The lengths people go to in order to obtain a transit log…

As many of you may be aware a non EU flagged boat can only stay within Greek waters for a maximum of 18 months. It must then visit a non EU country before re-entering Greek waters in order to obtain a new transit log. What follows is Heather’s account of our little trip to Albania to obtain one such transit log… grab a blanket and a brew, it’ll make you cold just reading it.

With my hands stinking of bleach, busy deep cleaning fridges, Vicky pops her head around the door and asks “would you like to come sailing?” Of course I agree! Who wouldn’t, given the alternative?

Now, early on I should point out that I am very new to sailing, only experiencing the beauty and relaxation of summer sailing around the Ionian. This was to be an entirely new adventure…

I arrive early at the Yacht Club, layered up as had been advised by Debs (Thank you so much for the layers – I definitely owe you one!). I am given a pair of salopettes; snow is due to be dumped all across Greece, most people are preparing their log fires for a duvet day – not us! We’re going sailing!

As we head up the Lefkas channel I am eager and optimistic. Millie is tucked up in bed under the spray hood; an addition that we all become immensely thankful for (and something that Ruairi will continue to remind us of).  It’s drizzly and grey but not unpleasant – is this what sailing in England feels like?

It is as we approach Santa Maura bridge that my optimism drops. It is now throwing it down, the wind has picked up and as a result the swell has greatly increased. And we still have to collect Yevgeni, the owner of the boat, & his belongings from the quay. I am nervous. The largest waves I have experienced up to this point are those delightful summer breeze waves in the stretch between Lefkas and Ithaka. What am I doing? Get off now. This is a ridiculous idea. I’m 25 minutes from home if I abandon ship now. My lovely warm home, with Netflix and an electric blanket… No, where is your sense of adventure Heather? Pull yourself together – you’ve got this!

Of course my nerves are not warranted. Ruairi and Vicky expertly bring Diana alongside and the process of collecting Yevgeni is seamless. With all his energy and madness, Yevgeni alleviates my mood somewhat. It does not last.

As I previously mentioned I am a rookie. Open seas are new to me. The swell does not subside and I find myself in a dilemma; do I go down below and be warm but increase the chances of throwing up over a recently refitted saloon or do I suffer the cold and keep my eyes fixed on the land to try to suppress the sickness? I decide upon the latter and curl up tightly under the spray hood desperately fighting the urge to throw up over the side. Ruairi does offer the kindest of support “seasickness and motion sickness are a state of mind” Thanks Ruairi…

It is night as we reach Corfu Town and all along the headland lights flicker on – night sailing is another first for me and excitement over rides sickness, perhaps it is all in my head (don’t tell Ruairi I thought that!) Gouvia Maina is to be our home for the night and as we follow the buoys in (red on the Port and green on the Starboard – see I am learning!) relief washes over me. I have survived!

We wake to snow covered hatches. Thank god for the heater! I take full advantage of hot showers (and secretly think about staying here all day).

All we have to do now is sail to Albania and back…no big deal…it’s only a little bit of snow right?

Valiantly, Vicky and I take on the role of coffee makers, seeking shelter down below, plotting, planning and dreaming of summer and all that it promises for 2019!

The snowstorm only worsens and the swell is unforgiving as we reach Saranda. Visibility is poor and a hydrofoil whizzes out of the port only just missing us. I have no words for this experience, instead take a look at the video, it gives you an idea…

Click here for the video of us arriving Saranda

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I have three reflections on Saranda;

  1. The people here could not have been more helpful; though this may have been because they thought we were all mad!
  2. Add sugar to the hot chocolate – its proper cocoa!
  3. I would love to return and explore more of Saranda and Albania, the town is quirky with much character – a larger Nidri if you will – and the coastline looks beautiful! Though perhaps I’ll wait until Spring…

The next morning is brilliant sunshine. Everyone is in high spirits; our mission to Saranda and back is complete and with the wind behind us it looks like we can get some good sailing in as we head home! We do one last stock up; predominantly chocolate, bread and cheese – what else? – and head back down south.

All hands are on deck and our sails are raised! The boys take the opportunity to play with the new kite, Vicky retreats into her happy reading corner and I lie on the foredeck basking in the afternoon sunshine, mesmerized by the Spinnaker as it ebbs and flows in the wind.

A sailing yacht, the first one we have seen out this trip, motors towards us – they must be envious of our full sails downwind!

For our final day, Helios is once again kind. The last leg is one we know well, Lefkas to Vlicho and everyone is relaxed. We take full advantage of the gorgeous weather, using our sails all the way.

Our final lunch stop is a little bay on Skorpios, the infamous Jackie O bay. We anchor just off the shore and I can’t help but comment on how inviting the sea looks. Before I know it, the ladders are down. I’ve got to now haven’t I?

And so, ladies and gentleman, the adventure concludes with my first swim of the year framed by a snow capped Lefkada and I must say I am glad to be home!

