Sailboat Sänna

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

25 April 2014 | Oahu, Hawaii.
18 February 2014 | Ala Wai Small Boat Harbour, Honolulu
06 January 2014 | Honolulu.
10 December 2013 | Honolulu.
15 August 2013 | Honokohau Harbour, Hawaii.
12 August 2013 | Honokohau, Hawaii
10 August 2013 | Honokohau, Hawaii.
30 July 2013 | Raiatea, French Polynesia to Hilo, Hawaii.
04 July 2013 | Raiatea, Society Islands, French Polynesia
20 June 2013 | Bora Bora, Society Island, French Polynesia
10 June 2013 | Papeete Harbour, Tahiti
30 May 2013 | Whangarie, NZ to Papeete, Tahiti.
02 May 2013 | Mount Cook
10 April 2013 | Whangarei,
07 April 2013 | Riverside, Whangarei,
22 February 2013 | Tutukaka. NZ
02 December 2012 | Bay of Islands
09 November 2012 | Whangarie
12 December 2011 | Whangarei.
09 December 2011 | New Zealand

Lightening Strike...

02 October 2019
Marie Ungless
Photo: Although spectacular, lightening is a deadly peril for sailors

The late round-the-world sailor Sir Francis Chichester once said that most long-distance sailors fear lightening more than they fear anything.

'Battling atrociously big seas and gale-force winds comes with the ticket,' said Chichester. 'With storms an experienced mariner can ready their vessel and take precautions, experience will then generally see them through. With lightening at sea or even in harbour, a sailor can do nothing. A lightening storm is a truly frightening experience, because you can't do anything to prevent it.'

We ourselves have come across many sailboats, a large number of them multi-hulled catamarans, that have been struck by lightening. A lightening storm at sea is a frightening experience, it has always been our own greatest fear.

Bahiá Del Sol, in El Salvador, suffers its fair share of ferocious tropical storms during its wet-summer season, further north in Mexico and Guatemala they generally manifest themselves as Pacific hurricanes. Even so, a tropical downpour in this rain-forest and mangrove wilderness is something you won't forget.

At the back end of August both the Dutch catamaran Madeleine and Sänna were struck by lightening whilst moored in the Bahiá Del Sol. Madeleine was severely damaged, ourselves less so but damaged nevertheless.

They say lightening never strikes twice, it's the second time that Madeleine has been struck...

Read more of this post...
Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.

Read more about the mishaps and mayhem of Nellie, The Ship's Cat

The Cricket Draw of an English Summer

29 September 2019 | Bahiá Del Sol, El Salvador
Dave Ungless
Photo: Cricketer Ben Stokes is the new King of England

Well, we had a great summer back in England, I've not had a summer in my home country for nearly nine years. So we left Sänna tied to one of Bill & Jean's mooring buoys in the Bahiá Del Sol, El Salvador to head home.

It's the wet-season in Central America and, I tell you, it gets wet... it's not a jungle paradise there for no reason. The monsoon torrential downpours have to be seen to be believed, every single afternoon the thunder clouds build, the mind-numbing humidity climbs to levels that make you sweat like a rabid dog and thunder & lightening storms make you wish you'd been born with the ability to tunnel into the ground like a blind deaf mole. Stuck on a sailboat, it can be a debilitating experience sheltering almost naked down in the hold, sweating buckets with all the hatches closed in torrential rain... Not unlike England without the heat, I hear you say.

But, in an English summer there's cricket, there're farmer's ploughmans lunches and Branston Pickle, there's real cheese and homemade marmalade, pork pies and English cask-brewed beer drunk in musicless pubs with only the background hum of chatter to disturb your thoughts, whilst you while away your drinking time reading your pristine-ironed beer-stained newspaper. My favourite pub is the fabulous Vat & Fiddle. A summertime in England means music festivals, trekking the green hills of Derbyshire and Dorset, girls in pretty summertime dresses with curly blond pigtails in their hair. Of course, in reality there's Brexit and Boris Johnson, there's the scourge of British Gas and Virgin Trains, there's Vodafone, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Nicola Sturgeon and the continuous venereal drivel of the Daily Mail.

Cricket - that fantastic sport which nearly half the world loves and no one else gets. Five riveting days of tantalising bat and ball that, more often than not, produces the wonderful result of a draw. Brilliant... nothing epitomises an English summer like cricket. And this year was a cricket feast, the One Day World Cup, the England v Australia Ashes series and warm summer evenings watching Nottinghamshire Outlaws pit their skills against the likes of the Yorkshire Vikings, Essex Eagles and the Leicestershire Foxes in the T Twenty/Twenty Blast.

We got ourselves down to the Trent Bridge beer-fest to watch Notts, we got tickets to see England win the One Day World Cup with a fantastic display of overpowering cricket by Ben Stokes. We spent four fantastic days at the Black Deer Music Festival in Kent, three days at the Camper Calling Music Festival, numerous days walking in Derbyshire, warm summer days at Marie's fisherman's cottage on the coast of Norfolk, fantastic quality time with my grandkids and worked on my house I've not lived in for nearly twenty years. How good is that?

Meanwhile, back in El Salvador....

Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.

Read more about the mishaps and mayhem of Nellie, The Ship's Cat

The Real Coffee Trail

23 April 2019 | Bahía Del Sol, El Salvador
Dave Ungless
Photo: Cooperative coffee growers who know a thing or two about good coffee.

The coffee beans themselves are best hand selected when harvested. There's even whispered talk around more remote hillside farms that beans picked by Guatemalan virgins are something extra special - but that might just be wild hearsay. In the event, eyeball selection means only the beans meant to be picked are picked. The harvested beans are, through necessity, transported by hard-packed mule to the grower's own farm, there they are dried in the sun on the corrugated tin roofs of every farmhouse for between four to six days. This, I tell you, is only the beginning of what is surely the best coffee drinking experience ever.

The farmer's wife, who knows a thing or two about coffee, checks the drying beans daily. When she is happy - and only farmhouse wives have this long-honed handed-down skill, the beans are taken from under the sun into dark storage for another three to four days. Then comes the real thing - the special process that Starbucks and other international coffee retailers just don't get. The dried beans are hand-rolled to remove the husks, also to get rid of any individual bean that really shouldn't be there. The still green beans are then heaped a handful at a time onto a large flat-iron pan heated over a wood-burning, brick-built stove that is more often than not located in the main corner of the farmhouse kitchen. This is how the hand-sorted coffee beans are roasted... over open fires for various lengths of time depending upon which roast of bean is decided. It is the wood - the sun-bleached wood selected for the roasting burn that is important. This is when Guatemalan farmer's coffee gets special. The Guatemalans, they call it 'Cowboy' coffee...

When roasted, and once more it is the grower's wife who decides when the roast is done, the beans are again eyeballed by female eyes to chuck out any single bean that is not quite right - then the beans are ground by hand using traditional wood carved rolling-pins. They are ground on solid matts on the farmhouse floor, by the farmer's wife dressed in traditional garb whilst leaning hard on her hands and knees. Both Gary and I later agreed how this is not an unattractive sight; a Guatemalan woman in colourful dress grinding coffee can be a long lasting vision for a lonely man and his posterity. A large iron pot is set boiling on the same wood-fired stove. The ground and fresh roasted beans, still warm, are chucked by the heaped handful into the boiling water - for precisely six minutes. White muslin cloth is then set over a lavishly decorated serving pot, the boiling coffee is sieved through the muslin rag directly into the ceramic pot. When dry, the leftover ground beans are fed to the pigs or returned to the coffee fields to fertilise the moist volcanic soil. Drunk cowboy style, this coffee drinking experience is something special.

Coffee and Guatemala are like peas & carrots as Tom Hanks once said. This is how farmers' coffee is picked, roasted and drunk by the growers of Guatemala. Grown on the high volcanic slopes of the Volcán De Fuego and Acatenango volcanoes that surround the old conquistador city of Antigua, the small grower's cooperatives have banded together to fend off the big boys, who more often than not ruin good coffee in their mad-rush to shift volume. The loud middle men and the money-driven, far-flung traders have driven down the price of beans to the point that small independent growers, who know an awful lot about coffee, live a subsistence lifestyle largely unknown to sophisticated latte drinkers who lounge in the downtown chain-owned coffee houses - the ones generally found in the western world. And did you know that drive-thru coffee drinking is the ultimate sacrilege to the art of knowing good coffee? Forget all that nonsense from the likes of Starbucks, who show vivid colour posters of happy farmers with their smiling families on coffee-shop windows to entice you in... the impression of Starbucks working hand-in-hand with their extended family of Guatemalan growers is entirely false. It just doesn't happen like that. The large commercial growers, who harvest on a vast scale, are driving out the smallholding farmers - because the grower's land itself can be made more valuable.

De La Genta Small Farmers Cooperative is just one of the increasing number of growers' cooperatives found in Guatemala and elsewhere. Give them a try - you'll never taste coffee like it. Forget your percolator, your espresso maker, that awful cartridge-fed machine you got for Christmas, your drip-maker and every other damned gimmick for making coffee, roast the green beans yourself in a pan then grind them up by hand - perhaps with your partner or husband standing behind you with a mischievous grin in his eye. Chuck the grounds into a pot of boiling water then sieve the boiling coffee through an old shirt or muslin cloth. Add whatever you need to meet your personal tastes. Or you can buy the ready-roasted beans supposedly hand picked by Guatemalan virgins - although definitely dried and roasted by independent subsistence cooperatives who desperately need your business.

Visit De La Genta Cooperative Growers, Guatemala.


Gary, my step-brother and long standing friend, suggested that we rent a car in the Bahiá Del Sol, El Salvador. We left Sänna tied to one of Bill's mooring buoys, then drove northwest along the coast of El Salvador to cross the border into Guatemala. From there we made our way north to the old Conquistador city of Antigua to explore spectacular earthquake shattered Spanish ruins. The towering volcanoes that still belch flames are Guatemala's hidden secret - my daughter Louise, who travels Guatemala and Central America with her work, suggested we hunt down the small coffee growing farmers who farm the fertile slopes of the volcanoes. We found the trail and learned much about their heartbreaking troubles... and also how coffee 'Cowboy' style is still drunk in the old traditional way by those who know their product best. It's a fantastic experience - Guatemala's brown gold. Try it.

But please... not with milk, especially chilled milk. If you like your coffee white then use powdered creamers, they are formulated not to change the molecular structure of your drink.

Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.

Read more about the mishaps and mayhem of Nellie, The Ship's Cat

The Rally That Goes Nowhere...

11 February 2019 | The Bahiá Del Sol, El Salvador
Marie Ungless
Photo: A four mile, thirty minute fast dinghy ride to buy bread & milk.

It's an interesting place, the Bahiá Del Sol. El Salvador is not the 'go to' destination for sailors, not like Mexico for the Americans or the northern Mediterranean for Europeans, nor is it the culture draw of Southeast Asia. El Salvador does not posses the enchanting beauty of the South Pacific or the Caribbean, nor do you get hand-hold living where your life is made easy for you. We ourselves crossed the sand bar into the Bahiá Del Sol for rest, fuel and a passing interest, we planned to stay only a few days.

The media and the more sensationalistic news reports paint El Salvador as a crime-ridden murderous hole, which in many respects it is but that is not an indictment that applies solely to El Salvador. Many other countries lay claim to that title, take Mexico or even America, the US has a much higher death rate by murder by head of capita than just about anywhere - just take a look at the obscene number of mass shootings there. So there are risks in mooring your boat in El Salvador, but not that much more than taking your boat anywhere else. At no point have we ourselves felt threatened or intimidated, we have come across no crime and can speak highly of the friendliness of these nice people. We have travelled the country freely and easily. Never have we locked our boat.

So, we've stayed far longer than just a few days in El Salvador. Bill & Jean, the awe-inspiring American couple who have made the Bahiá Del Sol their home, run their El Salvador Rally to entice curious sailors like us into their domain. And it's good that they do - because without this sometimes Rally and the invaluable assistance advice they provide, most sailors would sail by the entrance bar without much thought.

The El Salvador Rally is not a rally as such, the rally is difficult to explain. There are no glorious send-offs with boozy fanfares and all that kind of stuff, there are no fleets of sailboats nor any convoys of cautious sailors or anything even remotely like that... most of those convoy fleets have been left behind way up north in more moderate first-world Mexico. The sailboats that Bill & Jean attract are the adventurous types, the ones that have come around to the fact that you can only do so much in an unwieldy rally fleet - or those many long-distance sailboats that have no time for rallies at all. So Bill & Jean have come up with the curious concept of the fleet-less rally, you can turn up anytime by yourself, in your own boat with no other boat, heading either south or north and join this wonderful rally that goes precisely nowhere. But you are cleverly lured into the Bahiá Del Sol, you are drawn into this supposedly most dangerous country but then you have a really nice time. Does this bizarre El Salvador Rally concept work...? It works big time.

So what do you get in the sheltered estuary of the Bahiá Del Sol? What you get is basic sailboat live-aboard living in a delightfully adventurous setting. We've come across these nice laid-back sailing communities before, in remote parts of southeast Asia, in the Red Sea, Sri Lanka, the South Pacific especially - but then Bill & Jean are intrepid adventure sailors in their own right so they know full well what the lone adventurous sailboat is looking for. This whole thing comes together in the whispered secret that is the spectacular Bahiá Del Sol... that's why we have stayed much longer than the few days we planned.

Our more pressing problem is that, at some point, we need to get away. Or do we? What we're really looking for is a long break... and Bill & Jean offer the best mooring deal anywhere between Alaska and Panama.

It's a hard call here in paradise...

The El Salvador Rally:

Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.

