A Capella of Belfast Blogs

New England Cruise

After New York and Long Island Sound, we joined another OCC rally the New England Cruise. These rallies are excellent in that they are very social, someone else has done the planning and we are challenged to go to different places, and do things that we might not have chosen from the pilot books. What is clear to us is that this is a very smart and lovely part of the USA. Much to my surprise it is really beautiful and not nearly as busy as you might imagine.

Bristol and Independence Day. The Independence Day parade was suitably patriotic. The road was painted – red, white and blue! The parade included politicians – in office, out of office, and retired. Micky Mouse and numerous friends, an aircraft carrier, fighter aeroplane, numerous bands – some in lycra, some in uniform and at least 3 Scottish ones complete with bagpipes and kilts, games teams, school teams, college teams, many forms of military and navy – current, retired and historic. Support teams for all the previous and plenty more. It went on for hours but everyone seem to enjoy it and we did too, for a bit! There were many firework displays.

We also visited the Herreshoff Muesem. The Herreshoff factory made the most beautiful wooden sailing and motor boats, and the winning America Cup boats in the early c19. A time of great wealth and ostentation.

Newport. This was the home of the America Cup races from 1930 to 1983, and the famous families such as the Vanderbilt’s and Astor’s who built the most ostentatious mansions (or cottages as they called them) during the industrial boom of the late c19/early c20 in the US. We had a great bike ride here following the coast road and then ending up in Bellevue Avenue. The houses just got bigger and grander as we went until we arrived on Bellevue Avenue home of the mansions. There are nine on this road. We visited Marble house and every room, every wall, every ceiling is just over the top, no expense spared opulence. It really was a different world and the various grand families competed with each other to have the smartest establishments. I am not sure who won but the the legacy makes for a fantastic visit.

New Bedford – the city that lit the world. New Bedford was definitely less glamorous than our previous destinations albeit very welcoming. It is home to a massive fishing fleet and apparently the highest value of fish in the US is landed here mainly sea scallops. They are delicious but we suspect that this type of sea bed scraping fishing does substantial harm to the sea bed. New Bedford was the historic home of the US whaling fleet – the onetime whaling capital. We had an excellent tour of the historic sites and a visit to the whaling museum. The New Bedford whaling industry provided the purest oil for oil lamps hence the term the “city that lit the world.”

Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Island. On our trip we visited these upmarket, holiday islands. We cycled many miles on the endless long, straight roads. The scenery and woodland is wonderful if a little repetitive and the cobbled streets with beautiful flower baskets are delightful. There are many exclusive properties all with vast manicured gardens. Even the roadsides verges seem manicured but truthfully I really do prefer the wilder verges of Herefordshire! The cycle networks are great but be under no elusion the car is definitely king. The tat and restaurants are plentiful, and expensive! but on a more positive note there are some very beautiful wooden sailing yachts and the anchorages are large safe harbours with excellent holding and our fellow cruising mates provided great company.

We are heading up north now to Boston, and are looking forward to the wilder scenery of Maine.

New York and Long Island

It had always been on the bucket list to sail into New York and now after none months we have finally done it. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay there although it was very hard on the budget! It was a forty eight hour sail to New York from the Chesapeake and we arrived in the early morning. We stayed in the Liberty Landing Marina. It was expensive but it was good to be under the skyscrapers and there was very good eating at the restaurant nearby which looked across to Manhattan.

We spent three days in New York and visited a varied selection of tourist spots. We were able to cycle everywhere mostly on bike tracks so our Brompton bikes, which do take up quite a-bit of space on the boat, earned their keep. Albeit after three days we were suffering from “bikers’ bum” and were happy to stow them away once more! On day one we visited Ground Zero and this really is a very fitting memorial site. On day two we visited the Empire State Building and it was wonderful to see New York from the sky. Did you know it was built in one year? The pictures of the building process are breathtaking – definitely no health and safety. On our way back we stopped at the Skyline. This is an excellent example of clever reuse of redundant infrastructure. Originally the Skyline was an elevated train track servicing the industry of New York. There is no industry in New York now and it became redundant in the 1970,s. The old elevated railway line has now been made into a beautiful high level walkway which provides very interesting views of the city. On day three we had an excellent lunch at the Russian tea rooms and then a a bike ride around Central Park. We cycled miles but really soaked up the sights and atmosphere. It is a fabulous city.

