Seychelles- Chagos - Maldives
21 July 2021
After another pleasant stay in the Seychelles, our visa was up and it was time to move on again. The Seychelles Health Department had been very generous in afforded us two doses of Astra Zeneca each at no cost. That had been one of our primary purposes for revisiting the Seychelles. We hoped this would stand us in good stead for further travels and our mission to fly back to Australia for our son Sams' wedding in November. We had applied for a permit to visit the Chagos Islands which lay 1000 miles due east of the Seychelles and 1800 miles west of Sumatra. Virtually in the middle of the Indian Ocean. There have been many stories written by off the grid sailors spending months in these deserted atoll so for us another bucket list item to tick off.
At this time of year, it was going to be an upwind passage. Not our best point of sail, especially for a 1000-mile passage. The winds were however light and with all the Covid uncertainty we had plenty of time with our onwards plans basically in limbo.
The British Indian Ocean Territory of Chagos is strictly controlled with no tourism and yachts only allowed to stop for a rest period during their Indian Ocean passage.
A little bit of history:
The French were the first to lay a claim to the Chagos after they settled Réunion and Mauritius and started issuing permits for companies to establish coconut oil plantations in the 1770's. In 1786 the Chagos Islands and Diego Garcia were claimed by Great Britain. however, the territory was only ceded to Britain by treaty after Napoleon's defeat, in 1814.
In 1793, when the first successful colony was founded on Diego Garcia, the largest island, coconut plantations were established on many of the atolls and isolated islands of the archipelago. Initially the workers were slaves from Madagascar and Mozambique, but after 1840 they were freemen, many of whom were descended from those earlier slaves.
In 1903 the Archipelago was administratively separated from the Seychelles and attached to and governed by Mauritius which was also a British Colony .
In November 1965, the UK purchased the entire Chagos Archipelago from the then self- governing colony of Mauritius to create the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), with the intent of ultimately closing the plantations. In 1966, the USA and the UK executed an agreement permitting the US Armed Forces to use any island of the BIOT for defence purposes for 50 years, followed by a 20-year optional extension (to 2036). To date, only the atoll of Diego Garcia has been transformed into a military facility. The is listed as a protected marine reserve.
Between 1967 and 1973, the entire population was removed from Diego Garcia to make way for the military base. Some plantation workers and their families were initially moved to the plantations on Peros Banhos and Salomon atolls in the northwest of the archipelago, and all others sent to either Mauritius or the Seychelles. However in 1972, the UK decided to close all the remaining plantations and deported the remaining Islanders.
In 2019, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that the UK's occupation of the Chagos Islands, including Diego Garcia, is unlawful, and that the United Kingdom is legally obliged to hand them back to Mauritius "as rapidly as possible. Let's see how that goes...........!
It is forbidden for yachts to go to Diego Garcia. Currently yachts are only allowed to visit the atolls of Salomon and Peros Banhos, the site of the last coconut plantations. You can apply for a permit for a maximum of 4 weeks only. Permission is purely granted for the purpose of safe passage whilst transiting the Indian Ocean. They are discouraging any sort of commercial activity or tourism and it seems any Mauritians or Seychellois wanting to return. The numbers of yachts allowed to visit during Covid was also limited to only 3.
So how lucky were we. The passage took just over 10 days and was actually quite pleasant. A new Iridium Go had generously been suppleid by "Predict Wind" at their own expense. Now we had access to some good weather files which allowed us to sail the majority of the way albeit with long tacks, only motoring for the last 24-30 hours. We arrived at the atoll of Peros Banhos and were the only yacht there. We anchored in 22 metres off Isle du Coin, the weather was very settled so anchorage depth was not a problem.
The atoll is teeming with coconut palms and coral reefs. We spent 3 days here just checking out the old coconut plantation ruins and accommodations. All inhabitants were deported from the island in 1973, all except that is for one lonely donkey. I was sitting on the shore whilst Ashley was strolling the beach looking for flotsam when I thought I heard something. I looked up and to my absolute astonishment, I saw a donkey looking back at me. He was a very healthy looking specimen. I didn't approach too closely but went in search of Ashley. By the time we returned he had disappeared. We later learned from the fisheries patrol vessel that there had been numerous donkeys on the island prior to the relocations. They moved all the donkeys to Diego Garcia but this young fellow was inadvertently left behind. Which means he would have been in the vicinity of 50 years old. I wasn't aware donkeys lived that long, and this fellow looked rather young and healthy. Must be the coconuts.
We basically just hung out, swam, fished and explored and recovered from the passage. We then motored across to Salomon Atoll where we intending spending the next few weeks. It was reported that it was a better anchorage in these south easterly trade winds. On the way over we experienced a problem with the gear box. We limped our way in and once anchored discovered water in the oil. Ashley deduced that is was coming from the heat exchanger (oil cooler). After draining the gearbox and flushing it a number of times we refilled it and removed the heat exchanger. We continued to try and pressure test to see if we could find the leak, but no luck. After much communication with the gearbox manufacturers it was determined that we could remove the cooler and run the engine at low revs without it.
Our first anchorage was off Ile de Fouquet, also in 22 metres of water. With a south easterly wind this was fine as it was blowing us offshore. There were hundreds of red footed boobies nesting in the trees and a significant amount of terns. Once again the island was full of coconut palms, so we collected a few, drank the milk and grated the rest with which we made coconut milk and dried the remainder. The fishing was really good so crew were pretty happy particularly the cat.
We had heard that you could get sudden northerly squalls that were not forecast and the wrecked catamaran on the beach was a constant reminder. The other anchorage that was available to us (there are restrictions on where you can anchor) was off Ile de Boddam on the south western side of the atoll. As the wind was predicted to swing from the SE we decided to go to Ile Boddam. This was the site of another Copra plantation and processing plant and also housed the cemetery for the islands departed inhabitants.
The only problem with this anchorage is that there are numerous reefs and isolated coral bommies, making it difficult to anchor as you stand the chance of getting your anchor fouled. We had read that there were numerous moorings in the bay where previous yachties have secured moorings lines and chains around isolated bommies. We only found two on our arrival. One was a little to close to shore for us so we chose the other which had two pickup buoys attached. We secured both and within the first 5 minutes the first chain broke. Ashley dived to check out the "mooring" which was 60mm heavy line wrapped around a large coral head. He attached a new shackle and 2 separate lines to secure Windjammer. We didn't have any spare chain to use as a riser line, so used some old sheets. It was reasonably settled the first day or two and all was good. There were a number of black tip reef sharks that were constantly visiting us, following us in the dinghy and coming for a visit when we swam ashore. Very curious indeed.
Ashore there was the Chagos "Yacht Club", an old plantation building that had been used as a meeting place for the congregations of yachties over the years. It was eerily quiet during our stay though. We left our mark or buoy should I say.
Over the next few days the wind was all over the place, it was a little nerve racking with reef all around you. Whilst we were fairly confident in the security of our lines, which Ashley checked daily, the swinging wind and isolated coral heads were a bit of a worry, so we dropped the "mooring" and returned to the anchorage off Ile de Fouquet. Then one afternoon and big NW wind hit us suddenly and we were on a lee shore. We reacted pretty quickly, upped anchor and hightailed put of there and decided to anchor off Ile Anglaise at the north end of the atoll. Phew -escaped again.
This was magical little island with lots of turtles around the reefs. Ashore we came across these huge coconut crabs, big and strong enough to tear the husk and shell of the coconut to get to the flesh. The next day was incredibly still with no wind and 20 metre visibility. We got out the kayaks and paddled the length of the island. There is also an old shipwreck on this island, an old wooden fishing vessel. Also washed up on the beach was a NOAA weather buoy. It looked brand new and it had obviously broken its mooring and found its way into the atoll.
Being on the equator there is often long periods of calm. We had reasonable wind forecast for the following day or two and decided to take it as we still had not managed to repair the heat exchanger, so needed to keep engine hours to a minimum. It was 300 miles to the southern most atoll in the Maldives so we departed with a nice brisk south easterly. Unfortunately, it only lasted 24 hours and then dropped off to a light easterly but by the time it died out we had covered more than 240 miles. So we motored the rest of the way and arrived at the island of Gan in the Adduu atoll just on sunset.
The entrance to the lagoon where we were to anchor has a small cut through the reef and not navigable at night. The satellite files we had were pretty sketchy so if we hadn't made it by sunset it meant another night sitting outside the atoll. Good timing overall. We dropped anchor in the middle of the lagoon amongst 4 other tourist boats on moorings. It was fairly limited in terms of swinging room so could only lay out 30 metres of chain, (we normally don't use any less than 40m but it was reasonably protected.
We learnt on arrival that customs would not clear us in until late the following afternoon and that now we needed a PCR test which they could not do until late the next afternoon.....waiting waiting! We eventually had the PCR test and were advised we would get the results late the next afternoon and would not be able to go ashore until then. So it was that we spent a full 3 days waiting for formalities before being able to leave the boat.
Zanzibar to Seychelles
21 March 2021
The prospect of sitting around for months on end waiting for the Covid to dissipate had little appeal for us, so what to do.....Flights to South Africa were still operating and their borders were open so hey why not go and visit brother Mark and help out in the Restaurant. So off we went.
Mark has this fabulous restaurant called Pascal's in the little "Dorpie" (town) of Napier in the Overberg about 2hrs drive from Cape Town. We were soon put to work manning stands at the local markets selling homemade pies and pastries from the restaurant, a great way to get to know the locals.
Napier has quite a large expat community and Pascal's is the place to meet particularly during Covid as the sale of booze had been banned. So it was a bit like prohibition....two knocks on the door to let you in sort of thing. We also managed to do a few road trips through the Garden Route and to Cape Town. So after a very enjoyable two months in South Africa we flew back to Tanzania.
We had hoped to get a Covid vaccine in South Africa but it was not to be. A farmer friend of Mark's gave us a vial of Ivermectin, just in case. So what is ivermectin? It is a treatment for parasites in animals that's been around for ever. It was a hot topic in South Africa and many locals were using it both as a prophylactic and treatment. There were some studies in Australia and the US suggesting that it did indeed kill the Covid virus, but as it had not been fully tested was not cleared for human use. It was however approved by the South African FCC for use with their front line workers. It was a daunting thought going back to Tanzania not knowing what the Covid situation was like, with its poor medical facilities and flagrant disregard for the virus.
As we flew into Zanzibar, it was evident not much had changed in terms of Covid control. We took a connecting flight to Tanga and a week later the deputy president of Zanzibar died of Covid and then the Tanzanian president Magafuli finally recognised that Covid was indeed an issue in the country. Mask wearing and hand washing became a familiar site, although not as prevalent as other countries. Our thoughts were that it was best to make tracks, or in our case "wakes" as soon as possible, so we set about provisioning and doing a few mechanical jobs that needed doing.
The plan was to sail to Zanzibar marina to take on fuel and water. We contacted a friend from South Africa to do the crossing with us. His wife had recently passed and he had friends in the Seychelles who were keen for him to come and visit. As the week progressed the weather window deteriorated with the wind slowly dying off and swinging to the east. Not good for us as we were eastbound with 1000 miles to go.
Alas we fuelled up with extra diesel, did the last provisioning and activated our satellite device, the IridiumGO". This would provide all our weather reports and email access for the next two weeks...........Nada! For hours I tried to activate the unit but no go, I tried calling Predict Wind (who had supplied the unit to us 14 months ago) but as the support line is only available from 8.00am to 4.00pm Monday to Friday New Zealand time, and it was a Sunday, it was not much use to me. I did however manage to speak to someone who was in Europe? who tried to help but to no avail. We had to leave as we only had two days of reasonable wind before it turned easterly and then nothing at all. So at around 5.00pm we made the call to leave without it and take our chances on the weather.
About 5 hours into our journey both Ashley and I started feeling unwell. I soon recorded a temperature of 39 deg with a bad headache and feeling very lethargic. Ashley developed a cough and headache and a creeping temperature. Covid had struck! What to do...turning back was not an option, the medical care is very poor so we dug out the Ivermectin and set more sail, at least they had good facilities in the Seychelles. I was unable to get out of bed for the first 36 hours and continued with a high temperature for the next three days. We took the Ivermectin as prescribed and 4 days later we were both feeling better. Dave was showing no symptoms but we convinced him to take it as prophylactic just in case. He never got sick so not sure if it was the Ivermectin or if we just got over it.
Our plan B had us heading for Assumption island about 500 miles from Zanzibar where they had a small airstrip should things get hectic. We anchored off the Island for two nights until we were sure all was good. With no weather charts to guide us on the best route we ended up motor sailing the remainder of the way - about 650 miles, with a stop enroute at Isle de Roches which lays about 150 miles from the main island of Mahe. We were not allowed ashore as we had not cleared immigration and needed 14 days of quarantine from our departure from Zanzibar before being allowed to enter Seychelles. We radioed the resort on the island and they kindly gave us a password to log into their wifi ( we have a wifi booster) so could contact family to let them know we were OK and check weather files. We finally arrived in Mahe on the 21st March, catching 3 nice big tuna only an hour out of Victoria and were cleared in by the authorities the following day.
On our arrival we learned that the Tanzanian president had died of Covid. He had been taken to Nairobi for treatment, presumably because they did not have adequate facilities to treat him in Tanzania.
All in all I'm glad we left when we did. It is nice to be back in the Seychelles with its crystal clear waters and beautiful scenery. We are hoping now that we may be able to get vaccinated in the Seychelles prior to going forward. I have the feeling that there may be a prerequisite in the future to have been vaccinated to enter some countries. So will see what happens. Australia has made it increasingly difficult to return home over the last year. The cost associated with flights and quarantine is prohibitive to many, let alone to accessibility of flights from this part of the world. Our future plan will be governed now by our getting vaccinated and the wait for the second dose. What countries will be open to us and the weather windows and seasons to the east. In the meantime we will enjoy what the Seychelles has to offer.
Off to Mafia island in search of the whale sharks with Maggie and Anna.
15 December 2020
Our daughter Maggie had been locked down in England for 5 months after her job as mate was suddenly brought to an end by " Covid". She and Anna, the skipper, were running a science expedition yacht collecting plastic samples around the oceans of the world in association with Plymouth University, but all came to an end in Tahiti.
As the Tanzanian president declared "the country had no Covid", (their prayers, steaming and Madagascan potions had made them immune). There was no requirement for a PCR test, or any quarantine to enter the country so the girls decided to visit us for 2 weeks. It was just after the Government elections, where social media had been suppressed and a few people killed in Zanzibar at the local polling booth,
ONE SCARY NIGHT IN AFRICA
We met the girls in Dar Es Salaam and after a few days decided to sail south to Mafia Island in search of the elusive whale sharks. We had stopped at Mafia on our way north but it was too early in the season to see them. Our first night we spent at Sinda island about 10 miles south of Dar Es Salaam, anchoring off a beautiful little beach. Whilst the girls went ashore to explore Ashley replaced a fuel lift pump on the main engine that Maggie had brought with her from the UK, along with lots of other goodies.
The girls reported that there was a guy ashore who appeared to be living in a cave. Later that afternoon Ashley and I took the dingy ashore and the "caveman" approached us on the beach. He was very pleasant and hardly spoke any English but managed to convey that we needed to pay a marine park fee.
Tanzania is a funny place when it comes to anchoring a foreign boat. There are discriminate and indiscriminate marine parks/reserves and anchorages. It is very confusing as they are generally not marked on the charts. So in light of the fact that they wanted about $100US to anchor the boat for the night plus $20 per person we said we would rather leave. This was not an option as he disappeared into his cave and pulled out a bat phone and a fees and charges sheet from 4 years ago. He called his boss in Dar but it was still very difficult to ascertain what the real deal was so in the end we offered the cave man $30 which he happily accepted.
Later that evening around 9.00pm as we were just finishing dinner there was a sudden commotion outside. We poured up on deck only to be confronted by a skiff and 7 armed soldiers on board. All with AK 47's.
They tried to assure us that they were friendly whilst clambering on board, looking down the hatches and around the deck. It was unclear what their intention was so we produced our ships paperwork and cruising permit which was all in order. The leader then informed Ashley that we were to follow him to Dar Es Salaam. Ashley showed them the empty wine bottle and said he was not in any condition to drive the boat for 2 hours to an unknown destination that late at night through the reefs. He then suggested that instead, he go with them in their skiff. After more phone calls to the boss they agreed. So Ashley leaves at 10.00pm with the armed soldiers for Dar Es Salaam.......!He didn't seem overly concerned but Maggie couldn't believe what was happening and was extremely perturbed by the unfolding situation. They just kept saying, "we are friends, it's ok, no need for concern"
So at 1.30am the captive returns with stories of being placed in a chair under a bright light ( just like the movies) when the big boss comes in. A bit of Ashley's humour relieves the situation and the guns are lowered. After the "interrogation" he was asked if he would prefer to spend the night ashore, to which he replied "is the coffee any good" everyone had a good laugh.
In the end they wanted to know why we were at anchor off this little island at that time of night. The fact that we lived on the boat permanently was a concept they couldn't quite grasp. They intimated that they were concerned for our safety because there were some bad people around to which Ashley's reply was "yes I heard about the killings in Zanzibar" during the elections. This they totally denied ever happened. The interrogation now over Ashley was free to leave albeit non the wiser. The 7 soldiers, still armed got back into the skiff and drove Ashley back to Windjammer. By this time there was quite a chop and all were soaked to the bone. I'm not sure if it had anything to do with us being anchored in a marine park or just a coincidence but a very harrowing and nerve wrecking experience.
Next day with no further ado we set off for Latham Island, which lies 30 miles due east off the coast, hoping to get a better angle of sail to Mafia. Latham Island is renowned for fishing and is a huge bird nesting site. We anchored off the island and met a group of South African fishing enthusiasts camping ashore. Being anchored there was like sitting in a washing machine as currents were going every which way and getting ashore looked very dodgy. I volunteered to drop Ashley and the girls ashore and pick them up later. As it turned out, as we approached, the dinghy was promptly lifted ashore by the campers with all of our crew in tow. Hundreds of terns and boobies were nesting ashore, eggs everywhere. A noisy but interesting experience.
As it turned out we didn't get any of the predicted wind and had to motor all the way to Mafia. We anchored just off the jetty on the northern side of the island near the main town of Kilifi.
The next day we took a local boat tour in search of the whale sharks. The water was a little choppy so a bit difficult to spot the sharks but they did and we had three fantastic dives with these massive creatures. Another major on the "to do/see list" ticked off. Absolutely magical experience. The following day Maggie and Anna did a scuba dive over in the national park on the south side of the island.
We all had a great time on Mafia and after a few days set sail for Koma Island. It was nice to catch up with Mohammed again and the community on Koma, but we only stayed a short time as we needed to get to Zanzibar as time was running short.
The last time we had visited Stone Town it was deserted, now it was full of cheap package holiday tourists from Russia and Belarus. So much for Tanzania declaring no Covid. No precautions, lots of vodka and partying seemed a recipe for a super spreader event. We spent the last few days showing the girls around Zanzibar then headed north to Nungwe where we dropped the girls off to catch their flight and headed back to Tanga.
Tanga meaning "Sail": the old colonial centre of German East Africa
29 November 2020
From Zanzibar we sailed to Pemba and then onto to the town of Tanga in the north of Tanzania. Tanga is reputed to be one of the best anchorages on the East African coast, so a place we could safely leave Windjammer and do some inland exploring
We anchored off the lovely little Tanga Yacht Club, and introduced ourselves to the Commodore, Arthur Heywood, an ex South African Doctor. A couple of live aboard cruisers were in the anchorage making us feel quite at home.
The town itself was interesting for the German colonial architecture with good markets and and eateries. We restocked our wardrobe with European and American recycled clothing for next to nothing. The town has a large Indian business community that runs everything from Pharmacies to industrial supplies and imports.
We hired a 4x4 land cruiser and headed off to the Usumbara mountains. The drive took us through a number of old sisal plantations, which was originally planted by the Germans. A days drive brought us to the town of Lushoto on the foothills of the mountain.
We booked into the Lawns Hotel a sort of old colonial establishment with beautiful gardens and its own quirky "whiskey bar". We did some great hikes and the weather was a lot cooler than the coast - and no mosquitos!
We came across a number of beautiful rhinoceros chameleons.
We continued up to the town of Mambo, and it soon became evident why a 4x4 was recommended as the road soon deteriorated into a track. We stayed at the Mambo Viewpoint lodge.
At an elevation of 2000m settled in amongst the clouds it has fantastic views across to Mt Kilimanjaro on a good day. Unfortunately there was a lot of cloud cover around so we never got to see "Killy".
We did a number of lovely hikes and really enjoyed the rustic cottages. The surrounding region is the vegetable garden of Tanzania with many large and small holdings. We did a drive out to Irente Farm just out of Lushoto which is owned by a Dutch couple that make their own cheese. It's almost impossible to get local cheese here other than what's imported.
It was really nice getting off the boat for for a while although Bosun the cat didn't enjoy the ride and took every opportunity to bolt as soon as we opened the door. Back in Tanga it was all hands on deck for us replacing seals on the main engine injector pump and of course varnishing. Windjammer had to be ship shape for when Maggie and Anna stepped on board for a sailing trip down to Mafia Island in 3 weeks time to dive with the Whale sharks.
The Exotic Island of Zanzibar
30 September 2020
Zanzibar had always been on our bucket list of places to visit and now here we were, anchored off the ancient trading port of Stone Town. It's such an exotic town dating back to the earliest Arab, Persian and Indian traders during the 9th century. The main trade was spices, ivory and slaves....lots of them!
The daily hustle and bustle of large trading dhows, with their lateen rigs and cotton sails being hoisted for Mafia Island and further south to Kilwa were a delight to observe.
Smaller fishing dhows sailing through the anchorage with a skill passed down through generations, heading out to the fishing grounds, returning in the morning with their catch ready for market. You realise not too much has changed here over the past 500 years or so.
We explored the maze of alleys and old colonial buildings with there turbaned merchants, tirelessly coaxing us into their shops with the promise of finding that very special souvenir. The lack of tourists made them work even harder. When I was a child, I collected stamps and had one from Zanzibar. It was one of my favourites as it always sounded so exotic, even though I didn't really know where it was . Well look what I found strolling the souvenir alleyways. My stamp.
Then there were the Zanzibar doors the ultimate status symbol. The more status the more elaborate the doors. Unfortunately a lot of these doors were sold off to collectors from around the world. This eventually led to a law being introduced designating the doors as "of historical significance" banning any further sales. A restoration project was initiated and local carpenter's skilled up to restore and rebuild these doors which are such a unique part of Zanzibar.
Another aspect of the island are the restaurants and bars situated on the rooftops offering uninterrupted views across the ocean. Cooled down by the sea breeze they are popular watering holes where you can watch the most fabulous sunsets
Each evening at sun set, Stone Towns Forodhani Gardens on the water front, transforms into a bustling open air food market. This was our favourite hang out for eating everything from grilled lobster, octopus, meats and of course the Zanzibar Pizzas.
The famous Zanzibar Pizza being prepared
On the northern tip of Zanzibar is the beach Mecca of Nungwe with its palm thatched beach side resorts. Now virtually deserted due to Covid it has a totally different vibe. We anchored off the main beach and spent a few days exploring along the water front. At low tide the women collect shellfish and harvest seaweed for the use of cosmetics. Further along the men are repairing and building wooden fishing dhows.
From there we headed to the town of Tanga on the north coast of Tanzania. This is reputed to be one of the best anchorages along the coast of a East Africa and has a delightful little yacht club.
DAR ES SALAAM AND A ROAD TRIP TO THE SERENGETI
15 September 2020
After leaving Koma Island we headed straight for Dar Es Salaam looking for a bit of city social life and good restaurants. We anchored off the Dar es Salaam yacht club in Msasani about 15kms north of the city. The area houses all the embassies and a lot of NGO's, so the shopping and restaurant scene is reputably quite good.
The clubs tenders pick you up and disembark you on a concrete boat ramp in front of the YC which at times is mossy and quite slippery. They are continually cleaning the ramp but at times it can be a little hazardous with the swell that rolls through. For a fee of approximately $55 US per week you have use of all the facilities ashore, which includes a 24 hr tender service, swimming pool, cheap bar and three different eating establishments. There are good off beach sailing programs and regattas and each Saturday a club race around the cans followed by a few drinks at the bar.
For us at the time is was worth the fee and we stayed for a month catching up on varnishing and replacing our battery bank. After 10 years using Lifeline AGM batteries we decided to change over to standard lead acid batteries. The reason for this change was the cost benefits did not stack up. We had gone through 2 sets during this period and each time by year 4 they were badly sulphating. Now we have a smaller bank that can recharge fairly quickly so we will see how this pans out.
We really enjoyed the social activities ashore, including some weekend racing on a slippery 25 footer and the obligatory crew drinks at the bar afterwards. Of course no visit to Tanzania is complete without a game tour so we booked one to the Serengeti, Tarangire national parks and the Ngorongoro crater. We were hoping to catch the "Great Migration" where thousands of wildebeest and zebra migrate north across the Mara river into the grasslands of Kenya. A couple of cruiser friends from Mauritius whom we had met in the Seychelles joined us and we flew to Arusha. Bosun the cat was left in the care of our lovely friends from S/Y Erias who had just returned from there own safari in one of the parks in southern Tanzania.
After a brief introduction at the hotel on the night of arrival we headed out with our guide and driver. We had originally planned on some basic accommodation for our weeks tour but since Covid, tourism was virtually non existent and there were some good deals to be had in some of the luxury lodges, which we took advantage of.
The first day took us to Tarangire park where we saw loads of elephants and also witnessed a lioness chase a gazelle. We stayed at a fabulous lodge on Lake Manyara where wildlife and "pumbas" were roaming around the lodge.
Next day was a drive up to the rim the Ngorongoro crater with a lunch stop overlooking the crater and then into the central Serengeti. Once again because of Covid, there were literally only about 10 cars in the park. This park normally teems with visitors at this time of year. More than 1,000 vehicles according to our guide
We saw all type of cats, buck, giraffe, rhino and birds, in an uncrowded setting. We then headed north to the Mara river to catch the wildebeest crossing. The Mara River teems with crocodiles and hippos and photos we had seen previously had always excited me. To see it in real life, with only 5 cars at the crossing was absolutely amazing, an unforgettable experience.
The wildebeest and zebra in their thousands nervously crowd on the banks of the river which are quite high. They make lots of noise, looking at each other waiting for the first one to take the leap. They then decide that it all looks a bit risky and head back to the plain. This goes backwards and forward all day as you wait in anticipation wondering when and if they might cross.
The crocodiles also waiting patiently. Then all of a sudden they are off and leaping into the river, trying to dodge the rocks and the crocodiles. Thousands of hooves pumping through the water.
It is a brave crocodile who gets in amongst them. Some wildebeest get injured on the way across and end up drifting downriver with the strong flowing current, these are the ones that the crocs are waiting for.
There was a young wildebeest on the opposite bank that got separated from its mother during the crossing, it was distressed, walking up and down the embankment all afternoon calling out for its mother.
Late that afternoon we headed back to our lodge which had the most amazing views over the Serengeti plains. We spent 7 days in the park and did a mixture of glamping tents and lodges. Whilst the lodges were five star with their stunning views, we preferred the glamping which had much more authenticity and character.
After an absolutely priceless experience, we drove the 8 hrs back to Arusha, stopping at a Masai village enroute. After negotiating a visiting fee with the chiefs son we we're taken through the village to see how they lived and invited into one of the huts. The Masai are polygamists and each wife is given her own hut with the husband moving from wife to wife and hut to hut.
They eat only meat and drink fresh blood from the cow mixed with milk. The cow is highly regarded and each male child learns to look after the herds of cows and goats. Traditionally, they do not eat any grains or vegetables which they classify as grass, this is solely for the cows.
Apparently the Masai believe that all cows belong to them. A very simple existence. The men are tall and regal dressed in Shuka mostly red to symbolise their culture and ward off wild animals whilst the women dress in bright colours and beaded collars.
Known for their ability to jump (whilst hands straight down by their sides) they performed a competition to see which young Masai could jump the highest. A wonderful insight into this fiercely proud tribe.
Koma Island - Tanzania - An opportunity to return some goodwill
20 August 2020
Before we left the Seychelles our friends Yves and Barbara from "S/Y Medio Vas" had recommended we visit Koma Island and look up Mohammad. We had only intended to stay overnight and then sail on to Dar Es Salaam the next day after a quick look at the village. As we beached our dinghy we were approached by this tall, lean, smiling fellow. Oh hello!
My name is Mohammed, and so started our adventure on Koma.
The fishing village of Koma Island
He immediately oﬀered to take us on a walk around the village. I commented as we meandered past the mud and coral houses on how clean and tidy the island was. He related the story of a Frenchman who came to the island a few years ago and convinced the villagers of the beneﬁts of keeping the island clean. Removing the rubbish, looking after the mangroves and depositing their human waste not on the beach but in appropriate areas. They had taken this on board and adopted a set of rules.
Baobabs, the tree that symbolises Africa
At the end of our walk Mohammed oﬀered to take us snorkelling the next day to see how he ﬁshes for lobster and octopus with the possibility of seeing some seahorses. Everyone was keen, so next morning the Erias family who were "buddy sailing" with us, jumped on on Windjammer and we headed oﬀ to an island about 3 miles away. Unfortunately there were no seahorse to be seen and Mohammed lost his spear, which we spent ages searching for, eventually ﬁnding it. On the way back we stopped at a little cove on one of the small islets. A couple of ﬁsherman were camped out on the beach and they pointed out some giant clams. They were at least 1 metre wide and fossilised into the coral rock face about 3 metres above the current high water level. Probably hundreds of years old. Quite an amazing site.
The Erias crew and Mohammed
During lunch we were talking about life on the island and the availability of good water. Mohammed mentioned that two years ago a desalinator had been gifted and installed by an NGO but that it had stopped working 6 months later. Ashley and Eric oﬀered to take a look at it. Permission was sort and granted by the island chief. So the next day was spent cleaning up the genset and water maker and ﬁguring out how it was all supposed to work. There were no operational manuals and the Island Chief only had a rudimentary idea how it operated. There is no electricity on the island, the Mosque and some houses have small solar panels on their roof, charging a battery which in turn provides lighting, runs the odd T.V. and more importantly, charges the smartphones!
The following morning, loaded with tools, multi metres, spare diesel and Windjammers radio battery we descended on the island. The boys headed oﬀ to the pump house whilst we played hopscotch and football with the local children.
Hooking up the water tanks
While visiting Mohammad's house we noticed a small chalk board in the corner and he explained that he was teaching English and arithmetic to a group of children between the ages of 5-7 in his house. He had no formal training but had a good grasp of English and the only one on the island that did.
Enjoying a meal of cassava, salad and ugali with ginger tea.
The island is home to approximately 800 people of which 20% appear to be children. During our conversations he explained that there was minimal education on the island, a government sponsored teacher from the mainland spends two days a week teaching the children from the ages of 8-15 years.
