sailing vessel Sänna

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

15 June 2008 | Andaman Sea
15 March 2008 | Galle, Sri Lanka
13 February 2008 | Indian Ocean
30 January 2008 | Aden, Yemen
13 January 2008 | Aden
09 January 2008 | Gulf of Aden, Yemen
10 November 2007 | Aden, Yemen.
28 October 2007 | Gulf of Aden
20 October 2007 | Bab Al Mandab, Yemen
15 October 2007 | Bab Al Mandab Straights
25 September 2007 | Massawa, Eritrea
17 September 2007 | The Red Sea. Sudan to Eritrea
10 September 2007 | Port Sudan.
22 July 2007 | Port Tewfig, Suez Canal, Egypt
15 June 2007 | Ismalia, Suez Canal, Egypt

The Pfizer Serum Conundrum

17 February 2021 | Sherwood, Nottingham, England
Dave Ungless | Still grey skies and raining
So I went ahead and got my Pfizer vaccine.

It's five days now. In this time I haven't grown two heads, nor have I received a personal message from Bill Gates welcoming me as an honorary ant to the Bill & Melinda Humanity Foundation. So far my DNA appears to be unaltered - it still seems as tangled and erratic as it's always been. And I can't for the life of me feel a microscopic chip implanted into my upper-arm, one that has somehow managed to squeeze its way through the pinprick needle the nice young lady used to put the deadly serum into my blood. I was amazed to see that my vaccinator did not possess those evil eyes of Annie Wilkes, the murderous nurse played by the wonderful Kathy Bates in the film Misery - a truly scary movie adapted from the equally terrifying novel penned by the fist of Stephen King. In fact - even King could not have dreamed up some of the astonishing covid conspiracy stuff I've received from the more wacky of my friends since I confessed to having the vaccine. I've even got dire warnings of doom from people I've never met.

It's become something of a frenzy. Did I know the whole pandemic is a hoax? I've been told I have limited time before I keel over foaming at the mouth, dribbling like a demented halfwit with my brain turned to chicken shit. So far the grey-matter in my head is performing in its usual dysfunctional way, ways that've been worrying me far longer than this Chinese bat virus. I still go to the toilet three times during the middle of each night, I still don't understand those bizarre people who eat celery. So nothing much has changed - though I'm reliably informed I've not given this evil fluid inside my body enough time.

Of course, either the war against Bill Gates, the devil Chinese or the pharmaceutical giants wishing to control the world is already well lost - or this coronavirus is being beaten by the pure wonders of modern science that might be the pinnacle of human endurance - and the best will to survive humankind has yet experienced. Next, it might be that giant science-fiction leap to the stars - perhaps your point of view largely depends upon the stability of your mind. To those of you who say the vaccines have not been tested safely - so what? What does it matter? If evil governments are trying to bend my mind - who cares? Where's your proof? 1984 was only a scary movie that made big money for its producers - the book was hardly read.

Let me tell you this.

For those of you who say this virus is one big hoax - please get real. It's you that's trying to control my mind. Don't try to convince me it's all made up, not when my fit & healthy thirty-two year old daughter lies recovering from the ravages of this SARS-CoV-2 called covid, with her lung tissue scarred and her chest hardly able to breath. If you have the courage to tell me that I'm easily fooled, that I'm an idiot for believing what I was reliably told by doctors who themselves know a thing or two, more than you on your social-media keyboard, then you will need more than a simple jab to see yourself into ripe old-age my friend.

So why did I decide to ignore crackpots telling me over and over that I'm an easily led fool? It's simple and easy to explain. As long-distance ocean sailors we're well used to enormous sea-born risks, we have a keen instinct that warns us when our lives are in danger. This is why we know this vaccine isn't going to kill us and no conspiracy guru, government, president or man in uniform will ever dictate either way. It's a simple question really - when will we again be allowed to sail Sänna from anchorage to anchorage, harbour to harbour, from one immigration official to another? So what's the half-baked answer? Only when we've beaten this vile 2019-nCoV virus, a virus that's done what every virus that's crawled from rotting animal flesh has always done. Was the H1N1 1918 Spanish Flu virus all a clever hoax? Fifty million dead? Did you know that H1N1's remains are still found in pigs to this day? Was HKU1 (beta) Hong Kong Flu all made up? Then there's 229E (alpha) or its near cousins NL63 (alpha) and OC43 (beta) - you know them by more common names, Google them up. And those deadly poxes we call gonorrhoea and syphilis? How about smallpox and ebola eh?

Get the vaccine. It's the only way out of this shitty mess, all of these weirdo conspiracy theories have been debunked. Don't listen to any idiot who might be even remotely stupid.
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

Robin Hood & His Pfizer Vaccine - One Year On

07 February 2021 | Sherwood, England
Dave Ungless | Pissing it down yet again
Photo: Moored in covid Panama for almost one year...

They tell me in the Sherwood Forester here in Sherwood, that it's where Robin Hood would meet Maid Marion for their regular early-doors tipple, that they'd whisper secrets into each others' ears with his sneaky hand on her lap while they counted his days takings out on the trail. His was a room-temperature English beer, hers a rough-hewn flagon of elderflower mead. On the weekends they'd be joined by Will Scarlet and Friar Tuck - and sometimes by a few more of their men who'd sing rousing rebel songs before spending a good deal of time making merry. Though not the big man Little John - they tell me for some reason Little John was himself life-long banned. It's a bit of a rum joint is the Sherwood Forester, the sheriff tried to close it shut but was caught late one night with his trousers down around his knees.

Fifteen hundred years later, little here in Sherwood has changed. This urban hamlet is still a hotbed of revolutionary outlaws though property prices are rising fast. There are now boutique coffee shops, two of the four pubs serve food and a number of 'wine bars' cater for the influx of thirtyish or something social workers, aspiring teachers and lower-ranking lawyers who are not yet partners in their respective law firms. Sherwood's standing has for a while threatened to move swiftly upwards in a social curve - we ourselves became monied sailors, our good friends across the road took off on their canal barge. Then, along came this bastard coronavirus which has changed everything.

We've been back in Sherwood for nearly twelve months now, that's a year in Robin Hood language. We've been here before of course, during the warm summers when England is at its glorious best, when there's English cricket, music festivals and when blue-eyed English girls wear their flaxen hair in braided pigtails. But the wintertimes in England are dire, the grey depression lows roll in one after another off the Atlantic, when the endless days of drizzly rain eventually begin to wear us intrepid English down. It's why we dive into Sherwood's welcoming sawdust-floored pubs with their smokey burning coal fires, Mowbray pork pies and old-fashioned non-chilled English beer... and why we always make sure Sänna is moored ready somewhere nice and warm. Not this time though, Sänna is tied up all alone in Panama, in Vista Mar where many other intrepid sailors have abandoned their ocean sailboats too.

