Sequoia Changing Latitudes

10 July 2018 | Roscoff, Brittany, FRANCE
03 July 2018 | St. Malo, Brittany, France
03 July 2018 | St. Malo, Brittany, France
16 June 2018 | Plymouth, UK
01 June 2018 | Gosford, UK
18 May 2018 | Suffolk Yacht Harbor, Ipswich, UK
13 September 2017 | Scappoose, Oregon
25 August 2017 | Suffolk Yacht Harbour
10 August 2017 | Göteborg
03 August 2017 | Motala, Sweden
23 July 2017 | Stämmarsund, Sweden
18 July 2017 | Navishamn Marina, Stockholm, Sweden
05 July 2017 | Oskarshamn, Sweden
27 June 2017 | Kalmar, Sweden
23 June 2017 | Karlskrona, Sweden
15 June 2017 | Marstal, Aero Island, Denmark
06 June 2017 | Vlieland Island, The Netherlands
19 May 2017 | Zelzate, Belgium


10 July 2018 | Roscoff, Brittany, FRANCE
Barbara/Partly sunny
Across the inlet from us here in Roscoff is a long pontoon which includes the fuel pumps. But it's also, apparently the only tie-up long enough for boats of more than 50 feet, and it's an easy place to stop for boats in trouble. So in the last 24 hours we saw one German-flagged boat towing another, and depositing the disabled boat on that dock. Another boat on the dock had a problem with its drop-keel (like a centerboard, but for a large boat). He had inadvertently gone aground in a falling tide, until he was high and dry on a mudflat, sitting on the stub keel in which the drop keel is stored when not deployed. Apparently pebbles and who-knows-what-else had jammed into the opening, and he was no longer able to deploy the drop-keel. We watched as he dove several times trying to unjam the mechanism. Ultimately, he was not successful, and has decided to continue to sail with just the stub keel. He's on his way to Martinique! Good luck with any course other than down-wind!

This morning a historic boat from Cameret came into the long pontoon, discharging tourists, loading up more tourists, and taking on bagged supplies, including numerous bags of rice and no produce or meat (that I could see). Good luck to those tourists. Once loaded up, they departed again, ½ hour after arriving.

Yesterday a Russian sailboat came in, about 65 feet long, all grey with matching grey fenders, and proudly flying the flag of the motherland. Obviously fitted out to the hilt for some Russian oligarch.

We had seen another big fancy Russian boat (80 foot power boat) in Plymouth. We were in Plymouth more than a week, and 7 or 8 guys were working on the boat, nonstop, including Saturday and Sunday. There was some construction and repair going on, but mostly it was cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. Craig got the story from one of the workers: This was for an oligarch's wife or girlfriend. The oligarch has a 125 foot boat, but she doesn't like it, so he bought her this one for her own. This was a brand new, out-of-the-factory Princess. And yet it "needed" so many upgrades. (Just an example: fenders with custom covers with the embroidered boat's name...) Toward the end of our stay, they spiffed up the boat with table settings and monstrous bouquets of flowers. Apparently that was for an inspection visit by the oligarch and his girlfriend/wife. Then, the word was, they were going to send the boat to Rotterdam, whereupon it would be transported by land to Moscow, where I guess it will be moored in a river and used for tea parties in the summer.

We've been doing boat chores while in Roscoff. The things you have to do periodically: cleaning out the refrigerator, laundry, inventorying the food on board, repairing mechanical items, etc. Special projects this time included shampooing the boat's carpets (the flooding from an exploded hose in Plymouth had left really obnoxious stains on the carpet), and construction of storage bags for our two new Brompton bikes.

The inventory of canned goods revealed a stash of fly paper (from Hawaii 2011) which had decided to drip its gooey sticky stuff onto the floor of the compartment. Think molasses, but 10 times more viscous. (Not poison, just leg irons for flies). I tried to spatula it up, but it just made long strings of the stuff. We tried a succession of soaps, cleaners and solvents, and did finally find one that worked. Had to use the solvent on the spatula too, and all those places where the strings landed...

Our time in France has been interesting - No wind to speak of, except the day we arrived in St. Malo. St. Malo was an unfamiliar port for us, with most of the radio chatter in French. We knew we had to go through a lock, but had been unable to make contact with the marina inside, where they either would or would not have space for us. We were there (we thought) more than an hour before the first lock opening. While circling around, trying to figure out where to tie up for the wait, we were hailed by a French boat whose skipper spoke English. Adrien, we later found out, had worked in Portland, Oregon for 18 months as a software engineer, so spoke English fluently. He told us that it was not, in fact 6:15 pm as we thought, but 7:15 and the lock would open in 15 minutes. (The French would NEVER want to be on the same time zone as the English...) (Good thing we were - we thought - more than an hour early.) He also advised us about what the line requirements and procedure inside the locks would be, and that we should be prepared to tie up on the port (left) side of the lock.

Once through the lock and inside the marina we tried again to gain communication with the harbormaster to find a place to tie up. No answer. (Adrien later told us they don't want to speak English, nor, I assume French, with someone who is not completely fluent). We tied up to the sea wall where we saw several bigger boats. At that point Adrien came walking along the wall and told us we were in an (unmarked) place designated for Coast Guard boats. Instead we should move ahead into the marina, where there was space along the sea wall as it curved out of sight.

We did that, and it turned out to have been a good choice. We were just steps from the old walled city, with amenities of every sort, and interesting sights to see. Adrien gave us a tour, using the walk on top of the wall. He had such interesting bits of history to tell us. We knew from our guidebook that the city had been heavily bombed by the Allies at the end of the Second World War, and that the present walled city is mostly a reconstruction. Adrien told us that before the bombing, the Germans were holed up in tunnels below an area which the French call "La Cité", which is remote from and existed before the walled city. La Cité was much less densely populated, fewer buildings, and didn't look like an urban center. So the word went out to the Allies from the local French: "Bomb La Cité." An English translator rendered that as "Bomb the city" and not surprisingly, the bombers targeted the very dense walled city.

