Thursday, 18 December 2008

New York, New York……

What can we say about New York that hasn’t been said and written before? Well it took us a while to get there, involving a number of stops as winds were either too heavy, too light or from the wrong direction. We left Newport for Point Judith, the Harbour of Refuge between Long Island Sound and Buzzards Bay where we anchored for a few days. It was on the second day as we were idly listening to the VHF and the USCG and a yottie struggling to make sense of something or other that we heard a slightly hysterical “Mayday, Mayday” cut across the CG. A 42’ fishing boat with a lop-sided load was taking on water and the skipper had got everyone into survival suits whilst they attempted to stabilise the boat. The USCG took the particulars and put out a call for near-by vessels to assist until the CG boat arrived. Minutes went by and several boats indicated they were steaming to assist, including a tug pushing a huge barge. The fishing boat skipper came back on to tell the CG he had it under control and the tug skipper radioed to say he had arrived on scene. More minutes past and the CG came on to tell the tug that the CG boat would be arriving in 8 minutes or so and it was then the tug skipper came on to tell the USCG that the fishing boat ..”was going, it had begun to turn over and there were three bodies in the water, all swimming away from the sinking boat….” We were listening to this with horror as this was happening a little more than eight miles away on a day with winds of 25 knots max with seas of possibly 3 feet. Luckily everyone was picked up and came into Point Judith some time later but we felt very emotional about the whole thing and had us thinking about survival suits etc. The star of the whole thing was the tug skipper who manoeuvred his barge to protect the vessel from the breaking seas and offer some shelter to the crew once they’d abandoned ship. His radio communications were calm and very professional. Should it ever happen to us let’s hope someone like him is about.
And so into Long Island Sound and the slow movement westward toward New York. We enjoyed the time in there, not least when we heard the name “Blackthorn”, Robin and Jackie’s boat on the VHF. We called them up but later realised they were 30 or so miles behind us and we’d heard Towboats US talking to them with a powerful transmitter regarding the entry into Mystic. (That’s a harbour not a spiritual destination). We tucked up for a few days and then on a day with little wind we had a half-hearted attempt at calling them ourselves and were shocked to hear them respond. With one of those quirks of coincidence we had called as they were passing a few miles to seaward of us and on their way to a nearby anchorage. We headed out after them and have had the pleasure of company for the last few weeks. Returning to the USCG and rescues for a moment - it was the Sound that we heard the coastguard inform a searching CG boat that the person they were looking for had last been seen in the water…”opposite Billy Joel’s house….”
The entrance into New York from Long Island takes you in via the East River and where Harlem River joins it, is an area known as Hells Gate.

As ever with Pilot Books the warnings are stark and certainly if you were daft enough to attempt to motor against it then it would a very long journey as the tide runs at anything from 3-6 knots but it was, for us, fine and both boats cruised along on a misty morning with the southern end of Manhattan opening up alongside us. Building spotting became the pastime of the moment as we tried to identify the more famous ones….which in our case ended after the Empire State building as the rest just seem huge skyscrapers.
 Which isn’t to say it isn’t inspiring; and then as we almost reached the end of the river we caught our first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty, beckoning us toward our anchorage for the night. This city really is remarkable in that, as we crossed a very busy harbour with ferry boats going every which way and taking no prisoners, we knew we were going to anchor behind one of the worlds most famous landmarks. For free!
 And so it was; true the channel is narrow and, for us, shallow, particularly at low water but as we dropped the hook and the sun set we could clearly see the head, shoulders and raised arm bathed in spotlights.
The following day we had intended to cruise up river to pick up a buoy at the 79th Street Marina but as it was foggy decided to stay put. But on Sunday, November 9th we pulled out into the harbour with Blackthorn on a beautiful sunny day. We cavorted around the Statue to get photos of each other and then began
raising sail to potter the 7 miles up to the marina.
We had the whole river to ourselves, the sun gleamed, buildings sparkled and Manhattan couldn’t have looked finer and many photos were taken as we took in the sights of this incredible city.

 Of course the whole time here I could hear Rodgers and Harts wonderful “Manhattan” playing in my head…… even though most of the buildings you see here are actually in New Jersey…..
The anchorage behind the statue is on the New Jersey side and you needed to take a ferry to Manhattan in order to get amongst it but the marina rents out mooring buoys for $30 per night and it’s a 15 minute walk
to Central Park from there. With showers and free washing machine it’s a great place to explore the city and we wandered through Central Park, Times Square and back.
Unfortunately the current in the river rips along so timing is everything when getting from the boat to the shore and back.
 Whilst we enjoyed the brief time we had, we much preferred the solitude of our Liberty anchorage so the following day, leaving Robin and Jackie to try and locate the camera they’d mislaid and enjoy the town we headed back. And ran aground in the entrance trying to get in too early but heh, no big deal.
We got off about an hour later and rowed ashore to explore a little of Springsteen’s home town – a local trucking company has lines from his songs emblazoned on the cab doors and found ourselves fascinated by a wood pulping company’s operation we viewed from a bridge. Took some photos and wandered on. A mile or so later we were “accosted” by a guy in a truck who asked what we were doing taking photos of the wood yard. He accepted the explanation but it left us feeling a little uncomfortable.
 The last part of New York we’d decided would be to go down to Coney Island where, we believed, it was possible to anchor and then catch the “subway” into town. We set off but were soon overtaken by a USN aircraft carrier with its escort of Police and USCG as we were picked up by the ebbing tide and rushed away from the skyline. Working our way round the south side of Coney, crossing very shallow water we slid into Sheepshead Harbour to find it very crowded with moored boats and I felt we’d need to look for an alternative. But spotting a figure working on a mooring barge, Bee leapt into the dinghy and rowed over to ask him where a good place to anchor might be. She came back saying the anchorage was at the far end but the guy said we could use one of the club buoys, as could Blackthorn who had heard us on the radio and were only a mile or so behind us. Not only did we get the use of the buoy but he gave us a key to the club-house giving us access to the internet and showers!
 In the end whilst we didn’t use the buoys as they weren’t suitable for heavy boats we thoroughly enjoyed the hospitality, the friendship and great advice. So, Coney Island –it’s a great place to get into Manhattan and we did , wandered around the streets, visited Grand Central Station and a wonderfully ornate Central Library. Unlike R&J and Pete & Lucia (now sadly, for us, back in England) our ability to take in the sights is minimal so whilst we can say we’ve been to NY we certainly haven’t seen much of it. But the following day Irving, our man from the mooring barge, ran us down to the Boardwalk area of Coney Island. I’m making an assumption here that the Drifters song “Under the Boardwalk” is based on this area but what it doesn’t mention, probably because they hadn’t yet arrived, are the amazing Russian shops. Carousel, hot dogs and French fries in abundance though and we managed to sneak a plate of chips in Nathans, an apparently “World Famous” for its Hot Dogs. World Famous in this case should be taken in the same context as “World Series” i.e. it’s something known or played only by Americans. Having said that, the chips were pronounced a winner by Bee, who considers herself an authority on said potatoes.
 Shops full of the most incredible foods and beers (the ones we were interested in anyway) they stretch along a main street with a huge variety of smaller stores between them. Apparently Russians began arriving about 20 years ago and settled the area as it reminds them of Odessa. In that time they have carved out significant lives for themselves as retailers; property developers and more. We loved the area and rated it as one of our favourite experiences.
 As we walked back from this trip we came across a Holocaust Memorial Garden. Simply done with granite “boulders” they carried names of individuals or background information on the death camps. It seems, to me at any rate, that no matter how well known the facts are to you, seeing something as physical as this is still very moving.
But time was moving on and we needed to get ourselves heading south, away from Coney, Brooklyn and this very friendly yacht club. They keep themselves to themselves, are very down to earth with no airs and graces but if you happen to fall in with them you’ll count yourself very lucky. And no, we’re not telling you the name of the club.

