The last westerly degree!
Lat: 37° 20.0'N
Lon: 001° 00.0'W
This adventure began as a dream more than five years ago. It was one of those late night thoughts, a glimpse, a spur of the moment thought blurted out after a trip to the boat show or a day boating somewhere in Ontario. "What do you think about sailing for a year with the kids?". The first thoughts immediately dismissed the idea. "The kids are too young", "What about our jobs?", "What about our friends", "NO WAY - maybe a month!". These were just a few of the initial responses to the question "Can we do it?".
Then we slowly put the wheels in motion. I use the term we lightly, only because in its infancy, the TRIP as I have so generically named the folder in my computer where I save all the pictures so far (over 2000 and counting in the first three months!), had not been accepted by the rest of the MacKenzie family.
So I started working on the kids. Connor and Jennifer quickly jumped on the bandwagon, I'm sure not realizing that the trip included a year of home schooling with two of the worst "home room" teachers ever (mom and dad). But before long, we had really started the snow ball rolling, gaining strength and momentum, and after sailing aboard our Beneteau 323 with friend Darryl for a couple of summers, the idea was getting closer to becoming a reality.
One of the key turning points, the TSN turning point (for those hockey fans out there reading this blog!) was when we finally decided to charter a catamaran in the British Virgin Islands with brother Bruce Walker and family. I'd already been to one of the largest boat shows in the US in Annapolis and test sailed what would become our new home, the Lagoon 440, but Ziggy and the kids had never seen the newly designed cruising catamaran, only having experienced life aboard a 32' monohull.
So we arrive in the BVI late one December evening, headed from the airport to the quaint Nanny Cay Marina and walked anxiously down the Dock B and onto "Dreamweaver", the Fountaine Pajot Bahia 42 that would be our vacation "home away from home" for the next ten days.
The deal was almost done. The vessel was huge, spacious, well laid out with room for kids to hide and areas where adults can be kids, and interact, and on, and on. As we awoke the next morning, checked out with the great charter management group at Catamaran Charters, we backed Dreamweaver out of her berth and motored slowly out of the marina and into the Sir Francis Drake channel in light winds and under a perfect, hot, sunny BVI day. I will never forget that moment - with thoughts of how amazing this "trip" could be if only we could put it together, and of course, getting the support of Ziggy, my incredibly talented and very intense wife. So as I sat at the helm of the FP Bahia 42 and watched as my wife stepped carefully back towards me from the forward trampolines where everyone else was enjoying the morning, I did not know what to expect. The last comments from Ziggy were "Maybe we can do a month away - MAYBE TWO months". She only had two words "I'M IN". And from that moment on, this TRIP was a go!
I hope I haven't lost any readers. I'm writing this blog as I stand watch in possibly the most beautiful night of our entire trip so far. And that's saying something. I have sailed Windancer IV more than 4,500 nautical miles from Nanny Cay in the BVi, to St. John and St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, to Simpson's Bay on the Dutch side of St. Maarten and Marigot on the French side of the St. Martin (the same island but with dual citizenships!) to Antigua for the end of Antigua Race week and where we joined the ARC Europe rally group in Jolly Harbour, to St. Georges, Bermuda through a force 11 storm (one level below hurricane force winds), and across the big leg, the North Atlantic Ocean to the Azorean Islands of Faial(Horta), Terrceria and San Miguel, before being joined by Ziggy, Connor and Jennifer for the final crossing to Lagos, Portugal and the end of the rally across the Atlantic and the real beginning of our family adventure.
Since arriving in mainland Europe, we have visited the both Spain and Gibraltar, traveling back and forth on foot, bicycle and by car at the easiest border crossing imaginable, trekked thought the Gibraltar caves prepared for use in WWII as a military hospital and joyfully chatted with, fed and scolded the famous Gibraltar apes after enjoying authentic English Fish and Chips in the old town square.
We spent this past Sunday night in what appeared to be a posh, upscale marina (staying there only because all others in the area were full) and after negotiating the nightly berthing fee down from 680 euros (equal to approx CND$ 1,100 for the night), we enjoyed watching the finals of the EURO 2008 soccer match, where Germany was unfortunately defeated by Spain (Connor proudly wore the German jersey he received while visiting family in Hamburg). We had been seriously warned by many sailing friends and acquaintances that this south coast of Spain is knows as a "Cruisers Gauntlet", meaning few to no anchorages, ridiculously expensive marinas "if they have space", which they usually don't, and serious weather concerns with active gale warnings constantly in effect and all this to see a "concrete jungle" of hotels and crammed beaches full of drunken British tourists.
That description pretty much summarizes out experience, except for one incredible surprise - the weather! After enjoying our day in Puerto Jose Banus marina, we completed a final provisioning at the local department/grocery store (that's a whole other blog to describe that experience) we motor sailed along the southern coast of Spain in what can only be described as PERFECT conditions. Not perfect if you're a racing sailor on a schedule, but perfect for us. The sea was as calm as the calmest day on Mary Lake in Muskoka, like a millpond, not a ripple. And no wind, which is fine for me seeing that the winds were forecast to be "On the nose", in other words we were planning on motoring into them in any case.
Our plan was to motor sail to Cabo Gata, a small anchorage recommended by the owner and crew of the Spanish boat, Kalliope III, as a good stop to assess the weather for the passage around the Gata point. So after a 24 hour motor sail to Cabo Gata, we decided the conditions were too good to stop, and we are now into our second overnight of what will be a 350 nm passage over approximately 54 hours. Both Connor and Jenny totally agreed with Ziggy and I that we should continue along, and that is how I'm sitting here, o the bridge in pitch black conditions, not a breath of wind, still waters, a warn night in front of me, the glow of Cartagena to my port (left) side and a freighter just passing 2 mn away on my starboard (right) side [thank goodness for radar - that's our eyes at night!].
We were blessed with 12-15 knot of SE winds this afternoon that allowed us to give the diesel engines a break and pushed Windancer IV along a brisk 8+ knots. Night fell and the wind disappeared, and I find myself in awe of the night. A sea of endless stars in the sky above, the perfect sunset into the Spanish foothills over a cloudless horizon, and dolphin sightings that simply cannot be explained. The trip has brought countless dolphin sightings, always welcome and incredibly uplifting and entertaining, but nothing like the one this afternoon. Dolphin are naturally friendly and playful creatures that swim together in pods, groups of a few dozens or more dolphins that "live (swim) together" as a family.
Dolphin sightings can be anything from a lone dolphin who hears the boat engine running and swims over for a short frolic in our bow wake, to an entire pods of 25 or more dolphins all swimming and playing, bobbing and weaving in the water usually at the front of the boat. Other times we can see several pods swimming quietly in the distance, obviously uninterested in putting on a show for the passing sailors. But today was the BIG KAHUNA, we spotted several dolphins swimming quickly towards us, and before we know it, dozens of beautiful, graceful nimble aquatic mammals were jumping and putting on the best show ever. But then we looked around the boat, and almost as far as the eye could see, were more pods that it appears had joined together as one giant armada of dolphin slowly making their way east along the Spanish coast. There is no way my words can explain the elation you feel when you are in the middle of something like this. And for the first time ever we could clearly hear the dolphin talking to each other, like a scene from Flipper - I'm speechless just thinking about it. And last night as I stood watch, more dolphins were jumping next to the boat - even at night!
So back to my watch, motor sailing at 0200, and I've run out of words to describe these perfect conditions. We have traveled more than 4,500 nautical miles thus far, a distance equal to one quarter the distance around the earth. And over the next month or so, after bidding farewell to the Walker clan (the three bears) and brother Dan and family, Windancer IV will sail towards the Italian coast in hopes of showing the family the Pisa and it famous leaning tower, Rome and the coliseum and Cinque Terre (the famous "5 cities" on the Mediterranean coast before turning the corner on this leg of the journey and heading out of the Med, back through the Balearic Islands, Gibraltar and a chance to see North Africa and the Moroccan cities of Tangier and Casablanca.
Location on a sailing vessel is expressed in terms of Latitude and Longitude. Our current position is 37° 28.062'N and 000° 43.968'W. It's a meaningful moment when we leave the Western Hemisphere; pass the imaginary line into the Eastern Hemisphere, far from home but heading towards new worlds and new adventure. In about six hours, that's where we'll be.
29/06/2008, South of Spain
Donde esta quaint Spain?
(Spoiler Alert - the following email recounts a day in Spain from a very jaded sailor's point of view. This view is only temporary and would typically be told over a drink in a bar, but with respect of distance and time, shall be written. Do not feel this is the permanent state of mind of the entire crew, but just a 30 minute catty moment. If you wish to retain the image of a blissful sailboat sailing along the coast of the Med, do not read further)
Do you recall sailing rule #1? Quick refresh: never sail on a schedule. Well, we are and we are not. We know we have to be in Barcelona on July 12 to meet family, so in preparation and with 16 days ahead of us to cover 700 miles, we checked weather and drew up a straw dog schedule that meant that for 1 day we would sail dead into the easterly around the tip of Gib. To make it manageable, we choose a very close destination, Marbella, just 40 miles along the coast. We set sail at 7am, with the kids still asleep and ventured off. I was prepared with Gravol in my pocket for easy access but none was needed as the seas were calm and the winds very, very light. By 1ish we entered the port of Marbella, tied up at the registration dock and inquired about space. None, we were told, none, it is all for private owners. John and I looked at each other and made the decision, that we would go back along the coast for 6 miles to the town of Puerto Banus, THE upscale marina in Spain. We had heard lots and read more, but nothing prepared us for our 24 hours in Banus, about 22 hours too many.
I have to admit, it was I who had wanted to see it. As Spain's answer to the Cote d'Azur, it is filled with mega yachts and upscale retailers - YSL, Gucci, Chanel, Jimmy Choo. As we entered, the lack of masts should have been our first clue that this 900 berth marina wasn't quite a sailor's haven.
Once again, we tied along the gas dock and inquired about space. In the shadow of Lady Haya, a 130ft mega yacht, we walked to the registration building housed in an old watch tower which are sprinkled along the coast (in the earlier days, these we used as a way for the towns to alert each other of danger. The first town to spot danger would light their tower, and like a torch relay, each neighbouring town light their tower all along the coast. Today, they are decorative or converted to other use; in the case of Puerto Banus, the registration desk.) As we entered the building, the sliding glass doors parted, our second clue that we were not in a quaint town. Getting a berth for a catamaran can be difficult as our width requires that we occupy two berths, and Mediteranean marinas mostly have stern-to mooring (sort of like backing up into a parking lot intentionally leaving no space between cars and then all getting out through the trunk). There is no dock between boats and once tied to the dock, you attach a bow line to either a supplied mooring buoy or you anchor. To prevent knocking your door on the car beside you, you place your fenders on either side from scratching each other.
At registration we were informed that, yes there was space in a 50m slot for a mere 689 Euros a night!!!! That was without internet, no room service and supplying our own air conditioning. I instinctively raised my hand to my throat so they could not see me gulp in shock. John, turned casually and asked if there was anything else. Well lo and behold, they found us 2 berths side by side for 88EU. We had set ourselves a 100EU limit and nodded we would take it. As we motored to the fourth pier to find berths 325 and 326, we noticed our third clue that we weren't in Kansas anymore - Hummers and BMWs parked along the piers so the owners could drive up directly to their boats without having to shlep their goods.
