Picture of stone steps up a hill surrounded by palm trees and jungle

The Salut Islands French Guiana

Dear Squeak

After a bit of a trying trip, we have arrived in the Island paradise of the Salut Islands just off the Coast of French Guiana.  There was a big nasty swell again as we left the coast of Brazil. We also had lots of torrential rain squalls with quite a lot of wind in them.  Sails up, sails down, canopy open, canopy closed, it was a busy trip for us both.  We are so pleased to arrive in this little paradise to relax for a bit.

The islands were first called the Salut/Salvation islands by the missionaries who came there from mainland French Guyana to escape the plague.  Later during the time when the islands like much of mainland,  were used as a penal colony, the Islands were referred to as the Devil’s islands. In those days the place may not have seemed like the paradise they are to us today.

Famous Place

The Salut Islands gained notoriety because of the Dreyfus affair.  Lieutenant Dreyfus was sent there in 1894, convicted of treason for leaking weapons information to the Germans.  He was of Jewish origin. Due to a fair bit of anti-antisemitism among the ranks at the time the finger was pointed at him.  He continually maintained his innocence throughout his incarceration and wrote hundreds of letters to protest this during his time thee. These letters are the essence of the memoir his son Pierre wrote about him in 1937. The book was called “Souvenirs Et Correspondance”  and has been translated into several languages.  The true spy was eventually convicted, but  the army was reluctant to admit its mistake, so Dreyfus was pardoned rather than acquitted.

Joseph Conrad also wrote about the Salut islands in his story “An Anarchist” but the islands became truly famous due to Henri Charriere’s book “Papillon” and later the film that was made of that book starring famous names Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen.

close up of butterfly with turquoise blue flashes, orange triangles and a black background

 In the book it is claimed he was called “Papillon” because of a big butterfly tattoo he had on his chest.  Others say he was not much liked during his time in Iles du Salut and papillon in French as mariposa in Spanish refers rather to the fact that he was gay. Perhaps both are true.

The French authorities are very upset about Charriere’s portrayal of the place and the treatment the book says he received there.  They claim that many of the incidents that he describes are untrue or did not happen to him, but happened far earlier.  They say that conditions had been much improved on the Iles du Salut by the time he was brought there in 1933.

 Reading  the potted history of all the high profile prisoners that served time there, it seems that Henri Charrier cherry picked all the juicy bits from all of the stories and goings on that he could. He wanted to make his novel into a “best seller” so he may have embellished a few details here and there.  What he did was write a good story that would keep him in royalties for the remainder of his life. 

I don’t think so

The part that we, as sailors, find most difficult to believe, is that he escaped from the Islands on a raft made of Coconuts. Apparently he managed to drift to the shores of Guyana.  We have sailed those choppy waters and the tides and the currents take you nowhere near the coast of mainland South America.  He would have been lucky to pitch up in Barbados with only the current and the wind to help him. Without food or water he would have been dead on arrival.  We think he must have been picked up by a boat somewhere, but that doesn’t make for such a good story.

OOPS!

The waters around the Salut islands have very strong currents and are full of sharks so not ideal for swimming or trying to escape.  I did swim just a little, to clean off the bottom of the boat and didn’t have any encounters with any sharks.  I got in trouble from the Gendarme for being in the water though.  He came all the way out in a little rowing boat  to chastise me  but let me off as long as no-one else could see me. steve also got in trouble from the Gendarme for flying the drone. That was two bad strikes against us in one day. 

It seems the big hungry fish only come out to play in the evenings. The first night, just as we were settling down to dinner, there was a loud bang against the hull and then another one.  When we went up on deck with a torch to take a look what was making the  noise. We looked into the water and there were big fish chasing each other and slapping against the side of the hull.  I don’t think that has ever happened to us before. Obviously something even bigger that we couldn’t see was chasing them.

big green lizard sitting on a stone wall

So much Wildlife

Ashore there is still lots of evidence of the island’s history as a prison camp. The old buildings and the isolation cells are still there. Some have been sensitively restored to leave you the impression of what it must have been like in former times; others are being rapidly reclaimed by nature and the voracious jungle.  We saw photos of the early days when people first started to settle on the island and it was pretty bare, with only a few trees.  In that part of the world though, you only need to spit the seed from a fruit you are eating and in a few short weeks a tree will start to grow. 

It was a truly beautiful place unspoiled and I’d like to say peacefull but the jungle there is chock full of wild life. There are  many kinds of birds singing away. There are crickets and other insects singing at full volume too, and howler monkeys shouting to be heard above all the other cacophony of nature sounds.  It was actually really noisy and difficult to sleep at night.  Fortunately no mosquitoes, What a blessing!