With a favourable forecast we all felt we could either do the 270 mile trip to Norfolk in one hit or, as was more likely if it proved very cold, we’d stop in Cape May on the edge of the Delaware Bay. We kept close to shore as we sailed south but that afternoon the winds became very light and with the forecast of a 40 knot blow for the following day we both motored to keep the speed up. Along this coast there are very few places you can creep into, especially with a deep draft boat, so we kept on through the night. In the distance we could see a glow of a city and as we drew closer the inevitable skyscrapers could be distinguished and then we stared in amazement at buildings alive with laser light shows and more. We were passing Atlantic City, home to Trump Towers and a well known gambling city (although not to us as we only realised this when listening to the local radio station) Onward we crept and 22 hours after setting off we motored up the harbour entrance with the tide flooding and into a very shallow anchorage. It blew that day and later on we watched as huge black clouds worked their way out to sea from south of us. Had we carried on we knew that it would have been a wet, windy and very uncomfortable ride. Luck was with us.
Couple of days later headed out for the longer leg down to Norfolk, Virginia but first had to cross the shallows outside the harbour where wind over tide combined with the shallows to produce steep breaking seas. Bee, who was on the foredeck sorting out a headsail, said she’d never been swamped by such seas since Greenland so we weren’t very happy. Luckily it was only about 10 miles across so we eventually cleared it and settled down for what we all knew was going to be a cold day and a colder night. Speeds were good, rarely dropping below 5.5 knots and we rejoiced in the fact that at this rate we’d be into the yard by early morning. We should have known better….. In the early hours of Friday morning it began to drizzle which rapidly turned to snow and life was miserable. (Remember this when you imagine us lolling around in the heat, sipping chilled drinks…)But things pass and we arrived off Cape Charles with a wind that was fading and threatening to head us. Although we have only entered the Chesapeake once before it left a scar; the town of Norfolk and Portsmouth lie about 30 miles from the entrance and its hard work getting there. This time we’d arrived off the entrance with only an hour of favourable current and so faced a long slog. We motored to clear the bridges and then set about sailing the remainder. Blackthorn wisely chose to push on as another band of low pressure was coming through but we played at sailors and beat back and forth until a wind shift put us the wrong side of a shallow bank and we came to our senses and motored to get clear and a better angle on the wind. However the wind now began to pick up and all the while a huge aircraft carrier was working its way up the bay escorted by Coastguard vessels. The CG were hailing small boats in its path and informing them that they must maintain a distance 500 yards under penalty of death or worse and eventually they hailed us. “Was this the best speed we could produce”? and “You must be prepared to clear the channel to enable the Dwight D Eisenhower to pass” As we were sailing at over 6 knots we thought that this was a nerve but we cleared the channel anyway then hove to whilst putting in another reef and then watched with ill-concealed annoyance when the carrier was manoeuvred into its dock astern of us and nowhere near to our position. We called the CG up, cleared with them, moved off, met up with Blackthorn already at anchor but agreed that we’d head onto the yard where Cary had offered us berths. Cary, you may remember, is the owner of Red Bird, the boat we’d worked on in the summer. Then the yard was a haven of tranquillity, but now the wind kicked up a chop and reversing into the piles would be a real trial with a strong wind from the beam. It went well enough to begin with but before long no amount of manoeuvring could prevent the bow blowing off and we found ourselves up against the piles. A struggle ensured but, with some judicious advice from Joe and Cary we managed to get in to the berth. Robin and Jack wisely chose to await a calmer moment before they reversed into the next door berth as they had our bowsprit to contend with as well as the stiff wind.
So here we are with a few days to go before R&J also head back to England/Ireland for a few weeks. We’ll stay on here a little longer before heading down the ICW to avoid the various Capes that lie between here and, hopefully, better weather.
Dec 12th A short update; last week we ran the engine to charge the batteries and heard an ominous rattling noise…. To shorten the long tale we removed the gearbox to get to the drive plate and found the input coupling had parted. A call to Greg in Belfast Boatyard started the ball rolling and within days we had a replacement, thanks to Alex and Howie, on its way from Herts. via California to here. As yet we still don’t know why it happened but will let you know. I can’t believe the problems we have had with this set up and wonder if the gearbox and drive plate are up to the hours we put in. Any ideas out there?    

Friday, 21 November 2008

“How can you miss them if they won't go away………”

 Is it really September? Already we’re behind with this update, as we shelter up Somes Sound from Tropical Storm Hanna which is due to hit Penobscot Bay tomorrow. Luckily we’re a little further east so the worst might miss us. We’re on Mount Desert Island and have caught a free bus into Bar Harbour to use the internet. It would have been fine had I remembered to bring the wireless connection bit with me but at least I can get this started.

The splashing of Hannah eventually took place and we settled in for a week or so of visits and last minute jobs. The day before we launched we got a message, via the yard, that Pete and Lucia were arriving in 5 weeks so we’d have that to look forward to when we returned from Canada. We spent the week-end after the launch sorting out the mizzen etc and then to our surprise we spotted a bright yellow boat creeping up the harbour and realised that P&L had indeed arrived. The message turned up to be one of those “send reinforcements..” and had actually been that they intended to be here on Monday and haul out in 5 weeks. Ah well at least they had arrived safely as thunderstorms were everywhere further south.
We tested the anchor system and found that worked perfectly. Well almost. We had to make a couple of changes but it has transformed the whole procedure and makes it all a lot safer and quicker. Next is to build and install a high pressure power washer to clean off the mud that clings to the chain and anchor*
So here all 3 Brits were in Belfast Harbour with various plans as to what we all intended to do. P&L left first to develop their “no more than 10 miles a day strategy” leaving 2 boats to finish off their work schedule. We’d got a local company called Art’s Canvas to run us up a doghouse shelter screen to stop winds blowing rain into the saloon and we were knocked out with the result. The effect is to create a warm, cocoon like atmosphere in which Toots stretches out and sleeps or sits peering through the ‘cathouse’ windows surveying her territory. We also took a friend out for a taster on Hannah but the lack of winds made it a poor sailing day and much of the winds for August have been like this. September it usually begins to improve and we’re looking forward to that.