The French have done a great job of recreating the walled city with its narrow streets, although it does look mostly new (or at least only 60-70 years old). We walked around and saw the view of the beaches and the fortified islands just offshore. We passed many restaurants and fortifications. We stepped inside the Cathedral and admired the mostly-abstract stained-glass windows which have been inserted into the old openings. We saw the dog kennel where hungry bulldogs were historically kept: they were released at 11 pm every evening when the church bells rang the hour, and woe be unto any person who was still about. The dogs were lured back into the kennel at daybreak by a promise of their only meal of the day. You can see the dogs on the seal which appears on every manhole cover throughout the Walled City.

We ate that night in a crepe restaurant which Adrian recommended. It turns out the savory crepes are called "gallettes" and are made of buckwheat. The sweet crepes are actually called "crepes". A lovely way to eat!

That was our last dinner with our son David, who left us the next day to return home to hot-hot-hot southern California. (He was a GREAT visitor/crew on the boat and we enjoyed so much spending the time with him in the Channel Islands and St. Malo). We escorted him to the train station walking our new bikes, and then had a fun ride back to the boat.

That afternoon we rode to the immigration office at the ferry terminal. As advised we had had our Q flag (quarantine) up since our arrival. We were told that if customs/immigration wanted come inspect us they would. They never did, so we finally took it down and went to see them. We needed to get stamps in our passports to prove our entry date for Schengen (visa) purposes.

The bikes have been wonderful for errands like that, and we look forward to many interesting explorations.

We left St. Malo and moved west to a resort town called St. Quay Portrieux. This lovely old town has constructed a well enclosed tidal basin where 1000 boats can tie up. The vast majority are tiny recreational fishing boats (less than 6 meters - 19 feet - in length - there must be a law giving some kind of tax break to such boats). Because it's tidal, and the tidal range is at least 10 meters, the climb up the long ramps is sometimes exceedingly steep.

In St. Quay, we met Gill and Richard, an English couple who quickly became our good friends. We talked about life, retirement, sailing, children, grandchildren, Brexit and Trump. (The nature of cruising is that you meet all these wonderful people, spend a day or two with them, and then you move on or they move on, with words expressed about possible future get-togethers, but sadly it rarely can happen.) Gill and Richard took us on a walk along the coast to the next cove to the north (see photo at the top of this post), and a bar/restaurant where wonderful, delicious mussels in a variety of sauces were being served. This is the dish of the season, and they do it well.

From St. Quay we sailed (actually, motored, there was no wind) to Roscoff, where we are now. Here we will wait for Jamie and Eleanor, who will crew for us as we cross the Bay of Biscay. Roscoff is another Brittany resort, connected by ferry with Plymouth. Gill told us in St. Quay that all of these Brittany resorts were historically used by the upper class British grandparents and the children, while the wealthy parents went to vacation on the Riviera. Gill said that while there are some very nice places here, they are somewhat disfavored (compared to the Riviera) because the weather is "the same as England.". Accordingly, vacation properties here are quite reasonably priced. And apparently moorage costs less than in England. Craig was talking with someone who said there are English boats moored here year-round because of the favorable prices. All that may come tumbling down when Brexit takes full effect.

If this weather is "the same as England" then they must be having very good weather now! We're enjoying the heat, the cool evenings, and the quick drying that my freshly-washed carpets are getting.

We hope you are enjoying yourselves as much as we are!

Best wishes to all.

Craig & Barbara Johnston
S/V Sequoia

Dartmouth to Jersey, Part II

03 July 2018 | St. Malo, Brittany, France
Barbara/Warm, muggy and about to rain!
(Continuing the blog entry which Sailblogs so rudely truncated... And it allows me no extra pictures on this one -- do you suppose I've violated some rule I don't know about?)

But back to Sark. After our visit to historic remains (silver mines, dolmen, cannons...) on Little Sark, we stopped at what appears to be the only tourist establishment there, the Hotel and Restaurant Sablonnerie. It's an oasis of lovely English gardens, with tables set out in the shade and beautiful flowers in every direction. We happened upon it 15 minutes before opening time, and they very graciously accommodated us in a garden settee with cold water to drink while the table setting continued. It was one of those places where the prices don't appear on the menu (so we feared for the worst) but we decided to have lunch anyway. Everything was delicious and elegantly served, including locally caught lobster. The prices turned out to be not TOO bad. The owner, "Elizabeth" invited us to sample her homemade sloe gin, while regaling us with details and stories intended to entice us to come back and/or to send our friends.

After lunch we headed north to the other end of the island; beautiful scenery in every direction. We stopped for an ice cream cone, engaged some local folk in conversation about what it was like to live on a small island, and then headed back down the hill to the ferry.

The bicycle shop owner gave us directions for a “more direct” route. That involved following an ever smaller road, then “just take the path across the field” (what field? What path?) and then finding a trail through the woods. We did eventually find it – muddy, steep, many forks to choose from, and spring nettles threatening our bare legs. Finally down a steep set of muddy stairs and we were on the road to the ferry, returning us to the island of Guernsey.