As we wondered ashore within the first half hour we saw a ton of wild life.  Lizards, interesting spiders, agoutis like the small cousins of Capybara  from the Guinea pig family, tiny  blue swallow tailed humming birds , ring tail monkeys, and lots of beautiful butterflies.  Over the week we spent there we saw so many different species of animals. Critters just kept popping out from behind every bush.  The amazing thing was that many of them didn’t seem to be afraid of humans and you could get right up close to them.   For us it was interesting to visit a place with so much history. I’d have loved to bring my nieces and nephews here. Not for the history though, but to see all the wildlife up close and personal. All those animals  in their natural habitat not in cages or behind glass. 

Out of Food

We’d have loved to stay a lot longer, but after a week in that paradise plus the 9 and a bit days it took us to get there, our supplies of fresh fruit and veggies were almost completely gone.  We were even down to our last onion.  A change in the wind direction and a bit of lumpy and exciting night with anchors dragging made us decide to brave the shallow channel and head into Kourou.  We were also looking forward to a tour of the space station that launches our GPS satellites into the sky.   We had to dredge most of the channel for them on the way in but we managed to bump our way over the sand bar without any incident.   It wasn’t very far but we needed the tide to help us in so we had to wait for a while.

Once Loved Boats

We anchored again in a spot just above the pontoons which have no space for visitors, barely even for your dinghy. Sadly the pontoons are chock full of French relic sailboats that are mostly half sunk or sadly neglected and barely afloat.  It looks like a boat grave yard. Such a shame!

We managed to find a place to squeeze in and headed into town on a quest for ice-cream.  As my new year’s resolution was to give up booze for the year, it’s the first ice-cream parlour we are always in search of when we go ashore, not the first bar. 

Well dear Squeak I hope you are enjoying the Campo in spring.  We have to go now as the place wants to shut. We have to take our internet where we can get it these days.  I’ll write to you soon and tell you all about our trip to the space station.

Lots of love Ally and Steve

Miss you lots! x

Quay and palm trees drone shot looking out to sea on Ile Royal Salut islands

To see a little of the place and the wildlife we saw in the Salut Islands why not check out our Youtube Video”Devil Monkeys Jail Break”

waves breaking on Tambaba beach with blue sky

Brazil Has the Friendliest people in the World

So what can I tell you about Brazil? Actually I don’t know, despite all the time we spent there we just don’t quite get the place.  It’s a land of contradictions, on the one hand you have beautiful scenery, fantastic,  lush countryside with fields of sugarcane or dense green jungle filled with wildlife. Or you have the coastline with mile after mile of gorgeous white sandy beaches with palm trees and turquoise water.

Paraiba Coast in Brazil looking along the beach

 

On the other hand you have cities full of crumbling colonial buildings interspersed with ugly skyscrapers to cram more people into a small space. Or favelas for the disenfranchised.  Adorning it all  is the ubiquitous third world problem of litter strewn along every street, railway-line and watercourse.  In fairness we only managed to explore one tiny corner of this vast country,  but I think we saw a good enough  cross section of people and places to form an opinion. 

Trash in the jungle

The problem is: none of it quite adds up.  We saw our fair share of poverty and squalor but what we personally met were the friendliest open people.  They were all inquisitive and interested in who we are, where we come from and what we are about. They will stop and chat to you, as if you have known them, all your lives.  They are polite in a very “old fashioned” kind of a way; people go out of their way to help you. They stop their cars and  offer you a lift. They give up their seat to you  on a bus or train. They wait nicely in queues and don’t barge. 

Everywhere we went we were greeted with friendliness but also concern for our safety.  We were warned to stay away from lots of places, especially at night and not to carry bags or cameras. This is a bit tricky when you are trying to share your trip on You-tube.   We went to all kinds places and we personally never felt we were in danger though the underlying threat was always there.  We were constantly being reminded by locals to keep our wits about us.

 After a while, having only encountered helpfulness and friendship we started to wonder. Is the crime and violence in Brazil just an urban myth spread far and wide to keep people in fear? Then we met some sailors for whom it was no myth, but a very real and grim reality.

Soon after arriving and talking to a few sailors we made the decision not to travel along the north coast of Brazil. Cruising from town to town as first planned, was reputed to be too dangerous. Only a few days after we arrived, the newspapers were full of stories of a nightclub in Fortaleza which had been raided. 18 people, many of them tourists, had been killed.

Bad things happen to good people  

Then the news reached us of a very sweet couple Paul and Liliane SV Luna Blu whom we met when we first arrived in Jacare. They left heading for French Guyana but had engine trouble on the way. They put into Fortaleza to try and fix it.  Their boat was boarded that night. They were tied up, forced to hand over all their valuables and their boat was ransacked. The armed robbers even messed up their radio so they couldn’t communicate with the shore for assistance.  You can read all about their misadventure on Noonsite. http://www.noonsite.com/Countries/Brazil/brazil-fortaleza-armed-night-robbery-february-2018.

We still had plans to make the four day trip to Salvador. We wanted to see the city and some of the beauty spots in the surrounding area until we met Peter on SV Andromeda.