This last year has been tough - and not just for us ourselves. All our children - my three daughters, their partners, my grandchildren and Marie's son have all contracted this unseen virus called covid, my brother and his wife too. All in all they've been ok - except my youngest daughter who's the fittest and leanest of us all. She suffered, she suffered bad from this vicious Chinese bat virus - which makes me feel good that we were here in Sherwood, that we were not stranded somewhere far off unable to return.

Soon everything will change, these amazing vaccines will send this oxygen-sucking coronavirus back into the damp rainforest and dark caves of China from where it came. Soon, we can laugh loudly in its face when we count our dead - though we know the world has now forever changed. Those ridiculous conspiracy theories spouted by those who could not cope will still plague us but me and Marie will reset, reassured by our Astra-Zeneca vaccine. Robin and Marion both opted for the Pfizer, which they stole from some rich who mistakenly believed they'd in their own way jumped the queue. The merry men, they're fine too, they'd caught the covid anyway and tell everyone they rob they're now immune. Sadly, the two big men, the Friar Tuck and Little John, they did not make it. High at risk from their pre-existing English disease, the care home they chose to see out their days holding hands was not as safe as they both hoped. They died alone, with Robin banging hard upon the window in tearful vain.

The sheriff and his cohort the king - not the lionhearted one but his scheming brother - they're going well too. They were first in the vaccine line because of their great age... both now claiming their loss of office was down to that old chestnut - out-and-out election fraud. They're still trying hard to stop the so-called steal. So all's reasonably well here in rain-sodden Sherwood, the Sherwood Forester has for a longtime been closed with the infamous back-house toilets still chained, though the Snobby Butcher a few doors down remains open - if you're in the know with a nod and a wink, there's a good cut of king's venison saved somewhere under the counter.

Please spare a thought for rusting and rotting Sänna - almost one year alone in covid-ridden Panama.
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

Is This The End of Our Sailing Adventure?

28 January 2021 | In national lockdown, Nottingham, England
Dave Ungless | A miserable English winter
Photo: Tied up nine months now in Vista Mar

This rapidly developing human crisis goes on and on. Virologist always predicted this coronavirus would mutate, that a second wave not dissimilar to the one seen in the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic would spread through the world population like a firestorm. In terms of Sänna we now have an impossible situation.

Due to the large surge in the Brazil and South African virus mutations, Panama is one of thirty countries now barred in terms of travel entry into the UK. None-UK nationals are banned and those with British passports or residency permits must quarantine in government nominated hotels for ten days at their own expense.

Many European countries and their overseas territories are expected to replicate these restrictions due to the virus mutations which, similar to the UK virus variant, is said by scientists here to be 30-60% more contagious and possibly up to 30% more lethal. Like the UK's own appalling level of covid infections and terrible death rates, Panama's coronavirus pandemic continues to surge despite strict military and police enforced curfews, with the Brazil variant widely predicted to become the dominant virus throughout South & Central America by April.

Given that Panama has itself banned UK travellers for the same protective reasons, it is now virtually impossible for us to return to Sänna in Vista Mar for the foreseeable future. We have been advised the UK and reciprocal bans are likely to be in place throughout most of this year, with restrictions not realistically being eased until early 2022 when worldwide vaccination efforts begin to take effect.

Of course, we are seriously worried, Sänna is not in the safest of locations and even now, it is over nine months since we left her tied up in Vista Mar.
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

Costa Rica to Panama 2020

28 December 2020 | Nottingham, England
Marie Ungless
Photo: Jungle wildlife in Costa Rica thrives...

'Little did we suspect the whole world would soon tumble off an enormous cliff. The virus fermenting inside Chinese bats near the city of Wuhan was just a background news item when we returned to Costa Rica back in January, there was nothing to indicate the awful crisis that was to hit hard just three months later.

'We never paid much attention to the mounting media frenzy - we were too concerned with making plans to get ourselves south through the Panama Canal. Just like the rest of the world, we were unprepared - given that we spend most of our time taking care of the risks we face on a day-to-day basis then crisis planning is something not unknown to us - but not this, this was science fiction stuff, this was the doomsday prophecy those cranks and conspiracy psychopaths bang on about without anyone taking notice. Nowadays, we know the virus is a deadly threat that's going to change everything - the world, we think, has changed forever...'

This post describes our transit from the north of Costa Rica to Panama beginning in early January 2020. At this time of writing in December 2020, we are still in covid-isolation with a rampant new virus mutation now ravaging the UK, the Panama borders are rightly locked closed to UK visitors. To read more of this post please follow the link below to our sv Sänna website...

Read more - Costa Rica to Panama 2020
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

More Covid News From Panama

20 October 2020 | Vista Mar, Panama
Dave Ungless | Rainy in England
October the 12th finally brought a COVID update from the president of Panama.

Land and air borders are now open, meaning that air travel into Panama is now possible though military and police enforced curfews are still in place. Security forces ensure that government imposed restrictions are strictly adhered to with the curfew hours of 11pm to 5am Monday to Saturday maintained. From 11pm on Saturday to 5am on Monday a full lockdown is in place, meaning that no one is allowed from their home for any purpose or travel. In Panama City, the volatile eastern provinces bordering Columbia, the Caribbean-side provinces of Colon, Chiriquí and Bocas del Toro are each under stricter curfews - from 11pm Friday until 5am Monday it is almost a total weekend lockdown. The president fears lack of social distancing and increasing civil unrest will spread the virus in these higher risk locations.

Of course, this differs greatly from the new virus restrictions in the United Kingdom. So how does this leave us with Sänna still tied up in Vista Mar?

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

Abandoned in Panama...

23 April 2020 | Vista Mar, Panama
Dave Ungless
Photo: All tied up in Vista Mar...

Right now, just like everyone else on this virus-ridden planet, we don't know what is gonna happen. When we set out back in January from Marina Papagayo in the north of Costa Rica for the Panama Canal, everything was fine - the world then had not gone crazy. Even when we sailed across Costa Rica's southern border into Boca Chica there were few signs that in just a short while our whole adventure would tumble into this mind-blowing crisis. Only the Lord knows how this murderous Chinese bat virus is gonna change the insane world we now live in...