In Dartmouth and in St. Peter Port we had heard practice sessions of the bell ringers from local churches. It was quite a magical sound coming across the water. In Guernsey we happened upon a bell ringer practice at Ste. Marguerite de la Foret Church where we were able to go inside the church and watch the ringers as they practiced. It’s quite an athletic undertaking, and the timing of the pulls is obviously something that must be learned. Each ringer watches one other person and times their own pull for an exact time later. One of the ringers periodically calls out different numbers and the pattern of the ringing changes. Interestingly, the lowest bell, both in St. Peter Port and in Guernsey, is tuned to A flat. Dartmouth has eight bells – a full octave – whereas the Forest Church in Guernsey has only six. What a treat! I’d gladly trade the exercise class at my gym for a chance to pull bells like that.

As it turned out, our great project of the Channel Islands was acquiring a pair of Brompton folding bicycles. When we were still tied to the outer dock in St. Peter Port, the Swedish boat across the dock from us produced an athletic blonde couple with a pair of these bicycles, which they promptly unfolded and cycled off into town. These bikes fold VERY small and appear to be very sturdily made. Talking with the Swedes and several other Brompton owners, we learned that these bikes can be acquired VAT-free and duty free in the Channel Islands. We visited the Guernsey dealer for Brompton twice – the first time to look and the second time to buy. They had only one bike, but there was another Brompton dealer on Jersey. Craig was soon in touch by phone, and they had several bikes coming in “in the next few days.” So we are now the proud owners of two of these delightful machines, and already getting good use from them.
We had a very pleasant sail to Jersey – at least the first part. Then the wind came up and we had a wild ride into the harbor. We had intended to stay in Jersey several days, but the weather forecast for our planned passage to St. Malo a couple of days later was a bit scary: “Severe thunderstorms”. So we stayed only one day, bought the second bike, I got my hair cut, and we found a grocery store – and then we headed out again, this time for the French port of St. Malo.

I will leave you there, even though it is now several days later. France seems like a new chapter, and deserving of its own blog entry.
In the meantime, we wish you the best. Hope you’re having as much fun as we are!
Craig & Barbara Johnston
S/V Sequoia

Dartmouth to Jersey, Part I

03 July 2018 | St. Malo, Brittany, France
Craig & Barbara/warm but cloudy with threatening rain
If you're wondering why it's been so long since I last wrote about our trip, it's because we've been having too much fun. Yet I'm constantly aware that if I don't commit some words to the blog, I'm likely to forget some of the wonderful experiences we've been having. So I'm writing for those who like to hear about our trip, but I'm mostly writing for me, to remember these wonderful experiences.

When I last wrote, we were in Plymouth, celebrating our 50th anniversary. The plan had been to get as far west as Falmouth, but the winds and weather weren't cooperating. So in the end we decided to return to Dartmouth as a staging-place for crossing the Channel in a single-day, all daylight passage. The goal was Guernsey, where we knew our son, David, would be waiting for us on June 21.

In Dartmouth we did some grocery shopping, checked out some other restaurants, and took a ferry up the Dart River to see Agatha Christie's summer house. This was the house where "Dead Man's Folly" was set. I decided to order the book for my kindle, and I must say it has been fun reading the book, and now knowing exactly the places where the action was taking place. The house and extensive gardens have been beautifully maintained. In the house's library, there is a frieze along the top of all the walls, depicting scenes from World War II. Apparently a US coast guard division was stationed in the river there, and the house was used in part by officers. On of them painted that frieze. Miss Christie declined to have them removed or painted over, so there they still are. While we were touring the house, one of the docents sat down at the well-maintained Steinway and played the theme music from the British Poirot TV series. What fun!
Above: The library at Agatha Christie's house

While we were waiting for the ferry up the river to the Agatha Christie house, we ordered some take-out fish & chips, and sat down on a bench to eat. The seagulls were flying all around, and it wasn't long before one them attacked Craig's carton, right in his hands, in a moment that he was distracted. Quite obviously, the gulls have become accustomed to plentiful offerings from tourists. (And there are lots of tourists in Dartmouth). Our other experience with gulls in Dartmouth was their ongoing use of the docks as a surface against which they fling their shellfish. The shells break upon impact, and then the gulls swoop in to gobble out of the now-open shells. Every day there is a new load of mussel and crab shells on the docks. This practice particularly got my ire when one gull missed the dock and landed his mussel shell on Sequoia's side deck. It made a huge "thunk" and sprayed mussel innards all across the deck.
Above: Seagull leavings on the docks at Dartmouth

We left Dartmouth for Guernsey on June 21 and had a relatively uneventful crossing. There was a lot of planning on Craig's part, considering not just the weather, but also tides. The tidal range in this part of the world can be from 8m in the U.K. to more than 10m (33 feet) in France. That means strong flood and ebb currents changing direction every 6 hours. The strongest tides are the spring tides, which despite the name occurs two days after each new or full moon. In between are the neap tides, about half as strong. Our channel crossing started at 0735 and we pulled into Guernsey's St. Peter Port at 1920. We had a pleasant North wind of about 13 kn for sailing, although it dropped until we motor-sailed the last part. But during the 12 hour passage the current was about 1 kn sideways, first one way, then the other. Turns out the best strategy is just to aim at your destination, with allowance for the net average current, and stay on a constant heading. And avoid the many large ships, of course. It worked out okay!

The Channel Islands are a fascinating mixture of British and French culture. Located close to France between Normandy and Brittany, they are loyal to the English crown and granted self-government. They are NOT part of the U.K or the EU, nor are they in the Schengen zone. Predominantly English speaking, they also historically spoke a patois of French origin. The names of the streets, neighborhoods, towns and cities are mostly in French.

We met our son David at the dock, shortly after we arrived in St. Peter Port, Guernsey. He joined us in the Channel Islands rather than another leg of our voyage because he had a particular agenda: He is writing a science fiction novel set on a fictional island not unlike Sark. Sark is a much smaller island than Guernsey or Jersey, with a more agrarian culture. We bought tickets for an all-day excursion to Sark by ferry for a couple of days after our arrival.
Above: Craig and David on the docks at St. Peter Port.