He preferred to jump off his boat and swim ashore. Rather than be held up at gunpoint by armed robbers  who boarded his boat and made off with his valuables and dinghy.  You can read his story on this link. http://www.noonsite.com/Countries/Brazil/brazil-maragogipe-armed-night-robbery-march-2018

Having met all the lovely people we did it seems unfathomable that such awful things can happen there, but they do, and the threat of them, was enough to deter us from the bigger adventure we had first dreamed of. 

Paraiba and Pernambuco

Sao Fransisco Church Joao Pessoa BrazilJoao Pessoa – shame about the wires

We contented ourselves with exploring the small corner of Brazil we had arrived in.   We looked round Cabedelo and Joao Pessoa.  We visited Olinda for Carnival. Olinda  is a beautiful town, designated world heritage site, full of brightly painted old colonial houses and buildings.  We took part in their humongous street party with samba bands playing and so many celebrating people. The streets were packed to bursting.

 Our favourite spot of all was the national Park at Boca da Pedra  “mouth of rock” which we visited on my birthday.  It was a stunning place with huge outcrops of rock rising up out of the landscape.  At every turn as we walked round them you could see faces eroded by time wind and water. They looked  down .at you like they had all the wisdom of millennia in them. If only they could speak.  It was a magical place and the countryside around it was pristine and gorgeous such a change from all the trash everywhere in the cities.  We both said we could live there, if only it weren’t so isolated. 

Rocks at Boca Da Pedra surrounded by Jungle. the rocks have faces

We learned that Brazil is perhaps not best visited by boat. We would have loved to go to Rio and see Carnival there, so it is still on our bucket list.  The distances are so huge though.   With only a three month visa, a 15 day trek south, where you see nothing but ocean, and 15 days back is too long. When subtracted from only 90 days, that is just too much.  If you fly you can get such a thing as the South America pass which offers really affordable flights for a given time period but you need  to give your ticket number from Europe to south America to qualify for the pass. And if you arrived by boat you haven’t got one!

 Well there is always next time.  With such friendly people, I’m sure there will be another time before too long.  In spite of the underlying threat to your property a trip to Brazil is easily worth it just for the people.

 If you fly and you are attacked in the street you might lose a camera, a phone or a bit of money, it’s not pleasant, but not the end of the world. In a boat however you are carrying with you, your whole home and possibly everything you own.   In reality on a boat there is nowhere to hide your stuff.  An ocean going boat, to a poor man reduced to life in the favelas seems like a rich man’s paradise and you look like you could afford to lose a chunk of it with no real harm done. In reality it may be your entire savings, all that you own and a lifetime’s worth of dreams that you stand to lose

Blue Sky and Frigate Bird Flying. An Acrobat with a brown body and white chest

This Photo was originally posted on Flickr as “Magnificent Frigate Bird” by putneymark. We tried to get some snaps of our “Sanity Bird” but because it was so lumpy a lot of the time none of them came out that well.

Brava to Brazil

with a Frigate Bird and a Lucky Ship

Dear Squeak

It was a bit of an unpleasant crossing this time around. At least the first 5 days were just plain nasty. We are so glad we left you cuddled up by the fire with some lovely people; you’d have hated this trip.

 It was proper lumpy! A big swell was running and on top of it were short choppy waves that seemed to have no direction in particular.  The boat handled most of it admirably.

Once in a while, like every 20 mins or so, a huge wave would ride over the swell and hit us from completely the wrong direction.It would  slam against the hull with a loud slap.  this caused  the boat to shimmy at the top of the swells and send  a shower of spray into the cockpit. It drenched everything so no cushions allowed and foulies a must.  I thought, heading for the tropics, we would not have to dig them out of the wardrobe again. No such luck, wet and sticky, deep joy!

After our hike with John John our legs were still feeling the pain and the continual bracing against the motion, even when trying to sleep, wasn’t helping.  The mounting number of bruised we were acquiring just from going below to the loo or to make food weren’t adding to our comfort either, especially as we had to sit on bare boards with no cushions.  We got through it; but was it fun? No!

It reminded me of my sailing days, long ago in Scotland. Back then, I’d be standing out in the fog and pouring rain, steering the boat, wondering why I was using up my holiday entitlement for this.   I try to remind myself that we are paying ahead for all the fantastic sailing days that we’re expecting on this adventure.

The biggest trial of all on this trip was the boredom.  It was too lumpy to read without throwing up.  It was too rough to tackle any little jobs, or tidying up.  There was the trial of preparing meals which took an inordinate amount of time and effort. Preparing food without it flying all over the boat is a definite challenge in those conditions.  That was the total distraction to break up the boredom.   I had a stack of “homemade ready meals” waiting in the fridge as we knew the forecast was a bit suspect.  They still took a monumental effort to get them to the table.  Actually no table just nice wooden bowls filled not too full, held in your hand with a tight grip to avoid accidents and eaten up on deck with a drizzle of salt spray for extra seasoning.

Why leave in those conditions? I hear you say.  There was never any sign of anything else in the forecasts, so sooner or later you just say to yourself in for a penny in for a pound. Off we go. So off we went.

