Thursday, 7 November 2013

2411 days, 41837 nautical miles and a circle completes..

With a threatening easterly we left the Helford for the security, at a cost, of Falmouth. The anchorage is tucked into a space close to the town, with access to both dock and shower...but at a cost of £11.00. I don't know of any other country that charges you to lie to your own anchor but they certainly do in Cornwall. Does the high cost of tying up in a marina have any connection with the few foreign flags to be seen on yachts on the south coast? Who knows but we knew there would be a charge so paid up, showered and then checked out the town before heading out the next morning for Plymouth. The seas were a tad confused as the strong easterly had given way to a strong westerly but with our reduced rig we romped along happily and were sailing into Plymouth Sound and on toward Saltash long before daylight faded. Once anchored we were visited by Alan and Kay to warn us of the impending storm that the media was full of. A lot of conjecture at that stage but it did seem to be promising strong SW or W winds. The anchorage is a little exposed to the SW  but we preferred to be at anchor than taking up their kind offer of a fore and aft mooring with the subsequent strain on the boat. The moorings we knew would be fine as they're maintained by Alan and Kay (mostly Kay I think) but nevertheless from our brief experience of them before, we knew the self-steerer comes under a lot of pressure as the lines get dragged across it. So we spent a bit of time the following day anchoring and re-anchoring in an effort to get as much shelter as we could. Finally we were satisfied only to find that the area we were in suffered from a counter-current and despite the wind we frequently ended up beam to the wind and moving slowly in toward the mud. We moved further out, dug in well and settled down to wait. With no internet access but some great texting from Pete who was at home feeding us weather info and regular listening to the radio we were able to monitor the progress. For us it was an anti-climax as we doubt winds were much above 45 knots whereas the Isle of Wight got a much trumpeted 100mph and was, coincidentally, where we were next bound. October storms are a fact of life aboard Hannah it seems; dodging hurricanes on the other side or the effect of those huge lows that seem to come out of Ungarva Bay and pulverize the UK. Whatever they pass and we made ready to move on. As it was quiet we took up the offer of the mooring buoys finding, as we did so, that our windlass had jammed! By the light of torches we dismantled it, located the nut that had come off and reassembled, heading out the following morning. Progress was good despite still not having a mainsail; at at one time it looked as though we might make the Needles channel in the early hours of the morning. As ever with these things, the wind eases, speed drops and with 15 miles to go we opted to pull into Studland Bay, rest up and then head through with the next favourable afternoon tide. A wise choice in the end... There are two ways to get through the Needles; either the North Channel which, with SW winds puts you on a lee shore but avoids the worst of the seas or through the main channel with the problem of overfalls etc. With no main the North entrance wasn't really an option and in the end the main channel proved relative easy, particularly in daylight. By the time we reached Hurst at the narrows we were zipping along at 8 knots and shaped our course for the nights anchorage: Newtown Creek, a narrow, shallow creek east of Yarmouth. Oddly enough there were a number of boats in already (one aground) but two left as we searched for an anchorage. Our first choice, in a rising wind, gave us very little water underneath the keel and with all the deep water claimed by buoys I opted for one of them. Bee smoothly picked up a spare and we both noted the proximity of the adjacent boat.... A couple of hours later we felt a bump....then another one...The other boat was about 45' and modern with little underwater profile other than a deep fin and was consequently "sailing" around the buoy it was occupying and then clattered into us.  As we were the last boat there we should move but the other guy said he would, recognising he would find it easier to move than us. He was absolutely right of course - the tide was roaring in, the wind was rising and Hannah has the maneuverability of a tram at the best of times. With his bow thruster and powerful engine he did, eventually, get clear and motored up to the other end to pick up a buoy. All this in the dark with rain falling. We thought about letting go the buoy and anchoring or even fleeing the anchorage as the wind was still increasing but neither were a sensible option - the creek has no lit marks and a simple mistake could mean disaster so we stayed put, leaving around 7am the following morning.

The journey to Quayside was uneventful, boring and under power as little wind was available. We noted the changes we could see, more housing, less industry, more pontoons and then we rounded the final bend and saw the pontoon ahead. We tied up around 11am.

We've been here 6 days now and as we stare out over the, so familiar mud flats at low water, you can't help but wonder whether the last 7 years actually happened....  

Itchen River, Southampton

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

A small wander across the Biscay..........and back

Well over half way through October and it has been a bizarre time. After various wanderings between friends and harbours we finally thought we were ready to go. We had sailed back down to the Helford for a last few days with Nige and Jude and much of the time was spent setting up their wood store for the winter, a project we both thoroughly enjoyed and they seemed to appreciate. In our curious off-grid world we seem to inhabit, the sight of row upon row of neatly stacked rows of logs seems to represent security, comfort and enormous pleasure even if they aren't ours!

A week or so before we left a junk rigged boat came into the anchorage and anchored across from us. I rowed over the following day to meet and chat. Mike had recently returned from the Caribbean and we spent a very pleasant few hours talking about boaty bits and common friends. All the usual suspects cropped up of course, more, I think, a feature of the unusual nature of our respective boats than our personalities. Junk rig does interest me; the simplicity of the rig for one thing and certainly the way Mike handled the boat on this and a subsequent occasion we met made it all seem desirable. Not least, in my view, was that Mike is 75 and still able to handle the rig.

