Back from the West Country – September 20

Spellbinder has returned to Gosport, a couple of months from leaving there in early July when we were finally allowed to cruise and stay aboard overnight. While not going abroad (I missed the window when we were briefly allowed to go to continental Europe without quarantining) it has, on the other hand, been an enjoyable time during which I was able to re-visit at length many of my favourite West Country cruising haunts.

I returned to Dittisham, where I had left her, and before the arrival of the next crew had an enjoyable time doing various boat jobs and walking and exploring, and anchoring upriver. I also took her round to Brixham to remind myself of the town and its fishing heritage.

One of my favourite views above Dittisham, overlooking Galmpton Creek and across to Greenway

Near Stoke Gabriel

The remains of a Brixham Sailing Trawler called ‘The Glory’

Spellbinder at a quiet anchorage near Bow Creek on the Dart.  A short dinghy ride up the creek is an excellent pub at Tuckenhay called ‘The Malster’s Arms’, once owned by Keith Floyd. The food there is excellent

Crew for the leg home were Alan and Rupert.  We met in Dartmouth, Rupert having come down by steam train from Paignton – a fine way to arrive. After a swift drink at The Ferry Boat at Dittisham – a classic Dart pub – we turned in for the night, anchoring in Parson’s Mud, just upriver from The Anchorstone. Parson’s Mud is a delightful anchorage, and it is not hard to fall asleep and wake up there to the sounds of the river gurgling by and the many birds.

Breakfast before departure from Parson’s Mud

Our first leg was to Weymouth, in light winds.  We had a good run, initially under cruising chute but then motor.  Rafting up being the norm elsewhere in The West Country, Weymouth Harbour has (in my view) been overly cautious in that regard and as a result there were very few berths available in The Cove and we had to go through the bridge and anchor in the marina.

Leaving Dartmouth

Not much for the crew to do except enjoy a good initial sail under cruising chute, and watch the dolphins, which were were plentiful.  I saw many porpoises on my way around to Brixham earlier in the week, and even thought I saw a tuna jumping…

On the waiting pontoon at Weymouth, before going through the bridge at 2000

The following morning we awoke to a fine dawn and the expected easterly breeze.  We decided to sail anyway, and tacked for several hours as we gradually neared Poole, our next destination.

0800 bridge at Weymouth, heading out

The extraordinary sight of cloud rolling off the Jurassic Coast – it looked like snow from a distance…

….and a sign of the times, with 6 large cruise ships anchored in the lee of Portland, awaiting better times

Eventually, with the tide against us, we motored around a bumpy Anvil’s Head into Poole, where we dropped off Rupert and headed round to Pottery Pier anchorage, which is ideal in easterly winds.  There we were met by Alan and Julie, who came out on their kayaks to meet Spellbinder for the second time this year.

It was good to see Alan and Julie again in Poole, at Pottery Pier, at the west end of Brownsea Island

The following morning we left before dawn to catch the tide, having an unexpectedly good beam reach in northerly winds which allowed us to sail almost to Hurst Narrows before the wind died.  Entering the Solent via the North Channel, we motored up to Cowes where we had an enjoyable lunch at The Royal Yacht Squadron before sailing up to Chichester, where we anchored in the Thorney Channel near friends Ed and Jeanna in their lovely Morris 34.

Dawn start, heading out of Poole

Aboard friend Ed’s lovely Morris 34, a small cruiser based on the Victoria 34, and fitted out by an American company

After a peaceful night at anchor, we headed round to Bosham Quay, as I couldn’t resist the opportunity to wash Spellbinder’s hull down, check the anodes and reactivate the Coppercoat, which I had failed to do properly earlier in the season.  It was lovely weather for it, and we achieved the aim, coming off at midnight, threading our way back down the channel with Alan operating a strong torch at the bow, and re-anchoring.  The following morning we had an excellent downwind run back into Gosport.

Spellbinder with a clean hull, in the evening sun.  There is rather less Coppercoat at the bottom of the keel than I would wish, after an encounter with a sandbank in Martinique 18 months ago

Windy West Country – August 2020

We might think of August as a month of indolent holiday, high temperatures and long, lazy days.  My experience is that in addition to the aforesaid characteristics, the month is quite capable of throwing up some really bad weather, as the sailors of the 1979 Fastnet found to their cost. So it was in 2020, with storms Ellen and Francis serving up the goods,  causing Spellbinder and her crew to modify their plans.

After our family holiday I had left Spellbinder on a buoy at Mylor marina, and during our absence I had a new stainless steel hoop made for the cockpit canopy,  which has improved things considerably. I also had some minor repairs undertaken to the Furlex foresail furler. I returned a couple of days before the next crew to carry out some minor boat jobs, during which time I hid from Storm Ellen by anchoring way up the Truro river, anchored in thick mud near Malpas. Despite the excellent holding up there, I nevertheless had one sleepless night as the storm passed over, maintaining my own anchor watch from 1100 – 0300 and recording 39 knots over the masthead, even in the shelter of the river.

Crew for the next trip was eldest son Tom and friend Crispin, who had accompanied me three times each during my Atlantic circuit and who know Spellbinder well. I met up with them in Falmouth while anchored opposite the Customs House Quay, a historic anchorage and one of my favourites in the UK, although now sadly increasingly hemmed in by the adjacent marinas.  It was here, for example, that Robin K-J  finished his epic round the world trip in 1969.

With the recent relaxing of quarantine rules for Portugal, we had been fully planning to sail for 4 or 5 days to Oporto, to allow me to sail down to Lisbon and overwinter there. The weather, however, had other ideas and although the decision was a tight one we reluctantly decided that discretion was the better part of valour.  We took our decision over some traditional fish and chips before settling in for the night and heading to Fowey the next day, enjoying an excellent broad reach and enjoying the cruising chute, accompanied by dolphins.

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Fine conditions for a short sail up the coast to Fowey

Having been to Fowey a few weeks previously I expected it to be fairly busy, but in the end we were the only ones on one of the pontoons, for which one pays the same mooring fee as a buoy.  Tom and Crispin took the opportunity to run around the wonderful countryside and coastal footpaths which are a feature of this delightful harbour, while I prepared and cooked a BBQ for their return.

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Views of Fowey and the coast from a memorable run by Tom and Crispin, and the skipper studiously cooking

Next stop was Plymouth. The storm clouds of Francis were gathering, and we felt it prudent to lock into Sutton Harbour Marina for a couple of days to escape it. We had time, however, to anchor for lunch in Cawsand Bay and to explore up river, heading past Devonport dockyard and poking our noses into the Lynher and Tamar rivers.  The former has a lovely remote anchorage called Dandy Hole, which I have never quite got to and this time, again, the tide precluded us from getting there.  The Tamar bridge is quite fun to sail under, and you are right on the border between Devon to starboard and Cornwall to port as you head upriver.

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Heading towards and under the Tamar bridge

We locked into Sutton Harbour without difficulty, nestled right in the corner of it as Storm Francis blew over.

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Locking in

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A suitable berth for sheltering from high winds

We enjoyed Plymouth, and in particular the area around the Barbican, which has been developed sympathetically in my view.  It was certainly bustling, with most restaurants packed as people took advantage of the ‘eat out to help out’ scheme.

Once the weather had calmed down we sailed round to the Yealm, enjoying a short downwind passage. The weather had improved and we headed by dinghy up to Noss Mayo, where we had an excellent lunch at The Ship. My experience this summer is that many pubs and restaurants have gone overboard on the CV-19 regulations, putting up too many red warning signs and imposing unnecessary rules and regulations, and rather forgetting that from the customer’s perspective it is supposed to be an enjoyable experience. Others (more enlightened in my view) fully respect the government guidelines but do so in a low-key, undemonstrative way, pretty much mirroring the experience of the status quo ante. The Ship Inn in Noss Mayo is one such laudable institution.

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Thank you to The Ship Inn in Noss Mayo for getting it right.  I’m much happier than I look…

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Noss Mayo, looking towards Newton Ferrers

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Newton creek, looking westwards towards the main river

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We spent a pleasant evening with a spectacular sunset with fellow RYS members and then old Army friends who were moored adjacent to us, before saying goodbye to Crispin and heading out the next day towards Salcombe.

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Good to have you on board again Crispin, and glad you had time to practise your instrument flying skills on your own portable simulator

The trip to Salcombe was one of the windiest and rainiest short passages I have ever made.  We got soaked, and were sailing in 2 – 3m waves and a F6 gusting F7.  We enjoyed it though, but it took a while as we gybed back and forth and we were grateful to get over the Bar (cf Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem) and into the relatively calm waters of the harbour.

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Tom enjoying the helm on a blustery day…

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…and while the camera always flattens the waves, a straight ensign is always an indication of a strong wind!

The need to go with the tides had dictated the time of our departure from the Yealm, and typically just after we arrived the rain cleared and the wind abated. We enjoyed a brief walk around Salcombe, having picked a buoy.

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Salcombe after the rain had cleared through, overlooking Spellbinder on her buoy

The final destination on this part of the year’s cruise was Dartmouth, and Tom and I enjoyed another rolling downwind passage in the residual swell, which calmed down east of Start Point. We arrived in Dittisham, which we know well having had a house there for several years. It was good to walk around the village, have a pint at the Ferry Boat, and cook a BBQ for the crew of Stardust II, who rafted up and came aboard for the evening.

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Looking downstream at Dittisham…

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…where we found time to service all 7 of Spellbinder’s winches

Spellbinder will now remain in Dartmouth before her next adventures later in September.

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Daphne du Maurier Country

After Scilly, we spent a day reprovisioning and restocking in Penzance before heading over to Falmouth, where Spellbinder has spent the last fortnight cruising the surrounding area.

I have always loved the Fal, and its continuation the Truro River. A classic Cornish ria, it is multifaceted and we enjoyed the many creeks and anchorages it offers. We also spent a fair bit of time in the adjacent Helford River, enjoying walks on both sides of the river, and kayaking up Frenchman’s Creek. Finally, we spent a couple of days in Fowey, eating, drinking and walking well. It was a very pleasant period of gentle cruising and immersing ourselves in a beautiful Cornish setting which was brought to life in several of Daphne du Maurier’s novels. Rather than give a blow by blow account, here are some photos which tell the story:

We covered a fair chunk of the South West Coast Path – here, near Fowey
Trelissick. We anchored just short of Malpas for a night or two, and enjoyed walks around the beautiful riverside gardens
It was a fair paddle against wind and tide to get to Frenchman’s Creek – thanks for the lift Jonty. Once there, it was as magical as I remember. Must read the novel…
Spellbinder at anchor in St Mawes, in front of a waxing gibbous moon. I had not been here before, but loved the town and the walks above it
Very nice to meet friends of friends, who live above Fowey and have a magnificent view. Thank you Lulu and Mary, and thank you Lucy for arranging it!
More walks around Helford
Mackerel caught and filleted by Jonty, to which I added a large scallop, brought up with weed on the anchor
Supper on board Jolie Brise with Pierre and Christina, fellow Hallberg Rassy owners. Thank you for a delicious supper
Birthday lunch at Sam’s, Fowey: seafood extravaganza washed down with Pouilly Fumé

Spellbinder remains in Falmouth and we return to her at the end of the month for further adventures – destination uncertain, but Brittany looks likely.

Scilly July 2020

Spellbinder’s journey west has continued and she has just enjoyed 9 excellent days in Scilly.

Having bade farewell to friends Charmian and Julian, we were joined by Tom and Tiger for the passage onward from the Yealm. After an uneventful passage we anchored overnight in the Helford River, off Duggan Point given that the winds were northerly.  There we were joined by Simon and Karen who were aboard their lovely Swan Questar.

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A peaceful night anchored near ‘Questar’.  Great to catch up with you Simon and Karen!

From Helford we rounded Lizard in calm conditions and headed into Penzance, anchoring off to wait for the harbour gates to open. It’s a wet dock, where you jostle alongside supply ships for Scilly, fishing trawlers, and the odd visiting yacht.  Nothing very grand, and little in the way of facilities, but you are near the town centre and it’s good for a night.

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BBQ at anchor just outside Penzance Harbour. The Scilly passenger ship, ‘Scillonian III’, is in the background

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Entering the wet dock, which is open HW-2 to HW+1 approx

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A modest but convenient berth against the harbour wall

Jonty and I said good bye to Tom and Tiger after a night out in Penzance, which seemed to be opening, with great caution, after the pandemic lock down.  We were then joined by Johnny and Lucy, who were to be crew for the next 9 days as we headed to Scilly.

The journey over – which can be difficult against the prevailing winds and is effectively in the open Atlantic – proved to be an easy motor in calm conditions. First stop was The Cove, between the islands of St Agnes and Gugh – a delightful spot, with a sandbar which uncovers and helps prevent the Atlantic swell from entering. It was where we first landed in Scilly, 10 years ago, in our previous yacht Kianga.

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Views of The Cove, in ideal calm conditions

We spent a couple of nights there, walking around both islands, having lunch in the Coastguards Café, the UK’s most south western, and dinner in the Turk’s Head, which has the same qualification in terms of pubs.  Again, caution abounded as we were amongst the first guests of the season; over our stay people relaxed, and eating out has become a more normal activity.

Next stop was Porth Cressa, an anchorage south of the capital Hugh Town, on St Mary’s.  Often this anchorage is untenable owing to the prevailing winds, but it was ideal for us as the northern wind flow had continued.  It made it all a bit chilly, but we were well settled there and it was ideal base to walk around St Mary’s and to reprovision.

The flora and fauna this trip were excellent.  In terms of the former, here are a few Scillonian flowers, and some windswept vegetation for those who are interested:

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After exploring the ramparts around Star Castle, we then left with the tide to go over Tresco Flats.  The pilotage needs attention, and at high water neaps Spellbinder only had 50 cm under her keel at one point. Once over, however, we were able to pick up a buoy in New Grimsby sound, from where we were able to explore Tresco and Bryher.  While the former is more developed, and has become a well-provisioned timeshare centre, Bryher remains relatively untouched and is one of the wilder islands.

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A sign of healthy air: lichen growing abundantly on a bench on Tresco

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Spellbinder on her buoy in New Grimsby Sound, under a Cromwellian castle.  More views of the Sound below

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A view from Tresco, looking out to the Atlantic.  Scilly had a fearful reputation with mariners of yore, and one can understand why.  The Royal Navy had one particular disaster here, precipitating the search for a reliable means of attaining longitude at sea

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A young seal at rest between Bryher and Tresco

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Stone art, and (below) an artist’s studio on Bryher

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Green Bay, Bryher, where there were also many bilge keel yachts, and others which can take the ground.  It’s a lovely spot.

We then headed round to the other side of Tresco, to Old Grimsby Sound, so we could take up an invitation from friends David and Patsy to have a family supper in their timeshare.  It was great fun, and after a bit of a bumpy night owing to Atlantic swell coming in, the next day we headed out into the Atlantic, and round into Tean Sound, picking up a buoy to allow us to explore St Martin and Tean itself.

St Martin’s is my favourite island as it is quite wild, but with a little helpful infrastructure.  As well as a shop there is a hotel, pub, bakery, vineyard, campsite and a few little other establishments selling things.  We enjoyed it hugely, having lunch in the Karma Hotel and the Seven Stones pub, both of which have fabulous views. Having walked around St Martin’s, the crew had completed a circuit of each of the inhabited Isles of Scilly.

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St Martin’s Church

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One of the many beaches on St Martin’s.  It could be the Caribbean – were it not for the small matter of air and sea temperatures…

We also joined forces with old friends Rupert and Jules and their family on board their yacht Wind Song, enjoying a BBQ on the beach below the hotel, opposite our moorings in Tean Sound:

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Our final night in Scilly was spent in the Eastern Isles, which are quite remote and uninhabited.  We anchored near fellow OCC members Derrick and Ali, and had drinks with them after a stroll around Great Ganhilly and a trip to an uncovered sandbar, surrounded by azure waters.  There were seals everywhere.