The start of the Trip was pretty lonesome for us both. First off we pass each other like ships in the night. One heading to bed as the other gets up. But outside the boat there was no other sign of life either, except for the wind and the raging sea. No wildlife, no ships, no planes overhead.

There was just one little visitor that came along with us on the trip and he was the highlight of our days. Especially those first five boring days until the weather calmed down a bit and I could pass some of the time with my head in a book.

  On the second or third day long after all the other seabirds had  given up on us, a Frigate bird came and circled round our boat a few times. He  landed on the deck and  flew off again. He gave the place a good once over and decided that we would do as a pit stop for his trip.

Our Frigate bird  stayed with us for almost the entire trip.  Finally leaving us, when he could pass responsibility for us over to the care of the local Brazilian sea-birds that came out from the coast to greet us.

He didn’t stay with us the entire time. He came and went as he saw fit.  As the sun came up on a couple of mornings, I could see that he’d had himself a few hours of shut-eye up on the spreaders.   But he didn’t stay all the time.  We wondered how he knew where to find us. With the boat averaging about 150 miles a day we were obviously not in the same place he left us. But  he kept coming back to check we were alright. 

He would fly round the boat a couple of times, give us a little air-show of acrobatics and disappear again. He kept us entertained with his daily performance.  Sometimes even two shows a day. Im fairly sure he was a Frigate bird I still have to check google to make sure, but for now, let’s just call him the “Sanity bird”.  He certainly broke up the monotony.

Frigate birds can fly for weeks and weeks without stopping and nobody quite knows how they do it.  They are super agile flyers, but are unable to swim or rest on water.  They just keep going for weeks on end. They use the air currents, especially the updrafts to soar and conserve their energy that way.

 As Frigate birds can’t swim, they live off flying fish, or food which they steal from other birds.  I wondered why we had no flying fish on the deck this trip, but clearly our Frigate bird was making a happy meal of them all. The only flying fish we did find was one that flew all the way into the boat and landed at the bottom of the companionway behind the freezer box. We weren’t aware it had come in until a few days later, when a rather pungent aroma started to emanate from behind the freezer. Horror panic, I first thought it had defrosted without me noticing.  It took us 11 days to cross to Brazil from Brava and he stayed with us almost all that time.

Nature’s Beauty never gets old

I love the Sunsets and Sunrises that you witness at sea. I love the feeling of wide open space and I love gazing up at the stars at night. These things never get old and at sea with no light pollution the night skies are spectacular.  We often say how nice it would be if we could set up a time-lapse to show people on land what it’s like, but on a moving boat that’s simply not possible.

 I love the fact that I have plenty of time to just sit and think though I must confess that over thinking things is a dangerous pastime.  I Try to put the time to the most productive use possible.  I now have our garden back home  and our website all totally redesigned in my head.  So lots to get stuck into when we get back.

The downside of our brand of sailing is that although it is a team effort each of us is essentially solo sailing when we are on passage.  Mostly, Steve is asleep when I am on watch and vice- versa.  After a few days  I start to miss him

Finally on day 6 our first ship came into view and ships kept coming steadily after that.  Not many of them were kind enough to respond to the radio but one ship in particular was super sweet to us.  The” Saga Monal” popped up behind us just as we were approaching the equator, chatted to us and slowed down so we had witnesses and company to cross the line.  What are the chances of being nearly a thousand miles from anywhere and having another ship arrive at just the perfect moment? And slowing down? Big ships are usually on a tight schedule. They don’t do that. Well this one did, so how lucky were we?

After the Equator the weather calmed down, we were treated to big rain squalls instead of big wind and big waves.  We didn’t mind the rain as the boat desperately needed washing after the dust storms in Cape Verde.   The temperature warmed right up and we were flying along with the spinnaker wearing only a bikini.  Well I was wearing the bikini Steve’s not really into that sort of thing, not even on Sundays. 

A few days later we finally arrived in Brazil having taken 11 days to travel about 1500 miles.  Finally we could relax in the sunshine for a bit before going out to explore our surroundings. 

Well dear Squeak I’m going to press send on this one now, and tell you all about what we’ve been up to over here in Brazil in my next letter. 

Catch up soon, lots of love A&S x

If you haven’t yet seen the Video of our 2018 Atlantic crossing that accompanies this post why not check it out now

Click to view Atlantic Crossing Video

An evening photo of the Anchorage near Arrecife with two moored sailboats

 

Its golden hour and we are sitting in the cockpit enjoying the tranquillity.  We sip a little sun-downer and wait for the sun to do its magic as it dips below the horizon.  I will never tire of the beautiful colours at dawn and dusk.  We have come out to anchor to escape the stress of the battery drama which despite our best efforts to avoid, was spoiling our trip.

