The Vomit Comet
14 February 2024
Many, many years ago, decades in fact, we went on a cross (English) channel, pre-Christmas trip to load up on cheap French booze.
The trip was organised by Anne's work and we left in a tourist coach before dawn on a cold, grey and winter's morning from Slough, a picturesque fishing village about thirty miles west of London. We left early in order to catch the morning ferry giving enough time for a lunch of langoustine and frites plus load up on booze.
Two hours or so later we arrived at Dover ferry terminal to be told all ferries were cancelled owing to high seas and gale force winds......... all ferries that is, other than ours.
Around eleven, our little ferry boldly thrust its way onto the dock and started unloading.
First there was the Christmas tree truck. It was pulled out on its side in a shower of sparks, dragging hundreds of trees in the ramp in its wake. Once these had been swept away, the totally flattened Rover 2000 that the truck landed on was dragged out.
This somewhat alarming sight went on for about an hour until, decks cleared, we were gaily ushered on board.
Now, as it was lunchtime and few had eaten since the crack of dawn, the majority headed straight for the cafeteria where they stuffed Full English, toast, tea and coffee down their gobs before heading for the duty free. As I recall, a jolly nice Full English it was .....but then, I don't suffer from sea sickness.
No sooner had we hit the first swells outside the harbour than most everyone turned green and started filling their plastic Duty Free carrier bags with their Full English.
And so, here we are in Puerto Montt, sat in the cafeteria of the good ship, Esperanza, still tied to the dock, everyone stuffing roast chicken and veg down their throats and, just around the corner is the Pacific Ocean and the Roaring Forties where yesterday it was blowing fifty knots!
This is going to be interesting.
Patagonia Eps 1
01 February 2024
Some blog followers will know we quite like hooning around on motorcycles when we get the chance.
Our motorcycle tours generally happen during the hurricane or cyclone enforced off-seasons although for nine months from November '21 through until August '22 we had an epic time riding over 17,000 kilometres around South and Southern Africa, much of it off-road......and so the seed was sown.
Over the course of the one hundred and eighty seven nights we spent at anchor last autumn, the idea slowly germinated.
One hundred and eighty seven nights. That's a lot of guitar practice but more honestly, a lot of YouTube. And it's surprising what you can find down that Internet worm hole. Take your choice from a selection of wars, the antics of slippery politicians and, fortunately, sailing channels of people cruising the Beagle Channel and off-road motorcycle touring.
We have always toyed with the idea of sailing way down south to penguin land but, not only is it a long way, but every night, having found a sheltered but totally desolate, rocky and kelp strewn caleta, we'd have to launch the dinghy and one of us, probably Anne, row ashore to tie up the boat in a spiders web of rope. All while it's blowing seventy knots. Not many peoples idea of fun, least of all ours.
After scary nights in these caletas we'd no doubt arrive in one of the few ports down there where we'd be anchoring or rafting our beautiful, racy, plastic fantastic amongst the rufty, tufty steel and aluminium boats that frequent these waters. No doubt this would draw some critical looks and clearly audible "tutt, tutts" with the odd "harrumph". It would be like going to a heavy metal concert dressed in tutu.
However, is it really that bad? I've read of people doing the Beagle Channel in twenty seven foot, 1970's Albin Vegas and I've seen pictures of a cruising catamaran in one of the aforementioned caleta, albeit showing a decidedly bracing 06c in the cabin.
No doubt, quite soon, some yoof will round the Horn on a foiling kite board or jet-ski giving that weird pinky and thumb wave, so loved by both that generation and embarrassingly by those of an older generation who should know better. You can tell them even without the funny wave, they'll call you, "dude" and if you ever get close enough to shake hands it will be more like thumb wars as they try to give you the dudes version of a Masonic handshake.
Anyways, dudes, the problem we faced was how could we see the sailing conditions for ourselves and find out first hand what it was like without flogging all the way through the Canal and thousands of miles offshore to the frozen south in Time Bandit.
And so the idea to use a motorcycle to do a recce of the miseries of sailing down to Ushuaia was born. Well, the recce thing was just a fortunate and convenient excuse. I really did fancy riding the classic Ruta Cuarenta and Caraterra Austral routes through Patagonia.
I won't bore you with the complexities and bureaucracy of buying a vehicle in Chile. Just trust me. Don't even think about it. If you must do it; rent.
Firstly, last autumn, we had to head to the Chilean embassy in Washington to get the essential, personal RUT identity number before we could even think about buying some wheels, but in the end, after four visits and two tellings off, we got it.
