18 Dec 2012

[Captains Blog] Day 22 St Lucia!

Last night after several days becalmed, the wind decided to return and we could finally switch the engine off and give it a rest. The poor thing had been going non-stop and had done sterling service. We still have just under ½ tank of fuel left, plus the reserve jerry can, so we can pat ourselves on the back for that. We passed a couple of other boats yesterday who either had no fuel left or chose to be sailing purists and refused to put their engines on, either way, they were not making any real progress. We had to keep our progress rates up as we all have flights to catch this week.

So with the wind on our tail, we had full sails set to port and were bowling along very nicely, reefing down as night fell in case the forecast increase in the wind speed materialised. We finally passed the finish post in Rodney Bay at 08:36:20 this morning to a rapturous welcome from many of the ARC participants who had already checked in. It was a very gratifying experience. We were met in the bay by Elaine, Ed's wife who had hired a water taxi to take her out to meet us. No-one expected this to happen and it was a real surprise. We had several photographs taken by a professional photographer as we neared the bay, it will be great to see the results and might even be a keepsake to have pride of place in the office. We already have received a certificate of congratulation on a successful Atlantic crossing to add to the souvenirs.

17 Dec 2012

[Captains Blog] Day 21 14.5N 58W Less than 200 to go

Last night we experienced the best ever sunset - simply spectacular - it seemed to us that the whole sky was aflame, and the red glow spread across the sky as far as the eye could see. As time went on, the colours got redder and deeper and it looked to is as though there was a volcano in the distance and the red clouds were like layers of molten lava across the face of the mountain. It was absolutely awesome.

Also, I don't know whether or not I witnessed the death of a star. I was up on watch between 03:00 and 06:00 and sometime in the period, there was a brilliant flash in the sky over towards the ENE from me. A single point object was glowing red, then yellow, then green, and then it disappeared altogether. The intensity of the light was very strong and that part of the sky was very bright. I'll have to look it up in the news; maybe I saw a moment in stellar history. It all seemed a bit star wars to me.

Our attempts to catch some supper have been fruitless, we managed to get a bite yesterday, quite a large fish leapt out of the water having taken a bite of the lure, but it didn't get hooked. Subsequent attempts to catch anything were to no avail.

We put the ship's clock back an hour last night to bring us in line with St Lucia time (UT-4). We are in the home straight now, the wind is due to return to us today and hopefully will send us on into St Lucia. We have been out of email contact with the world for a few days now, something has gone wrong on my laptop and the port that the modem uses thinks it is already busy. Thankfully, we have been receiving update texts from our friends in the real world that let us know the weather prospects and we have been acting on this info.

For the first time since leaving the canaries, we can see two other yachts on the horizon at the same time. The convergence of the boats on the Martinique passage to the north of St Lucia seems to be everyone's target. We should see more as the day progresses. We have half a tank of fuel left plus the 10 litres I have kept for emergencies in reserve. That should be plenty for the remaining part of the crossing, and there should be no issue here. The extra jerry cans I bought in Las Palmas were definitely a good move and have paid dividends. We have passed other boats that were progressing under sail alone, and not covering any distance. Perhaps their spare fuel quota wasn't great enough. The recommendation was for 5 days of motoring, we allowed for 7-8 in our calculations. Thank goodness we did.

We ate pork (and pork sausage) cassoulet for our dinner last night, just about all our fresh food stocks have gone now, and we are down to tinned products. Not too much of a burden. Fray Bentos night again tonight for our last evening meal aboard. Tomorrow we will hit the restaurants ashore ...

16 Dec 2012

[Captains Blog] Day 20 14.5N 56.75W Becalmed with 240 miles to go

Frustrating! We are nearly there and the wind has died on us altogether. It was forecast, but the sight of the Atlantic Ocean as smooth as a millpond is somewhat unexpected. I was on the 6-9am watch this morning, and the sun hadn't risen by the time I was on duty. The atmosphere was positively ethereal. There was a mist hanging over the water, another yacht was forward on the horizon, with its tricolour masthead light twinkling through the gloom, the water was dead calm, and I was totally at peace with the world.

Then the sun came up, and I was treated to the most magnificent sunrise, a mackerel sky overhead that has since disappeared as the sun has warmed up the skies. The clouds have all but disappeared from overhead and the temperatures are rising. It is going to be a hot day. We have put 40 litres of diesel into the tank from jerry cans, which leaves us with 10 litres in reserve and a tank that is three-quarters full. Enough fuel to motor for 2.5 days. Hopefully that will be enough to sustain our progress towards Rodney Bay and hopefully the winds will pick up to allow us to turn off the engine and sail again.

Last night, after sailing over 2500 miles from Las Palmas, we ended up less than 1 nautical mile from the East Martinique mid-Atlantic weather buoy. We knew it was in our vicinity, but with all the hundreds of thousands of square miles of ocean, we ended up having to keep a sharp eye out for the yellow lights that would indicate its presence. It seems a bit like parking in a multi-storey car park where there is only one other car on the same floor, and you somehow end up reversing into it. Things like this never cease to amaze me.

15 Dec 2012

[Captains Blog] Day 19 15N 54.3W Less than 400 miles to go!

A funny peculiar day yesterday - no wind, and what there was came from the west which meant we were heading straight into it. No real use from the sails, although we tried the new patented "Witting Wonderset", which basically utilises the foresail in the same way that we would use the main sail to enhance the use of the engine, trap whatever breeze might be available, and sneak a couple of extra tenths of a knot onto our speed. I spent the best part of 2 hours on my watch tweaking and twiddling the sails to get the best I could out of her in the vain hope of preserving our fuel a bit. No real success, the wind was being its usual fickle self and swinging either side of dead ahead. 

On the fuel front, as we have been somewhat becalmed and are likely to be so for another day at least, we are having to use the engine. We need to keep our revs down to 1200rpm to maximise our consumption rates per mile achieved. We currently have 3/8 of our fuel tank remaining plus 95 litres in jerry cans. Hopefully this will allow us to motor all the way in if necessary, but we are ever hopeful that mother nature will send us some trade winds to see us the final miles under sail. It is so frustrating that we are this close and the weather holds us up for an extra day or so. On the upside, it means we have a gentle roll to the boat instead of being thrown around inside the perpetual washing machine that has been our home for the past 3 weeks. We might even get some decent sleep.

Email has been playing up for days now, Mailasail apparently have some problems (courtesy of Bardeau, another boat fairly close by who wrote in their own blog) and so we are somewhat incommunicado. This blog will carry on regardless and will be uploaded to www.afloatonaboat.com as soon as we get the opportunity in St Lucia. In the meantime, life aboard goes on as smoothly as ever. The food stocks are beginning to look a bit sparse in some areas - breakfast cereals are mostly gone, a few weetabix and bran flakes left to start the day. Fruit juices are still plentiful, tinned products are still in abundance, so we won't go hungry. We might just have to eat some odd things at strange times of the day. However, we still only have a few days left before we get to our destination, and we know from prior experience that there is a good size supermarket in Rodney Bay to replenish our stores. Plenty of drinking water left too.

14 Dec 2012

[Captains Blog] Day 18 15.1N 53.4W less than 450 miles to go!

Yesterday was a great sailing day until tea-time when we suddenly lost the wind.  We knew light winds were forecast but expected them in another 36 hours and could really have done with another 200 miles or so under wind power.  So we now have the dilemma about using the engine and our fuel reserves.  To the best of our calculations we have 180 litres of fuel left, which should equate to 90 hours of motoring at low revs.  And with just under 500 miles left when the wind failed, we needed 100 hours of fuel if we were to motor all the way.  So, it was a very close and a tough decision as to when we should / should not use the engine.  The consensus yesterday evening was that we would look to sail through the night on wind power alone but we abandoned that when our speed dropped to less than 2 knots.  So now we're motor-sailing on low revs and achieving 3.5 knots through the water, over 4 knots speed over ground (because of the current).

One "feature" of last night was the meteor shower in the Castor and Pollux area of the night sky.  And what a night sky: billions of stars on show with no light pollution to affect them and myriad shooting stars.  Something to keep us occupied in a night when nothing much else was happening.

We broke into the Fray Bentos meat pies for dinner yesterday.  Paul had sampled one once before but for the rest of us it was a new culinary adventure, probably better than we anticipated and it certainly filled a hole.  That said, Paul and my appetites are reducing as the weather gets warmer, although we haven't noticed a similar trend in Phil & Ed!

Our ETA given the light airs is now Monday maybe even Tuesday, although we are hopeful of regaining wind over the weekend.  And then it will be back into party mode after 3 "dry" weeks.  We were all discussing this today and agree that none of us has missed alcohol .... sailing is a good detox indeed.

