A Capella of Belfast Blogs

Good bye and thank you to the San Blas Islands

We are heading to Colon tomorrow. We will have to wait there (probably for about 10 days) while the boat is measured and we get our slot for going through the Canal. We have plenty of boat jobs and provisioning to do. We really enjoyed the San Blas but as always, are excited about moving on and going through the Canal is definitely on the bucket list.

We had great fishing on our sail from the San Blas up the coast. One tuna and one baby (thankfully) shark. We returned the shark to the sea but were pleased to have tuna for supper and fill the freezer!

One fine Tuna
A shark!

While hanging out next to idyllic Islands is delightful we did feel we should see the jungle and some native villages. The Guna Yala region has some of the most untouched virgin rainforest in the world. Stores were getting very low and there were promises of shops in Nargana. This large village was billed as being the most “advanced” community in our guide book and where the residents have decided to give up the traditional Guna way of life; but I can assure you this is all relative.

In Nargana we did manage a meal out. This was a real treat – basic fare, slightly chaotic but good all the same. There was also excellent broadband and we were able to purchase SIM cards. Although rather ramshackle there were satellites, TV, a tiny airport and a health centre.

Eating out in Nargana

Traditional hut complete with Satellite

I am afraid rather basic sanitation – sit over the sea!

When we arrived the shopping was really dire – a few over ripe tomatoes and bananas. The supply boat was due the next day and, thankfully it did arrive but shopping on the supply boat was a whole new experience! There really is no basic hygiene, and we watched as a raw chicken was chopped up on the top of the cool box (no refrigeration here) and the very same knife then used to cut up an orange. These guys clearly have a tougher constitution than us, and we opted for just whole vegetables and some lovely Guna bread.

Shopping on the supply boat

The shop

and the bakery

In Nargana we were curious to see many dugouts full of barrels heading up the river each day and returning heavily laden. It turned out these little boats were getting fresh water from up the river. One island (there are two joined by a bridge) has running water from a stand pipe and the other does not. It seems interesting to us that people have satellite TV but no running water. Perhaps when time is less limited this is a better option but it looks jolly hard work.

We visited Isla Maquina which is a much more traditional village with a guide named Idelfonso. He spoke reasonable English which he had learnt from a book and with his family had purchased his panga (motor boat) for $14,000. This would be a huge sum of money and we had to give him top marks for his entrepreneurial spirit but he remained very proud of his culture and way of life. It was excellent to see how these people live in such a simple way – sleeping in hammocks, cooking on open fires, very few processions, and experts on re-using just about anything.

Going to collect water at some speed
Heavily laden dugouts full of river water

There are dugouts and dugouts – learning from Idelfonso

A lovely Guna lady making a mola
Off fishing with man’s best friend!

We did have two great hikes up the river Rio Diablo with Bill and Moira, and a second one from Gaiger with our guide, Idelfonso. This was serious jungle hiking including rickety bridges, river crossings and it was very hot. We had been given dire warnings of dangerous snakes, frogs and panthers the previous evening so Julian was prepared with machete and bear pepper spray! Fortunately these were not needed.

The beautiful mangroves
A selfie on the initial exploration trip

Ready with the machete

Aquaduct – Guna Yala style

With Idelfonso
Not elegant but safe

Just as we were getting a little relaxed on our return dinghy trip down the river we saw a large crocodile! I was just taking a photo of the little banana plantation, and had not noticed the crocodile, until it slid into the water! We were all of 5 metres away! but imagined how thrilled I was when I discovered I actually had the photo to evidence the encounter.

What a spot for lunch – we felt like intrepid explorers!

The San Blas Islands

The San Blas Islands are a vast archipelago on Panama’s Caribbean coast composed of over 300 islands. Some are inhabited but many not. We had never heard about them before but they are a popular, in a remote kind of way, cruising area particularly for those going onto the Canal and the Pacific. The Islands are home to the delightful indigenous Guna Indians who have preserved their culture and traditions, and live in a very simple way. They have no electricity except maybe a solar panel, no running water, and sleep in hammocks. Life seems very relaxed. They have certainly given us food for thought.

