Friday, 19 May 2017

Catching up - Cruising the Marquesas

You'd think we have lots of time to write and let you, our faithful readers,
know what we've been up to. And yet... I think it's partly that we just
don't spend time at the computer, or even on our 'devices' - except when we
go ashore and join the saddos at the nearest wifi spot, where it's a delight
to hear from y'all. It's only this address, mailasail, where you need to
keep it without pictures or links - feel free to write at length (though
preferably without big attachments) to our usual .me and .icloud addresses.
I liked hearing from Susan about Islington's history exhibition, which she's
helping to curate, for instance. I enjoy still being on the mailing list
for Book Club - and I read and loved the set book, Days without End, by
Sebastian Barry. It's good to hear that traditions are being maintained in
our absence and that the Skerritts popped into the O'Briens for a drink (or
was it the other way round?) And it's sad to hear that Robin Mabey died -
and that Kasper the dog is no longer with us. Life and its opposite go on,
even when we are far away.

And we really ARE far away! The Marquesas Islands are just dots in the
Pacific on any normal map, and not much bigger on navigational charts. They
lie three and a half hours flight northeast of Tahiti, which is the only way
to get here by air. Very few travellers make it here, apart from yachts,
and it's the very definition of unspoiled. We arrived at the easternmost
island, Fatu Hiva, on 5 May, two days after my birthday, which was
celebrated in style with candles on a birthday brownie-cake. Cards and
presents from home and Switzerland had been smuggled aboard, which was
lovely. We (that's Charles and I, Alex and Roger and Dinah Graffy) had
taken almost exactly 19 days to cross from the Galapagos. It's hard to
summarise a long passage like that: there were eventful moments, some more
pleasurable than others (catching fish and eating it as sashimi minutes
later was wonderful, briefly losing Alex overboard - though he was always
attached - much less so) There were long periods of not much happening,
which is not a bad thing in itself and was particularly calming on night
watches. Gazing at the Milky Way and shooting stars, the hours passed quite

Life on Fatu Hiva is quite simple and we found that with no local currency
(the French Polynesian franc), everything we needed had to be bartered for.
A lipstick (I'd equipped myself with 15 from the pound shop) bought two
breadfruits, a large bunch of bananas and several pamplemousses (less bitter
than the grapefruit we're used to). When we wanted to buy a wooden bowl
from an artisan carver, we gave him some sheets of sandpaper and a pair each
of reading glasses for him and his wife. Alex and I went to church on
Sunday and were thrilled by the singing and sung responses - not a hymn book
in sight. We went on an epic hike involving several wrong turns to a
beautiful waterfall and swam in the pool below it. Alex joined in the
locals' football practice and even played in their match, though he had to
retire due to injured (and muddy) bare feet.

On to the next island, Hiva Oa we checked into French Polynesia officially
at the gendarmerie and hired a car; this involved taking the keys out of the
ashtray and driving it away, not so much as a 'may I see your driving
licence?', let alone paperwork, even of the 'name and address' variety. We
went on a fairly hair-raising drive, much of it on dirt tracks, finding
sandy coves, dramatic cliffs and hillsides with a mind-blowing variety of
trees - coconuts, palms, ferns, conifers and what we think were a kind of
mimosa, with wide, feathery flat tops towering above all the others. Just a
short dinghy ride from our anchorage, we snorkelled with manta rays a couple
of metres across, very eerie in the opaque water (the Marquesas have lots of
suspended nutrients in their waters - not so good for diving, but great for
whales and dolphins). I spent a lively morning in the local primary school,
fielding their questions (in French) about England and teaching them some
basic phrases, then being shown their vegetable garden.