Watching the weather we spotted a small window of chance to run south. A last meal with Nige and Jude and on Wed Oct 9 we slipped their buoy and headed off down river to the accompaniment of fog signal toots from Nige on his verandah. What he hadn't realised was the enormous struggle we had gone through in trying to convince ourselves that we really wanted to be doing this, to be setting off after so little time with family and friends. More importantly Bee needed to come to terms with her mum's death and, we later established, felt she wanted to remain close to home for that process. But the habit of the last decade or so was deep and we reluctantly decided we'd head off and that, like so many times in the past, our misery would dissipate and we'd settle into the trip. Not so this time. 50 miles into the trip we knew we had made a mistake and that we should have stayed...our problem now was the northerly wind and following seas made a route reversal very difficult. We pressed on. The following morning I felt better but Bee didn't and as the day got older so our mental positions changed about. We might have turned for Brest but didn't, all the time hoping that: a) our moods would lift and b) we would make it around Finisterre. As each day passed it became obvious that our chances of actually getting around Finisterre were becoming slim as winds eased and our reluctance to motor meant we would cover less than 100 miles a day. On Sunday 13th Oct - the day we actually began owning Hannah in 2000 - we heard from a passing ship that the string of northerlies were over and that we would see SW winds begin the following day, building from 4-5 to 7. We tacked for a while and got to 70 miles from La Coruna but with the increasing wind and a powerful current it became clear that our only prospect lay to the east and about 140 miles away - Gijon. The last thing we needed to do was to get pushed further east and end up where we really didn't want to be so we turned for home. With the wind behind us again, the seas quickly built up. That night was glorious, a clear sky with stars everywhere. The next day dawned grey and gloomy with the forecast of increasing winds. We prepared; setting the trys'l rather than the main and once the wind hit we quickly opted to heave to as the seas made it difficult for the self-steerer to cope. Worse may yet be to come we thought as in order to enter the English Channel you need to cross a substantial bank where the seas bed rises from 4000+ metres to around 100 metres and can give rise to massive waves with the wind and tide in the right direction. We would see. The following night we spent in the company of pilot whales who "sang" to us for hours. We could hear them clearly through the hull as Hannah sailed on at 5 knots towards Cornwall. The day dawned, the sun shone, the barometer was steady and all was well aboard. The hours passed. The only thing that interrupted life was the huge number of ships that pass between Finisterre and Ushant.... with AIS of course life has become much easier as ships are clearly identified by name and will respond when you call. One such ship did respond and assured us blithely that things were fine and we would pass starboard to starboard. And so we did, but we watched with some concern as he passed about 600 metres from us. I doubt he would have done that with a bulk carrier or indeed any other ship.

On the morning of the 17th, with 60 miles to go to Helford I came up on deck at sunrise to look around...all seemed well until I glanced aloft and saw what looked like a ribbon of moonlight glinting along the sail. I stared harder willing; what I believed I was seeing to be untrue. But no amount of head shaking, squinting or turning away and looking back could alter the fact that we had a one metre split in the main between the second reef and the gaff making it unusable. The "moonlight" I was looking at was the sky through the rip.  Not a good  moment as the last forecast we had received warned that the SW winds would switch to SE. and then back again to the SW. Well we're a ketch and under mizzen and a couple of heads'ls Hannah will romp along happily...indeed we ran from Grenada to the DR under just that rig. BUT if the wind backed further to the east we would lack enough oooph to keep us moving along our course and we would end up sailing north rather NE as we needed to. Coupled to that came a drop in the wind and speeds fell to sub 2 knots as the current began to turn against us. OK enough is enough and the decision was made to motor, as we did all the way back. By playing the current we were able to make a reasonable speed and the batteries got a decent charge into the bargain. As we closed the coast we were able to get some credit onto the mobile and warn Nige and Jude that we were about to reappear in their lives. Visibility was poor as we made our way toward Helford - ships would appear less than 4 miles away moving very quickly at 15 knots but weren't visible until 3 miles or so from us. From the Manacles to the entrance we bucked the ebbing stream but eventually made it into the Helford and threaded our way through the buoyed boats towards our mooring. At some point I had noticed that the audible clunk we hear when we engage forward gear had gone and, naively, I put it down to the engine getting a good workout. We approached the mooring, tide running against us and engine in neutral. Bee was on the fore deck ready to grab the "pick up" As we were doing 1.8 knots I dropped it into reverse and revved to take the way off the boat......we went faster! Not believing what I'd just observed I did it again (file under idiocy) and, surprise surprise, we picked up speed. At my end I worked out that we had no reverse, that somehow the gearbox was stuck in forwards and we had a bit of an issue. From Bee's end she suddenly saw us closing rapidly on the boat upstream of our mooring, wondered if I had completely lost the plot and pointed out that she had asked to slow down. As luck would have it she hadn't grabbed the "pick up" so I was saved the embarrassment of Bee either bringing the boat to halt by refusing to let go or more likely being whisked over the side by the inertia generated by our forward motion. Because the tide was running against us we we easily able to manouvre away from the boat ahead and made our way into the anchorage. Once we had anchored we found that the cable had come adrift from the lever attached to the selector and so we were permanently in forward.

And so we found ourselves back on the Helford after an, almost 900 mile trip, to nowhere. Interestingly fellow sailors had been following the weather and all wrote to us whilst we were at sea expressing doubts that we'd make it before the weather turned against us. One, Mike, in a phone conversation later, said had it been him he would have motored but as he knew we wouldn't he also knew we'd end up short! But we're back in the UK, Bee will get to spend time with her sister, I'll see my family and, hopefully, my grandson and next year is another voyage.

Since we installed the Air-only vent the company that produces them have introduced a 12v fan as an add on and when we bought the second vent we also bought 2 motors to go with them. We're great fans of these vents as you may know. Despite shipping water across the deck the one installed at deck level hasn't let a drop in even though it has remained in the wide open position. The motors however simply take the unit to another level. With a 2-speed switch and built in light they improve air flow enormously and the light warns you that the unit is left on, although its consumption is so low as to be negligible - 1/10 amp. But the light also acts as an effective night light allowing us to move around below with vision whilst not disturbing the off watch. If you are thinking of new vents then these really should be top of the list. 

A month or so back Bee wandered into a charity shop and found a cd she thought we might like. It had been very popular when first released but had passed us by. Anyway this track is from it and is sublime, an absolute gem. No doubt many of you will know it already so bear with us.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Matters of the heart.........

Another month slips by, some progress made and we're getting closer to another departure date. Very little has happened from a boat orientated view but much from a personal view.