The Clipper “round the world race” was in town. We had an excellent tour of one of these boats. There are no creature comforts on these vessels and A Capella seems positively luxurious in comparison.

Julian had last visited New York in 1975 at the tender age of 15! The marina just happened to be along from a spot he had been to all those years ago. Most notably the Twin Towers are in the background. I wondered if he ever imagined he would sail into New York?

To leave New York we would have to venture up the East River to Long Island. This has a scary reputation and the worst section is aptly named Hells’s Gate. Actually it wasn’t too bad but we were surprised to have sea planes landing on our starboard side!

Our first stop in Long Island sound was at Port Washington. Here we met up with Lady Jane and had an evening meal. Lady Jane had been on the Jimmy Cornel Rally with us so we had some catching up to do. We then travelled to Mamaroneck to meet up with Michael and Jill Gallin who own hull 45.9 no 3 – we have hull no 4 of the Allures 45.9. We rafted up next to them for a lovely social weekend. Clearly there was much to talk about and Michael and Julian compared technical notes and ideas. We look forward to meeting up again.

Michael suggested some stopping off points on Long Island for the trip up to Newport so we decided to go to Port Jefferson, Shelter Island, Sag Harbour and Block Island. These were (with the exception of Block Island which was busy) all very beautiful, peaceful anchorages. This is a very affluent part of America – leafy tree lined roads, smart shops, big houses with vast gardens. We note many “foreign vehicles” and it is difficult to see tariffs on these being popular around here. The forestation and the space is amazing.

Julian did take to the water to check the propeller – he make a fuss. I was berated for not wanting to do this in just a thin shorty wetsuit I was swimming in. Julian chose to wear the 5mm wetsuit with boots, gloves and hat.

We now head to Newport to join the OCC New England Rally. After this Uncle Peter is joining us and we will head up to Maine.

Chesapeake Bay and our first OCC rally

The Chesapeake Bay is a very large inland sea with the most amazing number of rivers and creeks with countless beautiful and peaceful places to anchor and explore. We had planned to join an Ocean Cruising Club rally starting in mid June but as is the way with boats we had a few jobs and improvements to do before the rally started. The boat has now done 8000 nautical miles which is a huge number in 8 months.

Very kindly the port officers for the area – Bill and Lydia Strickland offered us their dock and even volunteered to be our address in the USA for Amazon. Some people say the definition of cruising is mending boats in beautiful places. This dock certainly fits that description and Bill and Lydia were amazing hosts taking us shopping and even feeding us. The major job was fitting the old solar panels on the side rails to provide more electric power. For those you who like to know about solar panels and batteries this means we now have 1000W which is wonderful and should suffice for most circumstances. We can now also cook using a small electric hob which means we can save gas. Gas always runs out at inconvenient times and can be difficult to source. We fitted some carpet and there is endless cleaning, polishing and general maintenance.

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The rally was very sociable with a good combination of visits, glorious anchorages, chatting time, sailing and free time. There were about 30 boats and 6 nationalities and we visited some very interesting places. It started in Reedville which is the home of the Menhaden fishing industry. Menhaden are small herring like fish and are processed to make omega oils and fish meal. This industry ensured that Reedville had the highest per capita income in the early 1920’s. While there we visited Tangier island which is actually sinking and the home of the soft shell crab industry.

We then went onto St Mary’s City. This was the original Capital of Maryland but now an impressive open air museum. We had been confused by the zigzag fencing which we had also seen in Virginia. This is in fact the original mobile fencing. It is not fixed and can be easily moved around. Finally we finished in Leonardtown.

After many disappointing attempts to photograph the numerous Ospreys one very kindly circled the boat when the camera was nearby. Not a good time to be a fish but an amazing photograph!