To cut a long story short, the new batteries we had bought before leaving, transpired to have been sitting on a shelf for over two years before they were sent out to us. By the time we arrived in the Canaries the “new” batteries were not holding any charge.   Getting the mess sorted out, replacement batteries organised, freight forwarders and customs agents to clear in the replacements  with lots of added costs and complications then became our problem to deal with.

Knowing that batteries cost two or three times more in the places we are heading to, we replaced the whole bank of house batteries on the boat. They were still working perfectly.  In fact they are doing a sterling job keeping things running at the house in Portugal while we are away.  They are as old as the boat though, and could have caused us a problem further down the line. So we changed them out.  The new batteries arrived just before we were leaving, when our to-do list was as long as our arms. So we stuck our meter on them, they seemed fine and we put them in. Good to go!

I’m kicking myself now.  It so happens that they have a serial number on them and unusually a manufacture date printed on the top. Had I checked we’d have sent them back straight away.  Normally I am the t crosser, I dotter and small print reader in our house. Chris used to always accuse me of being a pedant, back in the day, though the words pot calling the kettle black, spring to mind when coming from him.

 Because we had so much to do before leaving, I didn’t check everybody else’s work. So we found ourselves, going through the dramas of replacing the batteries, in a far flung place. The very situation we were so keen to avoid. 

Getting out of the harbour and escaping to a calm anchorage the stress just fell away. We had stillness and freedom of the open sea around us. We took our first swim of the trip, in lovely clear water that didn’t feel cold, and started to feel right with the world again.

 As we sat sipping G&T’s in the cockpit we were treated to a great spectacle by the Arrecife Club Nautico as well.  A procession of little boats all manned by young kids came out past our boat. They sailed out beyond the sea wall into the bay to practice.  It was glorious to watch the next generation of sailors learning the art of mastering the wind and taking charge of their own piece of the planet for an hour or two. What freedom, to make their little craft go where they choose. It made me think that parents make so many decisions in their kids’ lives for them. How nice for kids to be in control  of their own self-contained world, that is a sailing dinghy, even for just a few hours each week.

 I do some of my best thinking when I have hours to spend messing about in boats. I Hope they’ll all turn out to be great thinkers one day.  Not too much dreaming though, as there is nowhere more punitive than a small sailing dinghy for making a bad decision. The next thing you know, you are swimming out from under a capsized boat.

Still, it’s not whether bad things happen to us or not, it’s how we recover that counts and sailing does teach you resilience at times.   Resilience is such an important attribute for life. In the words of Winston Churchill “it’s how we go from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” It’s how we manage to enjoy this trip despite of all the things which keep going wrong.  Never mind, we were able to go back and collect the replacement batteries with renewed enthusiasm after our couple of days at anchor.

 I wish I’d have learned to sail at a young age.   It’s my one regret that we live so far away from our nieces, nephews and grandchildren and we aren’t able to teach them to sail.  At a young age children have no fear and they learn so quickly.  Maybe one day they’ll spend the holidays with us and we can get them messing about in boats

I remember back in the days in Plymouth with my ratbag ex-husband we often spent the weekends on our boat surrounded by his grand-children.  I remember the first time we got in a bit of a blow with all of them on-board. We were so worried about their safety and the fact that the experience might be scarring them for life but not so.

The boat healed over dramatically and the younger ones fell into a heap, in the bottom of the cockpit (best place for them) as their legs weren’t long enough to brace against the opposite side.  The older ones couldn’t wait to tell their friends at school how cool it all was.  After that day the lovely calm sunny days that we adults enjoy were considered slow and “boring” by them with constant calls of “make it go faster grandad, make it tip”

There is nothing like a stiff breeze and a quick sail, whats not to love?  But I’m hoping for a lot more calm boring sunny days, with no dramas from now on in.

 

                Check out our latest Video          Click this link to view 

Erik the Green at the helm of SY Christina Pearl

Erik the Green Eco warrior of the Atlantic –

Saving our planet one soul at a time.

Erik the Green I decided to call him. Well Erik the Red is already taken. Anyway green is his favourite colour and green is his ethos. We reckoned he needed a pirate name. His mission in life is to inspire everyone he meets to give more of their time, energy and consciousness to helping our planet stay lovely and green. An honourable mission into which he puts his own heart and soul.

He is on his way to help his friend in Puerto Rico rebuild his house after Hurricane Maria.  But he wants to get there as far as possible by the power of the wind leaving as small a carbon footprint as possible.  In any case his style of living, travelling from place to place, couch surfing where he can, meeting  interesting people, learning new skills;  spreading ‘peace and love to all he meets and cramming as many experiences into his young life as he can, lends itself to trying the cruising life for the first time ever.  He carries his world in his backpack and what he doesn’t own he asks the Universe to provide and with pure blind faith, is lucky enough to receive most of the things he lacks from her.

Well he wondered down our pontoon on the morning before we were about to leave with a big smile and a lot of charm and charisma, and he got his lift to the Canaries from us. We sent him running to the supermarket to pick up some provisions while we fuelled up and an hour later we were off.  In his week on board he has tried to cram as much sailing and boat knowledge as he can, he has found his sea legs, learned to steer, kept a couple of night watches with minimal supervision and generally kept us entertained with stories  of his travel packed life. 