The first day in Guernsey we spent walking around St. Peter Port, and David found the Priaulx Library, which is a repository of all sorts of information about the Channel Islands.
Above: David at the Priaulx Library, about to dig into the bound volumes of old newspapers.

Initially we docked in the outer portion of the St. Peter Port harbor. It is subject to the extremes of the tides, which can have a change of up to 12 meters. But there is no electricity or water on the outer docks, and we've become spoiled. So we inquired about the possibility of entering the inner harbor, which is behind a cill (like an underwater wall). You need high water to get in or out. When the tide drops, water is trapped behind the cill, maintaining a depth of 2.1 meters in at least some parts of the harbor. Sequoia's draft (the part that is below the water) is 2.1 meters, so the harbor staff thought we'd be fine. So in we went with a fleet of other boats, and the harbormaster directed us toward "the best slip in the harbor." As the tide went out, and we saw the cill become a waterfall, we also watched our depth sounder. Before long it showed that we should be touching bottom. If so, it was a pretty soft bottom, because we never felt any bumping.

The next day we took the ferry to Sark. There are no cars on Sark. If you want mechanized transport, there are tractors, including ones that pull passenger carts of various sorts. Beyond that there are bicycles and horses. We opted for bicycles. We biked to both ends of the island, seeing cannons that had been set up for defense at various times in the past 500 years. One at the south end had been blown apart, apparently when there was an attempt to use it to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1952. The particular one we saw at the north end appeared to be relatively intact and much older.
Above: At the beginning of a footpath on Little Sark

Above: Cannon on the south coast of Little Sark

The land at the south end of Sark is almost a separate island called "Little Sark". It is connected to the main part of Sark by a narrow isthmus called La Coupee. Now the road across La Coupee is paved and there are railings, protecting walkers from a drop of hundreds of feet. But we heard stories about how, in the earlier part of the 20th century, school children were forced to crawl across La Coupee on their hands and knees to avoid being blown off by the strong winds. The paved road and railings were built by the Nazis during World War II, using forced laborers.
Above: La Coupee

Above and below: View down from La Coupee

The Nazi occupation during World War II is a horrific and important part of the Channel Islands history. Its evidence appears everywhere. Gun emplacements, tunnels, museums, public memorials, books and tourist souvenirs help everyone remember. Later in our Guernsey stay we visited the Occupation Museum, saw the newly released movie, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (about the occupation) and saw a historic reenactment at the Castle Cornet.

For the rest of this blog, see Dartmouth to Jersey, Part II

See also photos at my Flickr album.

Celebrating our 50th Anniversary in Plymouth

16 June 2018 | Plymouth, UK
Barbara/Cloudy and windy
As many of you may know, we gathered family together in the island of Kauai this past February to have the big anniversary celebration. That was chosen for a date when nearly everyone could make it. Now it's our actual 50th anniversary, and we're celebrating with just the two of us and occasionally the new friends we meet en route. Our gift to each other is this trip of a lifetime.

For a few days we rented a car and drove to some magical places in Cornwall. First there was Tintagel on the north coast - The legendary King Arthur was supposed to have lived there, and the wizard Merlin was said to have a cave down on the beach below the castle. We certainly saw the castle and the cave, but the real bonus was the spectacular scenery - the blue-green water, dramatic cliffs, stairs continuing up and up, and the ruins from many different ages up on the top. The little cove there was a landing spot for trading boats during many different centuries, back to the times of the Phoenicians and Romans, and right up through the nineteenth century. My guess is that they only came in for a few hours at high tide, because it looks as though it must get quite shallow at low tide. But looking at that lovely blue-green water, we certainly thought about what it might be like to take Sequoia in there.
Above: Tintagel cove

A few miles down the coast we visited Port Isaac, the location for the Doc Martin series. Great fun to see those places in person - looks just like in the TV show. Doc Martin's cottage had a for rent sign on it. I'm guessing the lease must come with a clause that requires the tenant to allow the film crews to have access when/if another season is filmed...
Above: Doc Martin's cottage in Port Isaac

The next day we visited a mines museum in Redruth, contemplating the lives of those Cornish miners of 200 years ago. We saw the third largest steam engine in the world, used to lift water up out of the mine shafts. We also drove down to Falmouth, where the harbor is overloaded with boats, and the streets are overloaded with tourists. The more nautical tourists and all the boaters were awaiting the departure of the Golden Globe race for single-handers. We had planned to go to Falmouth in the next few days, but that is now off the table, in light of the crush of boats there, the iffy weather and the contrary currents.

Thursday was a boat chores day. I went off to do laundry, while Craig began a full treatment of our water tanks to defeat a slight (but unpleasant) sulfur smell in the drinking water. The treatment involves a lot of bleach which sat in the tanks overnight the previous night, then treatment with vinegar, then a lot of flushing.

At one point Craig came up to meet me for lunch, while I took a break in fussing with extremely inefficient dryers. Unfortunately, Craig didn't actually turn the dock hose off (he left the end of the hose, with its spray fitting closed, down inside the water tank, under one of our floor hatches). (You know what's coming next.) When he got back to the boat, he heard the bilge pump running (we NEVER hear the bilge pump running), and once inside found that the hose had exploded and sprayed water EVERYWHERE. There was water on the ceiling, inside the medicine cabinet, on the open laptop, on the face of our prized Rie Munoz print. Three out of our four sailing boots were full to the brim with water. Cushions were soaked, rugs were soaked, and every upright tub and other container was full of water.