Getting introduced to the kids
So, a little bit about Mohammed, he has worked throughout East Africa as an explosives man for Chinese seismic companies. Then for a tourist operator in Mtwara. He was fortunate enough to have had some education which got him started. Recently returned to the island, he was keen to take on the role of teaching the younger children in a voluntary capacity. He asked if it was possible to give him some books and materials for his project.
Fortunately Nathalie is a teacher, so she jumped at the opportunity with unbridled enthusiasm. They have tons of learning tools on board as their three children are home schooled. With the help of her wonderful children Manon, Eva and Samuel, they spent most of the night collecting books, magazines and making all sorts of learning tools. Such a lovely and generous family.
Cutting out pictures for teaching aids
Another subject raised by Mohammed was that of female genital mutalation that had until a few years ago been routinely practiced on young girls. The Island now actively discourages this practice. He is part of a group that door knocks to educate and discourage woman against this.
The next morning we were summoned to a meeting by the chief and his councillors (men and women). First a prayer by the Imam then a welcome to the Island. Mohammad explained that not only were we ﬁxing the desalination plant but were also providing him with books and teaching aids for his school project. A good time for him to pitch for a proper classroom....
After the meeting it was oﬀ to inspect the small hospital with its maternity ward that was under construction. The chief explained that they were trying to raise funds to ﬁnish the hospital and
adjoining doctors house. The main structure was complete but needed doors and windows as well as the interior ﬁt out. They explained that the government would not provide a doctor for the island until the building was completed. They were now looking for contributions from an NGO to complete the project
Serious discussions about a school room
There is no running water on the island so during the wet season water is drawn from wells and rain water collected into concrete cisterns. During the dry season the water from these wells is too salty to drink. The desalination plant was installed to help them through the dry season.
Water drawn from a well.
Things in the pump house were starting to take shape, the genset ﬁred up after a rats nest was located and cleaned out and the main circuit breaker replaced. The water maker was ﬂushed out and ﬁlters cleaned. The two large polythene water tanks had been removed so had to be located and reinstalled................Tomorrow's job.
End of another day.
The following day, a celebratory gathering had been arranged to thank us for all the work we had done. It was quite an occasion with food being prepared for the entire island community and us as their special guests. Men and women were separated into two diﬀerent groups. Nathalie, the two girls and myself were taken aside and dressed by the local women in traditional Muslim coverings. It was a quite a colourful aﬀair. The women then proceeded to sing and say a prayer for us. The men were doing the same on the other side.
All dressed up for the occasion.
A spray of colour
Time for eating.
Men grouped separately from the women.
Ashley in discussion with the Island administrator
After the meal we were taken a short distance to the second village on the island. It was extremely organised, clean and well laid out. We were shown through the two Madrases where the children are taught the Quran each day. An adjacent small school has a government provided teacher that comes in twice a week to teach the children aged 8-15 years, and that's the extent of the education on the island.
Classroom session - subject English.
We set up a short classroom session to demonstrate the teaching aids and familiarise Mohammad with some teaching techniques - like keeping the class quiet! He is so keen and focused on having the children better educated and with our support was espousing the value to the Imam, Chief, councillors and parents. Ashley made a speech highlighting the importance of education next to that of the Quran and thanking and wishing them all well for the future - all very oﬃcial.
After many speeches and translations, it was decided that Mohammed would be given one of the spare rooms in the school, which had a door, to use as a classroom. The room however does not have a concrete ﬂoor or blackboard so we donated the funds to have this done. Luckily we also had some blackboard paint on board to complete the job. Mohammad declared that the school was to be named the Windjammer/ Erias school in our honour.
Everyone wants to be in the picture
Just as we thought it was time to leave, the generator overheated!! Nice timing. So it was back to work the next day for the boys and Nathalie continued her instructions to Mohammed on teaching techniques. The equipment was ﬁnally running well, logbook and instructions written up and with the islands appointed "engineer" (when he is not out ﬁshing) trained up, it was time to say goodbye and head north.
We left early the next morning, so much the richer for the experience.
We told Mohammed about our "Clean up Australia Day" and maybe it could be adopted to "Clean up Koma Day". Our friends Anne and Herve from S/Y Olicicante visited a couple of weeks after us and following is a video they made;
Link to video...
Seychelles to Tanzania
13 August 2020
26th July 2020 - Goodbye to the Seychelles
After 4 days on the slipway in Providence, Mahe, we had a new shiny bottom, repaired dinghy and were full of excitement as we set off for Tanzania. The south easterly trade winds are fairly strong and consistent at this time of year and there is a strong north running current closer to the African coast, so getting south can be a bit of a battle this time of year. News had just come through that an Australian Catamaran had sunk 250 miles out from Dar Es Salaam in bad weather with no survivors, they were on their way to the Seychelles. It turned out to be a couple, Del and Craig McEwen whom we had been helping with their entry application into the Seychelles. An awful tragedy reminding us of the ever present dangers cruisers face when heading out to sea. The low pressure cell that had caused the severe conditions passed through to the south of us affording a good weather window with a day or two of north easterlies to get us south before turning west. It was our intention to make landfall at Mtwara on the border between Tanzania and Mozambique.
Unfortunately the wind turned too far to the south, so instead we had a 12 hour stop over at Cosmoledo atoll to wait for the weather to ease on the Tanzanian cost. We made our landfall further north at the historic town of Kilwa which lies approximately a third of the way up the Tanzania coast. It was a good 6 1/2 day 1000 mile passage mostly reaching with some left over confused seas but with no hiccups.
We arrived in Kilwa and were pleasantly surprised to see our lockdown friends from the Seychelles (the family from Erias and Anne and Herve from Olicicante) anchored in the bay. After coffee and a catch up we had a well earned rest then went ashore to check in and explore the town. Checking in was a breeze with Keizer, the loveliest harbour master you would ever wish to meet. Immigration and customs were further up the road and in no time we were cleared into Tanzania.
Kilwa consists of the town of Kilwa Masoko (the market town) and the island villages of Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Manara. They are noted for their ruins dating from the 8th -19th century. These towns were the central hub of East African trading, goods and of course slaves from central and East Africa were shipped to India, Asia and Oman. We did a tour with Athman, a very informative tour guide who gave us the low down on the history of the sultans who ruled, the palaces they inhabited, and the goods they traded. A very colourful and fascinating history. Some of the ruins are still in the process of being excavated.
The open air market in Masoko was well stocked with an array of fruits and vegetables and wow, "red ripe tomatoes" it feels like an eternity since we last had these. We also learned how to make proper East African Chapatis. After a few days of re provisioning and rest we headed north to Mafia Island
Mafia Island is about 27 miles long and 10 miles wide and is home to 47,000 people with fishing being the mainstay of their economy. We anchored off the main village of Kilindoni which has a long steel and wood peer extending 1km out from the beach. The tide ranges between 2-3 meters and the shore is packed with hundreds of wooden craft of all descriptions. From dug out canoes, to beautifully crafted lateen rigged sailing dhows and outboard engine driven small purse seiners with tiny boats to lay the nets. It's a feast for the eyes of those with an interest in traditional wooden boats. Ashley's camera was hard at work.
The boats head out at night and return early in the morning to a plethora of men and women waiting on the beach to buy and process the catch. There's lots of shouting, laughing, colourful dress and of course fish.
The catch is mainly small fish which are dried in the sun on open racks then sent to the mainland. There is also a reasonably good calamari haul of which we enjoyed with a nice bottle of champagne for my 60th birthday celebration. A single sealed road takes you across the island, the rest are all dusty paths through small clusters of mud and coral huts with either dried coconut thatched or tin roofs. Small fenced vegetable plots and banana trees keep out the goats.
We next sailed to the resort island of Shungu Mbili and as we dropped anchor an inflatable came out advising us that this was a private island and a private marine reserve and we were forbidden to anchor...hmmmm! They were very friendly though and suggested another anchorage off the island of Niororo. Within half hour of dropping anchor we had fisherman from the island approach us wanting to sell us fish and lobsters. Unfortunately it was a bunch of "middlemen" who were being a little overbearing, wanting Ashleys mask and fins and then binoculars as a gift. We ended up giving them a mask but not buying their small lobsters and fish as we had no small cash on hand. That evening around 19.00 whilst at anchor we felt a rumble under Windjammer's keel and assumed we had swung onto a coral bommie as the tide was going out. Checked the depth sounder and we were in 11m of water???? We continued to monitor the situation but felt no further rumbling. It was only the next day when we arrived at Koma Island that we learned that there had been an earthquake
THE LAST OCEAN - LOCKED DOWN IN THE INDIAN OCEAN
01 May 2020
It's taken us almost ten years and 75,000miles to get here and for the first time ever we are at a loss as to where to next. Decisions are no longer ours for the making with every country's borders now closed down due to the Corona virus. Due more to fortunate timing rather than any forward planning we find ourselves in the Seychelles. It is everything and more that's described in the tourist brochures. Tropical islands with magnificent white sandy beaches, turquoise waters and an abundance of fish life. Friendly layback locals and good services. Fortunately we were able to explore some of the inner islands with our friend Mark before the lockdown kicked in and he had to escape back to Australia.
The first week of the lockdown we were still allowed to move around the main island of Mahe with its beautiful inner reef anchorages of Anse Royal, Baie Lazare and Anse ala Moche. The bareboat and charter fleets had already been recalled to base so we had the anchorages to ourselves. We met up with a bunch of fellow international cruisers and soon were boat hopping for sundowners and impromptu dinners.
All good things come to an end and with ours it was the coast guard apologetically ordering us to return to the port of Victoria with social distancing now being enforced.
Excursions to the supermarket or community markets is allowed and is the highlight of the day. The yacht club has closed down but the caretaker allows us to use the washing machine for our laundry. Our group of cruisers has now grown to 7 yachts all squeezed into the small anchorage in front of the yacht club. A week later someone discovers we are allowed to anchor off the island of St Anne which still happens to be in the Victoria port limits. We all up anchor and move. The anchorage is a nice change, no more smelly tuna boat discharge. We are able to swim and take our kayaks for a paddle. Social interaction between the yachts has been revived now that we are familiar with the coastguards routine patrols.
Our group has now grown to 11 yachts, the latest to join is a young Austrian guy who has just sailed in from Djibouti single handedly. He has technically not been allowed into the country so is in limbo and waiting for the authorities to make a decision on his future. In the meantime we are looking after him again in between coast guard patrols.
Our little bubble community is made up of quite an eclectic group of people mostly French but we also have an American, Canadian, Austrian and Reunion.
Marie Christine is a French Doctor who has been at sea for 31 years. She bought her 37' Trismus aluminium sailing yacht "Flanneur" (a person that saunters around observing society) in French Guyana in 1989. Setting off on her circumnavigation which included side trips to Patagonia and Alaska. She has worked in many of the French territories which are conveniently sprinkled around the globe, allowing her to supplement her cruising budget. She is now patiently waiting to sail back to Madagascar, "such a poor country with such lovely people"
Yves and Barbara from France had their new 37’ Juneau, Medio Vas, shipped to Mayotte where they were based for two years. Yves was the commanding naval officer in Mayotte, dealing mainly with illegal immigration from the Comoros Islands whilst Barbara worked as a vet. They are now retired and doing the West Indian Ocean circuit. He likes to remind me that he is by heart a "schooner man" dreaming of the day he will have his own schooner maybe even a Bombigher
William an ex Oregon District Attorney was on his way to the Red Sea from Tanzania with his 58' wooden staysail schooner Seawanaka. Sailing single handed he was forty five days out when she sprung a leak and he had to divert to Mahe for repairs. She is a classic, built in 1925 as part of a fleet of 16 racing schooners built for the New York YC and Seawanaka YC from Long Island. He originally started out from Port Townsend in 2003 sailing up to Alaska and then into the Pacific, Australia and the Indian Ocean. William is a keen student of the early explorers and is off to explore Oman then onto and through the Red Sea to find out more about Laurence of Arabia.
S/Y Erias with Eric, Natalie and their 3 young children Manon (12), Eva (9) and Samuel (7) are from Reunion. They sold their house last year, bought Erias in Mahe and moved onboard with the idea of doing some extended cruising. This is their first time sailing and living on a boat, although watching them you would swear they have been doing it all their life. Natalie is a teacher and Eric an engineer so boat schooling the children is a breeze for them. The kids are absolutely adorable and often come over to play with "Cat" and sit in for an English lesson with Cathie. They had sailed to the Amirante Islands about 120 miles south of Mahe and whist there, were ordered to return to Victoria for the lockdown. Where to next? Not sure, so much to consider.....
Robin, a Canadian, left British Colombia on his 38' yacht Katydid in the summer of 2010. Sailing down to Mexico and Panama with no idea which direction he was going take once he got there, either the Atlantic or Pacific. He "line handled" some friends through the canal but in the end decided on the Pacific. He spent a year working in New Zealand then continued onto SE Asia via the Solomons and New Guinea. He was on his way from Tanzania heading for the Red Sea but ended up diverting to the Seychelles to await more favourable weather. Once here he got caught up with the C-virus lockdown.
Andreas and Tees are from Almeria in Spain, working as skipper and chef onboard the lagoon Catamaran .......interestingly they owned a restaurant we frequented whilst in Almerimar marina during the winter of 2018/2019.
20 March 2020
After our "white squall" experience just two hours out from Port Victoria, and the following squally night at the quarantine anchorage, we were looking forward to our stay in Seychelles with some trepidation. First appearances were totally misleading, however. Every day since then has been sunny, rainless, humid, and HOT. Winds have run the full range from calm, all the way up to light.
Every anchorage, even close inshore, has been mosquito-free: a most pleasant surprise! Last month at Djibouti, well out into the harbour of that desert city, we had to close hatches at night to keep the mozzies out. Seychelles is tropical forest - go figure. Rainless nights are another boon re keeping hatches open - the ventilation is priceless.
The Seychelles archipelago covers a vast area of the western Indian Ocean. The inner islands are granitic outcrops... unique for mid-ocean islands, which tend to be volcanic. Seychelles was in fact part of Gondwana, and split away on its own micro-plate. As recently as the last ice age, the inner islands were one big island. There remains some unique flora and fauna - although after 250 years of human settlement there have been an awful lot of extinctions. Giant tortoises survive in the wild only on Aldabra (where they are thriving). They were on most of the islands but all got eaten, mostly being sold to ships for that purpose.
The world's oldest land animal is a Seychelles giant tortoise. His name is Jonathan and he lives at the governor's residence on St. Helena. He is about 188 years old.
The people are multi-hued, tending to coffee-coloured, and multi-faith (but 90% Catholic). Seychelles creole is spoken by all, and shares official status with English and French. Most Seychellois are trilingual. This creole is a mix of French and English, with a bit of Swahili thrown in.
This is a two-industry economy. Tourism is huge (380,000 visitors in 2019; nearly four times the population of the country) - but I am glad to report the absence of highrise development. Most tourists come from Europe: Germans are the largest group, then French. During this fortnight, the Covid-19 pandemic was taking hold around the world. The government banned cruise ships from visiting towards the end of the first week. By the time I left on 20th March, there were none flying in, either. It will be a shock; and a challenge for the government more than in most countries. On the positive side, Seychelles has a good chance of isolating itself from the virus (there were seven reported cases when I left; all had recently flown in).
Industrial-scale fishing is the second industry. Huge foreign-owned (but Seychelles-registered) purse-seiners come in and out of Port Victoria every day. The second-largest tuna cannery in the world, is there.
If you visit Seychelles it would be a shame if you don't like to eat fish. It is the overwhelming protein of choice - and there is such a variety of it. Creole cooking is rather hi-cal; and served in huge portions. Plenty of fat and frying; also carbs.
Shortly after independence (in the 1970's), a coup made Seychelles a one-party Marxist state for over forty years. Walking around Victoria, you can tell by the street names: 5th June Avenue; Revolution Avenue; Independence Avenue: Liberation Road; Freedom Square. Monty Python would be proud.
For our first week, Windjammer was anchored in a pretty bay in Port Victoria, off the Navy base. There was a fair bit of repair and maintenance to do, after the squall. We also had plenty of time to explore Victoria and its surrounds.
In a stroke of good fortune, my former shipmate Dominique was in town. He emigrated from Seychelles to Australia about ten years ago, and worked with me on ships there. He owns a charter boat and shop in Victoria and was here to tend to them, and catch up with family (he has twelve siblings!). Dominique was very generous with his time and showed us around for several days.
There is a surprising amount of reclaimed land at Victoria. The reason is that the island (Mahé) is so steep that industrial, port and commercial infrastructure is very difficult. The harbour had a lot of fringing reef flats so it was a fairly simple matter to fill and dredge them. Getting around the island on the local buses is somewhat alarming for visitors, due to the very sharp and steep switchback roads over high drop-offs. The bus drivers really earn their keep.
After so many months in the Middle East and Red Sea, it has been a treat to see the lush rainforest clothing the islands here.
Seychelles men clearly have a preference for well-rounded partners, as there are no slender young women to be seen. The creole cooking must help.
During our second week, we headed out to the second-biggest of the inner islands, Praslin, using its sheltered anchorage as a base while we explored it and the smaller islands in the vicinity.
The Vallée de Mai is in the middle of Praslin and is one of Seychelles' two world heritage sites (the other, is Aldabra atoll). All six of the palms endemic to Seychelles are found here, including the renowned Coco-de-mer, which is found only on Praslin. This has the largest and heaviest nut of any plant. Once de-husked, the nuts have a remarkable resemblance to the female pelvic region.
Trees are either male or female and, guess what, the male tree's catkin is impressively phallic. A quaint local legend has the trees moving through the forest to mate, on dark nights...
A few endemic birds also inhabit the palm forest. The rare Black Parrot (again, only breeds on Praslin) could be heard while we were there (didn't see any). I did get a close look at a Seychelles Bulbul, a feisty fellow with a punk hairdo.
Dangers to this valley include fire (there is a maintained fire break all around the national park), poaching of coco-de-mer nuts and trees (pretty hard to smuggle, though), and introduced species, both plant and animal. For instance, rats are the main threat to black parrots, when nesting.
Seven miles east of Praslin is La Digue, about half of the area and population (La Digue has 3,000 residents). A very busy tourist hotspot that was "discovered" as a "land that time forgot" only within the last two decades. William Rose, who owns the ferry company running between Praslin and La Digue, has three large catamarans. "Fifteen years ago I was taking 2,000 visitors a year to La Digue. Last year it was 200,000." There are also ferries running direct from Victoria; and boutique cruise ships.
We had two or three days exploring La Digue and its bays and beaches, helped by calm conditions. The overwhelming choice of transport for both locals and tourists, is bicycle - plenty are available for a daily hire of 100 rupees (about $10). Although the island rises steeply, the road around the outer rim (which goes about three-quarters around) is flat or with gentle grades. We saw no private cars - just a few commercial vehicles for stores and construction. A lot of low-rise (two storeys) new buildings were in a state of half- or near-completion. Too many; but who can blame them for selling land at a high price? No doubt those buildings will now remain uncompleted, for years. South Asians were doing most of the work - Seychellois prefer the tourist trade, it seems.
The weather was so calm that we didn't sail anywhere during this fortnight - the diesel engine came in very handy. An advantage of the calm weather is the ability to anchor just about anywhere there is holding - so were able to visit some excellent snorkelling spots that would be too exposed in windy conditions. By "excellent," I mean, "crystal clear water and hundreds of colourful fish." Reefs are mostly dead - there was a big bleaching event a couple of years ago that affected most reefs in the western Indian Ocean.
Other islands that we anchored off, included Grand Soeur and Felicité. Both had nice-looking resorts on them, blending in to the landscape. We snorkelled at both but didn't go ashore as they are privately-owned.
This is my last blog as on 20th March I took the ferry from Praslin to Victoria, flying out of the rapidly-closing country. Another three or four days and I'd have been stuck in Seychelles for the duration. This is Ashley and Cathie's fate - poor bastards. Don't feel too sorry for them!
I had nine weeks on board: a wonderful life experience. Thank you both!
Socotra to Seychelles
05 March 2020
After a five-day transit of the Gulf of Aden, we dropped anchor on the northern coast of the large (82 miles long), high (1500m) island of Socotra, off what passes for a port there - a substantial couple of wharves suitable for large coasters; but no harbour. Heavy haze had meant that we'd not been able to perceive the island until late on our approach.
Socotra, like Madgascar, has long been isolated from other land masses, despite being less than 200 miles off the Horn of Africa. There are oceanic depths between. Unlike Madagascar, Socotra has been on human trade routes since ancient times, so any significant native fauna is long gone. It retains some unique botany - Google it!
As the result of a long history of shifting occupations, Socotra has now ended up being part of Yemen. Effective control at the moment is exercised by the United Arab Emirates, which have a military base there. The total population is about 50,000, spread over many small towns and villages along the coast and in the valleys of the seasonal rivers, which flood with great force in the short wet seasons and are dry the rest of the year.
We had planned to spend a few days exploring here but were dissuaded by several other cruising yachties who'd done it recently, and said, "Don't bother." Very expensive visas (US$250pp), and grinding poverty, were their reasons.
So we anchored for just over 24 hours, beneath a huge sand dune. We did all get ashore - to buy two hundred litres of diesel (we'd had to motor all the way from Djibouti) in our big jerry cans (lifting the three 60-litre ones is challenging); and get sand from the beach (for Cat's litter tray. It is to write a book on "Sands of the World")
Getting under way on the second afternoon, we motorsailed west along the coast until after dark, passing some remarkable landscapes. Such a high and jagged interior. Small coastal towns of squat rectangular brown stone, usually with a well-whitewashed mosque with green trim. Many military-looking installations. A few shipwrecks - one pretty big, and recent.
Clearing the western cape, the engine went off at last as we turned south for our 1100-mile voyage to Seychelles. At this point we were two hundred miles off the coast of Somalia and edged away from it only slowly, so kept up our anti-pirate watches 24/7 - daytime is more of a threat than night-time. However, we were in mostly empty seas. On one evening we encountered several ocean-going fishing vessels over some four hours - over a seamount area.
The long ocean swell that the vessel rose to as we settled on our southerly course was the first that Windjammer had experienced in over two years - since entering the Straits of Gibraltar.
Ocean critters were sighted every day - but not in any great numbers. Flying fish (occasionally landing on deck at night after hitting the sails). Occasional terns and boobies, ditto dolphins, in scattered schools. A big shark. We trolled two lures, caught nothing for a couple of days, but lost a lure to something big.
Later, a small barracuda and small mahi-mahi were pulled in - on the latter's skin, a wonderful golden-yellow hue predominated. Just after crossing the equator, our first frigate bird of the voyage. These piratical robbers are simply beautiful in flight, with their scimitar wings.
NE trade winds were a favourable angle for us to proceed with our full light-weather suit of sails: Spinnaker, staysail, foresail, fisherman and mainsail. We were running with the wind as far aft as the rig could work at without gybing, making close attention to the helm essential at all times. We ran our three hours on - six hours off for the full nine days ("six hours off," means, "doing lots of other boat stuff").
"The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free..."
For six days we had the good NE monsoon/trade wind on our port quarter as we "chased south along." Our best day's run during this part was 139 miles. We kept our "pirate watch" going until day six, by which time the coast of Somalia had receded to 400 miles, and Seychelles was that distance right ahead. It felt good to pack away all of the emergency lockup gear. We'd not encountered any suspicious activity since leaving the Red Sea
"... We were the first to ever burst
Into that silent sea.
Down drop'd the breeze, the sails dropped down.
"Twas sad as sad could be..."
The wind died, fifty miles north of the equator. We had one significant advantage over the Ancient Mariner - our diesel engine; with about fifty hours of fuel left (the remaining distance to Seychelles was more than that). It was a BIG help. Having the sails up, and lashed rigidly fore-&-aft, proved useful in providing shade on deck, except for a few hours around noon. Seawater bucket baths were popular (we have no water-maker and can carry only 2,400 litres; the last place we were able to fill tanks was at Massawa at the end of January). The water didn't seem at all cool, so I stuck a thermometer in a freshly-collected bucket. 31.4° - hmm. This was on the equator of course, and in a flat calm. A few waves would have mixed it up a bit and reduced the reading by a few degrees.
This was Windjammer's fourth crossing of the Line during its (so far) nine years of cruising - but Cat's first (Cat joined at Port Said, last November). I was eagerly planning to coat it in Vegemite and cocoa powder. Alas, reality bites - did we really want a furry vegemite and cocoa rocket caroming all around the vessel? No. Damn.
170 miles south of where the NE trade had died away, we picked up the NW trade and were able to turn off the engine. This wind shift is straight out of the meteorological textbook - the flow backs 90° as it crosses the equator, due to the Earth's Coriolis force. Our course (of South) was unchanged - we were just on the opposite tack.
The NW breeze freshened steadily and after a few hours we pulled-in the spinnaker (setting the balloon jib in its place), and (at 0200), the fisherman. This interesting sail is something of a four-person job once the breeze gets up a bit. Fun for the three of us, then.
Just after midnight, a tropicbird had collided with our rigging in the dark, and remained on deck for several hours while it thought it through. These crow-sized birds are spectacularly aerobatic flyers, and pretty to look at as well. This one showed little alarm when Ashley lifted it to shift it to a safer perch. By dawn, it had flown off.
On this final morning of our passage, we were within the Seychelles archipelago and more marine life was about. Lots of tiny terns - not seen very far to sea as they return to islands to roost. We had two good hits on our trolling lines - both were tuna; the second was of some size. When filleting these compact, muscular fish I am always taken aback at just how deep red their flesh is - its like cutting into beef. Most of it went into the freezer; there will be plenty of meals from these two during the next month.
The White Squall
"And now the storm-blast came,
And he was tyrannous and strong.
He struck with his o'ertaking wings..."
By early afternoon we had less than two hours to go, and were set to log an impressive 160 miles for the day's run to the anchorage. A long line of dark cloud loomed to weather...
"We'll put a reef in the main," said Ashley.
"We'd better furl the balloon jib, too," added Cathie. This seemed adequate as the squall didn't look too serious.
Hah. If we'd dropped the main entirely and double-reefed the foresail, we might have been OK. As it was, the phenomenal wind hit us side-on with a single-reefed main, full foresail, and staysail set... and with the island less than two miles ahead. First we heeled spectacularly to port, then after regaining a smidgen of control, started the main engine for a power-assisted tack through the screaming wind (to give us sea room). Engine off (no further use for it), while we endeavoured to survive the approximately 50° heel to starboard, put extra lashings on everything that hadn't yet floated away, and put all the dogs on the hatches (we'd begun with all hatches closed - praise Jesus - but with only one dog on each one, of four. All held, TBTG).
The lee rail (two metres above the water under normal circumstances) went under water and the lifering floated free of its bracket. Handily, I was right next to it at the time, chest-deep in seawater (it was lovely and warm) while lashing jerry cans and fenders. So I just put my hand out and retrieved it. The end of the main boom went into the water... We waved goodbye to a couple of (empty) 60-litre jerry cans, two LPG cylinders, a 20-litre tank of outboard fuel, and cat's sand bank. Among other things. My main concern was that neither Cathie nor I, engaged in lashing and deck duties (Ashley being in charge and on the helm), would float away - we'd had no time to get the harnesses out.
Below decks, all was a-tumble, as you'd expect. Cupboards and drawers spilled. Some water sloshing around - but the hatches had held. This water came from two small (and forgotten) ventilators at ankle level, in the cockpit, that led into the lazarette and back through conduits to cupboards in the saloon.
Cat had begun the affair, harnessed to the helm. It BROKE its harness and vanished for the duration, to a secret cat nook well below decks. Smart animal.
Somehow we got the mainsail down which helped considerably, although the full foresail still gave us a dramatic heel. After what seemed an hour (but was undoubtedly half of that), the wind eased to merely strong, and we tacked again to re-set course for Port Victoria... then (now in force 5 and stinging rain) re-hoisted the reefed main and balloon jib, to sail to the outer anchorage. Ooargh! Who needs an engine?
By 1500 we were anchored in sloppy conditions, and set-to on cleanup, mostly below decks. After three hours we had broken the back of it and settled back to enjoy the still-squally night; and a beer or two.
Throughout the adventure, I'd been concerned but not frightened, as all I had to do was follow Ashley's commands, and I knew that he and Cathie would have dealt with this sort of thing several times already during their nine years of world cruising...
Later... "That was the worst sustained squall we've ever had," said Ashley, "and we've had a few."
"I've never seen the boat lean over so far," added Cathie.
ps: As we approached the anchorage, a large container vessel emerged from the inner harbour, with all of its working cranes in the air, being towed by a tug. "That's odd." It had been working cargo alongside and had broken its mooring lines during the squall (and was unable to start the main engine fast enough). They anchored outside the harbour and returned under their own power, the next day.
pps At about sunset we were joined at the anchorage by a single-handed Canadian yacht. We met him at the yacht club the next day - he'd been thirty miles south of us when the squall hit. He had a single foresail up, saw the line of weather and had just closed his hatches when he was hit and had a complete knockdown - sideways onto the water. Letting go his jib after that, failed to right the vessel, due to the force of wind on the hull and poles. "I thought I was a goner," he confessed. After half an hour, the wind lessened and his boat righted...
DJIBOUTI and the Gulf of Aden
24 February 2020
Having anchored in the port of Djibouti on the evening of 11th February, we remained for seven and a half days. Not because of the city's charming attractions (more on these later), but we faced a 600-mile leg from here to Socotra through the Gulf of Aden - prevailing winds are from ENE, which was dead foul for our purposes. There was no chance of favourable winds but every couple of weeks there is a several-day period of light winds and calms. We waited for this so that we could motor through.
Djibouti (the country) is one of the smallest in Africa, with a population of only one million. Most of them live in Djibouti (the city). The majority of the city's people are ethnic Somalis of the Issa clan. The official language is French - France only granted the place independence in the late 1970's.
Djibouti (the country) is mostly barren wasteland. By way of attractions, Lonely Planet describes one region as the location for filming of the first Planet of the Apes movie (which was set in a barren wasteland). Hmm.
We found ourselves back in the dust/potholes/windblown plastic bottles/drifts of cigarette butts urban landscape that had been notable by its absence during our recent exploration of Eritrea. Most of Africa/Asia/South America is like this. So are some communities in Australia's north.
Djibouti makes a tidy living from Ethiopian transit fees - it is the only port for that country. Ten "giraffe" container cranes are there. Coal is exported and most of the port area and environs are covered in coal dust.
The international naval coalition patrolling the Gulf of Aden and offshore from Somalia, uses the Port of Djibouti for refuelling and revictualling. During our week there, frigates from the US, Japan, Spain (2), and Italy, made port calls. There are five permanent foreign military bases on Djiboutian soil: US, France, Japan, China, Italy.
The US and French bases are very large, acting as HQ for their operations elsewhere. We frequently heard fighter jets roaring ahead, out of sight in the haze. Japan's military base is the only one outside of Japan.