John backed us in stern-to in what I considered to be a feet of docking wonder assisted by the marina dock boy, clue four that this wasn't your typical marina. Wedged securely between two other sail boats (I think the only 3 in the entire marina), we then faced the challenge of "how to get off the boat". In Med mooring, you always ensure you are moored far enough off the pier to prevent yourself from riding up against the cement in case of surge, which leaves a 6 foot gap between boat and dock. All the power boats have built-in gang ways that automatically extend from their sterns. We, well we didn't have such a thing, but we do have this really ugly old windsurfer lashed to our port deck that makes the greatest gangway.
Into the town we ventured avoiding all the boutiques and finding ourselves in an outdoor market selling wares from Africa and India. As the kids played on bungy-trampolines, I wandered the market while John wandered about, laptop in hand searching for wireless. We split up, with John off to the local internet café and the kids and I wandering the streets agreeing to meet up in an hour for a bite to eat. Purchasing nothing, we seated ourselves in a local restaurant and began, what could only be described as perfect people watching. The rich, the super rich, the wanna be's, the drunken English, the Russian mafia - all for the taking. Two beaches on either side of the marina provided non-stop 'post beach, still in bathing suits' sauntering. Some folks just shouldn't be allowed to parade in little attire, while others, proved that there are actually perfect bodies and then others proved that plastic surgery and steroids can help get a perfect body, or if not, a perfect job at the many 'gentlemen's clubs' located in the lane behind the mainstreet.
Puerto Banus, in turns out, is home to thousands of drunk English vacationing on either stags, stagettes or girls' shopping weekends. Like a mini Vegas, I felt we were stuck in a Nouveau Rich, Drunken Tourist themed hotel. Countless times, we overheard drunk English girls chatting on their cells, "We're heading back to the hotel, too pissed to shop". We headed back to the boat, too sick of the crowds to people watch. We cooled off in the air conditioning of Windancer and then, went back into the town, for the one highlight - the Euro 2008 finale between Spain and Germany. Connor proudly wore his Germany t-shirt amongst the crowds and bore the ribbing as Spain defeated Germany 1-0.
As the crowds celebrated, the super rich left their super yachts to drive their super expensive cars up the main drag. Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Porsches, Bentleys, Hummers slowly made it along the streets only to part at the other end closer to the clubs. We made our way back down the pier crossed our windsurfer gangway into our catamaran. I was too happy to return to our home away from home. When I thought of the Med, I had envisioned quaint little Spanish towns with bodegas and tapas and sangria in tiny cobbled streets only to discover that the quaint towns have been replaced with tourist-laden, overpriced, overcrowded bars and shops. The quaintest place I know is Windancer IV where I can guarantee mi casa is su casa.
Appendix - What to Pack if Coming to Puerto Banus
Numerous 4 inch heels
Too much make up
Skin Tight Tanks and Dresses
What Not to Bring
Garbage Bags (why bother to pick up your dog's poop; when if you wait a few moments, someone in their Gucci loafers can flatten it out; or if you have brought some, give them to the power boaters who can toss them overboard with the rest of their garbage)
One piece bathing suits or bikini tops as they are optional on most beaches
Your parents, as you would never want them to see you behave this way
28/06/2008, Puerto Banus, Spain
We are just leaving the port of Puerto Banus - the Miami Beach or Rodeo Drive of the Med.
We are now headed directly for Ibiza in the Balearis Islands - an estimated 60 hour motor sail through light conditions. Everyone recommended against staying in this area - very crowded with Brisish or German tourists - drunk or getting drunk and lots of stagettes.
The cost is also a little silly. First they told us there was no room, then that we would have to "fit" into a 50 metre spot (at the cost of 680 euros per nights (more than $1000), finally got a spot, but we can saw we've been here, and we're most certainly not coming back.
Talk to you from the Balearics!
27/06/2008, Marina Bay, Gibraltar
After two days afoot exploring the main streets in both La Linea, Spain and Gibraltar, we convinced ourselves we too could drive the streets of Gib. I use the term streets liberally. Tiny cobbled lane ways, one ways, no exits, round abouts and thousands of tourists. But we were equipped with the toughest of cars, the Opel Corsa roadster. A four door standard with air conditioning and enough space to pack two fold up bikes in the trunk, we braced ourselves for a wild ride up to the Rock.
Mornings are busy, as thousands of Spanish workers cross the lenient border and enter the Gib for a days work. Gib has a population of 30,000 which doubles daily as the manual labourers enter the city. Almost everyone speaks both English and Spanish, although the Spanish would never claim that the local Gibs speak real Spanish and the local Gibs are quick to point out that, "Gib is great. We live in a very harmonious community with Christians and Jews living side by side (there are 6 Synagogues in this tiny town) and there are no conflicts. The only bad part is the Spaniards".
We hit the morning rush hour with John expertly manouvering his way in and out of round abouts; giving way as we entered and pushing boldly forward as we exited, yielding only to the CRAZY Vespa drivers who overtake on the left, ride directly between two lanes of traffic all the while talking on cells, yelling at one another while somehow maintaining their chicness - dressed for work in heels, hair coiffed and white linen skirt blowing in the breeze.
After a short 15 minute ride up steep lanes we arrived at the entrance to the National Reserve of the Rock. Only once did we drive the wrong way up a one way street, made very clear to us as the locals yelled, honked and whistled. John back-upped as Vespas whipped around the corners. A testament to their narrow streets and harrowing driving are the missing one or two side view mirrors of the cars parked in the streets and in a parking lot, almost 70% of the cars have some scrape or dent. In fact, on the first day as we walked home from the grocery store we watched as a young woman pulled her small car out of a parkade and slowly twisted between two parked cars. As she made her escape she calculated if she could clear her car on the left. Actually, she miscalculated and scraped the car. Without stopping to leave a note, she drove off sheepishly, knowing as we walked the street at the same pace as traffic, that we had witnessed the entire incident. But incidents are not accidents and incidents appear to be normal.
We paid our 26 pound fee (8 for adults, 4.50 for kids) which granted us entrance to the Upper St Michael Caves, the Apes Den, the Great Seige Tunnels and the Moor Castle all on the Rock and, if we wished, to the 100 Ton Gun, along the coast. We parked above the Caves and as we walked down, spotted our first Barbary Ape. We delighted in their antics as they jumped from the railings onto the tour buses onto the tour driver and back. They are incredibly aggressive and will stop at nothing to get food. We had been warned not to bring any food in our pockets or bags, as they will rip it out of your hands. They suffer so much exposure to people that the sanctity of their family units are at risk as parents and children are separated. We glimpsed a 3 week old clinging to her mother and suckling only to be yanked by her dad for a walk. The smaller apes playfully jumped onto visitors and took a shining to John.
(A little history: Barbary Apes is a misnomer, as the most famous and important tourist attraction are actually Macaca Sylvanus, tailless monkeys. Natives of North Africa, they were imported as pets and legend has it, that should the apes ever disappear, the British will leave Gibraltar; Churchill took a personal interest and imported more from Morocco when the population was on the decline.)
We left the searing heat on the rock into the cool, damp Upper St Michael's Caves. Located 300 metres above sea level, these natural caves are filled with stalactites (hanging from the top) and stalagmites (from the bottom). They are formed as mineral rich water drips through the rock and are millions of years old. The stalagmites rise from the bottom as water drips from an upper stalactite and over time, they grow closer together to meet in the "kiss of life". The caves were referenced as far back as 45AD and during WWII were prepared as an emergency hospital, but never used. Today, the largest chamber has been transformed into a subterranean auditorium for concerts, ballet and other events.
Leaving the caves on foot we walked to the highest point on the rock for a magnificent view overlooking the Mediterranean with Northern Africa to the south and Spain in the north, and the Costa del Sol to the east. Looking down we could see the marinas and shipyards of Gib including the exclusive Queensway Quay, home to the bigger boats. In fact, we spied Le Grand Blue, a 112 metre mega yacht, 15th largest in the world owned originally by Paul Allen of Microsoft fame and now by a Russian billionaire. Just aft of midships perched 2, yes 2, boats, the beautiful 80 foot sailing sloop Bellatrix and an equally impressive powerboat on her starboard leaving enough room for the helicoptor landing pad on the aft deck.
Leaving the caves, we drove along the one way road to the Apes' Den, where we really got to experience the apes. Purchasing a bag of peanuts and honing his skills observed from a tour bus driver, John went native - fending off the larger beggars, inviting the smaller ones to leap on his shoulders, talking, cajoling others to move from him to Jenny, he soon was his own photo op, with tourists snapping pics of the 3 apes balancing along John's shoulders. He mastered the 2-hand monte, tricking the apes into thinking the food was in one hand. They reached their long arms out and pried open his fist only to realize the treat was in his other hand; they simply reached further and pried open the other hand. Connor followed in his zoo-keeper father's footsteps and invited apes to jump up on him. Jenny gathered her courage and under John's tutelage, fed an ape only to be quickly swarmed by a few others and screamed to get them off. Ziggy was (happily) designated photographer and avoided them like the plague.
We drove on to the Great Siege Tunnels which lie on the northern end of the rock. Built in the late 18th century as defense against the many sieges, these tunnels housed cannons and gun powder and were later used by the British in WWII and expanded into the WWII Tunnels to build a fortress within a fortress to defend against the Germans and Italians.
The last stop on our Rock tour was to the original Moorish Castle from 1160. Much of the original castle was destroyed in the many battles between the Moors and the Spaniards, but today, the Tower of Homage, its main feature dominates the north face of the Rock and the lower castle extends all the way into the lower town to the Casemates Square. The massive walls almost 5 feet thick encase a tower in the tower and have protected both the Spanish and the Moors over the centuries.
We returned to our boat after a major provisioning at Morrison's, the local grocery store, ate lunch and returned up the rock for our 5pm tour of the Lower St Michael's Caves. Discovered in WWII accidentally as the army blasted a second entrance to the Upper Caves, these Lower Caves, referred to as show caves, offer a stunning display of most known formations. We joined Mario, our private guide for a 3 hour tour. Mario, one of 6 official guides, has been touring these caves since he was 10 years old when he joined his father, who was also a guide. He runs these tours at night after his day job and ensures that not only do we as guests experience the best tour possible, but that the caves are preserved and no one damages some of the more delicate formations. Tours are to be a minimum of 6 people, but the other group cancelled out and Mario agreed to take us anyway. Mario dubbed us Bob the Builder (Connor), Indiana Jones or Indie, accompanied by her own music s we made our way up and down the rocks,(Jenny), Snow White (Ziggy) and Pappi or Papparizi (John who was taking all the photos). We had been told to wear runners as some of the terrain was rough, but we were in no way ready for the intensity, but fun of the tour. Wearing hard hats and crawling, crouching, sliding down rock faces, hanging on ropes and rappelling down mini rock faces, we journeyed deep down into the caves until we reached our final destination, the underground lake. The caves are lit sporadically to showcase rock formation from tiny stalactites, to massive ribbon formations to dead stalagmites. The pools are so clear they provide an optical illusion. Connor tried to grab a coin that looked to be only a foot deep only to discover the coin sat over 1.3 metres on the bottom of the pool. When you tapped some of the formations, sound reverberated down the stalagmite, through the cave and back up to the stalactite drooping from above creating a unique subterranean symphony. All in all, we had an amazing tour and would recommend it to anyone.
We drove back through the Apes' Den, stopped for a quick hello to the one or two remaining apes, but when John opened the trunk to pull out a pack of crackers, were suddenly surrounded by about 15 apes both large and small. John, aka Dr Doolittle, commenced his friendly banter with all and ensured that the crackers were distributed evenly. One ape sat on John's shoulders for the entire time, enjoying both the vantage point and cast off crackers. As we drove away, another ape jumped on the windshield to see if there were any left overs.
