Thursday, 26 January 2017

The Windward Islands of the Caribbean

Barbados was a welcome rest and the people extremely friendly and helpful. But after a few days it was time to move on as we have so much to see and do. Next stop was Grenada, which we thoroughly enjoyed. Again, the people very friendly and helpful. We rented a car, which was a thrill in itself, the roads very narrow with perilous side ditches and abrupt edges. You don't want to run off the pavement around here with barely enough room for speeding buses to pass. They're used to it, but we had a white knuckle ride for a couple of days. The terrain was stunningly beautiful. We found a waterfall area, but needed a guide as the trail was obscure, and so found "Sandy-mon" to help us out. He was a lovely chap who told us all about the local plants and critters. We felt we really were in paradise. Grenada is so pristine up in the bush, we could even drink the water straight out of the mountain streams.




 I had to find rotor brushes for the alternator, which was an adventure in itself. But the important part, even a critical situation for the crew of EQ, was finding the chocolate factory. :) We did get lost in those mountain roads a few times, but everyone we asked for directions was very helpful. Finally we found the cocao plantation where we learned how they processed the nuts just as they have for hundreds of years. All very interesting, but really, where was the chocolate? They didn't actually make it there but sent the dried nuts to another place to make the chocolate. We did finally find that too, up a small side road where got a tour and, finally, the real thing, averting a major calamity. And we also found our way back to the boat, potential crisis averted, big smiles all around, and time for a rest to calm the nerves of driving on Grenada roads, beautiful as that island is.

When we finally extracted ourselves from that lovely place we headed for Carriacou, another beautiful island we looked forward to. But this time we hopped on a bus to the other side of the island to see how they built boats in the old traditional ways. We had to check out of Grenada here and check into St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Union Island, another lovely place. From there we headed for the Tobago Cays for some swimming with turtles. And there where lots of them all around the boat! Anchored in 10' of aqua blue water, white sandy bottom, warm clear Atlantic water pouring over the reef with 15 knot cool trade winds and sunny skies ... absolutely delightful.

But we had to finaly pull the hook and get moving again, next stop was Bequia, a delightful little island, quaint and in good nick. Friendship Bay was especially tranquil and laid back. There's also a small museum with some of the old traditional whaling and fishing boats there. The island is small enough you can walk to just about anywhere, and we did stretch our legs after sitting on the boat for so long. But the best thing was we arrived (unbeknownst to us) on a Friday the day of the Blues Festival, which was staged close to where we anchored. That was absolutely fantastic with excellent musicians. We didn't get back to the boat until 2am, way past our bedtime. :) But it was a fun night since we hadn't seen any good live music for a long time. Bequia is our favorite spot so far in the Caribbean.






We checked out of SVG on Bequia but spent the night in Cumberland Bay on St. Vincent, stern tied to a palm tree as the harbour was very deep, since it was too far to get up to St. Lucia and the next day had better wind conditions anyway. So we set out at first light and zoomed across the St. Vincent channel, notorious for being rough, but we had caught the conditions right and it was an easy sail, the famous "Pitons" of St. Lucia looming on the horizon, beckoning us on. We were going to stop in the old capital of Soufriere, but decided to keep going as we made good time and could catch up with friends in Rodney Bay to go on a tour of the island (we didn't have to drive) the next day. And so we did, our tour guide stopping at many lovely places and explaining all the flora and fauna of the island, of which there is much. We also stopped at the very active bubbling volcano caldera near the Pitons. These islands are amazing places to live where the locals can easily live off the land, as you can grow most anything here, and many do.

So, that's the news from EQ, where the seas are calm in the leeward side of the islands, the trade winds fair and the crew content to not have to drive these roads.

With equanimity and Joy...

Friday, 6 January 2017

Across the Atlantic, Step Two

Coffee on 5am watch
Rockin' an Rollin' for 13 days, 8 hours, but who's counting. Well, as a matter of fact, we were, certainly towards the end of the trip. We were very glad to see Barbados rise above the horizon on the 14th day. The Atlantic was very confused, wave trains coming from every direction, for the entire trip. In fact, it started that way leaving the Gibraltar Starights. But truth be told, we did have some excellent days.