Read more about the mishaps and mayhem of Nellie, The Ship's Cat

Mexico to El Salvador 2018

30 December 2018 | Bahiá Del Sol, El Salvadore
Dave Ungless
South from the Sea of Cortez

The first thing that struck me about the fabled Sea of Cortez is how similar it is to the Red Sea. As well as being almost identical in climate, the Sea of Cortez landscape is much the same - although nothing like as remote or spectacular. But there is stunning Mexican culture - fantastic four-hundred year old monasteries and incredible churches abound everywhere, though there is a degree of basic poverty which becomes the 'attraction' for us first-world westerners in our fancy sailboats, who like to think we are intrepid explorers able to mix it with the locals. So nothing much changes there then...

Read more of our voyage south to El Salvador...

Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.

Read more about the mishaps and mayhem of Nellie, The Ship's Cat

Cats, Cockroaches & Dengue Fever...

10 November 2018 | Bahiá Del Sol, El Salvador. Posted from the UK
Dave Ungless
Photo: The exquisite Bahiá Del Sol

'Yup. Looks like Dengue Fever to me.' said Sam.

I was ill, almost dying in my mind. Sam and Vikki the American nurses from Islenia and Taliesin Rose were kindly taking care of me. They were like two angelic angels, they came by to check up on me every couple of hours or so. Marie was back in England but Nellie, our ships cat, was still very much onboard and driving me crazy.

I knew that, in the evening, the whole rigmarole would begin again. I would crawl out of my bunk in the dark to try to find the cat, I knew only too well she would be ashore hunting the dock. When she found a cockroach, she would bring it back and I would have to run around Sänna's cockpit with the cockroach spray to kill it... you seriously don't want these things onboard your boat. Meanwhile, Nellie would then disappear fast to catch a second one. This could, and did, go on until around three in the morning, it was the same each and every night. In the meantime, I was dying a slow death with my Dengue Fever.

I desperately told Marie on the phone that I'd had enough. Indeed I had, I was at my wits end pulling my hair out. Bill, who manages the moorings and provides all the services for visiting sailboats in Bahiá Del Sol, told me he could help. For fifty bucks he could take the cat away, she could live on the island with the fishermen there, there were already tons of cats living there. Now, this seemed like a good idea to me, it would also mean that we'd not have to get Nellie back to England when I flew home in few weeks time. I was only hanging on because the cat couldn't fly, not until her rabies antibodies had taken hold... and we still had the wrong blood test certificate and paperwork meaning that she might have to go into quarantine. So Bill's offer was an intriguing solution. Marie, of course, was horrified.

Marie called me, she had found a cattery (cat hotel) in the capital San Salvador. They would drive three hours to the boat the next day, take Nellie away with them for three weeks or so, then deliver her directly to the airport when I was well enough to fly. I agreed... I tell you this, I myself was mightily relieved and Nellie narrowly escaped becoming a stray fisherman's cat in El Salvador.

The Bahiá Del Sol is a magical place. It's a rainforest and mangrove wilderness set in a sheltered estuary, to get into the Bahiá Del Sol means crossing the entrance bar guided by a panga pilot boat. It's not easy, the swell and the surf could easily swamp a fair sized sailing yacht if everything is timed wrong, but we'd timed it right and gotten ourselves in quite easily. Once inside there's a good dock where we were now tied, except that it was infested with cockroaches.

There were already a few American and Canadian boats in the Bahiá Del Sol, some have been there a good while. Every so often an occasional French or German boat heading north from the Panama Canal stops by. Buying supplies is not easy though, it is a twenty minute fast dinghy ride upriver... but every time we made the trip to buy milk and eggs we'd be blown away by the spectacular water-ride through the mangroves and jungle forests. And there are plenty of stilted Fishermans' dwellings and thatched-roofed restaurants where we could, and did, buy fresh fish and prawns. We came into El Salvador for a few days only and then stayed a year. We have made yet more good sailing friends, Doug, Sara & little Toby onboard Illusion, Rob & Debra on Avant, Patti & Eric on Shearwater, Sam & Dave on Islenia and numerous others.

A few days later Bill asked me where Nellie was. No one had seen her around on the docks, he said. By now I was recovering from my Dengue Fever and Bill stopped by to check up on me. I proudly told him our cat was now safely ensconced in a cat hotel up in the capital San Salvador... and for a bargain five dollars a day. He looked puzzled.

'There are no cat hotels in El Salvador,' Bill said.

Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.

Read more about the mishaps and mayhem of Nellie, The Ship's Cat

Cat Blood and Rabies...

09 August 2018 | Paradise Village, Banderos Bay, Mexico
Dave Ungless
Photo: It's either Daisy or Duke...

Nellie, our ships cat, squealed then squirmed when the Mexican veterinary stuck the needle into her thin bony leg. He was trying to draw a blood sample, by now he had tried several times and still kept missing the vein. I had Nellie's blood all over my own legs and soaked into my shorts.

"Ahh, it eez a problem," he said in broken Mexican English. "Usually, I draw ze blood only from big tigers, their legs are much bigger." Which was true, Gonzalo was the resident veterinary for the Paradise Village zoo and their two full-grown Bengali tigers, who were called, we were told by Gonzalo, Daisy and Duke. We had approached Gonzalo because every other vet in Mexico had raised their hands in horror when we asked for blood samples to be sent to the 'Centro Nacional de Servicios de Diagnóstico en Salud Animal (CENASA)' test facility in Mexico City, the only facility in the whole of Central America approved by both the UK and the EU for testing imported animals for rabies. If we didn't get this crucial test for antibodies done, and the all-important certificate in three languages issued, then Nellie couldn't travel with us back to England. Well, she could, but she would then have to go into three months quarantine... at sixty quid a night.

On around the twentieth attempt or so, Gonzalo got some blood, quite a lot of it in fact. Looking at the large amount he had in his large plastic syringe plus the oodles of blood on my legs, shorts and in Sänna's cockpit, I guessed there couldn't be much blood left inside Nellie given her smallish size - she was little more than a kitten. Sure enough, when she let out her final squeal and I let her go, she wobbled, then collapsed in a heap.

"Ahh, you will find her better soon, twenty-one hours maybe," said Gonzalo. "Give ze kato lots of food."

It was now up to Gonzalo to send the sample with all the paperwork to CENASA in Mexico City, he had done this many times before because every month he had to send tiger blood to the same place, that's why we had approached him in desperation. "She eez so little, I hope she has some blood left inside," he said with a worried look.

So we had to wait in Paradise Marina for around one more week for the certificate we desperately needed. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a bad place to be, a luxury resort with its very own zoo and we'd already made good friends. Except that we really needed to be on our way south, Hurricane Martha was heading inexorably our way. The date of the verification certificate was crucial, it had to be more than three months from her original rabies vaccination in England to ensure the rabies antibodies in her blood were present and not less than three months before she could fly home to England. The certificate was delivered back to Paradise Village by DHL in only eight days... but poor Gonzalo had put on the wrong date. Well, not the wrong date exactly, it was transposed in the American style with month first, then day. Marie checked with the Animal Import Centre in Heathrow, it was unacceptable, Nellie would have to go into quarantine.

"It eez not a problem," said Gonzalo, "I will talk to zem, I know zem well, zey will make a new certificate." But we have to be out of Mexico by next week, my Mexican visa expires, I explained to Gonzalo. We had planned to be south in Chiapas, on the Mexican border with Guatemala. "Don't worry," said Gonzalo, "I will get zem to send it to the harbour there. It will be waiting for you, it will be there before you are."

So we left Paradise Village, we said goodbye to Tom & Gail onboard Impossible Dream, Eric & Ana on Dances With Winds and mad-cap Gagi & Ruddi on Prairie Fox to head south. We made for Manzanillo, anchored behind the delightful island of Ixtapia, then to Acapulco and then to Bahías Del Hualtulco before attempting the infamous gale-force winds of the Gulf of Tehuantepec - where we got well and truly hammered. Nellie tried to jump overboard.

When we tied up in Chiapas, the first thing we asked the harbourmaster there was whether Nellie's rabies certificate had arrived - which it had. But only a photocopy, not the original that Heathrow needed. Nellie, it seemed heartbreakingly, would have to go into quarantine...

First, she would have to survive our trials and tribulations in El Salvador...

Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.

Read more about the mishaps and mayhem of Nellie, The Ship's Cat

North To Santa Rosalia...

08 June 2018 | La Paz to San Carlos, The Sea of Cortez, Mexico
Photo: The Espíritu Islands are the real gem of the Sea of Cortez...

La Paz is a nice place, there's no doubting that, the harbour sits forty miles or so up on the east side of Mexico's Baja Peninsular and is considered by most sailors to be the gateway to the fabled Sea of Cortez.

This eight hundred miles of smooth sea that's landlocked on three sides had been the subject of much conversation between ourselves and American sailors ever since we'd sailed our way south from Alaska, eventually reaching the San Juan Islands to the north of Seattle's Puget Sound in Washington State. In the truly sublime North American harbours of Port Townsend and Friday Harbor every sailor it seemed had spent some time or other in Mexico's most well-known sailing destination.

As we then made our way south down the US Pacific west coast, their enthusiasm and perfunctory advice grew in intensity, we were not under any circumstances to miss out the Sea of Cortez...

Read more of this post....
Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.

Read more about the mishaps and mayhem of Nellie, The Ship's Cat

Southwards to the Sea of Cortez

30 May 2018 | Ensenada to La Paz, The Sea of Cortez, Mexico
Photo: The magical wilderness of the Baja Peninsular

Leaving Ensenada to make our way south provided a welcome relief from the trials and tribulations of bringing Nellie Cat from England to Mexico. Now we'd see how Nellie took to life on the big ocean which, let's face it, would be a new experience for all three of us. Well, coming as a complete surprise our new ship's cat was seasick. Neither Marie or myself had given any thought to the issue of cats being seasick, I think it's fair to say we were as much stressed than we'd ever been since our time onboard Sänna... we were paranoid about losing our new ship's cat overboard.

By the time Nellie herself overcame both her fear of the sea and her insufferable seasickness, we'd made the sixty-five miles south overnight to anchor in the tenuous shelter of Cabo Colonet...

Read more of this post...
Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.

Read more about the mishaps and mayhem of Nellie, The Ship's Cat

How To Smuggle Your English Cat into Mexico

04 May 2018 | Ensenada, Mexico.
Photo: It's a long hot road into Mexico...

I can't remember who made the original decision, I think it was me. It must have been me if I think about it now, because I suggested to both Marie and Henry that we should have a ship's cat, one that was grey to match the colour decor of our boat. It was a joke of course, I never expected either of them to take it seriously... but you should never make jokes like that around a pair of dedicated cat lovers.

Almost immediately I was inundated with internet links to cuddly little grey kittens. Dozens of them from all around the UK, from Inverness in Scotland to someplace I'd never heard of way off in Cornwall. Before I could say 'Yikes, here comes Officer Dibble' both Marie and Henry singled out a really cute looking male down in Ramsgate, a harbour town on the south coast of England... a very nice little sea port but quite a long distance to travel. Henry argued that with Ramsgate being a harbour and close to the sea any cat from there would already have its sea legs, which was a vague argument in which I did see some logic. Marie disagreed entirely, but she just wanted to cuddle a little grey kitten to sit on her lap.

So off we travelled down to Ramsgate... just to take a look of course because I already knew this was a really stupid idea...

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Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.

Read more about the mishaps and mayhem of Nellie, The Ship's Cat

Nellie the Cat... Now Officially Inducted into Ship’s Crew

24 April 2018 | Ensenada, Mexico
Photo: Nellie looking pretty good matching in with the ship's decor

It took a while to find her but there she was hiding under the dinghy. We had to drag her out by her tail to sign the papers but right now she's legal, Nellie is now officially the ship's cat.

She's complained about one or two things but nothing we can't deal with and, despite what she tells you, Nellie's been given her proper rights as a cat under international maritime law. She's gonna be on the night watch most of the time in charge of vermin and stuff like that, she's not being overly friendly just now but even so, all the signs are looking good.

Nelly Nelson, Nellie for short, is what her papers say she's called. We had some explaining to do on the documents about why she was first called Nelson, when Nelson went for the snip the veterinary said it might be best if we called her Nellie. That might not seem important but she needs her own passport and stuff like that.

Of course she's filed one or two complaints about a couple of things, about being abducted and forced against her will, being press-ganged when nowadays that's not legal but we're dealing with all of that. She eats her fill every day so things aren't that bad.

Now that she's crew she's got her own crew list profile, even though she's a cat it keeps things legal. You can check this out if you want to, especially if you're one of those cat people.

But don't you be fooled now...

Read Nellie's Crew Profile >
Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.

Read more about the mishaps and mayhem of Nellie, The Ship's Cat

Nellie, The Ship’s Cat

16 April 2018 | Ensenada, Mexico
Nellie the Cat
Hello. I don't know who you are but me, I'm called Nellie. That's what they call me anyway. They used to call me Nelson but I went five times to see that funny lady wearing the white coat, now they all call me Nellie. I think I'm supposed to be the ship's cat.

Well I don't wanna be the ship's cat. The ship's too small and it stinks, it stinks all the time of them and sometimes I don't even know what's happening. The floor of this ship moves around too much and I slide around hitting things I'd really prefer to stay away from, like the table leg and other stupid things like that. Yesterday I tried to jump from the couch, then the ship moved the other way and I fell in a heap on the floor.

If you're a cat and reading this then you seriously don't want to be the ship's cat. Let me tell you why you don't want to be the ship's cat...

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Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.

Read more about the mishaps and mayhem of Nellie, The Ship's Cat

San Diego Experience... Let’s Get To Mexico....