At a bar/restaurant in the city one evening, we noted a group of neat young white men with expensive shirts and haircuts and perfectly trimmed beards - the Spanish Armada. At another table were another group, the same age but quieter and harder-looking. Tending to no. 1 buzzcuts or shaved heads, and dark T-shirts. French military - probably, The Legion.
No US off-duty personnel seen anywhere. I imagine that they are not allowed off the base. When the USN destroyer visited, it was met outside port limits by four large and powerful boatloads of Marines. They patrolled around it all night and escorted it out the next morning, returning a couple of hours later. No other nation's warships had this level of security.
All of this gives Djibouti extra national income. There is also premium tourism - marine oriented, with diving and day trips to offshore islands, and in season, diving with whale sharks in the Gulf of Tadjoura (we visited outside of this season). While anchored there for a week, we saw several boatloads per day of middle-aged whites being taken out.
So, guess what? Djibouti is expensive. Shops, bars, restaurants, fuel. Also there are scammers - most places we tried to tie-up the dinghy, a fellow would turn up within a minute or so to offer his duties as security guard for US$20... the marina (mostly a tie-up facility for small craft) likewise said, US$20 per day to tie up the dinghy, or $280 per day to tie-up Windjammer! Then pay for electricity, laundry, water after that. Um - no thanks! We soon found a secure and free dinghy tie-up spot - the pontoon at the Coast Guard compound ("Garde-Côtes Djiboutienne").
A thriving part of the local economy is the importation, sale and consumption of Khat, the mildly narcotic leaf which most Djiboutian men seem to chew for most of the day. It is sold as very fresh bunches from roadside stalls, which keep the product in chiller boxes - it's presumably brought in from Ethiopia (Yemen is the traditional source but there is a war on there). The stuff is quite expensive - the price reflecting the level of need of the consumer (like coffee). I was interested in trying some, in a spirit of scientific enquiry - but never got around to it. Another life experience opportunity passes me by.
Djiboutians are overwhelmingly Islamic but they are pretty relaxed about it. We did enjoy the evening chorus of prayer calls coming from a few different mosques - it is a soothing and spiritual sound. The main mosque is magnificent; and new.
Our transit of the Gulf of Aden took five days and was, as planned, in a window of light winds and calms. During the latter, an algal bloom quickly developed, turning the sea bright green. On those nights, the phosphorescence in the water was like constellations of white fireworks.
Speaking of constellations. We were approaching the dark of the moon, so the sky was ablaze with stars. At our tropical latitude we had a view of all the northern stars and most of the southern ones, including the Southern Cross rising to some fifteen degrees above the horizon. Venus in the evening, and Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in the morning.
Our two lures pulled in a couple of large fish. A barracuda - bah. We throw these back. But a Dolphin fish was a treat - this one gave the three of us, three good meals. Alternate names include Dorado, Mahi-Mahi, and Rainbow fish. These fast ocean predators show brilliant and ever-shifting colours when caught, tending to shades of green. This would make them almost invisible to prey. Shortly after death the skin fades to the standard fishy silver-grey. Melville, in 'Moby-Dick,' refers to the beautiful colours of "the dying dolphin." This is the animal to which he is referring. What we call dolphins, he called porpoises.
A small flying-fish was dead on the deck one morning, having flown into a sail at night (we were able to motorsail for a few days). That became Cat's breakfast. Cat has to move fast - Ashley likes them, too.
The well-known security/piracy problem in these waters has been dealt with by a much increased naval and marine patrol aircraft presence (as we witnessed at Djibouti). Additionally, the traffic separation scheme for Bab el Mendeb has been extended 600 miles east, as a Security Transit Zone (which looks exactly like a traffic separation scheme, but isn't). So the large ships going to and from the Red Sea and Suez, keep to wide lanes in the middle of the Gulf, about ten miles wide; allowing mutual surveillance and support as well as that provide by the military. Small vessels like us, use the two-mile separation zone in the middle of the scheme, with the highways of eastbound and westbound ships, south and north of us. It works very well. Additionally we had drilled ourselves in alert and lockup procedures. As it turns out, we encountered no suspicious activity - the only frightening incident had been in the southern Red Sea, off Assab (see previous blog).
Our own WMD ......."Weapon of mass deception"! Made using the speargun and bits and pieces plus the torch for a scope.
In very hazy conditions on day five, the tall mountains of the large Yemeni-owned island of Socotra loomed... (next blog).
MASSAWA TO DJIBOUTI
11 February 2020
After eight days anchored at Massawa we headed out on a Sunday morning before a light westerly; occasional drizzle with it. How can a westerly (blowing from the interior of Africa) have moisture in it? There were three of us aboard.
By midday the wind had backed to WNW and we resumed our gybing ESE between the reefs and cays of the South Massawa Channel, between the Dahlak Archipelago and the mainland. By 21:00 the breeze died away so we furled the three sails in use, and began motoring. Over the next day the SE wind (ahead) gradually strengthened, and by midday Monday we were pitching slowly and uncomfortably into a freshening force 5. With a ground speed of two knots at best, and a heavy fuel consumption, it was time to find a waiting anchorage until the wind changed. We found a good one at Mersa Dudo, and dropped the pick there at 04:00 on Tuesday.
During Monday we'd been accompanied by a few critters. A family of small dolphins including a cow/calf pair. Terns and boobies - Ashley & Cathie said that they'd never seen boobies in the Mediterranean, nor in the northern half of the Red Sea. We were cruising about five miles off the SE coast of Eritrea (faintly seen through the dust haze) and unexpectedly were adopted for most of the day by an unmistakable hoopoe - look it up and you'll see what I mean. Broad black & white barred wings, orange head and body; long black bill, extravagant orange & black crest.
While on my evening watch I'd noted the Southern Cross, about ten degrees above the southern horizon, forward of the starboard beam, and opposite (abaft the port beam), the Plough, high in the north. A few brief glimpses of Polaris, twinkling dimly, when the clouds allowed.
Mersa Dudo (13°52′N, 41°54′E - check it out on Google Earth)
Lonely Planet describes Dankalia, the SE region of Eritrea, as "One of the hottest places on Earth and home to the famously hardy and fierce Afar people. There is little to see, nothing to do, and no great destination at the other end. A truly memorable experience with a genuine feel of exploration." With a rap like that we just had to stay a while...
Mersa Dudo means simply, Dudo Bay. We were in the lee of Mt. Dudo, an extinct volcano. This was a truly memorable anchorage - all around us for miles, were volcanic landforms. Mt. Dudo is an explosion crater. In the middle and further distance is a field of huge, symmetrical cinder cones, with rounded peaks, and sides at a die-straight angle of repose of about 55° until the easing-off of the slope at the base. A vast lava field of a'a runs over the pain from goodness knows where. On the western shore of the bay it had reached the sea.
We sheltered from the force 6 (gusting force 7) south-easter here, for six days, and had several exploratory trips ashore. We circumnavigated the main crater rim for some spectacular views over the coastal flats, lava flows, offshore reefs and islands, and inland towards distant mountains. The shoreline of the bay consists of several sandy coves divided by headlands of lava rock. A substantial wreck lies in one cove, of a riveted-hull ship. Perhaps of WW2 vintage.
There are a few "beach huts" or houses of lava blocks, the roofs of multiple old fishing nets laid over wooden beams. Where did the wooden beams come from? No-one was using them during our stay but they may still be used on a seasonal basis by locals on a "fishing camp?"
Up on the slopes of the volcano crater we came across a large number of lava-block shelters or pens (for goats?) and also many low piles of rocks, longer than they were wide. We suspected, burial cairns. There was a cluster of smaller ones, with flat beds of crushed coral on the inside... child graves? Then at the summit of the crater were three or four dug-out shelters with lava block windbreaks on the weather side. These had to be lookout stations - but for what? From the 1961-1991 Independence War?
On most days, from the ship we observed a couple of jackals on a daily scavenging run of the shoreline, and also came across deep holes that they'd dug in the sand. In a few places along the high tide line were the mummified bodies of small sharks, their fins sliced off (dried shark fin is worth good money in China). No doubt thrown overboard after being caught. I was surprised that the jackals hadn't eaten them.
Other debris around and above the huts were the remains of resident's meals. Skeletons of reef fish. Shells. Bits of turtle carapace. We also found a single huge whale vertebra - well above the shoreline. No idea.
In places there are low trees, with tough leaves and thorns, browsed off to as high as a goat can reach (and the goats can get up into the lower branches of the bigger ones). A carpet of spat-out thorns lies around each one. They are great sunshades for weary hikers.
On one day we were walking amongst these on the edge of the lava field, and encountered first a herd of goats, and then their herders - three boys aged about ten. On the same day we also separately encountered a man and woman wandering with intent - perhaps to fish - and a single elderly man who showed us a parrotfish he'd recently caught. All were friendly (and incomprehensible - but mime is good). Each carried a surprisingly small (say 500ml) plastic bottle of water suspended on a shoulder stick. Where had they come from? Presumably there is a village out there within a couple of hours walk. There were old 4WD and motorbike tracks in places, but they weren't recent.
On the flat coastal plain, the a'a had spread far and wide. The field has an abrupt edge to it, about four metres high. We climbed up to investigate. Very difficult/hazardous walking over the randomly arranged blocks. Better to go around it, on the flat. Yet when we first saw the goats and boys they were coming over the a'a.
"The Great Dinghy Adventure"
Late in the afternoon of our first day at Mersa Dudo, Ashley & I went ashore for the first time, dragging the dinghy just clear of the water, next to the wreck (we knew that tides in the Red Sea are only about half a metre). An excellent light for photographs and a leisured exploration of the beaches and coves. At the hut cove, we took shots of the sun setting into the haze behind Windjammer, then made our way over the headland back to the dinghy. Ashley was ahead of me, and I saw him crest the rise and abruptly put down his camera and pack, shout, and begin moving fast over the rocks, down to the beach.
"Oh-oh," I thought. By the time I had a view of the beach, Ashley was sprinting into the water after the dinghy, which was floating about ten metres off. He managed to halve the distance but then he ran out of puff and the dinghy got into the stiff offshore breeze, and away it went. Oh shit.
As Ashley laboured back to shore, I climbed back up to the crest and cooeed the distant Windjammer - Cathie looked up ("I thought you were skylarking at first," she later told me. "But when you and Ashley kept cooeeing I looked more closely and saw the dinghy.")
I did a rapid walk back to the hut cove (closest to Windjammer) - no running was possible on that rough surface. Cooeed and waved again (it was darkening rapidly) and began swimming out to WJ, some 200 yards. Meanwhile, Cathie had got the engine going and was hurrying back and forth between the helm and the bow, raising the anchor by herself. I kept waving and shouting on my way out. I was still twenty yards from WJ when the anchor came up and the ship began drifting away from me, as the dinghy had from Ashley. "Does she know I'm here?" So cooeed again. No, she hadn't known I was there - but did now. Phew. Now that I was 200 yards out the stiff breeze was getting the waves up and I'd have had difficulty swimming back to shore. Cathie put the ladder out then I took the helm while she took the binoculars to the bow to search for the dinghy.
By now there wasn't much light, but at least the full moon was rising. There was just enough to relocate the dinghy at a considerable distance out in the gloom. Perhaps mid-grey, without any reflective tape, was a poor choice of colour? It was about a mile out and sailing along nicely when we caught up with it.
A long run back to the anchorage, then I went in to collect Ashley, in full dark.
There are a couple of inflatable kayaks on WJ but we really didn't want to have to rely on them.
Phew. Well done Cathie, in particular (but it was a team effort).
When we went ashore the next day (and hereafter) the anchor line was run well ashore and the anchor buried in rocks...
Here endeth the lesson.
The prevailing winds in the southern half of the Red Sea are south-east, generally moderate to fresh, and in the Bab el Mendeb (the southern narrows), strong to gale force. No way were we going to motor into that. However, at this time of year there is a pattern of north-westers taking over for three or four days, about every two weeks. This is what we were waiting for (and got). So after six days at Mersa Dudo we woke to find the bows pointed out to sea, riding to a northern zephyr. Waited a few hours for it to strengthen, and off we went. Mainsail, foresail and balloon jib set, to resume our gybing progress.
Before we'd reached Massawa we had discussed the possibility of piracy in the southern Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, and worked out procedures and drills (including sending out a Mayday, quick smart, and retreating to our lock-in citadel behind metal watertight doors). Lo and behold, on our first night of this leg, I was on helm at 2300 under a bright full moon and running at over six knots before a fresh breeze when I heard a humming sound on our port quarter - it was just like rigging under tension, in a wind. But there was no rigging there. Odd. I put the helm on autopilot and peered more intently. Yikes. Out of the night came a big, sleek, dark and powerful skiff. Very fast. Almost as big as Windjammer. "Everybody on deck!" I yelled down the hatch as I rang the bell with abandon. A & C were up quick smart. Ashley used the binoculars as Cathie started boarding-up hatches. "Three men. An AK-47," he observed, to no-one in particular, and not terribly reassuringly.
They shouted at us to stop. Hmm - not really possible at night and with sails set in these fresh conditions. Nor was that our inclination. They did not close to board, and after a while of matching our course and speed from a distance of about fifty yards, they roared off into the night. Our best guess is that they were Eritrean military, patrolling the approaches to Assab. Phew. Our heartbeats had got a good workout.
Onwards to Djibouti
It took us 37 hours to sail the almost 200 miles to Djibouti, much of it at a splendid pace with the fresh breeze on our quarter. Dawn on the second day found us crossing the Eritrea/Djibouti border - Yemeni islands visible to the east - and approaching a hazy Bab el Mendeb. This is one of the great maritime choke points, and there is a traffic separation scheme for large vessels (and for us to keep out of). Not exactly Singapore Strait or the English Channel, but at times there were half a dozen big ships in sight despite the poor (five miles at the most) visibility. Most of these ships are bound to or from the Suez Canal - which has 85 ships going each way, every day.
Favourable winds followed us across the broad mouth of the Gulf of Tadjoura. This is renowned as a seasonal feeding ground for Whale Sharks. We saw none - but had a huge turtle float by within a few metres of the port side, as a consolation prize. As it got dark on the second night, the lights of Djibouti rose ahead. Many ships were anchored off - this is the only port for import/export to and from Ethiopia. A pity that it wasn't daylight (we could have sailed in - my favourite vanity). Prudence prevailed and we furled all just outside the harbour entrance, and motored in, to anchor by 2130. Dinner, then zz...
27 January 2020
Eritrea's capital, Asmara (pop. half a million) was established by the Italians in the 1890's, so lacks the deep history and old ruins of Massawa. What it does have, however, is the finest collection of grand early 20th-century architecture in Africa. You want art deco? They have art deco. I saw stylistic similarities to the North Queensland town of Innisfail, which was strongly influenced by Italian immigration in the late 1940's and 1950's.
We stayed at Africa Pension, a large two-story cubist pile from colonial days, in leafy grounds (with a bronze Roman statue) just across from the Italian embassy. A large dark-panelled lobby with a comfy lounge, and clean high-ceilinged rooms. They could do with a plumber, though. Our room featured an ensuite shower and toilet (neither of which worked - the management told us this beforehand) - and a handbasin that did work, but was coming away from the wall. The shared showers/toilets for the floor were clean and OK... once one understood that you needed to bring your own toilet paper or tissues. The good news about these showers was that there was an abundance of scalding hot water at good pressure, from the hot taps. The less-good news was that none of the cold taps worked...
As Amsa and I headed out to begin our first walkaround, early in the afternoon, the two young women of the day staff were beginning their lunch in a side pavilion, and generously invited us to join them. The standard Eritrean meal is a giant fluffy spicy pancake served on a huge round flat plate, with food on top (usually some sort of meat sauce). Eaten with the fingers. More people, add more pancakes and sauce. We asked what the pancake is made of and got an unintelligible answer, but I'm pretty sure that it is some sort of bean flour, spiced.
Asmara is in a mountain basin at an elevation of 2347m - a delightful climate and certainly a good reason to build a capital there. Our Massawa friend Sam, had warned us, "Asmara is always cold and always raining." Hmm - we were there in January (the coldest month) and I'd say it was about 17° at dawn. By mid-morning it was in the mid-twenties, and sunny. One of our two mornings was cool, moist, misty as the city was in cloud. You should have seen the Arctic survival gear that the locals were wearing! I just put a second shirt on.
Amsa turned out to have a core competence of sustained speed walking, and I continually struggled to keep up. "I didn't realise that I was so damn unfit. I am so out of breath," I complained. It took me awhile before the penny dropped - it was the elevation.
Asmara is fashionable and bustling with activity. No litter and very few beggars. The government seems keen for as many as possible to have a job - the very many government departments appeared to have huge staffs. So did the banks - with rows and rows of back-office staff visible doing important desk things.
The city has at least six sets of traffic lights at the major intersections. None of which work. This is not a problem as drivers are courteous to both each other, and pedestrians. I did not expect this. There are a lot of bright-yellow taxis, well looked-after.
From about 1700 to 1830 is pigafetta; the time to watch others, and to be seen. Promenading. Many slim and attractive people of both sexes in all styles of fashionable dress (and warmly clad), mostly western. Chatting, strolling, leaning. Drinking macchiatos in the cafes. A lot of older Eritrean gentlemen in the Italian style: Jacket suit, waistcoat and tie, cloth cap, smart shoes, cane.
The Eritrean government has made meaningful instruction in English, compulsory in all schools. I'd bet that TV and movies help, too. Most people that we spoke to, had good or passable English and were keen to use it. The desire to genuinely and honestly assist us was universal. With tourism close to zero, there are no rip-off merchants (you do need to engage in standard haggling at the markets, of course. But not to excess).
Twice, in response to my answer to the standard, "Where are you from?" Older men told me, "We love Australia! Fred Hollows helped us through the years of the struggle" (Hollows was an Australian opthalmologist who developed a simple surgical procedure that saved the sight of countless Eritrean children). The Australian Thomas Keneally's novel about the struggle, "Towards Asmara," is widely sold here.
Right in the centre of the city is a whole block taken up by the Catholic cathedral and its associated buildings, behind high walls apart from the cathedral itself. We walked in, about two-thirds of the way through a mass (in Italian). The kind of attendance that you'd see in most major European churches these days - less than a quarter full, mostly older, mostly female. A beautiful building, especially on the inside. I'd guess that it dates from the inter-war period, and is in a fine Romanesque style, in brick.
There are at least two major Orthodox churches in the city, ditto mosques. The lack of sectarianism in Eritrea (having all pulled together to defeat the Ethiopians) is fine to see.
There are three magnificent and huge cinemas in Asmara, dating from the same period. One seems out of commission and another appears to show mostly Eritrean films (yep - the government has sponsored a local film and television industry through quotas and tax incentives. Good for them).
Cinema Roma (built 1933) shows real love and dedication by all involved: the lobby has old projection equipment mounted for display, pride of place is a 1930's popcorn cabinet, classic movie posters adorn the staircases. A good café with immaculately uniformed staff in a 1950's style. The auditorium! The size of an opera house and all the seats in red plush. The staff member who showed us was rightly proud. Alas, he told us that there wasn't enough money in showing movies any more - principally because of the rental in relation to the ticket prices that Eritreans can pay. However they get a good income from showing... (wait for it)... English Premier League football, live.
Speaking of opera houses. Asmara has one (of course) and it is also in very good condition. I don't think it does opera, though.
Markets: the city naturally has a market district with piles of fresh produce, spices, grains etc. Well presented and of good quality. Being off the main street, there are many more people dressed traditionally. Transport of all sorts including a lot of pony carts. The cooler climate allows these to be used rather than donkeys - I was amazed to see how much a single pony can pull. These are large ponies but still well below horse size.
I never saw a mule during our time in Eritrea. Yet with ponies and donkeys being used in abundance (albeit in different parts of the country) I'd have thought it advantageous to breed some, when a good pack animal is needed. There were plenty of pack donkeys and camels in the out-of-town regions.
Merdeba market is in its own part of town. A large area of what could best be described as light-industrial activity. Very light. Everything imaginable is recycled here into useful objects.
Many of the workers are lads of school age, in frightening proximity to (okay, using) power saws, welding gear and other assorted maiming hazards. Safety equipment? Does a cardboard welding mask count?
After we'd had two days and nights at Asmara, Amsa took a flight to Heathrow via Addis Ababa and Paris; I returned to Massawa to look after Windjammer and Cat - Ashley & Cathie passed me on the road, going up. When we sailed from Massawa a few days later there were just the three of us...
26 January 2020
During our eight days anchored at Massawa, we decided to split into two pairs for a couple of nights in the capital Asmara - a four-hour bus ride inland. This to make sure that someone was sleeping aboard WJ (there wasn't any serious risk there but you never know) and also to feed Cat.
Our port passes were OK for Massawa but to leave the town we'd need visas; so first thing on Monday morning (we'd arrived Saturday) we all presented at the Immigration office. About four friendly staff took about three hours to process our visas - Amsa and I had to go off for new passport photos (she had run out; mine had a cream wall behind me, rather than white). So we went out for breakfast and coffee for some time. US$50 per visa.
Then, "You must now go to the Tourism Office for travel permits." So into a group taxi, and asked the driver to let us know when to get out. Awhile later he realised that he'd overshot... this wasn't too bad as we then got the World Tour of Massawa. There is no shortage of space there, so wide boulevards (the Italian heritage) and large compounds. We passed the live goat market, which was pretty cool. A very noticeable difference between Eritrea and Sudan is the lack of plastic litter in Eritrea's towns. There are municipal litter bins at frequent intervals which are clearly used by all.
Anyway. Back to the general vicinity of the tourism office. Following the pointed directions we went into an impressive new municipal building - which was the administrative headquarters for the region - who then directed us to the correct building across the street. Through a side entrance with the door missing and up three flights of stairs (Amsa was lugging her 20kg backpack as she was to fly out from Asmara) to another quiet office with four staff. The helpful Ismail sat us down and filled out the lengthy permits by hand, and gave us tourist brochures. This took only an hour. Only 52 Nakfa each for the permits (A$5.20).
"Now you must get a security stamp." Oh-oh. He gave us directions as how to get to the security office, "It is only a ten-minute walk." Eritreans are clearly world-class speed walkers. After several false turns and then another taxi, we got off at the Liberation Monument (three tanks - they looked like ex-Soviet WW2 models - and a water feature without water) as the Security Office was next door. Hmm. There was an abandoned and boarded-up building... after going all around it and calling out, we followed a sign that said "Police Station 100m," coming to an unmarked building at the end of the street with a few fellows in civvies playing pool in the shade, and two sitting outside. No sign of a police station.
"Hello. We are trying to get a security stamp for a travel permit to Asmara."
"This is a police station. You need National Security." So back to the abandoned building. A couple of locals assured us that we had the right place and that the staff were probably "on a break" (it was 2.30PM). So we sat down by the Liberation Monument. Some time later, Ismail from the tourism office cycled past on his way home from a hard day. Lucky he did. He led us around the block in search of security staff, then got on his mobile (Eritrean mobiles work but foreigners' don't, nor could we obtain SIM cards for them) and got the security chap to come back! Who opened the abandoned (and unmarked) building and, over about twenty minutes, rechecked our documentation and stamped our travel permits.
By now it was after 4PM and the prospect of a 4-hour bus ride to Asmara, arriving in the dark was just too much. Plus, Amsa still had her 20kg pack and had been lugging it all day (half German and half Japanese - was she going to let me take turns carrying it? No way.
I will point out here, that although the bus to Asmara the next day stopped at a couple of police checkpoints, it was only for a look-over and our permits were not checked. Nor did we need to present them when checking-in to our accommodation in the city. But at least we had no cause to worry.
Day 2/Try 2: A group taxi to the Massawa main bus station, and a not very long wait for the next bus to Asmara. This was about twice the size of a standard minibus. People and small bags inside until it is chock-full, and big bags on the roof rack (in the towns, one commonly sees live goats tethered there). Then off we go. 32 Nakfa (A$3.20) for the four hour journey. Looking out along the way, feral goats and camels browsing the shrubbery. Several trains of pack camels and pack donkeys being led along. A few thin cattle.
Up - up - up. At first we travelled over some coastal plains; occasional bridges over wide river beds with hardly any water in them (but there is clearly a heavy Wet season). The town of Ghindae was our halfway rest stop at an elevation of 950m.
Child vendors, mostly traditionally dressed, mobbed us selling travel snacks, all for ten Nakfa. Cooked corn cobs, roasted & salted peanuts, bags of sultanas... Many buses were temporarily parked in the same area and there were shops and snackeries across the street. Clearly a regional transport interchange. As well as motor vehicles, plenty of donkey carts in use.
From Ghindae to Asmara (elevation 2347m) was an
unrelenting climb with many hairpin bends. The two-lane road is in fair condition and has a considerable amount of heavy trucks on it - Eritrea has 5.5 million people and Massawa is the only working port. Slow trucks courteously move aside for faster traffic, without fuss.
All the way from Massawa to Asmara, the road is paralleled by a single-track railway. Given the steep terrain, an amazing achievement of early 20th-century civil engineering. The rails and bridges are still in place but the line is out of commission - I suspect, since the Independence War. To restore it to carry freight would be a huge undertaking but a great boon to the country. Take note, China...
Beyond Ghindae the country greens up. The steep hills are terraced beyond feasibility - I swear that some of the terraced slopes were steeper than 50 degrees. Some sort of scraggy grain crop - maize perhaps; or millet? Many Orthodox churches, some big enough to be monasteries. Also Catholic churches, and mosques. A surprising detail was to see that many of the humblest of dwellings in even the smallest settlements, sported parabolic dishes on their roofs. We passed at least three men cycling up the highway - two were in lycra! Olympic cyclists in training?When Ashley & Cathie came up on this bus, two days later, they saw a family troop of large baboons beside the road.
Finally we reached the outskirts of Asmara (pop. half a million). One of the first things we passed was what was clearly a British Military Cemetery, well looked-after. It turns out that 450 British and Empire troops are buried there, from the fighting in 1941 (the Italians fought doggedly in Eritrea and Abyssinia. They also have a war cemetery in the city).
A taxi from the colourful cacophony of the Asmara bus terminal took us through the labyrinth to our accommodation at "Africa Pension." Which will start the next blog...
25 January 2020
Our five-day passage from Suakin (Sudan) was concluded at 1430 (we thought) on 25th January when we anchored in Massawa harbour. Massawa is the only major port in Eritrea (the former main port of Assab has been passed by, by time and war). During our eight-day stay we saw several large ships come and go - container ships, car carriers, bulk carriers. There are two or three modern harbour tugs in good repair, and ship turnaround was one to two days.
On VHF, we we told to bring WJ into a temporarily vacant tug berth at 1730. So we waited at anchor, and were surprised at 1700 to see a group of officials on the wharf waving and shouting to bring us in early. Ah - it turns out that in passing from The Sudan to Eritrea, we'd changed time zones; we were now three hours ahead of GMT, and it was 1800. Oops. Anyway, our three gentlemen (Quarantine, Customs, and Immigration) were friendly and helpful. We did the paperwork, were given shore passes, and went back to anchor.
Lonely Planet describes Massawa as, "One of the hottest places on Earth." Just as well we were here in midwinter. The days were sunny and high 20's; the nights plummeted to about 20°. In July the days reach the high 40's...
Massawa shares some characteristics with Suakin. Both benefited from the ancient trade routes through the Red Sea, and were built on smallish islands near the coast, for easier defence (and now, both connected to the land by causeways, with the modern city sprawling away to landward).
Ottoman control from the 16th century, then Egyptian for awhile in the 19th, both leaving an architectural mark. Then from the last decade of the nineteenth century, Massawa became part of the Italian colony of Eritrea. This bequeathed it with much Italo-Moorish architecture: tall arches, shady tall halls, very graceful lines. Wide straight tree-lined boulevards. During their fifty years in control, the Italians turned Eritrea into a prosperous place with a humming industrial economy and excellent infrastructure.
Too bad that in June 1940, with France collapsing before the Nazi juggernaut and Britain licking its wounds after Dunkirk, Mussolini declared war on Britain and France (Franco, although under huge pressure from Hitler to do the same, didn't). Bad idea. Really, really bad idea. So by late 1941, the British had Eritrea. They remained until 1950 when the UN (without asking the Eritreans) decided that it would be a federal state within Ethiopia - giving Ethiopia access to the sea. This arrangement bumped along without too much trouble until 1961, when Ethiopia abolished the federal arrangement and simply annexed Eritrea. Pretty soon the Independence War began and continued for thirty years, despite the Ethiopian revolution happening halfway along, with the murder of Emperor Haile Selassie and the establishment of a Marxist junta (the Dergue). By the early 1990's, Eritrea had won its independence, although at huge cost. The wonderfully named, Eritrean People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, became the government. What could possibly go wrong after that?
Massawa was dreadfully knocked-about during the Independence War, with heavy weaponry used by both sides to attack enemy positions in the fortified buildings. Tanks, artillery, aircraft bombs. The damage is still evident in many places. Just outside the port gates stands a magnificent former Italian bank, heavily damaged by artillery as it was one the Ethiopians' last holdouts. In a park out the front is a massive marble plinth with a pile of rubble on it.
"What statue was that?" I asked Sam, our Eritrean go-to man.
"Haile Selassie on a horse," he smiled.
We always landed the dinghy inside the port security perimeter and went out through the checkpoint to the Old Town - this at first glance is dilapidated, but proved to be something of a social hub for the city. Bars and restuarants! At the weekends, wedding parties! Eritreans are hugely into weddings - we popped into one in a big marquee at the end of a street full of celebrating friends, eating at long tables with food cooked on charcoal fires in huge cauldrons. Inside the marquee, there were singers on a stage (traditional music) with scores of guests singing and dancing in an inward-facing circle, Some big double-ended hand drums were slung before some of them. All of the women had spectacularly braided and styled hair, protected by the thin white cotton shawl that the majority of them wear. The wedding celebrations ran for two whole days.
An unexpected national symbol of Eritrea is their long-necked terracotta coffee pot - you see super-sized ones proudly mounted on decorated cairns in various places - even a huge stone one as well. You need a long time to drink traditional coffee. Fresh beans are roasted in a small pan over a charcoal fire, then pounded in a pestle and then stewed in the pot on the coals. While all sit down and chat.
There is nothing ethnically homogenous about Eritrea - they are the product of millennia of successive waves of traders and settlers from all directions. There are at least seven major tribal and language groups, and mosques, orthodox and catholic churches stand not too far from each other. The styles of dress vary accordingly - many in different types of traditional garb, some in western clothes. Most tend to smart dressing. After three months in Islamic countries (long sleeves and long trousers), Cathie & Amsa were delighted to be able to walk about in above-the-knee light dresses.