13 Dec 2012

[Captains Blog] Day 17 15.5N 51.5W 560 miles to go

Sitting in the cockpit we are discussing films and the actors who played them. Ice cold in Alex is the topic of conversation, probably prompted by the dream of a cool beer waiting for us in ST Lucia. Now we have moved on to the (British) Empire and what role if we had been around at the time, that we would like to have had. Interesting how the thoughts flow.

We are making good progress today, the winds are favourable, the sun is shining, a few cumulus clouds scatter the skies, and we are in good spirits.

The whales visited us again yesterday, as did the dolphins, small ones by comparison with the European breed. All we have left to get under our belts if for Ed and Phil to see the 'Green Flash' phenomenon. It does exist, Debra and I have seen it more than once, but they are somewhat elusive, particularly on this trip.

The stars were out in abundance last night, I even saw the Southern Cross, and the false Southern Cross side by side low in the sky just before dawn. For some reason I get really excited when I see this constellation, and I had to make sure all the crew saw it (Ed had to be roused from his slumbers, but I think it was appreciated in the end).

Nearing the 500 miles to go mark (we have all stated the time this evening when we cross this threshold), the numbers of boats around us should increase and we will have to be more vigilant especially at night time. It will be strange to see other boats again in close proximity. Nearly there!

12 Dec 2012

[Captains Blog] Day 16 15.4N 49.1W

We were all pleased to see daybreak this morning after a rather challenging night.  Despite nothing in the weather forecasts, a tropical storm materialised early evening and we had to pull together as a team to ride it out.  Sails were reduced to a minimum - just a scrap of the foresail flown and no main at all - as Paul, Phil & Ed battled to keep Jay Jay on course.  The auto-helm just couldn't cope with the savage conditions as torrential rain, 50 knot winds and rough seas resulted in us being blown sideways some 45 degrees off course.  We were relentlessly pitched from side to side until the engine was put on and we were able to take back control of the boat, engage the auto-helm and revert to the approximate direction we wanted to sail.  

It was a night when we closed all hatches and the companion way as we sheltered down below, with us all taking turns to check the horizon every 15 minutes or so.  Drenched, exhausted and apprehensive we waited to see how long the storm would continue and how Jay Jay would fair.  Finally, at about 5am this morning, the conditions began to abate and the morning has developed into a pleasant sailing day, if a little rolly, and Jay Jay suffered no damage - a great boat!  

So a rather dramatic end to a day which had started out very well, with fair winds and calm-ish seas.  A family of whales kept us entertained for quite some time, chasing the boat, swimming underneath us and alongside not much more than a metre away - a real privilege for us all.  However, cloud cover started to build up at lunchtime followed by pouring rain in the afternoon which flattened the sea and visually was rather bizarre .... almost like looking out over sand dunes.

This morning we have not much more than 700 miles to go to reach St Lucia and we have spotted another sail on the horizon as we all start to converge on our destination.

11 Dec 2012

[Captains Blog] Day 15 16.1N 46.3W 840 miles to go

I am sitting here in the cockpit with the washing hanging all around me drying in the breeze. It looks something reminiscent of Widow Twankey's laundry without the presence of Aladdin and his magic lamp. However, back to the news. Last night we had lightning flashes all around us. I noticed it ahead of us as night fell and kept an eye on its progress. After a while it seemed apparent that the storm might be moving away from us, but just to be on the safe side, I thought about turning south to avoid it. It was at that moment that the next flash lit up the sky from the south. Nope. we weren't going that way. Then more flashes from the east (directly behind us) moving in our direction. It didn't look good for us. We placed all our precious electrical items (iPads, iPhone, my phone, PC, Sat Phone, hand-held VHF all into the microwave in the event of a strike on the boat, in which case the microwave should act like a faraday cage and save the contents from harm.

Eventually, the lightning stopped, and the squalls hit instead, so we ended up having a very rocky ride through the night. I don't think anyone slept much if at all. Dawn broke with more squalls, but since then the weather has improved and the wind is blowing us along at a steady 6 knots.

Another flying fish hit the deck when Debra was handing over the watch to Ed. She wouldn't touch it, so Ed dispatched it over the side back to safety. That brings the total so far to 5.

I have come to the conclusion that no matter how experienced a sailor you are, you never stop learning. I am just getting to know some of the foibles that the boat has, how she handles best under different conditions, which tack is better for sailing, how the whisker pole is deployed efficiently, how many revs to run the engine at, and so on. Jay Jay is a very sound, well equipped boat that I have no doubt will take us wherever we want to go. She handles responsively without being skittish, and feels stable regardless of the wind speed, all we have to do is make sure that the amount of canvas exposed to the elements is correct, and in this matter we are getting progressively better. Long may it continue.

The food supplies are lasting well, and we have yet to sample the delights of the Fray Bentos steak and kidney pies that we have on our scheduled menu. The water tanks are full, the fuel supply is plentiful, and we are looking forward to landfall in St Lucia.

10 Dec 2012

[Captains Blog] Day 14 16.3N 44.2W

Another day of motoring and communication issues but, I'm pleased to report that the day did end on a higher note when the wind returned and we could turn the engine off.  Add to that some limited communication capabilities; then we all ended the day feeling more positive despite the rain!

We've now less than a thousand miles to go to St Lucia.  And with favourable winds forecast for the next few days we hope to make good progress towards our goal.

I spent a very useful hour last night plotting the position of all the fleet into an Excel graph so we've finally been able to see our position relative to everyone else.  We've been surprised how many yachts are considerably further north than we are, albeit further west, but providing my plotting is accurate, then we don't seem to be doing too badly.  That said, our primary aim is to make the passage as comfortable and safe as possible and so we aren't pushing Jay Jay to her limits.

Thanks to everyone following our progress and sending us texts - it's great to receive them - and apologies for not replying to them but please do keep them coming! 

9 Dec 2012

[Captains Blog] Day 13 16.5N 41.7W

Yesterday proved to be an utter pig of a day. We had no wind, and the engine had to be running all day, the weather was particularly hot and our PC decided it wasn't going to talk to anybody via email. I spent most of the day wrestling with the damn computer, aided admirably by Debra and Ed who tried their best to help me get it working again. This morning on my watch between 00:00 and 03:00 I carried on the fight, and finally this morning we had a breakthrough and managed to connect, send and receive mails again.

Things are looking positive, as I type this we have 1116 nm to go to ST Lucia, a nice current pushing us along at 1 knot, and the forecast is that we will have reasonable winds to sail again this afternoon.

The nights have been pretty amazing on watch, as we get deeper into the tropics, the phosphorescence in the water is increasing, and the trail of sparkles in the wake of the boat are magical. Nature is so clever. It is mesmerising. The stars were out in force last night too, we managed a couple of star sights and this will enable us to do an accurate position fix to complement the sun run sun and meridian sights. All good stuff.

Debra has been catching up on Spooks season one on the DVD TV, I am getting my Game of Thrones fix (although I have just finished the latest book and need to get to St Lucia asap to download the next one). Ed has been concentrating on astro navigation, and Phil has been honing his sailing skills in between keeping his diary posted and regaling us with his singing. All in all one happy crew, well fed, well watered and working together as a team, especially in the face of adversity when things go wrong and I can do with the support to fix them, moral and practical. Jay Jay rules!

8 Dec 2012

[Captains Blog] Day 12 16.6N 39.6W

We lost the wind yesterday and still nothing much today. Pretty much along the lines of the forecast, so we have had to resort to using the engine for propulsion. The good thing about this is that we have charged up the batteries properly, and the watermaker has been doing its stuff, and we have full tanks again. That will please everyone on board, as in these temperatures, a refreshing (albeit quick) shower is well received before turning into our pits.

Last night when Ed was on watch, he was hit in the back of the head in the dark. It turned out to be a flying fish, which would technically have landed on the deck had it not ricocheted off Ed's head back into the water. That offishially brings the fish count to 3 for the sweepstake.

Phil turned his and to cooking last night - a delicious sweet and sour pork dish which we will probably repeat tonight to use up the rest of the pork that we removed from the freezer.

We passed two yachts yesterday which crossed our stern in the course of the day and night. There was even a freighter on the horizon moving southwards. After seeing nothing for days, it was nice to know we are not all alone on the seas. As we move closer to St Lucia, I imagine we will be seeing far more boats as we all converge on our destination.

Ed and I have been shooting sights with the sextant, and so far we have been very accurate. My last reported difference of 11 miles was grossly exaggerated -- we were actually 1 mile from our actual GPS position. Class will out! Sun run sun today has been plotted, noonsight to follow and we will then do our dead reckoning for our position. The sextant has never been so busy.

7 Dec 2012

[Captains Blog] Day 11 17N 37W

Yesterday was a lovely day - sun shining, gentle breezes coming from exactly the right angle to deploy the gennaker for the first time. Flying this sail gained us an extra couple of knots - all good for helping us reach our target arrival date.  And added to that, the watermaker is fully functional so we were all able to indulge in a shower.  Luxury indeed.