 October 12. As the world plunges deeper into financial market we’re back in Belfast getting a bit of cementing done and saying goodbye to fellow cruisers as paths split. We arrived back about a week ago having cruised up to St Andrews and hung about before re-entering the US and collecting a fresh visa. The biggest change from 4 years ago is the number of boats we saw beyond Schoodic and even our favourite anchorage, in this part of the world, had 3 or 4 other boats already at anchor when we arrived. We had sailed that part of the journey with Robin & Jackie off Blackthorn and a day or so later they headed off as they needed to complete more paperwork than us. We delayed our exit until the rising tide as the entrance is a little tricky. Didn’t wait long enough or I strayed too far from the, unmarked, channel and we found ourselves hung up on a rock, pirouetting gently until we floated off. Ah well we’d know better next time….. One of our anchorages was in the lee of 26 radio towers the US navy used to communicate with their nuclear subs in the cold war days. At night we would gaze out at these huge towers, each with several red pulsating lights as they formed some sort of sci-fi backdrop to lobster buoys, fir trees and seals. A bumpy ride took us up to Campabello Island where we snuck in for the night before heading onto St A to book in and spend a week or so with R&J and Martang, a Dutch single-hander. It was a much needed break from both work and the last week or so of intense social activity and we both tried to unwind and recharge our emotional batteries with some success. As time went on we took to rowing to nearby Navy Island to chop firewood and take Toots for a walk before returning to a welcome fire. Although the days were often warm – we’re still wearing shorts - the evenings turn cool enough to run the fire so we’re getting the best of both worlds. When we’d all judged we’d been clear of the US long enough to get back in with no hassle all 3 boats headed back into the US, cleared in and then sailed back into Canadian waters and moored up for the night. Early next morning we all headed off conscious that the NOAA weather was warning about the possible arrival of Hurricane Kyle in Maine waters in a few days time. Although the storm was about a thousand miles away we could already see the evidence as swells began to roll in from the SE as seas built up far to the south. Initially we pulled into another favourite, The Cow Yard, but realised that the nearby Mud Hole would give greater protection and headed slowly over as we were, again, too early. R&J opted to come with us and, as they draw less, went in first. They touched and stuck and we backed off rapidly, trying again some 30 minutes later. What followed was a pantomime of error as we touched, came off, touched and stuck and were, within a few seconds, beam on to the tide with our rudder eight foot from the rocks. All good things come to an end of course and eventually with the help of the rising tide, thundering bursts of throttle and time we slipped free and crept in to anchor. The pilot book now contains an instruction to ourselves never to enter this anchorage at less than half-tide……………… The next day we were joined by a couple of fishing boats and we settled down to wait the arrival of Kyle. NOAA gave regular updates and before long we found that it was possibly going to make landfall somewhere between East Maine (where we now were) and New Brunswick (where we had just come from)…… Now one of the great strengths of Mud Hole is the enormous amount of protection it offers and the Pilot Book rightly describes it as a Hurricane Hole. Perhaps another give away was offered by the two fishing boats that rafted up together and had in their crews, two young lads and a dog. Obviously these guys weren’t taking it too seriously. We later found out they’d sheltered from five previous hurricanes so were fairly blasé about the whole thing. In the event it was a non-event as Kyle swung away to the east and went on to terrorise those poor sods heading home to Europe from Greenland…
Once the seas had died down we all headed out and in sunshine and a pleasant northerly breeze we had a great sail back past Schoodic cramming on canvas and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. We headed further south and east over the next few days with a couple of cracking sails until we finally decided to get back to Belfast before the winds swung to the north. Under reefed mizzen and stays’l we raced along the east coast of Ilesboro before making the turn for Belfast and a final beat. By now we’d got a heads’l up and playing at sailors we tacked slowly toward the anchorage.
Maine foliage
The glorious sunshine had given way to lowering clouds and we dropped sails and motored the final half mile in a vain effort to avoid the soaking that was heading our way. Too late of course. It has been this heavy rain throughout the year that has accentuated the wonderful autumn colours as the season advances. Stunning reds and oranges and all shades in between make cruising this area a visual joy.

So since then we’ve completed a few jobs, made good the damage to the keel that Jim Hammond had dived under Hannah and found and cashed and spent the $130 cheque that Epifanes had sent us as a refund on the paint we’d had so much trouble with. YES –a result!!

 Before we had left for Canada we had been lucky to meet up with Rick and Karen who own and run a charter boat called Wanderbird. (Google Wanderbird and look at their website) They’ve been in the schooner business for years but got out to do something a little different-they charter up to Labrador in a converted Dutch fishing boat. The interior had been designed and built by Karen but it was their ethos about their business that really attracted us to them. And as we said our goodbyes to this couple we had really barely met they paid us a huge compliment and landed us with an enormous responsibility. A few years ago (2006) a couple finished the first human powered circumnavigation of the earth and bought a bottle with the intention of handing it onto anyone else they felt was doing something interesting and like-minded. Well it came to a Norwegian family and then to Rick and Karen and then to us and it now sits awaiting its next recipient. Rick was at pains to point out that it should be viewed as a “Good Luck” symbol and that drinking the contents would be bad luck………………… The thermal vest and hat they gave us were definitely not for handing onto a next party and have been put to daily use.
We spent the last week in Belfast saying goodbye to as many friends as we could fit in becoming increasingly more “socialised out” by the time we finally left. We really do feel as though this town is home for us and saying “tarra” to folks for another few years is very emotional. True to form Jonathan and Chris had invited 2 boat crews up to eat and didn’t bat an eyelid when we rang to add another crew. We had a great time with them and most of their families and earlier that
same week we’d called on Jonathan’s mum, Dawn who’d showered us with fruit and veg (including Maine grown peaches!) and the loan of her car. Definitely a radical family and an absolute joy to be with.
There are so many folks we owe such a lot too and for us they represent the absolute best of hospitality and friendliness. A day or so before departure Alex (the boat-yard owner) finally accepted our offer to stack wood in the cellar for

Bee and Alec
winter and we rapidly shifted and stacked 3 cords of oak. I say rapidly but speed did decline a little toward the end as the sheer weight of all that wood took its toll. And on the last day, as we lay alongside awaiting the incoming tide to float us off we met up with a bunch of gig rowers from Cornwall who of course knew people that we know in Cornwall and won’t Nigel and Jude get a shock when they see our photos. That day also gave us an opportunity to spend a little time with a man who means a lot to us but sadly has stayed away suffering deeply with depression. We can only hope that he reads this and realises how much he does mean to us and that we may get to see him again in happier times. I spent a last evening with Pete in a pub, a “threat” we’d often voiced when Bee and Lucia went off on one and it was a sad trio that parted around midnight as he’d rode back to the other yard where Fair Grace and Lucia waited patiently.
Up early on Sunday to leave before our emotions overtook us but as we emerged from the companionway Pete and Lucia were there to say a “final” tearful farewell as was Kathy, the absolute gem of a harbourmaster, who has been SO good to us and counts as a great friend. A very difficult time, for me, made worse as we pulled away from the jetty, by the throwaway comment from Rick, the skipper of Wanderbird “…see you in Labrador next year….”
We left Belfast with the hope of visiting places we hadn’t yet seen and at some point of catching up with Robin and Jackie who had left the day previously (more tears) and so headed down to Vinalhaven, a place we’ve only just discovered on this trip and really like. From there we sailed west to Tenants Harbour and then further west getting ready to cross the bay and down to P’town. Found a couple of good anchorages and with a so-so forecast for the crossing felt we would have enough time to get over before the really bad weather arrived. Will we ever learn…?