Well inside the labyrinth of the Old Town, we were directed to Salam Restaurant - which looked abandoned but opened its creaking shutters just before sunset. The proprietor brought out a tray with three large and freshly caught fish on it, for us to choose one (which was a Red Emperor), and then invited us into the kitchen. The whole fish was split open and had spices rubbed onto the inside, then put head-down into a tandoori oven with the outside of the fish pressed against the sides. At the same time, rolled-out flatbread dough was slapped onto the inside of the oven (jar) to quickly produce a delicious toasty, fluffy bread. Out in the open in front of the restaurant, we had a fine feast - with water, as this was in the Muslim quarter. None of the skin or bone scraps went to waste - the alley cats under the table made sure of that. I was struck by how friendly the alley cats were with humans - Eritreans as a rule must be kind to them. An effective way of keeping the town rat-free, of course.
There are hole-in-the-wall shops, and a small market, in Massawa every day, but the big market is on Fridays and is a taxi ride away from the port. I attended this to get veg for the ship and just to look around (and get a new keffiyeh for me, to replace my very old one. A good one in the Eritrean style - and labelled Made in Pakistan - cost 80 Nakfa = $A8). A huge range of stuff; as well as fresh food, rows and rows of stalls selling fabrics and clothing, mostly in the traditional style. I was the only white person in the entire market. The traders were honest and the crowd friendly - I was entirely safe. Child vendors followed to sell me garlic, chicken stock, and other things.
Leaving the market, I waiting at the taxi point for the next group taxi back to the port. The minibus pulled up and I swear that twenty slightly-built women, all veiled but in many colours (including black), folded out. A small man (who'd got out first) handed many of them, money... their husband, for the shopping? Once I boarded, I realised that he was the bus conductor, handing out change for the fare.
On the larger, inshore of the two islands of Massawa, is a considerable district of old Italo-Moorish style hotels. One (the Grand Dahlak Hotel) is open after renovation. Wonderful dark wood and marble lobby, bars and staircases. A lido-type swimming pool. We called in for beers a few times! Other hotels in the same style are being restored gradually, and in no hurry. This will take a few years. Massawa, with its historic buildings and extensive offshore archipelago of coral reefs and cays, has considerable tourist potential - in the winter months, at least. It clearly had that in the colonial past.
About the beer. "Asmara Beer" stubbies cost 14 Nkfa (A$1.40) at any bar or restaurant, and is a good drop. You cannot buy a carton of it anywhere for less than A$60, however! So we didn't get any for the boat. Asmara spirits are sold in bars and restaurants for A$0.10 per nip - the gin, vodka and "zibib" (raki) are of good quality. Don't ask about the cognac - and we didn't try the rum. Wine is imported (usually South African) and is too expensive to contemplate, at about A$40 per bottle.
During our sojourn at Massawa we travelled in pairs to the capital of Asmara, for two nights each. Standby for the next blog...
Suakin to Massawa
23 January 2020 | Massawa
We departed Sudan's historic port of Suakin on 20th January with a moderate to fresh NW winds for all of this leg - pretty much right astern. This is an inconvenience for a schooner without square topsails, but not too much. We made good progress in long gybes, usually with four sails set, with the breeze at four points on the quarter so a ninety-degree alteration for each gybe.
This coastline of the Red Sea is strongly reminiscent of the Great Barrier Reef inner route between Cairns and Cape York, that I've worked for many years. Countless cays and reefs (but no barrier reef) extending far offshore. A good lookout required as the charted positions of the reefs are not necessarily compatible with electronic charts, however we foundthe kap files (google satellite images) spot on. Major shipping running between Suez and Bab el Mendeb is far over the horizon in the deep centre of the Red Sea. The inshore region is a snorkeller's and diver's paradise. Also a troller's - during this leg we caught four good-sized fish on the lure. A Golden Trevally and a Spanish Mackerel (dinner for four or more, each) and a couple of Barracuda (which we threw back). Also lots of floating weed - and a lost lure. That must have been a bigun. We were surprised at the lack of local fishing craft - there were some, but nowhere near what you'd expect.Where convenient anchorages existed, we hopped from one to another for overnight stays and shore explorations.
The first night out of Suakin we entered the mainland reef lagoon of Marsa esh Sheikh Ibrahim, just after dark ("Marsa," is Arabic for "Anchorage/Bay"). Our first surprise was to find the entrance well lit with working beacons. The second, was to find a modern port there, with ships tied up. This was not on our chart! Daylight revealed the port to be spanking-new but not in commission. The six or so ships were all livestock carriers, and laid-up. My guess is Chinese infrastructure aid.
We were only there for the overnight shelter so departed early without going ashore. Goodbye, telephone and internet signal (it was surprising to get it here) until Djibouti, about three weeks away... By late forenoon we'd re-anchored at Long Island, a cay in the Shubuk Channel (the inner of three alternative coastal passages through the reefs). A couple of fishing dhows were drawn up on the beach - friendly guys who loved our gift of digestive biscuits (they had asked for water, which we couldn't give). Tidal flats in the middle of the island had a small flock of flamingos feeding - the first we've seen. We are in Africa, then.
The next day's run was about nine daylight hours, which took us to Khor Nawarat, a large coastal lagoon guarded by reefs and cays. A good shelter from the fresh nor'wester. Going ashore the next morning, the barren-looking island didn't promise much but proved interesting. Great numbers of large shells of reef molluscs, elaborately shaped. An abundance of deep-red coral, washed up. A nesting pair of ospreys using a huge nest on the ground, with two young chicks in it (Ashley took great pix). Coming out of the sand at the high tide mark, bright yellow flowers with a hyacinth-like appearance... and even here, plenty of seaborne empty plastic bottles...
Stepping back onto WJ, the soles of my sandshoes felt sticky - there were blobs of sand-covered tar there. Presumably from crude oil drifting around and coagulating into balls, before being washed-up on the cay.
The run of 23rd- 24th January was a long one involving overnight sailing, and anchoring about half an hour after sunset on the second day. It also took us over the Sudan/Eritrea border. We settled in the lee of Sheikh el Abu island, which is on the same reef as the larger Herat island.
In the morning we went ashore to the uninhabited cay. There is a tall metal-lattice light tower there, out of commission. On the tidal flats below the former light were two rifled artillery barrels of about 3-inch calibre, one with the remains of its mounting turntable. Intriguing. They were very old and encrusted - our best guess was of WW2 vintage, mounted by the Italians against the British (so the latest date-of-use would be 1941).
At another location on the island was a tall (chest-high) osprey nest, disused, amongst the remains of coral-block huts and firepits, presumably former fisherman's shelters.
There followed, a five-hour sail to the port of Massawa, to formally enter Eritrea (next blog entry)...
20 January 2020 | Suakin
I flew into Port Sudan International Airport (yes, there is one) on the weekly flight from Dubai on 17th January. Windjammer's very competent agent, Mohamed (about fifty, tall, very dark, deep voice in very good English, immaculate long white robes and white cap), met me there with his driver Hashim, smoothed the way through Immigration, and we drove the 50km south to the old port of Suakin, where WJ was anchored. Ashley, Cathie and Amsa were aboard. Sorry, forgot to mention Cat who joined in Port Said at the end of November. Definitely the most interactive member of the entire crew. Her paws are everywhere.
Once I'd settled in, it was Second Christmas, with the toys and food I'd brought from Brisbane. Iridium satphone! New iPad! Bulk Vegemite; crunchy peanut butter; bread yeast; yoghurt powder; wasabi... Amsa had requested vodka from Dubai duty-free. Alas, this was not possible - Sudan is a Dry country.
Suakin was until the beginning of the twentieth century, the principal Red Sea port for the Sudan, with a good trade to and from the East via Bab-el-Mendeb. From Suakin, caravans travelled to Khartoum, whence up and down the Nile, especially to Alexandria and onwards to Venice. This trade reduced greatly after 1500 (when the Portuguese established the Cape route) and finally came to an end in 1901 when the British, having conquered Mahdist Sudan, established the new and much bigger Port Sudan.
Old Suakin is on a small island connected to the mainland by a short causeway, and is mostly picturesque ruins. The old buildings were of hewn coral blocks held together with some sort of mortar or concrete and it appears that it is this that has failed - perhaps by using desert sand (which is too smooth for construction purposes)? Another possibility is acidic soil, eroding the lime blocks at the base, during the short Wet seasons. Suakin was under Ottoman control for a few centuries until the 19th; and then Egyptian, until the Mahdists took over. The Ottoman and Egyptian official buildings have magnificent facades. There are still two breech-loading 19th-century field guns mounted outside the old, falling-down (but still used by Sudan military) port garrison headquarters.
A couple of years ago, the Turkish government obtained a 99-year lease on Old Suakin island, and renovation works are now under way using local labour and Turkish engineers. The intention is to gradually restore it to its 19th-century glory and then develop it as a tourist destination. This is not as nuts as it sounds - despite Port Sudan, New Suakin still has considerable port infrastructure; some large cargo vessels use it, and so do considerable "cross-channel" type ferries, plying across the Red Sea to Jeddah.
We always felt safe while exploring Suakin. The locals are friendly; and smartly and cleanly dressed. The men tend to flowing white robes with dark open waistcoats; the women to colourful robes, and covered heads.
The country last year deposed its dictator of decades, and everyone is optimistic about that. However the police checkpoints on roads remain (mostly to monitor trucks) and we needed a permit to travel to Port Sudan to do the bulk shopping (for the day's shopping, Cathie had one hundred thousand pounds! Sudanese pounds, that is). We could leave the dinghy tied-up by itself by the shore with no fear that it would be spirited away or robbed of its gear.
The main highway from Khartoum to Port Sudan runs past (not through) Suakin and is a good-quality two-lane affair, elevated above Wet season events. Huge trucks and road tankers constantly going both ways. The road in its present state is a fairly recent effort by an Italian infrastructure company. It runs through scrubby dry country with feral goats in hundreds, a few feral camels, and shanty huts. Also large drifts of windblown plastic litter. The towns, too, are full of this.
Port Sudan (population 500,000) is bustling and commercial - a busy cacophony. Buildings and roads generally in poor repair though, and with the ubiquitous litter. The countless mosques were all in good condition. A clean butcher's shop had a good range of excellent meat. Whenever one stood still for more than about a minute, polite female beggars would appear as if from nowhere.
Suakin's large souk was astonishing for the range and quality of the fresh produce for sale. Also for the range and garb of the people attending (we were the only whites there). Many tall and dark young men, in robes and waistcoats, afro hair with feathers in, and beautifully scabbarded swords slung across their backs. Did I take photos? No.
Clouds of aromatic smoke were an indication of fresh date stalls (the smoke, issuing from tin pots, keeps the flies away).
Donkey carts everywhere; in the souk used for general transport but in Suakin and Port Sudan generally, mostly for delivering water to houses.
"Coffee" here, is ground, roasted and prepared almost anywhere, usually on a big rug in the shade, and is a reason to sit down and chat for some time. It is usually brewed on a small light metal stove with charcoal underneath. A tiny china cup, over half-full of sugar, then the very dark and strong coffee infused with fresh ginger is added. It's addictive.
So many of these traditionally-garbed people were sporting smart phones! Our own phone and internet signal was good here. The language is Arabic and the people are a mix of Arab and African, tending to look like the latter and dress like the former. Plenty of locals approached us to practice their English.
On our last morning, Ashley & I took a three-wheel tuk-tuk taxi to a busy truck stop on the edge of town, to fill two 60-litre and two 20-litre plastic containers with spare diesel fuel (our main tanks had already been topped-up at 50 US cents a litre). The hassle of lifting the 60-litre drums into the tuk-tuk and the dinghy, and hoisting on board using the foresail halliard, was eased by the price of the stuff - 5 US cents a litre. There is subsidised fuel for you.
We departed Suakin on 20th January, heading SE. WJ had been there for six days...
AQABA TO SUAKIN
18 January 2020
Finally on the 21st December with our new Aussie crew member, Amsa, we left Aqaba and headed south. A nice tail wind made for a fast sail back to Ras Abu Galum then onto Sharm El Sheikh. Nice to have some familiarity. From there we had another cracking sail across the Gulf Of Suez to Ras Abu Soma where we stopped for a much needed bottom scrub and a quiet Christmas Day. This coastline has some magnificent mountain ranges with small and large jagged peaks dominating the skyline and offering spectacular sunsets. The following day at N Fairway Reef we were approached by two officials requesting we come ashore with our ships papers. We duly followed to the local Orca Dive Centre where we were cleared to come ashore for a beer and dinner at the local resort. What a bonus!
From there we did an overnighter to Marsa Alam arriving at about 7am and worked our way through the reef into a large lagoon. There were a number of dive boats sitting at anchor as well as fishing boats all servicing the resort town. We were just having breakfast when a boat pulled up alongside us demanding we leave immediately as this was a restricted area. They suggested we go to the reef about 3 miles to the south which we did and found it to be quite sheltered. The following day we set off for Foul Bay.
This part of the coast has some amazing Lagoons (Mersas) and Reefs (Sha'b) and the coral is in very good condition hence its popularity with diving enthusiasts. We anchored off a large sand quay called Wadi Gimal which turned out to be quite a fascinating stop over. Osprey Eagles were nesting in well established nests built on mounds giving them a view of any potential egg thieves. Amsa was having trouble with a few sores on her ankle and hand that were rapidly turning into tropical ulcers but she wasn't keen on taking antibiotic's so no more snorkelling.
Next was Ras Banas with a good anchorage tucked in behind the point. Our "Kap Files ", (these are google earth maps that are converted into navigable charts) allowed us to stray off the beaten track. Both our on board electronic charts, Navionics and open CPN proved to be unreliable when navigating through the inner reefs. We dropped anchor near a small military outpost complete with a mobile radio station and large collapsible antenna. Of course... this was the last decent anchorage before the Sudan Border. Here we celebrated New Years eve with freshly caught tuna sashimi washed down with raki from Crete.
We had approval from our agent in Suakin to stop along the way before officially clearing into Sudan. So our first stop was at Sha'ab Abu Fendera reef, here the snorkelling was excellent, our best yet, with vibrant fishlife and corals. Ashley managed to spear a nice big grouper for lunch. This added to our growing supply of Blue Fin tuna, of which we had caught a few to date. In the afternoon we were approached by some Egyptian offshore fisherman looking for a replacement filling yoke for their rusty old dive compressor. Unfortunately, we were unable to help them.
Next was Marsa Shinab a lagoon smack bang in the middle of the desert or at least that's how it felt. We entered the lagoon via a narrow inlet and on one side there were 2 trucks, a Bedouin tent and a bunch people swimming in the water, we passed really close to them. I guess they were probably carting camels for export. The lagoon extended about 4 miles into the desert. With Amsa up in spreaders and Cathie on the end of the bowsprit we managed to avoid sandbanks and bommies and anchored in the western most cove. This is probably the safest anchorage in the Red Sea. We did quite a bit of hiking ashore.
The constant northerly wind had allowed us to sail virtually the entire way so far and we were getting very good at gybing the gaffs and setting and lowering the fisherman sail.
We had a brisk overnight sail down to the town of Mohammed Qol where we were hoping to replenish our dwindling fresh produce. It has been almost 3 weeks since we left Aqaba. The guide book details "a small fishing village" where you can pick up a few provisions. Alas the guide book is almost 20 years old and the 2019 update makes no mention.
We arrived at the small settlement which looked as though the houses had been broken down for firewood. There were however a few fishermen still living there running the small fishing co-op. A bigger town come military base had been constructed about 5kms away. We attempted to find out if supplies were available from the town but the language barrier kicked in. Our attempts to ask about buying food led them to kindly give us 6 eggs and some pita bread from their meagre supplies. A wonderful gesture. We returned with a package of assorted goodies which they gratefully accepted.
Next was the anchorage of Marsa Inkefail another lagoon cut out of the desert. We were fortunate to sight various small herds of wild camels. Unsure of their behaviour we kept our
From here it was onto the Talia Islands, a group of two sandy cays with surrounding reefs. Too windy to go snorkelling so hiked around the island, again lots of Ospreys nesting.
The next leg was a 50-60 mile run so needed to leave and arrive in daylight due to poor charting and lots of reef navigation. We took the inner route and enjoyed flat seas thanks again to the "kap files". We anchored in the lovely lagoon of Marsa Fijja. A few weekend fishermen, probably from Port Sudan had set up a tent ashore and the girls were providing them with a welcome distraction.
Our plan was to sail to Port Sudan the next morning to get a sim card and some provisions. On our way there we passed the Aussie sailing Yacht Anthem heading in the opposite direction. We struck up a radio chat and Adrian informed us that checking in at Port Sudan was complicated and that we would probably not achieve our objectives. The alternative was Suakin, another 30 miles further south. Anthem was headed for the anchorage we had just come from. They offered us the use of their Iridium satellite connection and a Sudanese sim card, not to mention the lure of ice cold beers. We did a quick u turn and motored 20 miles back to Marsa Fijja! It was really great to meet up with a fellow Aussie again. We hadn't seen any cruisers since leaving Crete back in October and were dying for a bit of company. Adrian and his Italian partner Marianne were great company. We spent 3 days together heard lots of stories of Marianne's time with Sea shepherd, had a few drinks and exchanged loads of information. We were particularly interested in East Africa where they had just come from.
The weather was perfect so went out to Sha'b Rumi reef, renowned for Jacque Cousteau's underwater science observatory. Anthem had extra dive gear so Ashley, Amsa and Adrian went for a dive to look at what was left of it. It was sad leaving our new friends but Suakin and further adventures were beckoning.
One of the most popular and scenic dive sites in Sudan is Saganeb reef. Its the only atoll in the Red Sea, laying some 20miles off the coast. It is also a world heritage site dominated by an imposing lighthouse built by the Brits in 1906.
We worked our way into the lagoon late in the afternoon and anchored just north of the lighthouse. There was enough light so took the dingy to the northern pier and introduced ourselves to the lighthouse keeper and his band of five crew. He had been the keeper for the past 30 years, and generously took us on a tour of the infrastructure. The view from the top of the tower was awesome.
The wind was still up and Amsa's and Ashley's now well developed tropical ulcers prevented us from doing any snorkelling. Bah!
Next stop Suakin.
Gulf of Suez to Ras Mohammad and the Gulf of Aqaba
21 December 2019
Back on board and Vendela’s husband, Damien had flown in from Saudi to join us for the passage to Aqaba. The weather forecast was in our favour with NE winds predicted for the next 7 days. We decided to favour the Sinai coast and set off for Ras Sedr. We arrived the following day and anchored just south of the pier servicing the oil rig tenders. There were numerous oil fields in the area and Sedr was the main oil terminal. The coast line is quite impressive with the desert stretching a short way to the foothills of the mountain range that runs the full length of the Sinai Peninsular. It includes Mount Catharine 2600m and Mount Sinai.
There were numerous oil fields in the area and Sedr was the main oil terminal. The coast line is quite impressive with the desert stretching a short way to the foothills of the mountain range that includes Mount Catharine 2600m and Mount Sinai. This range runs the full length of the Sinai Peninsular.
Ras Abu Zenima another small town servicing the oil industry was our next stop. We anchored to the east of the pier where a few work boats were tied up. I was reminiscing about the last time I had sailed along this coast and how totally uninhabited it was then. Now there is a highway running the full length of the peninsular connecting numerous towns, oil terminals and military installations. Loads of trucks and vehicles are constantly moving back and forth. Apparently there are ½ million Egyptian soldiers based in the Sinai trying to contain the Isis insurgence.
Ras Budran was another convenient overnight anchorage similar to the others. All providing good protection from the prevailing NE winds. El Tur was quite different in that it was a small city established in the 13th century. We arrived late at night and anchored in the basin adjacent to the harbour. Unfortunately, we were unable to go ashore as we had cleared out of Egypt at Port Suez. They no longer issue cruising permits although you are allowed to anchor overnight but have to stay on board. The town looked quite impressive from the anchorage and certainly would have been interesting to explore. We could see a large boatbuilding yard constructing both wooden and fibre glass boats for the tourist and diving industries.
Ras Kanisah was our last stop before rounding Ras Mohammad. Tucked in behind a coral reef was a lagoon with a pier and Kasbah reminiscent of Lawrence of Arabia. A number of dive boats were tied up to the pier offering dive trips to the nearby WW2 British Armed Merchant Navy ship. Rated as one of the top 10 dive sites in the world. The next day we stopped at a couple of reefs for snorkelling before continuing onto the gulf of Aqaba.
The wind carried us all the way around Ras Mohammad leaving us to motor the short distance to Sharm el Sheikh. We arrived after sunset to find a coastline overwhelmed with hotels, resorts and amusement centres of all descriptions, strobe lights and thumping music from all directions. We found a little cove and dropped anchor for the night. At sunrise the following morning we were off again, a 60 mile run to Dahab motoring against a light NE. We spent the night a few miles north of Dahab at Ras Abu Galum where we picked up one of two moorings just off a Bedouin tourist camp. The next morning the predicted southerly wind kicked in and we off again under full sail, for the last 60miles to Aqaba.
We gybed backwards and forwards crossing the narrow gulf making sure not to stray into Saudi territorial waters carrying as much sail as possible so as to arrive before sunset. Damien was pointing out interesting landmarks and wadis on the Saudi side that he had managed to explore from his base not far from the Jordanian border. We were making good time and the final gybe took us across the Jordanian border keeping us clear of the Israeli side. Suddenly two coast guard vessel appeared, fortunately they were Jordanian and hailed us to stop. At this stage we were doing 8 knots under full sail so I pointed to the sails exclaiming we can't just stop! Orders were issued and the canvas cover was removed from the bow machine gun and aimed directly at me! Ummmm.......... all hands on deck! We furled the headsail and hove too under main and fore. This was acceptable and an exchange of details followed. Half an hour later we were cleared to proceed to Aqaba with a pleasant "welcome to Jordan" a phrase we would often hear during our visit, a nice change from Egypt.
We ended up arriving in the dark, (sun was setting just before 5.00pm) and had a nerve racking hour or so dodging unlit pontoons steel mooring buoys etc. whilst trying to find somewhere to anchor. Eventually a small boat came out from the YC to guide us in. lots of shouting and Arabic instructions ensued as we entered the small and congested harbour. There was only one spot where we were able to squeeze into stern too. Customs and immigration people came on board and soon we were cleared in.
We spent a month at the Royal Jordanian Yacht Club. Its location in the city centre was perfect, allowing us to use our bikes to explore in and around the city. Our replacement solar panels arrived and the YC manager Captain Mahmoud was instrumental in getting them through customs and us not having to pay any duty. Damien and Vendela were off to their desert camp and we took off on a road trip.
First to the magnificent ancient city of Petra where we spent 2 days hiking around the ruins with cat and her new harness.
From there to Wadi Rum with its moonscape desert and Bedouin camp sites.
Amman the capital with a mix of new and old still has a wonderful old city. The Roman city of Jerash near the Syrian border was awesome. Finally we took the Dead Sea highway back to Aqaba
We found the Jordanian people to be extremely welcoming and enjoyed all the sights, sounds and tastes the country had to offer.
Transiting the Suez
01 November 2019
After our summers cruising which was mainly Italy, Greece and Montenegro, we headed for the island of Crete. This was to be our last stop before leaving the Mediterranean. Our new Swedish crew member Vendela joined us in Agios Nikolaos. Her mission was to get from Sweden to Saudi Arabia with the smallest possible carbon footprint. Her new husband Damien an Australian marine biologist was employed on a state run commercial venture in the Gulf of Aqaba which was where we were headed for.
We had also arranged for our new solar panels and controller to be shipped to Agios Nikolaos from Germany. German efficiency on this occasion failed us completely. Not only did the package arrive late adding 2 weeks to our departure date but it also turned out to be the incorrect panels. So, after completing all the official paper work to collect, we had to hastily return them by post before setting off that afternoon for the 420 mile passage to Port Said, the northern entrance to the Suez Canal. .
We had good reaching weather and after just 3 days arrived at the entrance to the channel late evening. There were many ships sitting at anchor waiting to transit the canal. Pilot boats were crisscrossing between the ships and the radio channels were inundated with foreign language garble. We eventually got through to the Port Authority and permission was granted for us to proceed to the "Port Faoud Yacht Club". This is a fairly busy channel to put it lightly, so we were quite surprised to see local fishing boats trawling in the middle of the channel with no navigation lights! We weaved our way through these and were then met by the obligatory pilot boat who deposited a pilot on board to take us the through the remainder of the channel to the yacht club.
The Yacht Club is located in a small dilapidated basin off the side of the canal entrance with much wash from the constant traffic. We were advised by the pilot to tie alongside but after the first five minutes it was evident that this was going to be both unsafe and uncomfortable. Instead we dropped anchor with a stern tie up and used our dinghy to get ashore. We had engaged an agent, Captain Heebi to look after the mountains of paperwork that is required for a first transit of the canal. As we had arrived late in the evening we were not allowed ashore until our entry visas had been processed which wasn't until the following afternoon
There was the compounding problem that it was Prophet Mohammed's birthday weekend and so with no officials working we had to wait until Monday. Part of the process is that you are visited by the measurer of the Suez Canal Authority who determines your net tonnage and a fee is payable based on this measurement. Windjammer's net tonnage is documented as 18t and her gross tonnage is 26. The measurer arrived at 11.00pm that evening, (we had to get out of bed) and gave me a tape measure and called for various measurements. He wrote down the first couple then seemed to lose interest, committing the second lot to memory. In the end only measuring less than half the internal spaces.
Our agent turned up the following day and advised that they had calculated our nett tonnage at 50, twice what it should have been. No calculation document, no paperwork and no invoice. Welcome to Egypt! And now for the dreaded baksheesh!
Captain Heebi aka Prince of the Red Sea - his father was our agent 41 years ago when I last transited the canal. He brought us a cake and presents to celebrate the occasion
We enjoyed our four days exploring the twin towns of Port Said on the African continent and Port Faoud on the Asian continent. These towns saw their heyday in the mid to late 1800's during and after the building of the Suez Canal and were once very cosmopolitan. Sadly today they fallen into decay and are not part of "tourist" Egypt. We met many local people who were very welcoming, generous and keen to practice their English, and we managed so far to avoid any baksheesh! Ashley found an orphaned kitten and couldn't help himself (oh look its so little and so blind!) so now we have a new challenge.
After 4 days of waiting, which included a visit from the army on the last night to check every locker on board for guns, drones, drugs and animals, (we had hidden the kitten in a box ashore) we finally got the go ahead to transit the canal. Our departure time was set for the next morning between 5.00 and 6.00am. The pilot arrived at 5.45am and we motored out to the entrance of the canal. There is a convoy that runs South in the morning and North in the afternoon.
We were required to stick to the starboard side of the channel to allow the ships clear passage. The pilot was a bit over zealous about this and insisted we run closer to the starboard marks (he'd probably had a few close encounters in his time). Ashley on the other hand pushing back saying we were too close. We proceeded like this until suddenly fog set in and it was becoming difficult to spot the markers. After one appeared out of the fog dangerously close the pilot, now shaken, decided we needed time out until the fog cleared.
We pulled alongside one of the pilot stations where he headed off for a calming cigarette and a chat. After waiting an hour or so we proceeded on to Ismailia, at the head of the Bitter Lakes about 50 miles from Port Said. The Bitter lakes covers quite a large area with numerous towns and villages sprinkled around the edges. The shipping lane runs through the middle and there are hundreds of feluccas with their huge lateen rigs fishing under sail.
As the convoy was coming north we needed to wait overnight and continue our transit the following morning. The "marina" at Ismailia is very basic but has great docking facilities. We were however not allowed to leave the marina and go into the town due to security concerns. The ISIS insurgency is apparently prevalent in that area. I believe it is possible to get permission to travel outside but for one night it was not worth the hassle. This is a shame as the location is perfect for leaving the boat and doing inland excursions to Aswan and Luxor
The second leg of the canal was uneventful but what was of interest was the numerous floating bridges that were stacked up along the water way. These are part of the Egyptian defence system and were installed after the Israelis destroyed all the fixed bridges during the two wars with Egypt. There are also military installations all along the canal. We arrived at the somewhat under whelming "Port Suez Yacht Club", a very run down facility looked after by an equally dodgy dock man called KaKa. There were no services whatsoever and for $30 US per night it was a rip off. The club is undergoing a rebuild so you have to navigate your way through a construction site. We tied stern to a rickety old floating plastic dock and managed to get electricity by jimmying the connection. We stayed for a week however and took a car to Cairo then flew to Aswan for a cruise down the Nile to Luxor visiting magnificent temples and tombs. We also managed to sail on a traditional Felucca which was terrific
LINK TO NILE CRUISE IMAGES Your text to link...
The summer of 2018/2019. Greece and Turkey
25 April 2019
After sitting out a few stormy days in Syracusa on the Island of Sicily, we set sail for Kefalonia, in the Ionian Islands just ahead of our friends, an Aussie family from Brisbane with their three boys on their catamaran "All Together". It was a good crossing with a nice brisk breeze and we did the journey in good time. Arriving in the early hours of the morning we anchored off the harbour in Argostoli. Went ashore in the morning for formalities and tiropitas. AAHH... it was so good to be back in Greece. We have such fond memories of this country and Argostoli didn't disappoint. It is such a lovely town with friendly people. After clearance it was off to find "souvlaki mi pita" for lunch! A couple of day's later we headed south to the island of Zakynthos and Agios Nikolaos where we tied up to a private jetty with the help of the family who also owns the taverna, service station and the supermarket. We stayed for three days, eating our favourite dishes at their taverna which was excellent. They produce lots of honey on Zakynthos so we re-stocked our supplies from a nearby farm.
We sailed around to the west coast of the Island to Shipwreck Bay. This is a spectacular bay with massive cliffs rising from the turquoise waters and a huge shipwreck sitting high and dry on the beach. It was certainly a magical place and we had it all to ourselves once the day trip boats had left. The water was cold but it was so inviting that it called for the first skinny dip of the season.
We continued south around the Peleponnese visiting many small towns and villages along the way among them Pilos, Finikounda and Methoni where we had one of our most memorable lunch. We were given a choice of local specialities directly from the oven. The taverna "Sapienza", set amongst a stand of trees including Eucalypt was owned by a young Greek couple who had lived in Australia for a number of years. It was still the month of May and the tourist season had yet to start allowing us to enjoyed the warm hospitality of the Greeks prior to the silly season. We also visited the island of Kythera at the very bottom of the Peloponnesus, being the only boat anchored in the port in Kipsali. Magnificent views from the Chora on the hill. Almost the entire island moved to Australia during the 1960's, (as did many other Greek islands) and today they call Australia big Kythera and the island Little Kythera.
We then sailed north to the spectacular medieval fortress town of Monemvassia where we spent hours exploring the narrow streets with a host of souvenir shops, tavernas and unique accommodation dwellings. We met another Australian couple, John and Jenny on "Faraway" who had been cruising in Greece and Turkey each summer for 8 years.
Hydra Island: spent a few days tied up in the main harbour. Still no cars allowed, the only form of transport is by donkey and mule. Did lots of hiking around the hills. Whilst tied up in the harbour, this guy on the dock comes over for a chat with Ashley "as they do ", and it turns out they know each other from the early 1980's when he used to run Antigua 4 out of Hydra, a beautiful Swan 60 and Ashley was just starting out as a bareboat skipper.