Anchored in Golfito, in the south of Costa Rica, we were fine. We'd heard the virus was bad in other countries, but these places were around the other side of the world. In the two countries we were in touch with, the UK and the US, there seemed to be no panic or even any form of preparation, so we didn't think there was much to worry about.

Then, over the next two weeks, everything went from bad to worse, then deteriorated even further - before the whole world then tumbled over a cliff...

Read more >
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

Fresh Lobsters, No Permit

08 March 2020 | Boca Chica, Panama
Marie Ungless
Photo: Wolff... fresh cooked German bread and BBQ'd lobster...

Anchoring in the shelter of Isla Gamez was easy enough on the north side, the sea was pristine clear. We needed to make fresh water to fill our tanks and here was the idealic location. Although Boca Chica is almost a perfect anchorage, the fast moving currents there made going into the murky water dangerous and using our watermaker was questionable in terms of making safe drinking water. We knew for a fact that two of the three waterside restaurants emptied their grey-waste into the bay then relied upon the strong tidal flow through the nearby rapids to flush the anchorage twice each day. The nearby fishing village of Boca Chica no doubt did the same, so we decided it would be safer to head out into more open sea.

We had been anchored off Boca Chica for over a week now, waiting for our Panamanian cruising permit which had still not materialised from the harbourmaster in Pedregal. We had completed both customs and immigration without any problems, but legally Sänna was not allowed to move an inch until we had all the marine paperwork completed. Talking to Carlos, the exceptionally friendly fixer who had fixed everything for us, the permit needed to come from Panama City many hours away by road. But being there in Boca Chica was no real hardship, most evenings we'd take our dinghy across to one of three eating places that provided their own landing docks, we could tie up without the infamous beach landings of Costa Rica - it was nice to eat good local food on the cheap and not dread the launch back through the breaking surf when we'd dined and wined.

The frustrating permit delay began to cause us some concern. The American ketch Singularity anchored nearby had arrived a couple of days before us, they still had not received their permit either but had been promised by Carlos that everything was ok, it was all down to a new computer system that didn't yet work properly - and there was also worrying talk about a new virus found in bats that was killing people in China. 'Don't worry,' said Carlos, 'things will get sorted.' Then, we heard on the VHF radio from our good friend Wolff onboard his trimaran Del Sur, he too was heading into Boca Chica. That would be nice, it would be extremely good to see Wolff again.

Our situation was fast becoming uncertain. Our immediate concern was fresh clean water, but in three weeks time I needed to be in Panama City to take a flight to England. We were still a long way north of Panama City and this delay could easily turn into a problem. Rather than sit around we decided to leave Boca Chica without our cruising permit, technically it had been approved but not yet issued. In the meantime we could head out to the secluded islands around ten miles or so to the south, stay a few days and then return when Carlos radioed to us the news that he now had our cruising permit. Of course, it never worked out like that.

The north side of Isla Gamez is paradise, we could see our anchor buried in the sandy bottom and we could land on the small island beach without the worry of breaking surf. We could swim whenever we chose, either from the beach or by simply leaping overboard. First we started up the watermaker to fill both our freshwater tanks, we were fully stocked with food enough for a month and Wolff radioed on the VHF that he would join us there off Gamez by mid-morning. This was the dreamlike existence that made this sometimes hard and dangerous lifestyle worthwhile. No threatening storms or sheltering from high winds, no lightening or hurricanes to worry about, just a daily peaceful existence in warm sunshine with almost idealic temperatures.

Wolff anchored around three boat lengths away. He called up to say that he'd baked fresh bread earlier in the morning, I invited him over saying that we still had ample supplies of excellent organic Guatemalan coffee and good English marmalade that would go nice with his bread - which we by now knew Wolff had perfected into a fine culinary art form. It would be a fine mid-morning breakfast the three of us. Half way through the bread and coffee, when we sat there all content and full, there was banging on the hull. Dave leaned outboard to find a single lone fishermen sitting in his small one-man panga. He had fresh caught lobsters in a bin container, he'd just hauled a dozen or so out of the sea and asked if we would like to take a couple off his hands. We took three, they were still alive, we could cook them fresh. He would only take five dollars from us - which for three good sized fresh lobsters convinced us these local fishermen were exceptionally nice people. Wolff suggested that we took them ashore in the evening with wine and beer, we could barbecue them on the beach using the ample supplies of driftwood. Fantastic! This was turning into an enjoyable adventure, we all three sat there talking, happy and content.

Everything then seemed to change like a fast gathering storm cloud. The Panamanian navy patrol boat came and dropped anchor right next to us. Too close, we thought, we nearly collided. 'Shit', said Wolff, 'we're anchored here in a protected marine park, where swimming, fishing and lobster hunting is banned... and you two don't have a cruising permit.'

'Sheeeet,' Carlos said on the radio, when I called him to ask if our cruising permit had arrived because the navy was here. There was still no sign of our permit, said Carlos. In fact, the navy never bothered us, Dave took our dinghy over to their patrol boat to offer them a chunk of Wolff's bread and marmalade with a couple of bottles of beer. They were fine, they didn't seem to be overly concerned though it was clear they would be staying there overnight alongside us. In the evening we still went ashore to barbecue the lobsters, the navy boys waved and we made fried potatoes with onions and beetroot - a German speciality apparently. We drank beer and wine while watching the sunset over the nearby Islas Paridas before making our way back late in the night well under the influence of alcohol.

In the morning we were woken by more banging on the hull. I stuck my head out to see the navy, who had brought over their own version of warm fresh bread.

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.

Thieving Capuchins, Noisy Howlers

25 February 2020 | Curu Wildlife Refuge, Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
Dave Ungless
Photo: Innocent and cute looking thieves...

We sailed the nine miles or so from Bahiá Ballena to the Curu Wildlife Refuge relatively easily, the breeze being just enough to drive us along the rugged coastline through a nice flat sea. We were in no hurry to make the anchorage and by staying close inshore we could take in the spectacular rainforest landscape hemmed in by rugged granite cliffs that have long been ravaged by the relentless power of the Pacific Ocean. We rounded the headland to drop anchor about ten boat lengths or so from the beach, the bay was calm and well protected by the high island of Islas Tortugas less than a mile offshore - but we would once more be faced with a beach landing pounded by the surf to get ashore. The Curu wildlife refuge, though a vast area, is smaller than the tourist-ridden Manual Antonio Park further south, much quieter, more hidden and secluded. We'd anchored here because of the large colony of white-faced capuchins and incredibly noisy howler monkeys that lived wild in the pristine virgin rainforest of the Nicoya Peninsula. Of course, I had my own reasons for visiting the rainforest hereabouts...

