April 4, 2003

Logbook

Filed under: Uncategorized — MBM @ 2:30 pm

This is not our Logbook in the technical sense of the word, which would be be less than enthralling. 

It is rather a selection of short snapshots from our diaries that we hope conveys a sense of what excited and interested us on our voyage.  It is biased towards our Pacific voyage, probably because that is what interested and excited us most.

We are still editing La Novia’s diaries and hope to publish them bit by bit over the coming months.

April 14, 2005

The Panama Canal

Filed under: Panama — MBM @ 5:32 pm

La Novia is in the Pacific. Our transit through the Panama Canal was an exciting and emotional experience after such a long time waiting for this moment.

We rode our luck was all the way through from Gatun locks (Colon, Atlantic side) to Balboa, the Pacific (42 miles, 3 locks up and 3 locks down). We Took our pilot on board on Sunday evening about 1 1/2 hours before our scheduled slot in the Gatun Locks and he realised that there was enough room for us behind a 600′ bulk carrier in an earlier slot if we could get there fast enough.

We hared up there and claimed our place in time to watch the bulk carrier hash up its entry to the lock completely and get pinned side on to the corner of the central pier! Their pilot blamed the tug boat captain for the fiasco who promptly left in a huff and by the time they had rustled up another tug boat to drag them off the pier the whole evening’s schedule had gone down the khazi. Our pilot gave us a commentary on the unfolding humiliation, radiating the complacent pleasure of a man watching a senior colleague having a disastrous day at the office. We entered the first chamber at 9.10pm having jumped the queue, but the other yachts that we had been scheduled with had to endure another 2 hours wait before they could begin.

George stayed awake during the whole uplocking and was totally gripped.  The gates were just amazing as they closed behind us. We rode centre chamber (on our own) all the way through, spending the night in the Gatun Lake with 4 extra line handlers on board.

We awoke to the dawn chorus of Howler Monkeys(sounded like barking or howling dogs). We down-locked with no incidents and threw a coin each into the Pacific as we passed under the Bridge of The Americas. We berthed at the newly opened Flaminco Marina and started major provisioning for the Pacific cruise to New Zealand.

Welcome to Central America… About 2/3 of the main pier meant for megayachts has just collapsed and fallen into the drink.

Well mostly into the drink anyway. One of the huge steel pilings supporting it fell onto a big catamaran which turns out to belong to the marina ’s owners. There is a God.

If this was England, it would be raining QS’s and lawyers by now but here nobody seems either surprised or bothered by this turn of events, even though the marina is only 6 months old.

April 18, 2005

Of Pirates & Piffle

Filed under: Panama, Sailing & Seamanship — MBM @ 2:24 pm

Before we left England, everyone wanted to talk to us about Pirates. This was our chance to meet them. The websites and bars were full of Piracy  Talk. Two years ago a Japanese yacht SY Yume Maru was boarded on this trip and robbed, while taking a route south of Malpelo Island which is rather too close to the Columbian coast for my taste.

Since then, a significant number of other boats have reported outrunning marauders at speeds of 8-9 knots at diverse points spread around the possible routes to the Galapagos, but nobody else has been boarded. Less than 5% of the yachts leaving Panama can do 8-9 knots. I can’t help feeling that these are statistically rather unlucky pirates.

I’m also quite sure that the odds of my carrying weapons and then fighting a successful gunbattle with pirates are far lower than the odds of my children finding any weapons on board, however well hidden, and killing each other with them in a tragic accident. No guns on La Novia then.

Two American yachts do not share my opinion and are prepared for the worst with proper guns and several years back issues of Soldier of Fortune magazine. Presumably they intend to read these on the lavatory while repeating a mantra of “There are no Friendly Civilians.” The fact that the only yachties ever killed by pirates or boarders have always been armed does not seem to cut any ice with them.

The trip to the Galapagos was pretty much a motor boat experience. No wind to speak of but we fared better than some. One of our friends managed to hit an uncharted and unlit weather buoy with no radar signature one night. How unlucky is that in an ocean this size? No damage except to paintwork and pride. And what of the Pirate Situation?

