Tuesday, 5 April 2005

The winter ends...

A reminder of what we have, hopefully, left behind- sea smoke on a cold morning

Here we sit at the end of a 12 day spell of sunny weather with skies so blue it would seem that the view could go on for ever. Absolutely stunning. Last week we removed the green tarp, determined to get Hannah back to looking like a boat rather than some allotment lean-to. What a relief! It was great fitting the tarp, knowing the protection we would get, but nothing compared to seeing Hannah out in the open again. Little damage from the weather, bit of paint rubbed off the topsides by a fender but otherwise fine. Of course having sat around all winter we now have but a few weeks to get everything ready for the next section of the trip. We have been lucky enough to borrow a sewing machine and have spent the last few days constructing a spray hood in an attempt to ease the cold weather suffering we are possibly going to endure over the next 4 or 5 months. John and Mary donated a pile of Sunbrella which we are turning into various bits and pieces and never again will I look at a sewn straight line with anything but wonder…… How do they do that?
A camera shy Bee sneaking out

This morning we were wakened at 4.30 by Hannah shuddering and lurching. We tumbled out to find the river ebbing hard and hurling lumps of ice, 5 or 6 feet long and as wide, into those of us unlucky enough to be moored on the up river side of the jetty. Moments later we were joined by Steve and Sue as their little 5 ton Vertue suffered its own assault. It isn’t the first time this has happened but it gets worse as the year advances and more ice comes from up river. Some days the whole river appears to be populated by hundreds of white islands all on their way out to sea in a sort of frozen lemmings’ parody. Other times you can only gaze at the mini ‘bergs floating by or chunks beached by the tide and wonder how on earth it missed everyone?

The snow comes and goes, comes back again and is, today, replaced by heavy rain. At least it might help melt the 6’ high piles of shovelled snow that seem to be everywhere. Winter is officially over as is, almost, our stay in the US . We attempted to extend our visas but found, as with Immigration everywhere, there are rules, convention and Kafka. Despite having left the US , when we went to Canada last September, we were deemed to have entered the US in April 2004 so our requested extension of 30 to 50 days to allow for a better weather window was turned down and we were granted 19 days, meaning we need to clear the country by April 23rd. We’ll probably leave in mid April and spend a little more time past Schoodic visiting anchorages we missed out on last time.

The vehicle of choice around here is definitely a pick up and in winter it’s easy to why. Sporting snow ploughs they offer themselves for hire or just use the things to carve a path off their property or along the local roads. Maine must have more snow ploughs than the whole of the UK . Driving around we’d see, perhaps, 3 in a line ensuring the roads are kept clear. Gritters too seem to be everywhere and roads rarely seem to get blocked or iced over. Well that’s our limited and local experience. However the downside to all this activity, apart from the gouges carved out of the road by a mis-angled plough is the immense damage down by frost heaves. Roads take on the appearance of corrugated paper as the water underground freezes, expands and creates holes, ridges or worse. Road sides are plastered with signs stating “bump” - warning drivers to slow down before their springs are wrecked. Such an innocent word! It gives an outsider absolutely no indication that 100 yards down the road you’re about to hit something that will cause your teeth to slice through your tongue as your head cannons off the roof….

April 6. The poor weather leaves and we enjoy another day or two of brilliant sunshine and a hectic work schedule. The spray hood is almost finished and will, hopefully, do its job over the next few months. We’ve added a few windows with some clear plastic Bee found in a skip and now Toots can watch the world go by from the comforts of a basket as seas heap and tumble around us…