Poros: tied up to the town dock and got stuck into some maintenance and met up with Jenny and John again. The wind was very gusty and on the port quarter. The boat next to us left after first losing its owner over the side between the dock and the boat as he slipped off the passer rail and into the water. After all the mayhem, they dragged their anchor over ours and we ended up leaning on the guy on our starboard side. The wind was gusting at 35Knots and in an effort to avoid any incident we decided to leave in a hurry and caught our dinghy painter, which was tied to the aft rail, on an overhanging steel extrusion protruding from the other guy's pulpit. Wow, lots of damage to our stern rail but there was very little damage to the other boat. The damage to Windjammer, was to say the least extensive. We were due to meet our kids in 5 day's time for a months of cruising in Greece and this was not good timing. The starboard side timber stern rail and adjoining stainless rail incorporating the davits had been totally ripped out. We considered renting a bareboat among other things, however, after assessing the situation and determining that there was no structural damage we proceeded to put all the stern gear back together again. With a lot grunt and sheer determination plus a bit of duct tape we managed to get her looking reasonably tidy. We headed off to Aegina on Jenny and Johns recommendation to get a quote for Windjammer's repairs and deal with the insurance people. We then collected our son Sam and his girlfriend Kate the following week from Poros and made our way to Ermiono on the mainland to get another quote from Basimikopolous Shipyard. The quotes were both in excess of 20,000 Euro. There was quite a bit of work to be done but as nothing was structural we decided to continue with our cruising commitments and get the repairs done at the end of the season.
The next six weeks we cruised the Cyclades with our family, Alex joined us from London with her old school buddy Fran. Maggie our youngest who was working on a yacht in Spain at the time flew in to join us in Mykonos for 4 days. This was the first time in four years that we were all together. Being June. the weather was mostly good and we visited Siros, Sifnos, Milos, Santorini, Mykonos, Amorgos, Folegandros and one of my favourites Sikinos. There were so many os's that Sam couldn't remember the names of the islands so Folegandros was referred to as Fairy floss, and so on. We had done a two-week bareboat charter with the kids 12 years earlier so they were all keen to relive the experience. It was a fabulous time but over too soon.
After the kids departed, we continued on our journey to Turkey. We left for Turkey from Rhodes, the island that Ashley had been hankering to get back to since his early days of skippering in Greece. It was now totally overrun by tourist from cruise ships with virtually every spare space in the old city dedicated to selling souvenirs. We couldn't wait to leave so we handed in our cruising log to the port authorities who informed us that we had overstayed our Schengen visa by 1 day. They made a bit of a fuss about their rights to fine us 600 Euro each but chose not to, so with that we left for Turkey the following morning.
One of our reasons for visiting Turkey was to get a new suit of sails as the old ones had done 65,000 miles. We had quotes from Croatia, Portugal and Spain which were really expensive and from China which was much cheaper. The quote we got from Turkey was very reasonable and if we could get them exported without VAT, the price would be comparable to what we could get out of China. With this in mind we headed straight for Gocek where we had arranged for North Sails to measure up for us. In the end we decided on UK Sails in Marmaris. They have a large loft in Marmaris and did a fabulous job. We were originally only looking at having the main and foresail done but were so impressed with the quality and workmanship we decided to have the balloon jib done as well.
We cruised in Turkey for just over 2 months spending time in Fethiye, Marmaris, Bodrum, Datca and Didim with numerous stops along the way. Our favourite places were Datca and Bozborun and the anchorage at Ekincik where we hopped on a tour boat that took us up river to Daylan and the spectacular tombs built into the cliffs. We had many a night anchored off Marmaris and Bodrum with all night party music and the morning call to prayer leaving little time for sleep. The lira took a steep fall whilst we were there so we ate like kings for the majority of the time.
We had arranged to meet our friends Rudi and Gerda in Greece for 5 days but with the Schenghen restrictions, technically we were not supposed to go back to Greece for another month, but decided to do an "illegal" entry and just stay out of the main harbours. We left Didim with our first stop in Greece being the island of Agathonisi. We figured if we kept a low profile we should be fine. So to say the least we were shocked when entering the tiny harbour we saw a parade of port police and army trucks on the dock! We attempted to drop anchor and in a "lost in translation" moment we understood them to be demanding us to tie up to the dock and they were to come aboard. We now had to get our story straight, coming up with all sorts of excuses as to why we hadn't checked out of Turkey and into Greece. It soon became clear that in fact they were telling us to get out of the harbour as there was another vessel coming in that needed room on the dock. This turned out to be a Greek naval vessel with Brigadiers and Generals on board. The port police actually had no interest in us so we tootled off and anchored in a stunning little bay next door. Phew that was close!
We then made our way to Samos to pick up Rudi and Gerda. After the ATM eating my credit card in Samos we spent the next 5 days sailing through the Dodecanese to the islands of Lipsi Leros, Patmos and finally ending up in Kos where Rudi and Gerda left us. We had a lovely few days, some nice sailing, good food, laughs and swimming in the crystal clear waters.
We sailed back to Marmaris to pick up our sails then back to Bozburun to clear out of Turkey and back into Greece. We were just short of the 3 months required to be out of Greece but decided to give it a try and checked into Simi in early September where no one batted an eyelid. We caught up with our friends Sandy and Phil from "Southern Wing" whom we had met in Fethiye. It was Phil's birthday so we went out for a celebratory lunch.
From Simi we sailed back through the Cyclades and met up with our English friends Peter and Sandra. We picked them up in the "Small Cyclades" which encompass the islands of Schinousa, Irakleia and Koufonisos. These were very pretty however Koufonisis was packed with tourists. We tied up to the last remaining spot at the end of the small pier in Schinousa one evening and were rudely awakened at 2.00am in the morning by the massive Blue Star Ferry which had backed up to the pier just metres from Windjammer (that's why it was empty) and was creating a huge turbulence.
Peter and Sandra spent the next week with us and we sailed to the southern end of Naxos where we found a taverna up on the hill serving locally grown, killed and barbecued lamb, served with the equally famous Naxos potatoes. A great evening.
There was some weather developing, with the Meltemi on its way and we ended up having an exhilarating sail across to Sifnos anchoring in Platas Gialos on the eastern side of the island. Its a beautiful anchorage with lots of activity ashore. We had been here earlier in the season but this time it was pretty uncomfortable so motored around the west side of the island stopping at a couple of the anchorages then on to the main harbour in Kamares. We hired a car for a day and drove around the island. This is our favourite island and particularly the village of Kastro on the East side. It is quite diverse with pretty little towns and lovely anchorages.
Peter and Sandra left us and took a ferry to Folegandros while we headed off to the Saronic gulf with a short stop in Serifos. Peter and Sandra's intended 3 day stay on Folegandros was cut short by a day as they were advised to leave the island early as the ferries would not be running for the following few days due to heavy weather. They ended up having an horrific 18 hour ferry trip back to Piraeus.
The heavy weather was a pre cursor to the forecast for a Medicane (Mediterranean Hurricane). The forecast had been changing daily and the whole of the Greek Islands and mainland and also parts of Turkey, were on alert. In the end the worst of it passed over the eastern Peloponnesus where we were. We took refuge in Portocheli as it was reported to be one of the best anchorages to sit this out. It's a very large and protected anchorage with a narrow entrance and good holding. There were lots of boats, both on the quay and at anchor. As the storm hit, boats on the quay were having trouble and scrambling to get off the dock. Our anchor held well but there were a number of boats dragging throughout the night. The storm lasted more than 36 hours, a tiring couple of days.
We were due to haulout in Aegina in another week so spent a couple of days exploring Spetses then back to Hydra (another favourite) for a short stint. On the 5th October we hauled out at Planaco to commence the repairs.
Wow where to begin.
We had a quote for repairs and the time frame quoted to do the job was 4-6 weeks. But being Greece we knew it would take a little longer. It became apparent after 3 weeks that work was going slowly so the time frame was extended to 6-8 weeks. The insurance company agreed to the extension. At least we would be finished before our scheduled trip to England and Australia mid December. We had originally considered getting the work done in July after our cruise with the kids, luckily however we didn't because the job ended up taking over 6 months. We would have foregone the whole summer. Two steps forward and one step backward, and at times two steps backward and one forward.
The carpenter employed to do the job was a very nice guy and spoke perfect English and at the time of quoting seemed skilled enough. However he was not always on the job and left unskilled employees to do the work which meant Ashley had to manage the job all the time. We couldn't leave the boat for a moment. It was a very frustrating experience however it did allow us to do a lot of work which we had not planned on so all was good. We made our trip to England to catch up with Alex over Christmas doing a road trip to Cornwall, Devon and the Cotswolds. Very pretty but oh so cold that time of year. We then left for 6 weeks visiting Sydney, Gold Coast and the Whitsundays to sort out problems with our house and damage it had sustained 18 months earlier in Cyclone Debbie. There was no further work done on Windjammer during our absence and on returning mid February we were expectant that the job would be completed by the end of March at the latest.
But with inclement weather and lack of commitment from the yard to get the job done we were there until the 25th April. In addition to the repairs to the damaged stern and rail, we had touch up work done to the topsides and painted the entire combings as well as fitting our new propeller. We also had new upholstery both internal and external.
So now in the water its off to Aegina Customs to collect our Cruising permit and head out. Surprise surprise, Customs closed due to Easter break, mind you this was three days before the Easter break. We had to wait a week before they reopened as we could not leave with out the permit. AAAHHHH. So spent a few days at the adjacent island of Agistri where we joined in the Easter festivities. On Easter Sunday, the end of lent, whole lambs are roasted on the spit in towns and villages, large and small all over Greece. It is a celebratory day with lots of eating, drinking, dancing and music.
Sicily West Coast to Kelibia Tunisia to Malta and back to Sicily
05 May 2018
We spent the morning preparing for our departure to Sicily and then went for lunch to the delightful L'Osteria Di Castello, a small cafe come delicatessen next to the bastion. The slow cooked dishes were to die for. Definitely one of the highlights as far as food goes in Sardinia. Simple but delicious.
5th April 2018
We left Cagliari at 8.00am with a nice light westerly wind which lasted most of the day but eventually dropped by the evening and therefore had to motor the remainder of the way. Around 9.00am next morning we arrived at Isla Marrettimo in the Egadi Islands about 20 miles east of Trapani. We were not able to tie up at the wharf as space was limited and the ferry was due in so anchored just at the entrance to the harbour. The island has a huge fishing community and also sees its share of tourism although not as much as is experienced on the two adjacent islands of Favignana and Levanza. There wasn't a lot going on but it is a lovely little island.
We had lunch at a small cafe overlooking the harbour . The wind was picking up so decided to up anchor and head for Trapani. There is a lot of rock on the bottom here and it played havoc with the anchor chain. We had a frustrating hour or so trying to weigh anchor. Finally done, we had a nice breeze to take us into Trapani. We anchored next to the main fort guarding the harbour.
The following morning we took our "Bromptons" ashore and up with the cable car to Erice, a fortified town on top of the mountain overlooking Trapani. Historic castles, churches and picture postcard cobble stoned streets overlooking farmlands and the sea. 750 metres above see level we could see the winding road back down to the port, so decided to try out the Bromptons on a steep downhill run.
Spring was in the air and there were wildflowers everywhere. Such a beautiful scenic ride down. The weather turned that evening and so had to anchor on the other side of the harbour which is marked as a designated anchorage. There was one other boat anchored with us and he soon joined us. We waited out the weather, stayed put and made use of our time doing maintenance. The following morning the French boat that was anchored next us brought up his anchor which was fouled very badly with a long fishing net. It was all caught up in his chain and he had to bring the entire thing on board to try and cut it away from the chain. A couple of hours later when we decided to leave, we found the remainder of the net on our chain. Due to our anchor not being able be brought on deck ( it comes through a hawsehole) we had to launch the dingy to cut it away. It's scary to think how much of this type of rubbish lies on the bottom of the ocean floor. We eventually set sail for Mazara de Vello a fishing port about 30 miles to the south. We considered taking a marina berth but entering the harbour we found it to be silted up and very dirty so we chose instead to anchor just outside the harbour wall which turned out to be a quite a comfortable spot. We took the dinghy into the harbour and ran aground! The harbour and river entrance was full of old derelict fishing boats, possibly to do with the tussles over fishing rights and sequestrations of North African fishing boats. The town itself was really quite interesting. It has a very large Tunisian population who seem to integrate well but live mainly in the ancient Arab quarter or Casbah with its beautiful murals and decorative painted tiles.
Birthday celebrations for Ashley, lovely lunch ashore at one of the many restaurants. Next morning at 2.00am we left for the fishing port of Kelibia in Tunisia. A good stiff northerly with a reef in the main gave us a fairly quick passage. 12 hrs. We arrived in the fishing harbour with the plan to refuel. Diesel here is a less than 1/3 of the price of Italy. At €.047c per litre it was certainly worth the detour.
It was however not without its challenges. The fuel wharf was very busy with both small and large fishing boats. We waited our turn and eventually went stern to the fuel wharf in between one large and one small boat. Mayhem for a bit but we were finally tucked in. There was no way to secure the bow ( dropping anchor was not an option) and all was well until the big boat next us decided to leave whilst we were in the middle of refuelling. Trying to keep Windjammer (with her large flared bow) stern to a dock with a stiff beam breeze and no bow anchor is not an easy task. We did end up with a bit of damage on the stern but nothing too serious.
This is a very busy fishing harbour and there is very little room in the harbour for leisure boats. When we eventually finished fuelling we were directed by the self appointed dock master to tie up against a 30ft boat for the night, however after a little discussion we managed to get ourselves alongside something a little bigger at 40ft. We visited the local village and also took a taxi into the main town about 5km away, a bustling town with typical markets, dust concrete and rubble, men chatting in cafes and lots of tantalising takeaway food outlets.We checked out the following morning and headed east for the island of Pantelleria where we docked in the main port at Porto Vecchio. We had been led to believe that berthing was free on the main quay but after docking we were advised that it was going to cost us €50 per night. As we intended staying 3 days we negotiated a rate and handed over the cash up front with no receipt offered. There is a big monument in the town dedicated to a number of men who have been killed by the mafia, so we didn't argue, anyway we were expecting another big blow and were only to glad to be secure.
Next day we unfolded the Bromptons and cycled around the south coast of the island. It is very volcanic, black rock everywhere. The houses are traditionally built in the North African style with volcanic rock and concrete domes on the roof for the purpose of collecting water. The island is very fertile and agricultural. The following day we cycled to the Mirror of Venus, a lake in a volcanic crater with hot springs. Apparently the singer Madonna spent time here when she was pregnant. We lathered ourselves in sulphuric mud and took our first plunge for the year. It is a very interesting island with fantastic views and interesting architecture. Definitely worth a visit.
Left Pantalleria at 3.00pm for Malta. Wind was light to start with but filled in later in the day and we had a great sail. Arrived in Malta next afternoon and dropped anchor in St Paul's Bay anchored just adjacent the big cliffs across the bay from the town. The anchorage itself was quite pretty but there were numerous fish farms and one immediately behind us. We went for an afternoon nap to catch up on sleep and soon woke up to a thud. The wind had picked up substantially and we had dragged on to the fish farm. The stern had drifted over the huge floating line surrounding the farm and the anchor chain was on the other side! With careful planning and then quick action we managed to come out of the incident unscathed. Phew! We reset the anchor, set the anchor alarm and had a peaceful nights sleep. Next morning we motored into Valletta. We had booked a berth at one of the marinas for 5 days. Due to high demand, the marinas here are quite expensive so upon entering the harbour we cruised around to see what other options might be available. We turned into Siliema Harbour where all of the tour day boats leave from and saw a German flagged catamaran on the town quay. We questioned whether private boats could tie up and they told us they were actually a charter boat and paid berthage but we could tie up overnight free of charge but would probably be asked to leave the next day. So we did. There was a bit of a wash on the dock from the passing ferry and cruise boats but it was in the midst of the action so to speak, which we always enjoy. Our new German friend then informed us that there was a mooring in the harbour that was owned by another charter boat who wouldn't be back for a month or so and suggested we may choose to use this for our stay which we did.
Great spot overlooking the fantastic city of Valletta. We had a great time here catching up with old and new friends and managed to pick up some maintenance supplies which we hadn't been able to find elsewhere. We went to see a symphony orchestra, visited the Old town of Mdina, chased down the best Maltese Ftira sandwich (a local specialty that Ashley had more 40 years ago and couldn't wait to get to Malta to have again to make sure it was still the same) and wandered around the old city visiting various bars and cafes.
There had been no wind the previous few days and no wind forecast for the next few, but it was time to leave, so after a quick cruise around Grand Harbour we were heading back to Sicily. We motored all the way to Syracusa arriving late in the evening. We anchored out in the bay that night and moved to the town dock the next morning. Syracusa is a very lively town and the dock is a hive of activity. Lots of people, tourists and locals walking, talking, eating and laughing.
The Ortigia Street market in the old town is a buzzing and colourful place. We ate lunch there most days enjoying many Sicilian delights. We also managed to catch up with one of our old crew members Georgina who happened to be visiting Sicily at the time. We visited the local puppet theatre which was really fun. Almost life sized puppets, the knight rescuing the damsel in distress and killing the soldiers, chopping off heads and saving the day. It was really funny and quite fascinating.
We hired a car for a few days and drove out to the town of Noto, Modica and Ragusa. Noto was a lovely town, as was Ragusa. The following day we had planned to drive to Mt Etna but the weather was due to deteriorate and a strong SW wind forecast which blows straight onto the dock and I had heard that a lot of swell also fetches up on the dock in these conditions. So not wanting to leave Windjammer on the dock unattended, we made use of the car to do some extra provisioning in the morning, then returned it early and moved out to anchor in the protected part of the bay. There were a lot of boats tied up on the dock, sailing yachts as well as some big motor yachts. Some moved off the dock that afternoon and some stayed. The big motor yachts who had decided to stay had all sorts of problems when eventually deciding to leave with anchors overlayed, one picked up another's and ended up hitting the dock causing damage to the stern. We thankfully had a nice quiet night.
We met a delightful family from Brisbane with three young boys who had been living on board their catamaran for 3 years and were being home schooled. We exchanged stories and enjoyed listening to their adventures and bid them farewell hoping to catch up with them somewhere further in our travels as you inevitably do.
A now it's off to Greece!
Almerimar Spain to Sardinia
04 April 2018
After three and a half months at Almerimar, we are finally leaving and starting off on our Mediterranean Odyssey . It was a very productive 3 months though. We hauled out for three weeks and did some much needed paint work on the hull and combings. We had originally organised for the yard to do a lot of the work but they just didn't seem interested or motivated so we ended up doing all the work ourselves. A job well done though and very economical. A lot of work was needed after our harsh winter the year before in Amsterdam. We found a great German mechanic, Frank and used the opportunity to have him overhaul the anchor winch. It was a job that had been waiting for just the right time and this was it. Ashley took advantage of the downtime to have his right thumb seen to. An old rugby injury that came back to haunt him. This ended up with surgery. The second thumb knuckle was pinned and fused followed by 6 weeks in a cast.
We hired a car for a couple of months, went to visit some old friends who have a house in the north of Spain over the new year. We had a lovely five days just hanging out in their house, chatting, a few drives and bicycle trips around the countryside and a wee bit of gardening. We bought a couple of Brompton folding bikes which they had bought with them from the UK. They fold up into a small vinyl bag which we made onboard and weigh less than 10kg handy for stowing in the lazarette or in the back of a car.
We also did a bit of touring around Spain visiting Córdoba, Granada, Valencia and managed some skiing in the Sierra Nevada's.
Almerimar itself was not a very interesting place, a large marina with many expat live aboards from Scandinavia, UK and Germany. However the location was great in terms of weather to do maintenance and access to the Sierra Nevada's and Andalusian countryside.
From Almerimar we planned on sailing up the coast then across to the Balaeric Islands. There was a strong south westerly breeze when we left and getting out of the marina (after a slime line snag on the propellor) and a big sea running was an abrupt wake up to be back on the move again. After a few hours all was calm and we had a lovely sail up to Cartagena. We spent a couple of days at the Club Nautica waiting out a blow and mending sails. Our foresail is in dire need of replacement so we have to be gentle with it and try and keep up the preventative maintenance. Its looking like a bit of a patchwork quilt.
Our daughter Alex who had joined us in Almerimar took a bus to visit Maggie in Valencia for a few days and arranged to meet us in Denia. After a somewhat challenging and nerve racking exit from the Port of Cartagena (due to the seabed rising fairly rapidly as it nears the shore the swell really pumps through here, especially after a big blow) we once gain had a lovely sail up to the island of Tabarca just south of Alicante where we anchored for a couple of nights. A lovely little island just a few miles off the coast. It was very quite as it was off season, but very quaint and I'm sure a lively place to visit in the summer. From there we continued on to Denia and checked in at the El Portet marina. I'm not sure if this is a family run marina but the staff were just great, extremely accommodating and friendly. It was one of the most pleasant personal encounters we had during our time in Spain. Alex returned from Valencia and the it was off to Ibiza. My only knowledge of Ibiza prior to this time was that it was a big party island with loud music and late nights. We had originally not planned to visit as this is not really our scene, but being out of season we decided on a short visit. We crossed to the bay of San Antoni, the shortest distance with best protection and anchored just off the marina. We had anticipated going ashore but after reading this excerpt from the lonely planet, "San Antoni, widely known as 'San An', is big and about as Spanish as bangers and mash. The locals joke that even football hooligans need holidays, and somehow they seem to end up in San An. It's the perfect destination if you've come in search of booze-ups, brawls and hangovers" we decided to stay onboard and leave early the next morning for the north of the island. We had another great sail and the weather was starting to warm up. Still only early March but things were looking good. We anchored in Cala Portinax in beautiful clear blue water and I could actually see the anchor on the bottom. Its a long time since we have seen that. Alex decided it all looked to enticing that she was over the side for a swim, whaaa! water was only 16.8 degrees. A quick exit. The next day we did a great hike up along the ridge to the north eastern side of the island.
This really is quite a spectacular coastline and well worth the stop. Being out of season though most of the town was shut down but we did manage a nice lunch at one of the local restaurants. A good SW breeze took us across to Mallorca where we anchored in the pretty little bay Cala la Portals on the south western side of Bahia de Palma. We were expecting another blow that night and despite the anchor being set in sand we dragged 3 times. A long night so left early in the morning and took a berth at the Palma Yacht Club. Alex left for London to start an 8 month work stint. We caught up with an old Airlie Beach friend, Christian Pleydell and his wife Amy who have been living on the island for the past 8 years. It's always great to meet up with people in random places. After coffee and a chat we were off to the north end of the island to catch up with some other Airlie friends Charles and Megan Wallis who were on a cycling tour in the town of Pollensa. First day we had a great sail up to Puerto Soller, then continued the following day to Pollensa. Once again the SW breeze was up, but turned out to be quite a bit stronger than forecast. 15-20 turned into 35-40 knots, too late to drop sail so we goose winged up the coast until the main shackle on the main boom suddenly gave way. The gaff hit the spreader which broke. Finally got things under control and fortunately no other damage. Made it for our lunch appointment with Megan and Charles and had a lovely afternoon catching up. Our plan was to spend four or five days in Menorca but due to another weather system coming through which was going to hit Menorca pretty hard and our plans to meet another friend in Sardinia gave way to us deciding to sail straight for Alghero in Sardinia. The weather appeared to be favourable and so we left about midday estimating an approximately 40 hour trip. A nice 15 knot breeze faded to no wind about 24 hrs later and within 1/2 hour to 35 knots. Once again too much sail up and too late to take it down or reef we rode it downwind for about 1 1/2 hrs and arrived in Alghero at 3.00am. Exhausted, we dropped anchor inside the harbour wall and slept until the coastguard turned up at 8.00am informing us we could not anchor in the harbour (which we knew but could not find anywhere to berth on our arrival). We found a space on the main dock just outside the gate to the old town and headed off in search of a good Italian spaghetti for lunch. We spent a week in Alghero. A nice old walled city with lots of charm. Murray joined us and and we headed across the bay to Porto Conte where we picked up a mooring in Cala Dragonera and walked to one of Sardinia's most famous attractions, Neptune's Cave.
We had a guided tour of this fascinating cave. Only 5 of us on the tour. In summer, the cave can be accessed directly by boat and tours sometimes consist of 300-400 people. Hard to imagine. Some things are just better done off season.
Contemplating the weather again...do we go north east to Bonafaccia in Corsica and then to the Maddelana islands or head down the west coast to Cagliari. The wind made the decision for us and down the west coast it was.
Had some great sailing, with stops made at the pretty town of Bosa and the Island of Carloforte. In Carloforte we bought some of the local wine for €2.50 a litre and had a great meal at the local pescheria (retail fish shop) directly opposite the town dock where we docked for free. We wandered in to take a look and noticing a few tables in the back asked if we could eat. The proprietor informed us that he would need to wake the cook (his wife) as she was taking a short nap. She cooked us some local pasta, octopus and two large fresh bass. Fabulous meal and company. We were aiming to make it Cagliari for the Easter weekend where there were reputed to be local festivities so we left early next morning and rather than going straight to the city, anchored off the ancient ruins of Nora, just 10 miles SW of Cagliari. We took a guided tour through the ancient city with its old bath houses and mosaics. Beautiful sunny day!
We finally made it to Cagliari and booked a berth for a week at the Sant Elmo Marina about 2kms out of the city.
After exploring the city for a couple of days we hired a car and drove into the interior of the island. Our mission was to find some roast suckling pig, a Sardinian specialty. Murrays' nose for food took us to the town of Oliena and the Su Gologone restaurant. This town is in the Barbadian hinterland between the mountains (which had a fresh dusting of snow) and the valleys. It is a large agricultural region with vineyards and olive groves. We booked an apartment in the town and went for dinner.
It didn't disappoint, everything we expected and more. They offered us a wine tasting of the regional wines after dinner which was really very personable and interesting.
The following day, Easter Sunday, saw a religious procession through the town which included men firing guns of all types, rifles, pistols and even an AK 47 from the roof tops. It was really quite bizarre, there were plastic shells everywhere. It is apparently a tradition (not sure where it comes from) but there are many murals in the town, one of which depicts a local granny who loved to fire her rifle every Easter Sunday from her balcony.
Back in Cagliari, we dropped Murray off at the airport to fly home to Australia and we were off to Sicily.
15 June 2017
We anchored off Islenorsay and after a quick scout ashore continued north to Broadford via Kyle Rhia narrows. Motoring at first in light winds we set sails as it increased and even the balloon jib, whoops wind increased to over 25 knots, big trouble getting it back down again with just the two of us. Lots of rain and wind in the afternoon. Went ashore in Bradford and had our first mussels of the season at a little traditional Spanish restaurant owned by a young couple from the Balearics accompanied of course by a lovely Rioja. Got chatting to a very interesting English gentleman who was on a hiking trip in the highlands.
Woke up the next morning to no wind and no clouds - sunshine at last, its been such a long time. Sailed over to Rhona Island and anchored in Big Harbour. Very pretty spot. There was a little farmhouse ashore where we bought some local island venison and fresh eggs. A great hike to the highest point on the island yielded great views over the islands and the presence of a Scottish naval submarine, surfaced and slowly making its way south.
We then headed further north to Loch Torridon and Sheildag to the town of Shieldag anchoring in front of the town we went ashore and feasted on the local langoustine sandwiches at Nancys cafe. Very fresh and tasty. These lochs are surrounded by numerous mountains and is a particularly stunning area. We spent a few days here catching up on our varnishing in the unusually warm weather.
Set sail for Staffin Bay in the north east side of the Isle of Skye. We entered looking for somewhere to anchor but no apparent places to take the dinghy ashore so continued around the top and ended up at Ardmore Bay on the western side. A small cove with a few farm houses and people scouring the shallows for sea snails, apparently worth a lot of money in France according to the Polish guy collecting them. We collected a bunch and cooked them up, not my cup of tea though, ended up tossing most of therm over the side. We continued on to Loch Dunvegan where there was another huge and famous castle (one of many we saw during our time in Scotland). There was a very active seal colony close by with some very entertaining characters. The town itself was somewhat run down, nowhere to tie up the dinghy so didn't hang around for too long.
Motored across to North Uist in the Outer Hebrides and anchored in Bagh Bhorain. Rainy grey day. Tried our hand at fishing but nothing to be had. Wind was increasing and swinging and not much room so headed south for Loch Boisdale. We had been recommended this spot but we didn't find much interesting here at all, so following day set sail for Barra Island. Decided to stop in to Eriksay Island on the way. We docked freely on the fishing pontoon and were helped in by some very friendly local fisherman who gave us a few tips on walks and places to eat on the island. This was a beautiful island with friendly people, nice beaches on the western side and a fabulous cafe "The Politician" where we stopped for lunch. Later that afternoon we left for Barra Island anchoring in the north east side next to the fish coop and decided to take a walk to the "beach airport". This is an airstrip that is only open at low tide where planes land on the hard sand. Not having a GPS with us we underestimated the distance to the airport, so after about 2 1/2 hrs walking there and 1/2 hr back it was getting dark so decided to try and hitch a ride back. We were picked up by a lady who was visiting her sister on the island for the funeral of her 14yr old daughter, she had just been killed in the mass shooting at the rock concert in Manchester. She had been given the concert ticket for her 14th birthday. We drove past the cemetery and could see the men digging the grave - so tragic.The Outer Hebrides is a very small and close knit community and the death of the young girl was felt by all.
We moved further south to the bottom of the island and anchored just off the Castle in Castle Bay. This is the capital of Barra Island and it has the most gorgeous anchorage.
We spent the evening ashore listening to some local folk music. Next day we moved on to Vattersay Island and anchored off its beautiful white sandy beach. Another stunning anchorage with clear water, white sand albeit too cold to swim. We met some keen kayakers we had previously seen on Eriksay Island.
Next day we sailed across to Canna Island and anchored in the main harbour for a few days. This was a great island for walking with some interesting old churches and buildings. There is a great cafe ashore run by a a lovely local couple where we had the local lobster speciality.
We had a friend to meet in Maillag so sailed across and took a berth in the marina to do some provisioning and laundry.
Our friend Rudi arrived on the train from Glasgow. This train trip I am told is one of the most scenic in Scotland. Wasting no time we sailed that afternoon for Rum Island to check out the Kinloch Castle. Unlike the grand castle at Loch Dunvegan this was in rather a sorry state. There are so many of these castles and unfortunately visitor numbers do not generate enough revenue to maintain all of them. There was not much else on the island and as the wind was due to get up up decided to head up to Loch Brittle on the south east side of Isle. This anchorage puts you directly under the Cuillin mountain range, a draw card for international climbers. We didn't go ashore here but there were lots of vans and campers on the beach. Our next anchorage was Loch Scavaig, which we had read, Eric Hiscock rated as his favourite anchorage in the world. Definitely worth a visit. It is only a small anchorage with room for no more than 2 boats and very much subject to good weather conditions. We had tried entering the day before but conditions didn't allow so went around to Loch Brittle instead. However today was a great day and we managed to do a 2 1/2 hour hike around the lake. A popular place for day trip boats. I'm not sure about most favourite in the world (mine would be Hanalei Bay on the Hawaiian Island Kauai or the anchorage at Pio Sena off the Beagle Channel in Patagonia) but one of the nicer and most scenic anchorages we encountered in Scotland.
