The Darwin Voyage
The Log of Pylades
6th June 2009 – 20th July 2012
The circumnavigation of Katherine and Fergus Quinlan
onboard Pylades, their self-built steel 12M. cutter
The reference ‘Origins’ cruise is to take cognisance of the 150th anniversary of the publication of ‘The Origin of Species’ and indeed the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. We shall attempt both in our travels and the log to relate, in our modest way, to his works and conclusions.
6thJune 2009: 04.30 A very quiet Kinvara, no one stirs in the town, the morning is very cold with a sharp wind from the North East and a hint of dawn in the North Eastern sky. We unbolt the leg that allowed lying safely against the pier wall. The tide flooding fast as we let go the final warps and start the engine. So it is with very mixed feeling we commence our adventure.
06.30 Sees Pylades in Galway Bay with most of plain sail set. The Volvo Ocean race is due to leave Galway on this day, we had hoped to use them as sparring partners down the coast but they never caught up with us. The trip south is moderately rough with the NE wind increasing and sail area decreasing to suit. A fast passage – about five miles north of Brandon Mountain a wave of interesting proportions materialises astern. The skipper disconnects the self steering attempting to steer down the face of the wave but the rudder loses grip in the foam and we knock down enough to put the lee guardrails under and rip off our new dodger. (Glad we bought the new sewing machine). Entering a very disturbed Blasket Sound, the tide with us, the skipper confidently predicted it would be calm, it wasn’t, just when we were thinking of relaxing we were pooped…that is a wave breaking over the stern and filling the cockpit, Kay was sitting in the hatch and blocked most of the wave with her being which saved it flooding in below decks. At 21.00 we picked up a mooring in Ventry the wind now blowing 40knots. A slightly chastened crew take wine, reflecting on the ways of the sea .
8th June: after two nights of peaceful isolation in Ventry we moved to Dingle – as always a great place to go for pints. We meet the proprietor of a well known local establishment who is a living example as to the dangers of such ownership, being in a perpetual state of plastership. Then on to Valentia where our alternator stopped working – our planned one or two nights here turned into a week with sourcing and fitting a new alternator . Justin, Trish, Cian and Ellen visit, great to see them. We went down to the shore to see the astonishing trail footprints of the ‘Tetropod’ who lived, walked and left footprints 365 million! years ago on this shoreline, it’s worth pointing out that this ‘shoreline’ was about ten degrees south of the equator or to put it another way about 4000 miles south of its current position. What a lesson in evolution and plate tectonics’ for creationists. This was the obvious place to start thinking of the ‘Darwin’ quest. Prior to sailing we had emailed the Department of Education in Dublin to ascertain their approach to the teaching of evolution. We had enquired as to how they might be reconciling that with the previously thought ‘creationism’, no response of any kind has yet been received. We shall pursue.
16th June: Pylades sails pass through the splendid Dursey Sound. More wind on the south side and a fine reach to Castletownberehaven. The wind being a bit too fresh from the south, straight in the gap so to speak, we overnight in the overpriced Lawrence Cove marina in Bere Island, once a base for the Glenans sailing school and a duller spot since their departure, where the skipper was initiated into the rudiments of sailing with a very fair French Lass 30 years ago. It blows stink all night we were glad to be snugged up. The next day in lighter air we return to Castletownbere.
19th June: Our neighbours in Dooneen, James Moloney and daughter Amy join us for the run to Spain. At 15.00 the anchor is cleared of entanglements and we head due south. At the exit we pick up a force 4/5 westerly and with two reefs in the main and most of the genny we fly south. In the lively conditions which prevailed and would continue to prevail all the way, meals were served in bowls. The night watch was cold and grey with some of the crew laid low with mal de mer but despite the conditions the ship was skilfully served by them . We maintained four hour watches but nought was seen.
The Navtex gave warnings of gales in the sea area of ‘Fitzroy’ , no details of exact locations just enough to put the scaries up us. The following day we were inspected by a pod of pilot whales before they proceed to their unknown watery remote destinations. During the night the wind builds to 25/30 knots and the seas sharpen. Three reefs now in the main and the staysail set. The Genoa is tightly rolled away.
22nd June: All day conditions remain wild, a pigeon seek shelter and cowers in the cockpit with the watch keepers enduring the occasional dumping sea. At 17.00 we start the run through the shipping lanes. Not as many ships as the last few times we passed through, is it the recession? The wind now slowly veering, it becomes harder to lay the course for La Coruna, plans are being made to move our target destination further west. As night falls with the wind still increasing we start to furl away some of the staysail. At about 05.00 on the morning of the 23rd the wind drops away leaving the sea, the self steering and the crew completely confused. It takes awhile in the dark to remove preventers, get a few reefs out of the main and thankfully ,now on course, head off under engine for the last 20 miles to the great city of La Coruna which we enter and tie at about 11.30 three days and 20hours and 537nm south of Castletownbere.
23rd June: After some mast climbing by James to reconnect stack pack lines which had parted during the crossing, we engage with La Coruna. A great evening and night was had in the city, après many drinks we walked across the beach where what seemed like tens of thousands of people were gathered lighting hundreds of bonfires, all in good humour and a great atmosphere prevailed. At midnight a fantastic fireworks display. The skipper was in no doubt that all this had been organised to welcome us and honour our safe arrival!.
On the 25 June we sailed the short distance to Ares planning to anchor off with a BBQ and swim as we had many years previous but there appeared a new marina, indeed we were to find that in the ten years since our last visit to these waters many new marinas had emerged on the coast of Spain and Portugal- we anchored off . We took a few drinks in the town and next day decided to go back to the fleshpots of La Coruna . At the approach to the marina we were waylaid at high speed and boarded by Spanish Customs who were very polite but firm, going through all our passports and ships papers.
On the morning of the 27th James and Amy left for home in Dooneen.
In La Coruna we met Stephen Hyde and Aileen Hyde in their magnificent Oyster 56 ‘A Lady’. Stephen is also planning to circumnavigate, but just a little faster.
29th June: Finally we leave La Coruna and anchor off the wonderful beach at Lage. The weather remained mixed with the occasional front coming in from the Atlantic giving us a taste of Irish weather. Never theless new regimes are in place and the skipper swims around the boat a few times every day. We remain contented swinging to anchor here for seven days hill walking and attending to boat duties.
7thJuly 2009; On to Camarinas and tie at the marina, close to the town – this is a favourite amongst the yachties. Note : anchoring off can result in your boat being thrown around by the wash of speeding fishing boats also dragging can be a problem – we spent over a week here. On around the great Cabo Finisterre to the town of Muros where we anchored off with no problems of dragging etc. – no marina here. The town was as good as ever except for the public disco which commenced about 23.00 emitting excruciating noise until about 06.00 in the morning. We spoke to a local Spanish man on this, he told us it was a very big problem in Spain, that is, the open air ‘music’ at fiestas, boosted with huge wattage. He had double glazed his house with very heavy glass!!. It sounds to the author like a major democratic deficit.
17th July; A truly classic sail, wind NW5 ‘Pylades’ at its best a broad reach under a blue sky tearing past other boats, gybeing at Isla Salvora and close hauling up the Ria de Arosa in buckets of wind and no sea, the new main sail by Mr. Watson taking us more upwind than we have ever gone before. This Ria has so much to offer we spend time in Caraminal, Rianxo where we anchor in the bay to the west moving positions as the wind shifts. Here we met an intriguing couple in a 30’ timber boat who have been ‘out’ for 12 years. He from the UK paints watercolours, she from Japan plays classical piano! and by such a complex combination they make a living.
23rd July; We move into the marina at Rianxo. Declan, Debs and Donnacha Connolly arrive and stay the night. They had sailed down from Kinvara to La Coruna , hired a car to see bits of inner Spain and visit us. A great night of chat as we caught up on all the home gossip. They sailed back to Kinvara despite the ghastly weather sweeping Biscay and its environs.
25th July At the entrance to the Ria de Vigo at its north west there is a fine anchorage ‘Ensenada de Barra’. A very beautiful nudist beach where the fair and the not so fair Spanish of all ages dwelt in the clothes free area. A proof if ever that the ‘Inquisition’ is well and truly vanquished. After a few days in paradise we sail into the City of Vigo. Entering the marina we are directed back out to the docks, discrimination we think because we are steel – the marina is packed with white fibreglass boats – we tie at dock wall, will this herald a new era of ‘white fibreglass boats to the port all others to the Starboard’. This city has much improved since our last visit with evidence of major social improvement works. Everywhere we go there are new delights.
Adjacent to where we are tied is a major exhibition of the human body. ‘LaVida’ as we have spent a few days in the presence of the naked now we spend time in the presence of the naked and dissected. Preserved corpses abound, sliced up and explained in every way, from conception to demise. A thoroughly amazing exhibition which must be recommended to every human with a curious mind, but a bit too much for the woman behind us who collapsed in a heap on the floor and was carried away to be dissected ( jest .. she looked fine), we reckon the staff were being over cautious and may well have been used to this reaction.
30th July. Anchor off the ‘Isles of Cies’ – these islands are a national park lying to the west of the city of Vigo– swimming, walking, reading and the evening BBQ are the order of these couple of days. Up anchor and into the town of Baiona – where we met Ken and Aileen Cunnane from Listowel on their Malo 42 ‘Rouletta’– the last time we met in the Caribbean Ken and Aileen were on their honeymoon – now 10 years on they introduce us to their 3 children Paddy, Ellie and Stephen. We all dined in the town. Again, this is another great Spanish town with its narrow winding streets –you must keep your wits or feet could be lopped off by close passing scooters and cars. Baiona, our last call in N. Spain, we adjust our watches again and head south for Portugal.
2nd August; Viana do Castelo – tie outside the docks on a new pontoon and watch the youth of the world (including Ireland) compete in International events racing everything from lasers to sculls of all sizes. In Portugal we continue our hunt for gas fills but again ‘connections not compatible’. Over the next period we call to Lexioes, entering in a thick fog, on to Figueira da Foz and a fresh sail to Peniche and had drinks with two English girls whose sparkling company and conversation we enjoyed.
7th August; A fine sail and slow entrance to Lisbon against the ebb tide. But it is so worth passing into this magnificent city under that enormous mile wide suspension bridge. We spend three days enjoying the city with its myriad sights.
We rounded Cape St. Vincent – the toe of Portugal on the Atlantic at 18.00 on the 11th August. Turning east always appears to be of some significance – we were now on the Algarve with a huge increase in temperatures , people and a total decrease in cloud – we were not to see a cloud for many weeks. We skipped from anchorage and marina along the way – perfect sun sailing if not a bit too hot – all sun screens, awnings (a canvas cover over the deck) , wind scoop (a canvas thing which is made to scoop up the wind – if there is any – into the boat – in our case as in most, it is over the hatch to the bed and hopefully will aid ones sleep, and most important of all the mosquito nets over all windows and openings, very necessary as these little noseeums can and did cause lots of discomfort – they especially liked K !!! Brian Quinlan arrived out to stay with us for a week. First night of Brian’s visit we spent in Lagos marina excellent marina – good town – thronged with tourists but good atmosphere – would go back . We sailed from Lagos to Faro spending the nights in different anchorages and marinas – Brian was flying back from Faro so we decided to investigate all the nooks and crannies of this area.
We tried to land in the town of Olháo – part of the Faro estuary – but kept running out of water – prudence prevailed and we retraced our wake – hung a left at the cross and anchored off Ilha da Culatra also within the Faro estuary and the best anchorage by far. Ilha da Culatra is a small island with a superb beach. The town with its sandy streets, quirky little cafes, ok food, cheap, treasure of a harbour, friendly people, great light and amazing cats, should be seen – I would think it is possible to rent a little house there, clean warm water – NOT overcrowded. This was one of Kay’s favourite places.
Faro town was most enjoyable if you survived the heat – the old town in a good place to walk through – we ate a great meal there compliments of Brian Q. Also on this stretch we spent a night in Vilamoura Marina, we would avoid in future, it had a grabby atmosphere and a mean sense prevailed although we did meet a good gang and Brian did a bit of the musicals to the delight of the company. Travel always begets many contradictions.
Brian headed back to the emerald isle on 23 August (I think looking forward to rain and a little breeze). We headed up the Guadiana River and into the furnace of Spain.
We were on the River Guadiana for 5 days having sailed in from the Bay of Cadiz on Monday 24th August . On one bank of this river lies Portugal on the other Spain. Our plan – to navigate about 20 miles up to the twin towns of Alcoutim in Portugal and San Lúcar de Guadiana in Spain.
Soon after crossing the bar from the Bay of Cadiz to the River and watching the display of the colourful kiters on the Spanish side winging through the air we entered a smart looking marina – manoeuvring into our allotted tight space required concentration but all was well and we were welcomed to the town of Vila Real De San Antonia (Portugal) by a friendly Portuguese mariner o. As we were to find out on our journey up the river nearly always a town on one side of the river will have its ‘twin’ on the other, in this case on the Spanish side is the town of Ayamonte. Beside the difference of jurisdiction there is also a time difference between the left and right bank of the river as Spain sets its clock one hour ahead of Portugal and ongoing on our journey we were to be reminded of this when the church bells on either side rang out their hours with Spain claiming an extra gong .
In the evening, we explored the charming San Antonia – with its old buildings, doors and windows and cracked paint in soothing shades of time washed blues and greens. We walked by the small shops with their outdoor tables piled high with beach towels, hand towels, face towels – anything you could make in towelling and everyone seemed to be buying. There must be a towel factory here. We found the town square a generous open space filled with white ‘circus like’ tents selling books . Around the cafes old men playing cards. We sat for a beer at a cafe outside the HQ of the local Communist Party who advertised a week long Socialist Fiesta whose events ranged from opera to symphonic works but the one which caught our eye was the act from Irlanda ‘THE MEN THEY COULDNT HANG’.
We followed the river up over the next days anchoring for a night in the muddy hot river – taking sundowners in small villages mostly with one hotel, often only Fergus, and me sitting on the veranda and small lizards (real not lounge) darting up the white washed walls no shops – very atmospheric – on our way up river we passed the village of the ALAMO, but no sign of Davy Crocket or the Mexican army – on we went up to the twin towns of Alcoutim on the Portuguese side and San Lucar on the Spanish side. For 3 days we anchored at this point – first entry in the Ships Log for each day our stay here is VERY HOT ……. and it was, otherwise we may have extended our stay here – of the 2 towns San Lucar inched ahead in the fav’s list with its white buildings, red roofs and up and down streets and gorgeous little square, it was beautiful– but it was in Alcoutim we had our sundowners and it too had its magic! No swimming on the river – it looked too muddy and a dead fish hung around for the time we were there !! There were some strange looking boats on the river – some had added extensions – gone 2-storey – these boats looked like they had no intention of ever going to sea again. We were delighted we did this little voyaging inland – on Saturday 29 August we came back down the Guadiana and spent the night in San Antonia. Next day sailed back into the Bay of Cadiz with its refreshing sea breeze– we were on our way to Cadiz stopping at Mazágon for a couple of nights on the way.
1st September; Sailed into Cadiz – tied up at the Marina. We were rightly snug in here and for the duration of 8 days we explored Cadiz – this city, once the Spanish capital – claims to be the oldest city in Spain.
A 20 minute walk into Cadiz from the marina –by the ocean. It is a city of two parts with the older part by far the most interesting with its city walls, narrow streets and beautiful squares which are a gathering point for the people of Cadiz – on all nights of the week the squares were packed with families, couples, lads, tourists. We found a wonderful restaurant on our wedding anniversary and had the best food yet in Spain. Did our inter netting in the various squares which are all WIFI connected (the marine told us they are waiting for it). Our favourite square was at the Cathedral in the oldest part of the city where the steps in the evening were packed with people and their laptops. Also sitting on the steps were the local down and outs, some begging and obvious drug addicts but never were we threatened – only repeated requests for handshakes sometimes bothered. Our planned departure from Cadiz was delayed by gales in the Bay of Cadiz which emanated from Gibraltar – eventually the gale diminished somewhat and on …..
9th September; Depart Cadiz and headed in a fresh easterly wind which died off after about 25 miles but the sea increased which resulted in the rig been thrown around so on went the engine to get us out this – later that night we reached the western section of the Bay of Cadiz and encountered the Atlantic swell coming from the north and the Gibraltar swell coming from the south east – with the two swells over running each other there was an uncomfortable ride for Pylades – these conditions continued all of the next day and on Friday the seas started to drop off and conditions improved – by Saturday we were on a glorious reach with a moderate to calm sea which stayed with us until our arrival at Porto Santo. 13th September we tied up at the marina around lunch hour – did the paperwork with Customs and the marina and celebrated K’s birthday on board Pylades that evening – delighted to be here. The -following day – Fergus Birthday- was celebrated with a fine meal in the small town of Cidade Vila Baleira,.The islanders however refer to it as a city………we shall not contradict.
We repeat one of the walks we did on our last visit, from the marina over the steep and very parched to the valley that lies to the North East, from there we took the secondary road back to the marina via a tunnel. Well that’s what we expected to take, but by the time we reached the tunnel no cars had passed and many signs indicated rock falls and roads closed. At the other side of the short tunnel the road we had previously walked ten years ago had disappeared. The top of the mountain had broken off and swept all traces away, what was left was but a track only now passable by walkers and very scary it was with evidence of rock falls abounding. We enquired with the locals and they said every year now for the last nine years it has been collapsing, it is most unlikely that the road will ever be reopened.
W e hire a quad motor bike for 24hours €35. It was brill! After three minutes instruction, the skipper driving and Kay hanging on we roar off into the blue. Every nook and cranny of the island is explored. On the magnificent NE route we see the thousands of acres of land the farmers tried to terrace and farm but all lost the battle against the drought. Now, only a forlorn but remarkable landscape of ruined farmsteads and endless dry scrub with the air patrolled by buzzards rising with the thermals.
The other most memorable part of our quad patrol was to ‘Pico Castelo’. This is a perfectly conical peak like an album cover for “Night on Bare Mountain” by Mussorgsky, a place where covens of witches, troupes of trolls and other such groupings of the occult might dwell in abundance. However, its more prosaic use was when the island was attacked by Algerian or French pirates (which would you rather) the citizens fled to the top of this very defensible mountain. We roared 2/3 of the way up a beautifully cobbled road as far as we could get on the quad and walked to the top, the whole wonderful island lay 360 degrees all-round, breathtaking. On our way back to ( reluctantly) hand back the bike we stopped for coffee in the sweetest little roadside bar, for two excellent coffees and a kitkat €1.00.! But all good things including our stay in Porto Santo must come to an end, tomorrow 26th September, we hope to hoist our sails and press south.
Mileage to date 2081 NM.
Maderia – La Palma (Canaries)
26th September. A fine sail under a cloud scudding sky and a worried K sees us land in the ‘Quinta de Lorde Marina’ in Madeira. The very fair staff gives great service and are very big welcome. However, the marina is in a very remote area and the ‘old style’ pretend village being created around it is tacky, particularly the quite ghastly stuck on plastic window bars. Upon arrival K makes a dash to Funchal (capital of Madeira, 20 miles away) to see a GP in a clinic at 20.00 –being Saturday night the marina could not locate one closer – the visit results in an appointment with a consultant being organised for her at 9.30am the following Monday – next day, Sunday was not too much fun!!. We hired a car to have us in the clinic for first thing Monday with one of the only 2 consultants on the Island – thankfully happiness was restored as the visit to the consultant and blood tests all gave her the thumbs up. It was a dark 48 hours but the service at the clinic and the speed at which they organised everything was most impressive. With much lighter hearts we got back into our more normal stride.
The skipper has decided that the rubber high pressure gas line from the gas bottle to the regulator, not changed in ten years, looks perished and needed replacement. We bought a new part stamped with Butane / propane hose and connected up. An hour later a mighty bang and the loud hiss of escaping gas. Skipper in the cockpit in a nanosecond, switching off the bottle, not breathing and looking around for any smokers… thankfully none. The hose had split but on further examination it was stamped with .2bar not as it should be 20bar. But it had been sold as the real thing in a reputable chandlery, gas users beware!.
28th September; Anthony Swanston sailing in on his Belfast registered junk rig ‘Wild Fox’. Anthony is doing his sailing single handed. We have ganged up with him on many occasions of sundowners, food and craic. On our visit to Funchal we checked out the harbour which was packed with ‘Mini Transat’ boats – all other boats were asked to leave for about 2 weeks as Madeira was hosting the t Mini Transat boats as they paused on route from France to Brazil – so no room at the inn as it were , but on enquiry we were told we may come in at 14.00 on the day they exit.
