The Darwin Voyage – Part 2
The Log of Pylades
LOG: Crossing the INDIAN OCEAN
Darwin was 33 deg. under a hot blue sky, all sunshades are rigged. Several days supermarket shopping and lugging supplies as Pylades is provisioned. Kay goes to the hospital for final check up on her mending fingers and meets a nurse from County Clare who opens gates as it were. Surgeons appear and give opinions that all is well and the plaster is removed. A Physiotherapist arrives minutes later and works on Kay’s hand for an hour and insists she returns a few more times before we depart Darwin. The power of the Irish Diaspora knows no end.
Asked to carry some gas canisters to Teddy’s Bar in Kupang, Indonesia by a ‘Sail Indonesia’ helper, we agree, but on reflection we realise that they will be sealed and the penalty for drug smuggling into Indonesia is death. We state our worries, so Kay accompanies him to Woolworths Supermarket to buy a soda stream gadget and a few spare gas canisters, the bona fide of the cargo is ensured. We have used ‘Sail Indonesia” as our agents to procure our cruising permit and a letter of guarantee that we shall leave Indonesia with the vessel. This waives the necessity of lodging a bond to the value of the boat with the Indonesian authorities. They were efficient to deal with.
8th August; 16.00 set sail for Kupang in Timor 450 miles west. Wind proves unreliable over the next few days and progress is made mainly under engine. The sea is calm and the passage uneventful. Indonesia is closed under fine sailing conditions on the morning of the 12th and we anchor off the beach at Kupang. Hailed from a tiny timber canoe by Oyn we are requested to go to the shore (as none of the authorities have boats) to pick up a quarantine inspector. An officious little creature who objected to getting his feet wet and to the size of our dingy. Onboard he produced the most amazing array of documents which he proceeded to cover with dozens of stamps, it was Peter Sellers at his most bizarre, he kept stating that he had not eaten nor drank since dawn as it was the holy month of Ramadan, he then requested whiskey. The skipper lied and said we had none, he spotted a box of wine, I said OK and went to get a glass, but quick as a flash the light fingered inspector was stuffing the full two liter box into his official bag.
After sundowners and dinner we sleep fitfully in this uneasy anchorage, that is until 0400 in the morning when an unearthly wailing filled the air and shot us out of our dreams. The mosque was calling the faithful to prayer and everyone else at megawatts, the minarets have been replaced with a high speaker tower, they are high as the Christian majority (95%) in the town who have been known to hurl rocks at same and we can well imagine why. However, it was not just a call to prayer it broadcast the whole hour long service sung as would a demented sheep. This was to occur five times per day the skipper pined for his FCA 303 snipers rifle the speakers were well within range, but such an action could plunge the entire country into war. Speaking to some Christian residents about the whole scene they were very abusive about the arrogance of these broadcasts, but at least they said there now was peace. Fifteen years ago the Muslims had soaked the local priest in petrol and set fire to him and the Christians retaliated by burning out a load of Muslim houses and cars. All sounds a bit familiar, where would we be without it.
08.00 Saturday we met Ayub on the beach he was to be our English speaking guide he ordered a taxi while explaining the procedure, we had to check in with customs then immigration back to customs then the harbour master As it was Saturday official offices were closed but he had friends everywhere and would see us right, they all might have to be helped a little as government pay was very poor and to get a government job one had to borrow for substantial bribes and they too had to be paid back.
A customs officer arrived on the beach and clearing in commences, many forms are filled and stamped, he explains after immigration we must return and receive more papers. First we go to an ATM and withdraw 1,200,000rp. On top of the 1,950,000rp we had procured in Darwin, we were now multi millionaires, one Euro equals 10833rp. Arriving at the Immigration office the only sign of life was a pile of plastic rubbish smoldering at the front gate. The official who was to clear us in was playing football, we returned to the city, informed he was in the shower and would proceed with the clearance, we all returned again to the office, he following on a motor bike. Ayub passed 150,000rp from us to the official who informed that he was locked out of the office but fair play to him did he not pile furniture up against a wall and swing over it and effectively broke in to get our clearance stamps. As an aside everybody at all times appear to be dialing, talking on or at least fiddling with their mobile phone, big fancy ones at that, not as we remember them, the way to an official’s heart we found was to admire his mobile phone.
Many smiles and handshakes and we were off back to town, The skipper went to ‘Teddy’s Bar’ to meet and inform Teddy we had the ‘stuff’ for him. Just then three customs officers reappeared. Teddy whisper’s “hush” and disappeared. Sweet hot coffees arrived to the table, Customs Officers, Kay, Ayub, taxi driver and I all sat around the table, filling forms with much stamping and handshaking, Pylades was officially imported and off we went on a long drive to the Port Captain. For an office that was supposed to be closed there was an inordinate amount of persons about. Another pile of forms were filled, signed, stamped and new ones typed with two fingers on an ancient typewriter by a man with one gold stripe. All the papers were then passed to a man with two stripes who altered a few things and passed them to a man with three stripes and same again and finally we were ushered through a door framed in pink silk curtains into a carpeted office with soft chairs to a space that had the ambience somewhere between a funeral parlor and a brothel into the presence of the Port Captain sitting on a large swivel chair under a coat of arms and portraits of the incumbent President and flanked by two lesser stripped secretaries . He was swathed from head to waste in gold braids and oozing charm signed our copious forms with a bejeweled hand.
Leaving the Port Office we looked down at the port below, a single ship was docked but no activity apparent. Behind, on the hill overlooking the harbour was a large and very dominant cement factory; we were told that nothing had been produced there for many years. It had been closed due to endemic corruption. Our paperwork now complete we concluded it might not be the best place to arrive if one did not have a visa or CIAT (cruising) form. On our way back to the city we were shown the Mayors house, a massive series of white painted colonnaded buildings all in extremely bad taste ‘architecture never lies’ then back at the anchorage the taxi driver and Ayub eradicate large sections of what remained in our pockets.
Now free to roam the town on foot we take stock. Being the only white or indeed tourist of any shade in town, every where we were a curiosity, keeping a low profile was not an option. Constantly greeted with ‘hello mister’, ‘goodbye mister’ many came to us to practice a bit of English, The vast majority were very friendly, the roads were abuzz with tens of thousands of light motorbikes some with husband, wife and three children on board, most had helmets but children never had. A bike would whiz past; behind the driver were dozens of live screaming chickens tied to poles. Weaving through all this were the boom busses, small vans that could pack in about 12 people, festooned in decorations and blasting rock music, constantly blowing their horns and a young fellow hanging out the open side door touting for business.
A vibrant exciting place Kupang, one could however understand the dearth of tourists. The city was filthy, we reckoned it had never seen a bin collection, piles of rubbish everywhere some smoldering, one had to watch every step, broken footpaths, open drains, ruined buildings, filthy water lapping on the shore, the rivers and the sea are tips. Ayub had spoken to us of the endemic poverty with people in the countryside eating leaves and starving. There was corruption at every level, he told us in the hospitals there are no medicines, however if you can afford to bribe you can get, the schools are expensive and you must pay for everything. There is little or no work he said for anyone, exasperated by a huge and young population growing by about 2,000,000 a year. By day one notices hundreds just hanging about.
Ayub told us his only income was the occasional visitor, every morning he goes to the airport hoping to meet someone he can perhaps help, and then back to the beach to see if any yachts have arrived. He put his head in his hands and said ‘why O why are we being left behind’; we could not find words to comfort or predict a bright future. He brings us to meet Toba the man who has a wife and children at home but sleeps under the broken pier by the beach , if a dingy comes ashore helps them up the beach and minds the dingy for 30,000rp (2.5 Euro)a day, he was a lovable fakir like man worth his weight in gold to us. He said his income will cease with the departing of the yachts. We think we are the last this year.
