A Capella of Belfast Blogs

Good bye America….

We are now leaving America after 6 months, and it actually feels a little strange. The onward plan is Bahamas for Christmas, then to the Panama Canal and the Pacific. Very exciting.

It was very fitting that our last place to visit was Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Centre. There are many things we will remember about America but in particular it will be the scale and the ambition – nothing is too big, too far or too difficult and somehow the Space centre encapsulates all of this. We will also remember the people who have been unfailingly polite, welcoming and helpful. The OCC network and rallies have been great and hopefully we can keep up with many of our new friends. Our knowledge of American history is greatly improved albeit from a very low base.

There are somethings we are glad to leave behind – the food, the complete domination of the car and pick up, the urban sprawl and the excessive use/waste of energy in all its forms. Of course there are some things we will miss in particular superfast broadband and BBC Radio 4 in the morning via the internet. We have been frantically downloading books, pod casts, films and charts in preparation for lean broadband!

On the sail down to Cape Canaveral from St Augustine we had the first opportunity to use the new asymmetric spinnaker. This is a downwind sail for light winds and essential for the long downwind stretches in the Pacific. The more astute might think this looks very similar to the code zero. It does, but I can assure you the colours were picked with great care and are different, and more importantly the cut is different and this allows it to go downwind. Dare I say it, but this might just seem like some boat bling as it does seem rather subtle, but actually it goes really well and we can now do reasonable speeds in some very light downwind airs. This will be much appreciated in the Pacific.

The new spinnaker flying well

Approaching Cape Canaveral there are some new notations on the charts which I do not think we will ever see again.

“Exercise caution while dragging the ocean floor since missile debris may exist in this area”

The lock we had to go through to get to our marina had to be specially enlarged to hold parts of the Saturn 5 rocket and the space shuttles. Much to our surprise the lock was opened, water lowered and risen just for us. A Capella must have looked rather small in this very large lock.

Going through the Cape Canaveral barge lock

We really enjoyed The Kennedy Space centre. All the facts and figures are just enormous. There is amazing wildlife on the site – up to 6000 alligators and 300 different types of bird species! Yes, there are a few tacky bits but all in all a fascinating visit.

The amount of horse power on a space shuttle!
Note the alligator at the top of the pond just near the launch pad. We stayed on the bus!
The Vehicle (ie rocket) Assembly Building. Known as VAB

The VAB is where the rockets are assembled. It used to be the worlds biggest building by volume but now it is the sixth biggest. The doors are the biggest in the world and take 45 minutes to open. We could see this building from miles out at sea.

Behind me is Launch pad 39B

The launch pad 39B will launch NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) which will hopefully take man to Mars sometime in the 2030’s!

The computers which took man to the moon! Our mobile phones have 10,000 times that capacity!
Moon landing module.
Saturn 5 motors which were used to launch the Apollo spacecrafts

The Saturn 5 plus rockets and the moon landing module that we saw were the real machines. The moon landing research was rather abruptly stopped and the equipment was already built.

The used space shuttle Atlantis

And now for the tacky bit

Hot foot to the south

We had a fun but very busy return home visiting Northern Ireland, Herefordshire, London and Gothenburg all in 3 weeks. A big thank you for all the generous hospitality, it was great to see everybody. We will allow a bit longer next time but we were delayed going home because of Julian’s eye and then nervous about making the trip south before the weather turned against us.

It was very, very cold when we returned to the boat – definitely thermals time. A Capella’s bottom was painted and very smart, the rudder damage mended and the rope cutter fitted. I polished the hull, we stashed everything away and she was ready to be launched.

The new rope cutter

We had been worried about the trip south, in particular getting around Cape Hatteras which is a notorious spot. The Gulf Stream, which keeps us warm in the UK travels close by this point and can make for a very unpleasant and dangerous coast. We had kept our options open and could, in theory use the ICW (Inter coastal waterway,) but our mast height was always going to make this a stressful option at every bridge, and there are many bridges.

As it happened we were extremely lucky and got an excellent weather window which allowed us to sail around Cape Hatteras to Florida in 5 days and we are now enjoying some warm sunshine.

Double thermals time setting off down the Chesapeake
Our cockpit tent which does an excellent job of keeping us warmer at night
There was a little group of boats rounding Cape Hatteras with us

Good fishing but a bit gory!