We landed in Santiago on 29th December and had the pleasures of two weeks faffing around at motorcycle dealers, agents and notaries. Two full weeks it took, but finally we were ready. Until we found we'd been sold, or I bought, a "lemon". Firstly a major steering problem needing a new bearing then new fork seals. "Oh, didn't you read the Spanish small print, section 2b, saying suspension wasn't covered?"
That cost another three or four days and about a million or two pesos but finally we moved the bike out of the hotel garage and onto the street. We carted all our gear from the room and loaded our luggage for an anticipated three months touring into the three aluminium panniers. Luggage plus tools and spares for self sufficient maintenance if punctured off-road in the wilds, along with the tent, tent poles, ground sheet and tiny cook set. All loaded up and just as the bike had finally taken on the look of a true, off-road adventure tourer, Anne climbed on....... and the whole flippin' lot slowly and elegantly fell over in the street.
Out went all the camping gear. Tools were limited to the essentials and clothing pared to an embarrassing and potentially smelly minimum.
Finally, having shed some weight, we got saddled up, wobbled our first few hundred metres up the road and made the first eighty kilometres to Los Andes in the foothills of...... the Andes.
Waking to a bright blue sky we eagerly set off through the dusty villages heading for the hills and the border crossing to Argentina. Up and up we went round endless hairpins, climbing to nearly three thousand metres before arriving at the border checkpoint......and a two hour customs and immigration process. Fortunately, years of going through the same tedious clearing in and out process with the boat had prepared us for this usual nonsense. Finally clear of the border checkpoint we wound our way down the eastern side of the Andes onto the dusty plains and dustier villages of Argentina.
We spent the night in a very comfy cabana and next morning started heading southwards. Five hundred miles later, in the sleepy mining town of Zapala we hit a major problem.
Our fuel ejection system totally packed up. Three days treatment at the local service centre seemed to get things moving again so we set off on the next five hundred miles through the stunning volcanic deserts, ravines and mountains before arriving once again at the Argentine / Chile border where we did the whole clear-in and out thing again, just going the other way.
The grand recce plan had been to get to Puerto Montt then catch the Navimag ferry to sail the seven or eight hundred miles through the Chilean archipelago to Puerto Natales. This would give us a good, close up look at the sailing conditions and, perhaps a look into the caletas where we'd possibly be frantically trying to row hundreds of metres of rope to tie onto a spindly tree onshore.
Unfortunately, the fuel ejection problem came back with a vengeance and another three days were lost while the problem was dealt with. On the advice of the head mechanic, our motorcycling trip was over. It had all just become a complete pain-in-the-ass. All that planning, jumping through the bureaucratic hoops and mental effort then, before even we got started on the Careterra Austral, the game was up. But we had a problem. We were motorcycle owners, as yet without transfer of ownership papers - these follow four to twelve weeks after money changes hands - and we were now a thousand miles south of Santiago, the most likely place we could sell the damn thing.
Thinking laterally, as this was a kind-of sailing inspired trip, we contacted Rachel at the Ocean Cruising Club HQ. Rachel then put us in touch with Eduardo, the Port Officer at Puerto Williams and home of the legendary but now, I think, abandoned Micalvi, haunt of many a Patagonian cruiser. With Eduardo's help we found Raúl who is going to look after the bike while we continue by ferry and bus.
Now, where's my white knitted cardigan?
YouTube: SV Time Bandit
Scratching That Patagonia Itch
15 December 2023
It’s been a long distance year, with nearly 7,000 miles under the bridge deck, Grenada to Nova Scotia and back, albeit not voluntarily, but that’s another story. However, finally, Time Bandit is on the hard.
A week of crash maintenance, scrubbing and polishing and Time Bandit is set for a rest, as are we….. but not sure we’ll get one. Grand winkies await.
It was a bit of a thrash down here to Grenada. Now we’ve got to thrash all the way back but this time, at least it’s in a 757.
After weve stuffed ourselves with Christmas turkey we’re going to stuff ourselves back into our Kevlar jeans, trade two hulls for two wheels and go for a hoon, as Trev would say, around Patagonia.
Seems like a good idea at the time.
06 December 2023
Water, water, everywhere........
South to New Zealand..... haven't you read about the Queens Birthday disaster? The Indian Ocean ..... ooohh, that's a scary place. Strong winds and giant seas. The Mozambique Channel? Ships get overwhelmed by simply enormous seas and are never seen again. Cape Town. Just mental katabatibc winds screaming down of Table Mountain. Mull of Kintyre? Well, enough said.
Let's just go to the Caribbean.