Many years ago, in my construction contracting days in the north of England and Scotland, I owned two pet capuchin monkeys. White-faced capuchin monkeys in fact, Pablo and Fred. Nowadays, keeping a primate for a pet is against the law in my country and rightly so - it's no life in captivity for any primate, even in zoos they're not often kept in the right social conditions. I tried my best to give Pablo and Fred a life of relative freedom - Pablo travelled around various construction sites with me, he even possessed his own little tool-belt and hammer. He was happy enough scampering up and down the scaffolding causing a nuisance, but nighttime usually meant confinement in his small cage inside some dilapidated contractor's bed & breakfast somewhere, so Pablo was really my show off plaything - these days I know in my heart it was all wrong.

For a monkey Pablo caused a lot of trouble, his habitual trick of shaking a cooing admirer's hand while using the other hand to pull down their fly zipper to search inside for the green grapes he loved - a trick taught to him by mean-minded scaffolders working on a Glasgow hotel, lead to lots of embarrassing confrontations and sometimes intervention by the local police. Meanwhile, not so tame Fred, he escaped. He picked the lock to his garden enclosure one night and was gone. He lived through the hot summer months by climbing drainpipes during the night, entering houses through open windows to then rummage through bedroom jewellery boxes for the shiny objects he loved - often with the occupants asleep in bed. He made the local news big time during his long stint of freedom, becoming an overnight celebrity with a growing number of excited followers. So I myself was keen to see white-faced capuchins swinging free and happily content in the wild.

We anchored overnight so that we might get a good early start into the forest, there are numerous marked paths to choose from but first we would have to pay a fifteen bucks entrance fee at the ranger station - the money goes towards the upkeep of the national park and is well spent. After a good evening meal of pesto pasta with tomato bruschettas followed by a cool evening swim, we turned in for the night - but it was not an easy sleep. It was calm enough out in the bay, but howler monkeys rise extremely early before sun-up and don't much care about sleeping Englishmen. The loud whooping roar of a male howler carries a long distance from the treetops - and for every decibel of hormonal driven testosterone there is an answering crescendo of noise from every male in a wide vicinity. The noise has to be heard to be fully believed.

The ranger station opened at seven in the morning, landing the dinghy was this time quite straightforward and, other than a long drag up the beach beyond the surf line, we were ashore dry and kitted out for our long day trekking in the rainforest. We left most of our possessions that we would not immediately need in a beach bag hidden inside the dinghy, forgetting that capuchins are avid thieves beyond the reach of normal law and order - a fact that Fred's thieving instincts should have taught me only too well, it had taken me two years to pay off the fine from the hoard of Fred's stolen jewellery eventually recovered by the Nottingham police.

From the ranger station we had choices, the longer trails that followed the cliff edge around the bay would be too taxing given the limited footwear we had, so we decided to follow the river that emptied into the bay - though the ranger warned us that crocodiles habituated the waters and that we must watch our step. We refused the offer of a guide on the basis of the fifty bucks charge - Costa Rica is not known for its cheap cost of living, although we felt bad in some ways because these guides need to make their living. Nevertheless, I felt I was enough of a monkey expert to make our way through the park under our own steam. I was completely wrong of course, but fortune favours the brave.

We followed the trail by the river, it was easy enough with the coolness of the forest providing relief - the canopy shade shields out the sun and being the dry season, the relentless humidity of the monsoon wet was not yet a problem. These were the nice trekking conditions that we thoroughly enjoyed. We quickly came across white-tailed deer, armadillos, then fascinating trails of millions of leaf-cutter ants scurrying along with pieces of tree leaves they've cut free to return sometimes a mile or more back to their huge complex nests built to accommodate the demands of one single queen. Also in the forests are numerous snakes, including the ubiquitous Boa Constrictor as well as a good number of poisonous species too. In the distance, the howlers began their mid-morning crescendo roar.

We quickly found them, we just had to make our way to where they were. The howlers were high in the trees, a large colony of around a hundred or so. The noise was mind blowing whenever one of the males kicked off, we spent around an hour tracking them through the forest as they moved along through the trees. Later in the afternoon, conscious of the rising tide and our dinghy left on the beach, we made our way back to the ranger station where we could eat in the small tica restaurant serving local traditional food. Whilst there we were suddenly inundated by large numbers of capuchin monkeys rampaging through the camp stealing food from other visitors, they tried to sneak into the restaurant kitchens before deftly opening visitor's bags to rummage inside - that's when we suddenly remembered we'd left our bag inside the dinghy tied up on the beach. Too late, I pelted along the beach to scatter a large troop of capuchins that hastily escaped high into the trees - along with various items of our food and clothing, Marie's sunglasses and spare flip flops. Yup - thieving Fred would have been proud.

In the evening we returned to the beach with wine and beer, we sat watching the fabulous sunset joined by a group of young women who were camping in the ranger station lodges. From time to time we were also joined by more curious capuchins venturing onto the beach to see what they could find. It was such a nice location that we stayed anchored for a few more days, relaxing before once more making our way southwards to Costa Rica's border with Panama. Costa Rica is a nice country, it's relatively expensive with few facilities for sailboats which in many places do not seem to be welcomed, but the wildlife is there in incredible numbers if one takes the time to get ashore to explore the remote locations that being boat bound allows.

Of course, the relentless march of tourism is rapidly changing all of this. You really must go to Costa Rica, even before you go anywhere else.
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 Good Night Out Through The Surf...

17 February 2020 | Bahiá Ballena, Costa Rica
Dave Ungless
Photo: Five minutes from landing the dinghy through the wet surf...

We both sat outside the beachside bar, absolutely dripping wet and once more disconsolate. We were outside because we'd look ridiculous inside, especially in the state we were in. The waiter told us we were making the whole patio sodden wet, he seemed reluctant to serve us but I guess his trade wasn't that good. We ordered two marguerites anyway, I added a cold beer to get the bitter taste of salt out of my mouth. I told Marie that she looked particularly sexy in her wet tee-shirt, but she didn't say much, nor did she look amused - I told her this same ridiculous half-compliment every time we made another memorable dinghy landing through the surf - it was beginning to wear a bit thin.