The primary reason we crossed this year was for Bee to spend some time with her mum. Over the last 6 years they have kept in touch via Skype for the most part and she kept up to date with our wanderings. Olly, her mum, had only positive things to say about what Bee was doing and though she sometimes seemed tired she was generally pretty lively and they were looking forward to seeing each other.  Sadly a week into the visit her mum died with Bee and her sister Sally beside her which, as our very good friend Robin said, was quite extraordinary and many other friends have suggested that she, Olly, may have been waiting. Well we'll never know but we are thankful we made it (and probably wouldn't have had we gone on to Iceland or caught up with all those friends along the way etc). I have to say that the funeral was, without a doubt, the best and most moving I have ever been to. In part because it made no religious references but rather talked about Olly as the person she was and included tributes from some members of her extended family that were then, and still are as I write, intensely moving. An emotional time that has left us a little raw.

So much of Bee's time has been spent away from Hannah, helping with the arrangements etc Before she first went away we'd managed to contact Alastair who came out to look at the engine, did a compression test (good compression) and suggested we needed to get the injectors serviced. This he duly did and after a rebuild etc the engine now runs without smoking all the time....seems they were much in need of it. We've also replaced the chimney base as the steel one had rusted whereas the new stainless one probably won't. A bunch of engine spares have been bought...(a pensioner and his money are soon parted...); the gaff saddle re-leathered and that really is about it; a shockingly small list of achievements.

For many years we have known about Nick Skeates through word of mouth. I think Martin and Roma, builders of Hannah, first mentioned him to us; then R&J of course. Years on we have met numerous Wylo owners (Nick is the designer of the Wylo and sells plans for building same) but never the man himself until recently when he sailed into this anchorage and came over to introduce himself before departing for somewhere else. Actually the chances of us seeing him were always slight as he cannot abide the cold and we feel the same way about the heat but he is good company and perhaps paths will cross again. Which reminds me that another Wylo owner, Trevor Robertson has left Greenland some months back and is probably enjoying the fleshpots of St Anthony before heading out to wherever he next plans to be. I haven't seen an update about this years over-wintering so can say little else about it...I'm sure there is a sound reason for icing yourself into some isolated anchorage for 6 months or more, a large part of which will be in total darkness...isn't there?

We've recently had a gaffer coming in and out of the anchorage and he one day sailed close by us and called across that he'd sailed a similar boat to Hannah in the Falklands in 1978! Intrigued or what!! The next time he came in we called him over and thus we met Ewen Southby-Tailyour, one time marine officer, but best known, to those who dream of such places, as the author of the Falkland Islands Shores Pilot. A fine time was had and whilst Nick could see no reason to go the Falklands, Ewen could see of no reason NOT to go, preferred it to South Georgia and generally enthused us with tales of great anchorages and a fine people. Definitely on our list of places to go and soon.

When we mooted the idea of returning to the UK, Pete and Lucia suggested we might be able to use their buoy and this we duly did. We'd hoped to meet up with them on the Scottish leg but they were late in leaving and headed for the west coast of Ireland  as we slid into Plymouth Sound. The chances of them getting back seemed slight but get back they did and we were awakened one afternoon by their familiar voices coming alongside us albeit with a now greatly expanded family  of one daughter and two cats. They shrugged off our offer of vacating their mooring and sorted themselves out and are currently anchored further up the river and, like us, are trying to work out what they should do next. Actually the reason we were in bed on a Sunday afternoon was simply because I had met up with some of my family the previous evening and hadn't got to bed until 05:30. Unfortunately one of my sisters had retired early (03:30) and for reasons best known to herself woke up soon after and, clad only in her knickers, wandered into the hotel corridor. Unable to workout what she was doing there she went to re-enter her room to find the door had locked shut behind her.....thinking she might wake her other sister she banged on her door but got no response. Mostly 'cos that sister was with me talking about life, the universe etc in another room.... The guy in reception had a bit of a shock when semi-naked sister walked in!  

And finally. I know we have a blog and folks read it but we don't really expect to meet readers. Why should we? We're not exactly static and the chances of us being in the same area as a reader is fairly small. Nevertheless in this remarkable anchorage we have come across two separate readers and perhaps the location is the key. Wearde Quay and as far as I know Plymouth in general, is one of the few areas on the south coast of England where you can anchor for free. Thus it attracts a number of boats who have no wish to tie up in a car-park and are content with anchoring and no facilities. Oddly enough those type of boats are often those we feel some affinity with....


Thursday, 8 August 2013

Stornoway and south...

Having cruised up the Hebrides as far as Stornoway, spent a very enjoyable evening with friends Andrea and Eve we were ready to begin the trek south. 

Stornoway Harbour
 Unfortunately the weather wasn't, as front after front came through delivering winds with a southerly element and things were not good aboard Hannah. No doubt our state of mind had much to do with it but the huge number of boats we saw everywhere – the majority under motor even when wind conditions were favourable and the constant noise from the vhf of “weekend warriors” filing passage plans with a beleaguered Coast Guard made us wonder what the hell has happened since we've been away. Changing times I guess. So ever slowly we worked our way south, trying to use places we had not stayed in on our last trip here. The overwhelming memory would be of the need to use the engine in order to make any progress at all which no doubt contributed to the awful feeling of despair that seemed to hang over us. But like most things enough progress is made to get you into another state of mind. 

  Eventually we made it across to Northern Ireland and anchored in Red Bay before moving onto Bangor. Although this was our second visit to this coast for some reason we hadn't been aware the last time of how attractive it is...possibly very foggy last time but we were impressed. Not so much with my navigation however as we entered Bangor, NI to buy fuel and I almost took us the wrong side of the green mark. Having spent the last 6 years on the other side of the water where the rule is: red right returning I could claim that it's easy to get confused....but then again I did hit the mud outside of Oriental by reversing the rule so I guess the common denominator is me. Still on this occasion a sharp reminder from Bee alerted me to the error of my ways and we avoided an ignominious grounding in front of a horde of urchins who mistook me for “Capt Jack” it seems.