The Islands are idyllic, but the people really make the area. There seems to be a symbiotic relationship between the Guna’s and cruisers which appears to work. They like our dollars and we really appreciate the veggie boat, the lobsters and the molas! Quite what they think of our sophisticated boats and inability to catch our own lobsters we do not know, and possibly that is a good thing!

We have met up with Bill and Moira on s/y Krabat, Allen and Maria on s/y Lady Jane and Jana and Jan-Dirk on s/y Jajapami and we are loosely cruising together. These are all friends from our Jimmy Cornell rally who are travelling through the Canal and onto the Pacific.

Wonderful palms

Green Island. The view from the mast.
Beautiful beaches
A little dug out sailing past us
They paddle in these dugouts for miles
The very simple little Guna huts

One day a Guna came out to our boat and via some good sign language we understood that one of the men on the island had cut their hand badly with a machete. We offered plasters, bandages as you would, but this was not going to do. Our friends on Jajapami could speak Spanish and that was certainly going to help so Julian took the injured Guna to Jana on Jajapami, and she did an excellent first aid job and they then ferried the chap in their Catamaran to the nearest hospital the next day. He had 7 stitches for a severed artery. It was great to be able to help.

The poor Guna resting on Jajapami on the way to hospital

As you would expect the snorkelling has been great, although climbing/slithering over the reef at Green Island proved a serious challenge which we probably will not repeat.

Julian ready to venture over the reef in the background
Believe me there are no Mc Donald’s near here but their plastic gets everywhere
There are not so many fish but great corals

This place is really remote and the last time we really provisioned was in the USA at the beginning of December. Our stores are getting very low and there are no shops here so when you see fresh fruit and vegetables you buy! There is a little bit of moaning from the captain about his rather plain diet.

The veggie pick up in Linton
The veggie boat in Chimichimi

There always seems to be a dog living with the families. We were most entertained to see this dog dig up a crab. I guess when there are no rabbits, moles, rats or other small vermin what can you do. It seemed an uneven fight but the crab won the day!

Size did not matter here!

We are kept well supplied with lobster and they are excellent. What a treat!

This chap free dived for our lobsters
Two happy boys cooking lobsters in Uncle Peter’s pot!
An excellent Lobster supper on Krabat

I have really enjoyed admiring the molas made by the Guna ladies. They come out in the canoes to sell them or display them at their huts. These pass Julian by, but they are very beautiful appliqué with embroidery on top. Quite how they do this without glasses and light I do not know. I will reluctantly limit myself to two!

Two beautiful molas

Arrived in Panama!

We arrived in Panama last night after 5 days of sailing from Jamaica. We have had better long sails. Leaving Jamaica we were close-hauled in big lumpy seas and it took us a long time to round the eastern corner of Jamaica; we then had a current against us and some very light winds. We managed to use all sail configurations – wing on wing, spinnaker and code zero and of course main and jib. So much choice these days! Approaching both Panama and Jamaica is certainly dramatic and we could see the mountains some way of the coast. Jamaica was a convenient stopping spot as opposed to a destination in its own right. Port Antonio marina is tiny but known to be secure and well located.

A Capella safely anchored in Linton, Panama

Port Antonio in Jamaica is definitely colourful, and Julian reckons that you can get high just walking down the street as there is that much dope being smoked. While I do not think we were in any great danger, the hustling proved annoying and at at times difficult. These guys are good and hustling ranged from thoroughly unpleasant to eccentric, to charming. We were certainly charmed, and are now owners of a little bowl of dubious quality which will remind us of Jamaica. I guess we will just get used to it. Buying at the fruit and vegetable market was also a challenge and I am quite certain we were always on the wrong side of the negotiation – these guys saw us coming! On the plus side the fruit and vegetables were of good quality and we had some new things to try. It is hard to know if Port Antonio is the “real” Jamaica but it was certainly not on the tourist trail. It was scruffy, endless shacks, dead cars and rubbish, numerous stray dogs, continuous noise, people playing dominoes, drinking and dope smoking everywhere. The plus side was the street food and we did have some excellent jerk chicken and festivals which are a sort of fried banana dough.