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Goodbye 2018…

Here’s my final post of the year, it’s getting rather quiet around here as staff have left to spend Christmas in their native countries, there’s currently only 2 of our guys left down at the yard cracking on until Friday to make sure everything is wrapped up (bad pun) nicely for the holidays. The gel coat repairs have been an ongoing process and our rib ‘Fred’, that we use and abuse in summer to attend call outs, has been stripped back, dismantled and will be rebuilt to run more efficiently than ever, whilst looking shinier and prettier too (important of course). The weather has been relatively kind to us, with most of the heavy rainfall only gracing us in the hours of darkness, but the temperatures in the clear day times have plummeted. Fear not for the guys working constantly in the outdoors down at the yard however, as Ruairi, with the use of an old gas bottle, some steel pipe, a welding torch and a now dwindling supply of wooden pallets, has kept the team warm on the chilliest of days with his homemade log burner.

Back at the club the festive infused cocktails have been flowing and the Christmas day bookings are coming in for Vicky’s delicious Christmas dinner, made for the local community staying here on Lefkada for the big day. The locals have also been joining in on charity walks the last few weeks, organised in partnership with Get Active Lefkas raising money to buy sports equipment for the local preschool. It’s easy for us thalassophiles to forget that the land and hills around us are also worth exploring, but it doesn’t take long if you head inland to see more of the beauty this island has to offer.

Finally, the website has had an update over the last few months if you fancy checking it out.  I’ve been slowly chipping away at updating all the information and adding some new photos we’ve taken over the last year or so. I also updated flight information for UK departures as well as from other European countries; just this week a new direct Sunday morning flight from Stanstead to Preveza  (Thomas Cook) has been released making our little haven of paradise even more accessible than before. Bookings are being taken, new charter boat Euphrosyne has been added to the fleet and another charter boat coming soon in the New Year means it’s already shaping up to be a busy 2019.

On that note, everyone here at Vliho Yacht Club would like to wish all our friends and followers new and old, a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Have a good one, from all The VYC Team!

 

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

Kalo Mina! December has arrived with a bang and has us feeling all festive here at Vliho Yacht Club. Our annual ‘Turning on the Lights’ event at the weekend was a huge success again, this year’s decorations created by Heather and the team are even more imaginative than ever, giving the whole club a merry glow.

 

The guys down at the yard are wearing their winter warmers, as even though the sun is still shining the temperatures are slowly dropping here on the island. The main focus at the yard the last few weeks has been to finish winterization of the yachts, check for any cabin leaks, gel coat repairs and to continue with some of the bigger projects we have to complete this winter. One Moody 43 arrived at the yard to be re-sprayed, but instead the team refurbished the hull to make it look better than ever!

I mentioned in the last post Ruairi, Vicky and Mark heading to the METSTRADE show in Amsterdam. It’s safe to say the boys enjoyed the techie side of things and playing with new gadgets the yachting market has to offer, a lot more so perhaps than the injection of culture they were forced into as Vicky dragged them off to the Van Gogh Museum for an afternoon (Ruairi’s face says it all)

 

We’re ploughing towards Christmas with still lots of things happening and to do lists longer than Santa’s naughty list, so expect a few more updates before we see in 2019.

Stay Warm (I am with the heating on full blast in the office!)
Laura

Our Corner of the Earth

 

Hello all, Laura here! I could previously be spotted around Vliho Yacht Club’s quay preparing our boats for arrivals and charters; I can now be found in the Vliho Yacht Club office where I’ll be hibernating for the winter months. I’m usually all gusto for the great outdoors but as the weather starts to get a little colder as winter fast approaches and with the added bonus of having Millie the Yacht Club dog keeping my feet warm, I’m actually quite glad to be sat at a desk.

blog photo

The idea of these updates is to give you all insight into what’s going on here at the club. With all your boats now lifted out of the water into the yards, our yacht team are finishing off the winterising process. Sails off, sheets detangled and neatly stored, boat propellers being cleaned, covers put on, seacocks greased,  yard maintenance and projects have begun.

Ruairi, Vicky and Mark are actually leaving the island this week, heading to Amsterdam for the METSTRADE Show.  The world’s largest trade exhibition of marine equipment, materials and systems, the guys are going to check out all the new developments and products within the industry to report back to us and our clients.

(Check it out at https://www.metstrade.com)

sunset in the bay
Empty Vliho Bay at sunset

As the winter progresses and we move into 2019 when the whole process of summer prepping starts again, I’ll aim to keep you posted from the comforts of my swinging office chair, with photos and news of any significant events as well as the everyday activity too.

 

Leg 4: Part 4

The wind continued to ease all day and I have to say that evening’s watch I shall remember always, 7-8knots boat speed, clear full moon, sorts & t shirts and a good girlie book, coz I had read all the ones where men shoot each other.