10 November 2017 | Ensenada, Mexico
Photo: The Harbour Police dock where everything civilised is supposed to happen...

The Harbour Police office had a notice posted saying that all transiting vessels must use the communication kiosk located at the outside corner of the building. The notice said this provided a link to the main police office downtown for processing incoming boat traffic and arranging for the requisite vessel inspection... except the kiosk didn't do any of that. There was a keyboard on the kiosk but some of the keys didn't work, so when dialling any of the four numbers given we then received a message on the screen saying we'd dialled an incorrect number. After fifteen minutes of trying our luck with the keyboard we somehow struck lucky and got the number right, a faint voice on the line then gave instructions that we could not quite make out because the voice seemed to be coming from somewhere around our feet.

Then we both realised the kiosk's speaker was located on the lower upright stand that supported the keyboard, the speaker was therefore at knee height. So Marie got herself on her hands and knees to listen, then through the face-height microphone I asked the woman to repeat what she had said. She asked the purpose of our call but I couldn't hear that, so Marie repeated what the woman asked and I explained that we were a foreign vessel having arrived in San Diego, we were now on the police dock as legally required and that we needed to arrange for vessel and documents inspection. We were told that we'd dialled the wrong number.

We dialled the correct number the police lady gave which was one of the three alternative numbers listed on the kiosk information board. After a dozen or so attempts with the dodgy keyboard Marie, still on her hands and knees eagerly informed me the number was dialling through. I couldn't hear a thing so Marie instructed me when to speak into the microphone. When the number connected I repeated what I'd said to the first policewoman who then told Marie to dial the number we'd first dialled. I explained that we'd already dialled that number but this lady said to Marie that we must try again. We tried the first number again which was by now extremely frustrating with the keyboard that didn't work, this time we got a voice message saying to dial the alternative second number we'd already dialled. This was a farce. We dialled both the other numbers listed too but they just dialled out, no one answered. So we dialled the second number a second time...

The second lady responded to Marie who still kneeled on her hands and knees to listen at the kiosk speaker. I wanted to hear too so I got down on my knees behind Marie, I intended to remonstrate with the woman when she again told us to dial the first number, which I knew full well she would. Whilst I kneeled behind Marie to listen in on the speaker a guy walked around the corner of the building then stopped suddenly when he saw me kneeling right behind Marie on her hands and knees. "Whoa," he said, "I'm sorry to interrupt you, it's a free world and you guys should do what you wanna do." He sheepishly disappeared back around the corner embarrassed. Marie and I looked at each other quite shocked. In the meantime the lady repeated that we should dial the first number and then hung up. "Let's get the four numbers and call them from our mobile phone on the boat," I said to Marie.

Marie called the second number again on our cellphone who told us quite emphatically and with a good deal of impatience to dial the first number. This time Marie explained in a much restrained normal manner that we'd already tried that number four times and been told to dial this number. The lady to her credit apologised but then connected us to the first number directly. We got the same first woman so we explained everything yet again giving our vessel details and asked for the required inspection. That couldn't be done, the first number said, that had to be arranged with the second number who'd already connected us. The first lady, who was obviously Hispanic in origin, then reconnected us to the second lady who, with some exasperation said the first lady was incorrect, she was the one who'd have to arrange for our inspection.

To give you some background we weren't allowed to proceed to the designated A9 anchorage here in San Diego without a police inspection of our vessel. The second lady, the one who wasn't Hispanic, informed us the A9 anchorage was full, that we couldn't go there anyway. So instead we called the department of Customs & Homeland Security to formally register our arrival, a legal requirement in every US Port for a foreign flagged vessel and they were fine, they took our details then told us that we must call the harbour police to arrange for the vessel inspection. We explained to Customs & Homeland Security that we'd already tried that without much success. Marie told them exactly what happens when you call the specified numbers from the kiosk. Customs & Homeland Security said the Harbour Police were dumb, their useless system needed sorting out and to call them from our cellphone. Marie said we'd already tried that too. Just then, whilst Marie spoke to Customs & Homeland Security to explain our problem, a huge American aircraft carrier passed slowly by right behind us making its way into its San Diego homeport - there's little doubt it was jam-packed solid with the world's most sophisticated communications systems and god knows how many nuclear weapons. No dodgy keyboards and knee-height speakers on that ship. Then a harbour police launch tied up on the dock right behind us - it had been escorting the aircraft carrier into port.

Marie jumped ashore to intercept one of the harbour policemen as he left their launch. She quickly explained to him our problem with the kiosk and the two numbers we'd dialled. The guy was genuinely sympathetic and told us the kiosk system didn't work since they'd closed down the office, the keyboard didn't function well and the numbers given were wrong he said. It was a Sunday too so the office that arranged for vessel inspections was closed. What should we do, we asked, we couldn't go to the A9 anchorage without an inspection or we'd be fined by the harbour police. He instructed us to go to the A9 anchorage area anyway, he'd mark it up on the board in the office so the morning shift would know we were there when they arrived for work the next morning. Then we could return to the police dock and arrange to be inspected. But we'd been told the anchorage is full, we said. "No it's not," he told us, "it's never full, it can only be booked online and folk book the anchorage ahead just in case, then don't turn up." The policeman also told us it was ok to anchor outside of the marker buoys if we needed.

We left for the A9 anchorage and it was full. It was dangerously full but with only half of the maximum twenty anchored vessels allowed between the four marker buoys, so we anchored safely outside of the designated zone as we'd been instructed. Early the next morning we were awakened by the harbour police launch saying we'd violated the San Diego Port Laws, we'd anchored outside of the designated A9 anchorage area and there was no record of our vessel being inspected - nor did we have a permit. But it's all been marked up on your marker board in your office by your evening shift, we explained. No it has not, they said, and issued us with the thousand dollar violation notice of being fined. We'd have to appear in the San Diego courthouse.

At this stage I related Article 33 of International Maritime Law and reminded them that the United States was a founding signatory of Maritime Law. As a foreign vessel the law allowed us forty-eight hours safe anchorage in any port to ensure the safety of crew and vessel, I said. It was down to them to provide us with safe moorage free from any harm or hindrance. I also hinted at the might of the British Navy and, as an afterthought, I reminded them of their former colonial status which, I have to tell you, was not that well received. Marie, in a more practical manner, explained everything that had happened since we'd arrived in San Diego the previous afternoon. One of the three policemen got on to his radio to ask about International Maritime Law. Then they quickly left and didn't come back, they didn't leave the Violation Notice with us so we didn't know what to do.

I got onto the Port Authority website to formally reserve the A9 Anchorage. It was full, it said and could only be reserved at least 24 hours in advance of arrival following a police dock inspection. It couldn't be reserved online but only stated that right at the end of the reservation process. How could we do that? We'd sailed four hundred miles from San Francisco, we couldn't know exactly when we would arrive in San Diego with the absolute vagrancies of the winds and seas. Which is why the anchorage usually gets overbooked just in case, there's no method of cancelling or amending your reservation if you're not gonna arrive exactly when you reserved your spot. So, in frustrated frustration we pulled up our anchor and left the A9 anchorage, we headed instead for the alternative A5 Glorietta Bay anchorage which also has overly complicated restrictions that we never did understand and which we were also supposed to pre-reserve online. We didn't reserve anything, nor did we ever proceed to the police dock for the inspection. Nor is there an Article 33 of International Maritime Law but no one ever knows that or even checks.

Three days later we'd had enough, so we quietly left San Diego to sail across the border into Mexico. Let me at this stage tell you that throughout our voyages American sailboat owners have continually bombarded us with terrible stories about the vagrancies of dealing with Mexican officials. It always seemed to us that Yankee sailors were on the verge of paranoia when discussing Mexican immigration and port authorities so we were understandably cautious when we headed south into Mexico. Without further mishap we sailed into Ensenada forty or so miles across the US border, there we tied up and made our own way to the Mexican harbour office to find the harbourmaster, quarantine, customs and Mexican border protection all in one easy location.

In less than thirty minutes we had everything done. The Mexicans were friendly, efficient and courteous, nor were they in any way corrupt like Americans vigorously claim. Then we proceeded to the Cruise Port Marina Harbour which was, incidentally, chock full of American sailboats.
Footnote: We have sailed into many first-world and third-world countries during our long circumnavigation. American officials in Hawaii and Alaska were exceptionally courteous and extremely helpful but less so in mainland America, particularly as we sailed south down the west coast. Even so we still rate US Customs & Border Protection extremely high given our own experiences... but San Diego is an infamous logistical nightmare well known to foreign flagged sailboats. There's thousands of private owned vessels located there many of which never leave the dockside because there's nowhere to take a boat except for some limited California coastal cruising - unless a boat owner is prepared to cross the Pacific Ocean or sail south to Mexico. But there's a curious phenomenon when it comes to American sailboats, whenever we've encountered Americans they seem to be overly paranoid about foreign countries and their border officials. Perhaps that's more a reflection upon US political policies and the way the American media plays its part - but of course I don't wish to get into any of that.

As a British flagged vessel we've been treated with a good deal of respect in most countries we've sailed into, perhaps with the exception of one or two of our own former colonial colonies such as Canada - which was a sudden shock to our system. New Zealand was fine though Australia less so... but the Aussies have a national obsession about we Brits anyway. In the Red Sea Arabic countries such as Sudan, Eritrea and Yemen we were exceptionally well treated, also in Muslim Indonesia and Malaysia. And the only official corruption we've encountered has been in Egypt, in the Philippines and in Thailand but we easily mastered that. But the diminutive five-foot tall official in Ao Chalong, Phuket is an infamous little bastard that every sailboat that passes through Thailand knows well. With him it's a game of outwit he wins each and every time.

In terms of here in Mexico can we say that Mexican officials are nothing unusual, nor are they overly bothersome or corrupt. It's purely a paranoid paranoia thing with seemingly highly-strung yanks that doesn't much exist in the real world.

Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.


30 October 2017 | San Francisco, California.
Photo: We finally made it under the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco...

We knew we'd left things late but what could we do? Dave said everything would be fine but the engine setback in Port Townsend cost us time, precious time we couldn't afford meaning that we'd have to make the eight hundred mile passage from Port Townsend to San Francisco towards the end of October. October is when the Pacific winter storms start to build and is why every sailor worth his salts on the American west coast who's heading south reckons to be gone from Townsend by mid-September. October is way too late they say.

The tugboat skippers in Townsend told us to stay well off the Oregon shoreline, at least seventy miles or more around the bar of the Columbia River and not to even think about closing the coast until we'd cleared Cape Mendocino, only then must we lay a southeasterly course for San Francisco. By then we'd be over hundred miles out offshore. The tugboat boys said the latitude of Cape Mendocino is notorious for bad storms, they told us we would need plenty of sea room to avoid the worst of the seas or if we needed to heave-too. We did all of that, we did just as everyone said but still we got hit bad, Dave saying we should be ok didn't fill me with confidence one bit. Dave always says we'll be ok and sometime we're not ok at all. Like now.

This is what happened. The weather forecast we got in Townsend showed we'd get winds with rough seas but there were no signs then of the really bad storm that bore down upon us right now. But there was a big storm a long way out in the Pacific, this one changed its course and suddenly travelled eastwards as a huge southwesterly gale. Leighton's message on the satellite phone warned us of sixty to seventy knot winds so we got everything ready to be battered yet one more time, but this time we were just not on the ball at all. When the gale hit us we just went from one crisis to another, because we'd had three easy years in Alaska's Inside Passage and now we were just ridiculously complacent. First off, a good sized wave swamped our stern sending our bucket and outboard fuel-tank under the steering wheel which then jammed, that then tripped our autopilot which meant we broached beam-on to the next big green wave that nearly capsized us. All because we'd forgotten to tie down the bucket. Then the same thing happened again five minutes later because once more we didn't tie down the bucket.

Then our rudder started to make horrendous crunching sounds just when we broached a third time. But this time we didn't know why we broached except that Dave lost his temper and kicked the bucket. Then our brand new Raymarine plotter tripped out which once more disengaged our autopilot and by this time we were in big six-metre seas. It turned out that Dave had pressed the wrong button on the plotter. But the rudder was sounding bad, it seemed like the bearing was about to give out. Just past midnight things got even worse. The wind across our stern was now well over fifty knots gusting sixty and our dodgy rudder bearing, which we think was damaged when we broached, was struggling to hold the autopilot. We both went out to get all the sails down so that we could run under bare poles, then things seemed a little more controlled so I went below to make some nice hot tea because by now it was so cold in the horrible black night. Dave received another message from Leighton asking if we were ok, Dave replied that we might be in a spot of bother and I said to Dave that it was more than a spot of bother, if our rudder bearing gave way then we were in serious trouble.

Around two in the morning Leighton contacted the US Coastguard to say that we were a British sailboat out in the big storm and we had problems. The coastguard came in over the radio asking if we needed assistance or evacuation, I told them we were ok for now but could they stand by. They diverted their coastguard cutter in our direction to stand a few miles off in case we needed rescue. They buzzed us with their helicopter just in case. But we were ok because by this time we'd got our act together and were working hard side by side to make sure we survived. We took turns to steer Sänna by hand in the by now horrible seas to make sure our autopilot didn't trip again, one more broach in these conditions with breaking seas and we'd easily roll and capsize. In the morning things eased, I cooked up a good English breakfast to cheer us both and talked to the coastguard who's ship we could see tracking us on the eastern sunrise horizon. They'd stayed with us all through the night. I called them offering grilled sausages which was a genuine offer to thank them for being there to make sure we were ok. When I described over the radio how we make a proper English breakfast I fancy they altered course in our direction.

By afternoon the winds died back and so we laid our course for San Francisco. Two days later when approaching the Golden Gate Bridge under the power of our brand new Yanmar engine, the engine suddenly died. How's that for a glorious approach to San Francisco? Wonderful Leighton and his good friend Skip sailed out to meet us with a tow line just in case.... but we made it under San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge when Dave got our engine restarted.