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After the rally we left the Chesapeake to sail up the east coast to New York. This trip took 48 hours and was uneventful. We entered the east river in early morning and had a wonderful sail and motor up the Hudson to the Liberty Landing Marina just across the Hudson from Manhattan. The skyline is stunning. To arrive in New York by sail boat was on the bucket list and lived up to expectation.

Annapolis, Washington DC and West Virginia

We arrived in Annapolis at the beginning of Commissioning week for the US Naval Academy. We remain to be convinced whether Annapolis really is the sailing capital of the world as it proclaims, but it definitely has the very impressive United States Naval Academy, of which they are rightly very proud. The town is traditional, green and leafy, with some small streets and ship lap housing and this was a very pleasant place to stay.

Chesapeake is like an enormous Strangford Lough but, of course, not quite as nice. There are many creeks were anchoring is easy and very peaceful. The weather is very changeable from very hot and sunny to thunder storms. There are numerous Osprey which use the navigation aid posts for nesting sites – sheltered and safe from predators -how very convenient! They are wonderful to watch. Less attractive are the flies and midges! So far they do not seem to be the bitting type but irritating all the same.

The Navel Academy was very open and, on showing our passports, we were free to visit and tour the site with or without a guide. The site is beautiful, has a rich history and it certainly looks like no expense has been spared. Think Richard Greer and the film “Officer and a Gentleman.” There are 4000 mid shipman and they are very fit young men and ladies (30%) all beautifully turned out in white uniforms. Commissioning week includes many traditions but the most notable for us was a display from the Blue Angels (US Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron) and a visit from President Trump which involved numerous helicopters, of which we had an excellent view from the boat.

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The Academy also housed an excellent model boat exhibition. Some of these models were 300 years old and the detail was amazing.

We hired a car in order to visit Washington DC and do some hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We are still struggling with the scale of America and we had determined that the car hire shop was just up the hill and around the corner – it turned out to be a five mile walk! Probably good for us.

Not really being city people, Washington DC was definitely a day trip for us. We parked out of town and metro’d into the city. We walked the Mall to Capitol Hill and then on to Union Station. At Union Station we picked up a “duck” which is an amphibious touring vehicle. Apparently they were used at the Normandy landings and it was suitably rustic and throaty. We were issued with quacking whistles and did get some jaunty American country music! All, a little tacky, I know, but actually not a bad way to see the sites on a hot, humid day. We saw many monuments, many museums, many queues, many huge roads and loads of people but actually the commentary was very good. Our tour was stopped by a Harley Davidson rally of what seemed like a 1000 bikes. Biker accessories include goaty beard, healthy beer gut and leather jacket! We then walked down to the White House, the Washington Monument and headed back to the car via the metro. Washington, or the bit we saw, was impressive and the scale huge but this was enough for us.

On to the Blue Ridge Mountains. We certainly got a taste of the American motorway system – there is no doubt you can travel vast distances with relative ease. We walked, or hiked for two days, first in the magnificent mixed forest and on the second day in more open country. We were on various trails but mostly the famous Appalachian Trial. Sadly the weather was against us and we got very wet and could see very little. Thankfully we had booked a cabin and did not have to use the very basic huts, and bear proof food boxes on the trail, albeit the huts were welcome for lunch. The cabin was comfortable and had a bath – a real treat, as reading in the bath is something Julian particularly misses. We will return in the Autumn when hopefully the weather will be kinder. It has been good to be inland but we were pleased to return to the boat and find all was well.

We are now heading south in the Chesapeake to join a rally. Very kindly the rally organiser has volunteered to be our address in USA for amazon deliveries and we look forward to receiving our parcels! We have a few boat jobs to do before the rally. The major one being to fit the old solar panels onto the side railings – we will then have approximately 1000W of generation capability. For the uninitiated that is quite a lot of power.