The new bowl, “free” jelly coconut and the marina in the back ground
Banana man- a more eccentric hustler
Almost certainly on the wrong side of the negotiation but great fruit and veg
Endless colourful shacks

In the marina we were a select few – one chap from Florida was on his second circumnavigation and on his way home, and Peter Smith and Marlyse on the mighty KiwiRoa who were great company. Peter had built KiwiRoa himself, is a font of knowledge and has sailed in all the very tricky places in the world. The yacht was amazing and very tough. Peter also designed the Rocna which is a great bit of ground tackle and the one we use. Peter was generous with his advice and Julian now has an even longer job list!

The mighty KiwiRoa

We were thrilled that our friends Bill and Moira on Krabat arrived in Panama in the morning after six days sailing from Bonaire. They had an interesting time anchoring and managed to find someone else’s lost chain and anchor! The neighbouring boats were delighted – Bill and Moria less so!

Bill and Moira’s find
An excellent lunch while we waited for the cruising permit office to open

It is extremely exciting reaching Panama, and we very much look forward to exploring the San Blas Islands and surrounds, before heading to Colon and the Panama Canal.

Beached out – Good bye Bahamas!

As I write this we are drifting slowly (making 4.2kts in 4.6kts of wind under the code zero) towards Jamaica. We are definitely back to the hot part of the world and our iPads periodically proclaim over heating – really! We passed the Tropic of Cancer on Long Island and are now on Latitude 18 degrees north. Nassau was 25 degrees north.

We left the Bahamas (Great Inagua Island) rather hastily last night. I was very much hoping to visit the largest breeding population of West Indian flamingoes and the various other birds who reside at the Inagua National Park. The anchorage at Matthew town is decidedly rolly. While we do not expect much sympathy, for those who do not know, a night at a rolly anchorage is a hateful experience, and just recently we have been in a few. You do not rock peacefully to sleep, rather the rocking tends to be inconsistent, things fall over, the boat rattles however hard you seek out the rattle culprit, there are always creaks, and you end up trying to sleep like a star fish – it never works! The winds were forecast to become very strong in a couple of days and we would probably have had to stay at Matthew Town for at least 5 days if we did not leave. Sadly the flamingoes had to be missed.

We managed to clear out on a Saturday much to our surprise, but the officials could not have been more helpful. A marine defence officer phoned the customs official. To be fair there was not much “guarding” going on, but it was generous all the same. She picked us up in her car and took us to the customs office. Immigration were not there but happy we leave the forms with the customs officer. A very casual way of operating but so helpful and very typical of all the islands.

Freshly caught amberjack for supper on our trip down to Jamaica.

It was a busy day in Matthew Town as the, once a week, mail boat had arrived. No next day deliveries here! This seemed to be a very social occasion and although it looked a little chaotic to us, I am sure that, via the ever faithful pick up truck, all the supplies reach the right home eventually. Just behind the mail boat was a sail boat from Haiti which delivers a special drink which is made there. This boat’s mast is a crudely shaped tree trunk with all the original bends, no engine but some long oars instead, and one suspects fairly primitive inside. Haiti is approximately 70NM away so these chaps are tough sailors!

The mail boat and sailing delivery yacht from Haiti at Matthew Town

We left Nassau for the last time on January 7th after leaving Tristan and Marie off to travel back to the UK, restocking the boat at the eye wateringly expensive supermarket near the marina, and Julian’s final eye check up which confirmed that all was fine.

A Capella sailing to Nassau for the last time. Thank you to World Dancer for the fabulous photo.

On our trip south down the Exuma chain of islands we stopped at Norman’s Cay again and then Black Point and George Town on Great Exuma. Black Point was a very local, but friendly tiny village. George Town, on the other hand was a serious cruising boat “hang out.” Many cruising people arrive here and stay for an extended time and some never quite get around to leaving and so create house boats! This is not for us but we were very happy to be sociable, and do some boat jobs in some beautiful surroundings for a few days. This cruising community is well established – The daily radio net lasts up to three quarters of an hour every morning, there is volley ball, soft ball, yoga, hiking trails, sailing regatta, poker nights, quiz nights, beach church and, of course beach parties. The swap, buy and sell works well and we were lucky enough to be given a replacement dinghy oar as the original had been lost.

Doing boat jobs in fabulous places. Julian prepares to climb the mast.
Looking down from the top of the mast and admiring those solar panels
The anchorage at George Town seen from the top of the mast.