We anchored right off Sausalito and went up to Skip's house there to drink good California wine. We drank lots of good red wine with the thick brown haze of the terrible Californian wild-fires stinging our eyes, then Leighton left because a telephone call warned that his house in Sonoma might burn down. Dave said we'd been lucky to get through but I said it wasn't luck at all. We'd worked hard to survive whilst our good friend Leighton who's own house was in real danger made sure we were safe, we had the marvellous American coastguard's rescue cutter by our side and genuine concerned friends ashore to help us if things turned up bad.

And after everything, after all of that, we safely made San Francisco.
Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.

New Engine

19 October 2017 | Port Townsend, Washington State.
Photo: Lifted out and gone... we finally put paid to our Volvo Penta.

We stood by the dockside with the two mechanics looking on. They could see for themselves the unburned diesel from our engine exhaust causing the rainbow coloured sheen on the surface of the seawater. They'd already inspected the rusting metal baking tray under our engine sump which was there to collect leaking black oil. Of course they'd not seen the pump that spewed out red coolant because I'd not long since paid an arm and a leg to get that replaced by old Jim Betts up in Juneau. Then there was the heat exchanger still unused in its box, also the alternator that was only six months old...

Our Volvo engine was dying a slow death upon its four hard-rubber mounts so something had to be done. We'd pulled into Port Townsend down in Washington State because there was a Volvo Penta dealer there, these were the experts who could finally fix our green lump of Swedish junk that caused us so much grief. We'd already had to abandon our plans for the Northwest Passage because our engine just wasn't up to the job... its unreliability would have killed us up there in the ice. There was no easy way to get the thing fixed in Alaska so here we were eight hundred miles south in Port Townsend, a gruelling six week day-hop voyage to finally get our engine sorted.

The two mechanics looked on thoughtfully knowing full well we were irrevocably in their hands. It was easy to spot the glance, you know the one I mean, that hidden look between them when a sailboat turns up that's in trouble - especially an English one. Did they not realise that we were experts in this game too? They said the engine needed to be taken out from the boat to fix the oil leak because the sump gasket seal had likely broken. Okay, that concerned me but I could go along with that. Then a compression test showed that one of the four cylinders was running at rock-bottom low pressure, allowing unburned diesel fuel to bypass the piston rings to eventually mix with the raw-water coolant that ejected into the sea. Perhaps that also explaining the embarrassing amounts of grey smoke from our exhaust... we were well used to smoking out some serene anchorage in the early morning calm. Somewhat sheepishly, I told them the engine had already been rebuilt back in Australia, that it had never been much good since then, that the gearbox transmission had been replaced only the previous year which had then straightaway leaked gear oil from a damaged seal. I told them about the freshwater pump and the alternator, the low oil pressure reading on the gauge, the hole in the heat exchanger that I'd once plugged with chewing gum mixed with epoxy resin...

They both smiled and laughed the requisite laugh - I always get nervous when someone laughs at my crap jokes because when they do that they just want to be on my side. I decided to cut to the chase and asked them, as Volvo Penta experts, what should be done. They talked things over thoughtfully which I found more reassuring, then my gut feeling inside kicked in meaning that for some instinctive reason I trusted them. They suggested a new engine which of course I knew they would, but they said to put in a new Yanmar, not a Volvo. Joe, the senior of the two explained that taking out the old engine and rebuilding it a second time wasn't a good idea, it would cost a small fortune anyway. That said it all but an authorised Volvo Penta dealer telling me to fit a Yanmar engine? Our Volvo had been a pain in the arse and a constant source of irritation for over seven years... and for many years even before its rebuild in Darwin but Sänna had originally been built with the Volvo engine. Doug, who appeared to be the no-nonsense mechanical wizard smiled when I asked why they didn't recommend a replacement Volvo. They both agreed, repower Sänna with a new Yanmar...

So we hauled Sänna out of the water and had her chocked up outside the workshops of Haven Boatworks. Life would be a little tougher living onboard out of the water but these guys said the new engine could be delivered the next day from Seattle. It would take around a week to fit and we could then be on our way. We explained that we were heading south, that we were now well into the late autumn and soon early winter storms would be hurtling in from the Pacific. We were behind schedule, we seriously needed to be on our way.

That's not a problem they confirmed over in the office. We got an estimate of costs and I felt sick. First, I asked for a fixed price quotation, not just the low-reading estimate I expected... but that couldn't be done they categorically said. The job couldn't be costed like that. This definitely seems to be the American way of doing things when it comes to boats; of course many yanks who own a boat also have an open-ended cheque book. There's huge amounts of wealth in America and boats are more often a pure money thing, not always a serious passion. Sure there are many good Yankee sailors who grow their ponytails and turn native on their offshore travels but there's a lot of glamorous botox around too. So I got the estimate and talked things over with Marie. The estimate showed thirteen thousand bucks, which was gut wrenchingly sickening but somewhat less than we expected. It always is. We looked at each other and smiled uneasily... here we go again we both thought.

There's no doubt these guys were good, in fact I'd say they were the best we'd dealt with since leaving the Mediterranean. They weren't as good as the Turks but then no one ever would be... the highly-skilled Turks always give a good price up front and then stick to it. Here in Port Townsend it's just not like that but then we ourselves are no novices either. The engine didn't arrive the next day from Seattle like Haven promised but then we never seriously expected that to happen, it arrived three days later which was still pretty good in my mind. In the meantime our green lump of junk was lifted out by Doug with a forklift truck... I was impressed, one man and three hours work... it had taken old Jim Betts and his young sidekick ten hours just to change a water pump. Our old Volvo Penta then stood forlornly on a pallet outside of the workshop, it was covered in black oil looking extremely sorry for itself. I was genuinely sad to see the bastard go. But one week here in the boatyard then we would be gone I thought, we'd be on our way south with our brand new Yanmar.

Well over three weeks later we finally hauled Sänna back into the water. There'd been a few complications. Our state-of-the-art Balmar marine alternator that was only six months old didn't fit the Yanmar. Our existing transmission gearbox didn't either so there needed to be an adaptor plate which someone forgot to order. Our three bladed propeller was the wrong pitch and a little too small, we needed a brand new prop from Seattle. There were other problems too but, I have to confess, Joe and Doug did know their stuff and we were mightily impressed. We got a new refrigerator installed too but that job went less well, a supposedly two day job that took longer than fitting a new engine. We got ready to launch but then came the time when we had to agree the final bill from Haven Boatworks...

Thirty-two fucking grand, more than twice the amount they estimated. The same worn-out trick played again. It invariably happens every time, give a low initial estimate to get the work in hand then maximise the actual costs as the job progresses. We appreciate there's always the unforeseen, the foulups and all the extras but never does a project come in under the estimated figure given - which is why hardly any marine contractor in America worth his salts will work under a fixed price arrangement.

But we're tight-arsed English and, as I've already said to you, we're no novices either.
Footnote: Let me say that Haven Boatworks in Port Townsend are without doubt a good outfit but we ourselves have considerable experience when it comes to project managing a major refit... with our previous instances of using hard-nosed American contractors having served us well. Sure, with some contractors we've managed to agree a fixed price quotation cost and they've religiously stuck to what was agreed, Canvas Outfitters in Anacortes a prime example. But agreeing to an open ended estimated-only cost is always going to lead to cost overruns... there's never ever an under charge with the final bill. Neither is the system of low estimating then ramping up costs purely an American thing, it's prevalent in most developed marine industries throughout first-world economies. The trick is to be prepared and on top of your game.

Undoubtedly my experience of running my own business in the dog-eat-dog environment of the construction industry serves me well. Effective project management is the core attribute of managing your costs, you must write down and record everything that is agreed, list every cost estimate given both written and verbal and, importantly, keep a record of every variance from what has been agreed. Also, if you are able, try and record actual working hours spent on the job even if only a rough estimate but the key thing is to note everything in detail in which the contractor has caused a problem, you will need this in the final negotiations when it's time to agree the bill. The system of cost estimating and then billing is always a two way relationship, there is no absolute obligation upon you just to pay the presented invoice in the way that paying a prior-agreed fixed cost quotation requires. An estimated cost is exactly what it says on the tin, it needs to be agreed and fully justified before you pay the final amount.

You are entitled to a full meticulous breakdown of materials and costs which the experienced contractor will invariably record on a sophisticated computerised job costing system. Agree to receive this breakdown at the outset, if not agreed then do not use that contractor or accept to pay their presented bill. Remember, if an oily mechanic needs to wipe his hands he will use a roll of paper towels, the full roll of towels will be recorded on your project managed job number, not the four sheets of paper the mechanic actually used. Nor will you be charged the Walmart price for paper towel rolls, you will be charged the contractor's purchase cost of paper towels plus ten to fifteen percent markup. Also remember that an experienced mechanic or whoever will cost much less than an inexperienced one... head scratching time, incorrect materials or not having the right tools can be exceptionally expensive because you will still be billed by the hour.

Most experienced project managers or quantity surveyors in whatever industry will tell you that final full-paid billing of estimated contracts is usually around sixty percent of the initial contractor's billing invoice once negotiations have been completed. Contractors invariably build this into their own cash-flow planning, which is also the common formula in the legal professions and in every other commercial environment in which invoice billings are based upon hours worked at a cost rate per hour. As a rule of thumb actual real hours worked on the job are usually around seventy-five percent of the hours booked, the rest being wastage which you will likely be billed for. Materials are straightforward to work out, there is a finite cost plus a calculated overhead recovery cost then a reasonable profit percentage markup added but any billings based upon chargeable hours are lost in a murky grey area that can be to your advantage providing you keep your own meticulous records. You must be honest and always pay for agreed extras but ensure they are agreed beforehand. Extras billed that have not been prior agreed or are billed higher than expected are then more easily subject to disagreement... remember that possession of the money is nine-tenths of the law, not the commercial terms agreed. Do not be afraid to stand your ground or even back-charge your own time.

If you are familiar with spreadsheets then record every item of work that is costed. For these items of work have a column headed Prior Agreed, Agreed Addition and Disputed. If you do not use spreadsheets then any other method of recording will do providing you can present this at the final billing stage. Do not show your records to the contractor until you are presented with any final invoice but in the meantime pay any stage payment requested providing it is not the full amount - but notify and record to the contractor exactly what you are paying for at all times - these payments must clearly show they are for work and materials only from your Agreed columns. Do not make payments for work that you will ultimately dispute though it's best not to dispute or raise disputes during the progress of the project... constantly disputing work during progress is the prime reason for projects slipping seriously behind schedule other than parts and material delays - a hostile relationship benefits no one. Of course this excludes major foulups and in-progress corrective work that is the contractor's responsibility. Corrective work and foulups go into your Disputed column which will also include items that you have not yet openly disputed - saving up as many of these as you can is your future bargaining chip. Also, making in-progress stage payments is normal and shows goodwill on your part. Refusing to make any requested stage payments at all will usually stop the job and rightly so.

If asked to prior pay upfront deposits for materials then that's fine, materials are fixed costs but pay up only when given proof of delivery. If the contractor is not in a position to pay for or fund materials without your money then do not use that contractor. Good contractors have authorised credit periods with their suppliers unless that credit has been stopped or cannot be agreed for financial reasons. But contractors have wages to pay as well as other fixed cost overheads, their own cash-flow is vital to running their business and they have to return a profit to survive... also to keep your project running.

Beware of the contractor or anyone with the 'Rolls Royce' on display in the parking space right next to the office main entrance... an old business colleague of mine always turned up for meetings driving a beat-up banger for exactly these reasons. The flash expensive car sometimes shows underhand cunning or deviousness, wanting to show off the trappings of the high-life is a trait most experienced and genuine business people religiously avoid. Do not accept invitations to socialise or become overly friendly with the contractors or their staff, this makes it difficult to dispute the final bill. I was once wined and dined at an expensive restaurant by a large firm of accountants then found the entire dinner bill inadvertently included on my detailed final invoice breakdown... with an eleven percent markup plus their extortionate hourly rate. This is standard practice in the legal and accountancy professions.

In the end we paid Haven Boatworks pretty much the right amount we were comfortable with, far less than their first billed invoice presented. We paid for all agreed extras and negotiated an amount very close to the hours actually worked on the job. The five rolls of paper towels were rightly knocked off the bill because no one could justify how they'd used full rolls. Importantly, Haven Boatworks paid for their own foulups, screwups that everyone makes regardless of whether they're good or not though many contractors will attempt to pass on the cost of their fuckups to you. This is common practice and you must be on your guard. We then paid promptly because Haven Boatworks are a smallish business that faces the normal constant battles to survive. It's never easy being in business.

Seriously, I would highly recommend these guys because in the end they did an exceptionality good job.

Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.

To Absent Friends

04 September 2017 | Port Townsend, Washington State.
Photo: That time when we all five went up to the Marjorie Glacier...

The general weather pattern was beginning to concern us. Many Alaskans thought it the wettest summer they could remember in a long time, in Sitka's Pioneer Beer Bar we'd even watched a heated argument between some environmental conservationist guy and a die-hard Trump supporter that almost ended in a fist fight, each blaming the other for the failings of the Alaskan weather. Regardless of who's fault it was, these continual low pressure systems hurling in westwards from the Pacific were creating southerly gales that rolled in upon us one after the other... and we were planning to head south.

