shell and passed to the first victim who has to clap three times, knock it back in one (why would you want to slowly sip it?) and cry "Booolaaa".

Anne took only one cup but I had the more or less mandatory 3 cups and felt nothing, it's supposed to be mildly narcotic but nothing doing for me. I guess years of alcohol has its benefits and hopefully the previous nights will kill any of the bugs swimming around in this murky soup.

Next day we were expected to attend church and so, togged up in my best newly purchased Sula, a wrap around skirt which all the men wear, we trotted off up the track to the village. I have to admit I'm not a regular church goer but, in fifty years, for me, it hasn't improved much. However, last time I went, at least there was entertainment.

When I was a kid, I spent my summers in a lovely little Clyde hamlet called Portencross. Every Sunday, we ( Peter and Gordon; the Twins, and I were thrust into the Mini and Mr & Mrs Wright would drive us to church. Now, Peter and Gordon had a bit of a mischievous reputation so they were positioned at either end of the our wee party, separated by both distance and the quick clip on the ear by Mum and Dad Wright. The highlight of these services was when Peter and Gordon would at undeclared intervals, send a Matchbox car, at speed, whistling along the prayer book shelf to each other. The vicar's droning would be interrupted by two near simultaneous smacks as the poor parents each made a grab for the passing car, failing on every attempt. We could have done the some race car action at last Sunday's service. It would have brightened things up a bit.

Afterwards, we joined our host family in their tin two room corrugated tin house for lunch. No furniture, sit on the coconut mats on the floor. I was reminded of the TV documentary Long Way Round when the two bikers are faced with a bowl of fresh "Prairie Oysters" (look it up) and I just know something we're not comfortable with is in one of the huge aluminium pots. First up, "Tarah!!!". A giant bucket of baby clams. I knew it.

Cooked of course in coconut milk the children pounced on these and ate huge platefuls. They were ok and Anne ate enough to be polite. I managed a good bucket load. Quite nice actually. All served with a green veg from the tree outside mixed with fish and coconut milk and then a lovely white fish with paw paw in, you've guessed it, coconut milk. We did have plates to eat from but they all ate with their fingers, we had the only 2 spoons. And we got to bring the left overs back to the boat.

Our generosity knowing no bounds we gave the family some T-shirts so my red Etive 2010 T-shirt and Big Dog kayak shirt will have a new life here along with some black L'Oreal ones we have carried for years. We could have an empty boat by the end of this trip , these people have nothing. Interestingly it is just the young and the old here. The kids go to Suva at 14 for high school and never come back 'till they retire!! The small children get sent back from Suva to be raised by the grandparents until they are old enough to leave. A few stay, one of our hosts grandsons is 16 and has refused to leave so at least the oldies will have some strong young men to chop the firewood, there is only one gas oven in the village!!

What do they gain from our visit??? A link with the outside world and the opportunity to speak English, the language they need to get on in that outside world. And a few T-shirts and chocolate cake of course.

Remarkable people. They have little and ask for nothing but would give you the shirt off their back.

Voyeuraging

07 July 2017
There's a woman who makes her living writing about boats and "the cruising lifestyle" etc�... I don't recall if it's in printed form or the Blogosphere, whatever that is. However, the point is, she says what we're doing, what Time Bandit blog follower(s) (?) read about, is "voyaging", not "cruising".

I'm not sure what the difference is as I think the original definition of "standing under a cold shower tearing up fivers" does just fine. However, if, in fact, a new definition is required, perhaps a Mission Statement, if you like - do people still spend hours in interminably boring meetings and spend thousands of pounds coming up with that old cobblers? Another reason I really don't miss the corporate world, but anyway, I digress, if a new word is required, I'd suggest the new word should be "voyeuraging". (©Time Bandit). Yes, that is a new word, but one that does quite a good job of describing our sailboat cruising life. It may even find its way onto the Oxford Concise Dictionary. (now there's an oxymoron for you if ever you heard one).

It seems to me we sail around the islands stopping at places for a nosey, peering into peoples' lives from our, to them, luxury yachts like a bunch of tanned and slightly bedraggled voyeurs.

Take Suva. We arrive there from New Zealand, grab a taxi into town to get some veggies and spend the next hour gawping at those we deem less fortunate than us sitting cross legged on their cardboard boxes peddling their poor little pyramids of oranges and confused looking ducks. Mind you, it's as well they're on the pavement (sidewalk to my US reader) otherwise they'd be mown down by either the wealthy locals who, by whatever, means have broken through the economic glass ceiling and hurtle around town in their four wheel drives, or the taxi drivers and honking buses. At all times of the day you will see fishermen and woman up to their waists, out on the sand banks throwing their nets trying to catch tonight's dinner. Somewhat ironically you can sit in the rather posh floating restaurant Tikos, eating surf 'n turf or catch of the day while a few metres away, half a dozen women are casting their lines from the breakwater, again trying to catch tonight's dinner.