We left in sunshine and lightish winds for the 130 mile jaunt. As progress remained slow we began to look around for options and found many tide dependent or shallow or with no obvious anchorages so we kept on. Half way across the wind finally began to pick up and we made better progress. We also needed to reduce sail as the wind kept on increasing as did the wave heights. How many times have we seen this movie? We ploughed on and as dawn approached we were closing P’town and the wind kept increasing. P’town lies in a bight that offers good protection but requires you turn north to head up toward it. The same direction the wind was coming from and we spent an hour beating into increasingly short, steep seas that would throw them selves skywards as we tried to batter through them. As we were heavily reefed and had only a stays’l set our progress tack to tack was about 160 degrees so very slow. We took the decision to abandon that destination and head for the Cape Cod Canal. An easy decision but with serious ramifications. The Canal lay 20 miles to the south of us, and with wind blowing heavily from the North we would be running onto a lee shore. The canal is very tidal with currents of up three knots for or against you depending on which way it is running. Realising we had missed the west going tide and needed to slow down we opted to heave to and then drop the main. Because the Bay has numerous shallow areas relative to the overall depth the waves were confused and breaking everywhere giving us our most uncomfortable ride ever when hove to. We then changed to the storm stays’l in order to reduce our drift even more and then set about working out when the tide would change in our favour. When we hove to it was about 12 miles from the Canal entrance and our rate of drift was between .8 and 1.5 knots but as we only needed a few hours grace it was a speed we could accept. To check our workings we called up the USCG to ask them. They rang another authority who reliably informed them it was 2 hours earlier than I’d thought. We set off under our trusty storm stays’l- a tiny scrap of heavy canvas that nevertheless had us sailing at anywhere between 5 and 6 knots. That speed gave us two hours or so to compose our galloping hearts for the task ahead. I went through the various scenarios that could possibly happen as we approached this narrow slot with heavily breaking seas all around us. One danger had been removed with the knowledge that the tide would be with us as a wind over tide situation may well have produced a solid wall of water at the entrance but the breaking seas could cause us to broach or be swamped at the wrong moment. We had implicit faith in Hannah and her sea-worthy hull shape and felt we were in little danger but the thoughts were there. We approached under sail with the engine running as a stand-by and, as so often happens, the entrance was an anti-climax as we swept in, found shelter behind the breakwater and immediately began to accelerate as the current picked us up. I’d already decided that we’d treat ourselves to a berth for the night as the forecast was for continued 50 knot gusts, so lined ourselves up on the entrance keeping close to the side the current was coming from. We came though the entrance, motoring fast to combat the current which was sweeping us sideways, found an eddy that immediately swung us 90 degrees and I found myself heading straight for the fishing dock. Chucking the engine in reverse and over-revving hard we slowed, stopped and began to reverse off. Bee, who had been on the bow getting lines ready, came astern to laconically remark “You do realise you’re over the top of the rocks…..” Luck was with us as we spotted a vacant berth just past the Coast Guard boats and were blown sideways onto it.
At US$60 per night (!!) we were never going to stay more than one night and so the following day we needed to turn Hannah to have any chance of getting off the berth without damage. Luckily a guy in his seventies turned up to admire Hannah and was prevailed upon to move various lines whilst we manoeuvred Hannah under engine and warp. We’ve done this often in the past though rarely in such winds and we struggled to get her past the point of equilibrium, made worse by the fact that the wind seemed determined to shove us onto an expensive yacht moored behind us. Still we managed in the end without touching and our helper was full of praise. I suggested that a hundred years ago it would have been common practice to move boats like this…”Hmmm, he said but they would’ve had a lot more people as well….”
So through the canal and a few days wandering the bays before we brought up in Marion, Mass. to await yet another blow going through. On the day of its arrival the harbourmaster came out in his launch to suggest we might like to use one of the town buoys inside the harbour as 45 knots gusts were forecast and the shelter would be better. He also dealt with all of the paperwork, calling customs etc for us. I’m certain it was all meant in the kindest possible sense but we couldn’t help feel it was oh so similar to the authorities in Cuba.
With a fine forecast promised we left Marion for Newport, RI. Leaving the harbour with Bee hoisting the still reefed main I was so intent on watching it go up I narrowly missed steering into a channel buoy and then we were off. As the day progressed we made a succession of sail changes and kept up speed until with a couple of miles to go we were headed by the wind and motored into Newport harbour in the dusk.
 Of course Robin and Jackie weren’t here as an earlier email had told us they were still enjoying the delights of Maine but other friends were and we’ve enjoyed the time here. Newport is, as a local we’d met earlier told us, a bit like Cowes-except you can anchor for free off the town here. We arrived a few days ago and Robin and Jack pulled in last night so it was great to play catch up for a few hours. The rest of the week looks to be a no-no as far as the weather is concerned as storm force winds batter the outside and inshore forecasts carry gale force warnings.


Those of you who have read earlier pages will probably remember me writing about The Ring Anderson. We had an email from Richard a day or so ago with the very sad pictures of the boat. The Ring had been taking on water for some time and had been moved to a marina where the pumps could be connected to the mains and kept running 24 hours a day. A power shortage caused a lot of water to come in but it seemed to have been contained. The last photos show The Ring with water above the deck as she rests on the bottom. As the boat draws 10’ and the decks were probably 7’ above the waterline she is in deep enough to wreck much of her fine woodwork, engines etc. but for Richard, Pin and family it must surely be the end of a dream. What will happen now I’ve no idea, nor why the marina were unable to do more to help save her but for us it has been very, very sad.
So that’s it for another update. We’re sat in Newport Harbour with the wind coming out of the SW blowing somewhere between 25 and 35 knots. As our route is down toward New York for “dustbin sized pizzas” before we head further south it looks as though we’ll be stuck here until the w/e at least.
*This is a blatant lie!
Lastly, we’re now in New York but if we write this bit up it’ll be 2009 before we get it posted. In the meantime Happy Festivities where ever you are.  

Friday, 15 August 2008

Updates! We need updates…………!!