From Hiva Oa we went to neighbouring Tahuata island and had a great evening
sharing sundowner drinks and snacks ashore with lots of other Oyster rally
crews -- the first time we'd seen many of them since the big crossing. Then
on to Nuku Hiva, the capital of the Marquesas, where a fantastic party was
laid on by Oyster including unbelievable warrior dancing - similar to New
Zealand Haka, very ferocious particularly as the men are tattooed all over
and wore only grass skirts. We've been here for a week and will stay one
more, awaiting Pippa and William's arrival. It was very hard to say goodbye
to Alex after almost six weeks together, a really precious time, and to send
him on his marathon journey to Buenos Aires (via Auckland!) to see whether
he can find the kind of work he's looking for there. We've been for a drive
round this island too, which yielded the anticipated banana and palm fringed
beaches, with a grilled lobster lunch stop, and the utterly unexpected
northern end of the island, which is alpine and reaches 1200m above sea
level: cows, conifers, hairpin bends and air so cool I had (for the first
time since January) goosebumps. Yesterday we walked up a valley through
fertile gardens and agriculture to a waterfall - apparently the third
highest in the world - but we couldn't get close enough and the river went
into the tightest of gorges, and then came back to a lunch of grilled goat,
raw fish, papaya and other salad, and mango sorbet, all grown and prepared
by a couple living the Marquesan self-sufficient life. $10 each including a
mass of pamplemousse, mangos, ginger, breadfruit and limes in return This
evening we are anchored in TaiPaiVai bay, made famous by Herman Melville's
Typee. No, there are no cannibals in sight. In fact, there is not a single
sign of human habitation, only a few goats making their way along the
cliffs. It's beautiful, remote and the only downside is that there are lots
of little mosquitoes, called nono. We are a very long way from home and
that's fine, but please do keep in touch. We will sail to Tahiti next, via
the Tuamotus (otherwise known as the Dangerous Archipelago). As you know,
I'm not the techie person on board but I hope that Charles will be able to
post some photos soon. Love from Paradise!

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

We have reached the Marquesas

It took 19 days from the Galapagos. We broke the gooseneck pin so had no mainsail for 15 days. However we only lost 1/2 days vs those who didn't have this problem. Winds were light, we only caught one amberjack and one lovely bluefin tuna. Spirits remained high, food was delicious. Many books read. More to follow and other posts which failed to upload due to internet problems with the evil Inmarsat!

Reposting from passage 2

I am sorry about lack of correspondence, but we has problems with the
Satphone logging on and downloading stuff we didn't ask for when we wanted
to send and receive emails, and then running up $70 of charges each time.
Now fixed and I hope you get this on mailasail or blogspot.

If you have been watching Yellowbrick you will see we have been going quite
slowly and losing ground to the fleet. Problem is no mainsail, which means
we have the genoa and the staysail, and now we have the asymmetric ready to
go when we get the right wind. Wind has been light for the last two days so
there has been quite a lot of motoring and we are only doing 6 knots under
engine to conserve fuel. When the wind blows we have two efficient sail
plans - either poled out genoa to one side and the staysail to the other
which enables us to go 8-10 knots with good wind, or both foresails to one
side which works well with the wind on the beam and we can make 9 knots in
15 knots. We had that for about two hours this afternoon, after which the
wind has dropped to about 10 knots and we make 6 knots. So only 150NM days.
We are now 850NM to go so next Friday seems like a likely arrival date in
Fatu Hiva.

Roger and I did a lot of stainless cleaning today. Nicky has been
embroidering, and Alex and Dinah have done a lot of reading. Fishing has
been poor returns. We have had 4 fish hooked, landed one and lost 3 lures so

Nicky's birthday will be at sea. Happy May Bank Holiday weekend to you all!

Reposting from on passage

Yesterday was one week since departure; we about 1300NM from Galapagos and
about 1700NM to go. Winds have been about 12-20 knots from E or ESE. Main
problem has been that the gooseneck pin sheared about 3 days ago. Roger
noticed the boom moving after dinner when I had gone to bed, and so we had
to furl the main away, secure the boom and make it safe with topping lift,
spinnaker halyards and guys amidships. Then the following day we made up a
new gooseneck from the backstay/vang handle which has worked well in terms
of safety but not enough to fly the mainsail from. So our sail pattern is
poled-out genoa and staysail led wide amidships to the padeye for the guy.
It's fine when the wind is close to 20 knots and we can make 8knots, but
below 15 it's a bit slow and we drop into the 6s. We have managed 180NM
noon-to-noon ydy with this rig in good winds, after which it has been a bit
light. Overall I think it is costing us 1 knot of speed which adds up over
10 days! I don't think we have a chance of making Fatu Hiva for Nicky's

I managed to make a bad furl on the asymmetric and get the top down and
bottom up going in the wrong direction. So we have tried hard to get it to
shake out but it wouldn't so we have manually unwound it all, and will have
to hoist unfurled without a sock, which I only feel comfortable doing in
lighter winds than we have. So we haven't been able to fly the asymmetric
but it's just a bit windy for that at times. A rock-solid not-too-large
symmetrical spinnaker might be the answer, but that would be harder to do
with single watches.