We headed back into town where John dropped us off at the local gas station before he drove back to Spain, deposited the rental car, removed the foldable bike and biked back to the marina. Enjoying a late snack we regaled in the photos and videos of the day and then headed wearily to bed. That was our Gib in a day.
Anyone want to bike to Spain?
Today we went for a bike ride, but not just any bike ride. A bike ride to Spain. A few days ago we sailed from Portugal to Spain. We were anchored in a bay in Spain and went to sleep in Spain. By the time I woke up I was all the way in Gibraltar (an English territory). Yesterday we walked all around downtown Gibraltar and saw glassblowing - very cool or should I say really hot. We watched someone start off with a little glass ball and make it into a plate, which I would never have guessed, but it was beautiful. We had a traditional English lunch of fish and chips and then walked and walked and walked all through the downtown. When we got to the end we saw the Convent, the home of the Governor. In front was a guard who would stand on watch and march around every 15 minutes. Other than blinking he was still as a statue.
Today, I woke up at 1030, normal for me these days, had breakfast and decided I would go with dad to the town to see if mom's computer was still working. And just above the computer place was the home of the Governor and there stood the guard, still there, still as a statue. Later mom and I went to the salon and got our toes done, wasn't the best job but it works. Dad and Connor met us and the four of us walked and biked to Spain. On the way to the border, you cross the runway of the airport and luckily just before we left we noticed a plane was taking off; five minutes after that, a plane landed. We crossed the border and decided we needed a car to go up Gib rock. We rented the car and, wow, were the streets ever crazy. One, nobody ever stops, two, they go fast down skinny, narrow streets honking and beeping at each other. We had dinner in La Linea, the Spanish town on the Gib border where all sorts of Spanish fans waited for the big Spain vs Russia Euro Cup 2008 soccer game. Later we drove to the mall to buy groceries. In the mall we saw a pet shop and in the windows were puppies so thirsty, panting in these little cages. We walked in and told the people "the puppies do not have any water". They said, "after we finish feeding the birds, we are feeding the puppies".
We returned to Gibraltar through the security checkpoint where all they do is look ot see if you have a passport. They don't look at it, they don't stamp it, they don't do anything. We are back on the boat and can hear the screams of the desperate fans. We have got to go check the score to see what the commotion is all about. See you later. Jenny
23/06/2008, Off the coast of Tarifa, Spain
Lat: 36deg 06.536'N
Approaching the Gibraltar Strait
20 nautical miles from Tarifa, Spain
Yesterday marked our final day with our fellow ARC Europe friends as it marked the day when most boats said their final goodbyes and sailed to their respective home ports or to other various locals. We certainly enjoyed taking part in this year's event and found the organization of events and the local support at each port to be second to none. Many thanks go out to the World Cruising rally organizer, Fionn McKee, who was always there to grab a dock line, inform the group on local customs and interesting tidbits (including best wifi location in each port) and to assist in clearing into each country with customs, immigration and port authority requirements.
By the way, ARC stands for Atlantic Rally for Cruisers and is an organized rally event that provides safety and weather support as well as social events for vessels crossing making various ocean passages. Windancer IV just completed what is known as ARC Europe and is the tougher of the two Atlantic crossings, spanning almost 4,000 nautical miles including a 2,000 +/- n mile passage across the north Atlantic that often encompasses several extreme storms. In this year's event, it was the first leg from Antigua to Bermuda that was the difficult one, hammering Windancer and the front runners in a major Force 11 storm (65-72 knot winds) causing serious damage to several of the vessels. We were very fortune t have sustained only minor damage to our main reefing lines that were relatively easy to fix. As a reference, a Force 11 storm is one short of hurricane status!
So after bidding a fond farewell to friends aboard Antares and Spirit of Life, and returning our repaired 15 hp dinghy motor to the boat, we set sail in perfect 5-20 knot offshore north winds last night at 1800 en route to Gibraltar. The prompt departure was necessary to stay ahead of a strong weather system that may have delayed our entering the Gibraltar Strait for three to four days.
The overnight passage was uneventful, they seem to get easier by the day, and without much concern to any of the crew (especially the kids) we departed on the 185 nm trek to Gibby (the locals nick name for Gibraltar). As I took over for the first mate at 0700 after her favourite 0400 to 0700 shift (that's because you usually get to witness a perfect sunrise), I spotted several large ships on the southern horizon. Using our radar to track (called MARPA tracking - thanks Steve for helping teach the radar class on Windancer IV) the vessels and determine if they were on a collision course. This continued for a few hours and when Ziggy emerged from a morning nap at around 0930, we heard a number of loud, low, "sonic" booms. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM - all equally timed about two seconds apart. The kids were still not up so maybe it was them goofing off. But then again, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM. As Jenny joined us on the bridge, we asked if she or Connor had been doing anything.
Then, we noticed a large "military looking" ship charting a course to "intercept" Windancer. I radioed the vessel using the VHF, first on the distress channel 16, then channel 9. No response. We continued to monitor the ship and sure enough, as it came within 2 miles of our location, a VHF radio call came through address to "SAILING VESSEL, SAILING VESSEL at co-ordinates 36 degrees, 21.90'N, 006 degrees 36.52'W, the is the Spanish Destroyer approaching your location, please respond". I radioed back "The is Canadian flagged sailing vessel Windancer IV, and after reaching an agreeable communication frequency, I was told the Spanish Navy was conducting live at sea maneuvers utilizing this area as a firing range. We were instructed to immediately alter course to head north and stay north of latitude 36 degrees, 20 minutes.
We obliged, like we had a choice, and were politely escorted out of the firing zone (thank goodness). As we approached the Spanish coast, we noticed another Spanish Navy destroyer joining the exercises and followed this vessel as it was clearly engaged by this first Spanish Navy craft and we were entertained by more sonic booms indicating an afternoon of military "at sea" war games!
Our day is coming to a close. We are less than fifteen nautical miles from Tarifa, the turning point to enter the Gibraltar Strait where we will shortly contact Tarifa Traffic Radio to exchange recent weather data and receive permission to enter the strait. This is a mandatory process since there is such a large commercial shipping lane.
One other notable trait of the passage, and the Gibraltar Strait itself, is that we can now see both the southern coast Spain and the northern coast of Africa, with Tangier, Morocco, less than 15 miles away. We hope to be lucky enough to experience this coast and the Moroccan hospitality as we exit the Mediterranean in late September as we transit to the Canary Islands in preparation for the return ARC rally from Palma, Gran Canarie to St. Lucia with brother Bruce "Skip" Walker and Marlene and cousin Ariel.
22/06/2008, Dive Time Scuba Shop, Lagos, Portugal
Scuba diving, an international sport! PADI has taken over the scuba diving industry, if you want a certification to scuba dive, teach or follow another course in scuba diving PADI is your best bet. We are settled into our berth at Marina De Lagos and we decided to wander and discover whatever the marina and Lagos had to offer. We walked not 100 metres until we stumbled upon Dive Time, the local dive shop. I said to Mom, "Hey Mom, can I try to get my open water diver certification here?" and after 2 months of single parenting and not having information on our schedule she answered, "We'll ask your father" yet we ventured in anyway to check it out. After a warm welcome from an after sharing our findings English-speaking manager we set off back to the boat with information on the course and hope that our schedule was free! After sharing our find with my Dad we grabbed our swim trunks, bathing suits and towels and set our to the pool, detouring to the dive shop to register me for the PADI Open Water Diver course. The plan was to have two dives a day, for two days, my Mom was to dive with me on day one and my Dad on day two. After a slow start on day one we got there at 8:40 to suit up for a dive that we were to leave at 9:30 for, it turns out the dive was at 10:30 and the new wetsuits were not broken into so we spent the extra time struggling to get these on! Bad idea, when it is 30 degrees Celsius and the wet suits are only heating us up even more! Doing our best job to not fall while waddling in the stiff wet suits, carrying gear we mad to the boat and set of or the dive site! After our briefing we put our kit on and plopped in! COLD! After the initial cold shock we adjusted. The first dive was to get used to the temperature and to find sea life, and sea life we found. An octopus, 1 foot and a half approximately, jumped out and inked at me 3 times! I was being assessed on my second dive which I had no trouble with except when trying to attain neutral buoyancy (being able to float in one spot because my feet kept rising towards the surface).
After another early morning, my dad and I took the bikes out for a ride, stopping off at the dive shop to inquire if I'd be able to go with a parent on my second certification dive trip. Tim, the dive master from Gibraltor who was testing me didn't hesitate in responding "Sure, no problem". So my dad decided to stay on Windancer to complete final items on the boat "To Do" list. After packing a few snacks in a plastic grocery bag, I headed up to the dive shop wher my gear from the previous day was waiting. The wet suits were more pliable and I could slip into them as if I had done it a hundred times before. With dive gear prepared and on board, we ventured bravely through the thick "pea soup" fog, for another day of scuba diving evaluation.
After some more underwater testing, some passed with ease, other that were retried and completed, we exited the water only to ask Tim the dive master "So, did I pass?". With a smile on his face, he replied "Connor, congratulation, you are an open water diver!".
So we returned to to the marina, where I was reintroduced to my family as "Connor MacKenzie, PADI Certified Open Water Scuba Diver".
21/06/2008, Port Landing Restaurant, Marina De Lagos, Lagos, Portugal
The ARC Europe 2008 rally is now complete. At the Prizegiving dinner last night, Windancer IV and her crew accepted first prize in the multihull class, also arriving first overall in the fleet!
We shared an amazing evening with the crews of all the vessels, Emilio, Jose Maria and Alek aboard the Hanse 57 "Kalliope III", Joe and Jackie aboard the Island Packet 38 "Antares", Francois, Colin, Maris and Damian aboard the Bavaria 49 "Spica", Archie, Lynda and grandson Justin aboard "Spirit of Life" and our hosts from the Marina de Lagos who have been excellent in providing an amazing facility here in Portugal.
We also thanked the World Cruising event organizer Fionn McKee for all his hard work and support throughout this event and presented him with a card drawn by Connor and jenny and signed by all rally participants with e-mailed comments from vessels heading north to the UK and Norway.
We will complete some minor mechanical repairs this morning and expect to depart for Gibraltor just after lunch in calm conditions and a perfect 10-15 knot north breeze that should carry us along the south coast of Portugal and Spain in into the Gibraltor Stait later tomorrow afternoon. Check the blog for Gibraltor monkey pictures on Wednesday or Thursday!
20/06/2008, Lagos Marina, Lagos, Portugal
Our own personal snow globe
"What about pirates?" is indelibly etched into my memory as the first question posed by anyone hearing about our ventures. Pirates my friends are the least of your worries.
I write this as I sit aboard Windancer, on a beautiful hot Sunday in the marina in Lagos (pronounced Lagosh), Portugal. After 5 days, 1 hour and 30 minutes we arrived on the mainland of Europe from the Azores. For you sailors out there, that is not bad for 810nm. We made incredible time and arrived first amongst the 6 yachts, even beating Kalliope, a 56ft Hanse who until this final leg had the first-on-dock honours. Had a few 9 knot days and incredibly banging nights, when the boat is rocked to its core as water crashes through the hulls. I cannot find a land based comparison; I thought of a construction crew demolishing the room next door, taking a sledge hammer to the biggest armoire you could imagine or the tenant in the apartment above dropping a piano, but they aren't quite right. Then there is the creaking, grinding, as if Windancer had suddenly aged and as an 80 year old, stood up after hours sitting peacefully and her joints howled in discomfort. The noise is constant, day and night, but it is in those blackest hours when she moans the loudest. Or perhaps it is simply the immense silence of the night sea which amplifies her cries. We experienced 5 of those nights and 5 of those days and it was fabulous.