We sat out yet another bad storm system in Sitka along with Morning Star. We had a couple of days of more incessant rain with high winds, then came the promise of a respite with a few days of nice warm sunshine... so we took the opportunity to make a few miles south by heading to the Goddard hot sulphur springs, dropping anchor in Hot Springs Bay. Marie, Henry and myself then spent a very satisfying afternoon bathing in the outdoor tubs of hot volcanic water that stank gruesomely of foul smelling sulphur... but here we were in the nice warm sunshine of a glorious Alaskan summer day. In the highly sulphured, eye-watering steam up there on the hillside we then saw Morning Star drift around the headland under full sail, dropping her anchor beside Sänna in this subliminally scenic anchorage. When we later made our way back to Sänna Leighton came in over the VHF radio to say they were experiencing bad battery power failures, they would need to return to Sitka... meaning they would miss the long awaited favourable weather window that now approached from the northwest. We ourselves desperately needed to take advantage of the coming northerlies to make our way south to Prince Rupert in British Columbia.

We were sad to leave Morning Star behind, Linda & Leighton had become such good friends and now we were unsure if we'd ever see them again. Time and time again in distant anchorages and harbours we've made these intense friendships... and not only with those who spend their lives on sailboats, we've also made friends with locals who've helped us out in all sorts of wild and wonderful places when we've been in trouble. When we move on we always say we'll keep in touch - and for a short while we make every effort to do so but there inevitably comes a time when we think of each other less and less. These friendships that are so difficult to put into words then invariably fall by the wayside... even my family tell me that keeping in touch is not one of my strongest attributes - but there's a good a reason why I find it best to let these friendships go.

Of course we all know that any friendship can be hard to come by, even harder to keep without someone at least making the effort. Many of my long standing friends in my hometown back in England have gone by the wayside purely because of the itinerant lifestyle we lead, I've simply dropped off their radar. Some of my closest long-standing friends I lost when I split from my wife some years ago, though I think we all know that friends in these circumstances often choose to take one side or the other. One or two friends came and went simply because they just didn't agree with the way we live, almost a principled jealousy in fact, but my so-called friends I made through my business life over a thirty-five year period are the ones that these days I'm most cynical about... you know, when cultivating my friendships meant building a business relationship that was supposedly for our mutual benefit. I have to say how shaken I was when I didn't own that business anymore, how many of those friends simply disappeared from the face of the earth when I was no longer a money stream for them. Now that was a lesson hard earned.

So when we left Morning Star behind in Sitka I really was genuinely saddened although I've learned to turn-off the 'let's-stay-in-touch button', simply because it's painful when we then do nothing of the sort. Both Marie and I have long since realised that life on a long-distance sailboat means making good friends then almost straightaway losing them, though these friends we make then never see again are still more meaningful than the exotic places we've sailed into during in our long circumnavigation voyage. In the event we did hook-up with Leighton and Lynda again, down in Port Townsend and then further south in San Francisco but there was still that once-and-for-all final parting of our ways to come, when we eventually left the US to make landfall in Mexico.

It is painful, especially when considering that we men rarely make the tight friendship bonds that women seem to do with each other so easily... and I don't mean that in the biblical sense. My friendship with Leighton in particular had become quite deep but then so has my long friendship with Robert, my special friend who left the Mediterranean with his dear wife Jill onboard Fat Annie around the same time as ourselves twelve years ago. Also my friendships with those irrepressible reprobates Sergio and Eric in Hawaii, with Neil in Borneo, my Maori friend Dion in New Zealand, Braydon and Scott in Alaska and Tom the worldly-wise canvass man in Anacortes... Then of course there's friends who life dealt a shit hand who cruelly never made it, the ones who I still think about most days. My exceptionally good friend Peter Kienast from Iltis, Dave from Milliways, John Beal lost overboard from Cloudy Bay somewhere north of Darwin, Tom Gisle Bellica and Robert Skaane when Berserk was lost with all hands in the Southern Ocean, Big Black Glen and also Peter who was on the run, hiding in Croatia...

Leaving Morning Star behind meant we also said goodbye to Sitka, the quaintly historic town built in the old colonial Russian style... it's hard to find anything of any genuine historic or cultural value in America which is perhaps a reflection on the country's relatively young existence, it's the same way in Canada too - interestingly, my family home back in England is older than both of these countries by some years. Anyway, from the Goddard Hot Springs we laid a course southwards to Craig on the western shoreline of Prince of Wales Island, then we passed through the infamous Tlevak Narrows into the Tlevak Straits just as our weather window began to seriously close down ahead of us. In long periods of incessant rain, grey skies and rising winds we left Cape Chacon to port to cross the Dixon Entrance into Canada's British Columbia. I can't tell you how sad we were to leave our Alaskan friends behind this one final time, you know, we came to Alaska for six months and then stayed for three years. The vast wildness of this incredible land, it's traditionally offbeat people who we came to behold and cherish...

After a rough two-day crossing of the Dixon Entrance we made Prince Rupert in British Columbia some two weeks after leaving Sitka. This time Canadian Customs were more obliging but just like before we had to take shelter in the Prince Rupert Yacht Club, there's just so little moorage available in Prince Rupert for long distance sailboats. It's a friendly enough harbour and the old town is a really nice place to be, it's where we first made landfall from Hawaii three years before. But right now it rained and rained just like a miserable grey autumn day in England, with the southerly gales yet again lining up ahead of us... so we knew we'd be here in Rupert sheltering for a while. But tied up right behind Sänna was Rob and Kathleen, who it turned out were both doctors sailing their boat Capaz from Seattle. We talked a lot and got along just fine, Rob and Kathleen were heading the same way southwards as Sänna, they too were weather bound in Rupert.

To kill time Marie suggested that we take the long thirteen hour train journey through the Rocky Mountains to Prince George, it left once every two days from Prince Rupert. Henry and I readily agreed. This was an incredible way to lose a few days until the stormy weather cleared. When we returned to Rupert five days later the weather had improved considerably though our plan to fast-track sail the outside Pacific coast of Vancouver Island just wasn't gonna happen. Yet another southerly gale was heading up from the south which would make that shorter passage south untenable. Our only other option was the long and sheltered Inside Passage route on the eastern side of Vancouver Island although that meant traversing the series of narrow rapids that, though incredibly scenic, we'd done twice both north and south already. The rapids and the mind-blowing Narrows were hard work. Capaz planned the same route as did another British sailboat storm bound in Rupert, Hamlin. We decided to take off together, three sailing vessels making their way south, Capaz to return home to Seattle, Hamlin to overwinter in Vancouver and ourselves to Port Townsend to finally get our Volvo Penta engine fixed....

So we made new friends to replace the ones we left behind. This may sound cynical but it is the way it is. When, in Shelter Bay, we left Capaz behind and they invited us to stay with them at their home on Bainbridge Island, we could moor Sänna there and whenever we came back from England we could easily stay with them. Marie and I were excited, we'd love to do that but deep down we knew we never would. Leighton had said the same, we could stay at their place in Sonoma and leave Sänna there in San Francisco... by now we both understood just how genuinely friendly American people are, because most Americans are seriously good people.

In late August we at last arrived in Victoria at the southern tip of Vancouver Island. Victoria was our destination port when we left Hawaii but we never arrived, we were blown over four hundred miles north by a vicious southeasterly gale to end up instead in Prince Rupert. If you ignore the obscenely high marina costs in this part of the world then Victoria is very nice, then Marie and Henry flew out of Victoria to return to the England and I would sail Sänna down to Port Townsend for our much needed engine work. Marie planned to join me again in two or three weeks or so when the work was done, then we would continue south but the sailing season to safely head down the west coast of mainland America was growing ominously short.

The engine refit didn't go well, we missed our end of September weather window deadline and ended up battling the Pacific storms we'd worked so hard all summer to avoid - we got truly hammered but that's a whole new different story...
Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.

The Chichagof Mine

29 August 2017 | Chichagof Island, Southeast Alaska
Photo: Anchored off the long abandoned Chichagof Gold Mine

"I said the old mining camp would be nothing but trouble but we still went there. It took five days to find the mine, what happened afterwards will stay with me for the rest of my life. Then it turns out Dave knew about the rumours all along..." Henry

So we finally left Elfin Cove to head for Sitka. The route first took us east along the tide driven Lisianski Straits to the Pacific Ocean shoreline of Chichagof Island, then we laid a course southwards through the stunning outside passage - taking us between countless small islands that protected us from the worst of the long Pacific swells breaking along the outer coastline. The route, often used by Alaskan fishermen, afforded a number of secluded anchorages that we could use to day-sail our way south. It is difficult to find words to describe to you this spectacular journey, this part of Alaska that appears in no tourist guide or cruise itinerary yet must easily rank as one of the most scenic passages we've made since leaving the Mediterranean twelve years ago...

Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.

All Knocked Up In Elfin Cove...

20 August 2017 | Elfin Cove, Southeast Alaska
Photo: A very lively lady indeed...

We both woke instantly from the horrible crunching sound as Sänna shook suddenly. We were rafted alongside Morning Star so Leighton and Lynda must surely have sensed something wrong too. Dawn was just about breaking so there was enough grey light for us to dress quickly to race outside to see what had happened... Marie was first up the companionway and out of the hatch. Me, I was still trying to get my trousers unwrapped from around my legs where I'd gotten them all tangled up. I told myself to calm down, if nothing else I needed to dress properly and not look like a fool.

When I eventually got myself on deck Marie had already taken charge of what to me looked like an impossible disaster. Impaled in Sänna's port-side beam were the bows of a fishing boat, who's skipper stood on the deck holding his head in his hands. Marie was imploring their crew to slowly reverse, to untangle their anchor which was embedded in our rails. I looked and straightaway saw the extensive damage to our capping rails and topsides but at this stage I couldn't see if our hull was damaged or not. My first thoughts were that we were in such a bad place to suffer collision damage, the tiny harbour of Elfin Cove was in a remote location and no place to get things fixed easily.

By this time Leighton and Lynda had also raced on deck, the impact had woken them as I suspected and Henry was up and dressed as well... but he looked totally bewildered and still tired. Marie in her own inimitable control-freak style got everyone to calm down and the fishing boat backed off as her crew pushed her free. Only then did we both realise they had no engine power. The fishing boat's skipper by this time was bellowing at his crew because they were in real difficulties, so I threw them a line telling them to head back to tie alongside before they drifted into the shallows beside the shoreline cliffs only a hundred or so metres away. They were a fair sized boat in bad trouble, the Elfin Cove harbour is extremely tight for space and very compact.

Catching my casting line and then a second line they slowly pulled themselves alongside and rafted on to us securely. The skipper came running up to me full of apologies, he was genuinely distraught explaining their engine had cut out and died as they were manoeuvring from the dock just in front of us - they were reversing in a three point turn to leave the tiny harbour when their engine cut just as they were heading straight for us. What could I say? I felt sorry for him - we've all been there.

The whole bunch of us crowded around to inspect the damage. The fishing boat was fine, their bows and anchor had taken the impact whereas Sänna herself was extensively damaged. Luckily it was only superficial stuff, our stainless steel guard rails, teak deck capping and rub rails were torn up but, thankfully, our hull was untouched. I breathed a sigh of relief. Marie disappeared below to brew early morning hot tea which is her way of saying let's all relax and get practical. She made fresh coffee for their skipper John because he was still visibly shook up and shaking, he wouldn't stop apologising and Marie said black coffee was the only way to calm him down. What about me? I asked. Of course she reminded me of that time back in Brisbane when I'd drifted Sänna out of control onto the bows of three tied up sailboats... so then I stayed quiet and drank my hot steaming tea.

It was a gloriously warm sunny morning in Elfin Cove. By now crowds of fishermen had gathered and the general topic was how best to fix things up. John, the skipper of Lively Jane who'd hit us was adamant that he himself would fix Sänna and also pay us a large sum in dollars for our troubles. I then thought back to that time in Brisbane when everything had been my fault, how bad I felt then and how the crews of those three Aussie sailboats had found it hilariously funny, how they'd sat me down with cold beer then pulled us off to safety as though things didn't matter much. Even then we'd all set too to fix things so that we could sail onwards to New Zealand. Right now things were no different.

Once the heat of the situation died down I realised our damage wasn't that bad and everything could be patched up relatively easily. John set too with his tools and I could tell straightaway that he knew a thing or two about boats. An hour or so later everything looked much better except for our teak capping damage, I told him not to worry... I said it was just battle damage, that all boats had war wounds but he gave me five hundred bucks anyway. I gave him two hundred back but he wouldn't take it, so I decided that I liked John enormously and under normal circumstances we'd probably be good drinking buddies.

The damage was just another battle scar and nothing much. Sänna's covered in healed up wounds anyway, each one a memorable story and a reflection of our long voyage so far. We're a long way from home and each time when I walk past our damaged capping rail I'll well remember Lively Jane and Elfin Cove... that's probably why it'll never get fixed. Surely the three hours spent drinking hot tea in the morning sunshine, with all the fishermen ambling over with their smiling laughter and John whatever-his-name filling my fist with dollars that I wouldn't take, will be something we'll think about whenever we remember magical Elfin Cove.
Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.

If Freshly Dressed Crabs Could Speak Their Minds...

08 August 2017 | Dundas Bay, Icy Straits, Southeast Alaska
Photo: The scurge of commercial crab pots

I woke early before sunrise as usual, something that always happens whenever we are sitting on anchor overnight. This time I could distinctly hear the sound of a boat engine echoing through the hull, normally this would not be unusual but in this region the anchorages are so numerous and remote that rarely do we find any other vessel anywhere near close by. Occasionally we might be joined by a fishing boat looking for shelter or sometimes we may even head for an anchorage we know is used by fishermen so that we can barter some cans of beer for fresh fish, but not here, not here in Dundas Bay.