Look at the Moorings and Sunsail brochures. All blue skies, azure blue seas that barely ripple in the wafting, warm breezes. Whole families cavorting in the warm waters.
Jings, crivvens, help ma boab. What a trip. It's been punishing, exhausting and extremely wet. Mostly on the outside as, with all the leaping up and down climbing up, through and over big 'orrible breaking seas caused the fresh water sloshing about in our tanks to break off the uplift spigots inside the tanks. No fresh water from the taps for the last three days. It's a bit ripe on board.
The good news is that combining my limited electrical, mechanical, plumbing and bodge skills I was able to get it all going again. It was like Apollo 13, finding the problem then assembling bits of old crap to piece together a solution. If only they gave out O Levels for this ingenuity at school.
The end result is that tonight is shower night.
Two more stops and we're finally there.
Our Tracker (cut and paste).
23 November 2023
Here’s the latest video in which we go as slow as we can before going as fast as we can. As you’ve maybe read, we also come across a yacht reported overdue just before we left going even slower…….in some distress, sails in tatters, mid-ocean all in fairly boisterous conditions, not that you can really tell from the video, which goes to show just how much I’ve got to learn about photography.
Hope you like it nonetheless.
Worse Things Happen At Sea
18 November 2023
You’ve probably heard the high speed gibberish that radio and TV advertisers put at the end of their commercials to caution those able to understand it, that their once-in-a-lifetime offer or new wonder drug maybe isn’t exactly that great. This garbled, high speed message presumably absolves them of all responsibilities should something, readily foreseeable to them, but not to you, happen.
Well, I’ve this theory that the US Coast Guard send their radio operators on the course where these advertising folk learn to speak ultra fast. And unintelligibly. Over this last summer we’ve all but tuned out the US coastguard VHF announcements as, to us and many people we’ve spoken to, their messages are, as I say, unintelligible.
On the twelfth of November, the day before we left Norfolk bound for Bermuda, one of these messages came on air, “PAN, PAN - PAN, PAN” then the usual gobbledegook. We did catch the essence of the message, that there was a boat overdue en route Bermuda and it was white with a blue stripe. Other than that, nothing else understood. We should have paid more attention, indeed, as I’ve been threatening to do all summer, I should have called up and asked for a repeat of the message - but we didn’t.
The following day, we had our own challenges, specifically, how long should we plod along at three knots off the Virginia coast waiting on the strong north wind blowing against the opposing Gulf Stream to ease down to ten knots. These counter forces of nature create not just uncomfortable seas, but, from what I’ve read over the years, (try, “Overboard” for example) conditions that are, quite simply, dangerous. The other side of the coin was that we couldn’t wait too long as we had to get into Bermuda by midday Thursday to avoid a south easterly gale, forecast to be gusting fifty to sixty knots - a decidedly scary force ten to eleven in Beaufort speak. We continued our slow speed, frustrating, delaying tactics as long as we dared but even so, once into the Stream, got a heavy duty wash and rinse cycle, when the forecasted diminishing winds failed to, well, diminish. Faced with the fact we were in a hole, we kept digging and had a noisy, windy, but fast crossing. A hundred and thirty miles or so east of the US coast, we finally eased out the current and turned east south east for Bermuda, pedal to the metal, surfing all day at fifteen knots plus. (19.2kn top speed).
When it’s all a bit wild we tend to sail the boat from the “lounge”, patio doors firmly closed with some relaxing tunes on the stereo. We even ran the heating for a few hours. It doesn’t half beat monohull sailing when in the past we’d be sitting outside in the cockpit, boat rolling like a pig, taking waves and spray in the face. Catamaran sailing is just so much more comfortable. Fortunately, wind and waves have their own soundtrack so, even while tucked up indoors, you know exactly what it’s like outside. Assuming you’re awake.
Around ten o’clock the next morning I stepped into the patio to look at shaking out one of the reefs. As I turned to go back inside, I did my usual 360 degree scan around the horizon. To my surprise, I saw another yacht in the distance going our way. “Company at last” I thought, wishing again that more USA boats would make the minor investment in AIS. Closer inspection through the binoculars however showed the yacht was clearly in trouble, sails blowing in tatters in the wind. “Oh oh” I thought. “This looks like it could be the overdue “PAN PAN” yacht”. Poor Anne was hauled out of bed and we gybed and headed south west on a course to intercept.
As we approached I was looking for signs of life through the binoculars but, ominously, nothing. As we got closer it wasn’t looking good as there was absolutely no sign of life. We fired up the engines, dropped the main and made an approach at a speed that would allow us to get close but still have the steerage to get out of the way as the boat(s) lurched and yawed in the three to four metre seas.