Florida, the sunshine state, definitely feels different. St Augustine, where we are now, is American’s oldest city and according to our taxi driver the Christmas lights are in the top ten. We have learnt all US cities claim something special and as you can imagine the Christmas lights will ensure climate change remains an issue forever!

As is also usual there is a history lesson. St Augustine was founded in 1513 by Ponce de Leon and claimed by the Spanish and it really has a very Spanish feel with red tiled roofs, and narrow cobbled streets. The sad thing is that the cars (which are huge) and car parks intermingle with the pedestrians and little streets. There is much to be said for traffic free city centres. I won’t bore with the detail but there were many wars between the Spanish and English over the centuries.

No shortage of lights
Hotel Ponce de Leon

We are now waiting for a weather window to go south again and hope to visit the rockets at Cape Canaveral before crossing to the Bahamas.

Just as an aside, when we were in London we visited the Greenwich Observatory to check all was well. You can’t but help be a little proud when you hear the US coast guard give times in GMT. Given we rely on Lat and Long for all our navigation this was a fascinating trip.

Harrison’s Chronometer at Greenwich – Glad we do not have to carry this time machine on A Capella
Zero longitude and a fabulous view of the city

Annapolis for the second time

The weather has suddenly become cold!  This has been a bit of a shock as we have been in shorts for a year, but the trousers still fit and socks, shoes and a jersey are not so bad.  Julian has bought a new winter hat in preparation for coming home in a couple of days time and I have found my favourite woolly hat. There is a wonderful hat shop in Annapolis which just had to be visited.

We have had a trumatic time during the last few weeks.  Julian had a detached and torn retina.  This involved eye surgery and exposure to the US medical system.  Paying up front for emergency surgery is definitely culturally different but our experience was that the system was quick, efficient, and caring and the eye is healing well.  Our insurance should pay up.  Poor Julian had to spend a week looking down which is tortuous.  Thankfully at the time we had a hire car, but this did involve me having to drive hundreds of miles around Washington, on the wrong side of the road,  having not driven for a year.  Anyhow we all survived but thank goodness for Mrs Google maps.  She is a star!

Ready for surgery

Before the eye incident we did some walking in the Shanandoah National Park.  We stayed at the Skyland resort which is within the park in a little cabin.  We did feel a bit packaged but it gave us excellent access to the walking without having to drive miles. The walking is good and the views must be magnificent, but sadly yet again the Virginia weather was against us, and there was thick fog.  The Skyland resort is just off the Skyline drive.  This is a magnificent road through the park which was one of President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs in the 1930’s.

Up high but sadly no view
Our little cabin

Our main reason for being in Annapolis was to visit the Annapolis boat show – the largest sailboat show in America.  Our boat was also being used by the American agents to show perspective purchasers around.  It was a busy few days and great fun talking to fellow yachties and/or potential yachties.  Julian’s paper on batteries and power use has been well appreciated by those who worry about such things.

The boat show
Go faster foils

And now for the boat bits. The other reason for visiting Annapolis was to have all the essentials systems checked ready for our next trip south and on to Panama. The engine has had a service and the pre filters cleaned, drained and refitted. All the sails and canvass work has been removed and patched as appropriate. The rigging work has been checked and some modifications have been made to the forestay. We have thoroughly enjoyed working with the American contractors, and they have been generous with their knowledge, but as always seems to be the case, such projects never seem to be quite finished. We are awaiting some fittings, which are being sent from France, for the base of the mast and the zip on the boom bag is still not right. Keeping the boat in good shape is an expensive and never ending job but we are now much more knowledgable so hopefully we can do more ourselves the next time. Next time is hopefully New Zealand so that is an exciting prospect.

Refitting the forestay

Machined bushes made by Julian

We are planning to go south via the ICW (inter coastal waterway.). The bridges have an clearance of 65ft and our very carefully measured mast is 63.5ft. This will be a tight squeeze so we have now fitted a new whippy VHF antennae. It has been quite an effort but going down the ICW should be a lovely interesting trip and much less scary than Cape Hatteras and the Gulf Stream.

Only one significant boat show purchase – a new asymmetric spinnaker plus snuffer This will allow us to go downwind in light winds at reasonable speed, essential for the long Galapagos to Marquesas trip. Pictures to follow but it is very colourful.