We decided to revisit Canna Island as we really enjoyed our previous visit there and took Rudi to the quaint little cafe. Rudi ordered the lobster for dinner and as there weren't any left in the kitchen, the owner promptly hopped into his boat, made a trip to his lobster pots and brought back a fresh one - great service! Great place.
We sailed to and spent the night at Lunga Island in the Tresnish Isles which is part of the Inner Hebrides. This was a lovely quiet and remote anchorage. The next morning we headed for Staffa one of the more famous of the Treshnish Isles. With its sheer basalt columns rising out of the sea is was indeed impressive. The Vikings gave it the name Pillar Island as its columnar base reminded them of their houses which were built from vertically placed tree logs. Fingal Cave is a feature on the island. The cave is formed from hexagonally jointed basalt columns and is renowned for its acoustics. We anchored off the island, very deep and usually a lot of swell and took the dinghy in for a quick look into the cave. It was a bit dicey but managed to get in and out unharmed! afterwards we hiked around the island which had a huge puffin colony. We were so close to some that you could see the ticks infested under their feathers. To date we have seen literally thousands of puffins in Newfoundland, Iceland and Scandavia. They are such interesting little characters. I could sit and watch them for hours. A tourist boat arrived from the mainland breaking the spell so upped cameras and returned to the boat. We then had a short stopover on the Island of Ioana with its abbey dominating the skyline, chic craft shops and lots of tourists. Up anchored and headed to the Island of Jura and the entrance to the infamous Corryrrecken narrows also known as the "Speckled Couldron". The Gulf of Corryvrecken lies between the islands of Jura and Scarba, the underwater topography and tidal race creates the third largest whirlpool in the world so we had to be sure to time our transit right. We anchored in Bagh Gleann Nam Muc, a bay on the northwestern side of Jura and the entrance to Corryvrecken narrows, and would await the early morning slack tide.
This proved quite a challenge. Whilst this was a protected anchorage once you were inside, getting in proved quite hectic as we had miscalculated the timing of slack tide! not thinking it would have such an impact this far out from the narrows. The overflow from the tidal race pushed us around like a tiny cork particularly as we made our entry into the small bay, white knuckle stuff! Apparently George Orwell almost lost his life here in 1949 whilst circumnavigating the Jura. We transited the narrows the next morning dead on slack tide going as fast as we could but even then there were waves starting to break by the time we made our exit from the narrows.
Our friend Rudi was due to fly out of Glasgow in a couple of days so we decided to transit through the Crinan Canal and drop him at Ardrossan with easy access to the airpot. This canal transits from the Inner Hebrides into the Clyde and avoids having to round the Mull of Kintyre which we were told can be quite a challenge. Anchored off the entrance to the canal the wind was once again howling. We approached the canal staff with the boat details to transit. All the literature we had read indicated that the canal could take the size and depth of Windjammer without a problem, however upon checking in we were told they would need to pump an extra 100mm of water into the canal to accommodate our draft. The canal supervisor payed us a visit and was sceptical as to whether our length including bowsprit was in fact going to be a problem. The last lock with its exit gate opening inward was potentially going to be a problem with only centimetres to spare. We were however committed and decided to risk it. There was no turning back once in. So next morning we locked in. The canal is only 9 miles long but It has 15 locks, 7 bridges, 6 swing bridges and a retractable bridge so it was going to take some time. The entrance was very narrow and windy but opened up the further we got. We stopped at one of the small towns along the way for a short walk and lunch as we needed to get to the exit by 4 in the afternoon to lock out.
We decide to continue on to Portavardie, a marina - residential complex another 12 miles southwest that would provide better shelter. This marina had a ridiculously narrow entrance and once in, no where to turn around.
The complex was not overly interesting for us and required a tactical effort in turning Windjammer around the next morning to actually get out again. This required some serious planning as we had rocks 5 meters abeam of us. We swung around on single bow line in a tight tactical manoeuvre. After all the years sailing with Ashley these manoeuvres still continue to impress me.
The wind was now blowing at 25 knots with gusts of up to 50 and we were flying on the flat seas. It was wet, cold and windy again. We saw a lot of this during our time in Scotland. Poor old Rudi was pretty sea sick, finally arrived in Ardrossan. Unfortunately we did not have much pre information on the marina or where we were to berth so once we cleared the gate we found that we were in for another exciting ride. With winds of 35knots we had to negotiate a number of tight turns and manoeuvre or way into a tight berth. Once again Ashley's skills kept us out of trouble and we eventually tied up safely with out damage. Rudi left us the next day and we spent the next few days cleaning up and repairing the anchor windlass.
London to Caledonian Canal and Isle of Skye
23 May 2017
We spent 5 days in London at Limehouse Basin near Canary Wharf, originally built for the canal barges transporting lime and other products via inland canals to the Thames. We had to lock into the basin and only just managed the tide before they closed the gate. Not much under the keel in the lock! This is the home of the Cruising Yacht Club and were very fortunate to get a berth here. There were lots of traditional canal boats with liveaboards. There was only one other cruising yacht came whilst we were there. Unfortunately I spent most of the time in bed due to a bout of chronic bronchitis, so, Ashley visited the maritime museum at Greenwich and cycled his way around the Canary Wharf district visiting the local pubs discovering his favourite ,"The Grape". We met up with an old friend Bex who had worked for us in our previous life chartering in the Queensland's Whitsunday Islands. It was great to catch up and reminisce. It is always good to go back to London, which we had visited many times over a period of 20 years marketing our sailing holidays in the Whitsundays to all the Brits who wanted to escape the bitter winter weather. We had also both worked and lived there in our younger days.
After getting the obligatory photograph under the Tower Bridge (the main reason we went to London, yes really!) we then headed back out the Thames ready for our cruise around Britain.
As the wind was coming from the north we anchored near the Thames entrance at Queensborough for a couple of nights. The east coast of England is fairly shallow with few anchorages and harbours to to take refuge in. We then had nice sail with fisherman up all the way to Felixstowe where we took a berth at the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht Club, just making it over the bar on a falling tide. This is a wonderful facility and a beautiful building. This obviously marked a period of prosperity as the town itself is now very run down with lots of empty houses and old warehouses. Seems there is a lot of welfare and unemployment in the town with every other shop in the high street being a charity shop of some description.
After two days we again headed north with favourable winds for an overnight sail to Whitby. We arrived late afternoon ready for the bridge opening to take us in to the marina but alas the bridge control had blown a hydraulic hose and could not open so we spent the night tied up to a small floating pontoon in the outer harbour. Whitby is best known for being the town where Captain Cook grew up. It is a thriving tourist destination with fish and chip and ice cream shops on every corner and every child is fishing for crabs. We met an interesting guy maned Dave who had taken his self built "Whitby Coble", (a traditional north east coast fishing trawler) to the Brisbane World Expo in 1988. He also did a lot of voluntary work for the unemployed youth and had been invited to attend the annual Queens Garden Party! We spent a fabulous day with Dave driving us to surrounding villages and quaint fishing harbours. He also introduced us to the best haddock and chips ever!
After four days in Whitby it was time to get moving again and we continued our journey visiting the town of Blythe and the Northumberland Yacht Club. There were some strong northerlies on the way and the Holy Island of Lindisfarne offered the best shelter. After coming through a winding tricky channel we anchored in front of the Lindisfarne Castle. Lindisfarne was the base for Christian evangelism in Northern England. The island is linked by a causeway which can only be crossed at low tide. The tides in these areas move extremely quickly and there has been many an unsuspecting tourist either stranded on the island or in fact left floating halfway having to sit on the roof of their car. It was cold and windy so we didn't do much ashore except a couple of times to the pub for a pint and bite as we were limited with tide as to when we could even get ashore.
After the weather settled we headed north again to the town of Arbroath, home of the "Smokey (hot smoked haddock - mmmm delicious)". We really enjoyed the town and we met "Jake" the singing Jack Russel who was apparently a TV celebrity. There is a tidal gate into the harbour which opens and closes according to the tide and in our case it was mid morning, we had to scamper to make it as we needed to get to Peter Head by nightfall.
Peter Head is a large commercial port just north of Aberdeen and was a bit daunting when we arrived at 20.30. We needed to get into the "yacht harbour" which was very small and required a tight turning and small entrance. After tying up on the large wooden pier awaiting instructions from the Harbour Master, Ashley did a quick reccy of the harbour, this was just as well as he found a small sandy knoll in the middle of the entrance which we didn't and wouldn't have known was there. It was tight but once again we managed to tie up without incident. We departed early the next morning with the tide and rounded Rattray Head en route to inverness. With a stiff 25 knot breeze on the beam and heading for Inverness to transit the Caledonian Canal, George (our usually trusty auto pilot) groaned and then gave up! We decided to make for MacDuff Harbour to see if we could get the hydraulics fixed. Another small tricky entrance with a hard left turn into a very tidal harbour. Most of the large fishing boats were sitting on in the mud at low tide. We had the pick of the spots with water under the keel in front of the fishing coop. This was one of the more interesting stops on our cruise around Britain. MacDuff is a shipbuilding town and the townspeople were ever so friendly and accommodating. We were given hydraulic oil by a local fisherman who helped us tie up but lack of oil proved not to be the problem and we needed to order spare parts for George which we did and arranged to collect at the end of the Caledonian Canal.
We spent the next week traversing the Caledonian Canal which is 60 miles long and comprises of 29 lochs. Entering at Inverness we crossed Lochness to the pretty town of Fort Augustus which sits under the watchful eye of Ben Nevis and then through Britain's' longest staircase lock, "Neptune's Staircase" at Banavie. This is a series of eight lochs which can lift a boat 20 metres. We had lots of keen onlookers who helped with the locking process moving us from one lock to the next, which was both helpful and entertaining.
Our package of "O" rings arrived while we were in Corpach at the end of the canal and we overhauled the autopilot steering ram. Great to have our extra "crew member" back in action again. We exited the canal and made our way to the anchorage in Loch Aline for the evening. The following morning, we set sail fro Tobermory, a lovely traditional fishing village with coloured houses along the waterfront and of course its famous single malt distillery. We met up with an interesting couple on board the pilot cutter "Annabel J" who were on their way to Iceland. We had experienced lots of muddy anchorages however this was SERIOUS mud and a deep anchorage. Our engine driven deck wash pump for the anchor was of course not working so it took us nearly 2 hours to clean the 70 metres of chain we had out! A smelly morning.
A gentle sail then to Muck Island where we went ashore for their famous crab sandwiches and a walk around the island before heading off to southern end of the Isle of Skye in the afternoon. You can see why the Scottish love to walk so much, these islands offer great walking with miles and miles of open moors, albeit a little windy and wet at times.
Brugge and the channel crossing to London
24 April 2017 | London
Prior to crossing the channel to London we had planned a short visit to Brugge. It was a town that we had wanted to visit by car whilst in Amsterdam but didn't get the chance. It was noted in the information that we were given by the Belgian Waterways that it was a 1 1/2 hr journey to Brugge, which according to the charts looked correct, and that we could tie up in Brugges Marina. The small lock into the the canal to Brugge was closed so we had to go in with the big guns in the Van Damme lock. Talk about overkill for a small yacht, this was bringing back serious memories of the Panama canal. It was the most difficult lock we had been through as there were limited places to tie up to as all the bollards were way up high for the BIG ships. A very stressful experience. We managed to come out fairly unscathed on the other side and made our way through another three bridges to the lock leading to Brugge, at the end of the canal. Waiting, waiting, waiting. No one answering the VHF channel so clearly and visibly displayed at the entry to the lock. We were contemplating turning back when hey presto, the light goes green and the lock opens. Upon tying up in the lock a lovely lady approached with a high vis vest and informed us that no we cannot go into the city as the bridges don't open. She did offer for us to tie up around the corner from the lock free of charge which we duly accepted. Only a 10 minute cycle to town, perfect. Brugge is a fairytale looking city and hence VERY touristy. Busloads of people everywhere. It is a heritage listed town and there are some beautiful buildings from the 13th and 14th century but the majority are actually 19th and 20th century made to look from this period. Beyond the main square however there are some lovely enclaves through the meandering canals where we took the opportunity to sample some Belgian beer and local specialities.
I had a bad case of the flu so took the next few days off trying to recover enough for the Channel crossing.
It was Tuesday and time to leave at a pre arranged time with the lock keeper but not the bridges further along. Once again, no one answering the clearly displayed VHF channels posted at the bridges. Eventually after an hour and much frustration we passed through the last of our 65 bridges since leaving Amsterdam and headed for the last of our 12 locks (the dreaded Van Damme lock) to get out into the English Channel. The controllers of this lock are very efficient as they have many large cargo ships entering and departing daily. Without too much ado we were out of the lock into Zeebrugge and at 21.00 headed out into the Atlantic setting sail to cross the channel.
A nice 15-20 knot breeze on our aft quarter was perfect. We had heard many stories of crossing the English Channel and were prepared for a busy night. The place we had chosen to cross however centred around two shipping lanes merging and both going off in different directions . The AIS looked like a bunch of hungry mosquitos on a bare patch of luscious skin. We nerve rackingly picked our way through the mass and made it out the other side arriving In Queenborough Harbour at the entry to the Thames around 10.30am. All in all a good time for the 100 mile stretch. It was time for a hearty breakfast and sleep. We anchored overnight around the corner from the harbour and next morning made our way up the Thames to Limehouse Basin Marina near Canary Wharf.
Heading south along the “Staande mast” canal route
15 April 2017 | Oostershelde
It was time to leave the north of Holland and we had arranged to buddy boat with our German friends Ralph and Sabine on their yacht "Beluga" through the "stand up mast route" to Zeeland and Brugge. They had done this journey many times and Sabine being the tour guide knew all the places to go to when the bridges opened and made many enquiries on our behalf for berthing Windjammer. With a draft of 2.5metres, space is limited. Good job Sabine! We visited the beautiful old cities of Haarlem and Gouda and the modern city of Rotterdam. Quite a contrast. Whilst Rotterdam is not what I would call a beautiful city it certainly has some very interesting and innovative architecture. The Rotterdam marathon was on whilst we were there which delayed our departure due to bridges not opening, however we left on the Sunday afternoon headed for Zeriekzee. This was also a very quaint old town on the canal where we spent Ashley's birthday.
Ralph and Sabine left us to take up their summer mooring in Woolphardsdijk just 10 miles down the canal. We spent another quiet night at Zeriekzee where we met the loveliest Dutch/ Scottish Harbour Master who gave us a discount because it was Ashley's birthday and our surname was Kerr !!! Our next stop was to be the "museum town" of Veere, but half way there we heard a wolf whistle from the side of the canal, it was Woolphardsdijk marina and Sabine doing what she does well. They had enquired with their harbour master and he said that they had room where we could tie up for the night, so we did. The following day we all went for a visit to the Delta Project museum/ theme park. This sits on the flood gates into the Oosterschelde. After the disastrous floods in southern Holland in 1953 which killed more than 1800 people, it was decided that the Dutch would try and tame the sea and the Delta Project was born. It took almost 30 years to implement but in the end they have an impressive structure with 65 gates and miles of bridges spanning a number of areas along the North Sea. The museum could have been better done and the theme park designed for the family market kind of detracts from the whole thing (which is by the way very ordinary and dilapidated), but hey when they can charge 22 Euro per ticket to see the gates and a couple of movies and 9 Euro for parking and people willing to pay it, why change.
After some "kibling" and chips for lunch it was back to the marina and finally time for us to say goodbye, once again to Ralf and Sabine. Destination Veere. We anchored off this little town late in the afternoon and dinghied across to the yacht club. This is a cosy club with very friendly and welcoming locals to whom we got chatting over a few beers. One was a major player in the shipping import market from Russia and the other a celebrated ship builder and surveyor.
It was then through the Canal door Walcheren into the Westerschelde from where we would make our departure across the English Channel to London. What's that wolf whistle I hear, Ralf and Sabine on the side of the canal, just happened to be in the town shopping that we were passings through. How uncanny!
Our Winter in Amsterdam - April 2017
04 April 2017 | Sixhaven Marina
The long gloomy winter is finally over and we are on our way south, in search of warmer weather, for the short term at least, before heading north again to Scotland.
Amsterdam turned out to be everything we expected it to be, bustling with visitors, even on the coldest, greyest days and we were never short of things to do and places to explore. Lovely little brown cafes/bars with limited seating and lots of character, museums galore which we really enjoyed. The close proximity to Schipol airport and Transavia Airlines allowed us to fly relatively cheaply to Italy where we did a 3 week long road trip and then again in Morocco. We also managed a short family catch up to Australia.
Our marina, "Sixhaven" was conveniently located across from the Central Railway Station separated by the river IJ and connected via a 24 hour free ferry service that ran every 6 min. What a fantastic service! The marina recently had a total makeover so the facilities were excellent and there were about 20 live-a-boards which made it quite cosy and social. The temperature was at times -5 deg but mostly around 0 deg with frequent overnight frosting which made moving around deck and the walkways challenging. We had a few light snowfalls and sheet ice on the water but it was considered by all to be quite a mild winter. Due to limited shore power, 6amps, we had to run our diesel heater full time which kept things nice and toasty below decks but bumped up our winter budget. We also had WiFi to fill in the mornings and a Netflix subscription for the evenings.
We had a bit of excitement early one morning with one of the yachts going up in flames. I was still up and and about around midnight and heard the screams of the Hungarian student living onboard and raised the alarm. The girl had just ducked out to the toilets and when she returned discovered the fire below. When she opened the door it was like woof, and the entire internals flared up. A group soon assembled to help and we managed to remove the gas cylinders and moved the yacht next door which was about to catch fire. The fire brigade then arrived and took over. The clubhouse opened and we all had "calming down drink" - no point going back to bed at 4.30am!
We managed to catch up with a number of Dutch friends from Ashley's backpacking days on a Kibbutz and as a result got to see some different parts of Holland. We also had some lovely visits from friends in England and Linda our French au pair from 20 years ago with her young family.
Our winter marina berth finished at the end of March and as a going away weekend we thought we would get together a group of friends from the marina as well old kibbutz mates and register to participate in the Pieperrace (Potato regatta) in Volendam, just north on the IJslmeer. This is an annual event for all of the "Plateboots" or flat boats in Holland. Upon receiving our entry the race committee called to say that they thought our keel was too deep for the course but kept us registered. So as the time approached we were having second thoughts and were discussing these with our German buddies Ralf and Sabina, with whom we spent some great times with over the winter. They told us that they had been reading information on the regatta and it was written that the course had been changed from previous years because there was a schooner from Australia participating with a 2.5 metre draft. That was it, no going back now! It was a lovely sunny weekend with over 80 boats participating. Quite a spectacle. Wasn't much wind on the second day, but a great weekend was had by all with lots of dancing helped along by 'Schieper Bitter'.
We also had a surprise meeting with our South African cruising buddies David and Lea whom we originally met in St Helena and then cruised with in the Caribbean. They just happened to be in Amsterdam visiting Lea's parents. Dave and Lea did the Antigua Classic Regatta with us and Dave was the "winch" on board. Dave joined us and Mike and Sally for the sail to Volendam and thought seriously about staying for the regatta, but chose instead to fly into a blizzard and go skiing as originally planned.
Copenhagen to Netherlands via Northern Germany
30 October 2016 | Amsterdam
Was time to leave Copenhagen, so after managing to track down and bunker duty free Diesel we set off for Malmö in Sweden. On the way we stopped at the private island of Saltholmn with its impressive fort and WW2 gun placements. Cought up with Bruce and his parents who had sailed their yacht across to meet up with us. Spent two days in Malmo cycling around the city and the lovely University town of Lund where we had lunch and ended up watching new students being initiated into their university houses. We also had a look at the "Twisting Torso" a neo futuristic residential skyscraper designed by the famous Santiago Calatrava and as the name depicts, does indeed look like a twisted torso.
Left early and sailed down to the island of Rugen to the town of Sassnitz in NE Germany. We tied up behind the German pilot schooner "Atalanta" which was crewed by a bunch of volunteer guys mostly over the age of 65. Murray and Ashley were invited on board for a look around and a sampling of their local "Wismar beer" directly from the keg.
The next morning we had a great sail across to Peenemünde to visit the museum and Luftwaffe test site of the V2 rockets. These rockets and missiles, were developed here between 1936 and 1945 by Wernher von Braun and hundreds of German scientists. Later in the 1960's he designed the Saturn V rocket for NASA that was used to fly to the moon. The role of the former rocket engineer in Peenemünde, however, was to develop weapons of war. What was also of interest was the soviet nuclear class submarine left behind after the fall of communism. Certainly an educational and interesting day. Herrings and good German beer for dinner.
Our cruise along the North coast of Germany was focused on the five 12/15th century Hanseatic cities of Griefswald, Stralsund, Wismar, Rostock and Lubeck. All very impressive walled cities with fabulous architecture, a lot of which was still under restoration from damage during the war and the fall of communism. We had a farewell dinner with Murray in Wismar and made our way to Lubeck where we spent two weeks. This was an amazing city and we really enjoyed chilling out and hanging out with all the traditional boats in the "Museum Harbour" and it was free of charge.
We left Lubeck and made our way down the river again with a short stopover in Travemunde at the mouth of the Trave river to visit the old grain ship Passat. As far a museum ships go it was one of the most impressive displays we have seen. Travemunde is a big German holiday town with all the hotels and souvenir shops and beach chairs one would expect of a seaside resort.
Next stop Heiligenhafen where we dropped anchor just off the town with the intention of staying overnight, however the weather got up and we decided to head into the marina for a day or so. As we approached the town we saw lots of traditional boats tied up in the small harbour, some of which we had seen in Lubeck. We then noticed posters advertising the "Kohl Regatta" that coming weekend. Kohl is the German word for cabbage. The Cabbage Regatta, now that sounded interesting! Heiligenhafen was a lovely little town with very friendly people. We made enquires about the regatta and were immediately invited to participate. The history of the regatta is based around the early trading and export of cabbages which was the mainstay of the town. There was large tent on the dock with old guys doing sea shanties, beer and bratwurst stands, the whole gambit. Race day came and we set off on the race course with 3 young locals as crew. To qualify to finish you needed to have caught a cabbage that was thrown to you at the rounding mark. Cabbage in tow, we crossed the finish line. Tradition has it that you must dress the cabbage, mount it on a pole with a spike inserted (given to you on registration) and then take your mate to the party. There were some great cabbage heads attending, who wanted to interact with our own Cabbage "Queen Elizabeth". A fun night with copious amounts of beer was had by all and the next morning with good weather we headed for the Kiel Canal.
With a stiff 25knt breeze we made good time and tied up late in the evening ready for an early morning transit. We exited the canal early afternoon and made our way to the port of Cuxhaven for the night. As the tide was with us so we decided to continue on to Heligoland, a small German archipelago in the North Sea that enjoys tax free status, so it was worth the extra miles to top up with duty free diesel and Akvavit. The fuel dock was subject to tide and we had a 90 minute window to get in and out. We arrived a little late and due to the lay of the land decided to drop anchored and tie stern to the dock as there was quite a swell running. A stern German voice came across a loud speaker informing us that we were forbidden to take fuel in this manner. The tide was dropping and we were desperate to get fuel on board as soon as possible. So we eased Windjammer alongside, used two pumps to fill the tanks, payed the bill and got out by the skin of our teeth. The weather was turning the next day and we would not have had another chance. Phew, got away with that one!
Spent the next couple of days tied up in the main harbour until the weather improved and then made our way south to the fishing port of Borkum. It was a late arrival for our an overnight stay.
Next morning we left at first light for the Dutch Frisian island of Vlieland. These islands are renowned for their shifting sands and inaccurate charts and we were to have our own 'Riddle of the Sands' moment. "What's that breaking water up ahead?".... We had an intimate moment with an uncharted sandbank but with Windjammers strength and determination were strong enough to part ways.
We were keen to get to the Netherlands and find a place we could spend the winter. Amsterdam seamed to be a good option as we wanted to do a bit of travelling in Europe over the winter. We made our way down down the Wadden sea to the Island of Vlieland then through the Ijslmeer spending a week visiting the lovely port towns of Harlingen and Enkhuizen with their large "Brown Fleets". From there a short sail to Muiden at the entrance to the river Ij. In the end we found a berth at Sixhaven Marina, directly opposite Central station. Great location, good security only 15 minute train ride to Schipol. After a few days settling into the marina we headed off for our first road trip to meet up with Ashley's brother Mark and partner, Stephen in Cinque Terre and Tuscany - Pasta, wine, pecorino and beautiful autumn country side.
Norway to Copenhagen
08 September 2016 | Copenhagen
We had earlier considered wintering in Norway but it was proving just too expensive, not so much the marinas but supermarkets and restaurants not to mention alcohol! Instead we decided to head further south to Northern Europe. Our first port of call in Denmark was Skagen across the Skagerrak (the body of water that separates Norway from Denmark. This is a huge port with lots of ships anchored out in the roads waiting to load and unload. We arrived late in the evening so took a long walk into town looking for a restaurant but only found a little pub. Not much going on, however on the way back we found a bunch of restaurants around the marina all in the process of closing up, we did manage to get a nice glass of Australian red on the last call.
We had heard about the town of Saeby from the Norweginas we had met in Gyerhaven Inlet so this was to be our next stop. After another good sail 25 miles down the coast we arrived in what was a very pretty town. It had colourful Danish cottages with cobble streets and a river running through the centre of town driving an old sawmill.
And yet another 6.00am start as our next destination was the island of Anholt which is located about half way between the Northern tip of Denmark and Copenhagen (approx. 50 mile run).
Sailed most of the way with a SW breeze, but as the wind clocked further south, we had to harden up and motor sail the last 10 miles. Just outside the harbour as we dropped sail, the engine cut out. Air in the fuel (again) a problem we had encountered a number of times due to low level of fuel when one tank and been shut off and not equalised after heeling. Not a problem however, dropped the anchor and Ashley quickly bled the fuel line and restarted the engine. The ferry had just arrived so we had lots of onlookers. The fisheries patrol guys and SAR team were also on board. They were concerned as rocks lay just behind us, apparently they had seen so many boats end up on the rocks there. They quickly launched their patrol boat to assist us. After we had weighed the anchor and started to head into the harbour we encountered a secondary problem. The engine overheated! caused by the raw water pump impeller blowing out. This was totally unrelated to the fuel issue, but as they say, things tend to go in multiples. Fortunately the SAR and fisheries guys were standing by and towed us into the harbour. It was a good training exercise for them and good entertainment for the town. We found a small hut across the road made from recycled packing cases and rustic wooden furniture selling coffee. The barista was an equally interesting woman from Copenhagen with a huge rasta hairdo. The hut was only open for the holiday season which is about 6 weeks per year and this was there last day. Of course, having provided so much entertainment they wouldn't let us pay for the coffee.
After replacing the impeller we spent the rest of the day cycling around the sand island. The weather was somewhat cool, however you could see the attraction of the island as a holiday destination for the city dwellers from Copenhagen. The population drops back to under 200 out of season. We had a huge buffet barbecue at the local pub before heading back for a well earned rest.
The next day we left Anholt at 5.00am and headed down the Kattagat on the west side of Jutland. No wind so motored all the way. We arrived at the harbour town of Helsingor mid afternoon and tied up in the "Kultur" Harbour next to the Kronenburg Castle, the setting for Shakespeare's "Hamlet". The Kultur Centre which is a relatively new facility, houses a new library, concert hall and Maritime Museum. The library was extremely modern in its furniture, art works and use of space. Helsingor has a quaint town centre with cobblestones streets and traditional Danish buildings. We dropped the foresail off for repair at the oneSail loft, this time an accredited sailmaker. We spent a couple of hours removing the patches ourselves that our "shoemaker" from the Faroes had sewn on, some 6 weeks earlier.
The next day the sail was returned perfectly repaired. After bending on the sail we set off for Copenhagen arriving late afternoon where we were lucky to get a berth in Nyhaven. This is traditional boat hangout and middle of tourist central in Copenhagen. We were right at the exit of the new pedestrian and cycle bridge and the traffic, mostly bicycles were whizzing by. We did the tourist bit and went for "moule et frites" at one of the many waterfront restaurants. Not a good choice, the culinary experience was some what wanting, but the "people watching" was fabulous. We then ventured off to one of the traditional sailors bars below street level and met some very interesting characters over a few local schnapps.
7 /8 Sept
Spent the next couple of days exploring the sights of Copenhagen. It is a fabulous city and we took in most of them including the Royal Palace, changing of the guard, Parliament buildings and of course the Little Mermaid. We also visited "Christiana", the neighbourhood hippy commune. The buildings were originally a military base but when vacated by the military in the 60's, squatters and hippies moved in and created a commune. The government were never able to remove them and today they have negotiated a lease on the buildings. There is an entire community that operates within this compound, albeit with a little help from a few banned substances to keep the calm. A very colourful community.
In the afternoon we caught up with "Bruce" aka Matthias and his lovely girlfriend who had crewed with us from New Zealand to Hawaii.
Hagesund to Kristiansand - Norway
29 August 2016 | Norway
It was a sad moment for us to say goodbye to Nick and Michelle as we left the dock in Hagesund southbound for Stavanger. Michelle no doubt was delighted to have her husband back after almost 3 months at sea. We arrived in Stavanger late in the afternoon and tied up alongside the floating dock in the centre of the old town. Stavanger has a lively cafe and restaurant culture and there were lots of tourists and locals alike out enjoying the last of the summer weather.
The following day Murray and I decided to do the famous hike up to Pulpit rock. This is a very popular tourist hike to a rock landing overlooking Lysenfjord. After a ferry then bus ride which took approximately 1 1/2 hours we finally arrived at the base of the trail. Popular was an understatement, there were streams of people coming and going. The hike took us around 2 hrs each way and was indeed spectacular and well worth the effort and Murray managed to get some great photos.
Ashley had spent the day catching up on boat tasks and visited the 'Oil Museum' giving a fabulous account of Norway's association with oil extraction in the North Sea oil. A very impressive museum by all accounts.
The following day we explored some of the backstreets of Stavanger by bicycle while Murray paid a visit to the local canning museum.
Plan was to keep heading south and our next destination, Gyarhaven, was one that had been recommended in our Norwegian Cruising guide. This was a gorgeous but tiny inlet and when we arrived (being Friday evening), there were lots of small boats all tied up with their bows to a small jetty. We dropped anchor next to the rock face and ran a stern line to a steel post embedded in the rock.