We finished the MacKenzie family's first long crossing on June 19th, 2008. 810 miles a mere blink for the seasoned crew, but Jenny, Connor and I were novices. We set out on a beautiful sunny, not so windy afternoon. The first day and a half brought light winds from the stern and we surfed and motor sailed along. Then the wind shifted from the north and as we headed south east to the tip of Portugal, we relished in the beam reach. Regardless of the seas and the winds, Windancer remains stoic. She forges ahead, taking whatever the ocean cares to offer up. We playfully tease the many monuhulls in the fleet about our non-gimbled stove which every night delivers a warm meal without spilling a drop. Nightly we all sat around the galley table enjoying dinner and a glass of wine. For you non sailors, it is common for monohulls to bring along dog-dish type bowls to eat out of as they balance their dinner on their laps. Windancer has far too much dignity in her creaking bones to demand that balancing act. Although she does challenge us. With a 25ft beam, as you make your way across the galley or forward, you find yourself placing your foot down on a different plane from which you lifted it. The Windancer Shuffle can wreak havoc on the careless sailor, but we have mastered the four limb version where hands are just as essential as sea legs.
Pirates, you ask? Our friends and foes alike are wind, weather, the seas. There are no pirates. There is nothing on the horizon. After two days at sea with nothing in sight, I realized I was in my own personal snow globe; we were floating in the middle of a deep blue sea and the sky was our glass dome. To give you perspective, picture yourself on the 50 yard line of a football field. Bend down and reach into your pocket for a pen and ruler. Carefully draw a one-inch line in the centre of the field. Now lie down and peer at the goal posts and imagine that distance all around you. That is the scope of Windancer on the open seas. Occasionally freighters cross the horizon, sea birds swoop down and spy our fishing lines or dolphins grace our bow. Portuguese man o'war jelly fish, with their tiny purple sails and 30 feet of submerged tentacles whiz by. A small turtle now and then. But no pirates. When the winds pick up, I envision a small child in a toy store, picking up our snow globe curiously and giving us a shake. The winds and the seas stir around us and we continue to forge ahead, in the centre of our snow globe.
The question I frequently asked myself before we set sail was, "what am I going to do for 5 days?" However, boredom was never a factor. We wake at odd hours compensating for night watches, linger over breakfast. Talk, adjust sails, sleep, putter, listen to music, read, do and supervise homework, play games. Some write long hand first before transcribing their emails electronically in time for the much-anticipated 2pm satellite connection. Every day, John sends in our position, a 24 hour report on our progress, weather and experiences and then uploads our messages out while the rest of us wait anxiously for emails back. Even the shortest messages are welcomed; the kind words from friends and family and other boats boost the morale of the crew. Those words and messages are powerful and their drug-like effect wraps itself around us for hours. (Mom and Dad, if you are reading this, rest assured, this is what I have been told, no personal experience to attest to on the aforementioned topic.)
Evening watch breaks the day's rhythm. First Connor from 2100 to 2300. Bundled in long underwear, fleece, water-proof gear, hat, gloves and, most importantly, ipod, he sat on the bridge keeping a watchful eye for boats on radar or sudden shifts in weather. The nights were tremendously cold. Under power, we didn't keep a stand-by watch, but under sail, a second person was on call, ready to help, when needed, although this is a rare occasion. We changed the galley table to a berth and one or two of us found ourselves dozing there. We all had favourite 2 hour watches and rituals. Mine was 5-7; the sun is up and warming the deck. Still dressed warmly, but slowly stripping layers off. Gloves first, then hat, rolling up pants, until finally, after the rest of the crew is up, going below to change into shorts. My ritual involved books on tape and after testing the first few chapters of Falling Man, I moved on to Hammett's Maltese Falcon (on hold til our next crossing, so please don't tell me the outcome).
No pirates, no boredom.
Ashore now, my snow globe reverie is broken and filled with the ashore dance of sailors - shopping, hitting the Saturday morning market, laundry, cooking, cleaning, trekking to the showers, swimming at the marina pool, coffee at the local bar.
Tomorrow, Monday June 23, we plan to depart for a 2 day sail to Gib (the local's nickname for Gibralter). The noon sun shines brightly as I type, but I am deeply warmed thinking about returning to our own personal snowglobe silence.
Dedicated to Mom/Oma/Inge, on June 22nd , Happy Birthday. (By the way, Bruce, call your mother, by the time you read this, it will be a belated greeting.)
19/06/2008, Lagos Marina, Lagos, Portugal
After a quick dip in the Atlantic Ocean off the southern coast of Portugal, Windancer IV and her crew of merry sailors completed the ARC Europe rally and arrived first in Lagos, Portugal at 1330 on June 19th.
We welcomed the second place finisher Kalliope as they arrives shortly after 1600. Bob and Jim then headed to town (just across a pedestrian bridge over the channel, and positioned themselves at the best table to watch the EURO Cup soccer match between Portugal and Germany. Ziggy and the kids and I joined them for a beer and ice cream (beer for me, ice cream for the kids) and watched as the German team controlled the game, securing a 3-2 victory and setting a quiet tone over the street of Lagos.
We returned to the boat and Bob continued his 48 hour packing routine, after which he would still forget two pairs of shorts, a pair of underwear, his personal Crib board and a gift for Kate. We will try and send a care package home with sister-in-law Karen Walker when they visit in July.
Tomorow, Connor and Ziggy are off at 9:30 am to complete two of the required four open water dives to confirm his PADI scuba diving certification. Good luck Connor!
16/06/2008, North Atlantic Ocean - Lagos, Portugal
The Azores are behind us and we're on the last leg of Bob and my journey, just the beginning for John, Ziggy, Jenny and Conner. We were fortunate enough to get a full experience in the Azores. Land fall in Horta on the Island of Faial was very significant for me. Horta is a sailors mecca, the traditional landfall on the west to east voyage and the place made famous by the 1000s of signs painted on the breakwater by sailors from all over the world. An important stop for me, Horta, and we painted our sign now enshrined in that place for years to come. We visited Pico also, with its 2351m, 7713 foot high peak, an extinct volcano. We drove the coast road and the "Pico" roads, very narrow, vary high, very scary and very many cattle. We even climbed part way up the Pico or is that peak. Won't forget that day. Then there was Angra do Heroismo on the Island of Terecira. An opportunity to experience the Azores without tourism overtones. The history, the town, very old, very narrow streets, residences and shops all nestled together, close, old. The cobble stone streets and sidewalks, the cafés. Maybe the highpoint of the experience, the Bull Fight, it was real folks, no tourist show and Bob became a Bull Fighter, never forget it. Then, finally, there was the "city" of Punta Delgada on the island of Sao Miguel. A bustling metropolis, high rises, big shipping port, 6 story hotels on the waterfront, undergoing a complete renovation. We had a bus tour of the island that revealed the wonderful beauty of the interior, the pineapple plantation and that amazingly quaint and beautiful town on the shores of the blue and green lake in the bottom of a volcanic caldera, a wonderful place. Scratch the wall in the church and your wish will come true, only if you tell no one.
Now we're in our last day of Bob and my final leg to Lagos, Portugal. It's been an easy journey, mild conditions, mostly sunny but a bit colder that usual. That's no doubt due to the north winds we've been experiencing. This last leg was expected to take 6 days but it looks like we'll make it tomorrow, in 5 days.
Bob and I are both looking forward to getting home after this adventure. It's been a long time to be away from loved ones and the comforts of home. I think I'll pay some dues for that but I'm very happy to have done it. A major check mark on the life list for me, been wanting to sail across the Atlantic for a long time. Left my mark in Horta, in more ways than one, I'll tell you about it sometime.
I've been offshore, at sea, for 596 hours or 24 days on this adventure. That includes the trips from BVI to St. Martin and Antigua. From Antigua to Bermuda, the storm trip, from Bermuda to the Azores, thru the Azores and then this trip to mainland Europe, Lagos Portugal. I've kept a diligent log of this entire adventure, as has Bob. We look forward to telling our stories and reading our logs when we're old and grey, wait we're already grey but we're not old, not yet, don't feel that way, especially after this wonderful adventure.
I've learned a lot about life at sea, the word damp comes to mind. I've seen whales and lots of dolphins. I've met wonderful people from everywhere. I know the smell of the open ocean and the amazing color of the sea, I'll spend many hours trying to match that color on the pallet. I've seen endless horizons, clouds of every description, waves up to 30 feet tall and been splashed with salt spray from every direction. I've been hit by flying fish while on watch and seen sea birds a thousand miles offshore skimming the waves just inches off the surface, touching wing tips on the water. I've heard the water rushing past the hulls for hours and heard it crash against the hull with amazing power. I've been on watch every hour of the day and night, listened to hours of music from my I-Pod. Seen stars uncountable and moonlight so bright it would hurt my eyes. Seen ships come up over the horizon and disappear over the horizon. I've learned the Windancer Shuffle like a ballerina. All this and do you think we could catch a fish. We had lines out every day and only caught that one Barracuda the first day out of Antigua. We had fish sticks last night for dinner just to let those fish we mean business.
It's been a wonderful experience folks and it's not really over quite yet. Bob and I have a few days in mainland Portugal before our flight home out of Lisbon. I'm looking forward to that final icing on this cake. This'll be Bob and my last Blog entry though. Hope you enjoyed our reports we sure enjoyed writing them. Best wishes from your friends who were lost at sea but will soon be back home.
Bob adds the following; Only a special few will wave hello then good by to the Azores with all their sails a fly'n. This whole journey, especially the days and nights at sea with a great crew, will be something I'll always cherish and be proud of. From he historic charm of Horta on the island of Faial, to exploring neighboring Pico, to the adrenaline filled evening on Terecira and finally the very different feel of Sao Miguel, we saw a bit of everything in the Azores, our last stops until the mainland. Finally its back to the open ocean ad we're Europe bound. Guess I'm a little more inpatient than most. We've met lots of great people, most of whom are quite proud to be of no fixed address. I'm, certain now that I am not one of them. It's been a thrill of a lifetime; with no regrets but man I can't wait to get home.
I'm happy to say I've learned a lot and will take countless fond memories of living with some good friends and very close quarters for almost two months - no small feat! Respect, sharing everything, making peace, giving in and just plain getting along - sounds easy? - it's not. But with good people it can be done, and was. Now that I finally know how to e-mail, I hope Daryl and Steve won't be names that just fade away. Jim's a given for me, but I've also had a chance to know the whole MacKenzie clan a little better and hope I've been a factor in priming them for their huge life experience still to come. Lastly, although it took more than four decades, I can finally say that I know my brother a lot better, and even as the older one, I have to admit he's a keeper. Thanks captain and thank you all for helping to make one of my wildest dreams come true.
15/06/2008, North Atlantic Ocean
Sunday, June 15th, 2008
Lat: 37deg 50.168'N
660 miles from Portugal
Nothing on the horizon
Everything on the horizon
1 Week and 1 World Away
I have been meaning to write for days; I find myself in quiet moments thinking of how I would share the little stories and surprises of my journey to date. We have been aboard Windancer now for a week and in the course of the last seven days I have felt, thought and physically endured some very interesting moments. There are those I knew would happen and then, there are those that I just had not braced myself for. I think of these in degrees...degrees of wet, degrees of fear, degrees of joy, degrees of awe.