3rd October; We arrive at the entrance to Funchal harbour , Anthony sails over with us on Pylades, to watch the start of this amazing race about 80 boats were taking part all single handed, (no engines allowed). They are generally French, about 20 to 30 years old, tough and very fit. As they mill about prior to the start we are hailed by one of the competitors who wished to come alongside. We hold his boat while he works below on the steering system, we feel privileged to help. The size of the boats and the courage of the participants’ gives one a great boost of confidence for the Atlantic crossing. To make matters worse the normal wind pattern had now been replaced with southerlies which meant that they were sailing not the direct course but to the African coast where there were predictions of favourable winds. It later transpires that we had photographed the boat and its skipper who won the race in just under 20days over the 3000+ mile course.
An enjoyable few days in Funchal – we were right in the centre of the city with its lovely ambience, market and public squares and parks – a touch of auld decency about it – beside us in the harbour was a charming French couple and their 3 children aged 8 mts, 5 and 7 years, they intend to cross the Atlantic in early December and plan to be back home in the summer of 2010.
9 October : After two and half day gorgeous days and star filled nights at sea, a mix of sailing and motoring from Madeira, we arrived to the lovely island of Graciosa, north of Lanzarote , an island where all roads are sand and the little village wraps itself around a small fishing harbour. The village – influenced by the famous architect César Manrique – has a few small shops, a church, some restaurants and a wonderful bakery. The compact marina was full so we anchored. Later in the day we suss the marina looking for a spot and find a couple who are leaving the next morning at 08.00. It is a very tricky berth to enter and on our arrival the next morn the wind is rising and the exiting yacht warns us off but we give it a shot and slip in – no damage!
Graciosa is a real fav and has not changed much since our last visit 10 years ago. That evening daughter Sarah and partner Rupes arrive to stay with us for two days. We meet them off the ferry and have great chats and beers. They have brought their kiting gear and next day take a taxi to the north ‘windward’ beach. We walk the 6k over later to join them and witness at close quarter the magic of the gear and the action of their kiting. After a great display of Spanish singing and guitar by the indigenous population we head for a delightful meal where we were treated to dinner and on the way back to Pylades happen upon a very entertaining ‘Reggie’ pair from Cuba much influenced perhaps by some smoked herbs and providing great Caribbean sound in a perfect setting and we, in the best of company.
12th October: Manage to deliver a slight thump! to adjoining French yacht while exiting the very tricky berth, but all well as Sarah and Rupes were helping, we dropped them across the bay to the ferry point and with tears, say adieu. As they leave in the ferry we are hoisting all sail outside the entrance and push south to Gran Canaria.
Prior to leaving we had received an e-mail from Las Palmas marina saying there would be no room in the marina, but as we wanted some chandlery items we went in anyway. No problem was the response if you leave after four days. We spent much on new mast steps to the first spreader, reefing lines, main halyard and countless other bits. Fergus Brogan arrived on the 15th, we met up with him in the ‘Sailors Bar’ great chat ensues. We get all the gossip from Clare, the continuing slide of the ‘Tiger’ and the ongoing discovery of corruption amongst our public representatives and hopeless politicians, we had a great night, and to boot Fergus brought the Barrys T.
Next day a swim before breakfast clears the heads and enlivens the day. Another mast step is fitted, we walk the town and eat great food in a very genuine tapas bar followed by night caps later in the Sailors Bar.
17th October; A fine sail south in a wind that touches 30knots in the acceleration zone. The anchor is laid with care in about 9 meters east of the entrance to Pasito Blanco and inspected by the skipper with snorkelling gear. What a wonderful delight in warm clear water with abundant darting fish to accompany one. Dinner and accompliments are served deep into the warm night. The next day we tie at Porto Rico Marina. It is very hot all sunshades are in place the cockpit is like a Bedouin tent, it is a strange contradiction that one spends so long getting to the sun and then spends all this time erecting shades to keep out of it. Porto Rico is a very tacky place with large ads for the full English / Irish breakfast €4.99 abounding and populated by the most persistent and aggressive sidewalk sales men, best avoided.
The following evening, Fergus B treated us to a very fine meal in town and the appalling nature of the Irish educational system, its superstitious and divisive base was discussed at length, and perhaps even resolved!. Another v. Enjoyable night – although we did the dog on it with night caps at Auntie Jennys – all paid a bit the next day !!
20th October FB leaves for Ireland, his visit had been great fun and we were sad to see him go back to the ‘howling wind and lashing rain’. Next morning we motor the 3 miles to Puerto Mogan, a much superior marina where days are spent doing odd boat bits and some swimming . The water being so warm and clear we took the opportunity to change the prop shaft anode. At least sometimes the skipper can stop talking. We also fixed the last of the mast steps as Herr Skipper put his first mate through her steps of climbing to the first spreaders and pretending to spot coral reefs (this was her training for possible actions in the Pacific!!). Puerto Mogan is an easy place to snug into the marina, the town of slightly mannered architecture wraps itself around the boats – the marina staff could not have been more helpful. A great night was had when we met Mark Norman and Eileen Kane sailing on ‘En Passant’ and hailing from Kinvara from whence they left in 2008! Small world – we went to the ‘Orillas del Mar’ restaurant where the owner and his friend provided some very good Spanish guitar and singing and were joined by Eileen who writes and sings her own songs ‘most sweetly’. Her guitar playing and singing were a definite hit with all gathered that night.
On the 24th we move out on to anchor that we might leave early next morn. That evening a huge chartered catamaran populated by what we perceived to be lager louts anchors close by and shatters the peace of the evening with pounding rock. Just before the skipper ‘lost it’ the sun turns to a ball of fire in the sky as it sinks to form a miracle sunset, another miracle occurs -the music in the cat is replaced by a classical aria and against all odds a beautiful moment ensues.
25th October; 05.00 sail is set for La Gomera 75miles to the SW. Once the west headland of Gran Canaria is cleared the wind picks up and a fine bit of sailing ensues. At 09.00 Mount Tiede, the highest mountain in Spain, materialises it is a magnificent sight. Pods of pilot whales break the surface and Atlantic dolphins frolic at the bow all in all a pretty impressive welcome to La Gomera. The marineiro directs us to a berth into which we simply do not fit and have to tie near the entrance in much surge and squeak. The next day K uses her charm and we are directed to a far nicer berth. The boom is taken apart and all internal workings are cleaned and oiled. Swims are had off the adjoining beach but the water surging on the dark brown volcanic sand has the consistency and appearance of oxtail soup and does not prove to be inviting. We meet again Adam, an English guy, sailing single handed from London to the Caribbean and hoping on his way to raise money for the Great Ormonde Street Childrens Hospital in London – he left London in 2008 in his 31ft Westerly never having sailed before – he was refused entry into the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers because he is sailing single handed and suffers with a disability . His aim is to raise funds for the hospital. It is a tall order he has cut out for himself, he is good company and we wish him well.
29th October; The bus for €2 takes us to Pajarito high into the mountains of La Gomera and off on a trek across one of the marked trails. It is mainly damp hardwood forest with the clearest of cool air in a wonderful marked contrast to the warm air at sea level. A mountain stream falling into a crystal clear pool persuades us to shed our clothes and plunge into heaven itself. When we reach El Cedro we discover a remote restaurant ‘La Vista’ which overlooks the huge valley leading to Hermigua there we had a small jug of wine and magnificent lunch which matched the setting. The lady who ran the establishment directed us to the path leading down into the valley and down and down we relentlessly wound our way. Looking back up our descent path was truly awe-inspiring.
When within 100meters of the main road we were in time to see the last bus fly past. Nothing for it, but to hitch, as the 20 kilometre walk back over the mountains did not appeal. Just before darkness when many had passed, a most charming young man stopped and drove us to the marina. It took about three days for the legs to get back to normal.
1 November: It was Eileen the singer’s birthday, and we went out for eats, wines and beer. Main topics were the wipe out of the world wide fishing industry, the dangers posed by the decline in coral reefs to the carbon sinks they provide and James Lovelock ‘Gaia’ theories. All in all, a fairly good reason to keep drinking. We also did some gossip (K said!!)
2 November ; Time is surely flying and the long sailing days and nights ahead get closer, the mood in the marina quietens, there is more talk of weather forecasts, the best web sites, SSB connections (ie. Single side band Radio with which one hopes to pick up forecasts when crossing the Atlantic ) – this time round we notice a lot of security bars on boats ie. stainless steel bars which block all the bigger access points on the boats – we are carrying them ourselves ! They are meant to keep us safe from intruders – this all points to a big lack of security amongst the sailors heading further south. Many are now sailing in groups of 4 or 5 or more – this certainly was not the case 10 years ago. Of course, there is the stocking up of food, drink, boat spares and medical supplies. K is now organising extensive food lists and trips to supermarkets – all of this hopefully to see us through the next stages of our voyage – a full inventory of stocks and a menu for each day for the next 6 weeks and research has to be carried out on various tins and what they taste like…..easy on the tomatoes. Our plan is to head south to Cape Verde Islands and then across the Atlantic to Barbados . Hopefully you will hear from us then.
Mileage to date 2659
La Palma (Canaries ) – Cartegena (Colombia)
PYLADES PUSHES TO CAPE VERDE AND ACROSS THE BROAD ATLANTIC.
5th November; A change of plan we decide to take in La Palma before heading south. We head northabout out from Gomera on the advice of a wise Spanish skipper, he said the first few hours would be rough and upwind but we should get a fine reach across. As we turn out west through the channel separating Tenerife from La Gomera the wind goes to 30knots in the acceleration zone and we fly – winds drops to a more pleasant 15knots after two hours. Arrive to the very deserted marina at La Palma we were soon to figure out why! We scuttle up the town and are most impressed it might indeed be the finest town in the Canaries.
11th November ; Busy about the boat dropping headsails and greasing roller gear, fit new lines to reef three, snorkelling under boat cleaning hull and prop and a general check up, not too bad should just make it across to Barbados before anti fouling fully breaks down. Top up water tanks, heavy rationing of water now comes into force as this water has to last until the other side. Any water taken on in Cape Verde will be kept separate and not in the tanks as it has a reputation for going off !!. But things might well have changed. While K goes last minute shopping the skipper decides to pay a visit to the Santa Maria, the main ship of Columbus, the brochure says it is a ‘true copy’ (it most certainly is not) the whole maritime museum is dedicated to the ‘virgin of the snows’. It could only be described as a travesty, and is a disgrace to the memory of the such voyage.
After a drink and some tapas with John and Ann of ‘Moonlight’ we all go to a concert – Spanish guitar and harp with two very amplified senors. The setting is a beautiful balconied courtyard open to the stars. The music is very gutsy and climaxes in ‘I did it my way’ in Spanish, we flee, Ann comments “ music to slash your wrists to”..
We spent a week rolling in the marina – a very swelly spot as the breakwater wall is apparently open at the base, the engineer who came up with that one should be tied to the perpetually bucking pontoons, but the charm of the marineiros made up – they avert their gaze when checking the boats and pretend not to see our resulting ragged warps. This is one of the least touristy of the Canary Island and a lush green place with tons of walking to be done and interesting things to observe – most notably – the world’s largest volcanic crater, La Caldera de Taburiente. The island is described as wealthy with lots of shops and some really attractive cafes and restaurants and winding narrow streets with subdued street lights which gives an atmosphere of a Van Gogh painting, – great spot for boats to stock up on food for the Atlantic crossing. I would advise that boat chandlery should be taken on in Las Palmas, practically non-existent in la Palma. In the marina we meet Judith, an Austrian woman on her 46’ Bavaria who sails alone with her doggie DOTI – Judith is planning to cross the Atlantic in late December having started sailing two and a half years ago!! bought her boat – had it fitted out to her needs. K had a tour and returned to Pylades with tales of walk-in wardrobes, utility rooms with washing machines. It was our pleasure to meet Judith.
12th November; We disconnect from the dock, bid farewell to John, Ann and Judith and set course for Cape Verde 803 nautical miles to the south. In 1999 we first sailed to Cape Verde captivated by their name and position – having been told by the late Charles J Haughey to perhaps rethink our visit there as his belief was that they were a ‘god foresaken’ spot – I have no doubt his words were for our benefit and safety but we went anyway and were enchanted by them, also shocked and upset by the gaping poverty. By nightfall we passed the southern tip of the island of Hierro at one time believed to be the extreme end of the known world. During the night the wind dies and we revert to engine. For the next three days calm pervades and the trusty engine pushes us along at our most economical 5 knots. Time is passed by me reading the new Dawkins work “The Greatest Show on Earth” a book directed at the 40% who have not yet grasped the principles of evolution. In this case he is preaching to the converted but it is a perfect complement to the “Origins Cruise”. K continues with the French lessons, I hear her in the cockpit … voulez-vous verifier la pression des pneus ….. sounds impressive. We are now picking up Herb loud and clear on the SSB at 20.00 UTC on 12359 kHz. (Herb broadcasts weather information for the Atlantic from his base in Canada). We installed this bit of kit primarily to download weather files as we cross the oceans (this is done by the addition of a Pactor Modem). The SSB(single sideband radio) we hope can add to our security, social connections and general information by enabling us to keep in contact with other cruisers who operate ‘nets’ across all our intended routes – as one goes from place to place you pick up information on the various nets whether they are weather nets or just groups of yachts checking in with each other on a daily basis – you are always welcome to join in and in so doing get all the gossip relating to the places you intend visiting –costs, piracy, good sundowner bars, provisioning and lots more. K got the licence to operate the SSB and is OPS on board Pylades. At this point of the trip we are having problems with the aerial connections for transmission and are working on it.
After dinner on the 13th we watch a magnificent sunset and clearly see the famed ‘green flash’. During the nights Orion the hunter slowly raises from his slumbers in the east and before dawn is standing afore us, more threateningly a perfect scimitar moon, the symbol of Muslim power rises from the dust of the Sahara Desert. Polaris, the North Star sinks lower into the northern sky. Fuel running low, we are looking out for that isolated lonely filling station with its attendant amongst the slow ocean swells, but to no avail. We add 40 litres from our cans into the main tank and purr south. On this sail of 802 n miles we see the lights of 2 ships in the 7 days we are out.
16th November; 11.00 the wind returns – 16.45 rain arrives, we have not seen that for a few months, it only last about an hour and disappears. Most evenings at the stern of the boat we stand within the safety provided by the self steering gear and throw buckets of sea water over ourselves, if we think we can spare fresh water we take quick shot from the water hose to the head and we are done. Bracing it is.
18th November; At 13.00 the outline of Sao Vincente of the Cape Verde Islands is sighted. At 18.00 we enter the channel between San Antonio and Vicente and the wind freshens considerable. We are playing ‘Beethoven’s 7th ‘and in the sunset the islands are washed in a magnificent light , it is a wonderful entrance to the anchorage at Mindelo on Sao Vincente. After a bit of dragging we finally bed the anchor and wine, dine and sleep.
19th November; Into the new marina by dingy, for €3.00 per day they will look after our dingy – on our last visit you asked and paid one of the local men on the beach to look after the dingy but the marina has taken this part of the beach from them – they now stand outside the gate of the marina asking for work or begging. Checking in with the Maritime police and Immigration we have to sign harbour rules which state that we must never leave the boat unattended especially at night. This basically means that the maritime police sole criteria is the stamping of documents and will not take any responsibility for security to boats anchored just outside their door. Also large fines shall be imposed if anchor lights are not displayed, the harbour was full of boats of all descriptions, some which could be described as past their best-by date , none displayed lights!. Despite all this everyone was most polite and friendly. The prevalence of people asking for work or just begging was as ten years ago, more wealth was in evidence as in private cars, and one could surmise that there was now a greater division between rich and poor. The price of goods in the shops was on almost on a par with Ireland but our incomes would be substantially greater, we in Ireland do live in a very cheap food economy!
We had intended to top up our water tanks in Cape Verde the water all of which had to be paid for, but on tasting we thought it was very chemical, a strict water rationing regime went into play as we decided to stretch our tank water filled in the Canaries all the way across the Atlantic.
22nd November; After three days on anchor we take a berth in the marina ( €28.00 per night) this frees us up to complete lots of work bits and stocking up. We can do laundry, have showers and take on water and fuel – just a note : we paid for the water and received a swipe card for the tap on the pontoon and merrily proceeded with boat washing, clothes washing and after all work done headed for a much looked forward to shower – the swipe card you get for the water tap opens the shower door in the marina and also is your swipe card for the shower – what we did not know was our ‘bought’ water included the shower so when in the shower soaped up and looking for the ON tap I realised the situation and found we had used up all our credit – so soaped up and no water I headed for the wash hand basin of the toilets and did my best to wash with the brown water therein – this was the start of paying for all water of varying quality and scarcity – I rethought my decision not to take on a watermaker and think in retrospect I should have installed one.
The cruising yachtsman seeks out on each landfall the necessities of life, water, food, bars and nowadays wifi connections !! and in Mindelo a fellow French sailor directed us to the beautiful old colonial building painted faded flaky bluey grey belonging to Alliance Francaise – this was an oasis, a courtyard with several old wooden tables of varying sizes with a small library and two ladies making the best coffee and pear cake in the world and with excellent internet connection to keep abreast of developments at home. In the evenings we go to the ‘Club Nautico’ with its Cubian ambience and very high quality local music for which the Cape Verde islands and Mindelo in particular are known – also here we gossip with fellow sailors, Mark and Eileen, Andy and Sue, of voyages past and planned.
On the afternoon of the 24th after talking to many answering machines and finally my son Eoin, we were delighted to discover that daughter Vera has given birth to a baby boy in Galway. Now! that was something to celebrate. So that evening we again attend at ‘Club Nautico’ drinking toasts to the as yet unnamed grandson, this was to be our last night in Cape Verde. While there, Andy an American who had come in alongside us in the marina decided he was going to ‘join the band’ he arrived with a miniature sax, a flute and a bank of harmonicas. From the regular musicians he was getting a hard time, a very obvious ‘cold shoulder’ but he persisted and he sure could play and by the fourth or fifth tune he was in and accepted, it was an amazing display of pure neck , but he did have the skills to back it up.
25th November; saw us clearing out with customs and a few final bits we hoist sail and set course for Barbados 2022 miles to the west. The boat has a covering of fine dust from the Sahara desert brought down by the strengthening trade winds. This desert is now apparently expanding quicker than ever due to global warming it stretches from the coast of Mauritania three thousand miles to the once fertile but now struggling Nile valley. We hear from home that the country is flooded as rain and storm have been ceaseless, O! That the vagaries’ of weather could be more equitable shared.
28th November; We now listen to Herb transmitting on the SSB from Canada every evening, we glean information on the Atlantic highways, like who’s out and about but mainly for weather information. We continually attempt to contact other boats and transmit e-mails by our SSB but despite loads of very impressive noises and flashing lights nothing to go out or come in. The sunset was not very impressive and the fact that the glass had dropped by 5 mille bars during the day had us in tense mood but as darkness arrived all the cloud banks disappeared and the new moon turned the sea to gold. While reading in the cockpit at night a mackerel sized flying fish lands in the cockpit, picking it up is not that easy it is a surprisingly heavy solid fish vibrating at an astonishing rate and having examined its magnificent wing structure as I have been reading ‘Dawkins’ I look it in the eye and say “as we share a common ancestry I return you safely to your watery life where your species shall continue to evolve and improve its flying ability in its ever present battle with its predators.” Splash and it is gone.
29th November; The moon set at 05.30 was awesome. Wind becoming more fickle but we continue to hold over 5knots under full poled out genoa, staysail and double reefed main. Daily runs vary between 131 and 154 nautical miles.
1St December; with the arrival of the new month came 30knots of wind gusting to 45, we struggle to get in the 3rd reef in mainsail, roll away the genoa and run on in a very lumpy sea. Wind drops back to a steady 25knts most of the day. Next day much improved and sail plan is increased bit by bit. During that evening a malodorous air envelops the cockpit for a while like a passing fish factory. Nothing is seen but we assume it must have been a passing whale. At 6.30 on the morning of the 2ndwe gybe the rig, which means resetting all sail to suit the wind on the other side of the boat.