Roger was still coughing up yellow goo when we got to Cape Verde, but finished the antibiotics and could tell it was almost over, so decided to set off with the next reasonable forecast. So we set forth on 22 December ok with the idea of missing the holiday madness and having our own new years celebration, which of course was Kim finding a bottle of bubbly in the bottom of the frig, which was a fine Limon soda. :)

The trip started with blustery winds/seas, but settled down in a couple of days so we could fly the spinnaker. That beast makes for a gentle ride if the winds are fair. But it didn't last and we had to motor for a couple of days to get through a period of light winds and heavy cloud cover. It was also a new moon, so the nights were pitch black, couldn't even see your hand in front of you.

video

That finally cleared and the winds picked back up, setting the spinnaker on and off. At one point we got it down just in time for a bit of blusteriness, where it would have been too hard to get it down. The hardest part was the winds were mostly behind us. With confused seas, that makes it hard to steady the boat without a press in the sails from the side, so we rolled along, seriously.

The funny part was all the flying fish. Unfortunately for many, they landed on deck without us knowing in the night, so died before we could get them back on their way. One morning, I picked more than a dozen off the deck. The good news was none of them flew into the cabin or whacked us on the side of the head in the middle of the night. It was a good sign though that there are actually still fish in the sea. We had lots of Dolphins escorting us in the first part of the trip, but didn't see much on this side of the Atlantic.

So, 2060 nautical miles later we didn't fall off the end of the earth and made landfall in Barbados on 4 January 2017, early enough to check in with customs, immigrations and the harbour master. But since we couldn't get a decent anchor hold (notoriously bad there), we tied to the fuel dock for the night, but had to leave at 7:30 in the morning and headed down to Carlisle Bay, we anchored in front of the Barbados Yacht Club, they gave us a one week membership, which lets us land our dingy on the beach, use there facilties including showers. So, all is good and we are happily in flat water again, plugged back into the internet and able to stream MVY radio, Martha's Vineyard.


Landfall in Barbados
So, that's the news from EQ, where the winds are blowing steady from the east, the seas still 'sporty', but not here, and the crew content to finally get more than a few hours of sleep. We even have turtles swimming by for a visit, in water that is 28 deg (80F), so happy to be back in the tropics. :)


With Equanimity and Joy...

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Across the Atlantic, Well Step One Anyway...

So, Roger picked up a cold virus flying back from the states (bloody airplanes) a week before we were meant to shove off. And so we did 2 weeks later thinking the cold was about finished. A day or so out it became apparent it wasn't, even got worse and into the lungs (bronchitis). But there was no turning back and the seas were gentle enough. But he did start an antibiotic regime since it was 2 weeks on and the virus was gone, just a lung infection now.

We decide that we could wait until he was a fully functional unit again, or beat it as fast as we could to Cape Verde before the heavy winds set in according to the forecast. But we had to go the next day. And if he got better and the winds didn't get up too much, we would just turn right and go for it all the way to the Caribbean without stopping. We felt 2-1/2 months in Puerto Mogan was enough, but we could sit in the marina until the forecast was better or sit on the boat making way, at least cutting a week out of our journey across the Atlantic. So, we checked out and made way the next morning.

Bye bye to Puerto Mogan, Gran Canaria
The journey started out with a very pleasant 15 knot beam reach, but slowly the winds back off and we were motoring agian. At least the seas were calm and Roger could get some rest, or try to in between coughing fits.

About day 3 the winds filled in the right amount and we had the spinnaker up for the day and most of the night. About 5am the winds got up a bit too much (20+ knots) and we were on the edge of being over powered so pulled it down, just in time. It was a great sail while it lasted as that sail makes for a very smooth steady ride.

And so the winds continued to build as the forecast said and soon it was blowing 25-30 and seas were getting up, like 2-3 meters, and a bit confused. Our smooth ride turned a bit "sporty" and we had to just hang on. We got the Geny poled out and main prevented so we were wing-on-wing which scooted us along nicely. But in a sloppy sea, we rolled our way along. Try sleeping in a boat that rolls from rail to rail, like an old rickety train ride.