I need to back up a bit to give you the origin upon which my perspectives are founded. My sailing experience consists of dinghy sailing as a teen, crewing on my parent's Columbia 26 sloop in Vancouver and cruising the British Virgin Islands. Now cruising is the appropriate word, for the BVI are the cruising capital of the world for a reason - mooring buoys in every bay, warm water, a bar and restaurant awaiting on every island. The sail from island to island is about 1-2 hours. Now, picture the Azores, a series of 9 islands 1800 miles from Bermuda where anyone who is on a boat has sailed a minimum, a minimum of 11 days from Bermuda or 5-6 days from Portugal. These are sailors, true sailors who share a deep respect for the sea and love of their boats. The camaraderie runs deep and the sea tales are never ending. Now I think our journey is brave; however consider the family of the 20 month old and 4 year old who just completed the passage from the Bahamas in 21 days. That means mom and dad are standing watch every night in 3-4 hour shifts and then tending their kids in the day. Or there is Jerry who single handed sailed from Bermuda. Okay, lots of people single hand, but Jerry only has fingers on one hand which creates a whole new definition of single handing - sorry. Or the many couples who set off for two to three years in the Mediterranean. The sailing community is unique, it is larger than you think, but membership is earned and cannot be bought. Earned through time, through effort and through that binding deep respect of the sea.
So, it is here in the Azores where the kids and I begin our journey. Quickly welcomed by all, who are keen to share advice and tips, but there is that unspoken, "ahh she doesn't quite know what she is getting into, ....yet."
Actually some I knew I would enjoy. The pace of nothing when the days just blend into one another. I love packing my toiletry bag, grabbing a towel (defined as clean and only somewhat damp, but I will tell you more about the wet later) and trekking down to the marina showers for what seems like an endless hot shower. Not a stitch of make up, no blow dryers, and flip flops every day. Meals mostly on board, cooked over our gas stove. Some food is the same, some new and other yearned for. In the Azores dairy is the primary industry where cows outnumber the people 2-1. Lots of cheese, lots of milk, lots of eggs. Yet strangely, the milk is all UHT, ultra high temperature, a process that allows it to stay fresh for months without refrigeration. I think this is more a function of the refrigerators than the processing. But I would kill for feta and parmesan cheese, neither which can be found easily or cheaply. Havent seen a Starbucks since the airport in Germany, but who needs it when killer espresso can be had in nearly every tiny bar or restaurant for .70 euros. And when great wine goes for 3EU, and a case can be had for the price of 2 bottles back home, it all balances out in the end.
Ah, the euro. Wonderful to have the same currency in every country but it took me a few days to get over the sticker shock. As long as you don't convert and you live in the currency, you can get by. But in most cases it is euro to dollar - a 189EU for an ipod, a $189 for the same in Canada, but the exchange rate is about 1.7 Cdn dollars to the euro. Had I only known, I would have imported electronics galore and sold them along the way to cover my expenses.
I also knew I would love watching the kids adapt and adapt they have. Quick to make friends and recognize that time is limited ashore, they have already connected with the few kids aboard the other boats in the ARC. Playing games, watching movies, making sail boats from pool floats and racing them - boys against the girls. They also are getting into their homework rhythm and have learned the "get it done in the morning and the rest of the day is mine". A chore chart gives them a chance to earn allowance and has completely eliminated the need to nag to make beds, set the table, take out the garbage. Time is also spent on crafts, playing, talking, learning new games. Yesterday Jenny learned how to play crib and until we rounded the last turn was a sure bet to win. It wasn't until the last five points that the winner was decided - that would be me, okay, call me competitive, but when asked by Connor, who do you think will win (when I was a clear 25 points back), I responded me - you have to believe you will win or you should not play. The game took us almost two hours with time out to adjust sails, raise sails, check fishing poles and with Uncle Bob, our resident expert coaching Jenny, John and me, we had a blast. Plus, Jenny honed her math skills as she concurrently counted her points and played out her hands - she should ace the 'what adds up to 15 test?' back home.
So back to the degrees of...first there is wet. Sailing in this region creates a dampness which permeates everything and I mean everything. Your pillow feels cool when you go to sleep, your clothes never quite dry and an acceptable towel is a damp one minus the smell. Good bye to plush and hello cheap towels - they are the only ones which work. The damp is like camping damp and you slowly adjust. It was the running joke amongst the crew when we came aboard about damp, now I get it. After a day of torrential down pours in Ponta Delgado, San Miguel, it seemed like everything would remain damp forever. I have come to learn that I have a bad habit of making mountains out of molehills and need to learn that tomorrow will bring something different. Yesterday when we departed, the sun was out, not a cloud in the sky and after a few hours of calm seas we had dried out even some of the wettest towels. Then there is really wet. On my second night of crossing, we left at noon to get a little ahead of the weather. We knew it would be rough, heading directly into the wind. That means motoring for 18 hours in 10 foot seas, wind blowing and an ocean that did not know what it wanted to do - swirling, bobbing, pushing, rolling. Sailors know you NEVER put your schedule ahead of the weather's but we took a risk, along with the other boats in the fleet to get to the next island. So, for my first real crossing, I sat on the bridge to keep the horizon in eye sight. Imagine running a marathon and every 50 yards someone hands you some water but instead of in a cup, they simply take a bucket and drench you. That is what the bridge brought. But it was take the wet or take cover below and risk being sick. Well neither position provided any protection from sea sickness and I spent 15 hours sick to my stomach, never quite losing it due to the immense power of gravol. The kids made it through like troopers and we took turns sleeping in the covered cockpit or on the converted galley table. Those are the degrees of wet.
The degrees of fear come and go. what if the seas are like this every time? Should I wake anyone when I spot the freighter a mile off our stern? What if homework will be this much of a struggle every time? And then I learn what I have always known I have to learn...patience. The sea teaches you to wait, to watch, to hope, to try. Consider the fishing lines astern for weeks without even a nibble, but we persevere and hope that today might be the day.
The degrees of awe...that happens every day when the sea shares its beauty. On our first overnighter, I awoke at 6ish and sat at the bridge with hopes to see marine life. Within 30 minutes we spotted a lone dolphin. Then later that morning, we spotted a pod of about 15 dolphin about 200 meters off our port bow. Within 30 minutes, 7 Risso dolphin, gracefully and deliberately swam by. Risso look like marble-ized beluga and would turn their heads to spy us as they crossed our bow. Thirty minutes of utter beauty. That evening, on the island of Terceira, we headed to a local village to watch (and take part) in the running of the bulls, a nightly feature from June to October in the local towns. They release a bull on a looooong rope and guide him through the town as he chases the locals. We took shelter behind a villager's brick wall, but after watching the first, John and his brother, plus Steve, our other crew, took part in the running (from) the bulls. Now that was a day. Just before breakfast this Father's Day morning we were greeted by about 15 dolphins as they played in our bow. They are like kids on a play ground, tag you are it, leapfrog, catch me if you can.
Degrees of joy. When you have time, and fewer distractions, you suddenly realize that there is something to be had in every moment. Less becomes more, time whizzes by or stands still. The joy of alone time on your 1-3am watch, surrounded by water as far as the eye can see, lights in the distance, stars abound, a moon on its way to full casts a glow behind you. The joy as the six crew pile into a cab built for 4 with our $400 of groceries loaded into the trunk, our provisionings for a week only to ask the cab driver if he can take us to MacDonald's on the way home. As he winds his way through the rainy streets, he pulls up and asks, "Do you go in or McDrive?" We choose McDrive and pull up and from the back window order 1 Big Mac, 5 cheeseburgers, 2 large fries, and a strawberry sundae. We are packed so tight in the back, we cannot actually eat our bounty as our arms are pinned to our sides. But upon our arrival in the marina, after lugging our 20 or so bags down the pier in rain falling so hard my pants are see through in a matter of minutes, that cheeseburger never tasted so good. Simple degrees of joy.
So, on day 2 of our crossing from the Azores to Lagos, Portugal, I am one week in and a world away filled with joy, awe, sometimes fear which washes away the damp and leaves me anticipating so much more.
14/06/2008, Departing Ponto Delgada, Sao Migel, Azores
Today at 1200UTC Windancer IV and her crew of six, five MacKenzie's (including UB - uncle Bob) and Jim Rapelje, set sail with the ARC Europe fleet en route to Lagos on Portugal's south atlantic coast.
The weather looks very favourable for a quiet crossing. Winds are predicted to be 10-15 knots today, tonight and into tomorrow diminishing to very light at 5-10 knots.
We may be motoring in the middle of our anticipated 6 day passage but should get help from a good North breeze after Tuesday.
Best wishes and we'll have several blog updates next weekend.
11/06/2008, Bull Fight, Terceira, Azores
We arrived in Angara do Heroismo's new marina around 4pm after an interesting voyage including a close encounter with 7 Beluga whales! They were swimming slowly, very slowly along and we let them pass. They were within a boats length at one point. These are smaller whales, maybe 6-7 feet long, some all white, some marbled grey and brown. It was a beautiful day and a great experience.
Anyway, we checked into customs, you have to at each island even though they're all Azores?? We were told there was a Bull Fight in the next town tonight around 8pm. A Bull Fight! Holy cow, I mean we have to go, what an opportunity. We walked into town for a short stroll, very steep hills, ug! I'm sweaty again, it seems it's hot a humid everywhere I am, or is that just me? Back to the marina for a shower and shave and we're off the Bull Fight. The cabby drops us in the heart of the town, the locals are scurrying around, preparations well under way. B ob and I stop at a roadside stand, meet a young man who speaks excellent English, learned it when his mother worked at the US Military base here. He told us this event happens every night in a different town across the island and it's an old tradition, no tourist event this. The town's folk are pleasant to us. We hunker down behind a stone/cement fence in the yard of one of the local residence. They invited is in like neighbors, good people these. Our friend at the road side stand also told us this was more like the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain only here the bull is "controlled" by a rope around it's neck. The rope managed by 10 traditionally clothed men. Black, round, flat brimmed hats, white tunic, grey pants. Their job is to "control" the bull. Things are about to start, the men are stringing the rope along the street, people are getting behind the barriers set up for this event, young men, and some older men are milling around in the streets. A rocket shoots up, scares us to death and causes the bulls to kick violently against the doors of their cages. They sound angry and powerful. They will be 4 bulls, one at a time. Here comes bull #1, crashing out of its cage, black, horns capped, powerful, angry, confused. This could be interesting folks! The men in the street run like frightened school children from the bull. The rope men control the bull but not that much. You better get out of the way, over a fence or run very fast or that bull could really hurt you!
