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!