Eventually we found a spot we could set the sails for a broad reach and land us in the Cape Verde islands instead of Brazil. :) Broad reaching is a smoother sail than wing-on-wing (in confused seas), which was welcome as the seas continued to build, 3-4 meters now and the winds occassional hitting 35 knots, apparent (40 knots true). These are near Gale conditions, but at least it was behind us. The autopilot was a trooper, never missed a beat. But we were watching it every mile for the last day, hoping the conditions wouldn't get any worse and keeping the boat moving so we could get in before dark on the 5th day. And sure glad we did as the harbour is a bit of a mess, sunken boats, etc.

video

After an hour of trying to get the anchor set (lots of foul ground, bags, ropes, etc.), we gave up and headed for the marina. And so they put us in a spot down wind of the dock (by now 10pm) and we were set for the night. A much needed shower, some food and to bed, in flat water, finally!

So, 840 miles later, 5 days and 11 hours (that's 6.4 knots average, including the slow start, which is fairly fast for EQ), salt encrusted, we'll take a rest, finish coughing up yellow goo, and let the weather gods send us a fair wind. There's an enormous high pressure system building (1045) which will boost the trade winds to gale conditions, so we'll wait for that all to settle down before venturing further.

So, that's the news from EQ, where the winds are a bit blustery, the seas still sporty, and the marina a bit rickety  with 30+ knot gusts, but the crew content to rest. And of course we are happy to have flying fish land in the cockpit so we know we are in tropical waters again, not to mention heaps of dolphins joining in the fun. I must also add that Kim has been a real joy to sail with, she's a true sailor to the marrow.

With Equanimity and Joy...

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Gran Canaria

This slip in Puerto Mogan would become our home for the next two and a half months. The south end of Gran Canaria is full of resort beaches and towns with this being one of the nicer places. The harbor is filled with a mix of fishing boats, tourist boats and live aboards as well as hosting yachts like us preparing for the Atlantic crossing or spending the winter. The quay is lined with restaurants, shops and apartments, nicely painted and landscaped. On Fridays the local street market fills the roads and walkways with vendors selling mostly "container goods" with a few unique stands with local crafts or foods.

Although we had to rent a car to get to Las Palmas (which we did several times) for a decent chandlery and supermarket, we did manage to find most of the bits and pieces we needed. The rest we ordered or bought during the trips to Rhode Island. Kim went home for 3 weeks of family and friend time, bringing back more supplies like the EPIRB battery, new stereo system and galley gear. Over the ensuing months we (as in mainly Roger) sewed new cockpit cushion covers, sewed a new dodger, replaced the leather on the steering wheel, rebuilt the toilet, rebuilt the water maker pump and lots of other odds and ends. We also had the genoa repaired and rigged a new mini-preventer for the boom.



We did find time to tour Gran Canaria a bit and drove around the north end and then down through the center of the island, finding it to be fascinating in the changing terrain along the way. The passing months and occasional rain had brought the green vegetation to life. Up in the mountains there were wet cloud forests and Canarian pine trees, scary roads and sweet villages in contrast to the dry, rocky coastal resorts. The town of Tejada was charming and the Roque Nueblo majestically rose above it. Gran Canaria is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and is called "the little miniature continent" for it's diverse topography. The island's altitude and sharp relief allow for a myriad of microclimates and habitats.


The original aboriginal inhabitants of Gran Canaria were farmers and fishermen whose main crop was barley. Although largely oblivious to the various monarchs of Europe who were pushing the boundaries of exploration by sea, they did have to deal with marauders and pirates. They would hide their crops out of sight and reach in inaccessible caves perched on top of immense gulleys and often lived in caves as well. Here we are in the same place that Columbus (and others) stopped before venturing further. Soon we will follow pretty much the exact route that he sailed to the "new world".

But it's not time to set sail yet. We continue to wait for the trade winds to set in firmly and ocean temperature to cool. So we had time for a trip to Rhode Island together to celebrate Thanksgiving with Kim's family. All three daughters, sister and brother-in-law, nieces and nephews plus new grand baby niece - first in the Hunt family. Roger was given a whirlwind tour of the best parts of RI and a glimpse into Kim's early years and recent life. Plus we picked up more parts for EQ...and some familiar treats. Unfortunately we also brought back a nasty respiratory infection that Roger has to fight off before we can get under way. But with the provisioning done and meals in the freezer we are nearly there!