House boats!

Beautiful beaches

Julian was delighted to see the Magistrate’s Court was operational in George Town and the clerk very kindly showed us into the court. It was much like home. Somehow the pink paint work seems to work in this brIght light and Julian was suitably impressed with the court rules! The Bahamas is an ex British colony so there are many legacies. They drive on the left albeit most of the cars, imported from America, are right hand drive, which is slightly disconcerting.

Moving south from here is not particularly easy due to coral heads and prevailing easterlies. It also takes you away from the tourist areas to the remote aptly called “far out islands”. According to our guide book these are the islands where Christopher Columbus first landed in 1492. We opted to motor west in a flat calm to Conception Island. This is an uninhabited island and a sanctuary for migratory birds and green turtles. We did not see any birds or turtles but we were on our own, and it was another wonderful beach.

All on our own at Conception Island

Then onto Long Island and Clarence Town and South Point. There is not much happening on Long Island except the weekly mail boat which just happened to be at Clarence Town when we were there. We learnt that in older times there had been plantations here and we saw the evidence of substantial walls but the island is now mainly scrub and very depopulated. Lovely as these islands are, I can see why young people would rather move to Nassau or Freeport. South Point had another wonderful beach and there were just two other boats in the anchorage. We ventured inland for a change and walked along the only road and found a tiny store. Julian was after some rum. The lady in the shop, who was just lovely, did not have any but her brother who had a little bar would be able to help and he was just down the road. On our return her brother was waiting for us, so we joined him at his bar for a few beers, some chat and a bottle of rum! We learned about the island and it was a lovely interlude. Next planned stop was Jamaica bay on Acklin Island but this was rolly and the wind was making it a lee shore. We opted to do a night sail to Matthew Town on Great Inagua and arrive in the morning.

The little bar at South Point, Long Island

We have thoroughly enjoyed the Bahamas and it was great to have Angus, Tristan and Marie on the boat for Xmas and the New Year. Nassau is busy but on the islands it is really very quiet. We have had some great sailing in good winds and smooth seas, but we will particularly remember the beaches, the warm clear waters, the light and the turquoise colours. Happy days.

Sharks, Rays and bright turquoise Seas

We arrived in the Bahamas at the most westerly point aptly named West Point on Grand Bahama at the beginning of December.

We knew that the Bahamas was shallow but I do not think we appreciated quite how shallow. We have now got used to sailing in 2 metres of water, when anchoring we are pleased to have 0.5 metres underneath us at low water, and a tidal range of 3ft is now significant – unheard of in the UK. On the plus side the water is gin clear, we can always see the anchor and the reefs seem to ensure that the seas remain relatively flat and we have had some wonderfully smooth sailing in good winds. The colours are amazing. The winds are variable in direction and strength. There are numerous anchoring options. It is not quite as warm as we expected but definitely shorts and T shirt weather and very comfortable.

Boat speed 9.2kts, wind speed 18.4kts, 3.8m under the keel

We first toured the Abacos. These are a delightful collection of uninhabited islands, idyllic beaches and little settlements.

Treasure Cay – a beautiful 3 mile long beach
Unfortunately rather too much plastic detritus on the Atlantic side of these islands
Speed bumps In Little Harbour

Next stop Nassau to pick up Angus for Christmas. Nassau is not attractive and is home to the Atlantis resort on Paradise Island. The Atlantis resort seems to have every attraction but in terms of scale it has a 60,000 sq ft casino providing 75 gaming tables and 750 slot machines. We have left it to our imagination. With Angus on board for Christmas we headed to the Exumas returned, and then picked Tristan and Marie up after Christmas and returned to the Exumas. The Exumas are on most cruisers bucket list and they did not disappoint. There are 365 cays with some of the most glorious anchorages and little harbours. Settlements are few and far between. This is a beautiful part of the world but very much a holiday park.

Under the water there are many sharks of numerous varieties, which apparently are all reasonably harmless but let us hope so. There are rays which glide along effortlessly and many other multi coloured fish. We have explored the mangroves at Shroud Cay; Seen rare iguanas at Allen’s Cay; Tristan and Marie explored the Thunderball grotto – This was used for filming a James Bond film and is quite magical; Snorkelled over a crashed aeroplane originally used for carrying drugs at Norman’s Cay and looked at Blow holes at Warderick Wells Cay.