As we closed, Anne suddenly said, “There’s someone in the cockpit.” Closer yet, sure enough, the skipper was at the wheel, apparently steering, but worryingly, gave no response at all as we passed within a boat length, not even a wave. We made several passes but couldn’t communicate. Given the state of the boat and it’s skipper, our guess is he’d suffers a knockdown. The genoa was in tatters. His anchor had come adrift and was dragging from the bow. The main boom and mainsail had been torn off and was now being towed astern as an extremely effective drogue. One of the saloon windows was smashed as was a deck hatch. Things weren’t looking good.
With the anchor, boom, mainsail and its assorted cordage dragging in the water and the boat rolling wildly, it made it somewhat challenging to get close enough to communicate. We really did not need our props getting fouled or getting so close that we’d get whacked thus compounding the problem. Altogether, with pretty much zero response it seemed to us he was well past the point of being able to manage or even help with the situation.
Twenty miles away a tanker was showing on AIS and we called him to A) turn around and give assistance and B) get a message to the coastguard. At the time he was switching fuel tanks or something and couldn’t turn around but he did call the coastguard. The tanker gave us the coastguard phone number but when we called, we got put on hold. Lovely. Not even some musac. After five minutes of silence, feeling we might need our limited airtime later, we gave up and called up our Ocean Cruising Club buddies back in the Chesapeake. They got in touch with the coast guard giving us an essential communications link and kept us updated with what was happening on the rescue front.
For a while we talked about launching our dinghy and going across to try and take him off but the seas were so rough the chances of executing that without one of us ending up in the drink were slim. We also considered floating down our life raft and getting him to climb in but in the conditions, the chances of making a bad situation much worse seemed highly likely as all the signs, or absence of them from the skipper, suggested he wouldn’t have the strength to do what was needed. In addition, a day or so before we left I was doing my all round, offshore checks to make sure something embarrassing, like the mast falling down, didn’t happen when we were offshore, when I found traces of sea water in one of the sail drive legs - the bit that turns the propeller. I replaced the oil and we stopped using the engine. We normally only use one engine anyway so no big deal. Right up until the moment you need two for close quarter manoeuvres in big seas.
On more than one occasion in the four hours we were “on scene” we sat back, put on our thinking hats and tried to work out how to get the guy off his boat and onto ours. Unfortunately, all the options presented an unacceptable degree of risk, after all, at the time, even though there was a communication problem, everyone was still alive and safe onboard - not floundering about in the ocean in a valiant but failed rescue attempt. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why he seemed to ignore my yelled suggestions to launch his dinghy or liferaft and we’d pick him up. “What? Get off my still floating boat, climb over the side into a tiny rubber raft and drift off in these seas. You think I’m nuts?”
By this time the cavalry had arrived in the form of a four engined, fixed wing Hercules. The coast guard overhead asked if we could get a VHF to him. We therefore got things organised then made another few passes to windward trying to throw the radio in a dry bag on the end of a floating line. Not a chance. We then tried floating it downwind while I worked the engines to keep us a safe distance off, Anne hanging off the guardrails trying to encourage it along. Unfortunately this also failed as the casualty and the bag were drifting at the same rate. We tried again tying it to our largest fender hoping the wind would blow it down but that also failed miserably for much the same reason. Only later, with time to reflect, did we think the option with the most chance of success would have been to tie a small lead weight to one end of our fishing line, the radio bag to the other. If we’d thrown it hard into the casualty’s cockpit, we might have succeeded. We might also possibly have injured the recipient proving my mothers oft repeated claim that “you could put someone’s eye out with that”, but at least, after he’d hauled the VHF onboard, he could have called us to complain. And that would have been a good sign.
We also knew the coast guard cutter was on the way so, in the end, after a discussion with the coast guard about the incoming weather system, on their suggestion, we turned, left the scene and hot footed it to Bermuda to beat the incoming storm. We left the scene with an intense feeling of guilt, like I hope climbers on Everest feel after they’ve walked past a fellow climber lying in the snow, asking for help.
When we got to Bermuda we asked Bermuda radio if they knew if the rescue had been made. But they new nothing. We also wrote to the US coast guard asking if the guy was safe but again heard nothing. It was only last night that our consciences cleared when our daughter found a report online saying that the following day he’d been taken off by the cutter and safely reunited with his family.
According to the report he was reported overdue on the 6th although we can only remember Pan Pan’s on 11th and maybe 12th. We found him on the 14th. Whatever the dates, he did well to hang in for as long as he did. The conditions were pretty awful.
All in all, an exciting trip south. Now, the next bit. Only another thousand miles to go.