That's the news from EQ, where the winds are calm and seas flat from where we are, hence the crew is content, waiting for a decent weather window to leave (and just 'one' more thing to do) :).

With Equanimity and Joy...

Saturday, 24 September 2016

On to the Canary Islands



Although we escaped the Straits with no real drama, we spent the day and night beating into the wind down the African coast. After 130 miles of that, it seemed that spending a night in Casablanca would make sense while we waited for the wind to turn more favorable. As it turned out, sailing vessels are not allowed into the busy port and we were directed to Mohamedmedia to look for a berth. We did manage to get the only open spot at a rather rickety dock. The customs officer was friendly and helpful, stamping us both in and out of Morocco so that we could depart in the early morning, which we did.


We continued motor sailing through the day until the wind came around and finally at midnight we were able to rig the pole and go wing and wing. Morning brought turtle and dolphin sightings as well as a little gold finch hitch hiking on the stern life line! The wind continued to be a mixed lot as we worked our way south over the next few days arriving in Lanzarote around 9am on Monday Sept 19. We pulled into Marina Lanzarote in Arrecife on the east side of the island and found a comfortable, new marina brimming with boats participating in Jimmy Connell's Barbados rally.


The next day we rented a car and drove around the island's north end with it's fields of lava, stone and cactus. We went into the Cueva de los Verdes - an underground volcanic tunnel that is 6km long, and drove to the lovely town of Teguise passing vineyards planted in ash with vines surrounded by lava rock walls. The island is big enough to warrant a two day drive, so we toured the south end the following day. There we visited the Montanas del Fuego Parque Nationales de Tianfaya - a required bus ride through the volcanoes.


Lanzarote was a pleasant surprise but then it was time to move on! An 8 am departure for Gran Canaria started with....motoring but was soon followed by a romping wing on wing sail, rolling with the swell, and careening along at between 6-8 knots through the night. We sailed down around the southern side of Fuerteventura with it's beautiful cliffs and hills, across the channel and busy shipping lanes and into the unbeknownst to us "acceleration zone" where it blows 30+ knots on a regular basis - just when we were trying to slow down! Thankfully it was behind the beam. Then just as suddenly as we accelerated, we hit the "deceleration" zone and calmly entered Puerto Mogan just as it was stirring to life, like 9:30 am. Such is life in the islands!

That's the news from EQ, where the winds are fair, the seas calm and the crew content.

With Equanimity and Joy...

Thursday, 15 September 2016

To the Spainish Mainland



With August nearing an end, we carried on for the mainland of Spain landing in Cartagena. We set the spinnaker and ran through the night with it - a smooth 144 miles. Although Roger was sleeping at the time (and Kim debated whether to wake him up), EQ passed from east to west longitude at 23:08 and is back in the western hemisphere after 12 years in the east!






Cartagena has been inhabited for over two millenia, being founded around 227 BC and it currently has a population of about 200,000. The city had it's heyday during the Roman Empire and much of it's historical weight is due to the coveted defensive port, one of the most important in the Western Mediterranean. It continues to be the main military haven of the Spanish navy and is home to a large naval shipyard (where we went to get our passports stamped but that's another story). 


The city contains a number of landmarks such as the Bull Fighting Ring, a Roman Theater and an area of Roman ruins being excavated and preserved in a covered outdoor museum. Other charming features included the wide pedestrian streets, the Art Nouveau buildings, the street sculptures and the landscaping. We rode the glass elevator to the castle on top of the hill and read a short history of the city. 

It would have been nice to travel further into Spain but we thought it best to move on to Gibraltar, as we had fair weather to do so. 
























Once in Gibraltar, the work began in earnest and Roger spent practically two weeks in the engine room or at the Perkins parts dealer. We did manage to get out and about town a bit but other than a trip to the top of the rock, St Michael's cave, and a visit to the Gibraltar museum to see the Neanderthal exhibit, found it rather uninspiring. The English supermarket was a treat though (as in proper oats) and we walked across the airport runway border into Spain (with not a glance at our passports) to go to the mercado and stock up on nuts and dried fruit for brekky.





