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Wild Song
from the UK to the south Atlantic Ocean
In Shock
September 19, 2011, 11:45 am

We are reeling after arriving in Puetro Calero from Morocco. After the crazy hubbub of Essaioria were are in a land of polished brass bollards and manhole covers, designer label shops and thirty restaurants in just one marina.This cruising is a crazy business.
By the way, it was a lovely downwind sail all the way. Average speed of 6.4 knots. I'm getting to like this tradewind stuff.

A Perfect Night at Sea
September 16, 2011, 12:00 am

I doubt you could have a better night's sailing than this. We are thirty miles off the Moroccan coast, bound for Lanzarote 200 miles ahead. The wind is fair and mild, blowing gently and wafting us along at a full seven knots, and the sea is flat. There is not a cloud in the sky so every star in the universe is shining down on us, the milky way is as vivid as a shimmering slash across the sky. Before dusk we saw our first whale, a pilot whale the book told us; then dolphins joined us for half an hour of fun. To the east, above the distant and unseen hills of Africa, the moon has just risen. We glide easily through the water with all these things as our companions.

A Perfect Night at Sea
September 16, 2011, 12:00 am

I doubt you could have a better night's sailing than this. We are thirty miles off the Moroccan coast, bound for Lanzarote 200 miles ahead. The wind is fair and mild, blowing gently and wafting us along at a full seven knots, and the sea is flat. There is not a cloud in the sky so every star in the universe is shining down on us, the milky way is little a shimmering slash across the sky. Before dusk we saw our first whale, a pilot whale the book told us; then dolphins joined us for half an hour of fun. To the east, above the distant and unseen hills of Africa, the moon has just risen. We glide easily through the water with all these things as our companions.

Welcome to Morocco
September 15, 2011, 10:36 am

Exactly three days to do 340 miles, so not bad. We are in the busiest, most chaotic harbour you could imagine where men throw freshly caught sharks to each other, and heavily clothed women sit on the harbour wall gutting fish. This is Essaioura, and a friendly spot.Everyone wants a little 'tip' but they're very well mannered about it. At the moment we have a lad who says he is now the boat's guard - fifteen quid for 24 hours, which is expensive when you consider that we have just eaten a salad lunch for little over a quid.
It was an easy passge, mostly; fresh on the first day, dead behind us, and we rattled off the miles under reefed main and poled out yankee. The next two days were much quieter and there was much sail trimming resorting, eventually, to our lightweight genoa which is a lovely sail we hadn't set before. We are very impressed with the light airs performance given that we averaged 115 miles a day over the three days.
There's not much here that you would describe as yachting 'facilities'. The guard says he can get water, but we don't much fancy it. And the public lavatories made us thankful for our own holding tank.
But the food looks terrific, and cheap, and everyone wants to help. No sooner were we alongside than three people offered to take us to immigration, customs etc. All, these admdinstrative visits, some in buildings straight out of the movie, Casablanca, took over an hour, but they were all charming.
We are alongside a vast red ship, size of a tug.The captian says it's the local lifeboat. He asked us if we had any beer. He said his religion didn't allow him any alcohol, unless it was iin a small tin. He was a very happy man when we handed a can over.

Getting south,fast
September 12, 2011, 12:00 am

We spent last night in our final European anchorage just to the east of Cape St Vincent, the headland which we rounded in a spiritied way with a strong following wind and building seas, but in glorious sunshine. Since we have no instruments except the GPS (as previously described), it was Chris' task to swing the lead as we crept into shelter. It worked, after thirty years of being unused!' It didn't even need servicing. The strong wind prevailed through the night, contrary to its usual practice of dying away by midnight leading to a calm morning. So we awoke to a F4 northerly and were underway by nine. It made for a good following wind start and an easy 6.5knots on a course to a Moroccan harbour 350 miles away. The wind was cold, though, and Chris and Ant wore sweaters. It was a perfect day's sail made even better towards the end when the setting sun on the starboard beam was mirrored by the rising moon on the port side. At the time of writing (2300) we are making a very easy 7 knots and the chill air has gone to leave a warm night. If I have one complaint about my crew it is that they did far too much shopping. The foc'sle is like a greengrocer's shop, and Ant bought enough ingredients for lunch to last halfway round the world. Does anybody know any good recipes for this glut of kidney beans I have taken on as cargo? Is there such a thing as a 'good' recipe for the damned things? Incidentally, we are greatly enjoying having no instruments to watch. We gauge the wind by the feel of it on the backs of our necks, and its speed by watching to surface of the sea. If it weren't for the fact that without instruments the autopilot won't function, I'd ditch 'em. When there's wind, the excellent Monitor steers for us, of course. More when we are closer to Morocco.