We'd been taunting Bob to "run with the bulls"; he's in the best shape, fast and agile enough. Not yet, what's this all about first. Bull #1 is maneuvered back into it's cage and we relax, that was really something, much more exciting than we expected. Bull #2 is next. Bob has that look on his face, oh oh he's on the street with all the locals, the same street the bull will soon be on. This is going to be interesting folks. Bull #2 comes crashing out of its cage, much more aggressive than #1. Bob is testing the waters, not taking too many chances. No one is killed and bull #2 is pulled back into his cage. Wow, their serious animals! Bull #3 comes out, crashing, angry, fast, powerful and Bob's in there this time, running with the locals, closer, leaping onto the fence and this amazing creature comes crashing by. John and Steve get into the act as well. Running back and forth as the bull charges, then backs away, being taunted by everyone, even local dogs get into the act, people waving blankets, small carpets, umbrellas. One very agile and brave young man taunts the bull right in front of us. Running in a tight circle, his hand on the bulls' forehead, yelling something. A dangerous dance but he is agile, quick and succeeds in a great show, we applaud but interestingly the locals don't? What's that about? Finally bull #3 is maneuvered toward it's cage after some serious nastiness in the streets, even getting into the school yard for a spell, man you should have seen em run then. This is a tough bull. Bob's close to him now keeping a sharp eye out for an escape route, a fence, a wall to climb, anything to get away if necessary. All of a sudden the bull makes a last ditch escape attempt right at Bob. The men try to control him but can't, Bob tries to jump onto a fence but a tree branch pushes him back. He's on the street and the bulls charging, head down, angry, oh man. Bob looks over his shoulder to see this fire breathing monster inches from him. I will never forget the look in his eyes when he sees the bull snorting, snot dripping from its snout, angry, powerful and about 6 inches from his butt. Bob jumps away, agile, he gets clear and the men hold the bull tight. My God that was something, unbelievable! Bull #3 is finally in its cage and Bob has survived. What a moment. Bob was still breathing hard when I got to him about 5 minutes later, high 5s and my buddy Bob just survived running with the bulls or did he win a bullfight? It doesn't matter, it was definitely one of the highlights of this adventure and none of us will ever forget it, especially Bob. Well done Bob.
A Little More Bull
Here's my version, and I will say in defense of being called "idiot boy" again, I will need a really good lawyer. Let's take it a bull at a time. Bull #1 - be patient and just check him out. As with most shows they save the best for last. So don't embarrass yourself; now's the time to just observe and make sure your shoes are tied. Bull #2 - if you're like me (nyet, nyet) as your adrenaline and courage are building, you realize observing is just a little better than watching it on a wide screen. Time to get on the other side of the barrier. Time to go for the bull instead of visa versa. Picture a stone road meeting another to form a tee. The bulls are lead to the junction, than must turn left as the ropes lead them. This is where they tear ass until the rope slack is gone - even the real crazy step aside. Now it's time to follow the bull to the narrowest part of the street where predicting the bulls next move is impossible. The closer you get the more the following group thins out. Bull #2 was a learning experience for me in this area. I kept my distance somewhat but learned some moves from a few other (much younger) local crazies. Believe me having a guaranteed escape plan is essential. Your must gage the height of stone fences, test the strength of lesser ones and make sure you have access to your exit spot alone. It's taboo to sit on fences and barriers blocking the escape of runners, but you never know. I'm pretty sure some of the locals are cheering for the bull and not this touristo. In a pinch you don't necessarily need to leave the street but you do need to pull yourself higher than the height of the passing bull. One comforting thing is that the bulls' horns are cropped somewhat; but after watching makeshift pallet gates disintegrate and a 4 X 8 sheet of plywood tossed aside like a Frisbee, it probably doesn't really matter. I did however get close enough to bull #3 to touch two horns get spit on once and hear some pretty scary breathing up close and personal. Most of this good action was out of the view of our friends who were planted where the roads met. I guess that's why I got a bit cocky near the end of the third bulls run. The bull was being pulled slowly back into his box with maybe 50 feet of line to go. Loading the bull back is a pretty confused time. Even the men in white keep their distance as kicking is a problem. Anyway I end up being the only looney on this part of the street within the remaining ropes length. I have twice tested and opening above a waist high stone fence; big branches in one part, big lady in another - it was not good as it was too late. What scared me the most was the momentary eye contact. I dove for my hole and as I suspected a large branch pushed me back. I was running to the right before my feet landed back on the road. I heard his horns scrape the wall that I had just left very clearly thank you. I've been told I crossed that road and landed on the opposite five-foot fence in about 2 second, with eyes the size of planets. The general consensus of our friends was that bull #3 was 6-12 inches away from me in the end, if you will. So when you're at your next bull run remember to work your way up slowly and don't be a pussy and all the girls will love you. Now if you'll excuse me I have to change my underwe
09/06/2008, Ponto Delgada, Sao Migel, Azores
At dawn this morning, as we slept moored in the Marina Pêro de Teive in Ponto Delgada, Sao Migel in the Azores. I woke to notice the weather, as predicted, had shifted the winds to the West and was now driving Windancer IV onto the dock harder than previously expected. After a quick adjustment to the line and fenders, and after recovering cushions blown overboard by the new winds, I grabbed the computer and headed to the Hotel Atlantico to get caught up with e-mails and update the blog that has been suffering from a serious lack of photos (please see the photo gallery for lots of pictures!).
Yesterday we walked through the town of Ponto Delgada and enjoyed the lunch at a local Azorean pasterie. We also found out that the new Indiana Jones e o Reino da Caveira de Cristal (Indiana Jones and the Kingdon of the Crystal Skull) movie was playing in Ponto Delgada. After short taxi ride (all taxis are Mercedes Benz 190e's - pretty nice), we arrive at "the mall". Ziggy was very impressed that, as we stand on an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, civilization still exists - an amazing, modern mall that would rival any in north America!
We purchase our tickets (pre-assigned seats) and head to the food court to grad a quick bite pre-movie. What we did not realize was we would share out dinning experience with more than 100 excited Azorean football (that's soccer!) fans who cheered on the home team as Portugal crushed the Czech Republic 3-1.
We made our way to the theater and LOVED the movie. I will always remember this premier for it's Portuguese sub-titles!
08/06/2008, en route to Angra, Terceira, Azores
Dolphins! Whales! Bulls?
Due to the winds and weather we decided to leave Horta (enroute to Terceira) at 2 am instead of 6 am. This paid off because the route we had taken took us close to 12 hours to arrive. However there were several upsides to this and here they are.
1. We spotted a pod of dolphins off the starboard hull, jumping in a synchronized fashion about 100 yards away.
2. Once the dolphins got out of sight we started to play 20 questions but in the middle of a round we spotted a fishing boat in neutral looking off their bow, we slowed up until we were in neutral, aligned with these dolphins. No, they weren't, they were bigger than dolphins and had a marble colored skin. Oh My God! Whales! Slowly floating and cresting about moving closer and closer. The closest we got was about 50 or so feet! There were 7 of them. They were beluga-esk whales with white bodies and a black fin! 30 minutes. That is how long they stayed with us.
3. While talking to the guy at the customs dock he tells us about what is happening tonight. Are you ready for it? Well it was the toura da corda, the bullfight of the rope, basically the let bulls attached to ropes chase people who seek an adrenalin rush or a hospital visit. So bull #1 is walking around like a cow in it's pasture, doesn't care one bit. So Steve and John walk out to get " fried chicken". In other words they were waiting for bull #2! And then BOOM he is off. They both start running, John in the lead, Steve behind him. They made it to safety. Then uncle Bob went out to face #3. he seemed to be doing fine until the bull spotted him and became angry, chasing him right up a wall, but nature got in the way, he hit a tree branch now he is beside the bull! I was at an angle where I couldn't see this but Jim did and in his words he said "Oh man Mack, you were right there, the horns were like six inches from your but". Now #4, the angriest. Once this guy was "gone" John picked up Jennifer and walked a bit, but that bull was not done, John Picked up jenny and ran as fast as he could to a stand where hid with 8 other people.
08/06/2008, Faial Airport, Azores
The day began early, as usual, and the crew started tackling the tasks at hand: completion of the Windancer IV painting and cleaning the vessel in preparation for the arrival of our first mate Ziggy, our dinghy captain Connor, and cruise director Jennifer.
While our resident author and artist, Jim, completed the painting of the Windancer IV painting on the infamous Horta "walk of fame", John, Bob and Steve attacked the task of cleaning the vessel after 2 months of "guy living". Not more than a couple of hours later, the boat was spotless (OK, not spotless but pretty close).
Captain John jumped in the shower, pulled out the best (cleanest) Windancer IV t-shirt that could be found and off to the airport to meet the family. Forgot to mention that Ziggy sent a note reminding to "Rent the biggest car on the island because we have sooooo much luggage". Well, needless to say, Europe, and the Azores are part of Portugal and very European, do not have large cars. Actually, their cars are very, very small. The rental car of choice, the only one readily available, is a Renault CLIO. Think of a SMART car with just enough room for a tiny back seat. We'll make it work, and I bring along towels as roof protection and rope just in case we have to lash some bags to to the roof.
Off to the airport, the flight arrives early, and after what seemed like an eternity waiting for the new crew to get their luggage, Connor and Jenny rush though the arrival gate and into their anxious Dad's arms. Ziggy follows closely behind, orders the two kids, who she's been single parenting for two months, to "Keep pushing the luggage carts so you don't block the arrival gate" and into the welcome arms of a lonely husband no more.
The family was reunited. Non-stop stories from all, "Dad, did you hear about the Hamburg Zoo?"(Connor), "Dad, did you hear I rode my bike to school in Germany?"(Jenny), "John, look at Jenny's new haircut - hey, your haircut doesn't look bad, thank goodness it's had a chance to grow for a month since you shaved your head!", and on and on.
Off to the car park, and we all laugh when we see the three luggage carts full of bags and this "matchbox" size vehicle. But no worries, and three bags into the truck (can't believe all that fit in their, and two bags stacked between the kids in the back seat and off we go to the boat.
A short drive later, and the MacKenzie family are officially on board Windancer IV.
07/06/2008, Horta Marina, Faial, Azores
Thursday, June 4, 2008; Today was spend completing the required repairs on the boat, finishing our sign on the Horta Breakwater and making a run to the grocery store to provision for the trip to Lagos, Portugal. All went well and was completed in time to join the ARC sponsored dinner party. A few notes here. Boat repairs; we now have a fully functional rudder linkage on the port hull, the prop on the starboard hull has been replaced. We are very proud to have left our mark in Horta, our sign will be visible for a long time here, marking our presence in this sailing mecca. I've dreamt of doing such a sign for years. Ever since I saw a photo of the 1000s of signs on these walls and understood the significance of this place in the world of ocean sailing it's been a goal, a need if you will. I thought it an impossible dream, just goes to show you, never give up on a dream. Provisioning; it's just amazing to watch John go through a grocery store, filling 3 large carts to overflowing and we eat well folks, thank you John.
After all the work was done we came back to the boat to prepare for the ARC sponsored dinner party. We joined the throng of happy sailors and arrived at the restaurant. The tables were all set with what looked like excellent fare. This would be a "hot rock" dinner. They give you nicely prepared shrimp, 2 types of fish, beef, oysters and squid, all cold. Then you are given a very hot piece of rock to cook your food on. Very much fun and very tasty. Wine was provided, as much as you wanted, NO...we were all good tonight. After an excellent, filling dinner with all my new best friends, what could be better, I retired outside. It was hot in the restaurant with a room full of hot rocks.
I sat on the steps, made out of lava rock like everything else around here, and began to enjoy the company. This is a major part of this experience for me, the people. We've been together now for over a month and friendship has matured among this ARC group. We're all involved in the same adventure, there's a strong camaraderie that's developed. I have friends from Germany, England, Norway, Sweden, Granada, Brazil, France, Spain and Portugal that I'll never forget. The international sailing community is made up of people from everywhere, with every level of financial backing, from every walk of life, each with a different story. Everyone needs to experience this, it changes your outlook on life. Your own world is just not the same after you've met so many different people from different worlds and their attitudes and values toward things. It's very good folks, puts things in perspective.