We'd still not really mastered the technique. Having tried all the different ways suggested by other sailors we were now on our third set of dinghy wheels, having discarded the previous ones as useless, not fit for purpose and not able to keep us dry. Our current technique, soon to be discarded, was to charge at high speed through the surf having timed the relevant sequence of waves, I would then strategically lift the outboard at exactly the right moment whilst Marie leaped out - sometimes deep up to her chest - to grab the painter line to guide us up on to the beach. This latest one had been a particularly disaster, with Marie completely submerged under the dinghy with the next breaking wave then swamping the boat with me inside. Of course, we were both dressed up to the eyeballs for the night out I'd promised having been anchored off in Bahía Ballena for four days in thirty knot winds. Through the binoculars, I'd confidently informed Marie that the surf this time looked easy, we could get ashore dry and safe without being soaked to the skin.

There are maybe a half-dozen techniques for landing through the surf, even less so for launching back off the beach although, at this point, getting wet isn't so much of a problem because your next destination is the sanctuary of your boat - unless you have two large-sized takeaway pizzas with you like we had in Tamarindo. Launching your dinghy off the beach through the surf is no mean feat and not for the faint hearted. Our soggy pizzas had been recommended as particularly good too. But when you are landing ashore to shop for supplies or to checkin with the harbourmaster or, even worse, when you have promised your wife a good night out with fine wine and food, then it's rather more problematic. Marie's preferred technique right now, if she can find a big enough tree, is to take her fancy going-out clothes and makeup in a black waste bin liner, then change behind the tree or something like that once we've managed to get ashore - but sometimes that's not so easy on a crowded beach. These days I steer the dinghy for a good wet-clothes changing tree or maybe a place with not so many people around so that Marie might get dressed, she then relies on me to tell her that her makeup looks ok - which has gotten me into trouble once or twice when she's finally found a mirror in some bar. Sometimes, we just accept our 'ragged appearance' and brazen it out.

It's worse when I sit drying in a bar or restaurant then watch some suntanned dude ride his inflatable dinghy ashore like he's breaking in a wild stallion, standing with his one arm raised high with sunglasses perfectly in place. You know the sort I mean, the one whose fashionable dressed female companion steps elegantly straight onto the beach bone dry, to casually realign her lipstick whilst he effortlessly pulls their dinghy up the beach beyond the surf line. I myself sit there dripping wet, I would gladly smash his glasses off his head. Costa Rica is particularly bad because there are few safe anchorages, even fewer with any decent landing facilities and the marinas are so repulsively expensive. To check into the country involves a hairy surf landing before sitting in various public offices for customs and immigration whilst absolutely sodden to the core. Take Playa del Coco for example, we trampled from the harbourmaster to immigration having been previously submerged under the breaking waves of the Pacific Ocean only fifteen minutes previously.

Marie's main gripe is that all her friends think we have a so-called life of Riley, that they have no idea of what she has to go through for a simple margarita. But she still smiles, when I say to her that her hair looks nice, even though it's dripping wet in knots. But after a few margaritas, and one or two gin & tonics, then everything is straightaway fine and dandy - until it's that dreaded time to drag the dinghy down the beach to launch back out through the breaking surf. Usually it's dark by then, because we've had more to drink than we said we would, we've forgotten the flashlight torch and we can never be bothered to change into something less fashionable in the darkness of the beach. Our latest launching method means that I sit in the dinghy ready to lower the outboard whilst Marie strips down to her underwear, then she launches us out into the surf until she's in the water up to her chest and I haul her into the dinghy like a sodden wet whale with the outboard hopefully by this time running. If I time it wrong, or the outboard doesn't start, then we get washed ashore and have to start the whole process again.

Most safety conscious sailors tell us how dangerous it is to launch from the beach under the influence of alcohol, especially in the dark, but we've found it helps enormously if we giggle our way offshore trying to remember exactly where we've anchored Sänna. So raise a glass and think how much we suffer when you next drink your G&T's or cool beers.

Wheels up or wheels down? The bastards...
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.

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El Salvador to Costa Rica 2019

17 January 2020 | Marina Papagayo, Costa Rica
Marie Ungless
Photo: The idealic Bahiá Del Sol has many hidden secrets...

We crossed the sandbar into the Bahiá Del Sol, El Salvador in mid-October 2018. We intended to stay only a few days for rest, then refuel to continue our voyage southwards towards Panama. Of course, it never worked out like that, but when do plans ever work out like you plan?

We finally left El Salvador having patched up our lightening damage in October 2019, meaning that we had spent a whole year in the Bahiá Del Sol. We both felt mixed feelings, El Salvador had not been an easy stopover, dengue fever, cockroach infestation and lightening damage all contributed to our experience though good friends there made things far more memorable. Certainly Bill's mooring buoys enabled us to spend a good summer back in England - and without Bill & Jeans incredible hospitality the Bahiá Del Sol would not have been so easily tenable for such a long period. In the end we were both glad to cross the sandbar to Honduras, though sad to leave long-standing friends.

This post is our personal record of 2019 and continues the 'Where Are We Now' section of our website. Please follow the link below to read the full post...

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16 December 2019 | Playa Del Coco, Costa Rica
Dave Ungless
Photo: The rainstorm looked nothing much until it hit us...

Daylight faded rather too quickly, Marie pointed to what seemed to be a rainstorm off our port side, it looked strangely ominous but not that threatening. We had seen storms like this before, there was no lightening or dark heavy thunderclouds, there was nothing that bothered me unduly, not that deep pitch in your stomach when you know you're going to get hit unless you do something. I looked at the sails, by this time both our main and headsail were full out, their shapes filled out nicely. We had unreefed only a few moments before, now we made around five knots or so through the water in about ten to twelve knots of breeze across our stern quarter - we should easily be able to drop anchor in Playa De Coco sometime after dark. We were both relieved to be sailing well after finally shaking off the Papagayo's rounding Punta Elena - the heavy stuff was now surely behind us. Marie said maybe we should reef down if there was some bad rain heading our way. I looked again, maybe we would get wet but it really didn't look that bad. Much better to get into the shelter of Playa Coco - it would not be easy anchoring in the dark with all the moorings there.