South again, at last
September 10, 2011, 12:00 am

A perfect night - flat seas, fair wind, stars and a huge moon. It's good to be heading south again. Libby remains at work while, together with Chris and Ant, I head south. As I write, Cape St Vincent is sixty miles ahead and we should be round it by breakfast time, then I have an anchorage in mind before the crossing to Morocco. First few days are always difficult, getting to know the boat again and getting to know each other. All made much easier this time due to the easy going weather. We lost quite a bit of the mast electrics on our way south across Biscay, but thanks to Ant's willingness to climb all are again working. But the instruments keep blowing their fuse and the wiring is so complex I don't know where to start. But, having sailed all day now with no wind speed indicator and such like, I find I don't miss then. We still have the GPS, and a spare, so I'm not too bothered. The only snag is that the autopilot doesn't work so it will be hand steering when under engine. It's now 2100 and the other two are asleep after a hefty beef stew supper. I shall get my head down for six hours starting midnight. Apart from a minor glitch or two, it's been a good start to the secong leg especially as the weather has now cleared from the dull, damp rain that fell on Cascais Marina all morning, prompting a fellow yacht to remark, 'This is just like being in Scotland!" Before coming out I've been reading Edward Allcard's 'Passage Singlehanded', published in 1950. Oh, it was so simpler then. No autopilot, he simply hove to when he wanted a sleep. He wouldn't be wondering where the next Raymarine man was to be found.

If you're coming to this Blog for the First Time
August 27, 2011, 11:23 am

I've been drawing a few people's attention to this blog so I thought I would post a recap of the voyage so far, and what lies ahead.
'Wild Song' left Falmouth UK six weeks ago and Libby and I sailed her to Portugal where she now sits in a Lisbon marina. It wasn't the smoothest of passages, and there were lots of niggles on the way, and we fell short of our planned destination, which was Madeira.
No matter. We shall be on our way again soon and this time I will have two crew: Ant, who is veteran of Ranulph Fiennes' Transglobe Expedition, and Chris who is hugely competent and adventurous sailor. The next leg (fingers crossed) will take us to Cape Verde via Morocco and the Canaries. From Cape Verde I plan be on my own for the 2,000 miles to Brazil, where I hope to be by the beginning of November. The first leg will then be over.
The big plan is to keep heading south almost to Cape Horn and then onwards into the Pacific Ocean.
So, look for updates from 10th September onwards, and thanks for reading so far.

Portugal! What a surprise
July 26, 2011, 7:04 am, Lisbon

Sorry there has been no recent update but the laptop fried itself somewhere in the middle of Biscay and never recovered - and just when I was feeling proud of myself for having configured it to talk to the satphone.
It was a fair crossing of Biscay, but with a rougher sea than seemed reasonable. The wind was mostly in the NW 4/5 so no real complaints. The diesel spillage (a leak from the cabin heater) continued to be troublesome so after a few days, and not being far from Spain, we decided to put in to get it cleaned up, and to top up with fuel. We had a good tip from some OCC friends in Falmouth - Sada is a much more convenient stop than La Corruna and so it proved to be. It's a nice marina in a small town with lots of marine services if you need them, a tidy marina with a good supermarket, and easy access in all weather. We strongly recommend it for a stopover if bound south and don't want the hassle of a big harbour.
The forecast was for wind from the north, or NE, and we rounded Finisterre in fine weather and under engine to make progress. Soon we were under a poled -out yankee and one reef in the main in building seas. Then, things started to 'drop off'. We'd had a diesel leak, and a computer fry, and now all the masthead lights started to die. None of these things are important in themselves but little niggles start to add up to bigger problems. We were getting weather forecast by Navtex from both Spain and Portugal now and although the wind was staying in the northern quarter, they were forecast to increase to 6/7. Then all the instruments failed. Again, I'm quite happy to sail without instruments and we had a battery-powered GPS in case the main GPS failed as well (and there's always the sextant) but we were tired too, and the forecasts seemed to underestimate the wind strengths.
Since Lisbon was only 150 miles and a broad reach away, we decided to make a run for it and get ourselves sorted. We had a wild night in building seas, down to the third reef in the main now and a scrap of yankee. Closing the shore in fading light (with no paper chart but a pilot book and an Imray chart on the ipad) the wind grew stronger and was up to gale force by the time we were south of Cabo Raso, but later discovered this to be a diurnal effect as it seemed to blow strongly ever evening we were there.
Anyway, we are now enjoying life in a Lisbon marina and getting things sorted.
Stay tuned.

