Arni's Once in a while diary. Click on the titles to read

20095.24 - 7.11Through The Inland Sea, Japan  New!
¡¡4.28 - 5.24To Tokyo!   New!
¡¡4.9-4.28A Path Les Traveled: Guam to Chichijima, Japan  New!
200812.16 - 2009.4.8A Path Less Traveled: Kosrae to Guam New!
¡¡10.30 - 12.15A Path Less Traveled: from Banks, Vanuatu to Kosrae, Federated States of Micronesia New!
Sorry, Didn't bother to write diaries for a year! That was our time in Australia, New Caledonia and Vanuatu. 
2007   - 8.24Fiji (part 2)
¡¡ 6.1 -Fiji (part 1)
¡¡MayLast days in New Zealand and arriving at Fiji
¡¡AprilWhangarei 2007.4.10
¡¡MarchWhangarei 2007.3.25 (time in Norsand Boatyard 2)
¡¡FebruaryWhangarei 2007.2.10 (Norsand Boatyard 1 & visit to Kathleen's family farm in Gisborne)
¡¡JanuaryWhangarei 2007.1.25 (also visit to HK and UK)
2006October - DecemberWhangarei 2006.11.15 (mainly on Tonga)
¡¡8.27 - 9.9Penrhyn, Cook Islands
¡¡July Tahiti, Society Islands, French Polynesia
¡¡¡¡Fakarava, Tuamotus 2, F.P.
¡¡¡¡Fakarava, Tuamotus 1
¡¡JuneArriving at Tuamotus and bits of Marquesas, F.P.
¡¡¡¡Daniel's Bay, Nuku Hiva, Marquesas
¡¡¡¡Nuku Hiva (also Nancy's illness)
¡¡¡¡Hiva Oa (also Vivian's arrival)
¡¡MayCrossing the Pacific
¡¡AprilGalapagos 3
¡¡¡¡Galapagos 2
¡¡¡¡Galapagos 1
¡¡MarchEcuador
¡¡FebruaryPanama
¡¡¡¡Panama Canal
¡¡¡¡The SW Caribbean: Leaving the Bahamas for Panama
¡¡Dec05 - early Feb06Georgetown, Bahamas 2
¡¡¡¡Georgetown, Bahamas 1
¡¡¡¡Bahamas 1
2005DecAllen's Cay, Bahamas
¡¡¡¡Entering Bahamas, Green Turtle Cay 2
¡¡¡¡Entering Bahamas, Green Turtle Cay 1
¡¡¡¡Leaving Florida for Bahamas
¡¡NovemberICW Southbound: Scull Creek
¡¡¡¡ICW Southbound: Brown's Inlet
¡¡¡¡ICW Southbound: Beaufort
¡¡¡¡ICW Southbound: Coinjock
¡¡OctoberICW: Annapolis
¡¡SeptemberICW: Northbound: Solomon Islands 2
¡¡¡¡ICW: Northbound: Solomon Islands 1
¡¡AugustICW: Northbound: Smith Island 8.24
¡¡¡¡ICW: Annapolis
¡¡¡¡ICW: going to Annapolis
¡¡JulyICW: Tangier Island
¡¡¡¡ICW: Norfolk and Tangier Island
¡¡¡¡ICW: Great Dismal Swamp and Norfolk
¡¡¡¡ICW: Elizabeth City
¡¡¡¡ICW: Leaving Beaufort and towards Elizabeth City
¡¡¡¡ICW: Southport and Beaufort
¡¡¡¡ICW: Charleston and on the Atlantic through Winyah Bay
¡¡JuneICW: A piece by Cam in Charleston
¡¡¡¡ICW: Savannah and Isle of Hope, SC
¡¡¡¡ICW:Isle of Hope
¡¡¡¡ICW: Disney, St. Augustine,Fernandina Beach
¡¡¡¡ICW: Titusville, Daytona Beach, St. Augustine
¡¡¡¡ICW: Leaving Cocoa, approach Titusville
¡¡¡¡From Biscayne Bay to Cocoa
¡¡¡¡From Start to Biscayne Bay

¡¡

Through the Inland Sea, Japan
Coasting in Japan is not a frivolous undertaking. I don't think you could see more sea-traffic anywhere on earth. The fishing fleet is vast, and very high speed. The inshore fishing boats scurry around at well over 20 knots. Japan is a land of many islands, and suits sea transport as a way of moving its goods efficiently, so there are coastal freighters by the thousands, not to mention the towed barges. Having one of the world's largest industrial economies in quite a small country means too a very heavy concentration of large foreign-going ships of every description. The coastline is complex and has many offshore rocks and hazards, although these are well marked. The weather is very changeable, being in a temperate zone, and strong currents, both ocean and tidal, affect much of the country. Finally, but not the least of issues, are the fishing nets, buoys, cages and rafts which clog the inshore waters to a degree that it makes one doubt the possibility of survival for any sea creature. It is therefore not safe or practical to make night passages in these waters. The shipping lanes are far too busy, and outside of these there are too many man-made hazards invisible at night.

The Japanese bureaucracy makes voyaging more difficult as I explained in a previous article in this series. To recap, one is supposed to tell the authorities in advance where one is going during a check out process from every port, and that cannot be a closed port without prior written permission, and you can't stop and anchor on the way. When you get to your destination you have to check in. Well, this is what we were repeatedly told, but, for the most part, we ignored these rules, except for the restriction on anchoring, since there was nowhere suitable to anchor that was not full of fishing paraphernalia.

Fortunately, the coasts of Japan have a safe harbour every few miles, and these are shown on the invaluable S-Guides which one can buy at most marinas and some book stores. These books, divided into regions, show most of the small harbours in great detail. Apparently they are available in English, but we never found them, but managed OK with the Japanese ones. Most of these harbours are not shown on even the latest paper or digital charts, which makes the S-guides indispensable.

So our passage along he coast was planned in a series of easy day-sails, after checking the tides. From Misaki at the entrance to Tokyo Bay we travelled along the south coast of Honshu, so until we reached the entrance to the Setonaikai (Inland Sea) we would be working against the Kuroshio (Black) Current, and the best way to avoid this is to stay inshore. One of our early stops was in the tiny enclosed harbour of Arrari on the west coast of the Izo Hanto Peninsula. We had been told we could haul out there, but the facilities were a very broken down shipyard in the process of being converted into a marina. We did manage to get a diver instead to clean the hulls, at a reasonable price. However, our visit to Arrari was not wasted. One of the regular low pressure systems that track from west to east across this area at this time of the year deepened rapidly to well below 980, and on the weatherfax looked just like a tropical storm, with a tightly defined eye. Just nearby the wind was over 70 knots sustained, with gusts over 100 knots, but our harbour was surrounded by steep hills, so all we got were violent gusts of up to this speed. The peculiar aerodynamics caused by the hills at times made the surface of the water go vertically upwards in sheets of spray.

From Arrari onwards we stopped at numerous small fishing boat harbours. The fixtures and fittings were always superb, and we were always politely pointed to a place for a yacht to tie up by one of the fishermen. Actually it seems that every Japanese is a fisherman because most of the time the piers and seawalls are lined with amateur fishermen, and they would all be very curious. We must have supplied hundreds of cups of coffee as we made friends with some of these people. Many would give small gifts of fruit or vegetables, even those that did not stop to talk. My wife Cam speaks some Japanese so we managed very well, because very, very few Japanese speak English.

One problem of these harbours is that the walls to which you tie are fitted with large vertical rubber buffers. They are excellent for protecting the fishing boats from damage, but they are so large they swallow normal fenders, and the rubber leaves ugly black marks on your topsides. Japanese yachties use huge round fenders, which they find the space to carry because none of them carries a dinghy or, in most cases, an anchor, since they always tie up to docks or pontoons. Our solution was to obtain some old car tyres and hang them outside two horizontal fenders.

Another feature of Japan is the ubiquity of vending machines, perhaps because vandalism is almost unheard-of. So not far away, even in the countryside, one can get hot and cold drinks. My favourite was the common ice-cream vending machine. Usually, not far from the harbour, there would be a small supermarket or convenience store, so daily necessities were never a problem. We were very impressed in one village to find a coin-operated rice husking machine. This smart green booth puzzled us, so when a lady drove up on a scooter carrying two large bags, we watched closely. She put some coins in the slot, hooked a spare bag under a feed slot, and poured her two bags of harvested rice into a chute. A few minutes of rumbling and she was able to walk away with a few kilos of ready-to-eat rice. Amazing! We discovered that many Japanese who are not farmers nevertheless have a plot where they grow their own rice for family consumption. They can also rent or buy a small automatic rice planting machine, so the back-breaking labour of rice production is a thing of the past.

Eventually, after crossing the busy shipping lanes leading into Nagoya Bay, we entered the gulf leading to the narrow entrance to the Setonaikai, the Inland Sea. There are large islands in the otherwise broad entrance, and this means that the passage of vessels and tides is restricted to two quite narrow channels, one on the East side, and the other in the West. I had carefully checked the tide tables, but ignorance caught me out, because the current reverses its flow at up to 4 hours after the change of tide. I later discovered a Japanese Coastguard website which gives an excellent map of the Setonaikai and shows, with coloured arrows, the direction and rate of the current through the various channels. You can step forward or back in hourly increments to see exactly what is happening. However, on this occasion, we had to motor through the East channel against a 5 knot current. Luckily there was no wind to stir up the water, and although there were modest overfalls, the speediest current only lasted for about 1 mile.

Perhaps its time to point out the difficulty with internet and mobile phones in Japan. Firstly, our normal fallback of Wifi is rare in Japan. For the telephone, in most countries we buy a local chip for our mobile phone and pay-as-we-go, but it appears Japan has never heard of this simple solution for travellers, and in any event, they don't use the world-wide GSM system, so our phones would not have worked anyway. You can't buy a cheap phone and contract without a resident's permit, due to the Japanese fixation with control, and so foreigners effectively can't get a phone. As for internet, most Japanese use advanced smart-phones with a 3G data connection. Here we were very fortunate, as an American resident whom we had befriended in Tokyo had volunteered to sign a contract for us with DoCoMo, using my credit card, to get a USB dongle for the computer which gave us 3G data for the internet, at supposedly a maximum of $US70 per month (Although we are querying $100+ bills) and worked up to 10 miles offshore almost everywhere. Being a moderately fast connection, Skype worked well too, and met our mobile phone needs. This would be the best solution for all cruisers, but does require a willing local to sign the contract for you.

After entering the Setonaikai, we turned east and 10 miles later entered the small harbour containing the Tannowa Marina and Yacht Club. Closing the coast towards the harbour entrance we found our way seemingly blocked by thousands of fishing buoys, even right between the port and starboard buoys marking the channel. We eventually raised somebody in the marina on VHF (very unusual in Japan) and they assured us the buoys were not connected to each other, so we could simply weave between them. It was, however, yet another example of the contrast between the total official control of most aspects of life, but the complete lack of control of fishermen.

We were delighted to see the New Zealand yacht Tokimata, whom we had seen in Chi Chi Jima, and whom we knew were heading this way, but we had expected them to be gone north, as they were planning to cross the Pacific to Alaska. On their voyage from Saipan to Chi Chi Jima they had parted a headstay, and were saved by their inner forestay. They were able to get a replacement stay sent to Chi Chi Jima, but on installing it, had discovered some further damage at the masthead fitting which could not be repaired in a remote island. They had therefore re-inforced it as well as possible, and headed for Tannowa sailing conservatively. The members of the Tannowa yacht Club were as spectacularly welcoming and generous as those in Tokyo. They had arranged for both yachts to stay for free, and had arranged a very favourable deal for Tokimata to have the mast lifted out, welded and re-installed. We enjoyed socialising with this young crew, a real nice group. The skipper, Danny, with girlfriend and friends, was delivering the yacht to Alaska for his parents so they could go cruising there. There is a certain 'Just Do It' attitude amongst New Zealanders that I have always admired. The members of the yacht club treated us to many social occasions, and one of them invited us to his home for a real-home-cooked meal. He also supplied us with a huge pile of vegetables from his small-holding.

Heading along the coast northwards for Osaka from Tannowa, one passes inside the huge reclamation that forms Kansai International Airport. This impressive artificial island does not number amongst Japan's many unnecessary infrastructure projects, because to create an airfield on Japan's mostly hilly, and often mountainous terrain would be even more challenging. After passing under the large road/rail bridge connecting the airport to the mainland we soon arrived in the port of Osaka where we had been advised to go to Hokko marina. Here we were once again pleased to be offered a free stay of up to 1 week. The marina was quite basic, but the berth was fine. Just across the channel from us the most amazing building, looking like something out of Charlie & the Chocolate Factory. Turns out it is a re-cycling centre. For once one could see some interesting architecture in Japan, instead of the usual drab grey concrete of large buildings. This facility was designed by a German, Hundertwasser, whom we had heard of in Whangarei, New Zealand, as he had designed, of all things, a famous toilet there!

We were not far, as the crow flies, from Universal Studios Japan, although it turned out to be a long bus ride. We had a wonderful day out there, very impressive. This was a reward for the girls for not complaining about not going to Tokyo Disney, which we had been very close to at Yumenoshima Marina in Tokyo. (The girls went to Disney in Florida). I really enjoyed USJ, as there was lots of entertainment and it was not too crowded, so queuing was not too arduous.

We also enjoyed the city, and discovered a delicatessan carrying mostly English foodstuffs, a first for Japan. I bought Chivers Blackcurrant Jam, Cadbury's chocolate and other goodies.

Whilst in Hokko, we met Yello, a Swiss-registered Catana catamaran who had been cruising in Japan for some time. Rolf & Daniella were very nice, and gave us a lot of useful information.

We were now armed with the web location of the Japan Coastguard site which shows, hour-by-hour, the tidal flows through the various channels in the Setonaikai, so we timed our remaining passages much better. We were now heading due West, through a maze of islands with many choices of route. Often the sensible one was a major shipping channel, and traffic was exceptionally busy, added to which there were even more fishing boats than there had been on the ocean coasts.

Cruising through this area should have been a real pleasure, but the Japanese themselves have completely spoilt it. Firstly they don't allow foreign vessels to anchor. Added to this is the requirement to check out of EVERY port, however small, with information as to where and when you will arrive next, followed by the need to check in again. This absurdity means you can't cruise as you would anywhere else in the world. You can't see how the day goes, and depending on progress, choose a nice spot to stop for the night. Not allowed. You could defy them, and probably get away with it most of the time, but everytime we dealt with officials we were warned not to. We did extract a concession from the Coastguard that we could call them on the radio with our movements. The first time we tried this they asked us why we were calling them, so I didn't bother after that. We still had to deal with the Customs though, who ridiculously are the ones requiring the check in every port. How can we be smugglers, or breach their excise rules when we are travelling from port-to-port INSIDE the country? I tried to ask them this, and they said I might have left and come back in again. I then became rude and asked them if they had any sense at all? How could a sailing yacht travel 200 miles to the nearest foreign country and back in the space of time between our morning port departure and our afternoon port arrival? Its beyond brainless, and they can't, or won't, answer. I ascribe the worst motives for this behaviour; the pure wish for control, especially of foreigners.

To further spoil the Setonaikai experience, the waters were filthy with rubbish, and there was clearly no control whatsoever of the fishermen, who put millions of buoys, nets and fish cages just about wherever they want. One one occasion we were paralleling a major shipping channel, one of those clearly delineated on the international charts. I saw that several fishing boats had spread their nets right across both fairways. Bearing down on this was a huge car carrier doing over 20 knots. As I watched, it did an emergency 90 degree turn to avoid the obstruction. Almost simultaneously a Japan Coastguard patrol boat went past, as usual at full speed of close to 30 knots wasting fuel, and took no action at all, not even a radio call. I was flabbergasted.

It was not all bad news though. For most stops we found a free pontoon to tie up, and there were usually pretty villages with small stores there. The local people were always friendly too. We had an especially good time at the island of Shiraishi Shima. Here there was a new, but disused fishing boat harbour with an excellent pontoon to tie up to. It was only 10 minutes walk from there over a small hill to the large and pretty village. Cam took a walk over there, and to my amazement came back with two lovely ladies chatting in Cantonese. Turns out there were 5 Chinese wives of fishermen on the island, who even happened to speak Cantonese, so we had instant friendships. Sadly their kids could not speak Chinese, apparently the fathers discouraged it. We also met Paul and Amy, the proprietors of 'The Mooo Bar', a beach bar on the other side of the island. Paul is an Aussie entrepreneur and Amy, now his wife, a very fluent Japanese-speaking American. We had a lovely time with them, and a great Aussie BBQ too (except that the men did speak to the women at this particular BBQ!).

Eventually we arrived in Hiroshima and found a berth at the Kannon Marina. This was not free, but reasonably priced and a very smart marina. Besides a good berth with power, there was an excellent lounge with free coffee and boat magazines (all in Japanese as usual) and a touristy shopping centre next door. The highlight of this was it had a McDonalds. I have taken my two girls on the most amazing voyage across oceans, to some of the most remote and beautiful spots on the planet. I have shown them wildlife as very few people get to see it, and we have met, and become friends, with people from many cultures. From this, they seem to have learnt to love air-conditioning, shopping malls and McDonalds. One could easily despair!

Hiroshima was an excellent stop. Naturally the highlight was a long visit to the Peace Museum. Some of it is very graphic and disturbing, but we did not shield Molly & Nancy from this, and it had a real, and positive, effect on them. They were deeply interested and I believe, learnt a lot.

Hiroshima is also a nice town, so we enjoyed our stay. It was a long way to shops however, so I covered a lot of miles on my bike.

A 2-hour cruise from Hiroshima took us to Miya Jima. The fame of this place is based on the huge Torii, a sort of gateway used to mark the entrance to a shrine. This particular one is famous not only because it is so huge (and all made of natural wood) but it is placed in the water. Its setting is simply stunning, with the beautifully preserved temples and village ashore, and mountainous scenery all around. There was a pontoon there for us, which cost us 20c US for the night (why charge you might ask?). The village and its stores selling traditional products and food was really pretty, and it was enhanced by the wild deer which wander everywhere and which are completely unafraid of humans.

After leaving Miya Jima, we pressed on, and after a couple of overnight stops, reached the Kan Mon Straight, which is a narrow winding channel a few hundred metres wide leading out of the Setonaikai and into the Japan Sea. Obviously the tidal streams through this channel can be very severe, up to 10 knots at Springs, so timing is crucial. With currents that fast, you don't even want to go with it, since you can be spun round unexpectedly with large eddies, and you will never be far from either the shore or big ships transiting the channel. Fortunately not only does the Coastguard web site give an accurate prediction of the streams, the required contact in advance with Kan Mun Radio results in excellent advice about conditions, and they also keep you appraised of other shipping movements. Furthermore huge neon signs at the entrances and within the channel display the current speed and direction, so if you pay attention it is quite safe. In our case we had about 6 knots with us as we passed under the huge bridge at the eastern end, the narrowest point.

It was necessary for us to stop for the night somewhere, and using our S-guide we picked a spot half-way along the channel at Moji, near a Coastguard base. It turned out to be a very poor spot, alongside a rough seawall behind some rusty old barges. Still, it was safe, and whilst there we experienced one of the best things about sailing in Japan. As is always the case, there were several people fishing from this wall, and after we had tied up, several engaged Cam in conversation, once they realised she could speak some Japanese. One guy, who hardly joined in, but stood politely listening, left after a short while. Half-an-hour later he returned with a big bag of groceries for us, for which he would take no payment, and then, quite hurriedly he left. The ordinary people of Japan really don't deserve the awful government and system that is imposed upon them, they are lovely.


The next day we exited the Setonaikai, once again taking advantage of the current, and made our way to Iki Island, and the port of Katsumoto. We knew this was a closed port, and that we should not go there without a permit, in advance, but it was just too conveniently located allowing us to avoid an overnight to get to the last Japanese island of Tsushima, and we also took account of the fact that it was Sunday, so hopefully no officials would be around. To tell the truth, I was quite ready for an argument anyway, but in the event, we didn't see any officials so all was well.

The entry was very difficult, with unmarked rocks and a winding channel, made worse by a rising wind. C-map charts of Japan, indeed, all foreign charts of Japan including Admiralty charts, don't show detail in places like this. The S-guide showed the harbour in great detail, but not the approach. However, I was banking on seeing a fishing boat enter and so it proved, giving me the correct line to go in. Given the number of fishing boats in Japan, this was a pretty safe bet.

Finally, the next day we headed out across the Sea of Japan to the port Izuhara on the large Tsushima island. We had been told by Rolf from Yello where to berth, so we had no difficulty finding the spot in this large harbour. We had called the Coastguard as we approached, so as we tied up we were greeted by 8 officials. There were four from the Coastguard, two from Customs and two from Immigration. The latter had falsely assumed we were arriving from from overseas, and were not pleasant. Shows they don't talk to each other, these Japanese departments, as we had told the Coastguard where we were coming from. We filled in the same old forms, for each department, and then to my amazement, the Coastguard asked if they could search the boat. I was tempted to tell them we had sold all the drugs we brought from Guam, but discretion, and Cam's hard stare, dissuaded me. I mean, after three months in Japan, and visits from dozens of officials, this was the first time we were searched. I mean, what was the point? I cooperated without demure, but it is clear these people have no sense, and nothing else to do. The search was useless, as had I hidden anything they would never have found it.

Our berth was a seawall right alongside the road, and the wall was rough, so it was not the best spot. However, it was very sheltered and tucked right in a corner of the harbour. This was fortunate, as severe gales came through during our visit, with very strong winds, but we were hardly affected.

The town of Izuhara is very pretty, and has some interesting shops, we much enjoyed walking or cycling around the place. It even had some fishing boat chandleries where I got rope and other bits at reasonable prices. It had one of the best supermarkets I have ever seen anywhere in the world. The 'Red Cabbage' was only a small store, but it was so clean, and well laid out, with so much fresh produce, that alone would have impressed, but it also had the most amazing decorations. Above each aisle were models representing famous movies, like Jaws, and the walls were painted with the most beautiful murals, each appropriate to the area of the store. Thus at the seafood area were scenes of fishermen and fishing boats, above the fresh produce were scenes of farmers in the fields, all beautifully done.

Tsushima is split in two, with a twisting channel and many small islands in between. Izuhara is at the SE end, and we had to pass the NW end of the group to go to Busan, our destination in Korea. The distance is about 75 miles. Obviously it would be best to stop somewhere en-route, but the authorities were adamant that we had to check out from Izuhara, and we absolutely could not stop anywhere in Tsushima after that, even at anchor. They did allow us to check out the day before, and I was very tempted to sail in the afternoon and defy them, but in the end thought better of it. We made a very early start, before first light, and by motor-sailing and with the help of a favourable current, made it to Busan well before dark. The channel between the two parts of Tsushima was beautiful, with many alternative bays and islands, and I would have loved to cruise and explore the area. Apart from the limitations of the Japanese regulations, we were running out of time. Our 90 day visas for Japan had only a few more days to run, so this became another one of the many places we have missed on our cruise so far.

Our purpose in going to Busan was only to renew our visas and have a quick look. We ended up staying for over three months, and were very reluctant to leave. Why this was so, read in the next episode.

Back to list

¡¡

To Tokyo:

We left the beautiful island of Chi Chi Jima on a sunny morning, in company with the small sailing vessel Nuk, crewed by our friend Masa. The course to our destination of O Shima, an island off the mouth of Tokyo Bay, is pretty much north. We quickly discovered something about the ocean in this area; It has currents! I had read of the Kuroshio current (which means 'The Black Current'), which dominates sailing decisions along the south side of most of Japan's important islands. Its actually part of the large Western Pacific rotation system, but in the area of Japan it flows generally NE during summer, at up to 2-3 knots, very powerful for an ocean current. What I didn't know was that meandering bits of the main current can arbitrarily affect all the adjacent sea areas. (The Japanese Coastguard has a web page showing the approximate position and strength of the current and its meanders, but of course you need to know this in advance, and have access to the internet to see it.) What we got was a meander curving southwards, right in our path. After 24 hours of 1-2 knots against us, I knew we were not dealing with tides. The winds were light and variable, for the most part, so the voyage became very frustrating, and behind us Masa was having the same problems. We both opted to motor-sail, and after 5 days of very slow travel, we agreed during our daily radio scheds to divert to Hachi-Jo Jima, an island further south than O Shima. All these islands off Japan's south coast are regularly hit by typhoons, so the seawall of the harbour we chose was the biggest I have ever seen. It must have been 30' high and at least 60' wide, built of massive concrete blocks each larger than a container. It is crucial to note that tropical storms can affect the NW Pacific in any month, but they are unlikely in this area before June. Nevertheless one keeps a careful check of the weather. In the summer months this area is truly 'Typhoon Alley'!

We spotted a yacht tied up, so assumed correctly this was the place for us, and to our surprise, it turned out to be a Japanese yacht full of Americans! We couldn't have done better because they were all Japanese-speakers and residents of Tokyo, so were a mine of information. We discovered it was 'Golden Week', the Japanese summer holiday time when most Japanese yachties take the chance of a cruise. We enjoyed a great meal and social evening with these Americans at, of all things, an Aussie-run bar nearby, the last thing I expected in a remote Japanese island. Masa arrived a few hours after us, our speed advantage when motoring being minimal.

Two days at this pretty island gave us the needed rest, and we headed on to O Shima. Apparently our diversion had taken us out of the current so it was an easy trip. The harbour on the SE corner of the island was formed by the partial collapse of the rim of an old volcano. I won't use the word ancient because the chain of islands southwards all the way to Iwo Jima are recently volcanic and many still very active. This little harbour is therefore very picturesque, and sheltered from most winds except SE, but during our stay, and typical of Japan, an additional seawall of huge dimensions was being built across the entrance. By now it will be virtually bullet-proof. We had been in contact with a Mr. Sasaki, a committee member of the Tokyo Yacht Club, and he had promised to meet us at O Shima. Actually there were six yachts from the club to meet us! We then experienced the first of many wonderful social relationships with Japanese sailors. They are the most generous and friendly group that any cruiser can hope to meet, and are the best thing about cruising Japan. Most yachts are small, under 40', and you see a lot of Beneteaus and Jeneaus, as well as local boats. Most people outside Japan won't realise that Yamaha produce thousands of boats, mostly fishing boats, but in the past, yachts. Japanese sailors are intensely interested in catamarans. There are very few of these because it was only in more recent years that they could be licenced. I have only seen Fountain Pajots registered in Japan. Japanese sailors also take their seamanship seriously, and always wear harnesses and lifejackets. We discovered from them the first of the problems caused by Japan's officialdom. None of these boats legally carried VHF, although one had a set hidden away. The reason is that to get a licence to carry VHF is expensive and complex. The result is that all the small craft around the coast rely on mobile phones, or private radio nets in the case of fishermen, to the great detriment of safety.

One of our new friends was the wonderful Dr. Kinoshita, whose confidence in his English ability was in indirect proportion to the reality! He also owns the fastest sailboat in Tokyo, a 34' motor-sailer. Fastest because no matter what the wind, he has the engine on at full speed. All the yachts escorted us from O Shima on a day sail to Misaki, a town on the mainland, led of course by Kinoshita's 'Sibelius'. He is a French Horn player in an orchestra in his spare time. The group also absorbed Masa, and treated him with great respect. They all dream of ocean voyages and look up to anyone who has actually done it.

A one-day stay in Misaki was filled with eating, talking and drinking (lots of the latter, mostly Sake, and very dangerous if not on your guard.) We all rafted up as there were lots of yachts touring during Golden Week.

The next day we said goodbye to Masa, for a time, as his home port is further up the coast to the west, whereas we were heading up Tokyo Bay. This large bay is lined with industry, tens of miles of commercial docks and dozens of fishing boat harbours. Its about 40 miles from Misaki to Tokyo, and we were escorted by three of the TYC yachts, led once again by Sibelius. There is a strictly regulated shipping lane in the middle of the bay, and one look at the procession of tankers, container ships, car carriers, bulk carriers etc. using it is enough to persuade one to observe the regulations and keep out of it. We chose to follow the western shore, which involves a few doglegs. It is important to time the tides correctly as the ebb flows strongly, especially at Springs. Unfortunately it was hazy, so the view was not as spectacular as it can be, but it was a fascinating passage nonetheless.

Eventually we reached the city, and followed an inner channel to the Yumenoshima Marina. We were to stay there, completely free, for three weeks. Its an ideal location to see something of Tokyo, as there is a train/subway station 10 minutes walk away, and by bicycle one can use the excellent footpaths, shared by pedestrians and cyclists, to visit the local area and supermarkets. The welcome and generosity we received there was repeated throughout our journeys in Japan, and we only once paid for a marina in Hiroshima, and that was modestly priced. We made many friends in Yumenoshima, from the marina staff and members of the yacht club.

There's lots to see in Tokyo, obviously. Japan Disney is very near the marina, for example. We particularly enjoyed the Daiba area which was only 15 minutes away on the subway. This area is built on a new reclamation, and has numerous very smart and modern buildings housing many museums, shopping centres and other attractions. There is also the Tokyo Maritime Museum, which is one of the best such places we have visited. Its collection of ship models is un-surpassed. We also stayed for two days with Masa and his wife Kio, in the suburbs. It was a great privilege to stay in a Japanese home. Friendships with fellow cruisers, of whatever nationality, are made fast, and often become very strong. Several will be friends for the rest of our lives.

Sadly most Japanese commercial or industrial buildings are not like those in Daiba, and reflect the Japanese love of concrete. In short, although the small houses are very pretty, the cities I find ugly.

There is a more unpleasant side to cruising Japan. When checking in to Chi Chi Jima we had been given photocopies of the forms we had filled in for Customs. They asked us to drop those in to the Tokyo Region Customs HQ, which was also in Daiba. We thought this would be a simple matter, but to my surprise they asked me to complete more forms which were identical to those I was giving them. They insisted this was required, and then strictly lectured me that we were to check in, and out, with the Customs service at every port we entered. I pointed out that many of these places would be very small fishing boat harbours with no Customs office, but they insisted we had to do it anyway! Our subsequent experiences made it clear that, theoretically, the Japanese authorities are supposed to enforce quite the most unpleasant set of rules for visiting yachts that we have experienced anywhere. Not only were we supposed to do as Customs said, completing these many forms each time, but also nobody at all except our crew was allowed to visit our yacht without prior Customs approval in writing. Japan Coastguard also told us that we had to check in and out with them at every port too, and on the only two occasions this actually happened, the forms required by Coastguard were identical to those required by Customs, and obviously the two departments don't communicate with each other. More odious was the rule that we were not allowed to anchor in Japan, and since one is supposed to have registered your intended next port when checking out of the current one, relaxed cruising is impossible. There are further regulations requiring a cruising permit, with all ports, dates of arrival and departure etc. all approved in advance. Many ports are closed ports forbidden to us without a lengthy written application process in advance. One is treated by the law as if one were a potential terrorist or worse. In practice so far these rules have not been enforced, except patchily. We have never been asked for our cruising permit, and have never obtained one. Indeed, its quite clear that the rules are applied differently in different areas, and in turn differ from what we have ascertained from the relevant websites. We have only tried to check in and out with Customs at major ports, such as Tokyo, Osaka and Hiroshima. Elsewhere we have been visited by Coastguard officers, who were perfectly polite, and did not complain of any 'breaches', but still wanted us to fill in the same forms that they had already received. As for visitors to our boat, Japanese people are intensely curious about foreigners on a boat, so we have had literally hundreds of visitors, all without permission from Customs. In this regard, after studying the form they gave us, I am convinced that they don't understand their own requirements, as it appears to refer only to vessels that have not yet cleared in, or have already cleared out.

In the end we only received courteous attention from officials, but one is left with a bad feeling. We don't like to disobey the rules of countries we visit, but those in Japan are impossible to comply with. One can't get them to explain why it is necessary, even when you find an official with a good command of English, which is rare. They simply do what they are told and never question the orders they are given. We know it does not help their national security, because the only time in Japan that our vessel was searched was in our departure port after three months in the country. I was tempted to say that the drugs we brought from Guam had long ago been sold, but discretion restrained me! Whilst the Coastguard have plenty of time, apparently, to chase around enforcing bureaucratic procedures on visiting yachts, I watched them ignore a group of fishing vessels which had completely blocked an international shipping lane with their nets. It was very scary to watch a huge car-carrier doing over 20 knots make an emergency 90 degree turn, and have the Coastguard go by as it happened without so much as an admonishment.

Most Japanese people can't understand what the problem is when you raise it with them. I think they are so used to the discipline of Japanese society that such control is quite acceptable to them, and for those that get the point, complaining is just not in their nature, so nothing gets done. Thus, if you visit Japan as a cruiser, you have to be prepared, mentally, for this attitude to yachts. The final absurdity is that the same closed ports which we are supposedly forbidden to enter without permission in advance can be visited by any land-based tourist freely without any control whatsoever.

On our last weekend in Yumenoshima, we were dressed overall and an 'open boat' for the TYC who were hosting a whole crowd of orphans for a day out at the marina and on the water. During the day crowds passed through Jade, but not many of them were the kids. I think the YC members were seizing the opportunity to satisfy their curiosity!

Our stay in Tokyo was wonderful, and the main reason was the Yacht Club members. They define the word 'hospitality'.

We set off from Tokyo, with several YC members as 'crew' for our first few days, on our voyage south and west towards the Inland Sea, but that's the next story...

Back to list

¡¡

A Path Less Traveled -1-Kosrae

The 'Coconut Milk Run' is so named because the Trade Winds and pleasant weather keep us cruisers mostly where coconuts can be found. There are tougher and more adventurous sailors who voyage in higher latitudes, but its possible to divert from the normal routes without facing the certainty of severe weather or climate. When traveling through the South Pacific, most cruisers get to the area of Tonga, Fiji, New Caledonia or Vanuatu towards the end of the southern winter. One then has the choice of leaving the tropics to go to New Zealand, head for a safe harbour in Australia, or head north. Since we had done the first two for two seasons, in 2008 Jade headed north.

Jade is a 42' Manta catamaran, sailing with my wife Cam and I and our two young girls, Molly & Nancy. After an extended stay in New Caledonia and Vanuatu, we departed the Banks Islands on the 1st November.

Off to the northwest are the Solomon Islands, the northerly parts of which are safe from cyclones. To the northeast lie the Marshall Islands. These are a little more difficult to get to from Vanuatu because of the prevailing trades and the equatorial current. Its easier to access them, and Kiribati, from further east, perhaps from Tonga or even Samoa. On our voyage we found the equatorial current crossing our path towards the west for over 700 miles, at between ½ to 1 knot. We chose to go to the island of Kosrae, which is the easternmost of the four 'States' of the Federated States of Micronesia, so from our check-out port of Sola, we kept somewhat east to allow for the Trades which turn more northerly as one goes further into the northern hemisphere.

The 1200 miles is a trans-equatorial voyage, with all that entails, and we got exactly what we expected; calm seas, fluky winds, squalls and calms. Happily no thunderstorms crossed our path, but it was a very slow and frustrating voyage. We took 11 days, our slowest-ever passage, and spent a lot of that motoring slowly. The squalls take the wind from light to 20-30 knots in a matter of seconds. In daylight you can see them coming, and reef accordingly, but at night its more difficult. To make matters more complex, the strength of the wind in each patch of rain varied enormously, but in the dark you can't judge this. The result was that caution resulted in less sail than optimal for most of the night. I recommend anybody doing these sort of passages to take plenty of diesel with them. Fortunately the Manta has a generous fuel capacity of 125 US gallons, and on one engine at low speed we could have motored all the way, especially in those calm seas. I had thought of stopping at, or at least passing close to, Nauru, which lies on the route, but the relentless current meant that eventually we passed 30 miles to its west.


Kosrae State is a single island of that name, 8 miles from east to west and 6 miles from north to south, with a population of around 8000. It is a high island visible for many miles, and has no less than three good harbours, two of them all-weather. It has never, to our knowledge, experienced a tropical storm, so is a year-round option. The harbour usually chosen by yachts is Lele Harbour on the east coast. Kosrae is known as the 'Island of the Sleeping Lady', because when in Lele Harbour, if you look at the mountains behind, there is the clear silhouette of a lady lying on her back with her hair flowing out behind her head, her breasts pointing up and her knees raised. The harbour in the NW next to the airport is also excellent, but a long way from Lele village or Tofol, the administrative centre of the island 2 miles from Lele. The harbour on the south coast might, perhaps, offer full protection, but a famous pirate from the past lost his ship there in a rare southerly storm, so perhaps just a place to visit. Lele is a large harbour, but with a scattering of dangers well marked on our C-map charts, but as is common at remote Pacific islands, slightly out of sync with reality. Use the charts to see what's there, but use your eyes to position yourself. It is a straight entry from the ocean, so it is not too hard. To our amazement we found that there was Wifi available all over the harbour supplied by Micronesia Telecom from a high mast. You get a card from their office in Tofol. We discovered to our cost that the bottom of the harbour is very, very soft mud, and so when an un-forecast gale arrived, with winds up to 50 knots, for the first time in our four year cruise we dragged our Spade anchor. Temporarily we tied up to the large concrete wharf that was once used by cargo vessels, but they now use the harbour next to the airport on the NW coast, so it is unused. If you have good fenders, you could stay there, but a better solution was offered. In recent years the Japanese government has provided Kosrae with a complete fishing industry, including marina type berthing, lots of inshore fishing boats, a couple of offshore boats, workshops, slipways and cold stores. There are no less than three such facilities, one in each of the harbours, but sadly they are only very lightly used, and most facilities are abandoned and mouldering. However, in Lele Harbour, behind the church, the cold store and dock is still lightly used, and the kind family who operate it invited us to go alongside a disused fishing boat at the dock. They became our good friends and did much to make our Kosrae stay so memorable. They would offer the same service to any visiting yacht, and there would be room for two boats. The breeze tends to blow through here, from the bow, so its as comfortable as being at anchor. Had we been careful, we could have gone in further, behind the small peninsula, and tied up to the marina-type docks intended for the inshore fishing boats. The digital charts are not up to date for this inner area of the harbour leading to the fish dock. I recommend going in the dinghy first and checking out the route. Ask Tulensa or his wife Agalina at the fish dock for advice about unofficial buoys and posts that mark the channel. Tulensa is a police Lieutenant in charge of the detectives at the station. He knows everybody on the island, and is a lovely man besides, only trumped by his wonderful wife.

Very few yachts go to Kosrae, but I don't understand why this is. It is a beautiful island, with safe harbours all the year round, and friendly people. It has some of the best wall diving in the Pacific in unspoilt seas, and stunning scenery. You can provision, of sorts, in the small stores although some items may be in short supply. There is a post office and a bank, but during our visit it could not yet deal with ATM cards or credit cards. Take plenty of cash, which happily is US$. In Lele village there is also a large Ace Hardware store.

On arrival, the officials come to the shore near the boat, and you go to them in a dinghy to check in. They were lovely, as nice and helpful as any we have met. The same cannot be said for their colleagues in Pohnpei, and those in Chuk are simply villains. From all reports, the two 'end' states, Kosrae in the east and Yap in the west are the best.


The ruins of the civilisation that once occupied Pohnpei, the capital, at Nan Madol, are well known. What is less known are the almost as spectacular ruins right behind Lele village. Sadly these are not well maintained, and the jungle is taking them as roots force the ancient walls apart. It is still quite a sight however, and only a couple of minutes walk from the harbour. According to the historians, this Micronesian civilisation originated in Kosrae and it was them who invaded and dominated Pohnpei.


A road circles most of the island, but there are only tracks into the interior, which is almost uninhabited. Quite near Lele village are two small resort hotels, with very welcoming owners. We spent many a happy hour at the pool of the nearest, Nautilus, and even more evenings at the amazing bar/restaurant of the Pacific Treelodge, unofficial HQ of foreigners on the island. This bar sits on stilts at the end of a boardwalk in the middle of a mangrove swamp, and yet is amazingly bug-free. Both these resorts arrange dive trips. There are nice beaches in Kosrae, and some surfing near the airport.

Most of the foreigners on the island are either young Americans teaching at the local school, or Japanese technical advisors. These mix together well and were a great crowd providing many an entertaining event. Once such was a mixed group that we went out with one Sunday, and very secretly due to the strictly respected Sabbath, to catch freshwater crayfish and eels in a local stream. We daren't let the locals know because they are very devout Christians and don't like any activity on Sunday except church. Or perhaps they know what the foreigners are up to but don't comment. It was hilarious watching this mixed group up to its waist in the waters trying to entice crayfish into a plastic bag, interrupted by the occasional screams when a large eel swam in front of one of the girl's faces.

Whilst the people, Kosraean and foreigners, were exceptionally nice, there is a sad side to life there. The people have been colonised for over a hundred years, by Germany, Japan and latterly the USA, which still has a sort of protectorate agreement. Even though this is coming to an end, Japan and China are queuing up to replace the Americans with their own gifts and aid, so as to acquire the valuable fishing rights. The result is that there is no real work, and government jobs are 90% of the workforce. They hardly do much work at all, and there seems little incentive for the young to study. Somebody will always give them some money. There are examples of the results of this handout culture everywhere. For one, the island grows almost no food, and there are few fishermen, despite the richness of the soil and the seas. Wild chickens are everywhere, but nobody seems to associate them with eggs or chicken meat. If the stores run out of eggs, frozen chicken, or their favourite, turkey tails, before the next ship, there is much complaining. Nobody seems to think of raising chickens or looking for eggs. A few people have pigs, but that was the only husbandry we saw, and the extensive orange orchards in the hills, once developed by the Japanese, have been abandoned. You can still find plenty of oranges if you take a walk though.

There are many cars on the island, bought second-hand from Japan, but nobody to fix them. Really, its unbelievable. The smallest problem results in the car being parked in the owner's garden where it slowly rusts into the undergrowth. You can often see five or six generations of cars in each yard. They just get another one.

One consequence of this lifestyle, seen in other parts of the Pacific, is the poor diet. Food is fatty with few vegetables, and so obesity and diabetes are common, causing many premature deaths. When somebody dies, the funeral proceedings seem to entail around 2 weeks of feasting. At these feasts, which most people attend regularly as everybody is related to everybody else, they eat the same foods that killed the deceased. It would be funny if it wasn't so sad.


There are a few rays of hope. A lovely older Japanese man, Hamada-san, has fallen in love with Kosrae and has lived there with Tulensa's brother for some years. He has set up a vegetable farm, and is beginning to supply some of the local stores. He also plans to bring in Japanese farmers to teach market gardening. A new hospital is to be built soon also. There are vague plans for a marina at the fish dock, and this would certainly receive more attention if more yachts visited.

Kosraeans have a unique courtship ritual, if you can call it that. The young man throws stones at the window of the girl he fancies, at night, and if she escapes to meet him, that's it, they are betrothed. Parents who care make a lot of effort to keep their homes escape proof until the right man is known to be the stone thrower, but youthful ingenuity often thwarts the parent's wishes. One young American female teacher had to get quite angry with several suitors, from students to old guys, who disturbed her lodgings with annoying frequency!

We had intended to stay a week or so in Kosrae for a break on the way to Pohnpei. In the end we stayed for a month, and were sorely tempted to stay for Christmas, which is a big deal on the island. They have all sorts of parades and parties, and our local friends did their best to persuade us. However, in the end we made our sad farewells, because our girls had taken us aside and pointed out that Xmas would not be Xmas unless we could find shopping malls and McDonalds and that meant Guam, but that's another story.

Back to list

A Path Less Traveled -2-Kosrae to Guam  

Jade departed Lele Harbour in Kosrae on. The grib files indicated typical trade winds from the ENE at 15-20 knots... a nice downwind ride to Pohnpei in about 3 days, maybe 2. What we got was a very light headwind from the west and a very large swell from the north. This was worrying, I know where large swells come from, large storms! Still, it was December, how bad could it be at that latitude? The following day's grib files gave the answer. A fully formed severe tropical storm about 200 miles north of us. It has been my experience that the grib files from NOAA are a very good indication as to the general weather expected, although they can be inaccurate in the details. However, they are a very poor indicator of tropical storms. Something about the computer modeling fails to pick these up early. Furthermore, even when it finally shows the system, the grib persists in showing a large area at the centre of the storm as having light winds. ( A later comparison of a large typhoon off Japan with weather faxes and grib files showed the anomaly clearly. The tight centre of the typhoon shown in the weatherfax, with winds reported by the met forecast of over 100 knots was completely absent from the grib over a period of 5 days. Instead the latter showed an area over 200 miles in diameter with reducing winds towards the centre, and maximum winds for the whole system of 35 knots.)

Luckily for us, this storm continued westwards evolving into a full typhoon as it arrived in the Philippines. Because of the prevailing trade winds against the south side of the storm, we got the light westerlies. This re-inforces the point that typhoons are a 12-month danger in the NW Pacific.

So it was a slow motor-sailing trip, but the excitement was to come. Big swells on the open ocean mean nothing to a catamaran, but the pass into the reef at Pohnpei. Wow! The gap is probably 100 metres wide, so 50 metres each side of us were these spectacular breakers crashing onto the reef. I always keep some sail up when entering reefs, just in case of an engine problem, but there was no wind that morning, so it was a matter of hoping that four years of reliable engine operation would not end just then. After the pass, one turns to port and follows behind the reef for a mile or so, normally flat calm, but on this day a very rough ride because the swells were so big they were breaking right over the reef and leaving nasty square shaped 6' waves on our beam.

To check in to Pohnpei you tie up at the commercial dock next to the large, mostly Chinese, fishing boats. We had an interesting chat with some of their crews. (We both speak Chinese) Many reports indicate that the officials in Pohnpei can be difficult. Whilst there were many of them, and lots of forms, they were mostly polite, with the exception of one individual, and we were done in less than an hour. I think we tend to get better than average treatment because we have our two young girls with us, who always help to soften the atmosphere.

The place for yachts in Pohnpei is much further inside the harbour. It is a little intricate, but I found the C-map charts accurate, and the anchorage itself is excellent being very sheltered, away from the fishing boats, and with good holding. Like all of Micronesia, Wifi is available almost everywhere from Micronesia Telecom, including the harbour. There are two convenient places to land a dinghy. One is the private jetty belonging to the Ocean View Plaza Hotel, which looks down on the bay from its head in the south. This hotel has a reasonable restaurant on a very nice terrace, and a bar. The other landing is on the east side, next to a slipway, and is more convenient for walking to the town of Kolonia, about 20 minutes walk. This walk takes you through Porokiet village, the home of a Polynesian community resettled from Kapimarangi atoll, the only Polynesian island in Micronesia. These Polynesians make wonderful handicrafts, specialising in intricately woven table-mats and baskets, and simply stunning wood carvings of sea creatures. You can see their workshops which they welcome you to visit, and from which you can buy directly.

In the town of Kolonia there are several reasonable supermarkets, a bank with an ATM that does accept foreign cards, and a few restaurants.

The main purpose of visiting Pohnpei was to go to the ruins of Nan Madol, on the other side of the island. Luckily for us, we befriended a Japanese guy from their embassy who had been introduced through contacts in Kosrae, and he took us to the ruins in his car. No journey through Micronesia should miss this amazing site. An ancient civilisation built a huge palace system on the edge of the sea, complete with canals, out of huge blocks of basalt. Best to go at low tide so you can easily walk across the channels. Entry fee is nominal at a nearby village. You could go in your dinghy if you move your yacht to the sheltered bay near Nan Madol.

The other highlight of our visit to Pohnpei was sharing our anchorage with the Endeavour. This stunning, and tastefully restored yacht was on her way from the Beijing Olympics via Japan to New Zealand. Since there was only the crew aboard, the skipper kindly gave me a tour.

A cruise through this area could logically include the next Micronesian state, Chuuk, regardless of your intended final destination. However, we had heard many warnings about both the officials and the crime in Chuuk. The residents of Kosrae warned us not to go there and this was repeated by everyone we asked in Pohnpei. We thus decided to go directly to Guam. (Later we met two yachts that had gone to Chuuk and they confirmed our decision was correct. They faced corrupt and rude officials, taking 4 days to clear in one of the yachts, and then immediately received a demand for a large sum of money when they went to the recommended anchorage. They therefore left immediately, and saw nothing of the place. We have heard that the fourth state, in the west, Yap, is a lovely place, and would be a good stop if heading for the Philippines, but it was too far west for us and would have made the journey to Guam too difficult.)

We had a generally good run for the 800 miles to Guam. The last day gave very strong trade winds, so we were looking forward to getting into the lee of the island, where it was even rougher... go figure! The procedure in Guam is to enter the large Apra Harbour and go to the innermost area and pick up a mooring belonging to the Marianas Yacht Club. One calls the Apra Harbourmaster on the way in, and he arranges the officials. You have to go ashore at the yacht club in your dinghy and the officials meet you there. (Non US citizens need a visa as Guam is US territory. I had forgotten to bring ashore my daughter Nancy's old passport, which contained her visa, but they had full details in their computer from our visit to mainland USA 3 years previously. Mark one for Homeland Security, and note that the Guam officials were FAR more polite than those in the US mainland, who had been insufferable) One funny aside, two of the officials from one department, I forget which, were very big guys, and they arrived in a very small Dodge Neon. The other guy was very skinny, and he arrived alone in a Ford F150 pickup! I suggested they swap vehicles, but they didn't seem to get the point.

There are a number of reefs to avoid on the way to the moorings, but I found the C-map charts precisely accurate for all of them. The moorings themselves, however, are a bit of an issue. The first one we picked up dragged after 5 minutes, luckily whilst I was still in the cockpit and alert. Later another boat had a very exciting time when their mooring broke free. There is a small blue yacht on one of the moorings owned by a nice guy called Bob, and he is the unofficial club mooring expert. He needs to be asked which moorings are safe. If he's not there I suggest using a Bahamian anchoring technique until you can establish which mooring to use. It would be a bit tight to anchor normally between the reefs. We also used an anchor laid out at 30 degrees to the prevailing wind as a safety precaution. The winds are so steady we only got one wrap after 4 months, due to just one night of flat calm. Incidentally this was the first place we have had any sustained output from our wind generator.

The Marianas Yacht Club is the nicest club, with the nicest members, it has ever been my privilege to experience. It is a modern building with a shingle roof designed with a large overhang to provide a wonderful terrace. There is a carpark at the side and a small lawn in front. They have no pontoon or jetty, so one must land at the beach. I found using an anchor at the bow and an anchor in the sand or round a tree was the best way to leave a dinghy all day. At low tide it is very shallow for a long way out so care is needed with the outboard. There is also a large detour needed round a spur of reef from the moorings, which are well over ¼ mile from the club beach. The upside to this are that the moorings are bug-free. The club is only open Friday evenings, and during the day on weekends. However, the showers and terrace are usable, once you have introduced yourself and been given a temporary membership. Likewise the club will supply you with the combination of the padlock on the carpark gate. There is a phone on the bar, as well as a VHF, and Wifi, which you might be able to pick up on the moorings if you have a good external aerial, and a water tap in the garden. You will find a folder with all the club members' numbers next to the phone. Thus if it is a weekday you can phone one of the committee and somebody will be arranged to help you out. I can't stress too much how helpful and friendly we found everyone at the club. We very soon had a very full social programme, and many of these people will be friends for the rest of our lives.

Unfortunately the club is a long way from 'civilisation'. There is a small supermarket about one mile away, and a seaman's club near to that which welcomes visitors for meals. Since we were staying for a long time, we hired a car for the whole period. We were able to get one from DD Cars for about $US500 per month. The owner, Dan, is a very nice guy, and will deliver a car for you. He is also the Segway agent for Guam, and you can arrange a course and a hire for a few hours, which is terrific fun.

Its a shock being in a place like Guam after coming through Pacific island nations. The side road to the club emerges onto a six-lane highway chocka-block with SUVs and pickups. Its a 5 mile ride into Hagatna, the administrative capital, where there is also a small mall with a good supermarket, and as you move into the built-up area the road has many fast-food outlets. All the usual suspects are there. Indeed, with its palm trees, its more like Florida than anywhere else I can think of. There are two large malls, Guam Premiere Outlets in the commercial town of Tamuning beyond Hagatna, and the even larger Micronesia Mall further on to the north. Most large US stores are present, including Sears and Macy's, and a huge Home Depot. There is a small chandlery behind Hagatna's main post office. On the coast next to Tamuning is the tourist strip of Tumon, with a lovely beach, loads of 5-star hotels, lots and lots of restaurants and all the designer-label outlets. Its a fun area, targeted mainly at Japanese tourists, although Koreans are becoming more and more common.

The island's economy, other than tourists, is dominated by its huge US military presence. One side of Apra harbour is the US naval base, and you will often see warships and nuclear submarines going in and out as you sit at the mooring. Most of the north of the island is closed to the public because of the immense Anderson airforce base.

There are several large and good Payless supermarkets, but my favourite was an independent one called the American Grocery. It was far from just American as besides all of the expected Western goods, it had the largest and most varied collection of Asian food I have seen anywhere, and a spectacular butchery. Its a very long way though, right out towards Anderson.

Theoretically a haulout is possible in Guam, using a crane, but it should be contemplated only in extreme need. Club members can arrange pretty much any repair though, and one member, Chris, is a very fine engineer. Another, Miguel, has his own engineering workshop and his wife does canvass work.

Since we began our voyage we have enjoyed many countries, but in only two would I like to live. They would be New Zealand and Guam. For the latter it was the people, the club, the golf and the tennis, as well as the civilisation. It is also a scenic and attractive island, which rewards a driving tour, with very pretty villages in the south. Its many roads and lanes make it seem much larger than it is. Throughout our stay the weather was very pleasant, with little rain. It is exposed to Typhoons in the summer. If caught, there is a harbour of refuge deep inside through the commercial port in another part of Apra Harbour. I strongly recommend a dinghy reconnaissance first, as the channel is a very difficult one. These storm moorings consist of fixed chains laid on the seabed in 10' of water. There are some old boats illegally left on these moorings. The Harbourmaster was chasing the owners of these during our stay, but friends told us that nothing ever got done about them.

The local indigenous people are called Chamorros. They have their own unique culture still preserved amongst all the Americanisms, and we found them universally friendly and hospitable. Sadly the territory government is a shambles, and constantly has to be forced into meeting its obligations by the Federal court. Reading about its shenanigans is a daily entertainment and provides the newspaper with most of its stories.

As a British resident of Hong Kong, I have to say that we have found Americans wonderful people, especially those in Guam, but there is one glaring problem to point out. Don't they read the newspapers? Don't they know about global warming? I have never seen so many Ford F150s, with 5.7 litre hemi V8 engines, and none of them carrying anything in the back. Guam is a small place with short journeys, surely an economical small car should be sufficient? I nagged all the yacht club members, but I doubt I persuaded anybody to trade down.

Our next destination was Chi Chi Jima, in the Ogasawara Islands 600 miles south of Tokyo, and due north of Guam. Its an area crossed by typhoons in summer (and occasionally winter) and by winter storms if you go too early in spring, so timing is critical, but that's the next story...

Back to list

From Guam to Chi Chi Jima, Japan (9-28 April 2009)
It was with great sadness that we left all our friends in Guam, after 4 months. A final blow was that in trying to recover our large Fortress anchor which we had laid out as a precaution against the questionable moorings, the line parted, obviously chafed on the sea bed, despite the 10m of chain. It was too deep to free dive on, and I did not want to wait another day to arrange a diver, having wound ourselves up for the next passage and got the right weather, so we left it with the hope that we could inform somebody to recover it later, and perhaps even send it to us.

The passage is almost directly north when heading for Chi Chi Jima, in the Ogasawara Islands, leaving the Northern Mariana Islands to starboard. For the first part of the passage one can expect trade winds, and since these vary from NE to E, it is important to try to get a window of the latter, as otherwise one will be hard on the wind. We were fortunate to have winds just south of east, hence my keenness not to delay our departure. The first three days were excellent, with moderate winds just aft of the beam, and we made about 150 miles per day. Then we lost the wind, and motor sailed for another two days. I had hoped to pass close by Iwo Jima, which is 200 miles south of Chi Chi Jima. This island was the scene of one of the largest and bloodiest battles of the Pacific war, and we had been reading about it. The movies 'Flags of our Fathers' and 'Letters from Iwo Jima' are about this tiny speck in the ocean. It was critical because, despite its tiny size, it is flat in the middle and therefore had a good airfield, which it still has today, but restricted to the Japanese military. We had also had the privilege of meeting some of the few remaining survivors in Guam during their annual re-union visit. In the event we were unable to see it as we would have arrived just after dark and then had to wait all night to see anything, so regretfully we passed some miles to the east. When about 250 miles from our destination, a good wind sprang up from the quarter, and we were making an easy 9 knots in a calm sea. I harboured an aspiration to arrive before dark the next day, and we were on schedule until dawn, when, from a clear sky, the wind dramatically increased in strength from the same direction. Despite only having a triple-reefed main and our small jib aloft, the rudders broke free and we did the catamaran equivalent of a broach, ending up head to wind with the sails flapping, and a wrap in the jib. Our jib is fully-battened with a camber spar, and the top batten was obviously broken, but everything else was OK. I got the main down and turned back downwind, now in about 35 knots of wind, and luckily the wrap came out as I had turned the correct way. Sudden peace as we go very safely like this on just the jib, but all chance of reaching our destination before dark disappeared. The wind was gradually veering and expected to go round to the west, and I noticed that the island of Ha Ha Jima, 20 miles south of Chi Chi Jima, had a deep bay on its NE coast, so we headed there and anchored in perfect calm just before dark.

A flat calm greeted us the next morning, but there was still some drama as the anchor chain was fouled under large rocks on the sea bed, despite the chart indicating mud and sand. Luckily the water was very clear and in the calm we could clearly see where the chain lie. A catamaran with two engines is very manoeuvrable, so I was able to go astern and pull it out in the correct direction. The last thing I wanted was to lose our primary Spade after the loss of our Fortress.

These Ogasawara Islands are very scenic, and it was an enjoyable motor cruise to arrive in Chi Chi Jima before lunch. The huge and exceptionally well-constructed harbour is primarily for the modest fleet of fishing boats, I guess around 30. It could accommodate 200 with ease. The sea walls are massive, the fendering superb, and all the fittings, bollards etc. the best stainless steel. This is typical of the thousands of such harbours all over Japan. Of course, given the frequency of typhoons, harbours need to be very well constructed, but most that we have seen subsequently are far larger than they need to be, and there are far more of them than needed too. Its typical of the 'Pork Barrel' politics practised in Japan. The fish you buy in the markets is not cheap, but for the local people one must add the money that comes from their taxes used to subsidise the fishermen.

We were directed to a berth on the sea wall of the inner harbour where our dear friend Masa was waiting to take our lines, next to his small 30' Nuk. We had met this wonderful man in Guam. He was one of the first Japanese to climb Mount Everest, and more recently had taken up sailing, and had spent the last three years wandering the Pacific single-handed. He was twice thwarted in his ambition to reach Cape Horn, beaten back by bad weather in his small craft unsuitable for high latitudes.

Also waiting for us were no less than 12 officials, from the Japanese Coastguard, Immigration, Customs, Police and Quarantine. Here I need to make an aside. Masa is a very keen participant in a radio net used by many Japanese yachtsmen, called 'Okera Net'. The net controller is a lovely lady called Yamada-san, who lives in Chi Chi Jima and with her husband runs a dive charter business called Kaizin. Masa had told her of our imminent arrival, and she had arranged all the officials.

Japan has closed ports and open ports. The former are off-limits to foreign vessels unless you have written permission in advance, and Chi Chi Jima is a closed port! However, not only were the officials warned in advance, which is essential in Japan, but they know how convenient a stop this island is, so one uses the euphemism of 'emergency' They don't enquire too deeply, as long as you don't use the words 'sightseeing', 'touring' etc. Officials in other Japanese harbours are not so accommodating. The processing was largely painless, and despite the large number of forms, completed quickly with great politeness.

Chi Chi Jima has a fascinating history. The Ogasawara Islands were previously known as the Bonin Islands, and were first occupied by American whalers in the early 1800s. It is doubtful whether the Japanese even knew of their existence at the time, as they are 600 miles south of Tokyo. After these residents had been there about 40 years, supplying the whalers with fresh food, and probably women, the famous Commodore Perry arrived, and claimed them for the United States, paying the head of the residents a nominal fee for a parcel of land as a token. He left, promising to return the next year with officials and soldiers. He then went on to Tokyo, where his arrival in heavily armed and auxiliary steam-engined ships caused consternation amongst the Japanese, whose many years of closed society had left them woefully behind in technology. So great was the uproar that it brought down the whole system in what became known as the 'Meiji Restoration' and started the Japanese on the road to becoming a modern power. Unfortunately Perry never did return because the American Civil War intervened and the whaler settlement carried on much as before. Six years after Perry, the Japanese, now modernising and aware of the American interest, sent a party of officials and soldiers to claim the islands, apparently mixing in a friendly way with the American residents who were peacefully assimilated into the community over the next few years. Skip forward to WWII, and Chi Chi Jima also had an important impact. It did not have an airfield, being very rugged, but it did have a good harbour, and a very important radio station for relaying messages to Iwo Jima from the mainland. The Americans tried very hard, and indeed, without success, to destroy this radio station. In one of the bombing raids, George Bush Snr. was shot down. Luckily for him he parachuted into the sea a mile or more offshore, and was picked up by an American submarine. Those who landed on or close to the island suffered a much worse fate, and were eventually executed. Their moving story forms part of that excellent book on the Pacific air war, 'Fly Boys'.

Chi Chi Jima has about 2000 residents, who benefit again from the generosity of the Tokyo City government, in whose jurisdiction it falls. They have an excellent road system, complete with over-passes (really), traffic lights (really really!) hospitals, schools and subsidised shops. You can find two small but well stocked supermarkets, and several other shops, plus many restaurants. There is an excellent visitor centre and many attractive sights. Amongst these I recommend going at night to see the glowing mushrooms, and in the day whale-watching, which you can even do from a cliff lookout. There is great diving, and many lovely walks. Since it supports a fishing fleet, I assume basic repairs could be carried out. You might even be able to haul out on the facilities intended for the fishing boats if your yacht is not too heavy. The afore-mentioned Ha Ha Jima, 20 miles to the south, also has two good harbours and about 500 residents. There are apparently a number of interesting historic sites there, as well as nice beaches, walks and friendly people, and it would reward a short cruise, something I regret we did not do. One would have to check in to Chi Chi Jima first though, as our anchoring there was strictly unofficial. The Japanese Customs have no sense of humour!

A highlight of our stay was seeing off the ferry. This would at first sight seem a pretty innocuous event, but this large ferry, the Ogasawara Maru, is the island's life blood, given there is no airport. It arrives every Wednesday and departs on Saturday for the 23 hour journey to Tokyo. Although it obviously brings the tourists, every voyage carries a significant number of islanders or their families, and so a habit has grown of making the business of seeing them off into something special. A large crowd gathers at the dock to wave, but beyond that, a large number of local boats, carrying everybody who can blag a ride, escort the ship far out to sea. As a final act, just before turning back for harbour, lots of people dive off the speeding boats into the sea, in a display of lunacy quite breathtaking to behold. Apparently they do this all year round, or at least the most enthusiastic do. On Kaizin's boat that we rode on, one jumper was nearly 80. The second time we went out was even more poignant, as Masa's lovely wife Kio-san had been on holiday to visit him, and had become very close to us, so we were more deeply involved, and could better understand the emotions of those around us. Poor Kio had a very rough trip home, as a deep depression crossed the ferry's path and gave 60 knot winds. Luckily its quite a big ship and faces this sort of weather regularly, especially in winter.


¡¡

With no airport, Chi Chi Jima is a difficult place to get to, especially for foreigners, so it is only a few yachties like us who ever see it. We were joined by a New Zealand yacht during our stay, but only two or three yachts per year come there. Its one of the most beautiful places we have been to, so I heartily recommend a visit if possible.


The clock was ticking on our 90-day visas, which in the case of my wife's Hong Kong passport is not renewable, and Masa wanted to get back to his home in Tokyo, so after 2 idyllic weeks, we headed out together. The challenging voyage north is covered in the next episode...