Later in the day Teddy goods were delivered, he was most grateful offering us a bed for the night in his hotel, which might well have proved to be very interesting! An establishment that could have been a set in a Vietnam War movie complete with flags, girls and sixties music.
15th August; taking a boom box bus for the supermarket, everybody smiled though they were quite surprised that we had boarded. It was packed and resembled the inside of a very hot loudspeaker, cost about 10p, unfortunately because of language problems we got out at the wrong stop and had to hike another mile, but the sights were worth it. At one stage finding it difficult to cross a road with the density of traffic, a man standing on the roadside grabbed Kay’s arm and rushed her across the road, first time in her life helped across a road!. Every second there seemed to be a new mini adventure. Finally located, the supermarket was full of stuff but not as we know it, we bought some and taxied back.
The skipper was deposited at ‘Teddy’s’ to chill while Kay went to the street market for a few more bits, as she disappeared out the gate the skipper while looking on a tranquil sea, sipping a cold beer and listening to ‘Hey Jude’, felt a warm hand caress his shoulder…”hi, you on your own” a soft voice said “You could say that” I replied “Mind if I sit down” “No not at all” ”What is your name she intoned .. Ferrrguss”…. “That’s a lovely name”—“thanks” “and yours”—Ciynthia she purred. “And what age is Ciynthia I asked –twenty four” so similar” I said. “Are you REALLY on your own she asked again”. I explained that my wife was shopping and would return shortly, there was a longish pause and as she placed her hand on my thigh she said “So I suppose” ,”no boom boom!” .” No boom boom today” I said. I asked her if I could photograph, absolutely she said and I did. As she exited the yard on her motorbike prayers from the mosque drifted over mixing with bar music and Kay returned. Any news she asked…..
16th August; 07.30 exit Kupang after two days and nights with fickle winds we anchor at Lehok Gingg. For the first time in months the skipper goes hull and prop cleaning and fits new prop anode, resulting in the usual panting session, getting less fit methinks!. We had come to this area in the hope of seeing the Komodo Dragons, on the beach we found fresh footprints of same but encountered none. Next day we sailed to North Komodo making over ten knots between the islands in a swirling tide here the water was crystal clean and we could see our anchor down in 12 meters such a relief after the murky waters of the past months. In Monjo we had some of the best snorkeling since Tonga. A riot of coral colours and reef fish lay beneath our ship. As we raised anchor the next morn, the clear visibility allowed us to maneuver the boat to unwind chain from the coral heads and minimize damage. Anchoring near coral always raises such ethical issues and while large sections of Indonesian coral had been destroyed by locals fishing with explosives and cyanide, that still does not change the issue for us. As the sun rose on the 23rd we pick up a mooring at GiliAir, a tourist resort island with the only transport being by horse and buggy. Here for the first time we notice some boats of our fellow travelers. We spend two very chilled days here and even eat out twice, the food being excellent and the costs minimal.
25th August; 04.15 exit for Bali, a favorable current speeds us south, we encounter the amazing Balinese spider boats along the way, dozens of tiny Triamarans with colorful sails whizzing along in a big rolling sea. We tie at Bali International Marina at 12.15, it is rundown but with a certain charm, over the coming days we stock with all the essentials. The center of town is a 10km taxi ride away, every where there are shrines and temples to the many and varied gods of the Hindu. Thousands of statues were swathed in colorful materials with offering of flowers and incense at their feet. It appears as a very gently private religion as distinct from the Muslim chanting blaring from the mosques which despite again being but a small minority in the city they make up for that deficit with pure volume. However, they are not alone in the volume stakes, a large three storey tourist ship docked close to our marina berth makes out to sea and a back twice a day accompanied by mega watts of angry foul mouthed ghetto rap. We failed to see the connection between the noise and relaxed tourism, requests at mitigation were denied. Somewhere there must be a virus that preys on mans most vile invention, amplifiers!!.
The skipper decides to have a snack in town from one of the thousand restaurants and spends a few very ill days regretting. Eating out, drops back off the agenda. We discover the vast ‘Carrefour’s supermarket and stock the boat from there, fill our tanks with large bottles of drinking water purchased through the marina, fill our diesel and the exasperating gas bottles. We have unearthed an international conspiracy against the cruising yachtsman. This is expressed by the surplus of officials in every harbour (except the French) who’s sole purpose in life is to harass the cruising yachtsman, the multifarious types of gas bottles and fittings which forces clandestine fillings, threatening entire marinas if a smoker should pass at the wrong moment and finally the simple expedient of connecting a hose to the local water tap, each of which has its own unique fitting.
1st September put to sea bound for Cocos Keeling 1120 miles to the west. Five days later under the lee of Christmas Island we saltwater shower as we stream past at 7 knots 1.5knots of that are from a favorable current. On the 8th we slowly negotiate our way in through the stunning colours of the Cocos lagoon and anchour in the lee of Direction Island. Customs arrives on a jet ski and provides a wealth of information to boot. Snorkeling is magnificent but the boat constantly has one reef shark circling, when two more join and begin to circle the skipper closer he abandons hull cleaning and the water. The adjacent beach is a classic white sand atoll scene with overhanging coconut trees.
When Darwin and the Beagle arrived here in 1836 he commented on the abundant bird life on the island, however in 1854 a ship was wreaked on the island and the abandoning rats found a seemingly inexhaustible supply of food, chicks and eggs. Like humans they quickly expanded their population to ensure non sustainability. The birds have disappeared but moves are afoot to change the order of things, a rat eliminating team with tons of poison was working on the island as we were there. We walk down the windward side of the island and find other phenomena that Darwin would not have witnessed, thousands of discarded flip-flops and plastic bottles ranged along the high water line, so this is where all the rubbish we witnessed being dumped in every drain, river and beach in Indonesia ends up.
During our stay the skipper accompanied by Jon and Jennifer of Ile de Grace snorkel the rip, this is an opening where the nutrient rich water of the ocean pours through the outer reef into the lagoon at about 5 knots, one gets as close to the outer reef as possible and jumps into the center of the rip, you are then whisked along through the chasm filled with myriads of large fish species and a fabulous background of coral. It was amazing, the skipper did this thrice. Two of the other islands of the group are permanently inhabited and ethnically divided; Home Island has about 500 mainly ex. Malay Muslims on welfare with West Island having the airport and 150 non permanent Australians mainly in administration and services. There is no discernable income to the island group; all apparently funded by the mining resources of Australia.
On the 13th and 14th respectively sees us celebrating both our birthdays with a fire on the beach, guitars and boxes are played, food and wine is quaffed a most memorable 65th for the skipper, where is time going? Also fêted is news of the release of our fellow cruisers and friends from Denmark Jan, Marie, their children and crew of sailing boat ING. They had been held captive by Somali pirates for seven months.
!5th September exit Cocos Keeling for the 2300 mile haul to Mauritius. The first day or so is fine sailing with 15knots and light seas, by the 18th the wind is gusting 20 to 30 knots and the seas are 3.5 meters and confused with a swell from the south battling a swell from the south east, we roll horribly in the melee with a wave every so oft sweeping over. For the next few days the cockpit is uninhabitable and below is to put it mildly, uncomfortable. With the main and staysail stowed we are running under a third of the genoa. The hatches are locked in position, below decks we read, popping our heads up every 15 minutes like marine moles to watch out for shipping, we sight a few far off.
Every morning Kay runs an SSB radio net between the boats that left Cocos at the same time, at 10.00 local her dulcet tones call out, “this is yacht Pylades, Kay calling, is anyone on frequency” Information is then exchanged on positions, weather and any on board news. We are not exactly keeping tight formation, the American 48 foot sloop is 122 miles ahead and the American 42ft catamaran is 75 miles behind, but all is well as we slowly tramp along towards our destination.