We had hoped to meet up with friends Bob and Sue who live on the Isle of Man but we managed a few brief hours there before fleeing the next morning with a favourable wind. The entrance into Holyhead, our next stop, is beset by fierce tides and though we were pointing well to the east of the entrance our, track was taking firmly to the west. We cheated by running the engine and pinching up as close to the Skerries as we dared. The tidal rips and currents had us twisting and turning whilst we ran at 8 knots and I struggled to keep the boat pointing in the needed direction. All my attention was on the task and for Toots this was the perfect moment for her to wander up on deck and hop nonchalantly onto the capping rail to get a better view of the water rushing madly around the hull and the island getting closer.... A combination shriek/howl from me made sure she got down rapidly and we swept on toward the entrance and bed. We had thought we might be held up a few days here and a rare chance to see family and friends but the promise of favourable winds had us out of there. Not to be of course but by then I'd decided that we might has well go directly to Cornwall rather than Cork. Another dumb decision! 
 It took a couple of days to get as far as St Ives where we anchored, leaving us to wonder about the passage around the end of Cornwall. Reeds suggests that leaving 3 hours before HW Dover, whilst bucking the tide to begin with would give you a favourable tide all the way to the Helford. Well perhaps it does if you have a boat that can motor against a 2 knot tide and still do 5 knots but that ain't us. Not that it stopped us trying. In our (or my) defence I would say that the forecast(!) had indicated that this was our best window albeit a not very good one. In the end we ended up getting round in a wind over tide situation, a horrible, lumpy and dangerous sea and the certain knowledge that rounding this headland is best achieved by sailing to the Scillies or Ireland and approaching from there. Very scary and unpleasant was the agreed verdict.

Finally we sailed in to the Helford, found Nige and Jude enjoying a barbie on the beach with their family and tied up to his mooring buoy 20 + hours after we left St Ives. That night we were early to bed whereas the next night the males behaved like adolescents, drank far too much and didn't go to bed until well after 4am. Unlike adolescents however it seems the more mature body suffers for longer and should serve as a stiff reminder about excessive drinking.......

Onwards towards our final destination in the UK, or not... and into Plymouth Sound with Bee spotting a boat we knew – Bob and Adele happened to be cruising this neck of the woods and we found ourselves on the same patch of water and both heading for Saltash. We anchored and they lay alongside and a fine time was had by all. In fact we stayed together for a few days before they moved on and we picked up the buoys that Pete and Lucia had suggested we might use. We met Tim who seems to run the mooring association, got an engineer sorted to look at the engine, found a welder to sort out our chimney base and then two years after we last saw them Robin and Jaq arrived.....what can we say? The reunion was as alcoholic, boisterous and musical as ever and they remain as generous and helpful as they always have been. Before we drank too much they handed over a gift from Steve, one of the Portsmouth Virginia friends we made. Steve had produced what looks like an oil painting of the photo that sits at the top of our blog. Framed and with the details of when the pic was taken (by Robin or Jaq) it is remarkable, not least for the amount of effort he has taken. I'll try to photograph it....

They, R&J, are taking a break from Blackthorn and the mast issues that they have suffered from...Robin says he is going to write up the whole story but has been saying that for far too long so I suggest you write to his blog and urge him on! Wonderful friends.

So that's it. In the next day or so we will lie alongside, scrub off and paint. Once the engine is sorted we think we might take a quick trip to Southampton to catch up with more folks before turning the bow south and heading to the Canaries and Cabo Verde.

Observations from abroad: England is VERY small and the houses are so close together that it feels claustrophobic. The rolling hills are wonderful but we doubt we will ever settle here. The UK coastguard are simply very good and professional, their radio announcements clear, spoken slowly and a joy to hear. USCG please take note... lastly the RNLI really is an institution. On one day we heard the Padstow lifeboat called out 3 times and the naval airbase at Helston launched a helicopter twice in response to demands.


Monday, 29 July 2013

Atlantic Crossing IV

Whilst St John's has a number of things going for it the one thing you don't get is rest and with a longish trip coming up that's what we wanted. Hedley and Karen took us, by car, to look at Petty Harbour a few miles south of St J's and having chatted to a couple of locals we decided to move there. H&K came with us for the seven mile trip and before long we were entering the narrow harbour. Once inside the ebbing current became very evident as in a moment of inattention I allowed the bow to fall off and the current swept us sideways. No doubt our guests wondered what on earth we were up to but we regained control and eventually docked alongside. That afternoon we had a stream of visitors as locals wandered down to see what we were about and several new friends were made. No doubt about it; Hannah certainly attracts fans.

The locals were very friendly but unfortunately the harbour isn't. With any wind from an easterly quarter a, sometimes violent, surge sets up and although we tried numerous techniques nothing we did seemed to make a difference. We're limited by our draft as much of the harbour is too shallow for us but looking at the fishing boats on the other side I'm not sure it would have made much difference. We even tried, with permission, to tie up on the dinghy pontoon which put us beam on to the ebbing stream and, whilst it eased the surging issue it raised the possibility that we may very well snap the chains holding the thing to the harbour wall. Sleep would have been impossible and we opted to leave at 9pm June 3, into a lumpy swell and not much wind. Not a good start.

The first two days, as expected, were foggy but our real concern was how far south the ice had got. The ice-charts suggested we should work our way east before making any northerly and so we did. But toward the end of the second day we spoke to a fishing boat who had seen no ice and we cut the corner and started the journey north east. The intention was to give Cape Farewell a wide berth and then hopefully make a quick passage to Iceland avoiding as much of the bad weather that comes out of Hudson Bay as possible. “No plan survives contact with the enemy” as Tilman was fond of quoting and so it was with us. A day or so later we heard a metallic sound on the deck but couldn't find what the cause had been. We subsequently found the nut has dropped off the gooseneck bolt and in the intervening period the bolt had begun to work itself out. Luckily no damage was done but it was a sharp kick up the arse to take a bit more care. 5 days out and we were picking up weather from passing ships and we were told that we could expect 35 knots + and 4 metre seas (13') from the NW. We opted to turn away from it to take the waves more on the quarter than the beam and under trys'l, storm stays'l and spitfire (what is he talking about!!) we raced along at 6 or 7 knots completely comfortable and relaxed. As it eased a day later we hoped to head back onto our course but the seas remained lumpy and water over the deck and then below savaged morale and we hove to to let the sea sort its self out. The morale was a real problem for me as I couldn't really settle into the trip and I found myself longing for it to be over. As we continued to get pushed east rather than NE, the angle to Iceland narrowed and the wind favoured a direct crossing to Scotland that's what we opted to do. In the whole trip we had two sunny days but the predominant colour was grey:sea, sky, mood. We seemed to be mentally caught between the old and new destination........