By mid morning the wind had died to 15knots and being the last day at sea and harnesses a new found enthusiam onboard, we set the kite. In 6000 miles, it had been up twice before, once leaving La Manga on the fast day and once leaving the Cape Verdes. On both ocassions it took longer to repair, than it was up. Whilst discussing the pros and cons of adding another furler for the No.1 over maybe looking for a smaller kite, nature took over. It started with a gossamer kiss by the kite to the forestay, which opened a 1 foot square hole, then five minutes later same thing, another hole, but not content with that it then collasped and the top end disintergrated. Rob looked crestfallen, don’t worry we won’t need it again. Why’s that then? Wekk coming out of the Cape Verdes when we had the drone, we got great photos, so unless you change the colour of the hull, we won’t ever need to put it up again, simple.

For the last 100miles we had no wind at all, which should have been nice and easy, just motor in. No chance our recurring deisel issues reared their head again and ove rthe course of the next 24hours the engine would run for an hour or so then die. i changed filters, bypassed stuff, ran from a jerry can and probably every other thing you can think of to do with a deseil system to no avail. Some time I would think I had found the smoking gun, only for it to die again. I’m gutted that we will have to leave the boat not working for the moment, but I am out of ideas as to a solution.

We made out landfall in Boccas del Toro and as we passed between the 1st two islands which guard the anchorage, everything became good with the world. This place folks is paradise, all the things we had hoped of the Carribean, Panama has it in spades. Nautal beauty, quaint, cute, undeveloped, un crowded, just absolutely fantastic.

Rob’s agent for his building project pottered up to us shortly after we anchored and after all the greatings were made, he told us that it wouldn’t be a great idea to go ashore until we had been cleared by customs. So he was dispatched ashore and returned with 5 of the biggest nad best pizzas I have ever seen. Needless to say the red wine was broken out, glasses were raised, emptied, refilled and emptied. All onboard filled with an immense satisfaction of a job well done.

Bang on time at 9.30am the next morning, Customs, Immigration, Port authority and some other dude, who I think just liked boats all turned up. Incredibky poilte, couteous and welcoming. They were full of apologies, as the building opposite us, which was to be the new HQ of the officals was not finished yet. The process was a bit disjointed. For me though, this was perfect, it tallied with all the ocean voyages I have read about from yester year, about customs coming onboard as opposed to the modern traisping around different offices. I was slightly miffed that they did not suggest that a bottle of whiskey would be in order.

Once done and all the formalities completed, we shifter our berth 5 miles to Rob’s holiday development. This was pure Swallows and Amazons, threading our way through Mangrove islands, with no charts, glancing off little sand banks, a touch astern then on our way again, just awesome.

Rob’s place, just makes you envious, I cannot image a more perfect location or project, The property is fronted by a horse shoe bay about the size of a Tescos carpark, or as I pointed out a 100berth marina. We went stern to a rickety jetty, then all went ashore to look around. The idea fior the resort is as a rain forest retreat with spa, resturant etc. Accomodation is purpose built 2 story cabins built high up in the trees and very exclusive. 3 of the cabins are complet and landscaping is just beginning to clear the restaurant site.It is boys own adventure stuff, tropical but no snakes, fertile with every imaginble type of tree, but not so dense that moving around is difficult. Still to come is the construction of 4 cabannas, local style cabins which sit on stills ove rthe water, magical. He still has a lot to do but you can understand that this is a retirement project and once he is there almost full time, little foot paths and seating areas and possibly a marina will grow by increment. Its a long project but one that many of us would love.

I’m writing this in the cockpit, finding it very hard to concentrate, everywhere you look, there is water taxis buzzing along or a yacht moving or just nature, its mezmerising.

Andras & Konrad who are spending another month here decomissioning the boat, had to go off on a magical mystery tour this morning to get Visas. The dude that issues them locally is on vacation. Rob, Vicky & I have a 3 day grace period and need to fly out tomorrow. Vicky & Rob are ashore at the moment trying to sort flights. Having been away so long, it sounds like all our credit cards are well passed maed out, so a little bit of international finace is being conducted. It appears that we are off to Colombia in the morning before a flight to Europ. Cool by me, my passport is beginning to look awesome.

Its hard to describe how gut wrenching it is for this trip to be over, one of those things you just wish could go on forever, but I guess even I have to make a living at some stage.

For Vicky and I, it’s been a long over due break together and both feel bring it on in terms of what Greece throws at us next. I know this will not be the only time I am in Panama, firstly it is so good and secondly because there is serious talk of continuing into the Pacific in 3 years time.

Thanks for keeping up with our story, I hope its been enjoyavble.