24th September; celebrate passing the half way mark with a glass of wine. The wind and seas ease back and it is now possible to sit in the cockpit again we even manage a saltwater shower at the stern. Now with full genoa poled out to port and staysail to starboard but no mainsail, as we are holding over 140 miles a day we just leave well alone. And so the Indian Oceans slowly is traversed, we get a day here and there of glorious sailing in reasonable seas under blue sky and the next day its squalls and cross swell. When Joshua Slocham the world first single handed circumnavigator passed this way in the late 1800’s he said of the sea that he had never before so often in the cockpit been drenched, suffice to say that not much has changed.
28th September; 03.30 during a telepole maneuver at the bow the skipper notices that the baby stay has gone slack; the SS strap toggle securing the stay to the deck has torn right across. With various options looked at we reattach the stay with a high load shackle and tighten up. However the load is now out of line and a weak point. We proceed under reduced sail and hope for no repeat of previous weather. Later that day Rodriguez is passed to starboard, we had planned to stop, but hear over the SSB that no water is available there and as our tanks are very low we press on. We meet more than expected shipping on the passage, perhaps having been driven around South Africa due to pirate activity.
2nd October; 02.00 arrive Port Louis Mauritius, Having failed to raise the port authority on two occasions on the way in they unfortunately respond as we prepared to tie at the customs dock . They ordered a very cranky skipper and co. back out to sea were we drifted slowly offshore until 06.00. The skipper later raised the matter with the authorities as to why they have excellent leading and port and starboard lights and do not permit port entry at night, or were they afraid of the dark! They apologised and admitted that we should not have been banished!.
A great deal of paperwork later we tied at the marina, which turned out to be one of the nicest and cheapest we have ever stayed in. The town had a lively market full of colorful luscious fruits, spices and vegetables, the general vibrancy and good humour of the people were a treat. Rashid, the Indian taxi man and general Mr. Fixit appeared each morning on the marina, he could and did fix and organise for the sailors, nothing was a problem for Rashid. We got a replacement for our broken toggle from a German cruiser ‘Momo”. We also noticed that our port lower spreader had jumped about 75mm up the rigging; skipper inspected all the rigging from aloft and eased the spreader back with a block of timber and a lump hammer to its rightful position. It was a very social period with about 10 boats preparing for the haul to South Africa. An Irish dinner is hosted on board ‘Second Wind’ to thank Kay for her radio work on the Indian Ocean,
Natural selection, the driving force of evolution has no foresight and when the ancestral pigeons of the Dodo arrived in Mauritius a few million years ago they found a land of plenty with no predators. Thus they evolved into large ground feeding birds and with no one to flee from lost the ability to fly. In 1507 sailors arrived and called this bird the Dodo which in Portuguese means stupid. The fearless birds were almost inedible but were easy prey and perhaps for sport clubbed to death in their thousands. The introduction of dogs, cats, rats which eat their eggs and sugarcane planters who destroyed the habitat, all were extinct within two hundred years. The concepts of conservation and of sharing the planet with all species of our shared ancestry had still to dawn on man.
11th October; exiting at midday we have a fast and again boisterous passage of 140 miles. We tie at Le Port, Reunion (an overseas territory of France) 24 hours later. A very friendly and record fast check in, Customs clearance took about 30 seconds, stamp, stamp, bonjour and they were gone and they never asked for our clearance papers from Mauritius…vive La France. The currency is the Euro. The town is about 20minutes walk from the dock with the stamp of France over its old architecture and huge French supermarkets, one could want for nothing! We take bus rides out to the towns of St.Dennis and St.Pieirre. Also into the spectacular interior and tramp the mountains around Cap Noir. The views and air are so refreshing and like every time we venture into the hills we say ‘we must do this more often’. The social scene in the harbour is dominated as usual by weather and the route to South Africa.
We meet again our South African friends on their yacht Wizard of Africa a powerful 60 footer which had lost its mast off Australia, and blew out the mainsail just before we met them in Bali. They persuaded that Richards Bay would be a more pleasant landing than Durban. We were glad to hear that Gerrie, the skipper who had to divert from sailing to Chagos to Rodriguez, because of a detached retina, had flown from there to home where he had some treatment to his eye and was hopeful of retaining the sight, with more treatment to come on his return
Kay took photos of some children sailing Optimists around the harbour. the instructor later asks could we send him the photos. He explains that that was the first time they have been training the children down at the Marina; this was due to a spate of shark attacks outside the harbour, one of which consisted of a great white shark jumping out of the water trying to get a canoeist, who escaped with just a bad fright. “I am not permit to train za childs in ze arbour, but if I lose a one to a shark za parents they vould be upset, vhat can I do”?
31st October; at noon we leave Le Port, Reunion and make for a waypoint 574 miles about 120 miles south of Madagascar to keep in water safe from the reputed freak waves that lurk off its coast.. Two days of sailing in light winds and little sea we run into a rain cell which lashes us for about 12 hours and switches the wind from the north east to the south, swells breaking on the bow snap the anchour tie and the skipper eventually regains control of the anchour and reties it at the bow, despite being in full foul weather gear still gets drenched but at least its warm water! The next day we were close hauled in light airs but almost able to lay the course. We do our worst distance ever of 89 miles.
Over the SSB we receive the shocking news that Wizard of Africa has gone down after hitting a drifting container at night. Their EPIRB worked and Gerrie and his four crew were picked up from their life raft by a freighter and were to be dropped off in Singapore. We heard later that the ship diverted and dropped them off at Mauritius, from where they flew home.
5th November; a dirty enough night as we round the southern tip of Madagascar wind goes 20 to 30 knots and we run into a counter current which turns the waves into furies, we get pooped. However slow our progress is we reflect that if we had been sailing this route 165 million years ago the going would have been a touch slower as we would have been sailing through what is now India. and indeed had we rounded the African Cape we would then have to plough our way up through Antarctica and then a bit of what is now South America. That is before all those continents started off on their tectonic plate voyages, which continue at about the same speed our fingernails grow. Madagascar stayed more or less put!
7th November; a calm day and are under engine when an alarm goes and our faithful Autohelm 4000 packs up it appears that the electronic compass is not talking to the steering motor. Luck has it that the wind springs up and we set off under full main and headsail and have two glorious days of sailing. On the 9th the wind decides we are having it too easy and goes up to 25 knots we run into a counter current, it gets very uncomfortable as we twist and turn in the Mozambique Channel.
10th November; talking to the ‘Peri Peri’ net that is a South African net run to give weather information to cruisers. We are informed conditions look good and that the 20 knot southerly should be gone before we reach the dreaded Agulhas current. All pilots warn against entering the current in a southerly. However it persists so we hove-to 80 miles out from Richards Bay with a south wind whistling to 30 knots through the rigging and 3 meter seas. While hove-to we find the engine compartment flooded it has come from the stern gland, we start the engine and spin the prop, something is caught around, it will not shut correctly. Am not going down to look, we hope it will get us in. Having not seen a ship for days, out of the night one bears directly down on us. We call him on the VHF he agrees to change course, he misses, it’s a long night. We note that we are being brought north by a south-easterly current.
11th November; At dawn the wind eases backs easterly, we press on for Richards Bay, 30 miles out the wind has gone north east, perfect, as we get into the grip of the Agulhas current we start to fly along at 7to 9 knots. By the time we enter Richards Bay its blowing 30 knots we are over canvassed, the self steering cannot cope the skipper hand steers the last few very quick miles. Elation grips us as Pylades sweeps through the entrance in sheets of spray. We are ecstatic to have crossed the Indian Ocean, a crossing we had never planned from the start and which we had approached with a certain degree of trepidation. It had proved to be a testing ocean indeed. We tie in the small boat basin at 19.00, open a bottle of Champagne and crash asleep. Next morning a troop of monkeys gambol about the dock and visit our ship. We are in Africa.