Single watches are working well and everyone has time to get good sleep, if
it isn't too rolly. Nicky packed the freezer with meals she pre-cooked in
Panama and they have been great in these conditions. Last night was
Babotie, previous night chicken in tomato and Noilly Prat sauce, night
before that was fillet steak with Dinah's delicious roast potatoes. Fruit
and veg is holding out in the netting in the saloon and in the pilot berth,
but needs daily checks to throw out hairy carrots or potatoes.

Crew good, great fun to have Alex on board. Roger is a fantastic fixer of
things. We have a shiny new flush shackle on the anchor which shouldn't
catch on the stemhead; we have tried hard to isolate the electrical fault on
the mainsheet winch (but manual is fine); and we haven't yet fixed the
problem on the engine start battery (but we can link to the generator
battery which is working well).

Massive book-reading going on. Elizabeth Jane Howard Cazalet novels, I am
Pilgrim, Sebastian Barry, Bryson's a short history of nearly everything

Glad Arsenal made the FA Cup Final. If Macron winds the French election
with a party that is less than 2 years old what does that bring? UK
Election presumably driven by the Tory Right - I think we keep sailing

Thursday, 20 April 2017

The long passage to the Marquesas–3000 nautical miles–and the Galapagos

Apologies for being so long since our last post, but life has been extremely busy with the Galapagos and then departing for the Marquesas. We are into the afternoon of the third day and since yesterday morning we have had good winds and good boat speed. Let’s hope that we are properly into the trade winds. Our course to the Marquesas is c 260 degrees and we have been trying to get south first to find winds so sailing 220 degrees to begin with and now 240. We are now 8 degrees S and the Marquesas are 10 deg S and 135 deg W.  The Galapagos are on the equator and 90 degrees west, so you see the amount of westing we have to make – one eighth ot the globe’s circumference.  The wind is just south of East and so we have been on a beam reach all day making 8.5knots.  Can we get to 200NM in 24 hours?  We are five up with Alex and Roger and Dinah who joined us in the Galapagos.

All well and the food which Nicky spent such time in Panama preparing is delicious. [note from Nicky: most recipes are my mother’s – layered ratatouille and chicken with Noilly Prat, for instance – but I also have four Meg Campbell boboties frozen. I’ve made mocha squares this morning and Charles and I take turns making bread – his ciabatta with sunflower seeds yesterday was a great success.] We need to eat food in the freezer and fridge to make space for any fish we may catch. Alex caught a 7kg yellow fin tuna within about 3 mins of putting the line in last week which provided delicious sashimi and tuna steaks.  With five on board and single two hour watches, you can get plenty of sleep and we are now adapting to the rhythm of the boat and watches.  It is strange to feel so small and alone on a night watch – no other vessels, only stars and sea.  We had two dolphins accompanying us day before yesterday and the odd bird flies past, but mostly it’s just…emptiness. The Pacific is huge.

The Galapagos Islands were amazing – wildlife and scenery you can’t see anywhere else.  At the airport Nicky managed to get past security into baggage reclaim to meet Alex whom we hadn’t seen since October after his Ambling through Africa, and Pippa whom we last saw in January.  Floods!   Mike – stand by for Tahiti airport! 