A somewhat troubled start
July 10, 2011, 12:00 am, Off Ushant

The first few hours of any long voyage has a tension to them, and in our case it showed. On my way out of Falmouth, I was hooted at by the St Mawes ferry who thought I hadn't seen him (which I hadn't) and then by a dive boat who also thought I hadn't seen him (again, which I hadn't); Which is strange because I was certain my eyes were forward all the time. But the worst discovery was a nasty, dribbling diesel leakage from the Reflexs heater heading in the direction of the best cabin upholstery. There followed the usual ten minutes of bad temper from me, and much patience from Libby. We dropped past the Manacles and anchored off for half an hour off Coverack to sort things out and clean up. It certainly took the shine off departure morning. But the winds was not strong, the sea was flattening all the time, and as I write it is glorious sunny afternoon, a deep blue sea, and a distant glimpse of Ushant this morning, now faded. It takes time to get into a routine and we are working at it. The forecasts are good for Biscay. At the moment the wind is light but filling the sails and driving us along at 3/4 knots. That will. Time for tea, I think.

And another picture
July 8, 2011, 5:43 am

Another taken in St Mawes

I promised you...
July 8, 2011, 5:42 am, Falmouth UK

I promised you some pictures of Wild Song, so here are a couple taken at St Mawes before I came across to Falmouth, and before the wind shifted and made the anchorage a little on the uncomfortable side.
There is a small queue at the marina office (Port Pendennis) for computer access - we've all been holed up here a few days now waiting for the weather to improve and low to shift away NEward to give us a good slant and a flatter sea for a good getaway. Many people here with their eyes in distant horizons - just spoken to one couple off to Cape Town, another to the Canaries. It really is a maritime crossroads.
On the basis of the latest forecasts, we have decided to sail tomorrow Saturday, so now begins the long flog up and down the town with bread, cabbages and all the other fresh stuff. It's too comfortable here. I'd be almost happy to stay.

