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 ...

3 Oct 2012

[Captains Blog] Baiona, Northern Spain

We travelled down yesterday from La Coruna, having had a boozy night with some new friends we made in the marina there. We set off at about 9:30am into the swell of the bay, rounded the corner and headed off towards Cape Finisterre. In our passage planning we had covered almost every eventuality: Wind from the north, wind from the south west, the south east and the south. Sadly, we hadn't covered the 'no wind at all' condition, which was just what we got. We motored all the way, with the exception of a brief squall that got up to 21 knots for a few minutes, then died out just as quickly as it appeared. Quite an expensive way to travel down the coast, and hopefully one that we won't have to repeat in the coming days. The passageweather.com website shows southerly winds from hereon out, so we can fly the spinnaker or pole out the jib (using the new whisker pole toy) and put a preventer on the boom on the other side of the boat and goose-wing our way down the west coast of Europe. Hopefully fruitful.

Crossing the millpond last night, we were kept company by several dolphins, attracted by the engine noise. Do they ever sleep? I have mulled that one over in my mind on several occasions. And how do they see in the dark under water to stop bumping into each other or boats? One to think some more about.

This morning at daybreak (about 9am here) we approached Baiona with the sea mist rolling along the coastline. I was beginning to think I would need the radar on to navigate into the harbour, but as it turned out, we could see well enough to spot the navigation buoys and went to the south of the south cardinal, and to the north of the north cardinal. From that point onwards, it was line of sight to our safe haven.

Having spent the day relaxing, we will have an early night tonight and be off at first light after refueling our empty tank! Depending on progress and stamina, we will aim to be in either Figuera da Foz or Nazare at the end of the next leg. We are trying to work out the best combination of watch sessions to suit our body clocks. We haven't got into the rhythm of sleeping when off watch. Something to work on before we burn out.

Marina Coruna, La Coruna

Over the past few days, I have been wrestling with the holding tank for the toilet - every time we have flushed the heads (loo) recently, there has been an indescribable odour emanating from the port side, and when you are in the cockpit, sometimes it can make you gag. So, I started to look into the problem.

I stuck a hosepipe down into the holding tank to try and flush out any blockage, and you would not believe the amount of crap that came out, but, more to the point, I was washing up gravel, some of it quite sizeable lumps. After teasing out a veritable mountain of the stuff, I decided to try and poke through from the other end ... under the boat ... and so donned my wetsuit and mask/snorkel armed with a stick to poke up the outlet hole. I was hoping to loosen more terminal moraine and force a way through but, nope, I met something very solid in the pipe that wasn't going to budge and I cut my foot right on a vein to boot!

There was only one thing for it - take the outflow pipe off the bottom of the holding tank and try to clear it of the blockage. Well, try as I might, all I succeeded in doing was burring the edges off the collar that tightened the outlet from the tank. At this point, I had to admit defeat, and called in a man. 2 hours work today (over a 6 hour period due to siesta time and other little distractions) and we now have a fully operational heads complete with holding tank that empties as it should.  You wouldn't have believed the size of some of the pebbles that finally came out of the pipe - there was no way they could have got into the tank in the first place without someone deliberately putting them there.  It's a sad old world when people maliciously damage other people's property.  We think / hope the problem pre-dates our ownership and we don't have any enemies!

While we were waiting around for the man to return after siesta, we made good inroads into cleaning the boat in readiness for departure on the 1st October which will be on the list of jobs to do tomorrow to finish what we started today. We have also worked out our passage plan down the west coasts of Spain and Portugal allowing a couple of days for some sightseeing in places we have never been before. But now, our focus is on getting back to Blighty for a couple of weeks before the next leg ...

Some of the 'pebbles' in the pipe

La Coruna - Biscay crossed

Well, leg one of the journey is over. 90 hours of open sea, some of it rather rough and choppy, particularly in the waters north of Ushant. Thankfully, this settled down after a day or so, and we have been blessed with favourable winds for the rest of the trip down. Some queasiness aboard, but no-one needed to make any use of the chuck bucket, strategically placed in the cockpit.

Getting to grips with watch on / watch off routines proved a little testing, and we needed to be flexible when the next crew member to stand watch wasn`t feeling too god, but overall, it worked out well. As a crew, we all pulled together admirably, and I´m proud of everyone aboard.

It is only when you complete a crossing like Biscay that you realise just what it entails, and how few people have actually done it. Tick in the box for Debra.

A couple of little niggles cropped up on the boat mid-passage: The water filter cover split, and I had to by-pass it with a length of pipe and some jubilee clips. It seemed to work, thankfully - we would have been without pressurised water otherwise. It´s true that necessity is the mother of invention. One of the steering wheels developed a squeak which WD40 wouldn´t cure - I need to strip out the mechnism and grease it fully before the next trip southwards.

As for the present, we have a couple of days rest and recovery looking around the area. A mini holiday break!

On the Countdown

Less than 5 weeks to go before we depart for the North of Spain and we have a crew member to join us on passage. That should make our lives somewhat easier - only two watches each per day instead of three.

The boat is almost ready - final bits and pieces to be fitted - lee cloths to keep us secure in our bunks, a galley strap to chain us to the cooker, and the freezer is a real bonus (not large, but apparently works well to maintain the temperature at -18C in 30C climates).

We have a Devon flag proudly fluttering from the port spreader to show where we come from, although most people won't have a clue what it represents. Those who do might get a prize!

We just spent a few days with our Danish friends, Hanne and Jens picking their brains about their recent return across the Atlantic from Chesapeake Bay - very useful. Debra is now on the case getting covers made for the saloon seats and making bean bag pillows as recommended by Hanne. We are also on the hunt for a whisker pole to allow us to pole out the jib when the wind is blowing from behind (which should be most of the crossing).

Phil (crew) is being put through his paces. We had a training session on Sunday with MOB (man overboard) practice, resulting in a broken boathook and some innovative method of retrieving the fender and bucket without one. It's amazing what you can achieve with an emergency tiller.

Skipper up the mast on a cloudless day in Salcombe Harbour

Hoping for a Summer so we can go sailing!

It's July already and we haven't really had any weather windows in which we can get out and sail. We are feeling very frustrated over this, but it has meant that we have been able to get most of the jobs done in readiness for our Atlantic and Caribbean odyssey.

So far, we have procured all the safety equipment we need, plus the most recent addition - a 1kw generator in case our batteries need to be topped up and/or our appliances need to be run on 230v supply. Only one thing left that is really important - the SatPhone. We are leaving this until the last moment to get the greatest advantage from the timed sim cards. I am learning more about the boat each time we go down to see her, and the jobs are being ticked off the to do list.

We also had a play with the spinnaker last weekend when we escaped for an overnighter to Fowey. 
It took us 3 attempts to get it right, but when we did, we managed 9 knots of speed from 11 knots of wind. We couldn't quite sail in the direction we wanted to, but we got the principles right, and having wrestled with the 'snuffer' a few times to close the sail and bring the big blousy red beast under control, I know that my muscles will be well honed before too long!