Since the heady sights and bustling our voyeuraging has taken us to the Lau Group island of Fulaga or Vulaga but pronounced Fulanga. A three day, two nights 275 mile thrash to windward against the 20 knot Trades and a decent sea. (Imagine sitting in the marina thinking, "hey guys, let's go and tack our way half way down the British Isles". Most would think you're nuts). And it felt like it. Also, it would have been two nights if we hadn't missed the tide at the Fulaga reef pass. After hanging around outside for an hour to let the standing waves, thrown up by the 4 ½ knot current, subside we decided prudence should prevail and we hove to for the night to aimlessly drift among the reefs until dawn. It was a pain but better than joining the statistics of those who've added their own wee wreck symbol to the chart.

We're in Fulaga to do some voyeuraging at what some say is the last remaining true Fiji islanders. Think St Kilda but with food. Our first day included a picnic on the beach followed by our welcoming "Sevusevu" with the chief, then church and a lunch with our island hosts.

It's going to be interesting!

Voyeuraging

02 July 2017
There's a woman who makes her living writing about boats and "the cruising lifestyle" etc�... I don't recall if it's in printed form or on the Blogosphere, whatever that is. However, the point is, she says what we're doing, what Time Bandit blog follower(s) (?) read about, is "voyaging", not "cruising".

Seems a bit pedantic to me and I'm not sure what the difference is but I think the original definition of "standing under a cold shower tearing up fivers" does just fine. However, if, in fact, a new definition is required, perhaps a Mission Statement, if you like - do people still spend hours in interminably boring meetings and spend thousands of pounds of corporate cash coming up with that old cobblers? Another reason I really don't miss the corporate world, but anyway, I digress, if a new word is required, I'd suggest the new word should be "voyeuraging". (©Time Bandit).

Yes, that is a new word, but one that does quite a good job of describing our sailboat cruising life. It may even find its way onto the Oxford Concise Dictionary. (now there's an oxymoron for you if ever you heard one).

It seems to me we sail around the islands stopping at places for a nosey, peering into peoples' lives from our, to them, luxury yachts like a bunch of tanned and slightly bedraggled voyeurs.

Take Suva. We arrive there from the bright lights of fairly expensive New Zealand, grab a 3 Fijian dollar taxi into town to get some veggies and spend the next hour gawping at those we deem less fortunate than us sitting cross legged on their cardboard boxes peddling their poor little pyramids of oranges and baskets of confused looking ducks. Mind you, it's as well they're on the pavement (sidewalk to my US reader) otherwise they'd be mown down by either the wealthy locals who, by whatever, means have broken through the economic glass ceiling and hurtle around town in their four wheel drives, or the taxi drivers and honking buses. At all times of the day you will see fishermen and woman up to their waists, out on the sand banks throwing their nets trying to catch tonight's dinner. Somewhat ironically you can sit in the rather posh floating restaurant Tikos, eating lobster or surf 'n turf or catch of the day while a few metres away, half a dozen women are casting their lines from the breakwater, again trying to catch tonight's dinner.

Since the heady sights and bustling Suva our voyeuraging has taken us to the Lau Group island of Fulaga or Vulaga but pronounced Fulanga. A three day, two nights 275 mile thrash to windward against the 20 knot Trades and a decent sea. (Imagine sitting in the marina bar thinking, "hey guys, let's go and tack our way half way down the British Isles". Most would think you're nuts). And it felt like it. Also, it would have been two nights if we hadn't missed the tide at the Fulaga reef pass. After hanging around outside for an hour to let the standing waves, thrown up by the 4 ½ knot current, subside we decided prudence should prevail and we hove to for the night to aimlessly drift among the reefs until dawn. It was a pain but better than joining the statistics of those who've added their own wee wreck symbol to the chart.

We're in Fulaga to do some voyeuraging at what some say is the last remaining true Fiji islanders. Think St Kilda but with food. Our itinerary includes a picnic on the beach followed by our welcoming "Sevusevu" with the chief, then church and a lunch with our island hosts. It's going to be interesting!
Vessel Name: Time Bandit
Vessel Make/Model: Island Packet 45
Hailing Port: Largs, Scotland
Crew: Anne and Stuart Letton
About: ex dinghy and keelboat racers now tooled up with an ocean going boat and cruising around aimlessly, destination Nirvana...
Extra: 2016 Transited Panama Canal early February '16 bound for Galapagos (March), Marquesas, Pacific Islands and New Zealand for November '16
Home Page: http://www.sailblogs.com/member/timebandit/profile
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Time Bandit's Photos - Main
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