Of course there has to be some crisis requiring solving and yesterday it was the generator.  Turns out it was simply low on oil - being new, it presumably has burnt more than usual.  Anyway, it is now back on line charging the batteries - crisis averted.

Jay Jay afloat is proving to be a gastronomic delight - fresh bread every day, home-cooked dinners and even desserts as and when.  Today, Debra made some chocolate brownies which have gone down very well with the crew. The fresh provisions will soon be coming to an end so we will be raiding the tinned supplies ... I think Ed & Phil are looking forward to cracking open the Fray Bentos meat pies.  Debra's not so sure!!

We were joined by a family of whales early afternoon which stayed around for over 30 minutes.  I think they were as curious about us as we were about them,  Maybe the red gennaker caught their eye ... assuming they can recognise colour ... but interestingly as soon we took it down when a squall looked as though it was heading our way, the whales headed off.

We're now well over 1300 miles from Las Palmas and so are nearing our half-way mark ... to be celebrated with a rum cocktail, probably our only alcoholic drink for the passage.   It's surprising how quickly the time is passing : We had great plans about how to occupy our time ... poetry and story hour, learning Polish from Ed, writing etc etc.   As yet we've engaged in little of these activities but none of us are bored.  Probably we have all just relaxed into the experience, who knows?

6 Dec 2012

[Captains Blog] Day 10 17.6N 34.32W

We had problems with the watermaker yesterday - having run it for an hour, the high pressure in the system ruptured a feed pipe. Undaunted, I cut the pipe and reconnected it to the system and restarted. two minutes later, it split in another place. Not good. The pipes were simply not up to the task intended. What were we to do? We need the watermaker to maintain some degree of comfort, so we looked around the boat for some alternatives that we could bastardise. We found a high pressure hose as an overflow pipe coming from the calorifier, thankfully grossly over-engineered by Jeanneau (bless their little cotton socks). So, we cut a small length to replace the broken one and reinforced it with a water pipe on the inside. Connected it up again and set the watermaker working again. The next pipe to go was the next in line, only this time it was a long length. We cut as much of the overflow pipe as we dared and replaced it with the non-pressure pipe so that the overflow facility would still work unabated, then tried to stretch the cut length to fit the system. Thankfully, it just reached, and after connecting everything together again it now works properly. I rewarded myself with the well needed shower that would have been forfeit if the solution had not worked. We have enough bottled water to last us the crossing, but we would have been somewhat smelly as a crew when not able to clean ourselves from time to time.

The anenometer is playing up, and we have air in the water system which means that the water pump keeps running when it should cut out, but these are jobs for today. The good thing is that the crew have not mutinied yet, the cat hasn't been let out of the bag, and floggings have not needed to commence. Long may it continue.

Progress across the pond is going according to expectation, everything and everyone aboard is covered in salt crystals but we salty sea-dogs are all having a great time!

5 Dec 2012

[Captains Blog] Day 9 18N 33W

Another cloudy morning but the sun is trying to put in an appearance and it is still very mild. Fortunately the sea state has calmed a little with the wind and so it's making for a more comfortable, if slower, passage. The forecast for the next few days is for diminishing winds so we may well be flying the gennaker within a short time. Currently bowling along at around 6.5 knots with the foresail poled out so not complaining! The whisker pole has been in permanent use since we left the Canaries and is proving its worth. 

We've been able to overcome the low battery situation by some judicial power management. The basic problem was the draw for the fridge and so now we are just running the freezer and switching on the fridge whenever the generator is running. So, we'll be able to get to St Lucia and sort out the fridge requirements there. We will still need to supplement the charging capability with some solar panels to give us the comfort factor as we are at anchor during our stay in the islands. 

Phil has made the bread today - we are trying to see whether anyone else aboard has the magic Ed touch as far as creating delicious bread rolls for our lunch. I failed miserably yesterday and managed to cause severe concussion to the fish around the boat when we threw it away. The pear crumble we made yesterday because the fruit had started to go soft will be consumed at lunchtime today with some custard for good measure - can't waste good food. 

Still no luck on the fishing front. Something took the trace and the lure today and left me with a bare fishing line on the end. I'll get one yet! 

4 Dec 2012

[Captains Blog] Day 8 18.5N 29.4W

Cloudy today, but still nice and warm in the tropics. Sun-dried tomato and olive bread is baking in the oven, we are preparing a pear crumble and cottage pie for our dinner this evening, and we are bowling along quite nicely in the breeze. Close to 1800 miles left to go now. 

We had our first flying fish land on the deck last night, and yesterday afternoon, we passed some flotsam nearby - a fishing net (or part of one) with a turtle trapped inside it, and another pushing it along presumably trying to help its dead friend. People should be more responsible with their detritus. 

We managed to get some astro navigation done last night - taking sights on Sirius and Procyon which when reduced gave our position as only 11 nautical miles away from our GPS reading. Not bad considering the sights were taken from a pitching deck in sea swells topping 10 feet. Maybe some more sights tonight if the skies are clear. 

Sleep deprivation is something of an issue - it is not that we don't have enough free time, but that our sleep patterns are so disrupted that when we get the chance to sleep, the body isn't ready. This does mean that we have been swapping watches around a bit to allow those who are particularly tired to try and get the valuable sleep they need. It must be incredibly hard on the two handers in the fleet. 

Speaking of the fleet, we haven't seen another soul on the horizon for days now. We know from the position reports that we have other boats in our vicinity, but nothing seen as yet. We will keep looking. 

Tried fishing for the first time yesterday - a fish took the lure in moments but the trace clamp parted and I lost it. I did see a decent sized fish jump out of the water close to where the hook was, but it got away. There will be others.

3 Dec 2012

[Captains Blog] Day 7 20N 27W

It was a trying day yesterday, the swells were throwing us all about inside the boat again - quite relentless, but on the positive side, we made some good progress to the west. We now have less than 2000 miles to go to St Lucia so our first milestone has been passed. We are sufficiently south to avoid the bad weather front that exists around 25N and hopefully it will be plain sailing from here. We are steering due west which should take us straight to St Lucia. If the winds keep us going in the same direction then I will be very happy.

An interesting meal last night: We were going to have sausages, mash, cabbage and gravy. We put the sausages into the oven to cook, got everything else cooked to coincide with the sausages, mashed the potatoes, buttered the cabbage, went to get the sausages out and they were raw! An impromptu change to the menu was needed as the sausages were put into the oven again, this time with the gas on, and bubble and squeak made a fine impression on the crew.

Shoals of flying fish are present today, the first time we have seen them in numbers. We have all made an estimate of the number of fish that land on Jay Jay overnight between here and our destination.

On another topic, we have a dry boat for the crossing. We have noticed that the process of detoxification is not without its side effects. A bad taste in the mouth along with a niggling headache obviously shows that the body is cleansing itself of the noxious substances. Maybe when we get to St Lucia the appeal of a rum cocktail will have diminished somewhat ...

We have been experiencing a drain on the battery supply which appears to be the fridge. We will have to get it checked out when we reach St Lucia, but it has made me realise that I was somewhat naive with my power planning. We should have invested in some solar panels to supplement the wind generator which although it is working, is not working as well as expected because the wind is coming from behind us, and our own speed through the water reduces the effectiveness of the wind strength in turning the blades. We also may need to replace the battery bank with fresh batteries that hold their charge better. We will see.

2 Dec 2012

[Captains Blog] Day 6 20N 24W

The good sailing winds continue for us and we're making decent progress. Having received the GRIB files yesterday, which indicated an inverted trough to the NW of the Cape Verde Islands, we decided to head south to minimise the impact of this weather system. Being now at 20N we have reverted to a more westerly course, next stop St Lucia., I have to confess that all the crew are hoping the seas will calm slightly - trying to cook is proving problematic at the moment with food flying around the galley, All the nicely prepared stir-fry veg ended up on the floor under the navigator's table on Friday; the freshly baked bread in the washing-up water Saturday lunchtime and the BBQ sauce also in the sink last night. I'm hoping we've learnt our lesson now! 

Phil has now rejoined the watch/helming rota and it's made a big difference to the rest of the crew who were all feeling a bit jaded, We take our hats off to those yachts with only two crew on board.  

Yesterday afternoon Paul noticed a fin moving through the water about 75m behind us, He's convinced it was neither a dolphin or whale and was obviously a big creature judging by the area of turquoise water surrounding the fin. He can only conclude it was a shark, and a very big one at that. 

Time for lunch now .... bread just out of the oven.

1 Dec 2012

[Captains Blog] Day 5 22N 22W

The sun is shining and we have good winds for sailing. The washing machine effect of the swell continues unabated, but I guess this is something we will just have to adjust to while ever the winds are behind us. We are bowling along at a steady 7 knots which feels good. 