OK this may be a difficult one to write ‘cos, as several people have written to say, it’s been a long time since the last update. Much has happened and we’ll try to remember the bits that are interesting.
Most of the journey up to Belfast, Maine was stop-start as the promised wind either failed to arrive or blew far harder than was forecast. However we left you in Georgetown, S. Carolina where we stayed for a few days. The town is, I think, where the American Civil War started so Confederate monuments abound and the main street leading from the harbour has some lovely old houses.
Listening to the tour boats go by as we lay at anchor it seems obvious that many residents still think the war is being fought as references were regularly made about “….them damn Yankees…” but otherwise it was almost like being on a film set as mom and pop would drive up to the baseball pitch and unload junior who would saunter into the field and play some junior league game. We also met a couple who had been building a two masted, steel schooner for the last 20 years and it was still unfinished. At 67 he realised it was now too big for him to handle and he was getting to old and frail to handle her anyway. Each of the four boats he had built had been designed by an architect and none of them looked like the drawings provided. The schooner was no exception as it now had 3 masts, needed an additional 6,000lbs of ballast and he had raised the booms to ensure that any passengers would have clear headroom below them. Unfortunately the booms were now some 9’ (almost 3m) above the deck and there was no way to reach them to reef. Wandering the boat with him was quite sad really as it became obvious that many of the ideas hadn’t been thought out and the boat wasn’t very seaworthy. Make a nice floating home though……..
We left Georgetown and anchored outside before heading out to sea to clear Frying Pan Shoals. We’d met up with an American boat heading our way who thought the forecast we’d heard was for 20 miles offshore rather than inshore so the forecasted 35 knots of wind was not something to concern our selves with……………..
Nevertheless we decided that rather than head onto Cape May, several hundred miles north, we’d turn for Wrightsville and then a few hours later changed our minds again and headed for Beaufort. The reasons are varied but the former is surrounded by shallows and probably not an entrance to approach in a blow whilst the latter promised an “all weather entrance” We carried on. The wind and waves increased and about 20 miles from Beaufort we raced through a US Navy flotilla, apparently sitting at station but going no where. The radio crackled. A USN ship was calling us as, deeply reefed, we were thundering through the seas. “Were we ok as we appeared to be disappearing beneath the waves”? We assured them we were fine and everything was normal but thanked them for their concern. “Was there anything they could for us…….” Well, if they weren’t doing anything it would be nice if they could shadow us to ease the seas……………” We missed the first part of the reply as the loudspeaker erupted in laughter before, eventually; a voice said that unfortunately they couldn’t do that. Ah well.
We headed on for Beaufort, working out that we would get there with a few minutes of favourable tide to help us through the entrance. By now it is dark and the winds and seas are building from the beam. The entrance, narrower and longer than we realise is difficult to spot in the breaking seas. We pick up a pair of channel buoys and drop the jib leaving Hannah to roar on under double-reefed main and stays’l. We start the engine in case we need it and approach the channel. Through the first set of buoys but struggle to see the next mark. “Got it” as Bee sees the all important port marker. We crash on. And then glancing over my shoulder, Bee sees the black cloud to end all black clouds - from sea level to who knows how many hundred feet high- approaching very quickly and with enormous power. The squall hits us, lays us over and we lose the precious windward ground we had struggled to gain. Luckily the engine is running as its power allows us to keep in the channel or close to it as shallows lay either side. At one point it seemed touch and go and I asked Bee to contact the Coast Guard and let them know where we were. A pointless exercise as they assumed we were through the channel or… well who knows what. As we approached the actual entrance the tide had turned against us and we struggled to get through the narrows with the tide running at 3+knots. Anchored off the coastguard station where we stayed for several days, including one where we had a huge thunderstorm and the CG spoke of “nickel sized” hailstones followed by a tornado…… It was an interesting few days as we watched this parade of boats heading in or out but always en route to a marina rather than an anchorage.
Wed 21 May. Time to move on and with a bit of a decent breeze as we needed to head south to clear a headland before turning north. We motored south, watching a helicopter guide a stranded, but now re-floated tourist boat, back into deep water before rounding Cape Lookout and heading onwards. The forecast came in on Navtex indicating that the wind was going to increase and slightly head us. The usual debate followed as we tried to decide what might be the best option. We decided to carry on but spent several days drifting as winds failed or headed us.
Portsmouth Olde Towne
 The weather turned cooler, our average speed began to fall and we conceded that we were not to make Maine in one hit after all. The Chesapeake Bay called and we headed toward it as the forecast started muttering about strong northerly winds. We reached the entrance to see a parade of ships in a line leaving the bay. Now we knew this was a busy area but eight leaving at once was more than we needed and the thought came to us of how busy was New York going to be… Half an hour later as no bearings had altered between us and the ships we realised that we were looking at an anchorage and we relaxed. It’s a long way from the entrance to Norfolk and we finally got to an anchorage about 8pm on Sat 24 May, 249 miles from our last anchorage. Reminded us of anchoring off the container docks in Southampton. The following day we motored a little way down river to anchor between the towns of Norfolk and Portsmouth and discovered a small community of, mainly, ICW transitees. But amongst them lay the 114’ Baltic Trader “The Ring Anderson”.
Baltic Trader "Ring Anderson"
Baltic Traders have long been my favourite small ship and to see one so close and far from home spurred me to exchange greetings as we motored past on our way to the fuel dock. We fuelled up, filled our water tanks and bought ice. As we squeezed the last few litres into our water cans we were approached by a smartly dressed couple and the guy began quizzing us on our rigging. Who had served it, when was it last tarred, was it done with the mast up or down? We should have realised that the questions were not idle interest  but that he was sizing us up for the job of doing the same on his boat. He had a few slips around the corner, could arrange a shower and were we interested in doing when we had time. So we said we’d look at it in a few days, got the directions and headed back out to the anchorage where I wasted no time in rowing across to “the Ring” and blagging my way aboard. The boat had been bought by an American/Thai couple with 3 kids who hoped to sail her to Thailand. With little experience they were struggling to make sense of all the lines and tentatively asked whether I could help. Is the Pope a catholic……………? and so began a very satisfying, tiring and at times frustrating period as we gave them help, sorting out lines, dragging out sails and setting them. It would have been easier on a gaff rigged boat but the boat had been converted to a Bermudian rig in the eighties and had all the attendant gear of a flash charter boat. Much of it was no longer working or even completely there but we found boxes of blocks, ropes and wire and with little to go on except out of date drawings and very small photos we got most of the stuff done. The boat attracted a lot of attention and we tried to recruit other sailors into giving us a hand, mostly failing until we had got to a point where we could possibly take her out sailing and then suddenly we had a full crew and away we went! All in all it took a couple of weeks of hard work to get the boat to the sailing point and it was a great feeling as we headed up river and slowly got some of the sails up. As if this hadn’t been enough we’d also been round the corner doing the rigging on a small square-rigger at a great little yard.
Initially we’d been asked to tar the rigging (teak decks!! Lordy lord) but it obviously needed serving before we got to that state so that’s where we began. The following day it rained and I lay in bed thankful that the rain meant I didn’t have to work as 1 day every so often is better than 2 days on the trot. A bang on the hull followed by a cheerful shout indicated that Cary, our temporary employer, thought otherwise and away we went to try and get the job done.