Back to list

¡¡

Fiji (part two, until 24th August 2007)

The Octopus Resort has a few 'Bures', the local name for Fijian style huts, as well as cabins and more up-market rooms, all hidden amongst the palm trees. They only accommodate about 80 people, but uniquely for Fiji, in our experience, they cater for everybody from backpackers up to more high-spending guests. This contributes to what we felt was a wonderful atmosphere. They have a nice small swimming pool. Food is excellent, and costs only $Fiji 45 for three meals, most of which are spectacular. A $Fiji is about 75cents US, so this is cheap. Drinks are also reasonably priced. Most of all, Chris and Kylie are natural hosts, and make everybody feel welcome. The beach is lovely, and best of all, just a few metres out is a reef alive with fish. The owner of the resort had persuaded the local village not to fish in the bay, and had sweetened the persuasion with some gifts to the village, like a satellite TV system, used mostly for rugby matches. The Rugby World Cup was on during our stay.

The anchorage could be a bit rolly, because the swells seemed to wrap around the island and come from a different direction to the wind. Also, often really strong wind gusts would sweep down from the hills behind the resort. Waya Island is the highest of the Yasawa Island chain in the west of Fiji. Still, the holding was good, in about 30' of water.

Whilst at Octopus for a few days, we met a socialised with several cruisers. Foremost amongst them was Cool Bananas, whom we had met in Whangarei. We also met a boat with a Chinese lady, Jessica (Ah Bing, from Poon Yu) who was the partner of the owner. She was marvelous, and Cam made good friends with her.

After several very enjoyable days, we moved North, and attempted, without success, to see Manta rays in a channel where they are often seen. We actually made 3 attempts over the course of a week, but never saw them, although everybody else did.

Navigation in this area is fraught. Much of the area is marked on my charts as 'unsurveyed', and even where it is, apparently, charted, we found both paper and digital charts to be way off. The land was often out of position by several hundred metres, and the many reefs marked were often in the wrong place or did not exist at all. Meanwhile there were lots of reefs to be found that were not on the charts at all. Thus, I motored everywhere the first time we went along a particular route, carefully leaving waypoints behind me. We only travelled with the sun high in the sky and not in our eyes. If it became overcast or a shower arrived, we stopped. Return journeys could be made with more confidence, retracing our steps precisely from waypoint to waypoint. The corollary to this is that these reefs are beautiful, alive with fish, and the shores of the nearby islands often lined with the most beautiful sand beaches we had seen since the Bahamas. One beach is called '8 Month Beach". This is because the sand is so fine it takes that long to get rid of it from your clothing!Eventually we worked our way up to an excellent anchorage, in the lee of a small island with palm trees to break the wind gusts. The Trades were blowing strongly, but they were worse on the lee side of the islands, where katabatic gusts swept down from the hills. We were hit by gusts up to 50 knots, luckily in flat calm water with no sails up.

At this anchorage, there was a resort, which we did not use, and also a local family. The lady, Va, baked delicious bread to sell to the cruisers. She probably didn't need the money as she was the sister of the High Chief of the area. I think she just enjoyed it, and she happily gave us the recipe. Her adult son Sammy seemed nice, and he hosted a traditional 'Lovu' meal for a group of cruisers. We paid $15 for a splendid feast, all cooked in the ground, in palm leaves, a fire having been lit on top. At this time Sammy was spending a year following a Fijian tradition of not drinking alcohol or Kava, and looking after his family. He seemed handsome and pleasant. Unfortunately we met him at Vuda Point Marina a few months later where he was drunk and obnoxious. Ah well!

Cool Bananas was also with us, and they proved to be very good company. Daryl & Laurel were New Zealanders, and their crew was Debbie. Daryly loved the water and diving, but Laurel did not, so Debbie's main usefulness was to go diving with Daryl. They had a two-person hookah rig, which is an air pump carried in their dinghy, so tanks were not necessary. They dived several times every day. We did  a lot of snorkelling, and I swear that in many places the coral was more spectacular and colourful even than Fakarava, and that is saying something. Up until this time, Molly had been rather nervous of snorkelling, and would not do it for long each time. However, in this area, she held my hand and stayed in for over an hour at a time, fascinated by the miriad large and small fish below, and the colours and shapes. The best we found was in front of a small resort called Oarsman's Bay.

One day, being short of eggs and vegetables, we followed Sammy's instructions, and took the dinghy a couple of miles to a neighbouring bay. As instructed, we found our way to the bottom corner, where there were a lot of mangroves, and only when we were a few metres away did we see the entrance to a small creek. It was only a few metres wide, and after following it for about 50 metres, it appeared to end, but what looked like grey asphalt was actually pumice, that had come from an erupting undersea volcano some hundreds of miles to the East, and had drifted and been caught in this corner of Fiji. The dinghy could just about motor through it making a loud scraping noise. Another 100 metres saw us come to a muddy pool, where we beached and tied up the dinghy, and again, as instructed followed the little path through the jungle. After a short walk, we came out onto an open grassy area with a tradtional Fijian home. A very attractive and charming woman, carrying a baby, met us, and she could speak some English, as most Fijians can. She led us down a path to an area under the palm tress that was cultivated. they had some potatoes, casava, aubergines and tomatoes, and just a few eggs, as the local resort had taken most earlier on. I saw they also had some pigs in pens. very enterprising. We returned a few times to this little farm, and on later occasions got more eggs.

In nearby villages there were small stores. On each occasion we presented kava to the chief, which if accepted, means you have a right to be in the village. Staples such as rice, onions, casava and some tinned goods were usually to be found, and you could buy chicken if you asked. People were universally friendly in most places. We did, however,visit one village where we had a less pleasant experience. I went ashore with the children, Cam staying aboard. On the beach I met a lady, and asked to be taken to the chief. She did so, and was apparently his sister. She was very nice and chatty. The chief came out of his hut, accepted the kava, and gave a very rudimentary welcome, then told me to go and look around the village. Molly, nancy and I walked around, and were soon at the centre of a crowd of happy laughing children. All the villagers waved greetings and wanted to chat, so after half an hour or so we worked our way back to near the chief's house. He then abruptly asked me how long we were staying, and I replied that I did not know. He then said "Ok, you leave now". and walked away. Well, I didn't want to stay where we were not welcome, so we walked back to the dinghy. The first lady, and her other sister ran after me and asked where we were going, so I said that the chief had asked us to leave so we were off. She was shocked, and said she didn't understand. She wanted to show me some of her handicrafts, and her son would be back later with some lobster he would like to sell me. I said I was sorry, but the chief said go, so we were off. Its clear she was furious, as these villagers depend for their pocket money on a little bit of trade with visiting boats. I'm sure her brother was going to get heckled later, and truly, having spoken to many Fijians about this incident, they all agreed he was unacceptably discourteous. The rule of the game is that if the chief doesn't want you, he should not accept the kava, and then you must leave immediately, but if the kava is accepted, you have been admitted to the village forever, and have every right to be there.

Well, it was a learning experience, and unusual.

Whilst diving under Jade during these few days, I put my hand on the port rudder, and to my disappointment, felt it was loose. Oh dear! I spoke to several cruisers and contacted Manta, and the concensus was that the rudder bearing was failing. We had had a very rough and fast passage to Fiji from NZ, including swerving down the face of some very large waves, and the port rudder takes more load as it is the one the main autopilot acts upon. Of course, some of the turning force is transfered through the steering to the stbd. side, but being a cable system, the play means that this rudder does not turn quite so much. In this respect, the backup autopilot, though an inferior ST4000 system, works on the wheel, so puts the effort equally into both rudders. Anyway, what to do. It was my recollection that Vuda Point Marina, not far from Lautoka, had a Travelift, and since Manta catamarans are 21' wide partly to allow them to be lifted by a standard travelift, that was the place to go. We sailed slowly South, taking the opportunity to stop again at Octopus Resort. Apart from a firm friendship with Chris & Kylie, we also made friends with a lady from the local village who looked after C&K's small boys whilst they were working. Tima was a lovely kind woman, and we also got to know her husband John. He seemed to subsist simply by fishing about twice a week. It amazes me still how these people live. In all the islands of the Pacific where we had visited Polynesian people, we found that their lives were not primitive at all. They all lived in small houses, with furniture and many modern appliances. They had TV, or at least a DVD player, etc. They managed this because they all had some form of cash income, either by selling fish, or local crafts, many of which were highly skilled. Take for example the Tapas cloth and wood carvings of the peoples of the Marquesas, and the wonderful fans and hats made uniquely in Penrhyn. Fiji, on the mainland at least, follows much the same pattern, although frankly, the products of these mixed Melanesian and Polynesian peoples does not seem to me as very skilled. But in the villages on the islands, not much seems to have changed in hundreds of years. Most of them still live in mud huts, living mostly off the land and sea. They do earn a little from the local resorts, where many of them are employed. This gave Tima and John an aspiration to build a concrete hut, but for now, this is how they, and most in the village lived... in two mud huts. One had a simple woven mat on the floor for sleeping. The other had an open fire in the centre, fed economically by coconut fronds and sticks. On this, Tima, with very few utensils, produced all sorts of food, including baking a cake! My favourite discovery was the delicious refreshing flavour of the local lemon tea. This is made by putting a couple of the leaves of a lemon bush into boiling water. Simple, and better than using the fruit, in my opinion.

Eventually we made our way back to Vuda Point marina. This is really quite a good spot. It is wholly man-made. They have blasted a channel through about 200 metres of coral, another 50 metres of land, and then cut a huge pool out of the rock. In here the boats tie their sterns or bows to mini jetties sticking out from the concrete wall, and the other end to two buoys provided at each berth. It works, to a point, although we often found boarding to and from these little jetties to be difficult, depending on the tide. There is a small bar nearby, and a well-stocked convenience shop. It was unfortunately a heat trap, and for once we found a good reason to use our air-conditioning, run (without telling the marina) from the shore power, which was not really rated for this load.

The first disappointment was discovering that it was a standard travelift, but the piers on which it ran had been built 19' wide, and the lift modified to fit. No luck there then. The marina staff put me on to the local 'Ba' crane company, that they used for boats that would not fit the travelift. I called them, and one of their drivers, an Indian guy, came down to see us. Then it got comical. I had discovered that the crane's necessary standing position was not right next to the water, due to lack of foresight in the marina design. So, when the crane driver offered a 16 ton crane, I asked if he had a bigger one. "Oh yes. We are having 33 ton also". "Oh, that's better" says I, "Anything bigger?". "Oh yes, we are having 60 ton". I quickly said that this was what I wanted. I then asked him how wide his lifting frame was. He had no idea. I asked him if his frame or rig was ever tested. No, apparently not. I then asked if he had insurance. I then got the Indian nod of the head accompanied by a "Very sorry, no insurance". I couyld just see this polite little man dropping Jade and politely apologising as he walked away. I told him I'd think about it.

Later that day, I was in the bar of the club, and I met a local resident Australian, called Carl. He was quite blunt, and said that if I wanted anything doing to my boat, the only place was Suva, the capital. Normally this would be a daunting prospect. Vuda Point, and Lautoka, are located on the West coast of the main island of Viti Levu. It is a very big island, and Suva is on its SE corner, around 100 miles away by sea. The Trade winds blow most of the time from the East/ SE, and Kadavu Island to the South funnels this wind through the Kadavu Passage. If the Trades are blowing 20 knots, its often 30 through this channel, about 20  miles of the voyage. However, fate played a hand here, because I had happened to check the weather a short while earlier, and learnt that three days of Westerlies were forcast, starting that very evening, caused by an intense low passing to the South. That was it then, so the following day we set out for an overnight passage to Suva. It went as forecast and we had a nice easy downwind run, arriving in Suva Harbour just after dawn. We anchored in 15' of mud a couple of hundred metres from the Royal Suva Yacht Club. Suva harbour is quite large, being basically an open roadstead, but inside the reef. We were quite well away from the commercial area, so for most of our stay it was a very calm and comfortable anchorage. Occasionally wind or squall would come from the West, and on these occasions, not usually lasting for more than half a day, it got very bumpy, as therer was a fetch of more than a mile in that direction.

I had heard many times about the Royal Suva Yacht Club. Cruising stories often mention this place, so it was very interesting to arrive there. The reality turned into something else, but more on this as I procede. Carl in Vuda Point had put me in touch with the Vice-Commadore of the club, Stephen Hay. He had offered help and told me it would be no problem. When I met him, and only then, I realised that he ran a repair company, and was intending to do the work himself. I was, at first, ok with this. He seemed confident enough. Events evolved, however, as they often do when arranging boat work, as a stranger. If any of you readers has a boat, you will be pretty familiar with where to get work done, and by whom, but when you are travelling like us, there is a great deal of asking around, talking to other cruisers, people in bars and yacht clubs etc. At the end of this process (never more skilfully done than by Chris on Magic Carpet) you hopefully arrive at the right source of parts, or the right boatyard, or the right worker. Sometimes, you fail. In New Zealand it was easy to fail. Most of the workers there were incompetent, contrary to their reputation.

The anchorage off the Royal Suva Yacht Club was excellent. Usually very calm and with good holding. The club was a shambles, but I'll talk about that elsewhere. We also found that Mr. Hay had a less than stellar reputation, and was certainly in dire financial straits. The final straw was when, the day before going up the club slipway, I was asked by the club secretary to sign an indemnity form. Had I done so this would have protected the club and its servants and contractors from any blame or liability for anything that might happen even if it was wholly their fault, and even if caused by incompetence. OK, move to plan B! We were very fortunate that after only a couple of days in Suva, we were joined by Tigger after their very rough trip from NZ. We really enjoy their company, and that made our stay in Suva very enjoyable. More than that, they are both full of good advice, and considerable skills. Peter nagged me to beach Jade to have a proper look at the rudder. I had never done this before, so was reluctant, but in the end we did so, at a pretty and perfect spot for such an evolution, just near the Tradewind resort a few miles from Suva. Another cruiser friend, Louis, helped with Peter and Toni, and here we discovered that the stock was loose inside the rudder. There was no problem with the bearing. This was good and bad news. Good because we did not need to slip after all, as the rudder can be dropped out whilst afloat. Bad because fixing a broken rudder is a bigger job altogether. This was good and bad news. Bad because at the least we were looking at rebuilding the rudder, and perhaps even replacing it. On the other hand, we had no need to slip the boat because the rudders can be dropped out whilst afloat, and given our location, this simplified matters enormously. In the end, it took me three days to get the rudder out, primarily because I was ignorant of how, precisely, it was fitted. Still, I managed it, and subsequent efforts have been reduced to about an hour. Shows how stupid I was to start with! I had drilled a hole in the top of the rudder blade whilst we were dried out, and tied a line through it. I did expect the rudder to float when dropped, and it did, but better safe than sorry.

 

So, after a struggle with some of the bolts, and wondering why it would not drop out after everything was released, I got the rudder out. The trick was to simply stand on the top of the stock, and it slowly slid out. I expected the rudder to be positively buoyant, but just in case, whilst on the beach we had drilled a hole in the top of the rudder blade to put a line through. It all worked smoothly, and the rudder floated free.

Here enter another character, Mr. Peter Whippy. Whippy is a common name in Fiji, all being descendents of an early American resident. Mr. Whippy had been arranging some work for Tigger, which, surprisingly, went half right, which was a 50% improvement on their NZ experience. Of course, half isn't too good, but we went with this worthy in the absence of anybody else. He started well. He cut open the side of the rudder, and there we beheld the quality of US engineering. The 2" SS stock only extended about 6" into the blade, and about 5" of this was butt welded to a mild steel plate inside the rudder. This plate was only about 1/3 of the size of the blade, and the remaining space was filled with foam. It was a miracle the rudder had lasted a week, frankly. When Dan, at Manta, was shown the photos, he was horrified. The rudders were subcontracted to another company, and this was not the design they had been given. They could have killed people with this. Happily, Manta have agreed to supply two of their new design rudders, as fitted to the MkIV, for free.

Anyway, Peter Whippy told us he could have a new, longer, stock made, and this could be welded for a much greater length. He also agreed, at my insistence, to also weld some straps across stock and plate to further strengthen the whole thing, and the void where the foam was dug out would be filled with an epoxy microballoon mix. This was duly done, only for me to discover that the idiots who rebuilt it, after drilling the hole for the support pin and the autopilot, had not lined up these holes with the blade. It was about 20 degrees out. The result was that it could not be fitted. Therefore the rudder had to be cut open again, the weld ground off, the stock re-aligned, and then the whole thing re-welded and re-filled. All was still not right. A further piece of American incompetence was that the hole for the pin holding the radial drive had not been drilled centrally. To compensate, they had also drilled the hole in the radial drive to match. Amazingly, Peter Whippy's people had spotted this when building the stock, and had carefully matched the offcentre drill hole. Then, a presumably different person had put the rudder together, but with the stock 180 degrees wrong, so now the offcentre was on the wrong side!

This was finally fixed by using weld to re-fill the hole in the radial drive and re-drill it with the offset on the other side. Tra laaaa. We could finally fit the rudder. This whole saga took a month, but the compensation was Tigger's company, and the fact that we unexpectedly really enjoyed Suva.

 

Peter and Toni's Tigger is a Shuttleworth-designed catamaran from England. 43' by 29' beam (yes, that's right, 29' beam!) and very light. They probably weigh not much over 6 tons, whereas we weigh around 11. They had been with us in Norsand, in Whangarei, and we had known them since Tahiti. Vivian, Cam's sister, had made good friends with them. A lovely couple. Their trip up from New Zealand, however, had been far from lovely. They had a lot of work done in New Zealand, as most cruisers do, and in their case, all of it had been disastrous! their sails did not work properly, as the Doyle sail loft in Auckland had ignored Peter's intructions and changed the realtionship between the battens and the reefing points on his main. This being a high-tech sail with built-in load paths, the result was that the sail was almost impossible to reef. Their windows, newly sealed with special NZ gunk, leaked like sieves as the gunk was washed away by water! Worst of all, however, was their newly re-built hydraulic steering. Peter had had trouble for some time with 'creep' causing the two rudders to get out of alignment. To try to cure this, in NZ, Peter employed a reputable company to fit some special valves, and at the same time his cyclinders were rebuilt. On passage, partly due to the sail problems, they lost a lot of time, and got caught by an expected weather pattern they had hoped to avoid. It got rough. At the same time the hydraulics failed completely. At one stage, Peter had to stand on one transome step in his foul weather gear and harness, hand steering one rudder to match what the autopilot was doing with the other one. All this in a gale. Needless to say they were grateful to arrive, and in need of a good rest.

Later, I was with Peter when he took his hydraulic cylinders to a small engineering firm in Suva. It was horrifying. The cylinders had been deformed, the piston gauged, and the wrong seals had been used. It had been butchered! remember we are discoveing this in a small place in Fiji, where they were able to partially correct the incredible incompetence of a supposedly reputable NZ company. Humorously, Peter told me that at least some of the blame could be apportioned to people outside NZ. The seals had been supplied by a company in London called Hamilton Jet. I took great pleasure in telling him they were actually a NZ company, ha ha.

It was really good being with Peter and Toni, they were very good company, and Peter was very helpful with some of my problems. For example, he quickly got my AIS working, despite the fact that the qualified electrician who had fitted it had failed to do this twice! guess where? Yes, NZ again! In return, Cam provided food for them... often. This relationship also produced another interesting event. Through them we became friends with their friend Louis. We had met him very briefly in Tahiti. He was in Suva in tragic circumstances. Having left Suva for Vanuatu, he had lost his trimaran, Elysium, luckily he and his 3 crew escaping with their lives. The cause was a combination of bad luck (as always) and incompetent fitting of a repaired propeller shaft in his engine, which had come free of its connection to the gearbox resulting ion loss of engine availability. This was combined with an unexpected 180 degree wind shift and gale which drove them onto a reef, his 5 anchors failing to hold. After rescue by local villagers, he had found himself back in Suva, staying at the home of a club member. And here it gets more interesting, because the incompetent shaft fitter was none other than Stephen Hay , our proposed repairer! The final straw to my plan was when, the day before we were due to go up the club slipway, the secretary came to me with a form to sign. It was an indemnity form. Basically it indemnified the club against everything, even if their worker took an axe to Jade, they would not be responsible. I pointed out that my insurers would scream if I signed anything like that, but they were adamant. I am sure they feared that Louis would be taking legal action against them, Stephen being the Vice-Commodore. I did take a trip to look at the huge government slipways, which we could apparently use for a very modest price, but my heart was not in it, and I was getting a bit depressed so it was fortunate that Peter persuaded me to beach Jade.

Finally Peter Whippy got the rudder fixed, and I managed to get it re-installed, a little faster than when I took it out. It was a bit heavier than before, as the microballoons were heavier than the foam they had replaced, but it was, hopefully, much stronger than before. I just hoped the other rudder would last. The bill from Whippy was the pleasant surprise. It cost me around $500US, so that was a relief. This was in line with everything in Fiji; probably the cheapest place we have visited. The markets were wonderful, and cheap, supermarkets cheap, even the resorts were cheap. Did I mention that at Octopus, the full daily meal charge was $45F, which is about $25US. That was for three spectacular meals.

I did mention there was a story about the Royal Suva Yacht Club. It was apparent that it was rather run down. The bar area was nice, although downmarket, but the sea wall was falling down, the moorings un-maintained, and the gardens scruffy, but the drinks were very cheap. They did have a new manager, who was a nice guy, and I am sure was planning to put things right, and through him I found out some of what had been happening. Firstly, they had allowed the club to be dominated by non-sailors, and their only interest was in keeping the bar prices cheap. No money was ever agreed to be spent on the boating side or other facilities. Secondly the club was run by a cabal of Free Masons, all from the same lodge. Now I am one myself, and more senior than any of those in the RSYC, but it was clear that in this case the connection was improper. I found out that for considerable periods the fees for membership and moorings had never been collected, or at least, they had not gone into the club coffers. The club apparently had close to 800 paid-up members. This should certainly have brought in enough revenue for basic maintenance, and more. The bar was always busy. All in all, it was interesting what mis-management can achieve... sliding standards. I would also place a sure bet on some of the staff stealing from the club. There was certainly little supervision. I asked the new manager if there was ever an independent audit. He didn't know. One of the nastiest aspects was the way the committee had closed ranks to protect Stephen Hay. Vice-commodore, member of the lodge etc. He was also seriously in debt. They tried to ban Louis from the club premises, and after a week, forced the kind member who had given him a place to stay to move him out. Their grounds for not letting Louis have visiting membership was that he was not a sailor, not having a boat! This was appalling, but it backfired, because when Peter and Toni arrived, they gave him a place to stay on Tigger, and registered him with the club as crew, so they had to let him in, but nobody would talk to him. In the end, he decided against legal action against Stephen Hay, simply because it was obvious that Hay had no money. (As an aside, Louis has since fallen on his feet, and met a very nice lady with a bit of money who dearly wants someone like Louis to partner her in a boat. Lucky him).

The upside of this one month visit to Suva was the unexpected pleasure we found in the place. It is a large town, a bit scruffy, but friendly, with superb markets and a reasonable shopping centre. We found an excellent cinema at which we watched the fifth Harry Potter film and a good internet cafe, although more expensive than Lautoka. There were some nice walks in the area, and an interesting museum, in which I was fascinated by the history of the settlement of Fiji. The indigenous locals will tell you they are Melanesian, like the peoples of Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and parts of Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. However, in reality they are at least half Polynesian, which should be obvious when one looks at their physical appearance. To Western eyes, the men are much more handsome, tall and athletic, than Melanesians from other areas. Unfortunately, again to my Western eyes, the women have not inherited any beauty from either side of their ancestry!

We had some nice meals out, and particularly liked the Chinese restaurant that operated in the RSYC. It did so completely independently, paying rent for its premises, which is probably why it was well run.

It was a cheap taxi ride the couple of miles to the city, or a 30 minute easy walk. One day I shared a cab with an older Australian lady called Helen. Through this meeting I later met her husband, Ron, and we became chatty. I learnt that they were the owners of a huge three-masted Barque-rigged steel vessel anchored half a mile from us. This vessel's name is Jaguar, and is at the heart of another interesting tale. It seems Ron (and perhaps Helen) had a dream; When they retired, they wanted to go sailing. This is a common dream, shared by thousands of cruisers world-wide. In their case, however, they did it a little differently, to say the least! They went to England, where in Hull, they found a half dozen old North Sea trawlers, laid up. They were about 150' long, and had been built in the 50s and 60s, and the collapse of the fishing industry had put them out of service. They were probably destined for the scrapyard. Ron bought two of them, one of which he stripped of its machinery and equipment for spares. Then he spent the next 12 years or so converting the other into a barque. The rig was to his own design, and to accommodate it, about 50 tons of ballast was put in her bilge in the form of old anchor chain. Then, after all these years, they set out from England, and two years later we met them in Suva. Now for the really extraordinary bit. Neiother of them had sailed in their lives! Ron did all the maintenance, engineering and repair himself, something he obviously loved, and was good at. Jaguar has a very old and original Ruston 8 cylinder diesel which theoretically could drive her at more than 10 knots. Ron dare not push her over 6 knots, so even motoring passages are slow, and apparently she does not sail very fast either. Fuel capacity is 60 tons! They rely on a paid skipper and volunteer crew. This has rarely worked out for them. They have been unlucky with skippers, and the crew have been variable. For instance, on the way from New Zealand to Fiji, the guy who had volunteered as cook was sea-sick all the way, or so he claimed, and Helen, who is 70 and frail, cooked for 12 people all the way!

This is really a strange tail. They were very limited in where they could go because of Jaguar's great draught, and they were always struggling to find crew. The most amazing thing though, was that us, and Peter and Toni, were their first cruising friends. They invited us aboard for a BBQ. Personally I don't think this great ship is even comfortable, but she was well-presented below. Trouble is, she has sloping decks to shrug off North Sea storm water, so everything slopes from port to stbd and from fore to aft. There isn't much flat deck. Anyway, they had no idea of the great cameraderie amongst cruisers, because of course, nobody knocks on a ruddy great ship like Jaguar to say hello and invite them for a potluck, and they didn't know to do it to others. We soon put them right and made them promise to go and visit other cruising boats whenever they got the opportunity. I rather suspected, but was frightened to ask, that the reason they had bought Jaguar was they were afraid to go to sea in something small as they felt it would be dangerous and uncomfortable. When visiting Jade and Tigger they were amazed at how comfortably we lived, especially when I turned the air-conditioning on, whilst running the watermaker.

It takes all sorts, and you have to admire the tenacity and vision of this remarkable couple. I hope we meet them again somewhere.

Soon it was time to go back West, to Lautoka. This time we didn't mind going with the trade winds, and we had a remarkably fast journey. Starting at dawn, we were anchored off Denerau, a few miles from Lautoka, before dark, a distance of nearly 100 miles. During the journey, in the Kadavu passage, we tore diagonally down the front of a wave, for close to 30 seconds, at speeds up to 17.8 knots, our personal record and one I have no interest in bettering!

After a peaceful night, we moved into the Vuda Point marina again, where we planned to leave Jade whilst we returned to UK. It is a safe spot, and would probably be so in a cyclone, should one choose to leave one's boat in Fiji during that season. Personally I would use the Musket Cove Yacht Club marina, on Maolo Lailai island, which I think is better, although a bit cheaper. Before we left, we had the great pleasure of a day with Blue Marlin, so the girls were very happy. I went up to lautoka where they had spent the night, and sailed back down to Vuda Point on board Blue Marlin, an interesting experience. She certainly sails well, but that heeling!

They could not stay longer, as they were off to Vanuatu. We hoped to meet them next in Australia, so another sad farewell. The more we cruise, the more I, and the girls, treasure the friendships we have made with other cruisers, and the more it upsets me to say goodbye. I dwell on it a lot. I think I would be happier cruising in company with one or two other boats, as we did for so long with Magic Carpet. Its not that we want to be in their pockets, and when with MC we were often apart for weeks. However, I knew we would be back together with them before long. After they had to leave us, we spent time with Quantum Leap, but that too came to an end with their different plans in and after New Zealand. Now we had said goodbye to Blue Marlin, and I felt for Molly and Nancy, as Hedda and Marita are really their only good friends. They have become skilled at making new friends quickly, but it is not the same.

Back to list

 

Jade in Fiji (part one)

Lautoka, our destination, is a large town and commercial port on the main island's West coast. There are extensive reefs and offshore islands on the West side of Fiji, so these waters are all pretty sheltered, although nasty short waves can develop in the more exposed reaches. Lautoka port is further sheltered by islands close to shore, behind which one anchors. It is necessary to clear in here, Suva, or Savusavu on Vanua Levu. The customs/immigration are in a large commercial shed in the Lautoka port docks. Whilst the anchorage is generally quite good, the dinghy dock is a disgrace, especially as one has no choice. Broken concrete steps with broken railings and underwater obstructions are expected to facilitate your journey ashore. If the wind is in the North, it is untenable. Nevertheless, the customs people were quite accommodating and we were cleared in in around an hour, at minimal expense. A military coup had occurred a few months earlier, and from what you would read in the Australian and New Zealand press, we were puting ourselves in mortal danger by being in Fiji. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and in all our travels in the area, we never saw anything untoward or felt threatened. Indeed, we were treated with universal kindness. It was here that we said goodbye to Russ Delahaye, our friend and crew for the voyage. Since he had spent so much time with us in Whangarei and Opua before we got away, he decided to leave straight away to get back to his wife in Brisbane. He was good company, so we were sorry to see him go, but he promised to try and persuade Daphne to come back for a visit.

We liked Lautoka town. It is a bit scruffy, but extensive, and with lots of shops run by Indians. It has a wonderful market, good on any day, but double in size on Saturdays when the villagers from remots areas come in to sell their produce. We found the prices, frankly, cheap for almost anything, which was very pleasing after having spent far too much in NZ. After my experiences of running out of beer in French Polynesia, and having to replace our stocks there at $US2.00 per can in the Supermarket, it was a pleasure to pay maybe $3-4 Fijian in a bar, and not much over a 1$F in the shops. That's about $4HK or 25pUK. Unfortunately, not knowing this, I had stocked up on loads of beer in NZ, at half the French Polynesia price, but double the Fiji price. I'm, not much of a beer drinker, but it is the social drink amongst cruisers, and it is normal on a hot day to offer visitors a cold beer. We have lots of visitors! Much the same cheap prices went for everything else too. We enjoyed poking around the shops, eating in cheap restaurants, and using the exceptionally cheap internet cafe, at $2F per hour! On the Saturday I went to the local stadium, and for $2.00 watched a few hours rugby, whilst Cam shopped. Fijian rugby is very entertaining, and the other spectators consisted of lots of women, young and old, and kids. It was great. We also found a very smart cinema, where for a very cheap price we went to see Shrek III. It was about a mile to town from the dockyard, and easy walk, and since we were still quite well provisioned from NZ, we had no need to carry heavy stuff back. Whilst in the anchorage, I saw a largish yacht flying the Hong Kong flag, the first we had seen, so I went over in the dinghy. A bored girl, who turned out to be crew, told me that the owners were American, and it was a flag of convenience. What a disappointment. I can understand though. I think the 'convenience' had nothing to do with money, but more about the way in which Americans are regarded in many parts of the world these days.

After a week, we decided it was time to move on, so we headed SW to Malolo Lai Lai island. This is the location of the famous Musket Cove Yacht Club and resort. Membership for life costs $1 for the skipper, and $5 for the crew. There are nice restaurants, a small provision store and a bar near the pier. It actually has marina berths in man-made lagoons literally inside the resort... probably safe enough in a hurricane. Most people anchor or take a club mooring ball just outside the resort. Nearby are a couple of other resorts, all of which welcome cruisers. There are swimming pools as well, but no really nice beaches, although a dinghy trip takes you to several. The voyage there from Lautoka, about 30 miles, was an introduction to navigation in Fiji. Once we left the main shipping channel leading to Lautoka, we realised that the C-Map charts, and our paper charts, were just approximations of what was really there. In general but not always, the outline of the many islands was quite accurate, although it got worse the farther North we went up the island chain, but the reefs! There was only the vaguest relationship betwen the charts and the reefs, even in the complex channel leading to Musket Cove, although the resort had helped here by marking many of the reefs with buoys or posts. We quickly reverted to normal Pacific atoll rules; sunlight, sun behind you, and careful use of eyes. If you ever saw a yacht in Fiji under full sail at speed, he was on a route he had done before, and was following his previous track. I learnt to create and store many waypoints for the same purpose. With the crystal clear waters, and the right sun conditions, you really can see the reefs easily, but the moment a rain cloud comes over, or you have to turn into the sun, you can no longer see. On several occasions I have anchored to wait for the rain to clear. To complicate matters, the whole of Fiji is surrounded by a complex pattern of reefs. This makes wonderful cruising in mostly sheltered waters, but!

We spent a few days at Musket Cove, and chilled out, but we were keen to see the rest of the chain of islands that stretches for 70 miles, first trending West, and then North in an unbroken chain. The Southerly ones, level with the South of Viti Levu, are the Mammanuccas, and the Northerly ones the Yasawas. In Musket Cove, we anchored next to Cool Bananas, a large catamaran from NZ whom we had met in Whangarei. These nice folks, Daryl and Laurel and their various crew and family were to be our companions on and off for much of our time in Fiji. They described to us an island in the Mammanuccas with wonderful coral, so we set off for this, perhaps 25 miles away through a maze of islands. When we set off to go round the South side of Malololailai, we did find that there were channel markers for the first few miles, but we luckily followed a local boat which made it easier. The last half of the journey was more complex, and we passed a whole island, perhaps 200' high and half a mile long that was not on the charts at all! When we arrived at the island, because of the wind diurection, we could not find a place to anchor that was both sheltered and had a sandy bottom. After half an hour of trying, we gave up, and decided to go another 15 miles North to Waya island. This has a very large deep bay on its South side, with a village, and I thought that in the prevailing NE winds it would give good shelter. We had to motor through short steep seas for 3 hours to get there, and arrived in late afternoon. We found a reasonable spot to anchor, and then went ashore. I asked a villager to point me to the village chief. Now here I should explain that in Fiji, outsiders cannot visit a village, or the land/beaches/water it calls its property, without asking permission from either the chief or the village representative (who are sometimes differnt people, one is elected, the other hereditary). When asking permission, custom demands that you present a gift of kava. Kava looks like dried roots of a shrub (which it is!), and can be bought in any market, and some stores. You get it wrapped in bunches costing around $30F each, which is considered a good size for this gift. If the gift is accepted, this signifies permission, but usually there follows a short ceremony. There will be chanting and clapping of hands, which represents the traditional greeting. Often it is perfunctory, sometimes not, and in the latter case it makes you feel more welcome. If the gift is refused, you have to leave immediately.

On this occasion in Waya, the villager pointed to a guy nearby lounging on a hammock. He was half awake, but looked dopey, with red eyes. I learnt later this was a typical after effect of drinking a lot of kava, which is a mild narcotic. He accepted our bunch of kava, muttered a few words and clapped a couple of times, then told us in English that we were welcome to visit the village. He then collapsed back onto his hammock. The other guy, who was much sharper and pleasant, told us that we were anchored in the wrong spot, and offered to show us a better one. We therefore took him back in the dinghy, upped the anchor and followed his directions. This took us through a narrow gap between rocky shoals to a patch of sand quite close to the beach. This seemed pretty good, there being just enough room to anchor with sufficient scope. We then returned to shore and took a walk around the village, talking to several adults and many kids. This was nice, after the disappointment of our first kava ceremony. The kids were mostly very nice, but a few were quite greedy and demanding, asking for things.

As we were preparing for bed, I realised that the wind was gusting quite unpredictably. We had quite high mountains to our North, from where the wind was coming, and it seemed to be gusting down the steep valleys to the anchorage in the bay. We had no waves at all, but we were veering a bit on the anchor. I watched it for a while, but it seemed ok.

At about 4 o'clock in the morning I awoke, concerned about something. This sixth sense has saved us several times. I went out on deck and found we were much closer to the beach, and the echo sounder showed no water under the keel. This means anything from nought to two feet. We weren't aground, but as I watched, the wind gusted from a completely different direction, and we swung right away from the beach. It then changed again, and we did a complete circle, once again coming much too close. Lucky there were still no waves at all. Our Spade had not dragged, but clearly no anchor can be expected to stay in one place if the pull is coming from 360 degrees. It had obviously 'walked' towards the beach, alternatively tripping and resetting as we spun around. I started the engines and used them to keep us away from the beach, but in the dark I dared not weigh and try and pass out from behind the reef. We had entered in daylight with the help of the villager. We thus waited until first light, when I could see enough to very slowly and carefully retrace our steps. We only had to go a few hundred metres to be clear, but it was tense, as it was still not light enough to see clearly. With no waves and two engines I was able to move very slowly but be under control, with Cam standing on the bow keeping careful watch immediately in front of the boat.

We had been told by Cool Bananas about the Octopus Resort, on the North West side of Waya island, so we travelled for about an hour and anchored off the beautiful beach at this small resort, almost hidden in the palm trees. All you can see from seaward are a few palm thatched beach shades. Going ashore by myself in the dinghy, I found that there was a complex reef just a few metres from the beach, and a very tight channel for small boats marked with two buoys. This channel is only 20 metres long, but is the only way to get a dinghy to the beach.

I went into the pretty little resort, and went to the office, where I asked a local guy sitting behind a desk if it was OK to use the resort. Before he could answer, an Australian lady standing nearby introduced herself as Kylie, the joint manager with her husband. She welcomed me to the resort, said we could use all the facilities and even encouraged the use of their towels and showers. There began a love affair with Octopus Resort, and a new friendship with Chris and Kylie and their two young boys, Charlie and Paddy. Back to list

¡¡

1 June 2007 Last days in NZ and Arriving at Fiji

Our last couple of days in Auckland were spent doing some shopping, and I managed to get another computer. I reluctantly bought another Toshiba, as it was the only one with the features I needed at a reasonable price. Let's hope it lasts longer than the previous one. We sailed from Auckland Harbour at the crack of dawn, and then had one of the best sails ever, arriving in Whangarei town basin just on dark, having sailed the whole way ON THE SAME TACK!!! To do this, given all the course alterations, the wind has to be precisely from the right direction, and it was, but not only that, it was between 15-20 knots, so the passage was fast, but smooth. The journey is around 90 miles so to do it in less than 12 hours means consistently good speeds. The last third was done at close to 10 knots under gennaker and main... really great. To make it perfect, as we were going up the last reach of the river where we could sail, there was a Hong Kong registered ship in a berth at the town docks. It gave us the perfect lee to take the sails down as we went past without needing to stop or turn into the wind. What is really extraordinary is that we found out later that it was to be the last ever ship to use these docks as they are closing, future cargo trade being transferred to the new docks further down the river at Marsden Point, so this trick will never be done again! Our last period at Whangarei was spent in finishing off the work on Jade, and getting supplies. We did do a day visit to Kokopu School, all the kids flocked around M&N, it was very touching. At this stage we were joined by Russ Delahaye, an old friend from the days of the Royal Hong Kong Police. Russ had left to go to Australia some 14 years earlier, and I had not seen him since. After making e-mail contact, he had quickly volunteered himself to crew on the trip to Fiji. Unfortunately, for all sorts of reasons, our departure from New Zealand was much delayed from the planned 1st May, or thereabouts. We did not leave Whangarei until well into May, and had a very bumpy trip up to the bay of Islands. Of course, Russ was not sick, and I was! We spent only a couple of days in an anchorage in the bay, before moving down to Opua and anchoring in the river opposite the new Opua cruising Club... yes, since our arrival in NZ the previous November, the club had moved into its new premises overlooking the water. The food is still just as good, and the same price, as are the drinks. It must be said that the local sailors don't go out of their way to befriend the cruisers, but perhaps that can be understood because the cruisers outnumber the locals quite substantially at this time of year. We still had a couple of jobs to do, as the SSB was not working, found to be a lead knocked loose from a hidden corner by PJ who did the electrical work in Whangarei. We had a number of nice walks into Paihia, about 2 hours along the coastline. Russ did it even more often, trying to get fit. One thing I forgot to mention was that during our time in Whangarei, I went down to Auckland and whilst there, took the opportunity to visit Peter Colohan, another old friend from the RHKP. Peter lives with his lovely wife Ethel in a lovely house south of the city, having set himself up there when he chose to leave Hong Kong before the handover to the PRC, in 1997. Just as with Russ, it was great to catch up and gossip about old times. Anyway, whilst in Opua, Cam had an opportunity for a job interview in Auckland, one that did not result in success, but this time all four of us imposed on Peter and Ethel, and had a very enjoyable stay, leaving Russ in charge of Jade, which I think he enjoyed. The only problem was that Russ had been released for this trip by his wife Daphne, and after 3 weeks with us, had still only travelled 60 miles up the coast. Nevertheless, finally the day came, and we left Opua on the 24th May, with a weather window from Bob McDavitt, of the New Zealand Met Service. We started off motor-sailing in light winds, but soon had around 20 knots, which set the tone for the whole trip. McDavitt had recommended a direct route, but it immediately became apparent to me that unless we wanted to beat into strong headwinds, no fun in the ocean, we had better choose a different route. The journey to Fiji is pretty much North, and about 1200 miles from Opua, quite a trip across waters subject to storms and complex weather systems. To the NE of us as we set off was a low, quite intense with perhaps 50 knots of wind near its centre. It was also forecast by my weather files that several days later, as we would be approaching Fiji, strong, possibly very strong, easterly trade winds would set in. Thus I wanted to get plenty of easting so that when these arrived, we would have a more comfortable angle, preferably keeping the wind and waves abaft of the beam. However, with the low sitting in the path I wanted to go, I couldn't initially take the NE course that was needed. The trick was to alter to the east as we moved north by just enough to get a ride on the Sw & west winds on the NW side of the low, but at the same time, not get too near its centre. The low was moving away to the east, so I was sort of following it. I therefore watched my weather charts much more carefully than usual, getting an update several times a day. All in all, we got it right, as on the first half of the trip, we never got more than 25 knots of true wind, and always behind the beam. My regular checking of weather files was helped by our new method of obtaining them. In the past, we have used the SSB radio and Pactor modem, getting the weather files through our sailmail account. This works, and we could have continued with this method, but it is very slow, and reception at certain times of the day, especially daylight, is often very poor. We have on board a very expensive satellite system, a KVH Inmarsat Fleet F33 system, which not only allows voice and fax use at $US 1-50 per minute, but allows a broadband data connection. This, however, I have been reluctant to use as it is charged at $US 3-50 per megabyte download. Next time you are logged on to the internet, just look how quickly you use up 1 megabyte. However, the new version of the airmail software which we use with the Pactor modem over the SSB also now comes with a Telnet client. This is an adjunct to the programme that can use an internet connection if one is present, but still use our same sailmail account. Now the text-only messages we get through sailmail are rarely over 10k, and even the weather grib file attachments are only 5-10k. As a result, our daily download is never over 50k, and often much less. Thus it will take about a month to use up 1 megabyte at $3-50, and the data is received really fast. It worked great. So we got to somewhere a hundred miles or so SSW of Minerva Reef. I was hoping to get more easting, but the wind was backing hour by hour. Once it got from nearly east, I set a course that would have the apparent wind just ahead of the beam, and thus the waves just aft of the beam. At this stage I still hoped to make our planned destination of Savusavu on Vanua Levu, the second large island of Fiji. Savusavu is therefore on the NE side of the nation. As predicted, the winds got stronger until we had 30-35 knots from due east. Jade was handling it well, but it was very uncomfortable. If we had persevered, we would have had seas from ahead of the beam, and they were getting quite large. There's no point in battling when you don't have to, so I bore away, and instead we headed for Lautoka, which is on the West side of the main island of Viti Levu. We had big rough seas for a while, but this tactic kept them aft of the beam, in fact, we kept the waves aft of the beam for the whole trip. It is interesting that on such a passage, our sail combinations were ultra-simple; either the double-reefed main and jib, or just the jib. We could have used more sail for substantial periods, but that would introduce much more stress on us and the rig. One of the reasons we arrived quite fit after such a rough passage, since to maintain decent speeds on most monohulls would have required much more attention to getting the best out of the sails. We could afford to be very conservative and still make good progress. Given the distance we actually covered, I estimate our average speed to have been well over 7 knots. Thats very good in rough seas, and would be unachievable by most cruising monohulls even in flat seas. After 8 days at sea, travelling far more than the 1200 miles of the Great Circle route, we went through Nunuya Pass into the barrier reef to the west of Fiji, and three hours later had motored in calm sunny seas to Lautoka. The trip had strong winds all the way, and was therefore quite rough and bumpy. this meant that after 8 days we were very ready for some flat water, but I have to say, in a catamaran, despite the bumps, I am sure we were better off than we would have been in a monohull. Russ was a great crewman, never complaining except about the cold, always cheerful and helpful. He and I shared the watches, thus relieving Cam of the need to do night watches. In return she fed us royally, even producing my favourite Shepherd's Pie on the roughest evening of the trip. Molly & Nancy were great too, and likewise never complained. It was indeed cold until about a day from Fiji, but it sure felt warm as we arrived, sweltering in fact. For the first time ever on passage we had water in the cockpit, when on three occasions the tops of waves broke inboard through the starboard quarter. In each case not much, perhaps 10 gallons, but one case was great as it drenched Russ in the middle of some story he was telling me. One disappointment was that it was apparent that the AIS  set was still not working, despite the guy supposedly assuring me he had got it right the second time. I have recently been reminded by Toni of Tigger, that the definition of 'professional' is 'a person who gets paid for what they do', and she has reminded me that what we should be looking for is 'proficient', rather than 'professional. Sadly this is a rare commodity. PJ did a pretty good job on the electrical installations, but he forgot to complete lots of little things, like leaving the VHF aerial bolts unfastened, leaving wires joined temporarily with the obvious intention of returning to crimp them later, but then not doing it. As to his nice mate Steve, well, he has obviously only the vaguest idea of how to wire up an AIS set. More on this, and other equipment issues in a later log. Back to list

Whangarei  10 April 2007

After launching, we did indeed get a berth in the Town Basin Marina, right alongside the park and the marina office with its excellent showers and toilets. The cost is reasonable, and the two staff who run the place have been so nice to us. (For example, they are not really supposed to let catamarans lie alongside the pontoons). We can park the car just nearby, the kids can play in the park, and we can enjoy the town just a few minutes walk away. I love it in Whangarei, and I shall be sad to leave. We are fortunate to have friends here too. Kim & Lars on Sume, with their two girls Samantha and Michelle, are regular playmates, as are Blue Marlin with the twins Hedda and Marita. We still share the school run with the twins father Rune, but unfortunately, Marita in particular does not enjoy school as much as our two do, so they are going to be withdrawn early so that the Forde family can take a trip down to the South Island. In the meanwhile though, we enjoyed their company, and every Friday these three families, usually accompanied by Jan & Christina from the Swedish yacht Christina, and sometimes others, have a BBQ in the park. The local authority provide a free hotplate BBQ and seating. The meal usually includes the delicious green lip mussels bought over the road alive from the Pak 'n Save supermarket.
The school has been wonderful. It is called Kokopu school. (A Kokopu is a type of freshwater fish found in local streams.) The journey is about 20km along quiet country roads with wonderful views, so I have never got tired of it. There are only 100 or so pupils in 5 classes. The headmaster ALWAYS wears shorts, T-shirt and flip-flops. The school is so well run, with lots of activities. All sorts of sports are done every day, including swimming in their own small pool. M&N took part in two swimming galas, a triathlon (really!) and loads of other playground games. One day I had stopped in the gravel and cinder car park to pick them up, and they came hobbling towards me, barefoot, and obviously in some discomfort, but carrying their shoes. When I asked what they were up to they said they wanted to be Kiwi kids (who almost never wear shoes). M&N did really well in every way. Molly was obviously pretty much at the top of her class, despite being the youngest in her year. Nancy was also well up there, and she improved in her reading and writing skills enormously during the two months. They also got on well with the other kids and quickly made friends. Their two teachers were very well organised, so, all-in-all, I had no criticisms at all.
In the week before school finished, Charlotte & Simon brought Isabella, my new grandaughter, for a holiday. She had only been a tiny baby when I had seen her at Xmas in England, but she has grown so much. Of course, I am biased, but she really is a pretty little baby, and very, very alert for one so young, watching everything. In two weeks she almost never cried, and when she did, only for a minute or two until her immediate needs were met. We all loved her company, which honestly, was more than we expected. We messed around in Whangarei for a few days, and Charlie & Si were able to go to the school on the last day and see the student-run talent show, really good fun. Molly played the piano and also sang the Chinese National Anthem. Nancy was too shy to do anything.
On the Friday we set sail, spending the first night with Sume at the mouth of the river. Just before arriving at the anchorage the port engine suddenly stopped with a big bang. I really thought we had a major problem, but it then started again and ran smoothly. I thought it was a gearbox problem, but I now think we must have hit something, although diving on the prop shows no sign of damage. Perhaps we will see something the next time Jade is out of the water.
On Saturday we sailed to Great Barrier Island, or should I say, motored. Some five years earlier we had chartered a small 31' boat, from Gulf Harbour near Auckland. The boat was called 'Rubaiyat'. We had a great holiday during which we went to the natural harbour of Port Fitzroy, on the NW coast of Great Barrier Island. I loved it on first sight, and swore then that one day I would bring my own boat back there. Well, this was it, and the emotion was really quite strong as we entered through Man o War Passage into this large natural harbour with many anchorages. This was, after all, Easter holiday weekend, so it was much busier than on our previous visit, but there was still loads of room. Man o War Passage is only about 50 metres wide, but inside the anchorage stretches for a couple of miles, with numerous nooks and crannies. The hillsides are covered in bush, and there is birdlife everywhere. Initially no houses can be seen, but if you go into the cove where the tiny port of Port Fitzroy is located, you can catch a glimpse of one or two of the dozen or so houses here. We anchored in almost the same spot as we had in Rubaiyat, just round the corner from the Port Fitzroy wharf. When we went ashore, the little store was still there, just up the road, but because of the holiday it was busier and better stocked than before. We enjoyed a couple of nice walks ashore, and re-stocked a few bits from the shop. I shall long remember sitting outside the store with my wife, three kids (including Charlotte) and Grandaughter, together with Si, eating ice cream. On Monday it was much quieter, as most boats were using their day to get back to their base ready to start work on Tuesday. We moved to Smokehouse Bay, about a mile away within the main harbour. Here, some years ago, a group of local boaties had acquired a bit of beach and built a smokehouse, together with a bath house. These facilities were so that the fish caught locally by yachties could be smoked, whilst the wives enjoyed a hot bath. There are also three great rope swings attached to big trees that M&N really enjoyed. One problem, on hoisting our anchor, the windlass made all sorts of graunching noises. We had to use the spare Fortress on a rope, but as you will see, this inadvertantly encouragted us to change our plans to our eventual benefit. On Tuesday we sailed across to Kawau Island where I hoped once again to see the wallabies that live there, the only ones in New Zealand (and a species that became extinct in Australia after these animals were brought to NZ, a fact only recently discopvered). It was not to be, however. When we were motoring into the bay, we were 'raided' by a high-speed rib, and it turned out it was Randy & Cherie, from Procyon. After a visit to the mansion house, we spent an hour or two having tea with them. It was so nice to catch up with them. Despite being very 'laid-back' and in some ways typically Californian, They are both very good seamen, and Randy's background as a US Coastguard officer shows. Procyon is a Gozzard 44, a very pretty yacht, and immaculately maintained by them. Randy had to offer us aq kind service, by running Cahrlie, Si & Isabella back to Jade in his fast rib, together with the loan of some foulies, as it was absolutely poring, and yours truly had brought everybody out with no waterproofs. Very strong winds were forcast for a few days hence, and although the anchorage in Kawau was quite sheltered, I did not want to risk it with only our backup anchor. We therefore sailed for Auckland the next day. We had a very nice calm run down there, which everybody enjoyed, and we took a berth at the Bayswater Marina on the North Shore. The berth was nice, and there was a ferry to the city centre from just a few yards away. I was not happy with this marina management though. The staff were offhanded, and insisted on chaqrging us for a large berth as they said there were no others available. A day or two later I saw a correct-sized berth on one of the other fingers, but was told it was a private berth and therefore reserved. Only on our last day did I discover it was actually available. Another very irritating thing was the magnetic access cards needed to access the carpark, toilets and finger piers. I understand asking for a deposit for these cards, but why do they deduct $5 from this deposit on return. We are thus paying for access to the facilities we are already paying for!!! ALl the berth holders we met hated the management, so I guess that as soon as more facilities open up, they had better change their attitude or lose many of their customers. Now we were in Auckland, we decided to hire a large car (an 8 seater) and we took off to Rotorua. Cam & Charlotte had managed to get an excellent deal on a nice hotel there, and it was a nice drive too, leaving Jade safe in the marina whilst the wind howled. It was also less windy down South in Rotorua anyway. Whilst there we visited two scenic thermal areas, one of which we had been to 9 years earlier with Cam's family, whilst Cam was pregnant with Molly. In the evening we took in the cultural show at the hotel, which was much much better than I expected, and not at all corny. The Maori performers seemed to really enjoy what they were doing. We also went to the glow-worm caves, which though expensive to enter, were extraordinary. It was like looking at a very starry sky. These small worms hang from the roof of the caverns and display their bioluminescent lights to attract flies which the air currents attract into the caves, and they catch them with the sticky threads they suspend. Of course, when it is pitch dark, one cannot see these details.
Finally it was time to go back to Jade, just for an hour or two, then take Charlie, Si & Isabella to the airport for their long flight back to UK. On the way out they had stopped in Hong Kong for a couple of days, staying with Ben & Kate in our house. This return journey would be direct, but at least with a young baby all the equipment necessary is provided by nature.
Back to list


¡¡

Whangarei 25-3-07

 We are soon to launch! Jade has been sitting here in Norsand Boatyard pretending to be a house since the middle of November, four months! Its time for her to be a boat again. We could have completed all the work in a couple of weeks, but as I said earlier, the Town Basin Marina is not so convenient if you have to be on a pile mooring. There is only one pump out, at Ray Roberts Marine half a mile away, and manoeuvring on and off these piles cannot be done at low tide, and the lines are difficult to handle, although I had planned to make up special ones. Also one has to go ashore for water, which means adapting something so the dinghy can carry it easily and pump it up to Jade. One also has to use the dinghy to go ashore. Of course we have managed fine on passage, but that was not where M&N had to go to school every day, and where we had better toilet facilities (like the whole ocean). So we stayed in Norsand, but now I have hopes that one of the alongside berths will be free, as it is no longer high season, and it will only be for a week or so.

Whilst we have been here, we have done the following:-

Taken all the old anti-fouling off with paint stripper right down to the barrier coat over the gel coat, and we have just completed painting the underwater area with one coat of International Primacon and two coats of International Micron Extra, with three at the waterline and on leading edges. I also used International Trilux, a hard anti-fouling, on the aluminium out drive legs and along the waterline. The folding props have been removed and checked. I found that the two bolts that hold one of the rope-cutters had sheered, so they have been replaced, and I have replaced the anodes. The last job is for a guy in the yard here to treat the props with Propspeed, a sort of silicone coating which allegedly not only stops growth but won¡¯t come off. If the guy doesn¡¯t do it, I¡¯ll do as I did before; use Trilux, which stays on reasonably well to a well-keyed surface. Whilst painting I raised the waterline by 1". We havn¡¯t gained too much weight, but as the water is always lapping above the anti-fouling, weed gets a grip. It seems to survive above the waterline as long as it is splashed occasionally.

We cleaned and polished the topsides, so they now shine and look like new. Above the water the main change has been the installation of a lot of electrical gear. Readers may recall that our solar charging, despite having a bank of 6x70 watt panels, has not been quite enough. On passage the mainsail often puts them in shade, and then down here in NZ, it¡¯s often cloudy. I therefore bought an Aerogen 6 from UK. I have seen a lot of these around, and they have a reputation for reliability. Most importantly, they are very quite. This comes with a regulator and two heat sinks for when this senses that the batteries are full and it dumps the generated power.

To further speed up charging, I bought a second identical Mastervolt 80 amp battery charger to fit in parallel with the existing one. This will mean that when using the generator we can put in a maximum of 160 amps, still a lot below what my AGM batteries will take, and a lot quicker to get a healthy charge. It will also put a more substantial load on the generator, which is good for it.

I mentioned the AIS transponder before, but the combination of this and its new Standard Horizon chartplotter display required two more GPS antennas. The cell phone range extender I bought in the USA has finally been installed too. A great electrician by the name of Peter Johnson did the installation helped by a friend called Steve. These two were really professional. Peter also fitted several new 12V sockets, and will fit a 12V power conditioner so that we can more safely directly power a 12V TV and perhaps a computer. Finally a new floodlight has been wired up for the transom to help with dinghy boarding operations in the dark. We discovered that my VHF remote Mic is defective, so that has gone for repair, I hope!

I have bought a new halyard, Dyneema, for the gennaker, and we also need a new swivel, as the Facnor one is definitely not moving freely.

The two main engines have been fully serviced, including belts, filters, water pump impellers and seals, and the tappets checked and adjusted. I changed the saildrive oil by draining it from the bottom of the legs, which is better than doing it with the suction pipe as that way you don¡¯t get all the old oil out.

Despite good intentions, jobs remain. I have not removed the saloon window shade (a large fibre-glass structure) which has been screeching against the window. Hopefully I¡¯ll just need to sand a bit of it off to relieve that point. The holding tank pump out macerators are not functioning properly. I expect I¡¯ll need to change them. Not the best job in the world.

Otherwise, I think we¡¯re good to go, although four months without use may have caused hidden problems. We¡¯ll find out when we get underway again. Back to list

 Whangarei 10/2/07 

Our situation in Norsand Boatyard is quite pleasant. Of course, this is a working environment, and at certain times of the day you get drilling and banging. We are tucked into the far corner of the yard next to a grass bank and with a nice view over the marshes. Jade is sitting on her keels on wooden blocks. The yard is mostly gravel. Her bows and sterns are propped up with wooden posts. At first we did not have shore power, as I could not get a converter for our typical Marinco American shore power cable and plugs. We were doing OK just with the solar panels, but if the weather is bad for a few days we end up having to be very careful with the electric. Furthermore, not being able to run the engines or generator (no cooling water), means the batteries never get fully charged, which is bad for them. In the end I had to remove the socket on Jade and use a completely different cable and plug. Doing the wiring connections caused some thought, because they use a completely different colour scheme in NZ. Furthermore, when I looked up my bible¡­ Nigel Calder¡¯s Electrical and Mechanical Manual, it listed all the wiring combinations and their purpose to be found on shore power plugs, but mine was different! In the end I made an educated guess. To enable our 110V boat to take 220V we have isolation transformers, two of them, which not only protect from shore wiring faults, but convert the voltage. 220V also allows the cable to be much thinner. The shore power here in the yard is 15amp, which would be the equivalent of 30amps at 110V. Our circuit is called 50amp, but in effect this is two 35amp circuits (don¡¯t ask, I don¡¯t know enough to know why the numbers don¡¯t add up!). Given the available shore power here, I only use one of the two AC circuits, and have taken the assumption that I can only use one large power consumer at a time. Of course, the most important is the battery charger. If we want to use the water heater, or the washing machine, we turn the other circuits off first so only using one at a time.

There is a water point next to us also, so that is also convenient. I have not plumbed it directly into the boat¡¯s supply, even though I have a receptacle for that. We have never used this in the water at marinas because it will sink your boat if you leave a tap on! Here I could use it, but I can¡¯t stop the tap on shore from leaking, so I just top up occasionally.

That leaves us with just toilets as an issue. There is a nice toilet and shower block next to the yard office, but this is about 200 metres away. During the day we have got used to going there, but we have kindly been lent a Porta Potti by one of the guys working in the yard, so we have a night time emergency option for the children.

Jade makes a perfect garage for the car, and after struggling with our transom steps for a few days, the yard kindly provided us with some nice wooden steps. Because this is now so comfortable a place to be, and very quiet and peaceful at night, we have decided not to put Jade back into the water until we are ready to leave Whangarei. In the water we would be on a pile mooring in the Town Basin Marina. There we would have no water supply or shore power, and would need to dinghy ashore. Most problematic would be the toilets. Our holding tanks last about 7 days. The only pump-out in Whangarei is about a mile down the river, and manoeuvring on and off the pile moorings is clumsy and can only be done at high tide. All-in-all we are better off here.

For the first couple of weeks, every day we scraped the hull to remove the old anti-fouling. Theoretically we did not need to do this with ablative anti-fouling, but in Georgetown I had used stuff with tin in it (illegal in most parts of the world), and this was incompatible with the original International Micron 66 used by Manta. So our hull had some Micron 66, then a yellow coat of barrier paint, then what was left of the tin stuff. I am going to use a conventional ablative next, so decided the other stuff had to come off. Now you can use environmentally friendly paint stripper, but my experience is, it doesn¡¯t work. Thus I went to the local DIY store, Bunnings, and bought the stripper which had ¡°POISON¡± written on it in the largest letters. It works fine! Still, it¡¯s a rotten job. Paint it on, wait, scrape it off. Rarely do you get it all the first time, so you have to go over it again, two hulls. When finished the whole hull will have to be sanded. The paint turns to a chewing gum consistency with the effect of the stripper. We also have to make sure we save the entire residue for proper disposal.

We have nearly finished this task, and then I have to remove the boot topping stripe. This is a green line 3¡± wide, just above the water line, and was made with a vinyl stick-on material. This has torn in places and looks unsightly. I have decided to remove it, raise the water line slightly and re-do the line with paint, which can always be touched up. I have had good experience with International Brightside before, so will use that. On the inside of the hulls the waterline has not been done straight by Manta, so I need to re-align it.

Finally, for the underwater parts, I will get Norsand to do their ¡®special¡¯ propeller treatment using a type of silicone coating, and then fit new anodes to the saildrive legs. Our propellers are Volvo folding ones, and have been very good.

Once these tasks have been done, we can relax a bit, because everything else can be done afloat, if necessary. We do, however, want to complete all the work whilst still in NZ. I have ordered a second Mastervolt smart battery charger from US, to be brought by Tina & Scott. It was half the local price!!! The idea is to fit this charger in parallel with the existing one, to make a total maximum output of 160 amps at 12 volts, with a 110 volt input. Our 600 amp hours of AGM batteries can take a charge at up to around 30% of their capacity, so this addition will radically speed up charging, especially from the generator. When using shore power it¡¯s not so urgent, and we can turn one of them off and charge more slowly.

I have also ordered an Aerogen 6 wind generator from UK. Together with our 6 solar panels this should generate enough electricity to meet most of our needs. It is also quite silent. The most common generator seen is the Air X Marine, which I hate as they are so noisy. They have a new model which they claim is silent. They lie! It might be quieter than the previous model, but it still makes that distinctive rustling noise, but loud. I have a dream to get a Remington pump-action shotgun, and to go round the anchorages in my dinghy. ¡®Bang!¡¯ there goes an Air X. ¡®Bang!¡¯ there goes another one, and so on, until they are all gone, ha ha.

At the London Boat Show, I bought a Comar AIS Transceiver. AIS is ¡®Automatic Identification System¡¯. For the last few years, all SOLAS vessels over 300 tons have been required to carry a class A AIS device. This works on VHF frequency. They are connected to a GPS and transmit the vessel¡¯s position, course and speed, name, destination and other data. The receiver picks this up, typically at up to 25 miles or so, line of sight, and displays the results on a screen. Thus you get something like a radar picture, except it will not show land (unless it is coordinated with a plotter, more on this below). However, it can be more reliable than radar, and displays course and speed data more quickly and accurately. These class A sets are very expensive, but receive-only devices have been available for a couple of years, such as one marketed by NASA instruments for only around £200 or so. However, the device I have bought is the first of the new class B send and receive devices. These are much cheaper than a class A, at around £600, and much safer for us. Now the ¡®big fellas¡¯ will know we are out there. The Comar device has no display, but I have bought an additional chart plotter which can accept an AIS input. This will act as a useful backup as the model I have chosen takes C-Map cartridges, the same as my Raymarine RL80. Without the cartridge installed it still has a reasonable world map showing outline coasts, and it will overlay the AIS data. I¡¯m pleased with this; I just hope it works properly when it has been installed.

There are too many other small jobs to list, so I will be busy.