Phil has improved considerably over the past 24 hours and appears to be over his sea sickness. He is eating normally, albeit slowly, drinking lots of water and getting more involved in the daily activities too. We won't let him cook for a while yet as we don't want to swet him back at all. His time will come towards the end of the passage. 

Debra has been a stalwart - organising the boat, feeding the crew, and generally being a busy bee. She is an invaluable member of the crew who has pulled more than her weight. She has a tendency to bump into things, and yesterday even managed a forward roll in the saloon when a wave hit us and threw us sideways when she was sweeping the floor. Plenty of bruises mark these events on her arms and legs. 

Ed seems to be enjoying himself too. Especially as we have clear skies today and the sextant has been aired taking some sun-run-sun sights this morning and hopefully a noon sight and even some stars tonight. 

We (Phil and I) saw 2 pilot whales at sundown last night. We called to Ed and Debra to come and see them, but Ed was sleeping and Debra busy in the galley, so they missed out. Maybe next time. 

30 Nov 2012

[Captains Blog] Day 4 23N 21W

A fine day, sunshine and scattered cloud around, winds force 4-5, although the swell is throwing us about quite a bit. An improvement in Phil - he has stopped being sick and can keep his food down. We think that he is over the worst now and things should get better for him from here. 

We are staying on our planned route, heading down south-westwards to the waypoint we set off the Cape Verdes, at which point we will turn off westwards towards the Caribbean. 

So far we have seen turtles, flying fish and dolphins, but no whales yet. We haven't tried fishing yet as we are eating the fresh food first. When we are in the <20 latitudes, then I will have a go. 

29 Nov 2012

[Captains Blog] Mid-atlantic Day 3

After a couple of days where the seas were somewhat bouncy, things appear to be settling down a bit and the wind has dropped from 30 knot gusts down to less than 20 knots. The crew are settling into something of a routine but Phil hasn't shaken off his mal-de-mer yet. Everything he has eaten has seen the light of day again before long, and although he said he wanted to lose weight on the trip, this isn't exactly the best way to achieve it. However, day 3 usually sees a significant change. Let's hope so. 

We have seen several of the other boats in the ARC around us at various times, we seem to be heading on similar tracks and it is comforting to see lights on the horizon at night. One or two ships have passed within a few miles of us too. 

We are heading more southward now with some west in the passage to make the best of the winds which have shifted around towards the east. When we get down to 20 degrees north or thereabouts, we will turn west. Perhaps that's when the butter melts ...

25 Nov 2012

[Cruise News] Back on-line in St Lucia

Well as most friends know by now, we arrived in St Lucia after a 21 day crossing to a rapturous welcome from locals and other ARC participants alike.  I'll never forget the feeling as we sailed into the marina, Ed and me standing on the bow and Paul & Phil in the cockpit (Paul steering of course).  Everyone was waving and cheering, air-horns were blasting and someone was even serenading us with a trumpet.  A truly magical feeling and quite humbling in it's own way.
I'm not going to write much about the crossing itself, Paul has this well-covered on his Captain's Blog, but just to say I really enjoyed it - the camaraderie between the crew; the incredible star-lit nights and awe-inspiring sunsets; the myriad marine life paying us visits and, overall, the sense of achievement of undertaking something as momentous as sailing across the Atlantic.  I'm really proud of us all: Paul for so thoroughly preparing Jay Jay for the crossing and skippering us so well; Phil for overcoming his sea-sickness to become a valuable member of the crew; Ed for his calm and reasoned support to Paul (and his superb bread-making skills) and me for finding the courage to undertake such a big adventure and actually gain so much from it.  I should also mention my Mum for continuing to insist we should undertake the trip when she is herself all at sea following the sad loss of my Dad back in October.   The lovely thing is Dad fully understood what we were undertaking, had visited Jay Jay a couple of times and even waved us on the first leg from Plymouth so I know he supported us in our undertaking.

And so now we're back in St Lucia after a whistle-stop trip back to the UK for Christmas.  It feels very different being out here this time - we're definitely more chilled and don't feel the same compulsion to tear around visiting different places and being forever on the move.  So, partly because of our new laid-back approach and also because Virgin lost some of our luggage, we're still moored up in Rodney Bay marina after five days!  Almost unheard of for us but so easy-going and incredibly sociable.  We've dined with Germans and Norwegians this week, and had drinks with Aussies .... a real international mix.  And great fun to boot!

We'll be heading off for a day or two this coming week but probably won't stray too far: The Christmas Winds have arrived and it's pretty blowy out at sea and at anchor too.  And despite crossing the Atlantic (did I mention that?!) we both feel there's no point setting out for a potentially uncomfortable passage if we don't have to.

Well now I've recommenced my blogging I'll try my best to keep it up to date .... keep reading!
ARC stage 3 : Gran Canaria to St Lucia (approx 2800 miles)

This is the big one!  Good news is we'll have two crew on board with us (Ed and Phil) which will be a big comfort both physically and emotionally.  Bad news is that it's a long, long way to St Lucia and who knows what the weather will throw at us in the three week crossing.  My feelings are a mixture of excitement and terror - I'm not the bravest of people and here I am agreeing to sail across the Atlantic.

After three weeks at home, we'll be returning to Gran Canaria on 10th November to participate in the ARC build-up-to-departure events, get to know some of the other crews and also ready Jay Jay for the crossing.  We largely stocked up on tinned / dried goods for the crossing when Jay Jay was in the UK and we had a car to call on so what remains of the provisioning is largely fresh goods.  Phil flies out to join us on 21st November and Ed on the 24th, before our departure on Sunday 25th alongside another 269 yachts.

We're in the cruising class and are scheduled to leave at 1pm ..... next stop St Lucia!   After the first day or so, we probably won't see anything of the other competitors but it will be comforting to know that there will always be someone else within a hundred miles or so radius.   And it's party time when we arrive in Rodney Bay, St Lucia, to be greeted by a rum cocktail.

ARC stage 3 : Preparations in Gran Canaria

25th November

Well we should have been setting off in two hours but the official start for the crusing yachts has been delayed until Tuesday because of bad weather.  Sitting here it's hard to believe that is the case: The sun is shining and a gentle breeze is blowing, the local band is serenading us along the pontoons but no-one is leaving!  I hope Tuesday won't be an anti-climax - they better serenade us off again then too!

One thing I am relieved about is that the delay will give me a bit more time to get over a nasty cold I developed on Friday - if I'm honest I wouldn't have relished setting off today.  But we'll go along to wave the racing yacht off at lunchtime - although a lot of them are apparently returning to marina after crossing the starting line.

Interestingly this is only the second time in 28 years that the start has been delayed - typical that we should be the year that it happens!  anyway, more later ....

23rd November
Enjoyed a great night last night at the Jeanneau-hosted dinner -  a chance to meet all the other Jeanneau crew and to hear their stories about sailing.  What was very reassuring was learning just how far some people have taken their yachts ... they must be very reliable!

Today has been another busy day trying to get all the last minute cleaning jobs done (Phil's tackled all the stainless with gusto), fuel cans filled up and provisions stowed.  With the exception of the fruit & veg and meat orders, everything is now on board so hopefully tomorrow afternoon we can relax a little and maybe visit Las Palmas old town.

Tonight is the farewell cocktail party and tomorrow night we'll enjoy a send-off dinner before getting a reasonably early night in readiness for Sunday.  Not long to go now!!   

22nd November

We arrived back a week later than originally planned and our feet haven't touched the ground since we landed.  Seminars, maintenance / cleaning, provisioning, socialising ... and occassionally sleeping.  There's a great atmosphere in the marina of excitement and industry as everyone readies their boat for departure.  The ARC organisers have done their safety check (which Jay Jay passed with flying colours) and we've had the rig inspected, again no problems there.  We've watched simulated air-sea rescues, learnt about managing emergencies at sea and have met people from all over the world.

Yesterday we welcomed our first crew member on board (Phil) and put him to work today servicing the engine!  Nothing like a free passage on this boat!  And tonight (Thursday) we're attending an "Owner's Dinner" organised by Jeanneau Yachts ... a good opportunity to meet the crews from the thirteen other Jeanneau boats participating in the ARC this year.  So two more days to go before the great day dawns and still the boat to be cleaned and polished top to bottom, groceries to be delivered and stowed and meals to cook for the first few days at sea. Never a dull moment but the good news is I'm not worrying about the passage ahead - no time!!

ARC Stage 2 : Northern Spain to the Canaries (about 1000 miles direct)

This leg is over twice the distance we've come so far and there's only Paul and me on board.  So we've got to share the watch by two and have decided to handle it in three-hour shifts wherever possible.  To try and ease the sleep deprivation, we plan to coast-hop down the west coast of Spain and Portugal, building up to the 5-day passage from mainland Europe to the Canaries.  We've a couple of route options which will very much depend on the time and weather .... La Coruna to Lisbon to Madeira to Gran Canaria OR La Coruna to Lisbon to Lagos to Gran Canaria, maybe calling into Rabat in Morocco.  We won't be making a final decision until we reach Lisbon and that's 350 miles or more from La Coruna, around a third of the journey.  We'll keep you posted ..... 