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Anchorage in the Eastern Isles, viewed from Great Ganhilly. If you look carefully you can see a couple of inquisitive seal heads…

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Jonty thinking he was in the Caribbean, and (below) enjoying driving us around

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Our trip back was a fine close reach, with the wind freeing up enough for a fast passage back around Land’s End, with the tide lee-bowing us nicely.  The highlight was an extended visitation from dolphins.

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Johnny enjoying a good helm

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Bottlenosed dolphins (I think) playing with us

Safely back in Penzance, we said goodbye to Johnny and Lucy – thank you for being such excellent crew! We had walked around every inhabited island, seen much flora and fauna, and had a healthy and sociable time.  Spellbinder will now remain in Cornwall, based out of Falmouth for the rest of the month.

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End of Lockdown

The news that we would be able to spend nights onboard came as a welcome invitation to go cruising, and to develop firm plans for the summer.  Before departing, however, I was able to take Spellbinder out for 3 day trips to make sure all was working and ready to venture further afield.

First came Charles and Caroline, who are busy preparing to buy a yacht themselves and have some adventures.  Charles came with me from the Canaries to Cape Verde in November 2018 and therefore knows Spellbinder well.  We took a trip upwind with the tide in very warm weather to Langstone Harbour, picking up a buoy for lunch, before turning downwind to end up in Poole Harbour, meeting friends Alan and Julie who live there and who were able to come out to meet us in their kayak.  With the wind turning usefully back to a westerly, we were then able to sail back to Gosport with the tide, around the south of the Isle of Wight.

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A strong tide in Langstone Harbour.  Being a bit of a free diver, Charles had no difficulty using it for a refreshing swim, hanging onto the boarding ladder

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Long cruising chute run down the length of the Solent

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Drinks in Poole Harbour

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Thank you for coming to see us, Alan and Julie

I was also able to have elder son Tom on board for a very windy outing in the Solent, bringing with him his student housemates from London.  We deployed the main with 3 reefs, and a storm jib on the removable forestay, with back stays deployed. It was a bumpy ride, but a good experience, and after an hour or so we headed back downwind and into the relative calm of Portsmouth Harbour for a long lunch, but not before dipping our ensign to a passing warship, and having the compliment returned.

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Thank you George, Sam and Yuyu for coming on board and experiencing the wind in your hair…

We then took Spellbinder to Cowes for a socially-distanced lunch with some other RYS members, which was an enjoyable day out.

I have also been undertaking a bit of routine maintenance, and one job which needed doing was to plane down the deck caulking, which had become rather too proud of the teak. To do this, I bought a Mozart tool, which is ideal for the job, and I spent a pleasant and rewarding morning in Gosport shaving the excess off.

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The Mozart tool, and resultant caulking shavings

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A smoother, less ridged feel to the deck

We got the go ahead to spend nights aboard from 4th July, and on the 6th I had a weather window to get west.  We left Gosport with the tide late morning, with my crew being younger son Jonty and friend Charmian. Beating gently down the Solent with the tide, we were pushed out strongly through Hurst narrows and had a fine sail to Swanage, where we anchored for supper and for me to attend a Zoom meeting. There then followed an enjoyable close reach down the coast, with the wind having just enough north in it to push us past Portland Bill and down into the West Country.

Off St Alabans

Fine sailing off St Alban’s Head, into the sunset.  Feeling back at home on Spellbinder.

After a great night sail we arrived at our destination, Dartmouth – one of my favourite river entrances, which I have seen many times whilst approaching in a yacht, and of which I never tire.  We then proceeded up to my old village Dittisham, where we took a buoy, had a pint in my favourite Devon pub, enjoyed a drink with friends, and enjoyed a BBQ.  It was great to be back in the the cruising lifestyle.

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Fine sailing off the Dorset coast

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Arriving in Dartmouth, with Britannia Royal Naval College before us, as ever

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Jonty helming us in

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The RAF flew over to inspect our masthead burgee at close quarters

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Charmian making herself at home

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Dittisham looking as lovely as ever

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Nice of Joe and Sarah to pop by on their RIB – thank you for the drinks later on!

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First pint since lock down, in a most suitable venue

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Sunset BBQ

The next morning we anchored in Dartmouth to visit the chandlery and do some shopping, before heading out into a quite brisk westerly to get round Start and Prawle Points and beyond Salcombe, to find the relative calm of the Yealm, one of my favourite places in Devon.  Nestled on a pontoon, we slept well after what was quite a blowy and bumpy afternoon at sea. The next day we toured Newton Ferrers and Noss Mayo, and had our first pub lunch for three months, in the Dolphin in the former village.

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Spellbinder at anchor in Dartmouth.  Like in Falmouth, I enjoy anchoring in the middle of bustling towns

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A misty, murky River Yealm entrance

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Calm inside the Yealm

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Reacquainting myself with comforts aboard!

The plan now is to head further west, taking advantage of an emerging period of calm to enjoy Scilly.

Out at last

Lockdown and measures to combat CV-19 have meant almost 10 weeks away from Spellbinder. It is never good to leave a yacht for long, particularly when it is in the water, although external checks and latterly one internal check had been carried out on my behalf (thanks Phil and Brad).

The first trip out was with Rupert, and we managed to choose the first rainy day after the best part of eight weeks of delightful unbroken sunshine – what a Spring we have had. It was good to be on the water though. After checking all the systems were working, we motored to Cowes, which looked as if it was still in winter. Mooring alongside a midstream pontoon, we had a good lunch and then took the tide back to Portsmouth, beating into a freshening northeasterly. An unremarkable day’s sailing in normal times, but a great one in this odd period. I experienced a significant sense of release and freedom.

Rupert at the helm
A dull but nonetheless delightful Solent – so good to be back on the water!
Socially distancing on a 12 metre yacht isn’t too hard…
A decent lunch: Pouilly Fumé and garden produce

I had originally planned to take Spellbinder to scrub off at the end of March, but it never happened, for obvious reasons. This weekend allowed me an opportunity, however, and a quick call to the Bosham harbourmaster confirmed they were open for business. I was joined in Gosport by Neil and Molly and we had a pleasant sail up to Chichester in a developing sea breeze, coming alongside Bosham Quay at High Water Springs without difficulty.

The sea breeze helped blow us on
Settling down, waiting for the tide to drop. To make sure Spellbinder leans the right way (into the wall) I put the boom across, and if necessary take the spinnaker halyard across and apply leaning pressure using a winch
Fishing waders prove useful to get a head start
A happy skipper, reunited with the bottom of his yacht
My Gori 3-bladed prop needed some maintenance: I gave it a good polish, and I replaced the anodes along with the rubber end stops
Thank you Neil and Molly for pressure washing the hull, and for enjoying playing with the toy! At the 2 metre socially distant minimum distance, I was still in range…

People often ask me why I don’t just pay a yard to do this sort of work. The answer is simple: doing this puts me in touch with my yacht, and I get to know her better. It makes me a better sailor, and is, of course, far cheaper. But it’s also fun and sociable, and without the need to paint thanks to Spellbinder’s Coppercoat, an easy and quick process.

It took us two hours, and once done we were able to enjoy drinks with local friends. Lifting off without difficulty at High Water, we had an excellent reach back to Portsmouth in a light northerly, enjoying the greater speed through the water which comes from having a clean hull and prop.

After Neil and Molly departed, I completed some remaining jobs on board, and Spellbinder is now ready for her season. Original plans have obviously been much changed, and where she will sail will depend entirely on the easing of CV-19 restrictions and quarantine impositions. I hope, though, to range the English Channel, and visit the West Country and Channel Islands. Ireland is still a possibility, and I haven’t entirely excluded the idea of leaving Spellbinder somewhere warm for the winter…

Late autumn in the Solent

Yachts, and particularly their engines, do not enjoy being left alone during the winter months.  I have never taken my yachts out of the water, winterising them and putting them on the hard; for me, the occasional foray during the off season can be both enjoyable and good for the boat and its systems.  I am also happier that a yacht is sitting in a bath of tepid salt water than fully exposed to the air and frost. Winterising – and in particular the removal of soft furnishings – can be a lengthy task. Instead, I run a dehumidifier and oil filled heater from November to April, and Spellbinder remains warm and dry, and in commission.

With these thoughts in mind, an opportunity came up for a couple of days of sailing locally this week.  The weather was cold but clear, with enough wind to sail well. With Julian as crew, we left Gosport and headed to Cowes, then over to Lymington for the night.  There are major redevelopments taking place on the Town Quay, which had been our planned destination – they are creating many more walk ashore pontoons.  We therefore berthed in Lymington Marina.  After a good night in the Town, the next morning we sailed up to and into the Beaulieu River, picking up a buoy off Bucklers Hard for lunch and then sailing out of the river and back to Gosport. It was a good couple of days, and Spellbinder seems fine, although the wind speed indicator is not working – a job to add to the list.

The photos tell the story:

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Sailing out into the Solent – cold and clear conditions, with a light sailing breeze

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Spellbinder alone at the RYS Haven

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Julian was last on Spellbinder in the Azores.  A bit colder here…

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Motoring into Lymington

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Sailing in over the bar and into the entrance of the Beaulieu River.  We tacked out too, which was enjoyable

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Sailing past the famous Gypsy Moth IV, moored in the Beaulieu River

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A peaceful lunchtime spot near Buckler’s Hard

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The joys of off-season sailing – no-one else around, except the odd sail training yacht

 

 

North Atlantic Circuit – Booklet

For those interested, I have written an account of my Atlantic circuit based largely on the blog entries.  It consists of a summary, a map of the voyage, chapters on the background to buying Spellbinder and how I fitted her out, and the various stages divided into chapters.  There are some reflections by way of a conclusion at the end, and an Annex giving Spellbinder’s technical details.  It is a bit long, with many photographs, but my crew might wish to view the chapters for the stages in which they were involved.

You can download it at this link:

A Sabbatical of 50 Atlantic Islands

Booklet cover

How to scrub up well

After a family holiday and some home time, a few days ago I returned to Spellbinder to undertake some maintenance jobs. After her 10,000 mile cruise she is in remarkably good condition – a tribute to her build quality but also to an ongoing programme of minor maintenance. If things break I try and fix them there and then, and when you are on board for lengthy periods this gives you ample time to undertake what is required.

One thing that did need doing was an inspection of the hull and stern gear, a wash off of the Coppercoat antifouling and a change of the prop anodes. This can all be done easily and expensively by lifting out at a boatyard, but I have always liked to dry out against piles or a wall: it is cheap, fun and a social activity. Some followers of the blog will remember doing this with me on my previous yacht Kianga at Hardway.

I had always wanted to dry out against the quayside at Bosham harbour, and took Spellbinder there having booked in with the harbourmaster.

Passing through the submarine barrier outside Portsmouth. It’s good to be in home waters again, although I’m reacquainting myself with things like tides and cooler, stronger wind and rain…

Bosham quay dries at 2m above chart datum, so with my 2m draft I needed a spring tide well in excess of 4m. Happily high water springs at Bosham is around midday, so by tea-time you can be pressure washing away happily and in the nearby pub by apéro time. This is my kind of schedule. You can then head away at midnight on the next high water, or the following midday.

We came in as planned in slightly breezy conditions and settled in with a couple of fender boards to spread the weight of the yacht against the mooring piles. The tricky part is to ensure that when you ground you lean into, and not away from the wall. This is where the masthead spinnaker halyard comes into its own. Led across to a nearby secure point, the leverage is sufficient to ensure that the yacht settles nicely. I also move the boom across to add weight on the appropriate side. Luckily the road at Bosham cuts off at high water, so there is no through traffic. You also need to be careful with your lines, making them long to allow for the drop.

Halyard and boom deployed

There is a good 2 hour high water stand at Bosham, but then the ebb starts in earnest.

Spellbinder settling nicely on her keel

Once she was properly grounded, it wasn’t long until the pressure washer was out. The base of the quay is concrete so not too muddy. There was some weed around the waterline, but otherwise it was just slime and the odd barnacle. It didn’t take long to wash her down and we then changed the two anodes which protect the prop.

Job done

By 6.30 pm we had changed out of our waders and wellies, had a shower and were having a drink with friends Ed and Jeanna, followed by dinner in the Anchor Bleu.

I came off the wall the next day, which did mean a slightly interrupted night as I went through the halyard thing again at 3am! But it was hugely satisfying, and I noticed a significant increase in speed as I motored back in gusty conditions. Spellbinder scrubs up well.

A thank you to my crew

My recent post reflecting on my North Atlantic circuit made mention of the many crew who came aboard and made it all possible.  This post recalls each leg and its crew, reflecting on the highlights for me.  It is written by way of  grateful thanks for those who made the effort to come aboard and share the adventure.

Gosport to Madeira (Tom and Tiger).  I knew from the outset that getting out of the Western Approaches could be one of the trickiest legs of all, and strong south westerlies could well have delayed us. In the event we were blessed with light westerlies against which we could motor sail, and once past Ouessant we had light reaching winds, with much progress made with the Parasailor and furling gennaker. Highlights were flying the drone while under gennaker; bathing in a calm Biscay in deep, cerulean blue water; learning modern vernacular (I now know what a ‘buff ting’ and a ‘peng sort’ are); listening to ‘banging’ tunes (and too much of a genre called London Grime), and riding scooters around Porto Santo. It was great to get Spellbinder’s first ocean leg behind us, and prove her systems.  Thank you Tom and Tiger for making the first leg so memorable – you were a joy to sail with!

UK to Madeira

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Madeira (Sue, Tom and Jonty).  We had a lovely time exploring Madeira, and walking many miles along the Levadas. The Ilhas Desertas were lovely.  We celebrated Sue’s birthday in a lovely castle restaurant in Funchal. We had some of the strongest winds of the whole year (the only time the wind got over 30 knots on passage) coming into Quinta do Lorde, where we left Spellbinder for a couple of months. Great family time, and a memorable holiday.

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Madeira to The Canaries (Paul and Neil). A very hasty departure as an unseasonable storm with hurricane force winds (Leslie) was threatening Madeira. It was an easy passage, during which we caught our first dorado, the first fish ever caught by Paul. Thank you Paul for showing us a bit of Tenerife, which you know well. We enjoyed visiting La Gomera too.

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Canaries (Neil, Claire, Molly and Harvey.) Some great sailing around the western Canaries. Close ups with pilot whales, wonderful food, snorkeling, swimming under cliffs and stern-to berthing.  A pleasure to have the whole Wilson family on board!

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Canaries (Sue and Jonty). We really enjoyed some walking amongst the volcanic landscapes of Tenerife, and touring the island, including visiting the highest point El Teide and the less developed north side.

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Canaries (Anthony). Great to have my best man on board, although sorry you got a bit sick on a breezy crossing to Gran Canaria! Great discussions (Brexit included), and lots of good food and drink consumed.

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Canaries to Cape Verde (Crispin, Charles and Simon).  A memorable trade wind trip, having picked up Simon from Gran Canaria. Highlights for me were Charles diving overboard to clear a rope caught between the rudder and skeg, and helping me sew up a rip in the Parasailor; catching a dorado; seeing the first blow hole from a whale; frying flying fish, and arriving in some very African islands. What a great passage – thank you all.

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Cape Verde (Simon).  The Cape Verde islands were the ones I wished I had allowed more time for.  They are still relatively wild and unexplored, particularly by British yachtsmen.  Simon and I enjoyed some fine sailing and walking, and caught two very large dorado.  We hired a guide to go around Sao Nicolau, and had a memorable day. Probably my favourite archipelago.  Thank you Simon for teaching me lots about my own yacht and how to sail her better!