A few minutes later Sänna broached hard as the breeze suddenly veered off to our port bow, the sails flapping wildly out of control. The wind blew crazily in a new direction, from ten knots of breeze on the wind vain, I watched it climb - in the half light I saw it increase to twenty, thirty, forty knots, then it climbed to over fifty knots and hung around the sixty figure all in a few moments. We had not encountered anything like this since the lightening storms back in Mexico. This was the thing - there was not the dreadful warning of lightening and thunder that suddenly drives bad winds against you. By this time we were in dire trouble - all in the space of less than thirty seconds. Then came the torrential downpour rain. The autopilot alarm burst into life, screaming warning beeps into the chaos as the rudder disconnected from the pilot, the pressure on the helm was too great to hold a course when the vice like windstorm gripped us. By now there was serious risk of losing our sails, they flapped wildly, they would tear themselves apart if we didn't get them under control quickly. The boom swung full across the boat, then the main sheet snapped taught, almost breaking. The noise from our near shredding sails was indescribable, you can't explain that to anyone. Sänna pulled full into the squall as the sails filled with nearly seventy knots of wind. She couldn't take this. We started to lean over to starboard, neither of us wore our life vests and Sänna was beginning to go over. I grabbed the helm to steer out of the wind - no response, the force of the wind was far too great. I screamed to Marie to let both sails go, but she was already ahead of me - the boom and sheets flayed loose as she let them go - good one Marie. Well done. She probably saved us. Sänna then leaned and leaned, the starboard deck was in the water, the sea poured through the open portlights - much more of this and we would easily capsize. I couldn't control the helm, we were at the mercy of this devil wind that was surely going to sink us. The bows crashed under the water - the storm wave cascaded through, flooding the cockpit, Marie turned and stared - she knew we were in bad trouble. I looked back hard, I could see in her wide eyes that she thought we would go under. I tried with all my strength to steer the bows through the wind to heave-to. No response. The gale had us firmly in its grip. I turned the helm to somehow get downwind, again nothing happened. Marie winched the sails hard in, she was thinking straight, she got the lines tight under control. Another huge gust - we once more leaned right over to our starboard side with yet more green sea inundating below.

It wasn't the sea - there were no breaking or rolling waves to capsize us. In my mind I knew we were going to be ok, whenever Sänna leaned hard over the wind blew off the top of the sails, we always came back up - it was the volume of water down below that might sink us. I pulled and pulled on the helm, Sänna began to come around - Marie instinctively eased the sails as we came off the wind, Marie was a gem, once more she was the big game changer. The rain by now was torrential but we didn't mind that, it washed the salt-cake from our eyes. Where had this rainstorm come from? It was the dry season, it hadn't rained for weeks.

Then it passed, as quickly as the wind came it died. It rained and rained but the wind dropped like a saturated sack. Sänna came fully upright - we quickly dropped the sails to start the engine, I was out on deck furling in the mainsail, I was absolutely sodden wet in nothing but a tee shirt. Every damn thing came under control. Then our navigation lights suddenly cut out - it was tar-black and we couldn't see a thing. We were around two hours out from Coco, later in the darkness of the moonless night we motored in around the headland without navigation lights. Marie stood rain-soaked on the bows to guide us in, she told me when to drop the anchor. Then we checked everything, Sänna was ok, where was the water below that would've sunk us? Everything was dry.

'I thought we'd had it,' Marie said. We devoured the pesto pasta like two hungry kids. The anchorage was calm with no moon, we could make out the indistinct shapes of other vessels but we'd anchored well out. 'Welcome to Costa Rica,' I said.
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The Papagayo’s to San Juan Del Sur

11 December 2019 | San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua
Marie Ungless
Photo: The statue of Christ of the Mercy watches over San Juan Del Sur...

From Puesta Del Sol we had choices, the main one being our flights to England - both Dave and myself wished to fly back to the UK for Christmas. We had pre-booked tickets from San Salvador, but on a practical level that meant returning north from Nicaragua to the Bahiá Del Sol. Neither of us wanted that - though we had made many good friends in Bahiá Del Sol, El Salvador had not been a massively overwhelming experience during the year we had spent there. We'd had problems, first with our cat Nellie hunting and bringing cockroaches onboard - which had been a devil to get rid of, then Dave had been quite ill with Dengue Fever. On top of that we'd been struck by lightening. Though it was easy enough to get to the airport from Bill & Jeans buoys, we'd since made the decision to leave El Salvador to head southwards through Nicaragua and Costa Rica to find somewhere to leave Sänna whilst we travelled back to England. We figured that we could somehow get flights back to San Salvador so that we could use our original return flight tickets to the UK. We soon found that indeed we could travel back north - but not easily, everywhere we looked involved long four or five hour drives to regional airports using buses, taxis or rental cars for connecting flights to El Salvador - and all the marinas we investigated in Costa Rica were incredibly over-the-top expensive and we now had our bitter insurance battle with our insurers Allianz over our lightening damage. None of it looked easy - so we made the reluctant but sensible decision to return northwards to the Bahiá Del Sol to once more tie up to one of Bill's mooring buoys.

We were sad to leave Nicaragua. On the evening before our departure from Puesta Del Sol we re-affirmed to each other that our decision to head north was right, it made total sense. We planned to rise early to catch the morning tide, Top Cider had already grounded on the sandbank when they left a few days before so we needed as much tide water as we could to reach open sea. I awoke to find Dave already up and about, he brewed my morning tea then sat himself down.

Let's head south, he said. I was surprised, then asked why. He told me he didn't like the thought of yet more time in the Bahiá Del Sol, he said that although everything made sense to go back north he wanted to head south. We'd work things out and something would turn up. I thought about this for only a second or two then agreed - all our planning and deliberation during the past week went out of the window. We already had our departure papers and Nicaraguan Zarpe international clearance for El Salvador - though we could easily change these to head south to Nicaragua's southern border with Costa Rica. We could get a new domestic Zarpe to then exit Nicaragua in San Juan Del Sur. Our passports could be stamped out there too. We untied Sänna, drifted out into the channel and told Singularity that we were heading south, not north.

The first big problem we had were the Papagayo winds. These infamous winds gust up to forty knots or more most days and would be against us. Blowing from the Caribbean side of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, these winds present a real challenge, a challenge discussed almost daily by American and Canadian sailboats back in the Bahiá Del Sol. The best plan to tackle the Papagayo's, we were told, was to wait for a weather gap then go for it over a few days and nights - but we would not have this luxury with our sudden decision to leave Puesta Del Sol. Dave made the point that we'd sailed strong headwinds with big seas numerous times before, Sänna was in her prime heading upwind, we could just deal with it. We estimated a two day overnight passage from Puesta Del Sol to San Juan Del Sur, most of it in the Papagayo headwinds - the distance was around a hundred and forty or so miles.