Lagos, Portugal to Las Palmas, Gran Canaria (640 miles)

Day 1 : It has to be said that I departed Lagos with a certain level of trepidation ... one that was almost off the scale.  It was very definitely "make or break" as far as I was concerned and I wasn't ready to say goodbye to sailing and all that entails just yet.  We'd been studying the weather forecasts for the last few days and the weather window for the crossing looked ideal ... NW and NE winds ranging between 10 and 18 knots, ideal to blow us on our way.  I'd also applied my sea-sickness patch behind my ear and had my fingers crossed this would combat any problems on that front.

So we slipped our mooring at 10am on Thursday morning and set a course of 214 degrees, hoisted the sails and away we went.  The wind was blowing a respectable 16 knots and we were making in excess of 7 knots through the water.  Our first challenge was crossing the traffic lanes for shipping coming in and out of the Straits of Gibraltar, a breeze using AIS and having the benefit of daylight.  And to add to the general atmosphere, we had a sailing yacht following us at some distance so it was looking like I might have my buddy boat after all.  As dusk fell on the first day I could just see the boat on the horizon but he was definitely falling behind.

I've never liked the dark and sailing at night always seems more dangerous than in the daytime: Lights on other vessels in the vicinity have to be interpreted and proven to be legit before I can relax.   For the first part of the night I could just make out the lights on the other yacht but then he was lost to me and the rest of the night when I was on watch passed without sight of anything.

Day 2
 : Between us Paul and I covered the night watches and managed to get some sleep.  We lost the wind at 10pm on Thursday night and so switched on the engine and auto-helm and still had it going the next morning.

When you're a long way offshore, there's not a lot to see ... the occasional cargo vessel, a bit of marine life and endless blue skies and sea.  Because sailing yachts don't travel very fast even with the sails up and motor running, your mind-set has to change - as Paul says, there's no point railing against how long a journey is taking ... it will take what it takes, and in the meantime it's an opportunity to relax, read and generally switch off from the outside world.  So I'm learning patience .... slowly!  Sadly the forecast winds haven't materialised so much of the day has been motor-sailing.  Hopefully tomorrow will be better.

Day 3 : I'm getting into the rhythm now of passage-making and the time does pass quite quickly.  This morning as the sun rose I spied another yacht on the horizon .... yippee, we're not the only mad fools out here!  As it turned out the other yacht was actually a catamaran and with two engines gunning he overtook us and disappeared from view by early afternoon.  Meanwhile we're motor-sailing along, killing the engine whenever we can achieve 5 knots on wind power alone but that's not very often.

It's getting warmer and warmer the further south we progress so even I have dug out a bikini to make the most of the October sunshine.  I'll leave you to guess what Paul is wearing .... or not!

Day 4 :   Well we're well over halfway there now with an estimated 48 hours to go.  Still no wind so we're under engine yet again.  We have enough fuel on board to motor for 5 days and it's looking like that's what we will be doing.  A sailing friend has kindly texted us daily weather forecasts and Paul remains hopeful that we might get some wind, but as at early afternoon on Sunday, we're still effectively becalmed.  At least the lack of wind has contributed to reasonably calm seas so no sea-sickness for me to date.

We've had a visitor on board today: A small dove who must have got a bit lost being so far from land and was obviously in need of a rest.  So he landed on the guard rails and several hours later is still hitching a ride, currently on the dinghy by Paul's left shoulder .... let's hope he wants to go to Gran Canaria.   We've put out bread and water (the perfect hosts, of course!) but he hasn't partaken as yet.

Dolphins continue to be regular visitors too, night and day, and, with water as clear as it is out here and the most incredible shade of blue, it's a real treat.  All being well we should be within the Canary Island chain by daybreak tomorrow, about level with Lanzarote.  Gran Canaria is another day further on.

Day 5 : Another day dawns to clear skies and warm temperatures but still no wind!!!  We can hardly believe it.  The swell has increased a bit though so possibly there is some wind to come and, in the end, we did manage to sail for 6.5 hours without the engine on.  Result!  But come dusk, the wind died and we ended up motoring through the night yet again.

When we were about 60 miles north of Gran Canaria, Paul noticed some very bright lights on the horizon: Not light configurations either of us recognised, nor moving.  We eventually left them behind us ... must have been aliens or something from Close Encounters, who knows?

Anyway, we arrived in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria at 8.45am this morning (Tuesday) tired but happy to make it.  It's a busy port and as dawn broke we could see about 12 ships waiting to gain entry. Being so small, we were able to sneak in ahead of the queue and are now moored up on a pontoon with several other ARC boats. 

So that's it for Stage 2 - just the big one to come now.  I hope my nerve holds!

Cascais to Lagos (120 miles)

We've had a lot of debate between ourselves about the route we should follow from mainland Europe to the Canaries, one being leaving directly from Lisbon for a 5 to 6 day sail to Gran Canaria.  Another option was to continue south in Portugal to the bottom south-western corner (Lagos) and leave from there (a 4 to 5 day sail, depending on wind speeds).  With the weather forecast showing no wind at all for Tuesday and very little for Wednesday this week, we decided to motor down to Lagos for a Thursday morning departure.

It's currently 10.30am on Wednesday morning and we have recently arrived in Lagos after a 22 hour journey, one that started off in rather foggy conditions.  The mournful sound of fog horns doesn't exactly fill my heart with glee but fortunately we soon left the coastal fog behind and had a reasonably clear sail to Lagos.  Here the sun is shining and after a bit of a rest, we're off to explore the town.

No more from me know until we arrive in Gran Canaria ... bet you can't wait!

Cascais and Sintra

We decided to have an extra day's "leave" in Cascais to visit the UNESCO World Heritage site that is the town of Sintra.  A 45 minute bus-ride later we arrived in the main square and immediately jumped on another one to take us to the Moorish Castle, a 9th century fortification built along the ridge line above the town.  It was actually quite an impressive sight and we spent a happy hour walking around the castle walls and admiring the views over the lovely countryside.

Next stop was Palace de Pena, a former monastery which was acquired by the King of Portugal in the mid-1800s, restored and extended and is now a testament to the opulence of the aristocracy of that time, a mixture of Moorish/Arabic decor with furnishings from all around the world.  Again, very impressive.

This area of Portugal seems well worth a visit for anyone considering a holiday!

Nazare to Cascais (Lisbon) - 75 miles

After a good night's sleep we were on our way by 9.30am armed with navigation tips from the marina manager to avoid adverse currents/tides and choppy waters.  Our friends from NZ left 30mins later and we watched them following us for the first 30 miles before they headed ashore and we ploughed our way south. We arrived at Cascais at midnight and moored up on the reception pontoon as everywhere was closed up for the night.

This morning (Sunday) the sun is shining and it's beautifully warm.  We're treating it as a "catch-up" day .... recharging our batteries and getting a few little jobs done before we undertake the next passage.  After lunch in the cock-pit we headed off into the old town to explore.

Incidentally, we have finally caught up with one or two other ARC participants.  We'd begun to think we were the last boat heading south but now can add another three to that.  Whether any of them will become a buddy boat for us is doubtful, but at least it's nice to know we're not the only ones on the last minute!

Baiona to Nazare (150 miles)

We left Baiona at 10am on Thursday morning for another overnight sail down the coast of Portugal this time.  The sun was shining in a clear blue sky, the sea-state was favourable but still no wind!  So it looked like another motoring marathon, and so it proved for the first six and a half hours but then, suddenly, we had wind.  So we deployed the whisker pole for the first time, poling out the foresail so it could catch the wind better, and away we went.  Not great speeds I grant you but lovely to not have the relentless thrum of the engine.  Sadly the wind died again after another six hours so we were back to motor-sailing again.

It's definitely getting warmer too ... warm enough for Paul to shed his clothes and his inhibitions to feel the sun on his body.  I'm pleased to report I preserved my modesty!  But it was very relaxing lying out on the deck, keeping watch, but letting the auto-helm take the strain.  And after 30 hours at sea we arrived in Nazare mid-afternoon on Friday.  The marina isn't the prettiest we've been to but is sheltered and friendly and, amazingly, two friends we made in La Coruna were already here.  So we enjoyed pre-dinner drinks on their boat and a good chat about where they have been since we last saw them.  They have the luxury of no time-table to stick to, and so are leisurely coast-hopping there way to Gibraltar.  No overnight sails and sleep deprivation for them ...lucky devils!