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Atlantic Crossing: Mindelo, Cape Verde to Martinique (Alan and Neil). The longest of all the passages, and a wonderful fast downwind trip in good trade winds. We broke a couple of things (down to my own ineptitude) but nothing too important.  We had some great baking, and a typical heads repair episode (thanks Alan!) as a result of a curtain rail holder which found its way down the pan.  It was a wonderful, very satisfying crossing – thank you to both crew who were my ideal companions. After recovering, we had a lovely few days relaxing on the west coat of Martinique.

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The Windwards (Peter and Janet).  After a very pleasant few days exploring Martinique we crossed to St Lucia and enjoyed the RYS cruise down to Grenada. What a great time we had: highlights for me were the many BBQs and early morning swims among turtles; an amazing couple of days on Mustique; cricket in Bequia and drinks high up on the island; Tobago Cays and rafting up in Chatham Bay. It was a very special leg – thank you both so much.

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The Windwards (Sue and Jonty).  What a way to spend February half term.  Spellbinder retraced her steps, and enjoyed fine tropical sailing, swimming and snorkeling.  Highlights were walks above Chatham and Marigot Bays, lobsters in Tobago Cays, Wallilabou life and one of my favourite anchorages, Saltwhistle Bay.

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The Leewards (Johnny, Lucy and David). Arriving in the rain at carnival time in Martinique, we squashed into the dinghy and then set off for some memorable explorations of Dominica, Guadeloupe and Antigua and Barbuda. I have some fine memories of partying in Portsmouth Dominica, riding electric bikes around Les Saintes in Guadeloupe, Lucy singing at the shrouds, and our visit to the amazing Barbuda. It was all great fun – thank you for your fine company!

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Nevis, Saint Kitts, Saint Barts, and Anguilla (Patrick). We had a really enjoyable time sailing out from Antigua and exploring these mellow islands.  Fine Russian-inspired coffee in St Kitts, and old plantations which are now boutique hotels; old forts; amazing yachts in Saint Barts; a still destroyed Saint Martin, and the wonderful Anguilla, with its lovely people and laid-back life. Great to spend time with you my old friend.

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BVIs (Crispin, Ann, Lottie and Tom).  We had a fine time sailing around these easy islands, enjoying many a cocktail and meeting a couple of knights of the realm en route.  Some fine running from Crispin and Tom, great snorkeling, drone flying and a full moon party at the end of a runway!

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Anegada, BVIs (Tom).  My favourite island of the BVIs.  Lobster galore, diving down to pile rocks on the anchor, being driven by Tom for the first time, and the most azure of all azure waters.

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BVIs to Bermuda (Neil and François). A touch of seasickness from the crew, who recovered and enjoyed a fine broad reach virtually all the way.  On arrival, horrendous shop prices, great scooter rides, the lovely Royal Bermuda Yacht Club and interesting history and museums.  Thank you both very much – I hope you remember the good bits best!

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Bermuda to the Azores (Alan and Julian). OCC parties, bus tours and an opportunity for you to see some of the island before we headed off.  A wonderful passage full of long Parasailor runs, a broken autopilot, dolphins galore, fine dining and a great landfall in Flores. Terceira was an adventure too.  Thank you both for making this long passage so enjoyable.

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Azores to UK (Crispin and Tom).  Both of you count as my most loyal crew – back for the third time! We had a great dinner in the Azores before a long passage, which dealt some weather-related challenges.  Fuel consumption and routeing dilemmas, the most wonderful dolphin and whale displays, a fine landfall flying the drone over Bishop’s Rock, a re-fuel and anchorage in Scilly and a great Parasailor run up Channel.  Lunch at the RYS was a fine way to finish!

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Thank you all.  I final word of thanks to my friend Julian H – while I missed you on board, your emails and advice on weather and routeing were invaluable and greatly appreciated. Thank you my friend!

 

Reflections on a North Atlantic circuit

10 days after returning to Gosport after my year away sailing around the North Atlantic, I find myself in the Outer Hebrides on a non-sailing family holiday. It is a dreich day, and I am sitting in South Uist looking west out over the Atlantic through the mizzle.  It seems a fitting time to reflect on what has been an excellent and successful year, full of challenge, adventure and friendship.

Firstly, some statistics.  Spellbinder left Gosport on 16th July 2018, returning almost exactly a year later on 12th July 2019. During that time:

  • She logged 10,083 nautical miles;
  • Of that distance, she sailed approximately 7000 miles and motored 3000;
  • She visited 50 different islands*;
  • She had 26 different crew members, several of whom did multiple trips;
  • She undertook 4 ocean passages** of more than 1000 nautical miles each;
  • I spent 214 days on board: 152 were sailing days or on passage, and 61 nights were spent at sea.

It went to plan, more or less, thanks to lots of preparation, planning and thinking beforehand, the reliability of Spellbinder, the devotion and experience of her various crew, and plenty of good fortune.

From a personal perspective, it was the fulfilment of a long-held dream.  Having sailed my previous yacht Kianga on cross-Channel and coastal voyages only, the ocean was always going to call, and my experience in 2007 of being the mate on board a Challenge 67 yacht from Rio de Janeiro to Cape Town (via Tristan Da Cunha) had whetted my appetite. The purchase of Spellbinder, and my decision to leave a career of 33 years and take a sabbatical gave me the necessary opportunity.

It was always going to be atypical; most people I met during the year were either groups in their early twenties or in their 60s and 70s, sailing as couples.  My circumstances required inviting friends and family to participate, necessitating the coordination of lots of people and the keeping to a broad timetable – so often the enemy of the cruising lifestyle, as weather and breakages can easily intervene. I was lucky on both counts. The weather didn’t really affect my plans – at worst delaying a couple of departures by a day or two. I suffered few breakages aboard which I was unable to fix straight away, or improvise around – in part due to having many spares on board, but also because I built in some time to the programme to get things fixed. My own ineptitude ripped a sail and bent a spinnaker pole during the first Atlantic crossing, but both were repaired in Martinique.  The only thing of consequence to go wrong was the Raymarine autopilot, between Bermuda and the Azores – luckily we could use the Hydrovane for most of the trip, even motor sailing. As far as crew were concerned, everyone who had committed turned up, and to them I am deeply grateful.

Spellbinder proved to be an excellent yacht for the purpose, and the ocean pedigree of Hallberg Rassy became clear to me. I was fortunate in inheriting a very well-maintained yacht, and the refit I carried out in Gosport over 2017 and early 2018 proved well worth the effort.  Life was very comfortable on board – the freezer, water maker, storage and tankage and hot water system making life particularly pleasant, allowing us to eat well and take daily showers. Communications worked well, with the SSB and Pactor modem becoming my principal means to send and receive emails and download grib weather files.  The SSB also came into its own for passage radio call-ins, which added to our safety and sense of an ocean community. The sat phone was for emergencies and the odd mid-ocean phone call.  Of the other equipment I would cite the following as being particularly useful: the Hydrovane, for many hours and miles of trouble-free and mechanical steering, requiring not a single amp; the Parasailor, which allowed us to sail dead downwind in light airs (7-12 knots) when otherwise we would have struggled or resorted to the motor; the Coppercoat on the hull, which in combination with a regular light scrub (something one can do in the tropics) kept the hull smooth and our boat speeds up; and the drone, which took some wonderful footage.  We were also very grateful for the fans which had been installed. On the electrical side, the solar panels proved a disappointment (a poor design had been installed) but after their replacement in the BVIs I found that in conjunction with the Aqua4gen (a water towed generator) I was fairly self-sufficient in the tropics.  The increase in battery power to 750 amp hours proved a wise move.  Finally, my new helm plotter, on a swivel in the cockpit and interlinked with the AIS and radar feeds, proved sufficient for all our needs and I didn’t even use the one which had previously been installed. On the sailing side, the new genoa and mainsail from Jeckells were excellent.  In the Caribbean, with more consistently strong winds, I found the working gib more than adequate. With the Parasailor (cited above) and gennaker – which was excellent when reaching in light airs – I found I had everything I needed.  Had we encountered gale force winds, we had the removable forestay and storm staysail which, in conjunction with a deep third reef, would have been ideal.  In the event we only encountered winds in excess of 30 knots once, and then only briefly.

I met some wonderful people during the voyage, of all nationalities.  The challenges of sailing binds people together (it might seem from the outside to be an idyllic lifestyle but in reality is quite hard work and full of challenge!) and Spellbinder’s guest book has many more entries.  We encountered no crime and the locals we met were on the whole extremely friendly and helpful. Joining the Ocean Cruising Club was a real pleasure, and opened the way to meeting a great group of international sailors.  I was surprised by the lack of young British people on yachts – there were many more French, German, Dutch and Scandinavian sailors in their twenties who had cobbled together to make dreams happen, sailing small yachts long distances while in the prime of their youth. Perhaps we Anglo-Saxons have lost the ability to do this – has life become too serious too soon? Do university debts impede this now, or are people too eager to gain employment or a mortgage? 

The geography and culture I encountered were as wonderful as expected.  I loved Madeira and the Canaries, but on another trip would spend more time in Cape Verde – they are wonderful, the people relaxed and friendly, and relatively unexplored.  I wish I had planned another week or two there.  Perhaps next time I will head to Suriname from Cape Verde. I had already sailed in the Windward Islands and they were as beautiful as I remembered, although increasingly crowded.  Martinique was new to me though, and I found the west coast a delight – Le Marin is an ideal landfall after an Atlantic crossing. Sailing north, the Leewards are great islands to cruise, but the effects of the 2017 hurricanes (Irma and Maria) have left their mark.  Dominica was the poorest of the countries we visited, but its lack of development is an attraction in itself.  It made me reflect on the various constitutional choices these islands have made in the last 70 years, and the consequences of those choices. Of the other Leeward islands, Barbuda and Anguilla stood out to me as being the most beautiful. The BVIs had also been ravaged by Irma but are bouncing back; I can see why they are such a wonderful cruising ground, given their closeness and the ease of sailing.  Anegada was the best of them. I found Bermuda expensive but quite interesting, and the Azores requiring a summer to be spent there – as with so many of the east Atlantic volcanic islands, the walking was superb.

By way of conclusion – it was a fantastic year, one I am already savouring in retrospect. I will continue to do so.  It was an excellent mix of challenge (the first days of a long ocean passage are full of uncertainty, and it invariably took me a few days to sleep well), adventure, beauty, fun and cultural delight. It has left me relaxed and happy, and ready for new adventures. On the sailing side, I suspect Spellbinder will remain in European waters for the next few seasons – western Scotland, Ireland, Scandinavia and the Baltic call – but I would love to do another Atlantic circuit one day.

A final word to all my crew, and to my family – thank you for all your support.  Without you none of this would have been feasible. I will shortly publish a further blog summarising each leg, to thank you more directly.

*Islands set foot upon:  Madeira – Porto Santo, Madeira and Ilas Desertas; Canaries – Tenerife, La Gomera, La Palma and Gran Canaria; Cape Verde – Sal, São Nicolau, Santa Luzia and São Vicente; Windward Islands – Dominica, Martinique, St Lucia, St Vincent, Bequia, Mustique, Mayreau, Union Island, Petit Rameau and Baradal (Tobago Cays), Petit St Vincent, Sandy Island, Carriacou and Grenada; Leeward Islands – Terre-de-Haut, Ilet à Cabrit, Basse Terre (Guadeloupe), Antigua, Barbuda, Nevis, Basse Terre (Saint Kitts), Saint Barts, Saint Martin, Anguilla (including Prickly Pear island); BVIs – Virgin Gorda, Tortola, Cooper Island, Salt Island, Peter Island, Norman Island, Jost Van Dyke, Anegada; Bermuda; Azores – Flores, Terceira, São Miguel; UK – Isle of Wight and mainland Great Britain

** Ocean passages over 1000 NM: Gosport to Madeira (1345 NM, 9 days); Cape Verde to Martinique (2100 NM, 13 days); Bermuda to Azores (1659 NM, 12 days); Azores to Gosport (1400 NM, 12 days)

 

 

 

Azores to UK

The final passage of Spellbinder’s Atlantic circuit was Ponta Delgada in the Azores to her home berth in Gosport, a trip of some 1400 nautical miles.  Normally I would expect to be in Falmouth after 7 or 8 days, but we were faced with an interesting routeing challenge, with a large depression forming over north west Spain.

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The Grib (weather forecast) file showing strong northerly and north easterly winds west of Spain and into Biscay

We were therefore obliged to head north first, using some light southerly winds to get ourselves up to around 46 or 47 degrees north, before turning east and trying to find some fair winds and favourable currents to take us into the Western Approaches.

Crew for this leg were eldest son Tom and friend Crispin, who were each returning for their third time during this year’s voyage.  After preparations had been completed in Ponta Delgada, we refueled and headed off.

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Leaving Sao Miguel

For the first few days we had fair winds, making good use of the Parasailor, motoring a fair bit and gradually gaining the required degrees north. Julian, my ever faithful weather adviser, kept us on the straight and narrow through nightly email exchanges and we had to make careful note of the engine hours used, as fuel consumption would be critical.  Eventually I made the call after 7 days to head east at 46 degrees 30 minutes north, and we cut the corner of the low pressure, motor sailing though the swell until we reached the other side.

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Sailing with the Parasailor…

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…and furling gennaker, when we had the angle. Sailing into the dawn, and away from the sunset was, of course, the exact opposite of our Atlantic crossing in December

We kept ourselves busy – reading, cooking, carrying out running repairs and for two of the crew, daily exercises.

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The advantages of having a son studying physics at university – electrical and electronic repairs were effected flawlessly

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Wholly unnecessary physical exercise carried out enthusiastically by two of the crew, while the skipper watched, glass of wine in hand…

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…their exertions seemed to make them happy though

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We baked five loaves, all them a disaster with the texture of bricks.  We think that the tropical climate wasn’t good for the yeast

Once through the low pressure system we had light winds and fair currents, and gradually made progress towards Scilly, where we needed to refuel. I had been concerned about fuel consumption, but having emptied the contents of the reserve tank into the main one, I was able to calculate it more scientifically.  Having kept the revs down, we had been sipping fuel at about 2.2 litres an hour, which gave us plenty in hand.

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‘Hands To Bathe’…post exercise dip in the deep Atlantic

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Motoring through glassy calms

We saw many dolphins, and many whales – particularly one evening, when all around us there appeared to be whale spouts, showing up white against the dark cloud which was in front of the setting sun.  You will have to take my word for it, as they were too far away to photograph effectively.

Approaching Scilly after 10 days, we flew the drone and enjoyed spectacular images and video of passing Bishop’s Rock lighthouse.

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Approaching the Western Isles, Scilly

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Sailing past Bishop’s Rock lighthouse

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Retrieving the drone – always a slightly nerve-wracking experience

Once past Bishop’s Rock we went into Hugh Town on St Mary’s to refuel and Crispin topped us up with fresh food.  To await a fair tide round Land’s End and the Lizard, we  anchored in the Eastern Isles for lunch.

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At anchor in the wonderful Eastern Isles.  We were lucky to have calm conditions

We had a good a good sail down the south coast, enjoying a spectacular Parasailor run from Portland to Swanage, before anchoring again in Studland Bay to await a window into Hurst Narrows and the Solent.

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Parasailor propelling us along nicely, a few miles off Portland Bill

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At anchor off Old Harry’s Rock – almost home…

Our night entry into the Solent was uneventful, and we tied up in Cowes in the RYS Haven at 0330. We thought we would have some kudos for sailing in from the Azores, but the neighbouring yacht had just come in from a Transat race from Newport, Rhode Island, and was turning around overnight to race to Saint Malo!

After a fine breakfast, we cleaned Spellbinder up and then had an excellent lunch to celebrate our arrival and the end of the year’s voyage.  My friend Peter had kindly ordered champagne for us – thank you for your thoughtful and timely gesture! After lunch Tom and I took Spellbinder back to her berth in Gosport, completing our circuit of the North Atlantic.   Thank you Tom and Crispin for your excellent company on this memorable trip.