At the end of January, as promised, we went down to Gisborne to visit Kathleen at her parents place. Kathleen was crew on Quantum Leap, a wonderful woman much liked by everybody. When visiting various exotic places on route from Panama, if we wanted to meet locals, we needed only to wait for about half a day, and then Kathleen would introduce them all to us. She really was that fast at making friends.

First however, we stopped for a night in Auckland and used the opportunity to visit Sandy & Joan from Zeferin. We had only met them for the first time in Tahiti, on the introduction of Chris & Karyn. Sandy & Joan were completing their circumnavigation in Zeferin, a boat they had built themselves. We got to know them better in various ports thereafter, especially when Sandy suffered from the same coral poisoning as I did in Samoa, and we were both treated by Dr. Tom of Quantum Leap. For a time they had their daughter Emily with her husband and children Sophie & Dominic aboard. M&N played with these tow kids in several places. Zeferin is a lovely boat, about 40¡¯. She is very well designed for cruising, despite being somewhat unique. She has all her ballast inboard, and only a centre-board. This does not seem to detract from her performance as she makes fast passages. Sandy likes to take advantage of her shallow draft, and can usually be found anchoring well inshore of everybody else. We were received at their amazing home in the hills to the west of Auckland. On a hillside, the house and gardens looked right out across to the city and its skytower. It was also built by this resourceful couple, out of wood, and in a sort of arc around the garden. It was such a lovely spot, and Sandy showed me the shed in the garden in which he built Zeferin.  Emily came with her kids, so we all had a very nice afternoon.

Early the next day we set off from our motel, just south of the City. It was a lovely ride, with very little traffic, the route I had chosen turning out to be on mostly country roads. It took about five hours to reach Gisborne. On arrival we phoned Kathleen, and she directed us, and then met us on the road in her pickup. (Known as a UTE round here). The countryside in the Gisborne area is truly lovely. We crossed a range of mountains on the way, going up to perhaps 2000¡¯ on the road, before dropping down onto the fertile plain around the town. Everything is intensively farmed, with a lot of crsops such as grapes and squash, as well as cattle and sheep in the hills. We followed Kathleen along a farm track winding steeply uphill. Kathleens parents are Joan and Logie, and what a hospitable couple. We were welcomed like family. The house is just stunning, perched on a hillside looking out across the lovely countryside towards Gisborne about 10 miles away, with the ocean on the right and mountains in the distance. What a spot! Later during our stay we went up the hill behind the house, where it was even more stunning. We were very fortunate to have excellent weather for our whole stay. Kathleen made sure we packed in an awful lot. A couple of times I visited a neighbour with her. She was helping him build his new house. We met another friend and spent an afternoon on the beach with her and her kids. We went for a tour up the coast where we visited a really long jetty built for a defunct wool exporting business. We went shopping in the pretty town of Gisborne, and had some of the best fish & ships I have ever tasted at the Fishermen¡¯s club on the waterfront. Up the hill near the edge of the town is a lookout spot. This also affords splendid views from the opposite perspective to Joan & Logie¡¯s place. There is placed a statue of Captain Cook, except, as the inscription acknowledges, it isn¡¯t really Captain Cook, as the uniform is all wrong. In all likelihood it is some unknown Spaniard! What is not in dispute is that Captain Cook visited this area and named it ¡®Poverty Bay¡¯ because the Maori he saw seemed poor. The Endeavour¡¯s first sight of land was the peninsula marking the south of the bay, and as it was first seen by one of Cook¡¯s young officers, it was called by him, and remains to this day, ¡®Young Nick¡¯s Head¡¯. We also went to the beach near the house, which is completely covered in driftwood. It seems these are washed down the river that flows through the town, and then washed back onto the beach by Easterly storms. Gisborne faces out into the south Pacific.

Joan & Logie¡¯s place is on a farm of 300 or so acres, but because they are pretty much retired, most of the land is leased to other farmers, although their son Jim, Kathleen¡¯s brother, keeps a herd of red deer on some of it. The family still has access to all the land though, and seems to help with the cattle. Much of it is used to grow squash. On one afternoon, I took the children to go blackberrying on the hillside, and in 2 hours got several bucketfuls. We had lots of splendid meals with the family.

As a special treat, we went to stay at Joan & Logie¡¯s new house in the mountains, which they will soon move into permanently. It is a very nice place, but in my opinion, not a patch on the place they now live in, but their reason for moving is to be nearer their son Jim. Once we had got ourselves settled there, Kathleen took us to Jim¡¯s place. Now when we were at Sandy & Joan¡¯s house I thought it was the nicest I had ever seen, until we saw Joan & Logie¡¯s. But then we went up a gravel mountain track to about 2000¡¯ where we found Jim¡¯s place. Talk about spectacular, you could see mountains over 50 miles away from his dining room window. His farm is a very large property of mountainous pastures on which he keeps a very large number of sheep, 600 cattle, and his pride and joy, I think over 1000 red deer. It was such a lovely place, on a very nice day, as I guess it can be really cold and windy at times. Molly & Nancy got to have a ride on ¡®Big Brown Horse¡¯ and on a quad bike. All the farmers use these to get around their property, and we rode out to see the deer. We also watched a demonstration of Rose, Jim¡¯s sheepdog, rounding up some of the sheep. I have seen such dogs at work before in the west of England, but I have never seen a smarter nor quicker one than Rose. I really liked Jim & his wife, who were so friendly.

After returning to the first house in Gisborne, Cam cooked a Chinese meal for all the family and other neighbours and friends, as a form of thankyou for the hospitality, and all the wonderful meals we had with them. As a starter, Jim prepared sashimi deer meat. Yes, raw deer meat is delicious if cut really thin.

We were very sorry to leave these wonderful people, and Kathleen, who will soon fly back to her home in the USA. I do hope we can visit them again.

The journey back to Whangarei was done in one go, about 10 hours driving. Back to list

Whangarei, January 25th 

It¡¯s been a long time since I have written, despite having to apologise last time. I am telling myself that I must write more often. I managed it quite easily at one time, so I can do it again!

I left off last time when Jade was in Minerva Reef, in the middle of the ocean between Tonga and the North Island of New Zealand. As I mentioned before, a good weather window was opening, so after 2 days we left Minerva and headed SW. During the night before our departure, Quantum Leap had passed the reef, as well as another catamaran, and Vite Vite followed within a few hours, so for the rest of our journey we had people to talk to. ¡®Good¡¯ weather window is relative. What we actually got was too little wind from the wrong direction, i.e. dead ahead. Conventional wisdom says that on this route one errs to the West so that if the common strong westerly gales blow up, one can get a more comfortable angle. Well actually, I was stupid, just as I had been when leaving the Bahamas. On that occasion I lost hours by failing to get more towards a wind shift, and I did it again! I knew from McDavitt that no westerly was coming and yet I allowed myself to be pushed off to the West. Of course the wind moved and we were headed, with light winds. There was a short chop and we had to motor into it. It needed two engines instead of the usual one, and still we only made 4-5 knots. Quantum Leap moved way ahead. When will I learn?

Nevertheless, this is often a storm-tossed piece of ocean, so to get through it with too little wind is more than acceptable, and we were very glad to arrive in Opua in good shape. What a tremendous feeling to see the beautiful Northland coastline grow in the dawn light. For anybody who has not been there, let me tell you that it is the most lovely country in the world, with light green fields and dark green forests, magnificent seascapes, towering mountains, active volcanoes, and the best domestic architecture on earth.

We wound our way through the Bay of Islands, enthralled by the scenery, and at the end of the channel we arrived at the port of Opua, which I recognised from our brief visit by car some 4 years earlier. Opua is legendary amongst cruisers, and everyone who has dreamed of cruising the World. It may appear that the North Island of New Zealand, and this tiny, yachts only, port, is way off any beaten track, but the winds and seasons of the oceans conspire to make this one of the great yachting destinations. Perhaps I¡¯ll digress here for a bit, and explain to any interested reader why this is. Anybody not interested should jump the next paragraph!

The heat rising from the sun shining most brightly at the equator attracts winds at sea level towards the equator to replace the rising air. Meanwhile, the warm air is spun off towards the poles by the spinning of the Earth, there to sink again as they cool. This spin, or coriolis force, also causes the winds heading for the equator to come from the East, so that in the South they are predominantly from the SE, and in the Northern hemisphere they are mostly from the NE. These are the Trade Winds. Land masses interrupt them, but across the great oceans they are the dominant winds between a few degrees each side of the equator and about 30 degrees from it. At the equator itself, and a few degrees either side of it, coriolis force is minimal, so here we have the inter-tropical convergence zone (ITCZ) where the air most goes up, pressure is low, and the weather is usually thundery, squally and humid, but not stormy. Thus if you want to go round the world in a sailing boat, as the oldest navigators discovered, you could do it most easily by heading Westwards, downwind in the Trade Winds. Nearer the poles, the Trade Winds are replaced by revolving weather systems heading eastwards. At least, the low pressure systems consistently head eastwards. The high pressure systems, revolving the other way, move more slowly, and in some areas at certain times of the year, they remain stationary for months. Thus if you want to sail Eastwards, you will find it easier to do so more than 30 degrees from the equator, but in the certain knowledge that you will face more variable weather, as the various systems and their fronts cross your position. So how does New Zealand and Opua come to be so important? Well, there is a phenomenon that afflicts parts of the Trade Wind Zones of most oceans, indeed, all except the South Atlantic. This phenomenon is the occasional occurrence during summer of Tropical Revolving Storms, which often develop into Hurricanes. (Also known as Cyclones or Typhoons) So there we yotties are, happily traveling Westwards around the world with the Trade Winds, but when summer comes, we don¡¯t want to be in any piece of ocean where a hurricane might occur. Having crossed the South Pacific and visited a sampling of its lovely islands during winter, summer approaches, and we all have to go somewhere safe. A handful will find a bolt hole in the hurricane zone. A handful more will escape by going across the equator and finding another winter beginning. Most choose to head south of the hurricane zone, which could either be Brisbane or South in Australia, or Opua in New Zealand, and the latter is easier to get to. Of course, it is also stunningly beautiful, and very welcoming, so there you have it. The variability of the weather systems outside the Trade Wind belt also explains how careful one must be when approaching New Zealand, as the variables in this part of the world can be extreme, and some very nasty weather conditions can occur, summer or winter. On two occasions several yachts were lost in the passage between New Zealand and the nations of Tonga and Fiji to the North, the first called the ¡®Queen¡¯s Birthday Storm¡¯ is famous in sailing literature, and the second occurred in 2006 when five yachts were lost in the vicinity of Minerva Reef. Both events were similar, from the extreme conditions caused by the ¡®squash zone¡¯ between a low in the North and a high beneath it. The lows causing this formed so quickly, and became so intense, that yachts were trapped with no time to escape. Why then, do we chance this passage if it can be so dangerous? Well we treat it with great care, and that¡¯s why I pay a New Zealand Met Service guy, Bob McDavitt to help us with weather advice that I can compare with my own reading of the situation. Furthermore, with the preparations we have made, I think we would stand a good chance of surviving the conditions that sank those yachts. On the other hand, if we got caught in a hurricane our chances would be poor.

Opua has changed since our last visit; because now there is a magnificent quarantine pier just off from the marina. What a service. After a short wait with a couple of other boats, a really cheerful Immigration officer arrived, very quickly dealt with our forms and gave us a welcome pack from the local trade association, with some gifts and local info. Soon after the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) guy turned up, and was equally cheerful and friendly, just making sure that we had not brought anything into the country that might conceivably grow, or affect anything else that grows in NZ. He took our bagged rubbish away for free with a smile and a wave. This is a civilised country¡­ USA please take note!

For the first night, we stayed at anchor in the stream opposite the marina. This wasn¡¯t a bad place, but the next morning Tom encouraged us to get a berth, so we did, and it was very reasonable, about $NZ27 per night, which is about $HK150. We then began a most excellent week. We were extremely pleased to have arrived safely of course, but it was more than that. The sea conditions throughout the Pacific crossing had been difficult, although for us not dangerous, and the last leg here is fraught with potential for problems, so our relief was greater than at the end of any other passages. Furthermore, this is a real waypoint of our voyage, a place that we, and thousands of other ocean sailors over the years, had in our minds even when we were planning this voyage years ago. Indeed, that is why we had driven up to Opua during our previous holiday. Even at that time I had believed I would bring my own boat here one day. The reality of Opua was not disappointing; in addition to the reasonable marina, everything you want is here, although Opua is a tiny place. There is a little store, chandler, and yacht club open to cruisers, various marine services, great marina, and lovely scenery. But most of all, we were surrounded by other cruisers equally thrilled to have arrived here, so there was almost a sense of euphoria about the place. We spent hours gathering in groups and talking excitedly about our voyage down, and what we would do next. Most of these people I had got to know, at least slightly, over the last year, since Panama. We had numerous meals in the truly excellent restaurant next to the pier, the Bluewater, usually with Tom and Bettie Lee. It¡¯s rare for us to go to the same restaurant more than once, but we ate there eight times! Kathleen¡¯s parents had come to meet her and were waiting on the dock as Quantum Leap came in. A really nice couple. We will go to visit them and Kathleen down on their farm in Gisborne in early February.

Blue Marlin arrived after a day or two, having had a really excellent run direct from the H¡¯apai group of Tonga. They even had favourable winds all the way, good for them.

We stayed for about a week in Opua. Some of the highlights were:-

Walking along the coast to the nearby small town of Paihia. All the walks in NZ are very well taken care of, and this pretty coastal walk of about 2 hours was perfect for the kids. We caught a cab back after loading up at the supermarket.

Together with Poco Andante, Christine & Keith, and Rune & family, we hired two cars and went for a day out. Highlight was the spectacular Kauri tree that we had seen on our last visit.

A day coach trip to Cape Reinga. It was a long ride, but the cape was a lot friendlier than on our first visit four years ago. On that occasion it was really cold and howling, so we had only stopped for a few minutes. This time it was warm and sunny. We enjoyed a nice stroll and the great vistas off the cape. On the way back, we first stopped at a range of giant sand dunes, where our driver produced about 2 dozen sand boards, and showed us how it was done. I am proud to say I was the first to have a go, and the kids loved it. Then the coach drove for the next 60 miles down the coast highway, and when I say ¡®coast¡¯, I mean COAST! The highway is on the beach, called 90 mile beach, and is open to vehicles at low tide. Mile after mile we drove, just feet from the water¡¯s edge, occasionally meeting vehicles going the other way, a great experience. Before leaving the beach, we stopped and had a walk and a paddle.

I was so taken with Opua I tried to persuade Rune of Blue Marlin to change our plans and stay there. We had agreed to put our children in school together, and had already booked a boatyard in Whangarei for work to be done and to leave our vessels whilst we went back to our respective countries for Xmas. However, I found that there was a nice school in Opua, we could leave our boats safely in the marina, and all work could be done there. Best of all, the beautiful Bay of Islands is right next to Opua, offering the prospect of weekend cruises. However, Rune was having none of it, stating firmly that he wanted a ¡®town¡¯. We have been in Whangarei for 4 weeks now, not counting the time we spent away, and I must say, I don¡¯t regret Rune¡¯s stubbornness, although we won¡¯t be going for any weekend cruises as we are 8 miles up a river. But I¡¯m getting ahead of myself.

As I said, we stayed about a week in Opua, then we sailed one afternoon, through the lovely islands and found an idyllic and peaceful anchorage near the open ocean, but completely sheltered, where we had a quite night. Very early the next morning I got us underway, and we then motored all the way down the coast, with almost no wind, to the mouth of the river leading to Whangarei. The coast scenery on the way was really lovely, so I much enjoyed the ride. We were not fortunate with the tide, so we had to stem the ebb all the way up the river, and we had to push on too, as it gets shallow at low water as you approach the town. We made it ok, but often with nothing showing on the depth sounder, which means less than 2¡¯ clearance under the keels. Finally we made it, and tied up to a pile mooring in the centre of town, having previously booked with the Town Basin Marina.

Here we stayed for about a week, again renewing old acquaintance, but spending most of our time with Blue Marlin and Quantum Leap. I had to agree with Rune, Whangarei is a great choice. It is a substantial town with a decent shopping centre. However, if you wanted to do anything whatsoever in connection with boats, or cars, or agriculture, you could find it in Whangarei. It has the most extensive collection of industries that you might need I have ever seen anywhere on the planet. You want something fabricated? Fixed? You want to buy something? Everything is on your doorstep, and the people are exceptionally helpful to make sure you get what you want at a reasonable price. We could park our dinghy a few metres away at the dock next to the marina office, and we were in the centre of town. The piles however, are not too convenient. There is no power, not really a problem for us, and we could have overcome the lack of a plumbed water supply with a bit of ingenuity with the dinghy. Worst problem was that there is no discharge allowed, obviously, but the nearest pump out is a mile down the river, and getting on and off the piles is a real game, and depends on tide. At Tom¡¯s (from Quantum Leap) suggestion, we had booked to be hauled out in Norsand Boatyard, about 2 miles down the river. This has turned out to be an excellent choice. Murray has changed the yard from a sand depot to a yacht facility, and he specialises in catamarans. One of his staff, Kevin, operates a wonderful hydraulic trailer. Kevin comes to you boat beforehand and spends at least an hour measuring under your hull. When you have arrived, at high water, you manoeuvre carefully over the semi-submerged trailer, with the help of lines to each side of the slipway, and Kevin makes final adjustments to the blocks of wood and chunks of foam used to support the hull under the bridgedeck in the centre. Then the trailer is jacked up hydraulically, and once the boat is supported, towed up the incline with a tractor. After a pressure wash, you are towed to your spot in the yard, the trailer lowers the boat to the ground on its keels, and Bob¡¯s your uncle! More about Norsand in a minute.

Whilst still in the marina, we went up to the local primary school with Rune & Edun, and had an interview with the headmaster. He was very welcoming and said he would be pleased to have our four children at the school for the coming term, starting in Feb. Then at the end, he said he was sorry to tell us there was a charge, which he claims was ¡®forced¡¯ on him by the local education authority, and this charge was $NZ200 per week per child. That¡¯s a great deal of money. I asked him how many overseas children would be at the school if we sent our four, and he said that they would be the only ones out of 600. We left disappointed, as the charge was far to much. Only later did I discover he was full of shit, because the requirement for, and amount, of any charge was purely his decision, and he was hardly going to need to pay for extra resources for four more kids out of 600! Still fortune smiled on us. That evening we were meeting Vite Vite (from Minerva reef, remember?) and then going with them to meet Tom & Bettie Lee at a Chinese restaurant. Blue Marlin were off somewhere else. We were early to meet Tom, so the seven of us went into a nearby McCafe where we sat talking about this school issue. I mentioned that we might consider moving Jade down to Whangaparoa near Aukland, where we had chartered several years before, if we could find a decent school. A guy sitting near us spoke up and said ¡°I couldn¡¯t help overhearing you¡¯re thinking of looking for a school in Whangaparoa. I used to teach at a school there¡±. Wow! He then went on to explain why we should not go there (schools not good etc.). Whilst we are talking to him, another guy comes over and says ¡°I couldn¡¯t help overhearing you¡¯re looking for a school. I¡¯m on the Board of Governors of a local school, can I help?¡± Double Wow! McDonalds should have a big I outside. We explained about the fees, and he told us that was ridiculous, and there and then phoned the headmaster of his school, confirming that it was free and we¡¯d be welcome.

The next morning we drove out, about 20 kilometres into the countryside, beautiful beautiful countryside, to find the tiny Kokopu School. Beautifully built and maintained buildings, indeed, built by our new friend, the Governor, in the middle of empty fields and with cows and sheep all around, it was immediately attractive. The headmaster was lovely, and seemed genuinely keen to have our girls there. Rune went the next day and came to the same conclusion, so we have both enrolled the four girls, and they start on Feb 7th. Since Rune and I will both have cars, we will take it in turn to drive them, and anyway, we also discovered they have a free school bus that will save us ¾ of the drive. A kokopu is a small fish found in local streams. (Unfortunately, neither Martin, our new friend from the Board of Trustees, nor the headmaster, told us that the question of fees had to be brought up before said Board. We heard 2 days before school started that there would be a fee of $75 per week per child. Not unreasonable compared with what the other school wanted, but very badly managed by these people, having made a promise of free education already.)

We hauled Jade up in Norsand on the 17th November, and it was soon time to get down to Auckland to fly home. We had hired a car for a week which allowed an Auckland drop-off, which was very convenient. We flew Cathay Pacific back to Hong Kong, non-stop. Quite a good flight, but Cathay¡¯s service does not seem very cheerful, and 3 of the 4 video displays on our seats did not work. We were given coupons for free products from the plane¡¯s duty free shop, so that was some compensation and the kids were able to share to watch a movie. We still prefer Virgin Atlantic, because of the happy cheerful service and the excellent in-flight entertainment system, but on this occasion that was not an option and Cathay was cheaper.

It was quite something for me to be back in HK after such a long break, as I had been away since February 2005. Cam had been back twice, though not in happy circumstances, and the kids had accompanied her the first time, about 11 months ago. Terence, Cam¡¯s brother, and Ma & Pa were there at the airport to meet us, and M&N were very excited in particular to see their Por Por (Grandmother). The most noticeable thing about HK was the appalling air quality. This will be a real issue with us when we come to choose somewhere to settle down after our cruising life is finished.

For the next three weeks we lived at our home in Shatin, as the tenants had moved out. A lot needed doing as furniture was missing, the slopes needed refurbishing, and a lot of interior redecoration was required, so we mostly busied ourselves with that, using the services of the excellent Mrs. Mo. I went to the Hebe Haven Yacht Club a few times to socialise and check on Aura, our as-yet unsold 40¡¯ steel cutter. She was not in bad shape, but the stanchion bases had rusted as had parts of the cockpit floor.

My son Ben and his girlfriend Kate came for a two week visit. First job was to help us assemble the new Ikea furniture! We all had a very good time together. Ben took Kate away for a couple of days in Macau as well.

During his visit, I introduced Ben to Ken Trice, former Commodore of the yacht club. Ken is a very experienced Civil Engineer, and through him Ben was introduced to a senior person in Leighton Construction, an Australian company with a lot of work in Hong Kong and Macau. Ben has just become a Chartered Civil Engineer, and was there and then offered a job, which he has decided to take. Having been born in HK, he has a Permanent ID card, enabling him to work without any complicated work permit problems, although I have been told that hurdle is not too difficult to overcome. He will start in March, and that neatly solves our house tenancy problem. We had a nice dinner at the New American in Wanchai with Kieran and his family. Cam refuses to admit that the Chinese food at this restaurant is the best in Hong Kong. What would she know, being a Cantonese? The New American serves Peking food, usually much more suitable for Western tastes.

On 12th December I flew alone to UK, again on Cathay. This time there really was no choice, as I was using ¡®Asiamiles¡¯ from my credit card, and this only allowed me to fly Cathay. Still, it was a good flight, and Simon, my Son-in-law, kindly met me at the airport. We were able to go almost immediately to the hospital where my daughter Charlotte had given birth to my first Grandchild, Isabella, less than 24 hours earlier. It¡¯s difficult to describe the feelings you have when seeing your first Grandchild. One of these is age! She¡¯s a really cute and healthy baby, despite giving Charlotte a really hard time before deigning to appear.

During the month I stayed with them, I had a chance to spend a lot of time with the baby, and be reminded of just how demanding they are. Charlotte and Si are great parents, both of them calm and patient, and very caring. I was also very impressed with the social services, such as the Health Visitor and District Nurse, who came around very regularly to offer support and advice, and to do basic checks to make sure Isabella was developing properly. I was less impressed with other aspects of the country. I did not like Aldershot very much, where they live. The Sky TV service is brilliant, but many of the programmes that seem so popular are dumbed down. It seems that the majority of ordinary English people want to reject any suggestion of middle-class or higher, and adopt working class values. Encouraging seeing this spread of equality, but they also seem to want to adopt the most ignorant of language and cultural pursuits. Well educated people talk in the most vulgar slang, with re-enforced regional accents and clumsy grammar. Yob culture! As for the much vaunted (by Liberals and Socialists) multi-culturalism, it has replaced many of the best parts of English culture with other, inferior, versions. Things such as politeness, queuing, fair play, support for the underdog, all seemed to have been submerged by the massive introduction of foreigners in vast numbers, legally and illegally in the country, but even the latter apparently impossible to remove. Maybe it¡¯s the lot of older people to bemoan how things are worse than their youth. It must be acknowledged that in purely economic terms the country is doing well, although the way the Chancellor is buying votes by spending the future is sickening. But in quality of life there can be little argument. The streets are not safe, the roads are congested beyond belief, I could go on and on. On the bright side, Lyme Regis, where I spent a few days over the New Year with Ben is a very nice place. I also enjoyed the London Boat show, where I found some useful information, and bought an AIS transponder. More about that when it arrives in NZ and I install it.

I picked up with relatives, glad to find Auntie Vera still managing, and Paul & Denise happy and busy. I was very glad to visit Chris & Lynn for a couple of days at their new home. Chris has just finished commanding the police training school in Basra, so he had a few, mostly depressing, stories to tell. I also had the pleasure of his company at the boat show, as he has bought himself a Contessa. It is my hope that they will be able to visit us whilst we are in Australia.

The month flew by, as we always seemed to be busy. Charlie & Si also have a new house, having moved only 3 days before Isabella was born. I¡¯m happy for them.

I also spent a very enjoyable couple of days with Sarah, my third daughter, in London. She lives right in the middle of the action, in Charing Cross Road. She¡¯s doing well, and I¡¯m proud of her.

The UK visit also marked friendly relations with my ex-wife Ann. We had a couple of visits to her house, and she and her husband, who I get on really well with, joined us at Charlie¡¯s house for the Xmas lunch I cooked. Along with Ben & Sarah, my old family was all together for the first time in 15 years. Nice for bygones to be bygones.

On 8th January it was time for me to fly back to HK. I had missed Cam, & Molly & Nancy, so I was glad to be back. I was finally able to get somebody to start work on doing up Aura, so hopefully she will sell soon. She is a much better cruising yacht than many I have seen on our travels. I also ran around doing last-minute things, and was also able to get together with Steve Chandler, my old friend and boss who is now heading security at the Jockey Club. Quite a job when he explained to me what was entailed.

On the 12th we flew back to Auckland, an 11 hour non-stop journey. It makes UK feel a very long way away. We had arranged to buy Tristan¡¯s car (Vite Vite) and it was waiting for us, as arranged, at a hotel near the airport. Soon we were back home aboard Jade, she seeming none the worse for our absence, although I think I felt a tremor of pleasure run through her decks at our return to her. I was very glad to be back, not only to Jade, but to New Zealand. The weather was noticeably hotter.

Anyway, more of this in my next missive. Back to list

Whangarei, New Zealand, 15th November 2006

Well, as one can see from the above, I have been very remiss in keeping up my diary! We arrived safely in Opua, Bay of Islands, on 2nd November, but let me wind back to where I left off last time in the Vava'u Group in Tonga. We stayed several more days mostly in company with Blue Marlin, and tried more anchorages. The best was when we went to a joint birthday party for Kathleen and others on a beach called, ta da da daaa... Number 8! The next morning we took the dinghy across to a small island nearby where there is a lovely sand spit of soft smooth sand, and a large coral garden stretching hundreds of metres along the side of the island, where we went snorkelling. Even Cam loved it, and I saw real enthusiasm for this sport for the first time.

We also stood outside the local church one Sunday and listened to a special service for the new King of Tonga, who was visiting. Tonga is still feudal and ruled by the monarch. This royal family have thoughtlessly squandered huge amounts of what little money Tonga has, but the locals still seem oblivious and treat them with great respect. The singing was, as is usual with Polynesians, splendid. There were large crowds all round the church all dressed in their sunday best. This consists largely of very smart Western dress, but with the male skirt, but all, without exception, also wear a woven skirt over the top of whatever else they are wearing. This looks exactly like a rush mat wrapped around the middle, and to Western eyes does not appear very smart, but no Tongan would be seen without one on any formal occasion.

Whilst in Neafu, Vivian announced that she had decided to leave us. To me, at least, she never fully explained herself, but I gathered it was a combination of factors. Our planned route would miss the capital of Tonga, Nuku Alofa, and the country of Fiji, and I think she was not savouring the 1100 mile voyage over possibly rough water down to New Zealand. Further, she also did not want to spend any more time in New Zealand than she had to, because it brought back painful memories. So, she moved out and checked into a local small hotel. She looked very happy at the prospect of travelling alone for a while, so we were pleased for her, and I considered it part of the healing process. What I did feel was that she looked so much healthier than when she had joined us in Hiva Oa. Then, as she got off the plane, I was struck by how thin and pallid she was. Clearly she had not been able to eat properly whilst caring for her husband. Now she looked fit and strong and sturdy, and I believe, very confident. For example, one day in Neafu, Tom from Quantum Leap had called by to see if anybody was going ashore. Cam & I were not, but Vivian just shouted out "Wait a minute Tom, I'm coming", and grabbed her bag and jumped into Tom's dinghy and was off with a wave. This with foreigners. She would not have done that three months earlier when she was polite but very reserved amongst all these various Gweilos who were on and off of our boat. So, off she went, although we saw her regularly for the next couple of days until we sailed from Neiafu Bay to another anchorage. We checked out with all the various authorities, a mostly painless process, and filled up with duty free diesel by tanker lorry at the dock. We wanted to be full up for our journey to NZ in case there is little wind, as we don't want to hang around waiting for it! I also filled up the three 5 gallon cans I acquired in Papeete as a reserve. I keep them lashed to the rail on deck. It was then necessary to keep clear of Neiafu as we were officially 'not there' whilst we waited for a weather window to leave. I was once again paying Bob McDavitt of the New Zealand Met Service for routing advice.

Later, in another bay, we went ashore to a 'Tongan Feast' in an open hut on the beach. This is something of a business for the locals, but it is really splendid. They don't use any plates or cutlery, and the food is served exclusively in either banana leaves, or bamboo split longways, and is then all laid out on the ground on banana leaf mats. And what food! the colours alone are enough to make you salivate, with a mass of every colour tropical fruits, and the meats mixed with all sorts of things. There was fish, chicken, pork. There must have been 30 cruisers present so the 'table' stretched the length of the open hut, and was piled high. It was lovely. Before the food was served, local village children treated us to a display of traditional dancing and song accompanied by some adults playing guitars, eukalalies and a corrugated iron drum. It was really fun except is was very cold and many of the ladies had not brought warm enough clothing. I did a difficult dinghy run back to Jade to fetch a pile of jackets. One excellent surprise was that we had only decided to attend at the last minute, but during the day, Kathleen went off and found Vivian, and made sure she joined up with some other cruisers who were coming from town in a minibus, and it was great to spend a last evening with her at this great meal. A few more days were spent in pretty bays, sheltering and waiting for the off. Once again we could not persuade Blue Marlin to sail with us, although Quantum Leap wanted to but could not get checked out in time because of a public holiday.

Finally it was time to leave, and as become customary, I got us underway very early on a Monday morning and set us sailing with a favourable wind through the islands. We had decided to skip the Haapai group as well as Nuku Alofa, so our course was SW towards Minerva Reef. McDavitt had agreed to send us a weather update as we neared the reef because it is virtually impossible to forecast accurately the whole of what would be an 8-10 day passage in all probability. We had a very smooth and fast sail for the 300 miles to Minerva Reef, and in accordance with Bob's advice, we stopped there for two days to wait for the next weather window for the remaining 800 miles to Opua. There are two reefs, North and South, about 20 miles apart. North Minerva, where we went, is roughly circular about 5 miles across. It is a typical atoll, but unlike all the others we have visited, like Penrhyn or the Tuamotus, it has no motus, or islets whatsoever. It is simply a reef about 100 metres or more across, which dries out at low tide and has perhaps 3' of water across it at high. Inside it is about 50' deep, shallower than most, with shallower water for a couple of cables round the inside near the reef. The bottom is sand. Both North and South have passes, North Minerva the easiest. You can't see the reef until you are within a mile or two when you can make out the breakers. I approached with great caution, fearing chart inaccuracies, but was delighted to find the C-map charts accurate to within a few feet.

When we entered the narrow pass on the West side. I found the GPS position on the chart to exactly correspond with the visual reality. One anchors on the windward side behind the reef which means there is no fetch across the lagoon. At high tide, especially during spring tides, the anchorage can become bumpy with the waves that get across the reef, but at low water it is flat calm. A very unique experience being anchored in the middle of what looks like empty ocean. During our stay the tides were not too high, which is good and bad. Good because although it got a little bumpy at high tide, it was never a problem, bad because the reef does not fully dry out to walk upon. I spent a few hours walking in about 6" of water. We met Vite Vite also anchored there. This Polish/German couple with their 7 yr old son Linus we had met in Neiafu. The boat is an aluminium Loc Crowther catamaran. They had been in Minerva for almost 2 weeks, and loved it. Both Tristan and Irlanka are inveterate hunter gatherers, and particularly enjoyed hunting lobster on the reef at low tide. Sadly when I was with them none were to be found, but they did bring several small slipper lobsters to a pot luck dinner we had aboard Jade.

It was obvious to me looking at the weather charts that the weather was unfolding nicely, and Bob McDavitt confirmed that a fairly long weather window seemed to be opening. This was not the case for those in the Fiji area, where hurricane Xavier, the first of the season and VERY early occuring in October, was approaching with winds of 120 knots. Luckily for the many cruisers, including Chris & Karyn who were in Vanuatu, the storm went off in another direction. Indeed, on hearing about this storm I was reminded of the cruiser I chatted to in Neiafu. Like one does, I asked him when he intended to leave, and he surprised me by saying "around the end of November". I said that this seemed a little late, and then, pompously, he said that he had cruised the area before (not like us first-timers) and told me confidently that although the hurricane season was 'theoretically' from the 1st of November, in fact they never occured until December. I did remind him that it was, according to the meteorologists, developing into an El Nino year, but this did not perturb him. Now, as I sat in Minerva Reef, I wondered what that cruiser was thinking. We also began to hear lots of boats on the radio nets talking about leaving to go South. 
Back to list



Tetautua Village, Penrhyn, Cook Islands 7th September 2006


We have been here for almost 2 weeks, and what a place. Penrhyn is a typical atoll and is one of a few scattered islands forming what are called the 'Northern Cooks'. It is at about 9 degrees South and 165 degrees West, and is over 700 miles North of the Cook Islands capital of Raratonga, or 'Rara' as they call it locally. It is also 800 miles from Samoa and 600 miles from Bora Bora. An atoll is formed when a volcanic mountain arises from the sea, such as in Galapagos, where Isabela is only 1 or 2 million years old. Gradually these erode, and begin to form coral reefs around the shores, as in the Marquesas. These volcanic mountains have risen many tens of thousands of feet above the sea bed, so their own weight, and erosion, gradually reduces them in height, the hard central volcanic plugs being the last to disappear, such as in Ua Pou, or Bora Bora. These eroded mountainous islands, which include most of the Society Islands, often have lagoons within the surrounding reef. This is because the coral grows better on the outside of the reef where the ocean brings a better supply of nutrients. When the mountain finally begins to sink below sea level, the coral continues to grow outwards, leaving a shallow lagoon within, perhaps studded with coral patches. This is a true atoll. The reefs accidentally support enough flotsam and jetsam to provide a rooting base for plants, and eventually some of the coral ring is formed of motus, or palm covered islets, long and thin, that surround much of the lagoon. Since the big ocean waves will break on the windward side, a lot of water will wash over into the lagoon, and this has to leave somewhere, so normally there is at least one deeper pass into the inner lagoon, very convenient for humans!

Penrhyn, or Tongareva, has quite a large lagoon, perhaps 10 miles by 5 miles, and the reef is formed mostly of palm-covered motus except on the South side where there is a lot of open reef. The lagoon is, throughout, studded with coral patches rising to the surface from the depths, but despite warnings to the contrary in the pilot guides, it is quite easy to navigate across provided you do it when the sun is high in the sky, at which times the coral patches are easy to see. there are two good passes on the NW side, in the lee of the trade winds, so we entered there and went in to the small village of Omoka, near the pass where we anchored with our Q flag flying and waited for the officials. Eventually Ru, the Immigration and Customs officer, and his younger brother Pa, the Quarantine officer, came out, and in a painless process did the paperwork with us. they also stayed for lunch, drank several beers and relieved me of some fishing lures, but very politely and without avarice, and Pa promised to fix Nancy's pendant as the black pearl on it had fallen off. As it was Sunday when we arrived, we had to wait until Monday for all this to happen, and the anchorage off the village is not great because the wind has a long fetch of 5 miles across the lagoon, so it was quite choppy, and one is always conscious that one is on a lee shore.

We met Kathleen, from Quantum Leap who had arrived a day before us and was already on the other side of the lagoon. She had come across with the village policeman from the other side, and informed me that the Councilor from Tetautua, the village on the other side, would like a lift back there, with a bit of 'stuff'. This turned out to be around 2 tons of cargo as he had come from Rara on the trading ship so was loaded with gear for the village. We were very happy to oblige Saitu, a wonderful old man. He had been away for about 4 months, visiting relatives in Aukland and Australia. On arriving at the other side of the lagoon, we found an excellent anchorage near Quantum Leap and Lotus, a Dutch boat, in about 17' clear sand, and we made a big effort to find a patch that had no coral heads. Soon, OJ came out to us, he is the health officer, who quickly cleared us and told us we could take our Q flag down, which we had already done on Ru & Pa's instruction. This was the first hint of the rivalry between Tetautua and Omoka, even though they are all related. In fact we heard later that when a pair of islanders, one from each village, gets off the plane in Aukland, they are fellow Penrhyn islanders, but when they get off the plane back here, they may no longer speak to each other. We came across lots of this rivalry, although it seemed never to go beyond harmless jokes and wind-ups. We helped Saitu unload his cargo into a relatives aluminium boat, driven by his 11 year old grandaughter Lily, a wonderful girl.

Tetautua straggles for a few hundred metres along the lagoon shore of this motu on the East side of the island. There are about 50-60 villagers here in permanent residence, but some come and go for all have family in New Zealand or Australia. It is a pretty village, with nice bungalows and a stunning and immaculate church. That afternoon we went ashore to watch, and for Cam, join in the volleyball, and there we met the Reverent Roy, who is the village priest. All Cook Islanders are very religious, and 99% are Anglicans of the Cook Island Missionary Society, closely associated with the London Missionary Society. They are very strict in observing the sabbath, and really don't do anything on that day except attend church three times, rest, chat and eat. They will not use their boats, and the children are discouraged from playing in any noisy or energetic ways. The Reverent Roy swept us up and was very open with us from the beginning. He in particular, and indeed, most of the islanders, delight in a form of humour based on telling you something untrue and watching as you stumble into comprehension. This sort of wind-up, all done in fun, was a bit challenging as we often did not know what to believe. For example, Roy and OJ always claimed to hate each other, and made disparaging remarks about each other, but I noticed that they also went fishing together, helped each other in the church where OJ was a Deacon, and were closely related. During the time we have been here we have also become friends with Saitu and his wife and daughter-in-law, and Henry the policeman and his wonderful wife Mama P. Molly & Nancy have attended the local school on several days where the head and only teacher, Napa Tutavakei, has looked after them. Because of the blur of activities, I have rather lost track of what we did on what day, so I will pick out highlights and describe them, but overall, the villagers were all, without exception, very friendly and went out of their way to entertain us and shower us with small gifts.

Reverent Roy took us men out on the reef at night looking for crayfish. We went with him and Abraham, a relative, together with Tom of QL, and Nick from Tika and Walter from Noa. these last two boats joined us after several days, just after Lotus had gone. The reef is an area of rough rock, sometimes with fissures and often with a rough, uneven surface stretching from the shore on the seaward side of the motu, especially on the East side facing the prevailing trade winds, towards the ocean. It varies in width from 20 to several hundred metres but is mostly about 50-75 metres, and is typically knee deep. It ends with a steep drop-off where the ocean waves crash onto it, so this knee-deep water is regularly crossed by smaller waves which are the remains of those which have just expended themselves. When the open sea is rough, these waves get too big to stand on the inner reef, so this type of fishing is reserved for calmer periods, but of course, the ocean is never really calm. This drop-off is always, on an atoll, very spectacular, as the sides of the atoll rise almost vertically from the sea floor thousands of feet below. 20 metres out from the drop off it is probably 200' deep. This is the place of healthiest coral growth, for here the incoming seas bring nutrients. It is the place for spectacular scuba diving, and for us, it is the place where the crayfish (clawless lobsters) live. They hide in crevices on the drop-off during the day, but at night they come out and move onto the shallow inner reef to feed. This is when you get them. You wade around holding a bright light, which dazzles and disorients them, and of course, allows you to see them. We didn't really have the right equipment, as you need a very bright lamp with a wide beam and a long life. I had a re-chargeable which met the first two criterion, but not the third, so I had to keep it off most of the time to preserve the battery, and use a smaller hand-torch to look around and help me avoid the fissures. It was very hard, and I caught nothing, but Roy and Abraham caught two, one of them very large. It was a fascinating experience, and now I know how it's done, I can have a go myself in other places.

Another outing was down to the next motu, which has an enclosed lagoon within it, full of brackish water. In it breed, in great numbers, a fish called a milk fish. Cam believes it is the same as that in Hong Kong called a 'To Leng Yue'. Wading out into the lagoon with a net, within 10 minutes we had dozens of them, perhaps 9 inches long. OJ, the health inspector, Pua, Roy's lovely 13 yr old daughter, and another couple of guys had come too. They scrape the scales off, then gut the fish. Meanwhile the ladies wove some plates out of coconut leaves, and stems of the leaves were used to make something like tongs to eat with. A fire was started of coconut husks on which were piled a lot of stones and old clam shells. These get hot as the husks burn out and make a good bed to cook the fish on. More green stems are laid in a grid over these hot stones and the fish laid on top, where they grill. It only takes 10 minutes to cook them, and then we sat on coconut stumps and ate from the home-made plates. The meat is delicious, but just like To leng Yue, has a lot of bones, so it is a slow process, but nobody is in a hurry. The offal was thrown in the sea, and as expected attracted huge numbers of small black tip reef sharks, but then there was some excitement as several large blue Trevally joined the feast. These are known as good eating, so Roy borrowed Nick's speargun, and three guys stood up to their knees waiting for a chance to spear a Trevally. meanwhile, the sharks are in a frenzy and are circling around within feet of their legs. If they got too close the men would stamp their feet or splash the water. It seemed real risky to me, despite the sharks only being 4-5' long. We didn't get a Trevally either!

On another occsion we went to the nearby pass, and through it to the outside ocean in Roy's aluminium boat with his relative Abraham, trolling for wahoo or tuna. What did we catch? Nothing!

Attending church in the Cook Islands is one of life's most wonderful experiences. Every small community, including our village of Tetautua, has its church. They are beautifully maintained but unadorned with icons or decorations inside. Nevertheless, this one had beautiful wood-panelling inside. We did not understand much of the service, as it was in Cook Island Maori, with a Penrhyn accent largely unintelligible even to people from Rara, but we were greeted in English during the sermon. However it is the singing which is inspiring. There is no organ or other musical accompaniment. One lady would start and all would join in, but the men sang a different part, although they overlapped, and the volume rose and fell. You have to hear it to fully understand. But remember there are only 50 people in the village, and from among them to make music like this is amazing. They obviously love to sing, and as the service is regularly intersperced with hymns, I don't think they at all mind attending church three times a day.

During our stay it was one old man's 78th birthday, and to celebrate there was to be an outdoor BBQ in the late afternoon, to which all the cruisers were invited. We took a couple of dishes of food and a gift of a pot of quality French honey. We later heard that the old man was happily eating it the next day. The dishes included delicious black coconut pudding, raw fish with vinegar, coconut cakes and various other fish dishes. Roy did an impassioned prayer before we started eating, and everybody sang happy birthday, as well as a hymn. The young men were BBQ-ing fish on a metal plate. There was also a 'bar' for them, hidden behind a nearby shed. Everybody knew they were drinking, but they gave face by not doing it at the party, and the rest of the participants gave them some space to drink privately. Once the eating was done, the singing and dancing began, which Kathleen in particular joined in as she can play the guitar and sing well, and she has a bit of Maori blood, like most New Zealanders, so she was able to speak a few words of Maori too. Vivian, conservative Vivian, was soon to be seen dancing wildly. Funnily the men's dance, which involves a lot of leg wriggling, a bit like the twist but with the knees moving out and in, not swivelling together. Nobody minded. It was a great party.

Reverent Roy walked with us back to the dinghy, where we saw one of the several large sand sharks that likes to patrol close in to the village looking for scraps. He was within 3' of the little beach. I asked Roy if he was sure they were safe. He replied "Sure, watch this" and bent down and grabbed the shark's tail. Well safe is a relative term. Maybe safe meaning they don't bite humans, yes. But since they are 8' of gristle and muscle, not safe to grab by the tail! This huge fish exploded in a fountain of water and let the Reverent in his party clothes soaked from head to foot. He's lucky the violent thrash of its tail didn't injure him!

Saitu invited us to dinner, although he was late, out fishing for red snapper for his daughter on the other side in Omoka. Still, his wife and daughter-in-law looked after us royally, with a great feast of chicken and fish. We had already learnt of Uto, the sweet contents of a coconut that has newly sprouted, as we had eaten it fresh. This evening though, we had delicious uto cakes, which are a mixture of grated uto, flour and water, kneaded and then fried. Saitu returned to have some food, coffee and a long chat with us.

During our stay we also had some notable social events with the other cruisers, who in a small place like this soon become good friends.

Finally the time came, after 2 weeks, to say goodbye. We received many gifts, of fruit and coconuts, but more especially of the beautiful coconut frond fans the villagers make, with a mother of pearl handle, they are lovely. We also got a couple of house brooms, also woven from the palms, but despite their utilitarian nature, they are exquisite. Our farewell to the Reverent Roy was postponed because we gave him a lift with his niece across the lagoon, as he had business there. We went on Friday morning, and went ashore to meet Ru & Pa to do the checkout. The costs are NZ$30 per head and 15 for the children, $10 each for customs and quarantine, and $2 per day anchorage charge. We had already paid OJ $10 over at Tetautua for the Health clearance. In fact Ru ripped me off for a measly $10. He is not so nice as his brother. Pa invited us to come to his house on the Saturday morning, which we did. The anchorage in Omoka, once again, was not too good; deep, murky water and with a 7 mile fetch across the lagoon. Still, the anchor held ok. We had a nice walk down to Pa's house, and he also made a black pearl necklace each for Molly & Nancy, very kind, although he could not fix the broken one from Bora Bora, which upset Nancy. We had a nice day with him, and he took us for a ride in his car down to the airport, which is perhaps 2 miles away. The airport was built by the Americans during WWII, and hasn't changed much since! We also had lots of coconuts and coconut drinks.

Another very nice thing happened. Up at Tetautua we had briefly met an Australian called Mike. He is married to a local islander, and has built a mini-resort and pearl farm on a motu on the North side. He came for a visit on the Saturday, and when he heard the tale of Nancy's broken black pearl necklace, and saw she was upset, he immediately said he would get us another pearl for it. We protested but he said it was no trouble. When we got back to Jade on Saturday lunchtime we found not just one pearl, ready cut to fit on the necklace, but also a packet of several dozen lower quality local black pearls, and a few perfect white ones. This was really kind of him.

It was low tide at 1430, so at 1400 we upped anchor and I carefully navigated us around the numerous coral heads to the pass about 1 mile away. Our timing was perfect and we went through in smooth water with only a few eddies. At the full ebb it can apparently run at 5 knots and leave large waves just outside. So it was off West into the sunset and farewell to Penrhyn.
Back to
list



Papeete, Tahiti, 16th July 2006

Well, its just past Bastille Day (14th) and we were here! Our last few days in Fakarava were great, it is one of those places we will always remember. The Polynesian guy who owns the pension on the nearby motu is called Manihi. He asked for some help so Runa, Lars and myself spent all day helping him launch his big outboard powered passenger boat off the beach where he had fixed it up, then drag it backwards up the beach again so we could hoist his 200hp 4-stroke ob on to its transom, and then re-launch it. With the help of tackles and rollers we managed it. Later that afternoon there began a birthday party at his place for his 2yr old grandson  and his other grandkids and our 6 girls all joined in. Since it was Michelle from Sume's third birthday the next day, there were lots of cakes & stuff. It finished off with a great meal provided by Manihi for us adults and the kids watched a movie in his lounge. Its things like this we cruise for. Manihi has built this whole place himself. He showed me his solar setup. He has three huge banks of panels and batteries with an inverter. This is installed and maintained by a Papeete company who just charge him monthly, and send a guy twice per year to check it. It is subsidised by the French Government.

Eventually, after hearing a forcast of strong Northerlies, we alll decided to leave on the Monday. We had already had several days of gentle North-Westerlies which had nevertheless over the whole 30 mile length of the lagoon caused us to have a bit of a bumpy anchorage, so an increase would make our location untenable. Blue Marlin & Sume decided to take advantage of the unusual wind direction and go back 50 miles to Raraka where we had heard that a great welcome was given to the very few cruising boats that went there, but I reluctantly decided that we did not have enough fuel so we came here. Where we had anchored there were a lot of coral outcrops on the seabed. I had tried very hard to lay the anchor in sand, and lay out the chain likewise, but with the change of wind we had swung round and inevitably our chain was wrapped around this coral. Its great to have a catamaran with two engines, as first we looked with the look bucket (glass bottomed) to see where the chain went, very clear even in 40' of water, then we just manouvered jade around to unwrap, and in 10 m inutes we were clear. Blue Marlin & Sume had to dive on theirs and it took them about 2 hours. We  went through the pass smoothly and were off, in a very cloudy overcast and wet day, with very little wind. The first 24 hours was spent putting sails up, taking them down, turning to port, turning to starboard, and we only did 90 odd miles. The second day was much better, and we completed the remaining 160 miles by 1000.

We went along the North Coast of Tahiti in a series of rain squalls and entered the very clear pass through the reef that leads into the very large protected harbour of Papeete. Its nice to see red marks to port and green to starboard again! Docking for yachts in the central harbour is by way of anchoring one end of the boat and tying the other end to the wharf. This wharf is well built with good bollards, power and water, with room for probably 100 yachts, 25 of them with power, and it is right in the centre of town, the reason we were going there rather than some of the more pleasant but remote anchorages. Getting alongside should have been easy in a catamaran with two engines, but we made a mess of it three times whilst helpful boaters stood in the pouring rain waiting to help us. Miscommunication between Cam & I was the cause, and I have to make more sure next time that Cam understands what we are doing and what is required. Anyway, finally we did it, and with the anchor buoyed in case of fouling one of the many obstructions on the sea bed here. I picked up a flotsam buoy on the beach at Fakarava which is perfect for this. It is a very strong one with two eyes, about  1' in diameter. We have to be a bit conscious of security, but we have, at least to some extent, dealed with that by not pulling the stern too close to the wharf. Instead I put the dinghy on and endless loop through a snatchblock on deck and a railing on the shore and we use that for transfers. At night I tie it off close to Jade.

We were too late for the Immigration, Customs and Port Captain by the time we got finished, as they close at 1200. In the morning I was able to do the first two, nearby with no problems, but customs will have to wait until Monday because of the holiday, and the fact they normally open only on Mon, Wed & Thurs. I had to go to DHL to collect my credit card. Chris & Karyn came over by bus to visit us from their anchorage about 5 miles away. Chris mentioned in passing that the DHL office was about 3 miles away along the road to this anchorage, so I set off on my bicycle, it now being Thursday, to pick it up. I couldn't find it, and asked several people. Eventually a couple at a supermarket said they thought they knew where it was, and insisted they would take me in their pickup, bike & all. The French guy, Phillipe, said little, but the Polynesian lady, Su Yin, who I assume was his wife, was absolutely charming. It took them several attempts and a lot of running around before we found the office, but it was closed until Monday. At least I knew where it was. They then drove me all the way back to Papeete. Su Yin worked for the airforce, and she was involved with the current series of Polynesian cultural events which take place around Bastill day, including a street parade the following (Friday) morning on Bastille Day itself, and also the performances in the open-air theatre near the harbour which are a part of a competition. She thus gave me (Insisted) four tickets for the show on the Sunday night, which was last night as I write this. Well we went and it was wonderful. There were several groups of performers in a three hour show and it was fortunately a lovely clear evening under the stars. The Polynesians are wonderful singers. One group of about 30 singing traditional songs used 8 voices in harmony, all coming in at different times but coming together. Its hard to describe, you have to see it. There were dance groups and those with the incredibly beautiful local girls wearing grass skirts and doing impossible wiggling of their hips has to be seen by every male! Cam thinks its 'too sexy'.

The whole thing was very impressive and I really enjoyed it, only spoilt by Nancy getting tired and bored quite early on, although I think Molly enjoyed all of it.

Meanwhile I took the dinghy about 5 miles to the anchorage at Maeda Beach where Magic carpet is, but really to see Richard from Sail La Vie to borrow some diesel cans from him, fill them at the marina there and take them back to Jade. I don't want to take Jade there yet as we get a duty free fillup on departure so for now I only want enough to go on with. I got three cans, 15 gallons, so that will be enough for the generator for a few days. Richard did not pay me the $100 he borrowed from me in Galapagos, even though I knew Chris mentioned it to him just before I arrived. With the 6hp Tohatsu 4-stroke ob, the Walker Bay dinghy does about 8-10 knots, which is not bad. It won't plane properly, even though it is light, as the hull shape is optimised for rowing and sailing.

Tomorrow its shopping for boat bits and using an internet cafe to make a large order from West Marine, which apparently can be delivered duty free to the local Fedex office in 3-5 days. I need a lot of bits. Back to list

Fakarava, Tuamotus, 6th July 2006

Just had to write again about the amazing water here. last night I dropped some leftovers in the water and then shone the searchlight down to see what happened. It took less than 5 seconds for perhaps 7-8 black tipped sharkes to turn up and tuck in. They have been with us since, together with a whole school of large colourful fish I don't recognise, and which don't seem afraid of the sharks. We went snorkeling in the pass during the day. It is spectacularly clear, wih wonderful colourful coral, loads of fish and many, many sharks. You can see the black tips in the first 50' of water, but in the deeper areas you see the grey reef sharks. They don't seem to pay any attention to us, but Rhuner from Blue Marlin speared a sea bass, and within 20 seconds it was gone, leaving his harpoon line broken and the harpoon lying bent on the bottom. It shook him up a bit, as there were at least 15 sharks party to this massacre!

This afternoon I walked across the nearby motu where the town once stood that was the capital of the Tuamotus. It still has some occupied houses, a pretty little church, a pension and a dive place. The dive shop has built a platform, like an open air lounge just over the edge of the pass. From there I sat and watched as the crystal clear water moved past over the stunning coral gardens, fish teemed around and sharks cruised by. Apparently people come from all over the world to this spot as it is a famous dive site. You don't have to scuba dive, just snorkeling is fine with this clear water. I would put visibility at close to 300'.

I am wondering how long we are going to stay here. I would love it to be several weeks, but first we are a bit low on diesel, and I have to run the generator every now and then to top up the charge, especially when we have made water. Given that I have to leave enough to motor if necessary on our passage to Papeete and I'm not sure how accurate the gauge is (the water tank gauge is VERY inaccurate), we may have to leave soon. There might be diesel available in Fakarava, but I don't think here. I may ask at the dive centre and see if some cans can be brought down from the North end of the island with one of the dive pa Back to list

Fakarava, Tuamotus, 5th July 2006

We did indeed arrive before dark at Kauehi. There were some interesting whirlpools and rips in the pass from the outgoing ebb, but thanks to the recent calm weather, nothing serious. You can't imagine the difference in scenery, from convoluted mountains to flat motus surrounding an atoll lagoon which are only a few feet high. Kauehi is about 10 miles by 8 miles, with a very deep, 100', lagoon in the middle, with very few obstructions in it. the North, East and Southern edges are made up of an almost continuous chain of motus, covered in coconut palms and scrub, with a few very shallow gaps, whilst the Western side is just a semi-submerged reef. There is one wide easy pass on the SW side though which we entered, and then 8 miles across the lagoon to the small village in the NE corner. One church, one shop and a few houses. There were 5 other boats there, including Magic Carpet and Blue Marlin, the latter with the Norwegian twin girls. We only had time for a night's rest and a walk round the village in the morning, then it was off with all the other boats to the SE corner of the atoll. What for? A large beach BBQ on a deserted motu. Apparently it is a Scandinavian tradition to hold a bbq on the summer solstice, and there was also Jonna, Uterus (yes, really) and Sume, all from Norway or Denmark, and they had arranged it. We had a great party, and since both Jonna and Sume have kids it was great for M&N. It was such a delightful spot we ended up staying several more days, with just Blue Marlin and Sume. 6 girls!!! In the very shallow passes between the motus, never more than a couple of feet deep, there were numerous very small blacktip sharks, from 1-2' long. Beautiful creatures light brown on top and pale yellow underneath with a light dorsal fin with its black tip. We collected coconuts, went snorkeling and took walks along the rough sand beaches. Actually the sand is just fine coral rubble, so not too good on the feet.

Eventually we sailed for Fakarava, a much bigger atoll 35 miles away. Another fast trip and we timed the tides for both entrances very well. You have to be careful of the tides, in particular the ebb, because the waves go over the reef on the windward side so continually filling the lagoon. The pass is the only place for it to get out, so the ebbs are vicious, up to 10 knots at some atolls, causing huge waves where the ebb meets the ocean seas outside. The worst part was the 6 miles from the pass to the village, with very short steep seas on the beam caused by the wind blowing the length of the lagoon.

Fakarava is 30 miles long by 15 miles wide, a big area of water. Again the village is in the NE corner, rather larger, with a small airfield, big deepwater wharf, three stores, a boulangerie, pizza place and a nice French restaurant. We stayed two days, had some nice walks and our first meal ashore for ages. Did a bit of shopping, prices being understandably very high, but they sell staples... Coca Cola and Cadbury's chocolate, so we have to shop, right? We even saw a bit of Polynesian dance. Our old friends on Procyon were there, Randy having recovered from his major medical problems. Soon however, the lure of remote anchorages got us underway. There is a marked channel right the way down the Eastern side of the lagoon, and we had the best sail ever. There was 15knots of wind blowing over the reef on our beam, and we were in the flat calm on the inside, just wonderful. We sailed about halfway down the lagoon and found a great anchorage next to a beach. The first evening we just had drinks on Jade, but the plan, with Blue Marlin & Sume, was to have a beach BBQ again, under the moon, the second evening. Unfortunately, best laid plans and all, we were being eaten alive by mosquitos. I don't know what they live on when there are no humans, which is usually because there are no habitations for 10 miles, but there it is, we beat a retreat and had an early night. In the morning we sailed the rest of the way, another wonderful sail, down to the bottom of the lagoon where there is another pass, rather narrow, but navigable at the right state of tide. Here there are a maze of channels and motus, an abandoned village and a small pension with rooms for guests, mostly diving parties. There was a 150' expedition vessel here when we arrived, Pangaea, privately owned but unfortunately with the owner and his guests and lots of PWCs. Otherwise it is paradise, and no bugs! At the pension there is a little dock for dinghys, and I stood there at lunch time watching the black tip sharks cruising in and out of the little basin. This afternoon I had the best snorkel I have ever experienced, with masses of fish of all kinds in beautiful clear water. I saw loads of huge garoupa, parrot fish, sea bass, moray eels and black tip sharks, and countless small fish I can't identify. The kids played in a shallow lagoon between the motus, and this evening all the adults sat on the beach and drank some of my single malt whisky as the sun went down. It was a perfect day. Cam had one small gin & tonic and had to retire to bed when we got back aboard. I think we will stay here for several days. Tomorrow, after dark, we are going lobster hunting on the reef, with guidance from a local. I hope for success. We have also been collecting large hermit crabs to use as bait for the sea bass on the outside of the reef. We dare not eat the fish from the inside, because some have ciguatera poisoning.

Magic Carpet did not stop here, but went directly to Papeete because Chris has a seriously swolen and painful foot. He went to hospital there and it was not gout as suspected, but an infection. We will catch up with them there. It is 250 miles from here, but we are in no rush to leave this wonderful spot. We'll watch the weather closely. One thing to remember about atoll lagoons. Whilst many think of them as providing shelter from all directions, actually when it blows up strong they provide a lee shore in every direction! A North wind would have a 30 mile fetch to where we are and the coral sand makes poor holding. Still, the wind is in its usual Easterly quadrant for now, so we are very well sheltered. The forecast is for ever lightening winds for the next two or three days, backing to the North. Very tempting because with the seas settled, a light wind on the beam would give a very nice passage to Papeete. Magic Carpet and the vessels that left a week ago had a very rough trip, 30knots from astern for most of the way, and very big seas. It was forecast so they can't complain. Ah well, we'll see how we go here. Back to list

At  sea, 22nd June 2006

 Well, we have just arrived within the 'Dangerous Archipelago' as the Tuamotus were named by the earliest navigators. The reason is these islands are all low coral atolls, or 'motus' and some of the reefs are below the water and only visible when close, at night, too close! Modern navigation should, with care, make transiting safe, but even in this era, numerous yachts have come to grief on them, most recently, Gypsy Moth IV, only a couple of weeks ago. She was on the Blue Water Rally, having been restored, and you may recall I saw her in Colon (Panama). She has not been wrecked, fortunately, but badly damaged. I will find out the story later. One of the problems is that some of these atolls were inaccurately placed on the old charts, because of errors associated with sextant navigation, and they have never been re-surveyed since. We have just passed our first one, Tikei, which was in the right position, and are hoping to reach the pass into Kauehi in time to enter and cross the lagoon to the anchorage before dark. We chose this island because its pass is straightforward and wide, and there is supposedly a good anchorage. Magic Carpet and Blue Marlin arrived there yesterday. There is only about 5 knots of wind from astern, and although it is a beautiful day, we have had to motor for 36 hours. Still, before that we had a 200 mile day, and close to that the day before, so enabling us to just make it from Nuku Hiva in 3 days. Almost everybody ahead of us is taking 5, and Esprit behind will take 4. Esprit goes well in strong winds, but Jade is such an all-round good mover. We can go fast in even light winds, and motor very efficiently. This current motoring session is being done on one engine at 2800rpm (max is 3500) burning about 1/2 gallon (US, little gallons) per hour. This gives us 6.2 knots in no wind and flat seas.

To wind back a bit, I did get all my jobs done whilst in Daniel's Bay, and we had another meeting with Daniel at which we gave a him a print of the photo we had taken with him previously, plus another tin of meat. Molly interviewed him as part of a project Cam had set for her, like a junior reporter to encourage her curiosity. Molly is a wonderful learner and an amazing repository of facts, but she is less adept at using what she knows than Nancy. Daniel was fascinating explaining how the 6 main Marquesan islands got their names, as told in old legend. Hopefully we have that on video. He loaded us up with Pamplemouse from one of his trees before we left.

Whilst doing my chores, I noticed that there was a wire burnt through on the top of the generator. It had been running normally, although it could have happened as I was stopping it, I suppose. Anyway, contacting Next-Gen by e-mail, their guru Ken says my fuel pump is burnt out!!! Only 800 hours on this engine. I will try running the engine again when we arrive as it won't work without a fuel pump, so I should soon know if he is correct. I think I have a spare one in my spares kit, need to check that too.

I went to visit Maoro on Spartivento, having noted his companion, a lady, was swimming round the bay for at least an hour on a body board. We had been told not to swim in the bay because the water is not clear, and the sharks therefore can't see too well, so might take a bite to test you. Too late after they have decided you are not their normal food! I had to give something to Shay en-route and whilst rowing from Esprit to Spartivento, noticed I was being followed by a black tip shark, probably 6-8' long. I pointed this out to the lady, but she didn't seem too concerned.

Maoro is indeed a gentleman, and we talked about the possibility of his visiting Hong Kong on this, his second circumnavigation. I enjoyed looking round his beautiful yacht, which is 10 years old, though it doesn't look it. He does have trouble accessing his engines though, as both the main and generator are difficult to access for servicing, a major annoyance for him.

Well, its 0800, and I expect the crew are stirring. Vivian is up, so that means tea! The ladies made a pizza last night, and it was great. All home-made. I should have asked Maoro for his recipe, as he makes them all the time, and he is Italian after all. We should see him again in Papeete.