There was a small hut ashore where some of the boaters had gathered for evening drinks around a cosy log fire. We were soon settled in amongst them. As it turned out this was a favourite weekend destination for Stavanger locals. The dock and hut had been built by them with funds for material provided by the local council.
We had a good chat, in broken English, and were told that Windjammer was the first Australian and certainly the largest boat ever to anchor in their little inlet.
After a bit of a lazy morning we headed for Kirkehamn (Church Harbour). This was anther place that had been recommended, this time by Murray's friend Cathy from "S/Y Pura Vida". On the way we stopped at Eggersund for a quick look but it turned out to be fairly industrial and a bit smelly so we continued on. We had a very pleasant sail down narrow channels between a group of small islands off the west coast of Hidra. Finally down Flekkerf fjord and into the beautiful harbour of Kirkenham with its prominent church at the entrance. In the afternoon we hiked up the mountain to the ruins of a German WW2 "Hagasen" coastal fort battery with gun placements, accommodation and hospital facilities. Most interesting were the huge bunkers built into the rock faces. This was an important lookout point and has a history dating back to the Napoleon wars in the 19th century.
We tried booking into the renowned Kongshamn restaurant but it was booked out for a private function so continued on to Farsund where they were holding the North Atlantic Festival.
Arrived early evening and managed to tie up to the main dock, thanks to the locals making space for us. As we were getting ourselves ready to head out to dinner a couple of music students took interest in Windjammer, stopping to have a chat. Within the next 10 minutes there were a dozen of them, all with different instruments. This followed with an impromptu private show for us on the dock, singing Whisky O' Johnny and other sea shanties. What a treat! It took us ages to find the music venue only to find they were not serving dinner and by the time we found something to eat in town (not an easy task), it was too late to go back. Turned out we had missed most of the music that day, and indeed the festival.
Very wet and windy so we stayed put in Farsund for the day. Met a fellow yachtie, Jaap a Dutch guy who gave us a lot of good information on where to spend the winter in Holland. Being a Sunday, nothing in town was open so ended up at Burger King in the shopping centre doing internet stuff.
Left early in the morning for Kristiansand with a good wind and sailed all the way arriving late in the afternoon. Kristiansand is one of the largest domestic destinations for families in Norway. Nice beaches and lots of tourist activities surrounding the area. The town is also renowned for its ceramic works. There are lots of very interesting sculptures located around the town and quite an impressive convention centre. Finished the day with a curry buffet at the "Queen of Curry India" cafe.
Bergen to Haugesund -Norway
23 August 2016
13 - 14th August
The North Sea was very kind to us on this passage of 180nm. A gentle westerly at 10-15kts and a calm sea in the lee of the Shetlands made for a very comfortable sail as we passed a pod of Killer whales on departure from Unst. The wind died on Sunday morning around 0900hrs and we motored the rest of the to Bergen. First impressions of bare granite headlands soon gave way to wooded hillsides and lovely tidy homes and their waterside boatsheds. Three cruise ships and lots of shipping passed us as we entered the sound with many large oil rigs moored along the way.
The North Sea oil fields are close to Bergen and we sailed past some of them on the way across from the Shetlands. We tied up right in the heart of Bergen beside the bustling fish market at 1900hrs. There was a lot of activity on the waterfront which is the core of the tourist area.
15th August - Bergen is a very busy port with ferries coming and going and they have over 300 cruise ships docking in the harbour each year with over half a million passengers. Opposite our berth was the World Heritage listed Bryggen precinct which has been a centre of trade for centuries, especially with the Hanseatic League in the 1800s. The building facades are all askew as, apart from their age, a munitions ship exploded in 1944 giving them a nudge sideways. The wooden buildings and narrow passages are now propped up with stays, but still open to trading.
Overlooking the city is Mount Floyen and a lovely wooded 3km track leads to a lookout on the summit. Good to stretch the legs and soak up the sunshine while enjoying the forest and the views. Visited the Bergen Maritime Museum with its history from the Vikings through to the present day. A very good display. Enjoyed lunch of Halibut in the bustling fish market. The young people serving here seem to have a grasp of numerous languages and there is plenty of banter for all nationalities. There were lots of students around the city as it was orientation week for the university. It is a lovely city with a pedestrian mall up the middle and a lake and well-kept gardens. Lots of people were about, but there was no feeling of rush or crush. The port activity is amazing with cruise ships, ferries, oil rig tenders, coast guard vessels and freighters coming and going constantly.
16th August - A clear sunny day with a leisurely start in Bergen. A light breeze gave us a lovely 2 - 3kt sail across Bjornafjorden, down through the narrow gap between the mainland and Tysnes Island to our evenings anchorage near Vikane.
17th August - Low cloud obscured the hill tops on this windless morning. Ashley inflated the collapsable kayaks and we all had a paddle around the islands. We then motored across to Rosendal and tied up at the marina. After lunch we walked up to the Baroniet Rosendal Castle. The manor house has beautiful grounds with huge old trees and a classic 300 year old renaissance rose garden.
18th August - Another misty morning. Went for a walk up the hill behind Rosendal to the Sjethaug viewpoint. The mist lifted in the late morning and with the wind behind us and bright sunshine we sailed up Hardangerfjorden to Norheimsund with a light following breeze. Today was warm enough for the boys to bring out the shorts and expose some very white legs. As we entered the sheltered harbour and dropped anchor in front of the elegant, whitewashed Sandven Hotel there was a girl waving and dancing on the waterfront. It turned out to be Nick's wife Michelle, so a welcome aboard toast and a catch up sitting in the sun at the deck settee.
19th August - This morning we walked up to the very popular Steinsdalfossen waterfall and followed the track behind it for views down the valley. Norheimsund is home to the Hardanger Maritime Museum where wooden boats are not only displayed and restored, but also built. There are displays in rope making and splicing too.
We continued up the Hardangerfjorden in the afternoon passing numerous small orchards along the water's edge mostly growing apples. At Utne we walked around the many small buildings of the outdoor folk museum and enjoyed the modern and unusual artworks displayed amongst them.
Until recently apple cider was only made by local orchardists for their own consumption, from July this year it has become legal to sell it. The bottles we tried were fruity without being too sweet with just a very slight spritzig and a good kick.
20th August - Ashley and Cathie cast us off for an early start up the Ulvikfjorden to the picturesque town of Ulvik. The sleepy little town was a pit stop for the Voss to Gielo bike race and we watched some of the 800 riders pass through. Returning down Hardangerfjorden we anchored for the night at Herand. The town is a base for all year round glacier skiing about 40 minutes drive away. The stream running through the town is harnessed to drive a grinding mill and also a sawmill which is still active and provides timber for restoration work. The Herand Boat Builders museum is in a boat shed by the water's edge with a partially completed hull demonstrating the craftsmanship involved in building timber boats. There was also a fine display of all the tools associated with boat building. For dinner we had excellent pizzas in the Meieriet Restaurant served by a delightful Swedish waitress.
21st August - Continued down Hardangerfjorden to the narrow Maurangsfjorden passing Furebergfossen waterfall and stopping at Sundal. We tied up alongside a small pontoon at the Sundal Campground and Cathie said it was the first time they had paid camping fees for Windjammer. The small village is the starting point for walks up to the Folgefonna National Park and the Folgefonna glacier. We followed the fast flowing glacial stream up to Lake Bondhasvetnet and walked around the shore. Wild raspberries growing along the way were ripe and delicious. The tail of the glacier is rapidly retreating, but still clearly seen from the lake. The steep pine covered slopes and reflections in the lake make a great scene.
22nd August - A cloudy calm day as we motored down to Husnes in search of a refill for the gas bottles. It's like the Holy Grail with different fittings for gas bottles in every country. No luck...Motored on to Haugesund through rain squalls and arrived at 16.30hrs. We had a wonderful Indian meal at the "Indian Gate" restaurant.
23rd August - Nick and Michelle leaving the Windjammer and her crew this morning.
It has been a pleasure and a privilege to share another leg on Windjammer's world voyage. We have had a happy and harmonious crew and we have all enjoyed discovering this North Atlantic region. Thanks a million to Ashley and Cathie.
Torshavn - Faroe Islands to the Shetlands
14 August 2016
Torshavn is a mix of old and new with beautifully maintained old buildings around the point of Tinganes, with their turf roofs and the more modern homes stretching up the hillside behind. Tinganes means Parliament point and the Faroese claim one of the world's oldest having presided here for over a thousand years. The general assembly is known as the "Thing". Ashley suggested that the MPs should be known as "Thingamajigs".
The National Museum describes the development of the islands from their volcanic beginnings. In the early times the Faroese were subsistence farmers living on sheep and catching birds for food. At one stage 97% of the Faroese income was from making woollen socks for the King of Denmark which he in turn on sold to the army and navy. Fishing came later and is now the main source of income today. Most other trade is restricted to passing through Denmark.
After several sunny days, the weather took a turn for the worse with up to 50kts of wind and rain over night, so we took a bus trip up to Bordoy Island to get some perspective of the country. The excellent road network connects most of the islands skirting the coast and crossing the water via bridges or tunnels under the sea. Small farms line the steep green valleys and fishing ports dot the coast. There are hiking trails all over the island and an absolute paradise for bird watchers. The weather was wet and windy with a strong NWer gusting to 50kts.
A sailmaker that was recommended by one of the charter schooners collected our torn foresail and returned with it the following morning. On inspection we found that it had been repaired with dozens of little patches painstakingly sewn with a large needle leaving rows of rather large pin holes. The danger of course was that the first strong wind loading up the sail would have a zipper effect tearing the sail along the stitched seam. C'est la Vie
9th - 10th August - The Wind was forecast to ease so an early start was made from Torshavn and we cleared the harbour by 0600hrs. There was still a big sea running after the blow, but the steady 15-20kts NW gave us a good sail to the Shetlands. We are standing 2 hour watches so can catch plenty of rest.
We sailed around the Muckle Flugga lighthouse, built in 1857-58 by Robert Louis Stevenson's father Thomas, (The map in "Treasure Island" resembles a map of Unst) the northern most point of the UK, then down the east coast of the north island of Unst and into Balta Sound tying up at Sandison's wharf at 1800hrs. It was a relief to pull into flat water after such a bumpy trip.
On arrival we were met at the wharf by Penny and Gordon Thomson with a box of treats; bread, biscuits, fudge and a bottle of the local Reel gin and some tonic water. Murray knew Penny from way back in the 1980s in the Med and had advised her that we were on our way. They came aboard for a G & T 's before generously shouting us dinner at the local pub.
11th August - The day dawned windy and overcast. We walked a short distance from the boat to the famous Unst bus shelter ajacent to paddocks with strings of Shetland ponies. The bus shelter (mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide book) is decorated with a different theme every year. The present theme is "maps" which are spread throughout, together with atlas and picture books from different countries. There is a strawberry patch out front and a beer and soft drink should anyone have to wait too long! This was our first stop on our tour of Unst. Penny picked us up and drove us to the Unst Boat Haven, a wonderful array of old wooden boats collected by her father Duncan Sandison. He kindly showed us around describing first hand experiences with some of the boats and their construction. He showed us a Sixareen (six oared) boat he had built himself. These were open boats used to fish for cod and ling 30-40 miles offshore. Baltasound has a history of fishing which peaked with the mackerel fishing in the early 1900s when there were 10,000 people working here and it was in its heyday the biggest mackerel port in the world. Today the island has around 600 residents. There was also a large herring fishing industry here and they also mined chromite.
A wee verse at the Boat Haven from Spike Milligan caught my eye :-
The herring is a lucky fish
From all disease inured,
Should he be ill when caught at sea;
Immediately - he's cured.
After lunch Gordon drove us up to Lambardess on the northern part of the island. There was an important radar station located here during and after the 2nd World War. The RAF base called Saxa Vord now houses a brewery and a distillery. The rolling hills are green and dotted with sheep. We stopped to admire some of diminutive native Shetland ponies which were often used to transport cut peat,the islanders used for fuel. In the evening Penny and Gordon hosted us at their home where Gordon had cooked a delicious heather raised roast lamb. This was followed by a candle topped cake for Cathie's birthday.
12th August - The rain came down this morning preventing us from seeing much of the countryside on our bus and ferry trip to Lerwick, the largest town and capital of the Shetlands. It is a busy port with ferries, fishing boats and North Sea oil industry service boats. The old town with its grey stone buildings and narrow streets steps up the hill from the water front. The excellent Shetland Museum describes the lives and culture of the islanders from prehistoric times to present day. One interesting fact was that the Shetlands were given to Scotland as part of the dowry of a Danish princess.
On our way home the weather lifted and we had a better view of the countryside. Rolling, treeless hills with improved pasture in the valleys, flowering heather covering the upper slopes and much evidence of cutting peat from the bogs. There were lots of sheep and some cattle grazing in the dull green fields and there were salmon and mussel farms in the coastal inlets. With the still overcast sky it looked very much like a wet, windswept, cold country.
We dined again in the very comfortable and cosy home of Gordon & Penny and later they drove us to the "Galley". Here every winter preparations are made for the "Up-Helly-Aa fire festival"celebrating the island's Viking heritage. A Jarl (chief) is elected each year and he is responsible for gathering his clan, preparing helmets, shields, etc. for the torch lit procession and bonfire. The whole community gets involved with the celebrations, dance and a few "wee drams".
Special thanks to Gordon and Penny for their wonderful hospitality and for giving us such an insight into the life of Unst.
Westmann Island, Iceland to Torshaven, Faroe Islands
08 August 2016 | Faroe Islands
We had a busy day starting with a climb up the very steep slopes of Heimaklettur, the 283m knoll that overlooks the harbour. It is a roosting site for hundreds of puffins and the Icelandic sheep graze the lush grassy upper slopes. We also walked around to the natural amphitheatre where the festival was held under the steep volcanic face of 220m Haha.
After lunch we visited the Eldheimar Volcano Museum. It is built around the excavated remains of one of the 400 homes that were buried by the 1973 eruption. It tells the story, with audio and visual displays, of the trauma of the eruption, the evacuation of the island and the fight to save property and keep the lava flow from blocking the entrance to the harbour. Climbing to the 221m summit of the volcanic crater Eidfell gave us a good view of the lava flow and the havoc it caused. The volcano added 20% to the island's land mass. As with most towns we have visited in Iceland, Heimaey has a great swimming centre with indoor and outdoor heated pools, hot tubs and steam rooms. It was a treat to have a hot soak at the end of the day.
After checking out the weather forecast it was decided to leave after dinner. We fuelled up and departed Heimay at 2300hrs.
3rd - 5th August
Our passage from Iceland to the Faroe Islands was uneventful. We had an ENE breeze for most of the way but not strong enough to push into the lumpy swell without the motor. Midday on the 4th the wind died completely and we motored the last of the 385nm mile passage on a glassy sea. When we arrived at the Faroes their renowned currents picked us up and as we passed between the islands of Stremoy and Vagar we were doing 12.6kts.
In the Vestaranag harbour we found an empty berth in the marina. Torshavn is the capital of the Faroe with a population of around 18,000. There are 18 islands in the Faroe which are part of the Kingdom of Denmark. The islands were settled by Norwegians in the early 9th century but became part of Denmark at the Treaty of Kiel in 1814 after the Napoleonic Wars. Faroese, derived from an old Norse dialect and similar to Icelandic, and Danish are the official languages, but English is also widely spoken. The Faroese also have Gaelic blood in their veins.
Denmark provides 5% of the Faroe income and restricts and controls all their trade. Talking to the skipper of the schooner Nordlysid and his friend, who are staunch Nationalists, it seems that some Faroese would like to sever all ties to Denmark. However, as most Faroese are Danish citizens it is most unlikely that they would break away from Denmark. The population is only 50,000.
They also said that a couple of years ago the EU imposed an embargo on their export of mackerel as they wanted to put a quota on their catch to allow the EU to take more. To balance out this loss the Faroese sold farmed salmon to Russia in contravention to the EU embargo on Russia. One - Nil to the Faroese in the Mackerel war! They also told us that local sheep are for domestic consumption and most restaurant lamb is imported from Iceland and NZ. Here they slaughter their sheep at the end of the summer and leave them to hang for 5 months to produce an air dried meat like biltong. The warmth at the beginning of the process encourages bacteria and they call the end product Skerpikjot or fermented lamb's meat. One of the locals dropped by a sample for us to taste. It was quite gamey to start with, but had the flavour of the remnants of a leg of lamb after sitting in the fridge for a couple of days.
As with Iceland the landscape is devoid of trees as the sheep, introduced by the Celts, ate the small trees and shrubs that existed here. Murray and I had a delicious meal at the Asrstova Restaurant. The entrée was a lobster bisque and for the main course we werTorshavn is amix of old and new with beautifully maintained old buildings around the point of Tinganes, with their turf roofs, and the more modern homes stretching up the hillside behind. Tinganes means Parliament point and the Faroese claim one of the world's oldest having presided here for over a thousand years. The general assembly is known as the "Thing". Ashley suggested that the MPs should be known as "Thingamajigs". The National Museum describes the development of the islands from their volcanic beginnings. In the early times the Faroese were subsistence farmers living on sheep and catching birds for food. At one stage 97% of the Faroese income was from making woollen socks for the King of Denmark which he then on sold to the army and navy. Fishing came later and is now the main source of income today. Most other trade is restricted to passing through Denmark.
After several sunny days, the weather took a turn for the worse with up to 50kts of wind and rain over night, so we took a bus trip up to Bordoy Island to get a perspective of the country. The excellent road network connects most of the islands skirting the coast and crossing the water with bridges or tunnels under the sea. Small farms line the steep green valleys and fishing ports dot the coast. There are hiking trails all over the island and is a paradise for bird watchers. The weather was wet and windy with a strong NWer gusting to 50kts.
e presented with a delicious slow cooked whole shoulder of a lamb. Between us we ate every skerrick of melt in the mouth meat to the bone. Afterward there was no room for dessert. Cooking instructions for shoulder: 20 minutes at 210 degrees then 2 hours at 120 degrees followed by at least 4 hours at 80 degrees.
Torshavn is a mix of old and new with beautifully maintained old buildings around the point of Tinganes, with their turf roofs, and the more modern homes stretching up the hillside behind. Tinganes means Parliament point and the Faroese claim one of the world's oldest having presided here for over a thousand years. The general assembly is known as the "Thing". Ashley suggested that the MPs should be known as "Thingamajigs". The National Museum describes the development of the islands from their volcanic beginnings. In the early times the Faroese were subsistence farmers living on sheep and catching birds for food. At one stage 97% of the Faroese income was from making woollen socks for the King of Denmark which he then on sold to the army and navy. Fishing came later and is now the main source of income today. Most other trade is restricted to passing through Denmark.
After several sunny days, the weather took a turn for the worse with up to 50kts of wind and rain over night, so we took a bus trip up to Bordoy Island to get a perspective of the country. The excellent road network connects most of the islands skirting the coast and crossing the water with bridges or tunnels under the sea. Small farms line the steep green valleys and fishing ports dot the coast. There are hiking trails all over the island and is a paradise for bird watchers. The weather was wet and windy with a strong NWer gusting to 50kts.
Reykjavik to Vestmannaeyjar Islands - Iceland
01 August 2016
31st July 2016 This morning we waved goodbye to Maggie who heads back to University in Melbourne. Departing Reykjavik at midday we sailed with a light Nor wester around the end of the Reykjanes Peninsular and tied up in the fishing port of Sandgerdi. A very excited young chap who had had a good day fishing greeted us at the wharf with a bag of fresh mackerel.
1st August After departing Sandgerdi at 0600hrs we were amazed to see an iceberg shining white on the horizon, but eventually we found it to be a large guano covered iceberg shaped rock! Our destination is the Vestmannaeyar Islands, a group of small volcanic islands 5 - 10nm off the coast of Iceland. They are named after Irish thralls (slaves) who were killed for murdering one of the original Norse settlers in 874. The most recently created island is Surtsey which popped up after an underwater eruption in 1963. The only inhabited island is Heimaey where in 1973 an eruption produced a new conical mountain, wiped out part of the town and improved the harbour by blocking off half of the entrance.
Patreksfjordur to Reykjavic - Iceland
31 July 2016
30th July A relaxed start to the day before motoring 30nm from Patreksfjordur past the bird breeding cliffs at Latrabjarg and anchoring near the "red" sand beach (Raudasandur). Roast lamb dinner. 24th July Light rain and low cloud lifted midday as we motored across the wide Breidafjordur to the Snaefellsnes Peninsular. Dropped anchor in the harbour at Grundarfjordur with a stern line to the wharf. A very tidy town with one restaurant and a couple of cafes which seems to be about standard for most small towns. We find the opening hours for the cafes a little odd in that often they don't open until 11am or sometimes only 1200, but only stay open until 5pm. 25th July Grey day with light rain in the morning. Dropped off some laundry and then had a swim, a hot tub and a shower at the local pool. In the afternoon we walked out to a waterfall at the base of the Kirkjufell "Church Mountain" (463m) which features prominently in Iceland's promotional material. (It also featured in the movie "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"). There are plenty of tourists here as this area, the Snaefellsnes Peninsular, is readily accessible from Reykjavik and is a microcosm of Iceland's scenery with glacier, waterfalls, mountains and green valleys. Fresh Iceland gravlax for dinner. In the evening the sunset was spectacular with wonderful soft light on the mountains and clouds.
26th July An early start. Away from Grundarfjordur by 0500hrs. We sailed with a light NE breeze around the Snaefellsnes Peninsular and anchored outside the timy harbour at Arnastapi. It was a beautiful clear afternoon as we walked around the coast from Arnastapi to Hellnar. Interestinmg volcanic rock formations provide many homes for nesting birds. The country slopes steeply up to the snow and ice capped Snaefellsjokull. 27th July Sailed with clear skies to Reykjavik arriving at 1600hrs. Tied up at the Brokey Reykjavik Yacht Club marina which is centrally located and overlooked by the spectacular Harpa concert hall.
28th - 29th July Reykjavik The city has over half of Iceland's 320,000 population living in it and is a modern busy centre. A mix of tall new buildings and older, mostly corrugated iron, dwellings, the centre caters to a flood of tourists in summer. There are numerous bars and restaurants and shops selling souvenirs, especially knitted woollen jumpers. A steady stream of cruise ships offloads into the city and it has a busy airport at Keflavik about 40kms away. Food and drinks are good, especially the icecream, but everything is very expensive. All the people we met spoke good English and the locals are helpful and friendly. (Fixed chipped tooth and cracked iPhone.)
30th July It is a public holiday and Reykjavik was deserted. We hired a car and drove around the tourist route known as the "Golden Circle". This route is followed by all the tour buses so we had plenty of company! Our luck with fine weather continued and it was very calm which is apparently rare. It soon became apparent where all the Icelanders were as all the campgrounds were full. There are hiking trails all through this part of the country and the Icelanders seem to be a fit, slim, outdoor loving mob. Our first stop was at Pingvellir. Geologically this is where the European and American continental plates meet and are separating at 2cms a year. On the surface this shows as a rift in the rocky terrain. The narrow gorge formed by the rift is of a major significance historically. In early times the settlers, who arrived from Norway in the late 9th century, gathered here annually. They came from all over the country to pass laws and adjudicate disputes and it was here they formed their first Alpingi or Parliament in 930. Since then Icelanders have gathered here for significant occasions. In 1930 when Iceland was a sovereign state under the King of Denmark thousands gathered to mark the millennium of the foundation of the Alpingi and in June 1944 for the foundation of the modern Republic of Iceland. The geothermal activity is very noticeable in this part of the country with steaming vents dotting the countryside. There are clusters of small bungalows with their own hot pools. Over 99% of Iceland's power is generated by geothermal or hydro power stations. Our next stop was at Geysir which lent its name to all the Geysers in the world. This geothermal field has many pools bubbling away and one geyser that spouts 15-20m into the air every few minutes. We had a picnic lunch on the cliffs above the Hvita River and then drove upstream a short distance to the spectacular Gullfoss falls. This was as far north as we could drive in our 2 wheel drive car as we were in sight of the Langjukull icecap which covers a large part of the centre of Iceland. As we headed south towards the coast the valleys widened out into farm country with hay making, sheep, cattle and horses. Apparently, the Icelandic horses are a pure strain bred from the original imported from Norway and their bloodline is strictly controlled. They reportedly have a fifth gait which makes for a very comfortable ride. The lower country also grows grain crops and greenhouses produce mushrooms and tomatoes. At the coastal port of Portakshofn we turned north past Hveragerdi with its geothermal park and over the lava fields to Reykjavik.
Isafjordur to Patreksfjordur - Iceland
22 July 2016
20th July This morning Ashley and Cathie filled the gas bottles and we cleaned the boat. Leaving Isafjordur under a brilliant blue cloudless sky we motored across the still fjord waters to the island of Vigur. This island private island used to be a sheep farm, but is now a sanctuary for nesting birds, particularly Eider ducks. The female Eiders plucks down from her breast to cover her eggs and keep them warm. Part of this down is collected 2 to 3 times during incubation which encourages her to produce more. The very light, fine down is cleaned by machine and hand after heating to disinfect it. On Vigur they produce 60kgs of eiderdown each year and it the whole of Iceland around 3,000kgs are produced each year. It takes about 60-80 nests to produce one kilogram of down. Also nesting on the island are thousands of Arctic Terns which dive bombed us as we walked past their nests. Hundreds of Puffins were fishing for Capelin off the beach and had their nests in the grassy banks behind. Black Guillemots were nestling in nooks and crannies all over the property. We sat in front of the old farm buildings and enjoyed a cup of tea and some homemade cakes, soaked up the sun and watched the antics of the birds and a whale blowing out in the bay. Under way Ashley trawled for salmon, but they didn't take the lure so he changed the rig and stopped the boat for bottom fishing. Almost immediately 7 cod were on the deck. In the evening we stopped in the small fishing village of Bolungarvik to fuel up. After dinner we wandered the town and were asked in for a drink with the owner of the Einarshusid guesthouse. This old building was prefabricated in Norway and housed the large family of a fishing fleet owner. Unfortunately, all the 12 children and his wife died of T.B. but the house survives. It is a wonderfully comfortable relic with a marine theme and the salvaged wheel from the French wreck of the "Pourqui Pas" which foundered in 1936 on the south coast of Iceland. It also serves as the local's pub and restaurant. Apparently it is illegal to fish for Halibut in Iceland, but many people do including the owner who recently pulled in one weighing 98kg, so it is served here on the menu as "Big Flat Fish" rather Halibut. 21st July Departed Bolungarvik at 10.30am and had a good sail down the coast with a fresh breeze to Patreksfjordur. We moored in the harbour with a German Dufour called "Ruby Tuesday' moored outside of us. 22nd July A still overcast day beckoned and Cathie organised a hire car and we drove around to Raudasandur to visit the "red" sand beach. The long strip of sand enclosing the lagoon is better described as golden rather than red. The highlight of the day were the cliffs at Latrabjarg. Up to 400m high and 14km long, the cliffs provide a breeding roost for seabirds. In early summer it is estimated there are 1 million birds nesting along its length. The main species are Guillemot, Brunnich's Guillemot, Razorbilled Auk, Puffin, Fulmar and Kittiwake. Our favourites are the Puffins with their colourful beaks, squat bodies and large webbed feet. Between us we probably have enough Puffin photos to fill an album. We had a picnic lunch at the lighthouse here and then drove across to the Amsfjordur for a soak in a very hot thermal spring. On our way home we had a beer in Bildudalur before driving back to Patreksfjordaur. We dinner at the Stukuhusid Café and enjoyed a very good meal of fish soup, lamb fillets and meringue dessert.
19 July 2016
18th July Our Iceland entry port is Isafjordur and we rafted up beside the yacht Aurora Arktika at 0600hrs local time. We advance our watches 2 hours forward to match GMT time. Isafjordur is a small tidy town and the gateway to the Northwest with an airport and ferry service. Situated near the entrance to the Isafjardardjup (fjord) which penetrates 40nm inland it is also a day stop for cruise ships. We had a relaxed day in town, a welcome hot shower and a sauna at the local pool. In the evening we ate out and tasted the delicious Icelandic lamb at the restaurant Husid. 19th July We were all up this morning to wave off Matt Po who is heading back to Germany and work. We will miss him as he has been good company and a good crewman. Murray organised a hire car for the day and we drove off along the coastal road. At Sudavik we visited the Arctic Fox Centre where we watched a couple of foxes being fed and listened to a short talk about them. Because of their threat to sheep flocks they are often shot except in the northwest national park. Until fairly recently, if a farmer had more than 6 sheep he was required to shoot 2 foxes a year or pay a tax. Today fox numbers are controlled by government shooters. The Arctic fox is much smaller than his red fox cousin and for a long time their pelt was sort after as a fashion item being draped around the necks of the "beautiful" people. Following the road to the head of the AlftaFjordur we stopped for an hours walk up the Valagil valley to a waterfall and gorge. The valley walls rise steeply up to 1,000m and the tops are remarkably even. Our lunch stop was at an old turf roofed farm house. The dry stone wall work on the old house and the stone fences is fantastic and grows a mottled rusty colour lichen. Perhaps the highlight of the day was a soak in a hot spring pool. Iceland has a lot of geothermal activity with numerous hot springs dotted about the countryside. This one, although on private farm land, was a simple small concrete pool by the side of the road with a small change shed. The water temperature was 44° C so it took a little time to ease into the water, but it was fantastic sitting there with the steep fjord sides rising above us and the sea lapping just below. We continued driving on for views of the Drangajokull icecap and a cold beer at a funny old hotel, which used to be a school, at Reykanes. The day had started with fog hiding the hill tops, but improved during the day and we had a lovely drive back along the coast with the soft evening light reflecting on the fjords and hilltop snow patches.
Passage from Greenland to Iceland
17 July 2016
15th July We departed Sermiligap at 0700hrs and motored north through the fjords to 66° 02'N before turning east and sailing from Greenland towards Iceland. There was a big swell and the wind was 15-20kts from the NE. We hoisted Main, Foresail and Staysail. The wind increased we had a very bouncy ride with bigger seas. We continued to see the high jagged snow-capped coast of Greenland for many hours and to pass the occasional iceberg far out to sea. Late in the evening with gusts over 30kts and the fog descending we put a reef in the Foresail and while we were putting a second reef in the Main the Foresail tore above the reefing point. We dropped the Foresail and Ashley decided to heave-to and ride out the weather for a few hours. 16th July After heaving-to for 4 hours we started motor sailing around 0330hrs with the wind25-30kts NE and a very uncomfortable sea on the nose. As the day progressed the wind gradually eased and we shook the reefs out of the main and rolled out the Balloon jib. 17th July The wind eventually died and we dropped the sails at 0330hrs. The stretch of water between Greenland and Iceland is known as the Denmark Strait and it has shown us several moods. From rough seas to calm and gale force winds to practically nothing. Now with 90nm to Iceland we are motoring over a smooth oily swell. Except for a few ripples on the surface it is hard to discern between the sea and the fog that envelopes us. During the afternoon the wind came in from the south and we sailed for a while, but it died and we were back on the motor. Removed Foresail from boom. Everyone on deck to help with the sail and for the first time in a while not needing full wet weather gear. Ashley restarted the heater and then later turned it off as unbelievably we were getting too hot! The water temperature today has gone from the 3-6° C we have had since Newfoundland to rise sharply to 12° C as we entered the warm Irminger Current that runs north along the west Icelandic coast. Consequently the air temperature off the water has improved noticeably and with it the interior temperature of the boat. First sighted Iceland on Murray's watch at 2200hrs. The sun stayed behind some cloud, but there was a glorious 3 hour red sky as the sun travelled across the northern horizon. We entered the Isafjardardjup Fjord at 0100hrs.