Reflections on this wonderful year’s voyage will follow in a few days.

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All dressed up for a celebratory lunch

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A taste of the Azores

I often seem to write my blogs at airports – something to do with the WiFi, no doubt, but also because I tend to be at them when there is a change of crew, marking the end of a stage of this journey.  And so it is today: Spellbinder has been in the Azores now for over three weeks, and is about to depart with new crew for her final leg of this Atlantic circuit, from Ponta Delgada on São Miguel back to UK.

From Flores, with the original Atlantic crew, we headed straight for the island of Terceira.  I would have loved to have visited Horta, a great mid-Atlantic crossroads for cruisers (a night at the Cafe Sport bar, and painting your yacht’s mural on the harbour wall are rites of passage), but it will have to wait for another time.  At this time of year it is very crowded, and the winds and time precluded a visit.  However, we found a snug berth in Praia da Vitória,  from where I was able to fly back to UK briefly.  During my absence Julian stayed aboard for a few days – a good thing, as there were 40+ knot winds one night.

The autopilot had broken a couple of days out from Bermuda, so I was keen to get it fixed.  Julian and I had done a good diagnosis, which was confirmed when I took it to David at Hudson Marine on the Hamble.  A new clutch for the drive unit was required, which we duly fitted.  I’m pleased to report that all is now well – a good thing, as steering while motoring through ocean calms is no fun at all!

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Fixing the Raymarine autopilot drive unit

Once back in the Azores, I explored Terceira, hiring a car. It was fiesta time, and I joined fellow Ocean Cruising Club (OCC) members to watch the bull run in Angra do Heroísmo.  They block off a few streets, and let half a dozen bulls run rampage. Amateur matadors play with the bulls, and if you can touch their horns (thankfully protected with a soft end placed over them) the crowd roars in approval.  Beer and testosterone combine to make men do dangerous things, and every year people get hurt or worse.

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Parade before the release of the bulls.  Olé!

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Bulls on the run, Angra do Heroísmo…

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A local matador showing off…

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…but I think the bull rather got the better of him

Most spectators are safely sat on lorry beds, or up in trees, but we found a spot where a local said that in 61 years of watching it, no bull had ever come near.  He was wrong! Moray, a fellow yachtsman stood next door to me, took the following footage:

Luckily no-one was hurt, including the bull. It was a tad discombobulating though.

After an hour the bulls are rounded up and returned to their farms.  That evening there was a bullfight in the local arena, but although they place darts in the bull’s body it is illegal in Portugal to kill them.  It was difficult to envisage all this happening in UK: not the thing of Health and Safety and the RSPCA!  But in the Azores, it is part of the very cultural fabric, as much as cricket is with us.

Terceira was lovely, for its architecture particularly.

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Ornate architecture, dates of construction clearly shown

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Churches in the same style

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Statue of bulls in Angra do Heroismo

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Ugly silos spruced up with vibrant depictions

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Street in Angra do Heroismo, ready for the fiesta

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Looking south from the island: a typical Azorian patchwork of fields

My time on Terceira ended with a fun and international OCC gathering, kindly organised by Jonathan and Anne Lloyd (photo courtesy of the local OCC port officer, Lina Lane-Thornton).

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The next morning the weather was set fair for a passage down to Ponta Delgada on the island of São Miguel.  It was to be single-handed, so I left the marina at dusk and anchored in the harbour, so as to get an easy start early the next morning.  The passage proved straightforward – I left just before dawn into a nice broad reaching wind, albeit with a 2-3 metre swell on the beam.  At 90 nautical miles, this was the equivalent of a Channel crossing and for me the longest single-handed passage I have undertaken so far.

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On passage between Terceira and São Miguel, amidst seagulls

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Heading down the São Miguel south coast 

After 13 hours I arrived safely in Ponta Delgada, found a berth and sorted out formalities in the morning.

Before the arrival of the next crew I hired a car and explored the island.  Like all of them there is ample evidence of EU money being spent: modern roads and infrastructure, and a system which seems to work.  São Miguel is, like many of the others, volcanic in nature and I explored two areas of great beauty: Caldeira des Sete Cidades and Furnas.

The former is a town right down in the bottom of a volcanic crater, with two lakes named Lagoa Verde and Azul (green and blue). It is a truly spectacular descent.

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Caldeira des Sete Cidades and its lakes

Over in Furnas, there are thermal springs galore, where you can bathe and also eat the  local dish Cozido, a delicious stew.

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Thermal springs…

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…’Cozido’, geo-thermally slow-cooked for your delight…

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…which required a geo-thermal bath to aid digestion

The flora on São Miguel is spectacular, with ubiquitous hydrangea and agapanthus lining the roads.

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Delightful flora abounds

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The north coast of São Miguel 

It’s a lovely island.  As elsewhere in the Azores, I found the people calm, polite and helpful, and English is widely spoken.  They know how to be kind and welcoming to tourists.  Prices are extremely reasonable (and a positive delight after Bermuda) and the cuisine delicious.  I have just tasted the Azores – and I will be back. Having crossed the Atlantic twice, the distance from Falmouth (7 or 8 days for Spellbinder, with fair winds) means that the Azores will continue to call me.

Tomorrow I depart with my new crew – elder son Tom, and friend Crispin – for the final passage back to UK.  This morning I filled up with fresh fruit and vegetables in the local market, and studied the weather forecast – not that favourable, with a round-about approach needed to ride the west side of an anti-cyclone and to avoid some north easterly winds.  It will take us a few more days than it might.

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The market at Ponta Delgada

 

Bermuda to the Azores

Bermuda was fun – we had good company with several fellow Ocean Cruising Club (OCC) members, it proved a good place to stock up (albeit at prices which would make the finest organic grocer in Belgravia seem like an Asda mega-discount store), and fine weather.  My crew for the return Atlantic crossing were Alan and Julian, and when they flew in we began to prepare Spellbinder for what would be a 1700 nautical mile passage to Flores in the Azores.

We had time to make the most of Bermuda as strong northerlies delayed our departure by a couple of days.  The crew toured the island by bus, we filled up with diesel, provisioned and generally got ourselves organised.

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Informal OCC drinks aboard Spellbinder in St George’s Harbour – it’s a very international club

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Delightfully illustrated Bermudan dollars

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Waiting to fuel up.  With the prospect of light airs, we needed to fill every single litre of fuel capacity.  Spellbinder holds about 440 litres of diesel, enough for about 800 nautical miles of motoring

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Final crew dinner before departure

We left Bermuda through the St George’s Town Cut at around midday on 27th May, heading out into light winds which allowed us to broad reach, firstly under white sails then under gennaker.  It was a perfect way of easing into a long passage, with fine weather and good boat speeds.

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Leaving Bermuda

The rest of the passage served up lots of light winds, calm patches, enormous amounts of animal life, and one or two mechanical challenges.  For the most part we were either goose-winged in stronger winds (although nothing much above 22 knots) or flying the Parasailor, which proved invaluable in propelling us along downwind in true winds of 7-14 knots.

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We had two long runs under Parasailor – the longest being 44 hours, all steered by the Hydrovane.  It made a real difference, as otherwise we would have drifted at 2-3 knots, or would have been forced to motor

Mother Nature served up some real treats on this passage. We saw many, many dolphins and porpoises, and several whales – although the latter proved extremely difficult to photograph, as by the time you get a camera out they tend to have dived, leaving a blow-hole if you are lucky.  We experienced dolphins swimming with us at night, leaving trails of phosphorescence like torpedoes darting around and under the hull.  We also saw hundreds of thousands of Portuguese Men O’ War, which filled the ocean rather like the Sargasso weed had done down in the Caribbean.

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Dolphin school approaching…

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…and one of the daily displays they treated us to

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Portuguese Man O’ War.  They were everywhere, wrapping themselves in our fishing line and towed generator.  They seem to move along in the current, blown by their own ‘sail’

A day out of Bermuda the Raymarine autopilot failed – a bit of a blow, for while the Hydrovane will steer us effectively at all wind speeds and angles of wind, when it was calm we were obliged to hand steer.  Fortunately these periods were quite short, and we learnt to use the Hydrovane to steer us when motoring or motor sailing too.  The diagnosis is a broken clutch on the drive unit, which I hope to repair in the UK shortly, to allow us to use it for the final leg back to UK.  Everything else worked though, so we enjoyed daily showers thanks to the watermaker, and good food thanks to the freezer.

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Dismantling the autopilot drive unit

Life on board was good – we ate and drank well, established a very workable watch system and enjoyed some fine sailing in calm seas, with swell generally less than 1.5m. The SSB HF long distance radio came into its own, with daily OCC nets where we could talk to each other even when several hundred miles apart. Quite a community grew up. There was also a more formal evening check in with an American organisation which tracks yachts crossing the Atlantic, and also daily met broadcasts from the redoubtable American meteorologist Chris Parker, which proved very useful in planning our route. My good friend Julian would also email me regular weather routing advice, so we were well served.

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The skipper relaxing mid-ocean.  Fishing was a complete disaster though!

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Washing day

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Photographing one of the many fine sunsets

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Foredeck beers

Midday beers on the fore deck, under gennaker

We sighted Flores, the northernmost island in the Azores, about 50 nautical miles out.  Arriving in the outer harbour about 5am, we anchored and waited for daylight, before heading into what is a cramped harbour with a major hazard in the entrance.  A while back a lump of jetty fell into the water (it had been poorly constructed, and was un-reinforced). It is marked by a green starboard-hand marker, which is difficult to see in the dark.  For a tired American sailor, used to buoyage the other way around (‘red right returning’) it could prove disastrous – we saw a UK yacht almost come to grief.  Luckily we were aware of it.  We had logged almost 1700 nautical miles, and the passage had taken 12 and a half days; of that we had sailed 9 of them, and motored the rest.

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Talking on the radio as we approached Flores

Once tied up, we strolled up into the village, had some celebratory beers and flew the drone, mixing with some of the international crews who had recently crossed, some of whom we had been talking to on the SSB. It was a public holiday – no-one was about, and most things were closed, so we decided to head out the next day for the islands in the centre of the archipelago.  The next blog will recount Spellbinder’s cruise of some of the Azores.

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Flores harbour, as seen by the drone.  You can make out the dangerous lump of jetty right in the entrance!

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Saint’s Day parade in Flores

 

 

 

Bermuda to Azores – mid Atlantic report

Spellbinder is currently making good progress on her passage from Bermuda to the Azores.  She left St George’s on Monday 27th May and at 1415 UTC on Monday 2nd June was at 38 50N 47 22W. This position is 900 miles out from Bermuda with some 750 miles to run to the Azores.  At the moment the nearest land mass is Newfoundland, 500 nautical miles to the north.

All is well on board and the sailing has been good, with only 16 hours of motoring required so far. The wind has been behind the beam throughout, and a combination of goose-winging, broad reaching and in the last 24 hours Parasailor alone have allowed her to maintain her heading without recourse to diesel. The Raymarine autopilot has been playing up, however, which may mean any extended motoring may have to be done by hand; the Hydrovane has, however, come into its own and has steered us most of the way.

The weather has been fairly cloudy until recent days when the arrival of high pressure has brought fairer skies, calmer winds and flatter seas.  The passage requires careful monitoring of the developing weather systems, less to avoid gales but more to find wind. The position of the Azores High is critical in this endeavour and we have been getting nightly GRIB (weather) files each night through the SSB long range radio.  There has also been a very useful radio net run each morning by the Ocean Cruising Club, where a number of yachts making the passage check in informally.  There is also a more formal check in each evening with a net sponsored by the American Seven Seas Cruising Association (the net is called the ‘Doo-Dah’ net) which tracks progress of yachts on passage. There is also a twice daily weather bulletin by a sailing meteorologist called Chris Parker, which is useful.

We have seen porpoises, plenty of storm petrels and thousands of Portuguese Men-of-War floating by with their little blue- or red-fringed sails up.  There is a bit of shipping (which stays well clear) and some other yachts in the vicinity.

We are currently heading north to try and get around to the top quadrant of the Azores High, and profit from its westerly winds.  Expected arrival in Flores, Azores is around Sunday 9th June; we intend to spend a night or two there before sailing down to the middle islands, visiting Horta and Terciera.

Bermuda

Having left the British Virgin Islands in good time, we have had a good opportunity to explore the wonderful island of Bermuda.  After conducting our Customs and Immigration obligations, the day after arrival we headed around the north of the island to Hamilton, where we berthed at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club.  From there, we hired scooters and had a most enjoyable couple of days exploring.  It brought back memories for me, as I had stayed with a friend here for a couple of weeks back in the early nineties.

The Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, which charges $4 / foot to dock, is easily the most expensive marina I have ever berthed in.  That said, the facilities are smart and excellent, we were made to feel really welcome, and the Club is full of yachting memorabilia and history. We split the costs and it made a great base.

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A properly royal club…

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…which was hosting a top level international keel boat regatta during our stay

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There was a good set of royal yacht club burgees, including that of my own

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There were sumptuous surroundings in which to relax…

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…and when in Bermuda, wear Bermudan shorts when talking to the members!

The first day we headed over to Dockyard, where there is an old British Naval base which features traditionally robust Nelsonian-era architecture.  It has been somewhat marred by the proximity of the cruise ship terminal, but there was an excellent museum in the Commissioner’s House, which occupied us for a couple of hours as we learned about the history of Bermuda from the earliest settlers – who were shipwrecked – to the present day.  Bermuda’s geographical isolation has in so many ways influenced its history.

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The Commissioner’s House

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Naval ramparts, looking north

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Bermuda hosted the America’s Cup in 2017 – the US entry, Oracle Team left their yacht on display

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We visited a cemetery en route to the Dockyard, with the graves of several dozen Royal Naval personnel from World War Two

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View of Bermuda , looking towards Hamilton from the lighthouse

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Welcomed back to Hamilton by the statue of  Johnny Barnes, a resident who stood and waved at traffic every day between 1986 and 2015

The second day we re-visited Saint George’s by land, enjoying some great beaches on the way.

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Church Bay beach

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The team on their scooters – note the state-of the art helmets!

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Saint George’s.  Bermudan business attire is fairly widespread still – shorts, long socks and sometimes topped with a blazer

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Danish sail training tall ship in Saint George’s

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View from Ordnance Island, Saint George’s

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Another beautiful American yacht. I liked this one as the skipper has his or her own cabin, companionway entrance and private stern deck to enjoy, while the crew sail the yacht

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Bermudan roofs – universally whitewashed, and with a unique rain-catching gutter which funnels all the rainwater into storage

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View of the Town Square, Saint George’s

We headed back to Hamilton and the next morning said goodbye to François.  Neil and I then sailed back to Saint George’s, where I had negotiated a mooring.  It was a good passage, and we almost managed to enter the Town Cut and go into the harbour under sail.

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Sailing through the Town Cut

We enjoyed Bermuda immensely.  Spellbinder is now based here awaiting her next crew to take her to the Azores, with a departure planned for towards the end of the month.  There are quite a few yachts gathering here, including the ARC return leg, and several fellow members of the Ocean Cruising Club are inbound.  It should be a sociable time.

 

 

 

 

Passage to Bermuda

The passage from the BVIs to Bermuda is about 850 nautical miles, and the pilot book advises that for the first few hundred miles, the south east Trades should help you along. As you near Bermuda, however, you are liable to meet calms.  And so it transpired – 4 days of steady winds between 14 and 22 knots just behind the beam, followed by a brief gennaker run as the winds lightened, followed by 24 hours driven by Mr Yanmar.  We arrived after a 5 day, 8 hour passage averaging 6.5 knots.  Crew for this trip were Neil and François.

My stay in the BVIs had been made greatly more enjoyable by the team from Penn’s Landing, the little 12-dock marina which made me feel very welcome and which provided Spellbinder with an excellent base.  Thanks to the marine manager Justin and Rick in particular, who were great. We left Penn’s and headed over to Virgin Gorda to check out of the BVIs, before raising the sails and starting our passage.