Apr 12th a weekend of exquisite sunshine is replaced by a snow shower, a warning that, despite the date, winter still has a bit to deliver. For the most part the snow has all but gone, replaced with mud as the earth becomes saturated before drying out. However the prior good weather enabled us to get all the routine jobs completed and Sunday saw Biggles and Ginger take to the skies as Phil Rosen, aka the scallop diver, is also a qualified pilot and offered us a trip out over the local area. Bee, ever the flatterer, pointed out to Phil that he reminded her of Burt Lancaster in Local Hero. He hasn’t seen the film but suggested that being compared to someone in their eighties wasn’t too clever.......
 We flew out over the coast, crossing over a number of the anchorages we had used last year. Maine is really one of the best cruising grounds anywhere. Islands are everywhere, anchorages too and visiting boats rarely seem to get far from civilisation, so much of the more outlying places are yours. With a bright and warm sun the sea was green, sparkling and very inviting. We could feel our resolve weakening as below us lay so many unexplored areas. “Weather like this is what we need between here and Europe ” said Bee but initially how do we fit in all we’d like to do in the time left……….. It was an excellent day out which included a change over of seating arrangements so Kathy, the harbourmaster could also have a go at flying the plane. The plane was a small 4 seater job and the cockpit was reminiscent of those wonderful “bubble cars” that people drove in the ‘50’s. Mescherscmidt(?), Issetta etc so not a lot of room for climbing about without seriously altering the trim. “First time in twenty years of flying I’ve had a mid air change over” remarked our laid-back pilot. We flew out as far as Isle au Haut and beyond that lay open ocean and some serious sailing.
 A different perspective not only in speed, 120knots versus 4.5knots, but aerial views make the approaches to places look easy whilst highlighting just how shallow the water is feet away from the channel. A great day. Unfortunately it went downhill after that as Phil suggested we call in on his home and proceeded to ply us (me) with copious amounts of some evil concoction. As I suffered and grumbled my way through the following 24 hours, Bee, in one of those moments when it would be more diplomatic to keep your thoughts to yourself said..”How is it that drunks are unable to form words that anyone can understand yet know that what ever happens they must keep drinking as though their life depends on it…..”

Well the time is almost upon us and the worst moment for cruising sailors is soon to arrive. Many people ask us about what they are and what they want to hear about are the storms, near misses and shipwrecks that supposedly populate our journey. But in reality the really, really worst part is saying goodbye to friends we have made and who we may never see again. So our departure looms and friends drop by saying goodbye, chatting or extending supper invites. Some speculate about coming with us, remind us to keep in touch or leave gifts to remind us of them. We’re struck by everyone’s kindness, by this very different face of America than the one we all know from television. There is openness here, a generosity that has no hidden meaning. Something is offered from friendship, because the person thinks it may be useful to you, because your need is seen as greater or, perhaps just as a token. “Use my car, my house, shower, wood, phone. Come and eat, meet, hang out, party, make yourself at home. So many people have made our lives easier, more interesting and more comfortable. The names are many and we will write to everyone with our thanks rather than embarrass them on a webpage with their kindnesses but as a list it would read something like this: John and Mary; John and Sue; Alex; DavidD (tom selleck); Jean; Lucinda: Steve and Sue; Alistair and Joanne: Phil; Howard; Kathy; Alex and Diane; Jens and Gia; Jim; Jim; DavidH; Claire; Ross and Mary; Bill; Alan; Holly; Peter; Cy; Steve; Tom; John; Jonathan and Chris; Steve; Bruce and Sue; Dan; Margie; Adam and everyone at the Belfast Free Library. Thanks to you all from Hannah and her crew of wanderers, we hope we meet up again sometime but if not your kindness and friendship will stay with us.

So here we go again with one of our offers no sane person could refuse. Pay close attention ‘cos this is too good to miss….

We expect to cross over to Nova Scotia and spend May and June holed up/cruising and working our way north to Labrador . From Labrador we hope to cross to Greenland when the ice allows, normally in the first week of July. That month we expect to spend on the west coast getting as far as Disko Bay before turning south, rounding the southern cape (of Greenland) then heading east to Iceland for some of August. If we can find charts of the Faeroes we hope to call in on the way past, otherwise we will head for France from Iceland and then onto Southampton in early September.  If anyone fancies a berth on any part of the trip then let us know. If you’re about 5’ 8” we can even supply a set of oilies. Even more important we can supply the item that is the unsung hero of high latitude sailing. Ignored by the sailing press, never found in chandlers, yet hailed, well it is on Hannah, as being as important as any fancy bit of electrical gear. Is there anything to beat a hot water bottle on a night watch?  That’s it then, the chance of a lifetime (!?). For our part we promise to stock up on coal before we leave here and we have, mostly, up to date charts plus enough warm clothes to ensure nobody freezes. We will also endeavour to be close to the airport of your choice but no guarantees on that. If you would like to join us for any part of the trip then do let us know-just think of all those icebergs, polar bears and the 20 hours of daylight awaiting you!

And finally. We need someone to collect Tooty from Cherbourg by car. Obviously you’ll need to catch the ferry at our expense and look after Toots until we get back into Southampton which should be less than 12 hours after you do. All her paper work is up to date so no problems with customs but returning with an animal to the UK is difficult and we must conform to the regs.

Capt P Rosen attempting to hide his similarity with Burt Lancaster...…..