Miles sailed since Bellharbour: 28,468
SOUTH AFRICA LOG
12th November 2011; Dawn brings monkeys gambolling about on the dock and boat. Customs and Immigration officials come and go in a painless fashion; we are then overwhelmed by welcomes from local people and fellow sailors already in. The dockside has bars and restaurants and we treat ourselves to an excellent meal ashore. The town of Richards Bay is a 15 minute taxi ride away we restock in a gigantic shopping mall, the biggest apparently in the southern hemisphere, one could perhaps add also the most boring and architecturally challenged. However the supermarkets were amazing for the range of goods, the excellent quality and value. The skipper’s daughter Sarah arrives to visit with boyfriend Rupes and informs of marriage plans on our return. Celebratory dinners on Pylades and ashore are accompanied with much bubbly and toasting.
15th November; We head to the game reserve of Hluhluwe-iMfolozi where with guide and jeep we encounter an amazing range of animals from the huge bull elephant to the busy dung beetle all displaying the astonishing complexity of evolution and wonderful to meet in the African wilderness. We are informed that the unfortunate belief that eating ground rhinoceros horn improves sexual performance and cures all sorts of things has led the death of 420 rhinos in 2011. After a week in the small boat harbour of Richards Bay, Pylades moves to the Zululand Marina, again a social hub of boats awaiting passage south and carrying out repairs. Diving on the prop is unpleasant in the murky water so we run Pylades onto a drying grid which only drops the water to a meter deep, but enough to polish the propeller and change anodes, Kay is a touch apprehensive at this 07.00 task as the murky water we are informed is home to both crocodile and shark, at least it ensures the work is carried out smartly. Wonderful hot showers and breakfast follow.
24th November; Kay returning to Pylades over burdened with bags of food seeks temporary respite under a tree and is quickly surrounded by a troop of monkeys who spotted possible lunch… dragging all the bags to a nearby workshop and calling out she is helped by workmen who keep nicks on the food as she shuttles bag after bag back to the boat under the watchful eye of the monkeys waiting for a lapse moment. Harassments of the cruising yachtswomen come in many forms.
Weather windows open and close with rapidity. Due to the perceived ferocity of this coast, the authorities require notice of arrivals and leaving of all harbours and flight plans in between. Best one can do is put down first thoughts and tough it out. On the 26th we exit Richards Bay with a forecast of fair winds 15 to 20knots from the northeast and this was the case until well past Durban. The wind increased over the first night to 25 to 35 knots , just ahead of us a big French Catamaran reported gusts of 65knots. Constant solid rain, lightening and thunder accompany the rising wind making a horrible sea and a challenging if fast passage. To compound misery the main navigating plotter throws a wobbly, refuses to give our position, wipes most of the detail off the charts and no longer shows AIS targets. As visibility is almost non existent we try radar but the peaking pyramidal waves bury the screen in clutter. The skipper’s heart stops when a freighter looms off the bow silhouetted by lightening and disappears seconds later in the driving rain. 30 miles out from East London the wind dies, leaving us motoring slowly in a confused sea. We tie at East London at 15.00 on the 28th. Only two days at sea but seldom has a passage taken so much out of us.
East London springs some surprises; we are the only boat on passage in the harbour. A couple, we meet on the dock take us on the tour of the town and surroundings and provide insights into the workings of South Africa, the good and the bad. The following evening we inflate the dinghy and cross the river to the yacht club for a sun downer. As we do Kay notices smoke pouring from a large motor boat moored just behind, we dial for fire brigades, men rush from all directions with extinguishers and hoses, the brigade arrives. The fire is extinguished but the 13M launch is gutted. A poor shore power connection apparently was the cause. We now definitely need a drink.
The members of the club are welcoming; conversations provide further insights into the workings of SA, some blatant racism mixed with measured observations. Everywhere we hear tales and not just from the white side of President Zuma who has little interest in book learning and “that sort of thing”. Corruption, we are told is rampant. We inform that in this they are most certainly not alone, as we regale with tales of blatant robbery in our own Fair Isle. On the positive side the news papers and radio appear to be vigorous in reporting the ills of the state, so hope remains. We take a tour of the local Mercedes Benz factory, while it is fairly obvious that labour costs might have something to do with its location, it is an amazing experience witnessing the rows of robots whizzing panels around the place and spot welding at speed, a few of those lads would have been very handy for us in the building of Pylades.
4th December; we sail for Port Elizabeth the forecast 15 to 20 knot north easterlies are again optimistic. We reef and reef the main before dropping it and run off before wind which rises to 40 and as we approach our destination goes over 50 knots the sea is very confused and white matching the countenance of the skipper, as we move out of the currant the seas ease a bit but bid us fare well with a fine pooping. Entering the marina at 00.15 we lose our way but manage to tie alongside a large racing yacht for the night. At dawn we get a slip and are directed to observe how all the permanent boats are tied. Festooned they are with myriads of hefty dock lines, steel springs, tyres. etc. When a swell arrives we understand why, the motion is worse than at sea. Snatching, creaking docks, despite doubling all lines and making them as long as possible to increase spring we still snap many. The most dangerous action ever carried out by the skipper was replacing dock lines at night crawling on all fours on a bucking pontoon with heavy boats around crashing into it. Springer’s lying slack and crossing the dock to get length would lift and snap tight in a split second. Falling between the boats was curtains. The scream of steel pontoons grinding was like the wail of the banshee. Our dock lines after a few days were a sight to behold, knots everywhere spouting dread locks. Close by was a freighter loading manganese ore, which coated our ship in a fine black dust. Sometime we ask our selves, why?
Every morning the repair team would arrive to start reassembling and rewelding the docks. Apparently the port authorities will not allow the club build an inner wall which would solve all the problems. Apart from the negatives, the people were very welcoming and the bar in the yacht club was great for socialising. The town of Port Elizabeth had many fine churches and we noted in particular the stained glass windows festooned with saints and biblical scenes, had not a single black figure or indeed anyone that resembled a Palestinian Jew in any of them. All figures were strikingly white European, gods indeed, we make in our own image.
The days pass and constant contrary winds predominate blowing hard around the cape of storms. We tend our warps and hold on. Finally on the 16th December we motor 180 miles to Mossell Bay. It is a feast or a famine as far as wind is concerned. No spaces in the marina so we pick up a mooring outside the harbour. After a day we launch the dinghy and explore the town. This is where the Portuguese explorer, Bartholomew Dias landed in 1487 on an expedition to find a sea route to India, a replica of his ship is in the fine local museum. The negative side of the mooring was the fanatic Jet Ski and motor boat activity, which at least ceased in the late evening; we wined and dined in the local YC and other hostelries for very low prices.
23rd December; the weather looks fair for the Cape and as usual in these parts we leave on a falling barometer. The wind is light and we motor on and off until at 0.5.00 on the 24th we pass the much feared Cape Agulus and arrive back on the Atlantic Ocean, last left in January 2010. The south east wind springs and Pylades fly’s past the Cape of Good Hope. The wind went from light to strong in pulses as we past the Hottentot Mountains, so after a few reefing and unreefing sessions we start the engine and motor. The myriads of lights at the entrance to Cape Town harbour confuse greatly added to by the fact that our plotter was not plotting and the wind was 30 knots on the nose, but at 03.00 on the 25th while singing “we saw a ship come sailing in, come sailing in, on Christmas day etc.” We pick up a mooring just outside the small boat basin of the Royal Cape Yacht Club.