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François and myself preparing to leave Penn’s Landing

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Farewell to the BVIs

The winds were strong enough to push us along well, but also kicked up moderate seas which gave my crew early bouts of seasickness, from which they thankfully recovered after a couple of days.  This was a trip which proved perfect for two bits of kit which had yet to come into their own. I had used the Hydrovane a little during the Atlantic crossing, but directly downwind the Raymarine autopilot proved more accurate and faster.  Across the wind, however, the Hydrovane came into its own and steered us straight and fast for 4 whole days, keeping the wind just behind the beam and on track, without using a single amp.  The other bit of kit which proved useful was the Aqua4Gen – a towed propeller generator which put in a steady 5 or 6 amps. I had used it when crossing the Atlantic but lost the propeller due to metal fatigue after the first day. Luckily I had a spare, and having repaired the generator in Martinique I found that in conjunction with the solar panels the two kept on top of the electrical demands, meaning that I only ran the engine every 3 days, mainly to get hot water.

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Hydrovane and Aqua4Gen in action

The passage was full of delightful sunsets and sunrises, a few flying fish and the odd squall, but few other yachts.

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The Raymarine Quantum radar, when switched to weather mode, proved adept at picking up squally showers

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The skipper catching up on his sleep…

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Neil surveying the scene

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A somewhat recovered François…

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…who provided saucisson with the apéro – a Spellbinder specialty

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Coming back up into the yacht after clearing the Sargasso weed from the Hydrovane rudder – the weed proved a real impediment, and precluded fishing as the lure would always catch it.  I estimate 5% of the seas’s surface was covered in the stuff

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As the winds died we enjoyed our gennaker for a few hours

After our 24 hours of motoring, we were called up by Bermuda Radio as we approached, and they guided us via the ‘Town Cut’ into St George’s Harbour.  It’s a great entrance and landfall. One in we tied up at the Customs and Immigration dock, where we went through the formalities required and were dealt with very efficiently.  We spent the night across the way tied to the quay, and with the ‘Q’ flag down (formalities complete) we were able to go into town and enjoy a couple of drinks.  It was a fun passage, not without its challenges, but with a great sense of accomplishment.

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Entering the Town Cut at sunset – good timing!

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Docked the next morning opposite Customs and Immigration, Ordnance Island, St George’s

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Arrival drinks.  Thank you to Neil and François for your crewing duties!

We are currently exploring the wonderful island of Bermuda, and another blog will follow shortly.

 

 

Anegada and boat jobs

I have spent the last few days on Spellbinder with my eldest Tom. We visited Anegada, a small island which is part of the BVIs and to their north.  It proved to be a very special place, meriting its own blog post.  We also spent a bit of time preparing Spellbinder for the next phase of the adventure, which will be a see her undertaking three long passages to return to UK in July.

Anegada is a coral atoll, no more than a few feet high.  Only 250 or so permanent residents live there and there is little significant modern development.  It was pretty much flattened by Hurricane Irma but has bounced back.

We had a good close reach up there in 15 knots or so of wind. Since arriving in the Caribbean I have had just a working jib as a foresail, as the breeze is ever present and a genoa would often need reefing.  It has worked well, and was new out of the bag as Spellbinder’s previous owner barely used it.  The trip to and from Anegada was a great example of a perfectly balanced rig making 6-7 knots without fuss.

Anegada has some of the most azure of azure waters:

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You only see Anegada from a short distance off – it’s very flat, and the trees are the first things you see

The anchorage was at Setting Point, and we crossed the reefs with barely any water under our keel – I knew it would be tight, as we were at springs, but I reckon we had about 20cm under the keel.  It was too shallow to pick up a buoy so we anchored off in hard coral sand, digging in the anchor as best we could then doing something definitely not taught in the RYA syllabus – diving down on the anchor and piling rocks and stones over it.  You can do that when you anchor in 2.5m in tropical waters!

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Setting Point anchorage – pretty shallow!

On arrival Tom and I hired a 4×4 and toured the island.  It was the first time I had been driven by Tom, who coped well with a beat-up (no passenger side wing mirror) left hand drive automatic car driving on the left hand side of the road.  Rental cars are easy on Anegada – cash, no deposit, few details required – you can’t go far!

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My very casual-looking chauffeur for the day!

We saw many fine beaches, snorkeled on one (Loblolly) and had lunch at the Anegada Beach Club on the north side.  We also visited Cow Wreck Bay, and saw pink flamingos in the distance from a vantage point.

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Pomato Point, the other anchorage, which is more remote

Anegada signs

Tom went for a run in the evening, cooled off in the sea and that evening we ate lobster – which seems ubiquitous – at a restaurant called the Lobster Trap.  It was delicious.  The lady who runs the restaurant and the Anegada Beach Club told us she orders 700lb of lobster a day – it seems the seas can sustain this level of fishing.

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Sunset run, and cooling off in the sea…

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…before a lobster fest

Before leaving back for Virgin Gorda and Tortola we had a couple of boat jobs to do.  Nothing significant has broken on Spellbinder so far (except that which I have broken myself) but I was looking in the engine bay and saw that the water pump had sprung a leak.  Fortunately I had a spare on board and we swapped it over quite quickly.  I also noticed that the calorifier had moved on its mounting as a nut had come undone – this required us both entering the engine bay and despite the cramped surrounding achieving the fix.  Sweaty job though…

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Trying to find the source of the leak

We had a good passage back south, had a night in Gorda Sound (Leverick Bay) and Tom, seeing a mountain, duly ran up it.

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View of Leverick Bay from above

After lunch in Cooper Island, we headed back  to Tortola to our berth. The final evening was spent preparing Spellbinder for long distance cruising – jib down, genoa and furling gennaker bent on, and a trip up the mast to inspect the rigging and replace a block.

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The view taken by Tom from the top of the mast.  I do look small down there…

Anegada was wonderful, and a fitting final sail to the cruise of the BVIs.  I have thoroughly enjoyed it here, and can see why it is such a popular cruising destination.  It was also great father and son time – thank you Tom.

Next stop Bermuda – on current plans we depart Sunday.  We should have some nice easterlies but a dropping high pressure means I suspect we’ll motor the last bit…

The British Virgin Islands

After a brief trip back to UK to catch up with family and domestic life, I returned a couple of weeks ago to Tortola to await the next crew. Crispin, Ann and my god daughter Lottie arrived and were joined a few days later by eldest son Tom.  Together, we have just spent a wonderful few days sailing around this excellent, sheltered and benign cruising area.

Benign, that is, outside of the hurricane season. Hurricanes Irma and Maria (September 2017) hit the BVIs in common with the neighbouring islands and the damage caused by them is still very obvious.  The islanders are recovering well though, and despite a lack of greenery and many destroyed buildings and boats, life has resumed.  It will, however, take many more years for a full recovery.

First stop for us was Virgin Gorda, and Gorda Sound. Some of the iconic yacht bases (Bitter End, Yacht Club Costa Smerelda) are still rebuilding but Leverick Bay has been reconstructed quickly and appears to be benefiting from good trade.  We motored up there into the prevailing wind, picked up a buoy, and met the local Cruising Association Honorary Local representative and had drinks with Simon and Nichola, the crew of another yacht, Parati, we had previously met in Madeira.

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Leverick Bay

The next morning, after a motor around the Bay to see the state of the repairs, we headed down to The Baths on the leeward side of Virgin Gorda.  We swam ashore with our stuff in a big waterproof Ortleib bag, and enjoyed the boulders, snorkeling and views from the restaurant at the top of the hill.  Our destination for the night was Salt Island, an uninhabited spot which provided us with a tranquil anchorage in company with a couple of large yachts.  I took the opportunity to fly the drone, and we swam the next morning over the wreck of RMS Rhone, which sank in October 1867 after another hurricane.

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Anchorage off Salt Island.  A rather larger yacht (and ensign) belonging to another Squadron member behind.

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Stroll up to a peak on Salt Island – photo taken by the drone

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Crispin diving down to inspect the wreck of RMS Rhone…

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…which is still fairly intact.  You can see much of the superstructure, masts and even the propeller

After Salt Island we returned to pick up Tom, and headed back across to the southern BVIs to visit Norman and Peter Islands, sailing around both in a clockwise direction to enjoy the wind and Atlantic swell. On Norman Island there is a ship called ‘Willie T’ which attracts many to its bar and location.  It’s quite a party place…

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Tourists jumping off Willie T.  You might recognise the famous figure stood on the left – a well known resident of the BVIs, and  knight of the realm…

We didn’t fancy a full-on party so instead motored over to Peter Island, where we found a delightful anchorage (Little Harbour) where the yachts and boats were anchored in a semi-circle with lines taken ashore.  We took ours to a pontoon, and enjoyed a tranquil evening and night with turtles swimming around and rays fanning over the seabed beneath us.  As I inspected the anchor, a ray with a long tail was passing over…it seemed like a good omen.

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Little Harbour – a tranquil place on a deserted island

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As the winds tend to come from the east, our bow usually lies in that direction, and we view the setting sun from the stern.  With a line ashore, in shelter, this time the opposite was the case 

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This used to be a nice house on the tip of Peter Island…as seen by the drone

After this fabulous anchorage we headed over to one of the BVIs’ renowned snorkeling sites, called The Indians, by Pelican Island.  Picking up a buoy, here we had the best snorkeling of the week, amidst a myriad of fish and coral.

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Snorkeling amidst the resident fish of The Indians

Next was Jost Van Dyke, an island to the north of the archipeligo. Here we entered White Bay, where there was little water but we managed to anchor first on a short chain, then were offered a buoy by a parting catamaran.  I looked at the previous owner’s blog from 2008 and we had a very similar experience, just touching the sand in one place as we maneuvered about.  One day Spellbinder will get a skipper who knows what they’re doing! But out here sometimes these things happen, particularly if you are adventurous and know that water will be tight.  What’s important is to have an escape route!

At White Bay we  visited the famous Soggy Dollar Bar – so called because of the wet nature of the notes which are often brought ashore by cruisers. We enjoyed the cocktails, beach games and a wonderful rising moon over the beach.

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A Soggy Dollar ‘Painkiller’.  Never have a third…

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Full moon rising

In the morning Crispin and Tom went for one of their morning runs, enjoying the views from the hilltops over Jost Van Dyke.

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A quick trip to Great Harbour followed, to visit the famous Foxy’s Bar – Foxy is well known in the BVIs and was recently awarded an MBE.  We didn’t see him though, but the place certainly looks as if it has hosted some great parties.  After a coffee and a breakfast for the runners, we headed around to Little Jost Van Dyke and Diamond Cay to have lunch in a lovely beach shack called Bee Line, where we enjoyed the relative isolation of what was little more than a beach shack.

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Beach games at Bee Line.  Lottie and Tom comparing juggling skills.

Our destination for the evening was Trellis Bay, for the famous Full Moon Party. There were dozens of yachts already in place, but we anchored where we could and went in to enjoy the bars, music, artwork and braziers in the water.  It was great fun and rightly attracts a good crowd when it happens.

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Full Moon Party Trellis Bay and a decorative brazier

We awoke slightly the worse for wear and headed over to a delightful little island called Marina Cay for a restorative fruit punch. This little island was also ravaged but is coming back, and another time I’d spend a night on a buoy here and enjoy the views.

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Marina Cay.  Some coconut palms survived Irma, and some didn’t…

Our final day was spent on a buoy in the Dogs, a small group of islands which are uninhabited but which are good for snorkeling and generally watching the world go by.  We had lunch, swam and flew the drone – a familiar combination.  We have been gradually scrubbing the hull to get rid of the growth of the past few months – not enormous, and the Coppercoat is largely doing its job – but necessary nonetheless as I look forward to three long passages ahead to return to the UK.

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Spellbinder in The Dogs

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Tom diving deep to scrub the keel.  Thanks too to Crispin for helping with this – we now have a relatively clean bottom!

And that was it – back to Tortola for a final dinner, and an early start for Crispin, Ann and Lottie to fly back to UK.  Thank you to all three for being such a great crew and company.

Tom and I now have a few days to explore Anegada, a beautiful coral atoll 13 miles north of Virgin Gorda, from where I write – a separate blog will follow.  Thereafter the passage home starts in earnest – to Bermuda at the end of the month, to the Azores at the end of May, and back to UK in early July, all going well.

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Tom enjoying helming, although he hates the bimini, which restricts his ability to trim the sails…

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Thanks Crispin and Ann… 

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…and Lottie!  Glad you enjoyed yourselves

 

 

 

The Leeward Islands – Saint Christopher (Kitts) and Nevis, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin / Sint Maarten and Anguilla

Spellbinder has spent the last 10 days exploring the northern Leeward Islands of Saint Christopher (Kitts) and Nevis, Saint Barthélemy (Saint Bart’s), Saint Martin / Sint Maarten and Anguilla.  She is now tucked up in a quiet marina in the British Virgin Islands while I fly back to UK for a couple of weeks to catch up with the real world, while wondering whether I will be entering an EU country and leaving one which has firm plans no longer to be so!  The more time I spend in the Caribbean, the less I care…

Crew for the last leg was my old Army friend Patrick, who flew from New Zealand via New York to join me. We had no particular plan other than to head north and explore, and once we had readied Spellbinder we set out from English Harbour Antigua on a 50-mile passage to the very round island of Nevis.  It was a long day’s sail downwind, under working jib alone, enjoying the surfing waves as the giant round island got ever closer.  Once arrived, we anchored off the main town of Charlestown awaiting customs and immigration for the next morning.  Charlestown has an aura of colonial past – Nelson married a Nevis girl (Fanny Nisbet) while he was stationed in Antigua and Nevis people seem proud of their history.

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Spellbinder off Charlestown, Nevis, with Saint Kitts behind

Nevis was once full of slave plantations of which the main reminders are old stone windmills, which were used for crushing the sugar cane.  Quite a lot of these old plantations have now been turned into boutique hotels, and our first stop was to flag down a bus and visit one called Golden Rock.  High up on the hillside, surrounded by beautiful gardens it was both beautiful and enchanting – but for me there was also a pervasive sense of the blood, sweat and harshness of those enslaved there who built the buildings now inhabited by wealthy guests.  Patrick and I had the most expensive coffee in the Caribbean before heading down via another bus to explore Charlestown more fully.

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Tropical gardens in a boutique hotel made out of  former slave sugar plantation buildings

We couldn’t quite understand why the town was being spruced up with such un-Caribbean alacrity, but we learnt that HRH The Prince of Wales was due to visit a couple of days later. VIPs often comment that the smell of fresh paint follows them everywhere, and this was a good example. We visited some thermal baths and then the Nelson museum, which in addition to charting the latter’s life also had a good section on Nevis’s recent history and road to independence. This independence came via British-enforced federation with Anguilla and Saint Kitts, of which we learned more in Anguilla.

Our morning in Nevis was fun but in the afternoon we sailed over to White House Bay in Saint Kitts, one of the nicest anchorages of the leg. The snorkeling was good, including over the length of a sizeable wreck.  White House Bay is adjacent to a giant marina in construction, which already has room for several super yachts taking up part of a sheltered lagoon.  Once complete, it will become one of the largest bases in the Leewards, competing with the likes of Antigua. We had a great night in a beach bar called Salt Plage, talking to conferencing Americans, a Russian who had just gained her Saint Kitts citizenship (congratulations Maria!), and many others who had a story to tell.

The next day we went on a car tour of Saint Kitts, visiting a large Napoleonic fort called Brimstone built by the British, and having lunch on the windward shore by a beach protected by a reef.  We enjoyed the island for its natural beauty and history, but also for the great mix of people we encountered.

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Brimstone Fort, built to defend Saint Kitts from the French, who successfully overran it in 1782, only for the island to be re-ceded a year later to the British by treaty.