Redbird and Hannah
 It took 3 or 4 days and then we were offered more jobs and it looked like things could be getting out of hand so we made our excuses and left for the anchorage and the Ring. But having got all that sorted, rescued a boat that had dragged through the anchorage and stopped a few feet from us, watched a parade of sail and chatted with various passing boats we bade our farewells to Richard and Pin off the Ring and headed out. I forgot to mention that they were very keen on us taking the boat to Thailand with them as we had been the only sailors who had offered any support. Well support is one thing but, even though we had looked at the raised main and mizzen and thought “They’re not so big…” we’re not exactly over-qualified when it comes to running a small ship so my reply had always been an emphatic “NO” Finally on Sunday June 8th we headed out of the Chesapeake and began the journey north. We’d decided months previously that my 60th birthday would be spent amongst the folks of Belfast but even with superb winds there was now no chance of that happening. It was spent dodging fishing boats, drifting or motoring our way out of trouble. Daily mileages dropped to 48 and our average continued to drift downwards as winds failed to arrive. But in the midst of all this we experienced something that will remain one of the high spots of this cruising life. We’re way off shore, perhaps 100 miles or so off the coast and it’s a flat calm. Not a ripple, no swell or movement and we’re sat in Hannah looking with amazement at the stars clearly reflected in the sea. The sky itself was stunning but to see the Milky Way duplicated in this way was just magic and took our minds off the slow drift north. By the 15th our patience was wearing a little but at least we were closing on the Cape Cod Canal and rather than plug on against the ebbing current we turned and headed across it to what they call a Harbour of Refuge. In this case it was Port Judith and it’s nothing more than a semi-circular breakwater giving protection to a river entrance but it suited us down to the ground, allowing us to anchor in safety off the towns of Jerusalem and Galilee! This is the area of Rhode Island and as we set off the following morning many more boats were to be seen. We’d met Dennis in Grenada and he’d invited us to drop in and see him at his home in Martha’s Vineyard and though tempted we thought we’d do the visiting on the way back. Onwards we plugged into the canal and watched our speed pick up to 8 knots as the current took control and powered us northwards. It reminded us of an earlier time when we were heading up the coast. Our speed was a moderate 4 knots but noticing a group of sports fishing boats congregating some 400 metres to the sea-ward side of us we headed toward them. The reason being that the Gulf Stream, being warmer than the waters either side causes a massive up-swelling and fish gather to feed. On the surface long brown streams of weed can be seen marking the demarcation between Gulf and non Gulf. From our viewpoint it meant a sudden increase of speed to 7 knots as the all powerful stream took control. It is an amazingly powerful force but meanders about so unless you have access to the website and the knowledge of where it is on any given time it can sometimes be yards or hundreds of yards from where you last crossed it. Of course when the wind shifts to the north it is a place to avoid as huge seas are thrown up very rapidly. So into the canal and we emerge the other end to a darkening sky and a huge electrical storm and no wind. We drift around, get wet and then the worst of all conditions as a swell comes in from the SE and with no wind to steady us we roll around, gear chafing and legs going everyway as we stagger around. Finally my patience goes and we motor. And motor. And…well then we did get some wind – more than we needed and rushed around getting the genny and tops’l down before it hit us. But we’d misread the sky and it didn’t arrive so we sailed slowly on. Sometime in the night we switched back to motor and then out of the fog that had arrived we spotted a single white light! Something at anchor in 600’ of water? It wasn’t very probable but we slowed and moved closer. The fishing boat was still, silent, drifting and we assumed asleep but left a single light on to warn other vessels. We mused on this as we motored slowly through the night before following suit. Motoring, for us, is a chore as it requires one of us to be at the helm the whole time. In the early days we had a tiller pilot – an electronic bit of kit that steered the boat to a given course – but we were never very successful at getting it to work properly and sold it. So motoring means we go onto a 30 minutes on/30 minute off shift which sounds more desperate than it actually is. We don’t go particularly fast, about 3 knots but at least we’re moving. Once we get any touch of wind we shut down and let the sails take over and before long we’re in sight of Monhegan, Matinic and Matinicus Islands – the start of Maine as far as we’re concerned. We slid between Monhegan and Matinic, skirting the shallows and the lobster buoys,
opted not to head into and through Muscle Ridge, a narrow, rock and lobster pot strewn channel but plodded slowly on up Penobscot Bay. Bit of a domestic as we passed Rockland as I was all for stopping whilst Bee felt we should carry on. We carried on and eventually crept into Belfast Harbour at 4am in the fog. Managed to find an empty mooring buoy and tied up next to John and Mary’s boat, close friends from our last visit. We slept but were up early to make our way ashore and meet dozens of friends – most of whom looked younger but all pleased to see us as we were them. Alex T was in good form and assured us we could haul out next week. Just two weeks this time we told him. He looked but said nothing. The two weeks last time turned into 7 as we did more and more but this time we were only painting the bottom and the deck so two was more than enough……….. Onto the library, same old faces at the terminals and us still with an in-date library card. Met up with Kathy the Harbourmaster and gratefully accepted the offer of a mooring closer to the harbour. Back to the boat and moved in, then back ashore to find that Phil, another friend, was hauling his boat for a few days so we could use his pontoon berth until we too hauled!! From the farthest reaches of the harbour to alongside in 2 moves and 10 hours was just wonderful.
Well it’s now 4 weeks to the day since we hauled and we’re still on the hard. The weather has been brilliant if a little humid and we’d found an importer of the Jotun paint we used who could ship on the 7th July. In the meantime we scraped and sanded the bottom, ditto the deck and repainted the deck with a 2 pack primer, ready for the final coat and awaited the arrival of the paint. The date came and went and we eventually called to be told the shipping date was now, possibly the 18th……we cancelled and decided to use locally available paints. Bottom coating proved no problem but we hummed and ha’hed about the deck before opting for a Monourathane from Epifanes. I won’t bore you with technical details other than to say single pack onto two pack is ok but two onto single doesn’t work as the solvents in the two pack dissolve the “weaker” paints. So opting for a single pack meant we needed either to continue the trend or spend a long term removing all the single coat paint. Despite keying and preparing the surface well the new paint refused to cure and phone calls to Epifanes Technical people produced bored responses. 48 hours after we applied the paint the technical reason was “…it takes about 5 days….” When it still hadn’t cured after 8 days their response was the curing time needed 28 days and we gave up. A request for a small replacement tin was met with a blank refusal which was subsequently amended to a tin at ½ price. By the time it arrived we had had enough and spent two days scraping as much off as possible. A job that on one afternoon saw 9 people on the deck armed with scrapers and sanders, followed by a further day of orbital sanding to ensure we’d be able to get two pack to stick. A phone call to Jotun USA established that the paint we required was available from a plant in Texas for US$200….shipping would cost a further $150-200 and would arrive “sometime next week…” To over-night the product would be around $800 but we’d to organise that ourselves! We gave up, bought Pettit paint (a single pack) and got it on. Now all we need to do is sand back the anti-foul we applied -it’s time sensitive and we needed to splash within 7 days of applying – and get back in the water.
Pete and Lucia are still missing, idling about in the Chesapeake but claim they’ll be up here sometime soon whilst another English couple – Robin and Jackie are happily keeping us company as they labour on their Wylo on the other side of the local theatre and with luck we’ll all be heading for Nova Scotia after a wander around the delights of Maine.
Despite my determination not to do the Thai trip we left Norfolk with one topic of conversation. By the time we got to Maine I’d heard every facet of Bee’s argument for going and had almost accepted we’d be doing it. Needless to say many of the Mainers reacted with enthusiasm to the trip and we soon had more than enough to crew the boat. Things took a bit of a bizarre turning when we subsequently found out the boat was up for auction on eBay and the owners weren’t responding to emails. We eventually found out that they’d returned to Iowa to earn more money and had felt themselves trapped by the enormity of the task. Things have gone further down hill as the Ring is alongside but taking on water. Whatever; they were a family who were prepared to have a go and may even yet pull it off but it all looks uphill at the moment.
It’s interesting listening to the responses of the people who pass by. Aside from the many “…Beautiful boat…” we get a lot of “…but such hard work maintaining her…” Well I can understand that seeing us putting in long hours on a daily basis it appears that way but as it’s only once every two years it doesn’t seem that big a deal to us. But one of the jobs we knew we needed to do was create some sort of launch/recovery system for the anchor. We had, since we left Southampton, had to haul all 33kg of steel up onto deck using the jib haly’d. OK when the sea was flat but once we began moving about it was a case of holding everything at arms length in a desperate attempt at stopping the flukes carve chunks out of legs.