Where’s a P&O cruise when you need it?
Land Life Envy
17 November 2023
Pretty much everyone of our “cohort” that we did the long miles, islands and cockpit parties with are, as I type this, probably sat in front of their fire, tele on, the smell of their roast lamb dinner still in the air and maybe a dog lying at their feet. Some are in their camper vans, trawlers or cruising sun-shiny tracks on their e-bikes. Either that or they’re tucked up in a bed that doesn’t move, or better still, perhaps a bar.
We on the other hand have been enjoying that madness that is hurtling along in the pitch black in, of course, thirty plus knots of wind, three to four metre breaking seas, hundreds of miles from land. With that bit behind us we’re now anchored in Bermuda, waiting on tonight’s forecast thirty to forty knots gusting fifty to sixty to kick off. That’s force ten to eleven in Beaufort speak. Oh joy. Really glad I cut off fifteen metres of chain a few months ago to save a few kilos.
The reason we’re here is firstly because the weather patterns to sail direct to Antigua from Norfolk we’re all very nasty looking deep shades of dark red and secondly that, “if we go now”, we can instead route via Bermuda. “That’ll be a nice way to break the trip”.
However, in truth, it’s largely because after visiting Toronto a few months ago, a rather stroppy US immigration officer took exception to our comings and goings …… but mostly coming and stayings, telling us we couldn’t just come and stay in her country, dodging in and out the USA at will. The fact we were entirely legally compliant in terms of days in the country and that her colleagues in Boston and Maine immigration had set the dates clearly stamped and signed in our passports was neither here nor there. Clearly, in her opinion, we were here when we should have been there.
Obviously, somebody got out of bed on the wrong side that morning and it wasn’t us. With a pen stroke she cancelled our permissions to stay until February and said we were to be out the country by fifteenth December at latest. And understand this buddy, “I can revoke your ten year visa” so don’t mess with me.
For a few minutes I toyed with the idea of writing a strongly worded letter but instead, we sought out her boss who, without actually saying it, but whose raised eyebrows were a giveaway, understood his officer had indeed got out of bed on the wrong side. He politely apologised for the confusion and then used up more valuable paper in our increasingly cluttered passports re-setting the stamps and dates. However, this whole exercise made us realise that our plan for the first part of next year to leave the boat on the hard in the Chesapeake for a few months and go gallivanting around Patagonia was subject to the whim of whichever immigration officer we came up against and which side of bed they got out of. Pick the wrong officer and we could be left banned from the USA and Time Bandit stuck there. It wasn’t a risk we wanted to take and, we really need a full six months next year as there’s grand winkies to take sailing.
And that’s why we’re here, Time Bandit tugging at the anchor, driving rain slashing against the windows, spare anchor rigged ready to go, foulies and wellies ready to don and insurance policy looked out. We’re not expecting much beauty sleep tonight.
We’ll head out for the thousand or so miles to Antigua in the next weather window when hopefully we’ll enjoy balmy, benign conditions and be gently and leisurely wafted south in the Trades.
Meanwhile, I’m off to bed to read my book. Not the best choice!
Race Against Time
15 November 2023
âOh, did you read what the Bandits are doing now, the lucky sods?â
âWhat's that then?â
âNot only are they off to the Caribbean, get this, they're taking a mini break in Bermuda en-route.â
Let me tell you folks. That's the YouTube version. The reality is quite different. Contrary to our intuition, experience, planning, reading, advice and dodging around the Chesapeake at two or three knots, killing time, time we now desperately need, we ended up crossing the three knot Gulf Stream in twenty knots of contrary wind over current. Said wind from the chilly, bone freezing north.
After seventy miles of a heavy duty wash we emerged, engaged launch control and turned south east for Bermuda sitting at ten or so knots surfing into the high teens in a fairly steady force six to seven, the former being known as a âyachtsman's galeâ, the latter as a pain in the ass.
It was, and remains a race against the clock. A south easterly gale is going to hit Bermuda from about 18:00 on Thursday night, in about thirty six hours.
Consequently, we've kept the pedal to the metal, abandoned all hope of sleep and are charging headlong into the pitch black, safely tucked up in our lounge, patio doors firmly shut against the unpleasantness outside.
Our tight schedule was further stressed by an incident Iâll report later, but folks, as noted, this cruising lark isn't all beer, skittles and Bermuda.
Not that we're ones to complain.
Here's our route, from now on known as The Force Seven route.
Stuart & Anne
Our Tracker (cut and paste)
Follow the blog: www.TimeBandit.Co.Uk
YouTube: SV Time Bandit