Just as we complete , a wave breaks on the port side and pours through the open galley window, rushes across the worktop, down on to the navigators seat and dumps straight into the electrics. One could not plan it if you tried. We spend an age shaking water out of the laptop, the main navigation computer, which has gone out, disconnect just about everything, drying all the wiring. The Main computer box is wiped and dried as best as possible and put to bed with a hot water bottle! An hour later it is plugged in and lo and behold all the lights flash on and the skipper mood lightens considerable. It is a day later before we can fully ascertain that all systems are back up and running, Whew! they were.
4th December; Most of fresh stocks are now gone but the bread has improved big time as Kay is now baking our own, difficult in the boisterous conditions at times, but it turns out trumps every time. Switching on the mast head navigation lights at dusk, the mast head light is gone; from then on it operates intermittently.
6th December; Ship sighted at night – first sighting of anything later that day we sight what we think is a large catamaran going south at a furious speed. For days now the trades have been blowing at 25 to 30 knots a bit more than we would like, but it is not the wind that is the uncomfortable bit but the constant 2 to 3 meter seas. Just before dawn we get a gust of 46knots which lays us over despite the modest amount of sail being carried. We disconnect the self steering and run off at speed before it as it is pouring rain as well we receive the benefit of a fresh water shower. Carrying out the smallest task around the boat requires constant care, it would so easy to have an injury in these conditions. We hear from the net that a yacht called ‘Pelican’ has been abandoned a few hundred miles to the NW of Cape Verde, the only reason we can get is multiple rigging failure, but all five people on board were removed safe and well. Another 60’ ‘ARC’ yacht was also apparently abandoned when its rudder failed. When the squall blows out we hove-to with further reduced canvas as we detect another approaching squall which, as we are well prepared for it, has no wind in it.
9th December; Barbados sighted, by 21.00 we have closed with the west coast but too late to check in, we contact the port authority which directs us into the deep water harbour, when we enter there is nobody about, we tie in the south east corner, not a great decision as it transpires. The surging is constant we run lines in all directions to hold ‘Pylades’ off we have a night cap to celebrate our safe 14 day crossing and sleep. At 05.30 next morn a port officer asks to move as a liner is coming in to tie, so we have to undertake the whole rigmarole again this time tying to the outer breakwater, less surge out here though. Kay goes to check us in and having completed formalities, we leave and go to anchor in Carlisle Bay. The skippers snorkelling reveals that the anchor is not bedding very well into the hard bottom, so we set a second heavy fisherman anchor.
10thDecember; Ashore, our priority is to contact daughter Vera and ascertain that all is well with new baby and mother. All, it transpires is thankfully well and the new lad’s name is ‘Ruairí’. We go walking on beaches and in the evening go to the bar we had such a great time ten years ago when we landed. But we miss the company of the last visit, the surly barman barely serves us and most of the few people in the bar are looking at the footie on TV. The day after landing the skipper always requires a junk food fix, we go to a KFC’s, It fully lives up to the name of junk food but sick we do not get. Over the next days we spend our time getting to grips with the bustling town of Bridgetown and attempting to fix bits on board. One of which is a leaking raw water pump to the engine- the other being the SSB which while being very good at listening has been pretty poor in transmission. We discover that most of the recommended boat yards and fix it’s have gone from Barbados, so we postpone to another destination.
15th December; At 17.00 we up anchor and set sail for the island of Bequia, the sunset is not at all promising, yellow and grey. During the night we are slowly reducing sail as the wind slowly increases, squalls run through every so often necessitating a quick sail reduction and an increase after it passes to maintain speed. At dawn we clearly see the profile of Bequia, its been a much faster passage than planned as we approach the wind is now holding a steady 35knots and gusting, the seas are very disturbed and irregular. The skipper goes on the tiller for a few hours, as we enter the sound between Bequia and St.Vincent me thinks the wind and sea have moderated and puts the string back on auto and goes below for a rest. K is below checking entrance to Admiralty Bay… when we gybe and broach. Water pours ‘again’ through the galley port as we lie over. This is becoming a habit. The preventer has shredded and the port dodger is hanging on by a thread. We get the rig back under control and within a half hour we are within the protection of Admiralty Bay in Bequia. After a few attempts the anchor finally digs in and we attach the 50lb angel to the chain 18M back from the anchor and the skipper’s dive shows all is well at the bottom.
We check in with customs and immigration – a much simpler operation than in many other places – we are invited aboardMoonlight (Vancouver 38) for sundowners and swap tales of the crossing they have taken 21 days from La Palma Canaries which is pretty good. As well as John and Ann with whom we spent some great nights on the ‘other side’ , Johns daughter Becky now is also on board having joined them for the crossing, all are good company. The next morning we call ‘Daffodil’ services and they fill or water tanks direct from their boat $EC 1.50 (.40€) per gallon, expensive but very good and the first water we have taken on since the Canaries.
Over the next few days we concentrate on getting repair works done to Pylades. We remove the engine raw water pump, the leading bimini bar, the tiller which has a growing movement, the port side dodger. The first two items were brought to ‘Mr.Fixman’ we jest not, that is what he is referred to as. He very efficiently gets the pump parts in within a day, fixes the pump and welds the bars within two days. He also directs us to Gene Gardner a very affable American from ‘Eli Blue’ who looks at our SSB which has never been consistent in transmission and within 20mins it works! Reception is confirmed by a 5/5 reception by a yacht in Mystique and the successful transmission of GRIB file requests and e-mails via the Panama base station. We are delighted, on further talking with Gene he says our installation looked VG but there was one poor connection at the Tuner base , he suggests perhaps cutting it and soldering the connections directly. The dodger is re sewn and replaced. The tiller connections are rejigged and bolted back under huge pressure, all appears well. We swim on Princess Margaret Beach – a beautiful beach in glorious water.
On a few nights we go to ‘Frangipani’s’ where we dallied with some lounge lizards ten years ago, the rich clientele had not changed much, we had some great conversations and a good few Planters punches were consumed which are gorgeous but pack quite a kick. On our last day we hike across the island to Hope Bay, rough going in the heat and the last mile or so the road had been washed away and it was down through a rough track through dense tropical forest. The beach was spectacular, no development of any kind except for a Robinson Caruso type hut and a single seat made of driftwood looking out into the pounding surf.
21st December; A 06.30 start to clear out, provision, pack away dingy and anchor and at 10.15 we swing past Moonlight bid our final farewells and head SW our planned destination is Bonaire off the Venezuelan coast. Outside the wind is light and fickle so the engine stays running, It is a very warm day at sea 31deg. Kay starts to tighten up the stores for the voyage and is in the process of moving some beer cans when one punctures and it sprays sections of the interior with some ferocity. Fergus moves the 50lb anchor angel back into the keel box when there is a bang and a hiss and another beer can which has rolled in there bursts. The place now smells like a brewery and there is much poor quality language and cleaning up.
23rd December; By afternoon the wind has built to 20 to 25knots and seas are slowly continuing to build. Wind starts to veer to South East which means we have to take the still building sea and wind over the port quarter. The mainsail is stowed and we run on under full staysail and very heavily reefed headsail. Seas are now breaking all around us but not overhanging, conditions to put it mildly are not comfortable.
24th December; 07.00 we round the south tip of Bonaire and just when we look forward to booting up the swell free west coast, the wind dies. We pile on the sail and dawdle up the coast looking at the huge piles of salt on the shore and the restored slave huts which look like a miniature bell harbour; we are singing “we saw three ships come sailing on Christmas day in the morning”.
We pick up a mooring as no anchoring is allowed on Bonaire to mitigate reef damage or boats dragging ashore in rapid wind reversals. The water is crystal clear and as this is one of the worlds primer dive sites the skipper goes immediately over, myriads of species of fish darting all over the place but mainly gathered around the mooring blocks. Overhead the supremely elegant but somehow evil looking frigate birds scan the seas below for birds which might have successfully caught a fish, they then dive on the unfortunate, batter and harass it until it throws up the caught fish which the frigate then pinches and resumes its sky patrol. Pelicans fly past. Just before we leave the boat, the toilet blocks, a perfect job for Christmas Eve. After our tedious, but friendly check in we rush to the shops which are closing and stock up with festive fare, the supermarket with a Dutch feel is very impressive. That evening after a temporary toilet repair, it is too late and we are too knackered to go ashore, we wine and relax.
25th December; after breakfast a wander to the town of Kralendijk, perfect day for Christmas shopping, every single shop is closed, the town is completely deserted, one would expect tumbleweed to blow down the street. We promise each other presents when the shops reopen. The main meal was excellent, champagne followed by the best steaks ever as recommended by the local Dutch butcher. On Stephens’s day we went by dingy to the Island of Klein this was about a mile from our mooring, it has been preserved as completely undeveloped, with difficulty we walked some sections, it was running with lizards of all kinds and pelicans were diving everywhere. We then did a bit of snorkelling on the surrounding reefs, a magnificent display of species including turtles and barracuda.
28th December. We slip our mooring briefly and go to the dock to take on fuel and water, all the water is desalinated on the island and is of good quality, we fill all our tanks which were dry for $10us, the diesel a bit more , but as we were fuelling so was a gigantic motor yacht ’Ocean Quest’ a casual remark to the dock master, “that that must cost a bit to fill” brought the response yep, two tanker loads, $US 60,000! And that’s the way to get rid of the oil!.
In the evenings we usually attend for sundowners to one of the many v.good bars – our favourite being ‘Little Havana’ with its mix of classical and jazz music, combined with superb sunsets and betimes good conversation – you know at times like this why you put up with the waves !!. We attended dinner in a large American Catamaran moored behind Pylades. Friends of theirs joined from on board from an identical cat , Elizabeth the owner claimed she descended from an Irish tinker background, and she was indeed a lively and engaging lady. They did not much like their new president as he was “trying to make them all equal” we were most civilised and gentle in our responses. Skipper resolves to buy ‘Audacity of Hope’ Obama’s last book and get more to grips with this subject as one might expect to meet a lot of Americans from now on.
31st December; bangers and fireworks started at dawn and never stopped, all the dogs of the town and ourselves were going berserk. We joined the Americans in the marina bar for sundowners. Later that evening we sat on the deck watching the day and year climax as tens of thousands of rockets and bangers took to the sky over Kralendijk and they and we welcomed in the New Year.
At this point of the journey our SSB is going v. well and we join in on one of the nets – OPS is delighted with all the gizmos now up and running, lots of emails to and from our other SSB mates – all our weather charts arriving daily.
3rd January 2010. Slip our lines and bid farewell to our neighbours, we set a complex course for Cartagena in Colombia 420 miles away. Fine sailing past Curacao and then on to Aruba where the sea and wind cut up rough between the Island and the Venezuelan coast, wind is 25 to 30kts despite all the forecasts predicting max wind strength on the passage at 18knots. The seas had a pooping ability and indeed one eventually got us. The temperature at 30deg C at night meant sleeping below with all hatches shut was, to put it mildly hot, how we envy those of which there are many with air conditioning. Anyway, after foolishly leaving the main deck hatch open for air, sometime during night a dream turned to a nightmare of the boat crashing down the side of a wave and water pouring down straight on to the now loudly cursing skipper. All now soaked in sea water again, drat, will we ever learn, this is becoming a habit.
We had been psyched up with tales of this part of the trip being one of the five worst passages in the world, (don’t know where the other four are.) Horrific tales of a yacht in sustained 60knots for three days, dismastings and an as yet unsubstantiated story that a yacht had gone down recently here in a gale. The fact that we had no pilot for this part of the coast, and charts marked with cautions of ‘not fully surveyed’ – this combined with the previous reputation of the Colombian coast, which basically went “if you approach the coast you will be shot and your boat taken” a touch off-putting to the cruising yachtsman . Despite hearing that all is supposed to have improved, we still approach with a touch of foreboding. The dawn comes revealing the Colombian coast, deserted for the first sixty miles, then some traces of industrial plant, but no, boats or humans spotted all day, a bit scary.
5th January ; Out of the haze over boisterous seas appears the outline of Cartagena, our way point is to a gap in a submerged wall with 11ft clearance over the cill, but thankfully it is marked with the “red right returning” American buoy system. We fly through the gap at hull speed and we are in the huge protected bay , one can see why the Spanish established their main base here in 1500 before they plundered the wealth of the continent. After a few attempts to set the anchor it finally goes in and we notice an anchored boat waving a Tricolour, “ is that Pylades, is that Fergus Quinlan” a voice carries across, it is David Cody son of Nicky Cody from Lough Derg. We chatted and organised to meet anon.
The old city of Cartagena lived up to and exceeded our expectations. A throbbing, colourful, multicultural metropolis in the setting of an old Spanish walled city. We are greeted inside the gates by an extremely energetic dancing group who celebrate life and is replication in amazing dresses which they then discard to an amazing undress to the pounding rhythms of Colombia, it would take your breath away. Every street and plaza provide a setting for a constantly eye catching exhibition of colour and the sheer beauty of the people, a mixture of white, black, metizo, mulato, zambo and indigenous people. To set out for the night we drew out $200,000 Columbian pesos, a beer was $5000, a glass of wine $7000 but just divide everything by 2836 to get Euros and everything got back into focus!
The police presence is heavy and backed up by groups of machine gun carrying soldiery. A visit to a fairly run down public toilet by the skipper produces two surprises, a large bunch of flowers at the wash hand basins, and the company of a soldier with a machine gun! There now appears to be no trouble at all in Cartagena.
Despite the security on the ground some dinghies are being stolen at night from the boats. Ours is now hoisted high out of the water and locked at night. Every morning the cruisers in Cartagena run a net on channel 68 VHF it can be most entertaining, it is generally run by Americans and sounds very like ”Good Morning Vietnam” all sorts of information can be gleaned there from the unmarked reef on the chart to the missing black sock!
Mileage to date 6727
Cartegena – Panama City
LEAVING THE ATLANTIC
Prior to leaving Cartagena the skipper was checking out with the office of club Nautico, before opening the door happened to look in the window , one on the local workers was being attended to by two old woman one was rubbing him down with an egg while the other was holding a lighting candle and both were chanting. An American joined me briefly at the window commenting, “Gad purification” My faith in science gripping the minds of the masses slipped a fraction.
Walks along Pedro de Hederia, markets were scary because of their sheer size and density consisted of the poor selling to the destitute. We are overwhelmed by the desperation and the noise and realise that we are the only gringos about. Further down were lines of very small outlets selling services for cars, motor bikes, bicycles and just about everything imaginably, each outlet specialising in a specific part , one selling just engine belts, one just filters and on and on, we got loads of bits for the boat. We had unfortunately hailed a taxi to take us there, showed the driver the address in Spanish and assumed he knew where he was going, bad mistake! He sped off in what we knew to be the wrong direction, he is saying “Centro” we are saying NO NO NO and pointing back the way we came. He eventually hijacks a pedestrian who reads the address and tells him where it was, it then dawned on us that he could not read at all. We finally arrive at destination he demands $50,000 Colombian Pesos, major row develops we offer the correct direct fare $6,000 Col. Ps a crowd gathers, a multilingual peacemaker appears out of the spectators, $15,000 Col Pesos is finally agreed. Moral of storey all fares to be agreed prior to boarding, we will learn eventually.
One of our last walks around Cartagena takes us to the ‘Palace of the Inquisition’ a beautiful building with a sordid past, now a museum of torture instruments where those unfortunates not fully compliant with church teaching were broken on the rack, garrotted, guillotined, or their heads and limbs slowly crushed by devices that could only be dreamed up by the truly devout. The person responsible for this museum which is a worthy reminder of the past, obviously had a sense of irony as they were also running a Darwin exhibition. That lifted the spirits of the skipper no end!. That final evening in Plaza de San Pedro was an open air concert of massed choirs and a symphony orchestra playing Mozart’s requiem, the setting and the piece were truly fantastic. A very fitting fare well to Cartagena.
17th January 2010; 16.45 we exit over the sunken wall and head into a lumpy sea with a fresh wind from the NNE, during the night the wind steadily increases as does the sea, a rough hot ride with all ports shut resulting in sleeping difficulties at 30deg temps inside boat. On 19th January we arrive at first light off the Kuna Yala, a vast archipelago on Panama’s Caribbean coast composed of over 340 unique islands, and home to the Kuna Indians who do not accept the Spanish invaders given name of San Blas. We had intended to motor in through reefs using our chart plotter and all our navigation gizmos as a number of yachts have come to grief here, however, the engine failed to start !! We had let the batteries drop below the critical level and our separate starter battery was kaput. Carefully, we sailed in through the reefs and picked a fairly easy anchorage which might enable us to anchor under sail, this we managed to do getting the hook down in the first shot, launched the dingy in record time and got a second anchor down. When the sun and wind picked up during the day our batteries recharged and our engine came back. Out of the blue sails ‘A Lady’ Stephen and Aileen Hyde’s Oyster56 with a party of Cork men on board. We swap all the crossing stories over a beer and catch up on some home gossip.
The islands themselves are picture post card, white sand, palm trees overhanging and are all only a meter or two over the water level, many of the islands have been lost already. If the sea levels should rise it must be the end of the island living for the Kuna Indians. The Kunas are physically small rivalled in shortness only by the pygmies, but are well proportioned and look very healthy. The mainstay of their economy is coconuts. We go ashore to the small island of Miriadiadup where three generations of one family live in two huts made from renewable, fast growing materials, the floor is sand, the walls made from cane and the roofs from palm, the only furniture are the hammocks they sleep in and a few plastic chairs. Kuna Yala is a matrilineal society, the women control the money, choose the husband, who moves into the women’s family holding. The Kunas are forbidden from marrying non-Kunas upon penalty of exclusion. The women make money selling ‘molas’ which are appliqué pieces, complex pattern cutting and stitching which have to be examined minutely to fully comprehend the level work involved to produce one – they paddle out in their ‘ulus’ (dugout canoes) to visiting yachts to sell their molas , they don’t say much, are very pleasant, dressed in beautifully coloured clothes and are persistent – the dollar usually changes hand. The men go in their ‘ulus’ fishing in the mornings – stress they say does not exist !!
Every village in the larger islands has three Sailas (chiefs) these being the guardians of the Kuna knowledge. The Sailas congregate every evening in the “congresso” (the biggest hut in the village) in the centre of which are 3 hammocks for the Sailas to lie and listen to the complaints of the people seated on hard seating – the Sailas rarely speak directly or give direct orders but communicate with Argars who are powerful personalities interpreting the Sailas wisdom.
The Indians are indeed very unique in that they have not been Christianised and generally live with no, electricity, TVs, radios and almost nothing that they do not make themselves. Their canoes are still ‘dugouts’, the only concession to the modern world that we could see was clothes and the Yamaha out board engine.
21st January 2010; So chilled out at this stage we don’t even hoist the sails and motor the few miles to the further stunningly beautiful islands of the Chichime Cays. Snorkelling, one could inspect the bedding of the anchor 36ft. below, this inspection turned into something special as a large stingray slowly flapped by. We explored the islands, took lots of photos and that evening went for a few beers in the local Kuna Indian run bar. One large table with benches around, an adjacent Fridge-freezer run by a single little Honda generator which also powered the single bulb over the gringos table. A bottle of beer cost 1US$ , no other drink available, Kay was finally on the beer. After a few more days of this paradise we pushed on.
23rd January ; We sail west towards Panama, the wind, for the first time since the Spanish coast, allows us hoist full sail and with an easy swell provides one of the most pleasant sails we have had in quite a while. We break the journey and duck in behind Isla Grande for the night, this a lovely spot with good holding, v. slight swell and its nearby anchorage at Isla Linton where the monkeys are the only permanent inhabitants and come to visit at night appearing v. friendly sitting on you and eating out of your hand and only becoming upset when they realise you are leaving and can then bite ! !
24th January; Leaving the anchorage of Isla Grande we pass to the starboard of Isla Drake and the town of Portobello, from this port, tons of gold and silver, won from the backs of the broken and decimated Indians, flowed to the commercial capital of the Spanish empire, Seville. Between 1574 and 1702 forty-five fleets of galleons were sent forth, none of which carried less than thirty million pesos of riches. Here, Henry Morgan and Francis Drake grabbed the Spanish bootie. Between them all and the associated havoc they brought the third world was bled to feed the 1st– Drake eventually died here of disease and was buried at sea off Isla Drake. We, unfortunately, had not the time to visit – this part of the world deserves much more time for discovery.