About then I showed up with a couple of bags of dry laundry, and we both launched into clean-up mode. We had intermittent sunshine, so 24 hours later all the cushions were dry and the rugs very close to dry. We took the Rie Munoz print out of its frame; dried it out under weights between paper towels, and now it's back together; mat very wrinkled but dry, and the artwork apparently none the worse for wear. At some future date we'll get a new mat for it. On the plus side, the interior of the boat is freshly and thoroughly clean.

We had originally planned to leave Plymouth yesterday, but we opted instead to go out for a nice dinner to celebrate our 50th anniversary. We took the ferry across to the Barbican historic area, and ate at Quay 33, a modest restaurant recommended by every reference we checked. It turned out to be an excellent choice, with plenty of fresh seafood, wonderful crusty bread, delicious sauces and exquisite desserts. We were seated next to a mother and daughter (Kim and Nina) who are from St. Maarten in the Caribbean. Nina is just finishing up a 3-year stint at the University of Plymouth and returning home. Kim runs a dive service in St. Maarten, and we'll almost certainly look them up when we are there next winter. We had a wide ranging conversation about education, art, world politics, Plymouth, sailing, diving and the Caribbean. A truly delightful evening.
Kim and Nina at Quay 33

At the ferry on the way to dinner we ran into Karen and Jean-Luc of the French vessel Archimede. Long-time readers of this blog will recall that we first met them on the Danish Island of Aerø last summer, and then again a couple of weeks ago in Ramsgate. We met for coffee this morning and hatched plans for the next couple of days while blustery winds prevail. Tonight we'll have dinner together - our description of Quay 33 was so enthusiastic that they want to go there and we concurred.

This is the essence of the kind of cruising we want to do - flexible schedules and plenty of opportunities to meet and interact with people from other places in a meaningful sort of way. I am so fortunate to be married to Craig, who is very skilled at meeting people of all sorts and drawing them into meaningful conversations. I'm along for the ride and enjoying it very much!

Best wishes to our friends and family!
Barbara & Craig
S/V Sequoia

If you'd like to see more photos, check out the Flickr album that corresponds to this post.

Historic Towns and Cities along the South Coast of England

10 June 2018 | Plymouth, UK
We have been continuing westward along the south coast of England, visiting iconic towns we've heard of before but never visited. Our pilgrim fathers and mothers were here, and so were those sailing heroes who defeated the Spanish Armada and the more recent hero soldiers we fought with in two World Wars. We see snippets of this history everywhere we visit, along with reminders of more peaceful times, such as Agatha Christie's summer home and the childhood hometown of Arthur Babbage (inventor of the first computer).
We left Portsmouth on a sunny, windy day, and all the sailors were out, sailing on the Solent, as every good English sailor is supposed to do (although we have met a few who said the Solent was not a favorite place). There were dinghy races and races involving much larger boats. We sailed past Cowes, where the very rich sailors live.
Above: Small dinghy racing with the City of Cowes in the distance.

We had hoped to put into Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight, but they were all booked up with an "Old Gaffers Association" event. Silly me, my immediate thought was that an old gaffer was an old man, or maybe something to do with filmmaking, but it turns out it means older gaff-rigged sailboats.

Above: Lymington-Yarmouth ferry

So we went instead to Lymington, which is on the south coast, and is indeed a ferry ride away from Yarmouth and the old gaffers. We became closely acquainted with that ferry, because it was departing Lymington as we went in the very narrow channel with a parade of other boats. The chart showed mudflats on either side of the channel, although all were covered at that moment. All you can do is stay as close to your side of the channel as possible, and there is indeed room for us all to get by.

We found our designated berth, and managed to get in without hitting anyone. There were all sorts of big motor yachts, overhanging the ends of smaller berths, and plenty of people out on the back decks celebrating the weekend. We became acquainted with the folks on the next boat over, particularly since they very kindly caught our lines as we docked. We shared a drink later, learning about Pimms, an alcoholic concoction with floating strawberries and mint leaves.
We walked inland, past a thousand other boats, past "England's oldest open-air seawater bath" (swimming pool to us Americans) and finally into the town proper. Plenty of rich people live here. We walked past one yard that had a Maserati and a 50's era Cadillac parked alongside a more mundane VW.
Above: expensive cars in Lymington

The center of the town is charming with narrow streets and tourist-oriented shops. There was a Musto and a Henri Lloyd shop (both sell upscale clothing for sailors). It was Saturday night and all the restaurants were full. We finally found a spot in a bar's terrace and watched the seagulls stealing food off unattended plates.

Not surprisingly in this upscale place, the marina rates were the highest we've seen, so we left the next day at noon, timing our departure to catch slack tide at "The Needles", a series of rocks marking the western end of the Isle of Wight and the exit from the Solent. It's a narrow channel and a lot of water must pass through in the changing tides, so timing is important. There is a big castle/fort on the coast with gun emplacements trained in every direction across the water. It's called Hurst Castle and was first built by Henry VIII in 1544. Its military use now ended, it's a place for walkers and sunseekers to wander.
Above: Hurst Castle

There wasn't much wind, so we motored all the way to Portland, 40 plus nautical miles to the west. (I say 40 "plus" because 40 was our distance through the water, but we had 1-3 knots of favorable current most of the way - thus the real distance may have been more like 50 nautical miles.) We chose Portland because we'd had several people say the facilities were very good there, and it looked like an easy entrance in any conditions. The town is actually called Castletown, built to service the marine industry there. South of the town is the Isle of Portland, home to many quarries which provided stone for (among others) St. Paul's Cathedral and the British Museum in London, as well as the UN in New York. The stone was also used 200 years ago to make the immense breakwater which created the largest artificial harbor in Britain. The breakwater is still in fine condition, apparently without much need for maintenance. The marina itself was built for the 2012 Olympics, and the 2012 sailing events were held there. It is indeed provided with very nice facilities!

