And so it ends

John Steinbeck in “Travels with Charley” comments:

“In long-range planning for a trip, I think there is a private conviction that it won’t happen.”

This was definitely the case for us. We had talked about long-distance sailing for ten years. It had been great to dream, but I think deep down neither of us was certain it would happen.

But now it has! And it’s been a fantastic experience.

I don’t think of myself as a good sailor – there are still plenty of things which I can’t do well such as setting and trimming sails and boat handling in close quarters (i.e. the technical sailing part – that’s Jeremy’s forte) but having crossed between oceans, sailed in some of the most difficult seas around the bottom of Africa and completed over 7,500 miles, I think I can be proud of myself and we can both be justified in feeling a huge sense of achievement. Not bad for a girl who, twenty years ago, was seasick on a ferry before it had even left port!

So, although this the end of the first chapter, it is definitely just the beginning of our travels to explore more of our beautiful world. We may now even take the plunge and acquire our own boat – this time to go the whole way round!

It just remains for me to thank you all for sharing this experience with us.

Whatever life offers us next, this big adventure is now done. As they say in the cartoons – “That’s all folks!” (………. at least for now …..!)

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The best and the worst of it

Although we were expecting to leave for the Azores last Friday, regrettably this did not happen and we have had to leave DreamCatcher. Time just became too much of a issue : we had to be back in the UK by a certain date and the wind was just too light and unpredictable to give us that comfort factor that we would arrive in plenty of time. We are grateful to Martin and Maggie for the opportunities we have had and wish them fair winds and a safe passage for their return to Europe.

Having sailed over 7,500 miles on this adventure, I now feel I’m in a fairly good position to know what I love and what I dislike about this lifestyle. So, here goes:

“Loves” first. There are a lot of them, so here are the best.

Number one has to be the wildlife. From the funny little tok-tok beetle in the sand dunes to the impressive lion, rhino and elephant; the wonderful sea life: comical seals, whales, turtles; the huge array of birds from the beautiful bee-eaters and tropicbirds to the flamingoes and pelicans. Of course, my absolute favourite: the dolphins. I will never, ever tire of seeing these wonderful creatures around the boat.

A very close second is a clear night sky, with its millions of stars, phosphorescence in our wake and the moon waxing and waning leaving a shimmering pathway across the ocean.

Arriving at and exploring new places is up there, as is being out in the fresh air all day. Having spent the past 30 years working in an office, there is no contest between that and having the wind in my hair and the sun on my skin during my waking hours.

As for “dislikes”, there are not so many, so I am listing them all.

Top of the list is feeling dirty. As I dedicated a whole post to this a short while back, I have nothing further to add, other than to say that it doesn’t get any better with time. It’s still horrible. Unlike Jeremy, I don’t feel that talc covers a multitude of sins!

Seasickness would have been my number one dislike if I didn’t miraculously find my sea-legs after the first few days of each passage. They say that there are two stages of seasickness : firstly you are scared you will die, then you are scared you won’t! I actually feel very lucky that I have never been that bad. I’m not sure I would have persevered otherwise.

The other two dislikes are bad weather (persistent rain can be miserable) and occasional tedium (some days you have just read one too many books!).

The “loves” far outweigh the “dislikes”.

And what have I missed? Family and friends (we’re looking forward to catching up with you all when we get back), healthy food (what I wouldn’t do for a daily fresh mixed salad with, perhaps, lightly smoked salmon) and exercise (walking, cycling, swimming …… anything!).

Having spent over four and a half months away from the UK in warmer climes, we have fingers crossed for a sunny return when we arrive back on Tuesday.

We’re not saying goodbye just yet. One final post will follow.

The unexpected stop-over

As you may recall, Bermuda wasn’t on our route home, but rigging issues meant we had to divert here. We have spent five days at anchor in the beautiful St. George’s harbour. The town of St. George’s is a UNESCO World Heritage site, full of history (it was the original capital until 1815), colourful old houses, friendly people and wonderful street names (Pieces of Eight Lane, Shinbone Alley, Slippery Hill and Featherbed Alley, to name a few).

Anyone can read a holiday brochure if they want to find out about how beautiful Bermuda is, so I thought I’d do something different and give you ten snippets which I have found extremely interesting, amusing or intriguing about this island:

1. The first visitors to Bermuda were the survivors of the Sea Venture, an English ship which was shipwrecked on the reef in 1609 (all the ship’s company survived). Most of the survivors later continued onto Jamestown, Virginia on two newly-built ships (Deliverance and Patience). The Admiral, Sir George Somers, was instrumental in the colonisation of Bermuda.