Its such a lovely day! Back to list

Daniel's Bay, Nuku Hiva, 17-06-06 

This bay is named after Daniel, who has lived here for over 50 years and befriends cruisers, but more about him in a minute. We left Taohae at lunchtime on Thursday, just after Esprit, whos boy Jamie M&N have been playing with. We first met Shay & Kate in Bahia, where their boat had been for a year and he had rebuilt the engine. A particularly nice boy, Jamie, good looking and kind-hearted, and exceptionally talented at martial arts, especially stick fighting.

The bay is only a few miles West of Taohae, so we arrived in less than 1 hour, and found an acceptable anchorage, although there were around 15 yachts when we arrived. They have all been waiting to get decent weather for the trip to Tuamotus, and plan to leave on the Friday, which they did, so our second morning I moved right in near the beach where there is almost no swell. We saw Aventura and Scotty again, and to keep a previous promise, I invited the old couple from Scotty over for dinner and a movie. They had not seen a movie for several years. They chose MIB I and we had a superb Shepherd's Pie made, besides mince & onions, with potatoes mixed with breadfruit, both mashed together. This was EXCEPTIONAL, giving the mashed potatoes a sweet flavour, enhanced with a bit of cheese on the top. Vivian also rustled up a sweet made partly from breadfruit mixed with tinned peach and sweetcorn, with some coconut milk/condensed milk on top. Breadfruit is whitish, but otherwise has the consistency and texture of avocado. It is nice raw, although most people cook it. There are many recipes, and one fruit being about as big as a soccer ball, there is plenty of fruit in one.

It was a very enjoyable evening. On Friday at 0900 we went ashore with the Esprit family, Shay, Kate & Jaimie, and John & Linda from Hawkeye. He is an English Socialist, who I badly upset last week in Taohae by mentioning the M word (Margaret Thatcher), and suggesting that sacking all the miners was the best thing the country had done. Linda is American, and he apparently lived & worked in USA, so he certainly didn't make the money needed to buy Hawkeye by working in a socialist economy, ha ha. Anyway, to get ashore, we had to go round the point into the next bay in our dinghies, then keep very close to the rocks to starboard to avoid the surf going into the beach, and there, lo & behold, is a sizeable river, into which we shot. We travelled up this for about 200 metres, very pretty, and put into the bank just by the tiny village. About 20 metres before arriving my propeller hit something under the water and broke the shearpin. On shore we met the aforementioned Daniel, who is 79, and speaks excellent English, as well as French and Marquesan. He is a very robust and fit guy. John gave him a tin of spam as a gift, and we gave him a bottle of perfumed skin cream for his wife. With some further guidance from him, we set off up the valley. This path, increasingly narrow, takes one through lush, wet, tropical vegetation, and requires fording numerous streams (or the same one several times). We never needed to go more than thigh deep, and the water was very cool and refreshing, but the rocks underfoot made crossing difficult, and the kids had to be carried. We walked for over 2 hours, the track being very muddy and rocky, M&N doing really well. The valley gradually became a gorge with towering vertical cliffs, particularly to the left. Finally we arrived at the head where the world's third highest waterfall crashes down and through narrow clefts to form the stream which exits into the sea as the river we used with the dinghy. Along the walk we saw many pieces of evidence of ancient habitations. Apparently over 100 years ago, many thousands of people lived in this valley. A mixture of white men's diseases and killing each other in wars decimated the population. Now, besides Daniel's family, there are perhaps three other occupied wooden houses.

After viewing the waterfall (there was actually a better view from some distance about 3/4 of the way along the path,) we picknicked on the rocks with the others, then set off back. It was a tough trip, almost 6 hours there and back, though we were moving slowly with the difficult terrain, but M&N managed great. On returning to the village, Cam & Vivian befriended a family who gave them loads of pamplemouse. I was ahead and met Daniel again, who told us to help ourselves to lemons laying on the ground. All of us then convened at his house where he has a cruiser's guest book. Cam showed him a fruit she had found and he described it as 'Bon Citelle' which they eat with a sour red paste called 'Chin Chin', made in Taiwan, which Cam & Vivian had never heard of. He prepared some, and I liked it, very citrousy, a bit sharp, but refreshing. We took pictures with Daniel, and Cam gave his grandson a gift. (He claims to have, he thinks, 31 grandkids.)

I had to row back, but easy in our Walker Bay, although it was about a mile. Just after we got back, Maoro from Spartivento, which had come in our absence, came over to ask about directions to the waterfall, and stopped for a cup of tea. He invited us over for a drink today, which we will take him up on, not least to see his beautiful boat. She is a Ron Holland design, about 60', built in France, and really good looking, cutter rigged. Mauro's wife no longer cruises, although she accompanied him on his first circumnavigation in a 55' Lagoon catamaran. He has a couple of crew who help him, and who also helped out on some of his first circuit. He might divert to HK this time. He seems a charming man, Italian though living in France, Antibes, but we will learn more tonight.

Today is boat work day as we plan to sail tomorrow, the weather having eased. I heard from Magic Carpet this morning on the SSB that they sailed today for Kauehi in Tuamotus, accompanied by Blue Marlin. I'v got to hopefully find the fault with the fwd port solar panel, refit another first reefing line, end for end the mainsheet, change the generator oil and double check the steering cables. Well, off to work. Back to list

Nuku Hiva, Marquesas, 14th June 2006

At our last visit to the clinic, the blood test on Nancy came out clear. She was very brave, since having blood taken is no fun, and she was very frightened, but still went through with it. She had her reward because the last injection was cancelled, although she still has to take antibiotics by mouth for another week. I also heard back from Blue Sky Energy, and following their advice, carefully checked the voltage working back from the batteries through every connection up to the solar regulator itself. Lo and behold! All well untill I checked the connections of the big cables to the regulator, which visually looked OK, but were reading a higher voltage. The screws holding the ends of the cable were loose, probably never tightened during installation. Pressure alone had worked for a while, but a further problem was poor wire quality, the ends were turning green. Should be tinned wire, so I'll have to change the lot later, but at least I have fixed it for now. I also discovered that the forward port solar panel is not sending any current to the batteries, obviously another loose connection.  Mastervolt also replied and confirmed that the charger is too small. They suggest buying another 12/80 to install in parallel, which seems a good idea, and will provide redundancy too.

The kids made cards with a photo and some gifts to give to the doctor and male nurse, and a small gift to a hospital driver who had picked us up from the pier one day and taken us via his home so as to give us some fruit.

On the Thursday morning we left early, but it took a while to get the stern anchor up, as it was well bedded in. By the time we got out of the bay it was nearly 7am. As predicted, we got quite strong winds through the passage between Hiva Oa and the neighbouring island, but once we were past that, we had no wind at all. This was expected in the lee of Hiva Oa, but still no wind after four hours. We were by this time well behind schedule to cover the 80 miles to Ua Pou in daylight, but then, I spotted white horses ahead, and next thing you know, we have suddenly got 20-25 knots. We then whistled on, at over 8 knots, in increasingly rough seas, but again, having decided we would indeed make it in daylight, the wind gradually dropped over the last couple of miles. It gets dark real quick here after sunset, twilight being short. In the end we missed by about 10 minutes, but there was a full moon coming up, a clear entry into the bay at Hakahau, and best of all, Chris on the radio watching us come in and telling me exactly where to anchor as he had checked it out earlier. We got the best spot of all, and he was waiting in his dinghy to take our stern anchor to make it extra easy.

The following morning revealed one of the most stunning vistas I have ever seen. Check out the pictures on the Ua Pou page to get the idea. An accident of nature when the volcanos that formed these islands left these amazing volcanic plugs towering up into the sky. Often wreathed in cloud we were fortunate to see them on a clear day. The highest is over 4000', but there are several of them. The huge pinacle on the right, which seems to be the second highest, actually hid, from our viewpoint, another taller and narrower spire which we only saw when we left the island days later.

It was a very tight little harbour as we had to tuck in behind the breakwater, and there were sometimes severe gusts during the night as the wind whipped through the mountains into the bay from unexpected directions, but our anchors held. There was a nice little beach on which we could safely land the dinghy, and Blue Marlin, with their Norwegian twins, was alongside us, so M&N had friends to play with, and sleepovers were held on each other's boats. The hospitality of the villagers was excellent, and they insist on giving away fruit to visitors. The village abounded with Pamplemouse (Chinese grapefruit) breadfruit, papaya, mangos( large delicious sweet ones), bananas, oranges, lemons & limes and many others, there was fruit everywhere. One could buy fresh French loaves in the bakery between 5am and 7am (The kind people on Orinoco Flow bought for us, as did Chris & Karyn, so we never needed to rise so early). It was a lovely spot. The second night there was a potluck with the four boats on board Orinoco Flow, (Rob & Jem, he's a surgeon and she an emergency room nurse) where the hosts supplied grilled fish from the enormous Mahi Mahi they had caught, and the rest of us brought stuff. It was a lovely evening under the moon. I think Vivian enjoyed it, but she and Cam enjoyed the Sunday better when they left the kids with me all day, and went off with all the other women after church to spend the day on Blue Marlin ( a Dehler 40 something deck saloon. Orinoco Flow is a 45' Bristol) I didn't go to church, but everybody else except Chris did, and apparently the singing is wonderful. These Polynesians love to sing in harmony and have lovely powerful voices. Our only problem was that we were running out of water, and where we were anchored close to the beach, with the rough weather outside, the water was very silty, so I couldn't run the watermaker. Finally, almost on a whim on Monday lunchtime when Chris & I returned from an abortive foray ashore for water finding the tap not producing, we decided to leave & come to Taohae in Nuku Hiva. We left at about 1 pm. The sea was very rough outside, and we had to motor for half an hour into the sea to clear the headland. then up the main with 2 reefs, up the jib, turn to put the sea right on the beam and off we went at over 8 knots in 20 plus knots of breeze and very rough seas. It was actually thrilling, and I think we all enjoyed the ride knowing it would only be short... Nuku Hiva is 25 miles from Ua Pou. We actually took 3 hours, which included the very slow start, so very fast, and arrived at 5pm. Jade was great, and never gave any cause for concern.

The anchorage here has been a disappointment. It might be alright most of the time, but whilst we have been here it has been very rolly with swells coming in from the sea, despite the bay being very deep. It also has a terrible dinghy landing too. Still, we have had to come here for diesel, LPG (the only place in the islands they can refill American bottles) and to collect my credit card which was sent by DHL from HK by the HK Bank. Guress what? DHL were, as expected, useless, and having visited the post office (not in vain because they were showing the Brazil World Cup game on TV) to find it not arrived, I managed to find out it was sitting in their office in Papeete, where I told them to keep it until we get there to collect in person. Wonder if they will, anything is possible with those idiots. Getting diesel today was a game too. On the side of the bay is a very large concrete dock meant for trading ships. We could not possibly go alongside with all the surge and waves in the bay, so we had to anchor, back up to it and get lines ashore from each quarter to hold us in position, with the anchor chain holding us off ( in 50' of water) while we got the long hose aboard from the nearby filling station. With Vivian's help, who I dropped ashore in the dinghy beforehand, and good coordination between Cam on the windlass and me on the controls, we did it quite smoothly, and without bashing anything. We took about 220 litres, costing 27000 French Polynesian Francs, which each equal one US cent, so $270 US. We are now awaiting our LPG bottles, including an extra one borrowed from Magic Carpet, and then we will leave tomorrow for nearby Daniel's Bay, which should be a quiet and pretty anchorage. We will then await the right weather to go to the Tuamotus. Magic Carpet & Blue Marlin will go direct from Ua Pou. The trouble is, being now more confident of Jade's ability, we could go now, but we probably wouldn't be able to get into any of the lagoons of these atolls. reason is that with much stronger trades than normal, more water than normal breaks over the windward side of the reef into the lagoons, and this has to leave by the passes, normally on the leeward side. So instead of a slack water at high & low tide, we just get a slight lessening of the outward flow at high tide, and all the rest of the time it pours out. The strong trades are probably a feature of the moderate La Nina year we are experiencing, where cooler waters in the Eastern South Pacific encourage weather systems below us to be further North. Thus a big high pressure system will enhance the trades, and a low will slow them, but the highs last longer, and the effects are magnified this year.

So, next update will probably be in Papeete, after a couple of weeks, unless there is some internet in any of the atolls. Watch this space! Back to list

Hiva Oa, Marquesas, June 3rd 2006

Well, we have been here over a week now. Vivian arrived safely on Sunday morning. I bumped into a lady on the jetty who does laundry, and I discovered that she also runs a private taxi, so I booked her. Since Vivian was surprisingly on time, this worked well.

The bay here is about 1 1/2 miles from Atuona, the village. It is a bit rolly, but acceptable. The dinghy landing is awkward. There is a stone jetty, but because of the surge, very difficult to use safely. Tucked in round a corner is a stony slipway used by local enthusiasts who paddle race proas. There is water available on the dock, and just down the road there is a filling station with a small store. Diesel is $5US`per gallon. It was $1.10US in Galapagos! We quickly discovered that everything is very expensive, except chicken and bread. To go to the village, one can either walk, which is quite pleasant, but not with the kids, or hitch a ride. We found that almost everybody would give you a ride, especially when with the kids, so going to the village was never a problem. In the village there is a bank, a post office, the gendarmerie, a quite well stocked hardware store, a few other general shops and four small supermarkets, and I mean small. Everything in them is very expensive as all the goods come from France, US, NZ or Australia. There is also a museum dedicated to the artist Paul Gaugin, who is buried here where he spent his last years. The bread is superb, French loaves or square loafs, really scrumptious. Still, there is not a lot to do. Restaurants are expensive, and there is no internet available except one machine in the post office which is very slow, has no ports, and costs $15US per half hour on a phone card!!!!! A one page fax to my bank cost me $9.00US !!!!!!!!!!!!! Overall we don't spend too much because unlike in other places, we don't eat out.

Magic Carpet arrived after a few days, because they had chosen to go to Fatu Hiva first, which they enjoyed. Our plan was  to leave last Wednesday and go to a nearby island where there is supposed to be a beautiful bay, and just South of that, another bay with a small village. Unfortunately Nancy came down with a fever, and after visiting the local clinic, this was diagnosed as a urinary infection. We started on one antibiotic, but after two days, that had not worked, so we changed to another. Then after four days, her temperature suddenly went up to over 40 degrees, so we had to call the doctor in the evening. On testing her again, it showed that the original urinary infection was just about gone, which left the question as to why she had such a high fever. It was decided to give her a blood test, which we did this morning. Despite Nancy now feeling well, her temperature being down, this test revealed another different infection, resistant to antibiotics. She has now to have an injection every day for five days, followed by another blood test, at the same time continuing with the other antibiotic. Thus we are here until at least Tuesday, which will be nearly two weeks. Our plan now, on the assumption that Nancy does get better, is to skip the neighbouring island and go direct to Nuku Hiva from here. It was always our intention to visit there last in the Marquesas. If Nancy does not recover, of course, Cam will have to fly with her to Papeete. I pray not!

I have done most jobs on the boat, but am still awaiting clear instructions from Blue Sky Energy about the solar regulator problems. I also think that the slow charging of my my mains powered Mastervolt charger is because it simply isn't big enough. One should have a charging capacity 25% of battery capacity, but  ours is 80 amps, despite the bank being 660 amp/hrs. Well, lets hope all goes well. Nothing is more frightening than a sick child.  Back to list

Hiva Oa, Marquesas, 20th - 27th May 2006 (About Crossing the Pacific)

Unexpectedly, on Sunday afternoon, we were back in the rolly anchorage at Puerto Ayora.

The first thing I discovered when downloading the Spectra manual and getting an e-mail from the company was that it was quite easy to bypass the salinity probe and run the machine manually. What a berk I am! I got several more bolts for the boom vang, including two which I think are actually the correct size, but am saving them until the present one breaks. Very surprisingly I also got a replacement charcoal filter, which I discovered I needed after reading the manual. If you don't mind a small discourse on one aspect of watermakers, about which I now know a great deal more than I once did, they need flushing. When they are not running, its no good leaving salt feed water on the pressure side of the membrane as obviously biological and chemical fouling will take place. My Catalina 300 model, either automatically, or manually if you choose, flushes out this sea water with fresh water from the tank every time you finish making water, and thereafter every 5 days, thus when left standing, it has fresh and not salt water in it. However, reading the manual, there is a big proviso. Chlorine is the death of watermaker membranes, and most shore water has chlorine in it. Therefore a carbon filter is placed in the line leading from the tank back to the pressure side so that when the flush mechanism opens the valve and draws water from the tank (rather than from the sea) this water goes through a large carbon filter to remove any chlorine. BUT, these carbon filters only last 6 months when they must be changed. Tropica had left me a supposed full spares kit, but this only contained sea water filters in 5, 20 and 50 micron sizes for the other filters, no carbon one. Thanks again Tropica!

So after 4 days, we headed off again. Still, the extra visit was fun. M&N renewed their friendship with the girls from the shop, and we discovered the 'Kioskas'. This is a street full of small roadside restaurants, literally kiosks, and we found one we particularly liked, which we visited twice. The last time in company with Chris & Karyn. Yes, Magic Carpet finally made it, having got their engine fixed. They only stopped one night, but Chris had no option but to check in, contrary to his original intention, as the Port Captain's launch was patrolling the anchorage as they entered it! We were joined by the girls from the shop. Amazing how little problem M&N have, despite not speaking a common language. These girls loved being taken out for a meal, a rare treat I guess. We told C&K about the trips in Isabela, which I subsequently learned they took. My evening was spoilt by feeling nauseous, so I went back aboard Jade early, without eating.

On Thursday 3rd we set off again. Just before leaving, I was surprised and disappointed to see Chiquita enter the anchorage and drop the hook. A chat on the VHF as we prepared to depart revealed that they had not only had an autopilot malfunction, but more seriously, their rudder had dropped in its mounting by several inches. They were lucky to get back with some limited steering. These two guys have been most unlucky, although I have to wonder what sort of condition this yacht was in when they bought it. It is 12 years old, but it is a Sweden Yachts 50', a supposed high quality model. If I were them and had experienced all the troubles they had, I would take her for a major overhaul before I set off across any oceans. Their itinerary was Easter Island followed by Pitcairn Island, two very remote places. I don't know if they have now reconsidered.

One piece of good news, this time we had a better wind for the start of the trip and were able to head SW at a good pace. Its quite daunting setting off across so vast a piece of ocean. Our route, though frequented by yachts, is not on a shipping lane, so we did not expect to see much other life. Just think, three weeks, or thereabouts, of non-stop sailing, even at a good speed. We had managed to get a message to Vivian, Cam's sister, in time to delay her arrival in Hiva Oa, where she is joining us for an extended period.

We reached the trade winds at 3 degrees 7 minutes South. How do I know? It was really distinct. We met, as before, a line of rain clouds, you could hardly call them squalls, and then we had steady 15 knots from the SE. It was much bumpier than expected, because there was also a huge long swell from the South (I'd hate to be where that came from!) and a smaller swell from the East, overlaid on the wind waves from SE. This meant there was a lot of lurching, and occasional banging. After a day or two in the trades, these also picked up to close to 20 knots, so it was rather boisterous. Molly was sea-sick, and Nancy too, once. Cam & I seemed to be OK. It had been my plan to pretty much follow the Great Circle route to Hiva Oa, which is not much different to the Rhum line on this course. I felt it too presumptious to try to outguess the weather, although I was prepared to move more to the North if the winds became too strong, and vice-versa if they were too weak, as theory tells us that the trades are a bit weaker closer to the equator, and stronger further South.

I am glad to say that the whole voyage, 3000 miles, has not involved any major events, nothing to write to yachting magazines about! However, it was interesting and enjoyable in many different ways. The good news is that the watermaker functioned perfectly in manual mode, and the boom vang bolt did not break again. Cam was wonderful. She very much enjoyed the journey, and seemed inspired in the galley, making it a point to give us all at least one special meal every day, and often two. She baked, roasted, made bread and pastries, and I undoubtedly put on weight. The weather was generally as expected, although there were variations. The first few days were almost perfect, if a little lumpy, but the wind from the SE gave us a good angle. However, the wind then shifted to the East and was directly from astern. This works OK with a Manta catamaran, as I have said before, however it does require enough wind. The South Pacific trades are not as reliable as other trade winds, the reason being that large Southern Ocean weather systems can obstruct them, in the case of lows, or enhance them in the case of highs. Each morning at around 0800 I logged in on the SSB net. Actually, there were two which I joined, as the group we had left with on our first attempt were now about 1 week ahead, so by joining their net I could hear wha weather they were experiencing ahead of us. A huge low pressure system had formed, and moved further North than normal. As a result, many of the vessels ahead of us experienced several days of complete calm. We never suffered that badly, but we had a period of 4 days with very light winds, but by great good fortune, on two of those days the wind was from the North, so I could get an angle and use the gennaker. They were thus quite productive, and we kept up 6-7 knots, which in the calm seas, was very comfortable. However, for two days we had less than 5 knots from right astern. These turned into 3 knot days and 5 knot nights as we motored slowly and economically. We also tuned in to the group behind us, including Magic Carpet. The very good news is that our SSB is now working as well as most other boats, and better than many. Our transmissions, so I am told, are particularly strong and clear. One sad piece of news we picked up on was the medical emergency suffered by Procyon. We had left with them on their first attempt, and you may recall I mentioned that Randy had had to go to Quito to undergo an operation on a ruptured stomach ulcer. Well apparently he had a recurrence of related problems and had to be evacuated to a passing container ship at sea, leaving Cherie alone, although another yacht  kept company with her. He was eventually helicoptered off and finally got into hospital in Papeete. He was suffering from a stomach blockage, and the last I heard he has recovered, discharged himself and gone back to Procyon in Nuku Hiva. I pray he has made a complete recoverey so that he can continue his voyage without fear of further relapses.

During the first two thirds of the journey we saw an unbelievable number of flying fish, hundreds would burst out of the water at the same time. In the morning there were usually several on the deck, and Cam quickly fried them and the kids crunched them up whole, heads bones and all! Well, they are half Chinese, what can you expect. I only ate some when they were big enough to fillet. We caught several Mahi Mahi (Dorado, Dolphin Fish) with the gear Bill left us with. These must be amongst the finest eating fish anywhere, the meat being firm and white, and very tasty. Cam did all the cutting etc.

We only saw  three vessels in the whole journey. Two days out Molly & I saw what looked like a Korean fishing vessel. A few days later we saw a large tanker right on the horizon, and finally, early one morning we saw a sailing yacht several miles ahead of us, but he disappeared in the bright sunlight later in the day and we never found out who it was.

The children occupied their time with schooling, endless make-believe games, and never seemed bored. Nancy slept in the cockpit every night, but Molly continued to use the cabin.

We discovered a flaw in our battery charging setup. We have 600 amp hours of house batteries, AGM. There are several ways to charge them. We have the 6 solar panels mounted on the top of the cockpit canopy, and they can produce well over 20 amps on a sunny day. The generator powers a Mastervolt 80 amp smart charger, and then each main engine has a 60 amp alternator. Every charging device has a smart three-stage regulator, four in all. However, firstly the solar panels don't get as much sun on passage because the sails obstruct them, especially on this route being predominantly on the Port tack, with the sun to the North of us. Then, because of the positioning of the generator in the port bow, with its cooling air ducts near the bow, we can't run it if there is any chance of the bow burying, which was three quarters of the time. I don't like to run the main engines just for charging, as there is nowhere near enough load to keep them healthy. Whenever there is a good wind its difficult to get enough load on an engine even when put in gear to propel the boat because we are already travelling quite fast on the sails. It was a constant struggle to maintain enough charge in the batteries. We are, of course, also using much more power at sea, what with the auto-pilot, plotter and nav instruments. At night, if there is any chance of shipping, or squalls, we also need the radar, which uses a lot more. To make matters worse, only a day or two into the voyage, the Blue Sky Systems Solar regulator malfunctioned. It seemed to think that the batteries were fully charged, when they were not, and thus stayed in trickle charge (float) mode. There is a readout of battery voltage on the panel, and it always showed over 13 volts even when the main PanelTronics gauge was saying 12.2, which is 50%. After reading the manual I was able to reset one of the dip switches which forces it into a different, two-stage, mode. In this mode there is no float phase, so we were at least getting an acceptance level charge going in, about two thirds of a full charge rate. Furthermore, on the days we were able to run the generator, it took ages to get the batteries up, and the charger was definitely not putting in anywhere near the 80 amps it is supposedly capable of. This really needs checking out asap. Luckily the main engines, when I was able to run them, charge quite quickly, their 60 amp alternators proving much more effective than the 80 amp battery charger. I also learnt to cautiously sail by the lee, so that I could keep the sail on the port side and the sun on the panels. All part of the sport.

During the trip, Cam and I shared the watches flexibly. Generally she did the 12-4 am watch, and I did all the rest, but I would get a snooze or two during the day when Cam would take over. It worked well, but I only got 4-5 hours sleep every day. The problem wasn't that Cam was not relieving me for long enough. Rather it was that whenever there was any weather to worry about, worry I did, and couldn't sleep. Cam is just not experienced enough to spot trouble brewing, and know instinctively how to deal with it. It got better as the journey progressed, because I stopped trying to get the best out of Jade, and whenever Cam was on watch, had two reefs in, or more, when none were necessary. This slows us down downwind less than you would think, but we probably lost 1-2 knots throughout the voyage, sometimes even more, because even when I was on watch, I didn't want the motion to be too bumpy. This was particularly the case during the last three days. The trades recovered as the low pressure moved East, but then they made up for lost time. We had 20-25 knots constantly from dead astern. Now I could have kept full sail up, as we never saw more than 18 knots apparent, but it was quite rough, with up to 3 metre seas, so I ran on the jib alone. This was very comfortable, and even so we averaged about 6 knots. Best of all, no bumps and crashes, and no fear of gybing or the effect of squalls. During this period the weather was exceptionally clear during the day. We had green flash sunsets three nights running. Honestly! All of us saw it, very clearly, every time.

Mid way through the trip we were visited by a school of dolphins, about 20 of them, and they played around the bows for at least half an hour. There was also a lot of bird life throughout. I didn't recognise too many of them, but there were plenty of Petrels.

We finally made landfall at Hiva Oa on the evening of the 24th May, exactly 21 days after departing Santa Cruz (Puerto Ayora), alhough we slowed down to arrive in daylight the following morning. We found an anchorage in the tiny little harbour at Atuona, tucked right in behind the breakwater, with a stern anchor out as there were already 20 yachts crammed in. We saw Scotty arrive just after us, after a passage of 35 days, and Tricia Jean and Aventura were already there having taken 31 and 30 days respectively. We couldn't complain about our 21 days.

I now have lots of work to do, not only to fix the problems I have already mentioned, but also the running rigging is getting tatty, so I will end-for-end all the lines, and there are numerous other small signs of wear. The hull boot topping is once again infested with grass and baby mussels. We got checked in with the wonderfully polite and helpful Gendarme lady without the need for a bond. In Cam's case, she accepted our medical repatriation insurance, how excellent! This is not mentioned in any of the cruising guides, but luckily word of mouth meant I took the paperwork with me to the office at check-in. We are now awaiting Vivian's arrival on Sunday morning. Back to list

At sea off Floreana, Galapagos, 29 the April 2006

The port of Puerto Ayora is a large bay, partially open to the sea, and facing SE, where the prevailing swell comes from. We were tucked in as far as we could go, but it is a busy port, with not only cruising boats, a minority, but huge numbers of trip boats for the fly-in tourists, so we didn't get in far enough to avoid all the swell. This together with the constant boat traffic makes for the rolliest anchorage we have used so far. Still, we are better off than the monohulls. It is none too clean either, as not only all the trip boats and cruisers discharge in to the harbour, but I am told the town has no sewerage treatment plant... this in the Galapagos, a World Heritage Site! Typical of the Ecuadorians. Despite this, it teems with life. Less sea-lions than San Cristobal, but masses of fish, sharks swimming under these, and hundreds of Blue-footed Boobies and Pelicans, both species often diving into the water within inches of your boat to catch fish. The town itself is very nice, much better than we had expected, with most  services and lots of restaurants. There is a water taxi service here too, happily more efficient than San Cristobal and with a dedicated boarding pontoon, making life easier. The Port Captain, or at least, the Petty Officer who handles check-ins, spoke English! Between the pier and the Port Captain is a nice waterfront park. Not only good for the children with a nice playground, but there is volleyball there every afternoon. Its always just local men, and the rules are somewhat different to International volleyball. Its a special Ecuadorian version, using a football and a higher net. As a result, there is no spiking, perhaps its not allowed, or the net is too high, amd the almost catch the ball when hitting it, normally against the rules. Nevertheless, it is a very good game, the rules encouraging longer rallies and more tactics than power. With only three to a team agility is key. Its fun to watch. The best teams don't try to win a point quickly, but rather try to manoevre the opposition out of position. Another difference is that when a player makes a mistake, instead of the supportive hand slap seen elsewhere, he is more likely to be roundly abused by his team mates. I think there is money resting on every game.

Just across the road there is a nice internet cafe, and next door a small shop where Molly & Nancy befriended the two girls who live there. There is also a small supermarket, so all-in-all not bad. One day we walked up to the Darwin Centre, which is just out of town. This is the international centre of research into the ecology of the islands, and the source of scientific advice to the Ecuadorian park authorities on which they base their management strategy. Our timing was bad, lunch time when everybody goes on siesta. Still, we were able to walk around and see some of the captive breeding programme on which the survival of most species of Galapagos tortoise depends. On most islands there are so many introduced species that destroy, in one way or another, newly hatched tortoises, that their survival rates are pitiful. The breeding programme releases them into the wild when are four or five, and their chances of survival are much enhanced. I presume they have worked out how to avoid narrowing of the gene pool. I saw 'Lonesome George', the last of the Santa Fe tortoises, although Cam somehow missed him... he is enormous. They have been trying to breed him, so far without success, with a related species. His last girlfriend probably died so long ago the poor fellow has forgotten how to mate. Line up here those volunteering to help with artificial insemination. We both felt that the centre was a little scruffy, further evidence that all is not well with the preservation of the islands. On the way back to town, a 30 minute walk, we stopped at a very beautiful small hotel on the waterfront that has a lovely dining room overlooking the sea, and just outside there are numerous iguanas sunning themselves on the little jetty. Even nearer the town is a small dock where the local fishing pangas deliver their catch. This was fascinating. There were probably about 20 pangas, each well loaded with tuna, wahoo, grouper and other unrecognisable fish. Incidentally, a Yellow Fin tuna (or maybe Big Eye) about the same size as those we caught was selling wholesale for nearly $US20. As the fish were landed they were immediately beheaded and gutted on a table, before being offered for sale. Right there, in amongst this, were at least a dozen large pelicans fighting for the offal, and next to them, three sealions, doing the same. Overhead soared at least  a dozen large Frigate Birds, looking for their chance. Unsurprisingly, this spot is known as Pelican Bay.

Another wonderful day was spent walking about 3km to Tortuga Bay. This is a beautiful curved beach, and the path leading to it is well made over the lava rocks and through a cactus forest, full of birds, mostly various species of Darwin's finches.  At the end of the bay is a lagoon, where swimming is safer, and this is equally full of life. As we picknicked under the shade of some bushes, together with a nice Ecuadorian lady and her young son, we were flocked with finches, that would cheerfully eat crumbs out of your hand.

We didn't take any tours whilst in Puerto Ayora, just took walks and enjoyed the town. On the Saturday morning we went very early to the market. That was fun, and whilst Cam got ripped off at the first stall she visited, overall we did ok and got some fresh food. We also met a few boats again, and became friends. We had a restaurant meal a couple of times with Dan & Cathryn off Trisha Jean, and re-acquainted ourselves with the crew of Quantum Leap, a large St. Francis 48 catamaran. Nice boat but really expensive. Kathleen, their New Zealand crew member, is a real character. Very NZ, blunt spoken and tough, but real good fun.

Also Procyon, whom we had last seen in Balboa, was anchored near us. Randy & Cherie are a couple that Mike Parker, an old friend from the HKP, told me of. He had gone to visit the US Coastguard and Randy had looked after him. Randy is now retired, and cruising on their lovely Gozzard 44, which they keep immaculate. A lot easier to do when you have no kids around! Randy had recently suffered from a ruptured ulcer and had had to fly to Quito for hospital treatment. He was now taking it easy and recuperating.

Eventually it became time to move on. Since there is no Immigration office in Isla Isabella I checked out of the country in Puerto Ayora, as well as with the Port Captain. We said goodbye to the kids from the shop, and headed out. Its only 50 miles to Puerto Villamil, but I knew there was a reef strewn entrance so I did not want to arrive in darkness. It was a nice smooth ride, and we were able to sail most of the way. Once again, as in Puerto Ayora, the C-Map digital charts were badly drawn, offsetting the land by about 2 cables to the North. This is significant in a small harbour, and since the charts were not so offset in San Cristobal or Floreana, one can assume that it is a digitising error rather than a problem with the source material.

As it turned out, there were a port and a starboard buoy to marke the entrance, not shown on the chart, but nice and clear. We were anchored nicely by 1500, near to Procyon and Quantum Leap. Happily a water taxi, although available, is not required in Puerto Vilamil. There are two piers, one at the very inner end of the bay, and one directly across from us next to the town centre. Both present significant problems. The inner one is quite sheltered, indeed, this is the best harbour we have found in the Galapagos. However, unless the tide is very high, one has to go in a very wide arc to avoid a large reef. Then, watching the water colour, you can make a safe arrival. Actually, I think Jade could get in there, but I wasn't about to try it.

The other pier, right next to the Port Captain's office, is more problematical. There is again a reef to go round, but this reef has moderate size ocean swell breaking on it, and at high tide the surge that crosses them creates moderate size waves even on the sheltered side. because of this surge, one can only leave the dinghy tied to the pier at low water, when the reef provides better shelter. At other times you have to land on the beach, a corner of which is a bit sheltered by the pier. This is where I went to access the Port Captain, which was pleasant and painless. They sold me one of their hats for $10. A very good quality baseball hat in dark blue with the legend "Armada del Ecuador, Cap. del. Pto. Villamil". Real cool! I took the opportunity to walk around the small town. Very impressed, as it is clean, with neat houses, and a number of small grocery stores and restaurants, and an internet cafe. It is very quiet, but nice. The other pier is about half a mile from town, but has 'Henry's' restaurant and bar next to it. A laid-back place. Having heard that they do BBQs, I arranged with several other cruisers to join us Friday evening for a BBQ. This included Chiquita, who we had last seen in Floreana, and who expected that their batteries would finally arrive imminently, thus bringing them to the end of their "must repair" list. Good for them. As it turned out, we were also joined by a number of Norwegians. It happened that there were 4 Norwegian boats in the anchorage, and since there were only 14 vessels altogether, that's a true coincidence, since they were not travelling together. Tom from Quantum Leap had arranged a tour to Cabo Rosa for the next day, and to fill up the 10 places on the boat, we decided to go. The boat for the trip was driven by Henry from the restaurant. A large speed boat with a top, he had two engines, an old 75hp Yamaha Enduro, and a new 125hp Enduro. Mismatched but it seemed to work ok. They love their 2-stroke Enduros here in Ecuador, and with cheap fuel ($1.10US per gallon) it is hard to persuade them to change to 4-strokes. We travelled for about half an hour West along the South coast of Isabela, quite close inshore to get an idea of the scenery. Quite large swells hit this shore so there was some impressive surf on the rocks, although these were just swells further out. As I have said before, all this time in Galapagos and we have never seen strong winds. Finally we reached our objective, a sort of cove sheltered behind offshore rocks. To get into it, Henry had to time the swells, that broke in the entrance, and then go in at full speed with a sharp turn to starboard in behind the rocks at the right moment. The successful completion of this procedure drew a cheer from then passengers. I hate to boast, but I could have done it too, once I had seen the route. The more admirable thing is that sometime in the past, he or another had worked out how to get into this place. This was a quiet bay full of marine life, especially turtles, rays and fish. Only 100 metres by maybe 300 metres, it was a beautiful spot. Carried in the large speedboat was a smaller inflatable, which was then launched. Half the party went off in this while the rest of us sat or snorkelled, as I did. The water was not too clear, unfortunately, but there were lots of fish. The others were away nearly 2 hours, so I wondered what they had been up to. Well, we found out. Inland from the pool we were in were a maze of channels, made when a lava flow in the past had come down to the sea. With a combination of erosion, collapsed lava tunnels and the natural way things happen, the result was extraordinary. There were lava rock arches we could go under, tiny gaps through rocks, the same size as the dinghy, and small lagoons, miles of it. Often Henry's assistant Daniel, in charge of this part of the tour, had to take the dinghy backwards through gaps steering with the half tilted engine, a 15hp Enduro. And life! Everywhere there was life, and I couldn't describe it all, but highlights were:- A penguin quietly swimming whilst grooming itself, numerous Blue Footed Boobies resting on rocks, a family of Brown Noddy Terns, parents and one nearly grown chick, sitting on their rock nest at head height to us. The parents bravely stayed right there, one each side of the chick as we approached to within a few feet. And finally, in an inner, very still lagoon, sea turtles, dozens of them apparently sleeping as they drifted on the surface, or rested against awash rocks. They allowed us to approach within feet before lazily flapping away a few yards. I am not sure what they are doing there, so far from the open sea. Our guide said they feed on the algae there, but I did wonder if this was a breeding place for them, with beaches nearby to lay eggs. Whatever, this whole area was magical, from a physical as well as natural viewpoint.

Our return to the big boat did not mark the end of this fascinating trip. Henry then manoevered the big boat through a maze of very very narrow channels, parallel with the sea. The area was strewn with rocks, but he persevered, even though hitting his propeller or hull several times, until we finally came to a sand bottomed lagoon. Here the boat was anchored, and whilst Daniel stood in the waist deep water cleaning the boat's bottom, we were ferried to the rocky shore in the dinghy. We were perhaps 100 metres behind the sea coast, and these further lagoons and channels were interconnected, sometimes above the water, and sometimes by undersea tunnels formed by old lava tunnels. Again they were full of life, and we now, on foot, scrambled between and around them. Here we saw very large Marine Iguanas resting, many fish in the, here at least, crystal clear water, and extraordinary pieces of driftwood, bleached white and impossibly twisted. Cleaned polished and shown in a furniture store they would fetch a fortune.

After somehow extricating the boat, we finally left the area, but our return gave us one last treat. There is an offshore rock, perhaps 30' high and 1 mile offshore. It has very little space on it, but it contained a sample of wildlife unmatched. The very top was occupied by Masked Boobies and pelicans, lower ledges by Blue-footed Boobies and Noddy Terns, and the lowest by sealions and iguanas. How the sea lions got onto these ledges, perhaps 10' above the water, is a mystery. In the sea nearby teemed a huge school of fish, each silver and about 9" long, millions of them. Meanwhile the sea swells surged and crashed onto the rocks. Henry, true to form, took us within feet of the rock, right in the surge. I again thought "I could do this... but would I want to?"

So, after the boat ride back to Puerto Villamil, a magical day was over. At Henry's restaurant I later saw perhaps 10 old propellers strung up from the rafters, each looking like a cabbage. Now that's attitude!

I wandered into town the next day looking to arrange another tour, and found nothing, however, on walking back to Hentry's pier, a guy stopped his bicycle, introduced himself as Giulio, 'call me July' (Yuli) and said he was a tour guide, did I want a tour? He seemed a nice guy, so I said "yes" and we were fixed for the following morning.

At 0800 we met July at Henry's pier, and climbed into the back of a Toyota pickup driven by a driver hired by July. We then set off, after a brief stop at which July picked up some rolls and stuff for lunch, as well as a bottle of Coke. The big plastic bottles of soft drinks are cheap here in Galapagos, $1.50US. We then headed out into the countryside along a wide smooth dirt road. Most of the islands in the Galapagos, especially Isabela, the largest, have two very distinct zones. Round the coast is the arid zone, mostly cactus and poison apple, thorn scrub etc. Still a lot of bird life and lizards, but very dry due to the infrequent rainfall. Once you go a bit higher, perhaps 1000', the frequent mist creates a much more humid climate, with the result that the vegetation becomes much more verdant. The change is so marked that each island shows a distinct line between the grey of the arid zone and the green of the humid zone.

Our route took us in a slow and steady climb towards the summit of Sierra Negra volcano, our destination. En-route we stopped at a lookout station where this division between the zones could be very clearly seen.

Isabela is a very big island, some 70 miles from North to South, and the Cerro Negra (Sierra) volcano is enormous. Its crater, or caldera, is the second largest on Earth, being some 7 miles across. About two thirds of the way up the mountain, which is 3000' high, the road came to an end, and here we took horses. There are a group of farmers who raise these tough, small horses. They use them to hunt and capture the wild cattle, which the park authorities want to eradicate. It seems to me that to capture them all would be self-defeating for these cowboys, so I suspect they are making sure plenty continue to breed in the wild to ensure themselves of a continued income. The horses are also hired to people like us to avoid the long climb up the track to the summit. We took three horses, one for July and then I carried Nancy in front of me and Cam likewise carried Molly. The horses were very obedient, but unfortunately M&N are still too small to be able to ride alone, although Molly later had a little go. The ride up the track was great. Surprisingly, despite not having been on a horse for years, I soon adjusted to the motion, and the girls loved it. The horses just walked, despite constant urging from July, but we thought this was a good speed to enjoy the surroundings. One further ecological tragedy we could see, and which July explained, was the the huge numbers of Guava trees. These were very pretty, with blossoms and fruit growing in profusion, but 15 years ago there were none on the island. Some farmer obviously imported some for the fruit, and now, in some areas, they are the most common tree, the climate obviously suiting them. The finches and the horses and cattle eat the fruit and thus spread the seed everywhere. They have displaced many other native species, which may , indeed, eventually become extinct.

Eventually we arrived at the rim of the crater. I cannot describe adequately, in words, how stunning a spectacle this is, but I will try. As I mentioned before, it is vast,. It is very nearly perfectly circular with a sharp rim all round, just as you might expect. This rim is about 500' above the caldera floor, and is mostly and verdant. The floor of the crater, on the other hand, is a moonscape, at least for the half nearest to us. After centuries of dormancy it had erupted about 9 months previously. The point of the eruption was about 45degrees round from us, and some of the lava, which is very runny in Galapagos volcanos, had flowed into the crater, covering about half of it. This area was black and convoluted, and in places still had steam rising from it. Beyond this lava area was the remaoning half, not affected directly by the eruption, which seemed to be grey/green with arid growth. According to July this is tortoise habitat, but countless numbers lost their lives in the eruption. The remainder of the flow went outwards and down the side of the mountain, and we then set off, still on horseback, along the ridge round towards the eruption point. This was an awesome ride, with the steep drop into the crater, and its lava, on our left, and spectacular views out across the island on our right.

After riding another 2 or three miles, we then went downhill, to our right, for a few hundred feet to a grove of large trees, where we tied our horses in the shade. Then we continued walking. Very soon the rim-top trail turned into ash and cinders, as we reached the area affected by the eruption. It become more and more bleak until we were scrambling over cinder cones, helping the children who did marvelously well. Finally, after a last steep climb up a large hillock of loose and slipping cinders, we reached the edge of the actual site of the eruption, a mini crater in the main crater rim, say about 2-300 metres across. It was steaming and smoking quite actively, and not for the first time I wondered if we were safe. I don't think many countries would allow tourists to a spot like this with a half-trained guide. I felt even more apprehensive when I realised that the huge cinder cone we were stood upon, probably 200' high, was really hot. I could feel the heat burning through my thick-soled shoes! There were large cracks in this cone with a lot of heat coming out of them, and the air had a very strong smell, a mixture of sulphur and rotten eggs. All around us was mile after mile of volcanic ash, cinders and lava. I have truly never in my life seen such an amazing panorama. Still, despite the grandeur of the scene, a few minutes was enough, standing on top of a very live volcano, so we retraced our steps.

Strangely, the walk and ride back down was not an anti-climax, it was such wonderful scenery, and when we arrived back at the car my legs and bum were only a tiny bit sore.

We sat there and had a late lunch, nice fresh rolls with cold hamburger meat and salad, with warmish coke. It was a feast!

Although July didn't hurry us, he kept looking at his watch, and when I asked if there was a problem he admitted we had taken a little longer than expected, and he had promised to meet another group of cruisers at 3pm to do a tour near the twon of Puerto Vilamil. I suggested, if there was room, that, instead of his having to take us all the way back to Henry's pier, we could join this second tour, thus saving him some time and giving him more business. He, of course, was delighted and welcomed us joining for a very cheap price, which admittedly had been in the back of my mind.

Back In puerto Vilamil we picked up this group of French cruisers and headed off to a place a mile or two out of town called the 'Wall of Shame'. Immediately after WWII, Ecuador was riven by strife, including a border war with Peru and much civil unrest. Lots of people got arrested and repeating a mistake the government had made several times before, they created a prison on Isabela. 'Out of sight, out of mind' I guess was the logic. The prisoners ranged from murdereres and bandits to petty thieves, so the prison authorities, from the National Police, created three camps. The farthest inland was for the worst, another halfway between this and Puerto Vilamil was for 'medium' severity criminals, and an abandoned US miltary base just outside town was taken over for the headquarters and the petty crooks. Early officers commanding the prison were either lazy or enlightened. The former did little harm and the latter tried to educate and reform the prisoners. However, one nasty specimen came along who belived the only cure for the criminal mind was hard work, so he set them to work to build a wall. This wall was completely pointless, having no purpose other than to occupy the prisoners in hard manual labour. It was built from lava rocks, and these were not quarried locally, but brought from the farthest camp, about 8 miles. The prisoners were forced to carry these rocks by hand along this baking hot trail. By the time this practice was stopped, the wall was about 20' high, 20' thick and around 100 metres long, across a small valley next to the camp. Hundreds of prisoners died during this period, and the wall is said to echo with the anguished cries of their ghosts if you visit it after dark. This was a moving place to visit, and another memorial to man's inhumanity.

On the way we stopped at the tortoise breeding centre. This is a subsidiary centre set up by the darwin Centre to supply isabela with captive bred tortoises of it 6 or 7 species. In our opinion this centre, though smaller, was much better set up than the Darwin Centre in Puerto Ayora, and was also enhanced by a very useful description given by one of the centre workers, who allowed the kids to hold a baby tortoise.

Our return drive back to town was also fascinating as we stopped and walked a few yards off the road to a lagoon where there were several flamingos. Whilst not so many as we had seen in Floreana, these were much closer to us, and we had a great view of them. After  minutes or so we were chased off by a police car which stopped on the road. July admitted we were not supposed to go and look at these flamingos without a special permit. Oh well. So, a great day, if a long one.

Our next couple of days we walked around the town, did last minute shopping, and also had a very nice lunch at July's house. He and his wife operate a small bakery. He has two kids, the eldest living with relatives on the mainland, and a little girl of 2 or so. His family had not been able to afford university education, and he had somehow come to Isabela as a young man with basically nothing, and a secondary education. He had turned his hand to anything, and became a rock cutter and builder. He had eventually studied hard to pass the examinations to become a park guide, and in the meanwhile had built his home and the bakery himself. He was studying English, and despite only starting one year previously, could communicate with us quite well. I suggested that one day he would be mayor of Puerto Vilamil. He described why thgis was impossible, as the community was dominated by the large and extended Vila (I think) family who were desceneded from the earliest settlers. They had the community sewn up, and outsiders would never get a look in. They also made sure their own were looked after first. Typical!

The little stores in Puerto Vilamil were quite well stocked with basics. We could get cheap bread and eggs, and, considering our location, reasonably priced potatoes, onions, carrots and garlic, and local fruit such as bananas, plantains, oranges and melons. The Galapagos are in a remote location, and Cam commented more than once how avaricious were the people of the Bahamas with the outrageous prices they charge in comparison. You could only describe Galapagos prices as fair, including dining out.

We also got to know the French people we had met on the tour. One group, a dentist and his wife, and their doctor friend, on a Lagoon 470, and a very nice young couple on a 35' aluminium boat. This latter couple, obviously on a budget, were heading fro French Caledonia, with the intention of finding work there. The guy spoke 4 languages fluently, so I expect he'll have no trouble.

Finally the time came to leave. I checked out with the Port Captain and at mid-morning off we went, 3000 miles to the Marquesas. Procyon left an hour or two ahead of us. The best laid plans of mice and men etc.! Leaving the Galapagos gives you an interesting choice of routing. Puerto Vilamil is 1t about 1 degree South and 91 dgrees West. Hiva Oa, our choice of destination in the Marquesas, is at 10 something degrees South and 139 degrees West. A course avraging 262 degrees takes you right there, and since there is not much difference between the Rhumb Line and the Great Circle, one could just head off. However, technically, the Galapagos are North of the Trade Wind belt, so one has to head South to get into them before heading West. Conditions vary from day to day, so my plan was to head SW. If there was a good wind, perhaps a little more West, and if not, perhaps mkore South. As it turns out there was a light wind from due East, so we could only make reasonable progress due South, and 36 hours later we had just crossed the 3 degrees South latitude and were still due South of Puerto Vilamil. Ahead I could see a line of rain clouds, which I hoped marked the edge of the trade wind area. Then an alarm sounded. 'Salinity Probe Failure', said the watermaker controller.

Now let me have a little discourse on new boats, equipment, and my character. When taking delivery of Jade I had been overwhelmed by the amount of equipment and the huge stack of manuals. Now I'm not technology shy, and after all, I had specified all this kit, hadn't I? Still the reality was something else, so when the representative of Tropica, who had installed the watermaker, told me I didn't need any manual, or to worry about it as it was all automatic, I took his word for it. Now reading this, I'm sure you are thinking 'what an idiot!' Well you'd be right, but you had to have been there, and any excuse to lessen the study load facing me was seized without dwelling too much on it. I was in the Twin Dolphin Marina in Bradenton, with plug in power, water, cable TV etc etc. Needless to say, out in the Pacific, I had only a laminated ready reference card, and could not work out how to fix, or bypass, this failure. I tried to download the manual from the Spectra website, however, on a clear day you can see some problems coming for miles. The only blank spot for Inmarsat in the whole planet starts at the Galapagos and stretches almost to the Marquesas. I could get a connection actually, but it was a bit flaky, and to compound matters, the supposed 3MB pdf file turned out to be 14MB. Thanks Spectra! I couldn't complete a download, despite trying three or four times, at vast expense. Cam and I had a discussion, and decided we could continue anyway. We had full tanks, 100 gallons of water, although it would mean washing etc in sea water. OK, decision made. Three hours later 'Ping, clink clink' from the deck. Trust me, when on a sailboat and you hear 'Ping, clink clink', you better pay attention, your boat is telling you something.  A quick check revealed that the bolt that secures the Garhauer boom vang to the boom had broken and one half had fallen out, and this would shortly be followed by the rest of it. The vang would then crash onto our strataglass windscreen, and the boom would not have any control. Well, actually, upwind we could manage without it as the Dutchman boom brake would hold the boom down, although I would need to rig a temporary topping lift before easing the main halyard for any reason. However, the journey to the Marquesas is expected to be predominantly downwind. I had no spare bolt that would fit, foolishly. Indeed, double foolish, as this bolt was the one I had replaced in Green Turtle Cay when the original had fallen out because it was too short and the nylock nut had not mated. I knew that the replacement was suspect, but neglected to think about it thereafter.

So we turned back, and headed for Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz, as being the most likely place to get replacement bolts and receive watermaker spares. We stopped overnight at Floreana where we met the young French couple again, and had dinner with them. Since we did not need to conserve fuel, I motored back on two engines at 7 knots. Funnily enough, at the anchorage in Floreana was another American yacht, Altair, and a visit to him produced no less than three spare bolts of a size that would function! However, having come back so far, I decided to continue and fixed it properly, as well as get the watermaker fixed. Back to list

Floreana, Galapagos, 9th April 2006

The Galapagos has turned out to be as amazing as its reputation would suggest. The Port of Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island is the administrative capital for the islands, but not the largest town, which is Puerto Ayoro on Santa Cruz, thus it is relatively quiet. There are a number of restaurants, internet cafes and a few shops. The bay is however, packed with boats. About a dozen cruising yachts on their way through occupy the North side, but there are dozens of moored pangas, the local outboard powered fishing boats, also used for any odd job. There are also larger fishing boats, and many tour boats. These are sometimes large yachts (like 100') or very large cabin cruisers, and occasionally very mini cruise ships. They take tourists on tours of several islands. In the corner is a naval base with a coastguard vessel in residence, and finally a couple or three coastal cargo vessels which supply the islands from the mainland. Unfortunately there is nowhere to moor a dinghy, so one has to rely on a water taxi to go ashore. (Agua taxi) these are small yellow outboard powered boats which theoretically listen on channel 16 or 14, but in practice never seemed to. Their service was very unreliable, and they would go off for a meal break and leave people stranded for over an hour. Interestingly there is world-class surfing just outside the harbour. Although Galapagos never seems to have severe weather, large swells from distant storms are a constant factor, and there are a number of bars and shallows at San Cristobal that make for some beautiful breaks. Tough luck Narayan!

We anchored in sand in about 30' of water, and no sooner had we got settled than a guy came aboard clutching a sheaf of papers. "Are you the Port captain?" says I. "No, but he is my close friend" says he, introducing himself as Fernando. He sold us a tour for the following morning, and offered to supply diesel, gasoline and vegetables. We declined all these. I have already mentioned checking in with the Port Captain, so we were settled. Our next visitor was a sea lion that discovered our transom, and for the rest of our stay we never had less than two living on the steps. We managed to arrange a barricade of fenders to stop them coming into the cockpit.

Magic Carpet arrived late in the evening. Chris reported that they had problems with their outboard motor, which had thrown all its oil on the way over. It turned out to be an oil seal, but parts needed to be delivered from Australia.

Our agent, Bolivar Persantes, was as useless as we had expected. Luckily we needed no further services from him. Turns out he is married to the Governor of the Galapagos!

Our tour the next morning was pretty good, Chris & Karyn came with us, and it was $25 for the morning. We went to see  Galapagos tortoises at a centre in the middle of the island. they are really prehistoric looking beasts. Then we went to an extinct volcano which had a lake in the crater. There were Frigate Birds cruising around, and despite everything I have read about these birds living by scavenging, they were clearly sploshing into the water and taking the Tilapia fish with which this lake has, at some time, been stocked. They have no oil to waterproof their feathers, and so cannot swim. They also have the largest wingspan in proportion to their weight of any bird, making them amazing gliders and aerial acrobats. Nevertheless, these birds we watched were doing their own hunting, and definitely getting their bodies completely into the water.

After this, we went to another lookout and visited one of the original settler's houses. The best part was a nice lunch at Fernando's mother's house. The final stop was to a beach to see sea lions and Marine Iguanas, but I was dropped off in town as I had to go back to Jade and get underway to tow Aventura into the harbour. Luckily I had carried our portable VHF with me, so I heard them calling. Of the yachts in the harbour, Jade was best suited to this as she has two engines. One of the strangest things was that a sea lion sleeping on one transom stayed with me for the two miles out to sea, the fiddling around at the stern setting the towing bridle, and the journey back to harbour. I don't know how far she would have gone with us if I had been heading for the Marquesas. The tow of Aventura was undramatic, and I got them and Jade safely anchored back in the harbour. They needed a good rest after the trip they'd had.

Much later I met up with Cam again, to find that after being dropped at the beach for the last part of the tour, the driver did not come to pick them up again, and they ended up walking 3 kilometres back to town. Fernando later claimed the cause was an unexpected breakdown of his vehicle. My response was, 'well, you could have arranged a taxi for a dollar or two instead of leaving my children a long walk back to town'. He was unresponsive to this, maybe a language problem. We later heard from another couple who arranged the same tour, but when they went to go, he said it was off because nobody else was coming, so their plans  for the day were very disrupted. Another couple claimed he had cheated them over the sale of diesel, and yet another boat claimed he overcharged them for vegetables delivered. Too many for it to be anything but true, so we are going to write to Lonely Planet about him. By the way, the Port Captain says "He is no friend of mine" ha ha. Sadly, from the visiting books in his house, his parents were widely liked and respected by the cruising community, whom they had obviously gone out of their way to help. The son is not like the parents.

We particularly liked the harbour, as it was full of wild life. One day we walked to a nearby beach. There was a bit of surf, and some rocks near the shore, but we could see several turtles swimming just offshore. Then we saw what were obviously  the tips of a large ray's wings, again close to the beach. I just could not make my mask and snorkel work, but Cam was doing fine. Eventually, starting from the corner of the beach she was able to swim within a metre or two of a very large ray. The only thing that spoilt the day was the sudden attacks of several horse flies, which particularly targeted me. We beat a hasty retreat. During the week we spent in this port, we didn't do as much as I had hoped, but we did enjoy the small town, had some good meals and befriended more cruisers. Chris discovered that he would need to wait a couple of weeks to get the spares he needed, so as Karyn wanted to see Floreana, she would go with us when we left. On the Thursday I managed to check out at the Port Captain's office, all in a few minutes, and then at dawn on Friday morning we sailed for Floreana, a distance of about 60 miles. It was a beautiful day, but with only a capful of wind. Just enough to give the engine a little help and keep the boat fresh. Our course was SW, which theoretically meant against the prevailing Humboldt current, but I have recently learnt that these waters are actually affected by three currents, which include the Panama current which moves SW. Obviously this was helping us as we made very good speed. We had two fishing lines trailing behind, with lures meade to look like squid. There had been no bites, but I noticed, about 2 miles off our track, there was a 65' bank, so I diverted towards it. Like magic, just as we crossed the 200' line both lures were taken. I helped haul in two beautiful Yellow Fin tunas, each about 2' long. I hate killing such beautiful creatures, and I am very Squeamish about preparing them too, so it was time for me to retire to boat driving and leave Cam & Karyn, one on each transome, to do the deed. They each produced a big bowlfull of Tuna steaks. This fresh seafood is really delicious. We try to use a humane way of despatching them. We have a spray bottle full of cheap whisky, and a dose of this is sprayed directly onto their gills, which is alleged to stun them instantly. Actually they do struggle still, but much less violently and I do believe they are not conscious by this stage. Some people don't like doing this because tuna meat is better tasting if it is well bled, so they hang the fish up by its tail, just outside the lifelines, and stab them in the gills. The fish then bleeds profusely as it dies within a minute or so. This seems barbaric to me.

As we approached the North coast of Floreana, we spied what we had read about in the guide books; the Devil's Crown. This is the remains of a volcanic crater perhaps two hundred metres offshore. there is a ring of rocks, up to 50' high surrounding a small lagoon that was the bowl of the crater. There are several large gaps in this ring. We sailed close by and took photos. Suddenly, floating in the water, we saw a Tropic Bird. This is a type of seabird, all white, but with an extraordinary long white tail which gently curves downwards. The tail is much longer than the bird, and the effect is very graceful. We were able to sail quite close before it took flight and flew away. An hour later we arrived at Puerto Velasco Ibarra on the West coast. This is what passes for a port, but it is actually just a small indent in the coastline. I was anticipating a bumpy anchorage, but it turned out to be pretty good, perhaps sheltered from the prevailing swells. There do not seem to be squalls or strong winds in the Galapagos, at least we havn't experienced any.

Floreana is the island that has seen the most attempts at settlement, all of which failed for one reason or another until the 1930s. Then three groups of Germans arrived. A couple, the Ritters trying to escape the real world, the Wittmers, a family looking for a new life, and a fake Baroness and her three lovers! There ensued an amazing, and tragic, series of events which saw disappearances, murders and bizarre deaths. Only the Wittmers survived, and eventually thrived, and their descendents still live on the island. Margaret, the original Matriarch, only passed away in 2000. We anchored next to Trisha Jean, an American boat we had met in Bahia de Caraquez. This is a Tayana 37, several of which are to be seen in Hebe Haven, and is a vessel often seen in the cruising destinations of the world. I went ashore to the Port Captain, a young man who works alone on the island, and who lives next door to his small base with his wife and child. The total population of the island is 100, so this is a very small community, and only less than half live next to the water at our anchorage. the remainder live higher in the hills, where the climate is wetter and there is permanent water enabling farming. The next day we went with Dan & Cathryn of Trisha Jean in a hired banqua for a trip to the Devil's Crown, about 6 miles away. On the way we went close to the shore, and saw lots of wildlife. One highlight was a lone Galapagos Penguin standing grooming itself on a rock. The boat driver knew exactly where to go to look for it, so Dan joked that it was chained to the rock for the tourists!

We then went into Post Office Bay, which was a  truly beautiful spot teeming with wildlife. I would have loved to anchor there for a few days, but the rules forbid cruising yachts to anchor anywhere except one of 5 ports, and only then with a cruising permit, which we had. If you break these rules, the local tour boats quickly report you to the authorities, because they make their living taking you in their boat! This bay is so named because before any human habitation in the 1700s, the whalers that frequented this area left mail in a barrel placed at the head of the bay. Outbound vessels would leave mail here, and homebound ones would pick it up to deliver. This was also the site of a failed Norwegian settlement whose houses were subsequently occupied by the aforementioned Baroness.

About a mile away, the Devil's Crown rose starkly out of the sea, and this was our final destination for a snorkelling session. The water inside the crater is between 10 and 20 feet deep, and alive with fish. Just outside the edge are many sharks, and seal lions join the divers. Unfortunately Molly tried, but would not let go of the boat, and nancy wouldn't even try, so it was only Cam & Karyn who got to swim. Cam took some great pictures of reef fish with our little Pentax`waterproof camera. Incidentally, throughout the Galapagos there are areas with large concentrations of sharks, and these are a great attraction for divers, as there is no record of one ever having attacked a human.This is an area where humans have a truce with nature.

After our return to Jade we had a relaxed evening. The next day we took the dinghy down to the corner of the bay, about 1/2 mile from Jade. here there was a bit of surf over the rocks, but we managed to manoevre in behind some rocks and to a little beach on an islet separated from the main island by a small gap perhaps 20 metres wide, washed by waves from the sea. Most of it was about 1' deep apart from a deeper section perhaps 3-4'. Quite a strong current flowed through because of the waves surging in from the sea. The little islet was around 100 metres across, thickly overgrown with shrubs and the huge cactus trees which grow on the islands. These reach 30' high and have trunks just like trees. On the beach were a family of sea lions. there was one large male, 3-4 full-grown females and about 10 youngsters. They reluctantly moved out of our way as we pulled the dinghy up the beach, but the young ones in particular were intensely curious. On the rocks across the channel were three pelicans grooming themselves, and we later saw them fish in the channel, but often chased by the sea lions, apparently in play. Standing under a cactus tree nearby was the biggest heron I have ever seen, obviously resting in the shade. he reluctantly walked slowly away as I tried to approach too close. The water was teeming with fish and turtles. the ensued a magical few hours. Cam very patiently sat on a rock close to where the sea lions obviously liked to rest. At first the big male chased away any of his family that approached too close. probably out of fear that we were some sort of rival for his wive's affections! After an hour or so of this he got tired of the effort, and with his grown ladies, went to sleep nearby. This left the youngsters, still very curious, and eventually Cam managed to move very close to three of them on the rocks next to the water. After much patience she was  able to entice one, bolder than the others, to sniff her hand, and then she was able to gently begin stroking it. It obviously loved this, and as long as she did not move quickly, allowed her to scratch its belly and ears, and stroke its beautiful fur. It then allowed Molly, Nancy & Karyn to approach and do the same, whilst I captured the magical moments on film. This was a truly wild creature, putting all its trust in another larger creature. The best moments of our cruise so far. We left the beach very reluctantly, but I will never forget those few hours with all the wildlife, and especially those young sea lions, so beautiful and intelligent.

That evening we went ashore to the Wittmer's hotel, a surprisingly smart place, with Dan & Cathryn, but Karyn was too tired. We were served by Edna, the granddaughter of Margaret, and the food was cooked by her mother. The meal was wonderful. For $10US we got a huge dish of beef ghoulash, potatoes, vegetables and rice, with two huge jugs of fresh fruit juice and a sweet of fresh fruit cocktail locally grown. We also met three Australian girls, the only residents, who had been there 6 weeks doing research for their PhD theses. They had been studying the Galapagos finches on the island.