Ruairi

Boccas del Toro

Panama

Leg 4: Part 3

Another side effect of learning just before departure, that the fridge & freezer were goosed, (we had been plugged in for 10days and not realised how bad they had got until we were in Martinique, by which time engine, generator, steering and autopilot took priority) was a lot of the meat we had stocked had of course to be binned. To compensate for this we had brought a slab of Hereford tinned corn beef. With Vicky incapacitated it fell to me to take over in the kitchen. Lasagna was programmed for that night and with Vicky adding a little ‘welcome’ advice from her sick berth, preparation went well. however gimballed though the oven may be, it seemed always to be on its way down as the boat was coming up and vice versa. Boat ovens generally don’t heat very evenly especially, when like ours you have to relight it every 20minutes, so the resulting concoction resembled bollangese & cheese sauce soup more than what had been billed on the menu. However being skipper, whose wife the chef is in her sick berth, due to a boys on deck sailing injury coupled with their collective inability to boil an egg, all agreed a fine dish, from which there was only a mild tinny after taste.

Rob had spent a lot of money on a wind generator made by a German crowd called Superwind and was understandably very proud of this expensive addition to the boat. Unlike myself he did not rate the solar panels which were mounted on the gantry with it. It was an ongoing discussion which came up, every couple of days. Rob would quote generating figures, pooh pooh at other yacht’s versions. To which I would helpfully point out, as eloquently as possible, yeah but it’s still a piece of crap. Now a couple of days after Burns Night with a good 6 to 7 chasing us up the chuff, the matter was finally settled and I have to admit Rob was correct, he just wasn’t happy about how he found out.

I had just spent my blustery 3 hour watch trying to get the boat balanced enough for the autopilot to steer and had finely succeeded when Konrad & Rob who had decided to share their 3 hour tricks arrived on deck. Hope you enjoy the fruits of my labours, I quipped, very nice skip good of you to think of us. Before collapsing into bed I was abluting when there was an almighty bang from outside. Signing, mid ablute I went back on deck to see what had happened now. Vicky & paws were poking out the aft cabin hatch pointing at the back of the boat. I have to add that I know now where she was pointing, whereas at the time it was hard to tell as she looked like one of those blokes who parks planes for Easy Jet, except with white table tennis bats.

It seemed that my solar panels had the temerity to break free of their fixings and triple selco into Rob’s windmill, smashing the bloody thing to bits. Since then we have had to run the generator a lot more, so it seems it wasn’t so crap after all.

After 6 days of those strong following winds, we were to a man and a 1 semi invalid heartily sick of rolling gunnel to gunnel every 20seconds, so the forecast for more gentle conditions was welcome. Of course we had to have one last kick in the butt. AP overload flashing & off course alarm screeching normally was no big deal. Yet since we had fitted a new autopilot pump, these familiar cockpit sounds had been absent, it was a real Oh bollocks that I flicked the pilot to standby and spun the wheel to get us back on course. Now normally when you turn the wheel, the scenery changes, but no matter how increasing vigorously I spun it, we inexorably ended up broadside to the swells, creating a whole new smogsaboard of noises down below.

Shit the rams stuck! I supermanned head first through the aft cabin hatch and ripped the mattress off the bed, not impressing its occupant. Sorry babe, problem, kisses as I dived into the subbedeterran. Sure enough the pin that connects the ram to the tiller had come out. Phew, easy fix. All I had to do was line up the ram and the 1 foot long tiller and pop the pin back in,piece of piss done it 100times. Not however whilst 25tons of boat is jumping 6 metres up and down every 20 seconds.  It was a bit like hunting, I would call instructions to my ankle region, which was closest to Vicky, she would pass the request to Andras at the wheel and I would track the tiller and strike at the right moment to secure the pin. What a bloody farce, it would have been comical were it not my pinkies almost being crushed every other wave. Eventually like frigid lovers, we got it in, more by luck than anything else and got it double ‘f…t…’ this time to lock it in place. Ye gods I ask you, when will it end.

Finally our much hoped for calm spell arrived. This would mean no pink panthering through the cabin, no octopusing to make a cup of coffee and no contradictory grip & relax to use the loo. Unfortunately our wished for early days of the Atlantic Crossing were not to be repeated, that evening we got our welcome we got our welcome to the Colombian basin. When you read about this part of the world, the recurring theme seems to be about lots & lots of wind on the approaches to Cartagena, the long range forecast bore this out, showing consistently higher winds on that corner. We thought it would not affect us, being 140NM offshore, no gales or pirates for us. Wrong!

A gale would not be the same if did not start at 8 o’clock at night, if it was 3pm you pretty much knew by dusk it will have blown itself out, but old 8.00pm he is there for the night. I remember we maxed out very early at 40knots true, which was when I decided staysail and 1/4 genoa was too much, the boat was surfing up to 14knots, which was like putting a bin lorry on a black run. Rather than wake the off watch crew and endure the waking, dressing, toilet, do you want coffee period which precludes anything actually being achieved, I opted for the easy option & called the much recovered Vicky. I knew that she would instantly grasp what was going on, take the wheel, let me go forward to drop sail.

On my return, whilst catching my breath ( code for lighting a fag.) I looked aft and said “have you closed the transom windows?” The why was almost perfectly formed as she began looking over her shoulder, but died as the impact of 50tons of water crashed into the arse end of the boat. Wet bed again!