As it turned out, the Spanish immigration police said we like Americans and Kiwi's, so no worries about staying as long as we liked. They were kind and helpful in Cartagena and stamped our passports anyway but let us leave whenever we liked. But at "the Rock" we could walk across back into Spain and no one cared. So, all the worry about making sure we didn't overstay our 90 days in the EU was for naught. We do like Spain. :)


But the Rock was crowded and busy, certainly a nervous lot, especially with Brexit just happening, and so was time to move on. EQ's inner workings got a major refit; all new hoses on the Perkins engine along with cleaned and calibrated injectors (now she purrrrrsssssss), a new water heater (hot water anytime again), and a new very quiet engine room blower (yipppppeeeee). And so we worked out the tides (we hoped) for escaping the Med out through the Straights of Gibraltar, no easy task mind you. We found a decent weather window for the 4-5 day trip to the Canaries and shoved off at 4:00am. We did swirl around a bit in the eddies but managed to get flushed out to sea. Into the Atlantic we go!!!!!

So, that's the news from EQ, where the seas are full of eddies, the winds on the nose (as usual), and the crew content to be back at sea.

With equanimity and Joy...

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The Bash to the Balearics

Leaving Italy behind and heading for Spain, we started off with our usual light wind and motor sailing along…but this time the wind built and built, and the sloppy seas set in, and soon it was NNW 20-25 providing a rock and roll 200 mile passage! It’s either all or nothing around here! 

But we arrived safely in Menorca in the early afternoon and began looking for an anchorage in Mahon. These areas are largely restricted so we finally settled for a spot at the end of the dock at Port Menorca. EQ took a beating from the surge there and so we were happy to be off the next day. 


After a rolling night at crowded Cala Binibecca, we found Cala Trebeluja. This beautiful cove on the southwest side of the island was surrounded by rocky cliffs with caves and held a lovely sandy beach at the head. With the wind blowing from the southwest we knew it would be a rolly first night but the prediction was for the wind to turn north and gusty within a day so we figured it was worth grabbing our spot and toughing it out. For the next three days the wind blew like stink and we couldn't leave the boat  - staying alert on anchor watch both for ourselves and all the other yachts (who don't set their anchors...)



Finally the wind backed enough for a trip ashore to hike up to the top of the cliffs. We were rewarded with a view down at EQ sitting pretty in the sparkling waters.

Time was slipping by on our 90 day allowance in the EU though so after only a week in Menorca we set out for Mallorca. Back to light winds and slight swell, we motored along again for the 43 mile hop.

It seemed to make sense to land at the nearest point on the east coast and it turned out to be one of our favorite anchorages - Cala Magraner. It was a tight spot with canyon walls rising on both sides but it was lovely. There were even mountain goats! And we socialized with  a Dutch/French boat as well as another Kiwi!


Next stop  - Porto Colom where we took a swing mooring and spent several days sorting the usual things like internet and laundry and provisions. A long bus ride took us to Palma where we scoped out the chandlery and marine services with an eye to getting parts from the Perkins dealer. After a few more one night stand anchorages (including one with a long beach for walking and where Kim finally got to try out the kayak) we sailed into Marina de Longa in Palma. Our slip was right up next to the street and made easy access for the next four days we were there.




















Palma is the kind of city that can grow on you over time. At first just a city, as we walked back and forth several times to the Perkins dealer and supermarket etc, it started to charm. As the capital of the Mallorca (Majorca) the resort has put effort into creating a welcoming atmosphere with street art and plantings.



As an day excursion, we rode the Tren de Soller, a vintage narrow gauge railroad up and over the hills to the northern coastal resort of Soller. There we wandered the streets, had a delicious lunch on a patio garden oasis and had THE BEST gelato to date (and we've sampled a lot).







And before you know it, you guessed it, we were off again! Sailing around the corner to Cala de Santa Once for a respite at anchor for two nights. In this pleasant harbor we enjoyed the full moon and concert music wafting from shore.

The next island stop was Ibiza. A 5am departure in a light southerly sailing into the moon beam and watching the sun rise in a red ball behind us was delightful. Arriving at Cala Boix 50 miles later we chose a pretty spot among the cliffs and beach in the cove. After a couple of nights at Ibiza we set of for Formentera where the number of charter yachts jockeying for space was swelling.



And that's the news from EQ where the wind is unpredictable, the seas mostly calm and the crew content but moving ever westward.

With Equanimity and Joy.