A passing tanker told us that day was the last of the bad weather and we should have two days of good sailing winds and weather. He was right and before long we managed to pick up the strains of “Sailing By”, the theme tune to the 00:48 shipping forecast on BBC R4, and a long time favourite. A day later we were warned of “an unusually vigorous low heading across the Atlantic toward the north of the country. We'd been hoping to make landfall at Mull but altered course to Barra in the Outer Hebrides as the harbour is easy to enter irrespective of the weather. And so it proved to be. At one point with some 18 miles to go, Hannah hurtling though the night at 7 knots and 4 hours to go before daylight we reduced sail and of course the wind soon dropped, speed followed suit and then almost died away completely. On came the motor and we ran on in through the rain and fog. We caught brief glimpses of the islands but Barra remained hidden until we were close. Into the harbour we motored and found 5 boats on the mooring buoys layed out for visiting yachts. We too picked up one, cleaned up a bit and then slept. 19 days to cross and possibly the most uncomfortable crossing yet. Lumpy and sometimes big seas, cold and damp all combined to make it a less than enjoyable experience. We loved the trys'l combination, particularly for off the wind sailing as, even with the 2 deep reefs in the main, the boat can still be a handful. However the parrel balls that are used on the sail scour the mast fairly heavily so we'll be making changes there.

I have no idea how many sail changes we went through but it was a lot and interestingly we wore harnesses on several occasions when working on the foredeck. Might be because conditions suggested it to be the sensible option....might be the tumble over the side last year has made us a tad more cautious....

The following day we phoned customs to let them know we had arrived.

We made our way slowly up the Hebrides to Stornoway where this  post was written. A couple of things we've noticed: More boats cruising these waters than when we were last here we feel. Think we saw 20 in the first week...ok it may not sound much but after several years of cruising Labrador it comes as a shock. Plus many boats feel the need to file passage plans with the Coast Guard and so the VHF is full of chatter.

The up-side of it all was meeting up again with Andrea and Eve, some of the locals from the village they live in and a very enjoyable evening over a meal and our home-brew.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Heading east.........sort of.

It seems a lifetime ago that we were anchored in the Harbour of Refuge at Cape Henlopen having enjoyed a motor through the C&D canal, feeling homesick as the countryside reminded us so much of least until we saw the buzzards hanging around by the waters edge. We'd read a lot about the currents and shipping through this canal but it treated us well even when this one loomed out of the mist at the approach to the western entrance.
Something large slides out of the mist........
 We left Russ and Alison a day or so previously and worked our way north toward an anchorage for the night. An early start the following day gave us time to enjoy the scenery and the journey down from there was ok, helped by the engine we pulled into the refuge late one evening.

Think we spent a couple of nights there, complete with thunderstorms, before pulling up the hook about noon on Sat May 11. The start was good with reasonable winds and speeds but by the evening the seas were big and lumpy but the wind was dying. Not a pleasant state of affairs and a situation that had Bee throwing up from sea-sickness and even left me feeling a tad quesy. Worse was to come. In the early hours of Sunday morning we gybed as the wind shifted (the self-steerer was in command...) and as we struggled to bring her back on course on a pitch black night the boom came over with a crash. No rigging was lost but the mainsheet caught around a dorade and ripped it completely off the box and another unidentified line ripped a cleat from the boom. Not a happy chappy as I cursed and fumed about the perils of crash gybing gaffers in the dark. The rest of the day improved, the sun came out and we were able to get stuff dried, speeds were good and we both felt optimistic.

Osprey nests
  Falsely as it turns out as the trip was a mixture of light winds, drifting interspersed with a day ot two of strong blows. One day had us bouncing around in 5 metre seas with the odd one or two coming aboard. Thankfully the changes we'd put in place over the winter seem to have paid off and very little came below. However one wave, which seemed to fill the cockpit, succeeded in taking both our favourite winch handle (newly acquired as a cast-off from Morgans Cloud) and a great diving knife which we used mostly to puncture tins before casting them to the deep.

Our route had taken us firmly off-shore as I wanted to avoid the fog and fishing boats off the Nantucket Shoals and then again off Nova Scotia. So the primary benefit was we had fog free days and very little inter action with fishing boats. The down side was we were out of range of the weather forecast and we resorted to calling up ships for a report. They were. for the most part, pretty useless and seemed, in retrospect, to be completely out of date or possibly for a totally different area. On one occasion we resorted to calling up a Canadian Surveillance aircraft that flew over us. They answered our call and responded to our request with great civility although their response of "cloud cover at 4,000 feet and good visibility from here to the mainland" (140 miles away) was not really what we had in mind for a forecast. We pushed our luck and asked if they could obtain a marine forecast for us and although they tried they were unable to get anything specific. Our final "request" for a pizza delivery was met with barely suppressed hoots of laughter as they wished us well, turned and flew EXTREMELY low over out mast tops. Nice folks and good natured with it.

Toots modelling her new hat, a present from Alison!

So the trip went on. In keeping with our philosophy of "why motor when you can drift" we achieved some startling mileages. 5 miles in 4 hours was not uncommon, even 3 miles between 12 noon and 4 pm on May 22nd which all helped to keep daily mileages below the 100 we work on when "planning" a long trip. At some point we did become fairly disgruntled about the whole thing, Bee wishing we'd taken a route closer to shore but still outside the fog banks and both of us contemplating changing course for Cape Breton and even, at one bottom of the barrel moment, saying stuff it and we'll just keep going and head for Iceland/Scotland or wherever our destination ends up being. A tally of the amount of water we had left knocked that idea out but for some hours it was definitely the choice aboard!