Well finally we have sorted something and Greg welded the whole thing up yesterday and we should find it all a lot easier. The only area of concern will be the momentum the anchor creates as it launches itself from the roller – whether it’ll swing back and carve chunks out of the bow rather than falling vertically into the water. We’ll let you know
Once of the earliest topics of conversation on our arrival in Maine was the forthcoming election. Everyone we have spoken to expresses the hope that the Democrat Obama will win. No surprises there but what staggered us was the number of people who mentioned, in an almost casual way, “….provided he doesn’t get shot of course….”
We’ve heard from Pete and Lucia who are happily moored somewhere in New York and loving every minute of it. They even think that city-haters like us would enjoy ourselves so, having promised ourselves we would visit sometime, we’ll probably call in on the way back south.
We were chatting to some friends and the topic got around to waste; how much is generated, how much food is thrown away. Two of the friends told us the story of how they’d been driving south and made a short detour to check out the skip that was used by a well known chocolate manufacturer. The factory and skip are opposite the local police station and “dumpster diving” as its known here is illegal. A quick look in the skip revealed boxes of chocolate thrown away; the sell-by-date had expired about 9 months previously. They very hastily began hurling as many as possible into their 4x4 before speeding away. These bars of chocolate retail for $4 each and they had just reclaimed……………………… 1100 bars! The majority of which have now been recycled to many friends around the state; none of whom have succumbed to food poisoning – more likely suffering from eating too much too soon (if our experience is anything to go by..)

Lastly, we spent a great evening with Jonathan and Chris who fed us and let us wander the land they garden. The house has long been Bee’s all time favourite so here’s a collection of dreams – hers not mine as gardening looks very much like hard work to me…but we did see the perfect “shack” for us…12’ x 16’ and essentially a room to eat, read and relax in with a simple sleeping floor in the eaves it exuded peace and quiet. Wonderful

And this from more friends- a room “knocked up” in a few weeks or so by David. It overlooks a small lake on the farm…… For those with long memories it’s where we went snow-shoeing on our last visit

On the way out to see Jean and David we pass this small waterfall. It never fails to delight and the light and water can be stunning.

Lastly. We went out to see John and Mary’s new place yesterday. They’d sold the farm and bought an RV to escape the Maine winters. John being John had a bunch of wood-working machinery he couldn’t bear to part with so decided to build a barn to keep it in….. Back home it would be seen as an extremely desirable detached property but, whilst they’re both very pleased with the result it’s seen as no big deal. Constructed over 3 floors with the basement for vehicles, the ground floor functions as a massive workshop and the addition of an attic and dormers has given them a perfect living space once it’s all insulated.

And finally. I write these last few lines on the eve of our re-launch (Friday 15 Aug). The anchor launcher has been completed and once we’re back in the water we’ll see what happens when we release the windless and the Rocna plunges free of its mount. It is offset enough to ensure the roll-bar doesn't foul the bowsprit and hopefully it’ll plummet into the sea when released rather than catch the bobstay or its momentum cause it to swing back into the hull…….-we’ll let you know, but this is what it looks like.

But whilst we were waiting for this to happen we had a conversation with a local guy, Jim Hammond who runs a diving company. Querying the length of time we were taking he looked askance when we said we’d applied for residency but seemed happy enough to have us as neighbours.

The following day we got up and the first visitor asked whether we got much mail?..............!! Peering over the edge of the boat we found Jim had expanded on our “threat” of residency and installed our very own USA Postmaster approved Mailbox (complete with red flag)….
We’ll try to keep more up to date    

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Ain’t this the truth…………..

Loved this sign...
So here we sit with turquoise water lapping at the pontoon as a, not too, gentle breeze ruffles the water. A reef extends across the near horizon protecting us from the pounding surf as we rest up after our 5 day trip across the Caribbean Sea to the Dominican Republic. It could almost be idyllic……………….
We left Trinni on 4th Feb much to the surprise of the Customs who couldn’t believe anyone would leave the day carnival started but both us and our close mates, Pete and Lucia, were separately heading out. They were bound for Grenada and us for Martinique. It was always going to be a tough trip as the wind would constantly head us and the current was compounding the misery by pushing us to the west. Well we tried and we tried but as day turned to night and back again I felt my resolve weakening. We heaved to for breakfast which was when I noticed the line attached to the traveller had badly frayed. As this line operates via a sheave on the end of the bowsprit it meant I needed to shin along it like some sort of geriatric trapeze artist(eat your heart out Kevin!) with new line in hand whilst Bee controlled my rate of fall by keeping me securely attached to the boat with the foresail halyard. I realize as I write this that many reading this will not have a bloody clue what I’m on about but as this is a ramble not a text book-tough. If anything really interests you copy and paste the section to us and we’ll explain!! Anyway we got it sorted and tightened up the bobstay whilst we were at it and took the decision to abandon Martinique and head for Grenada. Of course because we weren’t going there we had given our “new’ and fairly up to date charts to our aforementioned friends leaving us with a 25 year old B&W photocopy to work our way into Prickly Bay about 10pm. We got in with no mishap, the only niggle being yotties who have expensive boats at anchor but are too “cool” to have an anchor light on. ‘course the next morning P&L came across, took us ashore, loaned us the money to clear customs and immigration and had us heading out to an anchorage someone had mentioned to them. Actually they’d told them it was pretty useless as there weren’t any boats at anchor…..!! Port Egmont is a largish hurricane hole. The mud is good and clingy, it has no marina and whilst the enclosing hills are now being built upon and the area being developed, for both of us we were made up with the place as we had it to our selves. True at the end of nine days another boat came in but as we were leaving the following day it was no big deal. Ten years ago it will have been wonderful and whilst, for us, the development has spoilt it somewhat at least many of the houses belong to local families and not just winter homes for Brits. So whilst we were there we’d catch a bus into St George, the capital, or ride our bikes into the place. Grenada is not flat by the way so riding represents a serious amount of exercise!! It was whilst we were in St G that Bee discovered a local bakery that sold cheese crozzys and decided they should become a staple part of our diet. Luckily whenever we frequently returned they either had few left or had sold out. Part of the reason for spending so long there was to sit out a serious amount of strong winds that were heading across Grenada and once they eased we headed out along the south coast and up the west coast for another anchorage for the night. We had just got ourselves comfortable settled when we noticed the distinct and unmistakable shape of a sunken boat directly underneath us. Luckily Pete dived down and realised it was the bottom of an old RIB and no real problem. As evening fell we were joined by another boat that we had last seen in Graciosa- Tony and Chris who now live on the Guadiana on the Portuguese side. 