During the last day, an Ecuadorian Guarda Costa vessel anchored in the bay. On our arrival, the Port Captain had suggested we check in at the same time as checking out on the Monday morning, but now, at 7pm during dinner we got a message from another cruiser that we were to go ashore immediately to check in. Clearly he had got into trouble with the officer on the patrol boat for not having checked in the three cruisers at anchor. I had less sympathy for him when he overcharged me for the stay ($40 instead of $32) and did not give me a receipt. I did not make a fuss however.

The third cruiser which arrived on Sunday was Chiquita, and English registered Sweden yachts 50. These are supposed to be quality boats, and I know they sail well, but they had had an endless tale of breakdowns over the previous few months, and were currently cruising on borrowed batteries awaiting new ones, and had a failed generator and wiring problems. Although the boat was 10 years old, I gained the impression it was not built properly in the first place, certainly its systems.

On Monday we are sailing for Santa Cruz, Puerto Ayora in Academia Bay. This is the largest town in the islands, where we will re-provision before going to Isabella, Puerto Vilamil, and then on to the Marquesas.   Back to list

Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, Isla San Cristobal, Galapagos, 1st April 2006

Our last morning in Bahia de Caraquez, Chris & I went to the Port Captain's office, where, quite painlessly, we received our National Zarpe. This is a clearance document, but the importance of the 'National' part, given because we have received our Galapagos cruising permits, is that we are not clearing out of Ecuador, but merely from one port to another within the country. Not only does this save a trip to the Immigration in Manta, but also the need and expense of re-entering Ecuador whilst in Galapagos. Then I went for a last visit to Puerto Amistad where I settled my bill, and said goodbye to Tripp and Mahji. She just loves the kids. Molly was with me and she received a belated birthday gift, some lovely bangles and earings. We then went along to the Genesis internet cafe where we met Cam & Nancy who had been to the market and were now uploading the website diaries, pics & videos. We then walked back to Jade to discover Carlos, who works for the club, had completed cleaning our waterline as promised, of all the scum and gunge that seems to gather there, particularly on the inner sides. We then just had to wait for the pilot.

He turned up at 1230, two of them, including a separate one for Magic Carpet. The pilot charges $US25 each way, and expects a $5US tip. Still, he guided the two boats safely out of the river, which is a bit complicated. By 1330 we had dropped the pilot and were underway, with almost no wind, and what there was from the NW. We were satisfied that we had got away early enough to see any fishing nets in the daylight. Well, as it turned out, we saw none... until nightfall, then, 30 miles offshore, the horizon was full of the little yellowish lights that denote nets, and the whiter ones denoting the small fishing boats. Some of these nets, as I found from experience, stretch for over a mile. Good fortune, or perhaps improved experience, smiled on both boats, and we escaped without incident, finally seeing the last of them about 60 miles offshore. Still no wind, until about 0300 the following morning, when a SW wind sprung up. I already hopefully had the gennaker up, and then commenced two days of terrific performance by Jade. We never saw more than 12 knots of true wind, and most of the time it was 6-10, from 45 degrees to 60 degrees apparent. We also never saw less than 8 knots of boat speed for the next 36 hours, and even in very light, perhaps 5 knots true for the following 12 hours, we still kept up over 6 knots. We left Magic Carpet far behind, and also overtook the three boats that had left the day before us. We arrived in Isla San Cristobal after just over 3 1/2 days travelling. Throughout the journey the sea was pretty calm, so it was most enjoyable. There were a couple of interesting experiences on route.  One afternoon, Cam called me up to see a small boat, apparently drifting. It was of the local outboard-powered fishing boat types, but over 200 miles from the nearest land. We altered course to pass close astern of it, and could see no sign of life. We blew our foghorn several times, and then, just as we were passing a few yards astern, three guys struggled to their feet. They were OK, and just resting, whilst hanging from a crude sea anchor. Their nets were strung across the ocean nearby, virtually invisible, but luckily not where we had been sailing. They quickly started their engine and came after us, asking for water and food. We gave them some beer and biscuits, well aware by this time that they had not deliberately gone all that way without adequate water and food. A few hours later, another of these boats approached us, again asking for food and water, and an hour after that a third one. This last was exactly midway between Galapagos and the Ecuadorian mainland, although I have no doubt they were from the latter. None of them were threatening, but they did not miss an opportunity to beg for something free. I did not begrudge them something, because you have to respect people who take a small open boat so far out to sea to make a living. I did not see any radios to call for help in the event of trouble. The weather is pretty benign this close to the equator, with a cold sea (from the Humboldt current), so no storms and only rare squalls, but still... They universally use a 70hp Yamaha Enduro two stroke OB. These must be very reliable engines.

We also saw a large pod of dolphins, and every night two or three large white seabirds would spend hours circling us. I believe they were feeding on the flying fish we disturbed, but they must have wonderful night vision to do this. Every night was brilliant with stars, as there was no moon, and now the Southern Cross is prominent in the sky.  Our course was almost due West, and I was running along the 1 degree South meridian. The other boats stayed about 20  miles North of us. Just after midnight Venus was rising in the East, illuminating the world almost as much as the moon would, easily the brightest object in the sky. Later we could see, in the clear water, a tuna swimming underneath our hulls. It stayed with us for hours, also hunting the small fish we disturbed. Every morning and every evening we kept a radio schedule with the other four boats, that's how we knew our relative progress. We were sorry to hear that Aventura (Chris & Mary from the Orkneys) had an engine problem that could not be repaired at sea. (Raw water pump bearing failure). We were already much too far ahead of them to turn back and tow them, so they had to take their chances with the frequent calms in this area. Aventura was the famous Jimmy Cornell's first boat. We had our own problem when the gennaker halyard parted at the mast sheave.  Chafe against the sheave the probable cause, as with this upwind sail the halyard lies across the sheave at a slight angle. Friction heat I think must have been created. Anyway, that was that for the gennaker for this leg. The sail itself was not damaged, but we have to run a new halyard and remove the causes of chafe before we can use this wonderful sail again. Luckily by this time it had already assisted us to within some hours of San Cristobal, and in any event the wind died completely after midnight and we had to motor the last 50 miles or so.

In the dawn it was great to see this volcanic island rising out of the morning mist ahead of us. As we got closer and began running along its Southern coast, the wildlife increased exponentially. First there were lots more seabirds, of many types, and then I saw a large whale, type unknown, breach  just astern of  us. A few minutes later we saw the first of many sea lions hunting for breakfast. We safely rounded the Western point and anchored amongst about a dozen other cruising yachts at about 1000hrs. Sea lions were immediately swimming all round us, and when we looked down we found that the 25' deep water was as clear as the Bahamas, and we could see the bottom very clearly. It was teeming with fish, of every colour. The local pelicans are different to the Caribbean and US ones, in that they don't seem to dive for food. They just paddled around and snapped it up. I don't know if they can dive, perhaps fish are so plentiful here they have lost the skill. Very soon a sea lion discovered the convenience of our transom steps and took up residence, much to the excitement of M&N. You could sit right next to it and it wouldn't move, just turn its mournful eyes on you as if pleading us not to disturb its rest.

After lunch I went ashore and again without drama, but at the cost of $US107, got my written permission to stay in Galapagos until 1 May.Back to list

Puerto Amistad, Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador 25th March 2006

 A big gap in my writing schedule, so lots to catch up on.

We went into town twice to try to catch the carnival, and the second time we did so. Its as you might imagine, with crowds of people on the sidewalks enjoying the spectacle and all the venders stalls, and in the street floats of exotic construction usually draped by good looking women, and lots of people dancing in the street. We enjoyed the atmosphere for a while, had a Chinese meal (and befriended the owners as usual), then went back to Jade. The next morning I read in the newspaper that 17 people had been murdered during the 4 days of the carnival!

A little side story has been evolving that I should share with readers. You may recall that I mentioned a small Mantra 28 dragging its anchor on the flats in Colon. The story behind this is interesting. Prout Catamarans failed sometime in the late 90s, and what was left of them was taken over by Broadblue, an English bespoke furniture company. They had the moulds for the 38 and 46, and were offering a 42 to a new design of their own, one of which is owned by a friend at HHYC. However, in order to save money, the relatively popular 38 is now built in Poland before being finished in England. They are built by the same people who build these Mantra 28s. The company owner, named Andrew something had sponsored two of these boats to race around the world, each crewed by two Polish women. The two boats were called Ania and Asia. This is a pretty bold undertaking in two 28' sports boats, and obviously done for publicity. However, as we now know, they were only equipped with a small Delta anchor and not enough thin chain. No backup anchor. I met this Andrew in the Panama Canal Yacht Club, and in a friendly manner told him he really should supply the boats with more and better chain and a backup anchor. He became what can only be described as 'frosty'. Later Bill & I got to know all four women, and particularly Gosia, the Captain and Ania, the crew of Asia. They are both very smart and very experienced sailors, but coming from Poland, had little money and depended on Andrew for support. They  told me a horrible tale. Andrew had apparently previously sailed around the world in some sort of vessel, and his view was that if he hadn't needed a certain piece of kit on his voyage, then neither did they. There were all sorts of equipment deficiencies as a result, such as jacklines, liferafts and many others. Some had been later provided after Gosia insisted, but only after much argument. There was one satphone shared between two boats, one watermaker and one spare jib, again between two boats. As a result of my speaking to him, and another argument with Gosia, in Balboa Andrew agreed to provide ONE spare anchor!!! Bill & I shared the cost of buying the second one for them that they so obviously needed. He also had to be threatened with a mutiny before he would agree to repair or replace Asia's defective VHF. Can you imagine setting off without a working VHF? Andrew had threatened to replace Gosia several times, but probably feared all the others would quit with her. However, I have recently received an e-mail from Gosia in Galapagos that Andrew was planning to replace Ania, her crew, with some unknown girl, over another argument. This is immediately before a 3000 mile passage to the Marquesas. Thus Gosia had quit, and was making her way back to the Caribbean where she had found work on a Polish tall ship that would take her back to Europe. I have not heard what has happened to the boat, or the other crew. Naturally Gosia is bitterly disappointed at the turn of events, but I have told her she has made the right choice, her and her crew's lives are more important.

Gosia has promised to tell me more details of this amazing voyage and this dreadful man Andrew, and I am going to tell the story to the leading yachting press, suggesting they also interview Gosia and Andrew. This man deserves to be publicly humiliated for placing these women at such risk.

We found the supermarkets in Panama to be excellent, generally better than those in the USA, so we did quite a bit of storing. Whilst one takes sensible precautions, there was not the feeling of criminal danger either in Panama City or the Balboa area.

I located an Icom dealer in Panama City, despite both Icom America and Icom Japan both telling me there was no dealer there. This is the subject of an ongoing complaint, however, they were able to assure me that there was no problem with the SSB equipment or the installation connections.  This still leaves the question of why my reception is so poor compared with Magic Carpet, and other yachts. The technician and I have now both formed the view that the location of the Shakespeare Galaxy whip antenna alongside the large aluminium structure of the cockpit enclosure may be the cause. I did not have time to test this thesis whilst in Panama, but have since bought the necessary wires to rig a temporary aerial to be hauled up the mast and operate like a backstay antenna. This should demonstrate whether it is an aerial problem.

We had to go through the usual palaver to check out of Panama, including going to the Port Captain's office and some other place, the point of which escaped me. Then we still had to clear immigration, which fortunately had a representative in the Balboa Yacht Club office. Finally, all was done, and we sailed mid-morning on the 4th March, to take advantage of  the tide. Chris in Magic Carpet was a little later, so we motored very slowly to give them a chance to catch up. It was flat calm, but with the tide we were still making 7 knots. After following the ship channel for several miles, being careful to keep well to one side, we were able to head a little West of South through  the Ladrone Islands. It was calm until lunchtime, and then a gentle breeze from aft gradually built, and we were soon sailing. We discovered that MC was about 10 miles behind us. On this journey we had  plan to stay together, but did intend to keep VHF and/or SSB contact. For the rest of the day the wind continued to build. To cut a long story short, we had an excellent passage. Normally at this time of the year you can expect Southerly winds with the probability of a current against you, and at some stage one has to cross the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). However, we got steady Northerly to North Easterly winds from 15-25 knots, and these carried us to within 60 miles of Bahia de Caraquez, our destination. We never even saw the ITCZ which was supposed to be well North of the Equator. Our best 24 hours was 219 miles. So in 3 days we were at the equator. I had told the children that the mapmakers draw a line round the world to mark the equator, and they half believed me. Well bless me, when we got there the sun made a silvery path across the sea that looked for all the world like a painted line! They are now believers. After taking pictures, we had a short recess, then Cam, Molly and Nancy came into the cockpit to discover that King Neptune had come aboard, complete with his crown and trident, and a very insubstantial and insecure beard. The crew were initiated with Southern hemisphere seawater, and suitable words were spoken to welcome them to Neptune's watery realm.

Unfortunately, we could not arrive before dark on the third day, and that's when the adventure began. Very fortunately the last 60 miles were flat calm, because.... Fishing nets!

MC was the first to run over a single line, at least 50 miles offshore. Out of nowhere three outboard powered boats appeared, and the friendly fishermen helped to untangle them. This happened to them once more and then it was dark. We found that the fishing boats used a single dim orange lamp, so we could see their boats when we got close. However, there was no indication where their nets were. Well, I can tell you they were everywhere! They were supported at each end by an empty oil can, invisible in the dark, and stretched typically for two or three hundred metres. The nets were about two metres in  breadth and supported just below the surface by very small floats on the top edge, and weights on the bottom. To cross them was to tangle them. In all we got trapped three times, the last being the worst. On the first two occasions we managed, without fishermen's help, to push the nets under the boat and drift free. As I said, thank goodness for flat calm. The third time, however, we were badly entangled. Too late the fishing boat with two guys came over, and after bargaining and giving them 10 dollars, they helped cut a net, and then told us the direction to go. Within 20 more metres we were in a sea of nets, with at least three separate ones caught on either the rudders or props, although I had stopped engines in time to know they were not coiled round. The fishing boat came back, and then, having taken a look, they threw up their hands and simply left. It was obvious they had given up on us, and at least were not demanding any more payment. With no choice, Cam & I spent the next 45 minutes slashing and cutting, and in particular trying to cut away all the floats. Amazingly this worked, and eventually all the nest sank lower and we drifted free. We then headed very slowly directly to seaward, and described a wide arc to eventually come back round towards Bahia from the West. Despite seeing many other fishing boats, by luck or good judgement we arrived off Bahia with no more problems. Magic Carpet had also tangled again, but not as badly as us, although Chris had to enter the water twice to free themselves. Bahia is inside a river mouth, with a serious bar. One is required to take a pilot at near high water in daylight, so we anchored off in what is known as 'The Waiting Room'. We would have arrived at about 9pm were it not for our adventures, but as it was, dropped anchor after midnight.

It was extraordinary that, despite not planning to stay together, MC and ourselves were never more than 20 miles apart, and arrived within minutes of each other. Indeed, I had a scare. We had always planned to stay well clear of the coast of Columbia due to pirate reports. On the second to last night, as I was taking over from Cam, we suddenly noticed a small vessel travelling in the opposite direction only half a mile away. Obviously it had earlier had no lights, and Cam had not seen it on the radar. Anyway, about half an hour later I see an echo on the radar about 1 mile on my starboard quarter. It seemed to be going at the same course and speed, and I suspected it was the earlier vessel now following us. I therefore turned off my nav lights and altered course. With  great concern, I saw that this vessel had apparently copied my alteration. I did a few other manoeuvres, and it seemed the vessel was following me. I then called MC on the radio. Chris came though loud and clear and I told him what was happening. We then exchanged positions, and then I suddenly realised that the vessel I had been dodging was Magic Carpet who had not seen me at all! By coincidence he had done some course alterations whilst reefing which I had interpreted as his efforts to follow me. I was very relieved, and we had a good laugh later, but it makes you think. The funny thing was that there we were, after 500 miles in two quite different vessels only 1 mile apart.

The pilot came out mid-morning on the 8th and took us into the river. We had perhaps 4' under the keel when crossing the bar.

Bahia de Caraquez is a small town built on the point where the river enters the sea. At the back end of town there is what was once a government pier sticking out into the river, and this is now Puerto Amistad, a boat club for cruisers run by Tripp Martin and his Columbian wife Mahji. He was a cruiser himself, but had decided to stay. They have done a great job of converting the pier into a club with a lovely bar and dining area, laundry, excellent showers and toilets, and a book swap library. In the river are about 2 dozen moorings. These were all full, but we found a space to anchor. We made Tripp's acquaintance that evening, and his wonderful wife, who immediately fell for Molly & Nancy. The checking in process was done the next day, which involves a trip to the town of Manta, about 50 miles away for Immigration, and to the Port Captain in Bahia. Tripp or Mahji give all the advice necessary, and can arrange transportation. They also provide boat watching services for those travelling inland or returning home, gas, diesel and laundry service, all delivered to your boat, and nice food too. The only shortcoming is that the club does not open until 5pm and is closed on Sundays. M&N quickly made friends with a little girl called Jomaina, who was the daughter of one of the staff, so they had much fun playing with her every evening. Communication seemed to be no problem though she spoke no English and they no Spanish. In fact, in all our time in Ecuador we only met two or three locals who could even speak a word or two of English. Not the best way to encourage business, though we met many Americans and Europeans who were fluent.

Bahia is a nice friendly little town, that feels, and apparently is, quite safe. It has all essential services, like an internet cafe, small supermarket and excellent market. I discovered an electrical store where I got the bits for my aerial, and Chris discovered a machine shop where he was able to buy and have fitted new bearings for his anchor winch. There are a few acceptable restaurants, and some nice walks.

The river is fast flowing and tidal, so the ebb sees about 3-4 knots flowing through the moorings. A tough row for Chris with no outboard on his dinghy. As usual we made some new cruiser friends during many jolly evenings at the club, and became re-acquainted with Richard and Phil from Sail La Vie, whom we had transited the canal with. We had decided to do a tour inland, but were a bit delayed because the three girls got flu, and were quite unwell for about three days. For some reason I didn't get it. We also had to wait for a mooring as I did not wish to leave Jade alone at anchor. Chris & Karyn left a day before us by bus for Quito, but we decided to fly, and went from Manta, for $130 for four of us one-way. A 30 minute flight in great comfort in a nearly empty 737, instead of an 8 hour bus ride on very bumpy roads. Obviously, whatever money is allocated for road maintenance, is either not enough or is not reaching its intended destination, definitely the latter according to locals. Corruption and mismanagement is everywhere, which is a terrible shame. Ecuador has substantial oil and mineral reserves, exceptionally fertile soil, enormous marine resources, wonderful historic cities and scenery to die for. If it had a few years of good government the country would be very prosperous, but they never seem to have had that luxury. Nevertheless, Quito is a beautiful and civilized city, with stunning old buildings and an excellent bus and trolleybus system. We found a nice hotel, for $30 per night, and spent the whole of the first day in the room resting and watching TV. Our excuse was altitude sickness. Quito is at around 9000', and although I did not get sick, as Cam did slightly, I quickly got out of breath when walking anywhere.

We did get out the second day, and first went to the City centre, where we were all stunned at the beauty of the buildings and gardens. In the afternoon we went on the bus to El Mitad del Mundo, the 'Middle of the World'. This is where a joint team of French and Spanish scientists established the exact position of the equator so as to get an accurate measurement of the circumference of the Earth. This was the only place where it was feasible to do this in those days, Africa and the Far East being out of the question, and Quito having convenient mountains ideal for triangulation. It was because of their reports back to Europe from 'the Equator' that the region became known as Ecuador. The site was a great place to visit, with a monument enclosing a museum of the ethnic diversity of the country, and statues of all the scientists involved in the calculations. There were also other mini museums and exhibits, as well as a range of restaurants.. It was an interesting trip. On the way back, the trolleybus stopped earlier than expected, and everybody was told to get off. There was a Chinese restaurant nearby, so we had a nice meal, and then got a taxi back to the hotel. The reason for the bus changing its schedule became apparent later. The next day we took a taxi to the bus terminal, and within seconds of getting out were hustled onto a bus bound for Ba¨¾os, a town about 100 kilometres SE of Quito. It was in interesting bus ride, spoilt by the lunatic speed of this powerful coach. It is interesting, however, to talk about the unique (to me) business model of these long distance bus services. Obviously the coaches are owned by some operator, and they clearly follow a certain route, but the conductor is more of a rounder-upper. Unless on a high speed open road, he spends his time half hanging out of the doorway and indeed, has a special strap fitted to make this easier. He continually calls loudly, everytime he sees anyone hovering on the pavement, something like "Ba¨¾os, bus to Ba¨¾os", and probably the fare too. At the slightest hint that anybody is interested, he jumps off the still moving bus and hustles them aboard. Clearly the crew get a cut of the fares, and clearly it is an official system because everybody gets a ticket. It was only about $3 each for our fares for this long journey. Pity about the speed. On several open stretches the bus was going at over 100 mph. Ba¨¾os is a really pretty town deep in a narrow valley. We had kept in touch with Chris & Karyn by e-mail, and knew they were in a hotel called 'Planta Y Blanco' which means 'Plants and White', which exactly conveys what it was like inside. We got a huge room with 6 beds for $18 per night, with private toilet & shower...excellent. Upstairs was a wonderful cafe, and there was  a little room with two computers with free internet. Next door they had their own bakery and laundry. I loved it. Why were C&K at Ba¨¾os instead of Otavalo as they planned? Because of the strikes and roadblocks. Why did we get to Ba¨¾os? Because of luck and the weekend. What roadblocks and strikes? Well, President Bush has been pushing an American (That's all of N & S America) free trade agreement. This is made up of bi-lateral agreements between USA and each country that wants in. Canada and Mexico already have such an agreement. Ecuador could not afford to be left out because neighbour Colombia had already signed up, and the President was intending to sign the week following our arrival. Now many groups were opposed to this, and none more so than the indigenous Indians, and there are a lot of them. Despite their position near the bottom of the economic ladder, and their poor education standards, they are very well organised politically, probably by those who are exploiting them. To be fair, they have everything to lose and nothing to gain by this agreement. Their primitive farms and orchards, despite low wages, would never be able to compete against automated and mechanised North American agriculture. Their business would be badly affected. No doubt the agreement would open many other opportunities, but these poor and ignorant people living in remote areas would never be able to take advantage of them. As has apparently always been the case, the beneficiaries would be the Spanish elite who continue to rule this country. Hence the roadblocks and strikes to put pressure on the President.

We stayed in Ba¨¾os for three days, enjoying the hotel and the many fine restaurants in the town. Cam befriended a local Indian family with their two delightful little girls, and we bought many handwoven carpets from them. Cam had a steam bath every morning before breakfast (I remained dirty but unscalded). Breakfast in the cafe was wonderful. They did the most amazing fruit pancakes, and home made breads. There were no formal meals for the rest of the day, but coffee, tea, soft drinks and beer were available on a trust basis. It was lovely. The rest also went for a hot bath one afternoon, and again averse to water (of the soapy kind) I hired a motorbike for tow hours. I was not sure where to go, but just went out of town for a mile or two and spotted a dirt road leading off to the right. This went up and up the mountains, for mile after mile. Good thing it was a trail bike. Suddenly I came round a corner and there in front of me was a clear view of a very high mountain (Actually 18000') and I said to myself 'that looks like a volcano' Now I knew there was an active volcano somewhere near Ba¨¾os, but I did not know where. To my amazement, as I was braking to a stop, a huge cloud of yellow smoke and sparks mushroomed out of the top, and by the time I had dismounted (perhaps 20 seconds) was towering around 1000' above the cone. I guess the mountain was 5 miles away. It was an awesome sight, and I was quite nervous. I knew Ba¨¾os had been evacuated in 1999 when this volcano had begun erupting. There were a couple with a car nearby (actually broken down), the first people I had seen on this road. The man spoke English, and he assured me this was no cause for alarm, although the mountain only did this once or twice a week. I was so lucky to see this, and got some decent photos too (see the pics section). the couple assured me that there would be a vehicle coming down the road soon to give them a lift, so I continued upwards. Altogether I probably reached close to 15000'. the views were spectacular. Up here were s few small houses and many Friesan cattle grazing in the mountain meadows. Also plastic hothouses perched on the mountain sides, obviously taking advantage of the tropical sunshine. Clouds kept rolling through enveloping me in mist. I got no better views of the volcano because of this, so eventually turned round and went back down, arriving back at the hire shop just in time. I had a real tale to tell when I met the rest of them.

Cam & I popped into a sports shop and bought a good value Nike rucksack, of excellent design and quality. It turned out that the proprietor also had a small hotel, and arranged tours. We signed up for 3 hours at $20 for the next morning, and this was to include Chris & Karyn. Right on time Rodrigo turned up in his 6 seater Toyota pickup, although Cam and I sat in the open back. It was a great morning. We went to three different waterfalls, and the  rest of them went in a very scary looking cable car across an enormous ravine (see the pics). With every year that goes by I get more nervous of heights, so I stayed to be the official photographer. There were gardens the other side, so they were gone half an hour. This cable car was just an open steel basket suspended from a wire, and just looking at it gave me the colleywobbles. Of course, Molly & Nancy showed no fear. Perhaps I would have been the same when I was young.

Next we went to see 'El Diablo'. This is where the green River, just a large stream actually, falls through a very narrow and steep chasm. The lowest fall is about 120 metres. At the top end an enterprising pair of foreigners have built a garden and a series of viewing platforms. Jens the German was there first, and then Antonio, a Canadian had bought 70% for $70,000 which included land for his house. They charge a modest amount for entry, and apparently get big crowds at weekends. Then we went to see the bottom. We had to walk down a steep path for half an hour. At the bottom is a cafe and viewing areas, including a rickety footbridge. Its very pretty, and the falls are pretty spectacular. On the way up Nancy, who was with me, started to complain, so I told her how proud Mummy would be if she could walk up all by herself. Well, that was it. Occasionally she would look round, and if she thought Mummy & Molly looked closer, she would press ahead, half pulling me, and often say "Come on Daddy, don't look back". We easily arrived first at the top, and she was not out of breath. Trust me, it was a steep climb.

The whole outing was very enjoyable. We also celebrated Molly's birthday in Ba¨¾os , and she was surprised to discover that her faint hope for a Elina Barbie Doll (From Fairytopia) had been met. She also got a new watch, this time a Casio with more functions. Daddy's birthday got pretty much forgotten whilst in Bahia as the crew were sick that day, but I did later get a hat with 'Jade' on it from Karyn.

We had made many plans about where we wanted to journey to in Ecuador. These included Riobamba and then to sit on top of the train to Alausi. From there to the ancient city of Cuenca, then through Guayaquil back to Manta and Bahia. Sadly the protest action made this impossible, and many routes were not open. We heard that we could get back to Quito by an indirect route, so decided to go for it. Chris & Karyn went very early in the morning, unbeknown to us, although they left a note. We got a bus at 1130 to Tena via Puyo. This took us initially away from Quito into the lowlands and the edge of the Amazon basin. We actually crossed the young Amazon on one of the bridges! On the way to Puyo, a large rock was thrown at the bus, crashing through a window on luckily the far side from us. Fortunately no one was injured. From Puyo, the road was dirt and potholed. Again, reflecting the strange dynamics of bus operation in Ecuador, the senior conductor (of two) came around between Puyo and Tena and asked who was interested in going directly on to Quito after a stop to make a temporary repair to the window and a meal in Tena. It seems that the crew could make such a decision. To put it into perspective, this would be like the No. 17 to Charing Cross suddenly offering to take you to Manchester. We had originally planned to spend the night in Tena, but the children were doing well, so, for $6 each we went for it. Good thing too, as Tena was a shithole. It took 4 1/2 hrs to get to Tena, and a further 6 1/2 to get back to Quito. It was all, bar 10%, on rough dirt roads. We went very high. Based on how long it took us to go downhill at the end of the journey into Quito, I would guess that we reached well over 12000'. Unfortunately it was dark during the highest part of the journey, as Chris & Karyn who did it earlier in the day said the views were at times magnificent. I was very glad that this driver was a smooth and cautious one, because even in the dark I could see that at times there were stupendous drops very close to the bus wheels which were, remember, driving on mud, wet mud.

So, at about 11pm we got back to the same hotel in Quito, which luckily had a similarly nice room available. We spent two more days in Quito, and had another extended visit to the city centre. This time we visited the Franciscan Monastery. It was the most spectacular old building I had ever seen, It was stacked with priceless old paintings and sculptures, and the decoration of the church was stupendous. Nowhere in the world have I seen anything like it. Then we went to another nearby church, where almost everything was covered in gold leaf, with the most ornate architecture. Back in the early Spanish days there was clearly a lot of money around. The Catholic church, true to form, spent it on itself.

We also had a walk around the new Town area where the hotel was located. This is a backpacker's heaven, with a large number of small cheap hotels and hostels, bars and restaurants. It was very nice, and we tried many different food options. One of the nicest was an Ecuadorian food restaurant where the simple fare included fried mashed potato with cheese, white corn and roast chicken.

We flew from Quito back to Manta at lunch time on Thursday 23rd.

The next three days were spent doing boat projects. We hauled Cam up the mast (those heights again) to check the sheave for the gennaker halyard, as the latter had been fraying. Cam filed the inner edges of the mast slot, as the sheave itself seemed ok. I also changed the 1st reefing line which had frayed, again because of chafe somewhere in the boom. A bit more hopeful filing was done. I fixed, I hope, the leaking hatch seals, which were loose, and tightened the dogs, got the sails and gennaker ready, and checked every compartment in the boat for water. None found, including the one we had previously bailed in the starboard bow. As I type, we are planning to leave for Galapagos tomorrow. Our cruising permit has arrived at the Port Captain's office, we have fueled and propaned, cleaned the scum at the water line and are ready for the off. Out into the Pacific.

Back to list

Balboa Yacht Club, Panama         26th February 2006 

Well, we have been here for several days. This side of Panama is much nicer than Colon. We have achieved quite a lot. I sorted out Cam's visa, but only after visiting the Immigration head office and speaking to a senior official. It then turns out that the Colon office could have solved the problem by issuing a transit visa for up to 30 days, which is what I eventually got from the Balboa office. I also visited the French Consulate and happily discovered `that both Cam and us get 90 days visa on arrival in French Polynesia. Ecuador is also visa-free. We did find that we needed yellow fever vaccinations. We got those yesterday after a bit of a palaver at the hospital clinic, since we had not brought our passports. I have also got the Icom M802 fixed by the local Icom agents, RADICOM. neither Icom America, nor Icom Japan knew of their existence, but they were clearly official dealers, very professional and  efficient, with a certificate from Icom appointing them as agents. I am still awaiting the outcome of my complaint about Icom America and Icom Japan failing to tell me about these people, and indeed, America failing to answer me for three weeks.

We have also done lots of shopping, which is good here, and cheap. Bill has made me up two more trolling lines, and then taken me to Abernathy's chandlery which has a huge range of fishing gear. There I bought numerous new lures. Hopefully we will get lots of fresh fish in the Pacific, although I have been warned that the sharks often get them as soon as you hook them. Just next to our mooring is the main ship channel into the canal, and night and day we have huge ships passing about 100 metres away from us. There are Panamax container ships (maximum size that can fit in the locks) cruise ships, bulk carriers and lots of car carriers. Yachts arrive every day, most boats staying for a week or two to sort out this and that. We have to get the free water taxi to the pier at the club. This is a bit inconvenient, as you have to wait for them to get round to you, the boats are very noisy and dirty, and the drivers, despite doing this all day, mostly hopeless boat handlers. The club is open-air, but since it almost never rains at this time of year, not a problem. Its nice though, with good food and cheap drinks (though more than the PCYC). There is a nice sea-front park here, and you can walk along a promenade for about 2 miles, or cycle if you want. there is also a hotel nearby where we once ate at their TGI Fridays. Later today we are going into Panama City to see something of the carnival and look around.

¡¡

Balboa, Panama         22nd February 2006

Well, I foolishly said that the sea hadn't got up. Within 12 hours of my last log we had 25-30 knots just aft of the beam, and seas that grew to average 3-4 metres and with regular trains of 5 metres or more. Although we did alter course a little to starboard to put the waves further aft, we didn't really have any problems, and it was not too uncomfortable provided we kept the speed down. This was easier said than done, but with only the small jib up we were about right, around 6 knots. With just the double reefed main we were doing 8-9 knots and surfing down the waves at 10-12. Exciting but very bumpy, like being inside a washing machine. Chat D'O was also OK, but still slower, but Chris on Magic Carpet did a nasty injury to his leg when he was thrown out of his bunk by a particularly vicious wave. Their boat was never at risk however.

Luckily we had finished our bout with sea sickness on day 2, so we were all fine although sleeping was a bit difficult with all the noise and thumps. The kids slept in the cockpit, very wise! They were not at all phased by the big waves behind us, and I think they enjoyed the whole trip.

We managed to keep in visual contact with the other two boats all the way to Panama... pretty good in the conditions.

Although the waves got smaller on the last day, with about 20-25 knots of wind, they were even more irregular, so this was probably the bumpiest part of the trip. We arrived off the breakwater leading into the port of Cristobal at dawn, and by 0730 were at anchor on the flats, the small craft anchorage. Even stronger winds were forecast, so we let out all our chain, 200' in 35' of water. Over the next few days we had no problem as the wind occasionally hit gale force, but many other boats dragged. One was a small Polish 'Mantra 28' which ridiculously had 40m of chain like dog lead, no extra rope, a toy anchor and no spare!

Anyway, I digress. There was no rest for the skippers as we had to go ashore and  start the paper chase. Customs, Immigration, Port Captain, all of who required small bribes through our taxi driver 'agent'. Then the Admeasurers office to get the transit arranged. The experience with the canal authorities was universally good, with no bribes even hinted at.

The port is called Cristobal, but the town is Colon, and the only way to describe it is a Sh*thole! Its so full of crime, its really not safe to go anywhere except in a taxi, and carefully even then. Thus the only act in town is the Panama Canal Yacht Club, which is in French Creek just off the harbour. Its a pretty run-down looking place, with a bar and restaurant, and some pontoon berths. However, as the hangout for all the cruisers passing through it is a great place to meet and chat to people, and find out all the info needed. Surprisingly it also has excellent food and the beers are cheap (1$US per bottle). After a few days on the flats, we took a berth for three days, at $27 per day, but no power.

The way the canal works for yachts is like this...

First you have to go to the admeasurer. This office arranges a guy to come and measure your boat to ensure it is the length and beam you say it is. He also wants to see that you have four ropes each 3/4" thick and 125' long. Actually, that's too thick to conveniently go round my cleats, and is the same problem for most sailboats. Well, its not a problem, because you rent your ropes from one of the guys that hangs about the club. These ropes, are tatty, but meet the requirements of the admeasurer. As soon as he has checked your boat, these ropes are taken away, and then the day before your transit, the real ropes appear, which are usually 1/2". Go figure! Anyway, the admeasurer also checks that you have rpm metres, rudder repeater etc. When he went to Magic Carpet, he asked Chris about engine RPM. Chris replied that you could go brrrrrrrr, or BRRRRRRRR, or, if in a real hurry, BRRRRRRRR !!! The guy laughed and accepted that.

Once the admeasurer has done his stuff, and assuming you have already cleared customs, immigration, port captain (the taxi drivers take you to each in turn, and help you with the forms!!!!!) you can phone the traffic scheduler for a transit time. In our case, we were both able to get a Friday one day transit. However, since you need four line handlers plus a skipper, Magic carpet and us, with Bill from Chat D'O, were going to line handle for each other. Thus I arranged for a one day transit on Saturday. The best laid plans of mice & cruisers gan aft awry. When Chris phoned to confirm his transit (as you have to) he was told that all transits were now two day. that is, you pick up the canal pilot at the flats late in the afternoon and go through the Gatun locks (up) in the evening. You then moor on a buoy in the lakes until morning when another pilot comes to take you across the lakes and through the Miraflores locks. I therefore had to postpone Jade's transit until Sunday. Oh, I forgot to mention, you also need tyres, lots of them, as fenders, and the hangers on also supply them at $1-50 each. The rope hire is $15 per rope, plus a deposit against their return of $50 per set. Taxis are $10 per hour, very cheap, but very scruffy.

Every one of the departments we visited needed a small bribe, which the taxi driver arranges. All, that is, except the admeasurer and the canal pilots. They are very professional.

Whilst at the club, M&N made friends with kids from ChewBacca and another girl. That was nice, but none of them were going through the canal, so once again, farewells had to be said.

When taking magic Carpet through, it was decided that we would find a volunteer to replace Cam. This was for two reasons. Magic Carpet has limited space for the overnight stay of five adults plus the two kids, and also Cam was busy doing some writing work. A volunteer was duly found, but when I broke the good news to Cam, it turned out she was disappointed. Oh well. Magic Carpet picked up the pilot at about 6pm, and after a bit of dithering, we were able to enter the first lock. The system we used was to tie up to a pilot boat that was transiting. This worked very well, no drama at all. Once through the three locks, we motored in the dark about 2 miles to two huge mooring buoys. The one for us had a Fountain Pajot 42 on it. Its owner was a miserable rude Frenchman, who we later found out had made numerous mistakes that day resulting in another boat, not him, missing the locks. We had to moor alongside this buoy, with a bow and stern line across to the other catamaran, and two springs to the buoy. I was the buoy jumper, but the French git did not want to cooperate, well, anyway, not until Chris, with some spectacularly insensitive driving nearly rammed him. Then he cooperated with the lines.

The next day the cruise through the lake, about 27 miles, was very pretty and enjoyable. Karyn produced plenty of snacks, and there were pretty islands and shipping to look at. At the Miraflores locks we were the centre of three boats, which was also very good. No line handling to do and two big fenders! Once agin it was undramatic, with a very good pilot called Manuel. By 2pm we were tied to a buoy at the Balboa yacht Club. One of the other boats had arranged a 7-seater taxi, but because of the boat that missed the locks, had only 2 people. Thus us four shared leaving Chris with Magic Carpet, as he was unsure of his being able to keep the mooring. The Blue Water rally has made things busy. It is a 2 hour ride back to Colon.

On Sunday it was Jade's turn. Chris's place was taken by Helena, a nice young Norwegian girl. She had been travelling on a Bavaria 42, but was not happy with its skipper's decision to set sail for Cuba upwind into a gale. Wise girl. She decided to help us, which gave her somewhere to stay until she took a flight to Havanna.

Our trip was, if anything, even smoother. Our first pilot was exceptionally helpful, doing lots of drawings to explain what would happen. We were alone in centre chamber, behind a ship for the Gatun locks. This meant lots of line handling, but everybody did well, and we had no trouble, except for one of the lock line handlers who could not hit a barn door with his heaving line.

We had a buoy to ourselves as well, but I was surprised to see a sailboat on the other buoy. We later learned that  they had been left there the previous morning when a pilot failed to turn up for them.

We were there by 8pm, much earlier than when with Magic Carpet. Cam had made a superb curry, which all enjoyed. Bill didn't snore, so that was a double bonus.

We left at about 7am the next morning, and had yet another method of locking, paired up with Poco Audante, a Valiant 40 for the transit. Again very smooth, as our pilot was the same Manuel we had had with MC. He likes to drive, so I could help with the ropes, although he is not the seaman he thinks he is, making some basic mistakes with boat handling that I had to correct.

We likewise were moored just next to Magic Carpet by 2pm. Entering the Pacific through the last lock gates was a very moving experience for me. It closes off the Caribbean and consigns it to history.

We later found that the owners of Aventuress' had been on an outing to the Miraflores locks, and had taken superb pictures of Jade going through. We are so lucky. Not so lucky was the web cam. We had e-mailed friends and family so they could watch us go through, but the camera was zoomed out so much thye could only see a tiny boat go through.

Our mooring at the Balboa Yacht Club is right next to the main ship channel. Very rolly sometimes, but fascinating.

Back to list

¡¡

The SW Caribbean         10th February 2006

 First things first, the generator was not a problem. I had been running the fuel polisher and forgot to return the fuel lever to its normal operating position.

Well, as the reader can see from the title of this episode, we are on our way to Panama. I miscalculated the distance too, its closer to 1000 miles non-stop.

Following the weather forecasts we left on Monday. I first went ashore to post a couple of letters and spend the last of our Bahamian dollars. (US$ and B$ are interchangeable in the Bahamas, but obviously only the former are usable anywhere else). I bought Cadbury's chocolate and a newspaper. Then back aboard, stowed the dinghy and tidied around. I take the heavier 6hp 4-stroke Tohatsu off the dinghy for sea passages and stow it on a mount on the rail. I put the small and light spare Mercury 2.5 2-stroke on instead. Less strain on the falls if we meet heavy weather. We were not in a rush to leave as later in the day we were going through Hog Cay Cut, where we needed a high tide. More on this in a minute. So it was about 1000 when we raised the anchor and got underway. We detoured a few hundred metres so we could wave goodbye to the crew of Unbound, and to Lilly on Folido, who was waving enthusiastically. I know she will cry to see us go, and M&N will miss her. She is a lovely warm lady, of great beauty despite her advanced years. I was also impressed with the character and intelligence of her brother Jean-Guy.

Our route took us SE down Elizabeth Harbour for about 5 miles, then out a winding channel into Exuma Sound. There were a lot of other boats leaving at the same time for this weather window, probably about 15. Some were going to go East to Long Island, and several would accompany us through Hog Cay Cut, but then take a more Westerly course as they were going to the Jumentos Cays for a few days. Apparently wonderful diving and fishing. One was a 37' Lagoon called 'Molly Bloom' whom Chris and Karyn had befriended.

Hog Cay Cut is a narrow winding channel between the SE end of Little Exuma Island and Hog Cay, about 10 miles from Elizabeth Harbour. The channel itself was deep enough, although with the tidal current swirling through it, it needed great care to avoid being swept out of the main channel on the tight turns. However, on the South side, there is a bar. At least, that's what locals call it. Actually its miles of sand flats with no appreciable channel, and all the same depth. And that is very shallow! As we went across it, 1 hour before high water, my depth sounder showed only dashes for nearly three miles. That's within a foot or so of my keel!!! Anyway, we got across without grounding. The alternative was an extra 75 miles round the top of Long Island, so a big saving. I would not do this if there were West winds, but with prevailing Easterlies it was quite calm. Only for shallow-draft vessels!

From then on, heading SE across the banks to the West of Long Island we had a wonderful sail. A fourth boat had joined  us, Bodine, a Fountain Pajot 38' Athena. She was also headed for the Windward Passage, but was then intending to go to the South coast of Cuba. Jade proved fastest with my UPS gennaker up.

When we entered the deep water South of the banks, the wind was forecast to gradually ease off from the current 15-20. Well, it didn't. By late evening we had 25 knots gusting to 30, and had furthermore lost the shelter of Long Island to the West.  It was very rough and unpleasant, with no regular wave pattern. Early in the morning it started to ease, but then also veered to SE, meaning that I could not make the course to the Windward Passage. It was a tactical error of mine. I should have made as much Easting as I could when I had the chance, but my decision was influenced by being averse to beating to windward in rough seas. Understandable, but wrong, as I knew from the forecast that the wind would veer. Instead I ended up motoring to windward and lost almost 25 miles on Magic Carpet, who had sailed cleverly, and Chat D'O who had motored early. Luckily, after a short bout with mal-de-mer, we got into the Windward Passage, and it became quite calm. The other two had waited for me, and I arrived with Bodine close behind, who had been a bit smarter than me, but was a slower boat. During this time I found that not only was my SSB receiving poorly, I could not make even close boats hear me. Thank you Tropica, its obviously an installation problem, and no agent for thousands of miles.

We motored in calm for the next 24 hours. Very economically to stay together with Magic Carpet who go about 5.5 knots with their outboard (9.9 4-stroke Yamaha with high-thrust prop and prop thrust ring)

Following a forecast and advice from Chris Parker's weather, when we were due East of Jamaica we headed due South, that was well East of the Rhum line. This was because of forecast winds from the East, so we needed to gain some Easting to allow us a better wind angle later, especially as the Trades were forecast to hot up. Since the Windward Passage Chat D'O has been struggling to keep up. Must be some difference between her and Jade. Bodine had a drama, blowing a head gasket, but eventually, after considering turning back, decided to continue to Cuba.

Its now Friday. We have done OK, and have passed our notional waypoint a which we turned to the direct course for Colon. Bill has caught 2 fish, a Wahoo and a Tuna, but although we are trolling a line, nothing so far. Wind has got up to 20 knots, so as we are on schedule, we are just using a double reefed main, wind on the port quarter, making about 6-7 knots. Despite the brisk winds, the seas have not got up too much. As soon as Chat D'O catches up (again) we will re-hoist the jib until sunset, or until the wind freshens further. It is a lovely day, with no clouds, cool, and white horses decorating the sea. Panama by Monday morning, that's exactly one week passage.

Georgetown             3/2/06

We did indeed get to town OK, and we did indeed get wet on the way back. However, our Walker Bay RID310 is better than most of the dinghys here, except the larger RIBs in as much as wetness is concerned. The Chinese meal was stupendous. Both Debbie from Unbound and Karen from Dancer helped, but biggest help was Lillie who stayed overnight. Her brother on their tiny boat Folido had his girlfriend visiting, so a sleepover with us for Lillie was very politic! She loves our children so much, she will be very sad to see us leave. The party itself was really great, and Cam did an amazing job with the meal. It helped that she had ingredients from Hong Kong, such as hair vegetables and Chinese mushrooms, but she worked miracles, and produced a whole range of tasty dishes that easily fed the 20 people we had aboard. Yes, 20!!! There were Unbound, Dancer, Folido, and Bill & Lin from Chat D'O. Trio came after the meal but their daughter Maggie came. Bill had supplied a large fillet of yellow snapper he had caught, which made a wonderful dish of sweet & sour fish, much liked by the kids who scoffed it quick. Unfortunately Chris and Karyn from Magic carpet couldn't come. During the last week or so we have become very good friends with the two other boats mentioned, Dancer, a Halberg Rassy Rasmus 31, with Karen a doctor and her husband David, a boat builder, and their charming and bright daughter Cathryn, who is exceptional kind and thoughtful to M&N. The other is Trio, a Bavaria 42 with Odette & Claude and their equally wonderful daughter Maggie, who Nancy particularly loves. Since the party this group of kids has spent almost every day together, with sleepovers, beach games etc etc. For myself, I like all these people, but I have developed a particular afinity for Tim from Unbound. He and I seem to share such a lot of interests, such as boats, motorcycles and our attitudes.

In a much earlier section of this diary, I mentioned the poignancy of my seeing Magic Carpet motor into the distance when we separated from them in the Alligator River in July, on our way North. Of course, since then we have met them again several times and are now travelling together, but I did note that I wondered if I would be able to deal with these partings. I still wonder. We are planning to leave this Sunday, or Monday, and will have to say goodbye, probably for ever, to people who have become firm friends. These people are not circumnavigators who we will see again somewhere on route. they will make their way back to the USA, or Canada, after the winter season, and perhaps do this again next year, by which time we will be thousands of miles away. Even if we complete our circumnavigation, it will be 5 years at least before we can return to the USA, by which time their children will have grown up. Ah well.

As I mentioned, we are planning our departure. Magic Carpet, Chat D'O and ourselves will leave with the next weather front. Bill pays Chris Parker of the Caribbean Weathernet for personal forecasts. Parker is on the SSB every morning, and he is exceptionally accurate. We are expecting the front to come through on Saturday night. Tomorrow morning we will be able to hear Chris tell Bill whether the front will be very vigorous. If it is, we will wait until Monday, otherwise Sunday we are off as the wind switches round to NW. We expect the weather in the Windward Passage to be light and variable, which is preferable to strong trades, because they get funnelled there. If the forecast is consistent with this morning, we will go round Long Island to the North, and then down its East side. Should be a large swell. Then we keep on going SSE for a day and a half. Once we get into the Passage we can alter course to the SSW and soon, hopefully, pick up the Easterly trades which will give us a very broad reach all the way to our destination. The total distance is 750 miles, a fair run, but we have some options on route, such as Port Antonio in Jamaica, or even Southern Cuba.

To prepare, I have rigged the sea anchor and stowage has been prepared for all moveable items. For the last two days we have been provisioning. It is expensive here, but I consider a bird in the hand worth two in the bush, and we might have no further opportunities for a month or so if we spend time in the San Blas Islands of Panama. Tomorrow, (Saturday) I will take Jade across the harbour to Georgetown and fil with diesel. then we will anchor near Magic carpet and Chat D'O to await our departure. Lillie & Folido, and Trio will also be across there, so we can say more goodbyes to them then.

The generator cut out a few minutes ago. I wonder what caused that? Another boat problem. Another Oh Well!

Back to list

Georgetown, Bahamas, 27-1-2006¡¡

 Well, I'm not as regular in writing my diary as I should be, but my excuse is, we are still in Georgetown. Nevertheless, there are still many things to describe. During these weeks we have discovered several nice new spots. best of all, on the Exuma Sound beach, and about 1 mile North of here, there is a formation of rocks on the edge of the water, and at half tide or higher, the waves, if there are some, surge through a gap in the rocks and tumble in a mass of foam into a little sandy pool. It is thus called the Jacuzi, and having been there twice now, M&N call it their favourite spot. I have also discovered the other supermarlet, 'Shoprite' which is not where it is shown in the cruising guide, but is actually across the lagoon from Exuma Markets. I think we will buy much stuff there, because its where the locals shop, and some goods are cheaper (but not cheap except certain Govt. subsidized goods like New Zealand butter and eggs.)

I heard from Cam the sad news that YEUNG Chi-kong, 'Jeff' has passed away, on 2nd January, having defeated the doctor's prediction that he would not survive December. He had, according to Cam, a peaceful end with a large smile on his face. Vivian, Cam and Terence were with him, and he slipped away whilst they chatted alongside his bed.  The family did a wonderful multi-media tribute to him as part of the funeral, which was intended to be happy rather than solemn, and a celebration of his life rather than bewailing his death. I was most impressed when I heard, and saw the web site. Many of his friends from the media worked selflessly, and quickly, to make this possible.

Cam thus returned on 21st, having had time to help with the funeral, and do our affairs. Just before she returned, I decided to get Jade's bottom done. The price quoted by the local Georgetown Marine was acceptable. I might have been able to get it done in Panama, perhaps more cheaply, but I am not sure, and after Panama it will be a long time before facilities are available. I want her to sail at her best on these longer passages. We had to motor about 6 miles, in strong winds, to get to Redshanks Bay near where the boatyard is located. They have a decent travel lift, which can accommodate 21' 6". Applaud the common sense of the designers of Mantas making them 21' wide. It was not much fun being on the hard for 3 days and nights. We could not wash, shower or wash up until evening when the day's coat of paint had dried, as the grey water just runs out the bottom. I had three full coats of 'Island 44' put on. This has tin in it, and is thus unavailable in countries with more strict regulations. Of course, these regulations, where they exist, are ridiculous as merchant ships with thousands of square feet of hull surface are not required to comply! The first coat was black, as was her original bottom paint, and the next two coats were red. This looks very smart with her green boot topping and white topsides. I did discover, however, that the propellers, meant to be inward turning, are not. I have therefore informed Manta that I shall bill them for another slipping to change the output shafts at the first occasion when a competent engineer is available. Typical!

I also changed the annodes. I had been supplied by Manta, at great expense, with modified annodes to allow for the rope cutters fitted. I then discover that the threads for the attachments nuts had not been drilled deep enough. I had to tap them again, which caused a delay.

We launched on the afternoon of Cam's arrival. We were allowed to hang in the travel lift for a few hours so that I could do the bottoms of the keels. I also painted the props with hard anti-fouling, as they had been treated from new, and this treatment, to my surprise and contrary to my previous experience, had stayed attached.

Mark, the owner of the yard, allowed me to stay alongside the travel lift finger pier for the night, as it was blowing hard. This made it easier to get a taxi to fetch Cam, her flight arriving at 8pm.

Molly and Nancy were besides themselves with excitement. Molly could not sit still at the airport, but walked up and down like a caged tiger. They were so happy to see her, as was I.

As soon as she got back, the cleaning began. Of course, my idea of domestic cleanliness did not match hers. Within 24 hours, Jade was spotless, inside and out. The best thing, however, was opening Cam's bags. I had given her a long list of things I hoped she could buy, reminding her that they were not critical if she did not have the time. Well, she had got almost everything I had asked for, and much else besides. It was better than Christmas. It was even better to be a family again.

Since she came back, the weather has been mostly very windy. Its a different weather pattern than before. Earlier it was the frontal systems associated with depressions crossing the Southern USA and the Bahamas that brought strong winds which clock round as the front passes. In between it was quite gentle. However, now we have a much enhanced Bermuda High, and its effect is to enhance the Trade Winds, so most of the time we have strong Easterlies, and indeed, for the last several days, very strong Easterlies, around 25 knots. In between there were two days of gentle winds as a front moved through and disrupted the pattern. If these strong Trades persist, we shall have a fast, but uncomfortable, trip to Panama. I do hope we can get a weather window to get more gentle winds through the Windward Passage between Haiti and Cuba. To do this we need to get closer. From Georgetwon it is three or more days to this passage, and forecasts are unreliable for that length of time. I think we shall go to either Little Harbour on Long Island, or French Wells on Crooked Island (part of the Acklins group). From either spot it is two days or less to the Windward Passage. Magic Carpet will be going with us, which is great news.

Before cam arrived, Molly met a nice French Canadian lady called Lilly. Lilly is travelling with her brother on a small yacht, having recently lost her husband. Lilly sits on the beach every afternoon, and for the firts hour or so, before she has a gentle game of volleyball, she weaves little baskets or suchlike using a local leaf from a shrub. Molly was very interested, and so most days she has been making a little basket for Mummy, although Lilly has done some of it to help. Molly was very proud to give it to Mummy on her arrival. We also met some kids from other boats. First was ¦Ð², a large trimaran (very fast). dad is Austrian and Mum American, and they have two girls, one 7 and the other older. They seem very strict, but anyway, they were nice people and we had a couple of days with them, the girls all goty on well, and it was they who showed us the Jacuzi. Unfortunately, they left for a month to go back to Austria, and we shall be gone before their return. Luckily soon after we met Tim, Debbie, Bailey, Mary and Corbin from Unbound, a Fountain Pajot Venezia 42. We have got on very well with this family, and M&N have spent lots of time with them. I cooked them dinner and the kids normally meet on the beach most afternoons. After Cam came back, she took an instant liking to them also, as she did with Lilly. Of course, everybody likes Cam, I take that for granted.

Cam has got into the life here very quickly, and has started playing volleyball on the more 'professional' court where her skills were immediately recognised. She did find it very tiring playing on the sand, and agreed with me it would be very good training for the girls back home. (Masa, if you are reading this, please note and take the girls to the beach for training ever week. If they can jump to spike on sand, they can jump anywhere). We have also been for some nice walks, and one short trip to town. Yesterday I cooked another Xmas lunch, and again Chris and Karyn joined us, this time bringing their American friends. Well actually, he is English, though living in Florida. These are the people that befriended C&K during their travels up the US East Coast. It went well again, and the turkey was delicious. Karyn did another fruit cake with custard, and Cam opened her presents. On Sunday, Chinese News Year's Day, Cam is doing a Chinese meal for a whole crowd, including Lilly and her brother, and the gang from Unbound, which now includes their elder daughter who is visiting for a few days. That means tomorrow we have to shop in town. Now town is about a mile across the bay, directly downwind, and its blowing a constant 25 knots. Thus coming back in the dinghy is going to be VERY wet! I think it will auto-bail if I take the bung out. Hope so.

Back to list

 

Georgetown Bahamas 30th December 2005

 As I write, Christmas (without Cam) has passed , Sarah and Narayan have returned whence they came, and 2006 is approaching. It has been one of the more eventful years of my life, what with retirement, the QEII trip, and Jade. Jade is the best. After 8 months living aboard, I have grown into her, know most of the nooks and crannies in her, and know her motion. Molly & Nancy always describe her as 'home' in the sense of "Can we go home now?"

Narayan, as expected, has spent most of his time trying to find somewhere to surf. At the South end of Stocking Island, there is a narrow channel separating it from Elizabeth Island leading through into Exuma Sound. This is navigable by dinghy. The sound is deep ocean and can, depending on the weather, see quite large waves. We were told of a surfing spot just round the corner, and indeed, we could see how the swells were piling up on a piece of reef. However, the weather had been gentle for days, so these waves were modest. Still, Narayan persevered and had a few short rides. We did see a huge Manta Ray pass under the dinghy. During their stay they amused themselves by going to the beach or watching movies. They did not seem to want to try snorkelling.

Xmas Eve was terrific, because Magic Carpet suddenly arrived in the anchorage. This was quite unexpected as they had e-mailed to say that because of delays in Florida they probably wouldn't get to Georgetown for some time. I was really pleased to see them. Since I had a turkey and the oven, they were invited to come for Xmas Day. Karyn provided the Xmas cake, which was delicious. Not to disparage Narayan and Sarah, these guests transformed my Xmas. Perhaps I'm too old to relate to 22 yr olds in isolation (one of whom occasionally  reverts to 7 years old). I did a full Xmas lunch, with turkey with apricot stuffing, cranberry sauce, roast potatoes and peas, plus turkey gravy. We had Karyn's cake for afters, and we even had Xmas crackers. Molly & Nancy had piles of presents, they were surprised that not only had Santa managed to find them on Jade in the Bahamas, but had carried so much stuff. Jade was surprised that she was expected to carry this stuff in addition to everything else she was loaded with!

Anyway, on the 27th we took S &N to the airport, which is a little larger, but not much larger, than Marsh Harbour.

New Year's Eve we went to a pot luck party on Hamburger beach, which is round the corner from where we are. It was fun, but there were no other kids there. Still, at midnight we set off our own fireworks, provided by a generous boater. Everybody got some Roman Candles to play with. So, 2006. This year should take us to New Zealand.

Where we are anchored is called 'Hole 1'. It is a bay leading into the interior of Stocking Island. On the South side is a lovely beach on which is located the 'Chat 'n Chill' bar, a wooden hut full of old T-shirts and a big fat bar lady called Aileen. This beach is called 'Volleyball beach' because the bar owner has supplied four beach volleyball courts, which are very popular every afternoon. I hope Cam will join in when she gets here.

At the bottom of this small bay are two channels, one to the right and one to the left. They lead to three completely enclosed lagoons known as hole 2, hole 3 and hole 0, which occupy much of the centre of this part of Stocking Island. We could have a mooring in there, but I am not so sure it is clean as most boats discharge their waste directly into the sea. Out here the regular tides scour it away, but in those enclosed lagoons?  However, you wouldn't think so to see the sparkling clear water.

A short walk across the island are beautiful beaches facing onto Exuma Sound, where it can get rough as it is almost open ocean. Further South along Stocking Island is Sand Dollar Beach. This is where the famous sand dollars are found. When these sea creatures die, the remaining shell is left. It is white with a flower pattern on, about 2" across. Further north is Hamburger Beach, so named for a hamburger stall on it. Apart from a couple of holiday houses, there are no other habitations on this island, which is about 3 miles long. Across the main Elizabeth Harbour is Georgetown. This is a pretty small town, but it is very convenient for the boaters. It has a lagoon which is entered through a very narrow and low bridge under the road, so dinghys only, but the local supermarket, 'Exuma Markets' provides a dinghy jetty which is right behind the supermarket. There are a few other shops and small restaurants, and a place we like, the Peace and Plenty Hotel where, as a treat, you can sit by the pool and drink a reasonably priced beverage and eat a very expensive hamburger & fries. The prices in the supermarket are generally high, often twice or more the US price. Good thing we stocked up on loads of stuff, but I still need to buy fresh produce. Still, they do sell things you can't get in the USA, like UHT milk and McVities chocolate digestives!

Back to list

¡¡

Allen's Cay 17th Dec. 2005

 Well, a lot has happened, and I have been a bit too busy to write my diary. We did indeed go through Whale Cay passage, without any drama. There was a bit of a swell, but nothing serious. It was then an easy run to Marsh Harbour where we got a good anchorage in the SE corner of the large bay. That first day we arrived, there was a fete in a field next to the town. I had a brief look during a quick explore ashore, and there was the Royal Bahamian Police band playing and marching up and down the street, very entertaining. Suddenly they broke into a Calypso number, and the band master pulled a lady tourist out of the crowd and began dancing with her! Different to the HKP band. Dear old Colin Wood would never have gone for that. All of us went over to see it in the evening, and this time, they had the 'Pop' version of the police band. They were great... all calypso band music with a beautiful WPC as one of the singers. As the kids were getting tired, we went back aboard Jade, but were in time to watch, with a perfect view, a really good firework display.

However, a pleasure was interrupted the day after by the worrying news that Jeff is in a really bad way, and obviously Vivian, Cam's sister, is under tremendous physical and mental stress trying to care for him. We have all been praying, but it looks like God has a place ready for him. We decided that Cam has to go back to HK as soon as possible to help Vivian and give her some support. This is a heavy burden for me and the children, to do without her for what might be an extended period. Nevertheless, we both agreed that it is the only thing that can be done in the circumstances. Cam struggled all day with a poor internet connection and booked a flight to Miami, and a return from Miami to HK, via Chicago and Seoul. What a long drag for her, but still, it is always worse for those saying goodbye, and so it proved the next day when we saw her off at the small Marsh Harbour airport. Nancy took it worst, but after a short while, they appear to have got over it. Since then, as I write, they have not mentioned her, but Nancy has had difficulties with her toilet habits, and I suspect this is related.

Narayan and Sarah arrived on the Wednesday, but on a later flight. The kids and I had gone to the airport to meet them, but no show. We discovered after they arrived that they had missed their flight in Miami. Anyway, they got here by 3pm, and our backup plan as to how to contact us worked ok. Watching the weather for our journey further South, we made a half day run inside the sea of Abaco down to Little Harbour. The idea was that we would be as close as possible to our destination across the NW Providence Channel. Entering Little Harbour was a game. It was supposed to have a least draft of  3.7'. Our arrival was about 2 hours after low water, but as we got to the last marker almost into the tiny enclosed bay, we grounded on the starboard hull. I was going very slowly, and it was sand . As we sat there, two boats in the bay called on the radio, and the message was 'don't worry, I have more draft than you and I can get in at this state of tide'. My response was 'well, that's as maybe, but I'm in the middle of this tiny channel, and I'm aground!' Anyway, we got off easily, and then I took us back outside to hang around for half an hour for more water. When I came back in again, I kept as far to port as possible on the basis that it had been starboard that had grounded, and indeed, we made it without touching. There we picked up a mooring from Pete's pub, with a struggle as it was blowing strongly. It is, however, a completely enclosed very small bay, so shelter from waves was absolute, but it is only half a mile to the straightforward channel through the reef.

We all went ashore to Pete's Pub, where we had a very jolly evening, and I met a nice cruising couple for a chat.

The following morning the forecast was good for the open sea crossing, so I got us going. Unfortunately I felt like sh*t. I had not had too much to drink the night before, but I guess I was not used to the alcohol, because I was ill all morning. This was not helped by the large swell we were motoring into, so I had an awful morning, basically saved by Molly who kept a lookout whilst I laid down in the cockpit. By afternoon I had recovered somewhat, and we made landfall at an excellent harbour in an enclosed bay at Royal Island, near Spanish Wells. This uninhabited island's named became corrupted from the original 'Real' Island as in Spanish Reals, so named because of the pirates that used to operate from there. I reluctantly skipped a visit to Spanish Wells, a supposedly  prosperous and well-maintained fishing community. So instead, the next morning we again sailed early. This time we had good winds, on the beam. After an hour we went through 'Current Cut' so named because much of the tides entering and  leaving the bight to the West of Eleuthera have to go through it. I had timed it so it was with us, and we shot through the scenic gap at nearly 10 knots. One has to take care as a sharp turn to starboard is required as soon as one exits, and it is easy to let the current sweep you too wide. Even though I was ready for this, it still did, but I knew where the reef was, so we go back into the channel OK. From there we had an interesting sail South. The waters are more sheltered, although there was a stiff chop in some places. Then for a section of about 15 miles, the charts note 'isolated coral heads' with crosses all over the place. Their positions are approximate, so no help. This would be an area that in the past I would have avoided. I had been assured by others that careful observation allows easy avoidance of the coral patches, and this advice is repeated in the cruising guides. It is indeed true that the coral patches showed up very clearly as brown patches against the whitish blue of the surrounding shallow sandy sea. The water here in the Bahamas is crystal clear, so this helps. We wound around a lot of these coral patches, and only in one spot where they seemed to be stretched across our path without break did I have a problem. There I had to start an engine and motor into the wind for half a mile to find a way through. thereafter they became less frequent and we had no more trouble. I do not know if we would have actually hit any had we crossed them. I suspect that in most cases this would be no, but I don't want to try it after dark. In the middle of the afternoon we reached our destination, a sheltered anchorage between three small islands known as Allen Cays. Whilst this spot was partly chosen because of its convenient distance for us, and good anchorage, there was another reason... the Iguanas! There is a species of Iguana found on some of these Exuma Islands, and Allen Cay is the best know spot. And as we came into anchor, there they were, on the beach looking like some prehistoric creatures. It became obvious that they rely to some extent on human visitors, as a power boat full of trippers arrived who went ashore and fed them. They are very bold and I am told they can bite. They are about 3' long, the biggest of them. They are vegetarian, and more interestingly, they do not swim, unlike the marine versions found in the Galapagos. One wonders how they got there because these islands are small. I do know that the larger iguanas found in Fort Lauderdale can swim. Perhaps these Bahamian ones did too, in the past, but lost the ability?