Whilst we were still in Spanish waters, we were visited several times by dolphins.  They seem to hang out in pods of two or three but as soon as one pod is enjoying itself swimming at the bow of the boat, more join and before long there may be around 12 or more swimming alongside.  They're amazingly agile, dodging under the bow from one side to another.  And they certainly put on a show for an audience ... flips and tail splashes are all part of the repertoire.  We were standing on the bow looking down at them and they repeatedly swam on their sides looking up at us, almost checking that we were still watching.  Whilstever we watched, they continued to put on their performance and stayed with us well over half an hour.  Interestingly, as soon as we stopped they melted away. 

The presence of the dolphins makes the Atlantic seem more friendly somehow, as does the sunshine too.  But the prospect of the 5-day passage across to the Canaries is beginning to loom large in my mind now and I'm pretty apprehensive.  My ideal scenario would be to find a "buddy boat" to sail down with.  Here in Nazare there is one such boat leaving for Madeira in a day or two.  I don't think we're going to wait that long though so will press on south to Lisbon as originally planned.  Hopefully there will be other such boats in Lisbon, and Lagos if we decide on that route.  If not we'll simply have to knuckle down to it and pray the weather and sea-state are kind to us.  Gulp!

La Coruna to Baiona (125 miles)

Arrived back into La Coruna on Sunday night (30th September) to find Jay Jay waiting patiently for us. After a long days travelling I couldn't face rushing around on Monday morning to enable us to set off that afternoon, so I persuaded Paul to delay departure until Tuesdsay morning. And I'm so glad we did as we spent an enjoyable few hours with an Australian couple who have just bought a 48' catamaran and plan on sailing her back to Freemantle over the next few years. I hope our paths cross on several occasions in the future.

It doesn't get light here until after 8am so on Tuesday morning we got up in the dark! Anyway, we were underway by 9.30am and 24 hours later arrived in Baiona, where we are currently berthed. Long-distance passage making with only two people on board is tough: Sleep deprivation is difficult to manage. But we did manage (just!) and arrived safely. Today has been lovely - warm and sunny (yes,back into shorts and T-shirts already) and a chance to explore the old town of Baiona as well as the very impressive citadel overlooking the harbour.

The rewards of meeting new people and exploring places we would otherwise have never visited does make up for the hard slog of sailing 120 miles before you get to the next place. And with time a little bit against us to get to the Canaries by the 16th October, I do feel under some pressure to treat this trip more as a boat delivery than a holiday. But with fair winds, we should be able to spend a day or two along the route sight-seeing and enjoying a glass of wine. And on that note, I'll sign off and go and enjoy one now!

La Coruna : North-West Spain

To be honest, not being an officianado of naval history, I'd never heard of La Coruna before Paul stopped off here last September delivering a boat on to Gibraltar.  But what a lovely surprise .... the old town is charming with buildings and churches dating back to the 13th century.  Plus a lighthouse (Torres de Hercules) which dates back to Roman times and is still operational following restoration in Victorian days.  We actually used it to guide us in last Saturday morning so can definitely vouch for its use as well as its beauty.

Santiago Di Compostella was another lovely old town and is a shrine for many  pilgrims who walk from their homes with back-packs and staff.  We took the local train to get there on Sunday and, after a relaxed lunch, strolled around the old town, visiting the cathedral which was really beautiful - gilded to within an inch of its life!

Paul & Bridget went home on Tuesday so our thoughts have turned to readying Jay Jay for her next passage .... the 1000+ miles to Gran Canaria, via Madeira.  It's a daunting prospect for me but we've broken it down into chunks so I should be able to manage.  The longest stage will be from Lisbon to Madeira, approximately 500 miles (4 days).

Well that's all for now ..... I'll be back online in early October.

ARC Stage 1 : Crossing the Bay of Biscay

After a rather hectic August readying Jay Jay for departure, the day dawned when we had to finally slip our berth in Plymouth and head off for the Atlantic Ocean - a scary moment.  But we did it and 90 hours later arrived in La Coruna, Northern Spain where it´s 30 degrees and the sun is shining.

Did I enjoy the crossing?  Not all of it if I´m honest.  It was a long slog through pretty rough seas and the sleep deprivation was hard to handle.  I´m always more vulnerable to motion sickness when I´m tired so the combination of big seas and general lack of sleep by/on the second day let the dreaded sea-sickness get a hold.  But there´s no getting off when you´re 200 miles from land so you just have to get on with it.  And now the sense of achievement of having made the crossing has kicked in so it all seems worth it.  Rose-coloured spectacles are always the best kind!

I have learnt a lot from the experience, lessons which I will put into practice on stage 2 (Spain to The Canaries, via Madeira) - drink more (water!!); sleep at every opportunity; pre-prepare as many meals as possible and remember boats are designed to float!!   Jay Jay did handle the conditions very well and delivered us safely ... a few bruises but that´s about all.

We were accompanied on the crossing by a lovely couple, introduced to us by Ed, one of our Atlantic comrades, and the four of us got on tremendously well. So besides Paul & me, we had Paul & Bridget along for the ride.  Their experience levels are similar to ours and so we made for a good and competent team.  Having two Pauls on board did add to the confusion but both Bridget and I found that at least one of them would respond to us at any time!

So now we have a few days in Northern Spain to do a few jobs on Jay Jay in readiness for the next leg of our trip, but also to enjoy some down time.  We´re off to Santiago Di Compostella tomorrow for a touristy day out and plan on a nice meal and a glass or two this evening.   That´s all for now.....

England 2012 - Hoping for a chance to sail!

I started the year with the vain hope of us having various UK sailing adventures during 2012: The Scillies, Channel Islands and a trip up to the west coast of Scotland via Northern Ireland.  Not to mention shorter passages along the south coast - trips to Cornwall, the Hamble and Isle of Wight were all on my radar.  And with March being such a beautiful month, I thought all of our dreams would be answered.

And then the water companies announced a hose-pipe ban back in April and that was the end of the warm and sunny weather, with one or two short excpetions.

The upshot is we have achieved very little in the way of sailing with our only trips being a week to the Channel Islands in May and a recent 2-day trip to Fowey.  A very disappointing season so far this year .... and it's already mid-July.

The Channel Island passage gave me my first experience of crossing a traffic separation scheme - effectively a motorway for commerical shipping running along the middle of the English Channel.  Wisely or otherwise, we hit it at 10.30pm one Sunday night in May and I have to say I found the experience quite surreal.  Seeing lots of different lights on vessels bearing down on you is pretty scary but Paul, Phil (our crewmate) and I worked well as a team and we crossed the TSS unscathed.  I do think I now know what a hedeghog feels like when having to cross the M5!

Guernsey was a great island to visit - beautiful yet laid back and we thoroughly enjoyed our few days exploring the island by bus.  Jersey by contrast was a disappointment: Much more hustle and bustle and lacking in the intimacy of its neighbour.  The passages to/from the Channel Islands were also completely different: Crossing over on a clear day/night with calm seas was a very enjoyable sail but the return trip under grey skies on a rolling sea was quite a different matter.  Despite five layers of clothing, and an hot water bottle tucked down the front of my salopettes, I was cold and pretty miserable.  I can't tell you how glad I was to get back to Plymouth ....

Our recent short trip to Fowey restored my faith in the whole boat-owning thing .... thank goodness!!

Hopefully we'll manage a few more trips in the 6 weeks we have left before we set sail for northern Spain on the first leg of our sail down to the Canaries.  It would be great to get a bit more practice of handling Jay Jay before we cross Biscay.

30th October 2011 - The Inaugural Passage!

10 days on from completing on the deal, weather conditions had prevented us from moving Jay Jay from Torquay marina to her new home in Plymouth Yacht Haven.  Generally pretty high winds, interspersed with no wind at all, conspired to making the day for the first sail somewhat elusive.

One thing we were introduced to whilst out in the Caribbean was a very useful weather forecasting tool called "Grib Files" (www.ugrib.com).  This website allows you to download weather maps (showing wind direction and strength, plus rain bands) for anywhere in the world and to jump forward up to 7 days ahead in anything between 1 and 12 hour intervals to see how weather patterns are likely to develop.  It's really useful.  So day by day we were checking the Grib Files for the English Channel trying to identify the weather window to make the trip.  We'd both worked out a passage plan and knew the journey would take us about 8 hours, and it had to be timed so we rounded Start Point with the tide in our favour.  Eventually on Saturday 30th October with forecast winds of 15-20 knots we made our way down to Torquay for the big trip.

I was feeling pretty apprehensive, especially when we arrived at the marina to see a F7 forecast.  If it had just been me, I'd have probably turned around there and then but instead we got on board and departed the marina within the hour. 

Well the Grib Files were wrong and the F7 forecast was right!  So we made our way by tacking backwards and forwards into winds ranging from 25-35 knots south-west from Torquay prior to turning west once we'd rounded Start Point.  The seas were rather messy and big, especially around Start Point where tidal races add to the general boisterousness of the waters!  But Jay Jay handled them effortlessly even with me on the helm much of the time!!