Strangely things quietened down after that, with a scrap of head sail out we jogged along at 6 knots reasonably comfortably. The only recent nuisance being that the pilot simply would not control the boat. Towards the end of my watch, I resolved to sit up with Konrad as this was his first real gale at sea, he did great, his enthusiasm for each wave, matching my worst case scenario planning. When Rob came up 3 hours later it was only natural to sit with him too, then it would have been unfair not to be there for Andras, all of which is very noble, but noble is not sleep. The hardest part was no pilot, the concentration required whilst helming is draining. I some how got through my morning watch and sat down below with Vicky, Rob and a cup of coffee. Andras poked his head down the companionway and said, “I throw the wheel away.”Oh fuck Donald Crowhurst syndrome. In the end he had not cracked, just wanted to get rid of the car tires.

I best explain, all of my early reading from the beginning of ocean voyaging in the 1940s seemed to carry areference to, we used a tyre as a snubber to ease the pressure on shore lines, or fortunately we had some car tyres to shove between us and the wall & even, we tied all the tyres together with the kedge and heaved the whole lot over the rail on our longest line. Mercifully we slowed and saved the ship and all souls onboard, that sort of thing. So when Rob asked me for a shopping list in August, I popped in four old car tyres just in case. ( I can never that line without thinking of the Irish insurance company.Justin Casey.) The four tyres had been lashed to the bathing platform and to be honest I had quite forgotten them. In fact the only thing that they had achieved was to get me embroiled in a conversation in Spain which started with air being sucked through teeth and carried on with you’ll be heading across then, aye, you think them tyres will be enough, aye, I’d like more on my boat, aye…. , sorry what type of boat have you, she’ll need more tyres than that for sure aye. I’m ever so sorry must go, I have some broccolli blanching in the pressure cooker. Anyway it was these tyres which had fallen off the back and had been dragging behind us since the wave which hit our cabin 15hours before.

Andras was asking rehterically, should I spend 2 hours battling these bloody things only for us to have to pay to get rid of them in Panama or should I spend 10seconds creating a mid Colombia basin eco friendly crap community housing project? When nobody answered, he said I thought so and walked away cleaning his finger nails with the point of a sharp blade. I never found out what happened to those tyre, but next time I looked they were gone.

Ten minutes later he turns up at the hatch again and says, I am no longer Andras, now I am Andrad the autopilot engineer, you will find it is working now. It seems that my 16hour watch had been because of 3 bald Pirellis and a Michelon.

 

 

Leg 4: Part 2

Awaking next morning with a grumbling tummy and throbing head, my first thought was, can we please go back to sea now?   Rob & Vicky were dispatched ashore, whilst we three boys prepared for departure. We set the spinnaker pole, loose luffed No1 to leeward, so once the anchor was up, unfurled the genoa supported by the spinnaker pole, then hoisted the No.1 and hey pesto twins again.

Once Vicky & Rob returned from paperwork chores, the dinghy was stowed in davits, anchor up and off on the final leg of our trip, 1286NM to Bocas in Panama.  Ahead of us we knew to expect increased velocity of wind speed, a recognised piracy risk along the Venezuelan coast and a new untried steering system. By this time, life aboard was so natural that a lot of the passage making formality was gone.  No ceremony, anchor up, sails up, engine off.  Our earlier preparation paid off handsomely as the guys had the sails up and flying in moments. As we picked through the many long distance cruisers at anchor, appreciated nods or waves signified that their work was neatly done.

As we were one down from the Atlantic crossing, it was easy to adopt a 3 hour rotating watch. Vicky was excluded from the formal rota as she had her work cut out feeding a crew of many carnivores with no refrigeration on board. Needless to say though, whenever anything was going on up deck, she would be in the thick of it.

Barely an hour out of the anchorage, the 1st rain squall of the day bore down on us, no big deal as we had been experiencing them for a couple of days at anchor, giving us a moderate increase in wind strength and 20 mins of rain. Waiting for the squall, I asked who wanted first watch from now 11.00am to 2.00pm. Ever eager Konrad, when no one else said anything, said “Sure I’ll do it.” Next 2.00pm to 5.00pm, Rob grabbed that one,  Andras took the next, which left the remaining 8.00pm to 11.00pm to me. Ok slap bang in the middle of the nightly movie schedule, but in bed by 11.30pm and not up again until 07.00am, nice. It took a day or so for Rob & Konrad to realise that in their eagerness, they had bagged the graveyard shift from 11.00pm to 5.00am. Remember, never volunteer!

Dissecting of watches was soon forgotten as the squall hit and within seconds the 30 knot winds had snapped the tackline, which secures the tack or bottom front of the No1 to the boat.  Bollocks, it was now flying like a flag out the side of the boat, whilst she careered down wind at 8 knots.  As Andras released the halyard, another fierce gust tore it from him and plop, the whole shagging lot is now towing out the back of the boat like a fishing net. What a balls up, many broken finger nails later, we had clawed the bloody thing back on board. Konrad shot up the mast and replaced the halyard, new tack line, clean hoist and we were back in business. Only plus point, that the rain had obscured our messing around from our peers in the anchorage, who no doubt, would have found the whole episode highly amusing.