Isn't it Amazing?
July 6, 2011, 12:00 am, Falmouth UK

Isn't it amazing how, after faultless operation for as long as you've owned the boat, it is only when you pull away and set of for halfway round the world that something on the engine drops off? Why does it do this to us? I got down to Brixham on Friday afternoon and was impatient to get away.I'd done everything I could. It was time to be on my way. I had an RV with Libby for the following Friday in Falmouth - plenty of time, but you never know. I cast off just before 1900 having checked earlier that the engine was starting and charging - it was fine. I rounded Berry Head when I noticed that the tachometer was showing less than five hundred revs when I knew the engine was running around 1500, and the engine starting battery wasn't charging. It crossed my mind to return to Brixham, less than half an hour way, but that smacked too much of defeat so early into a voyage. I decided to anchor off the mouth of the River Dart for the night, hoping to find a cove with a bit of shelter from the slight easterly swell. On examining the engine, and hoping to find it was merely a wire that had come adrift, I saw that the bottom bolt which holds the alternator to the engine block had broken off. Sod it! Beyond my DIY skills to extract the broken stud and replace it. But what the hell? I have solar panels which were delivered a good 8 amps (in a good, sunny spell) and that was more than enough to get me to Falmouth. I wondered if there would be enough charge in the batteries to allow use of the anchor windlass; but as far as instruments etc were concerned, I could easily manage without them. The next day saw me, under sail, rounding Start Point and an anchorage off the mouth of the Yealm, the wind still being in the east. I noticed that at the end of the day, the batteries were fully charged. The next day, with the wind still in the east, I decided on St Mawes (a favourite place) for the night and then a quick sprint across to Falmouth where I had fixed an engineer from Marine Engineering-Looe who have excellent service across the west country. This was to be a Parasailor day. I have always had a loathing of spinnakers and their poles, especially when singlehanded, and I hoped this revolutionary sail would be a solution. It is difficult to describe, but Google, and you will get the theory behind it. It was my first time of hoisting, although I had been given a demonstration by Stuart from SeaTeach who are the importers. It went up like a dream, flew all day with no trouble, and came down with ease. I was well please, if several thousand pounds pooer. I anchored in a calm and hot and sunny St Mawes, with the batteries still fully charged. At six the next morning, a front went through and a fresh westerly blew straight into the anchorage - very lumpy. This time, the windlass noticed that lack of an extra volt or two that the running engine can give and I hauled the last, heavy, five metres by hand - the anchor (Manson Supreme) was laden with mud and weed. Next stop Port Pendennis (inside harbour) from where I write and the alternator bolt replaced. The rain is horizontal, gale warnings in all areas. Libby arriving Friday morning. Forecast good for Saturday and thereafter - we'll see.

And now the End is Near
June 22, 2011, 7:45 am, Brixham, UK

At least, the End of the Beginning is near. I've just finished what I hope will be the final stow with a view to departing in a couple of weeks. I have written lists and ticked things off and woke in the night remembering something else, yet something nags and tells me that there is a vital spare I have forgotten. What will it be? I'll let you know.
Parcelforce have just delivered the bits for the Monitor windvane, so it can't be that.
Food, apart from fresh, is now all onboard and I'm impressed by how much stuff I've managed to squeeze into Wild Song, and there's still plenty of locker space in the main saloon. Libby has reminded me of a recent feature in Yachting Monthly about total capsize. Our tinned food locker is beneath the starboard cabin bunk and if we went over it would all come cascading out. Knowing how much it all weighed when I put it on board, I wouldn't want it falling over my head in a tumbling sea. A job for Falmouth harbour, I think.
I am an avid watcher of long range weather forecast (although they are mostly inaccurate and I would never make a plan on the basis of one) and charts are now beginning to come into range which will give me an idea of the weather for departure day. I really want a nice passage across Biscay to settle us into a sea-going routine.
Meanwhile, I've been in Brixham for a few years now and I would highly recommend the place - the staff are good and helpful and it is a very safe place to leave your boat.
I've also had good service from the following companies and individuals, and I recommend them too:
Marine Engineering - Looe (Volvo agents) Pedros Yacht Finishing at Dartside Quay (painting and Coppercoating) Aidan Kelly ( general freelance shipwright and very good; Martin Philips, gas engineer.
More soon. Roll on departure day!

A good tip
June 4, 2011, 12:00 am, home

Well I think it's a good tip, anyway. You can now buy a vacuum packing machine for around a hundred quid,vac pack stuff like bread mix, flour, teabags etc and be certain they'll stay dry and at the same time extend the shelf life.I suppose you could even vac-pack a pair of socks for those dreaded moments when all you need is something dry on your feet. I'm not certain what the wattage is, I'll check, but I'm pretty confident that it will run off the 1.5kw inverter and be pretty useful when it comes to packing fresh food when about to leave on a long passage. Another advantage, of course, is that the food/teabags/whatever take up far less space and by splitting dry goods into smaller parcels there's much less chance of them being spoiled if water does get below. Incidentally, it's amazing how much packaging I've removed, and how small the resulting pile of food is compared with the load I started with.
I'm afraid we keep inventing ways of making life on a boat ever more complicated, and we should really shun such things in favour of a simple life. Last night, I was reading Tilman's 'Mischief goes South' - tough trip, but executed as simply as could be.We have too many comforts too easily available. But who's to say Tilman wouldn't have snapped up a vac-packer if they'd been around in his day.
I think I'm at that stage where I need to stop fussing, start breathing deeply, and get some clarity about this project. At the moment the head is swimming, there again I've just spent a day configuring a new laptop, mail programme, as well as getting to grips with posting this blog via a satellite phone. Tilman didn't know what fun he was missing. I'm going for a lie down.