You kept on thinking what the next superlative could be: we dived with hammerhead and Galapagos sharks off San Cristobal, swam in a ball of fish and watched shoals of 1000 yellow fin tuna and barracuda swim past; we walked volcanoes and volcanic forest paths, stepping over marine iguanas, black as their lava rocks, with spiky crests; we swam with turtles, sea lions and sea horses in Isabela; we visited tortoise rearing centres where we saw tiny babies and 160 year olds (ugly and slow, yet fascinating); and then, just as Pippa was about to leave us, we went snorkelling off Pinnacle Rock on Bartolome (an extraordinary, moon-like place) where we found new reef fish and then three little penguins, who obligingly dived in off the rocks and went fishing right in front of us about a metre away.  Oops – I nearly forgot seeing the humpback whales and manta rays, 5m in width, jumping. All the animals are so unafraid that on San Cristobal we saw marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies and a sea lion on the same rock next to the pier.  The steps to the dock were covered in sea lions jostling for the best spot.  [Nicky again: I’m embroidering animals and birds we’ve seen – at the moment I’m sewing turquoise feet on a pair of blue-footed boobies, which we saw courting and nesting].

I hope the Ecuadorians keep the Galapagos safe and keep the visitor numbers balanced.  On the one hand it is good it is all very controlled; but on the other hand there are masses of regulations, some more sensible than others, everything is a tour which provides employment but does make it all feel a bit packaged. Our cruise boat had engine failure and so we did a series of DIY outings, which I think we actually preferred.

Photos will be a bit limited for now – we managed to leave two laptops next to a porthole which was not fully shut so they stopped working and have gone back with Pippa, and the data speed on the satellite is so slow and I am not sure it is reading our usage correctly or something else is using capacity as we seemed to use a month’s allowance in one day with 29 emails each of which only text.

PS how do we get a postal vote?  4 out of 5 of us will be out of the country.

Alex: fans of hearing about our sat phone data allocation will be disappointed to hear I’ve got nothing to add on that front. Dad’s covered most of what we’ve been up to, although I feel Pippa’s contribution is underplayed – she barely gets a mention! It was lovely hanging out with her for the first time in six months: she’s still as competitive as ever; it was entertaining to compare her tan with ours; she may have mentioned once or twice that she’s got a boyfriend called Will… Mum breaking through security at Galapagos airport was a highlight, and thankfully the police decided to not get between a lioness and her cubs. Every time you think the Galapagos have exhausted their wonders, they manage to surprise and delight once again. Uniquely unique. Oh, and many thanks to the universe for putting on an excellent private nightly shooting star show out here in the middle of the Pacific – it feels like you can reach out and touch the Milky Way, although given that there’s absolutely nothing for hundreds of miles around us, and a 4,000m drop to the sea floor, I haven’t tried too hard!

Monday, 3 April 2017

Crossing the Equator - two up to the Galapagos

We arrived safely in Galapagos after an uneventful and windless for the last two days crossing from Las Perlas.  But we successfully made it two up without incident including flying the asymmetric two up and the poled-up genoa.  We had company the whole way, with Miss Tiggy following us as their autopilot wasn’t working and and it’s much easier, when hand-steering, to follow – especially at night.  There was no moon so it was very dark and the stars and planets were magnificent.  We also had company in the form of birds: four of them perched on the pulpit all the last night, leaving a lot of guano evidence, and each night white birds swooped around our navigation lights.
Aldeburgh Yacht Club at Equator
 I’m not sure what was in it for them, but they accompanied us for hours and it felt as though they were watching over us on those long (4 hour) night watches. This system gave us just enough sleep over five nights, although dodging fishing vessels on the last night into Galapagos was tiring.

We crossed the equator at 3am and paid homage to Neptune, though we had celebrated with a bottle of champagne when Miss Tiggy swam across at 5pm.  We did have two days of good sailing in flat seas.

Punta Pitt San Cristobal
San Cristobal is our first Galapagos island, with a bustling little town and efficient water taxis to pick you up from your boat – just as well, as any dinghy left in the water for even a moment is colonised by smelly, moulting sea lions.  We all put fenders and other obstacles on the boat’s swimming platform (our “seal defences”), but several friends have had their cockpit occupied overnight.  The whole archipelago is a national park with very strict ecological rules, so when we arrived we were visited by eight officials, who checked that we were separating our rubbish (though when we came ashore we found it all goes in one bin…), didn’t have any fruits with seeds on board (I hid the lemons at the back of the fridge) and that the boat’s bottom was clean.  Movement of yachts between islands is strictly regulated, so there’s a whole industry of ferries and tours – we are hoping to visit Espanola on Wednesday.  Yesterday we went diving (Charles) and snorkelling (Nicky) to Kicker Rock (Leo Dormido), an impressive hunk of rock with masses of sea birds, including blue-footed boobies and frigate birds displaying their red neck pouches.  It was rather overcast, so not ideal diving conditions, but we ticked off various sharks, including a hammerhead, as well as many fish and impressively large turtles, close enough to touch.