Arriving off the Cristobal Colon entrance in a sea and wind that had returned to what we were used to’ boisterous’, we called Port Control on VHF for permission and directions , we were being passed from one controller to another our VHF took that specific time after 12 years to blow the fuse. Not being possible to attend to such matters as large to very large ships were everywhere some on anchor and others passing tight we pressed on regardless for Shelter Bay Marina. The marina being full we anchored and awaited a dock becoming available.
Every morning a bus provided by the marina leaves for Colon city for shopping and for check-in with customs and immigration. The check-in was an amazing paper chase going from one decrepit office to the next none of them marked, filling in mounds of paper. It would appear that procedures change every day and require to be approached with resolute stoicism.
3rd February 2010. We have awarded Panama 1st prize for Red Tape on check-in and procedures to transit the Panama Canal . All forms and measuring done for canal transit, we travel (by taxi) through the most dangerous city in the region with US$1,500 cash to lodge in a bank which does not give out cash and hope that if we get through the canal without infringing any of its rules we can get US$850 back. We are given date of 15 February for Pylades transit and handed a set of requirements: to engage ‘4 line handlers’ buy or hire 10 car tyres and 4 lines, each 125ft in length. Have on board a working toilet and a whistle or horn! The transit will be over 2 days, we will have an ‘advisor’ on board, he is to be fed and have fresh drinking water and shelter from sun and rain.
13th February; we haul-out at Shelter Bay for a cleaning, antifouling and anode changing and general look at the hull – work flat out in the heat and Pylades looking good is returned to water 3 days later. Now we are up alongside a large motor yacht, crew gave value at US$25Mil, we observe an ongoing strange behaviour of immaculately dressed crew both male and female constantly polishing and cleaning an absolutely spotless boat. This phenomenon is repeated in every harbour a thousand times over, the other part of the non equation is that in the stifling heat this large motor yacht will run its generator all night to keep the air conditioning running, while those without air conditioners are choking on the diesel exhaust fumes. It leads at times to an exchange of opinions on rights! We briefly met the owners of this mega yacht and ascertaining that we were from Ireland asked if we know Tony O’Reilly, not personally we reply, then you must know the Smurfit’s ! Ireland is perceived to be a very small place
15th February; Transit day at 15.00 we are boarded by our line handlers : Pat the tough single handing English woman, Henric from Sweden, and Laura part Italian and Venezuelan and of many languages, K will also be a line handler. We motor out to the flats and immediately are boarded by our pilot / advisor, Freddie, jovial. We raft up with two catamarans on our starboard side and enter the first lock behind a medium sized freighter. Lines are thrown down by the ‘monkey-fist throwers ‘which we attach to our lines and all are pulled back up and secured, much to-do with engines forwarding and reversing, finally we put engine in neutral. Boiling turbulence as the lock fills and we rise 25ft. This is repeated three times before we steam off into the Gatun Lake and tie to a mooring buoy for the night.
16th February; Rise at 06.00 to spot lights and pilots boarding, minutes later we are steaming for the Miraflores locks 30 odd miles away. Our advisor this day is Milano, a very professional charming man. We apparently have to enter the locks at 11.00 – our speed is good and in fact have to slow down to await boats coming behind us – the journey through the raised artificial lake is wonderful with lots of information from Milano,–with baking smells wafting from below as K does the catering.
The scale of the entire canal system begins to dawn on one as we progress. We reflect on the 30,000 workers who died during the construction of the whole system, mainly from malaria all to serve the interests of commerce to cut its losses and costs on the Cape Horn route, one can bet that it was never envisaged that it would also serve the interests of the cruising sailor. At 11.00 we lock into the first of the three Miraflores locks and drop the 75’ until the final gate opens and we are at Pacific level. We break up the raft and motor to the gigantic Bridge of the Americas, there our pilot departs, and we pass under the bridge. With our hearts in our mouths head out into the broad expanse of the Pacific.
MILAGE TO DATE 7062
PANAMA CITY AND VOYAGE TO LAS PERLAS AND GALAPAGOS
16th February ; 13.00 we set our anchor in Playita de Amador and transport ashore our very helpful and good fun line handlers on the canal transit, they depart for Shelter Bay, we bid our farewells as it is unlikely in the course of things that we should run into Pat, Hendric and Laura again. The anchorage is not particularly restful as the constant movement of pilot boats, tugs and the transiting ships send in their wash making us roll and pitch day and night. The bars ashore are lacklustre and there is no obvious congregating point for sailors. Over the next few days we explore the city, sometimes by the very colourful, loud buses, very cheap at 25c. per person, per trip. But it is difficult to determine where you may end up and impossible to get either route map or time table. Otherwise we go by taxi, every time bargaining, for there are prices for locals and ‘Gringo’ prices and only the very foolish would get into a taxi before agreeing the price.
18th February; the old city is partially in ruins but being slowly restored to its former glory, the new city is vast with ultra modern malls contrasting with immense slum areas of endemic poverty. Quinto de Mayo we were told was a place we had to visit, must be the cheapest street in town reading glasses $1.50 Polarized sun glasses $1.00 – we bought lots of bits and pieces to use for trading in future Pacific islands – this tip given to us by a veteran American sailor. At the end of the street was a very large supermarket and here we started the process of provisioning for the long Pacific runs – this task was to take over a week. Loading up two trolleys with non perishable goods of all kinds, for the word is that while you may be able to get some of these good in the Pacific islands they will be VERY much more expensive, so we stock and we shop and it goes on and on. The pile is brought back to the dingy dock in a taxi we load the dingy, load the boat, Kay makes it all disappear but making large running lists of where all the items are stored. The most vital part of this process was of course the wine and for storage it has to be boxed, ‘Clos vino blanco’ was the winner on Pylades and at $2 per litro, it is stuffed into every crevice of the boat, all other boats were loading hundreds of boxes of Clos or the more expensive Frontera wine at $2.25 per litre ! – some had converted their extra bathroom with shelves to hold the wine. Not Until New Zealand or Australia, we are told, will there be decent priced wines or wine at all !!! Scary.
26th February 2010; Returning in the dingy to Pylades after a walk ashore and a quite pint we were immediately into big seas the wind had shifted 180 degrees to the south, 20 knots and rising and with a large fetch in that direction the seas were now occasionally breaking. Boarding Pylades from the dingy was in itself a touch dramatic. Yachts were dragging their anchors and mayhem grew, the vhf filled with voices – some asking help, others reporting yachts dragging with no crew on board, this was just after darkness and a sizeable number of people were ashore. A large cat alongside us started to drag and while we had two anchors down and were holding, we decided to break out and run to weather into the dark but safer sea. Thirty five minutes later we were anchored in calm water at the other side of the causeway. There we cooked dinner and sipped some wine watching the lights of the yachts on the windward side gyrate wildly, only about three of us came around.
27th February: Back in the south anchorage when about 7.00 this morning a Swedish vessel was drifting past and calling us. There has been a large earthquake in Chile and a tsunami warning has been issued for this coast it is due to strike at 8.50. Anchors were being broken out all over the place and we all headed for deep water. For the next few hours as we drifted a few miles off the coast reports and rumors abounded, Valparaiso has been badly damaged, Easter island has been evacuated! . The most dramatic came at about 10.00 when we got a report of a wall of water turning into Panama bay, never was a bay scanned with binoculars so much. Hatches were sealed all deck items were secured but thankfully nothing transpired, all boats returned to anchor. Since then there has been a constant call out for sightings of a missing 14M steel yacht ‘Discovery Sailing Academy.” with five persons on board, who departed from Salinas, Ecuador headed to Colquinbo, Chile, and may have been in the vicinity of Juan Fernandez Island when the Chilean tsunami hit. As of this date he is still posted as missing.
Every morning the anchorage ran a very efficient radio net, the speed and efficiency with which the yanks can run these is very impressive. Any question can be raised, information on all topics gleaned. One morning Fergus with a persistent sore throat asked the whereabouts of an English speaking doctor, a curt response came from a Dutch boat, ‘’Call by after the net’, we did, there were two doctors on board from Holland with 35 years GP practice behind them , an instant examination in the cockpit and a recommendation for an antibiotic. That’s net service for you! No prescriptions are issued in Panama, all and any medicine can be bought on demand at the counter. Later we discovered another strange anomaly when we went to send a postcard home, there is no postage delivery service in all of Panama, if you want to receive mail one has to set up a mail box and go and collect it. There is only one post office in all of this city.
6th March; saw us at a party organised for the ‘Pacific Puddle Jumpers’ partially sponsored by the tourist board of French Polynesia, they had put some prizes up for raffle. The top prize a black pearl in a setting and it was won by …… yacht ‘Pylades‘. Not quite sure what one does with a ‘black pearl, but now that we are a pearl ship are we more exposed to pirate attack!.
7th March; 07.30 we stow anchors and bunker up with as much diesel and water as the ship will carry and set sail for the Las Perlas islands. With a fine wind we arrive off Contadora faster than expected and pick up a mooring. There are about five other boats there. It is an unusual place in so much as it is a Island of holiday homes for the rich of Panama. It has some roads, an airport and a well kept atmosphere generally. This contrasts with many large hotel projects which have failed and fallen into ruins. The original population of these islands had been famous pearl divers, the Spanish conquistadors conquered the islands, stole everything and enslaved its people and as far as we could ascertain its original population were almost eliminated. After two days we push south to the island of Ampon , anchored in a sheltered and very deserted bay.
Exploring by dingy we land at a village, the people appear of African rather than Indian descent, a street of desperate shacks at the end of which was a tiny disheveled church without door or window with old pallets serving as tables, everything was infused with a foreboding sense of poverty. While the people were friendly they were ashamed we were looking at their village and we were ashamed as fellow humans to be a witness to it. We did not take any photographs. On our departure a man asked us to give him our outboard engine. Our attempts to explain why we need to retain it seemed somehow feeble. The wealth of the world is indeed very poorly distributed.
10th March; Isla Canas, again a fabulous anchorage, deserted beaches everywhere one more beautiful than the next. Dingy over a dodgy breaking river bar and explore up one of the rivers, strange unknown iridescent birds burst out of the jungle canopy, shy iguanas dart along the shore, rays pass under the dingy, owls cooing unseen in the trees. Ashore we go chasing land crabs. Back on board a man calls in a dugout canoe, he has paddled miles from the far village of Esmeralda to sell us fish and bananas We buy some and say we will call to his village to take on some water tomorrow. Next day we motor up to his village, children in dugouts converge and board, our man from the village arrives and promises to return with water, he does, we feed the children with soft drinks and biscuits pay them to take our rubbish ashore. They insist on this and promise to dispose of it properly. We up and leave to the Galapagos, 940 miles to the SSW. As we leave the Las Perlas, eagle ray’s leap into the air they are about 1.5M across and hit the water with a mighty crash.
14th March; 6kts of wind on the nose, sail a bit, motor a bit , the tacking angles and speed are awful over the next five days as we pass down through the ITCZ (inter tropical convergence zone), beset by shifting light winds and poor progress, two days of rain coming down in solid sheets thunder and lightening and its dark by day and no visibility what so ever at night, the rain is so dense that the radar cannot penetrate. We trust that there is no shipping out there.
17th March; St. Shamrocks day, dawns bright and cheerful, blue sky and a freshening wind from the south, on starboard tack into the Ecuadorian coast. This would appear to be against all logic, but the pilot insists this is the wise move, it urges not to attempt to close haul towards the Galapagos until one can point well to the south of them. Boats that end up north of the islands will have to contend with a current stream of up to two knots and will be in a right kettle of fish. 50 miles later we tack for our target now 400 odd miles away, The sea is calm, the sky is blue, the breeze is just perfect, Pylades is holding just under 7 knots and every 12 hours or so the sheets can be freed a tad, this is sailing as it should be. On this Paddy’s Day the equator is crossed, approaching the ‘line’ our GPS (Global Position System) counted down to N 00.00.000 and then read S 00.00.001 – it was kind of an emotional moment, we toasted with a drink of whiskey gave Neptune a capful and took of photo holding green bananas as no shamrock on board !! . In the night sky we see Southern Cross.
20th March; Early morning, ‘land ahoy’ the enchanted isles. At midday Pylades is anchored in Wreck Bay, Isla San Cristobal . We are delighted to be here following in the wake of so many before us, the Beagle with Charles Darwin on board. His book, The Origen of Species, was hugely inspired by his findings and observations during his stay in the Galapagos. A copy of this is on board and has been read on this passage, a heavy read but his arguments were very detailed and precise as he knew this book would shake the world and its belief systems to the core.
We are not permitted to leave our boat until it is first visited by the Port Captain, he arrives very smartly with the agent who will handle all our paper work, consisting of a stamp on our passport and a permit to exit the Galapagos after the 20 days allotted to us . As the day wares on and more agents, officials etc, have to be dealt with the temper of the skipper begins to fray and K deals with the officialdom !. We are told that we cannot move to any other island or bay, Wreck Bay prison!. We cough up a total of US$260 for all sorts of things. That evening we relax with a beer, cool down and relish our position.
All transport ashore is by water taxi 50c per person $1 at night, this is for two reasons, one the occasional high surge but more importantly the sea lions, the bay has thousands of sea lions. They would board a moored or beached dingy and their weight would quickly reduce same to a pancake. One climbs on to our stern and sleeps, but is really eyeballing the cockpit, these sea lions are very big as is their smell and their droppings – so we ask it to leave, it barks and snaps its teeth, we produce the boat hook he takes off – for now. We then tie a line of defensive fenders at the stern. One Australian boat has electric fence erected – I kid not ! he brought it with pirates in mind but needs be…..
We visit the interpretative center just outside the town, it is very good with a full, in your face emphasis on evolution. The skipper later, to his horror, discovers that the local people take none of that on board as all the children of the island are still thought creationism !
Over the next few days we explore the town and its surrounds. People appear to be reasonably well off in third world terms, but the infrastructure leaves a bit to be desired. Ships delivering all the goods to the island offload by derrick into barges the goods are then manhandled ashore. To fuel the fishing boats and tourist boat, a truck with an open 100gal drums of petrol parks on high ground, places a very long plastic hose from the top of the drum to a boat below surging on anchor., a siphon is started and away we go …. health and safety how are ye; at least no one was smoking. In the supermarket, the manager recognises our Irish accent, introduces himself as Tony Castro Iglaise, offering his help if we need it.
A day later trying to get a SS fitting to take off salt water to the sink , we thought of Tony, within minutes we were at a steel fabricators and the order was placed, it was to be ready the next day, Tony suggested going with us to collect the fitting otherwise we would be charged Gringo prices, we did, he negotiated, it was very good value for US$30, business done we headed for a drink and discovered that many years ago he had taken care of an Irish boat as the crew had to fly home for their fathers funeral, the boat was ‘Golden Apple’ and the man who died was Hugh Coveney, who had lectured me when I was an Architectural student in the School of Art in Cork all those years ago, the world can be smaller than we imagine.
26th March; we had organised a tour with an English speaking taxi driver/guide. However, the tourists were the only ones who turned up. All was reorganized for Sunday 28th March. We took off on a tramp to the airport, why we still can’t figure out, are we missing something??. Then went on a great coast walk coming across all sorts of wonders, including a statue of the man him self, Darwin, overlooking the bay the Beagle first landed. Everywhere we looked were species of plant, insects, lizard, bird that had our heads agog.
28th March; The organised tour finally gets under way, Pico, our English speaking driver and guide and three couples – all the men sitting in the back of an open pick up truck we head for the hills. We drive along with Pico who is telling stories and pointing out interesting flora and fauna, and history to the ladies indoors and then shouting out the window the same facts for us men seated in the open – we understand the odd word ! He drives us to the banana and coffee plantations, then we walk to the rim of an extinct volcano, at that altitude the air was moist and cool and the ferns looked very familiar. On to a great and very explicit tour of a turtle breeding farm. Most amazing creatures they are. The whalers over the past millennia killed and carried away tens of thousands of turtles for meat aboard the ships, three of the species are now extinct and the introduction by man of, cats, the black rat, goats gone feral, threaten the remaining with the same fate. So they now take many of the remaining turtles from the wild get them to breed in ‘protection’ and return them to the wild after 7 years.
The tale of ‘Lonesome George’ the last of a species of giant turtle who appears to be about two hundred years old was that he will not mate with any female of similar species, so a lady from Switzerland has been trying to encourage him for six months in the hope of getting some sperm and artificially inseminate some of the girly turtles, so far no luck. What man will do to make up for his misdeeds against nature? We finished off our tour with lunch in a very nice farmhouse restaurant, a fine simple meal of foods grown and chicken reared on the farm , at the end of our meal lady of the farm directed us to the hammocks in the shade – all a bit decadent really, but most enjoyable. A bunch of green bananas was cut from a tree in the garden; two persons could barely carry it we collectively bought it for US$6.00.
Today, 30th March; spent chasing diesel and water. Skipper when snorkeling down under the hull cleaning the propeller and shaft is joined by two young curious and playful sea lions. They come within inches of his face mask and spin around his body. One sticks his head between the shaft and the hull and winked at me. After a while I take their constant presence for granted. The water temperature is cooler than the Caribbean and is getting cooler, we are assured this is a good sign as it indicates the weak El Nino is further declining, time will tell!
Some evenings we wander the town and have a beer, chatting with fellow sailors, the countries represented are mainly America, Australia, Canada, UK, Norway, France, and sighted for the first time ever, the land of the rising sun, a few young men from Japan. We are going through a constant checking of Pylades, as one laconic yank put it, long distance cruising is boat maintenance in exotic locations.
4th April; Tony comes out to visit us on board, as he lives and works both on the island and the mainland he is a wealth of information. He tells us of the very high level of AIDS on the island and the corruption at high levels. He also confirms that despite all the benefit brought to the islands by the work of Charles Darwin and his ‘Origins of the Species’ they still teach the children ‘creationism’ the art of reason does indeed have a long road to travel.
Orders are placed for final top ups of water and diesel, we have applied for our departure papers and zarpe, a load of old cobblers, but an excuse by the powers that be to attempt to control the movements of the cruising sailor and charge for the privilege.
5th April; Well stocked up again with water and fuel , it is time to push on and we set our faces for our longest sail out to the west, ever west, 3000 miles of ocean to the islands of the French Marquesas.
MILES SAILED SINCE BELL HARBOUR……. 8198.00
VOYAGE FROM GALAPAGOS TO FRENCH POLYNESIA.
The first experience can never be repeated.
The first love, the first sun-rise, the first south sea island,
Are memories apart, and touched a virginity of sense.
R.L.Stevenson (1850-1894) From ‘In the South Seas’
5th April; a south east wind of 14knots blows outside Wreck Bay on the island of San Cristobal, Galapagos, under full sail Pylades runs off down the rhumb line on the longest crossing yet with over 3,000 miles to our planned destination, the French Marquesas. Conditions are perfect, blue sky, 6 knots plus a knot of current. With the approaching night, the wind dies, the sea swell increases and it rains. These would be the conditions over the next few days, good sailing interspersed with a bit of motoring. All indications by our weather forecast GRIB files, which we download every day, was the more consistent wind lay further to the southwest. At 08.00 and at 20.00 we listen on SSB MHz 8104 and get the positions of other boats on passage and reports on weather conditions. Some days it’s all crackle and pop and others clear as a bell. With lots of ‘good copy’ ‘negative’ copy, how you folks doing? ‘Roger’ the accents of the world pour forth. Positions are logged and if folks were to go missing it would decrease the search area!
6th April; 12.00 the first day’s run 146 miles, this is pretty good considering we were under engine for a good part of the day which brings the average down, but a 1kt west going stream more than compensated. Watch system is divided into three hour slots, from 21.00 to 00.00, midnight to 03.00, 03.00 to 06.00 and so on, both taking rest during, the day. Since we have set up better cockpit reading lights the night watches are a great time for reading and writing.
Kay’s farming has now paid off and we have fresh basil on hand, two 4”x4” pots one with basil and one with cress are under constant care. Unfortunately over the following weeks with the surfeit of flying spray the crop diminished.
9thApril; a pod of large deep breathers surround the boat riding our bow wave, bigger than the Atlantic dolphins, they throw up sheets of water in a display of awesome swimming power, study our whale identification book and conclude that they are false killer whales. We conclude that the title ‘Pacific’ might be a misnomer, large swells up to 3.6M coming up from the SE but not quite in line with the wind waves cause a lot of twisting and throwing of the boat and its contents, us. Due to the occasional wave breaking over the boat we cannot afford to open hatches and it’s hot and clammy below so we unscrew the fan from the unoccupied front cabin and fit it over the leeward bunk, big improvement. Over the next nine days the wind continues to hold fresh and our runs improve. Our best being 166 miles on the 15th.