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Re-enacting locals in the uniform of the 4th West Indian Regiment

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We checked out here…

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We enjoyed Saint Kitts, but not the throngs of cruise ship tourists and the associated shops full of tat which had invaded the cruise ship terminal at Basseterre, the capital. On the right, one of the world’s biggest cruise ships.  A neat summation of everything I stand against in terms of never going on shepherded travel, although ‘chacun à son goût’

Saint Barts was next, and a great contrast. Our arrival coincided with the Bucket Regatta, an invitational competition for sailing yachts over 35 metres in length. Never have I encountered so many beautiful and ostentatious craft, most registered for tax reasons in fiscally-friendly nations, and others, for whom limitless wealth is just a state of life, flying their owners’ nationalities, often American.  They were an awesome sight and beautiful to behold, and I was struck by the power and noise as they sailed by.  Once again, they made Spellbinder look tiny.

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The most beautiful, to my eye, of the big yachts in Gustavia Harbour, Saint Barts…

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…and the most ugly, but the eye of the beholder is all. This one is Yacht ‘A’ owned by a Russian billionaire

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The view over Gustavia, capital of Saint Barts

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Spellbinder at anchor at sunset in the crowded harbour of Gustavia

We enjoyed Gustavia and the views around and over the harbour, and had a fine planteur (rum punch) in one of the bars in the harbour. St Barts exudes money, and has quickly recovered from the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma in 2017, unlike some neighbouring islands. The next day we headed to a beautiful bay called Anse des Colombiers where we swam with turtles, I scrubbed the hull and we strolled around. I have never encountered both wild turtles and wild tortoises within a few hundred yards of each other. Much less busy than the packed harbour at Gustavia, Colombiers was delightful.

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‘Planteurs’, Saint Barts style

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Having swum with wild turtles, we met wild tortoises

En route to our next destination, Saint Martin / Sint Maarten, we stopped at a wild bay between the islands which might have been in the outer Hebrides.

Saint Martin / Sint Maarten is an interesting island, as it is divided into a French side in the north and a Dutch side in the south. The story goes that in order to decide the boundary, a Frenchman and a Dutchman got drunk together and afterwards the Frenchman headed north along the coast while the Dutchman headed south.  Where they met would be the boundary.  As the Dutchman met a woman en route, the Frenchman covered more ground and they ended up with more territory…but I might have thought it would have been the other way round…

We headed round the south of the island past the airport which is directly past the beach, and the subject of YouTube videos where the beach-goers can virtually touch the wheels of landing aircraft, and can be blown away by those taking off.

We anchored in the northern (French) part in Marigot Bay.  Going ashore, we were struck by the impact of the devastation caused by Irma and how little the island had recovered, compared by Saint Bart’s. It was indeed a sad place and we didn’t linger.  Two things summed it up for me – the Palais de Justice still boarded up (one would have thought the French state would have acted quicker – the Dutch side appears to be making more progress) and a comment from a Frenchman to the effect that the next time the wrecks in the inner lagoon would be moved would be by the next hurricane.  The photos tell the story:

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After Saint Martin, Anguilla: we had a cracking day’s reach up to this wonderful island, which made a great impression on us. A British Overseas Territory, Anguilla has a wonderful recent history of having been ‘invaded’ by the UK in 1969 when we thought that it was being overrun by gangsters and prone to sedition.  On arrival, the Parachute Regiment battalion which was sent to quell the ‘insurrection’ was met by islanders who just invited them to a party and to discuss things the next day. Or so the story goes, as related by Remy, our guide who showed us the island.  The events led to Anguilla gaining its independence from an enforced association with Saint Kitts and Nevis, while remaining under the British crown.  They are very proud of this story, but I can believe it, having met some very relaxed and amiable Anguillans.

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Thank you for your informative tour Remy

After the tour we enjoyed the beachfront in Road Bay, and in particular Elvis’s Bar, a remarkable establishment run by the man himself.  Not only does this beachfront bar have the best WiFi we encountered in the Leewards (video calling my eldest son Tom while swinging in a hammock gave me great pleasure) it also has great service and lots of beach games anyone can play.  We had two excellent nights there and again met some great people.  Anguillans are laid-back, uncomplicated and friendly, and we much enjoyed our stay there.

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Elvis, the epitome of Anguillan cool.  Lest you are mistaken, he’s the one on the right…

We also visited a couple of the marine parks and had lunch at Crocus Bay, which was lovely.  There was an excellent live band and we subsequently learnt that the lead singer was Omari Banks, one of the few Anguillans to have played cricket for the West Indies.  He was immensely talented and I bought a CD of his reggae music which I hope will bring back some great memories.

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Meeting Omari Banks.  Great cricketer, great musician

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Off Crocus Bay

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Sandy Island, one of the marine parks, surrounded by reefs.  It was an interesting dinghy ride in, and the solitude was spoiled by a large birthday party taking place.  Anguillans like to play their their music very LOUD

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Anguilla’s beaches are magnificent

After Anguilla, we had a 90-mile overnight downwind and down swell passage to the BVIs, where Spellbinder now sits awaiting her next adventures.  It was good to be out in the Atlantic again. The BVIs call next, but thereafter 3 longish passages await to get Spellbinder back home via Bermuda and the Azores.

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Only 3 courtesy flags left to fly…

The Leewards made for wonderful cruising; the variety is enormous, and the scenery stunning.  I hope these last two blogs have done them some justice.

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Thanks Patrick for being a great crew and for all the craic!

 

 

The Leeward Islands – Dominica, Guadeloupe, and Antigua and Barbuda

After Sue and Jonty headed back to UK, I sailed single-handed back from Saint Lucia in a blustery F6/7 to Martinique to await the arrival of my next crew.  It was quite the roughest passage which Spellbinder has endured since leaving UK last July, but I managed it with just some minor repairs to make to the bimini.  I then had a few days on my own getting Spellbinder ready, which gave me the opportunity to catch up with boat jobs, and re-visit a couple of nice anchorages.

The next crew comprised David and Johnny and Lucy.  They arrived as Martinique was in full carnival mode.  It was quite windy and rainy – the rain inevitably followed by sun – but nothing could stop the people of Fort de France from dressing up Mardi Gras style and thronging the streets. Men dressed as women, women dressed as men – anything went in a riot of colour and loud music.  It truly was party time and we enjoyed the atmosphere, although it made getting back to the yacht with the crew’s bags all a bit of a challenge.

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Carnival dressing up in Fort de France, Martinique

The carnival was centered around Savannah Park, just opposite the dinghy dock.  It also rather famously has a statue of the Empress Josephine which somebody decapitated a few years back, and which has never been replaced.  There is a slight ‘edge’ in the French islands about their history – particularly regarding the slave trade – a contention which runs on today in a slightly different way to the anglophone islands.  Josephine’s presence did, however, give the name to an excellent restaurant called ‘L’Impératrice’ which David and I enjoyed prior to Johnny and Lucy’s arrival.

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A headless Josephine

Our aim of the next leg was to head gently north to explore the southern Leeward Islands. First stop on our cruise was Saint Pierre in NW Martinique.  This was my third visit and we enjoyed checking out of the excellent Alsace à Kay and eating by the beach on the terrace at La Vague. We also swam over the underwater statues.  It was a good shake-out sail but the next morning – after replenishing our stocks of fruit and vegetables at the early morning market – we headed for Dominica. This part of the Caribbean Sea is interesting in that in the days before longitude could be accurately obtained, ships sailed down the 16th degree of latitude, arriving between Dominica and Guadeloupe, and then turned either left to the Windwards, or right to the Leewards: it is a point of demarcation.

The passage across was quite boisterous and the crew ‘found their sea legs’ to use an appropriate euphemism.  The Trades had been quite strong for a few days and the swell therefore quite big.  However, once in the lee of the island, as is often the case, the sea flattened out completely, the wind dropped and we motored into the wide Prince Rupert’s Bay and the town of Portsmouth. Portsmouth and the rest of Dominica was ravaged by Hurricane Maria in September 2017 and the damage wrought was plain to see, with forests still flattened and many buildings still damaged.

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Hurricane damage from Maria in September 2017.  Many of the buildings in Portsmouth were still uninhabitable

The people of this poor Commonwealth island are resilient though, and the Portsmouth residents have organised themselves to help visiting yachts.  The PAYS (Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services) comprises a dozen or so men who help each other deliver various services including buoys, trips into the interior and beach BBQs. We were met quite far out by one of them called Alexis, who showed us to a buoy and came on board to discuss what we might do.  The next day, having checked in (and out) of Customs and Immigration we went by boat up Indian River, seeing iguana and a variety of tropical birds and crabs.  At the end was a bar where we were introduced to coconut rum punch, which was lovely, even at 1030am.

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Thanks you, Alexis, for propelling us by motor then by oar up the Indian River

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The rather beautiful ginger flower, which has medicinal uses.  Alexis swore by it and the benefits of coconut.  He may be right – the world’s most long-lived person died in Dominica recently at the age of 129

In the afternoon we headed into the interior of Dominica by taxi, visiting tropical rain forests and swimming in a waterfall.

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It was nice to swim in fresh water for a change

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Tropical rain forest, Dominica

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Banana tree, showing a pod about to burst

That evening virtually all the yacht crews in the bay came together for a beach BBQ, which turned into quite a party and got the crew dancing.  The next day we opted to leave Dominica, although I am sure it has a great deal to offer.  We sensed that the population was doing its best, but couldn’t help wondering about the extent of UK DFID funding for this and the other hurricane-ravaged Commonwealth countries, which proudly use the East Caribbean Dollar with the Queen’s head on it.

Next stop was France and Guadeloupe.  Some Dutch guys in a Dufour 40 had challenged us to a race, but at the appointed time they did not appear (they did, however, visit us with some beer to apologise later in Guadeloupe – they had partied too hard…). A pity, as I had fancied Spellbinder’s chances. We did though have a good passage up and entered into Les Saintes, a group of small islands to the south of the mainland.  Not having tacked Spellbinder since July, I saw an opportunity and did so to approach the anchorage. Writing this reminds me of a time I met an Ocean Cruising Club member and asked him whether his yacht tacked well; he replied ‘my dear chap, I’m not sure as we only tend to tack on Tuesdays’.

The islands of Les Saintes  are incredibly beautiful, and well run by the French. Electric mountain bikes seemed the way to go to explore the main island. Never having ridden one, they were a revelation; all the pleasure of biking with none of the sweat and toil associated with grinding uphill in 30˚ of heat. I hadn’t appreciated that if you want more exercise, you simply dial down the electrical assistance, so you have the best of both worlds. I sense another purchase coming back in UK…

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Lucy enjoying helming between the islands, watched by Johnny

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On electric mountain bikes, near Fort Napoleon, Les Saintes, Guadeloupe

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Views of Les Saintes.  They really are lovely islands, and part of the Guadeloupe archipelago

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Sargasso weed piled up on the windward coast of Les Saintes, as on all the windward coasts of the Caribbean I have been to so far.  One species triumphing over Mother Nature.  In practical terms, the beaches smell and it is difficult to fish with a lure, but these are first world problems…

After our very pleasant stay in Les Saintes, which included a memorable lunch after our bike ride, taking another buoy beside the ‘Pain à Sucre’ (sugar loaf) hill, and a brief foray up the deserted Ile Cabrit to visit more ancient military fortifications, we headed over to the Guadeloupe mainland.

First stop was the Plage de Malendure, a nice but windy anchorage opposite a marine national park founded by Jacques Cousteau.  We had a lovely dinner overlooking the anchorage and then in the morning swam around Pigeon Island, which proved to be the best snorkeling of all our trip.  With large fish everywhere, it was like swimming in an aquarium.

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Inquisitive fish inhabiting Pigeon Island

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An otherwise unremarkable photograph, but I wanted to show the black shapes, which are the Pigeon Island fish: large, varied, and everywhere

Next stop for the night was Deshaies, on the north west coast of mainland Guadeloupe.  I wanted to visit for two reasons: firstly, it is easy to check out, and secondly, it is the place where they base the filming of the BBC’s ‘Death in Paradise (DIP)’ which – despite its formulaic nature – is strangely compelling.  Deshaies proved delightful – a small bay, quite sheltered, with everything a yachtsman needs in a compact place.  We visited the DIP film set, had a memorable sun-downer in ‘Catherine’s Bar’, and David visited some remarkable botanic gardens.

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Memorable sun downer in Catherine’s Bar, as featured routinely at the end of each ‘Death in Paradise’.

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On the film set of ‘Death in Paradise’

We left Deshaies after a nice breakfast in town.  Antigua beckoned, and a few hours later after another memorable sail we entered English Harbour and the delightful Nelson’s Dockyard marina.  Berthed stern-to, we found ourselves at the heart of 18th and 19th century Britain exerting its influence in the Caribbean.  Delightful architecture, great facilities, and a great base.  We toured the harbour by dinghy, visited Galleon’s Beach and the Dockyard museum (if only they had known about the role of mosquitoes in malaria and Yellow Fever) and generally sorted our lives out.

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View from Boom restaurant, looking across to Nelson’s Dockyard

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Superyachts and Georgian architecture.  Spellbinder was amongst the smallest yacht berthed in Nelson’s Dockyard…

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Galleon’s Beach, English Harbour

A friend of a friend Bill and his wife Sam – residents of Antigua during the long Chicago winter – came on board for a drink and told us of Antiguan life and where to go. One place they had not visited, however, was Barbuda, which was to prove a memorable 2 day trip. 7 hours to the north of Antigua, it was devastated by Hurricane Irma, and the population was evacuated later when another hurricane beckoned.  It is recovering very slowly, but is the most magical of semi-deserted places, with an incredible 11- mile beach, by which we anchored once we had navigated our way in through the reefs.  Devastation, beauty, wildness – the photos tell the story.

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It was nice to have lighter winds behind the beam – the cruising chute helped propel us to Barbuda and back.  I hadn’t used it since Biscay

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The devastated, formerly luxurious Lighthouse Bay Hotel

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Hurricane-induced breach into the main lagoon in Barbuda

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The crew walking along part of the magnificent 11-mile beach – here at Low Bay, where we anchored

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Sunset at anchor.  I am loving my drone, and its possibilities

It was a lovely stay overnight in a remarkable spot, seemingly at the end of the world. Real life did beckon though, and we sailed back to Antigua for the inevitable crew change-over.

We loved the southern Leewards and their diversity in particular.  Thank you David, Johnny and Lucy for being such great crew.  Next stop the northern Leewards, and onto the BVIs…

 

The Windward Islands – South to North

Following the RYS cruise,  Sue and Jonty joined me in Grenada to spend half term sailing back up the Windwards chain to Saint Lucia. As there is often a northerly element to the easterly trade winds, and combined with the current which sets west, more often than not we were quite hard on the wind.  That said, there was nothing too drastic and we spent a very pleasant and memorable week together with lots of swimming, snorkeling, walking and eating well. The itinerary for those interested was: Grenada – Port Louis, Dragon Bay, and Tyrell Bay and Sandy Island on Carriacou; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines –  Clifton and Chatham Bay on Union Island, Saltwhistle Bay and Tobago Cays on and by Mayreau, Admiralty Bay in Bequia, and Petit Byahaut and Wallilabou on Saint Vincent itself; Saint Lucia – Marigot Bay.

Rather than describe each and every event I simply leave you with some of the photos we took, with a little commentary under each.

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Taken in Clifton. Feet in the ‘merde’ but always looking proud – the cockerel’s fate.  My French friends love the analogy, particularly when their rugby team is having a tough time…

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We walked high up above Chatham Bay on Union Island to a ridge where we got great views over the anchorage.  A giant soldier appeared to have left his helmet here in the 1940s… 

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We came across a hermit crab on this walk too

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Views above and along Satwhistle Bay, Mayreau

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Obligatory lobster tails in Tobago Cays.  We also swam with turtles and Sue had two large black rays pass underneath her when swimming.