To begin with we had good downwind sailing with around fifteen to twenty knots across our stern - nice sailing. Then, just off the Estero La Garito river estuary, the winds backed then veered suddenly in almost every direction before settling to blow through fifty to sixty degrees off our port bow. In the short distance of about half a mile they blew up from five to well over forty knots. Wow! The main problem with these Papagayo winds is that they're not constant, they gust. They gust suddenly, from ten up to fifty knots in just a few minutes so it's difficult to set your sails. Constantly reefing and unreefing is fine if you have a good strong crew prepared to work relentlessly through the night - but when there's just the two of you with the skipper insisting on restful sleep then it becomes hard work trying to keep a constant boat speed through difficult seas. We'd made the prior decision to set our storm sails then just accept the slowing down during the intermittent lulls. Sänna always sails best with her storm sails set so we unfurled our inner staysail then reefed the main with one reef, furling away our main headsail tight. We would be on a constant starboard lean through rough seas so we tied everything down below, we would be in storm conditions throughout the night. I made up a single lean-to storm bunk, meaning that one of us could sleep while the other stood watch. Then we remembered how many times we'd done this before, sometimes for many long weeks when we'd crossed the big oceans to be here. We were actually quite excited.

It can only be said that we experienced glorious sailing all the way to San Juan Del Sur. We had both forgotten how much we love upwind sailing, much rather the constant lean-to of the boat to rock'n'rolling our way infuriatingly downwind. Sänna is designed with a fin keel and spade rudder - not every sailor's cup of tea, many sailors prefer the comforting safety of long bilge-keels with supported skeg rudders - but at the expense of sailing good-to-wind upwind. That's not for us, we'd made a conscious decision to find a boat to circumnavigate eastwards against the prevailing winds... so Sänna's keel design is an important factor in what we are trying to do. She's sturdily built to high German standards, we've never to date experienced undue problems. Right now we experienced the most invigorating sailing since we'd left Port Townsend for San Fransisco over two years before.

I took the first overnight watch while Dave slept soundly below. It was rough going but everything was under control, I did not experience any problems through my night watch. We had the occasional big wave break over our bows but Sänna generally cut through the waves with comfortable ease. Around two in the morning I woke Dave to take over the watch. I told him there was nothing to worry about so far and that we were making good speed. I then went down to sleep below. In the morning, I woke to glorious sunshine with Dave fast asleep in the cockpit. I gave him a strong piece of my mind, this is not good sailing practice at all, he would be summarily dismissed from most crews for falling asleep on watch. I looked around, we were still on course courtesy of the autopilot, we were about a mile or two offshore. Sänna was taking everything in her stride, pounding through the seas while leaned over to starboard with almost dry decks, the winds blew between twenty-five to forty-five knots with the seas reasonable okay because we had the distant shelter of land, meaning that the predominantly offshore winds didn't build up into rough storm seas. The winds backed and veered from time to time between fifty-five and forty degrees - good angles for sailing upwind. Sänna will normally sail well down to even thirty degrees off the bow.

I made a porridge breakfast with a decent cup of Yorkshire Gold tea. We would easily make San Juan Del Sur by mid-afternoon, it has a nice wide bay entrance with a good sheltered anchorage. Approaching the bay our radio suddenly crackled into life with Ankyrios calling up - they'd been watching our approach for a while on their AIS. We knew they were in San Juan Del Sur with an incapacitated engine - courtesy of the panga fishermen with their long lines. Ankyrios is a catamaran with two engines, they'd limped into harbour on their one remaining engine. We dropped anchor around three boat lengths from Ankyrios, while talking with them on the VHF there was banging on the hull - the Nicaraguan harbour officials were here already after only fifteen minutes of dropping anchor.

Nicaraguan officials are fine and friendly. There were four of them, the harbourmaster, customs officer, immigration and the health official. We explained that we were not entering Nicaragua, we'd sailed down from Puesta Del Sol having already checked into Nicaragua there. They inspected our papers, drank coffee then we talked about Nicaragua and England for around an hour or so. Nicaragua is an exceptionally friendly country - we were told to contact them again when we decided to leave for Costa Rica. Our biggest problem was that we both loved San Juan Del Sur immensely, it's a laid-back backpacker's paradise with everything we needed, we could get ashore easily by landing the dinghy at the cruise dock to walk five minutes into the town, there were great places to eat and drink and it was so cheap.

We stayed in San Juan Del Sur a few days, most days with the Papagayo's howling away even though we were well protected. We vowed that we would come back to San Juan Del Sur but, of course, we never will. We never do. We always say this - if we counted all the places we would one day go back to then Bob's your uncle. We both agreed that we'd made the best decision to head southwards rather than back to El Salvador.

The Papagayo's? The Papagayo's are nothing much to be feared even though we'd have to brave them once more when we left Nicaragua to cross the border into Costa Rica. Of course, at this moment in time, having said this, we had no inclination of what awaited us at the infamous headland of Punta Santa Elana - and the near disaster that hit us approaching the anchorage of Playa Del Coco in Costa Rica.
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.

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28 November 2019 | Puesta Del Sol, Nicaragua
Dave Ungless
Photo: Laguna De Apoyo, the lake of volcanoes...

The driver leaned out of his window, he started thumping the roof of our car violently. How he managed this with one hand still steering his taxi at high speed through the myriad of traffic was beyond me, all I'd done was switch lanes. I raised my hand in a display of English benevolence which seemed to enrage him more - then, dread of dreads, the lights ahead changed to red which meant we'd stop side-by-side with the irate taxi. To both my consternation and utter relief, every vehicle ignored the red light like it wasn't there, we joined the throng of horn-honking traffic merging from the right. The taxi, with the driver still waving his fist, was swiftly outmanoeuvred by a decrepit old truck chugging smoke from its exhaust. We escaped - I wouldn't die a strangled death on the fume-ridden freeway. Then I drove like a crazed madman across all three lanes with Marie shouting excited directions from her smartphone which itself was about to die. The phone died, we lost the google map that was our only safe way out - we stopped at the next red lights. Marie wound down her window to buy an adapter from the one-legged vendor plying his trade in the lanes of stationary cars. We both laughed, two bucks for a charger wasn't bad. Straightaway it didn't charge.

Managua, Nicaragua. We'd been warned - don't try to drive through the centre of the capital city Managua. We both agreed it might be even worse than Cairo, but not quite, nothing can be as bad as Cairo. We were lost, we decided to stop to get ourselves some fried chicken, then had to pay a tattooed gang-looking guy to watch over our rental car. It's safe enough I told him - No, it's not, he replied. He wouldn't believe our wreck of a car was a hire car. I asked him if he could show us the road to Granada - sure, he said, for another dollar in his hand. I gave him a buck... he told us we were already on the road to Granada. I laughed my stupid laugh, the laugh I use to show when I'm someone's bestest mate. I gave him my last piece of chicken, he gave us his charger. A few hours later we arrived in the pitch-dark at the Laguna De Apoyo. Marie had played a blinder, booking a wild Airbnb on her smartphone whilst on the move with only one-bar signal - it was superb. We were in the high rainforest overlooking the vivid-blue volcanic lagoon, in the morning the sun rose magnificent over the blameless-blue lake, we showered under the outdoor open shower then decided to stay an extra couple of nights. We spent the day lounging around, we relaxed then swam in the warm sulphurous lake - it was a fantastic location. Maybe, in the next day or so, we would head for Granada, the supposed jewel of Central America. This time we'd take time out in luxurious style by staying in the old colonial Spanish hotel right on the corner of the main square. Granada really is the magnificent gem of Nicaragua. We loved Nicaragua. You really should go to Nicaragua.