By Friday 24th the inevitable happened and we had gradually moved northwards and into the fog and life changed. I really do not enjoy sailing in fog even though we now have radar but we spent the next 48 hours moving slowly through the wet dreariness of life in a fog bank. Very little wild life could be seen or heard, from time to time we'd hear or see a radar image of a fishing boat or large ships on the AIS but otherwise our visual world was reduced to a grey wall. Not until, as it did last time, we rounded Cape Spear just 4 miles from St John did we glimpse and then see land. We had, of course, long ago given up the idea of going to St Pierre so entering the Narrows was very welcome. Surprisingly at this time of the year there were already 2 boats moored to the docks and unsurprisingly one of them was BO, a Dutch boat we'd last seen in Castine as we all sheltered from some hurricane or other. There are only 2 individual docks and one had no gangplank so access to the shore was non-existent. We rafted up, tidied up, phoned the Customs and settled down to await their arrival. A couple of very laid back officers arrived, cleared us in with the least fuss we have received anywhere and departed. An hour later we were aboard Bo, downed a hefty glass of Cuban rum to celebrate our arrival and soon after crawled off to bed. 15 days and change for 1200 plus miles, so a slow trip.
The Battery, St Johns from the Narrows

Since then we've sorted out a few jobs, showered and done laundry at The Mighty White. Not only do they have cumfy seating but they also have free wi-fi on site lending itself to a pleasant couple of hours catching up. A day or so later I happened to be on deck one evening and heard someone call my name, turned and found myself meeting someone who had followed the blog for a number of years. Hedley had worked out that if we were going to St Pierre we might well turn up in St Johns and had swung by the waterfront on the off chance. He and Karen came aboard for a glass and a chat and as Karen later pointed out it must be strange, for us, to meet folks who know so much about who we are and what we've done when we have never met before. They're like a number of people we have met who seem to have evolved a great lifestyle that involves a mixture of land and water. Like us they have no inclination for heat and crowds, love the solitude that sailing around here provides but can retreat to a rural winter isolation and simplicity. Or at least that's how we see it.......In the meantime they've generously put themselves at our disposal and made life a whole lot easier.

So that's the first leg over and soon we'll think about the next one. An early look at PassageWeather showed a band of fog stretching from here, eastwards for 700 or 800 miles or more. Luckily it seems to be short lived but it'll be something we'll be checking on before we push off. Our initial thoughts are to move away from here and find ourselves a quiet spot to get ourselves ready. St Johns is a great place but is noisy with the amount of shipping moving in and out daily plus the docks are opposite the entrance to a SE wind will lump the seas up quite quickly we suspect. However the east coast does not have an abundance of good sheltered anchorages so we'll head down to Fermeuse or round the top and into Conception Bay. After that we'll head east to clear (by a long way) Cape Farewell on the south of Greenland before turning for Reykjavik. Well that's today's plan. Stornoway is also in our minds as a landfall and I'm thinking we won't really know until we get there.

St Johns, Newfoundland

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Buckets...Pensions and Plungers

Well here we are, with less than 50 days to go before I officially retire, before I become a genuine, state registered pensioner but, unlike virtually every other couple entering this twilight zone, our income will rise dramatically...but to the business in hand.

This will probably be our last update from the USA as we get ready to make one last journey from these shores. True, at this stage, we're still planning on heading up the Bay to see Russ and Alison  as they ready themselves for a jaunt up to northern Labrador and beyond for the summer but from Annapolis we're hoping to transit the C&D canal, slip quietly down the Delaware Bay and head on up to the French territory of St Pierre, a small island off the Newfoundland coast, about 1200 miles away. We're still undecided about whether to leave from there or somewhere else or even where we might go to...well, we know we're heading for Iceland but we watch the ice charts for Cap Farvel and note the speed at which the pack-ice has moved from the west coast of Greenland. Not so the east coast however, which remains blocked by 7/10 ice so ensuring that our hoped for trip through the Sund, at this stage, remains in doubt. In some ways we're clutching at straws as history indicates the Sund clearing around July or August which would be far too late for this years "plans" We'll see what mid-May brings.

A rare sight - our dinghy with the bow section separated.

As long term readers will know we have a hard dinghy - we still have it as the various "purchasers" who swore on their mothers grave it was exactly what they'd be looking for and they'd give the full asking price..seem unable to translate the words in their email into actually parting with the cash thus ensuring that both us and Portland Pudgy got the run around as we tried to work out the logistics of selling and taking delivery before we depart. In the end we gave up and, sadly, the Pudgy goes on the back burner for now. But the reason I mention it is more for the fact that something caught my eye somewhere about one of the issues folks feel you're faced with if you use a hard dinghy, namely when they're tied off the stern of the boat they do have a habit of creeping up and T-boning your hull. It has happened to us but years ago we were given a great tip. So here it is. Tie a bucket (preferably one of those wonderful rubber buckets made from old tyres as they sink) off the stern of the dinghy and chuck it over the stern. As long as you're in tidal waters the bucket will be pulled away from the dinghy and the dinghy pulled away from the stern of the boat. Folks you visit will be eternally grateful that your dinghy is not attempting to batter a hole in the stern of their glossy Awlgrip'd hull. The hardest part we have found is to remember the bucket needs bringing aboard before you begin the 1/2 mile row to the dock....

Stashed away in our "diesel" locker we keep a plunger, the common or garden type used for unblocking toilets/drains and what have you.

We use it to periodically clear the cockpit drains from the detritus of everyday living, particularly if we have spent months tied to a dock etc and it ensures any water that comes aboard is easily able to drain. Much more effective than ramming a hose pipe in and hoping to flush everything out. It also works well as a simple washing machine by helping to agitate the water and muck in a bucket.

As the year moves on we're beginning to see the ducks and geese, who populate this creek, proudly showing off their new chicks.