Joshua Slocum the world’s first single handed circumnavigator passed this way at the same time, Christmas of 1897 but without the benefits of forecasts, GPS and engine. He wrote as follows. “Gales of wind sweeping round the cape were frequent enough, one occurring, on an average, every thirty-six hours; but one gale was much the same as another, with no more serious result than to blow the Spray along on her course when it was fair, or to blow her back somewhat when it was ahead. On Christmas, 1897, I came to the pitch of the cape. She began very early in the morning to pitch and toss about in a most unusual manner, and I have to record that, while I was at the end of the bowsprit reefing the jib, she ducked me under water three times for a Christmas box. I got wet and did not like it a bit: never in any other sea was I put under more than once in the same short space of time, say three minutes. A large English steamer passing ran up the signal, “Wishing you a Merry Christmas.” I think the captain was a humorist; his own ship was throwing her propeller out of water”.
While in South Africa, Slocum met Mr. Kruger the Transvaal president and mentioned he was on a voyage around the world; this unwittingly gave great offense to the venerable statesman. Kruger corrected rather sharply, reminding that the world is flat. “You don’t mean round the world,” said the president; “it is impossible! You mean in the world. Impossible! he exclaimed firmly. The incident greatly amused Slocum. Perhaps it’s just as well Mr. Kruger never met with Mr. Darwin.
Cape Town is magnificent, we found much to explore and enjoy besides the multifarious repairs to our ship, new VHF and autopilot, much work to the mainsail batten cars and a fellow sailor reconfigured our plotter and AIS, after 13 years and 58,000 miles we could not complain too much. New Years Eve we dined at the Royal Cape Yacht Club, and celebrated with a bottle of bubbly at midnight swamped by the deafening blast of the harbour ships sounding, and echoing between the bastions of Table Mountain. We speculate on the coming year and our voyage home with a degree of nervous excitement.
6th January; Brenda Linnane arrives from Ireland for a visit. We catch up on the local gossip from home and go on tourist expeditions. The cable car to table mountain is wonderful with a two hour walk to MacLear’s beacon on the top. The tour of Robben Island was interesting if a somewhat somber reflection on what man can do to maintain power and privilege. The guides are ex prisoners and when it was discovered that we were from Ireland, asked did we know of Dunnes Stores and the actions of the girls there who refused to handle the South African goods, of course we exclaimed! What an impact that had made in the prison at the time, we had indeed a proud moment, and made all those years supporting the anti apartheid struggle worthwhile.
27th January; we clear with the port, customs, and immigration authorities, take on the last of our provisions and secure Pylades for the next leg of our voyage. Early on the morning of the 28th we plan to set sail for St. Helena 1700 miles to the northwest.
Miles sailed since Bellharbour: 29,590
NORTH FROM CAPE TOWN
“Tis the fairest thing and the grandest cape I’ve seen in the whole circumference of the earth.” (Francis Drake)
28th January 2012; Under the shadow of Table Mountain we exit Cape Town docks. Spend an hour motoring around in circles calibrating the new electronic auto helm. Finally with all systems, the wind fills in and in the company of a pod of whales we square off for St. Helena 1700 miles to the north east. Yet again, the wind is in surplus quantities, a cross sea from port dumps right over the cockpit and shreds the connections of the starboard dodger, which had all been carefully resewn in Cape Town . As the first darkness pales the sound and the fury die away, by full light all plain sail is reinstated. Over the next 12 days we run through easy blue sky days with full canvas, the nights a brilliant star field dimmed only by the passage of a full moon which nightly waned.
9th February; Growing from a faint outline, St. Helena, looms brown and haggard, its tip rose 5 kilometers from the sea bed 14 million years ago, spat fire and brimstone for another 7 million years and has been sculpted by wind, rain and wave since. At 18.30 off Jamestown our anchor runs down 18 meters bedding in a mixture of rock and sand. There are four cruisers at anchor to warm welcome us, two of which we had met down at the Cape, we wine and dine in celebration of our arrival. Next morning is the landing experience, as we approach in the dinghy the swell surging about 1.5 meters at the landing, we lay a stern anchor, grab the moving ladder and move fast, it has been the undoing of many. However, if one went in the water it is beautifully clean and not cold. Every occasion of landing and departing particularly with fuel and water cans was challenging, it dissuades somewhat against wineing in town and late returns.
The 5000 people of St. Helena must rank as the worlds friendliest, it is a little piece of England in the south Atlantic. The island first discovered in 1502 by the Portuguese and kept a secret of 90 years was then taken in turn by the Dutch and English who heavily fortified it as a supply base. In its heyday 1000 ships a year called for water and supplies. It was a major slave trading post, then later a player in the break up of that trade, although, why there are 15,000 victims of that despicable ‘trade’ buried here remains an unanswered question.
The island was host to Cook, Nelson, Slocum, Darwin, the astronomer Halley, Napoleon and 6000 Boer prisoners who all fashioned its fascinating history. We hire a car and enriched our historical perspectives touring the haunts where that pompous usurper of the French Revolution ended his days. We sat at his burial place and contemplated the rivers of blood spilt across Europe and Russia so that in glory and triumph, he, his generals and many of his like could become momentary masters of a fraction of this pale blue dot. Nineteen years after his internment here his body was raised and ferried back to Paris. We visit the High Knoll fort which though widely advertised as one of the places to visit was locked and adorned with no entry signs, being ‘Irish’ however we persisted and gained the fort. We also gain the top of Jacobs Ladder all 699 steps of it, just had to be done! Good test of the heart, the record stands at 5 minutes odd by some demented mountain runner, we took 15 minutes! In the local museum the skipper had a considerable dialogue with the curator, part teacher and science master, who confirmed that all the schools on the island teach evolution, despite some objections? She related that in writing a book on the island some of the co authors refused to continue working on the book unless all references to any times before 6500 years ago were omitted.
16th February; 11.00 all sail is set for Cabedelo Brazil, 1802 miles to the north west. For full ten days and three under all plain sail we run down the wind again beneath blue skies chasing a waxing moon in easy seas. On many nights we are attacked by monster flying fish, the size of a decent mackerel striking with a thud and a very fishy smell, a few flap their way back to sea under their own volition, we rescue others. On the run we have to gybe on two occasions, Oh the hardship. The cloud clear nights bring a new vision of the plough and its pointers as they rise higher every night directing our gaze at the northern horizon where, still hidden, lurks Polaris.
26th February; sighting of a ship, the first since we left the Cape, the only other evidence of man is the international space station hurtling overhead through the ionosphere at 15,400 knots. It’s inspiring to know that somebody is plying these vast spaces. On the 29th a loom of light over João Pessão to the north west, in the morning we pass from the turquoise ocean into the brown green waters of the Paraiba River. One on the ‘red right returning’ entrance marks is missing and fish traps marked by plastic bottles adorn the main channel. At 13.00 we anchor in 4.5 meters off the Jacarẽ Marina. Next day by dusty roads, taxi and train we make our way to Cabedelo, a small town full of character. Here, we check in to Brazil having first satisfied the authorities of our ability to finance our stay by producing financial documents. The social scene at the French run Jacarẽ marina draws one in for sundowners, the delicious Cipriani cocktail prepared by the delightful Lydiana, and to exchange tales with laughing fellow rovers. Ravel’s Bolero is played each evening to serenade the sunset by a man with a saxophone standing on a punt in the river, after which the riverside restaurants resume ghastly karaoke type noise at mucho volume.