Sailing to America – Antigua to Norfolk

We arrived in Antigua at the beginning of May to prepare for our second Atlantic crossing to Norfolk, Cheasapeake from Antigua. We expected this trip to take 8 to 10 days. This also happened to be Antiqua race week so Falmouth Harbour was busy with many yachties behaving as Yachties do – being very social and drinking. We were able to be meet up with some fellow rally members – Chris Swallow, and Allen and Marie from Lady Jane who are also travelling up to US. We were very pleased to note that Weston’s cider was on offer and we have collected various free glasses and hats from the celebrations.

Preparations for our trip included making space in the guest cabin – always a challenge as things seem to spread out! Julian climbed the mast to check all is well up there – it was. We checked the newly cut trysail, topped up the diesel and finally stocked up on food which involved a trip to St John’s, the capital of Antigua, by bus and home by Taxi.

Neill arrived looking very pale so before we left Falmouth we made sure Neill had seen the sights and warmed up! We had a drink at the delightful Admirals Inn and a great walk up to Shirley’s Heights. The view is spectacular and on the return we were delighted to see the racing fleet finishing with all their Spinnakers flying.

We left Falmouth harbour on Saturday morning with good winds of 15 to 20 knots which continued for 5 days so swift progress was made, however the swell caused the boat to rock and roll. This does make life, and sleeping more challenging. Julian,who always cooks breakfast, lost the frying pan and contents to the floor – this did cause some expletives! Just about all rattles have now been been eliminated, I think! We had to motor for a couple of days but this allowed for a better nights sleep, and all the cleaning and washing to be done. Happily the Gulf Stream provided an additional 1 1/2 knots for 24 hrs when we were motoring and the sea temperature rose by 4c as we crossed it. It is now 20c so no swimming here!

On passage we have celebrated Neill’s birthday over several days due to practicalities. Neill, as expected has turned out to be excellent at making soft shackles – possibly on par with Tim Birch. The Blue Ensign which had quietly been destroying itself on a guard rail fitting has been mended. Some old nickers just happened to be the perfect colour! The offending guard rail fitting has been changed.

The fishing has been a triumph. We only fished for a couple of days and caught 5 but only managed to land 2. These were big fish, nearly a metre long, and it was a collective effort. Neill was certainly enthusiastic with the gaff, but just possibly our “getting the fish on board” technique needs to be refined. Only frantic efforts by all ensured these fish did not escape! Thank you to Stuart for improving the fishing tackle as this has definitely improved the odds in our favour.

The new solar panels and charging systems have surpassed themselves and Julian has found a way of displaying the weather grib files downloaded via SSB on to our InavX navigation software on the iPad – happy days! Sadly the boat computer has not survived the various upgrades it required and this will return with Neill for a refit at the factory.

Norfolk is a delightful city heavily influenced by its navel history. I have never seen so many warships! We have taken advantage of the wonders of modern retailing – I managed to have a new pair of glasses made and my hair cut in 3 hours! Julian has a new phone so for our 8 months in USA we will be connected. We have finally managed to purchase the correct fittings so that we can watch films downloaded to the iPad.

Greta and Gary Gustavson, OCC port officers for Norfolk, welcomed us on our arrival. We had a great chat about ours and their adventures and Greta was absolutely wonderful and took me shopping. The boat is now restocked and we are heading up to Annapolis – the self proclaimed sailing capital of the world. Neill is flying home from Baltimore and this should be an excellent getting off point.

Marie Galante and Guadeloupel

We have spent the last 10 days cruising Marie Galante and Guadeloupe. This will be the last island that we visit before serious preparation in Antigua for our next big trip, about 10 days, to the USA. It seems such a long time since we arrived in Barbados.

Our geography and knowledge of the the Caribbean has improved enormously. The islands vary hugely mainly as a function of their heritage and size. It terms of heritage the influence of colonisation in the Carribean is very apparent. There are numerous battlements to visit on all the islands. Some islands eg Martinique are French regions and very European – in fact our UK phones work – this is great, as getting decent WiFi is a constant occupation. Some of the islands are independent but ex GB colonies – they speak English, drive on the left and have preserved red telephone boxes! The level of prosperity of these varies enormously with the like of Antiqua feeling quite prosperous to Dominica which is desperately poor. The influence of the sugar industry, and slavery is also apparent on all the islands although tourism is now well established. The dreadful effects of hurricanes are ever present but some islands are clearly very well prepared while others quite destroyed and really struggling to deal with the aftermath.