Well, 3 of our group of 6 boats had encounters that read very like the paranoia parables on the websites. Ohana found a fishing boat manouevring round behind them, but called them up in Spanish and found out that they had just laid a long line and were trying to judge if Ohana were likely to foul it. Sea Fever were tracked down by a fishing boat who turned out to want to scrounge a couple of tins of Coca Cola once communication was established. As for us, 400 miles short of the Galapagos, the wind fell away around midnight just in time for us to be harassed by a couple of large bored Russian fishing boats.

After 48 hours of total solitude, we encountered 2 contacts in 1 hour both on a collision vector. Both of them had the same radio technique too. When we called up to ask why they changed course to maintain the collision bearing each time we changed course to avoid them, they replied with a mixture of Russian and mongoloid noises. It must be something they teach them in maritime academy in Russia.

We didn’t want to turn behind them in case they were laying a longline, so eventually we had to point down onto a beam reach to generate enough boat speed to cross safely ahead of them. Pirates? or just Russian fishermen having fun?

We were obviously the lucky ones as 2 more ‘pirate escapes’ are reported at the same time as our passage. If the media don’t stop stoking this fire, it can only be a matter of time before some cretin shoots a fisherman who is trying to score a can of coke.

April 26, 2005

Now That’s What I Call an Election!

Filed under: Galapagos, Family Cruising — MBM @ 3:18 pm

Just after noon 26th April we cross the equator for the first time.

Celebration mandatory. La Novia is already over run with small pirates in anticipation. These are proper Pirates, dressed for the part and very fierce too. A mermaid with strange blue hair and a winsome smile has appeared on the boat and I have succumbed to serious pressure to dress up too.

No greater love for his children hath a man than to lay down his dignity…

Several tots of Cuban rum were offered up to Neptune to guide us safely across the Pacific.

And so to the Galapagos, with our arrival dominated by concerns about the political fallout from the coup in Ecuador that we have heard of by email. Details are sketchy at first and it sounds like the kind of ‘Snap Election’ in Latin America where only 3 Generals get to vote.

We want to approach the islands in daylight for the fun of the view as much as anything so we are trying to time our arrival at Academy Bay to about 9.00 to 10am. We reckon that gives us something like 3 hours to lose on this rate of progress. Tempting looking fishing spot on a seamount only 5 miles off track, so we plan to drop sail and troll around it for a while in the hope of something for the freezer, always assuming that no unfriendly locals are already there. So far, only Marlin since Panama and the freezer is running low. Ridiculous. Small lures, wire traces and even Rapalas change nothing. We catch 3 Marlin in less than 3 hours and the freezer is still empty.

More news about the coup. Panic over. It turns out to be a popular uprising in response to the President issuing a Free Pardon to the previous President who had been impeached for having looted the country.

The people of Ecuador somehow got the idea that the two of them were splitting the cash, took to the streets and chased them both off to Brazil. The Vice President has promised everyone that it wouldn’t occur to him to profit from his office once he has taken over the gravy train.  Of course it wouldn’t. Shame on you for even thinking of  such a thing. Welcome to Latin America!

Out in the Galapagos, no one can even remember the Vice President’s name.

April 30, 2005

Far from the Galapagos’ Madding Crowds

Filed under: Galapagos, Ports of Call — MBM @ 3:27 pm

Last time we wrote we were setting off from Panama in search of Darwin’s footprints in the Galapagos, with the daunting distances of the Pacific stretching out before us.

As for Darwin’s footprints, they take a little more finding today than they did 30 years ago.  Part of the Galapagos is submerged in tourism. The main island, Santa Cruz, where trips are organized, has become terribly commercialised. Arrival was the highlight of Santa Cruz, sailing through the approaches to Academy bay in the morning light with dolphins frolicking in our bow wave and curious sea lions popping their heads out of the water around us.

We didn’t really find what we had hoped for until we sailed to the largest and remotest of the islands, Isabella. The day trip boats don’t go there because it’s a long rough trip and the wildlife can all be found closer to home.