Sitting there on the steps I had some great conversations, met more people, outside the ARC group, some local, one from South Africa. We talked about why we were here, how we got here, can we get more wine, what will you do when this trip's over, how's your boat, anything damaged, just everything and anything. As the night wore on conversations got to wives and girlfriends, are they ok with what we're doing, oh she'll join you in Lagos, where to then and on and on.
05/06/2008, Madelena, Pico, Azores
The island of Pico is a 30 minute ferry ride from our port in Horta, and the crew of Windancer complete the short trip by 8am. As the ferry approached the dock we passed two impressive rock formations jutting some 100 feet out of the water. It obvious already that this is a volcanic island, as these rocks are all lava and their shapes and mass remind me of the flower pots near Tobomory.
Pico is a much larger island than Horta, and is home to mount Pico an inactive volcanic mountain of some 7400 feet. Our original plan was to climb a significant portion of this hill, and end up on it's peak. From here, we hear the panoramic view of all the Azores is beyond belief. I'm sure this is true since this is the mountain who's tip I first saw at sunrise the day of our arrival, from a staggering 100 miles away (big hill!)
Well anyways here's the initial plan. You rent a car (guide optional - of course we four men pass) and we drive to a supervised area about 1500 meters above sea level, where you can sign in and start your climb to the top. We had heard in advance that this would be about a 6 hours hike, round trip.
Well like I said we went to the car, had some breakfast and then we drove and drove and drove. Steve is our navigator armed with only a general island road map which had several roads left out all of which we found. I will admit as lost as we usually were, these were some fun roads. Most were unpaved and all were very windy, some up hill and some down, with never a guard rail in sight. Now cows were a different story - they were everywhere and they were huge. I'm talking gargantuan milk cows that only fed their young (no farms or farmers in sight). Ofter our passage would be blocked of briefly until they sauntered off starring blankly "way down" into our windows. Almost all of the terrain that they graze on looks suitable only for goats; we kept expecting to see on just roll down the hill side and bash through a few stone fences. There are few property fences as we know them here. Some boundaries are formed with miles of mature trees or larger bushes side by side, but most are stone walls. In face everything is stone here (volcanic stone, supply and demand I guess). Wether they be waist high or over your head, hand built stone walls run everywhere on the hillside and from a distance look like a giant maze! House, garages and most other buildings are all made up of these perfectly fitted lava rocks of all shapes and sizes - no mortar or cement here. Steve informs me they're call "dry stone walls" in the UK.
Anyways, back to the magic bus, actually it's a Renault CLIO, and it's a bumpy ride in the back seat for sure. It's also a stick shift and first gear is required ofter on the steeper sections of road. After a bit of sight seeing of cave like rock formations, a whaling museum, a few docks in small towns and as I mentioned, tons of cows, we finally reach the starting point for climbers. By now it's much too late to fit in the climb to the top and still make our return ferry. So the four of us head off for a mini hike up the same main trail, with Bob and Jim quitting first. John and Steve carry on and pass four people coming down who inform them that they would only have two and a half more hours to reach the top, they two descend.
Oh well, we had a taste and now know better for next time. So there's just enough time to wind ourselves down to the harbor, drop off a dirty rental, taste some vulgar white wine at a wine tasting spot, have a last Pico beer (and Sangria) and we're on the ferry home.
In the end we had a peak at Pico, albeit from quite a ways away, we drove 200km of twisting turning of often back jarring roads, through the clouds and countless miles of beautiful hill and mountain side and saw more beef than McDonald's has served.
So if and when you go, remember to take along warm clothes for those cool nights on the boat, and try to local red wind - it's excellent and not to dear.
PS Idiot Girl, ye with no faith, it ain't my face.
04/06/2008, Horta, Faial, Azores
Just as an addenda to the previous blog entry that noted one of the crew fell down and went "Boom" and got a few scratches on his face. To set the record straight, Captain John was NOT the one involved in this incident. Truth be told, the skipper was the one assisting Windancer's drunken crewmate home to the vessel. The secret is safe with me as I have agreed not to release the identity of the injured party. "He who shall not be named" will have to decide if he wishes to come foreward and publish the photo of the injury. Fortunately it was not serious, just a few facial scrapes and a severly damaged ego.
But all is well. The crew spent the day exploring PICO, the mountainous island with a peak of 2351 meters. Tonight we will try and complete the blog entry on PICO.
03/06/2008, The middle of the Atlantic
Please look this link - it is our offering to the sea. We hope to get a response...
02/06/2008, Horta Marina, Faial, Azores
We haven't blogged in a few days, sorry. So there we were within 60 miles of Faial and coming out of the night. Bob was on watch and he saw the volcanic peak of Pico on the horizon, just visible because the clouds had not yet met the horizon. It was 5:10 in the morning but there it was, something, we knew it was Pico, what else could be visible from this distance. Pico is a volcanic peak 2351 meters tall, very tall folks.
Well, the clouds covered it soon after we sighted it and we motored through the day knowing we would make land today, a very good feeling. This crossing will only be 11 days, very fast, it's all good.
As we came closer the island became visible. What a sight, different from anything I've seen before, sheer cliffs, lumps of rock sticking out of the ocean, and always Pico looming up in the background. A completely unique topography, like nothing I've ever seen before. It's in the middle of the ocean folks, the middle, only serious sailors come here and we're some of them, very proud. I've wanted to do this my whole life and here I am, how do you explain that, you can't.
We're under power, no wind, we round the point to see Horta, very cool, we're here, we made it. Truth be told it was an easy passage. Sure, we had mechanical failures but we dealt with them and succeeded, we felt good about that, very good.
Horta is beautiful, every building is white with an orange roof, every one, no exceptions. We moor up the boat, look at each other with confidence and head to Peter Café' Sport, the place to be in Horta. This place is a sailors mecca, you have to be at sea for at least a week just to get here. It's very cool folks, and we're very proud to have done this. Oh yea, we have a few drinks at Peter Café' Sport, just a few. We meet up with the crew of a boat we met on the high sea, Summer Breeze, a great bunch of people. Well the night went on as intended. We were having a great time, talking to the other sailors, all with the pedigree of making it to Horta. This is it folks, worth the effort and the beer and wine at Café' Sport flowed easily.
It's Sunday, the night after and all is well, ok one of us kind'a fell down last night, has a few "marks" on his face to show it. All is well though and we enjoy the day, looking at Pico, what a sight. Looks like space ships flying over the peak. Some weird weather pattern causes Pico to "wear a hat", that's right looks like a cloud hat on Pico, what a sight.
That night Windancer hosted a dinner party. Summer Breeze has no food, the grocery store closed early on Sunday, they missed it. And moreOne of the ARC sailors picked up an eel caught by a fisherman during the day. We clean it on the breakwater with the help of Paul a new friend we met on the dock. The dinner party is a complete success. Pasta and eel on Windancer then on to Kalliope for more absolutely wonderful comradery with the ARC sailors and more eel expertly prepared by chef-skipper Louis. It was a great evening folks, doesn't get better than this.
How do you describe this experience, you can't unless you're here. it's absolutely wonderful, the visual experience, the people, the fact that you're in the middle of the ocean and you sailed here. It's off the charts folks, we're all very lucky guys.
01/06/2008, 100nm East of Bermuda
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly...
On the passage from Antigua to Bermuda, Windancer IV and crew experienced a true indoctrination into how heavy weather sailing would affect the vessel and those within her while enduring 60+ knot winds and 30 foot seas (see Jim's description of THE STORM in a previous blog entry). The vessel performed like a champion, and her crew, after a short respite and swapping of a crew member in Bermuda, were ready to depart on the longest leg of the ARC Europe 2008 rally - St. Georges, Bermuda to Horta, Faial, Azores.
As the crewed completed final provisioning, customs and immigration check out procedures, and the installation of the new reefing lines and Windancer IV was ready to go - a day ahead of schedule. We reviewed weather GRIB files with the Chris' aboard Sea Squared and Richard aboard Fuerte, who both decided to depart a day early on Tuesday, May 20th - a day ahead of the fleet to stay in front of a very strong frontal system.
So as I made some final phone calls, quick update of the blog (which suffered lack of attention during our Bermuda outings), clear up the dockage tab and make our departure declaration with ARC organizer Fionn McKee, and off we go. Oops, forgot the trip to the fuel dock, wait in line, two sailing vessels ahead of us, no worries, time to complete the securing of the dinghy and sailboard, contact Bermuda Harbour Radio, where we receive final clearance out of Bermuda and best wishes for a safe passage to the Azores.
Our sailing began as expected, good wind of 25-30 knots from the southwest - perfect. As nightfall approached, we took the usual safety procedures and prepared to put the second reef in the main to continue throughout the night in case of squall activities and the development of big winds. At dusk, a pod of dolphins swam with us for several minutes, and someone commented "I think dolphin bring you luck.......... BANG - BANG". The words weren't out of his mouth when the brand new reefing line failed, snapping the new, less than 24 hours old, line and releasing the boom and luffing the mainsail!
After the "all hands on deck" call was made, the second reef was "permanently" installed for the balance of the passage. No worries, we all confident in that reef since it is the same procedure we used to sail through 60+ knot wind. We will review the cause of the failure once we arrive in the Azores. Could be chafing, a sharp edge on the sheave, the rough bolt at the end of a misplaced batten. That is not our concern now and the night went along - our first night at sea en route to an expected passage of two weeks.
As dawn rose on our first full day at sea, we review the watch schedules and decide they went well and shortly after dawn, the crew sat on the bridge, enjoying the first morning of the passage. Then, around 1000, we noticed OTTO, the autopilot self-steering device, was causing the vessel to "swim", to over steer 5 degrees left then 5 degrees right, then 10 degrees left then 10 degrees right, then more... I quickly run to the open the port engine compartment to review the issue, and upon opening the access door, horror fell upon the crew.
The port rudder post pin had snapped - clear off - and the vessel was steering wildly as a result of having only one rudder control and the autohelm sensor receiving erroneous information. Holy crap - that is not good! As a mater of fact - the broken rudder post control pin is the UGLY in my story.
So calmer heads had to prevail. First consideration, crew is safe - YES, vessel is safe - YES, calm down, think of a temporary solution to at least allow the vessel to sail forward safely. Jim and I begin the repair, albeit very temporary solution, with the help of Bob and a "green faced" Steve, and after a little more than an hour, some 5 mm and 10 mm line, and the port rudder is working - kind of.
So now we're looking at the big decision "Do we go forward or turn back?".
The Good and the Bad - Decision time.....
The Good is that we succeeded in our quest to cross the Atlantic Ocean - safe and sound. The Bad, and it really wasn't Bad (I just used that from the title of the classic western movie with Clint Eastwood) was the challenges brought about by the failure of the rudder post pin. The following is the excepts from each crew members personal thoughts and log entries. Please read through the details of how each member of Windancer IV's crew felt and assessed the problem at hand and to what conclusions each person came to - we respect and welcome any and all comments including those who can share other personal experiences.
Jim Rapelje - personal observations on the broken Rudder linkage incident:
We had left Bermuda only a day earlier, the conditions were rough with wind in the 20-30kt range and waves building, currently at about 6-10' range. The linkage to the Port rudder broke, sheared off the pin connecting the linkage to the rudderpost. Initial thoughts were very negative, only one day out and a major failure, I didn't see how we could manage manual steering at he helm, this boat is difficult to steer manually when everything is working correctly. Then there was the potential for progressive additional failures ending with ultimately manual steering using the auxiliary tiller, a 2 inch steel pipe bent into a tiller shape that attaches to the top of the rudder post. This would require someone manning the tiller 24-7 and we just started. 2 weeks of that was untenable I thought.