We met Ian and Alison there, and quickly became good friends. Ian was the manager of the Olympic facilities in 2012, and the two of them were the source of a lot of good information about the immediate area and about cruising the south coast in general. They were setting out the next day for Dartmouth, as were we. They planned to leave at about 3 am to catch the slack water around the bottom of the Portland Bill, while we planned to leave at about 1:30 pm to catch the slack at the next tide cycle.

I had to look up "bill" because this was not a use I was familiar with. Most of the meanings of bill come from old French, "bille", but there are two which come from the old English word, bill: (1) the beak of a bird, and (2) "a narrow piece of land projecting into the sea: Portland Bill." Interesting that the Oxford English Dictionary uses where we are as their example!

We were warned that not only should we go around the Portland Bill at slack water, but also we should choose between 100 yards or 5 miles distance from the land. In between was reputed to be a dangerous tide race, even at slack water. We chose 100 yards offshore, and it was a complete non-event. It was interesting seeing the buildings, people and activities onshore, but we couldn't get anyone to wave at us. (It seemingly is a tourist destination - plenty of people and a few tour buses, but no wavers!)
Above: Portland Bill

We motored the rest of the way to Dartmouth - a cloudy day, and getting darker as we arrived. The entrance to Dartmouth is astonishing. The River Dart cuts a V down between high cliffs, and there is a castle on either side. We later learned that starting about the time of Henry VIII, a chain was at times strung across between the two castles, to prevent the enemies of England from entering.

Beyond the narrow entrance the river widens out and there are thousands of boats, on moorings, on anchor and in various marinas. We had reserved a slip at Darthaven Marina, on the east side of the river, at a town called Kingswear. A foot ferry and a car ferry go back and forth to Dartmouth (on the west side) pretty much continuously all day and into the evening. These are old towns, scrabbling up steep hills on both sides of the river, with green fields above and ancient buildings (or ruins) visible on some of the hillcrests. We stayed in Dartmouth three days, with ever more to see and do.
• We walked out to Dartmouth Castle at the entrance, and learned about the defensive history, including extensive exhibits of cannons and various other weaponry. Some of the cannons seemed to be aimed at a cruise ship anchored offshore. We thought that was fine, since their passengers were clogging the town. Part of the castle is St. Petrox Church, where one of the tombstone/pavers recited the history of a widow who lost her husband in a 1696 naval action against "the publick enemies of his Country" and "made his Bed in the Deep."
• We explored some of Dartmouth, winding up at the Marks & Spencer "food hall" (grocery store), which had some breathtaking prices, but also some foods we've been hankering after, like sourdough bread, strawberries that are red all the way through, and canned soups that actually have some interesting flavors (something that cannot be said of most UK soups).
• A shallow-draft ferry makes a 1 ½ hour trip up the Dart River to Totnes. At Dittersham, Agatha Christie's summer house was pointed out to us, and a bit further on, the Sharpton Estate, founded by an English sea captain who had prize money to invest. Sharpton now is a winery, featuring expensive meals and tours for tourists. Totnes is an interesting town with narrow streets, historic buildings and a museum showcasing Elizabethan life and also featuring hometown boy, Arthur Babbage, a 19th century mathematician who invented (but never built) the first computer. We had lunch at "Pie Street", which features authentic handmade English pies. Craig had the "steak and ale" and I had the "chicken curry". Both delicious.
• Ian and Alison, whom we had first met in Portland, were berthed two docks over at the Darthaven Marina. They found us and invited us over for drinks. We spent another enjoyable hour plus with them, soaked up advice about what to see and do on the south coast, and learned about theretofore unknown English customs (such as, if invited for drinks, you are NOT supposed to bring a bottle of wine, but if you are invited for dinner it's OK...) We very much hope we'll be able to stay in contact and see them again before too long.
• We took a bus to Paignton, a somewhat tawdry English seaside resort, and then the historic steam train back to our boat in Kingswear. The steam engine could have been straight out of Harry Potter, with a coal fired boiler, a steam whistle, and that iconic "Chug-ch-ch-ch, Chug-ch-ch-ch" which speeds up as it leaves the station.
Above: In front of the steam engine - Notice the view of coal burning!

• We had lunch at "The Ship Inn," a traditional English pub located on "Higher Street" (just above "High Street"). The staff couldn't say how old the pub was ("very old"), but it had a low ceiling with rough, black-painted beams, and the ceiling itself was papered with old navigation charts.
From Dartmouth we departed at 6 am, to catch the favorable tide, and made our way to Plymouth, where we now are. Again there was no wind and we motored all the way. We have landed at Plymouth Yacht Haven, a short ferry ride away from the central downtown area (the "Barbican"). We took the ferry yesterday, went to see the Mayflower Steps (from whence our Pilgrim Fathers and Mothers departed for the New World), and found a completely inadequate grocery store. We'll do better tomorrow. I know where the Plymouth Marks & Spencer is...
We'll be here for 7 days total, with several major boat chores to undertake. We think we'll rent a car and go see some of the more land-based sights in Devon and Cornwall.
We hope all is well with you, our dear friends and family.
Craig and Barbara
S/V Sequoia

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Getting to Portsmouth

01 June 2018 | Gosford, UK
Barbara/foggy in the morning, mostly overcast
We're in Portsmouth for a few days, both because it's such a historic, interesting place, and because it seems to be the center of the UK yachting world - a good place to find expert advice and boat parts for - you guessed it - Boat Repairs! But I'm jumping ahead of the story, and we've had a collection of interesting experiences over the last week, so I'll back up a bit.