So here we sit on a sunny Saturday with the list growing ever smaller as last minute jobs are knocked off. With luck Cary will soon be free and we'll drive out to the airport to collect 25 litres of aviation fuel to use in our cooker. Bee has conducted her final forays into the wilds of Portsmouth, hunting down the bargains - last week she ended up with 500 grams (1lb) of rice for 2 cents and is greeted like an old friend at numerous supermarkets around the town. To the extent that one staff member came over to warn her that all the reduced items had been moved and could now be found on aisle....

The changes we've made seem to work well. At least tied up they do. We'll let you know.

Portsmouth, Va

Monday, 1 April 2013

..a boat full of crocks..

Not a lot to write about this time around; numerous changes made to Hannah as we prepare for another season. The "Mooyak" has gone to another home after we took the decision to consider a Portland Pudgy as our dinghy of choice. The kayak had its uses but I really disliked the way it reduced the deck width and, more importantly, made reefing slightly more onerous. Now we have our spacious decks back and access to the port side of the boom is restored. Bee was sad to see it go but was instrumental in getting it up for sale. We'll see what happens with our two part dinghy and whether we will make the jump to a PP. Not cheap and only possible because of a long forgotten pension agreement I signed 20 odd years ago and now coming, rapidly into maturity. Ah the benefits of aging! The attraction of the PP is, for us, its versatility and that it can be a bona- fida lifeboat with a chance that you can sort out your own disaster rather embarking in a rubber raft and hoping for rescue. I might do a "rant" about my feelings on this whole "safety" issue one day, life-jackets at all times and the rest of it but it'll wait.

Toots, circa 2003...
Toots: lies stretched out alongside me as I type these lines, beginning to recover from her setbacks of the last 3 or 4 weeks. Beginning with an inability to put weight on her front leg which cleared after 10 days or so to be replaced by a seizure of her hips. Two vet visits disclosed mild arthritis in her hip sockets and we left, considerably poorer and with instructions not to let her jump about too much! She lives on a boat!!

Nevertheless,we rigged up a gangplank which, we have to say she gratefully used as the jetty here is fixed, so Hannah rises and falls with the tide leaving us all either stepping up or down from/to the boat. Now, with her mobility returned she has resorted to her nerve-racking leaps..

Bee would have made an brilliant researcher and can locate stuff on the 'net whereas I lose enthusiasm when confronted with "About 2,350,6790 results in 0.36 seconds" as Google returns my search query. In one of these quests she found numerous positive reports from cat owners about a joint supplement. In a local store (Krogers) she found said supplement being sold off......$20 reduced to $2.09. She bought the lot. Similarly with the 3 tablets we got from the vet at $21 could be found on-line for $1.99 each. The deal is even better in the UK where 30 tablets cost the equivalent of $30. She (Toots) is on the mend now although generally stiff when she first gets up. We don't think the last couple of years have helped her (or us for that matter) as we seem to have been in cold, damp conditions most of the time. I doubt this summer will be much different either.

A riot of colour, a roaring fire and Toots at full stretch.....

 The summer: We still intend to head up to Iceland though we're in two minds about the way we'll do this...Option 1 is to go directly from here to Reykjavik avoiding the fog around Grand Banks and the 'bergs coming down from Labrador.

Helen, emerging from Labrador waters with head wound!
Option 2 is to drop in on Phil and Helen in Maine before heading off for the south coast of Newfoundland and then,possibly, onto the Prins Christian Sund in southern Greenland. Swings and roundabouts to both ideas of course: Option 1 means we probably won't be leaving properly until mid-May, which seems a LONG way off and whilst #2 means we can leave fairly soon with southern Newfie a big attraction, it does mean covering the same ground for a while and bringing ourselves into the fog/berg scenario we'd hoped to avoid. The Prins Christian Sund is a 90 mile cut through which, in a normal year is "ice-free" around July/August and would be far too late for what we want. Looking at the two ice charts here you can see that there has been a considerable reduction in the ice in the last 3 weeks so perhaps we may be lucky. These are pdf files and I have no idea how to embed them in the blog so the links may be a temporary thing.

  March 17                       March 29                        Ice egg explanation

Lastly,if you have, as we do, an attraction for those cold and isolated places have a look at this site. The story of his building the boat is remarkable enough but the photo journals are just wonderful. It helps that he takes great photos of brilliant subjects.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Sailors and science

I came across this article on the BBC recently and it struck me as an excellent idea and one in which sailors could make a contribution with very little effort. It's a simple device to measure plankton for Plymouth University and this is part of what they say:

The marine phytoplankton account for approximately 50% of all photosynthesis on Earth and, through the plankton food web that they support, they both underpin the marine food chain and play a central role in the global carbon cycle strongly influencing the Earth’s climate. 

Living at the surface of the sea the phytoplankton are particularly sensitive to changes in sea surface temperature. A recent study of global phytoplankton abundance over the last century concluded that global phytoplankton concentrations have declined due to rising sea surface temperatures as a consequence of current climate change....
You can read the BBC article 


and the stuff from Plymouth Uni


this second link has an additional link to downloading a mobile app to report the data you find. Apart from a phone they ask you to make a white 30cm disc, called a Secchi, take a reading between 10 and 2pm and a few other small points -  well you can read about it in detail on the second site. Seems a great idea to harness those already out there on the oceans to provide valuable data. Most yotties I know seem to have mobile phones so no reason not to get involved....

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Here we go again...

It's 5.30pm, high water was about an hour ago and yet the water continues to rise...we're in the middle of, yet another, winter storm and the NW wind blowing around 35knots with, apparently, possible gusts of 45 knots from the NW. The worst direction in Scott's Creek and a chop has built up which will probably increase as the tides tries to ebb.
Bee working her way back down the jetty...
 Bee has just leapt off the boat in her wellies to collect a parcel our friend Cary has been expecting. The UPS driver was alarmed to see the wild haired woman trying to run through the water that has already risen above the jetty... and couldn't work out why anyone would be coming from that direction in this weather....