The city of João Pessão, surrounded by extensive shanty towns, has traces of auld decency in the Theatro San Rosa and some other small pieces of architecture, generally it is very run down with broken footpaths, missing drain covers and litter everywhere, every step has to be watched to avoid broken limbs. It would be impossible for a blind person to move about or for a person with a child buggy, none were seen. Later we discovered enormous shopping centers and malls outside the town, all more than adequate for stocking. The area around Jacarẽ had its own shanty town where it appeared that all teenage girls were either pregnant or sat on rocking chairs outside their forty year old mothers front doors bouncing their babies whilst the young men play pool on the outdoor pool table and all listen to the loud South American music. In the shed the fishermen mend nets and argue and settle arguments, all of these people appearing exceedingly friendly and good-humored.
The marina had a careening area onto which we ran the boat, in this mud bath Pylades settled at an extraordinary angle, despite some amazing looking single clawed crabs emerging from the mud snapping at us, polish we did to make our hull as slippery as possible for the next run.
10th March; 09.30 exit Brazil and set sail for Rodney Bay in St. Lucia 2075 miles north west. The day turns horrible with 25 knots of wind gusting and rain thick enough for fish to swim in. Thunder and lightening abound all indicating that we must be entering the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). On the SSB we hear that a German sailing vessel ‘Momo’ with a couple whom we had befriended had lost her rig in near gale conditions further north. They had cut away the rig and motored 250 miles to French Guyana. As there were no repair facilities there they set up a jury rig and proceeded on to Grenada, we follow their progress on the SSB net and were delighted when they made harbour safely, they reported the jury rig had served them well.
17thMarch; 14.00 we cross the equator into the northern hemisphere – to mark this moment the skipper shaves off his beard and for the first time since 1966 sees his countenance! Says it will hopefully grow again quickly.
A very strange popple of small peaked waves on the water surface close to the equator is noted, must be some current effects. Over the days passing through the ITCZ we have a lot of sail alterations and periods of motoring with wind coming and going as violent lightening storms pass over, swell comes from about any direction. The doldrums for sure, one squall catches the mainsail aback, the result if the preventer had not held the boom could have been catastrophic as the runner was set on the opposite side and had it been hit by a full force gybe the runner or the mast might have come down. A result of the battle to get all back on course was that mesh gear in the Monitor self steering jumped out of alignment, the thoughts of hand steering is a reoccurring nightmare, but we were able to compel it back into line. What it then required was a few washers to force the mesh together but it would have been impossible to remove the shaft to accomplish this in a seaway, so we twisted in four rings of 1mm diameter stainless steel wire in lieu and it worked a treat, never travel without it.
Passing the mouth of the Amazon, our halfway mark, we celebrate with a glass despite the discomfort of a 2.5 meter beam sea raised by 20 to 25 knots of wind out of the northeast. Squalls persist; about three a day come through with 30 plus knots and very heavy rain. The 100% cloud cover and gloom makes us long for the blue skies of the south Atlantic and dream of similar to the north, the cruising sailor is forever optimistic. However, this gloomy aspect stayed for many days with grey sunsets and sun rises. Finally we emerge from the ITCZ the wind becomes steady 15 knots from the north east and together with a favorable current we gain fine runs of up to 167 miles per day.
22nd March; 04.00 having sighted no vessels for over a week, the skipper on watch picks up the port light of a vessel well off to port. It will pass close, he concludes, but no problem, nevertheless he adjusts course to starboard to open the gap, goes below to run radar, plotter and AIS, comes back on deck a few minutes later, horror! The oncoming vessel in that short time had turned to port then back to starboard and is now dead ahead, close and closing by the second, we throw on the deck lights and with a pounding heart adjust hard to port. The vessel now identified as a trawler on passage, guns its engines and almost leaping out of the water turns hard to its port, through an odoriferous cloud of fish and burning diesel we pass. The skipper thinks hard about going back on the fags.
23rd March; 22.00 crossed the course line made two years 99 days ago when on the 15th December 2009 we sailed from Bridgetown, Barbados to Bequia, we have circumnavigated our pale blue dot, our misnamed planet earth which so obviously is Planet Ocean. We are elated with Pylades, ourselves and celebrate with a dram. ‘Let what will happen, the voyage is now on record’ (J. Slocum)
24th March on a fine morning with full sail Pylades sweeps around the southern tip of St.Lucia and by 15.00 drop anchor off the beach at Rodney Bay, we are in a very different world. Our isolation is well and truly over there are over sixty boats on anchor, vessels under sail and engine are visible in every direction.
Miles sailed since Bellharbour: 36,269
BACK IN THE CARIBBEAN
We swing on our anchor, swimming and sleeping for two days before entering Rodney Bay lagoon and check into the marina. Days are spent scrubbing the salt off Pylades after its long haul up from the Cape, doing laundry and catching up on domestic chores that keep us ‘ship shape’ The ambiance is suburban rather than Caribbean, the marina staff, as is everyone, very welcoming and pleasant to deal with we can understand why the ARC would come here. We enjoy our time more than expected meeting with many interesting cruising folk.
2nd April; Exit St. Lucia at 11.00 bound for Martinique, forecast is an easterly wind of 12 knots gusting 14, a light swell under a clear blue sky and that was the way of it, sailing as it should be, as depicted in brochures. Rounding the north point of St. Lucia we could see our destination, Martinique, at 16.00 down went our anchor in Marin in the midst of over 1000 boats. Entering the customs office to check in, the uniformed Monsieur motions us to a computer, we type in our details, press print, it is stamped, all done in minutes, the skipper asks is that it, ‘oui’ is the reply, vive le France et bon jour, we say! If only all countries could be so civilized!
Three days we spend here enjoying the relaxed atmosphere, sipping our morning espresso at the small table outside the boulangerie. We are back in the land of the baguette that begins to tell its own tale after a period as too much of a good thing can lead to pot bellies. Shopping and chandleries were very different from what we had grown used to, all very French and very first world. We stock with food and water and push on, sailing past Diamond Rock into the lovely fishing village of Anse D’Arlet where we anchored planning a couple of days there but it being a long weekend we were driven out by shore based boom boxes and motored to the little anchorage of Anse Noire where we snorkeled in the company of a vast shoal of fish. On to Anse Mitan, more sheltered from the swell but not from and the thousand watts of more boom box wind, we stayed one night and headed for and found refuge in Trois Ilets, hiding for a few days.
Fort de France was as we remembered it from 12 years ago but the facilities for landing dinghies are much improved, no charges for anything, charming narrow streets, excellent little bars, restaurants and coffee houses. We fall in with John and Rose from the UK on their Rival 34, many drinks and chat over two nights. An easy sail to the town of St. Pierre, anchoring under the shadow of Mt. Pelee volcano which had in 1902 given warning for many weeks that it was going to erupt…..the warnings were ignored and 30,000 people died in a blinding flash at two minutes past eight of a fine May morning. It had released more energy than an atomic bomb. The town is slowly recovering in a delightful fashion; the volcano which has enhanced the town’s history in such a brutal fashion appears to be deep sleeping.
Leaving St. Pierre and Martinique we overnight sail to the first of the Leeward Islands. In stark contrast to the last passage between the islands of the Caribbean this time its rough and wet, arriving mid morning at the mooring field off the only town in Les Saints at Euros11.00 per night it is not excessive as they are for the protection of the sea bed. Here we meet again with our American friends, Jon and Jennifer from Ile de Grace. We dine together as our tracks are now to separate, they on their way home to the USA via the Bahamas, ours to the east. So it is with our fellow rovers of the deep, paths cross and recross many times, as we meet, talk, sing, argue and celebrate in diverse and beautiful locations dictated by ocean wind patterns. Then a parting as the call of home and family send our ships over diverse horizons.