As a result, little has changed.  You can still recognise the Galapagos in the literature of yesteryear. Eco - yottie heaven. No officials, ( none sober enough to bother you
anyway), a wonderful beach bar where Jasp & Dreambird hosted a memorable children’s birthday party and totally unafraid wildlife that has never been harmed by Man all around you.

There were sea lions and penguins swimming around the boat. I got a bit of a shock while diving under the boat to cut away some cord from a long line which had become tangled in the prop when a large dark shape rocketed in from behind me and brushed past me at warp speed. After a minor shark/ heart attack moment, I realised it was a playful sea lion. We swam with a giant turtle and saw lots of timid white tip sharks. The climate is surprisingly cool for an island dead on the Equator. The Humbolt Current sweeps through the islands bringing a huge volume of cold water from the Antartic, allowing penguins and palm trees to live side by side.

We found some ponies to ride up the side of the second largest volcano crater in the world. The highlands of the Galapagos islands are amazingly green and lush and reminded us of England. Catherine admits that the ponies were the most uncomfortable things she has ever had the pleasure to ride, but the boys loved them and I endured the first half of the trip stoically, before selflessly deciding to run back so that Thomas could ride a pony of his own on the return trip. We took in the tortoises, buttered up the Boobies and ignored the Iguanas. I can’t help agreeing with Catherine that an Iguana with a diamond necklace would be a stylish pet, at least on the rare occasions when it wasn’t shedding part of its skin. They are a bit like Labradors - always molting.

I’m hoping that she may agree to fake diamonds if I give her time.

May 22, 2005

The Big Blue

Filed under: Sailing & Seamanship — MBM @ 4:02 pm

It is time to leave Isabella for the Marquesas Islands, a trip that takes most yachts 15 to 20 days at sea. Only 2920 miles to go……..not much further than from the Canaries to the Caribbean, but it feels further as you set off. On the Atlantic crossing, you can always change your mind after 800 miles in an emergency and drop down to the Cape Verde Islands . Even after that, it’s a busy ocean. There are so many vessels making the voyage through the peak season. We almost ran down a single handed oarsman on the Atlantic crossing!

As you leave Isabella, there is but empty ocean ahead of you until the Marquesas, far away from commercial shipping routes, with only a handful of yachts in it. We were to see just 3 other boats in 3000 miles.

The weather for our departure could hardly have been more auspicious. 18 knot SE trades on our quarter, which our boat speed brought forward onto the beam. La Novia settled down at 10 knots over the ground with no sense of being pressed, wonderfully steady in the 6 - 8 foot seas on our quarter that lay over a 12 foot swell from the south. In the first 24 hours we had covered 238 nautical miles. Perfect we thought - only 11 days to go!

48 hours later we felt quite euphoric with 705 NM under the keel in the first 3 days. Then the wind began to back behind us and ease off, not in a great rush but a few degrees and half a knot lighter each day. Our first week was still amazing. Despite one very slow day, we averaged 9.1 knots or 218 nm a day for 1458 miles from anchor up to the mid way mark. Easily our best ever sustained performance. From then on, the winds became harder and harder to find, We changed course to the south in response to our weather forecast and kept running under sail for another 4 days until the wind died completely, still 603 NM out of Hiva Oa. So on went the engine and we motored in, sometimes in no wind sometimes with enough to fill a sail as well.

We arrived safely at Atuona on Hiva Oa at 1730 local time just as the sun was setting, having completed the 2920 miles in 14 days 6 hours anchor up to anchor down with no gear or equipment failures except for our electronic barometer which expired on the trip and didn’t respond to the usual 2 repairs ( change batteries and bang barometer on the table several times, for those of you interested in the technical details!)

Hiva Oa is a spectacular place to arrive at the end of such a journey, a truly operatic landscape. The island from the sea resembles a huge sleeping dragon with a ridged back. The boys had a happy hour picking out the different bits of the beast as we moved down the coast. We took an early night and slept undisturbed for 10 hours. Bliss.