May 31, 2011, 10:57 am

I am grateful to the Rushden (near Northampton in the UK) branch of Waitrose (upmarket supermarket chain) who seem to have fulfilled all my dietary needs, and helped me to the car with all of it.
I read somewhere the a complete meal needs protein, vegetable and carbohydrate so I reckon that if you need thirty meals, say, then you need thirty of each of those - that's the plan I've been working too. Plus the treats, of course. Apart from the fish and meat (protein) everything's now on board. One of the problems with boats with beautiful lines is that their sleekness leads to lack of stowage space. I sometimes wish I had a nice, fat motorsailor - but not often.
One problem, and it has recurred throughout the fitting out, has been planning for weather extremes. With one hand I have been installing a Refleks diesel heater to thaw the deck ice on chilly Patagonian mornings, and the next moment trying to devise a bimini and other sun shades. It's been the same with food - I can't imagine I'll want porridge in the tropics, but I certainly won't be able to survive on just fruit in the deep south. It all makes for a very perplexing wander around Waitrose. Next task is to try and cram the latest load onto the poor boat.

The Boat - Wild Song
May 28, 2011, 8:14 am, currently on the south coast of the UK

I thought I would tell you something about Wild Song. She is a 38ft Victoria, known in the US as a Morris 38, designed by Chuck Paine. We bought her 18 months ago for this trip and we were lucky to find her in good condition and well fitted out. I'll post some pictures when I get a chance.
She is cutter rigged which gives us great flexibility, and she is the first boat we have ever owned which doesn't have a long keel so for the first time in our sailing careers we can steer this boat backwards with confidence.
She feels very comfortable at sea, never slams, and seems dry on deck although I must admit we have yet to test her in severe weather. We carry a trysail for when that arises, and envisage that trysail and reefed staysail will provide a comfortable heavy weather sail combination. Neither of us care for spinnakers, especially when single-handed as I shall be for some of the time, so we have bought, at huge expense, a Parasailor on which we will report in due course. On the trial sail it seemed much more easily handled than a conventional spinnaker and I'm very confident about it and don't have the dread I associate with conventional spinnakers. The design has come out of the parachute industry and the quality it shows in small details such as the strength of the snuffer.
Our self steering is Monitor. Our last boat had a Hydrovane, which I loved, but I have great confidence in the Monitor too, which has the slight advantage that you can raise the paddle in harbours and marinas. Reefing is single line, all led aft, and that will take some getting used to. Our last boat required a trip to the mast, and in a way I will miss that. I've found a lot of friction in single line reefing systems and to try and avoid some of it I've had the first and second reefs re-rigged with smaller dyneema lines to try and avoid that.
Engine: Volvo 2040 with Featherstream prop
Main anchor: Manson Supreme (20kg), spare anchors Spade and Fortress.
Watermaker: Katadyn 40E
You can find more details in the side bar.

The Voyage
May 28, 2011, 8:01 am

This is my first post here and I thought I would give you an idea of the voyage that lies ahead of me. If I say it quickly, then it is no trouble at all - so here goes.
We shall leave from the UK at the beginning of July 2011 and deliver 'Wild Song' to Madeira. After a short spell at home I shall then take her to Uruguay via Cape Verde and Brazil.
Next season I will head south, hoping to transit the Beagle Channel and cruise the Patagonian channels northwards towards Puerto Montt.
The following season we shall strike off in the Pacific heading, we hope, to a lonely little atoll on the far western fringe of that Ocean. We have reasons for choosing this destination which will become clear.
Then, how do we get home? How about this for an idea? We sail the Pacific rim round to Alaska, then to Vancouver/ Seattle where the boat is lifted, hauled across the Rockies and dropped into the Great Lakes. Thence, homeward.
I repeat, easier to say than to achieve but it is better to set off with a grand plan than no plan at all. Some stages will be sailed by me alone; Libby will join for legs when her busy working life allows, and doubtless some sailing slaves will be pressed into service. Cast off date is set for early July 2011.

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