He has already seen more of the world than most of us could hope to peruse in a lifetime. He has Hitch-hiked all over Europe including lesser visited parts of eastern Europe  such as Albania, Kosovo and Armenia. He has travelled South East Asia, Japan and Australia and now he’s on his way to experience the delights of the Caribbean and later South America.  He has been everything from a Pizza man to a tree planter in Canada.  He has been a fruit picker in Australia, a Customer Relationship Management  Advisor in Prague and many more random jobs in between.

He has a sunny disposition and a can do attitude.  He was a pleasure to share the first leg of our trip with and seemed to soak up all the knowledge we were able to share with him like a sponge.  We wish him lots of luck, fair winds and lots of good green vibes for his future.   We hope he can avoid the   bad greens such as feeling green about the gills and green ones over the bow on his onward voyages. x

P.S Check out Erik’s Acting/Sailing debut on our latest Youtube Video Pirates, Blow-outs and a Ship Sandwich .

Click on this link  https://youtu.be/iAdw_purh3w

 

Picture of our blue red and white spinnaker flying in a blue sky with fluffy clouds

Day four of our trip and the wind is finally starting to free up, swinging round to the eastward allowing us to finally put some westing into our course. We can now head away from Morocco towards the Canary Islands and escape those dreadful fishing floats.  This is what was forecast on the long range weather before we left and what we have been waiting for all the while. 

It started to turn north east in the early morning, a good sign, but there wasn’t much of it.  As the day progressed it continued to swing more east and build little by little.  As we had been dying to head west for several days we turned for our destination and let the wind follow us.  By mid- morning there was just enough to stop the motor, hoist the spinnaker and keep it flying.  Erik was a little in awe of the size of our ‘circus tent sail’; I think it looks a bit like a circus tent.

 Even though there was still only about 8 or 9 knots of wind it was dragging us along nicely at 4.5 or 5 knots in the little gusts.   I love the moment when the motor stops and all you hear is the slight flap of the sail as the top corner starts to turn and the sound of the water rushing past the hull.  That’s what real sailing is about!  As the day continued the wind kept coming eastwards little by little and was increasing in strength  too.  We were just finishing up lunch and were now horsing along. The wind was generally about 11or 12 knots with the odd burst of 15 though the 15’s were starting to be a little more frequent and Steve said “I think we should take in the Spinnaker it’s starting to get windy” I think, I said something like lets hang on a minute it’s only the odd 15 and it probably will die off in a minute. 

Next minute there was a small pop. I thought Steve had let the jammer go on the halyard to take it down as the sail was starting to gently lower into the water.  We dived onto the foredeck and started to pull the mountains of wet fabric onto the deck.   That pop was our favourite sail ripping all across the top and down both sides of the luff OOOOOOOOps!

If you are thinking about reefing, get reefing! Its probably already too late!!

We continued with just the main and foresail but it was much slower than with the spinnaker and instead of arriving that evening as planned, it took us till the early hours of the morning to arrive, almost exactly to the minute 5 days after we had departed from La Linea.

After checking in and a few hours well needed kip we headed into town with our granny trolley loaded with the spinnaker in search of the sailmaker.  We found him easy enough, but  it wasn’t good news.  With the height of Atlantic crossing season fast approaching he was absolutely snowed under. He said he couldn’t even look at it for 10 days and then he estimated it would cost about €1000 to fix.  That was much longer than we wanted to stay and a lot more money than we wanted to spend.  That sail is 11 years old and has had a hard life. It has done two Atlantic crossings already where it flew for much of the way and a lot of Med sailing as well.  It’s looking a bit worn and tired and a grand for a patch seems like a lot of money to spend with no guarantees the next thin bit won’t give way next time we fly it.  A grand is also a very good start towards a new one if it comes to it.  So we bought some rip stop fabric and a ton of sail repair tape off the fellow and trundled off back to the boat.

We’ve never fixed a spinnaker before beyond the odd small sticky patch, but we have a sewing machine on-board and we took some tips off the sailmaker and we’ll have to learn to be our own experts at this too.  Cruising life requires you to become “Jacksperts” jack of all trades, expert at everything.  In the middle of the ocean with no help around you have to read the books and the manuals and become experts at just about everything from fixing the heads to mending your sails and everything in between.   No time for the grey matter to dwindle here, too busy becoming “Jacksperts”.

 

silhouette of our Starboard winch set against a colourful sunset
Beautiful sunset day 3
Collage of a beautiful red Cactus, the bear Volcano tops and the boats Anchored infront of the town of Arrecife

 

We arrived in Lanzarote almost exactly 5 days and zero minutes after leaving the Bay of Gibraltar.