16th April; passed the halfway mark at 03.00, plan to celebrate with a glass of wine before dinner. This is likely to be the most remote point either of us will ever again be on earth from land or civilization. The night sky is glorious with the waxing moon, the complexity, depth and the brilliance of the starscape make the night watches stunning. Shooting stars flash across the sky as another piece of galactic debris incinerates in our atmosphere. The rim of our galaxy, the Milky Way glows so bright that its reflection is caught by the sea. All watched over by the Southern Cross and its unfamiliar outriders.
GRIB files which we receive through our SSB and pactor modom are showing a diminution of wind and sea between here and our destination. It is also likely that our beneficial west going ocean stream will also diminish. The ocean is teaming with flying fish, generally smaller than those found in the western Atlantic, they are of many species some tiny, like beautiful fishy butterflies to species about 150mm long which can stay airborne for hundreds of meters. At night ‘the watch’ reading in the cockpit can be joined by a flapping fairy which you feel obliged to rescue, they, however, will do everything to prevent being picked up, so you end up covered in fish scale fragrance. In one night 28 flying fish were cleared off the deck.
20th April; An American, his wife and 11 year old daughter had set off a couple of days before us in a 46’ motorboat and thousands of gallons of fuel on the long haul, we had been in touch over SSB radio so we knew his position and speed – a steady 5knots and track, at 03.00 hours we picked up his lights and at dawn, intercept. It was a great diversion as we sailed down on him and took a load of photos in the large swell, I think they were genuinely pleased to see us and we them. We are social animals after all and out on this vast plain of water the sight of this vessel struggling through the seas was somehow appealing. They took some great photos of Pylades.
22nd April; wind backs more to the east and we change from a broad reach to a run, this is the first time we have altered the rig in about 13days apart from our mid sea encounter. The motion of the boat improves as we put the big swells directly behind us. The average speed over the 3000 miles worked out at 6.32knots helped by the west flowing current, much better than anticipated.
26th April; through the night a dark mass to the west grows ever larger, land ahoy! We hove to off the island of Hiva Oa, of the French Marquesas Islands and at sunrise slide into Traitors Bay to enter the anchorage of Atuona. We lay out bow and stern anchors to mitigate the swell.. All trace of tiredness vanish as we take in the soaring hills swept with mist in the early morning sun, the smell of the land trees and growth pervade our senses, the effect after our time on the ocean is stunning. The Marquesas islands consist of about a dozen islands and only about 6,000 people on them altogether. They have the reputation for being the most beautiful islands on the face of the earth. They are also an archaeological treasure house – their distance from anywhere makes them difficult to visit and adds to their magic. We check in with the Gendarme, a very painless procedure compared to the insanity of Panama and the Galapagos.
The only disadvantage of the anchorage is the opaque water and the recommendation that one does not swim due to the presence of sharks. We enquire further about this and were informed that no one has been killed but a few years ago a man had his arm almost severed by a shark and had to be rushed by air to Tahiti for repairs. We concur with this recommendation. Recent reports are that a group of five people snorkeling were circled by Hammerheads a week before we arrived, and encouraged to abandon the water promptly, albeit with no attack.
There is a tap and shower on the quayside spouting the best water we ever tasted, we stand under the pipe and luxuriate in this exquisite power shower of the mountains as it washes the salt from our very bones. A bottle of Champagne which we have carried from Ireland for this occasion is opened and we quaff with impunity, count our blessings and sleep the sleep of sleeps.
Over the next few days we explore the village, visiting Paul Gauguin’s museum and muse in his ‘House of Pleasure’, visit his grave high on the slopes above the village. Near him is the grave of Jacque Brel ’la famous French singer’. We go tramping to view stone cut petroglyphs located deep in the jungle interior. These and the remnants of the Tiki’s, the very strange indeed fearsome stone carving of previous gods many of which have been destroyed or at least castrated by the missionaries are scattered throughout all the islands. Before the arrival of the Spanish and French the islands had a population of about 80,000. These were reduced by, guns, germs, missionaries and steel to the existing 6000.
1st May; exit for the island of Tahuata and the anchorage at Hanamoenoe which was one of the ‘Hiscocks’ favorites. Only a very pleasant 7 miles away and the water is clear, so snorkeling recommences and a very beautiful sandy beach caressed with the ubiquitous coconut palms. Land crabs abound ashore and we encounter the largest hermit crabs, one of which takes a shine to Kay’s finger, that is dropped fairly quickly. Next day we move a few miles to Hapatoni which provides very high quality snorkeling. A huge pod of spinner dolphins occupy the anchorage and perform much ‘spinning’ as they spook the fish shoals and consume. A visit to the beautiful village, tree lined road, one store, church, we meet some of the ‘carvers’ who make a living carving from bone and wood, face masks, spears, paddles etc. lovely gentle people.
4th May ; a fine sail to Hiva Oa and anchor at Hanamenue which proves so unsettled and rolly that we push on for Baie Hanaiapa. During our scout of the village ‘William’ intercepts and introduces himself, we go to his ‘yacht club’ house and sign in his log of all the yachts that have called over the years, Pylades was the first Irish boat he had recorded. He gives us quantities of pamplemousse, red and standard bananas and looks to trade first for antibiotics—no deal, then settles for a few cans of beer and popcorn. He asks to visit Pylades, we row him out for coffee and cake but he quickly becomes unsettled by the roll and requests transport ashore.
Two days later yet another great sail to the island of Ua-Pou with its pinnacled rocky coast, some shaped like witches hats. Lofty cliffs penetrated by deep inlets. Entering the harbor of Hakahua we moored Mediterranean style behind the breakwater. This was a tiny town, beautiful, our walks into the hills were very enjoyable, in the evenings families gathered in groups on the beach, lit fires, roasted pig played soft music and danced. The sandstorm incident whereby some sweet person had decided to store fine sand on the breakwater which blew copious amounts onboard, saw us attempting to leave – can we exit , no – a dredger has commenced work in the harbour and has run cables to the breakwater effectively jailing us, we can leave tomorrow they say. BUT on our last night on this island the local football team was celebrating a ‘win’, the village came out to celebrate with lots of eating and singing and the final curse had yet to descend. At 03.00am a gang of youths arrived in the harbour with boom boxes and blast us into constant awakeness with Polynesian rap which sounds just as bad as any other rap. The skipper fumes in his bunk conjuring up torments in the deepest recesses of hell for the nincompoop who invented amplifiers.
9th May ; We escape Ua-Pou,:a wild and very fast sail under a clear blue sky, waves wash across the boat washing away our sand deposits and our boom box blues for 25 miles to Taiohae Bay on the island of Nuka Hiva. We set bow and stern anchor to keep us into the prevailing swell in the crater of this awesome extinct volcano. Lots of boats on anchor but plenty of space and of course all free. The town of Taiohae, the adminsitrative centre of Nuka Hiva and the entire Marquesas, is a small town with a vegetable/fruit market and two supermarkets, limited supplies and quite expensive, ‘Gort prices but not Gort quality’. One never sees fresh fish for sale but loads of tinned fish and freezer full of frozen fish fingers. People are generally most friendly and always ‘bon jour’ smile. Four days pass quickly but lulled by the tales of other more exotic bays we decided to circumnavigate the island.
14th May; a few hours motor sailing into a headwind brings to Hakahoa bay, and at its head the village spelt ‘Typee’ by Herman Melville who stayed in the area about 1820 for a few months and became the subject of one of his most famous books of that name. It was here, on a lake that the apparently very fair ‘Fayaway’ heroine of the book removed her pareu to become a sail and she the naked mast to transfix the hero Tommo and legions of readers of his book who to this day seek out the sensuality of these south sea islands. As we walked into the village we beheld what we assumed to be the featured freshwater lake, and there frolicking in the water, three very fair replicas of the famed maiden. Further along our path was a large group of villagers listening to a live band and playing boules! What enhancements the French have brought.
When anchoring earlier, we had been struck by the murkiness of the water, but night time brought a phenomenon, the intensity of which, we had not before witnessed. The density of phosphorescence in the water caused the whole bay to glow. The night sky was unusually cloudy and dark and likewise the surrounding hills, providing a perfect setting for the bay and particularly all around the boat to produce this eerie glow and onto this stage danced the light actors, a glow of brighter light would zigzag towards the boat and transform into a light fringed ray. Darting bolts of light as fish sought or avoided being prey. Finally the piece de resistance, a hammerhead shark with all its leading detail reveled in perfect traceries of light and its threshing tail but a swirl of flame. We spent hours peering over the guard rails watching this show before tiredness brought our sleepy heads to bed.
The next jump brought us to Baie D’anaho, we had intended spending just a night there, but as soon as we had the anchor down and took in our surroundings our will to move was severely dented. This must surly be the finest, calmest stop in the Marquesas. The snorkeling is magnificent, though the skipper is a bit taken aback when a six foot white tipped reef shark slides by him. He is assured later by a local that “ no they have not harmed anyone” One night we have a beach BBQ with some of the boats and we sing songs of Ireland and play the box.
21st May; Decision made to move on, however, the skipper’s impatience in trying to lift the anchor cable from the cockpit results in a major jamb of the rode in the windlass. Nothing for it only to dismantle a section of same, it proved easier than expected but took about an hour. Just again, about to leave Kay announces that the bathroom is flooded and water rising fast. Pumps are produced in double quick time and the hunt for the leak commences. First taste the water, salty. That rules out all internal plumbing and tanks. All sea cocks check out OK, Stern gland OK, got it!, the engine cooling water anti siphon drain was disconnected and now discharging into the bilge. Shut down the engine, pump out and mop up all around and we are on our way.
A two hour motor and anchor at the town of Hatiheu., a small village beautiful with its exotic flower lined street in which stood one store, post office and red tin roofed church dedicated to Joan of Arc. The setting is again exquisitely dramatic with soaring rock spires rising out of lush green forest. We walked up behind the village in search of the famous archeological sites, there are no signs, no maps, no tourists, so we ask direction for the archeological sites from a very authentic looking local, he insists we jump into the back of his pickup and tears off up into the hills. It is an exhilarating ride standing on the back holding firmly on to the cage and ducking down as branches sweep the truck. An abrupt stop at the edge of a jungle clearing, he points out the sites. We shake his hand many ‘mercies’ are offered and he is gone. We were not prepared for what we see, the site covers tens of acres of intricate stone paving and levels. These ruins are of an advanced society, with town planning, statues of their Tiki gods are scattered throughout. But the fact that jungle was now encroaching into the heart of these ruins and they were almost in darkness, and the only calling bird was a coarse croaking from the raven like bird gave the whole scene a macabre feeling. This being reinforced by the presence of deep circular cells, these were said to imprison victims, for fattening prior to ritual sacrifice and consumption. It must be borne in mind that these tales may well have been fabricated by the following ‘civilization’ to blacken and therefore justify the destruction and wholesale slaughter of the previous. The Tiki images have now been replaced by crucifixions and statues of virgin’s and the legends or otherwise of human sacrifices and consumption by that of the mass and communion. The following day Kay was speaking with the lady who ran the village store, she tried to discuss her visit to the ‘sites’, three or four times each time the subject was changed., Kay eventually gave up ! Had we stumbled across huge taboos with some sections of society wishing to eliminate all references and traces of the past and others wishing to integrate the past more into their present lives?
22nd May; after a fine rollicking sail in a fresh breeze we shoot our chain in Haahopu a much less dramatic setting than that we had grown used to. Unfortunately a gathering of campers were ensconced at the head of the bay and were ensuring that its environs were filled with ghastly sounds of boom boxes at max volume, sound has no borders, even in the most remote corners of the world. The sight of many children gave hope that at bed time silence might prevail. Sure enough about 22.00 brought a major reduction in volume and sleep won the night. Early next morning a resumption of canned sound helped speed our departure. By 11.00 we were entering the awesome Daniels Bay. Daniel and his wife had apparently lived here for well nigh sixty years. However, rumour has it that a film company had paid him to demolish his house, that they might use the whole bay as a film set and one can see why., he now resides in the village.
24th May; A hike to the waterfall at the head of the bay : passing up the river by dingy we tie to a tree and commence a two and a half hour walk first through almost manicured banana and coconut plantation and then through dense jungle paths. All the time leading between steeper and higher mountains with the roar of a river, we were running out of superlatives to describe the stunning scenes that graced our eyes. The water fall, the third highest in the world, was unfortunately running a little dry, it being the dry season. To get under the fall one had to swim across a deep cool pool, scramble through some rocks then across another pool, looking at the water cuts in the rock I suspect one would not go into the second pool while the fall was in spate. On our way back we again had to plunge in the rivers rushing torrents, having being so frugal with fresh water for so long one just has to revel in its copious quantities.
25th May; returning to Taiohae where we started our circumnavigation of Nuka Hiva Kay goes to check out with the Gendarme, who stamp nothing, issue nothing and just wish her ‘bon voyage’. A burst of diesel and food shopping and we are on our way to the Tuamotu Islands 485 miles to the SW and a little sad to leave the Marquesas which we feel may well be the jewel of the Polynesian islands, we shall see .
27th May; first day out was plain sailing fair winds of 14 knots, light seas, warm and sunny. The night had been dominated by a magnificent full moon, but they say that for the benefit of sailing under a full moon one pays the price of squalls. And so it came to pass and on the second night Kay on watch called all hands on deck as a line squall was upon us. The wind which had been a steady 12 knots was now 28 and the rain was stair rods” have you felt the thresh of the deep sea rain” quote. Lots of reefing with the benefit of a cold water shower. This was to be the pattern of the rest of our trip SW. Over canvassed, under canvassed. Dawn on the 29th finds us off the west coast of Manihi, a thirteen mile long line of surf, we were on the lee of the island topped by dense lines of coconut trees. These are the notorious islands of the Tuamotu archipelago with its many shoals and poor anchorages with a reputation of being one of the most notorious ship-swallower’s in the Pacific.
Pylades has now got the brakes on to arrive at the proper time, downing sail and scudding before the breeze. At the south west tip of the atoll, sail is rehoisted and we close-haul to the south coast entrance pass. The optimum time for entry is given as; low water plus one hour or about 13.30, we decide to wait until 11.30 to get the sun ,or what’s there of it, high enough to read the coral heads..
With mainsail set and engine buzzing, we go for it, breaking through the turbulence rushing out the entrance at us, after the three green marks have passed to port, a more worrying turbulence about two thirds of the way in is observed. However, being assured of depth, press on to be hit by this rush of water on the starboard driving us towards the port side reef. Engine now to full power and within another ten minutes a shaken skipper turns the north cardinal and heads to wind across the atoll. Kay calls directions on avoiding the coral heads which rise to just below the surface from the bottom of the lagoon. A French yacht which has followed us in lacks the power; we see them fall back before the stream. But the courage of the French prevails; they hoist all sail and develop the power to break through. We are in our first atoll.
31st May; a day of great beauty spent walking the windward side of the motu the surf roaring in on the coral reef while we pick shells and observe the abundant marine and bird life. The high surf is breaking about 50meters out on the edge of the reef and the space from there to the beach is approx. 400mm deep, all sorts of unidentified crabs, eels, and small fish abound. We notice some tiny purple fish being cast on the sand and we rescue some. But then look down the length of the beach, millions are stranded, musing on the proliferate ways of evolution and nature, we cast a cold eye on life, on death, and pass by.
1st June; howling squalls, lighting , thunder and persistent rain all night and a forecast that says the stationary front that sits on us should stay for a few days. The sky is relentless grey, we are reminded of home. It is a constant much cooler 25deg and so much easier to do bits of boat work. After lunch we motor in the dingy to the village of Manihi where everyone is very friendly, the village had none of the order and wealth of the Marquesas. The 600 people of this small atoll belong apparently to seven separate church congregations, pious people of dissipate persuasions. We buy a few items in the local shop where the stocks are sparse; we buy the single piece of vegetable, a tomato it is weighed, costed and paid for. As we wet shoppers motor back to base against the wind and the rain, we gaze at the 3M shark keeping pace along side.
2nd June; an enormous and much tattooed native in an outrigger canoe boards. He calls for a table with cloth and like a Fagin from every pocket, pearls of all shapes, form and cost are produced and his wares are spread across the table. Our obvious apprehension dissuades him from trying to sell us the main items at many hundred a shot. Kay and he hunch over the goods and trading commences. The end result is one and half bottles of rum for two rings and a fistful of pearls. We feel a right pair of oceanic traders, we doubt our dealings to be cutting edge, but then rum had been but $6.00 a bottle in Panama.
3rd June; plan to exit Manihi, pack away the dingy and make ready for sea, but our anchor is locked firmly to a coral head 36’ below, every dodge is tried, the skipper snorkeled down but visibility had deteriorated and 30’ is now about max depth to accomplish anything. However, help was at hand, an adjacent French yacht watching all the goings-on shout over ‘ve are sa diver , in minutes one of them donned his gear and in a cloud of bubbles descends. He attaches a line to the crown of our anchor. With Kay translating, he instructed, loose chain, motor forward, winch line, presto we are free. We present a bottle of Paddy. The pass is calm and course is set for Rangiroa, a journey of less than 100 miles to the South West.
A squally night, over reefed Pylades slides slowly along and arrives at the Rangiroa pass with the flood. From a distance it looked impassable, however we were off line and as soon as the range markers lined up it was no problem. .The anchorage was delightful, silky smooth; one could see the anchor bedding into the sand 30ft. down the crystal clear water. This atoll is the second largest in the world about 40×17 miles but the land strip running around its outer edge is but a few hundred meters wide, and in a few sections no land at all just reef.
The order of the day was every morning and an hour and a half snorkeling on the coral heads before breakfast and admiring the vast hoards of reef fish and coral formations all within a hundred meters of the boat. On the second day we noticed an unidentified fish had been circling Kay and obviously had also being thinking about breakfast. For just as she was about to board the dingy, like lightening it went for her finger, we were both rather taken aback to put it mildly, Kay a little more so as the teeth slashed her finger blood spewed forth, all headed back for the ship and the TCP. By the time we reach Daly’s of Bellharbour this story may well have grown wings and be a full scale shark attack!!
8th June; our French gets us into trouble ordering petrol for the outboard engine, we get a 1:50 mix which does not dawn on us until the engine begins to run poorly and finally gives up. Time is spent draining the fuel tank, carburetor and lines. A loan of a pair of bicycles is offered` from another boat sailing with an intriguing young Russian woman and a German man. Offering the fuel free to a dive school as we notice they have two stroke engines. They take the fuel but give us back the same quantity in pure petrol, problem solved. We then take off on the bikes and have a glorious three hours cycling the motu.
10th June; very reluctant and sad we are to leave this glorious atoll, but water tanks are running low and the fleshpots of Tahiti are calling. Exiting the pass at 14.00 the flood runs against us, indicating that the tide tables must not be taken too seriously.
12th June; after two nights and a day of idyllic sailing in light wind, no sea and 210 miles we arrive off Papeete harbour, calling channel 12 for clearance.. It is still dark as we follow the leading lights through the entrance, as the night retreats the quite harbor is revealed. Picking up stern lines Pylades moors bow on to the dock in the town centre. That night the crew dines out in a street cafe. A most memorable evening, excellent food with a setting and characters such as the two girls from Paris who dance barefoot most beautifully, all worthy of a “Toulouse Lautrec’ painting and we too dance under the night sky of Tahiti in the streets of Papeete.
MILES SAILED SINCE BELL HARBOUR…….12238
LOG – SOCIETY ISLANDS TO NIUE
“In 1768 a bare-breasted Tahitian girl climbed from her canoe to a French ship under the hot-eyed gaze of 400 French sailors who had not seen any woman at all for over six months. She stepped to the quarterdeck where, pausing at a hatchway, she slipped the flimsy cloth pareu from her hips, and stood utterly naked and smiling at the men. Down went the anchor, and in that moment the myth of romantic Tahiti was conceived. Like Venus rising from the waves – that was how the naked girl was described by the captain of the ship, Louis Antoine de Bougainville, the first Frenchman in Tahiti, who believed he had discovered heaven on earth “… Paul Theroux
Browsing the streets of Papeete, we met Frederica, the waitress from the Le Café des Negociants’ were we had so enjoyed our first night in town. She was an engineer on a French Navel vessel, a charming girl, not to be trifled with. She cautioned us on the markets area after nightfall as rouges and ruffians abound. Papeete is not the most attractive town especially when the light recedes, the buildings are shoddily shuttered and in our time there this was further highlighted with strikes and rumours of strikes, the streets were littered and scented with the uncollected rubbish. Dawn ushers improvement when an air of French colonialism emerges. In the colourful fruit market traditionally dressed women and beautiful girls with garlands in their hair, trade from vibrant stalls. This market was the busiest place in town from 06.00 to 15.00, some of the dealers from either necessity or security slept beneath their stalls at night.