All through that night and for the next next 2 days we had similar weather, easterly 5 – 6. We can run with poled out roller genoa and loose luffed No.1 in this kind of wind, it’s roly but easy and the autopilot likes it. All the same issues from the Atlantic, trying to hold on in the aft cabin and the cacophony of noise in the saloon, but all in all easy passage making.

Around 1.00am on the 3rd night, the wind speed started to increase to 25-30 knots, this is where the limitations of our twin headsail rig are shown up. Initially you can roll away one genoa, but without his mate, the No1 becomes quite unstable. Then comes a time when you have to get all hands up on deck to wrestle the beast on to the deck and swap it for a much smaller staysail.

I asked Vicky to control the rate of decent, as we sort of need to drop the head almost until it is just clear of the water, then 3 of us can rail claw the thing onto the deck. By this stage its blowing a good 30 knots, when everyone is ready, Vicky stripped the halyard off the cleat and began paying out. Even though there were 3 turns on the winch, she couldn’t hold it. Now good advice in this situation, is to let the thing go and bugger the consequences, but to her credit Vicky held on, with the halyard sliding through her hands. Had not we then suffered another gust all would have been good. But the increased pressure tore at Vicky’s grip, sliding faster and faster until she had to let go.

On the rail none of us were aware of the unfolding drama behind us, until with a rush, the sail plummeted into the water and we sailed over it.

I turned with uncharitable thoughts towards my beloved, only to see her disappear below, ‘Unusual’ flashed through my mind but I had to focus on the mess we were now in. Slowly by passing a rope around a section of the sail, we managed to winch it onto the deck. Then cut the halyard as it was wrapped around the prop / rudder. 20mins or so later, I went down below to find out what the story was. Greeted by Vicky’s back hunched over the galley sink. I thought, here we go! Only when she turned around and I saw the massive rope burns to both her hands, did my heart melt. Rather than bother anyone on deck, she was trying to dress the burns, no handed. The lack of a working fridge or freezer made finding anything cold enough to get the heat out difficult, but eventually after translating from Spanish, Rob found some burns cream, which although stung like a Bxxxxd, gradually brought the pain down to bearable.

We packed a very peeved and sore Vicky off to bed for a couple of days with her hands wrapped up. Next day the funniest moment came as she tried to have a cigarette, not funny with no hands.

Leg 4: Part 1

As it was carnival on next door to the North in Martinique, our obvious place to go was Fort de France, the capital.

It turned out that we had some teething trouble still with the diesel system, which knocked the wind out of our sails. Whilst the boys went to carnival, I stayed on board and worked my way through the system, eventually tracing the problem to a new & very expensive racor water separator, which had been fitted in St Lucia. Ho, hum, all better now.

Dwindling time and the need for a touch of civilization saw us back track to Marin in the very South of Martinique. What an eye opener, if anyone is planning a first stop after an Atlantic crossing, this is the place. From every marine service and French style supermarkets to beautiful anchorages, this has the lot. Only down side, it is mini France, not very Caribbean.

Penultimate day here today, a real swim & relax day, meal ashore tonight, then off to Panama tomorrow. Its a shame to have had so much down time and little playtime since crossing, however all aboard are now eager to get to sea again.

In keeping with our new found eagerness, when Konrad and Andras came back from their morning shell hunting expedition, Vicky, Rob & I decided to head ashore, use a cafe terminal to ‘clear out’ and book a table for the evening. After so many days of stress & repair getting the boat fixed, it was with conscious effort we took in the waterside village of Sainte Anne, with its square and dominating, but welcoming church. It seems that the proprietor of the cafe, which holds the only customs clearance computer, had over exerted himself during the previous few days carnival, as he was now closed until tomorrow. That took the edge off our urgency in the morning, as some of us would need to come ashore again. We selected a restaurant which had all the right attributes, but rather than appear over eager, went to the seafront for lunch. Now as most of you know Vicky and I are long in the tooth enough to know that waterfront dining rarely climbs high enough to meet even the lowest of expectations, but world travelling Rob would not listen to our cynicism and chose prime location. In truth it was either this restaurant or a kebab stand. What can I say, location perfect, that’s me being positive.  After those nice people who own my credit card had paid for lunch, we resolved to book tonight’s place, lest we end up water front again, no kidding the vegetarian option, the only option was chips.  Average plate cost 30 euro, a classy joint! Being out of touch with all things French, when we got to our preferred evening eatery at 2.30pm it had obviously closed for lunch, aah!