Our main worry, that plagued our minds throughout, was would the old crank of a rental car get us back to Puesta Del Sol where we'd left Sänna tied up. We got back fine after a couple of weeks, Puesta Del Sol was deserted of other boats when we left but when we arrived back, Singularity and Top Cider had arrived from the Bahiá Del Sol. A few days later Top Cider left to go south but went the wrong side of the entrance buoy.
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.

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The Sandbar

08 November 2019 | Amapala, Honduras
Marie Ungless
Photo: Surf breaking over the sandbar can easily broach a sailboat

Three vessels in line heading out through the surf, Bill and the sandbar pilot ahead in their panga, ourselves around twenty metres or so behind, then the Kelly family onboard their catamaran Ankyrios. This was to be our attempt to cross the infamous entrance bar to the Bahiá Del Sol. Of course, many boats had made it over the bar out to sea before us, some had gone well, others had not. Whether it's down to good seamanship, good pilotage or just plain good luck is difficult to say. Like every other vessel before us, we'd crossed the sandbar once already, when we'd made our entrance to El Salvador around a year before.

The worst accident we witnessed crossing the sandbar was the American ketch Octopus Garden. They'd timed it wrong, they broached in the horrible surf, tried to right things but then their standing rigging parted, nearly bringing down their mast. To make things worse, their rudder quadrant broke and they lost their steerage too. Dave was just one who went out with the fishermen to tow them back in. They were fine, but fixing things up in the Bahiá Del Sol would not have been be easy.

Both Sänna and Ankyrios made it out over the sandbar ok. The surf was bad, but nowhere near the worst we'd seen. Bill waved us goodbye from his panga, he and Jean had become good friends over the time we'd been in El Salvador. Our plan now was to make the hundred miles or so south-east overnight to Golfo Fonseca, we would anchor behind Isla Meanguera before heading up to Honduras only a few miles north, we could then anchor off the Isla Del Tigre. This was the Kelly's plan onboard Ankyrios too. But first there were the notorious long-lines of the panga fishermen, this supposed danger was always the subject of much talk amongst the Yankee and Canadian sailboats. What's your plan they'd ask. We didn't have a plan, it was easy enough. The numerous fishing pangas with their lights and long-lines waiting to ensnare sailboats were always two to three miles offshore, we stayed inshore as close as we could, we simply avoided the bright lights. Ankyrios did not, but then the stupid pilot book says to stay two to three miles offshore to avoid hidden dangers, which Ankyrios did. They got snared, they lost one of their sail-drive engines.

We headed into the scenic Fonseca gulf then anchored. We got boarded by the Salvadorian navy checking our papers, but we'd already checked out with customs and immigration in the Bahía Del Sol, our documents were in good order. These navy guys were friendly enough.

Golfo Fonseca borders three countries, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. From Isla Meanguera we made the few miles north to Isla Del Tigre in Honduras. We anchored off the picturesque fishing village of Amapala, went ashore with Ankyrios and did the easiest checkin and immigration we'd done for a long time.

Dead easy... and it was free.
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.

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Crocodile Conundrum...

28 October 2019 | Bahiá Del Sol, El Salvador
Dave Ungless
Photo: Four deadly crocodile attacks in four years...

Denny told us his boys wouldn't dive to clean Sänna's hull. 'Cocodrilo' they said. At first we didn't understand Denny's poor English but it was obvious they were highly agitated about something. "Cocodrilo," repeated Denny, then he reached for his smart phone to show me his previous evening's video.

Crocodile! Now it was clear even to me with my terrible Spanish. The four of them sat in their panga laughing, trying to edge each other into the water but they were having none of it. Meanwhile, I was desperate to get Sänna's hull and prop cleaned before we left Bahiá Del Sol for Golfo Fonseca and Honduras, Denny explained that a big four-metre long crocodile had been seen swimming amongst all of the moored boats just off the village. I later learned that fishermen on the island had tried towing dead chickens through the water to catch the thing or to entice it away to some other place. We ourselves didn't even realise there were crocodiles in the Bahiá Del Sol - we had been happily paddling around in our inflatable dinghy for weeks.

The ferocious croc in Bahiá Del Sol was an American Saltwater Crocodile. Reading up on the website CrocBite, an amazing online data source that records every worldwide crocodile attack ever, probably since the advent of Adam & Eve, there have been a number of vicious croc attacks in El Salvador. Since 2007 there have been four attacks, the latest in 2016 when thirty year old Edgardo Antonio Velasque was mauled whilst fishing in El Zanjon El Chino. In all, the American Crocodile has been responsible for three hundred and eighteen human attacks throughout the croc-infested Americas - and this croc is not even amongst the most deadly. Worldwide, four thousand one hundred and eighty attacks are recorded on CrocBite to date, two thousand six hundred of those being fatal... and in all of those, two thousand four hundred and twenty three have been the ferocious Saltwater Crocodile, with the Nile Crocodile not far behind with one thousand three hundred and five. So the American Croc is a mere docile baby compared to those two man-devouring beasts.

Having spent a good deal of time in northern Australia with Sänna, we are well used to the dangers of the deadly Saltwater Crocodile that sees off so many Aussies there. We remember the time when a six-metre monster followed us through the tidal lock into the marina in Darwin and being warned in Gove not to take the same route ashore in the dinghy more than three times - a fourth time would be fatal. We never went into the water until we got well past Cairns... then it was sharks and the jellyfish that got you. But we never thought for one second that benign El Salvador would be croc savage.

Denny and his boys did go into the water to clean the hull. I dangled the fifty bucks as bait and the temptation was just too great. They thought about things for a while then decided the money made the risk acceptable. My mistake then was jokingly pointing to a disturbance in the water, at which time all three of them leaped vertically out of the water like ballistic missiles heading for Russia.

Denny, still dry as a bone in his panga, thought this hilarious...
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.

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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. He said...

'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...

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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....
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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.

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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:

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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...

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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.

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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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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 >
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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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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.
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 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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