2. At his request, Somer’s heart was buried in St. George’s, but his body was returned to England, in a vat of alcohol, to be buried in his home town of Lyme Regis. I find this a little macabre.

3. On 10 March 1973, whilst out walking his dog, the then Governor of the island – Sir Richard Sharples – was assassinated by members of the militant Black Power group – the Black Beret Cadre. His aide-de-camp, Hugh Sayers, was also murdered. They are both buried here at St. Peter’s church. The assassins have the dubious honour of being the last people to be executed under British rule anywhere in the world. I’m not sure what happened to the dog.

4. There are no rivers or streams on Bermuda, so rainwater is collected via the roofs on each building. Each roof is painted with a lime wash and fitted with channels which funnel the water down to a tank under the building. The white lime wash helps to purify the water on its way down.

5. The railway (which is no more) ran for 21 miles down the length of the island. One-tenth of the route had to be built as bridges over the water, making it the most expensive railway line, per mile, ever built. It was commonly known as “Old Rattle and Shake” and only ran for 17 years.

6. Tommy Fox was one of Bermuda’s last whalers. According to local lore, he once crawled inside the belly of a slaughtered whale to test the Biblical story of Jonah.

7. James “Jemmy” Darrell was a slave, who won his freedom in 1796 thanks to his impressive piloting skills around Bermuda’s treacherous reefs. He was the first free black man to own a house here, and this is still owned by his descendants today.

8. Sally Bassett was a slave who was burned at the stake in 1730 on – according to local lore – a very hot day. Bermudians may still be heard to refer to scorching hot weather as a “real Sally Bassett day”.

9. The ducking stool was not only used to prove whether a woman was a witch, but also as a punishment for gossiping or being too loud in public! We can probably all think of a few people who would have suffered this humiliation!

10. The “Dark ‘n Stormy” (Gosling’s Black Seal Rum and Ginger Beer) purports to be the national drink of Bermuda. It is claimed that the name originated when a salty sea dog held the drink aloft and observed that it was “the colour of a cloud only a fool or dead man would sail under”!

And finally, here’s another Mark Twain quote for you:

“Bermuda is paradise but you have to go through hell to get there.”

We’ve enjoyed our unexpected paradise stop-over, but, now that the rigging has been fixed, it’s time to move on. We have two important 50th birthdays and Jeremy’s annual motorbike trip to get back for.

We weigh anchor tomorrow morning and should be in the Azores – our final destination – in a couple of weeks. Fingers crossed!

All change

The route from the Caribbean back to Europe via the Azores is a well-trodden one, and May is one of the more favourable months to complete this. No doubt there were many other yachts out there making the same journey as us, returning east before the hurricane season.

The first few days heading north were awful. The sea was unsettled, water was continuously hammering into the cockpit so there was nowhere to sit without getting wet or covered in salt, and, for me, seasickness raised its ugly head again. I was also a bit concerned that Jeremy, in his constant quest for new video material, would grab his Go-Pro and actually film me throwing up. Fortunately, for all of us, his caring side prevailed!

Seriously though, it’s quite easy to get despondent in these conditions, especially when you have nearly three weeks at sea ahead of you. Fortunately, this was short-lived and we were blessed with good sailing conditions and favourable (but slightly chillier) weather for the rest of that first week. The sea became that deep, inviting blue again and you really did feel like just diving in. The sighting of a few Portuguese Men of War jellyfish though soon put paid to that idea (anyone recognise it from the picture?) We had swum mid-Ocean once before and King Neptune had protected us then. Let’s not push our luck!

We were once again treated to wonderful clear night skies, and I spent many hours on watch just staring up at the stars, picking out constellations I knew, learning new ones, watching satellites slowly making their way across the sky and being enthralled by the occasional shooting star. My old friend Orion had deserted me (he’s somewhere on the other side of the world at the moment) so I needed to find a new nighttime companion. I would have chosen the beautifully-named Cassiopeia (one of the easiest constellations to recognise) but she only appears on my dawn watch. So, I plumped for Ursa Major instead (all of the Great Bear, not just the Plough).