Setting off from La Linea in darkness at Sparrow fart, we  wove our way through all the anchored ships. We tried to avoid being run down by the fast Cats to Morocco,  that sneak up on you at 20 knots. It seems as though they would happily run you down if you were not paying attention.  We headed to the North African side of the Straits to get the best advantage of the currents, though Africa was still hiding in the early morning mist as we approached.

 As soon as we left the bay of Gibraltar and headed west, we had the wind behind us and we were cruising along at a lovely speed.  As we approached the North West corner of Africa the wind had picked up and the swell had kicked up a fair bit too. This was the first test of Erik’s sea legs.  Never having sailed before we had filled him full of Stugeron and breakfast,  and although he was looking a little bit pasty, he was doing fine.

 Erik is the young lad we took pity on in La Linea and gave him a lift to the Canaries as his ride had fallen through.  We only met  him on the pontoon the morning before.  We pondered on the merits of taking  him, but we figured this leg of the trip was  still a bit of a shakedown for our ‘Pearl’ and if anything did go wrong, an extra pair of hands wouldn’t go a miss. So on-board he came. 

Actually we were just heading out for fuel when he approached us so we told him to run round to the supermarket to get some provisions and we would pick him up in an hour.  When we returned he came staggering up the dock, laden down with 12kgs of water, two bags of shopping, a huge backpack on his back and a small one on his front.  Having run most of the way from the supermarket, he was a puddle of sweat.  We headed for the anchorage as it was much easier to slip away from there, early in the morning and Erik went in for a swim to cool off.

Back to the trip, We had good wind to start us off and we were powering through the swell nicely, then all of a sudden, mid- afternoon, as if we had gone over a trip wire the wind died.  It wasn’t the usual gradual petering out and fading to nothing, we crossed a line and suddenly it was gone.  In all our sailing careers I don’t think we’ve ever had it stop dead like that, from one second to the next.  All through the trip, the wind came and went. When it was there, we sailed and when it died out, we motored. Much more diesel was consumed than we’d have liked but hey- ho, that’s how it goes sometimes. The motoring was also giving our mysterious shortage of electricity a little boost from time to time. We had installed brand new batteries just before leaving and couldn’t really explain this little niggle.

When we set off the grib files showed  good wind for our trip, but Ophelia was obviously still messing with the weather men, as none of their predictions were correct.  Each time we were able to download new grib files  via the SSB (single Side Band Radio) they had changed their minds about what the weather was doing.

As night time approached on day one of the trip we were about 100 miles off the Moroccan coast.  With no moon it was really dark and the night sky without any light pollution was awesome. The Milkyway right above our heads and all the millions of stars were so bright and clear.  As if looking in a mirror the sea all around us was glittering too.  It was far too rough to reflect the night sky, but the phosphorescence in the water as we splashed along was like another set of little stars all around us.  The magic you feel when you are surrounded by stars never gets old. 

Then all of a sudden we were surrounded by loads of other little white lights flashing all around us. It was reminiscent of the boat scene in Phantom of the Opera where they sail their boat through a sea of tiny little lights. 

Boat Scene from Phantom of the Opera
Boat Scene from Phantom of the Opera

Play Video

Click to see the clip from Phantom of the Opera on our Just Bella Vista Facebook page

There were literally hundreds of them as far as the eye could see. Scary as we didn’t know what they were and they don’t appear on any of our charts.  We couldn’t work out whether they were little fishing boats or markers for nets that we shouldn’t run into, whether they were joined together, or not, or what?  Trying to navigate through them while sailing so close hauled without going through the wind was a complete nightmare and we took one or two of them, rather close.   The silver lining to those couple of close calls was that we were able to establish that they  are not linked together but simply lines of hooks with weights and lights on, not connected to anything, as we were in very deep water. We think they just float with the current catching fish as they go and the fishing boats come and collect the catches from them.

For three nights they plagued our passage but on the fourth day the wind freed up a bit and we were able to sail west away from the Moroccan coast.  To be continued… 

Next episode – disaster strikes! ….

 

 

 

And then there’s the cat!  

Cat's Garden
My Garden

Is it fair to take her with  us knowing all the challenges she’ll have to face? Or is there some kind soul out there willing to look after her till we get back?

the big trip

Getting ready for the big trip, there are so many things to do its difficult to get your brain in gear. There are so many things competing with each other for your time.

Obviously there is a ton of work to do to the boat to get her ‘Ship Shape’ for the trip. All the systems need to be serviced;  engine, generator, self- steering, water maker, winches, pumps  etc.  Our SSB has to be set up and reconfigured to talk to a new computer, as the old one blew up. The Dinghy needs to be patched and a new cover made, and the list goes on….

In a few days’ time we are off to the boatyard to scrape back the hull to zero and apply Copper Coat. We know that won’t stop the dreaded beasties altogether but it will mean that we can at least clean the hull without rubbing off all the antifoul. We need  to take the mast down and replace some of the 12 year old rigging.  Our boat has very sophisticated B&R rigging with no backstay so those wires have been under a lot of tension for a long time and have probably earned their retirement, but we will see when we get the mast down.