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I can’t quite recall which beach this was, but thought the photo was worth putting in the blog anyway…

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One of the better-known local boats in Bequia.  Inspired by tobacco, perhaps?

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Petit Byahout, a small bay on the western coast of Saint Vincent.  Utterly deserted and accessible only by sea, we had some of our best snorkeling here in gin-clear water. Photo taken by the drone.

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One of the many boat boys / men who greet you in Wallilabou.  This is Zico, very proudly showing us his photo in Doyle’s guidebook.

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Sunset in Wallilabou. We anchored off and ran a long line to a palm tree ashore.

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Marigot Bay, Saint Lucia.  We walked up another high ridge through rain forest to get the view. It was a luxurious finish in a lovely spot.

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Sunset in Marigot Bay…

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…where I also had my haircut by this fine gentleman, who not only has one of the best-positioned barber shops in the world, but also cuts the Saint Lucian Prime Minister’s hair…

It was a memorable week.  After saying goodbye to Sue and Jonty, I single-handed Spellbinder on quite a boisterous passage north back up to Martinique, where I am readying Spellbinder for her next crew, who arrive this coming weekend.  We will be spending the first two weeks of March heading up the Leewards, all going well.

The Windward Islands – North to South

I returned to Martinique in late January and found Spellbinder in good condition after her Christmas stay in Le Marin. My new crew were Peter and Janet, old friends and themselves owners and accomplished sailors of a Hallberg Rassy 37, and they helped me prepare Spellbinder for her further travels.

In December I had set in train a number of post Atlantic crossing repairs – the mending of my bent spinnaker pole; fixing a leak on the high pressure side of the watermaker; repairs to our Parasailor downwind sail, and the replacement of the old Furuno radar with a new Raymarine Quantum model.  I was delighted to find all had been done – chapeau Le Marin – and the first morning was spent gathering up bits and pieces (including transporting my newly repaired, and slightly shorter spinnaker pole by dinghy through a mangrove swap) and paying bills. By the afternoon of the first day we were away.

Over the first few days I re-discovered Martinique with Peter and Janet – Sainte Anne, Les Anses D’Arlet, Anse Noire and Saint Pierre, all of which are covered in the last post.  We settled into a wonderfully relaxed rhythm of early morning tea, swims and short sails followed by more swimming or snorkeling, and sampling the various ‘Planteurs’ (rum punches) as we headed north.

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First stop, St Anne, and a dinghy dock with sun loungers

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Peter’s early morning swim given rainbow approval

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More random beaches and sun downers.  No green flash spotted yet though…

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Another mellow evening with Spellbinder anchored in Anse Noire, my favourite bay in Martinique

We checked out of Martinique in Saint Pierre.  The French have an excellent online self-declaration system and I was able to clear out Spellbinder and her crew at ‘Alsace à Kay’, a great Alsatian restaurant with apéritif in hand. The next morning we set sail for Rodney Bay, Saint Lucia to join the RYS cruise, which was gathering at Rodney Bay marina.

The RYS cruise took us down Saint Lucia to Marigot Bay, a wonderful little inlet where we had our first party.  There then followed a series of stops in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and eventually in Grenada where the 10 day cruise ended. We came and went with the rally, sometimes doing our own thing but generally enjoying the organised events.  Highlights were playing cricket in Bequia followed by a reception in Jack’s Bar, and the next day another party up in the hills in an ex-Prime Minister’s residence; a very privileged tour of Mustique, with a magnificent reception in a member’s house followed by a beach BBQ; lobster barbecued in Tobago Cays; a great long lunch in Petit Saint Vincent , and various other events, some impromptu and others organised, which together made for a very special 10 days. We spent most of our overnights at anchor.  I had been encouraged to buy a barbecue for Spellbinder, and Peter put it to great use. I also had great fun flying the drone, where it was allowed, and took some great footage.

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A lovely evening in Wallilabou, Saint Vincent, where we christened the barbecue

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A high standard of cuisine continued

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Cricket in Bequia…

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…followed by a reception high up on the island

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Anchored in Tobago Cays

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Saltwhistle Bay on Mayreau, my favourite bay in the Windwards. 

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The same bay looking out towards Tobago Cays, with Spellbinder in the foreground

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Another view of Saltwhistle…

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…which has a great horizontally-growing coconut tree on which to sit for crew photographs

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Great sign, but the owner had no need to thank the crew of Spellbinder!

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Not a bad view from Petit Saint Vincent, as we prepared for lunch

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Evening drinks rafted up in Chatham Bay, Union Island

We also enjoyed some great sailing in addition to the social agenda. The wind was very kind, and we raced downwind between the islands. Thank you to Richard, owner of the lovely yacht Titania of Cowes for the following photographs of Spellbinder enjoying herself:

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It was an excellent and well-organised cruise.  We ended up in Port Louis, Grenada, where I will shortly be joined by family for the return trip north to Saint Lucia.  Grenada marks the southern extremity of this trip, and in effect the half way point.  So far, so good; the sabbatical is shaping up nicely, with much to look forward to.

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Martinique – 11 – 16 December 2018

It took us a couple of days to recover from the Atlantic crossing – a day just for ourselves, and a day for Spellbinder.  The latter included trips to a sailmaker, rigger and metal workshop to get various repairs in train, and a couple of inevitable trips to the chandlers to stock up on bits and pieces. Thank you to my crew, Alan and Neil, for their help and forbearance in turning Spellbinder around.  By Tuesday 12th Dec we were on our way, aiming to explore Martinique’s west coast.

It didn’t disappoint.  The mix of French first world investment and Caribbean culture is an enticing one: you feel as if you are in the Tropics, but enveloped in a comfort blanket of western European standards. I was even able to pick up a prescription from a French doctor in Besançon by producing my carte vitale (French social security card)in seconds, the computer systems linking instantaneously to the homeland…

First stop was to Saint Pierre at the top of the island, passing by Ile de Diamant, once captured and commissioned by the British as ‘HMS Diamond Rock’ as it occupies a strategic position in the St Lucia strait.  The French and British contested the Caribbean for a long time, and while the French eventually won out in Martinique there were periods of British occupation.

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HMS Diamond Rock, that was

Saint Pierre was known as the Paris of the West Indies until the local volcano destroyed all around (28,000 souls) in 1902, despite giving everyone plenty of notice of its intent. Thousands died, and among the single digit survivors was a prisoner in his cell, who had a rather better day. Today it is a small beach-side town which is more Caribbean than French in character, and we enjoyed the long beach and snorkeling over some sunken statues.  It was an ideal first stop, and Alan and I walked up to a statue of the Virgin Mary which dominated the bay to take some exercise and fly the drone.

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View of Saint Pierre beach with the volcano sleeping peacefully

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The same view as seen by the drone…

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…which we also flew round us.

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Nice anchorage too, and scene of the first ‘planteur’, my rum-based sun-downer of choice

We enjoyed Saint Pierre but the next day we had an appointment to keep with the commander of the French naval base, who had very kindly offered to show us around Fort Louis (formerly Fort Edward – see comment about shared history above). Damien and his colleague Yvan (who had single handed across the Atlantic to arrive in his posting – chapeau mon ami) very kindly met us as we moored up in the base and we had a very informative and enjoyable tour of the fort, which like so many French forts had taken inspiration in their design from Vauban.  We enjoyed the wild iguanas which roamed the fort, had a coffee in Damien’s office and – of course – shared champagne on Spellbinder by way of remerciement. Thank you my friends for your company and hospitality.

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All three of us in uniform?

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The view from Fort Edward Louis

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A random iguana, now obviously French

We anchored back in front of the fort and the next day visited Fort de France, the island’s capital. Not much to report – a bit of shopping, and a nice enough city, but we were keen to move on and find some beaches off which to anchor.

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We expected this type of market…

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…but had forgotten that it was nearly Christmas. The juxtaposition of Christmas trees and tropical plants in 30 degrees takes a little getting used to.

There then followed a succession of anchorages off beaches – Trois Ilets, Anse Mitan, Anse Noire, Grande Anse and Les Anses D’Arlet for any that know Martinique.  All delightful in their own way – lovely sand, coconut trees, great swimming and snorkeling and the inevitable fabulous views at sunset.  My favourite was Anse Noire, a little bay where we were one of only two yachts overnight, the other yacht being Daaal II, from which Joss and Aurélie came over and had a drink. It was good to meet such a fine example of British-French co-operation!

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Spellbinder in Anse Noire – ‘noire’ beacuse the sand was volcanic black, unlike the beach next door, by way of a strange geological quirk

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Turtle’s head, filmed by my Go Pro…

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…(s)he, and the symbiotic accompanying sucking fish, made agreeable swimming companions

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We had a tranquil time in Anse Noire

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Ok, I can hear you – that’s enough, give me more winter storms and Brexit!

We had a great trip, a just reward for the planning and effort of the Atlantic crossing. We finished our time in Saint Anne, just outside Le Marin where we had a gastronomic last lunch before heading back to our berth, cleaning up Spellbinder, having a drink with neighbours Sorin and Ana from Romania (who were very British, having an Oyster for a yacht and having berthed her in Limehouse for three years).  We then put Spellbinder to bed to await the return in January of her skipper and new crew, for further adventures.

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Lizards and a washed-up ketch in Saint Anne

Mindelo to Martinique (25 Nov 18 – 8 Dec 18) – the Atlantic Crossing

Spellbinder and her crew arrived safely in Le Marin, Martinique at 1750 on Saturday 8th December after a 13-day and 6 hour, 2100 nautical mile passage from Mindelo, Sao Vicente, Cape Verde.  It has been a fantastic experience – challenging at times, but we all now have a real sense of achievement.

We enjoyed Mindelo and the taste of Africa it gave us.  Provisioning was a bit of a challenge and we bought a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables from the local markets, washing it all in Milton sterilising fluid to kill off cockroach eggs and any other unwanted infestations (so far so good). The marina was quite well set up and we enjoyed meeting some of the ARC + crews, although were glad we had chosen to be independent, most of all in terms of flexibility in our departure time.  I am also very independently spirited! We ate well in the local restaurants as well as on the marina floating pontoon. As it was, we left a few hours after the ARC + fleet, having re-fueled and having persuaded a testy immigration official to give me my ship’s documents back. Charm, extreme courtesy, a modicum of humour dosed with feigned obsequiousness worked in the end.

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Views of Mindelo

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The floating pontoon, Mindelo marina

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Spellbinder’s berth at Mindelo

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Fresh fruit and vegetables, washed in anti-cockroach egg Milton sterilising fluid

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The crew before departure – from left to right Alan, Neil and me.  Alan arrived in the Caribbean considerably more facially hirsute!

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Leaving Mindelo behind

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Blustery conditions as we left Cape Verde

We were blessed with reasonably good conditions throughout most of the passage.  After a blustery departure through the wind acceleration zone between Sao Vicente and Santo Antão (which saw gusts well into the 30 knot bracket) we settled into what were well-established Trade Winds which varied between 12 to 25 knots, with the average being in the 17-22 knot bracket. The swell at times was significant – 3-4 metres at times although the average was 2 to 3 – but it was largely behind us and although we occasionally fell off a big wave and corkscrewed, for the most part it was an easy motion. We had sun every day with varying amounts of cloud, and the odd light shower, particularly at night. We overtook some of the ARC+ yachts in the early stages but quickly lost track of them.

We goose-winged on starboard tack most of the way, finding it a bit too gusty for the Parasailor until the latest stages of the trip, when it came into its own in lighter airs for a day before being caught out in a squall, necessitating a swift taking down and a future trip to the sailmakers. For the most part we had a reef in the main and genoa, and used the Raymarine Autohelm to steer us in windvane mode (ie keeping a specified angle to the wind) as it kept a straighter line and coped better heading straight downwind.  We varied its level of responsiveness until we found the right balance, and although we paid a price in terms of battery drain it served us very well. The Trade Winds served us well until the penultimate day, when they dropped to below 10 knots and we reluctantly had to motor for a few hours.

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Fairly typical Atlantic rollers coming up behind us.  We got used to them and enjoyed the surge they gave Spellbinder every few seconds

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We saw many sunrises astern…

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…and many sunsets ahead.  No green flashes though.  On the horizon, one of the few other yachts we encountered

We settled into a good routine as a crew and took it in turns to cook lunch and dinner, breakfast being a DIY affair according to individuals’ wake up times.  We had an informal watch system during the day, with someone always in the cockpit, but at night formalised a ‘2 on – 4 off’ regime with me putting the boat to bed (2000-2200, during which time I used the SSB (HF radio) to write and receive emails, and get GRIB weather files), doing a middle of the night watch (0200-0400) and waking her up (0800).  I made sure I did a dawn and dusk ‘patrol’ of the fore deck to look out for chafe and anything untoward, as well as to pick up the self-sacrificing flying fish which greeted me most mornings! Alan and Neil filled in the watches between, swapping around halfway through the passage. Every three days we cleaned the yacht, and every 15 degrees traveled west we put the clocks back by an hour. We ate really well, benefiting from my shopping in Tenerife and the freezer – and we all baked bread and Neil cakes and scones, and magnificent Yorkshire puddings!  We ensured we had a drink and nibbles (soft or beer) before lunch and ‘sun downers’ to review the day and look forward to the next. Every 500 miles the gin and tonics came out to make another quarter of the passage completed.

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Celebrating another 500 miles sailed

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Some fine baking took place – here, bread and scones courtesy of Neil

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A dawn patrol’s typical flying fish haul

As expected, we spent a fair amount of time mending things.  Early on my Aquagen (water electricity generator) lost its towed propeller due either to metal fatigue or just towing something it couldn’t handle – we obviously imagine it was a huge blue marlin!  We couldn’t fix this so were obliged to run the engine daily for 2-3 hours to service our electricity needs, which mainly went into refrigeration and autopilot. We also managed to bend the spinnaker pole slightly by tensioning the downhaul too tight, but not to the extent that it impaired performance.  We had a heads blockage caused by, of all things, a curtain clip falling into the bowl and occupying a key bend in the pipework (note to self – always keep the bowl shut).  I now understand my heads pipework much better! Our main VHF died owing to a blown fuse and me not quite having the right one to replace it (another note to self…) but otherwise it was a case of minor repairs.  I have decided that you can never have enough epoxy glue on board…

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Pumping out the bilges

Sadly we didn’t see much in terms of wildlife – some distant pilot whale fins but no dolphins or whales.  We saw three types of bird in mid-Atlantic – petrels (supremely agile wave hoppers); shearwaters; and my favourite of all tropic birds, with long white tails. Other signs of life were few and far between – the odd yacht with whom we talked on VHF (including a French retired navy gang, and a somewhat ascetic German single-hander called Peter, who was struggling to make 4 knots (complaining about barnacles on his hull) and relied on catching tuna. I also spoke to a Dutch training tall ship called AMSTERDAM – when I talked to the watch officer I discovered he was from Shetland!  When you are just a small dot with a horizon of a few miles in the midst of a huge ocean, it is not surprising that you see little evidence of other human life. We saw other AIS ‘contacts’ on the chartplotter but they rarely came into sight.

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Trade Wind rig

It was a great pleasure making landfall in Martinique, and we cracked open a bottle of champagne once moored up. We are certainly in the Caribbean, but also clearly in France – I had magret de canard washed down with a bottle of Graves last night to celebrate our arrival. We are now in recovery mode, having a day to ourselves before attacking various boat maintenance jobs on Monday. 13 days at an average of 500 steps (according to my watch) means we all need some exercise too! We plan to spend a few days from Tuesday cruising Martinique’s west coast before coming home to UK for Christmas. The temperature change will be a shock…

Arrival

Arrival in Cul de Sac de Marin

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There are advantages to arriving in France.  The real Caribbean can wait…

Distances

Daily distances through the water (left column) and over the ground (right). We averaged over 150 over the ground, at about 6.5 knots

So, a long-held ambition to sail my own yacht across the Atlantic has been fulfilled for me, and I am delighted.  I could not have done so easily without my excellent team – Alan and Neil were just what you need in terms of easy-going, resilient, flexible, reliable and resourceful crew.  Thank you to both; it was a great adventure.  The Atlantic circuit is now halfway complete.