8 hours later, all bar ten minutes, we arrived into Plymouth Yacht Haven tired and quite cold but at least not wet, thanks to our wet weather gear.  Whilst I have to say late October in the Channel isn't quite the Caribbean, we were pleased with how Jay Jay handled and despite the somewhat adverse conditions I can honestly say I didn't feel one moment of concern during the passage.  Quite a chilled and competent sailor I must have become!!

October 2011 - Buying and berthing a boat!

It's been an expensive and somewhat challenging month!  As soon as Paul returned from his delivery trip, we had to make our final decision about whether or not to go ahead with Jay Jay.  Paul's experiences allowed him to be making a decision from a very informed viewpoint, but I didn't have the benefit of a long passage to draw on and so had to be guided by him.  For 48 hours we argued the case both ways: It's a scary time to be investing in a boat when the global economy is all at sea.  But eventually we decided that's where we should be so
 we jumped in and completed the deal.

The panic then set in as to where we should keep her.  We knew there was space in Torquay but the cost was pretty prohibitive and, coupled with the busy road to get there, we preferred the Plymouth option.  So we drove down to Plymouth to make enquiries.  First stop was Queen Anne's Battery Marina - ideally placed on the Barbican side of Cattewater and the most economically priced.  But I didn't like it nor the immediate surroundings and so I persuaded Paul to drive around to our old marina from Four Jays days, namely Plymouth Yacht Haven.  Whilst not so conveniently placed for access to the city centre, the atmosphere of the place was so much better .... or maybe it was just a case of being somewhere familiar!  Only problem was, they didn't have a big enough berth available for Jay Jay other than out on the "tuning fork" pontoon, not really part of the marina proper.

By this point we were wondering what to do: Accept the QAB berth in a marina I didn't like or compromise on the tuning fork berth at the marina I did!   We left Plymouth to drive home with a big decision to make but, within 10 minutes of our departure, the Yacht Haven dockmaster phoned to say one of the existing berth holders was looking to sell on the remaining 2 years and 4 months left on his contract.  So, to cut a long story short, we were able to secure a berth at the marina we wanted at a discount.  Excellent!!

One thing we have realised this month is that Jay Jay is actually quite a big boat for UK waters.  Having been out in the Caribbean on Pandora (a 47' long yacht if you remember, and relatively small for out there) we thought Jay Jay at 42' was quite modest.  Wrong!  Many of the marinas we have spoken to only have a limited number of berths for a boat as big as ours .... as Paul says, we're sailing with the big boys now.

So on Thursday 20th October 2011 we became the new owners of Jay Jay and clattered off down to Torquay marina with a car full of equipment and kit .... plus some homely touches to make her feel like ours.  

30 September 2011 - Home Alone!

Well I've been left at home holding the fort whist the Cap'n helps deliver Heartbeat IV, somewhat envious to be missing out on the adventure and experience, but also a little relieved that Paul is attempting the dreaded Bay of Biscay for a practice run before taking me across next year!

In the brief conversations I've had with him, it's obvious he's been on a roller-coaster of emotions about longer passage making and what it means for our sailing plans going forwards.  When he called me from Falmouth after the pretty horrendous first 36 hours, the probability of us revising our plans to involve a smaller and cheaper yacht based in the UK was high.  However, even 4 hours later when they had got things fixed and decided to push on for Spain, his usual enthusiasm had returned and everything was back on for us to sail the Mediterranean in our own boat next year.  The boy doesn't stay down in the dumps for long!

Brief phone calls from La Coruna and Baiona have followed to provide me with an update on progress.  It was a big relief to know they had arrived safely in Spain - being out of contact for several days is a worrying thing.  One thing that is clear, it's obvious Paul is enjoying the experience and taking a lot from it generally.  The more experience he has the better as far as I'm concerned!

A surprise phone call on Wednesday revealed them to be Sines in Portugal, just south of Lisbon, where they had had to stop to refuel.  Just a brief stop but nice for the land-crew to know things were still on track.  Paul said he was hoping they would make Gibraltar late on the 30th September or even early 1st October, before a strong Levanta wind blows up heading out of the Med, meaning they would be beating straight into it.  If it arrives early, then their last 36 hours could be similar to their first!

Anyway, he should be back home late on Sunday 2nd October full of stories about his first long passage.  It'll be lovely to welcome him back, hear about the adventure and then, I guess, the serious discussion has to start about where we go from here.  Watch this space!!!

24 Nov 2012

[Captains Blog] Las Palmas

We went to the Skippers' briefing at noon today after checking out with our passports this morning. At this briefing, we were told the rules and regulations for the start of the race tomorrow. Having imparted all the instructions, we then looked at the weather forecasts for the Canaries area and discussed the wind strength and wave heights. All in all it didn't look too promising as there is a weather front moving down to Gran Canaria which will bring high winds (F9) and high waves (5meters+) right on our noses. Some consternation in the briefing room, but generally a resignation that the start of the race was going to be rough. Then the announcement that the start has been delayed until Tuesday for the cruising division (which we are in) unless boats opt to still depart on Sunday.

We are relatively short handed with only 4 crew. Debra has gone down with a  severe head cold this morning and is not up to crewing at the moment, Ed is mid-cold, Phil is a novice, which would have meant a difficult couple of days ahead if we were to leave as originally planned. Thank you to the powers above for the 2 day respite. It allows us some body mending time and will mean that we start in better conditions where we can still enjoy the experience rather than being stretched from the start.

Disappointing that we will need to change some flight plans for crew members, but I think it is for the best in the long-run. So now, we will be departing on Tuesday afternoon. It gives us the opportunity to do some sight-seeing on the island on Monday if the rain ever stops, otherwise a movie afternoon might be in order. Watch this space!

22 Nov 2012

[Captains Blog] Las Palmas, Gran Canaria

Two days to go before we depart. Life has been somewhat hectic to say the least, and with all the jobs that needed doing, I haven't had any time until now to think about my blog.

What have I done so far? Well, we had to have the boat safety checked by the ARC people. This was a comprehensive list of all things required to make the passage as safe as possible, with multiple redundant bits of kit in case the others failed. Six parachute flares (in addition to the two in the liferaft) Four red hand-held flares (in addition to the two in the liferaft), four white flares, two orange smoke flares, all to be housed in a waterproof container, along with gloves and goggles - and that's just for starters.

It didn't help that I went down with Montezumas revenge the night before last which laid me up for the best part of a day. Something I ate clearly didn't agree with me and I had the equivalent of a nuclear explosion around the midriff that caused two tsunamis going in opposite directions at the same time.

We did have a pleasant evening last night with Paul and Sheryl Shard (famous for their "Distant Shores" travel programme) - we invited them on board for drinks and they ended up staying for dinner as well. Really good banter around the table and good advice from people who have sailed the equivalent of 4 times round the world.

Tonight involved attending a Jeanneau dinner for the 15 boat crews in the ARC. Skippers had their photos taken, had to make a small speech and overall a good time was had by all. We managed to blag a really big Jeanneau flag to fly from Jay Jay as we depart Las Palmas - should hopefully get a photo of our boat and us into the Jeanneau website!

So, back to what we have achieved since Saturday: We now have compass lights that are independent of the navigation lights, several new fuel cans to bolster the fuel supplies, oil changed in the engine, a new oil filter, a plank of wood that I found on the quayside will be used as a brace for the fuel cans on deck, new swivel blocks fitted, rigging checked and given the 'all clear', weight redistribution on board to balance the boat, and many many more. The atmosphere here in Las Palmas is simply electric - so many jobs being done by so many people, all to the same deadline. A trip to the chandlers takes 1 hour minimum. You have to take a ticket like the ones in the delicatessen counter at Waitrose and wait for your turn to come around to be served. Also, nothing is priced - you simply pay the bill when you have selected your wares. Having said that, we are meeting many really nice people from several countries, exchanging ideas, and swapping things like books and movies. We should now have enough literature and entertainment to keep us going for a few months in the Caribbean, and some friendships that will last too.

The last 2 days will see the final bits and bobs done, Jay Jay cleaned and shining, the final provisioning and stowage complete, final refuelling, and then it is time for the off. Can't wait!

7 Nov 2012

[Captains Blog] Getting Excited

I have been awake since 3am thinking of all the jobs that need to be complete before we embark on our odyssey. Sadly, Ken, Debra's father died recently and we have delayed our return to Gran Canaria by a week to be able to organise and attend his funeral which is on Friday this week. Thankfully, his passing was a peaceful one, and was due to heart failure rather than the Parkinson's Disease he has been fighting for the last 15 years or more.

We have a few jobs to do in the business before we leave on the 17th, including the repair of part of a ceiling that fell down in the guest dining room on Sunday morning - not a pretty sight to wake up to, and the cause of some frenetic cleaning before the guests arrived for their breakfast. That aside, there are some other organisational tasks to be put into place next week, and I need to intersperse these with a visit to my parents. No rest for the wicked!