Ecuador held an election yesterday and citizens were not allowed to drink alcohol for 48 hours leading up to election day.  Might a similar ban have affected the Brexit vote or the US elections?  Anyway, today there is a recount and it seems the same party has stayed in power – at least, I think that’s what our taxi aquatico driver said.  One thing I definitely do NOT miss is politics!

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Panama Canal and setting off towards the Galapagos

Log entry reads: 0900 depart Rio Cacique on Las Perlas islands, Bearing to waypoint 230 deg; Distance to waypoint 818. Crew, C&N.  We have done overnighters before with just the two of us and we have done overnighters with crew who were laid low by seasickness, but we have never done 5/6 days two up.  However wind is 3 knots, at least it is from 015, and forecast is that we might get up to 15 knots for a couple of days, so it may be a lot of motoring.

Las Perlas are a collection of islands, only 30NM out from Panama.  A few fishing villages and one island with holiday homes, but otherwise deserted and beautiful.  We spent two nights off Isla Pachega, where there were thousands of pelicans and frigate birds, and we were woken up by wave-slapping noises all around the boat.
 What was it? Could it be wind-on-tide?  In the morning we found that is was rays jumping. And jumping high! Then two more nights on Isla Canas and a discovery dinghy trip up the mangrove-lined Rio Cacique. We have had to learn about tides again as they reach 4m here.

Panama City and the disappointing La Playita marina was three days of non-stop shopping, cooking, vacuum-packing and freezing. Engine and generator checks, rig checks.  Old Panama fun, with architecturally interesting Spanish heritage.  Nicky has made plans and provisioned for 60 meals for 5/6 people, and the freezer  which is exchanging heat with 28 deg water has slowly, slowly gone from just negative to now a healthy minus 16 in the cooler ocean waters. Every space under the cabin floors is filled with tins, cans, bottles, etc.  Chicken, pork, beef, lasagne, ratatouille, babotie, peppers de-seeded, all vacuum-packed, labelled with expiry dates, so that the Galapagos authorities will not be unhappy. No seeds of any kind allowed, so our netting hung from the saloon ceiling and filled with fruit, lemons and limes, will have to be eaten or juiced before we get there.

Taking a yacht through the Panama Canal was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. First, the canal is highly evocative of the struggle to build it by the French, who attempted a sea-level canal, and then the Americans who finished the canal in 1913. 35,000 lives lost, many from Caribbean islands.  Total height above sea level is only 26m, which compares to the 49m of the Caledonian Canal, but the recently opened new locks on the canal can now take post-panamax vessels which carry 3x the number of containers of the original.  We waited for our transit advisors to come on board anchored off Colon, then we went up the three locks into the Gatun lake; most Oysters nested in groups of three boats, though we were alongside a French catamaran, where a keen but unskilled grandfather failed to understand that ropes have two ends, that if you are rising 8m in a lock, the ropes will need to be tightened and that chatting at that point to your grandchildren is not that smart if you are controlling the windward side of the nest!  Our transit advisor, Ricardo, was charming, calm and helpful.
Overnight moored up six abreast in the Gatun lock, we set off early am and then waited ahead of the Culebra cut for the vast MSC Elodie to come through.  Then down through Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks, under the Bridge of the Americas and into the Pacific!

So I guess this is what we came for – big passages in a boat in her element.  We loved the Caribbean, and particularly the new geographies of ABC, Colombia and the Panama Canal.  We loved having 15 friends on board.  And now we are looking forward to seeing how this two-person team fares on a long passage.  We feel tuned up and hope Calliope is too!  And then we look forward VERY MUCH to seeing Pippa and Alex in the Galapagos, with Roger and Dinah then joining us for the long passage to the Marquesas.