22nd April; anchor at Basse Terre outside the small marina which had been damaged by a hurricane, we landed in the charm less town and as the anchorage was very rolly and we determined to leave. At next first light we sailed to Pigeon Island to find the boats on anchor rolling their gunwales down, so we pushed on to Deshaies.. Good things come to those who wait, this was a most pleasant place, clean water, no rolling, very reminiscent of ‘Isle de Saintes’ we stay for a few days and even dine out. Checking out in Deshaies, the French preference for easy authority reaches new heights, we are directed to the Dive Centre where an amiable girl from Paris stamps our documents and wishes us bon voyage.
25th April; Full sail for Montserrat, passing this way in 2000 we had the flag but were not permitted to land as the volcano was in high alert. As we approach from the southeast one can see the huge tracts of land which have been swept by fire and brimstone, from ominous cracks high in the side of the mountain white smoke billows forth. However, we are assured all is now quite so we anchor at Little Bay and check in. In contrast to France this a rigmarole of silliness as we go from office to office inside the port compound, there are lots of people in every office with no discernable function. We finally get to Immigration which operates from ‘the second container up the road’. It’s locked, we go back to the Port Captain he says call in the morning, he should be there. In the meantime a row breaks out between two tour operators as to who will give us a tour of the Island next day. We agree to go with ‘Samuel White’ despite the other guy telling us we will not be able to understand his accent. He had a point.
26th April; 08.00 meet Immigration and our tour guide. (we almost never take formal tours, preferring to go our own way, the last one being a safari in SA) but all advice was that one must take to tour of Montserrat. It was well worth doing, the social history of the island, the genocide of the Carribs, the plantations, slaves, Irish catholic slave masters, the slave revolts and their execution. All are skipped over lightly; the dominant player is the movement of the bowels of the earth, the Volcano. The population of the island was 15000 before it really got active about 1997, that has reduced now to 5000. All the people have moved from the town of Plymouth and the south areas of the island to the north end. As we drive nearer to the south end of the island one becomes more aware of the total devastation caused. The volcano had been giving cause of alarm for a long time; scientists had been monitoring the situation and predicted accurately when it would blow. The whole town of Plymouth was evacuated, so that when it finally blew the only people who died were a small number who went too close to look.
We drove across the golf course where the roofs of three story houses peeped out of the debris field. Closer to the source every burnable item caught fire in the scorching heat flows. But down here they were inundated with flowing ash. No access is allowed into the town itself but from an overlooking position the full impact of the devastation is apparent. Economics aside, we appreciate the very stable nature of our own green land.
There is now a permanent volcano monitoring station, we went to a short shocking film which was taken at the time of the eruption. This showed the astonishing power unleashed when a tiny bit of the earths’ internal energy is realised, if only we could harness it. On the way back our guide Samuel decides to raid the mango tree of an abandoned Pentecostal church, they are delicious. We part with hugs we have enjoyed our tour. In the afternoon we snorkel the shore line in the company of many fish, and Kay encounters her first turtle and octopus underwater.
27th beating to Antigua in fresh conditions progress is slow, the tacking angle is ghastly in the steep chop, as we increase our sail area and our power to punch through the 1.8M sea the wind increases to 30knots, we are about to reduce sail, when with a bang and a ripppppppp the headsail goes over the side. A panel had torn through about 2M down from the head and then all the way down the luff. It takes a drenching hour to get it back on board and secured. We then motor tack our way to Falmouth Harbour under main. After check in we deliver our sail to the repair shop, the sail maker, Franklin, says there is only thread damage no actual material has ripped. As it is now in the middle of race week it will take two weeks to repair and US$404, not as bad as envisaged.
The place is buzzing, boom bands every night, all males had faultless five o clock shadows, ruffled hair and branded shades and girls cool and perfect. Racing machines and hired ‘sunsails’ of all sizes pour out of the harbour every morning to fly around the cans, all are back in by 16.00. Some of the moored up polished yachts are enormous with masts that challenge aircraft. As the Texan we met said ‘its a blast”. A Cork man swings by Ian Heffernan, attracted by the flag, it transpires that we both had been in Auckland NZ at the same time last year but he decided to come to the Caribbean heading east back across the Pacific via Panama with his girlfriend Lannie while we went the other way we are both on their way back to Ireland via Bermuda on an Ebbtide 36 ‘Kadoona’. A great session develops talking Cork pubs and sailing plans. Later more Irish turn up they are crewing on a gigantic 82ft Oyster ‘Starry Night’ and will be booting it back to Azores and Cork, methinks we may not hold them!
Our repaired genoa is delivered and as we hoist during a break in the wind it looks OK, time will tell. We organise to get the hull cleaned underwater; the skippers excuse for not doing this is a chest infection for which he is munching antibiotics. As the food, water and fuel stock-up facilities leave a lot to be desired in Falmouth Harbour we move up to Jolly Harbour for final stock-up.
Anchor off and meet Spanish friends on “Katay’, Esther and Albert. A fast moving conversation on Spain and the future ensues, they have been out for six years, they too are returning across the Atlantic
15th May check into to Jolly Harbour Marina for a night to stock up on food, fuel and water. It is definitely a far better bet than Falmouth for that sort of thing. The boat is now fully stocked, we have run out of excuses, we start our run to Bermuda, 930 miles to the north tomorrow.
Miles sailed since Bellharbour: altered to 36501
THE HOME RUN
16th May; 11.30 clearing the north point of Antigua we are in a fresh easterly wind and 2 meter sea, with three reefs in the main and much reduced headsail we cover 150 miles per day. These conditions hold for the six and a half uncomfortable days to Bermuda. Only one ship was encountered passing close by our stern, so close in fact that a discussion ensued with its bridge. The beginning of each leg is a bit tiring as one adjusts to the three hour watch routine and in this case the rolling of a beam sea.
21st May; listening to ‘Herb’ the Canadian based weather guru we hear of tropical storm ‘Alberta’ forming to the northeast of us, that news fairly grabs our attention and we decide to register with ‘Herb’. This consists of an e-mail giving our destinations and ship details. Then on, every evening at 21.00 UTC Herb gives us a detailed weather forecast and route changes if required. The weather is consistently grey with rain and poor visibility. Through the US coastguard we hear that two yachts Petra and Outer limits have gone down in the vicinity, the keel worked loose in one and the other hit a whale, all crew were rescued.
22nd May; 04.00 the lights and outline of Bermuda emerge through driving drizzle, we check in with Bermuda radio. Our details and approximate arrival time had been previously emailed to them, as required. The radio operator engaged in a tirade concerning the number of digits we had in our EPIRB but as we were engaging in close quarter manoeuvres with two enormous passenger liners at the entrance cut we hung up. 06.00 after clearing in with customs we paid our landing fee of $70 and anchored just off the town of St George’s in delightful calm clear turquoise water, slept a bit, had breakfast, walked the very pretty town, had a bottle of bubbly, a fine dinner and slept for 10 hours. One of our neighbours in the anchorage was the Irish Yacht Kadoona bound for Cork en route from Australia with skipper Ian Heffernan and crew Laani Pegler. We met them first in Antigua and were to find ourselves in their admirable company in various ports as we pushed home.
Jumping over the side next morn we find the sea fresher than the Caribbean but perfect for waking. The dreadful news arrives that the skipper of yacht Starry Night , Philip Scully from Cork has died enroute to Azores and they have put back to Bermuda. We visit the yacht to sympathise with the all Irish crew and members of Philip’s family who flown in. A few nights later we dine on Starry Night, where poems were recited and the skipper of Pylades plays a lament and other tunes in memory of Philip. His body was flown back to Cork followed by all the crew for his funeral.