We are in the fortunate position that we have been here many times before, we know what we are up against and we have a few t-shirts in the bag for getting ready for the off. We are not first timers, sailing out into the complete unknown. This may prove to be a ‘swan song’ trip for us as the boat now has to compete with a Motor Cycle tours business and a rural property.

Yet in spite of knowing what we are up against, the list is long and daunting and at times confusing. Not only is there the boat to get ready, but the house needs to be put in a state that we can leave it; or we need to find someone to rent it. We have had to find someone to keep the garden under control when we are gone so we don’t get a massive fine from the fire department.  Wild fires are a huge issue here in Portugal and letting your plot go, puts all your neighbours at risk.

Then there is all the paperwork to sort before heading off the grid again.  Everything needs to be sorted while we still have a proper address that people can reach us at. Here in Portugal all your bills have to be set up to be paid by direct debit or in person by a friend as its impossible to pay when the ‘system’ knows you are outside the country.  Everything has a built in GPS these days and ‘Big Brother’ knows your if you are not home.

Then there are all the Visas which need to be applied for, while you are still  in your home country, inoculations to get up to date and health and dental checks to take care of. A big stash of your usual medication needs to be ordered and the emergency drugs you might need if something bad happens on the trip, far from any doctor.  The checks are not just for you though, what about the cat?

We never wanted to have a pet because we knew that sooner or later we would want to get wet feet again. But two years ago this little scraggly bag of skin and bones appeared on our doorstep looking for food. She was so weak and thin she could barely stand up.  We felt so sorry for her we gave her some food, and the rest as they say, is history.  Now we have the choice to either find some nice person to look after her while we are gone or turn her into a boat cat, but for that she needs to be got ready too.

 She also needs the once over from the vet, the inoculations, the chip and the pet passport before we can go.   It would be a big wrench for us to leave her, as she has got very attached to us, and we to her, but she’s a campo/country cat used to running about, chasing crickets and climbing trees. We’re worried she will find life aboard too sedentary and will miss her local feline friends.  Also we took her on a little trial trip for a month last summer, she did very well adjusting to a different life.  Although she wasn’t actually seasick though, she got so wobbly her legs wouldn’t hold her up and looked awful green about the gills when the weather got a bit lively. 

We are running out of time now to find another good  home for her and she and the ever lengthening list of jobs are starting to keep me awake at night.  Ever notice how the lists only get longer? At least two jobs go on before one comes off.  But…

If you wait until everything is done, you will never leave.

Cat Nap
Cat Nap

So we have checked the tides, which for our deep draft boat, is crucial and set the date.  Hell and high water, ready or not, first week in September if the weather will play we are off! 

 

                                                                      Cat or no Cat?

 

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Actually we don’t know what State we are in. Currently we are in Portugal and have ourselves, what we believe to be, a little slice of paradise to call our home. Neither Steve nor I want to return to the UK/frozen north to live full time. We both feel we are much better suited to warmer climes.

Having already voted with our feet to leave the UK it was in our best interest that the UK remains in Europe which allows us the freedom to live, work and travel anywhere in the Union.   On the eve of the referendum, we sat glued to the television and eventually went to bed feeling relieved that it seemed like the status quo would prevail. We awoke to find shock horror that Britain was leaving. Don’t get me wrong, we agree the European parliament has become an enormous, self-serving unwieldy beast that needs taming and massive reform, but for us leaving may turn out to be a catastrophe.

The problem is we just don’t know, nobody knows and when you are trying to launch a business, the wait is both agonising and financially crippling. Our grand plan for our little slice of paradise is to build a small holiday complex from which we provide motorbike tours in this stunning countryside. With beautiful scenery, empty roads and warm sunshine what’s not to love?

We had just about put the finishing touches to our first cabin and were getting the plans finalised to start the next one when the folks back home upset the apple cart. Well the upshot is all our plans are on hold. If we take the most pessimistic view and prepare for the worst, then we can only be pleasantly surprised. In the meantime we have a sadly neglected boat, which has had to play second fiddle to our building projects for some time now. So while all the politicians scrap and knock heads we are off sailing until they sort it all out. Knowing how they operate, we could be gone for some time!

So Brazil here we come!!

We both fancy a new cruising ground that neither of us has visited before. When we have seen enough of Brazil, we will venture slowly northwards. Cuba has been on my bucket list for many years now so it’s on the itinerary too

First though, there is a ton of work to get through to prepare for another epic adventure. Its exciting times and we can hardly wait. Already we have reached the dichotomy where the lists get longer and longer but time speeds up. So much to do and so little time …

Hi folks

We are just about to embark on a brandnew adventure.  

This is where we will keep you up to date with our progress and setbacks. 

For the next few weeks we will be posting updates on our preparations for the trip. Once we set sail you will be able to follow us to many exciting new locations on distant shores.

You can also check out our progress on our You Tube Channel, Bella Vista. Click the video link on the home page of this web site, to take you straight there.