We spent a rest day there with lots of shore visits and swimming at the lovely beach. I also met, finally, the crew of Shondelle, the vessel we had spoken to so much on the radio whilst in Cocoa on the ICW. They had the mast too tall for the bridges, and had made the passage South with us overnight from Port Canaveral. They had gone on to Miami whilst we stopped at Fort Lauderdale. They were amongst the half dozen yachts anchored at Allen Cay, spotted us and hailed me.

Our penultimate passage was, unfortunately, a motor in absolutely calm seas along the banks on the West side of the cays down to Black Point. This is the largest community other than Georgetown. The anchorage was off the govt. pier in good holding, with no other boats. Probably because the bay is open to the West, but with a forecast of very light winds from the East, it turned out to be a good anchorage. We went ashore and took a walk through the little village, with a few stores and restaurants, and a nice bar. There we had a soft and watched the news on Cable TV of a seaplane crash in Miami Bay. This was a Bahamian airline flying in and out of Bimini, so the 20 dead has really hit the Bahamas in general and Bimini in particular. We went to a small store where you can buy staples. Here I found UHT milk, which you can't get in the US. bread also. We finished off with a nice meal in a small restaurant where we were the only customers.

The last voyage of this stage of our travels took us through a cut North of Great Guana Cay into the Exuma Sound, which is really a piece of Atlantic Ocean. It was pretty calm, although I was able to motor-sail for part of the 45 miles down to Georgetown. The anchorage at Georgetown is formed by the channel between Stocking Island and the main Great Exuma Island on which the town is located. Since it is possible to get moderately uncomfortable conditions if the wind blows up or down the harbour, which lies NW-SE, I managed to find a space tucked in to a cove next to the 'Chat 'n Chill' bar on Volleyball Beach. There were at least 20 yachts anchored in the area, so I was lucky to find a space to tuck in. Altogether however, Elizabeth harbour can easily hold the over 400 boats that are there at the peak of the season in February. It is 1 mile wide and 5 miles long, with numerous other bays and corners. Our cove actually has a narrow channel leading to three lagoons literally in the centre of Stocking Island. We could access all of them with our draft, but it would probably mean taking a paid mooring instead of anchoring, because the few remaining anchoring spots are normally taken. These holes are worth knowing however, as they are completely sheltered, and one could expect to survive a modest hurricane within them. I have discovered that the channel where I am anchored is known locally as 'Hole 1'.  Back to list

¡¡

Green Turtle Cay 9th December 2005

We have done very little during our stay here. Until today it has been blowing a gale constantly. There is now a lull, but another front is following the first, and may reach us later tomorrow. I am hoping it will be later, since we hope to get to Marsh Harbour to pick up Sarah and Naryan on Wednesday. Marsh Harbour is only 20 miles away, but to get there we have to exit the sea of Abaco through a channel next to Whale Cay, as the inner passage has silted and is too shallow. One then turns back inside on the far side of Whale Cay. Unfortunately this channel has a shallow bar and is exposed to the ocean with no protective reef, so if there is any strong wind, or swell, coming in from the ocean, the channel is not navigable. It develops what they call locally a 'rage'. An excellent description of the towering breaking waves which form. If the light winds continue overnight and into midday tomorrow, the ocean seas may have quieted enough to make the channel passable. I will listen to the local forecast on SSB at 0630 tomorrow, then get on the cruiser net on VHF 68 at 0800, and hopefully somebody will be able to tell me if it is passable. If nobody knows, we'll go and look at it, provided the next front hasn't provoked a resumption of the Easterly winds from the ocean. It will not be a disaster if we can't make it. We'll just have to get hold of Sarah on the phone and tell her to get a taxi from Marsh Harbour airport to Treasure Cay where a US$10 ferry will take her across here and drop her right aboard Jade. The next problem will then be whether we can get to Georgetown in time to drop them off on, I believe, 27th. We still have to get through that channel, and subsequently about 50 miles of the 175 miles to Georgetown is an open ocean passage. I don't want to frighten them!

Fortunately we have met some cruisers who have spent years cruising the Bahamas, and they have given us excellent suggestions on where to visit, especially in the Exumas in the Southern parts.

Today I have completed a few useful jobs. I have tightened the breather on the port toilet in the hope that the occasional smells can be eliminated. Swapped over the outboards, since the 6hp will be better for the longer dinghy rides we expect to make in these waters. I'll put waypoints in the plotter tonight, and also re-fit the impeller speed log and second echo sounder, which have been disconnected ever since Bradenton.

I am looking forward to getting to a place where we can do some snorkelling. I have made some progress with setting up the sat phone. We can now make calls out, but I still don't know the phone numbers for people to call us. I await KVH replying to my e-mail. I still have to fit the telephone aerial booster and the Pactor modem for the SSB. Lots to do actually. Living on a sailboat is a full time job, especially with kids.

The news from Hong Kong about Jeff is not good, and we are praying for him. Back to list

¡¡

Green Turtle Cay 7th December 2005

 I found a telephone number in Noonsite (www.noonsite.com the web site for cruisers) of the Customs in Fort Lauderdale where I could apparently find out information on checking out procedures. I spoke to officer 'Menendez', who had no idea, but asked me to call back in 10 minutes. I gave him 20, then called to find he still had no idea. I waited whilst he found somebody, but at least he said "Don't hang up, OK?" His instruction was to post the I94 slips from our passports to an address he gave me, and then leave. Well, that's exactly what I did, although it may well be the wrong procedure, who knows with these bozos. (Bozo is an American word for an idiot of many descriptions, synonymous with customs officers, who all qualify).

We stuck to our plan, which meant a pretty lethargic start to the day, a Sunday. First I took the hire car back to Enterprise, and whilst waiting for their office to open, I visited the Publix supermarket next door, where, lo and behold, I found the Tang (orange juice powder) we had been looking for for weeks. I eyed the nearby Barnes & Noble longingly, but decided I had better get back to Jade, and therefore took the Enterprise free ride back. I shall miss B&N with their wonderful display of books and magazines, and their Starbucks cafe.

I also had time to take the dinghy (still unnamed) further up the New River. I went about 2 miles, and the houses were fantastic, really.

All the pre-sea checks were made, and considering that this was a true offshore trip, I took extra care to stow everything properly, and check the rig etc. Engines had been freshly serviced, we were loaded to the gunwales with stores, so this was it! At about 3 pm we headed down the river, through the three bascule bridges (7th Ave., Andrews Ave. and 3rd Ave.) and pulled in to Fort Lauderdale Marina for 75 gallons of diesel. Then we swanned around for 25 minutes for the 17th St. Causeway Bridge, which opens half-hourly, and then headed out the Port Everglades channel into the Atlantic, just ahead of an enormous Carnival cruise liner. This channel was the roughest part of the trip, as expected, because it was Sunday, and all the sport fishing boats, many of them large with 2000hp engines, come charging in and out at full speed, and their wakes are enormous. When we got out into the ocean, it was dusk, and I found I could not quite make our intended course, NE, because the wind was just North of East, instead of South of East as forecast. Bear in mind that I expected that soon the Gulf Stream would be setting us North at around 3 knots, which, although it would help us, meant I did have to make my Easting to ensure I was not swept past our destination. However, as expected, the wind gradually veered as the night progressed, and so although the first part of the night was spent going too far North, we were eventually able to correct. Jade seemed very eager for the new horizons, as she went really well, even close-hauled. Too eager, as I did not want to enter the shallow Little Bahamas Bank until daylight. The crossing of the stream itself was pretty uneventful. A couple of ships to avoid, a little bumpiness from a confused sea, but nothing dramatic. Despite trying to slow Jade down, I still had to heave to for half an hour, and then crossed from 700 metres to 3 metres in 1 mile just South of Memory Rock. Bahamas waters! Cam had taken the first part of the night, giving me a couple of hours rest, and I took over from 0100, then right through the next day... exhausting!

It was extraordinary at first, crossing the banks, as you can see the bottom clearly, and although no land was visible, it was very calm and we could have anchored anywhere. Still, I was set on reaching Great Sale Cay, as recommended by cruisers we met. This is a large mangrove island with a protected bay in the South giving a very good anchorage sheltered from all but South winds. It was just as good as reports said, and there were half a dozen other yachts there, but plenty of room. We were anchored by 1630, and it was a stunning evening, with the stars bright and the Milky Way clearly visible. The last time this was seen from Hong Kong was 1971! The beautiful evening gave us a false sense of security. At about 3am I awoke to exceptionally loud drumming and icy water pouring onto my legs. This was accompanied by screams from the kids in the other hull. It was a sudden and torrential downpour, and we had left all six upper deck hatches wide open. What a panic! We struggled to rush round and shut everything as quickly as possible, but beds, books, tables and floors were all wet. Still, I was knackered from my sleepless night previously, and so soon went back to sleep. Actually I overslept a bit, and did not get us under way until 0745. It was another beautiful day, but we had quite a long run to Green Turtle Cay. The wind, ominously, was from right behind us, i.e. NW, which meant that the forecast front was indeed on our heels. The wind was light, and therefore no use, so we motored all day. As we approached our destination, the wind began to pick up, and there was a line of clouds behind us. I had a decision to make. Green Turtle Cay has two completely enclosed bays, White Sound and Black Sound. I wanted to be in the latter, as it is close to the settlement of New Providence where I needed to clear in the next day. However, I read in the pilot book that holding was very poor in Black Sound but some moorings were available at $10 per night. White Sound also had moorings, but also decent holding for anchoring. My dilemma was that if I entered Black Sound and found all the moorings taken, I couldn't anchor there and it would be too dark to go back out and enter White Sound. In the end I decided to take a chance on Black Sound. This has a very tight entrance marked with posts, and is very shallow. It was low tide on our arrival, but once again the shallow draft of catamarans enabled us to proceed right in, instead of waiting, as most monohulls would have had to do. We picked up a mooring in the dusk in the hope it was not a private one. Within minutes, it seemed, the wind was really picking up. Waiting outside would not have been an option, and we would have had to seek a bit of shelter, and had a very uncomfortable night. As it was we were pretty comfortable, as the Sound is only about 100 metres across. I did watch the mooring ropes carefully during the evening, as I could not be sure it was a substantial mooring, but the ropes were thick enough, giving me some confidence. It did howl all night, but the mooring has proved secure. In the morning, I first went to a nearby jetty where some guys were working. I asked if I was all right on the mooring. A black guy introduced himself as Kevin, and said " Sure Mon, it belong to my friend, you can pay me when you leave". I asked how long I could stay. He replied, with a big smile "All year Mon". Having reassured Cam that she would not be kicked off the mooring whilst I was away, I set off for the customs office. Only the Captain of a vessel is allowed to go ashore, and then only directly to the customs, until clearance has been granted. Our quarantine flag had been flying from the starboard spreader since we entered Bahamian waters. Technically, one is supposed to check in at the nearest port. This is honoured in the breach in the Bahamas. I had been told that in some places, the customs were either awkward, slow or corrupt, but that Green Turtle Cay was known for its convenience of checking in. The customs office is next to the post office in the small town. Nobody was there at 0915, and at 0930 I asked the post office ladies. They soon got in touch with the customs lady who was doing something else, and she soon appeared. Well, think of everything that I complained about in US customs officers, and this lady was the opposite. She was charming, friendly, helpful and very knowledgeable. Was she sloppy? Absolutely not, she asked all the right questions to ensure I was a bona fide visitor and not up to no good, but she did it in such a cheerful and polite manner. She helped me with the many forms, and at the end gave me some information leaflets about the area and welcomed me to the Bahamas, and she clearly meant it. I think she should be employed as a consultant by the US CIS to teach them how to do their job, but probably they would be too stupid to understand.

When I got back to Jade, it was with real pleasure that I lowered the Q flag and put up the Bahamas courtesy flag.

One other little episode needs mentioning. During Cam's watch on the way over, the autopilot again mysteriously switched itself to Standby, and before Cam noticed, she swung off course and gybed. The wind was not strong so there was no drama. Later,  however, early in the morning, Cam heard something hard drop on the cabin roof. Had I not been so tired, I would have reacted more quickly, but by the time I thought about it and then went to investigate, the Garhaur boom vang collapsed onto the deck, scraping the centre flexible windscreen in the process. This boom vang is a telescopic device with a ram and a strong spring. Left to itself it pushes the boom upwards, but has a rope tackle attached, lead to the cockpit, by which it can be compressed, thus lowering the boom. The idea of this device is that with it, you don't need a topping lift to support the boom when the sail is not hoisted, and you don't need a mainsail track. The combination of rigid vang and mainsheet will control the position of the boom end just as well, and more easily, than a mainsheet and track. However, I soon discovered that the upper end, which attaches to a tang under the boom, had fallen out because the nut had fallen off the bolt (undoubtedly what Cam had heard) and the bolt had worked almost completely clear, allowing it to come free. It could have been worse. The boom was off to one side with the following wind, and had it not been for the lazy jacks, the boom would have fallen onto one of the solar panels. It was easy to see why the problem had occurred. The bolt was not long enough, so although the nut had probably been nylock, like the one on the mast end, it would not go on far enough to engage the nylon and thus lock it. Over time it had eventually  worked loose. I had no spare nut, but since the winds were not strong, the weight of the boom was enough to maintain sail shape. Actually one can sail to windward perfectly well without it, as the mainsheet will hold the boom down, but one couldn't ease the boom far in strong winds downwind.

After leaving the customs office, I found a little hardware store where I was able to find another nut, but not a longer bolt of the correct diameter. I managed to get it on pretty tight, but I will have to watch it until I can also replace the bolt. At the same time, I set out to adjust the tackle, and then discovered another problem. The tackle attached to the vang at a tang with a shackle. (poetic if you speak double Dutch) Because the shackle was not quite the right size, the rigger had fitted it the other way round, such that the end of the pin had spent the last eight months gouging in to the metal of the vang. This made the third installation error with this vang, the first having been the shackle at the other end, which had allowed a bolt to gouge the block which exploded, and I had had to replace it with a longer shackle and buy a new block. I am going to send Manta a bill! This now makes me feel I had better have all my rig examined by a professional rigger before I head out across any oceans.

The rest of today has been spent having a nice walk around the town, which is pretty, but small. Tomorrow is our 10th wedding anniversary! As I write, in the evening, the wind is really howling. This is obviously a very vigorous front, and it is blowing a full gale outside. I am glad we are in such a tight and sheltered harbour. I note that the average wind speed for the last 10 minutes has been 30 knots. Its probably 40 out on the ocean. No place for sailors. Back to list

Ft. Lauderdale 3-12-05

This writing comes at a rather poignant time, as tomorrow we are leaving the USA.

Our stay in Fort Lauderdale has been made very enjoyable by several factors. Mike & Terri of MT Nest have been excellent company. They are such a kind and fun couple, and especially good to the children. We had several social sessions with them, as well as short chats. They left yesterday morning to go down to Miami, as their Bahamas destination is Nassau, for which they need to start further South. Their eventual destination is Venezuela via the Windward Islands, but there is a good chance we will meet them in Georgetown just after Xmas. I surely hope so. Cam cooked a wonderful dinner for them, their friends, and Bob & Roger from Manta Thursday night. It was brilliant.

Another reason is that Dan Even, whose house we are moored next to, is a kind and generous man. We had a lovely meal with he and his wife Sarah, and Mike & Terri, at Dan's Yacht Club. A further reason is that this time we hired a car for the whole stay. Fort Lauderdale is one of those places where you can't do much without one. We have done a fantastic amount of shopping, and bought, and somehow stowed, enough food to last for months. Thankyou Publix and Wal-mart. Of course food will be available where we are going, at least as far as Panama, but it is quite a bit more expensive, and some things are not available. Additionally Sarah & her boyfriend Naryan are coming to stay for two weeks, and they are vegetarians. (I should have told them to bring their own food.) Well I have bought pasta, cheese and lettuce. Hope they enjoy! We have also had delivery of several important things. Most of all Nancy's passport arrived safely. I also got the rope and bridle for the parachute sea anchor. Ours is a 12' Fiorentino. The rope is 450' of 5/8" braided nylon, with hard eyes in each end, and the bridles are similar, 40' each. I also have a large snatch block enabling me to make the anchor rope adjustable, albeit with a shorter bridle. Interestingly, this model of sea anchor was developed by the US West coast fishing industry, where it was a major competitive advantage to stay at sea during storms rather than running for harbour.  Thus they have a real pedigree representing hundreds of vessels using them regularly in gales.

Other kit I bought included a cellular phone antenna, which will enable us to get cell phone coverage up to 50 miles from a radio mast. I also got my Pactor modem so that I can set up an e-mail account with Sail Mail and receive through the SSB radio, as an alternative to the satellite system. I was unable to obtain a 'WiFi warrior' kit. This is an aerial to extend ones WiFi range, but I will persevere with this, as it will be very useful in civilised places. We won't be in any of those for about a year! I got two USB GPS devices. These were very cheap, and will work very well, but their compatibility with the software I have will possibly make their usefulness questionable. I will experiment with them soon.

The most important purchases were all the charts and pilot books. I spent well over $2000US in Bluewater Books & Charts. This is a great store for a sailor. I needed upgrades of my Caribbean digital charts, plus those for the Pacific as far as Australia, and I also needed paper charts, at least enough to be safe. Those made by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are cheap, because the Americans have concluded that, as public money paid for the surveys, the intellectual property rights are public. Thus you  pay a small amount for them which covers the cost and profit involved in copying them. Therefore many of my new charts are black and white photocopies, legally made and quite acceptable, but cheap. Likewise the digital charts are quite reasonable if they are based on NOAA data. Unfortunately NOAA only has its own data for US areas. Once you get out of near-US territory, you are probably using British Admiralty data or charts. They squeeze every cent the market will bear out of the intellectual property rights, even though they likewise funded the surveys with public money.

I also had to buy about a dozen pilot books and cruising guides, plus gnomonic and pilot charts and tide tables. Also small flags of the countries we will visit, as courtesy flags.

Two workers from Manta, including our friend Bob, came and fixed the watertight door into the cockpit, which should now be watertight. I have found out what I need to do to correct the heading error on the autopilot. The only problem not fixed is the poor performance of the aft AC unit, which I suspect is leaking gas. We'll do without, as the forward one can cool the whole boat anyway, and we rarely use it at anchor anyway.

My remaining jobs are servicing of  the engines, tidying and stowing, and that's about it. We have received a favourable weather forecast for tomorrow, SE winds 5-10 knots. They key thing when crossing the Gulf Stream is not to have any Northerly winds, as wind against current can quickly cause very bad seas. Even 10 knot winds can make it quite rough and uncomfortable, and 15-20 knots can make it dangerous. At this time of year in these latitudes, fronts regularly move in a SE direction over the US and into the Atlantic, interspersed with highs, so the wind tracks round in circles over several days, depending how fast the systems are moving. We read the marine weather forecast at least daily, and it gives a pretty good idea of wind direction, though local conditions can vary a lot. Still, they are very careful about their Gulf Stream area forecasts, as they well know how many people will be affected, and the risks of poor forecasts. We will only need to travel 15 miles East from Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades) to be well into the stream. For many hours it will give us a 3 knot boost as we head NE. Then suddenly, within a couple of miles, the depths will go from 700 metres to 2 metres as we cross onto the Little Bahama Bank. Our plan is to enter the banks near Memory Rock, then head for Great Sale Cay. The first part will be overnight to arrive on the banks in the daylight. However, we should be at Great Sale quite early the following afternoon, so we can anchor for a rest. Then on Tuesday another 45 miles takes us to Green Turtle Cay where we will check in. I hope that goes smoothly, touch wood!

I started today's passage by alluding to how poignant it is to be leaving the USA. We have been here for 8 months, enough time to almost 'belong' and have become very familiar with the culture, at least of the East coast. I don¡¯t even think about driving on the right any more. We have made many very fine friends, and we will miss some of the conveniences. What will I remember most? Definitely the wonderful houses on the waterways. We have seen tens of thousands, and the architecture and settings are superb. Overall I wouldn't choose to live in the USA... unless you gave me one of those lovely places on some creek near the ICW with my boat on a dock at the bottom of the garden. Of course, you might have to cancel the summer hurricanes in the South, or the cold winters in the North first! I will remember the Chesapeake with great fondness, especially Annapolis and Solomons, and best of all, Spa Creek in the former, where Scott & Tina live. Most of all, there is the amazing Intra-coastal Waterway (ICW). This is truly one of the wonders of the world, and so unrecognised as such amongst Americans. The main waterway is 1065 miles from Norfolk Va to Miami, but there are connecting waterways from Miami all the way to the Mexican border (with a few short breaks) and North of Norfolk to New York (but only for shallow-draft boats) That means well over 2000 miles of protected inshore waterways, with endless anchorage opportunities and places to visit, abundant wildlife in parts. Leading off it are hundreds of channels, rivers and bays navigable by boats like Jade. It would take a lifetime to see a large part of it. The Chesapeake alone is 300 miles long. There is nowhere like it on Earth.

We shan't miss the US Customs and Immigration officers. A bunch of useless, incompetent, rude and arrogant petty bureaucrats. Wait a minute, why should I be so restrained in my opinion? ASSHOLES.

Boaters in sport fishing boats. Power wires suspended from poles in the streets, ruining the beauty of many towns. The  endless numbers of SUVs causing global warming. Still, we set out to see something of the USA, and its culture, and we have done that. Our opinion of Americans is MUCH higher than it was before we arrived. (Except George Bush, who is an idiot).

A new part of the adventure beckons. I am a little nervous and excited, and much looking forward to the Bahamas. preferably less rushing about and schedules to meet. Back to list

Skull Creek SC 14-11-05

 Its amazing how time is rushing by. We are really on a schedule now. I went aground again leaving the anchorage at brown's inlet, and this time nearly in the middle of the ICW channel. Again a gentle one on mud. I wonder how much anti-fouling is left on my keels?

We did indeed anchor in Wrightsville Beach, before 3pm, as the kind bridge tender let us get through the highway bridge almost 15 minutes after its hourly opening time. There were quite a few vessels in front of us who took til probably nearly 10 past to get through, but he kept the whole highway waiting another 5 minutes for us. I told him that, thanks to him, our children would be able to go to the beach. I hope he felt good about that.  We did indeed take M&N to the lovely beach, and again they had a wonderful time, playing with sand castles, then wave dodging, and generally screaming and running around at full speed. Exactly what they needed. Walking back to go to a restaurant (where we had a good meal) we met a couple from another yacht, 'Tamure' (which is a Polynesian word for a dance) Scott & Kitty have circumnavigated twice, and have just returned from an Atlantic circuit. Tamure is a valiant 40, a famous cruising design, with a canoe stern. They joined us for a drink in the evening, and since Scott has such a fund of information, not to mention electronic charts for sharing, that we ended up spending the following morning with them as well. Despite being reluctant to slow our Southerly journey, this further stop was very worthwhile, and the weather was really awful, so just as well. Cam cooked them a Chinese dinner as some recompense for all the advice and info they had given us, especially about Bahamas and the South Pacific islands. Unfortunately Scott went home with an upset stomach. I hope it wasn't the food.

We left early the next day and made a good run inside the ICW to the first possible anchorage, near Little River Inlet. It turned out to be a good one, with several other boats taking advantage of a wide bend in a river. I made a very early start the next morning, as I decided with a good forecast I would go out of the inlet into the Atlantic. I had some trepidation because this is not a 'class A Inlet' and the chart comes with all sorts of warnings about changeable shoals and moved buoys, but the Maptech chartkit has an encouraging photograph which makes it seem quite straightforward. I was very relieved when a fishing trawler overtook me just after we set off, and happily set out to follow him out. I was very upset when after only a short distance he stopped and began fiddling with his trawling gear. Nevertheless, it did prove straightforward, with plenty of channel buoys, and off we went. We motor-sailed, but at very economical RPM on one engine, all the way to Winyah Bay where we had nearly been eaten alive by mosquitos months earlier with Magic Carpet. And there iin the anchorage we saw Peace, the Wharram catamaran we had met in Deltaville with Ann and Neville. Unfortunately Neville was abed with a heavy cold, so I just had a long chat with Ann on the VHF. We may see them in the Bahamas also.

From Winyah Bay, and another early start, we ran down the ICW to Charleston, and anchored, as before, in the Ashly River opposite the Municipal Marina. I had begun suffering from a cold, the worst part of which was the coughing, so I hurried ashore to find a pharmacy. Taking the bicycle, and after a long ride, I found an Eckherd, and got my cough mixture and throat drops. I also found a Starbucks and a new York Times, so I managed a little quiet break for myself. My last visit to Charleston for some time, I guess. The coffee shop was filled with good looking young women, all apparently university students using their Sunday to visit the Addleston Library, which was opposite. A tip for any younger male readers... there seemed to be a distinct shortage of men!

I tried to make an early start this morning, but just after the anchorage on the way South from Charleston is the Wappoo Creek bascule bridge, which to my amazement, and that of several other yachts, does not open between 6am and 9am. If I waited, which would mean re-anchoring, we still would not have made our intended destination of Beaufort (Thats 'BEWFUT, SOUTH Carolina) by dark, and if we didn't, we wouldn't reach Isle of Hope by the next day (tomorrow). Thus I made a snap decision to go back out into the Atlantic. Tides favoured me, because it was about 6 miles to the ocean down the river estuary, but with the tide we were doing 8 knots on one engine. I tried to work out a destination by studying the charts as I went. My next saving was finding a break in the training wall marked by buoys meant to allow small craft to turn Southwest earlier without the need to go to the end of the ship channel. I was the only one of four yachts together to do this, but it was quite straightforward. There was a current much of the time with us, so I decided to be optimistic, and go beyond Beaufort, into Port Royal Sound. There was no wind, and in order to make it, I had to go most of the day on two engines, against my normal principles. After studying the chart of the approaches to port Royal Sound, I decided I did not need to go all the way round the shoals that extend well offshore before I could access the main channel. Instead there was a small deep channel close inshore that would save me at least 6-7 miles. My electronic charts, and my paper ones, both up-to-date, made it look quite feasible, if I was careful. I placed waypoints very precisely, and double-checked their position against the paper chart. I prepared some clearing bearings and courses, just in case my GPS or chartplotter failed in mid-negotiation. Well, never trust charts where shoals on the US coast are concerned. Clearly this area had not been re-surveyed for some time. I was expecting very shallow water to starboard, with breakers. I got that, but well into the areas I had placed my waypoints where it was supposed to be deep water. By moving further to port, I was bringing myself closer to what are described on the chart as the 'Great Northern Breakers'. Not a cheering name. Although without breakers, I could clearly see this line of shallow water between me and the ship channel, exactly where it was supposed to be. Well, I pressed on, at very slow speed, keeping between the breakers to the right and the shallows to the left, to a point where my charts said the shallows to the left should be easily deep enough for me to cross into the ship channel. Well, they clearly weren't as I could see small wavelets breaking on them. I was heading straight for the beach on the headland at the NE of the Sound entrance, and I went as close as I dared before turning to point and attempting to cross these shallows. The charts said I should have a minimum of 8' at MLW, but as we crept across, watching the depth sounder like a hawk, we made it with 1' to spare under the bottom. That means it was under 5' deep. Luckily with the wind and swell direction, this area was nearly calm. With any waves it would have been impossible. This sort of foray is only possible to attempt in a catamaran, not only because of the shallow draft, but because, with two engines, we can not only stop, we can turn on the spot to extricate ourselves. In a single engined vessel, there will always be a turning circle that may make escape impossible. I can also control the boat going astern almost as well as going ahead, so had the depth sounder indicated we were running out of water, I could have stopped, reversed over the same ground I entered for a short distance, then turn the boat on the spot and retrace my steps. Of course, not to be tried in rough or windy conditions. Well, actually, the depth sounder did indicate we were running out of water, but after all this time in shallow waters, I have got used to it, and I also know that just before the bottom touches, the numbers on the depth sounder turn to dashes, meaning it can't get a reading. The keels will touch first, and the propellers will still be clear. Catamarans are so superior, in almost every way!

A few hours ago we anchored in front of the Skull Creek Marina (great name). Why pay $1-50 per foot when we can anchor and get the same view for free? Our exertions today mean we can reach Isle of Hope tomorrow by early afternoon, giving us time to relax and meet our friends. We will stay a day, and leave Thursday morning. The weather forecast for Wednesday is bad anyway, with a front coming over and strong winds. Back to list

Brown's Inlet, NC 8th November 2005

 The night of the 6th/7th was not very restful for me. late in the evening I discovered our Fortress anchor had dragged a bit. Our position was very tight as we had Bahamian moored to stop us swinging. With the movement of the Fortress, we were still OK, but if it continued to drag, we would swing onto the main chain, which would probably hold, but put us very close to other vessels and some docks. However, as I stood and looked at the situation, I realised the wind had dropped completely, and we were no longer dragging. We were also out of any current, so I decided, given the late hour and that Cam was already asleep, to leave things as they were. Of course, in such situations it is difficult to sleep. At about 0500 I sensed some wind picking up, so I got up, and sat and waited and watched until 7-30. Then Cam helped me raise both anchors, and we went into the nearby Town Creek Marina to refuel. We took 75 gallons. I then decided to go through the bascule bridge into the main anchorage opposite Main St. in Beaufort and hope for an anchoring space. The reason was I was intending to make a very early start on Tuesday to do a long Atlantic leg to Wrightsville Beach, something we did on the way up months earlier.  However, this bascule bridge's first opening is 0700, so better to be on the seaward side of it. Luckily we did find a spot right in front of the museum and dinghy dock, and again Bahamian moored because of the regularly reversing tidal current in this spot, and the many other anchored and moored vessels around. This time however, there was a little more space, so I could put plenty of chain out, and plenty of rope to the Fortress, and ensure both were dug in. We then phoned and booked a hire car, but the earliest they could pick us up was 1100. We got away from the Enterprise office at 1140 in a very nice Dodge Grand Caravan ( a 7 seater). We thought the journey to Kill Devil Hills on the Outer Banks was just over 100 miles. Turns out it was MUCH further, and took us 3 1/2 hours without any holdups. Allowing for a lunch stop, we got to the 'Exotic Furniture' store at 4pm, hoping the recommendation we had been given was accurate. There was a lot of nice stuff from Indonesia and Thailand, but no tables suitable for Jade. However, when they showed us some of the items on their intranet, we saw a table that looked promising, and went to the nearby warehouse to view it. We ended up buying an octagonal teak table with a fold out extension in the centre, which we believe will fit. We still face major problems as we have to partially dismantle it to get it into the saloon, and we have not decided whether to do modifications so it can use our existing pedestal, or to use the legs it has. The good news is that it is the right size & shape, and was at half price plus another 5% off because it has been out in the weather. We made a direct return to Beaufort, so it was a bit of a bore for M&N. We didn't even have time to go to the Kittyhawk site where the Wright Brothers made the first flight, which was nearby. Well, it was dark by the time we completed our table purchase. However, on the way back we did manage to stop at a Wal-Mart super centre for a quick shop.

This morning we got the table into the dinghy and onto Jade with surprisingly little trouble. The advantage of having a very stable dinghy. We have temporarily put it in the cockpit instead of our normal cockpit table. Actually it looks quite good there! For the rest of the morning we used the car to go to the post office, then to Ace Hardware (for wood glue... the table) and then to Wal-Mart again. I successfully got printer supplies from the big Staples next door, but Cam's plans to buy a wedding gift for a friend failed. I could have told her you only get junk in Wal-Mart. Still, she did buy 'junk' underwear for M&N, and it is at least very cheap junk.

As we doing our thing, I let on that I considered the day a bit of a waste, as I had been hoping to leave early and do the Atlantic offshore trip. I guess I was a bit miffed because I knew that wind would not suit for such a trip tomorrow or for some days. Anyway, Cam cheered me up by saying we may as well leave after we had returned the car, and at least make half a day's progress down the ICW, which is what we have done. We got underway at about 1300, and we have covered about 30 miles by dark (sunset is at 1711, and it gets dark very soon thereafter). We had targeted an anchorage recommended in one of our guides. The recommendation was to turn into a creek, which actually leads to Brown's Inlet and the ocean. It was described as an 'excellent' anchorage in 10-20' of water. As we turned carefully in (none of my charts, paper or digital, shows anything other than the creek outline) I saw a pretty large motor cruiser anchored some way in. This gave me confidence that it was indeed a good anchorage, so we decided to go just past this other vessel. However, we were not seeing the promised depths, and so, fortunately, I was going at minimum speed, but with quite a current. Not more than 100 metres from the bow of this anchored boat we went aground. Luckily as usual it was not too hard, probably soft sand or mud, and we managed to get off with engines. How the cruiser, with a draft double ours, got in there I have no idea. Certainly when the tide changes, he will swing on his anchor directly into the spot we ran aground. We managed to turn around and find a reasonable place in the mouth of the creek, on the edge of, but outside, the main ICW channel. I put plenty of cable down, and I am very confident of our Spade anchor, but currents are strong here, so I will check regularly until bed time, by which time we will firmly bedded in, or not.

One advantage of staying in the ICW is that this is a section we have not seen before. Where we are anchored we are on the edge of the huge Camp Lejeune military base. US Marine Corps guys train at Paris Island further South, and then most are based here. As I type I can hear helicopters flying around continually, and the occasional burst of distant machine gun fire. We had to telephone them en-route to ensure there was no artillery practice, as we are in the artillery range here!

Tomorrow we will probably go another 50 miles to Wrightsville Beach. Whilst we could probably push it and make Southport, there is a better anchorage in the former, with a very convenient supermarket next to the dinghy dock. This is the place where, on the way up, we had a lovely afternoon on the beach, followed by a really scary near-miss from a lightning bolt. I hope no thunderstorms this time. Back to list

Beaufort NC, 6th November 2005

 We did make enough speed crossing Albemarle Sound and up the Alligator River, to do the additional 20 odd miles through the canal to the Pungo River. This whole area is very remote, and there are wild wolves in the reserve to the East of the river, though we saw none. Also lots of black bears and deer. The sailing was bumpy, with strong winds in shallow waters, but luckily mostly at an angle to get a bit of help from the jib. Full sail would have meant tacking, and a slow passage. Once again we went very carefully through the Alligator River/Pungo River canal, as it is lined with tree stumps and snags from the erosion of all the power vessels tearing past. Can you believe there is no speed limit in a canal? Luckily we were only passed by one boat during our transit. We got to the other end and a nice anchorage in a beautiful creek just before dark. A short distance away was a motor cruiser at anchor, running a very noisy generator. He left it on all night. Firstly this was a beautiful place, and the noise quite inappropriate, but I can't understand the need. It would not take that long to charge batteries, and the weather needed neither heating nor AC. Just an ignorant thoughtless pathetic SOB I suppose.

The next day we had another excellent run, much of it under sail at over 8 knots, into the Neuse River. This waterway has a huge estuary leading into the Pamlico Sound, so on one side it looked like the open sea. I had intended to stop in Oriental for one or two days, as this is a famously pretty town, and well known to cruisers, but the sheltered anchorage was completely full. I could have anchored outside the breakwater in the open and wide river, but a front was due to pass, and this would be no place to be at anchor in strong winds, so we went on. Just 5-6 miles further, in Adams Creek we found another excellent and sheltered anchorage, only disturbed by the sound of rifle shots from deer hunters in the nearby woods. We kept low!

It was thus only a 20 mile run into Beaufort this morning, and very enjoyable, as Adams Creek is lined with nice houses, and I had to pass, or cross, several huge barges with pusher tugs.

We found a very tight anchorage in Town creek, next to the marina we stayed at on the way up. This time I saved the money by using two anchors in a Bahamian moor. I also used my new 8lb dinghy mushroom anchor as an angel on the rope anchor line. I believe angels are useless as an aid to improved holding, unless placed right at the shank of the anchor, but mine is intended to keep the rope low to stop it fouling the keel/rudders/props as the boat turns. We had a nice lunch in a cafe, and a browse of the shops, and bought a whole pile of second-hand children's books for a few dollars from a charity book van.

Tomorrow we are off to the Outer Banks by hire car. Back to list

¡¡

Coinjock 3rd November 2005

Our onward journey South  to Norfolk took two day sails. The first to Deltaville and then on again to the Waterside Marina right in downtown Norfolk next to the Battleship Wisconsin which we visited on the way North. On route to Deltaville we overtook a Wharram 45 catamaran and took some pictures for them, as they said they had never had any taken under sail. They later anchored near us in Fisherman¡¯s Bay near Deltaville. Neville and Ann are an amazing couple. She is American and sailed a 27¡¯ boat single-handed across the Atlantic to Ireland. She then married Neville who is Welsh and helped him build this very large Wharram Tiki (built in the style of Polynesian catamarans) on a farm in Wiltshire. They then sailed it across the Atlantic and all around the Americas. We had a long chat and a drink to discuss how they might improve the ease of handling of their rig. I have later discovered that they are adopting most of my suggestions, to get Harken Battcars for their main and mizzen so as they can hoist and reef single handed.

The sail down to Deltaville, and on to Norfolk, was done in strong winds from the quarter. I had one reef, and overtook everybody, including a trawler yacht. Our average was over 9 knots for both legs. A particularly fast course for us is dead downwind wing on wing. This is not normally recommended for a cat, it being a given that gybing downwind is faster, but we do go really quickly, and given the shorter distance travelled, I am convinced that, for us, this is the fastest method, as long as the wind is strongish. The only downside to these two day trips was that it was very bumpy. OK for me, but a bit rough on the ¡®crew¡¯ inside! I was really glad of my foul weather gear, as it was bracing, to say the least.

We arrived in Norfolk on the Saturday afternoon, with plenty of time to get organised and go and pick up a hire car. On Sunday we drove to Elizabeth City to visit Toni & Lyn Dupree with their children Elizabeth and Jake. These were the really nice peoiple we met by chance on the way up, and it was so nice to see them again. We had a great afternoon and evening with them, and the four kids got on, as before, really well. At their invitation we went back again on Monday, for what? It was Halloween!!! Cam prepared Chinese, to partially repay for the two excellent meals we have had at their home before. We were joined by another couple, Chris & Rebecca, friends of Toni & Lyn, with their daughter Caitlin. Then the kids, escorted by Lyn and followed by Chris, Cam & I, went Trick or Treating. What fun, this was the first time M&N had done this properly. They were dressed as an angel and a witch, respectively, whilst Elizabeth was a cheerleader (at Halloween!) and Jake was Darth Vader. Its a great neighbourhood for this, with plenty of nearby houses and quiet roads. It was a lovely starlit evening too. Most of the houses were prepared, and indicate so by having an outside light on. If they don't, you don't bother them. Many go even further, with elaborate decorations in the theme of the day, just to entertain the kids, often done by families who don't have children. All give generously of sweets, so I never saw any 'tricks' done, it was all treats. M&N got back to T&L's, after an exhausting 1 1/2 hours walking, absolutely loaded with pounds of sweets in a bag. Enough to supply us for months. We all enjoyed it, but at the end of the evening, we had to say a sad farewell to the Duprees, knowing it may be a long time before we see them again. We are encouraging them to fly out and visit us somewhere. Oh, by the way, on the Sunday afternoon, Cam went to church with Toni, who if I didn't mention it before, is a born-again Christian, and very keen to encourage others into the same path. After Cam's spiritual experiences in connection with Jeff (our Brother-in-law) and his illness, she is open to embracing religion. I am neither encouraging nor obstructing, she must do as her heart directs.

On Tuesday we went to Jamestown to see the site of the first English settlement in America. On a historical note, the Spanish settled in St. Augustine before Jamestown was founded, but since they were later all kicked out, Jamestown rates as the first settlement continuously occupied by people who later became Americans, if you see what I mean. This was in 1606. The main reason for our great interest is the connection with Pocahontas and John Smith. The story of Pocahontas is one that, for some reason, touches me very deeply. Any reader should look up her true story on the web, it is fascinating. Likewise John Smith, who was not her lover, but was her friend. He was one of the most amazing adventurers the world has seen.

Jamestown itself was eventually abandoned, and has now been revealed by Archaeologists. There is a statue of Pocahontas, and of John Smith. It is also an exceptionally beautiful spot, on the banks of the James River. I think Cam was a little disappointed that there was not much there, but for me, somehow I felt a real connection with that young Indian girl from so long ago, and I truly felt her presence was to be felt there, where she undoubtedly played and learned from the 'white men', and later married John Rolfe.

Afterwards we went to the Jamestown settlement and the glassworks. At the former we saw glass being blown on the site where it was done 400 years ealier, and in much the same way. The settlement is a museum which recreates much of the life of those old days, with 'living history' exponents who demonstrate and explain the lives of both English and indians of those days. There are also full working replicas of the three ships that took the original 104 settlers to Jamestown, although only the Susan Constant and the Discovery were there, and I went aboard both. The Discovery is a Pinnace, only about 35' on the waterline, yet she carried over 20 passengers and crew across the Atlantic. She was deliberately bought by the Virginia Company to enable exploration of the rivers and Chesapeake Bay. John Smith, not trained as a seaman or surveyor, used her, and an open boat from Susan Constant, to explore the Chesapeake, and produced an amazingly accurate map, which even today you could use to navigate. He apparently covered over 3000 miles round the bay during the summer of 2008. That year he was made Governor of the Virginia Colony, despite being a common man originally.

We had a very full day, so did not feel inclined to attempt Williamsburg. It was there that the colonists re-settled after abandoning Jamestown.

We decided on an extra day in Norfolk. After a real struggle, we put together all the paperwork to apply for an extension of stay to the USCIS for Cam & M&N. We also applied for a new passport for Nancy. I also managed to re-roll our new UPS sail. What happened was that I unfurled it as we left Solomons, and it worked beautifully, indeed, better than I expected. Unfortunately, I had used spinnaker clips to attach the sheets, and since this sail can take much more wind than a normal spinnaker, I left it up in 20 knots apparent, and the clips couldn't take it, and the working one shattered and the sheet came free. I had to roll it up as it was flogging, and it didn't roll properly. Another attempt to unroll it at Deltaville failed, and it ended up as a mess, so we laid it out on the lawn next to the Marina in Norfolk and rolled it up, at least well enough that it should unroll ok. It will roll up tighter when I re-roll it with the furler next time. I also got a propane bottle refilled, and filled the petrol container, and returned the hire car. The only job we did not get done was to mark the anchor chain. A job for later. In the evening we had a great BBQ with the folks on the Down East cruiser next door, and some of their friends. We ended up supplying half the food. Cam once again made a sponge cake to Toni's recipe, and this time it came out absolutely perfect. Eaten warm all agreed it was one of the nicest they had ever tasted.

Today we left the Marina at 0800 to catch the first opening of the lift bridge on the Elizabeth River at 0830 (unless you want to get up at 6). That went ok, but getting through the various other bridges, and especially the two bridges and one lock at the entrance to the Virginia Cut (Albermale and Chesapeake Canal) was a very slow process. For some reason they could not coordinate their timings, so we ended up waiting. I guess three bridges and a lock involved at least 2 hours waiting time. Still, it was a really lovely day, and the scenery very pretty. Once we got going in the canal, we made good progress, on one engine. This is the section we havn't seen before because we used the Great Dismal Swamp route on the way up.

Because of the delays, we arrived at the anchorage where I am writing this just before complete dark. The clocks have gone forwards so it is pitch black by 6pm. We are in a bend of the river, just South of Coinjock, after a day's run of 56 statute miles. Not bad given the late start and the delays. It is very calm at the moment, and I hope is stays so, as forecast. I plan to get off early in the morning and go another 50 odd miles to the Alligator River and anchor at the mouth of the Pungo River Canal. If we get some wind to help our speed, I might sail the first 30 miles, which is across the Albermale Sound, and then we might just do the extra 20 miles to get through the canal before anchoring for the night. We'll see. Anyway, time for bed. Back to list

Annapolis 13th & 27th October 2005

Well, its now the end of our week in Annapolis for the boat show.  I confess I have been looking forward to it immensely. We stayed on Scott¡¯s guest dock for two days, then I helped him to drive Sangaris to the show, as his boat was to be the Manta show boat. This entailed driving along Spa Creek, through the bascule bridge, round the corner in the inner harbour, and then manoeuvre into our show berth. The moment you have done so they literally build other docks around you, its very slick. Dan Even, the owner of Manta Catamarans, and Tina, joined us for this short delivery, as Scott was still at work. It was nice to meet Dan again, he is a very nice man, notable for his integrity. I did note he looked tired throughout the show. He has a minor (we hope) medical problem, his daughter is getting married, he has Manta and several other businesses to run¡­ he¡¯s burning the candle at both ends.

Later we moved Jade into Sangaris¡¯ slip, very convenient, and a huge bonus to have a free berth in the middle of Annapolis during boat show week. Those that can get them are paying $3.00 per foot for a berth. That¡¯s large American dollars! Once again we are indebted to Scott and Tina for their kindness.

The show was fun, I spent  most of two days helping on Sangaris with a group of other Manta owners. Everybody in Dan¡¯s sales force was a Manta owner (including Dan) and he was the only one being paid. Still, we got a free lunch and a nice dinner at Scott¡¯s on the Sunday. Scott & Tina did all the arranging and all the Manta owners in the area were invited. It was great. Pat was there, putting up with a lot of winding up from the owners, and we exchanged all sorts of information about the boats (which Pat doesn¡¯t like very much). We befriended several couples, but I must say, the whole group were nice. There is a tremendous loyalty and camaraderie amongst Manta owners. A lovely French Canadian couple were there who own Manta No. 1, which is apparently in good condition.

At the show I got an amazing bargain in buying two pairs of Sperry Topsider boating shoes for Cam & I at $5.00 each. With hindsight I should have bought several pairs! I also bought a new sail, a UPS gennaker from Doyle. This sail, although nominally a form of spinnaker, is very flat like a code 0, and will work at up to 45 degrees apparent, giving us some much-needed upwind power in light air, although the sail is made of Dacron, not nylon, and so will work in quite strong winds. Still, when the wind is strong we won¡¯t need it, as the small jib is more than enough with the large main in normal conditions. The deal also included replacing the factor continuous line furler with a much larger normal single line furler. I had begun to hate the existing system, even though Pat insists it is perfect and I am the cause of any problems. We shall see! A bonus was that Doyle sails arranged to return the old furler at full cost. This was a real deal as this small device apparently cost $900+ !!!! (I should have known this, but that little details got lost amongst the large sums of money I paid for the whole boat) The new, larger furler was only $500 so I got a refund!!!!! I also got 20% off the cost of the new sail as a show discount, so I was very pleased all round. The final purchase was a set of foul weather gear for Cam & I, also at show discount prices, about 30% off. As this stuff is very expensive, made of Goretex, it was a very worthwhile discount.

The only boat I saw in the show that I would swap for jade was a 48¡¯ Gunboat. This catamaran, made in South Africa, is stunning, being made of all epoxy, carbon and Kevlar, and exceptionally fast. The South African delivery crew claimed it got really frightening at 30knots, so they tended to reef early and keep it to around 20!!!!!!!! Amazingly they took deposits for four of these boats at the show, at $1.3 million US each, and that¡¯s before you fit any kit on them. Actually, prices are amazing. The 44¡¯ PDQ catamaran next to us in the show was asking $695,000, so Manta¡¯s current very well equipped price of $339,000 looks incredible, especially as it¡¯s the second best cat around. I would like one of those Gunboats. Readers should look up their web site to see what I mean.

Once Sangaris came out of the show we had to move, and could not use the guest dock as this was reserved for the manta power cat, which was in Annapolis for the powerboat show which immediately follows the sail boat show. We thus anchored in the creek a little way from Scott¡¯s, between two other Mantas and two Prout Snowgoose cats. It turned out to be very nice and we had the added bonus of free Wi Fi connection from some neighbouring network. So free broadband. We became quite friendly with Victor from Esmeralda, a 40¡¯ Manta with 40hp engines and boom roller furling. Victor is Italian American and single hands. He might join us to cross the Pacific.

In order to anchor in the narrow creek without swinging into other boats, we use a Bahamian mooring. We drop the main anchor back down letting a lot of it out. We then drop the second anchor (a large Fortress) and haul in half of the chain we let out, feeding the secondary anchor line out as we go. This leaves us in the middle of two anchors where we can swing but only in a very small circle. We weight the secondary line, as it is rope, with an angel near the bow to keep it from tangling with the keel, rudders or props.

We also became very friendly with Larry & Nicky of Meriah, and especially their 7 year old daughter Victoria, and Roger & Jenny of Manx Cat and their two kids Jessy & Jack. This has been great for M&N.

We also saw the demise of a cruising dream. On a previous visit to Annapolis we had briefly met and befriended Stephanie & Roy who live on a large 44¡¯ catamaran called Starship. It is huge inside and looks stunning. However, Roy is not an experienced sailor, and Stephanie knows little. This boat is quite a handful. They had a plan they spoke of to go to the Bahamas this winter, like most of the rest of us, but in their case, the mast of Starship is too high to allow them to go down the ICW. This means an Atlantic passage. It was clear that Roy was unsure of himself (wisely) and Stephanie rather disillusioned. Well, we have just seen that Starship is for sale. Probably a good decision, but rather all or nothing, as I can¡¯t see them buying a more sensibly sized boat after this disappointment. Ah well. (A note added later... we have found that Stephanie & Roy are not, after all, selling Starship, and are going to head South. Apparently Roy re-invigorated his love for his boat after seeing the other cats at the boat show. Good luck to them)

On the Thursday after the show we sailed for Baltimore, which should have taken nor more than 4 hours. Well we had a rotten trip into the teeth of  a force 6, motoring all the way. When the winds are strong in the Chesapeake, because of the relatively shallow water, the waves, though not too high, get very steep, so it was crash bang all the way. The only positive was while we could make 5.5 knots, we overtook several monohulls also motoring the same way, that could barely make three knots they were pounding so badly.

The long estuary entry into Baltimore is interesting, but not too attractive, as it is very industrial, with docks, power plants and factories. However, all this changes at the end of the long winding channel when you enter the inner harbour. We were able to anchor in a very restricted spot near three other boats right in the innermost point. What an anchorage. 100 metres away in one direction was the WWII submarine Torsk, and the same distance the other side of us was the last sailing vessel built for the US navy, the USS Constellation. We were immediately next to the stunning National Aquarium, the Science Centre and the most amazing Barnes & Noble bookstore built in an old power station. The harbour side is full of shops, cafes, restaurants, it was a lovely spot. The first couple of days the wind was very strong, but we were ok, in this very sheltered spot with two anchors down. We went to the aquarium which was the best I have ever seen. Eye to eye with sharks. Then to Maryland zoo, which was very enjoyable, though an average zoo, but it was a very nice day. We took M&N to the kids Discovery Park, a great centre with all kids stuff, and an enormous jungle gym stretching up three floors with numerous ladders, nets, holes, passages, pipes & slides. Molly wouldn¡¯t go up it, but Nancy loved it, so I had to go with her as there were so many exits she would have got lost.

The last day we went to the Science Centre. I thought this was excellent. Most of it is aimed at kids, but it is very well done. There are loads of practical experiments that kids can try to see how things work, a dinosaur area where the kids can actually use brushes to brush away the soil to ¡®discover¡¯ a dinosaur fossil. The space centre enthralled me, it was all good. As a bonus we took in a marvellous Imax movie called ¡®Bugs¡¯ and a 30 minute planetarium show. All this was included in the tickets. A great day out.

Manx Cat turned up on the third day, so although their daytime programme did not coincide with ours, we had two great evenings with them, and M&N once again enjoyed the company of other kids, although J&J are a bit younger. Roger really knows what he is doing with Manx cat, which is a 37¡¯ Prout. It is in very nice condition, and they look after it well.

Another friendship made was with Pam & Chuck who have an Amel Super Maramu. This was the boat I wanted if I had bought a monohull, and after spending an evening aboard, Cam now knows why. She was VERY impressed. They are joining a rally called the Caribbean 1500. This leaves Norfolk Virginia on the 7th November and goes directly to the British Virgin Islands. I was very tempted to make a last minute application to join, but we do want to see the Bahamas, so, maybe next time (2012 maybe, the second time around)

Our passage back to Annapolis was great, wind astern of a decent strength. A Beneteau First 47.7 left with us, and at first he had only unrolled his genoa. However, after we quickly overtook him, I glanced astern and saw he had hoisted his main. Well, we might all be cruisers, but there is a competitive edge to most of us! Needless to say, he did not catch us, and we gradually increased our lead all the way to Annapolis. I think the part he must have liked the least were the four bicycles we have on deck!!!

Our few days in Annapolis were spent on the guest dock at Scott & Tina¡¯s, very convenient. We were paying this time because Scott had exceeded his quota of free time, but it was very cheap and we are 10 minutes by dinghy from the heart of Annapolis. It is a really lovely place for boaters. We were busy all the time. I collected our foul weather gear from Fawcetts chandlers, where we got the show discount stuff from, as well as spending lots on equipment to fit our emergency grab bag. This is what we would take if we had to abandon ship in a hurry, so its all safety related. I also had our new Doyle UPS sail delivered`and fitted the new Facnor furler. This turned out to be the deal of the century. Doyle had agreed to refund in full the cost of the original factor continuous line furler, which had proved to be too small and awkward for our gennaker. The replacement was a much larger single line furler, like is used on a typical genoa. To my amazement when I got the bill, I discovered that the new furler was less than $500, whereas I was to be refunded OVER $900 for the 9 month old one!!!!! So in addition to a show discount for the sail of %20, I got another $500 off for a better and larger furler. I havn¡¯t sailed with it yet as on the day we fitted it when they planned to go sailing with me, it was blowing 25 knots. Still it fits perfectly, so I am optimistic.

Our final job was to get a diver to wipe our bottom (ha ha) and check the props. This was done, and luckily he found that one set of zincs on the sail drives was well eaten away. I had spares, and our Volvo sail drives are the new type with clamp on zincs that can easily be changed underwater. The older models required you to take the boat out of the water, which makes it an expensive job.

We spent time with Nicky and Larry of Meriah, whose daughter Victoria gets on very well with M&N. We had evening meal with Scott & Tina on most evenings, including once with Jean & Marsha of Pangea, a Manta 40. They have it on the market as they have paid a deposit on a new manta power cat.

Our last evening with Scott & Tina was extra special, Cam cooked Chinese, & Nicky & Larry joined us. We were very sorry to say farewell to T & S, as they have become very close friends. A really nice couple, warm and generous.

We sailed from Annapolis for the last time, me alone at 0700 to catch the 0730 bridge out of Spa Creek. It was a lovely morning, sunny and sparkling after days of gales, but very cold. I happily wore my new Gill Atlantic foul weather gear so I was pleased it was cold. As forecast, the wind soon got up, but from a perfect NW. This meant that, since the Chesapeake is oriented North South, I could keep nearer the West shore with the wind on the quarter in flat seas. Well it was brilliant. I had full sail at first, but as soon as the apparent wind hit 20 knots for the first time, I took in two reefs. This was very conservative, but since the forecast was for much stronger gusts, and the coastguard were putting out small craft warnings every half hour, I thought it was sensible. As it turned out, I could have got away with one reef, but I had peace of mind and did not need to keep watching the anenometer. It didn¡¯t make much difference anyway, as I hardly saw less than 8 knots all the way, and spent much of the time at 9-10 knots. None of the many monohulls travelling in the same direction could keep up, including three over 50¡¯. We were anchored in Solomons engines off before 1400, after travelling over 50 miles.

As I write we are in Solomons having fixed the bicycle, had a nostalgic visit to Woodburns supermarket, and I had a chat with Monty, our neighbour from Solomons Yachting Centre. Tomorrow, early, we are off to Deltaville, then on Saturday to Norfolk Virginia and farewell to the Chesapeake. We will be in a Marina in Norfolk for four days so as to visit Toni  Lynn in Elizabeth City, and Jamestown and Williamsburg, all by hire car. Now its time for bed to prepare for an early start. We have the generator running because its so cold tonight we need the heating from the reverse cycle AC. A clumsy way to heat a boat, if we were to plan on spending more time in temperate areas, I would fit an Eberspacher diesel hot air heater. Maybe sometime in the future. Back to list

Annapolis 7th October 2005

My plans to get myself back to Solomons worked well. I got up very early and drove up to Annapolis, to the Enterprise Car Hire office in Spa Road. There I reluctantly handed over the keys to the Dodge Magnum Estate. Enterprise will drive ou back to your home, within reason, but I declined this service on this occasion, as I had brought our one remaining Giant ¡®Halfway¡¯ folding bike. This (and its partner until it became deceased in Florida) have proved to be excellent, cheaper and superior to anything available in the US. The aluminium (aka US ¡°aluminum¡±) frame is very light and maintenance free, and with 20¡± wheels and 7 gears they go well. I thus rode the three miles to where Chris and Karyn had moored their Magic Carpet, and was with them by 0830. I had not seen them since we said goodbye near Albermarl Sound, when they went off to Coinjock and we went up to Elizabeth City and the Great Dismal Swamp. It was thus a very pleasant reunion. They regaled me with stories of their adventures, they having gone much farther North to Barnicut, New Jersey to visit friends. It seems they had friends all over the place, as this had kept them busy. We cast off and headed out of the creek and into the bay. There was no wind at all, and it soon became apparent that their only mechanical propulsion, a 9.9hp Yamaha high thrust outboard, was not circulating water as it should, as little was coming out of the telltale. We thus proceeded at reduced speed, less than 4 knots, expecting a very long day, as we still had 45 miles to go to Solomons. After a few hours, and a lovely salad lunch provided by Karyn, we found a bit of breeze, and from then on, it gradually got stronger, but guess where from¡­ Solomons of course! So we tacked, or at least tried to. After an hour we could turn the engine off, still quite cool (it later turned out that the cooling was fine, only the telltale was partially blocked!) and tack our way to the Patuxent River. However, every time Chris tried to tack to starboard, we got stuck in stays half way. I could see what was going wrong, but how can you say something when a guy has been sailing the boat for 11 ½ years?

The wind got stronger and stronger and we had a very good sail, well over 8 knots, but we still weren¡¯t going to make it by dark, and Magic Carpet¡¯s navigation system is a far cry from Jade¡¯s. Chris has a nice little Garmin 276C chart plotter, but had declined to purchase the US charts for it, so it would give you a lat long readout and a very approximate graphical idea of your position on its inbuilt coastline map, but no features or depths. He has a folio of charts for the Chesapeake Bay, but they seemed to be rather out of date, and very small scale. Thus it was down to me, being familiar with the area, to pilot them in. This was quite difficult because it was a very dark night with no moon, and there are a lot of background lights which mask the ones you are looking for. Still, I was quite happy with our position coming into the Patuxent, but then it gets more difficult finding the channel around the shoals into Solomons. Not only had I done it many times before, I had done so in the dark after the BBQ with Scott, but not having the benefit of a chart plotter shows how you get to depend on these devices. Also some of the flashing red lights were only visible at surprisingly short distances, maybe less than half a mile. Taking it slow and careful, we got in fine, and by way of compensation, found nobody obstructing the only anchorage close to Jade right in the middle of the village.

C&K stayed a couple of days, during which time we celebrated Chris¡¯s sixtieth birthday with a cake and lunch at Stoney¡¯s, and Chris also fixed his very battered dinghy, which is called Magic Dinghy. It was magic it was still afloat, but with the very generous help of Monty from a neighbouring boat with his fully equipped mobile workshop, a good job was done, that might just see Magic Dinghy last them to Australia. We said goodbye to Chris & Karyn on Saturday night as they are off South, but this time it did not have the same poignancy as our first parting. We know we will see them again, probably in the Bahamas and then either in the Pacific or in Australia.

 

Our last few days in Solomons passed too quickly; I have grown to like it there very much. It is only a small place, a village really, but our berth had everything we needed (except cable TV), and the kids particularly enjoyed the pool which was only 50 metres from Jade. A short walk would take us to the restaurants, of which we liked ¡®Stoney¡¯s¡¯ best, because of the lovely crab cakes. It was less than a mile to the small mall with the wonderful Woodburn¡¯s supermarket, and also a post office, launderette, West Marine¡­ everything a boater needs.

Our last day was enlivened by the rescue of an exhausted and bedraggled blue heron which I found drifting half awash in the sea. These large and beautiful birds don¡¯t swim, but wade the shallows hunting for fish and crabs with their sharp beaks. This poor fellow had a broken leg, and had obviously fallen in and couldn¡¯t get out. I think he was near death when we got him. We managed to find a animal rescue number, and a man came within 15 minutes, on a Sunday, and it turns out he was the owner of the nearby Calvert Marina. We got the poor creature into a box and into his car, and he intended to put it into a pen until the following morning when the vet would come. I was not optimistic about its chances, but we have done our best. I have not yet called to see what happened, rather afraid to, really.

On Monday the 3rd we motored up to Annapolis because, yes, you guessed it, that¡¯s where the gentle wind was coming from. The National Weather Service was its usual hopeless self. They are dreadfully inaccurate with their forecasts. For this particular day they had forecast 5-7 knots from the East. I had expected this to give us at least a little help on our Northerly course, especially if it was 7 and not 5, but we got 9 hours of NNW! Typical. Local conditions can vary, but not for 9 hours and by about 120 degrees! (As I write, a few days later, we are in Scott¡¯s dock, regularly rocked by blasts of wind exceeding 40 knots. The average wind all day and afternoon has been in the high teens with torrential rain. The NWS got the rain right, but were forecasting winds under 10 knots all day. I can¡¯t believe how they can be so incompetent) Still, with a nice guest dock at Scott¡¯s we were snug by about dark. Perhaps the best thing about this trip is that Cam drove Jade out of the slip at Solomons, then into the fuel dock, then out from that, and into the dock in Spa Creek. It gets better. The next day she took the dinghy, by herself, into Annapolis (about a mile), parked it, shopped and then came back not only alive, but dry! Back to list

Solomons 27th September 2005

 After a relaxing weekend, we decided that, since we had to leave the country and return to renew visas (at least I did, Cam & kids got another 3 months when the came back from HK) why not sooner rather than later? I called the local Enterprise office, but was stunned when told they would not rent a car to go to Canada. I already knew that the Annapolis office would, but never got an explanation about why the different policy. Fortunately, Scott & Tina came to our rescue once again. They came for a brief visit on Friday, and offered to lend me their car again. The idea was that I could use the car for the weekend, then drive to Annapolis and drop it off whilst picking up a car from Enterprise. Thus I rode with them back to Annapolis on Friday night and took the Jeep back down. Its about 1 hour each way, an easy drive. Scott was in an ebullient mood as he had (whilst playing hookey from work) recovered his anchor lost in the Patuxent River.

On Monday we drove up to Annapolis, and from the Spa Road office of Enterprise picked up a lovely Dodge Magnum Estate. Good car, except the sides are quite high and difficult for young kids to see out of the windows unless sitting on a cushion or seat booster. Why do we keep hiring from Enterprise? Frankly they have a monopoly. If you do a Google search for car hire in most areas we have been in (the whole East coast) you find Enterprise offices everywhere. (There are three near Solomons and three in Annapolis), whereas you won¡¯t find Alamo, Hertz etc anywhere other than large airports. For us the nearest would be Baltimore or Washington DC. Also Enterprise will pick you up, within reason. Daily rates are cheap, but they rip you off on the insurance. It seems that even 3rd party cover is optional, which is far too risky for me, and illegal anywhere else on the planet.