When we get back on board, I will be adding a 110ah battery to the existing bank to allow us a bit more power in between charges, a new switch to allow independent operation of the binnacle compass lights, replacing the downhaul that chafed through on our journey down to Las Palmas, attending the seminars that skippers are supposed to join, having the boat checked out for safety, getting the rigging checked, and no doubt attending to one hundred other little tasks that need doing. After that, I may get a few minutes to enjoy the build-up. We (the crew) have been invited by Jeanneau, the manufacturers of Jay Jay to attend a dinner they are hosting for the Jeanneau boats entering the ARC which will be nice, plus there are happy hours on the dockside every evening to get the crews together. It would be a shame not to participate, so we will force ourselves to join in!

Hopefully our crew are getting excited rather than apprehensive. I am really looking forward to setting out on this epic journey, and hope that we all enjoy the passage. We have planned several activities to keep us occupied, including some high-brow poetry, lots of singing (Phil is keen that we enter Rodney Bay singing in perfect harmony and with great gusto), and even some language lessons.

Can't wait!

22 Oct 2012

[Captains Blog] Back in Blighty

Back on solid ground, things are very unsettled for us. I think we are a bit 'all at sea' if you will pardon the pun. We don't seem to be able to focus on anything, and are really only killing time before getting back on board. Debra forgets that she should be very proud of herself (as I am of her) for achieving what she has so far - she has done a longer passage than necessary to qualify her for Ocean Yachtmaster assessment but seems to overlook that. Crewmembers are getting butterflies, understandably. We only have 5 weeks to go, and it is suddenly all very real.

Do I believe that there is any danger associated with the trip? Honestly, No.

Jay Jay has been kitted out with all the safety equipment needed to make this a very safe trip. She is a robust solid boat more than capable of handling herself well, and I have no doubts about her. Crew wise, we are well provided with experienced sailors. Provisioning has been done thoroughly, and with the exception of fresh produce and extra water, we are ready to go. My only focus is on getting all 4 crew safe and happy to our destination(s). If I achieve that, I will have done my job.

Jay Jay sits in the marina at Las Palmas, being watched over by other ARC members, and we will treat her to a good fettling (cleaning) before we depart the marina for the starting gate and gun that will be fired at 13:00 on 25th November to markthe start of the crossing. We will be one of the boats under the gaze of thousands of spectators who apparently crowd the coastline to wave the participants off, at least two of whom will be focusing on us.

Which route will we take?

We will leave Las Palmas which is on the north-east side of Gran Canaria, and head south down the east of the island until we claer the land, then it should be south-west using the Canaries current and hopefully the prevailing winds until 'the butter melts' and we are at about 20 degrees north. From there, we should be well into the trade wind belt, where we can head due west and aim for St Lucia. The crossing is about 2800 nautical miles and should take us approximately 18-20 days.

16 Oct 2012

[Captains Blog] Las Palmas

Having finally completed the leg from Lagos direct to Las Palmas, we arrived at daybreak to find that the port authorities decided to ignore my calls over the radio to ask for permission to enter the port. As I got no reply, I decided to go ahead anyway, but just as we were about to round the breakwater, we were cut off by the port police launch with its blue lights flashing. Our instant thought was that we were in trouble, but I had my case prepared in the event that they got snotty with us.  The Port policemen didn't speak much English, but we gathered through sign language that they wanted us to reverse up and follow them back northwards away from the entrance. It turned out that a ferry was about to round the breakwater from the other side and once that had passed by, we were able to continue on into port. A busy place though -- there were upwards of 10 vessels standing off waiting for permission to enter. Small fry like us don't count obviously.

15 Oct 2012

[Captains Blog] Mid Canaries part of the Atlantic

The hitch-hikers guide to the Atlantic (part 1) - There we were yesterday, minding our own business when all of a sudden out of the blue (and there is a lot of blue out here) a dove appeared. This was a little perplexing since we were about 200 miles away from any form of land -- Madeira to our west, and Africa to our East, and nothing but blue water in between. But there it was. Somewhat tired as you can imagine after flying such a distance, and it was clearly in need of a resting place. It decided that our safety rail was the ideal spot, duly landed and promptly fell asleep. We didn't have the heart to disturb it and so it stayed there for a few hours. We put some water and bread out for it, but they obviously were not the flavour of the moment, and were totally ignored. 

After a while it woke up, and decided to try some different perches: The bimini, the masthead, nope, no good. The preventer for the boom (stops it flying across to the other side of the boat and breaking the boom), still not right. The Jib sheet, better, but still not right. The sprayhood cover, not too bad at all and the favourite second choice as it was here for a while too. We actually thought it would stay with us for the rest of the journey and depart when land was in sight, but no, suitably rested, it decided to take flight again and disappeared. We were quite disappointed really.

Today we had a different experience. Both Debra and I kept thinking the other one was saying something that we couldn't quite make out. No, we hadn't said anything. Calm resumed. Another voice - 'what was that you said?' 'Nothing'. And so it continued. Then late in the afternoon we started to hear a burping noise. Again looking at each other for the source of the flatulence we both denied it. Weird! It sounded as though we had a ghost aboard. So, we both listened hard to try and identify the eerie sounds and eventually Debra worked it out - one of the pulley blocks had developed a groan (can't call it a squeak) which sounded distinctly burp-like. Another anomaly solved.

Incidentally, speaking of anomalies and thinking back to the dolphins, Mac, our Norn Iron correspondent (who write under the pen name of YBBY) has been in touch to inform us that dolphins can actually split their brains in half and use one bit at a time while the other part is sleeping. I tried it myself but forgot which half was asleep and became comatose ...

10 Oct 2012

[Captains Blog] Lagos, Portugal (not Ghana)

Ever heard the story of the man who drowned in a bowl of muesli? He got pulled under by a strong current. Well, we have been harnessing these strong currents all the way down here to the Algarve. In the past few days, we have been riding the Portugal current at an average rate of 1.2 knots all the way down the west coasts of Spain and Portugal. From here down to the Canaries, we tap into the Canary Current which typically runs at 1-1.5 knots all the way to Gran Canaria. Hopefully with the following winds of 15-20 knots, we will make the passage in 4 days. Time will tell. We have been a bit pressurised to keep going because of our return flights to the UK on the 18th October, whereas our new-found friends have been cruising at a much slower pace and have had time to explore their ports at a leisurely pace. C'est la vie. Maybe another time, another place, we can take life at an easier pace. We have made some good friends already on this trip though.

We have been bereft of dolphin company in the past few days, but this morning, coming into Lagos, we were accompanied by a pod of 10-15 dolphins all showing off under the Jay Jay's bow. Really good to see them back and enjoying themselves. Perhaps they do sleep after all, and come out to playall refreshed and lively in the dawn.

9 Oct 2012

[Captains Blog] Cascais, Portugal

After an enjoyable day visiting Sintra today (a UNESCO World Heritage site) we're just about to set off again.  Given the total lack of wind, we've decided to go around to Lagos on the south-western tip of Portugal and head off for Gran Canaria on Thursday when the wind improves.  All for now ....

7 Oct 2012

[Captains Blog] Cascais, Portugal

Lobster pots. The bane of all sailors - they are simply everywhere! I'm surprised there are any lobsters left in this world given the degree of exploitation that the fishermen seem to achieve. Every route into a new port is littered (and I use that word carefully) with floats on the surface marking the pots below. Some have flags, some do not. Some have visible floats, some have empty plastic cans that bob up and down in the surf, mostly blue in colour (how sensible is that in the blue sea?) with an attached pick up float that stretches across the surface waiting for unwary sailors to motor over the top of them and get a propeller wrap. Fortunately, (and I touch wood as I write) we have avoided going over the top of one of these blights on society, but only for the grace of God. We have come perilously close on a few occasions. At night it is even worse - you just can't see that far ahead in the gloom to take the necessary avoiding action.

One other thing we have noticed from our offshore position - the number of windfarms that populate the coast is very high. At night they light up like chritmas trees with a red light to warn would-be aviators of their existence, and as the blades rotate, the lights flash - very pretty.

On a brighter note, we are at the estuarine entrance to Lisbon in a place called Cascais. We arrived here last night/this morning having motored and sailed our way into the wind that was blowing on the nose, with the last minute highlight of being escorted up the river Tagus by dolphins alongside having a whale of a time. Sounds incestuous! We woke up to sunshine and fog, were directed to our berth where we settled into the immediate requirements of slooshing down the decks, odds and ends of maintenance, toilet repairs (always a favourite of mine) and the creation of mosquito-proof window covers. We should be able to leave the hatches open tonight without fear of being mossie-supper and get the flow of air through that we desire. It is definitely warmer the further south we go - and I love it!

Debating whether to head straight for the Canaries from here or to go via Morocco (Rabat). The jury's out at the moment ...