After customs clearance and some restocking, our expedition to fill the gas bottles developed into an amazing affair, by dingy across the commercial harbour, climbing up ladders in locked docks lifting canisters with ropes ducking out through holes in fences, darting across busy road junctions to get to the filling plant. Then all repeated backwards with much heavier cylinders. A further chase all over town to get our visa extension, we were sent from pillar to post and around again. The service providers and the authorities go out of their way to make things easy for the cruising yachtsman!
However, all is made up by a night of entertainment in the town hall for the sailors, provided gratis by the Tahitian Tourist Board. First, we gather on the steps of the Hotel de Ville for the group photo and then upstairs for the party – great food, Tahitian wine and a blessing of the sailors, any scepticism of skipper was quickly banished by the form of blessing which was in the traditional mode, superb drumming and dancing. Added to this was a chance to catch up with friends made along the way and meet some new. The skipper had lent fellow sailors on s/y Scream a copy of Richard Dawkins “The Selfish Gene” it was returned on the night. Simply carrying the book around attracted a great deal of attention, people exclaiming “that is the most amazing book” “this book changed my life” etc. I enjoyed the ensuing conversations as to how much Prof. Dawkins had penetrated the sailing masses; it was a delight to converse with the literati of the sailing world.
19th June; Pylades is part of an organised rally from Papeete to the neighbouring island of Moorea. We elected to take a fine gentleman from the Ministry of Tourism on board. He spoke fluent English. We had a reasonable start amongst the fleet of 35 yachts and in very light airs pull away from the bulk of the fleet. In the channel the wind picks to 20knots, in a 3 meter swell we power away. As the reefs of Moorea come abeam, williwaws of 30knots come rushing down from the clouded peaks making us grossly over canvassed, with only a few miles to go, 8knots on the clock and in flying spray we rush towards the pass. At the party after, many and mostly ‘wives’ were asking why no reefs were being taken in such conditions as normally would happen, answer: macho of boys out playing, in sight of all the other boats, who would reef first?
Further machismo later at the party, a group of stunning local girls accompanied with powerful quality drumming dance on the beach. With the smoke of the barbeques drifting through, their sensuous dancing and meagre attire has every male riveted to the spot. Some perhaps feeling culturally challenged as in a more European society men watching girls of that age dancing beautifully might be helping police with their enquires! The following day though dark and wet does not deter the festivities too much, canoe races with mixed locals and visiting sailors six man crews, some managed to capsize adding much to the entertainment.
21st June; a routine inspection of the anchor which was well set brought an encounter with two spotted eagle rays, amazing water flyers. A puffer fish was grazing in the debris being dislodged by the movement of our anchor chain. Later, snorkelling, we are a bit stunned to find ourselves in company with many stingrays and sharks numbering around ten, who, thankfully, mind their own business and pass by – a first for K in encountering sharks, she admitted later that her heart beat was a lot faster than normal but safely back on Pylades delighted in the experience.
24th June; Dingy to Papetoai village to post cards, on the way we pay a visit to the The Road – a South African yacht heading home – they had been boarded by the Duane’s (Customs) most powerful vessel and a big pow wow arose when their parrot “Rubbish’ was found on board, it transpired his papers were not in order ! The Duane stated that ‘ze bird must go !’, the skipper, forceful in his retort, said they would have to take him first !! … the Duane retreated to consult a higher court, days later they returned, Rubbish would not be shot .. he is a fully legal guest of French Polynesia !!
We set out walking to the Belvedere, a high point with a supposedly magnificent view of the islands, without hitching we were picked up by a woman from Biarritz – got a lift all the way to the top where there is indeed a great view down to the two bays and conversations with many and varied folk who made the fatal mistake of asking us did we come by passenger ship or air, dear o dear! Hiking back down through the woods was fantastic, plunging into cool mountain streams amongst other things. At one of the many archaeological sites encountered, we meet an archaeologist whose explanations on the rites and religion in the old society added to the intrigue of our walk. One of the striking things learned was the role played by the bow and arrow – its use was allowed only for sacred games and ritual and not for any warfare, as it was considered to be ‘too dangerous’. Only direct hand to hand fighting using clubs was allowed, this would of course was to be a disaster in any conflict with the coming armed Europeans.
26th June; on beach for Pierre of Victoria a pot luck party, K makes a first class baked peach desert. We never get a spoonful, Skipper plays the box and engages in séan nós singing, previously unheard of amongst the other nationalities, they think we are brill (in the land of the blind the one eyed man is king!).
2nd July; 2 weeks we stayed on Moorea anchored in the clearest cleanest water in a depth of 4 metres. Our day commences with a visit to a tiny magasin to collect pre-ordered baguettes, then off snorkelling for an hour or so and back to Pylades for breakfast. Exploration trips in the dingy to other bays including Cooks Baie which together with Baie d’Opunohu (where Pylades was anchored) are probably the two bays which have come to represent the sailor’s idea of Polynesia. Our dingy, a ‘Honwave’ 2.7 metres with a Yamaha 4hp, 4 stroke engine has been our constant workhorse in these islands where marinas are very few and anchoring a daily event, thus far it is terrific, however, we note the majority of yacht tenders are sporting at least 15 hp engines!!! Must admit given the distances one travels to snorkelling spots and at times into towns from anchorages, it would be a good idea to power up.
We were sad to lift anchor and leave Moorea heading into the night for our voyage to Huahine in the Leeward Society Islands, some 90 miles away – our night sail was planned so as to arrive after sunrise for the entrance through the pass to Huahine. Some cross swells at first gave an uncomfortable ride but all eases back to a fine sail, at dawn the island dominates the horizon together with rest of the leeward isles stretching out to the striking beauty of Bora Bora and beyond.
3rd July; Failing to anchor on a few attempts at the town of Fare in Huahine, a trip line is set and we wrap our chain around a coral head, not environment friendly but the coral head was dead. We are invited aboard Puppy for drinks with the Russians Natasha and Anatolav who are searching the world for a business opportunity, they had been reported as lost at sea by the Russian press, Natasha had to ring home to reassure her mother that they were still alive. The next day sees us hiking into the hills and walking countless archaeological sites. These sites are not particularly old in European terms only dating back 1350 years, the demise of their power happening with the arrival of the ‘big ships’. Reports from the first missionaries were that the culture spent an inordinate amount of time in worship, ritual and sacrifice, perhaps the seeds of their own destruction.
7th July; move south about 7 miles to Avea Bay, a beautiful white sand beach, but a deep 13M and gusty anchorage. Snorkelling is the order of the day, chasing the multicoloured denizens of the shallows. On the 11th July a ninety two percent eclipse of the sun occurred reaching its maximum cover at 08.30, a bright sunny morning was transformed into an eerie twilight that silenced the birds, we got our best views by pointing the binoculars at the sun and projecting the image to a white paper, when the light returned the cocks ashore went berserk ‘two dawns!”. Following that excitement sail is set for the island of Raiatea, 22 miles to the west a fine wind sees us through the pass of Teavapiti with roaring breakers at both sides; we tie at Municipal Marina at Utaroa.
A few days are spent here taking on water, clothes washing; all is free! We take on supplies in the local fairly good supermarkets in the exceptionally dull town. On the eve of Bastille Day we are made aware of a growing rift between the local population of Polynesia and La Belle France. “If you are arrested for a crime, it will be by a white French Gendarme, you will be tried by a white French judge, sent to jail under a white French warden, the white French Gendarme are armed, the local municipal police are not” and so it went on. Bastille Day parade, celebrated under the name of the festival of Heiva by the native population, was very lively with music, dancing and colourful floats, at the rear were four huge jeeps flying American flags : was some sinister element being expressed here, a new protector, skipper felt a little chill.
Parade over, we set off to climb to the top of Mont Tapioi, about a 1000’ high overlooking reefs and out to the adjoining island of Tahaa, a well worthwhile walk we are told. As we wandered around seeking the track to the hill we were hailed by two men behind a robust steel fence who recognised we were lost. After exchanges in our pidgin French and their equivalent English we were set right. We noticed the robust steel fence was around the local jail and our guides were the inmates, even the imprisoned were charming! That evening we plan to dine out in one of the local restaurants, we get as far as sitting down and perusing the menu but the electronic drummer, again, sees us off.
15th July. Saw us give a hand to the skipper of an Australian boat to sail around the island and lift his boat out in the Careenage Marina, his future sailing plans being uncertain. His wife had collapsed on board whilst they were at sea, he put out a Pan Pan call and was directed to Raiatea where there is a hospital. The prognosis was a stroke, she was flown to Papeete and from there back to Australia. They were sailing home following 16 years cruising; a distressing and sad experience. Latest news on his wife is that she is making very good progress.
16th July; we head southeast to visit the great Marae Taputaputea the most important archaeological site in French Polynesia. Arriving at our destination with the wind behind us, we creep down the bay not very happy as the anchoring depths are all over 25M. The depths slowly rise to about 20M, suddenly its shoal water ahead we turn too late, with a dreadful crunch we are on the reef. The engine even at full revs fails to move us. The main chain and anchor is loaded into the dingy which thankfully is under tow and we lay out every bit to wind. The windlass constantly trips off as it is being asked to take loads it is not designed for, still no budge. We then prepare to run off the second anchor with far more rope and pull the mast over with a winch. While working at that, Pylades, under the tension of the main anchor and the pounding of the thankfully small waves, slides back into deep water – we are off! Diving on the hull later there is quite extensive paint gouging but no structural damage could be found. We had been particularly concerned about the rudder but all appeared well. Over double wine rations that evening the many lessons learned were discussed.
A problem with the Society Islands which we had not considered or adequately prepared for were the depths of most of the anchorages, exceeding 25meters or more and if one winds around a coral or rock at that depth one either looses the anchoring gear or calls in a diver for FR5000. All skippers, unlike this one should not just snorkel but be dive as well.
Our last night on Raiatea was spent with Olivier, a French corsair look alike and a fantastic banjo player, he calls to Pylades looking for a tune !! we play, his knowledge of Irish tunes is vast, he tells us of his cruising down through the Caribbean with his wife and two very young children playing in cafes in exchange for pizza and beer, this with his father and 12 other musicians…. a great story. I first played with Olivier on his Catamaran in Panama – tomorrow we go in different directions and will probably not meet on this trip again but perhaps back in Kinvara as he intends to visit Co. Clare in search of ‘The session’.
Sunday morning 18 July visit Evie and exchange information on anchoring spots on the next islands – she sails her 41ft boat single handed between nieces, she had just celebrated her 70th birthday. Goodbye to Raiatea and too lazy to stick up the sail, we motor the 3 miles across to the island of Tahaa which lies within the same coral reef as Raiatea. Pick up a mooring and no sooner have tidied all the bits when we get a visit from the Richard, owner of the moorings asking us to leave – it helped that he was so polite and apologetic. Telling us he was overbooked and we were welcome to return the next day when he would buy us a drink. On we went in search of a suitable anchorage, which we found on the western side of this, again, beautiful island, anchoring in 20M in Baie Puamau, famous for its snorkelling and coral gardens.
We circumnavigated Tahaa over the next 3 days, sometimes finding a mooring and hanging there for the night, one such mooring had us close to a luxury hotel with superb snorkelling in coral gardens – these hotels, built out onto the water on stilts comprise single storey suites isolated from each other, usually palm thatched and only becoming offensive by their repetition, are 99% occupied by young American honeymoon couples who pay way above reasonableness to be here, we ventured to the bar for sundowners, two by two they arrived, undressed to the nines, silently sipping their cocktails and staring into the sunset, attempts at conversation was met with silent smiles. We were guessing by the chemistry or lack of it how long these unions might last – sad cynics!.
23rd July; having finished our circumnavigation of Tahaa we head to the Taravana Yacht Club. The moorings of the very affable Richard and his yacht club were free but on the condition that one attended at the bar in the evening and bought a few drinks, compulsory drinking, what hardship. A fine place it was too, TV free, bounteous blessings. Richard to his word stood us a drink on our first night in, added to this his delightful company and stories, like how he bought a small boat in Mexico and with a friend sailed to this island, thus dodging the draft for Vietnam. They used to call looking for me, my mother would say “ he’s somewhere surfing in Mexico, smoking stuff, if you guys find him tell him to ring his mama” His stories were endless and interesting. A sound guy who welcomed well and ran the best bar we met since leaving Dingle.
Shopping is something one might oft take for granted? So running down on supplies we decide to leave our sheltered mooring at Richards with Pylades and cross over the four miles to the supermarket at Uturoa. On arrival the wind is blowing twenty knots directly on to the dock. Noting the south end is calmer we go in and on tying discover that is for fuelling only. We have to move and as there is a boat behind us ! we spring ourselves off, this entails taking a line from the bow to a dock bollard at the aft of the boat, motor forward and with the rudder hard over slowly turn the stern off the dock, the strain on the springer is enormous and the bow grinds into the, thankfully timber dock, with the stern about 80 degrees off the dock we slam into reverse, slip the line and are off. We retie further back the dock where it is much rougher, Kay does high speed shopping, the skipper keeps the fenders from popping and as we are battered contemplates the parentage of the engineer who positioned the dock facing flat on to the prevailing trades. With the shopping loaded, and the wind now at 22 knots we again spring off the dock, the engine requires maximum power forward to spring off. If the wind went any higher that system might perhaps not work. We hoist our headsail and fly back to the comfort of the mooring and a well deserved cup of coffee.
27th July; having enjoyed a very social few days at Richards we leave Tahaa and head out through the Pass Paipai relishing in a delightful sail to Bora-Bora, this to be our last landfall in French Polynesia. We enter the pass at Bora Bora and take a mooring at the Yacht Club. Again, anchoring near the town is in some great depths of water so moorings are in demand. This yacht club has a fair deal, FPF 5000 (about €43) per week. Over looking the moorings are two. 7” guns put in place by the US after Pearl Harbour, we walked up the very rutted track to the emplacement, returning down we encounter a jeep with seven extremely large locals aboard. The jeep cannot make it up, taking a very punishing ten minutes to turn, we suggest as they are quite near the gun position they could walk up -they are greatly amused by the notion but no way and bump their way down. Perhaps to be seen to walk is to lose face, the culture is very 4WD oriented, and a bit like our own culture, the size of the vehicle confers a related status. However, they are generous with their cars; on all the islands we hitched we got a lift almost immediately.
30th July; one of our projects was to climb the twin peaks of Bora Bora, our request at the tourist office for a map of the trail was met with the response ‘you cannot go, you must have a guide, you must inform the Gendarme, it is very dangerous’ etc. So, we sought and got the info elsewhere and with two other sailor men, went for it. Rain showers ensure the going is soft and we engage in a great deal of mud sliding, the route had eight fixed rope pitches and was even a bit technical at times, one of the pitches being very exposed. Over seven hours to the peaks and back and full on from the moment go, we return covered in mud and smiles, perhaps the highlight of our island visit.
Vaitape, the main town of Bora Bora is a ramshackle collection of makeshift buildings, mainly gift shops, scattered along a stretch of road, along with a couple of supermarkets, banks and cafes, Tourism is the business of Bora Bora,. There is no depth of atmosphere in the town, as is the case in most of the towns in French Polynesia. The dogs and cocks of the islands are a notable presence, each family seem to possess many and the night is punctuated by the constant howling and the morn by incessant crowing. We are told they eat dog and lots of chicken in Polynesia. What makes us linger here is the sea with its many colours, the night sky displays, and the underworld below the sea surface with its colourful busy fish, its scary biguns and the wonder of its coral. The people are welcoming to the tourist and sailor who will find much to hold them here.
8th August; all ready to leave for points west but a new factor begins to enter our lives the ITCZ- the intertropical convergence zone- complete with fronts and shear lines etc. No longer can we rely on the trades to blow steady, but this monster comes up from the south with surfeits of thunderstorms, 50kt gusts and all sorts of evil deeds. What we back home might just call bad weather. So as the weather looks disturbed to the west we prepare our ship but postpone our departure. Tales of a 52ft Catamaran Anne that turned turtle 200 miles west of Niue also focuses the attention, apparently the combination of a large sea and 60knots of wind. The two persons on board were rescued but as far as we know, the hull drifts on, Pacific indeed! (see photo of salvaged vessel) .
13th August; we get a lecture on board Jenny a mighty 58’ Hoek design from Norway from an ex whaler, skipper Jan who also supplied some weather software programmes. This couple had come to the Pacific via the Chilean channels. The new software allows us to download all sorts of international weather information via the SSB and pactor modem. Next evening we have a BBQ at the yacht club, a most pleasant time was had with great conversations of whaling, and the war in Norway, climbing and song writing accompanied by bursts of music, singing and poetry. Jan’s cousin was Patrick Dalzel-Job who’s book ‘From Artic Snow to Dust of Normandy’ he lent us (well worth reading) he was reputed to be the model for the James Bond character.
16th August; final stock up and taking on of water and at 12.30 we exit into light wind and a 2.5M confused sea. Our destination, Palmerston Island in the north Cook Islands, approx 660 miles west. However, as day follows into night conditions improve with an increase in wind and moderation in seas. Next day we pass north of the island of Maupihaa at 7knots and for once the air is full with the sight and sound of seabirds. This 4×6 mile atoll, had been inhabited until 1998 when cyclone Martin swept through and devastated most of its vegetation and houses, it now lies uninhabited. Kay gets a nasty burn on her arm from a rack that flew out of the oven as the boat was lurching about. Sprays and dressings are applied, two days later with no obvious healing in progress, antibiotics are called for.
20th August; Cooker troubles intensify as the oven fails to keep lighting, baking bread is tried in the pressure cooker, not very successful. The gooey mass goes to feed the fishes. The Force Ten cooker, an expensive bit of kit, now has but one burner running with any force, a major refurbishment is called for. A short while later the main sheet horse attachment suddenly parts, a makeshift repair with a shackle is put in place, yet more refurb is called for. A grey wind shifty day gives way to a fine evening and the best ever example of the green flash as the sun sets. Conditions must be just right for this, the sun must be setting into a cloudless horizon and in a split second as the last of the orb disappears a vivid green flash is seen. Must dig out the scientific explanation for that.
21st August; the coconut trees of Palmerston Atoll appear on the horizon. In 1862 a Lancashire man, William Marsters settled here with his three Penrhyn (another of the Cook Islands) wives, he fathered 26 children divided the island into sections for each of the three families and established strict rules about intermarriage. 67 of the descendents, the sixth generation, now inhabit the atoll. A boat approaches and a man introduces himself as Bob Marsters, he says he will be our host during our stay and shows us a mooring to pick up. Pylades cannot enter the lagoon as all the passes are shallow and the depths outside are very deep for safe anchoring. Custom clearance, Immigration and agricultural inspection are all carried out on board Pylades, it being a very friendly and painless procedure during which a whale blew and sounded just up from the boat and a turtle swam past. Our host then returned and informing us that we will be picked up at 11.30 for lunch and an island tour. Due to the strength of the current, the tiny passes and the constantly changing surf breaks, it was strongly recommended that we do not use our own dinghy to enter the lagoon.
In his aluminium skiff we whiz at full tilt towards a very small gap in the breaking surf and zigzag through the pass skimming coral heads by inches, we swing across the lagoon and very abruptly run the skiff into the side of a most beautiful shelving beach. We are introduced to his wife, three daughters and son. The table, which is outdoors but roofed from the sun is piled with a magnificent array of fish, chicken and accompanying dishes. The father issues orders like “set table” “bring food’ to his daughters and wife and indicates that our women folk could help, we are thinking this could end badly. But there was something in the attitude of the children that indicated they were humouring him and that underneath he was a genial giant trying to impress. The sailors are invited to dine first while the family sit behind until the guests are satiated, all a bit unnerving. There was no payment of any kind requested for this hospitality, but prior to arrival we had been informed through the radio nets that no supply ship had called in seven months. We, thus forewarned by the power of long range radio, had arrived with bags of staples like flour, pasta, popcorn which was particularly well received, also rum, petrol, cleaning utensils and books.