Talking of the dawn, and I was thrilled that once again this was occurring on my 4-6am watch. I think this is the most special time. Sunsets can be amazing, dramatic, stunning, but the dawn has a much more peaceful and gentle beauty to it. And, of course, it heralds the start of a new day. We have survived another night! Instead of “Starry, Starry Night” running through my head, it was now “Morning Has Broken”!

On day 8 we had turned the corner and were now heading towards our waypoint at the Azores. We were all very relaxed and looking forward to exploring the islands. To top it all, dolphins had decided to pay us a visit. It couldn’t have been better.

On day 8 everything changed…….

More broken strands in the rigging left us with no choice but to make a u-turn, furl the sails and motor the 330 miles back to Bermuda.

What happens now remains to be seen. Jeremy and I have time constraints, so this may have been our last leg. We will need to take it day-by-day, but it’s basically in the hands of the riggers…… We’ll keep you updated.

p.s. the third picture above is a screenshot from Star Walk 2 – a great little app which not only tells you what you’re looking at if you hold your phone to the sky, but also gives an image so you can better visualise the whole constellation. I’ve loved using it.

A little bit of France

After a week in St Lucia, we took a pleasant day-sail up to Martinique, as we needed to get some work done on the rigging before embarking on our next long passage back across the North Atlantic to the Azores.

Martinique is a “departement” of France, meaning the main (only?) language is French, the currency is the Euro, they are part of the EU (so our mobile roaming plan works here) and the cars even have “F” on their registration plates. The big plus side of all of this is the food – we have had fresh baguettes daily, unlimited Camembert, salade de chèvre chaud (one of my favourites) and poulet rotisserie (you can guess whose favourite that is!). Delicious.

We have really enjoyed our time here. There is a nice, relaxed feel to the place – rather more sophisticated than St Lucia, which is a bit rougher round the edges.

The island is very green, which is no doubt a result of all the rain it receives (we have not had one single 24 hour period without a downpour since we arrived!). Besides the sugarcane and banana plantations and the coconut trees, the vegetation is very lush, with gigantic ferns and beautiful vivid flowers in pinks, reds and orange.

However, it’s not all roses. There are two aspects of the island’s history which strike me as being particularly sad: the slave trade and the volcanic eruption.

The small slavery museum – La Savane des Esclaves – is extremely interesting, but, as a white European, you cannot help but feel guilty about the actions of our ancestors. I know it was a long time ago, but I hated reading that over 42 percent of the slaves on the island were sold to the French by the English. The only saving grace was that it was also the English who first abolished the slave trade. On the south-west of the island there is a very poignant memorial to slaves who lost their lives on one of the last slave ships, which sank just offshore. You just can’t begin to understand what these people suffered.

The more recent horrific event was the eruption of the volcano – Mount Pelee – in 1902 (not really all that long ago). About 30-40 thousand people were killed, including virtually the whole population of its then capital, St Pierre (since replaced as such by Fort de France). One survivor was a local man called Cyparis, who had been thrown in jail (solitary confinement) the previous night for being drunk and disorderly (some reports say that he actually committed murder), and the construction of his cell (a small stone hut (see photo above)) saved his life. Who said crime doesn’t pay?? To be fair, he did suffer horrific burns and ended up as an exhibit in a circus, but at least he lived to tell the tale!

On a brighter note, we have had a lovely week here enjoying the sunshine, good food, beautiful sunsets, swimming and turtles, and are now just waiting for the riggers to finish the repairs before hopefully setting off again tomorrow.

This next leg will be our longest – possibly 20 days. So, “au revoir” for now. You’ll hear from us again from the Azores.

Bad Hair Days

This post comes with a health warning : if personal hygiene comes at the top of your priorities, then we suggest you don’t read any further and skip this one. Otherwise, proceed at your own risk.

The one thing I find most difficult to cope with whilst away from land is the feeling of being dirty. Although we have a water maker on board, we still have to be careful with how much we use. On the last leg, we each managed two really quick showers in 14 days! Trying to shower can be more trouble than it’s worth anyway. You have to empty your shower area of all your wet weather gear and life jackets before you can even start, and then, unless it’s flat calm, you need to wedge yourself in so you’re not thrown all over the place. Washing sheets and towels is also not an option, and clothes need to be walking to the bucket by themselves before they get rinsed through! So, dirty it is then. Small things which we don’t give a second thought to at home become hugely important: wet wipes and talc are a godsend! I’m sure that when a yacht comes into port, the locals put some special fragrant cream under their noses. Of course, it’s all the same to us: we’re all in the same boat…….. literally!