Swimming pigs

A massive ray spotted by Marie and Tristan
Marie taking a photo of a shark – quite brave

The Exumas are also the home of the most massive fleet of super motor yachts – we have never seen so many. It gives us a certain satisfaction that we can enjoy the same pleasures on our own small yacht at considerably less cost.

Sadly the Christmas weather was disappointing – no long walk on a cold, crisp morning. We had rain, wind and blustery conditions! We took a rather wet dinghy ride to the famous swimming pigs at Staniel Cay. They were unperturbed and happy to perform despite the weather. We had roast lamb on A Capella for Christmas Eve and Christmas dinner was at the yacht club with our friends Allen and Marie from Lady Jane. The dinghy ride back can only be described as treacherous!

A wet dinghy trip to see the swimming pigs on Christmas Day

Ready for the treacherous return dinghy trip after Christmas dinner

We had a quick sail north to Nassau the following day, with three reefs in the main. This is the first time we have done this since crossing Biscay in October 2017!

A quick sail north

Not much time goes by without some sort of repair or maintenance. This time it was the outboard engine. Dirty petrol was deemed the problem.

Outboard engine surgery

By New Year’s Eve the weather had much improved and just after we had finished anchoring in Staniel Cay who should appear but Lady Jane. This resulted in an impromptu BBQ and so we saw 2019 in on A Capella. We would like to wish all our friends a very happy New Year.

Happy New Year
And finally celebrating Marie’s birthday – chocolate brownie cake

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.

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.

Boat repairs in Paradise

The boat has now done 6000 nm in six months. We had some warranty work to be completed, some improvements and some routine maintenance work to be done before the long trip to America in May. All jobs seem to take twice as long here. I am not sure if it is the culture, the practicalities of tiny islands where most things are imported or the heat, but everything moves very slowly. That said everyone is really friendly and we have met a few characters along the way – perhaps we need to be less impatient.

We had the boat hauled out of the water and anti fouled in Antiqua. We also had some skegs fitted to prevent weed getting between the rudder and hull. This had been a problem in the Atlantic. As usual this took a little longer than planned! However we do think the work was well done and are hopeful that we will not need to do this for another year. We did manage to have a great lunch with some distant cousins Barbara and Budgie, catch up with some friends from the rally who were in Antigua, admire the super yachts and do plenty of walking.

After the relaunch we had a quick sail back to Martinique. We were rather pleased with ourselves and used the code zero and achieved 6 knots in 9 knots of wind.

For the rigging a new gooseneck was installed, a boom strap for a gibe preventer and a mast winch.

We have had to run the generator too much to keep the batteries properly charged. This has been a constant frustration but it has to be mentioned that batteries and charging systems are a constant preoccupation among most male cruisers. We have now had installed 720 Wp of solar panels, a new charger controller and Julian has made various monitoring devices which can be displayed on all screens linked to an Arduino computer. All will be pleased to know that in the first day of operation the batteries were kept fully charged while sailing and the washing machine, kettle and microwave were on for some of the time. The generator will now charge the batteries at over 100 amps as opposed to 50 amps previously. Sorry if this is very technical but our little world is very dependent on charged batteries!

TV screen installed and we can now watch films. A period drama on Sunday evening would be just perfect!

Security bars have been made for the fridge. These will prevent the fridge door opening in extreme conditions.

Security bars for the hatches. We haven’t really felt particularly vulnerable but these will allow us to be safe with the hatches open.

The boat has been cleaned, polished and tidied! All in all, it has been a busy few weeks but we feel the boat is now in excellent order and we are ready for America.

We left Martinique today and are heading north to Dominique, Guadalupe and Antiqua. We are meeting Neill here and will set sail for America at the beginning of May.

Antigua – an iconic yachting destination

Antigua’s most famous attractions include more beautiful protected anchorages than most other islands – English harbour and Falmouth harbour are just lovely and Nelsons dockyard has been beautifully restored. Two very old friends from N. Ireland joined us for a week. The island is certainly more sophisticated than many we have visited and we did our best to make the most of this and had a great week. We enjoyed snorkelling and pelican watching on the remote north east of the islands off Great Bird Island. Sampled the local cuisine in particular the excellent smoothies. Studied the super yachts and their accessories. Tim and Julian went diving. All in all a lovely week. Tim and Sally return to a cold Northern Ireland with a bit more colour in their cheeks.