Mid-Atlantic report – Sunday 2nd December 2018

After a couple of days reprovisioning Spellbinder in and around the local markets in Mindelo, we set sail at 1550hrs local on Sunday 25th November into the blustery acceleration zone between Sao Vicente and the island to its north, Santo Anta.  Fortunately the rough swell and 36 knot gusts were temporary, and once out of the shadow of the archipelago we picked up the trade winds proper, which have been blowing at anything from 12 to 26 knots from ENE or ESE depending on their mood, with up to 3m swell breaking behind us.

We are making good progress and have now sailed more than 1000 miles in just over 6 days, and are just over halfway to our destination of Martinique, which we expect to reach some time next weekend.  Spellbinder and her crew are well. We have had the usual minor breakages, most of which we have managed to fix although the water electricity generator lost its line and looks like it has given up the ghost in a cloud of carbon dust.  Most days are sunny, so we can recharge using solar panels, but we usually need to run the engine to up the battery banks every couple of days, and to make water.

We have adapted a goose-winged rig as conditions have been too gusty and with rolling waves for the Parasailor.  Generally the set up has been one reef in the main (which has a preventer permanently fitted) set on a starboard tack, with the genoa poled out on the other side with an uphaul and a downhaul to keep her in place.  This rig seems to serve our purpose in most conditions. Self steering has been either by Hydrovane or Autohelm, the latter proving more effective downwind in these conditions when the level of responsiveness is correctly adjusted.

Routine-wise, we have adopted 2 hour watches – 2 on, 4 off – which seems to work.  We take it in turns being head chef. The weather has generally been kind – sunny most days, and no significant squalls, although the wind has surprised us in its ability to change speed suddenly by 10-12 knots and direction by 10-15 degrees.

We have seen a few other yachts and a bit of shipping.  When near a yacht we chat on VHF and speak to some surprisingly varied set-ups, including a lone German who is single-handed in a small yacht and expects to be at sea for another three weeks, and a crew of retired French Navy personnel. We have also seen a bit of wildlife – petrels far from land, and some fins which we think may have been orcas.

So all is well and we are enjoying the journey.  A full report with photos will follow after arrival.

Exploring the northern Cape Verde islands

Having said farewell to Crispin and Charles, Simon and I headed off from Palmeira, Sal on Monday 19th November to explore some of the northern (windward) Cape Verde islands.

There was considerable swell as we motored in light winds away from Sal heading south south-west towards Sao Nicolau.  The interval between the waves was quite long – perhaps 150m – but the waves themselves were 4-5 metres from peak to trough. Caused by heavy weather to the north and west (we were amazed to see the BBC footage from Tenerife of hotel balconies being wiped away by the waves) it was mesmeric to motor though, and not at all unpleasant.

It was a 45 nautical mile passage and we threw out the fishing line as is our habit – more out of hope than expectation.  We were richly rewarded, however, hooking two excellent and quite large dorado.  No sooner had Simon landed the first and filleted it, I had the second on the line.

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Simon’s dorado.  They are beautiful fish, but lose their beautiful blue, rainbow-like sheen the moment they come out of the water

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I’m sure mine was bigger…

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Dorado are easy to filet, and we when cut up we ended up with 24 large steaks in the freezer, which my Atlantic crew will enjoy.  The meat is absolutely delicious

By the time we arrived at Sao Nicolau it was dark, and we anchored under some cliffs opposite a little village called Caracas. After a quiet night we took the dinghy over to the village for an explore.  It’s quite remote, and accessible only by dirt track, so coming in by sea was the best way.  We met a few of the villagers who were plying their fishing boats, using nets, spears and sticks with hooks to trap, shoot and winkle out the plentiful sea life around.  They were indifferently friendly, and we felt at ease despite the evident disparity of wealth and lifestyles.  We made sure we made a purchase at the small shop.

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Dinghy landing at Caracas

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Not a friendly dog

After strolling around the village for an hour or so, we went back to the yacht and headed further round the island to a big wide bay and port called Tarrafal, where we based ourselves for a couple of days to explore the island. Having anchored, we explored the town (the second biggest on Sao Nicolau) and arranged for a guided tour the next day.  Again, we found the people friendly and nonthreatening, and enjoyed meeting the boys who surround any arriving dinghy on the beach, eager to be paid a coin or two for the dubious service of watching over your dinghy.  Those that could say ‘God save the Queen’ clearly were rewarded the most!

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Tarrafal harbour, with Spellbinder at anchor in the background

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Bizarrely, we came across a wrecked Moody undergoing Cape Verdean renovation!

The next day began, as so many others, with a cup of tea in the cockpit watching the sun come up about 7am.  It’s not too hot during the day, but adapting an ‘early to bed, early to rise’ routine makes the most of the daylight and the cooler hours.

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Another dawn cup of tea, well before colours…

We met our guide Aqualino at the café by the fish market, and spent a day with him exploring the island.  It was magnificent.  We first climbed the highest peak (Monte Gordo) – albeit with a major head start by 4×4 – and looked down at the anchorage far below, admiring the greenness of the ‘wet’ side of the island and the coolness brought about by the altitude.

IMG_3733 View from the summit of Monte Gordo (1312m) with Tarrafal far below.

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We spent the rest of the day touring the island, including the capital Ribeira Brava, which is nestled in the hills – established there both because of the water source and also to give some distance and warning from invading pirates in decades past. We saw wonderful scenery, fine seascapes and learned much from our witty guide who loved to flirt with all the women he came across – in true guide fashion, he seemed to know everyone, and claimed to be the the only Aqualino in Sao Nicolau.  We ate in a local restaurant next door to the chief of police (a character straight out of Starsky and Hutch), visited our guide’s house (which he is trying to turn into a guest house by the sea), and met his Brazilian neighbour.  At the end of the day, over dinner, we reflected that the modest sum we had paid him had been well spent, as we had captured the taste of the island, and begun to scratch under its surface.

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Portuguese canon

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Our guide showing us his house by the beach…

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…and his extensive garden, including pineapples and yams grown in unorthodox pots

The next day we left Sao Nicolau early, heading over to a little island called Ilha de Luzia.  It is a nature reserve (turtles come ashore in late summer and lay their eggs) – a barren uninhabited island with hills and a beautiful long white beach.

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Ilha de Luzia

We snorkeled off a rock and went ashore to fly the drone and to enjoy the wildness of it all. By mid afternoon the wind had got up, and we enjoyed a breezy sail into Mindelo, one of the great ports of the eastern Atlantic. It is the only marina in Cape Verde and we were allocated a good berth from which to prepare for the Atlantic crossing.  The place is busy, with dozens of European yachts and there crews and a couple of rallies about to head west, including the second ARC + which ends up in the Grenadines.  I’m glad I’m an independent though, and have appreciated the flexibility it has given me.

We loved what we saw of Cape Verde, and it has made me glad that I took the time to explore some of it.  It has made me want to come back and spent more time here – next time we’ll head to the southern (leeward) chain and see what they are like.  Cape Verde is ruggedly beautiful, and the people friendly and on the up. The walking is amazing. I sensed positive vibes from it, and while you are clearly in Africa not Europe – the poverty is evident – the place is modernising and heading the right way, with little sign of undue western interference of vulgar development.

As I write this Simon has headed home and my Atlantic crew – Alan and Neil – are about to arrive at Mindelo airport.  We have a couple of of days to prepare Spellbinder.  The next blog, I hope, will tell the story of the crossing.

 

Tenerife to Cape Verde: flying fish, dorado, squalls and repairs

Spellbinder has arrived safely in Palmeira, Sal, Cape Verde after 5 and a half days at sea, having left Tenerife on Mon 12th November. We had a good passage, with a bit of adventure and many new experiences.

We left Tenerife having checked out with immigration, and found a nice beam wind to clear the immediate island.  A few miles off, however, the seas were confused with swell and winds crossing providing a bumpy few hours.  The wind was consistently behind us though, and we experimented with various sail sets as we tried to make progress.  The first night we goose-winged, with consequent rolling keeping us all awake, and self-stowing all my gear! The next day we pulled out the Parasailor and gave it a really good run.  It is an excellent sail, and I tend to fly it without pole or mainsail with two guys and two sheets, with one of each taking up the tension on each side.

The sail allowed us to sail virtually dead downwind and has the added advantage of lifting the bow which limits rolling.  We sailed fast and straight with it, and it is remarkably stable in anything above 8 or 9 knots of true wind. The difficulty comes when it needs to be taken down, and we got caught out in a squall on the second night at around 2am. All hands on deck as the wind speed reached 26 knots – the limit being 20, really.  Thanks to the determined efforts of Simon and Crispin, and a little help from the anchor windlass, we got it down but not without a 2 metre tear at the bottom.  I think I shall be much more reticent flying it at night, when the squalls come; dead downwind with it during the day, but bear away if necessary and broad reach with white sails during the night I think.

The middle period of the voyage was taken over by running repairs – to the Parasailor (excellent job with tape and the Singer sewing machine – thank you Charles for introducing me to the concept of thread tension), to chafe on the bimini (Singer again, I’m getting good at it), to a solar panel, a dive down to clear a broken sheet attached to a joint in the rudder (thanks Charles – always handy to have a free diver on board) and various modifications to our arrangements of sheets and guys as we learned what was best. It is certainly the most prolonged period of dead downwind sailing I have done and will be really useful experience for the Atlantic.

As we progressed south the temperature increased and the wind died away, leaving us to motorsail or motor the final 36 hours. Highlights were toasting our arrival in the Tropics; almost catching a large dorado but landing a smaller one; getting up to finding a dozen flying fish on deck, and frying them for breakfast, and seeing a whale spout. We settled into a good routine, and ate and drank well.

We made a careful night entry by moonlight into Palmeira and anchored outside the two dozen yachts which are here.  In the morning the swell had got up and we were a bit to close to the beach; luckily with a bit of help from a local we were able to weigh anchor and take up a buoy away from the swell, more in the centre of the harbour.  The surf is amazing in what are 4 metre swells caused by strong weather north of the Canaries. Two hours at immigration followed (we are in Africa, after all…) and a trip to the airport to bid farewell to Charles, who somehow will contrive to be on some Army ranges in west Wales tomorrow morning!  Crispin departs tonight and Simon and I will head west to explore the neighbouring islands over the next few days, before aiming for Mindelo, Sao Vicente for Thursday and a final crew change prior to the Atlantic crossing.

Here are the photos which try to tell the tale of our trip down here:

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Leaving Tenerife – Charles (L) and Simon (R)

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The skipper disproportionately happy with his new 12 volt rechargeable coffee grinder

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We baked bread most days, and made yoghurt.  Crispin’s loaf (shown) and Simon’s rolls won the Great Spellbinder Bake-Off

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Tropical Atlantic rainbow.  The weather was cooler and cloudier than I had expected

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The Parasailor doing its stuff

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Running repairs to the aforementioned Parasailor.  Thank you Charles for actually reading the manual and alerting me to the importance of Fred Tension…

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Celebrating our arrival in the Tropic of Cancer.  6pm sun downers became a regular part of our routine as we reflected on the voyage so far

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The big one that just got away – a beautiful, probably male dorado with amazing rainbow colours…

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…and the one that didn’t.  A smaller female we think

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The morning haul of flying fish – fried in olive oil, they made a delicious breakfast

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As we neared Cape Verde we saw squadrons of these fish flying around

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Sal sighted.  We had a cautious arrival, as the buoyage lights don’t always work and there have been many recent changes

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Palmeira harbour. Spellbinder is the only yacht with a burgee, now that there aren’t any British yachts present! There is considerable surf in the background

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Tuna market on the quayside – gory!

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The editor at work

 

 

All set for Cape Verde

After a short break back in UK to catch up with family and the real world (I do hate November weather in UK though, and all my prejudices about it being too cold and wet were dutifully reinforced), I have spent the last few days gathering crew and preparing for what should be a 5 day trip downwind to Cape Verde.  We depart tomorrow, Monday 12th November, for Sal – the most northeastern island of the archipelago.

My good friend Crispin arrived on Friday evening and on Saturday we sailed over to Gran Canaria and Puerto Mogan to pick up Simon, who had been cycling on the island. Our trip across was quite fruity – a maximum of 24 knots true, but we were hard on the wind and swell for the best part of 5 hours before it stopped completely as we reached the lee of Gran Canaria. The camera does tend to lie when you take photos of fairly boisterous conditions (the seas flatten somehow) and the photo below doesn’t fully convey what we ploughed through, let alone the water we shipped – but at least the sun was out!

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Once in the calm we anchored in a small bay in what proved to be terminal moraine – not the best surface for an anchor – but enough for us to have a quick snorkel and see some fish, before heading into Puerto Mogan, where I had been a few days before.  It is truly a lovely spot, albeit an artificially contrived one:

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Spellbinder’s berth for the night in Puerto Mogan

There we met Simon, had a cup of tea (as we are British and it was time) and went out for a lovely meal.

In the morning I showed Simon around Spellbinder and we slipped and re-fueled – for the last time before reaching the Caribbean, I hope. Our trip back to Tenerife was in contrast to the previous day’s thrashing; once we eventually found the true wind, we were able to broad reach for most of the way, a lot of it under furling gennaker. Great sailing, with dolphins to boot (and a sailing blog can never have enough photos of dolphins…)!

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Champagne conditions…

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…being enjoyed by Crispin and Simon…

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…and our friends at the bow.

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On arrival back at San Miguel marina we berthed, and spent an hour preparing Spellbinder for her next long passage.  I went up the mast to check the rigging, we fitted the Hydrovane rudder and bimini solar panels, and readied the towed generator. Tonight I am meeting Charles at the airport, having handed back the hire car I have had for the last month or so (at £12 a day). The forecast looks fairly benign, and we look forward to a 5 day trip downwind, and down-swell to Sal in Cape Verde. I will report back, all going well, when we arrive.

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Checking all’s well aloft…

Gran Canaria – Puerto Mogan and Puerto Rico

Spellbinder has spent the last few days cruising Gran Canaria, the fourth of the Canary Islands which she has visited in my tenure.  I know she has been here before because the previous owner’s details still reside on some of the marina computers from over 10 years ago!  I was joined by my friend Anthony, and together we left Tenerife for the 7 hour passage across.

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Leaving southern Tenerife in a light easterly – El Teide present as ever

The passage across was a typical one for around here – winds bending around the islands, creating both wind shadows and acceleration zones.  A grizzled French sailor told me the other day that everyone who lives here habitually goes out with one reef in their mainsail, as they will be sure to use it!  It was certainly the case for our crossing: sailing in a light easterly, motor sailing to make some northing, motoring in a calm, 2 reefs in the main when entering the acceleration zone near the coast of Gran Canaria, then motoring again as we hit the lee of the headland where our destination was…all in a day’s 50 nautical mile sail.

Our destination was Puerto Mogan. What used to be a small coastal village became a 1980s / 90s purpose-built development but done for once in rather tasteful style. Known as ‘Little Venice’, it is full of bougainvillea-strewn balconies, little canals and restaurants and bars surrounding the marina, echoing the likes of Honfleur and Saint Tropez. It has a few visitors’ berths and I was lucky to get one, as this is very much the high season with lots of yachts arriving here to head across the Atlantic, via Cape Verde or direct.  They were very accommodating and we were shown to a stern-to berth, and after I had completed arrival formalities we went for a stroll and enjoyed a fine meal in an Italian restaurant.  The following morning we explored some more and soaked up the sights.  It is the nicest marina I have been in for a while.

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