The vast area of Dundas Bay, like Idaho Inlet and Salt Lake Bay is difficult to enter because of fast flowing currents and notoriously difficult navigation. That's why no one ever comes here. It's an incredibly remote wilderness bordered by the highest mountains in southeast Alaska, towering snow-capped monoliths that create stunningly flat-calm anchorages which can be safely used without seeing anyone or any other vessel for many days on end. We can fish for halibut and easily track down grizzly bears to video film ashore, we listen to wolves howling through the night and during the long days countless bald eagles screech and constantly squabble between themselves. Here the humpback whales are so numerous the three of us rarely mention them when they spout and dive all around us. That's why we stopped to anchor in Dundas Bay for one last time once we'd taken the reluctant decision to finally leave Hoonah.

So hearing the sound of a boat engine now made me wake and get up immediately. Rarely am I up through the night in Alaskan anchorages checking if everything is ok, I always look to a good nights sleep in good calm conditions, then waking in the early morning dawn to put on my coffee pot and to make Marie's English Breakfast tea... at least three cups of hot tea before Marie even deems to acknowledge me. But right now I straightaway stuck my head out of the hatch to see what was going on sensing full well my horrible suspicions. Sure enough, I was instantly appalled - the exact same thing had happened again.

Crab pots... hundreds of them all around us. Across the Inlet a large commercial crabbing boat was sowing row upon row of crab pots, the pot marker buoys floating in perfect lines once they'd been released over their stern in quick succession by a double manned mechanical conveyor. I watched them in the greyness of the dawn, with the thick early morning mist drifting slowly in the absolute stillness of the cold air. It had happened before, over and over again in the last couple of months or so, in Neka Bay, Excursion Inlet, Freshwater Bay, Whitestone Harbour and in all the secluded anchorages throughout Chichagof Island’s incredibly scenic Frederick Sound. Fishermen we'd spoken to both in Hoonah and in Pelican had said the same thing, it was occurring in every secluded bay and cove within a fifty mile radius of Hoonah. The local fishermen were up in arms and taking matters into their own hands because the shear numbers of crab pots was causing them problems too - and no one messes with Alaskan tough-breed fishermen, they generally don't bother too much with trivial formalities or registering their complaints through proper channels, we'd before watched open bar fights when it came to arguments over the whereabouts and the shear numbers of large commercial crab pots... it's an emotive subject. The problems come when trying to manoeuvre a boat between these close lines of marker buoys, not only can you not see them when entering somewhere in rapidly fading light, their buoy lines foul propellors, catch fast around keels and jam rudders, generally requiring someone to go into the water to cut the fouled line free... and that's no mean feat in these cold Alaskan waters believe you me.

Our own immediate problem right now would be manoeuvring to raise our anchor. Before attempting this we'd no doubt drift and turn as the tide changed and with the nearest half a dozen or so pots sown only a few feet from us this would cause a serious problem. The crab boat still not too far away had taken no consideration of us and was probably acting in the usual hostile manner to deliberately drive us away. They had no ownership or sole right of access, it was just an outwardly intimidating act to gain supremacy... King and Dungeness crabs are numerous around here, something which had been the subject of much talk in the Tlingit frequented Office Bar and also amongst the fishermen we knew well in Hoonah. And Ken from Island Rover and other sailboat skippers we talked to had come across the same fast growing problem everywhere they dropped anchor too.

Of course, the problem is solely down to visiting cruise ships. The brand new cruise ship dock located at Icy Point outside of Hoonah has recently been completed to serve the Disney style cannery museum and the fast growing bear-search safari tours into the interior of Chichagof Island. The museum itself has been renovated to serve only the cruise ships docking there. It's not real, it's not even closely authentic and nothing like the real Alaska it's trying to portray. It's a typical American falsehood that serves exactly what cruise ship tourism expects to be served... craft shops, fast food outlets and re-enacted ethnic dancing that supposedly represents the way Americans and Chinese think the real Alaska is. Each ship brings in up to five thousand tourists in one go, no longer do the ships have to ferry their passengers ashore, now they can simply walk ashore and make their way around this small remote community of only eight hundred and eighty people.

The largest and most successful of the eating establishments inside the Icy Point Salmon Cannery Museum is the new Crab Shack franchise operation, it's hugely popular and accessible only from the cruise ship. The Icy Point Huna Corporation also has the contract to resupply all of the cruise ships that dock there, to restock all the onboard restaurants with the Alaskan favourite that tourists simply love to consume - fresh King and Dungeness Crab. So the Huna Corporation and Cruise Ship Partnership Consortium that run Cannery Point have awarded lucrative supply contracts to big commercial out-of-town crab supply operators operating out of Seattle and Juneau, nothing at all to the local crab fishermen who've traditionally fished for crab for many generations out of Hoonah, Elfin Cove and Pelican. Knowledgeable local Tlingit and redneck Alaskans who know a thing or two say the entire crab population hereabouts will be wiped out within five years, it's already happened in Ketchikan and Juneau, in Skagway and in the northern Alaskan ports of Anchorage and Seward.

Right now in the glorious stillness of early morning dawn we ourselves had an intensely irritating problem. Not the ongoing issue of predatory capitalism that I constantly bore folk with until they yawn their heads off before invariably changing the subject, but one of what we now had to do to extract ourselves from this minefield of potential danger. First I called the skipper of the crab boat now positioned off our bows on our VHF radio. I'd like to tell you I invited them over for early morning coffee and tea, that they refused because they needed to be back home with their wives and kids but that's not the conversation we had. It's best that I don't relate the conversation that ensued in the beautiful secluded anchorage of Dundas Bay, except to say it made little difference - 'Stupid Limey Bastards' don't belong around here apparently though I objected to being called a Limey... of course, it's always difficult when you come between a commercial skipper and his money.

After the sun finally poked its nose above the eastern ridge-line I stirred my crew with English tea and steamed hot coffee, Marie took one look around the anchorage and she knew straightaway we had a problem. Henry, still in his glorious younger years is easily corruptible, readily provoked and open to my own view of things that I accept aren't always rational. He ranted his angry opinions and I smiled to myself somewhat contentedly. We raised our anchor relatively easily because our considerable experience told us how, but it took a good few hours to extract ourselves between the floating marker buoys with the precariously changing tides that often swept us out of control. We left Dundas Bay out into the infamous Inian Pass to then make our way to Elfin Cove.

For lunch we ate gloriously delicious still fresh dressed crab - courtesy of Yankee Maid. We ate King Crab sandwiches together with on the edge cucumber, three types of fading green leaves and bitter coriander coated limes...

Footnote: Of course, everyone has the right to travel in any way they choose... and this includes cruise ship tourists who've paid the price of their ticket to see Alaska in the cruise ship style they crave - but they do not and never experience the real Alaska. Commercial America is exceptionally slick in its ability to recreate Disney style dreams and that is what the cruise ships deliver. Furthermore we ourselves cannot demand these secluded anchorages purely for own sake and we make no claim to do so. But we do have the right to our opinions just like anyone else.

We see first hand the often appalling effects from the decline in fish catches that generations of fishermen have suffered - laid up boats, social dilapidation and paid off crews. There are few rich fishermen who really do risk their lives repeatedly throughout their working lives, there's little sign of the wealth you'd find in the world of investment banking for example. Over-fishing is a worldwide problem that is, in my opinion, probably unresolvable. In this instance relating to the Icy Point Salmon Cannery Museum you must consider there is no gain to the local community who are themselves in dire need of this type of contract driven income if they can get it, but they can't. They don't have the commercial awareness, the capacity, the infrastructure or the resources to supply twenty five thousand crabs per week from their own backyard to the cruise ship tourist industry on this scale.

Consider also that cruise line conglomerates put nothing much back into local communities. Captive passengers are fed their meals onboard in all-inclusive vacation packages or invariably tempted to part with their cash within the controlled commercial environments that passengers are introduced into, such as the Icy Point Salmon Cannery which is part owned by the cruise ship consortiums themselves in partnership with the Huna Development Corporation. These same arrangements exist in Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway and elsewhere where the cruise ships dock. Furthermore, ethnic businesses, restaurants and local crafts in these locations who endeavour to make a living from cruise ship tourists are required to pay the cruise ship lines fifteen percent of their sales takings or face being shut down. Many local businesses will readily show you the lawyer's letters they've collected over the years.

There is a counter-argument. The cruise ships will point out they have to pay a local landing tax for every passenger who heads ashore, this tax is paid to local community authorities and is cited as the benefit local communities receive... though many Alaskans will tell you a corresponding amount is deducted from community Authorities when they receive their State Aid. Of course, this landing tax is added to the price every passenger pays to buy their vacation ticket - the cruise lines rarely pay any amount of tax to anyone. The ship itself will be registered in a foreign tax exemption port such as Liberia, Nassau or the Cayman Isles under a system known as 'Flags of Convenience'... just take a look at the stern of any cruise ship and you'll see straightaway the strange looking name from where the ship has supposedly sailed, but in actual fact has never ever been there. Of course you already know the huge cruise line organisations themselves will divert their own lucrative revenues somewhere offshore in complex tax avoidance schemes that are completely legal. Tax revenues are therefore a moot and emotional point to argue.

Perhaps I can convince you that predatory capitalism benefits only those it's meant to benefit in this new world of globalisation. Certainly not King and Dungeness crabs... perhaps in that strange world where Disney gives them a voice and an ability to talk rationally, they'd have a few things to say about the Icy Point Salmon Cannery Museum.

Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.

The Sad Face of Hoonah...

28 July 2017 | Hoonah, Southeast Alaska
Photo: Things are changing fast in the real Alaska

Ken from Island Rover first mentioned things after I arrived back in Hoonah in April, he and Juanita were thinking of selling up their cabin and moving on he said. Then Bill said the same thing, worryingly so too did Stan and Mike, Mike said he was maybe gonna head back to Thailand. When Eugene told me he was thinking of returning to Hawaii to help his wife with their small coffee plantation rather than staying on in Hoonah to fish for the season then I knew things had taken a turn for the worse. Some of the local Tlingit guys I talked with seemed downhearted too.

Of course, it was all bad news... the combined cruise ship operators and the Huna Corporation had just announced that from next year their huge passenger ships would be calling into Hoonah every day from early May onwards. Things were already bad enough, currently there's a bitterly divisive limit of four ships per week including 'Two Ships Tuesday' but everyone seems to agree there's no way this small community could cope with anything more... except the cruise ships corporations are even now lobbying hard to be allowed to dock two huge ships each and every day.

To top everything, a few days ago our arch enemy Disney Wonder tied up to the brand new cruise line dock for the first time and we heard the ominous tune 'It's A Small World' meandering through the early morning mist, then nearly a thousand kids with their moms & pops all dressed in their free-issue bright yellow Mickey Mouse rain-capes broke through the cordon of Tlingit medicine men trying to keep them out... I exaggerate of course but it's just the way things are. Like ourselves they have every right to be here but perhaps it's time that we move on too.

Because on cruise ship days bewildered looking tourists wander around the small Tlingit community of Hoonah peering openly into folk's houses without any compunction, dawdling along at that curiously slow browsing pace as if they are knowledgable explorers - the unworldly-wise Chinese are the worst with their selfie-sticks and that stupid pose that selfie-loving Chinese seem to love - you know the one, the one with thumbs up smiles that's destined for Facebook or that other Instagram thing. They sport designer sunglasses or floppy white magazine style hats on top of their heads and brand new hiking shoes that have never even seen mud.... and get this, last week Stan came upon two oversized American women from somewhere in New York State sitting in the back of his Bayliner Lucky Dawn, when he admonished them for boarding his boat without permission they went berserk... saying they'd been told during their briefing before coming ashore to head down to the harbour to take a look around the boats. They were gonna file an official complaint, they both said. They had been given permission to take a look inside his boat by their cruise ship, they said...

Hoonah is the real Alaska but not for much longer. So we've decided to leave too before things get bad. We said goodbye to our fishing boat friends Icy Queen, to Yankee Maid and Island Queen. We've bid farewell to Island Rover and Lucky Dawn, to Marie Rose and June Striding. We had one last drink in the Office Bar and the Icy Straits Lodge. We shopped for one last time in the Hoonah Store, Braden and Sasquatch hugged us goodbye for far too long.

Then we made our way westwards, west along the Icy Straits that would eventually lead us into big grey Pacific. We'll go to Elfin Cove and then Pelican, then out to Sitka stopping in places along the way. We'll make our way slowly south and then... maybe to Mexico Marie said.

Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.

Wild Strawberries at the Kennel Creek Cabin...

25 July 2017 | Freshwater Bay, Chichagof Island, Southeast Alaska
Photo: The suitably remote Kennel Creek Refuge Cabin

We quickened our pace because we'd now lost sight of the bear, it could be anywhere close by concealed in the undergrowth. Our only safe option was to hide inside the Kennel Creek Cabin still around a hundred yards away, we could then bolt the door and stay hidden. Henry impatiently urged us to hurry quickly whilst Dave had his taser ready... not that his ridiculous taser had ever proven any good. We raced to the cabin and thankfully found the door unlocked.

Being a two storey cabin Henry argued we'd be safer upstairs on the upper floor... especially after flipping his lid when discovering the internal door bolt was a flimsy little clasp that'd not even hold a mouse at bay. Dave laughed, saying the grizzly was long gone by now and that we were stupid. Then a heavy noise outside on the lower veranda made us turn to look in alarm... sure enough there was the large brown grizzly staring at us through the window. Without a second glance or a moments hesitation we raced up the wooden stairs to the upper floor. There, we looked at each other realising just how stupid we were... the bear could easily knock down the door then follow us up the stairs - what would we do then? So Henry had another plan, there was a second glass door leading outside on to the balcony so we hurried out there, closing shut the balcony door behind us hoping that would be enough...