Islands that brush the clouds

After leaving St Maartin we have travelled south along the Renaissance Islands. They are described as “the islands that brush the clouds” in our pilot book and they really do. Leisbeth from the Netherlands has joined for a scenic trip to Antiqua and thus it was particularly sad that we were unable to visit Saba and Statia, both former Dutch colonies and now municipalities of the Netherlands. These are tiny islands and off the beaten track but the weather and swell was definitely against us – we will try again.

We have visited St Kitts, a former British colony but now independent. There was much evidence of the colonial past. We also found a rather lovely drinking place, in a glorious setting along side the super yachts!

We are now at Monsterrat – a former colony and now British overseas territory. It is delightful, very friendly and by far the quietist anchorage we have visited so far. We had a great tour of the Island which concentrated on the Volcano. Soufriere is an active volcano and has erupted many times – the last time in 2010 but the biggest was in 1995 when the capital Plymouth was completely destroyed when covered in ash. There was also hurricane Hugo in 1989 which destroyed the island. The remains are a humbling reminder of nature’s power and the human impact is very evident throughout the Island – nearly two thirds of the population left following the eruptions. Half the island still remains an exclusion zone albeit there is now access, as the risk level is one. The sulphurous smell as we approached the island ensured we knew the volcano was still active.

The population is now about 5000 and it must be a dilemma as to how you provide infrastructure for such a small island population.

Interestly there are extensive St Patrick Day celebrations this week. The first European settlers on Monsterrat were Irish arriving in 1630 while escaping religious persecution. The Irish were also implicated in the 1768 slave uprising which took place on St Patrick’s Day. The celebrations are held every year to recognise the bravery of these rebels. The uprising was unsuccessful, and as was the practise in those days a brutal execution of the repels followed.

The island also has an impressive theatre/community centre which was built by Sir George Martin of Beatles fame. Leisbeth and I went to calypso singing competition. I am not sure about the quality but is was certainly loud and colourful.

We are now sailing to Antiqua to met Tim and Sally Birch from N. Ireland who are coming to join us.

St Maartin/St Martin

This is a split island and St Maartin is Dutch and St Martin is French. We were here to join some friends for the Heineken race week. The racing boats ranged from the seriously big and fast to chartered boats. Our boat was Akouvi a pogo 12.5, owned by Chris a fellow rally friend and crewed by Josh a very skilled racer from New Zealand who was also on our rally. The boat was very successful winning its class comfortably. Julian joined the boat for all the races and I did two. We are grateful to Chris for organising this and allowing us to join the racing.

The island was hit by hurricane Irma, in September last year. The damage is incredible and will take years to fix. It is quite bizarre to see such damage next to very smart super yachts! There is a “let’s get on with it attitude” and you seem to get used to seeing dead boats just strewn about in the water and out of the water, once smart hotels with no roofs, water edge restaurants destroyed, and broken walkways. It was clearly a very smart island before the hurricane.

There are serious iguanas here. They are the most odd creatures but very colourful and wonderfully prehistoric.

Martinique for snagging

After St Lucia and the Grenadines we returned to Martinique for snagging and some boat improvements as previously arranged. Returning to marine centres for such things seems to be a common state of affairs among cruisers. This status is compounded by waiting for parts and bits of parts which should have been sent but were forgotten. Happily we have met many of our rally mates in Martinique who have been “waiting for boat improvements or stuff to be mended!” Just to be sure we know we are in France the lunch stop is 2 hours, but in fairness it is hot and all the staff have been delightful, but it does make progress steady to say the least.

We duly turned up in Martinique on the arranged day. Getting work to start was delayed by carnival time and public holidays. Many ordered parts had arrived but, as seems to be the way, not quite all the bits. We have achieved some things in Martinique in particular more clutches, but frustratingly will have to return at the end of March to finish the work.

Now on our way to St Martin/St Maartin. Julian is hoping to do some racing and then we will met some friends in Antiqua before returning to Martinique.