Post siesta onboard, the team loaded into the dinghy promptly at seven, to make sure of a table. Maitre D’ greeted us suspiciously at the door, eyeing the shifty disposition of our multi national crew, we didn’t come ashore together much at this stage. When addressed with the ubiquitous eyebrow raised “Oui?” I really wished I had paid more attention in school! What I wanted to scream was, Oui, Oui, what? This is a restaurant, I know that because it said it out the front, we are a group of people who would like to eat.  It’s fairly obvious you don’t serve petrol, so cut the shite, count the number of the party and match that up with a table that has an appropriate number of chairs and don’t chew so much garlic before evening service. Instead I managed a meek “we would like to eat, a table of five perhaps.” “Mais non, deux, trois, quatre, oui, cinq… c’est impossible.” I peer around him at the completely empty restaurant and suggest that we would only like a main course, eat quickly and begone. Alas he responded “I have many reservations;” I know what you mean I thought, I was starting to have a few myself.

Passing Saturday evening service, we were shocked at the attendance in the church, doors were open and it was standing room only, I guess with the beginning of lent guilt was big business.  Inexorably we were drawn to the scene of our mid afternoon culinary disaster, but just as we were to cross the threshold, salvation. Not from the church this was more obvious, a round strip light lit sign, proclaiming ‘Restaurant Cajun Food’. To back up the declaration, the sign was haloed by low energy light bulbs arranged like detonators on a mine.

Auspicious for salvation maybe, alas lunch had really been that bad. A kindly gent explained that the church congregation would descend shortly, ravenous to begin lent. However noting our emaciated state, he offered a table alfresco, a charming group of mismatched 21st century blow molded plastic, which at this stage we were grateful to occupy. The menu appeared more of a catalogue from which you could order various bits of bovine body parts, until that is the last line, which I swear as I read it, coincided with the heavens opening and a heart rendition of Hosanna. I snapped from my reverie realising that the heavens had indeed opened and our group had huddled under the Heineken umbrella which was central to our table decor. So our order was placed, four steaks and the mysterious sounding, but entirely plausible plate vegetarian. None too soon as Hosanna had ended and the faithful stampeded from the church, already reaching the outskirts of our eatery, much more cheerfully accompanied by a rasta playing a steel drum. Red wine was ordered, poured, assessed and demolished, fears were voiced about the time it may take to be served, when miraculously (it was that type of night) all four steaks turned up swiftly followed by more red wine. Eat, eat I chastised my friends, as some of the meat looked as if it could get up and leave the table by its own volition, were it not held down firmly by a fork. You see, I explained, a bit more effort goes into this veggie stuff than your warmed up dead animal. Despite assurances to the contrary by the end on the 3rd bottle of red, hope for my meal was lost and after the 4th bottle which I insisted was  gratis to ease my suffering, all desire for food was gone. In fairness as I (or more accurately, my credit card angels) paid the bill, our waiter was still trying to foist an aluminium parcel onto me lest I should expire from malnutrition.

After a night cap in a place which was entirely populated by the clientele of a cruise ship, I declared whilst I may be pissed, I am in no way way that pissed, we left and returned to the boat.

 

The Caribbean: Layover

So everyone tells you that the Caribbean is crap for parts, but hey you have just crossed the Atlantic and everyone knows there will be dancing girls in grass skirts and motivated young men with spanners to look after your physical and mechanical needs.

In truth the reality is a bit of a let down. Yes you have just crossed the Atlantic, but no grass skirts and no spanners. Andrei we knew was leaving the day after we arrived, so all were happy to have lunch and dinner out. However post celebration hangover coffee morning, suggested that this was not to be a regular event. Boy is it expensive, 6 folks, lunch, dinner and breakfast, 800 euro, for sure a few Gin and tonics mixed in, but wow.

Then the spanners, its broken, take it off, we will export it to the states and re-import it, will only take 8 days, cost should not be more than 4500 dollars, eh, what?!  I’ve got a dirty fuel pump not cancer.  We spent the weekend screwing around with US suppliers who were, frankly uninterested in our issues and we were getting more frustrated, our steering problems were not big news on the Western seaboard.

I think one 5 o’clock session at the bar, Vicky made contact with Vetus UK, who said that they should be able to help which led me to be swimming in a manky marina, measuring the size of the rudder and placing an order in the UK.

Whilst waiting for parts or Caribbean engineers to turn up, we hired a car.  In truth it was more a Japanese oblong box with 3 rows of bench seats, finished in shit brown livery. As I walked towards it, at 100 US dollars per day, I was not enthralled. Especially when I opened the drivers door and said to the rent a car girl”Problem?” she replied  “What, its brand new.” “Yes very nice nice but its only got 2 pedals”.  You see at 42 years of age, my only other experience of an automatic car was on Warrenpoint pier back home, when my dad’s Honda and I nearly went swimming together. ” But all our cars are automatic” she explained. Only then did the significance of the signs everywhere sink in. The company was called ‘Rentamatic’.

Being ex English, St Lucians drive on the right, but I’m now so expatish that for me, it takes a while to get used to. Never the less we loaded the crew into the box and head South.  During this trip my views started to become more clear, St Lucia is one of those place with a perfect climate, stunning forests and plantations and a massive gap between rich and poor. Back from the posh villas and hotels along the coast, is real poverty.  Not surprisingly as after a few days we started to feel the punch.