Our ‘watering hole’ in St. George was the ‘East End Mini Yacht Club’. This bar overlooking the anchorage was the scene for a few nights of gathering of the crew of Pylades, Kadoona and on one occasion the crew of Starry Night – great stories were exchanged and became even greater. The club members, made up mostly of the local black population, were very welcoming and joined our company, definitely the place to drink in St. George. On our last night Kay is enveloped in big hugs from the local ladies and please “you must come back to Bermuda”. Bar the Starry night tragedy, our stop here turned out to be far better than our expectations. Over the next few days we take the bus to Hamilton and walk sections of the island.
31st May; The Azores are 1,830 to the east for the first time in over two years we are sailing into the rising sun. At night Polaris is high to the north and Cassiopeia becomes more dominant, we are getting into familiar night sky territory. Kay checks in with Herb daily, he advises to stay on an east heading to avoid, as he puts it, “the storm fields” to the north. Another tropical storm ‘Beryl’ develops. We heed his advice. Wind blows from the southwest and maintains a steady 15 to 20 knots. After good progress for many days, on the 3rd June the wind falls light and we motor but later our main power source returns and the engine is shut down. That night a squall arrives unannounced and we are laid over in forty knots. In hose piping rain, we scramble to reef; together we cannot haul the drum and resort to winching. At dawn we assess the damage, two slugs of the mainsail have sheared and the leach line of the genoa has pulled out about a third the way down from the top. We stitch in new slugs and put the genoa repairs on the shore list.
6th June; Many ‘by the wind sailors’ are evident, amazing little 150mm diameter jelly fish with jelly fish sails, all heading our way even if they are moving a little slower. How did they evolve their sails? Where are they going, do they write logs? We usually do not imbibe on passage but this day three years ago at 04.00 in the morn we slipped out of Kinvara so at sundown we take wine. These three fabulous years slipped past so quickly, we reflect on our travels and ask ourselves, how the hell are we getting away with it ! A pod of dolphins and a few wheeling shearwaters briefly join our celebrations before they melt into their watery gloom.
12th June the barometer has been rising for days as we approach the Azores high and the winds finally fail. Kay, battling with atmospheric static, generated by distant storms and mans’ million transmissions continues to tune in to the fast moving ‘Herb’ show every evening, he confirms lightening winds and predicts motoring. We are hailed by s/v ‘Ilha’ on the VHF, it transpires they are three weeks out from St. Martin and we are their first sighting. Seeking weather information they are disappointed with the news of failing wind as they are short of fuel, we offer some. Manoeuvring close a line is thrown and two 20 litre containers of diesel are attached and with a few meters between are ditched overboard, they haul. It’s all accomplished in a few minutes and we steam off into the failing light.
14th June; Entering Horta we clear in with the well organised and courteous authorities and are assigned a berth inside the main wall where we lay 12 years ago. We are euphoric to have got to here with such easy conditions due to ‘Herb’s directions. A rhythm in his honour is drafted and posted to his HQ in Canada. He may never speak to us again;
Sailors plying on Oceans deep
With weather worries, poorly sleep
The pressure fall is steep and fast
And lows pursue, the dice is cast.
Crawling from a restless bed
They stare, the dawn is crimson red.
The sunset has been black and gold
The wind is belching hot and cold
A storm spins down, a sailors fate!
Last hope is, Victor – X-ray, 49 eight
On radio waves a Hertz invention
The crackling static seeks attention
Bad propagation, but a voice breaks through
“OK, this is, Victor – X-ray, south bound Two.”
Now push south, then east, then west,
It will be tough but that’s the best.
Another ship escapes its fate.
Due to Victor X-ray four nine eight.
In all safe harbours near and far
Where sailor’s tales enrich a bar
There grows the legend of a router great.
It’s Victor X-Ray four nine eight.
Over the next week we meet ICC members Dan and Jill Cross on Yoshi and with the crew of Kadoona have many social sessions. This side of the Atlantic is proving to be very social indeed. Walking the town of Horta is a joy so also is hiring a car with Ian and Lannie and touring the island.
The architecture and exhibition at the ‘buried’ light house at the western tip of the island is most impressive. It tells of the islands tumultuous birth rising from sea bed heralded by fire and brimstone. The foundations of the islands still sit on unstable grinding plates there may well be more islands to come. The oldest of the Azores islands is 35million years while Faial emerged from the sea a mere 2 million years ago, Darwin would have loved it. In Horta the Pylades pier picture first painted in 2000 is refurbished and updated, the display of hundreds of boats names provides delight as known names are discovered and memories flow back of other fellow rovers, adventures and many merry yarns.
7th June; All sail is set for the short passage to Velas on the island of Sáo Jorge, the reception by Jose the manager could win the marina the most welcoming and charming title. Three wonderful days are spent there, then on to Angra on Terceira, a world heritage town founded in 1474 and built on the fabulous wealth looted from the ‘new world’ for which we now are the beneficiaries. Our arrival coincides with the Fiesta and the Running of the Bulls, as the bull is let loose on the streets and we make for cover behind the barricades we observe how nimble a charging bull can make even the least agile of folk. After observing this test of machismo for a while we retire to one of the many wonderful pavement cafes and enjoy wine and cheese. The Azores just get better and better.
5th July; 12.00 the call of the family, friends and the Burren hills is finally acknowledged, our lines are cast for the final leg of our voyage. Our way is under a leaden sky and sea with contrary winds on the nose for the first five days. The wind has an Artic feel to it and layers of long forgotten clothes are piled on as we beat slowly north. The warm showers of the marina ill prepared us for cockpit ablutions, but we persuade ourselves that the after-glow as circulation returns make it worthwhile.
10th July; a fine dawn and clearing sky bring a lighter veering allowing us to almost sail the rhumb line. The next morning the long promised south-west winds arrive, the genoa is poled out and we take off.. Kay has close encounter with a whale alongside but by the time a camera is organised to capture a vision, the leviathan has slid back to its fathomless abode. We converse with sailing yacht Drum and are delighted to use our sail mail system to communicate with his wife in the Denmark regarding their expected delayed land fall. For a few days we sail close hauled into a cold north wind the phosphorescence is brilliant throwing sheets of light over the sea and boat. The Inishtearaght light is raised and at 04.30 on the morning of the 15th, a few hour later we tie at a very quite Dingle Marina. That evening the first pints of Guinness in over three years are sampled and we mull over our travels. Over the next few days friends and relatives visit and there is much socialising as we delight in our arrival. We eventually flee Dingle and anchor for a quite night in Ventry.
21st July 04.00 The light in the sky is just enough to spot pot markers as under engine we push through the Blasket Sound before turn of tide. Clearing Sybil Head a fine breeze picks, with no sea running we have a fine sail to Inish Mor in the Aran’s. The skipper is delighted when his son Eoin and his two children join for the final 22 mile run. We arrive in Kinvara at 08.30 on the 25th to the welcoming faces of family and friends. The timber leg is attached, the tide ebbs, we are left high and dry.
One of our objectives was an attempt determine, one hundred and fifty years after publication of ‘Origin of Species’ what, if any impact this might have made to the cognition of our species. Our unscientific conclusions are that where the French had an influence, or where first world conditions prevail such as New Zealand and Australia, Darwinism holds sway. Otherwise it would appear that in struggling countries where such rational thinking could make a difference, education has been thrown to the pious evangelicals and the legends of creationism still hold sway. Another salient fact is that the profligate replication of our species may well be our greatest future threat; in our short time away 251 million additional members of our species have come to live with us on our small blue dot. Much indeed remains to be done.
We reflect on our great vessel Pylades it served us very well indeed. It has been a most enjoyable and enriching three years and we realise how lucky we have been to have had such a chance. A key element has been our companionship and love throughout, for adventures and pleasures shared are much enriched. A few days later we put Pylades on the mooring and with a touch of sadness, we turn our eyes to the land.
Miles sailed since Bellharbour: 40,486