May 24, 2005

Beyond the Big Blue

Filed under: Marquesas, Family Cruising — MBM @ 4:14 pm

Even in the euphoric afterglow of completing the longest passage that most cruisers ever undertake, the mundane imperatives of life still command. First order of the day here was haircuts all round. Boys have been moaning about their hair all trip but the motion of the boat and their incurable fidgets made a trim at sea too dangerous.

Everyone studies the same weather forecasts so we had left at about the same time as many other yachts that we knew. In theory, it would be reassuring to stay within a few hours of each other in such a huge expanse of ocean, but in practice it rarely happens. We did keep in touch by email on a daily basis throughout the voyage although we soon found ourselves hundreds of miles apart.

The arrival of 3T & Sea Fever at Hiva Oa after us was hilarious with the kids in a lather of excitement and pent up energy, I started collecting children in our tender before their anchors were even set and before we knew it there were 9 kids running riot on La Novia’s deck.

We spent the next three weeks cruising in the Marquesas, which looking back, have probably been more successful in holding on to their Polynesian roots than the rest of French Polynesia. The scenery is utterly spectacular, the anchorages are lousy and the people of Hiva Oa are particularly friendly. In the absence of taxis or buses, everyone in a car stops to pick up hitch hikers as a matter of course. The days are brutally hot but nights remain cool.

The dreaded ‘NoNo’ flies are not as omnipresent as rumour suggests, but one encounter is enough to force anyone to modify their behaviour to avoid a second. These things excise a chunk of flesh when they come to dinner and the bites itch unbearably for days afterwards.

May 31, 2005

Fatu Hiva

Filed under: Marquesas — MBM @ 5:00 pm

Fatu Hiva, the southernmost island is the least developed of the population centres, home to about 600 people, and unique in being free of NoNos, which pretty much qualified it as our favourite island in the group! After a tough sail down there, hard on the wind, ( how very French to prohibit formal entry at the windward end of the island group ), we had a nightmare arrival in the dark and torrential rain, feeling our way up the narrow, cliff lined gorge on radar.

Some clown was anchored in mid channel on the outside of the anchorage with neither light nor radar reflector and Catherine, up on the bow, didn’t see him until about 30 metres dead ahead. 

Her Shriek of “Boat! Boat!” may not have been a textbook example of precise instruction, but it made up for any shortcomings in positional information with the urgency of its tone.  As she pointed out later, with unassailable feminine logic, the thing was right in front us, so it really didn’t matter which way  I turned! We missed them by 15′ so she was probably right at that.

As if one fright wasn’t enough, we then had our anchor chain jam with 10 metres out in the tight and crowded ( with 6 or 7 boats! ) anchorage with winds gusting to 35 knots from random directions, bouncing off the cliffs. This was not a problem that we wanted to sort out short handed in such a confined space, but just as we were about to put back out to sea to sort out the mess, a friendly soul aboard another boat in the anchorage dinghied over to help after seeing us struggle and five minutes later we were grateful to have our anchor firmly set, La Novia swinging wildly in the gusts, sleep unthinkable, anchor watch crawling through the darkness until dawn.

But what a dawn. A place to free the imagination and let one’s spirit soar. The cliffscape is like no other. A lush panorama of towering faces reaching to the clouds with an inner ring eroded to fantastical shapes. Like the creatures of a child’s nightmare, the shapes assume new identities with each passing glance. One moment, the phalluses that so offended the first missionaries. Then pagan faces, scowling deities to ward off unwelcome visitors. One towering slope is dominated by a great chieftain’s head, a shattered visage lying like some Ozimandian warning, to remind us of the teeming civilization that flowered here just two hundred years ago.

A passing cloud, a change of light and they are gone. The rocks return again, sober, dour, bereft of life until the shafts of sunlight pierce the clouds anew, and beneath a sky lit like the canopy above a pagan Jerusalem, a fresh cast of characters emerges from the geological wonderland around us.

June 12, 2005

‘Survivor’ - The Reality Behind the Show

Filed under: Marquesas, Ports of Call — MBM @ 5:15 pm

We have visited Daniel, the yachtsman’s friend for 40 years on Nuku Hiva and signed his wonderful visitors book - nothing less than an history of Pacific voyaging in small craft.