One night saw us take a taxi to a ‘Jump Up’ area for the locals street party. The main street of a small village becomes a dance floor, with loads of rum shacks and bars fueling the revelers. The authenticity of the Caribbean feel was marred a little with too much Mariah Carey.

Our little Suzuki hire box took us all over the island and it is truly an awesome place, we visited the Pitons in the South, filled up on Sulphur steam at the volcanic park and washed away sightseeing lethargy in a warm spring waterfall. Most memorable experience was when Vicky led us down a dirt track to a deserted beach, by the time we decided to turn back, Sammy the Suzuki had earned new respect for his off road capability. Vicky was sacked as excursion manager though. It was with a bit of regret that we put Sammy back into his stable, praying the hire car people wouldn’t look at the bangs and dings he had suffered underneath.

Back on the boat things started to happen.  All 400 litres of diesel from the tanks was vacuumed out and dumped and Alvin the magician came and did something to make the engine work. Only 3 and 1/2 days after placing our order with Vetus, our complete new system arrived and all went together easily enough.

So after roughly 10 days in St Lucia, we were more than ready to go. Lady Sea Breeze had arrived broken and weary albeit with a crew in great spirits. She left St Lucia in tip top condition, with a crew who were hungry for more. More piracy reports around Trinidad and the Grenadines at the end of December, made our minds up for us. We were to avoid Venezuela altogether and head North for a few days of sight seeing and R & R, before heading due West on a non stop route of 1200 – 1400 NM direct to Bocas in Panama.

 

Leg 3: Part 5

Vicky and I were now sharing evening and morning watches. A couple of days after my up the mast morning, I called into the aft cabin and in my most sweet and sickly voice advised the love of me life to stay in bed a bit longer. This was in part me being nice but over long years of sailing together, I have learnt that adding rain and strong wind to a recently awoken Vicky, does not marital harmony make. For sure watching the darkening skies astern we were in for some weather, best to keep Vicky tucked up in bed. I Bizarrely put the Bimini up, you see it’s much more effective for keeping the main hatch dry than its minuscule size serves to keep the sun off. Twenty minutes after spotting this squall, it was all over us, wind 40 knots, rain horizontal and boat speed over 10 knots, wicked! It lasted twenty minutes, which was long enough to work out that, whilst the steering was good, it had its downwind surfing limitations.

So it seemed this dawn watch was working out with most cockups or worse, happening whilst I wasn’t sleeping.

I knew from reading other people’s accounts, that this increase in squalls was common as you approached the islands, it’s just bad timing. We were all really comfortable with our 10-20knot trade winds, so this 20-30 knots was a bit of a pain. Oh well at least it was behind us and shoving us West.  Andras seemed to catch the worst night time squalls, but really they were more a nuisance than anything difficult.

Our good friend, the staysail became the latest casualty after a little complacency about wind strength. This meant having to use heavily reefed main to balance reefed poled out Genoa but again it was a little more difficult to raise and lower. By this stage daily average distance made good stretched to 150-160 nm, an average of a little over 6 knots. It’s hard to imagine sailing in the Med with such incredible constant winds, usually an hour it’s good before conditions change. Out here our best period we went was ten days without touching the sails, just awesome.

There was a bit of irony at play on our final day, when having placed my morning coffee on the chart table, to throw my arm into my jacket, a particularly violent roll saw me head butting the plotter, trying to break my nose on the autopilot and finally scalding myself on fresh coffee, now moving across the ocean passage chart like a tsunami.

We sighted St Lucia at 0800 hours and as always those last twenty miles seemed the longest of the trip. However it was a time when everybody on board could reflect on the crossing and what it had meant to each individual. Unanimously we felt that 17 days after day 2 had passed incredibly quickly. Andras spent most of the trip wondering whether he would make the adventure on his own boat and by the time we got to the Caribbean, it was a firm belief that if you can make it to the Canaries, the rest of the journey is a breeze. Rob was reveling in a new confidence that even he still found strange. Vicky was happy that the big team on board had stuck together with such camaraderie. Most telling was Conrad, who before the trip had never set foot on a yacht. He has a massive store of ‘can do’ and from watch keeping alone, to fishing, whale watching, cooking and all the mundane things on board, he found a joy and a wonder in it all and is firmly a convert.
Me, well I was happy that my affirmation that it would be lots of days sailing one after the other was true, for me anyway. I have massive pride in all of the crew, when the chips were down, no bad feelings, no down in the dumps, just let’s fix it and keep going because nothing is going to taint this experience.

St Lucia is up ahead and we have some repair issues to sort out and some exploring to do, but for now, I guess we check in and the red and white wine will flow and a few toasts are in order.

I guess I will next be writing about St Lucia and how our repair efforts go, but for now I’m just happy.