The eldest daughter Tahia, an impressive young lady, takes us on a leisurely walkabout of the island. Explaining history, showing us the new school, only in the last few years has this been established on a formal basis, there are about 35 children attending, more than half of the population. On being questioned about the intermarriage rules Tahia says” I can’t marry my brother’. One defect resulting from such close breeding was a recurring eye problem, which if not acted on could lead to blindness. During our tour we were introduced to many other families and one Dan who was from NZ! living here for the past six months researching for his PhD on the social structures and fabric of the island, it should be amazing reading.
After our tour further light refreshments were served. Before we were brought back to the boat we were asked if the next day we would join the family for church in the morning prior to having Sunday lunch with them. They, as was the much married original William Marsters, were strict Presbyterians. He said it would only be for a half hour. So the next morn at 9.00 to church, the dresses of the women were amazingly colourful with huge flower adorned hats. Our host was instructing how all the women were to sit at one side and the men on the other; however we noted that the female school principal and other local women appeared to make a point of breaking this little taboo! The church was far less populated than expected, the singing was most unusual and was led by a very elderly lady with an extremely high pitched off key voice hitting notes that I would believe had only been found before by BØrk.
The ministers arrived well into the proceedings and one of them delivered an astonishing story about a fire breathing, sword wielding god, who took the side of David, smiting the philistines. The whole procedure did greatly strengthen the resolve of the skipper to pursue his philosophical writings. Thankfully the host never asked us for our opinions on the service, we were then provided with another great lunch. The skipper played the box. One of the sailors preparing to go snorkelling was reminded that God’s day did not permit that activity.
The whole procedure was repeated on Monday, this time the skipper was requested to bring his box to the school. Here he was met with the sight of the entire assembly, about 35 children, two teachers and the principal, all dressed neat as pins and all looking at an empty chair. The location of Ireland was explained and its climate, tunes were played, Irish traditional music was explained. More tunes, then getting into his stride advising that they were at the age to start learning music Many of the children then got a ‘go’ of the box, the whole experience was about 40minutes after loads of claps and waves we finally fled the school. Whatever next!
Kay’s hand injury prevented her snorkelling in the lagoon so alone I went into a pure paradise of coral, myriads of reef fish and threateningly large groupers. Our host had constantly being saying how this island was so relaxed, always walk never run etc. With all the meetings, tours and lunches there was never a moment. The children were beautiful and would cuddle up to you, telling us things like ‘when I grow up I am going to be an actress on the stage”. They have no television, they have DVDs and games like basketball and ‘dodging’ are very popular with all ages of children partaking. Lunch was today supplemented with food cooked by the sailors. After lunch all the island host family and ourselves were invited aboard Jenny. These were parting drinks and after an emotional farewell to all, sail was set for Niue approx.400 miles west. If one did nothing else in the Pacific except to spend some time with the people of Palmerston Atoll the journey would be worth it for the astonishing emotional rollercoaster ride. We most certainly will not forget our visit.
24th August; rolling along in a Pacific lit by the full moon, we recover our composure and plough west. After two days of delightful sailing the wind and sea picked up to about 30knots and 2 to 3 meter swells, three reefs in the main seemed a bit much but the self steering gear loved it and we ran on at a steady 6 knots. On the morning of the 26th August the island of Niue, the smallest independent state in the world, composed entirely of coral emerges out of the scattering darkness. As we pick up a mooring a humpback whale breaches seaward of us in a cloud of white spray.
MILES SAILED SINCE BELLHARBOUR; 13762
Niue to New Zealand
The remote island of Niue is composed entirely of raised coral and is porous; all their ground water is contained in the crater of the volcano on which the island sits, enough for six years. Because no surface rivers flow out of the island the adjoining sea water is astonishingly clear. Snorkelling from the boat to the shore there is a great feeling of flying as the seabed 17meters below is bathed in light, there are sea snakes galore very distinctive black and white banding, measuring about 750mm long, their venomous bite is to be avoided. We are informed that as their fangs are set far back they cannot bite humans. This was to prove untrue for the skipper of Mistral 3 who survived because of massive doses of antibiotics. We hired a minibus along with two other boats and toured the island, exploring caves and snorkelling in fresh and salt water mixes, this fresh water was over flowing from the crater and caused amazing optical layering in the water.
It is a place of many Christian churches, six separate denominations so far on such a small island, an inordinate amount of time and energy appears to be spent on the construction of so many theatres of worship. Kay joins a weaving class and spends a delightful day basket and hat making under the instruction of three local women who do this from their home for the joy of social contact and keeping the craft making ‘alive’. (Alas, Customs in New Zealand were not so impressed, confiscating and destroying her endeavours on our arrival there a couple of months down the line!!). After a week of exploring and chilling out, the wind swings to the west blowing directly from the ocean into our mooring area. The forecast indicates continuance of this weather, we check out with customs just in case, the swells increase on the morning of the 1st September, with the reef but 40meters behind and roaring we realised if anything happened to the mooring we would be terminated, at 03.00 our nerves crack, we drop the mooring lines, one jambs, we cut it and run to sea. A few hundred meters out having just hoisted the reefed main and half the head sail, a rain squall with 40knots lays into us. Three more boats flee behind us, a few hang on to the moorings and they hold. We sail to the east of the island and hide, jilling around under very short canvas. Poking our nose out, 12 hours later we find the wind has gone south and we lay course to Tonga.
3rd September; the western entrance of the Vava’u group of islands in the Kingdom of Tonga brings calm water, we pick up a mooring in Port Mourelle, staying for two nights in this beautiful bay fringed to the southeast with a classic coconut tree beach. We motor up to Neiafu and check-in with the four pleasant lads sitting in a shed and part with 123 T$, take a mooring and explore the town, lots of waterfront bars and cafes all run by ‘Pangani” or blow-ins as we might say. The supermarket left us a bit shaken, huge portraits of the royal family past and present but little else except the basics. This developing country is very reliant on overseas aid and far less advanced than the French islands. Their meat imports of beef and pork were the worst cuts and to us inedible. Sausages are very popular, they can be made from beef, chicken, lamb or pork – never labelled and the shopkeepers do not know one type from another – we never bought them – couldn’t chance a ‘chicken sausage’ !!** . Also we learned they had most likely been frozen and thawed a few times before they reach the customer ! you take a chance – we cut down our intake of meat. Interestingly enough all over Tonga pigs roam, beautiful well cared for animals and you wonder why you cannot buy this pork, apparently they are only killed for big social events such as funerals and weddings. Vegetables can be good, preferably bought at the very colourful and friendly market. Tonga is not cheap for any commodities.
The most striking thing about the Tongans is their physical power, big solid bodies, warm and friendly smiles but their standard of living is far from affluent, their houses frail and grim. Their dress code different to any other Pacific islanders we have met – men and schoolboys wear skirts (sulas), for formal occasions the skirts are made of matting. Our arrival in Neiafu coincided with the death of one of the town’s dignitaries. For 3 days, songs of lament were heard, on the final day the singing was continued throughout the night as well the plaintive chant audible throughout the town and anchorage. On the morning of her burial we were awoken around 04.30 with the rolls of death march drumming, at first light the funeral procession commenced through the streets accompanied by a brass band playing a sad, haunting dirge, after her burial the family sat on the grave for a number of days.
A few of the sailors cruising these islands with us found themselves in need of medical treatment for ‘simple’ cuts which turned seriously nasty, great amounts of antibiotics were required to clear the infections which arose. They were all hospitalised and one or two of the ‘sailor’ doctors gave their services in monitoring the drugs being administered by the hospital, checking each day with the ‘patients’ as to their situation. Just a reminder of how any little cut in the tropics has to be monitored. We climb the hill, Mt.Talau interesting and great views, sadly locals see it more as a convenient place to dump rubbish. As dusk arrived so also did the flying foxes, large fruit bats with fox like faces.
Having spent a few days in the very social town we went back out to the island anchorages and visited swallows cave, entering it by dingy, fascinating, it would have made the best under water photos if only we had one capable, with the light streaming in from the cave entrance and picking up the fish in the undersea rock formations, lots of people unfortunately felt they had to dab the wall of the cave with graffiti! We both then went snorkelling on the south side of the bay where Kay thought the coral and fish were best ever.
25th September; a race from Neiafu to the island of Tapana, great fun and very exciting with about 25 boats partaking. Pyladeshad a good start and managed to finish high up in the fleet beating two 54’ Amels and just pipping an Oyster 56’ over the line, all very satisfying. That night 400 people, the skipper dressed as a pirate! attended a full moon party on the beach at Tapana, lots of heavy music and light shows of dancing skeletons. Many beach BBQ’s over the next week, the sailors are getting very social. We pick up a Pan Pan alert on the 30th, a sailing vessel with an engine fire about five miles north of Vava’u. They could not enter their vessel due to thick rancid smoke and were sure the fire would burn out the engine cooling hoses and they would go down. There are no lifeboats, rescue services here or a co-ordination center. The operation was directed by a ex-pat in a local bar. The rescue vessel was a whale watching boat. The yacht in distress launched its life raft, it failed to inflate, despite having been serviced eight months previously, they then holed their inflatable dingy during its launching in the swell. The rescue vessel had no GPS and was running on bearings plotted by shore vessels. The endangered vessel was then instructed to activate their EPIRB, it gave a position 9 miles away as relayed by NZ monitoring, from the yacht’s given actual position adding greatly to the confusion. They were finally located after their flares were seen. With the fire extinguished they could not sail back to port as the hydraulic steering lines had burned through. The vessel did not sink and was eventually towed in.
Over the days we sail from one idyllic anchorage to the next. Returning to the town the skipper in the spirit of the ‘Darwin Cruise’ decides to do some direct research. The Free Wesleyan College is the biggest secondary school in town. Failing to get a meeting with the principal he ends up in the ‘lions den’, the teachers’ room. I explain where I am from and state my case with regard Darwin and the teaching of evolution, “no we do not teach that, we teach only the truth of the bible and the age of the world is but 6000 years old”. I ask about the number of denominations on the island and they say about ten but new ones come and go and they are all basically Christian. I ask about any people on the island who might believe that man made god and not the other way around, “they would have to leave as they could not live amongst the people”. It was a polite but somewhat depressing encounter, as one thought of the millions of scientific discoveries whose knowledge would be denied the children.
8th October; the 450 mile course from Tonga to Fiji is complicated and dangerous due to underwater activity pushing up over sixty additional shoal and dangerous areas since the last charts were published. We had plotted and marked every new hazard on our electronic chart, very scary as one of these indicated a yacht wreck on water that was shown on our chart as 460 meters deep!. At 17.00 we leave, and hear on the VHF of a yacht which has hit the reef on one of the nearby islands, the four people on board have made it to the land but the yacht has sank. Well after night fall our plotter fails, this on the very trip we really needed it, but as the skipper had been nervous about the trip and for the first time ever had written down all the waypoints, so we could just run on our basic GPS. Then to make matters more interesting we had the mother and father of and electrical storm for six hours, some strikes were so close that one could feel the blast of hot air on your face from the discharge. There was no time lapse between the flashes and the unbelievably loud thunder, after each flash the watch was light blind for a period. With the moving off of the storm came wind and lots of it, for the next 24 hour we had a gale, horribly confused seas and rain squalls, we are well and truly in the grip of the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone, to put it mildly one could think of better places to be.
11th October; the wind and seas ease back the sun appears, out of blitz comes bliss, a perfect days sailing and likewise our navigation computer comes back to life. On the last day the wind dies and we motor to Suva, Fiji’s main town. We call the authorities at 07.00 but its 16.00 before five officials pour over the side with dozens of forms, which we fill in at breakneck speed, while they talk on their mobile phones, an item we have not used and certainly have not missed since Spain. The Fijian authorities come down with heavy fines on any boat not complying with their entry rules and in this regard we were required to send them a ‘pre-arrival form’ before departing Tonga . Finally free to go ashore we indulge ourselves at the bar of ‘The Royal Suva Yacht Club’ It’s a slightly down at heel relic of old decency with portraits of a very young queen Elizabeth, also photos of lots of chaps in proper white yachting gear smoking pipes and being served by indigenous folk. Now it’s a much more cosmopolitan affair with all the nationalities and races of the world awaiting on beer at €1.00 a glass
For days despite the almost incessant rain we explore ‘soggy Suva’, it’s a great place with a very lively buzz, an interaction between the indigenous Fijians, the Indians and the Chinese. They prove to be the friendliest people we have met so far, always asking where one is from and showing genuine interest. Everywhere the industrious Indians, running almost all the business from the large to the little shoemaker repairing flip flops, either the flip or the flop. They, like the Chinese never say no, every thing is can do, and here we meet for the first time a whole new set of deities, it is the Hindu festival of light ‘Diwelle’ many armed female and elephant headed gods peer out from posters in a hundred windows together with the red swastika. These are the Hindu Indians there are the Muslim Indians a school mosque with hundreds of hijad clad girls and uniformed boys pouring forth. The mono cultural of the divided Christians are now behind us and as we drift further west we no doubt will encounter a greater preponderance of these more diverse superstitions.
15th October; raining all day again we change all our oil and fuel filters, open the two water tanks and have a major clean out. The BBC world service is now coming to us loud and clear and we catch up on a years missing news. We decide to go for one of our rare dine outs to a highly recommended Indian restaurant, we were told it would be very expensive but very good. For wine and excellent food we pay €44.00 for the two of us and get a taxi back to the YC for €2.00.
21st October; Anchor in Vega bay on the island of mBeqa: only boat, the next day go ashore and request a meeting with the chief, are directed to his house and present the requisite gift of Kava plant. This is accepted most graciously and he offers us his blessing and welcomes us to the village. Well that’s what it sounded like. The Kava is a root crop which they grind into a powder and mix with water to drink and enough of it will blow your head off. We are now basically dealing in drugs! The logic of all this is that if you anchor anywhere off a village in the more remote areas, this is the equivalent of camping in someone’s front garden and you must be granted permission. The chief sat cross legged on a mat to greet us and his name was Johnnie.
As we wandered around the village a women insisted we join her for tea, this was lemon tea served in bowls accompanied by fried pampana, she and her family showered us with gifts, necklaces they made and shells they collected to sell to tourists, but no one ever bought from them. They asked for nothing in return except AA batteries, when they sent out a boat to us later we parted with all our batteries and collections of colouring pens and materials, food and some clothes. The village was devastatingly poor and we despaired for the future of the many many children. After two days we sail to Notadla harbour and anchor, the wind goes high and we double up our anchor lines, holding is good. The following day we exit in 35knots and interesting seas at the reef entrance, by the time we make the main reef entrance to the calm of Nadai waters the wind has dropped to 6knots and turned on the nose!
24th October; pick mooring at Musket Cove go ashore join the YC $5.00 for life membership, you just have to sail here first to qualify. Very civilised drinks later in the bar with tales of the sea from many sailors. Two days on we sail and motor to Lautoka anchoring off the main dock, more checking in and skipper gets very cranky in the heat particularly when we get to the dock gate and they will not let us out sending us back to the officials for a release pass. Lautoka is again a very Indian town we stock up and taxi back. Onto an anchorage at Port Denarau in 3M, a very secure harbour indeed very touristy with lots of bars restaurants and a shopping mall, we meet great people, have a very fine meal. We drift back to Musket Cove after a few days and resume snorkelling and hull cleaning keeping a weather eye to our trip south to NZ.
10th November; check out and prepare for passage to NZ, this weather window had been long predicted, but each day as it approached it changed a bit for the worse. Also the disconcerting news that a 43’ Beneteau that left previously had been dumped on by a six meter sea and had its rudder smashed, after two days of trying to steer they had to abandon ship. To compound themisery their life raft floor fell out. But all were picked up safely. By the time we exited the Nebula pass it was 25knots plus south southeast, the best course we could sail was 20degrees off the rhum line, every second wave burst over the boat with predictions to continue for five days. To further add to our discomfort a chance remark by a fellow sailor that he might stop for fishing at Conway reef which would now be on our adjusted route. We could locate no such reef on our electronic charts. Examining a separate set of electronic charts we found the reef indicated about 7 miles off our given position complete with three ship wrecks on top of it. Rattled and despondent we turned back. It must be stated that while the Fijians in general are one of the friendliest peoples we have encountered, the same could not be said of the bureaucratic officials who inhabit the shabby customs and immigration offices of Lautoka. When we checked back in we are restricted to the port of Denarau to which we retired, get the main engine water pump rebuilt while we are there and a few other bits. We drink beer and talk weather.
16th November; after another incident filled check out at Lautoka we again head for NZ 1050 miles to the south, a much more benign sea at the pass, with light wind we motor for a day the wind fills in nicely at the required 15 knots from the east north east and under full sail we run down the line. Each day brings a slight drop in temperature and the night watch now finds clothes to be an essential item the skipper is looking for socks not needed since somewhere in Spain 18 months prior.
19th November; all reefs out and fine sailing on a beam reach, sunshine for first time in a week, best days run of 161 miles. Before night fall the fail safe shaft of the self steering snaps and Pylades goes wildly off course. Auto is engaged the paddle is removed, new part fitted, we are up and running within 30 minutes. The boom vang connection also parts this can wait until we get in but we lose some sail shape control. The next day the wind dies off and we chug the course at 5 knots, a distinct chill descends over us as we hear that the wind is due to turn south southeast and freshen maintaining itself in that quadrant for some time. Each evening and morning Kay is now net controller of the “penguin’ net, that is an informal group of yachts giving each other positions and weather information via the SSB as we plough south.
22nd November; going to weather with 20 to 25knots of wind on the nose on the open ocean is something to be avoided, the tacking angle becomes very wide, port tack to Australia starboard tack to Chile. The motion, to put it mildly, is horrible, at six knots we hit what seems like a brick wall every few minutes and a wall of green water pours over the boat finding the smallest little crevices to get into the boat. At about 12.00 and about 300 miles off shore, the roar of a very low flying aircraft fills the air not far above mast head height, a four engine nimrod, within seconds the VHF springs into life, “Pylades, Pylades this is Orion of the NZ coast guard, we have all your details, what time do you hope to check into Opua?”. They had flown low enough to read our name with their optics and had our prior notice of arrival information, efficiency is big in NZ.
The next couple of days are best forgotten as every thing is thrown at us to make the passage miserable and delay our arrival. To compound the situation we receive notice of an evolving storm system just to the east of our position, all indications are that we should be in before it starts to move. But out of such gloom appears a sight to lift the lowest spirit. Rising out of the southern ocean swells an Albatross soaring and wheeling around our tossing ship. Magnificence, with its 2 meter wingspan, skimming the waves as it went about its perpetual wandering.
24th November; Land ahoy, New Zealand sighted, the wind dies away the sea calms and we are as high as kites as we motor in beautiful weather along the coast. We had been warned that this trip would be challenging but now it was worth it all. It is dark when we enter the Bay of Islands and at 22.30 when tied at Opua we open a bottle of bubbly.
MILES SAILED SINCE BELLHARBOUR; 15,948
Customs officials boarded bearing gifts, a woven straw bag of goodies which included a bottle of rum and a feather. All donated by the local business interests to woo the cruising sailor and impressed we were. All fresh goods on Pylades were confiscated along with Kay’s leaf hat, woven on the island of Niue, but now viewed by NZ Department of Agriculture as a national threat, the skipper concurred. Opua, our arrival port is a cluster of service facilities with a small supermarket, a marina and anchorage in a peaceful rural setting. The pleasant social scene in the Sailing Club bar ensured many evenings were spent there meeting fellow sailor’s boats, exaggerating passages and reviewing plans. Mooring rather than anchoring was the choice as holding was particularly poor and many boats went drag about. Following a few days of sleeping late and readjusting from watch patterns, boat maintenance commenced on Pylades, rebuilding the toilet, fitting an additional solar panel resulting in surplus energy to our battery bank. The NZ sun has higher burn power than the tropics “30 million farting sheep mate, thinning of the ozone layer!” was the explanation given.