The suggestion to turn back was made. I seriously thought that might be a good idea at this point but didn't like it one bit. Weather would be much worse back there according to our weather reports and with the boat "damaged" I struggled with the thought.
I have great confidence in my ability to fix things, jury rig something, but was feeling very negative when the first jury rig was begun. John and I used rope to lash the linkage to the rudderpost arm, it wasn't pretty but I thought the linkage was at least moving the rudder in the right direction but with too much slop. I gained confidence with that even still. However, the thought of the extra strain on the Starboard rudder linkage and it's potential failure was still heavy on my mind.
We realized the first jury rig was inadequate and stopped the boat for a focused effort to improve the jury rig. That resulted in a significantly improved rig and greatly reduced my anxiety. At this point I thought we could pull it off. Maybe re-rigging daily or every other day, but doable. My confidence was bolsteed greatly, I was in favor of going on fully by now, we'll make it. It's also important to note that John and Steve had convinced me by now that this boat can easily manage with only one rudder, there had been several reports of successful experiences that way. I was committed to going on now.
Finally we added tie straps, big ones, to the rig and that proved to be the clincher. The rig has held now for 9 days straight without any changes, a major success. We've done it and can be proud of the accomplishment.
The thing we did not talk about - Steve Southwood
On May 21st, before the end of our first day out, the pin connecting the port rudder assembly to the steering / auto pilot linkage broke. This meant a number of things :
1.Steering, both manual and auto, was going to only the starboard rudder
2.Greater stress was being put on the starboard pin
3.The port rudder was now swinging free.
4.As the autopilot rudder sensor was attached to this assembly it was now reading all over the show.
5.The autopilot was getting confused by these readings.
6.The autopilot was overcompensating (see point 2 again)
This set off a debate. We essentially had two main options. Jury rig and head back to Bermuda for proper repairs or jury rig and press on to Horta.
The natural thing to do would be to turn back as we were only a day out from Bermuda. However, we had left some bad weather behind us. Turning back would require us to go into wind (taking 2-3 days) and stress the remaining pin / jury rig close to land.
I was in favor of making a decision after we had exhausted our imagination jury-rigging the port side assembly with a preference to pushing on. I'm always astounded what human ingenuity can conjure up and I was assuming we would come up with something that would sway minds in favour of pushing on. Initially, it appeared to me that the crew were evenly split with two wanting to go on and two wanting to turn back. I don't know how much my seasickness at the time contributed to my opinion. I must admit that heading into a storm worse than we were experiencing did not appeal to me. But I think my position was taken logically.
I was also concerned that the situation should play out and that we did not rush into a decision. I was aware that the decision was not an easy one and that this was weighing on everyone's minds. In some ways dreams were at stake but a wrong decision would put much more on the line. Again ñ this meant it was important we allowed time to play out and let the solution evolve. Bottom line was we had two engineers aboard and I had read of plenty of examples of cats going for weeks (often without knowledge) with one rudder missing. I must confess I wasn't overly concerned but I know the rest were.
Given my condition at the time there was no way I could stick my head down and help with the work on the jury rig. I was more than able to take over the manual steering (which required me to focus on the horizon) and keep the boat reasonably stable while John and Jim went to task assisted by Bob who fed tools to them.
Not all the things they tried worked but in the end a combination of lashing with spare lines and monster cable ties did a pretty good job. John also hooked up the rudder sensor to the starboard rudder so it would get a precise reading. The jury is certainly not as solid as a metal pin but it certainly went a long way to reassuring us we might be able to press on to Horta. We decided to check on the jury rig every hour throughput the second night to make sure it wasn't coming apart and reconsider our decision in the morning. You already know from the log that we didn't turn back.
Finally, we made a group decision to keep this situation off our communicated logs until we arrive in Horta. Given the time and attention we had put on the problem we felt we had a good handle on our situation. However, we weren't sure we could reassure all our families reading our logs so we felt holding this information back until we arrive would be the best. This decision was unanimous.
One thing I would like to point out, and thank, is Capt John's leadership style. He consulted with all the crewmembers on major decisions. At the same time there is no indecision on his part. While we may not always agree, we all get a chance to contribute and influence to outcome. Good job John.
In hindsight. The jury rig has been remarkably resilient requiring very little maintenance. A wooden stopper was added the following day and bar the occasional pushing of lines that was about it. I can't underestimate what turning back would have meant. Going back to Bermuda and awaiting repairs would have severely impacted schedules forcing one or two of us to abandon the trip. This in turn could have forestalled John's overall trip as it was dependent on timing. On the other hand, worst case scenarios of pressing forward may have had us hand steering all over the ocean on the backup tiller similarly stressing schedules.
What we have all expressed in our logs was against the background and ultimate relief of this decision. This really is a trip none of us will forget.
May 21, 2008 - JUDGMENT DAY (Bob MacKenzie)
Less than 24 hours into our trip, and the unthinkable happens - a breakage in the port rudder steering mechanism - a steel pin has been sheared right off! Worse scenario - if this rudder becomes terminally ill and the disease spreads to our starboard rudder we would be left with a manual tiller and rudder and the manipulation of our sails to steer the boat, possible? - maybe, feasible - not really. There is no replacement part or any type of substitute part on board, and I'm now finding that materials and uncommon tools are not abundant either. Long story short - get out the duct tape and bubble gum and hope for the best - or turn back. The latter is not a valid option but we discuss anyway. Firstly, the weather that we left early to avoid, is probably hammering the boats behind us and we would be sailing right into it for at least a couple of days. Secondly, and more importantly, it's obvious to me now that there are no quitters on board. The optimistic approach to the entire dilemma even won me over - not just convincing me that we (could) do it somehow, but convincing me that this would not become a trip from hell rather than my anticipated thrill of a lifetime. Concern, fear and even anger were certainly felt by all of us, but we didn't dwell on it. We seemed to put all that would be wasted energy into assuring each other that we'd find a way to make everything ok. A bit of rope and a lot of confidence - great combination! Let's get at er boys!!
Final thoughts of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Captain John MacKenzie):
Immediately after the damage was discovered, Jim and I completed a "make-shift", first try repair of the rudder control arm. We then sat back and reviewed the situation. In very simple terms, Crew Safety #1, Vessel Safety #2. Turning back meant 36 to 48 hours of very difficult sailing, guaranteed by the weather forecast that we saw prior to leaving and that was sent to us that (and every) morning. Here is an excerpt from the Commanders Weather update for May 21st "ahead of the cold front near, NE and E of Bermuda to 25-40 kts with some gusts 45-50 kts in area".
Turning back meant heading directly into what we had experienced coming up from Antigua, but this time, trying to return to Bermuda, through some of the most dangerous reefs and shoals around, possibly at night and with damaged rudder control equipment. If I have not said enough - this was not my first choice. As a matter of fact, I did not consider this a safe choice at all.
The other option was to continue forward. I was 100% confident in our ability as a team to make the passage work - to make the repair work - to complete the passage safely by moving forward. I came to this decision based on several key points:
1. Catamarans have proven to be able to operate safely for extended periods of time with only one rudder.
2. Windancer IV has four intelligent crewmembers of differing backgrounds and with experience to be able to problem solve this and any other issues that may arise (that is why the crew were chosen accordingly).
3. Weather ahead of us as forecast to be very favourable (and previous research and discussion about this passage gave me the confidence that if heavy weather was anticipated, Windancer IV could avoid such weather by altering course to the south into the Azore high (which we found and is the reason we have been motoring for almost 48 hours in extremely calm, millpond-like conditions).
4. In case of further deterioration or other damage, we had the support of many other ARC skippers, crews and vessels sailing with and behind us.
So I queried the crew, immediately finding out that Steve shared my initial thoughts with the intent to move forward. Jim, I felt was on the fence, but was also in agreement with the decision to move forward after reviewing the third iteration of our repair. Bob was my real concern. Bob remained silent throughout the brainstorming & discussion sessions as we assessed the situation. I read into that silence as " I WANT TO F$%^ING GO BACK!" I can say that now, tongue and cheek, but at the time it weighed heavily on me.
Regardless of those feeling, I made the decision and we, as a team, agreed to move forward. And what a great decision it was. We checked the repaired "rig" every hour to start, then every two hours, fully expecting the repair to last three to six hours - but it was like the EverReady bunny, it just kept going, and going and going! We never needed to make another fix - it lasted more than 1,700 nautical miles - simply amazing. I thank our entire crew for all their hard work and thank our families for their understanding when reading this entry - I hope you understand that we withheld this information until now so as not to cause undue alarm or concern. We love you all, and are now enjoying the Azores, the sight of land "tastes" that much better...
29/05/2008, Airport Lounge
Hi, we are finally leaving - after countless packing, unpacking, repacking, downsizing, upsizing. Over the last three days we have run countless errands including another trip to Coburg to store our car.
Visited the hockey hall of fame, the last bit of canadiana for Connor and enjoyed a lovely dinner with our friends Amanda and John who kindly hosted us over the last few days.
The time in Toronto was physically and emotionally draining - saying good bye over and over. Not easy and this morning IT hit me. IT - the enormity of no turning back, our lives in bags, everything stored or packed, connected only through internet and memories. No offense to the internet geeks out there, but i believe the memories will always be a stronger connection than any hi-speed, wi-fi, PC or MAC. I awoke early this morning, snuck out of the room not to wake sleeping beauty (Jenny) and went for a walk to clear my head. Had a serious case of the jitters and to my favorite song, You are My Home by Billy Joel, it sunk in that regardless of the roof over my head, the address we call home, weather our home is on terra firma or idly lapping in the morning wake as a boat passes by in a marina, friends and family ensure we always will have a home.
Thank you to all who over the past few months, weeks and days have opened your homes, helped hoist a bag or two, shared kind words, wished us well and made it both so easy and so hard to leave.
We will be thinking of you. Ziggy, Connor and Jenny
Hope you don't mind, here are some thoughts on this experience. One mans thoughts, true, thinking too much, I've been accused of that. Maybe you have some of your own;
There's a wanderlust that's satisfied by taking an ocean passage like this, no question. Magellan, Christopher Columbus, Sir Francis Drake, we're in good company. Traveling across the ocean to new lands and cultures. There's also a degree of serenity that's achieved after several days at sea, a level of peace of mind, probably a result of not having so many distractions, responsibilities and pressures that we all have at home and at work. Some people have gone crazy out here, too much time to think, oops, is that what I'm doing now? The sea is so big and we're so small in our little boat. Windancer isn't that little, 44' is no dingy, but it's still just a spec on this expanse of water. Another thing that must affect our thinking is the simple fact that you see 100% horizon. No hills, trees or buildings to block the horizon line, you see it all out here, all the time, there's nothing but water and sky. Again, reduced distractions, less complication. The crew all commented on the degree of excitement generated by the simplest things, a fishing buoy, a wooden plank floating by, everyone jumps to see it. What is it? Where did it come from? How did it get here? We wouldn't give it a second thought at home, something by the side of the road, nothing more, litter, boring.
All that said, we all miss home, our loved ones, the basic comforts of home can't be denied. But only two of us look forward to getting back to those comfortable surroundings, that familiar routine. The other two have committed to changing their lives by living aboard their boats for the near and medium future. A very significant commitment to a new life at sea.
I guess I understand the concept of "running away to sea", makes sense, if you need to get away this is the ultimate escape, no question. You're not even in a country out here, international waters, a member of the human species on planet earth, that's all.