Today we arrived at Herrington Harbour North. This is the most enormous boat yard we have ever seen. It comes highly recommended. The boat will be lifted out tomorrow for a bottom clean and anti foul. The damaged rudder will be mended and a new ropecutter fitted for the prop.

We return home on Thursday and are, of course looking forward to seeing everyone but also hopeful that on our return the boat will be “good to go” as they say here.

Ready for going home

Heading South again to Annapolis

Now with words – apologies for the previous post. Operator error!

We have been heading south back down the east coast to return to the Chesapeake Bay. We plan to visit the Annapolis boat show, and have the boat hauled out to be cleaned when we will return home for 3 weeks. There are some inevitable maintenance jobs to be done on A Capella which will have done nearly 10000 nm in a year, and it is important that all is in shipshape (!) condition before we head further south to the Bahamas, possibly Cuba and the Panama Canal for the winter.

Hurricane Florence and her mates Helene and Isaac are causing us much concern. As of now Florence will hit the US coast in the Carolinas this week. The effects of these hurricanes spreads over a substantial area causing high winds, water surge and heavy rain. We are now at the top end of the Chesapeake so hopefully in a relatively safe place with many hurricane holes available. It has been a surprise to us that hurricanes are so prevalent along this coast, although September is the most likely time. As you would expect weather information is plentiful and we receive 4 hourly emails so are becoming much more knowledgeable and will be prepared.

It is always a little dull retracing your steps and it has involved early starts ( to catch the tide) and long hops but it has not all been bad – plenty of asymmetric spinnaker and poled out jib, and actually quite social despite the many miles we must have travelled during the last 3 weeks.

We left Matinicus island for Portland. A lovely American couple Bob and Natalie Sellin very kindly lent us their buoy in Portland for a couple of nights and gave us excellent instructions on the buses. Portland is not a particularly big city but is the capital of Maine. We visited the Portland Museum of Art and had a great tour. It was especially interesting because many of the pictures were from Maine and of places we had visited. It was partly housed in a Federal style period house built in 1801 which was so similar in style to Leadon Court it was uncanny. I would not normally mention a supermarket but Hannafords in Portland actually cook your lobster on site for an extra dollar. This is a no brainer and a very civilised way of dealing with the cooking problem! I am now super efficient at de-shelling! We had the last lobster supper for some time.

We were keen to visit Plymouth on our way south to learn about the Pilgrims. Julian had downloaded a film about their extremely tough lives when they first arrived in the New World. From Portland we went to Portsmouth and who should pitch up on the next mooring but Tod and Anne on Fiscal Stray! We had first met Fiscal Stray in Chesapeake and again when we arrived arrived in Maine. Our next stop was Rockport a pleasant seaside resort and finally Plymouth. We met an unmanned catamaran along the way which had travelled from Boston and belonged to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At this point we began to feel that we really had left the lobster pots behind – good.

According to the pilot book Plymouth is not the first place the Pilgrims landed but the second, Province town being the first. In all honesty, I think we were more excited about the Pilgrim’s first home in 1620 than Plymouth townspeople. The replica Mayflower was not there, Leyden street where the Pilgrims first lived really looks like any other, and the Plymouth Rock – ummm! For the sake of clarity the original boulder has had some adventures. It was split and damaged when it was moved by teams of oxen in 1774, then generally neglected, then fell of its conveyance when being moved and was “remodelled” to fit into a new home in 1834, and finally it broke apart again when moved to its final spot in 1920. It has also been “hacked at” for souvenirs over the years. Anyhow we did have one of our better meals in the nearby restaurant so all was not bad.

From Plymouth we went down the Cape Cod Canal and back into Buzzard’s Bay. The Cape Cod Canal is the world’s widest sea-level Canal and stretches 17 miles. There are no locks but it is very tidal. It was a peaceful ride.

After stops at Marion, and Flint point, Rhode Island we arrived at Fisher’s Island where we met up with our friends Michael and Gill Gallin owners of Hull no 3. We had an excellent evening aboard Gerty. Thank you to Michael and Gill for being so hospitable and hopefully we will be able to return the favours perhaps in the UK, when they finally leave land! Moving on via Port Jefferson we arrived in Port Washington.