As luck would have it we have both the Carrie B and a local ferry in alongside us. Unfortunately the jetty they're on is really only long enough for one vessel so the Carrie B has about a third of its length against the jetty whilst the rest remain in limbo. Lets hope both the jetty and their lines hold or this place is going to look like a skittle alley.

I think it'll be a long night.

But it has been quiet and restful, well perhaps not for this fish. At the moment the top of this piling is struggling to stay above water as it continues to rise.

Redbird and Hannah side by side, a bygone era

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Sometimes you need a little bit of luck...

Prompted by a series of posts on  here I was reminded of my recent experience of going overboard. The posts concern the sensibility of being either harnessed or wearing a life jacket at all times; not a philosophy we either share or agree with but each to their own. But it got me thinking, looking at where on the boat it had happened and whether a harness and or life jacket would have made a difference. You can read about what happened here if you haven't already but the conclusion I came to is this. Well OK lets first rule out the life jacket as we have never worn them ever on Hannah but we do, if we think conditions dictate, wear harnesses and on that occasion we did not feel conditions warranted harnesses. That's our decision, others may, and do, adopt a very different approach and that's fine by us. So thinking about what happened this is what I feel may have occurred and what a possible outcome may have been had I been wearing a harness.

When the boom swung back toward me I was moving to my left and I probably caught my left heel against the running backstay which is stretched taught between a block and a winch (not a good arrangement which we are now taking steps to change) It was this stumble, coupled to trying to dodge a swinging boom, that began the process of tipping me upside down over the side. Had I been wearing a harness it would have been clipped on to a jackstay and thus dangling vertically from chest level to the deck. Somersaulting backwards would have, probably, meant my legs passing either side of the harness as I went over the bulwarks. As I see it I would have been suspended upside down with my head underwater with my legs at 90 degrees to my body ( head at 6 o'clock, legs at 3o'clock) effectively trapping me in a prime drowning position. As those who have read the update know, plus the fact that I'm still writing is a bit of a give away, I simple fell off the boat and with two pieces of luck came back on board.

Well the conclusion I draw from this is not that wearing a harness is bad for your health but simply that there are no hard and fast rules. People fall over board and are drowned wearing life belts and or harnesses. People are saved because they have been wearing life belts or harnesss. Neither is right or wrong, it's just a choice. Hopefully you make the right one.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Old guys rule...

We've recently stripped down, and put back together, our wonderful Simpson Lawrence windlass, a SL500 model no less and believed to date from the early 50's. It's a massively solid and comforting piece of kit with a cast iron case, two speeds, three pawls and five grease nipples. The handle we use to operate it is about a metre long and raises the chain on both the push and pull strokes. We've never bothered with the low gear, have no idea how many feet per minute we raise but love its simplicity, ruggedness and lack of frills.

Ahead of the windlass can be seen the swivel we inserted into the system to try to get the anchor to come up toward the roller in the correct orientation. Doesn't always work and we may not keep it there but you can see, in the photo below, that the swivel is NOT attached directly to the anchor. I've lost count of the number of boats I've seen where swivels are attached in that way; despite the numerous accounts of the damage done to the swivel when an anchor, buried deep or caught on a rock is unable to move sideways and the forces splay the swivel side walls. We use a short length of 12mm (1/2")chain to connect the swivel to the anchor.

We had an "altercation" with someone on line recently who accused us of being massively over the top in terms of the weight of anchor (33kg) we use for the size of boat. Well perhaps in his terms we are; but then, unlike him, we don't have the safety net of a home - Hannah represents everything we own and the only insurance we have is for 3rd Party i.e. if we wreck your boat our insurance will cover your damage but ours is down to us. On top of this of course, Hannah is very heavy, not because she is a ferro hull but simply because this is our home and we live aboard on a full time basis. The 700 books (no exaggeration) 1,000+ paper charts, cast iron wood stove and all the provisions etc add up to a lot of weight. Although our fuel tank is small at 60 litres we carry an additional 180 litres or so in jerry cans. Likewise water. I do remember when we were last pulled out in the UK, we'd stripped the boat of most things, no books or charts for instance and both masts, booms, gaffs and all sails had been removed and we still weighed over 16 ton (35,000lbs or well over 16000 kgs) Add to all that weight the windage of two masts, served rigging, baggy wrinkles and 1500 feet of running rigging and Hannah adds up to a wonderful target for wind and waves when we're at anchor. So we use what we feel is the best insurance possible - a heavy anchor with a rock solid manual windlass. It may not appeal to everyone and, it seems, nothing brings forth the arm chair pundits as much as anchoring threads on forums but this works for us.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Wintering in Greenland

In early August of last year we began to make preparations to leave Greenland and work our way south. A week or so later a 35' Wylo called Iron Bark made its way into Disko Bay and began searching around for winter quarters..... Trevor Robertson and 'Barky, as he calls his boat, were looking to embark on their third winter in the ice. Once in Antarctica and once, with Annie Hill, in the Arctic.

It came to mind recently as the daylight hours here are becoming noticeably longer, yesterday we had our first sprinkling of snow and I got to wondering how Trevor was getting on. Of course nobody knows as communication is non existent and even Annie is not sure where he decided to winter - the only clue may be that as a last resort he could always use the same anchorage they used in 2004/05.

So he is, based on the lat/long of the last anchorage they used (72 30.9N 54 58.6 W) at the moment still experiencing zero sunlight and probably won't see the sun until Jan 31st. Think about that. It is not something I would want to do (although Bee finds the idea appealing) and with a wood burner as our heat source it is never likely to happen but Annie's account of their Arctic time can be seen here whilst Trevor's account of his time in Antarctica can be seen here

When we begin to head north toward Iceland in late May, Trevor is likely still to be frozen in......

Portsmouth, Virginia

Wednesday, 23 January 2013


 It's a quiet time here as winter kicks in, we revise our plans about heading south and think more about this summers trip. With the wood burner keeping the chill out of the boat and little to write about we offer these great shots from the camera of Russ Nichols, taken during 2011
Pity about the line over the side...