The following day we all left or we did after I’d freed up the throttle/gear lever which had gummed up with salt water. Destination was Carriacou about 35 miles to windward. I’ve written before about going to windward and how, for us, it represents the pits. Actually that’s true of most cruising folk but those blessed with ketches and in particular gaff ketches with long gaffs it represents a long day of despair. We motor-sailed the whole distance and still took the best part of 14 hours which included crossing an underwater volcano with an official exclusion zone…… Some boats were more willing to avoid the area than others. We arrived at the anchorage in the dark of course, although by this time Pete had kindly returned the pack of charts we had passed across to them in Trinni!! We dropped anchor at the back and then ate and slept before moving further in the following day. Carriacou is a pretty neat place and is, of all the islands we have seen, the most unspoilt. The bay had more than just the usual white plastic boat and we spent a few days visiting and being visited by a variety of people. Martin and Roma arrived and entertained us to FAR too much too drink and kept us up until the early hours and I spent a few hours with a 70 year old American who lives on a 60 foot Danish fishing boat and designs the most amazing houses for people. Not a square wall or corner to be seen but curves and arches abound. They really are something else. His other claim to fame as far as I’m concerned is he managed to persuade me to drink rum something I’d not done since 1966………. And the other couple who we became close to were Glenn and Ulrike. He rowed over to ask if we were someone else and we got chatting about DR and Haiti etc. The following day he rowed over with 3 hand drawn chartlets, complete with lat/long references of where to go.  Having used the DR one to get into here I can vouch for its accuracy. 

Of course both Pete and Lucia were leaving at the same time as Glenn and Ulrike and the latter were up and away before we had time to really say goodbye and then P&L were heading off and the crews of each boat waved a forlorn and tearful adios as we wondered when we would next see them.
We left a few days later with the intention of heading for the DR but thought we might just nip back down to Grenada and surprise G&L and hand over the lanolin I’d promised. Had a fast sail back down and eventually tracked them down to another quiet anchorage. Boy, were they surprised to see us. Not least because from where they were sat it looked as though we were going to pile up on the reef….remember those charts that had gone back and forth between us and Pete…well they were back with him again. But we didn’t hit the reef and enjoyed the few days we spent there with them. ‘ course it also gave Bee the chance to hit the bakery in search of cheese crozzies.

But time moves on and we had begun thinking of those wonderful northern anchorages that delight us so much and on 29th Feb we headed out from Hog Island, roared along the south side of Grenada yet again and then shaped our course for La Romana in the DR. Whilst we’d been in Hog someone had suggested a change to the gaff vangs that seemed to make sense and so I tried it out. The net effect was it seriously loosened the mizzen lanyards to the point that Bee was convinced the mast was about to fall down. Heaved to and dropped the main, changed the vang and then re-tightened all the lanyards. So that’s about 3 hours work there! Anyway it was blowing a bit and we thought we’d not bother with the main but just use the reefed mizzen, stays’l and #2 foresail. We had one of the best sails of our life. True the current was pushing us sideways but we still covered 110 to 130 miles a day, the boat remained stable and comfortable and the small sail areas made everything very easy. Not until we rounded Saona Island and the wind died did we bother with the main. A brilliant sail and it more than made up for the beats to windward.
Approaching La Romana we were a bit cagey to say the least. The only chart we have is a passage chart and therefore no use for close coastal work. We do have CMap on a computer that we’re able to use and looking at this suggested loads of water but no readily available anchorage. As we got nearer the clouds began to build up behind us and the wind strengthened. We headed toward the entrance with just the stays’l up and the engine running. The entrance was partially blocked or certainly reduced in width by a cruise liner moored up to the harbour wall and it was this combination of factors added to a sea beginning to run into the entrance that decided us and we turned and headed out for an adjacent island. The clouds came on rapidly and we were to be seen scrambling desperately into full oilies to escape the worst of the torrential rain. It came and went in short time and we rounded the island to find half a dozen charter yachts at anchor off a glorious beach populated by empty sun-beds ( a sight that reminded Bee of the war graves in France). Even with the rain the lack of punters on them didn’t make sense but what the heck we dropped anchor and still flying the Q flag we ate and kipped out, exhausted from the last 24 hours (when you first enter a country you need to fly a yellow flag-the letter Q-indicating you have just arrived a need to clear in). Before we slept we had looked at the weather that had come in on Navtex and found we were about to get a couple of combined fronts much as Britain is getting at the moment and decided we’d make an early start and get to Boca Chica before everything went pear-shaped. As we weighed anchor we noticed another cruise liner approaching the island and realised the purpose of the sun-beds. A lucky escape. The trip here was ok and the entrance moderately taxing. However the water is pretty stunning, enough for me to get caught out and find myself having to back off quite hard to get off the sand. The anchorage is no longer it seems as a new marina has been built, buoys laid down and whilst there are few cruising boats here (two) it seems a reasonable spot. It isn’t our style that’s for sure but DR itself is an amazing country. The people have been wonderfully friendly, advising us what stop to get off the bus, flagging down buses going the opposite direction and getting them to drop us off at the correct spot. 

 The marina staff try very hard and succeed in making you feel welcome and certainly the quality of fruit and veg is high, plentiful and cheap. At 66 pesos to the £ and 34 to the US$ we have bought avocado the size of small balloons for 25 pesos, 4 huge peppers for 100 pesos, a pineapple for 25pesos and a water melon the size of a rugby ball for 60pesos
The area we wandered around reminded me of the Ridley Road market in Dalston in the fifties. Except a hundred times or more vibrant, with an amazing cacophony of noise from competing traffic, street vendors and loudspeaker systems. We’d pass stalls heaped with shoes-hundreds of different pairs seemingly piled on top of each other, stalls selling nothing but underwear all interspersed (the stalls not the underwear) with a guy selling dvd’s. 

 Wandering between all this – apart from the punters – were guys striding around selling small items from trays, women with large plastic bowls crammed with peeled oranges and small children toting small house shaped boxes who worked as shoe shine boys. You might think there would be little call for this in a nation where most people wear flip flops or trainers but we saw a young kid vigorously buffing some dudes trainers in an effort to improve his punters street cred. As the, apparently, only representatives of the white race for miles we experienced no harassment or hard sell and we simply wandered around collecting the shopping we needed, which included large ½ gallon pots of drinking yoghurt. I mention this – the harassment not the yoghurt- as by one of those curious coincidences that have a knock on effect we met up with Bee’s brother Paul yesterday. He is on a cruise with his wife Keren and her parents. They had sent us a text saying they would be in the DR at the w/e so we met up. Of course had we not backtracked to Grenada to see Glenn and Ulrike we would have been long gone from here when the text arrived. Interestingly their experience has been one of hassle as the cruise ship organises trips to tourist spots and touts abound. Guess there is a moral in there somewhere…..And a further glorious benefit was an email from P&L saying they hope to be in Haiti soon, meaning we may well meet up with them before we both head north. There is a down side to life in the DR - it takes a little getting used to seeing security guards sat outside buildings armed with pump-action shot guns, of power-boats being driven at 30 knots plus through the moorings and the music which is pumped out at very high volumes. Not just bars but small grocery stores seem to have a need to block the doorway with large speakers, music at volumes so loud that conversation is impossible. But that aside, we feel very positive about the place.
So tomorrow we head out for Ile d’Vache a small island off the SW coat of Haiti. Frank, the part owner of this marina, describes the place as“National Geographic 1950” so we’re looking forward to a bit of piece and quiet before the next bash.