At Port Washington we caught up with Pete and Tracy Goss who we had met last year at their home outside Plymouth. Their boat, a Garcia, was launched just after ours and Julian and Pete had spent many hours debating specifications. We entertained on A Capella and it was great to catch up – we have all travelled many, many miles and definitely changed our way of life.

It was an early start the next day to catch the tide down the East River past New York and there were about 6 boats preceding down together (including Fiscal Stray!) which was rather fun. Sailing past New York was an amazing trip the first time and still pretty good the second time. We managed a photo stop with Pete and Tracy by The Statue of Liberty!

We then stopped at Raritan Yacht Club in order to met up with Noel and Tracy Dinan who have just placed an order for an Allures 45.9. They were keen to have a look at our boat and discuss various ideas. We had a great evening and thoroughly enjoyed the hospitality at the Raritan Yacht Club. Thank you Noel and Tracy and hopefully we will be able to meet again. We had planned to leave our boat here and travel inland for a week but given Hurricane Florence’s activity we felt it was a better idea to get ourselves to the top of the Chesapeake where we are less vulnerable.

We left Sandy Hook early and did a 36 hour trip down the New Jersey Coast, up the Delaware, through the C&D Canal and safely anchored up in the Sassafras River for a rest. All the tides were kind and the weather favourable most of the time. As you can imagine this is a well lit coast and the light pollution is terrible but it does make for easy night sailing. I did the first watch and had continuous lightning. It was alarming at first but as we gybed around Cape May at 2am it became thunder and lightning and very wet – not so good. It is a long time since we had done a night sail and it is always great when you arrive in good order.

We have just tied up on a dock just south of Baltimore. It belongs to a fellow OCC member and is supposed to be a good hurricane hole. The latest update re Hurricane Florence for our area is “some impact” and the forecast is for historic rainfall -well I suppose it could be biblical! So here goes for a very wet few days.

More Maine – beautiful sailing boats and stunning scenery

It is a truly miserable day here in Maine – rain followed by fog and rain, and now just rain. We are in a beautiful, isolated anchorage, all on our own except for the lobster pots, on Roque Island about 20 miles from Canada. This is as far north as we will go and we will travel south again tomorrow weather allowing. We are not really used to this, albeit the weather in Maine is cooler and more variable.

Lobster pots continue to be everywhere, described as carpets of lobster traps, and make sailing really hard work – they will be an abiding memory of Maine. That said eating lobster has become mundane! It is treated as the local fish and chips and happily served up on paper plates! I do wonder how the lobster population can be sustained at this level of fishing but, that said, I did make a Lobster Thermidor and with a dry white wine it made a really excellent supper!

After the delightful Round Pond we headed to the Penobscot Bay. This area has it all – isolated anchorages, family holiday spots and a fabulous array of beautiful wooden boats presumably owned by the high rollers! A Capella was anchored in some very good company. Julian and Peter attended a fascinating talk and film presented by the team who restored the Herreshoff New York 40 racing boat Marylee – they deduced that this was hard work, time consuming and an extremely expensive hobby and solely the preserve of very wealthy Americans. We visited Camden, Perry Creek, Belfast, and sailed down the Eggemoggin Reach to arrive at Central Harbor. At Central Harbor we toured the Brooklyn Boat Yard, a wooden boat builder – the relaxed attitude suggested that price was not an issue when building these boats!

Belfast -Maine, just had to be visited but is described as “off the beaten track” in our pilot book but actually we thought it was very pleasant and thoroughly enjoyed our stay. It is more industrial and business like than its southern neighbours and, true to form, it was raining when we arrived, but we had a great walk through the shipyard, up the high street and across the river. It also had a good grocery store which was reasonably priced – a rarity in this area. We were, of course hoping that the town had been founded and named after an intrepid explorer from Belfast but no, apparently they tossed a coin and an Irish man won and named the place Belfast as opposed New Berlin if the German had won! The city’s prosperity was built on shipbuilding and commerce in cargoes of hay, ice, apples and fertiliser. Interestingly there is also a Rockport and Bangor nearby. I had a lovely walk up the old railroad of the Belfast to Moosehead Lake Railhead – don’t you just love the names.