Our route took us North, directly towards Buffalo, and we stopped in a Super 8 motel about 20 miles from the Canada border. Next day we crossed at ¡®Peace Bridge¡¯, which was completely painless. The Canadian immigration officers were exceptionally polite and efficient. We had been able to contact Sylvia Wyatt, a friend we had met on the QEII cruise. This amazing lady, over 70 years old, is still most attractive and ultra-fashionable. On the QEII she wore some amazing outfits, but unlike many, she carried it off with style. She is very fit, having run many marathons years ago, and she still cycles, walks and exercises regularly, including doing weights. She was once a model, and very beautiful. We had a great couple of days visiting with her in the pretty town of ¡®Niagara on the Lake¡¯. She took us to Niagara Falls. However jaded one might be as a tourist, this was a staggering sight. The power and beauty of the falls is enhanced by the beautiful parks extending all along the Canadian side. To add to the spectacle, it was a beautiful day with not a cloud in the sky. The moment Nancy got her first sight of the waterfall, she needed to go to the toilet!

Our next stop was Missisauga, close to Toronto. This was only about  1 hours drive, but became 2 because of navigational difficulties. Not Cam¡¯s fault! Signage in Canada is patchy. Our purpose was to visit Colin Reigate, an old colleague and friend from the Royal HK Police, and who had also been my proposer in Freemasonry, and who had retired 20 years earlier. I had last seen him on a visit to HK perhaps 10 years previously. For some reason I had always remembered that he lived in Messenger Meadow Drive, Missisauga, so was able to get his number from directory enquiries easily. Our visit was great. He and his wonderful wife Winnie were very welcoming, and there was a great surprise, a dear friend Irving Cheng, also a brother from the lodge who had left HK about 2 years ago, was also there with his wife and another Chinese couple who were friends of his. Winnie is Chinese, so we were quite a mixed group when we went for dim sum at a local Chinese restaurant. I knew Vancouver had a lot of Chinese, but so does this area of Canada, with Chinese stores and restaurants everywhere, and the sound of Cantonese voices on every corner. It was great, and a great lunch, which the kids (and me) had missed a lot. We stayed at Colin¡¯s house that night, and had another dinner out, this time a Chinese curry. For those of you who do not know, this is, of course, not authentic sub-continent curry, and uses sliced beef or lamb, but is delicious in its own unique way. Colin has three large boisterous, but friendly, dogs. Molly, for some reason, has developed a fear of dogs, but we persevered with her during these two days, and by the last morning she was happily playing with them in the garden. Colin and Winnie grow their own fruit & veg in the garden, and we ate delicious cherry tomatoes, pears, apples and plums. Despite being late September in Canada, it was warm, shirt sleeve weather, and we sat in the garden a lot.

After leaving Missisauga, we changed our original plans, and headed for Toronto to take a look. Out opinion after a couple of hours was that it was modern and smart, but we did not see much to recommend it. Our visit was, of course, very short. So we proceeded onwards, round Lake Ontario, and crossed the border back into USA at 1000 Islands, on the St. Lawrence River. At the customs booth, the lady was quite polite, and intended to wave us through after looking at our passports. I then said that I hoped to extend my permission to stay beyond the 1 month still remaining on my visa. She then sent me inside to the office. The first guy, a fat blck guy, was exceptionally polite, listening carefully to my story, signifying he understood, and promising to refer to a supervisor. The supervisor was arrogant and disinterested, and would not look me in the eye. He also was not listening to what I had to say. Fortunately, when I asked to speak in turn to his supervisor, apparently the officer in charge of the shift, he jumped at the chance to pass me on. This third guy was not rude, but not friendly either. His first words were ¡°No way can I extend your permission to stay¡±. I¡¯m a bit shocked! I then explore with him a bit further what my options are, being careful to be exceptionally polite. (I hate this, why should you feel you have to be exceptionally polite just to be treated fairly by US Customs officers?) I then began to see some daylight, and he was indicating that I could perhaps ignore the deadline on my visa, since I could enter for three months on a visa waiver. Then suddenly, after a little clue from him, accidentally given, I asked if I could completely renew, rather than extend my stay. He then says ¡°Of course, but it will cost you six dollars¡±!!! I controlled myself and said ¡°Could you do that now, I don¡¯t mind paying six dollars¡±. ¡°OK¡± he says. GRRRRR!!!

Anyway, I¡¯m now back in until March if I want.

We drove a short way further and found a nice chalet at a motel/resort in Alexandria Bay. I was suddenly struck with a brainwave. Prior to our departure from Solomons we had made contact with Chris and Karen from Magic Carpet. They said they were planning to come down from Kent Island area to Solomons to visit us on their way South, and were due on the next Monday, when I had promised to return the car. I was still faced with the problem of how to return to Solomons after dropping the hire car in Annapolis, so thought I might be able to cadge a lift. On calling Chris, it all worked great. They could not leave Annapolis until Wednesday, but certainly they could give me a lift. This was perfect, because by extending a couple of days we could not only stay another day (a lazy day) in our chalet, but have time to visit New York, yehhh! The little town of Alexandria Bay is very pretty and we had a nice meal in a local restaurant with a very friendly Canadian waitress. In the morning we walked down to the river, which was very pretty, here in the 1000 islands area, then the kids played on the swings.

Our journey resumed by heading East, along narrow lanes, to go across the Adirondack Mountains. Here we saw what had not yet happened in Canada¡­ Autumn leaves. The colours, from the bright red of maple through every russet shade to the green of conifers was truly beautiful. We found our way across the mountains, despite drizzle, and then drove all the way into New York, or at least New Jersey. We remembered the area slightly from Cam & I¡¯s visit with Sarah when Molly was just a swelling in Mummy¡¯s tummy. We recalled that access to Manhattan was relatively easy across the Lincoln Tunnel. We found a nice Comfort Inn and booked two days, with the help of a coupon from a tourist book. (In USA ALWAYS clip the coupon!) Wendy¡¯s (salad) for dinner and an evening of telly watching the family movie channel. Great!

The next day we drove into Manhattan and parked near Battery Park. A ferry ride took us to Liberty Island and the kids really loved a visit to the Statue of Liberty. Although my second visit, I was once more awed by its beauty, and its significance for millions around the world. Molly took loads of pictures with her camera and we spent at least 2 hours before returning to Manhattan. Part II of the plan failed though. We did not know that Mondays are ¡®Lights Out¡¯ night. That means the footlights are off, and most of Broadway¡¯s shows are closed. So we missed taking the kids to see ¡®Lion King¡¯ or something like. Still they didn¡¯t know what they had missed and were keen to get back to the hotel to watch telly. Kids! We went for a walk around Times Square, and probably the world¡¯s fanciest Toys R Us. How to keep your promise NOT to buy them anything in such a place? We got away with a new Barbie movie and some Barbie bike helmets and pads.

The next morning, a very smooth drive down the new jersey Turnpike saw us back in Solomons by 2 something, even after stopping for lunch. So, back to base at last. Jade looked great and I was really pleased to see her. Especially still afloat. Back to list

Solomons  15-9-2005

Well, Cam & the kids were amazingly fit after such a long journey. 12 hours time difference and 8000 miles, but within a day or two they were pretty much back to normal. The three children enjoyed being together, Ben is a good big brother, and bullies them gently, as big brothers should! We stayed in port for the first day after their return, Ben & Kate took the dinghy and went for a ride to town. They have decided they wish to live in Annapolis! On Thursday we went for a sail to St. Michaels. There not being much wind, we motored all day, and went via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, then round the North of Kent Island and back down through Kent Island Narrows. The bottom end of the bay North of the narrows gets shallower and shallower, finally ending in a dredged channel with markers leading in to the narrows, a narrow channel about ½ mile long separating Kent Island from the mainland, and bridged by a fixed 65¡¯ bridge carrying the highway, and a bascule bridge carrying a local road. Entering the dredged channel in a strong North wind would be a game, with several miles of fetch and ever shallowing water, but it was calm and sparklingly clear all day. Great for sight-seeing. Going South from Kent Island we followed the (invisible) winding channel until we arrived at the small town of St. Michaels, which is on the East shore. Here we were greeted by an amazing site¡­ a full rigged frigate, authentic in every detail, anchored off the town. It was the Bounty, built for the mutiny film many years ago. She was, and is, historically accurate except for having been built one third larger than original (a pity). We were able to go aboard the next day as she was then alongside the Chesapeake Bay Museum located on the waterfront in St. Michaels. A very impressive vessel, but we were unable to go below (why, I don¡¯t know, too restrictive) and I noticed several signs of deterioration, such as rot in the scuppers. She needs some money spending. Ben & I talked briefly with one of the volunteer crew, who was remarkably ignorant about Bligh and Fletcher Christian after 3 months aboard. She also claimed Bounty would not sail upwind at all. That cannot be true. Although these square riggers were awkward, and could not sail close to the wind, she could certainly make some ground to windward with a competent crew. I think they were spoiled by having an engine aboard.

The museum tells something of the history of fishing on the bay, with some great examples of period boats, which they restore in their workshops.

We also had a walk around the little town, which is pretty, although Cam claims all these places look the same. Just like all Chinese look the same to Westerners I suppose!

We BBQd aboard through a lovely sunset. The next day we had to motor at first, but once we made the main bay we had enough wind to sail, albeit close hauled. The original plan had been to get back to Annapolis in time for going out to dinner, but even though the wind was gentle, it was too lovely to motor, and we tacked our way back to Annapolis. Now I have got used to her, her windward performance is really satisfactory. In 5-7 knots of breeze we could make more than 4 knots at 40degrees apparent, with not much leeway. Broadblue owners¡­ eat your heart out! We arrived just at dusk, but timed our arrival just right for the half-hourly opening of the Spa Creek bascule bridge. We went through it because all the harbour moorings outside were occupied, and the anchorage near the naval academy was full. We went down the creek and picked up a mooring in the dark.

The next day we left in the late morning to take Ben & Kate to Washington. Since their flight was not until 10pm, we had decided to take the opportunity to visit at least some of the sights. The car I hired, in view of the crowd and the baggage, was a typical American one, a Buick Le Sabre Custom. It really was a lovely car. 3.8 litre V6, excellent aircon, very quiet with a good ride.

We visited the Mall, the Washington Memorial, the White House and the Museum of American History. The latter is very interesting, except for children. Despite promises to the contrary in the programme, the only exhibit suitable for kids was closed, without explanation on a Saturday. We also took a driving tour and saw the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, the Capitol and the Pentagon. The Mall ( a big park in the city centre stretching from the Capitol to the Washington Monument) was full of tents and such in connection with an event called the ¡®Black American Family Reunion¡¯ festival. I was gob smacked. Imagine the outcry if it was called the ¡®White American Family Reunion¡¯? Americans spend their time grovelling in guilt for what they did to the black people. Well I¡¯ve got news for them, it was not them, it was their parents and earlier, and what is done to black people in America today is clearly self-inflicted. Black people in America, unlike those I see in UK (or anywhere in Europe) choose to live a life that spurns opportunity, rather than seizing it. The white people can be happy in their guilt, because they are still living in the big houses whilst the black people mow the grass for them. Sad but true. Indeed, that reminds me that many of the exhibits in the museum were focused on this white guilt trip. From everything I read, all official discrimination has long ended. There are some whites who may discriminate against blacks on a personal basis, but they seem to be far outnumbered by blacks who more than discriminate, they hate whites, yet they themselves (rather than their parents) have never suffered from discrimination, only their own idleness at school and need for free handouts they see as their ¡®right¡¯. Its disgusting and most white folks are too ridden in guilt to describe it for what it is. Well, I can, as a foreigner, and somebody who has never, as far as I know, treated anybody on the basis of their colour.

Perhaps I am influenced by what I see in the South. Apparently life is far more integrated further North, such as in New York and Boston, although stories of Harlem would indicate otherwise.

In order to be able to relax and not worry about dinner, we decided to have our farewell dinner at Dulles airport, since that is an hour¡¯s drive from the city centre. Well, guess what, there is not one restaurant in the open area of this large international airport!!! Apparently there are once you go through immigration, but what use is that to friends and family seeing people off? We had to settle for coffee and popcorn on the edge of a maintenance area.

We said sad farewells to Ben & Kate, but both have said they will return as soon as possible. Ben needs to work harder at his relationship, Kate is too good for him!

Since we had booked the car for the weekend on a ¡®special¡¯ we went out for a drive on Sunday afternoon to the small town of Easton, on the eastern shore. (Not far from St. Michaels and Oxford, as a matter of fact). We had a nice game with a ball on a small green, then spent ages in a nautical antique shop. I found a book by  Victor Slocum about his father. This was a real find, because its long out of print, fascinating and well written, and gives some more insights into that amazing man and his great voyage.

On the way back we bought fresh seafood at a store so that cam could cook a Chinese seafood dinner at Scott & Tina¡¯s house. It was great, with butterfly prawns in garlic, scallops with brocoli, fish, and also, for me, lemon chicken.

On our return we discovered that we had been on a private mooring all the time! The harbourmaster got hold of us and told us (politely) to move. Well, since the owner of the mooring had chosen to use exactly the same size, shape and colour of buoy, and had even got the same blue stripe on top, we could hardly be blamed for not noticing that there was not the little harbourmaster sticker on it, especially in the dark. Still, our mistake saved us $50!

Monday we motored, with no wind, all the way back to Solomons, about 50 miles. It was quite a nice smooth ride, but I prefer to sail.

Tying up to our slip at Solomons Yachting Centre was, for me, like coming home, although Cam had not been on this berth before. She only remembered Solomons from our previous anchoring visit (when we had the exciting squall) This berth is great for us with the kids, as the pool is 50 metres away, the surroundings beautiful, and the price reasonable. About 4000 $HK per month. Better than HHYC prices with great facilities. Still, the company at HHYC is better.

Here in Solomons, within a short walk or bike ride, we have everything we need. In the village are numerous excellent restaurants, and about ½ mile up the road is Woodburns, the best supermarket we have found in the US so far. It is small, but more like a deli, with a lovely butchers and fishmongers section, sushi, great veggies, a little caf¨¦ and a salad bar. Next door are post office, laundrette, West Marine, 7-11 and a liquor store, and about a ½ mile further there is another supermarket, McDonald¡¯s, Burger King, KFC etc. It is a great area for walking or cycling, and the many creeks that meander inland give great places to go for a dinghy ride. All that¡¯s missing is a town centre.

Our last few days have been getting back into the rhythm of school lessons in the morning, boat maintenance and play in the afternoons. We had the first outing with the kids bikes Cam brought back from HK. Although they are a bit heavy, and made of steel, which will be a later maintenance problem, they are not bad. Unfortunately, Molly has inherited the Chinese affinity with bicycles. That is, virtually none. Even with training wheels she is hopeless. Its amazing that tens of millions of Chinese ride bicycles! Nancy is much better, even though the bike is a bit big for her. We had an excellent lunch for Cam¡¯s birthday. Just opposite us is ¡®Stoney¡¯s¡¯ seafood restaurant. We sat outside, protecting our food from the bold gulls who constantly threatened to steal our food. Cam had raw oysters, prawns, and shared some of my crab meat and stuffed mushrooms. Crab meat is ubiquitous on the bay, but this was the best we have had, not over-seasoned. Even better than Tangier Island, which is more famous for it. The kids enjoyed it too.

Well, that¡¯s it for now, I am finally up to date with my journal. For those who read it, it is more of a diary for me, so forgive me if it is a bit of a personal ramble at times. Nobody forced you to read it!

Solomons,  13th September (posted on 15th September)

Well, lots has happened since I last made any entries. I left off with my doings in Solomons. The big event on 1st September was driving to Dulles Airport and picking up Ben & Kate. (For casual readers, Ben is my grown-up son, 26 yrs old working as a Civil Engineer in England, and Kate is his girlfriend) they were pretty impressed with Solomons, we had some meals out, especially a nice one with Tom & Colleen of ¡®Unplugged¡¯ a Pearson 40. I had befriended this lovely couple a few days before, even shared the $5 pizza at the caf¨¦, and sausage beans and chips on their boat! I then took Ben & Kate for a cruise to the Tred Avon where we anchored near Oxford and had a walk around that pretty little town¡­ well it¡¯s a village really, but exceptionally pretty, especially on a lovely evening. We then BBQd aboard, or that was the plan until the gas spigot on the bottom of the BBQ leapt overboard, so we had kitchen BBQ. The journey to the Tred Avon was pleasant, but not much wind so we motor-sailed. However, the trip back was excellent. We even sailed off the anchor in the river, and from then on never went below 6 knots all the way back to Solomons. Ben loved it.

We got back so fast that we were in time to watch the air show. Opposite Solomons on the other shore of the mouth of the Patuxent River is the Patuxent air station. Being Labour Day weekend, there was a special show, the highlight of which was the performance by the ¡®Blue Angels¡¯ which are six F18s (I think). They mostly do four close together with the other two doing exciting passes, but at the end all six do what the British Red Arrows call the Prince of Wales Feathers where as they dive they split in different directions trailing smoke, its very spectacular. I must say, their precision flying was as good as any I have seen, especially in those large (and noisy) combat aircraft. We watched the show whilst sailing back and forth across the Patuxent, as the winds were perfect. I hope all the spectator fleet (hundreds of boats) were impressed.

Late on Saturday night, Scott & Tina arrived from Annapolis and anchored. We agreed we would meet them for a raft-up in the evening as they had anchored across the river to see the show on Sunday (It was on twice). We had not planned to go out and watch it again, so Ben & I tried to rig up the sail kit for the Walker Bay 10 dinghy. What a game? Needless to say we did not succeed in finishing the job as I had promised to go to the supermarket and get some things for Scott & Tina. However, there were obviously so many spectator boats in the river that they must have chosen to move the fulcrum of the air show to that area, instead of over the airfield, so we got an even better view from our berth than we had the day before. When 6 F18s go overhead at about 200¡¯ at 600 miles an hour, its awesome!

We had a great BBQ aboard Sangaris, although Ben looked very worried when I drove Jade back to our berth in the dark. Over a glass of wine (or two) we had decided to race Sangaris back to Annapolis the next day, which was the Monday Labour Day holiday.  I had to pick up Cam from Newark on the Wednesday, and Annapolis is closer, and a much more lively place for Ben & Kate to spend a day on their own.

The great race began at 10ish as we closed the point at the mouth of the Patuxent, with about 45 miles to go. Well, perhaps because Scott tried to point too high, we were soon about a mile ahead. This enabled us to get on the correct side of a local weather system. It was quite funny, a dark cloud about 2-3 miles across, but not  big enough to be thunderous, and I didn¡¯t even see it produce any rain, but the winds seemed to be heading into its centre. Where we were, it meant I could put 15 knots of apparent wind on the beam and head off directly towards Annapolis at over 8 knots. On the other hand, Sangaris was very close hauled heading into the West bank of the Chesapeake near a liquid natural gas terminal. By the time we got to James Island, about 1/3 of the way, we were at least 3 miles ahead¡­ then  the wind died completely. I decided to give Scott a face-saving exit by insisting on calling off the race as we were going nowhere, and nor was Sangaris miles behind us. Another race is on for the future! However, after motoring economically for a couple of hours, sangrias caught up by motoring uneconomically, and not long after, the wind picked up from ahead. I watched it carefully and noted it was veering, so up went the sails. Scott had bagged his jib so he was too lazy to get his up. Well, within half an hour we had a great breeze on the quarter, and Sangaris could barely keep up flat out on her engines. That took us right into the Mouth of the Severn river with a dying breeze. We then had a quick radio conflab and decided we might just make the 7pm opening of the Spa Creek Bascule bridge if we got our sails down quick and pushed it. Mantas are easy to get the sails down, just turn into the wind and let go the hallyards. They might not come down exactly right this way, but good enough. Motoring at 8 knots we just made the bridge. Scott had already arranged for us to have the visitor berth at his condominium, so two more days of luxury in the middle of Annapolis. Making the bridge also meant we had enough time to go out to dinner, so we hopped in Tina¡¯s car and went to a Mexican restaurant they had taken me to before. it¡¯s the best Mexican place I have been, like a Cantina, rough and ready with superb food and Margueritas. I think Ben & Kate really enjoyed it.

The next day I picked up a really nice hire car for the long drive to Newark, about 3 ½ hours, almost to New York. I can¡¯t describe how great it was to see Cam & the girls after a month away. I had cried when they left, and I nearly did again when they got back. They all looked surprisingly alert after such a long journey. Hong Kong is 8000 miles away, so they had been travelling for ages. Still, they were up for driving directly back to Annapolis, even though I offered them a motel. They did come through to the arrival very quickly as they had cleared into the US in Chicago. It was an uneventful ride home, except I do remember seeing a very new moon low on the horizon ahead, despite still being in Newark, and close to it were two very bright stars (or planets). That sight has not been seen in Hong Kong for decades. Back to list

¡¡

Smith Island, August 24th

 Well, hasn¡¯t time flown. I have kept busy whilst in the berth at Solomons. My day usually consists of bicycle riding, boat projects, dinghy rides, web browsing and reading, but it is pretty lonely as there are few live-aboards in this marina, and those that are here don¡¯t seem to be very friendly. However, there are some nice neighbours who come at the weekend to chat to. I had one late session with a nice guy called Verdis (I think) who owns the Hunter 36 in the next berth. He¡¯s an ex-navy veteran, and we solved the problems of the world over a few beers, one shot of ¡®The McCallum¡¯ and gin mixed with lime juice! Dinner was cooked by me.

I have completed the water collection system, but have not yet been blessed with any rain to try it out. I have also begun assembling the sailing kit for the dinghy. I have done all the servicing on the engines, that is, I have changed the sail drive oil, and the engine and gear oil in the outboard, cleaned all the filters and tidied the engine rooms. I have also had a big tidy up inside, and re-organised my tool stowage to a better and lower midships location in view of their considerable weight. They were previously in a locker high up at the back of the cockpit. My final job is the cleaning and polishing of the topsides. Not such fun but the result should be rewarding.

Finally today I got fed up with the marina, so  I have sailed to Smith Island. This was a great downwind sail, averaging 6 knots, and arriving by mid-afternoon. Smith Island is North of Tangier Island, and has much the same character, although twice the size with half as many people. The residents also have the same unique ¡®old Elizabethan¡¯ accent, and most make their living from the sea, primarily crabbing. Their future is as uncertain as those in Tangier Island. On cycling round the island, I noted many, many houses with for sale signs. It was also much scruffier than Tangier, with far more cars, many broken down and abandoned at the roadside. It is still pretty, despite this, and berthing at the general store¡¯s dock costs $20 per night, no electric. Apparently there is a marina, although I don¡¯t know where that is, it is not obvious from where I am sitting. Unlike Tangier there are no restaurants open in the evening, indeed, there only seems to be one. Perhaps it opens longer at the weekend.

Tomorrow I will sail back to Solomons, although forecast is for light headwinds, so perhaps I¡¯ll be motoring. Back to list

¡¡

Annapolis 6th August  

 Whilst at anchor early one evening in Back Creek, Solomons, we decided to sit out on deck and eat some strawberries and cream. (Buying cream in the US is fun¡­ ¡°Cream? What sort of cream?¡±¡±You know, cow¡¯s cream, cream cream, ordinary cream¡¯. ¡°We got whipping cream.¡± ¡°Uh, not really, I want full milk cream¡±. ¡°Uh, what¡¯s it for?¡±¡±To put on strawberries¡±¡±Why would you want to do that¡±?¡­ You get the idea)

Anyway, we just got seated on the trampoline when Cam says ¡°Is that black cloud coming this way?¡±

10 minutes later we have 50 knots of wind through the anchorage and all around us is chaos. We did not drag, although I started the engines just in case, but having a sensible size anchor, all chain and enough out kept us in one place. The same could not be said for most of the yachts around me, and there was shouting and swearing. The funniest thing was the guy who had gone ashore. His dinghy was fitted with an electric trolling motor powered by a little battery. This combination powered his little boat at about 1.5knots, downwind in the squall, whilst his boat was dragging away from him nearly as fast. As he tried to catch it. Of course, it could have ended badly, but it didn¡¯t.

Its time for a discourse on anchors. Their requirements are pretty simple. First they must penetrate all sorts of bottoms. Second they must continue to dig down to bury themselves. Third they must then have enough surface area to resist pulling out again unless tripped by a vertical pull. Finally, if some exceptional circumstance does trip them, such as a reversing current/wind causing the vessel to swing round and pull from the opposite direction, then they must reset easily.

To achieve this they must have the correct shape, a sharp point or flukes, large surface area and be heavy.

Now the last one is a problem because there is a limit to the weight of anchor you can carry, especially on a catamaran. I have substituted a bit of weight for a bit of size. We have a 140 Spade on Jade, and I am going to buy another larger one, even though this is already oversize.

I believe the Spade made in France to be the best, because it meets all those requirements, not just some of them. Take for example, the CQR made by Lewmar (Secure) or generically known as a plow (plough?). They fail on the last because they are difficult to set in the first place, let alone reset, although once in, they hold well. Or the Fortress (I have a large one on Jade as a backup) They penetrate and dig deep probably as well or better than any anchor, but their surface area is insufficient, so if the bottom is firm mud, they are superb, but in shingle or soft mud they can pull through it. The claw has done exceptionally badly in most anchor tests.

Then there is the anchor chain or rope (called a rode in the USA) Its purpose is firstly to attach the boat to the anchor, and therefore must be strong enough not to break. Secondly it must encourage a pull angle from anchor to vessel that is as close to horizontal as possible. This reduces or eliminates any tendency to lift the shank of the anchor and thereby trip it. Here length comes first, and weight second. Weight because the catenary will lower the angle. Finally in some areas there are sharp corals or rocks that can chafe or cut a rope. Thus chain is best if the boat can carry the weight. If it can¡¯t then at least a bit of chain to avoid the latter problem at the anchor end where it is most likely to happen. Some people advocate the use of an ¡®angel¡¯ on the anchor chain. This is a weight attached to a ring which by means of another line is lowered so as to hang from the chain midway along its catenary. This has the effect of adding to the usefulness of the catenary. However, I personally think it is a stupid and ill-thought out practice. Usually the weight of angel used is small compared with the weight of the chain, and worst of all, by suspending it halfway along the catenary, over half its weight is carried by the bow of the vessel! The object of the exercise is to avoid lifting the anchor shank, so why not put any extra weight there? On Jade I will be fitting a length of extra thick and heavy chain between the anchor windlass and the anchor, a length of about 8 ft. I believe this will have the effect of increasing the anchor weight, but at the most important point. We will see. The final problem is that if you have all chain, then in severe conditions ¡®snatch¡¯ can become a major problem, starting with uncomfortable and ending, if bad enough, by either breaking out your anchor or breaking your boat! On Jade we use a nylon bridle from each bow, each one being fitted with cute anchor hooks. It works really well except for one factor that makes me uncomfortable; if we need to let out more chain, we need to recover some first to let off the bridle.

After a few days in the Solomons, we finally made the last leg of our trip from Florida to Annapolis. We managed to sail a bit of the way, but once again, winds were light and against us, so we motored the last half, having passed at some distance from the first LNG terminal and then the nuclear power station at Calvert cliffs on the West shore.

Annapolis has turned out to be all that we expected, a real sailor¡¯s town. As we approached we were suddenly, for the first time in the whole voyage, surrounded by sailing boats. When we arrived in the inner harbour, we found, as expected numerous mooring buoys laid by the Harbourmaster, at $25 per night. We thought we would take one for a couple of days to suss the place out, but when the Harbourmaster¡¯s boat came up (very quickly indeed with the guy¡¯s hand out) we found you could get 7 days for the price of six, so we went for it. It  turns out that this is a great place to boat and people watch, as all day every sort of craft is going past, and you are surrounded by cruising sailors who are all friendly and happy to chat, or make friends. The buoys were a bit too close together however, and during our stay we had trouble bumping into one of them downwind from us (luckily unused). As soon as we arrived, I called Scott & Tina Ligon, of Sangaris, the friends we made whilst they were astern of us in Bradenton on their new Manta. Scott immediately invited us round for dinner. Indeed, throughout our stay they were the most wonderful and friendly hosts, lending us their ¡®spare¡¯ car, even though I am sure this was a bit inconvenient, and entertaining us royally. They really are good people, like many Americans we have met. My opinions of them as a people have improved a lot on this trip, but Scott and Tina really are outstanding.

Annapolis is a pretty little town. Lots of boats, obviously, but it also has a real town centre just like an English town, and they are very boat friendly. For example, many streets end at the water, rather than running along it, and in every case, this street ending is reserved as a dinghy dock. This means that unlike most places, you never have a problem getting ashore. There is free water alongside one of the wharves (In ¡®Ego Alley¡¯ so called because people parade their fancy yachts in and out of this little dock so that the tourists can admire them) provided you get in and leave before 10am. Every possible service for boaters is available locally, although I was surprised to find that nowhere in town sold propane, one has to go about 5 miles out of town to get to a place. Annapolis is the home of the US Naval Academy, where the young people come to be made officers. They certainly make an early start to the day, about 0530 for about 2 hours calisthenics accompanied by a lot of shouting. I don¡¯t believe this type of bullshit makes thinking leaders, but try telling that to the traditionalists in any disciplined service. 31 years as a senior police officer taught me that it is the discipline of the mind that makes leaders. Indeed, most of these places don¡¯t even teach ¡®leadership¡¯ although they think they do. Leadership is selling a vision of what you want to achieve to your subordinates, so they believe in the vision also. Management is organising how to do this once the belief is in place, and administration is actually day to day running things. What most ¡®leadership¡¯ training establishments teach is crisis management. Most so called leaders have as much vision as an ostrich with its head in the sand. But I digress, I¡¯m sure they are all fine young men and women.

Our stay in Annapolis was interrupted by bad news from home. Our Brother-in-law, who we knew was seriously ill, has taken a turn for the worse, and Cam¡¯s sister is in need of support. We decided that Cam and the children should go back to Hong Kong for a month, so with great sadness I took them (once again in Scott¡¯s loaned car) all the way to Newark airport, close to New York, around 200 miles away. This was the only decent flight we could get at short notice. I cried as I saw them disappearing through the security screening.

Still, this change of plans has some incidental side benefits. We will not need to put Jade in a marina whilst we all go back, as we had considered doing in November. Furthermore, we will not be on such a tight schedule during our journey South when we leave the Chesapeake. Also I will have uninterrupted time to do some projects on Jade. The biggest is to fit a water catchment system to our cockpit canopy. This canopy is huge, and during a rain storm huge quantities of water cascade off the four corners, since it is curved down from the centerline and the outboard edges have a piece of aluminium strip to prevent water dripping/pouring all along the sides of the cockpit. My plan is to fit spigots in these four corners, and run pipes back to the tank, leaving the hose loose so that it can be put into the water tank opening once the canopy has been thoroughly rinsed off. This system will give us a very valuable backup to our watermaker to use when this device is either out of order or cannot be used due to bad water, as has been the case throughout almost the whole trip so far. (Too silty)

I also plan to service all the engines, sail drives and outboard and clean and polish the topsides.

My loneliness was short-lived, as on Monday Bruce and Lyndsey from Hong Kong arrived for a short visit. Tina insisted on taking me to pick them up from Reagan International Airport in Washington DC, afraid that I would get lost. It was a very kind gesture and much appreciated. (Although I NEVER get lost)

They had also arranged for me to spend a couple of nights on the visitor¡¯s berth at their apartments deep in Spa Creek, a very comfortable and quiet spot. That evening, joined by Scott & Tina, we had a good old conflab.

The next morning we set off nice and early and made the 7.00am opening of the Spa creek bascule bridge. My cruising guide, produced by Chesapeake Bay Magazine, has a recommended 7 day cruise from Annapolis. I decided to take their recommendation for the first three days. This took us first to St. Michaels on the East shore. We had a nice sail/motorsail, but in pouring rain for most of the day. At least Bruce could see that Jade sails well. Lyndsey proved to be an excellent, and more important, keen cook!

St. Michaels is a very pretty little town. We took a berth at Higgins Marina, paid for by B&L, very kindly, and we had a nice walk around, and a good look at the Chesapeake Maritime Museum. Bruce was very interested in the traditional craft as he claims the design of ¡®Spray¡¯, Josua Slocum¡¯s boat, was based on these  Chesapeake Bay sailing oyster boats. Josua Slocum was the first person to sail alone around the world, and it so happens that B&L¡¯s own boat, Willow, is a very authentic Spray replica, hence the interest.

We also had a very fine dinner.

The next day was much nicer, and we had a lovely trip round to the Tred Avon River. On the way we decided to take a shortcut. There is a cut, or canal, right through the middle of  Tilghman Island, known as Knapp¡¯s Narrows. The narrows were fine, but the entrance wasn¡¯t. With a channel like this, it is impossible to know whether you are inbound or outbound, although the former was more likely. However, the way the markers were set up, it looked like you kept the reds to port (outbound in the USA) I knew it was shallow, but we were creeping in nicely, with a steady 3¡¯ under the keel, when a nearby fishing boat shouted and gesticulated and made it clear we were on the wrong side of the markers. OK, take local knowledge, but once we crossed to the other side of the reds, the depth disappeared. Our depth sounder thought we were aground. In fact we were not, and we did make it in, but it did seem there was more water on the route we had originally chosen. Well, we made it. After going through the bascule bridge in the middle, I was a bit leary about the exit channel on the East side, so I called a passing fishing boat, which had just come in from that way, on the VHF to ask about the channel. He immediately told me to wait and that he would come back out and escort me along the correct track, which he did. Wonderful people.

The Tred Avon is a lovely river taking you past the small town of Oxford. For this evening I had no plans for ¡®shore leave¡¯ as the recommendation was to anchor in Trippe Creek. This we did, and it was a lovely peaceful spot,  well sheltered but with stacks of room. We had it to ourselves. We BBQd, chatted and watched a movie (I introduced them to Kung Fu Hustle)

Our final day¡¯s cruise took us back across the bay to return to Solomons. I had been unable to get a marina berth anywhere in Annapolis, regretfully, but had found one at the Solomons Yacht Centre at a good rate: $12US per foot per month, plus electric. It turned out to be a good place, with a nice pool and facilities. All the necessaries are nearby, including, as I have mentioned before I think, the best supermarket we have seen in the USA.

Theoretically, we were rising at 0400 the next day to go to the airport, and I had hired a car accordingly. However, I luckily logged on to read the Daily Telegraph online (www.telegraph.co.uk), and discovered the baggage handlers strike affecting BA. A phone call confirmed that indeed, B&L were not going anywhere for a while.

Therefore, on Friday we had a lazy day, although it was really useful as Bruce, with a little help from me, finally got to the bottom of Jade¡¯s airconditioning problems. We had been regularly experiencing the system cutting out with air in the cooling water. We spent hours looking for the leak. Indeed, now I think of it, we had had the problem, albeit more rarely, for a long time. Even in Bradenton, Pat had fitted a small spigot to drain air out. The AC draws its water from the same through-hull as the generator and anchor wash down. This feeds a Groco macerator which will chew up and spit out anything which gets drawn into the intake before the water is sent to its various destinations. This threw us off. What we finally discovered was happening was ¡­.. Jellyfish! These poor beasts, which are everywhere in the Chesapeake, but nowhere more so than Solomons, get drawn to the intake, but they don¡¯t get sucked into the Groco, oh no. they get stuck on the grill on the outside of the hull and block the flow. The tremendous vacuum then created by the AC pump then drags some air back, probably through the wash down pipe. Obvious why we were fooled, isn¡¯t it? One has to wonder why a fairly fine mesh grill is placed on the outside of the through-hull when the pipe leads to a most efficient and powerful strainer/macerator? I¡¯m going to remove the grill when I get a chance, but in the meanwhile we discovered that, carefully noting the position of the through hull from the outside, we can reach it to clean it off with the deck brush. An aggravating factor is that the problem rarely occurs in the day, but mostly at night. I have surmised, I believe correctly, that these creatures stay deep during the day, but in the evening they come closer to the surface where they get caught. They are not powerful enough swimmers to get away. I thought somebody local must have the answer to this problem, but instead found that my neighbours stoically put up with the problem. Hmmm. There is a business opportunity here. I am convinced the Groco would deal with them if only they could get through to it! Instead I have had to regularly get up at 3.00am to brush off the inlet and restore the AC.

B&L could not get on a flight on Saturday either, so we went into Washingon for the day. B is a bit like Crocodile Dundee, not having seen much outside Australia, so it was great to have a look at the White House, Capitol, Washington Monument and the buildings of the Smithsonian. I tried to get him to do a Mick Dundee pose, you know, silly grin and pointing to something, but he wouldn¡¯t! Lyndsey dropped her glasses whilst walking from the car to the sights. She rushed back and found them laying on the pavement! Lucky girl.

They finally got on a plane Sunday morning. It was a really early start. We were on the road by 0445, as they were departing from Washington Dulles, on the other side of the city. We made it comfortably in 1.5 hours. Their motorway ring rode is known as the ¡®Beltway¡¯. Early on a Sunday morning this is a good and easy drive. However, Washington is famous for its traffic jams, so I hope never to try it on a weekday. Now I am on my own until my son Ben comes with his girlfriend on 1st September. Cam is returning on 6th. Back to list

Solomons, Maryland  26-7-2005

We spent a lovely day on Tangier Island. We had a walk right around the little lanes, looking at all the pretty houses. Most of them are very well tended with little gardens full of gnomes and imitation wooden wishing wells. The locals do indeed speak with a very strange accent. With many its just slightly noticeable, but we met a young man named, I think, Brett. (I¡¯m not sure I remember correctly). He was 24 with ginger hair, anyway. He spoke just as I imagine an Elizabethan would speak, but with a bit of a drawl. At first you think ¡®Yokel¡¯, but he gave us some insights into this island life. He made good money for a single man, helping on a crab boat, earning over $100 per day, but very hard work, long hours on the water. He noted that these days they have to work twice as many crab traps as they did 20 years ago to reach their quota in bushells. Their activities are frowned upon by conservationists, as the crabs are over-fished, but these people have known no other life for 350 years. If they are to move to another kind of living they will need help, training and money, and even then, there will be a danger of losing their unique culture. Say for example, that they turn more to tourism, which is already important. I think the island has just about its limit already, with three loaded tour boats every Sunday, and boaters like us coming throughout the summer. And what are they to do in the winter, when it gets bitter cold? They are often iced in for weeks. I would have thought there was considerable scope for fish farming, but that would need expert advice and support. Brett (I shall continue to call him) also noted that although it was an ideal place to bring up young children, there was nothing for teenagers and older to do. Alcohol is not sold on the island (nor on neighbouring Smith Island) and there doesn¡¯t seem to be any social centre where locals meet. For the young its great, with no crime or traffic (except the dozens of electric carts and about 6 cars) and lots of fun things to do¡­ like go crabbing! Honestly, given that most will have little choice but to go into this business as adults, it was strange that every kid I saw on the Sunday was with his/her friends looking for crabs!

We made a mistake by not bringing any cash with us. We have got used to using the credit card all the time, but there is no ATM on Tangier, and Parks Marina only takes cash or cheques. Still, they sorted something out with a local restaurant, so we were ok. I took a bicycle ride around the island and saw a bit more, including the small airfield. This seems to run independently of the islanders, probably all day trippers from the mainland. The locals associate themselves more with the East shore of the bay, and keep cars in lock-ups at Crisfield. We had another excellent seafood meal in the evening, well, late afternoon actually. The restaurants close at 6-7pm. Then Daddy proved his prowess as a fisherman, by catching loads of tiny shrimp with Molly¡¯s net. Since they and their mother¡¯s efforts had netted only a few jellyfish, my reputation was much enhanced. Incidentally, some of the jellyfish are without tentacles, and harmless. Molly amazed me by happily holding one in her hand. She is normally so squeamish and cautious.

We left the next morning, this time by the West exit into the main bay, which turned out to be an easy route with 8-10 ft of water. However, the NOAA forecast once again was hopeless. They were correct about the South winds, but they forecast 10 knots. We actually had SW winds at 25 knots, gusting to 30, a real yachtsman¡¯s gale. To get into deep water we had to go about 3 miles with it on the port bow, and it was even more bang crash than on Saturday, especially in the shallow water. Really square waves about 6-8¡¯. Small boats could get into trouble, but we were fine. Once we regained more depth I was able to alter course to the North and put up, first, just the jib, then a short while later the main with two reefs. It was blowing about 18 knots apparent on the quarter, but this excellent ride at about 8-9 knots didn¡¯t last more than half an hour before I noticed the wind rapidly dropping. I put the full main up, which kept up a decent speed for another half hour, but then we had 5-6 knots on the beam, still with quite a sea running from the earlier winds. More motor-sailing, for about 2 hours. However, the best was saved til last when the wind went back up to about 10 knots true from the quarter. I put up the gennaker and we made a very smooth 5 knots for about another 2 hours before the wind backed until it was right aft. Rather then gybe downwind I rolled up the gennaker and kept us going with the jib goose-winged, which was quite effective. We were still doing 4.5 knots, but directly towards our destination, rather than going faster but by an indirect gybing route. We saw no other boats except one crab boat on this whole journey. The gennaker furling system is proving very troublesome. The furler itself is too small in diameter, and has a habit of wrapping the continuous furling line. This in turn is led through several turning blocks and is just plain clumsy. I¡¯m going to redo the whole system when we are in Annapolis, and will possibly change the drum for a larger one.

Our destination was Solomon¡¯s Island, just inside the mouth of the Patuxent river on the West coast of the Bay. The island and its environs is a maze of small creeks absolutely packed with marinas. I have never seen so many pleasure yachts in one place. There must be 20 marinas at least. We managed to find an anchorage, and after getting advice from a nearby yacht, went ashore at the Holiday Inn resort, where there is a dinghy dock. Apparently they charge $2, but nobody was there. We walked through their lobby, across the car park and found a small Mall. We had an excellent large pizza for $4.99 (Monday nights only), then went into the next door supermarket which was the best we have yet seen. Not too large, but much more like a delli than a supermarket. It reminded my most of Oliver¡¯s in Central.

The evening on board was much enhanced by the fact that the generator started and kept running. As I write, on Tuesday, it is still running, that¡¯s 20 odd hours so far. But it sure is hot. There is a heat advisory being put out on the radio. The actual temperature is close to 100 degrees F, but with the high humidity, the heat stress index is about 115! A full morning of school is to be followed by a rest, then a venture ashore later in the afternoon. We may stay a day or two more, depends what¡¯s here. We are only 35 miles from Annapolis. Back to list

Tangier Island  23-7-2005

We sailed from the NYCC at about 0900, as I had to settle the bill before leaving (naturally). The route out of the Elizabeth River and into Hampton Roads takes you past the Norfolk Naval Base. We had seen several warships at the repair yards in downtown Norfolk and Portsmouth, but here we were to pass numerous frigates, Destroyers, Cruisers and no less than four nuclear aircraft carriers. M&N were more interested in their dolly game. Perhaps it would be different if they were boys. The main channel goes right past the base, and as we were going by, there were two frigates inbound. I kept right over to starboard to give them plenty of room, and there is shallow water (even for us) not far outside the channel, or worse, one would be too close to the warships. Anyway, just as I was about 400 metres away, the first frigate altered course to port right across my bows, and at the same time, three tugs which had been hovering went alongside him. Obviously he was going into a berth in the base. I did the obvious and altered course to port to pass aft of him, and then a RIB with ¡®Security¡¯ on the side comes tearing up and orders us to alter course further to port, obviously to increase our distance from the frigate. Well on my port quarter was another vessel paralleling us. Some sort of port works government vessel. Altering to port would have probably caused a collision. I pointed to the other vessel, I called the security vessel on VHF 16, no response except for more loudhailer demands to immediately alter course to port. I couldn¡¯t even stop as that would have put me stationary very close to the stern of the frigate. Repeated calls on the VHF were ignored, so I just ignored the RIB and pressed on. Eventually they turned away after giving us angry stares. No question they have a job to do to keep vessels away from warships, but they were far too late, and their subsequent actions were dangerous. The next frigate showed the correct way to do things. When I was still half a mile away they called me on the VHF (¡°white catamaran heading to Hampton Roads¡­ etc¡±) identified themselves as the warship ahead of me and told me they were preparing to alter course to port to enter the base, and asked my intentions. I replied that I would alter to port and go outside the buoys on the far side of the channel, where there was, by now, more water. Everybody happy and they gave me a polite thank you. Pity about the thoughtless first frigate and the incompetent security boat!

I had sincerely hoped to do more sailing once we had reached Chesapeake Bay, but here we were entering it, and guess what? Almost no wind, and what there was from dead ahead. So once again we motor-sailed all day. This took us through Hampton Roads, then round to port until heading more or less North up the bay. Our destination I had spotted on the chart, and seen photos of in a cruising guide I had a glance at¡­ Deltaville. It was a very tight channel leading into Jackson Creek, taking us within 50¡¯ of the beach, and scarily close to barely awash mudflats. I had to try to ignore the Osprey nests on almost every channel marker. Each had one or two apparently full grown chicks. This creek takes you right into an enclosed lagoon, totally calm and surrounded by smart houses. There are still a lot of shallows, but by circling several times and using the chart plotter and my eyes very carefully, we anchored in the exact centre of the largest piece of water with any depth.

There was a beautiful sunset, especially at the end when it was nearly dark, and it was very quiet and peaceful. I had planned to do dinner, but Cam helped, and we turned out a delicious beef curry. Thankyou Patak¡¯s! As there was no wind, I started our repaired generator and we enjoyed AC¡­ for about 3 hours until suddenly the generator engine hiccupped a couple of times, tripping the electric supply. I was deeply disappointed to once again have problems, although checking the engine revealed no obvious problems.

We had another warm night, but when I awoke, I suddenly realised that I had used the fuel polisher whilst moored at the NYCC, and had forgotten to return the valve to the normal running position. This is easily done because the polisher is on a timer, and if you set it for 1-6 hours, you are supposed to remember the valve when it has finished. It obviously did not affect the main engines, one of which had run all day, but I hoped that this was the cause of my genny problem. I tried starting it and it ran smoothly for 10 minutes, but I had no time to run it longer. As I write I still have not tested it for any length of time.

I was tempted to stay in Deltaville for another day, but I believed our anchorage was quite a long way from anything to see, so reluctantly decided to make a move in the morning, and my decision was reinforced by noticing a distinct wind blowing, even in our sheltered anchorage. It was too much to hope that it would also blow from the right direction. Still, we set off, and I very soon put a reef in. We had up to 22 knots apparent, which is a bit borderline for reefing, but I am still playing safe. The waves were about 4-6¡¯, and short and square so we had a very bumpy ride. The best course I could make was ENE across the bay, whereas our intended destination, Tangier Island, lie NE of us, not too bad, but with the constant bashing from the waves, we were probably making quite a bit of leeway too. After three hours of this I decided to motor sail so we could head nearer our destination. Cam had retired to her bed, not sick, but sensibly avoiding the discomfort. Later the wind backed to the NW, so we did get another sail for the last hour and a half, and this time I had shaken the reef out, so despite the pounding, we went well, making 6.5 knots at 35 degrees apparent with about 15 knots of true wind. Crash bang, crash bang. Nothing broke, and I and Nancy enjoyed it. Molly lay down on the cockpit bench and kept asking if we were there yet, and Cam slept.

Tangier Island is quite famous. It is a tiny sliver of flat land in the middle of the bay. Visited and named by John Smith (the John Smith, think of Pocahontas) in about 1608. Just North of Tangier is a larger, though more sparsely populated, island called Smith Island, named for and by him. Because of its isolation the inhabitants of Tangier Island have a unique way of speaking, and have a distinct old-English accent. They all live off the sea, mostly catching crabs, for which the island is famous. It was also used as a base by the British fleet during the war of 1812. (This war is not mention much by Americans. They go on and on about war of independence, and the civil war, because in the former they won, and in the latter, half of them won. In the 1812 war they very much lost, badly, hence the reticence).

Another very tight entrance channel leads you into a narrow creek which splits the island in two. Each side is lined with houses on stilts and fishing boat docks. It reminds me a lot of Tai O, on Lantau Island. Luckily there is also Parks Marina, more similar docks but for the public. We got the only large berth, another stroke of fortune. Its $30 per night for us, with power, so good value for such a fascinating place. As we berthed I learnt a lesson. Several guys appeared, along with the old guy who was obviously Mr. Parks. I made two assumptions. First that they were part of his staff, and second that they knew what they were doing. Neither assumption was true. There was still a strong wind blowing, together with quite a current, so manoeuvering into the berth was challenging. I¡¯m good at this sort of thing, but it took all my attention. Just as we were coming alongside, these idiots let one of the mooring lines trail in the water, unnoticed by me, so the inevitable happened and it went round my starboard prop. It cut the end of the rope (probably on the rope cutters) so I hope all that has happened is that I have lost a bit of one of my lovely mooring lines. They also wrapped the mooring lines higgledy-piggledy around the posts in a complete mess. I have yet to check if there is a length of line still wrapped around the prop. It did stall the engine so there might be. I¡¯ll check tomorrow, but diving here is really difficult because of very murky water and huge numbers of stinger jellyfish. Hmmm. I need one of those underwater viewing cameras on a probe.

We went ashore for dinner. There are three or four restaurants on the island, which has a population of about 600. We chose one at random, and it was good. I chose the crab cakes, for which the island is also famous, and they were indeed delicious, and Cam had a whole seafood platter, including a crab cake. It was quite expensive, but given the location, one can understand. (Think of Leung Suen Wan) Then a movie aboard (Toy Soldiers) and after the kids went to bed, I watched my DVD of Cream¡¯s farewell concert at the Royal Albert Hall. That was the early 60s. They were the original heavy metal band. Some guitarists have equalled Eric Clapton, especially my favourite, Slash from Guns n¡¯ Roses, but nobody has ever drummed like Ginger Baker. I think we¡¯ll stay here until Monday. I want to see some of the island and the weather forecast suggests calms tomorrow with a Southerly for Monday, and since we¡¯re off North, let¡¯s try to go with the wind for a change. Incidentally, I have found the forecasts from NOAA (National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration) to be poor. They are usually somewhat off, and occasionally wildly inaccurate. All sailors are aware that local conditions can vary a lot from the general forecast, but NOAA have been so consistently wrong for the last two months that I take everything they say with a pinch of salt. There seems to be no oversight, they are not audited by anybody. I¡¯m also pissed off with the very poor radio procedure used by the US Coastguard. They send lots of safety messages out either on channel 16, or tell you to listen on channel 22A. However, they love to repeat who they are at least three or four times (¡®this is Coastguard Station Hampton¡¯ twice at beginning and end of message) but only say the safety message once. They insist on saying that the message was signed by their commander (who cares?) and worst of all, they gabble. I know I¡¯m a Brit listening to Yank accents, but it really is bad. A heavy drawl, no attempt at clear enunciation, and spoken far too fast. I have several times heard locals ask them to repeat parts of messages, usually the important part. I mean, if they are telling of an overturned boat SW of an island, surely they should say the name of the island carefully, because their message will be received by vessels over several hundred miles (they have very good transmitters). They really need a talking to. I might just record a few over the next weeks then send them to the Commander of the Coastguard with a few comments. It wouldn¡¯t be acceptable in the HKP Marine Region!

Well, off to bed. Nice AC with the shore power, best enjoy it. Back to list

Norfolk  19-7-2005

Well, our flat water cruising speed on one engine at 2800rpm is 6.1knots! I know because the upper reaches of the Pasquotank river were very flat and calm with no current at all. But very beautiful, winding and ever narrowing with tree-lined banks with glimpses of quiet glades. Eventually we turned into the Great Dismal Swamp Canal. It is very narrow, perhaps 80¡¯ across, but effectively much narrower because the banks are lined with logs, patches of  water weed, overhanging branches and stumps sticking up. Above the trees come close to touching in the centre, and if that was not enough to focus the attention, there are a lot of floating lumps of wood, varying in size up to logs. One has to keep constant vigilance, but the design of our hulls, and our shallow draft, seems to have done the trick, as although there were a number of clonks from the bow, we do not seem to have struck anything underneath, or with the rudders and propellers. When the first lock opened, a tour boat called Bonnie Blue pushed in front of us. I thought it was because he expected to be faster than Jade, but once we got going he proceeded at 4 knots. Of course, it was completely impossible to overtake, so this selfish action scotched any chance of doing the whole swamp in one day, something we had considered. The second, North, lock has its last opening at 3.30pm, and at 4 knots we would never make it. Funnily enough, I mentioned this boat¡¯s conduct to a lock-keeper, and the staff at the swamp visitor¡¯s centre, and both had nothing good to say of the operator.

So, decision made for us, we had an early stop at the visitor¡¯s centre, about 4 miles past the South lock. There is a free dock there, although the water tap supplied was non-functional. The staff at the centre were very friendly and welcoming, and even offered to take us by car to the supermarket if we needed it. We spent some time inside reading their many brochures, as it was baking outside. STILL no gen/AC. Cam was brave, however, playing badminton with Molly on the grass. Late in the afternoon we had a spectacular thunderstorm, almost inevitable given the heat and humidity. We were sheltered from the wind by the trees, probably about 100¡¯ high, but we got the rain and the noise.

It was lovely the next morning, starting at 7.00am. Cool enough to enjoy the second part of the journey through the swamp. We saw very little wildlife, just a few birds and lots of dragon flies. Almost eerie.

After leaving the canal at the North lock, things changed rapidly. A winding river for a few miles and then we turned into the Elizabeth River and rejoined the regular ICW route. Now it became very industrialised as we entered the Norfolk, Portsmouth and Chesapeake conurbation. We had to pass under two or three lift bridges, our first (and last) and then we were surrounded by the massive naval yards repairing all sorts of warships. Acting on a recommendation from an acquaintance we met in Elizabeth City, we called the Norfolk Yacht and Country Club and were given a berth, although the rate was more expensive than we had been told. Still, it was great to get the shore-power plugged in. The club facilities are excellent, with a nice pool, tennis, restaurants etc. The pool has been much enjoyed by M&N, but this is a strange club. There is no social interaction between the older members on a routine basis like I have grown to expect in a club. The bar is deserted in the evening, and the receptionist looked at me with amazement when I asked if there was any social drinking place in the club. During our travels around  Norfolk, one cannot help but notice the high percentage of coloured people, but there don¡¯t seem to be any black members of the NYCC. We have received polite greetings from members, but no overt friendliness, unlike our experiences so far on our journey where we have almost been overwhelmed by hospitality.

The staff, for the most part, are friendly and helpful, but I have drawn the possibly hasty conclusion that this club is full of class and race-conscious snobs who are generally unfriendly until they have assured themselves that you are in their financial and social class. Perhaps I¡¯m wrong. Next time, if we want a berth in Norfolk, we will go to the Tidewater Marina.

We hired a car for a couple of days, sorted out an issue with the Sprint phone, and then had a day out during which we visited the battleship ¡®Wisconsin¡¯ at the Nautica maritime museum. This ship is awesome, and very beautiful, with lovely lines. To stand aboard a vessel that fought in the Second World War, Korea, Vietnam AND the Gulf war was a strange feeling. She seems in immaculate condition, and is still officially a mothballed vessel that could be brought back to active service. With weapons from 16¡± guns to cruise missiles, she would still be a formidable, and useful, weapon of war.

Today we had a phone call from Chris, of Magic Carpet. It was really nice to hear from them. They are near Annapolis on their way North. I don¡¯t know if we will get together with them this summer, but it seems likely that, if not, we will see them in the Bahamas in December. I think they are more practiced at making friends, and then parting, not to meet again for perhaps years. I expect this is something we too  must adjust to. We also have a fixed generator! (I hope). It seems it was as simple as an airlock in the freshwater system. There appears to be a design fault allowing a bubble to form too easily. This then either trips the water heat sensor or the oil pressure sensor, or both. Fingers crossed that the problem is permanently eradicated. We have also gained some more spares, in case of future problems.

We have decided to leave early tomorrow and head North. Weather forecast seems ok, although the winds might be light. I will try to sail as much as possible, as we have been a motor-sailer much too often. As long as the winds are not from right ahead, we can make adequate progress. I have identified some possible anchorages from 40-60 miles North of us, so we are not going to be too ambitious. Now for our last dinner ashore for a few days. See if any of the members at the club deign to speak to us. Tomorrow night will be curry¡­ I have found Patak¡¯s curry paste in the supermarket. This is really the best, made in England, but it enables any idiot to make a delicious and authentic-tasting curry. Try the ¡®mild curry paste¡¯. Back to list

Elizabeth City     16 July 2005

Well, we have had a wonderful time in Elizabeth City, mostly due to the warm friendship we have formed with Toni, Lyn and the kids. Elizabeth is just a little younger than Molly, and the three girls get on well together. Jacob is a lovely boy and tolerates being surrounded by a gang of girls. Toni, talkative Toni, is such an open and frank person that it is impossible not to like her. We have talked over a wide range of things, and felt the strength of her Christian beliefs. She has shown us around the town, shopped for us and been a gem. Lyn, who is quieter, is a Coastguard man, and yesterday we had the honour to be taken for a tour of his base, a huge facility where he works on helicopter maintenance and upgrading. M&N got to sit in the pilot¡¯s seat, and they loved it. He also took us to see an enormous blimp hanger which was awesome, and in the surrounding fields were lots of white tail deer, all come out to feed in the evening twilight. I liked that best, and I think M&N did too. Lyn is very proud of his job, and rightly so, but even more proud of his family. Our dinner at their house was memorable, not just for the warmth of their welcome, but also the quality of the steaks! Today, our last day here, we took Toni & the children for a ride in Jade up the river. We had to go for fuel and water, so were 3 miles up the river through the bascule bridge anyway. The only source of  fuel was a tiny marina up a narrow creek, but as usual, beam isn¡¯t the problem, draft is, so we were ok. This Lamb¡¯s Marina is a useful place to know as they also have a well stocked convenience store and have moorings for only $30 per night. Unfortunately their shore power is 30amp, so no good for us, and it would have been too hot without AC, but I shall remember it as an option on the way back. The Pasquotank river is lovely in its upper levels, and we will do this journey again tomorrow when we head for the ¡®Great Dismal Swamp¡¯.

One downside of our day was the heat, from which there was no respite because changing the oil pressure switch has not solved the problem with the generator. It took me hours, too, so I am pretty disappointed. It now seems likely there is a wiring fault, but where, who knows? Next Gen have given me some more suggestions, and a few of the easy ones I might try tomorrow, but probably we will have to wait for Norfolk, Virginia two days away where they believe they can get someone to look at it. Tomorrow night we had planned to stop at the visitor centre halfway along the canal. We¡¯ll have a look when we get there because if there is no wind it will be very uncomfortable with no AC, as we will be alongside. We have anchored North of the Elizabeth City bascule bridge so we don¡¯t need to go through it in the morning. Frankly this would have been the place to stay throughout as the river is wide, but sheltered here, so no worry about the long fetch we had before. The holding seems ok, but its hard to say until you do or don¡¯t drag!

We calculate that if the visitor centre, just after the first lock, is no good, we can just make the opening of the second lock so that we can complete the run through the canal in one day, still, it will be a shame to miss a night in the swamp. There are very few boats passing through now as we are well behind the crowd. We saw one crazy couple heading for St. Augustine in Florida in their Hunter 466. He was convinced that hurricanes don¡¯t go up the East coast until late in the season. I do not share his confidence. At least he has booked a place to haul his boat ashore for September and October. I hope they make it safely.

Once again it was sad to say goodbye to friends, but we hope to have Lyn & Toni visit us in Annapolis. It also reminds me of Reba and Sax, and Rick & Pat in Isle of Hope, Chris & Karyn from Magic Carpet, Bob & Charlie and other friends at Twin Dolphin. I hope we are conscientious enough to keep in touch with these fine people who have touched our lives.

In Elizabeth City we have enjoyed two meals at the Colonial Restaurant, which I would recommend strongly. We ate good meals in two other places, Carolina Grill & Creek Grill, but the Colonial was real home cooking and modestly priced, with excellent service. D¨¦cor nothing special except for the fascinating collection of cockerels! If any readers pass through, you better try it. Another good discovery for the cruiser is the River Wind club. A bit of a walk but it has an indoor pool , gym & other facilities and the discounted price for cruisers is also very reasonable. We had an hour or so¡¯s swim, Jacuzzi and lovely showers for $US16, and could have stayed much longer if we had wished.

So, its off before 0730 in the morning as we have to make the first lock, 18 miles away, by 1100, and my flat water cruising speed on one engine is 5.9 knots. If we are delayed I can always press on a bit faster.

I hope we have a breeze to cool the cabin tonight.  Back to list

Elizabeth City, North Carolina    13 July 2005

Leaving Beaufort was entertaining. After leaving the Town Creek Marina, I had to take a channel to rejoin the ICW, a couple of miles away. My charts, paper and electronic, showed two options, one a straight shot and the other longer and meandering through the mud flats. I took the straight shot, was between the channel markers when, whoaaa! Aground. Just mud, back off and move to the left where the chart suggested it might be further from a drying spit. Whoaaa! Aground again. Remember we only draw 3¡¯8¡¯¡¯. OK, I knew when IK was beaten. Back off and then back to the meandering channel. By this time four other boats appeared and lined up behind me carefully staying exactly in my wake. Rotten blighters! Why shouldn¡¯t they take some risks? Well, halfway through, I took pleasure in calling the boat behind me on the VHF, knowing the others would listen, and told him my draft, pointing out that if he saw me go aground, he would already be aground. Ha Ha.

Anyway, it was obvious eventually that this was the channel we were meant to use, and the ICW was rejoined with no more excitement. There followed a few miles through narrow waterways and the Adams Creek Canal until emerging into the Neuse River opposite Oriental. I had contemplated stopping at this supposedly pretty town, but there was no obvious anchorage safe from winds SE to NE, although I did hear that a marina there rents mooring buoys. Why pay?  So we continued along this wide river in a flat calm until rounding the point and into the Bay River then up another canal I think is called the Hobucken Canal and into Goose Creek which leads into the Pamlico River. If you go East on any of these waterways you enter the bottom of Pamlico Sound. This large body of water, up to 30 miles wide and over a hundred long separates the Outer Banks from the mainland. The outer banks include hatteras and Okracoake islands, the former defining the famous, and sometimes dangerous, cape Hatteras. It is a very beautiful area apparently, and quite wild, but on this occasion we are skipping it, so we then took a left into the Pungo River and eventually arrived at Bellhaven. This small town is on the North side of Pantego creek which leads into the Pungo River, and it has an excellent anchorage because they have put a breakwater across the mouth of the creek, with a narrow entrance, thus giving protection from the long fetch up the Pungo River. We arrived just after MC, whose efforts at scraping off their ¡®grass skirt¡¯ had obviously brought results. Normally we motor, even on one engine, at a knot faster than them, but this time we only just caught up their half hour head start at the end of a long day. To our mutual surprise, there was only one other boat in the large anchorage. The holding was good and we enjoyed a pleasant night. We did not venture ashore, though perhaps we should have as it is reported to be pretty and convenient, but there are so many places we could see that some must be skipped.

The next day was intended not to be too hard, but it was actually difficult. After a few miles further up the Pungo River, we turned into the Pungo River/Alligator River Canal. This is about 25 miles long, and completely straight except in the middle where a slight bend coincides with a fixed bridge. The only other fixed bridge is right at the beginning, and had to be treated with great care. All my pilot and guide books say that all the bridges on the ICW have a minimum clearance of 65¡¯ except the Julia Tuttle Highway Bridge in Miami at 56¡¯. However, when I look at the chart page it notes the clearance of this ¡®Wilkerson Bridge¡¯ as 64¡¯ and further warns that it has been reported to be up to 2¡¯ lower. (Why don¡¯t they measure it, one might ask?) The gauge as I approach shows 64¡¯, which should be OK for our 62¡¯, but I went through at literally millimetres per hour, fortunately there being no wind or current. With the perspective from the deck it always looks closer than it really is, but I am convinced we cleared it by no more than 6 inches. Phew!