Qutdleq - Sermiligac - East Coast of Greenland
14 July 2016
11th July We left Qutdleq at 0500hrs with clear skies, but by mid-morning the fog had closed in and we didn't see the coast again until late in the day. Ashley and Cathie have decided to press on through the night to Tasiilaq. There is no wind to speak of and we continue to motor across the oily, gleaming, unruffled water surface. The Northern Fulmars fly in tandem with a mirrored image reflected in the glassy surface as they play around the boat. Several whales were spotted. Pilot, Humpback and during the night Murray spotted some Orcas. There hasn't been much ice during the day, but around midnight we passed through a large field of small bergy bits which are easily seen in the bright dusk, turning straight into dawn, twilight. At midnight the sun's glow on the horizon lit a golden path on the sea to follow north and illuminated the mountains to port. 12th July Another windless day of motoring north. A thin silvery cloud layer shielded the sun and the icy coastline emitted a luminous glow. A number of whales were sighted during the day including Long-finned pilot whales, Sperm whales and Fin whales feeding on Capelin (small fish). In the evening a pod of White-sided dolphins played around the bow. While we have been cruising around Greenland Cathie has called in to Aasiaat Radio twice a day with our position, destination and ETA. On one occasion, in the Fjords behind Nuuk, when Cathie was unable to contact Aasiaat they contacted Australia who in turn contacted Windjammer by email. Another time Cathie waited to call in until we had anchored later in the day and they said they had been searching for us, so they are very efficient. 13th July We pulled into Tasiilaq at 0215hrs and rafted up to a small coastal trader, the "Johanna Kristina". Spent the day in Tasiilaq. The laundry had hot showers, so luxuriated while the laundry was done. There is an interesting book shop with a very eclectic range of products and a helpful proprietor. He/she serves lunch, coffee, ice-creams and sells books, baby clothes and very slow internet. While in town the Johanna Kristina we were rafted alongside moved to the other side of the harbour and took Windjammer still moored alongside with her. Carl-Peter, a young local working as a sailor on the Johanna Kristina told us how lucky he was to have a job. Apparently most young people are unemployed. The locals fish and hunt whales and seals for their own consumption, but there is no fish processing plant here to earn cash, so welfare dependency is high. We anchored off in the afternoon as the Johanna Kristina and dredge were on the jetty and went ashore for a pizza and a beer. The pizzas were quite good, but because of the liquor licencing laws we had to go to the down stairs bar for the beer. 14th July Fuelling up was tricky as Ashley had to manoeuvre Windjammer stern to the jetty, with both boats still tied alongside, while Murray played tug with the tender. Mid-way through the re-fuelling the Johanna Kristina decided to slip her mooring and slide out from inside the dredge causing a few missed heartbeats on board Windjammer as we wondered what was going on. Departing Tasiilaq at 1100hrs we motored through some spectacular fjords before stopping at Ikatek to look around a WWII air base. This was a large American air force base, "Blue East Two", mostly used for search and rescue and now marked with thousands of empty rusting 44 gallon drums, the remains of a hanger and many trucks, some still with air in their tyres. The gravel airstrip, although unused, is still in good condition. We motored past a few very blue frozen water icebergs which are quite different to the common compressed snow icebergs. In the evening we anchored off Sermiligaq with 2 stern lines to the small jetty. Lots of children were sitting at the end of the wharf and when playing with the stern lines managed to let one go. Around 0100am Ashley heard some noise on board and was surprised to find 2 women in the saloon. They had been drinking and were after some more beers and a chat! All the children were still up and playing about at this early hour.
Prins Christian Sund - South Coast Greenland
10 July 2016
6th July - Continuing on the inside passage with low lying islands and a mountain range backdrop we made for Uunartoq. This island has the only hot spring in Greenland which has been popular from Norse times and mentioned in the Sagas. We anchored on the south side of the island and walked over the hill to the hot springs. On the north side of the island a number of commercial motor boats were swinging on public moorings. This is the first time in Greenland we have experienced any real tourist attractions, although most of the "tourists" were Greenlanders. The shallow natural pools were beautifully warm and just the right depth that you could sit on the gravel bottom and luxuriate in the hot water while looking at the icebergs in the channel. The hardest part was getting out of the water into the cold air, but the ground was delightfully soft under foot as we ran up to the changing shed. Back onboard we had lunch then continued down the fjord with its mountainous cliffs to Nanortalik. The original Norse name for Nanortalik translated to "Bear hut island", but an Inuit lady we met at the hot springs who lived there told us she had never ever seen one. About 1,500 people live here. After dinner we walked the town calling in at the Café 44 where a live band of 5 was crammed onto a tiny stage, but still produced a good sound. Later we called in to the motor boat "Mona" alongside which we had rafted in Nuuk and had a chat and a night cap with the two Danish/Local couples and their children.
7th July - We spent the morning in Nanortalik visiting the lovely historical old part of town and catching up with Wi-Fi at the tourist office. The oldest stone buildings date back to the 1820s and are in excellent condition. In the afternoon we motored to Torssuqataq Sound, as usual, dodging icebergs along the way and anchored in Paakitsuarssuaq, a wonderful peaceful cove nestled in amongst the rounded 800m granite hills.
8th July - We had a wonderful day with clear sunny skies and very little wind. Leaving our anchorage we motored along Torssuqaataq. This fjord is lined with tall granite cliffs which reflect in the calm waters. This area has become popular with rock climbers who tackle the "Baron" Spire (1,340m), the 600m wall of the "Baroness" and the "Thumbnail", a 1,460m cliff rising straight up from the sea. We pulled into a small fishing village, Aappilattoq, its entrance just a cleft in the rock and the town hemmed in by the soaring peaks behind. The population of around 100 people fish and hunt seals from small boats. Ashley met a family celebrating their child's 1st birthday and invited in to their home for tea and cakes. The grand father showed him the skull of a polar bear the he. had shot recently near the village. He said it was the 3rd polar bear he had shot and they all enjoyed eating the meat. We also met fishermen returning with a catch of the local halibut and a seal.Continuing on along Prins Christian Sund we passed numerous waterfalls cascading hundreds of metres down from glaciers and ice caps above. Some of the glaciers come down to the waters edge. At Sermerunerit Glacier Ashley, Murray and Maggie hopped in the dinghy and took some fabulous photos of Windjammer up against the ice face. Further along we passed the wide Svardfisken Glacier with dark streaks of debris highlighting its march down the valley. Seals keep a low profile in these waters because they are hunted, but we did spot a large "Bearded Seal" relaxing on a bergy bit.
Nearing the entrance to Ikerasassuaq (Prins Christian Sund) we pulled into the small dock at the Ikerasassuaq radio and weather station. There was a little surge coming in, but we had a comfortable night with a breast line taken across to an adjoining rock. For dinner we enjoyed the last of the mussels from Kapisillit which have been treated to a change of sea water every day and kept happy.
9th July - The grey drizzly morning emphasised how lucky we were yesterday to experience such a clear day in the Sound. We climbed up 270 stairs to the weather station, which although unmanned and totally locked up, is fully operational and remotely operated. When the station was still manned, there were dogs kept as an early warning system for polar bears. The staff must have had a lot of time on their hands as we noticed a TV antenna on one of the kennels and an ash tray half way up the steep steps. When Ashley had manoeuvred Windjammer out of the very tight harbour we motored into a fresh NE wind with low clouds, rain and a choppy sea. The day steadily improved giving us the first views of the east coast and some huge icebergs grounded along the way.
Fortunately, there are not many growlers about so we were able to stand solo watches in the chilly breeze. Mid-afternoon we pulled into Kangerdlarajik Fjord and dropped anchor in Peersvig Bay. Ashley ranked this as one of his top anchorages in the world. An open bay with the shore sweeping up to high snow-capped peaks and numerous glacier filled valleys that disgorge ice into the fjord. Nearby a torrent of glacier water cascaded into the bay. As we clambered up its course to the lake 300m above the bay. Blue sky's opened up from the east and we had a wonderful view over the fjord with the soft evening sunlight highlighting the the surrounding snow capped mountains. "Mona", the motor yacht we'd last seen at Nanortalik was also anchored in the bay.
10th July - A fine sunny day with little wind as we continued motoring up the East Coast. This coast is quite different to the West Coast. There is no hint of greenery here, but bare weathered and scoured rock where the snow and ice have melted near the sea. Glaciers stretch down to the ocean and the icecap stretches up into the distant horizon with only occasional peaks penetrating the frozen white mantle. This is a very harsh, desolate and almost overwhelming piece of coastline. Everyone took advantage of the glorious conditions to do some washing and airing of clothes with hardly any unused space on the lifelines. We watched as wisps of lenticular clouds played around some of the coastal peaks and we were occasionally temped to set some sail, but the calm conditions continued throughout the day. It was very pleasant taking a nap on deck in the relatively warm sun as the low swell rolled under the boat. We spotted seals and whales in the sea during the day, but they all appear very timid. In the evening we anchored in a sheltered bay on the island of Qutdleq. There are remains of a Loran C station here that was abandoned in 1973. Loran C was a terrestrial navigation system used before the advent of satellite systems. Establishing a station here would have been quite a challenge. Onshore there was a landing, a big fuel tank, a boat house, a bitumen road and the remains of the pylons for the conveyancing system used to lift all the building materials and supplies up to the main station above. We came across a large set polar bear foot prints in the snow as well as a smaller cub set. This created some anxiety for us as Murray had left us for a climb up the steep hill behind the anchorage to check out the top station. This was the first time we had ever separated but the visibility was so clear allowing a good all round view. His return was a relief and much quicker, sliding down the snow slope at speed albeit oblivious to the threat of a lurking polar bear.
Nuuk Fjords and heading south - West Greenland
04 July 2016
1st July A crystal clear morning encouraged Ashley, Cathie, Matt and Maggie to walk over the hill to view the Kangersuneq Isfjord packed solid with ice. On their return we gathered mussels from the beach and as we up anchored and motored along Cathie created a delicious mussel and fish soup. Not a cloud in the sky as we cruised through impressive fjords to Qooqqut. Fashion ON the floe: Mid-afternoon, with a towering granite backdrop and sparkling seas we enjoyed another fashion treat. Matt (ice tester), Ashley (model) and Maggie (photographer) boarded a submarine shaped iceberg. With professional panache our model soon appeared in his trendy briefs (jocks) with straw hat, umbrella and crampon equipped Ugg boots. Paris eat your heart out! Matt, not to be outdone, stripped down too and rolled on the ice - proving that old ice is hard ice by skinning his elbows. In the evening we dined ashore at Qooqqut Nuan. We enjoyed a meal that included Musk Ox, lamb chops (NZ), scallops, prawns, shrimp, red fish and cod. Our excellent young waiter, Joorut, mixed us a Greenlandic coffee to finish the night! Irish whiskey - representing the man, Kalua - representing the woman, coffee - representing the arctic night, cream - the arctic snow and flaming Grand Marnier - the northern lights. Joorut also told us that anyone can apply for a permit to build a cabin along the fjords and that if the regional office approves the permit there is no cost or ongoing fees to use the land. #11 2nd July A 0600hrs start from Qooqqut motoring through the fjords saw us back in Nuuk by 0930hrs. We spent the day catching up on news, shopping and enjoying a free concert in the town square. There were a couple of pigs on the spit served with salad and potatoes and the local draught beer went down a treat. The old fellow who was tapping along to the music next to me was 88 years old. Almost everyone who passed him said "Hey" and touched him on the shoulder. It was a real family get together. We didn't manage to find any water to top up the tanks, but we fuelled up before leaving Nuuk and motored south for an hour to a sheltered anchorage, recommended by a local, for the night. Mussels from Kapisillit with pasta and a tomato sauce for dinner. 3rd July Weighed anchor at a leisurely 0900hrs and motored out of the fjords heading south. 1100hrs with a freshening cold N wind we raised sails including the Fisherman and sailed SE. The fog receded in front of us leaving a sunny corridor between the mountainous coast and fog shrouded ocean. 4th July The wind died in the early hours and we doused sails and continued on through the fog down the coast under motor. The sun fought a losing battle with the fog and despite thinning considerably we remained cocooned all day. In the evening the fog thickened and because of impending icebergs we began two man, two hour watches. 5th July Ashley plotted a course down the Inner Lead, threading down narrow passages through the coastal islands. We entered the first passage around midnight still in dense fog following the plotted course and monitoring the radar. Only the still water confirmed we had entered the channel until we saw peaks towering above the fog behind us, first to port and then close to starboard. As we passed deeper down the narrow tickle the fog cleared showing the bright sky with the midnight sun looming just below the horizon. Ashley timed the run through the narrowest part of the passage, where strong currents run, for slack water and we were glad we had good visibility as we slid between the rocks barely a boat length away on either side. It was good to have the sun and good visibility as this is a very scenic area. We arrived at Qaqortoq (Julienehab - most towns in Greenland have, confusingly, two names - the local and the Danish names) mid-morning. This is the biggest town in SW Greenland with a population of 3,000 with a Norse history, some lovely old colonial buildings and a growing tourist industry. We wandered the town and enjoyed a beer outside a central café where we could watch the locals go by in the sun. Mid-afternoon we fuelled up and took on water. Continuing on we motored around to Sadnoq. This is a small isolated settlement. Largely abandoned, with optimistically around 40 people remaining. We wandered around and came across some old graves made of slabs of rock and were probably packed around with earth and peat originally. That has weathered away and you can see the skulls and bones through the rock. We kicked a ball around with the local children and their dog. The Greenlanders we have met are very friendly and relaxed. The younger generation speak some English, but the men on the island didn't.
Nuuk Isfiords - Greenland
02 July 2016
#11 30th June 2016
Our original intention was to continue north to Disco Bay but the ice charts indicated that there was still significant ice in the bay. A chance visit to the Nuuk Yacht Club revealed that one of the hidden treasure of Greenland "Isfjord" was tantalisingly close by. A network of fiords and glaciers was a favourite cruising ground for locals in the know, but overlooked by cruising yachts bound for Disco Bay or the North West passage. So armed with mud maps and recommended secret anchorages we set off to explore.
June and a clear cloudless blue sky gave us a wonderful appreciation of the majestic scenery as we weaved our way through the still waters towards the Ihilialik Glacier. The ice became harder to navigate as we approached the glacier and eventually we were stopped by it. Before turning back we watched a couple of Humpback whales as they blew on the surface before sounding. With the motor off we enjoyed the sounds of the whale's breath and the cracks, hisses and occasional whooshes as pieces break off the bergs and slide into the sea. There was a lot of ice in the water which made it slow going as we piloted our way back past the shaved faces of the rocky peaks lining the fjord. One granite outcrop rising sheer from the water looked like a chimney with the smoky clouds billowing out. It showed on the chart as being 1,220m high. In the mid-afternoon we arrived at Kapisillit, which means "the salmon", and we anchored near the mouth of a stream where the salmon spawn. Supposedly this is the only salmon run in Greenland. The town is very neat with some short sections of paved road along which there are regularly placed bench seats. As there are less than 100 locals living here we suspect that there is about one bench seat per person. There is also street lighting and a huge fuel storage tank. Ashley and Maggie caught loads of cod and Matt caught his first ever fish here, but not before losing his fishing gear over the side. Luckily he was able to retrieve it. One huge cod Ashley caught weighed over 15kg. No salmon were spied. We had our first encounter with Greenlandic insects and the head nets we purchased in Newfoundland were put to good use.
Fashion at the Floe: There have been some comments passed around regarding the 3 Tele-Tubbies with Matt, Murray and Nick wrapped in their blue, red and yellow outfits. Though no one compared to Ashley this morning, elegantly suited in orange jacket with matching fluorescent orange fisherman's gloves that matched the orange logo on his caps.
1st July - A crystal clear morning encouraged Ashley, Cathie, Matt and Maggie to walk over the hill to view the Kangersuneq Isfjord packed solid with ice. On their return we gathered a bucket of mussels from the beach and as we up anchored and motored along Cathie created a delicious mussel and fish soup. Not a cloud in the sky as we cruised through impressive fjords to Qooqqut.
Fashion ON the floe: Mid-afternoon, with a towering granite backdrop and sparkling seas we enjoyed another fashion treat. Matt (ice tester), Ashley (model) and Maggie (photographer) boarded a submarine shaped iceberg. With professional panache our model soon appeared in his trendy briefs (jocks) with straw hat, umbrella and crampon equipped Ugg boots. Paris eat your heart out! Matt, not to be outdone, stripped down too and rolled on the ice - proving that old ice is hard ice by skinning his elbows. In the evening we dined ashore at a quaint restaurant at Qooqqut Nuan catering mainly to the Nuuk day trippers arriving in small motor boats. We enjoyed a meal that included Musk Ox, lamb chops (NZ), scallops, prawns, shrimp, red fish and cod. Our excellent young waiter, Joorut, mixed us a Greenlandic coffee to finish the night! Irish whiskey - representing the man, Kalua - representing the woman, coffee - representing the arctic night, cream - the arctic snow and flaming Grand Marnier - the northern lights. Joorut also told us that anyone can apply for a permit to build a cabin along the fjords and that if the regional office approves the permit there is no cost or ongoing fees to use the land.
Nuuk - Greenland
02 July 2016
#10 27th & 28th June Two days in Nuuk, capitol of Greenland. Nuuk means "the headland" and the city sits on the end of a peninsular at the mouth of the vast fjord system "Nuup Kangerlua". We wandered into the town centre which is easily done as everything is close. There is an excellent museum which describes the different eras of inhabitants going back to 2,500 BC and up to colonisation by Denmark. There is a definite Greenland "look" influenced by their i=Inuit ancestry and the locals are cheerful and helpful and most have some English language. The city itself is not very inspiring with a lot of high rise apartments built in rectangular blocks, although a few traditional houses in the old town are quite picturesque. We definitely felt that we had left North America and entered Scandinavia as the modern shops were well stocked with everything you would find in Denmark. Unfortunately most of the cafes and restaurants seemed to be a bit un-inspirational and served fast food type menus. We saw a local street vendor selling dried whale meat, but no seal meat. The climate dictates the fashion and most wore jeans or slacks with warm jackets and boots. Wi-Fi is quite expensive, but we managed to get a free fix at the library. 29th June Having spoken to the locals, Ashley and Cathie have decided that rather than sail 300nm north to Disko Bay we will explore the extensive fjords of this area. What a good call! Today started off wet, cold and windy as we motored the two hours to Ikkuttut bay. Here we were out of the wind and Ashley and Maggie caught some lovely cod. They were hardly landed before being cleaned, filleted and pan fried by Cathie - delicious. After lunch we motored through increasing numbers of icebergs to Qoornup, a small community set up to survey the West Greenland in 1927. This small island has a fete every year on the first weekend of July, but we won't be staying around to join in. As the day progressed the weather improved and when the cloud lifted we could better appreciate the magnificent setting of chiselled granite mountains rising sheer from the iceberg cluttered waters. Glacial action has scoured out the sides of the deep valleys which carry tiny patches of tough native vegetation. Erik the Red, the Viking who landed here hundreds of years ago, who was accused of false marketing when he named the country Greenland to attracts settlers. 80% of the country is icecap and there are lots of bare rock, but there are green areas and apparently the Vikings ran sheep and cattle as the climate was milder back then. Leaving Qoornup after a good walk around we piloted Windjammer through numerous icebergs, bergy bits and growlers. It was difficult to find a safe anchorage clear of ice, but we found a good corner of Tasinsap Bay and reminiscent of Patagonia days we anchored with a line ashore by 2030hrs. Cathie bought fish in Nuuk which she was told was trout and she cooked it in the pan with a delicious orange sauce. A fine white flaked fish with a delicate flavour served with snow peas and wild rice. A wonderful way to finish an awesome day.
"Eskimos and the Igloos" - Maggie reflecting on the present day Inuit communities we have been privileged to experience.
26 June 2016 | Nuuk, Greenland
The sun was setting over the snowy mountain peaks as they took to the form of devils teeth, ascending from a dense mysterious fog lingering low on the ocean surface. As midnight approached, the tedious four day passage across the Davis Straight, had come to an end. We had sailed to the edge of the earth - the home of the North Pole, and Windjammer proudly flew a new flag to acknowledge new territory. What awaited was an island that has never been circumnavigated. Where ice reaches more then 3km above sea level, permanently covering 80% of the land, its glaciers are responsible for producing the majority of all icebergs in the North Atlantic Ocean. Although its name begs to differ, Greenland is most certainly the land of ice.
Have you ever heard storieis, the stories of Eskimos living in ice Igloo's? Well, the term 'Eskimo' is a European derogatory connotation of all people native to the Arctic. In Greenland, the native people are more accurately known as Inuit, which translates to 'The People'. The inuit were very resourceful people and used what the land offered to build their homes, unfortunately this was limited to stone and ice. In the summer months, small communities lived together in small houses made of stone but the winter required more warmth in the bitterly cold climate. A home built from Ice may not appear to be effective, however by insulating the interior with animal skins, it effectively provided a warm environment. Their clothing design cleverly mimicked a polar bears coat, comprising of skin and fur predominately from birds, musk ox, seals and bears.
Since the Danish inhabited the island in 1728, the Inuit still stand true to old traditions, which has fundamentally shaped modern Greenlandic society. Hunting was an essential part of inuit life and necessary for survival on their land. With the belief that everything in nature has a soul spirit, they recognise a relationship between human and nature. They believe in living in mutual respect to ultimately maintain the balance of the world. If they were a good person, with a clear conscience, an animal would offer themselves to be killed, thus maintaining the cycle of life. If the hunter did not have respect, he threatened to disorder sea and land as well as birth and death; the relationship between humans and nature.
Too often Westerners have judged the inuits for their way of life. They have been called 'savages' yet their ways have outsmarted Western culture for centuries. They have been criticised because they hunt the mammals that we have grown to love so deeply. Although, what we have been so ignorant to see is that they hunt purely to survive on this land, just as the polar bear hunts the seal and the seal hunts the salmon. They do not kill for profit but to provide food for their family. When the hunter returns home with his kill, he calls the family to come and share the food for their stomachs, the skin for their warmth and the bones for their tools. The entire community comes, because to an Inuit, family is everyone by association. How can Western society be so quick to judge these intelligent, resourceful, humble and honest people when our culture is ignorantly damaging our natural world beyond repair. The Inuit have such an undeniable respect for nature and all its beings, the same cant be said for the Western culture driven by such greed.
As history writes itself, the influence of European culture is impacting on the indigenous people in ways we have seen too often across the world. The introduction of alcohol has troubled communities and the dependance on this foreign good is unsettling. Naturally, the government has enforced strict quotas restricting the natives ability to hunt, a tradition that not only depicts their lifestyle but represents the essence of their culture. There lives have been turned upside down by the Danish, they have been forced to adapt to a new way of life. For that, the government heavily supports the native people, so much so that most have become solely dependant on the welfare system. Regardless of the desire to thrive on employment and gain independence, the lack of employment opportunities has founded the expectation of financial support which has become a fundamental part of their new way of life.
Great new adventures and great new seas
26 June 2016 | Nuuk, Greenland
Great new adventures and great new seas awaited as we prepared to cross the first section of the North Atlantic Ocean.The sun rose over Mary's Harbour, Labrador as we set sail for the the Davis Straight destined for Greenland. As much as I thrive in the excitement of wandering on new land, crossing oceans is what truly stirs my sense of adventure. As the last sight of land fades into the horizon and there is only blue ocean as far as the eye can see, one has the opportunity to experience a unique connection with the ocean. Without the dependance on land and the draw to reality, there is only the ocean. It is at that moment of realisation that one experiences the raw beauty of this world without distraction to the eye or disruption of nature in its most pure form.
You lose track of time, days and worries as you become completely immersed in this newfound reality. You ponder the journey the whales are on as they gracefully skim the ocean surface and admire the birds as the joyfully ride the wind that has taken them so far from land. The days do not begin, nor do they end. The sun sets in the North and lingers on the horizon while the moon rises in the south. The sky is luminous all day and all night for the arctic summer holds onto its light. Our days are not filled with expectation, but the freedom to just be. We sailed, we dreamt and we laughed, for our four day passage was so pleasant that if it was not Greenland we were approaching, the idea landfall would have been far less attractive.
We hit the western coast of greenland early evening and with a crisp fresh bight to air. The vibrant orange tones from the sun struck through the heavy low clouds and the fog rolled out revealing the land. The charming Norwegian style houses along the entrance of the harbour were a welcoming sight as we approached the capital city of Nuuk. Fireworks from the town took to the sky and we marvelled in the idea that Greenland was a country that none of us had ever thought we would one day explore. By dawn we had snuck in and tied up to a row of boats on one of the many jetty's packed with small powerboats, careful not to disturb the quiet and stillness of the colourful harbour. Windjammers crew slept soundly, yet with great anticipation as the morning would bring the opportunity to climb across the neighbouring boats to find out if Greenland really is green.
Marys Harbour, Labrador to Nuuk Greenland
26 June 2016
#9 25th June The wind died in the early hours and we dropped sails. It is a rainy grey morning. Around 0900hrs the wind built and we raised sails. The rain cleared and at lunchtime we had a short glimpse of the sun. The wind picked up in the afternoon and swung more to the west and we barrelled along at 7+ knots. The heater is going well after Ashley's work yesterday although there were hiccups this morning until he realised the engine vent cover was on which starved the heater of oxygen. Finished reading "Cod", an excellent book on the history of cod fishing and its impact on the culture and economics of many countries on both sides of the Atlantic. Maggie saw an iceberg on her afternoon watch, the first ice we have seen for a couple of days. 26th June The wind died in the very bright early hours of this morning and we dropped sails. The swell persisted which caused much rolling without the steadying of the sails. Grey skies and no wind and we are now over 62° north. There is no real darkness up here and you could happily read a book on deck in the middle of the night. Cathie spotted a lone iceberg this morning. Sea water temperature has dropped to 4.9° C. We spotted a couple more distant icebergs as we motored through the day with the ground swell only reluctantly abating. Maggie created a tasty vegetable curry for lunch. We sighted land at 2015hrs and as we approached Nuuk we were welcomed with a fireworks display ashore. A very cold breeze blew off the tall snow-capped mountains that tower over Nuuk. We rafted up in the inner harbour at 2300hrs having travelled 720nm from Mary's Harbour. Nuuk is at 64° N.
24 June 2016
23rd June We haven't seen any ice since midday yesterday, but for safety sake we stand watches with 2 on during the darkest part of the night. One on the foredeck on ice watch and the other at the helm monitoring the radar. It never got completely dark as we had a clear night sky with an almost full moon and the glow from the sun still lighting up the horizon even at midnight. The heater has been off since our hot day in Mary's Harbour and the boat was freezing this morning. Everyone is feeling the cold except Ashley. In the morning there was not a cloud to be seen in the sky and the horizon is as sharp as a knife edge in marked contrast to yesterday's mirages. Just after sunrise we passed the carcass of a small white whale floating on the surface. Possibly a Beluga? We finished off the final small pieces of re-seaming on the mainsail and applied a few chafe strips and in the early afternoon a light breeze filled in from the west. Raised Main, Fore, Balloon Jib and Fisherman. Two schools of small whales, probably pilot whales, passed us during the day. As we enjoyed a beautiful afternoon on deck we came across a Sperm whale cruising on the surface before it showed us its tail and sounded. The wind died in the evening and we motored through the night.
24th June A light breeze from the SE came in this morning and we motor sailed until it filled in around lunch time. Set Fisherman. We have not seen any ice for a day and as we clear the cold Labrador Current and enter the Davis Strait the water temperature has risen from 3° C to 10° C. Ashley worked on the heater for several hours and seems to have found the problem causing the irregular burning. Looks like the spring valve in the regulator may have been incorrectly replaced. Much better burning now. Made steady progress under sail through the day and with 324nm to Nuuk we are over half way there.
St Marys Harbour and departure for Greenland
22 June 2016
#7 21th June A clear sunny day in Mary's Harbour. The mayor, Alton Rumble, told us there is now a population of 300 in town. There are not many options apart from fishing, so most of the younger generation have gone to St Johns or other major cities. We met several other Rumbles around town as they seem to have a share in the co-op fish processing plant, the port management, fishing boats and the town council. Alton kindly lent us his car to have a quick look around town (and that was driving slowly) and do some provisioning. The warm dry wind was ideal for drying out the boat and our wet weather gear. We also re-seamed some stitching on the mainsail and topped up the fuel using the longest fuel hose I have ever seen. They pull it 100m down the dock using a ute. Ashley and Cathie talked to the local fisherman about ice to the north. A tanker is stuck in the ice trying to get into Cartwright and the pack ice is well south so they have decide to leave Labrador in the morning and head under the bottom of the ice straight to Greenland. Also in Mary's Harbour was a nice 42' French designed Garcia aluminium yacht and its skipper Gilbert who at the age of 70+ years is going to sail solo through the North West passage. He came on board for a glass of wine and told us stories of losing his boat in Colombia and also rescues in Greenland and Iceland! 22nd June Departed Labrador at 0500hrs and set a course NE to Greenland. A little rain overnight but the skies cleared and we motored with no wind. Looking back at the icebergs grounded along the coast we saw an interesting mirage effect. This Arctic phenomenon is known as a "superior image" or :fata morgana" and occurs when a warm offshore breeze flows over cooler air lying just above the cold sea water. Light travels slightly faster through warm air than through cold causing a light ray as it passes from cooler to warmer air to curve back toward the cooler air. This means that to somebody observing a distant object, say an ice floe, through air that is warmer above than it is below, the floe will seem higher that it really is; it will also be elongated vertically making it seem taller than it really is. Sometimes cooler air can act as a duct between layers of warmer air and images appear of objects below the horizon. At 1030hrs the wind came in from the SE and we set Fore, Main, Balloon Jib and Fisherman. We passed through a band of "growlers" several miles wide, probably coming off the end of the coastal pack ice. These growlers range in size from that of a football up to the size of a container. I saw a wonderful iceberg mirage of a Tall Ship with sails furled on the yards floating above the horizon. We made good progress under sail despite a confused sea and by 2200hrs when we lost the wind and lowered the sails to resume motoring we had covered 130nm.