8th December; short sail to Russell, pick up mooring in Orongo Bay. The charming town of Russell was the original European settler’s capital, thus old by New Zealand standards. For the next few days exploring the Bay of Islands we anchor and enjoy the great walks, at night sleep to the hoot of the More Pork owls, so named by the Kiwis for their call resembling the wordsmore pork. Round Cape Brett with a fair sailing breeze dropping the anchor in Whangamumu close to the old whaling station. Ashore we bathe in the stream cascading the rock face, bracing. Next stop, Tutukaka to sample the highly recommended fish supper – large portions of Dory and chips were scrumptious even if a bit expensive. On the 15th exit the ocean, rounding Bream Head into Urquart Harbour, attempting to anchor on a few occasions before finally succeeding. A climb of the adjacent hill gave bracing views of the bay but an attack by the local black back gulls quickened our step back to our ship for wine and food.
16th December; Pylades sails up the Whangarei river with the flood, the ragged curtains of rain that tore over the surrounding hills combined with a very familiar topography brought memories of autumns of many years sailing up the mighty Shannon estuary bound for Ard na Crusha and the ‘Derg’. At the town basin of Whangarei tied between two mooring piles was to be our home for the next month. To describe the town as composed of car sales lots connected by car parks might be a bit unfair, but a handy enough place to get work done. We order many pieces of stainless steel, strip down the windlass, change anchoring gear, on which we will report in due course.At Christmas, loaned a car by fellow sailors, we purchase a three man tent and head inland for five days. Driving on the motorway at 120km took more than a little getting used to after so long dealing with max speeds of 7kts. The experience is a great diversion from sailing and we spend our first night on land in 18 months squatting in our new home somewhere near the firth of Thames sipping wine and philosophising. Journeying south as far as New Plymouth we spy the great volcano of Taranaki with the remnants of snow in its gullies, a splendid climb no doubt but time presses us on. The ‘Lost Highway’ coming back east from the very forgettable town of Stratford, is astonishing, a thousand hairpin bends through amazing landscape with few vehicles, parts of the road are unpaved and every where warnings and evidence of rock falls. Camping in a remote site we are awakened by a hair-raising sound somewhere between barking and coughing out side our tent. Venturing forth to get the torch and do battle, naught is seen. On enquiry next day, the response was “just a bloody Possum mate”. This Lost Highway has few dwellings and more worrying for us on one occasion, filling stations, we can’t sail this thing.
10th January; back on station we order all our stainless steel bits, buy a new battery and attempt to get our gas refilled. This is where the ‘can do’ aspect of NZ culture begins to wilt, obstructionism of all kinds raises its head mainly in the form of health and safety, different connectors, our bottles would have to be inspected and authorized at a cost and in any case would not pass, it would be necessary to buy new bottles, regulators and rebuild our gas locker to suit!. Borrowing a regular NZ gas bottle we get it filled tie it upside down off our back frame and drain it into ours, this is repeated a few times, ingenuity is required to overcome.
News comes of devastating floods hiting Australia and the marina area we had thought of going to in Brisbane was washed away with boats set into trees, a few weeks later a category four hurricane, the most powerful ever to hit Queensland, slammed into the coast and drove 150 boats out of one marina into the streets of the deserted towns. Glad our decision was not to go hide from the ravages of the typhoon season in Australia but to drop below the affected areas for New Zealand.
7th February; Exit the brown river of Whangarei and with oodles of shiny new stainless steel bits head down stream, the best of these improvements was a SS shortened tiller which would allow the self steering systems both mechanical and electronic to operate on a shorter tiller and with a timber insert when hand steering is required. Docking at Marsden Point Marina for fuel we are confronted with acres of almost totally deserted pontoons. The fuel dock is fully automated, without a plastic card one would be diesel dry. It is eerie with no one about; Kay makes contact with an operative in an isolated cabin and receives a dock number, as though this had some significance in a choice of a hundred lonely pontoons.
Next day back at sea under sail a light breeze on the beam, clear blue sky and away to the Great Barrier Island. About 17.00 we are hailed by a coastguard cutter looking for identification all very friendly me thinks they were training in the radio operator. Anchoring at Fitzroy harbour, a very rural and afforested setting, reminding us of Castletownsend as did many anchorages on this island. Snorkeling under the hull much fouling is apparent explaining why our sailing was slower than the norm. Over the next few days swathes of barnacles are removed and a great deal of exercise is gained swimming under hull.
11th February; a New Zealand sailor who sailed in company with us from Fiji arrives at our anchorage in Ghost Bay. He is an accomplished lone diver and harvests a bag of scallops which are sheared in wine and mustard sauce, we are invited to share his catch for dinner and so enjoy a superb meal washed down with great New Zealand white. The following day John appears near dinner time with four crayfish, again we are beckoned on board to a crayfish barbecue, much high protein eating, more white, long conversations on the health of the nation, sailing down under and late nights ensue.
15th February; a fine day with light wind, one might say that nothing could go wrong. Unnoticed by the crew the wind backs 180 degrees and we drift over a shoal on the ebb. Too late… our predicament is realised and most embarrassingly we go over to 45 degrees and settle. Best to get out scraping the hull and pretend it was an intentional careening. We spend most of the night in this predicament and about 03.30 a rising tied lifts all boats and we are afloat. During re anchoring the engine alarm sounds, shut down engine and hope our new anchor digs in the first shot in the rising wind, it does. We sleep level. It takes a long hunt to find the fault, an air lock in the cooling liquid side of the system, all was well again.
18th February; set sail for Auckland stopping over in the outer island of Waiheke joining five other boats in the anchorage. But a weekend it is and by Saturday afternoon we are one of hundreds, the biggest concentration seen since Spain. In the sun shine much good humour abounds but with wine stocks running low, we must to Auckland.
21st February; arrive and tie at Westhaven marina, large and bleak, 1800 white plastic boats awaiting their masters. Next day off for a major Auckland walkabout, a very impressive city, finally sourcing a copy of “Guns Germs and Steel’, having chased it across every port in the Pacific. On the return to Pylades we see a more central marina, ‘Pier21’ a vacant and cheaper space is available and we move.
At 12.47 on the 22nd Christchurch is hit by a strong earth quake and for the next while our period in New Zealand takes a somber tone. The constant reporting is ghastly, about 160 have died, the rest of the population struggling with no water, sewerage, power, 20,000 homes made uninhabitable. A day on, four Americans were shot dead on ‘s/v Quest’ in a fracas between pirates and US forces in the Indian Ocean. One of them Phyllis McKay a lovely women we had met in Panama, she had given us much information on the Pacific and the locations of the best shopping in Panama. Very hard to believe she is dead. Two days later a boat named ING had been captured by Pirates and are now in Somalia. We were badly shaken by this news as we knew them very well having met in many locations across the Pacific, they are a family from Denmark, a lovely couple with three beautiful children aged about 8, 12 and 15. We had been in touch with them through email the day before their capture. Needless to state we have had no communications since. They were pushing hard on a two year circumnavigation as distinct from our three. We are truly sickened by the thoughts of these brave and lovely people in the hands of Pirates.
These events in the Gulf of Aden have dramatically changed our plans. It now looks more than likely that our route home will attempt the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. We suspect that many more boats than normal might now adopt this course of action. Sailors have more than enough to contend with keeping themselves and their boats intact, the challenges of weather and navigation without having to deal with armed bandits.
11th March; Visits to the mast top to replace wind cups and lights are much easier now that there is a system to run the main halyard through blocks to the anchor windlass. Kay can whiz the skipper up in minutes – what used to be a real chore is now a joy!. Pylades is hauled out followed by a hull clean and applications of a barrier coat and antifouling, heavy toil but easier than in the heat of the tropics. All labour is spurred on by the thoughts of the evening glass of chilled. On the night of the 11thhaving dinner aboard a local yacht the VHF chirps in with an all stations alert, a tsunami heading to New Zealand due to a severe earthquake in Japan. What ever next? Our option of exiting to deeper water is defiantly not on. Alarms are set during the night to follow the course and size of the surge traveling at about 450mph towards us. But by dawn– it becomes clear that we will not have a problem.
17 March – Paddy’s Day – big celebrations in Auckland with their wonderful Sky Tower lighting turned to green. We on Pylades are invited by the marina staff to their offices for drinks to celebrate the day. The children from the yachts around us, American and KIWI are part of the Auckland St. Patrick’s Day parade. On the 21st and 23rd of March respectively we attend at two lectures ‘US Power today’ and ‘The Rise of China’ given by Tariq Ali, great to know that the anti-imperialist is still going strong if a bit more muted than in the days of the heady sixties.
Our immediate plan is to have all in order by the beginning of April and exit for New Caledonia from Opua on the first suitable weather window. That is, when the cyclone season is declared by the many and varied weather gurus to be over.
MILES SAILED SINCE BELLHARBOUR: 16,140
NEW ZEALAND to AUSTRALIA
After a pleasant month’s stay in the fair city of Auckland doing much walkabout and fixing boat bits, a haul out, antifouling, having the cooker refurbished from a single burner back to double burner together with the grill and oven, o’ heaven, 28thMarch sees us exit the excellent Pier 21 Marina . A fine sail to Whaikie anchoring for the night, then on to the Island of Kawau spending a few days exploring and having evening drinks in the local YC. Over the next four days we sail back to the Bay of Islands setting our hook in various splendid anchorages along the way. Stayed a few days in Urupukapuka, (just love the names), hiking around the island, splendid walking. Sailing back into Russell we encounter a large pod of dolphins that frolicked with us for 30 minutes. By the 6th April we are on a mooring back in Opua. Over the next month we await a weather window to sail north but a large blocking high sits to the east and maintains a fresh to gale force northerly flow. On the 29 / 30th a savage storm goes through. In the mean time we walk and meet up with friends in the Opua Sailing Club. Invited to a local house for an evening meal we are entertained by a top class female barber shop ensemble ‘The Frankly Scarlets’ who happened by.
9 May many boats leave heading north suffering from Fiji- itis, this is a phenomena brought on by the cold of an encroaching winter, the call of the tropics and enhanced by the herd instinct. 10 days out and some were still beating, lots of damage reported including one mast down. A few return with gear damage, autopilots are top of the list. A 55’ ketch limps in after enduring a 360 roll on its way up the Tasman Sea in 60 knots of wind, we wait on.
16th May; 13.00 the weather direction turns in our favour, we exit for New Caledonia. The wind is 25knots and gusting on the beam a residual north east swell battles with the new seas, a few miles out from land we are awash, leaks which have never leaked are found by the clawing sea. As we clear the top of North Island a 7meter swell stirred up by a previous storm in the Tasman joins in the melee. Thankfully the following day the wind backs aft. Our forecast consistently gave us force five dropping to three. The reality was a consistent 25 to 35 knots gusting over 40; our dodgers were shredded and bailed up, our ship is continuously awash. The skippers biggest fright was a broach down the front of a ridiculously sized wave which caught the triple reefed main aback and had the preventer failed could have carried away our runner and perhaps the mast. The main was immediately stowed. The remainder of the fast and wet trip was under staysail and a touch of the poled headsail. As we moved north in the cold Antarctic air a magnificent wandering albatross wheeled about our ship bidding us adieu, shall we ere see its like again.
23rd May; 18.45 Kay calls ‘land ahoy’ the flash of the Amadee Light is raised. Once we ascertain that the lights line up and correspond to the chart, cautiously we push through the reef entrance under engine. The 20 miles to the dock were well lit and at 12.30 we tied at Noumea. The customs and clearance are friendly, painless and without charge. Over the next week we sew up our dodgers and fit more robust book restraints. The marina stay was a very social affair and a big cultural change is that there are no American boats. Americans never appear to be comfortable with the French, me thinks they are embarrassed with that big statue they got from them!. The town has a flavour of its own, a touch untidy and in desperate need of better architects.
3rd June; well off the coast of New Caledonia the first night out wind falls light and the sea turns glassy calm. A million water fairies dance beneath the waves in the footlights of phosphorescence. A million stars mirror in the undulating surface completing the illusion that we are in a ship of the cosmos voyaging through deep space, a green meteorite enters and applauds and we gaze in awe at the riches of it all. Later we notice in the back cabin flashes of light from the sea water strainer as ‘sea fairies ‘are sucked through the cooling system. I’m sure they do not approve. If the trip from NZ was characterised by a surfeit of breeze this trip had light and fickle airs, we sail, motor sail and watch the suns coming and going with spectacular sets and rises.….6th June hit by a squall that rips the clew ring out of the mainsail, we put the first reef in and that sorts it but we will miss the full main in the light airs. The stitching to the clew had been weakened by UV degradation, it had been peeping out the back of the sail cover.
9th June; A cold south westerly wind arrives we pile on clothes and reefs as the wind hardens on the nose, we can no longer lay the course to the Bundaberg entrance. Decision made to press on to the coast hoping for less sea before tacking, we had been set down 27 miles, it was 05.00 before we slid into the well lit entrance found the quarantine dock. Australia bedad and crashed into bed.
10th June; Customs and Quarantine were most welcoming and courteous, contrary to expectations but did relieve us of $330 Aus (approx Euros250) , the skipper pointed out how that was more than all the countries we had visited combined. They apologized and pointed out that had we arrived on a weekend it would have been $660. After a day or so tending to Pyladeswe hire a car and head south to visit cousins in Moffet Beach, wined and dined and treated royally for two days, walking through a small section of rainforest we see our first marsupial, a small forest kangaroo – most enjoyable time.
19th June sees us commence a series of day hops up the coast of Queensland, beginning every morning at 05.30 often arriving in the dark at the chosen anchorage. The first was Pancake Creek, which we never saw in daylight but provided a tranquil night to sip, sup and sleep. Passing Gladstone Harbour we counted 17 bulk carriers on anchor awaiting cargo. It is the non sustainable mining of Australia that is the key to its present day riches and solvency, most of its extracts head for China. In contrast the state of Australia’s agriculture is poor due to soil conditions and water shortages; there are indeed those who argue for its abolition on economic grounds. In many locations we receive national radio and listen in to very erudite science based interviews, they provide us with a great feel for the state of things and minds in Australia.
Sailing as dreamed of, flying north in 15kt southeasterly winds with clear blue skies and breathtaking sunsets. The coast line is studded with hundreds of islands which are generally barren but picturesque with long sandy deserted beaches. We land, explore and swim when we get in early enough. On passage we observed very few yachts or vessels of any kind. In the very beautiful Pearl Bay a whale is feeding and in the evening we hear Irish music being played on a flute, The skipper answers with some box tunes, some of the tunes even match up, all very magical. We never meet as we are gone by dawn.
24th June; after a particularly fast but boisterous passage we tie at Mackay with some difficulty. Taking a walk Kay takes a fall and breaks two fingers. The next day is spent being attended to by the friendliest staff in Mackay Base Hospital. X-rays determine that she must undergo a full anesthetic and a resetting in the operating theatre, she is kept in overnight. We are told by a staff member not to have any worries on costs as Australia and Ireland have a reciprocal health care agreement and all medical care costs will be covered. A direct result one can argue of the Bolshevik Revolution!. Kay returns to the hospital for check up five days later.
News arrives that ‘Troutbridge’ a catamaran on which we had drinks in NZ just before we left had hit the reef in Fiji. It rips the keels, rudders and skegs off. Peter escapes with his life, just. They have now managed to get it off and it is now under repair, it was his home and did not have insurance. This is the seventh boat we now have known to be lost, shot up or captured on our cruise, one defiantly has to keep on one toes every second.
2nd July; tricky exit from Mackay with stiff cross wind and Kay not her agile self takes the tiller, we get away with it and head for the Whitsunday Islands. Sailing between the islands is wonderful and here for the first time we encounter many chartered boats. We are now a bit behind in our schedule so between that and our reduced woman power when we anchor in Dugong inlet we do not launch our dingy and land. Its raining anyway and no dugongs are sighted. Next day we pass Nara Inlet and reflect on the 13 sailors who while attempting to shelter aboard their vessels from Cyclone Ada, died on there January 1970.
5th July; after a night at Hazard Bay, Orpheus Island we negotiate the very shallow entrance to the Hinchinbrook Channel at Lucinda, this proved to be a stunning diversion, 25 miles of calm water edged in mangrove, impenetrable forest with the 1142 meter high crags of Mt. Bowen dominating. Anchoring in the very quite Paluma creek the moon joins in our toast to the splendor of it all. A noticeable rise in temperature has the duvet being put aside and clothes being thrown off, but defiantly no jumping over the side. On the night of July 6 having negotiated the long well lit entrance to Cairns the anchor is bedded at 06.00 in the channel opposite the marina. Some sleep is grabbed and we tie at the Marlin Marina a few hours later. Off then for more x-rays and very good attention at the base hospital the reports are excellent all is coming together so we celebrate with a meal at an Indian restaurant which was also excellent. Cairns, a manicured city of straight lines, difficult to appreciate for those of us used to European cities, laid down and enriched by the complex tapestry of time. The people we encounter are most welcoming, there is an air of wealth everywhere engendered by mining, property prices are booming, we read in a newspaper of a cook working offshore on $435,000 pa. Expensive restaurants have to be booked months ahead… where have we heard all this before….The next few days are spent stocking food, wine, water and diesel as between here and Darwin supplies will be limited.
11th July; heading overnight to Lizard Island strong wind warnings are about and it holds between 25 to 30 knots a bit too fresh for comfort but with three reefs in the main and a section of poled out genny great for speed. Over the next period its, sail all day arrive at dusk leave at dawn such places as, the amazing boulder hills off Cape Melville, where we briefly sight a dugong, Morris Islet a single palm tree on some scrub on a reef, Lloyd Bay and Margaret’s Bay. . Everywhere the evidence of Captain Cook, who appeared to set the name on just about every cape, bay and island on the coast. We also reflect on how close he was to losing Endeavour on a reef and had that happened it is likely Australia might now be French speaking. As we are running tight in these enhanced trades following safe or shipping passages through the reefs we are constantly gybeing the rig and the skipper develops ‘winchers elbow’. With Kay’s plastered hand and the skippers bandaged elbow we now make a right pair of single handed sailors.
18th Another fresh day 25 to 30 knots ,exiting the Escape River with these winds, associated seas and but 4.5 meters of water the skippers heart is again in his mouth. Maybe that’s why its called the Escape River, we escape and head for the Alderney Passage, it’s a neap tide but our speeds are still a good two knots plus on to every thing Pylades can do, we zing along at 8 knots. At 13.30 rounding Cape York into the Torres Straits, we bid farewell to the Pacific which will forever dwell in the deepest recesses of our being. Close hauling at the other side of the Cape, Red Island is sighted and after yet more shallow water and more heart stopping moments we anchor at Seisia and reminisce.
Next day with a good arm each we launch the dingy and land, first time in eight days. Notices abound about crocodiles, ‘do not swim nor stand near waters edge’,etc. There is a monument close by to one of our species taken by a croc from this beach. The main feature of the area is a campsite populated by 4WDs as there are only tracks leading in the challenge apparently is just to get here, some of the vehicles are fitted with snorkels for fording rivers, all very macho. In the small supermarket, we stock up, dispose of garbage, take a shower at the campsite. Our boat water stock is down to less than third so no fresh water showers until Darwin.
21st July; at low water after lunch we catch the west running flood and head through the shallow Endeavour Strait, across the 300 mile wide Gulf of Carpentaria, Papua New Guinea and the isles of the Torres Straits are to our north. Leaving the Wessell Island group to the south we press on across the Arafura Sea down through Van Diemen Gulf maintaining a flood tide by luck rather than design through the Clarance Strait. The run was at times fast but the winds held fair and 750 miles from Seisia the anchor hit ground in Fannie Bay, Darwin at 02.00 on the 27th. Later a young lady from the fisheries department dives under our hull and shoots chemicals into our sea water intakes to cleanse us of any evildoers we might carry with us into the locked dock of Cullen Bay Marina.
28th July; we pass through the $240 a lift, dock gate. The city is called after the scientist whom our voyage pursues in many varied aspects. Enquiring at the tourist office as to what might be on offer in the way of monuments to Charles Darwin and his works such as permanent exhibitions, the girl behind the counter initially exclaimed, who was he? We are informed there are none. On perusing glossy brochures extolling the virtues of the city there is no mention of Mr. Darwin or his revolutionary findings, which turned the history of mankind and his belief systems on their head. However all is not lost, for outside the county library stands a bust of the Charles D. himself and a ships bell bearing the name HMS Beagle.
Miles sailed since Bellharbour; 20572 CONTINUED IN ‘The Darwin Voyage’ PART 2.