Finally we arrived in Northeast Harbor on Mount Desert Island. This was to be Uncle Peter’s destination after an amazing trip all the way from Boston. This is home of the Acadia National Park and yet another fabulous setting and with great hiking. As ever Uncle Peter had been great company, a keen look out for lobster pots and we were sorry to see him go.

Charles and Dani Reekie joined us for a weekend and we stopped in Winter Harbor where we saw Lobster boat racing – boys and their toys! It was definitely preferable to view this from afar. There was no wind so we rather drifted around the area, anchored off Cranberry island, motored up the Somes Sound and they left us from Southwest Harbor. A lovely weekend of great chat and good eating.

We stayed a further few days in South West harbor as Julian had sprained his knee and we were still waiting for wind to arrive. I had some great hiking in the mountains and we met up with our German friends from S/Y Greyhound.

Addendum

I have been unable to send the blog due to lack of internet. A problem even in the land of plenty. Having travelled south we are now in the most delightful harbor on the tiny Island of Matinicus. We saw our first whale on the way in which was really exciting. The harbor is dominated by lobster boats which do start early, but it just had to be lobster a A Capella for supper.

Boston and early days in Maine

We have finally arrived in Maine. This is the most northerly state on the East Coast of America and, according to the pilot book, an area which all cruising sailors dream of – “the air is cleaner, the skies bluer (or foggier, forcing a day ashore with a good book and a bowl of chowder) and the vistas more breathtaking.”

We sailed into Maine proper from Biddeford through fog and lobster pots. For the uninitiated fog and lobster pots are extremely challenging as catching a pot on the propeller or rudders of the boat can do terrible damage, but from our few days here it does seem that fog and lobster pots are something we will have to learn to enjoy. The fog is atmospheric from ashore but quite a different matter at sea. On our arrival in The Basin anchorage up the New Meadows river the fog cleared and it was like arriving in a new world. This place is different and this was a very peaceful and remote anchorage. Our next anchorage was The Round Pond – a few more boats and people but so relaxed, quiet and friendly we stayed three days. The owner of the buoy we had rented lent us his old pick up. This was a serious American pick up ( a Chevrolet 1984 v8 – seriously throaty) and we ventured out for a short hike through the forest.

From having been surprised at the lack of fish further south, we are now in a place where fish is the only item on the menu. To date the dining out is very casual but we are being spoilt with super fresh lobster, scallops, oysters, clams, mussels, cod, and halibut all freshly cooked. The wildlife is also improving and we are seeing basking sharks, seals, and numerous seabirds. We are particularly enjoying the cormorants who very successfully fish around the boat. Sadly the midges have returned too. I am sure they have a purpose but it is just not quite clear! We are now equipped with spray, mosquito nets and special lights and I am not sure we are really winning.

Between Nantucket and Maine we stopped at Boston. This was primarily to pick up Uncle Peter but also to visit Boston which is the largest city in New England and the birth place of American Independence. We had a fabulous mooring under the skyscrapers. Apparently Boston is the most walkable big city in America and so we walked the famous Freedom Trail and the Boston Harbour Walk – our knowledge of American history was to improve substantially. The Freedom trail connects the buildings where the American resistance to the British Crown was born, grew and flourished. Julian and I are not great historians but we got the general gist. By 1775 the people of Massachusetts had been governing themselves for over a century and they did not take kindly to interference and taxation being imposed by the English monarchy. Bostonians, not unreasonably, balked at paying tax without representation and hence the Boston Tea Party, the siege of Boston and the American War of Independence.

The Faneuil Hall is known as “The cradle of Liberty” and the place where colonists first started speaking publicly against British rule. In particular in May 1964 Americans first protested against the Sugar Act and set down the doctrine of “no taxation without representation”

Paul Revere completed the famous midnight ride to warn the patriots (Hancock and Adams) in Lexington of British troop movements in Boston. In fact the British troops marched to Concord to seize munitions and then moved onto Lexington were the war started.

Much to my surprise I met a fellow ex councillor Andy Atkinson and his family in Boston airport!

On our journey from Boston we stayed at Biddeford. Uncle Peter had made contact with some distance relatives – David Millet. He very kindly lent us a mooring and we had a very happy few days there particularly enjoying excellent fish take- aways from the local store. There boat is called Capella so that is some coincidence.