I looked down over the balcony and there was the grizzly just a couple of feet below, it looked up as I looked down. Henry then had another dicky-fit saying the bear could easily climb the balcony which, thinking about it now, wouldn't have been a huge problem for a full sized male bear. Then it stood on its hind legs which brought its nose roughly in line with the balcony where we stood worryingly petrified. It sniffed, stood down and then ambled off unconcerned before disappearing into the bushes. And that was it. It was gone.

We'd first spotted the grizzly prowling the shoreline of Freshwater Bay. The three of us, Henry, Dave and myself were picking wild strawberries without paying too much attention to what was around. Dave saw the bear first heading in our direction although we weren't sure if it was aware of us or not. Afterwards we stayed inside the safety of the cabin for easily an hour or so because we had no idea where the bear was. Then we left, tentatively keeping a keen lookout, firing off the taser every few moments just to make sure...

The locals in the Icy Straits Lodge Bar said we were foolish, we should carry guns. We're English we said, we don't carry guns...

Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.

A Right Good Alaskan Adventure

02 July 2017 | Hoonah, Southeast Alaska
Photo: We finally made it ashore beside the Reid Glacier...

"This blog is just family nonsense about the endless love of your kids. As you know, this hardly ever changes even when they've just turned thirty, they're supposedly independent from you and living their own lives in big city places like London thinking they don't need you around anymore. For me, never is it so good as when we get family visiting from England." Dave

In June my youngest daughter Louise travelled out to Alaska to join me onboard Sänna whilst Marie stayed back in England for Henry's final school exams. To meet up with her I sailed Sänna the forty miles or so from Hoonah to Auke Bay just north of Juneau, all the way there worried about docking solo in the absolute chaos that is Auke Bay's Edward Statten Harbour. Luckily, our good friends Leighton and Lynda onboard their ketch Morning Star were already in the harbour, so I was able to raft up alongside them to tie up relatively safely... it was good to see them again. The shit hole harbour is notoriously difficult because of the fishing fleet based there which is compounded by the obscene numbers of tourists boats that go out chasing whales, they serve the relentless cruise ships that dock in Juneau for the so called 'Alaskan' experience...


Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.

Fish, Chips & Mushy Peas...

20 June 2017 | Hoonah, Southeast Alaska
Photo: Yankee Maid's own virginal mermaid

The First Nation fisherman from Yankee Maid asked if I'd like three king crabs they'd caught earlier in the day. Sure, I said, I'd be more than pleased to take them off him. We got talking, his name was Robbie, he was true-blood Tlinget descended directly from Kaawishté, the tribal Chief Shakes over on Shakes Island. The Naanyaa.aayí clan still reside in present day Wrangell. Robbie bought over the crabs which he'd cooked up already so I dressed them down for my favourite crab & cucumber sandwiches (always cut diagonally) and my delicious fresh-crab salads. This was just fine. Afterwards I wandered over to Yankee Maid to thank Rob again. Come aboard, he said, you can meet Gerry our cook.

I learned from Rob & Gerry that Yankee Maid is a commercial seine fishing boat that comes up from Seattle each year to fish for the season from Hoonah. I spent a good while talking and drinking their beer though unusually for fishermen they seemed to have a preference for good portions of red wine. I really warmed to these guys and we got along nicely, they were genuinely interested in our sailing adventures and pleased that I liked their food, especially their smoked salmon they'd pickled and then jarred in good quality oil. A few days later I sailed Sänna over to Auke Bay north of Juneau to meet up with our good friends Leighton & Lynda onboard their ketch Morning Star and the biggest prize of all... my youngest daughter Louise was flying in from London to spend a few weeks with me in Alaska whilst Marie and Henry were back in England... Henry's end of school exams were keeping them both busy. So, there I was in the complete mayhem that is Auke Bay harbour walking along the pontoon when I heard a booming shout... it was Robbie and there was Yankee Maid rafted alongside other seine fishing boats that had filled the harbour overnight. "We got king salmon, you want one?" he asked with his beaming smile. Of course, I replied, king salmon is much sought after and I'd be delighted. It was good to see him again.

Around a week or so later, back in Hoonah with Louise and Morning Star, I got into an argument with Gerry the cook who was Robbie's good friend. Gerry had again invited, Leighton & Lynda, Lou and me over to Yankee Maid... curiously there was a stir amongst the seine fishermen now that a young single English girl was in Hoonah - we were already entertaining Braden and Sasquatch from Icy Queen most evenings. Gerry said he was gonna make English style fish & chips and they would party again to boot.

I told Gerry that no one outside of England could make fish & chips the English way, not himself or even those wayward troublesome Scots to which he referred. Gerry proffered to disagree so I decided to explain. First, I said, the whole world thinks they know how to cook fish & chips but of course, they don't. It's a common problem we come across frequently. It's not just a case of battering the fish any style then just frying the 'fries', I explained with the sure knowledge of a well practiced and devoted consumer since a very early age. Traditional or 'proper' fish & chips are deep fried in beef fat, or 'dripping' as it's known in England, the potatoes must be hand-peeled and cut using one of two specific potato types... either the Maris Piper or the King Edward they're called and grown only in the English counties of Lincolnshire and Norfolk where the soil is exceptionally rich and loamy. Nowhere else or any other potato breed will do. Once peeled they must be soaked in water for at least eight hours to remove the starch (the starch traditionally has a number of uses, including the starching of new sail canvas for English man-o-war frigates, also a method supposedly found in Viking long-ships). Furthermore the frier's apron must always be recognisably greasy and stained because this denotes great experience and devotion... there must be none of this hair-net and hygiene nonsense although that in itself wouldn't have been a problem on Yankee Maid. They must also be served wrapped in newspaper and eaten by hand I said to Gerry... any sign of posh plates or even cutlery means something is just not right. A number of hand-down recipes are used for the fish-batter and, of course, the fish is always white north-atlantic cod or my own personal favourite - haddock... although fresh Alaskan halibut makes an extremely good and perfectly acceptable alternative. And then there's the mushy peas...

Mushy peas are a phenomenon unknown outside of England, even the Scots turn their noses up at mushy peas when they order their own version 'fish suppers'. I'm fortunate in that my wife Marie worked in a local mushy-pea factory for a short while when in her early teens and, back then, only five foot tall to a tadpole, so I'm telling you things now that have rarely been told before. Gerry had heard rumours and knew of mushy peas but not how they're produced or consumed, nor did he appreciate their importance when it comes to 'English' fish & chips. When I explained the traditional method of creating mushy peas, by young girls trampling around barefoot in barrels of soda soaked marrowfat peas I got the impression he thought me slightly not right in the head. But it's true, my wife Marie will readily vouch for that. And Gerry and the boys were in luck... we had several jars of mushy peas onboard Sänna that Marie'd bought out from England because of her life-long and not often talked about addiction. The great English fish & chip challenge was on.

Well, we had a tremendous ball of a time.Yankee Maid's sister boat Island Queen pulled in alongside the dock later in the afternoon, she was skippered by Randy, brother of Yankee Maid's skipper Paul. Alongside the other slip were our long-held friends, the seine fishing boat Icy Queen who were already well known to Yankee Maid and Island Queen. Scott, Icy Queen's skipper, his son Braden and nephew Christian, known as Sasquatch because of his great size and ability to pick up a fish-barrel single handed, were all there to join in as were the crews of other seine boats too, mingling easily with ourselves from the 'posh' sailboats... Leighton & Lynda of Morning Star plus Louise and myself. Ubiquitous quantities of beer, whiskey and wine added to the tempting aroma of frying fish drifting out of Yankee Maid's galley... with the distinct smell of simmering peas that'd travelled all the way from England.

I'm not gonna say if the challenge was lost or won other than to say that all of the seine boats were supposed to depart before daylight the next morning to hit a crutial salmon-catch opening. They never did leave. The battered halibut fresh-caught earlier in the day was simply superb and indescribable to those who've never eaten fish that out-freshens anything found in a fresh-fish market anywhere... nor in any upmarket restaurant. The chips, or 'fries' as these Yanks call them... well, you must remember that Gerry had no access to special ingredient beef-fat dripping or exceptional quality spuds (potatoes) but Gerry's greasy stained apron did meet with the required standards - probably more so than is normal. And the big cooking pot of mushy peas.... when I explained to all present how they were 'mushed' and made by young English virgins trampling around barefoot in barrels I encountered drunken disbelieving stares followed by ominous guffaws of mocking laughter. Out of curiosity the peas were tentatively sampled rather uneasily but invariably left untouched... although both Robbie and Gerry consumed ample quantities quite readily. Louise and me, we feasted contentedly, quite happy with the fabulous battered halibut accompanied by real English mushy peas. The fries...? only the English know how to make proper 'fries' and, as you know, not even the Scots can make...

Of course, the real point of this blog is quite straightforward. On a splendidly warm Alaskan summer evening in remote Hoonah harbour, the crews of two sailboats and who knows how many working seine fishing boats decided to get together and party on the friendly invitation of Yankee Maid. There was not the snobbery or barriers found in many private owned cruising boats which fishermen generally loath, nor was it one of those organised cruiser's 'pot-luck-supper' things either, just a spontaneous acceptance of who we were and who they were, a shared friendship by those who work and sail often dangerous seas. For myself, the big thing was not just the quality time with my daughter but to see the easy mingling of First Nation and white red-neck fishermen through genuine respectful friendship... and that friendliness was readily extended to ourselves without question.

Later in the evening an extremely drunken, delightfully unstable Scott put his arms around me and declared his absolute genuine respect that there were still virgins in England...

Footnote: Truly English style fish & chips are becoming a rarity in all of the British Isles. With the advent of mass commercial catering and 'pub food' the art of producing what used to be the staple diet of the working classes that migrated to the infamous slums of the great cities and the coalfields created by the Industrial Revolution has largely disappeared... but not everywhere. Eating habits and food hygiene standards have taken their toll... consuming your ample portion of battered cod or haddock with traditionally cooked chips fried in true beef-fat dripping lest discerning customers demand their hard-earned money back and after the pubs have closed for the evening, religiously eaten from newspaper wrapping is a rarity... but not entirely gone. Nowadays deep-frying is done with conventional cooking oils, chips are supplied pre-peeled, already cut and sometimes part-cooked by large commercial suppliers... but not always. Cod & haddock stocks in the North Sea and North Atlantic have been decimated, as have the huge fishing fleets that traditionally supplied the uniquely British habit of consuming vast quantities of fish through thousands of old-style 'chip shops'. But not all of the fishermen have given up.

Ask any Englishman, Scotsman or Welshman who can claim a working class background and you will be told that you cannot find 'proper fish & chips' in any pub, nor in a restaurant of any description or indeed in most modern day fish & chip shops that are invariably owned and operated by friers of foreign extraction - good people that they always are. But if you ask around or if you are in the know, exceptionally good fish-friers do exist who still do things in the right way. The true secret is the beef-fat dripping which vegaterianism and food hygiene laws have largely curtailed, perhaps rightly so although that is entirely another discussion.

Mushy peas or other vegetable types are a regional variation encouraged by successive war governments seeking to increase nutritional values that can and does cause great debate. Intense working-class poverty required a source of cheap protein, animal-fats, carbohydrates and vitamin mineral content when sorely needed. Some regions of the UK have since introduced their own bizarre accompaniments such as gravy, even beans, curry sauce, cheese, sausages, meat pies etc etc etc. all of which detract from the original two-hundred year tradition of a largely war-torn, poverty-stricken working-class Britain.

To know a proper true-grit flat-capped Englishman is to understand the expression "ah lad, thems spuds's bin dunnd 'n drippin' fro'ol Greggy's butch's factri up t' rode."

Winterton Fish Bar - a well deserved award winning tradional fish & chip frier... and I owe Debbie a plug.
Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.

Ice-Cold Beer...

16 June 2017 | Reid Inlet, Glacier Bay
Photo: The magnificent Marjorie Glacier which joins the Reid Glacier seven miles inland.

It was good, though extremely cold anchored less than four or five cables from the glacier face which every now and then calved directly into the inlet. We planned to climb up the south side of the glacier and then make our way as far inland into the high mountains that we could, but things were a little against us right from the start... the main problem being the depth of the winter snow given there were no trails, we'd have to break our own trail whilst conscious this was the same location that Henry and I encountered the grizzly bears only a few months before. At this time of the year the bears were hungry from winter hibernation, this region being notorious for grizzlies and for the inquisitive timber wolves that nosed around the shoreline. Nevertheless we got ourselves ashore after some considerable effort dragging our inflatable dinghy through the glacial mud to get up above the high tidewater level. We daren't risk returning after a few hours to find our inflatable drifting off in the rising tide leaving us stranded... seeking any rescue or assistance hereabouts was not really an option. Help was just not gonna happen.

Gary got himself well ahead and we made our way upwards alongside the glacier crevasse, though it meant crossing several fast running creeks in full flow from snow-melt. It was slow work. The creek gullies were steep sided with the eyrie silence of the enormous Reid Glacier mesmerising except for the sudden thunderous booms to remind us this huge eleven mile long ribbon of monstrous ice was moving relentlessly towards the sea. We pressed on as far as we could but knew we would begin to struggle without crampons, ice axes or climbing ropes because we just couldn't carry that amount of mountaineering equipment onboard unless we planned well ahead. So after a couple of miles I turned around and left Gary to press on, he was keen to keep going but I was worried about the dinghy in the rising tide.

Eventually the snow was too deep in the gullies and Gary too began to make his way down. Our inflatable was still securely in place, so my worries were unfounded but after those few exhilarating hours ashore we gladly made our way back to Sänna still sitting serenely on anchor. The late-in-the day sunshine gave us an incredible backdrop with the deep-blue glacial ice face only a few boat lengths away, I broke open a couple of ice-cold beers whilst Gary prepared our pasta dinner. God, it was cold. When the sun finally dropped behind the high mountain ridge to the west it sent amazing streaks of orange and crimson red light into the absolutely pristine blue sky. What a truly fantastic and memorable sunset to behold.