We left the Suffolk Yacht Harbour about a week ago, crossing the Thames estuary and arriving in Ramsgate in the early evening. A number of people had suggested we ought to go up the Thames River and experience docking in London, but in the end it was a trade-off for more time in warmer climates. We've seen London as tourists - there is of course always more to see, but then there's the whole world to see.

The Thames estuary is a crazy sort of patchwork of deep ship channels going to and from London, alternated with sand bars and shallow stretches where you have to watch the chart very carefully. One fellow suggested that we should use his favorite "local knowledge" route, which would take us over some spots marked as 2 meters deep at low tide. Our draft - the distance the boat's keel sticks down into the water - is 2.1 meters. We would not be transiting the area at low tide, but still danged scary. The other part of his "local knowledge" route is passing across the corner of a wind farm. He says that those turbine blades come down to within 22 meters off the water. Hmmm, let's see; our mast sticks up about 21 meters - yikes. Admittedly you don't have to go very close to each wind turbine, but still... Needless to say we didn't take the "local knowledge" route, and therefore we didn't get there as fast as he might have done...

Ramsgate is almost at the narrowest spot of the English Channel, so the current goes ripping by the entrance to the marina at a good clip. You have to ask permission to enter or leave - both because visibility is somewhat restricted, and also because it used to be a place with a lot of ferry traffic. (The Chunnel - tunnel under the English Channel - has dramatically decreased the ferry traffic.) Ramsgate was also formerly a fishing town; now it's a city with an industry of servicing the wind farms which seem to be everywhere in the North Sea. We saw lots of interesting boats there, including one that had participated in the Dunkirk rescues in 1940, and was being restored.

It was not long after we arrived that we were hailed by Karen and Jean-Luc - the American and French couple we had met last summer on the Danish island of Aerø. They are spending the next few weeks on the south coast of England, so we may well see them again after this. They were headed across to France for a short trip to get some French groceries - they're not liking what they're finding in English markets!

The harbor of Ramsgate is surrounded with 18th and 19th century buildings that seem to tower protectively, but in a somewhat disorganized way. Just behind the harbor there is a section of chalk cliff that is covered in places by buildings, including the "Sailors' Church", the "Ramsgate Home for Smack Boys founded 1891" and a street that diagonals up the cliff supported by beautiful arches. Under each arch is a business, including bars, cafes, antique shops, chandleries, stevedores, and wind farm support services.

Above: Ramsgate marina and historic waterfront.

Above: Ramsgate Home for Smack Boys

We found an excellent Thai restaurant part way up the cliff, and made plans for the next day's excursion - to Canterbury Cathedral. The next morning we took a local bus to Canterbury, wandered around the old part of the city, and eventually found our way to the Cathedral. Sometime in perhaps junior high or high school, I had studied "Murder in the Cathedral" by T.S. Eliot, which was when I first became familiar with the story of a king who said, in 1170, "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" Four knights who took that as an invitation to seek out and kill archbishop Thomas à Becket as he knelt in prayer in Canterbury Cathedral. I have always been intrigued by the story, and welcomed the opportunity to see the place where it all happened. The Cathedral has excellent volunteer docents who have vast amounts of knowledge about all the details of the building and its people. We heard the story of the murder, step by step, in full gory detail. What I did not know was the later history - that Thomas was canonized within 3 years, a shrine was built in the Cathedral, and pilgrims came from afar - including those written about in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. When Henry VIII (the one with six wives) decided to leave the Catholic Church so he could divorce, he ordered the shrine destroyed. Much more recently, the Cathedral has installed a candle in the place of the shrine - it stands alone on a vast expanse of marble floor.

The next morning we left very early to catch the best possible currents as we headed southwest. We had good northeast wind. We passed Dover, changing course frequently to avoid ferries. We saw the White Cliffs of Dover through the misty air, and dutifully recorded it with a cell-camera snap. In the middle part of the day the tide was against us, but we continued on, reaching our destination, Eastbourne, in the late afternoon. It's a tricky entrance at low tide, with not much room to maneuver, and they only open the locks every half hour. We just made it!

Above: locks at entrance to Eastbourne Marina

Yes, a marina with locks. This will apparently be a frequent occurrence from here on out. There is not enough deep water harbour available to build a marina that will accommodate a boat like ours when the tide is low. So the developers design a landlocked marina with a particular water height, and then boats are brought up at low tide or dropped down at high tide, all by means of a lock system. This was our first encounter with locking into a marina, and it seemed to be fairly low-stress and well operated. Thunderstorms were predicted, and indeed it started to rain fairly early in the evening, followed by a raucous night of thunder, lightning and torrential rain. We were cozy in our boat, glad we were not still out on the ocean.

The Eastbourne Marina is quite something. It consists of a number of mooring basins, connected by canals. All around the main part of the marina, the canals, and the side mooring basins there are high-rise apartment buildings. The boaters are lured in by the secure marina and the relative calm created by the tall buildings, and the tourists (or permanent residents) are lured in by having a front row view of either the sea, or the marina. Somehow the developers forgot about greenery, so it's a development of all bricks, stone and water, and has a somewhat austere feeling about it.
The place was full of tourists, and the one area of restaurants was packed out. We walked out toward the supermarket, but when we asked directions, we were told the supermarket was closed - it was another bank holiday. (That's the third bank holiday during the month of May, as near as we can tell. The Brits seem to get a lot of holidays!)

The morning after our arrival in Eastbourne (after that storm-filled night) we made friends with the five women across the dock. Craig initially approached them for some marina advice, and then he charmed them with his knot-tying skills. They told the story of why there were so many items of clothing hung across their rigging (we assumed they had been out on the ocean in the storm the previous night). It turned out, though, that they had been at one of those restaurants across the marina, late in the evening, and had to walk back through the pouring rain.