This is an unforgettable experience for any Pacific sailor. His book now stretches to seven volumes. Names, signatures, drawings, photographs, messages of goodwill.

Such names they are too! Bernard Moitessier, Robin Knox-Johnston, Chay Blythe, are just a few that leap out at you from the pages. As you turn the pages, you are completely overwhelmed by a sense of standing in the history of your present endeavour.

Daniel himself is now ancient, but as charming as ever.

Ironically, he no longer lives in splendid isolation in Daniel’s Bay. His enforced departure from his home must rank as one of the creepiest cameos of modern life as distorted by the media.

Who I wonder, was the warped mind that coined the phrase “Reality TV”? Why do I wonder? Well…………….

The ‘Reality’ TV show Survivor took a shine to his bay and decided that it was not ‘Real’ enough with him living there. So they paid the government to move him against his will to the bay next door, and demolished his house in Daniel’s Bay, so that they could film a ‘Reality’ TV show about surviving on a deserted island in a perfect bay just 4 miles down the road from the capital of the Marquesas Islands, where beer & burgers were readily available for all involved.

But that’s probably more ‘Reality’ than the moronic audience of Survivor either need, or for that matter, want, to know.

June 15, 2005

The Dangerous Archipelago

Filed under: Tuamotos, Sailing & Seamanship — MBM @ 5:31 am

It is time for us to leave for the Tuamotos, the “Dangerous Archipelago” of such fearsome reputation that, before GPS, many yachts would take the long detour North to avoid them entirely. I can think of few places that better illustrate the extent to which modern technology has reduced the degree of seamanship required to undertake a voyage of this kind. ( Right up to the moment that the technology stops working that is! )

30 years ago, arriving from a position derived from sextant and dead reckoning, running, without radar, towards huge reefs awash and nothing taller than a palm tree ahead, night watch searching the horizon for the telltale white flash of a breaking reef in the moonlight, straining their ears to catch a warning roar of surf, this was not an experience for the fainthearted.

Even for a yacht as blessed with electronics as La Novia, this is still not a trip to be undertaken casually and I am more nervous about this passage than any we have undertaken since leaving England. The bottom line is that you need a navigation plan that allows you a chance to confirm your position independently of the GPS as you approach the danger zone, in a position where you can still turn around in safety if things are going wrong. This is a very long way from help if you park your boat on one of the myriad reefs waiting for you. We decide to use an approach waypoint on the ocean side of the Island of Tairo, which is one of the few spots in the Tuamotos high enough to be visible on radar.

550 miles from Nuku Hiva, an hour before dawn our radar picked up the Island 15 miles ahead of us at exactly the range and bearing that both our satellite navigation and our dead reckoning expected. As dawn broke we could see it on the horizon 8 miles ahead. I confess to experiencing some degree of relief at this unstressed landfall, electronics or not.

Once we have found the pass into Kauehi’s lagoon, the technology ceases to be of much use. Even though we are close to slack water, a 4 knot current is running out of the pass and the sea in its entrance is a maelstrom as the current meets the onshore breeze. Fortunately, there is only one obstacle to miss inside the pass and plenty of room around it, so we can attack the pass at full speed and clear the zone of breaking waves and sucking whirlpools to enter calm of the lagoon. Once inside, constant vigilance is required while navigating in the 8 mile diameter lagoon. It is largely deep and safe but uncharted ‘Bombs’ are scattered around - coral pillars that rise to just under the surface from up to 100 ‘ of water.

If I was to be completely honest, I might admit that we may have very slightly underestimated the extent to which these Bombs are uncharted. On the other hand, we did not underestimate this for very long! It would be no exageration to say that all complacency evaporated in a flash as the first coral pillar, perfectly cylindrical and about 30 feet across, materialised 20 feet to starboard of us at 6 knots and we experienced a “where the hell did that come from?” moment!.

Catherine takes up residence on the bow for all movements in the lagoon.