Just me and my step-brother Gary anchored here in what must be the closest place to frozen paradise.
Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.

Slow Grown Alaskan Gold...

30 May 2017 | Hoonah, Southeast Alaska
Photo: Pure gold

Our very good friend Ken Pierce from Island Rover said we should go and see Wes Tyler.

Most of the logging on Chichagoff Island is done by Wes and his crew. His lumberyard and sawmill is where we'd get the best timber Ken said. But getting out to Wes's sawmill was no mean feat, Gary and I didn't have any transport and the lumberyard was remote, being way out of town deep in the Tongass forest. So Ken then said to go and see Randy at the Icy Straits Lodge to see if we could get his four-wheel drive truck... there are no roads as such on Chichagoff, only logging tracks cut into the thick forests which, of course, have invariably been made by Wes Tyler and his crew.

Gary and I already knew Randy down at the Icy Straits Lodge, we drank beer there most evenings whilst watching the early summer sunsets over Frederick Sound ... the sun by now was going down at around eleven at night so that gave us ample time to down a few pints, especially Gary - he's an ex-cop and knows his beers. You know how it is. Randy said sure, he had a truck we could use, it was a bit of a wreck but we could have it for a few days. Great! That would do nice! We could get over to Wes's sawmill which was way out in the back of beyond and then take some time to explore largely inaccessible Chichagoff Island.

You see, my plan was to replace all of Sänna's cabin ceilings and the rotting hatch linings with fresh cut Chichagoff timber. The ceilings and decorative linings had taken a hammering over the winter and from our years in the sweltering tropics. I was never gonna get a better opportunity to refit Sänna than here in Alaska. So Gary and I drove off to see Wes Tyler...

What a dream place it turned out to be. Wes was without doubt an affable guy and was proud to show us around, he was especially happy to supply new timber for an English sailboat. The cut trees lying around the yard curing naturely in the sunshine was a delight and Wes talked about the choices we had and the merits of each type of wood. These days he only selected old-growth trees at least a couple of hundred years old which his crew found in the forest and cut only when needed. There's no unrestricted mass area felling on Chichagoff Island like the old days, which decimated large areas of forest all over Alaska and British Columbia. Nowadays it's largely selective and sustainable cutting, especially in the ancient Tongas forest. Wes had red cedar, western hemlock, Sitka spruce and the best prize of all, Alaskan yellow cedar. The slow-growing yellow cedar in particular is much sought after, cut from exceptionally tall trees which means the timber is dead straight, the grain extremely tight and, more importantly, knot free. It's tough, doesn't rot when damp and never warps. Perfect, it's the type of wood that high-end carpenters seek and discerning timber gurus pay a fortune for. And Wes Tyler had lots of it, his crew had just recently found three huge yellow cedar trees deep in the Tongas forest which Wes reckoned were each over three hundred years old. Gary had meticulously measured how much we needed so we gave Wes our cuts, he'd mill it to our sizes plus tongue & groove it with bevelled edges for easy and precise fitting. Give him a week, Wes said, and he'd deliver it down to the dock in Hoonah. All for a very nice price.

The timing worked well, we could explore Chichagoff island driving around in our flamboyant four wheel drive truck, then fix the anchor windlass and take off onboard Sänna to once more get up into the Glacier Bay National Park, we could also visit the remote boardwalk communities of Elfin Cove and Pelican which Gary had not yet seen. I gladly let Gary replace the windlass motor, it was not an easy job and he was keen. He did good did our Gary.

First we took off around Chichagoff Island along remote and little used logging tracks. We were a little perturbed by the state of the tracks and the number of brown bears we encountered given that we carried no weapons, only the somewhat useless taser I'd purchased for fifty bucks in the Office Bar and a can of dubious bear spray. We got out to the isolated Kennel Creek cabin in Freshwater Bay and also to Whitestone Harbour before giving up our truck to Randy. Then we headed out to Glacier Bay for a week or so which was surprisingly ice free for the time of year, we got back into Reid Inlet to track inland beside the Reid Glacier before heading on to Elfin Cove and eventually to Pelican... to lose ourselves for an evening at infamous Rose's bar. Yes, they still dance on the tables there, race naked at midnight down the boardwalk and the old brown grizzly still sits in the toilet pit watching you take a piss.

Wes, true to his word, delivered our new timber as agreed and the quality was breathtaking. The deep yellow colouring and fresh-milled smell was simply unbelievable. Gary and I set to and for the next three weeks ripped everything out from all four cabin ceilings, we cut out the rotted linings around the hatches that had warped over the winter and replaced everything. I also learned just how good Gary is when it comes to working with timber. Not bad at all for an ex-cop. I was impressed.

When we finished I held up the single three foot piece of timber we had left. Gary's measuring and Wes's machining had been spot on. Sänna's new cabin roofs are simply superb to behold and my Marie will be well impressed when she arrives in a few weeks time with Henry.

Forever will I lie in my bunk at night looking up at prime Chichagoff timber. It's not just the superb quality of the wood and our own meticulous craftsmanship, it's something else too. It will be the long lasting memory of smiling Wes Tyler, gentle Ken Pierce from Island Rover, Scott and Braden of Icy Queen, the always partying crew from Yankee Maid and numerous others. Not least the quality time I had with with my step-brother Gary the ex-cop. It will also be the long lasting memory of our exceptional time on remote Chichagoff Island.

Sadly, sometime soon it will be time to leave.

Icy Straits Lumber & Sawmill. IF YOU WANT REAL TREE WOOD, BUY YOUR WOOD FROM WES. GOOD WOOD WHEN YOU NEED WOOD... I promised Wes Tyler I'd work up a plug.
Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.

Hello Spring...

10 May 2017 | Hoonah, Southeast Alaska
Photo: Mountain & glacier meadows in colourful bloom...

It's springtime in Alaska. The cold winds still blow and the snow has been replaced by incessant rain but there's plenty of warm sunshine too. And with the sun comes Mother Nature at her very best. Everything is in bloom, the bears are waking and the humpbacks have returned from their winter sojourns in Hawaii. Everything is good, the air is refreshingly pure and clean, when breathed into your lungs it feels as though you've left the pollution of civilisation a long way behind. All is good, all is perfect... or is it?

Well, Sänna has taken a winter hammering. On getting back to Hoonah the first problem I found was the internal wood decor around the opening hatches had swelled and rotted. This was surely down to the intense cold of the lying snow that had buried the hatches for such a long period, conducting the freezing temperatures inside to the linings which I knew from my days in cold weather construction was a common problem in aluminium frames that had no thermal-break. Oh well, this would need to be fixed sometime soon and I buried the problem in my mind.

More seriously, next I found the anchor windlass handheld control was full of water, somehow the snow had gotten inside the anchor locker and filled the supposedly waterproof controller. Something else expensive but made in China... I didn't know there was a problem until I switched on the power to the windlass, which shorted out and the anchor tried to pull itself up of its own accord. The anchor was already stowed and secured, so by the time I was able to rush back below to turn off the power the anchor windlass motor had burnt itself out. Oh well, we carried a spare motor but it's a pig of a job to swap it out. Then the anchor light didn't work... it too was filled with snow water that had frozen and expanded... but the biggest problem, I was later to find out, was our copper hot-water cylinder had corroded, and so had the freshwater pump on our Volvo Penta engine. Not the bastard Volvo again...

Springtime in Alaska is when the pitfalls of a cruel winter begin to show its head. Especially with a sailboat. But then the fishermen were busy readying their boats for the summer season and I'm happy to say that they too were cussing and swearing the Alaskan winter. I spoke to Scott and Dennis and both their engines and sprung leaks from frozen hoses, quire bad in fact and Icy Queen had a sheared her anchor rode... just plain rusted through. Dennis, the skipper of Pacific Hunter said it was the worst winter in ten years. He said this whilst emptying his bilges from a broken inlet valve.

So we survived the fiercest Alaskan winter in ten years. Gary my step-brother is due out from England, he's a good lad my step-brother and we'll soon get on top of everything. We'll no doubt down a good few Alaskan beers in the infamous Office Bar or the Icy Straits Lodge and everything will start to take shape. In fact, I've already spent an inordinate amount of time onboard Icy Queen drinking their beer and listening to the latest woes and fortunes of Alaskan fishing. But their ling cod and black cod freshly pulled from the springtime seas, then cooked with rice and first-crop spring peas is amazingly good. Wintertime in Alaska is a time for celebration and recompense, not a time to bemoan everything that's wrong, but a time to look forward to everything that's coming right.

Except, of course, for our bastard Volvo Penta engine...
Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.

When Boat Names Matter...

06 April 2017 | Hoonah, Southeast Alaska
It sometimes happens that we're asked about our boat name and its origins, we are an English vessel and the spelling often seems a little strange to some. Sänna. It's patently not English and when registering with confused harbourmasters in foreign harbours we are usually taken to be Swedes or Danes or maybe Norwegians, perhaps of some mysterious viking descent. In fact the origins are unusual and you might be interested to know a little more - the reason why our sailboat Sänna carries such a curious name.

I can't tell you everything though, not the whole story, not the sad bit...


Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.

By Gum It's Hot In Alaska

17 March 2017 | Norfolk, England
Photo: If it wasn't for the snow there'd be no snow at all.

So I got a call from Braden to say there'd been a really heavy snowfall and Sänna was much too low in the water. He said many of the fishing boats in Hoonah harbour were bad but not to worry, because they're gonna get their shovels and clear the snow as best they could. Then he called to say everything was OK but a few days later he called and said there'd been another bad storm and this time everything had froze over... meanwhile we're sitting in the sunshine of sunny Norfolk all stressed out wandering what the hell we'll find in a few weeks time when we get back onboard...

Then our good friend Braden called to say he and his dad Scott, with Dennis and the boys from the Hoonah town council had set to with their shovels and that Sänna was fine. But then he called again late one night to say another heavy snowfall had come by and they'd chased the brown grizzly snoozing in Sänna's frozen cockpit away. Everything's fine and not to worry he said...

Thank God for the fishermen in Hoonah! That's what I said. In my new euphoric state I happily told Braden I'd book everyone in Hoonah a top-wack sunshine holiday in Barbados. He laughed and told me Barbados was much too hot, that he'd heard sunny Norfolk was good and he'd really like an English girlfriend with curly-blond pigtails, with freckles and a giggly laugh, a nice girl his mother would like, a girl he could take back to Alaska to fish and cook and...

So, you nicely freckled English girls out there, if you'd like to get together with a handsome early twenties Robert Pattinson lookalike, GSOH, non-smoker who likes long walks, fine dining and cosy evenings by the fireside then please don't call. If you'd like a wild carefree life onboard an Alaskan fishing boat working hard for the occasional big haul, well hooked-up with a genuinely nice guy who really is a Robert Pattinson lookalike, you would really help us out...
Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.

Wild Alaska

10 February 2017 | Glacier Bay National Park. Southeast Alaska
Our latest VIDEO production tells the story of our voyage deep into the Glacier Bay National Park from Hoonah during 2016. Crossing the Icy Straits in gale force winds of thirty-five knots made a welcome change from endless engine work and we relished the challenge of more intense sailing.

Eventually we found shelter in Bartlett Cove, where we needed to validate our permits with the Park Rangers who vigorously restrict the number of vessels allowed into the immense Glacier Bay area. With over 3.3 million acres of rugged mountains, frozen glaciers, temperate rainforest and exceptionally wild coastlines of the St Elias Mountain Range, Glacier Bay is an undoubted challenge for any sailing vessel.

We transported our photographic and video equipment ashore to find and film Alaskan wildlife at its most extreme. Please take time to view this ten minute film production expertly produced by

Crew: Dave, Marie & Henry.

For best effect please enable sound and HD viewing if your device supports HD viewing resolution...

Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.

The Wilderness that is Chichagof

07 January 2017 | Hoonah, Alaska
Photo: The Abandoned Chichagof Gold Mine.

"Chichagof Island in southeast Alaska is officially the most unbelievable place on earth. In a recent poll conducted by myself I unequivocally decided there's not even a close comparison with any other location... and when the poll was taken there was no one around to argue with me anyway. We were all alone, not anyone, nobody even remotely close-by for nearly fifty miles..." Dave

And consider this... Chichagof Island is nearly the size of Wales back in the UK. There are only four human settlements of any size... Hoonah, Elfin Cove, Pelican and Tenakee Springs of which Hoonah, by far the largest, has only eight hundred and eighty inhabitants. There is also the mysterious Chichagof Gold Mine which no one is sure still exists or not... it's a ghostly place that only sometimes appears out of the grey mists. These small townships are foremost Tlingit First Nation settlements although those Americans down in the lower forty-eight states who decide enough is enough head this way too. You know the type, pony-tailed with platted silver beards, red-necks toting firearms with enough firepower to take down encircling siege law-enforcement forces dedicated to protecting cautious society... they all head for Alaska at some point. So let me tell you just a little more about this wild part of the world that is Chichagof...

Read more of this post...
Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure.
Vessel Name: Sänna
Vessel Make/Model: Ocean 50 (Bavaria)
Hailing Port: Poole UK
Crew: Dave & Marie Ungless
We have sailed together for over ten years now, leaving the Mediterranean to head eastwards. Our destination was Australia and New Zealand which we achieved in 2012 before attempting a full round-the-world circumnavigation across the pacific and back to the UK. [...]
Extra: Sänna is a hybrid Bavaria Ocean 50, custom built for deep bue water ocean cruising. The build and re-fit specification is high and to date boasts over 56,000 miles of ocean cruising. For more information visit our main website at
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