We have enjoyed the wildlife – turtles, pelicans and iguanas being our favourites. We were thrilled to see some baby turtles hatching on the beach in Barbados. The rainforest is impressive and of course we have seen many deserted tropical beaches and had some amazing snorkelling

Part of us is sad to be leaving these delightful islands and the very relaxed attitude to life, but equally we are looking forward to something new. In particular we miss decent broadband and Julian is desperate for some regular Amazon deliveries which might just be possible in US!

Marie Galante must be the flattest Caribbean island. This was welcome and we thoroughly enjoyed our walk through the forest and along one of the many deserted beaches. The hiking has been difficult in the Caribbean as it is always very steep either up or down.

We visited Point a Pitre the capital of Guadeloupe. Like most of the capitals we have visited it has that rather tired and dusty feeling and we never want to stay to long. While there we went to the Aquarium which was excellent but there really are some very strange and spooky creatures that live under the sea. We also visited the slave museum which was again interesting but possibly rather lacking in detail but housed in a fabulous building.

We met up with our old friends Bill and Moira of Krabat in Iles Saintes. They had had a tough trip from the BVI’s so we produced a roast lamb supper. Even if I say so myself this was impressive and even the roasties were crisp! We have started to crave some proper English food and this was perfect. We were entertained the following day by some local fishermen who were fishing with nets. I am not sure what the plan was but the pelicans were ensuring that they got their share. It was not a good day to be a fish!

Finally we had to visit Deshaies where Death in Paradise was filmed. It is a delightful setting. While there we also saw the start of a triathalon. This was, as seems to always the case, for any activity accompanied by a ghetto blaster!

Dominica and Iles de Saintes – what a contrast

We sailed to Dominica from Martinique. Dominica was badly hit by hurricane Marie last year and the OCC (0cean Cruising Club) is encouraging yachting people to visit and support the economy. Our quide book says that the island is the most unspoilt in the region and has a spectacular natural beauty. I am sure this is right but we could see from sailing up the coast that the hurricane had done great damage to the rainforest. This will grow back but there is still a huge amount to do to restore the housing and, I am sure much of the infrastructure. This is a very poor place. I am all for cleaning up the oceans, but I am not sure what the Prime Minster of Dominica will make of Theresa May’s speech on banning plastic straws at the Common wealth leaders meeting – I suspect he might feel he has higher priorities. It has be said cocktails complete with straws are very popular in the Carribean but we were served bamboo straws in Bequia.

We anchored on one of the PAYS buoys and were well looked after by Spaghetti one of the boat men. We had a lovely trip up the Indian river where Pirates of the Carribean was filmed. PAYS or Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services organise security for the moorings, provide trips and are generally very helpful to visiting yachts. They organised an excellent Sunday night barbecue were we meet a group who had just finished a round the world trip with the Arc 2017/18. They were very enthusiastic about the experience. We were pleased to do our little bit to support this community which has been so supportive of the cruising yachts.

From Dominica we travelled up to Iles de Saints part of Guadeloupe, a department of France. The contrast from Dominica could not have been more stark and yet these islands are only 20mn apart. Iles de Saints is like a Carribean/French Scilly Isles – a quiet, easy going, holiday island with smart eateries. We did some hiking and eating!

When we were here we discovered that our starboard rudder was damaged. We have no idea how this happened and it is particularly bizarre as the damage is at the back of the rudder. Having spent so much time in Martinique getting the boat in pristine condition this was so frustrating and disappointing. We have consulted the manufacturers of the boat and they say it will be fine until the boat is next hauled out when it can be mended. We can only imagine that the damage was caused by something under the water rubbing at the rudder while we were on the docks in Martinique. We will have to put it down to a hazard of owning a boat.