The women had chartered their boat in Portsmouth, and were out for the hours of experience necessary to achieve the next level of UK yacht certification. We spent the larger part of the afternoon with them, talking about knots, women who sail, a bit of politics, and a bit about marinas in Portsmouth. (See photo at the top of this blog post). They were a delightful group, and I hope we get to see them again during our travels. They took their boat back out the locks that evening, heading back to Portsmouth at night, racking up some nighttime sailing hours (again for that UK sailing certification).

The next morning we set off early for Portsmouth, in a day of glorious sunshine. We sailed past Beachy Head, ever on the lookout for lobster pots, and then past the Seven Sisters cliffs - considerably more scenic (and more visible) than the white cliffs of Dover had been 2 days before. After a long day with little wind but towering thunderheads, motoring all the way, we reached the approaches to Portsmouth. We had been told that this is the Queen's harbor, and you can't go down the shipping channels without permission from the Queen (I think all this advice was a bit tongue in cheek). All the sailboats did go right down the edge of the channel, and there was certainly a lot of large ship traffic.

Most of the marinas are across the waterway from the City of Portsmouth. Portsmouth has all those fantastic historical ship displays we had seen as tourists a year ago, but it doesn't have much in the way of docking for recreational boaters. We chose Gosport Marina, the one that is the closest to the foot ferry to Portsmouth (although it turned out we only went over to Portsmouth to deal with the perpetual headache of keeping cell phone and data connectivity going). The first slip they assigned us to had, they assured us, plenty of depth for us, even given that it was, at that moment, the lowest tide of the month. Well guess what, of course, we went aground into the soft mud. With some jockeying, a rising tide and help from other boaters, we were able to exit that berth and proceed to a better one. Perhaps a little bit chagrined from the first experience, the harbourmaster put us into a lovely berth with plenty of depth, close to the office and bathrooms, and a front row view across the channel toward the HMS Warrior and the Spinnaker Tower. Here we are surrounded by much larger sailboats, including the training fleet for the Clipper round-the-world race. (That's the one where you can sign up - and pay for - a leg of the race, regardless of whether you have any experience or not.)

We got ourselves docked, walked a block for a great pub dinner, and settled in, watching all the boat traffic go by. Every few hours the immense Brittany Ferry to St. Malo goes by, sounding like a freight train and lit up like a Christmas tree.

The next day we made the aforementioned outing to Plymouth by ferry, and then visited the Submarine Museum. The centerpiece of the museum is a World War II submarine that was completed just before the end of the war and never actually saw action. We (along with many other tourists) had the complete tour, seeing the torpedo tubes, torpedo storage systems, potato sacks and canned goods stuffed in the corners, tight bunks, the radio room, engines, periscopes and miles and miles of copper tubing. A plumber's heaven, Craig says; I'd be inclined to say Steam Punk heaven.

Back at the marina, we had been invited for a happy hour by Karen and Stuart, the owners of Commodore Yachts, which runs a sailing school and charters yachts for local outings. They spend their winters on their boat, a Formosa 51 "Fantasia", in Mexico, and were interested in chatting about our experiences there in 2010-2011. They lead very interesting lives, with their primary residence in France, but their home for most of the summer in the upper floor of the Commodore Yachts office/training center/barge. We hope to stay in touch with them, perhaps finding a way to visit when we are in Brittany in about a month.

That evening as we finished up dinner on the boat, we heard a lot of commotion and loud voices outside. It turned out a 60 foot racing sled had just arrived after passage across the Atlantic from Guadeloupe in the Caribbean. It was a Lithuanian boat with 12 young men, and they were all on the dock talking on their cell phones... They said they had made the passage in 8 days, which would be astonishing. They were exuberant about the experience (or perhaps about their arrival) and described their boat as the "number one boat in Lithuania" and the "Pride of Lithuania". They weren't so enthusiastic about the porridge they'd been eating for days, and they soon headed off to the nearby pub, although not until many group photos had been taken, including several which Craig took at their request.

Yesterday was devoted entirely to boat work. When you are in the boating and boat repair capitol of the UK, it's a good place to do work that may require the acquisition of additional boat parts. We completely upended the interior of the boat to run a new cable under floorboards and behind cabinets. We finally escaped for dinner out, and spent a delightful few minutes chatting with "the Gosford Group" as they wish to be known to us in the future. They'll be following our blog, and one lady declared herself intensely jealous of our future plans. She probably hasn't thought about being down on her hands and knees running wire under the floorboards.

Well, I didn't think I had much to write about over these past few days, but it turns out I did. If you got this far you must be enjoying it as much as we are!

Click to see more of our pictures showing what's described in this blog entry.
Vessel Name: Sequoia
Vessel Make/Model: Outbound 44
Hailing Port: Portland, Or
Crew: Craig & Barbara Johnston
We are the proud owners of S/V Sequoia, Outbound 44 hull #5, built for us in Shanghai, China in 2001. [...]
We care about the world and its people, and try to live responsible lives, mindful of ourselves, the places we travel to, and the people we meet. When we are away from home, we miss our sons and extended family, and try to get together as much as possible. And, dear reader, we look forward to [...]
Sequoia's Photos - Leaving the West Coast
Photos 1 to 6 of 6 | Main
Checking out new staysail at the dock: Mark Downing & David Hernston
Crew at departure: Dave, Erik, Craig, Mark (and Fern looking on)
Sequoia heading downriver
Sequoia arriving Port Angeles
Moorage in Port Angeles: Surrounded by Coast Guard
Sequoia at the dock in Port Angeles