To further complicate this section, the whole length of both sides is marked by the jagged stumps of dead trees protruding from the water, with obviously other invisible ones closer to the centre. This means that one has to keep as closely as possible to the exact centre. This would normally be intensely difficult to do as maintaining this level of attention for five hours would be challenging. The trick I use is to zoom in with the chart plotter at a point at the end of these straight channels, then place a waypoint in the exact centre of the channel. Once I am sure the boat is also in the exact centre of the channel, I press the ¡®Goto¡¯ button, and the boat will follow a track directly down the middle of the channel, for mile after mile. This is because the autopilot logic tells it to keep exactly to the track, and with our ST8001, it will. Using the 4001 wheel pilot is another story! Of course you must double check that the track really is down the centre, then just keep an eye on it. We didn¡¯t hit any snags, so all was well, and I saw 7 different species of dragonfly. The water is like coffee with all the tannin from the trees.

Eventually we emerged into the Alligator River. This is a really deserted area. Along the canal we only saw one other boat, except for MC in the distance behind us, and agin, in the Alligator River we saw one sail boat. It soon becomes featureless with low forested shores some miles on each side, and long straight runs from marker to marker. A wind had come up, but from dead astern giving an apparent wind of 1 knot. No point in trying to sail.

Eventually we went through the Alligator River swing bridge, extraordinary to see this causeway highway in all this wilderness, and turned into the Little Alligator River and found an anchorage I had pre-planned. This was well sheltered from all except the NE, and the wind was forecast to remain out of the SW, which it did except for an hour or two when a distant thunderstorm reversed it for a while.

The MCs joined us aboard for a BBQ, and brought with them their board game, which even M&N could have a go at. We had a fun evening, but a rather sad ending because in the morning we are going our separate ways for a while at least. Cam is very keen to visit the town of Elizabeth City, but this means going through the great Dismal Swamp route, whereas Chris & Karyn, or mostly Chris, I think, wants to take the main ICW Northwards. Their schedule is a bit more pressing than ours, and our choice will add at least two days to the journey, but so be it. We have grown to like this couple very much, and they will always be our first real ¡®cruising¡¯ friends. I watched them make a very early start in the morning, and it was rather melancholy to hear their outboard fade into the distance in the calm. I could hear them for fully 45 minutes, by which time they would have been around 4 miles away.

We got going a little later as we only had 31 miles to go to Elizabeth City. The first hurdle was getting out of the Alligator River and into Albermale Sound. The chart showed a distinct dogleg between two sets of channel markers. It appeared to fail to take this dogleg would certainly put one aground. I was under sail, because a convenient breeze had come up, and we were not in a rush, so I had determined to sail if I could. Luckily I kept the speed right down by playing the sheet, because I quickly found my depth sounder showing nothing! I made a quick guess that most people followed the channel markers so I made a quick jybe and did the same, ignoring the chart. Plenty of water¡­ well, 3¡¯ under the keel, that¡¯s an abyss around here. The breeze then picked up from the beam, and we had a great sail for 10 miles or so across the wide sound. The wind was 10 knots true and we were doing 8 knots. This is what catamarans are for. It was bumpy because with the 10-20¡¯ depths, even 10 knots generates short square waves, and constant course changes were required to avoid the pot buoys. I am convinced that crabs are extinct in the USA. No species could survive this level of intensive fishing.

I had to harden up a lot as we altered course to Port up the Pasquotank River, and unfortunately the wind veered making it even tighter. Still, we could still maintain the direct course, 30 degrees off the apparent wind, at 4 knots. That¡¯s pretty impressive in 10 knots true in a catamaran. I finally had to motor the last few miles because the wind died.

Elizabeth City is a small town on a sharp bend where the Pasquotank dramatically narrows. The descriptions of it in all the cruising guides are effusive in their praise, and for one primary reason, the friendliness of the people, particularly towards cruising boats. This friendliness is personified by the ¡®Rose Buddies¡¯, a voluntary organisation dedicated to meeting each and every cruising boat, holding a cheese & wine party with them, helping them with their needs, giving them 2 days free docking, and finally, giving each lady a rose from the dockside rose garden. Fred Fearing, from an old local family, together with another guy, Joe Kramer, formed this group to help town business and encourage passing boaters to stop, 13 years ago. Joe passed away, but it was he who first provided the roses, and those in the dockside garden were transplanted from his garden. Fred, though 91 years old, is still very much around, and I met him as promised, in his electric golf buggy.

We managed to squeeze into a tight gap behind a large motor yacht, the only remaining space. Plenty of  perpendicular berths were available, but they were too narrow for us. To be honest, our first impressions were not so outstanding. Fred seemed distracted when I met him, and we did not see much in the town to rave about during a first short walk. However, as I write we have been here for almost two days and things have changed dramatically. I met Fred again, and he was much more lively, and Cam got her Rose. We also met another charming couple, Toni & Lyn (Toni is the lady) with their two children Elizabeth and Jacob, who are similar in age to M&N. We had lunch with them and are going to their home for dinner this evening. Toni also showed us many things we had missed in the town, and it seems there is more to see. The Dockmaster, Sam, introduced himself, welcomed us and told us to stay as long as we like since it is now past the busy season and quiet.

This morning I awoke at 5.00am, disturbed by something, and saw that far in the distance to the North and East were the flashes of distant thunderstorms. Cam also got up, and after thinking about it for a while, I decided to cast off and move out into the river to anchor. Despite the convenience of the dock, it is a hard thing of stone and steel and I was afraid that if a squall came up, especially from the east down the river, we would be pinned up against it and not able to get off without damage. As it turned out, the storms missed us, but it was the right decision, and we are now going to stay in the river for a while until the weather looks more settled. We can always dinghy ashore.

I have also diagnosed the problem with our generator, which has refused to keep running unless the starter is still depressed. It is the oil pressure sensor. It is very unlikely that the oil pressure is actually low, since the engine has only run about 70 hours and has plenty of oil, so it is probably a faulty sensor, I hope. Anyway, Next Gen, who were unable to find a mechanic to fix it for us (!!!) are sending a spare, to Toni¡¯s house, so I can probably change it tomorrow. If that does not work, its no generator, and no AC, until we get to Annapolis, so I won¡¯t be happy. Its 90+ degrees most days.

We are now off ashore in the dinghy. By for now. Back to list

Beaufort, North Carolina      8 July 2005    sunny

Southport was again a great stopover. On the Sunday we walked around the pretty town and had a free waterfront concert in the evening with a very, very good band. It is a very country town at it was really nice seeing all the ordinary local people. We bumped into a lady called ¡®Marlene¡¯ who informed us she had been voted the ¡®teacher of the year¡¯ from the town and would be on one of the floats at the 4th July parade the next day.

Of course we went to the parade, going ashore early to get a good place, though we needn¡¯t have worried. It was a good turnout by the locals but there was plenty of space on the kerbside.

The parade was an interesting glimpse into middle America culture. It was supposed to be a celebration of Independence Day, but it seemed to me to be a celebration of the automobile. As long as it was shiny, had a very large engine, it was in the parade. We saw Hummers, fire trucks, sportscars, classic cars, hot rods, loads of midget racers and one marching band! There were dance troups who didn¡¯t dance, singing groups who didn¡¯t sing, and even cheerleaders who didn¡¯t do what I hoped they would do and therefore didn¡¯t cheer me much. All the local officials were riding on open sports cars with their name on the side so the locals could get to see them and vote for them again next time. Even the Sherrif, who incidentally got the largest cheer. Perhaps because he had instructed his men not to issue parking tickets for the long weekend.

There were some soldiers, and Marines, marching with the flag, and they got a patriotic cheer, but there were only 4 or 5 of them. We have discovered that this deep South area, Georgia, South & North Carolina are very patriotic. Most of the houses have large USA flags outside, and it is not wise to criticise the President. They have very much a ¡®My country/President right or wrong¡¯ attitude. I don¡¯t think they are even all Republicans, its just the way they are. However, provided you accept their peculiarities, we have found them all to be universally hospitable and friendly. This was shown later when we went to a park where there was supposed to be children¡¯s entertainment as part of the celebrations. These did not materialise, but there were lots of kids, so M&N quickly made friends and were having fun playing, and we enjoyed a nice sit down in a gazebo. Cam then befriended Heidi, the mother of a little boy playing with M&N, and a little later we also struck up a conversation with Sharon and her mother. Sharon had an adopted son, so I had something in common. She disappeared for a short while, and when she came back, she had bought a gift each for M&N, a little kids handbag with a toy fluffy dog. M&N were delighted, and we were overwhelmed at the kindness from someone we hardly knew. She also offered `her husband¡¯s car for a ride to the supermarket, but as we hadn¡¯t even met him, I declined (regretfully) It seemed a bit much to impose on him, and our needs were not urgent. Karyn and Chris had rejoined us by this time, and Karyn gave me a strange look. We also had a look around the craft fair they had set up behind the church. It had loads of stalls, and was not at all tacky. I bought a couple of trick things a guy showed me (sucker). However, one of them is really great, and will amaze many of the visitors to Jade in future. It¡¯s a metal rod inserted into a glass bottle, and the inner end has two nuts and bolts through it, making it far to large to be removed from the bottle. Its obvious that the nuts and bolts must be removed to extract the rod, but how to do that when they are inside the bottle? The solution is extraordinary, but can be done in 30 seconds, and re-inserted in a similar time. Visit Jade to get the solution, ha ha.

A fireworks display was scheduled for the evening. It turned out we had a grandstand view from our anchorage on the river, as we were joined by hundreds of boats as evening drew in. the display was ho-hum (we¡¯ve seen Hong Kong New year so many times, plus Disney, so it takes a lot to awe us, and Karyn & Chris have seen the Sydney Harbour display at New year, which is spectacular). Seeing the blue flashing lights from several Coastguard and police boats supervising all the viewing boats took me back to my time in HK Police Harbour Division when we had to deal with the spectator boats at the CNY fireworks.

We left the next morning and took a short day¡¯s run up the Cape Fear River thyen the ICW channel to Wrightsville Beach. Our journey was made very short by getting up early and timing the tides just right. There was an excellent anchorage right in the middle of town, free municipal dinghy dock nearby (very well built and maintained) and a small supermarket a few yards away. We walked for two hundred yards to the Atlantic coast side where there was a nice beach, and M&N had a great time for a couple of hours. Cam & I forgot to bring our costumes! After a bit of supermarket shopping, we headed back to the dinghy only to realise we had probably timed it too late to avoid the huge thunderstorm that had sneaked up on us. As we got underway, I could see that the line of driving rain was going to reach us before we got to Jade, and so it proved, but worst of all, halfway there a crack, flash, bang as a bolt of lightning hit perhaps a quarter of a mile away. Then worse, just as we got alongside, already soaked, I looked up just in time to see a huge lightning bolt hit the chimney of a house about 150 yards away. Really frightening, although M&N are great, and largely unconcerned. I try not to convey my fear to them. Final cock-up was having left Jade without putting the lightning conductor cable into the water.

That day, we also met Tick & Andree, an English couple cruising on their 39¡¯ Corbyn monohull ¡®Antic¡¯. They joined us, together with Chris & Karyn, for drinks on Jade that evening.

The following morning we got away early again to catch the flood so as to go out the channel into the Atlantic against it. That way we were sure not to have a wind against tide situation as moderately strong onshore winds were forecast. In fact the wind was modest for the first hour or so, and since we had another long run planned, we had to motor sail. However, the forecast wind soon appeared, and for the first time in a while, we were able to turn off the engines. Before long we were sailing well, with 15-20 knots on the starboard quarter. To my intense delight, we were still overhauling Magic Carpet, even under sail (they had left before us) By the time we reached our destination at the Beaufort Inlet (South of Cape lookout, near Cape Hatteras) we were an hour ahead of them. They claimed weedy bottom, with more than a grain of truth, but their boat is still fast, and we were faster, yeaaahhhh! We were able to make 7-8 knots with the wind too far aft. We would have arrived even sooner if I had jybed downwind, because when I did a few experiments, coming round to 120-130 degrees apparent, our speed went up to 10+ knots. However, it got too rough, the apparent wind was such that we were borderline for a reef, and I didn¡¯t need the hassle. The sea was a beautiful azure blue, alive with flying fish and dolphins, and truly beautiful. You can see a video of the small pod of dolphins, including a baby, that came to swim under  our bow for a few minutes. Look on the video page.

Beaufort is a popular stop for cruisers, and we could not find an anchorage space. Once again, the officially designated anchorages were full of casually laid private moorings. MC arriving later got a private buoy for $10 per day, but we missed that one, and ended up in a marina. Not so bad for a couple of days, but something I now try to avoid.

Beaufort is a small and quite pretty town, with quite a lot of history, and an excellent maritime museum, where they also lend cars to visiting cruisers for two hours at a time. We did this twice with the MCs. The cars in question are old and scruffy, having been donated, but hey, they¡¯re completely free. Its enough time to go to the supermarket or West Marine, and we did both. We also had a good browse at the museum, a walk around the town, and eat some great burgers in  pool parlour! There is a free municipal dinghy dock too, right in town. Definitely worth a stop.

Hurricane Dennis, a serious storm, is currently tracking up the Gulf of Mexico to make landfall in Texas or Alabama. It won¡¯t affect us in any serious way (although we might get some serious rain and thunderstorms next week as it dissipates over the Northern states) but it does serve as a reminder that we are still a bit behind the crowd and should get on to the Chesapeake.

We are off quite early in the morning, and expecting Bellehaven to be our day¡¯s destination. At the moment, in Beaufort, we are only 200 statute miles from the Northern end (the beginning) of the ICW, a long way from the end at Miami at mile 1095, and even further from Bradenton on the West coast of Florida. I estimate we have travelled 1500 miles in Jade so far. Forecast is for very light winds tomorrow, but the first part of the journey is up narrow channels. Then we are in a large river and part of the bottom end of the huge Pamlico Sound. We have ummed and ahhed a lot with Chris and Karyn as to our route from here, as we could sail all the way up Pamlico Sound, something I rather fancied. I think we have decided on Chris¡¯s preference to stick to the ICW channel, but we¡¯ll finalise that on route tomorrow. Back to list

Southport, North Carolina   2 July 2005

Well Charleston was great. The mooring in the Ashley river was a bit problematic. Strong current and for some reason they allow people to lay pot buoys in the anchorage. Still, once we got settled, it turned out to be very convenient, just opposite the marina. Although the Charleston City Marina is expensive, they only charge $5.00 per day for dinghy docking, and the marina staff are very smart and efficient.  From the Marina dock it was a pleasant 15 minute walk through shady streets to the downtown shopping area. This was a bit touristy, but nice nevertheless. Indeed, we really liked the town, it has a nice atmosphere, the houses are charming, and everything (except a supermarket) is centrally located.

To make our visit even more pleasant, we met up with Chris & Karen from the Australian Catamaran ¡®Magic Carpet¡¯. This lovely couple have been cruising for more than 11 years on a very leisurely circumnavigation, 4/5ths of which they have completed. Their catamaran is only 34¡¯ long, but rather wider than Jade, and VERY fast. It has a 9.9hp outboard for motoring, and I have seen how well she moves under engine. They have a water maker, but everything else is very basic. However, after 11 years, everything is well thought out, and the don¡¯t suffer for their lack of A/C, TV etc. I think the boat¡¯s performance will be a real plus point, helping them knock off long passages quickly, keep clear of bad weather, and be great fun. Magic Carpet is obviously also very seaworthy have voyaged many thousands of ocean miles. We had dinner with them a couple of times, and are now travelling in company as our immediate destinations are similar.

We also met a nice guy called Sid who volunteered us a ride in his car to West Marine and the post office, and took us on a tour of downtown Charleston, all just to be kind to visitors. If you are reading this Sid, sorry we missed you before we left, thanks again for everything, and good luck with the boat.

The gas pipe saga was a tale of kindness and inconsiderate behaviour. After phoning around we got a nice guy who referred us to his friend from Charleston Boatworks who he was sure could do our gas. It turns out he was a refrigeration engineer, but he was very nice and helpful and referred us to his colleague Chris who immediately promised to arrange someone to do the job, but said it probably would not be until the next day. He promised to call us back with an appointment time. After no call back, I tried to call him, but several messages left at his office were not replied to. I finally got hold of him at lunch time the next day, when he blithely told me he was too busy, and to salve his conscience, gave me another number. Needless to say, that person was busy for a week. Well Chris, after all the nice people we went through to get to you, you turned out to be an inconsiderate git. You could have told us in the first place that you were busy, and if the business was unexpected, how long would it have taken you to call us?

I finally got Pat from Manta (their fault, after all) to overnight us a new pipe. It arrived as promised (but was 10¡¯ long instead of 3¡¯), and miracle¡­ cam & I had no problem replacing it ourselves. To cap it all, since we were deep in the bowels of the cupboard under the sink, Cam suggested we have another go at the water filter, and sure enough, we easily re-assembled it without a leak! I don¡¯t know why it wouldn¡¯t seal originally, but maybe the stars of repair Karma were in the ascendancy for those few minutes, and both jobs done. We felt really good about it, so Cam had another go at the washing machine which had been temperamental, and that worked too!!!! For those of you who havn¡¯t heard this before, a common definition of cruising is ¡°fixing your boat in exotic places¡±.

Since we had been so successful, we set off the next morning, after topping up the water from the marina. It had been planned to be a ¡®crack of sparrow fart¡¯ start, but a very late night watching, then discussing, ¡®Fahrenheit 911¡¯ with Chris & Karen meant that the sparrows had mostly completed their ablutions by the time we got underway. Magic Carpet (MC) was a short way ahead of us. Just after leaving the Cooper River and entering the narrow ICW channel there is a swing bridge. The nice lady opened it on demand, and I was a bit puzzled when the right side swung open towards me, but I headed for the starboard channel anyway. Then the lady called me sharply and said ¡°There¡¯s only one channel Cap¡¯n¡±. I was just in time to swerve to port as I simultaneously noticed there was only fendering through the left channel.

This was a bit dangerous. It was not marked as special on my charts, paper or digital, and every other swing bridge I have come across has had two channels. Well, we live and learn, this time happily without an accident.

Not long after, I saw MC in the distance crossways in the channel. My suspicions were later confirmed by a sheepish admission that the bottom had been consulted and found to be firm in its opinion that it likes boat hulls. MC¡¯s crew also were reminded that, just because there¡¯s 3¡¯ under your port hull, it does not mean there is the same under your starboard hull some 25¡¯ away. They only draw 2¡¯ with their dagger board up!

That night we anchored in Winyah Bay, a place identified by me because I was considering doing an Atlantic dash the next day to avoid a section of ICW known as ¡®The Rocks¡¯ for obvious reasons. Winyah Bay gives a good channel into the Atlantic, or if the weather proved unfavourable, we could still take the ICW. The anchorage was peaceful, but not good holding. MC dragged during a squall in the night, but luckily Chris was alert to it, so no drama, no, the drama came earlier. They had invited us to dinner in return for feeding them in Charleston, and we had a lovely meal. Despite the smaller size of their boat (relatively, its still huge compared with monohull¡¯s) and no standing headroom in the saloon, their dining table is much better than ours, and has provoked a decision to do something about Jade¡¯s. The food and company was great, until twilight, when we were suddenly attacked by a whole hoard of mosquitos. It was really not funny. We had to beat a hasty retreat in our dinghy whilst the MCs frantically tried to get their screens up and eject the multitude already inside. Luckily we had finished eating, but Chris was just getting warmed up with his guitar (singing ¡®I¡¯m being swallowed by a boa constrictor¡¯) so we have got to encourage him another time. The Highfield¡¯s had a good night, no dragging, A/C and early to bed.

I was up at 5 o¡¯clock (that¡¯s this morning) and got us under way by 6. The chain was very muddy so I had to weigh slowly whilst I washed it with the deck wash. MC was just behind. Down Winyah Bay and out into the Atlantic with the tide. Overall it was a nice day, sunny and clear, and we missed some thunderstorms that passed to seawards. Trouble was there was not enough wind to sail, so both boats motor-sailed the whole day. Chris had proposed a better, though more ambitious plan¡­ instead of going as far as the Little River entrance, we would go all the way to Cape Fear, probably close to 80 miles altogether. Cape fear entrance is what is called a class A entrance, that means well marked with no shoaling, and except in very bad weather, no bar. Well we made it, and in daylight too. I had a brief flirtation with the gennaker when I thought the wind might just be strong enough, but could only make 4-5 knots. Not bad in those winds, but too slow to make Cape Fear in daylight./ However, Karen took the chance to kindly take lots of pictures of Jade under sail, so I am very much looking forward to seeing them. I expect they will appear on the web site shortly.

We saw lots of dolphins, flying fish (which can do at least 300 metres), but I had a sneaking hope for whales, but no luck.

We both made it before dark, and I found a tight anchorage which we shared just off the ICW in the town of Southport, North Carolina (our fourth state on this trip). It has a good reputation, and looked very pretty as we came past. Tomorrow, provided this anchorage is ok on a Sunday with masses of traffic, we are all going ashore. That¡¯s all Folks! Back to list

25 June, 2005     in Charleston, by Cam 

Drag aboard?

A boating life,

A fleeting life.

Sunshine, blue sky,

Ran out to hide.

Book reading, sun bathing¡­

All in my longing,

Daily cleaning, children rearing,

Want to escape but who else's helping?

It¡¯s a nice boat,

It¡¯s a great home,

We love dolphins

especially when they come close.

But yet I can¡¯t get

my convenience back home.

No car, can¡¯t drive,

I¡¯m trapped, can¡¯t roam.

¡®Drag aboard¡¯ as Pat did say,

I hope I¡¯ll feel better another day.

Away from home,

Feet find no stone,

Sailing most days

Stopping at bays,

But mostly looking instead of walking.

Want a shower,

Shortage is water.

Where¡¯s the water maker?

It¡¯s there,  but no good for here,

As the ICW is too mucky

Making water here will ruin the thingy.

Another day, another problem.

Gas pipe needs fixing when we¡¯re at Charleston.

Raining all day, writing most day,

Try to earn more to go out and play.

Where is Arni?

He¡¯s always here.

Driving the boat is his specialty

It¡¯s a tough job, I try to be understanding,

But for me, nothing has changed, life has not been more relaxing.

Kids are always here, screaming, complaining,

Where¡¯s my three hours of quiet in the morning?

So stop envying me now if you have been listening.

On a shitty day like this I need to complain!

I want land,

I want home,

I want a nice meal,

I want a hair cut,

I want a hot bath,

I want to be pampered,

Not taking care of others

from morn¡¯ till dusk. (published in the risk of a very upset Arni....)Back to list

¡¡

25-6-2005            Charleston, South Carolina

I was fortunate to finally track down a company who were willing to have a look at our outboard. Mathews Marine in Blufton, about 20 miles away. Their service was excellent. Their mechanic looked at the engine and managed to start it. His best explanation was that the fuel was bad, because he was starting it with fresh fuel. This doesn¡¯t seem to explain why at times I could not get a spark, but we¡¯ll see. Since taking the engine back and changing the fuel, it has run, but I have only needed it for about 10 minutes, so I have not had a chance to give it an extended run¡­ but currently its ALIVE! I have also bought some fuel stabiliser, recommended by locals, which claims to stop petrol going ¡®off¡¯ for up to a year.

I am very disappointed at the many other Tohatsu dealers I have tried. They were either not interested or could not touch it for weeks. All of them, Mathews Marine included, state they carry no spares, so if any are needed, they have to have them freighted. Still, if you are in the Savannah area, call Mathews Marine, they wouldn¡¯t even take any payment.

For the rest of the day we visited Hilton Head Island, then toured our way back to Isle of Hope, calling at Reba and Sax¡¯s lovely home on the way to pick up the Volvo filters (which had arrived, hooray). The visit got extended, despite our frozen shopping in the car.

Next day a.m. I shopped, then we took the children out in the afternoon to a local playground, adjacent to which is a small, but nice swimming pool reserved for residents. Another kind local we had met at the dock party signed us in, and the kids had great fun.Nancy loved the slide, but Molly wouldn¡¯t try it. Afterwards they played with Elle, Chloe and their brother in the park whilst we chatted to Matt & Cherie.

After taking the car back (Enterprise give you a pick up and drop off) the tide was high so we manoeuvred alongside the small residents dock we had been allowed to use to fill up with water. This was altogether difficult as I had quite a job getting the two anchors up, the current was running strongly and the dock was small, but with the help of a couple of young local lads, we did it. Afterwards we motored about a mile down river so that we could use one anchor and have an early start.

We had a relatively easy day motoring on one engine to Beaufort (pronounced Bewfut round here). I attempted to dive on the starboard propeller whilst anchored as we had experienced some juddering vibration, but the water was so silty in the river I couldn¡¯t see a thing and gave up the idea. Luckily it cleared with a few minutes use on full throttle. I suspect that the folding prop is beginning to foul, and at low rpm is not opening properly. It may soon become essential for me to clear it, but I hope I can find somewhere with better visibility and less current before trying again.

After one night at anchor, no shore leave, and one near miss by a thunderstorm, we left late catching the 10am opening of the Beaufort swing bridge. To confuse me, they use channel 9 in South Carolina, like Florida, and not 13 like Georgia.

The weather was very windy all day. We were winding in and out of estuaries, and got the tide wrong ¾ of the time, so it was a slow day. I had no choice but to press on at maximum cruising speed for much of the day as the contrary tides were very strong, it being close to Springs. 3 knots was typical. We had got used to it being very quiet on the ICW, but on this run we met dozens of power boats going the other way. Only one slowed for us, and he did so far too late to make any difference. Many of them deliberately came very close to us too. Oh for a paintball gun!

En-route the gas ran out. (They call it propane here, gas is petrol). Pretty good as  we have been using the first bottle for almost two months. The spare is carried in the forward bow locker, and after I got it out and detached the old one, I noticed that the gas locker, which is under the helm seat, was dirty, so I washed it out. To my surprise the last inch of water would not drain out of the vent in the bottom. I suspected a problem because the water initially flowed out rapidly, and this was repeatable. A call to Pat Reischman at Manta revealed that I would have to take the oven out to get at the underneath of the gas locker. After a long day, including a 5 knot counter current rushing out of , we anchored in the Ashley River at Charleston. Ithen set about getting at the gas locker. To my amazement, and disappointment, this is what I found:- The pipe leading from the bottom of the gas locker downward to a through hull in the bridge deck (this is the deck between the hulls, at this point some 2¡¯ above the water.) had been cut too long, so whoever fitted it just allowed an upward bend in it. This meant there was an S bend in it, which when water is in it makes a perfect gas lock! I.e. no gas vent. Then more horrors, the gas pipe to the cooker had been stuffed in place with a 90 degree kink in it, which was obviously cracking. It is a miracle the gas had not escaped into the bilge whilst we were cooking (we always turn off the solenoid when not using the gas) I was able to use a cable tie to ensure that the vent pipe had a continuously downward slope, but could do nothing about the gas pipe. Well, I could have cut off the kinked end and refitted it, I even have the correct gas pipe sealant, but I would much prefer to have a qualified gas fitter to do it. He also needs to be a contortionist to get at it. It being Friday night, that means we have to stay in Charleston for the weekend without any cooker, an its pouring with rain. Thankyou Manta. I fired off an angry e-mail to them, because this type of thing, safety related, is completely unacceptable. However, when talking to Pat earlier I learnt that Al, the plant manager, is leaving, I assume fired. He¡¯s a nice guy but out of his depth. Unfortunately Sandy, the receptionist who I like a lot is his wife, so I expect she¡¯ll be leaving too.

Whoever was responsible for putting my family¡¯s safety at risk like this deserves to be roasted.

Still, steady rain is good for deck washing, and a few more household chores, including writing these notes.

We¡¯ll go ashore if the rain eases. The City Marina, just across the river from us, charges a reasonable $5.00 per day for dinghy docking. Dinner out would be,good,although with the strong tidal currents here, I hope the outboard continues to function. Back to list

¡¡

20-6-2005   Isle of Hope

The morning after the thunderstorm, a Sunday, found us still anchored fore & aft in the river, and as I was fiddling around doing something, a chap in a runabout stopped to chat. Rick ended up by inviting us to an ¡®open dish supper¡¯ to be held on a dock just 100 metres away that evening. We were threatened with another thunderstorm early in the afternoon, but two of them passed either side of us, and the closest strike was about 4 miles away, so all we got were some gusts and a sprinkling. By 5 o¡¯clock it had turned into a beautiful afternoon, and I could see Rick on the dock waving me over.  Since Cam was preparing a dish to take, I used the excuse to go and reconnoitre, as I wasn¡¯t quite sure what to expect. I need not have worried, I was treated with the utmost courtesy and friendliness, and the warm hospitality enveloped all of us when Cam & the kids arrived. The dock was a shared facility for the residents of one end of the community of the Isle of Hope. Most people had deep South accents, which are charming. The highlight of the eating was a ¡®Low Country Boil¡¯, which was a very large deep pan stuffed with potatoes, sausage, onions and prawns cooked over a BBQ fire.  This simple fare was absolutely delicious. I found out  that sometimes they also include crabs, of which there are a lot in the local rivers. We enjoyed this privilege on what turned out to be a beautiful cool, moonlit evening. Several of our new friends offered to show us round, and we kindly accepted an offer from Reba and her husband Sax to pick us up the following morning to see some sights and help us with some shopping. We were also invited to use the dock to park our dinghy when going ashore and given a key to the gate which secured it from the road. Good as her word, the lovely and charming Reba picked us up in the morning, although Sax couldn¡¯t make it. We toured the ¡®Isle¡¯ which consists of beautiful lanes shaded by love oaks covered in Spanish Moss, and many other trees. Reba informed us that Georgians are believed to love their trees more than they do fellow humans! These lanes are lined with elegant houses, mostly of wood, and unlike Florida, mostly two floors, and all done in a charming local style. Many of them date back a very long time. It is obviously a lovely and peaceful place to live. Much mention was made of the large Wal-Mart newly built nearby, which is apparently much resented (though probably used anyway). We then visited Downtown Savannah, but en-route I was able to get four filters for the generator, and also on the phone order a dozen filters from Volvo to be delivered the next day, Reba kindly offering her nearby address for this. We stopped in Savannah and had a walk around the central area, which is exceptionally attractive, with many beautiful shaded squares and a real town centre of shops and restaurants. We had an excellent lunch. I had a sandwich of ¡®shredded hot butt¡¯, which was indeed bbq¡¯d and shredded butt end of pork in a bun with salad & fries, and Cam had a similar bun with oysters in!

We were then taken to a Publix supermarket (so far my favourite in USA, more class than the others) and did a small shop before Reba dropped us off at the dock. I had booked a hire car by phone, from Enterprise because they give you a lift to and from their office. I was picked up at 5-30 and by 6 had a small Dodge Neon. I also managed to get the oil and filter changed on the generator, but to step back a bit, I had tried to do this first of all on Sunday afternoon, but when I climbed into the forward compartment, got the sound shield off and look at the engine, it looked somewhat different to the drawing shown in the owners manual, and completely different to another engine shown in a second manual in the package. Furthermore, the oil filter I had been given in my spares kit was quite a different size to that fitted. On Monday morning I phoned the guy whose name I had from Next Gen, and whilst he had been most polite and helpful when fixing a small problem in Fort Lauderdale, on this occasion I got the clear impression he was patronising me when he told me it was the same engine but just had some shields missing because it was in a sound enclosure, and that the filter was certainly the right one. Luckily I got the part number of an equivalent filter made by Napa before I hung up. It was these that I located from a Napa dealer in Savannah.

Well, when I actually came to do the job, and got the old filter off (this time with a special spanner which worked better than the strap wrench) it was obvious that the supplied Kubota filter was not the right size as its sealing ring would not mate with the engine casing, it was quite a different size. Luckily the Napa filter was the correct size, although I am not too happy using what is actually an automotive filter, and I would prefer to use a genuine Kubota filter. I am going to pursue this with Manta, as they should be able to sort it out for me. Perhaps Next Gen can explain to them why they are providing two manuals, one with significant visual differences and the other bearing no relation to my engine whatsoever, and the wrong filters. I wonder if the spare belts and impellers also provided are correct? I havn¡¯t had a chance to check yet, but I will.

Whilst sailing up the coast from Fernandina Beach, I exploded a Harken Black Magic block which was part of the tackle on the Gerhaur rigid boom vang. I temporarily replaced it with a snatch block intended for the Gennaker. I managed to buy a replacement in West Marine, not too bad at $30, but on the packaging it does say it is covered  by a limited warranty. I don¡¯t think the first one should have broken under the load I put on it, so I might try to contact Harken and see what response I get.

The tide tonight is very high. The flood will not be much of a problem as I have about 100¡¯ of chain and my big spade anchor laid out that way, but I will have to watch the ebb as at the stern I am relying on our largish Fortress, about 20¡¯ of chain and 50¡¯ of rope. The high water depth is about 15¡¯, dropping to 6¡¯ at low water. Luckily there is no wind and a full moon, so I can see what¡¯s happening.

Tomorrow we are having a day out in the hire car, and I will also see if I can find a Tohatsu dealer to sort out our outboard, which is as dead as a Dodo. Back to list

19 June 2005        Isle of Hope, Georgia

We did indeed travel to Disney on Tuesday, and were very fortunate to get a beautiful sunny day with cotton wool ball clouds. Being a weekday, that park was busy but not packed, and we had a great day, especially M&N. They have a system where you can pre-book an attraction ticket, then go back an hour or two later and jump the queue. Using this wisely (you can only get one every couple of hours) you can go on the most popular rides and fill the intervening time with those which have shorter queues. Furthermore, the food prices in Disney World are very reasonable, considering the nature of the place. You may arrive with a cynical attitude, but I defy any but the most jaded to retain that for more than half an hour before the magic gets to you. Its wonderful, healthy innocent fun, and truly magical. This was my third visit, but I enjoyed it just as much as the first time.

We had another day in St. Augustine to finish our shopping, then set off again on our `travels. We saved some money by spending the last day at anchor, which in retrospect would have been suitable for the whole stay. The marina was expensive, at $1.50 per foot per day, plus $10 per day for the 50amp electric. Alternatively you can anchor for free and pay the marina $7.00 per day for dinghy mooring. This means your dinghy will be reasonably safe. it¡¯s a no brainer really, except for having to lug the shopping, and perhaps pay for a little diesel to run the generator, but normally at anchor you get a good breeze and don¡®t need the AC.

After leaving St. Augustine, we again followed the winding channels to Fernandina Beach. This was a good day¡¯s journey, but a long one. I did the whole trip on one engine, averaging about 5 knots (not lucky with the tides this time). This one engine travel is a good option, and one of the reasons I specified inward turning propellers (the transverse thrust counteracts the off-centre thrust). At 2800rpm on both engines we get 7 knots in flat water. At the same RPM on one engine I get 5.8knots. The fuel equation is obvious. However, on this occasion I had another reason than fuel economy. I have had no luck in sourcing more oil filters for the engines. They are now on over 100 hours, and having changed the oil at 50 hours, they are due again at 150. That¡¯s only four more days using both engines, or 8 using one. I have contacted the nearest Volvo dealer at every town we have stopped in, and none stock filters for the small diesels. Since ours are the very common MD2030, I am surprised at this. Furthermore, West Marine and two other chandlers I have tried have books giving equivalent filters from other manufacturers, but they do not even list the MD series in these books. I am going to call Volvo head office from Savannah and insist they solve this problem for me. At the same time I have to locate filters for the Next-Gen generator. I have one, but obviously need a large stock of them, at one every 100 hours.

Fernandina beach gave us a good anchorage opposite the town, and fortunately far enough from the cement factory to keep the noise down. There was quite a lot of current, but the holding was good.

I made a very early start in the morning and headed out of St. mary¡¯s sound into the Atlantic. An excellent weather forecast and the twistiness of the next section of the ICW encouraged this decision. It saved us at least one day, and enabled us to top up the water tank with the water maker, which we can¡¯t use in the silty rivers. We had a lovely day on calm seas, only a lack of wind making it less than perfect. However, motorsailing on one engine at modest revs enabled us to average 5.5 knots, although we were making 7 through the water. This counter `current lasted all day, and was therefore not tide. It is not mentioned on my charts or pilot books, but perhaps is generated as a counter-current to the Gulf Stream which is much further offshore here. We were averaging 10 miles offshore . We went back inshore through St. Catherine¡¯s inlet after some 60 miles, but saved well over 100 statute miles on the equivalent ICW route. Of course we missed some scenery, but in the Atlantic we had dolphins playing under our bows, lots of other wildlife, and a beautiful sparkling sea.

We anchored in Kilkenny Creek, another safe and peaceful anchorage, but with too many flies.

An easy, but winding day then took us to ¡®The Isle of Hope¡¯, where we managed, after a lot of trouble, to anchor fore and aft in a tight anchorage near moored vessels. On route we passed through a narrow cut called ¡®Hell¡¯s Gate¡¯ where I was able to tow free a speed boat which had run aground. His particular mud bank was marked, he had just been careless, but apart from covering himself and his boat in mud, no harm seemed to be done. It was easy to get him off, as we have shallow draft, especially forward, and great maneuverability. I just nudged my bows close enough to throw him a line which he fastened to his bow, and we pulled him off easily.

Our adventures for the day did not end with anchoring, as just after getting both anchors set (very luckily) we were hit by a tremendous thunderstorm. The wind howled and the rain bucketed down, and lightning crashed  all round us. I was terrified, but on this occasion at least, our lightning system of dissipaters, earthing and surge suppression worked, or perhaps more likely, we were lucky.

We can dock our dinghy at the nearby marina, and there is a local bus service, so we are going to Savannah tomorrow.Back to list

¡¡

13 June 2005        St. Augustine

On Saturday 11th, we did indeed make an early start from Titusville, and then spent the morning traveling through torrential rain and very high winds. Visibility was appalling, but luckily the channel markers were not too far apart, and once again, the C-Map NT charts proved to be very accurate. it¡¯s a pity conditions were like this, as the scenery would have been splendid. It is, of course, just like most of Florida, completely flat, but there are an abundance of small islands covered in vegetation and teeming with bird life. Everywhere are pelicans, gulls and cormorants fishing. (¡®There¡¯s little as strange as a pelican, whose bill holds more than his bellycan¡¯) The waterway itself is along sections of a maze of rivers, lagoons, inlets and creeks. For example, during the last few days we have traveled parts of the Indian and Matanzas Rivers and Mosquito Creek. Typically these rivers flow parallel to the ocean, often for a hundred miles before exiting into the ocean through an inlet. Some of these inlets are well marked and fit for large vessels, others are only useable with local knowledge, and some completely unfit for navigation because of shifting sandbars and shoals, and often very rough seas.

The rain eased off by lunchtime, and we made an easy run to Daytona beach where we found a very good anchorage in the middle of town. The days run was wholly on engines, but because of the strong wind, averaging 25 knots, at our back, one engine at modest RPM gave us a consistent 6-7 knots. Another cheap day¡¯s travel! I would have gone ashore in Daytona Beach, except that the wind was still howling and our new outboard engine has proved unreliable. The effort of rowing ashore in that gale rather put me off. We did get the benefit of a splendid fireworks display in the evening from one of the amusement parks near the beach.

On Sunday morning I once again was a lone figure getting us underway just after 0600. And once again it was in pouring rain, although now the wind had dropped right off. Indeed, though not quite so heavy, it again rained steadily until lunchtime. We had a run of 52 miles to make before 5.00pm, and bearing in mind possible delays at a couple of bascule bridges on route, I pressed on using our self-imposed maximum cruising revs of 2800 on both engines. Most bridge operators are excellent, prompt and courteous, but our first bridge that day had a lady who limited herself to only the last of these attributes. Whilst I saw very few vessels for most of the day, our departure happened to coincide with that of 6 other power cruisers, who maintained a similar speed to me as we were in a ¡®no wake¡¯ zone. Thus the seven of us arrived at the L.B.Knox bridge, Jade last. The first vessel had called a couple of times before getting an answer, and the lady then asked him how far away he was. Now by this time, all seven of us were stopped and queuing within 200 metres of the bridge. Despite the rain, I think we were pretty visible. The lady then painstakingly asked each vessel in turn its name, and eventually opened the bridge. Obviously she had not written these names down because she promptly forgot all of them, and then when the sixth vessel was just going through, she said over the radio ¡°Are all of you through, I can close the bridge now, right?¡± Well of course, I screamed out that no way she could because I was just about to go through it, and finally asked her if she had a vision problem. It was obvious that she could not see the waterway either side of her bridge, either because her windows were steamed up, or she was blind. This was a safety issue, and completely out of character given the service I had come to expect from these bridge operators. However, after going through, the power boats speeded up, and they were almost the only underway boats I saw all day, except for a few fishing skiffs braving the elements. It was a bit more worrying than the day before because for most of the day thunder and lightning was seen and heard all around, but luckily never very close. I had been underway for an hour or so, when I noticed our speed had crept up to around 8 knots. Obviously we were experiencing a favorable tide. I eased the throttles and took advantage whilst I could, but I knew the Matanzas inlet was ahead, and expected to pay the price with a foul tide after passing it, as I would then be heading upstream on a different tributary. Surprise surprise, I got lucky as the tide seemed to turn just as I got there. (I have tide tables, but have found that ¡®local effects¡¯ make times of high and low water vary by up to two hours) We made St. Augustine by 2pm at an average of 6.5 knots, mostly at modest cruising revs. Yet another cheap day¡¯s travel!

St. Augustine is the oldest permanent European settlement in the continental USA, having been settled by the Spanish in the 1500s. Whilst they did not leave much behind except a splendid fort, the street layout survives and unlike most US towns, there is a real thriving town centre with narrow busy streets right next to the Municipal Marina where we had booked a berth. St. Augustine is a very pretty town with lots to see and do, most of which is a short walk from the shore. Of course, you have to go a couple of miles out of town to find a supermarket at a mall, but everything else is close at hand. We are stopping for a few days because, ta da da daaaa, the kids and us are off to Disney tomorrow. Much excitement. Back to list

¡¡

10 June 2005    Titusville

We left our anchorage at Cocoa at about 0900, planning an easy day¡¯s run. The winds were 20-25 knots from the SE, with occasional stronger gusts. The cause was Tropical Storm Arlene which was traveling up the North Eastern Gulf of Mexico, together with a ridge of high pressure to the North East of Florida. The ¡®squash zone¡¯ between them was what we were experiencing. The jib and one engine just above tickover gave us a nice 6.5 knots, very cheap traveling! However, on approach to Titusville, given that the channel is narrower and there are three opening bridges to negotiate, I decided to start the starboard engine and drop the jib, just in case there were any delays with the bridges. The engine wouldn¡¯t start, and the panel was completely dead. This changed the day plan because with this wind I did not fancy pressing on with one engine, so after some faffing around in the river, we went through the first swing bridge and anchored just outside the Titusville Marina. Fortunately, a phone conversation with the Volvo agents directed me to the cause, but not until I had already tried numerous other possibilities. It was simply that the main engine wiring harness plugs in under the relay box on the side of the engine, and when assembled, somebody had forgotten to tighten the locking cap, so it had finally fallen out. It was still apparently attached until you wiggled it, so whether I would have ever found it myself, who knows. As of this writing, this sudden disconnection does not seem to have damaged the alternator or regulator, but we¡¯ll see.

I am normally very confident handling a vessel under power, from years in the Hong Kong Marine Police, but trying to go into a marina on one engine in 25 knots of wind would have been challenging, to say the least. After this delay of about two hours, I decided we could not continue as there is over thirty miles to the next suitable anchorage, which in this wind would be required to be sheltered, and not enough daylight left unless we went at top speed. A better plan was to stay at anchor and make an early start in the morning.

Just a further word about the many bridges over the ICW. As I have already mentioned, many of them are fixed bridges with a 65¡¯ clearance, but are also many opening bridges. The most common is the ¡®bascule¡¯ bridge, where two sections lift up vertically, just like Tower Bridge in London. There is also a lifting bridge with a single opening section. These tend to be slower as the opening span is longer. The one just near our mooring here is a swing bridge, with a section that swivels on a centre island leaving two channels, one each side of it. I am told that there is one bridge up North that opens by having a section which lifts vertically on two towers, but I have yet to see that. The charts give you a description of each bridge, and they also have their name prominently displayed. They are manned 24 hours, although they may remain closed to boat traffic for an hour or more during morning and evening rush hour on working days. Opening is on demand by calling on the VHF, and usually they are prompt with little delay. Some only open on a fixed schedule, typically those carrying busy highways. In Florida, the operators monitor channels 9 and 16, with the former normally used.

Today we have seen a lot of wildlife, as usual. Many pelicans, various other sea birds, fish jumping, fishing eagles, and a great thrill for Nancy, two dolphins swimming under our bow, though Molly missed them. A flock of cranes flew overhead, first time I have seen them. ##Back to list

¡¡

9 June 2005 ( recollection from Biscayne Bay to Cocoa, where we are now)

My sail ended as we approached the Bay Bridge joining Miami Beach to Miami at the top end of Biscayne Bay. This also marks the end of the GICW and the beginning (well, end actually) of the ICW proper. It would be a good time to describe these marvels to those who don¡¯t know of them. The Intra Coastal Waterway stretches 1095 statute miles from Norfolk Virginia (the mouth of the Chesapeake) to Key Biscayne. It is a waterway that parallels the coast using channels behind natural barrier islands, rivers and estuaries, and where nothing natural exists, through man-made canals and cuts. This means you can make the whole journey without going out into the Atlantic. There are some caveats. The controlling depth is supposed to be 12¡¯, but many parts are shoaling and funding has been cut. Minimum clearance under fixed bridges is 65¡¯ except for the Julia Tuttle Causeway bridge in Miami, which inexplicably got built at 56¡¯. This affected Jade¡¯s route, since our air draft is about 63¡¯. I haven¡¯t yet researched when this marvelous waterway was built, but it was done by the Army Corps of Engineers, who do what little maintenance is funded today. It should be more widely touted as a tourist destination, as foreigners are rare. Its length, variety and many marine facilities make it more than a match for the French canals or the Norfolk Broads, although it can be challenging in places. I have also mentioned the Gulf ICW. This is a continuation from Miami, round Florida through Florida Bay, and then right around the Gulf of Mexico to the Mexican border. It is not 100% complete as there are sections one has to sail offshore, and nor are the depths and heights as generous, but it is still extraordinary.

Having lowered the sails we motored through Miami without stopping, using only one engine as we were down to a quarter of a tank according to our fuel gauge, and I don¡¯t yet know how accurate the gauges are. The aforementioned Julia Tuttle Causeway Bridge prevents us from using the ICW North out of Miami, so we went out into the Atlantic through the Main Channel. The sea state was modest and we had a nice motor-sail for the 20 miles North to the Port Everglades channel that leads into Fort Lauderdale. Fort Lauderdale is like a modern Venice. Hundreds of canals have been cut leading out from the pre-existing New River, providing space for thousands of waterside homes. And what homes! Anybody who accuses Americans of a lack of culture should see these places. The design of the houses, the materials used, and the lovely gardens all combine to make idyllic surroundings for a water lover. Despite it being so built up, there is wildlife everywhere, and the rivers and canals are full of fish, including huge Tarpon, one of which I saw jump. It must have been nearly 6¡¯ long. I didn¡¯t see any Manatees, but apparently there are many in Winter, and I saw lots of birds and a racoon. Large marine Iguanas live in the gardens and fish when hungry.

We motored about 2 miles up the New River to Dan Even¡¯s house. I mentioned him before, he is the main owner of Manta Catamarans, and he has one of these lovely houses. His occupies a position on the inside of a sharp bend so he has river bank on three sides. He has a large dock where he moors his own Manta ¡®Evensong¡¯ but since he has the space, he kindly allows any Manta owner to moor here for up to two weeks free on a first come, first served basis. We took up his kind offer for a few days of R&R, although Fort Lauderdale¡¯s convenience for boaters is balanced by its inconvenience for those without a car. So far this has been a recurring theme. We have a bicycle and legs, but where to go to shop, and if at anchor, where to land the dinghy, are big issues. Graeme Large, an old friend from Hong Kong, joined us here for a few days sailing, combined with a visit to his sister who lives near Fort Pierce. Graeme sails a historic wooden ketch called Arriki III back in Hong Kong, but sailing in a modern catamaran was to be a new experience for him. Numerous thunder storms and a other weather problems delayed our departure from Fort Lauderdale until 5th June. Meanwhile a dinghy expedition ¡®downtown¡¯ was cut short when our 2 hour old Tohatsu 4-stroke ob died after about ½ hour. Turned out the ignition was dead, and nowhere to get it fixed. Luckily our Walker Bay 10¡¯ dinghy rows extremely well, and can also sail, when I have sorted out the sail kit. When we finally sailed, we had a real adventure. We had just got out to sea, about 3 miles offshore, when a huge thunderstorm moved ahead of us. We were in torrential rain so that visibility was about 100 metres, and the radar no better because of the weight of water in the air, but luckily the thunder and lightning seemed to be ahead of us. I stooged around for a while and let the storm move off, and after that we had a nice motor-sail in light winds to West Palm Beach and the Lake Worth inlet. There we found a good anchorage, albeit with strong currents, and the storms left us alone for the night. However, my urge to get out of Florida like so many others in summer has been re-inforced. One has to watch the tides in this area, and if necessary consult local knowledge. This is because whilst it might say on you tables that low water is at a certain time, because all the water inside the barrier islands can only get out through narrow cuts, it may still be flooding out long after low water, especially if onshore winds have restricted the outflow earlier. Our third Atlantic segment took us to Fort Pierce, about 50 miles from Lake Worth. Whilst we could see storms many miles to seaward, and similar many miles inland, we sailed across a blue sparkling sea. We were making around 6 knots in 8 knots of true wind, a revelation for Graeme. I¡¯m glad he had a nice day¡¯s sail. However, the passage into Fort Pierce Inlet was a bit hairy. Despite arriving nearly an hour after low water, the phenomenon I mentioned above was in full display, the tide was rushing out of the inlet at about 4 knots, and where it met the fortunately gentle sea breeze, we had large standing waves, a typical bar. The conditions were not dangerous, but it was an eye-opener.

Graeme and Carol, his sister, had previously scouted out Fort Pierce City Marina, so we had arranged a berth in advance. This cost us US$60 per day including electricity charge, at the high end of marina charges. The berths are all new because the marina was wiped out in one of the hurricanes of 2004, with the loss of many boats. It is now much smaller. However, our berth was not a good one, just in the mouth of the basin, exposed to considerable tidal current and a fetch of several miles upriver, only protected at low tide by a sandbank. Our third and last night was rather uncomfortable until the tide fell. Furthermore, for this price we were expected to provide our own water hose and there was no pool. They carefully gave us a gate key, but the gates were broken, so no security, at least on our dock. The docks are fixed and not floating too, so whilst I have sympathy for their loss last year, I think they should do better for these prices. Mind you, the staff were pleasant and helpful, which was appreciated. We had a nice dinner at the ¡®Tiki¡¯ restaurant at the marina, and also had lunch with Carol at her very pleasant home in Spanish Lakes. The kids got to use her club pool. She also took us shopping, so that was a great help. Fort Pierce is not much of a place, although obvious attempts are being made to smarten up the waterfront area and neighboring streets. It might be worth a visit in a year or two. I also met a fascinating English guy called Alan on his boat ¡®Lios Mara¡¯. A nice boat needing some cosmetic work, but not, to my mind, ready for an Atlantic crossing, which Alan was about to embark upon. He seemed fearless, which I hoped was not the fearlessness of ignorance. Still, he was a lovely chap and a great raconteur, with a large fund of stories. I wish him well.

Partly because of the unpleasant berth, and the cost, we cancelled our plan to hire a car in Fort Pierce and take the children to Disney. We therefore sailed on 9/6 having said our goodbyes to Graeme and Carol. If you are reading this Graeme, I have saved the first space in the visitors section of Jade¡¯s logbook for you!

For this leg, we chose to stay inside up the ICW, with a loose expectation of going about 40 miles. We motored at 7 knots for about 3 hours, but when the ICW joined the ever widening (though mostly shallow) Indian River, the strong wind on our quarter was too much to resist. However, my decision to hoist the sails, single-handed whilst in a narrow dredged channel led to some exciting moments. I had to turn out of the fairway to head into the wind to hoist the sails, trying to do so at dead slow ahead in an area where my chart showed a bit of water underneath us, even out of the channel. There was agood breeze blowing, so I put one reef in the main plus the jib. I then angled back towards the channel, but despite the evidence of the chart, we then experienced half a dozen gentle bumps as we slid across what was obviously soft bottom about three feet down! The strong wind and press of sails ensured we didn¡¯t get stuck, but the last bump was, interestingly, inside the edge of the channel. No sooner had I congratulated myself on regaining the fairway than a glance over my shoulder showed a squall line bearing down on me. Where I was there was no way I could turn into the wind, which was on the quarter. I got the jib down somehow, thank goodness for the jib lazy jacks and the downhaul. I also managed to drop the main about 6¡¯ more, but without the second reef in, so it was just a loose mess, then 30 knots of wind hit us, and we were off at 10 knots. This, remember, is in a fairway 200¡¯ wide with buoys and bends to negotiate. We sped along until a wider, deeper section allowed me to turn and get the second reef in properly. A short while later I had a brief radio chat with a yacht motorsailing in the same direction, and he described my manoevers as ¡®interesting¡¯. I was mortified that anyone had seen it. Still, I was happy later to sail right past him going at least 3 knoits faster. He still had full genoa and engine, whilst I had jib and double reefed main. Altogether for 6 hours we raced along lie this, until finding an anchorage for the night just North of the Cocoa (a town) bridge. We had covered 70 statute miles in 9 hours. This area of the Indian river has thousands of small round buoys, presumably pot markers, but many of them are actually in the fairway, and most possible anchoring areas are unavailable because of all these buoys. Is this legal? We had an example of the crassness of some of the motorboat drivers. We were heading under sail for one of the many bridges, air draft 65¡¯ you recall, but because of the strong winds, the tide gauges were mostly showing 64¡¯. On my estimation I have not much over 1¡¯ to spare. In the opposite direction was approaching a large motor cruiser at speed. It was obvious we would arrive at the bridge at the same time, and although there was room for both of us, we would pass quite close to each other. At his speed his wake would certainly have bounced the top of my mast into the bridge, so I called him on the radio, but despite several ever more urgent calls, he never responded to my please to answer and to slow down. I was just starting the engines to do an emergency crash tack (in a force 6!) when at the last possible moment he slowed down. He never did acknowledge my radio calls, but he had the impertinance to wave as we passed. If you are reading this, you miserable piece of dirt, I hope you are ashamed of yourself.

Well, that¡¯s the narrative up to date. Tomorrow its on through Titusville, and we¡¯ll see how far we get. Its in our mind to stop at Daytona for the Disney trip, provided we can find a safe place to leave Jade. That way we¡¯ll miss the weekend and do it on a weekday when it is less crowded. Watch this space! Back to list

¡¡

8 June 2005   Fort Pierce (recollections from starting pt.to Biscayne Bay)       

After a month at the Twin Dolphin Marina in Bradenton, we were anxious to leave and commence our trip. This was not only because Jade had been bought to travel the world¡­ I was becoming increasing anxious about the imminent commencement of the hurricane season, which officially starts on June 1st.

The time finally came when all the commissioning issues had been fixed, and we were apparently ready for sea. On the Wednesday evening before our departure, we invited all the Manta company people who had done so much to correct the delivery problems, together with several friends made on ¡®D¡¯ dock at the marina, for a few drinks, and to participate in a ¡®Bei Suen Tau¡¯ This means ¡®worship the bow¡¯ and is a ceremony carried out by all Chinese seafarers on new vessels, as well as often thereafter at any significant stage of a vessel¡¯s life, or when bad luck has visited. I have witnessed , and taken part in, many such ceremonies whilst serving in the Hong Kong Marine Police. I am a Christian, so my participation in, and support for, such ceremonies does not have the religious overtones motivating Chinese people. In my case I deeply feel the ¡®spirit¡¯ of a vessel, which is made up of the thoughts and attitudes of those involved with it. I use the ceremony as a way of marking the moment, and wishing the vessel, and those who sail in her, good fortune. I explained this to the guests, and told them that active participation was optional, and if they did take part, they need not think of it as a pagan ceremony, but more as a way of wishing us, and our vessel, good fortune. Those taking part included Dan Even, principal owner of Manta Catamarans, and a very fine man, his wife Sarah, Pat Reischman, a minority owner of the company and the driving force for many years that has brought the Manta 42 Mk II to its present state as the finest cruising catamaran of its size in the world. Bob, a Manta employee who had gone far beyond the call of duty to put things right, and Sandy Hafer, from the Manta office, who has been in correspondence with me for over a year, fixed and organized, and generally been a ¡®brick¡¯. (That¡¯s a compliment for those who don¡¯t know). Dan (and I believe Pat) both expressed their wishes in the same way¡­ ¡®No warranty¡¯. I didn¡¯t resent this practical approach because I shared their sentiment that we didn¡¯t want anything going wrong with Jade. The ceremony, or at least the way I did it, is done by setting out some food offerings to the spirit of the vessel which resides in the bow. These consisted of a roast chicken, side of ham, some fruit, and some beer sprinkled over the bow. A small container of sand is placed alongside these offerings, and a daub of red paint is placed on the bow to represent the ¡®eyes¡¯ of the boat. In our case we used the forward part of the centre sponson to represent the bow. Joss sticks are lit (Cam's got them from a nearby shop, having names like Chinese Rain, Fengshui, and Dragon Breath!), a whole bunch of them, then each participant, starting with me, takes three, and whilst holding them clasped in both hands in front, bows three times to the bow whilst making their own personal wish. They then place the joss sticks in the sand. After all have made their wishes, the ceremony is over. It is quite usual to find that the vessel, and its spirit, have not actually consumed the offerings, and Jade was no different. We copied the practical solution used by the Chinese, and therefore consumed the offerings ourselves, along with plenty of additional beer.

I got us underway at about 0630 on Thursday 26th May, and headed West along the Manatee river towards the Gulf of Mexico. An hours motoring brought us past the North of Annabelle Island and we were able head South, motorsailing in bright sunshine with a gentle Easterly helping our progress. This set the pattern for the next few days, as whilst we did get several hours of nice sailing in, we more often motor sailed with winds too light, or too contrary, to maintain our self-imposed schedule. I had decided that we would make day sails round Florida. My original intention was to spend a couple of weeks on the journey to Fort Lauderdale exploring some of the many wonderful areas to be found on this coast. What with the delays, that plan had to be modified, but we did get a sampler. Our first days run took us to the mouth of Charlotte Harbour where I had spotted a possible anchorage on the chart to the East of an island called Caya Costa. This is a wildlife sanctuary so is unspoilt. The anchorage, called Pelican Pass, was idyllic, but the entrance channel was very shallow and awkward. We only draw 3¡¯8¡±, but there were several other vessels at anchor which must have drawn 6¡¯, however, with such draft I would recommend only those with local knowledge try it. We anchored in 10¡¯ of water after covering almost 90 miles, at about 1900, and had our first BBQ using our new gas BBQ grill.

After a peaceful night we set off at 0830, since our next days run was to be only some 50 miles to Naples. After a similar day we arrived at mid-afternoon and went some couple of miles up the river, past numerous stunning waterside properties. Since there were no obvious bays to anchor in, we chose a wider piece of fairway out of theGulf ICW channel and anchored again in about 10¡¯ of water in front of a particularly splendid house that was lit up like the Magic Kingdom after dark. It was rolly and noisy until after dark with all the power boats speeding past. No wonder the Manatees are endangered.

Our first two days had been in the presence of quite a lot of pleasure craft, mostly power cruisers and sport fishing boats, but our third days run took us somewhat away from civilisation. Still heading South, we left Naples early and made our next anchorage, some 60 miles away, by late afternoon. We did get a few hours of nice sailing, most of it goose-winged with a following 10knot breeze. It is more efficient on a catamaran to jibe downwind, but with our ¡®camber spar¡¯ jib, Dutchman boom brake and a good autopilot, this turned out to be a very comfortable and stress-free way of traveling. Our destination was the Little Shark River, on the North West side of the Everglades. I had noticed on the chart that there did not seem to be a significant bar, and there was a wide section at the first bend of the river, with plenty of water, by the local standards. (Anything over 6¡¯ is considered deep in this part of the world). The anchorage did indeed prove excellent, with perfect shelter, good holding in mud, and surrounded by peaceful mangrove forest. Two dolphins gamboled nearby for much of the evening, along with a huge turtle, and large fish were jumping everywhere (probably in fear of the dolphins). There was one hitch¡­ the place had far too many voracious sand flys, and some mosquitos, so if you don¡¯t have good screens, as we have, don¡¯t try this anchorage. The mosquitos are deterred by Johnson¡¯s ¡®Off¡¯ but the sand flys seem to relish it as seasoning on their meat! We were joined just before dusk by a smart sloop, and I noticed he carefully laid a buoyed trip line on his anchor. This immediately made me worry that he knew something I didn¡¯t. However, in the morning the anchor came up cleanly, and we were away before sun-up. Perhaps he was just cautious, or we were lucky. In truth it was the sort of place you might find snags.

The morning took us through our most Southerly latitude, as our course trended ever Eastwards across Florida Bay. There was little wind in the morning, so we motored at between 6 and 7 knots. I had studied charts of this area long ago in preparation, and frankly, when I saw the depths, the amount of coral reefs and sand bars, and the narrowness of the GICW channel, I had made up my mind to go round Florida on the outside of the Keys. New friends in Bradenton had assured us that it was not that difficult, especially in a shallow draft catamaran, and so it proved, as the charts were accurate and matched the channel markers. One must, however, pay close attention at all times since if you stray from the channel, a grounding is inevitable. Around lunch time, our course turned Northerly as we joined the marked channel which leads from Key West Northwards up the inside of the Keys. It was now Sunday, and the channel was almost crowded with high speed power cruisers, PWCs, speed boats and the very occasional yacht. In some places the channel is just a narrow cut through a mangrove island, perhaps only 100¡¯ wide. Despite this, I saw at least two offshore racing boats go through at a speed of at least 70 knots. It was diabolical. Where are the authorities when you need them? Despite the numerous vessels, and the narrowness of the channel with twists and turns, we actually sailed at over 6knots for at least three hours, it was beautiful, with the wind coming from a direction, and at a speed, that was the only one which would allow such an experience. Somewhere around South East at 10-12 knots. At times we nearly hit double figures, and the power boats got out of our way, although NONE of them ever slowed down when passing only feet away. We had such a good run that we were able to make Barnes Sound before dark, and anchored just before a squall hit. That was a run of nearly 100 miles in daylight. It was tiring but there had been lots to see all day, a good sail, indeed an extraordinary sail, and a safe anchorage at the end. The waters inside the keys are crystal clear, and this was no more in evidence than the next morning when, at about 0600, I pulled the anchor up. There was a lot of mud on it, so although I have a wash down hose, I left the anchor hanging just in the water as I slowly motored back towards the channel to wash it off. With the autopilot set I stood on the bow watching the anchor as we motored slowly over the glassy surface when I suddenly saw two dolphins, some several feet down, swimming under the bow. I could see them so clearly, and several times they surfaced and rolled on their side to have a look up at me as I stood transfixed staring down at them. They stayed with me for several minutes, then disappeared, probably back to their tranquil bay. A couple of ¡®Sounds¡¯ later, we entered Biscayne Bay, and with the wind light from the quarter, I decided to put the gennaker up, for the first time. It went smoothly, and soon we were making 6 knots in 3 knots apparent. Our gennaker is mounted on a continuous line furler and hoisted up as a rolled up sausage. It is then unfurled with the sheet on whatever side you want. To allow for deep or shallow angle, the roller attached to the tack is not fixed, but has a block which can roll along a loose wire which is attached to each bow. There are tackles attached with their lines led back to the cockpit. This arrangement allows one to haul the tack to either the windward or leeward bow depending on whether running deep or shallow. During the course of the next two hours, wind shifts gave me the perfect opportunity to practice this, and it worked perfectly. At no time did I have any trouble with the gennaker, which is great since I was doing all this single-handed (Cam looking after M&N) and for the first time. I had a bit of a struggle rolling up the sail to stow it, but I eventually discovered I had not got the halyard tight enough, so the  furler was at an angle. Once I worked this out, it stowed nicely.##  Back to list