In addition, your hair will feel horrible, and if you don’t tie it back or use a headband, you’ll end up looking like you’ve just touched a Van de Graaf Generator (cast your mind back to school physics lessons). I mean, how many of you girls out there make a bottle of shampoo last four months?? And talking of hair, shaving is equally difficult, resulting in hairy legs, hairy armpits and rather strange facial growth (Jeremy, not me!).

Feet and hands are another area of concern. I have seen some of the most dreadful feet on some old salty seadogs. Personally, we have been going barefoot for a number of months now, and sometimes we can’t believe how bad the soles of our feet look. I should have brought a whole kilo of L’Occitane foot cream (my favourite) with me, not just a tiny tube. That lasted a matter of days! Hands are a problem because the salty water coupled with the ropes gives you callouses and makes your skin flake off.

The other issue is salt. Not only do we regularly get splashed with sea water, but salt is just always there in the air. The salt gets on clothes, skin and in hair, and try as we might, it is just impossible to stop it being transported down below onto bed linen. Of course, if there is any moisture in the air – such as at night time – the salt sucks it all up and you end up with everything feeling damp. There is nothing you can do about it. You just have to accept it as part of life. It is really horrible, and my pet hate.

In all honesty, being a girl who loves her long, hot baths with scented bubbles, it’s hardly surprising I struggle with this. That said, the wonderful feeling of standing under a shower when you do eventually get the chance, and washing all that grime away, is indescribable. And better still, you get that same uplifting feeling every time. I feel clean again. Fantastic! And my hair: really silky as I have now stopped washing the living daylights out of it.

It is, of course, short-lived, and I am soon coated in suntan lotion and salt again.

To be fair, if this is the worst thing I have to put up with, then life is pretty special and I feel very privileged.

Wind, rain, swell and weed

We left Fernando de Noronha early on a Wednesday morning, with 2,006 nm ahead of us before we would see land again.

Before long, we had come up against our first challenge – the Doldrums (or, to give it it’s technical name, the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone, or ITCZ for short). This is where the Tradewinds of the Northern and Southern hemispheres meet and bend up and down respectively leaving a dead zone in the middle. We had a choice: either pootle along at one or two knots or motorsail. No choice really. The engine went on, and remained on for the best part of three days.

The weather was as predicted for that area: hot, sultry, overcast and squally, with lots of rain. I began to think that the rain had it in for me. Nearly every one of my night watches involved me getting wet, which presumably had something to do with them being around dawn and dusk. I don’t mind admitting that I began to feel a bit miserable about the thought of dragging myself out of bed just to get a dousing.

One morning I came up for my 4am watch, took one look at the radar and my heart sank. It was set to an eight mile radius and the whole screen was covered in orange and red splodges, indicating medium to heavy rain. Oh joy! There was little wind so the system was moving very slowly. By the end of my two hour watch, I could have wrung my skin out, let alone my clothes! Even my life jacket started flashing like lights on a Christmas Tree, which is not supposed to happen unless you are submersed in sea water!

Fortunately, we left the rain behind after about five days. It was a good thing too, as they were about to experience mutiny on board!

One strange phenomenon, which was with us all the way, was the Sargassum seaweed – loads of it, with some huge patches (some as large as tennis courts). These were floating together in long lines, in the direction of the wind, for miles across the Ocean. It did cause us a few problems: fishing was out of the question, the propeller became fouled and the hydro generator clogged up. Fortunately, a quick change of fan blades on the latter and it magically became a wind generator instead.

On the fifth day, we found wind and left the Doldrums behind. It was great sailing, with 16-20 knots of apparent wind on the beam, which stayed with us for most of the rest of the passage. Nothing’s ever perfect though! We also had a cross-swell, which made it extremely uncomfortable to do anything below decks – sleep, go to the loo, cook – as we were being thrown around from side to side. We have all had accidents involving spills in the galley, but mine takes the biscuit: four beaten eggs toppled into the fridge, coating everything they could find on their slow way down to the bottom. A deep fridge clean was not what we needed in those conditions!

After 14 days we were all very pleased to arrive in St Lucia, even if it was with a salt-caked boat, salt-caked crew, salt-caked clothes and salt-caked bed linen. Plenty of cleaning to be done before we set off again, but that would have to wait. We were all dog-tired so there was sleep to catch up on and a few Rum Punches to be had first! After all, we need to get our priorities right!